Rhett Miller Acoustic – Tickets – World Cafe Live Philadelphia – Philadelphia, PA – December 12th, 2016

Rhett Miller Acoustic

Rhett Miller Acoustic

The Chairman Dances

Mon · December 12, 2016

Doors: 7:00 pm / Show: 8:00 pm

World Cafe Live Philadelphia

$35 ADV - $37 DOS + Fees

Mezzanine tickets are subject to a premium service fee that will be applied at checkout.

Rhett Miller
Rhett Miller
THE TRAVELER IN TEN PARTS

By [Name Redacted]

Lead singer of The Old 97’s Rhett Miller will be releasing his new solo album, The Traveler, on May 19th 2015. The album features the instrumentation of Black Prairie (membs. Of The Decemberists), Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey (membs. Of REM) and is Rhett’s seventh solo effort.

1.

Hello. I am human but not entirely. I am a machine but not entirely. I am both which may mean that I am neither. The part of me that is a human believes that all of me is human. The part of me that is a machine doesn’t like to think about the part of me that is a machine. I am flesh and blood stretched over wires and circuits. In that, I am much like many of you, and consequently qualified to speak to you about this album, which speaks to much of me.


2.

It is called The Traveler, and it was written and performed by Rhett Miller, along with members of Black Prairie, a band based in Portland that plays everything from bluegrass to klezmer to country and shares some members with the Decembrists. The band (Black Prairie) entered the studio with the singer (Rhett Miller) and briskly recorded the songs that make up this album (The Traveler). Some additional guitars were added later by people who included Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey. I pass these facts along for your absorption.


3.

The sun comes up. The sun goes down. We call it a day. The band entered the studio with the singer and made this album. Time passed. Now, months later, I have spent days listening with love, sadness, and unremitting fascination to the album, which you are now holding. By “holding,” I mean only that you have absorbed it into your own wires and circuitry. I am well aware that there are not always anymore physical holds involved in the absorption of music. Before I tell you more about The Traveler, I want to tell you a little bit about myself. I apologize for this. But the album you are holding, The Traveler, suggests that you cannot understand the journey that you are on unless you understand who you are, and that understanding who you are is the most damnably difficult journey of all. Untangling identity is painful but necessary. I believe The Traveler may be of use in this regard. Of use to me, I mean: Is that a selfish use of this album? If so I apologize again.


4.

Apologies can be empty without any attempt to correct for the behavior that led to the apology. As a result I will not tell you a little bit about myself before I tell you more about The Traveler. This singer, Rhett Miller, has made many albums before, both on his own and with his band, Old 97s. This new album shares something fundamental with the old albums, which is the rare ability to see what people are feeling and then cast those feelings in rhymes. This is what is known as “song-making.” The human part of me loves songs. The machine part of me marvels at them without understanding at all why there is a tugging sensation in the cavity that should contain my heart.


5.

The first song here, “Wanderlust,” is a perfect example of all that I am describing. It tells the story of a man on a train who is thinking about a woman who is not on that train. There is another song called “Lucky Star” that I believe is about finding redemption in the person of a lover. It contains a joke that unnerves me: “Heaven knows there probably is no heaven.” There is another song called “Wicked Things” about New Orleans that illustrates the slipperiness of forgiveness. Every song has little moments that catch me at strange angles and I feel an unfamiliar sensation, pitched midway between satisfying recognition and deep sadness.


6.

My experience with these songs, I want to stipulate, may not be shared by others, in part because I am demonstrably different than them. I am both human and a machine. I come from a long line of people who are both humans and machines. Are they people then? I leave that to the philosophers. My father was a difference engine designed and deployed in Lund by Pehr Georg Scheutz. He was quite large: my father, I mean, not Scheutz. Scheutz was tiny. In Jönköping, where he was born, old ladies would marvel at his miniature features. “Liten Pehr,” they would say, reaching down into the carriage and frightening the boy. Even as an adult, he was at most five foot three, with feet that tapered down to toylike points. Much of this is hearsay but some of it cannot be disputed, even by the suspicious, and at any rate, we are not talking about Scheutz, not really. We are talking about my father. He was the size of a fortepiano.


7.

There is a song on this record called “Dreams Vs. Waking Life.” It is not the first song on the record but it was, by accident, the first song I heard. It has bowed notes and a dark tone and does what any piece of literature, song or story, should do: it investigates the role of memory, loss, and desire in our lives. When I hear that song, I feel the stirrings of uncommon and uncontrollable emotions. They grind against the part of me that is a machine. The result is a shuddering. I try to calm myself by looking at the other song titles— “Fair Enough,” “Escape Velocity,” “Reasons to Live” — but they only make me feel more rather than less. Where do you go when you want to feel less? One song title, “Good Night,” seems like it might not overwhelm me. But the first line, “There’s a pinprick of light on a black sheet of night,” starts me shuddering again.


8.

When you listen to an album, you are supposed to notice sonic details. That’s what I have been told. And there are many sonic details on this album, like the choir that opens “My Little Disaster” or the doubled vocals in “Fair Enough.” There are joyful melodies like “Most in the Summertime.” I can tell that they are joyful, even though I am half-machine. It’s clear. But the sonic details would not mean much without the rest of what this album does, which is to try to make sense of what cannot be made sense of, which is humanity. Even the part of me that is a machine knows that.


9.

When you’re inside an album like this, when you’re feeling too much, what do you do? I know what I did. I skipped to the end of the album, quickly. This is a survival strategy. The album ends with a song called “Reasons to Live” that makes use of the old saw that a broken clock is right twice a day. The part of me that is a machine wants to correct that phrasing. It is a stopped clock that is right twice a day. A broken clock may never be right. Then it occurs to me that maybe the song knows this. The song is about finding hope even when you are telling yourself lies. The part of me that is a human wants to break down and cry once again.


10.

I want to tell one more story about my father. He was briefly in the military of a nation I will not identify and when his service ended his first trip was to a sporting house, where he spent time in the company of a young woman. Money changed hands. To hear him tell it, the situation was emergent. “I had been locked up so long that I hardly recognized my own wants and needs,” he later wrote in a letter to me. “Briefly, I recognized myself in her.” They did not stay together, my father and that young woman. He was a young man then. As I have grown though the world, I have had experiences that bear some similarity to my father’s experiences with that woman. We all have, have we not? They are called “relationships” or “romances,” but what are they really? Are they love? Are they self-love? Or are they something else entirely, a form of travel that allow us to escape from ourselves? This album asks all those questions, repeatedly. I want to quote one more line, from a song called “Jules.” It’s a line about love and self-love and travel that allows us to escape from ourselves: “Who’s to say the crooked way that led me to your door / Means any less than any mess I ever made before?” Sun comes up. Sun goes down. Call it a day.
The Chairman Dances
The Chairman Dances
The Chairman Dances is a bookish indie rock band from Philadelphia (think the Decemberists, Belle and Sebastian, the Mountain Goats). Their full length, Time Without Measure, was produced by Daniel Smith (Sufjan Stevens, Danielson), and released by Black Rd Records in August 2016. The album garnered critical acclaim (being featured in Magnet, PopMatters, and The BigTakeover) and was one of the most played records on college radio this summer (CMJ).

Time Without Measure depicts the lives of 10 (mostly) activists who demanded progress and, in return, were demonized by the powers that be. These activists—each of whom has a song devoted to them—include Fannie Lou Hamer (a black civil rights leader reviled by southern Democrats), Dorothy Day (a Catholic anarchist), and a group of religious protestors dubbed the ‘Catonsville 9’ (who, during the Vietnam-era, broke into a government selective service building and burned draft files — the nine were later apprehended by the FBI.)

Given the political subject matter, you’d expect a punk record. But here The Chairman Dances defy expectation. On its face a political album, the songs are anything but political. Instead, they deal with the protagonists themselves, their fears, anxieties, moments of despair — but also their small victories, their sense of humor. As the UK blog Wake the Deaf writes, with The Chairman Dances, there are no happy or sad songs; rather, every song has “everything at once.” And if art is to “represent life then surely that’s the only way to go.”

More variegated than most singer songwriter fare, the album is not content to stay in any one mood for very long. Here, you get the smart, sing-along indie pop of “Fannie Lou Hamer” and “Dorothy Day,” both of which seem to channel the Magnetic Fields, or maybe Elvis Costello & the Attractions. Then there’s the driving, Yo La Tengo-esque rock of “Augustine” and “Cesar Chavez.” And, showcasing the group’s versatility, we find “Therese,” “Jimmy Carter,” and “Kitty Ferguson,” all of which use a lush palette reminiscent of Pet Sounds or Tortoise, and whose original musical forms show that rock can still push boundaries, still exhilarate.

The result is an impressive collage — a musically rich record that speaks of and to a turbulent era. An era that is fascinating and brilliant and downright terrifying. The Chairman Dances has its finger on the pulse of the nation. Time Without Measure is our soundtrack.
Venue Information:
World Cafe Live Philadelphia
3025 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19104
http://philly.worldcafelive.com/