Monday, March 31, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Ceasars, Tuesday, Apr. 1, Metro

Ceasars, the band formerly known as Twelve Ceasars and the subject of my first blog entry, are opening for fellow Swedes the Soundtrack of Our Lives at the Metro. Appropriately enough, my friend Carla to whom I referred in that entry was the one who tipped me off about the name change and the support slot. Should be fun.

Ceasars are the second band on, between Palo Alto and the Soundtrack of Our Lives, at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, at 8 p.m.
I was listening the Little Steven's Underground Garage the other evening. You gotta love any DJ who would follow Dion singing "Donna the Prima Donna" with a song by the Donnas. The show is a fun mix of modern garage rock, obscure tracks by famous artists and songs that just don't get played on the radio very often any more. In other words, it is music selected by a person with eclectic taste, not by a market research consulting firm.

One regular feature of the show is the "coolest song in the world this week." Introducing a track by Finland's Flaming Sideburns, he commented that finding songs is easy nowadays but would have been difficult just two years ago, when it felt like rock was dead. The resurgence in good new rock bands hit me, but I felt the previous dearth on other ways. I spent several years lamenting my inability to find good young bands. Most concerts I was attending were by artists I'd been following for years. Even my newer discoveries were musicians around my age, like Moby and New Bomb Turks. So it's been refreshing in the last year or so to find great bands still in the throes of youth - the Hives, the Mooney Suzuki, Interpol. I'd been a fan of Ash since their 1995 debut but went about six years without hearing or seeing them; they bounced back with Free All Angels, and they're still in their mid-20s. The music industry may be struggling, but the young talent is still there.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Concert Review: BellRays, The D4, Electric Six, Empty Bottle, Friday March 28, Empty Bottle

It sunk in while watching the BellRays that it has been about three years since I saw them, and a lot can change in that time.  Previously, they were a garage soul band. But new lead guitarist and young Lee Marvin look alike Tony Fate is a Jimmy Page wannabe. While the concept of Led Zeppelin fronted by Tina Turner is good in theory, the songs were too amorphous, just jams and would-be guitar solos which overshadowed frontwoman Lisa Kekaula as she tried to get a lyric in edgewise.

The D4, like the Datsuns, do put a new spin on the stereotype of New Zealand rock, as obscure a stereotype as it is. I was screaming at the TV that they would allow such ignoramuses on Rock and Roll Jeopardy when none of the three contestants knew the Chills were from New Zealand. To me and other '80s/early '90s college radio aficionados, New Zealand rock is all about Flying Nun Records, about bands with no more than two degrees of separation from the Clean, melodic guitar pop like the Bats or the dense wall of sound of the Straitjacket Fits. The D4 may be on Flying Nun but sound little like their precursors. They were rather like Sweden's Hellacopters, incorporating elements of garage rock, early punk and early '70s Black Sabbath. Despite a pair of very energetic and very flashy guitarists, they had little new to offer musically. The individual songs weren't great, but they do show promise in that the weakest song in their set was a cover of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga."

The most pleasant surprise of the evening was opening band Electric Six. The little press exposure they've gotten already feels like hype. Their semi-hit "Danger! High Voltage" shows high potential for annoyance value, with the lyric "Fire in the disco" being painful so soon after the Great White tragedy. If anything, that songs sells them short. They start from a base of garage, but bring in much more. Singer Dick Valentine recalls Sonics raspy vocalist Gerald Roslie. The throbbing, metallic tinge of the bass and rhythm guitar bring in hints of Gang of Four and Big Black. And somehow a guy with a geometric '80s 'do snuck in with the long-hairs and provides synth lines that match his haircut. Believe the hype on Electric Six, but don't be put off by their budding status as one-hit wonders.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Concert Recommendation:  The BellRays, Friday Mar. 28, Empty Bottle

It's likely the BellRays will be overshadowed by their support acts. Electric Six have quite the buzz going over the disco parody "Danger!  High Voltage" which has all the makings of a novelty hit. New Zealanders the D4 are getting mentioned on commercial radio, surprising for any band playing the Empty Bottle, particularly in an opening slot. But those who stick around until the end of the night will be richly rewarded. Singer Lisa Kekaula is quite the presence to behold, like a spirited "Proud Mary"-era Tina Turner, fronting a soul-inflected garage rock band. "Stupid Fuckin' People" is a vital anthem for anyone who ever has to deal with, well, just read the song title."

The BellRays play the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago on Friday, March 28 at 10 p.m. with Electric Six and the D4.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Concert recommendation:  Atom and His Package, Fireside Bowl, Sun. Mar. 23

I have only heard one song by Atom and His Package. I have only heard it three times. But when it's as memorably funny and giddy a piece of synth punk as "I'm Downright Amazed At What I Can Destroy with Just a Hammer," I'm intrigued by the very thought of seeing him live.

Atom and His Package play the Fireside Bowl , 2646 W. Fullerton, Chicago on Sunday at 6 p.m. with Sole, Brazil and Grand Buffet.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Concert Recommendation:  Idlewild, Friday Mar. 21, Double Door

Scottish quintet Idlewild's album 100 Broken Windows and the accompanying tour were musical highlights of 2001. They've been compared to Nirvana, but they sound nothing like a Nickelback power ballad. Even the Nirvana reference falls short because their greatest strength is their two guitarists Rod Jones and Allan Stewart's. They switch from complexly interwoven harmony to a dense barrage of sound and back again, usually in the same song. And the band puts on an energetic show.

Idlewild will be opening for Pearl Jam in May and June, so see them now in front of a few hundred people rather than several thousand.

Idlewild play at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, 773.489.3160 on Friday, March 21 at 10 p.m. with the French Kicks and .22.  

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

I've got Reagan/Bush the Elder-era punk lyrics on my mind.

By Lee Ving, as performed by Fear: "Let's have a war! Jack up the Dow Jones!"

By Billy Bragg, from "North Sea Bubble:" "War!  What is it good for.  It's good for business."

We need the return of political sarcasm, but political sarcasm from the past will do for now.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Concert Review: The Streets, Monday Mar. 17, Metro

The Streets' Chicago debut invited two questions: How well would the bed-sit hip-hop translate live? Would main Street Mike Skinner look like he sounded, like someone I could beat up? Based on his ongoing difficulty in popping a balloon by stomping on it, I'd say yes, I could take him on in a fight. But he brought along a whole band, so I'd be outnumbered. He was joined by a drummer, bass player, electronics guy (keyboards and whatnot) and another vocalist.

As for the first question, the answer is disappointing. Attending the sold-out show was better for hipster bragging rights than actual entertainment. Skinner name-checked Chicago so many times that he was clearly pandering to the locals. His only non-generic reference to the city was "We Become Heroes," his homage to Chicago house music. The band were clearly having fun, spraying beer and pouring beverages on one another, but such playfulness became even more filler. The show had no momentum. Still, "Let's Push Things Forward" was especially strong for segueing the syncopated beat into a few lines of the Specials' "Ghost Town."

Original Pirate Material is still a great album, but it's shame it wasn't matched by the live performance.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Tom Morello is my new favorite rock star. The music he's created isn't my favorite, but he's really everything I'd want in an idol. Maybe it's just that as a writer, I so appreciate the articulate speech he gave in honoring the Clash at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, conveying not only the band's music and social impact on the world, but their musical and social impact on him. By comparison, Billy Joel often found it easiest to explain the wonders of the Righteous Brothers by singing, hard-pressed to find spoken words to communicate his emotions.

My main complaint with Gwen Stefani's speech is that for all her professed love of the band, it sounded like she discovered them with Synchronicity and never dug into their back catalog. I can't say she was obviously worthy of making the Police induction speech, but as the leader of the most enduring band of the third wave of ska, and one that expanded their musical boundaries beyond that same, repetitive syncopated beat, there wasn't an obviously more worthy choice. Any disappointment I have with her being less articulate than Tom Morello is offset by her willingness to show such an unflattering photo of her overweight teenage self getting an autograph from a disinterested Sting.

But I'm absolutely disgusted that they allowed John Mayer on the stage with the Police. He's this year's Jewel, utterly out of his league. Watching the broadcast, I thought it was Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20, which says it all about how hopelessly generic Mayer and Matchbox 20 are in both their appearance and their music. The Police were the antithesis of generic, a band of such singular musicianship that no one else is capable of sounding like them. Men at Work simplified the reggae influences, but it was never like the Rolling Stones formula where any garage band could pull off an adequate version. Twenty-five years from now, people will still extol the glories of the Police, and John Mayer will have been long forgotten.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Lots of people talk about the connections between music and fashion, but those connections are often tenuous. Spin regularly features fashion spreads, usually modeled by up-and-coming musicians who are so desperate for exposure they'll wear anything, and it's clear that the magazine only makes the effort so they can convince clothing companies to advertise. Fashion magazines invoke the "rock chick" aesthetic, blissfully unaware that stiletto sandals wouldn't cut it in a mosh pit or that Sheryl Crow's '70's California singer-songwriter motif isn't punk rock.

The Style Network just had an extreme example of one side not quite getting the other. In presenting designer Cynthia Steffe's fall 2003 show, they discussed the mod influences. Someone must have been aware of the basic tenet of writing to not reuse the same expression, so they clearly tried to come up with synonyms for "mod." Someone compared the looks to Quadrophenia. I'll give them credit for trying, although the women's fashion in that mod chronicle movie were indistinct compared to the men's, and Steffe's design details were more like what was seen on That Girl and The Avengers. Then fashion correspondent Lloyd Boston called the look "rockabilly." The guy may know fashion, but he couldn't wouldn't know Jerry Lee Lewis from the Who, the Stray Cats from the Jam, or maybe even a pompadour from bangs.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

After watching the Behind the Music on Rick Springfield, it really sunk it that there's a huge difference between music that happens to find its biggest audience with teenage girls and music that is created specifically to appeal to teenage girls. Rio by Duran Duran and "Jessie's Girl" may be guilty pleasures, but they are pleasures nonetheless, while the works of Journey and New Kids on the Block are still painful.

Proving that Rick Springfield does have a sense of humor, he is embarking on his "1st Annual Farewell Tour." Tickets went on sale today for his June 14 appearances at the Navy Pier Skyline Stage. Can't say I plan to attend, but I do admire his wit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Yesterday morning I read the Reuters news story on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. According to the report, the Clash presentation was made by Tom Morello, formerly of Rage Against the Madness [sic]. I wondered what sort of bozo they had covering the event who didn't even know the correct name of one of the biggest rock bands of the '90s. I checked the byline: Larry Fine. It wasn't a bozo; it was a Stooge.

The error was corrected by later in the day.

Monday, March 10, 2003

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony is tonight. Time to reflect on the inductees, the induction and the process as a whole.

The Ramones redistilled rock and roll to three chords and three-minute songs. The Sex Pistols were all about theatrics and staged outrage. But the Clash gave punk both the heart and the brains. They were politically and musically aware. Their music was visceral but lyrically substantive - it had a good beat and you could think to it. They stood up for social injustice in ways that many modern-day musicians won't out of fear of alienating their audience. And it'll be bittersweet to see them honored after Joe Strummer's death. At least, unlike the Ramones, it didn't take the sentimentality of someone's untimely death for them to get the nod.

Elvis Costello's even brainier than the Sex Pistols. I've already enthused about his career in Best of 2002 entry on December 20. What can you say about the man who has written the best pop song ever about senility, and that its popularity became an albatross?

The Police hold a unique place in music history as probably the only popular trio in which the guitarist was the least interesting member. Like Elvis Costello, like had a sharp lyricist in Sting. Like the Clash, they built their musical foundation on the brashness and exuberance of punk and the syncopated rhythms of reggae. But they moved beyond such basics, especially with the help of Stewart Copeland's complex drumming. No wonder guitarist Andy Summers was overshadowed.

I'll have to admit that I've come around somewhat on AC/DC. They were at their commercial peak when I was in high school, and they were among the groups banned from my car radio along with Ozzy Osbourne and Journey. About 20 years on, Journey still suck and Ozzy's entertainment value has very little to do with his music. And maybe AC/DC aren't so bad after all. They've been influential, and they're certainly better than the hair metal that arrived later in the '80s. I reviewed one of their concerts in 1990 as a favor to a friend, and they exceeded my low expectations.

The degree of commercial and musical impact comes into question with both the Righteous Brothers and others who have yet to make it past the nomination stage. The Righteous Brothers are well past their initial eligibility year of 25 years from the first recording. The fact that it took this long for them to be inducted shows the balance of factors needed to make the cut. The Righteous Brothers were very popular and very talented, but the never revolutionized rock, and they left no obvious wake of influence on later musicians. By contrast, the Stooges were revolutionary and had a massive impact on followers but were never popular, so they still haven't been tapped for induction. Looking down the line, does this mean that someone like Bon Jovi deserves recognition? They aren't revolutionary, but they are very popular. They were the biggest of the hair metal bands, clearly an inspiration for many others, but does that mean that they should be awarded for both creating crap and inspiring more of it?

There's also the question of who makes the presentations of the individual artists. Last year it made sense to have Anthony Kiedis and Eddie Vedder as presenters since they are likely to be inducted with their own bands eventually. But the Talking Heads' and Ramones' influence on the two musicians wasn't obvious until they made their heartfelt speeches. It is premature to call Alicia Keys a shoo-in for later induction, but her speech for Isaac Hayes showed that she grasped his musical and larger social impact and that his music is part of her life. Jakob Dylan has yet to match his father's talent, but his recalling his envy of Tom Petty's kids for having Tom as a father was a unique perspective. Then there was Jewel, a pleasant singer of little consequence who read her induction speech about Brenda Lee like a high school student who had just done her research the night before. I haven't heard who will be making the presentations tonight, but I can only hope they find people who are worthy and articulate.

The ceremony will air on VH-1 on Sunday, March 16 at 9 and 11 p.m. ET.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Last night, I attended a party for Chunklet at Quimby's. A copy of the latest issue, with the "Pay to Not Play" cover story, provided endless entertainment during the lulls between calls when I was volunteering at the WLUW pledge drive, and it didn't leave me feeling guilty the way the Double Stuff Oreos did. In the same spirit as the Well Hung at Dawn Column on, the 'zine pokes fun at bands and makes jokes about semi-obscure music that are funny just for the obscurity of it. For example, a piece in Chunklet pondered which label was most likely to reissue Hunters & Collectors albums. I can think of maybe two people other than myself in the whole United States who even know of Hunters & Collectors well enough to care.

Issue 17 of the irregularly-produced Chunklet is available at Quimby's, from the Chunklet web site, or I suppose wherever else fine zines with irregular production schedules are sold.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

If only it were true.

I recently received email with the subject line "Geek Music Library New Webpage." Suddenly my mind was swirling. Was it a library of music by geeks, a whole collection devoted to works by the likes of They Might Be Giants and the Talking Heads? Was it music about geeks, and I couldn't think of anything other than the Dr. Demento hit "Pencil Neck Geek"? Or was it simply a library for music geeks, people such as myself and those chronicled in High Fidelity who obsess over the minutia of music?

Sadly, it was none of those. It was just a typo in an announcement about a Greek music library. The email, from the library in Greece, had other misspellings, but I can't scoff because the writer's English is still far better than my Greek.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Today is my birthday, which gives me cause to reflect on happy musical memories of birthdays past.

1979 I get Cruisin' by the Village People, with the song "Y.M.C.A." as a bat mitzvah gift.
1982 I have recently broken up with my first boyfriend. I no longer pretend to be a Beatles fan to win him over. I have nothing against the Beatles, but there are lots of bands I'd rather listen to, like the Police.
1987 My alarm clock goes off and I hear "With or Without You," the first single off The Joshua Tree, for the first time.
1992 I interview David Gedge of the Wedding Present for the first time.  Later that day, at my request, my brother gives me the The Trouser Press Record Guide for my birthday. Little did I imagine that years later I'd be writing about David Gedge for another incarnation of Trouser Press.
1998 I see Fatboy Slim for the first time.
1999 I see Love and Rockets on what turns out to be their final tour the night before my birthday and write the review of the show on the day itself.
2002 My husband gets me Message in a Box, the Police box set, for my birthday. Scarily, I guess what it is from the shape of the package. Listening to it makes me feel 16 years old again for all the good reasons (see description of 1982 above.)

Alas, this isn't looking like a good year for forming new musical memories.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Concert Review: The Detroit Cobras and the Greenhornes, Friday Feb. 28, Double Door

The Greenhornes displayed why they have largely been just a footnote in all the neo-garage movement press. They lacked charisma. They lacked enthusiasm. Their best song was a cover I can't quick place although it sounds like it should have been a Nuggets track. The band is just a pastiche, an excuse for the stylized haircuts and retro typeface of their logo.

Fortunately, the Detroit Cobras had the spirit that the Greenhornes lacked. They looked like degenerates, and I mean that as a compliment. Throaty singer Rachel Nagy exhorted the audience to start dancing, but the rest of the band provided reason enough. As a cover band, albeit one that chooses obscure songs to cover, they will never change rock and roll. But if all the punk kids from all the high schools joined forces to hold their own prom, the Detroit Cobras would be the perfect band.