Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kids and Guitars, 10/24/09

Saturday night at the Democracy Center in Harvard Square, Mama Bird Recording Company put on a sea-songs-themed hootenanny.

The event, which had previously found its home in an attic in Allston, was held in a VFW-hall-style, historic, public space. And it was pouring. The rain made it difficult to trek all the way over to Cambridge, but it was well worth it. The dim chandeliers with electric candles and wood paneling lent itself perfectly to the sea-inspired folk. Acts like Vikesh Kapoor, Old Hannah, Barna Howard and Spitzer Space Telescope, were coupled with other kids who just wanted to sing some songs, touting their guitars, voices, violins, and banjos. Theses acts, associated with Mama Bird Recording, put on fantastic performances. Red-faced and shaking Spitzer Space Telescope belted out (a cappella) a powerful traditional sea shanty. Old Hannah performed some originals that loosely fit the theme. Vikesh and Barna also put on solid performances. And what's more, there were some gems performed by nameless kids who showed up just with a song to play.

The next hootenanny could be anytime and anywhere. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled for posters at Espresso Royale, ask around with those kids who ride fixies and wear flannel, or ask that cute girl who you’ve always had a crush on. You know, the one that wears all those grandma dresses and rings. You always see her smoking cigarettes outside Allston CafĂ© and Urban Renewal. She’ll know where it is.

For now, you can catch Vikesh Kapoor at the YMCA theatre (820 Mass. Ave.) October 26 with Faces on Film at 7 p.m.

-Joe DiFazio

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Music of "Entourage"

"I put in work and watch my status escalate,” rapper Guru, the vocal half of Gang Starr, proclaims as Vince and the boys walk in to a Bentley showroom in the first season of HBO’s wildly successful comedy Entourage (Episode 2, “The Review”). Of course, Guru had no intention of summarizing in 1998 the premise of a television show that didn’t premiere until 2004. The producers—or editors or sound engineers or whoever gets the enviable job of choosing a television show’s soundtrack—however, have their ears on the pulse of the music scene. They also have a time machine, because they have a knack for finding songs from various eras. By not limiting themselves to whatever the top 10 charts say that month, they can find whatever sound fits the scene best.

That’s not to say Entourage doesn’t date itself. Years from now, when our children look through and watch our DVD collection from the ‘00s, they will laugh when they hear both “Hey Ya!” by OutKast and “Cold Hard Bitch” by Jet in the pilot episode. They will also cringe when they hear “Ms. New Booty” is Turtle’s ringtone (“Crash and Burn”). In order to keep the show current and hip, the soundtrack needs to have some of those regrettable track choices.

Entourage, since its inception, has always had a strong relationship to music. Unlike a more serious show in which the entire score is orchestrated and rehearsed and arranged and composed, Entourage is more like a Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof comes to mind) movie in that most, if not all, the music comes from prerecorded pop songs. This gives a facet to the show that further engages the music nerds in the audience. I remember watching my first episode of Entourage in the summer of 2006 and feeling very proud for recognizing Jane’s Addiction as the performers of the theme song. I’ve also been known to send my friends very excited texts saying things like, “Holy balls, The Cool Kids just came on Entourage!” Not only does it make me feel cool to recognize a little-known group on a big-name show, but it also makes the show look very “with-it” to include something like that. Street cred all around!

Entourage, beyond using music well, has been a unique source for new music. In season three, Turtle became the manager for an up-and-coming rapper, Saigon. Saigon is an actual rapper who got a gig on Entourage to play a fictionalized version of himself, illustrating how his manager helps him become popular. Unfortunately, even after being on the show and putting his raps in the soundtrack, Saigon is still a relative unknown and it appears as though his fifteen minutes are over. He did prove, however, as Turtle explains to Ari, “All rappers act!”

Saigon isn’t the only rapper to have a debut on Entourage. Before Episode 53, “No Cannes Do,” America had not heard the song “Good Life (feat. T-Pain)” by Kanye West. To promote the album “Graduation,” Mr. West made a cameo. Thanks to him, and his superior thoughtfulness and success, the boys can go to the Cannes Film Festival on ‘Ye’s private jet; apparently he and Turtle are close friends. However, debuting “Good Life” on Entourage was a smart move; the show becomes an important player in pop culture, and Kanye caters to a target market.

In addition, HBO’s website offers an episode-by-episode breakdown of the songs used and in which part of the episode. If you hear a track you like, you can jump on your laptop and see that the song played during the end credits of Episode 74 (“The Sorkin Notes”) was Yeasayer’s “Sunrise,” another musical sighting (hearing? listening?) that triggered one of my blast texts.

Which brings us to the end credits. In any motion picture, from TV commercials to feature films, the music in the background tells the audience how to feel about what’s happening on screen. The score sets the tone. Think about it: would Up have made you cry without sad orchestration in the background? The music adds another emotional dimension, and nowhere is this truer than in Entourage. Every episode, almost without exception, ends on only a handful of feelings: happy and auspicious, dubious or doubtful, or completely dejected. Usually, the characters will say something that illustrates this emotion, there will be a short pause while the characters look at each other, and then a corresponding song will play over the entirety of the final credits. It’s an excellent formula, because no matter how you feel, it makes you want to watch next week. If you’re happy, you want to keep that going. If you’re worried about Vince’s next career move, or how he and E are getting along, then you want to keep watching next week to see if things get better. All these thoughts are set to a song that tells you how to feel. For example, when we learn that Vince may not get to act in “Smokejumpers” because Ed Norton has the lead and the project is fronted by a man who hates him, we’re a little bummed (“Fire Sale”). But then we’re totally skeptical when Cold War Kids’s “Something Is Not Right With Me” comes on and we hear singing that’s just off-key enough to be off-putting, rather than grating.

Season 6, the most recent iteration, has continued the show’s tradition of excellent music, crossing boundaries of genre, chronology, and obscurity. Some artists included this year: Eazy-E, The Cure, The Verve, Santigold, LL Cool J, The Buzzcocks, Paul McCartney, Van Halen, Three Dog Night, NWA, Testo, Vi, Yeasayer, Cut Chemist, Aqua, Pop Levi, Marvin Gaye, Andre Allen Anjos, The Stooges, and, of course, Michael Jackson. Admittedly, there are some obscure names on this list, and there are people who I’ve honestly never heard of before. However, even those little-known artists are talented. I’m not sure if I’ve consciously said to myself this season “Damn, that scene was cool, but that song sucked!” That only happened when Gnarls Barkley’s dismal cover of The Violent Femmes’s “Gone Daddy Gone” came up during season 3 (“Vegas Baby, Vegas!”).

Unfortunately, if you were to go on Amazon and find the CD soundtrack for Entourage, you’d be disappointed. Because of the nature of ongoing TV series, the official soundtrack for the show is lacking. Only 14 tracks long, HBO released the disc in 2007, so it’s already several seasons behind. The show’s songbook is too vast to be released on a compilation CD. To truly nerd out and appreciate the show’s repertoire, even a casual viewer will need the DVDs and an Internet connection, perhaps with a bookmark to Wikipedia.

Entourage is not the kind of show to jump the shark or start declining in quality as it gets older. This is partly because of HBO: being a premium network, it can afford to cancel shows that are still going strong, such as Rome. The feeling is that more important than keeping a show running is making sure it stays a quality show. However, Entourage is also too tight a show to slip, and it is too broad in scope. The characters are well rounded, the show is exceptionally well-written, and there will never be a dearth of things for our five main characters to do in the heart of Hollywood and the movie industry, which is itself vast enough to fuel a series such as Entourage. Not only will the show continue to be great television, but its soundtrack will never be exhausted. Music, new and old, mainstream and indie, will continue to “put in work” for Entourage, always creating another level to the narrative of the lives of Vince and the boys.

- Adam Lauria

Friday, October 16, 2009

Artist Profile: Allison Francis

Taken from the author's blog, The Fleshy Fresh.

She stands idle and alone at the center of a black stage with an acoustic Fender six-string around her neck. The flashiest apparel she wears is her pair of red and white Nike kicks that walk life into the rest of her otherwise plain outfit: a white T-shirt and jeans. Her physical appearance is unassuming and pure. The look on her face is half mystified and half terrified as she looks out at a sea of people crowding the basement of BU Central. And then she sings, and the depth within Allison Francis is released.

Her voice is rough, like a smoker who has lit enough cigarettes to make her voice warm and scratchy, but not enough to warrant a laryngectomy. She remains humble when the first song ends, saying thank you between sips of her water bottle before quickly launching into the next folk tune.

It is this simple and grateful attitude that sets her apart from an indie-alternative Boston music scene that spins around music snobbery and elitism. What Francis has that the rest are lacking: authenticity.

Many artists these days spend their time trying to convince other people how ironic their lives are because of how misunderstood they are, says Conor Loughman, the founder of Base Trip Records who signed Francis in the summer of 2008. ”There’s a hipster folk scene but I don’t think many of them actually like folk. They’re just trying to be cool,” he said.

The 21-year-old folk singer-songwriter will not admit to being better than the other musicians of her genre, because that would not be her style, and that would not fit her description here. ”I think it’s so funny that people take themselves so seriously,” Francis said, and that is about all she has to say on the matter.

Loughman met Allison Francis in a dining hall while she was telling people about her music. While some artists would waste money and time coming up with fancy promotional artwork and designs, she was handing out pieces of paper torn from her notebook with her MySpace address written on them, Loughman said.

In some ways, though, Francis fits the mold perfectly. She presents an alternative image, but only as though it was an accident. She fantasizes about fronting a flashy indie band but worries that it would come across disingenuous. And after spending the entire summer collaborating with other songwriters and playing in parks in and around Boston, she said that she has found new confidence in more natural song writing. ”It’s the only way I can really get high these days,” she said.

Despite a more sophisticated musical style and significant street cred among other musicians, Francis is not ashamed to say that she started playing guitar seven years ago because of an obsession with Avril Lavigne, someone to whom most people would not admit listening.

The paradox is thus: she is as much a part of the hipster, indie-folk-rock scene as horn-rimmed glasses and plaid t-shirts, but she sets herself apart from it with her down to earth perspective. The odd thing, Loughman said, is that she is secretly confident. ”It’s this weird contrast where she doesn’t think she is better than anyone, but she still knows she is awesome,” he said.

Stephanie Barrak, another singer signed to Base Trip Records describes it as subdued determination. Francis is able to express and share her talent to other people, without being overpowering. ”Some people whore their music out, but she doesn’t do that,” Barrak said.

The simple fact is that Francis fits into the indie-music scene because that is where she has made friends and set up her life. She enjoys the niche of artists that has cropped up around Boston University, but wishes that there was more of an overlap between genres. ”Most people here appreciate good home grown music,” she said, and that is enough to satisfy her.

It is clear, though, that Francis” relationship with music is more than one of appreciation. ”I think music can connect with people in their soul almost. It connects with emotions that they’re not necessarily even conscious of or in touch with,” she said.

Jennifer Brown, the music director at WTBU, Boston University’s student-run radio station, said that Francis offers more than the average indie musician and has the opportunity to fill a void in the music industry that is lacking a female folk musician like her. ”She captures something real about the way human beings are,” she said. ”She’s not afraid to show who she is in her lyrics and to put it all out there.”

Francis does not have much to say about all of this except that she has nothing to hide. ”I do not usually try and disguise what I am saying in my songs.” She insists that music will always be a part of her life and if she is able to make a career out of it then that is just an added bonus. “I just want to make music that connects on a really personal level with people.”

Back at BU Central, the cluster of people who have gathered to see Francis play sit on the floor in total silence, taking in every word out of her mouth and every chord from her guitar. The room is comfortable, like a gathering of friends enjoying some honest music. ”I liked that one,” someone comments between songs. Clearly, connecting with people is something that she can check off of her bucket list.

-Joey Gerber

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Big D and the Kids Table on Speak Easy, Girl!

Big D and the Kids Table will be on Speak Easy, Girl tomorrow (Thursday, October 15) from 2-4 p.m!

The Allston-based ska band will be talking about their do-it-yourself work ethic, their rise in popularity and that good ol' student newspaper we all call the Freep! Big D and the Kids Table is playing a two-night set at the Paradise on October 29th and 30th.

Review: Islands Open for Psychedelic Furs @ HoB, 10/10/09

Syndicated from the writer's blog,!

Dear Nick (Thorburn, Diamonds, whatever),

Listen. I know you're really talented. I've accepted the sad truth that you know it, too. The Unicorns were genius. Return to the Sea was a turning point of epic proportions in the lives of college radio stations everywhere. I loved and defended Arm's Way even in the face of cynical critics who ripped it to shreds, claiming you "sold out." And I still hold that Islands' show at the El Rey during the summer of 2008 was hands-down one of the best of the year.

We get it: you're great.

I was even going to accept Vapours as the obligatory Under the Blacklight album of the band's evolution. But, I have a serious bone to pick with you, and all over a simple, easily avoidable issue: your shitty attitude.

You're not the only musician to ever gain a cult-like following. In fact, I'd say there are a few other musicians who are worshipped a bit more for their songwriting abilities. So when even your live performances, which require a stage presence and an act that demands entertaining qualities, it's disturbing that you seem to find your emotional funk wildly adorable to everyone in the room.

Nick Diamonds

Not only could we see on Saturday that you were not in the mood (yes, yes; we saw your tweet about having had a rough show in New York the night before), but it translated into an egotistical barrier that completely alienated 99% of the people in the room, including those (of whom I am a part) who came specifically to see Islands.

You did not want to be at the House of Blues, and sure, that's okay. But for god's sake, you're wearing white cutoff gloves with rhinestones you probably bejeweled yourself. ACT. And if you can't act, at least remember why you are a musician, because I pray (to whomever will hear it) that you didn't pick up a guitar because you wanted to be a god--you started a band because YOU LOVE MUSIC. So next time, when you feel like hating yourself and everyone else, don't let it affect the jam. "Swans" was great, because you and the gang actually seemed like you were enjoying yourselves. But honestly, I could've done without the rest of the zombified, dispassionate set. Where's the heart, Nick?

I don't want to see you fail. I know there's another Return to the Sea in you guys. And I know that your attitude can actually be kind of charming when you balance it with musicianship. That's why I say this. Because I can tell you that, even though I'm not one of them yet, there's a decent number of people who are quickly turning their backs on The Redeemable Nick Diamonds and His Band Called Islands. Do something about it.

Very sincerely yours,

Devon Maloney

Blues Traveler @ Paradise, 10/6/09

When I saw that Blues Traveler was going to play the Paradise Rock Club on October 6th I immediately did a double-take. I remember hearing hits like “Run Around” and “Hook” when I was a little kid but I didn’t realize that the band still toured. Intrigued, I bought a ticket right away.

The show kicked off with “Back in the Day,” off their sixth album, Bridge. John Popper wailed away on the harmonica, showcasing his remarkable skills. If anything, his playing has improved since the late 90s. He continued to showcase his technique on “How You Remember It,” a song from the most recent album, North Hollywood Shoutout. The band focused on heavy jams and fluid transitions between songs. They brought a specialized sound and lighting rig, transforming the cozy and comfortable Paradise into a full-sized amphitheater, which added to the intensity of the show.

Toward the middle of the set, Blues Traveler surprised the crowd by playing Sublime’s “What I Got.” As the audience began to sing along, I realized that everybody in the crowd was at least 30 years old. This contradicted what bassist Tad Kinchla told me during our interview last week about the band building up a younger fan base. I saw maybe five other people with “X’s” on their hands during the night. While reminiscing about their teenage years, a packed Paradise crooned “lovin’s what I got.” After the Sublime cover and taking an on-stage cigarette break, the band transitioned into popular four song “Run Around.” Even though “Run Around” seemed to please the crowd, I couldn’t get their smoke break out of my head. Why was it okay for a band to smoke on stage during a show but people were getting kicked out of the audience for doing the same? Despite my mild irritation, “Run Around” still brought back memories of driving in the car when I was little and of 90s TV specials, making me happily nostalgic. “Run Around” then transitioned into another song—“Support Your Local Emperor” off Blues Traveler’s second album, Travelers and Thieves (1991).

After “Support Your Local Emperor,” the band shifted to a new song about American troops, “Borrowed Time.” Tad had mentioned that the band consistently performs on USO tours and supports the troops. Although I found the song to be a bit slow, it was a worthy testament to military troops nonetheless. After a few more slow songs, Blues Traveler began to play “I Want You to Want Me.” The crowd roared. I had never imagined that a blues version of the song would sound good but it actually worked because the song was still recognizable. At this point in the night, I noticed many people began to leave the show. While Blues Traveler had opened playing to an almost full house, by the end of the show about a quarter of the audience had left. The concert was on a Tuesday, so I assume people either had work in the morning or Blues Traveler did not quite meet the standards the audience had held them to in the 90s.

The final song of the first set was “Hook,” one of Blues Traveler’s most popular hits. It pleased the crowd, and me. Everyone was singing and dancing along to John Popper’s exceptional harmonica solos. This would have been a perfect place for the band to end their set but like every classic 90s band, Blues Traveler came back for an encore. After a brief break, the band came on to perform last song, “The Path,” off of What You and I Have Been Through. The show ended a song earlier for me, but the fans that stuck around seemed to enjoy one more tune. Blues Traveler met all of my expectations during their show. They played a good mix of new and old songs and most of the crowd seemed to really bond with the band. Playing the Paradise was a good choice because it created an intimate, yet stadium-like feeling. In spite of the fact that Blues Traveler may not have been particularly innovative in developing their sound over the past ten years or so, they still put on a lively, energetic, and ultimately worthwhile show.

-Lana Tkachenko

WTBU at Warped Tour 2009

When it starts getting this cold out there, what better way to fight the frost than with a summer throwback? Check out these sweet photos taken by WTBU DJ Adam Azahari (DJ on Wow, That's Legit, Sundays 2-4pm this fall) at WARPED TOUR 2009!

3OH!3 hit the Main Stage with special guest Lil' Jon in Uniondale, NY.

The Warped Tour crowd gets pumped as 3OH!3 take the stage in Uniondale, NY.

Hit The Lights lights up the stage with their energetic rock in Uniondale, NY.

Canadian artist Lights entertains music fans in Uniondale, NY on her first Warped Tour.

There For Tomorrow kick off their set in Uniondale, NY.

All Time Low rocks the crowd at the Main Stage as they close out another stop of the Warped Tour in Oceanport, NJ.

VersaEmerge showing of some serious head-banging skills at their set on the Ernie Ball stage in Oceanport, NJ.

The Maine play to a crowd of screaming fans in Uniondale, NY.

The White Tie Affair gets the audience moving during their set in Oceanport, NJ.

-Adam Azahari

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

SERVICE ENGINE SOON on RE:defined this Friday!

Tune in to RE:defined, THIS Friday night, midnight to 2 a.m. to hear from special guests SERVICE ENGINE SOON, a new and upcoming Boston band! We will be playing songs from their brand new album, soon to be released.

Be sure to check out their website at!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Tomorrow-- WTBU Interviews PETA Author Marta Holmberg

Tomorrow on WTBU, American Folk Festival will be briefly interrupted for an interview with Marta Holmberg of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Marta is the coauthor of PETA's Vegan College Cookbook: 275 Easy, Cheap, and Delicious Recipes to Keep You Vegan at School, which includes numerous cruelty-free dorm-friendly recipes. Marta will be talking to WTBU about the new book, and about quick/healthy/affordable eating for college-aged vegans/vegetarians.

If you've ever thought about going vegetarian/vegan but thought it would be too difficult or too expensive, tune in tomorrow at 2pm hear what Marta has to say! She will also be speaking at the Boston University Bookstore tomorrow at 7pm.

For more info, check out

[edit 10/9 --> download an mp3 of the interview here!]