Archive for the ‘Musikfest’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: SSINGSSING-Tiny Desk Concert #651(September 21, 2017).

I have never seen or heard anything quite like SsingSsing.

It’s easy to dismiss them as a novelty by looking at them, but their music is really compelling.  Their songs may be (as stated below), a regional folk style, but the music is really groovy and interesting–the bass is nicely prominent but never obtrusive, and the guitar plats a lot of different strumming techniques, bringing very different intonations to the music.

And then there’s the front trio who are totally infectious.

One look at (and listen to) the cross-dressing, Asian rock band SsingSsing and you would hardly think they’re singing music inspired by traditional Korean folk. But SsingSsing isn’t like any other band I’ve ever seen or heard.

The group sings a regional folk style called minyo and the gender bending look has to do with shamans not glamour. As singer Hee-moon Lee describes it, “In Korean traditional art, male shamans, called baksu, have the body of a male. But as mediums, they need more than a single sexual identity, because they’re channeling both male and female spirits. When I act a female character and sing, I have to overcome the fact of my being a male sorikkun (singer), and try my utmost to bring a more neutral, unisex feeling to the performance. It sounds silly, but I feel like going back to the sensibilities of my youth, when I liked Madonna, helps.”

They play three songs:

“Minyo Medley” opens with reggae guitars and the strangely infectious vocal of the female singer doing a nearly cartoon-high pitched” Oh” sound and the taller male singer (with the cute white bob and white lipstick) laughing and then stating “Oh,” as if surprised out of his laugh.  It’s weird and catchy and cool all at the same time.  The lead singer with the magenta curls sings traditional vocals and eventually the other two join him.  The middle of the song slows down to a quiet guitar motif and mellow singing from the lead singer.  The end of the song picks up speed with an almost ska feel as it rocks to an end.  Then there’s a little coda of that opening (and even more crazy laughter) as the song ends properly.

On “Nanbongga (Song of Beloveds)” the woman sings lead which opens with a slinky groove and all three gently dancing.  The two men alternate spoken words before the woman singing in a traditional female Asian style takes over.  By the middle of the song everyone is dancing with the men singing back up and the tall guy (I love that he is holding a clutch the whole time) saying what sounds like “caw.”

The final song, “Saseol Nanbongga (Narrative Song of Beloveds)” appears to be a variant on the middle song (although perhaps not, it is musically quite different).  However, the taller guy does a lot of very fast recitations in the verses with impressive delivery.  The backing vocals are really catchy and the lead singer is really into it. The song totally rocks by the end.

How bummed am I to have found out that they were at MusikFest this summer and I could have seen them?  Because this is a band that begs to be seen live.

I don’t know which singer is which, but here’s the band members: Hee-moon Lee (vocal), Da-hye Choo (vocal), Seung-tae Shin (vocal), Young-gyu Jang (bass guitar), Tae-won Lee (electric guitar), and Chul-hee Lee (drums).

[READ: June 25, 2016] Amulet: The Stonekeeper’s Curse

I read the Amulet series last year but for some reason never got around to posting about the books.  So, let’s get this series finished.

The Stonekeeper’s Curse opens pretty dark.  We head to a tower where guards have captured the creepy looking guy from book one (Emily could have killed him when he attacked them, but she spared his life).  Turns out this guy is the son of a faceless creature (in a scary mask).  The father says that his son has failed him again.  The son argues but the father’s mind is made up.

He will have one more chance to get the amulet and the girl and he will have help from an older looking creature named Luger.

Cut back to a colorful scene with a walking house (that happened in book one, too). Navin is “driving ” the house and is doing a pretty good job.  They are on their way to Kanalis to get medicine for their mother who was injured in the first book.

Kanalis has suffered a curse and most of the people in town are slowly turning into animals.  It may or may not be contagious.  As our heroes walks around, a fox-person is following them. But as soon as the creepy elf guy charges, the fox steps in.  Emily sees him and asks who is he.  He says he’s a bounty hunter.  Miskit says they don’t want to deal with his kind.  He ultimately relents and admits he’s not really a bounty hunter.  His name is Leon Redbeard and he offers to help them if they will help him too. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 14, 2016] The Avett Brothers

2016-08-14 21.01.57Sarah and I were supposed to go see The Avett Brothers but our child care debacle meant that only I could go.  Other people did bring their kids to the show (there were quite a few kids, actually).  Once I showed up, I suggested that she come with the kids but they were settled in for the night by then.  This would have been a much more fun show with Sarah–The Avett Brothers are a fun band meant to be shared with your neighbors.

But at the same time, among a sea of really short people, the two guys right in front of me were gigantic.  And worse yet, they talked to each other throughout the show by leaning in to each other.  I tried to watch the first two songs between their giant heads but they kept leaning in and blocking my entire view.  So I moved to the side of them and the guy next to me asked me to move back to give him more room.  Well, since I had paid for two tickets I was using the space.  So if Sarah had been there, we would have been really tightly packed and one of us would have seen nothing.

When I joked that since Sarah couldn’t come I hoped the show would be terrible so she wouldn’t miss anything, she retorted with a line from the great Amy Schumer Abusive Relationship sketch: “I hope the next time you got to a concert that the band doesn’t play the song you want to hear and instead they just play songs from their NEW ALBUM.”  And that came true when they did not play the couple of songs I really wanted to hear and did in fact play six songs from their new album.  I like a bunch of Avett Brothers songs quite a lot, although I don’t know a lot of their catalog.  I don’t have their first releases and I haven’t gotten their newest album (although I have listened to the new album a few times and did like it).

So if I’m not a huge fan, why go?  Well,I had heard that their live shows were epic–fun and wild with sing alongs and foot stomping and covers and all that good stuff.  So my expectations were high for a good time.  The crowd seemed largely into it–although as I said the people on either side of me were real drags.  It was even weirder when during a couple of slow songs, there was a lot of chatter around me.  I think everyone was distracted by the flashes of lightning that filled the sky in the distance.  Knowing that previous shows were cancelled, those flashes were worrisome.  The lightning stay far away and were actually very cool to see and despite the threats, it never rained on us and nothing was cancelled. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 14, 2016] Langhorne Slim

2016-08-14 19.00.02 I had planned to go to Musikfest early on Sunday to catch Kississippi who I missed at XPNFest.  But as soon as our child care plans fell through, I knew that that early show was out the window–missed them yet again.  I wasn’t even sure if I’d get there in time to see Langhorne Slim, but he went on a few minutes later than scheduled, which worked out perfectly for me.

I didn’t know Langhorne at all.  I thought he was a country singer but he’s more folkie, which I liked.  And he’s from New Hope, PA which makes us practically neighbors.

Musikfest had been plagued by thunderstorms this year.  Earlier shows had been cancelled or cut short because of them.  And like the other nights’ forecasts were mixed–from 0% to 100% chance of thunderstorms during the show.  I arrived just as Langhorne was coming out on stage and he introduced The Avett Brothers.  Scott and Seth sang a fun and spirited rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” to try to keep the rain away and it pretty much worked.

Langhorne joked that that was the last we’d see of The Avett Brothers that night.  And then he proceeded to play a number of songs just him and his guitar. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 9, 2016] VoirVoir

2016-08-09 21.30.20VoirVoir was one of the opening bands for The Flaming Lips show I saw at Musikfest last year.  Because I mis-estimated the amount of time it would take to get to the show, I missed all but the last few chords of VoirVoir’s set.  But I liked what I heard and bought the CD.  And then I spent the past year trying to see them again.  They’re a local Bethlehem band, so it didn’t seem like it would be that difficult to catch a show.

They’d played a few times in the Bethlehem region but I was never available.  And then finally they announced they’d be at Musikfest again.  I wasn’t even sure if I could make this one, as we were supposed to come back from vacation that day.  But we wound up coming back the night before and I was determined to take a few hours and see the band.

And I came to the realization that I’m glad I missed them for the Flaming Lips because I suspect that that 30 or so minute set in the blazing heat at 6PM paled in comparison to this 90 minute set on a small stage on Main Street.  (Although I do have to wonder if they had more room up on the big stage last year).

VoirVoir is a five piece band consisting of drummer Josh Maskornick, bassist Matt Juknevic, keyboardist, xylophonist and lead singer April Smith, lead guitarist and singer Matt Molchany and, playing her last show with the band, Felicia Vee on guitar (she is also the drummer in the band Moonstruck). (more…)

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2016-08-09 19.14.11[ATTENDED: August 9, 2016] Mariachi Flor de Toloache

Some time ago, I watched Mariachi Flor de Toloache on a Tiny Desk Concert.  So when I saw they were playing Bethlehem’s Musikfest, and that they were on just an hour or so before the band I was really excited to see, I made a point of getting there extra early to witness the mariachi greatness in person.

Mariachi Flor de Toloache are from Brooklyn and are one of the few all-female mariachi bands on the East Coast.  On record the full complement of the band is 13 members, but the touring band seems to be Mireya Ramos on violin who played some amazing solos ; Shae Fiol on vihuela (see below) who was a great performer, encouraging everyone to clap and dance.  Veronica Medellin played guitarron and sang and Julie Acosta played (impeccable) trumpet and taught us all to “oip!” at the right time. (more…)

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azyoumeSOUNDTRACK: VoirVoir-There are No Good Goodbyes (2015).

voiroivrVoirVoir eluded me at Musikfest this year.  I was supposed to see them open for the Flaming Lips but my shuttle arrived late.  And they played THREE TIMES on the following Saturday, but we couldn’t coordinate getting to a stage where they were playing.  Which is  shame because after missing their set the first night, I bought their CD and really liked it a lot.

My copy of the CD looks like the one at the right except that someone in the band hand cut out two irregular shapes in the cover so you can see through to the back, which is a cool touch.

The album itself is mostly punky and fast with vocals not unlike Superchunk or more accurately Built to Spill. Not that they copy either band, but you get that comfortable rocking feeling from these songs.

“I Wanna” is such a great opening statement. After the fast punky verse there’s a slower chorus which is just as catchy as the verses.  I could listen to this song all day.  “Make Your Bed” also has a wonderfully catchy chorus—the way it shifts into such an upbeat song after the buzzy and feedback filled verse is wonderful. “Stupid for Now” reminds me a lot of Built to Spill—there’s no guitar solos or anything, but in the catchiness and slow build of the verses and the much slower but still catchy chorus. It’s a great song.  And I love that there is a  glockenspiel as well as the guitars in the mix. “His Last Sound” continues in this vein with another great chorus.

Track five opens with a surprise when a new vocalist enters the mix.  My copy of the CD has precious little information about the band–just a list of names.  But I’ve pieced together some details to determine that the main vocalist is Matt Malchany and the female vocalist is (I assume) April Smith.  So “Be Your Machine” opens with Smith singing and her voice is great–hushed and deep–a stark contrast to Malchany’s voice, which takes over after the first verse.  She (or perhaps both women, guitarist Emily Meixell is also in the band) provide backing vocals to the more delicate chorus.

“Let’s Not” plays with the loud/quiet, male/female dynamic more as the verse is brash and loud and sung by Matt and the bridge is quiet and sung by April.  Then they mix it up further with a later quieter section sung by Matt.

“There are No Good Goodbyes” is a gentle song sung by April.  It has really interesting swirling guitar noises that are almost ominous.   I love the way she sings the chorus slowly as the music builds and builds faster and faster.  “If Miles Were Years” has some interesting dissonance as well, especially the closing ringing notes.  And once again, there’s a catchy chorus. I also really enjoy how much attention is paid to the percussion at the end of this song and many others (nice job Josh Maskornick).  And lest I forget bassist Matt Juknevic who keeps the rhythm steady throughout the variations of tone.

“Down Together” slows things down with a martial beat and a duet of vocals. It has couple of moments of loudness that build and drop off only to return to the delicate sound of the beginning.  The final song, “This is a Drag” is indeed a bit of a drag. It’s slow and repeats that chorus in a kind of monotonous voice.  It doesn’t really play well with the rest of the album, even if the end does build (and yes maybe by the you’re enjoying singing “this is a drag” along with them).  I can imagine it might be fun live if they can let it build and build and jam on it for a while, but the rest of the album is so up and fun that this closer is kind of a drag (especially since it’s the longest track on the record).

But despite that, I absolutely love this album.  And I love the way I discovered it, and I love that are from Bethlehem, PA, which means I’ll be able to see them live one of these days, surely.

Check out VoirVoir at their bandcamp site and order their album!  We need to hear more from them.

[READ: July 27, 2015] The A to Z of You and Me

I admit that I am a sucker for stories that work along a kind of theme (or gimmick).  But only if the book is done well.  And when this book had the subtitle of A comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Small Mistakes, it seemed interesting enough to dive in.

When I say that this book is narrated by a man in hospice, you can be sure that that information would normally be enough for me to stop reading.  The last thing I need to do is read a book by someone who is dying–especially if he is only 43.

But the way the story is told is really intriguing and it unfolds the plot in such a great way.  The A to Z part is something that the hospice nurse has told the narrator, Ivo, to do to keep his mind active.  Think of a body part for each letter of the alphabet and then think of the most interesting thing that has happened to that body part.  And so page one starts with Adam’s Apple.  And while he doesn’t exactly think back to his own, he does remember a teacher’s Adam’s apple from grade school and how it left quite an impression on his young life.

The book is written in first person but is mostly directed towards “you.”  And “you” is the woman that he was dating whom he is no longer dating. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 7, 2015] The Flaming Lips

2015-08-07 20.46.40I have been a fan of the Flaming Lips for a pretty long time.  I saw them in 2000 on The Soft Bulletin tour and it was one of the most exciting concerts I had been to.  Wayne Coyne was a stellar frontman, and he spoke of love and happiness and togetherness and it was an amazingly positive experience.  So, when they broke out “She Don’t Use Jelly,” their goofy novelty hit from 1993 (which I was surprised by), and they released hundred of balloons into Irving Plaza, the whole atmosphere was filled with joy.

For that show, it was Wayne on vocals and gong (he played the gong a lot), Michael Ivins on bass and Steven Drozd on everything else.  For a drummer they used a video feed (of I believe Steven).  It was weird but it worked really well.  And even fifteen years later I remember it very fondly.

Well, in fifteen years, the Lips have gotten bigger, technology has gotten cheaper and more portable and Coyne’s ambitions have gotten more psychedelic.  And this was the most fun I have ever had at a concert when the set list was no where near one that I would have put together myself (more on that later).

So for this show, there were giant costumed characters on stage, there was a gigantic wall of video screens, there were confetti guns (mounted as well as hand held) and there were balloons (much bigger balloons than last time).  And yes, Wayne crawled out in the hamster ball. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 7, 2015] CHAPPO

2015-08-07 19.50.02I bought tickets to see the Flaming Lips at Musikfest (opening night headliners!).  By the time the show came around it was announced that there would be two opening acts.  Local Bethlehem band Voirvoir and Brooklyn band CHAPPO.  I had listened to the Voirvoir album streaming and I really liked it.  So I decided to get to the show at 6 to check them out.  Well, I didn’t realize how chaotic Musikfest was.  So between the parking and the shuttle bus and finally finding the venue I got to the band as their final chord rang out.  I didn’t even get to actually see them, just head then end of their last song.

But since I liked the stream I listened to, I bought the album… and it is fantastic.  I will post more about it shortly.  They are also playing again (3 times!) on Saturday at Musikfest, so I may try to bring the family down to check them out.

Since I was then plenty early for CHAPPO (whose music I didn’t stream because I knew I’d be seeing them), I walked around the grounds and checked things out.  And by the time I got back to the seats I was dehydrated and feeling a little unwell.  So even though I was in row H, I sat further back in the shade with a cold water.  And at first I wasn’t too impressed with CHAPPO.  The songs were good but I think the mix may have been off (or, more likely I wasn’t feeling great).

2015-08-07 19.24.10But I was watching the people up front having a great time, and I enjoyed that the singer was throwing things into the audience (turned out to be tubes with confetti (fun!)).  And I enjoyed watching the guitarist use a bow in his guitar (how many times this summer?).  And after a few songs, some water and the shade creeping into my section, I decided to head up to my seat.  And that when CHAPPO won me over. (more…)

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