Friday, February 25, 2011

Devotchka in-store!

There are very few bands that have such a history at Twist and Shout. We have literally been with them since day one. And what an exhilarating ride it has been to watch. Devotchka has embarked on an artistic and commercial arc that most bands can only dream about. Their new album 100 Lovers is a magnificent creation, bringing the band to a creative peak. 100 Lovers is Devotchka’s most mature album both lyrically and in terms of the band’s wonderful sense of melody. They have gone from a quirky, indefinable band of indeterminate ethnic origin to a band capable of producing a very specific type of beauty. Their sound has coalesced around Nick Urata’s exotic vocals and their always-interesting and increasingly sophisticated instrumentation. Everything about this album is an artistic triumph, from the memorable songs to the warm production, to the absolutely amazing package on the deluxe version of the CD (only available at Twist and Shout).
As always, we were honored to host the band for another in a long line (four to be exact) of memorable in-stores. This one felt, and was different. The band brought in some of their own lighting that made for both a very special environment and inspired me to pursue this for future in-stores. What a difference it made to turn the lights off and really enhance that in-concert vibe. And the band did not disappoint. Playing four songs from 100 Lovers as well as a few others they reminded us what an overwhelmingly emotional experience it can be to see Devotchka. They have the ability to set a mood like nobody else I’ve ever seen. I went up to the loft to look down at the huge crowd at one point and the majority of them had their eyes closed with huge smiles on their faces. It was a pretty telling scene. Devotchka have the rare ability to lift their audience out of the mundane reality of everyday life and let us enter a beautiful and comforting place. Being in that place is why we work in music. It’s like a dog hanging his head out of a car window - it just feels right. The hundreds of people who came bought 184 copies of 100 Lovers on CD and another 28 on LP. It’s always nice when an artistic triumph is rewarded by a business success. Thanks to Rob Thomas and the band for their kindness. It was a great night!

Interview with Ryan Bingham


If you haven’t heard him, you’re missing one of the most compelling, honest, and driving bits of American music to emerge this century. Ryan Bingham has recently moved from the smoky haze of roadhouses and bowling alleys into a much anticipated spotlight. With a shiny new Oscar and a bunch of national media attention trailing them, Bingham and his Dead Horses have been spreading their infectious, rollicking, and heart-rending west Texas style across the globe. With a new album, Junky Star, and a schedule packed with tour dates, the man with the unmistakable voice and laid back mien has been gracious and patient enough to take a few minutes from the almighty road to answer some heady questions from a literary critic.
LC:  Where did you find the airplane for the cover of Junky Star
RB:  We found that plane out at the airport in Chino, California.
LC:  All your albums, including Junky Star and especially Roadhouse Sun, have a pretty clear social conscience, reminiscent of songwriters like Woodie Guthrie and Johnny Cash. Was there a moment where you were really awakened to social or political issues or did that attention to inequality develop over time through your experiences crossing the country? 

RB:  It’s definitely developed over time and from traveling around the globe. It’s one thing to go on a week vacation, but it’s definitely another to wake up in different town everyday of the year. We’re exposed to so much so fast out here. To see the condition of the country and to meet all these different people first hand can be very humbling. 

LC:  On Junky Star, during some of the most desperate songs (“Yesterday’s Blues,” “Lay My Head On the Rail”), and even the ones born of murder (like “Junky Star,” “Hallelujah”), each character seems to ask for or tries to keep a memory of a “you.” That longing seems to humanize these otherwise desolate characters. If these “you”s are actually people, lost loves, friends, companions, what do these songs say about the power of human empathy? 

RB:  Writing has always been a form of therapy for me. It’s a sort of release for me that helps me get stuff of my chest that sometimes can be difficult to talk about. The songs I write are not necessarily about anything in specific. They're mostly bits and pieces of a lot of different things I’ve experienced throughout my life – some from the past and some from the present, and sometimes from the future. Sometimes I’ll write a song thinking one thing and the next day I’ll listen back to it and it will take on a whole new meaning for me. 

I’m not sure if some of the songs are so much as born of murder as they are of just life and death and the struggle in between – the struggle that every human being has to deal with in one way or another. I feel the true power of a song is its ability to translate itself into anyone’s life, where eventually it becomes the listener's song, the listener's own story. 

LC:  How does it feel to constantly be labeled “authentic”? Do you see a danger in that – especially now that you’ve set up shop in L.A? 

 RB:  I’m not too worried about labels. I mean I hear people say that I’m authentic one day and the next day they’re calling me a sellout. People like a lot of different kinds of music and I understand that the songs I write are not for everyone. Unfortunately, everything has to have a label or a genre or some bullshit tag stapled to it, mostly so that the powers that be can sell it and manipulate it. If worrying about being labeled is my worst problem today, then I’m in pretty good shape.

LC:  In other interviews you’ve stated that your musical influences are varied: “from Bob Marley to Bob Wills.” Your lyrics are also so poetic and so American in their sense of movement, attention to landscape, occupation with those left behind, I can’t help but hear echoes of Whitman, Kerouac, and even Proulx. Do you have any literary influences? 

RB:  I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I have been a bit delinquent in the literature department. My wife has been steering me in the right direction and turning me on to the good stuff though, so I’m getting there. I just finished The Catcher in the Rye and wished I would have read that when I was about 16, but I guess it’s never too late.

LC:  A rather obscure Mexican-American writer once said that “I believe that a person is made up of a number of emotions and that the people in turn make up the place in which they live, so only through knowing the people who inhabit a place does one get to know the place itself.” Through your experience traveling the southwest, the U.S., and the world, for that matter, do you agree? How do you understand the relationship between people and place?

RB:  Well, I guess in one way or another you are what you eat. I mean, I think where you grow up and where you live definitely has a huge influence on how you think and how you feel about anything. Just ask a local fisherman in Louisiana how he feels about the BP oil spill in the gulf and then go ask the same question to an oil field worker in west Texas who really likes to eat gulf coast shrimp. 

 LC: And movement: travel and wandering are powerful experiences as well as powerful metaphors (for life, the human condition, etc.). Can you write a little about what movement means to you and how it influences your music? Would there even be a Ryan Bingham or any Dead Horses without the wandering? 

RB:  I think the rhythm of life on the move has been the heartbeat of this band from the start. For the most part I think the reason I got into any of this at all was the desire for adventure and it really had little to do with the music. The music was the tool that enabled me to travel and discover the world. It kept me out of the eight-to-five jobs and let me live life on my own terms. Whether we are searching or hiding, it’s the ultimate escape from the human race – that is until the doors open, anyway.

LC:  Finally, with four heavily makeuped, outspoken women flanking you on a designer sofa, what was it like playing your Oscar-winning ballad, “The Weary Kind,” on The View

RB:  It was terrifying.

Ryan Bingham and his guitar will be playing in-store at Twist and Shout Records on Friday, February 25, 2011 at 4 p.m. The Dead Horses will join him for a 9 p.m. show later that evening at the Ogden.

By: Lindsay M. Christopher

Monday, February 21, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On - At The Movies #7 - The Juniper Tree (1990, dir. Nietzchka Keene)

I have been recommending this film to Bjork fans for well over a decade now.  This film was made in 1990, but I did not discover it until 1997.  Almost every time someone starts raving about her, I ask "Have you seen the Juniper Tree?"  Rarely has anyone said yes.  It is not so important how much of a fan you are, this movie has become a film I recommend for the film quality itself and not so much because of her. 
It is a melancholy coming of age story focusing on a 13-year old girl, Margit (Björk), who has joined up with her sister after their mother has been killed by townspeople for being a witch.  Her character mixes Christian prayer, saint songs, spells and amulets in her need to control the dangerous world around her. This is loosely based on a Brothers Grimm story that stays true to their feel and to parts of the story, but the director’s focus is on the folklore of Iceland and the persecution of witches. This is a tale of an evil stepmother, just as morbid and creepy as the original - which you have most likely never heard (I had never heard it) because it was censored from most editions for children.  Margit tries to love and protect the people around her but death may be the stronger theme in this tale.
Iceland is the true star of this film, with its ragged rocks that look like ancient majestic skylines. The contrast of textures in this movie is accentuated by being filmed in black and white. It reminds me of David Lynch in the sense that B&W used in a modern film seems to give a rich sense of contrast between light and dark.  When the subject is asking moral and ethical questions like what is good and what is evil, I think black and white becomes a subtle but meaningful touch. The filming locations are stunning; the house that the sisters flee to is one of the oldest homes in Iceland, the interior shots were from rooms in two different natural museums.  The shoes and clothes were made to be true to the period, which is set roughly in the middle ages. It was written and directed by an American woman, Nietzchka Keene, and is in English, though very rich with thick Scandinavian accents. I enjoyed the lilting quality of the spoken words, the singing and the use of songbirds throughout the film.  There are scenes on the country side that look like the most perfect summer day, where the birds fill the air and background, then there are more menacing moments when they add to the tension and fear.
There is also a sexual undertone through out this movie - just keep in mind that Bjork was actually nineteen when she played this part.  She adds an innocent childlike lightness to her character while maintaining a complex depth that leaves some things open to interpretation.  This is a must see for Bjork fans, and perhaps Sigur Ros fans. This movie is also good for people who enjoyed Antichrist or Dancer in the Dark by Lars Von Trier.  But don't be scared, this film is nowhere near as dark or depressing.
- Natasha

Friday, February 18, 2011

Several Species Of Small Furry Thoughts - The comfort of things.

I don’t know about you but I greatly cherish my days off. Not only for the respite from the grind, but also because it allows me prolonged exposure to those things that mean most: my house, pets, and the “things” which identify me. I guess it is because of the tireless media drumbeat of “the death of this that and the other thing” that has made me so aware, but in the last couple of months as I have had time off I have found a new extreme comfort in things. The other day, for instance I listened to the vinyl issue of Wanda Jackson’s fantastic new album while reading the new Ken Kesey biography Acid Christ (autographed copies are available at Tattered Cover) and then moved on to the Neil Young issue of Mojo. Later I watched a Blu-Ray of the very interesting, and somewhat disturbing film adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. The point isn’t how lucky I am to have all this stuff (which I surely am), but that there is a unique and very human pleasure attached to the items I describe. Not just the content, but the item itself. The holding of a book or magazine, the flipping of a vinyl record to side B and then the endless reexamination of the cover art and liner notes, the smell of my old records which permeates the entire room, mixing with the wonderful odor of old adventures coming from my comic book closet. These are things that are not available with the online experience … and never will be. The warm, olfactory charm of thousands of records physically being in a room with you is a certain magic that may be lost on future generations. How sad. For me these days when I afford myself the luxury of lying on the sofa, blasting music, reading a book - it makes my life worth living in this increasingly upsetting and less beautiful world.

Another CD I have spent some time with lately, has been the deluxe reissue of 13th Floor Elevators classic album Easter Everywhere the 1967 follow-up to their first classic album, The Psychedelic Sounds Of The 13th Floor Elevators. I have always considered the first album this mercurial band’s best and had not really given Easter Everywhere as much attention. Big mistake! Easter Everywhere is a raw, wild freak-out album that contains some of the most authentic psychedelic music ever made. Easter Everywhere is actually a far more developed album than the first, kicking off with what could be their best song (and one of the best acid revelation lyrics ever) “Slip Inside This House” which over the course of many minutes drags the listener on a moody weird trip informed by chilling vocals, spine-tingling guitar lines and the ever-present sound of the electric jug - the thing that makes 13th Floor Elevators so distinctive and immediately recognizable apart from their contemporaries. This album really does just drip LSD. Clearly fried themselves, the members of the band shake and quiver through songs, occasionally losing the thread (or the key they are playing in), but never leaving an almost palpable sense of mystery and dread behind. The whole album is fabulous, but the cover of Dylan’s “(It’s All Over Now) Baby Blue” stands as one of the best Bob covers ever. Roky Erickson’s spooky vocals cut right to the core of this existential masterpiece. This is a real 60’s album. The deluxe reissue is a lovely package with a great booklet and two discs that present the album in both mono and stereo and offer up a bonus track. As I let the day-glow weirdness wash over me, I relished in the fondling of, and reading the booklet. There are rare photos in the package and I stare at them until my eyes grow blurry. I put the package down, but keep my hand on it, feeling the smooth surface.
- Paul

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You on #27 - Avishai Cohen – Adama (Stretch/Concord)

Here’s a little-known geo-cultural fact for you:  Over the past twenty or so years, perhaps the principal export from the nation is Israel has not been palm dates or petroleum, but rather high-caliber modern jazz musicians.  For evidence, look no further than the multi-talented New York-based saxophonist and clarinetist Anat Cohen, West Coast piano phenom Tamir Hendelman, or John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Music series.  In fact, the bumper crop of Israeli jazz talent includes not one, but TWO Avishai Cohens: one is a fine trumpeter and brother of Anat.  The second – and our subject at hand – is a bassist-composer-bandleader, and of no relation to the aforementioned Cohens.  Bassist Avishai’s first album under his own name was appropriately titled Adama (like the First Man – clever!), and was released back in ’99 by Chick Corea’s Stretch label (distributed by the mighty Concord Music Group).  To these ears, while Avishai hasn’t yet laid an egg in the recording studio, he has approached – but has yet to exceed – the impact of his album #1…
Arriving in the States following his stint in the Israeli military, Avishai dropped Big Apple jaws as a member of Corea’s Origin group.  For his debut session as a leader, Cohen assembled the core of his band from the nucleus of the Origin group, and the years of intra-personal chemistry these young lions enjoyed become immediately apparent!  From the opening theme on, Adama is infused with myriad influences from the fertile Middle Eastern cultural tapestry.  Spanish-Moorish colorings, Turkish-sounding rhythms and time signatures, Arabic instrumentation (Amos Hoffman is a standout addition on some tracks, playing the oud, an ancient lute-like instrument), and the grand tradition of Klezmer improvisation are all in full effect here.  But the unmistakable pulse of modern American jazz provides the foundation for the program to follow.  As to Avishai Cohen the improviser, he possesses in great quantity the qualities we would demand of a jazz bassist: manual dexterity and strength, a wealth of ideas, and rhythmic propulsion are all well provided for here.  As a soloist, few of the thirty/forty-somethings on the scene can even approach Cohen in terms of his fleet fingered plucking and aggressive thwacking on the big fiddle; it’s worth noting though, that his technique is pretty damned amazing but all in the service of the greater musical whole.  If Avishai is ever tempted to show off for the sake of exhibition, he keeps the urge tightly under his thumb.  But just listen to his wild runs up and down the neck of his bass – it gives me a sympathetic chill through my spinal column every time!  A word now on Cohen the arranger: While a pair of Steves – saxophonist Wilson and trombonist Davis – are the only two horns on the date, Avishai’s slippery lines sound much larger than the sum of its instrumental parts.  It’s a big sound, boy.  Big.  These two well-oiled blowers are more than equipped to spiral about one another in tandem, weaving neat voicings and countermelodies.  In the rhythm section you’ll find two then-ascendant, now firmly-established top cats: sparkling pianist Jason Lindner (pick up any ‘90s or more recent jazz CD in this store and there’s an excellent chance he’s sitting in there somewhere) and the colorful, tuneful drums of Jeff Ballard (formerly of Joshua Redman’s groups and Brad Mehldau’s bellwether trio).  These three in the engine room, plus slick horns, some added percussion and a guest appearance by Mr. Corea himself on Fender Rhodes makes this one an intriguing jazz journey over land and sea, smelling of exotic spices and good old New York cellar jazz rooms.
I’d happily recommend this tasty little disc to the classic jazz fan looking for an accessible bridge into newer expressions, or the world music lover interested in deepening their jazz pedigree.  Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll enjoy the music…
Signed with love, from Erik Troe.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Bobby Long 2/10/11 Wrap Up

Bobby himself mentioned how cold it was in Colorado from the stage several times. In spite of that fact about forty warm souls braved the cold for a quick 20-minute shot of a singer/songwriter you will undoubtedly hear more and more about. It is hard to describe this unassuming Englishman’s music, but he most reminds of Nick Drake. He is soft-spoken and his music has an emotional gravity that is rare today.
When we look at the relative success of an event like this compared to, say, a Widespread Panic in-store with three or four hundred people fighting to get in and every one of them buying up a storm, sometimes we wonder if it is worth it. But, as I was wondering this aloud last night, Chuck Morris (legendary promoter, band manager and Denver institution) said “shit I remember having Lyle Lovett (someone he managed for many years) at The Oxford Hotel playing for 10 people. This guy (Bobby Long) is gonna be huge and you were on the ground floor with him. This is great!” Thanks for the perspective Chuck! We will continue to bring in the up-and-comers as well as the sure things - cause that’s what we do.
-Paul Epstein

Monday, February 7, 2011

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #6 - Zabriskie Point (1970, dir. Michelangelo Antonioni)

I probably shouldn’t admit that my favorite Michelangelo Antonioni film is Zabriskie Point, lest somebody revoke my film snob card. I’d be better off sticking to his more agreed-upon masterpieces of meditative cinema, such as Red Desert, Blow-Up or L’Avventura. But I can’t help it. I’m an American. And a rock-n-roller. And Zabriskie Point was the Italian director’s rockin’ rage through the U.S.A. His answer to Easy Rider. His psychedelic contribution to a revolution that still seemed possible in 1970, when the film came out.
I have to concede that it’s kind of corny in parts, more than a little dated, like when Daria, the female lead, played by Daria Halprin (who
was married to Dennis Hopper for four years in the 70s), takes a hit of grass and says, “So anyway. So anyway ought to be the name of a place. Like a river. The So-anyway River.” Or when Mark, the male lead, played by Mark Frechette, strengthens his revolutionary resolve after a buzz-cut deli owner refuses to give him a sandwich for free. But for me this out-of-style stuff is part of what makes the film so cool. It’s like finding a perfectly outrageous hippy shirt at a thrift store.
And it is an Antonioni film—so beautiful it practically makes your eyes ache. It contains some of my favorite moments in the history of film: when Mark steals an airplane and rises above the smoggy sprawl of L.A. with the Grateful Dead’s “Dark Star” screaming on the soundtrack; a totally far-out sex scene, in which Daria and Mark’s canoodling in the desert magically blossoms into a full-blown orgy of naked hippies going at it amid clouds of dust (to the accompaniment of some lovely Jerry Garcia noodling); and the best of all, super-slow-motion shots of televisions and refrigerators stuffed with food and wardrobes full of clothes being blown to bits by explosives while Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Ax, Eugene” blares away. It even has a boy-meets-girl scene to end them all, with Mark dive-bombing his plane toward Daria’s old beater car as she cruises across the desert. She pulls to the side of the road and gets out and he throws a red sheet down at her so she can play like a bullfighter with a flying bull.
Zabriskie Point makes a simple but profound point about social change and the revolutionary spirit that was alive at the time of its release, and that is that the most transformational force is the power of imagination. Kind of like the old adage, “Free your mind and your ass will follow,” but deeper, full of beauty and conviction. It’s a notion that never really went away, thank goodness, no matter how many guns and cans of teargas the pigs have at their command.
- Joe