The Long and Winding Road

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 Bryan ScaryPianos 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.

A robot"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:

So, how do you go about finding new music? Were you ever surprised by an opening act and turned into a fan?

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.


Amanda said...

Didn't you discover Soul Coughing as an opening act, and hate them at first?

Jordan Hirsch said...

@amanda: Yes! Well, I didn't hate them, but about halfway through their set Eduardo and I walked out and decided we'd had enough of this crazy guy saying "you are lissssssssssssstening" over and over again. And they're probably one of my favorite bands of all time.

Unknown said...

The best part of this story is the part that involves me (well, it's the best if you're me at least). Sometime last year, Jordan tells me this whole story in the course of recommending HLAK to me. I download their album, it's pretty good, like to listen to it in the morning (it's good "go away! can't you see i'm wearing Large Headphones??" music).

So several months later, i hear this bryan scary guy on XM. I go home, get his album off of emusic and a few songs in i think "Jordan would love this guy". So I used my handy dandy last.fm recommendation tool, just to find out the next day that Jordan already knew him, loved him, and that I was already quite late to that party.

So the wheel of circuitously circular music recommendations goes around some more.

John Das Binky said...

Not that they're an obscure street cred band or anything, but I "discovered" BNL when they opened up for Sarah McLachlan (my favorite artist at the time) in 97 or so and blew her out of the water performance wise... To the point I was angry at them for upstaging my songstress, but quite hooked.

Come to think of it, I think I took your wife to that show without you thanks to your hatred of singers with vaginas.

But I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately... I've been listening to a lot of relatively odd stuff lately, but I have no idea where I find most of it. It seems to just pop up. Like a weird combination of YouTube and Napster, often based on a weird cover of some tune I like. Example: Shaka Labbits' ska-punk cover of "That Thing You Do" that I found one day while randomly typing keywords into YouTube has gotten me into this bizarre Alt-Jap-Pop sub-scene.

Will look up Bryan Scary shortly.

Newmanium Reveler said...

My own experience is mixed bag-ish...some opening acts I warm up to instantly - Clem Snide opening for Luna, Lambchop opening for YLT - while others have annoyed me until many years later, when I come to my senses (Feist for Broken Social Scene, Trans Am opening for Soul Coughing.)

What's really perplexing to me is when an artist I love chooses an opening band that's just...not doing it for me. How can I love Stephen Malkmus's music so much and yet feel nothing but spite towarsd his openers (Dead Meadow, Paik)? Is this like when you think you've made a strong connection with someone and then they tell you that "The Celestine Prophecy" changed their life, and you recoil in horror?

99 said...

nine inch nails blew me away as an opening act for (a very drunk) jesus and mary chain - february 1990.

skeleton key opening for railroad jerk (this remains an all-time favorite show . . . too bad there were all of 15 people in the black cat by the end of the night).

seen lots of good opening acts and lots of crap. most have faded away - along with my hearing - over the years.

Unknown said...

So I'm sitting there yesterday thinking "you know, I should really take a close listen to this HLAK album, instead of just using it as background music while I work." Yes, I think in complete sentences like that and everything.

So I get to "Noisy at the Circus" and think "wait, I know this voice -- this is the chick from Smoosh!" Smoosh is this kick-ass indie rock duo made up of two teenage sisters from Seattle. Ask me how I discovered Smoosh. Go on, ask.

I saw them open for the Eels back in '06.

Something tells me if this thread goes on long enough, eventually it will all come back around to the Bacon Brother band.