From New Orleans to Phoenix in New York

I'm back from a diet-obliterating trip to New Orleans where I consumed way too much good food. If you're ever in NOLA, check out Uglesiches. It's a tiny neighborhood joint that's been serving up delicious seafood and po-boys for 47 years. You need to get there early to get a table; have patience and a good sense of humor to deal with the waiter/busboy, but once you taste the food, it's all worth it.

One aspect of traveling that I enjoy is the plentitude of music listening time. I was able to reacquaint myself with many less-frequented tracks on my iPod, including Sofia Coppola's favorite band, Phoenix and their 2004 album, Alphabetical. Released back in March, it seems this album of perfectly crafted synth-pop has mostly been forgotten and will probably not show up on many top 10 lists.

Well, it may show up on mine, based on the strengths of just the first two songs alone. "Everything is Everything", a pulsating and energetic riff on existentialism, kicks off the album with a bubblegum chorus that will stick in your head for days. Then "Run Run Run" follows with another addictive refrain. Phoenix does not offer a complicated sound: they construct simple, almost ephemeral songs flush with sweet and sad melodic flourishes. It may be easy to dismiss them as lightweight, but if you're in need of some shimmering and stylish pop, you can't find much better than Phoenix.

Why is this relevant? Well, Phoenix are playing this Wednesday and Thursday at the Bowery Ballroom. It appears the Thursday show is sold out, but tickets are still available for Wednesday. Joining them will be Inouk, Benzos and Big Rock City. They've also released a live album, Phoenix Live! Thirtydaysago, which won't be released in the US until February. Until then, you can listen to three songs from the album.

It all starts with Greg Saunier

Last night's Deerhoof gig at the Knitting Factory will go down as one of the earliest I've ever been to (back on the subway at 8:50) as well as one of the most therapeutic (election recovery). I kinda knew what to expect after Deerhoof's spring show at Northsix, but that was also where I picked up their latest record Milk Man. Since then, I've gotten to know it way better and I appreciate their live show even more now.

First things first, Deerhoof is a band. They write pop songs, but very weird pop songs - melodic and almost sugary, but also spastic and noisy at the same time. It's certainly not straightforward but still ends up being catchy. And that's on record. On stage they turn it up and take the songs even further, staying mostly true to the originals but going absolutely NUTS within them.

I mentioned yesterday he has a three-piece kit. Correction: it's actually four pieces - kick, snare, ride, and hi-hat - with splintered drumsticks that take a serious beating during the show. It's hard to describe just how badass Saunier is, but he basically throws his body into these sick rhythms that border on chaos but totally work - and then he'll turn on a dime and drop into something straightforward. It sets the tone for the entire band, though I'd see Deerhoof over and over again just to see his fills. Lead singer Satomi Matsuzaki is also something else - she's really short, not much taller than the drumkit or bigger than her bass, and hops and bounces through the songs. She even has set dance moves for some tunes.

Last night's set was only about 50 minutes long but just right. They started with "C" from Milk Man and played a lot from the album through the set. What impressed me is how tight they are and how much they tweak the songs - adding a whole new intro to "Dog on the Sidewalk" and reworking the latter half of "Giga Dance" for example. Both of those were highlights along with "Milk Man" (the crowd fave) and "Song of Sorn" plus some others. (I only know the Milk Man titles.) The lowlight - Satomi's guitar got unplugged three times. Somewhat unfortunate but we'll let it slide.

The first time I saw Deerhoof, I was surprised it was a sellout. This time, I was surprised they were playing two shows in one night. I understand why though - they're an incredibly unique band that simply ROCKS live. I'll certainly be back next time. Did I mention the drummer is insane?

Keep things focused

The results of yesterday's election have had me in a bit of a funk all day. We try to keep things focused on the music here so I'll keep the politics to a minimum. But I've never felt as strongly about an election as I did about this one, and the results have me feeling incredibly detached from the rest of the country. It's really troubling to me, and almost surreal. As Gil Scott-Heron once said and Le Dust Sucker once sampled - "Mandate my ass." Indeed.

Perhaps I just need to lose myself in the rock n' roll - Deerhoof is playing two sets at the Knitting Factory tonight at 6:30 and 10:00. They ROCK live, with a drummer that will blow yer mind despite playing a three-piece kit barefoot. Here's what Pitchfork said in their review of Deerhoof's new (free!) live album Babidi Babidi Boo:

I've yet to hear to the live album, but it apparentlly falls flat - so catch the real thing tonight. They really are something else on stage.

Let's mention those late enteries

As we approach the end of '04 (there are only seven weeks left), it's natural to begin amassing lists of favorite albums released in the year. It's only a matter of days before music publications, journals and blogs begin the inevitable exercise of sorting through the detritus and picking the top [insert number here].

Who can we expect to find? I'd be surprised if the majority of lists are missing Wilco, Brian Wilson, Loretta Lynn, The Streets, and Dizzee Rascal. The Fiery Furnaces, Elliott Smith, Junior Boys, The Arcade Fire and even U2 will get some love. Then you have the Short List nominees I haven't mentioned, like Air, Franz Ferdinand, TV on the Radio and the rest. It's a crowded field.

I'm sure there will be a few "sure things" that will be noticeably absent: Bjork, Interpol, PJ Harvey, and R.E.M. immediately come to mind. I like all of these (save R.E.M., which I've avoided so far), but each had high expectations to overcome and each, in my opinion, fell a little short.

As for my own list, it's still in its rough stages. However, I can mention some late enteries. Certainly the Czars have caught my attention as has the shamefully overlooked Apostle of Hustle. I'm still digesting Nick Cave's latest double opus, but can say it's a strong return to form for the bishop of gloom. Then there's U2, of course. No list of mine is complete without a least one slot for their new album, if it lives up to the advance buzz. Other possibilities include Arcade Fire, Luna and Bark Psychosis.

So, despite the nagging feeling I've left off way too many amazing albums, I feel like I have a good handle of what I've enjoyed the most this year. I'm sure you'll see a complete listing from both Rajeev and me in December or January. Stay tuned.

Saturday Soundsystem

I was supremely excited to finally see Soundsystem on Saturday night at the Tribeca Grand. LCD Soundsystem has been incredibly sparse with its releases (four singles in two years) and just as sparse with its Jasminelive performances. It can be frustrating as a fan, but everything they've done is so good that you can't complain. So instead the hype builds and builds, mainly on the strength of the brilliant "Losing My Edge" and "Yeah" singles, the latter being the rare 10 minute song that you wish was longer. Their first full-length finally comes out in January.

I often thought of LCD as a James Murphy project, something he does on the side along with running DFA Records and being an ace producer/remixer. But it was clear from the moment they took the stage around 1:45 AM that they are very much a band, five strong in fact. (And dressed as cooks - it was Halloween after all.) Murphy was sometimes on percussion but mainly just handled vocals, backed by a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, and percussionist/guitarist. It was very impressive to see them live and realize how organic the songs all are. The band is super tight and pulls off the studio details of each song, but can also really jam live - showing it immediately with an excellent "Beat Connection" to start the show. Murphy is a great frontman with a ton of energy on stage. Combine this all with the hype and the fact that the songs kick ass and it's hard not to be swept up by it - I came in with very high hopes and I was not disappointed. (Being literally 3 feet from the stage didn't hurt, of course.)

The list of highlights has to begin with "Yeah", my favorite of their singles - or any singles from the past year. I've listened to this song many many times and tried to piece together who was doing what as it morphs from a funked up discopunk number into a full-on acid techno jam. Now I know - halfway through, the bassist switches to a Moog and starts tweaking it out, the percussionist joins the keyboardist on the electronics before heading back to his kit, and Murphy starts to pound away on his own drums. Simply badass, and positively fucking profound.

They could have just played "Yeah" and walked off stage and I would have been happy. Instead, we got a bunch of other highlights. The new single "Movement" works even better on stage, especially when it explodes midway through. It definitely got the crowd moving. It being Halloween, they also played 3 covers. Joy Division's "Transmission" ended the show and was the best of the bunch, but Danzig's "Mother" was good too. (We couldn't recognize the third.)

Though it may read otherwise so far, it wasn't a perfect show. The drummer broke his kick head midway through and struggled with it from then on - it seemed like it may have cut the show short. So no "Losing My Edge" as a result, which was very unfortunate. It was also LOUD and the mix wasn't perfect. But being so close, I guess that's to be expected.

All in all, a fantastic show that was well worth all the anticipation. I cannot wait until their full-length drops, and until then I'll have the new DFA compilation to keep me busy.

My weekend kicked off on Friday with a road trip down to Atlantic City

I'm not a big casino guy, but Tears for Fears was playing the Trump Taj Mahal - oh how times have changed. It seemed a good excuse to check out A.C., especially since I've been a Tears for Fears fan since getting the Tears Roll Down best-of back in ninth grade but have never seen them live. (Of course, it wasn't really an option until Curt Smith rejoined the group.)

I'll spare you the details of the NJ Transit + Garden State Parkway trip down, but we cut it pretty tight. Tight as in saving time with valet parking (AC-style) so we wouldn't miss too much. They opened with two songs from the new Everybody Loves A Happy Ending, which I've yet to hear, before dropping into "Sowing the Seeds of Love" (a personal fave) just as we walked in. That was basically the rhythm for the night - a few new songs, then an old classic, lather, rinse, repeat. I'll withhold judgement till I hear the studio versions, but the new songs seemed a mixed bag. They weren't bad as much as they were unoriginal, referencing either old Tears for Fears songs or other songs ("Come Together" and "What's Going On" come to mind). That said, "Who Killed Tangerine?" and the new album's title track were good.

The crowd was definitely there for the classics though, and the band played the ones you'd expect - "Mad World", "Pale Shelter", "Break It Down Again" (semi-classic), "Head Over Heels", "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" (to end the first set), and "Shout" (to end the show). The last three were the evening's highlights, "Head Over Heels" especially though I think I'm partial to that one. "Mad World" was a reworked version, unfortunately not for the better. "Pale Shelter" was more faithful but lacked the edge that makes it essential on record.

The band's edge was missing for most of the night, really. I think the sound was part of it - WAY too much reverb - but it may also be that they're getting old. My friend remarked afterwards that they sounded like a Tears for Fears cover band at times. I'm glad I saw them though, for the moments when they really clicked - "Head Over Heels", "Everybody Wants to Rule World", and "Shout" - and also just to finally see them.