Tag Archives: girlyman

Take Five: The Drive-By Edition

After spending half of October in hotel rooms in Ohio and Nevada, I’m still adjusting to having both feet back on the ground. Of course, having both feet back on the ground doesn’t mean that they are still; they are doing a lot of running around. That said, come Friday, we will always pause to Take Five.

Around the Web

Killing Radio Stars

I’ve got a few neat videos to share with you. First, my friend Tim asked folks to blog about videos they love and why. (Here’s my response: the Fully Sick Rapper.) My friend Andy responded to the challenge with a really creative offering: The Battle of the Album Covers.

On Wednesday night, I saw one of my favorite bands, Girlyman, live at Club Passim. They invited the group Coyote Grace up on stage to perform “Young James Dean,” a powerful song about identity and acceptance which Ty Greenstein says was inspired in part by the book “The Last Time I Wore a Dress“. With all of the attention being paid to the bullying of gay teens lately, I thought I would link to the video that Margaret Cho created for this song.

Lastly: The rent is too damn high!



Since I’ve been so out of the loop, I haven’t had a chance to consume (or even purchase, really) any new music. So the last new album I really got into is a bit old. My apologies. But it’s really good! The Love Language‘s “Libraries” recalls what I fell in love with about bands like The Kissaway Trail and Wild Light: earnest, melodic, and rich tracks, which founder Stuart McLamb calls “emotional fight songs.” And, of course, they’re on Merge.

Check out this video from the making of “Libraries”:

And here is a live performance of “Nocturne” on KEXP:

Second Thoughts

Photo by Chris Devers

On Oct. 26, Billy Ruane – a legendary patron of the Boston music scene – passed away at the age of 52. Much, much, much has been said about Ruane (here’s a great tribute by the Phoenix, and a selection of remembrances from local musicians). But all agree that he was an unstoppable force,  omnipresent (and sometimes, too present) in Boston’s music culture for nearly 20 years. My friends Sam and Brad shared some heartfelt remembrances of their own.

Next Wednesday, there will be an epic concert for Ruane’s birthday, drawing the likes of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz, Chris Brokaw, Mary Lou Lord, Tanya Donelly and others to the Middle East (and, in a unique joint arrangement, TT the Bear’s). It will surely sell out, and it will surely be memorable.

I think a lot of my friends perceive me as someone who is locked into the Boston music scene, but I don’t entertain any such delusions. In truth, I had never heard of Billy Ruane before he died. But while I did not know Billy while he was living, I have gotten to know him posthumously through the memories of those who sold him tables’ worth merch, took (or avoided) his phone calls, endured his sloppy kisses and got caught up in his whirlwind of devotion. Even in death, Ruane’s tradition of enhancing the lives of those around him continues.


Take Five – The Birthday Edition

What’s my favorite song this week? If I was corny, I’d say “Happy Birthday,” because that’s what tomorrow is. But actually, my favorite song this week is Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp.”

Without further ado…


Sunday nights are the big night for local music on the radio. WFNX’s former New England Product show has relaunched as Boston Accents, airing 8-10PM, and WZLX’s Boston Emissions is still going strong from 10PM-12AM (which sadly falls in the “Mad Men” time slot).

As a former college and community radio DJ, I love keeping tabs on this stuff. That’s why I’m jazzed about the next Rock Shop, which features Boston Accents’ Dave Duncan, Boston Emissions’ Anngelle Wood, WAAF’s Carmelita of Bay State Rock and WMBR’s Tim Kelly of The Hidden Capital. The event is at 7PM on Aug. 23 at the Middle East.


  • I arrived back at the office after a four-day weekend and was greeted by Christmas in my mailbox: The new Mike Viola/Kelly Jones EP and the new Cloud Cult album, “Light Chasers,” had arrived! The Viola/Jones effort is sublime, as per usual, and I am beyond pleased to have a recording of their haunting duet of Viola’s classic “A Way to Say Goodbye” (now the third version of the song in my possession). “Light Chasers” is no “Feel Good Ghosts,” but what could be? It’s still a powerful, unabashedly honest rock record.
  • One of my favorite bands, Girlyman, has finally released an album consisting solely of tuning songs — the spontaneous nuggets of genius they always come up with during their live shows, usually while someone is tuning a guitar. The live compilation is $15, which may be a bit steep, but consider part of the payment as going toward this awesome promotional video:
  • Jens Lekman has a new song out, “The End of the World is Bigger than Love.” It’s typically epic, heartbroken and charming. Lekman also releases a mixtape, “A Summer in 3/4 Time” [.mp3]. Some more background on Chromewaves.
  • After much urging and promotion from the likes of Brad and The DP, I snagged the new Versus album. And it is as fun and awesome as those Merge fanboys say it is 🙂
  • Speaking of Merge, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the new Arcade Fire album. I’m not an Arcade Fire fangirl (true confession: “Neon Bible” is still in the shrinkwrap, though I listen to “Intervention” on iTunes a lot), but I snagged it from Amazon MP3 for $3.99 and was pleasantly surprised. Probably their most accessible (is that a dirty word?) record yet, and very well crafted.
  • I finally acquired the best of The Alarm. I recommend you did the same. They are much more than “The Stand.”
  • Josh Rouse has releases a new live EP, “El Turista en la Radio,” for free download.



  • An awesome Facebook post by Hallelujah the Hills the other day: “Dear bands & musicians, do you have recordings of songs without any vocals on them? I’ll make up melody, lyrics, and record vocals on them if you send them to me. If I get enough tracks we’ll put out an album for free online. Send to band AT hallelujahthehills dot com.”
  • Fast Company provides some interesting data on “The State of Internet Music on YouTube, Pandora and Facebook.” Thoughts: 1) Fans/followers/friends are important, sure, but what are theydoing for the musicians they are fanning/following/friending? 2) I totally buy YouTube > Apple when it comes to music, because iTunes isn’t a social or a learning platform; it’s purely a purchasing platform. 3) I’ve never gotten into Pandora — I have other recommendation engines that are more human that work for me. I’m sure it’s great for some, but just not me.
  • Cassettes are back! Obvs. So glad I still have my 5 disc CD changer with dual cassette deck that I bought in 1999 — the thing is practically a hipster recording studio, nowadays.
  • Hello Music is a service that connects musicians with “real industry opportunities.” Not sure how useful it is, since most of the entries read “[Song] by [band] is now in rotation on the Unsigned & DIY station on Yahoo! Radio,” but in this Bandcamp era, it’s nice to see one more option for artists trying to make it on their own steam.
  • Rdio, the music streaming service by the creators of Skype, is out of invite-only mode and live to the world. For just $5 a month on your computer ($10 on your smartphone), you can have access to a streaming equivalent of your music collection.  Seems like a good option if you want to listen to your own music at work or on the go. However, I own an iPod and listen to KEXP, so, I have no need for Rdio (yet).
  • It’s no replacement for the mix CD (and it’s more expensive), but file this under nice-to-know: you can purchase and send an iTunes playlist to a friend, so long as all of the songs are available in the iTunes store.


The Boston Phoenix’s On the Download blog linked to this video from Lollapalooza of Lady Gaga crowdsurfing during some crappy band’s side stage set.

The video itself is pretty uninteresting, as such things go, but one thing caught my attention. Of everyone in the crowd who had their arms outstretched, the majority of them were clutching cellphones and cameras. It depressed me.

Of the crowd shots I’ve seen from stadium and festival concerts over the years — Woodstock ’94 and ’99, other Lollapaloozas, Glastonbury, you name it — what has always impressed me is the sea of people, arms raised in exultation, reaching out to grab the moment. No matter how far they are from the stage, they are always reaching up, reaching out, trying to hold on to ecstasy one note longer.

But here, at Lollapalooza, with Lady Gaga’s barely attired flesh passing just above their heads, so many of those hands clenched devices to record the moment, and so many eyes were trained on the LCD screens of those devices, making sure the moment was in frame, clicking the shutter or hitting record.

But there she is! Lady Gaga! The experience is happening right next to you, right above you. Reach out and touch it — it’s right there.

But your hands and eyes are removed from the experience. You’ll have amazing media later, but is that a memory? Is that sweat on your palm, or a bruise to the temple you’ll be bragging about for days? What are you really holding on to?

Larger Than Live

I don’t go to as many concerts as I used to, but still, by the standards set by many of my friends and peers, I was never that rabid of a concertgoer to begin with. Don’t get me wrong — I love a good live show. But I was never the type to spend multiple evenings per week hanging around the Paradise or TT the Bear’s, and I also have never been particularly inclined to see a band live more than once unless I was particularly fascinated by or obsessed with them.

There are a couple acts, however, where I will almost automatically buy a ticket to see them no matter how recently I saw them last or whether or not they have any new material. And while I am huge fans of their work, their music is really only part of it. Thanks to the scheduling gods, I was able to see both of those acts in the past week.

IMG00372-20090927-0115One of the acts in question is Mike Viola — of Candy Butchers fame, one of the lesser known statesmen of power pop who is now quietly making his mark producing albums by the likes of Mandy Moore and Rachael Yamagata and writing music for movies like “Walk Hard.” I am not sure how I first heard of Mike Viola, but I remember seeing his major label “flop” “Falling Into Place” in Nuggets’ infamous $2 room week after week. At some point I snagged it, and over time I picked up the rest of his catalog, including some hard-to-find EPs. But it wasn’t until a few years ago when I first saw him live, in the intimate environs of the Lizard Lounge.

Mike Viola is an incredibly gifted and prolific songwriter. He spits out pop gems like most of us change our socks. So hearing him pick through a repertoire that stretches back to his years as a teenage phenom from Stoughton playing the hot clubs in Kenmore Square is a treat enough. But the reason why I will go see Mike Viola rain or shine isn’t just for that repertoire. It’s for the repertoire he creates on the fly — jokey songs like “Nashville is for Losers” (about frequent collaborator Kelly Jones’ imminent move south) or a ditty pleading that the audience members he just asked to keep quiet don’t throw a dart at his neck. It’s also for the the atmosphere, as if we’re all friends in the living room sharing the same inside jokes. Last week’s concert was no different. Someone brings out a birthday cake because it’s Mike’s birthday. Mike offers the crowd his e-mail address so we can bug him for some old recordings. He demonstrates for us, with open reverence, the chords to the chorus of Andrew Gold’s “Lonely Boy,” and he asks us to sing along to “Rocket Man” and “Purple Rain.”

I think part of it is Mike’s genuine enthusiasm for performing — you get the sense that he is showing you a real part of himself, not a front. He comes off as unembarrassed and unrepentant, yet accessible and not aloof. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen him use a concrete setlist. He just plays what he feels like it, for as long as he feels like. The show last Saturday? Lasted three hours and fifteen minutes of solid, un-intermissioned Mike. It just makes you feel good. I might enjoy other concerts, or perhaps feel inspired, energized or enlightened. Mike Viola shows just make me feel comfortable, relaxed — good. Like spending time with friends. It’s hard to explain, but even harder to bottle.

A close second, though, is Girlyman. Girlyman, it would seem, is a band outside of my normal indie bailiwick, falling more in the folk category. But when my friend Lis introduced me to them, I fell in love with their harmonies and their compelling songwriting. Little did I know that I hadn’t seen the half of it.

IMG00379-20091001-2140The members of Girlyman — they are a trio, two women and one man — are some of the funniest people I have ever encountered. Their sense of humor doesn’t often come through in their songs, but on stage is another story. Stage banter is a dicey proposition for any live performer — far too often, musicians will attempt to banter with each other or with the audience and it will fall painfully flat. With Girlyman, though, it is nothing short of comic gold — in a completely authentic, unforced way.

A standard of Girlyman shows are the “tuning songs,” often penned by Nate while Doris or Ty are tuning their guitars. On their live album, they saw fit to include a number of these tuning songs, some of which devolve into “Hava Nagila” while others pick up on some joke made at an earlier point in the evening. (In this week’s show at the Somerville Theatre, the band talked about touring in Canada where milk comes in a bag. This led to several “bags of milk” — or udder — references for the rest of the evening.) A lot of times, during a live show, the audience can become restless between songs if there are delays for tuning or adjustments. At Girlyman shows, you actually look forward to them.

Whether they are joking about (and actually improvising) a “dance remix” of their plaintive ballad “Viola,” interspecies love, things that are only “funny in the van” (and not funny on stage), or developing the idea for “Therapy: The Musical,” this band never fails to amuse. When you consider that these moments are just blips in a stream of completely stunning songcraft, you wonder how you became fortunate enough to be sitting there, taking it all in.

In my experience, you can have bands that perform well live, bands that are good at cracking jokes and carrying the audience through a set even between songs, and bands that simply hypnotize the audience into complicity by virtue of their aura or status. But to have acts like Mike Viola and Girlyman that can almost effortlessly entertain and engage, bridging the gap between audience and stage with each wisecrack and anecdote, all while sharing windows into their most personal moments or tragedies — a wife dying of cancer; a good friend’s suicide — is rare and special. I feel particularly privileged to, in the span of a single week, have seen them both live for the umpteenth time. And all I can do is wonder when they’re coming back to town.

A Very Exciting Edition of Take Five

A special edition of Take Five this morning, because when I woke up today, there were two delightful pieces of news in my inbox:

  • Freedy Johnston, one of my all-time favorite singer-songwriters, is playing a rare show on the East Coast. Near Boston. In Somerville. A mile from my house!!! NEXT WEDNESDAY. At an awesome new venue I’ve been meaning to check out. Good morning, indeed!

    album-this-perfect-worldI got turned on to Freedy Johnston in high school. My friend Becca had a friend back home in Pennsylvania with whom she thought I would get along. We exchanged a couple of letters (as was popular to do back in the day), and we definitely connected. She was into music the same way I was, and as I recall, she was also interested in writing. One letter was accompanied by a cassette tape onto which she’d recorded two albums: Dave Matthews Band’s “Under the Table and Dreaming” and Freedy Johnston’s “This Perfect World.” This was around 1996, and I was actively listening to 103.5 WPLL, a pretty hip adult contemporary station that was playing some of my favorite songs of the era like Jeff Buckley’s “Last Goodbye,” Peter Murphy’s “Scarlet Thing in You,” and the two big singles by these artists, DMB’s “Ants Marching” and Freedy’s “Bad Reputation.”

    My_Favorite_Waste_of_Time__Large_I must have played that tape a hundred or more times. I can talk about the Dave Matthews Band another time — I would go on to become a huge DMB fan in college, though I only saw them live once, and I still hold that their early stuff was pretty amazing — but the real story here is Freedy. “Bad Reputation” was the only radio hit he really had, and that’s a shame. From the perfect pop of his album “Can You Fly” to the somber, rain-slicked tones of “Blue Days, Black Nights,” Freedy runs the spectrum of longing in his songs. He’s a gifted storyteller, a craftsman when it comes to mood and melody. That album on the tape, “This Perfect World,” bundled together Westerbergian pop perfection (“Two Lovers Stop”), country twang (“Gone Like the Water”) and sparse, affecting ballads (“Cold Again”) into a timeless package. Over the years, I’ve snagged his entire discography, including his live and cover albums, and never been disappointed by a single note he’s plucked.

    I am supposed to have seen Freedy Johnston already, way back in college. I had my tickets. I was seated in the venue, Cambridge’s venerable Club Passim. I even saw the opening act, local country boy Mark Erelli. But Freedy never showed. The reason? He didn’t know he had the gig, and he was still in New York. We all got refunds, and some bonus tunes by Mark Erelli, but I’ve carried that disappointment with me all these years. On Wednesday, it will finally evaporate — as long as Freedy remembers to make the trip. And as if things couldn’t get better, he’s also got his first album of new material in eight years (“Rain on the City”) coming out in October!

    The sad post-script to this story is that I honestly forget the name of the girl who introduced me to Freedy. Doubly sad, a quick scan of my tape rack didn’t turn up the mix in question (and I DON’T throw stuff like that out). Alas.

  • Girlyman, one of my favorite bands, announced that their new album, “Everything’s Easy,” is available for pre-order. Recorded at their home in Atlanta, the album’s got three tracks I have already heard via their outstanding live album. The pre-order price is steep ($25) but it will be well worth it, both to get the album early and to reward a band that really puts their hearts into their work.

    I’m not that into the folk scene, but not due to any dislike, simply because my preferences veered in a different direction. (Back in the day, though, I was a huge Indigo Girls fan.) But a friend introduced me to Girlyman, and my love for them transcends genre. Not only are their songs consistently compelling, catchy, heartbreaking and obscenely well-crafted, with harmonies to die for, but their live show is one of the best that I’ve ever seen.

    I’m not one to see a band I like everytime they come to town, but Girlyman breaks the rule for me, simply because their on-stage chemistry (and their infamous banter, much of which is captured on the live disc) makes the show doubly entertaining. Not only do you get to hear some incredible music, you get to see a comedy show. When they play in Boston, they usually take up a two-night residence in the intimate environs of, yes, Club Passim, and when I see them clustered up on that humble little stage, I always feel like I am at a dinner party with friends and not at some rock show. That, I think, is the mark of outstanding artist-audience rapport.

    As the years go on, the members of Girlyman only improve their musicianship and songwriting abilities, so this new album is bound to be a treat.

OK, a couple other random items to round out the five:

  • Per a suggestion from Andrew, I’m going to try — try — thinking about my desert-island top five albums. I told him that if my brain short-circuits from trying to narrow this down to five must-haves, he’ll be getting a bill. (In the meantime, Andrew has his top 100 all picked and ranked.  Impressive.)
  • I’ve fallen way behind on my downloading. Lots of MP3s on my desktop and lots of blog posts starred in Google Reader, but I haven’t pulled them into iTunes. I’m hoping to remedy that this weekend
  • I also haven’t made much headway into the unlistened-to pile of albums on my desk, though I did give the new Eels a spin. I think it’s definitely going to be a grower — it was pleasant enough, but nothing hooked me. I also listened to Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” a few times, and that was pretty great.

Hmm, those last three were about things I haven’t done or haven’t listened to. I’ll try to be more proactive the next time Take Five comes around 🙂