Tuesday, January 28, 2003

What a difference a decade or so will make. Two smartly-coifed American bands, clearly drawing influence from gloomy English bands like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Smiths. One is treated with indifference from the press, except for occasional scorn. The other is surfing a wave of hype, making "best of the year" lists for a flawed album. One band admits that they'll never be a critics' band while the other is the very definition of a critics' band. The Ocean Blue were the Interpol of the early '90s. Maybe now they'll get some respect.

Monday, January 27, 2003

I’ve never been a fan of No Doubt, but after watching them on the Superbowl halftime show, I have to give them credit for being a rock band, not a pop band. Why the distinction? Because, unlike Shania Twain, Gwen Stefani sang live rather than lip-sinking. My mom wondered how I could tell immediately that Twain was lip-sinking. The biggest giveaway was that her body was not displaying the moment needed to create sound; her lips moved and she strutted around the stage, but she wasn’t exerting any other muscles. At least Gwen was notably breathless for jumping up and down, an indication of a genuine live performance. And it’s really pathetic that actually performing live is no longer expected of a live performance and that fulfilling the basic definition of a live performance earns bonus points.

I didn’t watch Shania’s band as closely, but I thought they couldn’t be using the lame excuse for lip-sinking that it’s too hard sing and dance at the same time. On the other hand, they looked too air guitar showy to really be playing. I gave them the benefit of the doubt when I saw the monitors on the stage. But the monitors were probably just waiting for No Doubt to use.

As for Sting, it was semi-inspired to have him do a reggae-inflected Police number backed by No Doubt even if Adrian Young is no Stewart Copeland. Unlike Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer until his untimely demise, Sting is now too stodgy too play his old songs. He looked like he didn’t want to move, lest he risk wrinkling his designer pants and artfully slashed t-shirt. Maybe he’ll be willing to cut loose and look less establishment/dignified at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction reunion with his old band.

Thursday, January 23, 2003

The Gene Siskel Film Center is running Silver Rockets/Kool Things -- 20 Years of Sonic Youth.  The 60 minute documentary is showing on Sunday, January 26 at 6:15 p.m. and Thursday, January 30 at 8:00 p.m. The film center is at 164 N. State St., Chicago, IL  60601, 312.846-2600.

More information is available at the Siskel Film Center web site, but I will point out that the text is nearly illegible and the site is difficult to navigate.  I would have included a link directly to the Silver Rockets page if it were possible.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

I've been listening to American IV by Johnny Cash and feeling torn. I listen to his cover of Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt" and think that, with his timbre and the spare acoustic arrangement, he really shows off what a powerful, well written song it is. Then I listen to his version of the Eagles' "Desperado" and think that he can bring drama to anything.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Back in 1980, I was wowed by "London Calling" and announced my intention to buy the Clash album of the same name. My older brother talked me out of it by explaining the "Two Song Rule."  There were two parts to his advice:
  1. Don't buy an album until you've heard at least two songs from it.
  2. Don't go to a concert until you've heard at least two songs by the act.
Being young and influenced by his musical tastes, I didn't question his advice. To a certain extent, it makes sense. Especially when you have limited funds to spend on CDs (at the time it was records) or concerts, don't risk wasting your money on a band who only have one good single in them, especially if it isn't representative of the rest of their work. These days, that means getting the latest Now Top 10 hits compilation may produce more reliable listening pleasure than buying a whole CD by a one-hit-wonder-to-be.

But I've broken that rule plenty of times since then, with quite good results. I saw the House of Love just on the strength of "I Don't Know Why I Love You." They were amazing, although I felt conspicuous about staring at the band when people working at the show outnumbered the punters;  I guess most people who had heard the song were following their own Two Song Rule.  I worshipped the Wedding Present the first time I saw them, enticed by the recommendation of some British guy waiting in line for Godfathers tickets at a show in D.C. I've bought wonderful CDs and seen great performances just based on the guidance of friends or musicians I've interviewed. Through such advocacy, I discovered Crazyhead (I was their biggest fan in Philly by default), the Poster Children, the Walker Brothers and the Woggles.

It helps that I'm more willing to do my research these days. Back in high school, my only source of music information was the songs I heard on the radio. My friends all listened to the same stations, so I wasn't going to hear about anything else from them. We certainly didn't all agree, and I had to endure arguments that Journey actually had a shred of talent and that Madness inherently sucked just because they dared write a song, "Our House," with the same title as one by Crosby, Stills & Nash. But once I reached college, I started listening to non-commercial radio stations, which not only played music I hadn't heard elsewhere, but each station has a unique identity.  (WKDU played far more industrial music than WPRB ever touched, for instance.)  I started reading album reviews.  I started meeting people who hadn't listened to the exact same things as me, and could convincingly tout bands I'd never heard of. It encouraged riskier musical exploration. On the concert front, it helped that I developing interests in smaller bands; it's easier to take a gamble on a club show for $8 than a $30 ticket in a shed for the latest MTV sensation.

So my point? But an informed music consumer and make your purchases wisely, but don't be afraid to try something new. And I did finally buy London Calling seven or eight years later and wished I'd bought it sooner.

Friday, January 17, 2003

At a party a few years ago, an acquaintance complained that there was no good music at that time. He listened to commercial radio but didn't really like anything he heard. Sorry, but that's like saying that all restaurants are terrible when you only go to McDonald's. Commercial radio is convenient and they expend lots of effort marketing it to make you even more aware of it. So if you want to uncover music that's more intriguing, more flavorful, as it were, you'll have to expend your own effort to find it. Listen to the non-commercial radio stations that lack huge marketing budgets. Stay up late to catch the commercial radio programs that air after they stop measuring audience for ad revenue. Buy a CD just because a friend or critic whose taste you respect recommends it.

The fact is, there will always be popular music that sucks. In particular, almost any song will be annoying if overplayed. I even liked "Mambo No. 5" before two out of three Vegas lounge acts were covering it. Times when there is good or bad music really just equate to times when you could hear great music without even thinking about it or when you really had to root around to find something good.

For example, when Moby was touring in support of Play, he joked about revisiting 1987 by playing some hair metal riffs. But that wasn't what 1987 sounded like to me. I realized that I suppressed those memories. For me, 1987 sounded like Julian Cope, That Petrol Emotion and New Order and first discovering Iggy Pop and the Replacements. I specifically remember blasting That Petrol Emotion's Manic Pop Thrill on the car stereo trying to drown out the Bon Jovi coming from the next car over. Doing my own small part to make good music easier to hear.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

There is no longer a reason for a Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental. It's the only reason that Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck still get any press. At this point, those guys are probably composing rock instrumentals just to get the Best Rock Instrumental Grammy nominations that will be their only press. The '70s are over. Prog rock is dead. The Police had decent rock instrumentals on their early albums, and that's going back two decades.  INXS's instrumentals were always filler. Just how pathetic is this category? A few years back, Moby got a nomination for "Bodyrock" an "instrumental" notable for its sung lyrics.

I understand the need to expand the Grammy categories to include newly-created genres, but they also need to get rid of the dead ones.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Concert Review: Interpol, Empty Bottle, Chicago, January 13

Interpol have better hair than the Chameleons, but that's not saying much. The bar is rather low.

Interpol put on a better show than New Order, but that's not saying much. The bar is rather low. (I know they are more often compared to Joy Division, but I never saw Joy Division live.)

They look great, even if their bass player fusses with his hair too much.  They have yet to write a song as great as Joy Division's "She's Lost Control" or even a line as great as the Chameleons' "Feels like I'm stapled to this bed." But enough of the negatives. More so live than on Turn on Your Bright Lights, they amalgamate their influences, so that they aren't just a Black Rebel Motorcycle Club-style glorified cover band. They have both grandeur and tension. Interpol isn't great yet. But they're still a young band and they show potential to get great quickly, especially considering how much they're touring.

Monday, January 13, 2003

As I mentioned previously, I have an issue with "women in rock" issues of magazines, or any forum that treats that as a topic. The problem is that it reduces women musicians to both a novelty and a musical genre. Britney Spears has as much in common with Chrissie Hynde as *NSync do with the Kinks. (And, yeah, I chose those people and bands deliberately. Ignoring obvious musical dissimilarity, I'll point out that one woman wrote a song called "The Adulteress" and bore her lover's child out of wedlock; the other proclaimed her virginity to the media.) It's like saying Kathleen Battle and Craig David have something inherently in common musically just because of their skin color. Heck, you can't even call them both African-American artists since David is British. Yet the media still try to draw such connections between among a subset that represents more than 50% of the world's population.

The ultimate problem is that, by treating women as a genre, it perpetuates the idea that women can therefore go out of fashion. The sheep-like thinking in the music industry is that if something different finds an audience, then the audience should be force-fed more of the same thing until they can't stand it anymore. If grunge, third wave ska or rap metal can see their time come and go, record companies, radio stations, the press, etc. use the commercial failure of a single female artist as justification to stop backing all female artists.

So I'm happy every time PJ Harvey is compared to Nick Cave or Tom Waits rather than Patti Smith. And it's a sign of progress that the Strokes are compared to Patti Smith as well as Television and the Velvet Underground. Instead of buying magazines that do a special "women in music," seek out those that cover women in music because they cover music. And while you're at it, consider whether a magazine is putting a female musical on the cover because of her music or her willingness to display her pulchritude.

Thursday, January 09, 2003

At the movies recently, I caught the trailer for How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which featured Sixpence None the Richer's cover of Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over." Without even hearing the whole song, I  realized that, once again, the band's taste in pop songs is matched only by their ability suck all the life out of them and leave them blandly pretty. As with their version of the La's "There She Goes," they robbed the song of all its texture.  Their songs are like a vacuous model, a pretty surface but no personality.

At least they haven't discovered David Mead yet. "Girl on the Roof" from his 2001 disc Mine and Yours would have been a perfect summer single if anyone had stumbled across it.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Interpol, Monday Jan. 13, Empty Bottle, Chicago

Good news if, like me, you failed to purchase tickets for their sold-out Metro show.  They've added another show the next night at the Empty Bottle.  Tickets go on sale on Wednesday, January 8 at 10 a.m. and are available at http://emptybottle.com.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Interpol, Sunday Jan. 12, Metro, Chicago

Many people have likened New York's Interpol to Joy Division. They sound far more like the Chameleons, but fewer people even know what the Chameleons sound like to even form a comparison. When touting the Chameleons show to friends last October, I described the Chameleons as Interpol with better vocals. However, if Interpol doesn't include a drunk, complaining guitarist, then it will be a better show than the Chameleons put on. If your itch for Manchester-style mope rock with chiming guitars hasn't been scratched since the '80s, go see Interpol.

Anyway, I feel a little silly recommending the show since it is already sold out, and I didn't even get a chance to buy tickets. I'm not convinced this blog has sufficient readership to warrant my hitting up a publicist for comp tickets (Yeah, my being ethical that way probably explains why I haven't been more successful in the music industry.) So if you know of some extra tickets, please email me.

Friday, January 03, 2003

A while back, a researcher reported findings on "stuck tune syndrome," the phenomenon of having a song running through one's head. One way to get rid of it is to tell someone else. So I apologize for announcing this, but I have "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" by Gayla Peevey going through my brain. If you've never heard it, you should probably be thankful. If you're curious, it's on Dr. Demento Presents: The Greatest Christmas Novelty CD of All Time.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

I recently overheard a woman explain that she named her daughter Morrissey after her great aunt's maiden name. Although the mother looked the right age, she didn't look the type to have had a Smiths poster on her college dorm wall. Maybe it was just coincidence, or maybe suburban motherhood had erased the last traces of a sullen youth. But what a great idea: scrounge up an obscure relative, and you can justify naming your kids after your favorite musicians.

Really, such "honors" are better saved for pets who won't have to bear the potential emotional scars. Okay, maybe I named my kittens something other than Iggy and Townshend because I'm still clinging to the idea of one day using those as baby names. But if you want someone else to save you the trouble, there's a dog named Zappa available for adoption at the Evanston Animal Shelter.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Concert Review: Robbie Fulks, Abbey Pub, Chicago, December 31

At first it was confusing: a guy in a Slash wig and Al Jourgensen-style crushed cowboy hat churning on guitar. Then the melody emerged. He was playing "Auld Lang Syne" like Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." And it only got better from there. The rest of the band, including Robbie himself, joined the guitarist. But Robbie was almost unrecognizable. Yes, the guy playing country music was wearing a silver lamé shirt, glam rock make-up including blue eye shadow, "sculpted" cheekbones and star on his cheek, and a "rock star" wig, like Tina Turner's 'do, but with optic fibers that blinked. Taking into account the music and the visuals, my friend asked, "Are you familiar with the expression 'cognitive dissonance'?"

I generally don't like country music, alt- or otherwise, because I can't get past the twang. Robbie has no shortage of twang, but I like him anyway.