(My) Ultimate Guide to SUPERCHUNK

Here’s my Best of Superchunk Spotify Playlist. Read on, and find a bonus Covers by Superchunk playlist!

As MOST of you know, I love Superchunk. From the minute I heard No Pocky for Kitty (the band’s 2nd full length) on Dave Mason’s cassette-playing Walkman in the halls of high school, I was hooked. Thanks to carpool rides in The Cliff brothers’ Honda Accord, I already spent forty minutes every morning and most afternoons being exposed to punk and subversive rock like Fugazi, Operation Ivy, X, Ramones, Naked Raygun, the Damned and the Descendants.

But the sloppy, noisy energy of Superchunk’s take on punk resonated with me more than most bands. Not only because the discovery was pretty much my own (I think Dave gave me the tape, never asked for it back, or just never got it back), But because Superchunk was the band to plant the seed in me: I could play music in a band and write music. GODOG was formed shortly thereafter and the lessons I learned from Superchunk went into the song writing. I was still repurposing Chunk riffs upon joining Duster (not that one), my college band.

In celebration of their return to recording and touring with “I Hate Music”, here’s my guide to all of Superchunk’s full-length albums,singles comps, and covers.

FULL LENGTH ALBUMS

I Hate Music
As I’m still taking this new album in, it’s heard to say where I’d place it in rank order for a “best of”, but the singles ‘Me, You and Jackie Mittoo’ and ‘FOH’ are energetic ditties, the former carrying a nostalgic tone most aging rockers can identify with, much like the title of the album. ‘Staying Home’ could be the most blistering punk song tha’ Chunk has delivered in over a decade, and the title and subject seems to identify with the aging rocker condition as well.

‘Breaking Down’ might be the best insertion of synths into a Superchunk yet, while keeping things anthemic and dynamic. I’ve never really reacted well to slow/mid-tempo ditties within the North Carolinian’s catalog so “Out of the Sun” falls pretty flat with me, but again, I can identify with the old-foggy sentiments Mac is presenting.

If anything this is a Superchunk album, which to me makes it inherently good. The fact that it’s their TENTH studio album in almost twenty five years together makes me feel good and bad at the same time: this band I love has always delivered the energy, hooks, and squawking guitars that I’ve needed, but without any great departures in the evolution of their sound (except for whatever the hell you’d call what O’Rourke did to them). Because there are no great departures in style, you’re left liking what you’re most nostalgic for and shunning the new stuff. This is why people make bathroom trips when long-time favorite bands declare “this is a song off our new album” from stage. Or The Rolling Stones let Keith play one from his solo album. At this time I think it is mid-pack right next to or below Come Pick Me Up.

1. Here’s Where the Strings Come In
This is either Superchunk’s best album, or tied with No Pocky. My mind on the matter changes constantly. Strings starts off with a barn burner “Hyper Enough” and ends with the agitated noise pop of “Certain Stars”. The difference on this album is that you can tell Mac and company have improved their chops and have completely melded with Wuster. They’re tight and the band is as dynamic as ever. Where there might have once been warped panels of feedback, Mac inserts more complex guitar solos (and then feedback). The anthems are still in force, “Detroit Has A Skyline” being one of the band’s best and most desperately energetic songs. Unlike its predecessor, Strings mid-tempo songs don’t seem to fall short or lack power. This album reminds me of sing-a-longs fueled by cheap beer in dorm rooms. This album must fall into true indie rock’s all-killer/no-filler Hall of Fame.

2. No Pocky For Kitty
My first love, this is the album I am most nostalgic for. From the (forgive me) chunky guitars that kick off ‘Skips Steps 1 & 3’ through the closer “Throwing Things”, the band throws out one indie rock anthem after another. From hooks, the screaming guitars, and fuzzed-out bass- you can almost hear the band pogoing in the basement of Chicago Recording Company while Steve Albini sat upstairs knowing he was way ahead of the curve in terms of quality coffee. My only regret with this album is that Wurster wasn’t in the band yet, benefitting from that eccentric caffeine freak’s beautiful set of microphones. Another candidate for the indie rock Hall of Fame.

3. On the Mouth
Outside of some of the most exciting songs Superchunk has put together (Precision Auto, New Low), this album also saw Jon Wuster take the drum throne, which inevitably let the band grow into more diverse, dynamic sounds. Having John Reis at the helm recording this gem doesn’t hurt: his perspective gives this album a cutting, buzz saw sharpness most Superchunk albums hold back on.

4. Superchunk (s/t)
Debut albums, in my estimation, usually contain the best output of any given band (80% of the time?). They usually capture the most energy and enthusiasm, and also show the most focus on song craft before the years of touring take their toll. This first album contains so many ‘hits’ (“Slack Motherfucker” is an indie landmark) and is so wonderful in terms of its pure punk energy, but Superchunk bucked the first album/best album trend simply because they got better as musicians, started working with better producers, and brought on a fantastic drummer by the third album.

5. Foolish
I’m constantly confused as to why this album seemed like a dud to me 19 years ago: Was it the tempo and length of first song “”Like A Fool” I couldn’t get past? I love that sing now! “Driveway to Driveway” was an anthem I’d sing arm-in-arm with college cronies around a twelve pack. “Water Wings” is a complete shredder. In the end, I think Brian Paulson’s recording techniques weren’t right for the band and left them flat. But there’s no denying side one is badass.

6. Majesty Shredding
I was a little worried about a ‘comeback’ album after a nine year hiatus, especially when “Here’s to Shutting Up” never got its hooks in to me. But songs like ‘My Gap Feels Weird’, ‘Crossed Wires’, and ‘Learned to Surf’ had the energy of Superchunk’s best tracks, and possibly contained some more sophistication in terms of song structure, guitar works and production.

7. Come Pick Me Up
Sitting squarely in the middle and at the height of the “damn the torpedoes – SYNTHS” phase, this album is also the high point of Mac testing out the highest ranges of his voice. Combined with Jim O’Rourke twisting nobs, cutting Wurster’s balls off, and adding string and brass sections into the mix, this is the worst type of mediocre/pretty good album: one that the producer is solely to blame for (see also Broken Social Scene’s 2005 self-titled album). The songs are THERE. I’ve seem them rock this album live! Only on “Pulled Muscle” does the band sound vaguely like itself. A good, if frustrating, listen.

I still remember reading an interview with the band at the time of this album’s release and Laura Ballance was vocal – and perturbed – about how the production touches (like the saxophone and brass jam at the end of “Pink Hearts”) were too much like the E. Street Band. Looking back I think it’s hilarious that her own wallet has been well-lined by bands (namely Arcade Fire) professing love for and attributing their sound to The Boss and Company.

8. Indoor Living
Following up Strings would be a shit job for any band. While Indoor Living IS the beginning of the “oh there’s an empty track on the board? SYNTH!” phase, this is still a band that had quality songs coming of out of their ears. Contrary to everything I’ve wrote, “Watery Hands” is a catchy, mid-tempo, synth-laden song I thought could be HIT for them. And the anthems persisted: “Burn Last Sunday” showed the band still would let the guitars feedback, and “Nu Bruises” let the drums be the hook. It was hard putting this below Come Pick Me Up, and still I’m not sure it belongs here.

9. Here’s to Shutting Up
“Are they trying to be Yo La Tengo?” was the first thought that entered my mind on hearing opener ‘Rainy Streets’. Things got better for the second song, but then lap steel and strings slither in on the third song! And potentially strong songs like “Florida’s on Fire” seemed to fall apart. What is this nonsense?!? I think a lot of what falls flat on this album for me could be contributed to Superchunk’s ill-advised “the more synths, the better” phase. Even the great “Out on the Wing” dilutes some raging guitars with layers and layers of synths. Although “Art Class” retains some attitude from earlier albums, the lyrics start to get embarrassing by the chorus. This is not a horrible album, but it’s great band doing nowhere near what they do best.

TOSSING SEEDS, INCIDENTAL MUSIC, CUP OF SAND
ALL three of these singles comps are worth having and are chock-full of covers and alternate or acoustic versions of songs. These are possibly the best way to introduce a stranger to tha Chunk.

COVERS
Superchunk has never been afraid to pay tribute to their influences, big or small, from Bowie to Destiny’s Child to Adam Ant, Devo and contemporaries like Sebadoh. Although I’ve created this Spotify playlist of Superchunk playing covers, there are still some covers only available in other formats:

  • Misfits – Tha’ Chunk has recorded “Where Eagles Dare” and “Horror Business” and pull them out live as well.
  • The Cure– Participating in the Onion AV Club Undercover series, Superchunk chose “In Between Days” and did a pretty great job.
  • Motörhead’s “I’ll be Your Sister”, The Verlaines’ ” Lying in State”, and The Chills’ “Night of Chill Blue” all appear on the Incidental Music singles comp, which is oddly missing from Spotify.

20130829-205843.jpg

Advertisements

What to See at the First City Festival

(not a big reader? Here’s a Spotify Best of First City Festival Playlist to check out.)

Weekends right now seem packed with some sort of to-do, and this weekend is no exception: the First City Festival offers “a weekend of music, food and fresh ocean air at the site of the iconic Monterey Pop Festival.”

Would I make my way down the Coast to Monterey to see this lot of bands? It SOUNDS like a decent weekend in theory… Anyway, here’s the #WWBRD for this particular festival:

SATURDAY, AUGUST 24th

I’m all for arriving later to festivals for crucial acts (due to my advanced age), but Eli “Paperboy” Reed has enough howl and soul in his R&B sound to be seen and possibly even forgiven for going with the nickname “Paperboy”. Directly following the paperboy, a band with an equally off-putting name, Jeffertitti’s Nile, will be performing some pretty decent psychedelic hippie jams, brah. Actually, there seems to be enough rock and distortion to be very entertaining.

Delta Rae is up next with some gospel harmony-infused folksiness. Perfect for the thoughtful sorority girl.

Blitzen Trapper have been off my radar for a while, but it looks like they’ve continued to mine that southern-fried Americana rock thing pretty well, adding some more arty and noisy elements along the way. If watching dudes hoist guitars to make harmonies is your thing, stop by their stage.

Guy Blakeslee and the Entrance Band seems like the biggest miss of the festival so far, pitted against Blitzen Trapper and the Black Angels, who will undoubtedly rule with their vintage, heavy garage-psych sound.

Guards seem like a nice enough pop band, but I doubt that they are worth missing The Hold Steady, who the best description I’ve ever heard of is “rock music for people who read a lot of books”. They’re truly entertaining live, and I wish I had more of a tolerance for them on record, but I told myself a long time ago I didn’t like the singer’s style. Maybe it’s time to give them another shot.

South Africa’s Civil Twilight provide a proggy alt rock sound that should be a perfect accompaniment to finding bathrooms, food and drink.

Your stylistic preferences should make the first real choice of the day easy: the “avant R&B” of Quadron or the sad bastard folk tunes of Okkervil River. Pick yer poison.

Father John Misty’s mellow Americana will surely draw a large congregation with little competition.

Beach House will definitely be the place to be for dark, haunting pop, while Tennis will be setting up shop across the way – and across the spectrum – with their sunny, melodic pop reminiscent of Best Coast.

The Delta Spirit are just one more Americana-rock band in this line up, and definitely not the worst by far. If my descriptors for these bands are starting to repeat, well, I blame that on the homogenous nature of the line up. Good live band though.

MGMT are a band to see. While best known for their guilty-pleasure dance pop (“Kids”), their second album Congratulations is an all-killer, no-filler tribute to glam rock.

After that, if my energy and attention weren’t waning, I’d split some time between Washed Out, who sound like their name, and Passion Pit, because – hey – you’ve already spent the money on the ticket. Dancing like an idiot is allowed if you’re up/drunk enough for it.

SUNDAY, AUGUST 25th

If girly pop punk is your thing, get to the fest early to see Bleached. Otherwise, I don’t see a need to be there until The Dodos take the stage with their multi-instrumental quirky pop. It may be worthwhile to split time between the Dodos and The Antlers, a bedroom space-pop pastime that has turned into a full band. If you really need another option, you can see the orchestral space folk of Seventeen Evergreen from SF.

Capital Cities seems to be LA’s dance pop answer to Passion Pit, so feel free to get a bite to eat before your next musical decision.

Keeping with the theme of shitty-named bands, Dr. Dog might be the most popular band with the worst name currently making music. Fortunately, the music is good – mid-tempo, heart-on-the-sleeve rock that tippie toes around jamming, keeping things pretty tight. Vying for your attention at the same time is Akron/Family, a group whose talent and creativity make pinning down their varied sounds very difficult. At times rocking and spaced out, Akron/Family can easily switch gears to offer the more heartfelt, folky experience that other bands on the bill have in a locked groove.

ADVANTAGE: Akron/Family. Even if you aren’t fully familiar with this band, they are more likely to produce a “holy fuck” sort of moment than Dr. Dog, who I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in small venues.

Another good time to hit the bathrooms or food lines is during Electric Guest. I think you’ve heard that song in that TV ad enough, right?

The next big decision is between boho hippie-turned-hair model Devendra Banhart and young, energetic upstarts Generationals. Granted, I’ve heard that Banhart can ‘bring it’ live with his soulful folk-pop fusions (which are pretty slick on his new album), but I think that was mostly women who wanted his body telling me that. Ladies, you do realize that until he cut his hair he was the real-life/for-real persona that Russell Brand is a caricature of, right?

Back to the music… Generationals are all over the spectrum style-wise: uppity guitar rock a la Ted Leo to soulful, mod tunes like The Jam, to electro dance tunes.

DECISION: Split your time. Maybe get close enough to Devendra that he spills some red wine on you, then go pogo to Generationals “Ten-Twenty-Ten“.

PISS BREAK ALERT: Lucero.

You could even extend your piss break into a nap, granted you can get far away enough from Toro Y Moi’s world house and Avey Tare’s Horror Flicks electro-diarrhea. Honestly, I’d be too curious and need to see what this Animal Collective member was up to, if only for a second.

The main attraction, as far as I’m concerned is next: Deerhunter. While this band’s last effort did little for me after a couple listens, they still remain one of my favorite bands of the 21st century and have the power to envelope you in sound with melodic guitar loops, feedback, and pure volume. They have the potential to give you an all-consuming, joyful live musical experience.

If Deerhunter is putting out too much noise or volume for your ears, you may want to cut early to spend some time with Neko Case’s beautiful voice. People tell me this is country music or – even worse – alt-country, but all I hear are some great pipes.

Also high on my priority list is a surprise from last year: Purity Ring create a haunting type of electronic dance music that makes me relieved that goth girls around the world aren’t running short of decent music to dance to.

OLD FART ROCK EXPERT ALERT!
I saw Modest Mouse almost twenty years ago at a laundromat/bar named Sudsy Malone’s in Cincinnati. It was a sweaty, energetic affair that I would have most likely forgotten about if it had not been for MM becoming the most unlikely of pop stars. And now Johnny Marr is in the band?!? If you don’t have work the next day, I guess you should get your money’s worth and stick around. Personally, I could take it or leave it.

Here’s a Spotify Best of First City Festival Playlist. Enjoy.

Survive the San Francisco Street Food Festival

There’s nothing San Franciscans like more than to crowd around and crow over food – myself included. Although I can’t be there this year, I’m hoping to offer my advice on what to eat, but more importantly how to manage what will surely be nasty, hungry crowds. I’ve chronicled the San Francisco Street Food Festival before, and can offer some solid advice:

1. Get there early and be patient – Despite a smorgasbord of food vendors offering tasty treats, the best and most sought-after vendors will no doubt have ridiculous lines until they inevitably run out of whatever it is you want.

2. Posse up, hit multiple targets, and share – With a group of four to six people, you can split into duos, get a couple dishes from different places, and share the fruits of your patience, possibly in the beer garden where someone has drinks waiting. Otherwise, you could wait hours between bites and drinks.

3. Take a chance on an unknown – To truly fill your belly, you’re going to have to hit up a stand that doesn’t have a huge line in front. And you’ll probably be the better for it, having tried something new and delicious.

4. Take some things to-go – La Cocina’s mission to help new and small business owners realize their dreams of small-batch food production should be supported, especially since that means eating delicious treats, many of which are packed up to enjoy later.

5. Break away from what you know – While I LOVE many of the SFSFF vendors, I also know that they are available at farmer’s markets and Off the Grid events on a regular basis. I think some of the pop-ups and restaurants doing special offerings are the best bets to get something special, but keep your mind open to anything.

WHAT TO EAT

I’m not clairvoyant, but there are some vendors I would have very high expectations for, so line up early:

State Bird Provisions – Recently named the best restaurant in the nation and on hiatus to expand their dining space, this vendor naturally has a huge target painted on them. They want to serve tomato soup and garlic bread? Fine. Bring it on.

Hapa Ramen – While their steaming bowls of deliciousness are available at the Ferry Building on a regular basis, chef Nakano and company plan on switching things up with a corn pudding and a chicken sandwich that sound fantastic.

La Victoria Bakery – There are a lot of choices for sweets at the fest, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss out on a goat tres leches parfait, along with their many other offerings.

Nojo – Offering Japanese style poutine and fried chicken speaks directly to the part of my stomach that says “feed me”.

Nombe – The Ramen Burger sounds like a challenge, but one that I’d be up for with a beer.

Pig & Pie – This sounds like the place to be for a German sausage fix.

Rice Paper Scissors – They had me at “grilled baby octopus”.

Bon appetit!

What to see at Outside Lands, pt. Three

SUNDAY

It’s the last day, and I wish I could tell you to sleep in, but I’m getting a really good feeling from openers The Wild Feathers. Their particular brand of energetic, soulful, country-tinged rock brings to mind the more powerful moments of Wilco or White Denim. My gut sez go see ’em. The Easy Leaves seem like a stripped down, more mellow version of the Feathers, so I say stick with the Feathers.

If the funk moves you, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk may be reason enough to move away from either opener. With heavy, stinky licks that stick to your ribs, Ivan and company give Parlaiment-Funkadelic a run for their funky dollar bills.

As much as I would like to suggest a pit stop at this point, Little Green Cars recorded material is compelling enough to suggest a drop-in. To keep things brief, I’d liken these chaps to Broken Social Scene with better vocal harmonies. And they’re Irish, so they must be entertaining, right?!?

So who pitted Camper Van Bethoven against Fishbone?!? This is a largely personal choice, but I’d rather “Party at Ground Zero” than “Take the Skinheads Bowling”. Skank away!

For those of you that don’t dig on the reunion/revival acts and want the new ish, Nashville’s Kopecky Family Band make a strong argument, especially for those that like their eclectic rock and pop slightly southern-fried, with lots of different instrumentation and quirky harmonies.

If you need to get your dance, grime, dub step, house fix, Rudimental would be the place to head.

Me? I’d rather refill on beer and lamb poutine before Kurt Vile takes the stage. I must say I’m hesitant whether he can command the full attention of a festival crowd, but there are enough catchy, mid-tempo riffs throughout his catalogue to suggest he can.

While I don’t think anyone needs to leave Mr. Vile and co. for Foals, the LA women of Deap Valley might just supply one of the blow-away performances of the festival. These ladies are confidently strutting through the same swamp of garage guitar rock that the White Stripes and Black Keys flooded years ago, but with a brash attitude all their own.

Emeli Sande provides the first true R&B performance of the festival, but is backed up against Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, a New Orleans staple that will no doubt have asses shaking all over GGP.

The next conflict MIGHT be my personal biggest, and I’m glad I don’t have to make the choice. Relive the sweet, blue-eyed soul-pop tunes of Hall & Oates, or go see King Tuff for the fifth time in about a year…. Nostalgia or true rock bliss? It’s a hard call. But I think I’d probably end up at King Tuff’s stage.
20130810-233832.jpg

Admitting to my own finickiness when it comes in regards to Americana/roots rock, I think Dawes are OK. Better than a glass of wine and a hamburger? I don’t know. I DO know that I’d be in line for food before listening to A-Track. A DJ can’t hold my attention for that much time.

I’m not sure what MS MR is about, but descriptors like “chill wave” don’t help their argument against going to see Vampire Weekend. In actuality, MSMR’s dark, sparse, beat-driven pop might be the perfect foil to the preppy bloodsuckers. This might be one of the few instances I split stage times.

Regardless, you’d want to leave either performance to see Willy Nelson. This is another living legend we’re talking about here. Check him off your list. He’s bound to blaze up on stage here in SF, right? What a great story to tell about one of our countries greatest storytellers… If you tire of his awesomeness, you can always go dance like an idiot to Matt and Kim.

You can pretty much leave at this point, unless you want to see Anthony Keidis jump around in his undies and sing off-key while Flea wags his tongue and slaps his bass. Or you can watch Dillon Francis do the whole grime dub step whatever thing. Or you can listen to SF’s hottest HOUSE artist Kaskade

Seriously, just go home early. Take a nice hot shower before you watch True Blood and Newsroom.

As an added gift for reading my “guide to San Francisco Outside Lands, here’s a a Spotify playlist containing a lot of the hits of the festival. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know if there’s any I missed and should add!!

What to see at Outside Lands, pt. Two

SATURDAY

So you’ve survived day one or opted only to go to Outside Lands today because your goth high school roots demand you see NIN. Either way, you can once again feel free to miss the opening acts and sleep in another 40 minutes.

Grab some lunch and head over to see SF’s own Social Studies and their female-fronted, whispy indie tunes for a few minutes, but make sure you get over to catch the Soft White Sixties. With a vocalist that seems to owe as much to Chris Robinson as he does Marc Bolan, the 60’s put out some soulful rock jams (again, meant in the best way). As a point of comparison, I’d say these guys are like a more rocking Dr. Dog.

The band competing with both the 60’s and Social Studies are self described “Brooklyn country music”, so they can go fuck themselves. If you get bored with either, I’d rather you go check out Cherub and their tongue-in-cheeky techno soul. Better to dance than cry in your beer because of some beardos from BKLYN…

I’m not familiar with the next round of choices… But will judge them based on their top two most popular songs on Spotify. The work I do of you people…

Gary Clark Jr. – comparisons to SRV don’t do a thing for me, but my sampling of this dude’s music leads me to describe it as more-wanky, less exciting Black Keys.

Milo Greene– these guys are way too far back on the dusty road that the Lumineers and other folk-pop acts have kicked up over the last year for me to give a shit. Meh-lodic.

Atlas Genius – Winner, winner, chicken dinner! At the very least, I’d rather be bobbing my head to this Aussie indie pop group’s simple-but-catchy guitar, keys, and bass lines than the above losers.

Way to ride your dad’s coattails all the way to an American music festival, James McCartney!!! The only reason to stop by this stage instead of refilling beers would be to see if Sir Paul decides to help his son out even more with an appearance… Although the second song I’m hearing sounds like decent (but not the best) Matthew Sweet. Or really good Gin Blossoms.

The next round of choices pits some unknowns against a critic’s darling, Youth Lagoon. I can normally get down with this type of thing, but this guy bores the fuck out of me and I certainly wouldn’t want to see him live. This is ‘dusting your apartment’ music.

The Growlers may be the closest any band in the lineup comes to approximating Tom Waits and The Walkmen at the same time: think organs, accordions, odd percussion and sparse guitars and bass with engaging-if-limited vocals. I’d be pretty interested to check these guys out! They certainly sound better than the pop group Young the Giant who sound like they came up listening to hella Killers albums in Irvine, CA.

Things get messy from here out with a lot of overlap. So, if you want to watch Bombino do his Niger-based world rock thing go ahead, but you should probably go see Thao and the Get Down Stay Down and her eclectic, energetic pop that is reminiscent of Feist.

It’s up to you whether or not you want to leave Thao for Baauer the producer responsible for “Harlem Shake”. Just keep the dancing douchbags, glow sticks and balls people have been saving up for this in mind.

If you’re that desperate to get away from Thao, Jurassic 5 will probably provide the best hip hop performance of the festival. Although I have yet to look further down the schedule, these dudes are classic.

The next conflict include two bands I don’t really give any shits about, so ill just say that I think the (tall?) dude from The Tallest Man on Earth has an annoying voice, but I wasn’t to quick to pick up Dylan either.

Lots of friends dig The Mother Hips, and their earnest take on guitar rock does jive well with me, but rather than see the tall guy or these Hips (who seem to play SF with regularity) , I would probably just jockey for position at the Yeah Yeah Yeahs stage.

Had enough of Karen O? If you want to relinquish your spot for NIN, your options are to see the sad bastard contingent The Head and the Heart or to see Grizzly Bear. Go Bears, is all I have to say, but I’d probably be further jockeying for position to enjoy NIN. But I’ve seen both bands multiple times. (The old guy refrains from inserting an “I was THERE, man” story…)

From here on out, there’s very little choice. I can understand liking Phoenix and their catchy-as-hell dancey pop tunes, but FUCK. Oscar Award winner Trent Reznor will be within your reach! The last time I saw NIN, they were so intense and perfect, I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

What to see at Outside Lands, pt. One

There’s not much more in this world that I love than music and seeing it performed live. San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival has evolved from something I initially despised for a horrible experience, to genuinely liking after resetting my own expectations and watching the festival make improvements that were more in line with my own tastes (like gourmet food, craft beer, and artisanal wine offerings). What can I say? If I would be considered a “rocker” at all, you’d have to insert the descriptor “aging” as a qualifier.

For reasons beyond my control, I can’t be in a festival setting right now, so I’m offering my suggestions for the best bands to see each day (and trying to avoid conflicts as much as possible). You see, along with loving music, impressing my tastes on others is another passion as a (now) self-pronounced music snob.

S’here goes!

FRIDAY

First off: show up late. There’s no need to crash the gates as all of the openers are sad bastard revivalists or soulful, down-to-earth, heart/sleeve types. Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint.

It’s looks like the first band that will provide some good, rockin entertainment is the Smith Westerns, who derive as much of their sound from garage rock as they do The Cure.

Next up, a stylistic three-way clusterfuck, with one band having the edge…

Surfer Blood is the Pavement and Weezer (I mean this in the best, first-two-albums way possible) hybrid I think I dreamt of after too many Black Label shorties back in college. I would see them (again) in a heartbeat, although I haven’t followed their albums very closely since the first two.

If that sort of thing isn’t your bag, you have two options (I’m ignoring the comedy tent, and Jeff Ross specifically): Go see The Heavy if you like funky Englishmen, but beware: they are responsible for the James Brown “How Ya Like Me Now” sample/ripoff/song/whatever that seems to be required in car ads and stylish action movies these days. If you are allergic to dancing hippie douchebags, probably best to steer clear.

OR… you can go watch Wild Belle. The best description, for better or worse, that I can muster for this band is “an updated and evolved Ace of Base”. I’m sure they’re better than all that, but once the comparison hit me, it stuck.

Whatever you decide from the last three bands, you must then RUN, NOT WALK, to see The Men, New York’s noisiest band who seem to be constantly moving the dial from keyboard and Moog-heavy space-punk, in the styles of Devo or Dinosaur Jr. or Husker Du.

Some people might be tempted to leave The Men in time to see Jessie Ware lay down her slick, mellow, and melodic dance-pop tunes. The latent pop whore inside me would find it hard to blame them.

I would probably judge people for leaving The Men early in order to go see Band of Horses, though. Bearded, sad bastard emo. It’s good, I guess. But not worth leaving whatever The Men are doing.

I have no reservations telling people to forgo the Ohio rappers Twenty One Pilots to hit the bathroom, beer and food lines before being confronted with the next round of hard decisions.

To enjoy your brews and food, people can choose between two pretty mellow acts. My personal choice would be the haunting, folky chick-singer tunes of Daughter, but I can see how some other people might like the polished, euro-tech sounds of Rhye. Your choice.

Then I imagine most people running to see The National and their moody, emo indie tunes. Or heading to see Zedd to dance their nuts off. I guess it’s all about what you’re in the mood for, but The National are pretty fantastic and should be seen by all those people that LEFT years ago before they played at Mezzanine when Clap Your Hands Say Yeah opened (and were the new hot shit).

While the next conflict may seem lopsided, I would go see the beachfuzzed, Southern Cali garage sounds of Wavves before braving the crowds that are “just there to dance, man” for CHIC featuring Niles Rodgers. I’m a fan of tha funk. I dig what Niles has done, especially in bringing Bowie back. But, man, their set time coincides with when people will themselves be getting funky and their drugs starting to kick in. Shit… I do NOT need to see some shamanistic frat boy’s interpretive dance to “Le Freak”.

As against techy dance music as I may seem, I LOVE me some Yeasayer, but these poor bastards have been slotted against a goddamned BEATLE, for chrissakes. You may be a diehard that chooses to see some of this regularly-touring band, but what fucking Paul McCartney songs are you willing to miss? The other poor bastard bands scheduled in the death slot don’t even bear naming. They’re too far into this living legend’s set to even be considered. Go listen to Paul, fool.