Monday, August 31, 2009

William Elliott Whitmore - Animals In The Dark

After three fine and sadly overlooked records on the Southern label, Iowa native William Elliott Whitmore moves to the larger Anti Records imprint for number four, putting him in the same company as Tom Waits, Neko Case, and others that regularly rank high on the Americana heavy rotation list.
To deem Whitmore as merely an “Americana” artist is a disservice. This is roots music, barely a guitar string away from the same kind of songs that would have been prevalent at the start if the 20th century. Added to this, Whitmore still lives and works on his family farm in Lee County, a story that will most assuredly get some traction from people who want to milk his legitimacy and exploit his good-naturedness. Here’s the thing about Iowa though: we have a tendency not to be afraid of a hard days work and we know the moment you start belittling us as some backwash hicks with little regard for your big city perceptions. And here’s the thing about Whitmore: there’s a sense of credibility that flows not from his press bio, but from the first time you hear his voice.
To see him in a local bar is an opportunity to miss him. He blends in well, fitting in with the rest of the inked twenty-somethings with two-week old facial hair. But put banjo in his hands, a stool for a seat and a Pabst to quench his thirst and watch him transform into one of our country’s most distinctive talents. Trust me, I’ve tried on more than one occasion to discount his act with cynicism and distrust only to break down and admit that this young man is the real deal.
Of course, the ideal setting to see Whitmore is live, but in lieu of that (or if it’s the farming season and WEW can’t tour as he is too busy attending to agricultural needs) you’ll be forced to chose a recorded document, and there’s now a better opportunity with his new label for you to run into one.
For those new to the flock, Animals In The Dark is a fine place to start
Animals In The Dark starts with nothing more than a rhythm and Whitmore’s cigarette-addled voice, declaring mutiny on a ship that the Bush administration nearly ran into dry land. “He don’t need no water/Let the motherfucker burn” he judges on W2 during “Mutiny.” There are other political overtones scattered throughout Animals…something that’s unusual in his previous work…and they sound like the result of careful consideration, not the gut-check Libertarian values that finds its way into some of the wells of Whitmore’s neck of the woods.
With all but a few songs devoted to statehouse affairs, there are more that deal with rural observations and small town characters. Many have been in his set list for years (“Johnny Law” “Hell Or High Water”) and all are delivered with the same bare-bone arrangement that has been his bread and butter all along.
The presumed added budget afforded to him has made the mix at tad more defined, but by no means polished. WEW’s voice remains front and center, and when any band arrangements find their way into the recording, they’re well out of the way. There’s actually some possibilities found with that type of structure and it would be interesting to see if Whitmore utilizes full band recordings for later recordings.
Animals In The Dark marks the end of the death and redemption trilogy that encompassed his first three albums. There were brief moments of light that filtered through the darkness of those albums, but Animals shows more of it. It absolutely has its fill of dread and depression, but there’s more tenacity to address it, leading the listener to believe that the subjects within his songs have a real shot at overcoming their adversity. “Hard Times” details a brief snapshot of Whitmore’s past, from the great-granddad that took a ship to America from Germany to his railroad mechanic father, all of whom had less that ideal conditions to work from. “Hard times made us” he declares “and I would not change them for anything.” For a young man who just reached the ripe old age of 30, it’s refreshing to hear how there are still some out there that understand how hardship is a part of our overall existence. We can let misfortune consume us and allow it to lay havoc, or we can press on and grow strong from our difficulties.
Whitmore’s own story is filled with tribulation, but to see him perform and hear him throughout his catalog, you get the sense that he’s come to terms with the circle of life and has vowed to relish each moment that he’s presented with. Perhaps this outlook is a common characteristic among farmers, as they are acutely aware of the seasons and how vital each one is in life. They’re reminders that no matter how bad things are today, nature is not one to wait around for things to get better. Whitmore gets that, and even though Animals In The Dark represents a new season for himself, there’s no better time to get acquainted with the songs of his most recent harvest.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Crystal Stilts - Alight Of Night

There’s very little originality lurking around the deep canyon reverb that drips throughout Crystal Stilts’ first full length. If one could manage to hear whatever Brad Hargett is warbling, I’m sure they’d find it to be positively pessimistic and fueled by dread. If one could transcribe JB Townsend’s guitar work, they’d find some embarrassingly simple chord progressions within that spring-loaded fretwork. And if one could gander at the collected record collection of Crystal Stilts’ members, they’d find more than one copy of the Velvet Underground’s third record, Unknown Pleasures and a few well-worn editions of Psychocandy.
Theoretically, you’ve already heard Alight Of Night before and if that repetition bothers you than read no further. But had I discounted all of the derivative records that I’ve come across throughout the years, I would have missed a whole bunch of bands that started out under the influence before transforming themselves into credible torchbearers.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing on Crystal Stilts’ debut that even hint at future greatness and there’s very little to suggest that they’ll be the subjects of further examination by any doe-eyed supporters who plan on picking up an instrument or two out of shear inspiration from this Brooklyn quartet. It’s probably the Stilts themselves just picked up their own instruments not too long ago.
What you’re left with is an album that isn’t very original, isn’t executed very well and is itself lacking inspiration. Once you can get over this, you’ll find that it’s quite enjoyable. You read that right: the moment I was able to put aside all of my endless references albums-and there are lots to choose from with Alight Of Night-was the moment that I began to appreciate it.
I’ve listened to it a lot and it fits nicely between the albums it apes. That in itself is a testament to Crystal Stilts goal of delivering a record so close to the band’s research material. And even if the band fades into obscurity after this, should they never be able to match this perfect level of inferiority again, I hope they’ll take comfort in knowing that they released one of the best counterfeit albums you ‘ll ever hear.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Inglorious Basterds

It was opening night. I left the wife at home. I caught a little hell for sneaking out of the house last Friday to check out Inglorious Basterds. After all, Tarantino is one of the greatest living moviemakers of all time-I kind of got wind of that around Jackie Brown-and I’ll be goddamned if I can wait too long to see something new that he’s crafted.
I saw this one at the very cinema that I saw Death Proof (also solo and also late night). I also watched it with some obvious fanboys-we all laughed at the right moments, snickered with every ridiculous notion and applauded at the end of the film.
Except for me. I didn’t think Inglorious Basterds was worthy of my applause.
It is my least favorite in the Tarantino cannon. With that being said, I’d want to see it a few more times just to make sure that Death Proof doesn’t fall below it. Which reminds me that I need to see Death Proof a few more times to make sure of that. Which all leads you to realize how good Tarantino is: even with his also-rans, you want to see them more than once.
I want to see it for the things I missed-those subtle nuances that Tarantino always puts in his films, the homage to other films, the stuff missed from lengthy dialogues, and the other things that eventually get revealed in dvd commentaries. Did anyone feel that A Nation’s Hero was suspiciously like the final battle in Saving Private Ryan? Did you feel a little cheated how it was promoted as a modern-day Dirty Dozen only to discover that it was really about a French woman who singlehandedly ended WWII? Did you miss all of those musical discovers that Tarantino normally injects into his movies, like some older brother with a wicked record collection of obscure titles?
Me too.
But a Tarantino film at 80% is better than most of the tripe that Hollywood gives us. For example, I have a few dvds still in the packaging that were given to me as gifts that I still haven’t watched years after I’ve last seen them. If you were to give me a copy of Basterds right now, I would most assuredly watch it tonight-a mere week after my first viewing.
I’d even watch it with my wife this time.

The rankings (as of this writing):
1.) Pulp Fiction
2.) Jackie Brown (close second)
3.) Kill Bill (1 + 2 combined)
4.) Reservoir Dogs
5.) Death Proof
6.) Inglorious Basterds

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Moody Blues - Days Of Future Passed

On the back cover of The Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed album, there’s a picture of the Moodys sitting in a conference room of Deram records, discussing the new album. When I was younger, I imagined the band discussing ideas on how to make the album awesome. It also looked like the room itself-probably just another boring, mundane conference room-was a futuristic lab where the band discussed such heavy topics like the phases of the moon and symphonic arrangements.
Today, my cynicism has replaced all of that youthful space-talk. For all I know, they were probably sitting around, discussing ideas of how to take The Beatles’ foray into art a step further, utilizing a willing orchestra and a hare-brained idea of a day in the life, pun intended.
I was duped into believe that Days Of Future Passed was some kind of artistic statement all the way into my first few years of college. It was then that I re-purchased the album on cd-because all works of art should be listened to in the highest of fidelity, right?
Nothing could have prepared me for the magnitude of unchecked pretention that awaited me when I re-interpreted this album. Evidently, I must have picked up the needle whenever the narrator came on at the beginning and end of the album, reciting some bullshit poetry that was probably composed during the same time that aforementioned photo was taken. Bongwater later parodied this with a straight face for one of their albums, only added a sarcastic “Wow.” at the end.
There is no “Wow” at the end of the Moody’s original version. They really believe this shit.
Understand, this was a pop band prior to the recording of this album. Listen to “Go Now” when the band featured Denny Laine and then listen to “Nights In White Satin” featuring a newly appointed Justin Haywood. Haywood clearly had an impact on what the Moody Blues were to become: a counterfeit piece of motel room art packaged under a fraudulent claim to be a classic piece of work.
The two hits, “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights In White Satin,” are fine pieces of detailed pop. They stand out as decent pop singles even during a period when artists tended to throw everything in the mix to make it sound “modern” or “psychedelic.” The difference is how the Moodys used traditional orchestration, a mellotron, and a finely structured pop song to convey itself. Great pop? Absolutely. High art? No way.
Aside from those two nice moments of pop single bliss, the rest of is a bloated piece of haphazard filler, hastily arranged and incorrectly attributed. It’s “importance” is essentially the work of the orchestral arrangers who follow the same lines as when they arrange current pop hits for the MOR sect. There’s no redeeming value to the album, it does little to convey the emotion of the time or the passion of the band itself. It’s a novelty that benefited from becoming one of the first few concept records of the modern rock era and one that heavily incorporated orchestration into the song cycle. While it proved to be one of the first to use these strategies in the song structure, it does little to excel on actual songs.
Because when you take away the orchestration, you’ve got about twenty minutes of actual songs. And when you take away those aforementioned singles, you’re left with silly musings of the day (sample verse: “Fishes biting/So Exciting/Lunchtime sounds so inviting”) each one delivered by a different member of the Moodies and, therefore, each one fluctuating in consistency.
I later learned that this album was totally the brainchild of the record company who wanted one of their pop acts to work with a full orchestra so that they could promote the label’s new line of enhanced stereo. Since the Moody’s were already under contract, under debt, and with no real possibility of turning their plight around, they were chosen to assist with the project. As luck may have it, the album took off which then posed a bigger problem: how to follow it up. But thanks to their experience with Days Of Future Past, the Moody Blues learned a very important lesson: they could forge a career one album at a time even when that album only really had a few notable tracks within its pompous sleeve.

True story: I once met a chick that was a total Moody Blues fan. I mean, she would not shut up about them and the more she talked about them, the more I was convinced she was a complete wack job. I have no recollection of her name or where we met-I only remembered to steer clear of her and run away. The memory of her devotion to this bunch of blowhards was something that I'll never forget-or understand why.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dungen + Woods Live In Iowa City

I'm not sure why Glorious Noise didn't publish the photos I took of Dungen at the Picador, but they got the best of the lot. Below is the review in it's entirety that originally appeared in Glorious Noise along with the photos that I didn't want to go to waste.

When I told my wife I was going to go see Dungen perform on Monday night, she was a little concerned at having to manage the kids by herself. She wasn’t feeling well, and the idea of having to contend with two children while I indulged in the sonic glory of a Swedish psychedelic rock band didn’t sit well with her.
I assured her that I would be around for most of the evening and could even pick up one of the kids from vacation bible school later that night.
Noting the time, she asked the obvious, “So when does the show start?”
“The doors open at 9:00pm” I replied.
My wife let out a laugh when she caught me yawning about ten minutes later, stating the obvious, “You’re too old to go out tonight!”
She was right in some sense, but I bargained that the evening would feature two bands, Dungen and openers Woods. Calculating a half-hour set by Woods meant that Dungen would potentially hit the stage by 10:30pm and I could realistically be on the road home by 12:30am. I could function on five hours of sleep and make up the difference the following night.
I was met with two surprises at The Picador when I arrived that night. One was that the air conditioning at the club had apparently died. There was a huge fan circulating air at the top of the stairs in a frugal attempt to make sure patrons didn’t die of heat exhaustion while watching a performance on the second-floor stage. Thankfully, a cool summer rain had lowered the temperature on what’s proving to be an otherwise hot Iowa August. There would be no heat related deaths from tonight’s proceedings.
The second surprise had more of an impact on my well-being: two unannounced openers in addition to the two bands on the bill. This would obviously render my previous calculations irrelevant and it was clear that I would be settling in for a very long night.
I was a little restless by the time Woods began their set, but thanks to the strength of their material, I’m glad I toughed it out through the unannounced performers.
What struck me first about Woods was how vocalist and guitarist Jeremy Earl used an old fashion microphone that limited the range of his natural voice to victrola midranges-rendering his weak tenor in an eerie light. Think Galaxie 500-era Dean Wareham as played through a 78 record.
The other strange, yet endearing, element of Woods set was the gentleman-G. Lucas Crane-who sat on the floor in front of homemade storage unit that held various effect pedals and portable cassette players. Two blankets cushioned his knees as he twiddled knobs in the fashion of an overexcited NASA control room member. Covering his mouth was an old pair of Telex headphones-the kind you would find in your school’s A/V department-that he used as a makeshift microphone that made his intonations sound even more creepy than Earl’s. Working the various devices in front of him, Crane created endless aural landscapes-some of which were made by manipulating pre-recorded cassettes that he appeared to speed up/slow down as needed.

The rest of Woods did nice emulations of Velvets guitar freakouts that frequently went on for extended periods. The bassist and drummer occasionally interchanged instruments and on some songs, ignoring the bass altogether in favor of a cheap Japanese guitar that was run through a tiny, 10-watt Orange amp. As a matter of fact, nearly every instrument that Woods used this evening looked like it was pulled from a second-rate pawn shop or lifted during a community clean up day, when townspeople pull out their unwanted items to be hauled to the dump only for scavengers to raid the piles of junk prior to the city crews arrival.
It looked like a matter of necessity instead of one of pretense, but wherever the members got their instruments and toys of sound, they played a genuine set of honest rock that perfectly suited the headliners. The best of the lot was “The Number” from their most recent Songs Of Shame, which turned into a haunting ballad with all of the members seated and quietly adding minor instrumentation while watching Earl strum a battered acoustic guitar.
There was no limitation of Dungen’s equipment, just the muscular lines of vintage gear meant to convey the most accurate tones of the band’s late 60’s homage.
In Dungen’s world, rock music ended after side three of Electric Ladyland, and I suppose you could do worse.
You could do no better, however, than Dungen in that unadorned club on Monday night. Packed on a tight stage too small for such EZ Wider moments, the band transform a bland atmosphere into a kaleidoscope of sounds. There was no place that I or any of the other dedicated fans that cornered the stage would have rather been that evening, and by the second song, I couldn’t have told you what time it was or cared about how little sleep I would be facing when the night was over.
Dungen is not a band for those who don’t find magic in extended solos. Not only solos of the guitar variety, but Fender Rhodes solos, drum solos, and yes, even flute solos. If there are any readers that consider progressive rock the anti-thesis of rock music, then Dungen is not going to be your bag.

Gustav Ejstes was barely able to fill out his faded Levis, but he shook his ass like he had one. When he wasn’t behind the Rhodes, flute or acoustic guitar, he shook his locks in time with a tambourine, looking a tad like Robert Plant circa ’69. “When I get home, I’m going to cut this fucking thing off!” he said while struggling to remove the hair from his perspiring face. Personally, I don’t believe him. Ejstes may challenge Dungen’s tag of “retro,” but there’s nothing on stage or coming from the speakers that will dissuade me from thinking that his hair, his music, and his inspiration come from a forgone era in rock.
It’s clear that Ejstes is taken with the touring members of Dungen, who now seem to be a regular part of the band dynamic in the studio too. Guitarist Reine Fiske-a progressive rock staple in Sweden-did not stray once from his Fender Strat powered through a Marshall stack. These were all the tools he needed as he alternated between face-melting freakouts and gentle guitar textures.
The rhythm section featured Mattias Gustavsson scaling the fret board of his bass (and looking like the son of Noel Redding) while keeping a close eye on drummer Johan Holmegard. Holmegard has a very jazzy feel to his drumming and he tunes his toms with a wet sound, again, another nod to the rhythm section of the Experience.
The four musicians eloquently controlled every ebb and flow of the set, seemingly unaware that the sound guy had to exchange the microphone cord to Reine’s mic three times, that there was a ladder leaning against the wall directly in front of the stage right pa, and that they had played precariously close to the last call time limit.

I had forgotten about the time too, which is another way of saying that Dungen played a captivating set, one that was worth the few extra yawns the following day and one that provided a beautiful soundtrack to my brief dreams that night.
Sleep may be a valuable commodity, but Dungen proved to be a much more worthy one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Issues With Dave Marsh

My parents gave me a box of books that I had evidently left behind at their home over the years and they were tired of storing it for them. There were a few books that I actually wondered what had happened to (Hit Men, a book about the corruption at major label record companies was one, and I finally found my well-worn copy of Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia which may have been rock music's first reference book) a few that I completely forgot about, and one in which I evidently had some issues with.
I don't know what prompted me to deface Dave Marsh's picture on the back of his biography of Bruce Springsteen entitled Glory Days. It was enough for me to write "Bruce!" on his forehead, accentuate his lips, draw a cross a la Sonic Life between his eyes and put an obligatory Hitler mustache on him.
As far as I know, I didn't have anything against him. Unless I came across a negative review of his in some other reference book and decided to take my frustrations out on his glamour shot.
If he was the prick that gave every Galaxie 500 record one star in Rolling Stone's Record Guide then I simply didn't do enough with my artwork.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dungen - Samtidigt

The old trickaroo: I began playing this 12” at 33 1/3 before figuring out that it’s best played at 45rpm. What do you expect with limited information and zero instruction? Samtidigt is a limited edition offering by Dungen available only on vinyl and available only on this tour. Mine was copy 26 out of a run of only 500, so I don’t think there will be many more available once this outing is nearing the end of its run.
As stated, there is little information aside from a stamped cover on plain white cardstock. There is no information on the spine, only one track listing on the back cover, and a Kemando stamp on the back too-the same record company that releases Dungen’s vinyl output. The record itself featuring one plain white label on one side and a circular pattern on the other. I had to figure out which one was side one and side two by looking on the outer groove identification cut to determine where to start first.
It’s the one with the drawing, by the way.
But it really doesn’t matter where you start as Samtidigt is the full-length version of the two excerpts that originally appeared on last year’s 4. Broken into two sides, the 15-minute long version the complete psychedelic jam session, but judging from the fade-in, they were obviously working towards a sonic storm even before the needle takes hold.
It’s an instrumental passage that will surely only find traction among Dungen fans even though the track is something that would surely benefit anyone who’s a fan of psychedelic excursions. From my perspective, it’s clearly a blessing that the tape was rolling when “Samtidigt” began taking off.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pink Floyd - Atom Heart Mother

The first Pink Floyd album I ever bought was Atom Heart Mother. I have no idea how or when I got it. It certainly wasn’t anything that I got since I had no clue who the band was and since the album doesn’t really contain any radio hits.
What it does have is an awesome cover.
It’s not the best Floyd album to begin with, in retrospect, probably because it’s one of the band’s least enjoyable efforts. The band was still attempting to find their own footing after the dismissal/departure of Syd Barrett and they forged ahead with democratic songwriting and wandering jams.
In fact, the title track takes up an entire side. There are moments of grandiose greatness-particularly with the introductions of a nice brass ensemble-but it just doesn’t possess the qualities that necessitate such a lengthy passage.
On the other side, each band member (except drummer Nick Mason) is given a title of their own.
Roger Waters’ entry is by far the best. “If” begins as a gentle acoustic before morphing into a slow musical exploration that’s similar to the band’s later work on Dark Side Of The Moon.
Richard Wright gives a surprisingly complex “Summer of ‘68” which, again, features a nice brass part and infectious pop melody. Lyrically, Wright is nowhere near the caliber of Waters’ but this is a vast improvement over his work on other Floyd albums.
David Gilmour’s “Fat Old Sun” is a grower, seemingly uneventful on first listen but very memorable after a few rounds.
And then there’s “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast,” a thirteen-minute long instrumental broken down in parts by a dude making breakfast and mumbling. I was pretty intriguing as a kid, but later you realize that the band is just reaching for anything and settled on recording their roadie (Alan) and a bowl of milky Rice Krispies.
Add together that milky cereal with the bovine on the cover and what do you get? Probably the soggiest effort in Pink Floyd’s catalog.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

An Aquarian Diarrhea Explosion

Just a top-notch article over at The Phoenix about the myth that was Woodstock.

The story my students told was reported not from a helicopter passing overhead
but from the (muddy) ground. There were way too many people there, they said,
and you couldn't see or hear anything. There was no place to camp properly, and
the whole thing, as one guy put it, "was like Boy Scout survival camp with
dope." The grounds got filthier and filthier; since there was no place to
dispose of garbage, it smelled. And when the members of their little group had
found each other again and decided to leave, that too was almost impossible
because of the mobs coming in. (It didn't help that they'd decided to hitchhike
there and back, of course.) "And the worst of it was, we'd spent all this bread
for tickets, and they just let everyone in for free. If we'd known that, we
could've saved a lot of money."
They quickly forgot about Woodstock;
meanwhile, I read a totally different version in Rolling Stone. This
account, the result of a reporters' pool the magazine had sent to the festival,
didn't ignore the sanitation and the crowd issues, but it played up a
hippie-idyll angle my students seemed to have missed. What's more, the reporters
had enjoyed backstage access and had gotten to hear the music very well, and
they wrote about it with their usual skill.

So it was all bullshit. Go figure. Fucking hippies. And to think growing up I believed all of that shit about Woodstock being vital. Sounds like it was just as pathetic as the Woodstock show from '95, or whenever. The biggest difference was that the first Woodstock wasn't brought to you by Mennen.
My old man had Woodstock Two on 8-track and I listened to the Hendrix bits religiously. There's a lot of people that dismiss his performance as sloppy-and there's some truth to that. But I liked the fact that he's trying new things-challenging people along the way-and the fact that his mind is blown on acid during the performance and he's still able to fret a chord amazes me.
And then there's "Star Spangled Banner."
Nuff said.
Jefferson Airplane's bit wasn't bad either. Grace sounds positively gone, and in one of her momentous bits of stage banter, she advises the crowd that the band has "a whole lot of orange."
And no, she's not talking about the amplifier either.
Everything else, from what I can tell, just sucks shit. Jefferson Airplane's bit isn't too bad I suppose, but Sha Na Na? (Argh!!) Ten Years After? (Please. Stop. Playing.) Arlo Guthrie (Dude sounds like he's so baked that someone needs to make him lie down.) It's just a bloated turd that really only got traction after those spoiled journalists gave it wheels and Joni Mitchell romanticised about it in a song she gave to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Scared Shitless.
I remember recording the movie on VHS when the public television station ran it uninterrupted during pledge week. After watching it for the first time, I remember thinking two things:
1.) Jesus Christ, that's a lot of people
2.) Wow, they really sucked.
Hold on, there was a third:
3.) I think that Richie Havens cat is missing teeth.
Even the cinematography was annoying, with its split-screen bullshit and lack of any decent bush shots. Look, I don't want to see some naked dude washing his balls in a muddy pond while Canned Heat plays in the background. I want to see stoned-out-of-their-mind hippie chicks with unkempt beavers parading around. Don't tell me that didn't happen.
And don't tell me that Woodstock was some kind of monumental event that showed the world how the youth could live in harmony. Nearly every single attendee has disputed that notion, choosing instead to remember it as a filthy, shit-encrusted clusterfuck of spoiled middle-class college students who gate-crashed one of the decade's most environmentally unfriendly events ever.
I see how the hippies are now trying to round up another perennial celebration to wax on once again about the event, but thankfully, the spin doesn't seem to be holding up. Even the box set (yes, the hippies have learned a thing or two about marketing) is getting panned as a bloated, unnecessary affair.
Much in the same way that Woodstock was to begin with.

Thanks to Rock Critic for the heads-up on that great article.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dungen @ The Picadork

First of all, let me just say how badassed Dungen was on Monday night. I was way tired before I even headed out the door and a couple of additional surprises awaited me when I arrived at The Picador, but by the time Dungen took the stage, any worry of lack of sleep was gone.
Actually, the second wind began with openers Woods-a band I wasn’t familiar with prior to the show, but ended up becoming one before I left. The cool thing was how their live show turned me on to them and how I got up close to the action totally by accident.
You see, The Picador seemed to have overbooked or quietly neglected to tell us who don’t tweet with members of the Picador tastemakers. What this meant to me was that I missed nothing when I arrived 45 minutes after the doors nothing and got two extra bands to check out before Woods and Dungen even played a note.
Who were the bands?
Couldn’t fucking tell you. They weren’t on any of the Super Rock Calendar lists that I could see, they barely had a P.A. to work with when they did perform and even if they did mention who they were, you could barely understand a word that was uttered through the shitty set up.
Woods and Dungen had their stuff on stage with little room to spare, which meant the extra two bands were forced to set up their shit on the floor directly in front of the stage. How was the view? As good as you might imagine. People circled the bands as they performed, which meant if you were in “row” two or beyond, you pretty much would have to be content with looking at the moles on the neck of the dude in front of you.
The first band didn’t even mic up their instruments and I’m pretty sure that the P.A. in use wasn’t the house unit. It was amateur night, and that’s not even addressing the bands that performed. No, their only fault would be in the lack of self-promotion (say your name-play a song-refer people to meet you at the merch table-repeat), but you can’t help but wonder how long this venue will remain open when they have people booking shows with no grasp of logistics and who do a real disservice to their patrons and the artists themselves by allowing such a thing to happen in a place with a storied history.
I mean, this is the type of shit that a high school kid would do when booking punk rock shows. If you’re going to give a couple of extra bands a chance to work, then at least give them a stage to work with.
Ultimately, the two bands weren’t that band-with the second one throwing together a nifty little set of drones, primitive beats, and distorted vocals. It reminded me of Suicide in some respects, albeit with shittier equipment, but I couldn’t tell you who made the racket thanks to my previous complaints.
So I could have sworn they were Woods; people seemed to have known about them or at the very least entertained like me by their fairly novel approach to no wave remembrance. This led me to head for the stage thinking that Dungen was next, only to realize after Woods’ vocalist Jeremy Earl stepped up to the mic and announced “We’re Woods.”
See kids?
What seemed to set Woods apart from other low-fi peers is an abundant urge to rock out. Occasionally, Galaxie 500 would come close, but because of the limitations of being in a barely-able-to-play-our-instruments-power-trio, they infrequently achieved rawk ‘n’ roll liftoff. One of my favorite Galaxie songs was actually a cover of Joy Division’s “Ceremony” because it turned into this raucous song that bettered the original. Admittedly, it bettered it only because you can’t find a decent recording of JD’s version, aside from New Order’s take on it after Ian listened to The Idiot one too many times.
While Earl sounds a tad like Dean Wareham, he can sure outsolo him on the geetar-a chipped up Silvertone that he only replaced once.
The replacement guitar happened to be an equally worn acoustic whose guitar-strap peg broke when he began playing “The Number.”
Woods has an even bigger weirdo than Jeremy Earl, and the dude plays a cassette player and an echoplex unit or some shit. G. Lucas Crane spread out some hand-me-down covers, then plopped his knees on them and began working some strange sonic madness with his devices, all housed in a handmade case made of two-by-fours. He’s like the 13th Floor Elevators’ Tommy Hall if he’d traded his electric jug in for a portable cassette player and some speedy hits of lsd.
I could have been somewhat content after Woods’ set, but it was Dungen’s performance that finally managed me to crack a smile. They pulled heavily from Ta Det Lugnt and 4. The key-laden softer moments were nice and gave the members a chance to shine, but it was the heavier acid-trip moments that I totally get hard for.
Guitarist Reine Fiske is pretty awesome and…well to be honest, all of the members seem to know exactly what they’re doing. Dungen’s leader Gustav Ejstes smiled much of the night and seemed to actually enjoy playing in front of about 75 people in a shitty club in Iowa.
As the night wore on, the crowd began getting thinner. “We love Sweden!” shouted one young girl directly behind me. This prompted a smile from Ejstes, who then began a series of we’re not worthy bows to the crowd, maybe even acknowledging the high concentration of Swedish and Norweigean immigrants that eventually ended up right here in the Midwest. As a matter of fact, in my parents house right now is the very trunk that my great-great Granparents used when traveling from Sweden to the fertile grounds of Southwest Iowa. They also have the Bible that they carried with them, printed in Sweedish-evidently the only reading material they took from their home land.
Ejstes and the rest of the band seemed to be spending the next day sightseeing; I noticed the manager checking out some of the attractions around the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin area-including a water park in the vicinity.
“I know I said I wanted to go out tonight….but I’m so tired” admitted the girl behind me after one gentle song in Dungen’s set. What may have been an attempt to keep us all in the club for as long as possible to capture as many drinking dollars as possible didn’t seem to make much sense in retrospect. Were there others that may have considered going out who decided against it based on the late start? Were less drinks consumed because more people were concerned that they’d have less time to recouperate over night (I know I did: my drinks were limited to a pair of Pepsi’s)? Are these the kind of decisions being made by the Picador staff now that they’ve saved a little dough by shipping out Roberson? This was my first time in the place since he was canned, and it did feel a little like being a traitor in some respects, but it did have an even bigger vibe of disorganization in another. I certainly wouldn’t stop from going to see a band that I was hellbent on seeing if they were playing at The Picador-I just wouldn’t expect the club to actually give a shit on making sure my experience as a customer was semi-decent. Now that Roberson’s gone and all of the past has been excavated, all that remains is a shell of club with no personality and no attempt to even create one. While that may be sad, at least there was a pair of really good bands performing on Monday night to erase all of that and to eliminate time itself.
A full review on the show itself can be found here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

R.I.P. Les Paul

94 years old? Goddamn!
I’m a Fender man more than Gibson, but I wouldn’t kick a Les Paul out of bed for eating crackers either.
Years ago, a friend of mine dug out an old reel-to-reel recorder, a relic that his old man or some other relative had stored away. Evidently, they were marketed as consumer products and there was even a few pre-recorded reels that you could buy.
Obviously, the format didn’t quite take off and to be honest we recorded over those pre-recorded tapes in a fury of retarded home recordings. We recorded one song-an embarrassing ditty about teenage angst called “Leave Me Alone” (sample verse: “You can educate me to the highest degree/always around to help me grow up”)-over Les Paul and Mary Ford’s “Hold That Tiger” tape.
Sorry about that, Les.
Paul may have not invented rock and roll, but he sure helped create the sound of it. And not only did he helped create the sound, he played an enormous role in capturing it to tape. It’s tough to image what the world of music would have turned into if Paul hadn’t attached some strings and a pick up to a 4 x 4 piece of wood.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ace Frehley Talks Golden Showers

The short of it is this: Ace Frehley has a new solo album dropping next month called Anomaly. It's his first solo album in twenty-years, which puts him ahead of even Chinese Democracy is the "where are they now?" category. Of course, this means two things: the Kiss Army will buy the new Ace album even if it were a turd (more on that later) and that Ace is making the rounds drumming up support among that very army to make them aware that Anomaly is coming soon.
It's telling that he's making the old school rounds-I mean, do people still listen to radio? Whatever, the Army probably still does and they probably get stoked when they hear "Never Been Any Reason" for the billionth time.
Here's Ace on the Opie and Anthony Show where they get him to watch the "2 Girls 1 Cup" video live on the air. The reaction? Dude was in Kiss, Holmes! He probably fed chocolate pudding to chicks for a week so that they'd poop chocolate pudding in his mouth while a transexual Eskimo jerked him off onto a Nazi helmet.
His reaction-or lack of it-is priceless and certainly didn't mirror my wife and I when we watched it once. I couldn't even get through it.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Righteous Dude

Before John Hughes, I never considered film directors. Of course today, I’m all about them. I’ll go to a movie sight-unseen based on a director, but when I was a teenager-forget about it.
It wasn’t until 16 Candles-a film that probably spoke to girls more than guys-that I realized that John Hughes had a way with capturing real teenagers interacting in real situations. Sure, there were moments when the dialogue was a bit too contrived, but you have to understand just how barren the teenage marketplace was back then. There was little that spoke to us, so for a filmmaker like Hughes to make a film that somewhat mirrored what we were going through at the time was special.
And to make the film entertaining and funny was memorable.
My favorite was-and still is-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off-a movie so good that I’ll still watch it (and laugh) when it’s on TV. Of course, some of the appeal has worn, especially since the edited version you find on cable doesn’t do justice to how accurate Hughes’ character study of teenagers was. We swore. A lot. And it was somewhat refreshing to see teenagers on screen decorate their banter with expletives. Without it, his films feel too innocent in places.
I started to question Hughes with Pretty In Pink. It was like they put together a great soundtrack and decided to make a film around it. I remember walking out of the theatres thinking that it wasn’t as good as his other films. It has its moments, but it’s true: it wasn’t as good as his earlier ones.
Maybe I was just getting older.
Apparently, he was too. He began making movies outside of the teenage realm, and some of them (Planes, Trains, and Automobiles especially) were ok. But they didn’t speak to me in the same way and, as a result, John Hughes no longer was one of those directors that I would pay admission for, sight unseen.
His passing surprised me, but what surprised me more was how he had turned into some kind of recluse. Who knew? I just assumed that he continued to make movies, albeit with diminishing returns. I mean, even though I didn’t follow his career, I was sure that a few of those second run features you see on HBO or whatever, would have been his creation. You know what I’m talking about: those movies like The Break Up or any of the last four movies featuring Matthew McConaughey. They all took some Hughes elements in account, so who’s not to say that he made a living just repeating a formula he helped create.
I was wrong. The man deserved more credit than that. To walk away from something that probably could have provided him with that type of career is impressive in some respects.
I wonder why he did it.
And now, it seems, we’ll never learn why.
To quote Sir Ferris: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop a look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Living It Up When I'm Going Down

Is it wrong of me to think that Steven Tyler’s fall as an Aerosmith show in South Dakota is the funniest thing I’ve seen all week?
Look, I don’t want the guy to hurt himself, but it a way I do like the idea of him going through a little bit of pain to make up for the pain that he’s helped put me through since Draw The Line.
You see, those first five albums were really good, with albums three and four (Toys In The Attic and Rocks) being totally essential.
Their decent was one of the most fabled in rock history, but Aerosmith’s resurgence in the second half of the 80’s still stand as part of their decent in my eyes. Their music became tidy, contrite, and it sold like crazy.
What Aerosmith didn’t realize was that people can spot bullshit, and Aerosmith’s late 80’s output (and beyond) is bullshit. Radio played “Cryin’, “Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” and all of those other top forty hits-but now, nobody wants to hear them.
They still want to hear Toys and Rocks, however.
Twenty years ago, they filled stadiums. Now, they play nostalgia shows at biker events. They’re not getting any younger either; Tyler looks as though his well-rehearsed spins ‘n struts now make him dizzy. And when he gets dizzy, he falls off the stage.
I’m sorry, but it’s funny to watch.
Going down.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Tears Are Falling: Ice Cube-"Dead Homiez"

For real. I was so unprepared for Cube’s foray into real emotional expression that I practically started bawling the first time I heard this from the Kill At Will e.p. Throughout the extended play and for most of the full-length, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Cube barks, spits, and sounds like a complete menace.
But before Are We There Yet, the first glimpse that we had of Ice Cube’s real humanity was through this song. Besides, if you punch someone in the face enough times, you start thinking they are a bully. If you get a chance to ask “Why’d you punch me?” You may get a glimpse of what prompted the aggression.
“Dead Homiez” is a glimpse into a world that no one would want to be a part of, and an important cautionary tale for any white suburban kid who views life in South Central with a bit of romanticism. These were real people dying. For nothing. And “Dead Homiez” brings that loss in full view. From the “screams from his mother” to the symbolic “pour beer on the curb before we take a swig” to the angry “why’s that the only time black folks get to ride in a limo?” “Dead Homiez” encapsulates a bunch of emotions within four minutes.
I’ve hardened a bit since the time that Kill At Will was released, and a lot of that has to do with Ice Cube’s career path since then. I know that people have to eat and that Cube couldn’t survive by being hard all the time; he’s too bright for that. But lately, his career choices seem-how did the kids used to say it-“whack.” For example, did you know that you could check out Cube at the 10th annual Insane Clown Posse convention?

Who's The Cry Baby Now?

I’m beginning a new series on this blog: Tears Are Falling. In addition to being one of the worst Kiss songs known to mankind, Tears Are Falling will introduce those songs from the past that have struck such a nerve that they’ve brought me close to tears or turned on the waterworks completely. It’s not a regular event-I don’t normally go around bursting into tears while listening to the Ipod like a hormonal pregnant woman-but there are some songs with such emotional impact that I either relate or empathize with the song that I feel like crying like a little schoolgirl.
For those of you stalking me, you’ll notice that my event list has moved AC/DC Chicago to AC/DC Des Moines. I learned that AC/DC will be playing in my home state around my birthday and I’d rather see them there than in Chicago. No offense to Chicago, but that trip would end up costing hundreds of dollars more than a trip to Iowa’s capitol and a free bed at the folks. Thankfully, a dude from Indiana used the “Buy It Now” feature on Ebay and walked away with my tickets for the United Center show. Even better is that my Wells Fargo Arena tickets are going to have a better view of the show than my previous ones. Brian Johnston recently said that, after the end of the Black Ice tour, he may retire and finally get that cattle prod that’s been lodged up his ass for the past thirty years removed. He will then live off the royalties of Back In Black for the rest of his life down in Florida.

In the ‘TMI’ department:

Whatcha doin’? Chewin’ chocolate.
Where d’ya get it? Doggy dropped it.
What’s the last movie you went to? The Hangover.
What’s the most obsessive thing you do? I arrange all M&Ms by color immediately after opening the bag.
What’s your favorite Gummi Bear flavor? The white ones. I’m a gummy bear racist.
Favorite Seinfeld episode? Either “The Contest” or the one where Jerry offends his new girlfriend with “You mean the panties your mother laid out for you” remark.
What do you do in real life? I both make and shatter dreams by approving or denying loans and annuity withdrawals. A lot of my clientele are poor, uneducated, and from the deep South, so I get frustrated when they try to make me explain something that’s clearly over their heads to begin with. I mean, if you didn’t intend to really plan for your future, then why did you even agree to this? These customers regularly “axe” me questions, refer to the number five as “fy,” the number nine as “nigh,” and think their contracts “collapse” when they overloan them. The real word, by the way, is “lapse.”
Who would you like to meet, living or dead? Any of the Beatles. Keith Richards. Peter Tosh. Joe Strummer. Abe Lincoln. Tom Jefferson. Hunter S. Thompson.
Do you still make music? I’ve got kids now. They won’t leave me alone.
Why don’t you call/write me? See above.