Thursday, December 28, 2006

Film School-Film School

You can’t take back what you already said, but since this is an electronic medium, I can sure as hell go back and add another album to the 2006 Baker’s Dozen list.
To explain: Film School’s eponymous second effort was released in January of this year, so the oversight is somewhat forgiven. It was also an effort that I played a few times, rather enjoyed, but life somehow forced me to put the album away and, shame on me, forget about in.
That is, until I recently went about making a mix cd for the obligatory holiday traveling and noticed it, sitting right there in the “H” section of my alphabetized collection. Quickly spinning through the tracks, I was reminded that Film School is a rather nice exercise in early 80’s British psychedelia,
Which is exactly why it didn’t post higher in the 2006 Baker’s Dozen list; an “exercise” in 80’s British psychedelia is a fairly unremarkable inspiration to begin with. Let’s face it, some of those original bands, the Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen in particular, were very capable and hard to surpass. But when a band reaches for these kinds of pinnacles, and comes close to the same floor as ‘em, it’s deserving of attention.
The required blueprint is here: melodic bass lines, echo-laden guitar patterns, and faux Anglophile vocals. While this is enough to qualify, and while a lot of bands stop at this, Film School explores the musical interplay beyond the three and four minute mark, hinting that they may be a worthy live unit.
The highlights that best exemplify this come towards the end of the 10 song disc, with tracks like “11:11,” “Sick Of The Shame,” and the stunning closer “Like You Know” all clocking in at six minutes or more, providing the band with ample time to explore every nuance of the obvious inspirations. It’s a good direction to follow, if the fellas are taking notes here, and it does require the listener to get through the fairly shallow first half of the record to notice what they’re capable of.
Good things come to those who wait, and the same is true for this review, I guess.

Photo by Aerin. Courtesy of band's website.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Mastodon-Blood Mountain

For some time now, longer than I care to admit, heavy metal has needed an album that shakes the genre to its core. A reminder that, in order for it to remain relevant, it needs a few watershed bands to move things forward. And while there are certainly bands that help fit this description, the reality is that the majority of these releases remain speckled in the underground, avoiding detection by (what I believe to be) a record buying public that may have written off the genre, choosing instead to reminisce about pre-Black album Metallica, old Slayer, and buying Iron Maiden re-issues. I say this, because I’m one of those people.
But I have hope.
It lies, at the moment, in the hands of Mastodon’s major label debut (third overall) Blood Mountain. The hope is that with the resources of a major their impact will be wider. Immediately after impact, the desire is that their influence will take hold so that other bands within the genre can feel the freedom to push their own creative envelope. The Lord, and Satan in this case, knows that metal as we know it today needs more bands like Mastodon who understand more about shredding than they know about Soundscan.
The obvious concern, and it’s one that crosses genres, is that whenever a band moves to a major label they make adjustments to their sound to become more palatable. The reality is that Mastodon has tweaked Blood Mountain to a point, yet I don’t see them sacrificing anything for the sake of building a wider audience. The vocals are more defined, the drums are clearer, and the riffage remains humongous.
Speaking of riffs: They’re here. There’s plenty. Sometimes to the tune of five or six per song. Sometimes impossibly proficient. And with more depth added to the production, you can clearly hear why there’s not another metal band at this moment that can touch ‘em.
True, this is a more progressive-metal Mastodon, and this may alienate some fans of 2004’s “Leviathan,” but by the same token, weren’t true metalheads alienated by how that album was based on fucking “Moby Dick?!” Christ, the only Moby Dick a real metalhead knows is the one that swam out of John Bonham’s drum kit. My point is, only a real snob is going to comment about how Mastodon has gotten more “progressive” with Blood Mountain. A real metalhead only knows that the performances on Blood Mountain rock the piss out of nearly every living mammal on Earth.
Speaking of drummers, Mastodon skinner Brann Dailor is just as amazing as the band makes frequent use of time signature changes. And with each tempo change comes a new sub-genre; progressive metal morphs into psychedelia before switching to thrash metal while visiting the familiar epics of old British new wave heavy metal. It’s all touched upon while being completely refreshing and utterly believable. Blood Mountain is an album that not only respects its elders, but also attempts to outdo them.
Will it sell enough to keep the band on the Reprise payroll? If Mastodon’s audience doesn’t move beyond the hipsters and underground metal supporters that they’re accustomed to, then probably not for long. So here’s a plea to anyone (and there’s lot of you) who have Powerslave, Master Of Puppets or South Of Heaven in their collection: you will love this album. If it isn’t one of the best metal albums you’ve heard in the past decade, it is at the very least, one of the best albums, irregardless of genre, that you’ll hear this year.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Happy Holidays From Glam Racket!

Nothing says "Merry Christmas!" or "Happy Birthday, Jesus!" quite like Chapter 11 in R. Kelly's "Trapped In The Closet" video series.

You're welcome.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Colbert/Frampton Victory!

I know this has gotten plenty of web attention, but it's worth it. Stephen Colbert won the "Greenscreen Challenge" against the Decemberists last night on Comedy Central. I've got to hand it to the people of the Colbert Report for taking the idea and totally running with it.

The comedy gold is found here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The 2006 Baker's Dozen

For those of you not familiar with the “Baker’s Dozen” end-of-year list, it’s quite simple. Any music lover should get at least one album a month and/or a 13th title as a gift or as a splurge for one’s self. It’s science. And the list is based solely on the opinions of Todd Totale. Any argument of the list is completely wrong and those who take issue with it should shut the fuck up and get their own website.


1.) CAT POWER-The Greatest
Never mind that Chan Marshall has completely reinvented herself this year (both physically and psychologically) although it may have helped in this year’s rating. The reality is she made an album that completely validates her catalog of heartache while standing up against acknowledged classics like Dusty In Memphis, I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You, and Call Me.
2.) T.V. ON THE RADIO-Return To Cookie Mountain
Unlike anything you’ve heard in some time and then, after you’ve heard it, it’s still unlike anything else. Challenging, topical, and sometimes poetic; Return To Cookie Mountain isn’t a “rock” record, but it’s definitely one of the heaviest records you’ll hear all year. It won’t immediately grab you either, which is totally awesome considering today’s Ritalin-induced culture.
3.) MASTODON-Blood Mountain
Leviathan hinted at how good Mastodon could be and Blood Mountain confirms it. It’s the album that ultimately places them as the king of metal’s hill and forgives every single sin that the genre created during the past decade.
If signing to Capitol means making an album this good then cash in, baby. Equally lifting from British folk and English progressive rock, these Oregonians have made sounding English forgivable, as well as making an album that equally lifts from British folk and progressive rock. This is coming from a guy that hates both Donovan and Yes with a passion.
5.) DESTROYER-Destroyer’s Rubies
It’s official: being a part of The New Pornographers means that you’re all but guaranteed a spot in the Baker’s Dozen. And while Neko Case just missed the list, Dan Bejar gets the nod, if only for the line “those who love Zeppelin will eventually betray Floyd.”
6.) THE ARCTIC MONKEYS-Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not
They have more going against them (youth, hype, inexperience) than for them (a great debut). And while the world is littered with over-hyped bands (Oasis, Stone Roses, The Strokes, The Libertines, etc.) that hit their zenith shortly after releasing their debut, at least they all have a fucking great album to stand on. Start to finish: this album rocks.
7.) TAPES 'N TAPES-The Loon
In late 2005, they were one of the most hyped bands around. In late 2006, it seems they've lost some of their luster (see Arctic Monkeys). Ignore the press/bloggers/pundits that feel the initial attention wasn't warranted. There's a reason why they were hyped to begin with and it starts with the fact that The Loon is filled with distinctive songs that capture the ear and beg to be played again.
8.) LOVE IS ALL-Nine Times The Same Song
Oh, Sweden. There’s a great wave of nostalgia throughout the country and, unlike other bands that ride the wave with a clear purpose, Love Is All rides theirs with passion. There also a good hint that they’ll find their own niche, but for now, Nine Times The Same Song is as stunningly original as the influences it mirrors.
Yep, it’s another overwrought epic endeavor that, surprisingly, works. So while these Kansas natives throw a ton of imagery in their lyrics and sound, there’s something about making an album that doesn’t feel restricted by its locale.
10.) CLIPSE-Hell Hath No Fury
The idea of “gansta rap” has become increasingly laughable, particularly when one considers the blatant commercial appeal behind the beats of some of the genre’s biggest acts. Not Clipse; Hell Hath No Fury is stark, minimal, and downright scary in places as it paints a chilling portrait of the life of pushing coke. The closest thing that rap has to the television show The Wire.
11.) WILLIAM ELLIOT WHITMORE-Song Of The Blackbird
The greatest rock star to come from Keokuk, Iowa since Mr. Mister's Richard Page! Authentic folk blues with a voice that occassionally hints at Tom Waits. Whitmore's other talent is his ability to weave up some legit Midwestern mystery that's probably a lot more romantic than it actually was. A tremendous piece of work from one of music's most overlooked artist.
12.) BORIS-Pink
Groovy, ear-melting garage/metal/stoner rock from....wait for it...Japan. Proving that the electric guitar and a barking amplifier are indeed the universal language. Also proving that my musical tastes haven't expanded much since hearing Raw Power, The Perfect Prescription and Masters Of Reality. But shit, dude, you could do worse than those albums anyway.
13.) SONIC YOUTH-Rather Ripped
They’re not going to turn heads and re-define music like they did 20 years ago, but what they are doing is completing a veritable trio of incredibly tight guitar rock albums. Rather Ripped may be the band’s most accessible album to date, but that doesn’t mean that it’s their least compelling.

(also known as 'the other 13' and in no particular order)

THE RACONTEURS-Broken Boy Soldiers
BOB DYLAN-Modern Times
YO LA TENGO-I'm Not Afraid Of You And I Will Beat Your Ass
THE HOLD STEADY-Boys And Girls In America
NEKO CASE-Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
THE FLAMING LIPS-At War With The Mystics
LIARS-Drum's Not Dead

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Matt Rogers-Rated X Mas

Since we’re quickly approaching the holidays, I think it’s time to mention the absolute worst Christmas albums known to mankind. It would be easy to nominate those recent offerings by Billy Idol or Twisted Sister, but I’m versed enough to know that the most pathetic holiday album was released in 1999 and is no longer available. It’s because the baby Jesus demanded the thing be recalled shortly after it was issued.
Matt Rogers’ Rated X-Mas promises “Christmas songs NOT for the entire family!!!” when it should have read “Christmas songs NOT fit for human consumption.” Containing 8 songs (or “parodies” as listed on the cover art) and clocking in at less than 20 minutes, it’s a collection of familiar Christmas classics, lyrically raped by (assumedly) Matt Rogers and a few unnamed musicians.
These musicians have, what sounds like, a commercially available keyboard pre-programmed with songs like “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” and “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer.” From there, the “hilarity” begins by changing the lyrics of these well-known tunes into raunchy, utterly retarded renditions. At the risk of sounding like a prude, let me declare that even the most socially inept 14-year old that masturbates four times a day would not consider these renditions to be clever or funny. Anyone else would probably react like I did upon first listen: with a violent fervor that will have you screaming for the head of one Matt Rogers.
“Rudolph” is changed into “Rudolph The Deep Throat Reindeer,” where the familiar red-nosed reindeer manages to make the other reindeer jealous because he gives Santa blowjobs and allows him to have anal sex with him because Ms. Clause “is on the rag.” The song is complete with the sound effects of these acts with the role of Rudolph being played by the most juvenile homosexual stereotype imaginable. The rest of the song’s verses are sung by an uncredited female who should be sterilized for participating in such a project.
She also makes an appearance on “Frosty The Pervert” and “Drunken Santa’s Coming To Town.”
The pinnacle of the disc is “Suck On My Cock,” sung to the melody of “Jingle Bell Rock.” It provides the listener with detailed instructions on how to properly give a blowjob (“Start licking and slurping/My dick will get firm/Soon you’ll be tasting sperm”). The funny thing is, when the line “don’t got ripping out my pubic hair” comes around, you begin to wonder if Mr. Rogers has ever even received a blowjob himself; in all of my years of oral sex, I’ve never experienced an incident where my pubic hair was getting pulled. What the fuck?!
Equally troubling is “I Love To Choke My Chicken With My Hand” (sung to “Winter Wonderland”) where Rogers’ admires his ejaculate and then starts, literally, screaming about how his sister offered to blow him if he reciprocates. He continues to rant about how he can jerk off with both hands and how he wants to masturbate continuously. With songs as unfunny as these, his wish may probably come true.
So how did I come into possession of such an unwanted Christmas artifact? Radio stations were sent promotional copies of this disc, which is itself a completely stupid move as none of the songs could even be aired on terrestrial radio due to the lyrics.
Anyway, a friend worked at one of these stations and was taken aback at how awful the disc was. He played it for me, angrily yelling “It’s Christmas!” during points in the song where Mr. Rogers’ probably anticipated laugher. We did laugh: We laughed at the shitty production quality. We laughed at how someone thought it was funny enough to press and release. We laughed at how anyone would actually buy it, only to play it and find out how embarrassingly bad it is. Seriously, it’s not the kind of disc you can play for anyone as most of the reactions to it would be discomforting to the point where you quietly reach for the eject button.
Almost as soon as it was released, it was taken off the shelves in a forced copyright infringement recall. Apparently, in a rush to bring laughter to the world, Mr. Rogers’ failed to secure the legal copyrights to every song he anally raped. This resulted in some very angry legal threats from the original songwriters, to the point where none of them would allow the songs to be used in any future pressings and to the point where Mr. Rogers and “Party On Parody Productions” were forced to destroy all remaining copies of Rated X Mas.
My friend snagged an additional copy for me and since acquiring it, I play it at least once every Christmas to remind myself that there are worse things, much worse, than hearing “Silent Night” for the ten-thousandth time in my life.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pernice Brothers-Live A Little

You won’t hear a bad word from me regarding Joe Pernice. His talents are obvious and obviously consistent, but you may hear a few grumblings from me about Pernice Brothers’ sixth album Live A Little. So before I get to the bitchin’ and moanin’, let’s preface by saying that most of my complaints are merely the result of this album not being as heartbreakingly awesome as Discover A Lovelier You, The World Won’t End, or their debut Overcome By Happiness.
On paper, it looked promising. Joe and the band re-teaming with “O.B.H.” producer Michael Deming could only mean either 1.) another cinematic sweep of chamber-pop mastery or 2.) a revision of Joe’s initial country-tinged work with Scud Mountain Boys. I wasn’t expecting 3.) the first Pernice Brothers record that didn’t have me lobbying to put Joe’s name in the same arena as Brian Wilson.
As expected, the string accompaniment has returned, but they’re subtle to the point where the guitars are actually more defined in the tracks than in previous albums. As expected, Joe continues to reach literary heights with lyrics like “Who isn't worse or better than they seem / the chased and slutty and the in-between" (“How Can I Compare”) flowing out of his hands with enviable ease.
The album’s highpoint is actually a Scud Mountain Boys remake, and that’s the nagging problem for me. Up until now, there’s always been at least a handful of “you gotta hear that new Joe Pernice song” and with Live A Little it’s been reduced to a retread. And unfortunately, the performances are ear-grabbing enough for me to declare “you gotta hear that new Pernice Brothers song.” Combine that with the common knowledge that more people need to be familiar with any Pernice Brothers album and you’ll get a good understanding of my ambivalence. At the end of the day, Joe Pernice’s talents deserve more than what he’s demonstrating here. Live a little more next time, brother, and maybe I can give a little more than this.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

David Bowie-Heroes

So, those of you familiar with the invite-only Glam-Racket 2 My Space page know that I recently bought a house, recently was made aware that I am expecting a child, and that I quit my job yesterday. I’m tired of explaining the events that led to this spur of the moment decision and I’m well aware of the implications, especially considering the aforementioned announcements. What it boils down to is that Todd Totale doesn’t appreciate being treated with disrespect, he has issues with authority (particularly ones that are utter douchebags), and that he doesn’t have a contingency plan for this unemployment.
This resignation marks the first time that I have left an employer without any formal notice. It was deserving, trust me, and there’s a little bit of punk rock when one can utter the words “I quit…effective immediately.” There is nothing punk rock, however, about worrying about shit like car payments, mortgages, and lack of health insurance resulting from uttering the words “I quit…effective immediately.” Who am I kidding: there’s nothing punk rock about being forty.
To look for a familiar frame of reference here is impossible, as life today is unlike anything else that I’ve been through. I suppose that this is a good sign; it means that my life has progressed somewhat and that I’m encountering new experiences. It also means that I think I understand the lines to that Dylan song that goes “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”
The events have me thinking about the obligatory “Mix Tape For The Unemployed,” or specifically, what albums was I listening to when I left a source of income without having another source lined up. It needs to be said that this is something that Dad told me never to do. Sorry, Dad.
But it’s happened twice in my life now, and as usual, I can tell you the soundtrack to one of those events.
The first time came right after college. Actually, it was the fall after I graduated college in the spring of the same year. I had successfully managed to keep working at a part time radio job that paid just enough to pay rent, utilities, and provide a few nights at the rock club. Then, I was informed by my parents that it was time I found a big boy job.
Honestly, I had only half-assedly looked for work and I’m fairly confident that my parents understood this. It probably contributed to their newfound micro-management and their curious demand that I return home to look for a full time gig. In retrospect, I probably could have resisted and avoided the self-imposed ridicule of being an-adult-still-living-at-home-with-the-parents, but I was too weak to fight them.
So I packed up the records, unloaded the furniture I’d acquired in school to various friends, and made the trip back home in the 1987 Ford Tempo.
Upon arriving, my Mother suddenly became a tyrant, berating me about my lack of initiative in sending out enough resumes and that I was “too picky” in my employer selections. She also didn’t like the fact that I would go out drinking, spending my diminishing savings on liquor and sleeping in late. She was working and found it hard to suppress the anger when coming home to find her adult son asking “What’s for dinner?” while on the phone with friends, coordinating what bar they’d be hitting in a few hours. Her anger, in retrospect, was completely understandable.
At the time, it was oppression. To tackle this perception, I would come home late at night, sneak a few hits of weed in my old bedroom (which had been remodeled since I first left) and play David Bowie’s Heroes.
Smoking weed as an adult living in the parent’s house takes some planning. I implemented strategies previously used while living in the dorms of the public university. There was a strict ban on pot smoking, burning candles and incense. Thankfully, the R.A. on our floor was too consumed with controlling the belligerent drunks and understood that our group was relatively harmless. Every once in a while he’d remind us of the policy and then we’d remind him that the guy across the hall puked all over the carpet in the hallway. He’d realize that three or four pot smokers were the least of his worries; not once did was he forced to call maintenance on our behalf and we were very conservative with our music volume after midnight.
In addition to placing towels at the bottom of the door to prevent marijuana smoke from escaping the room, we used an additional technique to circumvent the odor. We’d take empty paper towel tubes and stuff them with Bounce sheets. Then we’d exhale our smoke through the tube, filling the room with the fresh smell of a dryer sheet.
I used the same technique at home and was able to achieve the same winning results. The weed, which was a fairly large quantity transported from my college house and which was wonderfully potent, was primarily smoked from a one-hitter, thereby conserving the drug and limiting the exhaled smoke.
For whatever reason, the crowd I ran with in my hometown was not deemed to be deserving of my chronic; they were primarily drinkers anyway, so why offer something so good that wouldn’t be fully appreciated?
I’d return home from the bars and retreat to my bedroom with a large glass of ice water or juice in case of a coughing spell. I had the CD player hooked into a boombox. I felt the accommodations would be temporary enough, so why bring out all of the stereo components.
I purchased Heroes used and wasn’t immediately drawn to it. It’s a difficult album to recommend to a passing Bowie fan. Unlike anything in the Bowie catalog (with the exception of the other two albums in the Berlin trilogy: Low and Lodger), its an album filled with atmospheric soundscapes and isolationist arrangements.
Hunky Dory and The Man Who Sold The World were more my speed at the time.
I kept at it, probably because the vast majority of my cd collection was still packed away, and suddenly, it came to me. It’s not lost that the isolationism reflected in the music of Heroes mirrored that of my own isolationism, secretly smoking pot in my parent’s house, struggling to find work and finding excuses to leave acquaintances behind at the bars.
On dozens of occasions, I found myself alone with the quiet of the house, sparking up to the opener of “Beauty And The Beast,” doing a bit of reading before nodding off to the instrumental portion of side two. It’s as if there wasn’t a more perfect album for me at that time and it, like the weed, was an album that I didn’t share with many others.
But really, Heroes isn’t an album that’s suited for social settings. Its strength can be found when you’re with it alone, carefully studying the intricate layers of sound. Because it requires such focus, it enabled me to forget the reality of my surroundings and, at least for forty minutes, to forget that I needed to find work.
It may be time to dig out that copy of Heroes again.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Boys From Illinois

Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been spinning a lot of Cheap Trick records. After a few more purchases, I’ll be content with having enough C.T. titles in the collection (maybe In Color, definitely Dream Police and perhaps One On One). That is, unless Cheap Trick throws down another required listening effort, which is quite possible because they’re still going at it and they seem to be undergoing a creative resurgence, if I’m judging their latest Rockford correctly; it’s as good as they’ve done in nearly twenty years and, unlike the solid (yet horribly overproduced and dated One On One), it bypasses any attempt at “updating” their sound and relinquishes modernism for focusing on what made ‘em Rockford, Illinois finest rock and roll export.
What seems to be getting continual listens is Cheap Trick’s debut album, the remastered version with bonus tracks (including a rough demo of “I Want You To Want Me” that is totally better than the one on In Color). I’ve tried to imagine what the hell people thought of this album at the time it was released; quirky, hooky, and rough in the right places, it was unlike anything else in 1977, yet today its influence is obvious.
With songs about pedophiles, mass murderers, suicide, and greed, it’s understandable why Cheap Trick struggled a hair above obscurity while their wonderful power chords and Beatles-esque sense of melody made it easy to understand why a major label like Epic continued to foster the band along, hoping that the audience would eventually catch on.
They did, of course, with the absolutely essential Live At Budokan. The reality is that Budokan merely captures the environment that was the band’s bread and butter until record buyers had a chance to catch up: their live show. And while, with the exception of the debut, their recorded studio output found the band exploring various directions (oftentimes with frustrating results), Live At Budokan documents a band quite confident and agile on stage.
What it doesn’t do (and this doesn’t distract from how awesome that album is) is capture the characters that made up the band, during a time in rock in which lasting impressions were sometimes critical to a band’s success.
That was best experienced by seeing Cheap Trick live.

During the tour for All Shook Up, the band made their way to Memorial Auditorium, a small arena nestled on the banks of the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa. The venue is a stopping point for bands reaching the end of their apex, and in some cases, bands that are on the verge of stardom (Guns ‘N Roses and Metallica played there just before their careers took off).
As evidenced by Mike Damone’s struggles to unload C.T. tickets to a young customer in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the band was experiencing smaller than normal venues and less than expected record sales. Yet these Midwestern favorites continued to be a draw in Southeast Iowa and I got a friend excited about taking the 45 minute long trek to see his first concert.
Our seats were in the first ten rows, which probably created a strong memory for my friend. After all, you could do worse, much worse actually, than having Cheap Trick as your first live experience.
The other thing that probably created a strong memory was the selection of great material they played for this tour. Road tested to the point where they could probably play the entire set in their sleep, the band showed no evidence of disappointment that they were playing a date in a town that’s highest population figure was probably a generous 45,000 residents.
Rick Nielsen provided the crowd with the obligatory in-between song stage banter and in-song guitar pick tossing, one of which ended up on the floor directly in front of my friend’s seat. It’s a souvenir that I hope he still has to this day.
Nielsen used his checkerboard Hamer Explorer guitar throughout most of the performance, until he brought out the Hamer 5 neck out for a money shot.
Bun E. Carlos stayed in back most of the night, smoking and drumming, until something drew his attention from the drum riser.
“You….look…great!” Nielsen said.
“We…feel….great!” he continued.
Then, someone from the crowd through a joint on stage, which landed near Rick. Carlos, having noticed this offering, got up from his kit and walked towards the front of the stage by Rick. Nielsen noticed and then offered “Bun E….feels….great!”
Carlos picked up the joint and drew a lighter from his pocket. He lit the joint and took a large hit, much to the delight of the crowd.
“Bun E……feels….greater!”
He took another hit, and holding the smoke in his lungs, he grabbed the microphone from Rick and gave the crowd his opinion of the gift.
“Good shit.” He said, before handing the joint to someone in the front row and returning back to the drum kit.
For a fifteen year old kid, it was one of the most awesome things I had ever seen and it forever changed my opinion of Bun E. Carlos.
But time, weed, and the introduction of outside songwriters faded the image of this concert from my memory, and Cheap Trick became “street fair” act. I’m fairly certain that the band really couldn’t care less about what me, or anybody else thought about their tour schedule. They were doing what they set out to do all along: make a living playing original rock and roll music.
So with each tour, they play the obligatory hits package and incorporate a few new tracks to promote their latest effort. The thing is, having seen the band play “Surrender,” “I Want You To Want Me,” and other catalog favorites countless times, they don’t seem to be any less enthused about performing them today than when they were new.
So while newer bands underscore what they feel they’re “entitled” to, Cheap Trick understands they the only entitlement they have is showing up to the 150-200 shows they book each year. The stage has always been their strong point, and we’re privileged that they’re still at it, no matter what stage they decide to walk on.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Iron Maiden-A Matter Of Life And Death

True story: I was driving around with the little dude in the car seat, listening to Iron Maiden’s Killers. The song that grabbed his attention was “Wrathchild,” which he thought was pronounced “rockchild” because he understood the track is pretty rockin’. So he’s doing the obligatory head-nodding, throwing up the horns like I taught him, and trying to get my attention in the rear view mirror buy saying “Look at me! I’m a wrathchild!” It was one of those bonding moments that make you think the kid will turn out all right.
Later on, we were watching “Full House” together (his choice, he has a thing for toddler-era Olsen twins) when John Stamos appeared in a scene. Stamos was dressed in black, had an electric guitar and that silly looking mane on his head, which prompted the little one to declare “He’s a rockchild too, Daddy.” I had to correct him, of course, because there’s a huge difference between Iron Maiden and John Stamos.
I’ll admit to not following Maiden too closely for quite some time; I lost track of them during my obligatory “purge everything metal” phase, which I’ve thankfully realized was a completely stupid thing on my part as I’ve come to terms with my metal influences. Maiden was one of them, of course, but by the time I reconciled with the genre, Maiden had replaced vocalist Bruce Dickenson and who wants that?
Two albums ago, the rest of the band brought Dickenson back and guitarist Adrian Smith, providing fans with a reunion of the classic Maiden line-up of the 80’s. But riding a wave of nostalgia is not the sort of thing that the band is apparently content on doing. Their latest release, A Matter Of Life And Death, finds the band forging ahead while keeping their enormous influence and bravado completely in tact. It’s reassuring that this, their fourteenth album, not only manages to complement their existing catalog but also add some range to it.
The opening track, “A Different World,” is a great example of this. Leading with that famous Maiden trademark sound, the song begins by focusing on those who are unwilling to change and unhappy that they can’t stop change from happening. The song then suddenly opens into a wonderful, lower register chorus, preaching tolerance (“tell me what you can hear/and then tell me what you see/everybody has a different way to view the world”) without the use of Dickenson’s famous operatic vocal scalings.
It’s also the shortest track, clocking in at a hair over four minutes. The rest of the album approaches epic qualities with three tracks going over the eight minute mark, four over seven, and the rest over five; like the Iron Maiden of old, there is a slim chance that any of the songs will be provided commercial exposure.
A Matter Of Life And Death feels like a looser effort than albums past. Drummer Nicko McBrain limits the fills and focuses more on playing in the pocket while the band’s three(!) guitar attack is clearly defined and fluid, including some acoustic flourishes that appear on a few of the songs. Surprisingly, the band seems to have made an album that was conceived, recorded, and released fairly quickly. This approach works for them; Maiden has been at this thing long enough that they can be tight without the help of studio gadgets and obsessive perfectionists manning the control room. I’m looking at you, Bob Rock.
There will be a few fans that miss the operatic bombast of Dickenson’s voice on every track, and they may be a little dismayed at a more progressive rock direction the band appears to be taking with this release. The reality is that Maiden have has some progressive tendencies in their leather armbands. Now they seem comfortable enough to demonstrate it rather than roll over them like they’ve already perfected.
A Matter Of Life And Death won’t be the album that gets you to suddenly appreciate Iron Maiden (you get them or you don’t) and it’s not the “return to form” album that existing fans probably want them to make. In their minds, they’ve made those records and you’re welcomed to pick them up (The Number Of The Beast, Piece Of Mind and Powerslave are where you should start) and watch them prove their worthiness in a live setting where, apparently, they still have the ability to rule. Instead, it’s a very credible example of a band that understands if they’re content with simply holding on to nostalgia, they’re as good as dead. Or Ed, as the case may be.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Monday, November 13, 2006


Godzilla, a prehistoric monster rudely awaken by American atom bomb testing in the Pacific Ocean, should not be confused with the band Boris, a rock monster rudely awaken by sludge/psychedelic/noise music that traveled across the Pacific Ocean from America. It’s easy to understand the confusion; however, as both beasts can level buildings in their path and both possess thermonuclear breath.
Originally released in Japan last year, BorisPink is, I’m guessing here, their 16th album (not counting live albums and comps) in the past decade, and probably their most comprehensive: every hard rock genre twist that Boris has managed throughout their career can be found here, in one tinnitus-inducing 45 minute package.
Elements of The Stooges, Kyuss, Melvins and any other band that finds solace in decimating amplifiers is represented. The only thing that seems to be holding the leash is the confines of the v.u. meter, which is buried red deep throughout the majority of the album.
This is supposed to be their most accessible effort to date; which, of course, is a hoot because every track (aside from the instrumentals) is sung in Japanese and, even then, is somewhat irrelevant as any semblance of vocals is usually crucified at the hands of the unrelenting guitar grind.
While labelmates Sunn 0))) steadfastly study the art of metallic drone, Boris nicely summarizes several areas of metal with the attention span of a Ritalin-enabled video gamer. And like the most devoted player, this power trio has completed all of the levels without the aid of cheat codes; there’s absolute passion in their performances and a great deal of hard work behind that wall of din.
Oh no, there goes Tokyo…

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Upstairs At Eric's In Southeastern Iowa

It’s easier today to find new music, new artists, and become the obligatory small town music snob. At least that’s my perception. The funky cold medena known as the internets is a boon for those teens that check in daily to Pitchfork to learn that there’s a band called Rainer Maria and that the band Rainer Maria recently broke up. The teen can then go to school and weep to all of his/her emo friends that the best band since Pinkerton was released is no longer with us.
There was a time when musical elitism was passed through direct contact. Word of mouth was huge, as was the Maxell XL-II C-90 cassette. For whatever reason, I can specifically remember how one band made inroads in a small town Iowa community.
What makes this story unusual is the style of the band in question, the socio-economic make-up of the community, and the manner in which the musical penetration occurred.
The band was Yaz (known in England as Yazoo) and the album (actually in the form of a cassette) was called Upstairs At Eric’s. It was the summer of 1983, probably a full year after the album was actually issued.

Some background: Yaz was a British electronic band consisting of Alison Moyet on lead vocals and Vince Clarke on synthesizers. Moyet had/has a very rich, deep female alto which was a strange juxtaposition against Clarke’s cold keyboards. Clarke, who was involved in a relationship with Moyet during Yaz’s heyday, had recently left Depeche Mode who had found initial success with their album Speak & Spell. I had never heard of Depeche Mode, and I’m sure that many others in my town hadn’t either; Yaz’s sound was fairly reminiscent of them, but in the confines of a duo, Moyet and Clarke’s sound was sparse and dark with the occasional foray into dance music. Of course, I didn’t know this at the time.
One of my friends had the privilege of having a swimming pool at his home and an even greater privilege of having parent’s that entrusted him with taking care of himself. This glorious lack of parental supervision created a climate in which poor judgment, the illegal consumption of alcohol, and a comfortable area to congregate became commonplace among people in the same age group.
On one such occasion, we gathered on a warm June evening for an impromptu poolside party.
One attendee, a tall, pale fair skinned girl with an even taller mop of red hair, joined the festivities with a girl who was either a relative or friend of hers that happened to be visiting our town from the uber-cool confines of the Northeast. The visitor, in either an attempt to act cool or because of “new kid shyness,” was fairly reserved with a hint of arrogance. To make matters worse: she was attractive. With no time to worry about such dramatics (after all, she’d be gone in a few days, way too little time to break down any perceived walls of conceitedness to get into her pants) she was included in the social environment and even provided the luxury of having a go at the boombox with her own selection. She went back to the redhead’s car and pulled out a cassette of Upstairs At Eric’s. We were probably listening to Pyromania or 1999, both great albums in their own right, but certainly nothing tremendously groundbreaking and certainly not very hip to someone within earshot of a low-wattage college station or similarly located dance club.
Within moments of the pecking, tart synths of “Don’t Go,” some heads turned to ask “What is this?” while the bolder musical snobs looked at the strangely positioned mannequins on the cassette cover of the album. When the album was over, we probably countered with something ridiculous like Frankie Goes To Hollywood, but no matter: some creative soul (perhaps myself or the host of the party) secretly “lost” the cassette with the obvious intention of not returning it. Thankfully, liquor has a strange effect like causing people to forget things like inhibitions, panties, and cassette tapes of Upstairs At Eric’s.
From there, the cassette found its way into the car stereo of my friend’s Pontiac Firebird, where the sonic effects of the music was met with the approval under the influence of marijuana. It became an issue of 1.) either we must conceal the fact that the tape was in our possession or 2.) we must find a dubbing cassette to make a copy before returning it to its rightful owner before she left to go back east.
The first answer was hard to deal with as the red haired friend called the following day to inquire on the whereabouts of the tape. I could truthfully delay the return of the cassette since it was still in the armrest of the Firebird and, since it was summer, it may be a few days to coordinate with the schedule of the friend and the redhead.
Actually, I saw my friend on a fairly regular schedule, and by Monday, I had the cassette back but not before he had made a shitty copy of it on his dual cassette boombox; fidelity, Dolby, and the added tape hiss was not an issue with him.
I then received a couple of phone calls from party-goers who wanted to know the name of the band and if they too could get a copy made for their own collection. One of these calls was from someone who had a dubbing cassette desk in his components that could transfer the noise-reduction and do it at double speed.
Three copies were made (mine, his, and a friend of his) and we were pleased with the results. The original was dutifully provided back to the redhead in time for her to return it to her friend before she left our small town and planted the seed of Yaz among its teenage citizens.
By the following weekend, I ran across two additional people who had made third generation copies of our own, diminishing the fidelity even more, but not the enthusiasm for this electronic duo.
Upstairs At Eric’s was a strange find, particularly for a town that typically preferred heavy metal and who’s main employer was various manufacturing plants that provided high school graduates with minimal intelligence and initiative with a decent paying job until the plants eventually shut down.
The metal kids were actually fairly receptive to Eric’s trippier tracks like “I Before E (Except After C)” and “In My Room.” The chicks liked the love songs like “Only You” and “Midnight.” And, of course, the gay kids who had yet come out of the closet preferred the dance tracks like “Situation” and “Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I).” It remains a touchtone album for me and it remains one of the best examples of 80’s British electronica today.
It also served as a precursor to gay dance music (Bronski Beat, the Clarke led Erasure, Dead or Alive) which makes the dichotomy between my hometown makeup and the fan base of a lot of these types of bands quite amusing.
One curious footnote to Yaz: My Father only demanded that I remove two music selections during family car trips, thereby securing my understanding that the driver of the vehicle is in charge of all of the controls as well. One tape was Yes’ Drama (ironically, I brought this tape because I thought the Cream-lovin’ guy would like it. We got lost, he got frustrated, and he felt this album was “distracting.” It is a shitty album. But still, let’s place blame correctly.) and the other was Upstairs At Eric’s. He told me to “Turn that shit off!” When I persisted and wanted to know why, he told me it sounded like “A guy trying to sound like a girl with a bunch of synthesizers.”
“That is a girl, Dad!”
It didn’t matter; he turned the radio on and we listed to N.P.R. instead.
A few months later, I was down at the Disc Jockey record store and noticed a strange album cover on the new releases section. It was Yaz’s second and final album You And Me Both released just before Moyet and Clarke ended their relationship together. I picked up a copy and went up to the counter to pay for it. Standing in line ahead of me was the redhead who’s friend introduced a small town to the English electronica band Yaz. In her hand was her own copy of You And Me Both and in her head she was still probably oblivious to the domino effect her friend had on a small town in Iowa the summer before.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Pretty Girls Make Graves-Elan Vital

I’m late to the game on this one, but whatever, so many cds and so little money to spend. When I stumbled upon a recent release by Pretty Girls Make Graves, I remembered that I really enjoyed their debut Good Health and then I remembered that they released a second album (The New Romance) that I thought was fairly well received even though I didn’t buy it. Why not pick up the third and see where they’ve gone in the four years since Good Health?
It’s nice to hear that P.G.M.G. are trying to expand their abilities, but the question is, when do you reach the point where you’re simply reaching too far?
Elan Vital finds the band leaving ’78 Avengers-esque material and perfectly timing their age with that of the underground in ’82. And like a lot of those same underground records in ’82, there’s a large percentage of unmemorable tracks that tend to overwhelm the ones you wished you hadn’t forgotten.
There’s a few really good songs on Elan Vital (“The Nocturnal House” and the dreamy ballad “Pearls On A Plate” stand out). Unfortunately, you’ll probably forget about them in a year or two because the rest of the album is littered with a lot of half-baked ideas seemingly based on the notion that “Hey, it’s our third album so we really should have a trumpet on this track.”
As a result, the album is plagued with inconsistencies as the band tries their hand at different directions before they’ve even attempted to master the one they originally started with. Take “Parade,” which starts by asking “are you happy with what you got?” before urging the masses to “hang up their apron strings” and call their “auntie” to go marching in the streets. I’m not sure if I even have an “auntie,” but I’m positive that nobody in my family (male or female) has even owned an apron in the past half century. It’s a song better suited for a different generation and for a different band entirely. It’s also the song that got me wondering: what happened to Pretty Girls Make Graves?
Every song seems intent on starting a different approach, halfassed challenging themselves with placing the majority of the burden on the listener, particularly ones like me that at one time championed them.
Whereas before P.G.M.G. had a unique Avengers-meet-Fugazi vibe going before, they’ve managed to completely lose any sense of identity in the process of trying to find out who they want to become.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mew-And The Glass Handed Kites

I really want this album to be stronger than it actually is: a forgettable throwback to those halcyon days when the term “shoegazer” was somewhat novel and when bands effectively created epic swells with nothing more than feedback, guitar pedals, and a dash of studio trickery.
It’s not that I’m against “epic swells,” and Lord knows that I’ve listened to enough Spiritualized and Pink Floyd to appreciate symphonic arrangements. What I do have a problem with is a band that teases me with lush atmospheres, hinting at My Bloody Valentine the entire time, and with barely a hint of the guitar leaving Cape Canaveral’s launch pad. If you’re going to come off as a “space rock” band, then for God’s sake, leave the atmosphere and don’t forget to actually rock when you’re weightless. Mew takes their influences and somehow manages to completely devoid them of any bite. What’s left is the equivalent of leaving an opened two-liter bottle of Coke in the fridge for a week: cold, flat and with plenty of sugar.
Mew, a Danish quartet (not to be confused with a Pokeman character of the same name) released their fourth album And The Glass Handed Kites last year in Europe. Sony waited almost a year to release it domestically, and now we have an opportunity to hear what many have considered one of Denmark’s greatest exports.
It starts promising with “Circuitry Of The Wolf”; six string squalls and distorted drums setting an expectation that we may have another guitar-oriented dreamweapon. At around the 65 second mark, the first hint of a piano appears, then the first time change, and then a voice. Vocalist Jonas Bjerre appears in fine angelic form, and it’s his voice that becomes the album’s consistent focal point.
“There’s a taste that you can’t shake,” they declare in “Special” (Win). I know what they’re talking about. By the halfway mark, I was wishing Bjerre’s wings would melt; his voice is very capable while managing to be frustratingly limited within the confines of the insole of a shoegazer. Sure, the fella has range, but show me a little insight into why you’re getting worked up on every friggin’ track.
The reason I’m so hard on this album is because it has the potential to be something so much better. There are moments of brilliance: the shimmering “Why Are You Looking Grave?” (featuring J Mascis on guest vocals), the track “White Lipts Kissed” finally manages to give the listener one of the most heartfelt lines with its chorus of “I don’t cry when your silver lining shows” and much of the album’s last few tracks provide the most memorable moments. The best moment comes at the tail end of “Kites” when the music completely fades out, leaving Bjerre vulnerably pleading “Stay with me / Don’t want to be alone.” So give me another half dozen tracks like the most delicate moments in And The Glass Handed Kites and you’ve got yourself an album that ranks alongside Loveless without trying to sound like it. Until they do, there’ll be a lot of us still patiently waiting for Kevin Shields to come out of retirement and remind us all how bands content with looking at their shoes are able to achieve liftoff. Mew works best when there’s someone on the ground, securely holding their kite strings.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Decline of the Independent Record Store

Tower Records has finally gone under. On October 6, the company was sold to Great American Group (the parent company of such “wonderful” stores like F.Y.E.) and the existing stores are currently being liquidated for a going out of business sale that will see the locations close by the end of the year.
We have no Tower Records in Iowa; they could be found in larger cities and, for someone like me, became a destination point whenever I traveled to a location fortunate enough to have one. The stores were a destination point because they housed a huge inventory selection. I was used to being a “special order” kind of guy, so it was very refreshing to walk into a Tower Records and find a band’s entire catalog available and even some import titles.

My first ever visit to a Tower was in the mid-80’s when cds were still fairly novel and when certain titles were hard to find. It was in Orange County, California, and I walked out with a vinyl import copy of XTC’s Go Two, an import cd copy of XTC’s The Big Express, an import cd copy of The SmithsMeat Is Murder and another vinyl album that I can’t remember the name of. How I got the vinyl back to Iowa un-warped and in one piece also remain a mystery.
The feeling of walking into a record store like that got me thinking of the various record stores that have managed to give me some joy. They’re the type of locations that, if you were unfortunate enough to be there with me, you’d become one of those “Are you done yet?” type of people while I’d still be on the “M” section.
Sadly, a lot of the stores that made an impact with me didn’t make enough of an impact with others; a lot of them are no longer in business but for those that are, I’ve tried to provide links if available. Here’s something that boggles my mind: I can remember what albums that I bought at some of these stores. This has to be a sign of some mental illness.
  • DISC JOCKEY RECORDS (Keokuk, Iowa)-A chain, I know, but it was in my hometown and they did special orders. They had a fairly decent selection otherwise and they even had an import section. I’ll give them credit for later stocking titles that normally wouldn’t sell in small town Iowa; at least they listened to their customers. They did a terrible job of recommending titles, though. A worker there who was a grade ahead of me suggested that I get Planet P Project’s Pink World and Lita Ford’s Dancin’ On The Edge. Both efforts where awful and I immediately returned them. Typically, I would take a razor blade and make a deep, visually hidden cut in the first track. When you returned a record, it had to skip on their fancy Technics turntable before they would take it back and issue a refund. This trick ensured that every return I made was “legit” and helped me avoid future ridicule if someone found a Lita Ford or Planet P Project album in my collection. Oh, and the douchebag also sold me on the notion that the Planet P Project album was pressed on pink vinyl. Only his promotional copy was, but regardless of the color of the vinyl, that album sucked huge balls. Another dude made fun of the band named Scritti Polliti when I ordered the 12” for “Hypnotize” there. Record store clerks in Keokuk, Iowa don’t have the right to make fun of anyone’s music taste, in my opinion.
  • UNKNOWN RECORD STORE (Quincy, Illinois)-I tried to run a search to find the name of this independent record store that was located in downtown Quincy, Illinois, but had no luck. Quincy was about 45 minutes away and was a frequent destination point when I first got my drivers license. This was an important store because it was the first store that also had used records. Thus began my tradition of bringing old records for them to buy and then turn around with the in-store credit to get albums that I wanted. The owner was a friendly middle-aged dude with a mustache. He was really into progressive rock and recommended that I buy Supertramp Brother Where You Bound, the first album that they did without vocalist Rodger Hodgson. It had a 16 minute long title track and guitar work from David Gilmour. It’s quite possible that I let the guy know I was a huge Pink Floyd fan at the time, which may explain why he recommended this album to me. In any event, it was a bad recommendation; I sold it back to the store for a loss a few months later and picked up a used vinyl copy of XTC’s Black Sea. That album, in case you’re wondering, is awesome.
    The store did a good job of stocking high priced import cds, particularly when domestic versions of the title weren’t available. If you’re good at math, you can add up how much money I actually loss when I sold vinyl copies to them at $3 a pop only to turn around and buy an import version of The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bullocks at the hefty price of $30. This was also the same store where I bought the obligatory copy of Bob Marley’s Legend, thereby starting my love of reggae music.
  • WEIRD HAROLD’S (Burlington, Iowa)-Still open and still with a huge vinyl collection. They also have a nice selection of used cds that can occasionally provide a customer with a great find. The store’s been around since 1972 and it’s still run by Dennis (or Denny, I can’t remember) who’s a nice guy. He’s not real up on rare titles (I got a first run edition of Stone Roses’ first album cheap) but he knows the value of the classic rock collection. While in radio, I would bring tons of promotional copies here, unload them for next to nothing, and have enough in-store credit to build the station’s library as well as my own. His wife owns the art store that it’s attached to, which may explain why it’s still around today. Small independent record stores in the downtown of a river town typically don’t last this long. I’ve never had anything recommended here; they just ring up the shit and say “Thank you.” Oh, and if you’re looking for that copy of Mason Proffit or Missouri, this is the place that will normally have it on the shelves. No shit.
  • BJ RECORDS (Iowa City, Iowa)-It ain’t around anymore, but back in the day it was one cool record store. Lots of indie titles and a little added snobbery (the section for Madonna was listed as Madorka, but this was when she was still fairly new and her cultural relevance was questionable). We’d car trip up to Iowa City to be around the cool college kids and we’d find ourselves here (along with the headshops that sold bongs and one-hitters). They’d tolerate us at BJ’s and answer our stupid questions (“Does New Order sound like The Smiths?”). I got lots of Smiths imports here and this is where I bought my first Butthole Surfers album. When I arrived home, my Dad noticed this and said “Mother look, your Son bought a Butthole Surfers album.” I think he was suggesting that I was wasting my money, but you and I know better. When it started to struggle, the store closed, then re-opened, but customer indifference helped it close again. The last time I was there they had hardly any titles on the shelves and the place looked deserted. It was sad, particularly when one remembers how thriving it was. I didn’t even notice a clerk there on the last visit, until I noticed a black middle-aged dude with dreadlocks sitting on the floor behind the counter on my way out. I think all he cared about was that I didn’t try to rip off the last remaining inventory that the store had.
  • THE RECORD COLLECTOR (Iowa City, Iowa)-Hard to find (originally), limited space (originally) for complete titles, and an extremely pretentious staff that consisted of a lot of local band members. What more could one ask for in a record store! They would have laughed me out of the store if I would have asked the “New Order/The Smiths” question that I asked at BJ’s. A lot of the conceitedness comes directly from owner Kirk Walther, who started the store with a crate of records and a whole lot of music knowledge over a quarter-century ago. He now spends the majority of his time in back, selling used shit on Ebay, buying record collections (ala “High Fidelity) and leaving the day-to-day operations to the college kids who seem fairly knowledgeable on sub-genres that I have no interest in. He’s a great guy once you get to know him and he is consistent with his recommendations. At the original location, it always seemed that they didn’t have much in stock, but what they had, you wanted. The key was to visit frequently; a lot of gems would come through the door only to be sold quickly if you didn’t get them first. He would pay top dollar for radio concert discs, which created an awesome merchant-consumer bond; I'd get mega bucks for those Led Zeppelin discs and walk away with something I really wanted. The newest location is easy to find, but hard to find parking for which makes destination visits a pain. Plus, they seemed to have focused more on trip-hop, dance music, and other club beats which ain’t my bag. There’s still fondness in my heart for ‘em, and it’s nice to know they’re still doing what they do.
  • LET IT BE RECORDS (Minneapolis, MN)-Now reduced to an online store/mail order, but at one time it was a great independent record store located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. The high rents must have killed ‘em. Lots of catalog and an extremely knowledgeable staff that helped you when needed. There was a rumor that the store had a “secret” basement warehouse filled with additional collectables. Maybe it is true, especially considering they continue to do online stuff. Minneapolis used to have a lot of great record stores (Northern Lights on Hennepin was another) but now the independents seemed to have vanished or sucked up by the national chains.
  • HOMER RECORDS (Omaha, NE)-A totally badass record store (several locations) in a totally unbadassed state (Nebraska?!). Huge amounts of titles and a very friendly staff. I remember one time a clerk helping me during a moment of not knowing what it was I wanted to buy. He asked what I was listening to at the moment (Cat Power) and he located a hard to find title for me. He then went on to recommend another title. He then did something that I never had happen before: he opened the cd and let me listen to it at a listening station. I felt so obligated to buy it, even after I determined that I didn’t want it after I listened to it. When he wasn’t looking, I put it down in an unrelated section and bought the titles that I knew I wanted. Sorry, buddy. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him it sucked, especially after he so enthusiastically recommended it. A great store, though.
  • SLACKERS (Columbia, MO)-On the first few trips to Columbia, Missouri, I totally missed this place. When I did see it, it didn’t look like much on the outside and I didn’t go in. I usually went down the road to Streetside Records instead. But on the third visit to Columbia, I was downtown and it was getting late, yet the place was still opened. The outside was misleading, because inside, the store had two levels of album titles and a great selection of used. I never had anybody recommend anything here, but one dude did find the album that They Might Be Giants’ “Snowball In Hell” was on for me. Once, I was struggling with paying top dollar on an import version of a T-Rex album. They had the same title there, priced at the same cost of a domestic version. Score! They also had a used copy of Syd Barrett's Barrett and I'm still kicking myself for now picking up the other used version of The Madcap Laughs. I already had it (on vinyl and cd) but this copy had bonus tracks. And bonus tracks are a music geek's best friend. I also got the limited edition version of Spiritualized's Let It Come Down for something like ten bucks. Anyway, a cool store that I now hit every time I’m in Columbia.
  • VINTAGE VINYL (St. Louis, MO)-Located across the street from The Pageant, this store has a great selection of new and used titles. Once, I went there with the sole intention of buying an Alexander “Skip” Spence album and an album by The Cherry Valance. They had them both, and even had the Spence title used, which makes them cool in my book. What's cool is that it's sometimes open even after the show at The Pageant is over. There's nothing that's worse for the pocketbook than when you're record shopping in the afterglow of a concert.

Time, the loss of the indie-minded stores, and pricing have really diminished how frequently I visit record stores; to be honest, I typically order things online via Insound or Amazon. I do miss the interpersonal relations that occur when shopping in person, but honestly, I’ve noticed a huge difference in the passion of the people working at these stores than in years past. And that’s a problem, particularly when people are ordering more via online outlets and/or downloading music free. Give me a reason to shop there and I’ll give you my hard earned dollar. After all, people like me are dwindling fast. A recent conversation with a twentysomething proved this. When I asked how he gets new music, he immediately stated that he downloaded all of his songs and has a collection on his harddrive that numbers into the thousands. When I asked if he pays for them, without missing a beat, he said “What? Do you think I’m stupid?” Record companies did an awful job of lending their support of independent record stores and help foster the climate of music fans that view the art as a disposable commodity. There are fewer people who are passionate about things like the interaction of music lovers, the liner notes, the artwork, and by undermining the dwindling outlets that housed these geeks, the industry has assisted their own downfall. And even though Tower Records’ poor bookkeeping and poorly managed growth plans helped put them in the predicament they’re in, I can’t help but think that record companies, particularly the major labels, helped contribute to their downfall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Murry Wilson-I'm A Genius, Too!

Lately, I've been fixated with what's become the most talked about Beach Boys recording since the original Smile sessions: the initial recordings of the song "Help Me Rhonda." The date was January 8, 1965, when Murry Wilson, Father of Beach Boys' Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, stops by the recording studio where Brian and the boys are in the middle of recording their hit "Help Me Rhonda." Feeling a little left out, and feeling the effects of several rum and Cokes, Murry proceeds to take over the sessions by offering his expert advice ("Loosen up and be happy!") and drunken wisdom ("I have 3,000 words to say: Quit screaming and start singing from your hearts...So you're big stars. Let's fight! Let's fight for success!").

Brian Wilson, who we've all treated as a damaged genius, is clearly in full possession of his sanity here and even mildly challenges his Father's drunken nonsense. It's funny, and a creepy look into the dynamics of The Beach Boys at the height of their career. What's amazing is that the band was even able to make music with this kind of bitter megalomaniac bum rushing their talents.
Learn more, and download the sessions from the awesome site WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Raconteurs-Broken Boy Soldiers

So I guess it’s cool to bash Jack White now, just like it’s cool to come across as nothing more than a N.M.E. writer; build a band up (read: hype) and then revel in the glory of knockin’ ‘em back down to the hardwood floors they slept on when they were young ‘n hungry.
No matter what anyone does or says to try to convince me otherwise, I’ll be a Jack White fanboy if only for the fact that the fella does his homework and executes what he’s absorbed in a completely credible and believable fashion.
Take his recent work with The Raconteurs as an example: their debut Broken Boy Soldiers is a hastily developed “supergroup” that’s firmly (at least for now) entrenched in an era of rock that spawned hastily developed superrock. If you’re scratching your head at the idea of what “superrock” is, then you’re spending way too much time on it; put down your dictionary, learn a few chords, and write a song, motherfucker.
‘Cause it seems that what White and Brendan Benson have done with Broken Boy Soldiers, which may be one of the year’s best albums because it doesn’t pretend to be one of the year’s best albums.
It recalls a period of rock where bands started testing the limits of their sonic delivery without understanding that, just a year or two prior to this, they learned the chord progression of “Louie Louie.” And I, for one, love it when a band with serious limitations on their music ability pretends that they don’t have any limitations on their music ability.

The thing is, Jack White is extremely talented at two things: writing lyrics and playing the electric guitar. But he’s also extremely talented at music appreciation. So he let’s his buddy Brandon handle half of the songwriting credits and merely adds a ton of clever guitar licks and a bunch of bitchin’ abandon. It’s a fun record, to the point where you can overlook such retarded prose like “I’ve got a rabbit, it likes to hop/I’ve got a girl, and she likes to shop” (“Intimate Secretary”).
So yeah, White doesn’t have to try very hard to shine throughout this thing, but you’ve got to appreciate the fact that he keeps trying to hide behind a big electric guitar to avoid the spotlight.
Best of all, the album cuts away at any of the pretension that Get Behind Me Satan may have had on some fans by clocking in at barely over a half hour and by barely hiding the fact that a lot of time and effort weren’t spent on worrying about what you or I think of Broken Boy Soldiers. Instead, a lot of time and effort was spent in simply having a good time making rock and roll. Which, of course, is exactly what a lot of bands need to start doing in the first place.

Monday, October 16, 2006

21,000,000 "Back In Black" Fans Can't Be Wrong

With, what, 21 million copies sold, I’m sure that there’s plenty of stories involving AC/DC’s “Back In Black” and the people who bought it. That’s a lot of records sold, and quite honestly, it amazes me that the album is in the same league as “Thriller” and The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits Volume One.” So while we wait for the other 20,999,999 owners to tell their own “Back In Black” story, let me tell you mine.
Prior to “Back In Black,” I had been exposed to AC/DC in various record stores and through the fervent support of their fans housed in my hometown. I specifically remember seeing the cover of “If You Want Blood” and being intrigued by the blood and guts imagery. I was also keenly aware that the band seemed to be a bit dirty and that lead singer Bon Scott had some visible tattoos; back in the day, tattoos were not as socially acceptable as they are now, and that meant that this Bon Scott guy probably grew up on the “wrong” side of the tracks.
The other noticeable thing was that their fans, at least the ones in my hometown, were also from the wrong side of the tracks. For the privileged folk on the North side of town, these individuals were known as “scurves.” To get a visual picture of the stereotype, they all essentially looked like AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young. These are the individuals who saw Bon Scott and, unlike me, could relate to him. Even when said singer was holding up a man with a Gibson guitar jammed into his stomach.

“Highway To Hell” brought the band from the South side to all over town. With an opening riff that’s more effective than a chiropractor visit, AC/DC didn’t really change a thing; they simply kept hitting that brick wall with power chords until the motherfucker fell down.
The “Highway To Hell” single became a favorite at the local pizzeria that most 13 year olds frequented after the Friday night football games. While the girls stuck with the A-side, the rest of us played the flip, “Night Prowler,” when throwing down quarters in the jukebox. We did it for three reasons: 1.) It rocked, 2.) It was over five minutes long, thereby giving us more music for the money and 3.) they did that reference to “Mork & Mindy” at the end of it.
In middle school, I typically sat precariously in between the scurve section and popular section during lunchtime. The popular section was too boring; the scurve section was too scary. In between housed a section of individuals that could easily acclimate to either social stratum. Most of the table consisted of music lovers and we spent the time talking about the albums we liked.
On one day, there was some obvious discontent at the scurve table. One individual had skipped his morning classes and decided to come to school during lunch. He brought with him the news that Bon Scott was dead, and this information was met with a curious display of humanity. A couple of guys vowed to ditch the rest of the day classes, to retreat to the back of a nearby pharmacy and smoke Marlboros. It was a funeral wake that Mr. Scott would be pleased with.
I can’t remember what my reaction was, if any, to the news that AC/DC would continue on with a new lead singer. What I do remember is my first introduction to that album was also my introduction to cocaine.
To be 14 is a strange thing no matter what your locale is. The social cliques start getting defined at this point and, this is crucial, they pave the way for the all-important social network that one has in high school. One needs to align themselves with the “right” people in order to be accepted during the next four years and this alignment sometimes means networking with a variety of different people.
The obvious outlet is through sports, and I tried this approach. On one Friday night, myself and three other guys went to watch the senior high football game. While walking there, one of the guys really had it out for another dude, Sean, who was a notorious stoner and, ironically, was competing against him for the quarterback position on our junior high football squad. For this and some other trivial reason, this guy was going to kick Sean’s ass and the rest of us would be present for moral support. A challenge was given during the football game and about two dozen people made their way across the street to a parking lot to watch the fight. While I was originally in the other guy’s corner, I left the fight as a supporter of Sean. He went into the fight with the same lackadaisical attitude that he had for football; while the other dude swung wildly at Sean’s head, Sean danced back causing the other guy to miss each time. This made Sean grin and he laughed as the aggressor quickly began to wear down. By this time, Sean started to land some accurate jabs, swelling his opponent’s eye, and turning the match into an embarrassment. The scuffle was broken up, and someone yelled that the police were coming. Everyone ran, and I found myself running alongside Sean instead of the guy that I came to the game with. After complementing him on his fighting abilities, we walked to a party his older sister was at.
The party was in an apartment complex, which is an ultra-cool place for a party when you’re 14. What was amazing was that Sean was a year younger than me, and he was obviously much cooler since he had the hookup on parties in apartments. Even more amazing was that the chicks having the party were out of high school. From what I understood, it was Sean’s older sister’s place (he also had another older sister, a year older than me, who lived at home) and after a few moments of debating whether or not she should allow her younger brother and me into her place, she relented and agreed to give us one beer.
Sean determined that she also had some weed and asked her for a joint. She refused and Sean, in a stunning example of clever blackmail, threatened to tell his Mom that she gave him a beer if she didn’t give him a joint. Being older and cooler than us, the plan backfired and she quickly escorted us to the door. “Goodbye boys.” The other girls cooed, as we left, taking the shoe leather express to make sure we made our respected curfews.
“Fucking bitch.” Sean muttered. “That’s ok; I can get some weed from my other sister’s boyfriend. You wanna come over to my house tomorrow and get stoned?” Given the fact that this guy had single-handedly gotten me into a party with 19-year old girls and who, apparently, had a weed connection, the answer was a resounding “Yes.” Sean was decidedly more cool during the two hours that I knew him than most of the other friends that I had for years.
I drove my moped over to Sean’s house a little bit after lunch the next day. Nobody answered the door, so I went around back and noticed that his room was right off the sliding glass doors to the basement and there, still sleeping in his bed, was Sean. I banged on the sliding glass door and he woke up and let me in.
He told me that when he got home last night, he snuck out and went down the street to party with his sister’s boyfriend, the guy that was supposed to get us some weed. Sean explained that he didn’t have any weed, but he did score some coke from the guy. Having never tried cocaine and in no position to look uncool, I agreed to doing a line. Sean pulled out a new copy of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” album, put the vinyl on the turntable next to his bed, and poured a quarter-gram of cocaine onto the cover of the record jacket. The menacing opening bells served as an appropriate metaphor; I was doing a drug that was extremely “hip” for the time and I was traveling down a road that few fourteen year olds had traveled. AC/DC was the soundtrack to this as Sean laid out lines of the white powder on the stark black record jacket. We did lines throughout side one, and by the time side two hit, we were growing restless.

For whatever reason, Sean decided to snoop around his sister’s room across the hall, possibly to look for hidden cigarettes. He went into her closet and found a shoebox on the top shelf. Inside, we found no cigarettes. Instead, we saw empty wrappers of condoms, a memento to keep track of all of the times she had sex with the guy that gave us the reason to be this restless. Rather than put the box back, he left it on her bed, joking that he was going to leave it for his Mother to find.
He then went upstairs to look for any stray open packs of smokes that his parents may have left behind. “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” started as he slowly marched downstairs, grinning and playing air guitar with two Marlboro 100 cigarettes dangling in his mouth. We went outside to smoke them clandestine under the deck.
I was a novice smoker at this point; actually I was doing it just to uphold my newfound image as “cocaine snorter” and I probably didn’t even inhale.
Suddenly, we heard the front door open and we quickly extinguished the smokes.
A teenage girl yelled “Sean?” from the living room.
“It’s my sister.” He explained.
We heard footsteps coming down the stairs as we remained quietly under the deck outside.
“Sean!” she screamed; she had discovered the shoe box of empty condom wrappers still on her bed.
Sean laughed while his sister violently opened the sliding basement door. She chased him around the house with the complete intention of beating her younger brother senseless. Sean grabbed a handful of rocks as he made his way around the front of the house and proceeded to throw the stones at his sister while calling her a slut. Tired and realizing that she couldn’t catch him, she gave up and retreated back into the house with tears in her eyes.
I hung out with Sean a few more times that year, but at the end of the semester, I had graduated to high school while he had one more year of middle school to go. With the change in schools came another change in the social strata; a blueprint was laid, but as any Freshman will tell you, 9th grade boys don’t rank much on the high school radar.
Sean became the starting quarterback on the junior high football team and, after the season end, continued to test the limits of the school authorities and his parents.
He struggled in school and his low grades even caused him to lose a little luster among his peers. Soon, he too would be considered a scurve-by-proxy, with only his North side address saving him from a life of ridicule and becoming completely discounted. Sean turned into that obligatory stoner, the one that people tolerated but understood that his poor decision making probably ruined any true potential. I later learned that he did end up in the armed forces, possibly a good choice for him, and that he “shaped up,” found a girl to marry, and that he leads a relatively calm middle-class life now.
And 21 million albums later, I’m sure that AC/DC live a relatively calm high-class now. Money provides them with a little more incentive to protect their investment and not take the same risks that they may have when they were hungry. That notion completely sucks, because with each passing year, and with each year they choose not to even release an album, their image gets safer. It’s a double standard for sure, because the older they get, the sillier their double-entendres come across, regardless of how awesome their power chords continue to be.
No matter how silly they seem, they’ll always hold a certain degree of danger for me. There was a time when the band’s fan base were a little dangerous themselves. Think of it this way: many of AC/DC’s line-up also struggled in school, had conflicts with authorities, and appreciated a good party. As they progressed, their repetitive formula managed to sneak into the homes of suburbia who understood the band’s demeanor was part shtick. Thankfully, AC/DC came of age with me and at that time their fans were just as unpredictable as the band. In my mind, they’ll be the band that was the soundtrack for Richard Ramirez, that made albums to do lines of coke off of, and the band who’s fans looked exactly like Malcom Young.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Who-Live Review

The Who
Wells Fargo Arena-Des Mones, Iowa
September 26, 2006

Twenty three years ago, I had a chance to see The Who on the “It’s Hard” tour. Of course, it wasn’t really The Who back then, but it was ¾ of The Who, which is ¼ more of The Who than the incarnation in 2006.
Back to the story.
The venue was sold out, and being young and naïve about such things, I used the classified ads to look for tickets. I found a scalping company and made a call to the phone number listed on the classified. I spoke with a gentleman, the years have given him a Mike Damone quality, but I’m fairly sure he was more than a little shady.
The rest is hazy; I know I had to get my Father involved to get my money back and I know that I never got a chance to see that version of The Who.
To make matters worse, I spent my hard earned money on actually buying “It’s Hard,” which I thought was better than “Face Dances,” which wasn’t that difficult to accomplish anyway.
So it’s with a clear understanding of the irony that I got to see the band that came up with the line “Hope I die before I get old” on the eve of my 40th birthday. And it’s also clear that I went into the event without any lofty expectations, particularly since two members, and important ones at that, aren’t even alive. Let’s be honest here: both Entwistle and Moon were critically more important to the band than Rodger Daltry.
Money does funny things to people. It makes you do countless tours after you’ve officially broken up the band. It makes you team up with your former lead singer, record the first Who album since “It’s Hard” and go out on tour (once again) with the band moniker in tact because you know a Daltry/Townshend banner won’t have the same draw.

Yeah, there’s a helluva lot of cynicism here, and quite frankly, Pete Townshend deserves it. While you throw out the fact that the 2006 Who tour prominently features new music from the upcoming album “Endless Wire” and notice that the album isn’t even out yet (scheduled release date is October 31st), let me throw out the fact that “Quadrophenia” is well over thirty years old and remains the last brilliant effort that Townshend had a hand in creating.
Do the math with that; it’s laziness. I’m not discounting Townshend’s worth or the importance of The Who. In those thirty plus years, he has released some pretty remarkable music, but it’s nowhere as consistent as what he could have and should have been able to do. You can make excuses about the addictions and the egos involved, but the truth is that the money he made afforded him the ability to take the day off when it came time for him, and The Who, to deliver a few more efforts on the same caliber as the material from 1973 and before.
Because I’m a sucker for free tickets, I agreed to place my personal differences with Pete Townshend aside and take a look at the latest tour of The Who. There’s a little bit of buzz behind this one; first off, there’s a new album to promote and there’s actually some positive feedback regarding their recent shows, which feature a heapin’ helpin’ of new songs, including a mini-opera.
Horribly promoted and far from sold out (under 6,500 showed up), Townshend and Daltrey tapped Zac Starkey to fill the role of Keith Moon and Pino Pallandino to fill those large ox shoes of John Entwistle. Pete’s brother Simon Townshend joined the band on rhythm guitar and backing vocals while John Bundrick joined them (again) on keyboards. Pallandino didn’t attempt, and wisely so, to mimic any of Entwistle’s bass lines. Zac also steered clear of aping Keith, the guy who bought him his first professional drum kit, but he’s proven to be a great drummer on his own terms.
The new songs? Well “Fragments” sounds exactly like “Another Tricky Day.” “Real Good Looking Boy” wreaks of the obligatory “Elvis Presley inspired us to do rock and roll” nostalgia that most boomers feel they’re required to write about (and it sounds just as middle aged as you could imagine). The new mini-opera hints at a little bit of creative energy, but without Moon, Entwistle, and a full-vocal ranged Daltry, it sounds like it could have been written for “White City” or “The Iron Man.”
“The Man In The Purple Dress,” an acoustic number that takes a hard swipe at molestation in the Catholic church, worked well; there was passion behind the lyrics and Daltry’s delivery was colorful and believable.
The oddly titled “Mike Post Theme” was also a fairly enjoyable new selection.
But again, none of them really sounded like The Who as we, or the 6,200 people in attendance remembered.
Which is why Townshend thanked the audience for enduring the lengthy selection of new songs.
Which is why Townshend also scattered plenty of classic Who cuts throughout the setlist.

Fresh out of the gate, they did it up right; with pictures of mods and early Who imagery filling up the big screens while they smacked through the regular opener “I Can’t Explain.” It went right into “The Seeker” and then into “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere.” I would have thrown “A.A.A.” in as the second song, but they didn’t ask me.
Had they, I would have eliminated “Who Are You,” a fairly uninspired “Behind Blue Eyes” and the utterly disposable “You Better You Bet.” While I won’t get into the argument concerning these song’s importance to the band’s catalog (with the exception of “You Better,” of course) I will argue that everyone seemed to be going through the motions when these songs came up.
The selections from “Tommy” were good, but nothing noteworthy.
Highlights were the opening three, a stunning extended version (ala “Live At Leeds”) of “My Generation” that even threw in a few lines from “Cry If You Want” and a nice attempt at “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which, unfortunately, seems relevant once again. If you’re wondering, Daltry did the scream at the end of it. It surprised a few people. It wasn’t embarrassing. It wasn’t anywhere near the scream circa ’71.
But then again, none of the show was really anything near The Who circa ’71.
What once was a band, in the truest sense of the word, that was almost indisputably the greatest live rock band in their prime, seems content on banking (again) on that nostalgia while Townshend tries to end the legacy on a positive note (read: mini opera).
This, of course, comes after over twenty years of “farewell” tours, Broadway versions of “Tommy” and Kenny Jones on drums even when the three surviving members admitted the “real” Who died with Keith.
So I’ll let ‘em end it with something better than “It’s Hard.”
But I ain’t paying for it, like I didn’t pay for this show. Because, at the end of the day, Pete Townshend seems a little like that scalper back in ’82. And after taking a piss on the Who’s legacy for over a quarter century now, forgive me if I take the line “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to heart.


Can't Explain
The Seeker
Anyway Anyhow Anywhere
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Real Good Looking Boy
Sound Round
Pick Up The Peace
Endless Wire
We Got A Hit
They Made My Dream Come True
Mirror Door
Baba O'Riley
Eminence Front
Man In A Purple Dress
Mike Post Theme
You Better You Bet
My Generation
Won't Get Fooled Again
Pinball Wizard
Amazing Journey
See Me Feel Me
Tea And Theater