Monday, July 30, 2007

Panic At The Radio Hall: Widespread Panic In New York City

By: David Schultz

Taking their cue from The Grateful Dead, Southern rockers Widespread Panic have turned themselves into a concert performance machine that thrives on the experience of their live shows. Entering their third decade together, Panic has cemented their status as one of the cornerstones of the jamband touring scene. One of the original participants of the mid-Nineties H.O.R.D.E. Festivals, they also headlined Bonnaroo when it was just a cute little hippie festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Hitless in the mainstream, the prospect of selling out large halls has never given Panic reason to panic. For their recent New York run, they played two sold-out weekend shows at the cavernous Radio City Music Hall.

Even if they aren't the most heralded band to emerge from Athens, Georgia, Widespread Panic have remained truer to their roots. In 2002, guitarist Michael Houser succumbed to pancreatic cancer and the band faced a crossroads. After a short hiatus to regroup, longtime friend and collaborator George McConnell filled in as the new guitarist. Ultimately though, McConnell wasn't the right fit and amicably left the band. Without missing a step, Jimmy Herring formerly of the Aquarium Rescue Unit and a burgeoning guitar industry of his own, joined the band. Herring has now been with the band for about a year and if their recent New York stint is any indicator, Panic is once again hitting their stride.

A sonic Southern assault, Panic’s heavy sound, which rumbles and purrs like a finely tuned automobile, grabs you from the first notes. Seamlessly moving from spacey interludes to southern-blues tinged boogies, Panic gets their distinct sound from their keyboard and rhythm section. The gargantuan Dave Schools plays a deft but lightly ponderous bass, never weighing down the mix. When not providing crunchy or bouncy keyboard leads, John Hermann nicely skates along the surface underscoring many of Panic’s songs with nice melodies. In conjunction with percussionist Domingo “Sunny” Ortiz, who missed the weekend’s shows due to a death in the family, drummer Todd Nance gives the songs an off-kilter syncopation, working various flutters and rolls under the mix.

At Radio City, Hermann, Schools and Nance provided much space for Herring and lead signer and guitarist John Bell to work their guitars and go in different directions. In line with the music, Bell’s inimitable wailing yowl varied in intensity throughout the night. At times, Herring’s magisterial guitar solos stood apart and a bit disconnected from the general flow of the music but for the most part Herring has wonderfully melded with Panic, already seeming as if he’s played with them for quite some time.

Panic’s Saturday night set list provided many treats without unearthing any shocking rarities. Bouncing around to tunes from all time periods of their career, they worked their second set around “Chilly Water,” one of their oldest songs, returning to it while they moved through other songs and jams. After playing without a percussionist on Friday night, Wally Ingram filled in for the majority of Saturday night’s show, nicely working with Nance and Schools on the intro to “Fishwater.” At the conclusion of their briskly paced pair of sets, Panic kicked off a three song encore with their cover of Cleveland’s Michael Stanley Band’s “Let’s Get The Show On The Road” sliding it into “Rock” before careening into a scorching version of “Flat Foot Floozy” to close the night.

Widespread Panic are in a period of their career where they are very comfortable in what they are doing on stage. Extremely confident in their playing, the hunger that fuels bands many years their junior seems to be missing. Panic no longer has anything to prove and, as a consequence, don’t seem to be stretching the boundaries of their music or pushing their abilities to their limits. This isn't to say they aren't playing with passion or failing to give an audience what they came for, they just seem to be playing well within their comfort zone.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Foo Fighters Jab Emo Boys

Dave Grohl knows all about angst and emotion. After all, he was a key part of the most angst ridden band to arguably ever don a flannel shirt. So, you would think he can relate to all the young guys like My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco who wear their emotions on their sleeve while carrying the "emo" rock torch forward. And, he does. But, he also knows that sometimes you need to lighten up and just rock out.

On the new Foo Fighters record, Grohl takes a friendly jab at the genre with "Cheer Up Boys (Your Make Up Is Running)." The drummer turned guitar-playing frontman is quoted as saying: ""The title has nothing to do with the song - it's placed right in the middle of the record, where there's a lot of dark stuff. It's a pretty heavy record. We have a couple bummer tunes. I felt the album needed something to sit in the centre and balance it. So we had this lighthearted song, and I called it Cheer Up Boys (Your Make-Up Is Running) because it seemed like a little ray of hope in the middle of all this despair."

It's always been interesting to me to think about this evolution of music. I grew up on the music of the 70s and 80s that was full of booze, women and other excesses. Rock was rock and "emotional" tunes were left for "light fm" radio. And, even though I have my down moments, I'm a generally optimistic person so I always wondered what the grunge kids from the 90s were so upset about. Life is good. Enjoy the ride. And, if you're angry about something, get involved and do something to impact change. It's quite therapeutic - maybe even more so than a late night dashboard confessional.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Mp3s, News and Notes

For those in Philadelphia tonight you'll want to drop by the North Star Bar for a bit of blues. Back Door Slam, who have been doing a series of shows with Rusted Root and others (even Reo Speedwagon?!?!) on their way to Lollapalooza and then the Download Festival with Modest Mouse et al are stopping by Philadelphia and invited Earvolution's own Pawnshop Roses to join them onstage for a Friday night barn burner of blues rock. The show starts at 9. Get more details and ticket info here.

New York's Hymns have kept pretty good company onstage themselves in recent times playing with the likes of Beck, Bishop Allen and Ben Kweller. Now they are taking their citified twang on the road with Hot Hot Heat and Butch Walker. It's an interesting trio worth checking out!

Mp3 Offerings:
Bert Susanka (trippy surf dub): Onward Christian Slater
The Budos Band (Staten Island funk): Chicago Falcon
Lejune (DC inide pop) : Spanish
Debbie Harry (yes, that Debbie): Two Times Blue
Uh Huh Her (Leisha Hailey's band; via WXPN): Say So

My friends over at Wednesday Records announced they signed Nova Scotia singer-songwriter Jon McKiel. This guy is a "real deal" singer songwriter who will be among the next wave of great Canadian imports to charm the US music community. Check out his MySpace page to sample some tunes, with "Get Caught" and "123" as standouts.

Former Queens of the Stone Age bassist Nick Oliveri announced that his Mondo Generator has to drop out of Ozzfest. Oliveri reads says: "It's very disappointing but Mondo Generator has been forced to cancel the remaining dates we have booked with Ozzfest and Circus Diablo. We tried everything in our power to make things work so that we could remain on tour, but unfortunately due to matters out of my control, it is impossible for us to continue touring at this time. We're very sorry to all the fans that will not be able to see us on these remaining dates and promise that we will be back soon. We would like to thank Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne, as well as the entire Ozzfest crew for giving us the chance to play Ozzfest 2007. We'd also
like to thank the fans that came out to show their support at the shows."

Rage Against The Machine Headlining Vegoose 2007

Rage Against The Machine added another big date to their mini-comeback tour by agreeing to headline this year's Vegoose Festival that will take place October 27th and 28th. Besides RATM, the rest of the lineup is just as killer. Iggy and the Stooges are set to play Fun House in its entirety (reportedly for the first time in the US) in the midst of a very diverse mish mash of rap, hard rock and jam bands.

Here is the full lineup:

Rage Against The Machine
Daft Punk
Iggy & the Stooges performing the album Fun House
The Shins
Cypress Hill
Queens of the Stone Age
Public Enemy
Michael Franti & Spearhead
Umphrey's McGee
Thievery Corporation
Robert Randolph & the Family Band
Ghostface Killah & The Rhythm Roots Allstars
Blonde Redhead
Gogol Bordello
Ghostland Observatory
Pharoahe Monch

Beyond the large stadium setting, your stamina will be tested as the organizers have again included "Vegoose at Night," with feature smaller club acts, starting Friday evening, Oct. 26 and continuing late night on Saturday and Sunday at Vegas venues like the House of Blues, the Joint, and the Pearl, which will host moe Friday night Oct 26th. So far, The Shins, Thievery Corporation and STS9 are also confirmed for these indoor gigs. But, more will be announced and with all these luminaries roaming around don't be surprised to see some cool late night jam sessions als SXSW when RATM's Tom Morello brought out Perry Farrell, Slash and Les Claypool for an unnanounced performance or when moe's drummer sat in with Robert Randolph and the Family Band.

Tickets go on sale this Saturday (tomorrow!!!) at 10:00 AM PST only at

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mark Sultan: The Sultanic Verses

by Rinjo Njori.

Mark Sultan has been quite prolific since 2003, releasing at least four albums via different monikers including his one man band BBQ, the punk heavy Mind Controls, and the raucous King Khan and BBQ Show. So what does Mark Sultan sound like as a solo artist? A little bit of those bands with a little of his other bands, Les Sexareenos and The Spaceshits, thrown in for good measure. The Sultanic Verses definitely doesn't sound like a one man band. The drums have more life and their is more than one guitar at work here. Something new for Sultan is the copious use odd sound effects layered throughout the album.

"Cursed World", the most robust of the tracks, could almost be viewed as gothic garage. The tone of the song's dark commentary on the state of world affairs never gets specific but the picture Sultan paints is no less compelling. In complete contrast "Spinning Ceiling" deftly mixes early Stones and 50's proto rock of Chuck Berry. The guitar could pass for an early Keith Richards riff. Sultan manages to breathe new life into the old guitar sound without sounding anachronistic. "Warpath" uses some of the same 50's guitar licks to fuel a song that would not sound out of place on any of the Spaceshits two releases. "Mortal Man" epitomizes what BBQ (Sultan's one man band) has been putting out for the last four years. Sultan could easily pull this off by himself, but wisely has recorded each instrument independently instead of at the same time. With the full band he can channel all those R&B legends that inspire him and lay down some of the most infectious guitar on the entire album. "Je Ne Savais Pas", Sultan's first French language song since he performed in Les Sexareenos receives the standard two language treatment or as Dan Akroyd alluded to in Canadian Bacon, "Le Quebecoise". Part Lenny Kravitz, part garage rock - the song never reaches the sonic rumble of that Kravitz excels at in his songs. Nonetheless the song is no less powerful than the production soaked tracks Kravitz has been putting out over the last two decades. Things aren't perfect on the Sultanic Verses. "Two Left Feet" is far too familiar for the normally adventurous Sultan. "We're Sinking" fails for similar reasons. The 60's style R&B just doesn't work for this particular song. Unlike the more adventurous "Unicorn Odyssey Rainbow" which has already been covered by Atlas Sound and unfortunately rejected by Mary Weiss for her comeback album.

Mark's Sultanic Verses does nothing to diminish or marginalize BBQ, his work with King Khan or the elusive Mind Controls. This "solo" effort merely furthers his legacy and firmly entrenches him as the master of minimalist Rock and Roll/R&B. The album may not be "absolute killer", but it is safe to say that he effectively skipped some gratuitous filler.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Decemberists Rise Up In Central Park

By: David Schultz

Not long into The Decemberists’ set as part of Central Park’s Summerstage series, Colin Meloy, the Portland, Oregon band’s bespectacled lead singer, sardonically noted that they might not be the ideal entertainment for a balmy summer evening. Unless your idea of an uplifting night out involves listening to songs about enslaved avian wildlife, letters from a lost ship at sea or being swallowed by a whale, Meloy may have imparted a small nugget of truth. However, judging from the rapt attention being paid by the sold-out crowd at the Rumsey Playfield that braved legitimate threats of rain to be there with Meloy and The Decemberists, it seems exactly what many people consider a satisfying way to spend a couple hours.

In The Crane Wife, The Decemberists pulled off one of the more difficult tricks of the indie world, moving onto a major label and releasing one of the most critically beloved albums of 2006 while managing not to alienate the lion’s share of their fans. Their fourth full-length release possessed the band’s normal highbrow subject matter with songs based upon Japanese legends, the siege of Leningrad, Civil War correspondence and the emotional stress resulting from love that threatens to cross West Side Story style gang lines. They've carried the momentum from The Crane Wife’s success well into the summer concert season.

Taking the stage after their customary playing of the Russian National Anthem, the quirky quintet, who are apparently using the same clothier as the Arcade Fire, looked more like a group of teachers emerging from the break room than one of the most talked about bands of the past year. They opened thematically, going deep into their catalog for “July July” and “Billy Liar” before diving into “Summersong,” one of the many Crane Wife songs that would populate their main set.

For the most part, The Decemberists didn't deviate far from their recorded arrangements; although keyboardist Jenny Conlee gave an edgier Talking Heads feel to the bouncy keyboard riff that propels “The Perfect Crime #2.” The middle third of the set was their strongest, with “The Island,” their 10 minute plus prog-rock suite that includes a Wings inspired preface as well as a couple Yes derived keyboard breaks, stealing the show. The stunning version of their surprisingly sweet, three-part epic about the rape and murder of a landlord’s daughter, magnificently changed tempo and style in much the same way as Jethro Tull’s “Thick As A Brick.” They kept the momentum going, finishing their main set with strong versions of “O Valencia” and “Sons And Daughters,” leaving the final fade out to the audience, making the prayer for peace a nice campfire sing-along.

As an added incentive to bail out of work a little early, Brooklyn based indie-darlings Grizzly Bear playing an opening set for their West coast counterparts. Curiously, Grizzly Bear, whose haunting atmospheric harmonies are ideal for late-nights or David Lynch road house scenes, seemed to have an outdoors set. They didn't exactly get funky, but they did leave their more sedate work out of their set list. With Christopher Baer standing at his drums, Ed Droste and Daniel Rossen worked a bit of a daytime lilt into their songs, while Chris Taylor provided many of the band’s various odd instrumentations. The lo-fi dreaminess of “On A Neck, On A Spit,” “Knife” and their updated version of the folk standard “Deep Blue Sea” drew the Summerstage crowd in with the same intimacy as if they were in a cozy club setting.

Cognizant of the onerous, rigorously enforced 10:00 p.m. curfew, The Decemberists didn't tarry between songs with the habitually chatty Meloy keeping his stage banter to a minimum. As a result, they finished with quite some time to spare. In contrast to the polished main set, the encore seemed a relatively ramshackle affair focusing on older material like “Chimbley Sweep and “The Mariner’s Revenge.” Not only did Meloy silence the band in a fashion that involved a heroic pratfall from Nate Query and his upright bass, he enticed the entire standing room only crowd to sit down as well. The slapdash feel of the encore hardly detracted from its effect; in fact, with time to relax and enjoy themselves, they finally were able to exhibit the playful, idiosyncratic behavior everyone had come to see.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Ten Best Bands That Never Existed

By: David Schultz
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Some of the longstanding "who's the best musician" arguments are so old they've grown tiresome. Who’s the best guitarist that ever lived? Who’s the best singer that ever walked the planet? Best band ever to ever play live? Despite copious lists and countdowns, no definitive answers have ever been reached. To this day, we have no conclusive proof as to whether The Beatles were better than The Rolling Stones . . . or The Who . . . or U2. This list makes no attempt to resolve any argument over the best musicians who ever lived. Rather, it resolves the question of ranking the best bands that never really existed.

Some of the bands on this list never produced one note of audible music, others needed real musicians to give them voice, a couple served as alter egos and one band is made up of puppets. Regardless of their corporeal status, in one form or another, these bands embodied the ethos of rock and roll, either by capturing the essence of a certain genre, leaving a lasting influence on real-life musicians or, despite their manifestation as a fictional entity, by creating some rockin' tunes.

10. The School Of Rock

Even though Jack Black’s overly-simplistic speeches about rock ‘n’ roll’s liberating power belabor the point, The School Of Rock shows why music has always been a refuge for the insecure outcast. It’s the truth of that axiom that turns this tale about awkward pre-teens gaining confidence and self-esteem by picking up an instrument and joining a band from a far fetched story into an endearing underdog tale. Richard Linklater knew what he was doing: rather than teach actors to play, the director conscripted actual child musicians and taught them to act. The resulting band, which shouldn't be confused with the Paul Green School of Rock Music, only works because they are kids. If The School Of Rock were comprised of teenagers or college kids, the stereotypes of the rowdy troublemaker as drummer, the shy keyboard player as a Yes-loving, prog-rock geek and the heavy-set girl finding confidence through her ability to sing would seem more like hackneyed plot devices than character development. Instead of coming across as affectatious posing, the little hard rock acknowledgements like guitarist Zack’s Slash-style hat and Jack Black’s Angus Young schoolboy outfit are sincere and a knowing wink to anyone who picks them up. Melodrama aside, The School Of Rock become a great band not because they wear the accoutrements of rock ‘n’ roll, they embody them. For the last 20 minutes of the film, featuring The School Of Rock killing at the Battle Of The Bands and jamming in the studio over the closing credits, the band, in Jack Black’s words, totally rocks, even if they didn't cast a Scottish kid to play bagpipes on AC/DC’s “It’s A Long Way To The Top.” The simplicity of the last couple songs only serves to highlight the inherent power of three chords and a little D.I.Y. attitude.

9. Alvin & The Chipmunks

An animated precursor to the boy bands of the Nineties, Alvin and his brother chipmunks Simon and Theodore were directed, managed and possibly owned by David Seville, Lou Pearlman’s fictional ancestor. The creations of Ross Bagdasarian, Alvin & The Chipmunks have always reflected the musical style of the times. The Chipmunks first appeared as a novelty act in 1958, famously and innocently singing about witch doctors and the joys of Christmas. Despite some continued success as a Saturday morning animated series (Alvin once caused controversy by claiming they were “bigger than Mickey Mouse”), the original boy band would have faded into obscurity had the gimmick not taken new life in 1980 with Chipmunk Punk, which contained hyperspeed versions of “My Sharona,” “Call Me” and Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” Chipmunk-mania continued through Urban Chipmunk, their send-up of the country music explosion in the wake of Urban Cowboy, where they warned “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Chipmunks.” Much like Weird Al Yankovic confirms a song’s status by parodying it, The Chipmunks were the cherry atop the cake of a genre’s success. The technique used by Bagdasarian to create the chipmunks singing voices was simple enough: he sped up a normally recorded analog tape. It’s a recording style that has been associated with the Chipmunks ever since, providing fodder for many unauthorized R-rated releases. Most fictional bands have a relatively short shelf life, Bagdasarian and his son, who continued the venture after his dad's death, have not only kept Alvin & The Chipmunks alive as a fictional entity for close to five decades; they've adapted them to the times, keeping them fresh and recognizable.

8. Hedwig And The Angry Inch

In the late Nineties, John Cameron Mitchell created an off-Broadway sensation at New York City’s Jane Theater with his portrayal of Hedwig, the most troubled glam rock icon since Tim Curry laced up Dr. Frank N Furter’s fishnet stockings. A virtual eunuch as the result of a botched sex change operation, Hedwig fronts the Angry Inch, the band named after the resulting remnants of his genitalia. By the time Hedwig moved into movie theaters in 2001, a cult following had already developed around Mitchell’s transgender singer from East Berlin and Stephen Trask’s glam rock songbook. Hedwig’s catalog forms the framework as well as the substance of the story. As a nanny, Hedwig instructed Tommy Speck in the art of music as well as the art of love. Speck transforms himself into Tommy Gnosis and becomes an International rock star by stealing Hedwig’s songs, disavowing all knowledge of his transsexual tutor and leaving Hedwig to survive by performing all sorts of odd jobs (mainly blow). Instead of following the path of The Rubinoos, The Isley Brothers or The Rolling Stones and bringing Gnosis into court, Hedwig and the Angry Inch begin following Gnosis around the country. If Gnosis is playing at an arena or stadium, Hedwig is close by, playing the same songs at the local Bilgewaters (imagine a more depressing Denny’s) for befuddled and confused diners. A modern embodiment of the blithe androgyny fostered by glam rock icons like David Bowie and Mark Bolan, Hedwig’s character digs deeply into the genre’s ethos and by using the divided city of Berlin as a metaphor for the duality of gender, Trask adds an intriguing complexity to Hedwig’s glam anthems.

7. The American Medical Association

Long before Dan Brown incorporated Illuminati mythology and iconography into Angels & Demons as an action-adventure plot device, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson authored the definitive masterpiece on the “Illuminati conspiracy” in their picaresque Illuminati trilogy consisting of The Eye In The Pyramid, The Golden Apple and Leviathan. In Shea and Wilson’s universe, the world’s attention is drawn towards the American Medical Association, the most popular and significant rock band in the world - imagine The Beatles in their heyday and then some. Foreshadowing the influence musicians would one day exert over populist political and social issues like world hunger, African debt relief and global warming, the American Medical Association uses their popularity to attract hungry concert-goers to Bavaria, Germany, the birthplace of the Illuminati, for their European version of Woodstock. Unfortunately, the AMA’s motives are far more sinister than the simple domination of the hearts and minds of the world’s youth. As Illuminati Primi, the AMA serves as 4/5 of the secret organization’s executive council and masterfully and invisibly orchestrates all the world’s major events. Satirizing the paranoid belief that rock and roll is simply a communist plot to take over the world by poisoning its youth, Shea and Wilson create a scenario that only a demented, tyrannical anarchist could love. The AMA plans to use the good vibes and energy generated from their performance at the concert to reawaken dormant Nazi battalions, bring about the resurrection of Adolf Hitler and conquer the world. While the Illuminati’s influence is (hopefully) greatly exaggerated, Shea and Wilson’s late Sixties/early Seventies trilogy slyly lampoons and presages the growing prominence of musicians on popular culture and within our national discourse. Hmmmm, come to think of it, maybe the Illuminati still exist: Bono surely didn't get his influence with world leaders and the international banking community by portraying “The Fly” on the Zoo TV tour. Has anyone looked into this?

6. Billy & The Boingers

During the Reagan years, one needed to look no farther then the comics page of your local newspaper to find the highest quality political satire. Although Garry Trudeau’s Walden college graduates endured, the sharpest and funniest comic strip of the Eighties sprang forth from Berke Breathed in the panels of Bloom County. While the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist normally targeted political and economic hypocrisy, in 1987 he focused his attention on the more absurd aspects of heavy metal and Tipper Gore’s misguided Parents Music Resource Center. Designed to poke fun at the silliness of bat-head chomping heavy metal rockers, Breathed’s strip saw morally bankrupt lawyer Steve Dallas hold open auditions for a “new high-profit heavy metal rock band” that required applicants to “know 3 chords and be able to grimace musically.” The resulting band, Deathtongue, transformed oft-dead Bill The Cat (electric tongue), Opus (rhythm tuba) and Hodge-Podge (drums) into Satan-praising, decadent hell-raisers who hardly understood their own lyrics.

As they were responsible for songs like “Demon Drooler From The Sewer,” “Clearasil Messiah” and “Leper Lover,” Steve Dallas and Bill The Cat were summoned to Washington D.C. to testify before a Senate subcommittee whose members bore a striking resemblance to Tipper Gore and her PMRC. With Tipper hysterically screaming “off with their heads,” Dallas caved in and rechristened the band with the more Christian-friendly appellation: Billy & The Boingers. Sponsored by Dr. Scholl’s Odor Eaters, which seemed to work when plastered all over Bill, Billy & The Boingers only played one show: a Moose Lodge benefit at a Motel 6 in Albuquerque, New Mexico that ended with a trashed hotel room, wallpaper togas and a jailed Steve Dallas ranting that a cat, penguin and rabbit caused all the damage. Although Bill The Cat made a fortune selling “You Stink But I ♥ U” to Wheat Thins, the band broke up when he found God, became Fundamentally Oral Bill and hit the airwaves ranting against the evils of penguin lust. Billy & The Boingers’ minor legacy lives on in Bootleg, a Bloom County compilation, which includes a forgettable single (“I’m A Boinger” backed with “You Stink But I ♥ U”) and a hard-to-find back cover photo spoof of The Joshua Tree that is worth the purchase price alone.

5. The Commitments

In Roddy Doyle’s novel, The Commitments burst remarkably off of the page; on film, Alan Parker gave the Saviors of Soul tangible form and Andrew Strong’s amazing voice. Crafted in accordance with a very specific blueprint, manager Jimmy Rabbitte formed The Commitments in much the same way that Malcolm McLaren assembled The Sex Pistols or any diabolical hitmeister forms a boy band. However, unlike any image focused reality-TV creation, The Commitments were based on soul. In one sense, they were only a skillful cover band, slavishly adhering to the core elements and iconic standards of soul music, a genre born thousands of miles away from The Commitments’ hometown streets of Dublin, Ireland. The significance of The Commitments doesn't lie in their originality; rather, it lies in the tragedy of their tale. As proven by Rod Stewart and Three Dog Night, “Try A Little Tenderness” can be butchered if handled incorrectly. On film, Parker conveys the greatness of the band by focusing on Andrew Strong’s rendition of the Otis Redding classic, subliminally letting the performance rather than exposition show the band’s exceptional talent. On the verge of a record deal and Wilson Pickett on the way (at least in the film), The Commitments irreparably fall apart, leaving Rabbitte’s dream in tatters and the potential of the band untapped. Doyle intended to tell a tale of a group of Irishmen trying to better themselves and, in the process, finding salvation in American soul music. In doing so, he also created a classic archetype, representing the legions of truly talented bands that collapse under their own weight, finding obscurity instead of success.

4. The Blues Brothers

Much like The Commitments mission to keep soul alive, The Blues Brothers strove to preserve the vitality of the blues. A labor of love, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi meticulously cultivated The Blues Brothers mythology, mapping out the backgrounds of Elwood and “Joliet Jake” long before they memorialized their story in John Landis’ 1980 film. Orphans in Rock Island, Illinois, Jake and Elwood surreptitiously learned the blues from Curtis, the orphanage’s janitor. By cutting their fingers with an Elmore James guitar string the two became blood, or rather, blues brothers. Evolving from a 1975 Saturday Night Live segment in which they sang Slim Harpo’s “I’m A King Bee” while dressed in the show’s signature bumblebee outfits, Aykroyd and Belushi perfected their Blues Brothers gimmick by entertaining SNL’s cast and crew during after-show parties. Without any fanfare, The Blues Brothers, now wearing their trademark suits, hats and sunglasses, opened a 1978 SNL show and became an overnight sensation. Aykroyd and Belushi believed so heavily that their alter-egos were more than a fad, they were willing to leave the hottest TV show of the Seventies to devote more time to the venture. Backed by Stax/Volt legends Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn, The Blues Brothers had a fair shot at long-running success, but were sadly derailed by Belushi’s untimely death in 1982. Although The Blues Brothers legacy includes the nationwide proliferation of the House of Blues, it also includes the abysmal Blues Brothers 2000, which could have been watchable had anyone considered the fact that Curtis could have taught the blues to more than just Jake and Elwood, meaning there would be more than two Blues Brothers. By creating characters instead caricatures, The Blues Brothers evolved from what could have been a one-off joke into the poster boys for the preservation of the blues.

3. The Rutles

For All You Need Is Cash, Monty Python’s Eric Idle created The Rutles, whose fictional career paralleled the Fab Four’s in every respect. John Lennon became the outspoken Ron Nasty, Paul McCartney was transformed into the bubbly Dirk McQuickly, Ringo Starr became Barrington Womble who likewise had his name shortened to Barry Wom and the silent Beatle, George Harrison, became Stig O’Hara, an Indian that never utters a single word. Idle left no item of Beatlemania unspoofed: Nasty chomps his gum through “Love Life” (an audio and video spoof of “All You Need Is Love”); he falls in love with a German experimental artist (who also happens to be a Nazi); Leppo, the 5th Rutle, who leaves the band before they become famous and the systematic looting and hemorrhaging finances of Banana records. Marked by such releases as Rutle Soul, Sgt. Rutter’s Only Darts Club Band and Tragical Mystery Tour, The Rutles music all derives from The Beatles, with its humor relying primarily on the listener’s intimate familiarity with not just the music but the images frequently associated with them. “Piggy In The Middle” and “Cheese And Onions” meticulously adapt Magical Mystery Tour and Yellow Submarine’s psychedelically drenched music and imagery and “Get Up And Go” not only spoofs the gallop of “Get Back” but tweaks the iconic rooftop concert with which it’s always identified. All You Need Is Cash is not only one of Eric Idle’s finest comedic projects; it’s the finest Beatles parody ever. The Rutles music, which evolves from bright-eyed pop to trippy psychedlia, will never be mistaken for anything but Beatles parodies, but given that the core material is amongst the finest music ever recorded, Rutlemania can thrive on its own.

2. Spinal Tap

Christopher Guest’s 1984 mockumentary of the travails of rock dinosaurs Spinal Tap incisively satirized the pomp and excess of 70s era arena rock to such a degree that many stars who lived through that period cringe at its accuracy. The movie has worked its way so deeply into pop culture that any mishap with stage props, mishandling of concert promotion or simple head-scratching “but this one goes to 11” style proclamations bring Spinal Tap to mind. In exploring the fine line between clever and stupid, Christopher Guest, Michael McKeon and Harry Shearer mined a treasure trove of comedy, mocking the overgrown egos and outsized theatrics of a whole era. Parody that hewed unnervingly close to reality, Spinal Tap now serves as a hilarious warning for today’s artists. Not only did they make fun of the culture and lifestyle, they expertly lampooned the lyrics by going so far over the top with double entendre and sexual innuendo, they stand alone as their own stroke of genius. Even though the movie depicts them as increasingly irrelevant, the songs themselves are strong enough to get over the fact that Tap were once supposed to be one of the great hard rocking bands. “Hell Hole” and “Sex Farm” are delicious bits of pop metal, “Stonehenge” remains an indulgent masterpiece of medieval, D&D based heavy metal and, as evidenced by Live Earth, “Big Bottom” is simply an orgy of bass. This Is Spinal Tap truly struck a resonant chord. More than 20 years after its release, it's still quoted reverently by musicians and fans and remains one of rock and roll’s most influential films.

1. Dr. Teeth & The Electric Mayhem

Even though they didn't know it at the time, children of the Baby Boomers got their first real exposure to Seventies-era rock culture from The Electric Mayhem. Led by Dr. Teeth, an acid-inspired amalgamation of Elton John, Dr. John and other flamboyant rockers, Electric Mayhem served as the house band for Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy and the rest on The Muppet Show. The individual members of The Electric Mayhem comprise some of Jim Henson’s trippiest and hippest creations: Zoot is the prototypical hep-cat saxophone player; Janice, the super-groovy, blissed out rock chick; Sgt. Floyd Pepper is literally a pink Floyd and of course, Animal, the embodiment of the id of every over-the-top, insane drummer from John Bonham to Keith Moon. Henson presented The Electric Mayhem without irony. Not only did they look like the freakiest rock band since Parliament/Funkadelic, they acted like it too, with their personalities and laid-back attitudes (well, not Animal) more apropos to a be-in than a children’s show. Over the course of their career, they played with luminaries like Elton John, Paul Simon, Dizzy Gillespie and Diana Ross and lent a weird aura to performances by Phyllis Diller, Sylvester Stallone and Tony Randall. Directly inspired from the classic rock music and personae of the late Sixties and early Seventies, Mayhem was the world of rock ‘n’ roll condensed and simplified for pre-teens. Think Jim Henson didn't have an ear for rock 'n' roll? Check out 1979's Can You Picture That? Given The Muppet Show’s target demographic, The Electric Mayhem indelibly imprinted the colorful world of rock and roll upon millions of young minds, easily making them the most influential rock band that never really existed.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Cake: B-Sides and Rarities

by Rinjo Njori.

Cake has been in absentia since Pressure Chief, which was released in 2004. Like most B-sides and Rarities, unless you are a true fan, you might approach this release with a big question mark. There is enough here to keep this interesting for non-fans, but just barely enough. Cake has often been referred to as "the normal" alternative to Beck . What differentiates Cake from the Thetan Warrior? In my mind it is because Cake has a defined sound, where Beck tends to go on tangents. Still Cake doesn't lack for surprises.

The real surprise here is the amount of country covers and Cake's affinity for Black Sabbath's "War Pigs". The latter gets double duty as a studio track and a live track. Cake abandon's Sabbath's slow trudge through the mud and opt for a more upbeat and positive take on the classic.

Also, the electronic back beat and choral "Oh Yeah!" and "Huh" add some life to the faithful Iommi riffs. The inclusion of another live version might be a little questionable but doesn't hurt album overall. Kathy Dee's "Subtract One Love (Multiply the Heartaches)" works surprisingly well when compared to Mel Tillis "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" or Buck Owen's "Excuse Me, I Think I've Got a Heartache". Dee's "Subtract One Love" has heart and McCrea's vocals are a perfect fit. Tillis "Ruby" and Owen's "Excuse Me" are paint by numbers country and McCrea does nothing more than paint himself as a competent country standards singer and the rest of the band as mere back ups.

However, nothing will prepare the listener for "Cake-ification" of Barry White's "Never Gonna Give You Up". The band make the song their own, with each instrument owning part of the song before rising up in unison. McCrea's vocals range from the Beck style spoken word to some pretty capable harmony in the chorus.

No less satisfying, but probably not a crowd pleaser is the instrumental/ spoken word "Thrills". The music exudes the laid back vibe of the White cover. While the spoken word diatribe about technology and society fits in nicely with the music.

There are other cover's and live tracks which wouldn't necessarily spark the interest of the "average joe/jane" on the street, but this clearly isn't a fans only affair. The other interesting tactic the band has tried on this album is scratch and sniff CD inserts. I can't tell what "smell" my CD insert is but the Barry White cover is enough to tide me over until Pressure Chief's inevitable follow-up.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mp3s, News and Notes

KT Tunstall has now viewed the world by telescope and has decided she's ready to jump on her black horse move beyond the cherry tree. The Scottish lass releases her new record Drastic Fantastic on September 18th, but you won't have to wait that long to get a glimpse. KT has released the first single "Hold On" and you can check it out here. A quick listen says no sophomore jinx for KT.

Bad Brains have been welcomed back with open arms. Their latest, Build a Nation, produced by Beastie Adam Yauch, hit #1 on the Alternative Specialty Chart. You can check out some interesting footage of an interview the band did for AOL here. Punk rock on AOL? Isn't it great when icons of "alternative" embrace the mainstream?

Been wondering what ever happened to Lenny Kravitz? Ok, forgot about him too. But, Mr. Kravitz is set for a comeback and has been busy recording not one, but two new records. It Is Time for a Love Revolution is set for a February 2008 and the second disc Funk will come out after on a date not yet announced.

Mp3 Offerings:
The Alarmists (Minneapolis indie psych): Hired Gun
The Poison Control Center (Ames, Iowa power pop): Glory Us
White Rabbits (on Letterman tonight!): The Plot
The Besnard Lakes (via WXPN): "And You Lied To Me"
O Death (via WXPN): "Down to Rest"

Cary Brothers and friends are getting together for the Hotel Cafe festival. Rocco DeLuca & The Burden, Ingrid Michaelson, Kate Havnevik and the lovely Rachael Yamagata and a few others will take the stage August 4th at Belleayre Mountain in upstate New York. You can get a preview from Cary here with a live recording of "Honestly."

Monday, July 16, 2007

The Canny Brothers Band: The Canny Brothers Band

By: David Schultz

Brooklyn denizens who like a little Irish music mixed in with their classic rock are quite familiar with The Canny Brothers Band. Dating back to the days when every band from Brooklyn didn't generate a maelstrom of indie-buzz, The Cannys have long been a fixture of the bar scene and a veritable institution at every local Irish Festival. Tom Canny (guitar), Michael Canny (guitar/mandolin) and Stephen Canny (bass/banjo) not only give the band its name but their versatility, along with lead singer Keith Fallon’s acoustic guitar, allows the CBB to generate a powerful folky sound that works exceptionally well with Irish standards as well as their classic rock inspired jams.

Although every band wants to have a fresh and new sound for their debut album, it’s not uncommon to look back to prior eras: for Hot Fuss, The Killers looked back to the Eighties; on Wolfmother’s debut they immersed themselves in Seventies hard rock and heavy metal. On their self produced, self-titled debut, The Cannys one up everyone by looking back to another century, bringing a selection of Irish folk ballads and pub songs into the 21st century. Fallon keeps the roguish charm and rebel spirit alive in traditional standards like “Whiskey In A Jar” and “Wild Rover,” while The Cannys nicely keep things fresh by refusing to slavishly adhere to ancient arrangements, turning “Swallowtail Jig” into a slow-burning instrumental romp. Drummer Dean Russo admirably works within the confines of the Irish standards but really gets a chance to stretch out on the disc’s three original compositions. The Fallon-written songs feature The Cannys adeptness at easy-going rock and roll with “Sunshine Breaking Through” coming from the same bouncy mold as The Grateful Dead’s “Sugar Magnolia.”

In the era when some of these standards were written, you would have to travel to Ireland to hear The Canny Brothers Band play them. Fortunately, in this modern age of easily accessible recordings, you can not just listen to the album, you can obtain a copy by clicking here.

The Rentals: The Last Real Life

by Rinjo Njori

When Matt Sharp decided to put his solo career on hold and resurrect The Rentals there was a lot on the line - not really. The Rentals were much better than the post-Sharp incarnation of Weezer - very true. They never achieved commercial success that Weezer easily reassumed in the late 90's with the Green Album - Amen Brother! After the announcement and mini-tour there wasn't much noise out of the Rentals camp. The only recording that popped up was a cover/remix of a Tegan and Sara song. Not exactly what die hard Rentals fans were expecting or should have expected. Eventually The Last Little Life EP was announced, with a new album promised for 2008.

How does The Rentals circa 2007 sound? Considering that the other vital cog in The Rentals, aka Rachel Haden, also returned to the fold, very much like the Seven More Minutes incarnation of the band. Completely erased from the song writing formula is the bleached out, moog heavy sound that dominated the brilliant The Return of the Rentals. Though Return's "Sweetness and Tenderness" receives a Seven More Minutes like tune up for unknown reasons. The difference this time around is that Sharp and Haden share lead vocal duties versus heavy backup vocals which dominated the original track. Still it's a bit puzzling why the track even deserved the "updated sound". Interestingly the other three tracks all begin with the letter "L". "Last Romantic Day", which opens the EP, runs the gamut in terms of instrumentation. Violins, keyboards, acoustic, and electric guitar all fade in and out the course of four minutes. Sharp's vocals lead most of the way and Haden can be heard quietly in the background. "A Little Bit of Everything" quickly satisfies the friends of Petra. Trading off verse or singing in unison the chemistry between these two is undeniable- equally feminine and masculine- this clearly isn't the Matt Sharp show. "Life Without a Brain" gives the best indication of what is "missing" from the EP and The Rentals overall this time out. The songs are all well put together but for the most part they lack the high intensity songs that weaved in and out of The Return of the Rentals and Seven More Minutes. There is no "Waiting" or "Barcelona", the songs are distinctly low key. "Life Without a Brain" and "Little Bit of Everything" ramp up nicely, but the big hook just never materializes. Luckily The Rentals don't need to rely on the big hook, but it’s always satisfying to hear Sharp’s crisp riffs.

The Last Little Life EP is definitely worthy of the inordinate amount of praise that was heaped upon the band when they announced they were reforming in 2006. The fact that Sharp and Haden were smart enough to capitalize on Seven More Minutes formula without making every song about their harmonizing, bodes well for their upcoming album. Hopefully they can muster up the energy to make the '08 version of The Rentals every bit as satisfying as the '99 version of the band.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Mp3s, News and Notes

Norah Jones makes an appearance on the new Talib Kweli record, Eardrum. I'm told Norah graces Talib with her vocal stylings on a track called "Soon the New Day." Other guests on the album include Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, KRS-ONE. I'm also told Norah wisely leaves the rapping to the pros. Eardrum drops August 21st.

Sirius channel "Jam On" will broadcast the last show from former Phish keyboardist Page McConnel's US Tour live this Saturday July 14th at 11 pm EST, with a replay on July 19th @ 7 pm EST. Previous live broadcasts have from Jam on have included Widespread Panic, Ratdog, O.A.R., String Cheese Incident and Earvolution friends Tea Leaf Green. You can get more info here.

Remember when selling out was taboo? Jim Greer sums up the current state of affairs quite nicely with this quote: "Now that Wilco has sold their whole album to Volkswagen and Sonic Youth is doing a Starbucks record, fuck it." Don't worry Jim, I'm sure there's a product you can latch onto out there!

The Dropkick Murphys have a new record coming out. The Meanest of Times is set for a September 18th date and, with some help from Warner Brothers, will be released on the band's own Born & Bred Records label. Spider Stacey of The Pogues and Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners both make guest appearances on the record.

Mp3 Offerings:
Butane Variations (if you like Wilco): Goldie Hawn
Butane Variations: Angels
Gibby Haynes (Butthole Surfers): "Redneck Sex" [Peaches Rmxxx]
Suzanne Vega: Frank and Ava
Alex Dupree & the Trap Door Band (Austin "glam folk"): Las Meridanzas
Bon Iver (Wisconsin neo soul): Skinny Love
The Rondo Brothers (San Fran geek pop): Until We All Fall Down
Diamond Jim (spacey trip folk): Falcon To A Friend
Ladyslipper (Minnesota breakbeat): Chicago

New Jersey and much of America is all a flutter over the news that Bruce Springsteen may be putting out a new record with the E Street Band. Rumor has it they've even already laid down some tracks. They still put on a killer live show so it'd be great if they do come out with new stuff and tour. Come on Bruce...without the Sopranos, Little Steven needs something to keep him busy!

Earvolution Nashville Jam

Join us this Saturday night, July 14th, at the French Quarter Cafe in Nashville for the first of what could be a few "Nashville Jams." Of course, of all weeks for my computer to fry, it had to be when I was supposed to be promoting a show. My apologies to the artists for the lack of presence on this site, but we'll still have a blast at the French Quarter so come on out and join us if you're in Music City this weekend. We'll post more on these acts later, but here are some capsules of the lineup.

Jessica Maros is the UN of indie rock. Born to Slovakian immigrant parents who migrated to Canada, this songstress splits time between Nashville and Vancouver. On a night full of testosterone, her sweet shimmy will be a nice contrast to all the boys that follow.

Micah Tawlks will grace us with his Americana stylings. He's a modern troubadour making the girls swoon. Listen closely for the pedal steel and violins adding some depth to his acoustic based indie-folk sound.

I wrote a bit about Mountain Man a few months back when I first caught them by chance at the Troc in Philly. They are the lone out-of-towners on the bill and if their rapid rise in Philly is any indication, a band we'll be hearing tons from in the near future. They have played all the top Philly clubs and already scored some live air time on WXPN. And, they just won the Philly region Emergenza show that took them to NYC to play Webster Hall where they finsihed 7th among all East Coast finalists. Now they are set to conquer Nashville and beyond with they homespun "hippie sway" brand of indie folk rock.

Brett Rosenberg has toured extensively as a guitarist in Graham Parker's band. Now he's settled down for a bit in Nashville to break out on his own. Come out to see if he does his former boss proud!

The Incredible Heat Machine were not fooling around when choosing a name. These boys from Murfreesboro bring the heat. Knoxville 520 says "To go along with the grit and complex rhythms that come with the prog rock territory The Heat adds in their love of the jamband scene utilizing genre fusion and improvisational segues that might send you on a Bonnaroo flashback." Word.

Closing out the night will be The Go Show. Also from Murfreesboro, they just played Summerfest in Milwaukee with the likes of Earl Greyhound, Wolfmother, Silversun Pickups, The Black Crowes, Bob Weir & RatDog and many other big names of the day. So we're pleased they can come "do that work" at the French Quarter for Earvolution this Saturday night. Festivities kick off at 8pm. Come on down!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Nunatak: The Antarctic Superstars

For all the information dispensed throughout this weekend's Live Earth broadcasts on NBC, Bravo and the Sundance Channel, one burning question remained without answer: who in the hell was that band playing for the penguins on an ice floe in Antarctica and is their manager still employed after getting them that gig?

In order to complete the 7 continents portion of the Live Earth spectacle, Nunatak, comprised of scientists affiliated with the Rothera Research Station studying climate change in the Antarctic peninsula, happened to be on the right frozen tundra at the right time. "The original idea was for a headlining act at Live Earth to use Rothera station as a venue on that 'elusive seventh continent.' But it's nearly impossible to get an aircraft or ship into the area. So officials with the British Antarctic Survey suggested using the existing Rothera band," communications engineer/fiddler Tristan Thorne told NPR.

Are they ready to conquer the populated continents? Well, they've mastered the indie-rock art of understatement. "You've got to remember, although we've got a very big following within the British Antarctic Survey and in particular, Rothera station (population 17), we may not have the worldwide renown that some of the other acts have," said Thorne. Five environmental scientists playing killer indie-rock: if they solved mysteries as well, they would be a 1970's Saturday morning cartoon.

After rocking it in 10 degrees below Celsius weather, these boys are going to find the dingiest of clubs as swanky as Radio City Music Hall.

Parisian Manager Claims Jim Morrison Died In His Nightclub

In conjunction with the 36th anniversary of Jim Morrison's death, a Parisian nightclub owner is casting doubts on the final scene of the mythic figure's life. Per the legend, The Doors' singer's corpse was found in a bathtub by his girlfriend Pamela Courson. In the absence of foul play, no autopsy was performed, leaving the official cause of death a small mystery.

Sam Bernett, the manager of Paris' Rock 'n' Roll Circus club, now claims that Morrison didn't die in the tub but rather died of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of his nightclub and that the singer’s death was covered up to avoid any investigation by the police into the nightspot’s drug activities. "The club was full of dealers," says Bernett. "Jim disappeared to the lavatories at around 2am. Then, about half and hour later, a cloakroom attendant came up to me and told me someone was locked in a cubicle and wasn't coming out. It was then that I got a bouncer to smash the door down. I recognised the U.S. Army combat jacket and the riding boots which he never took off. It was Jim Morrison."

The club owner, now 62 years old, claims the singer was then hauled from the club to his hotel room by bouncers under orders from a representative of the club’s owner Paul Pacini. "I was told ‘We saw nothing, we heard nothing, we shut up! Ok? It’s what we better do to avoid a scandal.'" A spokesperson for France’s Police National says they will consider the new evidence.

Although Bernett's story may cloud the issue of where Jim Morrison died, conspiracy theorists should take note: it does confirm that Jim Morrison is in fact dead.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mp3s, News and Notes

Earvolution will roll into Nashville on July 14th for what looks like will be the beginning of a "Nashville Nights" series. The first show will be at the French Quarter Cafe and will feature six acts: The Go Show (who are also playing Summerfest this week in Milwaukee), The Incredible Heat Machine, Brett Rosenberg, Mountain Man, Micah Tawlks and Jessica Maros. More details on these artists next week.

Kaki King is one of the feature performers at this year's URB ALT Festival. The show, July 7th at Harlem's Shrine World Music Venue, is a bit of a Frank Sinatra tribute, as each act will play a Sinatra cover. Kaki will be backed by the MuthaWit Orchestra. Faith, OMG, Devi and the Monika H. Band are also on the bill. More details here.

Silverchair basically owned Austrailia (and other parts of the world) in the late 90s and it has been five years since their last release. But, this guys still aren't that old since they were only 15 when their debut was released in 1995. Their new disc Young Modern hits stores July 24th and will kick off a tour with We Are the Fury, who you'll recall played the Earvolution day party at Emos this year during SXSW.

The Deadly Syndrome won't release their new record on Dim Mak until September 11th, but are set to hit the road this summer. They'll join Hot Hot Heat, Oh No! Oh My! & Let's Go Sailing for a run that kicks off in a couple weeks. Details here and mp3 below.

Mp3 Offerings:
Fields: "Song for the Fields" (Ewan Pearson Remix)
Fields: "If You Fail We All Fail" (SebastiAn Remix)
Fields: "If You Fail We All Fail" (Badlands Remix)
We All Have Hooks for Hands: Hold On, C'Mon
Dock Boggs (from Virginia Roots): "Down South Blues"
Stanley Brothers (from Virginia Roots): "Rabbit In A Log"
Zookeeper: "I Live In The Mess You Are"
Zookeeper: "Tax Collector"
El-P: "I'll Sleep When You're Dead"
65DaysofStatic: "When We Were Younger & Better"
Peel: "Oxford"
Sean Na Na: "Princess & the Pony"
Sean Na Na: "Tumor Party "
Robbers on High Street (via CMJ): "Crown Victoria"
The Deadly Syndrome: "Eucalyptus"

"Reports" from WENN and other UK "sources" say Pete Doherty is tired of being simply known as the boyfriend of Kate Moss. He apparently would be rather known for his music. Well, there was a time when Pete was known for his music. But, Pete decided to put other things first before his career and, frankly, his fans. He should be happy to be known at all at this point given his past and hey, "Kate Moss' boyfriend" is a lot better moniker than one referencing his past "demons."

Ramble On: Levon Helm In Central Park

Photo via FlickrBy: David Schultz

No discussion of the late Sixties would be complete without spending serious time on The Band. Both with Bob Dylan and on their own, they contributed significantly to the soundtrack of the peace and love generation. Given their relevance, The Band’s absence from the nostalgic reflection on the musicians, events and other assorted personalities that has accompanied the 40th anniversary of the Summer Of Love may seem odd, but it’s not unfair. During that time, in which the world took notice of the happenings going on in San Francisco, The Band were holed up with Bob Dylan in the Woodstock, New York area, changing the face of folk and acoustic music while the mercurial singer recuperated from a motorcycle accident. The Woodstock area would rise in renown only a couple years later and the recording sessions, after having a substantial shelf life as bootlegs, would be officially released as The Basement Tapes in 1975.

Woodstock’s soil remained fertile decades later, serving as the home for Levon Helm’s Rambles, weekly intimate gatherings held at Helm’s Woodstock home studio. While the legendary drummer recovered from radiation therapy associated with his treatment for throat cancer, Helm and friends like guitarists Larry Campbell and Jimmy Vivino began playing near weekly shows. Levon’s Rambles began to draw eager fans into the upstate New York mountains, becoming one of the area’s hidden gems. This past March, upon the urging of Campbell and the other musicians who had been a key part of the Rambles, Helm brought the show to New York City, playing two sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater over St. Patrick’s Day weekend. This past Thursday evening, Helm once again rambled in the city, playing the Rumsey Playfield as part of the Central Park Summerstage series.

Levon’s Rambles are a throwback to an older style of playing: heavy on substantive blues, country and folk with the style evolving organically. The Ramble In The Park was very much a group effort. Helm, whose voice has returned to fine form after his battle with throat cancer, clearly anchors the show, but Larry Campbell and Jimmy Vivino are the band’s pillars, doing all the heavy lifting with their mighty guitar work. Campbell moved between lead guitar and violin throughout the show, handling lead vocals on an acoustic romp through “Deep Elem Blues” and a growling, showstopping version of “Chest Fever.” Vivino fronted the band on a blazing version of Woody Guthrie’s “I Ain’t Got No Home In This World Anymore.” It’s also very much a family affair, Levon’s daughter Amy Helm, her Ollabelle bandmate Fiona McBain and Campbell’s wife, Teresa Williams, provided a variety of lead and backing vocals. If that weren’t enough, oft-time Rambler bassist Mike Merritt was joined by a pair of keyboardists and a full horn section.

The set list featured a healthy number of blues and revved up folk covers as well as an expected handful of Levon’s beloved tunes from The Band. With Helm’s unmistakable howl, the Ramblers recreated the carnival-like atmosphere accompanying “Ophelia” and “The Shape I’m In.” the naked emotion of “Tears Of Rage” and the down-home county-funk of “The Weight.” The three song acoustic mini-set, which saw Helm moving to mandolin and Campbell playing violin, matched The Band classics in terms of excitement. Kicking off with a foot-stomping traditional run through “Man Of Constant Sorrow,” Helm covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” before concluding with nice countrified roll through “Deep Elem Blues.”

Surprise guests were announced which had some speculating as to whether Bob Dylan, who was famously backed at different times of his career by Helm and Campbell, might stop by on an off night between his shows at Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun and Long Island’s Jones Beach. Other than Big Pussy Vincent Pastore making a cameo appearance to shake some hands, all of Helm’s guests have a deep affiliation with the Rambles, notably Little Sammy Davis. Wearing a brilliant purple suit that defines the wearer as either color blind or a master bluesman, Davis showed himself the latter, handling lead vocals and harmonica on a couple blues standards early on it the evening.

A classic rock icon, Helm doesn’t seem to relish the spotlight. For most of the evening, Helm played drums along the side of the stage, only leaving the kit to come play mandolin at center stage during the acoustic mini-set. At the very end, instead of coming up front to accept the rousing applause he so richly deserved, Helm modestly stood before his drums and waved before making his way backstage by walking behind the equipment.

Proving that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, the forecasted torrential rains that cast a worrisome shadow over the show remained relatively light, striking the outer boroughs instead of Central Park. Even Mother Nature was excited to see Levon in the Park.

The Klaxons Announce US Dates

Because so much buzz surrounded the Klaxons last summer and fall after their EP was released it is hard to imagine that they just released their debut full length Myths of the Near Future in January. Now that the Midlands band has conquered Glastonbury, they have their sites set on the States.

July 10 Los Angeles, CA @ El Rey Theatre
July 11 San Francisco, CA @ Great American Music Hall
July 12 Seattle, WA @ Chop Suey
July 3 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
July 15 Chicago, IL @ The Pitchfork Music Festival
July 16 Minneapolis, MN @ The Varsity Theater

If you won't be in any of these cities to see them live, you can also check out the Klaxons on Showtime's "Live from Abbey Road" this Thursday night. Of course there are some YouTube offerings out there as well, such as "Golden Skans" and "It's Not Over (Yet)."

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!