Dance music is a fickle thing, arguably the genre where it’s hardest to have any kind of staying power as an artist thanks to the ever-shifting sands of stylistic trends and technological advances.
That makes the success of long-running duo Erasure all the more remarkable. For nearly 30 years, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have crafted songs capable of filling danceclub floors and landing on the pop charts at the same time. They’ve sold more than 25 million albums, created some 40 hit singles, and consistently thrilled audiences filling venues large and small with their visual flair and ability to deliver live.
That seems especially true in Utah, where Erasure has long been a remarkably popular attraction. At the old ParkWest mountainside concert venue (now The Canyons), they set the record for the largest-ever crowd to pack the hillside, more than 20,000 people. The Utah LGBT community naturally is part of the fanbase of the out-and-proud duo, but clearly a lot of folks whose religious or political beliefs don’t naturally jibe with Erasure’s find the synth-pop created by Bell and Clarke irresistible as well.
Bell has a pretty good rationale for Erasure’s popularity in the Beehive State, where they will perform once again on Wednesday at the Capitol Theatre.
“It’s always a lovely surprise to play there,” Bell says. “I think the Utah people are a state of great singers, and this comes out of their spirituality. And spirituality transcends all political persuasions, hopefully.”
Of course, Erasure finds rabid fans everywhere, and of all stripes. Bell considers Erasure fans a mix of “synth enthusiasts, Vince fans, girls who love the music, and gays, lots of straight people, and bears, and a few closets. All [fans] primarily for the music and performance. Prejudices and worries are left at the door.”
Considering the fervent fanbase, Bell mentions vivid memories of “people singing all night long outside the hotel room in Buenos Aires.” Thankfully, there’s never been a particularly scary fan interaction for Bell, “apart from some really pushy fans who tend not to respect your boundaries.”
Most recently, Erasure released their 16th studio album, The Violet Flame, and it’s full of the optimism and insistent hooks that have marked all the duo’s releases to date. Bell says the writing and recording of the new set “was very laid back and easier compared to usual, I think because Vince and I had very clear minds” going into the process. As for their ability to keep sounding of-the-moment so many years after they first joined forces, Bell says “it’s probably because we live for the moment, and don’t particularly follow current trends.
“Sometimes we are lucky in that our music seems to hit a nerve and sounds current and fresh.”
ERASURE, CAPITOL THEATRE, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 8 p.m., $29.50-$85
THE AFGHAN WHIGS, THE URBAN LOUNGE, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 9 p.m., $25
It strikes me that one of the underplayed stories in music this year is the return of the Afghan Whigs after a lengthy hiatus. While the band was never the biggest sellers among the slew of alt-rock bands that got some taste of the mainstream post-Nirvana, they were certainly one of the most critically lauded thanks to outstanding albums like Gentlemen, Congregation and Black Love. They were the first non-Northwestern band to sign to the pioneering SubPop label, and they certainly stood out from the ’90s-rock crowd thanks to their predilection toward soul and R&B, and singer Greg Dulli boasted one of the more distinctive croons/howls on the (alternative) radio and MTV. Earlier this year, the band released its first new music in 16 years, once again on SubPop Records, and Do The Beast measures up to any of the band’s previous albums. After seeing them play most of it live at the Bumbershoot music festival in September, I’d even say it exceeds a lot of the old catalog. Dulli’s voice is in fine form, the expanded lineup locked in tight. This will be one of the best shows of the fall, guaranteed. Joseph Arthur opens the show.
FOXYGEN, THE URBAN LOUNGE, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 9 p.m., $15
Los Angeles duo Foxygen had already created a rep as experimental pop-rock masters thanks to early musical efforts that blended some orchestral pop with lo-fi chops. On their new album Foxygen…And Star Power, they push their musical palette to pleasing new extremes via a sprawling double-dose of songs running 82 minutes. It’s a concept album of sorts, involving a bunch of guest musicians, some monster-sized musical suites, and something about UFOs. I didn’t spend that much time trying to suss out the story, because the simple pleasure of listening to two young songwriters exploring every musical idea they could fit into a new batch of songs was enough. They’re a little bit retro, nodding to glam acts of yesteryear along the way, and that just makes me dig them all the more. Should be a great live show. Dub Thompson opens.
THE APACHE RELAY, KILBY COURT, Tuesday, Oct. 21, 7 p.m., $16.50
Just five years since forming at a Belmont University dorm jam session and releasing their first album, the Apache Relay has already toured with the likes of Mumford & Sons and Jenny Lewis, hit major festivals like Bonnaroo and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and headlined their own tours across the country.
That doesn’t mean the band was in any hurry to record their latest, self-titled album, though, according to guitarist Ben Ford. Instead, the band headed out of Nashville for the sunny skies of Los Angeles and the famed Fairfax Recordings–better known to most as the Sound City recording studio where Tom Petty recorded much of his catalog, and Nirvana recorded Nevermind. Dave Grohl made a well-regarded documentary about the place a couple years ago.
“That room, I get why so many people have recorded there,” Ford says. “It sounds so good. It sounds crazy, but I feel like you can hear [the room] on the records that have been recorded there. When I listen to those old Tom Petty records, I can hear that room in it, almost. It sounds weird, but it’s true.”
Acknowledging that thinking about all the great albums made in the space threatened to “kind of freak you out or distract you,” Ford said the band managed to settle in and take their time to make the album turn out exactly how they wanted.
“We were thankful to record there and be able to take our time with it,” Ford said. “We were there like three months [in work time], but we were able to take four or five months. We were able to take our time and do some exploration of the place. It wasn’t like, ‘Okay, we’ve got a week. You get three takes.’ We had some time.”
They put the time to good use, judging by the lush sounds filling The Apache Relay, from the “Wall of Sound” vibe of album opener “Katie Queen of Tennessee” to harmony-laden love songs like “Don’t Leave Me Now.” Not only is the songwriting the best of the band’s three albums, they just sound great.
Tuesday in Salt Lake City, the band takes the middle spot on the bill between Desert Noises and The Wild Feathers.
PATTY GRIFFIN, THE DEPOT, Monday, Oct. 20, 8 p.m., $25
Simply put, Patty Griffin is the kind of singer and songwriter who makes it easy; you don’t wonder if you should go to the show, you just do it and thank yourself later for the treat. The easy labels to attach to her sound–folk or Americana–don’t do justice to her talents, but they’ll suffice here. Her 2007 album Children Running Through is a brilliant set, helping earn her Artist of the Year and Best Album awards from the Americana Music Association, and four years later she took home a Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album for Downtown Church. Forget about genres, just as you should forget about whether you should rally and go out on a Monday. Just do it, and thank yourself in the morning. John Fullbright opens the show.
Talk about your epic nights at The Urban Lounge. Two headlining gigs in one evening, two acts totally different from the other, yet both easily worth checking out.
The night starts with Shonen Knife, the Japanese punk trio who are rumored to be on their final tour. They’ve been together for more than 30 years, evoking classic ’60s girl-pop, surf-rock and old-school punk in their sound. They had a little bit of mainstream success when alt-rock blew up in the early ’90s, but for the most part they’ve toiled away like most indie and punk crews, knocking out fine albums heard by frustratingly few people, and touring like crazy. Consider this chance to see them at a rare early show at Urban a must-see.
Later on, it’s the unforgettable Big Freedia, master of the so-called “bounce” music scene out of New Orleans. If you ever want to see where Miley ripped off her twerking moves, catch this host of his own Fuse TV show, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce. The show tracks his moves into mainstream culture and his hometown. I didn’t know much about Big Freedia until I saw him and his dancers perform earlier this year at a festival, and it’s a big, loud, bass-heavy, crazy scene that has to be seen to be believed. It’s also a total blast.
PLAN-B THEATRE COMPANY’S RADIO HOUR EPISODE 9: GRIMM, ROSE WAGNER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, Wednesday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m., $20
Among the myriad plays put on by Plan-B Theatre Company that I was able to see, the almost-annual Radio Hour productions always stood out. Obviously, these shows aren’t the typical play production as they are designed for the ear, not the eye. But watching the voice actors, musicians and foley artists do their thing is a blast. The voice actors contort their faces and their bodies, twisting and turning in their chairs as they inhabit their characters–it’s pretty remarkable to see; this year’s cast includes some Radio Hour vets like Bill Allred, Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson and Jason Tatom, along with first-time Colleen Baum. Together, they will voice playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett’s adaptations of three Grimm tales: “Little Snow-White,” “Rapunzel” and “The Juniper Tree.” KUER will be broadcasting the show, but I highly recommend watching in person–it makes for an utterly different and fun theater experience.