Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lady Gaga - Born This Way

It’s a week later, and we’re still talking about Amazon’s decision to price Lady Gaga’s Born This Way album at ninety-nine cents.

I’d call Amazon’s promotion for their Cloud product a success. Even at taking a hit to the tune of $7.50 a download, traffic was so massive that it actually crashed their servers, causing thousands of monsters to whine and moan.

It worked for me, and the price point was low enough that it was actually worth it download from Amazon instead of hunting for a free, illegal copy of it. No problems whatsoever, just a quickly retrieved file of compressed pop which sound like it’s going to fry out my earbuds each time it plays.

This isn’t to suggest that Born This Way is disposable to the point where a co-worker exclaimed “The music is probably only worth $.99 anyway.”

Its worth-like any other bit of music-whatever you care to pay for it. The important thing is that Born This Way will be remembered tomorrow. Maybe not in terms of its full-length offering, but in the timeless singles this record provides.

Admit it: nobody gives a shit about Donna Summer’s Bad Girls record, but we cherry pick the three singles from it (“Bad Girls,” “Dim All The Lights” and “Hot Stuff” for sure. “Walk Away” if you want to get nitpicky) instead.

Born This Way will prove to have more singles than Bad Girls, Like A Virgin or whatever disco diva pop star you feel like comparing it to. Again, let’s back end it by admitting that singles ain’t shit circa 2011, just like Gaga understands that the album she’s just released is probably only worth a buck in its preferred format. It’s the event and the sales surrounding the album where she’ll ultimately bank the most.

Even the cover art is a throwaway-a ridiculous Frankenstein two-wheeler that represents nothing about the music, the artist, or the art itself. If she wanted the art, artist, and music, she would have picked the naked picture that you can blow up to 200% on your digipack download.

The music inside that cover art is what counts, and it’s a barrage of genres, sounds, and obsessive/compulsive arrangements. Gaga and her production crew throw everything in the mix to the point where you’re numb from the collage of tones. Everything is up high in the mix, so it’s no surprise when the liner notes reveal that even the kind of compression-Robert “Mutt” Lange has his fingers in one of the songs.

Born This Way’s subject matters-sexuality, religion, fucking John Kennedy-are universal to the point where none of this will sound too dated in a quarter century, just about the same time that the disco opera metal electronic genre is game for a replay.

It’s a step ahead of The Fame, for sure, as it practically beats listeners into submission under the pretense of booty shaking music. She clearly wanted to make a statement with this album, and it’s that drive that makes me appreciate that she was indeed, born that way.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron - I'm New Here

“I did not become someone different/that I did not want to be” Gil Scott-Heron’s gruffly admits on the title track to his first album in thirteen years, “But I’m new here…will you show me around?” It’s a frightening prospect give Gil’s challenges with drugs and the law in the past decade, and hopefully the “new” is means “new leaf,” a desire that is magnified by the quality of this long awaited release.

I’m New Here presents autobiographical, spoken word interludes against fully developed songs (which Gil’s voice handles with more character than inherent talent), and word jazz. The skeletal arrangements and minimalist electronica is a perfect backdrop for his prose and the subject matter is compelling enough for repeated listens. In short, I’m New Here is a perfect introduction for anyone wanting to learn more about the grandfather of political rap and one of word jazz’s most notable artists.

It also serves as an excellent starting point in discovering Gil’s past catalogue.
Kudos to XL Recording head honcho Richard Russell for seeking Gil out while he was still serving at Rikers Island Prison Facility to discuss how the artist would celebrate his freedom after serving his sentence. It was clearly a labor of love-in much the same way that Rick Rubin has been noted for his work with Johnny Cash and other heritage artists-and one where Russell worked hard in matching Scott-Heron’s strengths with the most complimentary arrangements.

“If you gotta pay for things that you’ve done wrong, then I got a big bill comin’ at the end of the day,” Gil laughs during one of the audio documents that dot the album. He hasn’t run away from his past and it doesn’t sound like he’s ready to compromise either. I’m New Here represents a healthy stop in the man’s life as he contemplates the road that brought him here.

It’s a lucid rumination, but there’s one thing missing that’s often present in “comeback” efforts like this: a statement of recovery and a commitment to sobriety. But whatever he’ll face tomorrow and regardless of where he’ll end up, but I’m New Here assures us that his place as one of the architects of the most important genres of the past quarter-century is firmly secured and continuing to grow.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Revolution Through The Speakers: Regarding The Death Of Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron approached death several times during his life.

It’s just a shame that the time it actually did do him in was during a period of creative growth and renewed activity.

Who’s the Godfather of Rap music?

Probably Scott-Heron.

I’m not going to get into a long-winded debate of why or why he wasn’t; I just want to tell a story that’s the antithesis of everything Gil Scott-Heron spoke about.

It’s a story about a clueless white dude moving in on black culture, which is pretty much what us crackers did with rap music anyway.

Let me back up to the night when Scott-Heron was on Saturday Night Live doing “Johannesburg.” I’m not going to suggest that I liked what I saw, but I will admit that this was the first time I’d ever heard of Gil Scott-Heron and I was a bit intrigued.

It would have been a Public Enemy album where I’d heard about him next, during one of their landmark releases where everyone tried to identify what samples they used afterwards. Those records were like encyclopedias, prompting fanatics to seek out the source material.

Gil Scott-Heron was right there on page one.

There would be no Public Enemy without Gil Scott-Heron, as I later discovered, and it’s at that point when I started to hear things like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” that I began to consider that his influence was much bigger than just a sample off some Public Enemy record.

From him, and from others as well, I began to formula a clear understanding of the racism that was apparent in my own family.

My grandfather was from Alabama. One of sixteen children. Every year there’s a family gathering in the stifling heat of July where everyone comes in from all parts of the country. I went once when I was about 10 years old.

On one day, we were driving around the back roads of the Alabama countryside looking for what would have been my great-grandparents’ farmstead. I was in the backseat with my granddad and a bunch of relatives that I didn’t know. As we traveled, they pointed out familiar landmarks to them. I quietly listened, overwhelmed by all of the information that I’d surely forget on the plane ride home.

As we got closer, some of the people in the car pointed out a farmhouse that was owned by someone and some point in time. At the time, however, one of the people in the car mentioned that the house was now owned by “a bunch of them niggers.”

Even that age, that word made me feel uncomfortable. We didn’t talk that way in my house. And as white bread as my hometown was, we did have a few people of color in my classroom and we didn’t talk in that manner there either.

I’m not naïve to the fact that I’m sure people encountered racism in my town more than I’d care to admit, but back then everybody got hit during dodgeball, anyone could share in the crayons, and everyone was called by their given names-not by some derogatory slur.

I wanted to go home after hearing that. I didn’t feel like being in a car full of racists that, oh, just happened to be related to me.

And I looked at my grandfather differently too.

He was no longer this southern gentleman who liked to bullshit with everyone. Instead, he became this racist southern caricature, spoiling my ideal notion of what my family history was supposed to be.

As I got older, I began to ask more questions about why my southern side of the family was raised with such disdain towards their black neighbors. There’s no answer to that, of course, but my opinion of my grandfather had changed forever. I also learned that after all the years of being married to him, my grandmother shared a lot of his skewed view of race.

I was able to figure out my grandmother’s racism a lot more than my grandfather. She talked about it. My grandfather didn’t. Come to think about it, my grandfather didn’t talk much to anyone, except the people that were on his potato chip route at work.

“Nuts to you from Guy’s!” read his delivery van.

My grandmother was a strangely neurotic stay-at-home mom who had an opinion of everything, but would seldom voice her opinion in public because she wasn’t the most social of creatures. During World War II she worked in Denver-that’s where she eventually met my grandfather at a USO dance-but it seemed that she left her independence behind the moment she married my grandfather and began having children.

Richard Pryor was my favorite comedian during the 70’s-admittedly a little too risqué for a boy of my age-and I remember telling her how funny Silver Streak was. My grandmother immediately voiced how “awful” he was and, later on when he got sick, she told me that he “deserved” his illness.

It was almost the same story with Mohammed Ali, so it was becoming obvious that my grandmother had real issues with African Americans who possessed any amount of pride and independence.

Strangely though, I do remember her liking Patti LaBelle.

She would have hated Gil Scott-Heron.

I began to take an interest in black culture, thanks to those Public Enemy records. I began to learn more about Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and yes, Gil Scott-Heron, in an obvious rebellion towards my father’s side of the family and their inherent racism. To this day, I still associate more towards my Swedish ancestors than my southern ones and I haven’t been to that aforementioned family reunion since 1977, despite numerous attempts at trying to get me to attend.

In Iowa City, Iowa, there’s a section in the downtown area called “The Ped(estrian) Mall” and within that is a second-floor area of start-up retail stores called “The Hall Mall.” It’s mainly stores like comics, head shops, and whatever whim a hippie with a dream has for a retail start-up.

As you may imagine, stores come and go in the Hall Mall, and I haven’t been there in years. In fact, the last time I was there was when I was in the middle of my “black culture appreciation” period.

Within the Hall Mall was a new store directly next to the hippie clothing joint. I didn’t pay attention to the hand-written store sign when I went in to browse, but I was immediately smitten with one item in particular: a long sleeve black shirt with a collage of Malcolm X.

At the time, I was completely oblivious at how utterly ridiculous this entire scene was: a white Midwestern man contemplating a shirt celebrating a black activist in a store designed for and started by African-Americans.

Ignoring the very notion of a Malcolm X t-shirt and the issues that it presents, I want to focus on the sheer audacity of my purchase. It wasn’t until later that I completely understood the ridiculousness of the event. I even added a wonderful wooden necklace with bright African colors to my purchase before asking, “Do you take credit cards?”

The wonderfully tolerant sales clerk offered to take my credit card to another hippie store to run it through their machine, an arrangement that I’m not entirely sure how they worked out between them. The clerk did indicate that the store she befriended wasn’t too thrilled with her quick thinking, but all I cared about was getting my purchase home so that I could wear my solidarity with African-American culture proudly in front of my white friends.

It wasn’t too long before I understood that my purchase was completely wrong and that I looked ridiculous wearing it. I feel the need to mention that this was before Spike Lee’s movie Malcolm X in a feeble attempt to restore some sense of legitimacy to my purchase.

There’s no excuse, obviously, but I can tell you that the shirt did manage to provide a moment of rebellion when I wore it in front of my grandmother one year during Christmas. I wanted to show them how the future generation of our family wouldn’t be stymied by silly racist beliefs and be fearful of free-thinking independents who challenge society’s norms.

I’m pretty sure that my message wasn’t received by my grandparents, which of course, makes the entire shirt purchase a continued source of embarrassment. I say “continued” because, yes, I still have that shirt. I remains in decent shape after two decades, mainly because I probably wore it less than a dozen times and it’s spent most of its existence in a storage bag next to old R.E.M. tour shirts and a t-shirt of Kramer from Seinfeld, which is pretty ironic given Michael Richard’s race-baiting “comedy” act if you think about it.

But what’s even more ironic is how this story wouldn’t have been possible without Gil Scott-Heron. If not for his groundbreaking work that help forge the building blocks of rap music, we probably wouldn’t have had a band like Public Enemy changing the public perceptions of African Americans and other aspects of black culture.

It may not have been intended for people like me-a white, Midwestern young man with no real perception of black or urban culture to begin with-but it certainly transcended race and influenced everyone.

Because the best way to curtail and end racism itself is to have a better understanding of the variety of cultures and people who inhabit this country. And without him, I may have bought into the same weak-minded beliefs that my relatives attached themselves to.

So Godspeed, Gil Scott-Heron. The revolution wasn’t necessarily televised, but it ended up being broadcasted loud and clear throughout speakers and headphones across the country.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moby - Destroyed

Continuing down the post-punk realm that was so prevalent on Wait For Me, Moby returns with his ninth studio album-a fifteen-song collection composed and recorded during bouts of insomnia while touring behind his last album.

It is a novel idea on paper, but think for a moment at how productive you feel under the tortuous state of sleep deprivation. I can personally attest to staring at the glare of this laptop, trying in vain to come up with one final paragraph, or worse, thinking more minutes on end for some clever adjective that is seemingly on the tip of your tongue.

During those moments when I have actually felt that I defeated insomnia’s barrier to my own creativity, I come back to the results after a good rest only to find an incoherent jumble of poorly structured words, repeated ideas and bits of nonsense. Whatever “progress” that I made during those moments of wandering attention and heavy eyelids are almost immediately erased, as they provide no real service to me under the clear glow of a new day.

With Destroyed, I wonder if Moby returned to his laptop after waking up, giving his late night musical exploits a fresh ear. Then I wonder if Moby is strong enough to hit the delete button, or at least consider the fact that maybe the entire thing needs to be gutted and brought back to the drawing board after warming up a fresh pot of coffee.

Destroyed is not as glossy as its predecessor Wait For Me, which makes the feeble attempt at channeling the British post-punk and new wave touch points of his youth a pointless endeavor.

The closest it gets is “After,” which sounds like a life of Eurythmics’ “Greetings From A Dead Man,” a (mostly) instrumental gem from their criminally overlooked soundtrack to 1984, a mid-80’s interpretation of the Orwell classic.

“Sounds like,” that is, until Moby chimes in with his limited range voice-an abrupt buzzkill when you’re channeling a dream that Annie Lennox will complete the nostalgic nod.

Thankfully, Moby restricts his own vocal contributions, occasionally allowing them to be manipulated with a half-broken Korg vocoder and letting the bulk of the vocals handled by female guests. The talents he’s chosen for collaborations are fine by all accounts, but getting back to the Lennox references for a moment: Destroyed could have really been something with a few guest spots with some actual ties to the era he seems to be favoring as of late. What is Allison Moyet doing lately? Hell, I’d even take a song featuring the vocals from the dude from Bronski Beat.

The irony with Destroyed is that its ultimate selling point would be that it’s a damn fine record to fall asleep to, and as smug as that may seem to be, it’s the most positive thing that I can say about the fifteen songs that move at a somnambulist pace for well over an hour.

There are moments of beauty-“Stella Maris” is a heart-wringing ballad with haunting backing vocals by Annie Maria Friman-but the vast majority of this record is forgettable and uninspired.

Destroyed also is tied in with Moby’s upcoming photography book by the same name, and judging by the photos included with the cd version of the release, it’s clear where Moby put the majority of creative talents. They are stunning, and the cover to Destroyed-the tail end of a security warning at LaGuardia airport (“Unattended baggage will be destroyed.”) marks the quick eye of very good photographer. If similar focus-an oxymoron given the conditions of these recordings, I know-were provided to the music, this record could have ended up becoming a major event.

Instead, like many other Moby titles before, it falls flat.

He calls his late night activities “repurposing insomnia,” but after hearing Destroyed, you will know it by its more common name: sleepwalking.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Moby - Wait For Me

The problem is when Moby begins paraphrasing David Lynch’s speech about how creativity is too often judged by its commercial results, you begin to remind yourself of his own brushes with commercial outlets This is, after all, an artist whose creative apex (Play) was the same record that he pawned nearly every track to commercial interests.

It also seems like he’s saving face, an attempt to prepare us for another album with diminishing sales returns, just as every album he’s released since Play has done. This way, when the album fails to hit 100,000 copies sold, he can come right back and say “Well, I knew that would happen. Wait For Me is my intensely personal creative statement. A piece of work that wasn’t designed for mainstream appeal.”

Bullshit. Moby’s ego has been on display for years and it’s obvious that he cares what you and I think about him. And for all of his punk rock posturing, he has bought into a lifestyle that can’t be funded by selling a few thousand copies of product. Those kinds of sales figures can’t buy your way into hearing David Lynch speak at the BAFTA awards, let alone a plane ticket to get across the pond to begin with.

But beyond all of the hyperbole of Moby’s press release is the quiet and unassuming voice of Wait For Me. If he wants to attribute its origin to a David Lynch speech, then another way to view it positively is to remember that this small, bald man of self-righteous contradiction was, in fact, born out of a Twin Peaks sample for Moby’s first taste of stardom with 1991’s “Go.”

In a sense, it closely resembles the dark atmospheres of Lynch’s long-time musical collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti. Moments roll slowly by as Moby fiddles with reverb, minimal chord progression, and warm minor-key tones.

The album is sonically gorgeous; listeners will do themselves a favor by staying awake and studying the subtle intricacies found in Ken Thomas’ mix. This is the man that’s provided the icy sheen on Sigur Ros and more recently M83. He’s found another winning collaboration with Moby and has established himself as one of electronica’s most creative producers.

Wait For Me is obviously intended to be taken as a whole, which will also not bode well for strong sales results; there are very few tracks on it that work independently enough to be considered for a single.

Those that could be actually picked for focal points may be the two weakest tracks on the album. “Study War” mirrors Play-era gospel and Sunday morning preaching. It’s credible enough, but its technique is become too much of reliable crutch for Moby to fall back on.

“Mistake” is just that: a half-hearted attempt at New Order with even weaker vocals than Bernard Sumner could muster. A misguided side step is yet another piece of evidence that Mr. Hall needs to distance himself from any urge to step in front of the mic during the recording process.

Aside from these two minor quips and apart from the baggage that precedes Wait For Me, it is exactly what he intended the album to be: an atmospheric long-player that’s unified in its moody approach and full of rich, beautiful textures. There’s very little that you’ll actively recall after its done, but there’s even less that will have you reaching for the “pause” or “stop” button while it’s playing. It may be true that Wait For Me is little more than a precursor to your nocturnal hibernation, there is something to be said when Moby manages to find melodic beauty when he finally shuts up.

This review originally appeared in Glorious Noise.

Iggy Pop - Roadkill Rising

First things first: what the fuck is up with the cover art.

I was originally going to encourage everyone to simply dismiss this album on general principal alone. Sure, William Stout’s cover art is a tasteless reminder of how lazy some poster art got during the 90’s, but it also screams at how lazy Pop has gotten during the past few decades too.

The thing is, the only time I’ve ever seen Iggy live is during a tour for the infinitely shitty Beat ‘Em Up tour, and you know what? It fucking ruled.

So if you look at the fine print to Roadkill Rising, you’ll set that it’s a box set collection of Iggy Pop bootlegs, live performances from ’77 to present day. And since Iggy live can turn a mediocre album into a transcendent event the moment he tucks that cock in his pocket, you may want to entertain the idea of checking this collection out.

Sure, you can hear the danger leak out over the years, but it’s nicely consistent given the dramatic downfall of his studio efforts and blatant cash-ins of Stooges reunions and obligatory festival dates.

The early material features tons of great audience interaction, when Iggy was still faced with challenges, boos, and verbal threats. After limping through “Nightclubbing,” in one early 80’s show, the crowd lets him know they don’t appreciate his half-assed attempt. “I don’t want to play anymore for ya….Kiss my ass!” he responds.

None of it does any good. At one point he stops a weak performance of “One For My Baby (And One For The Road)” to chastise the audience who keep barking for the “hits.”

Guess who wins?

It’s stuff like this that makes even the less-than-stellar moments from those early shows, well, stellar. This is the Iggy that help foster his reputation today and it’s wonderful that someone had the good sense to hit the “record” button, regardless of how shitty it sounds fidelity-wise.

Somehow, all of this made Iggy into a reputable performer to the point where you want people to start heckling at him while he’s jiving during the dismal Preliminaires at the end of this box set.

So skip the last disc if you must, the first three make up for it. Roadkill Rising is probably as good as a collection as you’re going to get from Mr. Pop, particularly after you’ve added Lust For Life and The Idiot to your collection. I’d argue to keep going to Soldier-but in a pinch, Roadkill Rising is a good place to remind yourself why we’re still talking about him even after a few decades of questionable releases.

For the asking price of thirty bucks on this box set, Roadkill Rising manages to be the most satisfying release from Iggy in quite some time and it proves that he's still worth a million in prizes the moment he heads out on stage.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Roger McGuinn Live At The Englert Theatre In Iowa City

“So, what did you think of the show?” A middle-aged man asked his son as they walked from the Roger McGuinn show in Iowa City Friday night.

“There was a lot of old people there.” The youngster observed, prompting a laugh from his father.

“Yes, there was.” The father replied, still laughing, acknowledging the obvious that his 13 year-old stated.

The Englert Theatre is a small, intimate setting that was filled with bundles of aging hippies, prompting this forty-something to be on the younger demographic of the audience, for the first time in forever.
Perhaps I’m stereotyping too much, as the room contained an equal share of long, grey hairs with male pattern baldness types, yuppies, dudes in overalls, and even a few that required the aid of a walker.

I’m seeing this more and more as I scramble to fill in the gaps of those “must see” performers as they themselves age alongside their audience. Occasionally, the aging process is noticeable in some of these performers, but not McGuinn. While there are a few more lines on his face, his voice and abilities as a guitarist are strong and firm. I could tell very little difference in his vocal abilities from those Byrds records of old and I’m very confident after hearing a stunning, acoustic version of “Eight Miles High” that he’s a better guitarist now as he’s ever been.

The irony is that McGuinn’s current show wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for his age. For two hours, he gives an autobiographical account of his five decades in music, complete with explanations on those that influenced him and how he incorporated those influences into his own originals and arrangements.

It’s an amazing story, beginning with his first transistor to the first time he heard Elvis Presley while riding his bicycle around Chicago. That spark prompted a request for a guitar, and the rest is history.

Before the age of 21, McGuinn had seen and done more things than most musicians had done in a lifetime. As Roger recited these accounts, he’d riff on the various songs he performed during this time, paying close attention to the various styles of folk he learned while dutifully demonstrating guitar techniques and chord progressions. He’d name drop those musicians that he encountered while “paying his dues,” prompting the crowd to audibly gasp “Oooh!” and “Wow!” at points, verbally expressing amazement at how this young man from Chicago was able to navigate through such talent at such a young age.

It was the way things were done back then, he explained. Performers would call up coffee houses and venues to pass information to other performers. Without the tools that we take for granted today, the performers would leave messages with bartenders to pass along to other artists. For my generation, it sounded like the D.I.Y. punk network of the 80’s, where people took care of one another.

For McGuinn, this folk network provided him with lots of opportunities.

“You can still see some of those television performances of me singing alongside the Chad Mitchell Trio on YouTube!” he advised us, before telling the audience that he was fine with us recording parts of the show that evening, giving us his permission to upload it on to YouTube ourselves. It’s clear that McGuinn understood that it order for his legacy to survive with other generations, he needs to have it preserved in their preferred format.

Before long, Bobby Darin notice McGuinn's talents and decided he would pay him double his current salary just to entertain his interest in the burgeoning folk scene.

Darin’s health always plagued him during his career, and when a turn for the worse kept Bobby off the road, he started a production company in New York’s legendary Brill Building where he gave McGuinn a few radios and told him to write songs like the ones being played on the local top 40 outlets.

On one day in particular, McGuinn heard “I Want To Hold Your Hand” for the first time, and the idea of applying that Merseybeat rhythm to traditional folk songs became the blueprint for what is his most notorious role, the frontman for The Byrds.

Playing folk songs like the Beatles didn’t win him many accolades in the beginning, but it did grab the attention of Gene Clark. The duo then caught the attention of “a chubby kid” by the name of David Crosby who asked to join the band.

“But David,” McGuinn offered, “we aren’t a band yet.”

With the addition of Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke (who got the job as drummer because of his resemblance to Brian Jones; he’d never played drums before) the Byrds auditioned for an A&R guy who was far from impressed.

His daughter was, however, and he mentioned his daughter’s immediate infatuation to the Byrds’ audition to Miles Davis. The jazz great hinted that teenagers are good harbingers as to what would be popular, and that bit of advice led to a recording contract with Columbia records.

The Byrds didn’t just change the world of rock music once, but twice. The first time came when Crosby told McGuinn that the Dylan song they were working on-“Mr. Tambourine Man”-was too fast. McGuinn slowed it down, added a Bach piece for the introduction (he demonstrated the technique during Friday night’s performance), picked a few verses to narrow it down to two-and-a-half minutes, and let the engineer compress his Rickenbacker guitar sound to death to achieve that jingle-jangle mornin’ sound that the band is known for.

The second change came when half of the band split and McGuinn and Hillman sought out some new players. The Byrds new line-up took the band from “folk-rock” originators to “country-rock” pioneers, although McGuinn points out that even “Mr. Spaceman” had a bit of country and bluegrass in its finger-picking style.

I could go on, but it would pale to Roger’s wonderful storytelling and music examples. He recites each tale with enthusiasm and heartfelt antidotes. His stories are peppered with humor and the same kind of wonderment that he must have felt when he first heard “Heartbreak Hotel.”

You can see the joy in every cover version of his influences and the big smile he gives after each Byrd hit is an appreciative gesture at those who’ve stuck with him throughout the 50 years of professional performances.

The show is an educational experience, one that sadly wasn’t shared by younger music fans. While the show was at least 75% full, the venue was an intimate one, a performance that should have been sold out months ago. Instead, I was able to pick my own seat (there really isn’t a decent view in this venue) and have a clear view of the performance for only twenty-five bucks.

Meanwhile, a band like The Eagles-who owe their entire existence to The Byrds-charge four times that amount for nosebleed seats and by-the-numbers performances. What’s wrong with this picture?

The stage is merely a seated McGuinn, accompanied by a banjo, a six-string acoustic, a seven-string acoustic-his own Martin edition that sounds incredible, a twelve string acoustic, and the obligatory Rickenbacker. His low-key endorsement of his own Martin 7-string made me immediately put in on my list of dream guitars. And while I don’t buy his claim that I can play it just like him “right out of the box” as he jokingly states, it was the sounds he was able to generate from the guitar’s unique harmonics that had me drooling for one.

It just didn’t seem right that such an intimate and enjoyable performance from one of rock’s most influential artists could be had at such a value. And because of such a low expense, it seems like more of those in attendance would want to do exactly like that gentlemen did with his son that I witnessed walking from the venue afterwards. Perhaps with a bit more age diversity, the younger attendees would be able to focus on more than the geriatric make-up of the crowd.

This is heady stuff! It’s the kind of performance that’s suited for those like me who relish how rock and roll music can ignite a desire to trace the roots in the tree of music. McGuinn’s tour not only demonstrates how the tree that he created is in great shape, but it also shows how strong the roots are too. Why wouldn’t we want to pass down this knowledge to make sure the tree that Roger McGuinn created is being well maintained by younger listeners?

Hopefully the next time Roger goes through town, his ticket will be more in demand than the cuttings that his music created.

The Rock And Roll Bucket List

My cousin and I have been discussing rock and roll bucket lists, essentially a running tally of artists/bands that we need to see before we or the artist pass away. I remember drawing up similar lists when I was a teenager, but you have your entire life ahead of you-so, you don’t really consider the finality of life when you’re drawing up those kinds of lists.

That may explain why my list always contained Jethro Tull

I wish I was joking about that.

I actually saw a Jethro Tull concert a few months ago on DirecTV’s 101 Channel, and I can safely say that my need to see them live is now completely gone. But back when they all wore white jumpsuits, boy, look out.

The funny thing is that as you get older, you can actually manage to see those artists you’ve held dear, and in the meantime, you get to see bands that maybe aren’t on your list at all, but then become so revered-or break up and then become revered that you crossed them off your lists before they actually got on.

Case in point for me: The Smiths, Neutral Milk Hotel, Pink Floyd (sadly, minus Waters), Husker Du, The Soft Boys, The Residents, Johnny Cash, I could go on…

It seemed peculiar that I was having difficulty coming up with a substantial list. Was I so old that I’d seen everyone that I really wanted/needed to see? How sad!

In fact, that really isn’t the case. The truth is that I wasn’t looking hard enough. I’d completely forgotten about a lot of country artists still on the road today that I really need to hustle on, mainly because of encroaching age limitations.

George Jones is still out there, but the last conversation I’d heard from him, I could tell by his speaking voice that he’s probably a shell of what he was able to do just a half decade ago.

Loretta Lynn may in the same league, I’m afraid.

The question then becomes, do I sacrifice quality just for the sake of saying “I saw XX live?”

The answer is harder than you think.

Roger McGuinn of The Byrds came through the area recently, and while the announcement arrived many months ago, I procrastinated for no really good reason other than I could. This classic link in the history of rock music evidently (and unfairly) wasn’t on many people’s “bucket list” when he very much should be.

Brian Wilson is also making the rounds this summer and he’s coming to a very intimate venue a few hours away-a venue that has the distinction of being the last ballroom that Buddy Holly played in over five decades ago.

Surely, I’d be a fool not to see a legend like Wilson in an equally legendary venue, right?

Age and responsibility are also a factor. As ridiculous as the argument is, I still know how long it takes to recover from a late night, particularly when I’m forced to work the very next day. I save those challenging days for only the best of shows-those performers that I know I simply must see regardless of the recovery period.

The last show that fit that description was Dungen.

I know you’re thinking, “This is Brian Wilson!” and I understand that. But have you seen Brian Wilson lately? Have you heard how shot his voice is? While he may have a shit hot backing band that carefully considers every note, we still have a legend with a limited vocal capacity AND he’s touring behind Gershwin material that, at the risk of getting slammed, I could care less about.

Gimmie Smile, gimmie Pet Sounds or gimmie something that reminds me of his legend as he approaches retirement.

As fickle as that may sound, I’ve got to believe that I’m not alone.

Here’s an excerpt of the conversation that my cousin and I had about this very topic recently. We pick up at the point I’m looking at the local rock calendar and discover a band with an awesome name is coming to town.

Totale: Local band name, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.Cousin J: I’ve heard of them and started seeing their name. Pretty sure they’re playing Lollapalooza. No clue what they sound like but I love it…
Totale: Wow! I just assumed they were local as they’re playing in Iowa City next month.
Cousin J: No, they’re up and coming for sure. Not sure where they’re from. Probably North Carolina! It would be better if it was actually Dale’s band that he played in between races!

At this point, I check to see the seat availability of Roger McGuinn’s show.

Totale: McGuinn’s show is only half-full. I got to pick my own seat! Did you know one of his solo albums from the 70’s was produced my Mick Ronson?
Cousin J: Yeah. It’s still weak-ass 70’s soft rock. Hope it’s a great show. Shame it’s not selling. Bad marketing?
Totale: Probably. It (the theatre) was refurbished a few years ago and they’re only now opening it up to music beyond classical and jazz. They don’t want Byrds fans ripping out the seats.
Cousin J: Or pooping on their seats like Brian Wilson.
Totale: Just read “…Bowie would simulate fellatio on Ronson’s guitar as he played. They forgot to add, “while McGuinn attacked the anus.”
Cousin J: McGuinn is playing in Chicago on June 3rd with 80% of the seats still available. 2nd row center seats are still available for $30 bucks…shame…Rave reviews for his recent shows too.
Totale: That’s sad. Meanwhile, those fucks from The Eagles still command $100 for nosebleed seats, just so you can hear “Take It To The Limit” for the millionth time.
Cousin J: The Brian Wilson shows are being billed as ‘Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin.' So no Beach Boys stuff. That might make your decision easier. Meanwhile, The Beach Boys’ Smile will be released in a 2 cd set later on this year. No joke. The original one with outtakes and extras…Actually, the Brian Wilson show in Chicago is advertised as his greatest hits. I may go! Tickets are very expensive, so probably not. $75 for 10th row center. Are these two bucket list guys? Maybe I shouldn’t even be questioning price.
Totale: Do you really need to be that close just to see him sing out of the side of his mouth? Macca’s a bucket list artist and I’d definitely pay a bundle for him.
Cousin J: No, but it’s only a $10 difference between that and the balcony. You could probably close your eyes and it would sound like the Beach Boys. His website has setlists and it looks awesome if you can get through an hour of Gershwin which he IS doing.
Totale: I see why it’s (McGuinn in Iowa City) not selling well. The kids are seeing the Sea and Cake are playing at another club the same night. They’re ok, but I don’t see them inventing a GENRE!
Cousin J: Not necessarily the same demographic though. I’m not giving the Sea and Cake that much credit. I’m still blaming piss poor advertising. There’s no reason that several radio stations shouldn’t be selling ‘American Rock Icon Roger McGuinn’ to listeners.

I confess, I don’t listen to radio much-outside of public radio, anyway-so I have no idea if this show was effectively promoted or not. Truth be told, I don’t know how effective radio is anyway, but I'm only basing this on personal experience.

The point is, and the question is presented, how far will your tolerance go when seeing a bucket list performer live? Will you dig deeper in your wallet? Will you sacrifice your quality at work or risk getting written up at work just so that you can see a bucket list show?

Share your own bucket list performers, I'm curious.

By definition, the artist/band has to be actively touring or performing with some regular frequency. For example, Kate Bush would be towards the top of my list and there are rumors of her returning to the stage. I've hinted at my commitment if that tour does happen, even considering a quick trip overseas if a North American tour isn't part of the package.

At the same time, the only reason why I haven't seen #1 on my own bucket list is pure economics. I simply couldn't find the time off to see Paul McCartney and, more to the point, I simply couldn't afford his asking price. Meanwhile, I've pissed away plenty at other shows, and yes, they've been bucket list artists too.

Totale's Current Bucket List:
1.) Paul McCartney
2.) Radiohead
3.) George Jones
4.) Uli Jon Roth
5.) Black Sabbath (original line-up)
6.) Widespread Panic
7.) The Pretenders
8.) Burning Spear
9.) The Cure
10.) The Fall

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Whitesnake Releases 20 Year Old Live CD/DVD Under Pretense Of Fan Demand

I don't know if anyone has advised David Coverdale yet, but people don't buy cds anymore, and dvds are quickly leaving the equation too.

You'd think that, thanks to the dismal first week sales of the band's recent Nevermore album that they'd figure out their fans are dwindling quickly-or at least moving away from physical product.

At the same time, if you happen to be a fan of Whitesnake, I could understand why the line-up with Steve Vai on guitar and Tommy Aldridge on drums would be considered a high-point in the band's career.

So here you go, and as always, the ALL CAPS are lovingly provided by the band's label.

The fans demanded it...Whitesnake's LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 DVD/live double CD set will now be available on June 7th via Frontiers Records. Since the inception of Whitesnake.com more than ten years ago, this DVD has been the most requested product from fans of the 'Snake.

On August 18th, 1990, Whitesnake headlined the legendary Monsters Of Rock at Castle Donington festival (now known as Download). Whitesnake's performance at the festival was one of the most memorable events on the "Liquor & Poker World Tour" that saw the band play sold-out shows to over one million people. This incredible, never-before-seen, visual footage captures one of the most musically-intense Whitesnake line-ups performing in front 70,000+ fans. Mixed in glorious 5.1 and living, breathing stereo, it's the next best thing to actually being there! Whitesnake 1990 featured guitar greats Steve Vai and Adrian Vandenberg, bassist Rudy Sarzo, drummer Tommy Aldridge and of course, incomparable frontman David Coverdale.

The LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 DVD also includes a substantial gallery of never before seen stills of the band on the "Liquor & Poker World Tour 1990", plus an intimate behind-the-scenes documentary of the making-of the SLIP OF THE TONGUE album. LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 will be available as a 2 CD set, a DVD coverpack, a combo 2 CD and DVD in digipak and digital editions. Please see below for the respective double CD and DVD track listings.

In other news, Whitesnake's brand new album FOREVERMORE is out today via Frontiers Records and is available in multiple configurations. The album is already receiving rave reviews from the press with The Aquarian dubbing it, "excellent...their bluesiest and grittiest release since their 1984 masterpiece SLIDE IT IN...", while Hard Rock Hideout declares, "Make no mistake, FOREVERMORE, is an early front runner for record of the year." FOREVERMORE finds founder/singer/songwriter David Coverdale and company returning to their no-holds-barred, bluesiest, sexiest rock n' roll roots. Whitesnake is David Coverdale (vocals), Doug Aldrich (guitars), Reb Beach (guitars), Michael Devin (bass) and Briian Tichy (drums). The 'Snake will soon hit the road in support of FOREVERMORE...please see below for tour dates.

Formed in 1977, and steered by the legendary David Coverdale, Whitesnake carry a rightful reputation as one of the world's leading rock n' roll bands. Coverdale's blues roots, combined with a feral sense of rockin' and rollin', have consistently shaped the 'Snake's sound along with Coverdale's love and appreciation of impeccable musicianship. Whitesnake's ascent to the very top of the rock n' roll heap was confirmed with 1987's self-titled mega-platinum album, which saw two massive Top 10 hits, two #1 singles with "Here I Go Again" and "Is This Love" and a virtual 24-hour domination of MTV around the world.

Whitesnake LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 DVD track listing:

1.) Slip Of The Tongue
2.) Slide It In
3.) Judgement Day
4.) Slow An Easy
5.) Kitten's Got Claws
6.) Adagio For Strato
7.) Flying Dutchman Boogie
8.) Is This Love
9.) Cheap An' Nasty
10.)Crying In The Rain (featuring Tommy Aldridge drum solo)
11.)Fool For Your Loving
12.)For The Love Of God
13.)The Audience Is Listening
14.)Here I Go Again
15.)Bad Boys
16.)Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City
17.)Still Of The Night

Whitesnake LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 CD 1 track listing:

1.) Slip Of The Tongue
2.) Slide It In
3.) Judgement Day
4.) Slow An Easy
5.) Kitten's Got Claws
6.) Adagio For Strato
7.) Flying Dutchman Boogie
8.) Is This Love
9.) Cheap An' Nasty
10.)Crying In The Rain (featuring Tommy Aldridge drum solo)

Whitesnake LIVE AT DONINGTON 1990 CD 2 track listing:

1.) Fool For Your Loving
2.) For The Love Of God
3.) The Audience Is Listening
4.) Here I Go Again
5.) Bad Boys
6.) Ain't No Love In The Heart Of The City
7.) Still Of The Night

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Laura Stevenson and the Cans - Sit Resist

Already on album number two, Laura Stevenson and the Cans are one of those bands slumming across the country right now, playing sparsely attended venues down the street and leaving the few who managed to stick around digging in their pockets for an extra ten bucks to pick up a souvenir at the merch table after the show.

They’re a surprise for sure, and you can even keep the ten spot as Stevenson and the gang are letting earlybirders get Sit Resist at no charge, hoping that Laura’s voice will be enough to get you to commit for the sixty minutes or so the next time she happens by your neighborhood.

It’s worth your time and the space on your hard drive and, to be honest, it’s a damn shame that Laura and the rest of her crew should eve have to struggle to find gas money, let alone sleep in the van just to get to another dive during these years of hard knocks. Sit Resist features more talent than you’ll find with other artists in higher tax brackets and you'll honestly hope that these years of struggle will find a pay-off sooner than later.

The arrangement alternates from simple folk songs to ornate blends of old-fashioned jams of banjos, accordions, and even a few bits of brass instruments. One cut, "Master of Art," features a nifty bit of Phil Spector charm, adding to Sit Resist's ability to breeze by at a rapid pace without a dull moment to contend with.

But the real discovery is Stevenson’s voice, a delicate work of raw talent that’s reminiscent of Melanie at some points, yet able to hit the onramp running should the material require a burst of emotion.

Here’s the part where I write something that describes the key tracks on Sit Resist in an effort to get you to seek out the album at your favorite retailer. But since it’s already free for the taking (for just a short time longer) at Stevenson’s website, you can judge for yourself the level of talent currently pounding the highways, trying to get your attention.

You’ll find that it’s an effective strategy because once you’ve listened to Sit Resist, it’s hard to stray from its infectious array of honest music that’s worth its weight in gold.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Kate Bush - Director's Cut

After the forever and a day time it took to finally get Aerial, Kate Bush is seemingly back to her previous work load schedule of releasing an album every half-decade now. This must mean her son is now becoming either a bit more self-sufficient or perhaps a bit more irritating as children can often be.

Except this time, Mommy went back to the studio to rework some music that she’s already released before.

The music is restricted to The Sensual World and The Red Shoes-two efforts that I’m not exactly smitten with, particularly The Red Shoes. It seemed to be the last thing we would hear from Kate for a time, but then surprisingly the wonderful Aerial finally identified Shoes as “the mediocre record before Kate’s drought by childrearing.

The idea that Director’s Cut would merely be an album of “reworked” material-one where Kate uses much of the original material while re-doing the vocals and some minor instrumentation (mainly piano) was a bit unsettling.

What’s the point, really? And would Kate turn into the George Lucas of music, turning the material into a veritable Greedo by incorporating a fucking autotune voice during “Deeper Understanding.”

Shame on Kate?

Shame on me for doubting her!

Director’s Cut has turned the material into a more emotional event. Gone are the woefully dated drum and synthesizer sounds, a complaint that I heard from many non-Kate fans when trying to turn their attention to her material a quarter-century ago.

And those twenty-five years have deepened Kate’s voice, perfectly meshing with the more atmospheric approach that she began with Aerial. What this does is make the Red Shoes material seem more like they should have been when first released, an audio tribute to her late mother who passed shortly before Shoes was recorded.

With that deeper voice, the Red Shoes songs sound more human connective and with the scaled back instrumentation, the rest of the material sounds emotionally connective. It’s a remarkable feat, one that manages to eliminate almost every concern that you may have had going into the album.

The good news is that it also gets better with each listen.

I will admit that my favorite Red Shoes cut-“Top Of The City”-doesn’t take to the new arrangement as well as the original. And I will express disappointment that the worthless Eric Clapton solo on “And So Is Love” wasn’t admonished from the mix on the updated version.

But a pair of missteps aside, Director’s Cut not only exceeds my limited expectations, it nearly exceeds The Sensual World for me and it manages to redeem The Red Shoes, transforming it from a half-hearted effort before retirement into a nice rebound to what is turning out to be a fine second-wind from Ms. Bush.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nikki Sixx Supports New Sixx:AM album with Motley Crue Tour

I haven't bagged on Motley Crue for a while, so here goes.

First of all, I noticed that Motley Crue was playing an area around these parts-the same arena they played just a few years ago when they released that piece of shit Saints Of Los Angeles album.

You remember the one. It's the album that featured those songs that served as clues to head to the bathroom to piss out all that Coors Light you chugged during "Girls Girls Girls."

I'll be that the set list is a virtual mirror of that shitass Saints tour, because the last time the Crue did a tour that featured a majority of songs from their latest album was the one with Vince Neil replacement-John Corabi-on lead vocals.

And that tour bombed.

I remember Motley Crue played in a town 45 minutes from my Iowa home that had a population of no more than 50,000 people. They played in a dirt race track and the town's low wattage rock station gave away tickets for WEEKS leading up to the event because nobody wanted to go. Even then, they only managed to fill half the house.

It became apparent for Sixx and company that they first thing his band needed to do was to fire John Corabi.

The second was to swallow his pride and hire Vince Neil's drunk ass back and create a fifteen song set that includes nothing past 1990.

After endless performances of "Dr. Feelgood," Sixx evidently got bored to the point where he started writing books that are surprisingly good.

He also started a band with DJ Ashba called Sixx A.M. and they began releasing albums that are surprisingly bad.

They evidently have a new album coming out, which is weird because I learned about the Motley Crue tour way before the new Sixx A.M. album.

Not that it makes any difference, because I have no intentions of seeing Motley Crue in that arena this summer, I have no plans of buying the new Nikki Sixx book (but I am intrigued to learn any news on Crue guitarist Mick Mars because I'm utterly convinced that the man died nearly two decades ago and they've developed an animatronic corpse of him to parade around on tour) and I sure as hell don't plan on seeking out the new Sixx A.M. record. Because the only thing weirder looking than the corpse of Mick Mars is DJ Ashba.

I suppose if they bothered to send me a copy of the new Sixx A.M. record to review, I probably would.

Instead, they merely sent me the following press release. I have no idea why they use all caps.

MAY 3RD, 2011

Sixx: A.M.'s This Is Gonna Hurt Out Today. CD is companion soundtrack to Nikk Sixx's bestselling book.



(New York, NY) -Rockers Sixx:A.M. have released their second album, THIS IS GONNA HURT today, Tuesday, May 3rd via Eleven Seven Music. The band (Nikki Sixx, bass, James Michael, vocals and Dj Ashba, guitar) is currently enjoying the success of the first single from the new CD, "Lies Of The Beautiful People." The track is now Top 5 at Rock radio and follows on the heels of Sixx:A.M.'s "Life Is Beautiful," which was the most played rock track of 2008.

"Writing, singing and producing THIS IS GONNA HURT has been one of the most fulfilling artistic experiences of my life. Taking elements from Nikki's book and working with both Nikki and Dj has allowed me to move beyond just the typical process of making an album. THIS IS GONNA HURT pushed every boundary and when it was all said and done, I emerged a changed person," said singer James Michael. THIS IS GONNA HURT will be available at Best Buy and wherever music is sold, as well as online.

Two-time New York Times bestselling author Nikki Sixx's latest offering and the companion piece to the new CD, "This Is Gonna Hurt: Photography And Life Through The Distorted Lens Of Nikki Sixx" (William Morrow) is the first rock self-help book and just bowed in the #4 spot on the The New York Times Best-Seller list. Written as a tribute to Sixx's institutionalized sister, the book and companion album explores what true beauty is and embraces our own power around that. Written entirely by Sixx with no ghostwriter, the book is part journal, part memoir part social commentary and features his original photography.

Sixx:A.M. is the rock band formed in 2007 by Nikki Sixx, Dj Ashba and James Michael. The last time Sixx:A.M. aligned, their first album which has sold over 300,000 copies, 2007's The Heroin Diaries Soundtrack gave birth to the single, "Life Is Beautiful," which became radio's most-played rock song of 2008. They joined the Crüe Fest tour and played for more than half a million rock fans with Michael at the mic, Ashba on guitar and Sixx on bass.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Cars - Move Like This

Your jaw will drop within moments after dropping the needle on The Cars’ Move Like This.

Even if you’re not actually listening to it on vinyl, you’ll search for a turntable because Move Like This is an amazing recreation of the same sounds that made The Cars a familiar name on the airwaves during the late 70’s early 80’s. It’s also a bit of redemption from the whimper that was the band’s swan song, Door To Door.

Notice that there’s a difference between “amazing recreation” and just plain “amazing.” While Ric Ocasek may indeed have the chops to bring a smile to any Gen X’er with a decent memory and have the talent to actually best a mediocre effort, he still hasn’t demonstrated an ability to recreate a solid set of songs that will woo over novice listeners to consider how downright incredible The Cars were for at least three albums.

It also won’t threaten Heartbeat City’s role as the band’s most ubiquitous effort-but then again, Ocasek probably gets that people stopped buying records in the quarter-century since we’ve seen a new Cars record.

Curiously, there’s little to dance about or groove to on Move Like This. That’s not to suggest there’s no foot-tapping rhythm here, there’s just no blatant pop like the kind that marred Shake It Up or perfected on Heartbeat City. Move Like This is wonderfully dark in places, which has been Ocasek’s strong point throughout his career. “I gotta just get through it…these changing times” he admits on the closer, “Hits Me,” but with over half-of the songs matching a perfect blend of nostalgia and a record of unique identity, you wonder why he was so adamant about not wanting to return to the Cars’ moniker, especially when one critical member was still with us.

Yes, the fact that there’s no Benjamin Orr to bring some smooth baritone to the mix is a problem. His passing means that some of the slower material just ends up being forgettable and the beautiful vs. quirky vocal blends of records past tend to make Move Like This a bit samey after a while.

Still, you’ve got to credit Ocasek for coming up with enough winners to warrant a title change from Move Like This to more like this.

And hopefully there will be.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Roky Erickson Bobblehead

I'm not making this up, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want one.

Roky Erickson, founding father of psychadelic rock gods The 13th Floor Elevators, has been immortalized in the throbblehead kingdom.

This figure capturing Roky's look circa 1980, or "The Evil One" era, is limited to 1000 numbered units, stands at 7 inches tall, and is made of super strong polyresin.

Displayed in a window box, Roky is accurately sculpted right down to the grizzly beard, wild hair and Vanson jacket.

The figures cost $19.95, and orders will ship immediately.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Gaga On HBO

I could have sworn I saw Paul McCartney in the audience.

And why not?

Lady Gaga’s Madison Square Garden’s performance was billed as N.Y.C’s concert of the year and anyone who was anybody would be foolish not to be a part of this event.

The irony is that Gaga’s bio clearly puts her rise from being a nobody into America’s biggest pop sensation since Madonna charted a similar course in the early 80’s.

I love Madonna-scratch that-I love Madonna circa The Immaculate Collection volume 1 and 2. Post millennium, not so much. And the reason is that she seems to have forgotten the road she came from.

Gaga still hasn’t, and The Monster Ball theme-outside of the spectacle of the actual show-is a constant reminder of a girl who was brought up to believe that she wouldn’t amount to much is now performing to a sold out show in N.Y.C.’s most recognizable arenas.

In addition to Macca, Gaga acknowledges two other attendees who served as inspiration: Marisa Tomei and Liza Minnelli. She addresses them during a make-up malfunction, stating that Liza was revered by all during her time at Tisch School of the Arts, and that her teachers always put her in Marissa Tomei roles during drama class.

At some points, the continual “up from nowhere” reminders, endless references to her “monsters,” and non-stop shouts of “New York City!” get to be too much. That is, until you see the emotional impact that Gaga gets over the event.

Only a hard-nosed cynic would be able to dismiss the tears and heart-wrenching tales of overcoming adversity. It’s clearly honest, and Gaga clearly still has a hard time believing that she’s in the position she has found herself in.

All of this would mean nothing if the performance sucked, and it most certainly does not.
Even if Gaga’s reconstituted Material Girl action plan isn’t your cup of tea, The Monster Ball is delivered with such over-the-top theatrics, costume changes, dance routines, and stunning visuals that you may want to consider taking a ride on the disco stick.

All of the hits are presented, and the fans are rabid enough that virtually every song is met with body rhythms, repeated lyrics, and the obligatory smart phone illumination.

The film switches to black and white for every behind the scenes shot. We see Gaga rehearsing before the show, we find her beneath the stage switching costumes, and we find the last shot of her singing a definitive ground up title track “Born This Way” where she nails the chorus in an awesome a cappella version.

It’s a reminder that-regardless of what shocking Dale Bozzio attire she dons or what intentionally button-pushing statement she says-at the end of the day, the artist formally known as Stefani Germanotta possesses real talent and a real opportunity to forge a lengthy career just like her obvious inspiration(s).

Let’s hope that she listens to her songs, remembers the theme presented on The Monster Ball and doesn’t forget the road that led her to Madison Square Garden.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Flaming Lips - Gummy Song Skull

I feel the need to preface this review by declaring my love for Wayne Coyne.

I’d love to meet him-I did once, albeit very briefly in the mid-80’s after a show featuring the original trio-but I’m afraid that any lengthy dialogue would be exhausting as the man is a total workaholic and (I’m guessing) a bit of a micro-manager about things.

It is these characteristics that enable him to keep coming up with crazy ideas, and for some unbelievable reason, people coddle him to the point of allowing those crazy ideas become a reality.

Sometimes they work and they are brilliant (Zaireeka).

Sometimes they’re retarded (Christmas On Mars, the film, not the soundtrack which is pretty awesome).

The Gummy Song Skull falls on the latter side, and the price for the piece turns it into an unaffordable bit of temporary art that will surely last as long as a Stretch Armstrong doll, filled with edible liquid.

Seriously: I want to see pictures of how this thing has held up in five years.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s awesome looking and my immediate reaction was to see if I could shell out a hundred-fifty clams to get one for myself. Then I realized that the asking price for this would be one night in a Residence Inn for our family vacation this summer.

So what’s a working man to do? Drop a Bennie-and-a-half to support Wayne Coyne’s artistic endeavor that will eventually decompose or to buy a bit of joy for my kids as they flail around in an overly chlorinated pool?

I’m choosing the latter.

And I’m choosing it on the merits of what you get when you stick your digits inside that fake vagina entrance to retrieve the USB drive snuggled within the gummy head.

Having heard the four songs within the Gummy Song Skull, I can tell you that Coyne and company spent an enormous amount of time on this project, but about a half-hour on the actual songs that come with it. They are all reminiscent of what seems to be a typical rehearsal, a skeletal fragment of the beginnings of Flaming Lips songs that would eventually be discarded or used to complete the coherent vision of real songs still being developed.

The four tracks squeak and bark with distortion, electronic blips, and intentional overloads. Kliph gets a good beat occasionally while Wayne barks and Drozd tackles the rest of the instrumentation.

It’s fuckery, and an expensive one at that. And while I’m not suggesting the asking price is fair when you add up the time and cost of materials needed to even get this project off the ground, I still think it’s fair to ask that the band at least give us material that is worth the asking price.

It isn’t, and this whole extravagance in packaging isn’t even justifiable if it won’t even be in the market long enough if you wanted to sell it to a collector later on.

Here’s a better idea: wire me $150 and I let you sleep on the hideaway couch at a Residence Inn with my family. I’ll throw in a bag of Haribo Gummy Bears (the good kind, and a lot better tasting than the pot flavored gummy that the Lips are apparently now creating for the next batch of Gummy Song Skulls) and I’ll let you join me by the pool while I sing “Everything’s Exploding” while underwater.

Trust me, it will be more entertaining than anything found on this woefully pretentious item that, literally, has no lasting value in the world of music.

Kiss - Rock And Roll Over

A little over a month ago, I purchased my first Kiss shirt.

It’s true: at no point in my life have I ever purchased a Kiss t-shirt, but I have admired some of the band’s record covers from afar. I think Dressed To Kill looks badassed, and I even considered buying a pair of Vans with the cover art of Dressed To Kill on them. Alive is cool, but mainly because of those two dudes holding up a handmade Kiss sign on the back cover.

And then there’s Rock And Roll Over, with its comic book depiction and surprisingly clever title. It was a staple in a lot of friend’s record collection and I know I’ve heard it at least a few times in my life. But I blocked out those memories and any hint of partisan bias.

Three decades later, I began considering the Kiss catalog, looking for clues as to why so many of those 70’s youth dutifully followed the band. I was/am genuinely intrigued by this, wondering aloud if image trumped sound because-at least as my ears were concerned-I could find few examples of their prowess within those old vinyl grooves.

The record that many fans told me to listen to was Rock And Roll Over, but I didn’t put much weight into that recommendation because the other record they claimed was the band’s masterpiece, Destroyer, sucked balls IHO.

Destroyer sucked so bad that I have yet to even review it, but it was my cousin-himself a Kiss fanatic at one time-suggested that I take a listen to R.A.R.O., claiming that is was the first studio effort that properly channeled the band’s aggressiveness.

He’s right. After reviewing the band’s first handful of studio albums, Rock And Roll Over is the first effort that provides listeners with the tone and grit that any band who navigates the realms of hard rock should have.

To be blunt, regardless of how good the material was in earlier efforts (and by “good” I mean by Kiss standards) everything seemed to be marred in weak mixes and stifled guitar tones, a negative that placed Kiss on part with other rock and roll characters found on Saturday morning cartoons.

The work of legendary producer Eddie Kramer is the difference here, and you can hear a lot of the same color definitions that he used previously with Hendrix. The real story, however, is with the rhythm guitar textures instead of the blotter acid leanings of some of Ace Frehley’s solos. Without that bite, R.A.R.O. could have been just another tepid Kiss studio album instead of a record that seems to match the band’s over-the-top imagery.

The artwork, the lyrics, the sound, all of it is rightfully up any young boy’s alley and is perfectly suited for anyone who refuses to grow up. More than any other studio album is Kiss’ early catalog, Rock and Roll Over may be the only one that stands the test of time, a project that sonically worthy of becoming the soundtrack to their marketing prowess.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

OCD Chronicles: Siouxsie and the Banshees-"Song From The Edge Of The World"

I hate peer-to-peer file sharing.

Not for the reasons you might imagine and not for any solidarity with the record industry.

I hate peer-to-peer file sharing because I get overwhelmed.

Somebody recently wrote a rather long winded piece on how you can find virtually anything online nowadays, and the article was met with a smug “No shit, Sherlock.” response from readers, including one music site who sarcastically exclaimed that the reviewer just discovered Napster.

My Napster days were filled with shitty bit rates and dial-up internet, neither one conducive to filling out my catalog. Additionally, I didn’t have the awesome IPod to trot around with me, so I used Napster for primarily a listening station for newer music.

But now, thanks in large part to Apple’s invention (that I came to later in the product’s lifespan) I’ve been filling in my catalog with titles that weren’t in my collection or in some cases, sold back to the record store during that time when people did such things to fund their aluminum endeavors.

I’ve also been going through some of my vinyl collection, seeking out gems that I’d long forgotten. Most of it I’ve been able to find, including the additional rarity that side-tracks my searches.

One of these gems-Siouxsie and the Banshees’ “Song From The Edge Of The World”-planted a seed deep within my cranium, like that bug they let tunnel into Checkov’s ear in that Star Trek movie. I have the original 12” single and began to question whether it was eventually released on a proper full length.

A quick search of the internets brought a lot of answers and even a few questions regarding the elusive track.

Foremost, that said elusiveness was a direct result of the band themselves, who felt that there wasn’t something “right” about the mix of the song. That confounded me as “Song From The Edge Of The World” was probably my favorite song from the band. Sure, I’ve got strong ties to the album Hyena and there are a lot of other tracks that raise the hair on the back of my neck, but I absolutely adore this cut.

To me, it’s the perfect balance of their goth weirdness with the more commercial direction that they were just beginning to examine in the last half of the 80’s.

Right around the time I was in college.

Siouxsie is positively haunting when she belts “We’ll dance away…When the day…is…done” letting bassist Steven Severin battle out the propulsion of this up-tempo track with drummer Budgie.
Since there is plenty of compilations in the band’s catalog which hold the various singles and popular cuts of their lengthy career, I assumed that “Song From The Edge Of The World” could be found somewhere.

Evidently, that’s not the case.

While there are a few compilations that hold the cut, none of them seem to have the single version that’s been nibbling inside. I learned that my 12” single is worth a pretty penny among Siouxsiephiles and that a passion for this song is shared by many others.

So I sought it out amongst the file sharing community and in no time it was floating through the wires and into my external hard drive.

And to make matters even more interesting, my mp3 copy has the noticeable sounds of vinyl when it plays, making my find sound the same way as it does at home.