Friday, December 30, 2005

The 2005 Baker's Dozen

I ignored pretty much all of 2005. After the 'W' got elected for a second term, I disconnected. I'm only now getting around to listening to N.P.R. again, if that tells you anything. And something started happening to my music taste, but I attribute this only to the current state of the union and not my impending fourth decade. Alas, some of you may feel the increase in accoustic guitar is a sign of M.O.R., but fuck off, I used to like Cat Stevens when I was younger too. Whatever the case, here's the infamous Baker's Dozen List for 2005:
  1. Sufjan Stevens-"Illinois"
  2. Bright Eyes-"I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning"
  3. The New Pornographers-"Twin Cinema"
  4. My Morning Jacket-"Z"
  5. Kayne West-"Late Registration"
  6. The Mountain Goats-"The Sunset Tree"
  7. Wolf Parade-"Apologies To The Queen Mary"
  8. Fiona Apple-"Extraordinary Machine"
  9. Sleater-Kinney-"The Woods"
  10. Kate Bush-"Aerial"
  11. Rougue Wave-"Descended Like Vultures"
  12. Low-"The Great Destroyer"
  13. Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane-"Live At Carnegie Hall"

Honorable Mentions:

  • Spoon-"Gimme Fiction"
  • Iron & Wine-"Woman King" (e.p.)
  • Beck-"Guero"
  • Smog-"A River Ain't Too Much To Love"
  • Silver Jews-"Tanglewood Numbers"
  • High On Fire-"Blessed Black Wings"
  • The White Stripes-"Get Behind Me Satan"
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-"Howl"
  • Doves-"Some Cities"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cat Power - The Greatest

I’ve been holding on to this thing over a month now and I can’t really keep it to myself anymore. I’m talking about the upcoming Cat Power release The Greatest, schedule for official release in January. Being the obsessive Cat Power fan I acquired the leaked copy illegally, but rest assured, I plan on legally purchasing the album when it’s released. And not just because I’m an obsessive Cat Power fan; I’m purchasing it because it’s fucking awesome. As it stands, The Greatest is the best album of 2006, and the year hasn’t even begun yet.
For the album, Chan surrounded herself with accomplished and well-versed Memphis musicians who give it an unprecedented feel and sound. The Greatest finally provides Chan’s voice with a complementary backdrop and gives her, for the first time ever, some soul to share.
Marshall’s songs still bear the primitive feel of her earlier work. The arrangements roll alongside her, almost metaphorically like the Mississippi that borders Memphis. What’s strange is that this isn’t the first time she’s recorded in Memphis. Actually, Cat Power’s second album What Would The Community Think was recorded there. Stuart Sikes, who engineered that album (and who most recently mixed Loretta Lynn's "Van Lear Rose" release) returns to the Cat Power camp as the Producer for this release. The end result is not only Cat Power’s most polished record to date, it’s also her most comfortable sounding one.
Marshall starts the album with one of her best written songs, the title track “The Greatest.”
“Once I wanted to be the greatest
No wind or waterfall could stop me
And then came the rush of the flood
The stars at night turned you to dust”
This song sets the bar high for the entire album and throughout the record, she continually delivers and exceeds expectations. The Greatest is the album that us Cat Power fans have been waiting for and it finally demonstrates her talent completely. We no longer have to make excuses for her and we no longer have to explain the idiosyncrasies that have plagued her image and performances in the past. With every meltdown from now on, we have The Greatest to fall back on as a demonstration of what she can actually do with her talent with the right musicians and with the right formula.
Once again, but the arrangements provide her with subtle nuances that previous backing musicians haven’t been able to accomplish. Take The Dirty Three who backed her on Moon Pix. Their performances seemed to almost complement her depressive traits. This Memphis bunch, instead, bring a real depth to her emotions. From the light and somewhat joyous second track, “Could We,” Hi Records guitarist Teenie Hodges slinks along with the same effort as he did on the most famous song he helped compose, “Take Me To The River.”
They transform “Willie Deadwilder” (now titled as just “Willie”) into an airy stroll that knocks off about ten minutes from the original version on “Speaking For Trees.” While that original version brought tears to my eyes, there’s a strange sense of hope when she declares
“now my heart is a worried thing

memories are planted there

the seeds of the field

I now want to reap and sow.”

Sure, the words have been edited a tad, but the overall theme remains the same. It’s the effort of her Memphis band that transforms this song into something new, something extraordinary.
“Hate” revisits traditional Cat Power ground by using only a primitive strumming of Chan’s Danelectro guitar as the accompaniment. But because the track comes late in the disc, the impact of this song is more noticeable.
“Living Proof” manages to do something never accomplished before in Cat Power albums: it gets a little funky. “You’re supposed to have the answer/you’re supposed to have living proof” she says on the track, and the answer is The Greatest is the best Cat Power album yet and it should be referred to by music fans for years to come in the same way that we praised Dusty Springfield for making her own way to Memphis over 35 years ago. Let’s hope Chan doesn’t make the mistake that Dusty did and never return back to these surroundings that have obviously lit a spark to her muse and helped her talent truly flourish.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bob Dylan-Live At The Gaslight 1962

Let’s get this straight: I’m more of a fan of Dylan’s “rock” period than his early “folk” period. I can appreciate his folk material and the recent Scorsese documentary makes me appreciate his early period even more. Capitalizing on that documentary, Columbia released the bootleg series’ “Volume 7.” Columbia did something even stranger this year by taking a much bootleg Dylan show from 1962, shining it up, and making it available only at Starbucks. There actually wasn’t much negative feedback for this marketing decision; less than Bobby’s decision to appear in a Victoria Secret commercial, actually. And as a fan of their grande soy white chocolate mocha, the marketing worked brilliantly as I grabbed the disc along with the coffee.
“Live At The Gaslight 1962” was reportedly one of the first bootlegged cds ever made (early versions of this performance were already in the hands of Dylanphiles by 1987). After the commercial failure of his debut album, Bob took his time crafting the follow-up (“Freewheeling”) and would often introduce new material to MacDougal Street faithful in small club like the Gaslight. Thankfully, a very resourceful audience member brought a tape recorder to a couple of Dylan’s Gaslight performances and captured the events. What Columbia has brought to us is a truncated version of these recordings; the real bootleg versions were longer. As it’s presented, “Live At The Gaslight 1962” contains only three Dylan originals, with the remaining seven being typical covers for Bob’s setlist at the time.

“Hard Rain,” appears in a fully realized version and, judging by the backing vocals provided by some members of the audience, it was a song that had been around for a while prior to the (maybe) October, 1962 recording date. “Rocks And Gravel,” although credited to Dylan, is merely a culmination of Brownie McGhee’s “Solid Road” and Leroy Carr’s “Alabama Woman Blues.” Track three, an early take on “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” sounds exactly like it is: a (then) work in progress. With that perspective, it’s something else to hear Dylan “testing” out new material with audiences. But again, judging from the faithful that sing along to “Hard Rain,” it’s apparent that his crowd, even then, hangs on every word and understands they’re in the presence of someone truly special.
The rest of the album, all covers, also point to this. What’s remarkable is the age of Dylan vs. the delivery of the material. This doesn’t sound like the voice of a twenty-one year old. Bob carries such material credibly and sounds more assured than in some of his originals like “Don’t Think Twice.” “Moonshiner” sounds like a man knowing that drink will be his ultimate demise. “West Texas” sounds like a dust bowl relic. “Barbara Allen,” the best cover on the collection, sounds too gentle for a man of Dylan’s age and is more haunting than anything on his debut.
For a recording based entirely on primitive recording techniques, the sound of this “Gaslight” collection is clear and adequate. There’s just enough flaws for it to retain it’s bootleg mystique; some of the tracks start and end abruptly and the tape hiss of the recording source is noticeable. Considering the venue, the date of the recording, and how it was captured, the folks at Columbia did a good job of cleaning it up.
While his debut contained mostly covers, “Freewheelin” signaled the beginning of Dylan the songwriter, the transition from Robert Zimmerman the student into Bob Dylan the professor. “Live At The Gaslight 1962” provides us with a rare look at that transformation. And whatever the reason or your feelings of how this collection is made available, it’s worth the price of an overpriced coffee.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Laura Veirs-Year Of Meteors

“Year Of Meteors,” Suzanne Vega’s first album since “Days Of Open Hand” is not as good as Beth Orton’s “Carbon Glaciers” and…ok, I’ll stop there. Laura Veirs is the kind of artist that most people have never heard of, but when they do, they’ll automatically think “Haven’t I heard this before?” The answer is yes, but can you really fault an artist for sounding like Suzanne Vega or taking a production tip from Beth Orton? The world is certainly big enough to have more than one folky singer-songwriter or, at least, a producer who melts atmospheric electronica over tried-and-true acoustic guitar strumming.
Where Laura’s last effort, “Carbon Glaciers,” got noticed for being a high quality folk album, “Year Of Meteors” utilizes Veirs’ backing band and sounds almost entirely contrived and lacking chemistry. Ironically, it works on some levels, particularly when the subject matter gets cold and, ahem, spacey. “Galaxies” stands out as one of those examples and is one of those songs that perks your ears as it plays overhead when you’re ordering a white chocolate soy mocha with no whip cream. Before you think I’m being mean, understand that I’ve got a thing for that very overpriced drink and, as a result, absolutely love the song “Galaxies.” It’s just as fucking catchy as, say, “Luka” and a helluva lot less pretentious too.

Speaking of, Veirs gets a little too caught up in her wordsmiths, often ending up in the “what the fuck?” category (“Crawl inside like a honeybee”) but every now and then hitting something clever (“with white spider stars coming down”). When it works, you can overlook her obvious influences and when it doesn’t, you start to wonder what happened to those influences because they did it better the first time.
Since she studied geology, there’s more than a few references to that field (“by your zirconium smile”) and there’s something a little intriguing about that geekiness. Combined with Veirs’ scholastic phrasing and her lack of vocal details, it’s obvious that she has some passion behind her songs even though folksinger was not her first career path choice. But “Year Of Meteors” is just good enough for us to be thankful that she put down the rocks and picked up the hollowbody.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Kate Bush-Aerial

Boy howdy! When I was in high school, I had a tremendous crush on Kate Bush. Seriously. I imagined that it was me instead of Houdini she was kissing on the cover of “The Dreaming.” Then I imagined that we would get married and I would tell her how wonderful her new material sounded when she played it for me in the music room of our castle in England.
Things between Kate and I never worked out. She released “The Sensual World” and I got a little bored at how the album wasn’t as challenging as the previous two. Her next effort, “The Red Shoes,” was more of the same and even less inspired.
Then Kate disappeared.

If you’re retardedly obsessed like me, you learned that she had a kid and was focusing her efforts on being a Mother. Last year, I learned that she was hanging around Abbey Road Studios which could only mean that a new Kate album was on the horizon.
“Aerial” marks the first album from her in twelve years and possibly her best in twenty. With that being said, don’t expect it to be another “Dreaming” or “Hounds.” It couldn’t be and most certainly isn’t. Instead, we have another Bush album placed squarely in middle age and a reflection on domestic bliss. While that it itself isn’t adventurous by any stretch of the imagination, enough time has passed in between albums for her new effort to sound refreshing.
The album, broken into two separate discs (“A Sea Of Honey” b/w “A Sky Of Honey”), begins with the single “King Of The Mountain,” an interesting study in Elvis. What’s even more interesting is how she’s finally thrown out the heavy handed production values that’s plagued the vast majority of her work in the past. Analog drums and effect-free guitars back Kate as she manages, using only her voice, to lift the song into familiar, weird territory. It’s the first time we’ve seen her use a subject matter of recent history, as she typically finds comfort in biographical figures from other eras. The follow-up, a song about a man with a deep fascination of numbers (“π”) goes a step further before we get reeled back into middle-of-the-road song structures. “Bertie” is a song about her son (“you bring me so much joy/then you bring me more joy”) and it demonstrates her focus for the past seven years. Then she provides us with probably the strangest topic ever put on a Kate Bush album: washing clothes. As if you could imagine, “Mrs. Bartoluzzi” doesn’t work at all (“Slooshy sloshy slooshy sloshy/Get that dirty shirty clean”) and it’s quite possibly one of the worst songs on a Kate Bush record.
The second disc is hands-down the winner and it saves “Aerial” from remaining in the adult contemporary section. Like the second side of “Hounds Of Love” (entitled “The Ninth Wave”), “A Sky Of Honey” follows a song-cycle that centers on the dusk til dawn passage of a day. Impeccably constructed, it tinkers with both weirdness and professionalism while (again) repeating the praises of everyday life. It seems that she has had enough time to focus on the things that most of us would tend to overlook. In some ways, it also illustrates that she is no ordinary woman and, perhaps, a tad out of touch with the rest of us. While you and I were getting through this thing called life, it seems that Kate was merely hanging around the estate, birdwatching. By then end of “A Sky Of Honey,” you can hear Kate laughing alongside actual birdcalls. This is the kind of strangeness that has been missing from her last two efforts and probably the reason why fans like me are so tolerant of a twelve year gap.
At forty-seven, Kate’s voice remains strong and vital. It’s the focal point of “Aerial” but it doesn’t receive the workout of some of her earlier work. And like I mentioned before, this is probably the most organic record that Kate has made. It seems that she has finally stopped trying to make a contemporary sounding record and, instead, settled on making an album that reflects her current state of mind. And judging from “Aerial,” it sounds like things are pretty good at the Kate Bush castle.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Old Fart(s) At Play

As the title of this post suggests, I would much rather be writing about the new “comeback” Captain Beefheart album. But then again, one could put up a few microphones next to a Van Vliet canvas while he paints and it might give any new release by The Rolling Stones or Sir Paul McCartney a run for its money. I’m a little bitter about those two: “Undercover Of The Night” was the last new Stones album I gave a shit about (read: twenty-two years ago) and the last McCartney album I ever purchased was “McCartney II” (read: twenty-five years ago).
It seems that every time the Stones release a new album, some dipshit reviewer heralds it as a “return to form.” Like lemmings, we buy it and inevitably become disappointed because it is far from a return to form. What we get is an album that’s a notch above “Dirty Work,” which, as we learned, was the sound of the Stones machine working to stay afloat instead of staying ahead.
Let’s remind ourselves that the Stones will probably never achieve the same caliber as they did with “Some Girls,” “Tattoo You,” and there’s no way they’ll return to their late 60’s/early 70’s incredible run. They’ve got little left to prove and their recent albums seem to be flashpoints (get it?) to get legions ready to fork over even more cash during the subsequent tour.
“A Bigger Bang” is the latest “return to form” Stones album and, no surprise here, it’s not as good as “Tattoo You.” Here’s the thing: it’s probably as good as “Undercover Of The Night” but I’m one of a few people that actually enjoyed that one. I guess that means that I like “A Bigger Bang.”
It starts out with one of the best Stones rockers in recent memory, “Rough Justice.” Mick says the word “cock” in this one, but it’s clearly Keith that holds the balls on this one. Track two, “Let Me Down Slow” keeps things going in the right direction, to the point where you’re getting all hot ‘n bothered that the boys might actually have another really good album in them. Then the album starts spinning its steel wheels.
I suppose track three, “It Won’t Take Long,” isn’t bad, in fairness, it would probably make a great “Voodoo Lounge” track or whatever the hell their last album was called, it just doesn’t give you that “holy shit” feeling the first two cuts do. “Streets Of Love,” which has been pegged as a Mick “Alfie” outtake and, therefore, makes it a piece of shit, didn’t smell like a turd on the run to me. “Rain Fall Down” kept reminding me of “Pretty Beat Up,” which isn’t a bad thing. Then the boys pull of a really good blues song “Back Of My Hand” which makes one wonder why the fuck they don’t do a complete album like this. Add the two Keith tracks (“This Place Is Empty” and the closer “Infamy”) with the cut “Laugh, I Nearly Died,” and you’ve got 9 good songs on a 16 track album. The rest of the album, including the much publicized “Sweet Neo Con” (which sounds like a rush job merely designed for press coverage) is typical “going through the motions” Stones, just like every fucking studio album they’ve done since “Undercover.” Pair the selections down to ten, maybe twelve cuts, and you’d have me posting about how great it is. Instead, it’s a good album that has them going in the right direction, but we’re running out of time waiting for them to deliver one final consistently decent album. The Glimmer Twins really need a third party to trim the fat on these things, which probably is the reason why Keith’s solo albums and Mick “Wandering Spirit” remain my favorite “Stones” album in the past twenty years. They also need Charlie Watts, who is actually the most consistent thing in their cannon; he’s, as always, the band’s secret weapon and if he ever died or decided to leave the band, then the rest should call it a day in his honor.
But fuck it: as long as he’s with ‘em and as long as they keep trying to make albums for the hell of it instead of trying to sound relevant, then I’m all for another new Stones release. It sounds better than most of the shit being released by twenty-something rock acts, or even the artists formally known as Aerosmith.

Let’s move on to Paul McCartney, who’s last awesome album was 1971’s “Ram” and who’s had more of a dry spell than, well, Ringo Star. Again, the critics who have chastised Paul for being a boorish stoner suddenly started praising his latest work “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard.” Paul gave the nob-twiddling duties to one Nigel Godrich who was responsible for Radiohead’s “OK Computer” which sounded like a neat little collaboration on the surface. What we get instead is…a Paul McCartney album. It’s consistent, polite, and focused. It also sounds like what it is: an album recorded by a guy who’s 63 years old. Sure, his voice is in fine form. Sure, he’s a recognized genius. Sure, we’re all kidding ourselves when we think that Wings deserves a second listen.
It’s a very simple and plaintive affair, filled with a lot of reflection. To be honest, it’s not an album that I would find myself playing repeatedly.
Starting off with the spry “Fine Line,” things look good for the cute Beatle; it’s a track that could easily fit on a McCartney album thirty years old. It gets better by “Jenny Wren” which sounds like it could easily fit on a Beatles album forty years old. For these two songs alone, I give a tip of the hat and come close to forgiving Paul before remembering the chorus of “My Brave Face.” Let’s face it, “The Girl Is Mine” is just too easy of a target.
Then my attention span gets antsy, and I’m begging for a little electric guitar. It doesn’t arrive until track eleven, “Promise To You Girl.” That’s my problem, I guess. Listen, I can appreciate how the songcraft is top notch and I respect the fact that he played virtually every note on the album. I just can’t relate to his renewed belief in love (“How Kind Of You”) and how happy the guy seems to be these days. Not “happy” as in “upbeat,” but “happy” as in “it’s good to be Paul.” No shit? Fuck, I’d be happy to be Pete Best.
All bitterness aside, it’s a fine album, but not my cup of tea, which incidently, there’s a song about “English Tea” on the album.
Like the Stones album, this is the kind of album McCartney needs to be encouraged to make from now on. The praise is warranted and welcomed, but the irony is not lost on me how it took a respected, contemporary producer like Godrich to make the first McCartney album sound like he’s comfortable with his age. Call it “O.K. A.A.R.P.”

Monday, November 7, 2005

Spend An Evening With Saddle Creek

I can give you examples of how/why labels like SST, Homestead, Touch & Go, and maybe a few other indie patron saints, were so essential to the national musical landscape. But not once have you heard me give praise to the whole Saddle Creek thing. I probably should get around to doing that. What better chance to come clean than with Saddle Creek’s own masturbatory dvd “PooP” that celebrates all of those responsible for putting Omaha right next to the word “scene.” You had your Athens, GA scene. You had your Seattle, WA scene. It’s a new century, and we’re smack dab in the middle of a Omaha, NE scene. I said Omaha. It’s in Nebraska, for Christsakes.
The same state that gets painted red every fucking fall during college football season. The same state that I speed through just to get by it faster. It took me years to admit that Omaha was pretty cool (home to one of my favorite record stores) and it’s taken me longer to admit that Saddle Creek has got their shit together and is deserving of all the attention that’s being thrown their way.

The dvd “Spend An Evening With Saddle Creek” affectionately compiles the history of the Saddle Creek label and the artists that comprise it. It’s informative and relatively humble, carefully attempting to be both democratic in providing equal time to everyone on the label’s roster while acknowledging that it was essentially the talent of one Conor Oberst that brought the label its national attention in the first place.
So you want to paint me as just another Oberst fanboy? Let me set the record straight: I find the fucker very irritating. His saving grace is that he’s one talented little shit, and from the looks of it, he’s been that way for quite some time. The documentary footage shows a young Oberst performing at local coffeehouses, displaying more enviable smarts than people three times his age. The new Dylan? Fuck you; but there’s no debating that the guy has got an incredible well to feed upon in much the same way as his fellow Midwesterner did some 40 odd years ago. And while Dylan had to travel to the mean streets of N.Y.C. to foster his muse, Oberst is extremely fortunate to have a circle of friends that recognized and fostered his own.
The documentary does a great job of explaining this while capturing these behind the scene’s “aw shucks” support group. They knew the kid was on to something. While others in the same situation may have done more to dissuade or discourage such young will, they very wisely developed him. In some cases, a few musicians even put their own bands and dreams on hold, knowing that he probably had just a bit more of “it” at the age of 13 than they would be able to achieve in their lifetime. It takes a special person to admit that.
Before you disclaim that Saddle Creek is a one trick pony, the documentary highlights labelmates which all seem to have a linear connection with one another. There are several acts on the label deserving of attention: Cursive, The Faint, Slowdown Virginia, all are provided ample footage and screen time. They're all worthy of the spotlight outside of Bright Eyes’ glare. If I recall the SST lineup during their own heyday, I’d say Saddle Creek has got a better batting average.
Probably the most telling story is how selfless everyone. This is a great example of the d.i.y. ethos and what can happen when a scene truly works together at achieving a common goal. I don’t believe the parties involved for a moment started this thing for their own financial gain or to stroke their own egos. Instead, it appears that everyone was a mutual fan and simply wanted to have their music heard. They’ve achieved that, and this is a great tool for other scenes to emulate. The only problem is that most scenes won’t have an Oberst to serve as a building block.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

The New Pornographers-Twin Cinema

A.C. Newman’s “The Slow Wonder” was one of the Baker’s Dozen from last year and it looks like he’ll make it again this year with his Candian Indie supergroup The New Pornographers’ third effort “Twin Cinema.” In all honesty, the biggest complaint about the release is how nearly perfect the execution is. And when it comes down to rock & roll, one’s got to consider how important imperfection is.
Don’t misunderstand the words “rock” in relation to “Twin Cinema.” It rocks hard in some rooms, but not enough for the neighbors to complain.
I started with A.C. Newman because this is, essentially, an A.C. Newman album. And if you loved “The Slow Wonder” like I did, you’re gonna love “Twin Cinema.”
Newman writes ten of the thirteen tracks with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar taking up the remaining three. They’re a welcomed relief at times, coming on like a 60’s relic on his cut “Broken Beads,” while the track “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras” is just as winding as the title suggests. Bejar’s tracks are also the only ones that somewhat feel like an actual band unit. The rest feel a little too perfect, cut and paste jobs. The rest, all written, by A.C. Newman.
What’s frustrating is how you just know that his compositions are a little too contrived. But dude, they are so fucking good.

Cheerful, poppy, contagious; there’s not a dud on this thing and it provides you with satisfying repeated listens. “Twin Cinema” occupied the cd player in the 4Runner for two solid weeks, in between stabs at N.P.R.’s “All Things Considered.” Then the reality of how fucking crazy this country has gotten in to sets in, and I need my candy…
Kurt Dahle saves the whole thing from going diabetic; his spastic fills find the closest thing to soul in the entire set. Then again, it’s hard to find a reason to get soulful over lyrics like “two sips from the cup of human kindness/and I’m shit faced/ just laid to waste.” No matter: by the time the next line hits “you had to send the wrecking crew after me,” you’re singing with them like it’s a Sunday hymn. Plastic soul, man.
Throw in Neko Case’s admirable vocals abilities and you’re scratching your head trying to figure out how she can muster up such magic on lyrics so devoid of emotion. They even manage to work up a church choir ending during “Streets Of Fire” and they come very close to sounding like a few souls actually were saved. It really doesn’t matter in the end, each individual member is just great enough for you to completely overlook such minor complaints. They’re like the “talented and gifted” kids, known as T.A.G. in my old school district, who manage to fuck up the curve for the rest of us. What the New Pornographers managed to do during a brief window of opportunity in which everyone’s schedules finally were freed up to do a little recording, everyone else would need years to accomplish something like this.
Without question, one of the best albums you can find this year.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Cat Power-Live Review

It was there. The proverbial pink elephant: would we witness another, much documented Chan Marshall meltdown on stage? It was a conversation heard more than once. And it’s becoming the equivalent to ambulance chasing. With her performance Saturday night at the Canopy Club in Urbana, Illinois, you literally had over half in attendance that believed they could see Chan breakdown; they provided enough silence to hear every exhale from the artist, waiting on baited breath to consider what she might do next. What she did was deliver a set of such quality that we were all politely reminded us why we wanted to hear a complete show.
We arrived at the club about an hour before showtime. After we walked away from the locked entrance, the SLF noticed a woman getting out of a Ford sedan. It was Chan. Three Asian boys noticed her too and took advantage of the moment to approach. She was cordial to them and politely shook their hands. I backed off, providing her with an adequate distance that she requires. I think. They only thing I had to go on was her “don’t be in love with the autograph” line.
Fast forward 90 minutes and a handful of Chan faithful (including the Asian fellows) waited for the doors to the club opened. When they finished soundcheck, the doors opened and we were allowed inside. Now this was quite a different scene since the last concert I saw at the Canopy Club: Iggy Pop. There was no seating for that show, as the concrete slab in front of the stage became perfect exclamation points for the mouthbreathers. For Cat Power, simple, white wooden folding chairs were arranged, I’m assuming on request by the promoter, in neat rows in front of the stage. I’d gather that the sight of a few hundred standing gawkers could prove to be a little unsettling. Why not be proactive and make ‘em sit down like a proper audience?

The SLF and I scored a major coup with the seating as we landed at a nice table, with a nice view, and with frequent visits by the wait staff. The only real problem for us was having to endure “Dexter,” the Chan picked opening act whose last name was never uttered by him and muttered by her. I have no idea where he’s from but have a good idea that I’ll never want to see him live again. “Dex” played some pretty amateur piano and guitar while singing songs about the “darkness in (his) soul.” There was something wrong with the guy besides putting on a very dismal performance. He thanked Chan for inviting him and told us that he was making $200 for his efforts. The fucker played for over 45 minutes. Because he got paid and played for over 15 minutes, he owes me a drink. I’m serious about that too.
By 8:45, Chan finally walked on stage to a simple piano and her familiar Danelectro guitar. A hundred watt combo amp was mic’d and heavy on the reverb. The crowd offered a nice applause hello before quickly going silent as Chan sat down and immediately moved the stage monitor in front of her. It was like they were expecting her to fly off the handle at that moment while she blew her breath out in a form of nervous release. It was a tense moment and unlike anything I ever experienced at a performance. But then it hit.
She masterfully started a reverb-drenched backbeat with the heel of her foot while fingering out a repeated rhythm on her guitar. Chan’s voice was barely over a whisper at times, which made the emphasized phrases even more dramatic. I counted over a half a dozen new tracks from the upcoming release “The Greatest,” but it would be impossible for me to provide a complete setlist to this performance. Songs would peter out and then you’d find her starting a new song. It almost appeared like she was purposely making it hard for the audience to applaud her. Or maybe it was that’s the way she’d go about it if in the presence of friends around the moonlight.
Which was exactly the lighting for the entire show: dimly lit blue lights made it harder to see the details of her face, particularly the farther away you were from the stage. From a distance, I’m sure it gave the aura of a ghost. And the music, for sure, was just as haunting.
Chan abruptly put her guitar down and turned to play her piano. In what looked to be a typical music classroom piano, she would often use the creaks and thumps of the foot pedals for percussionary means. I’m convinced that this technique never appeared contrived, but instead a primal reaction to the music that was being played.
All of the new tracks were awesome. They sound very developed and it will be interesting to hear them with the help of some Memphis alumni. Tonight, they were as primitive as the day they were written.
“Willie Deadwilder” has been reduced and restructured from its “Speaking Of Trees” origin, and “Good Woman” was given a passionate workout. I counted two other selections from “You Are Free” (“I Don’t Blame You” and a truncated “Names”) while covers rounded out the rest of the set. And as we learned with “The Covers Record,” Chan can really turn a cover song into one of her own. She did it that night with Johnny Cash’s “Hey Porter” a nice medley of “All I Have To Do Is Dream” + “Blue Moon,” and the fantastic closer “House Of The Rising Son.”
Through it all, Chan repeatedly apologized: sorry for the request for more reverb in her monitor, sorry for asking that the lights be turned down even more, sorry for finally asking that her vocals be removed from the monitors entirely.
It added up to some heartfelt drama, perfectly accented by her introspective renditions. I’ve never seen a more capable artist look so utterly frightened by her own perception. Thankfully, the crowd was very respectful and quiet throughout the entire performance. At the end of “Rising Sun,” Chan quickly rose, thanked the audience, and walked off stage. Almost instantaneously, the house lights turned on and we understood that an hour and fifteen minutes was all that we’d receive. It was more than I expected.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Tools For The Industry

The Minutemen once said “industry, industry we're tools for the industry/ your clothes in
their laundry bleached of identity” and it goes without saying that The Minutemen were typically right. The new job finds me “managing” countless emails, having a hard time understanding the motivation of what is clearly a different generation than mine, and pondering the state of this country in terms of treating other people like shit. Today, I observed my Assistant Area Sales Manager endure having an irrational customer yell at him that he didn’t have the “courage” to provide him with a new electronics product for free because “brave” (sic) customer ruined his month old electronics product with some kind of liquid. Welcome to a world where everyone wants immediate gratification, one where people who bitch loud + long enough typically get what they want, just like they did when they cried to Mommy for Boo Berry. I guess that makes my upbringing, an environment where Mom refused to purchase Count Chocula merely on principle, the reason for my sensibilities. But don’t hold that time I blew up at a Steak ‘n Shake manager against me; the bitch brought me the wrong food and didn’t do a follow-up to ask “Is everything alright?” Besides, all I wanted was for them to charge me for the food I received instead of the higher priced item that I ordered. The bitch (read: white male) had it coming…
On the way to a certain somewhere for work, I noticed that now is the time in my neck of the woods for the totally bitchin’ autumn color change. The vegetation now consists of beautiful red, orange and yellow colors overtaking the last few green holdouts. Meanwhile, a man bitches about his voice mail not working.

I’ve got a pretty good grasp on my mental state. I know when I’m slipping and I know when I’m good. An interesting thought had me consider that I could effectively gauge my mental health by the type of music I’m playing. Things are pretty good if you catch me spinning Grateful Dead or New Pornographers tracks. Things are dismal if Cat Power is on the playlist. One could get heavy, and I have on occasion, that the music is the primary influencer of my music state. Let’s save that discussion for another time.
And time is something that I’ve been pondering as less than one year separates me from my fortieth birthday. We’re past the halfway mark now, and I wonder if others in the same situation feel that same feeling: How soon is now? Is this it? What’s love got to do with it? Why can’t I be you? Who’s got the ten and a half? I swear to God, I’m just as immature as I was thirty years ago. The only difference is that today, I’ve got enough of life under my widening belt to appropriately suppress the times I want to scream “I hate white people!” at passers by. For those of you that actually know me, I’m sure you’re thinking “I think he yelled that at a guy on the street not too long ago.” You’re absolutely right, but there are people that I interact with on a daily basis that have no idea that I could accomplish such a display. Fuck ‘em. They’ve never heard of Cat Power either.
So here’s a rundown of what’s been playing around these parts:
The Soviettes-“III”
Kayne West-“Late Registration”
The Stooges-“The Stooges (expanded)”
The Stooges-“Fun House (expanded)”
The New Pornographers-“Twin Cinema”
Queen-“News Of The World”
Mathew Sweet-“Kimi Ga Suki”
High On Fire-“Blessed Black Wings”
Not a damn depressive title in the mix…

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Stooges-Rhino Re-issues

The Stooges-The Stooges

The Stooges-Fun House

A long time ago, I ran across The StoogesFun House used and knew it would be worth the minor investment. What I didn’t know was that my minor investment held the key to one of the greatest rock albums of all time and an album that I would repeatedly spin ever since. Primitive and retarded, this is music that anyone could play but very few could really execute.
The first exposure to The Stooges that I had came with a Personics mix tape that I made at a Tower Records store in Los Angeles. Personics was an 80’s attempt at capitalizing on the mix tape “market.” For about a buck a song (back then, a hefty fee) you could should from thousands of songs in a book, type in the corresponding number and within ten minutes the tape and a custom cover was made using digital (read: cd) sources. Fidelity was good, and I believed the system utilized a high speed dubbing technique and an early version of what would be a standard consumer product known as a jukebox cd player. Anyway, the choices of songs were pretty bizarre. Typically, you didn’t find any recent hits that you could include on your mix tape. I specifically remember Naked Eyes’ “Always Something There To Remind Me” was the most dubbed song in the Personics’ catalog, a full three years after it originally appeared on the U.S. charts. You also wouldn’t find complete albums, which made sense because you could inevitably the complete album cheaper than if you made it through Personics. I still have my tape, entitled “Tenderfoot” and it included such gems as The Gap Band’s “You Dropped A Bomb On Me,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and The Stooges’ “1969.” I included the song on a whim after previewing it and it started off Side A of my overpriced mixtape.

In college, we had a shitty basement in the house we lived in and it included a stinky couch the previous tenants had left us. We moved a bunch of weed and music instruments down there and when the weed took effect, sometimes we performed. A friend recently scored enough cash to buy a Fender Twin combo amp. He loaded it up and visited our basement with a Gibson SG in his free hand. The dude later recorded a single for a local label, but back then he could barely play in time. You can’t really fuck up a Stooges song, but he managed to give it a shot but constantly speeding up. I’ve got the tape of that “session” somewhere, and you can hear me start cracking up when I get to the part where Iggy goes “Well come on!” in the song. It was funny to me that we were managing to fuck up a Stooges song. That gives you an idea of how bad it sounded.
Swear to God, several years later another group of guys in another basement that I was in managed to extend The Stooges “No Fun” into a thirty minute version and the results were breathtaking. At least it seemed to be at that moment.
That’s the underlying brilliance of The Stooges: songs so primitive that it takes effort (or an out of time guitarist) to really fuck them up. Hundreds of bands covered them Hundreds of bands copied them This may explain why Rhino Handmade released every note of the “Funhouse” sessions in a limited edition box set. It quickly sold out and now fetches around $500 on Ebay. It doesn’t explain why someone would actually pay that amount just to hear repeated versions of the same song over and over. But if you’re retarded like me, there’s a voice in your head that thinks paying that amount is completely rational. Unfortunately, the financial situation makes a purchase like that totally out of the question.
So Rhino does a gracious thing and goes back to the original masters for the first two albums, lovingly spruces up the sound, repackages the shit and throws in a few rarities on a second disc. God bless ‘em: there is not two other albums more deserving of such treatment.
The debut Stooges album, initially panned by critics, stands as a refreshing rock reminder during a time when psychedelic excess was the norm. Produced by Velvet Underground member, John Cale, the first album is probably the band’s weakest. That being said, it’s the debut that gave us “1969,” “I Wanna Be Your Dog” and “No Fun,” which means that it’s better than 95% of the shit that’s currently in your record collection. Cale originally tried to make the record into a Warholian art record fronted by white trash kids from Michigan. The end results, which some selections are included in the second disc, are as dismal as it sounds. For probably the first time in history, the record label was right to demand the recordings get remixed entirely. They only include about four of the mixes, thankfully, and so the rest of the disc is filled out with alternate vocal tracks and full length versions. Everything is duplicated (“No Fun” makes a total of three appearances on the set) because the band didn’t have their shit together enough to realize an entire long player. Three out of the original eight tracks were written during the actual recording.
Elektra records signed the band at the same time they swooped up the MC5, but oddly tried to package them into the same mold as The Doors. Even the original artwork mirrors The Doors’ debut and the track “We Will Fall” comes off as very nearsighted attempt at trying to match wits with “The End.” It comes nowhere close, as you might expect, and it sounds completely out of place with the rest of the album.
When you get to the second album, “Fun House,” the band is completely out of their minds and who better to capture that mental state than the former keyboard player to The Kingsmen? This album is better than 99% of the shit that’s currently in your record collection. From the opener “Down On The Street” to the chaotic closer “L.A. Blues,” this is one of the greatest American rock albums ever recorded.
Here’s where the bonus tracks get pretty fucking interesting: The second disc lifts so key tracks included on the “Complete Fun House” material. You get an early take of “Down On The Street” that shows the band finding the song’s groove. The lyrics also devolve and it’s cool to watch Iggy toy with the phrasing of his hollers.
Here’s where the crazy Doors’ comparisons continue too: the mono, single mix of “Down On The Street” features some pointless Ray Manzarek organ fills throughout the song. It’s a cool little curio that demonstrates Elektra records had no clue how to market these loony boys.
Packaging and artwork are enhanced on both releases and you get a lot of stuff for the same price as a regular release. What you’re paying for, whether it’s $16.99 or $500, is the music: perhaps the most perfect documentation of late 60’s/early 70’s Detroit rock music that slayed anything and everything happening around the country at that time. And some thirty five years later, it slays pretty much everything that’s happening around the country today.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Fall-The Complete Peel Sessions

Oh happy day. The mailman brings a collection of new releases and among them is a collection that I’ve been obsessing about since it was issued at the end of June. The Fall’s box set “The Complete Peel Sessions 1978-2004” compiles every single Fall session on John Peel’s radio broadcast. The good. The bad. The ugly: Mark E. Smith.
Peel and Smith had a very strange relationship. One would automatically think the two would be chummy in some romantic notion of a pair of English gentlemen talking tunes over tea. The fact was, by Smith’s own admission in explaining why he wasn’t present for Peel’s funeral, the two barely knew each other. Peel, perhaps knowing well enough not to break the wall of fanboy, stayed out of The Fall’s way and remained their most notorious supporter. From that point, it’s safe to say that you would look pretty cool by having a Fall album or two in your collection.
Or six: “The Complete Peel Sessions” span over a quarter century of sessions, tracks, personnel. Does a newcomer really need six discs of tracks from a radio broadcast to become familiarized with The Fall? They’d probably be better served with last year’s “50,000 Fall Fans Can’t Be Wrong” best of compilation. But you know what? I’d recommend the investment in this box set over any single disc set in a heartbeat. It has everything you need to hear to get an understanding of what kind of band they are (feisty, snotty, well read, primitive, unconventional, blah blah, wolf wolf) and it contains shit you don’t need to hear. Truly, this is the first compilation/retrospective that I’ve ever seen acknowledge some of the sessions were shitty. That being said, the shitty are few in numbers: there’s at least three dozen really great versions and about three dozen really good versions in this package. Do the math and that’s a better return on my investment than my Jimi Hendrix box set.

Out of the “really great ones,” disc two wins in my cd player. It contains my favorite broadcast (session six) from March 23, 1983, the period right around the Perverted By Language release, which ain’t even my favorite Fall album. Nope, that album The Frenz Experiment managed to produce another great session (eleven) from May 19,1987.
Here’s the thing: when Smith started to realize a degree of complacency in the band (read: proficiency) he would immediately rebuild the band with new members thereby forcing a continual feel of tension. When shown in such a large context, you begin to see the method to his madness. It plays like an audio rollercoaster and Mark E. keeps getting back on the ride.
Packaged in a simplistic brown box, the liner notes are well written and the sessions clearly identified and critiqued. Relevant pictures capturing the radio experience are throughout the booklet, including one of the only pictures I’ve ever seen of Mark E. Smith smiling…standing right next to Peel himself.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Death Cab For Cutie-Drive Well, Sleep Carefully

As if signing to Atlantic Records wasn’t bad enough, rock stalwarts Death Cab For Cutie greenlighted a full-length documentary that reminds other rock stalwarts to wait until they have a story before greenlighting a full-length documentary. In both cases, major label signing and celluloid images, a fan like me begs the question: “Why?”
I’m not losing a lot of sleep over the signing; I don’t see Death Cab poised for much more than the fervent fan base that indie Barsuk has provided them already. But I’ll be damned if I’ll sit by and expect a mutual fan shell out $20 on a film that provides no real insight in their creative process or highlights their musical prowess. Of course some will and, out of those, most may take any sort of negative feedback like mine as somehow attacking the performers. So let me again state my love for “We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes” and “Transatlanticism” before panning their documentary film “Drive Well, Sleep Carefully.”

It states early on how the film is essentially an anatomy of a band touring. Unfortunately, the band pretty much sums their feelings about touring (it sucks) and this admission really does nothing for promoting the idea of having this be the premise for the movie. They’re polite and downright boring behind the scenes. Instead of any semblance of decadence, we find out that watching reruns of “The Office” keeps them going. It does for me too, but you don’t see a film crew following my boring ass around town.
In addition to wanting bassist Nick Harmer to shut the hell up, I wanted these guys to start drinking heavily in a big way. The behind the scenes glimpses showed a group of hard working guys that, after 7 years of touring, finally understand that it doesn’t get any easier. Guitarist Chris Walla at one point whines about having to do 27 shows in a row, which completely falls on deaf ears with me; I’ve heard Black Flag stories that make statements like this seem downright silly. Unlike the Flag, however, Death Cab isn’t a punk band. As a matter of fact, by their own admission, the closest thing to punk they are is in being “punctual.” Hardly an arc worth exploring let alone filming.
If you’re looking for a glimpse in the monotony of touring, you’ll get dialogue about it, but no real visual sense of it. The interviews are set in rooms and location sites, not in buses. The shows are filmed in similar fashion, so you do get a sense of the venues blending in to each other, but no feel of the “What state are we in?” phenomenon. To top it off, the band doesn’t really lend themselves to memorable live performances. Album cuts that sounded sure and momentous sound tired and mundane live. When we hear the original version of “Transatlanticism,” Gibbard’s line “So come on! Come on!” sound like a desparate plea. On stage, it’s a plea for them to get the thing over with.
Vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Ben Gibbard is a very well spoken and fairly interesting subject. The insight he provides is nice fodder for fans, but little more. Guitarist/producer Walla also provides the viewer with some fans-only trivia, but we’re never in a position to see him creating soundscapes or studio magic. Instead, we see him returning to the band’s studio to essentially install a piece of hardware to the mixing board.
I understand that not every tour documentary needs to come off like a Kiss concert, and I don’t necessarily need to have a band work the camera for my amusement. The film’s producer also had a hand in the wonderful Wilco documentary “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” so expectations for this film may be a little lofty. I’m a little miffed why the filmmakers didn’t hand out a little longer and examine the band’s decision to move to a major and document the origins of their first Atlantic Records release. It is, by most accounts, a move to a new musical direction too and I think some fans would have an interest in this and the timing of it. On the other hand, we already have an hour and a half of relatively boring footage. Why add to it with negotiations and discussions on the merit of “artistic freedom.” This same freedom ok’d the release of “Drive Well, Sleep Carefully” and fans are better suited to freely save their money with this non-essential dvd. Arguing about whether the band “sold out” by signing to a major label is a helluva lot more exciting than this release.

Friday, September 2, 2005

Katrina & The Waves

Holy shit, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so a catch up is in order. What prompted me was the influx of comments this blog received, all of them confusing.
First came the introduction of some retarded automated comment generator which, if you’ll look to the comments posted on mid August’s posting essentially tries to sell something utilizing the comment section of a private blog. Great marketing! I’m sure tons of investors come to Worpswede’s blog for financial advice. After all, I’m working for a company that’s going bankrupt. Hell, we were even delisted, bitches!
Then a few chuckleheads decide to post on shit written months ago and come up sounding retarded. Whatever dude, unless that one thing was an attempt to quote a Big Black song or something. If that was the case, then you’re pretty cool. If it wasn’t, then you’re amazingly creepy. Whatever turns you on, baby.
I will now show you a very high level photo of the inside of where I work. Since it looks as though I may have landed a new gig elsewhere, I will share this confidential photo of a highly secured area of my current employer. I present to you, the Juniper Router. It has something to do with computers, I’m told. I've got dibs on using 'Juniper Router' as a band name, btw...
Everyone’s all weepy about the possibility that we may be moving to a smaller facility, one without a cafeteria. Fuck me, no more flap jack days! I’ve got to have one of those (assumedly) tasty suckers before they close up the café. The new owners (read: the bank) have cut about 10% of the workforce, which means that about five dozen support positions were eliminated because, well, we’re broke. My position is cool for now, it’s the headache from beating my head against the wall that’s prompting me to consider other opportunities.
It’s fairly cool to have someone call you to see if you’re interested in working for them. It’s even better when your current employer is going through a financial toilet.
For a change of pace, a friend invited me to the drag races and I took up the offer. I’m sure the SLF didn’t like the idea of fuelers, funny cars, and quarter mile wheelies, but sometimes a guy needs to see other guys racing in a straight line to see who can get to the end the fastest. It wasn’t just any drag race, it was the world series of drag racing. And these just weren’t your typical redneck crowds, these were crowds that probably change the oil in their own vehicles every three months. One thing we all shared together was a mutual love for a guy that thinks putting an F-4 jet engine on the back of a car is a good thing. It was, and I highly recommend the experience.
After noticing that the SLF was not having the time of her young life, we left before the other 3,000 participants decided they had seen enough too. Truth be told, if there was a remote chance that I could have gotten an autograph from legend Big Daddy Don Gartlis. She would simply need to understand that he was the drag race king. He didn’t show, but a jet powered train did. Fucking awesome.
Then New Orleans sank, and I became worried about the fate of Fats Domino. They found Allen Toussaint in the Superdome, so I didn’t need to remind you that he was the guy that wrote “Southern Nights” before people thought Glen Campbell wrote it.
The New Orleans story:
When I started getting boners on a regular frequency and figured out how to handle such dilemmas, the family took our Dodge station wagon down to Bourbon Street. It was a good time, and even better for my parents who used the locale as a reason to drink and take in the decadence of the city. We ate a lot of shellfish and went to see the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, which was fucking cool.
One night, my parents decided to partake in a little bit of Pat O’Brien Hurricane action and left me at the hotel on Bourbon Street with the key to the room. For some fucked up reason, I decided to leave the confines of the Holiday Inn and seek out a pack of cigarettes. I took to the mythical street and witnessed my first homosexual couple walking with their arms around each other. They looked so Village People-esque, or maybe that was just my youth talking as the only experience I had with homosexuals at that point was an ill-advised purchase of the Village People album “In The Navy.” I think there were like six songs on that fucking album and, even in my youth, I understood that Casablanca Records was in the business of ripping people off.
So I head to a sidestreet of Bourbon with the thought that I could find a cigarette machine in the front of some restaurant. I went down a dark street and found a Greek café getting ready to close for the night with a cancer stick machine in the foyer of the restaurant. As I begin to feed change to the machine, one of the Greek employees, presumably the owner, approached me to ask in broken English what I was doing. Beginning to explain, the guy decided he didn’t have time to listen to the words of some thirteen year old Iowa boy and proceeded to throw me out of his shitty little food place. I was immediately met on the dark corner of the street by a female figure, dark skinned and dressed provocatively, whispering “Psst! Hey! Come here!” She repeated and I immediately knew what line of profession she was in. I looked around the street and found myself alone in a town that eats curious Iowa boys for lunch and spits their rotting corpses in a dumpster.
I ran. I ran like a little schoolgirl away from that dark street and that dark prostitute. For years afterwards I spent a lot of time trying to correct my virginity problem and to think if I’d only borrowed a twenty from the old man that night before he left, I could have beaten nearly everyone in my class in the poontang department. How I would have explained the burning sensation afterwards would have been a little awkward, but hey, now you’re a man. A man man man.

Soundtrack sounds to this New Orleans trip:
Aldo Nova-“Fantasy”
Gap Band-“You Dropped A Bomb On Me”
At least that’s all I remember. And that I was really intrigued by a chain of quick, shitty Chinese restaurants throughout the Quarter called “Takee Outee.” Nothing says yummy N’Orleans cuisine like deep fried Chinese egg rolls under a warm heatlamp. We never ate there, but I distinctly remember wanting to.
New Orleans also marks the first time I ever drank coffee and liked it.
The Dodge broke down around Cape Gerardo, Missouri on the way back.
I eventually bought both Aldo Nova’s first album and The Gap Band “IV” when we got back home. I still think that Gap Band album rules…

The Cure-Pornography

A story about what I remember about “Pornography.”
Myself, another guy named Todd, and a dude who changed his name to Che Guevera (swear to God) took my Buick Skylark down to Iowa City to see Sonic Youth in support of their “Sister” album. In my pocket was 10 hits of acid, but that’s another story. In between flicking off motorists with Reagan/Bush bumper stickers we talked about stuff. You know, stuff like who you were fucking, why Bauhaus was so fucking cool, and how you were leaning towards supporting Jesse Jackson during the caucus. One of the topics centered on “What’s the best Cure album out today?” Which sounds retarded, but I swear that this discussion took place. Of course, I immediately sided with “The Head On the Door” because that album is so fucking bitching, but Che started ranting about how much better “Pornography” was. His name might have been retarded, but I think he may have a point about that Cure album.
Hey, it’s Todd’s 20th year class reunion, so let’s package up some old shit, throw on some bonus tracks, and watch the old fucker buy it again. Rhino records: you know me too well.
Anyone who thinks that Robert Smith looks retarded now, needs to understand that the little fucker came from a pretty nifty dark place at one time, and “Pornography” is perhaps the highlight of Bob’s decadence. There’s nothing as depressing as this in the entire Cure arsenal, and it’s begins as soon as the album begins when Smith matter-of-factly deadpans “It doesn’t matter if we all die.”
The liner notes talk some about how they picked Phil Thornalley to produce the album because of his “dig drum sound” from an earlier Psychedelic Furs album. Make no mistake: this album has no “big drum sound” and my major complaint about “Pornography” is the same now as it was back in the 80’s: the production values are devoid of beans or franks. As we all know, this issue changed dramatically over their ensuing years and was completed perfected by the time of “Disintegration,” the greatest album of all time.
“One Hundred Years” gets the mood in place with stand-out nods going to “The Hanging Garden” (lead-off single), “The Figurehead,” and “Siamese Twins” (“Sing out loud: ‘We all DIE!’”…fabulous!).
For 8 tracks, the goth with a capital “G” doesn’t stop and even when the album’s title track finally rolls around after 38 minutes of dark eyeliner, Bob finally admits “one more day like today and I’ll kill you.” None. More. Black.
This album caused the brief breakup of the band, and it did nothing to secure my friendship with the guy name Che. He was, after all, a left wing poseur with a few too many Goth albums in his collection. Robert Smith, particularly with “Pornography,” proved he wasn’t posing at all. The black hair, white skin and eyeliner were all part of a genuine apathy, copied ad-nauseum throughout the Regan eighties and right into present tense.

Since the “Pornography” re-issue is a double bummer, people approach me on a daily basis and ask me about the collection of rarities in this collection. While nifty and informative for Cure fans, let’s be honest here: We will listen to the second disc three times and then never reach for it again. It’s a status symbol (“Have you ever heard the demo for “Temptation?” I have.”) as Bob’s original sketches once again point to how the final production sounds like it was the mastermind of a typical English pansy.
Nonetheless, if you’ve ever considered suicide as a viable option, buy this expanded edition as a prep tool and wallow in your discontent. Wonder why we still love a tubby middle aged guy with smeared lipstick? It’s all because of this album.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

How Soon Is Now: The 20th Class Reunion

As promised: the gory details. It’s everything, I suppose, a twentieth year class reunion is supposed to be. There are those memories you cherish and those you’re reminded of why you never bothered to keep in touch over the past twenty years. What’s utterly amazing is that some of the bad harbingers remain with some, making it “entertaining” to watch grown ups act with such petty memories.
And new resentments were created too, as one clique member decided to become the “reunion police” and monitor every outburst, touch, and drink of choice with the eye of a Block Mother.
A Block Mother was some kind of crazy community service program from the seventies in which every few blocks or so, a sign was placed in the window of a participating house, indicating that a stay at home mommy was available. Call it a safehouse from bullies and other childhood dramas as you’re on your way home from school. The program died out long before most Mommies took down the signs.
How did we look? Twenty fucking years old. It was easier on the eyes to see those that managed to keep in contact with one another but hell on those that we hadn’t seen in decades. It was clear that some made a very consorted effort to prepare for the event. As for myself: fuck first reprise impressions; I wore an Iggy & The Stooges black tee shirt. Check the photo of our old asses in the hometown paper. I’m the one on the lower right corner. The photographer took away my Stoli and limeaide right before he said “Cheese.”
The first night many of us converged on an old watering hole by the river. When it was hip, the place was essentially a hole in the wall fairly cool place to start the night. In the ensuing years, the new owners decided that the beer garden was a waste of precious square footage and turned the area into a shitty supper club that booked karaoke on the weekends. The bartender and staff, once a reliable source of drugs, sex, and entertainment now consisted of rude society floaters hell bent on keeping up with your own drinking pace.
Brief flashback that I just remembered: the place, which featured a cartoon rat on the outside painted sign, used to employ a forty-five year old skank who wore tight Gloria Vanderbelt jeans and sparkly blouses. She was a great waitress, and just about the time you were getting shitty, she would start doing this slutty dance at your table while taking your drink order. It was funny, scary and sad. It was embarrassing if you happened to be entertaining a girl and were on the verge of getting somewhere with her. No, there’s nothing like the sways of a middle aged woman who’s trying to remain relevant with the opposite sex to break the mood of a young couple trying to play chess.
Digression ended…
Present day supper club also contained several desperate middle aged women, and men too, I suppose, but the guys had more of a “I’m drunk beyond retarded” faction. I stayed a little buzzed and sought out Bernie Kozar. On the second attempt I succeeded. Trouble was, I had to endure a drunken “my life is shit” soliloquy while we smoked near the dumpster in back. “If a cop comes, you’re eatin’ that thing. It would fuck up my child custody if I got busted with a roach.” I agreed to Bernie’s conditions and got lit enough to endure another round of memories like the corner of my mind misty water colored memories of the way we were.
Bad choice.
The girl who was advised earlier by the reunion police that she could not drink Jack and Diet Coke decided to break the law and drink Jack and Diet Coke. By midnight, she was asking me for a ride home when she clearly needed a lift. I selfishly declared that I would drive her home in a little bit and somewhat soberly suggested that some people were leaving at that time and would gladly assist her. I never said I was a designated driver. She hung out and kept bugging me for cigarettes even though I refused every request. The last thing I need is for some drunk chick vomit all over herself from a headrush nicotine overdose simply because she hasn’t had a Montclair since ’92.
When they eventually did last call the place, she again asked for a ride. I made my way through the clusterfuck of departing patrons and waited in the car for my friend to exit. With even a few more Jack and Diet Cokes under her belt, we waited and, appropriately, The Smiths’ “Hatful Of Hollow” played in the cd player. Suddenly, she’s all up in my personal business asking about the SLF, acting sincere about my happiness before admitting “That sucks. I was hoping to make out with you this weekend. Just kidding! No, I’m not.” By this time, I’m getting pissed about my friend’s delay and my desperate need to have him save me from the girl who drank too many Jack and Diet Cokes. He came, we dropped her off, and then made a few more drinks at my parent’s deck.
The next night was definitely more of a “Let’s see who can talk the loudest” kind of event that again mixed alcohol, memories, continuing alliances/feuds, and “this is what happened to me since we last saw each other” dialogues. We found out who was in jail, and agreed the first person in our class to get knocked up was Renee M. She was thirteen when she had her first child. She conceived another before she graduated. She didn’t make it to the reunion.
Dead Mothers, domestic abuse, methamphetamines, jail, divorce, marriage; No subject was taboo and the sheer amount of information was sometimes overwhelming and/or tedious. But fuckin’ a, I’d do it again. We all drank like champions. Or put another way: we drank like this would be the last statement of our youth. The final night proved to be too much for my friend who declared “You see, I’m in a bad place here” seconds before passing out in the back yard of my parents house. It was true: I had done the same thing 20 years prior and remember the dew on my face, the dogs barking from the paperboy morning delivery, and the burn marks my vomit left on the grass. Good times. Damn good times, as David Lee Roth would say.
Swear to God: this was the only photo I took the entire weekend. Go figure…

Monday, August 15, 2005

Working Title: Slut Gets Back Together With The Asshole

Without getting into another “shit, I’m really old” self-deprecation, let me honestly tell you that my 20th year class reunion is this weekend. What was high school like for me? Was it tortuous? Did I contemplate suicide? Was I picked on incessantly? Not so much. In fact, it was pretty cool. It was exactly like the movie “The Last American Virgin” and all of the hot chicks eventually dropped the nice guy and returned to the same dude that originally knocked her up.

For better or worse, you’re reading the exploits of a fairly popular former Senior class president who seemingly adapted well in all social cliques and cultures. That’s not to suggest that there was a helluva lot of diversity within my small town high school. There wasn’t, but we had the obligatory amount of minority of ‘em to make us “worldly.” We also had an above average ratio of mouthbreathers, which makes me very empathetic to minorities and all the bad experiences they may have had with rednecks. In the whole scheme of things, what keeps me down to earth is the understanding that, even though a place like New York City may be infinitely cooler than anywhere in the state of Iowa, I’m sure there are more rednecks there than anywhere in the Hawkeye state. This was proven in the 2000 census. Look it up.
So I’m feeling somewhat nostalgic as of late and a little concerned because I have a sneaking suspicion that the people who’d I’d really enjoy seeing this weekend probably won’t be there. There is the knowledge that my best friend in high school is flying in tonight and that in itself makes everything pretty bitchin.
Then there’s the knowledge that, as amiable as I am, there were a lot of times in which I wasn’t very nice to people. Some people probably received the wrath of my teasing more than others, but I don’t think it ever got to a Columbine level. In fact, there was a lot more vicious teasing happening during my first year of college than what took place in high school. I could be wrong. A lot of weed was smoked back in the day. If the Trenchcoat Mafia shows up at the reunion this weekend, you’ll know that I totally underestimated my recollection.
To tie this shit into something of a musical posting, I’ve decided to include five life changing albums for me during those salad days. The rules are simply this: the following albums made an enormous impact on me during the years I was in high school. Feel free to laugh all you want. Most fuckers that do typically have a “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” or something equally awful in their own collection.

5.) INXS-“The Swing”
I remember spinning this record incessantly. And even today, it holds up pretty damn good. This was pre-“Need You Tonight” Inxs, and better in my opinion. I really don’t have any revelations for you to go back and re-examine this release, and it certainly wasn’t a gateway album for me by any means. I just remember playing the fuck out of it at parties, makeout sessions, and cruising. There were times in which I thought the lyrics were deep, but time has made me smarter. There’s still better than most shit that kids listen to today, but that’s just middle age talking.’
4.) YAZ-“Upstairs At Eric's”
Yup, the guy that was in the original incarnation of Depeche Mode and who later fronted the even gayer Erasure, hooked up with his tubby girlfriend who had the voice of an awesome soul singer and made….soulfully cold dance music. You hear this shit on commercials nowadays, but back then, this stuff couldn’t get played on commercial radio. So how does British electropop make its way into the bedroom of a Midwestern hetro cracker like me. Two words: Hip Chick. A relative of a high school friend came to our Godforsaken town one summer from an uber-hip location. She brought a cassette of this album and we threw it in the boombox at some pool party. We all thought it was pretty awesome and we immediately welcomed her to our innocent small town by stealing the tape from her when she got too drunk to care. The tape made the rounds to at least six people and each one of us proceeded to make shitty dub copies of it. By the time Yaz’s second (and final) album “You & Me Both” was released, a nice contingency of hip music fans lined up to buy it at the local record store chain in the mall. I’m betting that, for one week, the band Yaz outsold Def Leppard.
3.) BLACK FLAG-“Damaged”
Holy shit, what a groundbreaker. The story goes like this. A friend of mine was shipped off to the Northeast to attend an upper class prep school. Getting kicked out of that prep school was one of the best things that happened to my musically. With his return, he brought crateloads of punk records and cassette tapes of a low wattage radio station in Boston that played punk rock during the evening. Soon after listening, I was suddenly versed in lingo like Flipper, The Avengers, Christian Death, Fear, and a rare Unicorn records copy of Black Flag’s “Damaged.” Sure, I had the Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys beforehand, but this one was frighteningly agro. And when I followed up with reading of the Flag vs. L.A.P.D. fights that continually took place in L.A. (and supplemented it with the commercials included on their “Everything Went Black” album), I knew that this was probably as real, raw, and scary as it gets. Some quarter century later, it still is.
2.) THE SMITHS-“Meat Is Murder”
We were bummed out. We were in speech. We were trying to impress girls. Well, everyone that either wasn’t already a girl or a homosexual. They listened to the Smiths too. It started with examining a chick’s tape collection during speech contest. She had the obligatory new wave shit including New Order, Depeche Mode, and probably a fucking Bronski Beat album. Then she had a tape with the badassed cover art for “Meat Is Murder.” It was already on the b-side when I asked her to play it, which meant that the American album owners were in for a little bit of “How Soon Is Now?” to start off the second side. It technically wasn’t supposed to be on the album, but it turned out to be a hit over in the U.K. and Sire Records decided to capitalize on it here in the states. It worked. The sound of Johnny Marr’s hypnotic guitar and Moz’ lyrics ‘n phrasing had me convinced that this band was the only band that understood how miserable life can really get. And when you’re 17 years old, it’s cool to understand that.
1.) THE POLICE-“Synchronicity”
What the fuck did you expect? Everyone had an ear for what these guys were going to do next. I mean, they were followed like they were The Beatles, for Christsakes, at least by those who understood that rock and roll music could change your life. U2 was probably the other band like that, but when you’ve got retards clamoring how awesome “Under A Blood Red Sky” is, you get a little resentful. The Police were full fledged Gods by “Ghost In The Machine,” and secured their supergroup status with “Synchronicity.” Fuckers marked the date when the album was supposed to be released and I know of one guy that actually got an excuse to be late for school just so he could be the first one to buy the album when Disc Jockey opened that day. Then he brought the cassette to school so we could all try to figure out what the hell the song “Mother” was all about. The album marks the first time Sting fully addressed dinosaurs, and we knew something was up with him.

Honorable Mention has got to go to U2. Out of sheer spitefulness, I didn’t include them. The fact is, they probably rate higher than Inxs, Yaz, or even Black Flag and they definitely penetrated a lot more of the youth in my hometown than any of those bands. It started when “I Will Follow” was included in the movie “The Last American Virgin” and everybody got a pee boner trying to find the album it was off of. “War” was played incessantly when it was released and I remember my Mother walking into my room as I was singing like Bono during the song “New Year’s Day.” Totally embarrassing. “Under A Blood Red Sky” brought them to the mainstream, and a girl I used to date swore that she could be seen in the accompanying video. She’s the one in the read sweatshirt. “The Unforgettable Fire” became a favorite lovemaking soundtrack album to another girlfriend, so again, I’m forced to admit the importance of this pompous little rock outfit from Ireland.
I’ll follow up with a post on the 1985 class reunion soon.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Echo And The Bunnymen-Porcupine

For a brief moment, Echo & The Bunnymen seemed poised on becoming England’s next big musical export. Then came The Smiths, but that’s another story altogether, and probably one that is more relevant to my own musical upbringing. Nonetheless, E&TB had a brief shining moment among Anglophiles here in the States and, like The Smiths, never quite fulfilled their promise.
Like I said before, The Smiths had more of an impact on me than Echo. It wasn’t until E&TB released their compilation “Songs To Learn And Sing” that I actually took notice of the band.
About a year or two later, a friend in college who remains a huge musical influence on me today, introduced me to the back catalog of Echo. I’m sure the exposure seemed tepid to him, after all he was preaching the brilliance of Sonic Youth’s “Bad Moon Rising” to me around the same time, but he did rediscover a few of the key nuances of Echo’s third release “Porcupine” after my repeated plays.
Keep in mind, I went through a huge Doors phase in middle school, so I was pretty comfortable with Ian McCulloch’s Morrison replication. But prior to the band’s 1987 single “Bedbugs & Ballyhoo” (which perfectly lifted a Doors keyboard sound) and their version of “People Are Strange” (which did nothing except overshadow the band’s original material) Echo had a stronghold on combining 60’s psychedelia with Britain’s fruitful post-punk output.
Echo’s 1987 album totally turned me off as 1.) it appeared that the band was verged on becoming hugely successful (and big no-no for me at the time) and 2.) I had fallen into the band’s creative counterpart Julian Cope. Julian writes eloquently of the rivalry in his autobiography and I viewed his drug intake during the time as something intriguing. Of course, Mr. Cope was himself catering to the mainstream with the release of “St. Julian" and "My Nation Underground,” but I had just been exposed to his earlier material with The Teardrop Explodes and the acid-fueled solo release “Fried.” He may have followed a linear path with Echo & The Bunnymen, but to me the discovery made it fresh.
It’s been almost two decades since I’d heard “Porcupine” but Sire re-released it with nice packaging and bonus tracks. A recent surge of nostalgia prompted me to fork over full retail price for it and the luxury of hearing the album properly mastered. Listening to it again with several years removed has brought me back to the idea that maybe they were indeed the shit that Cope envied and a pretty stellar group in retrospect.

At first listen (again), I was a little put off by the 80’s production values, but then considered this to be a cop-out as I didn’t feel the same way about dated material from the 60’s and 70’s. I mean, this shit is “hip” now, right? With Yaz on commercials and leg warmers being reconsidered as fashion statements, people are paying top dollar for the sound and vision of 80’s culture. A few deep breaths later, I understood the entire 60’s via 80’s revival and how understated the performances in “Porcupine” were. This band could play and, at times, truly rock. It’s underneath the sheen of the mixing board, but it’s there if you listen close enough.
Each song is awash in reverb and other textures. Lyrically, McCulloch reaches high but falls somewhat short of anything truly significant, unlike say Morrissey, Robyn Hitchcock, or Andy Partridge. But you’d never guess what he’s singing is a tad shallow; he approaches much of the album with an emotive bombast that’s missing in a lot of his 60’s influences. Try to decipher a bit of the song “Clay” for me:

Am I the half of half-and-half
Or am I the half that's whole
Am I the half that's whole
Am I the half that's whole
Are you the wrongful half
Of the rightful me
Are you the mongol half
Of the cerebral me

What the fuck? Thank god the music saves us from this kind of pretension…
I never considered Will Sergeant to be much of a guitarist, but the side two opener “Heads Will Roll” reminded me how clever a guitarist he can be. Sometimes you hear musicians mention how understated and complex Johnny Marr is with his fretwork, but I’ve got to confess that Sergeant is ripe for a rediscovery himself. Playing off effects and changing chord progressions flawlessly midstream, Sergeant is a master of tone and technique.
Admittedly, it was Ian McCulloch that got the band noticed. And while Will’s playing probably stood backstage to Ian’s boyish good looks and badass rooster hair, it’s really the music that transcends decades of fashion sense. But enough about Ian McCulloch’s pouty lips…

The alternative tracks that complete the “Porcupine” reissue are actually a nice edition that helps piece together some of the arrangement attempts that led to the final mix. The choices the band made for the final mix are the best, but the bonus material included is different enough to examine. You also get the nice “discothèque” version of the single “Never Stop” which is pretty cool.
From what I understand, Echo & The Bunnymen are still going at it and releasing new material just as they did a quarter century ago. I’ve also heard that the latest group is kind of bitter about aging and supplements a lot of live performances with Ian being retardedly drunk. I guess he’s fulfilling that Morrisson prophecy after all.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Willie Nelson & Bob Dylan-Live Review

Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson

Cedar Rapids, IA 07/09/2005

Bob Dylan twice in a year? Fuckin’ A. Only this time it’s in a minor league baseball stadium and this time, Willie Fucking Nelson is opening. Bobby, still hot on the tour that never ends supporting his latest album from Starbucks, decided to team up with another troubadour and smoke weed. I’m half kidding about the Starbucks thing. In all actuality, the release at the coffee chain is an essential night from Dylan’s youth, one that has been bootlegged repeatedly and is considered by some Dylanophiles as a crucial performance in Bobby’s career.
He didn’t perform any of that material on Saturday night in Cedar Rapids. Instead, he focused on a few staples from the ’05 tour and threw out a surprise acoustical “Tangled Up In Blue” as the first encore. Other than that, there were no real revelations that night other than the fact a twenty-something girl can still get drunk and fall down from heat exhaustion in the middle of a Dylan set. The paramedics came over, took her blood pressure and still allowed her to stick around until the end of the set. The same wasn’t true for three drunken saps that had to be escorted out of the ballpark by police. Whiskey river took their minds and the Cedar Rapids Police Department took their arm.
Willie did essentially the same set as the other two times I’d seen him. His son, a fucking incredible guitar player himself, did a nice Stevie Ray Vaughn cover and then Dad came back out to show him who pays the bills and has the best herb. Speaking of, rumor has it that the CRPD canine unit parked right next to Willie’s bus and that Mr. Nelson and company splitsville no less than ten minutes after their set was over.

Bob came on after a quick stage change that basically consisted of hauling out the band’s vintage equipment and throwing up the badass Dylan logo over the back of the stage. During “Positively 4th Street,” Soy Bomb jumped up on stage and did a little dance.

The band’s eyes were glued on Bob throughout the entire performance and Bob uttered “Here’s another fucking song I wrote” before each number. Just kidding. But he did prove to be Mr. Sociable once again by failing to acknowledge the crowd even once during the entire performance. The '05 tour finds a nice addition with Donnie Herron on pedal steel which gave the songs a nice twang. Bob again stuck with his electric piano and harmonicas.
After a fucking smoking version of “Watchtower,” Bob met the band on center stage and clutched two harmonicas as the generationally diverse crowd applauded their approval. A park that traditionally houses America’s pastime decided to give the field to two of America’s own that helped change the face of our musical landscape. It was a nice doubleheader from a couple of road dogs that still have plenty of swing left in ‘em.

Bobby’s set:
Maggie’s Farm
To Ramona
Cry A While
Positively 4th Street
High Water
Highway 61 Revisited
Ballad Of Hollis Brown
Most Likely You Go Your Way And I’ll Go Mine
Just Like A Woman
Honest With Me
Girl Of The North Country
Summer Days
Tangled Up In Blue
All Along The Watchtower

Monday, July 4, 2005

The Fearless Freaks

Having seen The Flaming Lips in various configurations at least 8 times in their 20 year history, I guess you could say I enjoy these Okie noodlers. The truth is, I love these guys. And my affection is for many different reasons.
The documentary “The Fearless Freaks” nicely summarizes why I’ve followed this group throughout the years. Leader Wayne Coyne is not the most proficient musician in rock, but he may possess one of the most creative minds in it. Coyne finds ways to execute this creativity despite his musical limitations: initially it was through sheer volume and Spencer Gifts gimmickry. When he got too old for Spencer’ s, he enlisted actual talent, most notably in the form of multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd. Through it all, bassist Michael Ivins stayed with him, but the warped journey took its toll on his hairline.

“The Fearless Freaks” manages to touch on each phase of their career as well as the three primary Lips’ personal background, which would have turned mortal men into felons. While learning about the drug use, criminal background, and mental difficulties of the band’s family members could have easily turned the film into an episode of “Behind The Music.” Instead, the filmmaker manages to capture so much heartfelt emotion that you get the impression there’s no one as amazed about the Lips’ success as the band themselves.
The Flaming Lips started like so many other bands directly influenced by the D.I.Y. ethos of punk: a couple of brothers and their mutual friends joined up to make a racket after seeing a few nationally known punk bands make a racket in the local club. Being in Oklahoma can be a disadvantage, namely, the musical soundtrack to any bumfuck upbringing can turn you into an A.O.R. loving complacent music “fan.” What they were able to do is to take this upbringing, combine it (unknowingly breaking a fundamental punk “rule”) with punk elements and make a bastardized version of the very thing that makes rock & roll so vital.
To support it, the original trio was on the road all the fucking time. My first exposure to The Flaming Lips came in the form of a Nuggets mix tape a guitarist from a local band made for me in the mid-80’s. He named the compilation “Sonic Cavestomp,” and at the end of all the legitimate 60’s garage tunes he through in the Lips’ “Scratching The Door” from their first e.p. Having no prior exposure of the band or their music, I logically assumed The Flaming Lips were a 60’s band. After all, their name fit nicely next to The Chocolate Watchband.
A few months later, a friend declared “Oh My Gawd!!!...The Flaming Lips” a masterpiece and made me a cassette copy of it. The album was too long to fit on one side of the C-90 format, so the album closer “Love Yer Brain” started side two and he filled the rest of the side with selections from their debut “Here It Is.” That cassette played continually and with “Love Yer Brain” starting the second side, it forced me to listen to it all the way until the end when the band completely demolished a piano in the studio. A masterpiece it was and I will continue to defend it as such despite all the progress the guys continue to make.
The band regularly performed in Iowa, which was a van ride away from Oklahoma, and I made it a point to see them during their endless tour of “Oh My Gawd.” The performance was life changing: the club was filled with fog, the fog was penetrated by a cheap laser light show, and the music was a sludgehammer of fuzz over (then) drummer Richard English’s no-tom-left-untouched skinwork. Sure I was under the influence and of course it made a difference, but I was clear minded enough to understand that I had witnessed something special.
A year or so later, I was talking with the owner of my favorite collegiate hangout and he was noticeably excited. At least fifteen years my senior, the guy was animated beyond his normal stoner exterior. He explained that The Flaming Lips would be (hopefully) playing there soon. I immediately got on the phone with the provider of aforementioned C-90 and urged him to make the drive from Minneapolis to see The Flaming Lips in such an intimate setting. The club was very small and it typically didn’t have the funding to secure up-and-coming national acts. To make things a little interesting, the club owner later explained to me that he was unsure if he could secure a deal with the Lips, as their rider called for a lot of off the wall goodies that certainly belied the clean and sober statements that Wayne Coyne now likes to project. I believe him now, but back then it would be hard to convince me that Coyne and company didn’t partake in a lot of illegal substances. If you ever saw them live during this phase, you’d surely agree with me.
The deal was worked out and overnight plans were secured for the out of towners to attend.
A very poor local band was tapped to be the openers and, unfortunately for us, we were obligated to attend their performance out of respect and because one of the members in our party used to be in a band with the singer/guitarist. Thankfully, we had a number of different drugs between us all to tolerate their performance and to get ready for the headliners. It became known as a five finger drug night: for every finger on our hand, we complimented with a different drug. Needless to say, we were all pretty tore up before the opening band even ended. Fueling the paranoia was the fact that we hadn’t seen heads or tails of the Lips at all. Eyeballing the club owner, I could determine that he was more than a bit concerned as they had even failed to show up for the early evening soundcheck and faced the real possibility that he was about to be stuck up. The opening act tried to placate the audience and unfortunately co-opted to extend their set a while longer.
Suddenly, the back door to the club opened up and the members in my group let out a collected cheer. The Flaming Lips had arrived. With a brief soundcheck, the band took the tiny stage and immediately filled the club with smoke, lasers, and strobe lights. The band played a total of six songs, but interspersed in them was another two or three. For example, the band would start into “Can’t Stop The Spring” and then would segue into Zeppelin’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and then into a Doors song and, finally, back into “Spring.” We seldom could see the band at all thanks to the enormous fog, but thanks to the strobe, you could vaguely make out a dancing body directly in front of you. It was the equivalent of seeing the band in your own living room with the security of knowing that the neighbors wouldn’t be called because of the noise. For the second time, The Flaming Lips blew my mind live. To thank them, we gave bassist Mike Ivins a few joints for the road.
“Telepathic Surgery” was their third album, and life on the road sounded like it was taking its toll on the band’s creative juices. By this time, I was swooned by The Stone Roses and had essentially written the band off as finished. Their next album, “In A Priest Driven Ambulance” proved me wrong.

In fact, with every subsequent album thereafter The Flaming Lips proved me wrong; despite personnel changes and a jump to the majors, the band never ceased to amaze. It wasn’t until their support tour of “The Soft Bulletin” that I had a chance to see them live again, but their recorded output became fixtures on the play deck with each new release. It was a hoot to see them on “90210,” it was nice to hear the band on top 40 radio with “She Don’t Use Jelly” and it was even better to see them get the critical success that I knew they deserved no matter how many drugs were used to alter my perception.
“The Fearless Freaks” tracks this rise and provides fans and novices with an even better appreciation of how much they had to go through to get there. I never knew the impact of Ronald Jones’ departure, I’ve spent some time contemplating why Jonathan Donahue left, and I wondered how the fuck they got Warner Brothers to release “Zaireeka.’ These and other trivial items are answered in the film and it includes a ton of home movies, personal videos, and live performances including a few that I was actually in attendance.
What isn’t answered is why original drummer Richard English left the band. There were stories floating around the time he left that I would like clarified and, even though Drozd is a better drummer, English’s work definitely added to the soundscape of the band’s earlier work. His whereabouts now are never identified and the reason why he left remains unanswered.
Another item left unaddressed is their tour with Beck a few years ago. Having attended this tour as well, I was convinced that the combination was of historical significance. Coyne later revealed the difficulties in working with Beck and it would have been nice to have this brief liaison mentioned.

These minor details don’t take away anything from the documentary. Indeed, the inclusion of things like Steven Drozd shooting heroin and acknowledging the drug’s destructiveness as he fastidiously prepares his works. If you know anything about Drozd’s enormous talent, you understand how heart wrenching this scene is to watch.
I must confess that, as of late, I’m growing tired of the lack of spontaneity that comprises the Lips’ current live situations. The mixture of audio and video means that many nights are an exact replica of the night before. And even with months in between shows, I’ve noticed how similar performances are, and I felt cynical about it. I guess what I was looking for was at least a few examples of going beyond the setlist. I would have given anything for an impromptu version of “Love Yer Brain” or even a brief sidetracked cover version like the ones you hear in so many of their e.p.’s. What I failed to consider in this is that there are probably more individuals seeing the Lips live than I imagined. I need to be reminded of this and I need to recall how utterly blown away I was the first time I saw them. That feeling was also present the first time I saw the “Soft Bulletin” tour, because the performance combined with the overall message of the songs from that album made yet another impact on my musical memories. The best thing I can do is to encourage everyone to see one of their shows and witness the reason why they remain one of my favorite bands of all time.
I can’t tell you how many times I smiled after discovering yet another batch of confetti remnants from a show long since past. Others need to experience this too. A band that is able to incite these types of feelings are few and far between and, I believe, are getting scarcer. “The Fearless Freaks” is an excellent intimate look at a band that has been able to give its fans such intimate feelings for so long. The best thing the movie does, is provide a feeling that they’re not done trying to make an even longer lasting connection with us all.