Monday, July 30, 2007

Open the Book to Page France

For at least the last eight months I have been hearing the band's name being thrown around or praised a number of times and I finally took some initiative and sought out some of their music. Although Page France have just released an album titled "... And the Human Telephone", their 2005 release "Hello, Dear Wind" is the one I chose to listen to. Or did it choose me? Either way, to my pleasant surprise, I was instantly keen on their melodies made for humming and lyrics which caught my ears with sonic fishing hooks. Each song floats along, sometimes sleepily, other times merrily, with the vocalist (and "brain child") Michael Nau's smooth and earnest lullabies (akin to Ben Gibbard) backed by an acoustic guitar and various added elements and instruments that can't help but work so well together. There's a somber yet joyful air to the music of Page France. This inability to settle feels appropriate for the over riding theme of religion and the main man upstairs J.C. "Jesus" even has a star role as the title of track two. Many allusions and blatantly biblical references are found throughout "Hello, Dear Wind", which with other artists can be sore to listen to, when you start to feel like your mother is in your headphones nagging you to go to church again, but Page France are not preaching. Without the reinforcement of being a firm believer I found solace in knowing Page France is asking the same questions we all do. My favorite line that puts it all in perspective is found on "Dogs" where Nau confesses "I'm not sure what happens when everything here ends, but I hope it's like they say, and I hope it never ends..." To be realistic, sometimes one must come to terms with and embrace the universality and absolute influence of the Bible which has been repeated, retold and transformed through various works in time. The imagery of the roaring lions, gushing streams, hearts of gold, swinging chariots, trumpets calling, and dancing animals playing in a band sounds more like a party than a sermon.

"Hello, Dear Wind" is warm and bright. There are tambourines and bells, hand claps and backing female vocals and songs that I feel I've heard times before, and wish I'd written myself. Fifteen tracks sounds intimidating at first, but Page France are nothing short of a pleasure to listen to, fall asleep to or sing along to, loudly. I find comfort in knowing that Michael Nau has brought all of his friends on this record to share them with us. Although I have read that tidbit of information somewhere else, those loud noises that only friends can make when spending time together is what makes this record great. The album's opening and closing songs together culminate with the repeating lines of "we will become a happy ending.." and I don't know what I feel when it's all said and done, but this one sure is a keeper.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Rock Plaza Central and More, Albany, July 19th, 2007

Sitting in a bohemian victorian living room, building off of a joyous burst of imaginitive one ups, I became a music reporter amidst the quiet reflection that follows a good giggle.

I turned to Fiona, Scott and Blake, the violinist, bass player and percussionist of the band Rock Plaza Central and asked the question: "So what did you guys think when Chris first came to you and said, 'guys I've got this great idea, let's make an album about steel horses'?"

They all laughed.

It was 2:30am and in the other room were various members of Sgt. Dunbar & The Hobo Banned, Big Frank's Corey Hough, and My Friend Peter, blasting away a Langhorne Slim tune, hootin and hollerin through big banjo choruses. This was the big party we'd been planning since the hobos told us that RPC would be coming southeast to Albany for July 19th. Here we were in the Kirk House, christened that night "The Railroad", being joyful with Rock Plaza Central.
The question about steel horses was the first time we had talked about Rock Plaza Central all night. Conversation to this point had covered a swath of topics from the Quebecois and the history of their desire for independence, to Andrew Bird and his Bowl of Fire, the secret society of ghosts, Magritte, and sprial dynamics.

The question made the room laugh. After a series of jokes I can't remember and probably a long hilarious story by Blake I would doubtful do justice to, Fiona said, "But seriously it just kind of happened without us realizing it." She went on to say something about the songs being written on stage and the story unfolding before the eager band.

Scott jumped in with his response to my question, nodding his head in sarcasm, "Okay. I am an excellent steel horse.... Are you fucking kidding me?"

"I was the last person to come on board," Fiona admitted.

Scott went on describing the band's less than enthusiastic initial response, "But then I realized, 'that's brilliant! what a brilliant allegory!'"

Throughout the night Fiona complemented the shear musicianship of her fellow band mates and we got to witness it first hand as members of the band each played songs from their individual musical endeavors.

The Valentine's show was the mood setter. The anticipation upstairs was contagious. A good number of Albanians turned out for the Thursday night bill headlined by RPC, with local bands Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned, Margan and the Red Lions, and My Friend Peter opening.

My Friend Peter started things off, playing an endearing set of longing songs to an attentive crowd. His nervousness was friendly and witty and his delivery polished, at one point even singing the first lines of an Otis Redding song without the help of a starting pitch or a chord on the guitar.

Margan and the Red Lions debuted an exquisite set of original indie jazz pop songs. They played maybe five or six songs and sounded extremely tight for it being their first public performance of this set of songs. They had me thinking of Andrew Bird and Cake with Margan's vocal and piano leading the way.

Next Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned took the stage. They rambled and clammored and strummed, horned, sawed, and drummed through a set of rawlicking indie folk songs. Their melancholly optimism, their melancholly joy, left the upstairs of Valentine's pulsing in anticipation.

So when Rock Plaza Central took the stage and started plucking the opening notes of "I Am an Excellent Steel Horse" the crowd welcomed them with such vocal exuberence that lead singer Chris Eaton was visibly astonished.

The entire upstairs seemed to sing "I am an Excellent Steel Horse!" in unison. This followed the same for "My Children Be Joyful!" and "I Want to Be a Shining Example hull hull!" and the show started to feel less like a rock or folk show and more like gospels and churches full of hymning believers.

Their affirming, reasurring choruses are full of joy and positivity but not too far beneath, one cannot miss the melancholly of wounded faith. Their sing alongs sing like idealistic realistic outbursts overlooking a deep inner disbelief.

Rock Plaza Central's closer, the show's climactic anthemic finale, "We've Got Alot to Be Glad For!" found an a cappela chorus of chanting singers both onstage and off repeating the line over and over as the moment kept building on.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Cancel your plans for Thursday...

Unless your plans for Thursday include moseying on over to Valentine's on New Scotland Ave. in Albany to catch the show of the summer.

You've seen the bill.

And if you haven't, it's right there---->

To get an overview of the performing artists, conveniently, all you need to do is surf this blog (amazing):

Sgt. Dunbar and the Hobo Banned was featured on May 15th in the blog, "First I Was Their Fan" which was closely followed by My Friend Peter on May16th: "First I Was Their Fan: Part Two." The Canadian headliners Rock Plaza Central are found on April 23rd "The World Was Hell to Us."

But that leaves out one act worth not being left out...Margan and the Red Lions.
I thought I'd best give these folks a listen and I was left feeling thoroughly satiated.

Margan and the Red Lions sounds like Andrew Bird dancing in the snow between gypsy cobwebs...but not old and creepy cobwebs...beautifully spiderly crafted cobwebs that leave you sitting and pondering just how long it took that little spider to weave that web of silk. Margan and the Red Lions site influences ranging from Sylvia Plath to Beethoven and sing about glass windowpanes in the morning and winter roses.
I was especially struck by the image of someone's hair having grown since when they last said goodbye...mine tends to do that.
But don't take my word for it. Not about my hair, but about the bands, although my hair will be present at Valentine's on Thursday as well.

And in the mean time break all the rules of concert etiquette. Get out your Sgt. Dunbar t-shirt. Listen to your Rock Plaza Central CD on repeat. And listen to it while parking your car on New Scotland Avenue just before the show. And especially, have your Rock Plaza Central CD playing at the after party that Rock Plaza Central is invited to. Study all participating bands' myspaces. Be a real geek. For a change.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bark, Hide and Horn (and worms)

All the men call me Ham, the first space chimpanzee

So according to Eric there were no worms in North America until an English ship dumped soil into Jamestown (happy 400th birthday New World) so that they could grow tobacco... or something to that effect. This greatly paraphrased, second hand piece of information comes from a National Geographic printed at some unkown time to me.

However, I do know that Bark, Hide and Horn, a folk rock band from Portland Oregon, found inspiration in National Geographic's from 1957-1967.

"Folk-rock" is a bit of a generalization that I stole from their myspace. What I hear in the songs is the unpredicability of early Modest Mouse, some well done electronic pop, some formulaic yet immortal country progressions, and melodic folk with a shimmering trumpet.

Chris Eaton of Rock Plaza Central worried that RPC's new album "Are We Not Horses?" might come off as a bit too cooky for people, being a concept album about robotic horses that think they are real horses. BHH's theme for "Treasure of the Everglades" comes off as even more cooky because the songs are written from the point of view of the different animals showcased in the magainze dealing with various bizzare circumstances. But don't let the silliness of the following playlist synopsis turn you away, the music is beautiful and original and another step toward the masterpiece of the first decade of the second millenium.

The BHH myspace playlist will include: a plea to Jane Goodall from the suicidal astro-chimp Ham, the prettiest song about snail sex you've ever heard, a spider madly in love with his latest catch of fresh fireflies, a freed honey ant slave who was doomed for sacrifice, and a grizzly out for revenge on the naturalists who took his lover away from him.

If ants and snails could make music like this; so bursting with desperation, fear, anger, vengence, and sorrow, more people might realize that we'll be sad when they're gone.

sorry, no mp3s, available, go here: (I'd suggest "The Treasure of the Everglades" as a first listen, it's a superb song)

now to play golf in the house

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Hunting for Red Hunter

I'd like to meet Red Hunter. I think he could teach me a lot about life. Mostly in a reassuring kind of a way. Red would sit down with me on a swingset that first we would build and say "you're alright girl." And then he would pick me a wildflower from the field and I would tuck it in my ear and I'd feel just that much better about life.

The Red Hunters of the world are hard to find, and when you do find them, you hold on to them tight, and don't let go, because it's hard these days to find the people who are doing what they love because they love it, and encouraging others to do the same....not only just encouraging them, but actually helping them to get there, nudging them along, giving them piggy back rides, and picking them wildflowers that smell of approval.

Red Hunter is an ordained Shaker Priest, and wants to get certified as a Unitarian minister too because "there's a lot of rad gay people out there and I want to marry them all."
Red Hunter is the brains behind the indie label Whiskey and Apples where he is committed to helping to promote outsider friends. And Red writes most of the songs for his band Peter and the Wolf.

Peter and the Wolf's new album Experiments in Junk is just out, and with it comes the tour of spooky places that Red so likes to play. I'm sure there's more than a few graveyards in there, and probably a few lake islands, accessable only by canoe. The first part of the tour will be traveled by sailboat.

Although the song "Windows" sounds like it was recorded on a cellphone, Red admits that "Jaywalkin" actually was, while crossing the street in Manhatten...apparently talking on your cellphone while crossing the street is illegal in Manhatten, but I guess playing the ukelele on your cellphone and crossing the street isn't. And if it is, Red don't care.
I feel the positivity oozing.
Whiskey and Apples:

Noah and the Whale

Here it is. My usual summer slump. Where everything I usually listen to begins to bore me but I'm not bored enough to bother trying downloading some client that will let me download more music. Of course, this means perusing myspace. Which is really the only thing that silly site is good for nowadays, unless you are fourteen and you want everyone to believe you are twenty six. Fourteen year olds aside, one day while I was still in my pajamas at four o'clock in the afternoon reading a bunch of useless articles and myspace cruising I stumbled upon this pleasant sounding folk band from London. I tried looking for more information on Noah and the Whale but I couldn't really find any. I am pretty sure they are one of those bands which has a consistently shifting number of members, but I could be wrong. They have that unproduced quality that immediately makes one think of a bunch of dudes sitting around making music and playing at the local venues. Basically, if I lived in London this is probably a band I would be going to see on a regular basis.

I'm not sure what immediately grabbed my attention. Perhaps it was just that good old accordion sound in the song Jocasta. Perhaps it was the violin part in the song Rocks and Daggers. Maybe it was the way the lyrics manage to be straightforward without being clumsy. I'm not quite certain. All I know is that I'm glad I decided to listen to Noah and the Whale.


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