Coming Back for More

Alright, gonna try to keep this brief for now as I’m functioning on little sleep and about to head back downtown for more music today, but yesterday was quite a day – pretty much everything I imagined SXSW would be. I’ll have much more to say about everything below later on.

Annuals – I caught these guys at the Entertainment Weekly party, which I just happened to stumble upon yesterday as I walking around downtown. Their sound reminded me a little bit of early Rilo Kiley, though the lead singer mentioned the acoustic arrangements they were playing were different than their usual sound.

Laura Marling – I’m a huge fan of Laura Marling’s debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, so I was thrilled when I saw she was playing the same party I just mentioned. She was backed by Marcus Mumford (of Mumford & Sons, another band to check out) on background vocals, percussion and accordion, sometimes simultaneously. Really stunning performances.

Tori Amos – I’m a huge, long-time Tori fan so it was a surreal experience to be hearing three new, never-before-played or heard songs from her upcoming album, Abnormally Attracted to Sin. Perez Hilton came out on stage to introduce her, appropriately met by much booing from the crowd. She kicked things off with two of the new songs,  the haunting “Lady in Blue” and the gorgeous ballad, “Curtain Call,” which definitely seemed to refer to people who’ve written her off at various stages in her career. Live favorite “Take to the Sky” was incredible. The crowd was going wild on that one, literally people jumping up and down. Speaking of which I could definitely tell there were a lot of more casual fans in the crowd so they were eating up the classic songs in the set, all of which sounded great. I was happy to hear “Beauty of Speed” solo live too and “Barons of Suburbia” was a perfect ending with Tori belting out its closing lyric: “She is Risen.” Here’s the full setlist: Lady in Blue/Curtain Call/Crucify/Cloud on My Tongue/Beauty of Speed/Take to the Sky/Mary Jane/Silent All These Years/Barons of Suburbia

Asteroids Galaxy Tour – Amazing live set, tons of energy and swagger and an awesome horns section. I definitely will be investigating this band further.

Little Boots – I’d been seeing this band’s name all around town since they seem to be doing quite a few performances during SXSW. They put on a good show, but there’s part of me that felt it was a bit Goldfrapp-lite. I want to check their stuff out though before I make a final verdict.

Datarock – This was my first time seeing these guys play live. They did not disappoint. Amazing energy, especially from their drummer who reminded me of Animal from the Muppet Show, and I mean that as a huge compliment. Oh and as an added bonus, I met Margaret Cho yesterday at lunch at the Carrerra Sunglasses lounge. I knew she’d mentioned being a fan of Tori Amos in the past so I asked her if she’d be going to the show last night. She said she was bummed to miss it but she was performing around the same time with Amanda Palmer so couldn’t be in two places at once. I’m off. I’ll report back tomorrow!


First Taste

Having some coffee while I scribble down a quick list of the shows I’m hoping to see today during SXSW in Austin, including Tori Amos tonight at the Universal showcase. I’ll just say right now the amount of live music happening everywhere you turn in this city right now is incredible and overwhelming, but mostly incredible. Before I head back downtown, let me provide a few very quick highlights of my first day here, including some photos I took along the way. I’ll definitely post more photos and further thoughts later on, I promise. Our first stop in Austin yesterday (after picking up our credentials at the Austin Convention Center and stuffing our faces with some much needed mexican food) was the  Levi’s/Fader Magazine Fort Party, where we saw Datarock (who you might remember I wrote about recently) in their red jumpsuits wandering around the crowd, and checked out a few of the performances on the main stage, including Post War Years. Abe Vigoda’s set was also pretty impressive. Check out some of their stuff on their official MySpace page. :

Also saw some amazing performances at the KCRW showcase at Buffalo Billiard’s last night, including: Port O’Brien – I was pretty blown away by this band’s performance, which brought to mind Neil Young or Wilco with its folky yet rough-edged sound. Right before they went on I noticed that David Fricke of Rolling Stone (by far my favorite music writer ever) was standing right next to me checking out their set. I’ll be curious to see if he writes anything about them but I definitely plan to investigate this band further. You can start with their official MySpace page.

Angus & Julia Stone: I’ve mentioned this brother/sister duo a few times before, and their live performance was even more charming and mesmerizing than the stuff on their debut, A Book Like This.   Alright, based on the schedule in front of me right now I’ll have much, much more to report later. Until then.


Beautiful Stranger

One of the most often overlooked and underrated artists in my personal list of favorites would be Esthero. I found myself listening to a few of her songs earlier today, which led me to her MySpace page where she recently mentioned she’s in the studio working on a new album, her first as an independent artist now free of her contract with Warner Bros. She’s posted some samples of her new material on her page – check them out. You can also download several of her tracks from her Snocap store.

Esthero’s seemed destined for a long and successful career ever since her 90’s debut, Breath from Another. Her voice drew comparisons to Billie Holiday and Bjork and the record was a daring and seemingly effortless blend of electronic drum and bass, jazz, hip-hop and R&B. Unfortunately, despite great reviews the album didn’t make waves commercially. Its full-length follow-up Wikked Lil Grrrls, released in 2005, suffered a similar fate despite several obvious radio hits and collaborations with Outkast’s (post-“Hey Ya”) Andre 3000 and Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley’s Cee-Lo. In hindsight, the songs probably seemed so likely to skyrocket Esthero to fame since several other singers, most notably Nelly Furtado (Esthero collaborated with Furtado on a song that became a bonus track on Whoa Nelly), scored huge hits with an extremely similar style to much of her work. Esthero aggressively acknowledged this slight, releasing the feisty single  “O.G. Bitch” with the chorus “you’re just waiting for me to drown so no one knows that you stole my whole sound” though she’s denied it’s directed at Furtado in particular. One of my favorite tracks was “If Tha Mood,” which could have easily been a hit on radio with proper promotion.

Below is a video of Esthero’s gorgeous performance “Gone” from the same album with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 2005:

More recently, Esthero wrote tracks and sang background vocals on Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak including the lead single “Love Lockdown,” and the title track of Brandy’s Human. I’ll definitely be following Esthero’s MySpace blog for more updates about the album’s progress. Here’s hoping Esthero plays a Boston date at some point in the future too – I’ve still never been lucky enough to see her live.


Thank You Note

As I’m gearing up for my trip to Austin next week, I was lucky enough to catch a great show by a local band right here in Boston on Saturday night. The WANDAS played an explosive set to a packed room at Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square, featuring several songs from their latest album, New Wave Blues. The band’s sound is refreshingly upbeat and reminiscent of the new wave power pop of Elvis Costello and Cheap Trick. The energy and eagerness in their live set is contagious, and if you’re not in the Boston area, the good news is that as of the beginning of April, the WANDAS will be on the road touring the east coast, all the way down to Florida and back to Boston. Check out their official site for tour dates. The band’s entire catalog is also available for download on their official site, with a pay-what-you-want pricing policy. Here’s the video for the band’s “Thank You Note,” rightfully a fan favorite based on the reaction from the crowd, most of whom were singing along to every word:


Teeth Sinking Into Heart

Keeping it all live and acoustic for this year’s Valentine’s Day mix (had to give myself some sort of criteria or i’d be doing this all weekend). Download the entire mix as a zip file.

  1. “Day Too Soon” (acoustic) –   Sia
  2. “Thirty-Three” (solo acoustic) – Billy Corgan
  3. “More Adventurous” (live on Austin City Limits) – Rilo Kiley
  4. “Turn Into” (live acoustic) – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
  5. “I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer” (live acoustic) – The Cardigans
  6. “True Love Waits” (live at the Bridge School Benefit) – Thom Yorke
  7. “Your Cloud” (live on KCRW) – Tori Amos
  8. “Silver Lining” (live Rilo Kiley cover) – Ben Gibbard
  9. “Fly Me Away” (acoustic on Live Lounge) – Goldfrapp

Sugar Spell It Out

As part of box of boom’s interview with Amanda Palmer, I asked Amanda if she’d be willing to create a playlist of 5 tracks she’s enjoying at the moment. Here are her selections, the first of which she covered last week in London (watch the video on YouTube). Click on the title of each track below to listen to it in full:

Tegan & Sara – “Like Oh, Like H” (mp3)

AMANDA: “I love this whole album, “The Con”- I discovered it recently and couldn’t get enough.”

Arthur Lee – “Everybody’s Gotta Live” (mp3)

AMANDA: “I played this on repeat for all of last summer while I ran around the park in Edinburgh, It made me happy. Literally. it MADE me happy.”

Frank Sinatra – “Come Dance With Me” (mp3)

AMANDA: “I pulled this record out last year and wore it out. That voice…those trombones….”

The Smiths – “Bigmouth Strikes Again” (mp3)

AMANDA: “One of the best songs ever, simply put.”

Pinback – “Microtonic Wave” (mp3)

AMANDA: “These guys are incredible and all of their songs get better and better with every listen.”


interview with Amanda Palmer

In September, Amanda Palmer released her first solo album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer, after several years of recording and intense touring as one half of the Boston-based duo the Dresden Dolls. Produced by Ben Folds, it was easily one of the strongest records of the year, the kind of music that grabs you by the throat with its intensity and emotional candor. What she originally intended to be “a really simple, stripped-down, record-it-in-my-underwear-in-my-apartment-in-boston kinda thing” became a major undertaking over months of recording the piano-driven tracks as full-band arrangements including drums, horns and majestic strings, which resulted in the epic, pounding piano of “Astronaut,” the stomping “Guitar Hero” and the whiskey-fueled show-stopper “Leeds United.” Despite this accomplishment, Palmer’s current record label, Roadrunner Records, complained the record was not “commercial,” that it wouldn’t sell and attempted to halt the release of the “Leeds United” video to make her appearance “more flattering,” at which point Palmer says she asked to be dropped from the label. They reportedly refused, but that has not stopped her from taking the promotion of the record into her own hands, maintaining a consistent online presence and keeping a rigorous touring schedule. box of boom caught up with Amanda as she’s on the road in Europe.

box of boom: With this being your first solo record, how did the writing and recording process for Who Killed Amanda Palmer differ from the previous records you’ve done with the Dresden Dolls? Did you feel an increased amount of pressure with the focus completely on you?

AMANDA: Well, if the pressure was on because it was my solo debut, it was balanced out by the fact that I’ve made enough records that I don’t feel the need to worry too much about any one thing making or breaking my career. And the writing process wasn’t specific to the record … a lot of these songs, like “Astronaut” and “Guitar Hero,” would have wound up as Dresden Dolls songs if they hadn’t happened to be on the table at the time of the solo recording.

VIDEO: Amanda Palmer- “Astronaut” (Live From Sxip’s Hour of Charm):

box of boom: I’ve read some recent interviews and blog posts where you mentioned the difficulties you’ve had with your label in promoting this record and your hopes that you will be dropped. With all of the different creative ways you’ve promoted this record on your own, do you think there are any disadvantages at this point to working independently?

AMANDA: No. The only disadvantage of working independently lately is just having to be more in charge and keep track of more things and territories, but I’m not going to mind doing that. I’m ready.

box of boom: I noticed on the Who Killed Amanda Palmer website that you originally had listed close to 40 songs in various forms of completion in the email you wrote to Ben Folds early in the production process. Do you have specific plans for any of the songs that didn’t make the album? From what you wrote about the time in the studio, it sounded like at least a few of those tracks were recorded in some form.

AMANDA: A lot of those songs just weren’t strong enough to make the cut, but a lot of those demos actually did get released to a small number of fans who pre-ordered the record. They might get released later on, but they what they are, they’re very rough demos.

box of boom: You’ve released videos for almost all of the tracks on Who Killed Amanda Palmer. Do you see that as an essential part of promoting a record? What are some of your favorite music videos from other artists?

AMANDA: Every track, actually! I have a DVD coming out in June with the videos for all twelve songs plus some extra interviews. I’m in love with Feist’s latest videos. No matter how much flack she gets for being commercial, I think those videos are brilliant.

box of boom: It seems like you make huge efforts to reach out to fans both online and at shows. With the internet, it’s such a direct, immediate connection in some ways. Is that relationship ever difficult to maintain?

AMANDA: It’s only difficult insofar as it’s challenging to stay engaged and honest ALL THE TIME. I feel like it’s a real relationship, it needs the same degree of care, trust and feeding that you would give to a friend or a lover. You can’t just disappear with no explanation.

box of boom: I think it’s safe to say female artists are compared and pitted against each other more often than male artists; I still always remember the interview Q Magazine did in 90s with Tori, Bjork and PJ Harvey together where it seemed like kind of a rare occasion for three artists to come together as peers rather than competitors. Do you ever feel that tension?

AMANDA: Yes, but that’s just because there are relatively few of us, especially outside the mainstream pop world. You won’t see anyone comparing me to Shania Twain.

box of boom: Are there other musical artists that you identify with or admire in terms of the type of career you’d like to have?

AMANDA: I would love to follow the trajectory of David Bowie. He did it right.

box of boom: 2008 was obviously an extremely busy year for you – what are you most excited about in terms of your plans for 2009?

AMANDA: I’ve got lots of great things coming up…I’m writing music for an original play at my old high school this spring, a big workshop piece based on “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. I’ve got the video collection coming out, and of course I’ve got the WHO KILLED AMANDA PALMER book with Neil Gaiman coming out this May – that’s really exciting. Other than that, I’ll be touring to promote the record and hopefully getting off the label and seeing where the wind blows me.

Amanda heads to Australia later this month after finishing her tour in Europe. Check out her official website to purchase Who Killed Amanda Palmer, get information on tour dates and ticket information, read her blog, and much more.