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.