Justin Vernon & co. return to the river

July 10th, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, Review

All photos by Kyle B. Smith unless otherwise noted

The third installment of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival blossomed up in Wisconsin, once again finding its own special way of putting the heart in heartland.

Posted on the grounds of the festival was a copy of Bring Me a Unicorn: Diaries and Letters of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Opened to pages 260 and 261, it was screwed in to a makeshift wall at eye level.

Saw white birches on way to Deerfield. They have the same breathtaking whiteness that white dogwood has. I don’t see why I am always asking for private, individual, selfish miracles when every year there are miracles like white dogwood.

Eaux Claires could also be dubbed a Collaboration, and Nature Festival. The gathering was comprised of myriad artful spaces in a natural setting each serving as a backdrop to what evolved in to a contagious form of artistic collaboration. All these elements, miracles like white dogwood.

From poetry slam interwoven with modern dance, to Twin Cities rapper Astronautalis free flowing rhymes backed by an orchestral ensemble, boundaries were defied in the name of a collective experience designed to reimagine what a music festival can be.

Friday headliner Chance the Rapper agreed: “This fest ain’t like no other fests.”

Photo by Kyle B. Smith

Festival co-founder Justin Vernon, a man who was nowhere to be found at Eaux Claires 2016 until debuting Bon Iver’s jaw dropper of a new album 22, A Million on a rainy Friday night, was ubiquitous this year. If not appearing at either his own or as a part of another act’s performance, he could be spotted darting between stages in a golf cart or on foot, in perpetual mad genius dishevelment.

At a kickoff block party Thursday night in “downtown” Eau Claire, Vernon and best pal Phil Cook got The Shouting Matches back together for a right-on-time set of swampy, blues rock. The Shouting Matches’ 2013 LP Grownass Man is painfully overlooked, and quite a counterpoint to the abstract direction Vernon and co. chose for 22, A Million.

The Shouting Matches’ punchy opener “Avery Hill” set an upbeat tone that never let up, and flaunted a tightness that belied the years since a proper live set from the group. In “Heaven Knows,” Cook’s harmonica solo served as a dirty slap in the face. With some locals watching from the roof of a nearby ice cream shop, jagged instrumental “Milkman” ultimately closed out the evening. It was followed by a sincere reminder from Justin: “be good hosts.”

A mere twelve hours later, Vernon opened the festival at noon on a creek side stage about the size of the Troubadour’s. The crowd assembled during an ad hoc soundcheck, providing the early birds their worm: an up-close glimpse behind the curtain, and even a little whimoweh from Wisconsin’s own Wizard of Oz; Vernon warmed up his voice with a bit of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

“The People’s Mixtape Vol. 1” unfolded as a sprawling jam session. Eaux Claires co-founder Aaron Dessner joined an ad hoc group, including Vernon, Francis and the Lights, and a wild-eyed Matt McCaughan on drums.

Glitchy sketches of songs were played that later reappeared elsewhere during the weekend, as when Dessner and Vernon revived their dormant side project Big Red Machine. “Over My Dead Body,” “More Time,” or “You Are Who You Are” could be a few of the working titles, the latter of which is an emotive and life-affirming battle cry.

Disparate musical moments ruled the weekend. Amidst a dancey banger set, Sylvan Esso slowed things down for “Slack Jaw,” a song of their newest LP, What Now. The colorfully clad Julieta Venegas (the other JV) strapped on an accordion during her bouncy, percussive set, then later rapped a verse in the choppy “Eres Para Mi.”

From the back of the field, it was easy to see how Perfume Genius and the lithe Michael Hadreas stunned the crowd from the get go with the opening bars of “Otherside,” a piece that pops early on with a vertical trajectory that recalls the beginning of The Cure’s similarly-titled “Plainsong.”

Kate Stables and This Is The Kit came from the UK to play a crystal clean set that included songs of their 2017 release, Moonshine Freeze. Unlike Perfume Genius, This Is The Kit saved their explosion for its coda, “Hotter Colder.” Guest collaborator Aaron Dessner tapped into his Eaux Claires 2016 Day of the Dead chops, helping to drive a huge groove that birthed a dance party pretty much out of nowhere.

Wisconsin’s own Collections of Colonies of Bees were a fantastic start to Saturday. Their expansively wide open songs played to a still emptyish field under a massive blue sky. Nearby, friendly locals taught patrons to play kubb, a Nordic lawn game that finds it’s official North American capital in Eau Claire.

Photo by David Szymansk

As for the avant-garde af element, Astronautalis’ improvisational rhyming enriched the s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e Mixtape Vol. 2 set, which also saw Romain Bly singing in to his French horn, and another participant tearing newspaper pages in front of her microphone.

The Oxbeau stage, a basic wooden platform and roof set off a path, hosted Mountain Man, a group of three women (including Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath) whose acapella harmonies sound as if they had been born in the woods. A rapt audience filled trails in front of the stage, and climbed trees for an elevated vantage point. All of this a few steps away from a box of amplified chirping crickets (no, really).

Photo by Scott Kunkel

While Jenny Lewis teamed up with Phil Cook and others to form a “Hawaiian psychedelic swing band from Mars,” in actuality, there was no better example of the cross-pollination of musicians than during “Bon Iver Presents John Prine and the American Songbook” set Friday evening. The performance, which included somewhere around 30 contributors, paid homage to John Prine, the mailman poet who has written songs that are found at the crossroads of humor and heart.

Host Justin Vernon started by himself, tackling “Sabu Visited the Twin Cities Alone.” Later, the ethereal layers that help define Bon Iver’s indefinable sound emerged ever so subtly during “Unwed Fathers.” Amanda Blank and Spank Rock led a spirited take on “In Spite of Ourselves,” an unmistakably John Prine tune.

The music paused so that local poet and author Michael Perry could recite an endearing letter to his friend, Justin Vernon. Perry’s annual reading as “festival narrator” has become a centerpiece moment of the wholesome, barn-raiser of a weekend.

Perry waxed about their shared love of John Prine’s music, how Justin explored Prine’s catalogue on “tiny foam headphones” in his father’s minivan, being careful to make sure that the Discman was held in a way so the songs wouldn’t skip.

“We’ve talked about this, you and me, how we like heroes who run close to the ground,” Perry intimated, and then went on to poignantly reference John Prine’s oeuvre: “I like songs written in the key of empathy.”

Photo by Graham Tolbert

The narrator stayed on to sing, “It’s a Big Old Goofy World.” Soon thereafter, the man of the hour, John Prine, ever the gentleman and dressed to the nines, came to the stage just about the time it started to rain cats and dogs.

Mr. Prine, now backed by Bon Iver(!), began with the impeccably titled “Storm Windows.” Later, the musicians battled the elements during “Hello in There” and “Paradise.” All the artists came out for the family-style sing-along finale.

Set in Wisconsin, “Lake Marie” was an a propos but bittersweet farewell. Now 71, John Prine’s dapper suit and gracious mannerisms spoke to the presence of a man from another time. His departure from the stage during the outro of “Lake Marie” conjured an acute awareness of the inevitability of the passage of time; his waves reached beyond the outer edges of the festival field.

Photo by Graham Tolbert

This year, the network of footpaths, microstages and art installations tucked away in wooded areas at the eastern end of the grounds were significantly expanded. The quiet space sits under a veritable canopy, and is blindingly lush to those attendees who ventured from the arid west.

But Eaux Claires’ naturalism was not confined to the forest. In a “is this really happening??” moment, a thunderstorm encroached during the Prine set as The Staves emerged to perform his larger than life crusher, “Angel from Montgomery.”

The lyrics, “If dreams were lightning, and thunder were desire, this old house would’ve burned down a long time ago,” had just bowled everyone over when actual lightning struck in the sky above the stage.

The surreal event was serendipitously reprised the next evening, as Paul Simon, backed by six-piece orchestral group yMusic, closed out their performance with a masterfully restrained version of “The Sound of Silence.”

After a vicious deluge delayed and nearly canceled the set, gun mental gray clouds hung low over the scene, creating a damp, austere light that illuminated a collective moment of solemnity. Another miracle like white dogwood.

Photo by Scott Kunkel

Photo by Graham Tolbert

Set Times Announced for FYF Fest 2017

LA music fest expands to three days

July 7th, 2017
David Fisch
Category: Lead Story, News

In its 14th year, FYF Fest is looking to outdo every one of their previous iterations. Now spanning three days from July 21-23, the festival held at Exposition Park has landed insane headliners Missy Elliott (her only scheduled show this year), Frank Ocean (his first scheduled US show supporting Blond/Endless – following his cancellation of the other fests he was set to play prior), and
Nine Inch Nails (their first show since 2014). Speaking of “landed,” FYF has also added a sixth stage called “Outer Space” which will feature all day DJing.

With just a couple weeks out until the fest begins, FYF has announced the official set times for each artist, and as usually the case, there are some notable crossovers that you’ll need to figure out and maneuver carefully.

Unfortunate as it is trying to see Majid Jordan at the same time as Flying Lotus’ new 3D experience, Friday isn’t as complex as Saturday, which has artists like Perfume Genius, Built To Spill, King Krule, and Arca fighting for a prime spot while A Tribe Called Quest makes their storied return. Be advised, too, that some of these artists are playing full shows at venues before or after the weekend’s event, so I would research that first before feeling major FOMO at the Main Stage.

Sunday has an incredible wealth of heat-seeking indie acts between the 3PM-8PM hours like Cherry Glazer, Whitney, Andy Shauf, Chicano Batman, Moses Sumney, Nadia Rose, and Mac DeMarco, and they’re all playing on different stages, so you’ll have to utilize your time wisely and either catch a glimpse of each of these acts or commit to a stage or two and see their full performances. Based on previous experience, it would also be advisable to try and make it to Solange, Run The Jewels, and Nine Inch Nails in one go, as each of their sets are sure to be memorable.

The 2017 lineup might be the beefiest lineup in the fest’s history, for Los Angeles, and certainly that of 2017’s other festivals around the country, so make sure you’re a part of it. You can still get Single-Day, 3-Day GA and 3-Day VIP Passes at www.fyffest.com, and be sure to download the 2017 app on iOS or Android devices, as you can use it to explore the line up, see the site map, check out merch and vendors, and find your friends at the festival.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Ace Hotel

A religious experience with the gothic rock legend

June 30th, 2017
David Fisch
Category: Lead Story, Review

I tried my damnedest to witness Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds when I headed to Texas for South by Southwest, back when the band had just released Push The Sky Away. Being the festival virgin I was and having the naiveté to show up to a concert on time, I was turned away at the door as Stubb’s was up to capacity for the evening. I wasn’t necessarily disappointed (SXSW had so much other music happening), but a little part of me really wanted to see the rock music legend in his intense glory. I wanted to be surrounded by people in a place so unfamiliar to me, to unleash myself into the hoards of attendees and be the freak I wanted to be with the gothic punk man and his bad seeds ready to treat me to a night of emotional fury.

Four years later, I see them at The Act Hotel downtown, and I’m immensely happy I waited. Their latest album, last year’s Skeleton Tree, is one of Nick Cave’s most lyrically heart-wrenching records to date in a songbook of so many heart-wrenching moments, and that this show featured such songs of overwhelming gravity gave me chills, in a way that existential realization might make you “see the light,” in fear and accepting of it. Fate had it for me to see him this very night instead of before this moment.

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Meet Emmitt James

Wisconsin-born creative chameleon now an eastsider

June 27th, 2017
Kyle B. Smith
Category: Lead Story, News

LA, meet your neighbor Emmitt James.

The Wisconsin-born hip-hop artist and creative chameleon is now an engrained eastsider. With an ear for proper studio production, and an eye for design, James possesses a cross-functional creative vision that would make Jack White proud.

Take for example backyard gigs from Highland Park to mid-city, and the innovative ways James and his friends spread the word about these happenings. Emmitt designs custom made info cards that he & co. pass out in their daily travels to help spread that good word.

Emmitt’s main live act performs under the moniker Emmitt James & The Feel Goods, a rotating crew that typically includes drums, violin, a DJ, and female jazz vocals.

Their 2016 aptly-titled LP, The Feel Good Tape, is laced with James’ easy going conversational flow, plays on words, and humorous witticisms on life, love and the good and bad that falls in between. All of this lays atop lush production from a collection of talented producers. It’s a 20-minute journey on Euphoria Airlines worth taking.

Soon to come is a new EP, the tentatively titled Cigarettes, Porn, and Lotto Tix. Consider it a sort of homage to that trio of vices we Americans anxiously start to consume at age 18.

Below, check out James’ video for “Sunshine,” a piece that was filmed up in LA’s Griffith Park. “Sunshine” reimagines Mndsgn’s 2012 instrumental track “Eko,” to include James’ vocals and effects.

Emmitt James & The Feel Goods make their Low End Theory debut at The Airliner in Lincoln Heights on July 5.

Otherwise, catch Emmitt at COMETHOO with an RSVP to Two One Three Eight Four One Eight Nine Seven One.

For more of Emmitt’s sounds hop over to his Soundcloud page

For more information: @gaptooth_shawty (IG), @lostboy_emmitt (Twitter)

Win Tickets to Arroyo Seco Weekend!

The inaugural fest in Pasadena June 24th & 25th!

June 13th, 2017
David Fisch
Category: Contest, Lead Story

The music festival season – packed and flavorful as it always is – is receiving another one in form of the cool and collected Arroyo Seco Weekend, presented by Goldenvoice!

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LAMB Session: Allie X

Promoting her debut full-length Collxtion II!

June 9th, 2017
Lex Voight

Allie X is clearly a star on the rise. The enigmatic musician has caught the attentions of everyone from Katy Perry to major fashion photographers to labels and beyond. Her debut full-length record, Collxtion II, is dropping today and to help promote it she stopped by LAMB for a brief acoustic session and interview.
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Review: Frank Iero and the Patience – Parachutes

My Chemical Romance is dead long live the Patience

May 31st, 2017
Lex Voight
Category: Lead Story, Review

Its been almost five years since the demise of one of emo’s brightest and most enjoyable acts, My Chemical Romance, and its a specter that still haunts the collective scene as much as it does the band’s individual musicians. Examining the My Chem crew’s collective oeuvre, however, is getting more and more interesting with each passing release. The vast majority of that oeuvre, however, is due to the ever-expanding, ever-experimenting, continuously inspired Frank Iero.
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Strange 80’s @ The Fonda

A cornucopia of stars for Sweet Relief

May 19th, 2017
Lex Voight

This past weekend was a star-studded benefit for Sweet Relief, a non profit seeking to provide healthcare for career musicians. Covering all the biggest hits of the 80’s, performers like Tenacious D, Weird Al, Sarah Silverman, Taking Back Sunday, Anberlin, Slipknot, Velvet Revolver and tons more all put on a night to remember at the Fonda.
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Interview with Taking Back Sunday

On the eve of Strange 80’s Sweet Relief Benefit

May 8th, 2017
Lex Voight

Taking Back Sunday are truly a band that needs no introduction. Anyone who hasn’t heard of them till now has been living under a massive pop-music sized rock. They may not be your bread and butter, but the impact that they have had on both popular music and punk is undeniable. The band is going to be here this Sunday, May 14th, at the Fonda Theatre with a whole host of other incredible acts including Tenacious D, Anthrax, Velvet Revolver, Weird Al and Goldfinger for “Strange 80’s” — a benefit for Sweet Relief Musicians Fund.
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Photo Gallery: Kiian’s “Beverly Hell” Music Video

Exclusive behind-the-scenes of the making-of

May 4th, 2017
David Fisch

Last week, Los Angeles held it’s first ever “La La Land” Day, in no doubt a nod to the recent Oscar-winning film about two loving souls making out their dreams in the City of Angels. Treacle as that is, no fear: the same week also saw the release of single “Beverly Hell” from an upcoming record by LA’s own and up-and-coming Kiian. The single practically takes the very idea of “La La Land” Day and tells it to shove it, exploring the irony of a city that produces hopes and dreams also manifests the unsightly depression and social anxiety that often comes with it.

The track is pop production on ultra, with vocals on full effect and warmth synths and crisp percussion. It lines right along with what you might expect from the “pretty people” Kiian writes about, but his lyrics juxtapose in a way that they’re sometimes hard to swallow. I’ve always held the notion that people who actually originate from LA can see right through the glam and masquerade that the city is often portrayed as, and seeing as how Kiian is a fellow Angeleno, he offers up a cynical and quite on-point view of a city that’s mostly seen through a glass prism.

You can listen to “Beverly Hell” below, ahead of the release of a music video in the near future. I was on-set in the Valley to capture some exclusive candid moments with Kiian and the filmmakers, which you can view in our gallery below.