Tag Archives: The Cat Empire

Not Your Mama’s Rockers

Bands that explore the definition of rock and roll, breaking down genre and expectation.

Nick Urata, left, lead singer of the gypsy-rock band DeVotchKa

Think of a rock song. Any rock song. I’m going to guess that the song you chose has certain elements. It has at least one guitarist, an electric bassist, a drummer who’s locking down the beat, and a singer with a soulful voice singing about love, lost or won.

And while there’s nothing wrong with that, today we’re going to delve into some bands that incorporate novel instruments and  ideas into their music.

A Young Bob Dylan

One of the first artists to bridge the gap between rock and another genre is someone most Peak listeners know well. I’m talking about Robert Allen Zimmerman a.k.a. Bob Dylan. From the time he dropped out from the University of Minnesota in 1961 until his electric debut in 1965, Bob Dylan played solely folk music, aiming to be a disciple of his idol, folk legend Woody Gurthrie. But as Dylan matured, so did his music, and he began to incorporate more rock themes into his work. The best example of this is definitely his most famous electric song “Like A Rolling Stone”, released in 1965. There’s a very prominent drum track on the song, thanks to Bobby Gregg, especially towards the end of the song, and of course you can’t omit Al Kooper’s impromptu position as session organist. “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) and “Hurricane” off 1971’s Desire are two more songs that feature a great folk/rock sound. To sweeten the deal, here’s an electric version of Dylan’s famous “House of the Rising Sun”:

Now, there’s someone I mistakenly neglected to mention when I was talking about some of my favorite drummers two weeks ago. Who? Billy Cobham, the Panamanian maniac. But what band does he play for? He played with Mahavishnu Orcestra, a jazz-fusion band that took a lot of rhythmic influence from Indian classical music. Take a look at this video, first of all to see how incredibly skilled Cobham is, and secondly to get a glimpse into the diverse nature of their music:

I don’t know why McLaughlin is talking so oddly, because while most of the band was from around the world he came from plain old Yorkshire, England. There’s some rock in there, some funk and a lot of violin, to boot. The Indian influence came from guitarist John McLaughlin’s studies with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. It was Chinmoy who bestowed McLaughlin with the name “Mahavishnu” which means “divine compassion, power and justice”. Here’s a track that’s a little more accessible, but equally as awe-inspiring:

Nickel Creek, from Left to Right: Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins

Switching gears now, we’re going to tone back the volume just a tad, as we get acquainted with the “progressive acoustic” (read: cool bluegrass) band Nickel Creek. Here’s their “Smoothie Song” performed live – the only one of their songs that to my knowledge has been played on the Peak:

You can already feel the rock vibe in their music. They’ve been getting steadily more progressive since their second to last release, This Side (2002). They’ve even gone so far as to include drums making them the most badass bluegrass band ever. Check out this song from their most recent album Why Should the Fire Die?

Helena

Chris Thile, who sings and was the primary mandolinist for Nickel Creek now carries on the progressive acoustic banner, releasing a fairly rock-oriented album, called deceiver, features this track:

On Ice

But despite all of the variations in rock music that we’ve seen so far, there is one rock genre that really strays from its counterparts – electronic rock. The eighties was championed by both good electronica artists like Depeche Mode and bad ones like Erasure (if you can watch this without smirking, you are a superhero). The nineties saw great bands like Moby and the Chemical Brothers. The torch was held through the aughts by some forward thinking bands like the Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, and Ratatat.

One artist who deserves a lot of credit for his exquisitely layered songs is Martin Dosh, who by day drums for violin virtuoso Andrew Bird and by night beeps, boops and loops his way to some fantastic music. Here’s a video of him at work in his at home studio:

It’s really incredibly to watch him move from instrument to instrument, adding and removing layers as he goes.

That’s all I wanted to talk about for today, but here are some other of my favorites to whet your appetites so you’ll explore what else is out there:

Roderigo y Gabriela – Two of the most accomplished guitarists I have seen, from Mexico City – mixing insane flamenco rhythms with rock music. They’ve covered Metallica, Led Zeppelin and others. Check out some of their music in “Other Music”.

The Cat Empire – From Melbourne, Australia, these guys have managed to tame reggae and jazz and make them work together in their five piece rock band.

DeVotchKa (Russian for “Young Girl”) – from Denver is probably best known for scoring the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, but they’ve got some great music, adding Romani, Slavic and Greek facets to a solid rock sound.

Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens – This artist gets enough weird points for embarking on a series of concept albums about the 50 United States (a project that’s currently on hold). But he’s known to throw some great instruments in his mix, from glockenspiels to horns and lots of strings.

Beat Circus – out of Boston comes this great folk-rock band. They cover such a range of styles that it’s hard to pin point what you’re listening to, but definitely worth a listen.

Owen Pallett – The artist formerly known as Final Fantasy, who I harbor a grudge against for saying in the Times Magazine, “[d]rummers ruin bands”. He goes on to say “If you’re in a mediocre band, just fire the drummer, and chances are you’ll have the best band in the world.” Other than that, he’s a fantastic artist who also uses a lot of strings, being a violinist himself, and writes songs with well thought out and elaborate orchestrations.

Here’s a beautifully complete song called “Tryst With Mephistopheles” off his album, Heartland, which came out this year:

…and if you listen closely to the track you can hear the sound of… are those drums?! It’s surprising how well they complement the song.

OK, that’s really it. Check back next week for what great concerts are happening in New York’s backyard in March.

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD:  MAHAVISHNU

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Concert Watch December 2009

“Cause I wore my tye-dyes
until they rotted to shreds
and I can no longer follow
The Greatful Dead
and it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even identify with most Phish fans anymore”

Phish

That’s from the Jeffery Lewis song “I Saw a Hippy Girl on 8th Avenue”. But just because most hippies have successfully made the transition into the 21st century isn’t a reason to shun Phish. As you might guess, there are plenty of great reasons to catch them while they’re in the area. Starting tonight through Friday they’ll be at Madison Square Garden, so you can just hop on down to midtown for what’s going to be a great show. They just put out a new album – “Joy” this year, which was a first for them in five years. And in part of the buzz-making process they played a full-length acoustic set a month ago at Festival 8. So anything will be possible at these upcoming shows.

Tim Reynolds

Also, tomorrow night you can catch another fantastic show – Tim Reynolds at the Blender Theater at Gramercy. Tim, as you know, is good friends with Dave Matthews since they met at a bar in 1987 and most recently played Electric guitar on Dave’s “Big Whiskey and the Gru Grux King” which came out earlier this year. Tim will be performing with appearing with the other two members of the Tim Reynolds Three (TR3). It’s going to be awesome, and what’s more – we’re giving away tickets to the show! Sign up in the lab soon!

Jumping ahead two days we come to a band that I’m very excited about and frustrated at the same time. Excited, because they put on an incredible live show, and frustrated, since I’m not going to be able to go. I’m talking about The Cat Empire, who are coming to the Nokia Theater on the 5th. If you haven’t heard of The Cat Empire, they’re a Aussie rock band out of Melbourne, that’s got a great world sound to their music. The last time they were in NYC was three years ago, where they opened for the Brazilian Girls at a free Summerstage show in Central Park.

Felix Reibl, right, and Harry Angstrom, left of The Cat Empire

But they’re back now, one album later, with the devilishly handsome Felix Reibl leading the vocals. Following close behind is Harry Angstrom, who’s voice can be heard on about half of the band’s new tracks. Harry backs up his powerful tenor voice with a blazing trumpet that cuts through the rest of the music. And he scats to boot. Of all the shows in NYC this month, this is the one I wish I could go to the most. So please, if you can, check it out for me and let me know how it was.

Good friend of the station Derek Trucks will be playing with his band down at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU on the tenth, with a follow up performance the next day at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill. Audiences at both shows will be treated to a performance by Shannon McNally as well, the singer/songwriter from Long Island.

Matthew Paul Miller a.k.a. Matisyahu

Now in the realm of Zion-reggae, December means Hanukkah time, and when Hanukkah rolls around, things come in eights. White Plains’ own Matisyahu knows this and that’s why he’s got eight shows this month – a climactic end to his appropriately named Festival of Lights tour, which has been ongoing since the release of his latest album “Light” in August. The 10th, 12th, 13th, and 14th you can catch the bearded bard at Webster Hall, and the 16th, 17th, 19th and 20th he’ll be at The Music Hall of Williamsburg. Each show will be with a different local artist ranging from indie singer Kevin Devine to dub rock group Dub Trio – both from Brooklyn. Check online to try and win free tickets from The Peak!

December gets rounded out with two great female performers – Ingrid Michaelson and Dar Williams. Michaelson will be performing a sold-out show at City Winery on the 21st, a Monday, as she settles down in New York for the holidays. She’s just come off of a host of shows abroad with fellow musician Greg Laswell in Europe. Hopefully you snagged tickets for that show.

Dar Williams

And Dar Williams will be playing at Southpaw Entertainment and Music in Brooklyn on the 27th. Support this Mt. Kisco singer by seeing her live in her home state. Plus Vanguard Records is offering a free holiday sampler of some of their singer/songwriters. She is giving away one of her songs, It’s Alright, which was the first cut off her 2008 album “Promised Land”. Incidentally, Greg Laswell is on the album as well, with his cover of Kristen Hersh’s “Your Ghost”.

So big things, as always, happening in New York’s backyard. Check them out – and if you feel like there’s a great concert or event going on that I should be talking about, feel free to leave me a comment.

So happy holidays – and make sure to see some great concerts so you’ll have plenty of conversation material to fall back on at that awkward holiday work party.

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PEAK KEYWORD: SMORGASBORD

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