Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: Magic Kids

By: Rinjo Njori

In the last couple years, Memphis, Tennessee has popped up on the radar for Craig Brewer's Hustle &Flow (see also $5 Cover), Jay Reatard while serving as the home of Goner Records. A fairly hard hitting musical environment that has helped shift the address for American Garage Rock from Detroit to Memphis. Yet, the Magic Kids and their lushly orchestrated pop have seemingly emerged from this scene. "Hey Boy" could pass for vintage Beach Boys if you ignore Bennet's nasally take on Brian Wilson's vocals and the female backing vocals (provided by Alice and Katherine) replacing the all male Beach Boys. The Magic Kids keep the formula pretty innocent on the surface but "lies" and "hugs and kisses from everyone else" creep up in the lyrics. Leave it to new millennium kids to taint the formula established some 50 years back in sunny southern California. The cheery attitude doesn't fade away on the b-side and neither does taking the subject matter in R-rated territory as he tries "to get with my lover." Acoustic guitars, violins, and "oooh, ahh ahhs" fall together almost perfectly. The Magic Kids might be the sunny addition to the Memphis music scene but if they keep it up they could very well inspire the next generation of retro pop.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: The Almighty Defenders

By: Rinjo Njori

Are the Almighty Defenders better than The Black Lips? Yes, by every stretch of the imagination. The Montreal defenders of the faith lend a tremendous amount of depth to the Lips' hazy and flaky flower punk. That said, the Lips' contributions, in some ways, water down King Khan and Sultan's (a/k/a The King Khan and BBQ Show) synergy. Sure the latter can come up with a disaster like every other artist (see "Animal Party"), but the former puts their stamp on every song. King Khan's awesome rhythm guitar seems slower and less plucky (see KK&BBQS's "Fish Fight"). "Ghost With the Most" and "She Came Before Me" hold it together, but need a little "kick in the pants" and never gets the kick. "Bow Down and Die" fares a little better because it seems drenched in vocal feedback and "Cone Of Light" could define the album.

Sultan's purposely faulty retro R N' B vocals get better and better with every release. Listening to him bark out "By My Side" nearly a decade ago gave no indication as to how much he would grow as a front man. Similarly, the influence on "I'm Coming Home" feels like a Shrines song turned down a notch. Not because it's too loud: rather, because you can enjoy it much more at a lower volume. Right down to the Hendrix like guitar loop. The middle part of the album falls apart on so many levels. Somewhere, "Jihad Blues" was a great idea but it ends up sounding like what happens when alcohol and other chemicals in the depressant family rear their ugly heads at a New Orleans funeral procession. Even more depressing is "Death Cult Soup and Salad." If part of you was hoping for an update on the Mind Controls "Death Cult Shoot Out," you will be disappointed. Instead, this is more like an alternate take on "Animal Party," King Khan and BBQ's joke gone wrong, just substitute animal noises for a combination of human grunts and groans. For someone who knows these three artists, every missed opportunity quickly find its way back to the music. With a short run time though, the bad seems longer and the good seems way too short. The uninitiated might describe them the way Spinner.com does, " (a) super group of sorts."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Monday's Earful: U2 @ Giants Stadium

By: David Schultz

We are well beyond any debate over whether U2 is currently the biggest band in the world. They assumed that mantle quite some time ago and show no signs of relinquishing their stranglehold on the title. Unlike anyone since the Beatles, U2 makes you feel like part of something larger. Since putting away The Fly’s sunglasses and shedding the ironic patina of megalomaniacal excess that they wrapped themselves in at the end of the 90s, U2 suffused All That You Can’t Leave Behind, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb and the recently released No Line On The Horizon with their passionate desire to change the world without resorting to pandering, preaching or hyperbolic hypocrisy. The Beatles thought all you needed was love and that we should give peace a chance; U2 is a bit more proactive and a lot more politically engaged.

Last week, U2 carted one of the most extravagant stadium sets into Giants Stadium for a pair of weekday shows in the Garden State. Primordial let modern, the immense stage included one of the more amazing video screen constructions ever seen in a concert setting. Due to the NFL moving Sunday’s New York Jets game up three hours, U2’s Friday night party in New Jersey had to be relocated to Wednesday. The midweek show may have dimmed the collective inebriation of the crowd but it hardly doused the electricity. A U2 concert is nothing short of a life-affirming event: if you don’t leave the show having been uplifted in a deeply existential way, rock and roll may not be the thing for you to be spending your time on. “Walk On,” dedicated to Burmese dissident and political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, not only came with an explanation as to who she is (which c’mon, you wouldn’t have known without Bono), it had a parade of children displaying her photo in a quiet and moving protest. In the lead-in to “One,” a video of Desmond Tutu reminded the audience of the power that human beings have to effectuate change. That it may have echoed the same sentiment expressed in the Pele speech from Vision Quest made it no less inspiring. The power harnessed by U2 and unleashed on their massive crowds is the exact type of influence that those hysterical suburbanites worried about in the Fifties. Fortunately, U2 adheres to the good side of the force. Blackberry bends to Bono’s whims, not vice versa.

With a monstrous in-the-round stage at his disposal, Bono is the living embodiment of a rock star. In perfect control of his surroundings, he conveys meaning with every gesture and action. Every move is equally calculated and improvised; that’s his genius. Bono’s credibility has reached the level where even his most sophomoric lyrics sound like pithy maxims expounding great truths. There’s no other explanation for “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight,” which could be ripped directly out of a teenage girls diary. However, when Bono sings about global change in the simplest of terms, we don’t think that he’s a goof: we think of him as profound. He’s found the perfect way to express the kernels of truth that underlie all clichés and make them sound inspired. Even silly stunts, like selecting a child from the audience to take a lap around the expansive ring that encircled the stage or swinging from the gigantic microphone apparatus during an encore rendition of “With Or Without You,” seem possessed of a mighty grandeur.

In the end, it’s the music everyone comes for. Parsing over the pros and cons of U2 in a critical context is an unsatisfying endeavor Hardly diluting their effect, The Edge’s razor sharp guitar riffs, Adam Clayton’s driving bass and Larry Mullen’s martial drums are unlikely to send anyone scurrying for transcriptions. They will, however, bring a crowd to their feet and keep them there for more than two hours. They can play gracious hosts too. Making reference to Bruce Springsteen’s 60th birthday, U2 offered a cover of “She’s The One” in the building that The Boss can call his second home, running the song’s Bo Diddley beat into their own “Desire.” Bono also acknowledged Quincy Jones’ presence by warbling the chorus of “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” through the ending coda of “Beautiful Day.”

Unsurprisingly, U2 featured many songs from No Line On The Horizon, opening with “Breathe” and then quickly loping through the grandiose “Magnificent” and the Escape Club riffage of “Get On Your Boots.” They didn’t leave people wanting for their back catalog. For me, the New Wave styled “New Year’s Day” and rebellious “Sunday Bloody Sunday” brought on a flood of nostalgia, bringing me back to high school keg parties held in moonlit empty fields. Gauging the younger members of the audience, they drifted backwards wistfully during “Ultraviolet (Light My Way)” and “Mysterious Ways” and an even younger segment may not have had far to travel but they went somewhere during “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Very few bands span generations in this manner. Although Springsteen, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan have remained active for longer than U2, their fan base remains relatively static; they aren’t capturing the imagination of a new generation or attracting legions of fans each new album.

A TRAVEL NOTE: The U2 shows marked the first opportunity for New Jersey Transit to show off their new Meadowlands line. In every sense of the word it was a monumental clusterfuck. A great concept, NJ Transit executed it with such extreme incompetence, it’s shocking that Michael Brown wasn’t involved. After widely publicizing the line, putting U2 in the banner ad on their Web site, NJ Transit greatly underestimated the number of people that would actually show up. At Penn Station and the Secaucus transfer, travelers were greeted with a woefully insufficient number of ticket booths, enduring lines of anywhere from 20 to 45 minutes in length. Having failed to schedule the proper number of trains, U2 fans were crammed onto every available car like cattle . . . and then had to suffer while a half hour train ride took anywhere from one to three hours. All this occurred with people making staggered treks to the stadium. After the show, with everyone leaving at once, NJ Transit seemed equally unprepared and their staff uninterested in providing information, directions or guidance which only added to the confusion and frustration. “Heck of a job, NJ Transit!”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Friday's Earful; Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame 2010; Eric Clapton; Jeff Beck; Peter, Paul & Mary

By: David Schultz

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has announced their slate of nominees for the Class of 2010. Without question it's an eclectic group of artists that consists of The Stooges, Kiss, Genesis, Jimmy Cliff, Darlene Love, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Hollies, Donna Summer, ABBA, Laura Nyro, The Chantels and LL Cool J. As far as who should get the nod, I'm going to apply the Billy Bob Thornton theory and suggest that the ones who deserve entry into the Hall are the ones who we will talk about a hundred years later in 2110. Notwithstanding the Broadway revival of Mamma Mia that will surely win Tonys in the next century: LL Cool J shattered the conception that rap can't be done live or that stick deodorant leaves no traces on MTV Unplugged; The Stooges were punk rock when everyone else was basking in the Summer of Love; Donna Summer's credibility survived the Disco era she presided over as its Queen; you can forgive the pop maven era of Genesis because they practically invented progressive art-rock and that picture of Peter Gabriel dressed as flower will never disappear and Jimmy Cliff can share credit with Bob Marley for popularizing reggae outside of Jamaica. Kiss, likely deserving, but they'll accept the merchandising rights in lieu of an actual nomination.

HAVING ALREADY BROUGHT THEIR STAR power to Japan in 2009, Rock & Roll Hall of Famers Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck will play a one off show at London's O2 Arena on February 13, 2010. Slow Hand has been dedicated to reestablishing himself in his homeland: in May of 2009, after a three year hiatus, he returned to the Royal Albert Hall, the home of his storied month long residencies, for an eleven night run. Given the excitement (and profitability) of the Clapton/Winwood shows, it's just a matter of time before this comes to America.

WITH THE REPUTATION OF FELLOW folkie John Phillips taking a Chuck Wepner style beating at the hands of his daughter, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey restored some class to the bygone folk era with a tribute to the recently departed Mary Travers. Making a surprise appearance in Central Park as part of NY Parks Week concert that included Jose Feliciano, Carole King and Alison Krauss and Union Station, the two surviving members of Peter, Paul & Mary eulogized their friend and led a singalong of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday's Earful: The Black Crowes Before The Frost . . . Until The Freeze

By: David Schultz

Playing before a live audience is where The Black Crowes have always been at home. It’s that intangible part of their aura that makes their recently released Before The Frost . . . Until The Freeze sound like nothing they’ve ever released. Culled from five days of performances at Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, New York, the same locale for the beloved drummer’s Midnight Rambles, the Crowes recorded enough material for two albums. Rather than have the added tracks go the way of The Band, their lost album that exists primarily in bootleg form, the Crowes haven’t made it all that hard for anyone purchasing Before The Frost to get Until The Freeze for free.

Anyone who’s been to one Crowes show always returns for more; unless you have an aversion to free-spirited events where songs often follow their own muse, the Crowes deliver. On Before The Frost, the Crowes second album with North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson in the fold, they come the closest to capturing their live sound. On songs like “Been A Long Time (Waiting On Love),” “Make Glad” and “A Train Still Makes A Lonely Sound,” the Crowes let the music subsume them, letting Dickinson’s slide guitar add a surfeit of gritty and sultry nuances. Their raw sound has always drawn favorable comparisons to Rod Stewart & The Small Faces and, for the most part, Before The Frost sounds like your typical Crowes album, albeit one where they are on fire. While emulating early Rod Stewart has its pros and cons, drawing inspiration from his Blondes Have More Fun disco phase is a head scratcher. Dickinson’s anachronistic guitar work notwithstanding, “I Ain’t Hidin,” conjures up the coke-addled disco era with an unironic descent into “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” territory. It’s either the bravest song the Crowes have recorded or their most insipid.

The bonus album is the true revelation. Featuring heavy contributions from Larry Campbell on fiddle and mandolin, Until The Freeze finds the Crowes in a state that would make the most relaxed yogi seem tense. As if sitting around a campfire in the wee hours of the morning under a cloudy, smoky haze, the music spills forth in a rustic mélange. You can forgive the repetition of the communal “song we all can sing along” theme of “Aimless Peacock” in “Shady Grove,” and get past the fact that “Lady Of Avenue A” is more of a wander-the-city-streets-at-3:00 a.m.song because they are hypnotically enveloping and it’s the most exciting the Crowes have felt since Shake Your Money Maker. If the spirit of The Band still lives in Levon’s barn, the Crowes have channeled it here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: Jim Dickinson

By: David Schultz

Before he became known as the father of North Mississippi Allstars' Luther and Cody Dickinson, Jim Dickinson was one of the industry's most respected producers and studio musicians. You can hear him on a slew of albums recorded at Atlantic Records in the late Sixties/early Seventies and that's his piano on The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses." Last month, Dickinson passed away after undergoing triple bypass surgery. To mourn, Luther threw open the doors to the Zebra Ranch studio in Independence, Mississippi and over the course of a few hours, recorded a selection of gospel hymns. In homage to Dickinson's band Mudboy & The Neutrons, the resulting album, Onward and Upwards, will be released on November 10 under the name of The Sons of Mudboy. Half the album will be Luther playing solo on an acoustic guitar and the other half will feature Sid and Steve Selvidge, Jimmy Crosthwait, Jimbo Mathus, Shannon McNally and Paul Taylor.

"My take on it was that, as Jim often said, he didn't want to celebrate death," said Sid Selvidge, Dickinson's lifelong friend and musical foil. "So what I think you'll hear on the record is a loose, joyful musicality, rather than any wailing or gnashing of teeth. We were doing these songs because it was a cool thing to do. We were just trying to make some cool music."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: The Decemberists

By: David Schultz

This past Saturday, The Decemberists took a break from recreating The Hazards Of Love, their brilliant rock opera, to let randomness take its course. At Terminal 5, they played songs by lottery, welcomed John Wesley Harding into their midst and covered ELO. With a little pruning and executive editing, the set list for The Lottery Show turned out to be:

Yankee Bayonet/July, July!/Raincoat Song/Bridges & Balloons/From My Own True Love/The Bachelor And The Bride/The Rake's Song/The Culling Of The Fold/I Was Meant For The Stage/The Crane Wife #3/The Island/Annan Water

Encore #1: A Colin Meloy improvisation/The Tain/Perfect Crime #2
Encore #2: Mr. Blue Sky

THE DECEMBERISTS WILL CONTINUE ON with their A Short Fazed Hovel tour, featuring full performances of Hazards throughout autumn. On October 19, visuals will be added to their performance at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA. Rather than explain it myself, here is the band's Gonzo explanation.

"And so, dear readers, we Decemberists would like to announce something we've had in our proverbial pressure cooker for a while now: Here Come the Waves: The Hazards of Love Visualized. During the making of The Hazards of Love, we Decemberists were secreted away in an underground vault by the suits at Capitol, with only a tape machine, a handful of mics, and a bag of peanut butter and honey sandwiches with which to wile our time. Occasionally, the then-president and CEO of the company, Walter M. Klammerdale, would visit this subterranean crypt, built in ancient Roman sewer tunnels miles below the Capitol tower, to check on our progress. Klammerdale, a ponytailed relic of the business and self-described "psychedelic cosmonaut," would casually ingest upwards of 600 mg of high fructose blotter acid at each meeting, demanding more and more outlandish things of the band. Chris Funk must play this guitar line in his pajamas. Colin must sing this lead vocal without ever having heard the backing track. Nate Query must kegel. And, most terribly, Jenny must play all her piano parts on a keyboard made entirely from the finger bones of mummified Los Angelinos. Notably, he commissioned four seasoned animators to provide a visualizer of sorts, an hour-long animation to accompany the music of Hazards of Love, that would play on a loop on a giant flat-screen television in the middle of the vault. Well, the long and short of it is this: we finished the record, released it, Klammerdale disappeared while on a vision quest in Joshua Tree, and a Capitol intern, while sweeping the ancient underground Roman vault one day, discovered the DVD of the visualizer."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Monday's Earful: Let It Roll Festival

By: David Schultz

Ever since Woodstock and Monterey Pop cast a mythological aura around the festival experience, it has evolved into a nuanced creature. Festivals like SXSW in Austin and CMJ in New York City cater towards industry folk; Goliaths like Coachella, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo attract adventurous fans interesting in the discovery of new music and grand spectacle the event and band-oriented jamfests like moe.down, Camp Bisco and the upcoming Festival 8 slake the thirst of specialized fanbases with multiple performances and hand-picked lineups. There are also a handful of festivals that have more modest aspirations, simply aspiring to be a friendly, peaceful gathering in a panoramic setting with a smattering of fine bands to provide the soundtrack.

This past weekend, Number Line Productions in conjunction with Pawnshop Roses hosted the inaugural Let It Roll Festival at the 1,500 acre Sunnyview Farm, a locale that has served as a retreat and recording space for the likes of Willie Nelson, Levon Helm and John Lennon. Having an aversion to camping, I opted against going native for the weekend, choosing instead to make my way to Ghent on Saturday afternoon to catch the majority of the second day. After being greeted at the grounds by Zach Levy, who served as Let It Roll’s de facto Max Yasgur, we were directed up to the campgrounds and performance space. As the festival was well into its second day, things were already in full swing. Small little communities of tents dotted the farm’s sprawling acreage and should the gorgeous mountain view provide too much a distraction, we could follow the siren song of Leroy Justice playing “Temporary Cure.”

The main stage occupied the corner of a mammoth (inactive) horse barn that has been modified into a wonderful concert space. Open to the entire crowd, each band could play as if in a quarter-round. The more traditional outdoor stage, which essentially served as a side stage, was set up a couple hundred yards away and afforded the opportunity to enjoy some music while inhaling some fresh mountain air. The crowd for the event included a good number of college age kids, a handful of families with small children and a few of the hairy hippie types without which, any music festival would be found lacking.

Ironically, Saturday’s slate of bands consisted primarily of bands that made a similar trek upstate from New York City. In that vein, Leroy Justice’s potent Seventies-era classic rock gave way to the eclecticism of BuzzUniverse, who were joined by violinist Meredith Bogacz and The Jack’s Rosie Lazroe, which then yielded to Let It Roll’s headliner, The Marco Benevento Trio, who on this night were made up of Dave Dreiwitz and Andrew Barr.

Philadelphia’s Pawnshop Roses, the impetus and a major motivating force for the festival, played sets on Friday and Saturday. Much like their recent stop at the Bowery Electric, the Roses Saturday set had a harder edge than their previously jangly sound. On the outer stage, Vermont’s Joshua Panda Band, which included Bryan Dondero (Blues & Lasers/Grace Potter & The Nocturnals), moved between bluegrass and blue-eyed soul, comically calling out into the darkness to gauge the interest from afar. From the looks of him, you might not have expected him to bust out an Otis Redding cover. One of the toughest singers to emulate, Panda expertly handled “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” with the aplomb of a master.

Anyone that’s spent time around people trying to do anything in the music business knows that ideas are easy, execution is difficult. The number of roadblocks that confront even the simplest of ventures can be stupefying and once those are overcome, you have the daunting task of getting people to spend their money on the event. Given the sprawl of the event, it’s hard to gauge how many people spent their weekend at the inaugural Let It Roll festival. As day turned to night, more and more people made the music barn the focus of their attention, peaking with Benevento’s appearance; an uninformed estimate would have the attendance at a few hundred. A modest beginning for what will hopefully become an annual event.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Friday's Earful: Pawnshop Roses; Let It Roll Festival

By: David Schultz

On their way out to Ghent, New York to play host for the Let It Roll Festival, Pawnshop Roses stopped in New York City for a set at the Bowery Electric, a venue that retains the earthy nature of the evaporating Lower East Side concert scene. Kicking off with "Let It Roll," the Roses worked their fine style of laissez-faire Rolling Stones rock in roll between the interstices of a heavier mode of classic rock. Working as a five-piece, with Justin Monteleone teaming up with Kevin Bentley for a double guitar attack and Paul Keen working his Chris Robinson-like strut up front, the Philadelphia-based band gave a fine preview of the pair of sets they have waiting for people at the upstate New York festival. Coming out of a Band of Gypsys inspired jam into a cover of Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick," complete with the requisite wall-shattering drum solo from Zil, the Roses showed a nicely honed, harder edge.

THE LET IT ROLL FESTIVAL will take place this weekend in Ghent, New York with the Marco Benevento Trio offering a headlining set on Saturday night. In addition to the Roses, BuzzUniverse, Leroy Justice, the McLovins, The Leaves, The Brew and The Breakfast will work towards making the inaugural festival a memorable one.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thursday's Earful: Arctic Monkeys Humbug

By: David Schultz

On Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not and Favourite Worst Nightmare, the Arctic Monkeys cashed in hard on their youthful spirit and rambunctious attitude. Moving at a frenetic pace, the Monkeys carry you along for the ride as they scurry through the streets of London as if updating the madcap feel of A Hard Day’s Night. Alex Turner creates an intoxicating sense of manic fun but it comes with a cost: you can’t stay young forever. It’s a Catch 22 that has broken many. As Bruce Springsteen grew older and became financially secure, he left behind his romantic escapist anthems teeming over with adolescent impatience and turned to more mature subjects. Fortunately for The Boss, his fans aged with him. Once Liz Phair outgrew her need to put all her smutty fantasies and insecurities into song, her fan base dwindled considerably.

On Humbug, the Arctic Monkeys no longer seem like they’re in such a rush. Rather, Alex Turner seems to swan about the album as if he’s Brandon Flowers. There are moments, namely on “Potion Approaching” and the bonus track “Sketchead,” when the Red Bull kicks in and the pulse quickens but for too much of Humbug the Monkeys sound like they are trying to sound like adults. The growing pains of an album like Humbug are necessary; Green Day didn’t go from odes to masturbation to complex concept albums overnight. However, without that fire, the Arctic Monkeys lose what made them so exciting to listen too in the first place.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: Living Colour; Trey Anastasio; Pavement Returns?

By: David Schultz

As the kids would say, The Chair In The Doorway, Living Colour's fifth studio album dropped yesterday (yes, I am aware the kids would have said it like that a couple years ago). The day before they showcased the album for friends, family and press, I interviewed Corey Glover for Hidden Track at their Brooklyn rehearsal studio.

A proper write-up of the album will come at a later date. For now, click on over to Hidden Track and see what Corey had to say.

THIS PAST WEEKEND, TREY ANASTASIO teamed up with the New York Philharmonic for a show at the venerable Carnegie Hall. Getting past the proliferation of nitrous oxide being blatantly hawked outside the theater (this is a story that you are going to hear a lot about in the near future), Anastasio and the orchestra came up with an awesome arrangement of the Phish warhorse "You Enjoy Myself." Apparently there are some issues with what versions of the video are YouTubeable, but Justin Ward over at Live Music Blog seems to be on top of what's what. Check it out here.

RUMOR HAS IT THAT PAVEMENT will reunite in 2010. If this happens, it will be salivated over to a degree that exceeds its actual import as everyone overhypes the return that not many paid attention to when they were around. Nonetheless, this is a good thing.

OBAMA CALLED KANYE WEST A JACKASS . . . and that makes news? What's next? Do we stop the presses if he calls Angelina Jolie hot?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: MTV Video Awards

By: David Schultz

There was a time when the MTV Video Awards meant something. Back then, the network showed music videos and a great deal of artistic thought (and label money) was given to the medium; it actually mattered, to some extent, who won and the show itself became a cooler alternative to the stodgy, out-of-touch, Grammy Awards. The Rolling Stones, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bruce Springsteen, R.E.M., U2, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Neil Young not only performed, they made the event one that couldn’t be missed. I caught a good portion of this weekend’s fiasco that could best be called the zombie-version of a once-great event.

I’ll be the first too admit that I am no longer the target audience for this show: I thought Cobra Starship had something to do with GI Joe, that Asher Roth was the title character of a Chaim Potok novel and didn’t realize that Johnny Depp did award shows under the name Russell Brand. That doesn’t mean I still can’t be swayed by a good performance. Instead, Lady Gaga does something that would make Leonard Pinth Garnell cringe; misguided performance art, attempting to play the piano with her vagina and bloodying herself up for a mock hanging makes Madonna writhing on the floor in ecstasy while singing “Like A Virgin” in a wedding dress seem understated and classy. Having Taylor Swift play on a subway platform and train wouldn’t have been a bad idea and the lip synching could be forgiven (no way with an incoming train) but the professional “fans” destroy everything. Paying people to pretend to go nuts is not an adequate substitute for letting real fans act however they want.

The outrageous behavior I recall from the MTV Awards was actually funny: Rage Against The Machine’s Tim Commerford staging a sit-in atop the post-modern statuary, Howard Stern descending from the ceiling in a pair of ass-less chaps and Diana Ross playfully fondled Lil Kim’s breast. These seemingly spontaneous moments gave way to stunts like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley proving their marriage was legit by awkwardly making out and Madonna giving a much more convincing kiss to Britney Spears. There was lots of chutzpah but very little meanspiritedness.

As if taking a clue from the attention whores that populate the scores of reality shows that now make up the brunt of the network’s programming, all decorum has gone to the wayside. Kanye West’s bum rush of the stage to interrupt 19-year-old Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech is nothing short of deplorable . . . even by lowered bar that we use to measure Kanye West’s antics. It’s baffling enough that West thought interrupting a teenager to praise Beyonce made sense. Even worse, it took almost 24 hours for any of his apologies to stop being self-serving. Yes, Kanye. You are a gay fish. Showing that her aghast expression at being involved with West’s outburst may have been legitimate, Beyonce rose above the morass. She couldn’t have been classier in sharing her moment to celebrate her win for Video Of The Year with Swift.

Unless it’s to engage in some sort of self-promotion, MTV has a spotty history of acknowledging its past when it comes to remembering those who helped them stay relevant for three decades. For all that can be said about Michael Jackson as a person – it’s unlikely child molesters are permitted any sort of supernatural privileges that entail making it rain white gloves – MTV owes much of its early success to the self-proclaimed King of Pop. Instead of glomming together a tribute by this year’s flavors-of-the-month, MTV showed admirable foresight in letting Madonna speak and Janet Jackson perform. It’s nice to know MTV can occasionally remember how to behave in public.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday's Earful: A.A. Bondy @ The Mercury Lounge

By: David Schultz

The last time A.A. Bondy’s visited New York City, the easygoing Alabaman was at the tail end of an onerous eighteen month cross-country trek in support of American Hearts, his brilliant and evocative solo debut. After spending much of that time opening shows for the likes of Bon Iver, Alejandro Escovedo and the Cold War Kids, Bondy reaped the rewards of his efforts, playing before a packed house at the Mercury Lounge. With the memories of his last appearance fresh in the minds of his ever-increasing number of fans, Bondy returned to the cozy lower east side venue at the incipient stage of his current tour to promote When The Devil’s Loose, his marvelous, recently released, sophomore effort. Generally, the Mercury Lounge offers a warm and cozy locale for any show. Except for when you fill it to its brick covered capacity; then, you have the uncomfortable marriage of seeing an artist in a venue he’s outgrown while enjoying it with three people in your proverbial lap.

With an oeuvre of devastatingly gorgeous and emotionally desolate songs, Bondy fills the void for those who feel that Ray Lamontagne has gotten too peppy and optimistic. On American Hearts, Bondy infused his songs with images more apropos to the Book of Revelations or ghostly Pale Rider westerns. Bondy may have toned down the symbolism on his latest but that doesn’t mean his songs aren’t populated with haunted, world-weary characters. As if Bondy’s been spending quality time with Twin Peaks DVDs, the comforting bucolic guitars and drums of When The Devil’s Loose offer a unsettling contrast to the wizened warnings being offered throughout.

At the Mercury Lounge, Bondy proved utterly captivating as he recreated the intimacy of his work throughout a mesmerizing hour long set. Opening with “Mightiest Of Guns,” Bondy held the room in his thrall, splitting his set equally between his two albums before finishing with a plaintive reading of the world-weary “When The Devil’s Loose.” For “Vice Rag,” a somewhat unapologetic ode to addiction, Bondy slowed down the song’s jaunty beat, making it a bit more foreboding. If there was a message to impart, it unlikely took: the audience not only surprised Bondy by singing along, they added the song’s transitional handclap as if the idea permeated the collective unconscious of the room.

IN THE WINTER OF 2008, I interviewed Bondy for jambands.com before his set at the Mercury Lounge. Only two months prior, he had opened for the Cold War Kids at Webster Hall and was rudely ignored and talked over by a crowd that perceived itself as being hip and in-the-know. It was a sad sight as Bondy still put on a nice show. We talked about that and other subjects of interest. If you are interested in such things, you can check it out here.

Jim Carroll (1950-2009)

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died
G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Two more friends that died

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others
And I salute you brother

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Herbie pushed Tony from the Boys' Club roof
Tony thought that his rage was just some goof
But Herbie sure gave Tony some bitchen proof
"Hey," Herbie said, "Tony, can you fly?"
But Tony couldn't fly, Tony died

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Brian got busted on a narco rap
He beat the rap by rattin' on some bikers
He said, "Hey, I know it's dangerous, but it sure beats Riker's"
But the next day he got offed by the very same bikers

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Teddy sniffing glue, he was 12 years old
Fell from the roof on East Two-nine
Cathy was 11 when she pulled the plug
On 26 reds and a bottle of wine
Bobby got leukemia, 14 years old
He looked like 65 when he died
He was a friend of mine

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

G-berg and Georgie let their gimmicks go rotten
So they died of hepatitis in upper Manhattan
Sly in Vietnam took a bullet in the head
Bobby OD'd on Drano on the night that he was wed
They were two more friends of mine
Two more friends that died

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Mary took a dry dive from a hotel room
Bobby hung himself from a cell in the tombs
Judy jumped in front of a subway train
Eddie got slit in the jugular vein
And Eddie, I miss you more than all the others
And I salute you brother

Those are people who died, died
They were all my friends, and they died

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lily Allen Topless

Lily Allen topless is a headline that was bound to pop up given the singer's tabloid ridden young career, from her topless texts to her lesbian threesome kisses. And, particularly since Amy Winehouse made topless headlines earlier this year. But, unlike Winehouse who was frolicking topless on holiday, Lily Allen bears her breasts for GQ magazine's UK version, which named her Woman of the Year.

And, maybe it's a sign of me aging, but I have to say while I always enjoy a nice topless shot what interests me most about the pics is her new haircut. The new doo makes her look quite sexy, something I'd never thought I'd use to describe Lily Allen. If you'd like to see the new haircut and of course the topless pics, you can click here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Thursday's Earful: Phish Joy

By: David Schultz

This past Tuesday, Phish released Joy, putting an exclamation point on their wildly successful summer tour and making their return after their five year hiatus officially complete. Customarily, you expect any record review to consist of a reasoned opinion based upon a critical yet unbiased assessment of the music. Thus, this review starts with a confession: I haven’t listened to the album. I did download it – legally too, thanks to Amazon’s potentially self-destructive competitive pricing scheme – but I have yet to press play. Despite being woefully unqualified to offer any type of commentary on the album, I still feel a compulsion to write about it. Why? Because it truly doesn’t matter what I, or anyone else, thinks about it.

Phish has reached a level of fandom and acceptance that has very rarely been paralleled. Were the jamband Mount Rushmore to be carved into stone, Trey Anastasio would sit next to Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman and probably Warren Haynes. (I’ll be much more gracious than ESPN here and give Bill Simmons credit for this idea). The simple fact that Joy exists, filling a five year void, is a triumph in and of itself. Nothing more needs to be said about it and nothing more could add to its significance. Does it compare to Pictures Of Nectar? Who cares. Does it capture their live sound? Who cares? Are the songs good? Who . . . well, I’ll concede, people care about that . . . and they care about those other questions too . . . and they also care about answers to better questions than I’ve posed. The Phish community, for all its strengths and faults, is strong and opinionated but, most of all, the phanbase is loyal. I am sure Joy will be intensely pored over, analyzed and critiqued to a exponential degree but none of the commentary will likely change anyone’s opinion.

The large majority of people that seek out online music reviews fall into two categories: those who are looking for new music to listen to and those looking for affirmation of their own thoughts about certain bands. To continue adopting other people’s ideas: for those who get Phish, no explanation is necessary, for those who don’t, no explanation will ever suffice. Why doesn’t it matter whether I’ve listened to the album before writing about it? Because anyone reading this has already made up their mind and passed their own judgment upon Phish. I strongly doubt anyone looking for the next big thing has Phish on their radar. For those who are already fans, there’s nothing I, or anyone else can tell you, that you don’t already know.

I am looking forward to listening to it though – I hear it’s good.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Wednesday's Earful: Five Artists Who Will Define The Next Decade

By: David Schultz

Even though there are close to four months left in the decade, lists cataloging and memorializing the best of the aughts are already starting to pop up with increased frequency. Back in the 60s, people followed to every move made by Bob Dylan and The Beatles. In the 70s, it was The Rolling Stones, the 80s, Michael Jackson and the 90s belonged to U2. Doubt the impact an artist can have on a generation? Look at all the hoopla surrounding today’s release of Rock Band: The Beatles. Each and every move they made drew attention and received untold amounts of scrutiny as people searched for meaning and discoursed over its importance. Bono notwithstanding, we’re likely past the point where a musician will have the sociological impact if a John Lennon and Elvis Presley. That doesn’t mean there aren’t artists pushing music forward. Taking a peek ahead to the next decade (the tens? the teens?), here are the five musicians whose every move should be followed as they should be worth noting.

Beck: From a musical standpoint, Beck always stays at the forefront of the waves generated by any of his genre-melding pastiches. Recently though, Beck has started to explore the ability of a Web site as an outlet for creativity. In addition to streaming DJ sets, Beck’s Record Club features himself and assorted friends re-recording classic albums like Velvet Underground & Nico, Oar and Songs of Leonard Cohen and Irrelevant Topics sees Beck playing talk show host with the likes of musicians and movie directors. A superstar for the wireless decade, Beck could redefine the conception of what the public can expect and demand from an artist.

Jack White: The White Stripes can hardly contain the creative output that erupts out of Jack White. Whether it’s with The White Stripes and his erstwhile wife/sister/ housekeeper Meg, The Raconteurs with power-pop maven Brendan Benson, The Dead Weather with Allison Mosshart and Dean Fertita or simply creating a song on the fly just to show he can do it, the quality of White’s prolific output defies logic. Playing rock and roll’s future to The Edge’s present and Jimmy Page’s past in It Might Get Loud, White stands poised to be one, if not THE, most important guitarists of the next decade.

Greg Gillis: The next great battle over fair use will likely center around Girl Talk’s raucously festive mash-ups of classic rock, 80s cheese, gangsta rap and anything else that catches his fancy. So fun that it may not be legal, Gillis’ name-that-snippet style is what evolved from DJ Danger Mouse’s legally estopped Grey Album. It makes no difference on the dance floor but Girl Talk abuts the current limits of fair use, derivative works and the entirety of copyright law to the extent that makes the establishment slightly uncomfortable. Unless Gillis decides to find a new profession, he could be genre-changing and legal precedent setting player in the 10s.

Thom Yorke/Radiohead: Freed from the constraints of any semblance of a traditional recording contract, Yorke and Radiohead are singlehandedly destroying and redefining all of the music industry’s conventions about distribution and sales. The pay-what-you-will pricing scheme they utilized for In Rainbows will likely be the tip of the iceberg. One of the few bands with the renown, clout and incentive to explore the freedom of non-dependency on a record label, they may pave the road through the uncharted forest for many others to follow.

Craig Finn/The Hold Steady: In the last decade, Finn and The Hold Steady have brought literacy and humor back to rock and roll. Stringing witticisms and trenchant observations together while Tad Kubler, Franz Nicolay and the rest reclaim the grandiose sense of arena rock from glam metal head bangers and emo rockers, Finn’s songs play out over time like chapters of a novel. There was a period of time when Robert Randolph could have been the savior of rock and roll but now that title seems within the grasp of The Hold Steady. For a band that details the folly of youth, it is appropriate that they are the dark horse contender for the band of the two thousand teens.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: Kid Rock @ Terminal 5

By: David Schultz

In the summer of 2008, Kid Rock paired up with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Reverend Run and Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band for a sold-out extravaganza at New York City’s Mecca, Madison Square Garden. Upon his return to Manhattan, Rock eschewed spectacle in favor of a benefit show at Terminal 5, supporting the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. For a multitude of reasons, the modestly sized Terminal 5 was far from filled: the tickets to the benefit were higher than those typically charged to see him; New York City customarily empties during the last week of summer and Levon Helm and The Black Crowes were playing a few blocks away in Central Park. As opposed to its typical rush hour subway feel, the comfortably spaced Terminal 5 floor made for a rare opportunity to get a close up view of Rock without getting crushed but also failed to generate the hysteria that fuels many of his performances.

Coming out to the strains of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” with its emphasis on being born and raised in South Detroit, Rock burst into “Rock N Roll Jesus” that led into an hour, forty-five minute set that didn’t vary much from what he’s been doing over the past two years. Part rock and roll history lesson, part multi-genre mash up, a Kid Rock’s show tends to be a veritable jukebox of country, classic rock, metal, southern rock, hip-hop and rap. He methodically chants the verses of “Son Of Detroit” over the snarling guitar riff from Z.Z. Top’s “La Grange,” lists bands he likes over the crunch of Metallica’s “Sad But True” in “American Badass,” Devil Without A Cause’s “Wasting Time” has reemerged as a hybrid with Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” and Rock’s biggest hit, “All Summer Long” boldly appropriates Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves Of London” and Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” It’s slightly incongruous that Rock, whose albums and concerts can play out like a rock and roll encyclopedia, would score the greatest success of his career with one of his more uncreative modifications.

For a benefit supporting research into the higher functioning of the brain, Kid Rock offered a less cerebral form of entertainment. He talked sweet to the women, letting them know that he wants to “fuck you like he’s never going to see you again” (which is actually a bit more romantic than his prior proclamation that he likes “to fuck hot pussy until it’s cold”), offered his opinions on what constitutes a fine night out on the town – if you’re wondering, it includes “30 packs of Strohs” and a “30 pack of hos” and “finding West coast pussy for his Detroit playas” – and explained how he got over Pamela Anderson, again if curious, she’s half Pam’s age and twice as hot.

For all the profane lyrics and redneck imagery, Kid Rock’s shows are a rollicking good time. He plays up his blue collar roots to the hilt on songs like “Son Of Detroit” and “Lowlife” and gets everyone’s fists in the air for “Bawitaba” and “American Badass.” He also keeps his sense of humor and sense of perspective, ambling into the first stanzas of “Cowboy,” on the piano with a winking chuckle towards the overblown serious of rock and roll excess that peaked with “November Rain.”

Many flinch away from Kid Rock’s populist appeal, his attraction more primal than anything else. For women, he represents the guy who makes them lose all their inhibitions, someone who will never get parental approval; for men, he serves as a surrogate and outlet for a wide variety of repressed feelings of aggression. Then again, I may be giving the whole matter too much thought.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Friday's Earful: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

By: David Schultz

As Peter Bogdanovich has already chronicled every aspect of Tom Petty's career in a briskly-paced four hour documentary, there's really only one way left for the youngest Wilbury to repackage thirty years of memories in a wide spanning retrospective without redishing old dirt: a comprehensive 4 CD set of live recordings. Cutting through all the PR hyperbole, The Live Anthology will feature 48 live tracks culled from recordings made between 1978 and 2007. Like every major undertaking these days, there will be expanded "deluxe" versions with added tracks and "bonus" DVD concert footage.

DESPITE THE FACT THAT I will be going, I managed to miss the fact that U2 has been forced to reschedule their Friday night show at New Jersey's Giants Stadium from September 25 to Wednesday, September 23. With the New York Jets (who aren't really from New York anymore) moving their Sunday game against the Tennessee Titans from 4:15 p.m. to 1:00 p.m. so that their Jewish fans may be home by sundown to celebrate (well, really commemorate) Yom Kippur, there would be insufficient time to remove the band's elaborate stage set-up. U2's publicists have declared that the three hour time change makes the Friday night show "logistically impossible." I figure if I missed this, you may have too.

THOSE READERS (yes, I'm optimistic, I'm using the plural) who enjoy their daily earful will have to live without it for a day. In celebration of Labor Day, Earvolution will be enjoying a day of rest. Come on back on 9/8.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Thursday's Earful: Ticket Scalpers . . . Er Secondary Market Ticket Brokers

By: David Schultz

This past Sunday, The New York Times ran an interesting article by Ben Sisario about the transformation of ticket scalpers into the secondary-market ticket industry. Although Sisario mentions such hot button issues like Ticketmaster’s acquisition of its own secondhand site, the Springsteen fiasco and the murky issue of whether the artists themselves are the origin of and benefit from the resale of premium tickets, he doesn’t delve into them. He does however document the growing legitimacy of the scalping industry as it tries to shed its seedy back alley image and go legit. It’s well worth reading. Just click on the link above.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Sean Lennon and Kemp Muhl Recreate John and Yoko Nude Cover

John Lennon and Yoko Ono posed for many famous pictures, but one of the more memorable ones was the nude pose John struck straddling Yoko the ended up on the cover of Rolling Stone. Now, Lennon's son Sean has recreated the Annie Leibovitz shot with his naked model girlfriend Kemp Muhl.

In the modern version, Sean switches places with his Mom in the pose, while Kemp goes nude ala John. You can check out the NSFW pic here. The shot is part of a Purple magazine story due out this fall, which looks like it will also include an interview with the couple and one with Yoko.

Wednesday's Earful: Trey Anastasio Shine

By: David Schultz

Following the announcement of Phish’s recently-ended hiatus, Trey Anastasio spent the ensuing months recording Shine. Upon its release, the self-entitled phuckheads that thought Phish should tour in perpetuity took out their frustration over the band’s absence by instinctively heaping mountains of scorn the guitarist’s solo effort. Even at the time, the insulting and derogatory nature of the reaction towards Shine seemed more like the prattling of spoiled children throwing a tantrum that they can’t have their Phish than it did reasoned criticism. Now that Phish has made their triumphant return, completing their much anticipated summer tour, perhaps it may be its time to revisit and reevaluate Anastasio’s much-debated 2005 album.

Too poppy for the classic rock format and to jammy for mainstream radio, Shine nimbly managed to avoid catching on with either. Especially when compared to the rest Anastasio’s catalog, Shine compares to Eric Clapton’s output from the Eighties, before the Crossroads renaissance rejuvenated his career and cast Slow Hand in a more staid light. The title track, one of Anastasio’s sunniest, is a fine little pop song, although its weird overdub at the end of the chorus proves distracting. In contrast to the organic nature of the brunt of Phish’s catalog, some of the more obvious vocal tweaking on Shine still comes across as slightly jarring. Even now, the poppy nature of Shine retains its ability to baffle: that a jamband legend could come up with something so accessible and, dare anyone say it, simple, seems to betray an inner weakness. After all, how dare Phish's heart and soul create something that's meant to be enjoyed by people outside the Phish sphere of influence? What was he trying to do? Turn the whole scene into the Dave Matthews Band? There’s no denying that the album has its fill of catchy tunes and Anastasio foreshadows the orchestral base of Bar 17 and possibly his recent Times Turns Elastic with string arrangements lurking subtly beneath the surface of some of the tracks.

Anastasio would ultimately reclaim Shine in the time-tested jamband manner: on stage. Listening to songs like “Shine,” “Tuesday,” “Air Said To Me” and “Sweet Dreams Melinda” within the context of their live versions, they hold up as the blueprints from which Anastasio built something fine. Shine never had prayer of finding favor with Phish’s fanbase: it was too much of a marked shift from what many of Phish’s fans expected or wanted from their leader. In hindsight, the criticisms hurled at the album may have been fair but the venom with which it was spit forth still remains unconscionable.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Tuesday's Earful: Kid Rock

By David Schultz

Over the years Kid Rock has referred to himself as the "early morning stoned pimp," an "American badass" and a "devil without a cause." He even referred to himself as "the Bullgod: the illegitimate son of man" before going in another direction and opting for the less subtle "Rock N Roll Jesus." All of these self-congratulatory appellations might give you the impression that Kid Rock doesn't spend a lot of time thinking about the world outside his own. If it does, then your perception about the man is gravely mistaken.

Tomorrow night, Kid Rock will play a benefit show at New York City's Terminal 5 in support of the Bronx-based, not-for-profit Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. The agency is founded on the idea that music has unique powers to heal, rehabilitate and inspire and that music therapy can restore and improve our physical, emotional and neurological health. The Institute, founded with the help of renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks, is dedicated to advancing scientific inquiry on music and the brain and to developing clinical treatments to benefit people of all ages.

All those who labor under the belief that Kid Rock is part of the problem will have to reconcile their wayward opinion with the fact that tomorrow night, he is part of the cure. Tickets for the benefit are still available.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!