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Harper Simon At The Satellite, Monday March 4th 2013, Reviewed

On Monday night, the crowd at the Satellite got to hear a few new songs off Harper Simon’s upcoming album 'Division Street', and at first impression, the tunes came up quite different from his previous material. His first self-titled release was all folk-alt-country with pretty ballads about stars and Berkeley girls, but this time it was all about loud electric guitars, powerful drumming by the great Pete Thomas, with even a light touch of synth and electronica.

 

Harper Simon seems to be the opposite of someone running after limelight or fame, at 40, he is taking his time, writing the music he wants, playing it with the musicians he admires, and I am not sure it is as easy as everyone thinks when you are the son of music royalty… can you imagine the pressure? But if he could afford Elvis Costello & the Attractions’ Pete Thomas, The Strokes’ Nikolai Fraiture, Feist’s Brian LeBarton, Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott, Wilco’s Mikael Jorgensen, the Heartbreakers’ Benmont Tench, Jon Brion and Tom Rothrock for this last effort, he would have been totally stupid to not do so! ‘I’m very lucky’, he humbly said in an interview, ‘Everybody that we asked to come and guest on the record showed up.’

 

On Monday night, it seems like all these influences and beyond were emanating from the seven songs he and his band played, ‘Nothing Gets Through’ had a real punkish energy coated with some electronics, and ‘Dixie Cleopatra’, a real rocker à la Elvis Costello, repeated this same feeling with a few solos and a giant hook, closing the too-short set with a bang. In between, I also noticed the VU bass-tempered ‘Division Street’, a song oscillating between its dark rocking rhythm and a pop melody. Harper’s vocals were on the ghostly side, a little buried in the loud music, may be a little more audible on ‘Bonnie Brae’, with its Strokes-like bouncy guitars and spiraling chord progression. Just like his vocals, Harper didn’t act like the star of the night at all, he called one of his friends, songwriter Jenny O., to harmonize on the poppy- breezy ‘99’, which had this infectious foot-tapping effervescence of a 70s Fleetwood Mac classic rock.

 

It is always difficult to get everything when listening to new music for the first time, especially live, but these songs were certainly giving an impression of layered eclectic sonic combination, written by someone who has effortlessly digested a lot of stuff at once. And then, there was Tom Rothrock’s touch, Elliott Smith’s ghost, that I kind of heard in the bridge melody of ‘Breathe out Love’… and I am not the one imagining it, just read what Harper said in this interview: ‘I felt challenged and inspired by the idea of making a modern psychedelic folk-rock album, a Tom Rothrock production like XO, but then the Velvet Underground and the Stones kept entering in. Elliott Smith was very influenced by the Beatles but my guitar playing is more influenced by Keith Richards. And I kept wanting to emphasize more lo-fi elements.’… I totally heard him, and we will have to wait for the release of ‘Division Street’ on March 25th to know more about these lo-fi elements, but meanwhile Angelinos can check out Harper Simon every Monday night of March at the Satellite, for free! Hopefully, he will play a longer set, try a few covers and I may have a few more difficult Tuesday mornings.

 

Setlist

Nothing gets through

Division Street

Eternal Question

Bonnie Brae

Interlude (Cocaine)

99

Breathe out Love

Dixie Cleopatra

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