It was a modest but passionate crowd that showed up at the Rhythm Room Monday night for New Jersey’s Titus Andronicus. The passion manifested itself early, as the group launched into “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future”. When the drums kicked in, the crowd near the front of the stage erupted in a mosh frenzy, knocking around and into us, and making it clear this was gonna be a high energy show.
Frontman Patrick Stickles commented often on the positive punk vibe, and he and his band did not let up for the next – I don’t know – 90 minutes? This was one of those shows where i was completely swallowed up in the spirit and energy, and didn’t check the clock – not even once. The music was explosive, angry, beautiful, and intense from start to finish. I was blown away.
The songs came primarily from their two studio releases – songs like “Four Score and Seven”, “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ”, “To Old Friends and New”, “The Battle of Hampton Roads” (a favorite), and of course “A More Perfect Union”. But they threw in a couple of punk covers: most notably “Racism Sucks”, a 7 Seconds song that was clearly directed at my state’s government – and rightly so. The second cover was UK punk band Sham 69’s “If the Kids Are United”, which they played for the encore .
Mucho props to guitarist/violinist Amy Klein, who is one of the rockin-est (for lack of a better term) female guitarists I’ve ever seen live. She adds a great dynamic to the band, and rocks out fiercely with her male bandmates. She made it a point to tell the crowd it was her favorite show of the tour so far. She had one hell of a cheering section in front of her… a lot of fun to see the give and take.
Titus Andronicus is live force right now. Yeah, they only have two studio albums to their name, and their band lineup is even more recent, together for just over a year. But as new as they are, they have something very cohesive and powerful. And that Patrick Stickles – the bearded, spirited front man with his primal growl… He’s laying it all out there – he’s hungry for it, and you can tell.
In the summer of 2000, I saw Philly band Marah play a small, sweat soaked club in Tempe. They were also touring behind their second album, and I came away completely transformed – just jaw-droppingly floored by their energy and their ability to take control of a room.
I had the same feeling last night when I walked out of the Rhythm Room. I made a beeline to the back door to shake Patrick’s hand and thank him for the show. Nights like this are few and far between…
There are certain bands out there that have made such a profound impression on me at some point in my life that I will be following (and supporting) anything they do for the rest of their career – or my life – whichever comes first. Marah is one of those bands.
Ten years ago, when I first watched front man David Bielanko strap on a banjo and launch into “Faraway You” (opening for Steve Earle at Hollywood’s House of Blues), I was drawn in by his sheer intensity – his fire, his sweat and his spit. This is someone who is a conduit for music. It’s not so much Dave playing music as it is the music playing Dave.
Well, somehow the calendar has flipped to 2010, and although the band has cycled through a few lineup changes here and there over the years – including the departure (or paternity leave?) of Dave’s brother Serge – Marah is on the verge of releasing their seventh studio album, Life Is A Problem, on June 22nd.
As long as Dave Bielanko is fronting the band, Marah will always be worth staying tuned to, and certainly seeing live. Check out the track here. If you want it for keeps, Stereogum has it available for download.
Quick Note: I didn’t want to bombard my Top 10 with Springsteen and Prince albums, so I chose my favorites of theirs from the 00’s. Did I spend more time with M.I.A.’s Arular than with Bruce’s Magic or Prince’s Musicology? No way. Just so you know, I limited my picks to one album per artist.
And now, on to the completely subjective look at 10 of my favorite albums of the decade!
10. Prince – The Rainbow Children (2001)
Jazzy, funky, and dipping deeply into P’s then new-found life as a Jehovah’s Witness, this album connected with me more than any Prince album of the 00’s (and nope, no JW am I). As much as the 54 second “Wedding Feast” makes me cringe, the album makes up for it with great tracks like “Digital Garden”, “The Work, Pt. 1”, and “The Sensual Everafter”.
Favorite tune: “1+1+1 is 3” (mp3) – to me, easily the funkiest Prince song of the 00’s.
9.M.I.A. – Arular(2005)
I couldn’t leave the girls out! M.I.A. came out of nowhere halfway through the decade with her brand of world-influenced electronic hip-hop. I love her attitude, her style, her accent, and she ain’t so bad lookin’ either. I think this is one of those love it or hate it albums. My wife can’t stand it. But for me, songs like “Pull Up The People”, “Fire Fire”, and “Amazon” just, er, do it for me, okay?
Steve had a lot to say about the state of our country after 9/11 and the ensuing conflicts overseas. Of course he was his controversial self with “John Walker’s Blues”. He was fierce as hell on “Ashes to Ashes” and “Amerika V. 6.0 (The Best We Can Do)”. And he looked for a world of peace in the gentle album closer, “Jerusalem”. A great album top to bottom.
Favorite tune: “What’s a Simple Man To Do?” (mp3) – an organ-driven barnburner of a tune about a Mexican drug smuggler’s letter to his madre.
7. Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002)
Sure, some people think this is the obligatory best of the decade album – even if they think it doesn’t merit it. But guess what, it’s completely subjective, and certain albums connect with certain people. YHF was on constant rotation early in the decade. Wilco’s creativity and originality were through the roof in the late 90’s to early 00’s. The changes in direction between Being There, Summerteeth, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and A Ghost is Born are startling.
Favorite tune: The “War on War” and “Jesus, Etc.” combo special.
6. Grandaddy – The Sophtware Slump (2000)
The brainchild of Jason Lytle, this futuristic, tech-themed album – with its gorgeous, sweeping electronic-based melodies – blew me away. Who would’ve guess I’d have such strong feelings about songs like “”Broken Household Appliance National Forest” and “Miner at the Dial-a-View”?
Win Butler and his merry troupe of noisemakers got my attention with “Old Flame” from their self-titled EP. And when I heard this album, I was hooked.
Favorite tune: “Wake Up” (YouTube) – especially after seeing them live at the Austin City Limits Music Festival. A sea of people singing “Whoooa-ooooa Whoooa-oooo-oooo-ooo”.
4. Bruce Springsteen – We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions (2006)
When Bruce takes a break from the E Street Band, you never know what you’re gonna get. And with the Sessions record, it was a return to the roots of American folk music, and he brought along about 15-20 of his friends for the ride. This album provided countless hours of joy around our house. And the tour stop through Phoenix was an absolute thrill for me and my wife. Hey Bruce, bring back the Sessions Band!!
Favorite tune: “Pay Me My Money Down”. A family favorite. The kids still sing it.
3. Band of Horses – Cease to Begin (2008)
2. Band of Horses – Everything All the Time (2006)
Thank God these guys came along. Led by the gentle voice of Ben Bridwell, the first two Band of Horses albums are folk/indie masterpieces. There isn’t a bit of filler in either of these, and I look forward to following these guys for the rest of my lifetime.
Favorite tune: “Monsters” [mp3] (from EATT) and “Windows Blues” [mp3] (from CTB) – surprise, the slower tunes.
1. Marah – Kids in Philly(2000)
In 2000, when I was going through some “woe is me” / “whaddya mean I can’t get this girl back”-type stuff, this album picked me up, punched me in the nuts, and knocked me back over. I was living down by the new Tempe Town Lake, and I’d run around it a few nights a week – I’d start running as the opening banjo riff of “Faraway You” ignited the album, and I wouldn’t stop ’til the closing street harmonies of “This Town”. The album was super cathartic, and every time I listen to it, I think of that summer of 2000. August 2000 also included one of the best rock ‘n roll shows I’ve ever seen: Marah at Tempe’s now defunct Long Wong’s – a small, sweat-soaked bar. I’ll never forget the energy of Dave, Serge and the boys that night. The album and band encapsulate what stripped down rock ‘n roll is all about.
Favorite Tune: “Round Eye Blues” (mp3) – capturing the spirit of Motown and Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, this is a vivid and beautiful song, sung in the perspective of a young man in Vietnam:
Fables tell of men who fell
With swords dangling from their chest
The old guys down at the taproom swear
The Japs could kill you best
But late at night I could still hear the cries
Of three black guys I seen take it in the face
I think about them sweet Motown girls they left behind
And the assholes that took their place
Goosebumps every time.
When all is said and done, this is the album that affected me most personally, and therefore must be crowned: Pete’s Album of the 00’s!
We’ve spent all this time building up our digital music libraries, so why not tinker around with them a bit and have some fun? Last week I explored tunes that clocked in at 2:28. This week, I take it to the streets.
The exercise this week is to locate your street songs. I’m not talkin’ lanes, avenues, roads, courts, and the like. Nuh-uh. I’m talkin’ Streets.
What’s more, I’m looking for songs that are simply names of Streets. “Oak Street”, “Main Street”, “This Street”, “That Street”. So that leaves out a lot of quality tunes obviously (“Positively 4th Street”, “Incident on 57th Street”, to name a couple). I’m interested to see what other “Street” gems are out there. So use the Search area of your favorite media player, look for some “___ Street” songs, and drop some into the comments.
Me? I came up with 17 streets. Here are four of my tops…
Christian St. (mp3) – Marah | An ode to their hometown of Philadelphia, this is on Marah’s 2nd album, Kids in Philly. It’s my favorite Marah album – just bristling with life. I spent the better part of the year 2000 with this record.
Great Jones Street– Luna | Never owned any other Luna albums other than Bewitched, but this song is a soft stunner. They had me at Great.
Cherry Street – JJ Cale | From JJ’s latest, Roll On (a concept album about deodorant. Just kidding.).
Alphabet Street – Prince
Boogie Street – Leonard Cohen
Dominick St. – Steve Earle
Grafton Street – Nancy Griffith
Grey Street – Dave Matthews Band
Highway One Zero Street – Joe Strummer
Lonely Street – Bap Kennedy
Love Street – World Party
Meadowlake Street – Ryan Adams
Rain Street – The Pogues
Shakedown Street – Grateful Dead
Shouting Street – Joe Strummer
South Street – The Orlons
It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with Marah on the road via one of Milwaukee Zack’s great videos. Well, here’s a performance of “So What If We’re Out of Tune (with the Rest of the World)”, live at Schuba’s Tavern in Chicago on Thursday night (July 28). Everybody say “Thank you Zack!”
Another one for the Marah fans out there (present and future) …this time it’s “This Time”, one of my favorite tracks (and the “hidden”track) from their latest, If You Didn’t Laugh You’d Cry. This is live at the Abbey Pub in Chicago, Feb. 17th, 2006. Once again, thanks to Zack for the footage.
My man Zach from Milwaukee has delivered yet again with a great live Marah video (see his previous offering). Recorded live at the Abbey Pub in Chicago, IL on February 17th of this year, here is Marah performing a Replacements song, “Can’t Hardly Wait”. Thanks Zach.
Gotta love the cigarettes and F bombs. Take it away….
Update: Check out this Dutch blog for some more video clips of Marah (04/22/06 Utrecht, The Netherlands)
One of the best concert weeks of my life was seeing Steve Earle play the West Hollywood House of Blues in the summer of 2000 with Marah as their opening act. A week later, I saw Marah at the small, sweat soaked Long Wongs in Tempe, AZ. Marah was hitting the road behind their great album ‘Kids in Philly’, which was released on Steve’s label, E Squared.
Thanks to Steve Earle, I became a big Marah fan, and remain so today (just saw them as they came through Phoenix in January).
In October of 1999, it was Marah’s coming out of sorts, as they joined Steve at a benefit for the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, playing the Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia, PA.
Marah w/ Steve Earle
Theatre of Living Arts, Philadelphia PA
October 16th, 1999
Intro by Steve Earle / Christian Street/ Head On Catfisherman Where The Dark Horses Go Sleepwalk > Reservation Girl My Heart Is The Bums On The Street Point Breeze The History Of Where Someone Has Been Killed Faraway You I Feel Alright* Transcendental Blues* State Trooper* [a couple of skips near the beginning.. sorry!] West Nashville Boogie* Ohio*
(* w/ Steve Earle)