Monday, December 31, 2007

Amen: The Word At Terminal 5

By: David Schultz
Photo by Rinjo Njori.

In a year when reunions were all the rage, Robert Randolph, John Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars finished 2007 by putting their own spin on the concept by resurrecting their gospel-blues based project known as The Word. The Police, Genesis and Van Halen were the poster boys for the Year of the Reunion Tour, efficiently targeting fiscally solvent fans with nicely staged concerts firmly rooted in the nostalgia of their glory days. In that sense, The Word’s four night swing through the East coast qualifies as a Bizarro reunion. With only one six-year old album under their belt, fans did not flock to New York City’s Terminal 5 this past Thursday to bask in the abundant riches of yesteryear. Rather, they came to see what new tricks this veritable supergroup of the jam scene was capable of performing.

When The Word first assembled in 2000-2001, Robert Randolph was a little known pedal steel guitarist who had been toiling away in the churches of New Jersey. Even though he’d hardly played outside his own chapel, Medeski and the North Mississippi Allstars – Luther Dickinson, Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew – were impressed with Randolph’s considerable skills and recruited him to provide the “sacred steel” for their gospel tinged project. Using traditional gospel as their focal point, the quintet imposed their considerably eclectic chops on the music and created an eminently accessible collection of gospel-inflected songs that appealed to the devout with the same fervor as it did to the lapsed.

The Word introduced Robert Randolph to the world; six years later, he’s the most recognizable member of the troupe and for these recent shows he’s been acting as the de facto leader of the band. Despite the improvisational firepower on stage, The Word stayed relatively loyal to the central musical themes. That’s not to say they put on a rigidly formatted show. To a man, they all played loosely. When Randolph piqued everyone’s curiosity with a throwaway riff from The Ohio Players’ “Love Rollercoaster,” it just took one look back at Medeski and Luther Dickinson for a seemingly impromptu cover to occur.

A show featuring the five musicians of The Word would be an easy sell in its own right; that they had a body of communal music to work from helped considerably. With Cody Dickinson’s drumming giving a feral bluesy kick to the gospel melodies, The Word played together as if they do it daily. Over the course of the night they updated the songs from their sole self-titled release, offering up groove-heavy renditions of “Joyful Sounds” and “Without God” and soulful offerings of “At The Cross” and “I’ll Fly Away.” They augmented the set with a nice smattering of covers: if they didn’t quite hit the appropriate pounding funk of Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” they nailed the requisite heavy groove on their quick detour through The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army.” They saved their best cover of the evening for the encore, extending the inspirational motif to embrace Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.”

The show focused on the music and kept theatrics at a minimum. For most of the night, Chris Chew reclined comfortably against the equipment cases next to Cody Dickinson’s drum kit and the ever-excitable Randolph remained primarily rooted to his pedal steel. The two sets consisted almost exclusively of instrumental music. Chew provided the only vocals of the night during a brief New Orleans style run through “Down By The Riverside” and “When The Saints Go Marching In.” Luther Dickinson would occasionally stroll up to Randolph and engage him in a little give-or-take and Randolph sporadically gave a challenging glance over at Medeski before trading a couple riffs but otherwise the most notable solo was turned in by Cody Dickinson. At the close of “Waiting On My Wings,” Randolph took over on the drums and Dickinson went to town on his decidedly non-ecclesiastical electrified washboard.

For close to three hours, Randolph, Medeski and the NMA turned a set of songs derived from gospel and other inspirational sources into an enthusiastic jam session. Without question, if The Word were the house band at any local house of worship, attendance would go through the roof.

The Word wasn’t the only Randolph affiliated show in the Big Apple that night. On the other side of town, Jason Crosby of Randolph’s Family Band was holding court at the Ace of Clubs. Crosby’s show made for a nice after-hours affair for those intrepid enough to travel across town from Terminal 5. Crosby had his crowd moving with his brand of fusion jazz, danceable funk as well as a couple covers that included a pleasantly tuneful version of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime.”

Crosby will rejoin Randolph & The Family Band in March at this year’s Langerado Festival in Big Cypress, Florida. After a night at Levon Helm’s Woodstock home/studio for one of his Midnight Rambles, Medeski along with Billy Martin and Chris Wood will embark on a late February run of shows before likewise heading down to Langerado where they’ll play with Jon Scofield. The North Mississippi Allstars won’t be at Langerado, but they will be busy. Before lending his skills to the Black Crowes in March, Luther and the Allstars will head out on a comprehensive U.S. tour to coincide with the January 22 release of Hernando.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What Will Be Great In 2008

By: David Schultz

In the past month the Internet has been flooded with Best of 2007 lists. While some say more than others, the consensus seems to be that Radiohead’s In Rainbows and The National’s Boxer were the cream of the crop in 2007 and that the full repercussions of Radiohead’s pay-what-you-want pricing scheme have yet to be felt. Anyway, enough with 2007 already; I’m looking ahead to 2008 and here’s what I’m excited about.

The Hold Steady’s New Album
Listening to Boys And Girls In America made me feel young again. I’m not sure I could give an album a greater compliment. You can never have enough literate songs about the follies of youth, especially when they're delivered in Craig Finn’s wry, expressive voice. Word is they have returned to the studio and will deliver a new album late in 08.

The Winehouse/Fielder-Civil Trial
When she wasn’t figuratively or literally saying no to rehab, Winehouse turned herself into one of the most Grammy nominated train wrecks of all time. Now that she’s been arrested and charged with perverting justice, the same crime for which her husband Blake Fielder-Civil is currently awaiting trial, we’re headed for a good-old fashioned media circus of a trial. Personally, I’m hoping she abandons the beehive in favor of Phil Spector’s freaky-fro and shows up in court wearing the pink bra and jeans combo.

Black Crowes: Warpaint
Rested and reinvigorated, the Robinson brothers brought guitarist Luther Dickinson into the studio and recorded their first album of new material in more than 7 years. With one of the more potent lineups in years, they’ll celebrate the March 4 release by playing the album on stage in its entirety.

The Led Zeppelin Reunion Tour
Maybe just like wishing Tinkerbell back to life, if we all clap our hands and wish real hard, it will happen.

Lenny Kravitz: It’s Time For A Love Revolution
It really is time as it’s been about four years since Kravitz released his last album or embarked on a major U.S. tour. If thee first couple songs are any indication, Kravitz has returned to the hippie lyrics and fuzzed-out Hendrix guitars that made him a star. 2008 may also see the release of Funk, an album he’s been periodically working on since 1997.

New Year’s Eve at the HighLine with U-Melt
It’s a tradition. U-Melt will be ushering in 2008 with an electrifying show that will begin in the wee hours of the morning. There is no better way to start of a new year than with a few hours of U-Melt. If you wanted to engage in idle speculation: Jamie Shields and Darren Shearer (New Deal) and Marco Benevento and Joe Russo will be playing the HighLine earlier that evening – maybe they’ll stick around for the U-Melt festivities.

Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
The Truckers previewed some songs from their upcoming album on their The Dirt Beneath tour and don’t appear to be missing a step in the absence of guitarist Jason Isbell. In addition to Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley’s next edition of Southern drama, bassist Shonna Tucker will even sing.

Lynne Spears: Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World
It’s comical enough that Britney’s mom wrote a book praising her own parenting skills when the rest of the world takes vicious delight in laughing at her daughter’s misadventures in parenting. If raising one selfish, neglectful mother wasn't enough, Ms. Spears just had her book release delayed because her 16-year-old daughter is pregnant. This is a best seller just waiting to happen.

North Mississippi Allstars: Hernando & Mississippi Folk Music Vol 1
2008 is poised to be Luther Dickinson’s breakout year: in addition to being a new Black Crowe, the NMA will release Hernando, a new studio album, as well as an online compilation of their interpretations of traditional Mississippi songs.

Licorice: A Million Grains Of Sand
One of New York’s most proficient foursomes will release their debut EP later this winter and give everyone a taste of the delicious jams they’ve been putting together over the past few months. A sample serving can be found here.

[Ed. Note: Earvolution's artist development and production side of the business has a few tricks up its sleeve for 2008 as well; new Pawnshop Roses coming soon and expect a major announcement involving the marrying of new media technology with one of the most revered brands in American music history.]

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Led Zeppelin Set List

Unless Jim Morrison isn't really dead, I can't imagine another set list generating as much interest.

"Good Times, Bad Times"
"Black Dog"
"In My Time Of Dying"
"For Your Life"
"Trampled Underfoot"
"Nobody's Fault But Mine"
"No Quarter"
"Since I've Been Loving You"
"Dazed And Confused"
"Stairway To Heaven"
"The Song Remains The Same"
"Misty Mountain Hop"

Encore Break
"Whole Lotta Love"
"Rock And Roll"

It has been a long time since they rock and rolled. Now come to America and do it here.

Otis Redding: 40 Years On

Forty years ago today, soul legend Otis Redding's plane crashed into Lake Monona in Madison, Wisconsin and one of the great voices of all time was silenced all too soon. As hard as it is to believe from listening to the recordings he left behind, Redding was only 26 years old at the time of his unfortunate death. Many recall the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival as Jimi Hendrix's coming-out party but he wasn't the only performer to steal the show. Only six months after his starmaking set (Part 1 and Part 2), he was gone. While he lived long enough to hear Aretha Franklin steal "Respect" from him - something he wholeheartedly endorsed - he passed away before he could hear everyone but Andrew Strong try unsuccessfully to capture the emotion of "Try A Little Tenderness."

I had every intention of writing a comprehensive essay explaining Otis Redding's genius and importance only to find that it has already been done exceptionally well by Claudrena Harold at Popmatters. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Green Day In Disguise?

Are the Foxboro Hot Tubs really Green Day? Everyone on their myspace page seems to think so. No strangers to a good masquerade, Green Day has toyed with this type of thing before. In 2003, they released Money Money 2020, a techno album, using the pseudonym The Network. If the Hot Tubs aren't Green Day's idea of an early Christmas present, congratulate them on raising the ghosts of Klaatu and working it for all they can.

Whether Stop Drop And Roll!!!, the 6 song downloadable EP, is Green Day or not, it's a nice little bit of retro 60s style garage rock and worth a listen.

Africa To Celebrate U2 In Song

Africa's top musicians will look to repay Bono for his tireless efforts for debt relief for the continent with the currency of song. In The Name Of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 will feature stars like Angelique Kidjo ("Mysterious Ways"), the African Underground All-Stars ("Desire")and the Soweto Gospel Choir ("Pride (In The Name Of Love") cover some of the Irish supergroup's most well-known material. A percentage of the album's proceeds, which will also feature a version of "Seconds" from the unique pairing Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars and Aerosmith's Joe Perry, will be earmarked to the Global Fund charity, which fights disease. "A lot of the familiar hooks are there but played in cadences and with instruments that are indigenous to African people," says Shawn Amos, the disc's co-producer. "It's a testament to how global U2 is, that you can instantly recognise a song when it has been deconstructed, translated and played with different instrumentation."

The album will be released on the Shout Factory label on April 1, 2008.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Remembering John Lennon

December 8th marks the 27th anniversary of the death of John Lennon. In memory of the late Beatle, Yoko Ono is urging Lennon's fans to display the anti-war poster depicted on the left in their hometown. The poster, which is available for download at is a replication of the banner the two had posted on billboards in 1969 in 11 cities worldwide.

It's a bit disconcerting that enough time has passed that anyone younger than 30 has no real memories of John Lennon; in many ways he's a historical figure. I learned of Lennon's shooting the morning after it happened. All that day in school, I was preoccupied by one question, "Why would anyone want to shoot a musician?"

It's 27 years later and I still don't have an answer to that question.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

U2 To Trance It Up On New Album

Bono took time off from saving the world to illuminate - or horrify - U2's fan base by announcing that the Irish supergroup's new album will have a "trance" feel to it. Over the past few months, U2 has been working with Brian Eno in Africa and Bono is pleased with the results.

"Normally when you play a U2 tune, it clears the dance floor and that may not be true of this. There’s some trance influences but there’s some very hardcore guitar coming out of The Edge. Real molten metal," reportedly crows Bono. "It’s not like anything we’ve ever done before, and we don’t think it sounds like anything anyone else has done either."

We have faith in Bono's assessment; although the same things probably could have been said in advance of Zooropa.

Bonnaroo Quashes Led Zeppelin Rumor

Superfly Presents and AC Entertainment, the organizers of the annual Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, have said there is no truth to the rumor that Led Zeppelin or Metallica have been signed to headline the 2008 event. With Led Zeppelin fans making inquiries into early ticket purchases and seeking more info, the promoters felt it necessary to nip this story in the bud. In the statement the add, "We're very excited about the line-up that we're putting together for this year's festival. We'll be announcing the confirmed line-up toward the end of January/beginning of February."

Metallica, through their management, denied any involvement with this year's Bonnaroo in a statement issued earlier this week.

Radiohead's Great Experiment Coming To End

All good things must come to an end. Fans wishing to take advantage of Radiohead's potentially industry-changing pricing system will only have until December 10th to name their price for In Rainbows.

After that date, anyone wishing to legally acquire the new Radiohead disc will have to wait until December 31st when the disc hits stores worldwide.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Stand Up!: Jethro Tull At The Hammerstein Ballroom

By: David Schultz

With the world hanging on every bit of news as to Led Zeppelin’s future plans, which may or may not include a tour with The Cult and a headlining spot at Bonnaroo, New York’s attention recently focused on another English blues band from that era: Jethro Tull. The mania accompanying Led Zep’s return may have been missing but Tull’s return to the Big Apple gave reasonable cause for excitement. Even though Tull’s motivating force, flautist Ian Anderson, has played a couple solo shows in the interim, Tull’s return this past Sunday night for a sold-out show at the Hammerstein Ballroom marked the first true NYC Tull performance in more than 4 years. When compared to Anderson’s solo shows, the songs may remain relatively the same but unless you have guitarist Martin Barre, you don’t have Jethro Tull. Since forming in the late 60s, Tull has gone through many iterations and combinations but until recently the lineup had remained relatively stable. Although Doane Perry remains behind the drums, a seat he’s held for more than 20 years, the band is now completed with newcomers John O’Hara (keyboards) and David Goodier (bass).

After opening with an acoustic rendition of “Someday The Sun Won’t Shine For You,” Anderson led the band through a set that touched on electric blues (“Nothing Is Easy”), complex progressive rock suites (“My God” and “Budapest”) and baroque chamber pieces (the concert staple “Bouree”). No longer a band that desires to blow out your eardrums, Tull’s best moments occurred on quieter pieces that stressed Anderson’s brilliant skills as a classical flautist; his exquisite version of Benefit’s “Reasons For Waiting” being one of the major highlights of the evening. The Hammerstein show featured everything you’ve come to expect from a Jethro Tull show . . . and in some ways that proved disappointing. First though, a bit of background.

Along with wearing out a cassette of the “Top 15” of WNEW’s mid 80s countdown of the top 1027 rock and roll songs of all time (an initial effort that inadvertently omitted “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Free Bird” due to an alleged computer error), my real awakening to classic rock occurred when my uncle made me a tape of Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick. One listen to the 45 minute song spread out over two album sides and I was hooked. Tull’s concept album served as a gateway to popular Tull fare like Aqualung and Songs From The Wood as well as lesser-known but equally revelatory albums like A Passion Play and Minstrel In The Gallery. Once I got my first CD player, it was just a matter of time before my collection contained each and every Tull album, including the dreadfully synthesized Under Wraps (even though “Lap Of Luxury” totally rocked). Classic rock radio only scratches the surface of the depths of Tull’s exceptional body of work.

I count myself among Jethro Tull’s biggest fans and ardent supporters. As such, it pains me that they are no longer relevant. Over a thirty year stretch spanning 1968 through 1999, Tull recorded more than twenty albums of original material, amassing a back catalog that rivals their classic rock brethren in the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers Band. Unfortunately, over the last five or six years, Tull has taken to the road with what seems to the same dozen songs to complement obligatory renditions of “Locomotive Breath,” “Aqualung” and “Thick As A Brick.” An exceedingly large majority of Tull’s fan base possess a near encyclopedic knowledge of Tull’s history and back catalog. In repeatedly trotting out the same set of warhorses like “My Sunday Feeling” and “Living In The Past,” beloved as they may be, Tull misses the opportunity to mine the treasure trove that is at their disposal and truly give their avid fans, which is pretty much who they are playing to, something memorable. Since they’ve ceased creating original music, Tull’s modus operandi involves sporadic appearances in various regions. In doing so, they don’t have to worry about wholesale changes to the set list as they aren’t coming close to saturating any specific territory. It’s frustrating that Tull has the ability, but apparently not the willingness, to take up a residency, radically shake up their set lists and provide concert experiences that can be rivaled by only a few.

When Phil Lesh, Bob Weir or the Allmans take the stage, they strive to reinvent material from all phases of their lengthy careers; to the ecstatic glee of their fans, they continuously resurrect songs otherwise delegated to the deep cuts station of satellite radio. At the Hammerstein, Tull showed a willingness and aptitude for deconstructing their old material. With a major assist from the Calliandra String Quartet, they turned in a gorgeous orchestral adaptation of “Songs From The Wood” and in the same manner as Anderson’s solo shows, offered a reinvention of “Aqualung” that only briefly replicated the version heard daily on classic rock radio. About ¼ of Tull’s Hammerstein show came from Anderson’s recent solo tour, in which he incorporated strings into many of Tull’s familiar arrangements. In addition to the revamped and jazzier “Aqualung,” Anderson also brought his prog-rocked version of Leonard Bernstein’s “America” and a baroque style arrangement of “King Henry’s Madrigal.” For anyone who wasn’t experiencing Tull for the first time, there wasn’t much new to see or hear. Not that seeing Ian Anderson and Martin Barre do what they do best isn’t entertaining, it’s just that they are clearly capable of more.

Tull’s timeless music bridges centuries as well as genres. In their prime, they were just as prone to play solid English blues as they were to drift off into a medieval melody or a chamber piece from the 1600s. In many ways, these eccentricities have made Tull a vastly under appreciated band. Even though they have been eligible for quite some time, they never seem to be under consideration for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame despite the fact that their initial forays into progressive rock paved the road for a diverse array of modern day prog-rock bands like The Decemberists, The Mars Volta and Umphrey’s McGee. With his tongue partially in cheek, Anderson will often crack wise about Tull’s lack of new material and people’s willingness to spend their money on their frequent reissues and relatively high-priced tickets. Like most humor though, there is a kernel of truth hidden within. In keeping things relatively static, Anderson and by extension Tull come across as happily complacent. They are missing an opportunity to recapture a legacy that is rightfully theirs and attract a whole new generation of fans to their music. It’s something their fans spend time trying to do for them; it would be nice if they showed the same interest.

Monday, December 03, 2007

High Wire Majesty: Cold War Kids At Webster Hall

By: David Schultz
Photo Credit: "Joy and Misery"

From the time they released their first EP, Cold War Kids have found themselves warmly embraced by the ever-critical network of music blogs that are always on the hunt for the next big thing. You would be hard pressed to find a band that would willingly thumb their nose at the effusive praise the blogosphere can generate but while the benefits can be tremendous, lurking underneath is a knotty conundrum. In the new wired community, a band can, and often does, amass a fervent and outspoken fan base long before the mainstream catches on. What’s a band to do while waiting for the rest of the world to get on board? If they continue on with the same songs and stage show that originally got them noticed, they risk incurring the wrath of their current fans who will grumble about the band getting stale and, if they have short attention spans, abruptly move on. On the other hand, if they evolve too quickly, newer fans never get exposed to the experience that generated the buzz in the first place and are left wondering what the big fuss was ever about.

A cerebral and thoughtful band, the Cold War Kids have created the blueprint on how to traverse this relatively uncharted territory. About a year and a half ago, I was turned on to the CWK by a friend (who will love this acknowledgment of his role and likely never let me forget it now that it’s in print) and first saw them in the summer of 2006 when they opened a Tapes ‘n Tapes headlined indie-rock bill at the Bowery Ballroom. Cramming two hours worth of energy into a half hour set, bassist Matt Maust and guitarist Jonnie Russell prowled the stage like angry bulls and drummer Matt Aviero pounded everything within his reach all while lead singer Nathan Willett channeled Joe Cocker’s singing style. Since that initial exposure to Biola University’s most rockin’ if not most identifiable alumni, they’ve made New York City home to a dual coast winter residency, turned in a “destination” set at SXSW, returned to the Bowery Ballroom as a headliner for three sold-out shows over a long Easter weekend and made their Madison Square Garden debut opening for Muse. Each time I’ve seen them, I’ve been struck with how they’ve matured as a band and grown as performers without losing one iota of the earnest zeal that make their exciting live shows so fulfilling.

Having outgrown the Bowery Ballroom, the Cold War Kids moved into the roomier Webster Hall for a pair of shows this past weekend. The grander stage afforded them the ability to spread out and resulted in drummer Matt Aviero sitting perched upon a raised drum kit set back a bit from the action. In an effort to counteract the loss of intimacy unavoidable in larger rooms, the Kids played the majority of their show with muted lighting, preferring to let the music, not their personas, fill the space. With recorded chatter playing over the speakers, they walked onto the stage in complete darkness, easing into “Pregnant.” The lights slowly brightened as the languid and dreamy version of the song unfolded. For “Robbers,” they once again worked in the dark, using only three flashlights for illumination. In directing the high powered beams into the audience they created a spectral mood that perfectly captured the song’s uneasy noirish undercurrent. Poet Derrick Brown also lent a hand: his cadence and wordplay a natural and seamless extension of the Cold War Kids’ literate leanings.

Playing before a gigantic banner incorporating Matt Maust’s collage-style artwork, the Kids delivered patient and unhurried versions of “We Used To Vacation,” “Passing The Hat” and “Hospital Beds.” Their measured performance lacked the manic randomness that normally accompanies their shows. Noticeably, Maust and Russell seemed to reign themselves in. They didn’t lose any of their passion. However, they weren’t engaging in their customary headlong reckless romps across the stage. Rather than a sign of laziness, I think it demonstrates a growing maturity and a desire to focus on the music.

Speaking of music, as they always do, the Cold War Kids delivered. Keeping things fresh, they went well beyond Robbers & Cowards, their spectacular debut release and their ninety minute set breezed by all too quickly. They tipped their hat to their past by touching on “Don’t Let Your Love Grow Away From Me,” acknowledged the present with the soulful “Every Valley Is Not A Lake” and offered a glimpse of the future with a number of new songs that ranged from the U2 sounding “Dreams Old Men Dream” and “Look Out For Love” to the set-closing Velvet Underground tinged “Something Is Wrong With Me.” Willett, who can channel Randy Newman’s drawl, Sam Cooke’s soul and, in a less gruff manner, Tom Waits’ matter-of-fact whiskey-soaked piano troubadour, added Bono style crooning to his list of accomplishments.

The Cold War Kids are walking the tightrope between their old and new fans with the grace and skill of a Flying Wallenda, rapidly moving forward without forgetting what got them to this point. Whether it be Russell wailing away with a maraca on a solitary cymbal placed on a wooden table through “We Used To Vacation,” Maust sending the audience into a frenzy with the opening bass line of “Hang Me Out To Dry” or the now traditional emptying of the backstage area for a calamitous run through “Saint John,” the Cold War Kids are perpetuating their own mythology at the same rate at which they’re creating it.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!