Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phish, Pink Floyd Tease Reunion; Simple Minds Come Through

Three weeks ago, Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman appeared together at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden to accept the Jammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Given the reception they received, it's no surprise that Phish reunion rumors are already flying with Anastasio's comments in Rolling Stone adding gasoline to the fire. With an upcoming album, Original Boardwalk Style, about to drop, Anastasio may just be using the Axl Rose strategy of promising Chinese Democracy when he really just wants to promote something else but his comments seem earnest and should provide grist for hopeful Phish phans rumor mill.

David Gilmour also seems to be willing to drink once more from Pink Floyd's well. The guitarist who scoffed at reunion talk after playing a one-off gig with Roger Waters at Live 8 seems to have reconsidered, claiming that while a true reunion won't happen soon, he hasn't ruled it out. "I haven’t absolutely said ‘no’ to the possibility," he told BBC 6Music before squashing any dreams of a full blown tour. "I think that in reality any sort of long-term thing together is not going to happen."

Going against the grain, Scottish rockers Simple Minds are doing more than offering reunion soundbites: they are actually getting back together. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, founding members Brian McGee, Derek Forbes and Mick McNeil will join Jim Kerr and Charlie Burchill to play at Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday concert in London this June. The original lineup, forever remembered for recording The Breakfast Club anthem "Don't You (Forget About Me)" hasn't played together since splitting in 1991.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Insound.com Relaunches With "Give More Get More" Initiative

As it nears its 10 year anniversary, online indie music store, Insound.com, has revamped and relaunched its website in an effort to make it the go-to site for physical CDs and digital downloads. In addition to adding the catalogs of Sub Pop, Saddle Creek and Epitaph, Insound is attempting to change the way people think about and purchase music with their "Give More Get More" initiative. In an effort to help foster new music and support the bands that produce it, Insound will donate 25 cents of every MP3 album sold on the site to a young, touring band of the purchaser's choosing. If customers want to add to the contribution, Insound will make it possible to tip additional amounts. The first round of bands to benefit from the program include The Big Sleep, Epsilons, Headlights, Russian Circles, Videohippos and Scottish sensations The Twilight Sad.

Why is Insound making this effort? "Ummm...to save the album," explains the site's mission statement. "To give back to bands, to give more to you, to help inspire music discovery, to change perceptions, to change the business model, to make a difference, to show we can."

Nathan Asher & The Infantry To Play Their Final Show

After 4 years together, Nathan Asher & The Infantry will be playing their final show together this Saturday night, May 24, at the Berkeley Cafe, 217 West Martin Street in Raleigh, North Carolina. Over the course of their career, they recording a stellar album, Sex Without Love, and took home first prize in the 2005 John Lennon International Songwriting Contest for "Turn Up The Faders."

The band came to Earvolution's attention almost two years ago when they came to New York for a pair of shows. They promise to play every song they've ever written together and plan to record their swan song for a final live recording. If you're in the Raleigh area, make your way over to see one fine band play for the last time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Porter At The Pub: Willy Porter Returns To NYC

By: David Schultz

As this year’s American Idol once again reminds us of the tenuous connection between fame and musical talent, we should all cleanse our souls by finding and listening to an unsung singer-songwriter that truly deserves the attention and publicity presently lauded upon overblown karaoke performers. One such guitarist worthy of acclaim is the Wisconsin’s Willy Porter. The wickedly talented and entertaining performer recently returned to New York City for a one-night stand at Joe’s Pub in The Public Theater. Porter, who last played the Pub with his band, returned with only a pair of guitars and his looping machine, making great use of the cabaret setting. Although Porter thrives in rowdy settings, able to handle the unruliest and chattiest audience members with his quick wit and Midwestern charm, the more intimate confines of Joe’s Pub allow him to really connect with his fans.

What Porter does with an acoustic guitar is simply masterful and needs to be seen in a live setting. Porter’s fingers glide across the fretboard with a natural ease that seems otherworldly, as if he’s channeling a higher musical force. Often it’s difficult to believe that many of the sounds coming from his guitar are actually being played with his fingers. On “Breathe,” he moves from a lilting leisurely opening into a breakneck pace that he remarkably sustains throughout the entire song. At the outset, the crowd didn’t seem to know how to react to Porter’s 9-string wizardry: awed by Porter’s prodigious skills as well as showing respect by not talking over his playing. The silence didn’t last long. Capable of striking up a conversation with seemingly anyone, Porter bantered back and forth with the crowd, telling stories connected to the music. It’s when Porter talks to the crowd that his true personality, one tightly tethered to the music he plays, comes through.

Porter’s songs come complete with an introspective honesty: while not exactly unique to the affable guitarist, it is a trait shared by the most outstanding and interesting singer-songwriters. As the themes Porter touches on aren’t exactly geared towards younger listeners, it’s not surprising that his audience skews a little older. Songs like “Tilt-A-Whirl” capture certain elements of youth but from a wiser, learned viewpoint. Porter’s poignant insight and humorous observations help give voice to many of the nondescript feelings that lurk within as years pass on.

One of Porter’s most engaging feats is his ability to write a song with the audience. Much like the Flying Karamazov Brothers challenge their fans to bring them difficult and odd-shaped objects to juggle, Porter has made a sport of adlibbing a tune that incorporates a wide range of subjects thrown his way by the audience. The marvel isn’t only that he’s able to work everything; it’s that he creatively adapts the music to the motif. With some of the ideas suggesting a barnyard motif, Porter created a farmland soundscape with his guitar and looping machine before offering commentary on Jenna Bush’s wedding and somehow working in a reference to a fish tambourine. It’s as intellectually stimulating a feat as it is humorous and entertaining.

Porter closed the show with a touching rendition of “Paper Airplane” and then unleashed a barrage of requests by asking if there was something special anyone wanted to hear. After being bombarded with a wide variety of songs, he played a guitar medley that included a phenomenal instrumental version of “Jesus On The Grille.” When Porter opened for Glen Phillips at New York City’s Canal Room a couple years back, the Toad The Wet Sprocket lead singer self-deprecatingly bragged that he would be able to play as well as Willy Porter – as long as he practiced 8 hours a day for the next 10 years. With all due respect to Phillips, Porter simply plays on a level that cannot be attained by practice alone.

Phil Lesh Turns In Historic 5 Night Run At The Warfield Theater

San Francisco's Warfield Theater has played host to many storied moments in Grateful Dead history and Phil Lesh's recent five night run at the storied venue only added to the historic link between the venue and the band. For the first four nights, Lesh & Friends - Larry Campbell, Jackie Greene, Steve Molitz and John Molo - recreated the Grateful Dead's self-titled debut, Anthem Of The Sun, Aoxomoxoa, Live Dead, Workingman's Dead, American Beauty, Grateful Dead (Skullf**k) and Dead Set. As if the (practically) full-album sets weren't enough to whet the appetites of Deadheads everywhere, Bob Weir sat in for a healthy portion of the Dead/Anthem night and David Nelson joined the band for the Workingman's Dead/American Beauty evening.

Just when Lesh had everyone guessing which albums would be featured during the final night of the run, the bassist went off the board, abandoning the framework in favor of a 6 hour, 5 set marathon gig that featured a return appearance by Weir as well as Jeff Chimienti, Mark Karan and Steve Bluhm. If this doesn't get people excited about Lesh & Friends' upcoming summer tour then nothing will.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New York City Man: Lou Reed Celebrates The HighLine's First Anniversary

By: David Schultz

As the Brooklyn indie scene continues to thrive, that of its neighboring borough, New York City, has been in a continual state of flux. Over the last couple years, many of the storied venues that have been intimately associated with the Manhattan musical landscape have closed their doors making longevity a hard fought commodity. Defiantly, the HighLine Ballroom opened as the centerpiece of the wholesale renovations to the increasingly upscale Meat Packing District with much fanfare and a David Bowie curated festival to commemorate the new High Line District. In what everyone can only hope will be an annual Spring ritual, the City’s native son Lou Reed returned to the building he opened a little more than a year ago to celebrate the HighLine’s first anniversary.

The recently married singer/songwriter/legend was in good spirits for his two hour set, leading a band consisting of guitarists Steve Hunter and Mike Rathke, drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith, bassist Rob Wasserman, electronicist Sarth Calhoun and keyboardist Kevin Hearn. Since returning to the fold to participate in Reed’s Berlin shows, Hunter whose guitar work can be found all over Reed’s early 70s recordings, has reconnected with the mercurial rocker and somewhat supplanted Fernando Saunders, Reed’s longtime sideman. Reed’s typically strong band keeps him focused, especially on his older material. Out of a sense of boredom or simply forgetfulness, Reed often pays little attention to the cadence of his lyrics within any particular song. Longtime fans have become accustomed to Reed missing cues, quickly zipping through his vocals or just reciting his urban poetry along with the beat drumming inside his own head as opposed to the one behind him. The fact that it doesn’t seem to bother him one iota is what makes Reed the revered iconoclastic performer who has baffled and bewildered his fans for decades.

Reed never tailors his shows towards his audience predilections; you would be simply insane if you ever expected him to play a greatest hits show. At the HighLine, Reed offered a nice mixture of his hits along with lesser known tracks like “Guardian Angel” and a newer song “Power Of The Heart,” likely inspired by the new Ms. Reed, Laurie Anderson. Early in the set, Reed touched on his old Velvet Underground days with an uptempo version of “Sweet Jane” and a melodious version of “I’m Set Free.” Boasting a bit that he had a song in the indie-darling movie of the year, Juno, he playfully – well, at least as playful as Reed gets - shared vocals with Kevin Hearn on “I’m Sticking With You.”

Reed, who played the whole night in a slightly billowing leather shirt, made his only overtly political statement before New York’s “Halloween Parade.” Noting that the song was written about his many friends who are no longer here because they died of AIDS, Reed expressed his dismay that our country thinks nothing of spending millions of dollars to kill people overseas but hesitates over making the same investment to save them at home before dedicating the song to making sure that we have a new regime come the next election. That there will be a new regime regardless of what transpires this November did nothing to dilute the poignancy of the eloquently written tune.

Known for his gritty, direct lyrics, Reed and the Velvet Underground are often overlooked for their masterful live performances. Although they are never thought of in that regard, the Velvet Underground were one of New York’s earliest jambands. While the Grateful Dead, The Doors and other psychedelic West Coast bands were creating the musical blueprint from which lengthy explorative interpretations would be built, Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker (as well as Doug Yule) were working the repetitive beats that would ultimately inspire legions of alternative rock bands for years to come. If you have any questions about the Velvets ability to jam, just listen to any version of “Sister Ray” from the Quine Tapes.

Reed’s ability to find a rhythm worth repeated reaped great dividends with his featured guest, saxophonist John Zorn. Since first playing with Zorn at Town Hall as part of the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Knitting Factory, the innovative saxophone player has been a fixture at Reed’s New York performances. There are few musicians more gifted than Zorn in filling musical spaces and Reed’s compositions leave lots of room for improvisation. He brought an added depth to the often-plodding “Ecstasy,” an edgy uneasiness to “Magic & Loss” and a smoothness to the “Video Violence,” a song Reed resurrected from his overlooked Mistrial album.

The encore was a nod to two of his more recognizable hits: “Satellite Of Love” and “Walk On The Wild Side.” After a restrained start to “Satellite,” Reed, Hunter and Zorn built the song to a wild final crescendo and Zorn restored a sense of suave authenticity to a pounding version of “Wild Side.” For someone who has spent a large part of his career refusing to be censored, Reed surprisingly edited his most famous song: the chorus of “Walk On The Wild Side” is now just sung by “the girls.” Reed may have made one concession to political correctness but it was his only departure from the incisive vision that has kept him interesting and worth paying attention to for the past four decades.

Coldplay Freebie Info

Tickets for Coldplay's transcontinental pair of free shows will be distributed by on-line lottery.

If you want to sign up for freebies to the July 23rd Madison Square Garden show, click here.

If the June 16th gig at Brixton Academy is more your cup of tea, click here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Phish Honored At 7th Jammy Awards

By: David Schultz

The Fab Faux were halfway through “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” when the man everyone hoped to see at the 7th Jammy Awards strode onto the stage at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Without fanfare, Trey Anastasio calmly picked up a guitar and joined in on The White Album classic that would occasionally appear in Phish’s setlists. By the time Anastasio made his presence known, Page McConnell and Jon Fishman had already appeared and the anticipation of a Phish reunion became palpable. Recipients of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award, Anastasio, Fishman, McConnell and Mike Gordon accepted the honor and shared the stage together for the first time since calling it quits at Coventry in 2004 but Anastasio’s heartfelt speech thanking Phish’s fans for letting them be at the center of something bigger than themselves would have to serve as the highlight of their appearance.

Anyone disappointed by the absence of a Phish reunion only had themselves to blame. Jammys organizers – Relix Magazine, jambands.com and Peter Shapiro – never promised nor hinted at a reunion. In fact, they kept their guarantees limited to the presentation of the Lifetime Achievement Award. The fact that people’s hopes were piqued to such intense levels only goes to show how high the expectations have come for the Jammy Awards. One part award show and nine parts superstar jam session, the Jammys have come to represent all that is worthwhile about live music.

Known for mixing and matching artists and performers who might not otherwise play together, the Jammys have always showcased various styles of music. This year’s Jammys didn’t feature as many of the random and offbeat pairings as in past years but instead featured lengthy digressions into jazz and old school rap. It also mixed classic rock nostalgia with a glimpse into the future; although the Jammys tend to do by relegating younger groups to high-profile backing bands instead of letting them flex their own creativity. At this year’s event, Rose Hill Drive backed Mountain’s Leslie West on muscular versions of “I’m Going Down” and “Mississippi Queen” and Tea Leaf Green unified a set featuring Squeeze’s Glenn Tilbrook, Cornmeal’s Allie Kral and Todd Park Mohr of Big Head Todd & The Monsters. Tea Leaf quickly ran through their 2006 Jammy winning song “Taught To Be Proud,” before segueing into a lengthy take on Big Head Todd’s “Sister Sweetly.” Mohr departed the stage, leaving an overly excited Tilbrook to lead the band through Squeeze classics “Pulling Mussels (From A Shell)” and “Tempted,” the latter getting a hand from Warren Haynes.

Every year, an unexpected artist leaves an indelible imprint on the Jammys with Travis Tritt, Huey Lewis and Peter Frampton turning in memorable performances. This year, the crown was worn by New York hip-hop legend Doug E. Fresh. During Galactic’s set, which featured Booker T. and Sharon Jones tearing down “Born Under A Bad Sign” as well as an appearance by Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, the venerable Fresh took over the show. In getting the crowd on their feet and waving their hands in the air, Fresh’s old school delivery moved briskly through some of his classic riffs and freestyled to the raucous approval of the crowd. Fresh proved that sometimes all you need is two turntables and a microphone . . . or in this case Galactic and a microphone. Displaying the timeless art of the human beat box, Fresh engaged in a duel with Stanton Moore, forcing the talented drummer to keep up with his improvised beats.

Hardcore jazz fans had much to love as Page McConnell led a band comprised of James Carter, Roy Haynes, Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton through a Phish tinged set that included his own “Cars Trucks Buses.” It wouldn’t be the only Phish influenced set of the show. The night’s most difficult performance fell upon the Head Count All Stars, who on this night were made up of Jon Gutwillig and Mark Brownstein of The Disco Biscuits, Kyle Hollingsworth of String Cheese Incident, Jake Cinninger of Umphrey’s McGee and Joe Russo. Once the realization set in that Phish would not be playing, the mood in the room noticeably deflated. The All Stars quickly revived the crowd by pounding out the thumping beat of “Wilson,” which brought back a lusty chant of the title character’s name. Getting the most time, their forty-minute tribute to Phish including lengthy and faithful renditions of “Run Like An Antelope,” “Maze” and a jam on the theme to “2001.”

The oddest pairing of the night saw Keller Williams team up with comedian Chevy Chase. After offering a solo rendition of “Cadillac,” this year’s winner of Song of the Year, Chase walked guilelessly across the stage, engaging in a little subtle physical comedy before seating himself at the piano and accompanying Williams on “(You Make Me Fell Like A) Natural Woman,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Take The Money And Run.” Bringing to mind New York Yankee Bernie Williams’ appearance during the 2nd Jammys, Chase played it rather straight, showing why he’s still Chevy Chase and you’re not. Classic rock also ruled during the Fab Faux’s set with Jimmy Vivino, Will Lee and the rest running through “Come Together” with Joan Osborne and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey” with Anastasio.

Phish weren’t the only Vermonters to make a splash over the course of the evening. Co-hosting the event with the venerable Warren Haynes, the Jammy Awards was quite the rock star coming out party for Grace Potter. After opening the night with Haynes, Booker T, Will Lee and Joe Russo on a set that included a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” and Al Green’s “Take Me To The River,” the lovely frontwoman for Grace Potter & The Nocturnals brought a vivacious and feisty spirit to the proceedings. Later that night, Potter slithered onto the stage during Galactic’s set at the after-show party at B.B. King’s to provide lead vocals to a slow, burning cover of “Whole Lotta Love.” Shaking her hips to the sinuous beat, Potter brought brash and sexy Tina Turner style to the strutting Zeppelin classic. Galactic’s set also included an appearance by 8-year-old future guitar phenom Yuto Miyazawa. Set up with a miniaturized mike stand and playing a guitar almost as big as he was, the young Japanese grade-schooler wowed B.B. King’s by leading Galactic through Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” hearing a packed crowd chant his name in unison when he probably should have been dressed in a different kind of jammys and tucked into his bed.

Miyazawa’s performance and the response it provoked were typical of the philosophy fostered by the Jammy Awards. In putting the art of the live performance on display, the Jammys keep alive the communal vibe that make concerts of any kind worth continually attending. That spirit will definitely not die and it seems as if it will outlast the Jammy Awards. Despite its success, the 7th Jammy Awards may be the event’s curtain call. On jambands.com, a reference to the event calls it the “final installment of the Jammy Awards” and notes that “[t]he award ceremony’s spirit will continue on in another form.” If this is so, the Jammys, which is always one of the most fun shows of each New York concert season, will be sorely missed. If the Jammys are dead, long live the Jammys.

The winners from the 7th Jammy Awards

Song of the Year: Keller Williams, "Cadillac"

Studio Album of the Year: moe., The Conch

Live Performance of the Year: Gov't Mule and Guests, Bonnaroo

Live Album of the Year: Umphrey's McGee, Live at the Murat

Archival Release of the Year: The Grateful Dead, Three From The Vault

Tour of the Year: the Disco Biscuits/Umphrey's McGee, D.U.M.B

New Groove of the Year: Cornmeal

DVD of the Year: Disco Biscuits, Progressions

Download of the Year: Phish, “Headphones Jam”

Mimi Fishman Award: Rock the Earth

Grahmmy Jammy: Lee Crumpton, Homegrown Music Network

Lifetime Achievement Award: Phish

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Bloomberg Supports The Police In Times Square

The day before New York City prepares for an Al Sharpton led day of civil disobedience in response to the Sean Bell verdict, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spoken favorably about the right to peacefully protest, showed his support for a different type of police. In a press conference held in Times Square, Bloomberg joined Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers in announcing that the last Police show ever will take place this August in New York City.

Next to New York Police fans, public television will benefit the most from the band's final concert. The show, which doesn't have a date or a place yet, will serve as a benefit for Thirteen/WNET and WLIW New York. It appears that tickets will be available online through the public networks.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Hymns In An Urban Setting: The Verve In New York City

By: David Schultz

The perfect album can be a blessing as much as it can be a curse. With Urban Hymns, The Verve created a soundtrack forever associated with the late-Nineties boom period of British psychedelic pop. In doing so, they tapped into a deep well of creativity and ran it dry. Urban Hymns was such a masterwork that The Verve were never able and probably not destined to ever follow it up. It is The Verve’s legacy that they will mostly be remembered for one amazing album whose success they were never able to duplicate. Their legend lives on though. Even though Keith Richards and Mick Jagger won their lawsuit challenging the rightful authorship of The Verve anthem “Bittersweet Symphony,” Chris Martin still called it the greatest song ever written when he brought out Richard Ashcroft to sing it with Coldplay at Live 8.

More than a decade after Urban Hymns’ release, a reunited Verve arrived in New York City for two shows at the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden. The Verve’s 1997 masterpiece, provided the heart of the show. Even ten years later, “Come On,” “The Rolling People” and “Lucky Man” remain great rock songs and are fantastic arena anthems. With every song from their classic album, they offered a reminder as to why they were once bandied about in the same sentence as Oasis and Blur.

Sharing Oasis’ penchant for lush Beatles-style arrangements, The Verve might have survived their internal struggles if they were able to evolve with the times. At the MSG Theater, it was easy to see why The Verve never achieved any lasting success. Any of their non-Urban Hymns material, whether written before or after, sounded all too similar to songs contained on their signature album. When Ashcroft picked up an acoustic guitar and began the encore by strumming the opening riffs of “History,” it sounded identical to the main hook of an earlier played rendition of “Space And Time.” A lengthy psychedelic jam would have been a nice change of pace if Simon Jones hadn’t been playing the bass line on which it was based for the past half hour.

Even if all the royalties go the Glimmer Twins, The Verve are always going to attract a crowd as long as they play “Bittersweet Symphony.” As the song progressed, Ashcroft stopped delivering the song and went into cheerleader mode, goading the crowd into singing along, addressing the impact of the song more than the song itself. It made for a nice moment of audience participation but lacked the impact or import that Ashcroft gave it during his solo tour. Instead of taking a bow and saying good night at the close of the anthem, The Verve pushed their luck, playing a new song with a Euro-dance beat that destroyed the glorious mood created by “Bittersweet Symphony.” In deeming the last song a “new classic,” you wonder if Ashcroft’s definition of “classic” differs from the rest of the world.

Currently occupied with The Good, The Bad & The Queen, Simon Tong is sitting out this reunion tour, leaving Nick McCabe as the band’s sole guitarist on what is essentially a show aimed at fans looking to bask in some late ‘90s nostalgia. Awkwardly, the only people who mistook The Verve for a still-relevant band seemed to be the four people on stage. In announcing and playing some tepid new material, Ashcroft acted as if the world still clamored and yearned for new Verve music. While you can never say never; it seems like the times have passed The Verve by and in trying to adapt to a new musical era, they are skewing so far from the music that earned them their enduring legend. It truly is a bittersweet symphony.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!