Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eric Clapton: Clapton – The Autobiography

By: David Schultz

Nobody plays the blues as well as Eric Clapton without experiencing them. Now out in paperback, the blues legend’s autobiography provides a nice bit of insight into his life and the events that have shaped it. Clapton tells his story in an easygoing, direct manner. Anyone looking for a classic rock tell-all or a compendium on the ins-and-outs of Clapton’s music will be sorely disappointed. Given the amount of time he spends on those topics, it’s not a subject that seems to interest him. Rather, Clapton tells a briskly paced story. With the exception of his battle with alcoholism, a subject that occupies a large portion of the tale and incorporates the tragedy of his infant son Conor's death, Clapton doesn’t spend too much time dwelling on any one topic. He dedicates only a handful of pages to The Yardbirds and Cream era and even less to Blind Faith.

Depending on your level of Clapton devotion, the factual nuggets and anecdotes about the origin of the “Slow Hand” nickname, the “Clapton Is God” phenomena, the story behind “Wonderful Tonight” (it wasn’t exactly meant as a love song) and how his wedding to Pattie Boyd nearly reunited The Beatles will have varying affect. In amiably discussing his relationship with Boyd, the inspiration for Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, and its effect on his relationship with George Harrison, he doesn’t guild any lilies but he also doesn’t step into the confessional and bare his soul. Despite the lack of depth, Clapton proves himself an effective storyteller, succinct, honest and to the point

With the exception of the epilogue in which he discusses the bluesmen whose music had a profound influence on his playing and his life, Clapton is about the guitarist’s life apart from his music. In fact, he hardly discusses his playing other than casual mentions that he knows he’s kind of a big deal. While he discusses his influences and mentions some details about the recording sessions, Clapton doesn’t provide a dissertation on his view of rock and roll like Bob Dylan did in Chronicles: Volume 1. Given his surprising preference for being a sideman, his reluctance to gush effusively is very much in character.

As with any classic rock icon, there’s a wide gap between the myths and legends that surround them and the actual facts. Without acknowledging too many of them, Clapton does a fine job debunking many of those wild stories simply by relating the true one. In relating his life’s story, Clapton is unflinching about his own mistakes and how they affected others. It may not be the definitive narrative on the last forty years of rock and roll but it is an extraordinarily fascinating read and make the blues Clapton has played for years that much more genuine.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Licorice: A Million Grains Of Sand

By: David Schultz

For the last couple years, the New York based four-piece Licorice has prowled the Manhattan concert halls and jazz clubs working their magic at clubs like The Knitting Factory and the legendary Blue Note. Until recently, the only way to listen to Licorice in your homes was to download the rare show from the Live Music Archives or selected tracks from their Web site. With A Million Grains Of Sand, their debut EP, David Lott (guitars), Chad Dinzes (keyboards), Matt Epstein (bass) and Josh Bloom (drums) have emerged from the studio with a finely crafted disc that should whet appetites for a larger taste.

Recorded in Brooklyn with producer Josh Kessler, Licorice’s initial foray into the studio nicely showcases the fine musicianship that has become Licorice’s calling card. Breathy vocals aside, Grains Of Sand bristles with the band’s inventiveness, utilizing the orchestral work of Dave Eggar, incorporating horns and breaking out the odd African chant.

Fans of Licorice’s stage show will be disappointed by the brevity of the finishing coda of “A Million Grains Of Sand” but can rejoice in the reenergized versions of “Freeze,” which has blossomed into wonderful strident work and “What’s Your Status In London,” which creatively melds Lott’s guitar and Dinzes’ keyboards on the avant-garde infused intro. Bloom’s drums snap throughout the disc and along with Epstein’s wickedly intricate bass line send “All Kings Fall” galloping along. With the exception of the Coldplay-styled peaks and valleys of “Bunnies,” Dinzes’ keyboards aren’t as boldly presented as in Licorice’s live shows.

Friday, October 24, 2008

White Denim: White Hot At The Mercury Lounge

By: David Schultz
Photo from The Metro: Justin Ward (Live Music Blog)

In some etiquette book that no one has ever really read, there’s apparently a clause that says white after Labor Day is a fashion faux pas non pareil. Hailing from Austin, Texas, the T-shirt and jeans clad James Petralli, Steve Terebecki and Joshua Block don’t appear to have any use for such nonsense and are well on their way to making White Denim cool regardless of season. At this year’s SXSW, White Denim was one of the bands that seemed to be everywhere. Before trekking down to Austin, I had never heard of White Denim; after seeing them play a late night set at Club de Ville, I wanted to own everything they had ever recorded. Playing a late Sunday night showcase for the unemployed and irresponsible at New York City’s Mercury Lounge, White Denim confirmed that they might very well be the freshest, most exciting band to come around in quite some time.

Lining up along the front of stage, White Denim unleashed a potent, vibrant and intoxicating combination of punk, grunge, hardcore, classic rock and alternative rock. They distill the music down to its essential essence and let it erupt in a glorious and raucous succession of guitar riffs, bass lines and drum rolls. From the opening instrumental “Migration Wind,” the Austin based trio never slowed down. With the exception of minor equipment adjustments, they seamlessly and quickly weaved songs together in a fitful tapestry with the skill of the most polished jamband. Although the audience would have tolerated extended versions of rambunctious rave ups like “I Can Tell” and “Shake Shake Shake,” White Denim eased in and out of those and others, offering small tastes of any particular song rather than large helpings.

With infinite riffs at their fingertips, very few of White Denim’s songs have true hooks. Terebecki, who appears young enough that his two older brothers would have been denied drinks at the bar, plays a rumbling, knee shaking bass; Block could hardly remain seated throughout the set and even without a guitar Petralli can rock the house, as he did with his a capella break from “Dark Sided Computer Mouth.”

On Let’s Talk About It, their revelatory EP, and their recently released Exposion (more on this in the next couple weeks), White Denim exhibits the finesse and fine understanding of such art-rock bands as Television and The Talking Heads. At the Mercury Lounge, all pretenses were dropped: it was raw, it was brutal, it was uncultured, it was beautiful, it was fantastic and it was awesome. In no uncertain terms, it was everything rock and roll should be.

Oh, You Didn't Know . . .

The original lineup of Jane's Addiction - Perry Farrell, Dave Navarro, Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins - played their first proper show together in 17 years at La Cita Bar in Los Angeles. One of the great bands from the alternative rock days where college radio was a bastion for unheard artists, the excitement over a Jane's Addiction reunion can't even be diminished by memories of The Panic Channel, Satellite Party or Navarro's whoring of himself to the Rock Star reality franchise.

Elton John may have engaged in a little bait and switch in enticing fans to plunk down as much as $2,500 to see a full concert performance of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road to raise money for the Elton John Aids Foundation. Although billed as Elton John & Friends, fans expected to see more of Sir Elton than three songs or wait until the end of the show for an appearance. Despite performances by Rufus Wainwright, Ben Folds and many Broadway actors and actresses, fans reportedly voiced their disapproval during the show, shouting "Where's Elton?" and "I want my money back." throughout the benefit concert to raise money for the Elton John Aids Foundation.

The big Dr Pepper giveaway to celebrate the release of Chinese Democracy will apparently be done through a coupon that can be downloaded/printed off the Internet. It's a nice gesture that will slightly deflect people from questioning whether Axl Rose's latest release really deserves to be called a Guns N' Roses album when it contains no contributions from Slash, Izzy Stradlin and the rest.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remodeled: The Secret Machines Retool on Secret Machines and Reemerge At Webster Hall

By: David Schultz

In March of 2007, right on the heels of a tour in support of Ten Silver Drops, The Secret Machines’ wonderful follow up to Now Here Is Nowhere, guitarist Ben Curtis quietly departed to concentrate on his own band, School Of Seven Bells. After fulfilling a couple remaining obligations, including a slot in the inaugural David Bowie curated High Line Festival, Brandon Curtis and Josh Garza didn’t exactly go into hibernation but they surely took their time plotting their next step. Bringing guitarist Phil Karnats into the fold to round out the trio, the retooled version of The Secret Machines have come out of the shop a slightly different band.

Their recently released third album, inventively called Secret Machines, is their heaviest album to date and bears the hallmarks of a carefully plotting and thought behind its creation. Never a frivolous band to begin with, Secret Machines has a ponderous heft and frightfully serious mien that makes the two prior efforts seem almost glib. The two songs that open the album, “Atomic Heels” and “Last Believer, Drop Dead,” come the closest to the Machines’ efforts with Curtis in the fold. The rest of the album bears more of an influence of Pink Floyd’s more deliberate material and Peter Gabriel’s explorations of progressive mechanical rock with the deliberate power chords and softly contrasting near-acoustic breaks of “The Walls Are Starting To Crack” and “Fire Is Waiting” bearing a distinctly Floydian flavor. Changes of directions aside, it is the Secret Machines most complete and coherent album to date.

With a new album comes the customary tour and in that vein, The Secret Machines 2.0 headlined an early evening show this past Saturday night at New York City’s Webster Hall. Playing under a post-modern Sukkoh made of white ribbons, Garza, Curtis and Karnats cranked out a variety of industrial beats, masterfully locking into a rhythm and using the freedom of the live setting to work wonders with the repetition. Playing with sticks the size of pool cues, Garza brings to mind the old school baseball players who swung bats the size of tree trunks while he wails away on the drums with a precision and efficiency that remains startling. One of the most authoritative drummers, Garza is a show unto himself and plays with such power that it’s quite possible he doesn’t need to mike his drum kit. On record and on stage, his interaction with Curtis is the lifeblood of the Machines. Curtis’ keys provide the soaring highs with and oftentimes give the Machines a cool little 80s vibe. On bass, he synchs up with Garza and plays a churning bass that sounds almost mechanical. Never a grand singer, Curtis usually delivers his vocals in a dispassionate yet compelling manner. At the beginning of “Nowhere Again” he sounded bored but on “Atomic Heels” and “Lightning Blue Eyes” he hit the perfect blend of sardonic commentary and fiery emotion.

The Webster Hall show, among the first with Karnats as an official member of the band, captured the heft and drama of Secret Machines but lacked the spark and bounce that customarily fuel the Machines’ live shows. In no small part, the subtle difference flows from the simple fact that Karnats is not Ben Curtis, not only is his style different from the younger Curtis, the role he’s filling is also not the same. Ever the nontraditional power trio, the Machines now frame their songs around Garza’s elephantine drums and Curtis’ bass, primarily relegating Karnats guitar work to providing atmosphere. Although unfair to expect the Machines and their new guitarist to immediately regain the form of the in-the-round performances that followed the release of Ten Silver Drops, the Webster Hall performance raises some doubts as to whether that will even be a concern of the band. The Machines dedicated the middle portion of the show to an aimless and dreary “Leaves Are Gone,” a sludgy and interminable version of “Fire Is Waiting” and a trippy though slow moving “The Walls Are Starting To Crack.” The entire stretch never seemed to find its true heart and at times came across as pretty boring, a rarity for The Machines.

At last year’s residency at The Annex, the Machines hewed their sets towards breaking and trying out the material that would appear on Secret Machines. On “Alone, Jealous & Stoned,” “Lightning Blue Eyes” and “First Wave Intact,” - the “encore” portion of the show (due to Webster Hall’s unfortunate early curfew, there wasn’t time to do the pro forma walk off and wait a couple minutes) – the absence of Curtis is most noticeable. Accentuating the heavy clanging bass and Garza’s enormous drum beats, Karnats has room to find his own voice among the Machines’ most well known hits, rather than imitate Curtis. Karnats’ most notable assertion occurred during a solid rendering of “Sad And Lonely” when he bent the strings and sustained the notes in the same manner as Warren Haynes during his closing solo to the song. While Karnats works his way into the Machines’ back catalog, the songs aren’t suffering but those unable to grow with the band will surely mourn Ben’s absence.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Earning Loyalty: Cold War Kids Stay True In NYC

By: David Schultz

It wasn’t that long ago that a multitude of people jumped on the Cold War Kids bandwagon with even more climbing on after the release of Robbers & Cowards, which culled the best of the band’s past EPs onto one brilliant release. On the aptly named Loyalty To Loyalty, the Kids are separating the wheat of their true fans from the chaff of the fair weather variety. The Kids surely aren’t abandoning their idiosyncratic artsy-Bauhaus, saloon hall style, but for significant stretches of Loyalty, most notably on “Avalanche In B,” Nathan Willett’s unguarded vocals sound too much like an aging Bavarian whore moaning about the past in a decrepit cabaret. It’s enough to draw concern that there may be more to “Something Is Not Right With Me” than meets the eye. Fear not though: as they proved last week at New York City’s Webster Hall and Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg, there’s nothing wrong. In fact, to borrow an overused phrase, the Cold War Kids are quite alright.

Working off the same set list at both shows, Willett, guitarist Jonnie Russell, bassist Matt Maust and drummer Matt Aveiro reestablished themselves as a fantastic live act throwing themselves into each song with an unparalleled level of commitment. Leaving the hausfrau dirges out of the set, Willett opened the show banging out the boozy piano riffs of “Every Valley Is Not A Lake” and “We Used To Vacation” before getting to his feet for Loyalty tracks most reminiscent of Robbers & Cowards, “Mexican Dogs” and “Something Is Not Right With Me.” Kinetically and purposefully striding and dancing around the stage, Russell and Maust cranked out the Kids’ menacing and desolate, back alley melodies with a committed seriousness. Their peripatetic style of prowling the stage, bouncing and rebounding off each other only serves to enhance the mood. Without ever cracking a smile, they convey intense joy. They also have a sense for the theatrical, shutting off the house lights for “Robbers” and using flashlights to illuminate the audience from the darkness of the stage.

The Velvet Underground fringes of “Quiet Please” have evolved over time and “St. John” with its modified prison chain gang chanting has transformed into the ultimate finale. Otherwise, the biggest changes to longtime staples concern the reaction they receive. The crowd pops wildly upon hearing Maust play the pulsing bass line that opens “Hang Me Up To Dry” and the opening piano chords of “We Used To Vacation” prompts the same rallying welcome. Plus, the crowd sings along with every word.

Southern singer-songwriter AA Bondy opened both shows and at Webster Hall had the unenviable task of playing to a crowd more interested in themselves than the fine music emanating from the stage. A true shame; from the opening harmonica blast of “Witness Blues,” Bondy cast the pearls of his American Hearts album before proverbial swine. That a crowd purportedly knowledgeable enough to be at a Cold War Kids show couldn’t be bothered to collectively stifle themselves for Bondy’s set belied the poseur culture that permeates all too many shows. Counteracting the talkative crowd, Bondy incorporated drums and an extra guitar to add muscle and sinew to the framework of songs like “Vice Rag” and “American Hearts” before tearing through a potent version of “I Killed Myself When I Was Young.”

On paper, the two weekday gigs seemed quite similar. However the Williamsburg show had an electricity to it that was a direct result of the enthusiastic Brooklyn crowd. The New York City audience seemed to be there because they heard the Cold War Kids show might be a cool place to be; the Brooklyn crowd was there because they knew it was the cool place to be. It’s the difference between being amidst a crowd too selfish and egotistic to recognize and respect the music being played for them and being in one that can prioritize for the hour and a half that the band they came to see is on stage. After the Brooklyn crowd spent the encore break engaging in a rowdy soccer cheer – which didn’t escape the band’s attention – it became evident that New York City may no longer be the real Mecca of East Coast rock and roll and the best audiences may be located a few miles to the South. As a New Yorker who likes to look down his nose at that other borough, this revelation is quite disconcerting. Given that the Kids dragged out the ending of “St. John,” seemingly enjoying the moment too much to end the show, they might have sensed this shift as well.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs Jr. (1936-2008)

Now if you feel that you can't go on
Because all of your hope is gone
And your life is filled with much confusion
Until happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is crumbling down, darlin

reach out come on girl reach on out for me
reach out reach out for me
I'll be there with a love that will shelter you
I'll be there with a love that will see you through

When you feel lost and about to give up
Cause your life just ain't good enough
And your feel the world has grown cold
And your drifting out all on your own
And you need a hand to hold, darlin

reach out come on girl reach out for me
reach out reach out for me

I'll be there to love and comfort you
And I'll be there to cherish and care for you
I'll be there to always see you through
I'll be there to love and comfort you

I can tell the way you hang your head
Your not in love now, now your afraid
And through the tears you look around
But there's no piece of mind to be found
I know what your thinking,
You're alone now, no love of your own, but darling

Just look over your shoulder
I'll be there to give you all the love you need
And I'll be there you can always depend on me
I'll be there to always see you through
I'll be there to love and comfort you

Oh, You Didn't Know . . .

Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel paired up for an All-Star benefit at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City to support Barack Obama. In addition to an appearance from the candidate himself - who told the crowd to ignore the high poll numbers, reminding them, "Don’t underestimate the power of Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" - Billy & The Boss teamed up on each other's songs, trading verses on "Allentown" and "Glory Days" and dedicating "Movin' Out" to Messrs. Bush and Cheney. With all of the high-profile fundraisers for Obama, Garry Trudeau's joke about no musicians offering to perform for John McCain becomes less funny with each passing benefit.

Any humor to be found over Jim James falling off the stage in Iowa City last week has also faded. The injuries have proved serious enough that My Morning Jacket has cancelled their upcoming European tour. "Our hope was to merely postpone the tour but as our scheduling does not allow that to happen in the immediate future, we feel it is best to cancel this tour in hopes of re-scheduling at some point,” the band announced.

Staying on the subject of jokes that may no longer by funny, Axl Rose may be serious about the release of Chinese Democracy. The track listings have been released, possible cover art disclosed and there's been all sorts of confirmation that November 23rd will be the release date at Best Buy and on iTunes. Let's revisit this issue on November 24th.

Delta Spirit: Ode To Sunshine

By: David Schultz

The spirit of John Lennon floats over Delta Spirit’s Ode To Sunshine. You can sense the Beatle in Sean Walker’s strident guitar playing on “Parade,” in Kelly Winrich’s rollicking saloon-hall keyboards and in the hope and optimism amid the trenchant unflinching observations of “People, Turn Around.” Dripping with naked soul, lead singer Matthew Vasquez conveys just as much with his voice and delivery as he does with the lyrics, supplying the bright enthusiasm to “Ode To Sunshine” and the pathos to “Tomorrow Goes Away,” the sweet lullaby that opens the album.

Bucking the trend to drench instruments in reverb and effects, Delta Spirit makes sure you can hear every crisp note. From the garbage lid snares on the aptly titled “Trashcan” to the mariachi horns of “Bleeding Bells,” Ode To Sunshine has the same deliberate yet expansive style pioneered by The Beatles. A confident young band, Delta Spirit urge you to join them if you’re feeling what they’re feeling (they don’t get into specifics). Complete with rallying cries (“People C’Mon”) and warnings (“Children.”), Delta Spirit uses slightly religious imagery to get their point across. It's hardly preachy, although many of the songs do have the aspect of shaman sounding the clarion call, except for when they target the affections on a single girl as they do on “Strange Vine” and the achingly beautiful “House Built For Two.”

Delta Spirit adopts an adventurous approach to their music and there’s a happy ramshackle feel permeating Ode To Sunshine that’s overly contagious. It serves as a reminder that music is supposed to as much fun to listen to as it is to play.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stop Worrying: Radiohead Made Money On In Rainbows

As the first anniversary of the release of In Rainbows and its revolutionary whatever-you-feel-like pricing system approaches, publisher Warner Chappell revealed some long coveted details and fuzzy statistics at the You Are In Control conference in Iceland. Of interest, In Rainbows had sales of over three million copies: a figure that includes physical CDs, the Collector's Edition box set and downloads regardless of source.

While no concrete figures were given, Warner Chappell announced that the digital sales of In Rainbows made more money in total than Hail To The Thief, Radiohead's previous album. In light of the fact that Radiohead has only recently made their catalog available on iTunes, the related claim that the digital sales of In Rainbows "dwarfed" the band's previous digital publishing income rings slightly hollow.

Although confirmed that more people downloaded the album for free as opposed to paying even a nominal fee, the average price paid for the album - a figure we are all dying to know - is still being kept a secret.

Catfish Haven & Dead Confederate Come To The Mercury Lounge

By: David Schultz

Other than the fact that they are two young bands worth listening to, you might be hard pressed to find two more dissimilar bands to share a bill than Catfish Haven and Dead Confederate. A trio specializing in trailer-park soul, Catfish Haven’s blue-eyed, white boy rhythms seem a whole different creature from Dead Confederate’s deeply moving, grunge era eruptions of emotion. Viva la difference: the two came to New York City’s Lower East Side at the end of last week for a potent double bill at the Mercury Lounge.

Catfish Haven arrived in New York City just two days after the release of Devastator, their second full-length album. Taking cues from the deep-ingrained blues of South, bassist Miguel Castillo and drummer Ryan Farnham invigorate them with a little boogie and George Hunter belts them out in a beleaguered voice that seems borrowed from Gregg Allman. A rocking party album, Devastator starts with “Are You Ready,” an R&B call to arms and zips through Seventies-style Doobie Brothers tunes like “Play The Fool” and Allmans era rock like “Full Speed” as well as sets some torches aflame with “Every Day.” It’s when Hunter cribs a couple lines from the Nile Rodgers/Bernard Edwards playbook as they do on the “Le Freak” inflected “Set In Stone” that Catfish Haven finds its real groove.

In a weird way, the easy-going vibes of Devastator translated to the stage although not possibly in the way Catfish Haven intended. Hunter, whose knowing, prematurely aged horse-drawn carriage of a voice hardly matches his George Carlin (hippie version) appearance, managed to convey the manic state of being excited to be on stage with one-toke-to-many stoner incoherence. It produced a slight disconnect between the band and the audience. The crowd, which had disappointingly thinned after Dead Confederate’s set, was definitely into what Catfish Haven were doing and the trio moved passionately through a large part of Devastator. However, it never seemed as if the two groups could get on the same page. After Hunter’s puzzling and near incoherent introduction to a song that quite possibly incorporated references to The Hold Steady and Tad Kubler, there was an awkward pause before the crowd, for lack of a better reaction, responded with an enthusiastic cheer. Having been won over, the audience seemed to be looking for any opportunity to give something back. Likewise, Catfish Haven closed their set by simply finishing the song and putting their stuff away, leaving out anything closely resembling a coup de grace. Unclear as to whether they were really done, the crowd simply started cheering; so Hunter and Castillo strapped their guitars back. Rather than finish the night with a rambunctious “Devastator,” they opted for a pensive reading of “Tripping In Memphis” which similarly just ended. If the stage manager hadn’t hit the lights, people might not have taken the cue to leave.

Catfish Haven’s unpolished stage demeanor didn’t detract from the music one iota. It actually was quite endearing. When Hunter belts out a song, he can bring you to another world . . . and it seems like he’s holding back. At the Merc, it seemed as if Hunter intentionally reigned in his mighty voice, almost strangling some of the words as they were leaving his throat. Upon giving Devastator another listen, it does seem that this is how he sings. As for the music, Hunter and Castillo play off feed off each other and the Seventies-style riffs spring from them with the joy you would expect. A dexterous and agile bassist, Castillo carried some of the songs by playing lead bass while Hunter imperceptibly shifting into a rhythm guitar style of play.

At this years South By Southwest Festival, Dead Confederate was one of the bands I looked the most forward to catching. After seeing them in the slot before R.E.M. at Stubb’s Ampitheatre, I left feeling that I hadn’t seen them in the proper venue. After their set at the intimate Mercury Lounge, my initial reaction proved correct. There’s a distinct grunge era flavor to much of what Dead Confederate does: “Heavy Petting,” complete with tortured animal wails from Morris, keeps Nirvana’s embattled soul alive and “Shadow The Walls” ebbs and flows like the best Pearl Jam songs. It seems odd that we are distant enough from the Nineties that slapping the grunge tag on Dead Confederate seems like an unfair label from a bygone era. Lead singer Hardy Morris mines the peaks and valleys much in the same way that gained Kurt Cobain renown and his ability to erupt in a powerful miasma of emotion, as he did on “The Rat” and “Get Out” while the music swirls rapidly around him, does bring that vintage Seattle band to mind. On lengthy meditations like “Tortured Artist Saint,” the near-psychedelic wall of sound created by Morris, guitarist Walker Howle, bassist Brantley Senn, keyboardist John Watkins and drummer Jason Scarboro threatened to overwhelm the modestly sized Mercury Lounge. Not to worry though: Howle’s plaintive guitar wail and Scarboro’s penchant for inserting a James Brown style drumbeat whenever the music threatened to get too trippy, the lengthy instrumental passages, tinctured with industrialized Pink Floyd, proved utterly hypnotic.

Dead Confederate are going to be on the road throughout the fall and I would expect Wrecking Ball, their debut album, to appear on many year-end, best of 2008 lists.

Allmans/Dead Unite For Obama; Lesh/Weir To Unite For New Year's Eve

George W. Bush always used to call himself a uniter but it was Democratic nominee Barack Obama that served as the catalyst for The Allman Brothers Band and The Dead to join together for the Change Rocks fundraiser this past Monday at Penn State University. Although crossover potential was huge, the two jamband icons stayed on their respective sides of a reference-filled videotaped address from Obama (once elected, he reportedly "ain't wasting time no more") with the exception of Warren Haynes, who played full sets with both bands.

On a less political note, Bob Weir & Ratdog will team up with Phil Lesh & Friends at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, CA for a pair of shows on December 30 and December 31. Fellow San Franciscan and current Friend Jackie Greene will open both shows with his solo band. With a 2009 Phish reunion tour becoming more of a reality, hopes are also high for The Dead to truck around the country once more.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

No Substitutes Needed: Okkervil River At Webster Hall

By: David Schultz

Okkervil River’s Will Sheff isn’t impressed with perfection. Much like Wes Anderson’s cinematic explorations of the flawed beauty of the insecure personality, the Austin-based singer-songwriter writes literate songs from the point of view of the distinctly non-Alpha male (and female) as well as those with a distinctly “Positively 4th Street” edge to them. Singing in an imperfect voice, Sheff doesn’t hide much when he’s on stage. Wearing his emotions on the sleeve of his natty attire, Sheff’s unreserved performance was the most memorable part of Okkervil River’s return to New York City for two shows at Webster Hall.

Okkervil River’s Monday night show was hardly a pretext for a Will Sheff showcase. Compelling as they are, Sheff’s astute observations and captivating stage presence may account for a great deal of Okkervil River’s growing appeal but they aren’t enough to carry an entire two hour set. When left to bear the brunt of song, Sheff’s limitations become more pronounced: the cracks in his voice are more noticeable and less endearing and the simplicity of the song structure is a little more evident. That’s why Okkervil River is a great band, though. When bolstered by Charles Bissell – The Wrens’ guitarist who’s filling in while a permanent replacement for Brian Cassidy is being sought – bassist Patrick Pestorius, Justin Sherburn, Scott Brackett, Laura Gurgiolo’s mandolin and Travis Nelson’s drums, Sheff can play to his strengths, allow his idiosyncrasies to evolve into endearing charms and let the rest of the band brilliantly gel behind him. It's also why Okkervil River has endured over the past decade and attained their current level of success.

Along with the Crooked Fingers, Black Joe Lewis and The Honey Bears opened the night. Reviving the wonderful traditions of James Brown’s rock and soul revue, Lewis provided a real treat for those who arrived early. A star in the making, Lewis sang with the fervency of Otis Redding on “Bitch I Love You” and brought the Bar-Kays drenched soul with “Gunpowder” all while laying down concise blasts of R&B guitar with masterful skill. The room might have been a little bit large for the band but Lewis & The Honey Bears had the crowd dancing and whooping it up with them. Along with Eli Reed & The True Loves, Lewis & The Honey Bears are at the forefront of a veritable soul revival.

Okkervil River’s set focused on the recently released The Stand-Ins but the finest moments came during The Stage Names material with the best reactions occurring when they offered selections from Down The River Of Golden Dreams and Don’t Fall In Love With Everyone You See. The Stand-Ins resumes the discussion begun in 2007 on their critically beloved The Stage Names. The portions of the show devoted to the new album had their moments, significantly a moving rendition of “Blue Tulip,” and fine renditions of “Starry Stairs” and “Lost Coastlines” that received a boost from The Honey Bears’ horn section joining Becket to add the proper flourishes and embellishments. However, it fails to live up to the bar they’ve set for themselves on The Stage Names. On the opening “Plus Ones” and the set closing versions of “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe” and “Unless It Kicks,” the music pulsed with an energy absent from the others. To wit, “A Girl In Port,” with the full horn section bittersweetly complementing Sheff’s baleful wail, provided the night’s emotional high point.

It’s probably blogging blasphemy to praise an artist’s previous album at the expense of their latest, although I think legions of bands would love to be able to rest their laurels on a disc as fine as The Stage Names and generate that type of excitement. Sheff and Okkervil River have such a wealth of material at their fingertips and such a bright future that it will hardly be a burdensome cross to bear.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chinese Democracy To Make Peppers Of Us All

Who says there isn't truth in advertising. After talking big about giving everyone (except Slash) a free Dr Pepper if Guns N' Roses released Chinese Democracy before the end of 2008, the bottler is intending to make good on their promise. With the announcement that the new GnR album will be available at Best Buy on November 23rd, Dr Pepper is putting soda on ice just in case Axl Rose actually makes good on delivering the long awaited album.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Jim James: The Way That He Sings (And Falls On The Crowd)

My Morning Jacket's Jim James put himself on the disabled list when he tumbled off the stage at the University of Iowa at the close of "Off The Record." About 30 minutes into the show, James misjudged a leap onto the equipment and took a header into the crowd. In an announcement, the band confirmed James' injuries. "Jim went to get closer to the audience on his side of the stage and as he moved forward to step onto the sub-woofer the lights darkened, and he inadvertently stepped off the stage," the band stated. "Upon falling, he suffered traumatic injuries to his torso, and was immediately taken to the hospital. Per the doctor's orders, Jim will be off the road and recovering from his injuries for the next two to three weeks. Sadly, we must postpone the two shows in Chicago on Thursday and Friday until further notice."

James should be healed and ready to go in plenty of time for My Morning Jacket's New Year's Eve gig at Madison Square Garden. Those in the front row may want to bring nets.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Van Morrison Ventures Into The Astral Weeks Slipstream Once More

Van Morrison will be caught one more time on Cyprus Avenue. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Astral Weeks, Morrison will play his seminal album in its entirety on November 7th and 8th at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, CA. Known for its jazzy mysticism and mercurial lyrics, Astral Weeks continually appears on credible Greatest Album lists and given the lackluster appeal of Morrison's recent setlists and marked reluctance to play songs from his back catalog, fans of Van The Man have much reason to rejoice.

For the shows, which will be recorded for a possible Christmas release, Morrison will be joined by guitarist Jay Berliner and bassist Richard Davis, both of whom played on the original album.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Rising High: U-Melt Returns To The HighLine Ballroom

By: David Schultz
Photo: Jeremy Gordon (via Wikipedia)

There’s a flip side to seeing a great band in their early stages: for as great a thrill it can be to see them grow, build confidence and broaden their fan base with every show, it’s frustrating when the genius and talent you see isn’t catching on worldwide with the same viral rapidity that propels vacant, untalented pop stars to the upper echelons of notoriety. For all the fond remembrances people have of Phish’s early days, it’s often forgotten that it took them almost a decade before the H.O.R.D.E. tour propelled them on to headlining amphitheaters. Having first seen U-Melt in late 2005, I’ve had to cope with the fact that the realities of building a successful band that can carry on a sustained career really doesn’t correspond to my timetable of how quickly I think it should occur. Said a little less eruditely: I know that U-Melt puts on some of the most eclectic, energetic and flat-out fun live shows of any band out there today, so why am I not being joined by tens of thousands of people at every show?

My unrealistic views aside, U-Melt’s appeal is definitely growing at an above-average pace. Their New York City New Year’s Eve after-hours shows, especially this year's edition at the HighLine Ballroom, are things of beauty and wonderment and with every show; bigger rooms are needed to handle their expanding fan base. Far from complacent, U-Melt - Rob Salzer (guitar), Zac Lasher (keys), Adam Bendy (bass) and George Miller (drums) – are consistently growing bolder and more confident with each show and it was evident this past Friday night when they made their return to NYC’s HighLine Ballroom.

Songs like “The Fantastic Flight of Captain Delicious” and “A Robbins Tale Nos. 1 & 2” have evolved into remarkable live pieces (and prompted the crowd to beckon for “A Robbins Tale No. 3”), longtime staples like “Red Star” and “Sequel” remain potent and in covering Black Sabbath’s “Faeries Wear Boots” and Billy Joel’s “Pressure” showed that they remain deft interpreters of other artist’s material. Playing for nearly 3 ½ hours, U-Melt kept the crowd deeply involved with the show, seeming to respond to any slight energy lag with something to raise the room’s collective spirit. Bendy now segues songs together with his bass work, Salzer continuously finds new ways to impress with his guitar-God like skills, Miller, one of my favorite drummers, always finds new ways to keep things pulsing and as exemplified on the Joel cover, Lasher knows how to send the band soaring on the wings of his keyboards.

U-Melt will make their way to Colorado via the Midwest for shows with Particle and The Breakfast and will be covering a lot of ground on their fall tour before their next local performance, a proper New Year’s Eve headlining gig at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey with BuzzUniverse opening the festivities. Lasher is an avid Springsteen fan, so those who like to speculate on cover tunes can start doing the math yourselves. Shows in legendary rooms aside, I will expect to see U-Melt grow faster than Phish in one regard - they have until 2015 to move the New Year’s Eve show to Madison Square Garden.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Nick Reynolds (1933-2008)

Throughout history
There've been many songs written about the eternal triangle
'This next one tells the story of a Mr Grayson, a beautiful woman
And a condemned man named Tom Dooley...
When the sun rises tomorrow, Tom Dooley... must hang...

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die

I met her on the mountain
There I took her life
Met her on the mountain
Stabbed her with my knife

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die

This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Hadn't a-been for Grayson
I'd a-been in Tennessee

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die

This time tomorrow
Reckon where I'll be
Down in some lonesome valley
Hangin' from a white oak tree

Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Hang down your head and cry
Hang down your head, Tom Dooley
Poor boy, you're bound to die

Thursday, October 02, 2008

River To River: BuzzUniverse Celebrates Release of LiveVibes From The Donegal Saloon

By: David Schultz

When you’ve grown accustomed to playing lengthy shows in the middle of New York City’s Washington Square Park, where do you go to celebrate the release of your new live album? If you’re New Jersey based BuzzUniverse, you move from land and take to the sea – or in this case, the nearest river. With LiveVibes From The Donegal Saloon hot off the presses, BuzzUniverse commemorated the occasion with a sold-out show on the Half Moon cruise ship. With the weather not quite cooperating, BuzzU rolled with the waves that pelted the ship and, along with Leroy Justice, took the crowd on a three hour tour much more enjoyable and way more predictable than the one shepherded by Gilligan.

BuzzUniverse had its genesis when the prog-rock loving pair of guitarist/lead singer Alex Garay and drummer Dave Migliore teamed up with their jamband loving bassist Greg McLoughlin to create a power trio with horns. Although their numbers have grown, they’ve remained true to their vision. Since rounding out the band about a year ago with the sterling brass section of Stefanie Seskin and Brian Ciufo and Bob Ramos’ menagerie of percussion, BuzzUniverse has really started to soar. Finding the common ground between Garay and Migliore’s prog-rock excursions and McLoughlin’s love of the extended jam, BuzzUniverse continuously finds ways to work in traditional gaucho-inflected rhythms, bluegrass-tinged country rave ups, straight up funk and classic rock.

For the boat trip, BuzzUniverse touched on many of the songs captured at the Donegal Saloon, their home venue, for LiveVibes. “You And Me” nicely segued into a lengthy Velvet Underground tinged instrumental passage with Garay at the center and got a nice jolt from The Who inspired horns of Seskin and Ciufo. They sauntered through a bouncy rendition of “Caballo Viejo,” rolled through a fine cover of the Marshall Tucker Band’s “This Ol’ Cowboy” and brought “Up The Mountain” to its customary boil of a hoedown. For “In The Sun,” longtime friend of the band Andy Earl of Moodras sat in providing additional guitar for lengthy opus, closing the show with a funky bang.

Percussionist Ramos pulled double duty, sitting in with Leroy Justice during their spectacular classic rock influenced opening set. With Ramos providing additional rhythm on covers of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean” and The Band’s “Don’t Do It,” Justice served notice that it may not be long before they are selling out boats of their own.

On the heels of last week’s celebration, BuzzUniverse continued the festivities by returning to the scene of the crime, performing an acoustic set, their first in three years, at the Donegal Saloon. BuzzU will keep the momentum going with a lengthy free concert this Sunday, October 5th, in New York City’s Washington Square Park.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Phish Lists Concert Dates on Website

Phish seemingly has confirmed that the venerable jam band will indeed play at least three shows in 2009. The dates listed are for March 6, 7 and 8, 2009 at the Hampton Roads Coliseum. Tickets will no doubt be snapped up in record time.

Phish will be offering some direct ticket sales. A limited number of tickets are available directly through Phish Tickets' online ticketing system. The ticketing request period is currently underway and will end on Wednesday, October 8th at 11:59AM EST. After that, tickets go on sale to the public on Saturday, October 18th at 10 AM EST via Ticketmaster.

The website also states the band intends to announce more dates for 2009. No doubt music to Phish fans everywhere!

Pawnshop Roses in Home Grown Radio Top 40

The Pawnshop Roses joined the Kings of Leon as new adds to the Home Grown Radio chart last week. Calexico jumped to the top spot, with Vampire Weekend, Death Cab for Cutie, Beck and Fleet Foxes.

Here's the full list:

(1) Calexico - Carried to Dust
(2) Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
(3) Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
(4) Beck - Modern Guilt
(5) Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
(6) MGMT - Oracular Spectacular
(7) My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges
(8) Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
(9) Okkervil River - The Stand Ins
(10) Sigur Ros - With a Buzz in Our Ears We Play Endlessly
(11) The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
(12) Dr. Dog - Fate
(13) The Duhks - Fast Paced World
(14) G. Love & Special Sauce - Superhero Brother
(15) Jack Johnson - Sleep through the Static
(16) The Raconteurs - Consolers of the Lonely
(17) Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning - Something for all of us
(18) JJ Grey & Mofro - Orange Blossoms
(19) Zach Gill - Stuff
(20) Michael Franti & Spearhead - All Rebel Rockers
(21) Mike Gordon - The Green Sparrow
(22) Donavon Frankenreiter - Pass It Around
(23) Steve Winwood - Nine Lives
(24) Blues Traveler - North Hollywood Shootout
(25) Black Mountain - In the future
(26) Ray Lamontagne - Gossip In The Grain
(27) Old Crow Medicine Show - Tennessee Pusher
(28) Donna The Buffalo - Silverlined
(29) Brazilian Girls - New York City
(30) TV on The Radio - Dear Science
(31) Plants & Animals - Parc Avenue
(32) Railroad Earth - Amen Corner
(33) Hot Chip - Ready for the Floor
(34) Xavier Rudd - Dark Shades Of Blue
(35) Fujiya & Miyagi - Lightbulbs
(36) Zach Deputy - Out of The Water
(37) Pawnshop Roses - Versions
(38) Scrapomatic - Sidewalk Caesars
(39) Kings of Leon - Only by The Night
(40) Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

Voter Suppression Schemes Rampant

The right to vote is undoubtedly the cornerstone fundamental right that enables a democracy to function in a manner worthy of the title. The ability to exercise that right provides citizens with a sense of freedom that is critical to maintaining our democracy's stability.

The Baltimore Sun points out that this fundamental right is under attack. Not by outsiders, but by people who no doubt claim they love America. In key battleground states disinformation and intimidation campaigns are underway to discourage voter participation. People are being lied to about their ability to vote and no doubt some of this will work keeping some citizens away from the polls. Unfortunately this is not new.

These schemes are simply a disgrace and in my view treasonous. To actively work against people voting is to work against democracy, the very foundation of our nation. Undermining the American system should not be tolerated by anyone under any circumstances. There are plenty of enemies abroad looking to take down our way of life, we don't need aiders and abetters right here in our midst. Law enforcement should crack down hard on this fraud and crack down fast.

Alternatively, citizens observing this behavior should do what ever it takes to stop it.

Tea Leaf Green: Raise Up The Tent

By: David Schultz

For bands that spend a lot of time the road, the release of a new studio album usually fails to generate high levels of excitement. The loyal fan base is already familiar with many of the songs, having heard them in concert; for others, the mantra of “you have to see them live” isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for any new record. With Raise Up The Tent, San Francisco based Tea Leaf Green have created an album that rewards both groups: it’s fresh enough to satisfy the thirst of those who have already drunk deep from TLG’s cup and potent enough to given new listeners a decent sense of what this band is all about.

A mighty live force, Tea Leaf Green’s last release, Rock ‘N’ Roll Band, a companion disc to the DVD of the same name, served as a Cliff Notes summary for those arriving late to the Tea Leaf Green party. Taking their time in following up, Raise Up The Tent opts against the formula of simply hitting the record button while the band does their thing in the studio. Rather, Raise Up The Tent complements rather than substitutes for the band’s live show. To wit, “Let Us Go” and “Not Fit” fade out right at the point where live versions would soar to another level.

Tea Leaf’s first studio release in close to three years, Raise Up The Tent puts Trevor Garrod’s melodious keyboards, mellifluous voice and thoughtful lyrics at the forefront with the talents of Josh Clark (guitar), Scott Rager (drums) and especially Reed Mathis (bass) only sporadically coming to the forefront. Instead of focusing on Tea Leaf’s exceptional musicianship, the album places emphasis on the songs. A loose, relaxed effort, Raise Up The Tent plays up Tea Leaf Green’s strong points, pulsing and bouncing along to a sprightly beat best exemplified by the frisky opening trio of “Let Us Go,” “Don’t Curse At The Night” and “Red Ribbons.”

Noticeably absent are a proliferation of Josh Clark’s guitar heroics. There are some nice solos scattered throughout the album but his most noticeable effort is his own “Stick To The Shallows,” a reflective tune that benefits nicely from Garrod’s Hammond organ work as well as his understated banjo, which gives the song a slight country twang. “Shallows” and Garrod’s slacker-tinged “Not Fit” have nice lyrical turns but it’s “Slept Through Sunday” and “Keeping The Faith,” which gets a nice kick from Rager’s jaunty drumbeat, that are Raise Up The Tent’s most complete efforts and nicely showcase just how good Tea Leaf Green truly are.

Bands painted with the jamband brush often have trouble getting their studio work taken seriously. With more efforts like Raise Up The Tent, that perception will have to change.

You've Probably Heard

On October 16, Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel will headline a benefit concert for Barack Obama at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. Tickets will range from $500 for the balcony to $2,500 for the floor and $10,000 for the lounge, which better include a handshake from Billy Joel, a high five from The Boss and a cabinet position from the Candidate. On the other hand, perhaps the proceeds will serve as a substitute for the failed Bailout Bill.

Internet rumors sometimes turn out to be true: Springsteen will play half time at the 2009 Super Bowl, joining Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Prince & Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers in the ongoing apology for Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction."

Robert Plant crushed the other big Internet rumor, to wit, the Led Zeppelin reunion tour. “It‘s both frustrating and ridiculous for this story to continue to rear its head when all the musicians that surround the story are keen to get on with their individual projects and move forward,” said Plant on a post on his Web site.

Another reunion rumor that's running wild is that Phish will play a three night reunion stand at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. If this turns out to be a hoax, it's one that's fished in a lot of people. (horrible pun unfortunately intended).

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!