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Thursday, November 18, 2010

The importance of house shows

Now that last week's Battle of the Bands and my first CD review are out of the way, I'd like to get into some actual blogging. This page is dedicated to really anything that has to do with Provo's music scene or local scenes in general. So feel free to send me an e-mail if you have an article you'd like posted.

Tonight (instead of doing homework) I'd like to talk about house shows. Provo has a bit of a problem, and it's that we only have two venues, one of which is difficult for new bands to perform in. I love both Muse Music CafĂ© and Velour, but Utah County has a lot of bands, many of which are very good, and they are often left without somewhere to perform. Plus the grand majority of people in Provo are not the type to go to pay $5-7 to see local bands, and don't know those venues.

But both of our beloved venues are relatively new, having opened around 5 years ago. Where did bands play before then? Was there just no scene here whatsoever? Well then where in the world did the Used come from? Did they just practice at home and then start playing big venues in major cities? No, Provo used to have a house scene. That was the only way bands could play. I grew up in a town without venues, and the bands would find anywhere to put on shows, usually with 5+ bands playing at each.

Let's also remember that Muse and Velour cater to only a small portion of music. On any given weekend, there's a very good chance you'll be watching an indie folk band (especially at Velour) if you're hanging between 1st and 2nd north and University Avenue. Lots of people don't feel like spending the cost of a meal to stand around and watch a band that may or may not be good.

Well before all that, there was the house show.

House shows have bad sound. House shows are crowded. But they're free, and they're fun. When you get rid of the stage and the lights and the pretension, you're left with friends enjoying music. People dance and eat and have fun. The first house show I attended was Johan the Angel, and it was an experience. The band was amazing, the crowd loved it, and best of all, it was free! I may have never listened to that band otherwise. The casual environment brings the music closer to the listener, and fans are made.

A couple weeks ago I, dressed in my Link garb, watched Tighty Willis play a Halloween party at a house called the Fort. All of us packed into that tiny room, I saw a lot of friends I know would never be at Velour on a Saturday night. But here they were, enjoying a band all dressed as variations of David Bowie, and having fun. House shows blur that line between concert and party. A band like Tighty Willis, who are great fun, benefit a lot from playing to a dancing crowd as opposed to people sitting around Muse's couches.

It can be very hard for local bands to get a widespread audience. There are thousands of college and high school kids in this county who love good music but have never gone to a show. But by bringing the bands to them, in their friends' homes, we get to enjoy each other's music. If it's a small, intimate, acoustic show, we get closer to the artist, sitting comfortably on a couch watching. If it's a bigger rock and roll show, we get to move and dance around, much less reserved about what others may think of us. Yes, the sound sucks, but does anyone care?

The house scene has been dwindling in Provo. With the exception of the Compound (a house venue that showcases some fantastic garage bands, but is rather infrequent in its shows), where can we go? Well, a lot of us have been talking about playing more house shows, and we'll be playing one this Saturday at 200 N 300 E. It's got Wild Apples, Archie Crisanto & the Travelling Salesmen, and Sariah Burdge. You can see the details on the Facebook event page here. There are great shows at Muse, Velour, and the Pig Pen (Pleasant Grove High) this Saturday too, but if you want to enjoy a house show, come see us play.

We're just trying to bring the music as close to you as possible. And we're just looking to have some fun. Let's resurrect the house scene and showcase some great bands. Then all that practice can translate to even better shows at our University Ave venues.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Bearcats - This Wildfire Magic EP (Review)

By M. Lewis Barker

Writer's note: This is the first record I've reviewed in 7 years so it may not be particularly thorough.

Bearcats are an indie rock band. They play catchy pop music with distorted guitars. Since they are already playing my style of music, one of two things will happen: I am going to be extra positive because they do a good job of it, or I'm going to extra negative because they've disgraced the genre. Don't worry, friends of Bearcats, it's the former.

This Wildfire Magic doesn't break a lot of new ground, but it is still a very well done 6-song record. The production values and mixing are clean which can be a big struggle for small bands. A lot of time and patience went into recording. (Although I'm sure local producer Travis White's magically sensitive ears would find problems with the production.) Each song has distinct melodies, but Bearcats never strays too far from a specific style. I would not be surprised to hear any of these songs playing in a television show soundtrack, thanks to both the production value and the high quality of the songs themselves.

And oh, my friends, these are well written songs. But they're not the sort of songs you would want to hear one guy with an acoustic guitar play at an open mic show. They work thanks to the instrumental arrangement. It doesn't ever stray from guitar/guitar/bass/drums, but each has its place and the sound never feels cluttered. They remind me of the New Pornographers, Apples in Stereo, and especially American Analog Set. Bearcats doesn't sound exactly like any indie band, but they are most assuredly the same genre.

The EP is upbeat. It's neither angry nor sad. It feels complacent, as if the band were happy with the songs they wrote. There's not a lot of energy in the vocal performance. I wouldn't call it tired or lazy at all, but it is very poppy and produced, lacking that human element that carries the weight of the words. They are another instrument, kept in tune and adding a layer to the music. The guitars are all distorted, but not too distorted. The drums keep such a solid yet light rhythm that I wouldn't be surprised to hear that they used a drum machine.

The fuzzed guitar and multi-layered vocals unify the album, but perhaps a bit too much. There is not a great deal of variation throughout the record. The transition from "Mineshaft" to "On/Off" might make you initially think you've put "Mineshaft" on repeat. But for the most part it works, and This Wildfire Magic isn't long enough for it to really matter. Plus the inclusion of the slower "This Will" helps to break any monotony and `really adds a lot to the end of the record. The EP would benefit by having something softer in the middle, but "This Will" works best as the epilogue.

I would listen to this album in my free time. That's the best compliment I can give it. It doesn't move me, emotionally, but it's good. I'm excited to see Bearcats when they next play in Provo.

You can purchase the record at for only $5. I suggest that you like classic indie rock.

M. Lewis Barker

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My faith is restored.

Last night were the Battle of the Bands finals. Muse Music was absolutely packed with people, more than I'd ever seen there before. Six bands competed for money and studio time.

Xan & Chase played first. I only caught their last two songs, but they actually put on a very energetic performance. I still didn't like it because they play (as a friend of mine put it) "Disney Pop". The crowd enjoyed them and they did a fine job of whatever it is they do. They can appeal to Provo's pop loving crowd I suppose.

The Crylics are just okay. I really wouldn't go out of my way to listen to them, but I'm also still a little peeved that they beat the much superior Kite Theory and  Ring of Scribes Thursday night. We caught them at the incredibly underwhelming Man Expo in Salt Lake earlier that day. I haven't paid enough attention to them to make a firm decision on what it is I don't like about their band, but it's probably just that they're still young and inexperienced. It's no worse than anything I did at that age.

We were up next. For the first time in all the many performances I've done, I felt kind of like a rock star. The room was absolutely packed and everyone cheered us on. Archie, JJ, Matt, and I played our hearts out. One nice thing about playing bass is I could make mistakes and no one noticed since I was being so energetic about it! I was actually enjoying listening to the performance as much as being in it that I kept wanting to clap after each song. I think we may have become a punk band last night with how fast we went through the set.

Foxheart (who I keep accidentally calling "Foxtrot" all week), once again brought a lot of fans. For how new they are, I really have no idea how they have such a fan base already. They are so close to being good, but something is off and I just don't enjoy listening to it at all. An electric guitar would really help, but I just don't really like the songs. More power to them though for somehow getting all those people to like them. I just have no idea how.

White Elephant is actually a very good band. I just hadn't seen enough of the set on Friday to properly judge them. They had a couple songs that I didn't like, but for the most part it was a solid performance, thanks in large part to Marina's fantastic voice. (I want to steal her for Wild Apples so very much right now.) I think you'll hear more of them in the future.

Last, but most definitely not least, was The Lunatic. While I don't care for their band name, they really blew me away once again. I already talked about them extensively yesterday, and all those points still stand. I wouldn't have been very upset if they beat us.

We waited nervously as the judges cast their votes. Archie was especially jittery. He had all but given up on local music before Wednesday, opting instead to just play bass in Wild Apples and Empirates. Now he was finally seeing a payoff to all the work he, and we, have put in this past year. It took a long time for Jake Haws to get on the stage and announce the winners, but he finally did.

Third place, $50 and 2 hours of studio time, went to The Lunatic.

Second place, $100 and 5 hours of studio time, went to White Elephant.

First place, $150 and 10 hours of studio time, went to Archie Crisanto & the Travelling Salesmen.

Suddenly all was right in the world. Personally, I would have chosen The Lunatic over White Elephant, but I'm just really glad that these are the three bands that placed. The other three were just OK at best, but I wouldn't listen to their music in my free time. But they have their audience, and it's just not me.

Thanks to everyone who came and supported us. I don't know when we'll be playing again as the Salesmen, but Wild Apples, a very similar band except more indie/alt, has some shows coming up. So check it out.

M. Lewis barker

Saturday, November 13, 2010

FINALS TONIGHT! and an explanation

Come check out the BotB Finals tonight at 8pm! Xan & Baker, Foxheart, Archie Crisanto, the Crylics, White Elephant, and The Lunatic will all be competing for $$ and studio time! Your participation matters.

Also, I've been hearing that a few people are disliking what I've written on this blog. First thing: The Lovecapades thing was a gag. They really are awesome people. Second, I'd like all of you to read this quote from Teddy Roosevelt (manliest man of all time) that has been on my Facebook profile for months now:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

What I say on here really doesn't matter at all. I'm actually really surprised at how many people have come across this blog in so short a period of time. I'm just one guy, who is a huge music snob, with my own opinions. If I say something negative about your band, don't get offended. I would absolutely LOVE for someone to actually give me some criticism on my music. The problem is, everybody is afraid to speak their mind. I started this blog to vent a little, and I realize that I went about it all wrong. But I will continue to post and I will continue to say what I think, whether it's good or bad.

I realize I should be more careful and constructive in my criticism. I see a lot of potential in these bands, including the ones I maybe lashed out against. If something I say hurts a little, maybe that's an aspect you need to improve. I know what it's like to receive criticism, but it helps us and that's all I want to do. But I'm just one guy, and you have absolutely every right to ignore what I say. But don't run around getting angry at the things I've written because that results in attacking me as a person when all I do is talk about your music.

Go to shows. Enjoy bands. That's what it's all about. But that doesn't mean we can't talk about what we really think, even if someone gets hurt.


M. Lewis Barker

BotB Night 5

I've created a Facebook page for this blog. Please "Like" it for updates!

Night 5 brought some surprises.

White Elephant played what seemed to be only covers. Despite the fact that they had a really good guitarist and everyone was more than competent, they just weren't very good. They seemed young so inexperience is the most likely cause. A whole pack of high school kids came to see them play. Even though the performance was mediocre, I can say I like the singer's voice. Marina Tijerino is that rare breed of alto that rarely fronts bands. Just write some good songs guys then practice them a lot. You'll get better.

My good friend Nate Baldwin and his band, the Sound (Grace LaBass, Robbie McGuire, and Archie Crisanto), put on an excellent show. Nate writes good, catchy songs. A couple of his tunes wouldn't be out of place as the theme song to a 90s sitcom. I've seen him perform enough times now to be familiar with them too, and that always makes a show more enjoyable. He puts a lot of raw energy and emotion into his sets. He'd benefit from a solid lead guitarist though, like he used to have, but it's not necessary. My only complaint (and yeah Nate, I know you're reading this) is that he sings too much from his nose, which always reminds me too much of New Found Glory who are so very awful. It's more of a psychological problem on my end than anything.

Third last night was the horribly dressed and even worse-mannered Lovecapades, fronted by everyone's favorite Puerto Rican Englishman, Colin Rivera (who really should have tucked his shirt in). I've seen them play a number of times over the past few months, and they've really improved. The Lovecapades are very catchy and very pop. A djembe is enough for percussion and fits the sound well, while Steve Foster's lead guitar keeps them from being too boring or generic. It's too bad they're all such jerks. (I kid. They are awesome folks.)

About 30 seconds into the fourth band, and I was right at the front of the stage watching them play, mesmerized. The Lunatic is an alternative, shoe-gazing yet energetic 6-piece. It's rare to see a band brave enough for three guitarists, but they pull it off. They are reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine or Yo La Tengo. They use a lot of two to four part vocal harmonies, and it works every time. Despite the fact that the use three guitars, a synth, bass, and drums, the sound never feels overly cluttered and each serves its purpose quite fine. Honestly, it was my favorite performance all week. It's not that they were the best musicians and maybe not even the best band, but they play the kind of music that appeals to me and that's a rare thing in this town of acoustic folk and generic pop/rock.

Due to some issues with the counting system, White Elephant and The Lunatic "tied" and will both be playing tonight in the finals. So it'll be six bands instead of five, and only two of those six are worth watching, but definitely come, because they are really worth watching.

Friday, November 12, 2010

BotB Night 4

Kite Theory writes some of the best music in Provo. I'm not too huge on the singer/songwriter thing, but Taylor Beckstead knows what he is doing with his voice and an acoustic guitar. Having Steve Mortensen on the keyboard and Michael Killian on the drums really helps the sound come alive. They manage to do more as a trio than most bands can with twice that many people. If you haven't seen them yet, I recommend you go to their next show and just sit and listen to what they're doing.

They lost last night to The Crylics, but we left to get food after a couple songs and came back later. At this point, I'm 80% certain that Archie Crisanto will be winning this Saturday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Muse's Battle of the Bands, Night 3

Last night was the third night of Muse's Battle of the Bands, and so far it was the night with the most consistently good bands. I actually enjoyed this show immensely completely from an audience perspective.

The first band was Mad Diving Barons, an acoustic folk trio with a very cool sound. Their songs were well written and well performed. The vocal harmonies between Chad Gibson and Chris Vidmar helped stand this band out from the usual local folk music. Personally, their song style would benefit from a couple more band members to fill out the sound, but I'm a sucker for big bands. They were great.

Up second was Tighty Willis. TW is a rock band, through and through. They have pop sensibilities but play them well. Their lead guitarist pulls off a mean solo. Their sound could be a lot tighter (hypocritical words coming from me, I know). They're a band that works best when playing in a tight room, packed with dancing people. I first saw them a couple weeks ago on Oct 30, and that show felt a lot more right to me than last night's, even if I couldn't dance much with a sword and shield strapped to my back. I look forward to seeing them in the future.

Archie Crisanto & the Travelling Salesmen played a terrific set next. I will admit that I am biased - Archie is my bassist and I've played in his own band more than anyone. When I'm in the audience, I just look like their biggest fan because I know all the words and parts of the songs. Travis White of Empirates filled in on bass. My singular complaint of Crisanto's music is that his songs are too long. We played a seven song set Tuesday night but my songs usually don't hit the 4 minute mark. Archie & the Salesmen can play that many songs and take 10 minutes longer. (Don't worry. I'm not being passive-aggressive by posting this on the internet as I often say this to his face.) Crisanto plays a rather unique blend of 70s rock with a very modern and punkesque sensibility. He said that last night would be his last show as he is fed up with the music scene. Those opinions he has are what helped lead me to make this blog. People need to actually say what they're feeling before too much resentment kicks in.

Last (but most certainly least) was Just For the Record. They describe themselves as Post-Hardcore. They are a band from Lindon with 2000+ fans on their Facebook page. I will admit right here: I hate hardcore. I hate it hate it hate it. As a teenager in southeastern Ohio, 90% of local bands became hardcore in 2003. And they were bad at it. I listen to a lot of amusical, weird post-modern music, but hardcore is "amusical" in all the wrong ways. It and its sister genre of emo can go jump off a cliff for all I care. I hated this stuff the moment I heard it.

That said, JFTR wasn't awful. I really enjoyed their use of a synthesizer. They know the genre and they play it well, but they belong to 7 years ago when people cared. They managed to bring a lot of fans, and we were sure they'd win.

Then they counted the votes. And I don't know how, but JFTR lost by THREE votes to Archie Crisanto & the Travelling Salesmen. Archie, who had all but given up on music, was ecstatic. I guess someone owes me a first born because I will be at the show this Saturday, with bass in my hand.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Muse's Battle of the Bands

I thought I'd get this blog kicking with content as early as possible. The introductory post is below this one, please read it.

This week Muse Music is hosting its semi-annual Battle of the Bands. Twenty bands are competing for money and studio time. Four bands play each night of the week with the five winners, chosen by audience vote, performing this Saturday for judges. Six bands have already been eliminated. Muse has a difficult time competing against Velour, and this BotB is a perfect opportunity to help support the venue. Each band does its best to bring friends to the show who will vote for them so they can win.

Do you see the problem? From a business standpoint, it's great for Muse. But from a musician's shoes, it's painful. The majority of the bands that perform are new bands without an established fanbase, so only the friends of the performers will go. It becomes nothing more than a "bring the most friends" contest. Sure, on Saturday, actual judges will decide who wins overall, but the bands they choose from may very well not be the pick of the litter. But let me reiterate, it's great for business because it allows Muse to get hundreds of patrons in only a week.

I complain because my band (Wild Apples) lost last night. Yes, it's a personal grudge, but it goes much deeper than last night's show. And now, treat all the rest of that like an intro and now I am going to start...


(These pictures were all shamelessly stolen from Facebook pages.)
First up last night was LUCID 8, a classic rock band. I can't get into much detail because we weren't able to see much of the show, but they had a solid rock sound. They seem like guys who have fun with what they do. They're the kind of band you would expect to see in a bar. They brought a lot of friends and family to the show who voted for them then immediately left (extremely common at all local shows). It was generic, but well played.

Soft Castle played second. Their sound is distinctly Funk Rock, reminiscent of Mark Broussard. One might call them a gimmick band, friends and musicians playing together to have fun. They played a few covers in their set, but the addition of a horn section really brightened up the sound. They were easily the most enjoyable band that I watched last night. Just pure fun. They only brought a few friends to the show, more concerned with having fun than anything else. I wouldn't mind seeing them in the future.

And now we come to Foxheart, the brainchild of one Chris Wiltsie. I'll preface this paragraph by saying that Chris is a very friendly and great guy with excellent taste in music. This is the third time I've seen him, and each time is an improvement. I first caught him at an open mic night last month, playing solo. The whole night was a rather painful experience. The only act I enjoyed at all was that of Empirates' Travis White. Wiltsie's performance, sad to say, did nothing to relieve me. Later I saw him perform with a whole band a few weeks later at Muse. It was much better. But still, it was pretty generic singer/songwriter poprock.

Wiltsie's music was much better last night with the addiction of Grace LaBass on keyboard. Grace is a friend of mine and very talented singer/musician who plays with Nate Baldwin & the Sound (whose current bassist is my own). She stood out from the rest of the band. All that said, I will paraphrase the words of a friend of mine: "If I pay another five dollars, can I take votes away from them?" They weren't that bad, but they were still the worst band of the night. And I mean that in terms of musicality, unity, and just the songs themselves. But Foxheart, possibly based on Wiltsie's friendly personality or the fact that there are like, 8 of them, managed to bring a lot more people than everyone else. I knew we were doomed. They had the most votes before they even performed. They have a cello though so they must be deep as balls.

Once they finished, we hurried to set up and get started. Unfortunately, as quick as we were, Foxheart's friends were much quicker to leave. We played our brand of punkish indie rock to 20-30 people. Those who actually stayed (which did not include members of LUCID 8 or Soft Castle which is a very awful thing to do when performing) really enjoyed the show. We had a few friends there who had never seen us before and that means a lot to me. Some guy gave me a card for his friend's recording studio and Wiltsie complimented my playing. Honestly it was one of the best shows we've put on in awhile and we had a lot of fun. It's still far from what I want to ultimately do, musically, but I have no complaints.

Honestly, the whole ordeal wouldn't bug me as much if the same thing hadn't happened the night before. Foxheart will be competing against Xan & Chase this Saturday. X&C are a sister and brother who play a genre I can only call "local pop". Xan is an excellent singer and Chase is a great guitarist, and they are backed by competent musicians. But they completely lack any melody which wouldn't be a problem if they weren't trying their damndest to be a pop/rock band. To be fair to them, I already hate that sort of music, but they do absolutely nothing to change my opinion of it. While I only managed to catch the end of Ghost in a Jar's set, but it was very good and did something different than many bands. They had few votes. X&C were far from the best band that night, but they'll be in the finals this Saturday.

Foxheart has a lot of potential. An electric guitar might help because face it, they're not Ferocious Oaks. But you can bet your first born that I won't be attending the finals this Saturday.

Brand new stuff

For a few months now, I've wanted to make a blog about the local scene here in Utah County. While Salt Lake has a couple independent magazines for their scene, the quaint and conservative town of Provo (and all its surrounding cities) has a regrettable lack of written discussion. Well I think it's time that we change that! As far as I know, this will be the first blog dedicated completely to the Utah Valley Music Scene.

For an introduction, my name is M. Lewis Barker. I've only been an active participant in the local scene for over a year now. I've been back in Provo since my mission since January 2009, but it took a few months to really get into the local scene. Back in high school, I was at 2-4 shows a month out in Ohio and I wrote articles for the local zine. I got quite a few angry responses to my articles because I would point out how boring a local band's album was or write a very scathing article on the growing but increasingly awful local hardcore scene. Currently, I play guitar and sing in the band Wild Apples, and I have played guitar and bass for Archie Crisanto & the Travelling Salesmen during the past year. I'm at Muse and/or Velour every weekend now doing my best to support the local scene.

I will say this as a disclaimer right now: when it comes to music, I am very opinionated. My firm opinion is that the majority of everything is crap. But I also respect crappy originality a lot more than competent predictability. All that said, if by some stroke of good fortune this blog becomes well known, please don't be offended if I say something negative about your or your friend's band. Remember that these are only one man's opinions.

I appreciate you reading that intro, and I will get to the good stuff later today when we discuss Muse Music's Battle of the Bands happening this week. Feel free to leave angry comments!