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No Expectations 033: Dynamite
A Pitchfork Fest recap + a premiere of a great new song and video from Noah Kesey.
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Premiere: Noah Kesey, “Dynamite” (video directed by Ben Turok)
Noah Kesey is an adventurous indie rock songwriter and artist in Vermont who I’ve written about a bunch in the newsletter this year. I first met him when he was playing lead guitar in Greg Freeman’s band this February at Sleeping Village. The dude shreds but his solo music is something beguiling, unpredictable, and always interesting. He released a collection of songs this year called Guitar Music and is gearing up to finalize a new LP.
A few weeks ago, Noah DM’d me his latest single “Dynamite” and asked if he could premiere it on No Expectations. I’ve never done a premiere on the newsletter before, but I didn’t hesitate to say yes. The gorgeous track is a patient and resonant dose of ambling folk: exactly the type of song I’d write about here anyway. One thing that immediately struck me about Kesey’s songs is his effortless instincts as a songwriter. When I first heard his LP Songs 2019: Pangaea, the way those tracks shifted from ‘90s alt-rock to glitch pop while never losing their overall cohesion really impressed me. Here, Kesey reins it in but there’s beauty in the simplicity. It’s always thrilling to see an artist thrive in disparate lanes.
According to Kesey, whose process is usually much more calculated, he wrote the song in one sitting. “I just tuned my guitar to a funny tuning and started strumming and then the lyrics came via stream of consciousness,” he says. “I didn't edit any of the words really in the moment. I was in a crazy emotional typhoon in my life and in retrospect, it was a very reflective song to have written then.” It’s not hard to see that play out in the song. Over steady acoustic guitar strums, Kesey sings, “You’re like someone else when you’re forced to come in contact with yourself / I’m not surprised / It’s you all the time.” The track ends with an unhurried extended jam: an artist staying present and locking into a groove.
Along with the song, No Expectations is sharing an accompanying video directed by New York-filmographer Ben Turok. Ben’s done recent music video work for Strange Ranger and other great bands like They Are Gutting a Body of Water. Filmed in Vermont, the collage-like clip is basically a summertime hangout: playing music in a park, being in a boat on a lake, and having a bonfire. “I've met Ben a couple of times and we have mutual friends, but this was our first time working together,” says Kesey. “I like his stuff. He's got a great eye and he's really funny. He just gets it. Making something with him was really cool because he just captures good stuff and not bad stuff. He's tasteful and never too much.”
The single, which is out now via the great Philly label Julia’s War Recordings, will be part of Kesey’s forthcoming LP. “Like the track ”Backyard” that I put out this year, this song is going to be from that record,” says Kesey. “The album is not quite done, but it's really close.”
I forgot to post this last week when it was published, but a few months ago, a University of Chicago student named David Feigelson reached out to interview me for his blog Firebird Magazine. I had a blast meeting up for coffee with him and talking about my career so far. He even pulled a Taste Profile interview on me, asking me which albums, books, and movies were most formative in my early years. You should check it out at the link above.
What I listened to:
No Expectations 033 Tracklist:
1. Mutual Benefit, “Little Ways”
2. MJ Lenderman, “Rudolph”
3. Mali Velasquez, “Tore”
4. Al Menne, “Kill Me”
5. Squirrel Flower, “When a Plant Is Dying”
6. claire rousay, “Sigh In My Ear”
7. Braden Lawrence, “Living In America”
8. Deeper, “Tele”
9. Florry, “Cowgirl Giving”
10. Big Thief, “Vampire Empire”
11. Lydia Loveless, “Runaway”
12. Slow Pulp, “Doubt”
13. Cabeza De Chivo, “Perdido”
14. Resavoir, “Inside Minds”
15. Youth Lagoon, “Trapeze Artist”
Gig report: Pitchfork Music Festival 2023 at Union Park
I had such a nice time at Pitchfork Fest. It’s the one summer weekend I look forward to most each year and the 2023 weekend was no aberration. Sure, there were weather delays, but I saw some unforgettable sets, met some writers and former coworkers for the first time IRL, and got to see out-of-town friends I normally don’t get a chance to spend time with. Instead of writing a long weekend recap, I decided to just run through some bite-sized highlights. I saw a bunch of stellar sets I didn’t have time to write about, so please just view this as an incomplete recap.
An Artist-Run Festival
One of the nicest things about being in Union Park Pitchfork weekend is seeing all the great Chicago musicians working at the festival. WBEZ has a great piece on the crew working this year and how it’s a stable source of summer income for them linked in the “What I read” section.
Youth Lagoon Writes Songs
Trevor Powers experienced some technical difficulties during his Friday afternoon set: it seemed like most of his stage banter was about smelling smoke due to some equipment malfunction. That said, you could still fully immerse yourself in the great songs he wrote for Heaven Is a Junkyard. Also, a weird coincidence happened Sunday: I ran into an acquaintance, also named Trevor, who was wearing the exact same bootleg Akira tee Trevor Powers wore on Friday. He did not see the Youth Lagoon set or know the other Trevor donned the same thing.
Too Short, Still Great
Deeper kicked off Saturday and killed it. They’re a band I’ve seen live literally dozens of times and get better with each gig. I’m shocked they hadn’t played the fest yet but they made the most of a shortened set. When I saw the festival stage manager whisper something into frontman Nic Gohl’s ear before they ripped into their second-to-last song, I knew there’d be a weather delay. Though they didn’t get to perform their set closer, it still was a weekend highlight.
Rock Music, Baby
The first Saturday weather delay ended right in time for MJ Lenderman to play a full setlist. He brought on Friend of the Substack Spencer Tweedy, who was working crew at P4k, to supplement drums for the gig. Two drum kits in one MJ gig? What a time to be alive. The new songs sounded incredible, especially “Rudolph.”
Grabbing a Burger During the Rain Delay
After Lenderman closed his show with “Tastes Just Like It Costs,” the festival announced another weather delay and full evacuation of the grounds. My friends and I learned our lesson from one of the Kurt Vile-act-of-God thunderstorm evacuations of past P4ks, so we decided to walk to the neighborhood Small Cheval burger joint to wait out the storm. The storm didn’t really happen, but we did get burgers and beers. Get a tomato on your next Small Cheval burger, Chicagoans.
Julia Jacklin’s Cathartic 15-Minute Solo Show
Pitchfork cut short or canceled sets from Snail Mail and Vagabon but Julia Jacklin managed to get a 15-minute solo set in immediately after gates reopened. Hearing stripped-down versions of “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” and “Pressure to Party” ruled.
Witnessing This Happen
Big Thief Headlining Was Great, Actually
Big Thief headlined Saturday. While it was an intimate and understated set, it wasn’t sleepy. I didn’t really see the Music Twitter discourse about it until after the festival so a lot of it kinda shocked me because I just had a great time. These four musicians are so in tune with each other and so comfortably in their skins it’s a joy to witness each time. Sure, I would’ve liked to have heard a couple of songs from their debut like “Masterpiece” but I really dug all the new material. They had my rapt attention the entire time.
There was a lot of talk online about a colorful rave of the set from Stereogum writer Julian Towers. Out of the newer crop of writers getting bylines these days, I really admire Towers’ commitment to voice and passion. Music journalism should take swings and be fun. I think there should be more writing like that, even if I’d frame my own effusive praise of the band pretty differently in spots. I’m excited to read more and I hope some of the Twitter criticism Towers received over the past few days wasn’t demoralizing. I didn’t have the confidence to write like that early in my career and even if I may not agree with everything, it’s worthwhile when it can get an outlet.
Set of the Weekend: Palm
Philadelphia’s Palm make intricate and dense indie rock that feels like it follows dream logic. They’re breaking up this year but doing a run of shows to say farewell. I am so grateful they got to play Sunday after getting their Saturday set canceled from the weather. Their songs have always been fantastic and fascinating but I didn’t realize how much they meant to me until realizing that I was never going to have an opportunity to see this band again.
A Perfect Chicago Dog
Shoutout to festival vendor Chicago Dog House. This thing saved my life: perfectly constructed and they even brought the celery salt to the festival.
Bon Iver Capped Off the Weekend of the Summer
It’s funny to imagine someone who has only listened to For Emma, Forever Ago over 15 years ago watching the maximalist and electronics-heavy set from Bon Iver this weekend. Despite the fact that it probably would’ve been much easier and lucrative to milk the Midwestern man in the woods thing for the rest of his career, Justin Vernon has never been content to do the same thing record to record. I said his latest album i,i is his best and this set only confirmed I’m right. Perfect show. What a performer.
What I watched:
The Righteous Gemstones Season Three (Max)
The phrase “Baby Billy’s Bible Bonkers” has been rattling around my brain for weeks now. Perfect show.
What I read:
At Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival, everyone’s a musician, even your bartender (LINK: WBEZ)
This is such a wonderful story about the Chicago artists who organize and run Pitchfork Festival. Read the story above and you’ll see a lot of No Expectations-covered artists featured in the piece.
Crew work at the Pitchfork festival is reliable summer income for Chicago musicians, several said on a setup day, as they paused to chat between ferrying supplies, planning artists’ increasingly high-tech production elements, working sound and even determining locations for garbage cans (industry lingo: “toters”).
“It’s vital,” said Rob Frye, a multi-instrumentalist who has played in the Bitchin’ Bajas and CAVE, since the COVID pandemic for a while brought live music to a screeching halt.
Liam Kazar, 30, who plays bass and is about to release his second solo album, is fresh off a tour with the ambitious art-folk-rocker Kevin Morby.
Crewing Pitchfork, said Kazar, is the most consistent income he has all year as a touring musician.
“For many years, working this festival was kind of like my anchor,” said Kazar, who has traditionally worked Pitchfork’s supply crew but started off as the fest driver for headliners Bjӧrk and Belle & Sebastian.
The Feminist Trailblazing of Sinead O’Connor (LINK: The New Yorker-2016)
“Nothing Compares 2 U” was written by Prince, in 1985, and became a deep cut on the eponymous début of one of his side projects, the Family, where the arrangement includes some honking, dissonant chords in the chorus. (There is supposedly a studio version with Prince singing lead, squirrelled away in his Paisley Park vault; when he performed the song live, he seemed to favor a funkier third version, featuring a long saxophone solo.) It remains O’Connor’s highest-charting single. Following the “Saturday Night Live” appearance, her career began to disassemble. People were outraged. The next week, when the actor Joe Pesci hosted “Saturday Night Live,” he held up the same photo of the Pope, now taped back together, and said that, if it had been his show, “I would have gave her such a smack.” Frank Sinatra, performing in New Jersey shortly after the episode aired, reportedly announced (per Tom Santopietro’s book, “Sinatra in Hollywood”), “This must be one stupid broad. I’d kick her ass if she were a guy. She must beat her kids to stay in shape.”
O’Connor wasn’t done; there were other acts of dissent. She boycotted the Grammys (she told Spin it was because of America’s involvement in the first Gulf War); she refused to allow the national anthem to be played prior to one of her shows. She became a priest in the Latin Tridentine church, a dissident sect of Catholicism, a move she later described to the Guardian as “civil disobedience.” She released eight more albums over the subsequent two and a half decades. Some felt like genre experiments. She followed up “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got” with “Am I Not Your Girl?,” a collection of mid-century jazz standards; then, in 2008, she travelled to Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong studio, in Jamaica, and recorded a series of roots-reggae covers, including the Abyssians’ “Y Mas Gan” (“If we can’t be good, we’ll be careful, and do the best we can”). In recent years, O’Connor has taken to giving her records goofy, aphoristic titles like “How About I Be Me (and You Be You)?,” from 2012, and “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” from 2014. Her public persona continues to be deeply fraught. Recently, she accused Arsenio Hall of supplying Prince with the drugs that may have killed him, and also of lacing her marijuana while they were lounging around Eddie Murphy’s house. (Hall responded with a lawsuit; O’Connor responded with an invitation to “suck my dick.”)
The Weekly No Expectations Chicago Show Calendar
Thursday and Friday, July 27-28: Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker at Judson and Moore. Tickets.
Thursday, July 27: Frsh Waters, Shawnee Dez, Senite at Schubas. Tickets.
Friday, July 28: Rose City Band, Angela James at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Friday, July 28: billy woods and Kenny Segal at Subterranean. Tickets.
Friday, July 28: The Good Life, Speedy Ortiz at Beat Kitchen. Tickets.
Saturday, July 29: Built to Spill at Subterranean. Tickets.
Sunday, July 30: Andrew Bird, Uwade, Nora O’Connor at Out of Space. Tickets.
Monday, July 31: Shady Bug, Joey Nebulous, Bled Tape at Sleeping Village. Tickets.
Monday, July 31: Cisco Swank, Elton Aura, Qari at Schubas. Tickets.