nzmattis's Blog

Ra Ra Riot starts the semester off right

Review: SU's most famous indie rockers returned to campus to start their tour to support 'The Orchard.'

It wasn’t a surprise that the hottest spot for the first Friday night of the SU academic year was Marshall Street. Both Chuck’s and Faegan’s recently made a pretty heavily circulated list of the best college bars in the country after all. The real event to be at however was just below. That’s where hometown heroes Ra Ra Riot returned to perform an intimate, sold-out show at Funk N’ Waffles to kick-off their upcoming North American tour. To make the evening even more special, the performance was the band’s first since the release of its second album, The Orchard, earlier this week. Sort of.

“This is our first show since the album came out,” frontman Wes Miles explained early in the set. “Unless you count earlier today [an in-store at Sound Garden] and the one before that [release party in NYC], which I don't and nobody should.”

It didn’t matter where Syracuse fell on the tour schedule, fans were simply elated that the group chose to return. The band seemed to genuinely appreciate the excitement and rewarded all in attendance with the high energy, high tempo and highly interactive set they’ve become known for. The set list included six tracks from The Orchard but also spanned favorites like “Dying is Fine,” “Can You Tell” and “Too Too Fast.”

The emotion going back and forth between band and crowd reached such a high during the encore that Ra Ra Riot even choose to end the night on a shouted out request. The crowd went into a frenzy when they hit the intro of “Everest” off the band’s original self-titled EP.  It’s a track played rarely enough that they didn’t have cowbell like on the album version and some repeated lyrical interpretation was encouraged. There were no complaints to be seen as the band finished the night only to find a healthy portion of the crowd waiting to greet them for at least a half hour while they broke down the equipment.

For one of the first shows since The Orchard’s release, the band’s new tracks sounded tight. The album itself seems like a departure from their uptempo, bass and drum driven roots but tracks like “Boy,” “Too Dramatic,” and “Do You Remember” fit seamlessly in between tracks off The Rhumb Line within a set. Even a song like “Foolish” provided a nice change of pace to the night when paired directly with “Can You Tell.” (It’s worth noting that “Foolish” sounded even better at the in-store earlier in the day when the band opted for no drums and an acoustic guitar. That setup highlighted the great interplay between the instruments and the track’s vocal harmonies better. It could end up being a tactic they deploy down the road by playing a trio of songs sans drummer during a night).

The night wasn’t perfect – some technical sound issues in-house, a few times where it seemed like the drums were pushing tempo a bit much – but none of that matter. Ra Ra Riot was back in town bringing the same enthusiasm for live performance that helped launch their journey just four years ago. It was a fitting showing of love from a crowd made up of a mix between new fans and old, and according to Miles the band certainly toke notice.

“We love you too Syracuse, that's why you're the first show on tour.”

Juice Jam 2010: Don't analyze it, just go

With Lupe Fiasco and Passion Pit headlining, SU's music festival looks solid, but not overly exciting.

I've been hyping myself about Juice Jam 2010 since June. It's like the off-season in any major professional sports league  - speculation about who's coming might be the most exciting part. Yesterday we finally found out:

Mash-up artists Super Mash Bros, homeschool dance tandem Mouth's Cradle, Passion Pit and advertised headliner Lupe Fiasco.

On paper, this lineup looks good. It'll be easy to support and get excited for Mouth's Cradle. Both they and Super Mash Bros. have styles that are easy to appreciate (big beats, dance orientation, familiar hooks, etc.). Lupe Fiasco and Passion Pit present household names that are probably equally relevant in today's music scene while potentially attracting different crowds (Passion Pit seems to be pop music that the indie scene appreciates, Lupe Fiasco is a rapper who has crossovered to the mainstream with hits like "Superstar" and his various features). With four acts in total and really no set anyone should dread, University Union deserves credit for creating what should be an overall solid, music- packed afternoon.

Lupe Fiasco

That said, I still can't help feeling slightly disappointed 24 hours after the announcement. Juice Jam is an event that, for better or for worse, does not exist in a vaccuum. As you continue on through your college career, each year gets compared with the previous ones.  As the first show of the year on campus, it's easy to look at the competition from the other CNY universities and colleges with what they've scheduled early this fall (both with their welcome back shows and already announced major acts). In both instances, Juice Jam 2010 seems average.

Ranking the four Juice Jams for SU Class '11:

1) Bloc Party, Ra Ra Riot, Talib Kweli ('08)

2) Girl Talk, The Cool Kids, Jack's Mannequin ('09)

3) Passion Pit, Lupe Fiasco, Super Mash Bros, Mouth's Cradle ('10)

4) Third Eye Blind, White Rabbits, Max Bemis (of Say Anything) ('07)

Consider the fact that the 2008 was Bloc Party's first collegiate show ever (and the night ended with Kele making appearances on Marshall St.). Bloc Party alone (with their debut Silent Alarm  being ranked in both NME and Pitchfork's top albums of the decade list, not to mention topping some notable best of's in 2005) elevated that year above the rest.  Even if Girl Talk's set in '09 was filled with newer mixes he may still need to perfect, the unique concert experience he provides (unparalleled levels of communal, no inhibitions dance) is something you won't get with Passion Pit or Lupe Fiasco.

Ranking the Fall '10 Shows at other CNY Colleges & Universities

1) Phoenix at Cornell University

2) LCD Soundsystem/Sleigh Bells at Hamilton College

3) Passion Pit, Lupe Fiasco, Super Mash Bros, Mouth's Cradle at SU

10) Jason Mraz, B.O.B. at University of Buffalo (I'm aware only four shows are listed...)

It's fair to note that we, at times, have managed to get the same acts as local universities and colleges (just look at Drake last year). For now, it's hard not to recognize how big scheduling acts like Phoenix or LCD Soundsystem is for a CNY school. Phoenix's most recent release, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was the rare album that has success critically, commercially and at the Grammys. All three of LCD Soundsystem's albums have been highly acclaimed and their work has been cited as some of the best of the decade from respected critics like Jim DeRogatis. Even in quantifiable terms like size of venues they play, both LCD Soundsystem and Phoenix have headlined at Madison Square Garden in NYC. Neither Lupe Fiasco nor Passion Pit has quite reached that level yet.

Regardless of your opinions on the lists above, consider the recent relationships each of the Juice Jam '10 artists has with SU.  Lupe Fiasco performed here within the last four years, (Block Party '07). Mouth's Cradle was still doing house parties last semester. Both Passion Pit and Super Mash Bros have been available within a 45 minute ride during the last two months of classes being in session (Passion Pit at Hamilton for free in May, Super Mash Bros. at Cornell this fall). There are many folks on campus who will have seen at least one of these acts before and a substantial number who've seen two or more. That's not an issue if you consider any of these performers "favorites" or a truly special live show, but it's hard to talk yourself into any of them fitting that bill.

Inevitably I'll buy a ticket for Juice Jam 2010, go and really enjoy myself. Lupe Fiasco will be solid as always, it'll be fun to see Mouth's Cradle slowly growing and maybe Passion Pit will surprise me this time around (admittedly, the last time I saw them was with Phoenix and Spoon so it's hard to keep up in that slot). In the moment, I have no doubt I'll leave satisfied and talking about what a strong lineup it was. Afterwards though, I'll simply be counting down the days until the next on-campus announcement (and also the Cornell and Hamilton shows).

Photo: Lupe Fiasco in Melbourne via Flickr user Scootie

Camp Bisco Day Three: Daytime at the festival, Ween and lightning strikes

Day Three ended prematurely but Ween was among the interesting highlights.

The Camp Bisco hashtag was more active today than ever, filled with people declaring their need for recovery after the weekend. Taking that into consideration, this Day Three recap is downright early:

  • Hanging around at the festival during the day is a completely different experience. To start, the choice of bands is a bit lesser. Take traditional, preachy jamband Soja who played to small but appreciative crowd during their set. The music was perfectly fine, but without the lure the evening acts had (and plus the sunshine and open fields) the music became background rather than the focus. The stage area turned into a place for hackeysacks, hula-hoops, frisbees and anything else folks could think of. Even the number of credentialed photographers dwindled to just three at points (compared to when Ween took the stage and you needed to jockey for position with 10 others). Maybe things would've been different if Break Science showed and fans got some Talib Kweli, but the afternoon's marquee act was MIA without much explanation.

  • Speaking of Ween, they probably had the set of the day. It happened to be the only scheduled 2-hour set of the festival and I had my doubts immediately when they took the stage. Older bands getting top billings like this (evening set, last day of the festival) make me wonder if they can bring it or if the scheduling simply pays homage to a past that isn't there anymore. Shellac at ATP NY was a case of the latter, but Ween can still thrill a crowd. Gene Ween and company maintained high energy throughout a set filled with edgy, hard rock. It provided a nice departure from the dance, jam and electronica that filled the rest of the festival. It was a great last impression even if I didn't know it'd be my last full set of the night at the time.

  • The reason Ween became my closer was a nearby lightning storm that caused several delays to the festival. The set caused Brothers Past to setup, leave the stage, return for two songs and then ultimately get cancelled all together around 8:30 p.m. Their set was ended by a festival representitive telling the crowd, "Please return to your cars, we're not kidding," several times. Initially this caused loads of groans but, once in the parking lot, folks were ooo'ing and ahh'ing to a legitimately intense lightning show. I was so sure it wouldn't let up that I decided to play it safe and drive home (and I didn't escape the storm until Exit 30 while heading west on Interstate 90. Bisco was off Exit 24). A frustratingly small amount of info is available about what happened from there. There are virtually no tweets about the delay and the official Camp Bisco feed just continued their updates as if nothing happened (or as if the feed was automated previously). They sent out a tweet that Girl Talk was about to take the stage at 9:30pm which clearly wasn't the case (I left at 10pm without any music restarts). A Flickr and Google search for "[the late night acts]+ Camp Bisco" returns nothing but there is one video on YouTube of Girl Talk performing with a small crowd on stage. The caption reads, "Quick clip of girl talk at camp bisco at 1:30 a.m."  He was originally scheduled for a 10:30 p.m. set.       

  • To end on a more positive note, a second rendition of some crowd quotes from Camp Bisco (ala Overheard in NYC):

"My friend is a chef and he brought whip creme so we could do a few. Otherwise man, there is no nitrus here."

"[To a fellow security guard] Come here, they're bathing again."

Finally, to me as I was having my car checked and the guard discovered the bowling ball I keep in my trunk: "You should play on the grass with some cups. Chicks will hook up with you, just have to make sure you have condoms."


Check out coverage of Camp Bisco Day One, Day Two and follow along on Twitter (or read the #Camp Bisco hashtag)

Camp Bisco Day Two: Major Lazer, Diplo and Bisco at night

Day Two of the Disco Biscuits' festival was a juxtaposition of dance heavy music and the deep woods hangout.

These Day Two updates are coming to you live from an NY Thruway Rest Stop the morning after my first all-nighter at Camp Bisco 2010.

  • First set I caught for the day was Major Lazer on the second stage. I would've loved to catch the Wu Massacre (Method Man, Ghostface and Raekwon) on the main stage earlier in the day but the commute/day of work kept me from what seemed like a well received set. I was definitely interested to see Major Lazer though because all I knew of them was 1) they were a suggested act on the recent UU Juice Jam survey and 2) they had sweet merchandise.

  • After reviewing my photos I finally put it together that Major Lazer is the brainchild of Diplo (along with fellow DJ/Producer Switch). The act's set definitely reflects a DJ mentality -- non-stop music, lots of hyping the crowd and beats made for moving. To provide a little entertainment, MC Skerrit Bwoy joins in costumed as Major Lazer. I'm not sure what he adds besides being the live visuals and hyping the crowd becuase he didn't do much (if any) MC'ing. Skerrit Boy did do a great job of energizing the crowd however and he proved to be damn good dancer. Within the first three songs of the set, Skerrit Bwoy had jumped into the crowd, bent over his fly girl for some grinding and whipped out a bottle of Hennessy. I don't know how well the act would go over at SU (not to any fault of the music itself), but at this festival Major Lazer really got the crowd going and had a fun set.

  • Next stop was Diplo for a twilight set at the "Dance Tent." (Cut me a break, I drove 6+hrs and slept for maybe 5 at this point in the festival. I was OK with passing on sets two and three of six from The Disco Biscuits). If Caribou had done admirable work in the tent on Night One, Diplo was the reason the tent was created on Night Two. Folks coming from a Biscuits' set that went long (*shocker*) sprinted to fill the tent right as Diplo took the stage. It felt like a city dance club rather than a large tent in the middle of really rural Upstate New York. Diplo's solo set did it for me more than the Major Lazer one earlier for the simple fact that you can really appreciate his production/remixing skills more without your focus being split with the hype of Skerrit Bwoy. There's a reason Diplo has worked with M.I.A., LaRoux and Robyn. He creates an incredibly intimate dance atmosphere condusive to some dancing in the dark (and I would  never intend for that phrase to be associated with Springsteen). UU may want to consider bringing him rather than Major Lazer, though Diplo is tailor-made for the underground and maybe not an outdoor festival stage.

  • Day Two had the same great festival atmosphere of Day One. Body paint seemed to have a rise in stock from the first day, but the same communal passion for that relaxed, high school party in the woods setting came through. At night you can see campers shooting off fireworks, playing flashlight tag or offerring beer (among other things) to anyone who passed by their tents. The morning after is filled with a wave of people who get up for a 5 a.m. sunrise and then dead silence until the more collegiate weekend group of 11 a.m. and after risers. At any point of the day however, you can hear someone with a system pumping out dance music in the distance. I suppose it shows the one real benefit of holding your festival in the most remote, streetlight-less areas of New York. The party never truly needs to turn it down no matter what time of day.

Check out coverage of Camp Bisco Day One, Day Three and follow along on Twitter (or read the #Camp Bisco hashtag)

Camp Bisco Day One: LCD Soundsystem, the Dance Tent and people watching

The festival opening salvo is a win with James Murphy and crew, but people watching is even more compelling.

Night One of Camp Bisco is officially in the books and Day Two is already underway. My regular 8-to-5 might keep me from getting back to the grounds before Thievary Corporation tonight, but it provides the perfect opportunity to provide a quick update (since the festival grounds don't have WiFi and aren't even very cell friendly).

The full recap is coming early next week, but here are some Night One highlights to tide you over:

  • LCD Soundsystem totally lives up to the hype. James Murphy is strangely engaging as a front man who looks like he could be your uncle or father (both in attire and physical dimensions). You'd also think a band billed as too hip to be called hip would struggle at a festival made for fans of the Disco Biscuits, but Murphy and company killed it. There was almost a gutteral, visceral or tribal connection between stage and crowd as everyone danced like they had no control over their bodies. The band went through all the major staples of their catalogue and no matter if it was ballady or beats-ridden, each song was a crowd pleaser. I only wish I could've compelled some "Dance Yrself Clean" from them.


  • Caribou was the first act I managed to see in the "Dance Tent" on site late yesterday. The band was really clean sounding live and despite seeming mellow for a venue labeled the "Dance Tent," everyone was into them. The tent itself seems like the great idea of the festival: provides overhead coverage during likely unbelievably hot middays, sneaks some surprisingly good acts in there despite being away from the main stages and becomes the go-to stop after 11 p.m. It's a genius idea.


  • Day One has to go down in the books as a W for LCD Soundsystem, but the most compelling part of the entire festival could simply be the people watching. I've never been to an outdoor festival and while ATP New York is quirky in its own right, it wasn't the scene I'd heard about from festival lure. Camp Bisco seems to fit the bill to a T: homemade clothes, outdated jerseys that would make proud, bikini tops and shirtless men everywhere, a security guy who was surprised I didn't have prescription or recreational drugs, loads and loads of onlookers mezmorized by fire dancers and their African drum accompanist. Check back for some more on this in the final recap, but this crowd is everything you'd hope from first impressions. For a better feel of this group, here are two questions posed to me from random concert-goers (ala Overheard in NYC):

"Who are shooting for again? NewsHouse? You just wanted to get free passes to Camp Bisco, huh?"

"Anybody see any white people without shirts? White people without shirts."


Check out coverage of Camp Bisco Day Two, Day Three and follow along on Twitter (or read the #Camp Bisco hashtag)

Check out the Fall '10 CNY concert calendar (then some special festival coverage this week)

The fall concert calendar is building up strength and the Otto-Tune blog heads out on a special project tonight.

Summer is a time for festival travel and weekends to the city to catch your favorite band of the moment. You don't have that kind of access to the current must-see acts during most semesters in Syracuse. However, like this past spring session, this fall is slowly turning into something special ... particularly if you enjoy indie rock. 

There's the standard promise of Juice Jam and indie being one of the genres it typically features (see Bloc Party, White Rabbits, Ra Ra Riot, etc.) and this year will likely be no different. UU has already posted their annual survey asking students what acts they'd like to see at Juice Jam. No matter how ambitious you think the suggestions are, it is nice to dream of bands like Phoenix, The Roots or The Strokes taking a day out of their schedules to grace South Campus for under $10 tickets. I suggest pushing for some of those mid-sized acts like Mayer Hawthorne  as well and writing in Phantogram for good measure (and don't forget to suggest similar acts in the Wescott Theater's less formal survey on their Facebook fan page).

There are just a shade under six weeks left for this calendar to develop, but if you haven't been monitoring the bookings in CNY check out the surprising indie acts passing through:


Titus Andronicious - 8/25 (Wed) in Ithaca

My Morning Jacket - 8/28 (Sat) Canadaigua 


Vampire Weekend - 9/10 (Fri) Rochester

Cake - 9/13 (Mon) Clifton Park

Matt & Kim -  9/15 (Wed) Syracuse  

Tony Bennett - 9/16 (Thur) Syracuse (*Sure, he's not an indie rocker... but how often does Tony Bennett come through town?)  

Ra Ra Riot - 9/18 (Sat) Geneva

Broken Social Scene - 9/24 (Fri) Ithaca

Rogue Wave and Midlake - 9/25 (Sat) Syracuse

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Otto-Tune at Camp Bisco this week

This year we're heading to our first festival.

Check the NewsHouse and the Otto-Tune blog this week for special coverage of the Camp Bisco festival in nearby Mariaville, NY.  It's an annual event put together originally by The Disco Biscuits but it's evolved into a who's who of the year's biggest dance acts. Headliners for the week include LCD Soundsystem, Girl Talk, Diplo, Thievary Corporation, Caribou, Major Lazer and more.  The Otto-Tune blog will be out taking in the sights and sounds. Get at us if you'lll be in attendance, but if not, follow along on Twitter (@NewsHouse, @NathanMattise and #CampBisco) then stay tuned here for more.

An Otto-Tune Mixtape: The Best of 2010 (So Far)

Nearly half the year is behind us so Otto-Tune looks back and creates a playlist of the tracks you need to hear going forward.

The calendar is finally reading "June" so we're almost half way through 2010. Between all the labor that goes into spring semester and finals week,  no one should be faulted for being a bit out of the loop when it comes to the year's music releases. Unfortunately, if you fit into this description, it means you've been missing what is shaping up to be the best year of album releases in the music blog era ( assured there's more to come). 

To help combat that, the Otto-Tune blog is here with a playlist made of solely 2010 first-half releases. It's twelve tracks from twelve different albums/artists/outlets in order to maximize exposure. So no songs of an album that's "eh" (looking at you MGMT, Crystal Castles, Vampire Weekend... I could go on) and no multiple songs off a single album (even if this wrinkle means cutting some strong tracks like "All I Want" from LCD Soundsystem or an Otto-Tune favorite like "Mouthful of Diamonds" from Phantogram).

Since some of these songs are so catchy that the artists don't allow them to be purchased alone on iTunes, there's no iMix of this playlist. Check out the links for a listen, check out the Hype Machine to possibly string some of these together.


The List / (*Not in ranking order)

1. "Dance Yrself Clean" - LCD Soundsystem

It's risky to place any nine minute (8:56 technically) song on a playlist or mixtape, but these have become commonplace for James Murphy and co. "Dance Yrself Clean" is the latest in his dance-rock epics and it won't disappoint. Be careful what volume you start the song at, but know you'll have plenty of time to adjust when you find yourself replaying the track again and again.

2. "Next Girl" - The Black Keys

The song initially got its attention for the video featuring a singing dinosaur puppet frolicking poolside with some appropriately attired females, however you can listen to it with eyes closed and still remember it. The Black Keys are one of a few groups bringing back heavy, more traditional rock in light of all the electronica-dance oriented released in recent years. "Next Girl" is a perfect example with its heavy bass and drum lead and whaling lyrics throughout.

3. "Good Intentions Paving Company" - Joanna Newsom

Newsom's album may be the most divise release of the year thus far. Her experimental folk sound, unique vocals and non-traditional approach to song writing have some calling her genius and others dismissing it as straight rubbish. This track is a good representation of the album as a whole. Upon first listen you get caught up in catchy melodies and a repetitive piano line. Upon second listen you catch some lyrics that make you question Newsom's intentions and something new continues to hit you everytime after.

4. "Sleep Paralysist" - Neon Indian

Neon Indian's "Psychic Chasms" (along with the Mountain Goats' "The Life of the World to Come") is an album that was overlooked when recapping '09. I wish it came out in early '10 because it'd be one of the top releases up to this point of the year. Luckily, the band was roped into a campaign for Mountain Dew and released a new track within the year. It's representitive of their master work with electronic tambres that will have you dancing while simultaneously thinking back to those '80s science videos you watched in middle school

5. "Parasites" - The Soft Pack

I wonder how many folks stumbled upon this band and track through Chuck Klosterman's Twitter. The band's first LP since changing their name from The Muslims is straight up rock. There is a driving bass line, repititve guitar riffs the cut through the groove and edgy vocals right out of 90s alt-garage. Their album probably benefits from the same principle as The Black Keys - traditional rock can stand out when everyone else is trying to find the newest sound.

6. "Private Eyes" - The Bird & The Bee 

Yes, I kept  a lot of big names off this playlist (The National, Broken Social Scene, Spoon, New Pornographers - sorry to ruin what's ahead a bit) because they released albums that were a bit too familiar for me. With that, how then can you justify keeping a fairly loyal Hall & Oates cover in the final list? Listen and you won't argue. Hall & Oates' sound is experiencing some weird renaissance in the current music climate and there's no better way to have it introduced to you then through the high quality electronic musicianship of The Bird & The Bee.

7. "Everybody Wants To Rule The World" - Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

Look, "The Brutalist Bricks" is one of my favorite albums of the year or Ted Leo wouldn't spring up. Check out the "The Might Sparrow" for some vintage rocking melody, high-pitched high-message vocally led Leo. That said, two covers make the best tracks of the year so far because The Onion asked Ted Leo to participate in their covers project and magic came out.  (Another Chuck Klosterman's Twitter seal of approval, retweeted this time). 

8. "As Far As I Can See" - Phantogram

This is one of two "C'mon, anyone who ever read any piece by you could've predicted this" picks. The surprise here is this song instead of "Mouthful of Diamonds" but Otto-Tune was on that track since mid-2009. "As Far As I Can See" is the most purely Phantogram out of their tracks newly released on "Eyelid Movies" - great emphatic beat, high airy vocals and some inexplicable power to make any listener dance.

9. "Crown on the Ground" - Sleigh Bells

Second of the two no-brainers: the most buzzed band thus far and the track that put them on the map. I'm not sure if all of "Treats" will hold up over time and be a consistently enjoyable listen. "Crown on the Ground" however comes closest to capturing the real reason this band is relevant - the raw energy they exhibit whenever they perform (even infront of maybe 70 kids in Syracuse, N.Y.).

10. "Something Good Can Work" - Two-Door Cinema Club

Last song to make the cut, slightly edging out "Wide Eyes" by Local Natives.  Two-Door Cinema Club gets the nod because they make it OK to love what's really at its core... pop music. This song can be on the radio and you wouldn't blink, yet they got pegged for the coveted opener spot on Phoenix's post- "Wolfganag Amadeus Phoenix" US Tour.  The guitar riff is catchy, the vocals erge you to sing-a-long (and this list needs some European flair).

11. "Dance or Die" - Janelle Monae 

I know Sleigh Bells is getting a lot of press, but should Janelle Monae being the one getting dubbed as the most innovative new album? Monae's got an album of funk, dance and R&B that tosses around sci-fi imagery and has features from folks like Big Boi and Saul Williams (the latter on this track). Her sound is getting compared to everyone from George Clinton to Prince. In the end its closest comparison may be to her boy Diddy because.. well, she's just making hits.

12. "Promises" - The Morning Benders

Lasty, here is my favorite track of my favorite album of the year thus far (narrowly edging Monae and LCD Soundsystem at the moment). "Big Echo" is just so incredibly easy to listen to and at times you'll find yourself getting in lost back and forth between the music and lyrics all in a single track. The vocal stylings are what do it for me the most but there is something to be said for how intricately layered and subdued all of the music is on the album as well. It didn't hurt that my first impressions of it were words of praise from Ra Ra Riot either. 

2010 is quietly a monster year for CNY live music

Tired of people complaining about a lack of shows near us? They haven't looked up a concert schedule recently.


I was driving home from a Neon Indian show in Buffalo last week (shown above, I may or may not have contributed to that video footage). The show didn't start until 10:30pm, so this was post 2 a.m., everyone else was asleep and I had a chance to just drive and reflect on the show.

"Neon Indian was surprisingly good. Best show I saw this semester? Has to be up there. Although, YACHT was really good too. Can't ignore Phantogram back in February either. And next month..."

It hit me - next month. The Flaming Lips pass through the area. OK Go hits Ithaca too. Both The Hold Steady and Sleigh Bells precede all that here in Syracuse (not to mention Miike Snow / Theophilus London still to come in March).

That all comes before Drake / N.E.R.D. own the SU campus for a day and every other college in the area holds their own year-end shows (featuring acts like Passion Pit, Dan Deacon, Dirty Projectors, Yeasayer and Drake again). This doesn't account for some of the offbeat acts passing through (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down) or the gigantic shows nearby that require a little roadtrip preplanning (scroll down to see what nearby Canadian cities offer in March/April).

It begs the question, despite all the murmurs of a lackluster scene and too few quality bookings, has 2010 crept up and surprised all of us? Is this shaping up to be the best post-Spring Break collection of live shows for CNY in some time?

I didn't bother to do any strenuous data collection since it is currently Spring Break. However, over the past few years I've kept a small list serv among friends of acts that pass through the area (compiled through sites from specific venues and schools, Skipster, Ticketmaster, Tourfilter, DSP, Pollstar, etc.). Check out how this year compares to the same time frame last year:




Tokyo Police Club- 3/21, 3/25, 3/27 - Canada

Ben Folds - 3/23 - Rochester *later booked for SU's Block Party with Guster

Ra Ra Riot - 3/27, 3/28 - Rochester / Wescott Theater

The Hold Steady - 3/31, 4/1 - Albany / Buffalo


Girl Talk - 4/5 - Cornell

Cold War Kids - 4/6 - Rochester

Mates of State / Black Kids - 04/10 - Toronto

Margot & The Nuclear So-Sos - 4/17 - Buffalo

Dave Brubeck - 4/25 - Buffalo

Peter Bjorn and John - 4/25, 4/26, 4/27 - Toronto / Quebec / Montreal

Presidents of the United States - 4/22 - Syracuse


Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - 5/14 - Verona

2009 Summary: Certainly some can't miss shows nearby (Girl Talk, Ra Ra Riot, Ben Folds), but lacking in quantity of shows. Also, any act with mainstream name cache required a bit of a roadtrip and some serious planning (Peter, Bjorn and John for instance) and there wasn't a lot of genre diversity going on outside of some major jazz/swing groups (notable lack of big hip-hop, mainstream pop or R&B acts).



Wynton Marsalis - 3/22 - Rochester

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings - 3/26 - Lake Placid

Henry Rollins - 3/27 - Wescott Theater

Passion Pit - 3/28 - Buffalo

Spoon/Deerhunter - 3/29 - Toronto

Vampire Weekend - 3/30 - Toronto

Miike Snow / Theophilus London - 3/30 - Syracuse

Wilco - 3/31 - Scranton


Dum Dum Girls - 4/4 - Buffalo

Sleigh Bells - 4/8 - Syracuse

Tokyo Police Club - 4/7, 4/8, 4/9 - Near Ontario

The Hold Steady -  4/9, 4/10 - Jermyn, Pa. / Wescott Theater

Matt & Kim - 4/10 - Hamilton College

Snoop Dogg - 4/10 - Rochester

Air Supply - 4/16 - Syracuse

Michael McDonald - 4/16 - Buffalo

Flaming Lips - 4/18 - Cornell

Thao and The Stay Down Get Down - 4/18 - Northhampton

Shawn Colvin  -  4/18 - Ithaca

Apples in Stereo - 4/24 - Ithaca

OK Go - 4/25 - Ithaca

Drake / N.E.R.D. - 4/30 - Syracuse 


Dan Deacon / Dirty Projectors / Passion Pit - 5/7 - Hamilton College

Yeasayer - 5/7 - Ithaca College

Drake - 5/7 - Cornell

2010 Summary: Take that in for a second. Tell me there isn't a scene to appreciate in CNY (and keep in mind acts that have come through earlier in the year too - John Legend, Alicia Keys, St. Vincent, Metric, Girl Talk, The Cool Kids). My 2009 e-mail for March through May had 12 concerts total. This year, the last two weeks of March 2010 have eight alone.

Highlights include indie mainstays like The Flaming Lips, recent darlings like Passion Pit or the Dirty Projectors, old but hip pop acts like Michael McDonald and some of the bigger names in mainstream hip-hop like Snoop or Drake. Add to that some of the cool offbeat opportunities (Henry Rollins for crying out loud!) and the fact some of the desirable acts from 2009 are coming through the area again (Tokyo Police Club, The Hold Steady). It's not even close - you're much better off being a music fan at SU in 2010 than 2009.

Don't listen to any of the complainers out there, it seems they just aren't looking hard enough. Use your down time during Spring Break to plan out a few shows to go to for the rest of the semester, map out some upcoming album release dates while you're at it, and let Spring 2010 be the monster music semester it's meant to be.

An act like Drake doesn't come to Syracuse every day

Before you react to the announcement, put Drake's SU date in perspective.

There are two days to annually mark in your calendar as a Syracuse University student who cares about music - the second Sunday in September (Juice Jam) and the last weekend in April (Block Party).

Juice Jam has continued to impress in the past few years.  It's been headlined by combos like Girl Talk/The Cool Kids, White Rabbits/Third Eye Blind and Ra Ra Riot/Talib Kwali/Bloc Party (on their first US college show no less). Block Party on the other hand...

Well, let's say there wasn't a ton of anticipation for today's announcement:

"Drake Chosen to Headline Block Party."

Wait, what? That's not bad at all.  Even exciting, right?

Drake is one of the hottest up-and-comers in rap music and a rising cultural icon. Consider the facts:  

1) Drake was asked to be an assistant coach for this year's NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game (maybe inspired by his performance int he "Best I Ever Had" video?)

2) Drake's featured in a Sprite commercial you've seen at least 50 times.

3) Drake was nominated for some Grammys and performed at the awards this year. 

All of this is before Drake even released his first album.

So why on Earth was there a feeling of "so what" on campus this afternoon?  (Two of the three comments on the original D.O. story are negative and there were plenty of Tweets questioning the headliner choice too).

Take a look at the Block Party acts since 2004:

2005: Snoop Dogg w/ Oowee

2006: Kanye West w/ Rhymefest

2007: Ciara, Lupe Fiasco (pre- "Superstar") and TV On The Radio (pre-"Dear Science")

2008: Fergie w/ Sean Kingston

2009: Ben Folds w/ Guster

Drake by himself is easily the second best of the bunch (and any campus promoters would be hard pressed to top Kanye in 2006).  Relative unknowns k-os and Francis and The Lights may not jump off the screen and grab your attention, but take a listen and you could be intrigued. Those two seem like a package deal with Drake considering they're on every other date of his college tour. There's still one more act on the bill to come directly from UU. If they delivered on Drake, there's reason to believe they'll deliver on someone else included in the survey they released earlier this year.

(Recall the UU Survey choices...

Headliners: Common, Kid Cudi, Ludacris, MGMT, Modest Mouse, Mos Def, Phoenix, Vampire Weekend, Drake,  Weezer

Sideacts: 3OH!3, Cobra Starship, Keri Hilson, LMFAO, Lykee Li, Miike Snw, Passion Pit, Pitbull, The Dream)

Give UU some credit for grabbing an extremely relevant act that garnered some support through their campus polls even if Drake isn't your top choice given what might have been from this survey. I'll be honest, I was pulling hard for the Phoenix miracle after catching them in Boston last fall.  However, this show stands to be the best Block Party since 2006. Maybe UU will even splurge on another "headliner" act to support Drake (or to be supported by him even). At the very least, any act that's good enough for Scoop and Mookie (given how those guys are captivating the campus) is an act worth seeing for yourself.


Note: Video may contain strong language

Around The Blogs: New CNY Shows, Phantogram's Album and Upcoming Releases to Read About

Even Snooki got involved in the past few weeks of music blogs.

Despite the disappointment surrounding rumors of Kid Cudi falling through, there has been a surprisingly high amount of good shows announced around CNY in recent weeks.  Acts coming through in April/May now include Sleigh Bells, The Hold Steady, Matt & Kim and a triple-bill of Passion Pit, Dirty Projectors and Dan Deacon.  This is all before you include the Flaming Lips at Cornell (on sale to the general public 2/18) and whoever SU eventually brings to campus this spring.

+ Speaking of Cornell, their programming board is running an open suggestion box for acts and they have a history of leaning towards the indie crowd (in the past 5-6 years they've had The Decemberists, OK Go, Girl Talk, Ra Ra Riot, Death Cab For Cutie, and The Strokes among others). Send in some suggestions and plan on taking the roughly one-hour drive.  If you need some acts to get you started, I mean, Phantogram officially released their album to rave reviews last week.

+ A couple quick good, legal downloads to note this week. First, Graham Wright of Tokyo Police Club is still offering his side project album entitled NOVELS for free on the official web site (all you need to do is then promise to pass the music along to someone... even Abe Lincoln). Second, Kid Cudi is set to star in an upcoming HBO series and there's an official mixtape to celebrate the launch. 

+ Finally, a few quick things to tide you over until the next big interview, concert coverage or podcast here on the Otto-Tune blog.

1) Make your own music online with this cool synth interactive site

2) Read about Snooki interviewing Phoenix.

3) Read up on the upcoming releases from Ra Ra Riot or The Strokes.