Wednesday, November 28, 2007

jose gonzalez @ the henry fonda

It is a well-known fact that things taste better when obtained for free. More importantly, though, is of course the matching theorem: music sounds better when it’s free. A big thank you to KCRW and to my fellow Would-Be Hipster who won the tickets and then promptly ditched us to lie on her cootie filled deathbed1.

I discovered Jose Gonzales in the most organic way possible… a recommendation and an invitation from a friend, only a few hours before seeing him live. I was in France, it was six months before his debut Veneer would reach stateside, thus for once making me cool simply by being at the right place at the right time. Proof positive lightening doesn’t strike twice. The show was a veritable Scandinavian smorgasbord, opened by Norway’s Ane Brun, and closed by Mugison from Iceland. Jose, representing Sweden, was sandwiched in the middle, a filling that was pure love. Or more correctly, it's introspective auditory equivalent. Parked at the merch table after the show, I frantically chased my dwindling supply of Euros around the bottom of my purse and bought a copy of Veneer.

With the new album, the beautiful In Our Nature, some may argue all Jose’s music is a guy with a guitar, that he's unable to evolve due to the simplistic limitations of his genre. To them I say, first of all, you're really stupid for putting such a high premium on evolution. Secondly, I'll agree. Yes, Jose does fall victim to the "guy with a guitar" least occasionally. But he’s a guy with a guitar and enough raw emotion and passion to take down an elephant -- provided said elephant had just gone through a painful breakup or was feeling particularly hormonal.

Live, Jose and his guitar are an emotional powerhouse. Although beautiful, and well crafted beyond fault, music isn't the main focus. With closed eyes and low soft voice, Jose takes the viewer on a journey, questioning the nature of love, devotion, and inherent human goodness (or lack of). The addition of percussionists on this tour only seems to drive home his more biting statements. Jose may be an artist whose music is a work of beauty, but he's also experienced the darker, heartbroken side of life. It's this dichotomy that drives his work and leaves the concert attendee not commenting on the show but considering himself.

With music personalized to the listeners' personal paradigms, it seems only appropriate that these epiphanies should take place on a darkened stage, the spotlight serving as a ghostly back light for Jose's profile. Jose is master of the auditory experience. Visuals? Now that's up to you. But don't worry. While not exactly deep2, we've got an amazing visual accompaniment to get you jump started.

1. Stay strong our fallen partner in geekdom!
2. We're called the "Would-Be Hipsters" ...what exactly were you expecting?

mp3: "Hand On Your Heart (Live)" by Jose Gonzales
mp3: "Heartbeats (Live)" by Jose Gonzales

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

palmer, ak

We would-be hipsters talk a lot about offering baked goods to indie rockers. We occasionally talk about offering alcohol to indie rockers. But the one person we've ever honestly considered sending a teddy bear to is Eric Howk.

Howk is probably best known as a guitarist for Seattle indie-pop punk sextet the Lashes, an amazing band powered by insanely catchy hooks, great riffs, confetti and, apparently, belt buckles. Earlier this year, Howk (occasionally known as Eric Lashes in a very Ramones sort of way) severed his spine, and has been wheelchair-bound since. He is, however, proof positive that you cannot stop the rock. Or, in the case of his side project, Palmer, AK, you cannot stop the indie.

Named for one of the small Alaskan towns Howk grew up in, Palmer, AK's music is comfortable, sweet, and occasionally as twee as this LA girl assumes a small northern community would be. The sound, however, is bigger – Howk plays everything on his first EP, a four-song, cassette-tape-recorded effort, which is to say that he plays nearly every instrument you would ever need, and a few I never knew one would need. (Someone who's not a Decemberist plays the melodica? Who knew.) There's a little bit of a 60s folk rock vibe to the chord changes that makes it feel familiar, but in an oddly fresh way. And, there's whistling. AND! A singing dinosaur. No, serioiusly.

Acoustic guitar, great melodies, chipperly lovelorn lyrics, all delivered by a cute boy. Really, what more could you possibly ask for?*

* The correct answer, of course, is pie. Hey Eric, next time you're in town, the lemon meringue is on us – we'll see you at House of Pie.

mp3: "Nate's Song" by the Lashes
mp3: "Revelry" by Palmer, AK

Monday, November 19, 2007

happy thanksgiving!

Have a safe and happy (American) Thanksgiving. We hope you get a slice of pumpkin pie, tofurky wing and thigh...whatever's your thing.

Now stop networking for the week, turn off the computer and enjoy the tiny break before the real madness begins.


The Would-Be Hipsters

P.S. While you're in your tryptophan-induced state of giving, don't forget your best sources for entertainment (other than us of course!) NPR and This American Life.

mp3: "Pilgrims Progress (live on This American Life)" by Sarah Vowell

Friday, November 16, 2007

dali @ lacma

It should be noted that I work as a production artist for an interactive design firm. What this means is that I spent all of last week designing cell phone wallpapers out of Warner Brothers cartoon characters, and concepting menu comps for an upcoming Bratz Kidz straight to DVD feature. Needless to say, when I was invited to the LA County Museum of Art, I jumped at the chance to see real art that lives in frames.

The collection at LACMA is filled with old friends I don't visit nearly often enough. (Ceci N'est Pas Un Pipe has been spirited away somewhere since my last visit. I hope it didn't feel abandoned by my inability to drop by more often....) But stealing the spotlight until January 6th is a Dali exhibit that is decidedly intense. We arrived at one o'clock on a Saturday, and the gallery was packed, the museum-goers forming a queue through the first room that moved like the line for Splash Mountain at Disneyland. And given the subject matter of dead insects, melting people, optical illusions, and many, many phalli, the situation seemed both oddly fitting and totally absurd.

Several films and clips are shown in the gallery, including 1929's Un chien andalou. Forgive me if I spoil the movie for you, but I think my favorite part of the whole experience was the unified gasp of unsuspecting art fans as a razorblade slices through an eyeball in the opening scene. (Having seen the film in an art history class my first year in college, I knew it was coming, but still had to watch.) Even more bizarre, however, is the truly surreal Disney-produced Destino. Concepted and begun in 1946, this six-minute animated film was completed in 2003, and is full of disembodied eyes, desolation, nudity, and "uh, what?" moments.

Of course there are paintings, notes, sketches, letters, storyboards, set decorations, and a phone made out of a lobster, each more bizarre, visually compelling, and uneasy than the last. The reactions of my fellow museum-goers seemed to range from awe to disgust. Even my fellow would-be hipster was surprised to find how viscerally disturbing the images were – she saw them as sexually charged, violent, and misogynist. I saw nothing of the sort. Well, okay, there's a lot of phallic imagery, and a lot of – what's the female equivalent of phallic? There were several uteruses, anyway, and one particularly intriguing piece, The Invisible Man, wasn't trying very hard to hide its sexual imagery. But I was looking at it more as a visual vocabulary, wondering what it was Dali wanted to say with his work that involved so many ants. It's much more about pushing boundaries to me. I'm not sure what boundaries though. Probably all of them. It's definitely an exhibit worth going to - even if you discover that you don't really like Dali, they've got The Persistence of Memory. As a warning, it's smaller than you think it is. Just like most rock stars....

Tuesday, November 13, 2007


The title of this entry is in no way meant to sound disgruntled, but rather celebratory that two years of waiting have at long last resulted in this beautiful, beautiful moment.

Now that I've oversold it totally...Today that most beloved of record labels, Barsuk, posted an mp3 from Field Manual, Chris Walla's upcoming solo album. It's called "Sing Again". A live, acoustic version of this song has long floated around the internet, and if you're familiar with it, this will be even more startling. If not, and you're a geek like me obsessed with both extreme contrast and putting everything in its proper context, then download that original version (provided below) and listen to it first.

It should also be noted, for the sake of that aforementioned love of mine, context, how much has heretofore been made of the reportedly political tone of the album in the wake of the drive seizure scandal. All this time I've been wondering if I'm the only one who cares what the album actually sounds like. Now I have one-twelfth of the answer. The lyrics are decidedly pointed, yes, but the evolved version of "Sing Again" also evokes bright colors and the urge to bounce around your living room. It's as satisfyingly layered and detailed as you'd expect from a man who also makes his living so conscientiously producing other people's records.

Some might call this overanalysis for one lonely mp3 -- especially when there are still more than two months to go until the release of the entire album. I call those people meanie-heads and I refuse to let them ruin my joy.

mp3: "Sing Again (Live)" by Chris Walla
mp3: "Sing Again (Album Version)" by Chris Walla

Sunday, November 11, 2007

jens lekman @ the troubadour

Subtitle: Svensk indiepop rockar fett!

In an effort to mix things up, I asked honorary Would-Be Hipster Erin if she’d like to add a guest commentary about Jens Lekman’s Saturday night show at the Troubadour. This lead to several minutes of her squealing, repeating "Jens" at an increasingly frantic pitch, and violent hand-flailing.

It is in that spirit that I present my completely objective review of the evening:

Dear Jens,
Marry me. No really. Marry me. Yes I realize this is an ill-advised idea, what with your cutting off of digits and my sad ability to take a prat fall at any given moment. Ours will truly be a blood-soaked courtship. But surely after your last album hit the top of the charts in Sweden you can afford the bubble wrap and band-aids needed to make this affair work.

Yours very truly,


Needless to say it was an evening of cute, started off my my newest favorite band Throw Me The Statue, a Seattle based collective fronted by Scott Reitherman. Newly signed to Secretly Canadian, their goal is to make the audience love them...naturally making them perfect touring mates for Jens. After sprinkling the audience with hand-held shakers and poppy hooks, even the few die-hard hipsters present made awkward attempts at dancing. Be sure to watch out for the debut album in February 2008, and remember, we here at the WBH wholeheartedly endorse twee-twinged angst.

Jens and his ever-adoring girl band took the stage to the strains of a Tough Alliance in matching, embroidered outfits, looking like runaways from a Sound Of Music stage show. The theatrics only snowballed from there, as the band stomped, danced, and emoted their way through the major hits of the ridiculously wonderful (and still unrecognized by mainstream America) Night Falls Over Kortedala. While the high level of musicianship allowed for almost a note by note recreation of the album versions, theatrics were the name of the game. "The Opposite of Hallelujah" was interjected with a live sample of Chairman of the Board's "Give Me Just a Little More Time," complete with interpretive dance. Any time not playing an active part, Jens' band frolicked, lending the stage the atmosphere of a retro dance party.

One of the night's many highlights came when Jens explained the story behind "A Post Card to Nina," a story I've only heard through a slightly drunk Swedish translator. "So it's very easy to get to Berlin from Gothenburg, it's only a twenty-hour bus ride...which costs about five dollars less than the forty-five minute Rhine Air flight," Jens begins. Once there, he's picked up by his lesbian pen-pal Nina, who takes him to her father's house for some "vegetarian German food...which was a completely foreign concept to me at the time." Before she opens the door to his flat, the story becomes like "a scene out of Buffalo '66...only German," when Nina admits, "I told them we were engaged." After the next verse Jens goes on to tell the next crisis in his growing French farce when Nina's father tells him, "I found you on the Internet - you have a beautiful voice." Jens smiles and adds, "At this point I start blushing...because it's true." By the time he gets to the song's conclusion, the audience is laughing and cringing right along with him.

Like Throw Me the Statue, Jens relied heavily on audience participation, encouraging clapping, singing and dancing. In an unprecedented display of affection, the entire capacity of the Troubadour broke out into dancing during "Friday Night at the Drive in Bingo" (Hipsters dance? Who knew?) and the "bommb boomb boom" heartbeat chorus on "Sweet Summers Night on Hammer Hill" was deafening. The love was mutual. After a particularly rousing audience-sung chorus, Jens paused, blushed, and told us, "You're the best audience I've ever had." Ah shucks, Jens, I bet you say that to all the anonymous rooms of strangers you play for.

The night ended with a solo version of "Pocket Full of Money" where, in a master class of sing-alongs, Jens managed to coerce the audience, not only into singing the low part while he riffed on the high vocals, but to clap and pull out the Throw Me The Statue shakers for one more run.

It would be far too easy to end this rant with an incoherent, giddy closing rant about the cuteness of the evening. Instead, after seeing the power Jens welds over his audience, I'll close with a warning to the full-fledged hipsters of the world: BEWARE! You may not be as cool as you think you are. At any given corner a Swedish indie-popper could be hiding, forcing you to gleefully dance to his sunny take on realistic life issues. Take care my friends. Take care.

mp3: "Maple Leaves (live)" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Your Arms Around Me (live)" by Jens Lekman
mp3: "Lolita" by Throw Me The Statue

Friday, November 9, 2007

joanna newsom @ walt disney concert hall

I'm secure enough to admit I have a Seinfeld-style girl crush on Joanna Newsom. I'm also a big enough wimp to admit Ys opener "Emily" makes me cry like a baby...every time. Much to the amusement of my mother, who funded this outing as the ultimate mother daughter event, this show was no exception1.

Joanna Newsom at the Walt Disney Concert Hall is the proof that sometimes talent really does rise to the top. Only a year and a half ago, I saw her at The Echo, in a show that included a twenty-minute tuning session (much to Joanna's mortification) and a ten minute, mid-set pause where the sound tech frantically searched for a way to drown out the frequency that was pumping, not lovely live harp music, but Mexican rock through the venue speakers. You've come a long way, baby.

To see Ys preformed live in its entirety is poetry in action. From its gestation period, as played solo at the aforementioned Echo show, to the condensed band version, to Friday’s 29-piece orchestral version, two things are abundantly clear: Joanna is a freaking genius story-teller, and, when creating what's essentially a five movement symphony, Van Dyke Parks is the best wingman in town. Joanna's not just out to play pretty music, she's exploring birth, life, death, and everything in between. The fact that she's been so successful in this exploration at the age of twenty-five is something I will never cease to marvel at and resent.

After taking us through the gut-wrenching, hour-long journey of Ys, Joanna returned to the stage in a short red party dress, neatly symbolizing a shift in mood. Likewise, the music was lighter as she played the linguistically-playful Milk-Eyed Mender. With a voice smoothed by almost three-years of constant touring, the material took on a considerably more sophisticated sheen. Peppered with die hard fans, the audience burst into applause at the beginning of every song as Joanna introduced newly rearranged versions of old favorites "Bridges and Balloons," "Peach Plum Pear," and a country-twinged version of "Inflammatory Writ."

The evening's encore ended with Sadie2 and an, as-of-yet untitled piece. Similar to in length and subject to Ys, the mystery song also recalled some of Milk-Eyed Mender's light-hearted wordplay. Having conquered the worlds of child-like innocence and world-worn beauty, the song hinted at an intriguing marriage of the two, a place where Joanna's muse might take her next. Wherever that next place might be, it's Joanna's ability to turn any concert into an emotional landmark that guarantees that we'll always be there to meet her.

1. No it is not hip to be seen in public with your mother. Do it anyway! She misses you.
2. Thinking it was about her dead dog, Sadie, like Emily, made me cry like a baby...until a show at the El Rey last year when Joanna clarified it was a song "about loving and appreciating people while you still can." While I'd like to say I no longer cry at the thought this song... well that would be an outright lie.

mp3: "Bridges and Balloons (live)" by Joanna Newsom
mp3: "Peach Plum Pear (live)" by Joanna Newsom

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

shout out louds @ the henry fonda

According to the July 2007 official census, Sweden has 9,031,088 citizens. Judging by the number of times Sweden has been, and will be mentioned in this blog, it is my un-official estimate that two-thirds of the population are involved in music. This is, again, just an un-official estimate.

By now, it’s obvious that I love the Shout Out Louds. They could spit on me and hit me with their guitar heads, and I’d probably mention that while the music was outstanding, the stage banter could use a bit of work. What did they do to earn such blind adoration? About three months ago, they wrote an album that perfectly dovetailed with my current life phase. For me, Our Ill Wills will always be cider and midsummer, midnight sun and Debaser, quarter-life crises and fruitless job hunts...hey somethings don't change much in three months, do they? Music love, like the reporting here at Would-Be Hipster, is far from objective.

With that caveat firmly established, Monday’s show at the Henry Fonda was awesome. Even after seeing SOLs a few months ago (at the height of my belief that the band had been sneaking into my room reading my diary Scooby-Doo style), I still found it in me to nod my head awkwardly and grin like an idiot. If I ever get too jaded to appreciate repeated viewings of my favorite musicians, I want someone to smack me.

The evening's highlight was easily the final three songs. Seemingly shy Bebban (regardless of actual personality, I always equate her with fellow Swede Victoria Bergsman) stepped to the front of the stage to croon “Blue Headlights.” Performing live, there’s an aching quality to her voice - when she asks, “We are good people aren’t we?/ Do you know?” one has to wonder: does she mean it? Of course, SOLs aren’t ones for overt pontification. Immediately after her solo, Bebban announced, in halting English, that the next act was Irish. Another set of accents, in the form of two Irish brothers, joined the stage and the band broke out into “Streams of Whisky.” The riotous drinking song segwayed into percussive, heavy “Tonight I Have To Leave It,” the evening's pre-encore closer, complete with frolicking, multiple drummers, falling keyboards, and crowd surfing. Crowd surfing, for what I can tell, is one of the best arguments for becoming a rock star in the first place. Attempt it to these mp3s at your own risk.

mp3: "Time Left For Love (live)" by Shout Out Louds
mp3: "Tonight I Have To Leave It (live)" by Shout Out Louds