Show Review: Horse Feathers with Special guests John Mark Nelson and Sara Jackson-Holman

Horse Feathers performing at Wisconsin Union Theater

Horse Feathers performing at Wisconsin Union Theater

Tonight’s performance by Horse Feathers at Wisconsin Union Theater was presented with openers Sara Jackson-Holman, then John Mark Nelson and band. Overall, I was exhausted from a late night of studying, a midterm in the morning, homework after that, and was still very impressed by the performances.

I arrived early to do an interview with artist John Mark Nelson and I took a front row seat in the theater. The theater seating was amazingly comfortable and the room was quite dark, which may have had an adverse effect on the crowd’s engagement with the artists. There was laughing and clapping as the artists interacted with the crowd, but no one stood or danced.

The first opener, Sara Jackson-Holman, re-started her first song just a line or two in. She asked for more volume on her vocals and continued. This awkward-laugh-inducing pause was well worth what followed. She sang, in my opinion, like a softer-voiced Adele. I unfortunately did not have time to research her music before this, so missed song titles, but my personal favorite included the lyrics, “I could be the one.” It had an awesome base, and even she got into dancing to it. The last song she performed was a cover of “Baby come back” by Player. Despite the completely different eras of music, she adapted it well to her voice and style. Her crowd interaction was pleasant, but minimal. She did say she was sick and when she spoke normally her voice was much higher. Given this, I still find it impressive that she went through seven songs.

John Mark Nelson and his band played next. He himself played electric and acoustic guitar, Kara Laudon sang and played keyboard, Steve Bosmans played electric guitar, Benjamin Kelly played base, and Gabe Hagen played drums. They came across as very crowd friendly especially as Nelson did a small introduction while playing his guitar. On a non-musical note, they presented themselves very well. Going across the stage they looked almost uniformed all in jeans cuffed at the bottom and either a light blue or plaid shirt. Watching how much they enjoyed themselves on stage actually made me smile back at them.

They opened with a song off of his album “Waiting and Waiting” called “Home.” It was well performed, but as I expected he asked sound for less base so his lyrics would be clearer for the next number. Slightly muffled lyrics were unfortunately common throughout the show, all artists included. The band interacted really well with each other and they were all clearly introduced. He next played “Boy”, and “The Moon and the Stars” which is about Duluth, from his album “Sings the Moon.” The band also played an original number by Laudon who is starting to compose. They played four other numbers with varying degrees of their modern folksy feel and connection to pop or singer/songwriter styles.

Horse Feathers, the headliner came on shortly after. Whereas John Mark Nelson had a unique sound because of creative composition, this band had similarly creative composition and unique instruments. They played a saw, a banjo, a trumpet and a harmonica throughout the show. The cast was introduced, but once again the sound was muffled and I could not make out who was there and who wasn’t. The band usually consists of Justin Ringle with Guitar and Vocals, Nathan Crockett on Violin, Mandolin and Saw, Dustin Dybvig on Drums and Piano, Lauren Vidal on Cello, and Angie Kuzma with Violin and Vocals. They were crowd pleasers but seemed less interactive than the earlier John Mark Nelson.

Horse feathers played several of their older numbers including “Fit Against the Country.” Next they played “Where I’ll Be” which is when they introduced harmonica to the performance. They played a total of ten songs and two as an encore. The encore included a catchy performance of “Belly of June” and it was in their last song that they broke out the trumpet. It was a total crowd pleaser and applause continued until the lights came on.

Interview: John Mark Nelson, touring the midwest with Horse Feathers

John Mark Nelson and band playing at Wisconsin Union Theater this past Wednesday night as openers for Horse Feathers.
John Mark Nelson and band playing at Wisconsin Union Theater as openers for Horse Feathers this past Wednesday night.

John Mark Nelson is currently, and for the last year or so, has been traveling with a band. It’s him and four other members. He plays electric and acoustic guitar, Kara Laudon sings and plays keyboard, Steve Bosmans plays electric guitar, Benjamin Kelly plays base, and Gabe Hagen plays drums. This group, with slight alterations has been working with Nelson for past year. They are playing here in Madison because Nelson’s manager caught word of the Horse Feathers tour and wanted the group to tag along with them for a portion of it. They have played in Madison before. They played at the Terrace about 2 years ago, then the Rathskeller, High Noon, and now Wisconsin Union Theater.

Are you excite to open for Horse Feathers on this First National Support tour?

Absolutely. I think it should be a blast. We are super excited to be along with them. As we were driving out here we listened to some of their tunes.

What are you working on right now? Any new music?

We’ve just wrapped up a long series of writing so we’re going to get into the studio and record a new record in January. We’re kind of in the process of starting to introduce some of those tunes and get a feel for playing them live. I think as I move forward my songs still speak to a lot of different elements of my life – people I know or stories I’ve encountered. They are all very much story songs and have elements of who I am woven into them.

How did you develop your style and do you have a favorite artist that inspired you?

I actually like a lot of different kinds of music. I can point to a couple of different artists. A lot of the music I listened to as I was growing up I think shaped what I do now. My mom was very much into the pop music of the 60’s and 70’s so Peter, Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkle. My dad was very influenced by classical and jazz music. I think somehow a lot of what I make is sort of influenced by a meeting of those two worlds where there’s arrangements and compositions with different instruments, but blended in a very kind of like pop-relatable way.

How old were you when you started writing and what inspired you to start doing this?

I think I started really having a sort of idea that I was making songs with lyrics and stories and stuff when I was maybe 13 or 14. What inspired me was a very slow gradual process. When I was younger my dad brought home one of the first Mac computers with Garage Band on it, where you can take the loops, drag them around and rearrange them. I would make horrible loop songs and then I bought my first microphone. I started recording myself playing guitar. I just fell in love with recording and capturing sound. That slowly, over a couple of years, morphed its way into writing original songs.

What was the first song you ever wrote?

I don’t think I could pinpoint one exactly because the first record I put out was called “Still Here.” It was just a hand-picked assortment of different songs I had done. It wasn’t that I sat down at the beginning thinking I wanted to make an album.

How did you learn to play all the instruments featured in your videos?

I don’t actually play all of them but I can play guitar, drums, and accordion. Those are the three instruments that I actually feel comfortable playing. I certainly tinker on the keyboard and can play a base, but I shouldn’t.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

As soon as you can start doing what you love, do it. If you have a passion for songwriting or for any form of art, just find outlets for it. There is that intimidating first step of “I want to do this but I don’t know how” or “I don’t know where” and you just need to find an outlet. If you’re a songwriter, start going to open mic nights. Don’t be afraid to jump into it and figure things out as you go.

Saturday in Music Hall: Deerhoof

Deerhoof

Performing since 1994, with eleven self-produced albums under their belt, Deerhoof makes a stop in Madison this Saturday night in Music Hall. Just for you. For free.

Their sound is indescribable, considering the band members do not even know what kind of music they are producing when they produce it. Originating from San Francisco, Deerhoof has been pushing the boundaries of music with every note.

Deerhoof vs. Evil of 2011 was their latest album and sources gave it rave reviews, including The Rolling Stone stating the album had, “lurching effects and percussion before segueing from riotous soca to lugubrious funk to what sounds like drunkard’s take on Cuban son.”

It’s a night you surely do not want to miss, because playing along with Deerhoof is Ensemble dal Niente. But this show starts at 8 p.m. in Music Hall, a different location form our typical venues.

Saturday: Maps & Atlases with Mutts, Brontosarus

Did you contribute precious tourism money to Chicago last week by attending Pitchfork Music Festival? Well, this weekend the Windy City gives back. It’s a Chicago showcase on Saturday when Maps & Atlases, Mutts, and Brontosaurus hit the Terrace.

The members of Maps & Atlases are some of the finest musicians you’ll ever encounter. Dave Davison, besides sporting a pleasing southern rock-flavored voice (and a most impressive beard), makes up half of a wicked tandem of guitarists, with the other being Erin Elders. It won’t be long into their set on Friday before your jaw drops as their fingers fly with seeming effortlessness. Their rhythm session will produce no less amazement, as it may be tough for you to spot Chris Hainey’s arms once the music starts. Speed is impressive, but when you add to it that he creates some of the most imaginative and complex beats, it’s not surprising that many fans walk away floored by Maps & Atlases’ sets (“walking away floored” may be an oxymoron, but we’ll go for it). Bassist Shiraz Dada provides the pulse of the band.

Formed in 2005, Maps & Atlases released numerous EP’s before 2010’s highly successful debut LP Perch Patchwork, which was followed up by this year’s Beware and Be Grateful. Their music appeals to fans of all different kinds of music, as their tour history hints at: they’ve traveled the country with Ra Ra Riot and Minus the Bear, as well as acts like Circa Survive and The Fall of Troy. The diversity of their backgrounds and influences brings a little bit of everything to their music. It’s melodic like pop, active like experimental rock, easy to connect to like alt-rock, and avant-garde and occasionally surprising like indie rock. Maps & Atlases is a mutt, but one made up of the best parts of the purebreds.

Speaking of Mutts, the fellas leading in for Maps & Atlases happen to go by that moniker – and they deserve it just as much. Though often described as “if Tom Waits fronted a garage band,” that doesn’t even begin to describe the uniqueness of Mutts. How many garage bands do you know that don’t have a guitarist? Don’t get me wrong, however – they make a lot of noise. Theirs is just supplied by keyboards, bass, drums, and the growls of frontman Mike Maimone. Chicagoans seem to like it, as The Deli Chicago and their readers chose Mutts as Chicago’s Emerging Artist of 2011, largely due to their fantastic release Pray for Rain. Wisconsinites clearly approve, too, as there was such a demand for Mutts in the Dairy State that they played shows at Summerfest, at High Noon Saloon, and live on UW-Madison’s own WSUM… all within 24 hours of each other (and they documented it on video). Lucky for you, all their music is available for free download at their website, so you can see what all the fuss is about. In case their debut LP and three EP’s aren’t enough for you, they’ll release Separation Anxiety LP on August 2nd.

Brontosaurus will kick off the evening at 9 p.m. with their eerie pop melodies. A dynamic duo of members both named Nicholas (Kelly and Papaleo), Brontosaurus debuted in 2010 with Cold Comes to Town. Available for free preview (or download for a single dollar) at their bandcamp, the EP features sullen guitars, haunting piano, and beautifully dark vocal melodies. Continuing the theme of the night, the two members’ influences cover a diverse range of genres: classical, indie rock, metal, and prog rock.

Make sure you find your way to the Terrace at 9 p.m. on Saturday for this night of some of the Midwest’s finest rock… We’ll even supply the Maps & Atlases. I’m sorry, that was corny. Just check out Maps & Atlases’ “Solid Ground” music video below and we’ll forget I ever said that.

Saturday on The Terrace: Steez

“Come and see why the Terrace is our absolute FAVORITE place to play in the whole wide world.” We couldn’t have pitched it better than Steez already did on their Facebook earlier this week. Let’s return the support by getting funky with their “creepfunk” music this Saturday night.

Steez has been gaining recognition through competitions that land them stages such as the 2008 Summer Camp and Rothbury Festival. They have even performed at the Mifflin Street Block Party of 2011, where saxophonist Andrzej Benkowski covered “Like a Prayer” by Madonna. Their debut album has also been recently nominated for Home Grown Music Network’s album of the year. With all of this praise, the music behind it must be worthy of a performance on The Terrace.

Certainly their sound is full of funk, but with the addition of electronic instruments, their music has a psychedelic twist. This intriguing combination can be heard in songs “Three Man Weave” or “Brown Lights.” To add to their great music, they also have quirky personalities which are interwined into their songs. For instance, the first video that pops up on their website is “S my D” (Scott Walker remix). It’s a protest song with a groove.

When seen live, Steez has moments where the band is purely enjoying the music they are creating- especially when each instrument goes solo. Witness their tantalizing, funky beats this Saturday starting at 9:30. I’ll leave you with a fun fact: The word “Steez” is defined as the combination of style & ease by Urbandictionary. What a perfect description of the band themselves.

Download or preview Steez’s “Three Man Weave” below. It comes from their latest album KRONOS, which you can download for the price of your choosing over at their bandcamp.

Download>> Steez – “Three Man Weave”

Friday at Der Rath: Lower Dens w/ Yellow Ostrich + Grace Weber Band + 1,2,3

Baltimore’s Lower Dens formed in 2009 and hasn’t stopped makin’ music since. Vocalist Jana Hunter was previously known for her folky experimental work as a solo artist. However, the quartet of Lower Den is something more along the lines of drone-pop/ post-punk. Hunter is known for her haunting and enthralling vocals that are backed up by echoing guitar and bass. Their second album, Nootropics, is set for release on the first of May off of Gnomonsong Records, and with the growing craze over their mesmerizing single, “Brains” (released back in January), it’ll be awesome to finally hear what other alluring beats the band has in store for us. They’ll be at Der Rath this Friday so come hear them play for free!

Formed in Brooklyn, Yellow Ostrich is currently made up of three very talented musicians: Alex Schaaf, Michael Tapper, and Jon Natchez. However, Schaaf started Yellow Ostrich independently back in 2009 as one-man-band project. They just released their second album from Barsuk Records this past Tuesday (March 6) available on iTunes or at your fave record store. On the same label are indie legends Death Cab for Cutie and favorites such as Rilo Kiley and Phantogram.  On the new album you can expect to hear upbeat rockity rhythms that are a bit different from their 2011 album, The Mistress, but excellent and catchy all the same. “Strange Land” will get your head bobbing and heart throbbing so come be one of the lucky few to hear it live at Der Rath on Friday! Also, want a sampler of 9 Yellow Ostrich tracks for free?! Click here!

Did you hit up Starbuck’s sometime this past January? Of course you did—who can resist those holiday-friendly beverages of the gods? While you were waiting in line for your caffeinated goodness you may have heard Grace Weber’s track “Baby Come Down” off her self-released album Hope & Heart. A Milwaukee native and past member of the city’s Inner City Youth Gospel Choir, Weber’s music is both soulful and poppy. With the release of Hope & Heart back in September, Weber made a top ten spot on iTunes singer/songwriter charts and was Billboard Magazine’s “Artist to Watch.” She’ll be hitting up Madison after a show in Milwaukee in which she’ll be opening for Men at Work / singer-songwriter legend Colin Hay at Turner Hall. Weber describes her musical output as a “modern version of soul, in that I try to tell stories through my lyrics that I hope can touch people, and I always try to sing from an honest place.” You can read a full WUD Music interview with her posted earlier this morning by clicking here. With a presence and passion as fierce as Weber’s, it’s obvious you won’t want to miss her show.

Touring the country with Yellow Ostrich is 1,2,3. This up-and-coming band is comprised of four members: Nic Snyder, Josh Sickels, Mike Yamamoto, and Chad Monticue. Last June, the band released its first album New Heaven (it’s on iTunes!) through Frenchkiss Records. This label has discovered some excellent bands, such as The Dodos, Local Natives, and Passion Pit… I wouldn’t mind french-kissing them. Anyway, their music is both soulful and delicious— definitely worth being heard, so come see them along with Lower Dens, Yellow Ostrich, and Grace Weber Band this Friday 3/9 at Der Rath!

Check out a music video from each band below and check out Lower Dens, Yellow Ostrich, Grace Weber Band, and 1,2,3 in Der Rath tomorrow with a 8:30 start.

DTF: Steez this Friday

Steez, by definition, means style with ease. Is there a better way to describe Madison’s very own self-defined Creepfunk band? I think not. Steez started up in 2003 and consists of five members: Matt Williams (keyboards/ synthesizers/ accordion), Steve Neary (guitar and vocals), Rob Bessert (drums), Chris Sell (bass), and Andrzej Benkowski (sax, oboe, and violion). Over the past few years, the band has gained national recognition, having performed at some of the finest music festivals in the country, such as Summer Camp, Summerfest, Electric Forest, and we can’t forget Mifflin last spring, where they played a most excellent cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer (now that’s pretty steezy!). If you haven’t had a chance to hear them play yet, the quintet is a combination jam-dance-funk band (with a twang of something unearthly) that bleeds both personality and originality… So, they’re pretty much nothing short of mind-blowing.

Oh, and guess what? In an effort to spread their lovely music to the masses, the band is touring the Midwest this winter and spring in their exquisite bus “Big Brown” (you can’t miss it) and is offering free electronic copies of their albums released this year, including KRONOS- their first new album in three years- due in the spring.

So, come check them out in our DTF (Dance This Friday) series at midnight at Union South fo’ free, because opportunities like this are just too good to pass up!

Download a live version of Steez’s “Duderfunk” below as a preview of what you’re in for tomorrow!

Download Steez’s “Duderfunk (live)”