Birthday Week. Epic.

Added video because the show was SO MUCH FUN. This wasn’t recorded by me, but it’s nice quality and a fun taste of the show.

“Do you wanna dance?” asked Sufjan Stevens to his crowd over a thumping beat in the middle of his sprawling over 20 minute epic song “Impossible Soul.” It’s a strange thing to hear in the middle of such a massive work but indeed it’s a strange question from Stevens at all. After all, this is the same artist that composed a 40 minute orchestral work to a freeway. This is the same artist that composed odes to the states of Illinois and Michigan with sing-song choirs and trumpets and strings. Last night at the The Tabernacle, however, he was an artist in the midst of a re-direction of style and sound. Sure, Sufjan Stevens has dabbled in electronica before, most notably on his early work Enjoy Your Rabbit, but never before has it been central focus of his work and never before has his work been well, so dancable.

I had a lot of skepticism when I first listened to Stevens’ newest album, The Age of Adz, but what doesn’t work in recorded form soars when experienced live. Decked in silver with glow-in-the-dark paint streaked across their face, the twelve-member band brought out the best in the album, playing almost exclusively songs from the album after opening with “Seven Swans.” Stevens mentioned that theme of the night was “love, loss, and the apocalypse” and indeed the theme came through in the music. The title track achieved the massive apocalyptic feel with crashing horns and a powerful chorus. The sultry track “I Walked” (maybe my favorite on the new album) grooved and swooned betraying the sad lyrics. Then there was the massive “Impossible Soul” which seems too long on the album, but was stretched out even further in concert yet never dragged as Sufjan entertained the crowd (“I am your entertainment for the evening”) with choreographed dancing, yes dancing and autotuned singing. So overwhelming was the piece that when he returned for the encore to finally play familiar songs like “Chicago” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” it was actually anti-climatic, almost feeling like he was covering someone else’s songs so convincing was the change in style of the show.

And the crowd. What did a crowd of hipsters, perhaps many smug that they couldn’t recognize a Lady Gaga song on the radio if they heard one, think of this new sound? Well, they danced. As only awkward white kids could. The response was rapturous. Can music by Sufjan Stevens be danceable? Maybe “it’s not so impossible.”

Ok, so now that we’ve covered last night, let’s start from the start of what has been a pretty epic birthday week. I don’t ever really make plans for my birthday, I always feel a little presumptuous making my own plans for my birthday, but nonetheless awesome things always seem to happen around my birthday. We started off the week with dinner at La Parillia with my girls on my actual birthday and the part was that no one told the wait staff it was my birthday, so no embarrassing clapping in the resturaunt. Thank you, awesome family.

Thursday was a pretty amazing concert as well. Adriene and I left the girls with our incredible babysitter and went downtown to see Anberlin at the Masquerade. Adriene was also excited about the openers, Civil Twilght and Crash Kings who were both enjoyable. I’m glad I saw the setlist on the soundboard because I wasn’t as enthused about the opening songs, but I knew the good stuff was coming later in the show and when the started cranking out “The Haunting”,”Resistance”,”The Unwinding Cable Car”,”Impossible”,and “Feel Good Drag” the show really started rollicking. We stood behind the soundboard, but quickly got annoyed by the crowd back there (the ones that were our age I should note) and made our way down to the front with the teenagers where the real fun was happening.

Saturday before I went to see the Sufjan Stevens show, my family showed up to celebrate my birthday. We decided to do it real low key by ordering food in and just enjoying the afternoon at our house. We watched football and played with my baby niece while the girls played around our feet for a nice relaxing birthday before I left for the concert. Like I said, I don’t plan these awesome weeks around my birthday, but they always seem to happen year after year.

Lost Dogs – Old Angel

I’m a big fan of travel, a big fan of history, and a big fan of Americana so it should come as absolutely no surprise that I have an infatuation with Route 66, the old US Highway that runs from Chicago to Los Angeles. The old road has long been bypassed by Interstate Freeways, but continues to live on as a tourist destination, or rather tourist travel. When one of my favorite bands, The Lost Dogs, decided to try their own take on the old road, I was in on the ground level. It’s no wonder the band would look to Route 66 as an inspiration for songs, the road has a wide variety of geographic sights and tourist traps from hotels shaped like teepees, to Cadillacs buried nose first into the sand, to a giant blue whale sitting in the middle of a pond. The road has also gone through several phases of existence, from the cord of life for Dust Bowl stricken farmers to try and find employment in California in the 1930’s, to the essential route to vacation destinations like the Grand Canyon with hotels and tourist traps to boot in the 1950’s, to a battleground in the 1960’s and 1970’s for small towns trying to save their existence from the freeways that would carry their traffic past and never into their shops, inns, and restaurants.

The Lost Dogs aren’t certainly the first band to dig into this rich soil for content, but the four members, Terry Taylor (of the band Daniel Amos), Michael Roe (of the band The 77’s), Derri Daugherty and Steve Hindalong (of the band The Choir) took it on themselves to gain first-hand experience of the road travelling together in a RV from end-to-end while filming the entire trip. The band played shows along the road and explored forgotten nooks and crannies away from the bright lights of gas stations and restaurants that sit right off the exits. The album explores the different parts of the road, starting with some thematic songs about the highway in general, including a re-worked version of Daniel Amos’ “Glory Road.” I really like the addition of Mike Roe’s Dick Dale-like surf rock guitar motif, but live version they played when they reached the Santa Monica pier has a faster tempo and I prefer it to the slower version they put on this CD. The cornerstone of the album is the middle section that focuses on the plight of Okies heading west along the dangerous, winding old Route 66 only to reach California hoping to find work there. This part is, as would be expected, somber and unsettling as Mike Roe croons “the wife cries/she wants to go back/but there ain’t no back to go back to/the banks and bulldozers made damn sure of that.” The next section of the album centers around the arid, dry desert that the road crosses through the Southwest, even evoking an Eagles-like tribute to Winslow from “Take It Easy” with their song “Goodbye Winslow” and a hopeful song about the children of a mission school on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona in “Desert Flowers.” Taylor writes “Dead End Diner” about a waitress located off the freeway pining for a better life with a little political satire mixed in (never a fan of any president, regardless of party, Taylor sneaks in the repeating lines “Obama’s on the radio/Here’s my money/Obama’s on the radio/Keep the change, honey”).

The match of Route 66 and Lost Dogs seems quite the fit as, like the highway, the members of the band have gone through several phases of their own history. Taylor, Hindalong, Roe, and Daugherty started out as pioneers in the 70’s and 80’s playing rock and roll in churches against some ridicule that rock was inherently sinful. In the 90’s they joined together as a novelty supergroup and in the last 10 years have coalesced into elder statesmen of rock and roll and thoughtful Americana music. Much like Route 66, they have been bypassed by bands that are faster, better looking, and get to the point quicker, but like Route 66 they are a still quietly delivering to those that take the time to step off the radio and explore what’s outside of the mainstream. All of the expected elements are here on the album, Roe’s guitar work, Hindalong’s quirky percussion, Taylor’s thoughtful penned lyrics, and some nice harmonizing from all four members. The introduction of a theme ties the album together nicely and the format of the album gives the listener almost a feel of traveling from east to west. The entire trip was filmed by the talented Jimmy Abegg as they visited with people that live along the road and hopefully that footage will also see the light of day, but for now, Old Angel makes for a satisfying travel journal of one group’s road-trip from Chicago to Los Angeles.

Cornerstone 2010 Wrapup

So, health-wise, Cornerstone 2010 was probably my least favorite year. I entered the festival sick and I left the festival as sick or sicker. Not a fun way to spend a week. Musically, though, the year was pretty good. Friday was incredible with a solid set of musicians from early in the day right up to the midnight show. The opening day was better than last year’s set of disappointing new bands, though the generator stages were, as probably expected, a total roulette with frequent schedule changes and unknown bands playing. Even with doing some research before the festival, I still didn’t know who was playing half of the time.

The veteran bands were strong, Over the Rhine returned to the festival and made up for last year’s absence by giving us almost two full sets. The Lost Dogs brought out a touching tribute to Route 66. Some of the bands that I hoped would have incredible shows, Future of Forestry and Paper Route, delivered. The only disappointment I had was that there were not as many interesting new bands. Campbell The Band showed promise, but I really only saw three songs by them.

I do wish I had seen more worship-focused bands. David Crowder Band was on Main Stage, but at the same time as another show I wanted to see and I think I would’ve enjoyed The Glorious Unseen more if I hadn’t been feeling so sick at the time.

So, let’s narrow it down to my Top 5 shows: (in no particular order)
Paper Route– This was my number 1 most anticipated show coming into the festival and they hit it out of the park. The band drew energy off of the crowd and the crowd was totally into it.

Deas Vail – Successfully navigated the rocky waters of moving from the side stage to Main Stage. Played much of their newest album which contains their strongest material yet.

Future of Forestry – Only three members played about 20 instruments. The band brought energy on the last day with a wide variety of instruments with drums, keyboards, guitars, cellos, and even a harmonium

Eisley – Welcome back DuPree family! Please come back sooner than eight years to Cornerstone.

The Kicks – Good old fashioned four-piece rock and roll songs with girl’s names in the titles. Just a fun show that reminds me of 80’s rock.

The Next 5: These shows are in the second tier, in no particular order.
Over The Rhine – The new songs are still in development, but it was very cool of the band to share them with us. Can’t wait to see how they end up on the new album. Two full sets of material gave us plenty to enjoy.

Lost Dogs – Loved the new Old Angel material and Steve Hindalong thrilled the crowd with twirling a rope. Not as much old schtick as previous shows.

Seabird – Nice end to the festival. The new album might not be as strong as their previous album, but it’s still pretty good and the crowd was into it even though everyone was fatigued from the long week.

The Choir – It was a little rough, sure, with some underrehearsed moments, but it was great to see the band back after a five year absence and the new music was great.

Nitengale – Strange to see only the lead signer at the festival, with the rest of the band dismissed, but his voice is compelling and the new songs are great. Even just on guitar or keyboards, the songs were enough to make me see him twice.

Five Bands That You Will Hear About Soon:
These five bands are flush with potential. We’ll see if they return next year, but if they do, they are going to come back with higher expectations and bigger crowds.

Campbell The Band – They toured around the grounds, playing impromptu shows on drums, guitars, and pianos and it worked, drawing a big crowd to the New Band Stage. They only had three songs, and they sound totally different than the EP they sold, so we’ll have to see what the develop into.

Quiet Science – I expected this band to turn the corner this year, but they still have some untapped potential. The promotion with the “protestors” and costumes was genius and I think it drew bigger crowds. The first Jesus Village show was a little rough, but they hit on all cylinders on the Impact Stage. They are still on the way up.

House of Heroes – For some reason I didn’t expect to like this band, but they rocked it out. The new material has a little bit of Muse influence and I may have to check out some more from this band.

News From Verona – This band is strongly influenced from bands like New Found Glory and Taking Back Sunday and the kids loved it. Fun teenage rock.

The Rendition – Nice piano rock with female lead vocals. I’d like to see this band again with a year of experience.

So there you go, Cornerstone 2010 is in the books! I hope I can go again next year, but just like every year, you never know. At the very least, I’m hoping next year I won’t be ill the entire week.

Cornerstone 2010 Recap: Saturday


By the last day, I’m usually starting to get in the groove at Cornerstone Festival, but this year I was still restless and sleepless at night and still suffering from my lingering illness and still dozing during shows. Something was definitely not right with me. Nonetheless, I only had one day left so I needed to get the most out of Cornerstone while there was still some festival left.

We arrived early to the Main Stage to see The Glorious Unseen, a unique and reverent worship band, but I was still sluggish from lack of sleep and the unshaded heat of the main stage made me sleepy. The weather, which had been just about perfect the entire week, had heated up just a little bit, but was still very much tolerable. Unless you are sick and sitting out in the open sun. I don’t really remember much about this show, unfortunately.

We stepped over to the Label Stage to see Tonight Tonight but again, I don’t remember much about the show because I still in a sleepy stupor. Going back to Main Stage, I perk up a little bit for House of Heroes who sound surprisingly good. They have a little bit of a Muse influence and they have a good rocking sound so I’m back paying attention. All The Day Holiday played next on the Main Stage and much like the Deas Vail show yesterday I was a little apprehensive about their show playing in the middle of the day on the Main Stage instead of with a lively crowd under a tent. All The Day Holiday didn’t do as well as Deas Vail, in my opinion, partially because they left off many of the songs that I like by them. A mild disappointment though I still do really like this band.

There wasn’t much going on in the afternoon and I still wasn’t feeling great, so I mostly stayed in the web trailer and caught up with blogging and photos and then enjoyed a leisurely dinner with everyone. This year we didn’t get an opportunity to all have dinner together at the Behm’s campsite which is a shame, that’s one of my favorite moments of Cornerstone, but the schedule didn’t allow for it this year. After a little bit of rest, I was ready to close out my Cornerstone at the Gallery Stage.

O’Brother started the night out and they were ok, but a little to abstract for my taste. I may have to give them another chance sometime. The next band Future of Forestry was one of the bands I had been looking forward to seeing all week. I was a little apprehensive because, like Paper Route, I had been talking them up all week and was afraid my friends would not be impressed, but like Paper Route they delivered the goods at the show. The band had only three members, but there were probably fifteen instruments on the stage as they moved between all of them. The show was incredible and I was glad to see this band that rarely ventures out of the West Coast. I may have some video of this show that I will upload later.

The last show of the night, much like last year, was Seabird This year, they had a new CD worth of material to play and it was well received by the crowd. The lead singer even brought his cute little four year-old daughter onto the stage (which made me really, really miss my two little sprites.) to say hello to everyone. The show was a nice way to close out the festival weekend.

Quiet Science was playing another show on the Jesus Village stage, but at this point, I was pretty much used up. We all went back to the web trailer to say our goodbyes to all the hardworking people on the coverage team at Cornerstone and chatted for a while before eventually heading out. The last night was kind of a coda to the whole festival, wrapping things up from the climax of the previous evening.

As for me, I slept almost the entire way home the next day and upon returning home discovered that I had a sinus infection. I don’t know how you get a sinus infection while you are still on antibiotics for a strep throat, but I managed to do it. No wonder I felt so bad during the week. Oh well, physical ailments aside, Cornerstone Festival 2010 was a great amount of fun and in my next post I’ll sum up the week and note some of the highlights.

Cornerstone 2010 Recap: Friday


Everyone comes to Cornerstone Festival for a variety of reasons to see a variety of bands, but almost everyone looks at the schedule and singles out “The Day.” It’s that day when from afternoon to after midnight, there is a great show after great show happening all day long.

The first thing I do is to check out the band Centralia Mine Fire They are a very young band that is mostly instrumental with a little bit of the old, old emo sound. Somewhat interesting stuff, though they are just getting off the ground. While walking back, I stop by a tent where a band called Oh! The Humanity is playing. They have sort of an Owl City meets 80’s metal guitar sound which makes me stop for a moment before continuing on to the New Band Stage.

The soundcheck took too long and by the time the show started a band curiously named Campbell The Band had only three songs to win the crowd over. Of course, the band had already done their work, canvasing the Cornerstone grounds playing impromptu shows for crowds of people. So, the tent was completely full for Campbell The Band and those three songs.

And how were those three songs? Not bad. The band got the crowd involved immediately by handing a drum into the crowd and playing it from the stage. It only took three songs to get the crowd rushing back to the merch table to buy the EP. The sound reminds me a little bit of a more rocking, ensemble sound based around Sufjan Steven’s symphonic music.

I was initially a little apprehensive about seeing Deas Vail on the Main Stage in the afternoon. Their shows on the tent stages in previous years have been great with a packed, excited crowd, but sometimes the crowd can be dead at the Main Stage early in the day and the band can wither. Fortunately, Deas Vail handled things just fine and delivered a quality show. Their new album Birds and Cages is one of the early leaders for my favorite album of the year so far.

On Friday, I got not one but two concerts by Over The Rhine, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. The band spread their material out over the two shows and I don’t think played the same song in either set, which was impressive. The afternoon set was a little more familiar, but they threw in a new song or two. For the festival appearance, they picked up Caedmon’s Call drummer Todd Bragg which was like two of my separate worlds colliding. The afternoon show was a fun preview of their traditional midnight appearance.

Quiet Science was one of the bands that debuted at Cornerstone last year that I was really looking forward to seeing again this year. They returned to Cornerstone with aggressive promotion dressing up in strange costumes and even bringing their own “protesters” to generate a buzz at the festival. I missed their show earlier in the week, but from what I heard the show I saw at the Impact Stage was better. I really think this band has a lot of potential. They haven’t quite achieved that potential yet, but it’s there, they are original and creative and I love the show. The execution will get there. I’m not a video person by any means, but I’ve uploaded my video of their song Queen Elisabeth on YouTube

Paper Route was probably the best I looked forward to seeing the most at Cornerstone this year and they completely and totally delivered. I’ve seen the band a couple of times now, even at the first appearance here at the festival a couple years ago. The band has energy and stage presence sure, but this year’s show at Cornerstone was something else. The band was all smiles, leaping across the stage and playing with gusto I’ve never seen in their previous shows. Girls in the crowd were so overwhelmed they were crying. Guys were nodding along with their eyes closed. These kind of shows are what make Cornerstone so special and different from other concerts.
More shaky-cam video from me here.

Later in the evening, Eisley continued the incredible lineup of artists on the Gallery Stage. The DuPree family is overflowing with talent as the four siblings and cousin played their first show at Cornerstone since they were mere children in 2002. Hopefully there will more material from this group soon as they have wriggled their way out of their contract with Warner Bro. Records.

By the time Over the Rhine returned to the stage for their midnight performance, it really did feel like an “encore” show as there had been so much great music all day. Over the Rhine was the cherry on top. Karin Bergquist and husband Linford Detweiler let us in on a couple more new songs as they are wrapping up the recording process of their newest album.

Up to the Over the Rhine show, the Gallery had taken on a younger and more rocking crowd than normal, but I’m glad it did. The stage has badly needed an injection of youth in both bands and crowds. The kids just need to learn that you sit down at this stage (that’s why there are chairs all over the place) and you stand at all the other stages. Other than some “down in front!” “everybody stand up!” drama in the crowd, I thought the changes to the younger were good for Gallery stage. What an incredible lineup of artists on Friday night. This was the peak of the festival for me.