[Abby’s Road] Always and forever

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It’s been a while.

My locale has changed. Much like when I made the move from DC to Munich 4 years ago, my head has been about as far from writing as it could possibly be. Attempts to weave a cozy expat nest for myself while simultaneously trying to blend into (a new) German society has proven a challenging preoccupation, seeming to wipe my brain free of all levels of creativity and thoughtful anecdotes. I am, however, cautiously happy to report that after nearly ½ a year, I’m finally feeling like a Berliner. So much so that I was able to dip my tour guide toes into the pool for the loveliest bloke from Bristol last weekend, successfully (more on that in later installments). As I’ve ambled my way around this city, this Berlin, as with all of the other places I have lived, the same control is beating in my head and heart as different variables insist upon crashing before my feet. As I stumble, alone or in the company of others, my records lift me up. While it means much more to me (and my sanity) than yours, it looks like I’m back. Take me or leave me.

The beauty of Berlin, as compared to, say, Munich (or even DC) is that I feel more comfortable in my own skin here than in any other city I have ever called home. There is an unkempt sexiness and invincibility lining the streets and silhouettes of everyone. Berlin is perfectly imperfect. Moreover, and most importantly in this the Knox Road arena, I have interminable options as far as live music is concerned. When I say everyone plays here…I mean everyone. And if they aren’t, they’re striving to. I have no desire to land myself completely in the poorhouse, so feverish list-making and gentle gig selecting is necessary, as I am, for the most part, jobless. That said, I manage. Thanks for asking.

Rambling on with specifics of gigs attended seems futile. East India Youth, Lymbyc Systym, This Will Destroy You and a laundry list of jangly greatness at Pop Fest Berlin, to name a few. Per my years gone by, there hasn’t been a lack of live music in my life. Thankfully. Most recently, however, I was able to catch the quintet who provided a delightful chapter to the soundtrack of my first Berlin summer: Alvvays.

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Radical Face @ Kesselhaus in der Kulturbrauerei, Berlin

Ed Note: Abby’s Back!

At the only German gig in his 5 stop European mini-tour, Knox Road favorite Radical Face (Ben Cooper) was in typical form. Armed with his Jacksonville, Florida-based band, he delivered, per usual, a tome of stories plucked from a variety of his records released since 2007. It seemed to […]

[Abby’s Road] It’s not your Oma’s Bavaria

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Well. My journey in the south will soon be over. It’s officially official: in a couple short months my better half, our cat and I will be packing up and heading north. Berlin, we’re coming at you. I must admit that while I adore Munich, I am looking forward to a change of scenery and a more, well, ‘multi-culti’ atmosphere. As this decision was being made I realized that aside from going on about the gigs I’ve hit, I never really talked all that much about the local music scene here as I see it. Maybe I should while I’m still a citizen of this great city. So. Munich.

On the surface, as with many big-ticket tourist destinations, Bavaria, specifically Munich, is a region/city steeped in tradition. Pre-war, post-war, lederhosen and beer, the preconceived notions of an international community based on history’s timeline are about as real as the glossy travel brochures have them appear to be. There is a revered beauty and charm connected to the region that cannot be denied. That said, while many young people visit Oktoberfest annually in full-blown tracht and regalia, Munich is about as rich with progressive musicians and art as a city comes.

There really is no physical nucleus to the “scene” in Munich…one I’ve encountered, anyway. It is really just one giant amalgam of local venues + musicians/fans sprinkled about the city. It’s all pleasantly accessible. And, if you can believe it, it’s pretty radio-centric as well. With online access and specialized streaming tools it had (shamefully) been years since I dialed into an actual station; since my college radio days in the early-90s I guess. It was on holiday visiting my Bavarian in-laws some 5 years ago when I heard a song on the car stereo I assumed was some long-lost Sarah Records gem I missed somehow. Confused, I settled and checked the tracklist from the show and was floored to find that it was Wild Nothing hailing from the VA/Washington, DC area WHERE I WAS LIVING AT THE TIME. Appreciate the irony: I had to come to Munich to hear someone from my backyard. On the radio. Right.

It’s mothership being the Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR), PULS Radio successfully caters to younger listeners and those who wish to hear a mindful mix of music running against the mainstream and a good dose of homegrown artists as well. Via their website one can become connected to a veritable cornucopia of music, pop-culture interviews, videos and events with a fingertip. The end of November brings the annual PULS Festival, the biggest indoor radio festival in Europe. Hosted in the classical music soundstages of the BR, it is an international evening of progressive and new live music. This year’s line-up included but was not limited to NYC’s Haerts, Copenhagen’s Reptile Youth and Munich’s own Aloa Input. The best of show this year happened to be a rap artist (!) from Augsburg. I give you Blindspot.

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[Abby’s Road] Best wishes

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“Despite the commerce involved, we hope you will consider this our gift to you.”
-Low’s Christmas liner notes.

Ahhh the holidays. For me it’s Christmas. Now while I lean toward the more secular, bedazzled version  containing spangles, boughs of holly and sticky mugs of Glühwein rather than mangers and swaddling clothes (blatant honesty, folks), I understand that all encompassing ‘holiday time’ means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I have shamelessly chosen the Candy Cane Lane version and I’m happy with it.

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[Abby’s Road] Freundliche Stammbaum

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It’s been a while. Radical Face. What a lovely place to start. So…

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing the last gig of the Radical Face EU tour here in Munich. While the exquisite recorded versions of Ben Cooper’s songs machine ideas into an almost hand-hewn reality, the live versions are remarkable as well for a slew of other reasons. Taking into consideration Cooper is (mostly) a one-man operation when recording, one would assume that a live setting would be more than challenging. Naturally, variations in the natural fabric of the recorded songs occur and are welcomed. With the inclusion of a viola da gamba and bass on this tour, the *collection of Radical Face touring musicians (friends on and off the stage for years) were a marvel of good humor and song. And to be able to spin such beauty into this cover? It’s like voodoo.

Moving on…

Coinciding with the US/EU tours, late October/early November (depending upon where you call home) welcomed the release of Radical Face’s newest LP and 2nd installment of the Family Tree trilogy, The Branches. The aural equivalent of a tome of ancient photos and pages of handwritten tales of familial woes and joys, it is true to form and does what all of Cooper’s releases have done since Ghost way back in 2007. It evokes a sense of history and heartbreak, taking root at the base of one’s spine at first listen in an attempt to draw you into its biology. And succeeds.

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[Abby’s Road] Danke schön, darlings…

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By the time this is published I’ll have crossed the bridge into my triumphant, 40th year. While I am wracked with thoughts like “how the hell did THIS happen?” and “…but I still look like I am 25…” (just agree with me), I also realize that I haven’t said thanks to the many folks I don’t have the luxury of seeing or speaking to everyday. You know…people I am only acquainted with virtually or via the airwaves. Individuals who, despite distance and some mystery, still make my life extraordinarily fantastic. Who? Well…here goes:

Firstly, to the songs that fill my otherwise quiet days with song and emotion: bless you. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: records and their tunes are the most loyal friends I have. They are ready and willing to hang out at a split-second’s notice, and they don’t drink or eat much (read: more for me). Oink.

To my 6 readers: yes! Thanks for being my audience and giving me feedback enough to keep on going. Seriously, to be brutally honest? Audience or not, I find getting my ramblings down and out rather than clogging up my head rather meditative. That said, if my words can make one person go out and listen to a record for the first time or revisit something that has been collecting dust on the shelves for ages? Huzzah! Worth the time it took to scribble things down nine times over. Ten, even.

To the music-hungry youth of the world: GO ON! Keep blogging..keep listening..skip lunch and buy vinyl! You have the time to immerse yourself in all that’s new and gorgeous, music-wise. Keep teaching me. I love it and I still have a lot to learn. Just agree to listen to me a little. I’ve been around the block several times and, well, I know my shit. Mostly.

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[Abby’s Road] Harmony.

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It is a gorgeous notion at its core, mirroring images of multi-culty folks, paws locked or arm and arm, hugging trees and drinking Cokes. This imagery, however, isn’t the stuff of reality if you pay society too much attention. Lucky for me, for as I run from the images of discord into the arms of what I know best, another interpretation of said word erases, if only for a few moments, the ugliness of the world around me. Escapism via music? You know it.

Touching on escape for a sec: I had my semi-annual mom-holiday visit last month (explaining away my Knox Road absence a little) which was, as it always is, lovely. We traveled together to Greece. Crete, specifically. As I’ve been there before I asked my mother where she’d like to visit. Matala was high on her list, its seaside cave living and sea air inspiring the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan back in the day, two of her favorites. We chatted and planned our busier days from sunbeds alongside the Mediterranean. During the silent moments when I fretted about transportation around the island and getting from A to B painlessly, I couldn’t help but gravitate to some of the music she filled my childhood home with as solace. It seemed fitting. Kate and Anna McGarrigle and their simple harmonies proved quite meditative.

I suppose my love of close harmony all started when I was in junior high school, just before I really came in to my own musically as far as records and bands are concerned. When kids were deciding on sports or art or instruments, attempting to build a foundation of what mind-numbing guidance counselors referred to as “well-roundedness” (sigh), I settled on chorus and choir and succeeded in it competitively as an Alto II. I adored it. Bet you didn’t know that, right? I’m chock-full of surprises.

The beauty of the chorale or choir in this case was learning one voice part on my own. Perfecting it in its singularity. Only months later did voices from across the city/county/state came together for the first time. Prior to formal introductions and really meeting the other hundred or so voices in the room, upon a conductors cue the most amazing, unified 8-12 part harmony would resound. The hum of so many voices coming together in such a way lifts me up from behind my knees with gentle, invisible hands every time. For a few seconds I am weightless.

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Rest easy, Josh Burdette

Known by Washington, DC’s 9:30 Club show-goers far and wide, Josh Burdette, beloved manager and crew chief, has passed away.

A fixture at the 9:30 since 1997, if you didn’t KNOW him know him you knew of him: his pierced face, quiet strength and wall-like stature keeping things flowing and orderly inside and outside of the V St. […]

[Abby’s Road] Songs in the key of ache

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”People don’t want to hear it, do they?” she said.

No one said anything, because we weren’t sure where she was at.

“This is how I feel, every day, and people don’t want to know that. They want to know that I’m feeling what Tom Jones makes you feel. Or that Australian girl who used to be in ‘Neighbours’. But I feel like this, and they won’t play what I feel on the radio, because people that are sad don’t fit in.”

-Maureen, 51 and semi-suicidal, upon hearing Five Leaves Left for the first time in Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down.

She’s right, that Maureen.

As I put down my wine bottle and question myself daily about who I’ve become, I recently joined a gym (I swear I am going somewhere with this). I asked my better half, a master of seamless mixing, to put together some hour-long, no-break mixes so I don’t have to be subjected to the pap being piped in while sweating my ass off (as I’m in enough physical pain as it is when I’m there, you see). Though our musical tastes overlap right between Britpop and Post Rock, his electro leanings are way stronger than mine. Perfect for the fitness studio.

As I was exercising away one afternoon this, well, how do I put it lightly? This mindfuck (that’ll do) flowed through my ears. I was like..wait..is that…..?!? Yes..yes it is. It is exactly that.

For those of you wondering exactly what: Elliott Smith…all happy and dancy. That’s what.

This little yammer is not about cover songs or whether someone should mess around with Smith’s highly evocative catalog, as my jury’s still out on that one. It’s about what most music aficionados have, self-proclaimed or otherwise: a not so tidy package of records and artists we gravitate to when we are ascending or descending Sad Sack Mountain. That Smith cover, which I must admit is catchy as hell, was just a catalyst to listen to what I ordinarily reserve for the days I am feeling blue and hopeless while I was feeling particularly jolly. Doing so gives one (read: me) some clarity of instrumentation and song. Or whatever.

The top three artists for punishing myself while I am already down, in no particular order: Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Elliott Smith, the runners up being Damon and Naomi, whose cover of Buckley’s “Song to the Siren” (DOUBLE WHAMMY) brings me to my knees in a river of my own tears every damn time. Everyevery. Interestingly enough I’ve never really been a singer songwriter girl. There is something about these men however, their words and the sound of them being ejected from their mouths, that draws me in when I am low. Sounds silly, but it’s like they get it. They’re my blanket. On those days they get me.

I listened. It doesn’t matter to which records. I listened. And while I was of sound mind I still sensed an overwhelming melancholic pall. Not because I was feeling sorry for myself. I got caught up in feeling sad for them as people. So tell me, am/was I wrong to feel such emotions? Like who am I to pity them, you know? Well…

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[Abby’s Road] Strange and familiar fruit

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I am a sucker when it comes to nostalgia. For the 4 regular readers I (might) have, you already know this. Just want to put it out there before I start my ramble. Right.

Firstly, holiday. We took off a few weeks ago, destination Poland, where my better half once studied and learned the language (thank Christ, because I’d have been screwed). He was really anxious to meet up with old friends; we were excited to catch the 4-day OFF Festival in Katowice, my first festival in over 10 years. How’d it go, you ask? Well, since you inquired…

This was the smoothest, most well-managed festival I have ever been to. After going to Reading, ATP and the like over the years, it is also the smallest, which explains a lot, plus they’ve had 7 years to perfect it. Topping at a mere 15K patrons, only 2K of which were campers, it was cozy. The ping-pong usage of the 4 stages, 2 on either side of the event property, combined with limiting alcoholic beverages to the festival gastronomy and lounge zones (dry stage and camping areas, huzzah!) left me feeling relaxed and able to concentrate wholly on the music, not Drunkie Marie attempting new dance moves while slurping vodka tonics in my personal space. At 50€ for all 4 days TOTAL (with camping, though we punked out and checked into a hotel after our first and only mosquito-laden tent night) and a line up like this it was, for us, a no-brainer. And, AND! The portable potties looked as good on the first day as the last. Chalk that miracle up to tidy festival-goers or a magical night cleaning staff, who knows. So, the music:

The front runner as far as performances by those I knew of already were The Soft Moon. Luckily they performed their dark and dancy introspective material at one of the two, smaller tented stages during the day so I had no idea the sun was shining outside of the open end. Brilliant. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1000 times: Captured Tracks knows what the hell they’re doing (note: anyone going to CT5 want to grab me some swag? I’m good for it). Electronic Polish duo UL/KR was/is my favorite discovery of the festival. Clear vocals in front of dreamy guitar and just enough digitally generated bloops to satisfy elektro-hounds and singer songwriter types alike. And before you say “but he’s singing in Polish….?!” remember, you listen(ed) to Sigur Rós and nobody knows what the fuck Jónsi is talking about.

The days were long, headliners, as with typical festival schedules, not starting until after midnight. GY!BE, My Bloody Valentine and Deerhunter, of course, were fantastic (THIS happened) so nothing much to say there. One headliner, however, lifted and crushed my heart, brain and stomach simultaneously.  Enter: The Smashing Pumpkins and my good friend, Nostalgia.

Or should I say Billy Corgan and his band of Doppelganger Desperadoes.

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