Sunday, September 28, 2008

Box Of Shit (Old)

The boxes continue to arrive. This time it was a bunch of junk. I have no idea why, but when CDs first started to gain in popularity, they were housed in what they called longboxes. Cardboard boxes that had the cover art on it with the actual jewelbox inside of it. It was deemed as wasteful and rightfully so; the first thing you did was take the CD out of the longbox and through the packaging away. It served no useful purpose and for some explainable reason I saved a bunch of them.
For a few longboxes, I took an exacto knife and created nifty little images in three ring binders and the corkboard message board on the door of my dorm.
Other than that, they arrived in a box that was also filled with a bunch of old Rolling Stone magazines and a slightly worn Playboy that featured the very first Bo Derek pictorial. It’s all artsy, in case you’re wondering, with very little erotic capability unless seeing images of Bo running through the desert with a dog is your bag. I don’t think there’s even any shots of bush in there.
As are the longboxes, retardedly transported hundreds of miles to my garage making them perhaps the most eco-damaging thing I have ever had the chance of being tied to. I’m left with them, scratching my head at any possible way that I could perhaps make money off of them.
If you have the hankering for any old issues of Rolling Stone magazine circa ‘84/’85, hit me up on my motherfuckin' MySpace and name your price. I’ll even throw in the longbox of Dire Straits Brothers In Arms CD at no additional charge.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'm My Own Grandma

Last week around this time, my parents came up to visit the kids for the afternoon. It’s been a running joke that every time we let them watch the kids on their own, one of them ends up injured. Not the parents, mind you, but one of our kids. It usually is something like a scrape, a scratch, a bruise or busted lip and typically, it results from one of the kids not navigating my folks’ surroundings with the same amount of familiarity as their own home.
So we didn’t think much of the fact that harm could be done as they took the kids down to the park while we went grocery shopping.
What could possibly happen?
Apparently, more than we expected.
We get back with the groceries and immediately notice that Calli isn’t downstairs. My parents are just hanging with Ethan and I ask, “Is Calli sleeping?” They respond “Yes” and then I jokingly ask if any of them are broken or hurt, a slight dig at the injuries sustained when we leave the kids with them.
No response.
So Callista wakes about thirty minutes later and is especially cuddly. I little while later, we put her on the floor and she immediately grimaces, lifts her left foot up and begins crying.
Something is obviously wrong, and it is at this time my parents admit that something happened at the park.
The park, which is just a few blocks away, contains some fairly modern playground equipment including the obligatory multi-purpose area with slides, tubes, and other shit where kids can act like monkeys. At the end of this is an area where kids, especially older ones, have to climb up to reach the upper area where they are met with a fairly lengthy slide that curls around. It’s about 12 feet high and obviously made for kids that can navigate up the ladder on their own. In other words, it’s not designed for a baby that’s and year-and-a-half old and can’t get up to it by her own means.
Apparently, my mother is following Calli around and she goes through the tube (a first) chasing after her brother who is heading towards the high slide. She gets to the ladder and for some reasons lifts Calli up to the high section where the only option is to go back the way you came to get down or to go down the curly slide.
Callista decides to go down the curly slide.
Not only did it take my parents a while to tell us about this, but more details came to the front as it was pieced together. The obvious question was “Were you with Calli while she was on the highest deck?” to which the next question was “Were you going down the slide with her?” The answer was “She is really fast and headed for the slide before I could get her.” followed by “I was right behind her.” which means that she was on her way down a slide without much supervision.
It should be noted at this point that neither my wife nor I have ever let Calli down that slide or put her up on the high deck that it’s attached to. The reason why? Because it’s not designed for kids Calli’s age.
You can probably figure out where this is going: Callista’s leg gets caught on the way down and gets jerked back causing her to immediately cry out in pain.
My Mother’s maternal instincts kick in and she takes Calli back to our house…where she puts her to fucking bed. Nothing cures a torn muscle, ligament or broken bones better than good old fashion bed rest.
It’s a good thing that my parents often just put me in a room with a bunch or records and a record player growing up, because I’m thinking that if they actually allowed me in a playground that I would have been missing a few limbs by now.
Mom was obviously worried and scared at what my reaction would be. To that point, the manner in which she divulged the information left very little time to get angry. With bits and pieces of information coming forward, you needed time to put it all together, and then it was only later in which you started to replay the situation and consider the huge gaps in what really went down (How did she get up to that top deck again? Why didn’t you tell us what happened when we got home?)
The next day, Calli still wasn’t putting weight on her foot, to which we assumed it was an ankle or knee problem. There was no swelling or bruising, so we didn’t immediately just take her to the emergency room and she could still move both of them without crying or flinching. Plus, if you’ve ever been to an emergency room in a large city, you spend an inordinate amount of time waiting with crazy people just to receive halfassed service at exorbitant prices.
The visit to the doctor pointed towards the hip, probably nothing major, but worth a few x-rays at the hospital. Nothing pointed to a fracture, but still the avoidance of putting weight on her foot caused some stress.
That and our fucking sitter who, after having three kids of her own, makes her an orthopedic specialist. She’s also an educational specialist, stating that Ethan’s school had some issues…none of which she could really identify…even though his school is the newest in the district and comes highly regarded by everyone else.
In other words, she has an opinion about everything and runs her mouth as such.
My Mother offered to come back up and watch Calli if needed during the week so that we could go to work. That’s reassuring. Can we expect more injuries too?
By the end of the week, she would barely stand up so we made an appointment with an orthopedic doctor. Some blood was drawn to see if it was an infection, but no additional x-rays were done. Besides, he said, if it is a break, it’s a minor one and the only option is to put her in a body cast or to leave it alone and let it heal on its own.
At the end of it, I still can’t put my finger on why my own Mother thought that it would be a good idea to let her granddaughter go down a slide that was far beyond her age bracket. To think that all of this would have been avoided with just a modicum of common sense and paternal instinct. I understands she feels band…I would too…But it’s not as bad as I feel when I see our baby in such discomfort or when I feel that I now have to second guess their decisions whenever our kids stay with them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Live Review: Rooney & Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry
Live Review
Pentacrest-University of Iowa

I wanted my first ever rock concert to be memorable, something that they’d be able to relay to others when older.
“The first concert I ever saw was Chuck Berry."
I chuckled a bit with Ethan when he asked about the first concert that I ever saw.
“The Spinners.” I informed him
“The Spinners?”
“Yeah,” I reiterated. “They had a hit back then called ‘Rubberband Man.”
I then went into an impersonation of the band, including a part where the members of The Spinners brought out huge rubberbands and started playing them.
In retrospect, it was pretty awesome for a first concert.
I hope that my kids will forget the details of their first concert experience, specifically how utterly disappointing Chuck Berry’s performance was.
Let’s be clear for a moment, Chuck Berry is old. There were many in attendance Friday night that shared the same philosophy as I did: We were there to see Mr. Berry perform before he passes away, a final show of respect to the man who invented rock and roll.
I confided this to Ethan on the way down when he asked 1.) Why were we going out of town 2.) Where we were going and 3.) Who is Chuck Berry.
By the time we were on our way to the show after dinner, he was advising his 16-month-old sister “Hey Calli, we’re going to a rock and roll concert to see an old black man play before he dies!” Somehow, even as he told this to her in a singsong manner, it sounds more callous and racist than was actually intended.
If you’re not a parent, let me explain something. You bust ass getting your kids ready to go somewhere and then you get there and realize that you forgot items on the mental list you made before you got ready. You’re always in a rush because science hasn’t figured out a way to make a remote control that works on children (“Sit! Stay! Pee! Put on shoes!”) and, as a result, you’re always getting sidetracked with l’il dramas. Sometimes when you get to the place you’re going to, you realize the thing you’re missing is just a minor item, typically a bib or a little container of Goldfish. Sometimes it’s a major item, like diapers, wipes, or a little container of Goldfish (hey, they work wonders).
We get to the Pentacrest lawn and I’m starting to remember all of those things that we forgot: blanket to sit on, bug repellant, my wife. Seriously, I have so much respect for single parents it’s ridiculous. How you people navigate through this world with kids on your own is beyond me. I’m solo every other weekend, and it takes me two weeks to recuperate from the added stress of having to deal with little fuckers that have no sense to wash their hands after pooping or no sense enough to know that pooping in your pants isn’t “normal.”
I figured that the missing items aren’t that big of deal. It’s cold enough….fuck, I forgot jackets!...that bugs aren’t going to be an issue and the ground isn’t wet and the last time I checked parking your ass on it doesn’t give you the bird flu. We park well enough away that the loud amplifiers won’t be an issue to the little one’s ears and I go to get my little Pooh girl her snacks.
Bottle of diluted apple juice?
Attention Village Inn of Iowa City. I liked the d├ęcor of your old place before you remodeled a little bit better and you owe me a new sippy cup and ten ounces of diluted apple juice.
Rooney was performing first, a band that I had heard little about and, for some reason, assumed they were on the same playing field as The Jonas Brothers or whatever. The only songs I had ever heard from them was a derivative ditty called “When Did Your Heart Go Missing” (it’s one of those tunes where you think ‘Man, I’ve heard this riff before. What song is this?”) and a pointless cover of an old Alphaville tune. From what I also understand, the band’s name is also in reference to Mr. Rooney from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which is funny because these guys looked like they were themselves using sippy cups when Ferris Bueller was first released.
Calli was transfixed with Rooney. She danced around in her stroller (more on this in another post), clapped and yelled “Yea!” after each song and, occasionally shook her head and hair just like those teenage girls you see in old Beatlemania footage. I started using my Calli voice and teasing her at how she had a crush on the members of Rooney.
The band performed by-the-numbers power-pop songs that were very light on muscle and occasionally filled with new wave keyboards. They weren’t bad. They weren’t memorable. You could tell that there were a lot of young girls that dug them. Every time a song ended, you could hear their screams picked up through the stage mics, particularly when their favorite songs were being introduced.
U of I’s homecoming activities brings out a wide range of people, and while there were a lot of 35+ people in attendance, they were virtually silent throughout Rooney’s set. The only time the band gained a response was when they performed Del Shannon’s “Runaway” for no other reason than to win over the hearts of anyone from the Class of ’64 that may have been in the crowd.
Ethan spent most of the time bored even when I tried to tell him to go hit up a four-year old girl in a Hawkeye cheerleading outfit that was making sweet eyes at him. He came over and sat on my lap instead.
The set ended and someone from Brad Company’s radio station came out and said something about going to some web site to win something. The only thing I remember him saying was that he was advised not to touch the microphone of “Mr. Berry” and what was the first thing he did?
He started to adjust the microphone of Chuck Berry.
He caught himself and the dude could have just knocked over the fucking thing and it wouldn’t have made a difference.
Sure, we paid our respects by standing up when Mr. Berry took the stage and provided him with abundant applause. Chuck, on the other hand, paid his respects by forgetting words, struggling to find the right notes, falling out of rhythm and occasionally neglecting to sing into the microphone. I’m fully aware of the man’s age (he turns 82 in a few weeks) but also thing that there are steps that one can take to “cover up” a legend’s deficiencies.
First of all, it doesn’t even sound like a soundcheck took place. When the band started, you could hear Berry fumbling around on his guitar, a distant snare drum and the hi-hat. Then, the bass guitar rolled in, followed by the bass drum; it was like nobody had the good sense to fix the mix before the dudes took stage. Kind of important, particularly considering that one of those dudes is a motherfucking legend.
Secondly, Berry’s backing band sounded like a bunch of hacks. I have no idea if Chuck is still a handle to deal with on a personal level, but I have to believe that someone would compliment him with a band that could actually keep time and provide the audience with a clear picture of what song is playing. Seriously, there was more than one occasion where it took me (and others, gauging from the conversations I overheard) a few bars into the song before I understood what he was playing. And I’m sorry, shit like “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Sweet Little Sixteen” I should be able to immediately recognize after Berry begins playing.
His guitar sounded woefully out of tune, even during those times where he managed to find the right key to play in.
I purposely set my expectations low for this event, relegating the show to be nothing more than a respectful tribute than an actual revelation. It was far below my worse expectations, a show that could ultimately undermine people’s opinion of this important figure if they don’t put these performances into proper context.
This is why I place more blame towards the people that now handle Mr. Berry’s affairs than Mr. Berry himself. I find it hard to believe that there isn’t someone in his circle that can stand up to him, shore up his career, and make him (and everyone else) a little more money in the process. Nobody’s expecting duckwalk, hell, if he can’t play anymore then mix down his guitar and get a second guitarist to maintain the purity of the material. And find a drummer that can keep time too, for fucks sake.
Calli didn’t seem to mind. She bobbed her head and clapped while Ethan began running around, sliding in the grass and getting filthy in the process. But they’ll both get the chance to tell people that their first rock concert was from the guy that invented the fucking thing. It just won’t be as memorable as my first concert and, in retrospect, that’s probably for the better.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Rush - Snakes & Arrows: Live

What’s the point, really. Rush has released so many live albums that it’s practically irrelevant at this point. For some of us old timers (read: me) we remember when the obligatory Rush live album…and yes, they were always “obligatory”…signaled the end of a Rush “era.” At least that’s what they told us on the gatefold of All The World’s A Stage. In layman’s terms, it meant that the band was getting ready for a minor stylistic change. More keyboards, less long-winded songs, harder rocking, etc., but the reality is that Rush has never really deviated that much from their original power trio approach, and by that I mean everything beyond the debut album. You see, the only time Rush allowed for a major shift was after the first album, essentially the transition from a farm-league Led Zeppelin band into the Rush as we get all geeked out about. It should come as no surprise that the reason for the geekiness is that they replaced original drummer John Rutsey with Neil Peart, a dude that breathes nerdiness every time he picks up the pen.
So again, there’s no need for Snakes & Arrows: Live unless you’re a fanatic Rush fan (and there are tons of them) or unless you’re a fairly sane fan (like me) that happened to see the tour and would like a fairly economical memento, because you were too cheap to fork over a few twenties for a concert tee.
Let’s back up a moment.
Rush’s Snakes & Arrows is the band’s best in a few decades and, with some fairly liberal trimming, could have been a great Rush album.
Rush’s Snakes & Arrows world tour found the band in exemplary form, seemingly rejuvenated from recently celebrating their 30th anniversary and releasing that aforementioned high-water studio album.
Their performances are stellar with each member delivering some passionate playing. Geddy Lee’s voice, once the topic of Pavement lyrics, has actually lowered an octave to the point where it’s less annoying yet still distinctive.
Neil Peart is spot-on and the solo he creates on “Malignant Narcissism/De Slagwerker” is fantastic: using triggers on his electronic kit, Peart unleashes a virtual big band featuring him as modern-day Gene Krupa.
And Alex Lifeson…what can you say. Lifeson’s playing has gotten more subtle and atmospheric over the years, stepping up to deliver biting solos as needed. Whereas before you may only see one specific tone originating from his amplifiers, now there are multiple textures.
Combined, these old dudes still slaughter men half their age and Snakes & Arrows: Live is a fine artifact of Rush’s twilight chops. With material heavy on the album of the same name, a few surprise catalog picks (“Between The Wheels” from Grace Under Pressure, “Circumstances” from Hemispheres, “Witch Hunt” from Moving Pictures, “Entre Nous” from Permanent Waves) and the required classics (“Limelight,” “Tom Sawyer,” “A Passage To Bangkok,” “Freewill”), Snakes & Arrows: Live rates higher than Exit Stage Left but lower than their (still) best live album All The World’s A Stage. In my opinion, it also rates a half a point higher than the actual studio album as it removes all of the filler and contains the best songs from that album.
Which pretty much makes it required listening for any Rush fanatic, who’s probably anxiously waiting for the dvd version to arrive this fall.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

OCD Chronicles: Head Candy "At The Controls"

It started with that box of shit.
On a video…the one that wasn’t a porn…there was two episodes from Twin Peaks. Since I already have the complete first season of Twin Peaks on dvd (still need the pilot and the shitty season two, in case you’re starting your Christmas shopping for me early) I didn’t really watch these recorded-from-cable episodes.
Sidenote: It’s amazing what we tolerated for video in those days. I see HDTV, plasma tv’s, the entire shebang at big box stores and I’m in awe. It’s almost too much for me to handle because it’s so crisp. I just muddle around with my standard tvs with dvd players still connected via RCA jacks and I’m cool with that…for now. These two episodes were recorded on a shitty off-brand VHS tape on “LP” mode. I don’t know if you’re familiar with “LP” mode, but it’s shittier than the standard setting because it records the image slower. Without getting too technical, if you record things on magnetic tape at a slow speed, it suffers from loss, either in the form of poor color quality or, if it’s audio tape, greater hiss and distortion.
The benefit was that you could record more shit on the tape using “LP” mode, which as I did the math, meant that there was plenty more room on that VHS tape for more than two episodes of Twin Peaks.
I hit fast-forward.
At the end of “Episode Six” was a familiar yet (thankfully) forgotten face. Why it was none other than MTV VJ Dave Kendall from the alternative ghetto that was 120 Minutes. I used to watch this thing religiously. After all, this was really the only thing on during Sunday nights after 10:00.
Kendall was an annoying fuck that always seem to have a hard on for shit like Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order and I believe he actually came in his pants when Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine was released.
I like those bands, but I noticed that there were huge amounts of proper rawk bands that Dave seemed to neglect and, therefore, he irritated me. I didn’t know why we needed to see another fucking Sisters Of Mercy video from five years prior when I really wanted to see that naked chick from Boss Hog.
So why the fuck was I recording 120 Minutes? It wasn’t like I was really going to miss anything if I happened to develop a hankerin’ for some Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that weekend.
Dave rambled on about the Red Hot Chili Peppers and tinkled the floor with golden rushes of urine before changing topics to a new and upcoming band. The band he was speaking of was called Head Candy, a veritable “supergroup” of Iowa scenesters who missed alternative notoriety by that much.
Headed by Mike “I’m Kind Of A Douchebag” Sangster, the Iowa City quartet made pleasing and catchy music that seemed a bit too tame for those big bad grunge years. They may have been the Hawkeye state’s last hope for rock infiltration before a bunch of dudes from Des Moines put on some masks and screamed about their discontent on the second stage of Ozzfest.
Head Candy landed a record deal with Link Records out of Boston who score about a three album boutique deal with Hollywood Records. Don't bother looking for the label...Either one of them...They're not around anymore.This may have made them Iowa first modern day rock band with a major label deal back when having a major label deal was a big thing.
What the deal provided them was enough cash ‘n clout to have Andy Wallace, the same dude that mixed Nirvana’s Nevermind, man the knobs for their debut album Starcaster. It’s a really good album, and you can probably find it at a used record store outside of the Hawkeye state for next to nothing.
The Hollywood marketing machine also provided enough muscle to have Dave Kendall play the video for “At The Controls,” a dandy of a pop song with…I hate to admit this since Sangster was such a prick…some pretty nice lyrics.
Ever since taking another gander at that old video, the song keeps repeating in my head.
“You protect what you display for all to see/Keeping most of it hidden away”
There’s not one goddamn Head Candy clip on You Tube to display for you. I suppose I could take half a day to figure out how to transfer this VHS copy up there but only five people who probably give a shit.
Instead, I only bothered to take a shot of my awesome 7” of “At The Controls” along with a little release date post card announcing the arrival of their debut…and only lp Starcaster.
Purple vinyl bitches!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things Are Tough All Over

Long week. Not much time for posting, writing, or doing much of anything. Without disclosing too much about what I do in real life and all of that boring bullshit, much of what I’ve done during the day is try to reassure people that the recent economic meltdown isn’t effecting the company that I work for. I go through S&P ratings, advise that our financial investments are long term and less susceptible to the short term chaos and assure them that we don’t have much interaction with some of the more sufferable companies that are looking for government bailouts.
I hope the people that are picking up the phone and calling me are also calling up their county auditor and asking for an absentee ballot because they’re so ready to flush this administration out and any other similar facsimile.
I don’t understand how this presidential race is even close.
Solace comes in the insanity of 13th Floor Elevators, which aren’t that insane at all. But their “fuck all” attitude seems appropriately fitting at the moment.
AC/DC announced their tour last week…and I don’t have the money or time off to see it. Hopefully, this will indeed be an 18 month venture and they’ll make their way back around to the secondary market next year. The new single is surprisingly good, and it looks like the band is taking days off during the week, perhaps to save Johnson’s voice.
Nearly everyone I talk to is completely ambivalent towards the new AC/DC album Black Ice, which makes me feel old for some reason. For nearly twenty years, they’ve released nothing but sub-par material, which is frustrating considering how basic their formula is. The Young brothers seem to have a lot of worthy riffs inside of them, but the songwriting…surely not the band’s forte…is completely diminishing, as they’ve grown older when it should be showing some signs of efficiency and increased cleverness. “Rock ‘n Roll Train” is badass.
Fuck all the haters and snobs.
Here’s the part where I admit that I recently bought Rush’s Snakes & Arrows Live disc because I’m a douchebag and wanted to have an audio memento from that tour.
This has to be Rush’s tenth live album or something…remember when you could count on it every five albums?...and it really is a release that is no concern to a casual fan.
Also, there are hints that the wife is looking at wanting to see a show. The bands Metallica and Nine Inch Nails have been uttered. I told her that I saw Metallica back when they sold their soul to the mainstream on The Black Album and even produced a poster signed by the four (then) members. I have to admit that the package they have going on is pretty cool: for an extra ten bones you get to download the entire show afterwards. It’s a nifty way to give fans a memento that’s more reasonably priced than anything at the merch table and it’s a way to show fans that they recognize the web is a primary delivery source of music, whether Lars likes it or not.
Nine-Inch Nails is right in my back yard. I’m not a fan, but I’ve heard the stage show is pretty cool and that Boris is opening. It’s been a while since I’ve been more excited about the headliner of an arena tour than the actual headliner, so this may be worth checking out. For her at least.
But then it comes back to the economy. I don’t know about you, but that dude from the Beaver Brown Band was right. To go to any of these shows requires tickets, babysitter, parking, a few beers and, before you know it, you’ve dropped $200 for a night out. In club dollars, that’s over 10 shows. In family units, it’s a few weeks of groceries. In the real world, it means that bands had better start getting a handle on all of the bullshit extra charges or they’ll watch their own revenues falter.
I mean, fuck it, Chuck Berry is playing for free, man…

Monday, September 15, 2008

Flood Gate

If dealing with the devastating power of hurricane Ike wasn’t bad enough, residents now contend with the aftermath. Part of that cleanup is also dealing with the dozens of caskets and tombs that were uprooted thanks to the floodwaters.
One of the caskets that made its way up to the surface was that of blues legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown.
Somewhere, I still have the dollar bill that Mr. Brown signed for me, because it was the only thing I could find for him to sign when I saw him perform over twenty years ago.
He was awesome, and he didn’t take much shit from anyone; I remember that the bartender left the television on behind the bar as Clarence was getting ready to perform. He went on stage, took a seat and lit a pipe. Noticing the offending distraction, Brown yelled at the bartender to “Turn off that damn television!”
The bartender obliged.
The Gate rocked.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008

Live Review: The Broken West & Centro-Matic

The Broken West
The Picador, Iowa City

Damn you, Picador! With your cool fall rock schedule, late starts and weeknight gigs. I’m married! With kids! I have to be at work at 7:30am! Yes, the idea of staying out late only to get up four hours later to get ready for work is a daunting task. I would only reserve this for the best of shows and since you decided to book a pair of recent favorites on the same bill, well hello lethargy! I also noticed a few other shows I wouldn’t mind checking out (Neil Hamburger! William Elliot Whitmore!) before I remembered that I was way old and unable to put my body through the regiments of frequent clubbing. That’s why I’m counting on you, Dear Picador, to book a few early shows so that I can get home at a reasonable hour….midnight is fine…so that I can go to work and be presentable without those noticeable bags under my eyes.
As it stood, I arrived home around 1:30 thanks to missing the headliners, Whoopee, choosing to see my original motivation: The Broken West and Centro-Matic. I’d wanted to see C.M. for a few years now…ever since being turned on to them with All The Falsest Hearts Can Try thanks to a nice write-up in an Insound newsletter.
Speaking of: Insound used to send out monthly newsletters with great reviews that were typically spot on. They got a lot of money from me because of this, but then the newsletters stopped. I’m not sure if they still do these, but since I no longer receive them, I don’t spend nearly as much money with Insound as I used to. Bad for Insound. Good for my wife.
I got there as the opening band was finishing up. That gave me enough time to sit at the bar and enjoy a beer before making my way towards the front. Robe was tending as usual and after a brief Q&A of “What’s (insert old Gabe’s soundman name here) doing these days?” a somewhat familiar presence sat next to me. Admiring another Picador worker’s Neil Diamond wallet was none other than William Elliot Whitmore. He offered up a few verses of famous Diamond tunage before pondering aloud if Diamond’s Rick Rubin produced album from a few years ago was any good.
I advised that the cd was loaded with anti-piracy bullshit.
Sorry, Neil.
Someone else I vaguely recognized mentioned that the same folks that created Heavy Metal Parking Lot made another movie of similar plot. The same parking lot, the same time of year, and practically the same results. The subject matter for the newer film was Neil Diamond and the similarities between his fans and the one focused on the original film (Judas Priest) was frighteningly close.
We both agreed that this would be a film worth checking out.
A drunk patron then said something to Robe that was stupid enough to get him kicked out. Robe let him stay, which may have been a bad thing as I saw him again during Broken West’s set right at the front, harassing people for no reason. I was in no mood to have a good evening spoiled by a big drunk retard, but no confrontation was necessary as the dude went back for a refill and was not seen again.
The Broken West I had seen before…same venue two years ago…when they opened for some local band while touring to support I Can’t Go On…I’ll Go On. The band was offered a truncated set then, which was odd since they were on such an established indie, but it didn’t matter much as there were probably only a dozen or so patrons that night. Bigger crowd on this evening, but still small enough to ponder “Iowa City! What the fuck?!”
I was curious to see how the new atmospherics of their latest Now Or Heaven would translate to stage. Thanks to a touring keyboardist and a new drummer, the results were fairly close to the album. The band seemed more keyed on the newer material and occasionally compliant with the older tunes. “Brass Ring,” the final got a fairly wicked rework with some chaotic aggression before reigning back in for a tender reprise.
By the way, that "awesome" photo above is one of three pictures I got the entire night as the battery in my camera died seconds after capturing the back of The Broken West's bass player Brian Whelan's head, a blurry photo of Ross Flournoy and a darken shot of the stage thanks to not having enough juice to power the fucking flash.
Because of the four band bill, B.W. played another truncated set, but since the next band was Centro-Matic, there wasn’t a lot of whining on my part.
CM’s Will Johnson is one of those slight, unimposing dudes that you wish would shave, buff up, and become the famous star that he should be. It’s one thing to be prolific like Johnson is, but it’s another to be prolific with a high degree of awesome tunes. Johnson provides that…in not one, but two bands…and he’s still criminally overlooked even in these days of spontaneous communication.
This was the first time I’d seen Centro-Matic, so contemplate my virginity when I declare that their set bordered on transcendent. It’s not like they delivered anything precise or groundbreaking; they were just precisely the best band in the world at that particular moment.
The band started out with general chord progressions, seeming to arrive from the sound check and ceasing the moment it turned into a potential song. The band caught themselves and began their proper set, which seemed to be constantly spontaneous with the exception of the first few songs. I noticed Johnson yelling song titles over the din of the previous song, essentially forgoing the need to have any of the material on a sheet of paper. Pence is an underrated drummer….this seems to be a common thing in Centro-Matic…but the jewel of the band is Scott Danborn. Alternating between keyboards and bass, he provides the band with their melodic high-end vocals, the ones that rub the gravel of Will Johnson’s vocals into smooth surfaces and things of beauty.
One of the things that made this night so special for me was how they played…without asking…three Centro-Matic songs I wanted to hear (“Call The Legion In Tonight,” “Calling Thermatico” and “The Mighty Midshipman”). Throughout the set, Johnson jumped in place in apparent jubilation and frequently lifted his leg in what only could be described as trying to take that giant leap forward. He looked so caught in the moment that it is possible he had no idea that he was even doing this, particularly when his foot nearly struck bassist Mark Hedman who was stalking the stage at the same time.
Like a good music supporter in these days of free downloading, I bought both band’s latest and didn’t feel the urge to round up everyone to get an autograph. I did snag the B.W.’s setlist which makes me the proud owner of two of them now. I chatted briefly with guitarist Dan Iead and bassist Brian Whelan before I felt stupid a decided to leave. Brian laughed when I suggested that the new album needed to be different like it was because you can’t keep doing power pop over and over again. He said he was laughing because he agreed, but I still felt that I should just stop talking and leave.
I caught Ross Flournoy by himself outside as I was leaving and thanked him for a recent interview. At the risk of sounding gay, Flournoy is a sweetheart. Totally approachable and seemingly well read, Ross confessed that it was licensing deals that enabled the band to survive and tour after the debut, that they would never do a tour schedule as hectic as they did last time and that, thanks to high gas prices and a sluggish economy, the band would be taking a loss when this tour is said and done.
Understanding that times are tight for everyone, particularly touring indie bands like Centro-Matic and The Broken West, makes a few hours of less sleep than normal a little more tolerable. But when they also manage to exceed your expectations in the process, it more than makes up for any amount of shuteye.
Night Night…

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Chinese Democrazy

There’s a interesting article on Bob Lefsez’s site that speaks about GnR’s Chinese Democracy. He’s actually had a few articles on the subject, but it’s the most recent one that’s telling.
We’ve all heard the story of the poor sap that got busted by the FBI for leaking the most recent mix of Chinese Democracy. By the way, the funniest thing that I ever heard about that event was from a comment that stated “The only one who should be arrested for Chinese Democracy is Axl Rose.”
But I digress…
I don’t think anyone can argue with the point that taking things from an artist is wrong and can potentially hurt their careers and income. And I don’t think you’ll hear any argument that the guy that ran the site where Chinese Democracy was found is kind of a moron. Apparently, he tagged the file with his website address in an apparent ploy to gain more hits to his site. This is the equivalent of leaving your social security card after robbing a convenience store.
I guess the guy was a GnR fan, which is a rare commodity especially after waiting over a decade for some new material. I wish that someone would ask him now if he’s still a fan.
The dude has acknowledged that he was at fault, but was this Draconian method of stopping him the right thing to do?
From the sounds of it, the news of the man being arrested by the FBI not only created a firestorm of interest about the story itself, it created a huge surge in people seeking out getting their own download of Chinese Democracy. That’s right: the action to suppress illegal downloading of this album actually contributed to more illegal downloads of it.
As a matter of fact, I have personally seen my own version of Chinese Democracy…which apparently is not the offending mix…become my most requested upload on the P2P service that I regularly use. Not that this is the most scientific method, but the article on The Lefsez Letter also suggests that the publicity has created more interest in others acquiring their own copy of Chinese Democracy than before.
Why the interest? 1.) because its been over a decade and this album has been a running joke for half of that and 2.) because Axl is batshit crazy and nobody with half a brain gives their money to people who are batshit crazy. Anyone who’s sane and not a GnR fanboy would agree that the band hasn’t done anything notable since Appetite anyway, so all we’d be holding out for is another over-produced and overwrought “epic” that’s just another outlet to satisfy Axl’s Captain Fantastic boner.
So even though I don’t have the “official” Chinese Democracy mix (and, apparently, the real thing is being negotiated for a retail deal ala The Eagles and AC/DC) how does it rate? It’s good…not great…essentially an Use Your Illusion that would have been relevant (ironically) 10 years ago but now sounds somewhat dated. That’s assuming that Axl hasn’t remixed the thing, which is highly unlikely, and that he’s driven himself further in the corner in trying to stay ahead of things. It may have done well years ago, perhaps revered the same way Illusion was when it was first released (remember those midnight sales of it?).
Then it would quickly die and fall off the radar in the same manner that those two albums were when people finally discovered “Hey! These things are not as good as Appetite!” The brilliance about Axl, I suppose, is that he managed to give Chinese Democracy…an album that is shittier than even Illusion(s)...with more shelf life than he could have gotten on its own merits.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Warren Zevon Five Years Later

It was five years ago today that Warren Zevon passed, and if your heart don’t break a little when you see that hour-long night with David Letterman then you ain’t got no heart at all. The really sad story happened backstage, after the show had wrapped. Packing away his guitar, Zevon was talking with Dave getting ready to say what both knew would their final goodbyes. Snapping the latch on his guitar case, Zevon gave Letterman his guitar with instructions to take care of it. The gesture, the understanding of the finality, the inability to say anything remotely uplifting, it all caused Letterman to cry.
Zevon suffered from and eventually died from a type of cancer caused mesothelioma. You might have seen this strain popularized from those legal commercials, encouraging the viewer to call if “you or a loved one has suffered” from this cancer, mostly caused by exposure to asbestos. It’s a particularly deadly strain, one that causes a tremendous amount of pain and suffering before eventually taking the life of its host. I’m not sure how Zevon would have been in environments that contained asbestos, but I do know the original thought of “traditional” lung cancer caused by an apparent love of cigarettes had nothing to do with his death.
Still miss him…
Here is a video from the old Letterman show featuring a song from one of my favorite Warren Zevon albums Sentimental Hygiene.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Box Of Old Shit

My Grandmother stopped over today with her new boyfriend. It’s been a year since my Grandfather died, so there’s a certain amount of weirdness that goes on with meeting the new beau of your Grandma after getting used to a lifetime of the same old man that she was attached to for as long as you can remember. But there have been things discovered since his death…ones that completely shatter your opinion of someone…and there’s the general wackiness of my Grandmother added on. What this all means is that a simply visit from your Grandma from Arizona is weirder than it should have to be.
The new dude was perhaps the most normal thing about it all; an 80 year old guy from the same part of the state as she hails from. There’s some weird synchronicity stuff about it all, but nonetheless, he seems like a good fellow that straightens out the neurotic behavior of my Grandmother.
I’m getting a lot of my old shit back from my parents in preparation for their move. Stuff I haven’t seen for years. There’s the obligatory Star Wars books and then there’s the inexplicable television show books…Happy Days, James At 15, the fucking Man From Atlantis…things that I never even got around reading because watching the shows themselves was so much easier.
There was also an autobiography of Ken “The Snake” Stabler from when I used to like the Oakland Raiders. Then Al Davis moved them to L.A. where they sucked and I haven’t thought about them since…even when they moved back to Oakland. I’m seriously thinking about revisiting that book, a symbolic gesture to a time that’s about to evaporate.
There was also a box of VHS video tapes. And in between the (again) videos of Star Wars, episodes of X Files and shitty Twin Peaks copies was an unmarked tape. I fired up the barely used VCR and discovered an old Christy Canyon porn.
I’m seriously thinking about revisiting that one too.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Jerry Reed R.I.P.

American badass Jerry Reed died yesterday. This good ol’ boy is known for such hits as “When Your Hot Your Hot” and “Amos Moses” as well as his landmark appearance as himself on the Scooby Doo Mysteries. But Mr. Reed holds a deeper sentiment in my heart for another reason: he played The Snowman on Smokey & The Bandit and he actually “[got] to be the Bandit” on Smokey & The Bandit: Part Three.
Here’s the story I always love to tell about Smokey & The Bandit, and it ties in wonderfully with my recent ramblings of Keokuk, Iowa. At one time, the longest running movie in Keokuk was Smokey, where it played at the Grand Theatre (when it showed movies) for eleven straight weeks. That record stood for nearly twenty years before it was broken by that piece of shit Titanic which played at the Plaza Cinema for twelve. If the cocksuckers at the Plaza would have had any decency, they would have pulled Titanic after ten and given the record to a more appropriate masterpiece like Smokey.
We all have a long way to go and a short time to get there, so enjoy a Coors and raise a toast to the Snowman, Jerry Reed.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

My Lifestyle Determines My Deathstyle

I had half a mind to review the new Metallica album without even listening to it. The album would have received one star and would have been based entirely on this photo alone. It symbolizes the entire notion that Metallica will never be able to return to their former greatness musically because they are morally corrupt.
Anyone who has built their empire on the shoulders and wallets of metal’s bretheren would not be seen wearing Armani or any other designer clothes or at the very least buying them. Let’s consider that the bag isn’t for James Hetfield, he should have known better that it’s images like this that help destroy the band name of Metallica.
I hope he’s investing well and isn’t squandering all of his money on shit like this, because more and more people will be scratching their heads at why they should invest in yet another shitty album or tour just to fund Hetfield’s shopping sprees.
I’m not suggesting that the man not go shopping or enjoy the fruits of his labors. What I am suggesting is that if you can pay $40,000 a month for a leech to help with your interpersonal skills, you can throw someone a grand to do your Armani shopping for you.
Never mind the reality that if you were to ask the members of Metallica twenty years ago today if they’d like a complimentary Armani item, they would probably laugh at you and rip up the offending item.
And it’s good to see that Robert Trujillo has put his $1,000,000 advance to good use too.

Monday, September 1, 2008

A Place To Call Home

My parents closed on a home in Des Moines today. Not that it means anything to you, and in reality, it really shouldn’t mean much to me at this point. They’re moving from my hometown, a nearly dead rivertown whose manufacturing heyday came and went a long time ago. With that, most of my friends moved away from it, as most tend to do in small towns filled with limited possibilities. The heyday was perhaps at the beginning of the twentieth century when the dam was built, turning the rapids of the Mississippi into electricity thanks to the (then) largest hydroelectric power plant. President Theodore Roosevelt stopped in town to recognize its importance and plant an elm tree. The tree died a few years later, symbolic of the direction that the town itself would face.
I wouldn’t have considered that to be the heyday. For me, that would have come while I came of age in the town during the 70’s and 80’s. The demise started around the time I left for college, but there was still some charm left to explore. That charm ended fairly abruptly when the various factories around town, the prime source of revenue for most of the community’s residents, began to shut down. They were replaced with even lower paying service jobs and the ridiculous lure of casino work that floated downstream to other states once they began to loosen the gambling morality resistance.
And it was around this time that I did the unthinkable: I moved back into my hometown and bought a house. It was on the river and it overlooked the Mississippi, eyeshot away from that hydroelectric plant and built shortly after its construction. As a matter of fact, the huge stone walls that surrounded my “Brokedown Palace” were mulled from the Mississippi River bottoms as they built the plant and dam.
Divorce and other circumstances forced me to move, and the distance between my hometown and me shed a new light on my old digs. I no longer was frustrated at the lack of progress that my former community leaders seemed to portray. It was instead replaced with pity, the epiphany in knowing that things there would never change and, sadly, the beauty that it once possessed would continue to crumble and never realize its fullest potential.
But growing up there, man, you couldn’t have asked for a better place. With equal parts small town niceties and river town rebellion, you got an opportunity to examine how both sides lived during a time when sowing your oats was considered a rite of passage. How we survived sometimes is beyond me.
For example: that power plant that you see is literally built in the middle of the river. During the winter as kids, we would dare each other to walk on the frozen surface of the river to see who could get the closest to touching the walls of the power plant. To test to see how “safe” the ice was, we would throw a ten pound rock in front of us to see if the ice cracked. It made perfect sense at the time.
A friend of mine got within 100 yards of the thing before I begged him to come back. I was scared shitless that he would fall in and it would have taken me at least 10 minutes to climb back up the bluff to get help if he did.
We also had BB gun wars down there in the summer. Someone had the bright idea that we should start a game of shooting at each other, guerrilla-style, with actual bb guns. It ended the moment someone brought a pellet gun because, I don’t know if you know this, pellet guns can actually break the skin and lodge themselves inside your body.
We also smoked a lot of pot down there. Not at the age, you would expect, but starting at the ripe old age of 11. It started when we’d steal the cigarettes from our parents and sneak off down the bluff to share the smokes with each other. One of my best friends was Mormon who had an older brother that angrily broke away from the family and his faith. My friend, the youngest boy in this family, went to his new apartment and stole a good 1/8 of weed out of his supply. Apparently, he was selling dope to help make ends meet. Anyway, he told us of his conquest and we all went to 7-11 to buy rolling papers before retreating to the bluff to take our first hit of weed. It took us forever to roll the thing, but after snuggling a bit of pot inside of three EZ Wider papers, we lit up and experienced…nothing. Yes, it’s true: none of us felt a thing, but we all acted like we were stoned off our ass. I decided to light a fire and, in my “enlightened” state, I looked down to see how my entire pant leg was on fire. Not comprehending the “stop, drop and roll” technique, I ran screaming down to the river and quickly submerged my smoldering pants into the dirty water of the Mississippi. I burned a little bit of hair off of my leg but was even luckier that I didn’t burn the entire bluff down, particularly since there was little rainfall that summer and the fall leaves had fallen, leaving a sea of dry matter all over the ground.
Even more amazing was how my Mother never noticed that I was missing one pair of Levis.
There are tons of stories like this, and that is what I’m thinking about as my parents begin the process of packing my childhood home and move to a fucking townhouse association in Des Moines. This is in addition to the house they have in Arizona…also in an association…which makes them officially retirees.
I don’t expect them to stay in a dying community and I completely understand the reasons why they had to move. But it’s a strange feeling knowing that I now won’t have a hometown to return to and that every place they live going forward will have this feeling of unfamiliarity each time I visit.
In more ways than one, I can never go home again.