Tuesday, December 28, 2004

"Lesson Number 1: If the band doesn't destroy their equipment, you don't get to, either."

Rachel Nagy, lead singer of the Detroit Cobras, offered this advice to audience at their show at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom on Sunday night. Here's another piece of advice. There are some standard questions you can ask yourself to determine if you are an alcoholic, but I've got one more for the list: Have you ever been a one-person mosh pit?  It's never pretty. I've seen it at least twice where is was clearly substance-induced. The woman at the Cobras show was slugging down airline bottles of liquor. A guy at a Chills show in Philly twelve years ago attacked an innocent bystander and knocked out some of his teeth.

Then there was a fixture at Pearl Street in Northampton. He was regularly a one-man mosh pit but appeared to be just oddly enthusiastic and was never dangerous to those around him.

But if you can answer "yes" to "Have you ever been a one-person mosh pit?" then please get help. If not for your own sake, then at least for the sake of your fellow concert-goers and the bands themselves.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

I recently attended my 20 year high school reunion. The event included a DJ with the promise of period-specific music. Some of it was dead-on for the era, such as Duran Duran and Culture Club. But there were some glaring errors, or at least errors that were glaring to me. Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" and Animotion's "Obsession" may have been released in 1984, the year we graduated, but the songs came out after graduation. "Relax" hit in late summer, "Obsession" the following winter, so I clearly associate them with college, not high school. But I'm probably more of a music geek than everyone else in my class, so no one else may have noticed, not even  when she played the Spring, 1985 Tears for Fears track.

Since no one was dancing anyway, it would have been fun to have a more well-rounded early '80s soundtrack. I love new wave as much as anyone who once sported an asymmetric haircut (although that wasn't until 1985), but Rush, Genesis and Yes were the music of choice for one set of friends. At least she played Crosby, Still, Nash & Young's "Our House" which I strongly associate with high school because one of my classic rock-loving friends took offense at Madness for having the temerity to write a song with the same name.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Might as well quote the whole thing:

The Knitting Factory along with H.O.P.E. (Horrified Observers of Pedestrian Entertainment) are offering the good people of America who have been duped into buying Ashlee Simpson's CD a reprieve; the opportunity to turn in her CD for one of a higher entertainment quality. Just bring your Ashlee Simpson CD down to the Knitting Factory Box Office between 10 and 5 PM Mon thru Sat and get one by the likes of Elvis Costello, The Ramones, X, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Aretha Franklin, Mr. Bungle, Ray Charles, Abe Lincoln Story, Grateful Dead, Neil Hamburger, Joni Mitchell, and Brian Wilson (while supplies last / selections vary) courtesy of Rhino Records in replacement. If you're in a city outside NYC, contact Hopeinfilm@aol.com or visit www.hopeinamerica.com for an exchange.
I like the concept, but I'm a little troubled by the choice of artists. While they're all great, they're largely artists from the LP/birth of FM radio era, including bands with dead members, which perpetuates the idea that being a real musician is an antiquated notion. I realize that Rhino specializes in reissues so they're unlikely to have anything new in their catalog, but this would be even more meaningful if they offered exchanges for recording artists of the MP3/birth of satellite radio era who are doing it real, like the Roots or Interpol.

Monday, November 08, 2004

I'd held off on commenting on the Ashlee Simpson SNL lip-synching debacle because I didn't want to repeat all the obvious reactions. What I do find troubling is the idea that lip-synching is now so commonplace that our youngest generation of music fans might not be appalled. One of the Simpson camp's myriad justifications is that every major star these days does it because fans want the live performance to sound like the record. Maybe this is an inevitable expectation in this age of overproduced albums, particularly with the widespread use of ProTools for pitch correction and other technological enhancements for "singers" who can't really sing. By extension, it implies that fans expect live performances to replicate overproduced videos in which singers (and I again use the word loosely) execute precision dance moves, never running out of breath because they are mouthing along to their own recordings for filming.

I guess this is where I'm hopelessly old school. For the bands I love the most, the challenge of recording is to capture the energy of the live show, not the other way around. When this controversy arose a decade ago regarding Janet Jackson's "live" performances, I opined that I'd rather take a chance on a Replacements show, where they might be horrible or they might be utterly amazing, then get the predictability of canned performance.

I have my doubts about all the "major" artists resorting to backing tracks and canned vocals. Many minor ones certainly don't; you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone doing this among the determined fringe who play venues like the Empty Bottle and Schuba's. Considering that she charges hundreds of dollars for the best seats, Better Midler would qualify as a major artist, but she made a point of the announcing at a recent show that the voice and the tits were real. Which makes Bette Midler more punk rock than Ashlee Simpson.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

While remembering John Peel's legacy, I discovered two things. The bad news was that my Babes in Toyland and Billy Bragg Peel Sessions were among the CDs stolen from my apartment in 1993 that I never replaced, in part because I had trouble remembering which CDs were taken. The good news is that, in reading the memorial posting from David Gedge on the Cinerama/Wedding Present site, I found that the Wedding Present are back together and are releasing a new album next year.

Incidentally, the 1993 thieves only got stuff from the beginning of the alphabet, so I still have my Wedding Present Peel Sessions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of British DJ John Peel. Best known in the U.S. to hardcore music fans for his name attached to Peel Sessions radio studio recordings, he was a lifelong champion of great music. He joined the BBC with the launch of Radio 1 and was its only remaining original DJ. Throughout his career, he continuously sought out new music and shared it with his audience. Many artists are chiming in with tributes, acknowledging that they owe the launch of their careers to his early exposure. The most thorough and appreciative coverage of his work and its influence comes from the UK, such as the BBC and NME.com.

When attending the Reading Festival in 1990 and 1991, I got to experience his fantastic taste first-hand. I was initially struck by just how great the music was between sets and only learned afterwards that he was spinning the discs.

I interviewed Peel in 1991, I think as part of PR campaign to promote the U.S. release of Peel Sessions and attempted launch of syndicated radio show. The show never took off, but it was the best interview I ever conducted. It wasn't entirely surprising since he talks for a living, as opposed to the musicians I interview who pick up guitars because they're not comfortable talking to people. But he was funny, humble and full of amusing anecdotes.

I've been playing some promo CDs with his announcing. He explained that he didn't earn any royalties off the Peel Sessions. They were the result of an agreement with the musicians' union when BBC Radio 1 was launched that all shows must include a portion of live music, meaning something recorded in the BBC studios. As he noted, this meant they were able to play works in progress, unusual groupings of musicians and artists who hadn't otherwise entered a recording studio yet. Next up on my CD player: Peel Sessions by Babes in Toyland, the Wedding Present and the Chameleons.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Concert Recommendations: Mission of Burma, Metro; The Cramps, The Vic Theatre; both shows 9:00 p.m., Saturday, October 23

One big frustration of music journalism is the lack of real impact. Publicists and writers don't like to admit it, but press alone doesn't sell records, certainly not the way radio airplay does. So it's gratifying when the written word has a significant effect on connecting worthy music with an audience. Such is the case with Mission of Burma. The band broke up in 1983, ahead of their time musically and in terms of the supporting infrastructure needed to support the kind of music that was ahead of its time, namely a network of specialized clubs and non-commercial radio stations. But inspired by their inclusion in Michael Azerrad's Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, where they were among 13 influential bands profiled, the band reunited in 2002. They toured to glowing acclaim and now have a CD of new material, ONoffON and are on tour again.

The only problem is that the show conflicts with the Cramps. Based purely on the amount of sweat generated in an average performance, Cramps frontman Lux Interior is the hardest working man in show business. The guy gives his all, stomping around the stage in high heels, tearing off most of his clothes, even vomiting on stage in the middle their set at the 1990 Reading Festival while barely missing a beat. And his lovely wife Poison Ivy Rorschach is an underrated guitarist with a huge, distinctive sound. If that's not enough, try these three words: "Elvis Fucking Christ!" It's the highlight of last year's Fiends of Dope Island.

Which show gets the edge? I'm going with the Cramps because it's my first concert in almost four months, my first time leaving my baby with a sitter for the evening, and the Cramps are a sure thing. Television's reunion tour also earned rave reviews but I found them too cerebral, making me hesitant about MoB; however, drummer Peter Prescott's Volcano Suns were so amazing in 1990 that I saw them twice in just over a week, the second show being the best three-band line-up I've ever seen (on between the Unrest and the Wedding Present). So there are no losers except those who skip both shows.

Mission of Burma play the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, at 9 p.m. on Saturday, October 23 with Eleventh Dream Day and Pit er Pat.  The Cramps play the Vic Theatre, 3145 N. Sheffield Ave., Chicago at the same time, with the Gore Gore Girls and Ladies and Gentlemen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

I can bitch and moan about Rolling Stone's music coverage for a variety of reasons, but occasionally they get it right. And sometimes they get it right in retrospect, too. RollingStone.com is running the magazine's original article on the Ramones, when their eponymous debut was released in 1976.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Just saw the ad for the new REM album. When did Brendan Fraser replace Peter Buck?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

He don't wanna be buried in a pet semetary, so he'll be cremated instead.

Guess I was too engrossed in Rosh Hashanah, so I missed the news that Johnny Ramone has succumbed to cancer.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Fireside Bowl, not quite R.I.P.

I heard on WNUR last night that the Fireside Bowl had closed, but this is not quite accurate. According to the venue's web site, "Until recently booking was handled by MPShows and due to recent developments this relationship has ended. . . The Fireside will continue to have live entertainment." For now, however, all upcoming shows have been canceled.

I have mixed feelings about the venue. The acoustics are terrible, and bands that have been terrific elsewhere just have their sound deadened there. One of my friends argued that the atmosphere more than makes up for the lousy acoustics. The first time I was there after we'd had this discussion, a cockroach moseyed along the bar as I was downing a drink. This was a little more atmosphere than I could deal with, but the band that night did sound good.

Monday, August 09, 2004

It's like the X Games for a different demographic! For those who aren't into "action sports" (which implies that all other sports entail inaction) and its accompanying soundtrack of nü-metal or thrash metal or thrash punk or whatever music is licensed for the latest Tony Hawk video game, Nike is organizing "Run Hit Wonder" in Chicago on Thursday, September 23. As the name implies, it's a race featuring performances by one-hit wonder artists along the route: Tone Loc, Tommy Tutone, A Flock of Seagulls, General Public, and Devo at the end. No word on whether the musicians will keep playing their same sole hit over and over, although Tone Loc really could alternative "Wild Thing" and "Funky Cold Medina."

In any case, the routes are only 5k and 10k, making them suitable for novice racers, and they need volunteers if you don't want to run. Advance registration is required. Details are at www.nikerunhitwonder.com.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Concert Recommendation: The Hives, the Metro, Monday, July 26

Many reviews of the Hives show at the South by Southwest music festival expressed amazement that the uniformly attired Swedish garage rockers were more than a one-hit wonder novelty act. Clearly, no one who said that had seen them previously or bothered to listen to Veni Vidi Vicious in its entirety. Frontman Howlin' Pelle Almqvist commands attention, and the band knows how to squeeze the most out of a three-minute rock song, or, in the case of "The Hives-Declare Guerre Nucleaire," squeeze a three-minute rock song into a minute and a half.

The Hives play the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, at 7 p.m. with Sahara Hotnights and the Reigning Sound.

Friday, July 16, 2004

I declined to recommend the Streets' show in Chicago a few weeks ago because, as much as I like Original Pirate Material, I wasn't impressed by main Street Mike Skinner as a live performer. It wasn't for the reasons described in my previous entry, the problem of the producer being more talented than the artist. It was because of diluted entertainment. Skinner spent too much time giving shout-outs to Chicago and generally pandering to the audience and not enough time actually playing his songs.

But there's no such problem with Skinner's sophomore effort A Grand Don't Come For Free. Like its predecessor, the production values are still rinky-dink, but they befit the mundane existence that the album chronicles. Grand is more ambition than Original Pirate Material even if its narrator isn't. It's a song cycle about a day in a life, a day where everything goes wrong, from the TV breaking to £1000 disappearing from his home. The lyrics are precise and humorous, the best on "Fit But You Know It," similar in theme to Mudhoney's "You Got It" but with the added bonus of the singer losing his place in line at the chip shop after being distracted by the ego-inflated hottie. Skinner's simultaneous pick-up/put-down:
See I reckon you're about an 8 or a 9
Maybe even 9 and a half in four beers time

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Concert Recommendation: The Mooney Suzuki, the Metro, Wednesday, July 7

I've always had more faith in bands whose albums don't live up to their concerts rather than vice versa. When an artist is great on disc but lackluster live, it implies that the talent was more in the hands of the producer. But it's the producer's shortcomings that result in a great live band's energy not being captured in recording, or at least that the band brings a strong visual element in front of an audience. With this in mind, there is much unnecessary trepidation about production team the Matrix producing the new Mooney Suzuki album. The Matrix is best known for their slick work with Avril Lavigne and on Liz Phair's self-titled (aka sell-out) album. So they may fuck with the band's recorded sound, but there's no way they can dilute the Mooney Suzuki's mighty power as a live act. Go see for yourself, then judge the upcoming Alive & Amplified on its own merits.

The Mooney Suzuki plays the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, at 7 p.m. with Capitol Years and the Last Vegas.

Tuesday, June 29, 2004

This goes beyond a mere concert recommendation since it is worth plane tickets: Little Steven's International Underground Garage Festival, Saturday, August 14, Randall's Island, New York

Holy crap! What a vast amount of talent, all appearing on one day, and for only $20 in advance.

Here's the list of who is confirmed to appear so, with more still possible: Iggy Pop & The Stooges, The New York Dolls, The Pretty Things, Bo Diddley, The Raveonettes, The Mooney Suzuki, The Romantics, The Electric Prunes, The Chesterfield Kings, The Fuzztones, The Cynics, The Stems, The Chains, The Singles, The Contrast, The Woggles, The Boss Martians, The High Dials, The Forty-Fives, The Shazam, The Cocktail Slippers, The Star Spangles, The Charms, and the Flaming Sideburns.

Yes, you read it right. The New York Dolls are back together (based in encouragement from longtime fanboy Morrissey), but that's just one of many, many lures for a day featuring several decades worth of great garage rock. Looks like there are enough acts to fill two stages, so the only hard part will be deciding who to see when.

Monday, June 28, 2004

There are two schools of thought on using sound to calm a baby. One is to play soothing music. Traditionally, this means lullabies, but the more recent trend is serene classical music. The other option is white noise such as a vacuum cleaner or radio static on the theory that it replicates the sound inside the womb. I've discovered a better option that combines both concepts: the wall of droning guitar that is Spaceman 3. My infant son always stops crying within the six minutes of "Walkin' with Jesus (Sound of Confusion)," as found on the Singles CD on Taang! Rocking and bouncing him helps, but he frequently falls asleep entirely during the track, with a better success rate than rocking and bouncing without such musical accompaniment.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Magnetic Fields, Old Town School of Folk Music, June 25-27

Stephin Merritt is one of the most gifted songwriters working today. His love songs are clever, funny and poignant. He's got about a zillion side projects including Future Bible Heroes and the Sixths, but the Magnetic Fields is his main gig. And he's finally followed up 1999's monumental with 69 Love Songs with i. With a mere 14 tracks, i lacks the scope of the previous work but it also eliminates the experimental filler that watered down some of 69's impact. Stephin and coconspirator Claudia Gonson take a wonderfully informal approach to their live performance. Arrive prepared to pay attention to the lyrics.

The Magnetic Fields play with Andrew Bird at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773.728.6000, at 8 p.m. on Friday, June 25 and at 3:30 and 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 26 and Sunday, June 27.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Patti Smith, Navy Pier Skyline Stage, June 24

A few summers ago, the Patti Smith Group played a free outdoor show sponsored by the Tribune. A WXRT DJ gave a deeply reverential introduction. Yes, Smith's 1975 debut Horses frequently turns up on lists of the greatest rock albums ever. She's an integral part of the early New York punk scene with such peers as the Ramones, Talking Heads and Blondie. Her continuing influence can be heard in the Strokes. But she was having none of the ego-stroking. She dismissed the praise and claimed that she and the band were just a bunch of fuck-ups. The long-time members of the group cheered wildly for what they deemed a more accurate appraisal while the young guns on stage looked awkward.

Because of long gaps between albums and therefore long gaps between tours, her live reputation isn't as entrenched, even if Gilda Radner did parody her as "Candy Slice" back when Saturday Night Live was relevant and funny. Like Iggy Pop, she gives herself fully to the material. She's an uninhibited and charismatic performer. Her new album Trampin' will give her a chance to show this off at the Skyline Stage.

Patti Smith plays the Navy Pier Skyline Stage  at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 24.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

High Fidelity is my favorite novel because it so precisely captures the music geek world I live in. Although the movie adaptation was flawed, mainly by the lack of chemistry between John Cusack and Iben Hjejle, it captured that music geek spirit. My favorite scenes were the ones that visually conveyed more than mere words could in the book. In particular, Dick (Todd Louiso) finds Rob (Cusack) in his apartment surrounded by stacks and stacks of records, which Rob is reorganizing. Dick is unable to guess at the new classification scheme. Rob triumphantly announces he's doing it autobiographically.

There's a great deal of truth behind that humorous concept: if music is a big part of your life, you associate certain songs or bands with other aspects of your life. And Fountains of Wayne concerts are now firmly intermingled with memories of the birth of my son. I got the first unsolicited comment from a stranger on my pregnancy at their show at the Vic last November. The security woman who frisked me apologized for doing so since I was expecting. I had only announced my pregnancy recently and was taken aback by her comment since I didn't think my condition was that obvious. Their show at Rockin' de Mayo was the last concert I attended while pregnant; I sat at the foot of the stage since I couldn't stand that long. And their show last night at Taste of Randolph St. was my son's first concert.

Normally, I'd be offering up a review. But my attention was split between the band and the boy. Rather than being in the thick of the audience, we stood on the outskirts to protect his hearing and so I could fend off the encroaching drunks (Some people came to the festival to drink, not to see the band.) The band did offer a small surprise, namely that they've changed the set. Unlike their last three shows here in the last year, they didn't play "Radiation Vibe" as the last song before the encore, nor did they go into tangent covers of arena rock and the Cars' "Let's Go" on that song, just playing it straight through. This gave me hope that they might finally play "Little Red Light," but for my baby's well-being, we left during the encore without ever hearing it. The baby slept through most of the show, but I hope at some point he appreciates the music his parents exposed him to from such an early age.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Taste of Randolph St., Saturday, June 19

When considering a move to the New York area last year, I asked myself what the advantages were of New York versus Chicago. Chicago was the big winner on free outdoor concerts. The Taste of Chicago and Blues Fest may have set the precedent and attract the bigger names, but the best action is at the neighborhood festivals. New York has nothing like them.

The problem with the big Grant Park shows is that they are events more than concerts. So more people are there just to hang out rather than see specific performances, and the sound system is too muddy to really cover the space. On the other hand, smaller neighborhood festivals are more concentrated, attracting smaller crowds so that it's easier to provide adequate sound and making it possible to pack the area in front of the stage with actual fans. Yes, lots of these events just bring out the usual cavalcade of local bar bands, and most have a suggested donation for entry, but the better ones provide well-known talent at a price much cheaper than you'd pay at club to see them normally. Highlights of the last few years include Shellac, Jill Sobule and Interpol. The Taste of Randolph St. has been particularly fruitful, including appearances by Morphine and They Might Be Giants.

This year's Taste of Randolph packs an impressive double wallop on Saturday: back-to-back performances by Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Fountains of Wayne. Let's just hope that FoW singer Chris Collingwood has caught up on his rest since their show last month at Rockin' de Mayo.

Ted Leo/Pharmacists and Fountains of Wayne play the Taste of Randolph St., 900-1200 West Randolph St., Chicago, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., respectively, on Saturday, June 19.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

INXS is teaming up with reality TV producer Mark Burnett to create Rock Star, a TV contest to find the band a replacement for their deceased singer Michael Hutchence. Hutchence died in 1997 (Though officially ruled a suicide, evidence suggests it may have been accidental), and the band has worked with a series of guest vocalists for their limited concert schedule since then.

American Idol this ain't, for a variety of reasons. The most basic is that the viewing audience won't have complete control over who wins. Secondly, they aren't just rating the contestants as singers; the judges, including the band members themselves and "leading entertainment industry specialist," will also evaluate them on songwriting, image and production.

But it also hints at the difference between a great singer and a great frontman. The original British incarnation of American Idol is called Pop Idol, and in England there is a distinction between pop stars and rock stars. Pop stars have pretty voices (or these days, software to make their voices pretty). Rock stars don't have to have pretty voices; they have to have interesting voices coupled with charisma to spare, Rod Stewart being the most extreme example of this. Hutchence wasn't a great frontman because he had perfect pitch or could hold a high note for three minutes or whatever other histrionics qualify as talent when Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are the only yardsticks. Hutchence built his reputation as part of a band and on the strength of their live shows. In concert, he had stage presence to burn, and it was part of an incredibly tight unit. The band went 20 years without a line-up change, and their taut funk-inflected rock is musically more interesting than the schmaltz pedaled by singers just showing off their vocal ranges. Even if the contest yields someone better than, say, Ian Astbury of the Cult filling in for Jim Morrison in a Doors revival, it's still questionable whether the band can ever find someone to mesh as well into their tight knit.

The winner will record an album with the band, their first since Hutchence's death, and "embark on a world tour of major concert arenas." The latter part of the "prize" is questionable since the band's popularity was waning even before they lost their frontman. They may still be an institution in their Australian homeland, but they'd be lucky to sell out a theater tour of the U.S. at this point.

The full details are on the band's web site in the news section. For those with a hankering to audition, "casting" (a disturbingly TV-oriented term, considering the intended outcome) won't begin until later this year.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Concert Recommendation: David Byrne with Poi Dog Pondering, Navy Pier Skyline Stage, June 17 and 21

David Byrne played Chicago on September 14, 2001. Let me rephrase this to highlight its significance: David Byrne played Chicago three days after 9/11 (a date so indelible it requires no year.) He and his large backing band boarded a bus to make sure the show happened, a ray of hope shining all the way from New York. PJ Harvey had played the same venue the night before and definitely rocked harder, but Byrne was cooler. The whole band was musically tight, but they also had a lot of fun.

At one point, former Talking Head introduced a song merely by saying it was hugely inappropriate in light of recent tragic events. Murmurs quickly went through the crowd: take your pick: "Psycho Killer, " "Burning Down the House" or "Life During Wartime." Who knew so many Talking Heads songs could suddenly take on such import based on a single incident? For what it's worth, "Life" was the inappropriate song he had in mind.

That Poi Dog Pondering are opening is particularly appropriate. Although they've never aped the Talking Heads' sound, they have drawn percussion inspiration from the same sources.

David Byrne plays the Navy Pier Skyline Stage with Poi Dog Pondering at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 17 and Monday, June 21.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Franz Ferdinand, Metro, Saturday, June 12

We clearly live in the age of cynicism. Proof: the backlash against Franz Ferdinand is greater than their actual popularity. In the past few weeks, I've read comments describing the '80s-sounding Scottish band as overhyped and overrated, particularly in regard to even lesser-known bands. But it's not like Franz Ferdinand are ubiquitous or overexposed. I've probably heard more by Modest Mouse on WLUW lately, and no one seems to mind them. Yes, they've sold out tonight's show at the Metro, but that is hardly conquering the New World.

Franz Ferdinand play the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, at 6:30 p.m. tonight, Saturday, June 12 with Sons & Daughters.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Concert Recommendation: DKT/MC5 Reunion, Metro, Friday June 11

Like the Stooges, fellow Detroit denizens the MC5 were out of step with the whole peace 'n' love hippie vibe of the late '60s; their rallying cry was, "Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!" They never got very famous, but they have been quite influential. (One of my friends has dismissed the Mooney Suzuki for aping the MC5 too closely.) Greg Kot wrote about the band's legacy, the reunion and the controversy among the surviving members and the families of the deceased in the Tribune. But what's really strange is the roster of guest vocalists: Mudhoney's Mark Arm is a great fit; Mudhoney have clearly drawn inspiration from the garage rock of MC5 and their ilk, and Arm has a wonderfully raspy wail. Marshall Crenshaw's inclusion is a bit of a head-scratcher; he's a talented singer/songwriter, but his milieu is more pop than punk. But Evan Dando, the washed-up former alt-rock pin-up boy, is totally out of league.

The DKT/MC5 reunion is at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, at 11:30 p.m. on Friday, June 11.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Little Steven's Underground Garage Battle of the Bands, June 8-10, Double Door

The great thing about garage rock is that it's easy to be pretty good even if its hard to be truly great. In other words, a battle of garage rock bands is a guaranteed good evening of entertainment, unlike, say, a battle of beginning violin students. And the bands playing this three-night contest put on by Little Steven's Underground Garage (the best nationally syndicated radio sow you'll find on any commercial station) have already gone through an initial screening process to make it this far. Plus, it's dirt cheap, just $5 a night.

As for great garage rock bands, even if the competitors suck, there's still the chance to see special guests the Cynics on Wednesday night and the Fleshtones on Thursday.

Little Steven's Underground Garage Battle of the Bands is at the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, 773.489.3160 on Tuesday, June 8 to Thursday, June 10 at 9 p.m. each night.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Huzzah, huzzah! Creed have broken up. It's the season for such changes, with Phish announcing last week that they're calling it quits. I've never been into the whole jam band thing, but I respect Phish for both being so musically inventive with their live shows and not taking themselves too seriously in the process, two points of praise I would never give to Creed.

The other three guys in Creed are leaving behind the sanctimonious Scott Stapp to form a band with a new singer. If Stapp is looking for another gig, the rest of Stone Temple Pilots, another derivative grunge band, may be seeking someone new now that revolving door rehabber Scott Weiland is fronting Velvet Revolver.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Before my son was born, I got advice from several sources to bring along CDs of soothing music to listen to during labor, with specific suggestions like classical harp music. My husband and I had far more fun coming up with a list of inappropriate songs to play. We didn't think of enough to fill a mix CD, but we did get some good ideas:

"Baby's On Fire" - Brian Eno
"I Want My Baby . . . Dead?" - New Bomb Turks
"Drinking for Two" - Mudhoney
"Hung Up and Hanging Out to Dry" (specifically for the lines "Let's keep the afterbirth/and throw the kid away) - Julian Cope

I did bring my own take on soothing music, artists like Stereolab and Tom Waits. When the going got really tough, Night Song by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan effectively alleviated some of the stress.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Gwyneth Paltrow and Coldplay's Chris Martin just had a daughter that they've named Apple. If you're going to name your baby after a vanity record label, there really are much better choices than the Beatles' imprint. Just for starters, there's 50 Skidillion Watts, the label founded by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller fame, and Smell Like, which Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley runs.

Sunday, May 09, 2004

Concert Review: Fountains of Wayne, Rockin' de Mayo Fest, Chicago, Saturday, May 8

I never thought I'd say this for a band I like as much as Fountains of Wayne, but would you please go home already? This was their third trip to Chicago in 10 months, and the time on the road is really showing on Chris Collingwood. The band still sounded great, but the normally energetic, funny singer/guitarist really looked tired and barely had anything to say between songs. I'm thrilled that they've received a fair amount of success and can understand their continued touring in hopes of expanding their audience, but I hope it doesn't destroy them physically and mentally. So take some time off. Recuperate and recharge, then continue with your plans to take over the world.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Movie Review: Mayor of the Sunset Strip

His name carries much more cache in L.A. than elsewhere in the country, but Rodney Bingenheimer has been an important taste-maker in American music, providing the initial exposure that helped launch many careers. He introduced British glam to Los Angeles with his English Disco, a tiny but trendy club on the Sunset Strip. He then moved to KROQ, one of the country's biggest radio stations, where he was known as Rodney on the ROQ and continued to break new artists. The documentary Mayor of the Sunset Strip explores the many facets of his life: his obsession with famous people, his relation with his parents, how his radio show created careers, the decline of his own career in an increasingly profit-driven radio market, how his sexual conquests exceeded Robert Plant's in their heyday.

The movie boast lots of cameos. Musicians such as David Bowie and Gwen Stefani, who he helped break in America, cozy up to him. Ray Manzarek talks about how he fit into the L.A. scene, but I kept thinking of the Onion headline, something like "Ray Manzarek Goes a Whole 10 Minutes Without Discussing the Doors." Kim Fowley extols his own genius, a frequent habit of his since others either don't think he's a genius or don't think he's worth extolling. Fortunately, former Runaway/protégé Cherie Currie offers up a different viewpoint on Fowley than his own elevated one.

The movie had playe briefly at the Music Box; it now looks like the only way to catch it in Chicago is to wait for the DVD.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Fountains of Wayne, Rockin' de Mayo, Saturday, May 8

The sun still shine in the summertime
I'll be yours if you'll be mine
I tried to change but I changed my mind
I guess I'll have another glass of Mexican wine

The above chorus, from the song "Mexican Wine," is the most likely explanation for why New Jersey's Fountains of Wayne is playing a Cinco de Mayo festival. Well, that and they're such a damn fine band. As I've expounded many times previously, they craft songs with insanely catchy hooks and smart lyrics. It's unfortunate that it looks like "Stacy's Mom" will leave them as one-hit wonders when not just Welcome Interstate Managers but also their previous albums are chock full of should-have-been hits. They also have the charisma and sense of humor to put on a great show, unlike the rather wooden Strokes (Sorry, guys, but good songs and a cool wardrobe are not enough to make a great concert.)

Fountains of Wayne play Rockin' De Mayo at Slow Down, Life's Too Short, Elston & Division, Chicago. Music runs from 4 to 10 p.m.; LP, Wheat and Howie Day are opening.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Concert Recommendation: 50 Foot Wave, Schuba's, Sunday, May 2

I was in Seattle two months ago and caught a show by Kristin Hersh's new band 50 Foot Wave. It was a surprise for two reasons. First, I didn't know the Rhode Islander had relocated to Seattle. But the bigger surprise was that Hersh was getting in touch with her inner Neil Young, or at least her inner J Mascis. It had never been obvious from the Throwing Muses or her solo work that she had an inner J Mascis to get in touch with. But it worked. For those accustomed to her quiet acoustic solo shows with witty between-song banter (my personal favorite being the anecdote about her son involving the phrase "big fat dog butt"), put aside your expectations and grab some earplugs.

50 Foot Wave play with the Pieces at Schuba's, 3159 N. Southport, Chicago, 773.525.2508 at 9 p.m. on Sunday, May 2.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Radio 4, The Bottom Lounge, Thursday, April 29

If, like me, you were disappointed that Radio 4 was cut as an opening act for Ted Leo/Pharmacists last month, here's your chance to catch them. Think Gang of Four with more complex percussion and more vague politics. But definitely something you can shake your butt for.

Radio 4 play with the Fever at the Bottom Lounge, 3206 N. Wilton, Chicago, 773.975.0505 at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 29

Friday, April 23, 2004

Concert Review:  The Strokes, The Aragon Ballroom, April 23

The Strokes may have been tagged as part of the garage rock revival, but the Strokes are definitely not a garage band. For one thing, their most obvious influences are from the wrong era, but mainly because great garage bands have front men teetering on the brink of sanity, but the Strokes are entirely sane. Yes, they have great songs and they give a really tight live performance, they are stylishly dressed and cool, but these are not the elements that create an enthralling concert. I was glad that health problems demanded that I take a seat without a decent view of the stage at their show rather than, say, the Mooney Suzuki, because I wasn't missing much by not being able to see them.

Which isn't to say they were bad. The set had a great pace, they played a credible cover of the Clash's "Clampdown" and they didn't milk their presence with an encore. They just weren't stellar.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Concert Recommendation: The Fall, Metro, Saturday, April 24

One of my favorite funny-because-it's-true music industry jokes is that the Fall can't sell any records because anyone who might buy one is already on a record company mailing list. On one hand, I can understand why they've never had more than a cult following. Mark E. Smith's dentist drill-like voice is one the greatest, most distinctive in rock but clearly an acquired taste. Yes, they've been very influential, but the bands that show their influence are ones like the Wedding Present and Sonic Youth, not exactly household names throughout America. And their live shows are erratic, not unlike the Replacements back in their drunken heyday: on a bad night, they can be terrible, but on a good night, they are the greatest live band in the world at that moment. When they hit their groove, what a groove they've got. Yes, they sing about shoulder pads and cabs and telephones, but few bands can match the thrilling sing-along of "Appreciated!" on "New Big Prinz."

The Fall play with Shesus and the Ponys at the Metro 3730 N. Clark, Chicago, 773.549.0203, on Saturday, April 24 at 11:30 p.m.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Jurassic 5, House of Blues Chicago, Sunday, April 18

The House of Blues has several shortcomings, the most glaring being the manufactured atmosphere. It's rather like the "shabby chic" furniture for which one pays a premium for someone to distress new tables and chairs to make them look old. While the Empty Bottle and the Metro look lived-in, the House of Blues is just some designer's idea of what a cool venue should look like. On the other hand, it is convenient to public transportation, it has good sight lines and, most importantly, it has quite clean acoustics. Which makes it the ideal venue for Jurassic 5. With a lesser sound system, you might miss their expert rhymes like "etiquette" and "predicate."

Jurassic 5 play Scratchback at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, 312.923.2000 at 6:30 p.m., Sunday, April 18.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

During an long shopping trip to Tower Records today, I was subjected to Damita Jo, the new Janet Jackson CD. It was like being forced to eat an entire package of rice cakes: there was almost no substance but it just went on forever.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Not My '80s

I recently attended a '80s party. One of the hosts, a DJ, put particular effort into the soundtrack for the event. As the evening wore on and we got into the later part of the decade, I was reminded of the extent to which my musical tastes veered away from the mainstream as the '80s progressed. Sure, I loved the new wave pop that was big around the time of MTV's launch when I was in high school, but especially as I got to college, I became less willing to blindly accept whatever was on commercial radio. My '80s was never about Madonna or hair metal; that was what I ignored or outright condemned. My taste tended towards the British and goth, but it wasn't even the most popular British music. When living in London in the summer of 1988, my flatmates and I would watch Top of the Pops, a weekly show featuring top-selling artists lip-synching to their hits, mainly to ridicule what the general public was lapping up, appearances by the likes of Siouxsie & the Banshees notwithstanding.

After the party, I listened to party mix tape I made in the spring of 1988. The music still thrilled me. Among the artists: Echo & the Bunnymen, Julian Cope, New Order, INXS, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Replacements, the Dead Milkmen, a Pete Townshend solo track, Depeche Mode, the Cure, Iggy Pop, M/A/R/R/S. Then I went a brief late '80s binge, listening to albums by the Jesus & Mary Chain, That Petrol Emotion and Big Audio Dynamite. Some of those musicians have made a lasting impact, some faded into obscurity, especially in the U.S., but it still sounded fantastic. Can the same be said for Bon Jovi? No, they were horrific back then and don't even cut it as irony now.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bono will be the commencement speaker at my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. While there are few musicians with a more impressive  record of social activism, I am torn between thinking that this is really cool and that this is pandering. I'm also a little torn because, when U2 played JFK Stadium in Philly my senior year at Penn, he made some disparaging comments about our campus.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Logan Square Auditorium, Tuesday, March 23

Admittedly, this was a more enticing show when Radio 4 was scheduled as an opening act, but Ted Leo is a worthy draw in his own right. For starters, "Ballad of a Sin Eater" is the catchiest song about ignorance of world affairs ever written (rather like Elvis Costello's "Veronica" being the catchiest song about senility, in part because there's not much competition). "Sin Eater" isn't completely representative of Leo's much-lauded latest album Hearts of Oak, but there's a pleasant Joe Jackson-esque quality to it. And a few years back, the band outshone Dismemberment Plan when opening for them at the Metro. This show is presented by the Empty Bottle, so more information is at their web site.

Ted Leo/Pharmacist play with Perfect Panther and Electrelane at the Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, Chicago, 773.276.3600, at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony airs in about half an hour on VH-1 (and reairs another 2 hours after that, but probably not for the last time). It's not as exciting a crop of inductees as the last couple years. In other words, there probably won't be any speeches as good as Tom Morello's allusion to Steinbeck in lauding the Clash or Anthony Kiedis's observation that when he started listening the Talking Heads, "I wanted to have sex with a lot of librarians."

But there is still Prince, the only shoo-in among this year's batch. A guitar virtuoso who has always remembered that a great guitar solo doesn't matter if the song as a whole doesn't make you want to shake your butt. He created the funkiest music of the '80s. His appeal crossed racial barriers, especially since the very concept of a black rock and roll guitarist had largely died with Jimi Hendrix.

Most of all, Prince rules because it's all about the music with him. He kept his acceptance speech at the ceremony short in favor of playing; he reportedly skipped the ceremony's after-party to go play a set at another club. The backstage reports from his appearance at the Grammys last month was that he put in long hours of rehearsal, a tactic that clearly paid off. The most persistent rumor about Prince isn't some strange scandal in his personal life but that he has thousands of songs stockpiled at Paisley Park, that the guy writes and records far faster than the industry knows how to get the material out to the public. Unlike Madonna, who probably timed her pregnancies to maximize the publicity synergy with her commercial projects, he really does keep his private live private, not merely claiming to do so while exploiting it at opportune times. While he's kept his love life quiet, it appears that his way of proclaiming his ardor for a woman is to write her a hit single. By reverting to his given name from the unpronounceable symbol, he's put the focus back on his talent and maybe managed to get the word out about why his having done so was an act of protest against his stifling record label (see above about stockpiled recordings.) And, at least according to the proclamation of one of my friends in 1984, he made one of the greatest movies ever with Purple Rain; she may have changed her mind since then, and I wasn't buying the argument, but Purple Rain is undoubtedly recorded one of the greatest movie soundtracks ever.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Concert review: Elvis Costello & Steve Nieve, Oriental Theatre, March 16

Elvis Costello's new album North clearly reflects his divorce from Cait O'Riordan and marriage to Diana Krall; it was impossible to listen to "Alibi" on 2002's When I Was Cruel without wondering if his previous marriage was dissolving. Since North is a collection of orchestral ballads, it made sense for him to go with more stripped-down arrangements for its supporting tour. For most of the songs, he played an acoustic guitar or nothing at all while Steve Nieve joined him on grand piano. The setting showed off his skill as a songwriter, the unique timbre of his voice and his ability to show off his songs without mimicking the recorded versions of them. For example, he took advantage of the Oriental Theatre's superior acoustics by ending "This House Is Empty Now" by walking away from the microphone a singing unamplified.

Not that it was an entirely hushed evening. Particularly for his some of his older songs and others off the "loud" When I Was Cruel, he hauled out a hollow body Gibson, noting that the other Elvis used the same model for his '68 comeback special, although Costello used distortion pedals that Presley didn't. The audience provided hand clapping as percussion for "Pump It Up."

The audience did include one heckler, who started out by yelling, "You fag!" and only getting worse from there. As Elvis's one-time TV costar Lisa Simpson pondered, "Why would they come to our concert just to boo us?" Especially when tickets started at around $50. Elvis challenged him from the stage, but security escorted the buffoon out. As for other interaction with the audience, he was perhaps too humble to respond to the woman loudly proclaiming her love for him, but he did suggest to the person whose cell rang that they should have their ring tone set to one of his songs to guarantee hearing something good.

He ended the 2 1/2 hour show with some new songs, which he claimed were from his next album South; it wasn't clear if he was being facetious about the title. But he did acknowledge preferring the more intimate setting to last summer's Taste of Chicago appearance, expressing gratitude to not be surrounded by hot dogs and bees.

Monday, March 15, 2004

I know that the big music news tonight is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions, but I only just found out that Dave Blood of the Dead Milkmen committed suicide. The obituary from the Philadelphia Inquirer includes quotes from Howard Kramer, curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, formerly of the Milkmen's management firm and a really friendly, outgoing guy.

I think it was the summer of '85 when I got to meet Dave. Big Lizard in My Back Yard was a hit on college radio, which I had just discovered. My father's law firm, where I was working for the summer, was handling some copyright matters for the band. I was probably the only employee who was a fan, let alone had even heard of them. So I was awestruck to get introduced to the bass player during a meeting. Our brief conversation wasn't nearly as memorable as merely having the opportunity.

The Milkmen were indirect disciples of the Ramones. What they lacked in technical proficiency, they made up for in spirit. They rode the fine line between stupid and clever; although some would accuse them of being sophomoric, there was clearly a lot of intellegence behind their humor. And the band toured and played constantly. In the late '80s, they played their home town of Philly several times a year, and I rarely missed them. At one show, I was mashed upfront at the Chestnut Cabaret, the lip of the stage driving into my hips with every surge of the audience. At the time, I thought I might be destroying my ability to ever bear children, but I didn't care because I was having too much fun. I wish Dave could have maintained that sense of fun for himself instead of taking his life.
Concert Recommendation: Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve, Oriental Theatre, Tuesday, March 16

As I mentioned in my review of Elvis's show at the Taste of Chicago, as happy as I was to witness his free show attracting a broader demographic than would pay to see him, I missed a more concentrated affair. I prefer to be packed in closer who are there specifically to see him, rather than scattered across the lawn where his performance, for many, is merely incidental to drinking beer. Here's your chance to see one of our greatest songsmiths ply his wares in a more intimate setting than Grant Park. He is joined by Attraction/Distraction keyboardist Steve Nieve.

Elvis Costello and Steve Nieve play the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., Chicago at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 16. Tickets purchased for the postponed March 1 show will be honored.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Concert Review:  The Church, House of Blues Chicago, March 12

Marty Willson-Piper's looks may be starting to fade, but his status as underappreciated guitar god only grows. Your stereotypical guitar god is way too cerebral about his craft (and it is a wanky male trait), grimacing through the chords to show just how hard he's working to wrest those sounds from his instrument. But Marty's face conveyed only ecstasy, absolute joy in playing. When he hit his extended intro to "Tantalized," all the pain I'd been experiencing from too much time on my feet magically disappeared. His playing was transporting him to another reality, and he taking the audience as passengers along with him. As they wrapped up their performance and he broke yet another string, the roadies exchanged exasperated yet amused looks; clearly Marty breaks strings faster than they can replace them.

Oh, yeah, the rest of the band was good, too.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Concert Recommendation:  The Church, House of Blues, Friday, March 12

How great a live band are the Church? Great enough to make me reconsider my career plans. In October, 1998, I was fed up with the music industry. My love of music was embittered by trying to make a living with it, specifically in seeing too many stupid people success. So I was embarking on a new career by going to library school. But in the middle of an intensive weekend of grad school classes, I saw the Church. I'd seen them several times previously but not in about eight years. To use a bad pun, it was a religious experience, utterly transformative. I altered my job plans and became determined to incorporate music into my career in librarianship, which I have done successfully.

A year later, they were back in Chicago. Guitarist Marty Willson-Piper was once again absolutely on fire, but the band's performance as a whole didn't coalesce. A few days later, lead singer/bass player Steve Kilbey was busted in New York for buying heroin. Draw your own conclusions.

Best known for their 1988 hit "Under the Milky Way," that is hardly their best song or even the best song on Starfish, the album it came from. I'd have to go with "Reptile," which couples an original analogy with a sharper guitar lead. To resurrect one of my own better analogies, I'll copy what I wrote about the band in B-Side Magazine in 1990:
Gold Afternoon Fix is a walk across a velvet blanket spread over a bed of rounded stones. The surface is lush and inviting, but conceals a convoluted terrain underneath, unexpected but never too jagged. Dense and slightly impenetrable, the Church's music stands up to or requires repeated listening. No "I'm in love with her and I feel fine" simplicities here. Like mental New Year's Eve confetti, it soars immediately and ultimately finds its way into unlikely nooks in the mind; months later, those bits of pastel paper caught in one's shoe or pocket recall that blurry, forgotten celebration.
The Church play Sea Ray at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, Chicago, 312.923.2000 at 9 p.m. on Friday, March 12.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Concert Recommendation: Robert Randolph and the Family Band, Aragon Ballroom, Thursday, February 26

Talk about truth in advertising: Robert Randolph and Family Band's album Unclassified is on display in the Rock/Pop, Blues and Gospel sections at Tower Records.  If their full live show, admittedly only an opening slot for O.A.R., is anywhere near as smoking as their performance on the Grammy's, it'll be a great night of funk/jam band/blues/gospel/pedal steel music.

Robert Randolph and the Family Band play with O.A.R. and Toothpick at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, 773-561-9500 at 6 p.m. on Thursday, February 26.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

An open letter to Henry Rollins:

In your spoken word performance at Chicago's Congress Theatre on February 20, you lamented your inability to find a well-read woman in Los Angeles. I have a simple solution: get yourself to Seattle this week. The city will be overrun with well-read women as it hosts the Public Library Association national conference. I can't make promises on how many will be single and within your preferred demographic since it is an aging profession, but it is a group of thousands that will be dominated by well-read females.

You will also be hard-pressed to find anyone with Nickelback in her CD player. I'll go out on a limb and guess that most attendees will have never heard of the Canadian band featuring the guy with the tragic hair and the three other guys. And I'd like to think that those librarians who have heard Nickelback would agree that you were justified in rejecting a date for liking them.

You would probably find a lot of sympathy in your views on patriotism, that is doesn't mean blindly accepting the policies of the current regime. For librarians, this mean challenging the Patriot Act's potential for civil liberties abuses. But your definition is much catchier: the land of the free, the home of the brave, the country that gave the world the Ramones and P-Funk. Pick your favorite motto for getting people to vote: "Hey, Ho, Let's Go!" or "Shit, God Damn, Get off Your Ass and Jam!"

Saturday, February 14, 2004

I'm holding off my essay extolling Prince's virtues until the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Until then, here's a piece on why we need him now, specifically because the music world has a split between serious artists and sexy musicians, that the two factions are mutually exclusive. Except for Prince.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Some random thoughts on the Grammys, both the awards themselves and telecast:

Funk ruled the night, starting with Prince's medley that reestablished his preeminence as both songwriter and performer, aided by Beyonce making like Tina Turner. The mid-evening funk jam showed off older and newer generations of funksters, even if Robert Randolph and the Family band's music sounds like it predates Earth, Wind & Fire's or George Clinton's. While most of the musical pairings looked designed to just showcase musicians from less mass media-friendly genres (Foo Fighters and Chick Corea - why?) the inspired teaming of Andre 3000 with a marching band meant that the bassline for "Hey Ya!" was played on sousaphone.

Samuel L. Jackson was also the only non-musician who justified his inclusion as a presenter. As with his appearance on other award shows, he is one of the few actors who clearly memorizes his speeches and imbues them with feeling. Based on his joining in the P-Funk jam, this wasn't just acting; he was clearly excited to be part of the music. He may have a new movie coming out, but he was the only actor who didn't look like he was just there to plug his latest project.

Why don't they create a category Best Late-Career Album by an Artist We Ignored in Their Creative and/or Commercial Heyday so that they can clear out dreck like the Eagles and leave room for artists who are currently doing quality work in the "real" categories.

The Beatles tribute was like last year's to Joe Strummer: musicians chosen because there were there already as nominees, not for any musical connection to the honoree. About all Dave Matthews has in common with the Beatles is that he probably smokes pot. About all Sting has in common with the Beatles is that, like Paul McCartney, he did his best work in a band with creative tension, and his solo work has been boring in comparison. Fortunately, the Warren Zevon tribute was done by people who worked with him and admired his music throughout his career.

And I'm disappointed that Fountains of Wayne was shut out, but perhaps they are destined to be forever on the verge of superstardom.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

The rumors I reported on September 22, 2003 are true. The Pixies are reuniting, with a tour starting in April, specific dates yet to be announced. One hopes that the time apart and some rehearsals will make them as good a live band as they were on record.
Update on yesterday's post: Elvis' web site shows that his Chicago concert has been rescheduled to March 16, listed in the Appearances section ("Appearances" refers to public performances, not his "Oh no, my image!" exclamation when Homer Simpson destroyed his glasses at Rock 'N' Roll Fantasy Camp.)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Elvis Costello's concert in Chicago has been postponed, rescheduled from March 1 to March 16, since he will be attending the Academy Awards in support of his nomination for  "Scarlet Tide," the song he cowrote with T Bone Burnett for Cold Mountain. The news does not appear to have otherwise hit the web yet, but the folks from TicketMaster actually phoned people who bought tickets.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Just who invented punk rock? The Who often get credit for the anger, the Stooges for the rebellion, the Ramones for the brevity. But after listening to the Sickidz's Now and Then, it appears that credit should go to Mel Brooks for "Springtime for Hitler."

One night in 1990, I walked into the Khyber, then still officially known as the Khyber Pass, my favorite bar for seeing bands. Well, just my favorite bar since I've never seen the point of hanging out a bar that doesn't have live music. Anyway, I looked to my left and saw most obnoxious bully from my high school class. To my right was the guy who'd recently dumped me. An inauspicious start to the evening. But it improved. Alan Hewitt, of a bunch of different Philly bands, eventually and most famously of the Low Road, regaled me with the legend of the Sickidz. Mick Cancer, at that time a member of local favorites Pink Slip Daddy, got his start with Sickidz. Mick was a Philly writer who started touting Sickidz in whatever publication he worked for, raving about what great shows they put on, attracting the coolest crowds. Except that this was all a figment of his imagination. So he created the band to exploit the hype he'd generated. Eight years later, I was interviewing Palmyra Delran for a story on the Friggs for ROCKRGRL. She'd been in Pink Slip Daddy with Mick and confirmed that the legend was essentially true.

The Sickidz called it quits in 1984 but reformed in 2002, and last year released Now and Then, a collection of new recordings and live material from their original incarnation. It's got plenty of fire, drawing obvious influence from the Cramps but more garage-y and less rockabilly. Little Steven must not have a copy because, if he did, he'd be spinning it regularly on his radio show. It's a toss-up which song, or even which rendition, deserves to be named "Coolest Song in the World This Week."

Saturday, January 24, 2004

"Mixing pop and politics/he asks me what the use is" - Billy Bragg
Some things are better left unsaid.

I'm not sure it would swing my vote against him, but Democratic Presidential candidate Wesley Clark told the Associated Press that his favorite album is Journey's Greatest Hits. Politicians can be so cagey on important issues; wouldn't he have been better off not admitting that he has horrible taste in music, an unimportant issue?

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Concert recommendation:  Steve & Liam of Frisbie, Double Door, Saturday, January 17

It's unfortunate to consider the musical careers that were derailed by substance abuse. The outright casualties are obvious, but there are also those for whom their addiction destroyed their creativity. One person to not add to that list is Evan Dando, who headlines at the Double Door tonight. His drug problems certainly derailed the momentum of his career as alt-rock pin-up boy, but he was never that great a musician or even that cute. It's unfortunate when anyone struggles with addiction, but it's not like the music world has been worse off without his high profile.

But there's still reason to hit the Double Door tonight: opening act Steve & Liam of Frisbee. Their latest CD period. shows that their beautiful harmonies and catchy pop are still enticing with acoustic backing, not just with a full band.

Evan Dando and Steve & Liam of Frisbie play the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago,  773.489.3160, at 10 p.m. tonight.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Concert Review:  David Bowie with Macy Gray, Rosemont Theater, Wednesday, January 14

It's astonishing that David Bowie has never considered live performance to be his strength since he is blessed with so much charisma. Besides showing off his stage presence in his show Wednesday at the Rosemont Theater, he also showed that he is one of very few rock stars who are still cool well into their 50's and that, unlike the Rolling Stones, he views touring as yet another opportunity for risk-taking, not just raking in the cash.

One downside of his making a specific effort to vary the set list each night of his three-date stop in Chicago is that he spent a great deal of time talking to the audience about each song; it came across as an attempt to remind himself and the rest of the band what they planned to play next. On the other had, they clearly put thought behind the arrangements, starting "Let's Dance" with a samba rhythm and "Heroes" with a raunchy guitar line.

He obviously couldn't do all his hits in a 2 1/4 hour set, but he chose from throughout his career, from "The Man Who Sold the World" through his excellent cover of the Pixies "Cactus" that highlights the song's sexual longing by bringing the vocals to the forefront. Plus he did lots of stuff from his latest disc Reality. Two timely selections were "Life on Mars" and "Ziggy Stardust," with enough mentions of the red planet to leave a NASA publicist giddy.

For Macy Gray, "neo-soul" hardly seems the right term.  Considering the sonic and visual references to P-Funk, the Jackson 5 and Morris Day & the Time she and her backing band made, neo-funk is much more apropos. The whole bunch of them looked like they were having a blast, and Gray really knew how to work the audience. It's unfortunate that the public hasn't embraced anything by her since "I Try," because she looks more likely to be written off as a one-hit wonder than  respected for the depth of her talent.

Monday, January 12, 2004

It wasn't just me who thought, while watching Iggy Pop's 2001 tour for Beat 'em Up, that he should get a better backing band, one that matched his magnetic stage presence and wasn't just a generic substitute for the Stooges. Iggy must have reach the same conclusion because the surviving original Stooges have reunited for several tracks on Skull Ring, his latest album. The CD opens with "Electric Chair," where Iggy and the Stooges come up with a song Iggy still might be performing in another five years, which unfortunately can't be said for many of his recent solo albums.

The rest of the albums tracks have varying success. Green Day continue their atonement for Dookie's fake British accents with their support on "Supermarket," carving their own distinctive sound while letting Iggy shine in his innate Iggy-ness. One "Private Hell," Green Day resurrect the staccato propulsion of "The Passenger." The same can't be said of Sum 41, who, on "Little Know It All" not only are generic in their own right but bury Iggy's baritone to the point that it isn't obviously him singing. With "Rock Show," co-vocalist Peaches continues to prove that she is utterly devoid of music ability and her only talent is shock value. When Iggy goes solo and acoustic on "Til Wrong Feels Right," he comes up with something that would fit onto the O Brother soundtrack except for being about the sorry state of radio and containing a profusion of obscenities.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Great music requires great musicians. But for great music to find an audience, it requires the hard work, often unnoticed, of others to connect the great musicians with the listening public. Unfortunately, it sometimes take death for such efforts to be recognized. I never heard of Rick Van Santen until seeing his obituary, but he was crucial to the L.A. concert scene as a promoter for punk shows that others were too wary or unimaginative to work on.

Back in 1986, I heard of Ruth Polsky when Rolling Stone ran an obituary for her. The irony was that, had she lived, I would have met her but never known that she embodied my career goal at the time. An American who loved British music, she booked the first U.S. tours for many English bands that would become quite influential. At the time of her death, I think in a car accident, she was scheduled to manage the New Order tour that was playing at my college and for which I worked backstage. In other words, I might have served her lasagna without knowing that she was my role model.

Friday, January 02, 2004

Looking back over my ticket stubs and blog entries, the best concerts of 2003:

Best weekend of music:  In just over 24 hours, Buzzcocks at the Metro, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds at the Chicago Theatre, Cinerama at the Abbey Pub.

Best overdue comeback:  Forget the idea of a comeback as a return to prominence after dwindling popularity. The Fall made a welcome return for just showing up after numerous canceled tours. It took them a few songs to hit their stride, but when they find it, they are always the greatest band in the world at that moment.

Best double bill:  Highlights of the second wave of garage rock still going strong with the Cynics and the Fleshtones at the Double Door in June.

Best double appearances:
 It's impossible to name only one best performance for Fountains of Wayne, who played the Metro in July and returned to the Vic in November. The same holds for the Mooney Suzuki's shows in April and July at the Metro and Double Door, respectively, although the earlier evening gets the slight edge for the worthy-in-their-own-right Realistics as the openers while the October support acts were far less memorable.

Just missed on best triple appearance:  Interpol hit Chicago three times for four shows in 2003. While their January and September concerts were mesmerizing, there were too many distractions, including the Q101 guy wearing nothing but a Q101 bumper sticker loincloth at the free outdoor Belmont-Sheffield Festival.

Doubt-destroying performances:  Ian McCulloch's solo work and a previous lackluster show by Luna when one member had the flu left we waivering over whether to bother seeing Echo & the Bunnymen or Luna again.  But their respective shows in October at the Metro and February at Abbey Pub sent shivers up my spine.