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Archives for February 2010
St. Vincent stuns at First Unitarian
Last night I saw St. Vincent play the final show of her US tour to a captivated audience at the First Unitarian Church.
I have never seen a show at First Unitarian before (blasphemy for a Philly music-lover, I know). The show was upstairs in the church proper – a church in the warmest and most inviting sense, and with wonderful acoustics. It was a perfect fit for St. Vincent’s precise, melodic orchestrations.
Backed by a woodwind player, violinist, bassist, and a spectacular drummer, St. Vincent stunned me throughout her set. I think I was most stunned because I got to take the show in alone and with no context – alone in my head, contending with such a remarkable show.
I like going to concerts alone. For all the fun of sharing a music experience with friends, their proximity can take me out of my connection to the music. Are they comfortable? Can they see? Do they know this song? Why don’t they want to dance? Sitting solo at the end of a pew my connection to the music was direct – some songs found my gaze raptly on her fingers, others eyes closed and inside of my own head.
As for context, I don’t really know anything about St. Vincent – I didn’t even know what instrument(s) she would be playing! That left me completely agog at how her five-piece recreated lush album arrangements with both fidelity and embellishment.
Most of my St. Vincent listening is spent repeating first half of 2009’s Actor, so I was worried I’d be bored after she tore through spotless takes on “Save Me From What I Want,” “Neighbors,” “Laughing With a Mouth Full of Blood,” and a crunchy “Actor Out of Work” for her first four tunes. That boredom never came. Even as we tread into songs I recognized less, each was intelligible and compelling. Neither foreknowledge nor committing songs to memory were pre-requisites for enjoying the performance.
I came away completely in awe of Annie Clark AKA St. Vincent. Her vocals were perfectly controlled throughout the show, on par with or besting her delivery on disc. Especially impressive was her guitar work, which is obscured beneath lush arrangements on LP. At the show it was much more prominent. On “Mouth Full of Blood” she navigated a series of classical-style walks and hammers, but she also worked fuzzed out riffs on the later “Marrow,” and an evocative solo and blast of utter noise on encore “Your Lips Are Red.” Also, her clean guitar tone was simply to-die-for.
Clark was winsome between tunes, gently thanking a crowd that receded into rapt silence after each bout of thunderous applause. She was clearly delighted to be playing for us, and was disarmingly frank when she confessed to the effect of, “Philly shows are great.”
I have to applaud local promoters R5 Productions for the presentation. The show was sold out, but not oversold – everyone was comfortably seated. The mixing was utterly perfect, whether that was due to St. V’s front of house guy or a well plotted sound system (probably both).
Altogether, a fantastic experience. I’m so happy that snow and slow SEPTA didn’t leave me couchbound for the night.
Rats retire from a sinking ship
I have been enjoying a budget blog called Early Retirement Extreme, written by Jacob – a man who semi-retired into financial independence at age 30.
How? Here’s a glimpse:
I don’t have a driver’s license, I don’t have any debt, I don’t live in a house, I cook everything from scratch, I cut my own hair, I practically never buy new or anything at all for that matter, I am not on any prescription medicines, and I am in great physical shape.
Essentially, he has eliminated the American addiction for conspicuous consumption from his financial diet, and it hasn’t left much else to spend on. I can definitely appreciate his no-frills approach to spending – even within my yuppy, metro life I’ve managed to live marginally.
For a more detailed analysis of how Jacob works his magic, see his recent post Your budget is like a sinking ship. He literally compares the average American budget to a ship, showing how you can plug the leaks. He also aggregates the spend on some common items – like clothing and furniture – across a lifetime, like so:
$2688 a year or a lifetime cost of more than $200,000 simply to have other people prepare your food. If the average income is, let’s say 40000 after tax, would you really want to work 5 years of your life just so you can eat a meal you didn’t make yourself a couple of times a week for the rest of your life?
While his simplistic living might seem beyond your ability to withstand, his bottom line can make sense for anyone – identify the quality of life that you want, and then plug the leaks.
The Church of Gaga
Communications blog Church of the Customer highlights the five ways Lady Gaga inspires fan loyalty, and they are spot-on.
No matter your sentiment on her music, Gaga’s outreach to fans has been nearly flawless from day one. Note that none of the five points involve buying or selling anything. What makes Gaga’s brand so powerful is she gives away a package of inclusiveness and mythology (not so dissimilar from Tori Amos’s strong success in the 90’s).
You’ve somehow been spared my intense Gaga addiction for the majority of the past year. Suffice to say, I am fully subscribed to her.
Bandcamp mixes modern distribution and musical artifacts
In world of digital downloads, what’s happening to the album – not only as a cohesive work, but as a physical product? Is it still relevant? Who wants to buy it?
Of all the people to contemplate that question, you wouldn’t expect one to be the founder of Bandcamp, the kick-ass digital music publishing platform that allows any band to adopt the recent Radiohead model of “pay what you will” and “choose your own file format.”
Yet, last month Bandcamp released their first ever physical record as an unlabel, an album by ukulele-ist Sophie Madeleine. It’s literally a record – a beautiful piece of red vinyl with screen-printed artwork, along with a digital download of the album. The release is limited to a mere 500 copies.
Not only is their unlabel model intriguing, and not only does founder Ethan Diamond have great taste in collateral (including Edward Tufte’s beautiful Visual Explanations), but the Bandcamp folks have a mind towards music as anthropology and not just noise:
[The album] must somehow be made into an object that every one of your fans has to own, has to hold while they listen to your music, and has to show to all of their friends. It must be transformed from a disposable good into something your fans will fetishize.
Ethan raises a point that will dominate this decade of music sales. People don’t cultivate large physical collections of music the way they used to. My friends are typically shocked when they witness the number of shelved CDs in my living room.
To get someone to buy an album instead of downloading its contents – legally or illegally – the media has to be more than a vehicle for the music. Record companies have it only half right when they stuff on video clips and re-purposed press kits. They tend to be of a “use once a destroy” value.
The whole point is to create something no one would destroy – something they want to keep, touch, share, and revisit.
Clearly, Bandcamp isn’t just about digital music distribution – it’s about musical modernism. Providing pain-free downloads and designing killer album packages both serve the same purpose: promoting music.
Disclosure: My new LP is available for download exclusively via Bandcamp, as is E’s band Filmstar’s first demo.