Friday, September 30, 2011

Rock Candy Interview: Phil Cook of Megafaun

They're pals (and former bandmates) of Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, Rolling Stone named them one of its "bands to watch" and their latest album is taking praise from everyone, including Pitchfork and Spin.

Many think Megafaun is going to break out (though Phil Cook explained to me how that it's impossible to predict) and I think they just might with the self-titled album, "Megafaun," released on Hometapes.

I was pleasantly delighted by the album, which sits somewhere between a regular folk record and an super-indie-sounding folk/pop album like Bon Iver's recent self-titled effort.

On its current tour, the band stops at The Waiting Room Lounge on Saturday ($10). While they were on the road, Cook subjected himself to my questions.

KC: What’s different about “Megafaun” compared to your past releases? A lot of people have said this album is a “reinvention.”

PC: We feel that way as well. We see it as a shedding of old skin in that we basically found a momentum in our process of writing and recording that we never had before. It yielded a work that was much truer, inspired and focused than our last records. We really flew in the studio and gave one another a lot of space to lead and grow with as well as quickly unified group decision making. It was incredibly rewarding.

KC: Do you think you’ve grown with this record?

PC: The way our band has always operated is by measured growth. If we're not growing with each record, show or rehearsal then we'd fall apart. It's that jazz mentality we grew up with: always striving toward mastery but never reaching it. Endlessly indebted and devoted to the process.

KC: The album feels a little more straightforward and very organic, including the songwriting. Is that something you were going for this time out?

PC: The intuitions and tenancies never change. What changes with us is the clarity with which we convey and unfold those intuitions. We've collectively written 40-some songs, ever. It's not that many but it shows you a scope of our arc. Completing any single idea leads you to the next one and along the way, you already know what you will do differently and better next time as soon as you put the cap on the last one.

KC: You recorded the album in Justin Vernon’s studio. What was that like?

PC: It's was Bon-tastic and falsetto-y! No, all joking aside, it was three weeks of laughing and grinning with my brothers, eating supper with our parents every night and trying to use our time wisely.

KC: Eau Claire’s getting some attention since you guys and Justin Vernon are from there. Is that cool for you?

PC: Eau Claire has always has the potential there. All it took was a general awareness to be heightened amongst the community itself. People realizing they not only wanted the same things from their community, but that many were already working on the pieces separately. Now they're working together. I credit Volume One, the local free weekly that started back in 2002. Great folks.

KC: The band’s gotten a bigger and bigger over the past several years and the praise seems to keep coming for “Megafaun?” Do you think the band’s on the verge of something big? Or is that something you don’t even think about?

PC: Well that's a silly question, admit it. (Editor's note: Yeah, OK.) When has the congruency of critical and mass praise ever been a predictable channel? It's one huge gamble and the odds have never been anything but ludicrously daunting. The only way to make any sort of sure bet is to try to follow your principals and keep yourselves in check. We play for anywhere between 12 and 600 folks a night. What does THAT fantasy football spread leave you with?

If you're in it to get big, you're well on your way to becoming a full fledged asshole. If you're in it to get by, well then welcome to America.

Listen to "Get Right" from "Megafaun:"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Smashing Pumpkins to play Slowdown

Billy Corgan performs with the Smashing Pumpkins in 2007, at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C.
Alt rock fans should get our their calendars and cash. Another band is coming to town and the show looks to be quite a special performance.

Smashing Pumpkins will perform Oct. 11 at Slowdown. Yes, Slowdown, the 470-capacity rock club in north downtown, not a theater or arena.

The last time the band played in Omaha was in 1997. To more than 7,800 people.

Read more »

Photo by The Associated Press

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eric Church records "Drink In My Hand" video at Stir Cove

If you were at Eric Church's concerts at Stir Concert Cove over the summer, you may have been aware that something special was happening.

As it turns out, the concert was being filmed for a music video of "Drink In My Hand."

“I’d went there for the sole purpose of getting live footage and maybe doing a video, but just filming the show. The crowds were so great there that we just kind of decided on the fly that we would shoot the video. It wasn’t really planned out," Church told "It’s really just showing our live show and showing some of the stuff that went on during those shows in Council Bluff, and really just trying to show what ‘Drink in My Hand’ looks like live. We got some shots of the crowd, and at one point I jumped off into the crowd a little bit … it was pretty damn crazy! It was something that was fun to get on camera.”

He obviously loves the crowds here as he keeps coming back. And he sells enough tickets to his shows that he always sells the place out.

The video's pretty awesome because it features a ton of local people.

Were you at the show? Did you spot yourself?

Thanks to Marq Manner for the tip.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Gear Up: iFrogz headphones and earbuds

You can imagine how happy I was last week to find a box at my desk full of headphones. iFrogz asked me if I'd like to take a look/listen at some of their products and I was happy to oblige.

So, I bring you the inaugural edition of Gear Up wherein I review music and audio gear of all kinds. This time, I'm taking a look at three models of headphones by iFrogz.

To test these puppies out, I picked two pieces of music. The Beatles' "Abbey Road' and this year's self-titled album by Bon Iver. Both have lush soundscapes, sweet melodies, vocals and deep bass and drums. Especially Bon Iver's "Perth," a song heavy with sound.

Mogul headphones
These babies are just about the top of the line from iFrogz. They retail for $69.99, but sound like they should cost more. Wearing them the first time, I could tell these were incredibly superior to the earbuds I've been using for the last year or so.

These headphones delivered both nuanced and rich pieces of music with incredible clarity as well as a good amount of low-end from the bass and drums. You really don't know how much of the music you're missing until you plug in with a good pair of headphones.

I could easily pick out different instruments and felt like I was getting the full experience of a song.

The headphones are mostly comfortable, but a bit heavy even though the body is constructed from plastic. They're not flimsy, but don't feel super-sold either, but I do enjoy the addition of the headphones' DJ-style mounting (the speakers rotate outward making it easy to hold just one speaker to your ear).

Rating: ★★★½ (out of four)

Vertex headphones
The Vertex headphones were comfortable, lightweight and had a sturdy metal construction as well as a full sound. They didn't quite have as much bass as the Moguls, but were still miles better than your standard earbuds.

These bad boys retail for $49.99 and that's about right. The addition of the inline microphone (great if you're listening to music on your phone) is also pretty slick.

One thing that I noticed that's neither a plus nor a minus: These seemed to be set at a higher volume than other headphones I've used.

Rating: ★★½ (out of four)

Timbre Pro earbuds
Easily the best earbuds I've ever used. The Timbre Pros have a speaker chamber made out of wood, which gives them a much more rich and warm sound compared to regular earbuds. At $49.99, these cost quite a bit more than standard earbuds, but they do sound better.

Of course, they're earbuds, so they don't have as much bass and everything sounds more blended together than listening on a good set of stereo speakers or standard headphones. But they're a great option if you're looking to upgrade.

The Timbre Pros have an inline microphone that I used several times with my iPhone 4 and seemed to pick up my voice a little better than the earbuds included with the phone.

Rating: ★★★ (out of four)

Gear Up is a regular column to review audio and musical gear and accesories including stereo equipment, earplugs, instruments and anything else music-related you can think of.

Have a product that you'd like us to review? Send it to Kevin Coffey, 1314 Douglas St. Suite 700, Omaha, NE 68102.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This Week in GO

Every Thursday, the World-Herald puts out its GO magazine inside the pages of the paper. You can also find free copies on a rack near you.

In each GO is a bunch of music stuff written by yours truly. For your perusal, I give you the following.

Rock Candy: Next week has plenty of chances to check out bands - Lots of great local music is happening including Conduits and It's True!

• CD Review: Nirvana, "Nevermind" 20th anniversary reissue

Live Music Calendar - Live concert listing from 09/22/2011 to 09/28/2011.

Ticket Booth - Ticket information for upcoming concerts, including those just announced.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Guns N Roses coming to town

Yep, you read the headline right. GNR in Omaha.

Sadly, it won't be the Guns N' Roses you see above, but the Axl-fronted, Slashless version that's together right now.

There's no date or venue listed with the Omaha date, but "Omaha, NE" is clearly on the list in between Nov. 5 in Texas and Nov. 12 in Kansas City.

I would assume the date would be something like Nov. 9 or 10 at CenturyLink Center Omaha.

Most cities on the list don't have a confirmed date or venue. The press release says more information (dates, venues and more cities) is coming soon.

The dates:
Oct 28 Orlando, FL @ Amway Center Arena
Oct 29 Miami, FL @ American Airlines Arena
Oct 31 Greenville, SC @ Bi-Lo Center Arena
Nov 2 Atlanta, GA @ Phillips Arena
Houston, TX
Nov 5 Dallas, TX @ Gexa Energy Pavillion
Omaha, NE
Tulsa, OK
Nov 12 Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center Arena
Nov 13 Minneapolis, MN @ Target Center Arena
Chicago, IL @ All State Arena
East Rutherford, NJ
Hartford, CT
Wilkes-Barre, PA
Worcester, MA
Camden, NJ
Detroit, MI
Cincinnati, OH
Nashville, TN
Indianapolis, IN
Denver, CO

Update: GNR is coming to Omaha on Nov. 8 at CenturyLink Center. More details here.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Live Review: MC Chris at the Waiting Room

I'm a music guy, but I'm also a big nerd, so when the two worlds collide in nerdcore hip-hop, I'm pretty excited. (For the record, I'm not one of those people that try to apply the "nerd" badge in an effort to be cool. My giant comic book and action figure collections speak to my geek cred, if there is such as thing.)

Probably the biggest nerdcore artist is MC Chris. His songs play in Honda commercials and whenever Blink-182 or Kevin Smith take the stage. And it's not just that he raps about Star Wars and Batman, it's that he's good at it.

So, I finally took the plunge and got to see him at the Waiting Room on Sunday, where he's performed a bunch before, but I've always missed it.

Not this time. I unfortunately missed the openers (I've heard good things about both MC Lars and Adam Warrock), but made it just before MC Chris took the stage.

For starters, it was a good show, though pretty short (an apt way to describe both MC Chris and his songs as well).

He kicked things off with "I Like Candy" and then tried three separate times to do "Nerd Cave" from his latest album, but he couldn't quite keep up with the backing track. So, to get it right, he started the entire set over, and from there was flawless.

He queued up songs from an iTunes window on a laptop and launched into excellent rhymes in songs such as "Hoodie Ninja," "Motorbike," "Nrrrd Grrrl," "Pizza But" and his "Star Wars" anthem, "Fett's Vette."

My personal favorite was "OMC," in which he rapped over a combo of the "Back To The Future" theme, "Power Of Love" and "Axel F."

A couple times during the show, I thought MC Chris came off as kind of a jerk to his fans. He made one kid who was using his phone during the first song go to the back of the crowd. Later, he asked another fan not to sing along so loudly. To be fair, it's his show and you have to have a little respect for him vocalizing frustration with obnoxious fans, but it certainly takes balls to tell a fan exactly how they can or cannot enjoy themselves at your concert especially when those people paid $13 to see you perform.

Still, the audience respected and adored him. He had total control as the crowd calpped, waved and sang along with whatever he asked. He also silenced the backing track during one song and the crowd shouted back every word.

A big part of is love by fans is evidenced by how he stays after every show - including Sunday's - and stands by the merch booth to talk to every last fan. Very few artists (Ben Kweller and Matt & Kim are only ones that come to mind) do that, but it's an excellent way to build an audience and I love when artists do that.

Between his songs, he also cracked a lot of jokes about video games, obscure movies and all the stuff that nerds love. He's genuinely hilarious and I was laughing hard, which made me wonder why there's not a group of stand-ups that riff on pop culture and nerd stuff. They'd sure have my support, but I've never heard of any. (Of course, feel free to tell me I'm wrong and direct me to someone to check out.)

In the end, it was a perfectly excellent hybrid of geekiness (especially with the costume contest mid-show) and music that I'd love to see replicated more often.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Column: Big Harp returns for CD release

Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney of Big Harp.
Big Harp is about to embark on a family road trip.

The band featuring husband-and-wife duo Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin-Senseney is touring this fall, and the couple are taking their two young children along.

Former Baby Walrus drummer John Voris will join them, both because of his musical skills and his "awesome fit" with their kids.

"We have a minivan. We're gonna get a trailer," Stefanie said.