Built to Spill, Ra Ra Riot, Arms & Windmill…or that time I tried to see four shows in one week

Posted: November 10, 2008 by jerkmag in VAULT -- archives
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At the expense of full nights of sleep, homework, and any hope of prompt arrivals to work and/or early morning class, I saw a boatload of amazing shows this past week.  That’s three concerts, to be exact, plus one in-store performance I sadly missed.  (It’s still a sore subject.)  Let’s look at the week in review, shall we?

Monday, Nov. 3: Ra Ra Riot at Hoxton Bar Square and Kitchen in (you guessed it) Hoxton.

I’d already seen my fave Syracusians the first week of the semester in Camden Town, but I had to show up to give them another London listen, this time in a smaller, more intimate venue.  A few of us Syracuse kids shipped out to the East End to the rather nice Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, a place I’d heard of and passed by before but hadn’t visited yet (partially due to its pricey drink menu).  The band tore through another energetic set, and it was a treat to be so close.  It felt a bit more like what I’d imagine of those old Syracuse house parties where they used to play.  Some of us even stuck around to say “hi” to them, and they seemed happy to meet some ‘Cuse kids as they began their overseas tour.  Check the photos:

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Oh, and I got this sweet t-shirt.  I mean, it’s got a dinosaur on it.  How could I resist?:

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Tuesday, Nov. 4: Built to Spill playing Perfect From Now On at Koko in Camden Town.

This was my most on-a-whim ticket purchase of my week of music, but I’m happy with my decision in retrospect.  Built to Spill is still a band I’m working on getting into, though Keep It Like a Secret is really growing on me.  I was a bit hesitant to go see them, as I was only familiar with about a dozen songs from their lengthy repertoire.  But the chance to see this pretty seminal band of ’90s indie rock seemed too good to pass up.  And in the words of my friend from the States in response to whether I should see Built to Spill as a spur-of-the-moment thing: “Always go to see Built to Spill as a spur-of-the-moment thing.”  I’d say he was right.  Doug Martsch, an aging indie rocker in a genre dominated by guys in their 20s, was rather reticent in between songs, but let his fuzz guitar do all the talking.  The guys were only playing the album Perfect from Now On — which has guitar solos of near progressive-rock proportions — and I felt so relaxed by their meandering, reverb-drenched melodies.  My favorite of theirs was “Kicked It in the Sun,” but the highlight of the evening was definitely their cover of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes.”  Really didn’t see that one coming.

In the interim — that’s Wednesday through Saturday — I saw a ballet performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Barbican theater in The City with my Shakespeare class.  As a lover of dance, I had really been looking forward to the performance, but it did contribute to three nights in a row being out of the flat from roughly 8:00 in the morning until 12:00 at night.  I was really scraping through by the end of the week.  All day Friday I was so excited at work to catch Cold War Kids doing an exclusive, free acoustic set at Rough Trade East (huge, heavenly record store).  When I rolled around to Dray Walk, however, the store was eerily empty.  To my disappointment, an employee informed me they had played some 45 minutes earlier. BLAST! Turns out the time had gotten changed since I’d originally heard about it.  Should’ve checked the website.

Sunday, Nov. 9: Windmill, Arms, and Rival Consoles at The Windmill in Brixton.

Fast-forward to Sunday evening.  I’d now gotten some much-needed rest over the weekend and was ready to embark on a cold and rainy adventure to Brixton in South London.  My friend Alex and I wandered into an adorable little nook called The Windmill.  I’d snagged these tickets in order to see Todd Goldstein, a multi-instrumentalist who goes by the name Arms for his solo project.  He’s also guitarist of Brooklyn indie outfit, Harlem Shakes, who’ll hopefully be dropping a full-length on us in ’09.  The night kicked off with some electronic goodness with a performance by Rival Consoles.  It did feel a bit awkward, though, to have this pulsating dance music coming from this lone guy on his laptop while the audience members just sat in their seats by the bar.  Todd went on next and played much off his debut Kids Aflame as well as some newer tracks I didn’t recognize.  As a newbie to the U.K., he cracked some cute jokes that the Brits seemed to enjoy.  He played it off pretty well when he broke a string halfway through his first song, too.  I most enjoyed songs like “Whirring,” and “Shitty Little Disco,” but was not surprised when I was blown away by “Kids Aflame” — three minutes of ukulele heaven from which his album earns its namesake. 

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 We stuck around to hear the Brit headliner Matthew Thomas Dillon who goes by band name Windmill (not to be confused with the venue, The Windmill.  Difficult, eh?).  He and his band — whose current line-up consisted of keyboards, a cello, bass and drums — poured out a series of indiepop melodies while Dillon laid down his somewhat whiny,  yet heartfelt vocals.  He had one of those hard-to-get-used-to, but worth-giving-it-time kind of voices…a bit harsh at first, but poignant in the long run.  And that’s not even taking into account how hilarious this guy was.  He free-styled an entire piano jam teasing his cellist who is currently sleeping with one of his housemates.  Plus, he inserted a bounty of blunt little jokes in between songs.  We were dying laughing. 

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In the end, this last show — in conjunction with the shock my sociology professor expressed toward my class when we told him we hadn’t heard very much local music — has inspired me to seek out more local shows in my remaining time here.  I’ve seen a lot of great American (and some European) bands and artists on their tour stops in the U.K., but it’s high time for some local musical discovery.  These shows are also typically free or very cheap.  So everybody wins, right?

Here’s to saving pounds and British accents!  Cheers.

~ Julia Askenase

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