Monday, December 30, 2002
If you happen to find yourself without plans this New Year's Eve and in the vicinity of Cleveland, get to the New Bomb Turks' final show. They aren't calling it quits on the band, just on touring, which is a shame because they are an invigorating live act. Cleveland's Plain Dealer has the full story.
Tuesday, December 24, 2002
Sunday, December 22, 2002
It's a play, not music, but it's about music. It's 1975, and a huge British rock star tracks down the reclusive legendary blues man he reveres. The old black man lives in the rural Mississippi Delta with his politicized daughter. Everyone has a secret. It revisits an era that Cameron Crowe illuminated in Almost Famous. Most impressively, the characters shows great insight into the transformative power of music, and the symbolism of the dramatic climax is subtle but effective.
But I had one minor gripe. The rock star tells the blues man that kids pay $20 a ticket for their stadium shows. Concert tickets weren't that expensive in 1975. It was controversial for Bruce Springsteen to charge $16 in 1984, so clearly no one was charging $20 in 1975. The play was written recently; playwright Stephen Jeffreys should have done more research.
Saturday, December 21, 2002
There's no point in doing a "worst of" list. The targets are too numerous and too obvious. So instead I'll focus on what didn't live up to my expectations:
The Who Tweeter Center, August 24. There is no reason to fault Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey for choosing to go ahead with the tour right after John Entwistle's death. Financial concerns aside, there are good emotional arguments for carrying on with established plans after the loss of a loved one.
But the show ended up too "Who By Numbers." Replacement bass player Pino Pallidino was wise to not take the spotlight of someone who shunned the spotlight anyway. He could only be described as adequate. When a teammate was killed in the Tour de France in 1995, Lance Armstrong won a stage a few days later and proclaimed, "Today I rode with the strength of two men." Pete and Roger may have been trying to honor John's spirit, but they didn't absorb his strength. I left feeling the need to add an asterisk and footnote when saying that the Who is my favorite band and craving a new solo album and tour from Pete.
The end of the Chameleons UK concert Metro, October 14. As wondrous as opening number "Swamp Thing" was (see yesterday's post), the Chameleons couldn't sustain their momentum. As the set wore on, one guitarist got more drunk and more argumentative, complaining about various aspects of the club. When they returned for an encore, he went on an endless, meandering tirade. It was already late, and who knew when he'd finally shut up and allow the band to start playing again. For a group that never had a lot of fans in the first place, they should be more concerned about attracting new ones than alienating the few they have left.
Radio 4 Empty Bottle, November 4. Maybe it can be chalked up to a bad sound mix. The edgy, metallic guitar got lost behind the wall of percussion. Maybe it can be chalked up to timing. They urged, "Get behind the struggled," so on the eve of Election Day I was preoccupied with getting up early the next morning to vote. In any case, they didn't match the electricity of Gotham.
Concerts missed because of cycling: The Church, The Woggles, Cinerama The problem with having multiple passions is that it creates scheduling conflicts. I was out of town attending bicycling events when three great live bands came through Chicago.
Canceled Fall tour Originally, the Fall would have been in the above list of concerts missed for cycling, but their spring tour was canceled. They rescheduled for October and I had tickets, but the tour was canceled again. Visa problems or something. Mark E. Smith & Co. are maddeningly erratic, horrible in one performance but the greatest band in the world at that moment the next time. It's always worth it to take that gamble that it'll be a good night and frustrating when the chance is lost.
New Bomb Turks Metro, June 5. It was the perfect opportunity. The Columbus quartet had been plying their garage punk for about a decade to small but appreciative audiences. They aren't young and cute like the Strokes and they have an aggressive edge, but an opening slot with the Hives gave them a shot at reaching out to the MTV crowd. Front man Eric Davidson tried to incite the audience and the rest of the band worked hard, but they just never achieved their usual tightness.
Rob Zombie Aragon Ballroom, April 5. Rob Zombie is a cut above most metallers. Yeah, he owes a few back royalty payments to Al Jourgensen for his appearance. But he's intelligently humorous in interviews. Rather than exploiting teens' desire to piss off and shock their parents, his brand of scariness is an homage to the horror movies he worships. In other words, he respects his audience. Or so I thought until I got to the Aragon. Staff of the band or venue were shining lights on women, egging the rest of the audience to encourage them to flash. It was such a sexually oppressive atmosphere that Rob and the band and the dancers and puppet masters would have to be great to make up for it, and their were too leaden. I left wanting to listen to Belle & Sebastian. Making matters worse, scheduled openers the Damned back out of the tour due to the hostile audience and the only opening act was cliche-riddled in their "rebelliousness."
Tweeter Center How can you build a venue designed to hold 30,000 people without any public transportation access and only one four-lane exit to funnel cars in and out? Getting to and from the place is such torture that it puts a hurdle in front of enjoying any concert there.
Friday, December 20, 2002
Rather than focusing exclusively on albums, here's my list of my greatest musical experiences of the past year:
Elvis Costello When I Was Cruel and Chicago Theatre, October 17. What an enviable career he's had. Focusing on being a musician, his craft, rather than on being a rock star, always the center of attention, has allowed him to take risks. He's worked with an impressive and varied set of collaborators and taken on artistic challenges. He still has the dignity to perform his "angry young man" songs without looking like a washed-up buffoon. And his new material has a lyrical precision and vitriol that comes from wisdom rather than youthful brashness.
David Lee Roth once commented that rock critics preferred Elvis Costello to him because rock critics look like Elvis than him. While I have certainly taken more fashion cues from Elvis, it's actually because Elvis has depths of talent and, at this point, David Lee Roth is a washed-up buffoon.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Chicago Theatre, April 26. It was worth the wait of several years since having last seen Nick perform, perhaps not since Lollapalooza 1994. It was worth the wait of several months, the tour postponed after September 11. The man is an astonishingly intense performer, seething with the emotion of fictional Southern gothic tales. Plus, it was great to see the audience prove that some goths age quite gracefully.
The Hives Veni, Vidi, Vicious and Metro, June 5. Their album is wildly raucous, with appropriate song titles like "The Hives-Declare Guerre Nucleaire." And what enthralling performers! Yeah, it's shtick but the Swedes have charisma to burn, and boy, do they burn it. For the first time in ages, I left concert believing that a band was sure to be huge and I was thrilled to have witnessed them in front of a small crowd.
The Mooney Suzuki Metro, June 5 and October 9. Another charismatic garage band. A surprise discovery opening for the Hives, they were more fabulous given the time and space to headline a few months later. They were in town at the beginning of a long streak of great concerts. Other bands like Sleater-Kinney may have had stronger songs, but no one put on a better show.
Anthony Kiedis inducting the Talking Heads into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame I was already thrilled to see high honor bestowed on the Ramones and Talking Heads. Then I heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers front man's introduction speech. He said that when he first heard the Talking Heads, "I wanted to have sex with a lot of librarians." As a music librarian, I was amused and flattered. Although in telling other music fans, I was surprised how many were unfamiliar with the nerdy image shared by the Talking Heads and my current profession.
Chameleons UK playing "Swamp Thing" Metro, October 14. In 1987, I couldn't get into their sold-out show at a tiny club. Their grandiose and glorious LP Swamp Thing was one of my favorites at the time. Today, it is one of the few pieces of vinyl that I still play, and I play it regularly. "Swamp Thing" was the mesmerizing pinnacle of the album. I finally heard it live, their set opener. I was delirious.
Future Bible Heroes Eternal Youth and Schuba's, November 6. The synth-pop was like 1982 all over again, especially Claudia Gonson's droll delivery of "I'm a Vampire." Live, the synthesizers were joined by acoustic instruments that further emphasized Stephen Merritt's sharp lyrics. "I'm Lonely (And I Love It)" made me wish I had a friend who'd recently gone through a break-up because it celebrates the process so beautifully.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Once More, with Feeling" Speaking of "I'm a Vampire," a song crying out to be used on the Angel or the Sarah Michelle Gellar series, the show had its own impressive CD this year, the soundtrack to last year's musical episode. Show creator and novice songwriter Joss Whedon could have created a mere novelty. Instead, the songs have an insidious way of burrowing into your brain. But I'm still not sure if lyrics like, "His penis got diseases/From a Chumash tribe" are quite appropriate for a family sing-along.
Radio 4 Gotham It's impossible to criticize a band for aping Gang of Four since that's not exactly a proven path to fame and riches. And unlike shameless Jesus & Mary Chain rip-off Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, at least they bring something new to the mix with more complex percussion.
Badly Drawn Boy About a Boy So liltingly melodic that I forgave the filmmakers for excising the Nirvana/Kurt Cobain references that inspired the novel's title.
Coldplay/Ash UIC Pavilion, September 24. Coldplay's songs took on a new level of resonance live. Ash, with a few years of experience under their belts and the addition of second guitarist Charlotte Hatherley, finally made their anticipated transition from a band with some great songs to a great band. And "Kung Fu" left me giddy.
The Police Message in a Box Yes, it came out nine years ago, but I just got it as a birthday gift. It made me feel like I was 16 again, but only the joyous parts of being 16, not the insecurity and trauma.
The Cynics Double Door, December 14. Years since I've seen them, but they've lost none of their verve. See my December 16 post for more verbal swooning.
David Bowie "Cactus" Bowie's cover brought out the obsessive sexuality of the song in a way that the Pixies' original never did. Not only was it a great version, it got a Pixies songs played on radio stations that wouldn't play the Pixies.
Pink "Get the Party Started" My guiltiest pleasure of the year, but the tune is so damn catchy.
Thursday, December 19, 2002
Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
The rest of the album on which it appears, Power in Numbers, has a lot going for it, too. The lyrics are densely syllabic -- find me another CD with "epicenter" and "epidermis." The group has both the rhymes and the rhythms. "Thin Line" gets a great melodic counterpoint from guest Nelly Furtado's cascading vocals. But there are downsides. Some 1990-sounding sound collages bloat an otherwise tight production. And after four listens I still can't quite figure out if "One of Them" is homophobic or decrying homophobia; until I figure it out, I'll be troubled and hope it's the latter.
Monday, December 16, 2002
There's always a fear when seeing a favorite band again after a long break that they will no longer live up to your expectations. What if in that interval they've started to suck. I was relieved to discover that the Cynics have not started to suck. It was debatable which wail was more impressive, Michael Kastelic 's vocals or Gregg Kostelich's fuzz-covered guitar chords. Michael banged his tambourine with such ferocity that I wondered if he ends up covered in self-inflicted bruises. He punctuated their straight-up garage rock with lots of Iggy wiggles and bug-eyed craziness. There was just purity to it, the complete distillation of rock. I was in heaven.
Friday, December 13, 2002
Thursday, December 12, 2002
Wednesday, December 11, 2002
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
Consider some recent political, economic and musical history. What was the popularity of Nirvana if not the culmination of growing bitterness towards the Bush/Reagan years? Nirvana specifically and punk rock in general exploded as the economy crumbled. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" served as the death knell for that conservative era. Bad times equals great music. On the other hand, life was good during the Clinton years. There was little domestic strife. The Democrats were voted out of office on a wave vacuous, manufactured teen pop. Good times equals bad music.
England has a different history but with similar musical results. Punk took hold in the mid-'70s when unemployment was rampant. It never caught on with the U.S. mainstream until 15 years later because we needed a bigger recession. 1988's "Birth, School, Work, Death" by the Godfathers didn't just reduce existence to four syllables, it was the perfect encapsulation of life under Thatcherism. "I've been abused and I've been confused/And I've kissed Margaret Thatcher's shoes," Peter Coyne sputtered. As much as I worshipped the band, I have to admit they lost some of their focus when the less specifically detestable John Major took office.
Now our recession deepens as the new Bush tries to distract the citizenry with Iraq war bluster. So the next two years should see rise political music, or at least some true anthems of disaffection. Maybe the next time Rolling Stone does another "women in rock" issue (a concept I have my own issues with, but I'll save that for another blog entry), Sleater-Kinney will be front and center on the cover. Maybe the current bling-bling of hip hop will give way to something more substantive. I'm looking forward to hearing something new and thoughtful explode.
Monday, December 09, 2002
The short version: Telling as many people as possible about this show was my incentive for getting my blog going.
The long version: The garage rock formula is straight-forward. All you need are a stomping beat, a wailing guitar and a crazed charismatic frontman. The Hives succeed because the charisma spreads beyond crazed lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist. The BellRays find a unique edge with lead singer Lisa Kekauka's channeling "Proud Mary"-era Tina Turner. And the Cynics do it by taking those basic elements to the nth degree. Singer Michael Kastelic is their focal point in concert. He's been known to dance on the bar and at least attempt to swing from the suspended speakers.
The band, formed by guitarist Gregg Kostelich in Pittsburgh 18 years ago, was part of the previous wave of Nuggets-inspired garage rock. After frequent touring, they kinda disappeared in the mid-'90s. For the last few years, they've been touring a bit, either going to Europe or doing shows within a day's drive of Pittsburgh. In other words, they've play Detroit and Cleveland a bunch of times but haven't made it to Chicago in ages. Well, at least not in the six years that I've lived here. They're so great live that I considered planning a road trip around seeing them. If you live here, take advantage of the convenience.
The Cynics play at the Double Door,
1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, 773.489.3160 on Saturday, December 14 at
10 p.m. with the Dirtbombs and Baseball Furies.
Sunday, December 08, 2002
Friday, December 06, 2002
For example, there's Grace of My Heart. It answered the music question that I don't think anyone but Allison Anders even thought to ask, "What would have happened if Carole King had married Brian Wilson." Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach wrote an exquisitely moving song, "God Give Me Strength," that was the centerpiece of the soundtrack. Illeana Douglas has a fascinatingly elusive beauty. One minute, she's stunning; the next, she's all bugged-eyed and Tori Spelling-like. Of course, the characters weren't really Carole and Brian, just a '60s Brill Building pop songcrafter turned '70s singer/songwriter and a '60s pop harmonizer turned nutcase, but it was fun trying figure out how much or little sprung from Anders' head.
Velvet Goldmine followed a similar vein but with a better soundtrack overall. It resurrected the glam rock era by following the friendship between the David Bowie-like Brian Slade and Curt Wild,an amalgam of Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and Mick Jagger with a visual dash of Kurt Cobain. The glittering early '70s costumes by Sandy Powell were fabulous, more imaginative that the ones for Shakespeare In Love, for which she won the Oscar the same year. The reimagining of how Bowie reinvented himself in the '80s was clever. And I went running home to consult my rock biographies to figure out how much or little sprung from writer/director Todd Haynes' head. But it wasn't quite a great movie.
More recently, 24 Hour Party People presented the history of Tony Wilson, Factory Records and the Manchester music scene in the '70s and '80s. Unlike Grace of My Heart and Velvet Goldmine, this one overtly depicted real people. The actors playing Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Happy Mondays' lead singer Shaun Ryder rather resembled the actual people, although the guy playing Peter Hook looked nothing like him other than being white, male and about the right age. Ostensibly an accurate history, the movie's best humor was derived from acknowledging that they were fictionalizing some events to make for a better story. It was interesting because I wanted to know the story behind music I care about, but it still wasn't quite a great movie.
Which brings me back to Quadrophenia. The biggest reason it's a great rock movie is because it isn't about the music. The music, the Who's brilliant concept album, forms the basis for the story, the coming-of-age saga of '60s London Mod Jimmy. The music is central the Mod worldview; it's who you are because it's so tied to the choice of fashions, drugs, transport and hang-outs. The film is an unvarnished look at someone struggling to define his identity. Yes, there are fab clothes, spiffy scooters and great songs but also bad skin and awkward physiques.
I've probably only seen Tommy in its entirety once and have no desire to sit through the camp fest again, but I can't wait to watch Quadrophenia with the director's commentary and trivia tracks.
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Until I start hanging out among the youths. (As you are reading this, please pronounce it to yourself My Cousin Vinny-style, "yutes.") I recently attended my cousin's bar mitzvah, the first one I've been to since he was born 13 years ago. At the party, they played lots of music that 13-year-olds like. This meant that I finally heard Nelly's "Hot In Herre;" the closest I'd come was the Vines' semi-mocking live cover. Two months after deciding I needed it for the library, I finally heard "The Ketchup Song." As expected, it was fun but inconsequential, likely to grow irritating if overplayed, which it no doubt will.
Then I shopped at a store that sells very tight, super low-rise pants (I look okay with the adjectives of such attire, but I don't have the figure for the adverbs.) They were playing pop videos. I heard Avril Lavigne for the first time. I was in the dressing room so I didn't recognize her by sight (I'm guessing she was wearing that tank top and wide tie, apparently the only outfit she paid a stylist to assemble for her), but I knew the title "Sk8er Boi." This is allegedly punk? Why, because the guitar is slightly more prominent in the mix than the Backstreet Boys? With all those gobs of production, she's about as punk as Foreigner.
The next day I went to a bar with Fugazi and the Stooges on the jukebox. I was back in my own element. They serve brunch, so you don't have to be 21 to go there. Maybe Avril the underage aspiring punkette go there and find out what punk really is.
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
But I'm still feeling torn. There's still part of me that thinks musicians shouldn't sell their songs to sell someone else's toothpaste. Chrissie Hynde had a point in 1986 with "How Much Did You Get for Your Soul?" proclaiming, "Millions of kids are looking at you/You say 'Let them drink soda pop.'" (She also said this two years before Neil Young expressed a similar sentiment with "This Note's For You." He got lots of acclaim and she was never acknowledged for beating him to the punch.) On the other hand, Pete Townshend talks about licensing Who recordings in a Rolling Stone interview and makes it sound like doing anything but was a slap in the face to Roger Daltrey.
It's not fair to compare the Who and Twelve Caesars selling their songs, though. The Who probably get more radio play across America in an hour than Twelve Caesars have in their entire career. The Swedes derive so much more marginal benefit, in terms of both the licensing fees they earn and the indirect effects of exposure to a mass audience. So it's hard to criticize them. Besides, I certainly don't worship Pete any less for allowing some car company to play Who songs in their ads. He's still better than someone like Britney Spears who created music with no artistic ambition, just a desire to shift a lot of units, of their own CDs or someone else's toothpaste.
Oh, yeah. The ad? I'm not getting paid for this, so I don't want to plug the product. But the commercial takes place in a laudromat and the song has an urgent Farfisa riff in the background and big swooping guitar chords.