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Wednesday, September 13th, 2006

Poison Cup

Given the choice, I almost always prefer to see singer-songwriter types in a band setting. Properly and sympathetically arranged, I find extra instrumentation can only benefit good material and add an extra dynamic dimension to live performances. That said, I would cite M Ward as the exception to that rule. His solo show last February was so perfectly suited to the his repetoire at the time (he had just released Transistor Radio) that I couldn’t imagine a band adding anything that he was creating with his guitar, piano, harmonica, looper and voice.

But his latest record Post-War is a considerably more rollicking affair and for this tour, Ward was doing the full band thing including two drummers and a second guitarist. As befit such a powerful rhythm section, they practically galloped through the whole set, leaning heavily on the upbeat end of his repetoire. It’s hard to appreciate just how incredible a musician Ward is without watching him work – whether on acoustic, electric or Wurlitzer he was amazing and terrifying to behold. There’s a lot of focus on his timeless rasp of a voice, but even if he never opened his mouth and let his fingers do the talking, he’d be a legend in the making.

Seeing as how they powered through the main set, it was over (seemingly) very quickly but I felt almost as exhausted having watched it as the band must have been performig it. For the encore, Ward came out solo and acoustic and we got a taste of the wandering troubadour that dazzled at the El Mocambo last year. The band returned for a one-song second encore and that was it. As impressive as the show was, I have to say I preferred Ward solo – there was an intimacy to it that was missing this time out. I also prefer the older albums to the latest one, so that was surely part of it as well. But however Ward chooses to hit the road, he’s always something to see.

Openers were Brooklyn’s Oakley Hall who played a very similar set of psychedelic roadhouse country to the one that I saw in July when they opened for Calexico. The only difference was this time, I had one of their albums – Gypsum Strings – under my belt so I can say with some authority that they’re much better live than on record. The production on the studio product is much thinner and doesn’t capture the on-stage energy of the band. Still very enjoyable to watch as the six of them wreaked some havoc on their cramped stage setup and really a perfect fit for Ward’s audience.

Very small photo gallery this time – there was a strict “no camera” policy in effect and while I got official permission to shoot the first three songs, Ward waved me off after a song and a half and I’m lucky to have gotten what I did. It was fine with me – I shot 6 GB of photos over the weekend, a break suited me fine but I couldn’t help thinking he certainly didn’t mind me shooting him last time, as my photos on his MySpace gallery would attest. Merge has Ward’s recent performance on The Late Late Show Letterman YouTube-d.

Photos: M Ward @ The Mod Club – September 11, 2006
MP3: M Ward – “To Go Home”
MP3: M Ward – “Post-War”
Video: M Ward – “Chinese Translation” (YouTube)
Stream: M Ward / Post-War
MySpace: M Ward

The Macon Telegraph talks to Jason Isbell of the Drive-By Truckers, playing the Phoenix on October 18.

Will Johnson talks about Centro-Matic’s longevity to The Denver Post.

The Guardian plays name that tune with Yo La Tengo. I Am Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass hit stores yesterday and the band hits the Phoenix October 2. So much hitting.

JAM reports that Bob Dylan is happy. Having the #1 record in America will do that for a fellow, I guess.

My Old Kentucky Blog has a couple of new demos from Margot & The Nuclear So And So’s up for grabs. The band is hoping to have their sophomore disc out in Spring of ’07 but in the meantime are hitting the road yet again, this time with The Elected. They say they hope to have a Canadian date on this jaunt to make up for their cancellation back in March, and judging from their itinerary so far, expect to see them here between October 31 and November 2 if they do make it across the border. But in the meantime, there’s a live studio video session thing at Rolling Stone.

The Boston Globe talks to Band Of Horses, who have a new video out:

Video: Band Of Horses – “The Great Salt Lake” (MOV)

Puddlegum reports that a posthumus Elliott Smith album of rare and unreleased materials will be coming out on March 17 of next year.

It’s not Archives but Neil Young has gone vault-digging back to 1970 for a new live album – Live At The Fillmore East – out October 24.

Oh, Merge! reports that the release of Portastatic’s new album Be Still Please on October 10 with a digital-only EP called Sour Shores, available online at the usual outlets this week. Mac offers more details on the Portastatic blog. Intersesting that while Portastatic is confirmed to play Pop Montreal in October, there’s no Toronto date. They were just here a few months ago but usually when an act bothers to cross the border, they maximize their time in Canada. Oh well.

np – Shearwater / The Dissolving Room

By : Frank Yang at 8:45 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. wilceaux says:

    That M Ward clip on Merge’s site is actually from Letterman.
    He’ll be on the Late Late Show 9/28.
    I can’t wait to see him with Portastatic here in Austin in a couple weeks. Should be great.

  2. Frank says:

    thanks for the correction. I scanned a little too quickly…

  3. Sasha says:

    Nice write up Frank. However, I do like his more rollicking stuff as much as the acoustic, but at the show, his encore solo set was clearly the better of the two. I think the sound at Mod Club wasn’t condusive to so much noise. Seemed really thin on the edges, and the drums overpowered the guitars, which is too bad since he does such intricate work. Seemed like it was balanced for the acoustic set because that was really clean sounding. Good show no less.

    I can’t believe how little you hear about his playing. His abilities with his guitars are probably among the best I’ve ever seen…simply incredible. I play and I still can’t fathom half the stuff he’s doing. If I was at Guitar Player magazine I’d be profiling him every other month! We need a guitar magazine that focus’ on players like him and other good players. Too much Sambora/Vai/Tyler type magazines, and nothing for folks who preferences are a little less cock rock!
    Maybe I should start a blog….hmmmm…heh heh heh

  4. mac / portastatic says:

    hey Frank – we hope to bring the Portastatic sound back to Toronto sometime soon, but Montreal is a fly-in, fly-out solo situation (i’m on a panel at the Future of Music Conference too) as our full-band touring starts a few days later…hopefully we’ll get back up there before the end of the year though!

  5. Adam says:

    The solo-acoustic set was unbelievable, especially "Paul’s Song," though it was hard not to like the rollicking "Five Hours In Washington" delivered early in the set. My eyes kept shifting between Ward and the two drummers. Rachel Blumberg is a powerhouse!

  6. Joe says:

    Frank, it appears you got a better M Ward set than I. Though I ran into the camera thing in a different way and had a football happy Columbus crowd. I wrote it up but wont bother you with the link here….

  7. Megan says:

    This was my 4th time seeing the man, and I always leave a little breathless and in awe. Rachel is one of my favourite drummers, and then having 2, one to keep with drums and one to play the glock and other percussion, I thought was pretty amazing. I really liked the consistent acoustic rhythm guitar as well at the beginning. I was just pissed that the tall boys in front of us (read 6’3" +) wouldn’t let me and my shorter friend stand in front. Ah well.