Wilco at Lelacheur Park, Lowell, Massachusetts: I kind of knew what to expect with Wilco (they've issued both a concert DVD and live 2CD set lately), but at this point in their career, Jeff Wilco has the luxury of sharing a varied, tuneful, and challenging back catalog in concert, along with songs from their new self-titled album, which stands up to their best older material quite well. In fact, both Wilco and the show make a great case for Wilco as the American band of this decade – they've got songs run the gamut from post-Dylan folk, through smart, tuneful pop (something I liken to
progressive bubblegum), to Can/Neu-cadences and noisy, but perfect musical outbursts. The crowd immediately welcomed the suitably rocking Statement Of Purpose “Wilco Will Love You” and stayed appreciative as the thunderstorm front rolled in, lightning off in the distance, through motorik beat-driven “Kidsmoke.” Almost right on schedule at about 10:15 PM, the clouds drenched all, near the end of the abbreviated encore. I'm pretty sure nobody left disappointed despite that.
Hellblinki at the Lily Pad, Inman Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Lily Pad is a decidedly more intimate venue that Lelacheur Park – it's a small space with a few rows of chairs in a storefront. I was tipped to Hellblinki by netochka who really didn't offer much in the way of details except that I should not live to regret not seeing them, and being the trusting sort who has probably had enough regret already in this lifetime, I decided to give 'em a try. First up were Jaggery, who I'd describe as a free-ranging female vocalist working a jazz-informed rhythm section. Fans of the Cocteau Twins, Kate Bush, etc. might dig it. (As it turns out, they were missing their harpist.) That turned into a set with Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys – Walter first sat in with Jaggery, after that it was the Toy's turn. They were kind of charming at first, but after a while, the material (including a cover of Michael Jackson's “Bad”), blurred into one minor-key dirge after another.
Helllblinki were pretty cool: imagine three people piecing together music to entertain themselves after some future unspecified breakdown in the larger social structures Out There, using the blues, cabaret, and found recordings to tell stories and relate to their listeners. They are actually much larger collective in the studio: their CDs are a bit denser, but still, the live show was lively and intimate distillation of what they're all about. (Photos.)
Bleu at a house in Providence, Rhode Island: Ha, if you think the Lily Pad is a small place for a gig, how about some guy's house ? Bleu just finished a record release tour for his long-delayed album A Watched Pot. I was planning to catch the tour at T.T. the Bear's in Cambridge, but I was obliged to stay in South County (Rhode Island) then, and then I found out about this house party gig on Facebook. So I show up, grab a 'Gansett from the fridge, chat with some folks (including Mr. “Bleu” MacCauley himself), and after the schmoozing, the audience moves to the cleared-out dining room and Bleu performs (with guitar, some pedals, sequencers, no band) in the front parlor. The new songs sound good, and after a new, he does most of set off-mike – after all, he's got a strong, expressive voice, and doesn't need help to be heard over even the amplified electronic backing in a living room. The windows are open, so the neighborhood sounds are leaking in, and it's more like a serenade than a record release show.
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