Between the imminent arrival of spring and the onset of Carnival, February is almost always a good month for celebration in New Orleans. This is also a great time because many of the national tours are starting up again after the holidays. We have several chances to see bands who made some of the best music of 2016 this month, which begins with the outstanding Memphis-based noise punks, the NOTS on Feb. 1 at Gasa Gasa. The NOTS released their sophomore record Cosmetic back in September, and it was one of the highlights of last year. If you’re looking for something a bit weirder that night, the Deen Ween Group will be rolling into Tipitina’s. Mickey “Deen Ween” Melchiondo is consistently unique and surprising live.
The next night, Feb. 2, offers two outstanding electronic options. At Gasa Gasa Katie Stelmanis will bring her Austra project to the stage. Stelmanis composes all the music herself, but plays with a full band live. Over at the Hi-Ho later that evening, Ben Davis will be performing under his electro-soul moniker Vibe Street.
Angel Olsen will visit us on Feb. 4 with a night of music at Republic (see box). Olsen is touring on her record My Woman, which was one of my top 10 records for 2016.
On Feb. 7, Atlanta-based punks The Coathangers will roll into Siberia. If you missed this band last time they were through town, don’t repeat that mistake. Their latest release, Nosebleed Week, is fantastic. They have a punk sound that has been missing from the soundscape for quite a while.
If you’re looking for something a bit mellower, the indie folk ensemble Blind Pilot will be at One Eyed Jacks on Feb. 14. Their 2016 release And Then Like Lions was one of the most critically acclaimed records of last year. If you want something a bit harder, emo ensemble Joyce Manor will be at Gasa Gasa that night as well. Like many of the other bands through town this month, Joyce Manor have released a critically acclaimed album last year as well. Cody was on many critics’ top lists of the year and marks a development of the group’s sound and ethos.
On Feb. 18, the legendary dream pop ensemble The Radio Dept. will be playing at Gasa Gasa. After a lengthy legal battle with their label, the band was able to release their latest record Running Out of Love in October. This is one of the absolute can’t miss shows of the month. If dream pop doesn’t do it for you, Detroit punks Tyvek will be at the Circle Bar that night as well. This is an easy twofer; catch the parades at Lee Circle and then you’re right there for the show.
In the legends department, we have a couple passing through town this month. On Feb. 10 you can catch Billy Joel at the Smoothie King Center, and on the 22nd we’ll be in the presence of Sting at the UNO Lakefront Arena. Both musicians are experts at filling an arena space and holding the attention of massive audiences. Part of the joy of these larger shows is the spectacle itself, and these will both be massive.
Note: Dates are subject to change. Playlist of mentioned bands available at: bit.ly/InTune2-17
Musical Mardi Gras
As usual there are several great musical events related to Carnival. Zulu’s Lundi Gras Festival has a fantastic lineup at Woldenberg Park on Feb. 27. This year they’re featuring Rebirth Brass Band, Dwayne Dopsie, The Revealers and Amanda Shaw. On the 25th and the 27th Galactic will be at Tipitina’s with their usual array of guests. Of course, don’t forget about the music in the street. The best parts of Mardi Gras are often the spontaneous moments of dancing as the marching bands pass by. The Carver will have a Lundi Gras Blues Party as well, featuring Dick Deluxe, JuJu Child, Washboard Chaz and SMB.
Angel Olsen on My Woman
In September of last year, Angel Olsen released her third studio album, My Woman, to widespread critical acclaim. The album was in the top 10 of nearly every critic’s best of list for 2016 and came in at No. 8 on my list as well.
The strength of this record is in the careful construction of its songs. Olsen has a poet’s ear for verse that’s accompanied by an empathic streak, which makes the insights of herself and her characters more universal than they might be otherwise.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Olsen about her thoughts on the record and the creative process. There is a loose theme of the power of love or the strength non-romantic relationships on this record, and I asked Olsen to speak a bit about how that theme came together. “I feel like they’re all kind of vignettes of different ideas. Looking back at other records that I’ve made, especially the last one, I feel like it’s kind of a similar vibe,” she says. “There’s always a loud song and then there’s a quiet song. There’s different styles. For me, I guess those are kind of the main focuses. Maybe I’m talking about romantic love, but maybe I’m talking about a different kind of love, like a friendship.”
Interestingly, the first half of the tracks are large pop numbers that explore the visceral side of these feelings while the second half of the record is more introspective. In Olsen’s words, “There were a few reasons why I split everything up. One, it was just easier to fit everything that way, but also I thought it would be cool to put the songs together in different groups based on if you wanted to listen to all upbeat visceral songs all at once, then you could flip the record and just listen to them all at once. If you wanted to hang out and have a quiet day with me and my friends, on the other side of the record, then that’s fine too.”
There is an effortless serendipity that accompanies Olsen’s work. The songs and videos feel right because of the way they came together. For this record, Olsen has also taken a turn behind the camera directing three videos so far. She told me a great story about the end of the shoot that perfectly illustrates this feeling, “We wanted to do a time lapse of the boulders and then they were just walking me walk around on these boulders and I was like, come on. This is boring. Come up here. It’s really beautiful. They left the camera rolling, and we just walked around and later on … we just looked at the end of the day footage and we saw that the moon was rising out of the frame, and just as it left the frame the footage was over. It was done. It was like the camera had died just after that, and so it was like this secret that we had. It was, I don’t know how you show anyone that, because that’s what just happened, but that was really cool. It was just a really wonderful time.” She continues, “It didn’t seem like work. It seemed like we were, yes, I was the subject of this video. We’re trying to get these shots and cover all this ground, and trying to do these different styles, me lip-syncing and some of it me just wandering, me being reflective and it was very esoteric, the whole plot of this video.” This wonderfully effortless serendipity extends to her live performances as well. You can see Olsen in person on Feb. 4 at Republic.
There will be an extended version of this interview online at MyNewOrleans.com the week of the show.