Monday, June 29, 2009

IHEG's Left of the Dial Summer Series is packed with talent, adventure, imagination, and cred.

We always wring our hands when the term indie rock comes into play. It’s the lazy, default term for the non-mainstream rock acts that intuitively fall under a similar umbrella. So we’re not going to use it to describe this batch of summer shows. Left of the Dial, referencing the Replacements song about college radio, has been the moniker we use when enough of these shows come together to constitute a “series.” Summer is upon us and the Iron Horse, Pearl Street, and our new outdoor venue, Mountain Park, have some great shows on the books. Here they are at-a-glance.

Mission of Burma Friday, July 10th Pearl Street

Of all the punk-inspired bands that came out of Boston in the early '80s, none were better than Mission of Burma. Arty without being too pretentious, capable of writing gripping songs and playing with ferocious intensity. They recently finished recording their fourth studio album to be released this fall. Bring your earplugs. Roger Miller always does. Jackhammer headphones actually.

Download a free MP3 'Max Ernst" courtesy of Matador Records (Right click, save target as)

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Bowerbirds, Megafaun Saturday, July 11th 10PM Iron Horse

Hymns for a Dark Horse is the first album from Raleigh, N.C., trio Bowerbirds. Built on the belief that our limited earth ("In Our Talons") is as sacred as the unlimited love that we can find within it ("Human Hands"), Bowerbirds make acoustic music that feels good and aware and powerful and hopeful, offering a shelter from the apathy so rampant these days.

On their debut Bury The Square, Raleigh-via-Eau Clair trio Megafaun neatly splice together different strands of sounds, whether it's tape manipulated hoedowns, mournful, slow-blooming banjo-and-white-noise-laced epics, or rural barbershop doo wop. Focusing on a wide palette of instrumentation, they always come back to their soaring three-part harmonies.

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Yeasayer, Ponytail Tuesday July 14th 8:30PM Pearl Street Clubroom

Brooklyn's Yeasayer describe their music as "Middle Eastern-psych-snap-gospel." They've toured with MGMT, Man Man and Beck and they were THE buzz band at this Year’s Bonnaroo. The band's dystopic mini-festos come couched in big hooks and grand indie gestures with eyes and ears for Eastern ephemera, psych rock, and wide-ranging religious cues. It's a trick that makes the apocalypse sound like a gigantic celebration, and All Hour Cymbals sound like the sort of escapist dream our nightly news demands.

Baltimore quartet Ponytail (who delighted us co-headlining with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at the Iron Horse a few months ago) taps straight into the primal power of the human voice, sans lyrical clutter. Molly Siegel is a mind-blowing vocalist. She and her band mates have created their own vocabulary of sounds, in which her cries and glottal attacks are just as vital, cuckoo, and inventive as the intertwined guitars of Dustin Wong and Ken Seeno.Randomly put together in a class experiment, the four members of Ponytail have stumbled into a magical combination that 99.9% of bands could never fake.

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Magnolia Electric Company, The Donkeys Saturday July 18th 10PM Iron Horse

"Working class rock" is a phrase used frequently to describe The Magnolia Electric Co. (Jason Molina/Songs:Ohia) The band has secured their place amongst like-minded icons such as Bob Seger, CCR, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, but it's not merely an aesthetic description. Magnolia back it up with their work ethic. The Magnolia Electric Co. cast no doubt by putting their business in the street.

The Donkeys hail from San Diego and they’ve played as the backing band for both Casiotone For The Painfully Alone and Cass McCombs. They draw a line from classics like The Velvet Underground, Curtis Mayfield and Television to The Kingsbury Manx, Of Montreal and The Radar Bros. If your definition of pop music goes all the way from Blind Willie McTell to Pavement, then the Donkeys are a sweet kick in the ass.

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Deer Tick, Dawes Wednesday July 22nd 8:30PM Iron Horse

When Providence native John McCauley got his hands on Hank Williams Sr.'s "Gold" collection and locked himself in his room listening to it on repeat until he finished his bottle of brandy, it all became fairly obvious to him-- he was on his first tour just a few months later. That was 2004 and he was 18. After years of being on the road, fully developing his distinct howl of a voice, and honing his guitar skills, McCauley and his band Deer Tick has earned himself a following of devoted fans and supporters. They play super sweet blues, country, and grunge influenced music.

The Los Angeles quartet, Dawes, achieve the minimal, warm and live sound that all bands talk about doing at one point or another and yet separate themselves from anything you've ever heard. The record North Hills could be described as Leonard Cohen or Townes Van Zandt getting a hold of that soul band we always wanted to hear them with.

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Frightened Rabbit, The Antlers Saturday July 25th 10PM Iron Horse

On the surface, Scottish trio Frightened Rabbit are like a lot of other bands. You could file them away with other musicians from their Glasgow scene, or other bassist-free groups, or other bands of literal brothers (frontman Scott and drummer Grant Hutchison are siblings). But somehow, despite the fact that their methods are well-worn, their product is one-of-a-kind, as their consistently great second album (in under a year, no less!) attests.

The Brooklyn trio The Antlers sport the indie overcoat like a kid in a candy store, taking something from everywhere. Shining, falsetto harmonies and fractured yet peaceful guitars give nod to indie contemporaries Neutral Milk Hotel and My Bloody Valentine.

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Ben Sollee Wednesday, July 29th 7PM Iron Horse

Ben Sollee was named one of NPR’s “Top Ten Unknown Artists of the Year.” His distinctive cello technique and soulful voice have been marinating for years in his work with avant-garde bluesman Otis Taylor, The Sparrow Quartet, (featuring banjo-master Béla Fleck), and on the internationally known Woodsongs Old Time Radio Hour. Like a folkier Andrew Bird, Ben’s unique performance experience and creative vision trump his 24 years and traditional classical training; he is poised to emerge as a solo artist, bridging genres and demographics with earnest and dynamic songwriting. However, the single most salient quality of his debut, Learning to Bend, is Ben’s contagiously optimistic worldview.

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Friday, July 31st We Are Scientists, Bad Girlfriend 10PM Iron Horse

Brooklyn-based indie rock trio We Are Scientists formed in 2000 around the talents of guitarist/lead vocalist Keith Murray, bass player Chris Cain, and drummer Michael Tapper. After building a small but devoted following through their epic live shows and a series of three self-released EPs, the group signed with Virgin Records. Their major-label debut, With Love and Squalor, was released in early 2006.

The lone two-car garage in New York City is inhabited by Bad Girlfriend. She was kicked out of her home for partying too much and decided to start a band. The all-girl group's garage rock style reflects the ghosts of late 60s hangovers. They may really be spawn of the Warhol-Velvet Underground scene.

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Gang Gang Dance, Hex Message Sunday August 2nd 8:30 Pearl Street Clubroom

There are those who make "noise," and then there are elegant, shadowy troupes cobbling ghost languages and fractured dub into undulating biospheres. New Yorkers Gang Gang Dance remove restrictive compositional components and turn electro-acoustic sprawl into a generative act. It's Throbbing Gristle's "Hot on the Heals of Love" reconfigured as a deck of shards. The band have also had some shocking misfortune recently, with the drummer being shot at, and the bands equipment being totally destroyed after an electrical fire in Amsterdam.

While listening to Hex Message, your life may not be cursed and your existence will not be sacrificed, but your mind may lend itself to a wandering moment. The New York City group uses loops and electronic technology with drums, guitar and heavy doses of noise. Having an in house artist-guitarist explains why these guys sound so visual.

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St. Vincent Thursday, August 6th 8:30 Iron Horse

Two years ago, Annie Clark's recorded debut as St. Vincent, Marry Me, gave immediate notice that a dizzying new talent had emerged from the flatlands of Texas. Critics from Pitchfork to Spin to the New York Times Magazine were entranced by the album's precocious arrangements and elegant lyrics, and the steadily growing crowds at St. Vincent's live shows were astonished by Clark's gargantuan musical chops and her magnetic stage presence. Actor, St. Vincent's beguiling, sophisticated new record, takes that debut's ambition as its starting point and never looks back.

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Decemberists, Heartless Bastards Sunday August 16th 7PM Mountain Park

The Decemberists' fifth album, The Hazards of Love, is their most ambitious and most accomplished project to date from the Portland-based quintet of Colin Meloy, Chris Funk, Jenny Conlee, Nate Query, and John Moen—a full-length song cycle rooted in ancient language and imagery, yet entirely modern and accessible. The follow-up to the group’s 2006 breakthrough, The Crane Wife (which NPR listeners voted their favorite album of the year), The Hazards of Love solidifies the Decemberists’ standing as one of the most innovative and important creative forces in music today.

The raw quaver in Erika Wennerstrom’s untamed voice gives her as much bite as the distortion on her guitar. Factor in the garage-rock pummeling of drummer Kevin Vaughn and bassist Mike Lamping, and the Heartless Bastards a force to be reckoned with.

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Black Moth Super Rainbow, Soundpool Thursday August 27th 10PM Iron Horse

Black Moth Super Rainbow, an experimental band hailing from the deep woods of Western Pennsylvania, have a distinctive sound that is characterized by analog electronic instruments and which takes elements of psychedelia, folk, electronica and pop. Their new album Eating Us, which was released this past May and is their first professional recording experience, is a warm and effervescent album. For the recording they enlisted the help of Flaming Lips producer Dave Fridmann, who highlights the tingly interplay between acoustic and electronic instruments and process vocals. With the melodies that are sweet like cotton candy and the expertise of an experienced producer, we have an album that is crisper and more linear than the others but that still retains the sweet feeling of clouded psychedelia that is the band's trademark.

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