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The Other Night: listenlisten Releases Hymns From Rhodesia, People Go Wild [9/22/2009 01:39:00 AM]:
IMG_3805 It's pathetic as hell, I know, but it seems like it gets harder and harder to force myself out of the house these days, even when it's to see a band (or bands, as the case may be) I really-truly love.

There's the fam, there's the ever-present TV, there's Netflix, there's the insane pile of books and CDs I need to read/listen to, there's work stuff, there's house-maintenance stuff, and lately, there's the looming need to redesign this damn Website for its extremely belated entrance into the 21st century (and yes, the redesign is coming, believe it or not, although just contemplating the prospect of porting a decade-plus worth of content over gives me an ulcer; keep an eye out for more on the shift, 'cause it's going to have to happen soon).

So it was a hard thing to drag my ass out of the comfy SW side and on up to Montrose for the long-awaited release show for listenlisten's second full-length, Hymns From Rhodesia. As stated previously in these pages, I freaking love this band, to the point of hyper-evangelism -- seriously, if you can't at least appreciate the music listenlisten makes on some level, then any recommendations of the artistic variety coming from you will automatically be suspect, at least to me. Disliking this band is on the same level as, say, saying you enjoy dropping puppies down a well for fun.

Anyway, I made it out this past Friday (Sept. 18th), driving out from my 'hood and over to Mango's on Westheimer. Owner and Free Press Houston mogul Omar was out front with a handshake, declaring in a goofy accent to the guys manning the door that I was "meed-ja," which caused both me and door guy Shelby to ask him what the heck he was talking about.

"Media," as it turned out, was what he meant -- which was very kind of him, honestly, esp. since I don't even have the "Press" pass to flash, like the very timid girl from the Chronic showed Omar when she came up. Big, big "thanks," Mr. Omar, for letting me skate through...

Got some pics this time, btw, so look here for the whole pile. Here goes:

IMG_3692 SEW WHAT: I showed up just in time for openers Sew What, otherwise known as the folk duo of Rachel T. and Cory Derden. I'd seen them before and been fairly entertained by their quirky folk-pop, so I was a little surprised by what the duo pulled out for this particular show -- they were a lot more barebones than the last time I saw 'em, almost to the point of heavy-lidded sleepiness.

This time out, they were far, far more country-folk than before, with Rachel's vocals reminiscent of Scout Niblett or a more-grounded Joanna Newsom. The sight of her playing a gigantic banjo, sitar-style, cracked me up, but it made sense, as well, considering that the band's music was almost hypnotic in its droniness.

And honestly, I'm glad for the change, glad they ditched the goofiness, the props (at least, they had a prop or two when I saw them play a few years back), and the slap-happy feel -- after a while, I was liking the somber, more deliberate vibe of the whole thing. Talked briefly to Cory after the show, and he said they were hard at work on their full-length (I think? It was a bit late, and I was feeling pretty fried...), which is good news.

IMG_3704 I AM MESMER: "Holy fuck, that's a lot of people." That's what went through my head as the whole I am Mesmer crew assembled up on the stage. I counted a total of 10 people, myself, and I may well've missed a few who happened to be hunkered down in front of the crowd: 3 guitars, 2 basses, 1 drummer/ percussionist, 2 violins, 1 banjo, and a bellydancer. (No, seriously.)

They looked more like a gypsy caravan than a band, and once they started playing, the resemblance only deepened. I am Mesmer's music was crazed, carnival-noise-esque folk-rock, wild and spiraling and headstrong, yet still definitely an "ensemble" of sorts -- they came off at times like a Russian folk-influenced Clouseaux, and at others like a less-sinister Motherhead Bug (and if you've got no idea who they are, you owe it to yourself to find or download a copy of Zambonia somewhere, trust me).

There's also a wacky, off-kilter klezmer thing going on, which reminded me of all those old, bizarro cartoon themes by Raymond Scott, alongside the Gogol Bordello-ish gypsy thing. Taken all together, the music seemed less about "songs" and more about the overall sound; I honestly can't remember a word of the lyrics, but have a remarkably solid image of what the band was doing, even still.

Of course, the visuals helped. I really loved the red, tiger-striped violin played by a lady who was dressed like a refugee from Dickens On The Strand, and was a bit surprised to find out she was actually Hilary Sloan, a well-respected local country musician in her own right. Apologies, Ms. Sloan, for any snide remarks regarding your choice of headgear that happened to come from my, um, general vicinity...

The band, simply put, was great. They had a grin plastered across my face from nearly the second they started playing, and I could scarcely look away. They were -- and yeah, I have to say it -- mesmerizing, as in "totally, mind-numbingly cool." My one complaint would be that things ran a bit long, shoving the headliners' set even further later than it would've been otherwise, but eh, that's minor in the grand scheme.

It was a bit of a sad set, by the way, since it was slated to be bassist Mike Whitebread's last with the band; he's get married and then heading out on tour, playing guitar for a Muslim country singer (yes, really) named Kareem Salama on a tour of the Middle East & beyond. Good luck to him w/that.

IMG_3750 PETER AND THE WOLF: Even considering the other bands playing, these guys were the mistake of the night. I'd heard Peter and the Wolf before, both stuff from their earliest EP and from later full-length Lightness, but I'd never actually seen them. So I was expecting jangly, off-kilter folky story-songs the likes of my favorite track "The Fall", all about quirky instrumentation and oddball indie sensibility.

What I got, on the other hand, was, um, full-on Afropop. No lie; the band proceeded to blaze through a shortened set of primary-colored indie-funk, like The Rapture but way more lysergic and rainbow-y or a sweatier, more intense, less wussified Vampire Weekend. Frontman Red Hunter danced and hopped around the newly-raised Mango's stage in his sleeveless hoodie, playing an amplified thumb piano (or kalimba, as Hunter told me it was called) run through effects pedals, and surprisingly, it worked pretty incredibly well.

I figured at first that the thumb piano would only be for the first few songs, guessing it'd get old real quick after that -- it's a credit to Hunter and his sidemen (neither of whose name I got, sorry), though, that things stayed interesting and energetic throughout, revving the crowd into even more of a frenzy and getting 'em ready for the headliners at the end.

I tracked Hunter down after the show finished to grab a copy of his self-titled EP (which is very cool, I should note) and asked him if this was the band's new direction, and they'd scrapped the old stuff, but he assured me that wasn't the case. I mentioned how much I loved "The Fall," and he said they still played the song regularly, albeit in somewhat of a changed-up form -- tonight, he said, they'd specifically gone for the Afropop thing, but that they'd probably play the folkier stuff again soon. Good news either way...

IMG_3816 LISTENLISTEN: First off, I have to say that this was by far the rowdiest, most raucous crowd I've ever seen at a listenlisten show. The last time I saw 'em, there was nearly a reverent hush, like everybody was holding their breath. This time out, though, it was like a tent revival, with all the witnessing and clapping and whatnot.

I dunno; maybe it was the $3 "Frozen Black Plagues" the bar was selling (which tasted, btw, like the worst-tasted daiquiris I've ever tried), but the folks in attendance seemed pretty damn loaded by the 1AM mark. At one point photog Marc Brubaker fell while trying to take an up-close picture, and not only did one of the middle-aged, inebriated ladies up front fall down with him, but she grabbed his ass while trying to get back up. Ah, fun.

The band themselves seemed a bit bewildered, really, at the audience's reaction. And who can blame 'em? It must've been a bit off-putting when singer/guitarist Ben Godfrey started singing the a cappella intro to "On A Rope" -- which is, in case you haven't heard it, a cheery little song about how the protagonist is bound to die by hanging, leaving the world on a rope not too far removed from the one he entered on -- and realizing half the bar was singing loudly, boisterously along with him. "Woo, the inevitability of death! Yeah, man, rock out!" It was a little strange, and the guys in the band had a serious deer-in-the-headlights look to 'em for the first few songs.

Not that it hampered their playing, obviously. listenlisten rambled on nonetheless, spinning their intricate, oddly-instrumented, out-of-time stories about death, faith, the sea, and war (at least, as far as I can tell) out beautifully. The songs were somber and elegaic as ever, despite the live setting -- there was energy and movement, yes, but as always with these guys, it was measured and deliberate. They make music that's gorgeously melancholy and strange, like Red House Painters if that band were dropped into early 20th-century America and told to survive on their own. Close your eyes and listen, and you're transported someplace...else.

IMG_3854 They closed out (I think?) with a fiery, dizzying rendition of "When The Man Comes," which built rapidly to a crescendo of noise, sweat, and emotion and swept away pretty much everything that came before it. The song's slowly become my favorite on Rhodesia, but live like this is the real reason why; it's hard to not be left dumbstruck after witnessing the band attacking their instruments with the fervor of wild-eyed penitents.


  • Ran into Marcus from Golden Cities/Esotype Records, and he had good news & bad news. The new Tambersauro record's well underway, it sounds like, but the label's hit some hard times, apparently, and is having to slow things down a bit. Which is sad to hear, because they're a fine, fine bunch of music-loving folks.

  • On the positive side, Marcus is currently working on setting up a spacerock festival of sorts, currently called Lost In Space and due sometime in December at a secret-for-now (but very cool) Midtown venue. He was kind enough to ask yours truly if SCR would sponsor the deal (answer: "um, yeah!"), so we'll go into more detail later about it, but keep an eye out for now.

    (Oh, and Golden Cities are opening for Maserati on October 19th at The Mink, so mark yr calendars for that show, too.)

  • Got to hang out again with both Marc Brubaker and Adam Newton, the former of whom is writing for Houstonist these days and the latter of whom is currently writing up shows for the Houston Press. Nice to see y'all again, yo.

  • And it's official: Robert Ellis is in every freaking band in town. Including this one. And I am Mesmer. Does the guy sleep? I'm guessing not.

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