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.