Saturday, September 29, 2007

Turn Off The Bright Lights-The Fall Of The New York City Promise

It’s official. Thanks to the stunningly mediocre Our Love To Admire, the final New York band from the Class of 01 released an album that failed to come anywhere near the former genius of prior releases.
You see, I am one of those that consider Interpol, The Strokes, and The Mooney Suzuki all released albums of near-perfect status. Sure, all three bands were derivative as fuck and all received their fair share of hyperbole, press, and accolades early into their career.
While sustaining this kind of immediate praise is admittedly impossible, it shouldn’t account for the fact that not one of these aforementioned bands could even hint at their former consistency.
In other words: stick a fork in the entire early aught N.Y.C. rock revival movement.
It’s done.
I’m sure there’s a ton a great bands still hammering away in that city, but the three bands (four if you count the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I suppose) that held the most promise and demonstrated the most ability to lead have systematically, album after album, let us down with their failure at ushering in the next New York City heroes that were supposed to take over the former shakers that maintained underground adulation with commercial acceptance. Shame on me for considering that The Strokes were going to take those catchier Velvet Underground moments and smack the public around with John Cale’s viola bow. How dumb of me to believe that Interpol may’ve been able to lift a nifty Television guitar phrase and turn it into a heavy rotation favorite. And how silly to think that The Mooney Suzuki’s fist emblem would find itself hanging in suburban Hot Topics, spawning a clique of poseurs set on kicking out the jams for all the motherfuckers.
I was ready and waiting for all three of those bands to make the transition, to leave the nest, as it were, and I was fairly certain from recognizing the greatness of Is This It? or Turn On The Bright Lights or Electric Sweat that these would be the bands that could accomplish such a thing.
So why weren’t they able to?
The Strokes were not only victims of over-saturation, they demonstrated an uncanny ability to contribute to it. With Random Notes snapshot of late night exploits and the obligatory Drew Barrymore handjobs, these brats were able to take sour grape dissings of silver spoon upbringings and turn it into legitimate dissings of silver spoon upbringings. I mean, you don’t let Drew Barrymore anywhere near your cock until album number three.
And they almost immediately followed up Is This It? with a charming repeat (Room On Fire) before succumbing to the “You guys need to demonstrate versatility.” armchair quarterbacks that prompted First Impressions Of Earth.
Interpol managed to initiate their fall from grace fairly quickly after Turn On The Bright Lights; they too chose to replicate the formula of their debut for album number two (Antics) while sounding polished, commercial, and utterly uninspired for album three. If you believed the band’s notoriety for mystery and style, then it must have been tragic to watch them wallow in half-baked and utterly transparent directions that have as much chance of gaining a wider audience as Ian Curtis setting foot in America.
And then there’s The Mooney Suzuki who released the awfully shitty Alive & Amplified with the still awfully shitty Have Mercy. I’m still on the fence about if teaming up with the Matrix on Alive & Amplified was a ballsy decision or an incredibly stupid one, but I do know that the end result was a soul-less endeavor from a band that used soul as a primary selling point.
So now all three bands have a pair of albums since their last acknowledged highpoints and I’ve come to the decision that maybe that’s all we’re really going to hear from each one of them, in terms of certifiable and universally regarded releases.
I played each one of those aforementioned albums and was immediately brought back to the point where I felt something special was about to happen with them (or to them) and I eagerly awaited their next release.
Now, I’ve learned that I know longer need to be eagerly awaiting anything by The Strokes, Interpol, or The Mooney Suzuki. Instead, I’ve learned to stay clear of their falling marquees.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Blonde Redhead - 23

Seven years ago, Blonde Redhead made their transition from no-wave revisionists to more accessible art rockers with their album Melody Of Certain Damaged Lemons. I will confess to initially balking at this transition, seemingly pouting at the very idea and spitefully avoiding the album for several months before finally appreciating its quiet, melodic moments.
If you’ve made your own peace with that album, and if you’ve gone on to value the band’s continued shift towards genial arrangements on Misery Is A Butterfly, then you’ve adequately prepared yourself for their latest transition into dreampop territory. The evolution is entirely believable as 23 stands as not only Blonde Redhead’s most accessible album to date, but their best as well.
What makes it work so well is how comfortable they sound within this sub-genre: lush guitars swirls around the arrangements while vocalist Kazu Makino has found a perfect backdrop to place her ethereal voice. Elaborate electronic treatments find their place in every cut as well, managing to provide each song with added depth and trippy hypnotics.
Makino’s lyrics remain nearly indecipherable, occasionally finding some repetitive moments during the chorus to mumble your own phonetics to, while guitarist/vocalist Amedeo Pace finds himself fronting some of the album’s most memorable tracks.
His take on “Publisher” may be the album’s highlight: beginning with a slow Joy Division synthesizer/piano introduction before spinning faster into another whirl of guitars and building percussion. Amedeo examines a family’s inability to communicate with each other, hitting hard during the chorus (Say what/You say/Say it like you can’t say it/To my face/And say what you know/What you once said”) while Makino briefly stops in with a little “Cat’s In The Cradle” philosophy (“Change your heart/Cause I’m already spoken for”).
Kazu’s highpoint comes with “Silently, which gets the nod for the “Most Likely To Be The First Single” award. She manages to channel both Debbie Harry and Lush’s Miki Berenyl simultaneously, while the Pace brothers create some approachable textures that have never been explored by the band before.
This is a polite way of saying that Blonde Redhead are starting to pursue a direction that may reward them with additional recognition. And before long-time Redhead hipsters dismiss this direction and decry the band’s blatant attempts at gaining a wider audience, they need to consider the source and recognize that the band’s curio is still firmly in place. This won’t be the album that breaks Blonde Redhead into the mainstream; this is the album that prepares the mainstream for them.
At its core, 23 remains an ambitious album that serves both as a career defining moment for the band and one that will provide them with years of new sonic strategies to consider.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A to the D - The Renegade Jew

I saw some fucked up shit during my time in radio (seeing Question Mark’s tighty whities bunched over the waistband of his gold lamé pants), but I heard even more fucked up shit.
In addition to the major label stuff we received at the station, we’d also get a lot of independent stuff too. And I’m not talking SST or Touch & Go indie; I’m talking shit like Timmy T and worse, stuff on the verge of obscene in terms of its limited budget artwork and barely out of the basement production values.
While I understand that this sort of homespun thing is the stuff of screenplays (Coal Miner’s Daughter immediately comes to mind), the reality is much different. 99.9% of the shit is exactly that: feces. I mean the worst music that you could ever imagine at times.
And then there were those songs that were so bad that they were awesome.
There was one song that came to mind recently, to the point where I’m not even sure what parts of my memory were fabricated over time and which ones were legitimate.
One such trainwreck of a song ran across my desk in the early 90’s. The artwork seemed to promote the notion that the music was from the country’s first hardcore Jewish rapper. The music seemed to promote the notion that this was anything but the first hardcore Jewish rapper. The song, “The Renegade Jew” was the world’s first Jewish comedy album that was un-intentially conceived as a rap album
The artist, known as A To The D, later proved to be much too old to be dabbling in rap music and judging from the lyrical content of “The Renegade Jew” he wasn’t much of a wordsmith either.
With lines that try to balance between violent bravado and sexual superiority, the lyrics “When I was born they cut an inch off my dick/That’s sick!/Still it’s really thick” have haunted me for over a decade now.
So I scoured the internet for some evidence about this forgotten radio promo jem and learned that my memory was fairly on: there was a “Renegade Jew” and he was known as A To The D. I also learned that the dude was much too old to be doing that shit.
I also learned that the motherfucker ended up in the joint, which may actually add a little to the thug factor.

From "The Black Table"

He'd developed the handle of "A-to-the-D," a kind of alternative to the nickname
"Awesome Dave" he'd earned while knocking out opponents in Gleason's Gym. Rude
Boy Records, a small label that was negotiating with Wu-Tang Clan in their early
days, opted to release "The Renegade Jew" since Lawrence had the ability to pay
for his own press and publicity. Lawrence wrote countless personal checks in
order to bring his new hobby to the masses.
"I spent roughly $300,000 of my own money trying to do it; my wife thinks I spent more," Lawrence said.
He promoted the crap out of his EP. He appeared on Crazy Sam's video music show
with Naughty By Nature, Doug E. Fresh, Fat Joe, Biz Markee, Method Man and
Redman. He also appeared on New York's Hot 97 radio with Snoop Doggy Dogg. He
had advertisements in The Source and struck a deal with SPIN magazine to send
off a copy of "The Renegade Jew" to all their subscribing households on Long
Island. There was no commercial success, but Lawrence said he did receive plenty
of letters from kids inviting him to perform at their bar mitzvah parties.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Mary My Hope - Suicide Kings

Not only did I go through 2, count ‘em, two copies of Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking when it was released, I started looking for similar, progressive-minded metal acts that could fill the void until the band released Ritual de lo Habitual.
During that time, I came across the Atlanta, GA band Mary My Hope.
Initially, I wasn’t that impressed; I spent some time with M.M.H.’s debut (and only release) Museum which seemed too tame to rival Jane and too polished to move me.
But the follow up to Museum, an e.p. (or “cd5” or “maxi-single,” depending on those novel formats that record labels used to come up with) suddenly brought me some newfound interest in the band.
The Suicide Kings e.p. features one of Museum’s best moments, “Monster Is Bigger Than The Man,” a couple of non-album tracks and a couple of live tracks. The new material and live recordings address every complaint that I had about the debut and it shows M.M.H. in a much better, rawer light.
Leader James Hall is responsible for much of this, wailing with a possession that sounds like he’s in front of a large audience. It isn’t until you hear him mention that he saw a cockroach scurry across his amp and hear the sparse applause after killing his voice that you realize he’s in a small club.
The key is: he doesn’t care.
Sadly, Mary My Hope disbanded shortly after Suicide Kings and they had a chance to see other bands mining similar elements achieve success in just a few short years. But even if a band like Smashing Pumpkins was able to hit at a more appropriate time, their success was paved by the bands who braved small clubs and large insects, motivated only by the energy created through their (then) out-of-step music.
Appropriately heavy and wonderfully Bowie-esque, Mary My Hope remains one of those bands that may have eventually found success if they could only have found a way to stay together during those years of public indifference.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Okkervil River - Live Review

Before Okkervil River’s set at The Picador in Iowa City Saturday night, the band (including opener Damien Jurado) set up their wares at a make-shift merchandise area towards the back of the club. The merch table was actually a bar where you normally place your beer if there wasn’t a bunch of people trying to sell their shit.
So amid the copies of vinyl copies of The Stage Names, a drunken patron and her equally drunk boyfriend became deep in conversation with, of all people, the sound guy for Okkervil River. She raised her thin frame up on to the bar precariously close to open cups of draft beer and limited edition vinyl; I knew immediately what was going to happen. For some reason, the sound guy didn’t ponder the disastrous results that could occur and he soon became “the guy that didn’t ask the drunk chick to get down from the bar before she spilled beer on the records.” When she finally knocked over her draft, it was while explaining to the sound guy that Iowa had the “largest per capita population” of something.
I think I’ve been around conversations like that, so I’m fairly sure the population being discussed was “cows.”
Welcome to Iowa!
There were a lot more drunk people at the Okkervil River show, mainly boys, and most them looked like English majors. These well-read kids know a good pensmith when they hear one, and based on the number of thrift store cardigans in attendance, there’s a little hero worship going on too. They began screaming out songtitles as their literary mentor climbed on stage from the nearly sold out crowd and then matched him, word for word, throughout the entire performance, often challenging the lead singer in terms of sheer volume.
Will took off his glasses and called the room to order.
“Let’s start with our best foot forward.” He said, launching the band’s set with the awesome “Plus Ones.”
The band, looking like studiously coiffed and bearded Ragstock models, often utilized more than one instrument during the songs and they played musical chairs on The Picador’s relatively small stage just to complete the right arrangements.
Sheff relayed a story about the venue’s infamously precarious backstage stairs which nearly “killed” him during a load out a few years ago along with another story from that same night which had him dropping trou during the band’s set for reasons never fully explained. Sheff kept his pants up throughout the performance on Saturday, and he sported a fetching Johnny Marr-just-slept-in looking haircut which was a hit among the ladies up front.
No wonder the guys with dates kept a tight grip on their ladies: this Will Sheff dude could totally steal some hearts if he wasn’t such a pussy.
They’ve upgrade The Picador since Okkervil River last played there: the back stairs aren’t as treacherous and you can cram another few people in without the fire marshal being called. The Okkervil River audience has upgraded in numbers as well; they’re a band on the verge of moving beyond their “midlevel” status (“Unless It Kicks”) and reaching recognition much larger than this 150 capacity room could handle in the future. It’s nice to be able to see a band with such larger expectations in a venue like this, particularly how they interact with such an intimate audience, knowing that the show tomorrow is in a room that holds five times more people.
They reacted with an intensity that is both heartfelt and loose: every heavy-handing expression that Sheff made seemed sincere and drunk enough while every solo and cold ending the band delivered seemed perfectly road-tested. The intimacy may have prompted a few more bottles of Grain Belt between them and, as a result, a few more sloppy fills, but it was perfect for a high-humidity room that was heavily infiltrated by people with lots of Grain Belt already in them too.
They used a set list that will become perfected in the next few weeks before it starts to lose that unpredictable element. There’s still a sense that Will and the band could caterwaul out of control at any moment, but after a few more weeks of seeing how much impact The Stage Names has made, you’ll probably notice the theatrics and posturing come to an end, replaced completely by repetitive professionalism.
But today, they’re still the beer drinking buddies, those hopelessly romantic bookworms that front a band on the verge of becoming something much bigger.


Plus Ones
Lady Liberty
Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe
Unless It Kicks
A Hand To Take Hold At The Scene
Song Of Our So Called Friend
For Real
All The Latest Toughs
No Key No Plan
Girl In Port
Don’t Know Much
The President’s Dead
Last Love Song For Now

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Jake E. Lee Live At Guitar Center

Thanks to YouTube and the watchful eye of a GloNo regular, some ingenious dude has matched guitar heros with recording of awful soloing. Masterfully dubbed, may I suggest the triple-neck work of Steve Vai? The Eddie Van Halen is delightful! But for my money, the Jake E. Lee performance (and Ozzy's lone clapping above a recording of an indifferent audience) is my personal favorite.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Leave Britney Alone, Bitch!

I’m almost sorry about publicly admitting that I didn’t mind the new Britney single “Gimmie More.” As far as Top 40 goes: it’s catchy, it’s club-y, it may have brought a comeback of sorts for Ms. Spears who really needed a comeback and needed credibility even more.
That credibility crashed during her uber-shitty performance on a irrelevant award show on an irrelevant “music” channel. Clearly, Britney lacked any semblance of passion as she sleepwalked through the dance moves and lip-synching.
By the end, she didn’t even care enough to try.
Even though the actual show she was on was irrelevant, her performance was talked about enough that the movers-and-shakers in the industry will probably discard her as the packaged service that she truly was.
And here I was, for a moment, believing that perhaps Ms. Spears had taken some control (as in using Janet Jackson’s blueprint of the same name) and began a real career in the industry instead of being a pawn in it.
But no, and it has nothing to do with her weight (which is all people seem to be talking about even though she looked great after two kids).
It has everything to do with demonstrating that she’s a credibile artist.
And if she doesn’t give a shit about her career than why should we.

In other surprising news, I’ve hinted at some Top 40 love for one Justin Timberlake but it wasn’t until seeing the Future Love Sex concert on HBO the other night and, let me tell you, this kid is going places!
But seriously, it was the type of performance (killer band, choreography, costume changes, big production values, etc.) that made you want to be part of the event, even if that meant sharing some floorspace with thousands of screaming girls would probably missed half of the complexities happening on stage.
And at center stage was a man on the verge of becoming a long term star; Timberlake seems to understand the role of “credibility” when he plants himself behind a guitar, keyboard (or, no shit, keytar during one song) because he wants you naysayers to know that he’s working on improving his image.
Unlike Britney, I believe Timberlake had a passion about his performance and his music. He’s obviously hired some top-notch musicians to help him execute this, but for him to feel the need to actually use an instrument himself is pretty admirable, particularly when most of those in the audience would have been content with him shaking his ass and lip-synching.

OCD Chronicles: Ratt "Lay It Down"

For reasons known only to me and my therapist, I downloaded every single original Ratt album and set about making the most awesome Ratt compilation ever. It contained selections from the band’s rough-sounding e.p. and followed their career all the way to the album they were able to get a gold certificate for.
While putting this compilation together, it struck me how limited this band really was. It seemed that every album was cut from exactly the same cloth: a couple catchy-as-fuck pop metal tunes surrounded by also-rans.
A lot of the problem was because Steven Pearcy has a notoriously limited range…As in, he can only hit about three notes and those three sounds suspiciously alike. So that placed a lot of the band’s burden on guitarist Warren DeMartini.
Sometime, and I’m sure that Mr. DeMartini knows exactly the time and place he came up with it, he created a riff of such bad-assed structure and tone that it’s a crime that he’s even associated with a perceived hair metal outfit like Ratt.
The riff he came up with is the one that is found on “Lay It Down” from their Invasion Of Your Privacy album.
Coming off the heels of the mega-successful Out Of The Cellar, Invasion tried to emulate the entire formula of the band’s debut. While the band did manage to find success with it, you can see a clear reduction in the band’s overall sales with each subsequent album. It’s as if the fans slowly started to understand “Hey, this sounds just like the last one.” before dropping their support entirely.
But “Lay It Down” may be the band’s (certainly DeMartini’s) peak and I’ve been playing it with equal amounts of nostalgia and admiration. Not to the point where I actually want to run out and buy a Ratt album (the comp I made is already showing signs of fatigue) or would I really care to see their announced reunion tour (read: Pearcy is back with them after figuring out that nothing he does outside of Ratt will bank as much as his original band). I’m simply getting a kick from hearing perhaps one of the best guitar riffs to ever emerge from the Sunset Strip.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

More Notes On Rush

Because this was my first Rush concert, there’s a few additional bonus tracks to speak on.

  • First of all, my cousin and I agree that all Rush merchandise going forward must include the old logo font, the pentagram, and the naked dude. It’s iconic, and after thirty plus years of this shit, the band needs to start thinking in terms of joining the ranks of the Stones, the Dead, or Triumph.
  • There are very few chicks that go to Rush concerts. There are even fewer at Judas Priest concerts.
  • To the dude that created some of Rush’s computer generated videos: USA networks called and want their Commodore 64 back. Christ. If that’s the best you can come up with, just throw on the lasers and smoke machine instead.
  • Bob and Doug McKenzie look old. I mean really old. I mean the make-up was horrifically noticeable during their video introduction and the bit wasn’t even that funny. Nostalgia wins though; Bob and Doug McKenzie are still cool, and the introduction was better than “Brother Bear.”
  • Lose the pyrotechnics fellas. That shit came across as unnecessary and silly.
  • Alex Lifeson is an awesome guitarist. For years I wondered why he always appeared on top of those yearly guitar magazine polls, but after seeing him live, I understand. Precise and controlled, Lifeson pulled off some incredible solos and did it with soul and confidence.
  • Geddy Lee is a badass. He plays two instruments at once while I can barely play one.
    I was recently informed through a comment at Glorious Noise on my concert review that those were, in fact, real rotisserie chicken ovens. The mics were a gag as Lee plugs directly into the board or somethin’.
  • “Subdivisions” is a fucking awesome tune.
  • “YYZ” was fucking great.
  • “Spirit of the Radio” was fucking incredible.
  • The crowd would get louder every time Geddy did one of those famous Geddy Lee wails. His voice has gotten less irritating over the years, but he can still destroy eardrums if desired.
  • The new material sounded really good live, but then again, most of the shit they did sounded really good.
  • These dudes are incredibly wealthy. Their live show reflects how they’ve achieved their wealth: through their live shows. None of them give a shit how much Snakes & Arrows sell because their banking six figures with every single show.
  • Even the roadies are nerds: most of them hung around the stage and listened to the band during the set. Not because they had to; because they wanted to.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rush - Live Review

I told a coworker last week, a twenty-something woman who works in my department, that I was taking Monday off to recuperate from the weekend.
“What are you going to do?” She asked.
“I’m going to go see Rush!” I said, with a certain amount of anticipation and pride.
“Who’s that?” She wondered, with absolute seriousness.
This shocked me more than my wife’s friend who, upon learning my same plans asked the question “They’re still alive?”
At least the friend acknowledged some understanding of the band, who they were and how long they’ve been around.
After three decades, I’d never been to a Rush concert. I was a fan and, strangely enough, the band had even played a significant role as the soundtrack during one of my first sexual explorations ever. It’s inappropriate, I know, but I hadn’t been exposed to Roxy Music’s Avalon at the time, so give me a break.
I started to distance myself from the band around the time when I became pretentious about music and started to care about things like Brian Eno-era Roxy Music and how Rush’s added synthesizer works to their mid-80’s output seemingly neutered the band from any hint of their former power-trio bravado. The band would later return to their more guitar-oriented formula, but by then I was even further away from the playlist of the classic rock station.
After a bit of middle age nostalgia and a strong album of new material, I considered the exorbitant ticket prices (the seats, about thirty rows back from center stage, had a face value of $90) of Rush’s Snakes & Arrows tour to finally check out a band that had played a vital part in my own upbringing.
The experience provided me with the realization that, perhaps, the bands that I held in high regard during junior high weren’t that embarrassing; that those three Canadians could still manage to fill the 28,000 capacity First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre in Chicago for a very good reason:
They can fucking play.
I understand how divisive it is being a Rush fan; you either love them or you don’t, and there is very little room for middle ground. They also seem to be more of a “man’s band” and they predominately male audience that I encountered probably outnumbered the ladies about three-to-one. With that being said, the attractive and professional looking woman in her early thirties that had a seat next to me new the words to every song in the band’s three hour set including the new material. And the two middle age ladies standing behind me started screaming “Wooo Hooo!” when the band started playing “Natural Science,” certainly not one of Rush’s most popular songs, in the middle of their second set.
In other words: the chicks that were in attendance were hardcore fans themselves and would surpass me in their knowledge and overall admiration of the band.
Chicago is a special place for Rush (they recorded their 1998 live album Different Stages at this same venue), but the band deviated little from their already established 28 song long playlist that is broken up between two sets. The first set, introduced with a comedic dream sequence video starring Alex, Geddy and Neil show over three HD screens hanging over center stage, contained 11 songs, randomly lifted from the band’s 18 album deep catalog.
While the band admirably focused on the material from Snakes & Arrows, the crowd didn’t seem to mind it; the audience was extremely generous towards these songs and the band executed them with fire and enthusiasm.
The band’s Permanent Waves album is the second highest source of material for this tour, and that decision worked well for me. Permanent Waves is one of my favorite Rush albums ever as it signaled the band’s second major shift in sound while producing some of their most recognizable songs (“The Spirit of the Radio,” “Freewill”).
Those aforementioned tracks, along with Moving Pictures’ “Limelight” and “Tom Sawyer,” Signals’ “Subdivisions” and 2112s “Passage To Bangkok” proved to be the night’s most recognizable songs. Everything else, it seemed, was chosen to provide the band’s loyal followers with a chance at catching something not regularly performed.
Snakes & Arrows three instrumental tracks, along with the wordless “YYZ” from Moving Pictures made an appearance, hinting that the band felt the need to address their own increase ages and its effect on their dexterity. While noticeably older looking, none of the band sounded a bit winded as they showed off their impeccable chops that’s been mined from over three decades of performances.
To complement the band’s notoriously famous un-photogenic image, the show is supplemented with obligatory lasers and other lighting highjinks along with smoke machines, flashpots, and some woefully lame computer-generated imagery. When the video director wasn’t dazzling the crowd with circa-1982 visuals, they were at least acknowledging the era with a Bob & Doug McKenzie song introduction and band-created vignettes. The best one came from the courtesy of South Park’s “Lil’ Rush” cartoon where Cartman gets Tom Sawyer confused with Huckleberry Finn before being corrected by Kyle.
The band members also managed to provide the crowd with a few visuals themselves.
Geddy Lee, dressed in black t-shirt, black jeans, and Chuck Taylors, worked the frets of the various Fender basses used during the show while returning to his familiar black and white Rickenbacker bass for one song, “The Spirit of the Radio.” His rig was built into rotisserie chicken ovens, labeled as a “Henhouse” brand, complete with rotating chickens cooking inside of their glass doors. The amps (which appear to be fully functional, as each one was individually mic’d towards the bottom) stood about six feet high and were maintained by roadies would occasionally don a chef’s hat and come out on stage to brush the chicken with butter and seasonings.
Alex Lifeson looked smartly dressed in blue jeans and a dark button-down shirt while sporting what appeared to be wrestling tennis shoes. A barrage of Barbie dolls surrounded his stage monitors, with arms raised, mocking him as the only female fans that the guitarist of Rush has probably seen during his tenure. On top of his guitar stacks were dozens of toy dinosaurs, perhaps addressing the fact that Rush has, indeed, reached a level of dinosaurian proportions from not only their style of music, but their median ages as well. As Geddy himself addressed it as they went into the intermission after the first set. “We’re old.”
And then there’s Neil Peart, the man responsible for some of the band’s most head-scratching lyrical moments and for the, literally, thousands of air-drumming worshippers in attendance would stood slack jawed at each impossibly complex fill and/or tempo change.
Playing behind a beautiful crimson red DW kit embossed with the Snakes & Arrow log, his riser rotated during the drum solo after “Malignant Narcissism” to reveal an electronic kit behind his acoustic. After a curious blend of acoustic and electronic drum soloing, a pre-recorded segment of big band music played, allowing Peart to play along to the styles of his idol Buddy Rich, while black and white video footage of some of those swing-era drum heroes were projected on the screen. After one impossibly difficult fill at the end of “Summertime Blues” (with more Blue Cheer influence than The Who, surprisingly as Peart’s acknowledged Keith Moon as one of his influences), the drummer slumped over as if his heart had stopped before cracking a rare smile at his band mates who were awaiting the final cymbal crash.
There was an obvious respect and admiration towards each other throughout the show. Lifeson uttered a few words of “nicely done” into Geddy’s ear after some tight, low-end riffing while Lee himself sat down off of stage left to watch Peart’s entire drum solo.
It was a display of camaraderie that rivaled that of those in attendance, many of whom brought their own children in the hopes that their idol worship would somehow be passed along to a new generation.
At the same time, that kind of “family outing” made it fairly uncomfortable for someone like me who planned on smoking a perfectly rolled joint during “Natural Science” to get “prepared” for Peart’s upcoming drum solo, only to become the recipient of the angry glares from parent’s shielding their children from the smell of marijuana second hand smoke.
In an act of unprecedented uncoolness, I forgot the lighter in the car and nobody, I mean NOBODY around me seemed to be holding a source of fire. I guarantee you that wasn’t the case whenever first toured in support of Permanent Waves; those seats would have been wafting in the stench of weed. It didn’t really matter to the music and I’m sure my forgetfulness raised my standing among the middle agers (and I’m one of them) in attendance.
Christ, I’m old enough now that the security guard didn’t even frisk me coming into the amphitheatre; I could have brought a three-foot bong in their and he wouldn’t have even noticed!
We may have been old, but goddamn it, we were in impressively large numbers that evening, revisiting our past and admiring the spunk of a power trio who still seemed focused on carrying on, regardless of perception or lack of critical recognition.
I understand how Rush’s impact may be overlooked among the younger generation (Snakes & Arrows is proving to be one of the band’s worst selling studio albums), but there’s still plenty of fans for them to bank upon for a few more years of large stadium tours and, God bless ‘em, if they want to mount their undertakings on the back of a barely noticed studio album.
While I may have first learned about Rush during junior high, I also learned a few other things, like how the dinosaurs ruled the Earth for a very long time.
And last Saturday night, I got a chance to see how dinosaurs ruled the Earth again.

Set One
Introduction Video - Dream Sequence with Alex and Neil followed by Geddy and his Scottish Counterpart

Digital Man
Entre Nous
The Main Monkey Business
The Larger Bowl (with Bob & Doug McKenzie introduction)
Secret Touch
Between The Wheels

Set Two
Introduction Video - The Alex/Leela Board Rant

Far Cry
Workin' Them Angels
Armor And Sword
The Way The Wind Blows
Natural Science
Witch Hunt
Malignant Narcissism
Drum Solo
Summertime Blues
The Spirit of Radio
Tom Sawyer (with South Park/Lil' Rush introduction)

One Little Victory
A Passage to Bangkok

This article originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Rush - Snakes & Arrows

For over 30 years, Rush has endured their share of career-long criticism ranging from everything from Geddy Lee’s vocal ability to Neil Peart’s penchant for overblown lyricism.
But maybe the critics should consider the lineage that the band has never attempted to hide from ever since their debut album back in 1974. When one considers this, Rush has held true to the modern-rock ethos of what constitutes “power trio” format (proggressive bent jamming over weighty themes) and, remarkably, they have done so with their large fan base in place.
For their 18th studio album, Snakes & Arrows, Rush remain steadfast to the formula that provided them with gold and platinum awards and sold out venues each time they hit the road.
Even the title itself is indicative of the headspace that provides fans with literary insight and critics with additional ammunition. “Snakes & Arrows” is loosely based on a game created by Buddhist saints and sages called “Leela.” When a Leela dice is rolled, the player moves around the board. The places on the board represent various stages of consciousness or existence, and the player can be brought to higher levels via “arrows” and to lower ones through “snakes.” If the premise sounds familiar, it’s because the game found its way to America under a more suitable name for Western tastes: Chutes & Ladders.
If that much forethought was put in simply coming up with a fucking title for the album, imagine what these Canadians worked out with the music.
Rush circa 2007 is pretty much the same sound that fans have been accustomed too since ditching their misguided synthesizer tinkerings in the mid-to-late 80’s. Snakes & Arrows continues the band’s hard rock tendencies with little effort to comply with the desire of some who are waiting for another landmark shift like 2112 or Permanent Waves.
So with those expectations clearly out of the picture, Snakes & Arrows does show some notable improvements in terms of songwriting; this may be Neil Peart’s best lyrical work yet.
The lead-off track, “Far Cry,” finds the band, who could’ve easily become insolated among their supporters, firmly in touch with the realities of the modern world. “It’s a far cry from the world we thought we’d inherit,” Lee sings, before admitting defeat with Peart’s line “One day I feel I’m on top of the world/And the next it’s falling in on me.” It’s a far cry from a lyricist who’s was previous known for using trees as a metaphor for racism and catching the spit of that modern day warrior, Tom Sawyer.
“Armor And Sword,” the album’s thematic title track, Peart channels Richard Dawkins’ book The God Illusion which explains how faith is primarily an inherited role, passed down like culture itself. Regardless of what faith a child is brought up with, it probably won’t be strong enough to overcome whatever trauma that life throws at them. To that, Peart (who’s been through his own share of personal tragedy) discloses that “No one gets to their heaven without a fight.”
The high spots of the album are three instrumental tracks. “Hope” provides some generous Alex Lifeson acoustic fretwork, while “The Main Monkey Business” finds the trio working out a dynamic six minute jam. But the best of the three, “Malignant Narcissism,” hints at the band’s sense of humor (the song title comes from the movie Team America) and it sounds like an update of “YYZ” (from Moving Pictures). Best of all: it clocks in at mere two minutes and eighteen seconds.
Producer Nick Raskulinecz, who’s previously worked with such irrelevant arena rock acts like Velvet Revolver, Foo Fighters, and Stone Sour, punch Peart’s kit way-the-fuck-up in the mix to the point where you’re left wondering if he could have been one of those high school band drummers who stenciled the Rush pentagram logo on their sheet music folders.
Snakes & Arrows won’t be the album that silences the cynics nor will it be the album that provides them with any new fans. The fact is: they don’t need either. So, considering who this album is ultimately geared for, Snakes & Arrows will be noted as one of the band’s highpoints within a career that even the most acclaimed bands feel envious about.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Is Is

After the tour for Fever To Tell, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs must have realized that they would need to come up with some great new material to top that stellar album. The end result, Show Your Bones, proved to be not as enjoyable as the debut and it may have seemed possible that this N.Y.C. trio may have flamed out early.
It’s refreshing that they’re trying a rebound just a little over a year after Bones, and doing something within a format (the e.p.) that they revisit while being very proficient working inside that format’s restrictions.
Curiously; the e.p. is, for all intents and purposes, a dead format that’s days are limited as digital music outlets, both legit and P2P, don’t offer much in terms of album art and they don’t require the listener to sit through the entire song-cycle.
Is Is may be those initial songs that the band worked on when setting out to follow-up Fever. They sound like them: raw, expansive, and creatively reaching ahead. The five songs within the e.p. have little commercial appeal and it’s extremely brave of them to go down that path, particularly since “Maps” opened up tremendous opportunities for them.
It’s important to tell you then that the title track (“Isis”) is surely the band’s symbolical cousin to “Maps,” or at least the depressive cousin of it.
“Rockers To Swallow” ranks as one of Y3's best tracks ever. The band's delivery of the song is vaguely comfortable while being slightly unique “Tell me what rockers to swallow/Tell me what rockers to BITE” Karen O barks, with an attitude that immediately places her near the top as one of the most provocative women in rock today.
Let’s also suggest that, while Is Is may not be the best thing the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have ever done, it’s good enough to consider the possibility that they need to be mentioned when naming the best American rock bands around today.
That’s how good Is Is is.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Oh Shit! The New Episodes Of Trapped In The Closet

How could have I overlooked the fact that R. Kelly has been on IFC for several weeks now, providing the channel with exclusive premiers of Trapped In The Closet?
Well first of all, we didn't have IFC programmed into our "favorite" channels but after we notice that IFC was airing Rob Zombie's Land Of 1,000 Corpses, you can be certain that we changed that problem right quick.
And that's when I noticed the promotional spots, advertising the new episodes for R. Kelly's urban opera/musical/movie/plea bargain.
That’s right: R. Kelly has added 10 additional episodes to the series and IFC will be airing the entire thing this Friday.
From the synopsis on the IFC website:
“In 2005, multi-platinum Jive recording artist R. Kelly launched a cultural phenomenon with the mega-hit urban operetta "Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 1-12." Audiences and critics alike applauded the unique series filled with over-the-top characters and complex story lines, all set to a sexy R&B groove. Viewers demanded more, and R. Kelly delivered with "Trapped in the Closet: Chapters 13-22," featuring brand new characters and plot twists. "Trapped in the Closet" defies categorization: part contemporary movie musical, part urban soap opera, part epic music video, part independent film, this groundbreaking series unfolds like a juicy tabloid story, full of suspense, mystery, drama and packed with unexpected twists and turns. Now, IFC is proud to present the series in its entirety.”
The world premier will also feature an interview with R. Kelly in which he attempts to explain the inspiration for Trapped In The Closet (which are aliens, if I’m to understand his explanation on the IFC promos for the event).
Guess what I’m doing this Friday night…

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Scorpions - Virgin Killer

Let me just say, for the record, Virgin Killer has the worst cover art in history. It’s offensive. Seriously. To the point where I feel bad enough to say how awful the cover is before I write a word about the music on the grooves of Scorpions fourth album.
It’s so offensive that I want you to view it here, take a shower, and then you can resume reading the rest of this review.
Yes, it’s true: even with an album an offensive as Virgin Killer’s original cover, it was hideous enough to make me want to hear the album. I mean, I’m a fan of Love At First Sting, Blackout, Animal Magnetism and a bit of Lovedrive, so it’s not a stretch for me to at least ponder why a band like Scorpions would allow a cover like this to happen and potentially ruin their careers.
Because, and this is important, the band had yet to find an audience in the U.S. and they were poised to make an entrance here. So when they did, they were doing so on perhaps the worst way to introduce themselves.
“Hello America! We’re Scorpions! Just a band of longhaired child rapists from Germany! Who wants to rock with us?!”
When the band and/or record company (RCA, in case you want you add them to your state’s sexual offender lists) decided to change the cover, they replaced it with one of the shittiest photographs of Scorpions they could ever find and they simply had individual head shots with a caption of the band member’s names for the follow-up release Taken By Force.
So now that the cover art drama has been explained and is out of the way, it’s time to explore the grooves of this, the band’s fourth album released in early 1977.
Growing up on classic era-Scorps (’79-’89) it’s weird to hear the band in some very 70’s classic rock production as well as hearing them with a guitarist who also shares vocal duties with Klaus Fucking Meine.
Ulrich Jon Roth (who I always thought was Uncle Jon Roth until I finally noticed the spelling) provides some of the strangest vocals ever to his self-penned “Hell Cat,” which sounds more like a lost track from the Crazy World of Arthur Brown than Scorpions.
Roth’s guitar work is impressive, while admittedly strange to anyone who’s more familiar with Mathias Jabbs’ work in the band; he’s bluesier, more fluid, and there are more than a few psychedelic overtones in his solos.
The lyrics are just as hilariously innocent as the band’s later attempts, and perhaps a bit more obvious on the whole “second language” limitations.
Instead of hinting at living in an alcohol haze, they go with “A different life/Than whiskey cola.”
Rather than simply state how the job at the factory sucks, they curious match “Don’t be lazy, man and work off your ass/He’s the boss you gotta do what he says” (pronounced “sass”) together, providing people with a bunch of unnecessary information while still managing to get the idea across.
How they were even able to make all of this sounded phonetically similar is disclosed when Klaus admits the secret on the track “Crying Days:” “Force yourself to use you brain.”
And in true Scorpions fashion, it takes over a minute of hard-rocking and guitar soloing before those words of wisdom are even uttered.
Hell, even the song “Catch Your Train” is essentially back by a never ending solo by Roth, like he’s too much of a ball hog to let Klaus get any lead singer attention.
Aside from the enormously shitty Roth track “Polar Nights” (it’s almost shittily unlistenable), Virgin Killer is a surprisingly good album which managed to give me some newfound appreciation for their career.
And to think that a picture of a naked pre-pubescent girl prevented me from discovering this fact in the past.