Elf Power Opens At The Orpheum, Boston, MA

Neutral Milk Hotel shows are sold out almost everywhere. The Orpheum Theatre in Boston was no exception. I was lucky enough to take in the second show on January 17th, 2014. Elf Power opened for NMH, and within a few songs Andrew Reiger (guitar-vocals) engaged the audience. When someone jokingly called out “Freebird,” the band looked a little more comfortable for the banter. Reiger ventured further telling a story about one of their better known tunes, “Walking With The Beggar Boys,” the title track off their 2004 album by the same name. Reiger composed the song in Warsaw Poland where he befriended beggar-kids that kept him up all night running outside his hotel. It’s a tune that has some heft and seemed to center the band locking in their groove.

Elf Power Open for Neutral Milk Hotel at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA
Elf Power Open for Neutral Milk Hotel at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA

Laura Carter is a multi-instrumentalist indeed, on one song playing a Moog while holding an electric guitar ready to strum and singing. Their material is heady — it can travel from heavy bass and Moog rattling the rafters to whispers of electronic sax or the brashness of real brass and accordion. They fit well with Neutral Milk Hotel and they’re part of the Elephant 6 collective.

Reiger, impressively, was on a twelve string electric for most of the set. Thematically, songs are often dark, about dread and lust, phantom limbs and social complexities. Their sound wanders through sixties territory falling into the genre of psych-rock with heavy fuzz coming out of the Vox as Bryan Poole aka The Late B.P. Helium lays down fine runs on lead guitar. He handled back-up vocals with aplomb, and I just gotta say -never shave those Wolverine lamb chops – never.

Elf Power’s rhythm-section comprised of James Huggins (bass) and Peter Alvanos (drums) kept the band on course. Down home progressions cascade in layers cresting into sonic tapestries evocative of the late sixties Beatles Yellow Submarine at times. Elf Power is a band you can submerge into and wake up dreamy. They’re currently touring to support their new release Sunlight On The Moon (2013) from Orange Twin/Darla. The album was an NPR pick of the year.

Neutral Milk Hotel’s Sensational Comeback

Neutral Milk Hotel played to a sold out Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA
Neutral Milk Hotel played to a sold out Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA

The audience was on their feet before the stage was lit. Jeff Mangum (vocals-guitar) walked out to the mic, slung on his old acoustic guitar, and strummed the first chords of “King of Carrot Flowers.” The audience roared as the lights went up, let the hoedown stomp begin.

It’s been fifteen years since Neutral Milk Hotel has toured. Where once they would play small clubs whose’s stages could barely fit all the players, now they’re selling out theaters that hold nearly three thousand people. This was true in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre for two shows in January. They’ve been sorely missed.

Mangum, bearded, shielding his eyes with a plain grey Castro military cap, wearing jeans,work boots and plaid shirt is the epitome of the working man. Casually, he acknowledged each band member as the audience screamed. Julian Koster added accordion to the song, and the crowd went nuts. Scott Spillane was forced to wave as he took position on stage with his horn. The crowd was ecstatically pleased to see the big man with the bristly white beard and mop-top hair.

The concert followed the song list of Neutral Milk Hotel’s last album, the highly acclaimed 1998 In An Aeroplane Over The Sea. Mangum’s was in great voice and his hollar was clear and striking. The band adds character and an uplifting energy when it’s the whole crew of up to seven on stage.

Koster, the youngest, I’d wager, looked cute as a button in a knit Angry Birds cap, as he jumped, danced and thumped his red bass with paper snowflakes taped to it on “Holland, 1945.” Jeremy Barnes added electronic bag pipes during the set, cementing the haunting melodies into the roots of Scottish Appalachia. But hints of punk, New Orleans Zydeco and brass dirges meld into an eclectic and layered sound. Driving drums, Moog that pulsed through your being, a bow with no rosin tearing up the banjo and the ever present accordion, sometimes two, builds an absolutely relentless sound, energetic and engaging.

The audience would deliver rebel yells and Indian war cries between songs as Mangum sucked down water bottle after water bottle. Before “Comely,” the man in front of me yelled “we love you,” and Mangum, nodded and tapped his chest. It was a love fest. The title track had Mangum letting the audience sing with with him as he plaintively sang the lyric “soft and sweet, let me hold it close and keep it here,” with Koster’s etherial saw and Spillane’s horn added wonderfully to the cacophonous tune. Laura Carter from Elf Power, Neutral Milk Hotel’s opener, also played guitar, brass and sax on various songs sporting giant Elvis glasses and a red kerchief looking right at home between Spillane and Koster. Unkept and profound as the New York Times has said, indeed.

Los Lobos, Kick-off Outside The Box Festival In Boston, MA

Los Lobos, Out of the Box Festival, 2013, Boston, MA Photo by C H Willson.
Los Lobos, Outside the Box Festival, 2013, Boston, MA Photo by C H Willson.

Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and Alejandro Escovedo hit the Beacon Stage.

Outside The Box Inaugural Festival July 13-21, 2013

Maestro Charles Ansbacher, the founder of Boston Landmarks Orchestra and Free for All Concert Fund passed away in 2010, but his legacy is manyfold. Outside the Box founder Ted Cutler was so touched by the man’s simple philosophy that “concerts should be accessible to all” that he “built an entire festival around it.” Robert Brustein, critic and Founding Director of the A.R.T also was involved from the ground up in the creation of this enormous happening.

The kick-off concert was held on the “Beacon Stage” on Boston Common. One of several stages specifically setup for the nine day event. Three jumbo-trons surrounded the stage and the grass was partitioned off for VIPs. Sponsor’s logos were prominently displayed on the proscenium.

We missed Los Lonely Boys’ and came in as Alejandro Escovendo was leaving the stage. Los Lobos kicked it into “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” with an unexpected awesome funk grind, followed by another great cover of the blues classic made most famous by The Allman Brothers, “One Way Out,” but originally recorded by “Sonny Boy” in the sixties. Everyone sang along to the chorus, “Cause there’s a man down there, might be your man, I don’t know.” The vibe morphed into country soul with “Just A Matter of Time,” and Steve Berlin performed an amazing bass sax solo. Los Lonely Boys joined Los Lobos on stage with a very tight version of “Don’t Worry Baby” from Los Lobos breakout album “How will the Wolf Survive?” (1984). The Lonely Boys continued the extended jam, Jojo Garza offering up a wicked bass solo on that number. The Los Lobos’ singer and guitarist Cesar Rosas jokingly warned that with that low tone on that solo Jojo was getting close to brown tones. Next up was some Grateful Dead. The audience danced and held forth with much applause, followed by “Bertha” written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter with another kick ass guitar solo by the long haired lead guitarist and singer Los Lonely Boy’s Henry Garza sporting a Boston Strong shirt. For the encore Barrence Whitfield, a local boy, joined the crowded stage with a screaming rendition of “Georgia Slop.” Los Lobos ended with their signature “La Bamba” and “Good Lovin’” the 1966 Young Rascals hit.

More music, theatre, and art events will take place throughout the week – all for free. Some highlights include the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Puppet Show Place, Quick Silver Dance, Taj Mahal, Gaga The Musical, Imagination Movers, James Montgomery, Air Traffic Controller, and a concert on Saturday evening featuring Buffalo Tom, The Lemonheads and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones at the Beacon Stage.

For a schedule of events see: http://outsidetheboxboston.org/

Los Lobos, Los Lonely Boys, and Alejandro Escovedo are touring together.

Dandy Warhols Rock the Wilbur, Boston, MA

Dandy Warhols, Courtney Taylor-Taylor

The Portland Oregon alternative rock band the Dandy Warhols rocked it with a bit more hair than when 13 Tales of Urban Bohemia first came out thirteen years ago. The tour is for the re-release of the newly remastered 13 Tales album with new material.

Dandy Warhols, Zia McCabe

Courtney Taylor-Taylor, his long hair tied up in a knot, stood behind two microphones, right leg crossed over left to reach his guitar peddles in off black jeggins and Beatle boots. His brass belt buckle to the side so as not to scratch the finish of his guitar – so rock star it hurts – and he is so easy in that persona. There were some shout out’s to Zia McCabe as she walked on stage since it was her birthday, and two additional back up players were there to help round out the sound so that the Dandy’s would sound as close to the record as possible, according to Taylor-Taylor.

The first set followed 13 Tales in it’s entirety. The horn player in the back let Zia McCabe do other things on her synthesizer and shake the shit out of a pair of maracas while singing back up with the slow building philosophical “Godless,” “Muhammed,” and “Nietzsche,” none of which have lost their power. Taylor-Taylor’s deep growl surfaces in pouty sex idol lips with a sneer Elvis would be proud of, but it isn’t hostile nor studied boredom – it’s the affect of a Zen master of psychedelic rock. The slow build of the first set broke into a frenzy with the power pop hit “Bohemian Like You” and thus started the audience participation. Peter Holmström may look like someone you wouldn’t bring home to meet the folks, but he tore it up on a variety of guitars including but not limited to a cool black Rickenbacker, a hollow-body Telecaster, that had surf sound galore, and a Fender Stratocaster.

Dandy Warhols, Peter Holstrom
Dandy Worhol's at the Wilbur, Boston, MA
Dandy Warhol’s at the Wilbur, Boston, MA

The stage craft, lighting and projections were stunning, and added to the mood, whipping the crowd into a frenzy or slowing it down into a slow pulsing swaying groove. As the evening progressed, Taylor-Taylor did a solo version of “Every Day Should Be A Holiday” with just a hollow-body guitar and one of his two mics pointed at the audience while the rest of the band took a break. He made a Jedi joke and complained that since he wasn’t drinking or smoking these days, he had to do this bit. He stepped back from the microphone and sang while playing guitar and he is such a strong singer, you could hear him. It also speaks to the great acoustics of the Wilbur Theatre.

When the band rejoined Tayor-Taylor on stage, he led the audience in a round of “Happy Birthday” for Zia McCabe. He flubbed the name humorously, like one does when it’s not someone you know as the audience sang in full voice. She raised her Corona bottle in thanks and drank to the crowd’s rejoicing. The second set began with just the four primary Dandy’s doing dance material like the growly “Good Morning” and notable anthem singalongs “We Used To Be Friends,” and “Horse Pills.”

Dandy Worhols, Brent DeBoer
Dandy Warhols, Brent DeBoer

When the bass drum got out of alignment, there was a meaningful glance between Brent DeBoer a.k.a.“Fathead” and Taylor-Taylor. Taylor-Taylor showed no compunction about yelling for “Joe to tape the bass drum” in the middle of the song, making it feel like a smaller more intimate setting. Fathead was in amazing voice and it was a thrill to hear his high notes coming through in person. Eventually, Taylor-Taylor joked about the indentured servitude of the backup players, as they came out to finish the set and their continuing tour of America and “Canadia” as he talked about the significance of 13 tales being re-released on13-13-13 and its mind blowing synchronicity. The encore had Holmström using a bow for etherial sounds on electric guitar cascading into Pete Townsend windmills as Taylor-Taylor did split jumps during the rocking guitar and heavy synth of “Boys Better” ending finally with McCabe’s solo of “Daisy On My Toe.” It was a spectacular show.

13 Tales of Urban Bohemia remastered with bonus material will release on June 11, 2013 on Capitol Records.