Fiona Apple: Live in Chicago, Lincoln Hall, 3/19/12

I think it safe to say that the extraordinary Fiona Apple is one of the all-time favorite artists of every single writer on the Muruch staff. This is particularly true of our Mid-West reviewer/photographer Jen “Coble” Hopper, who was fortunate enough to attend Fiona Apple’s live performance on March 19th at Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. You can read Coble’s review and view her photographs from the concert below…

The stage at Lincoln Hall was tiny and intimate, crowded with a baby grand piano, a drum kit and a full accompanying band. The piano was lovingly draped with gorgeous, fringed fabric and several candles. To the right, Fiona greeted the crowd with only a warm smile before beginning her performance. There was just enough floor space to allow her signature expressive physical performance, her body rolling and convulsing through “Fast As You Can.”

The 21+ crowd was elated, cheering Fiona loudly between the first few songs with occasional shouts of “Welcome back!” and “We missed you!” All the while, they collectively sang along with well-loved songs from her first three albums. She spent time at the piano as well as standing at the mic, her eyes closed as she passionately belted out every word. She only opening them when the lights were dim, her shyness still evident. Any stage banter was unnecessary.

The crowd settled after the first few songs of the set, the packed room going completely silent to allow each of the lyrics to be heard. To accompany the new tune, “Anything We Want,” Fiona played a piece of old rebar or scrap metal with what appeared to be a long nail to create a sound like a kitchen sink. A few of the more charming lyrics from the song include this verse:

Let’s pretend we’re 8 years old playing hookey
I’ll draw on the walls and you can play UFC Rookie
Then we’ll grow up, take our clothes off
and you’ll remind me that I wanted you to kiss me
When we find some time alone
and then we can do anything we want

These written lyrics really do not do justice to the whimsy of the upbeat tune or the joy she obviously felt performing it.

Another new song, “Valentine,” started with minimal instrumentals, letting her voice and the lyrics stand alone until after the second verse:

A fugitive too dull to flee
I’m amorous but out of reach
A still-life drawing of peach.

The resonating chorus, “I root for you, I love you, you you you” is followed with the familiar, haunting chord progressions that have grown to be characteristic of her work.

The other new song, “Every Single Night,” is another lighter melody paired with relatable, anxious thoughts:

Every single night’s alright,
Every single night’s a fight
and every single fight’s alright with my brain
I just want to feel everything

I’m made of parts of all that’s around me
That’s why the devil can’t get around me

The now peaceful audience marveled between songs, and evoked a flattered smile from Fiona with singular calls of “I love you!” and “How are you real?”

Fiona still wears each song like a second skin, letting her emotions be completely exposed; slipping easily between the youthful angst and anger of betrayal to lighter or more mature selections. She growled and gritted out “Sleep to Dream” in one of her most impassioned performances, reliving the anger and the frustration with every inch of her petite form. Later in the song, she disappeared behind the piano, bent over at the middle, seemingly hiding through the instrumental portion. On the contrary, “Extraordinary Machine” elicited a practically bubbly performance with playful twists of waist and shoulders and a swinging foot. She bleated and howled older songs like “Carrion” with such volume and raw emotion, they became fresh and new.

She struggled just slightly in her higher range, and her voice was more rough in parts as she finished with “Criminal.” She slowly, gently removed her monitor and sat it on the piano. It’s possible that the only words spoken to the crowd were those to genuinely thank them for a wonderful evening before she walked off stage, not to return. The common wish among the crowd was for a longer set, but it’s evident that Fiona’s performances are on her terms. She spoke only when necessary, and, once she felt her voice start to strain, ended the set without the exercise of an encore.

Her return to the stage was anything but disappointing. Fiona Apple delivered a recharged, inspiring and musically enticing performance. Her next characteristically long-titled release cannot come soon enough, but The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do is tentatively scheduled to hit stores sometime in June.

Buy Fiona Music @ Amazon

Fiona Apple Official Site

Live Review: WV Symphony Presents “New World Symphony”

West Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s “New World Symphony” concerts were held at The Clay Center’s Maier Foundation Performance Hall this past weekend and I had the pleasure of attending Friday night. The WVSO performed Antonin Dvořák’s “Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)” (a.k.a. the “New World Symphony”) and Anton Bruckner’s “Symphony No. 3 in D minor.”

During the pre-performance “Preludes” discussion, Maestro Cooper and orchestra member Tom Beal talked about the Germanic tradition of the two pieces. Cooper revealed that the WV Symphony will perform Bruckner’s eighth symphony in one year and have already started preparation for the performance.

Beal humorously compared the old rivalry between Brahms and Bruckner fans to East Coast vs. West Coast rappers, while Cooper compared Bruckner’s compositions to a “primordial mist” which allows the listener to “glimpse elements of all creation.” I had noticed in my preliminary research that Bruckner’s third symphony often receives incredibly negative criticism and Cooper addressed this, pleading with us to take Bruckner as he is – to be to “washed” and “bathed” in his music without expectations or comparisons.

Cooper then called Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” a “Top 10” classical work, commending the unity and “incredible orchestration” of the piece. He joked about and hummed the “cheesy” “boogie woogie line” from the Czechian folk-influenced portion of the symphony, but overall deemed it “justly popular” and “a fabulous piece of music” that is very fun to play.

First up was “Symphony No. 3 in D minor” by Austrian composer Anton Bruckner. A contemporary of my beloved Mahler, Bruckner’s music was influenced by Beethoven as well as his own deeply held faith that music is an extension of God’s creation. It was this spiritual belief, as well as his sensitivity to criticism, that restrained Bruckner from experimenting or expressing himself too much in his work.

His music was also heavily influenced by Wagner, particularly his third symphony. Subtitled “The Wagner Symphony,” Bruckner submitted an early version of his third symphony to Wagner for review, eventually incorporated direct quotes from Wagner’s operas into revisions of the piece, and dedicated the symphony to Wagner with the inscription “to the unreachable world-famous noble master of poetry and music.”

The first movement is full of grandiose, surging waves punctuated by sudden ebbs of silence and lovely, gentle laps of melody. The second movement begins with such an elegant lilt that Cooper almost appeared to be dancing as he gracefully conducted the orchestra. I don’t know if it was the brilliance of the WV Symphony’s performance or my heeding Cooper’s advice to just let Bruckner’s music wash over me, but I loved the hour-long, four-movement symphony.

The second half of the evening was devoted to “Symphony No. 9 in E minor (From the New World)” by Antonin Dvořák. Dvořák’s ninth is perhaps his most famous work, at least here in America. The symphony’s many inspirations included Dvořák’s experiences in New York City, the traditional Czech and Bohemian folk music he heard in a small immigrant community in Iowa, and his interest in Native American music and African American spirituals. The result is one of the more modern sounding classical works.

A trumpet blare and the fluttering of flutes heralded the beginning of the first movement before a dramatic rumble as the rest of the orchestra joined in. The exquisite second movement of the New World Symphony, which was later adapted into the song “Goin’ Home,” is a melodic thing of beauty. There was something very lyrical about the underlying melody of the entire piece, particularly the first two movements. Yet even the dramatic bombast of the third movement is tempered by that intricate melody. The third movement also features unusual chiming embellishments that almost sounded like the ring of a vintage telephone. The fourth movement was literally cinematic – I could’ve sworn it sounded like the themes from Jaws and Star Wars intertwined.

Unbeknown to me, there had been a tornado warning in Charleston during the concert. Cooper did warn the audience about a pending storm and assured us that we were in the safest place if the power went out. We couldn’t even hear the storm during the spectacular performance and the skies were clear by the time we stepped out of the Clay Center. As Cooper himself said, “The weather outside is frightful, but inside is delightful.”

Cameras and recording devices were prohibited, so I have no audio or photographs from this performance to share. But WVSO’s site had a link to this YouTube video…

You can download free, legal mp3s of the Columbia University Orchestra performing Dvořák’s New World Symphony here, and hear a discussion by Marin Alsop as well as excerpts of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performing the piece at NPR.

WV Symphony Official Site

Anais Mitchell: Live at Mountain Stage, 3/4/12

This week’s Mountain Stage concert featured Anaïs Mitchell, Cowboy Junkies, Paul Kelly, and Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes.

The radiant Anaïs Mitchell stole the show for me. This was the third Mountain Stage appearance by Anaïs that I’ve attended, so she’s tied with Amy Correia as the artist I’ve seen perform the most times at the venue. She never fails to deliver a captivating live performance, and her set at Mountain Stage last night was no exception. Sadly, I didn’t realize until the concert started that my camera’s batteries were dead. I don’t think you could capture that magic on film anyway.

As I said in my review of her superb new album, Young Man in America (click album title for my review), : “Anaïs Mitchell is like a modern day Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan. Her epic lyrical narratives echo Guthrie’s masterful talent for blending the literary with the ordinary, while her fierce and unique vocal phrasing as well as her intricately multi-layered arrangements take Dylanesque to a whole new realm.

Anaïs’ dual role as singer and poet were on beautiful display on stage last night. She always had a charming stage presence, but her on-stage confidence seems to have blossomed over the years. Her “Young Man Band” – comprised of singer Rachel Ries (Anaïs’ Country EP partner), bassist Noah Hahn and multi-instrumentalist Ben Davis – provided worthy accompaniment. Davis’ banjo playing during “Dying Day,” which opened the set, was especially noteworthy.

“Dying Day” was the perfect way to introduce the audience to Anaïs and her new album. It was remarkable how her performance evoked a strong, positive reaction from everyone in the crowd, regardless of age – both the middle-aged man beside me and the little girl sitting in front of me nodded their heads along to the song.

Anaïs and her crew combined brief “Wilderland” and the title track from Young Man in America into one seamless, stellar medley. All of the songs sounded even better live than on the studio recording, but “Young Man in America ” was especially moving.

Anaïs’ plaintive call of “my daddy was a repo man, put me out onto the street, didn’t give a damn for me, did not give a damn!” brought tears to my eyes, and the haunting transition from the song’s final lyric “let me climb back in the bed you made me in” to the gorgeous instrument flourish that closes the song was absolutely hypnotic.

Anaïs’ set wasn’t heavy on banter, but she did talk a bit about her father when introducing the song “Shepherd,” which was inspired by his out-of-print novel The Souls of Lambs. It is her father’s face that adorns the cover of Young Man in America and Anaïs joked about his not wanting to cut his hair so people would recognize him from the picture.

During Anaïs’ emotive rendering of “Shepherd,” I noticed bassist Noah Hahn kneeling down on one knee with his eyes closed and his face turned up toward Anaïs. It seems her heartfelt vocals and musical narratives were as rapturous to the members of her band as to those of us in the audience.

“Tailor,” while not a favorite track of mine on the album, was incredibly powerful live – especially Anaïs’ breathy sighs of “Who Am I?” in the last verse. She then ended her spectacular set with “You Are Forgiven.”

After three brilliant albums and three magnificent live performances, Anaïs Mitchell has cemented herself as my favorite contemporary artist.

Anaïs Mitchell will perform a rare full concert in West Virginia at Lewisburg’s Carnegie Hall on April 14th. I hope to attend and review that show as well, so stay tuned.

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Anaïs Mitchell Official Site

The Lumineers: Live at The Hotel Cafe, L.A., 1/6/12

Muruch‘s L.A. guest reviewer, Laura Foxworthy, also attended The Lumineer’s show at The Hotel Café on January 6th. Following are her thoughts on their performance…

The Hotel Café always had this element of appeal to me personally and enjoys a certain “indie” reputation due to its association with Zach Braff and the “indie” soundtracks of his movies Garden State and The Last Kiss. I used to keep a playlist entitled “Zach Braff Made Me a Mixed Tape” with songs by bands I imagined seeing play at the venue. I had also envisioned The Hotel Café as a kind of artist’s cafe, somewhere in a side street in New York City or Paris, where the music and poetry runs as free-flowing as the americanos and cappuccinos.

Last week I was lucky to see two shows at the (infamous) Hotel Café. Ariana Hall was the first and The Lumineers were the second. The artists (as well as the venue) did not disappoint at all.

The Lumineers opened with my favorite songs of theirs that I had heard before the show, “Stubborn Love.” The indie-folk tune harkens comparisons to Mumford & Sons, The Civil Wars and a more “down-home” The Decemberists. Despite its lyrical sadness, there was something so catchy about the opener that my feet, and those of the crowd around me, began to tap. Their music, especially live, brings forth an energy that is contagious and makes your pulse hum.

By the time “Flowers in Your Hair” was performed, the foot tapping had turned into the crowd pushing tables and cares aside to get closer to the band. I saw a few couples spin each other about, as well as many others clapping and bouncing along. I even caught the sound guy and the venue staff bobbing their heads and tapping their feet. That collective humming pulse grew into a buzz as the band continued. They incited even more dancing and kinetic enthusiasm with “Ho Hey,” which turned into a full-fledged sing-a-long.

Though the high energy songs were definite crowd pleasers, my personal favorite of the night was “Slow It Down,” a slower and rather sad song that reminded me of the country ballads my Aunt used to favor when I was a child. It was also reminiscent of something Ryan Adams or Wilco would perform. Singer, Wesley Schultz, possesses a quality in his voice that is both sorrowful and hopeful all at once, and live that voice of his (and the energy of the band) moves people.

The Lumineers is a band to watch, to listen to, and to go and see live.

Buy The Lumineers Music @ Amazon

The Lumineers Official Site

Ariana Hall: Live at The Hotel Cafe, L.A., 1/4/12

Muruch‘s L.A. guest reviewer, Laura Foxworthy, caught Ariana Hall’s live performance at The Hotel Café on January 4th. Following are her thoughts on the concert…

For the New Year of 2012, two of my resolutions were to see more live music and to write more. I also decided to try experiencing new music in a way I had not done before: live.

Ariana Hall, at The Hotel Café, was a tremendous way to start checking off my New Year resolutions list. I had never heard Ariana’s music before, but The Hotel Café was a venue I have always wanted to visit, so I jumped at the opportunity to review her set there.

With the first number I was drawn in and happy that I had taken the leap to hear something new live. Ariana reminded me of what I loved female artists like Fiona Apple, Sarah Harmer and Heather Nova in the 1990s, and why I attended the original Lilith Fair anytime the festival came my way. Her voice and song styling were also reminiscent of the late Jeff Buckley. I would love to hear her cover one of his songs someday.

The sultry sound of “Mmm (I Like You)” grabbed my attention immediately and began an aural seduction. I leaned forward in attempt to get closer to the music and by the mid-point of the song my skin was covered in pin-prickle thrills. “She is damn good,” I scrawled on my napkin, passing it over to my concert conspirator and friend. She answered with an enthusiastic and affirmative shake of her head and we both quickly turned back to Ariana.

“Under the Stars With You” followed. Such a lovely love song this is, one that would fit well into a mix tape for a new crush or a longtime lover. Though Ariana’s cover of “These Arms of Mine” was just as amazing. The breathtaking Otis Redding original is a forever favorite song of mine.

My favorite of the night, though, was the one that also brought with it tears. The bluesy, broken-hearted “You Never Made It Good” (which you can stream below) was musically staggering and knocked the wind clean out of me. It was the song I would be talking about for the days that followed, as I went on excitedly to friends about this show and this new artist I had found. This is a song I would love to write stories and purge still-raw heartbreak to.

The entire set blew me away, and made me want more. Her show confirmed my resolution to seek out new music, and reminded me of what I love most about music – the emotional well that an amazing song splashes around in, and how there is always a new song to discover and fall in love with. On January 4th, at the Hotel Café, I fell hard for Ariana Hall.


ComScore

Buy Ariana Hall Music @ Amazon

Ariana Hall Official Site