The xx/Kid Koala
Varieties of Electronic Experience
The xx: Coexist (Young Turks)
Even sparer and stiller than their minimalist debut, this will hit any normal listener as a hyperaesthetic downer‑-a bore. After three years, couldn't two clever lads and their clever lassie devise some clever twist that would lively them up without soiling their precious principles? But the music does eventually tiptoe in, and quiet as its kept the lyrics tiptoe on in with them. Damn right this group is obsessed, artistically, with young love, which in case you didn't know remains a grand theme of universal significance, and these scrupulously abstract verses capture its obsessive doubts and fragile exaltations with delicacy and tenderness. Like it or not, they add up to a song cycle with a happy ending‑-the joy of which may grow in wisdom or crumble back toward nothingness tomorrow. A MINUS
Kid Koala: 12 Bit Blues (Ninja Tune)
The turntablist prankster has set himself up to fail here, which he may think is blues and I don't, just as he may think blues recordings should be rough stuff in the Alan Lomax mode whereas I think they're better served sonically by Leonard Chess. Anyway, nobody who knows blues as well as I do, which is medium well at best, is also going to know enough about turntablist technology to truly understand what it means to eschew sequencing software in cobbling together bits and pieces of a blues album on a classic and therefore long outmoded E-mu SP-1200 sampler. Too crude not just for Muddy Waters but for one of those also-rans the Revenant and Yazoo folk sneak into their secret histories, the songs Koala fabricates are songs in form only. Yet this isn't to deny their tunes or even hooks, nor to deny they're blues. After more time than anyone from either camp will be inclined to give it, the album takes on a compelling, sui generis sonic identity, at least for someone from the blues side. What the turntablist side might think I am unqualified to guess. A MINUS
So I read our host's review of Staff Benda Bilili's NYC concert yesterday morning and wondered, "Where can I possibly catch this incredible- sounding band?" Checked out their tour schedule to discover that they were playing D.C. yesterday evening. As I live in D.C., that was pretty amazing news. Went to the show at the superbly renovated Howard Theatre -- a few blocks from my house, no less -- and saw a concert that can best be summed up as thrilling. There were only about 100 people in the audience, but we whooped and applauded as loudly as a roomful. (There was lots of dancng too, throughout the entire show; we certainly had the floor space for it.) The band looked to be having the time of their lives, which possibly they were. And I came home grateful as ever for the Dean, for EW, and for musicians who can create beauty out of some of the roughest circumstances imaginable.
About a month ago, I grabbed tickets for this Thursday's St. Etienne show. And next week it's Wussy at the Black Cat; I'll be two for two with Wussy's D.C. appearances (their previous one, in support of the self-titled release, more than lived up to those extraordinary albums). You know what? It's good to be alive.
I went back to the mersh table between bands and now they were really moving stuff. Mark Messerly the bassist came back in great spirits and said “I hope we brought enough stuff”. (New product: rad buttons designed by Lisa.) More chitchat and Chuck took ownership over getting my vinyl copy of Funeral Dress signed by everyone. What a sweet guy.
(Another digression: This is a Wussy review, but the Afghan Whigs were <powerful>. Dulli’s sexy R&B shtick can wear thin when his topic is himself or anonymous females, but live he can tiptoe around those landmines. Kris and I shook and swayed together the whole show, happy to still be together and able to do that. If you like them, definitely check them out if they are in your neighborhood. <Far> from a nostalgia trip.)
After the Whigs’ set, I went back to the mersh table, and Rene and the band kept selling stuff for almost an hour after the show finished. Remarkable, especially on a work night. Mark had a 6:30 AM flight to get to work at 11AM the next morning, so he went home with me and I drove him to the airport to catch his flight this morning. Wussy are back in town in two weeks for Halloween at Saxapahaw to open for the Heartless Bastards (with an extra-special guest coming along) so I guess this story will continue then.
Mountain of Times
Yellow Cotton Dress
Last night was the sold-out Wussy/Afghan Whigs show at Cat’s Cradle. I’d gotten in touch with Wussy’s tour manager, the indefatigable Rene Venemous, before the show and met the band for dinner at Mama Dip’s, a “down-home” restaurant a couple of blocks from the venue, prior to their soundcheck. (I told Lisa that we walked through the worst part of Chapel Hill to get to the restaurant, and she said “wow, our whole city is rougher than that”.) The band members were in really great spirits, not nearly as worn down as when I saw them in Louisville at the end of their long West Coast tour. Happy with how the British shows went, feeling like some momentum is developing, good shows with the Whigs at the Masquerade in Atlanta (especially) and at Tipitina’s in New Orleans, <really> appreciative to be invited on tour with the Whigs, making future plans (they bought a van, the band equivalent of a wedding ring I guess). I gave each of them an EW-related gift (about which you’ll hear more later) that totally blew their minds and led into a discussion about our host and EW. They were a bit rushed, but they really had a great vibe going. Oh yeah, they can eat that pulled pork.
If you have been to the Cradle but not recently, they’ve expanded it a bit to accommodate more folks, and there was already a crowd lined up to get in before the doors opened at 8, all of whom got to hear (but not see) Wussy soundcheck “Pulverized” (chosen “because we all sing on it” said Chuck). When I got into the venue I checked with Rene about helping with mersh, as she had asked me to, but she had it totally under control so I told her to look for me if she needed help and wondered around. I saw Bob’s remark about “I Like You Too Much” from last night on my iPhone and then immediately ran into Chuck again so I read it to him. His eyes totally bugged out and he said “Great idea” and then talked about doing a covers album. He said that they do all kinds of covers that they never play live, like a Joy Division tune he didn’t specify, so I raised up my sweater to show him my “Mickey Mouse in the fashion of the cover of Unknown Pleasures” t-shirt, and Chuck laughed and said that Lisa got the same one in Brighton, but hers was yellow. Then he took off.
By the time the band came on at 9:10, the Cradle was already probably 90% full. This is my third time seeing Wussy, but this is the first time in 1) a big venue with 2) a full room and 3) a top-notch sound system.
(Digression: This is also the second time I’ve seen the Afghan Whigs. The first time was the first time that my wife Kris and I went out on a date together, when the Whigs opened up for Teenage Fanclub when they were touring Congregation, coincidentally enough at the Masquerade.)
Kris showed up right as the band was getting on stage. She’d never seen the band live, and the show was a real treat for her. All of my Wussy shows have sounded great, but it was really special with the music mixed so well. Half way through the opener, Waiting Room, Kris looked at me with big eyes that said “Now I get it” and by the end of Pulverized, the second song, she and over half of the crowd were moving in rhythm like a big wave. As Jonah shimmered along, I heard the guy in front of me say to pretty much anyone who could hear: “Who <are> these guys?” It was an opening set with no encore, so not as long as the other shows I’ve seen, but I loved watching them win over an audience, which they definitely did, rather than playing to the converted. (I noticed the bar area was empty each time I looked back, a great sign.) Highlights for me were “Yellow Cotton Dress”, which had an improvised intro that Joe Klug the drummer took control of, and a closing “Rigor Mortis” that was less chaotic (and perhaps more friendly to the unitiated) than usual.
about the blogger
Starting in 1967, Robert Christgau has covered popular music for The Village Voice, Esquire, Blender, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other publications. He teaches in New York University's Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music, maintains a comprehensive website at robertchristgau.com, and has published five books based on his journalism. He has written for MSN Music since 2006.
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