Joshua James…hauntingly beautiful

Posted in Band Review, music with tags , , , , , on March 4, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

It’s very daunting to start this blog knowing that I can’t do Joshua James justice with words. Wow. Here it is hours later. I’ve had dinner. I drove home in absolute silence trying to grasp the right words. And the words are still running around amok refusing to form together in a manner that portrays such an accurate glimpse of what I just witnessed. The show and the music is to good to go without mentioning, but I have to urge you if you get the chance experience it for yourself….

Before the show we had a lively conversation about the different types of genres and in particular about Emo. I’ve never got the whole “Emo” genre. Many have told me it’s about music being emotional, but as a good friend is quick to point out all music is emotional. I thought that too. Before tonight. Before Joshua James live. Now I’m not saying his music is Emo. Not even close. At the same time, in all of the concerts I’ve ever been to, which is a lot, I’ve never seen emotion like that.

Looking back at his music after the show it shouldn’t be surprising. Track after track you can hear the emotion lurking adding layers to his voice. And his words seem to cut through your skin, but you only notice once the flesh is laid open. No, the emotion is not lacking in the recordings by an means, in fact it’s what drew me to his show in the first place, but on stage James’ small frame literally vibrates as the emotions pour through him. His movements are not particularly graceful in fact at first they’re sharp and unclean, almost ferocious in nature. As the music builds he tends to creep lower away from the microphone and then with a swell in the music he rises …his body shaking as if to purify all the hurt and pain belting from the lyrics and occasionally he lets loose screaming/moaning with the music. No one in the audience moved in that first song or two. It’s as if we were all held…prisoners of the pure emotion and in truth a bit afraid.

They say there is a fine line between genius and the insane and I have to admit when I first started watching the show I felt like I was watching that line being crossed. You feel as if you get this rare glimpse into a songwriters life..that moment when they first put pen to paper, when they first pick up the guitar to form a song when the emotions driving the music are pure and raw. With James there is no holding back. He’s probably sang these same songs hundreds of times, but it feels as if he’s writing them from scratch right there on the stage. As if he experienced the pain, the hurt, the shame that he belts about moments before he stepped on stage.

Then as the song comes to an end he stills. Stepping up to the microphone he thanks the audience in such a kind friendly manner…a polar opposite from the raw emotion that shook his body. It’s shocking. And yet oddly refreshing at the same time. Within a few moments those same movements that were at first jarring become weirdly enduring. You can’t look away. You don’t want to look away. Hauntingly beautiful.

In addition to a jaw-dropping live show I want to note that the music itself is sick. The music was loud, but with a crispy quality that sounded like it was coming from a mastered copy and not live. Many bands live are loud, but this music sneaks up on you ebbing and flowing until you forget it’s not coming from inside, put is actually penetrating through whatever walls we each have. In addition, though I’ve focused on James all members of the band are insanely talented. The drummer plays the keys and the drums at the same time. The guitarist also keeps the rhythm going by joining in on the drums. And James has a tambourine hooked to a foot pedal at his feet as he strums and sings. Yet, it all comes together as one solid piece of art.

In conclusion: Let’s just say I thought that James played Saturday night in Omaha. A good two hour drive that I was set to make. Unfortunately I messed up the dates otherwise I’d be seeing him live again within 48 hours. I’m still searching for the words to place this within the comfort zone of what I’m use to seeing. It was the most haunting and the most beautiful live performance I have ever seen.  And in case there was any doubt….genius



I’m curious where do you discover new music?

Posted in Band Business Tips, music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

When I was younger I didn’t search out new music. I sort of went with the flow. After all I was child number eight out of ten so there was always choices around from cds, radio, vinyl, TV, and even eight tracks. These choices included a crazy mix of music from old school country and rock to heavy metal and pop to nursery rhymes and classical. In college, I started listening to more hip-hop and rap than before. What I vividly remember about those days were a mixed tape that was stuck in my car that played over and over again for months and helping or sometimes just watching a friend of mine lug her many CDS down to the radio station because they didn’t have what she liked to listen to at the station. Looking back I never had to find new music, it just appeared.

Shortly after college, we opened up a coffeehouse/music venue, The Drip, and suddenly new music appeared around every corner. Without lifting a finger bands sent me demos and press kits electronically and through snail mail. Every day I’d race to get the mail because without a doubt there would be a new CD just waiting to be heard. Some sent in singles, some albums, and others were compilations. We never played the radio at the coffeehouse, because we had a constant stream of free music. Plus there was a constant stream of musicians jamming out and giving me recommendations on who to book and who to listen to….How I miss those days!

“After the venue I was lost. I felt like Alice leaving wonderland. I knew all of this amazing music was out there, but it’s exhausting trying to find that music, because there’s some crap out there as well. For a while I felt like I was wandering in a desert, unable to find the oasis. What made it worse was knowing that the oasis was out there. It gave me hope and the desire to keep searching though often I felt like I was dying of thirst. I also had some amazing friends that would wet my appetite with demos here and there. You kept me from dehydrating! I tried the usual sites: MySpace,, iLike, iTunes, Pandora, etc, etc…..but seriously that’s a lot of effort.”

Then one day I stumbled across what I believe was the holy grail, Paste Magazine. Holy Hell! I loved this magazine. Now I realize it is still there, but it hasn’t been the same since they stopped with the subscriptions service and the music downloads. Don’t get me wrong, I love their magazine still, but reading about new music is nothing like experiencing it.

During my heyday with Paste, we’d have Paste magazine listening parties every few months where I’d finally download all of my free downloads which typically included a compilation CD, an artists album, and a few singles. Then we’d spend the night just listening to them. Some stuck and some didn’t, but it was easy and refreshing. Download and listen. I didn’t have to hit next. I didn’t have to wait for another page to load. Or even worse for a video to buffer. I didn’t have to read someone try to describe music trying to capture the essence of the music in another art form. Instead it was all about the music. I don’t care how well you review someone’s music there just isn’t anything like experiencing the music itself. When we couldn’t have our listening parties I’d download the songs into a play list and get lost in the music on the road. It was all about the music. I found some of my favorite artists on Paste…..

Since then I’ve been on a mission to find other services. Under the Radar is good. I like that they’ve went to a download version rather than the CD. I’m personally not a fan of streaming radio, but I do try it out every so often. I’ve tried some of the social sites and new mind mapping sites, but I get pretty annoyed when I type in an artist I really like and then get told to listen to Lady Gaga. Really? I don’t care that others love her, but she’s just not for me. I lose faith in a site as soon as that recommendation hits! For me it’s come down to live shows of artists I already like and music festival, but I’m curious what else is out there?

In conclusion:  It makes me wonder why more bands aren’t using each other. Pulling some of the bands they’ve hit the road with or that they know and pushing out a compilation to all of their mailing lists. Expanding their fan list while giving their fans a treat…..

Across the state of Iowa….legends in the making to legends

Posted in Band Review with tags , , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

‘Twas a weekend of foot stomping, knee slapping, good time music. As I traveled the length of Iowa, crossing both the Missouri and the Mississippi to see William Elliott Whitmore then Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson I found a lot of time to reflect. Whitmore’s songs are stories that draw you in like an old friend, patting you on the back in understanding, while boiling your blood urging you to fight the injustices. His voice stands out as one that is of a time of Haggard and Kristofferson. In fact, for years while listening to Whitmore I imagined a white haired man with a face weathered from the lessons that he sung. Perhaps it’s because his voice and songs are timeless…as valid today as they would have been forty years ago and will be forty years from now. This was reflected in the various faces that crowded the stage to catch a glimpse of Whitmore in action. Old men and women who grew up listening to the legends stood elbow to elbow with young-ens barely old enough to legally be in attendance, but all differences were left at the doorway as they clapped, stomped, and sang their hearts out to a man that sung his stories. In many ways, Whitmore ranks right up there with the legends of Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. The music is much the same, it’s the actual performances that varied.

William Elliott Whitmore

Whitmore played in a small venue, The Washington, in Burlington, Iowa along with David Zollo. As Zollo played, I found myself watching the crowd that had assembled. It was clear from the start they weren’t there for the opening act. There was anticipation in the crowd and as every song drew to a close they shuffled forward one by one. It was as if they knew a secret that I didn’t know. Granted, I’d heard that Whitmore put on a hell of a show, which is why I willing jumped into my car for a three hour car ride in-between snow storms. To add to the anticipation, Whitmore stood shoulder to shoulder with the crowd watching Zollo’s performance and you could tell just from the way he reacted to the set that Whitmore is one of those true performers. It’s in the way he moves to the music. By the end of the first set when Whitmore took the stage there was shuffling and even some pushing as fans fought to get closer to the stage.

Two seconds after Whitmore picked up his guitar the crowd awoke as if they’d been hibernating for the winter. They shouted and stomped in tune to the music so that you could literally feel Whitmore’s songs vibrating through your body. The floor shook in perfect rhythm from song to song , not missing a beat as he picked up the pace and then slowed them down. He transitioned smoothly from the old, to the newer, to the newest, never once leaving the audience behind. A friend, also seeing him for the first time, told me she felt as if she was sitting around a campfire listening to a good friend sing, and even with the standing room only, shoulder to shoulder, crowd Whitmore is able to pull that feeling off. He pointed to people he knew, drew in those that seemed especially connected to the music, and fed right into the energy of the crowd. Encouraging them to let loose and step into the music.  It was easy to forget that you were amongst so many others, because everyone seemed connected and the connection was Whitmore. He definitely is able to pull together his fans and create an intimate atmosphere.

There seemed to be a homegrown pride that poured from the crowd as if Whitmore was one of there’s. I don’t know enough about Whitmore to know where this comes from, if it’s a local to that venue, that city or hell even the state of Iowa, but my guess is that it’s deeper than that. I’m dying to see him again in a different venue, but what we experienced is much of what others have written, so my guess is it’s simply Whitmore himself and goes back to the storytelling nature of his songs…..

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

First off, I’m jealous of myself to be able to see these two legends on the same stage together. What a treat. Coming off the high of Whitmore I settled into my seat early enough to watch the crowd arrive. Immediately I was struck by the pure excitement on the face of old and young alike. Seniors climbed the steps in the amphitheater with a pep in their step, tough looking men in their forties smiled like their dreams were coming true, and kids in their teens chatted with excitement as they went by. Once again the sign of timeless music…

As the show took place I was surprised to feel an earning for Whitmore’s show from the night before. It wasn’t that the show wasn’t amazing, I mean we’re talking Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson. Even their worst day would beat 90% of the shows I’ve ever attended in my life. Still, there was something that was missing and I realized quickly it was the seating that left me wanting more. These are not artists that are meant to be listened to in the same seats that one watches ballet from. These are knee slapping, fiddle playing, beer drinking, tunes. Quick glances around the audience when I could convince myself to look away from the stage revealed the audience moving to the music. Heads boobed, legs tapped, and voices joined in to familiar songs, but unlike the Whitmore show it wasn’t raw. People were holding back. No one burst into spontaneous dance. I think we’ve all gotten lost in Haggard and Kristofferson’s music before. You know what it feels like that moment that you feel the music, but it wasn’t there. The audience wasn’t giving back, what was coming from the stage. And no doubt even into their golden years, which Kristofferson joked wasn’t for sissies, these two put on a hell of a show, but lost in the translation of the show was music. People enjoyed it and there’s always that aspect of seeing a legend, but I felt a little robbed. I wish I could go back years before and catch these two when they were playing to smaller crowds with room to dance. Then I realized, I might not be able to go back, but I’d just been there last night. Listening to Whitmore and feeling his music vibrate through the crowd. America’s storytellers. Young and Old these men have it.

In Conclusion….Never pass up an opportunity to see a legend, you’ll never regret it, but don’t forget new legends like William Elliott Whitmore are often playing in the neighborhood bar and venues. See them today while you have the chance.

Lose the Encore

Posted in Band Business Tips on February 24, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

Nothing shouts divas like an encore.   Last night I saw Rev Theory for the fourth or fifth time.  I love this band live.  The energy they bring to the crowd is incredible.   Last night they took a crowd that was lackluster for previous bands and turned them (myself included) into raving lunatics.  Hell yeah live is unbelievable.  With that said, I was disappointed by the bands set list and the addition of a very planned and unoriginal encore.

Seriously, the encore lost it’s appeal and it’s shock value decades ago.  It’s about as original as karaoke.  Nothing makes this point more than Rev Theory’s posted set list.  On each side of the stage were set lists that could be read easily by those of us in the first two rows.  The set list contained the first ten songs, a huge bold line and Justice their new single.  Song ten was Hell Yeah.  Man let me tell you in a very sarcastic voice how shocked we were when after playing Hell Yeah the band walked ff the stage…shocker.   I mean really a bands going to walk off without playing their biggest hit or newest single?  I think not.  I had laugh because the cheers to bring them back were nothing like what they were for Hell Yeah.  Really why bother.  You know their coming back.

It just shouts divas and a serious lack of creativity.  I expect and crave more from Rev Theory.  They are an amazing band.  They rock the fuck out of the crowd, but to end so lame?  Come on.  It’s not like I didn’t want them to come back out, its that I didn’t want them to pretend leave, to make the crowd beg for something they know they are getting and that in truth they fucking deserve.  Now do I have the answer for how to end every show?  Naw cause then it would become as lame as encores have…each band must figure out their own way.   A way that is true to there fans, that’s true to their personalities, and true to their music. And it’s probably not one way but an array of ways so that once again the ending isn’t as stale and overplayed as an encore.

Your Sound Check Shouldn’t Last Forever

Posted in Band Business Tips on February 24, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

You want to annoy your fans?  Take forever on the sound check.  It’s funny because in the last four shows I’ve seen the bands that took the longest on the sound check actually sounded the worst.  Most of their vocals were lost in the actual music.  That’s another blog about trusting the sound guy and only making changes if you actually know what you are doing.

This article is more about the audience than the sound.  Many fans don’t want to  give up their spot in the crowd during the sound check.  This means that while you are up there playing with the sound, your fans are sifting foot to foot waiting for you to start.  They’re watching you and often getting impatient if it seems like you are taking too long.  Plus the longer you take the more the energy built up from the previous band evaporates into thin air.  Instead of having a crowd that is pumped and ready to move with the music, you get fans with lactic acid building up in their muscles and yawns escaping to the surface.  Good luck turning that one around.  Not that it can’t be done, but why warm up a crowd, let them get cold, and start from the beginning again?

Recently I saw The Builders and The Butchers following Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets.  Now if you’ve read my thoughts on The Minor Prophets you know they put on a hell of a show.  This sound check took forever!  It was a Sunday night and the crowd while pretty good about the situation was grumbling.  I even heard the word divas thrown out once or twice, which I found pretty funny because they didn’t seem like divas.  Personally I figured that they were perfectionists, because they were on stage and were pretty active in what ever they were doing.  It wasn’t until after the first song that it became obvious that there were sound issues and that what seemed to be an obnoxiously long sound check was really something that needed to be fixed.  Now this obviously wasn’t a band issue, but an audience can only make assumptions without communication.

That communication didn’t come until after the first song when the band realized there was no “boom-boom”.  Now I give them credit because after the first song while they were trying to fix the issue they began to interact with the crowd.  They told a couple of jokes and talked, before deciding to play some songs that didn’t need the “boom-boom”.  This is where they invited Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets up for some spontaneous backup rhythm.  It was indeed a great move.  The crowd was appreciative that the music was continuing and the spontaneous nature of the set created an experience that’s unique.  I have no doubts people talked about this show the next day.

What it was though was a good example of the need for communication.  If you’re going to take forever on a sound check, even if it’s a sound issue, talk to your fans.  Don’t allow the energy to slip from the room.  Build on what’s there.  It doesn’t take much, some stories, random singing, or even a few lame jokes.  Just keep them from getting bored.  They could be home watching TV, but they are not because they want to be entertained, so entertain them at all times, even during the sound check.  It is your first impression so don’t blow it.

Damion Suomi and The Minor Profits…..

Posted in Band Business Tips, Band Review with tags , , , , on February 24, 2011 by Master Jenn-Jenn

I have to say I had high expectations for seeing Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets in Omaha on Sunday.  I first discovered this band on a sampler from Paste Magazine and many of their songs routinely make it onto my playlists.  Then last year, I saw them live for the first time in Des Moines.  There were maybe five people at that show…which typically means a lackluster performance from many bands.  After all it has to be hard for bands to pick up the energy when only a handful of people turn out to support them.  Damion and The Minor Prophets are the exception to that rule.  Those guys rocked the Mews in Des Moines as if it was standing room only with a line circling around the block.  So when I learned that they were playing Omaha I quickly began to build expectations for the show.

I arrived just a few moments before the show started and was glad to find the venue, The Waiting Room,  buzzing with activity.  The guys quickly took the stage and it didn’t take long for the loud conversations to crash to an end.  It was almost as if Damion’s voice circled behind the crowd and silently pushed them forward.  Chairs scraped the floor as interested listeners began to move forward filling empty spaces near the stage with bodies moving to the rhythm of the music.  It’s not often that the opening band captures the audience with the ease that these guys showed.  They are in essence masters of the stage.  They know how to put on a show that doesn’t distract from the music.

What absolutely sticks out about this band is that they love what they do.  It’s in every song, every member, and every movement they make on the stage.  Many bands aspire and practice to have what looks so natural for this band.  I have no idea what their practices are like (I’d give a lot to be able to attend one), but I can say their movements on stage do not look staged or practiced.  Rather, they look as if the movement flows from the music.  They don’t rely on props or obviously staged moves to bring their music to life.  Their music brings them and thus the audience to life, as it should be.

In many bands it is one or two members that tend to be the life of the stage.  The one person where your eyes navigate, because they are the entertainers.  Damion Suomi and The Minor Prophets are different in the fact that each member are indeed true entertainers.  Yet, these guys are so in tune with each other that the individual entertainment styles do not overwhelm or interfere with each other.  Your eyes easily navigate from one member to the next as if the music has suddenly become a visualization unfolding right before your very own eyes.  Again I believe this is because it’s their stage presence flows from their music.

In addition to an amazing, should be studied by all bands, stage presence these guys switch instruments as easily and as fluid as I switch feet when walking.  It adds a depth to their music that many bands lack.  They also flow from one song to the next so smoothly that the crowd never looses it’s momentum.  Each song easily slides into the next, without sounding as if it’s the same exact song, instead you get the complete album feel….Taking you back to the days when each song was another milestone in a story only experienced by listening to the complete album.   For the audience this creates a high energy show that doesn’t give them the opportunity to look away even once.  It’s a smart move for an opening band, because they were able to put more songs in front of the fans and leave the fans walking away in awe at the raw energy they experienced.

Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets didn’t stop performing once their set was done.  Not at all.  Again they are true entertainers.  When the venue experienced issues with the drum mics these guys joined The Builders and the Butchers on stage to lend a helping hand and for me at least they stold the set.   I don’t for a minute believe they set out to do so…I think they just geniunely love what they do and that passion if pretty attractive for any audience.  They embody what live music should be…fun, entertaining, and driven by the music.

If I had any complaints about this show it was:

One:  The Merch was hard to see.  I know they were the opening band, but theirs was easily lost in the massive amounts of Merch that was carried by the other two bands.  I didn’t feel like fighting the crowds so I just skipped the Merch.  Plus I’m pretty sure I already own most of their music…

Two:  They didn’t play all of my favorites!  Okay this one is purely personal and truly I wasn’t all that disappointed because the show was phenomenal.  I’m itching to get their new album!

In conclusion

Damion Suomi and the Minor Prophets…..are a must see…I don’t care how far you have to travel to catch a show.

If you are a fan go to the show to see one of the best live shows that is pure music and not props, fireworks, lighting, and other junk.  It’s raw, pure, and intensely entertaining.  You will move and you will sweat as you get lost in their world.

If you are musician go to the show and take notes on how to put on an amazing show.  Find the band members after the show and pick their brain to figure out HOW they do it.