So no SXSW diary this year. Instead, I'm going to be doing some blogging on the Agit Reader website. Check it out. I'm probably mostly doing short updates, and so I might post some final thoughts here or there when I get back.
So no SXSW diary this year. Instead, I'm going to be doing some blogging on the Agit Reader website. Check it out. I'm probably mostly doing short updates, and so I might post some final thoughts here or there when I get back.
So I was told that the official motto for 2009 is, "There's always room for one more." The Next Best Records resolution for the year is, "Put out at least one record." One would be more than 2008, right?
Hope 2009 is treats you fine.
(And if you're looking for 2008-year-end stuff from me, check my page on Agit Reader.)
I know, I know, this site's in a state of perpetual lag in terms of my posting frequency. At least I haven't been totally off the boat. An interview I did with Thomas Function just went up on Agit Reader. Check it out.
And if you haven't been checking Agit Reader frequently, seriously get over there. A lot of good stuff on there. The Robert Griffin interview I mentioned on here before is in the archives, as is a bunch of other cool stuff.
So the Revelers posted a MySpace bulletin yesterday afternoon (which I just saw) saying that BILL FOX is playing a show tonight in Cleveland. It's supposed to be at the Backstage Bar on 17007 Lorain Avenue at 10 PM.
Obviously, this is short notice, but if anyone reads this and went, give us a report (comment/e-mail), please!
Prisonshake's Dirty Moons saw its official release a few weeks ago, and I've gotten the chance to give the record a good six to eight listens so far. Obvious first impression: this sucker's long (close to 80 minutes), not to mention dense.
Usually when it takes forever for a band to get a record together, it's a sign that it's going to get dragged down to mediocrity by virtue of its intended grandiosity. Thankfully, Robert Griffin, Doug Enkler & Co. know better. When I say this is a dense record, I mean that there's a lot going on here, and it's going to take a lot of listens to get a handle on everything. That's the mark of a good record, but it's also the mark of a challenging record, so don't expect this one to totally kick you on your ass the first listen or two.
Stylistically, Dirty Moons goes all over the place, but it gets there the right way. Take side one for example (it's one of the best sides of a double-LP in recent memory). Prisonshake lets you know you're listening to Prisonshake with "Fake Your Own Death," which is a sorta slow, scheming rocker that takes off a little over half way through, throwing guitar solos, abrupt sonic shifts, and wholly unexpected snippets in the mixer. Just like Ma used to make, if Ma made I'm Really Fucked Now. "I Will Comment," an instant classic 'Shake anthem (maybe think a slow, mature "Fall Right Down"?), follows and leads into the kick-ass "The Cut-Out Bin." Next comes a stellar reworking of "Dream Along," which some of you will recognize from its former incarnations about 10 years ago as "Dream King" on the Anyway Records songwriter CD compilation and "Dream Along With Me" from the "Fuck Your Self Esteem" 7" and which might represent the most legitimate example of Tender Rock, what with its plaintive piano outro and all. Side One rounds out with "You're Obviously The One," maybe Prisonshake's first foray into powerpop, replete with a hearty serving of "ba ba ba ba"'s. And that's it -- five songs, all a little different, yet somehow a cohesive whole that works.
Sides two and three are where the "density" really comes into play, especially with side two's extended Scissors Suite and the side three "Year of the Donk"/"Leftover Monkey" medley. I'm guessing, though, that as time goes on it will be these two middle sides that might be the most continually rewarding, with their essentially symphonic movements. The band reaches some nice heights on the instrumental interludes here. We get a good share of trademark Griffin guitar dirty fireworks, but now the rest of the band gets to join in for a sort of more fully realized envisioning of what they were maybe trying to do with the extended "Sweat Like Candy."
Before first listening, I was curious to hear what the band was going to do with some of the "old" songs that had made appearances in various forms during the mid/late 90's. Pretty much unanimously, though, all the new versions are improvements over the originals. "Dream Along" benefits from solid harmony vocals, "Crush Me" sounds a little more fully realized in a Roaring Third way, and "Fuck Your Self Esteem" comes off even more kickass than before. "Leftover Monkey" sounds slower and more sinister and works as the meat in the "Year of the Donk" sandwich.
Prisonshake's still got their sense of humor, too. No farts that I've heard yet, but Marty makes a reappearance on the intro to "The Cut-Out Bin." And side two starts off with "Your Sad Friend." Young and old alike have to marvel at Enkler crooning, "Well, bring your sad friend, if you must / maybe she'll dance / let's hope she don't get too drunk" lounge style with piano accompaniment. In true old-school Cle fashion, there's also the sound of shit getting busted before "It Was A Very Good Year."
Other quick thoughts: "Memo From Chambers" totally rocks. I like the instrumentals (e.g. "Nowhere Near (Slight Return)" and "Janus"). This is a great sounding record -- all analog, never overproduced, and thoughtful in the sense that each song tends to have its own sound. And did I mention this new Prisonshake powerpop rules? "In Disguise" (this one's got handclaps) goes nicely with "You're Obviously The One."
Anyway, I'll stop rambling. Quick summary: you'll get a lot of mileage out of this record. Prisonshake still does whatever the hell it wants to really well. And I know I keep making my fanboy references here, but this isn't an album that requires familiarity with the rest of the band's discography. If you haven't gotten hip to Prisonshake yet, this is as good a place as any to start. Buy the friggin thing from your local record store or order it from Scat.
I wasn't going to miss the Silver Jews show last Thursday, which also doubled as the official debut of the Milo Arts gym as a proper music venue here in town. There were a few assorted snafus -- late start time (after an early start time was announced), power outages, etc., but it wasn't anything that can't be sorted out soon. The Joos set itself lived up to expectations. While this time around might have lacked some of the "first ever tour" freshness of the Little Bros. set a few years ago, the band made up for it with a newfound general sense of comfort with being on stage, particularly on Berman's part.
Obligatory bad photo of D.C. Berman & Co. (Bigger pic here)
No guitar or music stand with the lyrics this time around for Berman. Instead, he went with the sort of "Southern English professor meets Elvis" stage persona. The set was loaded with classics: "How to Rent a Room," "Random Rules," "Trains Across the Sea" are three particular faves of mine that made the cut. More recent songs that stood out included "Punks in the Beerlight," "K-Hole," and "Horseleg Swastikas." Too many to list, really (full-ish setlist here).
All in all, I really dug getting to see the band again, and hopefully they swing back here again soon. Berman seems like a fan of Columbus -- he's got Central Ohio roots and he gave the city some praise in between good-natured swipes at Eddie George (probably rooted in #27's late-career ineffectiveness for Berman's hometown Titans).
After the show I went up to Berman to shake his hand and told him that I've dug his music since I was a wee lad in high school and he graciously said, "Thanks for sticking with us." It's been my pleasure.
Weedeater can really groove. Dig that bass sound.
Untied we stand.
Long live dirt weed.
Mankind is unkind, man.
God luck and good speed.
Solid one-two punch Monday and Tuesday nights here in Central Oh. Monday I went to Bourbon St. for the really big rock show.
Last time I saw Psychedelic Horseshit was after Comfest I think, when I really wasn't in my right mind, so it was good to see the new new lineup again. Seemed like they played a lot of new stuff, which I fully support. More melodic, more ambitious (???), more bang fer yer buck. Play the new stuff. It sounds better than the old stuff, and the old stuff still rules.
Hadn't heard either Crystal Stilts or Vivian Girls (both apparently from New York). I dug both sets. Stilts had a sorta Velvets-poprock type sound (at least from behind the stage), but I may be getting the Velvets comparison mostly by reflex from their kick-ass playing-while-standing drummer who tastefully laid off the cymbals. Vivian Girls were more straight-up frantic pop rock. Overall highlight of the night (and it was an A+ night) had to be their killer cover of the Beach Boys' "Girl Don't Tell Me." I know, I'm partial to Beach Boys covers, but this was seriously good and had me yelling "Carl Wilson" after it was over. I told their bassist they need to record and release a version of it . . . hopefully they do.
Monday night's obligatory bad photo: Crystal Stilts
Times New Viking capped things off as you knew they would. New songs (off the upcoming EP, maybe?) kicked it. The super-packed Bourbon St. crowd went wild -- the kids getting a bit rowdy, and even though they came a little close to toppling the PA a couple of times, it was good to see the place that crowded for these bands. Was that a six-minute version of "Love Your Daughters"? Could've gone to eight. Perfect night all around, really.
Tuesday night I made my way to Carabar. Howlies' YouTube video for "Aluminum Baseball Bat" had me geared up for some new-oldies crooning, but alas, they're pretty much your standard, slightly-above average, upbeat guitar rock. Not that there's anything wrong with that -- everybody else seemed really into it -- but it wasn't quite my thing. They did play "Baseball Bat," though, and that was something even I could get fully behind.
Mr. Rubberburner, on the other hand, was a little older and a little dirtier -- something I can get behind. A Columbus supergroup of sorts, they belted out the raw guitar rock and ended the night with a riff-laden cover of "My Perogative." Good work, fellas.
Tuesday night's obligatory bad photo: Mr. Rubberburner
I sorta have a rule that any time I see a dude in a sequined black jumpsuit don a helmet with a phone attached to it and play some wicked country blues licks while singing and kicking a drum and cymbal, I have to tell the world about it.
Bob Log III sizzled last night at Bourbon Street. Scott Biram threw a couple of strong punches, too. And Grafton rules. Over and out.
What can I say about the triumphant Mirrors set at the Beachland this past Saturday? Driving through downtown Cleveland on my way up, I felt that usual sense of anticipation that I've always gotten whenever that skyline comes into view, but I honestly didn't know what to expect. Sure, I've listened to Mirrors way back when I was a young man in high school (you believe I didn't want to play football for the coach?). But as far as I know, Mirrors hadn't played anywhere since those days 13 or so years ago, and the only hints I'd gotten as to how their set might sound were off old live tracks from the Another Nail in the Coffin reissue. Those live tracks (from the mid-80's Mirrors reunion, I presume) are solid -- amped up, raw, (3 piece?) garage takes on Mirrors classics, old and (then) new -- but I guess I was wondering whether the reunited band, some 30+ years after its original incarnation, would go for that kind of breakneck pace for an entire set.
I suppose deep down I was hoping for a live version of that brilliantly-weird, old-school-lo-fi, Velvets-in-Cleveland mid-70's Mirrors sound documented so well on the Those Were Different Times and Hands in My Pockets discs. I've seen enough underwhelming reunion shows, though, so I guess I suppressed that hope. After all, suppressing hope is the Cleveland way.
I shouldn't have worried, 'cause I ended up getting my wish. From the moment the band took stage and "warmed up" with a brief "Interstellar Overdrive" leading into a dead-on performance of "She Smiled Wild," Mirrors showed that, amazingly, they haven't lost a step. Jim Crook's guitar was smoking. The vocals of Jamie Klimek, Paul Marotta, and Craig Bell were strong throughout. And Paul Laurence's drumming kept everything together (except perhaps for the cowbell that threatened to blow it all apart). There was the occasional rough patch, which was understandable for a band playing a one-off show. Those brief moments aside, the evening was electric: passages of beautiful noise; driving, Moe Tucker drums (minimal cymbal!); cosmic archetypal guitar; and classic, intelligent but coolly playful songs, truly Cleveland.
Often when you see a band for the first time after having listened to their records forever, the band might not live up to the sort of mystical conception you've developed from those records. I think it's a sign of a great band when the live performance is able to surpass this internal, mystical conception ("classic"-era Guided by Voices or current Times New Viking jump out in my mind). Maybe it's a sign of an all-time great band when, after they haven't performed as a unit for forever, the live show is able to surpass a decades-old mystical conception. Mirrors did just that, and I think a decent part of the audience, filled with Cle rock all-stars (you could count on Steve-O being there, but Bernie from Bernie & the Invisibles?!?!), would agree with me.
Highlights included "We'll See," a dynamic "Sweet Refrain," "How Could I" (a personal favorite), and the rollicking "Penthouse Legend." Bell shined in taking the lead vocal during "Annie," which topped the list of songs I wanted to hear. And Marotta ruled on what might be the true Cle rock anthem, "Jaguar Ride."
I'll stop babbling, but really, this was one of the best shows I've seen in a while. After years of never thinking I'd get to see Mirrors play, I count myself lucky that I was able to witness it. Down here in Columbus, it maybe is a bit disappointing that the Electric Eels get all the attention while bands like Mirrors and the Styrenes go a bit ignored. Sure, the Eels stuff relates more directly to (and informs a good deal of) the great stuff happening here in Columbus, and they're rightly hailed. Maybe Mirrors are a bit too Cleveland for Columbus, but that's not gonna stop me from chatting 'em up around here.
So yeah, Mirrors definitely delivered Saturday night. How 'bout making this an annual thing, fellas?
. . . the Nirvana baby is 17.
These days, [Spencer] Elden says, his peers concentrate on "playing Rock Band on Xbox, like, that's not a real band! That's the difference between the '90s and kids nowadays; kids in the '90s would actually go out and make a [real] band!"
I feel bad for the kid who hasn't gotten the chance to lay down and listen to Nevermind on the headphones. Anyway, here's hoping that in 17 years, Spencer's "big bag of [teenage] angst" has paid off well.
Thoroughly exhausted after the Comfest weekend, but it was overall a good time. Thoughts:
Obligatory bad photos (with a few ok ones thrown in for variety's sake):
Cheater Slicks (bigger photo)
Guinea Worms with the Columbus Hardcoretet (bigger photo)
Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments (bigger photo)
Comfest All-Stars Series #1: Ron House with your lame narrator
Comfest All-Stars Series #2: Jeff Fernengel & Me (I figured after Ron House & Fern, the All-Stars Series was ripe for early retirement)
Fern & Friends (bigger photo)
Brainbow (bigger photo)
More Brainbow (bigger photo)
Blueprint & Co. (bigger photo)
So yesterday was the official release date for the new Robert Pollard record, ominously titled Robert Pollard Is Off To Business. A title like that begs for comment, so I'll avoid that trap in favor of some gratuitous self-reflection. It was three months ago that I swore off "non-major" Pollard releases, and, perhaps sadly, Off To Business hasn't been doing anything to make me change my mind.
Over the past few weeks, I've given this record a good number of listens, as I am wont to do with Pollard releases. Hell, I remember my first impression of Not In My Airforce was that it was clearly outclassed by Tobin Sprout's Carnival Boy (each was released by Matador on the same day shortly after the demise of the "original" or "classic" GBV lineup). After a week or two, though, I was able to recognize Not In My Airforce as a stone classic, and I even got into those last six songs.
Unlike NIMA, "Off To Business" hasn't taken off at all after repeated listens. "The Original Heart" and "Gratification to Concrete" are alright . . . sorta groovy riff-rockers with decent hooks. "The Blondes" is ok for a slow, almost reluctantly half-hearted stab at an anthem. "1 Years Old" is the kinda one-minute-something Pollard rocker that would work between two top-notch songs, but it just seems lamer stuck early in the record sandwiched by "ok" and "alright" tunes. "No One But I" completely drags in points, but has some so-so moments.
And that's all of side one. Yup, five songs -- 10 songs on the record -- which everyone will recognize as a low number for a Pollard record. I guess I thought, "If there's only 10 songs on the record, they've got to be pretty well-crafted and . . . um . . . good." But I guess I was wrong.
Anyway, side two starts off with the best song on the record, "Weatherman and Skin Goddess," which is actually a really good song, a solid pop-rock tune that rolls and gains some nice momentum. "To the Path!" rocks after a draggy beginning and is probably the second best one here. The other three songs on side two, though, range from forgettable ("Confessions of a Teenage Jerk-Off") to ok ("Western Centipede").
So there you have it. A Robert Pollard record with only one inspiring song ("Weatherman"), and a bunch of songs that range from alright to forgettable.
It sorta makes me wonder why I keep buying these records, and why I keep getting suprised that they're not living up to my (tempered) expectations. For what it's worth, I point to two factors for the marked drop-off in Pollard records:
I'll stop babbling. Off to Business is for die-hards only. Everyone else should download "Weatherman and Skin Goddess" from their preferred online music retailer and save their $10 for one of the batch of new records out there that, even if they aren't classics, will continue to reward repeated listens (May I suggest, the new Eat Skull? I've listened to that one as much as the Pollard record, and while I still don't know about most of side one, boy is that side two good). As for me, I'm sure I'll keep buying the "major" Pollard solo records and ranting about them here.
While I did, in fact, enjoy my time at the Pitchfork fest last year (can't beat Sonic Youth performing the whole of Daydream Nation -- I don't care what you say), and while the prospect of seeing Public Enemy do It Takes A Nation of Millions and Mission of Burma doing Vs. -- not to mention the chance to see TNV on the really big stage (hopefully Pitchfork has the foresight to put 'em on the really big stage), I've got better plans for that weekend.
That's right, I just got word that there's a Mirrors reunion July 19 at the Beachland in Clevo. There's basically no excuse to miss this one, as it's not every day you get a chance to see one of the original Cle Big Three (Electric Eels & Rocket from the Tombs being the other two) back together. Hell, you're never gonna see the Eels reform and RFTT already did their reunion thing (which ruled) a few years back, so yer a damned fool if you miss out on this one.
If you're not familiar with 'em, Mirrors were probably the best "straightforward" underground Cle rock band of their time (I say "straightforward" in the sense that they weren't as nihilistically epic-minded as the Rockets or as abrasively violent as the Eels), and if their only sin was that some of their early stuff might have sounded too much like the Velvets, they're forgiven because they pretty much literally learned their craft while sitting at the feet of Lou and Sterl during the days when Cleveland was a favored stop for the V.U.
Fans of Ohio rock who don't have Mirrors' Hands in My Pockets should track down a copy now, as it includes most of the group's essential material from the 70's. Another Nail in the (Remodeled) Coffin is good as well, but I'd say start out with the early stuff.
See ya in Cleveland, gang.
So it figures that just as I'm in the middle of a ridiculous record buying binge, a ton of good shows hit Columbus. Needless to say, the records aren't going anywhere ("Vinyl won't disappear," to quote this year's anthem), so I've been spending a lot of time out destroying my eardrums. Highlights from the past 10-12 days:
I'm leaving a lotta stuff out (usual great sets by TNV, El Jesus, Pink Reason, Terrible Twos), but the Tribe's actually scoring runs tonight -- nothing like Gil Meche for a slumping offense -- so I'm gonna watch that for now.
I only just recently caught word of this one, and I'm glad I did. Obviously, the Pagans rule, and when a new Pagans record comes out (today was the official release date), I'm there.
Recorded in 1988 in Madison, during what's billed as the final tour of the legendary Cle band's final incarnation, The Blue Album delivers nine previously unreleased and vital tracks clocking in at just over 18 minutes. Not quite a complete live document -- there's some editing between songs (though we do get plenty of banter from Mike Hudson & Co.) -- the record's nevertheless an ass kicker. For those of us who were too young to have seen a Pagans show back in the day (or were living in a cave during their handful of reunion shows a few years ago), The Blue Album is pretty much required listening.
Practically speaking, this isn't a "good" recording -- basically your standard, distorted live tape that drops up and down here and there -- but this is the way it should be. In fact, this is one of those rare records that sounds progressively better the shittier your stereo is. I listened first on my hi-fi, and it was rad. So-so car stereo? Even better. The pinnacle, though, was with the volume maxed out on the barely-hanging-together computer speakers that I hook up to my laptop -- I swear, the band was leaping out of those 4" speakers.
Anyway, there's a lot in these 18 minutes. Classics: "Cry 815" (a personal fave) and "Real World." Covers: A blistering run through Pagans live standard "Heart of Stone" and a 65-second "Can't Explain" (!). "Her Name Was Jane" serves as the highlight of the bunch -- you might remember it from its incarnation on the Cleveland Confidential LP. And while most of the record zooms by at the proverbial breakneck speed, it ends fittingly with the touching punk ballad (seriously), "Us and All Our Friends are So Messed Up."
My only complaint is that there's no vinyl release, but it's really no matter. Even in CD format, this record's like that shot sitting in the bottle on the other side of the bar: order it up, knock it back, and next thing you know you're picking yourself up off the floor. This one's part of my permanent rotation from here on out.
The Blue Album's available directly from Smog Veil, whose mail-order branch comes highly recommended both for its speedy service and deep catalog. Smog Veil's also offering The Blue Album bundled with Hudson's new memoir, Diary of a Punk, which I'll probably be gushing about soon enough, so you might as well shell out for that, too.
Not sure how many of yins check the Scat Records website for updates on a regular basis, and I don't think most of the hip media outlets have gotten wind of this yet, so I figured I'd point you in the direction of some good news from the label.
As of this week, Bill Fox, perhaps the best songwriter in Cle rock history, has agreed to let Scat reissue his two solo albums from the 90's. According to R.G.:
I spoke with Bill Fox yesterday, and we have agreed to reissue his two mid-90s solo albums, Shelter from the Smoke & Transit Byzantium. If you've been trying to get copies of either of these I know you wallet just sighed with relief. Even better, we'll be issuing both on vinyl (a first) as well as cd. I hope to have at least one of them out by the end of the year.
While this sounds like a straight reissue, with no extra material, it's still awesome news (especially the part about the vinyl). Will this pave the way for the issue of some of those legendary lost Fox recordings? Probably not, but we'll take what we can get I guess.
Also, it looks like Prisonshake's new record, Dirty Moons, is set for a July 29 release date. Scat has the one sheet and track list up now. You know I'm totally psyched for this one, and judging off the songs I've heard, it's gonna live up to expectations.
Saturday, March 15
TNV rocks Waterloo Records as Ringo, Patron Saint of Kickin' It, approvingly looks on. (Bigger pic)
Me: "I want more water in my beer, it means less of a hangover tomorrow." Miller Lite girl: "Whatever. Have fun with your watered down beer, and Longhorns rule!"
Sunday, March 16
Yeah, the ride back sucked (left at 9:45 Sunday, got home at 5:45 a.m. Monday . . . yeah, work was fun Monday) -- it was pretty boring, actually, save for a stop at a Sonic in Arkansas where they wouldn't let us use the bathroom. I still think driving's the way to go, if only from an adventure standpoint -- as long as gas prices don't get much higher.
All in all, though, it was a good trip. Maybe next year I'd like to stay in a hotel a little closer to the action so I don't have to worry about driving to downtown and back. I also missed a ton of bands that I had wanted to see. Maybe I could've maximized time better (obviously the Saturday Odyssey killed a lot of prime Saturday free party action), but I still did get to see a shitload of bands. While I didn't make the best use of the evenings, I think I still definitely proved wristbands aren't necessary if you don't mind sticking to one or two showcases a night. I think I ended up spending around $350 total (includes gas, food, probably too much beer, door charges, and one t-shirt), which I think is reasonable for a five-day trip (even if pretty much two days were spent driving).
Anyway, for those of you who've never been and want to try it on the cheap, I say go for it. It can work -- I'm living proof. Seriously, though, I'm there next year.
Meant to finish off the SXSW diary tonight, but I got sidetracked, so a quick mention of the Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks show Sunday night at the Southgate House in "all grown up" Newport, Kentucky. I've already professed my love for Malk's latest, Real Emotional Trash. Sunday night, Malkmus and the Jicks took a number of tunes off that already excellent record and really tricked 'em out. Malkmus was on fire during "Dragon Fly Pie," "Real Emotional Trash," and "Hopscotch Willie," and I doubt his guitar playing has ever been better. Not only did Janet Weiss really hold things together from behind the drum kit, but she also threw in a good helping of nice backup vocals to match -- this was the first time I've seen her as a member of the Jicks, and I was impressed.
Other highlights? Probably Malk's guitar work on "Baby Come On" and a nice "Church On White" as the first song of the encore. While we didn't get anything like the fantastically haphazard piano and interpretive hand-dance heavy "Jenny & The Ess-Dog" that they played when I saw them at the Beachland in Cle around five years ago, Malkmus seemed to be in good spirits and was pretty engaging.
As with Malkmus's brief solo set at the Pitchfork fest last summer, I don't think I was alone in thinking Sunday night's 70-minute show was too short, but maybe that's the mark of a good performer: leave them wanting more. Maybe Columbus will have an appropriate venue for the band the next time the Jicks swing by Ohio, but if not, I'm making the trip to the border again.
Part II of the SXSW 2008 Diary. Part I is available here.
Friday, March 14
El Jesus de Magico at Trailer Space. (Bigger pic)
Monotonix takes over the Vice Party. (Bigger pic)
Saturday, March 15
Thurston Moore kicking it at the Mohawk. (Bigger pic)
A few weeks ago, my buddy Tok casually mentioned that he had no idea what I was doing with my life because it had been so long since I'd done a running diary. Ask and ye shall receive. It has been about a year, and I figured South By Southwest 2008 would be a good enough excuse to dust off this super-self indulgent feature of the NBR Blog.
If anything, maybe this will serve as a helpful, if long-winded resource for those who, like me, decide to jump head-first into SXSW without dropping too much cash. I may have done it as cheaply as possible -- drive down, crash with friends who live in Austin, no wristband/badge, etc. So yeah, maybe somebody will get something worthwhile out of this.
Without further ado, here it is -- half Bill Simmons/half Mike Watt, the SXSW 2008 Diary:
Wednesday, March 12
Thursday, March 13
Monotonix's mid-air drums. (Big pic)
Times New Viking owning the French Legation Museum. (Bigger pic)
xNoBBQx at the Siltbreeze showcase. (Bigger pic)
Mike Rep & the (TNV) Quotas wowing 'em. (Bigger pic)
Psychedelic Horseshit delivering the proverbial goods (note the now world-famous crumpled napkin setlist at the bottom right). (Bigger pic)
Times New Viking putting away the Siltbreeze showcase. (Bigger pic)
Friday, March 14
Bright and early tomorrow morning, I'll be making my way down to Austin for this year's SXSW. It's my first time attending, and it's kinda a last-minute deal, so it's sure to be filled with wide-eyed adventure.
I'm going to attempt a sort of running diary. Assuming I keep up with it, I'll try to begin posting it next Tuesday or Wednesday. Until then: Rock. Rock On.
Guinea Worms are onstage . . .
Lüc: (Points to the stage) Best band in Columbus.
Me: Yeah. They make the ass move.
Lüc: They're the best band in Columbus because they make our asses move.
Epic set by Guinea Worms. I guess this is old news, but even though "Box of Records" is killer on vinyl, it must be seen live to be believed. Necropolis, Night of Pleasure, and Cheveu all also rocked. Hell, the ceiling was coming down while Necropolis was playing. A+ all around.
Now, here's a nice one. I'm always a bit biased when it comes to Stephen Malkmus (next time you see me, ask me to tell you how I got really into Pavement), but Malk's Real Emotional Trash is one of the best new records I've heard in this still-young year.
The Malkmus solo records have been decent enough so far. The first, self-titled one, to me, sounded like a guy moving from fronting one of the most storied bands of the '90's to starting to relax, and trying to find a truer, more personal voice in the process. Stephen Malkmus was good, and it holds up well (let's see you write a better song than "Jenny & the Ess-Dog"), but I can't shake the sense that these are the songs that would've been on the next Pavement album -- and where's Nastanovich and Ibold?!?! The next two records, Pig Lib and Face The Truth also have their moments, but at times they seem like Malk overshooting his mark. In other words, they sound too much like S.M. trying to do something different, and in the process boldly pinning his prog-rock influences onto his sleeve so that the guy we've all known and loved sorta gets lost in the shuffle. I don't think I'm ever going to be able to fully appreciate "Kindling for the Master," and "1% of One" gets a little too self-indulgent for me.
With Real Emotional Trash, though, it sounds like Malk's found the happy medium. Listen to the way the bouncy chorus of "Dragonfly Pie" tears into a vintage heavy Malkmus riff. Sit back as the cascades of "Real Emotional Trash," a 10-minute song that's honestly not too long, go flying by, culminating in a controlled freakout that's maybe the best one of its kind this side of "Half a Canyon." Check the "I know the tide will turn" refrain in "Out of Reaches." Ol' Steve's got something good going here.
S.M. pop-rock fans (like me) are certain to have the "So much for the curb appeal / so much for the three-course meals" part of "Gardenia" stuck in their heads for days, much like a grown up version of "I Love Perth." "Elmo Delmo," on the other hand, sounds like the song he's been trying to write for the past three records, driving and meandering at the same time -- a sort of dense but insistent Malkmus epic. "We Can't Help You" is a keeper, and "Wicked Wanda" puts a nice bow on the whole package. I guess the record as a whole showcases Malk and the Jicks getting comfortable with each other as a unit, as it seems like Malkmus is in his element here while also getting the extra touches from his bandmates that he wouldn't be able to throw on there if he were doing everything himself.
This isn't to say that Real Emotional Trash isn't a challenging record. It takes a few listens to get a handle on it. After all, it is a 10-song, 60-minute record, and there is a fair amount of noodling on there that may turn off some people. Still, I think this may be the best solo outing Malkmus has given us to date. People need to stop worrying about a Pavement reunion -- trust me, all you gotta do is grab a beer and put "You're Killing Me" and "Home" on really loud and everything will be alright. If you're looking for something new, though, now's your time to maybe think about hopping on board again.
I've said before that I don't like to write about albums I'm less than enthused about, but given that this is one I was particularly looking forward to, I feel like I've got to say at least something. Superman Was A Rocker is the new record (well, new as in released last month) from Robert Pollard. Billed as a mini-LP (it actually clocks in at 30 minutes, though some of that is between-song incidentals), Superman is a collection of old instrumentals recorded mostly during the GBV-years updated with new Pollard vocals. In theory, you're getting vintage GBV material featuring an older, wiser Pollard up front. In actuality, it's more like a bunch of stuff from the cutting room floor topped off with a little bit of icing. Keep in mind, the songs are coming from one of the best cutting room floors in rock history, but you're not getting grade-A, long lasting gems here.
Viewed in its best light, Superman comes off as a half-hour broadcast that would've fit well on WYSO or Flyer Radio back in the day -- a loose, sorta free-flowing broadcast featuring GBV outtakes from deep within the famous Pollard suitcase. The record has a good helping of interludes from DJ Turiel and some drops from Pollard (once we hear "Hey Nashville, you feel like letting your freak flag fly?" and later Pollard posits, "You know, well-behaved women rarely make history"). The highlight of the between song banter (maybe of the whole record?) is a recording of Mitch Mitchell and Kevin Fennell gleefully handling a call from Northridge, Ohio GBV detractor Hiram Campbell at the begining of "Back To The Farm." Is Hiram legit, or is he really Pollard or a Monument Clubber? I dunno, but either way it's funny when he says, "The Highwaymen're better than you guys."
Interludes aside, the songs are what you expect to hold up a Pollard record. There's nothing really great here, though. The "Back to the Farm" instrumental is nice enough, and "Love Your Spaceman" (the "Farm" instrumental with vocals) is ok. "You Drove the Snake Crazy" has its catchy, poppy moments. "St. Leroy" might be the best one, a plaintive piece in the mold of Pollard's sparse vocal/acoustic guitar outtakes. I guess "Another Man's Blood" and "Peacock," both haphazard rockers, are decent, but they drag on too long.
I'm sure some hard-core Pollard fans will find this one worth repeated listens, but it's not for me. I know Pollard still has the goods -- the two records released on Merge last year are keepers, and his show at the Southgate House in December proved he can still kick it live. This one strikes out for me, though.
I guess I've sunken into my "only get the major releases" phase in my GBV/Pollard record-buying life. I know there are people who pretty much exclusively listen to Pollard stuff, but that's never been me, even circa '96. Maybe what I want to say is that Pollard should keep putting out all these records -- people really like them, and he, more than most, should have creative license to do whatever he wants and make a living off of it. I'm not one who says he should focus his efforts on putting out one great record a year -- the world is probably somehow a better place for Pollard putting out a record every month or two. The thing is, there's a lot of music out there, and a lot of it is great, and I've realized that records like Superman are beyond my attention span.
Anyway, if the new Psycho and the Birds record is really unbelievably fantastic, let me know . . . .
Jim Jones, legendary Cleveland guitarist, passed away Monday at the age of 57. Among the many bands he played with were Pere Ubu, Easter Monkeys, and Mirrors. John Petkovic's Plain Dealer piece does a nice job of briefly touching on Jones's many contributions to the Cleveland scene and community.
By all accounts, Jones was instrumental in spreading the word about the Electric Eels, playing various Eels tapes for others over the years following the band's abrupt demise, and ultimately leading to the release of the "Agitated" single on Rough Trade. Basically, if it weren't for Jones's enthusiasm, it's quite possible that the Eels wouldn't be the touchstone they are today.
Even more than his great support of the Cleveland scene and his role as a music encyclopedia, Jones's guitar work will remain as a great tribute to the man. In terms of Ubu, it's his guitars on Cloudland that make the album what it is -- Ubu's great pop record. That lead guitar on "Breath," in particular, is fantastic . . . crisp and permanently looping in my head. His talent found its best outlet, in my opinion, with the Easter Monkeys. While the Monkeys had a killer rhythm section in Linda Hudson and Charlie Ditteaux and an inimitable frontman in Chris Yarmock, to me it was Jones's guitar that elevated the band to its status as one of Cle's all-time greatest. I listened to their LP again tonight and the guitar really drives those songs. "Take Another Pill," "Underpants," "Nailed to the Cross" . . . they all reach their heights because of Jones. "Heaven 357" is a long-time favorite, and listening to it again I was impressed with how an essentially rhythm guitar part is able to create the tension and electricity that builds the foundation for Yarmock's vocal. It's really something to behold.
Anyway, I never got the chance to talk with Jim, but I was lucky enough to see him play in a couple of different bands in Cleveland. The highlight was probably a free Ubu show at the Rock Hall (I know . . . Rock Hall . . . ugh . . .) circa 2000. David Thomas called Jones onto the stage, Jones grabbed a guitar, and the band absolutely tore through a vintage Ubu track (I'm not sure, but I think it was "Nonalignment Pact"). Through the whole song, Jones had the biggest grin in the place.
I also remember when I was in high school. I saw an ad for the Easter Monkeys record in one of the 90's editions of Cle Magazine, and I dutifully sent in my mailorder. A week or two later, I got the LP in the mail. Jones had autographed the back of the LP sleeve to me, and he also sent a handwritten note (on Easter Monkeys letterhead!) thanking me for buying the record and telling me that he hoped I enjoyed it. I've never been too much into memorabilia or autographs, but I've really appreciated, both then and now, the fact that he took time out of his day to "go the extra mile" when he could've just stuck the record in the mailer and shipped it off. I was just a kid from Ohio ordering a record, but Jones went out of his way to do something extra for me, and that was cool.
For those of you who don't regularly read the ClePunk website, folks who are way more in the know than I -- from fans to Cle rock luminaries -- have been posting their memories of Jim Jones on the site's Bathroom Wall, and it's definitely worth a read.
Thanks for everything, Jim.
For whatever reason, I got it in my head the other day to listen to some Children's Crusade. Essentially the brainchild of Doug Gillard, the band was put together around '84 and only stuck around long enough to put together a cassette, a posthumous 7", and a handful of live shows. I missed all this (gimme a break, I was just starting grade school), but I mail-ordered the 7" from Scat during the period of time when I was spending all of my spare change on the label's back catalog. Surprisingly, the 7" is still available, though I'm guessing there can't be too many (it's a limited edition of 1500).
I go back and forth as to which I think is better. My copy of the cassette, A Duty-Dance with Death, has always been a personal treasure of mine. I've never seen how many copies were made, but there couldn't have been too many copies floating around. The one I got is a dubbed copy of what was probably a 1st generation original that I basically lucked into around 10 years ago after a long time of searching. I thought I had lost it, but I found it over the summer.
Anyway, A Duty-Dance with Death is described by Gillard as music by "a couple 4AD/Chrome/Killing Joke-influenced high school seniors just coming out of a hardcore punk phase." I suppose I've got to agree with his assessment, but I'll add that it has that Cleveland (or, in this case Elyria) essence about it, where it's something that people might say gives a hearty nod to its influences, but it really does transcend its influences.
The most well-known track from the cassette is probably "Lurker on the Threshold" by virtue of its inclusion on the 1985 They Pelted Us with Rocks and Garbage LP compilation (which also features Spike In Vain, Offbeats, the Reactions, the Guns, and a hearty handful of other mid-80's Cle heavy-hitters). I think the classic is "Decade of the Worm," with its sizzling Gilliard guitar leads and vocalist Fraser Sims's rock apocalypse lyrics, featuring alternating refrains of "Underground, we are so underground" and "Bury us, bury us, our culture is dead / Bury us, bury us, dead is our culture." Early Gillard maximum riffage highlights "Man-Gun" and we get one Sims's more dramatic performances in the first movement of "Operate/Art Student." And if you're looking for a mid-80's Cle anthem, "Bleak Outpost" will probably do the job.
The charm of A Duty-Dance with Death is enhanced by its somewhat improbable origins. All of the instruments --drums, bass, and guitar -- were recorded in-studio by Gillard. Legend has it that once the recordings were complete, Gillard asked Sims to come in and add vocals. Without having heard any of the songs before, Sims showed up with a notebook of lyrics, came up with melodies, and laid down the vocals. Pretty impressive for anyone, let alone a couple of kids in 1984 Cleveland.
After finishing the cassette, Gillard put together a band to perform live, and it was probably during this time that Gillard and Sims really found the "Children's Crusade sound" that is present on the Scat 7", Scorpio Moon.
To me, "Blue Venus Aflame," the first Scorpio Moon track, represents the recorded debut of Gillard's stunning lead guitar work. It's a lengthy song, and you can tell that the time -- however brief -- spent with the full band gave Gillard and Sims the chance to flesh these songs out in a way that wasn't possible with the songs from the cassette (even though all of the instruments on Scorpio Moon, like the cassette, were played by Gillard). The layered guitar riffs float above and around the simple, but driving, drums, pinned down only by Sims's stark, intense, almost desperate vocals. Everything really takes off mid-song, when Gillard's lead kicks in real good. This is the genesis of Gillard's best guitar work -- never too flashy, always melodic, and perfectly suited to the song.
The EP's other tracks might not be up to the stellar level of the A-side, but they're memorable in their own right. "Your Time Is Through" is Children's Crusade in their most punk moment. It's a solid, fairly straightforward rocker -- the kind of thing you need after "Blue Venus Aflame" -- and I swear you can almost hear the Dead Boys in there when the bridge kicks in. "St. Jack's Bible" is the original version of "Gimme Your Heart" from Cobra Verde's first record. I prefer "St. Jack's," mostly because I think Sims's feverish vocals work a little better on this one than John Petkovic's.
If you're a fan of Gillard's or Sims's later work (Death of Samantha, Gem, Cobra Verde, GBV, and a bunch of others for Gillard, and Starvation Army and some others for Sims) and you haven't heard any of the Children's Crusade stuff, you're likely to be impressed at how versatile these two guys are. While it's still possible to get your hands on the 7", it's a bit of a tragedy that A Duty-Dance with Death has never seen a wider release. Maybe that's because both Gillard and Sims moved on to bigger and better things. I also tend to believe that there's truth to the story that the original tapes were recorded in a way that effectively prevents them from being replayed today.
Still, though, I hold out hope that maybe one day someone with the money and resources (Exit Stencil, I'm looking your way) might be able to rerelease A Duty-Dance in a way that does it justice, much like what CDR did with the excellent Tommy Jay rerelease. Until then, if you're really desperate for a copy, I'm sure you can try to contact Gillard through MySpace, and if not, you know how to get a hold of me if you want a third-generation dub.
Both Friday and Saturday's Donewaiting.com Fifth Anniversary shows were pretty much great from start to finish. Here's my highlights, in no particular order:
All in all, I can't believe we only had to pay $5 in cover charges to catch these two nights of top-shelf Ohio music. Cheers to Donewaiting and all involved in putting on these shows.
As part of the celebration for the eleven-month anniversary of the release of the Lee Wadlinger Twentieth Century Apprenticeship EP, I've put it up on eMusic. You can check it here.
And while you're there, check out the Dreadful Yawns Live at Schubas set from 2004. I like that one, and I think it's one of those eMusic-only deals.
To me, Moviola will always be best as a singles band. Maybe instead of "singles band" I should say "EP band," but I think "singles band" sounds better. Either way, I got to know this Columbus institution via the single/EP, and so they're an ace singles band to me.
I was a relative latecomer to Moviola's lengthy mid-to-late-90's parade of 7"s that seemingly came out on every small (and cool) label from the Midwest to New England. As a kid in Cleveland digging the Ohio lo-fi rock, I suppose it was inevitable Moviola would be right up my alley, though for whatever reason it wasn't until I picked up their Wabana split 7" with Cobra Verde that I signed up for good. I bought the Wabana split for the CV tune, but Moviola outshined their NE Ohio counterparts. Where Cobra Verde's gave me one decent enough late-Gillard era CV rock track, Moviola responded with three (count 'em) home-recorded classics. This was how I liked my music: melodic and genuine, with the right amount of fuzz and general Ohio weirdness lurking around the corners. I was sold, and from then on whenever another one of those Moviola EP's popped up in the 7" bin, I was taking it home.
Moviola's full length records have always been keepers. I remember giving "1970" and "Wisdom Teeth" from The Year You Were Born a good amount of spins on my old Made In Ohio show on UD's Flyer Radio back in the day (and I was especially psyched when station management decreed that "Flag You Down" from the then brand-new Durable Dream would go into the station's "heavy rotation"). Glen Echo Autoharp is another personal favorite, and last year's Dead Knowledge was one of the highlights of a pretty solid year of LP's (dig the WoW review).
As good as those full-length records have been to me, though, I keep finding myself going back to the EP's. I suppose that's one of the main reasons that I've been enjoying the "new" Moviola full-length so much. Released a few weeks ago on Spirt of Orr, Broken Horses is an "early rarities" album that collects songs from across those "golden age" EP years (approximately 1994-2001). As most of these collections do, it's got something for everyone: For the uninitiated, there's classics like the title track and the epic "City Like This." For the more seasoned veterans, there's previously unreleased gems like the laid back, acoustic "County Lines," "Half As Long" (featuring the trademark Moviola electric lead and high harmony), and the mesmerizing "Signals Crossed," along with a driving live version of "Bank Machine."
The common thread through everything here -- whether it's an old or new track -- is that sorta hard-to-explain "Moviola quality." It's all pretty much lo-fi, but it's not the joyously loud and agressive lo-fi you know from your Electric Eels or Times New Viking records. Instead, it's a cleaner, more relaxed sound. Not sterile or antiseptic, but clearer, kind of a more organic and engaging East River Pipe-type sound, if that means anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is that these are largely self-produced, "lo-fi" recordings, but, like the best self-produced, lo-fi recordings (i.e., those done by the likes of GBV and TNV), the sound suits the song and the band. That means that "Greenwood" sounds crisp, airy, and subtle, with its quiet guitars and floating vocals, and "Inhalants" sounds a bit haphazard but focused, with its muddied guitars and drums that are punctuated by controled hits of distorted vocals and feedback. Basically, the medium is made to fit the message, or something.
In a weird way, maybe the most impressive thing about Broken Horses is that its 60+ minutes are loaded with so much great stuff, even though (according to Spirit of Orr) the CD represents a mere third of Moviola's non-album material. For every song like "Inhalants" or "Bass Kids Ears," there's an equally memorable one like "Empty Ford" or "Calling on the Line" that didn't make the cut. There's so much here, it makes you want to head over to your local used record store to see if they might have the elusive two or three Moviola records that you need to fill in the gaps in your collection. After all, it's all good.
Broken Horses is available from Spirit of Orr in a limited edition of 300 CDR (with handmade cover). I'm tempted to say it's a good companion piece to Dead Knowledge, but that really wouldn't be doing it justice. It stands on its own as a vital document of one of the great enduring Ohio bands from the last 15 years.
Times New Viking's new record, Rip It Off, really sounds so good that it's a waste of time to write a review of it. With that said (and given that I've already thrown in my two cents about the brilliant label on the a-side of the record), I'll ramble on about it and throw in a few thoughts on their record release show last Friday at the Wexner Center. Since Greg Oden's out for the season, I need something to do while I'm watching the Cavs game tonight, so let's roll . . . .
My all time top-three favorite records are, in order:
Is Rip It Off up there? I dunno. I made a rule up when I was 21 that I couldn't have a record in my all-time top ten unless I had listened to it for six years. Why? Top 10's (I actually haven't made one since I was 21, but the top three remain the same) should "stand the test of time," and when I was 21 I'd listened to each of Pet Sounds, Alien Lanes, and Crooked Rain for at least six years.
I think I really give you that list because I guess I dig Rip It Off so much for the same reasons that I dig those three records so much. Not that TNV and Rip It Off sound anything like those records (there's just a faint glimmer of Brian Wilson -- if any -- in there, a bit of GBV, and a little more Pavement, albeit pre-Slanted Pavement more than CRCR). I like those three records so much because I can just listen to them. There's no thought involved. I put needle to wax, sit down, and listen as something unnamable comes together, every time (even, now that I'm over the hill and close to 27, after at least 12 years of listening to each of those records). There's those moments where everything seems to make sense: that first Hal Blaine drum strike in "Wouldn't It Be Nice," or the first chorus of "Watch Me Jumpstart" or the first 30 seconds or so of "Elevate Me Later." Each record is its own world as well. Pet Sounds = some celestial plane. Alien Lanes = a far-out moon with the best radio station anywhere. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain = an endless youth spending an endless summer in a truly chill California.
So, if I'm peering six years into my crystal ball. Assuming I'm making another top 10 list and I've still got the stupid six year rule, is Rip It Off up there? It's got a shot.
The members of TNV have served their rock and roll apprenticeship. They know their shit, and through two LP's, a couple of singles, and a few years' worth of shows, they've proved they can apply what they know. If Rip It Off is its own world, I don't know what it is or where it's at yet. I do know that it's a cohesive whole that works, something that few bands are able to pull off over the course of a 30-minute LP. I also know it's one of maybe three or four new records from the past few years that I not only can put everything aside, sit down, and listen to, but also have to put everything aside and listen to whenever I put it on. It demands your full attention. Not in some authoritarian or belligerently overpowering sense, but it the way that it makes you pay close attention as that half hour zooms by.
"Teen Drama" is the way a record should open. It's nothing less than an invocation, ala "Our Prayer" if Smile ever existed (it doesn't and won't). I'm pretty sure I remember TNV opening with it when they played at the Psychedelic Horseshit record release show and me thinking that it didn't work so great. I'm guessing that was a rare "off" moment for TNV, but either way I've seen the light now. And the way it leads straight into the epic "(my head)" -- it kills.
The other thing is how the record goes in a whole bunch of different directions, and not haphazardly or in a "throw everything in" way. The half-frantic, half-freakout "RIP Allegory" (which rules) gives way to the half-ballad "The Wait", which itself turns mid-song into a chorus that's catching the same wave as the afore-mentioned "Watch Me Jumpstart" but riding it a bit more subtly so as to make the ride last a little longer.
Then we really start kicking it. "DROP - OUT" could be on Alien Lanes, though I think it shines a little more here anyway. "Faces on Fire" is another one . . . maybe it was Adam spinning the Mice at Bobo St. Friday night, but every time I listen to it I feel more and more like it would work on Scooter. Again, though, the song rightfully belongs on Rip It Off, and it works best where it's at.
Ok, really getting too review-y. "Another Day" should be a Top-40 hit. The riff in "The Apt." kicks my ass. My one complaint at this point is I'd end the record with "Times New Viking vs. Yo La Tengo." If you've got a memorable instrumental that fits perfectly with the record, let that finish it . . . but I guess you can blame Alien Lanes for making me think like that, and "Post Teen Drama" grows on me with each listen anyway.
Thoughts on fidelity: it seems like I've read a handful of reviews that go on and on about the lo-fi sound and wondering when TNV will take the leap of fidelity or even suggesting they should go mid- or hi-fi with their next record. I think one review even spent 75% of the space talking solely about the recording fidelity, rather than talking about the songs themselves. It's gotten to the point that I don't even know what lo-fi is anymore. Don't you think TNV wanted the record to sound like it does? And don't you think that it sounds pretty damned perfect the way it is? (I do.) No one can tell me with a straight face that Coney Island Baby, even the remixed/remastered version, sounds better than White Light/White Heat. Same with Coast to Coast Carpet of Love and Vampire on Titus. And "Jaguar Ride" or "Agitated" wouldn't sound anywhere near as revelatory if they were recorded at Suma. It's like the guy who wrote the review of the Psychedelic Horseshit record and said seriously that he'd made better quality recordings on his cassette 4-track in his living room . . . I'll just stop now and save the energy for my book on lo-fi rock.
Anyway, fast forward to Friday night at the Wex, where it was a celebration of the good going on in this city right now. A nice sized crowd, a lot of kids, people dancing despite the lack of on-site alcohol (why didn't I remember that drinking three cans of Coke on a stomach full of dopplebock is a horrible idea?).
TNV at the Wexner Center (Blurry photo courtesy of Luke)
People's heads and TNV (Hi-fi pic courtesy of me)
Yeah, it was a bit weird seeing all those bands in that kind of environment, but with Matt Horseshit on the soundboard (best all-star band-soundman combo since Dave Doughman did sound for GBV) it was like a home game for TNV, and they played a killer show. The opening 1-2-3 combination, straight off the beginning of the LP, got things going right, and just when I'm starting to worry that they might think of doing a lame "play the whole record" set, they jump into the hits-new classic-hits groove. The highlight for me? Probably an "End of All Things" where, instead of the acoustic ending, the drums and keys dropped out and it was Jared continuing the electric jam accompanied by Beth and Adam, stalking their respective parts of the stage for the final lyric round.
Times New Viking goes on a brief tour in a couple of weeks. If they're in your town, you should go, and in the meantime buy the record.
This one's been out for a while, but considering that I've been talking up the new Prisonshake records for a while, I might as well give you my thoughts on their new EP, The Nice Price. As I noted before, it's available in two different formats -- a three-song bargain-priced 7", and a limited edition of 200, blue 7" that comes packaged with a CDR that includes the three songs plus two exclusive bonus tracks. Being the Prisonshake fanboy that I am (yeah, I dropped $20 last year on a copy of the limited edition of 50, "poker chip sleeve" "Deanna" single), I opted for the fancy version.
And you know what? It was worth it, 'cause Prisonshake's picking up where they "left off" about 12 years or so ago. The Nice Price leads off with "The Cut-Out Bin", which makes the slick move of longing for the days when record companies put out way too many copies of records that maybe should have never seen the light of day, all while we're actually living in a time when more music is being produced than ever before. In other words, it's looking nostalgically, in these modern times of too much music, at the long-ago days when too many records were made. There's a lot of crap out there now (hell, I rereleased What's Wrong With Me last year), but Prisonshake's here to kick our asses out of the doldrums.
The conceit is one thing, but it only goes so far. The song itself makes everything work. Starting out with an almost exotic riff, "The Cut-Out Bin" slides into a more standard rock groove before sliding into classic Prisonshake anthem mode as Enkler laments that "no one gets a twilight to their career anymore / no one gets a chance to make mediocre record number four." No sooner does Doug kick out the chorus -- "When they bring back the cut-out bin, save a spot for us right behind The Pretty Things" -- than the song breaks down into some biting lead work from Robert Griffin. Next thing ya know, Enkler's shouting at you to "go call your mom and sell your guitar." More maximum riffage, and then everything stops for a split second before allofasudden you're back into the chorus. And then it's over -- only two chrouses and what seems like six or eight movements in three minutes. It's perfect . . . with one deft swoop, the Shake saves us from certain doom.
(As an aside, my copy of the Offbeats' Relativity Records LP is a cutout.)
"Your Sad Friend (Pt. 2)" isn't a song -- more like an old fashioned Prisonshake "found interlude," except they've matured (which means we get a version of the classic "Come On Eileen" joke instead of a fart or the end of "AIDS Reducing Plan"). "Fake Your Own Death (Hey Asshole version)" is the proper B-side here (in another form it also leads off the upcoming LP). This is a brooding, bluesy rocker, complete with keys, and -- gasp -- is that a wah-wah pedal?!?! We get the stops and the starts as well, along with another good dose of guitar leads, before veering off into a quick experimental oblivion (in a good way).
Anyway, it should go without saying that the standard version of the 7" is worth the $1.50 just for "The Cut-Out Bin", but getting the alternate ending to "Fake" seals the deal. Basically, you're a damned fool if you don't throw Scat the $4.25 for the single (shipping's an extra $2.75) right now.
For those of you wondering what you get with the deluxe version (besides getting the cd so that you can put the tunes on your iPod, and earning the right to annoy your friends by letting them know how cool you are because you've got #15 of 200), here's the scoop: "Cat O' 9 Codas" and "House Lights" are, as advertised, two instrumentals. "Cat" is pretty much what its title claims: a good handful of instrumental interludes (or outros, maybe), albeit in a basic, sketch form. I'm not sure if there's nine of them. You can count if you want. Most of "Cat"'s 5:15 are pretty much just interesting -- there's nothing too memorable or inspiring until we hit the final coda, which shows up around the 3:20 mark and really kicks it for the last 90 seconds. "House Lights," on the other hand, is close to a revelation, the kind of laid-back, dueling guitar instrumental that definitely would work over the PA after the band is done and you're settling your tab at the bar before shuffling out of Bourbon St. (or, sigh, the Euclid Tavern).
As of January 14, Scat had "a bit under 100" copies left of the deluxe version of The Nice Price, so you probably should hop on board soon, if you're ever gonna do it.
As part of the eighth anniversary celebration for the Lee Wadlinger What's Wrong With Me album, I've put it up on the Amazon MP3 store. You can check it here.
Price is $0.89 per song, or $6.99 for the entire thing. If you're scoring at home, that's $0.10 and $3.00 (respectively) cheaper than iTunes, and Amazon gives you the snazzy 256 kps bit rate. I still think the difference between 128 kps and 256 kps is negligible for something recorded on a cassette 4-track machine, but either way now you only have to pay $0.89 to get all 37 seconds of "Heady Phone" (it's worth it).
I'm not one to start trying to put together coherent thoughts about a record after one listen -- that's why I'm not a music journalist (no cigar-puffing bigwig standing over my desk and telling me to write reviews for this stack of cd's NOW!), but I can't help but throw out my first bit of praise for the new Times New Viking record NOW!
So I skipped over to the record store this evening to get a copy of Rip It Off, and after a solid dinner of Mediterranean Chicken at good ol' Easy Street Cafe (whose deep menu is much appreciated -- that one's for you, Bone Fresh!), I made a beeline for the turntable so I could delve into some TNV wax.
And what's the first thing that grabs my attention? Well, I'll be . . . if they haven't gone and out-foxed the foxiest foxes in the forest! You got it -- they marked over the label from side one of Slanted and Enchanted to make the label for side one of Rip It Off. I even pulled out my copy of Pavement's Matador debut for confirmation (though I was totally sure when the Version) part of Summer Babe (Winter Version) wasn't fully blotted out). TNV already had my undying love and affection, but now it's even more . . . undying.
This is what all those kids who were listening to leaked MP3's last month are missing. Nothing like that moment of recognition triggered by "WEA" being blacked out. Untamed, untranslatable, the barbaric yawp of us record-buyers is something I won't stop sounding over the roofs of the world any time soon.
In other news, I think Used Kids still has a copy of the original LP "model" for the Watery Domestic EP artwork floating around in Dollarland somewhere.
I decided not to do a "Best of 2007" list here on the NBR blog. Not that I don't like "Best of" lists . . . it seems like I spent December perusing them, even finding a few records I missed out on during '07 that I'm gonna check out soon. Really, I don't feel like I really listened to the breadth of records during '07 to make my "Best of" list worth much to basically anyone. Tons of good stuff came out last year (obvious favorites include records by TNV, Psychedelic Horseshit, and Spoon, and the Pollard records have slowly been growing on me), but I guess my having not listened to the Panda Bear record yet ultimately disqualifies me from making any kind of list.
So, with that said, I give you my "Top 5 Reasons I'm Psyched for Early 2008". After all, like Mark McGwire said, we're here to talk about the future, not the past. Right?
The past week and a half or so has been pretty outta control. As things begin to get under control, I've got some stuff to write about the new Dylan biopic, Bob Pollard's triumphant Southgate House show, and maybe some other stuff.
In the meantime, I'd feel like less of a human being if I didn't try and steer more people toward WFMU's Beware of the Blog, where they've recently posted an entry about Brian Wilson's rap song, "Smart Girls." It's been years since I've heard this, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the post. Maybe Brian Wilson is not really the bees' knees to the majority of even Beach Boys fans, but I challenge anyone to deny the brilliance of a song that contains the opening lines "My name is Brian, and I'm the man / I write hit songs with the wave of my hand."
Sure, maybe in 1990, when "Smart Girls" was written and recorded during the Sweet Insanity "sessions" (guided by the infamous Eugene Landy . . . not seen as one of Brian's best times, to say the least . . . but maybe a time that was necessary for Brian to survive to the present day . . . but anyway), Brian hadn't actually written a "hit" song for, say, two decades. You can't deny that he's always been the man, though. After all, he's the guy who, against all odds, was all but solely responsible for Beach Boys Love You in 1977.
I'm babbling. What I mean to say is, sure, "Smart Girls" isn't something anyone is going to listen to repeatedly. But it's something everyone should listen to. It's got that classic pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys humor thing going for it, much like "Drive-In" or "Parking Lot." Really, "Smart Girls" is a classic Beach Boys song written from a more mature standpoint . . . whereas "Drive-In" delivers the classic line (sung so straight by Mike Love), "Don't sneak your buddies in the trunk 'cause they might get caught by the drive-in," "Smart Girls" has it's own absurdly brilliant moments:
Now some guys like the flashy types,
And some guys dig the archetypes,
I'm no different from the rest
I love hips, and legs, and breasts,
But strictly on a higher plain,
What really turns me on's her brain.
I dunno, it's obviously ridiculous, but after you hear it five or six times you stop laughing at how utterly goofy this stuff is and you start connecting with something "joyful" on a more ethereal level. I guess all's I'm saying is, "Smart Girls" has its place in Brian Wilson's body of work. And since Brian Wilson is one of the formost songwriters and producers of the "rock" era of American songwriting, "Smart Girls" has its place in the Great American Catalog of Musical Art.
I've been itching to check out The Moon and Badtimes since reading rave reviews on Population: Doug and World of Wumme. Yeah, that was in August, but I did finally get around to checking 'em out Tuesday at Carabar and I can attest that they're as good as advertised. I totally dug the sorta looping, I-270 motorik beat. I'm also a sucker for properly executed three-guitar lineups, which the guys really nailed when they switched into that mode.
Anyway, I'm not going to embarrass myself trying to put a finger on their sound. Other than a song on their MySpace and a few YouTube clips floating around, it doesn't look like there's much M.A.B. recorded output to take in, but it may be just as well for the time being because their live show is something to be experienced. All's I know is, after missing out over the past three months or so, I'm not going to be missing many M.A.B. sets in the future.
I'm a bit out of the loop with the Cle rock news, so I've just recently found out that Chas Smith passed away last month. I never got the opportunity to meet Chas, but I've always admired him for the vital role he played in any number of great Cleveland bands (most notably, to me, the Pagans and the Clocks). From all accounts, he was an all-around great guy, both as a human being, a rocker, and a professor (I was never bright enough to realize it probably would've been fairly easy to enroll at Cle State as a visiting student to take his course on rock history).
Since I only got to see Chas play live a few times (once or twice with Einstein's Secret Orchestra and once or twice with the post-GBV Cobra Verde), I'll best remember him for his contributions to the Clocks (by then the Radio Alarm Clocks) LP, Wake Me When It's Over. As a Northeastern Ohio kid in high school during the 90's, I became enamored with anything and everything connected to the 80's Cle underground rock scene, so it was a good day when I stumbled upon a copy of Wake Me When It's Over (probably at Record Revolution). It's been one of my favorites ever since and it's filled with a ton of great songs, from the frantic "Slave Planet" and "Kill Talk" to the pop brilliance of "Confidentially Renee" to the hip "Tick Tock Man." On top of it all, it has the Clocks' great version of "Time Is On My Side" (also heard on the Cleveland Confidential EP).
So yeah, if you ever come upon a copy of Wake Me When It's Over, be sure to grab it so you can take it home and dig those Chas Smith keys. In the meantime, if you're in Cleveland this Friday night, you can't go wrong by stopping by the Chas Smith tribute show that evening at the Beachland.
Thanks for the rock, Chas.
I've already written in this space about my almost Beatlemania-esque giddiness surrounding the upcoming Spring '08 release of Dirty Moons, Prisonshake's first album in a long time. Now comes news that their new single, The Nice Price, will be out in a month or so.
In classic Prisonshake fashion, the single's being released in two formats: (1) black vinyl with a regular paper sleeve, for the unbelievably low price of $1.50!; and (2) limited edition of 200 blue vinyl with a fancy sleeve and a cd-r that includes all the songs on the 7" plus two bonus tracks. You can preorder at scatrecords.com. Have I preordered already? You bet.
A week or so ago, they posted an MP3 featuring the album tracks that adorn their pre-LP single, which is supposed to hit sometime next month. "(my head)" is TNV taking their game to a new anthemic level, with guitar riffs and drums wrapping the tandem vocals in a sorta beautifully fractured layer of sound. "R.I.P. Allegory" may or may not be a sequel to Present the Paisley Reich's "Allegory Gets Me Hot", but either way it's equally boss.
Today, Population Doug pointed me in the direction of Matador's one-sheet for Rip It Off. In itself, the one-sheet's a masterpiece hearkening back to 12 or so years ago, when Matador's printed promotion was really top-notch, entertaining stuff. Don't think for a second that Rip It Off can't live up to its billing as being on par with Slanted And Enchanted and Alien Lanes in terms of debut Matador LP's.
I'm the first to admit that I tend to be a bit of a rock cheerleader on this space when it comes to writing about music. I suppose, though, that it should be fairly apparent that I use this space to write only about the stuff that I'm really into, and that every glowing hyperbole I use is genuine. Over the years, my tolerance for stuff I'm not into has dwindled, and there's a reason I ended my formal "career" in rock criticism after one assignment.
Right now, though, I take a break from my usual "positive prose" to perform a public service. For more than a year, I've been anticipating the release of the soundtrack to the new Dylan biopic, I'm Not There. I've been anticipating seeing the film as well, but given that the soundtrack was due to hit the streets first, that was first on the list. I mean, come on, look at the freaking lineup of artists: Sonic Youth, Stephen Malkmus, Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Mark Lanegan, Jeff Tweedy, the Black Keys, Tom Verlaine, John Doe, etc. And they're all covering Dylan songs!Think of all the great Dylan covers we've been blessed with over the years. Jimi Hedrix's transformation of "All Along The Watchtower." Nico's "I'll Keep It With Mine." The Byrds' folk-rock igniting version of "Hey Mr. Tambourine Man." The Turtles' version of "It Ain't Me Babe" (seriously). Manfred Mann's version of "The Mighty Quinn" (kinda seriously). Jeff Buckley's sparse live version of "I Shall Be Released." Hell, the Band's version of "I Shall Be Released." And throw in the Beach Boys' version of "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the Dreadful Yawns' live version of "She Belongs To Me" for good measure. Now, think of how great a compilation of some of today's better rock artists interpreting Dylan's work should sound. If you're a Dylan fan (I am), it sounds good, right?
Unfortunately, it sounds better on paper than on disc/hard drive. A lot of this stuff sounds like half-spirited attempts at trying to replicate the original backing track for whatever song is being covered, and having Singer X throw in vocals in his/her usual manner. I guess this is good for fans of, say, Stephen Malkmus (I’m one) who have always wanted to hear him do a karaoke version of “Ballad of a Thin Man” (I’m not one). I guess I thought there'd be a lot of creativity on this record, but any kind of departures from the original versions are few and far between.
In fact, there's a good amount of unlistenable stuff on here. Jack Johnson's "Mama You've Been On My Mind / A Fraction of Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie" is so bad that I had to skip the track before I even got to figure out what "A Fraction of Last Thoughts of Woody Guthrie" constitutes. It's probably a bit of Dylan's spoken word piece thrown over a backing track . . . but guess what? I'm not going to go back and listen to it. I don't know what Karen O (apparently of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who, I admit, I've never heard anything by before) was aiming for with her version of "Highway 61 Revisited", but it doesn't do anything for me. I'd rather hear Craig-O sing it. Sufjan Steven's "Ring Them Bells" starts off ok, but gets a little too overindulgent in the end, essentially begging you to hit "skip" again.
The majority of the stuff is ho-hum, and really the only people who are going to dig it are dedicated fans of the original artists. I'm talking Eddie Vedder's "All Along The Watchtower", Jeff Tweedy's "Simple Twist of Fate", and -- gasp! -- the Stephen Malkmus stuff. For whatever reason, it seems The Million Dollar Bashers pops up on a lot of these mediocre tracks, which is especially disappointing. Again, on paper, the Bashers is a classic all-star group: Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo on drums and guitar, respectively. Dylan's longtime bassist Tony Garnier on, well, bass. Nels Cline on guitar. TOM VERLAINE ON GUITAR! Maybe I was wrong to expect these guys to come up with inventive arragements, since they were basically assembled just to be the backing band for a bunch of singers on this comp. These guys can basically do no wrong in my eyes, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't bummed to hear relatively stale backing track after backing track.
But there are some tracks worth salvaging. In the interest of brevity, I'll give ya a quick list (in no particular order) of the good stuff:
Also noteworthy are the inclusion of Dylan & The Band's original "Basement Tapes" version of recording of "I'm Not There" and Sonic Youth's cover of the same song. The original is a nice treasure for those of us who don't scavenge the Earth for Dylan bootlegs. It's not "This Wheel's on Fire" or "Tears of Rage," but it's still a great song. Sonic Youth's version (basically the original with the Sonic treatment) is cool as well.
It's a good thing the retail price is fairly modest on this one, or I'd honestly be feeling ripped off for the two-cd set. For those who haven't gotten the package yet and are interested, I'd say just go on iTunes or your digital weapon of choice and download the Black Keys and Yo La Tengo tracks, and then pick and choose from the tracks by bands you're already fans of.
This week, Columbus was lucky enough to host a veritable Rock Trifecta across 30 or so hours spanning Monday & Tuesday.
The Monday night show at Bourbon Street was super-fantastic. Cheap Dates, who were completely new to me, kicked it off right with some tight punky garage/surf-type rock with a sorta Halloween theme (it was a Halloween show, after all). Definitely psyched to see those guys again. The night ended locally as well, with The Feelers, whose amped-up jams suited the post-1 a.m. hour just right. Sandwiched between the two local acts were two (count 'em) bands from France: The Magnetix and Sonic Chicken 4. Magnetix battled through some equipment problems to deliver some solid, spastic rock. The duo (the ever-fashionable guitar and drums) has a few shows left in their North American tour, so if you get the chance to catch 'em, do it.
The revelation of Monday night was Sonic Chicken 4, and luckily whoever schedules these things was smart enough to have them stay over in Columbus for a set Tuesday evening in Used Kids, cause they're really great. They were solid Monday and Tuesday, kicking out their seemingly-perfect blend of rock, pop, guitar riffs, noise, and xylophone. Unfortunately, it looks like they've finished their U.S. tour, but they've got a new record coming out on the 12th via In The Red Records that promises to be a keeper.
Leg Three of the Rock Trifecta wound back to Bourbon Street Tuesday night for a bill headlined by the mighty Psychedelic Horseshit (whose praises I continue to sing to anyone who'll listen). The Blank Tapes (or, more correctly, Matt of the Blank Tapes) opened with a really chill set of acoustic tunes. P.H. really capped off the two days' worth of music properly, with what I guess you could call an "intimate" set that ruled from start to finish. Horseshit has just started out on a fairly extensive U.S. tour that will also feature what's apparently the final live shows of Pink Reason, so be sure to catch them when they come to your town.
I guess I should be more up on these things, but apparently the Knights of Infinite Resignation's entire catalogue is now available as iPhone ringtones on the iTunes store. Ever wanted your incoming calls to trigger the refrain from "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" or "Diesel Rules"? Well, now's your chance. Lee Wadlinger's What's Wrong With Me and Twentieth Century Apprenticeship are also available as ringtones.
Speaking of iTunes, the Knights' Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart single and Lee Wadlinger's Twentieth Century Apprenticeship are now available as iTunes Plus downloads (higher bit rate and DRM-free files) for the standard price.
You could ask me why only one record (rather than both) by each artist is available on iTunes Plus, but I wouldn't have an answer for you.
Oh yeah, as of Tuesday, a used copy of the Knights' PH & CB CD was available in the $3 used cd rack at Used Kids (that's $2 cheaper than what we're asking for it). I shouldn't have to remind you that you can only get a copy of the boss cover of Pere Ubu's "Ice Cream Truck" on the cd version.
So it's been a week or two now since I've officially re-relocated back to Columbus, effectively bringing an end to five months of exile from Ohio. Perhaps predictably, the worst part about being out of Ohio for so long was going through rock withdrawl, as there's no discernable "scene" in South-Central Pennsylvania.
I was really bored during the exile, so I may or may not have made a list of the stupidest things I've done over the past three or four years. In the interest of cutting to the chase, I'll skip numbers one and two on that list and jump to number three: Missing so many shows in Columbus over the past couple of years. My main excuse for my relative hermitism (compared to my glory days as an intrepid Cleveland teen in the mid-to-late-90's) is that I spent too much time worrying about the in's and out's of things like Younger abstention, CREXAC, fee tails, and the Best Interests of Baseball rule (and, maybe more accuarately, worrying about not worrying about these things). But no more. Everything's in proper order now, and I'm getting back to getting my regular doses of rock.
Anyway, one of the bands I've missed all-too-much is Psychedelic Horseshit, whose new album, Magic Flowers Droned, is out this month.
While I haven't been able to give the record as much attention as it deserves, I can say it's a good one. (Maybe, just maybe, a classic, but I guess only time will tell.) Really, it's a good, well-constructed, old-fashioned rock album (with a beginning, middle, and end!) filtered through the classic Ohio lo-fi sheen. Based on some of the reviews I've seen, the easy way out has been to compare PH to Times New Viking, based on general personal association, proximity, career arc (DIY-CDR-Siltbreeze), and the fact that TNV members are variously listed in the record's credits. While I'd wager it's always a good thing to be mentioned alongside TNV, PH's got their own good thing going on.
My favorite stuff is the pop tunes, like "Can't Get Enough" and "Mouth Disciples", but it's all choice. Production-wise, it's the best of lo-fi -- the sound is unique, tailor-made, and generally incapable of duplication. Critically, phrases like "shit-gaze" and "practice rock" are thrown around, and I guess they make sense, but I stick with my time-honored, generic "good". Dig the transcendent organ blasts and brilliant, sloppy guitar solo on "Portals". Check the lines "We are all rather dull / Everything that you see, rather dull / And the people that you meet, rather dull" over an Ohio Wall of Sound that forms "Rather Dull", or lyrics like "An entire generation with no one to believe . . . they namecheck folk artists and sing with a sneeze" jiving with the trashy pop of "New Wave Hippies."
At first, the noisier stuff toward the end of the record (see "Radar Fences Again" and "Mash Up") can be a bit grating (duh), but I found on my third or fourth listen that there's a lot of nice stuff in there once you get the hang of riding the waves. And speaking of catching waves, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention "Bad Vibrations", given my long-time Wilson Bros. allegiance. While I can't think of where (or, maybe, if) I've heard the refrain's melody before (I suppose it might be Brian Wilson's seasoned with a bit of existential anguish, but, then again, maybe not), it's a great song in its own right, sorta the centerpiece to the record (a fate much more fitting and fortunate than that of its antonymous namesake on Smiley Smile).
After the afore-mentioned heavy-hitting duo of "Radar Fences Again" and "Mash Up", the record closes nicely with another great pop song (driven by a solid bass groove), "Can't Get Enough", which puts a nice bow on the proceedings. Lyrically, the record's a reflection of the times, and with that in mind, I think it's a step in the right direction that PH's final words on Magic Flowers Droned are, "Let's turn the page, and find out what's in store," before, of course, another tasty barrage of guitar puts the proceedings to bed.
Seriously, listen to this record, and thank me -- or better yet, Psychedelic Horseshit -- later.
Talk about your extremes. Thursday night, I catch an up close and personal set by the Monotonix. Two nights later, I sit in the mid-level seats for the Dylan/Elvis Costello show at OSU's Value City Arena. Nevertheless, what Saturday evening lacked in intimacy was made up for by the fact that it was a rare opportunity for me to see Dylan with an opener other than Jimmie Vaughn.
After a typically ho-hum set by opener "Famous" Amos Lee (in fairness, though, it seemed like the crowd of mostly middle-aged Midwestern folk who would never be caught getting trash thrown at them at a Monotonix show really dug A-Lee), Elvis Costello took the stage alone as part of what is being billed as his first solo tour in 12 years. This was the first time I'd ever seen Costello live, and while my familiarity with Costello runs just a little beyond really liking his first three records + Blood & Chocolate, I enjoyed his set. The hits were the highlights for me, particularly the opener "Red Shoes," "Alison," "Radio Sweetheart," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding."
Coming in, I was a little curious as to how Costello would handle the powerpop solo (if he'd even touch it at all), but he ran his acoustic through a distortion pedal and phaser, which gave him the necessary oomph, not to mention the fact that his voice is still in top form and could probably carry most of the tunes by itself. Predictably, the Dispatch called Costello's rig "sometimes-abrasive and over-amplified," but wasn't that the point? I mean, it wasn't billed as an "unplugged, return to 1926 evening with Elvis Costello" or anything. But I digress. Costello's big into the call-and-response thing, which I wasn't too into, and when he pulled out the eponymous line from John Lennon's "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier," I would've preferred he had gone for "I don't wanna be a lawyer, momma, I don't want to lie." But I acknowledge that I'm in the minority, and all-in-all I appreciated Elvis C.
As for Dylan's set, it was one of the better times I've seen him (keep in mind I've only seen him live over the past two years), definitely better than his set at the Coop in Columbus last year. Seemingly going back to the vault once again, the Dispatch approached the set from the "where has the anti-war, peacenik Dylan gone?" angle, which is unfortunate since -- once again -- Dylan hasn't been the "anti-war, peacenik Dylan" since, what, 1964? The reason Dylan is Dylan is because of his ability to reinvent his music and public persona, and it's kinda a drag to have the local media base its review on the expectation that a performer should be the same as he was 35 years ago. This type of journalism also contributes to the seemingly increasing neo-hippie presence at Dylan shows, which I've ranted about in the past, though thankfully it wasn't that big a deal Saturday night.
But I digress again. As always, it took Dylan a song or two to warm up vocally, so while I was glad to hear "Rainy Day Women" as the opener, it wasn't a particuarly inspiring version. I recently heard someone say that you go to a Dylan show now for the possibility of seeing a few "moments" where things just click, and Dylan's guitar solos on the second and third tunes ("It Ain't Me Babe" and "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues," respectively) fit the bill. I guess I've never really appreciated Dylan's lead guitar work (what I've even heard of it), but for whatever reason these leads were right up my alley -- melodic, unpretentious, and evocative of some kind of mood that wasn't otherwise present in the arrangement.
A little while later, Dylan & Co. went into a solid version of "Workingman's Blues #2" (one of the better songs from his most recent album), which started off a bit more forlorn than on the album version and worked upward on the foundation of a good, slow groove. For whatever reason, the evening's version of "Highway 61 Revisited" really kicked it, and, as always, the band threw everything into a rousing version of "Summer Days" near the end of the main set, which closed with an equally strong "Ballad of a Thin Man" that provided another one of those "moments" when Dylan delivered a couple of deft harmonica solos. Thankfully, Dylan avoided tossing in another version of "Like A Rolling Stone" (which really doesn't cut it live right now, along with stuff like "Blowin' In The Wind") and opted for the more dependable "Thunder On The Mountain" and "All Along The Watchtower" as closers.
Caught the Monotonix show Thursday night at Bourbon St. It left me relatively speechless. A review on their website says a Monotonix show is "performance as performance art and rock as confrontation," which I guess is fairly spot on. Beer (both the band's and the audience's), trash, and bandmembers alike flew through the air. The drum kit was disassembled and distributed throughout the audience at various points in the set. The show ended with the lead singer singing from atop the bar, the drummer playing his snare atop the bar (with his head literally through the ceiling tiles), and the guitarist playing from atop a barstool. Oh yeah, and the music was good too, a really tight, trashy, riff-rock.
The logistics: the band set up in the middle of the floor at Bourbon St., and used everything but the stage as a stage. I had no idea how long the set was -- this wasn't a show where you dared to avert your eyes and check your watch -- but it went by in a snap. If you get the chance to catch the Monotonix as they continue their U.S. tour (looks like they're hitting the East Coast, South, and West Coast from here), they come highly recommended.
Openers White Denim were also very solid. I dug the other band, but never caught their name. And I'm a sucker for the zany Tree of Fern (the remnant of Tree of Snakes, members of which I think were connected with ye ol' Sponic 'zine), who started off the festivities.
The Me of 10 years ago would be shocked. During a week that sees the release of two new Robert Pollard records, I'm relatively unimpressed with the knowledge that new Pollard wax is imminent (though I will make the trip to the record store tomorrow to pick up both discs) and thoroughly excited by the posting of two tracks from the forthcoming album by a band that, in what may be moments of total clarity, I sometimes think might be the greatest rock outfit of all time.
You see, 10 years ago GBV was, to me, the be-all, end-all of rock. Even following the now infamous "dumping" of the "original" lineup of GBV following the Under the Bushes Under the Stars tour and the subsequent formation of the much-maligned "Guided by Verde," in 1997 Mag Earwhig! proved GBV was still tops. That year, a GBV concert was still an event, and few live acts connected with their audience like Pollard and the boys did back then. If you don't believe me, you never heard the band rip through "Little Lines" or "Psychic Pilot Clocks Out" during their shows that year (or you were too drunk/not drunk enough when you did hear them).
But the years have passed, and while Alien Lanes is still one of my three favorite records and I'm fully aware of how lucky I was to live in Ohio in the mid- to late-90's and see GBV 20+ times, I now realize that GBV wasn't the only band from Ohio that seemed to distill all Rock into something wholly original, unique, and universally good. All the while, GBV's former labelmates (and, in one sense, boss), Prisonshake were kicking it just as well.
Interesting how these things work. I first was alerted to Scat Records because the first GBV record I bought (the "I Am A Scientist" single) was on Scat. The discovery of Robert Griffin's then Cleveland-based label in turn introduced me to Griffin's band, Prisonshake. And while I was around to witness and revel in most of GBV's "glory" years, I had pretty much completely missed the Prisonshake ship. I've never seen the 'Shake live, and by the time I got into them about 12 years ago, all of their "major" releases had already hit the proverbial shelves. Since then, we've only very occasionally been treated to the assorted single or compilation appearance.
All that's about to change, though. Rumblings about a new Prisonshake LP have been growing more frequent and louder the past year or so, and recently Griffin announced that the new record, Dirty Moons, is completed and set for release in Spring '08 (with a single to serve as an appetizer in a few months). Even better yet, they're streaming the first two songs from the album. The first, "Fake Your Own Death," is reminiscent of Prisonshake's more "experimental," brilliantly-rambling stuff, sorta like a polished, "hi-fi" track off of the cassette from the I'm Really Fucked Now set. The second, "I Will Follow" is out of the 'Shake's flat-out rock vein, complete with the trademarked Griffin/Enkler invaluable words of wisdom (e.g., "And no one here's got answers, but what did you expect?"), hot guitar leads, and sensible track phasing.
Prisonshake's always done things their own way, and you often can't pin them down (except, perhaps, by just saying they're genuinely great). Over the years I've gradually assembled copies of almost their entire back catalog, and so I can guarantee that from the "Fairfield Avenue Serenade" single to the versions of "The Leftover Monkey" and "Crush Me" on the Scat Semi-Annual Report CD from '97, Prisonshake has been consistently mind-blowing. So, while I'll enjoy listening to the new Pollard records over the coming months, I'll be doing it while anticipating the day I can get a copy of Dirty Moons.
A brief mention of the new Dylan film, I'm Not There, ran on the Plain Dealer's website today. Clint O'Connor says the "film that is part mockumentary, part stream of consciousness, and all Dylan (fact, fiction, legend)" is one that all Dylan fans "absolutely must see." He also writes that Cate Blanchett's portrayal of 1965-era Dylan takes over the film in a good way. The clip that's been on YouTube for a few months is inconclusive on that score, so I'll take Clint's word on it, but I do know that I'm not really digging David Cross's portrayal of Ginsberg (though perhaps I'm still harboring a bit of anti-David Cross bias because his character in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was annoying).
Pitchfork also ran a Dylan-related piece today, this one on some remix (and accompanying music video) of "Most Likely You Go Your Way And I'll Go Mine" that's not worth linking to. All of this Dylan "news" today did, however, prompt me to spring for a ticket to the Dylan/Elvis Costello show in Columbus next month (speaking of which, hopefully the OSU/Kent State game is at noon that day, or there's going to be a big cluster-youknowwhat on campus).
I also finally viewed the trailer of I'm Not There, which actually looks really tight:
I can't wait to see what kind of spin Batman puts on Dylan. Plus the soundtrack has gotta be killer, right? After all, it's supposed to include Stephen Malkmus, Yo La Tengo, various configurations of Sonic Youth, Cat Power, (Ohio's own) the Black Keys, and lots of "others." Maybe the best "inspired by ___" rock movie since Last Days? I dunno, but I'm psyched to see the film.
I've long since resigned myself to the fact that people will think I'm some goofy 80's nostalgiac (how's that for inventing a word?) when I list Devo as one of the treasures originating from Summit County. I know they've only heard "Whip It," and I know that a good number of the people who have actually sat down and given an honest listen to Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Duty Now For The Future know the subtle greatness of Devo. After all, bands like Pussy Galore, Nirvana, and This Moment In Black History don't cover songs by subpar 80's one-hit wonders.
I'll also readily admit, though, that for every "Be Stiff," "Uncontrollable Urge," or "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" there's a "Disco Dancer," "Post Post-Modern Man," or "That's What He Said" credited to the Devo name. I'm not necessarily saying that the later songs are really horrible, just that Devo's later output was inconsistent, and a lot of it is best appreciated by the "super Devo-ted."
I write this because the new Devo song, "Watch Us Work It," is a pretty nice return to form for the band from Akron, Ohio. I haven't seen the Dell commercial that the song is featured in (one of the benefits, I guess, from having cut down my television consumption), but in a world where bands like Wilco use commercials as a marketing device, I suppose this may be the best way for Devo to get the music to the proverbial people. And isn't debuting a new song in an ad for laptops kinda just another way for Devo to actually make its artistic statement? After all, this is the band that pioneered the music video. Don't believe me? Take a look at this excerpt from The Truth About Devolution, which (even on a minimum budget) sure beats the hell out of those ridiculous dream sequences from Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains The Same, which was produced around the same time (1976):
Anyway, the song itself is typical mid-period Devo stuff. Really, I think "Watch Us Work It" could easily fit on Freedom Of Choice, which I think is a good thing. The guitar-synth sound is there, and the lyrics are straight out of the Devo playbook:
Hey, I thought I heard somebody say, "That dog ain't going home until he gets his bone."
Hey, they said that way he'd be ok, so when he's home alone he'd bark, "Ain't nothing wrong."
Now watch us work it.
Like I said, the dog/bone motiff comes right out of "Freedom of Choice," and the whole theme on the tragedy of the human situation in the Western world is all over everything Devo's done. Thirty-some years later, it's a good thing that Devo is still singing lines like "How low can you go? / That's really up to you."
For better or for worse, "Watch Us Work It" isn't earth-shattering stuff. It is, though, a good song with some substance to it. It'll be interesting to see if the rumored new Devo album arrives any time soon. Until then, "Watch Us Work It" is worth the 99 cent download on iTunes.
Don't say we never gave you anything for free. Today Next Best Records has posted a new Lee Wadlinger EP for free download on the NBR site. The record is called The ECB Years: 1996-1997. It's a sampler-type compilation of songs Lee recorded during those two years, a period in which he was between bands and trying to find his way as a teenage Ohio musician (for those scoring at home, the way he found was the GBV lo-fi way). If you've ever wondered what kind of stuff Lee recorded around the time he so famously (ha ha) opened for Elliot Smith (we're going to ride that story into the ground I guess, at least until he opens for Dylan), this is your big opportunity.
The material is a bit uneven, though I bear a particular affection for "SAM" (which is an obvious tribute to Swearing at Motorists) and "CB RNH" (which I suppose is a subtle tribute to Swearing at Motorists). Either way, it's worth a listen or two. After all, it is free. MP3's, as well as a more formal description/liner note-type deal, are here.
I was flipping through the fourth issue of ye olde Seven, the quarterly Scat Records publication that lasted for about three years or so beginning in 1989. As you can probably guess from the title, Seven featured reviews of 7" records. I'll readily admit that most of the records reviewed come from bands I've never heard of, and really the most entertaining thing about the 'zines these many years later is how the reviewers (mostly Robert Griffin and Tim Tobias) find new and exciting ways to rip on the majority of the platters. Take, for instance, an excerpt from Tobias's review of a record by Stukas:
Robert, can I give a minus rating? Robert, were you mad at me for something the day you gave me this? I have a good idea. Let's you and I rewrite history and pretend that you never received this record and that you never passed it along to me because I feel violated by this record. And I wonder what I did to you to deserve this.
Or, how about Griffin's review of Dead Steelmill's "It's All Over" EP:
The songs as a whole suffer from typical post-'82 hardcore syndrome -- that is, the songs are collections of riffs, not songs. The singer has an unpleasant voice that wouldn't compare favorably with any given poodle's yelping. Great hand-painted sleeve, though.
Anyway, this particular issue, from Fall 1990, is notable for the inclusion of the Demolition Plot J-7 EP by some Drag City band called Pavement. This, avid Treble Kicker fans will note, was their follow-up to their self-released debut, Slay Tracks. Proving once again that he knows gold when he sees it, Griffin gave DPJ-7 a rare 4.5 rating. The review, interestingly enough, was tucked between reviews of 7"'s by Traci Starr ("no goddamn rating") and Seaweed (which merited a 3.5). Check it:
There's also an ad for the record on the same page as the review:
There's a nice mention of the Knights' "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" record today on World of Wumme. I really dig seeing someone who gets it, . . . well . . . , get it. I'd quote my favorite pieces, but the whole thing's really worth reading, so do it. Most GBV fans (especially those of us who have pulled a muscle or two trying to keep pace with Robert Pollard's recorded output) will appreciate the discussion of the decline of the "GBV Geek."
The WoW piece got me thinking about the GBV t-shirt mentioned in "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" (as well as in the liner notes). I'm happy to report that it's alive and well:
Today's Knights of Infinite Resignation fun fact: A performance of GBV's "Hey Aardvark" was perhaps the musical highlight of the Knights' first public appearance (in Dayton, of all places). It was a throw-in to fill time while lead guitarist T.J. Redds tried to figure out why his guitar sounded out of tune (The answer? He was playing a guitar tuned down a half-step . . . did I mention that this also represented the first time 75% of the band had ever played music on stage before?). The brilliance of the GBV cover was outdone only by the fog machine that the sound guy made the mistake of telling the band they could use if they wanted. Perhaps predictably, the fog machine got the most praise in the review in UD's Flyer News. Perhaps also predictably, I think that review was in volume 49, which is the last volume of the paper not to be included on the online archives, so we're deprived of those precious column inches. Anyway, I'll stop rambling.
The Knights of Infinite Resignation were pleased to find out that their "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" single was the subject of an entry today on the blog at The Captain Beefheart Radar Station. Ever since the days of the Electric Eels, Captain Beefheart has always been a favorite of Ohio's rock expeditionaries, and so it should almost go without saying that the Knights were totally psyched that they warranted mention on beefheart.com.
Well, today is the day. The Knights of Infinite Resignation's "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" single is released upon the world at large. The CD version (which contains a cover of Pere Ubu's "Ice Cream Truck" -- gotta love the Cloudland action) can most easily be obtained through the NBR Online Store. Prefer digital downloads? We've got you covered. Here's a sampling:
That should be a good sampling. There's some other ones too, so if you use another service just rust an artist search.
In honor of the release of the Knights of Infinite Resignation's "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" single, the Next Best Records Store has been updated and completely redesigned. (That's right, it's now free of the rigid constraints of one big table.)
What does this mean for you? Well, first the PH&CB single is available for mail-order through the store. The abbreviated version (i.e., without the Pere Ubu cover that's exclusive to the CD version) should be available online via pretty much all of the digital retailers tomorrow. We're not 100% sure on that, though, so we're not offering any guarantees. In any event, we'll let you know when PH&CB is up on the sites.
Also, as an added bonus, we've discounted the Knights t-shirts from $15.00 to $12.50 in celebration of the new single. So yeah, check out the store (www.nextbestrecords.com/store.html).
I figured I should write something about this year's Pitchfork Festival, since I went all three days. I also figured it wouldn't be a good idea to babble on and on about everything, so here's a list of ten things I liked about it (there were a number of things I didn't like, but it's better to stay positive, right?). There's no particular order here (well, maybe chronological).
That's the list. Like I said, Sonic and Malkmus were the big highlights for me. All in all, getting to see three members of Pavement play was worth the price of admission, not to mention all the other bands I got to catch.
I posted a news update on the Knights of Infinite Resignation MySpace site tonight. I also posted a rough mix of a new Knights song, "Her Bangs," which will be on the Knights' debut album, White Rose Exile Rock. That's right, I said album. More information is found in the news update post.
Also, in case you forgot, the "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart" single comes out July 24.
Professor Lee (whose YouTube blog is linked somewhere to the right) used a portion of my "Song For Paige" as background music at the end of his video, "The Real History of YouTube in 3 Minutes." If you're interested in the history of YouTube, this is the quickest and most entertaining source of info.
If you're too lazy to follow the link above, I'll post it here as well:
Today I got a new stylus for my record player. I figure that's reason enough for me to reinstate the long-abandoned "record of the month series" that actually only appeared once. I've changed the title of the series from the unintentionally (and regretfully) elitist "NBR's Greatest Records You've Probably Never Heard" to the more populist (and gramatically incorrect) "NBR's Records That More People Should Listen To." I promise to update this once a month, since really this blog should be used as a force of good, and there's no higher good than letting people know about underappreciated records. So, without further ado . . . .
This month's Record That More People Should Listen To is Peter Laughner's "Cinderella Backstreet" 7" single.
The Laughner story has already been told a few times by people who know more and write better than me. If you're interested, first check out John Petkovic's piece on Laughner. From there, I heartily implore you to read and reread Charlotte Pressler's classic essay, "Those Were Different Times," which at great length details the origins of the 70's Cleveland scene (which spawned the Electric Eels, Mirrors, and Rocket From The Tombs, and from there everything else) and Laughner's integral role in it. Finally, Handsome Productions' site has another comprehensive overview of Laughner's recording career written by Derek DePrator. While you're at it, be sure to check out the MySpace page for Laughner, on which some songs are streamed.
For those who want the short story, here's my go: Peter Laughner played guitar and sang for Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu's early lineups. Really, though, he's probably most famous for Guns and Roses covering his song, "Ain't It Fun" (previously made popular through the Dead Boys' version) and Wilco quoting a line from his "Amphetamine" ("Take the guitar player for a ride . . . ") in one of their songs (although Guns and Wilco fans still probably wouldn't know who Laughner was). He also played in a number of other bands based in Cleveland. He was instrumental in bringing other bands to the "forefront" in Cleveland, whether they be Clevelanders themselves or New York outfits like Television (Laughner personally arranged for Television to perform their first shows outside of New York City in Cleveland). His work with the Rockets and Ubu (not to mention his influence on the Dead Boys) solidified him in the pantheon of underground rock visionaries, but his "solo" work (both truly solo and with the numerous bands he fronted) is also great.
The problem is that it's hard to find Laughner's solo stuff. When he died in 1977 (at the too-young age of 24), his only recorded output consisted of his appearances on a couple of Pere Ubu singles. The first Laughner record released was a self-titled seven-song 12" record released in 1982 on Koolie Records (based outta Chagrin Falls (!), Ohio). It's a great record, but, unfortunately, long out of print (as I type there's a copy on eBay that's at $17.28 with 3 and a half days to go). Also out of print is the greater Take The Guitar Player For A Ride double-LP released in 1994 by Tim Kerr Records. In fact, Amazon.com has used copies of the Tim Kerr CD (which has three less tracks than the LP version, most notably the brilliant solo acoustic cover of Dylan's "Visions of Johanna") for $70! Supposedly there's also an out of print 7" featuring Brian Eno's "Baby's On Fire" (which is also on Take The Guitar Player For A Ride) and the Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," but I haven't ever come across it.
So what Laughner records are in print? Handsome Productions currently has 10 discs of Laughner material available, but if you're one of the uninitiated, you can't go wrong starting out with the "Cinderella Backstreet" single, which thankfully Forced Exposure has kept in print.
Even though it's only got two songs, the "Cinderella Backstreet" single serves as a decent overview of the rest of Laughner's voluminous recorded output. Some have documented how Laughner went through distinct phases: folk (in the mold of Woody Guthrie and Dylan), underground rock (in the mold of the Velvet Underground), experimental rock (in the mold of Captain Beefheart), glam (in the mold of Bowie/Eno), punk (in . . . um . . . his own mold), etc. There's a good bit of truth in this idea, and the A-side title-track to the single is one of Laughner's "folk" recordings.
Accompanied only by a 12-string acoustic guitar, "Cinderella Backstreet" takes a long look at one of Laughner's favorite subjects: ordinary people. The song takes a few cues from Dylan -- I read some review somewhere derisively calling Laughner's "Sylvia Plath" a knockoff of "Desolation Row" (which it most definitely isn't, though that's another story for another day), but "Backstreet" is the song that bears a faint resemblance to Dylan's tune. Laughner's song is wholly his own, however. The "alley" that the narrator walks down during the refrain of "Cinderella Backstreet" is an infinitely more real alley than Dylan's Row, and Laughner's song is populated by friends with real names -- Scotty and Ricky -- while Dylan sings about Ezra Pound the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Sure, Peter's guy is walking around with Cinderella Backstreet, but this Cinderella is a Cleveland girl, not the fairytale maiden Dylan sings about.
And maybe this was what Laughner was really good at. He took certain recognizable forms, digested them, and produced something that was uniquely his. And isn't that what a folk singer -- no, better yet, an American singer -- does? "Cinderella Backstreet" is an epic acoustic folk song in the mold of Dylan -- but it's Laughner's epic acoustic folk song. When Laughner sings that opening line, " . . . I am a backstreet boy . . . ", you get something distinctly Laughner -- that forlorn, but not resigned, sense of standing on the periphery while knowing there are still movements to be made -- that transcends form (and any baggage the words "backstreet boy" may carry for those of us living in the new millenium). It's a good song, and my words really can't do it justice. You gotta listen to it yourself.
While Laughner dug Dylan, perhaps his ultimate "hero" was the Velvets-era Lou Reed. So, it's fitting that the B-side of the single is the Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat," performed by one of Laughner's bands, Cinderella Backstreet (that's right . . . just like the song -- by the way, I'm not sure if this is the same recording that's featured on the Handsome Productions Cinderella Backstreet cd, though I imagine it is). Recorded live during a show in August, 1973, this 6+ minute take of the Velvets classic showcases a bit of the experimental noise-rock elements that would inform both Rocket From The Tombs and Pere Ubu. In fact, Cinderella Backstreet features Scott Krauss, who later would go on to drum with Ubu.
Is this version of "White Light/White Heat" as good as the Velvets' version? Of course not. But, as Laughner himself says in introducting the song, "This is the same song, only it's a little bit different." The "meat" of the song is pretty true to the original. It's at the ends where we get a bit of that Laughner magic. It starts off with a slow groove that allows the tension to build up. It doesn't have the initial rush of the Velvets' version (which starts with the singing), but the effect here is interesting nonetheless. At the end we get an extended improvisation, heavy on the keys, but not at the expense of the guitars, that gives us a bit more substance than the original. Again, this version isn't on par with the classic original, but it does work as a glimpse into how the Velvets were interpreted a mere five years after the fact.
Like I said, the two songs on the single will give you a good but brief overview of Laughner's work. If you can't get your hands on any of the other recordings just yet, it'll take care of ya. There have been hints here and there (e.g., Wikipedia) that a new Laughner compilation will be distributed on a more "mass" scale than Handsome Productions is capable of, but that remains to be seen. After all, for 20 years after Laughner's death, all the world officially heard of his solo work was six album sides and two singles. Hopefully his work will soon see release on the various digital retail sites as well. Until then, get the single from Forced Exposure.
Apparently the recent Heedfest GBV-oriented gathering in Dayton was pretty exciting. Where else are you going to get Pollard, Farley, MacPherson, and Slusarekno playing "A Salty Salute"? You can't go wrong with that. (By the way, is this an unprecedented GBV lineup? That would make this, what, lineup number 684?)
I caught the Dylan concert last night in Hershey, Pennsylvania (unfortunately, I got there just a half hour or so before the show started, so I couldn't make the trip to Chocolate World). All in all, it was a good show. I could've done without seeing Jimmie Vaughn open for the third time in less than a year (not that he was bad, I'd just dig seeing someone different for a change -- hearing "Natural Born Lover" twice before was enough for me).
For those interested, setlist can be found here. I enjoyed the slight general changes made to the setlist since I saw Dylan last year. "Cat's In The Well" was a fairly rockin' opener, and it was nice to see him on guitar. I dug the melodic arrangement to "It Ain't Me, Babe." Gone from last year was the heavy riff-driven arrangement of "It's Alright, Ma" in favor of a more rollicking sound, which didn't have the "oomph" of 2006 but was interesting nevertheless. As for the newer stuff, the violin sounded good on "Nettie Moore" and the band got rolling pretty well with "Summer Days" and "Thunder on the Mountain." I like the move of "Like A Rolling Stone" to the finale of the main set (rather than the first encore song) -- usually it's not one of my favorites live, but for whatever reason last night's version was right up my alley, perhaps because there was almost an air of forlorness about it, but maybe that was just me.
Anyway, it was worth the $70 to me.
I have a feeling that Emerson would've dug the hairy chicken eyeball logo thingy.
I wake up in the morning. After rolling out of bed, I decide to check out the headlines at the Plain Dealer's website. Scrolling down, I learn that Poison and Ratt are headlining Blossom tonight. Yelch. In an attempt to find some good news, I click on the "Rock the Lock concert series" link. Maybe a regular slate of interesting local bands? Nope. Try three months of cover bands.
Is this the best NE Ohio has to offer? Why, again, is the bogus Rock Hall still in Cleveland?
Recording is complete, mixing is nearly finished, and artwork is underway for the new Knights of Infinite Resignation single, "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart." The cover:
Lee Wadlinger seems to have gone into hiding -- likely because of the Cavaliers -- so it's time for me to reappear, I suppose. And I come bearing good news.
The Knights of Infinite Resignation have finally gotten a move on it and are almost finished with their new single, "Paris Hilton & Captain Beefheart"--which title is obviously based on the time the aforementioned Wads freaked out about an obviously Photoshopped picture. He did call last Friday while watching the round-the-clock Paris coverage on FoxNews to relay his observation that, "They showed her wearing the same dress as in the Beefheart picture at one of the press conferences for her own record, so maybe the picture was Photoshopped, but I don't know."
Anyway, the single will round out with three tracks:
All that's left to record is the vocals for the title track, and then a little mixing needs to be done for "Paris" and "Cricket." A rough mix of "Cricket" appears on the Knights' MySpace Site. "Cricket," notably, features the opening couplet: "Cricket the Bug, it's impossible to write this / when the heavens above are filled with sunken space ships" and explores the seedier side of the fairer sex as portrayed on daytime television, or something.
All kidding aside, the three songs are really super-fantastic. Peace and Rest was good, and you certainly should head over to iTunes to download your copy (link's to the right!), but this new single truly does raise the bar for the Knights. Look for it in late July/early August.
Yeah, it's been a while, but I've been busy. I'm not so busy now, though, so expect more frequent posts from here on out.
About a week and a half ago I saw Times New Viking at the Ravari Room in Columbus. As always, they were swell. The new songs sounded good. Here's an exclusive picture:
And, thanks to a tip from Bone Fresh, here's a non-exclusive YouTube video:
About a week or so ago, I saw Darlene Love was scheduled for the Letterman show, so I set the DVR. I got around to watching it today. She did "River Deep, Mountain High." It rocked, even almost as much as the original (with an instrumental arrangement fairly similar to the original, with strings, backup singers, etc.).
I haven't really been following the Phil Spector trial, but it's pretty interesting how his work -- even his "failures" -- from the 60's continues to show up in relatively unexpected places, despite the fact that he's facing murder charges. I dunno. At least Darlene Love is still kickin' it.
Ian e-mailed to let me know that in the past couple of days, people have come to the blog through Google searches for "times new viking" and "thomas jefferson slave apartments". For some reason, that encouraged me or something. Anyway, I took the opportunity to run my own Google search for "times new viking" to see what hit number we were, kinda like the "how many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie roll pop" challenge, but not really. Either way, I gave up after going through 10 pages (aka 100 hits) of Google search results. Somebody with even more spare time on his (or her) hands than me must've spent a lot of time combing through those searches to get to us.
It wasn't all fruitless, as I was intrigued by this page, which has a review of the recent Times New Viking/Spoon secret Jack Daniels show. I was interested in going to this show, because I dig both bands, but ended up not going because a) I think you had to be in the know to get tickets, which I'm obviously not; b) I've seen TNV recently and Spoon about a year and a half ago, and so I didn't have a lot of motivation to "get in the know"; c) I had a final the next day (speaking of which, I'm supposed to be working on a take-home final right now . . . .); and d) the free drinks at the last liquor company-sponsored event I went to (some debut for a new Bacardi flavor, which I don't think is on the market anymore) were horrible and I had a really bad sugar-induced hangover the next day.
But I digress. The dude didn't like TNV. I won't really summarize his review (you can read it just as well as I can) aside from noting that he said TNV was "great" for their first song, "pretty okay" for their second, and "crap" for the rest of the set. Then he really cuts into them. Say it ain't so, Harry! (By the way, Ian -- when you read this, make sure to put his blog on the NBR promotion list.)
Maybe TNV played a bad show. Maybe the sound sucked. Maybe the Jack Daniels/Skully's people weren't very accomdating of the best band (ok, maybe other than Spoon) that's played Skully's in the past few years. Aside from all that, though, his review runs contradictory to my own experience listening to TNV's records and live show. As I detailed a few weeks ago, they freakin' destroy shit (by shit I mean the majority of what you -- and I -- listen to). No less an authority than my main man Bone Fresh confirmed this after seeing them last weekend.
I guess I just have trouble computing why anyone wouldn't like TNV -- a band that not only rocks, but also has strong roots in the great rock tradition of the Buckeye State. Perhaps I have an over-inflated sense of the quality of my musical taste, but I think they're the bee's knees. To put it another way, I've seen probably hundreds of shitty bands. For instance, the last time I saw bands at Skullys, both bands -- who will remain nameless (actually, I just can't remember their names) were shitty. I know shitty bands when I see them, and TNV isn't shitty, or "crap" or "juvenile" or "lackluster" or "amateur" (I've now seen each of the words in quotes used to describe TNV).
I trust my own musical judgment. And Gerard Cosloy's (in the mid-90's alone, he didn't steer me wrong with Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Chavez, Spoon, Helium, Run On, and many more -- besides, he also put out the second greatest record of all time, Alien Lanes). Don't believe the hype (or the anti-hype). Do yourself a favor and check out TNV (it looks like they're playing the Ravari Room on the 11th -- that's right, the place that's attached to Hound Dog's Pizza -- so you know where I'm going to be after I get beaten over the head at the Palace Theatre that afternoon).
(And, Ian, sorry about breaking yr no-cussing policy. Just remember, neither you nor the Belgians can hold me down.)
Somebody (does the name Ian Wying sound right?) has been posting a lot of iMixes on iTunes lately, and so it came to be that I handed in a list of songs for an iMix centered around my old radio show on the University of Dayton's Flyer Radio. It ran on Sundays (in a variety of time slots) from Fall '00 to Spring '03. It was a good show -- it even was named "Specialty Show of the Semester" at one point. They said we had "great energy." By we, I mean the revolving cast and crew of the show, which including Timmay, Blairman, and our resident vibologist (vibrologist?) Dr. Burky, Master of Vibology. Anyway, it was kind of fun to make a list of songs I used to play, even though iTunes didn't have them all. With the help of the aforementioned Herr Wying, here's my attempt to post the iMix to the Blog for your perusal:
A lot of these songs (the Mulchmen song, for example) remind me of greasy ham and cheese omlettes, if only because the first timeslot for the show was the "hangover slot" (aka 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Sunday mornings). We would grab a KU breakfast then take it up to the radio station on the second floor. A lot of times the door was locked because the guys before us (in the "super-hangover slot") never really ever showed up. It wasn't until I was given the door code a few weeks into the semester that we were able to go on the air regularly. Onetime Timmay and I didn't realize the clocks had changed, and so we showed up an hour early to do the show. It wasn't until Dr. B showed up an hour later that we realized we would be doing a three hour show. Those really were the days.
Anyway, I like the mix. The only thing it's missing is the bands that aren't on iTunes and our on-air banter. "Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox" probably opened 95% of the shows, and I think we played "Flying Pizza" on 95% of the shows as well. You'll notice a lot of longer songs on the mix. That's because I would get lazy -- it was easier to cue up three CD players (which is what we had at the station) with three songs that were 4+ minutes long than have to keep putting 2 minute songs on over and over. For this reason, Devo's "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" was a favorite, as was the 7 1/2 minute version of the Electric Eels' "Flapping Jets" (which is brilliant and epic in every regard anyway).
Other favorites that aren't included: Pufftube's version of "The Boys of Summer"; Braniac's "Go Freaks Go"; Death of Samantha's "Coca Cola & Licorice"; and the New Salem Witch Hunters' "Summer's Here At Last" or "Last Patrol." Throw in Gem's "Nothing But the Quiet Now" and the Easter Monkeys' "Splendor of Sorrow" for good measure as well. Oh yeah, and I used to play a lot of Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments' Bait and Switch album as well.
I guess there's a lot of good Ohio music. I had tons of stuff to play back then (and it was always cool getting calls from the Dayton bands--or their friends--after I played one of their records), and there's still a lot of cool stuff going on in the Buckeye State.
It wasn't enough for the Knights of Infinite Resignation to go on iTunes this week, but Lee Wadlinger's got two records up on Apple's service now. That's right, the 2000 classic What's Wrong With Me album and the brand-new Twentieth Century Apprenticeship EP are now live on iTunes. Links to the albums? You got 'em:
The version of Twentieth Century Apprenticeship is the same as the CD release from earlier this month. What's Wrong With Me, however is completely remixed and remastered (it's actually in stereo now -- how's that for getting with the times?), and so even though the songs are the same, it's a slightly different version than the CD that came out in 2000 on Irving Avenue Records.
Needless to say, it's been a big week for us, and we're totally psyched. Stay tuned . . . .
I did some more searching, and found Lee Wadlinger music on two more online music services:
I don't know much at all about either of these. It looks like Sony Connect's prices are comparable to iTunes ($0.99/song, or $9.99 for a full album with more than 11 songs). For Yahoo! Music Unlimited, if you pay the monthly subscription fee you can download songs for $0.79/song. The problem with both of these services (and, I believe, Napster) that jumps out at me is that you can't put music you've downloaded from them onto your iPod (but you can put it on other portable music devices).
Alright, as Wads noted yesterday, we've got exciting things going on here at NBR.
Don't you ever say "Next Best Records is always late." Previous projections had the new Knights of Infinite Resignation EP, Peace and Rest, hitting iTunes on May 22. Well, we proved 'em wrong.
That's right, Peace and Rest is available now! I can't remember if Ian mentioned this ever, but we're only going to do this one on iTunes. The good news is that it only costs $4.95 to download the whole thing. The bad news is that technophobes and Apple-haters won't be able to get hard copies in their hands (maybe one day, but don't hold your breath). But really, though, if I have an iPod, isn't it time you got with the times? The way I see it, if it's too expensive to press to vinyl, we might as well just move on to the 21st century and pretend CD's and tapes never existed.
Anyways, all you gotta do is go on iTunes and search for the Knights of Infinite Resignation. I tried just typing in "knights" but we don't come up that way. You can, however, type in "infinite knights" or "knights infinite" or "infinite resignation." I tried all three of those and they worked. (Side note: If you type in Kierkegaard, you get something different. I don't know what it has to do with Kierkegaard, but maybe it's still cool.) I haven't figured out how to post a link to iTunes here yet. I leave it for techno-genius Ian to do that.
By my unofficial count, we're available now in 21 countries. You have no excuse, especially if you live in Canada, Germany, Japan, Norway, New Zealand, the U.K., or the U.S.
One last thing: Belgians really don't think "peace" is dirty. It's just that the Belgian iTunes actually censored the word "peace" in the EP title. I don't understand why they needed to call it P***e and Rest. Maybe "peace" means something obscene in Flemish. Either way, a few years ago I spent a month in Belgium and really had a nice time.
I made the trek from Columbus southward to see Times New Viking open for Yo La Tengo last night at the Southgate House in Newport, Kentucky. It was actually the first time I'd been to the Southgate House in about five years--the last time was to see Guided By Voices. Walking into the place last night, I was struck by how little I remember of that snowy December 2001 evening. I swear it wasn't because I drank any of the band's beer--seriously, I didn't (even though GBV did have their typical giant trashcan full of Budweiser in full effect in the upstairs "party room"). The scenes that still stick out in my mind:
Anyway, enough of the teary-eyed reminiscences. Onto the important thing: Times New Viking was fantastic. So fantastic, in fact, that Yo La Tengo bored the hell out of me. I say this while noting my great love for Yo La Tengo, whose Painful LP is one of my top-ten favorite albums of all time, and who I really enjoyed seeing the other time I saw them (a long time ago at ye olde Grog Shop in Cleveland Heights). It was just a bad pairing--the worst I'd witnessed since I saw Sonic Youth open for Wilco in Cleveland in 2003. Yo La Tengo might have played a good set. Times New Viking was just so outtasight that I wasn't able to pay attention to the gang from Hoboken.
I promised myself I'd avoid hyperbole here, so I'm just going to post a few bullet points about the show:
Yo La Tengo did their best.
Ok, I'm babbling. I'll stop.
(Postscript: In the interests of fair and balanced reporting (I was a journalism major at one time, you know), I'll alert you to the fact that this guy (who has stellar credentials as a "full-time law student/part-time rock singer"--sounds like . . . um . . . me) called TNV "lackluster amateur openers." He did, however also mention that YLT is his favorite band, so maybe he was suffering from a case of the dreaded anticipation bias. Maybe TNV didn't play as well in Houston as they did in Newport. Maybe his bottle of Shiner Bock wasn't agreeing with him at that moment. Really, though, I think he was too worried about his law school paper. Who worries about papers in law school? (Judge S.--if you're reading this, sorry.) Anyway, is the Truth regarding TNV's live brilliance, as they say, somewhere in the middle? No. I'm right.)
I was at Novak's yesterday with friends. As we were getting ready to leave, someone put Guided By Voices' "Everybody Thinks I'm A Raincloud (When I'm Not Looking)" on the jukebox. It made my weekend.
That is all for now. (I'm working on finishing the Final Four diary. Priorities, priorities, priorities, blah blah blah . . . .)
Photos courtesy of Sam.
Guy sits in on keyboard while Kristen holds my broken mic stand.
Multi-instumentalist Guy takes over guitar duties for a song. People were confused by the wireless hookup I had on my guitar. "Is he really playing?" they would ask as I wandered into the audience mid-song. You never know what will happen at a Fourth Street Only show (see, e.g., our impromptu version of "As Tears Go By").
The Next Fourth Street Only show is on April 27 at Cafe Bourbon Street.
It's not because the Polish Sausage didn't win the Sausage Race during the Cleveland Indians home game in Milwaukee tonight. (By the way--how awesome is it that the Tribe was able to draw roughly 20,000 fans to a game between them and the Brewers in Milwaukee? Keep in mind, that's 6,000 more people than were present at the Reds home game in Cincinnati Sunday. Citizens of Milwaukee, you rule.)
Seriously, folks, it's because his Twentieth Century Apprenticeship and Guide To Dating CD's (pictured, with Lee, above) were released today, and you haven't bought a copy of either yet! How do I know that, you ask? Well, I run this record label. It's my job to know these things.
They're really swell. You should check them out. They're available right now at the convenient online store. Lee will also have an ample supply available at the Fourth Street Only show Thursday night (see below for more details).
What does this mean?
What is Paris Hilton doing with a copy of Trout Mask Replica?
Does this mean she knows who Captain Beefheart is?
Is "Frownland" her new ringtone?
Does Paris Hilton still use ringtones?
(I think I need to lay down for a bit.)
I'm slowly, but surely, updating the Final Four diary. Rest assured, even though the championship game didn't go Ohio State's way, I will post the entire diary. So, for those of you who keep checking back to see if I've added to it . . . well, um . . . keep checking back.
In other news, the CD's for Twentieth Century Apprenticeship and the Guide To Dating are finally in and ready to ship. Accordingly, they're now up in the Online Store. Tonight we also posted "online liner notes" for both CD's. I wanted to keep the packaging minimal for both releases, which meant that there wasn't really any room for any sort of extended liner notes. So, thanks to the magic of the internet, we've got extended liner notes online (for whatever they're worth). Liner notes for Twentieth Century Apprenticeship are available here, and liner notes for the Guide To Dating are available here.
It's been five years in the making! The Knights of Infinite Resignation will finally release their debut EP on May 22. The record, called Peace and Rest (another Kierkegaard reference--would you expect anything less?) will feature five songs:
The tracks have been culled from the Knights' various recording sessions over the years (in Hudson and Columbus, Ohio). Not only do you get the Knights in all of their spazzed-out fuzzy glory ("Diesel Rules" is epic), but you also get them doing their "We're Ohio's Yo La Tengo" act with "Next To You."
An interesting note: "Without You" was written by Lee as a tribute to Carl Wilson just after his passing in 1998. Accordingly, the original 1998 version features Beach Boys-style backup vocals. The version here--which was recorded a few weeks ago--has no backup vocals, but the "Don't Worry Baby"-esque guitar solo was kept in the arrangment.
Anyway, the record sounds great, and it's a fitting beginning for the Knights' recording career. This release will also be the first by Next Best Records to be available worldwide on iTunes. More information on iTunes, as well as traditional CD availability will follow soon. In the meantime, "Look, It's Rubber Boy!" and "Cold Shoulder" can be heard on the Knights' MySpace page (albeit in initial mono mixes).
I'm sorry. I lied. There's another delay with the Lee Wadlinger CD's. Apparently there's was a bit of a snafu with the artwork, and so we won't be getting the CD's for a while yet, and blah blah blah.
Anyways, we've pushed the release date for Twentieth Century Apprenticeship and Lee Wadlinger's Guide To Dating back to April 10. There's a chance we'll get them in sooner. If we do, I'll be sure to let you know here so that you can get your orders in. Lee is optimistic that he'll have some copies available for Fourth Street Only's appearance at Ugly Tuna Saloona in Columbus on March 30 (see the Concert Dates page for more info).
In other news, stay tuned for an exciting announcment in the next few days involving further NBR releases.
Lee Wadlinger's first video is complete. It's an ultra lo-fi production, created entirely using a cell phone's video camera function. The video is for the song "Throwing Bottles," essentially because, well, it's the shortest song off of the upcoming Twentieth Century Apprenticeship EP (coming March 27!). The video has been posted on Lee's MySpace page and YouTube.
Also, if you click on my YouTube profile (nextbestrecords), you can check out an expanding list of Next Best Records approved YouTube videos. Lee highly recommends the video of Prisonshake playing "Act Like Nothing's Wrong" (if only there were a video of them doing "Fairfield Avenue Serenade").
Anyways, your comments on the L.W. video are much appreciated. If enough people dig it (read: get a hearty chuckle out of it), maybe we'll make more. And maybe we'll even upgrade from the cell phone video camera.
I just logged on to The Guided By Voices Database (www.gbvdb.com -- a great resource for any GBV fan) to see how long the fourth side of the first Acid Ranch album is (FYI--the Database doesn't list this, but I was able to find out that the second record is 41:56 long ... these are the things I wonder about during the day). Anyway, in the "On This Day in GBV History" box for today, it was noted that on this exact day, four years ago, GBV played in Columbus at the (I assume now-defunct, because I haven't heard anything about it since) Music Factory.
Why is this significant? Well, I guess because it's one of the 20+ GBV shows I attended. Ron House played a great opening set, and of course GBV rocked the house. The show was so good, I even wrote a review for the Flyer News (securing my position as the only person that year to write for each of the FN's four sections--News, Opinion, A & E, and Sports). I have to admit, though, four years later my lead ("On a weekend when the Grammys seemed to captivate the music world, the real action took place Friday at The Factory in Columbus, where Guided By Voices reminded everyone that awards are meaningless.") doesn't sound as cool as I thought it did then.
Looking back, though, perhaps the most memorable thing about that show was MTV-VJ Dave Holmes' appearance on the side of the stage. I guess he was there as part of some MTV-sponsored event at the club attached to the Factory. Actually, come to think of it, some of my friends from UD ended up at the MTV thing after the show and met Craig Krenzel there (they said he was a pretty cool dude, actually). Anyway, Dave Holmes' appearance is a distant second in my pantheon of Columbus "Where the hell did ____ come from?" concert moments (#1 being Eric Clapton's appearance on stage with Stevie Ray Vaughn's brother before a Bob Dylan show that I wrote about here).
Why aren't there any more bands like GBV, for whom a 49 song set is routine? We may never see their likes again....
Just added two new shows to our concerts page. Two bands Lee's in--the Backup Plan and Fourth Street Only--will be playing in the next week or so. First, the Backup Plan will be playing at Lodge Bar in Columbus on Friday, February 23 as part of an OSU Law School event that's open to the public. Second, Fourth Street Only will be playing Little Brother's in Columbus on Wednesday, February 28th. More info at the above link (the one with the words "concerts page").
I've had a productive weekend working on the new EP. For now, I think I have the song lineup set, though there's one song I'm thinking about cutting and replacing with something new. Regardless, we're seriously very close to the first release on Next Best Records. I need to touch up the recordings on one or two songs, then mix everything and finalize the artwork. Perhaps we'll have CD's by the end of February, but the first week of March is probably a better estimate.
To whet your collective appetite, I've had a demo for "Nightlight"--the song that will close the EP--posted on my MySpace page (complete with lyrics!). "Nightlight" is a semi-humorous take on a number of topics, including the media, Ohio, songwriting, and post-post-modern existentialism. The demo version actually is pretty close to the final version. Let me know if you think the vocals should be louder in the mix (seriously).
One of my bands, the Backup Plan, received a mention on Professor Lee's Utube Blog. Pretty sweet. He dropped the name during an interview with Terry Naomi, who apparently is a big sensation thanks to some strategic (and innovative) YouTube marketing. I admittedly know nothing about Ms. Naomi, but given that she lists Dylan, Lou Reed, and Bowie as influences, she must be worth at least checking out.
I've been talking about it since late October, and so I guess it's kind of time to get a move on with our "new" feature. So, without further ado (and luckily I got it in before January is over), the January entry in NBR's Greatest Records You've Probably Never Heard: Helium's Pirate Prude.
Released in 1994, Pirate Prude is the band's six-song Matador Records debut (and was followed by two albums, another EP, and some singles). I first stumbled upon Helium playing the second stage at Lollapalooza in 1995 (along with Superchunk and Built to Spill--brilliant stuff happens when you let Sonic Youth book the bands). The day after the festival, I tried to write a song duplicating Helium's sound (and failed, but got an ok song out of it I guess), and soon after I picked up Pirate Prude. Since then, it's been a favorite of mine.
One could loosely term the EP (which Matador Records quoted Timony as calling "less an EP than a set of three singles") a "concept record," but to do so would water it down a bit. There's definitely running images and themes throught the record, though. One look at the song titles on the back cover will pretty much let you know what you're getting into: "Baby Vampire Made Me"; "Wanna Be A Vampire Too, Baby."; "XXX"; "OOO"; "I'll Get You, I Mean It"; "Love $$$". Much like her then-Matador labelmate, Liz Phair, Helium's singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Mary Timony can cover topics that most may not expect a female frontwoman (frontperson?) to cover. I tend to think Timony is a little better, as she seems less inclined to go for shock value than the Exile In Guyville-era Phair
Anyway, on to the EP. It leads off, as I just mentioned with "Baby Vampire Made Me." The record opens with a plodding bass line and chiming guitars. Timony's vocal comes in soon after, setting the tone with the first line: "It doesn't matter if it's wrong or if it's right. You won't remember after I bite." Then we go right into that great trademark of the early to mid-90's--the loud guitars. True to that Pixies/Nirvana model, the song alternates between soft and loud, to good effect. The chourses (which, of course, are loud) build, ultimately reaching the penultimate line: "What's good for you isn't always good for me." The song is full of heavy, but melodic guitar riffs, layered on top of each other with some almost atonal melodies. The song ends with a nice, melodic guitar riff, with just a hint of distortion, that continues through the outro.
The second song, "Wanna Be A Vampire Too, Baby," feaures another melodic guitar line, and throws in a few more Nirvana-esque pardoxes into the lyrics (i.e., "Make me rude / make me a prude" and "You made me bite when I kissed"). "XXX" is where the EP really takes off. Again, it starts off quiet, with the vocals jumping right in. My vote for best line in the first verse is, "I see your wallet in your pocket. You know I carry my heart around my neck in a locket, so I can take it off." There's a LOUD pre-chorus centered around a great guitar riff, then comes what might be the most beautifully melodic, stealthily-sweet sounding chorus about a woman of the night ("Now I feel good. I feel like candy. Go out on the street I'm gonna make some money. That was just a joke about the money. You're gonna pay me with your life." The second verse starts off with another brilliant lyric: "Around the corner, like a fallen maraschino cherry." Then again, it ends just as good: "You've got a candy red sports car. My heart is not a sports car. My heart is a cab. Your love is a fad, and you're a drag." The song is consistently great throughout. I love the guitar leads--there's no stupid self-indulgent solos, just layer after layer of perfectly controlled, melodic guitar lines.
"OOO" features verses with a more laid back, bass-heavy feel that move into ascending choruses that build with a mix of tension and anticipation, with Timony's vocals always hovering above. Extra spoken vocals come in and out highlighting some of the EP's "key terms" (e.g., cherry, TV, movie) behind a great lead vocal melody. Timony's singing is exceptional in the next song, "I'll Get You, I Mean It," which eschews the verse-chorus-verse style for a more unconventional approach of a "quiet" beginning with clean guitars (played forward and backward) and a "loud" ending. It's a really great song, and--again--the lyrics are noteworthy. At the end of the song, for instance, we get what first appears to be a more prototypical pop song: "I'll be the pirate if you'll be the loot. I'll jump out a plane if you'll be my parachute." Then it gets a little unconventional ("You'd better catch me or I'll kill you") before seemingly reverting back: "Please don't think I'm mean. Don't think I'm corny. I don't know how to say this 'cause I've never had to, but now I want to." But by now, you won't be tricked, right? Our heroine comes back with a twist: "You don't wanna be like I do. You don't wanna be like I do. I'm gonna get you. Gonna get you."
The EP's last song, "Love $$$", fittingly wraps it all up. There's the quiet verses and loud choruses with the hovering vocals, and the lady-of-the-night motiff: "He'll buy you anything, you're his honey. He'll pay for anything, you're his money." We get a little bit of resolution, though, in the choruses, however, as when Timony sings: "You're not a model, you're not an angel. You're just a person. You're not an axe murderer, you're not a monster. You're just a person."
Maybe that's what I find so great about this album--the way it goes back and forth between the title dichotomy--between the "pirate" and the "prude." On the one hand, you've got hookers (and maybe even the girl next door) plotting your death. But, on the other hand, you think that it all might just be a little bit of stress relief through fantasy. You can never be sure, though, and just like the album's musical dichotomies of soft/loud and clarity/distortion, both sides of the coin always seem present.
As I mentioned, Helium went on to make a few more records, all of which are unique, and very good, in their own right. Mary Timony now records as a solo artist. While I'm at it, I should note that the 1999 EP Timony recorded with Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein (titled The Age of Backwards) is also worthy of inclusion in this series. For my money, though, Pirate Prude stands slightly above all of these releases, and I really think there's nothing like it in the lexicon of rock. As has happened with a lot of Matador's classic 90's releases, Pirate Prude is out of print, but I checked today and there's a number of used copies available for less than $10 on Amazon (the seven year-old headline for the review by someone from my one-time home, Stow, Ohio, even reads "probably the best CD you've never heard!" (this wasn't me--I lived in Dayton, by way of Hudson, at the time).
So yeah, until next month (which is only a day away)....
I was recently pointed to the Band in Boston podcast website, and more particularly toward the Swearing at Motorists set available on it. I haven't finished listening to the podcast, but I strongly suggest that you download it. Face it--how can you go wrong when the leadoff track is a cool new organ-propelled version of one of the greatest songs of all time, "Flying Pizza" (which takes its name from one of the greatest pizza restaurants of all time--I'd even venture as far as saying that you can't fully comprehend the song unless you've fully comprehended the pizza)?
While I'm making grand statements, I'll also add that Swearing at Motorists' 1996 EP, Tuesday's Pretzel Night (which takes its name from the Tuesday special at the Walnut Hills, the sadly-defunct Dayton bar that, for my money, was the best bar in Dayton (I know, I know, there's still a bar where the old Hills was, and there's a new Hills closer to the UD campus, but it's not the same)) is one of the top ten EP's of all time.
It's been a while since I posted anything--I've been busy--I'll post more frequently in the new year--blah blah blah.... Anyway....
While listening to his great Waved Out today, I was alerted that Robert Pollard was named #58 on Whitney Matheson's Pop Candy Top 100 People of 2006 on USA Today. He was ranked right ahead of Neil Patrick Harris, and he beat out Howie Mandel, Courtney Love, Will Oldham, Emmitt Smith, and Kevin Smith.
I'd never heard of Whitney Matheson before, but she obviously has pretty decent taste if she put Bob Pollard in her top 60. Her bio says that she grew up in "the historic town of Fredericksburg," which I assume means Fredericksburg, Virginia. Why is this significant, you ask? Well, I bought my first Guided By Voices record, the "I Am A Scientist" EP, at Blue Dog Tapes and CDs, in none other than beautiful downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia.
I finally got with the times today and got a cell phone that lets me download snippets of real songs as ring tones. So what's the first song I get? Simple--the first song off Pavement's best album (Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain: one of my top five albums of all time).
By the way, I'm totally digging the fact that Matador Records announced today that the delux reissue of Pavement's Wowee Zowee, due out on November 7, will include the standard smattering of previously unreleased outtakes, as well as the first CD release (that I know of) of the classic Pacific Trip EP, track, "I Love Perth." The reissue's also going to include the version of "No More Kings" that I spoke so highly of a few days ago.
I read an article today reporting that Stephen Malkmus will appear on the soundtrack to I'm Not There, the upcoming Bob Dylan biopic. Apparently he's recorded versions of "Maggie's Farm" and "Ballad of a Thin Man" featuring current Dylan Band bassist Tony Garnier and produced by Lee Ranaldo (!).
This has me excited--Malkmus's covers could be the best cover songs released since Pavement's version of "No More Kings" on the School House Rocks! Rocks album. I can't even imagine what "Maggie's Farm" will sound like, but I envision a screaming keyboard-heavy "Thin Man" that will rock everyone's collective socks. Really, I'm excited about this. Since I've heard Guided By Voices cover the Who, Malkmus covering Dylan (twice, even) pretty much tops my list.
Last night was "Leg One" for what I've dubbed "Summer Rock Month," since I'm going to three "high profile" concerts in the span of about two weeks. I caught the Bob Dylan show last night at Cooper Stadium here in Columbus. It's part of Dylan's now annual tour of minor league baseball stadiums. Next week I'm heading over to Washington, PA to see him play at the home of the independent-league Washington Wildcats (if you don't have tickets, you can probably stand on the side of I-70 and catch the show).
Anyway, this was actually my first time seeing Dylan in concert, so I was interested to see how it would go. I made it in to see the beginning of Junior Brown's set. The only thing I really know about Junior Brown is that he plays a hybrid traditional electric/pedal steel guitar, which I think he invented. I saw him sit in with the David Letterman band about 10 years ago. Junior sounded nice, but I honestly wasn't paying too much attention.
Stevie Ray Vaughn's brother, Jimmy Vaughn, took the stage after Junior Brown. Again, I didn't pay much attention. (I was standing on the first base line of the field, and I was trying to get to the bottom of why so many Major Leaguers run inside the first base line, rather than in the "safety box." I figure that it's actually shorter for right handers to run inside the line, depending on where they're standing in the batter's box, but I dunno.) The "highlight" of Vaughn's set was about halfway through, when he said he was bringing out out a surprise guest who was a really good guitar player. He said, "Let's welcome Eric Clapton." There was a few seconds where I thought he was going to say, "Just kidding, here's Albert Poindexter from New Albany," but Eric Clapton really did walk on stage and play a few songs with the band. I'm not really a fan of Clapton's, but he is a great guitar player and pretty much a legendary rock figure, so it was cool seeing him on stage. Mostly I just got a kick out of seeing the guy who played lead guitar on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." (Then I started thinking about how I'm bummed that I never got to see John Lennon or George Harrison live, and if I want to see a Beatle play I have to settle for Ringo or Paul, but I digress.)
Clapton's appearance had me asking the inevitable question, "What the hell is Eric Clapton doing making a surprise appearance in Columbus, Ohio?" My friend, Jim, told me that word is (that's my Roger Brown tribute) that Clapton's wife is from Central Ohio, and they have a house in the area. Other people in the crowd were saying the same thing later on, so I guess it must be at least a somewhat valid theory.
The crowd was predictably diverse--everybody from old folks to middle-aged parents with their young children to high school sophomores wearing tie-died T-shirts. The headline of the Columbus Dispatch review was "Sparse crowd hears Dylan play old tunes." I guess that's about right. The crowd was pretty sparse--the field was only at about two-thirds capacity (I'm guestimating), and the stands were about half-full (how's that for optimistic phrasing?). It was still a good crowd, though, and I'm selfishly glad there weren't more people there because otherwise I would've had to spend another half hour waiting for the parking lot to clear out.
Dylan's set was good. The first thing that hit me when they came out with "Maggie's Farm" was that Dylan's voice really is almost shot. He tends to hit a wall in the middle of a line where his voice gives out, and he's left kinda coughing out the rest. The mix seemed to emphasize the cough-singing because the vocals were a bit bass-heavy. It reminded me a lot of the experience of seeing Brian Wilson about three or four years ago--I was constantly wincing a bit hoping that we'd all get through the rough parts.
Thankfully, though, Dylan's voice got warmed up after a while, and the cough-singing was kept to trace amounts through the second half of the set. Probably the best vocal performance was on "Summer Days," which closed the main set. We got a nice harmonica solo on "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" (the band really sounded good on that one) and the crowd was into the encores, "Like A Rolling Stone" and "All Along The Watchtower." Right before the encore, I wondered for a second how many smart-asses shout out "Judas!" as Dylan comes on for his encores, knowing that it seems like he always plays "Rolling Stone" as his encore-opener.
But yeah, the band sounded really good, with a nice country-blues vibe going throughout. What I really liked about the show was that Dylan doesn't subscribe to the Mike Love Theory on concert performances. We don't get note-for-note renditions of the records from the 60's (or any other decade for that matter). Instead, we get interesting new arrangments. If you want to hear the original version, listen to the record really loud. I guess no one should be surprised or really even take note of the rearrangements, though, since Dylan's been doing that since the mid-60's.
Highlights for me included an awesomely heavy bluesy full-band rendition of "It's Allright Ma" (which was as fantastic in its own right as the original solo-acoustic version), "Blind Willie McTell" (which, I confess, I didn't recognize until about 30 or 45 seconds into the song), "New Morning," and "Highway 61." The band (two guitars, pedal steel, bass, and drums--along with Dylans vocals/harmonica/keyboards) was pretty tight (but not too tight, if you know what I mean), and they put life into the interpretations.
I guess the set was good for those who enjoy the full breadth of Dylan's catalogue (I'd put myself in there). For the casual fans, Dylan's voice (and the $55 tickets) might have been a bit too much. I'll also take a moment to get on the Columbus Dispatch for lazy reporting. The reviewer, Curtis Schieber, noted that it was "curious" that Dylan didn't play any stuff off of his new album, which is set for release in about two weeks. A little research would've shown that Dylan, as a rule, never plays any songs off of upcoming albums for fear (perhaps overly paranoid fear) of bootleggers. (See "Sugar Baby," which Dylan performed as well: "Some of these bootleggers, they make pretty good stuff. / Plenty of places to hide things here if you wanna hide 'em bad enough.")
I'll have a more thoughtful analysis of the Dylan experience after I catch leg two next week. For a setlist from last night's show, check out Bob Links.
Before Kellen Winslow II, before Ben Rothlesibuergherjkgjer, there was ... Bob Dylan.
That's right, today marks 40 years since Dylan's infamous motorcycle crash. Tomorrow's my birthday. I think it's a coincidence. Anyway, Tony Scherman did a better job chronicling the ins and outs of the motorcycle crash than I could.
Right now I'm listening to Bob Dylan's Self Portrait, which most Dylan aficionados will say is his worst album. I don't know, though. It might be one of the lesser albums in the Dylan canon, but I still enjoy listening to it every now and then.
Anyway, this afternoon I was really struck by the brilliance of Self Portrait's first song, "All The Tired Horses." It's maybe the "simplest" song (at least lyrically speaking) that Dylan's ever released. The whole thing consists of two lines repeated: "All the tired horses in the sun / How am I supposed to get any riding done?" Not much physically there, but it works.
What's really interesting is how Dylan minimizes himself in the track. It's the leadoff track on an album titled "Self Portrait," yet Dylan's vocals are nowhere to be found -- instead, it's a couple of background singers. The backup singers are accompanied by a progression of instruments: First guitar, then a cascading string arrangment, then some bass and organ.
Dylan's vocals aren't there, but his voice is. He'll always be underrated as a composer, but this is really sophisticated, if simple, music. Tthe way that the singers' harmonies accentuate the vocal melody works perfectly with the strings, which are really great. The words are a mantra holding everything together as the music gathers strength, starting out as a simple guitar strum and building into a kind of quiet wall of sound.
Basically, "All The Tired Horses" gets my vote for Most Overlooked Dylan Song. I was going to say Best Dylan Song Your Friends Have Never Heard, but my friends probably haven't heard stuff like "Positively Fourth Street," either. While I'm at it, I'll also give it the nod for Song Even Non-Dylan Fans Should Download From iTunes. It's really worth anyone's 99 cents. And if you download it and don't like it, I'll give you a dollar the next time I see you.
Ok, so at long last, here's the NBR Movie of the Month for July. Part of the reason I took so long was because I actually wanted to see the movie, and it didn't air until this evening.
The NBR Movie of the Month is Woody Guthrie: Ain't Got No Home. I'd seen that there have been some lukewarm reviews of this new documentary on one of the great American songwriters, but I figured I'd go ahead and check it out with an open mind, basically expecting a decently-produced PBS documentary. I was about on the mark, I think.
The Washington Post criticized Ain't Got No Home for its failure to include any substantive discussion from those many recording artists whose songwriting Guthrie's work continues to influence (namely Bob Dylan). But the film was only an hour and a half long -- there really wasn't much time for many other voices (Bruce Springsteen, for one, was featured). And anyway, it would've taken a lot of arm twisting to get Dylan to appear -- after all, he did give his Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie in 1963.
With that said, I really did like the documentary. I'm not a Guthrie expert (I have copies of Dust Bowl Ballads and the Moe Asch box set, and I'm in the middle of reading Bound For Glory), but from my perspective the film does a good job covering the key points of Guthrie's childhood, young adulthood, various musical periods, and bout with Huntington's Disease. No, Dylan isn't interviewed, but we do get to hear from Guthrie's first wife and youngest daughter, along with a few of his friends and cohorts (most notably Pete Seeger). It's a good biography, and at times an emotional portrait of an almost mythological American figure.
The film doesn't look back with overly sentimental eyes, either. It discusses Guthrie's troubles as a father and husband, and it dispels any notions one might have of Guthrie as someone who actively took a vow of poverty. The key to the whole thing is the music, though, and it features the music fairly prominently. I found Pete Seeger's story on the birth of the ballad "Tom Joad" pretty interesting. Guthrie was a mortal man, but he wrote a bunch of great songs that still are brilliant in their simplicity. He was and remains an American Poet.
So yeah, be sure to set your VCR/DVR/Tivo to record one of the repeat performances of Ain't Got No Home on PBS. You'll learn a little bit about a great American treasure, and you'll get to hear timeless music.
Even though he's basically been in absentia the past 30 years or so, it's a bummer to hear about Syd Barrett's death. I've never been really into Pink Floyd, but I do like The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn ("Bike" is an awesome song), and Barrett's two solo albums are great.
It's kinda a shame that a lot of the later Pink Floyd stuff tends to overshadow that first album and the other work Barrett did. Maybe it just goes to show that history belongs to the victors, and sadly Barrett's psyche kept him from releasing any groundbreaking rock records after 1970. Either way, all in-the-know rock music fans owe Syd Barrett a great debt for writing "Arnold Layne" and "See Emily Play."
Sorry for the delay in announcing the Next Best Records Movie of the Month for July. It will come soon enough.
In the meantime, in honor of my having purchased tickets today for Bob Dylan's upcoming show in Columbus, I'll post the link for one of the more fascinatingly unremarkable video clips in rock history: the infamous John Lennon-Bob Dylan "cab ride."
(For those of you who are uninitiated, Google Video is Google's response to You Tube.) What this video proves, in essence, is that even though in 1966 Bob Dylan was perhaps the coolest person ever, he and Lennon were at heart just normal guys (who took lots of drugs). And if you've ever wanted to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Dylan and Lennon in '66, the clip shows that there might be better ways to spend your time.
So yeah, enjoy.
Last week I got my copy of Michael Gray's The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia. I haven't been able to put it down. At 730 pages (and probably around 1000 entries), it covers almost everything Dylan-related. But it's not just for obsessive Dylan fanatics (which I don't consider myself to be, really). There are entries on musicians, literary figures, political figures, albums, songs, history, pretty much anything Dylan's music covers (which, I guess, is everything). And Gray doesn't spend the whole time drooling over Dylan -- he's critical of him when he feels the need to be, and he doesn't sugarcoat his assessments of those associated with Dylan or his music.
Really, I can't say much about the work becuase it pretty much speaks for itself. If you're a fan of Dylan with $40 or so to drop, Gray's encyclopedia is worthwhile. And if you're just a casual fan (or even a non-fan) of Dylan, it's worth a look if you're sitting in a bookstore looking to kill some time.
By the way, I hope these rumors come to fruition. It would be pretty sweet to, say, catch Dylan in Columbus one night and Washington, PA the next.
I had a nice weekend in the Queen City, chillin' with past and present members of the Backup Plan and the Knights of Infinite Resignation. The main event, though, was the Pearl Jam/Robert Pollard concert at U.S. Bank Arena Saturday night.
I like Pearl Jam, but I'm not super-into them or anything. I have copies of Ten and Vitalogy that I got back in the day, and I picked up their new self-titled album a few weeks ago (it's actually pretty good ... but, to prove my point, it was my first time buying a Pearl Jam album in 12 years). The real reason I wanted to go was to see ex-GBV front man Bob Pollard. My "fandom" of Pollard is the opposite of my "fandom" for Pearl Jam. I think I have copies of almost everything Guided By Voices released between 1994 and 1997 (no small feat -- we're talking somewhere around 20-30 releases, probably), and I saw GBV live around 20 times (I lost track at 12 or so ... one day I'll sit down and figure out the official number). Predictably, I missed the first part of Pollard's set. Backup Plan bass player Mike and I tried to park in the nearby lot (which he has a pass for), but they wouldn't let us park, because they said there was a wedding at Paul Brown Stadium. I was this close to asking, "Who the hell would want to get married where the Bengals play?" I didn't, though.
Anyway, it took us another 20 minutes to find a parking spot, so we only caught the last four songs of Bob's set. I did get to hear "Game of Pricks," though, so I was happy. He closed with "Love Is Stronger Than Witchcraft" (hence, the title), which rocked. It was weird seeing Pollard in an arena, though. I guess I had always thought GBV was one of the great arena rock bands that never made it out of the larger-club circuit, but maybe I was wrong. I think part of Guided By Voices/Pollard's appeal is that sort of "Everyman Rocker" quality, where you feel like (rightly or wrongly) the band on stage is just like you, and that they're singing with you. That kind of appeal is enhanced in a more intimate setting, where everyone's shoehorned in spilling beer on each other, and where the singer can hear the requests (and heckles) coming from the guy in the middle of the crowd. Pollard doesn't have the magnetic, transcendent personality that an arena rock front man (e.g., Eddie Vedder, or someone like David Bowie or Roger Daltrey or Robert Plant or ...) has to have. He's just an average guy (with basically unparalleled talent for writing great songs with even better melodies) drinking a beer and singing. I guess after 10 years or so of seeing GBV play to packed clubs, it was weird seeing Pollard on stage in a half-filled arena playing for people who mostly have never heard of him. From where I sat (probably about 125 yards away), it seemed like he was a bit uncomfortable, looking down at the stage floor a lot and avoiding any between song banter. Maybe he was nervous, maybe he was (relatively) sober, maybe a little bit of both and some other stuff thrown in. Either way, it all sounded good, just kind of out of place. It was still worth my $60.
Pearl Jam, on the other hand, had the whole sold-out arena hanging on every note. The band was in good form, banging out one song after another. Highlights for me included the hits ("Evenflow," "Alive," "Betterman," "Corduroy") and some of their "lesser known" earlier stuff (like Vitalogy's "Last Exit" and "Not For You"). Some of the newer stuff (off of their last couple of albums), got a little tedious for me, but, like I mentioned earlier, I haven't heard much of anything they've done between Vitalogy and Pearl Jam. It also didn't help that the arena cut off beer sales thirty minutes after Pearl Jam took the stage, a full HOUR AND A HALF before the show was over. See why I give Cincinnati a hard time?
Anyway, one thing I like about Eddie Vedder is that he does seem to genuinely care about using his platform to do something good (as opposed to using his platform to make himself look good ... Bono, I'm looking your way (in a joking way, I think)). He took the time to give a quick announcement regarding the search for Brian Shaffer, he talked about the 1979 tragedy that took place the night of a Who concert at the arena (which, tangentially, also inspired my favorite episode of WKRP in Cincinnati), and he gave a good monologue on why Rolling Stone sucks. The band also seemed to geniunely appreciate Pollard, and acknowledged him multiple times during the set. I guess that partly falls under the category of respecting one's elders (Pollard's getting perilously close to 50), but still it was a nice gesture. Vedder even joined Pollard on stage for the final part of "Witchcraft," but that was nothing compared to the last song of the evening, when ...
... BOB POLLARD TOOK THE STAGE TO PERFORM "BABA O'RILEY" WITH PEARL JAM!!! That was amazing. 20,000 people singing along as Vedder and Pollard traded lead vocals on the Who's classic. It's kinda tough for me to say it, but this version outshined even the live Guided By Voices version with Doug Gillard on lead guitar, which I got to hear a few times. Words really can't describe it. It was the best concert moment I've experienced in the past year, and that includes an entire Silver Jews concert that I waited 10 years to hear.
So yeah, $60 was easily worth it for four Pollard songs and Pearl Jam/Pollard on "Baba." Pearl Jam still knows how to rock. And even though it was weird seeing Pollard in a situation where there were more people waiting in line for beer than actually in the seats listening, if four or five people discovered Pollard and GBV at the show Saturday night, or even if a couple people say to themselves, "Gee, Eddie really liked that old dude, I should check him out," then I guess it was all worth it.
RCA/Legacy is going to be releasing a 30th anniversary edition of Lou Reed's Coney Island Baby. Sounds good to me, but couldn't they rerelease Metal Machine Music, preferably on vinyl (with a locked groove on the fourth side)?
Anyway, Coney Island Baby isn't that great of an album. I don't think it's as bad as Peter Laughner said in his brilliant Creem review (any review that starts off by saying, "This album made me so morose and depressed when I got the advance copy that I stayed drunk for three days" has to be good). It does have some decent songs. I like the title track. I like that he mentions Ohio in another song. All in all, it's a nice thing to listen to every now and then, as long as you're not expecting the equivalent of White Light/White Heat or Loaded.
I just hope they remaster the album. Every version I've heard of it sounds horrible -- all muddied up in that mid-70's way. Give me a crisper, clearer mix, and I'll be happy to plunk down $15-20 for a CD version (my old copy is on cassette tape(!)) of the album.
I'll withhold further judgement until I hear the actual release in August.
Club 202 hasn't had open mic night for a couple of weeks. Sorry to those of you who made it out only to find the doors locked. Maybe Next Best Records managment needs to call and check these things out in advance, rather than relying on websites. Maybe.
Speaking of websites, updates to the main www.nextbestrecords.com website are (hopefully) coming soon.
In light of this blog's NBA Finals predicition, I'd like to say congrats to the Miami Heat. But anyone that says Wade is a better player than LeBron can kiss my ass. Anyone looks a lot better than he is with Shaq (35 years old or not) running with him (I'm looking your way, Penny Hardaway). And tell me which supporting cast is legit (and loaded with all-stars, even if they're old): Shaq/Gary Payton/Antoine Walker/Alonzo Mourning -- or -- Z/Eric Snow/Ira Newble/Donyell Marshall.
I'm not saying Wade isn't one of the top 10 players in the league (I've been following him a long time -- how many times did you see him play in person for Marquette?), but don't say he's better than LeBron.
Lee's going to go ahead and try out the open mic night at Club 202. Show is supposed to start tomorrow (Tuesday, June 20) at 9:00 p.m. The address is 145 N. 5th St. in Downtown, Columbus. (That's just north of Long St., and a long stone's throw from the Cathedral, in case you want to go to mass at 5:15 before heading over.)
Judging by the pictures on the website, the place looks fairly cool. No word on why it's called Club 202. Lee will have to ask. My guess is that it's 17 better than Club 185 (but how could that be?). Lee may or may not wear the Knights t-shirt (pictured in yesterday's post). Should be fun, but I won't be there (for the uninitiated, I don't live in Columbus -- only in your imagination).
Much to my surprise, I caught Sonic Youth on the Letterman show last night. Sonic Youth never disappoints. Like I told a friend the other day, it's my assertion that Sonic Youth is and always will be the closest thing we'll get to an infallible rock band.
So of course Sonic Youth was brilliant on the Letterman show. They played a song off their new album (which, I confess, I don't own yet -- this weekend I'll get it, and I'll post my thoughts soon), with the classic lineup on stage (Steve Shelley, drums; Lee Ranaldo, guitar; Kim Gordon, bass; Thurston Moore, guitar/vocals). The song had the classic (naysayers would say predictable) Sonic song structure -- verse, chorus, verse, chorus, noise-rock breakdown, verse, chorus. Nothing new, really, but still awesome. I'm psyched to get the new record.
There's something reassuring about Sonic Youth having a new record out. Music changes, and lesser bands come and go, but Sonic stands firm. 25 years into their existence, they're still the coolest thing in rock on this side of '66 Dylan.
I just read the AP story on the Beach Boys getting back together ... to stand on top of the Capitol Records building as part of a Pet Sounds 40th anniversary celebration.
There's too much irony to comment on, really. How about Capitol celebrating the 40th anniversary of Pet Sounds, when in 1966 Capitol effectively halted sales of the album by failing to fulfill restocking orders and releasing a Beach Boys greatest hits record right on Pet Sounds' tail (pardon the pun)?
Or what about the mention of Mike Love's lawsuit against Brian Wilson, filed in November, in which Love claimed that Brian Wilson was misappropriating Smile, the album Love played a major role in destorying before it was ever completed?
And what was lil' Dave Marks doing there? For someone who was in a band for a few months 44 years ago or so, he still gets a lot of play as an "original" Beach Boys member (which he wasn't). I actually saw "The Beach Boys" play about five or six years ago at the Taste of Cleveland food festival, and Mike Love had Marks in the band, apparently to lend credibility to the act. I think Marks was taking too much of the spotlight -- he was out of the band (again) within a few months.
Anyway, I think it's pretty amazing that Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan's Blonde on Blonde were released on the exact same day, 40 years ago (in May '66, to be exact). We're never gonna see a day like that again, I'm afraid.
1) I just desinged the first official Knights of Infinite Resignation t-shirt. It's pretty sweet. I ordered a test pressing, and if all goes well I hope to get a few printed up to give away/sell. Of course, all past and current Knights get first dibs.
2) They announced the title of Bob Dylan's new album: Modern Times. Awesome-o. It's due out August 28. Gee, new Sonic Youth and Dylan in one summer ... how'd we get so lucky?
Continuing my recent Beach Boys kick, I picked up the Good Timin’: Live At Knebworth, England 1980 DVD this week. Overall, I enjoyed watching it — not only because it documents the last time the original five Beach Boys (+ Bruce Johnston) performed on stage in England, but also because it’s a good concert as well.
By this time, the Beach Boys were half-way to being Mike Love’s dream of a perfect Vegas-lounge-act-jukebox machine, so there’s no surprises on the disc. The performances are all pretty standard, and you get a good dose of Mike Love’s “Learn Sign Language with the Beach Boys” schtick.
Aside from all that though, it’s good to see Brian take the lead on the first verse of “Sloop John B” and the bridge of “Surfer Girl.” The main highlight is Dennis Wilson, throughout the whole show: He really was the heart of the band. Whether it was jumping up on the piano, kissing Brian on the back of the head, ad-libbing during “Heroes and Villains,” or bugging Mike Love every chance he got, Dennis was the guy trying to pull the gears out of Mike Love’s well-oiled machine. And isn’t that what Rock’s about?
Therein lies the tragedy, I guess. Dennis — who was at that time the most genuine, spontaneous, and charismatic member of the band, essentially the personification of the Beach Boy spirit — was playing one of his final shows. Sure, he missed a bunch of beats on the drums, but that was because he was playing his heart out, not worrying about being slick or proficient. That’s it, isn’t it? Not being predictable, or acting like Mike Love does now, with his “I’ve been singing this song for 40 years, and I’m still wondering why we didn’t record this in a lower key” act.
Of course "Good Vibrations" sounds nice. To me, though, the best is Dennis's version of "You Are So Beautiful." It's better than the one shown on An American Band, 'cause you're not sitting on the edge of your seat the whole time hoping that his voice doesn't completely fall apart. No, it's really heartfelt, really Dennis.
So yeah, Good Timin’ is good because of Dennis — it’s a fitting tribute to him. Thank God for Carl Wilson — he really carried the torch nicely for the next 15 years or so after Dennis’s death.
I know I'm a little late (hey, this blog's only a few days old, after all), but I had to throw my hat into the ring on this one: It's cool that the 37 year-old Cate Blanchett will be playing the 25 year-old Bob Dylan in the upcoming Dylan biopic.
And with that, we've posted two links to Internet Movie Database today.
So I just finished reading Domenic Priore's Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece. Published in 2005, Priore's book traces the story of the Smile album, from the pre-1966 Beach Boys backstory, to the album's construction and eventual abandonment, and ending with Brian Wilson's "finishing" of the album in 2004.
A little background before I proceed: I grew up hearing Beach Boys records (on the oldies radio stations, on my parents' record player, at school). "The Beach Boys" were the first real rock band I ever saw in concert -- at King's Dominion in Virginia, when I was in third grade (for the record I hated it, and resented the fact that my parents dragged me there, if only for the fact that I was traumatized by forced exposure to "Kokomo" ad nauseum in second grade music class--to this day "Kokomo" tops my "Most Hated Songs" list). After I appropriated my parents' record player when I was in high school, I finally sat down and really listened to the Endless Summer album, and since then I've been in awe of most of the band's work. For the past ten years of so, Pet Sounds has been my favorite album of all time. Despite their inconsistent output after the mid-70's, the Beach Boys are one of my top-three favorite bands.
I've read a majority of the books published on the Beach Boys, so I figured it was about time that I make my way through Priore's book. To me, Smile is the ultimate "one that got away," more so than any girl or anything like that. If Brian Wilson had been able to finish Smile in 1966/67, the history of rock music, and maybe even the U.S. (I know, call me crazy), would have been drastically different. Had Smile lived up to its realistic potential (i.e., as much of an improvement over Pet Sounds as that album was over Beach Boys Today! and Summer Days (and Summer Nights!!) ), the Beach Boys--not the Beatles--would be considered the greatest rock group of all time. Think about it: Rubber Soul and Revolver are great albums, but Pet Sounds is better. Up until 1967, Brian Wilson was winning the musical "race." If it were completed, Smile would easily have eclipsed anything in the Beatles post-1966 canon. Sgt. Pepper's has good songs, obviously, but as a whole it's overrated. If you don't believe me, listen to the original Brian Wilson-piano version of "Surf's Up" and you'll realize that it's better than anything on Sgt. Pepper's ("A Day in the Life" comes close). The White Album is fantastic, but it suffers from the fact that it's more a collection of three and a half solo EP's, rather than a cohesive album, and it has too many songs like "Mother Nature's Son" and "I Will" to be taken seriously. The Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine speak for themselves. Let It Be is uneven and should have originally included "Don't Let Me Down." Of all of the Beatles' post-1966 albums, Abbey Road, to me, is the best, but it just doesn't break the ground that Smile would have broken (think about how amazing "Good Vibrations" is, and then think about what an album of songs of "Good Vibrations"'s magnitude would sound like), and any album that ends with "Her Majesty" has to be taken with a grain of salt.
What all this boils down to is that Smile would have raised the bar to another level, taking Brian Wilson's reputation as the preeminent musical genius to new cosmic heights, and forcing every other rock band (especially the Beatles) to take their collective games up a notch. Take a look at any detailed history of the Beach Boys and the Beatles, and you'll see that Rubber Soul served as a catalyst for Brian Wilson's creation of Pet Sounds, and that Pet Sounds had a similar role in Paul McCartney's vision for Sgt. Pepper's. This leads to what I found to be one of the more interesting revelations of Priore's book: The Beatles "planted" their publicist, Derek Taylor (who at the time was also the Beach Boys' publicist) as a "scout." Taylor secretly gave the Beatles access to the Smile tapes, thus allowing the Fab Four to "spy" on the competition and apparently apply what they learned from Brian Wilson's studio mastery to their subsequent Sgt. Pepper's sessions. The "mind gangster" (Wilson's phrase) tactics of the Beatles further assisted in the deterioration of Brian's mental state. As Wilson fell apart, the Beatles got to work, and when Sgt. Pepper's was released, Brian gave up.
Overall, Priore does a decent job of tracing the rise, fall, and subsequent salvaging of Smile. Other highlights of the book include pretty extensive and insightful excerpts from interviews with Van Dyke Parks and a look into how Mike Love (and apparently Carl Wilson) stubbornly insisted that Brian not "fuck with the formula," resorting to all kinds of mental treachery that also contributed to Brian's falling apart. Priore was around a lot of the key players in the years leading up to Smile's release in 2004, so he's able to give a bit of an "insider's" account of the whole process of getting Brian to go ahead with "finishing" the album. The editing of the book is actually kind of sloppy, though, and the text suffers from Priore's clear resentment of Mike Love, et al. (for instance, he almost completely dismisses any of the band's work not springing from Brian, which is only partially justified, and I think he completely overlooks Brian's 1977 masterpiece, The Beach Boys Love You).
Priore's book is a solid read for hardcore Beach Boys/Brian Wilson fans. If you're a more casual fan of the group (meaning, if you've never heard of Smile), you probably could find something better to read. With that said, even with his lavish praise of the 2004 Smile, Priore was unable to convince me to go against my decision not to listen to the album. I'm sure it's a good album and everything, but there's no way it can be as good as it could have been if it were completed in 1966/67. It's hard to think of a good analogy, but it's like saying to someone, "Look, I know it's crushingly tragic that Bobby Kennedy was killed, but Ted Kennedy still could be president." As a Brian Wilson/Beach Boy fan, I've learned to deal with the facts that Smile never came into being and that people think of "Kokomo" and "Surfing USA" (which is a good song) when I tell them I love the Beach Boys. I still think about what could have been, but I don't feel the need to settle for something less, however worthy it may be.
I also recently bought a copy of the DVD featuring both the Beach Boys: An American Band and Brian Wilson: I Just Wasn't Made for These Times documentaries. The best thing about the American Band film is the vintage video clips, but the staged narrative scenes (the one with Al Jardine on the football field, in particular) are kind of annoying and cheesy. After reading Priore's book, I feel dirty touching anything Mike Love-approved, so that kinda is another strike against An American Band. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times is a nice look at Brian up until the mid-90's. The interviews with Audrey Wilson, Carl Wilson, and Marilyn Wilson are poignant. Plus, you can't go wrong with anything featuring even just a few seconds of Thurston Moore (ask me how my opinion of The Gilmore Girls has changed in the past month or so). Again, An American Band is best for hardcore Beach Boys fans, but I do think even the casual observer would get a good deal out of I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.