Friday, October 31, 2003

Concert Review: Echo & the Bunnymen, the Stills, Metro, Chicago, October 29

Consider the Who and Echo & the Bunnymen. Both lost their drummers to tragic, early deaths. Both continue to tour despite being down to just their original singers and lead guitarists and apparently past their creative prime. As their frontmen find diminishing interest in their solo careers, soldiering on with the band could be interpreted as desperate cash-in on nostalgia. The difference is that Echo & the Bunnymen still make their songs sound vital. Any doubts I had as to whether Ian McCulloch, Will Sergeant and the four new guys (bass, rhythm guitar, drums and keyboards) are still worth seeing were immediately replaced by the shivers up my spine.

The newer songs lack the jagged edges that  make their '80s output so much more intriguing, but they were mainly trotting out the old hits and the old obscurities. The tour is in celebration of the band's 25th reunion; in December, Rhino will be reissuing remastered versions of their first five albums. The ones with the memorable, moving songs. The ones before Pete de Freitas died and McCulloch embarked on a solo career. The good ones.

I've given up on their playing anything from the underrated Electrafixion, Sergeant and McCulloch's precursor to the Bunnymen reunion, and they passed on the driving "Do It Clean." But what they did include was inspired. "Crocodiles," "Rescue, "Lips Like Sugar," "The Killing Mind." One encore included a localized cover of  "Walk on the Wild Side," rhyming "Chicago" and "Metro." They closed with "Ocean Rain." McCulloch started with a nearly-whispered delivery, Sergeant eventually came in with a searing guitar line. By the time McCulloch finally went for the high notes at the song's close it was orgasmic.

One of the great mysteries in life, one which I have given up on every figuring out, is what the hell Ian McCulloch is saying between songs. I've been left befuddled at numerous venues with otherwise clear sound systems, so the problem has to be a semi-indecipherable Liverpudlian accent combined with a tendency to mumble except when singing.

As for opening act the Stills, they've been compared to the Chameleons and Echo & the Bunnymen, but I just kept wondering when Gay Dad changed their name.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Echo & the Bunnymen, Metro, Wednesday, October 29

I have mixed feelings about recommending this show. On one hand, Echo & the Bunnymen have created the epitome of grandiose songs of yearning, and Ian McCulloch's soaring voice sends shivers up the spine. On the other hand, their albums since reforming in the late '90s have come nowhere near their prime '80s output, essentially watering down the brand name. If the Chameleons are Interpol with better vocals, Echo & the Bunnymen are Interpol with better lyrics. Come discover where the sharp haircuts got their start.

Echo & the Bunnymen play with the Stills at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, on Wednesday, October 29 at 8 p.m.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Concert Recommendation:  Mr. Scruff, Metro, Friday, October 24

In one of proudest moments in my career as a music librarian, I was able to answer the question, "What's that song that's used in the Lincoln Navigator commercials?" I had been exposed to the commercials, and therefore the song, innumerable times because Lincoln Navigator was a major sponsor of cycling coverage on OLN last year, and OLN provides lots of cycling coverage. I was already familiar with music of semi-obscure jazz musician Moondog, the fortuitous result of being on Atlantic Records' mailing list in the mid '90s. One Google search for "Lincoln Navigator Moondog" later, I discovered it was "Get a Move On" by Mr. Scruff, who will be hitting the Metro tomorrow night.

I subsequently found out about Music from TV Commercials, an index that answers many such questions.

Mr. Scruff plays with DJ Spinna the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, on Friday, October 24 at 10 p.m.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Album Review: Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros Streetcore

This is more of a gut reaction since I haven't even listened all the way through twice yet. This posthumous release is unnerving in its ruminations and allusions to life and death considering Strummer's sudden, unexpected death last year. Eeriest of all is the closing track, "Silver and Gold," a renamed Fats Domino tune about kissing the girls, dancing every night and generally living life to fullest "before I grow too old."

Apart from the after-the-fact symbolism is the bigger issue that the album raises: why do you keep doing what you're doing? Athletes' bodies wear out, so they definitely reach a point where they can no longer match the top professionals in their field. With musicians, it's more vague: once you've reached a commercial and/or critical peak, is it possible to surpass or even match earlier successes? So why do you continue? Is it for the process or the outcome, the joy of the activity itself or the glory that results in terms of fame, money, acclaim and power? Cyclist Sean Yates was always happiest helping other teammates win races and was uncomfortable with the attention when he was in the lead; rather than retiring, he started racing on the masters' circuit just for the love of getting on a bike and going fast. And it's obvious from Streetcore that even if the Mescaleros were never going to be labeled "the only band that matters these days," former Clashman Strummer was recording and touring for the love of playing music. The album is joyous.

Especially in light of Elliott Smith's apparent suicide, Streetcore is a needed reminder of a musician ending his days doing something that made him really happy.

Monday, October 13, 2003

Concert Recommendation: The Strokes, Aragon, Sunday, October 19

The most important news item about this show is the venue and date change; it was originally scheduled for the UIC Pavilion for Saturday, October 18. The Jam Productions site has the updated information, but Metromix does not currently. Tickets for the UIC show will be honored at the general admission Aragon.

The second most important thing about this show is whether the Strokes can outlast the hype. The furor over this band was so strong that the backlash against them started against them before their debut album was even released, mainly in the form of resentment that they achieved too much too soon and the boys didn't come from dirt poor backgrounds. This Is It proved that the songwriting was sharp and their musical style drawing on many elements of New York '70s punk. But the main indictment I've heard of the petty jealousy of this band was in an article in Q. A music industry veteran in their camp observed that the Strokes are the only band he'd ever seen that practiced on their days off when they toured. Not only are they talented, but they are clearly working hard to achieve their moderate commercial success and enthusiastic reviews.

Get over your trauma and go see the band.

The Strokes play the Aragon, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, with the Kings of Leon and Regina Spektor at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 19.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

Movie Review: School of Rock

In School of Rock, Jack Black plays more or less the same character as the music-obsessed Barry, his role in High Fidelity. The main difference is that where Barry's taste in music was willfully obscure as a form of password to the indie-cred secret society, Dewey's interest is straight up rock and roll.  Belle and Sebastian never merit a mention, but neither do the Beatles, because they never rocked hard enough. The premise is that Dewey, hard up for cash, takes a gig as an elementary school substitute teacher, a position for which he is completely untrained. To beat the boredom, he teaches the 10-year-olds the only thing he knows: rock music. They hit all the key points: the Who, Led Zeppelin, the Clash, the Ramones, AC/DC, Yes, Rush, Kiss. The movie is hilarious not only for nailing obsessive rock fandom but also for Black's wonderful physical humor. The guy can do the wave with his eyebrows, for starters.

For some reason, my fellow audience members did not share my enthusiasm for the cameo by the Mooney Suzuki. They don't get to play or even speak, but of course they look cool. And they cowrote the movie's title song.  Maybe we'll see them perform on Oscar night. If nothing else, the kids in the School of Rock look like they could beat up those magic-endowed students at Hogwarts.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

How boring were the Occasion opening for We Ragazzi last Saturday at the Empty Bottle? Their own bass player looked ready to fall asleep while he was playing. And the group included a woman with an overly difficult set-up for tape loops on an open reel player. It added little to the sound, so it looked like the complexity only existed to give her a hobby. Maybe they're unionized and it was a make-work scheme.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

172 fans have filed suit against Limp Bizkit for playing a short set at a Chicago festival where they were ridiculed and booed off the stage. More notably, several thousand other people who attended the show were thankful for not having to endure more of that bonehead Fred Durst.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

What a difference a www makes. is the URL for Spiritualized, the feedback-heavy band led by Jason Pierce. takes you to the Official Iron Maiden website, as does Makes one wonder what other talented, relevant band name URLs Iron Maiden bought up in a lame attempt to attract attention to their untalented irrelevant selves.