Thursday, October 31, 2013

Ghost - Infesissumam

I’ve given up trying to remain completely up-to-speed on every new rock release, particularly when it comes to titles that have a more mainstream appeal. At the same time, I occasionally come across a band or record that has an amount of popularity large enough to be ashamed that I was completely in the dark about prior to my own exposure.

I “discovered” Ghost just last month at a friend’s house, shortly after he had been exposed to them for the first time. I should probably admit that no one involved in this discovery is under the age of thirty, which is part of the problem. It doesn’t appear that Ghost is the type of band that would even appeal to someone over the age of 30, but more on that a little later.

My first exposure was a video, and based on the quality of it, I wasn’t entirely sure if the entire thing was a gag or if the members of Ghost really did take themselves seriously. There were dudes dressed in robes, their faces completely covered in black masks, and there seemed to be lit candles on the walls. I say "seemed" to be because the video quality looked suspect, like it may have been a college project for someone's Video Production 101 student. I say this with my own experience, having taken Video Production 101 in college and having received a solid B- for my efforts.

 The "video music production" project was a killer; do you know how hard it is matching up pre-recorded audio with people lip-synching the lyrics? So my initial reaction-the costumes, the set, the religious themes, the cheesiness of the video quality-was one of total humor. Of course, it didn’t help that my friend provided a running commentary of the video as it was playing, mostly from the perspective of an outfit that had no clue what they were doing.

 After a long musical introduction, there was a shot of a different perspective. Someone was walking towards the band. There was a lot of fake smoke for him to navigate through.

"Here comes the main dude. He's like the Pope or somethin'" offered my friend.

And sure as shit, a man wearing a more ornate robe than the other members slowly made his way to the place where the other members were performing. He had what appeared to be a Catholic Cardinal's hat on his head and his face was painted in white, eerily resembling a skull.

His name, we discovered after a quick call to Wikipedia on my smart phone, was "Papa Emeritus," or "Papa Emeritus II" after reading about some ridiculous transition of the two characters. I got bored with the story, so I stopped reading and returned to the lol's.

What ended my laughter was the fact that the band’s set for this video shoot contained props that required someone to blueprint and fucking build them.

We’re not talking about a bunch of teenagers slopping together a set for a summer musical production of Pippin, but one in which materials were considered beforehand, purchased and carefully pieced together in an effort that aligned with the band’s curious religious motif, which also must have entailed some serious planning to begin with. After everything was all planned, then someone went down to Just Ask Rentals and put a deposit on a smoke machine.

 We moved to live video footage, and it is at this point where I start to get very curious about this band. There were people actually digging this shit, and while I haven't even begun to discuss what these guys sound like yet, lets just say that it was in no way as aggressive as you would think grown men in robes and religious attire should sound like. I mean, if Kiss can pull out a song as heavy as "Ladies Room," then Ghost should be fucking Slayer in terms of loudness. But no, Ghost is perfectly content with sounding like a summer musical production of Pippin, with a guy doing hammer-ons on his guitar in the background.

 While the live performance was by no means an arena show, it was one from what appeared to be a rather large theatre. And that rather large theatre appeared filled with fans who seemed to know Every. Single. Word.

“These guys aren’t American.” I suggested, not attempting to question the band’s love of freedom.

“Fuck no,” replied my friend. “This has got to be European.” Understanding what I was attempting to relate.

And sure as shit, another cursory search confirmed that Ghost is another fucking band from Sweden, forced to add a “B.C.” to the end of their name because some dumbass American band already used it for their own, while not having the good sense to package their look in anonymous Darth Vader masks while dressing their frontman up to look like a Satanic Cardinal.

The religious imagery is another dead giveaway to the country of origin, because nobody in America gives a shit about religion anymore, and those that do typically hang around the hypocrisy elements. Ghost seem to enjoy the contradictory elements of their Satanic approach rather than focus too much on the church’s history of abuse, control and war.

You know, the same things that most religions attempt to rally against.

Ghost’s approach to this topic is done in such a half-assed manner that you have to believe that any discussion of it gets them tripped up in trying to explain it all. Indeed, most interviews that I’ve seen where the topic is brought up, a member-usually an anonymous minion, since the lead singer is apparently doing double duty as a vocalist by the name of Tobias Forge, a thirty-two year old man who puts fake blood on his face, plays guitar and sings for another metal band called Repugnant. He likes to be called "Mary Goore" when playing in that band. But in Ghost, he's "Papa Emeritus" and he doesn't play a guitar-at least that I know of, I've wasted too many hours in front of a computer screen trying to piece all of this nonsense together.

He just walks around slowly and makes these exaggerated motions that vaguely resemble what a man of the cloth would do. So when the band, mostly the "Nameless Ghouls" that make up Ghost's musical performers, gets cornered into talking about what all of this religious imagery means, they play coy and dish out some printable bullshit about "Satanism" in an almost embarrassing attempt to come off as more heavy than their sound illustrates.

It's working: The dude that turned my friend on to Ghost used the fact that they were “Satanists” as a primary reason to check them out. He's 32 years old and clearly out of this band's targeted age demographic. Then again, so are my friend and I.

So let's cut to the chase: as Satan as my witness, Ghost may be the most improperly marketed band since Kiss roamed the Earth in their costumes, and by that I mean their look completely snookers the fact that they are as sweet as Cool Whip in the mix and about as nutritious.

Ghost's sophomore effort, Infestissumam is the band's major label debut, whatever that means, because they seem to be doing just fine in terms of self-promotion. The rub is how when Ghost plays footsie with things like the anti-Christ, then their marketing power in the States loses traction.

Because as much as we dislike going to church here in the U.S., we sure as shit won't replace it with a bizarro one who's biggest promoter resembles the white-faced demon dude that inhabits Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

And based on the band's pop leanings, one can only assume that worldwide domination is at play here. After all, what possesses a thirty-two year old man to dress like this?

God bless the children of the beast.
There were reports (I wasn’t kidding about my research) that the band wanted Infesissumam to sound like a big budget rock album circa 1978, but the reality is that most rock records from 1978 sound much heavier than this. That fact includes Kiss’ Destroyer album, a record that Ghost would seem greatly indebted to on the surface while musically, the pairing is notably much different. This isn’t to suggest that Gene, Paul, Ace and Peter are better musicians than the Nameless Ghouls that play in Ghost (they aren’t) but they certainly have their roots directly in the same soil as rock and roll’s expansive family tree.

Ghost, on the other hand, pull from the same amount of European classical elements as they would from Detroit rock city, leaving Infestissumam a confusing blend of metal, pop, and Johan Helmich Roman influences.

The guitars are mixed low, as are the drums and any other hint of real metallic aggression. Keyboards and frequent religious chants (some in Latin, or at least a reasonable facsimile) are the formula here, along with endless meanderings about religious topics seemingly derived from Cliff’s Notes pocket bibles and Catholic worship inserts. Side two begins with chants of "Belial, Behemoth, Beelzebub, Asmodeus, Satanas, Lucifer ... Hail Satan, Archangelo," which probably mean as much to Ghost as their made-up word "Idolatrine."

My guess is that they were attempting to be clever with that one, combining the word "Idolatry" (which Infestissumam qualifies as) and the word "latrine" (ditto) in an attempt to suggest, I dunno, Piss Christ, maybe? There’s nothing offensive about such lines like “Idolatrine for the imbeciles” unless you’re smart enough to figure out that you are exactly the kind of imbecile they were referring to.

I’d actually have a modicum of respect for Ghost if their intention was a bit malicious, but based on other examples throughout the record, it appears they’re just pulling things out of their ass and, when that is too much of a challenge, making shit up. Literally. For “Depth Of Satan’s Eyes,” the lyricist cobbles together such nonsense like “The swamp of feces that is the word/Flatuates a whirlwind storm in which you swirl," while not even managing to enunciate the word "feces" properly.

I'll betcha it sounds even dumber in their native language, and I'll betcha that Ghost begins backing off the Satanic jive when they realize just how much money they're leaving on the table because of the baggage that comes with it.

Until that time, Ghost remains nothing more than a visual curio-a band that I would actually pay to see if they came through my hometown because, let's face it, this concept only works in relation to the detail that went into this production from day one.

Musically, Ghost suffer from that lack of excitement on record. It becomes lost in its garbled message and mainstream gloss, coming off like the entitled sons of Uriah Heep who listen to as much EDM as they did Demons and Wizards.

The irony is that most of Infestissumam's best tracks are the ones that shy away from the band's supposed heavy lineage. "Ghuleh/Zombie Queen" starts out as a nice progressive piece before unexpectedly transforming into a nifty surf-rock bit.

"Monstrance Clock," the record's closer, also hangs around the softer side of Satan while, more importantly, finally finding a winning chorus after practically avoiding any sense of melody for the first forty minutes of the record.

Tellingly, the discussion of Ghost seems to have gone beyond the credibility of their musical legacy to one that acknowledges its limitations before going straight to the band's worth in bringing in, ahem, new converts to metal.

To be honest, I'm not sure that I see how relevant that discussion even is, given the sheer lack of metal that Ghost seems to be portraying on Infestissumam. Is as if these people are looking for a reason to justify what ultimately is a guilty pleasure. There is nothing more compelling to Ghost than what you see visually, and if you're like me-(well) over thirty and obsessing about a band that put together an image before a note was even created, then you should be old enough to admit that your fascination is beyond anything they've put to wax.

Liking Ghost is not only being able to laugh at the sheer ridiculous of their gimmick, but also acknowledging that their shtick only works as live theater. Because the sound of their recorded service only demonstrates the gaping holes in their endlessly promoted book of worship.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

On The Death Of Lou Reed

There is probably no other artist as singularly frustrating as Lou Reed.

He is a personal hero, yet someone I would never want to meet. He let his past and his ego cloud what could have been a career that rivaled the output of David Bowie at the least, Bob Dylan at the most. For whatever reason, he chose a path that purposely alienated any possibility of that happening while continuing to boast about his talent, even in the face of this indifference.

And now, goddamnit, the last piece of work he’ll be remembered for is that godawful collaboration with Metallica, Lulu.

Somehow, ain’t that just perfect?

But let’s be honest, you give Lou Reed a wide berth for a very good reason. There are the four Velvet Underground records released between 1967 and 1970 which are some of the most vital albums in rock history. They of such enormous importance that even a collection of outtakes and leftovers recorded in 1968 is practically as good as the official titles.

So if you’re keeping score, that’s a batting average on par with The Beatles and better than the Rolling Stones, making Lou Reed’s post-Velvets output akin to John Lennon’s own uncompromising catalog, only three decades more wide.

It’s not that Reed’s solo records were anything to sneeze at; there are a few oddly placed titles that are required listening, but there are a lot more that will get you closer to believing that his creative apex ended the moment he moved back into his parent’s house and put his electric guitar away in the closet for a few months. After that, it’s a landmine of outbursts, questionable creative directions and a bunch of just plain stubborn decisions that did nothing else but to remind everyone that the buck stops with Lou Reed and him alone.

One of the most read posts on this blog are the ones about Lou Reed. The review for his 1979 album TheBells in particular solicits a lot of page views and a few passionate reactions to the less-than-positive review.

Reading it now, I was taken by how vicious (ha!) I was to an album that I accurately placed at “two-stars,” enough that I can completely understand why fans of Lou would actively log in to the comment section and call me an asshole for it. It’s unnecessarily bitchy.

And then I gave Sally Can't Dance, Reed’s lazy commercial follow-up to Transformer a whopping “three-star” review, which should have also garnered a large amount of comments (but didn’t) on the sheer weight that this was way too generous of a record featuring the likes of “Animal Language.” Reed even noticed the irony at how Sally-the effort in which he participated the least-became his highest charting effort ever.  I like it because at least half of the tracks rule and it shows that had Reed been willing to play ball just a little bit like a good roster boy, he could have had a string of gold records.

But no. He follows it up with Metal Machine Music. Then he changes his mind and works for that old queen Clive Davis and gives him an abysmal commercial offering, Rock ‘N Roll Heart. I mean, the guy was bi-polar in the manner in which he addressed his celebrity and music.

There were moments that simply transcended, perhaps never fully realized until he followed a disciple into the studio for Transformer. Reed would more than likely disagree, but with Bowie’s glam window dressings, Reed let the line between his contemporaries and his neglected old band in the Velvets, finally receive the commercial acknowledgement he deserved, only to resent the attention nearly as quickly as he experienced it.

It was with this album I first arrived, immediately followed by Rock & Roll Animal­ and the aforementioned Sally Can’t Dance.

Transformer filled the B-side of a Maxell C-90 XL-II cassette with Sex Pistols’ Never Mind The Bullocks on the A. These were probably the two worst records that you could probably give a Freshman in high school, but a friend of mine figured I needed them, and he was right. With these two records, the blueprint of my high school soundtrack was began a new musical wing of exciting possibilities.

Rock & Roll Animal had me thinking that Reed was infallible. It’s as unlikely a live album that you’ll ever heard, putting Reed at the head of the class in the arenas, filling out his catalog with hard rock licks and a sense of entitlement. When he blurts out “You can all go take a fucking walk!” during the extended version of “Heroin,” it’s like he’s got the last word on all those “Jim Jims in this town,” finally getting the popularity he deserved.

When things got grim (again) during the 80’s, I received comfort from Coney Island Baby. There was a club in Iowa City that unexplainably had this album on their cd jukebox, and it became a perfect, late-night selection.  There’s nothing like hearing Lou admit “I want to play football for the coach” while under the influence of too much liquor, and probably the only time you can hear such a line with a straight/shitty face.

Another resurgence in the late 80’s came for New York, and for a while it maintained Reed until Magic and Loss in ’92. I remember forgetting about how bad Reed could be, blindly following his output until the one-two punch of disappointment of the Velvet’s reunion and his solo effort, Set The Twilight Reeling.

From that point on, I barely paid attention, and when I did, it was for all the wrong reasons.

The news of his liver transplant came as a shock earlier this year, but having seen Phil Lesh of the Grateful Dead pull through something similar, it sounded like the surgery might be promising. It wasn’t too long ago when Reed promised that everything was going great and that he was going to be back “stronger than ever.”

It now sounds like it was only the bravado talking.

I didn’t take the news well. It’s been on my mind all day, in addition to all of the other mundane dramas of our family’s afternoon. I went out to mow the lawn, creating a Lou Reed playlist beforehand, but by the time I got the mower started, I just listened to the noise of the engine.

It was my own version of Metal Machine Music.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced (UK Mono Version)

For some reason, the packaging, the running order, the difference between the UK and US version of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s debut album Are You Experienced has always intrigued me. So when Experience Hendrix announced the reissue of Jimi’s first trio of releases on vinyl-including the UK version of AYE-my attention was laser-focused.

I have no historical connection with the mono versions of Hendrix’ first two releases. I was raised on the running-order of the Reprise stereo versions of both, themselves reissues of the awesome old steamboat logo that Reprise used to have. I ruined perfectly good Animals records from that period, and I remember noting the big old boat version and I scribbled my name over the label.

So thank God it wasn’t a Hendrix original pressing, I guess.

And for some stupid reason, there was a time during the 80’s when I was so fixated on replacing every one of my vinyl titles on cd that I was sell them for pennies-on-the-dollar just to have it on a shiny aluminum disc.

This includes all of my vinyl of Jimi Hendrix records.

Now, none of mine were rare titles. Like I mentioned, they were all (and by “all,” I’m only talking about the first three records) reissues of Reprise titles, well before everything got sold to someone else and that someone else is now Sony records, I guess.

Whatever.

Point in that I sold all of that shit, and then one day I’m playing my records, like actual vinyl, and I go “Man, some Hendrix would really hit the spot!” and go over to my stack of wax and look for Jimi.

And it’s not there.
Not the badassed gatefold copy of Axis with all of its lysergic glory. Not the Columbia House edition of Electric Ladyland and not even the U.S. stereo version of Are You Experienced?

Obviously, I had to correct that problem, toot suite.

This is about the time of the Experience Hendrix reissues, of which I read about, became convinced of the item’s quality, and selected the UK mono version of AYE just to mix it up and listen to it again with fresh ears.

Let me tell you that the results floored me. Not in the manner in which you may be thinking, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

First of all, the packaging contains a reproduction of the UK cover, just standard issue quality. Mine was numbered “1697”, of how many more, I haven’t researched.

The inner sleeve is a pedestrian black and white colored sleeve, one side featuring a roll of Hendrix performing live, while the other touts the extensive manner in which Bernie Grundman mastered the release, using state of the art analog mechanics. It’s an interesting read, but I have no idea what the shit means.

What I do know is that the vinyl is thick. None more black. The fuckers at Sony replaced the more historically accurate Polydor label with a new Experienced Hendrix one.

At this point, I don’t care. Particularly after I learned that Grundman retrofitted a machine with old tubes to make it sound “accurate,” so, you know, I’m stoked about hearing AYE “as it was meant to be heard” or “the way Jimi intended it” or “You just dropped $17 for an album to once owned, so get to playing it, dummy!”

Right out of the gate, let me say that leading off the American version was “Purple Haze,” a cut that doesn’t appear on the UK version of AYE, because it was basically slopped together at the beginning of the Summer of 1967. America had to wait for its version, and when it came, it was primarily the stereo version, and it included the aforementioned “Purple Haze” and the stunning “Wind Cries Mary.” If you’re new to Hendrix, this is the album where you need to start and this is the version you need to start with. Even after hearing the UK version, the US stereo version is a vastly superior title and it stands as one of the greatest debuts of all time.

The UK version of AYE starts with “Foxy Lady,” still, a pretty swinging opener for May of ’67, and it begins a very curious visit to an old friend. Not only is the fact that “Foxy Lady” is starting things off, it’s doing so in a very muddy fashion. This is the worst mix of this song I have ever heard.

But I press on.

The UK version includes “Red House” and “Remember,” both of which give our compatriots over there a much more blues presence over the record. With England already witnessing a blue resurgence thanks to Clapton’s work with John Mayall to the Stones earlier catalog, Are You Experienced takes on a more decidedly English feel than its American counterpart, which now feels like a much more heavy rock record compared to this version.

Overall, AYE UK achieves exactly what I was hoping for. It transported me in front of a shitty monophonic record player, hearing the album as close as I could get to the exact moment when it was first issued. It’s mindblowing and it still stacks up to nearly everything that was released in the creative-filled year of 1967.

The monorail performance is a flat-eq’d barker with Hendrix’s guitar front and center. There’s occasionally a bit more reverb in some of the mix and a ton of gain present during the dynamic performances. I’m guessing this is a result of Grundman’s back to mono ethos in the mastering process. Whatever it is, it is some weird shit. It made me light some incense and feel a little creeped out, gingerly contemplating my brief crack in the time continuum.

There is a bunch of other strange sounds from differences in the mix that occur, particularly in “Third Stone From The Sun,” which easily becomes my favorite moment in this new old mix. Again, Jimi’s guitar is way up in the mix, making all of the sound effect moments and slow-speed space transmissions even more eerie. Then Jimi comes in and asks if he can “land my kinky machine” and everything’s cool again.

Except for “Fire,” which nearly had me believing that I had secured an inferior pressing of AYE. Right after Jimi’s solo, the audio suddenly drops out and sounds out of phase, if that makes any sense. It is remarkably different, like it’s a different source for the material. It’s a jolt to the listener and something that I’d think they’d put a disclaimer of if it were a regular occurrence, like The Who did on Live At Leeds with its warning of the record label of “Crackling noises o.k. – Do not correct.”

I visit the Steve Hoffman forums-the go to place for everything geek record information-and sure as shit, the issue of the dropout in “Fire” to the crappy mix of “Foxy Lady,” are all addressed and they are attributed to the defects of a hastily put together recording and mixing session are the root cause of all of these sonic issues.

The reality was that most listeners heard their records on blue collar systems, and little attention was paid to sonic perfection by pop/rock engineers as a result. There’s a natural tendency for such system limitations to mask the imperfections, combined with the reality of the limits that those primitive recording consoles had when recording a dynamic artist like Hendrix, and you get a lot of noticeable flaws on aurally visible, even today’s mid-range systems.



Given how much an original UK mono pressing of Are You Experienced is going for, and considering how there is (supposedly) no difference between the mix of it and the new Experience Hendrix reissue is, the new release is a bargain. It’s still great enough to blow minds, even in a flawed monorail mix of what is-particularly in its American sequenced stereo counterpart-one of the greatest debut albums in rock history.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

No Age - An Object


What once was a band of fury, noise and excitement has now turned into the same “bullshit on the stereo” that vocalist Dean Spunt talks about on An Object. It is a forgettable attempt at changing direction, stripping the two pieces down to a sound that actually sounds limited by the duo approach.
If you think that by scaling back on the noise suddenly shines a light on No Age’s lyrical prowess, you’d be mistaken. It only illuminates how the band’s depressive funk has seeped into their word content, hitting a low with the clich├ęd “the road is fucking tough” subject matter, “Running From A Go-Go.”
You wanna know the difference between it and, say, Dokken’s “Alone Again? Not much, aside from the fact that Don Dokken managed a few more scales (ditto guitarist George Lynch) than Spunt is capable of, and believe me, I didn’t go in to An Object expecting to find correlations between them and some shitty hair metal band from thirty years ago.
The fact that it took nearly three years for An Object to land on our laps may indicate the "Do we have to?" feeling that permeates on the entire thing. Suddenly our heroes overthink the entire concept of their action plan on album number four, dwelling in a mucky puddle of annoying drones and lackluster arrangements.

No Age claims that it's our Occupied existence that's sucking away at their creative juices, but the reality is that there's very little energy from a dead battery, and perhaps this alkaline duo is headed straight for the trash bin.

No Age proudly remind everyone that the first 10,000 copies of An Object were hand-printed by the band themselves, neglecting to mention that the attention to detail inside the package is what everyone's gonna miss the most.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Kiss - Killers


The only reason Killers gets a mention is because of four new tracks written especially for the compilation. Otherwise, the record is nothing more than a contractual best-of offering, a collection of some of the band’s better known tracks up until that point, but hardly a comprehensive gathering like Double Platinum intended to be.

The band had just experienced an unmitigated failure with the experimental The Elder, a divisive (and awful) record that not only pissed of fans, but also the band’s foreign record companies.

Here’s what I don’t understand: did Gene and Paul’s marketing prowess start later in their career? Because the entire genesis of the Killers project seems like it was based on poor negotiating and contractual obligation.

With sales of The Elder pushing the band closer to the where-are-they-now category, the band’s foreign representatives cobbled together a quick greatest hits project and demanded the band contribute four new songs to the release. How a band leaves themselves this vulnerable is beyond me, but Gene and Paul can never be called anything but compliant in their business dealings; the two members obediently directed their new drummer back into the studio and secured the rights from Ace Frehley to use his picture for the cover, on a ruse that continued to pretend to fans that he was still an actual member.

Kiss then scrambled for help with outside creative forces to come up with the new material, eventually working with none other than Bryan Adams for one track (“Down On Your Knees”) and Kiss nut-swinger Adam Mitchell on a couple (“I Am A Legend Tonight” and “Partners In Crime”). The fourth song is the Stanley penned “Nowhere To Run” and none of these new cuts represent anything worthwhile to the average Kiss fan or any passive fan.

For completists, they represent some kind of baloney bridge between the misguided bridge between The Elder’s “art” leanings and Creatures Of Habit’s required rock resurgence. The reality is that the new tracks on Killers were quickly created and their mediocrity approved as a “meets requirements” rating for those of you in the professional world or a solid “C-“ if you’re more familiar with educational grades.

Sonically, the tracks stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the cuts, wallowing in a production quality that is more like a demo recording than a final mix.

Speaking of, Killers is somewhat of note for including the single mix of “Shout It Out Loud,” “Detroit Rock City” and “I Was Made For Lovin’ You.” It also contains the live edit of “Rock And Roll All Night,” which was the version that most familiar heard when the band began their unbelievable ascent, while its typically the studio version that gets the nod for most Kiss compilations.

Killers ended up being a moderate success in overseas countries while arriving in America as a pricey import with a ridiculous cover art, including the misleading notion that Ace was even a part of the newly recorded tracks. For this deception and for the band’s compromising attitude towards the new songs within this release-particularly considering how homogeneous the new tracks actually turn out-Killers is another in a long line of questionable products authorized by the band.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Residents - 13th Anniversary Show: Live In Japan

I suppose the first concern with 13th Anniversary Show: Live In Japan is the same one that plagues any Replacement concert that isn’t tied to some kind of visual aid. How do you really get a feel for just how weird these tuxedo-wearing retinas are without actually seeing firsthand these tuxedo-wearing retinas in action.

 And “action” is a very subjective word, as The Residents really don’t do anything normally associated with a rock and roll concert, so if you’re looking for majestic shredding or lengthy drum solos, you won’t find it here. The strangeness comes from the visuals and the unusual presence of four anonymous men making weird noises, something that must have been a sight to see judging by the lack of audience noise that’s eerily noticeable throughout 13th Anniversary Show.

 The recording confirms this as longtime favorites like “Monkey and Bunny” and “Smelly Tongues” are especially haunting while touring guitarist Snakefinger dishes out some raw playing for “Walter Westinghouse” before unexpectedly being faded out. It is only at this point that you can audibly hear the Japanese audience applaud in approval.

13th Anniversary Show is a nice souvenir from a time when the band was in flux. The band’s previous tour-the notorious Mole shows-were a unmitigated failure and their infamous record label Ralph Records (“Buy Or Die!” was the slogan) had recently folded. Things were grim for the band and their financial stresses almost caused the band to break up.

It was their Japanese record label that pressured the band to return to the stage, this time scrapping the entire Mole project in favor of a greatest-hits set, one that proved to be successful enough to return for another run of the states while prompting a creative rebirth of their American Composers Series.

This live document captures the rebirth, but the selections do not surpass the studio counterparts and 13th Anniversary Show is best served for longtime fans searching for clues into the band’s well-being during a very quiet period in their career. As the music demonstrates, the Residents were just as strange as ever and sound like you had to be there to fully appreciate.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Polvo - Siberia






The reunion album In Prism sounded like Polvo had something to prove, but it be the band's second post-reunion effort that finally quells the armchair quarterbacks that question if they are truly on the same level as their younger selves.

The difference with Siberia is that Polvo once again seem to be working from a looser script in much the same way they did when they were a full-time working/touring/recording unit. The new album strips away the taut arrangements and charted scales found on In Prism in an attempt to recreate the spontaneous discoveries that made their early records such stunners.

So the question goes: is it as stunning as Today's Active Lifestyles or Exploded Drawing? And the obvious answer is "No," but that's not to suggest that it isn't very awesome to have Polvo back, creating, and making recordings that do nothing but add to this band's lofty history.

Siberia is actually the perfect record for discovering Polvo because their wide, angular guitar heroics have been softened somewhat, but the manner in which they achieve it only opens new doors for the band's future. And that is widely exciting for a long-time fan like myself.

Polvo's notoriety is that it's fronted by two wildly innovative pickers in Ash Bowie and Dave Brylawski, with Bowie handling most of the vocal duties. While his questionable lyrics and limited vocals always being the band's chief complaints in the past, they are a big part to Siberia's success.

But again, this is a guitar lover's band first and foremost, and it is this instrument that becomes the record's obvious selling point.

The two do a fine job replicating the jagged and buzzy interplay of old during Siberia's opener, "Total Immersion." No wonder old-timers have been calling this one a "return to form." "Blues Is Loss" further examines this and may rank as one of the band's best performances on any album.

Where the band begins exploring uncharted territories is on cuts like "Light, Raking" which features a bright synth during the chorus, ranking the song as the closest thing Polvo has ever done that sounds like a single. It's a great fit, btw.

"Old Maps" gets a nod with its acoustic mood-again, new explorations for a band that made its name from being plugged in to something.

If In Prism was a confirmation that they came back to add a needed exclamation point to their catalog, Siberia becomes the record that makes this post-hiatus ride a link to their past. It's also the record that makes any talk of another hiatus something of a concern, because they've got this band tuned up and sounding as good as it's ever.

Any talk of losing that now would be just as difficult as it was the first time.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Flaming Lips Schedule New E.P.

Some news from the Flaming Lips camp concerning their latest e.p. and the addition of a badass hoodie for their upcoming Halloween shows. You know that money is just burning a hole in your pocket.

Press:

October 15, 2013 - (Burbank, CA) - THE FLAMING LIPS will release a brand new six-song EP featuring new music inspired by Summit Entertainment's upcoming feature film Ender's Game, which hits theaters on November 1st. The title track "Peace Sword (Open Your Heart)" was written exclusively for the film, while the remaining five tracks were all inspired by the book upon which the film is based as well as the motion picture itself.

Peace Sword will be released by all digital retailers on October 29th, to coincide with the film's November 1st release and features exclusive artwork. The CD and limited-edition 12" vinyl release will follow on Black Friday/Record Store Day, which falls on November 29th. The beautiful vinyl package features the same audio content as the CD, but features different artwork (pictured above). It will be pressed on black, standard-weight vinyl with a dazzling "LIPSian" gatefold sleeve.


THE LIPS will celebrate Halloween this year with a new "Halloween Blood Bath" hoodie, which is now available for pre-order and will become available on October 29th to coincide with the band's Halloween shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco, where it will be sold. The hoodie, which is a black cotton zip-up with "The Flaming Lips" printed on the front and the "Halloween Blood Bath" graphic printed on the back, is available only during October at The Flaming Lips online store here.

The track-listing for Peace Sword is as follows:
Peace Sword ("Open Your Heart")
If They Move, Shoot 'Em
Is The Black At The End Good
Think Like A Machine, Not A Boy
Wolf Children
Assassin Beetle - The Dream Is Ending

About Ender's Game: Summit Entertainment is a LIONSGATE company. Directed by Gavin Hood, and based on the best-selling award-winning novel, Summit Entertainment's Ender's Game takes place in the near future; when a hostile alien race called the Formics have attacked Earth. If not for the legendary heroics of International Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, the highly esteemed Colonel Hyrum Graff (Harrison Ford) and the International Military are training only the best young minds to find the future Mazer. Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield), a shy but strategically brilliant boy, is recruited to join the elite. Arriving at Battle School, Ender quickly and easily masters increasingly difficult challenges and simulations, distinguishing himself and winning respect amongst his peers. Ender is soon ordained by Graff as the military's next great hope, resulting in his promotion to Command School. Once there, he's trained by Mazer Rackham himself to lead his fellow soldiers into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race. Ender's Game in theater's beginning November 1, 2013.

Summit Entertainment, which co-financed the film with OddLot Entertainment, produced the project with OddLot and Digital Domain.

Don't miss THE FLAMING LIPS on tour now:

Oct 19 Grand Mint Festival, Olympic Park Seoul, Korea
Oct 21 Blitz Tokyo, Japan
Oct 22 Blitz Tokyo, Japan
Oct 23 Hatch Osaka, Japan
Oct 24 Club Diamond Hall Nagoya, Japan
Oct 26 Moonrise Kingdom Festival Taipei, Taiwan
Oct 29 The Greek Theater Los Angeles, CA w/ Tame Impala
Oct 31 Bill Graham Civic Auditorium San Francisco, CA w/ Tame Impala
Nov 1 Santa Barbara Bowl Santa Barbara, CA w/ Tame Impala
Nov 10 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
Dec 14 True Music Festival Scottsdale, AZ
Dec 30 Belly Up Aspen Aspen, CO
Dec 31 Belly Up Aspen Aspen, CO

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Soundgarden's Screaming Life Gets Reissue Treatment

No shoes, no shirt, no service
Has it been a quarter-century?
Another favorite from the college days gets the reissue treatment, even when I'm still trying to struggle for excitement on any Soundgarden-related news since the sins of Chris Cornell are still fresh in my mind.

I suppose I should let go, and admittedly, the repackaging of Screaming Life and the Fopp e.p. help somewhat.

Press:

From the depths of the Sub Pop archives comes a reissue of Soundgarden’s thunderous opening salvo, Screaming Life, plus bonus tracks from the Fopp EP and Sub Pop 200 compilation, to be released on CD / 2xLP / DL on November 26th. The album is now available for preorder at subpop.com. Please find a full tracklisting below.

Screaming Life / Fopp reissue marks the first time these tracks will be available digitally, and their first appearance on vinyl since the original, late-80s pressings (notwithstanding a long-gone, late-‘90s repress of Screaming Life). All tracks have been remastered by Seattle studio wizard and producer of the original Screaming Life and Sub Pop 200 sessions, Jack Endino, who had this to say about it:

“Ah, Screaming Life, Soundgarden's debut, and one of the first real records I made for anyone outside my own band. I already knew Soundgarden pretty well, since they and Skin Yard had shared the stage many times in Seattle's tiny club scene circa 1985-1986.

Soon after opening Reciprocal Recording in July 1986, there I was with Soundgarden, trying to make the most of our eight tracks. Somehow, we found room for all of Matt Cameron’s “bonus tubs,” Hiro’s primordial Fender bass, and a whopping four tracks to share between Kim Thayil's mad guitar psychedelia and Chris Cornell's still-expanding voice. “Nothing To Say” was the song that made us all look at each other and go, ‘uh, holy crap, how did we do this?’

Stuff started happening. A&M came calling. SST agreed to put out their next record. But Soundgarden was not finished with Sub Pop. They contributed “Sub Pop Rock City,” about Seattle’s then-rising “grunge” scene, to the Sub Pop 200 comp; and they threw everyone a curveball with Steve Fisk-produced Ohio Players and Green River covers on the Fopp EP. The glorious vistas of a major label future awaited them.

To quote Kim from an old interview, ‘It was karma, it was dogma, it was dog breath (read more at Sub Pop).”

Screaming Life / Fopp EP Tracklisting:

1. Hunted Down
2. Entering
3. Tears to Forget
4. Nothing to Say
5. Little Joe
6. Hand of God
7. Sub Pop Rock City
8. Fopp
9. Fopp (Fucked Up Heavy Dub Mix)
10. Kingdom of Come
11. Swallow My Pride

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Creations Founder Alan McGee Starts New Label

Mr. California Toothpaste
The last we heard from Creation Records' founder Alan McGee was that he had "retired" from the music business altogether, after a creative swell that made him one of the key figures in the Britpop movement of the 1990's.

The idea was that McGee was going to leave to focus on raising his young daughter.

But now it appears that McGee is returning to the industry that both broke and bankrolled him. Details of the new venture that is detailed in the press release below.

In other news, McGee's old money pit Kevin Shields recently spoke of his time on Creation, along with some very Orwellian comments on the British government's involvement with the Britpop movement of the 90's that seems far-fetched on the surface. "Someday it would be interesting to read all the MI5 files on Britpop." Shields mentioned in a recent interview with The Guardian. "The wool was pulled right over everyone's eyes there."

The reality is that Shields may be on to something.

McGee was a big contributor to the labor party and even worked in shaping Tony Blair's administration regarding Britain's "New Deal" towards the country's out of work youth. McGee's influence caused Blair to allow musicians to receive government assistance while eeking out an existence in a band or other creative endeavor.

But once the Labour Party got what they needed from McGee-a hip facelift for stogy old political movers-they shoved McGee from relevance about the same time that the entire Britpop movement began drying up and bands like the Spice Girls became the mainstream poster children for "Cool Britannia."

Shields also discounts any potential sympathy concerning My Bloody Valentine's drain on McGee's finances, declaring "You know, people shouldn't sign bands like us if they don't want to take on that responsibility. It's like getting a pack of big dogs and not feeding them. We were taken on ... carelessly. I just wanted to focus on music but McGee and Green hadn't encountered someone like me before, a person that they couldn't control."

No doubt that these kinds of stories are the ones McGee probably doesn't want potential upstarters hearing, but then again, these are the words of someone who took 17 years to come up with a follow up to Loveless and then tried to charge double the price for America to hear it. Where's the MI5 file on that?

Instead, we only have the press release announcing McGee's new venture:

Alan McGee, the legendary indie mogul responsible for signing Oasis, Primal Scream, My Bloody Valentine, and many other great bands to his Creation label before setting up Poptones, has announced his newest project, 359 Music. The label is a partnership between he and Iain McNay / Cherry Red Records, who will be handling the UK and abroad. MVD, who is celebrating 25 years of business this year, will take care of marketing and distribution in North America. McGee has given an open invite for artists to submit their music for consideration, and has promised to personally listen to them all.

McGee states: "Recently I found myself reinvigorated by new music again after being 5 years away from music living in rural Wales, and from which there has been much talk about how I will return to music. As recently talked about in the press, my original plan was to do a deal with major label backing in Japan. But when it came down to it I realised that I didn't want to come back to music through a major music label - that's not what I want to be part of. That's when I had a chat with Iain McNay from Cherry Red and we quite quickly put our heads together and developed between us a much better deal for 359 Music which will be a joint venture with Cherry Red.

The first ever person to ever approach me about music when I was 19 was Iain McNay from Cherry Red. That was 1980 and 33 years later Cherry Red still continues to send me publishing cheques for songs I wrote then. To me that just proves nothing but honesty and diligence. To me it makes sense and it excites me - it's where it all started and where I will have my, more than likely, last record label.

My vision for 359 Music is a launch pad for new talent and some ignored older talent. We intend to release on average a dozen new bands per year every year - maybe more if I find a lot of new talent I like. Hopefully some of the artists will stick around and make numerous albums with 359 but some will go on to other things and that is just nature of the musical beast.

Due to technology the world is much smaller these days and 359 Music will be run from rural Wales by phone and computer and the day to day engine room will be run by the Cherry Red team in London. So basically the day to day logistics of 359 Music will be handled by Cherry Red Records and the A&R signing policy and creative decisions will be my domain.

There is no agenda of 'let's be the biggest like Creation Records' - if in 5 years' time people who I respect and who love music can turn round to me and say 359 Music has put out some great music then that to me will be success. There really needs to be an outlet for new music artists that have been shut out by the system and I hope 359 Music will be that outlet.

So there you have it - 359 Music. I am extremely happy to be working again with my friend Iain McNay and to be again involved in the Cherry Red family after 33 years'"

Iain McNay adds: "Alan and I go back a long time, over 30 years in fact. Cherry Red celebrate their 35th birthday next month and we just continue to grow and grow. We released 623 albums (all on CD) last year, mostly catalogue but with an increasing number of new recordings. I only know of two other labels that have survived the late '70s Independent breakthrough intact in the UK; that's Ace and Beggars. I like to think of the three of us as the 'A,B and C' of British Independent labels.

I have always admired Alan's passion and belief in the music he loves. His maverick side will sit well with Cherry Red's committed Independent stance. I have no doubt we will have a great adventure together. One thing is for certain, working with Alan McGee is never going to be boring..."

Friday, October 11, 2013

Steve Hackett Live Album Scheduled For October 29

More news from the Steve Hackett front as he announced that a new document of his Genesis Revisited tour will be released on October 29th.

Press:

A unique treat for music fans worldwide, world-renowned guitarist/composer Steve Hackett's critically acclaimed live production "Genesis Revisited" has so far triumphed in Europe, Japan and North America and is still going strong.

On May 10th, the sold-out London's Hammersmith Apollo show was filmed in front of an ecstatic audience to result in the new live CD/DVD package GENESIS REVISITED - LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH. The 3 CD + 2 DVD (with 5.1) box set will be released on October 29th in North America via InsideOut Music and features special guests including Nik Kershaw, John Wetton, Jakko Jakszyk, Amanda Lehmann and Steve Rothery.

Please see below for the complete track listing.

Of the new release, Hackett commented, "The 5.1 DVDs with stereo CDs is a feast for all the senses. I was blown away by the fantastic response to those May UK gigs. The autumn Genesis Revisited shows will include different Genesis material as well as all the big faves that bring the house down...See you all soon!" 

Taking the stage with Steve Hackett will be an exceptional team of top class musicians, including Roger King (Gary Moore, Snoop Doggie Dog, Jamelia) on keyboards, Gary O'Toole (Kylie Minogue, Chrissie Hynde) on drums, percussions and vocals, Rob Townsend (Eddie Henderson, Bill Bruford, Django Bates) on sax, flute and percussions, Lee Pomeroy (Take That, Rick Wakeman) on bass and Nad Sylvan (Abbas's Michael B Tretow) on vocals. Please see below for the itinerary.

In other Steve Hackett news, an exclusive VIP experience meet & greet package for the North American tour dates is now available. The package includes a pre-show meeting with Steve, a photo with him and a signed poster plus an exclusive VIP laminate and T-shirt printed especially for the VIP experience. This package is only available to existing ticket holders; click here for details.

Steve Hackett's recent double disc GENESIS REVISITED II (InsideOut Music) features reinterpreted Genesis classics from the period dearest to Hackett, the "golden era" 1971-1977, with a stellar array of guest performers; Hackett enlisted the help of 35 special guests to provide the songs with a new unique edge.

The star-studded line-up includes respected vocalists Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Simon Collins (Phil Collins' son), Amanda Lehmann, Conrad Keely, Francis Dunnery, Neal Morse, John Wetton, Nad Sylvan and Nik Kershaw. Steve Rothery of Marillion and Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings and Transatlantic joined in to share guitar duties, while Jeremy Stacey and Gary O'Toole are amongst the chosen drummers.

In 2010, Steve Hackett was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame at The 25th Annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony alongside his Genesis bandmates from the classic line-up: Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford.

For more than three decades, Steve Hackett has been known for his innovative tone and extraordinary versatility as a guitarist and composer. He helped define Genesis' sound as lead guitarist in the classic line-up and went on to have a highly-successful career as a solo artist, and also as part of 80s supergroup GTR with Steve Howe.

STEVE HACKETT - GENESIS REVISITED - LIVE AT HAMMERSMITH track listing:

CD1
1. Watcher of the Skies
2. The Chamber of 32 Doors
3. Dancing with the Moonlit Knight
4. Fly on a Windshield
5. Broadway Melody of 1974
6. The Lamia
7. The Musical Box
8. Shadow of the Hierophant
9. Blood on the Rooftops

CD2
1. Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers
2. In That Quiet Earth
3. Afterglow
4. I Know What I Like
5. Dance on a Volcano
6. Entangled
7. Eleventh Earl of Mar
8. Supper's Ready

CD3
1. Firth of Fifth
2. Los Endos

DVD1 - Full live show
DVD2- Behind the scenes featurette

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Hugo Largo - Drum

I was utterly infatuated with Hugo Largo during college, so much so that when the band broke up in 1989 I went off on a lengthy eulogy while working on-air of a public radio station, a friend who was listening to the broadcast jokingly told me later, “I felt like bringing you a box of Kleenex. You just kept going on and on about it.”

Admittedly, I’m not so obsessed with Hugo Largo. I can even admit that there are much better bands since these New York City legends of ambient slowcore that are better at the genre, but few of them can claim to be as influential as Hugo Largo, considering that there were barely any other artists around during their active period that mirrored their style of music.

This is precisely why I was so gaga about them. They were a novel entry during a time when the “ambient” term began being used as a way to describe a newly blossoming genre of artists instead of one primary artist: Brian Eno.

How appropriate that Hugo Largo was one of the first signed to Eno’s new (then) record label called Opal, but how easy it must have been to ink them considering their debut recording was produced by none other than R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.

And that’s where I come in.

Because there was a good chunk of my life where I followed pretty much everything R.E.M. did religiously, which means that I have copies of Stipe’s sister’s band Hetch Hertchy and can even claim to possess an uber-rare twelve-inch single of a solo recording for R.E.M. drummer Bill Berry, listed as “Stashus Mute” on the credits.

But Stipe’s a bit more of a creative force-isn’t he? At least that’s what I thought when I discovered that Eno’s new Opal Records was re-releasing Hugo Largo’s Stipe produced e.p., with a few newly recorded tracks tacked on to make it a proper full-length.

The sticker calls it “Son Of Drum,” but you’ll find the title as Drum, a stunning introduction to Stipe’s find. Hugo Largo was a quartet of New York City art student-types, probably the kind of pretention that you imagine taking place in a town of such noted importance as N.Y.C.

But fuck me if they didn’t make a hugely intriguing racket, that is, if you consider a wide-ranging female vocalist like Largo’s Mimi Goese to violinist Hahn Rowe adding some eerie overtones. And on top of all of that potential artsy-fartsy mess were a pair of bass guitarists, including one alternative MTV VJ Tim Sommer, who had a tad bit of street cred by being a former member of Even Worse with Thurston Moore as well being a seminal host of the punk radio show on WNYU’s Noise The Show.

Still, with that entire MTV thing kind of lending an air of privilege, it was way easy to poke holes in Hugo Largo’s plan to be considered as “real” pop art.

Again, the proof is in this delicious pudding, thick with swelling ebbs and unsettling flows. When Goese works her way into a cathartic earful, it’s attention-grabbing. It also makes the listener carefully consider the softer moments, looking for any hidden clues as to why the next measure could turn into a vocal exercise.

Drum is one of those rare examples where the farther you progress into the record, the better it becomes. By the time the penultimate number hits, “Second Skin,” Hugo Largo have reached a point where you can practically hear other bands taking their cues from them, stalking out greater success in their wake, rendering the originators into a cult status.

It is after Drum final moments that you understand the power this band possessed, tapping into the very real notion of “less is more” and exploring the loud and soft dynamics that much heavier bands would examine in just a few short years after Hugo Largo’s demise.

The intriguing thing is how Drums shows that the loud/soft dynamic words to an even more powerful effect within the ambient realm, and Hugo Largo may have been the precursor to the entire slowcore movement, something these art rock experiments weren’t even anticipating when they called it quits so quickly.


Otherwise, Hugo Largo would have stuck around for a bit longer, saving me from such a long-winded goodbye.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Summer Cannibals - No Makeup


Hailing from the place where young people go to retire, Summer Cannibals debut No Makeup is a tale of the tape declaration of their humble beginnings and future potential. It’s what you’d like most bands consider when unleashing their first record, but only if they’ve got the talent to do so.

There are no window dressings with Summer Cannibals blast of 10 songs, all of which are as catchy as they are unadorned. The band lists themselves as the producer, and the additional duties only seemed to require them to set up a few microphones, hit “record” button immediately before the song begins and then “stop” after they were done.

This would be an issue with most hometown units, I suppose, most of which would probably relish the added assistance of overdubs, retakes and punch-ins. But Summer Cannibals are a bit better than your local upstarts-if not exactly technically proficient, then at least they’re working with an attractive blend of native garage and a pretty exclusive group of performers who were able to translate such humble origins into a larger audience.

You'll immediate think of The Breeders or Yeah Yeah Yeahs the moment you hit play, but it's not until vocalist Jessica Bourdreaux enters the mix before there's no question of it. For some, that may be too lazy of a connection, but for me all I needed to remember was how Kim Deal or Karen O didn't break any new ground at first either. And that's exactly where we are with Summer Cannibals: square one

You'll wish for a punchier mix and a more original blueprint perhaps, but there is nothing wrong with No Makeup's direction because it leaves the band with very wide-open possibilities.

They've got the Spirit of '91 down pat. Now lets see if they can work themselves out of the shirts that wear those influences so proudly on its sleeves

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Suzanne Vega Live In Iowa City

Suzanne Vega

Live At The Englert Theatre, Iowa City, Iowa

September 28, 2013


We were kidless.

And for those of you with children, you understand how precious those moments are.

It’s during these times when you sleep in until 10:00 am, which is like noon in twenty-something years.

It’s during these times you let the phone go to voice mail.

It’s during these times you go to restaurants you don’t go to as a family, because they don’t have kid’s menus or mechanical animals on a pretend stage.

It’s during these times you pretend Suzanne Vega concerts qualify as “a romantic night out.”

I’ll confess that when I purchased the tickets at the beginning of summer, it was an impulse purchase. I instinctively put a pair of tickets into the shopping cart about five minutes after learning of the show at Iowa City’s Englert Theatre, which has now become a haunt that I visit with the same frequency as I used to for Gabe’s Oasis a few decades ago.

It is not lost on me that this is clearly a sign of growing older, but then again, isn’t the entire notion of buying tickets to a Suzanne Vega concert?

As a matter of fact, when I shared that I had just purchased tickets to see Vega to others, most reactions were ones of limited familiarity or complete ambivalence. It was over a quarter-century ago when the singer/songwriter was saddled with the unfortunate title as the artist responsible for spearheading the female folk revival of the mid-80’s while Vega is now saddled with the prospect of having to explain what the female folk revival of the mid-80’s even was.

Briefly, the notion of an artist even picking up an acoustic instrument in a decade seemingly intent on making music sound as artificially enhanced as possible was a fairly novel one in that decade. So performers like Vega, Michelle Shocked, the Indigo Girls and others were somewhat unusual. That unique distinction made them successful, but now, a time when such respectful simplicity is a mainstream winner, acts like Vega are often forgotten.

"Here's one from Slayer..."
Not that I’m trying to elicit sympathy for Ms. Vega as she navigates the new music business model, because the last time I bothered checking her catalog, I noticed that a lot of her new material was simply new recordings of her old material. That usually spells a conflict with an old label that still retains the rights of an artist’s most popular recordings, or it spells an artist who doesn’t intend on pretending that new material is going to attract new listeners. While I don’t have a horse in that race, I can only tell you that those original issues already have a firm grip on my heart, so there’s no need to check out a different incarnation.

The firm grip that I speak of began one afternoon as I traveled from my hometown of Keokuk, Iowa for the weekend to visit some friends in Iowa City. I had decided to pursue my higher education at the community college level, forcing myself to take nothing but the required curriculum at the local level instead of risking the possibility that the unlimited freedom of a state university may be too much of a distraction for me.

Like Bob Dylan said, “You went to the finest schools, alright…but you only used to get juiced in it.” I was trying to avoid that. And by the second semester, I noticed a few new faces at the community college that were forced or pulled back home because they weren’t able to maintain a passing grade at the big university.

While I’d like to pretend that this decision was entirely responsible, I still managed to find ample time to visit friends in the bigger schools to get an idea of what exactly I was missing.

I have to admit, those were great times. Not only did I pass my first year in the community college (I got high enough of a grade point average to be accepted in all of the four universities’ I applied at), I was able to gauge my tolerance for the extra-curricular activities outside of the lecture halls.

Part of that tolerance included the world of hallucinogens, a world that I drove up to experience during a weekend with a friend who lived in an off-campus apartment.

They say that it’s best to properly prepare for such “trips” and, looking back, it seemed that we really took this advice to heart.

A mutual friend acquired some hallucinogenic mushrooms, a drug that we deemed to be morally acceptable because it was organically derived. For some reason, this was important back then.

We picked a weekend in which my friend’s roommate would be out of town, at least for the night in which we planned a dinner of spaghetti and marinara sauce laced with psilocybin mushrooms.

My friend’s roommate was a magician. More on that later.

On the way to his apartment, I tuned into the student run radio station that came into signal right around Riverside, Iowa. The small community is about 15 miles to the south of Iowa City, giving you an idea of the limitation of KRUI-FM’s transmitter strength.

As with most student-run radio stations, the playlist is filled with new music, eclectic offerings, most which are based on the disc jockey’s whim. It is at that moment when the disc jockey ended a music set with Suzanne Vega’s song, “Small Blue Thing,” a new acoustic song from her just released debut.

That afternoon, before the spaghetti dinner, my friend and I visited downtown Iowa City and hit the required retail outlets of the day, which included the college town’s record stores and lone head shop, The Third Coast. Don’t look for it anymore, it’s not there. Kids don’t do drugs anymore because they get them prescribed from their physician.

At one of those record stores, I purchased the debut album from Suzanne Vega.

By midnight, my mind was expanded, all right, but I will go on record to say that I am a better man for it.

I’m sure that during the time of hallucinating the scene was far from one that suggested that my friend and I were doing anything remotely productive or creative, but give us a break, we had never done this kind of thing before.

There is, somewhere still in my possession, a cassette recording of some of these events. On the sixty minutes of incriminating evidence, there is the sound of my friend taking out every pot and pan that he owned out of his kitchen cabinets, for what reason, I am not entirely sure.

At one point, he calls out for me in some manner of distress. It is obvious from the recording that I am in another room. And even though you cannot hear me at the moment my friend called out for me to return, I know exactly where I had made off too.

I had opened the door to his roommate’s bedroom and discovered a cage with a bunny in it. Like I mentioned before, he was a magician in his spare time, which meant that he would pull a rabbit out of his hat on occasion. Literally. I know then nuance of this trick because my friend and I made $50 once for helping him at one of his gigs. From the back of the stage, you could see the rabbit almost escape from the hat’s secret compartment before the big reveal. He recovered well.

Given my state, the rabbit was a remarkable find. My friend had advised me that his roommate’s room was off limits, but that rule was overlooked when he began examining all of his cookware.

Later on in the tape, the cd of Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced began to skip, causing me to immediately to become concerned.

Fuck the rabbit, the technical difficulties were twisting my melon.

The calming quality of “Small Blue Thing” was the first song that came to mind.

I fought with the packaging of the Suzanne Vega disc that I had just purchased and placed the fresh disc into the tray of the CD player.

I pushed play and everything was better.

I remained faithful to Suzanne Vega through 99.9° F, and then somehow are paths separated. But when I saw that she would be playing in Iowa City, the same town in which we first met in nearly three decades before, I felt that faith was involved.

Surprisingly, my wife remembered who she was, albeit it much more traditional fashion. As a kid, she liked Vega’s remixed version of “Tom’s Diner” with DNA, while being totally oblivious to the fact that the song was originally an a cappella track from Vega’s 1987 album, Solitude Standing. She claimed not to remember Vega’s only other hit, “Luka,” also from Solitude Standing, but seemed to recall it when I played it to her.

Since we were a couple for the weekend of the show, we did exactly what you’d expect a couple free of their children for the weekend would do: we napped. The show was early enough (8:00 pm) on a Saturday night, but our newfound opportunity to sleep put us in the precarious position of not being able to have enough time to enjoy a legitimate couple’s dinner at an appropriate restaurant.

I picked a Plan B option: an Irish pub down the street from the Englert that, I’m very happy to say, is exactly the same as it was when I used to visit it during those times from long ago. And since the entire evening was fueled by nostalgia anyway, Mickey’s seemed like the perfect place to pick up a quick sandwich before the show.

The continue to offer the same sandwich that I would have ordered back then and, in a true sign of progress, they now force any smoker’s to go outside to light up.

Another sign of progress: I was probably the oldest person in the bar, a fact that my wife-a dozen years my junior-seemed to get immense pleasure from.

Making our way from Mickey’s, past the homeless and the religious man who was called the read the Bible on the corner of downtown Iowa City on a Saturday night, we walked back to the Englert and took our seats, wonderfully located about four rows back from the stage.

Like I said, I ordered tickets the day they were available.

The show was part of the Iowa Women’s Music Festival and brought a bigger crowd than what my wife was anticipating. The audience contained a lot of couples like ourselves, with the primary difference being that it appeared that it the wives were the ones dragging their husband’s to the show, while for us, it was the other way around.

There seemed to be a higher percentage of lesbian couples in the audience, not that it mattered to us, but it was something we both quietly observed.

And a large contingency of Asian women, including one directly in front of us that nearly jumped out of her seat when Vega dusted off “The Queen And The Soldier” from her first album.

I always felt that tune was kind of corny, but since I’m all about Suzanne Vega, I didn’t complain much.

The set was filled with an ample overview of Vega’s work, a fact that the artist declared right out of the gate by saying, “I supposed we should probably start at the very beginning.” before beginning the show with “Marlene On The Wall.”

Cross one “I hope she sings…” off the list I had in my mind when I was driving down to the show.

Vega whipped out a top hat that I didn’t notice was sitting on a music stand next to her on stage. She placed it on her head in mock showmanship, eliciting a round of applause from the audience who seemed to anticipate the evening as much as I did.

On her left was another guitarist, a grey-haired man working an electric instrument that she identified as Gerry Leonard. “Gerry played on the new David Bowie record.” She advised later on, and sure as shit, his name is all over The Next Day’s performer credits, including a few songwriting credits with Bowie.

Leonard was awesome, a completely understated guitarist with a wide disposal of pedals at his feet which he puts to good use. The highlight came during an unexpected version of “Blood Makes Noise” in which he triggers a loop of a guitar phrase and begins to add some nifty, angular riffs on top of it.

Gerry often provided a nice atmospheric backdrop to Vega’s acoustic rhythms, although the pair would often interplay off each other in straightforward folk progressions. Leonard used an EBow-a device that uses an electromagnetic field to vibrate the strings into ambient drones similar to a bowed instrument-for a song, but more often than not, the active movement of his feet suggested a lot of his bags of tricks were right there on the floor in front of him.

Even my wife was impressed, and she likes Slipknot.

Aside from the duo, a sign language interpreter was off to stage left, having the difficult task of translating all of Vega’s wordy lyrics into visual meanings.

Vega’s set primarily focused on her most her older material, including one track that she paused at the beginning of the verse to recall the lyric, asked her soundman for help, but ended up using the help of an audience member to continue. “You’re right!” she admitted to the fan, taking the lapse of recall good-naturedly.

She brought out “Left Of Center” from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, which prompted a few enthusiastic cheers from the audience, most of whom (like me) were teenagers when that John Hughes film was first released.

And true to my age, I had completely forgotten that “Left Of Center” was even on Pretty In Pink, but I do remember how the soundtrack featured a large portion of A&M Record roster artists, Vega being one of them. The track’s inclusion was a nice reminder of that coming of age flick, even though it also reminded me how Hughes was wrong to have Molly Ringwald’s character choose that rich prick Blane over Duckie. Fuck that guy.

Vega brought out some new material for an album she hoped to be released “in February” of next year. One of the tracks that may or may not be included on it was a wonderful piece that was featured in the Vaclav Havel memorial show, celebrating the Czech president/writer after he passed away in 2011. The song was evidently brought into the set after Vega travelled through my town of Cedar Rapids on route to the Englert and noticed our Czech/Slovak museum that recently re-opened after the 2008 floods here. It was nice that she pays attention to the places that she visits and the song’s inclusion was welcomed.

At the end of the set, Vega put her guitar down, grabbed her trusty top hat, and made her way to the front of the stage for a version of “Tom’s Diner,” a song she introduced as “a little slice of New York City.” Coffee cups featuring the song title were also available at the small merchandise table in the lobby of the theatre.

One of the women who dragged her husband along to the show got up, moved to the aisle and began dancing. Her husband watched her leave his side before deciding that he should not leave her alone to such spontaneity. He joined her as guitarist Leonard worked out a makeshift rhythm on his guitar, allowing for a growing number in the crowd to stand up and move before the show ended.

Vega stuck around afterwards, to sign copies of her book in the lobby, an offer that many fans took advantage of.

My wife and I didn’t, particularly since I’m much older now and it was past my bedtime.

Besides, I don’t know if Ms. Vega would have appreciated the full extent of our history together and it’s probably not a story that most artists would care about hearing about.

But trust me, lines like “I am scattering like light” (“Small Blue Thing”) served a very important purpose in my life, and Suzanne Vega seemed to be a pre-ordained title that reached my younger ears with specific intentions.

Years later, Vega’s voice continues to be in fine form and her talents undiminished. And while my mind has suffered little from the effects of those magic mushrooms and more from the aging process, I’m still able to remember how Suzanne Vega was a calming voice during a moment when my synapses were triggering misleading visuals and reeking havoc on my auditory senses.

The more things change, I suppose, but it’s nice to know that they can still stay the same even with a clean mind bearing witness.

It reminds me of a lyric of Vega that applies, even though the intent of them was admittedly much different: “I’ve come to set a twisted thing straight.” And for once, this straight mind was pleasantly reminded of a few days when things definitely got a little twisted.