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.