Portastatic Friday November 17, 2006 Andy Warhol Museum Pittsburgh, PA
w/ Benjy Ferree
Benjy Ferree: They Were Here/The Desert/In The Countryside/Why Bother/Private Honeymoon/A Little At A Time/Leaving The Nest/Grand Canyon/In The Woods
Portastatic: Getting Saved/Sour Shores/Through With People/Naked Pilseners/Sweetness
And Light/Oh Come Down/Drill Me/I'm In Love (With Arthur Dove)/Cheers And Applause/White
Wave/San Andreas/Noisy Night
Encore: Bye Bye Pride/Hey Salty/Baby
This show was to be my last of 2006.
This was an insanely fun show. Several factors made it a good time. (A) The little missus was out tonight making a rare appearance (along with good friends Mike and Molly). (B) The Warhol museum is a fantastic place to see a show/attend happy hour. (C) Benjy Ferree might be the discovery of the year for me. (D) The Norfolk & Western/Corrina Repp gang showed up to join in on the festivities. Oh, and Portastatic were fucking great!
I had never heard of Benjy before he was announced as an opener. His music has a folkie-T. Rexy-classic Kinks kinda' vibe. Real good shit. He really appreciated the art I brought and gave me TWO shout outs from the stage! My man. Definitely worth keeping an eye out on. His album probably will make my top 10 for the year.
Benjy Ferree autographed Leaving The Nest CD cover
Benjy Ferree autographed print
I discovered Portastatic last year when I picked up the Bright Ideas disc. I loved the music and was jazzed when they announced this show. I had to choose between this and Pernice Bros. for financial reasons and damn glad I went to this one. The Warhol had happy hour tonight and the martini was really taking effect by the time Portastatic hit the stage. Their set was really tight and a great way to cap off an incredible year in live music.
Rachel was invited onstage to help out with rhythm on 'Sweetness And Light'. She is the coolest.
Check it out.
Some more YouTubeiliciousness:
My man Robert's pics from Chicago the next night
Mac McCaughan hand-written setlist
Mac McCaughan autographed Bright Ideas CD cover
Portastatic autographed print
Portastatic and Benjy Ferree autographed show flyer
Multi-instrumentalist Margaret White is a veritable indie-band gun for hire. She played in The Mendoza Line and Slow Dazzle, among others, at one time. Dig?
Traipsing around the Warhol is always a blast.
Yeah, he seems thrilled.
from Mac's blog:
what a great place to play! surrounded by insane art, i think every town should have a cloud room. nice little theater in the museum, seated crowd but still plenty vocal, and one of the more surreal percussion performances ever. karl hendricks and family in the house, plus rachel blumberg joined us on "sweetness and light"...good times
Portastatic showcases frenetic, idiosyncratic pop
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Welcome to Mac McCaughan's world. As president of Merge Records, he helms one of the more respected and adventurous music labels, with a roster of artists that includes American Music Club, Lambchop, Robert Pollard, Dinosaur Jr. and Pittsburgh's Karl Hendricks Trio.
But McCaughan is not merely a businessman or a music fan lucky to have a pretty cool job. McCaughan's own bands, Superchunk and Portastatic -- the latter plays Friday at the The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Shore -- are more than worthy of inclusion with their label mates.
"I'm definitely influenced by the bands on Merge because I listen to them so much," McCaughan says. "But I think it's more the idea of making the best record you can make. I've always felt that kind of pressure, especially when Superchunk achieved a little bit of popularity; then you know that people are paying attention. And especially as someone running a label, you want to make the records good because you don't want people to go, 'Oh, it's his hobby; he has a label just to make records.'"
That hardly is the case. Superchunk -- which is on a hiatus at present -- makes frenetic, idiosyncratic pop music with a touch of the punk aesthetic. Portastatic, which just has released a new album, "Be Still Please," is a variation on the Superchunk theme: More spaces between the notes, lighter in tone, more experimentaion. The new release includes "Sweetness and Light," a sweetly hued tune with a Bossa Nova flavor, the sweeping, cinematic scope of "Sour Shores" and "You Blanks," a fairly straightforward pop tune augmented by oboe and chimes.
"The majority of Portastatic is mellower than the majority of Superchunk," McCaughan says. "But the live band for Portastatic right now is a pretty loud rock 'n' roll band. It's definitely as loud and fast as a Superchunk show. There's just a greater dynamic range."
The difference in "Be Still Live" and other projects with Portastatic is McCaughan recorded the songs with live performances in mind. That meant he wanted to make sure that one element was present: Fun.
"The first few Portastatic records," McCaughan says, "we did a few shows here and there, but that stuff was largely recorded at home and written in a way that was not never meant to be played live, but that wasn't the focus. So a lot of the songs I can't play live. The tunings are really weird; I may have had a guitar tuned one way for a day and never did it again. There was just a lot of weird stuff going on, and I think that playing live makes you want to record songs that way. ... If you're going to be doing shows, it's great to have a record that will be fun to play with this band."
"Be Still Please" also has one of the better packaging ideas of the year. The inside sleeve unfolds to reveal McCaughan, dressed in a suit, photographed in nine environments that slyly correspond to each of the album's nine songs.
Again, the idea is not a function of being a record executive but of being an artist.
"I think if you talk to most people in bands, one of the things you are most excited about is getting to design your record cover," McCaughan says. "If you grew up a music fan, that's one of the things you're into, the cool packaging. I spend a lot of time on the music, so if you put out a record that looks crappy, no one will want to listen to it."
On both counts -- sound and vision -- "Be Still Here" succeeds.
Music Preview: Superchunk leader spoons up Portastatic and indie label success
Thursday, November 16, 2006
By Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When so many indie rock bands were signing to major labels in the late '80s and early '90s, Superchunk took a different route. The Chapel Hill, N.C., band founded its own label, Merge, in 1992 and, along with releasing Super-chunk records, started to build the label with other bands
It grew into an indie juggernaut with a roster that has included the likes of Spoon, The Magnetic Fields, Neutral Milk Hotel, Dinosaur Jr., Polvo and the Clientele. Last year, it broke the Arcade Fire, perhaps the biggest indie success story of 2005.
Merge is also the home to Portastatic, the ever-evolving side project of label head and Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan. Portastatic takes on a number of forms and sounds with different records, from lo-fi rock to jazzy Brazilian to orchestrated soundtrack music.
The latest record, "Be Still Please," belies its title with catchy-quirky guitar-rock and gorgeous, epic pop with the added warmth of strings.
Juggling two bands, a rapidly growing label and a 3-year old daughter, McCaughan says, "It just means that you don't get enough sleep, really." In advance of his show at the Warhol, he talked about his active music life.
Portastatic began as a side project. Did you ever anticipate that it would develop to this extent?
I didn't really anticipate one way or the other. It started off as something that was just in my spare time when Superchunk wasn't so busy. At the same time, I still valued what I was doing. I didn't see it as just [fooling] around. In some ways, I anticipated it lasting longer than Superchunk just because with Superchunk it required four people to be involved. And this right now, this is a five-piece band, but it can just be me or a lot of different things, and it can morph into whatever it needs to be at any given time.
Do you enjoy having this kind of freedom?
Yeah, it's great. In some ways, it's stressful 'cause there's no one to say, "That's a terrible idea." It's hard to edit yourself in some ways. There's a lot of choices, and that can be a little bit of a burden as opposed to having things decided for you. But it's cool, I love being able to put out three records in a year if I want to, or not, or do an instrumental soundtrack and then a record of songs. It's cool to be able to go back and forth.
Portastatic has been a fluid project. How did you approach this record?
In some ways, this record and the last record, "Bright Ideas," have been the most thought-out and planned-out in advance. Not down to every detail, because you always hear things that trigger other ideas. But on this record, I was focusing on nine or 10 songs, as opposed to the first Portastatic records, which were a bit more all over the map in terms of having little 30-second instrumental things between songs and stuff like that. I think the last couple records being more focused really helps. You lose a little bit of haphazardness, which I like about the first records, but I think you gain other things.
The orchestration on this record is really well done. It's really woven into the songs.
Part of that was just doing the film score I did. It forced me to learn how to do strings better than I ever had in the past. I think that led to the new record being a little more orchestrated and orchestrated in a way that feels more natural, that goes with the song.
The use of strings, what people call chamber pop, has become kind of a signature of this decade ...
I think the term is annoying, 'cause it sounds nothing like chamber music, first of all. Everything I hear that gets described as that, it sounds like they listened to a Left Banke record and then all they took away was the arrangements and none of the good songs. When I listen to a Motown record or a Stax record with great string or horn arrangements, I'm not thinking "What a great chamber pop record." I'm thinking "Wow, what great songs these are and the strings just feed into the whole picture" -- as opposed to it being the main idea. When I listen to something that's supposed to be chamber pop, the whole gimmick is, "Look, we have strings on our record" as opposed to "We have great songs on the record." To me, it's not something that reminds me of this decade. I think of decades ago.
Would you say you're getting more and more confident as a singer?
Not really. In some ways, my singing has been something that means that the music will only ever achieve a certain amount of appeal -- for people who will put up with the voice. I don't feel like I'm uncomfortable, but I don't feel like I'm more comfortable either. Many songs I'll write and when I get to the studio, I think, "Why did I write it in this key?" Every song is a different struggle when it comes to the singing.
What is the status of Super- chunk?
We're playing a show this week in New York, but other than that, we don't have any plans, except to write some more songs. We have a few songs but not enough for a whole album. We've played two shows this year, and they've been kind of fun, but we'd like to have more new songs before we play more and, hopefully we'll make a new record next year.
A number of Superchunk's contemporaries signed with major labels. I assume that you're glad you resisted that temptation?
I don't think any of us ever wishes we had done anything different. The way we slowed down and stopped touring was more about what touring was like and what we were like, as opposed to "If only we had been on a different label ..." The experience that I have seen of others hasn't made me think it wouldn't have changed anything.
A number of them are back on indie labels, like Dinosaur Jr on Merge.
Yeah, there aren't many examples of like, "Wow, it worked out so well for them that they signed to a major label."
Arcade Fire has been a huge success for Merge. Did you see that coming when you signed them?
Having seem them live and heard the record, we knew they would be a band that would blow people away. I don't think there's any band you could see where you would know it was going to happen so quickly. It was kind of amazing.
What does the Arcade Fire success do for the label?
It helps with name recognition, it helps other bands and it helps you as a label. Bands you might want to work with see what Merge can do if they see the success of a record like that.
What's happening with the label that you're really excited about?
The beginning of the year we have a lot of stuff coming -- a David Kilgour record that's awesome, a new band on Merge called the Broken West from Los Angeles. We're excited to have people hear them for the first time. Next spring, we have Ladybug Transistor, the Clientele, the Rosebuds, there's a lot of great stuff.
Is downloading impacting your label or are the people who like these records tending to buy them?
Certainly people download stuff and probably people download stuff instead of buying, but I think for the most part, people who are into stuff on Merge are music fans and they want to support the labels they like and the bands that they like. They're good fans to have.
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