The XX Lose Their Virginia-ty, Solar Bear Dominates Para Coffee, and… Something About Jeff Mangum

Perhaps you’ll judge by the fact that I’m posting that I figured out my incompatibility issues. (With technology, not men.) If anyone else ever runs into the issue of not being able to run or edit your .MTS video files from certain HD recording devices (in my case, a newer Sony CyberShot camera) on your Mac, I found this program (“ClipWrap” by Divergent Media) super helpful. That being said I’m only going to actually include videos of Solar Bear because a) there’s already plenty of good XX stuff out there and I’m scared of violating anymore copyright since my account already has a strike and b) we weren’t allowed taking photos or videos of any sort at Jeff Mangum.

street art a few blocks from the national

street art a few blocks from the national

polka dot street art richmondstreet art richmond

Anyway so yeah, last Tuesday Ryan and I saddled up when I got off work, drove to Richmond, got dinner with my friend Andrew, and met up with Ryan’s friend Chandler at the National. I’ll admit I was only even inspired to find out who the opener was that very morning at work, and so spent a good chunk of the day listening to the variety of Austra (pronounced “Ow”-stra rather than “Aw”-stra, apparently) offerings on YouTube. Though only days previous I’d made a mental curmudgeon-y note that it irked me when people and media try to call an artist “the New [insert other artist here]” I couldn’t help instantly drawing comparisons between Katie Stelmanis’ voice and that of my girl Florence Welch. Which I know is a bold remark to make indeed. But see for yourself:

The video I took of Austra did have Katie wishing her bass player sweet birthday wishes but again, cutting my losses.

katie stelmanis austra

austra katie stelmanis

Our late arrival and dinner meant we only caught about a song-and-a-half of Austra’s set, but I wasn’t too troubled by it. We grabbed a beer and settled into what we thought was a prime spot closer to the back, but whence we had a really good view. Unfortunately it doubled as the peanut gallery because there was a group of girls that apparently mistook the National for wherever it is they’d normally be getting trashed and catching up on every detail of the last seven months of their lives at the top of their lungs on a Tuesday night, but even this could diminish the greatness of an evening with the XX only so slightly.

the xx richmond

Chandler made the point that guitarist Romy and bassist Oliver are most definitely the face of the band, but that their producer/percussionist could certainly be seen as the glue that holds the group together (and his production might even be to thank for their sudden stardom). He’s even performed under the moniker “Jamie xx” for the past few years, and in other news you have him to [at least partially] thank for that Drake/Rihanna masterpiece. Anyway the whole show was rather exciting for me but I especially loved watching Jamie circulate amongst his array of instruments, at times using a brush on a cymbal with one hand while playing his drum machine with the other.

the xx richmond blue

the xx lights richmond

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the title of the post, after opening with “Angels” off their new album Coexist Oliver informed the crowd that not only was it their first show in Richmond, it was their first in Virginia. And I love the cheesiest of puns and the rest is history.

Not surprisingly, considering that they only have two albums and after watching their 45-50 minute live sets at Glastonbury and with the BBC Philharmonic (that second one’s really worth a listen, they sound great with the extra orchestration), their set was on the short side but with visualizations, crowd involvement, and of course a spot-on performance on their part that made it totally worth it. So I’ll close this portion with a segment of their Glastonbury show (with– surprise– Florence Welch!), and the video for “Islands” off their self-titled album, because it’s my opinion that everyone needs to see it.

xx richmond

So Solar Bear. I’ll paint you a picture of the rainiest of Charlottesville nights, where Ryan Calonder, Shivesh Puri, and whoever was checking their sound occupied the deserted loft of a local coffee shop. Shivesh manned a MacBook and a drum machine of his own, his acoustic guitar waiting patiently in the corner; Ryan had his new electric ukulele plugged in, its acoustic counterpart and a trumpet also at the ready. They’ve done small shows as “Solar Bear” a number of times, none of which I was able to see until this one. And on account of the rain, it was looking like it might turn into a private show for me until an assortment of adoring fans poured up the stairs at 7:15. In honor of the show we’d seen the night before they opened with an XX-inspired piece they’d put together that day (I believe). Ryan played an instrumental Beach House cover solo, then they rejoined to do one of Ryan’s originals, “Vagabond.” This was the highlight of the show for me; I’d heard the song before but never with their chilling harmonies. Oh and the lighting was really terrible… this videos are for listening to, not watching.

To reference the strike on my YouTube account yet again, I learned today that for the moment I’m not allowed uploading videos longer than 15 minutes :-/. So I had to cut out some stuff and break it into two videos. Shivesh played a number of solo pieces as well, despite what the videos might indicate (sorry!) and all-in-all I was well impressed with the way the two collaborated. Here’s Ryan doing his jam, “Summertime Girl” (I think is the name) and the two of them performing one of Shivesh’s originals.

Jeff Mangum!

There’s so much I want to say but this lavender tea is taking its toll and, not entirely unprecedentedly, this has gotten long. I think this more-or-less sums it up:

actually i WANTED a gif from earlier in the episode where april is surprised that he doesn't know her favorite band is neutral milk hotel and andy gets mad that mouse rat isn't her favorite band but, beggars can't be choosers. also thanks to this inspiration ryan rocked his mouse rat shirt at the concert, which i think was really an underappreciated touch.

actually i WANTED a gif from earlier in the episode where april is surprised that he doesn’t know her favorite band is neutral milk hotel and andy gets mad that mouse rat isn’t her favorite band but, beggars can’t be choosers. also thanks to this inspiration ryan rocked his mouse rat shirt at the concert, which i think was really an underappreciated touch.

A few months ago my friend Ben and I made an arrangement that he’d reserve his extra ticket to the show for me if I provided sleeping quarters for him and a few of his ‘idiot friends.’ I said he had me at ‘idiots,’ and so the idiot troupe piled into a car in DC post-Superbowl on Sunday to earn themselves a day of wine-tasting and gallivanting whilst I was slaving away in the office. Before long we’d enjoyed some of their souvenir wine, had a fantastic meal at Monsoon Siam (my first Thai meal since leaving Thailand, I realized!), grabbed a drink at the Box, and had headed round the corner to the Jefferson. It was my first show in the intimate venue (only opened after I graduated!) and I have to say I loved it. The sloped floors meant there wasn’t a bad “seat” in the house, the acoustics were good, and something about the place just lent itself to lots of crowd interactions with Mr Mangum himself. (He promised to sign someone’s album, he offered someone a prize when they correctly guessed “Oh Sister” was his next song… basically he was just great. He looked like a homeless person, but he was great.) I’ll admit to crossing my fingers for french horns and musical saws on stage, but there was something beautiful and simple about him commanding the stage with just a guitar. (Well, four guitars through which he rotated. And luckily! Because a string broke on one in the middle of one song.)

Again, no recording was allowed, but here’s a video of him playing at the Occupy movement in 2011 (at some point someone asks him to play Dylan and he says, “Dylan?! Haha, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I only know four chords…” or something to that effect, and it tickled me greatly):

Oh and I felt very drawn to one of the posters but we were in a rush to get out. Thanks Rob for hooking me up!

neutral milk hotel poster