I have a lot of ways of finding about new music, many of which I plan to blog about here in future posts. But I think my favorite methods are the old-fashioned ones, like hearing about a great band from someone, or just seeing a show of a band I've never heard of before. I learned about Baby Dayliner that way, by seeing him open for The National a couple years ago at the Black Cat. This bizarrely tall dude running around the stage like a madman while his laptop dropped mad synth-pop beats behind him totally blew my mind. I don't know how the hell I would have heard of this guy had I not seen him live.
My favorite tale of finding a band through personal experience actually involves 2 shows, 3 bands, 1 week in New York, and a brother's love. For my 30th birthday [Editor's note: when the fuck did I get so old?], my amazing wife took me to live in New York for a week. We rented a cute little basement apartment on the Upper West side and had a great week spending all our money in the big city. One day, I got the hankering (as I often do) to go see some live music. So I asked my friend Zack if he knew of any cool bands coming to NY, or any cool venues at which to go see live music. Zack's usually good for that sort of thing. Well, this time he surprised me by telling me that his brother's band Sono Oto was going to be playing live at Pianos, a very hip place on the Lower East Side. Finally, a chance to see my friend's brother's band play live, and visit one of the hippest spots in Gotham, all on a weeknight! 3 birds, 1 stone, I'm there. So off we went.
Here's the part where I have to confess that I did not really like Sono Oto's set. My friend's brother did a very good job on the keyboards and vocals and the guitarist was great, and all the songs were fine...but to my ears they all sounded a little too similar to each other, and a little too much like Paul McCartney "lite." After the show, despite the fact that neither of us were all that into it, my wife and I each paid full price for a CD. Such is the cost of friendship. [Editor's note: the CD - "The Apple EP" - is actually surprisingly great, very catchy, and full of great pop songwriting. Shows what I know.]
OK, so maybe the main act was a bust for me. But here's the cool part. One of the opening acts (which were all hand-picked by Sono Oto since they were the artist-in-residence at Pianos that week) was a band by the name of Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears. Wow. I don't really know how to describe their set, other than: ridiculous (in an awesome way). There's a whole bunch of guys in this band, and they all dress up in weird old-timey mortician outfits (more or less) and play these insanely creative songs that would sound like the result of a jam session featuring ELO, Queen, Yes, and a bunch of other bands no one's listening to nowadays. My favorite part is the way that they can go through 5 different influences in the course of a 4-minute song. We were blown away. Oddly enough, neither of us bought a CD, I think because we were still in shock from their set. I bought their album later, though, and have yet to listen to it and get bored.
"Well," we said to each other, "that was totally cool and strange, but we'll never see these fellows again." How short-sighted we were! Ah, but we were just children then. I'm almost 31 now. More to the point, some months later, I learned via tourfilter that Mr. Scary and the Tears were coming to the back room of our very own Black Cat. We also saw that some opening act was coming, some band I'd never heard of from Seattle named Head Like A Kite. Despite the fact that the Black Cat's web site referred to them as "creating lush indie-pop soundscapes" or some bullshit like that, we decided we'd show up early, drink some beer, and check out these lush soundscape creators. As you can imagine since I'm spending so much time building up to this part, we loved them. Well, I loved them - can't speak for the missus. They used a vocoder! (Not the one pictured on wikipedia, some sort of modern one - but still, any time it sounds like a robot's singing, I'm on board). The band is 2 guys + a bunch of old home movies. They make really cool music that does indeed border on lush indie soundscapes at times. But that's not the point. The point is, I never would have bought their album Random Portraits of the Home Movie and become a big fan of theirs had I not emailed my friend Zack months before and asked "so, where do you go see live music in Manhattan?" And the rest, as they say, is history.
For your listening pleasure:
- Mrs. Gracy's Revenge by Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears (it has a kazoo!)
- Tell Mommy You Want A Sip Of Beer by Head Like A Kite
PS By the way, Bryan Scary didn't disappoint at that Black Cat show, even though they played to a crowd of no more than 20 people. And the beer was delicious.