The National with Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Wednesday · Southgate House
Matt Berninger's voice could bring down Richard Simmons. Dark and deep, it sounds like Tom Waits before the onset of time, cigarettes and eccentricity. The lanky frontman's distinctive baritone powers The National, a group — which also includes brothers Bryan (drums) and Scott Devendorf (guitar) and Aaron (bass) and Bryce Dessner (guitar) — of Cincinnati natives who left for the more urbane environs of Brooklyn, N.Y., back in 1999. The fivesome's self-titled 2001 debut broke the seal on a languid, Country-inflected elixir marked by Berninger's intoxicating, often poetic tales of urban ennui. Two years of living and loving yielded Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, which features a more versatile sonic palette evidenced by its album-opening one/two of the "Cardinal Song," a slow-burn mediation on love lost, and the dueling guitar dynamics of "Slipping Husband," yet another look into the abyss. Last year's seven-song EP, Cherry Tree, was no stopgap, yielding a brief but potent batch of whiskey-soaked tales and tones that's as compelling as many a band's entire output. Their latest full-length, Alligator, opens in typically strong fashion, as "Secret Meeting" reveals Berninger's patented paranoia in the first verse: "I think this place is full of spies/I think they're onto me/Didn't anybody tell you/Didn't anybody tell you how to gracefully disappear in a room." Moments later we get this intriguing confession: "I had a secret meeting in the basement of my brain." (Now that'd be a gathering. What's the entry fee?
A bottle of Chivas and the Leonard Cohen songbook?) From there, many an evocative phrase falls from Berninger's lips, always backed by his band's smoky, nuanced soundscapes. Yet studio dexterity is just one facet of their arsenal: The National ignite in a live setting, bringing an added layer of intensity to an already potent concoction. Talked about up-and-comers Clap Your Hands Say Yeah kick off an evening that's sure to stick in one's cortex long after the final note. (Jason Gargano)
Rasputina with Tarantula A.D.
Sunday · Southgate House
It's not easy to concoct something original in music these days, but Melora Creager has managed with the ecstatic melancholy of Rasputina. The trio's visceral soundscape comes from just a pair of cellos and a drum kit, but it's Rasputina's combination (and the resulting tension) of Pop romanticism, Goth weariness, Chamber Pop propriety and Rock energy that defies easy categorization. Creager's musical journey began when she left her native Kansas at 18 for the photography program at Parsons School of Design in New York, where she began playing cello (which she studied at home with her family) for a variety of Rock bands and arty projects. In the late '80s, she joined Ultra Vivid Scene, introducing her to the wider music milieu as an opener for The Pixies and Throwing Muses. Inspired by her experiences, Creager formed Rasputina in 1991. The band originally featured a third cello and exuded a much darker, bleaker vibe, particularly on their first two Columbia albums (Thanks for the Ether in 1996 and How We Quit the Forest in 1998). For Cabin Fever in 2002 and Frustration Plantation in 2004 (both for Instinct), Creager dropped the third cello and opted for a more baroque Pop atmosphere, mirroring the kind of massive string sound envisioned by Roy Wood with The Move, ELO and Wizzard and the gentle Chamber Pop lilt of Jane Siberry's later period. One of Rasputina's only constants has been Creager herself; the band's lineup has changed for nearly every album. With last year's Frustration Plantation, Creager added cellist Zoe Keating and drummer Jonathon TeBeest, the first Rasputina drummer to be considered "one of the ladies," according to their press materials. The trio — the first lineup to stay intact for two consecutive albums — is currently on tour promoting, appropriately enough, their new live release, A Radical Recital. A Rasputina show is felt every bit as much as it's heard, so prepare yourself for a full sensual event. (Brian Baker)
Butch Walker with Cary Brothers, Imogen Heap, Peter Searcy and Jim Bianco
Monday · 20th Century Theater
Although it's something many artists strive for, success can often be as welcome as the proverbial turd in the punchbowl. Just ask Marvelous 3 singer/guitarist Butch Walker. He and his M3 mates took their regional Power Pop success around Atlanta in the late '90s with their indie releases Math & Other Problems and Hey! Album and transferred it to Los Angeles where they were signed by Elektra Records. In 1998, Elektra released a retooled version of Hey! Album, which spawned the hit "Freak of the Week" and vaulted Walker and the band into the harsh glare of the limelight. The band toured relentlessly and made high-profile TV appearances before following up with 2000's smash ReadySexGo. In fairly short order, Walker dissolved the band, retreated from public life and had what he has described as "one hell of a nervous breakdown." When he felt the urge to work, he turned his back on the performance arena and pursued the production path, helming the boards for up-and-comers like SR-71 and Injected (Walker's demos got the band their Island contract) and making a name for himself as a smart young indie producer with a knack for assembling hits. When he finally felt the pull to record his own work again, he signed with Arista and released the quirky and largely ignored Left of Self Centered in 2002. In addition, Walker worked on a string of highly successful production assignments that shifted him to the A-list of in-demand producers, including Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan, American Hi Fi, Sevendust, Midtown and The Donnas. Once again feeling the need to make his own musical statement, Walker signed with Epic in 2004 and released Letters, resulting in a minor hit with the single "Mixtape." With both his production and performance sides reconciled, it seems as though Butch Walker might finally be ready to accept the idea of his success because he's negotiating it on his own terms. (BB)