Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Concert Recommendation: The Wedding Present, Saturday April 23 and Sunday, April 24, Double Door

I'm definitely a music first/lyrics second music fan. If the music doesn't hook me, I won't stick around to find out if the lyrics are worthwhile. The main reason I've been such a devoted fan of David Gedge's career is my awe for his lyrics, but it was his bands' music that lured me. Lured me in to the point of running out to buy their CD the day after I saw them for the first time. It's frenzied, and it invites a frenzied response, although they've certainly come to appreciate the power of a slower tempo at times. Still, nothing beats the sight of Gedge attempting to saw a guitar in half with his bare hands.

At this point, there's considerable overlap in personnel between the Weddoes and Cinerama, and the last few Cinerama tours included Wedding Present songs, so they may be trotting some Cinerama numbers as well as highlights from their splendid return, Take Fountain.

The Wedding Present play the Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, 773.489.3160, at 10:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 23 and Sunday, April 24.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Movie Review: End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones

Some details about the individual members of the Ramones have emerged with their passing in recent years, but End of the Century made me realize just how little I knew about them. I was familiar with the basic story: four degenerates from Queens formed a band. Their distinctive aesthetic of three chords and three-minute songs defined punk and has been hugely influential, notably for other artists that have gone on to greater popularity, but the Ramones themselves never had the big commercial breakthrough for which they hoped. The movie not only chronicles this story in much greater detail but also lets their personalities emerge. The guys are complex and not always very pleasant, and the movie doesn't shy away from this. There are plenty of revelations as well as lots of music and concert footage that cements their well-earned reputation.

The DVD includes extra footage, such as Marky explaining how their style of playing required so much stamina that it was more difficult than more florid rock and the mostly-forgotten Richie Ramone reminiscing about Johnny's dismissing his suggestion of using a minor chord.

The hardest part of watching it was realizing how many people in it are already dead. Joey had already succumbed to cancer before the film was made, although he was in plenty of the archival footage. Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone and Joe Strummer were interviewed for the movie, and all were gone before the movie's release last year.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Concert Review: The Wonder Stuff, Metro, April 12

Miles Hunt has managed to alienate some people in his lifetime. As mentioned in my previous post, two former Wonder Stuff members are pissed off that he's using the band name without them. In introducing a song at last night's show at the Metro, he related an anecdote that involved mutual acquaintances describing him to a friend using an epithet that rhymes with his last name. One imagines that his caustic wit his cost him some friendships over the years, but it's that same caustic wit that makes him such a distinctive lyricist. However, biting words aren't enough to captivate attention, as I learned catching his solo shows about six years ago. For that you need a full band, and Miles brought them along with the re-formed Stuffies. (He got encouragement from Joe Strummer. Who's to argue?)

As four burly security guards lined up in the no man's land between the stage and audience, I thought, "That's awfully optimistic." The band were never terribly popular in the U.S. even at their peak 15 or so years ago, and it's not exactly like their reputation has grown since then. In other words, I expected a small, aging crowd. What I didn't expect was that I wasn't the only one to have memorized the lyrics to Eight Legged Groove Machine or how well both the material and the band have held up. Miles and fellow founder Malc Treece were having a blast and were energetic performers, tearing it up on guitars and vocals. The new recruits on bass and drums had little of Miles and Malc's chemistry but were sufficiently talented.

With the reincarnation of the band, they are taking nothing for granted. Miles joked about the apathy with which their latest single was greeted in the UK, especially compared to the chart heights they reached in their heyday. But it's hard to call it pandering when they were singing things like, "I didn't like you very much when I met you/And now I like you even less" and "Radio Ass Kiss on the air." The show was a revelation, that the Stuffies really were just as good as I remembered them, and that it's unfortunate that so few people latched onto their galloping insult-a-thon on the first go-round.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Concert Recommendation:  The Wonder Stuff, Tuesday, April 12, Metro

Band reunion season continues unabated. The Undertones and Gang of Four will be in Chicago within the next month, but first up is the less-heralded Wonder Stuff. Although lead Stuffy Miles Hunt's sharp wit set him apart from his grebo counterparts, his acoustic solo appearances lacked oomph without a full band.

So it's great to see the eight-to-ten-legged groove machine back together, although, um some of those legs are stomping in protest. Two previous members are not involved and are taking offense that Miles Hunt, Malc Treece and some new recruits are billing themselves as the Wonder Stuff. Call it the battle of "Who Wants to Be the Disco King?"

The Wonder Stuff play with As Fast As at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-549-0203, at 7:30 on Tuesday, April 12.
Concert Review:  Ash, The Bravery, Metro, April 8

I've gotten over my initial wrath, but I feel like I'm cursed when it comes to seeing Ash. Of their four stops in Chicago in support of Free All Angels, I missed one because of health problems and one because I was sitting in traffic for two hours trying to get to godforsaken Tinley Park where they were the opening band on the Area2 festival. So I was thrilled that they were scheduled to headline the Metro. Until I got there a little past 8 p.m. and discovered that, rather than headlining, they were in the middle slot and I'd missed the opening of their set.

I can guess the scenario on why this happened: They are probably touring with the Bravery. The Bravery aren't really hyped, but they do have a massive advertising budgeting, their fancy coiffures arousing public curiosity. Once the audience gets a load of the haircuts, they weren't bothering to stick around for Ash, who don't have the same marketing push. So the bands swapped spots to increase Ash's exposure rather than suffer the indignation of headlining to a half-empty house. But it is nonetheless a massive frustration to Ash's small but determined following, especially when I timed my arrival without regard to catching the opening acts and there was no advance announcement of the switch.

But I'll take what I can get: Tim Wheeler's young metalhead-turned-pop-punk (manifested in an astonishing collection of flying V guitars). Charlotte Hatherley's inherent coolness. The infectious giddiness of "Kung Fu." The new material from Meltdown doesn't make it an immediate must-buy, but shows the potential to grow on you.

As for the Bravery, why don't they just skip the music and cut straight to the hair styling product endorsement contract that they are so clearly gunning for, except for the mismatched keyboardist who must have been out sick the day they met with their stylist and wardrobe consultant.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Album Review:
The Wedding Present
Take Fountain

There is always a fear the first time one listens to new material from your favorite band that this is the one to destroy your faith, the one that will break your heart. I am happy to report that Take Fountain, the long-awaited return of the Wedding Present, doesn't break your heart, it breaks your heart. It takes all of a minute and a half for David Gedge to deliver the zinger, "In case you suddenly remember that I'm still alive."

In the old SAT world of analogies, Iggy Pop's Naughty Little Doggy is to Avenue A as Cinerama's Torino is to Take Fountain. With the former albums, it was obvious that all was not right at home; the news that Iggy had gotten divorced and that Gedge had split from longtime partner (and Cinerama co-conspirator) Sally Murrell was hardly a surprise. And in both cases, the latter works are the "back on the market" albums. Gedge is dealing with rebound relationships ("I'm From Further North Than You"), meeting the ex's new beau ("Mars Sparkles Down on Me"), discovering that he's been seduced and abandoned (opening track "Interstate 5") and just trying to get on with life after the demise of a long relationship ("Larry's"). On one had, the return of the Wedding Present also means a return of the frenzied, noisy bashing that Gedge mostly suppressed in Cinerama, despite overlapping personnel. But influences of the near decade of Cinerama surface, too, with string arrangements and an extended homage to Ennio Morricone.

While the reunion of the Wedding Present is certainly cause for celebration, it's not like David Gedge disappeared during the nine years of the band's inactivity. Regardless of whether he's wearing his Cinerama or Wedding Present hat, he continues to amaze with his precise takes on heartbreak and the general awkwardness of love.