Monday, November 15, 2010

Concert Review: Grinderman, House of Blues, November 13

At a point in his career when most of his remaining peers are treading the nostalgia circuit, Nick Cave is attracting sizable crowds for not just new material but a new band that doesn't include his name. Cave has always oozed charisma and put on a great show, but he also has the songwriting chops to engender a continued following. Scaling back from the sprawling Bad Seeds to the stripped down four piece Grinderman has created a boost of energy for someone whose energy wasn't flagging, as seen on Saturday at Boston's House of Blues.

For all of Cave's intensity and command of the stage, this wasn't a one-man show. Guitarist/violinist Warren Ellis, with his stringy hair and beard and demonic flailing looked liked he'd gone nuts after years of solitary confinement in a third world prison. The rhythm section functioned as the band's anchor to sanity.

The band came out and set the stage on fire with the impolite "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man." "Worm Tamer" had the texture of a wire brush. The blues got electric shock treatment with "Get It On." Cave started out playing guitar, but put it aside for a tambourine, which he soon pitched during "Heathen Child." His posture demanded attention, but Ellis was cranking out unearthly sounds. Ellis was down on the floor for "Evil!" but the impassioned delivery still couldn't fully save the song from its weak lyrics.

The band scaled back the intensity for "When My Baby Comes," but Ellis started brandishing his frayed violin bow like a whip and soon was leaving acres of scorched earth in his wake. They came up for a breather with "What I Know" but leaped back into the fire with "Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)." But they stumbled with "Kitchenette;" Cave overstepped the line into self-parody with heavy-handed double entendres and wacky falsetto utterances of "tippy toe, tippy toe." Cave regained his footing as gospel preacher who's now playing for the other team with "No Pussy Blues." During the encore, "When My Love Comes Down to Meet You" was brimming with psychedelic distortion. They wrapped the set with "Grinderman" as the band's name glowed in red on the back curtain.

Cave has shaved off his mustache, no doubt to stay a step ahead of ironic hipsters. The guy knows how to remain relevant.

Set list:
   
Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man
Worm Tamer
Get It On
Heathen Child
Evil!
When My Baby Comes
What I Know
Honey Bee (Let's Fly to Mars)
Kitchenette
No Pussy Blues
Bellringer Blues

Encore:

Palaces of Montezuma
When My Love Comes Down to Meet You
Man in the Moon
Love Bomb
Grinderman

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kickin' It Real Old School

My blog was dormant for two months because I'm back in school, pursuing a masters in music at Tufts, which has left me with little time to see shows or even blog. My first major paper was on a historic music text in one of Tufts' special collections, A General History of Music by Charles Burney. It was one of the first two comprehensive histories of music published in England. Burney released his first volume in January, 1776 but didn't finish the four-volume series until 1789. His rival Sir John Hawkins released his history 10 months later in its entirety. The rivalry was immediate and has persisted for 200 years. Hawkins's strength was in his coverage of ancient music, but that's about the only advantage he held. Burney's writing style was accessible, and the clear structure of the work made it a useful research tool, whereas Hawkins's style was detached and the work is so disorganized that it is difficult to find a particular subject within the text. While Hawkins intentionally excluded contemporary music, viewing it as worthless, Burney embraced it; it is largely because of his extensive coverage of his contemporaries that he is still cited today. Besides being an antiquarian, Hawkins was also a curmudgeon, while Burney's social skills allowed him to travel in more prestigious circles than his middle class background might have limited him to. The story has the makings of a great screenplay.

As I gingerly leafed through Burney's and Hawkins's books, it occurred to me that I doubt I've ever touched anything that old other than a building. And as I synthesized my research materials, I started to feel kinship with Burney. I have immersed myself in the world of contemporary music but struggle to make sense of music of the distant past, and until now my knowledge of music history has been through self-study and interaction with musicians. I'd like to think that my writing is accessible, but I am humble enough to seriously doubt that anyone will be quoting me 200 years from now.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Concert Review: Fountains of Wayne with Marshall Crenshaw, Paradise Rock Club

Every attempt to see Fountains of Wayne since I moved to Boston two and half years ago had been thwarted, so it was with great relief that I finally saw a full set by them last night. It is the rare band whose songs make one smile so much that their cheeks hurt.

The band previewed songs from their upcoming album, but only a few. Most memorable was "A Road Song," in which they sing about the cliches of a road song while mining new territory in that subgenre, including the lyrics, "I guess I'm not Steve Perry." And for that, the fans were very thankful.

Without a specific album to promote, they drew from their entire catalog. The set selection included no surprises, as much as I hope in vain for "Little Red Light." They brought a handful of audience members onto the stage for a percussion addition to "Hey, Julie." They explored their roster of songs about transportation from taxis to a lavender Lexus. They worked songs by Billy Joel and Blue Öyster Cult into the extended bridge for "Radiation Vibe." But mainly they did what they did best, wielding perfect power pop with sing-along hooks and sharply detailed lyrics. Their coterie of loyal fans recognized that "Stacy's Mom" is just the tip of the iceberg of their seemingly endless depths of should-be hits.

Marshall Crenshaw's voice has weathered since his '80s heyday, but his songs haven't aged at all. As he poured out semi-hit after semi-hit, from "Cynical Girl" to "Whenever You're on My Mind" to "There She Goes Again," it was an immediate reminder why he made such a splash and earned critical plaudits when he came onto the scene. Of course he played, "Some Day, Some Way," but I had forgotten how much other great material he had to draw from, so much so that he skipped the songs I specifically remembered beforehand, "Mary Anne" and "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)." His new material was in the same vein. Although he is nothing but sincere, without a trace of Fountains of Wayne's snarkiness humor, his singer/songwriter power pop was a well-suited pairing with the headliners.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Concert Review: Jody Porter, Lizard Lounge, Cambridge, August 14

Guitarist Jody Porter is the secret weapon of Fountains of Wayne. He puts the power in their power pop, is the muscle that keeps them from being helplessly twee, the musical punctuation marks in their quippy lyrics. So what happens when he's no longer reined in by his wordy band mates, when he and his guitar take center stage? Will it be Arcardia to Tinted Windows' Power Station, the less-successful splinter act but still with one hit up his sleeve? As he proved at the Lizard Lounge on August 14, he is mererly a solo act that meets expectations.

He is touring as the frontman of full four-piece band. It wasn't so much that they were too loud for the small club as much as too loud for the small audience. The opening act attracted a coterie of giggly, high-heeled blondes who looked out of place in a bar featuring unknown indie rock, and they evaporated before Porter's outfit took the floor. That left only a dozen or two in the audience while the band was amped to a volume for a crowd ten times that size. But Porter was clearly volume-minded. His solo style is surprisingly similar to Straitjacket Fits, New Zealander also-rans from two decades ago who were eclipsed by the likes of Chills but who churned up some blistering psychedelia at their creative peak. That the guy has chops was never in question. The problem is that as a solo act, he's got nothing but chops. In a group, there is creative push and pull, editing and containment of egos; in something resembling the democratic process of a band, the components of individual talent are ultimately subservient to the overall material. With Porter in charge and no one to say otherwise, the solo act is essentially one long guitar solo, with song structure and lyrics clearly an afterthought or just not his strong suit.

The set didn't end so much as peter out. Porter walked off leaving behind a guitar trapped in a feedback loop. The rest of band eventually followed, the drummer shrugging as he exited, conveying a lack of game plan. It looked like there was a mistaken assumption of an encore, but the attenuated audience was hardly demanding one. The show was a curiosity for die-hard Fountains of Wayne fans (not that they were in evidence), but proof that Porter shouldn't quit his day job.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk by Steven Lee Beeber

It's an odd bit of nomenclature, the difference in implication in the expressions "Christian musician" and "Jewish musician." To call someone a Christian musician is taken to mean an artist whose material deals with religious and spiritual matters. Christian music is a recognized genre, even with its own Billboard charts. However, to call someone a Jewish musicians refers only to their religious background but says nothing about content of their songs. To talk about Jewish musicians, the default assumption is secular music by people who happen to be Jewish.

All of which boils down to this: don't approach Steven Lee Beeber's book The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk expecting to learn about an unknown subgenre of punk featuring the likes of a sped-up, angry version of "Kol Nidre," not that anyone is apt to make that mistake. Beeber even makes his outlook explicit, examining what it means to be Jewish from a cultural rather than religious perspective, on par with being Italian, Irish or Indian rather than Catholic or Hindu. He may trot out anecdotes about bar mitzvahs as evidence of Lou Reed's religious heritage, but Beeber is much more interested in Jews as an ethnic rather than religious group. And the big surprise is that the history of punk includes a lot of Jews in crucial roles.

Beeber goes far beyond the mere curiosity "outing" Jewish punks. Sure, you know that Joey Ramone was Jewish, but did you guess that Tommy Ramone is, too? The author even questions his own motivation when Richard Hell (né Meyers) asks Beeber his point in writing the book. Beeber examines the common cultural forces that influenced this set of people. Some manifestations are overt, such as the Ramones' exhortation to eat Kosher salami. Others are more subtle, such as the status of Jews as outsiders in American society and rebellion against parental desires to assimilate via respectable high-paying professions.

The author trips up when he lacks primary sources. Most notably in the chapters on Lou Reed and the reclusive Jonathan Richman, he struggles to interpret their inspiration through their lyrics and other press clippings. In doing so, his analysis gets stretched too thin and his writing becomes repetitive. In other instances, he worked around his inability to interview his subjects by drawing on other sources. Richard Hell was suspicious of Beeber's angle and refused to be interviewed, but Beeber researched Hell's archival materials at NYU for insights. Joey Ramone died before Beeber began to work on the book, but those close to Joey were clearly forthcoming about him.

The book's greatest strength is in examining early punk's obsession with Nazi Germany. The Ramone's brought it to the forefront with one of their most political songs, "Bonzo Goes to Bitburg." But before that, many in the scene used Nazi iconography in their work or collected it privately. Beeber teases this out, observing the place of this generation of Jews in history. For many, they were just young enough to have not been directly affected by the Holocaust but just old enough to grow up around those who were. Drawing on Susan Sontag's work in Notes on "Camp," he theorizes that the obsession is a manifestation of an ultimate psychology victory over the Nazis.

Many ethnic groups take justifiable pride in the accomplishments of its members in various fields. But in chronicling the impact of people such as band managers Danny Fields and Malcolm McLaren, CBGB's founder Hilly Kristal, Chris Stein of Blondie and Lenny Kaye of the Patti Smith Group as well as lesser lights in the punk spectrum, Beeber assembles a compelling argument. The Jewish experience provided a unique influence on this group of people, and without this cluster of Jews, punk as we know it would not exist.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

RIP Dick Buckley, Jazz DJ

Dick Buckley, a jazz DJ who had a 50-year career on radio, has died. I have probably listened to more jazz on his WBEZ Chicago radio shows than I have from any other source in my life because his extensive record collection, encyclopedic knowledge of the genre, his turn of phrase and his melifluous baritone voice made his shows so appealing. Some typical comments from him were that a trumpeter played a piece, "with all ten fingers and both elbows," or that a song was from album entitled Greatest Garner but that any song by Erroll Garner was great. He'd provide extensive details on a particular recording then add, "Although the liner notes say that so-and-so was on that track, it was clearly the style of what's-his-name who was in the band at the time."

He was an absolute treasure. The Chicago Public Library's Harold Washington Library Center houses Dick Buckley's Archives of Jazz in the Music Information Center. It covers 1989-1993, takes up 32 linear feet and contains over 400 hours from Mr. Buckley’s show on WBEZ, recorded on reel to reel audiotape, often with a program log included.

The Chicago Tribune web site had a brief obituary. I anticipate that more complete coverage will appear in tomorrow's print edition.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo, the Middle East, July 19

Boston, what the hell is wrong with you? Why don’t you recognize the talent and glory that is Alejandro Escovedo?

I moved to Boston from Chicago two years ago. One thing Chicago has over Boston is that the city appreciates Escovedo. As I looked over the far-from-capacity crowd at the Middle East last night, I contemplated what has fostered Chicago’s love for him that Boston lacks. There are venues such as the Hideout and FitzGerald’s that cultivate an audience for Americana. There’s the trickle-down effect of the Taste of Chicago in the culture of free outdoor concerts throughout the summer, manifesting itself is such events and Escovedo opening for Patti Smith at a free show by Tribune Tower a few years back, which encourages residents to explore music they wouldn’t necessarily pay to see. He can get airplay on WXRT, an adult album alternative radio station with DJs who care about music rather than air personalities hired only to fill the space between songs that have been market-tested for their target demographic.

But these are excuses, rather than reasons. The guy keeps releasing great albums, coming to town and putting on great shows, and yet most of Boston ignores him. The fools.

While his previous visit to town was an intimate, acoustic evening, accompanied by David Pulkingham, now he was back with a full band, dubbed the Sensitive Boys. It was only twice as many musicians, but the additions of bass, drums and electricity made the volume grow exponentially. They blasted into “Always a Friend” to open the set and tore through a handful of songs, mostly from Escovedo’s latest album, Street Songs of Love and 2008’s Real Animal. Despite being a working musician for decades, he has never had a hit single, the advantage being that he is not beholden to his past. He barely dipped into his back catalog except for a “Castanets” sing-along.

But it wasn’t all brashness. The middle of the set took a more subdued tone, highlighted by “Down in the Bowery,” his homage to his teenage punk rocker son. As he sang, “I’d buy you a smile in a minute, but would you wear it? If I had one moment of time, would you come down and share it?” I thought of my own young boys, carefree and cuddly, and choked up at that thought of the days ahead when I’ll ask such questions.

Ian Hunter provided vocals on the album but didn’t come along for the tour, which partially explains the decision to cover Hunter’s biggest hit, Mott the Hoople’s “All the Young Dudes.” These days, all the young dudes carry the news on their smart phones. Fortunately Alejandro Escovedo is the rare old dude who can still rock without just riding on past glories.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Consider this before you download music without permission

Other artists such as Marillion and Jill Sobule have asked fans for direct financial support already, but Dayna Kurtz explains why in clear and precise detail in response to hate mail she got for doing so. More specifically, she points out that her latest record sold only 900 copies but was illegally downloaded 50,000 from four pirate sites alone.

Not everyone realizes that such downloading is illegal. Those who do come up with all sorts of rationalizations. "A huge artist is already rich so they don't need my money." "A new artist needs exposure to build an audience." These arguments fall apart for the glut of midlevel artists who have built a following but aren't getting rich and aren't even making enough to front their own recording costs.

As Kurtz points out, "the only thing that causes me some degree of regret about this venture is that i'd bet my bottom dollar that the the vast majority of people that donate are the sort of fans who already buy my music, legally and conscientiously."

http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=56856324&blogId=534038996


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Rock and Roll GRE

Analytical Writing

Issue Task: Write a response to following statement. You can accept, reject, or qualify the claim made in the topic, as long as the ideas you present are clearly relevant to the topic below. Support your views with reasons and examples drawn from such areas as your reading, experience, observations, or academic studies.

The Beatles are overrated.

Argument: Write a critique of an argument presented in the following short passage.

Bon Jovi is great band. They have sold a shitload of albums. They are really nice guys. They have awesome hair.

Quantitative Ability

1.
Column A Column B
The Smiths' recorded output Morrissey's recorded output

A) The quantity in Column A is greater
B) The quantity in Column B is greater
C) The two quantities are equal
D) The relationship cannot be determined from the information given
E) Well, are we comparing quantity or quality here?

2. Dave Clark x + Ben Folds x = yCC

Solve for y

A) 2
B) 5
C) 10
D) 17
E) 23.56432

3.  Seven & Seven Is

A) 14
B) A song by Love

4. Haircut x²

Solve for x

A) 1982
B) Love + 1
C) 16
D) ±10
E) 45

Verbal Ability

In the following questions, a related pair of words is followed by five more pairs of words. Select the pair that best expresses the same relationship as that expressed in the original pair.

1. NIRVANA : FOO FIGHTERS
A) Soundgarden : Candlebox
B) Roxy Music : Bryan Ferry
C) Joy Division : New Order
D) New York Dolls : KISS
E) Blue Oyster Cult : Foghat

2. DAVIES : KINKS
A) Deal : The Breeders
B) Followill : Kings of Leon
C) Taylor : Duran Duran
D) Gallagher : Oasis
E) White : The White Stripes

3. The REVOLUTION: THE NEW POWER GENERATION
A) The Attractions: The Imposters
B) Crazy Horse: The Band
C) The Heartbreakers: The Traveling Wilburys
D) The E Street Band: The Asbury Jukes
E) The Raiders: The Detroit Wheels

Each of the following questions provides a given word or phrase in capitalized letters followed by five word choices. Choose the word or phrase that is most opposite in meaning to the given word.

4. THE FALL
A) Sonic Youth
B) The Pretenders
C) The Wedding Present
D) The Cure
E) Dinosaur Jr.

5. BRITNEY SPEARS
A) Usher
B) Tom Waits
C) Pink
D) Tom Jones
E) Cher

6. MINISTRY
A) Revolting Cocks
B) Lead Into Gold
C) Lard
D) 1000 Homo DJs
E) The Bee-Gees

The sentences has blank spaces that indicate omitted words. Choose the best combination of words that fit the meaning and structure within the context of the sentence.

7. After _________ left __________, the band started selling more records while he ironically found both critical and commercial success by sticking with his arty instincts that had limited the band's audience.
A) Peter Frampton, Humble Pie
B) Peter Gabriel, Genesis
C) Justin Timberlake, the Backstreet Boys
D) Paul Weller, the Style Council
E) David Lee Roth, Van Halen

Please use this essay to answer the following questions.

8. The author's main point is that:
A) Inexpensive videos are the best way for bands to build an audience.
B) Record companies are short-sighted in viewing all artist activities as revenue sources.
C) Record companies have always expected to recoup all advances.
D) Bloggers are more important than radio for breaking new bands.
E) The treadmill video is really cool.

9. According to the author, the main function of record companies is to:
A) get CDs distributed to retailers.
B) get radio airplay for artists.
C) provide financial advances.
D) find directors who can create concepts for videos.
E) put bands on metaphorical treadmills.


Answers:

Analytical Writing

Issue


Sample response:
Well, yeah. Kinda.

Argument

Sample response:
You're out of your fucking mind.

Quantitative Ability

1. B or E
2. C
3. A or B
4. D

Verbal Ability

1. C
2. D
3. A
4. A
5. B
6. E
7. B
8. B
9. C

Monday, April 26, 2010

Concert Review: The Church, Arts at the Armory, April 21

A funny thing happened on the road to nostalgia for the Church. They took a detour and became relevant.

The initial route was a familiar one. After slowly building an audience, they scored a Top 30 hit, "Under the Milky Way," several albums into their career. The pressure to repeat their success nearly destroyed the band. Last summer they played Showcase Live, a venue at a football stadium's complex whose main selling point to suburban audiences is vast amounts of free parking, key for acts that are just trading on their long-past glories. The typical chain of events for such bands is that, if they even bother to record new material, it is at best forgettable but provides an excuse to tour. At worst, it squanders their legacy.

But that isn't what happened to the Church. The band is celebrating it 30th anniversary with a special tour. They deserved better than the nostalgia circuit room they played in Foxboro last year and got it with Somerville's Arts at the Armory on April 21. The gimmick of the tour is that they play one song from each album in reverse chronological order, starting with 2009's Untitled #23. The surprise to casual fans is that their newer material is worthy of both the band and the audience. Admittedly, the group have winnowed their following, but this was a crowd who was in it for the long haul, not the ones who would be disappointed that they didn't faithfully recreate "Reptile" from its Starfish incarnation.

In honor of the occasion, they provided a program highlighting their career, including a page devoted to each album and concluding with an inventory of their career, cataloging everything from the number of concerts played to the number of overdoses. Combining  their between-song banter, mostly from Steve Kilbey but with the others chiming in, and the written materials about their releases, the full narrative emerged. Their label largely ignored them in the early '80s in favor of acts like Loverboy. They eventually hit pay dirt and sold a bunch of albums, but that same success tore the band apart. They eventually regained their footing as the '90s progressed, with guitarist Peter Koppes rejoining the band, Tim Fowles settling in behind drums and the band finding a new creative freedom, in part from shedding expectations. They've weathered the failure of several indie labels by ultimately creating their own imprint.

It was a journey through their history, but they chose to not necessarily retrace their steps. They billed it as an intimate space, which manifested itself as a very casual atmosphere with no electric guitars. Since two of their albums were built around reinterpretations of their own songs, they were hardly married to their past. For example, they stripped away the layers of "Almost Yesterday." "The Unguarded Moment" felt like a Velvet Underground cover song. "Invisible" took the train theme of its lyrics as the basis for its tempo variations, speeding up then slowing down like a training pulling into the station.

They broke the proceedings into two sets then returned for two encores. For their first encore, they offered up the Smashing Pumpkins song "Disarm" as a thank you and response to their cover of "Reptile." They followed it up with "Space Saviour" from Untitled #23 that was so hypnotic it practically induced seizures and left audience drowning in puddles of their own drool. They wrapped up the evening with "Grind;" Marty Willson-Piper peppered it with Led Zeppelin-worthy fat riffs, but the rendition also lived up the song's own lyrics of "jangled decay." The band proved themselves worthy of the 30th anniversary celebration.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Concert Review: Alejandro Escovedo, Somerville Theater, April 6

Alejandro Escovedo came to town with a just a buddy to upend expectations. Yes, it was just two guys with acoustic guitars, but this was not evening of polite, gentle strumming; it's surprising they only broke one string in the course of the evening. Ecovedo's lyrics suggest that he's a singer/songwriter, but he knows how to rock. To put it another way, he knows how to make a lot of noise, but his lyrics convey genuine emotional complexity. He hits you in the heart, the feet and the brain. I frequently found myself with an irrepressible smile on my face.

The pair were previewing songs from Escovedo's upcoming album, due in June. Although he described it as a rock album with a full band, he was touring unplugged with fellow guitarist David Pulkingham. Their interaction was a paradox, effortlessly spontaneous and organic as a result of lots of practice. They had worked hard to make it look that easy. With a quick exchange of glances they could alter the tempo or intensity, and both clearly enjoyed the freedom they had in working together to make something so beautiful or so raucous.

Boston just isn't showing Escovedo the love he deserves, with the 900-seat venue maybe a third full. Rather than lamenting the poor turn-out (and he didn't mince words about another nearby venue where he'd played earlier in his career), he used the intimacy to his advantage. Especially since no one was in the balcony, the pair stepped down from the stage, away from the microphones, to perform a handful of songs in the aisles among the audience.

Escovedo peppered the set with stories about his family, taking great pride in their musical accomplishments. His father was a musician who bore 12 children, eight of whom went on to become professional musicians themselves. His 17-year-old son Paris is a punk rocker, and Alejandro is amused that Paris dismisses his father's current output at old man music for old people.

Escovedo was once a young punk rocker himself as a member of the Nuns in the mid-'70s. That band is now most famous as the launching point of his eventual solo career. Ironically, he emerged from a genre that disparaged virtuosity through his virtuosity, but the punk spirit still lives in this "old man."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Concert Review: A Place to Bury Strangers, Paradise Rock Club, March 27

Oh, A Place to Bury Strangers, I want to love you, but you keep breaking my heart. When you gave a leaden performance last fall, I gave you the benefit of the doubt and chalked it up to the venue. I'd never been to the Middle East Upstairs before, so I assumed the room's acoustics were dead. By all appearances, and by the sound of Exploding Head, you were doing everything right. But after seeing you a second time at a different club, one that I know has favorable acoustics, I'm forced to admit that it's your fault.

But let's get specific. I stand by my positive review of Exploding Head. JSpace and Jono MOFO formed a solid rhythm section at the Paradise on Saturday. However, guitarist Oliver Ackermann missed the point on distortion. It should be an accent, not a raison d'etre. The band has recorded distinctive, distinguishable songs, but when the distortion is so overdone, you can no longer tell what is being distorted. It's all just noise. So, Oliver, stop giving the tremolo bar a hand job. Let some semblance of the melody emerge before fucking around with it. Maybe I'll give you another chance and the band can finally live up to the promise of its recordings.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Reconsidering Peaches

From the first time I saw Peaches, I reached the conclusion that she was trading exclusively in shock value in the absence of any other discernible talent, that she had nothing going for her other than sexual provocation. If she didn't exist, someone would have to invent her if only as fodder for gender studies academics.

My basis for this opinion was established by my initial exposure to her, opening for Elastica at the Park West in Chicago in 2000. But I have been forced recently to rethink my assessment. Peaches was interviewed on the January 29 episode of Sound Opinions. Jim DeRogatis starts off by calling the performance "infamous." Peaches responds that it was her "worst show ever." DeRogatis continues by explaining that the venue has been around since the days of Al Capone, and they still talk about it as the single worst show in its history. She recalls that it was the fourth show of her first tour ever and she was experimenting on stage to develop her new persona.

In other words, to say that I caught her on an off night is an understatement. I'll have to be a little more open-minded about her work, although I'll stick with Patti Smith for upending expectations of female performers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Concert Review: The Magnetic Fields, Wilbur Theatre, February 11

Oh, Stephin Merritt, you are so droll. You are so witty. Your songs are so exquisite. If only you were so lively. Please, can Magnetic Fields concerts be inspired by your opening number, "Kiss Me Like You Mean It"? The band takes the notion of chamber pop too seriously in the live setting. The material was perfectly presented except for a few bum notes caused by laryngitis going through the tour bus, but it was staid. The band's performance was pleasant enough but hardly vital. As a songwriter, Merritt mines so many nuances of emotion, but the band didn't convey that emotion. They replicated the recordings but didn't bring the songs to life. Apart from some awkwardly amusing repartee between Merritt and Claudia Gonson, there was little to recommend for their concert over their albums.

There was are recurring theme of songs about vampires, surprising considering they never played the Future Bible Heroes song, "I'm a Vampire," even though they played songs by Merritt's other outfits, the Sixths and the Gothic Archies.

Opener Laura Barrett's main accompaniment was the kalimba, a thumb piano that sounds like a music box. Her quirkiness would have worn thin quickly if she had just tried to coast on her charms, the way too much '90s indie pop relied on the mistaken belief that cuteness compensates for ineptitude. But she and her accompanist were fully competent of their hodge podge of instruments, and she never sang a bum note, making her odd songs were appealing.

Magnetic Fields set list:

Kiss Me Like You Mean It
You Must Be Out of Your Mind
The Luckiest Guy on the Lower East Side
We Are Having a Hootenanny
Walk a Lonely Road
Shipwrecked
When Will You Love Me Again
All I Want To Know
I Have the Moon
Looking for Love [In the Hall of Mirrors]

[Intermission]

Xylophone Track
Interlude
Long Vermont Roads
You You You You You
The Nun's Litany
I'm Sorry I Love You
Don't Look Away
The Little Hebrew Girl
The Flowers She Sent and the Flowers She Said She Sent
Better Things
Fear of Trains
The Dolls' Tea Party
Always Already Gone
100,000 Fireflies

[Encore]
I Die
From a Sinking Ship