Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: BTR Live

Watch This: Vol. 73

After the past few days were spent on catching this site up on the studio releases, music videos, and radio sessions that came to light over the past few weeks, it’s time to turn the attention towards the best live clips to have surfaced in that time. All of the bands in this week’s collection- the 73rd installment of the series- have already been featured on the site. As usual, there was an overabundance of material to work with and there were multiple entries deserving of attention. Waxahatchee, Froth, Jeff Rosenstock, Eternal Summers, Husky, Surfer Blood, and Steve Smyth all had outstanding performance clips. The five featured clips switch between single song performances and full sets, all of which come from great artists. So, as always, sit back, turn the volume up, tune out any worries, relax, and Watch This.

1. Cayetana – Madame B (World Cafe)

Once again, we’re kicking things off with a World Cafe clip from a band that challenges genre limitations. Cayetana’s Nervous Like Me was one of 2014’s stronger records and saw the band finally receive some of the recognition they’d been deserving for years. Part of that is likely due to relentless touring which has paid massive dividends for the trio in the live department. Here, they turn in a powerful performance of Nervous Like Me highlight “Madame B” and give a resounding demonstration of why they’re worth the praise they’ve received in the process.

2. PWR BTTM – West Texas (Play Too Much)

PWR BTTM’s “Hold Yer Tongue” was one of 2015’s first great songs, which was why it was included in our First Quarter Highlights mixtape. Turns out the band’s not just fascinating in the studio; their live act’s got all sorts of intrigue. More notably, though, it packs a lot of force. Cut away any of the frivolity or things that could be construed as gimmicks and there’s still a deeply impressive musicality at play. Paired with a fierce stage presence from both members (they frequently switch duties on guitar, vocals, and drums), their appeal expands to dangerous levels. All of that, and maybe even a little more, is evidenced in this Play Too Much clip of “West Texas”.

3. Kevin Morby (3voor12)

For a while now, Kevin Morby‘s been kicking away in the shadows, delivering one stunning record and performance after another. While a healthy few have latched onto Morby’s magic those numbers are still relatively slim, all things considered. None of it has affected Morby, though, and he’s only growing stronger as he goes. In his London Calling performance, lovingly shot by 3voor12, he tears into a trio of tracks with abandon. Starting off with a deeply felt version of the sprawling “Harlem River”, Morby and his band set the tone early for what quickly becomes an awe inspiring set. Hell, maybe it can be capped off at just inspiring.

4. Lady Lamb (KEXP)

After shortening her project’s moniker two words, Aly Spaltro- like Cayetana before her- started picking up the attention she’s so richly deserved for years. After, Spaltro’s first record as Lady Lamb is full of career highlights but it’s teeth are sharpened into fangs in the live setting. Irresistibly clever and intensely dynamic, Spaltro leads her band through the record’s sharp passages with a clear-eyed ferocity. All four  songs in this KEXP session, including the massive After single “Billions of Eyes“, are performed with a joyous passion, one that’s betrayed by the band’s quick, uncontainable smiles throughout the half an hour session. Add in an illuminating interview and the end result is a new KEXP classic.

5. Kevin Devine (Off The Avenue)

Kevin Devine’s earned his share of love on this site and, coincidentally, has made the most appearances here through the Watch This series. Devine’s always been a dynamo live and that holds true now more than ever, as evidenced by this 1-2 knockout punch for Consequence of Sound’s Off The Avenue series session. Ever since Devine released Bubblegum he’s been skewing more towards an incendiary hybrid of basement pop and basement punk. “She Can See Me” and “Cotton Crush” are both electrifying pieces of work aided by the band’s unerring conviction. All in all, it’s just another extension in what’s proving to be a formidable winning streak from one of today’s most quietly compelling songwriters. Don’t miss out on what happens when he turns the volume up.

Watch This: Vol. 72

Once again, the candidates for this week’s Watch This– the weekly series that celebrates the best live videos to have emerged in the previous week- came in droves. At this point, it’s getting genuinely difficult to keep tabs on all of them because of the sheer number of videos (and new series) that are being unearthed. To that end, it’s almost more indicative of the featured crop’s formidable strength to list the other titles that were in contention- all of which are more than worth the click. The bands in those videos included: Bellows, Diarrhea Planet (twice), Two Inch Astronaut, Jeff Rosenstock, Mountain Bike, Vomitface, Craft Spells, and Strange Relations. Below, in this 72nd installment, the featured crop’s a little more subdued than usual but starts off with one of the most staggeringly powerful live videos to have run this year. So, as always, lean in, turn the volume up, push any lingering doubt to the side, and Watch This.

1. Hop Along – Waitress (World Cafe) 

The most immediately apparent draw to Hop Along has always been Frances Quinlan’s voice. It’s a powerhouse; unforgettable after even the briefest of exposures. It’s also the kindest red herring, something that doesn’t necessarily suggest that a lot of the band’s inherent power is drawn from defiantly embracing vulnerability. For a long while, though a pairing like that shouldn’t have ended in this particular path, the band felt like a carefully-guarded secret. Now, with a universally acclaimed record and a Saddle Creek deal (the label’s strongest move in recent memory), a much larger group of people have taken notice.

Ensuring that their rapid ascension is far from over, the band have perfected their live show (it’s also why they’ve appeared on Watch This multiple times throughout this series’ run) and recently set up camp in World Cafe’s studio to deliver a powerful performance of Painted Shut highlight “Waitress”. Apart from exuding a transcendent gracefulness throughout “Waitress” (easily a song of the year candidate), there’s a moment that occurs at about the 2:20 mark that is the precise kind of breathtaking moment that Watch This was built to celebrate. With nothing but grace notes and limitless passion, this is as good as this series gets. Watch it below.

2. John Davey – Sugarmask (Cozy Couch Sessions)

Another artist that’s made a handful of Watch This appearances is singer/songwriter John Davey, whose brand of deeply humane folk has always resonated with a casual finesse. Davey recently stopped by to deliver a heartfelt  performance of a new song entitled “Sugarmask”, which ranks as yet another stunner in already enviable collection of songs. Poignant and endearing, “Sugarmask” is an arresting song and it’s given about as strong of a showcase imaginable through this clip.

3. Mikal Cronin (KEXP)

MCIII has proven to be a little more divisive among critics than expected, with one of the most levelheaded assessments coming from Sloan’s Jay Ferguson in a very balanced piece for The Talkhouse. After Cronin’s monumental MCII (my personal Album of the Year pick for 2013), that uncertainty on something as ambitious as MCIII should probably have been expected. It’s telling, though, that there hasn’t been much conflict over Cronin’s skills as a live performer. He’s only grown stronger as the shows played under his own name accumulate and that continuously building confidence is brought to full-bloom in a gorgeous session for KEXP. While the songs may lose some of their grandeur without the sweeping string and brass sections (which were all arranged by Cronin, who plays most of the instruments on MCIII), they gain quite a bit of punch in a more traditional set-up. All in all, the whole thing operates as a decisive reminder that Cronin’s still one of the most gifted pop songwriters working today.

4. Eskimeaux – Folly (This Has Got To Stop)

Gabrielle Smith’s Eskimeaux project recently released what will undoubtedly stand as one of the year’s most beautiful, unassuming records by the time 2015’s over. That record, O.K., is rooted in subtly intense personal explorations that all carry a hushed quality. “Folly” is one of the record’s most spellbinding moments as it feels like a culmination of Smith’s songwriting aesthetic. In a recent session for This Has To Got Stop, she performed it solo, perched on a chair, eyes cast down or closed, lost in the music. It’s mesmerizing. It’s also worth noting that Smith nearly appeared in this installment twice, once here, and once as a part of Bellows‘ incredible NPR Tiny Desk session (which is also deserving of several watches).

5. Tom Waits – Take One Last Look (Late Show With David Letterman)

Over the years, David Letterman has championed young, emerging punk bands to a heartening degree while maintaining great relationships with musical icons. One of the most notable partnerships in the latter category was Letterman’s connection with Tom Waits, who honored the departing host with a new song, “One Last Look”. With the pedigrees of both men at an incredibly visible and highly respected level, a move like this had all of the makings of a classic late-night moment and it didn’t disappoint. Waits honored Letterman with the most tender of farewells, accompanied by accordionist Gabriel Donohue and bassist Larry Taylor, Waits delivered the kind of timeless, dusty Americana that made Mule Variations an instant classic. Inherently powerful and extraordinarily moving, “Take One Last Look” is something that deserves to be remembered.

Watch This: Vol. 71

To say “it’s been a week” would be putting it mildly. The statement held especially true for the incredible live footage that has been consistently published throughout the week’s duration. In the preceding installment of this series, it was stated that there could have easily been two features instead of one. This week that number increases to three. Every single day, a masterful new video was ushered out into the world. A large handful of those were impeccably produced; gorgeous in vision and stunning in terms of sound, boasting a memorable performance all the while. Lady Lamb, Speedy Ortiz, Jeff Rosenstock, Two Gallants, Mikal Cronin, T. Hardy Morris & the Hardknocks, Twerps, Vijay Iyer Trio, The Technicolors, and Surfer Blood all had live clips introduced that earned their endless replay value. Nearly every single one of those names has been mentioned on this site before (albeit some for entirely different projects) and that trend holds steady for the five clips that are featured below.  So, as always, turn the volume up, shut out all of your looming distractions, lean in, and Watch This.

1. DOE (BreakThruRadio)

Every time DOE’s released something, it’s caught my ear. It’s been immensely satisfying to watch their recognition slowly expand as time progressed. Of course, part of the reasoning behind that growth may be their own self-improvement. Their recent session for BreakThruRadio further illustrates that this band’s primed for a breakout. While the featured song, the hard-charging “Redo/Improve”, is a monstrously catchy bit of punk-inflected basement pop, one of the most welcoming elements of this clip is the band’s winsome affability in the interview segment. Of course, that’s almost immediately forgotten once it splinters off into a brief live clip of the latter two songs included in the clip because DOE’s the kind of band that demands attention when they’re in live mode. Just hit play and start waiting for their name to slowly climb the festival bill font-scale ladder.

2. Bent Shapes – New Starts In Old Dominion (Fitz Ross)

86’d in ’03” was one of this sites favorite songs from last year, as reflected in one of the stranger best of lists. Bent Shapes could have been content to coast on that release for a while but the band’s work ethic ensures that they’ll likely be working until they can’t push themselves any further (hell, even that not might be enough). Impressively, there’s never a decline in quality; they’re writing some of the finest punk-tinged powerpop of today. “New Starts In Old Dominion” is clear evidence that the band’s talents extend past their recorded output and into what they’re able to accomplish live. When a party is this good, it’s not worth being late.

3. Torres – Cowboy Guilt (Public Radio International)

Few records have managed to grip me as strongly as Torres’ Sprinter. Every song on the record contains subtle melody hooks that have the ability to become inescapable over time. “Cowboy Guilt” is a perfect example of this particular dynamic. The guitar riffs, the vocal melody, and the subtle synth work all slowly expand their claws and lodge their way into a territory reserved for things that are next to impossible to forget. None of that shifts in the live setting, even though a few of the arrangements do differ slightly from the studio version. The contrast is part of what makes this particular clip feel so alive; humanity is impossible to fake.

4. Will Butler – What I Want (WFUV)

Policy is one of 2015’s most curios releases and the oddities that made it so compelling are also likely the reason it didn’t find much of an audience. Teeming with droll humor, impressive composition skills, and a surprising amount of pathos, “What I Want” is an incredibly intimate look at the way Butler’s songs operate. Confined to the WFUV studio with only a piano at his disposal, Butler is cast in the intimidating glare of a sole spotlight. His response? Delivering an unlikely, powerful performance that reaffirms the flashes of talent he consistently provides in his main vehicle (you know the one). It’s genuinely stunning.

5. Field Mouse – A Place You Return To In A Dream (Radio K)

Field Mouse have been consistently churning out impressive post-punk for a few years now and seem to only get stronger as they go- the aim of every band with honorable convictions. They recently stopped in the Radio K studios to turn in a blistering take of “A Place You Return To In A Dream”, which leans heavily on the band’s shoegaze influences without eschewing any of their deceptively intuitive pop sensibilities. Surging guitars, soft backing vocals, and committed performances make sure this clip reaches exhilarating levels.