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.