Somerville has always had a reputation for appealing to the artist community in Boston. Whether it’s a live act to watch after dinner, or an art gallery to browse during the day, there’s enough creative energy here to satisfy every taste.
When I first moved to Somerville, I became enamored of the “Open Studios”, an annual event where resident artists literally “open up their studios” to interested neighbors and local art enthusiasts. Now, the Somerville Arts Council has added another warm-weather event to their calendar, Porchfest.
Porchfest is not new, but it’s slowly gaining popularity across the country. Local musicians take center stage on the front porches of willing volunteers. It’s all about giving the local community a free show, outside, in a safe, neighborhood environment. It could not have been a better day for live music.
Starting in Union Square around noon, over 75 acts of eclectic musical variety made waves throughout the residential heart of Somerville. Almost by accident, my friend and I caught the end of a roots rock quartet in Prospect Hill. There was a sizable group on the sidewalk with drinks and focaccia topped with pesto in their hands (provided by the porch’s owner). We stood there, along the periphery, enjoying the sights, sounds, and smells of it all. Everyone was happy, smiling, enjoying the music, chatting like neighbors do. I only imagine these sentiments were shared all afternoon across town.
Porchfest has found a good home in Somerville. There will always be a community of local musicians ready to volunteer their time, and there will always be a neighborhood of enthusiasts ready to hear them out on what promises to be a perfect spring day.
Porchfest was on Saturday, May 21st from 12-6pm. It’s sure to come back around the same time next year, so keep your ears ready. You can find out more by going to http://www.somervilleartscouncil.org.
Peter Bjorn and John @ Paradise Rock Club
Boston was once again the place to be for this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebration. The weather was pretty, and everyone of age was having some tequila, toasting “¡salud!” to the end of another year at college. I was at Sunset Cantina with a few friends, drinking margaritas with blue salt on the rim, eating nachos and catching up before the main event at the Paradise Rock Club.
Peter Bjorn and John – the indie rock trio from Sweden that spiraled upward in fandom when they came to the states – was a much-anticipated event. We made every sacrifice to see them play a Cinco de Mayo show together. The last time they did this in Boston was back in 2007, right as they were getting national acclaim for their third major album, Writer’s Block. They were making waves in the indie scene with their single “Young Folks,” and I was promoting them through a local radio station that fostered their rise to fame. This year, the trio returned to show us something new.
On one of Boston’s most notorious drinking holidays of the year, the trio (guitarist Peter Morén, bass guitarist Björn Yttling, and drummer John Eriksson) took to the stage and immediately dove into my favorite song, “Up Against the Wall.” It was serendipitous; my friends and I had discussed our favorite songs by them earlier in the night. I was glad this wasn’t just a tour of their new album, Gimme Some, even though that would have been amazing. The tracks they did highlight embodied an optimistic enthusiasm for live performance. They played a variety that spanned over several albums, giving me a taste of everything new and old. They brought a great, frenetic energy to the stage. Their sound was powerful, poppy, new wave and enjoyable all around.
There were occasional jam sequences that blew my mind, and Peter would sometimes grind into his guitar and improvise solos that made my head bang uncontrollably. He even jumped into the stage a couple times to play his harmonica, and Bjorn would rock the bass in wild support. Even John had his moment, playing his heart out, standing over his drums, banging incessantly while P&B offered instrumental backup. They played an hour-long set, left the stage, and came back with drinks in their hands minutes later, toasting and celebrating before returning to another great set. I regret not staying long enough to thank them personally for an awesome show. It went on until just about midnight, and I eagerly picked up a t-shirt before racing to catch the last train home.
Rubblebucket, Millionyoung, and Com Truise @ Le Poisson Rouge
Greenwich Village, NY
Red Fish IPA
New York City is a ready-made home for music lovers looking to experience something new. Their scene is so eclectic, and yet it gives every band and artist a place to peacock. Greenwich Village is one of those places, a hotspot for music, and it’s there my notes began.
My bus from Boston dropped me off in the heart of Chinatown, and I waited, leaning on a newspaper kiosk at the corner of Canal and Bowery, scanning the countless passing faces for my friend, Lapre, to meet me after work. He, like me, wouldn’t pass up a show like this.
Le Poisson Rouge (The Red Fish) is a great venue. It looks like a nightclub, and its basement feels like a trendy jazz club. The tables were cleared out for standing room only, and yet, having arrived there when the doors opened, we dropped our gear at a standing bar table near the VIP lounge, and began to marinade on Red Fish IPA and colorful lights blanketing a slowly-growing audience.
The show started for Com Truise, and the club was quarter full. I could tell right off (but was surprised) that he was the opening act. I’m familiar with his work, and recognize it as the night begins. He breaks into something new that flows with his style of heavy percussion and synth waves. This is future electronic music. He improvises on the machines, even though it is an orchestrated piece. Lapre compares it to a modem and a drum, and I laugh.
He grooves to his own music as he plays on stage, and on occasion he looks back at the wall, covered with visualizations. A song plays with reverberating alarms, and dissipates to a rolling thunder of applause. A set of hieroglyphs flash on the massive screen, and I try to grasp what they mean. A sun rises over a polygon mountain. A pair of Italian women talk under the music at a table in front of us, smiling and laughing with big Italian smiles.
I’ve heard this one before. He is in his groove now, and more people have filled the club. A couple people dance by themselves as the heavy song and vibrant visuals coat us listeners in an odd, electronic fog. I seldom consider how prepared these guys are, especially when they run into something at 150BPM and they tap-tap-tap away on music machines, turning knobs and blending track after track. He made it look easy.
A quick intermission allowed me to meet Com Truise after the show and simply thank him for the great show. He was chatting with a couple that met him before I did, so there was an awkward standby moment in front of them as I waited for my chance to interrupt. “Hey man, great show, I’m glad I came out for it.” He was happy to hear it, thanked me, and we shook hands before I made my way back into the club. The next act, Millionyoung, was setting up, and it was only 10pm. I ordered another Red Fish IPA.
Millionyoung was a discovery that resonated with me ever after. They explode from the start in bursts of electro indie flavors comparable to Animal Collective. They open with a track that reverbs harmonic vocals and melodic, beat-infused guitar rock. There is an atmospheric quality in the results, something apt for beach-side parties. They certainly know how to get a crowd moving and cheering. There is energy brewing in their music, and it bubbles over in vocals sweetened by reverberating delays. They use it well, and my head bangs.
If Cut Copy heard this last song, they’d probably go along with the groove. Their sequences of synth, pop, and rock highlight an ambient quality in their vocals. A lady sits alone between us and the Italians, drinking a glass of Vodka neat, and she bobs her head to the beat. The band comes together in a cavalcade of sounds, and despite the odd delay, the vocals really make it great.
We applauded as they collected their things and left the stage. I found them after the show and talked with them briefly, mentioning I traveled from Boston to see the show. They were flattered, and I gave them my card in case there was a chance to see them play in Boston. I had no idea they were playing the following night at Brighton Music Hall, but it wouldn’t have been the same kind of show. I shook their hands and thanked them for the great show, and made my way back into the club. Another Red Fish IPA, and I sit in wait for the final act of the night.
The club was full as Rubblebucket took to the stage. They completely blew the top off any preconception I had. They explore the space around us with harmonic energy. The horns and natural melody in their music bring everything together in a funky groove. They’re beats are uplifting, juxtaposed against afro-like themes and eye-closing harmonies. The crowd was clapping and jamming along, and so was I. The Italians left their table to join the dancing masses, and the lady alone grooves even harder than before in the barstool in front of us. Someone threw a bra on-stage, and everyone was chanting “Happy Holidays!” between songs. The trumpet player did a stage-dive, and everyone was loving it.
I want to know what this song is; it has a happy groove to it, slow but in step with a confident satisfaction. I smile as the vocals take on a jazzy instrumentation, ushering in a breakdown revival of ska and funk. The singer has a great voice that reminds me of Bjork and Sister Nancy. Her melody inspires a state of jam that feels like it could go on for much longer. Thankfully, I think I found the right track, and posted a video for it below.
The show was over late, and Lapre and I were well-off with our drinks before the night came to a close. He had to get up in a few hours to go to work in Manhattan, and yet that didn’t seem to bother him. In the closing notes of the night, I remember the long train ride home, and the pit stop for munchies, handing over my few remaining dollars to impatient ethic men wearing uniforms and hats.
Sitting at Lapre’s kitchen counter, we ate snails from their shells and chased them with sweets, while sipping Glenmorangie scotch and rehashing the night’s encounters. I told Lapre about my conversations with the artists I talked to, and he helped me conceptualize the sounds we heard in words that made sense – it’s a hard thing to do when you’ve never heard music like this before. I only hope for your sake, you get what I mean.
Led Zeppelin 2 @ Paradise Rock Lounge
It was right in the middle of “Dazed and Confused” that I realized what it felt like to attend a Led Zeppelin concert. The only difference was that these guys were not the original members of the band. I couldn’t tell however, because they looked exactly like the original members during the time in which they created their following. Unless Led Zeppelin played at Paradise Rock Lounge back in the day, there was no other distinction. Did that actually happen?
It was the culmination of Kulp’s 30th birthday celebrations. His girlfriend and roommates put all the bells and whistles on what I can only call a frenetic pleasure-fest of the senses. Before I knew it, I was drinking J&B straight, licking gobs of chocolate alcohol-infused whip cream off my two, good fingers, and sampling bits of a Lincoln-log, fried Philly Cheesesteak abomination, better known as “The Kulp.” It’s due to appear on http://www.thisiswhyyourefat.com/ any day now.
The night sped up when I half-ran from Cambridge Terrace to Paradise Rock with J-Lew. We thought we were late, but the show had not started. Typical. People got there within minutes of us, and it eventually turned into the apex of everyone’s night. Opening with “Rock and Roll” was the most appropriate entrance, testing the limits of everyone’s expectations. I was right there, two layers away from the stage, leaning in and taking a glimpse of the moments felt by millions across time and space.
At first, the levels were out of whack. The rock was too much, and the mixers had to find a balance before people’s head’s exploded, before “Dazed and Confused” turned up. I rocked at that point, screaming “Go!!” and “Yeah!!” while the band jammed on. Then they played “Since I’ve Been Loving You,” and there was a moment in the confusion when I truly felt unlike any other. They played “Stairway to Heaven,” and it felt like the lighter in my hand was my soul, burning out in satisfaction. It made me think the end was near, and then they gave me more.
I lost sight of my friends when the band finished their second set. I stayed to buy a t-shirt and talk to the roadie selling swag. It turned out the band wasn’t finished. They came back and played a two-song encore to a reasonably smaller crowd. One of the songs was “Moby Dick,” and an outrageous drum solo ensued for close to five minutes. When the show was over, they talked with the few people remaining, including myself, about the nature of their cover band, and the intimate relationship they have with the music and the era. Almost like a religious mission, they tour the country, spreading the word of one of classic rock’s greatest acts.
I bled from the hand, not realizing it until the lights came on. The rich, red coagulation on my index finger only enthused feelings of rebellion and rock, and when the roadie made me aware of it, I wrapped it up in the newly-purchased tour shirt. After the show, the band members were nice enough to sign it, impressed and concerned about the blood stains I proudly presented. I unfortunately had to wash the shirt, but the memory, much like the song, remains the same.
YOU CAN BE A WESLEY @ Great Scott
Victory HopDevil Ale
Stepping into Great Scott for the first time in several years felt liberating, as if I had broken some taboo against enjoying myself in Allston. Indeed, it felt energetic to be there again; the indie-rock lovers of Boston were slowly filling the bar as the opening act, “You Can Be a Wesley,” took the stage. Four solid players of garage-pop rock flooded the speakers and made me thankful for showing up within minutes of arrival.
The vocals lifted the sound of the band, and at times the band carried them, and me, and the rest of us to an interesting place. They played this one song, “Old in Florida,” and it had me closing my eyes at times to take it in. A music video was well-deserved for this song, and even after that plug, they continued to make use of Great Scott for over an hour. Not knowing the band beforehand truly made this experience worthwhile. They certainly know how to hit the fan with head-banging rock.
It’s a great progression of indie-label music, and they just kept flowing, even after the audience stopped clapping their hands and beating their heads. Mild frenzies of musical sensation made me smile for most of their performance. Their last song made me shiver when they switched from major to minor keys. The force of their percussion radiated something chemical around the stage, and people like me were simply blown away by their on-stage talent. I almost feel like ruining the moment by asking what that last song was, but maybe it’s better I leave that to my imagination.
Before leaving the bar, their bassist Nick gave me one of their last limited edition poster prints from a previous show at Great Scott. As an original, I thought you’d like to see it. Check out their new music on Myspace!