Our favorite things this week include "Avant Gardener," Mac Demarco, 30 years of Dylan, and Maggie Koerner.

Courtney Barnett photo
Courtney Barnett

’Tis the Season: The approaching time of year is one of the only stretches of consistently pleasant weather in south Louisiana, but with it comes an inevitable pest: allergies. It’s always a downer when you’re taking a nice walk outside and a tingly feeling starts to build in your nose and your throat gets a little tight, but I’ve found one advantage of spring. It’s another reason for me to revisit, over and over, one of my favorite songs from 2013, Courtney Barnett’s “Avant Gardener.” The almost-too-pretentious title shouldn’t be a deterrent because the creativity of Barnett’s indie hit warrants that “avant” label. It’s a little long and unusually structured, with screeching guitar breaks and changing tempos providing foundation for Barnett’s rambling narrative. She dares to get out of her bed and go outside on a beautiful but boring day, only to find herself in an ambulance after an allergic reaction. It’s a simple premise, but Barnett’s songwriting is loaded with stoner apathy and deadpan humor. I can’t help but chuckle at a line like, “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause I play guitar / I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying.” It’s made by Barnett’s delivery, and when the occasional chorus kicks in, it’s hard not to identify even if you’re among the allergy-less lucky ones. We all have a little trouble breathing sometimes. (Sibille)

All Over the Place: I’m looking forward to the release of Mac Demarco’s latest record, Salad Days, particularly because its release date is scheduled only weeks before Demarco comes to New Orleans to play on the Tulane campus April 25. Although the Canadian is essentially an indie rock artist, his work has been tagged with labels ranging from slacker rock, to psychedelia, to funk. That’s because Demarco’s style changes dramatically between albums. His latest, titled 2, is stuffed with melancholy rifts, garage rock production and lazy, hazy vocals. Demarco’s lyrics dive deeper as he explores the boredom of being a teenager in suburbia, family secrets, his love affair with cigarettes, and trying to understand how his teen flame, among others, perceives the world. Demarco’s live performances often involve taking off his clothes, cracking jokes between songs, and getting drunker than most of the audience. For his next project, Demarco has announced a collaboration with Tyler, the Creator. Whether the product is genius or garbage, I admire Demarco’s bravery and his reluctance to do anything quite the same way twice. (Halnon)

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For the Love of Bob: When it took place in 1992, the star-studded tribute to Bob Dylan at Madison Square Gardens seemed like a genius/cynical move by Columbia Records to help sell his back catalog since Dylan couldn’t be counted on to do it. That’s not to take anything away from the performances by Neil Young, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, and more. They’re regularly solid, and with a band that included Booker T, Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper, there was a lot of beautiful space in the arrangements. Still, few people reconsidered the songs the way Yo La Tengo, Howard Tate, or others covering Bob have, so the versions were essentially faithful to the recordings. Unlike at Dylan’s own concerts, fans could sing along. Bob has spent most of his career trying out different approaches to his songs to see what all they have to say, but the process can often garble the melody, the words or both. He looks unhappy and largely alone as he chops away on his acoustic guitar - one of nine guitars on stage - during the big, communal final sing-along version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” as if he’s forced to stick to a structure, tempo and rhythm that reflected a man 20 years younger, one he doesn’t feel much in common with anymore. His solo performance of “Girl of the North Country” seems almost relieved as he gets space and his own idiosyncratic style back.

Legacy Recordings has reissued The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration on CD and DVD, and for me the highlight is Lou Reed’s version of the lesser known “Foot of Pride.” The band allows it stomp with power and leaves room for Reed to summon holy fury and prurient fascination for the fallen world. Dylan looks unhappy, but since he almost never looks happy, I’m not sure if he’s as resentful of the whole enterprise as I thought when I first saw the concert footage. One thing that has worn worse over time is guitarist and bandleader G.E. Smith’s presence on screen. It doesn’t look like anyone could love him more than he does, and every “Notice Me” gesture makes me wonder how we endured his tenure as SNL's bandleader, even when it was necessary because of the human traffic onstage. The collection is still less than the sum of its parts, but it’s not as objectionable as I once found it. (Rawls) 

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Koerner’s Gone Galactic: When Galactic decided to go forward without a full-time singer, the move seemed shaky. Since then, Cyril Neville and Living Colour’s Corey Glover are just two of the temporary vocalists, and each has affected the nature of the show. When the band played Tipitina’s this Mardi Gras, the vocals by new singer Maggie Koerner gave the performances a new edge. Koerner is a Louisiana native with a clear zest for New Orleans and its music, and despite the lateness of the show, Koerner’s whole-hearted crooning and diva-like stage presence kept the audience engaged.

Several weeks before, Koerner on her own opened for Shakey Graves and offered a more personal look into her music and her album Neutral Ground. Tthis show offered a more intimate look into Koerner’s gifted songwriting and her breadth as a vocalist.  Her album features songs drowning in heavy emotion yet her live performance still remains as full of life and passion as the Galactic show. (Gaddis)

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