Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavillion

I was high when I reviewed the last Animal Collective album. Not that it changes what I ultimately thought about the album…it stands up incredibly well...but I will admit that a “higher” state of mind admittedly helps with how the album sticks to your grey matter.
For Merriweather Post Pavilion, I decided to take on the listening session with nothing more than a glass of Cranapple and some residual Vicodin floating through my bloodstream. I’d like you to think that the newfound sobriety was intentional, so let me make myself perfectly clear: if I had any evidence of weed or usable resin to scrape, I would have gladly complemented the new Animal Collective record with a few hits.
Alas, it didn’t matter much. Animal Collective have made Merriweather Post Pavilion user friendly, even when said “user” to let on that I wanted to undertake listening to the new Animal Collective album sober, but the fact is I would have gotten totally baked beforehand had I any at my disposal.
Since I didn’t, the latest was reviewed as clean as the ice that’s currently sealing my backyard.
As it turns out, recreational enhancements aren’t really needed with Merriweather. I’m sure they’d enhance things just fine, but the harsh edge of AC’s psychedelia now have smooth edges and (gasp!) accessible passages. It’s the perfect album to gain familiarity with them while just happening to be their most perfect album.
The accessibility aspect has nothing to do with the praise. The perfection comes from how much is going on in nearly every song and how wonderfully flawless it all seems. Merriweather sounds like David Porter and Noah Lennox came close to maxing out those unlimited tracks on their computer-recording program while composing everything. There’s not only the effort that came from capturing everything, but from the process of whittling down those unlimited tracks into something that you can aurally wrap yourself around.
When you do, you’ll find that there’s melody and playfulness abounding in the interweaving collages that pan around and drift in and out of the mix. This may be the first album that actually manages to sound like a huge endeavor even when pumped through shitty earbuds at 128 kbs.
How they’ve achieved this is hard to explain. Not so long ago, a completely novice music fan could purchase various music loop programs like Acid, choose passages of music, loop them together and “create” a song. More advanced users could do things like the pitch, tempo, etc. and tweak them to a point where it could become noticeably disconcerting from the original passage. The program was a lot of fun and the possibilities were infinite. What Animal Collective has done with Merriweather is use that same idea with totally unique loops as their source material. They then jack the shit out of them so that scratches, bass pulses, electronic blips and other weird effects infect the loop. These loops get chopped, sped up/slowed down, and cut and pasted next to each other so that there may be a dozen segments in the confines of one song. At this point, a collage of harmonies repeating phrases and/or lines of incomprehensible lyrics are added on top of everything. How they make it work is beyond me, but it’s unlike anything you’ve heard before and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll hear such schizophrenic soundscapes sound this great.
Merriweather Post Pavilion is an album that grows with each listen, and with so much going on in between your ears, you’ll discover new moments each time. It may take some time to fully appreciate AC’s genius that they’ve obviously sweated over and studied for while making this record, but once you have, you won’t miss the herb that helped you realize the band’s other efforts.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Amanda Palmer - Who Killed Amanda Palmer?

Probably the only subtle thing about Amanda Palmer’s debut solo album is its cheeky reference to Twin Peaks in the title, Who Killed Amanda Palmer? Everything within the actual grooves of the release is overwrought, overanalyzed, and just plain over the top.
Because of this, it shares equal billing as one of my favorite albums from last year, right alongside being one of my most embarrassing admissions.
Palmer comes across as one of those enormously talented friends that you introduce to your other friends, only to watch her make a total ass of herself when the topic of conversation turns to a topic where she’d be better served by shutting up.
She can’t shut up, which is both her vice and her charm. There’s not a doubt in my mind that every utterance comes from deep inside her heart, but as any Midwestern will tell you: Choose what you say wisely, because once you say something, you can’t take it back.
And believe me, Amanda Palmer has a shitload of things to say.
You can hear her voice crack, break, and bellow…sometimes in the course of one song…making it the most versatile instrument throughout the disc, one that’s chocked full of legitimate ones. Yes, producer Ben Folds seemingly had his work cut out for him as he attempted to fit every note on tape, in addition to the whims that Palmer’s larynx presents at each measure. I’ve got no complaints about it either, because he puts Palmer’s chops at the forefront of everything while leaving enough space to let her pound on the ivories and stomp on the damper pedal.
Occasionally, all of Palmer’s catharsis can be a bit too much, particularly when she’s talking shit rather than from the heart. The worse offender is “Oasis,” a lighthearted number about rape, sexually transmitted disease, abortion, and Blur tickets. The juvenilia of the song suddenly sheds light on other moments where you questioned Palmer’s decision-making and, more importantly, it transforms the record from nearly flawless to frustratingly good.
It is perhaps the catalyst for my aforementioned embarrassment. How can I tell you how I’m moved to tears with a line like “I’m not gonna watch while you burn yourself out, baby/I’m not going to stop you/’Cuz I’m not the one that’s crazy” (“Ampersand”) knowing that she’ll be throwing out some bullshit like “Oasis” later on?
It tears at the emotional credibility of the rest of the album, but it’s not enough to entirely discount Palmer’s creative muse. There are just too many times when her delivery enraptures me to a point where I don’t care if she’s full of shit, all I know is that I’m taken by her strangely unique persona and belligerent method of grabbing my attention.
It’s worked, but then again, I’m a fan of Kate Bush and others of her ilk with penchant for theatrical grandiose and dance hall charms. But Palmer seems more American than her influences, with these weird touches of 1920’s gaudiness mixed with new millennium sexuality.
Then there’s the honesty…or my perception of her being honest…which may explain why the character of Amanda Palmer is on stage. Because underneath it lies a mixed up and confused who finds therapy performing in front of like-minded neurotics.
I guess by liking Who Killed Amanda Palmer? makes me one of those ill equipped just enough to enjoy it, and tolerate her actions even after she’s put her foot in her mouth. Amanda Palmer may be better served by shutting up every now and then, but it’s that very lack of self-censorship that makes her so intriguing.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


I suppose it’s time to official acknowledge the death of Michael Jackson. I avoided it because 1.) I’m still sick of Thriller and 2.) He’s a fucking child molester.
Neither one of those things qualify for a brief reprieve just because he bit the dust. Dude created so much unnecessary drama that-just you watch-even his death will create a pathetic media swirl for weeks after his ticker quit.
I suppose the first exposure came at the hands of the Jackson 5, a group that even my little boy mind felt was bubblegum regardless of whether it was or not. You see, the idea of “bubblegum” music was soundly ridiculed at my home. My father once decried that I had “Sugar Sugar” by the Archies on 45, stating that it was bubblegum music and that bubblegum music didn’t qualify as “real” music. Unlike most kids today, I actually listened to my father and I quickly purged any potential music that could be viewed as bubblegum.
The trouble was that I thought that bubblegum music was something that was directly addressed to young kids, so if young kids were the ones performing the songs, then they must be creating bubblegum music.
Hence, the Jackson 5 was placed in the bubblegum category of my 5 year old brain.
Fast forward to middle school, when we all went to the YMCA to roller skate on Friday nights with fellow pre-teens. It was a chance to try and figure out the opposite sex and dance with them, although we weren’t really dancing…we were skating.
There was someone who always held the thankless job of handing out the crappy skates to everyone who didn’t own one (me) and put another 45 record on the Y’s shitty stereo system. There wasn’t a large selection that they played, but it did contain a large portion of current hits.
One of the records that got a bunch of spins was Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. To this day, whenever I hear “Rock With You,” I think of roller skating and mustering up enough nerve to hold hands with a few flat-chested cuties while skating in circles, under the notion that we were only making sure the lasses wouldn’t fall down.
Fact is, most of the girls were twice the skaters as the guys and we were the ones doing the stumbling.
I should note that I have not skated since this time, some thirty years ago.
I was awful.
By 1982, I was in high school and a friend of mine who was a few years ahead of me decided that he would write a review of the new Michael Jackson album. Understand, this was the same dude that introduced the Scorpions to me and who tried in vain to get me to appreciate Foghat. Knowing this, I questioned why he decided to review Thriller instead of one of those badass rock platters. He advised that it was for editorial integrity and that he wanted to be a more well-rounded reviewer. He also stated that it was pretty good before adding the obligatory “for what it’s suppose to be.”
Read: it was a good pop record.
I never bought Thriller. I didn’t need to because nearly every single was a hit and because every hit got tons of airplay. Seriously, people today have no idea what a hit really is. There are number one songs out there that people don’t know anything about. I promise you that probably everyone in America back then could identify a song from Thriller because it received so much airplay throughout a variety of different formats. And when radio wasn’t doing its job, MTV devoted a ton of airtime for Michael.
Because of all of this exposure, I got sick of Thriller and of Michael Jackson. I probably enjoyed the “Thriller” video for a moment and thought his moonwalking on some awards show was kind of neat, but I never had an interest in ever actually buying the album. Nearly everyone I knew had a copy….somewhere….but it was never one that was frequently pulled out. In many cases, it became the sole cassette in the parent’s car as they made a futile attempt to stay hip.
Every subsequent release was generally dismissed, as Michael became part of the problem instead of the solution. And who was the solution? Why Guns n Roses and Nirvana of course! Anything beyond “Smooth Criminal” and that thing he did with his sister is pretty lost on me. The only thing I remember him for since then is child molestation charges and a creepy looking white dude that’s feature on some British documentary on the life of Michael Jackson.
Is it a shame that the ‘King of Pop’ is dead? Sure. He brought a lot of joy to many people and is one of the most successful artists of my time. But he also brought a lot of self-imposed drama with the fame that we provided him and he made a lot of very bad decisions in the process. I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to have that level of fame, but I do know that his fame had nothing to do with his ability to discern between right and wrong. And for a large part of his life, a lot of what he did was very wrong.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

KGGO Summer Jam

Back home. Arrived late last night after a meeting with Ann & Nancy Wilson. We left the kids with the Grandparents in Des Moines while we experience at least one day as a couple.
Des Moines obviously has their shit together. While they have the benefit of not having to contend with a massive flood to clean up after, it’s clear that they have organizers around the city that coordinate events alongside each other and promote the shit out of said events. There wasn’t a newspaper, television, or radio station that didn’t say anything about the art festival this weekend, and in glancing through the events, who wouldn’t want to attend. The only excuse would have been the heat, which was massive here in Iowa for the past few days.
Over here in Eastern Iowa, we heard nothing of the festivities. I had similar complaints for last year’s 80/35 Festival, but that event seemed to be more about the region in general. The art festival seemed more about the community.
What I found to be funny was how you could see Collective Soul for free while organizers for Burlington Steamboat Days were charging top dollar to see the band just a few days prior. Way to go, Burlington!
KGGO apparently has created their own “Summer Jam” to go along with the art festival. On the following night is a country version, and it’s already sold out, indicating that there’s a bunch more fans of country than rock n roll out here in Iowa.
Or maybe it’s because the country night book two very popular current artists-Keith Urban and Taylor Swift-and that Iowans will flock to anything modern and popular.
That rules out KGGO’s bash which featured the headlining band Ratt, a band that hasn’t been anywhere near the charts in twenty years.
To fill out the line-up, the station booked a ton of also-rans: April Wine, Pat Travers, Great White, Head East, and the dude that isn’t Paul Rodgers that sang for Bad Company who’s touring under the name ‘Bad Company.’ As unremarkable as this line-up may seem, I could have been swayed by the ticket price-$27.50-based on the fact that three of those bands (Ratt, April Wine, and Pat Travers) have albums currently taking up space on my IPod’s hard drive. But by the time I’d heard about the show, I would have been required to spend double the price to see this event.
What the fuck?
Now, I completely agree that early birders should have an opportunity to get cheaper tickets, but at what point do the promoters just stop giving a shit about putting asses in the seats? There is one thing that has prevented me from going to this show: the price. That translates into two extra people to buy beer, merch, whatever. I have to believe that there are other people on the fence too that are now planning something else because of the ticket price increase. It seems to me that you would want to get as many spontaneous sales as possible, but like their format, KGGO is clearly out of step with the times.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The OCD Chronicles: Krokus-"Midnight Maniac"

It’s a two-parter. First of all, thanks to my cousin for getting that woeful piece of shit “Midnight Maniac” by the Swiss band Krokus stuck in my head for my trip. Shame on me for even having that woeful piece of shit on my IPod. I feel the need to point out that “Midnight Maniac” was on my Heavy Metal box set compilation and I imported those discs to my IPod prior to leaving for vacation. The truth is, I could have skipped that track entirely. In fact, there were plenty of other songs on that compilation that I didn’t import over. For some reason, I didn’t do this for Krokus. I considered it, noticed it wasn’t their awful version of “Ballroom Blitz,” a decided to keep it on for nostalgic reasons.
Even that is not entirely true because I can’t count one person who I used to hang out with that owned or listened to Krokus. There may have been one guy from my neighborhood that we played basketball with that may have owned it (I do remember him spinning a few Dokken cassettes) or my next-door neighbor that had awful taste in metal. Those are the only sources that I could remotely tie my youth to Krokus.
Years later, I came across a great story where the lead singer of Krokus, Marc Storace, was asked to review the new album by The Fall and Mark E. Smith was asked to review the new album by Krokus. Smith, of course, hated the album and eloquently whipped the band in the written review. Storace replied with a bit of verbal wit of his own, stating that he didn’t much care for the Falls’ music, citing that it made him feel depressive.

In other repeated spins, the recurring song for this trip is The Commodores’ “Easy.” For fun, I set the IPod to shuffle and enjoyed the ensuing train wreck. When we hit the Minnesota border, I changed gears and put in Lionel Richie compilation. It lasted until it reached “Easy” and then the gag ran thin. But in the ensuing days since then, I’ve heard that song at least two other times. Either it’s a Lionel Richie conspiracy or my brain is now hypersensitive to anything Richie-related.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mall Of AmeriKKKa

Let me say this, if you have kids and they’re under the age of three, do yourself a favor and don’t even bother going on a family vacation. Even under the most rigid of planning (short drive time, hotel with kid-friendly amenities, and close proximity to other landmarks) something will inevitably go wrong-usually at the hands of the child under three.
Greetings from Minneapolis, a town where people tend to be overly friendly or tremendously douchey. We’ve experienced both, and in the case of the latter, you just want to explode with a scream of “You’re in Minnesota, fuckstick! Leave the attitude in one of your 10,000 lakes along with the rest of the walleye!” Seriously, any state that’s helped give the rest of the country Garrison Keillor owes us a motherfucking apology. Plus, you retards elected a professional wrestler as your governor, which is actually a step below in electing the Terminator. And we know what a stand-up job that shiteater is doing.
If you’ve never been to the Mall of America before, take another bit of advice from yours truly and just stay clear of the place. I’ve yet to meet one living soul in that monstrosity that even pretended to want to be working there. Look, I worked and managed retail for years, so I know what a thankless job it is. I also know how easy it is to pretend to give a shit when you’re communicating with other people. I’m not talking about the douche bags-fuck them-I’m talking about everyday folks that have some cash in their pockets that are willing to spend it in your premises. I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve come across in the last few days that simply act like ringing you up is on the same category as doing inventory on the entire store.
A better suggestion is just to stay away from this dinosaur shithole. You’ve probably got the exact same goddamn stores in your own back yard, so fuck this place.
Trust me: your kids will have just as much fun if you go squirt them with the hose and follow it up with a meal of hot dogs and Twinkies.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The OCD Chronicles: Rainbow-"Man On The Silver Mountain"

Here’s a riddle: what do you get when you’re a wheel, the sun, black, white, the day and the night?
Answer: you get “The Man Of The Silver Mountain.”
Look, nobody said that Ronnie James Dio was a poet. In fact, the guy has a tendency to use a lot of the same imagery over and over. While most people would be content with writing one song about rainbows, Ronnie has written a couple (“Rainbow In The Dark” and “Catch The Rainbow.”). In fact, Ronnie joined up with awesome Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and formed a fucking band called Rainbow.
And right out of the gate, the duo wrote a song about an imaginary dude whose name everyone screams and who needs to be made holy again.
I have two versions of this song: the original studio album version that everyone’s familiar with and the eleven-minute long live version from On Stage.
It was Brad Company that introduced me to this version, presumably over a few hits of weed some night. That’s really the only way one can fully appreciate Ronnie James Dio’s improvisational wordplay at the end of the track.
You see, it’s a medley, beginning with “Man On The Silver Mountain” until it slows down until Ritchie breaks out a slow blues piece. RJD comes back in and the band breaks into an up-tempo rocker about a bad luck woman that’s “starstruck.” Dio reaches the end of that song and then begins to croon about how we all need some love.
Unexpectedly, Dio then changes gears and then starts singing how he’s the man….you’re the man…hell, we’re all the man on the silver mountain!
It’s as fine a piece of nonsensical vocal scatting as you’ll ever hear and ranks just behind the Guess Who’s drunken ramblings of roast beef.
As stupid as the lyrics to “Man On The Silver Mountain may be, they do speak the truth. The song is good enough that it certainly does “lift your spirit higher.”

Check out the badass rainbow lighting rig they used during Rainbow's 1977 tour.

Speaking of badass: that badass on drums is none other than the late Cozy Powell.

Speaking of dumbass: that dumbass on keyboards is none other than future Planet P Project founder Tony Corey. If you'd like to see to see some passionate comments from Tony Carey fans calling me a dumb-ass, please check out one of Glam-Racket's most popular reviews: Planet P Project's Pink World.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New York Doll

It made me cry.
Even though I knew what the outcome would be, I struggled to hold back tears.
All of the praise that New York Doll has received is totally deserved. It’s one of the best rock and roll documentaries that I have ever seen and a lot of this is because it is fundamentally different than most rock and roll documentaries that I have ever seen. Sure, there are the obligatory moments where the film reviews Arthur “Killer” Kane’s past, but it is far from an episode of VH1’s Behind The Music. Given Kane’s subsequent financial, emotional, and creative problems that plagued him after the Dolls split, this is a pretty major accomplishment.
I think a lot of this is because the filmmaker, Greg Whiteley, was a brother in the Mormon faith like Kane. It’s very obvious that Kane’s newfound faith played an intricate role in keeping him alive, grounded, and with purpose. Whiteley is not afraid to disclose the very “un-rock” criteria that the church practices. It does nothing to conceal the sheltered qualities of Kane’s Mormon co-workers and fellow members. Instead, it forgoes any righteousness and focuses on how the church’s structure helped Kane and even went so far as to help make Kane’s lifelong dream of having the Dolls reform a reality.
They helped get his fucking bass out of the pawn shop.
That’s right: the Mormon church helped a down and out member get their bass guitar out of a pawnshop so that he would be able to return to one of the most notoriously decadent rock bands in history.
How appropriate, as New York Doll is ultimately a story about faith anyway. Faith in Mormonism. Faith that a fellow Mormon will be able to follow the straight and narrow even in the face of an opportunity-for-sin rock festival performance.
Faith that the band will even get back together.
Kane spent more time wanting the Dolls to reform than actually being in the New York Dolls. But without that identifying band, his life seemed to have no relevance. His apartment was decorated with memorabilia. His conversations littered with glory day stories. His interactions with the remaining band members became nothing more than bitter accusations and envious glances. He was convinced that he was forgotten, unjustly left behind, and his eyes reflected it. His conversations littered with glory day stories. His interactions with the remaining band members became nothing more than bitter accusations and envious glances. He was convinced that he was forgotten, unjustly left behind, and that other bands of lesser talent had taken the same path the Dolls cleared beforehand and made tons of money in the process.
It’s clear that Kane’s prayers must have helped somewhat in making the impossible happen. It’s a hoot to watch Kane explain to two elderly ladies that he works with how the bass guitar contributes to the band-one that they’re obviously clueless about, but polite nonetheless-and then is whisked away days later to be doted on by adoring English fans.
Conversely, it’s heartbreaking to watch Kane come out of his shell to perform in front of those fans only to be diagnosed with leukemia and pass away just three weeks after taking the stage.
Again, his prayers were clearly answered.
New York Doll also paints a portrait of how some of his bandmates-namely David Johansen-could be a real prick even after decades of separation. The filmmakers don’t set anything up, they just allow those that would like to put their foot in their mouths an opportunity to do so. Johansen succeeds, chiding Kane for the rigid rules his religion presents. He even gives a seemingly sarcastic introduction to Kane as one of “God’s miracles” while on stage.
The miracle was the fact that the band reunited to perform. The reality was that Kane was probably the only one to pray for such a miracle to happen.
Unfortunately, it seems that the person in most need of a prayer or a miracle was Arthur Kane himself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

And It Don't Get Better Than This

What the fuck is Poison doing at the Tony awards anyway?
Do we need a musical about 80's hair metal?
Not to sound callous, but there’s nothing funnier than Bret Michaels taking a shot to the face on live TV. Serves him right for shucking out another goddamn version of “Don’t Need Nothin’ But A Good Time” in that fucking wig. Seriously dude, your time was up years ago, you were a packaged act even in your prime, and nobody takes your shit seriously.
Now Michaels’ camp is calling foul, whining that the Tony’s producers are an uncaring lot and blaming the show’s crew for not keeping an eye on Brett. They’re stating that they weren’t aware a half-ton prop was going to be descending. I call bullshit; none of the other members were in harm’s way and they all seemed to hit a mark on time, presumably knowing that something was on its way down. Could it be that Brett was too busy hamming it up for a few seconds too long? Maybe-because he’s such a big time reality show star-he missed the rehearsals while the other members of Poison were present at the run through. Or maybe it’s just fucking karma that’s finally rearing it’s heard towards the head of Bret Michaels.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Best Colonial Lanes story:
Me, another friend name Todd and a mutual friend named Katie all decided to go bowling. On the way to Colonial Lanes, we stopped by the head shop (The Third Coast, for any of you old school IC readers) and picked up a case of Nitrous Oxide whippets.
I'm pretty sure we were already lit prior to the NO2, but apparently it wasn't enough.
The idea was to do a balloon of the nitrous prior to rolling. Of course, nearly every frame was a goose egg and we were politely advised to stick with the fifty cent drafts and put the whippets away.
A sample of Colonial Lanes for those of you outside of Ioway.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Black Flag - Family Man

Family Man is the “White Album” of Black Flag releases. It’s an e.p., I know, but work with me here. It’s the first Flag release that demonstrates the individualistic factions of the band: one side devoted to Greg Ginn’s schizophrenic guitar patterns, the other to Henry Rollins’ word jazz.
Rollins’ was young, just finding his feet in the world of poetry. Not only was he coming from an environment where he wasn’t even the primary songwriter of his band (that distinction fell to Ginn again), he was the frontman of a band that performed a style of music that wasn’t known for the art of its written word. Rollins went on to help change that, particularly with his continual stream of prose that he released from his own publishing company, but his talents at the time of Family Man weren’t that well known and, as a result, came as a complete surprise.
He’s young-his spoken word here shows that, particularly in the content of his material. But it’s promising-particularly with the title track which wonderfully details the monotony of suburbia-and it’s good that someone had the good sense to encourage his newly found interest so that he continued to explore this new creative field. I remember seeing video footage of Hank performing on some late night video show thinking “Holy shit! It’s that dude from Black Flag!” before thinking “Holy shit! He’s reading poetry!”
The other material is instrumental passages spearheaded by Ginn and the Black Flag line up at that time. Understand that the band were not only road dogs, but they rehearsed an insane amount of time when they weren’t on the road. As impressive as that may sound, rehearsing does not mean every sound made is worthy of recording. Add to this, Ginn has a penchant for jazz arrangements and free range riffing. Not only can his music be a test of ability, they can be a test of tolerance. If there was a large market for his style of instrumental jam then more of you would hear about Ginn’s post-Flag instrumental band, Gone. Only “The Pups Are Doggin’ It” manages to reach any sort of inspired jamming and even that is questionable as something that needed to be released.
Unlike The White Album, Family Man is a mixed bag-a curio e.p. that’s exciting upon first listen but not something that would inspire repeated listening. At the same time, Raymond Pettibon’s album art is a hell of a lot more controversial than the Beatles’ cover ever was.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Koko Taylor R.I.P.

She picked ‘Koko” because she loved chocolate. We picked Koko because she embodied what the ‘Queen of the Blues” should be: fiercely independent, larger than life, and a voice that could neuter any man that dared to step in her way.
Koko Taylor performed with some of the most legendary artists of the last 60 years. She called Chicago’s premier blue label-Chess Records-home for nearly 20 years and Alligator records for over 30. She won a Grammy in 1985, got induced into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1997, but even until the very end she had to perform live just to make a living. That’s right, even at the age of 80, Koko Taylor wasn’t secure enough financially that she could properly retire. Each year was a continual itinerary of gigs and maybe the occasional special performance, like the one she landed at the Kennedy Center Honors earlier this year, performing her signature “Wang Dang Doodle” in front of a black-tie crowd honoring Morgan Freeman.
Her last performance was little under a month ago, another stop before checking into the hospital to treat a bleeding ulcer. Complications from that surgery eventually took her life yesterday.
Something tells me that regardless of financial necessity, Koko probably would have chosen to still make music and perform live anyway. She was that kind of lady. And as anyone knows, a queen doesn’t just give up her thrown-it has to be taken away.
Scroll back up to the photo of Koko and notice that it’s none other than Steven Segal paying tribute to her, second from the left.

Photo courtesy of the Official Koko Taylor Website.

Kiss - Psycho Circus

Reunion albums-like reunion tours or any other event where the boys get back together-shouldn’t be rocket science. It should be a gathering of old friends where egos are left at the door and the band celebrates the chemistry that enabled all of them to achieve success.
This should have been abundantly clear to the members of Kiss when they began sniffing around the reunion door-it was clear that fans were ready to experience the band in full regalia and pay handsomely for it. Leave it to the band-specifically Gene and Paul-to create unnecessary drama and outright greed that prevented the reunion from achieving a lasting impact and, more important, retained the legitimacy of the moniker.
But I’m writing today about the obligatory “reunion” album-the studio offering that Kiss provided us during the late 90’s of all new material. It seemed like the album that would prepare us for a Kiss in the new millennium; it was a new beginning, strangely packaged in either what seemed to be a concept album motif or what would be a reflection of their world tour-a Psycho Circus of rock debauchery that snaked its way across America, allow a new generation to experience old school Kiss.
Leave it to the band to fuck that entire notion royally up.
Should we start with the album itself? It’s nowhere near the caliber of their albums from the 70’s and, here’s the most embarrassing thing, it’s nowhere near the caliber of their albums from the 90’s. Have you heard their albums from the 90’s? They’re not very good. Psycho Circus is worse. How the fuck does one make their long awaited “reunion” album worse than their dismal regular output?
Psycho Circus is pathetic. It reeks of opportunistic greed and half-considered ideas-many of which were started prior to the “reunion” itself-all pasted together under the guise of larger-than-life event.
The effort is overproduced, signifying a major artistic statement while the actual performances are mere farts, expelled by middle-age men who are in a hurry to get back on the road where the real money was. The lyrics are an embarrassing afterthought-even worse than normal shitty Kiss standards-placed together with a few self-congratulatory anthems that got their origin from a fucking roadie (“You Wanted The Best”). The music sounds nothing like their glory days; in an unbelievably dumb move, Gene and Paul don’t even consider how fans may have been looking for some semblance of the band’s past and probably don’t care how any real fan would walk away from this album with any sense of satisfaction.
As horrific as the music and lyrics are, that’s not the worst thing plaguing Psycho Circus. No, the worst thing is that it’s even referred to as a “reunion” album. You see, Peter Criss and Ace Frehley barely contribute at all to this album. It seems to have been created by Gene, Paul, and the Carnival Of Souls players (Bruce Kulick and Eric Singer), perhaps recorded while they were still working on that project. After a few overdubs were thrown in featuring the originals, the album took on the reunion title even when it’s clearly the same Carnival Of Souls shit in a bigger room. Even Ace’s “Into The Void” (did anyone lend him a copy of Masters Of Reality?) sounds nothing like Ace.
Psycho Circus is a morally corrupt record-one that baits you into believing that the two original members actually had a significant role in the product without fully disclosing their limited contributions until after you’ve shelled out the cash. One could probably draw there own assumptions as to why Gene and Paul went this route, and it too speaks volumes about their own character. To truly allow Peter and Ace to be a part of the creative process would mean sharing, Sharing means that the two would see less revenue from the album, and that’s something that Gene and Paul were obviously unwilling to allow. Ace and Peter aren’t exactly exempt from this; after all, they would have had to agree to the terms of before signing up for this nonsense. Regardless of how hard Gene and Paul must have made it for those two, they did have the option to walk away. I have to believe that even with equal shares and equal contributions, everyone involved would have surely made more money from an album that actually rocked. The only thing Gene and Paul had to fall back on was another Kulick penned project that pointed to the idea that the main creative force behind Kiss had more marketing ideas than creative ones.
As it turned out, Psycho Circus barely went gold while the tour raked in huge sums of revenue. Why? Because people didn’t give a shit about the new material, but they sure liked those old favorites.
On the other hand, maybe longstanding Kiss fans figured out that Psycho Circus was a half-hearted attempt that shafted them once again. It could have been a great opportunity to shore up and build their fan base, but they squandered it just to make the most amount of money in the easiest way possible. Had they invested a little more time and allowed a little more creative input Psycho Circus may have actually worked and it could have put some much needed credibility into a brand that was losing vast amounts of market share prior to the reunion announcement. As it stood, the ridiculous drama that occurred after this record-itself a by-product of Psycho Circus’ laziness-indicates that nothing crazy at all about Kiss any more, but it’s obvious that there’s a pair of clowns running the show.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Thoughts On Conan

They’re using the old theme song. Good for them, it rocks. They’ve got an art deco set. Good for them, it rocks. They’ve got Andy Richter back. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.
Richter’s all right, I suppose. I used to like him just fine, but then he left the original show and seemed to be on countless numbers of sitcoms that got cancelled after a few shows and he may have been in a few movies that evidently were so bad, because I can’t remember any of them.
Just when I got used to him being away, he’s back, providing uncomfortable laughter behind what looked to be a podium. It made the weak material sound weaker and it made his own bits sound even more contrived.
There’s been this reoccurring mantra that nothing’s changed, but the reality is that things need to change in this time slot. The monologue on the opening night was like a weak one from the old show. There was too much uncomfortable silence in between bits and more of Andy’s pointless guffaws.
It wasn’t until Conan whipped out the video footage when things started getting good. The problem is that O’Brien can’t rely on video bits to carry him. His writers better get choppin’ at better material. As much as I can’t stand Leno, I’ve got to admit that his monologue material was quick, well rehearsed and perfect for the show. Ironically, it was his video bits that were awful.
But there’s one thing that I cannot do: count out Conan. It took a few years before he started to hit his stride in Letterman’s old slot and warm over my heart. A lot of it had to do with the way NBC shafted Dave, but Conan seemed to be an innocent pawn in the entire event. And when Conan asked Dave to be a guest in the old digs, it seemed that Dave himself was giving a blessing.
Now that he’s directly against Dave, I doubt there will be any of those same kind of meetings. And I doubt that I will change my time-slot viewing habits either. They will remained loyal to Letterman unless he’s gone or a rerun. Besides, Dave’s days (or nights as it were) are probably limited until the end of his current contract in 2010, so we may as well start getting our fill of Dave before it’s too late.
By then, enough time will have passed that O’Brien could be considered as being certifiably old school. And by then enough time will have passed that O’Brien will have had to consider that being old school doesn’t mean you have to disregard some new school strategies.


I finally watched Anton Corbijn’s Control last night. It was better than I expected. At the end of the day, I would put it in the same category as other biopics like Ray or Walk The Line-probably putting it ahead of those two pictures, actually-but not much in terms of actually learning anything new about Ian Curtis or Joy Division.
Not that I expected the movie to teach me anything, but I wanted to get into the head of Curtis a bit more, even if it was a fictionalized account. Instead, it took the path of least resistance in the hopes of using two elements of Curtis’ short life-his relationship with his wife Deborah and his mistress Annik and his epilepsy-and created it into an easy to follow movie that can be enjoyed by non-fans.
Deborah Curtis’ autobiography Touching From A Distance is obviously used as the movie’s blueprint. I have the book and it was not an enjoyable read for me. It provided a lot of insight into Debbie and how much of an asshole Ian was, but it offered little sympathy into her husband’s genius. There’s an air of bitterness throughout Touching From A Distance and a little of it permeated into the film. Indeed, my wife’s first reaction to Ian Curtis was to think of him as a “jerk” and to completely overlook the talent that he had. She is not familiar with Joy Division’s work, whereas I was able to overlook some of the man’s fidelity issues because his work is complete genius.
The other focal point is Curtis’ epilepsy. It’s strange to consider that just thirty years ago there was a strong stigma attached to such ailments, to the point where they would present such a devastating event to the person it impacts. Control seems to suggest that Curtis’ “fits” were of such embarrassment that the mental recovery took longer than the physical. It also suggests that immediately before his suicide, Curtis experience a seizure that contributed to his decision to end his own life.
Of course, these are the liberties that a fictionalized account can take on a project like this. Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris acknowledged the discrepancy between the truth and Control, but admitted that the truth was probably too boring for film anyway.
Looking at the film from that perspective-an enjoyable piece of visual art-Control wins. Filmed in black and white, Corbijn has created a visually stunning piece of work. He has a keen eye and there are scenes where you see his talent as a photographer clearly at work. It’s his first feature film and Corbijn has entered the arena with a winner.
Sam Riley’s depiction of Ian Curtis is simply amazing. With little-to-no interview footage of Curtis available, Riley studied Joy Division’s performances from archival material and melded it with his interpretation of how the man presented himself off stage. At no point in time did I not believe his performance. I could not say the same thing about Joaquin Phoenix’s role as Johnny Cash or Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles.
Then there are the music performances. Corbijn had Riley and the rest of the fictional Joy Division learn the music and perform live, understanding how the chemistry of becoming a band would not only build credibility to their performance, but build a relationship between each other. The end result is an impressive working unit that adds just enough reality to make even a hard-line Joy Division fan like me to not get sidetracked into fixating on the fact that we’re watching nothing more than a Joy Division cover band.
With no new information provided, questionable source material, and a penchant for the more dramatic parts of Curtis’ life as focal points, Control is not to replace any true documentaries on the band. When you understand that-and you will after a few minutes into the film-Control becomes an enjoyable night at the movies that ranks ahead of similarly crafted films. The only real problem isn’t one with the film, but how you know it’s going to end.