Tag Archives: ANTI-

Sage Francis – LI(F)E – CD Review

Hip-hop artist Sage Francis recently returned with LI(F)E, an all new album on ANTI- Records.  This time around the lyrical genius has tried a different approach to his music by asking for assistance from various musicians who provided personal selections for him to work with.  Skip the bass heavy beats and typical hip-hop soundtracks that have gone with many of his previous works, this time around LI(F)E proves to be Sage Francis’ most sundry work to date.

Having been a fan of Sage Francis since about the time Y2K seemed a threat, I have only gotten more thrilled in anticipation with each of his releases.  I never listened to his albums as much as I studied them.  The man always impressed me with his ability of taking words and formulating them into something intriguing all while accompanied with sometimes self-made hip-hop and even jazzy beats.  This comes from the guy who bought a Sage Francis hoodie from Sage himself a couple years back at one of his shows and did not even realize it was him until mid-way though our conversation.  Oops.

I had to admit I was stoked to see the album cover for LI(F)E was drawn up by contemporary street artist Shepard Fairey.  A young Sage Francis graces the cover and I later found out that it was a dated photo of Sage Francis reminding him of the harder times in life when he slept on the floors at his friend’s houses and just lived day by day.  Not getting down by this things have obviously changed for the better over the years.

“Little Houdini” opened up the album featuring music written by ex-Grandaddy turned solo artist Jason Lytle.  The music, previously written as an instrumental by Lytle, originally had no lyrics to go along with.  Once obtained Francis worked his magic and created a song focused around a fugitive who escaped custody to see his dying mother based from actual events.  Francis had no problem putting his flair on top of the music and one would think both were written at the same time.  The song was one of the better cuts on the entire album.

“Three Sheets To The Wind”, featuring music by Chris Walla of Death Cab For Cutie continued with a appealing track but it just did not match up to the opening track  The questionable “I Was Zero” started out great until Sage just inserted a weak refrain repeating  “when I came out my momma, I was zero”. For a seasoned hip hop artist that holds many wins on freestyle challenges in the past I felt more effort could have been put forth in this track lyrically.  Perhaps my expectations were set high for Sage and I should include that some of the lines he flows out during the song contained amazing selections of words but the music provided perfect for a rap of sorts with a generic chorus killed it for me.

I enjoyed “Slow Man”, a slow folky track summing up the thoughts in many aging individuals, if not Sage himself.  If Sage’s voice had more baritone in it on “Diamond’s & Pearls” I swear I would have been listening to Everlast.  The impressive “The Baby Stays” was a profound story based around the results of a redundant establishment called life only to succumb to the new outlook at the result between an unlikely pair.  The folk soundtrack, courtesy of Tim Rutili, aided Sage to the very ideal story about an unwanted life turning into the greatest thing ever.

Screaming children assist Sage in “London Bridge” a fun track full of random wonders and events in the world.  The song was fun and I think that is all it was meant to be featuring Sage, a bunch of kids, and once again Chris Walla.  Without looking too deep into it I left it at that and enjoyed it.

The late Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse) collaborated with Sage on “Love The Lie”, perhaps my favorite cut on the entire CD.  It was chilling to hear this song knowing that Linkous ended his life for reasons that will never be known.  The track was upbeat from start to finish and almost inspiring yet clearly full of sarcasm.  This is the kind of song you had to actually listen to in order to understand how Sage works.

“The Best Of Times” was another track on LI(F)E that I admired over the others.  The more spoken word track recalled personal stories of Sage making for a powerful close to an impressive release.  As if sitting there listening to Sage was not great enough the musicthat accompanied Sage’s verbal memory was created by Yann Tiersen.

I loved how the album ended as strong as it began.  Sure there were a couple head scratching tracks in there but overall LI(F)E was a pleasure to listen to.  It’s not a hip-hop album by any means but more of a carefully premeditated project from a guy who happens to be good at rapping.  It’s easy for anyone who is familiar with his older material to just not get it – it’s different.  Taking written music in favor of generated beats this round, Sage has created a branch off of what he loves to do and I honestly admire his doing.  Without sounding too cliché, give LI(F)E a chance.

The Weakerthans – Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre – DVD/CD Review

Many fans of indie rock know who The Weakerthans are and what exactly they do.  For years now the Canadian four (and sometimes up to six) some have been creating amazing albums that are heavy on the indie but also incorporate folk and twang into their material.  They are a band that I label as an “accident band”.  What I mean by that is I became a fan of them by accident.

Back in the days of slinging coffees at the café at the Borders Books & Music I worked at I came across a Weakerthans’ album at a listening station one day while on break.  This was at a time and age when the internet was still ruled by AOL and MySpace was just an idea waiting to be hatched out.  I remember clearly putting the headphones on at the listening station and checking out a couple tracks from Left and Leaving.  Liking what I heard, I recall reading a bio about the band while listening to more tracks and taking a double look at the card when it mentioned one time Propagandhi member John Samson.  Seriously, my mouth dropped open.

I was maybe 23 at the time and was slowly opening my musical tastes more.  Being a punk rocker at heart I was in awe that the bassist of one of my favorite punk rock bands was fronting such a melodic and low-key band.  I heard enough, grabbed the CD, and took it to the register for purchase.  Needless to say my musical appreciation was given a boost thanks to the Weakerthans and to this day I am still an avid fan though I have yet to see them live.

Having missed them the couple times they did roll though Cleveland one could say I was excited to see that they had released  a live DVD/CD titled Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre on Epitaph Records/ANTI- Records.  Performed in their hometown of Winnipeg, Canada in April of 2009, the band recorded the performance at the Burton Cumming’s Theatre (yes, the sweet mustached Burton Cummings of The Guess Who).   Just to clarify I believe the theatre was named after the classic rock musician and that he has nothing to do with it.

The DVD/CD captures the perfect evening of a show with the talented indie rockers as well as their dedicated fans who filled the venue up the night it was recorded.  With no fancy light shows or theatrics the band hit the stage and played a very fun and great sounding show.   Their sound, I should add, almost sounds studio and one could be fooled until the fans started hooting and hollering after every song.

Playing songs old and new the band just sounded amazing and looked ever so comfortable on the stage.  Hearing them open with “Everything Must Go” really reminded me why I have been a fan for so long but seeing how happy they were performing the song brought a whole new appreciation from me for them.  With the crowd cheering and the band just having fun it was apparent that this show was going to be a good one.  Speeding things up they broke into “Tournament Of Hearts” immediately after.  With five members on stage it appeared as if Samson’s wife Christine Fellows was hiding in the shadows offering vocals as well.

The band’s (and the crowd’s) friend Julie played on some songs as well including “Night Windows” where she offered some violin. Keeping the show rolling the band broke into “Reconstruction Site” a twangy delight of a song to listen to as well.  The band completely rocked out during “Aside” all while Samson smiled big while singing.  “Bigfoot” was another track I really got a kick out of with all the instrument playing.

Hearing perhaps my favorite Weakerthans song of all time, “Plea From A Cat Named Virtue”, put the biggest smile on my face even if I was watching a recording of the show.  The song revolving around a wise feline carried on perfectly, even the trumpet playing at the close of the song.  Samson also offered a simple impromptu guitar solo that was cut short on the CD but the DVD shows the humorous moment.

During “Wellington’s Wednesdays” Samson pulled up a fan on stage named Ernesto who had the pleasure of filling in a guitar solo in the key of E.  I must say after a nervous start Ernesto started jamming hard with the rest of the band as Samson took the honorary member’s place in the crowd for a short moment.  The band then followed up “The Reasons” as well as “Sun In An Empty Room”.  I swear if it were not for the fans cheering at times my mind tried to argue with me that I was not listening to a live album.

Overall the show was a fun time full of a great set by an outstanding band.  The DVD featured shots of the band throughout the 75 plus minute performance with good angles as well as occasionally would focus in on a true fan singing along.  Capturing The Weakerthans in their hometown was one hell of an idea and even if I have not seen them live in the flesh, I am glad I had the opportunity to have this performance in my possession.

The DVD/CD ranks high with my all time favorite live albums and I have listened to it multiple times now and I am not just saying that.  Great music by a bunch guys made even more entertaining by the simple fact that they were having a blast while doing their job.  If you are a fan of indie rock or just want to spend the evening with some great music do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Live At The Burton Cummings Theatre.

Track Listing (DVD/CD):
01. Everything Must Go
02. Tournament of Hearts
03. Our Retired Explorer (Dines with Michel Foucault in Paris in 1969)
04. Night Windows
05. Reconstruction Site
06. Aside
07. Civil Twilight
08. Bigfoot
09. Plea From A Cat Named Virtute
10. The Reasons
11. Sun In An Empty Room
12. Left and Leaving
13. Wellington’s Wednesdays
14. Benediction
15. Manifest
16. One Great City!
17. This Is A Fire Door Never Leave Open
18. Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure