Sleater-Kinney at Terminal 5

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The venue was dark when the band entered from stage right. The energy at Terminal 5 was rising, and I could feel it seeping through the floorboards of the second tier where MDP and I were standing. One spectator commented that more than 1,000 people must have been present for the second night of a sold-out two-night appearance by the band that vanished into thin air eight years ago.

Sleater-Kinney is easily one of my favorite bands. Two guitars and a drum set comprise this trio, which could be one of the more unique aspects of the band if they weren’t also so exceptional in so many other ways. I once read that they tune the lower E of their guitars to C sharp, which, as a burgeoning guitar player, simply blows my mind. Don’t the chords sound different? I wondered, trying to comprehend how it must be writing with such a different sound.

Their feminist roots in the riot grrrl movement of the ’90s runs through their tunes, but their lyrics are much more sophisticated and thinkworthy than your run-of-the-mill Bikini Kill. And, of course, this is not an insult to BK as much as it’s a compliment to SK.

Last night, on February 27, the band took the stage and played through their catalog, album by album, speeding up certain songs and adding flourishes here and there in time-honored Sleater-Kinney standards, such as “Words + Guitar” and “One Beat,” a song that contains some of my favorite lyrics EVER:

Should I come outside and run your cars?
Should I run your rockets to the stars?
Could you invent a world for me?
I need to hear a symphony
If I’m to run the future,
You’ve got to let the old world go, oh oh

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More known for her appearances on Portlandia these days than for her guitar playing, Carrie Brownstein danced across the stage, kicking her long, lanky legs up toward the ceiling as she ripped through lines that only expert guitarists could dream of playing. Corin Tucker belted out number after number with her unique voice, penetrating even the most insulating ear plugs worn by novice SK attendees. And Janet Weiss, on the drums, back up vocals and harmonica, kept the beat plugging along with adroit playing.

The crowd was filled with three types of people, as far as I could tell: the long-suffering Sleater-Kinney fans who have been behind them since their noteworthy album Call the Doctor dropped (I’m in this group); the newbies who know No Cities to Love, their new record, with a sound that demonstrates the nearly 10 years of music that’s occurred since the band last wrote together; and the people who like Portlandia.

Although she’s the most famous band member today, Carrie didn’t ham it up by making funny remarks here and there. She kept it low-key and largely allowed Corin to speak to and rev up the crowd.

Their experience as seasoned musicians shone through on just about every song. Carrie’s masterful guitar lines exploded on songs like “Youth Decay,” which was way more uptempo than the album rendition, and “Dig Me Out” with its clarion call of punk-infused indie rock. Corin’s voice reverberated to the highest tiers of the massive venue, and sounded gorgeous on classic tracks like “Good Things,” a fan favorite.

I was reminded of the brilliance of their songwriting when Carrie began singing “Entertain” off their 2006 album The Woods:

So you wanna be en-en-tertained?
Please look away, don’t look away
We’re not here ’cause we want to entertain
Go away, don’t go away

In this song, Sleater-Kinney cuts right through to the heart of the matter when it comes to fame–could it be about their struggle with becoming a renowned rock band? Or even Carrie’s place on Rolling Stone’s list of “most underrated guitarists of all time”? Could be both these things, but they’re also talking more generally about society on a whole. That’s what I mean about Sleater-Kinney’s sophisticated lyrics–they’re incisive, bold, and brilliant. And don’t even get me started on the aural aesthetic of this song: Carrie’s muted, round articulation of the lyrics paired with Corin’s fiery vocals, and a militant drumbeat banging in the background plus the intricate guitar lines–it’s all spectacular!

The show was one of the best I’ve been to in a long time, but the band only played an hour-long set, which surprised me. I guess the ladies of Sleater-Kinney know how to end on a high note, leaving their fans from all walks of life “always wanting more,” as they sing in “I Wanna Be Yr Joey Ramone.”

So, you thought I only wrote about Taylor Swift and food on this blog. And I understand why you’d get that impression, given the header and the name. But, as stated in Taylor Ham’s tagline, this blog is about all kinds of music.

Below is a taste of what happened at the show. Enjoy!

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Brooklyn Bowl + Old 97’s (Sorta)

MDP and I bought tickets for the Old 97’s show at Brooklyn Bowl about a month ago. So, when the day came, I was pretty excited to get there. Although the doors weren’t slated to open until 8 pm for the show, we knew we could grab a bite at the bowling alley beforehand. I took the L train to Bedford, hopped off and made my way over to Brooklyn Bowl, which is located on Wythe between North 11 and North 12 streets.

brooklyn bowl calamari

calamari

My walk was pleasant. I hadn’t realized Williamsburg possessed such charm. I suppose I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to the neighborhood since I was in college, and that may explain my surprise at the cute eateries and shops that lined Bedford. Anyway, I turned down North 11 Street to cut over to Wythe, and locked eyes with a gentleman who was sampling a beer in an outdoor café. He looked familiar, but I kept walking—that is, until I realized it was Rhett Miller, front man for the Old 97’s.

My internal dialogue went something like this:

Should I talk to him?

Should I bother him?

What if it isn’t him?

What if he thinks I’m crazy?

After about five minutes of hemming and hawing, I walked over to him and said, “Hey, you look familiar. Are you Rhett Miller?” He smiled and nodded, and stood up to introduce himself. “I’m Rhett,” he said. I know, I thought, but told him my name instead. “You’re awesome. I love your music,” I said, sounding 16 years old. I added that I was going to be attending his show later in the evening, and he said he was planning to sing a duet with the opening act. “I’ll be there at 8 then,” I told him and blurted out “enjoy” for some reason.

What an evening this is going to be! I thought, as I made my way over to Wythe.

brooklyn bowl fried chicken dinner

fried chicken dinner

Well, the night took an unexpected turn. Apparently, Brooklyn Bowl had a power outage earlier in the day. It didn’t occur to me until after I tried to unsuccessfully order a burger that the lack of power might affect the show. It did.

But before that realization struck, MDP and I sampled some delectable food from Brooklyn Bowl. First of all, it’s worth mentioning that this place is pretty awesome. It’s a huge space with a stage, bowling lanes and a restaurant. Oh, and the bathrooms are clean and pristine, up a flight. They have Brooklyn Brewery beers on tap, and Blue Ribbon food (whether that means the recipes or the chefs are trained a la Blue Ribbon is a mystery).

We started our meal with the fried calamari, which was crisp and delicious, and came with fried jalapenos mixed in with the octopus. It also had a lemon and cayenne mayo and an authentically included lemon wedge on the side. Fantastic!

When I learned the burger was not an option due to the down grill, I opted for the fried chicken dinner, with mixed pieces (dark and white meat). It came with the best collard greens I’ve ever had. Thick pieces of bacon were mixed in with them and they had a perfect flavor. The mashed potatoes were so-so, but the chicken was decent. The fry on the chicken was very flavorful, but I’m sorry to say that the flavor did not seep down into the bird’s flesh as it does at many other places. The dish also came with a hefty slice of white bread, which I rather enjoyed.

MDP got the fried catfish sandwich, and he seemed to enjoy it very much. I’m no fan of catfish, so I didn’t sample a bite.

We waited around for about 40 minutes until we heard through the grapevine that the show was canceled. But I happened to notice Rhett traipse down the stairs and into the back of the stage. He was carrying his acoustic guitar. Suddenly, he was gone, and I thought, He must have gone outside. There we went, and we found Rhett singing on the sidewalk of Wythe, outside of Brooklyn Bowl.

rhett miller outside brooklyn bowl

rhett miller

He played around seven songs, much to the crowd’s delight. We all sang along to “Wish the Worst” and “Big Brown Eyes” and Rhett even did a few tunes from the new album, such as the title track “Most Messed Up” and Let’s Get Drunk & Get It On.” Mostly, Rhett sang/shouted the lyrics, but he still sounded great.

“I have to stop singing or else I think I may never sing again,” he shouted to the screaming crowd of about 30.

UPDATE! Saw the Old 97’s today at Lincoln Center and got a much better shot of them!

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So, definitely go to Brooklyn Bowl. But make sure the power’s working if you’re planning to see a show or bowl. It’s good eatin’, for sure, but if you’re making the trek to Williamsburg, you’re going to want to do more than eat good food.

Brooklyn Bowl

61 Wythe Ave. (bet. North 11 and North 12 streets)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Take the L to Bedford and walk a few blocks west then north.

Rhett Miller at City Winery

“My name’s Stuart Ransom Miller. I’m a serial lady killer,” sang Rhett Miller last night at City Winery–a cool, sophisticated venue–with the whole of his audience acting as an enthusiastic back up singer. If the crowd seemed older, well, there’s no hiding that Rhett Miller has gotten older, too—and wiser, and better looking, if that was even possible. In fact, Rhett’s handsome looks come across more acutely in person than in these photos (thank me later).

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The front man of the sometimes called “rockabilly” Old 97’s, Rhett wore a white shirt with fine detailing and tight black jeans over his long, lanky legs that he likes to shake around during his performances. He waves his hips around so much, he actually creates a certain rhythm with his gyrations to complement his expert guitar playing. He swings his right arm like a helicopter blade over his guitar and play-play-play-plays the chords. And he bangs his head during instrumental solos, exuding a “lost in the music” vibe.

He started the show with a song off his latest album, The Dreamer, called “Lost Without You,” a beautiful melody. He also played a number of Old 97’s favorites, including “Barrier Reef,” “Timebomb,” “Solame,” “Big Brown Eyes,” “Just Like California,” and, of course, “Question,” taking the songs in quick succession, pausing just a moment or two and cutting off applause to get the next tune started. All of his singing showcased the unique timber of his voice, and, on some songs, he even broke out into a little bit of vibrato. I was impressed, to say the least.

rhett with david wax band

As the show went on, Rhett’s once-pristine shirt became increasingly drenched and his hair likely sent drops of sweat into the front row of patrons as he head-banged away. He shared with the crowd that he sometimes—and rather innocently—lifts lines and melodies from unsuspecting (or sometimes suspecting, in the case of Bob Dylan) writers. His song “Champaign, Illinois” features a Bob Dylan melody, and you probably never knew that—well, now you know.

The show was awesome, and the hostess told me that Rhett plays City Winery pretty often. I guess that won’t be happening any time soon as he mentioned that he’s going to Texas in the coming days to work on a new Old 97’s album. I suppose we’ll just have to see him when he returns.

A Beginner’s Guide to Missoula, Montana

view from the M in Missoula

view from the M in Missoula

For the uninitiated, the dreamy college town, Missoula, may seem too cool for school. In reality, it is, but you can fit right in if you read this trusty blog post.

The Best Places to Eat
Known as a city of bridges, Missoula is also a city for some of the best coffee in the land. It’s got The Catalyst, Le Petit Outre, Bernice’s, Break Espresso and many others that serve up strong, delicious cups of brew.

biga pizza

biga pizza

Missoula also has some of the best restaurants in Western Montana, with the greatest pizza found at biga pizza; cheap, delectable burritos at Taco del Sol; to-die-for breakfasts at The Hob Nob; and fine dining at Red Bird.

Where to Look Cool and Hang
A very liberal and well-educated city, Missoula has a number of book and music stores, eclectic shops such as Rockin’ Rudy’s and Butterfly Herbs, and even a peace center named for the venerable Montana female senator of yore, Jeannette Rankin.

Live music can be heard all over the city at places such as the local Boys and Girls Club, various bars, and multipurpose venues like the historic Wilma theatre.

Missoula’s hoppin’ and quaint downtown also offers a number of interesting stores to see and treats to sample.

Weekend Getaways
If you’re not into hiking up to the M on Mount Sentinel (the local way of exercising), you can drive out of Missoula into some of the sweetest places in Western Montana.

Just an hour away, Hamilton is in the heart of the Bitterroot mountain range, which extends from Lolo all the way beyond Hamilton. It’s a truly breathtaking drive and allows you to take in the vast Montana scenery (including a bevy of cattle and bison) while cruising down the highway.

national bison range

national bison range

In the opposite direction, there’s Kalispell, which affords you a trip up highway 93, past the gorgeous Mission mountains and the National Bison Range. You can’t get much prettier than Flathead Lake that begins down at Polson and stretches far north. From Kalispell, it’s just a hop, skip and a jump to Glacier National Park where mountain goat roam and grizzly bears hide in trees.

mission mountains

mission range

Feel like you’re ready for Missoula now? As locals say, you bet.

Greater Adoration

TAYLOR COUNTDOWN: 2 DAYS

Contrary to your belief, there are people out there who adore Taylor Swift more than I do.

And they’re talented musicians.

Take this one–Mary–singing “You Belong With Me”

My favorite part of Mary’s performance–filled with props that Taylor, no doubt, appropriates in her real life–happens around the 35 second mark.

During the lyrics “She’ll never know your story like I do,” Mary pulls out a Bible, bearing some kind of label (is it from the library?), and holds it in front of her distressed face. Maybe if she selected Swann’s Way, I’d understand the meaningfulness of her literary selection … and facial expression.

But Mary knows the Bible. The cheerleader “she” in the song, who wears short skirts and high heels, clearly does not. Mary sings “You Belong With Me” at Sunday church services, exalting at the alter.

Good for Mary–and Jesus, her subject.

And then there’s BatRomeo, who took it upon himself to rewrite “Love Story” from Romeo’s perspective.

Clad in a vintage Batman T-shirt with 99cent store RayBans, BatRomeo wants to tell his Love Story on his own terms.

You’ll be the princess. I’ll be the prince.
Oh. It’s a love story just say yes.

BatRomeo’s voice is sweet, though. I’ll give him that.

Who knows? BatRomeo could be Taylor’s next muse. He’s almost 1/100th as attractive as Taylor Lautner.

These two, Mary Kate and Ashley, definitely adore Taylor more than I do, and win the covers competition on Taylor’s Ham.

Singing “Our Song,” Mary Kate and Ashley in similarly tweeny outfits (purple and pink, of course) manage to pull off a pretty good harmony. Mary Kate strums the guitar while Ashley keeps the rhythm with her bouncing dance moves.

They are the next Taylor Swifts.

FYI: If I’m ever on YouTube singing a Taylor Swift song, you know you won’t find it here.

Turn yr radio on, the program is a’startin’

ALEX BATTLES &THE WHISKY REBELLION

Any band that sings a song called “Jesus Wore Flip Flops” is my kind of band.

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Alex Battles & the Whisky Rebellion, photo from whisky rebellion website

So when I first experienced Alex Battles and the Whisky Rebellion on July 4 at the Brooklyn Museum, I knew it was love at first listen.

Self-described as “roof-shaking joyful hodgepodge of honky-tonk, jump blues, and rocknroll,” the Whisky Rebellion plays bittersweet ballads punctuated by irreverence and a familiar old-fashioned feeling that keeps your toes tapping and head nodding.  Their band consists of six mainstay members, but every now and then, other players show up or drop out–depends on what night you see ’em. Lots of guitar, a drum, bass, washboard, fiddle, banjo, harmonica, jug, and even a prosletyzer if you’re lucky. I haven’t seen resident prosletyzer, Shafer Hall, nor do I know what views he wishes to share, but I’m intrigued and eager to listen.

On August 15, Furry and I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Battles with parts of his band at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn (Alex Battles has a song about this place). The fiddler wasn’t there, but the music was definitely on.

It’s a Love Story

A band you won’t want to miss live. Upbeat songs such as “It’s Raining in Brooklyn” and “Pennsylvania,” crowd-pleasers at both venues, showcase the harmonica player’s prowess. Shaky Dave is the finest harmonica player … in the five boroughs. (Honestly? I don’t have much to compare to. OK, I can probably speak for NJ.) It’s Shaky Dave’s incredible range and his fun bridge solos that set the tone of each song.

Alex Battles, from his website

Alex Battles, from his website

Alex Battles, guitarist and lead vocalist, delivers lyrics with a deep, charming voice that sounds like smiling. There’s something playful about him: he’s having a good time, so you will too. The man loves the stage almost as much as he loves himself (from the look of his website). With his shit kickers and ten gallon hat, Alex Battles is definitely bringing country back to Brooklyn.

The wiry lead guitarist owns the songs. He’s the one to watch when you see them live. He slinks back and forth in his small area onstage as he dominates the complicated guitar lines. He also plays the washboard and skillfully switches between guitar and washboard (which has to be slung over his head) in seconds.

Another Record to Burn

The only problem I had with the second ABWR performance was the harmonica player. I know, didn’t I just say he was amazing and probably the shining star of the band? He is, but it was too much for me. Before ABWR took stage, another band invited Shaky Dave up to play. By the time he got around to accompanying ABWR, I felt I had heard all his tricks rendering his efforts indistinguishable song to song.

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Totes smiles. Amazing live act and their studio albums are iPod-playlist worthy.

I can’t wait to see ABWR at the three-day Brooklyn Country Music Festival! They’re headlining September 19’s “Giant Saturday” filled with other awesome acts such as the Lonesome Prairie Dogs.

You know you look just like a friend of mine
He’s always drinking two dollar wine
Because he can’t afford the moonshine
Two dollar wine suits him just fine

If you feel you can relate to the above lyrics (you know you can, two buck chuck drinkers), download their albums for free here!

Countdown to Taylor at Penn State

TAYLOR COUNTDOWN: 9 Days*

On August 29, Small Hands and I are going to see Taylor Swift at the Bryce Johnson Theater at Penn State University.

“Isn’t that far from New York, Nicole?” you might ask. “Why not see her locally?”

If you knew anything at all, you’d realize that her Madison Square Garden Show sold out in one minute. Plus, I like states that aren’t New York or New Jersey.

Last month, Small Hands and I saw Taylor at the Civic Center at Charleston, West Virginia. And the show was the best I’ve ever seen.

It’s a Love StoryIMG00173

First of all, the opening acts–Gloriana (a bestseller on iTunes somehow) and Kellie Pickler (of … Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader fame)–exceeded my wildest imaginations. Gloriana’s harmonic styles reminded me of Fleetwood Mac’s flawless tightness. Kellie Pickler, who played for about 40 minutes–man, she has one hell of a voice. If you ever get the chance to see her live, do. If she can’t add or read a map, she can definitely sing.

(Kellie and Taylor are BFFs. In the linked video above, Kellie sings “Best Days of Your Life,” a song Taylor co-wrote with Kellie. Taylor’s in the video, too. Also, Kellie is totes adorable. Watch it!)

Now for Taylor.IMG00181 Two hour set. Everything off Fearless, her latest album, except for “The Best Day,” a song dedicated to her mom. She played the favorites from her debut self-titled smash hit album and saved “Should’ve Said No” for last–an extended performance ending with a rainstorm on stage, leaving Taylor’s long, blond, wavy hair matted to her narrow frame.

I couldn’t count all the costume changes.

Because Small Hands is so generous and wonderful, she bought us tickets on the floor of the venue, granting us easy access to Taylor as she played several songs, “Fifteen” among them, from a rotating elevated platform at the rear of the floor seating area. (Linked video features Miley Cyrus.)  She came down into the audience and hugged the twitching, tweeting (I’m sure) tweens who gathered in the aisle as she made her rounds. I even touched her hair. An electrifying moment.IMG00187

She totally bashed Joe Jonas without saying his name. We knew she meant to say, “He’s incredibly fug and I’m totally not.” She didn’t have to. We were all on the same page.

I can’t tell you what the best part of the show was because every moment was incredible. On second thought, it may have been that blinding glisten from her sparkling guitar.

Another Overpriced Tour T-Shirt to Burn

With Taylor, there were no problems. Only the fans. And it mostly had to do with my inferiority complex about standing at least one foot taller than 90% of the audience (including Small Hands; sorry, dear).

Tied Together With (or Without) a Smile

Way, way smile.

Can’t wait to share with you the next show.

*Note: I don’t really know how to “count” days for countdowns. Does the day of the event count as 0 or 1? Neither seems completely logical to me. I need an informative Mary Roach footnote–or subject matter–instead of my rambling lack of counting accountability.