Sunday, July 25, 2010

My Essay on Tao Lin and Our Histories Intertwining


I have been aware of Tao Lin for approximately four years. The first instance of our relationship began when I left a comment on his blog about an interview he had done for Bookslut. This comment is still on his blog and I look back on it and feel embarrassed since it is one of only 2 comments on a link still prominently displayed.

That post attempted to engage Mr. Lin for our similar educational backgrounds, similar age, and similar vocational practices. I do not think we have much in common otherwise. However, one of my best friends once shared a dorm room with him.


One of my favorite things about Tao is his generosity. After my first abortive attempt at contacting the iconoclast, I applied to MFA programs, became a reject, finished my first novel, moved to L.A., wrote 70% of a second novel, and returned to my home. Boomeranged, broken. I didn’t know what I was going to do anymore. I finished that second novel, and then I started doing NaNoWriMo. Halfway through November, I got a temp job, which was nice. Then, right as I was about to finish NaNoWriMo, call it a case of “chemically-unbalanced-writer’s-excitement/manic part of manic depression,” I decided to ask Tao if I could review his first novel, Eeeee Eee Eeee for my blog, which I had started in L.A. He said yes and sent me the book for free and I read it and asked him if I could interview him and he said yes. I finally wrote that review on Thanksgiving morning, 2008.

Later I would lend it to my friend who is a tough critic. Tao passed that test.
Later I would ask if I could do the same for Shoplifting from American Apparel. This was in August of 2009. Tao agreed again. More generosity.
A few days ago I asked if I could receive a galley copy of Richard Yates. My request was honored. Generosity again. I hope to have that review up in August 2010. And I hope to do a few more interview questions.

I am not a book critic for the Chicago Tribune or New York Times, and while I am sure Tao would love their coverage, I appreciate his ability to make this complicated job called “fiction writer in 21st century” a little more transparent for all of us. I don’t know if I want to be a writer anymore when I read his blog posts about how little money he earns from writing. I keep doing it regardless, and I don’t think clearly about prospects for my future. Perhaps I am missing the point: my blog. Flying Houses is not even HTML Giant or MOBYLIVES, but Tao gave me a chance, and I am happy with having a few more readers that could potentially find something else they like on it.


All my Dad ever talks about is networking. I hate networking. I hate going to cocktail parties, because I get too wasted, and whatever connections I might make, well, people just think I am a drunk, and therefore unstable, and therefore not worth their networking time. That’s in person. Networking on the internet is different. For one, it is scarier. If anyone wants, they can go cycle through all my old posts on this blog, or on the messageboard at and find something I said that is terribly stupid and deserving of hardcore condemnation. It happens. Cyberbullies exist. But on the other hand, networking on the internet is so easy. Add a friend on Facebook. Talk to someone about what they tweeted about. It’s all well and good and nice and fun. But what about when you want to “get serious” and meet in person? What do you have to say that is of any import? How do you not come off sounding like a total vulture?

No more ruminations on the internet, though the internet plays a huge role, I would argue, in Tao’s literature. I have not read Richard Yates but I want to because I liked both his first novel and his first novella. I have not read Bed and it would be nice to have a copy.


Here is a short story about what happened to my copies of Eeeee Eee Eeee and Shoplifting from American Apparel: I met a girl through an online dating site and we went out a few times and she seemed like one of the coolest girls I had ever met in my life. We would go out to lunch or dinner, and we would get stoned and listen to indie rock, and we would watch movies, or else walk nearby Barack Obama’s house in Kenwood. In short that is what I like to do with my time. She was cute and I was willing to look past the fact that she was a Starbuck’s barista and generally unreliable when it came to comprehensive assessments of life. As is the case with most of the girls I have dated, she broke up with me in a very passive-aggressive manner. This was not before I had leant her some CDs, and these two books by Tao Lin. She did invite me back once, so she could give me the CDs. But she had not finished both books. She loved them. She wrote on her Facebook wall that they “made her feel schizophrenic” and that she “couldn’t stop reading.” She also wrote that Tao was apparently a “friend of a friend.” Not anymore, because a couple weeks later, she de-friended me. This after I sent her random text messages asking her if she planned to give the books back. She said, in her text message, “I never intended to keep the books.” Well, she still has them. The copy of Eeeee Eee Eeee had a personal inscription from Tao to me that I cherished deeply. And now it sits in whatever sordid living room she inhabits, corrupt, wrong, inappropriate for her to own.


My feelings about this girl are roughly commensurate with my feelings about hipsters in general and Tao’s fans. That is, on the surface, they are fun, they are cool, they are the type of people I want to befriend and hang out with, but underneath, once you get to know them, you realize they are weird and mean and don’t give good reasons for the fucked-up things they do to you. I’m not trying to give them a bad name—I’m just talking from personal experience, and leaving open the opportunity for someone to prove me wrong.


Richard Yates, I believe, will be Tao’s best book yet. I don’t want to get too crazy since I haven’t read it yet, and I don’t want to say, “I was wrong!” in my upcoming review. But each of his first two novels showed a progression, and Richard Yates is a more serious title than either of the first two, and Richard Yates was a very good writer (so I’ve been told), and I know Haley Joel Osment and I share at least two things in common and I don’t know why Tao chose to use celebrity names as main character names, but I happened to do the same thing in my third novel (in progress) and I wonder if it has to do with the fact that nobody reads anymore and everybody goes to the movies (or if it is to make casting an adaptation easy).

(By nobody obviously I mean “95% of the American populace does not read, or would not recognize the name Tao Lin” and by everybody I mean “95% of the American populace will not have seen The Runaways but will know who Dakota Fanning is and everybody saw The Sixth Sense, etc.)


I have suggested that Tao visit Quimby’s book shop in Chicago so I could see him on tour. I thought that would be so cool. Then I see he has set a date there. Have fun there, Tao! If you moved from Williamsburg to Wicker Park, you’d be like, the coolest person since Stephanie Kuehnart. But now I will be unable to see that glorious moment, as I will be entrenched within new legal studies. Still, I will be in Brooklyn, and I hope I will meet Tao eventually.

He is like a legend, a ghost. But he exists. Who made that “I am Carles” t-shirt? I don’t know, but I saw one person wearing one at the Pitchfork Festival last weekend. Whatever Tao’s army is, it grows. It grows because literature, as we know it, the ability to make our voices heard, to be paid for our time spent actively opening up our worlds for strangers to inhabit and learn from experience, is dead or dying. I suffer, and wait to kill myself until I am 40 because that’s about the time most people realistically publish their first novel these days. But as I suffer, Tao’s army grows, and I attempt to join it, and do not feel like a full-fledged member, but still feel as if I am “part of something.” Tao’s detractors may say that his work is meaningless or immature or just plain stupid (all critiques are understandable, too), but they are just looking for a way to assert their dominance in literary games. They don’t break the same rules as him. They think the rules he breaks are sacred.


No rules are sacred when literature is dying. I will persist in saying literature is dying until an agent speaks with me personally about why my work is bad. Tao is not going to save literature. And he may not even have found a way for it to pay his own rent yet, but he updates his blog mercilessly, I know he works very hard, and one day it will have to pay off. It will have to pay off or else you have to start challenging anyone who dreams of being a writer: what do you have to say, why is it so important to say, why are you special, and can you figure out the secret combination to unlock a publishing contract?

I don’t like challenging people on their dreams. Society in general is at fault here, but Tao is doing what he can to make things right, and for that I will always read his books.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pitchfork Music Festival - July 16-18, 2010 (Redux)

Welcome to my review of the 2010 Pitchfork Festival. I posted this yesterday, but there were many technical difficulties, so I decided to redo it with pictures of every band reviewed.
To be fair, reviews can never be authoritative. There were 54,000 other people there that all had different experiences than me. Due to my own idiosyncrasies, my experience may appear inaccurate, or incorrect, but I will attempt to maintain a subjective stance so when I diss Chicagoans or Pitchfork you will know that not everyone agrees with what I have to say.

Let us begin on Friday, with Liars, the first set I saw.

Liars played a satisfactory set, focusing heavily on material from Sisterworld. I have only seen Liars once before, during the They Were Wrong, So We Drowned tour at a free NYU show in 2004, which interestingly enough, is the only previous concert I have attempted to bootleg--and I have about thirty minutes on my camcorder from that which is so much better than the quality I was able to get out of my digital camera this weekend-- but I digress. Now, Liars are not as much of a "bait and switch" act as they used to be, but I have pretty much the same problem as before. They played material from every album except their debut--and the only songs I really wanted to hear were off their debut. This is basically the problem with every set at Pitchfork. These aren't headlining sets. They're supposed to pick their best or newest songs to play in forty-five minutes. Liars were satisfactory. I have no major complaints beyond not getting to hear "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River Just Like That" or "We Live NE of Compton."

Broken Social Scene was the next band I saw, after getting a couple beers and glancing briefly at the Comedy Stage, where someone was doing a bit about Medieval Times, as if no one had heard of it before. I read in the Tribune's review of the fest that Michael Showalter apparently abandoned his set early? I am sure it wasn't as dramatic as they made that seem---but I kind of get it. The denizens of the Pitchfork fest are notoriously snobby and sarcastic and unable to be impressed. I mean, indie rock fans in general are just moody and quiet, not given to loud, boisterous, stupid laughter. So I can understand why some comedians might have felt they were not "killing it" or getting huge audience reactions. I did hear some laughs, and it actually did look like a nice place to spend the evening, with everyone sitting down, looking relaxed. Two beers, ten bucks, a cigarette, a seat for a few minutes, a couple pages of my new book about the life of Ernest Hemingway, and then BSS.
They opened with "World Sick" and didn't play the last three minutes of that song, which was a good move. Their second song was "Stars and Sons," which had a few variations and reminded me of seeing BSS play Pitchfork in 2005, where they put in one of the best sets of the then 2-day Intonation Festival (only Les Savy Fav remains fonder in my memory). They played "Superconnected" and "Shoreline" and "Forced to Love" and "Ungrateful Little Father" and "Cause = Time" and "All to All" --but no "Chase Scene." That would have ruled. They did close with "Meet Me in the Basement" which Kevin Drew introduced by saying it was their "killer anthem." I thought they were going to play "It's All Gonna Break," but they proved my point about "Basement" being the best song on Forgiveness Rock Record--if only it had words. This definitely wasn't one of the greatest highlights of the weekend, but BSS continue to grow in popularity and people seemed very happy here.

For Modest Mouse, I went to the bathroom and then got a couple more beers. I could not get a good spot. They opened up with "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" while I was in line for beer and I was all upset that I was missing it. They played a few new songs, which sounded okay, but I do miss Johnny Marr being in the band. They played what you would expect them to play--thankfully avoiding "Float On." A solid set, but I did not have the best spot. Much more engaging than Built to Spill, who played at the same position last year. "Dashboard" was a particular highlight, and everyone around me was dancing and getting crazy and having fun even though we weren't very close to the stage and that made it a bit more fun for me.

The next day I came around 1:3o in the afternoon and saw Free Energy from a distance and didn't really think it was worth it to try to get closer. Their set was almost over, and I decided to give Real Estate a try. Now, I love Sunny Day Real Estate, but I have never heard Real Estate before, and they are perfectly fine. They are no SDRE, that is for sure, but they don't aspire towards that. They're pretty mellow, but sometimes they get a little loud and fast. They're from New Jersey, unpretentious, and winsome. If there were any new album I would get from a band I saw, it would be theirs. Or the new Titus Andronicus.

I have never seen Titus before, but people were way into them. Like, they seemed to have more fans than a band of their years should rightfully have. It seems like they have a bright future. I have The Airing of Grievances on my iPod, and I like it fine. I've never heard The Monitor, but judging from the sound of the set, I would guess most of those songs sound similar to their previous album, whether concept or not. The set was fun for everyone. Patrick Stickles came on saying "Let's have the best afternoon of our lives!" And they tore through everything. There weren't any laid back songs. I put this in the second category of sets from this weekend. It wasn't an absolute can't miss highlight, but it was a damn good show, and I'd see them again on the basis of it.

Now we get to the depressing part of the story. Here is a picture of Raekwon.
I was waiting for Wolf Parade during Raekwon's set. I sat indian-style and dozed, leaning forward, bad posture. Raekwon started late, there was all of that endless "pumping up" prevalent at hip-hop shows, which led me to a realization: I don't like bands that force you to participate. Like, Kevin Drew, at Broken Social Scene, was like, "Everybody scream so you know you are alive!" Maybe I am being a sourpuss but I'll sing along if I like your lyrics enough. I don't know any Raekwon songs, but it was a relatively painless experience, though the weekend was about to get really depressing.
But not before getting really awesome with the Wolf Parade set!

It was difficult to wait 50 minutes in between Raekwon and Wolf Parade, and to listen to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion play at the other stage. They seemed to be going totally crazy. But the wait was worth it, the spot was worth it, and the band played a fantastic set. It was my second time seeing them and this time it was much better. I just had chills running up and down my spine the whole time--the opener "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain," the crowd-pleasing "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts" and "I'll Believe in Anything" and "This Heart's on Fire." A particular note about this set: my previous post about Expo '86 asserts that Spencer Krug (and to a lesser extent Dan Boeckner) have mind-reading abilities, and Spencer set up directly in front of me with his keyboard and seemed to make eye contact with me a couple times which made me swoon. My point is this: after a few songs, I started thinking that they had read my review on this blog, and tailored their setlist to make some kind of point. I know that's not what happened---but witness the first two songs they played--"Cloud Shadow.." and "Soldier's Grin"--which I mention the opening parts of in comparison to a Sunset Rubdown album opener--and witness the argument about which is the better closing track, "This Heart's on Fire" or "Cave-O-Sapien," which they played back-to-back--and witness Boeckner choosing to play "Ghost Pressure" instead of "Pobody's Nerfect" which I would have preferred reversed, but proved to me "Ghost..." is a good song too. The only thing I would have liked to hear would have been "California Dreamer" or "Grounds for Divorce" or "You are a Runner..."--but those are all Spencer songs, and he seemed to sing more as it was.

Here is Dan Boeckner, playing "Little Golden Age," I think, which was also prescient.

Spencer has long hair now and is less shy than in the past, it seems.
Now we get to the sad part.
You can see Panda Bear in the back right of that picture. He was playing his set, and we were waiting for LCD Soundsystem. It wasn't that long of a wait, really, just over an hour, but it was a very long hour. I have decided that I am going to leave my previous post up because this is taking way too long to write two reviews. You will be able to read there about the crowd-surfing annoying me, the six square inch space to stand within, the inability to move, or sit, but I did not mention the pot smoking this weekend. More than in the past, EVERYONE around me was smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, and drinking gallon water jugs. It made me jealous, and it made me realize why people have negative opinions of music festivals.
I didn't mention the girl who LOVED Panda Bear, and was standing nearby me, waiting for LCD. She screamed about how beautiful he was and how she wanted to have his babies, and she started freaking out during the second song he played. Now, I have not heard that song before, which made me think it will be something off Tomboy, and that song sounded really awesome. But that was it. If you read the other post, you will hear about the kid who said "Animal Collective was the worst experience of my life." And you will hear about how LCD was the worst experience of my life.

See! I was actually pretty close! But I was in significant trouble. Their setlist was almost perfect. "Us V Them," "Drunk Girls," "Pow Pow," "Daft Punk is Playing at My House," "All My Friends," "Trials and Tribulations," and "Movement." I lasted through all of those, and during "Yeah" I couldn't take it anymore. I left, and then heard "Someone Great" and "Losing My Edge" (which was the most crestfallen moment of the weekend for me) as I exited the grounds. They also played "New York, I Love You...." apparently, but who knows if they did the whole "Empire State of Mind" medley. James Murphy turned in an excellent performance, but he did not pay attention to the welfare of the "happy" people in front. Granted, everyone was happy, and only about three or four people in front of me left before I did. But I hated that crowd-surfing, and I hated not being able to move one way or another, and the sweat started to become too much for me tolerate. But like I said, it wasn't even the atmosphere of the set that bothered me so much, but WALKING OUT OF IT, which was like some horror-show obstacle course.
Still, by most accounts, this was highlight of the weekend.
After painful memories of Saturday, I resolved to change my approach on Sunday. I had a couple Stella Artois before leaving Old Town and hitting the El, and that may have made the earlier part of the day better.

Girls were the first band I saw Sunday, overall it was a very good time. I wasn't very close to the stage, but the sound was decent, and I got to see the cool noise jam between "Hellhole Ratrace" and "Morning Light," which was definitely an homage to MBV's "You Made Me Realise." They ended their set with "Big Bad Mean Motherfucker" which sounded good too, though I had already left for the beer line.
Note that I only spent $40 on beer this weekend. 20 tickets, twice. 8 beers. Heinekens mainly.
I also got to hear "Lust for Life," so even though I missed almost half of their set, I saw everything I wanted.

Here is a slightly-zoomed in photo of Girls.

I waited until 4:45 to see Surfer Blood. I don't think there was any other band that I was looking forward to seeing as much as them. Just because I got more into their album than any other new album this year.
They opened up with "Fast Jabroni," which ruled, but no one crowd-surfed or went crazy or anything. My thoughts of their entire set may be read in the previous post, but let me just add that they seemed, restrained in some way. Still, a great setlist, with "Floating Vibes," "Take it Easy," "Swim," "Anchorage," "Twin Peak," "Harmonix," their new song "I'm not Ready," and the one thing I forgot to mention: "Catholic Pagans." Now, this is a good song. But on the album I don't go too crazy for it. This was the only song that sounded way better live than on the album. They made it heavier and it was cooler.

Neon Indian followed Here We Go Magic, who followed Surfer Blood. I sat and dozed during Here We Go Magic. They sounded okay. But I have a negative opionion of a girl I used to know who was into Here We Go Magic like back in February, so I don't need to see them. They did sound okay, to be fair. But I was tired. Neon Indian changed that.

They played almost everything off Psychic Chasms and "Sleep Paralysis," which was my first time hearing it, but I knew what it was ("No sleep! No sleep!") and it made me dance. Overall, I have to say "Terminally Chill" and "Ephemeral Artery," the two songs they played on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon months ago, the first time I became aware of their live presence, were the highlights. But they opened up with "Local Joke" and that was cool. They suggested some audience participation for "Deadbeat Summer" and it was the only time I didn't find that sort of thing corny. This was definitely one of the can't miss highlights of the weekend, one of the best atmospheres.

Before Pavement there was Sleigh Bells.
There was this Asian kid standing with his girlfriend next to me and he just kind of annoyed me with all of his talk about how hot the singer in Sleigh Bells is and how she is a school teacher and how he wondered if maybe she was the sort of teacher to hit on her boy students--now granted, there is a lot of random eavesdropping at music festivals, but this kid, and some other kids around me, actually, were just talking about how Sleigh Bells were going to be the best set of the day, and how no one even came close, and how they had no qualms about missing a good spot for Pavement, and it just annoyed me. I like Sleigh Bells, don't get me wrong! But there's more than a little hype to them. At first I couldn't figure out who to compare them to. Then I realized they sound like a rockier version of Crystal Castles. Their singer is pretty cute, and she does have a certain presence onstage, but without all of the vocal modulation on the album, she sounds a bit pedestrian. But she does know how to stir up the crowd.

I left after two songs. Because Pavement rules.

Malkmus said something about how he lost his voice for a moment, but overall, their execution was good. There was a radio shock-jock DJ who is also on the Slow Century DVD introducing the band. It was funny to see him in person. He talked for like 15 minutes about Q101 and the "original alternative nation" and trying to "break" Pavement and all this weird crap, like you couldn't tell if he was being really sarcastic or not, but obviously he is way into the band. They opened with "Cut Your Hair" and then played, oh what can I remember, "Kennel District" second? "Silence Kit," which was nice. "Stop Breathing" and "Stereo," which were a bit altered. "Shady Lane," obviously. "Range Life" and "Unfair." I guess that's a lot of stuff off Crooked Rain. "Range Life" was a great moment, when Malkmus said, "Out on tour with Chicago's Pumpkins" and the crowd screamed. Playing "The Hexx" as the last song of the festival was also a pretty badass thing to do. But as previously mentioned, I thought an encore was coming, and it was not.

If you have never been the Pitchfork festival, I'm sorry, but now too many people go and it's kind of a claustrophobic experience. That said I still recommend it over Lollapalooza any year.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010 - July 16-18, 2010

Welcome to what will surely be one of the longest posts ever on Flying Houses--and certainly the most technological: my review of the Pitchfork festival. To be fair, reviews themselves can never be authoritative. There were 54,000 other people there that all had different experiences than me. Due to my own idiosyncrasies, my experience may appear inaccurate, or incorrect, but I will attempt to maintain a subjective stance so when I diss Pitchfork or Chicagoans you will know that not everyone agrees with everything I have to say.

Let us begin on Friday, with the Liars, the first set I saw.

(clip review: I had a clip of "Scissor" that was longer, but I felt this was one of the most crisp video images I was able to capture, short and sweet as it is)

Liars played a satisfactory set, focusing heavily on material from Sisterworld. I have only seen Liars once before, during the They Were Wrong, So We Drowned tour at a free NYU show, which, interestingly enough, is the only previous concert that I have attempted to bootleg--and I have about 30 minutes on my camcorder from that which is so much better than the quality I was able to get out of my digital camera this weekend--but I digress. Now, Liars are not as much of a "bait and switch" act as they were in 2004, but I have pretty much the same problem with them. They played material from every album except their debut--and the only songs I really wanted to hear were off their debut. This is basically the problem with every set at Pitchfork. These aren't headlining sets. They're supposed to pick their best songs to play in 45 minutes, or newest songs, whatever. Liars were satisfactory. I have no major complaints beyond not getting to hear "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River Just Like That" or "We Live NE of Compton."

They opened with "World Sick," didn't play the last three minutes of that song, and then went into "Stars and Sons." Now, when they played this, it reminded me of seeing Broken Social Scene at the Pitchfork fest in 2005. I had a serious deja vu moment, and realized Broken Social Scene were way better back then. No offense--if you read my review of Forgiveness Rock Record, you'll know I still thought they'd be a good live band, and for the most part, they were. They played a bunch of their hits ("Cause = Time," "Superconnected," "Shoreline") which made me think they consider S/T their best work. Then they ended with "Meet Me in the Basement" which re-affirmed my belief that it would be the best song on the new album if it had words. In general, a weaker performance than I've seen in the past from them, but I'm sure no one else was disappointed.

I seem to be having a difficult time adding pictures to this post. So I will stop with them. Only videos from here on in. Here are the two last pictures that were such a pain in the ass to move.
One is of Real Estate and the other is of Titus Andronicus. Both are from New Jersey

I would add a video of Titus Andronicus, but the Broken Social Scene one is taking forever. I guess I am learning lessons about utilizing technology, massive file sizes for upload. Real Estate was the first band I saw on Saturday. I did not know any of their songs. And I still do not know any of their songs, but they won me over. They were unpretentious, vaguely interesting, and skilled. Titus Andronicus, however, definitely won me over. I have not heard The Monitor (only The Airing of Grievances) but from the sound of their set, most of their songs sound the same. They always get bombastic, and Patrick Stickles always loses it. I was surprised by how dedicated their fan base is. They are a relatively new band, and for so many people to be so into them, well I think they have a bright future.

Then I had my horrible idea about camping out for a good spot for Wolf Parade. The camp out in this moment was not that bad, when I was sitting down indian-style during the Raekwon set, dozing. It was brutal when Raekwon ended, and it was time to get up, and it was time to stake out a position close to the stage for Wolf Parade, and it was time to wait the entire 50 minutes of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion set, which sounded awesome and which I regret missing in retrospect. Then, Wolf Parade started.

I had a cool video of "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" which was their opening song, but this video upload is not cool. Of all the sets I saw all weekend, I have to say Wolf Parade was my single favorite. It was probably because the spot in the crowd was pretty good, and because they just brought it. I only saw Wolf Parade once before, but this was a much better show. Their setlist was impeccable. The only thing that hampered my enjoyment was the crowd-surfing, which made "Cave-O-Sapien" more nerve-wracking than blissful.

Then we get to the reason why Saturday was so bad for me, which was LCD Soundsystem. Now, I love LCD Soundsystem. But so do a whole lot of other people. I planned to stand in place to wait for them, while Panda Bear played at the other stage. I heard some kid say, "Don't go see Panda Bear. I saw Animal Collective last year and it was the worst experience of my life." Well kid, what happened to me at LCD Soundsystem was probably not the worst experience of my life, but one of them.

It was the crowd dispersal after Wolf Parade, which did not happen. Everybody who was close for Wolf Parade had the same idea as me. Wait for LCD, and have a good spot. What a mistake! I should have known when Panda Bear started, and everyone around me sat down, except for the people that didn't have room to sit down, one of which was me. I stood on my tiptoes to try to see some of Panda Bear, and I felt wobbly and felt like I might fall on someone. It was terrible. There were six square inches within which I could stand, and I could not change my position, and I panicked and eventually, someone behind me stood up, which allowed me to sit down briefly. Panda Bear's set did not sound that exciting, but I still expect Tomboy to be really awesome.

LCD came on, after much anticipation from everyone around me, since we were all so miserably packed together. Something else happened that annoyed me: during Wolf Parade, someone had moved the garbage can close to the stage, and people were jumping off it to crowd-surf, which made me have to keep glancing back to make sure I wasn't about to be kicked in the head. Someone sat on the garbage can to wait for LCD, and it seemed like a very nice spot to have. Later, people would get up on it and dance during the set, also causing nervousness from me. At one point my calves were brushing up against the plastic bag attached to the front of it, and there was no way to get away from it, and I thought, wow, this is really a terrible spot to have. Later there was a bit of pushing and I did get away. I did not have fun at LCD. I wanted to have fun, but I did not. "US v Them," "Drunk Girls," "Pow Pow," "All My Friends..." --the performance was fantastic. I have no complaints about the performance. Only my experience. "All My Friends" was particularly ironic, as everyone seemed to think this was the apex of the weekend, and it was the point at which I broke and decided I couldn't stay. "Daft Punk is Playing at My House" caused crowd-surfing again, and the only time I got kicked in the head, it was incredibly gentle. But I was sweating horribly. I had to leave.

And leaving, was one of the worst experiences of my life. Because everyone was there. And packed deep. Once I thought I was out of the woods, there were more people to get around. And it would absolutely amaze me how stupid people were, they they wouldn't move aside to let me leave--and that even some of them would look at me like I was getting in their way and make a face at me like I was so disgusting for sweating that much. They played "Someone Great" and I was like, "Wow, I'm glad that I left!" and then they played "Losing My Edge" later, which I could hear from the El platform, and I was very upset because it's one of my favorite songs ever.

The next day I resolved to not be so crazy about getting the best possible spot. I saw Girls first, and they were excellent. I had a cool video that showed the noise jam as a segue between "Hellhole Ratrace" and "Morning Light," but now I think I'm even going to cancel the BSS video because it's still uploading! Girls were excellent and I should have bought their t-shirt, but I only saw the last twenty or thirty minutes of their set.

I was very excited for Surfer Blood. I had to wait through some of Local Natives, which marked my first stop at the Connector Stage, which was probably the place to be all weekend. I had a good time Sunday hanging out there most of the day. Surfer Blood played an excellent set, including a new song called "I'm Not Ready," which was similar to stuff off Astro Coast. I did feel vaguely disappointed, as if it could have been louder, or angrier, or something. Basically, let me say this: I still love Surfer Blood, but on record, their execution is so flawless that in person, they inevitably could not live up to themselves. They did change the line "You and me/could it be meant to be?" to "You and me/it's fucking anarchy," but I still felt they were too nice and seemed a bit more like Vampire Weekend Jr. than the Dinosaur one.

Neon Indian is probably the opposite of Surfer Blood. Psychic Chasms may be a very good album, but I prefer Astro Coast for air-guitar purposes. But, while Surfer Blood could not quite match the sound of their album (it is perhaps worth noting that Liars could not do that with Sisterworld either), Neon Indian exceeded all expectations. Their live show is better than their album. They have so many gadgets. And Alan Palomo is a magnetic performer. They had a great spot on the schedule, warming up the crowd for the big finale, and they did an almost perfect job.

Sleigh Bells came after, and they were okay. I like them. But I only stayed for two songs and then went to Pavement.

Pavement was everything I hoped it would be, but no more. If you look at the tracklist of Quarantine the Past you can pretty much guess their setlist. There were maybe three surprises ("Debris Slide" and "Kennel District" and "The Hexx"). "Stereo" and "Stop Breathing" featured some variations that made it more interesting. I had a spot very far back, and I wished I could have been at the front for "Conduit for Sale!" (definitely the best moment of the set), and I feel I belonged at the front where everyone knows every lyric and sings every lyric and you don't feel like a loser if you're singing along, but I learned this weekend that sometimes the dedication required to have that sort of concert experience isn't always worth it. Pavement was good, but I would have liked to hear "Carrot Rope" or "Speak, See, Remember" or "AT&T" or "Flux = Rad" or "Fight this Generation." But we can't have sets tailored to our specifications.

I did want to say this, before the final rankings: I saw Superchunk on June 20, 2010 at the Taste of Randolph. I had ten times more fun during Superchunk than I did during any single set at Pitchfork, with Wolf Parade the only one even coming close. Pitchfork is too crowded now. It's been happening slowly, but they finally reach their critical mass this year. They did do a good job with the water. They handed it out for free, thinking of the people that camped, and they cut the price drastically as the weekend went on. They need to work on crowd control though. If everyone at LCD had taken two or three steps back, I probably could have stayed. But James Murphy is not Ian Mackaye. The people there were still cool in general, but it just seemed more unbearable for me this time.

How about we end the story with the way it ended, when I left Pavement, after waiting for an encore that looked like it would happen and then didn't (no "Summer Babe?"), and when I tried to get home. The El had a line down the stairs, out the exit, and the platforms were jam-packed. I was not going to wait 15 minutes to move inside the staircase. I kept walking north, at 300 N needing to get to 1600 N, with a huge group of concert-goers. The bus came, but I could not get on it because it did not stop because it was too full. I finally got a cab coming off one of the sidestreets, and I felt like he took an indirect route. When it was over, I was glad. However, I was looking forward to my totally awesome blog post with all those videos in it, and now it won't happen.

I still recommend anyone go to Pitchfork over Lollapalooza. But I don't recommend camping out for a good spot, and I don't recommend going alone.

Liars: 7/10
Broken Social Scene: 7/10
Modest Mouse: 7/10 (not written, but not worth describing said experience)
Real Estate: 7/10
Titus Andronicus: 8/10
Wolf Parade: 9/10
LCD Soundsystem: (Performance: 9/10; Experience: 1/10)
Girls: 8/10
Surfer Blood: 7.5/10
Neon Indian: 9/10
Sleigh Bells: 8/10
Pavement: 8.8/10

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Wolf Parade - Expo '86

When we last caught up with Wolf Parade about two years ago (, we were in Los Angeles, we were calling Spencer Krug's voice "twittering" and we were talking about how he read minds and we were talking about personal problems plaguing the publication of a zine that will now never be resurrected.

Things have changed. We are many miles east, "twittering" is a weird word, and the zine will never see the light of day--but Krug still reads minds. And the new Wolf Parade album, Expo '86, is just fine.

Since then, Handsome Furs put out a new critically-acclaimed album, and Sunset Rubdown put out Dragonslayer, which should have been reviewed here but wasn't. It also should have been named an "honorable mention" on the best albums of 2009 list, along with the Pissed Jeans record, but I am not so thorough sometimes. Dragonslayer was not as good as Random Spirit Lover, in my opinion--but not anybody else's. As far as rock critics opinions go, the leaders of Wolf Parade are at the top of their game.

And this album is receiving middling reviews, somewhat similar to the one I am writing. They say it's good, better than At Mount Zoomer, but not as good as Apologies to Queen Mary. At Mount Zoomer had a few good songs and some decent moments, but makes for a relatively difficult listen. Expo '86 isn't the easiest listen in the world, but there is more to love about it, and it's fair to say that Wolf Parade are "back on track."

The first track "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" is Krug's, and before anything else on the album you hear him sing "I was asleep on a hammock." It's a very rushed opening, also bearing a certain resemblance the "The Mending of the Gown," the opening track on Random Spirit Lover, but instead of the weird keyboard part that also seems to open At Mount Zoomer, there is Krug's restlessness. And his restlessness is more contained, but still quite satisfying on this opening track.

"Palm Road" is a Dan Boeckner song, and it is almost comical how much it sounds like an Arcade Fire song. Granted, the drummer in Wolf Parade also played (plays?) in Arcade Fire, and even though I said "The Grey Estates" sounded like "Antichrist Television Blues," this time the similarity is totally unmistakable. It has been called a "Springsteen-esque" song, as Arcade Fire songs often are, but this is a "cover-like homage" to a peer like I have never heard before.

That said it's a good song, but I am too partial to Krug, and the next track "What Did My Lover Say (It Always Had to Go this Way)" is one of his and one of the best here. Of particular note is when he sings, "I've got a friend who's a genius/Nobody listens to him/I've got some friends who got famous/la la la la la la." Mind-reading lyrical genius and good music to set it against make for an album highlight.

Boeckner's next song, however, takes him into a higher class, and while I am very partial to Krug, Boeckner's songs on this album are my favorite that I have heard from him. Particularly this 4th track, "Little Golden Age" which talks about getting stoned in parking lots and watching the stars:

"So we hung around and we hung around
and we hung around for days
In the parking lot stoned, star shone out of phase
And the rain came down, cassettes wore out. Oh no!
Then you left town feeling pretty down
With your headphones on and your coat and
your dirty graduation gown you were
In the bedroom singing radio songs
Sing them loud
Sing them all night, Emily
You need something to help you along
Freeze, freeze, freeze Little Golden Age"

There was a review in the Chicago Tribune of this album and they basically said, "Yeah, it's good, (I think they gave it 2 1/2 stars out of 4) but they don't have much to say." The critic (I don't think it was Greg Kot, I rarely disagree with him) claimed the lyrics were weak on this album, and yeah, sometimes Wolf Parade lyrics can be vague (Boeckner) or like young-adult-fantasy-fiction (Krug), but they're never redundant or cliched. They're often mysterious, and seem to be meaningless, which is the critic's issue, but they're not, and he's stupid (unless it was Greg Kot).

The 5th track, "In the Direction of the Moon" is Krug again, with some of his zaniest lyrics ever ("I'm a disaster!"..."I take my meals with weirdos") that save it from being a boring song. It sounds like it will be an epic song, but it's not really. Krug's lyrics are actually very touching, addressed to a lover that is the "most gracious thing I know," "fantastic," and "so composed."
I guess the song is about a relationship that is barely holding together because the narrator is so messed up and the lover is much more together with their life. But there is self-consciousness, and one cannot believe the narrator would make such trouble, hence the touching aspect.

"Ghost Pressure" is Boeckner and probably one of the more unremarkable things on the album. Not an unpleasant song, just unremarkable.

"Pobody's Nerfect," however, is Boeckner again, and his second best song after "Little Golden Age" here. It would be a good candidate for radio airplay, and is perhaps the most accessible song on the album (well, after "Palm Road" maybe).

"Two Men in New Tuxedos" is Krug, so it's good, but also vaguely unremarkable. It also has the line "I can see into the future!" --so it is the point at which Krug finally opens up about his extrasensory talents.

"Oh You, Old Thing" is like a repeat of the previous track, in being an unremarkable Krug song, still containing brilliant lyrics: "As much as I have always loved your dancing/I hate the sounds that come from crowds/that just don't get/my moves."

"Yulia" is another pleasant surprise from Boeckner which always makes me think about the band Mercury Landing and how they used to be called Yulia and I wonder what the fuck that word means and I wonder if it is just some variant of Julia.

Then you get to "Cave-o-Sapien." Now, Wolf Parade have always had good closing tracks, but this is the best they have ever done. It is yet another Krug song, so the bookends of the album are his, and they're two of the highlights of it all. OK, to be fair, it's really hard to be a better song than "This Heart's on Fire"--but that was a Boeckner song. "Kissing the Beehive" had a couple of beautiful moments, but on the whole, like the album it closes, it's a bit to slog through. But "Cave-o-Sapien" is economical, epic, and declarative.

This is also an interesting album because it is named for a fair that happened in Montreal in 1986, where apparently all three main members of Wolf Parade were in attendance as children. The sleeve for the CD is cool, and the CD itself mimics the appearance of compact discs from the mid-to-late 80's, which is so cool. I don't know how that concept fits in with the general trajectory of the songs here, but I don't think Wolf Parade have been interested in "concept albums." Their albums have been collections of songs without a general theme, unless you could say each songwriter brings his own themes to each of his songs, which is kind of true, I think. They're both distinct, and their songwriting strengths helped to make Apologies to Queen Mary such a shot out of the blue. Their other albums continue to eclipse their "supergroup," but nobody will notice them anyways.

The At Mount Zoomer review ends with a ranking of all the albums each member has done, and I will not attempt that--only ask the question, is Expo '86 better than Dragonslayer? And I say yes. But still not as good as Random Spirit Lover and still not as good as Apologies to Queen Mary. Probably the 3rd best album by any individual in the collective--but I still haven't heard that new Handsome Furs one either. It's possible this will make the top 10 of 2010 but it is more likely I will only mention it honorably.