Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Relatively unknown in many musical circles, the Steve Kimock Band have become a fixture on the ever-touring jamband circuit. No stranger to the road, Kimock, known as The Guitar Monk, toured with the Grateful Dead offshoot "The Other Ones" and the Godchaux's Heart of Gold band, and also served a stint with Phil Lesh as one of his Friends. The SKB, which gelled in 2000 with the addition of drummer Rodney Holmes, have earned their much-deserved reputation as a live attraction with their jazzy and eclectic live performances. The band may be named after Kimock but much credit for the band's sound must be given to Holmes. Holmes primarily earned his chops on the jazz circuit supporting such greats as Wayne Shorter and the Brecker Brothers and spent the latter part of the 90's backing Carlos Santana, providing percussion to 1999's ubiquitous smash Smooth.
Like most bands known for their stage work, on Eudemonic the Kimock Band struggle to capture the magic of their loose improvisational style inside the confines of the recording studio. The interplay between Kimock and Holmes survives the transfer, with the two of them at the forefront of the majority of the tracks. With the focus squarely on Kimock and Holmes, the other members of the band, longtime guitarist Mitch Stein, bassist Alphonso Johnson and keyboardist Jim Kost, are reduced to supporting roles.
Loyal fans will recognize Tongue N' Groove and Moon People as well as crowd pleasers Ice Cream and The Bronx Experiment as they have been live staples of the band's shows for years. However, the funkiness and joyous spontaneity of the live performances are missing from Eudemonic. In an effort to capture the improvisational feel of the songs, most are stretched out beyond six minutes with the overly-long Elmer's Revenge clocking in just shy of twelve minutes. The extension of the songs doesn't work as the band fails to flesh out on record the intricacies and nuances of the songs like they do on stage. As a result, Eudemonic sounds more like a light or smooth jazz collection than the debut record of an inspired creative band.
Kimock dedicated this album to the memory of his friend Doug Greene, giving him a thematic You Da' Mon shoutout in the liner notes. The opening track, Eudemon, echoes Kimock's warm feelings for his friend, and gives the album a joyously funky kick-start. The rest of the album does not follow the opener's lead and the tracks blend together into a pleasant light jazz pastiche best suited for cocktail hour. The Holmes-penned Bronx Experiment, with its eastern rhythms and melodies, sets itself apart from the rest of the album with its sheer originality. Prominently showcasing Holmes' percussion prowess, Bronx Experiment, which features Kimock on mandolin, evokes Zeppelin's Kashmir and is the album's most notable track.
Eudemonic is a disappointing effort from a promising band and, upon listening, you may be hard-pressed to discern what all the fuss over the SKB is all about. For the answer to that question, search out East Meets West or Live in Colorado, two of the band's live albums. Although difficult to find, they are worth the reward.
Wes Craven is a very accomplished movie maker. He has written and directed some horror classics - A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hills Have Eyes and the quite disturbing The Last House on the Left - and reinvented the genre brilliantly with his post-modern Scream trilogy.
His latest effort, Red Eye, is just a mediocre film. It starts out with an engaging premise - Lisa is a hotel guest coordinator who is targeted by an assassination coordinator (for want of a better term) in order to engineer a hotel room change for the Deputy Secretary for Homeland Security to better facilitate his demise. The bad guy's name is Jack Rippner (and the obvious joke is referenced in the film). Lisa must make a phone call to the hotel and arrange for the room change or else Jack will call another bad guy who will kill Lisa's father.
[STORY SPOILERS IN BELOW PARAGRAPH ONLY]
All of this drama takes place on an airplane (yes, you guessed it, a red-eye flight). The plane is equipped with those air-fones so it's an acceptably plausible scenario to generate some suspense at the outset. What follows is a series of foiled attempts by Lisa to out-wit the villain. Eventually, having exhausted all avenues to thwart Jack's plan, Lisa complies and makes the call.
The film starts out as what could be an excellent thriller - political intrigue, assassination plots and airline terror. However, there is a sudden shift of gears and the film basically turns into an encore installment of Scream. Jack Rippner is shrewd and menacing for half the film but degenerates into a bumbling idiot after that. Red Eye becomes Scream without the cool scary mask.
Where Scream maintained a self-referential sense of humor throughout, Red Eye becomes confused. It's like Wes Craven almost made a real thriller but reverted to the Scream formula just in case. Cillian Murphy's cool demeanor and ice blue eyes are perfect for the role of Jack Rippner at the beginning. But when Wes Craven turns him into an evil Mr. Bean, the film just becomes stupid. And unlike Scream, where the audience was in on the clever joke, Red Eye just inadvertently becomes a lame joke.
For trivia fans, you may notice that Wes Craven plays one of the passengers on the flight. There is also a weird continuity glitch with Lisa's necklace (just keep watching).
Tuesday, August 30, 2005
I found your statement to be completely void of the facts that led up to Saturday's show. Your press release was written like an old time 80's manager, trying to use every opportunity to try and sell the record and the upcoming shows instead of just dealing with the truth.
These are the facts:
You claim to have been in the business for 30 years and have been to hundreds of gigs, but can you tell me how many times you have heard of an opening band talking sh*t about the headliner during their set and getting away with it? Not only is Ozzy the headliner, but he is also the man who is paying your band $185,000 a night. We gave Iron Maiden a chance to play to the biggest audiences they have ever played to in the U.S.A. We accommodated them with their stage set and at the band's request we even scoured the audience for people wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts and brought them down front during their set to make them feel more comfortable. Tell me, what other headliner would do that? Unfortunately those gestures were completely lost on Bruce Dickinson who for over 20 shows continually berated Ozzy and Ozzfest during his set.
Over the last 10 years of Ozzfest we have worked with over 200 bands. None of them were ever disrespectful to Ozzy or any of the other bands on the tour. But for 20 shows we were forced to hear Dickinson's nightly outbursts from the stage: "When we come back to America, we'll be back with a proper sound system" or "We won't be playing the same old songs every night (like Sabbath)," "We don't need a teleprompter (like Ozzy)" and "We don't need a reality show to be legit (again, like Ozzy)." Night after night we heard his complaints from the stage about how "corporate" the venues were and how "outrageous" the ticket prices were. Strangely enough, if you want to get a general admission ticket to stand in a field to see Iron Maiden at Reading this weekend it's going to cost you over $120. I would say that's very pricey, wouldn't you?
When an artist comes on stage and says he's not playing the 55 minutes that he was allotted and that he is going to play for as long as he wants (cutting into Sabbath's set), I'm not going to let that happen. Dickinson was under the delusion that the 46,000 people in San Bernardino had come only to see Iron Maiden. He even proclaimed "This is not the Ozzfest, This is Maidenfest." I guess no one told him that we have an audience of 45,000 to 53,000 people every year in San Bernardino.
Here's another fact for you. Bruce Dickinson's own band was embarrassed by him. Iron Maiden leader, Steve Harris, even came to Ozzy's dressing room to apologize to Ozzy for Bruce's behavior before Maiden took the stage in San Bernardino.
It's shameful that Dickinson felt he had the right to air his issues publicly onstage every night as a way to boost his own ego. Dickinson never once came up to Ozzy and me to voice any concerns. He certainly had the opportunity to do so every night. If he wasn't able to show us that courtesy then why should I give him the respect to air my grievances with him in private? Ozzy's only interaction with Dickinson was on the first night of the tour. Ozzy, being the true gentleman that he is, passed Bruce in the hall and said "Good luck and have a great show." Unfortunately Dickinson felt the need to turn his back to Ozzy and walked away. Frankly, Dickinson got what he deserved. We had to listen to his bullsh*t for five straight weeks. He only had to suffer a couple of eggs on the head.
On closing, yes, I did cut Iron Maiden's sound. This is the way I look at it: Ozzfest is our tour. We built it into something that's lasted 10 years now. We've been responsible for breaking many new bands and resurrecting the careers of former superstars. Part of our success stems from the fact that when a band is on Ozzfest we treat them with nothing but kindness and respect just as if we had invited them into our home. You can ask all of the bands who have been on the tour. They all describe it as the "ultimate summer camp." It's like one big family. Unfortunately Dickinson doesn't have the manners to realize that when you are invited into someone's home, are seated at their dinner table, are eating their food and drinking their wine, you shouldn't talk disrespectfully about them (Ozzy, Black Sabbath and Ozzfest), otherwise you just might get your ass handed to you. Every action has a reaction. Was Dickinson so naïve to think that I was going to let him get away with talking sh*t about my family night after night? I don't think he realizes who he's dealing with. I will not endure behavior like this from anyone.
I know you would love to keep talking about this because this is the most press that Iron Maiden has had in the U.S. in twenty years, but let's move on, shall we?
The "Real" Iron Maiden
8/5/05 Set List:
1. Don't Do It
2. Sting Me
4. Another Roadside Tragedy
5. Sister Luck
6. Soul Singing
7. Coming Home
8. Lay It All On Me
9. Hi-Head Blues
10. Thorn In My Pride
11. Sunday Buttermilk
12. Pardon My Heart
13. You Don't Miss Your Waiter
14. Good Friday
15. How Much For Your Wings
16. Greasy Grass River
17. Hard to Handle
19. Jealous Again
21. Don't Let Me Down
8/7/05 set list:
1. Virtue & Vice
2. Stare it Cold
3. Black Moon Creeping
4. Cosmic Friend
6. Pre-Road Downs
7. Could I’ve Been So Blind
8. By Your Side
9. Downtown $ Waster
10. Thorn in my Pride
11. This is the Way
12. Torn & Frayed
13. Miracle to Me
14. Girl from the North Country
15. Boomer’s Story
16. Ballad in Urgency
17. Wiser Time
19. Shake Your Money Maker
20. Twice as Hard
21. Yer Blues
8/9/05 set list:
1. He's Gone
2. Soul Singing
3. Thick n' Thin
4. Tied Up And Swallowed
5. Young Man Old Man
6. Girl From A Pawnshop
7. Hotel Illness
8. Bring On Bring On
10. My Morning Song
11. Peace Anyway
12. Glad And Sorry
13. Do Right Woman
14. Bend Down Low
17. Title Song
18. Hard To Handle
19. Comin' Home
21. She Talks To Angels
8/10/05 set list:
1. One Mirror Too Many
2. Sting Me
3. Go Faster
4. Black Moon Creeping
5. Paint An 8
6. Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye
7. Space Captain
8. How Much For Your Wings
9. Thorn In My Pride
10. Buttermilk Waltz
11. Darling Of The Underground Press
12. Sin City
13. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You
14. Wyoming & Me
15. Better When You're Not Alone
17. Under A Mountain
18. Evil Eye
19. She Gave Good Sunflower
21. Happiness Is A Warm Gun
I dig the Black Crowes and have no doubt they consistently put on great shows, but I'm thinking $26 is too much to shell out for one of these.
Just as nearly every protagonist in a Woody Allen film inhabits a dozen of his latest neuroses and worrywarts, director and Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam has penned or brought to the screen numerous characters that also share his madly creative mind explosions. Gilliam manifests his sensibilities in everyone from a time-traveler who dines on cockroaches (12 Monkeys), to a man with more mescaline than blood cells pulsing through his psychedelic fingertips (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). The binding trait these cinematic oddballs share is a child-like mindset dying to take flight and escape the repressed reality its adult character is presently entangled in, while trying its damnedest not to stray too far off the deep end.
With The Brothers Grimm, Gilliam has sunk deep into uncharted waters without his reality lifeboat present, letting his endless talents be submerged into the fairy tales that have suddenly taken center stage instead of being his characterÂs salvation. Grimm is based only by name on the exploits of German writers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, who at the turn of the 19th century decided to compile original ideas and cautiously whispered German fables into a rich, mythical past for its poorly-united country to communally share.
Matt Damon and Heath Ledger fictionalize the authors in a refreshingly Grimm fairy tale form, re-fashioning the college professors as a duo of grifting ghostbusters, recording for posterity each city's supernatural tales and falsely exorcising their assorted apparitions, all the while collecting piles of coin from enough dumb village people to fill a town hall with medieval Jerry Springer Show candidates. Eventually the brothers fix to defraud a town being held hostage by an enchanted forest where a child in red-hooded attire has vanished, along with several other sleeping beauties. The Grimms soon learn that these tall tales might not be as towering as they first imagined when fairy tales become reality.
While admittedly an intriguing concept, the infuriating mediocrity of the film's script strips the luster off its fun storytelling exterior. Coming off the far-fetched but feisty appeal of The Skeleton Key, writer Ehren Kruger has sadly returned to his routine low-level pandering, sloppily patching together a predictable fantasy movie that tries to mind-bafflingly double as an action buddy comedy. We may never know the exact amount of people who were clamoring for a mash-up of Rapunzel and Rush Hour, but if that number soars any higher than zero, movie-watching exams will need to be passed by the general public and licenses distributed. As a result, The Brothers Grimm elicits only cricket chirps after each painfully outdated Three Stooges showcase has run its course, followed by a round of bored gurglings for its attempts at dead-serious, heavily-edited fantasies that conjure little of the fun and magic of the hearty originals. In fact, any changes to the flawless Grimm fairy tales seem completely arbitrary, giving the film the seedy cash-in appeal of a Grimm's greatest hits CD where original tunes have been redone to maximum Marilyn Manson shock effect, abruptly alternating to cheesy Creed guitar renditions.
Terry Gilliam is the kind of director that could make a person eating a piece of cantaloupe appear alien and sinister, and in this sense, the visual gymnastics and muted-color fantastical elegance in Grimm do not disappoint. Unfortunately, the scattershot and disappointingly simplistic execution of the film's strong central ideas slowly bleed any fun to be had out of the proceedings, leaving very little that will appeal to fans of the edgier original Grimm tales or its fast-paced and fun modern kiddie counterparts.
Running Time: 118 Mins
Friday, August 26, 2005
Confirmed acts for this years Ball include: Derek Trucks Band, Ekoostik Hookah, The Benevento Russo Duo, Michael Glabicki of Rusted Root, The Zen Tricksters, Shimmy Shack (Featuring Mike Apirion & Dino English of Dark Star Orchestra), Vince Welnick from the Grateful Dead, Captain Soularcat, Rootstand, Turbine, Jounce, Short Bus Rhythm and Review, All-Star Jam with members of the Zen Tricksters, Rob Wasserman, Melvin Seals, and Michael Glabicki.
The Church in rural Pennsylvania was founded on the notion of bringing spiritual people together to celebrate their similarities, create harmony between denominations, and host community events based around the spontaneous and unlimited joy of live music. Since its inception, there has been an ongoing struggle between the Church's founder and local zoning boards (not to mention the highest levels of State and Federal Courts).
According to the Church founder William (Willy) Pritts, recent disputes with the State Supreme Court and local zoning authorities on this matter threaten his Constitutional Rights to practice religion and use his own property the way he wishes. According the Church, local land use commissioners have invalidated the claim of Pritts that the Church of Universal Love and Music is a legitimate church despite the fact that it is recognized by the Universal Life Church (Modesto, CA), by local clergy who come to events to provide religious services, and that Pritts himself is ordained as is the entertainment coordinator for the Church, Phil Simon. "The main focus of the Church is to gather people together to celebrate their freedom and religious preferences while in the presence of Live Music. Every event that the church has done has retained that focus," says Phil Simon.
The 2005 Boykin Ball Headliners:
The Derek Trucks Band - The band has been a work in progress for over 10 years, slowly blending jazz, rock, blues, Latin, Eastern Indian, and other world music into the sound that now defines the DTB. The mission of the band has been to assemble a group of musicians that share a passion for improvisation and musical exploration, and to develop a special musical unity by performing with this core group of players for an extended period of time. The focus of the band is on the art form itself, despite the current trend of image-driven music on the scene today. The DTB aims to create progressive roots music in an effort to move the art form forward and re-establish substance over hype.
Ekoostik Hookah - One of the most dynamic acts on the road today, ekoostik hookah is the nucleus of a growing family drawn to its lucid, improvisational treatment of psychedelic rock ’n’ roll, blues, funk, jazz and bluegrass layered with rich harmonies. Born early in 1991 in a smoky basement bar, the band has been continually evolving, cultivating a sound that has perked the ears of contemporaries and attracted thousands of fans who routinely travel hundreds of miles to hear them play.
Rob Wasserman - Precious few musicians demonstrate the scope to be dubbed renaissance men, but Rob Wasserman has more than earned the title. His daunting versatility has made him one of the last two decade's most in-demand bassists -- as demonstrated by stints with Lou Reed, Van Morrison and Elvis Costello. His longtime creative partnership with Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir have yielded a trove of fertile sounds. And, last but far from least, the albums issued under his own name have won awards from sources in the jazz, pop and rock fields.
SCHEDULE OF PERFORMERS FOR THE BOYKIN BALL 2005:
FRIDAY – September 9th
Turbine 3 – 4:30
Jounce 5-6:30 PM
Captain Soularcat 7-8:30
The Duo 9–10:30
Derek Trucks Band 11-1:00ish
SATURDAY – September 10th
Michael Glabicki 1:50 – 3:10
Shimmy Shack 3:30 – 5
Rob Wasserman 5 – 5:30 solo
Melvin/Rob & Friends 5:30 - 7
Zen Tricksters 7:30 – 9:30
Ekoostik Hookah 10 – 12 midnight
Rootstand 12:30 – 2am
SUNDAY – September 11th
Short Bus 12-1
Vince Welnick 1:30 – 3:30
Directions (and other information) are available on the Church's website.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
This film (or documentary, to be precise) has mustered up quite a bit of controversy since its limited release this month. The main bone of contention seems to be the relentless onslaught of verbal obscenities which describe (often in graphic detail) acts of violent rape, incest, bestiality and necrophilia. All in jest, mind you.
For me, the most controversial thing about this film is that many critics are calling it the "most hilarious film you will ever see". I disagree. I can think of a lot of funnier films off the top of my head - Sideways, A Fish Called Wanda, This is Spinal Tap, Animal House (just to name a few).
The film is certainly funny. It features some of the world's greatest comedians (as well as many other talented pros from the comedy circuit) waxing lyrical about what has come to be known as the "filthiest joke ever". However, the joke itself is sort of a comedian's inside joke, told backstage when the crowd has left the club. It is the comedian's smoke behind the bike shed.
The beginning of the joke is always the same - "A family walk into a talent agent's office and say they have an act...". The punch-line is always that the family act call themselves "The Aristocrats." The real fun lies in the middle - the description of the so-called "family act." This is the comedian's opportunity to improvise and describe the most horrendous acts of depravity he or she can imagine (I am assuming the only source for this material is the imagination).
I found "The Aristocrats" more interesting than funny. Granted, there are some inspired moments and hilarious takes on the joke (Jeffrey Ross'sidea of Siamese twins joined at the ass giving each other a reach-around is great; Kevin Pollack delivering the joke as Christopher Walken is very funny; the guy who does the joke with a deck of cards is fantastic; and Andy Richter telling the joke to a baby is so wrong....and hilarious). The film is full of brilliant people but the film itself is not brilliant. At the end of the day, the joke is just gratuitous vulgarity. The fact that George Carlin is describing the fluidity of a person's feces does not make it any more clever than Brad the high-school jock doing the same thing.
Part of what makes the film compelling is the fact that the makers managed to get footage of so many comedians (some of whom are huge celebrities) being so damn filthy. Bob Saget (yes, from Full House) is particularly committed to the telling of the joke and he has some very, very warped ideas. Sarah Silverman is disturbingly funny as she describes the "act" in the first person making her own family "The Aristocrats".
There is some depth and insight offered by a few comedians who discuss the importance of the joke in a 1st Amendment context. The joke itself is analyzed for its shock value and the juxtaposition of such vile behavior with an actual aristocrat. It is also intriguing to listen to the likes of George Carlin, Robin Williams, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Jon Stewart, Richard Lewis and Chris Rock as they each talk about the craft of comedy and what makes something funny.
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the film for me was watching a handful of people walk out of the theater in disgust. The idea that they might have been expecting something aristocratic from the title of the film is poetic irony. Stupid Fu**ing Cun*s.
Monday, August 22, 2005
Halfway into Living Colour's Friday night set at CBGB's, Corey Glover belted out the opening lines to Open Letter (To A Landlord), perfectly encapsulating the populist undercurrent of this month's benefit shows to save the legendary punk club on the lower east side of Manhattan:
Now you can tear a building down
But you can't erase a memory
These houses may look all run down
But they have a value you can't see
The fact that after sharing his feelings with the audience about CBGB's place in his heart, Glover seemingly lost his place in his a capella intro, requiring a musical nudge from guitarist Vernon Reid to move it along, did nothing to diminish the power of the moment.
With its lease expiring at the end of August, CBGB's battle with its landlord, the Bowery Residents Committee, is coming to a head. Although a Manhattan Civil Court Judge dismissed the BRC's claim for back rent, essentially resolving all past issues, it remains to be seen whether a new lease, with a rent CBGB's can afford, can be negotiated. In an effort to raise money to assist in the preservation of the historical club, CBGB's is staging a month long series of benefit shows. With the Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Tom Verlaine notably missing from the announced slate of performances, Living Colour will be the highest profile act to return to their roots and play the club that opened its doors for them many years ago.
Reid gave many short speeches throughout the night. With Glover playfully mocking him, Reid finished each one declaring it would be his last for the evening. Although claiming that the night wasn't about nostalgia, Living Colour tipped their musical hat to CBGB's history, opening with an amped-up cover of the Talking Heads' Memories Can't Wait. In light of the cause being promoted, Collide0scope's Sacred Ground, the hopefully unprophetic Time's Up and the poignant Open Letter (To A Landlord), resounded with more emotion and deeper relevance. Noting that for a period of time in the band's infancy, CBGB's was the only club that would let Living Colour on stage, Reid gave sincere thanks to Hilly Kristal, CBGB's heart and soul, for giving the band one of its first breaks.
At the outset of the show, Corey Glover self-deprecatingly noted that they were too old for this. Aside from the fact that Glover's spandex singlets from the late eighties have been replaced by baggier, less formfitting jumpsuits, nothing could be further from the truth. Living Colour's high-energy, genre-busting rock and roll, which can go from heavy metal to funk on a moment's notice, may have matured but it hasn't lost step over the years. Older songs like Vivid's Middle Man and Glamour Boys as well as Time's Up's Type, now containing a reggae coda, sound as fresh and crisp as they did years ago.
As evidenced by his electrifying and inventive solos on Flying, Open Letter (To A Landlord) and the set-closing Cult Of Personality, Vernon Reid has not relinquished his position as one of rock's most innovative guitar players and remains the highlight of any Living Colour concert. Not to be shown up, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun, arguably the most talented drummer playing today, more than hold their own with Reid. Always novel and progressive, Calhoun's extended drum solo, a staple of any Living Colour show, will never be confused with its stereotypical dinosaur-rock predecessors. Anyone mistaking Calhoun's solo spots for the appropriate time to seek out the facilities truly misses out on something special. Normally a duet between Wimbish and Calhoun, Reid remained onstage for Terrorism, a newer song that has become the rhythm section's tour de force. Wimbish, treating his bass like a short-stringed guitar, fronted the band and coaxed notes out of his bass that few others could imagine, much less play.
The fearlessly blunt Terrorism fits right in with in-your-face songs like Funny Vibe, another live staple, that are Living Colour's sine qua non. Inextricably entwining his opinion of George Bush and Tony Blair with the song's undeniably funky bass-heavy groove, Wimbish risks alienating conservative listeners who are unable to separate their political views from their choice of music. But on the other hand, how many Republicans are Living Colour fans anyway?
Just prior to the encore, Reid addressed the notion of transforming CBGB's into a museum or shrine to the music it fostered, offering his opinion that the future of CBGB's is not in reliving its past but in artists pushing music forward and doing new things. Either illustrating or missing his own point, the band finished the evening with their unique interpretation of the Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows. Featuring Wimbish on the standing bass and peppered with solos from Reid, the extended jam ventured from fuzzy guitar-heavy grunge into the realm of avant-garde jazz.
For those music lovers that haven't been privileged to catch a show at CBGB's, don't be misled that the efforts to save the club are about anything but the history within and the nostalgia it inspires. Typical of your old-school lower east side hangouts, the walls are covered with stickers, flyers and graffiti and the furnishings are sparse, with tables and chairs more appropriate to an elementary school than a Manhattan bar. However, therein lies the charm. No one comes to CBGB's for the décor; they come for the music. Let's hope the music gods are beneficently smiling down upon this old music hall: it would be a shame to lose the next Ramones because there's no place for them to play.
[All images from LivingColour.com]
Like the pencil necks and asthmatic brainiacs of his critically trumpeted but financially junketed television series Freaks and Geeks, writer and director Judd Apatow's creations gravitate towards the overlooked, flawed and absurdly genuine fringes of society, while secretly aching to be accepted for who they are by the collagen-injected prom queen crowd. Most characters in your average dead-end sitcom feel as though a stage hand is pulling a string attached to each actor's back moments before another criminally underwhelming one-liner is delivered. Apatow's characters- from the early 90's backstage brilliance of The Larry Sanders Show to 2001's disgracefully ignored Undeclared - utter thoughts, jokes and feelings you could actually fathom a real-life Homo sapien conveying to you, with Apatow ramping up the gut busting content to internal trauma levels.
With The 40-Year-Old Virgin, his first feature-length directorial effort, Apatow has produced a mainstream burst of sheer comedic freedom, obliterating the line between high-brow comedy snobs and fans of Rob Schneider getting his schlong stuck in a toaster. By mixing the crass machismo of Andrew Dice Clay's wordplay, the indefinable coolness of Tarantino's characters minus the sarcastic eye-wink, and the essence of Kevin Smith's slacker cinema affections for all subjects hilariously monotonous and dork-related, Apatow has stumbled upon a fiendishly original and entertaining formula that finds a way to offend the sensibilities of each and every moviegoer, then swiftly hands them a box of chocolates and keeps them in stitches as their outrage is chuckled away.
Virgin co-writer Steve Carell (The Daily Show, Bruce Almighty, Anchorman) luckily gets a change of pace from playing an eternally eccentric newsperson as Andy Stitzer, an electronics clerk whose secret of having never meshed with female genitalia in his four decades of existence becomes the main discussion topic for his friends, his workplace and eventually the town. With a premise so ripe for excruciatingly juvenile Mad Magazine-type humor and Revenge of the Nerds rehashing, Apatow and his wacky band of accomplices manage to find the genuine heart and touchy-feely connections in each of their character's love for one another, a feat never given a millisecond's worth of thought in most modern funnyman cinema.
Performances equal parts funny and endearing abound in the two hours of razor-sharp inanity. Highlights include Steve Carell's tight-rope balancing act of lovable awkwardness that never strays too far into creepiness country, Seth Rogan's avalanche of insults as stoner Cal, an outstanding Paul Rudd as the surprisingly sensitive drunkard David, Romany Malco's admirable avoidance of all stereotypical pratfalls as the highly urbanized Jay, as well as dozens of other comedic well -wishers getting in their ha-has that include Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Banks, and A Mighty Wind's Jane Lynch.
Saying The 40-Year-Old Virgin was kind of funny is like suggesting a Richter scale-shattering earthquake was kind of rumbly. This film constantly unleashes a flurry of joke-filled bon-bons at once, forcing you to ingest jokes as fast as possible in order to prevent a clog up on the comedy conveyor-belt, I Love Lucy-style. And with all the testosterone-fueled, brutally honest chauvinistic insight being bandied about, Virgin somehow talks its way into cute and cuddly chick flick territory for its ultimate score. Apatow's expertly crafted 40-Year-Old Virgin thankfully raises the bar in dumb comedy to Stephen Hawking-smart levels.
Running Time: 116 Mins.
Thursday, August 18, 2005
Some would suggest that the truest measure of a song's quality is whether or not the emotions that give rise to the penning of the piece are capable of being expressed effectively to an audience using just a voice and the accompaniment of a lone instrument, such as an acoustic guitar or piano. Similarly, many would argue that the most accurate gauge of an artist's talent is his ability to hold the attention of an audience under such stripped-down circumstances. Those who subscribe to such theories would certainly have found both the musical offerings and performance by Ray LaMontagne this past Thursday in Philadelphia to be most worthy.
Looking soulfully haggard, LaMontagne took the stage alone at approximately 9:15 and approached the microphone with only acoustic guitar in hand. Without acknowledging the audience, he slowly began to strum the opening chords to the fifth track off his stellar debut, Trouble (RCA Records, 2004), transforming a solid - but not spectacular - studio lament of a man helplessly faced with his love being in the arms of another into an almost gut-wrenching live performance.
The crowd was so quiet as to hear a pin drop for most of the evening, which LaMontagne noted from the stage. (He explained that crowds generally drink and talk through his performances until they hear something they recognize, then they stop and sing along.) Surely, the small size of the venue makes conversation and even random applause during performances a bit awkward. But the fact of the matter - not considered by the soft-spoken LaMontagne - is that the audience simply sat in a stunned silence due to the quality of the performances. When fans began calling out requests following the evening's eighth offering, Shelter, one audience member yelled, "It really doesn't matter," acknowledging that it was highly unlikely that LaMontagne would deliver anything less than an inspired performance for any tune that evening.
LaMontagne was joined by upright bass player Chris Thomas following the evening's third number, moving along his instrument with equal parts power and grace as he incorporated some smooth sliding and adept use of natural harmonics into his bass lines. Hold You in My Arms found a drummer friend of LaMontagne's from "back home" providing a solid beat that further elevated music that was already powerful with only LaMontagne himself on stage.
The arrangements on several songs were altered in order to be more effective in a duo or trio format. How Come was slowed down to a trippy, deliberate groove with phased vocals that did not leave one wanting for the electric guitar lines put down by Ethan Johns on the studio recording. Forever My Friend was raised to an inspired level - even rocking – making one muse that a well played sax solo would have provided a perfect compliment as the song rode out toward its end.
While LaMontagne proved that his live performances can meet or even exceed those found on his studio release, even more significant was the fact that the newer material leads one to believe that the next studio release will contain some tracks that will be every bit as good (or better) than the offerings found on Trouble.
Still Can't Feel the Gin, performed solo acoustic in the third slot, will become even stronger once the full studio treatment of double-tracked acoustic guitars, bass, percussion and strings are applied. Danielle is an uncharacteristically raunchy 70's style rocker - with a complementing mellow break - in which LaMontagne applies his unique voice with a raw power not seen anywhere on his debut. The show’s closer, Can I Stay, was a tune so powerful and poignant - even performed solo - that it would be difficult to imagine it not being one of LaMontagne's best -received tunes once recorded and brought to the masses.
In another time - before hip hop became the choice of a generation - an artist possessed of LaMontagne's pure talent would be a regular on the arena tour circuit by now. The opportunity for his fans to be treated to an intimate performance like that delivered last Thursday would never have occurred. Then again, it's quite possible that the artist would rather have his music performed in venues that won't swallow up his acoustic guitar sound like a cavernous basketball arena might. Here’s hoping that LaMontagne finds enough commercial success that he is able to dictate these choices on his own.
Skeleton Key's director Iain Softley and writer Ehren Kruger have seldom had a hand in any project that, upon gazing at the finished product, seemed to spell out "risky artistic endeavor." Instead, the motivation for their careers usually takes on the appearance of "a month-long trip to Maui and platinum earmuffs for the family." Softley is the crafter of the cinematic creampuff K-PAX, along with a film that mind-bafflingly blended the most ridiculous aspects of a mid-90's rollerblade hooligan and a pocket-protecting digital instigator (Hackers). Writer Kruger has become a harbinger for once-mighty franchises who are about to power-bomb through the bottom of the barrel, evidenced by the lackluster final entries of the Ring and Scream series. If a man is to be judged solely on his recent achievements, these gentlemen would seem like a hesitant choice to front a cable access Halloween special.
For the first half of The Skeleton Key's sludgy and predictable swamp crawl, those skeptical raised eyebrows of critics and moviegoers alike seem to be making a valid analysis. Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) works at an uncaring nursing home that has a death rate nearing the double digits by its daily tea time, so she decides to take a more meaningful job caring for a paralyzed fella (John Hurt) and his faded Southern Belle wife (Gena Rowlands) located deep into the boggiest section on the New Orleans Bayou. Before Caroline can even make her first hospital corner, she stumbles upon a room full of copious amounts of Hoodoo paraphernalia, and starts to uncover a creepy mystery worthy of a two-part Scooby-Doo investigation.
All of these eerily realistic connections to Old World rituals, paranormal uprisings and the brutal history of the South do make for an unnerving environment to lay out the film's Fright House cheap thrills, as Softley films Caroline poking around the moist Dixie atmosphere as if Captain Kirk were exploring an uncharted alien planet. Unfortunately, for most of the proceedings Key is strictly boo by-the-book, with all the fake-out spooks and jarring camera jukes you've come to expect from a lifetime of scarefests. Characters with the depth of cardboard cutouts trot in to propel the picture forward, motivations are casually left out in plain sight and plot-infused, foreboding pearls of wisdom are uttered that might as well be stenciled on the screen in bold, highlighted letters with a large circle around them denoting importance.
Just as Skeleton Key looks to be approaching a predictable finish line, the film thankfully jumps the rails off the beaten path and violently hurtles through thick smoke screens and hairpin-sharp plot twists. With so much invention and revelation unlocked in the final twenty minutes, it's as if Softley and Kruger were ADHD-addled kiddies who excitedly produced the finale of their movie first, long before the Captain Crunch sugar-high wore off and the afterthought of a set-up was then addressed.
As it stands, The Skeleton Key is an above-average thriller with many glimmers and hints of being so much more. Functioning more as a Cliffs Notes edition in the same jaw-dropping vein as classics The Sixth Sense, Fight Club, or The Usual Suspects, Key opens up enough new doorways and several "A-ha!" moments of realization when one pieces together the movie’s secrets that an eventual second viewing is required. At least Softley and Kruger have begun to think less about their caviar dinner dates and more about making water-tight scripts that sizzle.
Running Time: 104 Min
Bill Deasy has spent years cultivating his status as one of Pittsburgh's local legends. With his new album, Chasing Down A Spark, Deasy is now looking to expand his audience beyond the Steel City's borders. Deasy, who made his bones on the local musical scene fronting The Gathering Field, is well known to the denizens of Pittsburgh's clubs. The Gathering Field flirted with national success, signing with Atlantic Records and releasing 1996's Lost In America. Poorly promoted, the album unfortunately became lost in the shuffle. Soon thereafter, the label quietly dropped the band. Returning to their roots, Gathering Field hung around for another five years or so before the quartet split, drifting off in their own directions.
Chasing Down A Spark is a tremendous leap of faith for Deasy. Currently unsigned, Deasy is releasing and distributing Spark, which has more heart and emotion than most current major label releases, on his own.
Stereotypically, one expects shoddy sound quality from a self-produced record; however, with Deasy's new album, that is a gravely erroneous assumption. Far from sounding like a recording from someone's basement, producer Kevin Salem gives Spark a slick professional sound. Credit also goes to veteran studio engineer Joe Blaney, who notably mixed The Clash's Combat Rock, for making Deasy's album sound its best.
Employing no studio tricks, Salem and Blaney avoid lush, lavish overproduction. Spark shows Deasy for what he is: a talented performer who offers straight forthright presentations of his well-crafted and well written songs. Deasy keeps the album primarily up-tempo with songs reminiscent of the mid-nineties acoustic guitar rock that gave birth to the adult alternative format. If Deasy were playing these songs at your local bar, he would distract you from your beer for much more than a riff or two.
Spark is a very laid back, loose album. The only appearance of an electric guitar comes on the album's heaviest track, Wishing Well. Best typified by Until I Get It Right, Deasy's songs paint a picture of man trying to find his place in the world and hoping not to cause too much damage before he gets there. With a voice that can be both rough and mellow, Deasy invests songs like Naked and Now That I Know What It Means with bare emotion. Pass Me On, with its banjos, violins and lovely backing vocals, is reminiscent of the hip detached cool of Lyle Lovett. Deasy best demonstrates his talent as a songwriter on Levi, a song containing many nifty turns of a phrase and Dylan-esque character descriptions like "a five dollar whore with a ten dollar name." Levi also contains the best imagery, although Pittsburghers should worry that their native son has written a great song about finding salvation on the streets of New York City. Not all of Deasy's songs reach that level though. Fireflies is an earnest effort, but the lyrics are more appropriate for a high school love letter than song. Don't fear though: the weak efforts on Spark are few and far between.
This album may be a tough one to find as distribution seems limited to the Borders, Barnes & Nobles and record shops of the greater metropolitan Pittsburgh area. Fortunately, there's always CDBaby.com for those who can't make the trip to Pittsburgh to acquire this great performer's album. It may take a little digging, but Bill Deasy is a treasure worth uncovering. This Spark is one that deserves to catch fire.
Monday, August 15, 2005
In 1977, Meat Loaf was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, figuratively and literally. The 250-pound-plus singer's Bat Out Of Hell, with words and music by Jim Steinman, was and still is one of the best selling debut albums ever. With his roots in theater, Meat Loaf's voice perfectly complimented Steinman's Wagnerian Broadway-like compositions. Bat Out Of Hell would be the high-water mark of the symbiotic relationship between the gregarious Meat Loaf and the idiosyncratic Steinman that blessed and haunted their musical lives. In the wake of the album's success, a rift developed between the two that left both men's careers floundering. The overwhelming success of 1993's Bat Out Of Hell II, which rescued Meat Loaf and Steinman from impending obscurity, only served to confirm that each is the Ying to the other's Yang. I would be remiss if I didn't point out that the time between the two albums was not misspent by Meat Loaf: he was one hell of a Little League coach.
Almost 30 years after his debut on Broadway in Hair, a play in which he claimed the director ordered him to not appear nude for fear of scaring the audience, Meat Loaf returned to New York City for a three night run at the Beacon Theater. Dressed in black and donning shades, the now-svelte Meat Loaf prowled the stage with the poise and menace of a Tarantino character. Understanding completely what his audience came to see, Meat Loaf kept the show rooted in the nostalgia of both Bat Out Of Hell albums. There was also a glimpse of the future as Meat unleashed the Jim Steinman-penned Only When I Feel. The receptive audience warmly received the announcement that the cut will be on the upcoming Bat Out Of Hell III.
It would be grossly unfair to expect Meat Loaf to belt out two hours worth of Bat Out Of Hell songs like he did 30 years ago. He came damn close though. The live arrangements allowed Meat Loaf ample opportunity to rest his voice so he can timely let it loose at the right moments. His two back-up singers, C.C. and Patricia Russo, did a superb job of subtly protecting Meat's voice and, when necessary, the well-versed audience added in the lyrics, just as excited to join in the fun. Don't be disheartened: by no means did Meat Loaf hold anything back, often bending himself in two to get the requisite power and passion into his voice. By the time the set closed with Bat Out Of Hell, Meat obviously left everything on the stage.
Meat Loaf gleefully played out the theatrical nature of Steinman's songs on stage throughout the show. His backup singers picked his pockets, his guitar players wouldn't let him solo during his own encore and, although it seemed as scripted as the WWE, God help the person who doesn't stand and sing during You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth. With a sizable contribution from Patricia Russo, the live rendition of the hormone-fueled Paradise By The Dashboard Light contained funnier comedy, livelier romance and infinitely better acting than any Freddie Prinze Jr. movie.
The third of the show that consisted of non-Bat Out Of Hell material was notably weaker. While the band was exceptional, without Steinman's arrangements, the songs were mismatched with the power and majesty of Meat Loaf's voice. A notable exception was the encore of Mercury Blues, the perfect vehicle for the band to loosen up and jam.
The 2005 tour includes all the essential songs from Bat Out Of Hell I & II. No one need worry over sitting through an hour of tepid songs just to get a quick reading of Paradise By The Dashboard Light. Always one to respect his fans, Meat Loaf knows that his audience will respect the new but will revere the old. The only drawback is that by the time the show is finished you truly are All Revved Up With No Place To Go.
Thursday, August 11, 2005
by Jim McCoy
All Photos by Susana Millman.
But you can't get here from nowhere I guess
The mellow sound of a fingerpicked acoustic guitar exits from the speakers, over which a voice sings of picking up a guitar and improvising a melody not simply for its own sake, but for the cold comfort that is provided as the artist thinks about an unnamed person and an ambiguous "Rosebud." Upon a casual listen, the lyrics could easily be interpreted as a forlorn cry to a distant love, a love long passed and faded in the mind and heart of its subject. The jilted lover responds by crafting a ballad that is complimented expertly by haunting steel guitar lines that fade in and around the track.
Deadheads immediately knew that this track appearing on the second disc of Ryan Adams' Cold Roses (Lost Highway, 2005) was not crafted about a love lost, but music lost; the principal subject of the ballad was not a woman, but an inanimate object- specifically, a guitar crafted in 1990 by California luthier Doug Irwin for Jerry Garcia. The guitar - dubbed 'Rosebud' after an inlay of a female skeleton carrying an un-bloomed rose and flashing an ossified peace sign that appeared on the guitar's ebony cover plate - served as Garcia's primary stage instrument upon its completion. (Although it was eventually cast aside in favor of the Stephen Cripe-constructed Lightning Bolt during August 1993, it was Rosebud that was played at the last Grateful Dead show at Chicago's Soldier Field on July 9, 1995.)
Music lovers and musicians alike are often puzzled by the apotheosis of Garcia by his legion of fans. His guitar playing is neither flashy nor particularly speedy; he often dismissed the use of distortion, a rock staple for guitar players since the Sixties; and, his untrained voice did not possess the qualities typically associated with the rock frontmen regularly strutting their stuff in cavernous basketball arenas during Garcia's time. Nevertheless, Garcia himself was able to sell out these very same venues - sans his Grateful Dead bandmates - beginning in the late 1980’s.
So exactly what is it, then, that marks Garcia as a rock 'n roll icon? It would be too simplistic - and ignorant - to dismiss his popularity as a result of the drug-induced delusions of a bunch of relics from the Summer of Love era. After all, how many relics (and curious onlookers) are there such that the Grateful Dead were able to fill 100,000 seat racetracks and 60,000 seat stadiums during summer tours in the Seventies and Nineties, respectively? There was certainly something that others were seeing that went far, far beyond a bunch of hippies engaging in reefer madness as part of an all-out effort to avoid the trappings of a regular life and its attendant responsibilities.
There really is no one stock answer to the Garcia question; however, one should be quick to recognize that Garcia himself constituted a tripartite musical order that was one part soulful singer, one part superior songwriter (with lyricist and chum Robert Hunter) and one part uncanny guitar player. It is rare for one person to truly be gifted in but one of these areas- let alone all three. (John Lennon, of course, also immediately comes to mind- which shows Garcia to be in pretty elite company.)
For comparison, imagine Bob Dylan - or Ray LaMontagne, to use a more recent example -and augmenting their considerable talents with the additional capability of laying down a remarkable, memorable and precise lead break between verses of one of their most moving ballads. Now imagine further that these lead guitar lines are never played the exactly same way again - occasionally for the worse, usually consistent, and sometimes so creatively and perfectly so as to be sublime - in city upon city, night after night.
But the ability to improvise effectively - the most cherished, most sought-after skill among serious musicians - isn't the only facet of Garcia's playing that separates him from others in the rock realm. Garcia also was able to meld an understanding of music theory with his ability to adeptly move his pick and fingers around the instrument. Most rock guitar players - from the Sixties through today - simply chose one blues or pentatonic scale and let it rip over all of a song’s chord changes, playing the same notes scrambled in different patterns throughout the guitar's neck. Garcia, in contrast, often considered each chord or series of chords in a certain progression as a separate and distinct entity, using a combination of different scales and arpeggios to outline the changes in the same way that a jazz musician would approach the instrument. A track like Dark Star from 1969's Live Dead- even with the remarkable contributions from the other musicians- is nonetheless likely reduced to an inconsistent, acid-drenched and pedestrian effort afforded only cult status if not driven by Garcia's modal guitar lines. Instead, his lyrical, creative playing elevates it to an example of transcendental psychedelia that must be heard to be believed.
It is not just the foundations of psychedelic music that were shaken by Garcia's approach, for he applied his knowledge to the Dead's more conventional music as well. The compilation Without a Net, culled from multitrack tapes from the Dead's 1989 and 1990 tours before keyboardist Brent Mydland's death, shows that Garcia continued to progress throughout his career rather than lazily drifting off into dinosaur status. Garcia's lead guitar fluidly outlines the chord changes between the verses of Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo, making somewhat tricky rock improvisations seem absolutely effortless. Similarly, Garcia adds some off-the-cuff- yet scintillating - jazzy guitar passages in between guest Branford Marsalis' saxophone lines as Eyes of the World nears its conclusion. Garcia's continued progress is even more remarkable when one considers that Garcia essentially had to relearn the instrument following a diabetic coma that almost killed him in 1986.
Those who are quick to dismiss Garcia as a guitar hero often lack an appreciation as to what truly makes him a special guitar player. Undoubtedly, some people just prefer other sounds - and one cannot be faulted for that. Garcia himself once commented during an interview with Rolling Stone that the Grateful Dead was like licorice - some people enjoy it, while others absolutely hate it. But others who seek to diminish- or even attack- Garcia's contributions to the guitar fail to see what separates him from the rest of the lot. Speed and large amounts of overdrive were the hallmarks of guitar virtuosity during the Eighties and Nineties, neither of which were ever espoused by Garcia. His lead playing was unique - not just because he played with a clean, clear tone and typically rejected distortion, but because he had his own voice on the instrument that was immediately recognizable. The lead break on the studio version Unbroken Chain contained on From the Mars Hotel provides such an example. And for those who are intimately familiar with the work of Grateful Dead associate Bruce Hornsby, was there any doubt that it was JG laying down those (admittedly overdriven) solos on Across the River and Cruise Control?
Garcia, of course, is not the only guitar player with sonic trademarks - Clapton, Page, Hendrix, Van Halen and even latter-day blazers like Satriani and Vai all possess tones, phrasing and riffs that make them uniquely identifiable even by those music lovers bordering on tone deafness. But when Garcia was on, it seemed like he always played the right note - yet it would be the note that was often completely unexpected. Witness Garcia's uncanny pedal steel playing on the Crosby, Stills & Nash hit Teach Your Children - especially at the song's conclusion, when Garcia suspends a haunting, high-pitched tone before picking, pedaling and sliding into some outro licks.
Binding Garcia's talents together was an air of authenticity that surrounded his work. Part of it came from his roots as a banjo player and his love for bluegrass, but much of it probably came from the man himself. Garcia was blessed with "soul," however un-definable that term may prove to be. It's the reason why Garcia doesn't sound the least bit out of place during a bluegrass foray with the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band. It doesn't sound like Jerry Garcia playing bluegrass music - it is bluegrass music, and it just so happens to be the lead guitar icon of the Grateful Dead performing it.
It is this last point that is lost on the devotees of other jam bands that have proliferated in the wake of the passing of the Grateful Dead. Trey Anastasio is an absolutely fantastic guitar player, but one does not get the impression that he is reaching back into the very core of American music as he plays, serving as a medium as he projects the ghosts of musical days gone by into the audience. Certainly, no individual musician can be faulted for this. Garcia is unique precisely because his music possesses a quality which proves elusive to 99% of the people that ever pick up their instrument.
Despite all the rightful praise that can be pushed Garcia's way, it would be naïve- and completely erroneous- to suggest that he constantly approached perfection as a musician. Garcia was fully human, and various CDs, downloads and good ol' fashioned tapes reveal that he would occasionally miss a note or phrase here and there on even his most brilliant nights. (The end of one of his several spectacular solos on the version of Desolation Row on the Downhill From Here DVD provides such an example- with the camera squarely placed on Garcia's fingers as he briefly stumbles at the end of an otherwise well-played gem.) Ironically, this humanizing aspect to Garcia's playing is what endeared him to many. It really wasn't a robot or a superhuman guitar slinger up there on stage; he was an immense talent, but also like the rest of us in some small way as Garcia made some of the same mistakes that you make riffing in your basement or local watering hole.
Garcia's declining heath and unfortunate addiction to a particularly potent form of heroin took much away from many performances during the last few years of his life. Jerry became too human right before the eyes of many Deadheads. Garcia's fingers sometimes struggled and fumbled their way around the guitar neck, and more intricate passages such as the diminished arpeggios in Slipknot! became a painful- even tragic- listen at times. The studio brilliance that appeared on Unbroken Chain decades earlier did not surface on the live versions of the song when it finally debuted in 1995; Garcia, despite his guitar abilities continuing to progress through the first few tours of the Nineties, was unable (or simply unwilling) to outline the chord changes of the jazzy lead break with his formerly adept and inspired playing. On many solos- perhaps due to carpal tunnel syndrome, a loss of sensitivity in his fingertips, malaise, or just plain boredom - Jerry would tend to utilize notes that were a half-step away from his intended targets, thus creating an unintended dissonance where there was formerly a lyrical consonance.
There were still moments and shows that were indeed sublime- the version of Visions of Johanna from the 1995 Spectrum run and many shows during October 1994 come to mind- but these moments were certainly fewer and farther between. These moments, however, are still worth seeking out- to entirely dismiss the years 1993-1995 would deprive a listener of some quality music.
Garcia's vocals unfortunately followed the same sad path in the later years. He often mumbled his way through rock numbers that the Dead had been performing regularly for decades. Garcia himself certainly recognized this- anyone who plays at a high level for so long must- but the tapes suggest that Garcia may have tried to compensate by taking the Dead's mournful ballads to new levels with his singing voice as his guitar voice and vocal prowess on other numbers diminished. See So Many Roads- perhaps the lone highlight from the final Grateful Dead performance at Soldier Field- for an example of Garcia crying to the Lord on vocals and mustering what remains of his guitar ability on a night when he otherwise fell flat. Garcia died exactly one month later.
To dwell on Jerry Garcia's shortcomings, however, would certainly be shortsighted. The bulk of his enormous creative output between 1965 and 1995 is original, inspired and provides an shining example of a musician with a unique approach to his craft - and there will likely never be another. Garcia was born of a love of music that is long forgotten in many circles, at a time when LSD experiments were being conducted at Stanford University and a social movement was sweeping San Francisco and the rest of the nation. And above all, he was supremely talented, soulful and authentic. These elements and abilities may never again converge in one place at one time and in one person. If they should, then we will be blessed to have witnessed it. But for now, we should consider ourselves lucky to have on discs, hard drives and cassette tapes what now remains of Garcia's musical legacy.
Those fans in the American contingent have been eagerly awaiting the return of Welsh-born, English-raised singer/songwriter David Gray to the shores of the United States. News of a new studio album to follow-up 2003's A New Day at Midnight slowly began to trickle across the worldwide web during the past two months, and an official announcement soon confirmed message board speculation that David was embarking on a brief tour of the United States during late summer. (Alas, electronic correspondence from the official mailing list announcing pre-sale dates for tickets arrived in the inboxes of many fans after the dates of the pre-sale period.)
Mr. Gray booked some very intimate venues this time around, and Philadelphia's Merriam Theater is no exception. Located on Philadelphia's Avenue of the Arts, this small space serves as the home of Pennsylvania Ballet (and other dance companies) as well as a venue for Broadway plays. Every seat in the house is a good seat, with small semi-private balconies close to each side of the stage complimenting those in the center.
Anticipation ran high as the crowd began to be seated and realized that they would be treated to a most intimate evening with the headliner, who had brought a host of capable musicians along (including an electric cellist) in addition to the popular and talented collaborator/drummer/percussionist/backing vocalist/sidekick Clune. (Indeed, the venue is a size such that Mr. Gray and Clune offered some very witty responses to verbalizations from the crowd.) Unfortunately, a solid performance by David and his band was offset by a setlist that found Mr. Gray playing only a handful of songs on the acoustic guitar as he opted to forgo any material from the first three albums in the David Gray catalogue - the brilliant A Century Ends included.
The show opened shortly after 9:00 p.m. as David strapped on an electric guitar and announced that the evening's first offering would be The One I Love, a single released from the forthcoming Life in Slow Motion (RCA/ATO, 2005). David strummed exactly one chord before realizing that the guitar was not tuned to his liking, leading the Hawaiian-shirt clad Clune to joke from behind his drum kit that the song was a "short" number. Guitar tuned properly and the laughter in the audience subsided, Mr. Gray and the band then ran through a nice rock 'n roll tune in the vein of Bruce Springsteen's Brilliant Disguise. After stating, "we're here to play the new stuff," David took a seat behind the piano and ran through an additional solid-sounding track from Life that included a lyrical mention of the Catholic saint-turned-myth St. Christopher.
Please Forgive Me found itself in the third slot, the crowd clapping along during an extended ending that was punctuated by thunderous drum rolls from the always perfectly timed Clune. However, the remainder of the hour-long set would find only White Ladder’s Sail Away surfacing from Gray's past repertoire. While some of the new material was certainly welcome- the strongest and most noteworthy being Lately- the album as a whole, which sonically comes off as a slightly stripped down A New Day at Midnight, appears to be inconsistent at first blush. Although hearing an album’s debut played live does not allow a listener to get a proper feel for the offering, the forthcoming piano-oriented fare seemed to possess neither the bare-bones acoustic guitar brilliance found on Century, Lost Songs or parts of Flesh and Sell, Sell, Sell nor the catchy, electronically augmented creativity featured on Gray's previous two discs.
Gray and the band left the stage at 10:06 p.m., only to return a short time thereafter to treat the audience to a lengthy mini-set of five encores. Impatient whispers were heard in the crowd following the introduction of yet another new tune, Ain't No Love, for the first encore. The song itself sounded promising enough, but Gray's fans were clearly hoping (as well as calling) for a classic from the first half of his career. He then answered with Freedom, an unusual choice that was nevertheless enthusiastically greeted by an audience looking for something with which they were familiar. Gray risked the wrath of the infamous Philly boobirds by introducing a song "about a town nearby" named Baltimore, but also played a particularly inspired version of Silver Lining that featured singing in a voice even stronger than the normal commanding, compelling vocals to which David's devotees are accustomed. The show closed with the final track from the new album - the piano ballad Disappearing World - that was initially met with a collective grown from a small section of the balcony that was obviously expecting something else.
Gray and the band was a strong as a live unit and received loud ovations following each song, but the audience's enthusiasm for the show as a whole was clearly dampened by the dearth of material from previous well-received releases. Only a couple to the right side of the stage were seen standing for any significant portion of the show, with the remainder of the front row opting to remain in their seats for every performance following the opener. Compounding this was the fact that Gray's new studio album has not yet been heard by most fans, with the show essentially serving as a live test-run for the new material.
David Gray returns to North America in the Fall, playing slightly larger venues on an 18-date tour that opens in Toronto and continues through November toward a final stop in Atlanta. Although it would be unrealistic to expect Live at the Point Redux, here’s hoping that David, Clune and the band tap into the wealth of outstanding and well-loved material such as The Light, Flame Turns Blue, This Year's Love, Gathering Dust and Shine on their next visit to Philadelphia.
The ruling was a victory for the club where groups like the Ramones and Blondie defined the punk scene in the 1970s, but CBGB's future is still uncertain.
Its lease with the Bowery Residents' Committee expires on Aug. 31, and a renewal remains up in the air.
The executive director of the Bowery Residents' Committee, Muzzy Rosenblatt, said he had not seen the ruling so he could not comment on it.
"All we're looking for is a responsible tenant," he said of his group, which provides shelter for homeless people in the building that houses the club.
The dispute involved about $100,000 in rent increases, interest and fees. The club says the increases went unpaid for four years because of a bookkeeping mix-up. CBGB's said it wasn't billed for the increases, but Rosenblatt said the increases were clearly stated in the lease. CBGB's rent is $19,000 a month.
In her ruling, Judge Joan Kenney praised the club's impact on the neighborhood, which she said was plagued by "destitution, degradation and substance abuse" when the club opened in 1973.
"CBGB has proven itself worthy of being recognized as a landmark — a rare achievement for any commercial tenant in the ever diverse and competitive real estate market of New York City," she wrote in the ruling, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press by the Save CBGB's Coalition.
"It would be unconscionable for this court to allow petitioner to proceed with its intent to evict CBGB ... because it failed to notice that monies were outstanding for approximately four years," the judge wrote.
As part of its proposal for a new lease, CBGB's has said it would find a third-party guarantor and would raise money for the committee every year with benefit concerts.
Tuesday, August 09, 2005
HADITL will mark the 10th anniversary of the Help album in 1995. As in 1995, the bands will have one day to each record a new piece of music, which War Child will make available on Warchildmusic.com on September 9, with a CD release following a few weeks later.
War Child CEO Mark Waddington remarked:
As a music fan, I know what the original Help album meant and as the present CEO of War Child I know what it achieved. It was my intention that any new album we made in 2005 should match up to the feats of the past. That's why we have set ourselves the challenge of remaking history and releasing the fastest album ever - again! It's a tall order but we feel with the support of amazing artists we can make it happen and help a new generation of children affected by war.War Child was founded in 1993 as a response to the suffering of children during the Balkans conflict. It now operates as a network of independent organizations working across the world to aid children affected by war.
Warchildmusic.com offers exclusive tracks from hundreds of artists including Radiohead, Bjork, Tom Waits, Uncle Tupelo, The Dandy Warhols, Iron Maiden and Bloc Party. They have tens of thousands of tracks you won't be able to find anywhere else, including: covers, acoustic versions, live recordings, alternative mixes, remixes, and previously unreleased material.
Related: Radiohead Release Entire Back Catalog on Warchildmusic.com
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
The Dave Matthews Band has worked hard to cultivate a reputation that they are a band who cares about their fans. Unsurprisingly, the DMB used their popularity to turn the New York leg of their summer tour into a weekend festival that would present established acts like the Barenaked Ladies and the Black Eyed Peas and give exposure to wonderful new burgeoning superstars like Ray Lamontagne and Robert Randolph & The Family Band. While the DMB should be commended for putting together a terrific slate of performers, their choice of venue was horrific. On this last weekend in July, the Dave Matthews Band showed not love and respect for their fans but rather complete and utter disdain for their audience’s concert-going experience.
DMB billed their weekend shows at New York City’s Randall's Island, an inconvenient and relatively inaccessible venue, as an Island Getaway. Although they created a viable festival atmosphere, complete with a wide variety of food and beverages, the resemblance to any proper lawn concert ended there. Notably, there was no lawn! Concert-goers with general admission lawn seats, who were forbidden from bringing beach chairs and the like, were offered a large expanse of dirt for their blankets. Within moments of claiming a patch of dusty earth, each blanket and its occupants were immediately covered with the dirt kicked up by the breeze or tramped onto them by other people ambling through the grounds. Those who seated themselves to the rear of the lawn were forced to watch the bands through a Pig-Pen like quarter mile dust cloud that defiantly hovered over the crowd. This weekend's badge of courage is surely a hacking case of "brown-lung."
Inversely proportional to the excessive number of food and drink vendors were the number of garbage cans. Those that did exist quickly overflowed and were rendered useless by 3:00 in the afternoon. Rather than create garbage mounds in the vicinity of the cans, fans simply dropped their refuse at their feet. If your ideal concert experience involves sitting and standing amongst garbage, this weekend was made just for you.
For the right to sit in dirt and garbage to catch the faintest sight of the bands onstage, Dave Matthews charged his beloved and adored fans $54.50 apiece - with an additional $9.60 if you purchased them through Ticketmaster. Anyone who still believes that Dave Matthews and his band love their New York fans deserves a punch in their nose, a kick in the stomach and the most egregious of atomic wedgies.
The Dave Matthews Band does attract a mighty crowd, and deservedly so. I am sure the majority of the thousands of fans that were drawn to the shows mistakenly imagine themselves as children of the Deadheads. With exceptions, this scene falls far short of embodying the camaraderie and compassion of the Dead crowds. A Dave Matthews fan will just as soon stomp you into the ground as share his joint with you. Scratch that, DMB fans don’t share their weed with anyone. The Daveheads are also well equipped and proficient with their cell phones. While useful for finding your friends if you get separated, the mobiles have led to a disconcerting proliferation of phone calls to friends to tell them what they’re missing at the show.
Given all the venue’s annoyances, and there were many, the music was well worth it. Each night's concert was apropos to the weather. Saturday was hot and humid so DMB kept the music upbeat, giving the crowd a reason to sweat with Matthews and violinist Boyd Tinsley cranking up classics like Tripping Billies and Warehouse. Sunday night was cooler with a nice breeze and Leroi Moore's sax solos were the centerpiece of a laid back and relaxed show that featured a beautiful rendition of Under The Table And Dreaming’s #34.
Ever the gracious hosts, DMB invited Robert Randolph onstage to close out both shows. Imbuing the band with what seems to be an endless reserve of enthusiasm, he was the center of gravity for Tinsley and Matthews during Saturday's blistering version of Stand Up's Louisiana Bayou. The next night, Randolph emerged for the news album's titular Stand Up and remained on stage for the band's warhorse cover of All Along The Watchtower. After Matthew's dreary intro, Randolph was handed the entire song and nearly set his pedal steel on fire with his scorching solo. Randolph was not the only guest in the house. Phish's Trey Anastasio appeared onstage on Saturday and helped give Jimi Thing an exciting 20 minute workout that included an extended intro incorporating Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth. Putting on airs for the important guest, every member of the band amped up their game with Trey on stage.
The arrangements of most DMB songs are not simple and Carter Beauford does an amazing and usually underappreciated job of anchoring the band. Over the course of the weekend, each band member was given time to shine. Tinsley, shredding strings, literally and figuratively took center stage during Dancing Nancies. Sunday's encore of Seek Up featured bassist Stefan Lessard and Leroi Moore, who soloed often throughout the night.
The only change in the weekend's lineup was the penultimate act in which the Barenaked Ladies narrowly edged the Black Eyed Peas in the battle to shameless suck up to Dave Matthews. With every rap, the Ladies and the Peas worked in references to the headliner. Unsurprisingly, the Barenaked Ladies crafted the more entertaining and witty freestyle references, with Ed Robertson winning significant brownnosing points for incorporating and plugging Matthews' appearance in Because of Winn-Dixie.
Outside of currying favor, the Saturday concert was greatly improved by the Ladies' presence. Aware that they had a stadium to entertain, BNL made sure to mix their well-known songs like One Week, complete with Chicken Dance, and the always popular lottery promoting If I Had $1,000,000 with the idiosyncratic Pinch Me and the weepy ballad Break Your Heart. They also got huge bonus points by acknowledging the back of the crowd.
The Peas appearance at this show, as well as others on the upcoming tour, is a troubling proposition. Your thoughts on whether the Black Eyed Peas belong on the same bill as Dave Matthews depends upon your thoughts of where DMB sits on the musical landscape. If you think of them as an offshoot of the jamband scene, then the Peas are sorely out of place; but, if you think of them as a Top 40 radio darling, then the Peas are right at home.
It is the Peas' Top 40 leanings that fail them in an expansive setting. The Peas are essentially four average singers and none of them have a strong voice like Mariah Carey or the charisma of Bruce Springsteen to keep the interest of a stadium audience. To put a band behind them that could keep the interest of the back rows would be to upstage the stars of this act and obviously there is no chance of that occurring. The Peas tried to play reggae, 70's funk, blues and surf rock, succeeding only in presenting a generic, homogenized version of music ill-suited to the band's strengths.
While not inspiring the audience to wonder whatever happened to the Fugees, the Peas offered an overly simplistic but well intentioned rationalization that our gathering together to listen to music was an effective way to battle the evils of terrorism. They then immediately implored us all to "get retarded." Quite possibly, they wanted company.
Ray Lamontagne, looking very shaggy and a bit uncomfortable in the midday sun, was the star of the side stage. Lamontagne's warm and intimate songs, which are better suited to a candlelit late night listen with a friendly companion, were not especially suited to the brightly lit open-air venue. However, there is no denying the power and emotion of Lamontagne's wonderful, emotional Van Morrison-esque songs.
Every bit the musician that he is not a performer, Lamontagne opened both sets with his yearning heartfelt ballad Burn. Plagued by an apathetic audience and apparent sound problems on Saturday, Lamontagne unnecessarily apologized to the audience, feeling he was having a bad day and that he shouldn't be up there. With a more appreciative audience on Sunday, Lamontagne played a longer set, closing with Danielle, a new song which held its own with any other rocker played that day.
After Lamontagne closed the side stage, Jem and Mike Doughty performing earlier, the focus moved to the grand main stage and Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Randolph's set has evolved but not changed much over the past 18 months. Although they clearly know what gets the crowd on their feet, Randolph & the Band run the risk of becoming a cliché by overusing the stage tricks that are currently endearing them to fans everywhere.
On this weekend, Randolph shuffled the set list but retained the core elements that have become trademarks of his shows. Drummer Marcus Randolph and bassist Danyel Morgan seemed to relish the opportunity to dive into the rhythm sections of the now obligatory Michael Jackson cover. In a sly nod to the "Hendrix of the pedal steel guitar" raves, Robert Randolph always makes sure to include a scorching rendition of Voodoo Chile or Purple Haze. Saturday's performance closed with Unclassified's Nobody, during which Randolph and his cousins took turns playing each other's instruments. Just to show that they truly could switch off at will, they did it again on Sunday during the gospel inspired I Don’t Know What You Come To Do.
It is a shame that the weekend's concerts were marred by the abysmal conditions of the venue because the music, for the most part was fantastic. It is an even worse shame that most of Matthews' fans consider these conditions acceptable and felt no compunction about spending a ten-hour day in a scene straight out of The Grapes Of Wrath. If his fans will sit through this, you can expect the New York leg of the 2006 Dave Matthews Band tour to take place in a Staten Island landfill.