Thursday, April 17, 2014

Juana Molina Interview @ Jammin' Java

I don't go to shows as much as I used to anymore, but April has been dang kind to me so far.  A couple of weeks ago, the Kraftwerk amazement, and then one of my favorite artists, Juana Molina at the Jammin' Java in NoVa.

Juana Molina started her career as a comic actress for Argentinian television, then moved to music and has so far released 6 albums including her most recent, the phenomenal Wed 21 that came out last year.  There is a brief bio of her here.  Her sound is completely unique and engaging, and in my top five all time, one of the ones I would have on my deserted island list, all of that. A review I wrote for her last album:

"Her sixth album and another stellar, solid release.  Whereas her previous albums have been mostly loops and layers of her guitar and voice, mixed with various electronic pings and pongs, this one has taken on more instruments, samples and musicians.  Her music has grown with a wider wingspan.  While maintaining her folk-tronica style, there is a sense of immediacy in the music, no longer awakening solely from the subtly of a single guitar note or vocal passage, the songs open more to a canvas of texture rather than building on the singular notion.  Some of the sounds are more aggressive in certain ways comparatively; at times warming, at times alarming, always grooving. As a result this is one of her best; she just keeps getting better with each release.  I would say this album may bear some higher levels of notoriety, and rightfully so."

I discovered her music when I first started to DJ at the station in 2006 with her fourth album, "Son".  Something in the way her voice carried over the looping tracks filled with interesting sounds and guitar that was hypnotic and satisfying to my punk bled ears.  It is much like how I enjoy Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" in its ethereal and dreamlike qualities, only Molina seems more organic.  So basically, yeah, safe to say I am a pretty big fan.

Wed 21
I found out about her most recent tour thanks to her Facebook page.  I read a post that she was looking for music stores in Chicago.  I did a double take, "What?  You mean she is IN the states?"  I immediately checked her web page.  I had promised myself that if she ever toured any where close to Richmond, I would make the effort to see her.  Scrolling through her tour dates, I saw Chicago, Philadelphia, New York -- all just a wee bit too far for my commitment.  Then, practically overlooking it, I saw Vienna, Virginia.  Vienna!  That's near D.C., I can DO that!

I immediately posted if anyone else was interested in going to the show, I was going regardless, then my friend Kate Andrews chimed in.  Plus she had a friend in D.C. that wanted to go, and then add my pal and radio co-host for River City Limits Ceci and we had a road trip in the works.  Of course, I also wanted to try to land an interview; really just a few minutes of her time for a couple of question to air on my radio show, a picture and maybe please sign a copy of her album?  After a series of emails, I came in contact with a great guy that helps her with sound on the road named Brenndan. He emailed me to text him when I got to the club.

Signed!  (I am not sure what it says.)
This was another example of the world WAY ahead of my archaic pay-as-you-go phone. I didn't know how to text, so screw it I would just call him, same difference, right?  So we get in and I dial, he says they are in the back doing sound check and to come and meet him there.  I do, Juana is kicking a bass-drum on stage, people are talking about levels and monitors, all that fun sound check stuff.  I don't really know what he looks like but I figure the meet will happen somehow.  Then some club dude comes up to me, certainly prepared to toss me back to the front, when I mention Brenndan's name.

"Oh, he's right over there doing sound check."

This was literal.  He was plugged into the board and levelling it all. Obviously this was a BAD time to talk, and probably pretty lame of me to call right in the middle of it.  I slink back to the front to join my friends for a beer and food and hope he calls back. The front of the club starts to fill up, people anxious to get to the back and get their show on.  There is some hipster with a brim hat and a suspicious bag that MAY contain interview equipment, I get a bit anxious and want to make sure I am before this guy on the media list.  I keep checking my phone, because I have no idea how to really work the text thing and just hope that I see he tried to contact me so I can return the call.  He does and we finally meet. He tells me how time is really tight on this tour. I understand this, all I am asking for is a few minutes with one of my favorite musicians.  He says maybe like five minutes and I am content with that.  So I narrow down my questions to the top five and wait for him to signal me back.

The comfy chair!
Meanwhile, a little description about the club, Jammin' Java.  It is in a strip mall.  Yes, a strip mall.  But that also means fantastic parking! And once you get in the doors it feels like any other club you would go to; the people were friendly, the food was decent, the sound was good, and they seem to regularly book decent acts.  My only caveat is that we paid an extra five bucks for V.I.P. seating which was a total waste. It was merely a slightly raised area with tables and a private waitress. Not much worth it for this particular show, plus I had made up my mind to go up front by then anyway.  A more crowded affair, maybe, but I would just assume stand and get close.

Looping magic.
Finally, Brenndan got me to go back for the interview.  It was in a room directly behind the stage, and there Juana sat on a crate beside a mirror and asked me to have a seat beside her on some plush yellow comfy chair. The interview went wonderfully, she is a delightful person to chat with and it was really intriguing to hear the way she described things.  For instance, the way she creates music at home she described as being very immersive and used reading a book as an analogy.  "You wouldn't be picking up the book and reading the book, but picking up the book and being IN the story."  There was even a sentimental moment when she described a show in Argentina that got her a little choked up when describing it.  Very touching.

Live in ominous red.
So the five minute interview turned into 20 and can be heard here.  I left the end part of her trying to read the radio station call letters WRIR because we were having fun and it really shows her humorous characteristics. Loved it.  She signed my "Son" record and I even managed an awkward picture on the couch kindly taken by Brenndan with his smart phone and sent to me via email.

Thumbs up?  No idea what to do here, picture came out nice, though.
So yeah, great huh?  I haven't even gotten to the show yet, which was equally awesome. She was accompanied by a percussionist and a keyboardist, which filled the sound out well for the club.  They played a lot from her new album, as well as a few of her older songs.  By the second tune, "Un Dia", from the fifth album, the small group of 50 or 60 people were in the Juana Zone and dancing and having a blast. There were even two gentlemen in their sixties from Argentina now living in the U.S. that had read in the weekend paper that she was playing, so they showed up intrigued. (They had a great time too!) She played about an hour with one encore, a great set and just what I wanted!

Afterward, Brenndan came up and told me that she really enjoyed the interview with me and hoped I enjoyed the show. He didn't have to come up and say that, so I definitely felt it was genuine and I certainly appreciated it.  I've done interviews for years and you can usually feel the vibe when the chat is awkward or when it is good.  This absolutely felt like a good one and it was great to get that level of confirmation.

The night ended with us getting back to Richmond in one hour and forty five minutes! Great timing and a great time!

Her live rig is fascinating.  Plus SG!

Again, here is the audio interview link: Juana Molina

Monday, April 07, 2014

The legend that is Kraftwerk @ the 9:30 Club

As I get older, I branch out musically.  I've always considered myself a "smart listener" when it comes to music, at least in the particular music interests that I have.  As a kid, I listened to the classics ranging from The Who to the Dead Kennedys.  As I prepared myself for college I even remembered being a bit geeky and reading the Rolling Stones "college charts", consciously seeking out some of them to "prepare" for my next level of listening tastes.  As time has moved on, I like to think I have turned into a pretty good researcher of music, especially being a DJ on WRIR.  Take the band Jesus Lizard, for instance.  I would not only get anything I could by them, but I would try and find stuff from their previous bands, Scratch Acid as an example.  It was just my way of being thorough with the music I liked.

These past few years I have really jumped into the entire "kraut rock" movement.  It all started with a sweet little compilation I picked up called Deutsche Elektronische Musik on the Soul Jazz label.  It is a pretty well represented (sans KW) sampling of the sounds that were happening with some really informative liners notes that discuss the history of the movement and how it stemmed as far back as post WWII.

Then the record collecting began.

Anytime I could pick up something from Can or Neu or Kraftwerk at the record stores, I would.  The sound is so good on vinyl, particularly Kraftwerk; you can really hear the nuances in the grooves. Of course, I remember Kraftwerk from my youth,  the Computer World album, being their most accessible and popular during the 1980s.  They sounded a lot like all those other 80s bands to me back in my youth.  It was only when I got older that I realized the significance of them.

It was in January of this year that I learned that they would be touring the U.S.  On Friday, April 4th they were going to be playing in D.C. at the 9:30 Club.  I needed to go.  I was lucky enough to land tickets for the show that sold out in an hour.  (They then made a second show.)

Kraftwerk has always been a band of simple meaning and design, and brilliant in doing so.  A few years ago, they did a legendary performance at MoMa, which I think may have spawned this brief tour.  They have sporadically toured in the last decade or so, even releasing a highly sought live album as well as the Tour de France album, which was their first studio record since the 1980s.

How often do you have the opportunity to see such a legendary and important band?  These days, with tours like these from the likes of acts such as the Simple Minds, Psychedelic Furs or PiL or anyone that has been in the "business" for so long, then out of circulation for a comeback tour, they are just dry humping the cash cow. The Kraftwerk show was absolutely not the case.

This show was performance art.

My friend Jeff and I arrived at the club around 5:30 with the doors opening at 6, the show at 7.  As we prepared to get in line, Jeff saw a couple of friends that were standing in a line to get to the downstairs bar for some reason.  They told us they were letting in the first 30 or so downstairs at the bar for 25% off drinks and food, and that we would be let in first once the doors open.  We enjoyed a beverage, promptly handed our souvenir 3-D glasses (YES!) then led upstairs to the venue. What a stroke of tremendous luck!

I knew I wanted to be fairly close to the stage, not only for the sound and 3-D visual spectacle but also to be a fan boy and closer to the band.  As show time approached, it got sold-out show kind of crowded.  People were getting just as anxious as I, some even wearing their glasses as soon and they came in.  Then there was a burbling of electronic bed music; much different from the weird Detroit Soul the club had been playing previously.  It was go time.

The four members, donning Tron-like bodysuits, walked out in proper order to their electric podiums. Let the Deutsche Elektronische Musik sermon begin!  The crowded went nuts as they opened with their most popular U.S. hit, The Robots. As the members of the group pensively looked to their pulpits, making sure the sequencing was in order and the keys played properly, behind them the spectacle of very simple, basic and brilliantly designed 3-D animation began.  It was utterly mystifying and incredible as we were repeatedly wowed; robot arms reaching out over us, space ships flying into our eyes, numbers and languages pushing over our heads, hovering around Metropolis cities or even taking a ride in a VW bug on the Autobahn.

They played one or two songs from nearly every album (not including the 1st two, which were less electronically based) and usually updated them with new passages or directions in the mix.  The digital projections matched what they were playing on their keyboards and it helped put us entirely in their 3-D world; the sound of cars honking on the highway, trains flying past us, radioactivity.  It was a delightfully immersive experience.

The Play list, clocking in at over two hours, asterisk were my favorite moments, though the entire thing was sonically delicious!
  1. Metropolis 

What I find intriguing about a band that has been doing music for 40+ years, is that Kraftwerk was a uniquely futuristic band during its day.  Electronic, forward thinking, ground-breaking and mysterious.  As their time came and went with songs like "Computer Love", "Radio-Activity" or "Numbers", now 25 years old, their lyrics are timeless.  They are to the point observations about our human culture that cross all boundaries of language.  Hearing them that evening, and today, they STILL sound unique and future-istic. The music is still vibrant and relevant, even if done by four strange Germans with grey hair.  Masters of electronic sound and vision.

This Kraftwerk show was one of the best and most rewarding I have ever seen.  It goes right up there with the Jello Biafra show at the Canal Club playing DKs covers in 2010, with seeing Alice Donut and Nomeanso in '93 at the Black Cat, with Polysics two years in a  row in D.C., Guitar Wolf at Kingdom last year.  You only have a few handful of shows in your life that are the best, and for me this was one of them.