Monday, April 30, 2007

Black Uhuru - Sinsemilla

Arguably, Black Uhuru was the last great classic reggae band and, even more arguably, perhaps the last reggae band that truly mattered. Admittedly, I’m probably not the best person to dish out such statements since my reggae collection effectively ended around 1985, or around the same time lead singer Michael Rose left the band to pursue a solo career.
But for me, I’m hard pressed to come up with another band or artist that was able to release, count ‘em, four great sequential albums, starting with 1980’s Sinsemilla.
It’s the first album that featured Rose’s stunning vocal abilities and the one that propelled the band from little known Jamaican band to one that seemed ready to carry the torch from reggae’s first breakthrough wave into the following decade.
Rose handled most of the vocals on the album (backing vocalist Puma Jones appears on the album art, but she wasn’t committed to tape until the following album, Red) as well as the songwriting duties.
With an album title like Sinsemilla, you can guess the most memorable track involves a pocketful of weed and the virtuous pleasures it provides. The re-issue version provides a pair of bonus tracks (the discomix of “Sinsemilla” and my favorite Black Uhuru track of all time “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner”) and well as some enhanced sound.
This is critical, because Rose’s biggest impact on Black Uhuru was enlisting the talents of Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare for both the production and rhythm performances on the album. Having performed/produced on literally thousands of sessions, Sly & Robbie sound positively inspired in the house of Uhuru and the rhythm section on Sinsemilla is probably the most memorable thing about it.
With Rose getting comfortable in his role as the band’s leader and Jones yet to actually appear with the group, Sinsemilla is the sound of Black Uhuru getting comfortable with each other and discovering their audience outside of the islands. They may have sounded tighter and more assured in later releases, but Sinsemilla is an album that hints at their enormous potential while still managing to be one of reggae’s most landmark albums even in this process of discovery.

Fuck You Paul Anka

How anyone could pen the line "I love what it's doing to you" is beyond me. The SLF is miserable 24/7 which means that E and I have taken to going to different parts of the house to hide from the "Tummy Creature."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Grinderman - Grinderman

As an honorary member of The Sons Of Lee Marvin, Nick Cave is an acknowledged bad ass. He knows it, but the great thing is, you typically don’t hear him going on and on about how cool he is. Cave is one of those rare individuals that just seem to exude it.
Grinderman, the curiously labeled Nick Cave side-project that really isn’t a side-project in the strictest sense of the word (count it: almost half of The Bad Seeds play on the album), shows him making quite a racket for a guy that will turn 50 this September.
He’s been showing his age on his last few albums, and that’s not to suggest that they’ve been necessarily bad albums; they’ve just been filled with the grand arrangements of an elder statesman who seemed fairly content with turning into rock’s supreme literary balladeer.
Apparently, Cave wanted to make at least one more noisy rock album before contending with how the autumn of his career will ultimately take shape. Grinderman’s self-titled “debut” is the result of that revision, as it hints at the Birthday Party noise that brought Cave his initial acclaim as well as some garage rock elements that wouldn’t have felt out of place on The Stooges’ “comeback” album if someone had told Iggy that his new material sucked ass.
Nick makes Iggy sound like a retard, even when both gentlemen set out to remind the public of their cocksmith abilities. While Pop compares his dick to a tree, Cave harks that he “drank panther piss and fucked the girls you’re probably married to” (“Get It On”). There’s a big part of me that thinks Nick has seen the scene from Anchorman where Brian Fontana whips out his secret stash of Sex Panther; Grinderman is filled with hints of this type of lyricism, so you know it’s good.
Cave is very much aware of his increasing age and the effects it’s taking on the public’s image of him as well as his own self-image. “No Pussy Blues,” “My face is finished/My body’s gone” he admits before tries to seduce a young fan. Even after some preparation (“I changed the sheets on my bed/I combed the hairs across my head/I sucked in my gut and still she said/That she just didn’t want to”) he yells “Damn!” before a distorted wah-wah guitar kicks him in his old ass while screaming “I got the no pussy blues!”
On “Go Tell The Women,” Cave (who sounds much more adapted at piano than his amateurish guitar playing would indicate) plods along with an out of tune guitar phrase, over a repeated mandolin and drum shuffle while deadpanning: “All we wanted was a little consensual rape in the afternoon/And maybe a bit more in the evening.”
Even at his increasing age, Nick hasn’t lost his dark sense of humor.
My favorite Nick Cave album has always been Live Seeds from 1993. I like it because it’s raw and it provides the set with an unhinged feeling, which makes them more powerful. Grinderman is very similar in a sense, as the racket Cave and his cohorts create not only illustrate the humor of the material; they manage to make the shadows of them even darker. This ultimately makes Grinderman one of Cave’s brightest moments even if his days are getting shorter.
One can only hope that other iconic rock artists have a mid-life crisis like this.

Monday, April 23, 2007

How I Learned To Relax & Admit I’m A Matthew Sweet Fanboy

Obviously, at my age I’ve taken great strides to stop worrying about how other music geeks would rate or view my own collection. Don’t let that fool you into thinking that I would remain silent if I noticed a Barry Manilow album in your “M” section regardless of how vocal you were about his influence, camp appeal, or kitschy significance.
More often, I tend to be my own worse critic and some titles and/or artist it pains me to admit that I have them or, indeed, enjoy them.
At one time, Matthew Sweet was one of those artists.
It started at the college radio station I worked for where it didn’t take much to get on the playlist (something that I was in charge of) and even the weakest of albums often held at least one track that we could fit into the schedule.
In 1989, the station received a copy of Matthew Sweet’s second album, Earth, which was originally released on A&M Records. I wasn’t familiar with his debut album Inside and read the obligatory bio sheet which hinted that he had something to do with the (then defunct) Athens, Georgia music scene and how he was an important figure in the power-pop genre.
So on both accounts, it appeared that Mathew Sweet’s Earth would be right up my alley.
Far from it: Earth was a glossy shell of power-pop and I’ll be damned if I could find one worthy cut to add to the playlist. It was bad enough for me to associate “Matthew Sweet” with “sucks” for many years to come.
A few years later, I was working for a “real” radio station (read: commercial) and we received an advance copy of Matthew Sweet’s “Girlfriend,” the title track for his upcoming album on the label that also the home for Green Jell(o)y and that chick that sang “You’ve got to lick it/Before you stick it.” Knowing that Matthew Sweet “sucks” didn’t prevent me from spinning it; after all, I needed three and a half minutes to get over the shock of having to add Michael Bolton’s “Love Is A Wonderful Thing” to the playlist because, get this, people actually liked Michael Bolton.
“What people?” You ask.
People who don’t know any better.
So imagine my surprise when “Girlfriend” came through the speakers in all of its dirty 70’s sounding glory that I had to immediately reconsider my opinion about Matthew Sweet.
When the album arrived at the station with its awesome Tuesday Weld cover and era-perfect recording techniques, I secured a copy for myself and secretly forgave Sweet for his misguided efforts in the previous decade. In terms of rock music for that period (early 90’s), Sweet was a welcomed distraction from the typical grunge that permeated alternative radio.
I think that one of the reasons why it was accepted is because there was some dirt underneath those pop songs and some killer guitar solos by the late Robert Quine and Television's Richard Lloyd.
God bless Matthew Sweet for his equally raw follow-up “Altered Beast” which further secured his approval in my (still) doubting mind.
Ditto for ‘96’s 100% Fun which featured the awesome single “Sick Of Myself” with its sickingly catching chorus (“But I’m sick of myself when I think of you/Something that’s beautiful and true/In a world that’s ugly and a lie”) and clever false ending(s).
I spun these albums in solitude and sung along with them like a little schoolgirl while publicly singing the praises of bands like Kyuss and Barkmarket.
After an impressive trifecta, Sweet stumbled a bit for Blue Sky On Mars before rebounding again for the studio exploration that was In Reverse.
In Reverse is a criminally overlooked effort and one that secured the fact that Sweet had endured the entire decade with some amazing consistency. He takes the power-pop formula that he perfected in the first part of the 90’s and makes things interesting by incorporating genre styles outside of the Big Star mold, namely an examination of the lush production strategies of the mid-to-late 60’s.
Kimi Ga Suki * Raifu, Sweet’s first entry for the new millennium is also criminally overlooked, mainly due to the fact that it’s a Japanese-only release that’s never seen an official domestic home. This is unfortunate because it has two great things going for it: 1.) It contains the Girlfriend­-era line-up and 2.) It was recorded “on the fly” with minimal studio tinkering. The results are marvelous: it’s by no means a “low-fi” or poorly produced effort. It sounds fully realized and is an excellent return to form.
Admittedly, Sweet has offered up a few questionable titles as of late: a strange collaboration with Suzanna Hoffs for a covers album, and a totally misguided “supergroup” concept with Pete Droge and Shawn Mullins that resulted in one forgettable album.
Despite those stumbles, I no longer “hide” my affection for Matthew Sweet like I used to. I recently gave those aforementioned titles a spin and walked away content knowing they are in my own collection.
Girlfriend has been recently re-issued with bonus material, including the Good Friend demo material. Sure, you could view this as another money-grubbing major label tactic, or you could view it for what it really is: an awesome album just got awesomer.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Shearwater - Palo Santo

Foreword: The review below is for Shearwater's Palo Santo release on Austin's Misra Records. Since it's wsa originally released last year, Shearwater have signed with Matador Records. For the band's first effort for Matador, they have re-released Palo Santo in an expanded edition that includes newly recorded tracks and some of the existing tracks from the album being re-recorded. The original release of Palo Santo is pretty awesome, so I'm going to assume that the expanded/remixed edition on Matador is equal to or better than the one issued on Misra last year.

In 1988, I was the Program Director for a college radio station at a public university. We received tons of promotional material, cds, vinyl, and nifty little promotional items designed to get you to listen to the releases that record companies sent. This was critical in many occasions as the ratio between “shit” and “shinola” was weighted heavily in the favor of the excrement.
I imagine the same is true today.
The station received an oddly shaped package one day and inside the box, labeled “Spirit Of Eden,” was Talk Talk’s release of the same name, underneath a bright green Granny Smith apple. I only knew Talk Talk from their previous minor hits like “It’s My Life” and “Life’s What You Make It,” so my appreciation of the band wasn’t in full bloom thanks to the image that a notable video music channel created for my behalf. In other words, I wasn’t real excited about a new Talk Talk album, but thanks to that clever promotional material, I took Spirit Of Eden home and witnessed a transformation in my opinion of the band like no other. Ambient, meticulously produced and full of sound structures that would make the most avant-garde band envious, Spirit Of Eden is Talk Talk’s crowing achievement and an experience that is deserving of more praise than it typically receives.
I bring up this album because you may have overlooked it, the same way that I overlooked Shearwater’s Palo Santo when it was released last year. And while 19 years may have passed since Spirit Of Eden’s release, it seems more responsible of me to bring you up to speed on an album that’s been available for less than 12 months. Since it carries a lot of the same expansive arrangements and divine atmospheres, I want to make sure you don’t wait a few decades before discovering it.
When Okkervil River’s Jonathan Meiburg and Will Robinson Sheff started Shearwater, it was a disposable side-project. But thanks to Meiburg asserting control over the name and the songwriting credits, he’s achieved the ambition that was only hinted on in the previous Shearwater releases.
The music ebbs and flows throughout the disc with carefully placed reverb, antiquated string instruments and the occasional bits of shortwave radio noise. It’s all strategically arranged and it brings Shearwater’s most notable instrument, Meiburg’s falsetto, to the forefront. Occasionally drawing from equal parts Jeff Buckley and John Cale, Meiburg’s narcotic wails combine wonderfully with the moody backdrop to create a beautifully captivating album.
On “Hail Mary,” Meiburg ups things a little bit with a cathartic bit of aggressive delivery and atonal feedback. It’s a nice manner in which he keeps things interesting, but truth be told, the most powerful moments throughout the album are the ones barely heard.
Palo Santo is so unlike other releases currently available, there’s a good chance that it’s gone quietly unnoticed. And given the financial limitations of any independent label, there’s an even greater chance that there’s not enough clever promotional efforts to get people’s attention to what Shearwater have done with this stunning achievement.
Consider this review, then, your own Granny Smith apple.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Happy Together (Under Contractual Obligations)

So what do you think of The Turtles?
Yeah, me too.
I haven't thought much of The Turtles at all.
Oh sure, "Happy Together" is a good tune. It's one that I won't change the dial when it's playing on an oldies station.
My parents had a couple of singles by The Turtles, one of which was a cover version of Dylan's "It Ain't Me Babe."
I thought it was pretty cool as a kid, but only because it was on White Whale Records. The record company's logo was, you guessed it, a white whale. That's what made it awesome.
Other than that, I don't really have much to say about The Turtles.
But The Turtles have a lot to say about the business side of music...And perhaps people should pay attention to them
Below is a clip from You Tube featuring Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan who occasionally perform as The Turtles to this day. They detail all of the managerial problems they encountered during their heyday, and they manage to do it with a healthy sense of humor.
After the headaches of The Turles ended, Volman and Kaylan later joined Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention (billed as "Flo & Eddie") around the time of the Chunga's Revenge release. They also worked as backing vocalists for a variety of artists including T-Rex, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Alice Cooper, and many others. For the younger viewers, they were also the brainchilds behind the soundtrack albums for The Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Field - From Here We Go Sublime

Some of the first generations of cd players had this cool little feature where you could repeat sections even when they were of the shortest of lengths. Keep in mind, this was before sampling took off so, essentially, early supporters of cd players could create their own samples by hitting the repeat button quickly and capturing a brief snippet of a song.
Typically, we’d do this on funny parts of a disc, or an annoying part that we’d endlessly repeat until it became funny.
Later on, I incorporated the aforementioned technique on some musical explorations, usually with the attempt to get a nifty rhythm track as the foundation for a song. Essentially, this was a primitive form of looping that I later maximized using various software programs that eventually became the core of a few discs using the Stover moniker.
Downfall? Well, let’s just say that all of the material that wasn’t committed to a disc ended up being purged by a fairly cruel ex-wife who completely gutted the hard drive that contained all of the tracks still “in progress.”
Today, all that is left (aside from two completed discs) are about six tracks that sound fairly dated and with additional work needed.
Additionally, I did manage to save the cover art that was to be the third album; it’s posted here for your amusement.
I bring all of this up because Sweden’s Axel Willner probably learned similar strategies of looping years ago and has incorporated his own techniques into a blend of ambient-based dance music under the moniker The Field.
The Field’s debut album, From Here We Go Sublime, is a challenging piece of work that’s been praised around music circles since its release a few weeks ago. It’s challenging in the sense that ambient dance music is as simplistic as one could imagine, trading in unique rhythm patterns for lush melodies that envelope the listener into a trance-like state. In other words: it goes entirely against the grain that one expects in an era of attention-deficit disorder.
When you listen to From Here We Go Sublime, you’re expected to wait patiently for any climatic moments while wading through endless loops that barely make an appearance over rhythms that are miles away from distracting.
Fans of rock music, hell, fans of traditional dance music will be better served by staying far away from The Field’s ambient vision. With that being said, for those listeners who possess enough patience to allow his methods to completely fruit, they may be in for a rewarding experience.
Take “A Paw In My Face” which repeats some delicate phrasing over and over, gently uncovering its source material (Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello”…No shit) at the very end of the song’s fade out.
The same strategy is used for the album’s closer and title track, except the song being used (The Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You) is revealed by midstream.
Other tracks seldom provide the listener with much insight at all, which means that there is no “money shot” at all; you’re left with only a lush atmosphere to grab onto until Willner changes direction after the run out groove.
Admittedly, I’ve fallen victim to some of his lackadaisical approach with a certain amount of trepidation. It may be because the dance music I grew up with catered to its own primal pleasures (Midnight Star’s No Parking On The Dance Floor immediately comes to mind). But I can’t fault Willner from trying to use a primitive form of music to expand my sophisticated palate.
Let’s hope that he hasn’t stored his expansive visions on some hard drive that’s susceptible to the careless hands of a relationship gone bad.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Beach House - Beach House

Beach House is a duo from Baltimore, Maryland consisting of Victoria Legrand on lead vocals/organ and Alex Scally on guitar. Their nine song debut released last fall has received the obligatory associations that any band of this style (late 60’s psychedelia) and of this number (a duo) would be expected receive.
If I were to take all the comparisons to Mazzy Star as gospel, I would be all over this thing like Christ on a cross. The fact is, it’s actually more like Opal, David Roback’s band with Kendra Smith before he gained recognition with Mazzy.
Then again, being compared to Opal is perhaps even a little more worthy in my book.
Truth be told, Beach House is way more barren than Happy Nightmare Baby. With an organ and a reverb drenched slide guitar as the main musical backdrop, Legrand’s vocals are clearly the spotlight instrument and it’s one that’s not quite fully developed.
Scally misses a few notes here and there which, strangely, add even more to already obvious narcotic feel.
The primitive production places a lot of echo under Legrand’s voice, which is occasionally double tracked throughout the disc. Scally’s guitar is a wall of sound in the mix with a lone organ (sometimes with a baroque feel, other times with a Rhodes setting, and some with a more traditional sound), propelled by a tambourine or the rhythm generator directly on the keyboard itself.
Outside of the aforementioned influences, there seems to be a lineage to Nico’s more avant-garde offerings on Reprise (The Marble Index and Desertshore). While Legrand possesses a style that’s not as identifiable as Nico, she carries a more mainstream approach and displays a greater range than the German chanteuse.
Beach House has an intentional demo quality throughout the disc, and because of that, there’s really nothing that stands out beyond noteworthy. The opener “Saltwater,” “Master Of None” and the epic closer “Heart And Lungs” all touch on some great things while “Auburn And Ivory” and “Childhood” hint at it. The remaining tracks seem content with merely channeling elements of the band’s influences, seemingly content with sounding out of place in an environment where Pro-Tools-created abilities are (thankfully) avoided. The downfall is that the direction they’ve decided to pursue shows the duo’s limitations, which points to the obvious fact that Beach House simply needed a few more rehearsals before committing their material to tape.
In other words: this Beach House still needs a few minor repairs before its ready to be lived in.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Spoon - Live Review

Harris Center @ Grinnell College

Grinnell College has always been a weird sort of anomaly among Iowa’s private universities. Recognized as a college that produces an unusually high amount of students that later earn PhD. degrees, Grinnell is an institution that can set one back over forty grand a year for the privilege of getting a prestigious education smack dab in the heartland.
What makes the college even stranger is the town that it’s situated in: Grinnell, Iowa. With the exception of a few out of place stores that cater to the progressive minds of any university, the rest of the town is very reminiscent of any other small town you’d find in Iowa. It’s quite a shock then, when you travel past a farm implement store to all of a sudden see some university buildings modeled in the Bauhaus architectural style.
Because of the high tuition, Grinnell occasionally is able to secure some pretty sweet concerts regardless of cost. The good news for students is that the shows don’t cost a thing. The bad news for the rest of us is that it takes an awful lot of legwork to get into the shows as they’re essentially university events with no consideration for the “common folk” that may want in.
Spoon recently announced a brief Spring tour in preparation for their latest album, the horribly titled Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. A week before the tour was to start, Grinnell College secured a visit from the band for the lucky sonofabitches at the school while non-students were provided with vague information on how they could attend.
Originally, the general public could get tickets provided there were some available after the students had a chance to get theirs. The rub was that you actually had to get the tickets in person during normal box office hours (M-F between noon and five) which made it virtually impossible for anyone with a life or work schedule to acquire them.
A few days before the show, Grinnell made no mention of general admission ticket availability and a phone call to the box office explained why: the event was sold out.
A follow-up phone call a day before the event provided some welcomed news: two students had decided not to attend the show and they could be had if someone was willing to pick them up during the aforementioned box office hours.
For those of you not familiar with the everyday life of Todd Totale, I have plenty of time to kill and plenty of initiative when the band Spoon is in the mix.
The day of the show, I made the trip to Grinnell and picked up the two tickets they were holding. The fact that they didn’t charge anything for the tickets made the drive worthwhile.
I decided to press my luck and ask the attendant at the box office if any more tickets had appeared; I had some additional friends that also expressed interest in going to the show. My question was greeted with both confusion and an unwillingness to investigate further.
“Um, I don’t know what you mean. There aren’t anymore tickets.” Explained the future doctor, as he struggled to leave his laptop screen to make eye contact with me.
“Never mind then.” I replied, relieving him of any additional work as a box office attendant.
Minneapolis’ Mouthful of Bees and the Quad Cities’ Driver of the Year opened and, where normal shows would find the crowd milling around away from the stage before the headliners appeared, the students at Grinnell planted themselves close to the stage throughout the show and both bands were warmly received.
I also kept waiting for signs that the “sold out” crowd would appear, but even as the night progressed there was plenty of open space for additional people.
And give it to Grinnell for providing ample security personnel (read: students wearing black t-shirts that said “Security” on them) for the event. Seriously, there was at least one security person for every ten people, which was hilarious as there was no alcohol served at the event and the students were fairly well behaved throughout the evening.
I did see one group of ruffians sneak a bottle of wine into the gymnasium (that’s, essentially, what the Harris Center is by the way) and pass it around her friends. I guess that sneaking in a flask of whiskey to mix with the available soda that was being served would have seemed a little too “ghetto” for these privileged kids.
It was a weird experience to say the least. Some people dressed up for the occasion and the majority of them acted as if this was one of the biggest social gatherings of the year. The audience was especially appreciative once Spoon made their way on stage.
Now two things could have happened during the Spoon performance. Since it was their first show in quite some time, the band could have been extremely sloppy and needing that extra week of rehearsal. The other alternative would be that the band was rested and ready to play.
It was, after all, a pretty cushy gig for our boys from Austin. The least they could do is rock the joint.
Surprisingly, Spoon only pulled three tracks from the upcoming release. So with a catalog heavy set, the band seemed fairly rehearsed and tight throughout their lengthy set.
On only a couple of occasions did leader Britt Daniel falter: a forgotten verse here and starting a song in the wrong key there. On both accounts, the bass player was present to poke fun at him, probably because both mistakes were on older material.
They dipped heavily from the last three albums with “I Turn My Camera On” and “The Way We Get By” getting the biggest reaction from the crowd, particularly when Daniel’s explained that the latter song was about “getting high in the back seat of a car” He then pleaded “If anyone can help us out with that….See us after the show. We need it. Seriously.”
It was obvious, both from Britt’s stage banter and from the band’s overall performance, that they were in jovial spirits and appreciative of the attention that the show organizers placed on them. Several times he mentioned that it had been a while since they played in Iowa and how nice it was to play for such an approving crowd.
Perhaps because of this buoyant mood, the band treated Grinnell to a lengthy 18 song set and returned for a 3 song encore.
As far as insights into the forthcoming album, there’s really no hint of any dramatic changes in the new material; the latest songs segued nicely into the songs of the last three albums. How the album holds up will ultimately be decided with how it’s produced, as it blended nicely with their older material in a live setting.
Admittedly, some of the crowd’s almost immature admiration and childish social skills (several in attendance did silly dances with each other throughout the performance, hinting at a little bit at the fact that they hadn’t been to too many rock shows in the past) raked against me at times, but it wasn’t nearly as irritating as tolerating the drunken behavior that one is bound to encounter at a legitimate rock club.
Instead, it was easy to understand how the kids could get so riled up. As prestigious as Grinnell College is, it’s still located in the middle of nowhere. And any time you can get a band like Spoon to play in your gymnasium for free, well hell, I’d get a little worked up too.

Don’t You Evah
My Mathematical Mind
Stay Don’t Go
Lines In The Suit
Rhthm and Soul
The Beast and Dragon, Adored
Me and the Bean
Fitted Shirt
Black Like Me
I Turn My Camera On
Paper Tiger
Don’t Make Me A Target
Vittorio E
The Two Sides Of Monsieur Valentine
They Never Got You
I Summon You
The Way We Get By
Jonathan Fisk
(Song #1 Can’t remember)
(Song #2 Can’t remember)
Small Stakes

Tracklist for the upcoming album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga:
1.) Don't Make Me a Target
2.) The Ghost of You Lingers
3.) You Got Yr Cherry Bomb
4.) Don't You Evah
5.) Rhthm and Soul
6.) Eddie's Ragga
7.) The Underdog
8.) My Little Japanese Cigarette Case
9.) Finer Feelings
10.) Black Like Me

Sunday, April 15, 2007

We Were Fucking Corndogs: A (Secret) History Lesson

To the uninitiated, the items displayed at The Secret History of the Cedar Valley exhibit were nothing more than photocopied fliers of fly-by-night local bands. For some, those fliers represented something more.
The flier to the left? It’s a show for a Dutch hardcore band, B.G.K. I hadn’t seen that flier in twenty years.
Hell, I hadn’t thought about that band in twenty years.
But it was more than just a cheap advertisement for a band no longer relevant.
For me, that was the second show I saw after arriving at the University of Northern Iowa. The first, in case you’re wondering, was a cover band at some meat-market club located well off campus. Being new to the area, I initially hung out with a crowd that contained people from my hometown. With long hair and a Smiths t-shirt, I suppose that I qualified as the odd one in their circle, and this was glaringly obvious one night when I agreed to join them when they went to the bar that featured a popular bar band. I think they were called Litterer, and they actually incorporated some original songs into their set, but the bulk of the audience (including my friends) were there to see the band perform familiar favorites while they drank beer and got loaded.
Apparently, the Litterer band had quite the following; the place was packed.
They had a full-on stage presence about them, and they worked their shitty hair-metal act quite well (the band members were siblings with the last name, no shit, Litterer).
The music was not my cup of tea, however, I did my best to fake it.
After all, I didn’t really know anyone yet at U.N.I. I certainly couldn’t burn the bridges of the relative few that I actually did know: those that found me cool enough to drag to a club to “rock.”
I drank. More than I should. I drank to the point where I didn’t give a shit if the people I came with knew how much I thought Litterer sucked.
I made my way to the front of the stage, directly in front of the lead guitarist, ironically, the only dude in the band that did not have the last name of “Litterer.” I let him know that I thought he was “shredding” by throwing up devil horns and screaming “Yeah!” whenever he made his way towards the front of the stage to solo or show off to the crowd.
In front of me, I noticed that he had quite the assortment of effects which he used efficiently. Knowing a little about guitar pedals, I drunkenly memorized which ones provided him with reverb, chorus, distortion, delay, whatever.
The guitarist worked the entire stage, paying close attention to provide the audience of stage right with just as much attention as stage left. So, whenever he moved over to rock another section of the audience, I tried to sabotage his performance by hitting the various effect pedals on stage and within my reach.
It wasn’t just a matter of smacking a button randomly.
There was a science to my vandalism.
He’d be really getting into his performance, eyes closed and head pointed up during a solo, when I determined “What this fellow needs to send this dramatic moment over the top is….a shitload of echo.”
I’d hit the delay pedal.
This technique of mine was not lacking in subtlety. The guitarist almost instantly knew something was wrong and he almost immediately knew where the problem was originating from. It was only going to be a matter of time before my drunken shenanigans got me thrown out of the club.
But it was too funny for me to stop, so I changed my strategy somewhat. Instead of hitting such a momentum-shifting pedal, I targeted ones that provided more nuanced changes, like the chorus pedal. Typically, if he was really rocking, he had enough distortion going that he didn’t notice what I had done as quickly as before. The moment he did usually resulted in some confusion on his part, to which he’d go to his amplifier first to investigate. After figuring out that there was nothing awry with the settings there, he’d eventually come back to his pedal board and see that someone had fucked with his shit again.
One of my friends noticed me doing this.
“What are you doing?” He yelled in my ear over the music.
“Helping.” I replied.
As fun as this was, it wasn’t something I wanted to do every weekend. It made no sense to me to spend money on a high cover to see a band I had no interest in only to spend even more money getting drunk to tolerate it.
So when I saw the flier for B.G.K., I understood that I’d probably be going to the event alone and I knew that the event would not be serving alcohol.
It didn’t matter, the band was on Alternative Tentacles, and in my mind, that was just as good as being on Sire.
Plus, the shit was only three bucks.
There were probably about three dozen like-minded souls there, and probably a few of them knew who the fuck B.G.K. was.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I took part in some fairly weak slam-dancing during all three bands. One of the guys I ran into was a skinny Mohawked fellow who I’d seen around campus and immediately formed a negative opinion of. Not because of his chosen hair style, but because I automatically assumed that he donned the haircut immediately after arriving on campus, well away from the watchful eye of any parents who may object to it. In other words: I assumed he was a poseur.
My own hairstyle, the obligatory collegiate longhair look, must have made an impact on him. I later learned that he noticed me on campus too and he said that I always looked like I wanted to “punch somebody.”
So two college students with two similar negative perceptions with one another, literally, ran into each other during a B.G.K. show on the campus of a Northern Iowa university.
We continue to be close friends to this day.
And it all started with a cheaply made flier.
While at the Secret History exhibit, I noticed dozens of fliers that provided similar stories for me and I could easily create a years-worth of blogs devoted entirely to the stories of those shows that the fliers on display created for me.
I started to randomly photograph several of them before I figured out that there were too many to take.
Then I brought it into some semblance of context: understanding the impact that some of these shows had on my life, I imagined the impact that they had on others. I’m not talking about the more recognizable acts like B.G.K. (if you could even call them recognizable), but instead the hundreds of local artists with enough fortitude to contribute to a scene with a slim possibility of never even being acknowledged outside of their immediate network of friends. It’s an algebraic equation when you put this in perspective; a half-dozen here, a few dozen there, and then suddenly you have a substantial amount of people with direct connections, notable impacts, and common threads between them. And, to that point, most of them probably don’t even know it.
How ironic then that those fliers, once thought of as a cheap form of marketing that could be easily disposable would have created such an emotional effect even after being twenty years (or more) removed from the actual event. Kudos to Matt Wilson and whoever contributed and compiled to the event for having the foresight to hold onto these Xeroxed fliers with the understanding that so many memories would be contained within them.
It’s going to be interesting to see if similar memories can be created for future generations as there’s been a dramatic shift against such manual intensive forms of promotion (fliers, and fuck, even cds/vinyl/tapes are quickly becoming a thing of the past) are switched to more digital means like mp3s and MySpace calendars. Will they be able to remember events when the hard drive crashes?
Is music itself becoming such a disposable art form that the emotional connections are becoming a thing of the past too?
These are the things I think about, worry about, and consider, particularly after encountering the wave of nostalgia from visiting the Secret History exhibit.
Because I know how one flier can ultimately change someone’s life.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jesus Lizard Live DVD announced

Jesus Fucking Lizard Christ: The Fork announced that a live Jesus Lizard DVD will be released in early June. Now, I’m still a little pissed that David Yow has yet to approve me as a MySpace “friend” (even though that cocksucker Prindle has him prominently featured on his M.S. page) and some of the footage looks a little amateurish (lots of in-and-out zooming from the footage of “Seasick” on You Tube from the DVD’s distributor), it still hasn’t prevented me from getting a boner over the idea of having an official document to coincide with my own fond memories.
And yet another reason to get lost in the world of You Tube (which I often do): footage of Yow’s original band, Scratch Acid, both in their prime (circa late 80’s) and in their most recent “reunion” performances while they were preparing for Touch & Go’s anniversary concerts. Judging from the video, the guys still knew how to rock and in a more frightening coincidence, David Yow is starting to look more like my own Grandfather as he gets older.
It’s pretty cool how Dave hasn’t traveled far from those original Scratch Acid lyrics (“She Said”) of “I’m not using my body anymore…So you can play with it if you want to.”
For me, David Yow was the most exciting performer to grace the stage since Iggy Pop, and that’s saying something.
Cross Iggy with a little bit of Lux Interior and you get a good idea of what it was like to see Yow on stage.
I’ve gone on about these guys before, and nothing I write does the primal ferocity of their live performances any justice. The best thing for me to do is provide the obligatory clip.
But even that was a struggle.
Do I post the live footage of The Jesus Lizard in Dallas from ’94? The one where Yow gets hit with a beer bottle a minute into “Seasick,” causing the band to stop, the crowd to seek out the culprit, before Yow utters “Nice shot” before he takes a swig of beer and leads the band into the song again?
How about the Chicago ’96 footage where some unhappy novices declare that the show should have been shut down by police because the band was a bunch of “unorganized hooligans.”
Or perhaps the video from CBGB’s from New Year’s Eve in ’97, where Yow’s boot hits the camera as he is passed around the crowd.
No, my best bet is to post a concise video that features both the intensity of their shows along with an interview that nicely captures Yow’s humor as well. But those fuckers won’t let me embed it (find it here).
I’ve settled for another piece of footage from the Chicago footage at the Vic Theatre (which someone should look into releasing). It’s a live version of “Destroy Before Reading,” where Yow sings to the security guy at the front of the stage immediately before leaving it to be closer to the crowd.
Inspirational verse:
“Mingus and Parker fuck for breakfast
Because jazz is a slut again”
Dave is now the new lead singer of the two-piece band Qui.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

William Elliott Whitmore - Song Of The Blackbird

In the scurry to get a taste of what’s new, what’s good, what’s hip, I failed to take a look in my own literal backyard. We’ve got it rough in Iowa; most tend to think our lone contribution to the musical lore is Slipknot, or at the very least, one of their side-projects. There’s more to the landscape than corn, hogs, and metal bands with mask-wearing personnel, I can assure you, but I will admit that the landscape is littered with more bands that ape their influences than bands that are actually inspired by them. This is a problem.
So, we’ve had a very long musical dry spell in Iowa. We’ve had an even longer dry spell in my old hometown of Keokuk, Iowa, a small town located on the banks of the Mississippi River in the southeastern most tip of the state. In the 60’s, there was a band called Gonn from there. Not to be confused with Greg Ginn’s post-Black Flag band Gone, the Keokuk Gonn was one of the thousands of garage bands that littered the American landscape in the wake of Beatlemania, but they were good enough to get added to Rhino Records’ expanded edition of Nuggets.
Richard Page, the lead singer and bassist in Mr. Mister was also from Keokuk, but he left sooner than you could say “Kyrie.” I don’t think he’s been back since he was six and, quite honestly, I don’t blame him; Keokuk is one of those towns that had the misfortune of building its streets on the back of the manufacturing industry and, when those jobs left, it became one of those towns that had the misfortune of being introduced to methamphetamine.
From what I understand, William Elliot Whitmore still resides around Keokuk. So imagine my surprise when I picked up (belatedly) his third album for Southern, Song Of The Blackbird. It’s the type of album with enough well-worn lyrics and authentic Americana arrangements to make me beam with hometown pride and chastise myself for not hearing about this guy sooner.
The backdrop: Whitmore served as a roadie for the band Ten Grand until their leader, Matt Davis unexpectedly passed away at the age of 26 in 2003. Ten Grand offered Whitmore opening slots in many of their shows to promote his own material, which is strange as their music couldn’t have been miles apart from each other; Ten Grand walked the same ground as At The Drive In while Whitmore’s music was/is more grounded in traditional folk. Regardless of the difference between their respective genres, Ten Grand’s own label took notice of Whitmore’s talents and signed him to his own record deal.
Song Of The Blackbird comes with the required banjo/acoustic guitar accompaniment while occasionally allowing for full-band arrangements. These sparse conditions place the focus on two of Whitmore’s strengths: his voice and his songwriting, both of which belie his age. His birth certificate may list him at a youthful 28, his words often point to a man who’s lived a full life of the obligatory Midwestern dilemma of waking up to go to church on Sunday morning while still nursing the hangover from Saturday night’s indiscretions.
On “One Man’s Shame,” he explains “one man’s story/is another man’s shame/I ain’t bound for glory/I’m bound for flames” while offering a very legitimate justification for straying from the flock: “I came for the drinks/but I stayed for the love.” It goes without saying that, in Keokuk, the bars and taverns tend to outnumber the churches.
Whitmore’s vocal inspiration at times mirrors Tom Waits and Chris Whitley, yet his lyrics avoid you from automatically considering Song Of The Blackbird as being derivative. Waits, in particular, uses many different locales in his songwriting while Whitmore seems content taking the time to find the muse off of the familiar gravel roads that he travels each day. This slow-cooked approach works thanks to the meager arrangements that he uses in each of the album’s nine tracks. And at clocking in at just a hair over thirty minutes, you’re never too full of his material to ask for seconds.
Iowa isn’t that big of a place to begin with, so it still bewilders me how a guy like me who prides himself on being fairly snobbish about music has overlooked Whitmore, particularly after heralding from the same stomping grounds. The only redemption left is to encourage you to take a closer look at your own backyard, and to take a look at what’s hiding in the cornfields of Iowa.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Black Sabbath/Heaven & Hell Reunion

I totally overlooked another reunion and a recent show on VH1 Classic reminded me of such.
Ronnie James Dio has gotten back together with Black Sabbath to revisit that era's material. The rub: they're not calling themselves "Black Sabbath," instead choosing to avoid a confrontation with the succubus known as Sharon Osbourne by naming the band after the line up's best album, Heaven & Hell.
I've got an appreciation for that record, as it surpasses many of the late-day Sabbath releases when Ozzy was still with the group. Hell, I'll even admit to enjoying some of the Dio-era Rainbow material and the occasional Dio album, particularly if I've had a few beers and feel like going "off to the witch."
Heaven & Hell are embarking on a too brief tour that takes them to the end of May and one that barely scrapes the Midwest. From what I understand, Megadeath is opening for them which would have been cool if it weren't for Dave Mustaine's continual reminders that he's a born again Christian.
Anyway, Heaven & Hell...fuck this shit...the Dio-era Black Sabbath spoke with Eddie Trunk on their special about the event. Apparently taped during the fall of '06, all three members seemed fairly cordial with each other and it was clear that their words (particularly Ronnie's) were carefully considered to the point where they sounded scripted.
Bill Ward is not in the reunion; It was my understanding that he was part of the initial rehearsals but then bowed out to let Vinny Appice take over the drum chair. It's been reported that Ward will be present for the original Black Sabbath reunion scheduled for sometime later.
Throughout the show, Trunk did a good job at trying to get the three parties to speak about their past differences. Specifically, the band was asked about the Live Evil release, and the tensions that arose from it. The story goes: the band got into a fight with Dio about some after hours mixing he was doing without the knowledge of Geezer, Tony, or Bill. When these three listened to the mix, they noticed that Dio's vocals had been mixed higher than what they were before, causing them to believe that he had redone several of the "live" vocals tracks in the studio.
Geezer gets the vote for funniest quote on the VH1 Classic special when he called the album "Live In The Studio Evil."
Ronnie immediately attempted to sway the conversation away from the bad memories by suggesting that all of those days were in the past. Geezer seemed to be bored during the entire interview and the member most likely to tell the truth on what really went down during Dio's sudden departure back in '82 after the Mob Rules tour.
Perhaps because of Dio's reluctance to spill the beans on Live Evil, Trunk never got around to asking about the events during the Dehumanizer tour from '92. Ozzy asked Black Sabbath to open for him during his final two shows of the No More Tears tour (incorrectly dubbed the "No More Tours" tour). Ronnie threw a fit, claiming that Black Sabbath wasn't an opening act for anyone and abruptly left the group.
The silver lining? They got Rob Halford to sing lead for them on those two shows and if anyone has a copy, you'll be my best friend if you send me one.
The VH1 Classic special showed some rehearsal footage of the band who seemed to be in fairly good form, despite Dio's frightening age. Seriously: the dude is like 65 years old and I don't care how many times he disputes the year of his birth, he looks over 60 regardless of how much make up you throw on him.
So yeah, I would totally be up for seeing Black Sabbath with Dio, regardless of how old Ronnie is, who's drumming, and what Sharon Osbourne is making us call them. You wouldn't get me to come early to see Mustaine's Bible Show or get me to buy the recent Black Sabbath compilation The Dio Years (which doesn't even have "Sign Of The Southern Cross" on it...Fuckers).
And for anyone that wants to dispute how good Sabbath was when R.J.D.'s little shrimp ass was singing for 'em, just pick up a copy of Heaven & Hell (the album, not the band, Jesus Christ I'm confused) and get back to me.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Glam-Racket Version 3.2

A quick note about some format changes; feel free to ignore this post if you don't give a shit.
I received some feedback regarding to "Why don't you have rating systems on some of the stuff you review?" which translates into "Look, I really don't want to read through your 500 word bullshit on the album. Just give me something easy to look at to figure out if it's any good or not."
Feedback taken!
So then became the entirely painful trial and error on various Html codes to get something clever in the rating system, before I craved a cigarette (I'm quitting. It sucks) until I found a fairly easy workaround.
Essentially, it's the same ol' "five star" system, which it's either that or start smoking again.
And packs of smokes are now around $5, so unless you fucktards start sending me money to maintain a habit that's sure to kill me, you're going to have to deal with the boring five star rating system.
Then, the cheat I am using shows up as blue over red stars (the first ones I used were a different color that you couldn't even see over the black page, which I actually like the look of since switching from the "Ye Ole Paper" look back when this shit started under another url) which looked completely gay against the font color I had been using.
And since Blogger has more blue choices than read, I went with a blue font to compliment the blue stars and kept the red color heading and....I'm really starting to sound gay now, aren't I?
I'll try to be more effective with the ratings by not falling back on the tried-and-true method of "Oh, just give it three stars and be done with it."
For arguments sake, the ratings are as follows:
0 Stars=Shit Sandwich.
1 Stars=I will make fun of you if I see it in your collection
2 Stars=Fair...but save face and save your money by ignoring it
3 Stars=Good...but also known as "results may vary"
4 Stars=Recommended. You're cool if you have it. Bring it up in conversations often.
5 Stars=Essential. Get it tomorrow and avoid ridicule by not having it in your collection.
There's the obligatory "1/2 star" factor for when I'm too much of a pussy to go either way on something.
I try not to rely too much on reposting reviews that I've done elsewhere, but on occasion, I'll repost it here simply because 1.) It's good enough to spread the word and 2.) Some readers travel here and can't figure out how to click on a link and go to another site because they've taken computer courses with my Grandmother. In the chance that I do repost a review here, I'll compliment it with an overall rating. Plus, there are times when you get bonus material with the reviews here; believe it or not, some places decide to edit the content of my shit (usually when I go on and on about stuff completely unrelated to the artist or album) and so some of the words are cut out of the final version. Now what this means to you is that you'll be getting the review exactly the way it was originally written; some of it may be subtle enough that you have to squint really hard to see it! Think of it as "bonus tracks" just for you, the dear followers of Glam-Racket.
For shits and giggles, I've gone back and applied ratings to all of the record reviews that I've done so far this year. Check it out if you're bored.
There are no plans to do this with live reviews, so fuck off and read it all.
Also of note: Buddyhead seems to have gotten their shit together and (finally) updated their content, so they've been re-added to the "Dig It" links.
Finally, would someone please contact VH1 Classic and tell them to stop running that fucking movie about Damn Yankees. I've really seen enough of Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, Ted Nugent, and the fucking drummer (who also happens to paint) to last a lifetime. Seriously, Ted Nugent hasn't had a decent album in thirty fucking years and, to top it off, he's a fucking creep. Hunting and politics aside, what kind of man thinks it's cool to become the legal guardian of a teenage girl with the sole intention of fucking her? Isn't this something that's constantly on those Dateline investigations now? Plus, the motherfucker is always dicking around on that retarded looking Ibanez with pointless noodling and incessant whammy-bar antics so much that it makes me angry. It even looks like (in some scenes) that Tommy Shaw gets annoyed with his pedarass antics.
Look, I know Jack Blades and Tommy Shaw have got some shitty little acoustic cover song album to promote to get the ladies wet one final time before they enter menopause, and I know that VH1 Classic is sponsoring their county fair tour to support it, but I don't need to be reminded of it by seeing live renditions of "Where You Goin' Now" and "Coming Of Age" a thousand times in the process. It pains me to admit this, but I'd be more tolerant if you cocksuckers would mix it up with the occasional Styx or Night Ranger concert even. You don't need to keep showing me the same fucking video over and over for some band that's neither "super" or a "group" any more.
I think it's totally hilarious that the band broke up after The Nuge figured that Damn Yankees was enough of a creative and commercial bounce to jump start his pathetic solo career. Dude, your "solo" career ended the same day you bounced Derek St. Holmes from your own band because you thought you could sing! You can't, hoss, and you've since been reduced to a caricature of what little glory you once had and are nothing more than a reality show buffoon with a diminishing audience and a tarnished legacy that could have been save if you knew when to shut the fuck up.
Which is exactly what I need to do right now...

Friday, April 6, 2007

Joy Division: Here Are The Young Men

It’s hard to imagine my life without Joy Division. By my calculations, however, at least half of my life was spent “joyless” while the last twenty have been under their depressive spell.
The initial exposure came on the turntable of a friend who fortunately brought a tremendously influential record collection with him to college. He tolerated my fairly milquetoast catalogue and unpretentiously advised me on how to make some necessary changes towards my perception of what alternative music really was. What I found out was that there was an “alternative” to my own “alternative” and a history that I still needed exposure to.
My knowledge of Manchester, England started and ended with The Smiths. But there was another Mancurian band as equally influential that the collegiate mentor introduced me to. The introduction came while he meticulously made mix tapes for other eager music students on campus. On many of these cassettes, he frequently included a song called “She’s Lost Control.”
Initially, the sparse arrangement and heavily reverbed vocals didn’t do it for me. It probably had something to do with the context of the song in relation to the other tracks on his compilations. Plus, the knowledge that New Order, a band I wasn’t really appreciative of at the time, actually formed from the ashes of Joy Division, it probably triggered my obligatory Midwestern mathematics of England + Synthesizers ≠ Rock. But when he made a mix tape that contained nothing but Joy Division tracks, it finally registered in me that this was a band of seminal importance and an unprecedented dark streak.
It might have helped that he told me about the circumstances surrounding Joy Division’s lead vocalist, Ian Curtis. After all, the idea of a young man committing suicide days before his band’s first U.S. tour seemed positively cool to a similarly aged college student without a clue on how he planned to handle to confines of adulthood.
While the appeal of Jim Morrison might indeed be a phase that every high-schooled kid goes through, the story of Ian Curtis should be required listening to any college student who’s a fan of real rock ‘n roll pathos.
Because the band only released 3 albums (1 posthumously), there was a challenge for my friend to fill a full 90 minute cassette of only Joy Division music. To make matters worse, we had both foolishly ingested a large amount of L.S.D. making simple tasks like pausing the tape and placing the needle on the track dividing grooves the mental equivalent of an algebraic equation.
Motor functions aside, the music provided a perfect soundtrack to the experience; within the grooves of those imports (Joy Division’s catalogue had yet to find a domestic label to release them) was a voice, perfectly captured by Martin Hannett’s outstanding production that seemed to legitimately live in the shadows it created.
“This is the crisis I knew had to come/Destroying the balance I kept” became the first Joy Division lyrics that I memorized. It happened because my friend put the song that those lyrics came from (“Passover” from Closer) on the Joy Division compilation tape no less than three or four times in his lysergic state. He did manage to juggle the source material, however (one version came from Closer while the other, a live version, came from the posthumous Still release), so perhaps it wasn’t an oversight, but an intentionally metaphoric gauge of our mental state that evening.
He wisely kept the completed results for himself and, years later, provided me a perfectly suited low-fidelity dub of it that challenges any compilation that Factory Records has put out.
There have been numerous examples of music that sound positively brilliant under psychedelic states (Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma being one that comes to mind) only to have the reality of their flaws come out after sobriety takes hold.
Joy Division wasn’t like that. In fact, they’re a band that most people can probably figure out without the addition of entheogenic substances, although a slight case of depression would most certainly aide in a listener’s comprehension of them.
It’s important for me to explain that, although the actual story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division certainly attracted me to the band’s music, the greater influence came from how honest the music was.
This is important to consider, particularly when examining bands that travel a fairly gothic path. Does Siouxsie Sioux look like that every day? Did Bauhaus really lament the death of Bela Lugosi? How does Sisters of Mercy adequately distance themselves from the Goth culture when they regularly make appearances in gothic festivals? Joy Division seemed to be the only band that was cut from the same cloth as their subject matter.
Curtis’ topics were dark because his opinions were fairly bleak. The day before he was set to tour America with his band for the first time, a dream that most bands would (metaphorically) die for, he quietly stayed home, watched Herzog’s “Stroszek” on TV, listened to Iggy Pop’s The Idiot, and then hung himself in the kitchen.
The band itself was comprised of fairly weak musicians, so they complemented the drawbacks with their strengths: bassist Peter Hook became the primary source of melody, drummer Stephen Morris used an array of percussion sources to widen the band’s tonal pallets, while guitarist Bernard Sumner expanded the group’s shadows by incorporating synthesizers into the mix which increased their insular imagery. These limitations may have produced some fairly dismal results in the wrong hands, but for Joy Division, the end result was an honest representation of a fairly bleak outlook on living during the end of the twentieth century.
All of this was helped with Ian Curtis perfectly executing his haunting baritone and evocative lyrics. To this day, I am taken at how he consistently amazed me as a songwriter and how he was able to do it at such a young age.
With everything combined, the end results are perfectly captured on their two studio albums (Unknown Pleasures and Closer) and various outtakes (available on the Heart And Soul box set), but what is sorely lacking is live material that eloquently captures how good the band could be on stage. I’m going off of personal accounts here, as some of the live recordings (a lot are of extremely poor fidelity) do capture the band in peak performances, but they don’t transcend the band much.
Perhaps it’s a case of “you had to be there,” and eye-witness accounts certainly point to this. From them, one can only imagine of the band, dressed in almost business casual attire, plugging away with efficient precision allowing your eyes to focus on Curtis.
And what a vision that must have been:

“Curtis, who suffered from epilepsy, would often have onstage tonic-clonic seizures that resulted in unconsciousness and convulsions, or absence seizures that would cause brief trance-like pauses.”

Unfortunately, video footage of Joy Division is hard to come by, so fans like me have to settle on written recollections and (perhaps) the upcoming biopic from Anton Corbijn to help satisfy the desire to learn more about this incredibly mysterious band.
As it stands, live audio proof is frustratingly limited and the quality of it is quickly diminishing.
Like that has ever stopped me before.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Eric Clapton - Live Review

Eric Clapton
The Mark of the Quad Cities
April 4, 2007

The last time I saw Eric Clapton was April 20, 1990. The reason I know this is because I saved the ticket stub for the show. The show wasn’t very good. The reason I know this is because I wrote “yawn” on the ticket stub for the show.
Admittedly, the 80’s almost completely eliminated E.C. from my vocabulary, thanks to some worthless Phil Collins-produced albums and, what I felt, was a blatant attempt at trading in his guitar virtuosity for mainstream appeal.
The show was filled with an immaculate band that played Clapton’s notable history to boring perfection. I’m not sure how others perceived their experience with the rest of the tour supporting the Journeyman album, but for me it was bad enough to deface the ticket stub (something I don’t normally do) and bad enough for me to write off Clapton completely until he redeemed himself with the blues album From The Cradle several years later.
I should add that I ingested a large amount of psilocybin mushrooms on the way to the concert, so even the sound of amplifier feedback would’ve sounded like angelic voices. Instead, my psychedelic nirvana was hampered by live versions of “Bad Love,” a bald headed percussionist who mugged for the crowd the entire evening, and a legendary guitarist who seemed content on going through the motions while most of the sold out crowd failed to even notice it. But for me, even the mushrooms couldn’t prevent me from seeing how completely devoid of soul his solos were on that spring evening.
Four months later, Eric Clapton was scheduled to perform at Alpine Valley with Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Several friends encouraged me to go with them to this formidable blues summit but since I had seen Clapton just months prior, and since I didn’t enjoy his performance, I declined. It was a decision I regret now; the Alpine Valley shows were the last ones that Stevie Ray Vaughn ever performed. Immediately after the final show, Vaughn died in a helicopter crash on the ski slope as it lifted off to take him to Chicago.
So now you’re up to speed on my disappointment with live Clapton.
Fast forward to nearly seventeen years later and another chance to witness Slowhand’s greatness. Or would it be another disappointment worthy enough to deface another ticket stub.
With just a few weeks left to go on his current tour, Clapton brought his latest band to a (nearly) sold out show at The Mark in Moline, Illinois. Strike one came at the expense of some fairly shitty acoustics as The Mark is one of those concrete arenas in which the sound literally bounces off the cavernous walls regardless of who’s performing.
Robert Cray opened up with a fairly inspired short set; it’s, admittedly, been years since I’ve even thought about Cray, but judging from the number of filled seats throughout his set, there was a large Robert contingency present and they were fully appreciative of his efforts.
After a quick set change, complete with a Persian rug for the headliner’s 62 year old feet, the sparse stage was ready for Slowhand.
Amazingly powered by some fairly small Fender Custom Shop Tweed Twin Amps (at least from my vantage point), Eric arrived with only five musicians backing him.
Strike two: this phase of the ’07 tour is without guitar wunderkind Derek Trucks who left a few weeks prior to return to the Allman Brothers fold. That left six string duties to be shared by Clapton and Doyle Bramhall II.
Bramhall, who befriended the Vaughn brothers when he was a teenager back in Austin, also shared some lead vocal duties throughout the evening and he seemed fairly comfortable in all of his roles.
For some, the very idea of Clapton sharing lead guitar work with someone else may seem like a sign of him growing old or getting lazy. The truth is: Clapton has always worked best in the presence of other great guitar players. Some of his best soloing on Layla…And Other Assorted Love Songs came because he was working with Duane Allman in the studio, and a lot of the show’s material was (thankfully) pulled from that landmark album.
It was a real treat to watch Clapton work with an unconventional guitarist like Bramhall, who fails to change his own, more rock-derived style to accommodate one of the greatest blues guitarists ever. The interplay between them was respectful, unique, and a real joy to behold. The best way to describe it is to compare it to an almost highbrow jam band feel; neither of the guitarists went beyond into “the noodle,” but both appeared to be having fun with their extended soloing.
It wasn’t until later that I realized that if Derek Trucks happened to be present with these two guitarists, we may have seen less of Clapton’s own soloing. As it was, Eric stepped up accordingly and dished out some masterstrokes throughout the evening.
Some of the evening’s most rewarding songs came during the “sit down set” where Eric and the band pulled out the acoustic instruments and treated to the crowd to some organic blues material.
But the evening’s highlight came with a stunning rendition of “Little Wing” in which Clapton’s solo seemed to be channeling the ghost of both Hendrix and Vaughn in the guise of his own distinctive style.
Part of the reason why the evening was so enjoyable had to do with the blues-oriented material chosen for this tour. This was not a set that catered to the people who wanted to hear a rundown of Eric’s greatest hits. Obviously, there were a lot of disappointed people who, as my friend overheard one woman state, wanted to hear more material from Time Pieces, his best-of compilation from 1982.
It seems that, in light of his recent studio stiffs (Back Home and the collaboration with J.J. Cale The Road To Escondido both failed to sell as good as expected) that Eric may be settling on the idea to enter into his twilight years as a true journeyman. Rather than cater to the demands of what a few fringe fans may want to hear, he’s chosen to travel down a road that provides him with his own musical fulfillment.
If he continues to do this, I won’t wait another seventeen years before I see him again.

Tell The Truth
Key To The Highway
Got to Get Better in A Little While
Little Wing
Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad
Sit Down Set
-Driftin' (EC Solo)
-Outside Woman Blues
-Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
-Running On Faith
Motherless Children
Little Queen of Spades
Further On Up The Road
Wonderful Tonight
Crossroads (with Robert Cray)