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Furies, War Twins among bands rocking Palladium new-school.


Age and treachery may very well overcome youth and skill, as the old adage goes, but judging from the stellar show Saturday at The Palladium, youth and skill still has a lot going for it.

Four bands - Bright, the Morning; Speaker for the Dead; Little War Twins; and the Furies - had the upstairs stage rocking in a series of high-energy short sets that featured unconventional arrangements, quirky indie rock sounds and virtuoso performing chops.

Worcester locals Bright, the Morning started off the night on a delicate, almost-haunting note, navigating emotionally fraught terrain with singer Joy Rachelle's lovely vocals (and, for a couple of songs, ukulele) and a neat anti-folk sound that let each instrument on stage shine clearly and distinctively (a vividness which, alas, the venue's sound made a bit muddy - not much of a problem when you've got metal bands on stage, but acts like these you really want to hear every note and lyric). At one point, the band launched into Regina Spektor's "On the Radio," a difficult, offbeat song with subtle tones and changes. They absolutely nailed it, making it their own.

Worcester institution Speaker for the Dead, fronted by local musician Greg McKillop, took the stage second, after some technical difficulties during set-up, including McKillop having to change guitars before starting. The wait was worth it, though, because while Speaker for the Dead is often simply McKillop singing and playing guitar by himself, this arrangement comprised 11 members, including a full brass band with tuba.

Songs such as McKillop's classic "St. Peter" transformed from lean pieces of folk rock to full-on spectacles, adding layers of sound without losing any of the original feeling or power. It was a pretty neat trick and was absolutely hypnotizing to behold. McKillop held both audience and mob of a band like a conductor, creating a fusion of sound and energy that was positively spellbinding.

The Boston-based band Little War Twins, featuring Fitchburg's Gaetana Brown, was on next, and - excepting one deviation into full-on folksiness with the lovely, sedate "Star Seeker" - offered a surprisingly rock-tinged set: upbeat and adrenaline-driven, and absolutely pulsating with energy. Brown, particularly, is a tremendous performer, and has a way of effortlessly commanding attention from behind a microphone. The band, which also appeared this week at the South By Southwest music festival in Texas, is tight and positively bristles with enthusiasm.

The Furies - incidentally, the only band on the lineup I knew absolutely nothing about - closed down the show with a guitar-driven explosion of power pop, including the band's new single, "Keep Away":

On a night when everything on stage was good, it took a tremendous push of energy to finish out on a high note, and the Furies didn't disappoint. The all-female band puts forward flat-out rock 'n' roll that both feels contemporary and blisters with hooks and propulsion (and notably a delightful inclusion of a cello on a couple of songs, which broke up the sound gorgeously). It was a powerhouse finish to a lineup of younger musicians who are building a bright musical future, song by song. (Victor D. Infante)

An `Extraordinary' artist

It takes a certain type of artist to pull off an unwieldy title for an album, and Fiona Apple is doing it for the second time. Sometime in the near future, we'll be treated to her newest collection, "The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do." Which isn't even her longest album title. (That honor goes to 1999's "When the Pawn," the full title of which is more than 80 words long.)

Pretentiousness? On a lesser artist, maybe, but Apple - who is performing March 27 at the Royale in Boston, on the heels of a much-heralded appearance at South by Southwest - is capable of playing off on the fringe without losing her grounding or accessibility, capable of exposing raw nerves through music and making them beautiful. She proved as much on her debut album, 1996's "Tidal," with such songs as "Shadowboxer" and "Sleep to Dream."

These are great songs, but with her last album, 2005's "Extraordinary Machine," she pretty much blew the curve. "Machine" is a deeply personal album, but its stark and unapologetic portrait of disintegrating relationships is breathtaking and cathartic.

This album - plagued by delays and a bootleg release - is one of those albums that can bring music fans to blows. But, honestly, it's one of my favorites. From its quirky, offbeat title track at the beginning, to its closing "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," which could be a Cole Porter number, with its bittersweet gentleness and trying-too-hard cheerfulness. There's a sense of resignation in both sides, a sense of surrender to the situation, but they each come at it from different angles - in the first, the song's persona is a cipher, able to adapt to whatever's demanded of her. "If there was a better way to go then it would find me/I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me/Be kind to me, or treat me mean/I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine." This is hardly the same perspective as the CD's achingly sad final song, where Apple sings, "No I don't believe in the wasting of time,/But I don't believe that I'm wasting mine."

Between these two songs, Apple takes the listener on an emotional rollercoaster, perhaps best exemplified by the rage-filled "Window" - "So I had to break the window/It just had to be/Better that I break a window/Than him or her or me." That's a dangerous line, and, frankly, it's taken me a long time to stop blowing up at music critics who refer to Apple as a "psycho ex-girlfriend" in this song, because that's completely reductive to the emotional portrait Apple paints here, the brutal reflection of anger and heartbreak she creates. And often, the violence of the action portrayed obscures the more telling verse:

"So again I've done the right thing/I was never worried about that/The answer's always been in clear view/But even when the window's clean/I still can't see for the fact/That when it's clean it's so clear/I can't tell what I'm lookin' through."

And in that is why this album cuts so close to the bone: There's never a moment where, as a songwriter, Apple ever lets herself off the hook. Her persona looks at heartbreak and failure, and if she's exacting in placing blame on others, she's worse on herself, such as in "Get Him Back," where, after plotting a laundry list of vengeance against ex-boyfriends - "you will see my face/as I figure out how to kill/what I cannot catch" - the persona comes to the last one, of whom she says, "I think he let me down/ when he didn't disappoint me."

Apple is angry throughout this album, bitter and wounded, but she's never a martyr. She lets the emotion burble and rage like a stormy ocean, until finally, in the last song, the listener finally drowns in sorrow.

It's been seven years since "Extraordinary Machine" came out, and still, I find new layers and crevices in the album, still find it, well, extraordinary. So needless to say, I'm terribly excited to see what she has in store for her next outing. (VDI)


CUTLINE: Fiona Apple, performing Wednesday during the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 16, 2012
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