Yeah, yeah, yeah...we get it Mondays suck (we've read Garfield). But it means the start of a new week, which means a bunch of killer shows in and around Phoenix. And here are a few of the coolest, our top five must-see shows this week.
Atmosphere, the duo of Sean Daley (a.k.a. Slug) and Anthony Davis (a.k.a. Ant) has been a commanding force in indie hip-hop since the group formed in 1989. Not only did the two help found Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment, but their 2003 release, Seven's Travels, co-released by punk-minded label Epitaph, helped expose alternative audiences to the likes of left-brained hip-hop.
Some critics termed Atmosphere "emo-rap," due to the highly personal nature of Slug's lyrics, viewed by many at the time as a way independent rap distanced itself from the "bling and bitches" posturing of mainstream hip-hop. These days? Slug finds the restrictions of realism stifling.
"I think this 'keep it real' mentality that we've worked so hard [to create] has become a cliché," Slug says. "It's beyond cliché. We don't want to allow our rappers to be griots, to be storytellers. It doesn't make any sense to me. You really think that rappers kill people? You really think that Slick Rick got gang-raped in prison? These are just fucking songs, man -- everyone is just writing songs. Any other genre of music, and they will allow for these singers to be storytellers."
The Family Sign, released by Rhymesayers earlier in 2011, shows signs of Slug pushing away from a "keep it real" mentality while embracing a sonically live aesthetic, buttressed by subtle keys and jazzy guitar. The record features more straightforward narratives, like "My Notes" and "Millennium Dodo," but songs like "The Last to Say" and 'Bad Bad Daddy' showcase Slug layering his stories in strong, almost grotesque metaphorical layers.
But many missed the point.
"[In] the initial reviews, I noticed that a lot of people were taking the "Bad Bad Daddy" song literal, as if it was about a bad parent, a guy who's got a bunch of kids and is a shitty dad, and he takes them to the bar," Slug says. "Really, the song is about all the indie rappers that have come out of my balls. And 'taking them to the bars' was me taking them on tour and trying to be the 'parental elder statesman role,' with all these rappers, who are basically little Mini-Mes.
"It was kind of a shit-talking song, a tongue-in-cheek, boasting and bragging song that I wanted to use a metaphor for because I don't know if I'm allowed to make 'boast and brag raps' anymore. I always try to shield the shit inside of a certain story or something. I feel bad; it was almost, like, people were looking into it trying to figure out 'why the fuck would he make this song,' and they missed the whole joke."
Slug says that his records have always been made up of stories, though he admits his personal life does inform his work. (Check out "She's Enough," from The Family Sign, which features impossibly sweet lines like "She's my lady, case closed / She want a baby so I gave her one of those / Belly getting big, look at the tits grow.") But things are rarely as literal as they seem.
"I've got all these songs about being wasted in bars and chasing after girls and this and that," Slug says. "If I really lived like that, I would have died from whiskey poisoning or I would have herpes. We tell these stories to illustrate a bigger point."
For Slug, the trick is managing to figure out multiple meanings for a song in an effort to create something that varying listeners can relate to.
"I know I need to have a few different interpretations before I even get into it," Slug says. "I have to know where I stand with the fucking song, because I know there is some 19-year-old liberal arts student that's going to fucking grill me about it." --Jason P. WoodburyTuesday, September 25: Sondre Lerche @ The Musical Instrument Museum
If you jumped on the Sondre Lerche bandwagon after the 2004 release of Two Way Monologue, you no doubt dreaded the hype you thought he'd receive because of his collaboration with Regina Spektor on the Dan in Real Life soundtrack in 2007.
But somehow Lerche avoided the level of obnoxious hipness that his collaborator couldn't. His smooth, sweet crooning and charming stage banter make women swoon and smile and men tread the thin line between admiration and jealousy. Think Michael Buble with less Sweet'N Low and more Sinatra.
Following his self-titled 2011 release and his most recent live recordings, aptly titled Bootlegs, the Norwegian singer-songwriter went on a worldwide tour that most local fans assumed would skip over the Valley, as his tours previously have. But lo and behold, he's headed our way, to the ultra-swanky digs of the Musical Instrument Museum. Lerche's jazzy notions, pop hooks, zany synth interludes, and warm presence should fit in among the displays of musical history, as his songwriting draws on pop tradition, sounding classic instead of retro, vintage instead of nostalgic. --Heather Hoch
Don't confuse Il Volo with Il Divo, the pop-operatic boy band originally assembled by Simon Cowell in an attempt to bring some sex to the PBS-pledge-drive crowd.
Actually, go ahead and confuse them: Like Cowell's creation, Il Volo wring every ounce of emotion from the classical-crossover material on their self-titled debut, then find just a bit more to extract.
The twist? These fresh-faced Italians are honest-to-Dio teenagers, which gives their live presentation a splash of that special YouTube-savant sauce. They collapse the gap between Bocelli and Bieber. -- Mikael Wood
Here's something for a future episode of Behind the Music: the alt-scene diehards of Fishbone. The band's certainly followed the show's patented "career roller coaster": At SoCal's Hale Junior High in 1979, spastic saxophonist Angelo Moore joined five cohorts and began pumping out a concoction of funk, metal-laced punk, and ska.
They dropped a "one mega nuttbomb" on the same early-'80s L.A. scene that produced Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, providing hip whiteboyz with tee shirts to prove they were down with urban culture. Singles like "Party at Ground Zero" and "Freddie's Dead" helped propel them to prominence and a spot in 1993's Lollapalooza, but after original guitarist Kendall Jones quit to join a cult, and former bassist Norwoord Fisher attempted to abduct his former bandmate with a stun gun, only to be arrested, it was downhill for the 'Boners from there.
They've been dumped by a host of labels, endured multiple lineup changes, and have ridden the music periphery ever since. Still, their live shows are frenetic freak fests, as Moore and company provide an all-out aural assault. Stay tuned. -- Benjamin Leatherman
Pity the Americana singer/songwriter.
No matter how in vogue the genre may be (looking at you Mumfords, with a sidewise glare at The Lumineers), it's tough to stand out among the selvedge denim-wearing crowd. Tattoos? Everyone's got 'em. Suspenders? Grab 'em at Target. Punk past? Who doesn't have a Ramones shirt in their closet?
William Elliott Whitmore has got all that. A guy who came up strumming his acoustic in the punk scene and possessing a big gravel pit of a voice, he's emblematic of what's happening in "new folk" right now. Not that the tag sits comfortably on his shoulders.
"I almost don't like the term folk," the 34-year-old songwriter laughs. "People think of James Taylor, and that's not what I do. I like James Taylor, but what I do is different."
Different? Maybe. Excellent? Yes.
Whitmore's latest, Field Songs, isn't going to freak anyone out of a No Depression mood, but it's a solid, knotty piece of work, a hard bite of old fashioned optimism. It's a good "election year" record, with a fierce centrist streak ("Let's Do Something Impossible," "Get There From Here," "We'll Carry On") that makes you want to clasp hands with someone who might not share your every view.
"I was never a Christian, but I could always appreciate those gospel records," Whitmore says. "And every country singer has a gospel record; they've all got one. I don't really believe in god or anything, but what beautiful songs. I've always had that attitude about religion. But that feeling! I always thought, 'If I could put that feeling into whatever I believe in, my loose set of beliefs, if I could capture that feeling, I could have something.'"
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Something, dare we say, that doesn't really need any pity. -- Jason P. Woodbury