Live Reviews: Editors, Jamie T, The Shackeltons, Eagle Seagull & Longwave

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Editors at Park West, Chicago 9/11/07
photo by Jeremy Farmer

This week, we have four reviews from three great cities outside of Seattle:

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Editors, Park West, Chicago, 9/11/07
review and interview by Mike Turner
photos by Jeremy Farmer

Last Tuesday, September 11, Chicago was treated to another British invasion of the much-acclaimed Birmingham band Editors. This time around Editors descended upon the Jam Productions-booked Park West Theater as opposed to our trusty Metro, where they performed during their last visit. I have nothing against Metro, but I love seeing shows at the Park West. The sightlines are great from anywhere in the house, the sound is always spot on (partly because of the absence of sound obstructing balconies) and depending on the lighting rig that is employed it can be a fantastically dramatic setting in which to see a band. Editors are nothing if not dramatic, and I was correct in assuming that this would be an ideal spot for them to flex their visceral muscles. Opening for Editors were Syracuse NY band Ra Ra Riot and Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro touring in support of their touted new album Puzzles. The US has been tricky territory for Editors, perhaps because they often tend to get lumped in with a small glut of artists on the scene now who for better or worse are all routinely accused of paying homage to Joy Division/New Order. Think Interpol, She Wants Revenge, Low, I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness, etc. Comparisons have always been a double edged sword for musicians — on the one hand they’re an easy way to communicate something quick and digestible about an artist, but all too often the comparison can supplant any actual identity that the band has crafted and can dilute their image into just part of a certain popular mode. It isn’t ground breaking news that the popular musical landscape in America has the attention span of a toddler. With only so much hype available from the major music promotion machines or rather willingly expended by such entities, people seem to increasingly neglect to look past their first impressions.

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However, I have always been of the opinion that a rock band lives or dies by its live performances. If that theory holds true, then Editors should have a long and increasingly healthy lifespan; they put on a hell of a show. Tom Smith is a natural and magnetically emotive performer — a born frontman and an engaging multi-instrumentalist. Standing in the darkened Park West Theater on Tuesday night listening to the sinister minor tones of “Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors” build and sizzle with a slow burning intensity, I couldn’t help but think back on the album covers to both of the bands LP’s: The Back Room (2005), with its black and white photo of concrete archways as if under a Cold War-era bridge somewhere in Europe, and An End Has A Start (2007), with the yellow and black x-ray style image of the skeleton of some Roman Coliseum-type building. Both of these images evoke a kind of stark industrial loneliness or a glacially impending oppression. Editors in concert are like an animation of this motif with a kind of evolving score, almost like a theme song for a destructive and apathetic colossus. Either way, the gloom of the Park West was transformed for about a thousand people that night into a murky underground fortress, where fires burned instead of dancing rock show lights, not unlike the imagery of their album cover art. Perhaps it was the last outpost for humanity in the wake of the hopeless wasteland above. Together, we watched as the bleak tale of a misguided past and our ironclad destiny was unraveled and performed for us through pounding and powerful drones and Tom Smith’s haunting baritone. It was a well-executed and provocative show.

…click for more reviews and pictures!…

I was lucky enough to be granted a very last minute interview with Editors’ Chris Urbanowicz (guitar) and Ed Lay (drums) on their tour bus just prior to the performance. Both were very affable and funny guys and thankfully easy to talk with, considering I was still hung-over from the night before and not at all prepared to conduct an interview. Ed greeted me with a huge smile and an enthusiastic handshake as soon as I boarded their bus and we sat down in the front parlor. Tom Smith and Russell Leetch were interviewed by another reporter in the back.

KEXP (that’s me, Mike): Ok guys, I hope you’ll bear with me here, I didn’t realize that I would be interviewing you until about 20 minutes ago so these questions my be a bit banal: I wrote them down on my arm on the ride over.

Chris: (with a smile) Well this should be easy then!

KEXP: So, I’m writing this piece for KEXP Seattle who have given you guys quite a lot of spins for a station on this side of the pond, especially from your last album [The Back Room]. In fact you did a version of the song Munich that was recorded live and released on last years “Live at KEXP Vol. 2″ compilation CD.

Chris and Ed: Oh yes! I think that was recorded at South-by-Southwest last year. We had a great time doing that. Yes, lovely people. It’s a very cool radio station. Thanks for coming!

KEXP: Yeah, they do a good job. As a matter of fact the 3rd volume of that compilation was just released last week, I believe.

Chris: Oh really? Volume 2 was the good one though, wasn’t it? (Both laughing) I mean, we’re not on the new one after all:

KEXP: Ha, yeah Vol. 2 is tough to top — what with Editors being a part of it! So, this may be a shot in the dark since you guys get a round quite a bit but, you have played Chicago a few times now. If you’ve had any time to hang out in the city at all perhaps you have taken in some of the local music scene? It’s pretty vital here right now. Do you have any favorite Chicago bands?

Chris and Ed: (thinking) Um: (Looking at each other sheepishly)

Chris: I rather like Smashing Pumpkins: (They both turn a little red and laugh)

Ed: Yeah, Smashing Pumpkins are good:

KEXP: Uh, ok: how about Seattle then?

Chris: Um: Pearl Jam?

KEXP: Ok, not really what I was going for.

Chris: Yeah sorry, the thing is there are probably a bunch of bands that we like from Chicago and Seattle but we just don’t know that’s where they’re from. It’s like; if it’s an English band the first question we ask is “oh what city are they from” but an American band is just kind of: from America, you know?

KEXP: Ok, I gotcha. What about other things: do you have a favorite restaurant when you’re here in town?

Ed: We ate at that Mexican place down the street from the theater today… that was good.

Chris: (ponderously) Yeah, that was good:. Oh! We went bowling last night at Lucky Strike near our hotel. That was fun!

Ed: Yeah, that was fun! We like bowling: the Editors love to bowl.

Chris: Actually, there was this one place we went in Toronto a couple of days ago that was just fantastic — like it was stuck in another decade or something. It had all of these great old pinball machines and arcade games and some really serious bowlers. There were all of these fat old men that looked like they had been sitting in the same place with the same clothes on for years.

KEXP: Oh man, then you would have loved the Fireside Bowl here in Chicago. It was like that but they also used to book punk shows. It was a total culture clash. It made for a pretty weird mix of people.

Chris and Ed: That sounds terrific! We love that sort of thing.

KEXP: Ok, now that I’m warmed up. Here are my hard-hitting music questions. Editors have had some pretty huge success in the UK. You were nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2006, The Back Room debuted at number 3 on the UK charts and the new album An End Has A Start just had a number one debut. You’re basically one of the biggest bands in Europe, that’s pretty impressive. Granted, it’s still relatively early in your career but why do you think it’s been so much more difficult to penetrate the US in the same way? Your critical success here has been just about as positive as in the UK, but that obviously doesn’t pay the bills.

Chris: Well, they don’t play us on the radio here, do they?

KEXP: Yeah, it seems like US major radio only has room for about five current artists at a time in the rotation, huh?

Chris: Yeah, and one of them is Creed, so that doesn’t leave much room for us does it. (Laughter). The whole system is really quite a bit different in the UK, though. BBC Radio 1 has been great to us and literally everyone listens to that over there, and not just in the UK but from other countries as well. It’s more centralized the way even mainstream people hear about things over there — and of course Radio 1’s programming is much more diverse too. I mean they play everything! Here you have to win over nearly every program director from every radio station in every city in this huge country and it’s not like they’re taking any chances on different kinds of music anyway.

KEXP: Yeah, I guess KEXP is probably the closest thing we have to Radio1 over here.

Chris and Ed: I think you’re right.

KEXP: In what city would you say that you have the best draw, New York?

Chris: Probably LA actually, we do really well there. New York would be a close second though.

KEXP: I noticed that you’re playing Chop Suey when you get to Seattle on the 18th. When you’re here you guys play venues the size of Metro and the Park West Theater, why such a small club in Seattle?

Chris: Yes! Chop Suey, we love that place, it’s so cool in there! As far as why: I don’t know, we really just aren’t that big in America yet you know? We tour here because it’s fun mostly.

KEXP: I know you hear this one a lot so don’t throw anything at me! I feel like I’m obligated to ask about it. Editors get a ton of comparisons to bands like New Order and Joy Division in particular. I’m assuming that you guys at least like those bands, but is it really fair to say (as most people seem to assume) that they are a huge direct influence on your music or is it just kind of a coincidence? Is Tom Smith in fact a massive Ian Curtis fan or is that just a bunch of crap?

Chris: (groaning) Yeah, we obviously get that one a lot. It’s funny but I guess understandable. I really like New Order, I think we all do, and Joy Division is cool I suppose, but honestly I’ve never been like, a huge fan.

Ed: Yeah, me either.

Chris: Tom’s voice is really low so he gets the Ian Curtis thing a lot I think that’s why: most of us are way more into Echo and the Bunnymen than Joy Division though. Maybe if Ian McCulloch had killed himself in some dramatic and mysterious way and they had become this cult phenomenon in the same way that Joy Division did then we would get more of that comparison. But we understand that journalists need to be able to describe music in a way that people will understand. It’s just funny because as soon as a few of them make a couple of strong comparisons like that, then everyone just uses them without even really listening. With the last record, it was all about how we sounded like Joy Division so everyone said that. With the new record, a few of the early reviews were about how we are “shedding our comparisons” so now everyone has seemed to jump on that and calmed down a bit on the whole Joy Division thing. Who knows what they will say in the future.

KEXP: Ok, since you guys have a show to go do shortly, this will be my last question. We have talked a bunch about the struggles of selling records and building a fan base as a working band. The fact is it’s not easy to make money as a musician. Bearing that in mind what are your feelings on music licensing? It seems that the “sell out” stigma has largely disappeared from artists selling their music to corporations these days if they are willing to pay for it. Many musicians have done really well financially licensing music yet it can still be something of a polarizing issue.

Chris: We don’t do it. Jet does it. Editors don’t do it. But then the guys in Jet all have homes in the Hollywood hills now, so what the hell do we know? As a policy, though we don’t.

KEXP: Wow, that sounds pretty firm. So nothing at all, huh? Not even for TV shows or a movie you really liked?

Chris: Well, I suppose we could do film: if it was a project we really respected. I guess film is a lot more like a music video, you know, really telling a story and setting a mood with the music. If it’s trying to communicate something artfully, then I think we could get behind that, but we won’t be selling our music to McDonald’s no matter how much they offered. I don’t think we’d even sell our music to products we like though either. It’s just not something that we’re comfortable doing.

KEXP: I see, well that’s about all the time I have so thanks a ton for talking to me on such short notice. I’m excited to see the show! Break a leg!

And with that we shook hands again, said our goodbyes and Chris and Ed shuffled of into the back of the tour bus to join their band mates as they prepared for the show.

editors_parkwest3sm.jpg For more excellent pictures of the show by Jeremy Farmer, click here.

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Jamie T, Great Scott, Allston, MA 9/12/07
words and pictures by Miriam Lamey

Jamie T kicked off his North American tour with feisty energy last night at the packed Great Scott in Allston, MA. This Mercury Music Prize nominee played an extraordinary set for a Brit-dominated audience. Jamie jumped straight into the crowd, rapping and singing to rapt fans, before clambering back onstage to continue his set. Prior to the show, the Wimbledon native spent two days in Boston and duly won over Red Sox fans in the crowd with by casually mentioning his visit to Fenway Park. As the set progressed, he focused all attention on his music, rather than unnecessary stage banter, but threw out a Cockney-accented quip or two that had fans whooping and applauding.

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Jamie T has an intriguing sound that transmits amazingly during his live sets. Some, unfortunately, directly compare this sweet-faced twenty-one year old to Mike Skinner of The Streets due to his pronounced accent and part rap, part singing of his lyrics. Yet to say Jamie T’s music resembles that of The Streets is to discount Jamie’s talent. What makes this lad different? He generates an eclectic sound using a range of instruments — the usual guitars, bass, drums and keys — but also incorporates electronic sounds and loops his own voice.Last night, he projected a rich, cavernous sound that echoed through the venue. On top of that, Jamie T incorporates elements of electronica, rap, punk and reggae into his music, creating curiously addictive music; you simply want to know how next he will twist and bend musical genres, different instruments and his vocals. He has a great, confident stage presence and is unafraid to both sing with and berate the crowd, as he did last night. Jamie T could potentially have come across as arrogant, but onstage he seemed naturally confident and threw himself into his performance. Plus, this lad also has a knack for songwriting, cramming words together in a pretty remarkable manner. For example, during his rendition of “Rawhide,” he spat out words with amazing vigor and speed, much to the delight of the crowd. Luckily, this cocky working-class lad chose not to run straight through his album, “Panic Prevention,” but selected high energy hits such as the cheeky, swingy “Shelia” and the more tuneful “Back in the Game;” he had most fans singing along. The angrier “Northern Line” came near the end of his set, and the punky, rap track sounded quite pretty, layering drum machine beats with keys and light guitar. Overall, the set was incredibly entertaining, and Jamie T’s performance left nothing to be desired, except an answer to the question “What will this bloke do next?”

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Shackeltons and Eagle Seagull, Mercury Lounge, New York City 9/16/07
words and photos by Shelley Mara

While many at Mercury Lounge (NYC) on Friday night were definitely out to see headliners Longwave, those of us who came early for The Shackeltons and Eagle Seagull were amply rewarded. And because it was the first time seeing both live, I am compelled to gush.

After trucking in from their hometown, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, (and trucking back soon after) The Shackeltons performed brilliantly to a sparse but growing crowd. Daisies were strewn across the stage, in what I’m told is a signature prop. As I understand it, the boys cart the flowers from their little home, an offsale gift from a townie friend. For those of you not familiar with the story of explorer and consummate drinker Ernest Shackleton (1874-1922), after whom the band was named (though the spelling is slightly different), look him up and you’ll discover just the tip of the spiritual iceberg that makes The Shackeltons who they are. While idolizing Interpol, they also count Fugazi, Al Green, and Joy Division on their list of influences. Combine those emotionally charged bands with the strewn flowers and the adventurous story of E. Shackleton, and you get an idea of where the band derives their poetics.

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Although I’m hesitant to say so, as it will come off as totally pedestrian, but the boys at times seem to channel the energy of the Beatles circa Revolver — not necessarily the sound, mind you, though the similarities are there, but from the feeling they evoke from beyond the stage. Particularly with the song “The Blood,” vocalist Mark Redding himself seems faintly reminiscent of a pre-Yoko John. Perhaps it’s more than a little premature to make such a grand conjecture at this point in the Shakeltons’ career, but believe me when I tell you I don’t take equating a band to the Beatles lightly. (After all, I didn’t join the Liam Gallagher as the new John Lennon Bandwagon at the height of Oasis’ pop-chart popularity.) Parallelism aside, I will say that the flowers, the sound, and Redding’s sweaty mutton chops had me thinking of myself vaguely like a Boomer mom stuck in the memory of a ‘Nam rally. Despite all of their spanky facial hair, upon closer inspection you can see just how young, and thus talented, these guys are. Except for Redding, the obvious leader of the group, the other boys look so fresh they could’ve been popped out of indie-rock bubble wrap that very day. While performing, Redding flung around the stage and among the audience, wild with energy. During the lulls, he shared stories of C-burg and its four-square-block downtown and how his mother had made the boys some peanut butter and jelly on pumperknickle (pumperknickle?) sandwiches for the road. He later said, “Who even knows what rock n’ roll is anymore. Why not have a sandwich?” Peanut butter, jelly, rock n’roll and the story of Ernest Shackleton. These lovely boys have an auspicious future ahead.

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Before I was familiar with the Lincoln-based band Eagle Seagull, the only things that came to mind when I heard the word “Nebraska” were turtlenecks and Ted Bundy (I’m not sure why). So I was more than surprised and definitely moved to see them at Mercury Lounge, a vision of bias-shattering beauty. Eagle Seagull melds together like a sexualized nerd collective. They’ve been likened to Arcade Fire, which is somewhat apt, if only because Eagle Seagull easily fits the stats of the music generation that Arcade Fire iconifies. But, really, Eagle Seagull stands on their own without generalities. They are not just performers out to ride the indie wave. They are a very cohesive band whose technical skills as musicians far surpass your expectations for the average $12.00 gig. Their art pop rock is dusted with the sound of an 80’s bi-curious Euro boy band with a couple notes of Talking Heads thrown in. Eli Mardock’s (vox, keys, guitar) academic angst and penetrating voice provokes the kind of internal rumblings that make you to want to make out. Austin Skiles (guitar, bass, vox), in particular, was so enraptured on stage that at one point I thought his fingers would start to smoke (mysteriously, a while later in the evening the audience was met with the smell of burning rubber). The final note goes to Carrie Butler (violin, keys, vox), a blonde Shelley Duvall, wearing a white tube dress, rocking out — on her birthday no less — on an electric-blue, electric violin. That’s double electric.

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Nebraska was definitely represented at the Mercury as partisan yelps could be heard throughout the set. More than once, I caught the flash of brown argyle sweatered and black skinny jeaned bodies, possessed and dancing soulfully to the music, courtside. Eagle Seagull does for newbie hipsters what Ani Difranco does for 16-year-old second-wave feminists. When the last song came to a close, the audience cried for “more, more, more.” Eagle Seagull, though, on a tight schedule and second in a lineup of four, was forced to turn their backs and make way for the next band: wait, what were they called again? I’m not sure because I had already fallen head over heals for Eagle Seagull. For me, the night was over when they left the stage.

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Longwave, Mercury Bar, New York City, 9/14/07
written by Sheryl Witlen

On Fridays in New York City, one must choose shrewdly which venue to attend to experience the most music and, of course, which show will generate the most buzz. That is just how New York is. We are unfortunately all about the buzz. Luckily, with a line up that included The Shackeltons, Eagle Seagull, local favorites The Dead Trees, and Longwave, there really was no question: Mercury Lounge was the place to be. The Dead Trees and Longwave are both seasoned New York bands peppered with members who have grown up with, toured with, and, most importantly, befriended each other many times over. Both bands have weathered the mercurial seas of New York City audiences. They both have played various smoke-filled back rooms, dodgy bars, friends’ rooftop parties, and eventually famous venues. These qualities are not what make The Dead Trees and the boys of Longwave treasured artists of New York. One could lay claim to their impressive albums or the number of established fellow musicians they have supported and, more importantly, learned from. However, after experiencing a few minutes of their individual live shows, you realize that it is their classically performed artistic ability that gives them their worth. These boys as a group know their instruments, intimately. They are also acutely aware of the other members of their band on stage with them as both an extension of their individual performance but also as an element of each note that makes up their songs. This is where Longwave pulls ahead and establishes itself with their new material and upcoming EP. Steve Shiltz (guitar and vocals), Shannon Ferguson (guitar), Jason Molina (drums) and Anthony Molina (bass) have been playing touring and playing together since 1999. Yet is it their songs that add a fresh and sophisticated element to their performance. Gone are the days of scraping through a set. Friday showed no trace of the young band you would have seen in years past. Steve lead the audience through a set highlighted with songs like “There’s A Fire,” but the true crowd-pleasers were definitely the newer tracks: “Life is Wrong,” “Tidal Wave,” and my favorite “No Direction.” The audience seemed to agree, feeding the band with such positive feedback that the boys agreed to an encore, slowly gathering themselves for one final song.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted September 19, 2007 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    thanks shelley for the lovely review…we really appreciate it…it was great meeting you. take care.

    -Dan

  2. randy
    Posted September 19, 2007 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the Editors interview. They were indeed awesome at Chop Suey last night. Really thrilling seeing a great band like this up close in a small venue with an enthusiastic crowd.

  3. Posted September 21, 2007 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    fantastic review. the shackeltons sure are stirring up the waters. jump in!

  4. Posted October 4, 2007 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    This response is for Shelly Mara. Your review was extremely artful and well written. I am glad you enjoyed Eagle Seagull. I would love to subscribe to your other blogs. Cheers! CMJ here I come!

    http://frederickfoxtrott.wordpress.com

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