Jeff Tweedy performs live. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Jeff Tweedy has amassed a following in old and new-fashioned ways, building his base across the decades with albums and songs of his own across at least a half-dozen acts (Uncle Tupelo, Wilco, Golden Smog, Loose Fur, Tweedy, solo) and expanding it with Wilco’s Solid Sound festival (reinventing the festival in the modern age), writing a memoir, keeping a steady live sitcom on his wife’s Insta during covid-times, and now sharing a slice of his wisdom with a book about songwriting: How to Write One Song (out now via Dutton).
Sam Beam (Iron & Wine) at The Anthem, Feb. 7, 2020. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Some nights are better than other nights.
Hozier performs at The Anthem on Nov. 18, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Something happens in the mind when music washes over us, replete with that familiar sense of a life lived — of politics, of being a human, a lover, part of a family — balanced with the urge to dance and lose ourselves, if only for a moment. It feels like something real and honest, yet still somehow something almost frivolous.
I am reminded well of something Hozier’s music has long done — it treads the tenuous line between the sacred and the profane. The crowd singing along, and if I close my eyes, I can smell the scent of incense, see the stained-glass smiles of saints. Is this so different? Are the people on the rails not worthy of sainthood? Aren’t we all, in our ways, very nearly worthy? At the very least, do the sacrifices demanded of so many not reach into martyrdom? Not so much in the theistic sense, but the realistic one.
Angie McMahon performs at The Anthem on Nov. 18, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Something strange happens when traveling new paths, when getting a little lost. There is a fervor, a little fear, and plenty of excitement. This sensation, this blush of discovery, so often pervades the experience of new music.
And so it was for me with Angie McMahon’s music. I remember the first time I played Salt, well-past the sun’s setting but not yet in the black of night, her dusky powerhouse voice soaring out my car’s windows. I felt a little something break inside.
The New Pornographers perform at the 9:30 Club on Nov. 5, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
I remember when I first discovered The New Pornographers: My roommate blasted Twin Cinema in the late morning after classes, their adventurous pop songs flirting with the saccharine and well-balanced with touches of bitterness, surreality, and unflinching honesty. The interplay of Neko Case’s, A.C. Newman’s, and Dan Bejar’s voices added textures that allowed the songs to float from gauzy to meaty in three minutes.
Doug Martsch of Built to Spill performs at the 9:30 Club on Oct. 4. 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Fresh off a four-night run in New York, Built to Spill carried their trademark sound to a sold-out crowd at the 9:30 Club recently. With the band fast-approaching its 30th anniversary and celebrating the 20th anniversary of their seminal record, Keep It Like a Secret, Doug Martsch and friends offered a riveting a freewheeling reinterpretation of that record mixed with a few choice cuts around it.
The Head and the Heart perform at The Anthem on Oct. 3, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Forged in the fires of open mics, born in Seattle’s Conor Byrne’s pub, and ultimately shaped by the trials and tribulations of honest friendship, The Head and the Heart have emerged as something new, something somehow different but still fundamentally the same, as seen at The Anthem recently.
Shakey Graves plays at The Anthem on Sept. 13, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known by his hallucinogenic-given stagename Shakey Graves, further cemented his status as a harbinger of modern rock and roll with his most recent album, Can’t Wake Up. Any fans of his know well that he can write a song with a heavy groove, the kind of tunes that stutter-step into beauty.
The Wallflowers at Rams Head Live, Aug. 23, 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
Towheaded and impressionable, I found Bringing Down the Horse at Sam Goody’s end-of-row display shelf in the Towsontown Mall, its stamplike W and stars drawing my eyes. I pulled a pile of ones out of my pocket, the slowly-earned financial detritus of chores completed and change received, counting out the $16.99 required. Then (and maybe now), spending my money filled me with some worry, concern that my decision would ruin my mood. That, somehow, this thing I’d promised my time wouldn’t be worthy of it.
Deer Tick performs at The Charm City Bluegrass Festival in April 2019. (Photo by Matt Ruppert)
In so many ways, Deer Tick is the quintessential modern American band. Started sometime in the mid-2000s and officially releasing War Elephant in 2007, theirs is a sound born of something many of us can find familiar: as at home on a small stage in the corner of a bar/coffeehouse, in a party club, or on a big stage in the middle of a national park.