Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Giraffes: Ruled

By: Rinjo Njori

Ruled shouldn't be The Giraffes epitaph but it sure sounds like that as the latest (last) album stampedes to the pulsing end. To the uninitiated, The Giraffes position in the rock universe is somewhere on the border between Bad Brains and System of a Down. Over the last 10 years they have moved from whiskey soaked surf balladeers to a live hard rock institution. Baptized and baptizing their fans at every show with a stiff middle finger anchored with a smile, replacing their witty vocals with cigarette warning labels, and lots of beer. The current lineup came to a conclusion on February 5, 2011 and Ruled definitely sends the Lazar era out on the right note. However, the bands legacy won’t be with this album.

A distortion fueled intro kicks off "The Border." Reminiscent of Bad Brains "Intro" from I Against I, Damien Paris lays back on every sound afforded to his guitar over the first minute. Andrew Totolos and Jen Carstensen provide a solid backbeat, before Totolos cymbal taps give way to Lazar's trademark vocals. The lyrics, both verse and chorus, quickly illustrate what a strong band The Giraffes have become during their decade long existence. Every Giraffe shouts the chorus, "We get what we want and what we want is what you got!" Starting off so promising seems to hurt the prospects for the album—but that wasn’t the case of the lead tracks on Prime Motivator or The Giraffes. The band revisits these same lyrics midway through the album on "The Invasion". Very different musically, it hints at the often mentioned but never heard early years before Lazar joined and they were mainly an instrumental band. Perhaps this is a taste of “the future” without Lazar? “The Bed” and “The Store” could quickly be dismissed as better than average mid-90s grunge ballads that Alice In Chains churned out on their acoustic EP’s, but these songs are where Lazar really shines. The rest of the band plays to his great vocals. Lazar aptly moves between anger, frustration, and joy. Like Prime Motivator’s “Medicaid Benefit Applique” or any song off of A Gentlemen Never Tells, Lazar can carry a song just as well as the band carries him on “The City,” “Wage Earner” or the epic “Man U.” ”The City” and “The War” are great songs that represent how much the band has solidified their sound on the last two albums. Paris’ guitar work is slick and easily shifts between tempos. Totolos, like Paris, has been there from the beginning and anchors the band. Sadly this is the only recording where Totolos and bassist Carstensen can show how tight they have become as the Giraffes’ rhythm section. “The Occupation” closes out the album. As a last song it succeeds and fails. Rolling along with the sound and feel of Prime Motivator's "Done," the tempo gets faster and faster as the song progresses much like the opening track, "The City". Five minutes into it Parrish, Drummer, and Carstensen all seemingly take their bows with the slow outro that makes Sun O))) look like early DRI. Perhaps the waning is supposed to illustrate the finality of Lazar's departure, but at times it is painful due to its length.

Ruled ultimately will satisfy all the Giraffes fans that bothered to support them, but their previous two albums are the heart and soul of the Giraffes. During those years The Giraffes ruled their criminally small universe. For those lucky enough to have witnessed one of the truly great live rock bands of the last 5 years—enjoy those memories and their back catalogue. . Paris, Totolos and Carstensen have a great base to rule again—but filling Lazar’s shoes might be more of a challenge. When Lazar arrived at the mic stand for his last performance he gave the crowd what they wanted, “If we don’t make it by the end of this show, I’m quitting”. Validating how great the music was, but at the same time acknowledging these Giraffes – Ruled! Time simply ran out.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse Dead at 27

Amy Winehouse was found dead in her London home today at age 27, reports MSNBC. While Winehouse has an amazing voice, much of her fame came from tabloids and her public battles with personal demons. She released her debut record in 2003 Winehouse's 2003 debut and that year was nominated for the UK's coveted Mercury Prize. She was a near instant tabloid regular and her fame exploded in 2006 when her "Back to Black" record garnered six Grammy Award nominations and five wins - one of the best single year Grammy hauls by any female artist in history.

London Police released this statement: "Police were called by London Ambulance Service to an address in Camden Square NW1 shortly before 16.05hrs today, Saturday 23 July, following reports of a woman found deceased. On arrival officers found the body of a 27-year-old female who was pronounced dead at the scene. Enquiries continue into the circumstances of the death. At this early stage it is being treated as unexplained."

Winehouse joins the ranks of Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison and many others, as musicians who passed away at age 27. While Winehouse was accomplished, she did not reach the heights of those listed above. The double tragedy beyond losing her life is she seemed to have the talent to hit that level of regard. However, Winehouse struggled with fame from the beginning and many in the coming days will say how they predicted an early demise for Winehouse coming from the early stages of her career.

Friday, July 22, 2011

KLCS TV Los Angeles Friday Night Music Lineup

KLCS PBS television in Los Angeles airs Sun Studio Sessions tonight at 10:00pm, just before Austin City Limits. This week's episode features Backyard Tire Fire. As we've said before, we've been fans of these guys for years now and they're super musicians and plain good people.

Relentless road warriors whose music has a “storyteller’s touch and a guitar god’s muscle” (Paste Magazine), Back Yard Tire have performed on NPR's nationally broadcast "Mountain Stage and on Sirius/XM's Acoustic CafĂ©. On this episode the band shares some stories behind their songs and performs multiple tracks from their latest record, including “Brady” and “Good to Be.”

The music gets going earlier though with the legendary and still amazing Robert Plant with the Band of Joy on Live from the Artists' Den at 8pm. Then the incomparable Drive By Truckers rock Austin City Limits at 9pm. Good night to stay in and rock out Los Angeles, all courtesy of KLCS TV!

Chicago PBS WYCC Friday Night Music Programming

Chicago PBS affiliate WYCC has a great lineup of music programming tonight. First, the Ryan Montbleau Band appears on Sun Studio Sessions at 7:30pm. The band performs its jazz-infused rock on 200+ show dates a year including at major festivals such as Bonnaroo and New Orleans’ Jazz Fest. Ryan was named Best Male Vocalist in the 2007 Boston Music Awards. On this episode, Ryan and band perform multiple tracks typically featured in their live show, including “75 & Sunny” and “Honeymoon Eyes.”

Next up is the venerable Austin City Limits at 8pm, followed by Live from the Artists' Den. It is going to be a rockin' night in Chi-town!

Queen at Live Aid: The Greatest Twenty Minutes in the History of Rock 'n Roll

by Kenner R. McQaid

I missed a very important musical milestone last week. July 13 was the 26th anniversary of what was voted by 60 journalists, artists and industry executives as the greatest performance in the history of rock 'n roll: Queen performing at Live Aid before 72,000 people inside the confines of London's Wembley Stadium.

Though frontman Freddie Mercury (birth name: Farrokh Bulsara) was reluctant to give interviews and tried to maintain some semblance of a private life, he morphed into a theatrical showman when he took the stage with a vocal range of four octaves that was unparalleled in rock. In front of 72,000 attendees and an estimated television audience approaching two billion (yes, that's 'billion'), Mercury and Queen took the stage like they owned the planet. And that day, they did.

Not even six minutes into Queen's set, Mercury had the entirety of Wembley Stadium in the palm of his hand during the definitive live version of the prescient 'Radio Ga Ga,' from which Lady Gaga credits her name. (All we hear is radio ga ga/ Radio goo goo/ Radio ga ga/All we hear is radio blah blah/ Radio, what's new?/ Radio, someone still loves you). As Freddie finished the song with 'the note heard around the world,' it was obvious to the band that they had just stolen the show in grand fashion. A smiling Brian May bowed to erupting crowd. Mercury launched into his solo vocal pyrotechnics while the band tuned behind him, the crowd echoing every last note.

Mercury gave his commentary on Communism by jerking off his trademark half-microphone stand and turning his posterior to the crowd at the end of the political 'Hammer to Fall,' written while the Cold War was still very real. Seemingly the entire stadium sang a verse of 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' while Freddie stood silent. 'We Are the Champions' caused a swaying mass of humanity that must be seen to be believed:

It must be remembered that this was NOT a Queen concert, even. Though performing in their home country, they shared the bill with other acts such as U2, David Bowie, The Who, Elton John and Phil Collins. Still, at the end of the day, it was Queen who reigned supreme before the entire world.

(NOTE: David Bowie followed them. The entire Queen performance, minus their introduction, is available on the commercially released Queen Rock Montreal and Live Aid DVD.)

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!