Monday, February 13, 2006

Low-Live Review

Chan Marshall cancelled her latest tour because she went crazy again, so what’s a guy to do but go see a show fronted by another looney bin. Alan Sparhawk, vocalist/guitarist/writist of the Duluth, Minnesota band Low, released the band’s most accessible album last year and then went crazy immediately before they embarked on an American tour. Now, not only does this mean that your label (and your band) are set to lose thousands of dollars in sales resulting from your craziness, but it also means that people are going to look at you in that “Will he flip out?” stare. So a tidy number of us set out to see a real live trainwreck in a funny little bar/restaurant that served a mediocre grilled cheese sandwich.

Late last month, Sparhawk did a nutty little interview with Pitchfork, which eloquently repeated his “Here’s how crazy I got:” story, along with a bizarre Mormon + Pot = bass player leaving story. Like a hockey crowd looking for a fight on the ice, there were lots of us there that understood a minor meltdown may be afoot if the crazy stars aligned themselves just right.

I’m so fucking angry at myself that I spelled “there” in the last sentence as “their” and spellcheck caught it before me. Stupid Stupid Stupid. I feel like such a retard right now.
End Sidenote

Having seen Low before several years ago, I knew that drinking a lot of High Life may create a sleep coma when mixed with Low’s “slowcore” tempos. But Sparhawk has wisely implemented some expansion efforts in his material as their music developed a bigger arrangement on the past three albums. Fine, then. I’ll stop at three High Lifes.
The polite audience sat down, hippie style, in front of the stage. Luckily, our seats were positioned directly off stage left, with new bassist Matt Livingston’s scrawny ass just four feet away from my face. A few things about Matt Livingston:
1.) He’s got a very scrawny little ass
2.) He needs to pull up his pants
3.) The elastic band on his boxers is showing
It was a very informal performance, with stripped down renditions of their last three albums taking up the majority of the set list. One song was aborted momentarily, after Sparhawk realized mid-verse that they’d begun in a higher key than he could sing in. Livingston and Mimi Parker kept going while Alan lowered the strings after asking permission from his invisible friend, Dr. Minnetonka. He then pulled out an apricot and yelled “Stop looking at me!” at the audience.
Alan then tried to kill himself by adjusting the stage lights in front of him despite being electrocuted doing the same thing once before.
His wife, Mimi Parker, occasionally ribbed him by telling him that he had “too many gadgets” for his guitar and other hurtful comments. Alan started weeping uncontrollably until a roadie came up and offered a huge joint that would take him directly to his “happy place.”
Mimi’s kit remains as primitive as ever, and Alan spent the majority of the night behind an acoustic guitar (with a bunch of guitar-effect pedals) carefully channeling an almost morbid muse. The other thing that remains with her presence is the unbelievable harmonies she adds. This is critical. With Low, things move at a snails pace, requiring listeners to be attentive to every detail. Mimi’s voice adds a very ethereal element to a very dirge-like rhythm. It’s clear that Low wouldn’t have been able to sustain an over decade long history without her contribution.

A girl that looked an awful lot like Harry Potter yelled out “Sunflower” when they came back for an encore. They started playing it (most awesomely, I might add) and then the Harry Potter girl scream “Yes!”, clapped her hands together and then pissed her pants
The “hit” “When I Go Deaf” ended the three song encore in a swell of feedbacks until Alan finally declared “I think we’re done now.”
Three other interesting things about new bass player Matt Livingston:
1.) His second touring bass is one of those Steinberger ones
2.) He wears glasses
3.) He’s a pretty nice guy
“When they finally found your body/Giant x’s on your eyes” starts the uplifting “Sunflower.” I suppose I’m a little grateful that they didn’t find Alan at the end of a noose. I’m glad he’s apparently gotten his shit just a little bit together. And, considering how his child with Mimi is probably ready for kindergarten and how touring may not be a viable option soon, I’m glad I took a night off see Low on their “Crazy From The Weed” tour.
In The Drugs
Amazing Grace
Violent Past
Over The Ocean
When I Go Deaf

Thursday, February 2, 2006

Bruce Springsteen-Born To Run The 30th Anniversary Edition

An admirable man, Henry Rollins, once said “You got ‘my-bossman’s-a-motherfucker-and-I-want-to-cut-his-balls-off-and-shove-them-right-down-his-throat’ blues!” and he was right. The boss is a micromanaging fucktard and he has been the subject of my ire for the past few weeks. The motherfucker is nickel-and-diming me with my bonus payout and when you fuck with the cashflow….Well it’s whatever the guitarist from the Dwarves said to the verbally abusing audience member back in ’96 after the lead singer smacked the aforementioned verbal abuser in the face with his microphone, Rodger Daltry style.
But this story ain’t about my boss. It’s about our boss. The one from Jersey. That dude who you’d, for whatever reason, like to be able to “pfft” but can’t because, well, he writes such fucking good songs.
For me, that “pfft” would come around the time that “Lucky Town,” or whatever the fuck it was called, came out. Then again, I actually went to a Springsteen show during the “Lucky Town” tour and the thing fucking rocked. This guy managed to completely destroy, for the better part of three hours no less, and he did it without the help of The E Street Band. Bruce Springsteen, if you haven’t heard, puts on some righteous live concerts, and no true rock fan should die without attending one. Period.
I couldn’t tell you one member of his band from that tour/album. The only thing I can tell you is that when you go to work for The Boss, he expects you to be proficient at your instrument and be willing to work overtime.
Apparently, his live abilities aren’t an isolated event; Springsteen has consistently owned live shows for his entire career. The first concert I saw with him included the E Street Band and it too ranks high as one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. And that second show without the E Streeters would destroy over 75% of the rest of the shows I’ve seen.

Springsteen released the 30th Anniversary edition of the album that propelled him into superduperstar status: “Born To Run.” I’ve got to confess to not owning a single Springsteen disc (I only have vinyl copies) so I didn’t have the feeling that I was getting fucked in the ass when Columbia re-issued it with a cleaned up sound quality and bonus material. The bonus material is actually two DVDs: one of the making/back-story of the “Born To Run” album and a live DVD from Bruce’s first U.K. appearance that coincided with the release of the album. No bonus tracks are included with the package, which is actually a nice twist-Springsteen and the packagers force you to consider the album in the same context as its initial release. The difference being the bonus material that is included allows the fan to act as a fly on the wall for this album, from start to finish. The only thing that isn’t included is the impact it had on Springsteen himself. From this point on, he became a high profile artist for Columbia and for rock itself. In my opinion, when you consider the body of work that Bruce has taken since this release, he’s handled himself remarkably well and remarkably consistent. I’m hard pressed to find a period of his work that would be considered “a low point.” Bruce’s early 90’s work was mediocre, but I wouldn’t consider it embarrassing. If anything, it prompted a special edition version of “Born To Run” because you tend to forget the reasons why an artist becomes universally revered. And this special edition reminds us that the reason why we revered him.
The first reason is because “Born To Run” is an essential album. Masterfully written and impeccably executed, the music transcends time and the quality of it remains as relevant today as it was in 1975. Which got me thinking about how it was actually received in 1975. My guess is that, because it is musically flawless, it may have been looked as a polished effort, sonically enhanced by producers intending to make a big sounding record. The thing is, “Born To Run” the song is a big song to begin with; it may be the reason why there are no demo versions, alternate takes, or early mixes of the song. They show the progression of the song, how it achieves that Spectoresque-sound, but this is part of the video extras.
The other thing I noticed from the presentation of the album is how expertly it was sequenced. I’ve long felt that album sequencing has become a lost art during the CD era; here is a perfect example of how sequencing can influence the impact of an album. Firstly, the album has a bare-bones number of songs: 8 tracks. But every one of those tracks is critical to the story “Born To Run” provides us. Today, and ironically Springsteen is guilty of this too, albums are filled with tracks that merely add to the total time. Case in point: Springsteen could have made a really good record in 1992 if someone with some balls had combined the entire “Lucky Town” and “Human Touch” albums and brought it down to only ten cuts.
“Born To Run” knows that if you’re going to make an epic album, every cut counts. Every cut does: from the Broadway-via-Jersey opener “Thunder Road” all the way to the closer “Jungleland.” Springsteen was forced into a make-it-or-break-it scenario and he throws it down. “Show a little faith/there’s music in the night” he barks in “Thunder Road,” and with an image like that he masterfully throws down an everyman line “You ain’t a beauty/but hey, you’re alright.” And that’s a perfect example of why he’s on the same playing field as a Dylan, Davies, or Townshend; the notion that a smart blue-collar bloke can get out of their cul-de-sac using words can inspire even the not too literal.

The live DVD shows Bruce and his updated E-Street Band finally arriving over the pond to bring this very American sound to the country’s forefathers. The performance is just as theatric as the album, with the E-Street Band perfectly executing the current crop of titles with those that made a name for them in New England. The audience remains intently focused on him, perhaps asking how such a bloke could evoke the same amount of sheer drama as a Ziggy who needed platforms to demonstrate his own larger than life sound.
“She’s The One” begins as a harp train traveling through Bo Diddly territory before arriving at the familiar album rave up. Springsteen crawls in, around, and over the stage, playing the spotlight like a master. But the real masters are the band themselves, who with every song, throw down a good shift and let the boss take credit for how good the performance is. Seriously, the fact that cameras were able to catch this performance is a blessing. Just as he knew he had to make “the” album with “Born To Run,” Springsteen understood that he would have to provide this English audience with “the” performance to justify the hype that arrived on their shores before they even played a note.
They deliver. It’s a spectacular performance and one, I’m sure, few in the audience forgot about. And a performance that we now can witness to have a solid frame of reference of why the boss deserves our respect.