Sunday, November 18, 2007

Album Review: Jens Lekman Night Falls Over Kortedala

Normally when I review an album, by the time I've written the review I need a break from listening to it repeatedly, no matter how good it is. Maybe it's because I had a short turnaround for my review of Night Falls Over Kortedala by Jens Lekman for CDHotlist and only listened to it a few times, but I can't stop playing it. My "official" review won't run for a few weeks, but suffice it to say that it is charmingly dorky.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My New Writing Outlet

As of the November edition, I am writing for CDHotlist: New Releases for Libraries. Because the threshold is CDs that would circulate at a library or otherwise add value to its collection, my criteria for coverage is different that what I'd write about here. It is also implicit that it is unnecessary to review releases that are so popular that libraries wouldn't think twice about buying them, but I'm unlikely to write about such albums here, either. I'm not yet listed on the contributors page, so you'll have to take my word for it that those attributed to "MC" are mine.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Concert Review: Mudhoney, Double Door, November 2

Any disappointment I had over the Stooges reunion was more than mitigated by the appearance by Mudhoney at the Double Door. They're not just carrying the Stooges' torch, they're keeping the fire blazing. They were noisy but economical, without a wasted distorted note, and articulately pissed off. They blasted through their history with rip-snorting exuberance, from "Touch Me I'm Sick" to the strong, new material from Under a Billion Suns such as "Where Is the Future?"

The guys haven't gone to seed, with Steve Turner and Mark Arm looking as fit as even and Dan Peters looking as slightly unfit as ever. (New guy Guy Maddison on bass is built more in the Peters stocky mold.) While men hit an age where unshaven suggested "homeless" rather than "swarthy," Steve Turner with stubble still resembles a sleep-deprived grad student, a total guitar hero without ever looking the cliché. Even when untethered from his guitar, Mark Arm never commands the stage the way Iggy Pop does, but this is more of a democratic band than a star with a back-up group, and he certainly commits to the songs with his whole body, from his arched back to his scratchy wail.

Although they are the original grunge band that never struck gold off grunge, I have mixed feelings about their marginal appeal. While I wish the best for any band I adore, I'm glad they never fell prey to the shortcomings of fame and fortune. The best measure of what decent guys they are came when Arm cut a song off in the middle. They discussed the problem with smiles on their faces rather than accusations and recriminations, only for Arm to apologize to the audience for his fucked up ears before they resumed.

As for openers Thunderwing, I love a Monks song marginally popularized by the Fall as much as anyone, but I wish the glam revivalists had enough faith to open with their own compositions rather than a Velvet Underground cover.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Album Review: The Stooges The Weirdness

Sometimes reunions are better in theory than in practice. I wanted to love Iggy back with the band that established him, especially after the lame, generic backing he got from lame, generic neopunks Sum 41 on some tracks on Skull Ring, his last solo album. But I am sorry to report that The Weirdness is just blustery. They make a lot of noise, but it's all just wind blowing around. While the band are hardly maestros, their early work had a tautness and economy; now they just bash away aimlessly. Iggy's repeating lyrics doesn't emphasize a point they way, "I Wanna Be Your Dog," did; now it just implies that he doesn't have much to say. I'm glad that Iggy hasn't grown physically paunchy the way many of his aging rocker peers have; hoping for him to remain relevant is perhaps asking too much.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Movie Review: Control

Control, the new Ian Curtis biopic, just doesn't have the same commercial prospects as Ray or Walk the Line. Rather than ending, "...and he went on to become an American icon," this one wraps up, "...and the Macclesfield, England native committed suicide on the eve of the band's first U.S. tour." While a movie about the lead singer of Joy Division may not arouse mass interest, especially when it's shot in grim black and white, it is nonetheless a worthy picture.

The film follows Curtis from Bowie-obsessed teen to his death at 23, although the time frame between those points is vague. It shows his swagger and bravado, stealing his friend's girlfriend, approaching Tony Wilson and demanding that the band appear on the TV show Wilson hosts, so different from the public persona of his awkward, spastic stage presence, which actor Sam Riley captures perfectly. It delves into his ambivalence over fame, his ambivalence over his marriage which he refuses to end despite being in love with his mistress, and his unmanageable epilepsy, all of which lead him to his inevitable end.

While so much of the film is bleak, from the Manchester scenery to the band's spartan songs, it also finds plenty of levity. In an early scene with the band, bass player Peter Hook is portrayed as exceedingly flatulent. (I interviewed the man himself on several occasions and never recall hearing him let one fly.) He and a schoolmate visit an old lady just to raid her medicine cabinet. When he suffers an epileptic seizure on stage his manager tells him afterward, "Could be worse. You could be the singer for the Fall." Only followers of Mark E. Smith (of which my husband and I appeared to be the only ones in the theater) can appreciate why that is such a specific put-down, but it works even without such Manchester music knowledge.

Control is playing at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, 773.871.6604.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Concert Review: The Woggles, The Abbey Pub, September 7

The evening was not in the Woggles' favor. The Hideout Block Party was the hipster event of the weekend. The Woggles are hardly the indie rock band of the moment. Not surprisingly, the crowd at the Abbey was thin; they didn't even open the upstairs seating area. So maybe it was only diehard Woggles fans. But still, how often does the majority of the audience dance at a concert? Not just bob their heads in time to the music, but outright dance, moving their whole bodies. The band deserved such a reaction. To say that they committed to the material is an understatement. Lead singer the Professor frequently leapt from the stage, infiltrated the audience and even commandeered the furniture. He, guitarist the Flesh Hammer and bass player Buzz Hagstrom frequently danced in unison while playing, much like the Fleshtones. Mostly, they just peddled their infectious soul-inflected garage rock wares with gusto and earned every fan they made.

Monday, August 27, 2007

RIP Tony Wilson

It's not surprising that it didn't make much of a news splash in the U.S., but Tony Wilson died earlier this month. While he can't take full credit, the man was at least partly responsible for Factory Records, Joy Division, New Order, the Hacienda (a.k.a the Hallucienda), the whole Madchester scene and the irreverently post-modern bio pic 24 Hour Party People. NME has lots of coverage: obituary, news story and tributes from New Order and Alan McGee.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Movie Recommendation: Punk's Not Dead

My cousin's sister-in-law's documentary Punk's Not Dead is now playing at the Gene Siskel Film Center. It focuses on the more recent years of punk. The best part of the film's web site? Part of the URL could be read as "punk snot." How punk.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We Have to Face the Truth Some Time

I lamented not getting to see the Who when they toured earlier this year, at least until viewing Live at Lyon, the bonus DVD accompanying last year's Endless Wire. I've been a die-hard fan of the Who to the point that I could chalk up my disappointment over their 2002 Chicago area show to the recent death of John Entwistle and the poor acoustics and atmosphere of the venue. But as Roger sings in Mike Post Theme on that album, "We have to face the truth some time." Roger's voice is ragged. They play like they are just there to collect a paycheck. I still have faith in Pete's songwriting ability and they may have once been one of the finest live acts, but they are clearly past their prime.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Concert Recommendation: Os Mutantes, Metro, July 11

If you see only one garage psychedelic tropicalia reunion show this summer, make it this one. Os Mutantes play the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773.549.0203. at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Concert Review: The Police, Wrigley Field, July 6

There's a fine line to walk when playing a concert full of familiar hits. To just reproduce the recorded versions is artistically stale, but to blow them up too far leads to bloat. The trick is to find a way to make the songs fresh but not flabby. As the reunited Police trotted out their well-known back catalog, they mostly avoided the former but too often fell into the latter trap. They found their best success when mixing up their lesser-known mostly-instrumental songs with their big hits, which is ironic because it was generally the music, rather than lyrics, that got overextended.

The nontraditional location made it more of an event than a concert, but it was never quite as trancendental at Radiohead in Grant Park in 2001. The songs were still fantastic, and the reunion made up for not getting to see the band back in the day, but it rarely sent shivers down my spine.

Some other random thoughts:
  • Heading into the encore, my friend asked what they hadn't done yet. I pointed out the obvious, "Every Breath You Take," but also going through my mind was all the odd songs that never get played on the radio, such as "Be My Girl-Sally."
  • Sting is one of the few men who can get away with hair product and a receding hairline. I shuddered imagining Sting with a comb-over.
  • Since Stewart Copeland brings athleticism to the drums, it makes sense that he favors athletic wear onstage: sweatband, gloves, a shirt from a manufacturer that specializes in moisture-wicking fabrics and, back in the day, track shorts, although he was in long pants last night.
  • The Police are the most famous rock band with the least famous guitarist. I bet my husband was typical, unable to recall Andy Summers' name. Is there any other Rock and Rock Hall of Fame shoo-in where it's easier to remember who plays bass and drums than guitar?
  • It was a toss-up which person sitting near us was the most annoying: the guy who wouldn't stop mauling his girlfriend except to demand high-5's from strangers, the dude yelling "Yeah!" along with "Invisible Sun" as if it were a frat boy-friendly party anthem rather than a song about searching for greater meaning in life or the oaf who clapped along loudly but never on the beat.
  • I almost felt sorry for the suckers who paid to sit atop the buildings near Wrigley Field. The seats face home plate, but the stage was in the outfield.
  • I don't know if my dwindled enthusiasm for huge concerts is related to the fact that I no longer have an in to buy good seats at reasonable face value. Ticket prices in general have skyrocketed, and my ticket connection is gone. I wonder if I'd paid through the nose for excellent seats I would enjoy it more or just have higher expectations that would more easily be shattered.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Album Review: The Fratellis, Costello Music

A friend who isn't into music at all, upon hearing Decksandrumsandrockandroll by the Propellerheads, commented that it was better than coffee. The Fratellis' debut Costello Music also fits that description. Their glam-infected power pop makes you want to jump up and down. Unlike Paper Tigers by the Caesars, this album lives up to the hype delivered by the track featured in an iPod ad.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Concert Review: Frisbie, Empty Bottle, June 14

Concert Review: Frisbie, Empty Bottle, June 14

It was a banner week in Chicago for power pop bands beginning with F. Fountains of Wayne headlined the Taste of Randolph Street on Friday, and Frisbie took the stage at the Empty Bottle the night before. Based on how sparse the Empty Bottle crowd was, I hesitate to use the term "local favorites" in describing Frisbie, but they could warrant that designation again with their upcoming album New Debut.

Their set started off displaying more potential than the actual goods. I kept thinking that the new songs would probably sound good on the new album, but I wasn't hearing it yet. The abrupt ending of the title track left the audience confused, especially since the persistent hum in the PA made it unclear if they had only come to a false ending. Then they fired up the early stuff, most notably "Disaster," and everything finally clicked. They excelled at both the power and the pop, rocking out with guitars blazing accompanied by gorgeous vocal harmonies.

After far too long with shows too sporadically scheduled, Frisbie plays the Double Door on July 14 for their record release party.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Concert recommendation: Fountains of Wayne, Taste of Randolph Street, Friday, June 15.

I was feeling lethargic and mopey after getting some bad news at work. However, I also have to-do list that I'm trying to blast my way through while my kids off visiting grandparents. So I finally got around to buying the Robbie Fulks song "Fountains of Wayne Hotline" from iTunes. I had not previously realized that FoW's songs were formulaic enough to merit such an astonishing accurate parody/homage, but leave it Robbie Fulks to humorously hit all the key points. As my toddler is fond of saying, albeit about "Crazy Train," "This song makes me happy."

To hear and see the inspiration in action, head to the Taste of Randolph on Friday night, where Fountains of Wayne take the stage at 8:30 p.m., Randolph & May Streets, Chicago.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Faux Indie Rock Guy

With Veronica Mars ending its run, I'm left mulling over why the depiction of the Indie Rock Guy rang false. Some of it can be chalked up to the acting. Chris Lowell as Piz never made an indelible impression and had nowhere near the chemistry with the title character as Logan, played by Jason Dohring.

But the bigger problem was that Piz was made into the Indie Rock Guy by people who are definitely not Indie Rock Guys. First, he didn't look the part. Jack Black and Todd Louiso in High Fidelity looked like they had been hired for the film straight from actual hole-in-the-wall record stores. A patron at the library where I work looked like he came fresh from Indie Rock central casting: scrawny, clothes just hanging on his lanky frame, slightly greasy hair falling into his eyes, big black glasses. Piz just looked like a generic college student.

More importantly, he didn't sound like an Indie Rock Guy. One recent episode had Piz spouting minutia about a fictitious band, but he never sounded convincing about the real thing. He was giddy about lining up a summer internship with Pitchfork Media's New York headquarters, but Pitchfork is based in Chicago. He sneared at someone's enthusiasm for Matchbox 20 and expressed self-contempt for quoting John Mayer lyrics to his girlfriend, but he should have been quoting, for example, Bright Eyes or the Magnetic Fields, instead. It's as if the writers only know who Indie Rock Guy Guy should hate without any real knowledge of who he should love. In other words, it came across as a persona to slap onto a generic character to make him less generic.

On the other hand, Douglas Coupland's indie rock bona fides are so much a part of him that he used Smiths and New Order song titles as titles for his own works.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Random thoughts that went through my mind during the Bloc Party concert at the Congress Theatre on Friday, March 23:
  • The refrain from "Helicopters," "Are you hoping for a miracle?" summed up how I felt about the material from A Weekend in the City. I was way off in hoping that the songs would translate better live than they did on disc.
  • Matt Tong's nimble but powerful drumming stood out in ways that it doesn't in recordings.
  • After Tong shed a jacket of some variety and then his shirt, was the next step going to be waxing his chest hair on stage?
  • Are concert venues making less money on drinks now that everyone fills the time between sets texting their friends?
  • Does the new Chicago smoking ban not apply to concert venues such as the Congress Theatre, or is just too futile to enforce?
  • Is it strictly as a memento that people bother taking cell phone pictures at big concerts? Between the distances and the resolution, they're only getting blurry photos of lights on a stage.
  • With the ubiquity and miniaturization of electronic devices, do venues no longer ban cameras and recording devices?
  • I used to be concerned that I wasn't listening to any new music. Lately, lots of the new music I've been seeking out sounds like old music. And yet the only two people at the concert who were conspicuously older than I were the sound engineer and a dad hovering at the back, likely chaperoning his teenager at a distance.
  • Since A Weekend in the City hasn't brought a monumental leap in fame over Silent Alarm, I can't be accused of the cliché of thinking they were cool when they were obscure and shunning them just because they're popular. I merely prefer the first album to the second.
  • Would all of these thoughts have been going through my mind if the new songs were better?

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Album Review: The Kooks Inside In Inside Out (Astralwerks)

In skimming critics' end-of-year best of 2006 lists, I was surprised to spot the Kooks in several lists for best song but not best album. That honor is usually bestowed on ubiquitous radio hits, guilty pleasures acknowledged as much for their pop culture impact as much as their actual artistry. But the Kooks hardly made a splash last year. Still, I was intrigued, if only for their Nuggets-worthy moniker.

Listening to Inside In Inside Out, I can see why individual songs such as "She Moves In Her Own Way," made more of an impression that the work as a whole. The band has hooks hung on a acoustic/electric guitar mix, like a sunny, poppier Strokes. But they are done in by the lack of editing. The album doesn't end so much as peter out. The 70-80 minutes that can fill a CD doesn't oblige a band to fill the whole thing. For a band that sounds lifted from the LP era, they would have been better off working with the LP's time constraints.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Concert Recommendation: Bloc Party, Congress Theatre, March 23

Their sophomore album A Weekend in the City is a disappointment after Silent Alarm, with the angularity and caffeinated jitteriness of their debut giving way to overproduction which renders them generic. But Silent Alarm is still a stonkin' great album. The old songs should be great; I have hopes that they can pare down the arrangements on the new stuff and sound like themselves rather than everybody else.

Bloc Party play the Congress Theatre,  2135 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, at 7:00 p.m., Friday, March 23.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Concert Recommendation: Hoodoo Gurus, The Abbey Pub, Sunday, March 25

When discussing the Greenhornes recently with another garage rock aficienado, I complained that when I saw them live, it just wasn't happening. She defended them as good in the studio but awkward in front of an audience. I wasn't buying it. In my book, the definition of a garage band includes a vibrancy in concert that's hard to capture in recording. Australia's Hoodoo Gurus epitomize that, just one hell of a fun live band with catchy pop hooks, tremendous energy and a sense of humor. For example, at one show they offered a free bottle of champagne, given to the band by their record company, to the first audience member to identify the theme in that night's set list; they were performing the songs in alphabetical order. They haven't toured the U.S. in over a decade, so it'll be a welcome return.

The Hoodoo Gurus play the Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, Chicago, 773-478-4408 at 9 p.m. on Sunday, March 25.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Since I've had the Police on the brain, I finally got around to reading Ian Copeland's autobiography, Wild Thing: The Backstage, On the Road, In the Studio, Off the Charts. Ian, one of Stewart's two older brothers, was booking agent to the Police and many other bands of the punk/new wave revolution. He found success by specializing in fresh young bands, carving out a club circuit to help them find an audience and touring them on shoestring budgets so they wouldn't lose money in the process. He intentionally avoided old school rock, both aesthetically and as an ethical business decision to not raid existing agencies' rosters. Through his own hard work and that of the artists he worked with, they found a great deal of success.

Even before finding his way in the world as a booking agent, he led a fascinating life. He grew up mostly in Cairo and Beirut, the son of a CIA agent stationed there. Irresponsible and rebellious as a teenager, he traipsed back and forth across Europe and scrounged an existence in London rather than submit to his parents' will, eventually enlisting in the U.S. and heading to the Vietnam War. He stumbled into tour management and booking, where he finally found his niche. He also sat at an unlikely cusp in the Baby Boom. An acknowledged hippie who embraced hippie bands, he still didn't reject punk. He recognized that while the snotty punks lacked the chops of his favorite long-haired artists, they had a freshness missing from the the stagnating older music and musicians.

Copeland was not a great writer but definitely an adequate one to tell his unusual life story, including having good sense of choice anecdotes to include, particularly one about being harangued by a veteran agent about why he'll never succeed, the old-timer nodding off repeatedly mid-sentence from heroin before finally going face down into a dish of creamed spinach. The book gets off to a sluggish start, with a chapter that goes on too long into too much detail about his crazy globetrotting lifestyle working and socializing with rock stars; fortunately it is not characteristic of the rest of the book. He is gentlemanly, revealing little of his doomed marriage and offering no ill words about his ex-wife, refraining to name the member of the Go-Go's who failed to seduce him despite her persistence and adding in a footnote that the heroin-addled agent eventually cleaned up and found continued success in the music business. Although he says so explicitly, he also shows repeatedly his keys to success: the road to fame must be trod repeated back and forth across the U.S. and includes stops at roach-infested hotels, stay within your financial means, drugs will greatly hinder one's career and don't be a scumbag. In an industry known for weasels, such advice is refreshing.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Missed Obituaries

Twice in recent weeks I've stumbled upon news of deaths in the music world well after the fact.

I only learned of Ian Copeland's death from the credits for Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out. Ian, one of Stewart's brothers, was the band's manager and booking agent. He served in a similar capacity to a bunch of other bands that helped define 1980s. He died last May. I'm still amused by the names of the outfits of the Copeland brothers, a response to their father's serving in the CIA. Ian's agency was FBI. Miles' record label was IRS. Stewart is in the Police. I was preoccupied with caring for a newborn at the time of Ian's death, but it didn't make much news beyond the music world.

Chalk it up to geography that I missed the news that Aldo Jones died of leukemia in 2001 at age 41. Jones was a member of the Ben Vaughn Combo and worked with many other Philly musicians in the late 80s and early 90s when I was seeing a lot of local Philly acts. On one of my first dates with an old boyfriend, grabbing a bite at Silk City at the end of the night, Aldo walked in. That both of us considered this a celebrity sighting sums up the foundation of that relationship. News of his passing didn't make it to Chicago, and I'm no longer connected to that scene for someone to have tipped me off.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It wasn't until I discovered allmusic and starting looking up my favorite bands that I learned that lots of my favorite music is considered part of the same genre and that it has a name: post-punk. I just thought of it as music I like.

I recently came upon an 80s post-punk archetype: Josef K. The first time I heard the band on the radio, I was confused. They sounded familiar without sounding familiar, in that I knew I'd never actually heard them before although their sound resembled lots that I'd heard before. There were glints of the angularity of the Fall, Gang of Four and early Echo & the Bunnymen, the jangly pop of the Woodentops and the revved-up jangly pop of early Wedding Present. That they had previously escaped my attention, apart from recognizing their name from the 1991 edition of the Trouser Press record guide, is not surprising considering that they only issued one proper album, The Only Fun in Town, before breaking up, and that album never had a U.S. release. Their new compilation, Entomology, rounds up 22 album tracks and singles for a worthy introduction to American ears.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

I had merely planned to review Everyone Stares: The Police Inside Out when much bigger news about the band broke: Holy crap! They're getting back together. The band announced that they will play at the Grammy Awards on February 11, and a full tour is rumored.

Now back to that movie review. Drummer Stewart Copeland bought a Super 8 movie camera early in his career with the band and managed to document them in their time together, from their early struggles to massive fame. Through wise editing of the 50 or so hours of footage on the road, in the studio, on the stage and pressed up against the fans, he gives a clear view of what it was like living through it all. His narration is insightful, making their eventual break-up a natural conclusion without placing blame. That said, Sting sometimes comes across as an obnoxious alpha male even when they're getting along just fine, and the film reaffirmed my belief that Copeland is not only one of the best drummers of all time, he's also one of the coolest.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

One of the most annoying current cliches in journalism is making reference to AARP to say that someone is old. For once, talking about aging and making reference to AARP isn't a cliche. In today's Chicago Tribune, Barbara Brotman catches up with former Buzzcocks bass player Steve Garvey to discuss the cultural meaning of the band's "Everybody's Happy Nowadays" being used in AARP ad campaign. The interview also goes beyond the usual "where are they now" piece since they delve into what aging has been like for Garvey, now a carpenter with a kid in college.