Travel Notes – Peter Bjorn and John on Cinco de Mayo

Peter Bjorn and John @ Paradise Rock Club
Boston, MA

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.

Photo Credit - Diana Wong, Brooklyn Vegan

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.

Photo Credit - Diana Wong
Photo Credit - Diana Wong

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.

Travel Notes – Le Poisson Rouge, NYC

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.

Photo Credit - Jessica Lehrman - on The Jealous Lover

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.

Photo Credit - Jessica Lehrman - on The Jealous Lover

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.

Travel Notes – LED ZEPPELIN 2 @ Paradise Rock Lounge

Led Zeppelin 2 @ Paradise Rock Lounge
Boston, MA
J&B straight

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 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.

Travel Notes – Mark Murphy @ the Iridium Jazz Club

Friday, November 27th, 2009
Iridium Jazz Club
51st and Broadway, New York City

Double of Bourbon, a Pen and a Notepad

Final show of Mark Murphy and his band at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. They open with a natural sound that almost sounds like Paul Simon. Murphy is not on stage. There are two percussionists, one lead guitarist, and one bassist. It vibe feels very good on stage. I like the lead guitarist’s guitar, an acoustic-electric from Yamaha. The exotic percussionist has extremely long hair. He is Israeli, and his name escapes me. He plays the bongos and other natural percussion instruments that casually hang around him like his hair around his eyes. He is playing the triangle now in accompaniment with the drummer, Joel Rosenblatt.

The bassist solos with style; I almost forgot what instrument he was playing.

The first track embodies so much life and groove. I am glad that I decided to attend this show on a whim like this.

“When people say ‘Yeah!’ I don’t know what they mean.”The famous opening words of ” target=”_blank”>Mark Murphy as he walks into the scene. He is assisted on stage by his friend and lead guitarist. He was born in 1934. That would make him damn hear 75 right now. He walked on stage with a cane in hand, a yellow-green-black beanie on, and a thin and grey goatee and beard. His opening words did not lead me to believe he was the vocalist.

They jump right into the music of a generation more known by my parents’ generation: upbeat melody with light Cuban flares, hot potato jazz solos and looks from one another in understanding. Murphy sings alongside a talented quarter. There is such a candid jam quality to the music, and it’s only track two.


He sings at the top of his lungs, and the band finds union in their project, energetic with swing. We’re all clapping as hard as we can.

This is a unique kind of jazz. Old talent meets new, and the blend brings a balance not seen by many modern jazz musicians. There is one legend among young and aspiring talent. Who is the real gem in this mish-mash of artists? The guitar wins my favor; his speed is trumped by his name… Vinny Valentino. I imagine he was raised on this kind of music. Murphy comes from a generation before him, and embodies the lyricism of “hip” jazz from the 1950s and 1960s. They make it work, playing classics I never knew. Murphy’s voice is soothing, and this number they play now is slow and ambient, blends  of old and new. I imagine that over forty-odd years, he’s allowed some drastic changes to his traditional swing. If I were to listen to the track I hear now for an hour (I would allow it), I would eventually fall into a drunken stupor and dream sweet dreams.

They pick up the pace four or five tracks in. This number is very lively, and it is definitely more modern than the others. Fast, noticeably fast. I rock in my seat and clap my hands to the individual solos interlaced in the upbeat.

I get the feeling that Murphy has a lot of fun introducing his players.

CUBA!” and the Cuban bassist, Armando Gola, plays his rocket solos. “Angel Eyes” are the words of choice coming from Murphy’s lips.

This is a song where they found their element, fusion and flow coming together, and Murphy gets up to receive the crowd. He needs his cane to walk, and his comrades on stage receive him and praise him. What an entertainer.

The show is over after an hour and a half set that seemed to fly by. I wasn’t finished with my well-poured double of bourbon yet. Murphy is walking into the crowd now, and shakes the hands of his valued audience and fans. He is getting old for night shows, and the band too restless. How many do they have left together? What kind of relationship do they have? When he first started singing on stage his voice was not smooth, and the band smiled and laughed casually as he collected himself on stage, and got into the groove.

They all gave me one hell of a show tonight; an experience I would otherwise forget if it weren’t for my notes. Thank God for Jazz.

I feel like the show shouldn’t be over.

I feel like the good times have just begun.