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Escondido: A Dustland Fairytale Without The Happy Ending

As a Valentine’s day gift to my beautiful girlfriend, I purchased a bouquet of hand-picked concert tickets. Among those tickets was a pair to see Nashville-based Escondido at First Avenue’s younger sibling, 7th Street Entry. As a band, the group is finding success at only 3 years old. They’ve set out on their own not only by creating their own label, but also by making their own outfits for their tour.

With most of the songs about some form of heartache or heartbreak, an occasional slide guitar or trumpet making an appearance, and the hand-stitched sequin outfits the performance felt like a dustland fairytale without the happy ending.

Possibly stifled by “guitar ghosts” and other technical issues, the crowd took a little while to warm up to Escondido. But, a little positivity from lead singer Jessica Maros and a little humor from the band’s other leader, Tyler James, onlookers started to sway, smile and tap their toes. That’s saying a lot when it comes to an audience full of Minnesotans.

We love our music, but we don’t often love to show it.

Closing their set with “Heart Is Black” led to a relatively significant bit of commotion from the crowd, but the commentary on the concept of an encore after the briefest intermission I’ve ever experienced easily placed itself atop the non-musical highlights.

I’ve always wondered when bands were going to start thinking about the logic behind the encore, especially when it’s expected.

Tangent aside, you should see this band, even if only for the homemade outfits and trumpet solos.

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Phil Cook: An Unstoppable, Genuine Good Time

Part of me was nervous as my friends and I entered the First Avenue main room, but most of me was excited. Excited to share what I recall being an undeniable, smile-inducing good time with Phil Cook on stage, nervous that the Phil Cook magic may have only existed at the (mostly) sunny Eaux Claires Music Festival.

Phil Cook’s solo music feels familiar. There are lots of people who have made, are making, and will make this type of music in the future, but the ever-present smile on his face and the mood that came with it at Eaux Claires set him apart.

That isn’t to say Phil isn’t a talented musician. His resume speaks for itself (see: Megafaun, DeYarmond Edison, Akron/Family), but his first solo effort isn’t freak-folk, it isn’t about wowing you with brave new ideas as much as it is about having a good time as a community of music appreciators. In that way, Phil was the epitome of the inaugural Eaux Claires experience.

I am happy to report that sense of community carried over to his First Avenue performance. It became clear that no matter how many times Phil plays these songs, there’s always going to be an unstoppable, genuine joy radiating from the stage. It’s electric. If you weren’t a fan of Phil Cook going into that night, you became one. If his jangling feel-good songs and sing-alongs wasn’t enough to win you over, his authentic charm nudged you over the edge.

Phil Cook now exists among a mortal few that I will always strongly recommend you go see live, any chance you get.

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Phil wouldn’t put his own face in his own face hole.

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Get Some Protein from Sunflower Bean

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: you don’t find music, music finds you. In the case of Sunflower Bean (E: “Beam?” Me: “Like black or pinto — Bean.” E: “I don’t trust Chipotle anymore.”), I felt more seduced than found. A friend floated their name past me: “They have a song called Tame Impala.” A seed successfully planted just in time for the emergence of spring.

NCAA madness is brewing, the clocks are skipping forward, warmer weather reveals itself, baseball’s back and so is South by South West, which means I’m crashing at a friend’s place in Austin. Lucky me, it’s the week he’s ordered two more speakers and a subwoofer to round out his 5.1 set up. In keeping with the company I prefer to keep, he’s a fellow music junkie and I’m the type of guest who wants to leave something behind to commemorate the good times. What better than some 12” wax discs to flex the new subwoofer muscle?

The scene: Waterloo Records, Austin, TX. A band plays in the parking lot out front as I flip through the electronic vinyl section. I’ve decided on the bass friendly, emotionally charged, deep house debut of Bob Moses – Days Gone By. At the cash register, while I’m paying, I notice a stack of records: Sunflower Bean, “Human Ceremony.” Me: “My friend just mentioned these guys to me.” Waterloo dude: “That’s who’s playing out front right now.”

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A misty, mid-SXSW, mid-day set before a hungover, disparate, zombified crowd more into their beers and smart phones than the music. Despite the darlings (read: droll devils) around me, the Beans grabbed me with their brand of fuzzy, psychedelic garage, jam rock providing the base for black and pink pixie haired bassist and singer Julia Cumming’s vocals to float above. Once the set concluded, before I took my first step, I received my order confirmation for their next LA show.

That show was last night. The Thursday “Friday night,” all ages crowd at The Echo put the lazy listeners in Austin to shame and moved Julia to tears. After the unremarkable reception at SxSW, the amped up fans singing her lyrics back sparked something in her. As her eyes dried, she jumped down off stage and jammed her way into the pit. The bouncing bodies didn’t miss a step, while simultaneously forming a cocoon around her so the bass rocking could continue unaltered.

The confident performance felt like a (young) career defining moment — a sold-out show where a contagion indiscriminately infected 500 lucky souls at the heart of a big city. Consider yourself warned.

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Daughter: Captivating Stillness At The Center

The two ends of the spectrum were well represented. Down on the floor, at the epicenter an engaged assembly clearly ready to let the emotion shaking music of Daughter envelope them. On the outer rim and up on the balcony, a group of people celebrating birthdays and talking about the song that they’ve “cried to many times before” while it’s being performed live. An odd mixture for a sold out show.

Daughter to me has always been a very personal experience. Though I had listened many times in public, I was always in my own headphone universe. To have only had that experience then walk into a jam-packed First Avenue, I didn’t know what to expect. From headphones to amplifiers, isolation to an impermeable crowd, could I connect the same way I always had?

Watching from the epicenter, I was captivated by lead singer Elena Tonra’s stillness. With lyrics as raw and bare as “I sometimes wish I’d stayed inside my mother, never to come out,” her almost catatonic state only emphasized the authenticity of the emotions. Meanwhile lead guitarist Igor Haefeli, seemed to feel every beat, his passion for the tone and the instrumentation was immediately apparent. The illustrated intimacy, honesty and dedication to production of mood helped this experience transcend the rest.

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In middle of the show a change of scenery was needed due to some lightheadedness, and led to a brief mingle with the other end of the spectrum. Needless to say, it was a distracting. A spiritual affair became a grumbling contemplation of how the audience at a sold out show could include anyone so disinterested, followed by the realization that maybe this is just what life is like away from the epicenter.

Eventually, an oasis with a clear sightline became available and all was right again. As the crowd sang every word to “Youth” we caught one of a few big smiles from Elena, a representation and acknowledgement of the communion felt throughout (almost) the entire First Avenue.

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Baths: You’re Going To Need More Than Just One

Ever wonder what it would sound like if a Transformer had an orgasm? Neither did I.

What I experienced on Friday night at The Echo evoked that very question and its answer when Baths took the stage before a hometown crowd. The crunchy beats and glitchy construction at the heart of Baths’ music doesn’t always present an obvious way to dance along, even if it compels constant movement. When they’ve gotten you to let your guard down, when you’ve gotten into a good dancing groove, that’s when the tectonic plates start shifting. Will and Morgan start disrupting things, tangling the layers and fraying their connective tissue. The friction they create gives birth to designed defects, igniting a frenzied growth of uncertainty. The lights are strobing, and it sounds like sparks should be flying as the innards of the mixers and speakers are being forcibly rearranged with the most honest of intentions. It’s this trusted exploration and sense of adventure that sounds like a Transformer’s climax:

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In it’s deepest moments, flashes of the cozy construction that begin it all emerge for seconds, like a mirage — before vanishing. Teasing the return to cool and refreshing clarity. As cool as you can be at the center of a kinetic crowd mid-set.

 

 

In the landscape of sometimes thrashing, sometimes head bobbing, other times bass thumping music as the backdrop, Will’s vocal performance provides the focus. When he’s cooing over beats, threading the needling with his luminescent falsetto introversions, I imagine his voice like the lone candle light in the basement as the storm rages outside. The hope and the warmth shouldering the weight of the worry. But do not make the mistake of confusing him as someone to merely aid in weathering the storm, sometimes he sings like he’s conjuring one. Their closer “No Eyes” is a prime example of this. As the song peaks, Will bursts into a yell, with every cell in his body exerting maximum effort, like he’s shouting the rite of exorcism. At the moment their impassioned ultimate track concluded, the demon driven out for now, Will’s caloric reservoir had been depleted of all will to hold on, and he literally dropped the mic.

 

Three Shows
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