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MOKB Presents recently brought Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. to Indy’s White Rabbit Cabaret, and it was hands-down one of the funnest shows we’ve been to in recent memory – so much love from the band, so much love from the crowd, so much “Higher Love” from Steve Winwood. I’ve been meaning to write a summary of the show, but this video sums it up much better than I could ever hope to, so here you go: (thanks MOKB!)

Did you see me and Kristin in there anywhere? Because we were so there. And we were so loving it. You can also check out Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.’s performance of “Vocal Chords” over at MOKB.

mp3: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Morning Thought
from the album It’s A Corporate World (buy it here)

mp3: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. – Nothing But Our Love
from the album It’s A Corporate World (buy it here)

PS: D.E.Jr.Jr.’s new record is kind of great and you should be listening to it. Just FYI. Also, I’ve included the setlist from their Indy show after the jump. Just for kicks.

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Last Saturday night we had the great pleasure of finally seeing The Head & the Heart perform live at the Madison Theater in Covington, KY. I say “great pleasure” because there’s really no better two words to describe it than GREAT (def: remarkable in magnitude, degree, or effectiveness) and PLEASURE (def: a source of delight or joy). We drove all the way down to Covington to see them open for Iron & Wine, since the show here in Indianapolis sold out quicker than I’d anticipated, and we weren’t about to let these guys make it through the Midwest without a visit from us…

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Last Saturday night we were lucky enough to catch Band of Horses at a semi-secret show at the Indianapolis Museum of Art that was part of the IZOD Indy 500 kick-off party (obvs – dreamy alt-country indie-rock and Indy-car racing are basically synonymous). They played outdoors in the IMA’s smallish open-air amphitheater, and the warm spring night couldn’t have been more perfect for it – honestly it was one of the most relaxed and pleasant shows we’ve been to in awhile. (I understand “pleasant” isn’t the most sought-after adjective for a rock ‘n roll show review, but it honestly describes the night perfectly – it was just downright delightful!)

Apparently the whole thing was pretty last minute, and the band convened without so much as a practice session, lending the whole night the air of an informal jam session (a jam session to candlelight that is – see pictures below). The guys were loose and were obviously pretty pumped about the show, smiling and laughing off little mistakes, as well as constantly thanking everyone for being there.

They put on a fantastic show, and I came away with a greater appreciation for last year’s Infinite Arms – songs like “Laredo” and “Blue Beard” are rock-solid live and make great additions to the BOH canon. They barreled through as many songs as they could fit in the time they were allotted, and at the end of their set Ben Bridwell even apologized a bit, saying “well we got through as many as we could”, before closing out the night with the one-two punch of “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “The Funeral”.

Tyler Ramsey opened the show with a short acoustic set that was understated and affecting, mostly playing songs from his forthcoming record – so I now have that to be looking forward to. Pictures and setlist after the jump…

mp3: Band of Horses – The Great Salt Lake
from the album Everything All The Time (buy it here)

mp3: Band of Horses – Laredo
from the album Infinite Arms (buy it here)

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Last Friday me and a friend made the short jaunt down to Cincinnati for the first night of their annual MusicNOW festival, featuring ymusic, Shara Worden, and a resurrected performance of “Sounds of the South” by Megafaun, Fight The Big Bull, Justin Vernon and Sharon Van Etten. For those who aren’t familiar with the festival, it’s curated every year by The National’s Bryce Dessner, and is dedicated to unique collaborations between various artists – and usually consists of new or original music, sometimes never even having been performed before. In fact, in introducing the night’s itinerary, Bryce said it best by saying, “nothing you hear tonight has been recorded and released, currently no-one can download any of it on mp3”. Hopefully that changes soon, because I cannot remember a more moving night of live music than what we were treated to that night.

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Last Friday night we made it down to Bloomington for the first time in far too long to see Lia Ices and The Cave Singers at Russian Recording. Before I get into the show itself, I need to mention that Russian Recording might just be my new favorite venue in Indiana – it’s a recording studio they set up to serve as a club, and holy cow! It’s so great! It’s intimate, cozy, and of course, sounds amazing. After a particularly soaring coda to one of her beautiful songs, Lia Ices looked especially startled and pleased, saying something like, “that sounded really cool”. All night, the audience seemed to have a clear understanding of the superior sound we were so privileged to be experiencing, and there were many times you could hear a pin drop during the two sets. So yeah, Russian Recording: Bloomington’s best-kept concert secret you guys.

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving weekend, because we sure did. Kristin and I were lucky enough to get out and visit family in Seattle, which was of course, a blast. We enjoyed some delicious smoked turkey, watched a bit of football, explored various parts of downtown and West Seattle. One of the many highlights of the weekend was on Friday night when we were able to attend The Dutchess & The Duke’s final show with Kristin’s awesome aunt and uncle. It was unlike any show I’ve seen before, and one I won’t likely forget for some time.

They played at The Tractor Tavern, a cowboy bar in Ballard, and the perfect setting for their last hurrah. Throughout the night, Jesse Lortz (AKA “The Duke”) continually reminded us that “this is our last show EVER: you know that right?” – but that was hardly necessary. Because this was certainly not an ordinary show, due mostly to the fact that the band didn’t play on the stage at all, instead setting up on the railing in the middle of the venue, un-mic’d, up to their bellies in the sold-out crowd. It made for an extremely personal set, punctuated both by the melancholy air of the evening, and the amount of red wine the duo was kicking back.

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To be honest I don’t quite know what I was expecting from Sufjan Stevens this past Saturday. I certainly wasn’t expecting so much dancing.

Nearly all the dancing was by Sufjan and his band that is. I have never encountered such a static and unmoving crowd. People weren’t even nodding their heads. (Having never seen the man before, is there a Sufjan concert rule I’m not aware of, no dancing or something like that? Its like The ArchAndroid never happened.)

Its all really a shame too because when performing the songs from his latest album Sufjan moved. I don’t quite now how to describe his dance moves, which maybe, like the man himself, were entirely unique.

During the non-Age of Adz tracks (which there were few of) Sufjan stood fairly motionless in the center of the stage with guitar or banjo around his neck but still delivered like only Sufjan can.

In between tracks Sufjan gave insights into The Age of Adz, the influences, the themes, and what he was trying to do as well as not trying to do while making the album. (Chris already did an excellent job covering these.)

The true highlight came with the 25 minute + “Impossible Soul.” As Chris noted this song is an epic and performed live it is absolutely electric. On the way out of the theatre I heard a few people criticizing Sufjan’s use of auto-tune during that song, which is a shame, because that has to be one of my favorite moments on the album. Sufjan puts T-Pain and Antoine Dodson to shame.

The most jarring moment of the evening came with the finale. Lynsey and I both thought to ourselves as Sufjan started “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” that this couldn’t be the last song of the evening, this wouldn’t be the song to end it all on. Well it was. Chilling.

mp3: Sufjan Stevens – Futile Devices
from the album The Age of Adz (buy it here)

mp3: John Wayne Gacy, Jr – Sufjan Stevens
from the album Illinois (buy it here)

Click on for the setlist.

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The first post I ever wrote for this site was about The National. That’s funny because I always seem to have trouble writing about them – I feel like no matter what I say I never quite do them justice. I think it’s a symptom of how much I actually love this band, and after seeing them again on Saturday I’m once again feeling a little inadequate at relaying the experience. I’ll do my best, but just know: it was really good.

Owen Pallett opened, and though I haven’t listened to him much, he completely blew me away. He used loop pedals to weave complex musical tapestries out of just his keyboard and violin, with added flourishes provided by his drummer/bassist/guitarist/whistler, Thomas Gill – creating a lush and intimate sound that was completely entrancing. He performed a slew of songs from this year’s Heartland (which I’ve promptly repented for ignoring so long – these songs are beautiful), and its accompanying EP, A Swedish Love Story. In fact, two of my favorite songs of the whole night were off that EP – “Scandal At The Parkade” and “A Man With No Ankles”. Take a listen:

mp3: Owen Pallett – A Man With No Ankles
from the EP A Swedish Love Story (buy it here)

After Pallett’s fantastic set, The National entered in darkness and opened with “Runaway”, lit only by the stage backlighting. It was a haunting and gorgeous rendition of the subtle High Violet standout – a perfect introduction to what would be a rock solid show. They immediately picked it up after “Runaway’s” languid pace with the more traditionally rocking “Anyone’s Ghost” and “Mistaken for Strangers”, and then barreled right into the near-perfect “Bloodbuzz Ohio.” I was expecting them to save that song for later in the set, but no, they pulled it out right at the beginning – and I knew right then that this was going to be a fantastic set. When your catalog’s so strong you can put a song like “Ohio” right up front and know the rest of your set can live up to it, you’re going to have an amazing live show. And they did.

The band was supported by the trusty Padma Newsome on keys and strings, plus a mini- horn section that filled out the sound laid down by the Devendorf and Dessner brothers’ lush instrumentation, especially remarkable on numbers like “Squalor Victoria” and “Fake Empire.” Frankly, the band has never sounded better. Matt Berninger was in great spirits, making jokes with the Dessners about meeting Mary Poppins backstage, and how much of a diva she was (Mary Poppins was also playing at the Murat that night). Their stage banter was actually endearing: the Dessners describing how they tried to talk Matt out of singing about eating people’s brains on “Conversation 16”, Matt explaining how that’s not metaphorical, Aaron explaining how none of them really know what they’re saying at the end of “Secret Meeting.” I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure Matt said that “Afraid of Everyone” was “about the news”, which completely opened up that song in a new way for me. They played some of my all-time favorites like “Slow Show”, “Apartment Story” and “Green Gloves” along with new classics like “Sorrow” and “England” (which somehow sounded even lovelier live). A four-song encore included a heart-stopping rendition of “Mr. November” with Matt jumping down and wandering throughout the sold-out crowd as they fist-pumped along to its endlessly cathartic chorus, and they ended the night with a gorgeous take of “Terrible Love.”

So yeah. The show was really good. Click on for pictures and setlists.

mp3: The National – Runaway
from the album High Violet (buy it here)

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Last night we were treated to a night of good old cathartic rock & roll, compliments of The Hold Steady and Wintersleep, who each put on a fantastic show at the Vogue. Admittedly, I’m not super familiar with either band’s catalog, so the nuances of each set may have been lost on me – but how much nuance is there in barroom rock really? It was just a flat out fun show.

Wintersleep put on a solid set, playing their soaring indie rock to the lucky people who showed up early. I recognized a few songs off their recent album, New Inheritors, but there were a few others I wasn’t familiar with at all that completely stole the show. For example, the Canadian rockers closed with “Miasmal Smoke and the Yellow-bellied Freaks”, which must have been something like 15-minutes long and culminated with a pretty gratifying fist-pounding climax of swirling guitars and keyboards. It was pretty fantastic. If you get a chance to see these guys, try and make that happen – because they’re pretty great. You should also start listening to their stuff… I know I am.

mp3: Wintersleep – New Inheritors
from the album New Inheritors (buy it here)

I’ve heard words like “redemptive” and “life-changing” to describe The Hold Steady’s shows, and though I didn’t quite have that sort of experience last night, I really enjoyed their set. They were raucous and jubilant, and there were plenty of soaring guitar solos and galvanizing crowd sing-alongs. My one complaint is that Craig Finn’s vocals seemed to be mixed way down, which is a real shame because 1. so much of the band’s charm stems from his bar-lit story arcs, and 2. guys like me, who only have Stay Positive, couldn’t hear much of the melodies to get into the songs I didn’t know as well. Besides that though, the band gave an emphatic performance, and you truly do get the sense that these guys believe rock & roll really can save the world.

mp3: The Hold Steady – Sequestered In Memphis
from the album Stay Positive (buy it here)

As seems to happen a lot around here, we had some camera issues, but you can check out a couple cell-phone pictures after the jump, as well as The Hold Steady’s setlist…

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Tuesday night Kristin and I got to see Billy Bragg at The Vogue in Indy and let me just say this: you should all see Billy Bragg. Do you hear me internet? Because holy cow was he good. He played for a full 2 hours, just him alone on-stage, most of the time with his electric guitar, singing his rough-edged folk songs with that East London growl that was weaned on punk rock. It was great. Neither me or Kristin know his repertoire very well – I only own Lifes a Riot with Spy vs Spy (his first record from 1983) and the two Mermaid Ave. albums he did with Wilco – so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Well not only was he completely engaging, but he actually played every one of our favorite songs, from “The Milkman of Human Kindness” and “To Have and To Have Not” right down to “Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key” (Kristin’s favorite). And then to top it all off, he closed with a fist-pumping sing-along-version of “A New England” – and it was so so good.

I knew that Billy Bragg was politically active, but I didn’t realize that he actually thinks of himself as a socialist activist first and a musician second. He took every opportunity to preach (seriously… there were times I felt like I was at a rally more than a rock show), and told anecdote after anecdote about his political work and activism. I sincerely enjoyed it, and although I lie much more toward the center than Mr. Bragg, he had several points that I thought were inspired: like making a point to communicate and reach out to those who have differing opinions than yours, not simply writing off those you disagree with as unintelligent or bigoted, and avoiding cynicism at all costs. All so true, Billy – thanks for that. Kristin and I laughed a little bit too, because just the night before we had caught the 1949 film-version of Ayn Rand’s capitalist-manifesto The Fountainhead on TMC (it starred Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal and was pretty great) – just doing our part to hear all sides you guys. You know, civic responsibility and stuff. This could be a whole new direction for this site…

I don’t have any pictures, but here’s a couple songs, and you can check out the setlist after the jump.

mp3: Billy Bragg – A New England
from the album Life’s a Riot with Spy vs Spy (buy it here)

mp3: Billy Bragg – Tomorrow’s Going To Be A Better Day
new demo for the play Pressure Drop (get it for free at his website)

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We caught Jeremy Messersmith Friday night at the White Rabbit Cabaret in Fountain Square. I’ve been pretty into his most recent record, The Reluctant Graveyard, and I was excited to hear some of his new songs live.  He played a fantastic set to an intimate candlelit crowd, and it was one of those rare live experiences where I found myself sitting back and thinking “What on earth is everyone else in this city even doing?” He was that great. Recorded, Messersmith utilizes all kinds of bells and whistles to bring his pop confections to life, but in person it becomes apparent that his songs stand equally well on their own, as he utilized a loop pedal to create backbeats and harmonies with himself right on-stage (for my favorite example of the night, check out the video of him playing “Miracles” below). His loop-tracking was great, but what struck me the most was how clean and clear his voice and playing was – every song sounded absolutely pristine.

Unfortunately the venue dashed our hopes for an encore by turning up the house music too soon, but we did have the chance to say hi to Jeremy after the show. He was completely charming, and during our brief conversation we discovered that he’d actually read our review of The Reluctant Graveyard last week, right here on our little blog! (In case you’re reading this – HI JEREMY!) Anyway, it was a great show, and after spending our last two weekends at ridiculously humongous live events, it was so nice to sit back and enjoy an incredibly talented musician in such an intimate setting.

Setlist and mp3’s after the jump.

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Well I had a huge test yesterday, and for awhile there it looked like we weren’t going to go to Lollapalooza at all… but I sucked it up and we were able to make it for just one day, and that day was Saturday. Me and Kristin headed up Friday night after work/school and drove back Sunday morning, and I studied the whole way. In between, though, we heard some pretty amazing music. Click on for the rundown:

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