Monday, November 30, 2009

Six-Gun and a Freight Train on Grand River

He wore an old plaid shirt, brown leather shoes and a pair of faded Levi’s with Marlboro Reds in the back pocket. Sweat dripped off his beard in the hot September sun, past the harmonica on his lips and Martin guitar at his waist to the sidewalk below.

He’s like something Woodie Guthrie would have written about. A boy graduates from high school at 17, leaves home to ride the rails. He spends two years on his own, going from city to city and playing his guitar and harmonica for spare change.

He’s a vagabond. A drifter, of sorts.

But when Jack Grendel left, he wasn’t looking for any sort of title. He was looking to live. He wanted to see the world, be on his own and learn about himself. It’s when you don’t have the pennies to call home, that’s when you discover who you really are. That’s when you stop just being your parents’ son.

Now, as a sophomore at MSU, Grendel’s still interested in the experience. He’s studying History, but without a particular career in mind. In East Lansing, the real education doesn’t happen in the classroom. It happens in places like the sidewalk outside The Peanut Barrel on Grand River.

That’s where Grendel spent a lot of time this fall: on the sidewalk playing his guitar and harmonica with an open guitar case in front of him and a sign that read “Scramblin to pay my rent.” People pass by, some look up and smile, some toss a few coins. But everybody notices when Grendel growls a tune and pounds his guitar.

Playing on the sidewalk, Grendel makes about $10 an hour, and all of it goes to his rent.

Grendel describes his style of music as six-gun and a freight train. It’s influenced by some of the greats – Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Muddy Waters – and some recent musicians – Conor Oberst and Old Crow Medicine Show.

Grendel plays some songs he’s written, some he hasn’t. But he makes every song his own and writes extra verses to the covers he plays. Folk is passed down through generations, he says. It’s meant to be changed.

Outside of the sidewalk, Grendel plays at small local venues in East Lansing and his home in Traverse City. You can listen to his music on his Myspace.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Macpodz Groove at Mac's Bar

If you have ever seen The Macpodz, you probably remember. Whether it’s because of the band’s funky, upbeat energy, the improvisation breaks or the flute, a party with The Macpodz is not easy to forget.

Over their four years as a band The Macpodz, based out of Ann Arbor, has created a unique musical and onstage style. They play a high-energy fusion of jazz and rock music that’s totally danceable, as shown by the audience members any time the band plays.

One thing’s evident from seeing a Macpodz show: every person on stage is a master at his instrument. The band may lack discipline as a whole, but can easily pull off a show relying on improvisation and the individual talent of the musicians. The ad-libbing on stage only perpetuates the band’s groovy, entertaining onstage character.

On Thursday night at Mac’s Bar, the band opened their set following Cloud Magic with “Nine Lives,” a song not released on any of the band’s four albums. The band played through some of their older, beloved songs like “You Got Me,” new ones like “Six Doll Hairs” and broke into some halftime jams and an impressive, albeit extensive, drums and percussion break. Towards the end of the set, the guitarist from Cloud Magic Dave Menzo and harmonica player Craig Griffith sat in.

The Macpodz rely on festivals for exposure, and have played at big festivals like Rothbury and 10,000 Lakes and smaller, more local, festivals like Dunegrass and Harvest Gathering. They like the relaxed atmosphere of an outdoor festival and like knowing that they’re almost guaranteed an audience and some new listeners. Outside of festival season, the band tours the Midwest playing every chance they get.

The Macpodz will be back in Lansing on December 6 playing at Cram Jam with The Ragbirds, Ultraviolet Hippopotamus and Griff & John’s Afterhours Experience. In the meantime, check out the band’s music at their Web site and Myspace and make sure not to miss the next show!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Once Was Enough

The Swell Season, the duet of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, made an adorable movie, "Once." It follows two lonely European musicians while they meet, have a pseudo-romance, record an album and move on without each other. The soundtrack is moving and sweet, and the duo won the 2007 Oscar for Best Song Original Song for "Falling Slowly."

But their most recent album, "Strict Joy" is painfully redundant. Hansard's songs are overly-emotional and dreary, and Irglova's wailing just isn't cutting it for me any more. Every song on the album sounds like every other song on the album, which sound just like every song from the soundtrack.

Maybe I liked the soundtrack so much because I could connect the songs to scenes in the movie. "Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy" just wouldn't be as listenable if it didn't bring me back to that scene on the bus where Hansard plays his haggard, albeit well-loved, guitar.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Winston Audio at Mac's Bar

It was an early show on a Tuesday night, but Winston Audio wasted no time getting to the core of their music. The band played for a small crowd at Mac’s Bar in Lansing, and immediately filled the room with a unique sound: one part grunge, one part Southern rock and just a hint of eerie, circus-like keyboard.

The band isn’t new to the local scene – guitar player Daniel Gleason is a Lansing native so they tour the area like it’s a second home.

The rest of the members of Winston Audio are from Georgia, which is reflected in their sound. The band’s music is aggressive and honest, almost noble in its consistency. It’s not predictable by any means, but every song is true to the band’s grunge influences and Southern roots.

On Tuesday, the band started out with “Distortion”, a new song not featured on their album The Red Rhythm. They also played songs from the album, notably “Hey Ann,” written for a friend of bass player, vocalist and lyricist Daniel DeWitt who was killed in a car accident.

DeWitt’s lyrics are good, and he executes them with purpose. Every word is necessary, emotional. His writing is influenced by his faith, and a lot of the songs focus on honest reconciliation with God.

The name “Winston Audio” – an anagram for “I wait on sound” – has been around longer than any of the band members. There has been some form of Winston Audio since 2001, but with an entirely different lineup. In 2006, the group had a major reconstruction and found its place in the modern grunge vein.

Winston Audio sets its own parameters for its music; the members have a specific sound in mind and they want to stick to it. The songs are structured, and it’s from that structure that the originality emerges.

My favorite song of the night by far was “On My Trail.” It’s a slow, emotional song with a beat so deliberate that nobody watching was left standing still. I was sad to see this one end and will definitely be looking out for this band to come back to Michigan so I can hear them play it again.

Winston Audio also features Zach Brown on guitar, Jon Cole on keyboard and Shane Lenzen O’Connell on drum set. You can listen to the band and purchase their full length album on their Myspace page.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Weezer's Undone

Weezer, Weezer. Why have you forsaken me?

You, Weezer, of the great Buddy Holly and Say It Ain't So. I remember watching the Hash Pipe video and rushing to buy the album. I was only 11 and already sold for life. The self-titled blue album is one of my Top Five, and I can sing along to almost every song you've written. You've always been a favorite, a constant source of happiness in my life.

I even made a practice of defending you! Sure, the music is simple, but isn't it charming? It's just too quirky, too basic, almost too primal to really dislike.


Well, so I thought. But really, Weezer, I've been hard-pressed to find any of your later releases that measure up to anything in the first three albums. Maladroit was at least in the same vein of Weezerdom, but who were you trying to kid with Make Believe? Such a pity.

But the red album! That was pretty good! I could feel you coming back around to your roots, dancing between your classic upbeat style (Pork and Beans) and this heavy despairing feel (Heartsongs) you adopted. I had faith, Weezer, that we were going to pull through.

That was before I heard about Lil' Wayne. I would like to say that I trust you enough to use the Weezie/Weezer thing to the best possibility, but I'm just not sure.

So keep fishin' for that sound, Weezer, and whether I like it or not, I'll be behind you. Tomorrow, when I rush to the store to buy your new album Raditude (yes, I still sometimes do that), I'm going to go in with an open mind. Maybe this new sound you keep fishin' for is going to go somewhere great. I'll give it a couple of spins and let you know soon.