Dante Zuniga-West's blog
As concerts go, indie pop isn’t necessarily known for its face-melting, rock-your-mother’s-grave shows. But last night, Monday, Aug. 8, WOW Hall could very well have experienced a Shins-induced maple tree cave-in from the newly (re)united indie brainchild.
The show, which sold out in less than 48 hours (complete with what appeared to be a media blackout) marked the first time in nearly three years that band leader James Mercer put out a call to artists to play his melodic, bubbly and tightly structured rock.
The Shins, with a completely new line-up on stage, save Mercer, featured a selection of extraordinary talent from the current pool of Northwest musicians. How they would all come together as a coherent whole was the question on everyone’s minds. Full of cool dads, plaid-donning yuppies, gauged hipsters, and the occasional (out-of-place?) hippy, the WOW Hall crowd watched Mercer and co. wave briefly, then dive headlong into the evocative opening words of “Caring is Creepy,” and there was no doubt the band made a congealed whole.
Often an afterthought along the I-5 corridor, WOW Hall and the McDonald Theatre can sometimes draw bigger artists on their North American tours, though lately these venues have found it more difficult to eke out such artists’ best performances. In their Eugene debut, The Shins defied any apprehension fans may have had (it also didn’t hurt that this show kicked off the band’s summer tour). Although the set list was rather tame — mostly keeping to very familiar territory with the likes of “New Slang,” “Kissing the Lipless,” “Saint Simon,” etc — Mercer did divulge a few new licks. The fresher tracks had a similar feel to Wincing the Night Away and seemed more geared towards the low-tone, ambient sounds of songs like “Black Wave” and “Spilt Needles,” with (of course) a heavy dose of Mercer vocals.
It would have been enticing to see singer-songwriter (also sound engineer and producer) Richard Swift , relegated behind a synth, more involved in the performance. Presumably his presence will be felt more in the studio. Portland-based guitarist Jessica Dobson added an improvisational element that loosened the overall tone of Mercer’s conventional songwriting, while her female vocal dynamic paired aptly with the Shins’ poppy sensibilities.
The Shins played a very technically sound show, with few signs of their short two weeks’ worth of rehearsal time. — Andy Hitz
— FAN PHOTO BY ETHAN OUIMET
Wugazi Goes Viral
In the annals of time, great events have been made by visionaries who found themselves able to look at two seemingly disparate objects and imagine them as one, like the first guy to combine peanut butter and chocolate, or the inventor of the snuggie. Musically, the concept of fusion (in the broad sense of the word) has had its share of mixed results, some brilliant (a la Fishbone), some not (see Bizkit, Limp). More recent history has given us the mash-up, a sort of ADD version of the remix that made its first real impact on the cultural consciousness when a then unknown Danger Mouse released his Jay-Z/Beatles hybrid known as The Grey Album back in 2004. A slew of less skilled imitators followed and the mash-up quickly became the modern equivalent of the ‘80s hair metal ballad – played out and on life support.
Enter Wugazi and “13 Chambers” the latest madcap mash-up sensation (quickly approaching one million downloads since its July 13 release) that manages to succeed brilliantly where its predecessors either failed or fell short.
Wugazi (Fu-Tang would also have been acceptable) is the brain child of musicians Cecil Otter and Swiss Andy, a couple of white skateboarding hip hop heads from the Midwest. A year in the making, Otter and Andy meticulously combed through both groups respective catalogues (including solo projects and the larger Wu-Tang family) to create something novel without succumbing to novelty.
Wu-Tang and Fugazi have always been relative outliers in their relative genres, two groups with seemingly invincible reputations, existing largely on their own plane and succeeding largely on their own terms. The dark and grimy underworld of the Wu-Tang Clan blends seamlessly over gritty DC guitars and paranoid rants by Ian MacKaye and Guy Picciotto. Both of these groups possess an uncanny clarity of vision and focus, along with that transcendent gift that’s commonly described as catching lightning in a bottle. Bringing them together in such a way is akin to capturing a couple of supernovas and corralling them into the same cosmic neighborhood, which is exactly why Wugazi works so well. The problem with The Grey Album is that it was too cute, too “Piggies” meets “Big Pimpin.” Instead of the parts distracting from the whole, Wugazi brings it all together like Voltron – dangerous in his parts, unstoppable as a whole.
The great Afrika Bambaata was once asked what kind of DJ he was. His response was to lambast the idea of being a single genre DJ, arguing that if you really break it down it’s all pretty much the same thing. Wugazi continues that great tradition of being an ambassador of music, diving into new sonic territories and showing the world that things aren’t so different after all. — Mark Sullivan
June 15, Alton Baker Park witnessed the return of Cleveland singer/rapper/ADD ambassador Kid Cudi. It had been a little over a year since his last sold-out Cuthbert appearance ended with a listless, too drunk Cudi walking off stage after an underwhelming 40 minute set, pocketing a hefty sum of your money while probably ending his night with a penance at the porcelain altar — proving that even as drunken fool, he is still cooler than you.
Upon walking through the gates of the Cuthbert I felt transported into a nightmare version of the student section at Autzen and suddenly didn't think as less of Cudi for leaving early last year. The sea of backwards ball caps with straight-off-the-rack sleeveless T-shirts chasing after women dressed in ways that demand a particular type of attention, was more than enough inspiration for me to take a cue from Cudi and make a beeline straight to the beer tent. The urge to flee came suddenly.
Thankfully the Kid from Cleveland came correct, wasting no time in repenting for his sins of poor showmanship by bringing an energy that seemed to replace the alcohol with amphetamines, bouncing around the stage like the ball of Blaxican lightning that he is, shooting bolts through the crowd as if he was the Ark circa Indiana Jones. Backed by a live band that rocketed away from the all too common karaoke-like, DJ-plays-the-cuts type of hip-hop performance. Cudi ripped through a set of favorites from his last two records while the audience furiously tomahawked along.
In what managed to be both the most exciting and disappointing moment of the night, Cudi brought out the legendary rapper Cage to perform their track 'Maniac' from Man on the Moon II. Exciting, because this is Cage we're talking about, he of the legendary Weathermen supergroup, a rapping Madonna to Eminem's Lady Gaga, the dude responsible for one of the illest debut verses anywhere. (See the 1993 Pete Nice track “Rich Bring Em Back” and just try to argue. You will fail.) What disappointed was the great collective "who?" that emanated from the crowd after Cudi's announcement, but that wasn't too surprising, considering that most of the audience was still in diapers while Cage was building his underground reputation in NYC. The day turned to darkness and Cage left the stage as the Kid from Cleveland slowed the tempo.
Cudi is without question a product of Generation Y, a one-man 21st century Brat Pack that could likely stake claim to being one of the first superstars the generation can elevate as a shining beacon of our arrival on the scene. His records are the result of a culture whose musical tastes aren't limited by what plays on the radio or albums can be monetarily afforded. It is a generation that willfully turns the private life over into the public domain, our most treasured hopes and dreams and nightmares now just another page in the cold Google cache of our lives, or in Cudi's case, his latest record.
While most of Cudi’s audience seems lost in a nihilistic world of instant satisfaction and an almost unhealthy amount of self-confidence, Cudi is there to say that he understands, that he's one of you and he's been there too, but won't you come along? Won't you "wake your mind up" to the world you live in and open up to it, rather than waiting for it to follow you on Twitter?
There was a moment when I swear I caught Cudi staring up at the full moon, thinking about the screaming throngs in front of him and perhaps wishing to get back to that place, knowing the sentimental value of loneliness for anyone who’s ever endured periods of triumphant isolation. But it's too late for him to turn back, not that I think he ever would. There is a time and a place for everything, including moderation, and right now Kid Cudi is "wylin' cause he's young," immersing himself in the culture of his generation as Pied Piper to a party that will hopefully lead his peers to ask themselves more than just "why not?" — Mark Sullivan
Kid Cudi Lands at The Cuthbert
Some emcees can rap, some emcees can sing, some emcees can write lyrics; the majority of them can’t do any of these things or, even worse, can do one of the three well, then attempt to do the other two also. This results in lopsided music, where bad singing hooks ruin great rhyme schemes, or intelligent lyrics hold more syllables than the rapper can spit on a microphone — what a mess.
There is an old saying taught to prizefighters when they first learn how to throw punching combinations: “Go as fast as you can, not as fast as you can’t.” Kid Cudi can move at warp speeds, shit that rivals Star Trek (all generations), he can rap, sing and write lyrics. Beam him up, beam him down, whatever, his album Man on the Moon- The End of Day proved he could do whatever he wanted, and sound dope doing it. He is boldly going where his peer Kanye West went before, but he’s getting there faster, going further and doing it better.
The strength of Cudi’s lyrics is not necessarily unorthodox. It would have been ten years ago, when conscious hip hop introduced the notion of emcees creating very emotionally vulnerable songs, songs that explored self in a sensitive and existential way. But Cudi sonically pushes the expressive writing he brings to life on the mic to the barrier between rap and what some would call modern rock.
Yeah, people have tried to do this before, but it didn’t work. I will spare certain bands/artists the professional assassination, but let’s just say that usually those who tried to fuse such seemingly adverse genres failed miserably. Cudi’s hybrid vocals are more on the aesthetic side of rap than rock, but his digitally chirping, almost whomped out beats fill in whatever gaps might exist in the concoction.
In terms of content, Cudi’s songs (particularly those on Man on the Moon as well as its follow up album Man on the Moon, Vol II: The Legend of Mr. Rager) exist in a wormhole that travels between utter sarcasm and an almost self-deprecating introspection. He has found a way to speak to himself while subtly confronting his listeners, though given his rise into popular culture, that confrontation is lost on some who bump his shit.
The statements Cudi is making with his music moves too fast for those who just want a 4-4 beat and catchy melody. But don’t worry, Cudi’s well-made music videos have visual aides for the hearing-impaired. Check out his Pursuit of Happiness video if you want to see his delicate irony in full form. And check out his stage show if you want to see the man in action.
Kid Cudi plays 7 pm Wednesday, June 15, at the Cuthbert Ampitheater; $42-$48 —Dante Zuñiga-West
`60s Revivalists Making Old New Again
I could throw a lot of names at you to help describe Cotton Jones – names that belong in what these days is being called the “freak folk” scene. I could tell you they sound a bit like Devendra Banhart, or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. I could also throw a bunch of adjectives at you like psychedelic, country-rock and retro. I could do all of this, and still I wouldn’t be touching on the charm this band from Cumberland, Maryland, possesses. Yes, their sound heavily references the ‘60s – Phil Spector-esque walls of reverb, acid-folkie acoustic guitars, atmospheric organs, a Johnny and June interplay between vocalist Michael Nau and his wife Whitney McGraw. And yes, there are hipster trucker caps, scruffy beards and plaid shirts in abundance in this band (they’ve obviously spent some time scouring used vinyl bins for Flying Burrito Brothers and Graham Parson records). But there is also something so genuine and pure, so authentic, so downright catchy about Cotton Jones that it makes you forget that you’ve heard stuff like this a thousand times before, and enjoy it all over again. Cotton Jones plays with fellow `60s revivalists the Parson Redheads at 9 pm on Saturday May 28, at Sam Bond’s; $5. — William Kennedy
UO graduate student and curator Ashley Gibson is a woman on a mission. “I’ve always wanted to be doing something that fulfills my passion for the arts while at the same time addressing bigger world issues,” she says, furiously typing into her laptop in effort to micromanage a mammoth workload. The ambitious Gibson now has her chance to address her concerns, as curator of the Diaspora, Identity and Race: Cuba Today exhibit at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, which focuses on the politically subversive works of contemporary Cuban artists.
In addition to her curation of this exhibit, Gibson will be speaking at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, May 4, at the Schnitzer, elaborating on the show she put together. Though tight-lipped about the content of her talk, Gibson mentioned that some of what she is going to discuss is the complex relationship between these nineteen different artists and their country of origin — Cuba. “These artists have taken great risks and gone to great lengths to be subversive,” she says. “It’s important and fascinating to explore artists who are taking on a political system that sometimes does and sometimes doesn’t choose to help or fund them.”
Gibson admits that her desire in illuminating the racial and cultural struggles addressed by the artists of the Cuba Today exhibit is another driving force behind her upcoming talk. She hopes to spark a discussion and awareness in the community that will allow further examination of race and culture as well. — Dante Zuniga-West
It’s a bit of an unfortunate name choice given Mother Nature’s behavior over the past month, but give the music of Radiation City a chance and your fears will be put to rest. The only thing that glows here is a sunshiney nostalgia that permeates the Portland band’s new full-length, The Hands That Take You.
The three-piece, Cameron Spies of Spesus Christ, Lizzy Ellison (who also holds down the other half of Spesus Christ) and Randy Bemrose (Skeletron, Junkface, Jean-Eric) have been a band for only about one year, but it certainly sounds as if they’ve been playing together for a lifetime, or at least long enough to have developed a healthy regard for ’50s lounge, ’60s pop and bossa nova music (which never gets old no matter what era it’s from). The band has released this as a cassette tape, which is an apt format for this type of ethereal pop.
Of course, I’d love to have it on vinyl. The production of it reminds me of Julie London’s records from the 1950s, where the highs and lows meet in the middle and emotion was conveyed only through some strums of a guitar, some gentle reverb and London’s husky voice. Here, we have Ellison’s and Spies’ foggy crooning, backed up by slow acoustic pop melded with sparse electronic music. The Hands That Take You is a perfect blend of cool mood and dreamy possibilities — you’ll want to drift away once the music stops. —Vanessa Salvia
There’s this singer – Michael Buble ; he kind of sounds like Sinatra, or Tony Bennett. Basically, he sounds classic and he gets the ladies who lived through the era of pre-Beatles song interpreters all a-twitter. But you see, there’s another singer, Chicago’s Kurt Elling, whose style also recalls the days of the romantic pop-crooner. He’s got a silky baritone, is rakishly handsome and he looks sharp in a suit. But unlike Buble who sometimes takes the easy in easy-listening vocals a bit too far into Manilow territory, Elling has the range and musical chops to do what jazz reinterpretations ought to — challenge the listener with unconventional harmonies, add interesting syncopations to the melody and generally make the songs his own. Oh and did I mention, that silky baritone?
The Grammy winning singer’s 2011 release “The Gate” has a track list that might make the average jazz fan go “hmmm.” King Crimson? Joe Jackson? The Beatles? Earth Wind & Fire? But don’t worry jazz fan — Elling uses his four-octave range to melt and mold these songs to the point you’ll barely remember the originals. Produced by Don Was, who calls Elling the “greatest singer I ever heard in my life,” the record also features another contemporary jazz great John Patitucci. The Washington Post says of Elling: "Since the mid-1990s, no singer in jazz has been as daring, dynamic, or interesting as Kurt Elling,"
Kurt Elling plays his first show in Eugene at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, April 13 at the Shedd. Ticket prices vary. — William Kennedy