Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Once you've sung enough choruses of "Over the River and Through the Woods" and have a hankering for some different Thanksgiving musical entertainment, WXRT, 93.1 FM in Chicago, is broadcasting a Radiohead concert from Earl's Court in London at 8 p.m. on Thursday. The only problem is that they are touting it on the air as a "Thanksgiving homecoming." Someone forgot to point out that Thanksgiving is an American holiday not celebrated in Great Britain.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Nelly Furtado has a new album, Folklore, and a new baby, daughter Nevis. Her label apparently only viewed the former as good news. According to an interview in Entertainment Weekly (November 21, 2003 issue, "Listen 2 This" supplement):
Last May, before she started to show, Furtado submitted to a marathon photo shoot (14 costume changes in two days), which generated enough images for a year's worth of promotion for her new album, Folklore. While that ploy (the preemptive thinking of DreamWorks, her record label) may have worked to disguise her expanding waistline, there's no covering up her musical growth.
Which invites the question: why was such "preemptive thinking" necessary? Why should a female musician have to hide her pregnancy? It's not like she's an actress playing the role of a non-pregnant woman. That she is not married to the father shouldn't matter considering that male musicians such as Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler and, most prolifically, Screamin' Jay Hawkins (said to have sired at least 57 offspring) have had children out of wedlock. If they were just doing as much work as possible in advance to allow her time off with the new baby, it shouldn't matter what state of pregnancy she was in when the photos were taken

Why not let a woman be a woman and acknowledge that pregnancy is part of womanhood at some point for most of the sex? Maybe all that was really needed was some cool maternity clothes; perhaps Kim Gordon, ultracool bass player, mother and occasional clothing designer can dream up some appropriately kick-ass duds.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I'm not particularly a fan of either, but I was astonished to learn that John Mellencamp didn't make the cut for the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame while Bob Seger did. Especially since dropping the name "Cougar," Mellencamp has earned a lot of respect as a Midwestern Bruce Springsteen, chronicling the woes of Heartland average Joes. I can't quite imagine any teenager ever dreaming of being the next John Mellencamp the way I could see Dylan as such an ideal, but Mellencamp has definitely carved a niche as a chart-topping artist with a unique vision.

The same can't be said for Seger, who is little more than an unusually popular hack. He's done nothing particularly original, and his most memorable hit, "Old Time Rock and Roll" is an anthem to stagnation. He may have sold lots more records than the Stooges, who were also passed over despite being nominated, but I have never heard anyone refer to an artist as the new Bob Seger. The Stooges were distinct and influential, two traits that could hardly be associated with the utterly generic Seger. Even Rod Stewart has a better raspy voice.

It will probably take the 25th anniversary of Scarecrow, when Mellencamp finally ditched "Cougar" from his moniker, to get him inducted. Unfortunately, as was the case with Joey Ramone, it will take the untimely death of Iggy Pop to get the Stooges in, and the Ig shows all signs of being a survivor.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Concert Recommendation:  Buzzcocks, Double Door, Friday, November 28

As the saying goes, timing is everything. For bands, this can mean the momentum of your set. I recently saw a young band who worked a funky, edgy Gang of Four groove, but they came to screeching halt after every song, taking far too long to get started again. It dragged down everything good thing they had going for them. No such problems with Buzzcocks, though. When they were at the Metro earlier this year, the hits just kept coming and coming. They gleefully went through their set at a breathless pace. For all the lovelorn and youthful angst portrayed in their songs, they were so damn happy to be playing them. They show no signs of subsiding.

Some people may rightfully be confused about when exactly this show is. Fliers hanging inside the Double Door list the show for tonight, November 21. I can understand that bookings change, but the Double Door staff didn't even have to leave the building to scribble corrections on the fliers. How lazy or apathetic are they? Or is it just a scheme to attract an audience for whatever less-known artist is actually playing tonight?

Buzzcocks play with Dummy at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago,  773.489.3160, on at 10 p.m. on Friday, November 28.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Concert Review:  Fountains of Wayne, Caviar, The Vic Theatre, Wednesday, November 19

The problem with being really into a band's albums is that you lose track of which songs are really popular and which are merely your favorites. After numerous listens, "Little Red Light" has surpassed "Stacy's Mom" and "Bright Future in Sales" as the best song on Fountains of Wayne's Welcome Interstate Managers, at least in my mind. So it was beyond comprehension that they wouldn't play it. And I was hoping for "Laser Show," from Utopia Parkway, if only to find out if they'd update the lyrics to reflect the change in Metallica's line-up.

But enough griping. What they did play was great, non-stop insanely catchy pop. Considering that Fountains of Wayne sold out the Double Door between albums, it was astonishing that they didn't sell out the Vic now that they have a genuine MTV hit on their hands with "Stacy's Mom." The good news is that, based on how the singing audience nearly drowned out the acoustic "Hey Julie," their newfound mainstream success isn't likely to make them a one-hit wonder. "Survival Car" became more obviously a Manhattan-based take on a '60s California driving songs like the Beach Boys' "Little Deuce Coupe." "Radiation Vibe" continues to be their platform for musical references; this time they ventured into Foreigner, the Cars, and Steve Perry's solo hit "Oh Sherrie" that was saved from utter awfulness by their mashing it up with the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army." They also hovered in the era when there were lots of Stacy-aged girls named Stacy with an E.L.O. cover, which they identified as such for the benefit of the youngsters in the audience.

Openers Caviar were also mining the musical past. One song began and ended with the guitarist singing through Peter Frampton-style vocal modification while the piano line from Little River Band's "Lady" played as an underlayer. They closed with several movements from the early Who mini-opera "A Quick One (While He's Away)." Their coolness in choosing such an obscure Who song was nearly obliterated by the guitarist's blatantly Townshendesque windmills.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Fountains of Wayne, Vic Theatre, Wednesday, November 19

Fountains of Wayne write such hook-filled pop songs that it should be a guilty a pleasure. But for starters, there's Jody Porter, who gives their songs just enough guitar muscle to avoid the cloying coyness of bassist Adam Schlesinger's other band Ivy. But their real strength is in their lyrics. Songs like "Stacy's Mom" and "Fire Island" are written from the perspective of teenagers, but songwriters Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood are in their 30s and drop subtle hints at the delusion of that younger age. Choruses like the one from "Little Red Light:" "It's not right/it's not fair/I'm still a mess/and you still don't care" are like clichés in the making -- the words flow together so well it's astonishing no one has thought to assemble them previously like dance/chance/romance. Their concerts lend themselves to audience sing-alongs, and the band members have the self-deprecating sense of humor needed to survive when they look like they got beaten up, or at least teased, frequently in high school.

Fountains of Wayne play with Caviar at the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield, Chicago, 773.472.0449 at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 19.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Concert recommendations: Kristin Hersh, Howe Gelb and Andrew Bird, Old Town School of Folk Music, Saturday, November 15; Steve Turner and Marc Olsen, Empty Bottle Sunday, November 16

It's "band members going solo" weekend in Chicago. Tonight at the Old Town School of Music, Andrew Bird appears without his Bowl of Fire, Howe Gelb appears without Giant Sand and Kristin Hersh appears without the Throwing Muses. Hersh has been doing solo shows for over a decade, and what she loses in not having the full band, she makes up for with great between-song banter. At one show, she talked about her difficulty in leaving her young son behind when touring; the crucial phrase of the anecdote was, "Big fat dog butt." Bird and Gelb worked with her on her latest album The Grotto.

Tomorrow at the Empty Bottle, Steve Turner leaves behind the Superfuzz and the Big Mufff of Mudhoney for a solo show. Don't expect acoustic renditions of "Touch Me I'm Sick," but it is an interesting turn for Turner. And Marc Olsen is the former guitarist for Seattle psychedelic goth outfit Sky Cries Mary, not be be confused with Victoria Williams' husband Mark Olsen, the former guitarist for alt-country outfit Jayhawks.

As for Gelb and his Giant Sand connection, it reminds me of the "Clown Without Pity" segment of the Simpsons "Treehouse of Horrors," when Homer buys a Krusty doll for Bart at the House of Evil.

The only time I saw Giant Sand, they were really boring.
That's bad.

Since they were so boring, I suggested to the guy I was talking to that we leave and get something to eat, leading to our dating off and on for six months.
That's good.

He turned to be a jerk.
That's bad.

His jerkiness made the next guy I dated, my future husband, look even better.
That's good.

So I have mixed feelings about Giant Sand, but at least they never tried to kill Homer Simpson.

Kristin Hersh, Howe Gelb and Andrew Bird play at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., 773.728.6000 at 7 p.m. on Saturday, November 15.  Steve Turner and Marc Olsen play with Matt Marque at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., 773.276.3600 at 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, November 16.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Concert Recommendation: Firewater, Empty Bottle, Friday, November 7

Imagine the Pogues but with less alcohol cutting a wider swath across Europe. Firewater are less overtly folky and incorporate gypsy and Eastern European sounds into their rock, and frontman Tod A has a cigarette-burnished voice, less raspy than Tom Waits but more in control than Shane MacGowan.

Firewater play with TV on the Radio and Birdland at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago, 773.276.3600 at 10 p.m. on Friday, November 7.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Concert Recommendation: David Mead, Schuba's, Friday, November 7

Not sure why Mead is touring now since he hasn't released an album since 2001's Mine and Yours. But it's a fine album. Unlike many singer/songwriters, Mead realizes that songs consist of more than just lyrics, and he crafts some catchy melodies to accompany his words. Or maybe all you need to know is that it was produced by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne and bears an obvious stamp of the collaboration.

The other good thing about his playing Schuba's is that they've redesigned their web site, making it far less cumbersome.

David Mead plays with Mark Johnson at Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport, Chicago, 773.525.2508 at 7 p.m. on Friday, November 7.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I'm generally all for anyone taking their inspiration from Who lyrics. But why must the entire indie rock aesthetic be based on a pair of lines from "I'm One" on Quadrophenia?
Ill fit clothes
I blend in the crowd
The just-slept-in look is not only a cliché, but it is an utter lack of style. The only thing more tired than the trend of trucker hats is media references to the trend of trucker hats. One band looks exactly like another looks exactly like the audience, like they grabbed the clothes off the floor that smelled the least. Even the once-stylish Robert Plant fell prey to the anti-look on his last tour. The current perception of the punk look may have been distilled to the Sid Vicious/Johnny Thunders spiked hair/black leather jacket motif, but at least it was deliberate. And besides, the Ramones all had long hair, except C.J. who immediately grew out his military cut.

This was particularly obvious at Halloween. I attended a party where four people went as the different members of Kiss. With few other bands could outsiders figure out not only what group but what specific members each costume was. Just try dressing up at Pavement or Bright Eyes or Modest Mouse for Halloween. Even the most hardcore indie snob would have a hard time guessing you were in a costume, let alone which distinct band you were supposed to be.

Fortunately some new bands are making an effort to forge a unique image. The Hives and the White Stripes have color schemes. The Mooney Suzuki all don black but pay attention to details, such as the drummer's neckerchief. Interpol always look like they've gotten their hair cut within the last month, while most indie rockers barely look like they've gotten their hair washed within in the last  month. And older acts that are still strong musically are also still strong on the style front: the Fall's Mark E. Smith took the stage at the tiny Empty Bottle in a freshly-pressed shirt and well-cut trousers. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds all sported their unique take on haberdashery. And there's always the Echo & the Bunnymen option: keep the lights dim and swath the stage in so much fog that no one can quite tell what you're wearing anyway.