Archive for October, 2011


Shonen Knife – Japan’s Punk Queens on Tour!

While checking out the local club scene about upcoming acts online  this past Tuesday I noticed that the legendary Japanese rock trio Shonen Knife was coming to HiFi Central’s stomping ground of Albany, NY.  The venue is Valentine’s which is a shoe-box of a club normally associated with local hardcore and rock acts that I often choose to overlook on a  regular basis; however though, at times they have had some national acts roll through worth checking out.  The last band that  I wished I had known about was the California rock group Dada; one of the best nationally unknown rock bands to come out the 1990’s.  It would have truly been pretty incredible to see them that close and personal, bummer I missed it.

So, after missing that show I’ve checked the listing from time to time just to see who may be randomly doing a one-night stand.  Well, clearly the waiting and random checking of their site has been well worth the effort since Shonen Knife will be dropping by on Sunday, November 20th (18+ show).  Shonen Knife has been around since 1981; the only remaining member making Shonen Knife still Shonen Knife  is lead singer and guitarist Naoko Yamano.  The remaining founding members Atsuko Yamano (Naoko’s sister) and Michie Nakatani left the band to pursue other interests, but the replacements for these members have held their own over the course of the last decade never losing the true Shonen Knife sound.

Over the course of the past 20 years the band has released 19 albums and toured with the likes of  Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Mudhoney, and perhaps the coolest bragging right, Nirvana.  The band has appeared on the BBC with famed rock radio host John Peel,  performed on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and has been featured on MTV’s 12o Minutes.  The band was a featured act on 1994’s Lollapalooza tour as well.  So, even though they have not reached the heights of fame since their decade long run in the 1990’s, they still have a loyal following and are anything but a goofy band hanging on to remnants of fame.

HiFi is heading to this show with great anticipation; I would not be surprised if it might be the last chance for you to see them in the US for some while.  This tour is supporting a Ramones tribute album entitled “Osaka Ramones” released this past July, so I’m sure that it should be a fun and unique show!  Get your tickets soon since it will be sold out, especially since Valentine’s only holds about 50 patrons; and be sure sure to bring your earplugs!

HiFi will provide a full review of this show, so check back.

You can check more out about the Valentines show by clicking here.

You can check out some samples of Shonen Knife’s “Osaka Ramones” by clicking here.


Matthew Good “Lights of Endangered Species”

Matthew Good is a singer/songwriter from Vancouver, British Columbia (that’s Canada for the geographically challenged) and has been putting records out since the mid-90s. Originally going under the title of MGB, Matthew Good Band, the band broke up after the release of the album “Audio of Being.”

Since then Matt has gone solo, both acoustic and with a new lineup of band-mates. He cites the main reason for the breakup is that they were headed towards “rock purgatory.” We all know what this is, a band becomes so successful with one sound that they (or their label) won’t let them take a step in any other direction for fear that it may not bring in the same type of revenue they’ve grown accustomed to.

Well Matt smashed that notion to pieces in 2003 with the release of Avalanche an album that has been on rotation almost on daily basis for me. The diversity in sounds from track to track was noticeable, a trend that hasn’t stopped since he’s gone solo.

Matthew Good has explored the avenues of acoustic, country, folk, rock, jazz, and often uses classical orchestral compositions in songs: Enter Lights of Endangered Species which was released on May 31st, 2011.

It debuted at #5 on the Canadian chart and the centerpiece of this album are the songs “Zero Orchestra” and “Non Populus” as they bring the past decade of his work into a synergy of sounds.

The best quality of Matthew Good is his live performances. Though he brings politics into the show and talks about current events between songs, he has this brashness of common sense that makes you wonder how nobody has been able to figure out ways to solve these problems before.

I digress, back to the album…

While I know not many of you reading this know who Matthew Good (+/- Band) is, you probably aren’t familiar with his catalog of music. As a fan who does, it’s pretty cool to see him rocking at the age of 40 as if he were still 25.

Between “Non Populus,” “Zero Orchestra,” and “Extraordinary Fades” I can forgive the fact that it’s only a 9 track album. I can forgive that he’s made songs that sound exactly like “Shallows Low” or “In the Place of Lesser Men” on prior albums. I can forgive those because they’re still good solid stand alone songs to someone that’s never heard them before.

And man do these two songs simply blow me away. The fun and the big band swing sorta feel from “Zero Orchestra” and then straight into “Non Populus” which is some serious post-apocalyptic triumph movie score material. The time, effort and willingness to take a chance on something less commercial is especially commendable. Making the best song on the album around 8 minutes long will put some record companies into a real bind to get it on the radio. But I give Good and producer Warne Livesey immense credit for going out and bringing in other artists to do the brass and string sections of the album.

Anyone who’s ever worked in a collaborative effort knows what an absolute clusterf*ck of ideas and egos can spell disaster for an entire effort (Metallica & Lou Reed anyone?) this was almost the case here as well. Luckily strings were pulled (pun intended) and Lights is a huge success in my mind due to the fact that an artist is willing to take on new challenges and produce great new material in directions you and I haven’t seen before.



Gretsch Guitars – George Harrison Duo Jet Contest

I thought this was a cool thing to post since many people would be interested; well, at least I hope a few.  As many would agree, Gretsch guitar’s are probably one of the most well-known and respected instruments in the World.  Nearly every musician I know has always mentioned that owning one would be the sole “prized possesion” of their collection.  Whether you play Rockabilly, Punk, or Jazz, Gretsch guitars are the “holy-grail” of the hollow-body guitar World and the sound they create many would say is impossible to replicate.  Regardless of how well they sound they are also visually striking curves and colors, not to mention that they use top end materials and the attention to detail truly make a Gretsch guitars highly collectible. As result hey are also priced accordingly; often a base models selling for around $2,000 or more.

Cool artists like Chet Atkins, Brian Setzer (ex-Stray Cats), Jim Heath (Reverend Horton Heat), Eddie Cochran, and even Tim Armstrong  (Rancid) all play Gretsch guitars (and even have their own personal models, how cool!); it would be fair to say that many of them owe their sound and ability to play with ease thanks  the Gretsch instruments.  This month Gretsch has decided to pay dubious homage to Beatle great George Harrison and create a model in his memory, for a mere $20,000!   Doesn’t leave you much left to afford lessons, eh?  Perhaps the price is due to you getting one of George’s personal guitar picks with the guitar, hmmmm, still seems like a rip of a thrown in for $20,000.  Perhaps, say, it included one of his personal guitar cases it might be somewhat better, but a guitar pick?


Oh, and you also get an original 1987  7-inch pressing of his hit “I Got My Mind Set On You”, uh, I think I can get this at a used record store for about $1.00???????????????  C’mon Gretsch, you can do sooooo much better than that, no?

Perhaps the real reason is the amount of time and attention that was put into re-creating the model he actually played to exact specifications, and I guess it would be important to add that on 60 are being made.

Well, for most of us average blue collar, tight budgeted folks, the best we can hope to demo a Gretsch in our lifetime would be at Guitar Center under the watchful eye of management giving us about 10 seconds.    Luckily, the company has created an open contest to win one of these incredible Harrison creations.  Regardless whether you know how to play or not doesn’t matter, the thought of owning this righteous guitar more than makes up for my ability to play a note.

If you are interested in entering the contest click here, and hey, if you win you’ve got let us know!


Weird Al Yankovic @ the Palace Theater in Albany–Tuesday October 18th, 2011

When asked if I wanted a free ticket to attend Weird “Al” Yankovic one and half hours before the concert started, I simply couldn’t refuse this random and spontaneous opportunity. Especially since my memory was immediately flooded with absurd verses from 1996’s Bad Hair Day, my first and only copy of a Weird Al album.

My friends and I arrived ten minutes before show time; the orchestra level was almost full and I imagine nobody was up in the balcony. From young children to baby boomers, the age range of the audience was pretty diverse. A lot of adults weren’t there with kids either, but that didn’t surprise me. Weird Al has been making parodies of popular songs since the early 80s and is still relevant and appreciated by generations old and new. Touring off his latest release from June, Alpocalypse, Yankovic emerged onstage to boisterous applause and cheers, beginning with his most recent polka medley, “Polka Face.” Strapped with an accordion and backed by a rock band, Al proceeded to perform top 40 radio hits from 2008-2010 with his trademark polka twist, including the obvious “Pokerface” by Lady Gaga, “Day ‘n Nite” by Kid Cudi, “Fireflies” by Owl City and “I Kissed A Girl” by Katy Perry.

Yankovic continued to play songs off “Alpocalypse,” probably to keep the younger demographic satisfied, knowing their attention span and invested interest wouldn’t outlast their elders. A satirical new song “TMZ” pokes fun at the gossip site, notorious for posting photos and stories about the outlandish antics of celebrities. “Another Tattoo” comments on people’s strange need for more bizarre skin markings to fulfill their ink obsessions. One performance I thoroughly enjoyed was “Craigslist”, the music being a blend of various Doors songs with lyrics mocking the missed connections section and free stuff posts: “You were a blonde half-Asian with a bad case of gas/ I was wearing’ red Speedos and a hockey mask.” Al tapped into his inner Jim Morrison, wearing tight pants, a bohemian white blouse and shaggy wig, vigorously gyrating as if inebriated a.k.a classic Morrison. Of course the night wouldn’t have felt right without him doing his Lady Gaga parody “Perform This Way”, a youtube sensation receiving over nine million views. Wearing a peacock costume with his band also dressed in outrageous costumes was laughable though not nearly as ludicrous as Gaga would have done it.

Visual presentations of zany clips and references to Weird Al in popular culture kept the audience entertained during his numerous wardrobe changes. His famous “Al TV” interviews with musicians such as Madonna, Eminem, Robert Plant and Keith Richards were edited to create a humorous interplay between Al and his chosen subjects. Sure, they were silly and corny but funny nonetheless.

Going all out is Al’s forte for sure. Other memorable performances included his nineties hit “Amish Paradise” where he and his band dressed as Amish folk. During “White and Nerdy” he recklessly rode around on a Segway, rapping in a tacky red jumpsuit. And of course, Al performed his Grammy award winning songs for “best comedy recordings” and most beloved Michael Jackson parodies, “Eat It” and “Fat.” Yankovic dressed as MJ for the former song and donned a chain laden fat suit, complete with a double chin for the latter performance.

We all know “Weird” Al is big geek and speaks to the nerd inside us all, making his Star Wars inspired encore of “Yoda” and “The Saga Begins” a totally appropriate note to end on. “Yoda” uses the music of “Lola” and “The Saga Begins” is Don McLean’s “American Pie” (Anakin guy). Most definitely a clever lyrical homage to the Lucas legacy, especially the acapella and dance breakdown during “Yoda.”

While I never expected to attend a Weird Al concert in my life, this show undeniably exceeded my expectations. The man can perform in more ways than one, humorously yet impeccably embodying the spirit of the musicians he mocks (can’t forget “Smells Like Nirvana”) and continuing to deliver his traditional polka versions of popular songs throughout the past decades. He’s funny, quirky, dorky, and clever and knows how to put on an interesting concert for all ages. My friends and I couldn’t help but laugh and smile when we discussed our favorite moments post-show.



Trey Anastasio – Free TAB six-pack

Totally 0ld news since it was made available last month; but if you are not aware of the free six-pack sampler offered on the website it is worth your time.  As many know, Trey and his band made several stops along the US earlier this year to select cities spreading their incredible music throughout.

This sampler is worth downloading, sadly there is nothing from the Albany, NY show in this mix, but regardless, I’m just happy that it’s free!

You can find the download at and will need to set up a free account and password.  The free downloads offered by LivePhish are temporary, so you need to act quickly before they take it down.

Check it out and let us know what you think!


EOTO @ Jillian’s in Albany – Thursday October 13th, 2011

String Cheese Incident’s live improvisational side project EOTO returned to Albany this past Thursday, redeeming themselves after a redundant and unimpressive set back in April when they opened for Bassnectar at the Washington Armory. Instead of catering to the “basshead” crowd like last time, their set at Jillian’s demonstrated the duo’s uncanny ability to create and execute multiple styles of dance music. While both are trained drummers and percussionists, Jason Hann sits behind the drum set as Michael Travis stands surrounded by samplers, keyboards, a guitar, and bass, focused on crafting melodic loops.

I only caught ten minutes of ELECTRONICAnonymous, EOTO’s opener. This DJ project of Jules Jenssen, the drummer of Higher Organix and more recently Indobox, warmed up the dance floor by playing dubstep and electro-house for the eager young crowd. After a short break, Hann and Travis came onstage and the main event of electronic music magic began.

Performing two sets for an approximate total of 3 hours, EOTO continuously explored various genres and thoroughly excited the audience at every turn, much to my delight (considering their previous wobble heavy sets from the Armory and The Big Up). They cohesively concocted one style of electronic music to the next with a nice balance of breakbeat, house, dubstep and techno. At an early point in their first set, EOTO went from an upbeat electro-house tune to a west coast hip-hop instrumental, very reminiscent of a Dr. Dre beat. From there, Travis plugged in an electric guitar and used a sitar setting, creating a very psychedelic, middle-eastern vibe as Hann laid down a mellow, dub beat. Glancing at the six flat screen TV’s displaying kaleidoscopic visuals made it an especially trippy show moment for me.

In addition to bass and guitar loops, EOTO threw in popular vocal samples over fun and quirky dubstep rhythms, including Salt N Peppa’s “Push It” and Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie.” Watching Hann switch tempos and drum styles, smoothly transitioning from fast aggressive patterns to slow, syncopated beats was also very entertaining. Basically he is the groove monster and Travis is the loop master.

It was incredibly enjoyable to witness EOTO’s charismatic musical prowess and energy onstage at Jillian’s. For two middle-aged men to appeal to young twenty-somethings nowadays is rare. After Thursday’s experience, it’s apparent Hann and Travis are tuned into what’s new and relevant in today’s electronic music scene, indicated by their diverse palette of styles and unique take on live improvisation. With a demanding fall tour schedule (playing 29 out of 31 dates in October) it’s remarkable how hard this aging yet rambunctious dance factory works, striving to captivate and move audiences from one city to the next. I hope EOTO continues to bring the same raw energy and variety that was present at Thursday’s show because it truly reminded me how talented and multifaceted they are as musicians.

Performing at Electric Forest Music Festival in Michigan

Rating: 4/5


Reflecting on the genius of Elliott Smith

As most of us with large music collections there is the ebb and flow of revisiting old favorite albums or artists for simply sentimental reasons, or at times just to remind yourself why you chose to keep one album over others.  Recently while deciding which of my 300+ cd’s I wanted to upload to my computer I came across four albums of the late artist Elliott Smith.  There was no doubt in my mind why I had held on to his music, it was classic and timeless; his music (for me) symbolized a close friend always there you could rely on during lonelier days; oddly I felt somewhat guilty having not listened to his music for some time.  It felt like leaving a penpal awaiting a response letter and just saying you would get back to them when you could find the time.  It was also an odd time to rekindle my interest in his music with the 8th anniversary of his death approaching next week on October 21.

I was introduced to Smith’s music on a lark when visiting a past bandmate in LA; he had Smith’s self-titled 1994 album playing in the background and I really liked what I was hearing; I clearly recall the song playing was “Needle In The Hay”.  After that visit I did my best to get as much as I could of Smith’s work and up until about 4 years ago listened to his music on a regular basis.  I was living in Boston at the time and hearing of his death on the way to work; it was a shock and almost one of disbelief; I was saddened on one hand that he was actually gone and at the same time amazed that his death would make mainstream news to report.  It has been said by many that for them it was “the day the music died”; and for my generation, I would have to agree that Smith was one of those bright lights that quickly faded before truly gaining the geniune recognition of their brilliance.  In some ways, art imitated life with Smith; his songs often contained issues about heartbreak, sadness, dissapointment, and emptiness; clearly not the happiest themese or uplifting music much of us tend to gravitate towards.  However, it was just those themes that worked with his compositions and allowed Smith to create a unique sound that would be difficult to geniunely replicate.  It would appear that Smith was far more comfortable hiding in the shadows and releasing albums for a dedicated underground fan base.  From interviews I ‘ve seen or heard, he appeared to be a painfully shy person who clearly yearned for artistic freedom, privacy, and appreciated (humbly) his minimal success in whatever form.

When Basement on The Hill was posthumously released a year to his death in 2004; I was so eager to find out what he had been working on since his album  Figure 8.  Smith had not released an album in nearly 4-years.   There had been a buzz prior to the release of Basement on The Hill that it was Smith’s intention for it to be a double-cd set; but much of the material had remained unfinished.  The version of Basement on The Hill that was released was produced by Rob Schapf  who had produced both of Smith’s previous releases XO and Figure 8, and his prior girlfriend, Joanna Bulme of the band Quasi.  Schapf has stated that he did not really produce much on the album and only used the materials that Smith had recorded in the making of the final copy of the album, however, he has also noted that it was most likely not the final product that Smith would have released, regardless he felt that leaving it untouched was the very least he could do to preserve Smith’s artist merit and contribution.  The album was at the very least, a parting gift by Smith’s family to provide some solace marking the first anniversary of his death to those that admired his music. 

There are few artists who I can honestly say that I like all of their albums equally, Smith would be the exception.  If you do not have albums by Smith, my advice is to start with his 1997 album Either/Or;  just such a solid example of his creativity and gifts as a talented musician and song writer.

There is an interesting SPIN magazine article and reflection about Elliott Smith by Ellen Carpenter, you can click here to read more.


Motion City Soundtrack Live

Motion City Soundtrack played at Northern Lights on 10.9.2011 and this is what I thought of the show:

The opening bands were hit or miss, the highlight of those being the band Aficianado.

They may not be the best band out there, most of their songs usually follow the same formula *cough* Staind, Linkin Park, Pearl Jam *cough* and I know, they’re not musically inclined other than for that pop/rock radio-play sound. All I say is, so what? They put on a fun show. They are fun guys and they just want people to come and have a good time…

But what really grinds my gears here is the crowd that an otherwise rhythmically pleasing band like Motion City draws…

you know the type

The hipster kids who wear scarves in the summer, the types of kids who have to get thick framed glasses and bring along a measuring tape to find out whose frames are thickest! The types of kids who all have their iPhones out the entire show, trying to record every minute of music so they can run home and upload it to youtube and facebook as to seemingly prove the world wrong: LOOK EVERYONE!!!!!! I went out and have a life! The types of kids who have nose rings. The types of kids that dye their hair pink. The types of kids that shout “Rage!” during a band who has never inspired a headbang to any crowd anywhere, ever. The types of kids where 2 people decide to try and make a mosh pit and crowd surf (in a crowd of maybe 250 people, [it was extremely satisfying to drop him on his head.])

So in short, it just goes to show how followers can ruin a great thing. Religion, I’m looking right at you. Except Bad Religion, they put on an awesome show worth headbanging, moshing and crowd surfing to!



Apparat – The Devil’s Walk (Mute Records, 2011)

Sascha Ring, working under the moniker, Apparat, has transcended to a new level of composing as indicated by his latest endeavor, titled after a poem by 19th century romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The German musician’s 2007 LP Walls showcased a dreamier blend of ambient and electronic pop, suitable for an array of moods. Whereas The Devil’s Walk uses minimal percussive elements and focuses on beautifully crafted pieces; most soaked in melancholy and poetic lyricism while others include smatterings of uplifting string arrangements and tonal progressions.

The album starts with “Sweet Unrest”, which creates an aura of curiosity and wonder experienced when beginning a new chapter in your life. Definitely an appropriate opening track laden with vocal ooh’s, atmospheric textures and a string motif.

Two singles released prior to the album’s release were “Black Water” and “Ash/Black Veil.” (color coincidence or dark thematic implication?) While the former stands as one of the more powerful, cinematic moments on The Devil’s Walk, both tracks are equally poignant and mesmerizing. Once the instrumentation thickens in “Black Water”, a crescendo builds and a climactic point of the song is reached when these lyrics are sung, “Fact isn’t what you see. Not anymore than it used to be.” “Ash/Black Veil” brings string layers and vocals to the forefront, adding a nice touch of progressing percussion that enhances this compositional journey. These two tranquil songs are great tunes to listen to when in transit, especially as day turns into night or when darkness turns to light.

Goodbye” is a song you imagine accompanying a funeral or death scene in a movie. It starts off with ambient noise, when a ritual sounding drum enters, setting the tempo. Then guitar harmonics, prominent piano chords and haunting lyrics sung by Anja Plaschg contribute to the somber tone of this farewell inspired piece.

Another soundtrack style composition is “The Soft Voices Die.” The strength of this song unfolds at the two minute mark, when violins and subtle percussion aid to the bell and xylophone introduction, a nice tempo transition from slow to fast.

There are some truly grandeur sections throughout this album, but it’s lacking the rhythmic elements that Apparat mastered in his previous solo record. Though he began his career making techno oriented beats, even collaborating with electronic heavyweights Modeselektor in 2009 (Moderat), the shift is expected when Apparat mentioned he aimed to “design sounds rather than beats.” Sure, my expectations were high after hearing the first two gorgeous singles but I felt the entire album fell a tiny bit short of its epic potential. Overall, it’s a pensive, ambient soundtrack suitable for rainy and gloomy days.



Blink 182 “Neighborhoods”

Blink 182 released their first album since the self titled disc dropped in September 2003. A long hiatus from playing and touring together as each band member went off to do their own thing. Mark Hoppus (bass, vocals) created a couple of TV shows and started producing, Travis Barker (drummer) created collaborations with just about everyone who’d get into the studio with him: Tom Morello, Slash, The Game, Flo Rida, Drake, Eminem, Lil Wayne, and even did a “Stairway to Heaven” cover on American Idol with the likes of Mary J Blige, Steve Vai and Randy Jackson. Tom DeLonge (guitar, vocals) went off and met some commercial success with the band Angels & Airwaves (whose album Love II will drop on 11.11.11)

The first single off Neighborhoods is “Up All Night” and compositionally speaking, it sounds raw and real, much like their albums Dude Ranch and Cheshire Cat, but lyrically picks up where they left off with Take Off Your Pants and Jacket and Blink 182

I’m not going to go through this song by song as a normal review, but I’m going to summarize the feel I get from the band:

Maybe it’s just that I grew up with Enema of the State and heard nothing but songs of teenage rambunctiousness lasting well into their twenties, or the social drama that we perceived to make us “cool” or not… they were fun and they were funny. That’s what we loved about the band’s videos and their sound. But this isn’t the same band anymore. You could see the change coming in Pants and Jacket and it really hit home on Blink 182. These guys have grown up. What they’re singing about is some heavier motifs in life. From divorce, depression, abuse (both physical and mental) and they now have a message other than party and have fun.

Is the new Blink worse than the old? Yes and no. They still have the sound that is unmistakably theirs and they can still put on a great show (just saw ’em at SPAC a few weeks ago) with laughter and their immense stage prescence… and Travis’ drum solos (my head would explode if he and Neil Peart did a drum off.) They had glimpses of this on earlier albums, from “Adam’s Song” to “Stay Together for the Kids” to “Easy Target” and “All of This” but never had these songs of seriousness engulfed an entire album.

Blink 182 was a band that got us through, or helped us hold onto, our adolescence and our youth. Now, maybe because most of them now are parents, and are seeing things from the other side of the fence, have a message to the kids who’ve been used and abused by parents and peers.

It’s not a bad thing, it’s just not what we’re used to. You’re going to have to listen and decide for yourself:


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