Saturday, November 27, 2010

base consumerism

I'll confess, for all my transcendental affectations, I'm still a creature of American consumer-culture. Ergo, I do occasionally derive overmuch pleasure and sense of accomplishment from just buying stuff. Sigh. Maybe I'll get in right in my next incarnation!

The place I indulge in this most exultantly is Positively Records in Levittown, PA. This is about a 15 ride away. It's tucked in a seedy little strip mall, and one that runs down a side street off New Falls Road. So as non-prime or hip a spot as you could imagine. But this place is heaven! Kind of beat up, rough around the edges and a tiny bit grimey. CDs and DVDs stacked and packed as tight as possible. The front counter is 6inches deep in DVD - so the counter surface is all DVD case spines. CD's are arrayed in a couple rows of bins and then a couple shelves about the bins and 3-4 rows BENEATH the bins. The selection is great if kinda erratic. If you're looking for any of the dozens of albums Fairport Convention have released since the 60's they're ALL here -- sometimes in pirated editions of things that are out of print. If you're looking for obscure death metal, garage rock, that's all here. No dance music, small reggae and hip hop sections. BIG used section (lotta current extreme metal in here as well loads of U2, etc.) But my favorite section is the cheapie bins - $2.99 titles. ANd there's a HUGE section and it does my corrupted heart much good just to go digging thru this. It's a wonderful opportunity to muse over the rise and fall of careers in the mad mad world of "pop" music and even of au courant underground music -- you'll find just about every Britney Spears record in here, NSync, etc. as well as stuff like Collective Soul, Hootie And the Blowfish, Semisonic and such. AND THEN...
*Screeching Weasel "Emo" - only given this a cursory listen so far but it's tuneful, noisey, spirited and I warrant every bit of rockin' fun as what's being written about in Alternative Press this month -- only these guys are 20 years or so older than what media pays attention to.
*Ashley Hutchings "The Guv'nor" Volumes 1 & 4 - of course this guy was a founding member of Fairport Convention and jumped ship when they got too rock and formed Steeleye Span and has kept leaving and forming bands on a regular basis; this series anthologizes work from throughout his career.
I grabbed these to hear his work with the Albion Band as that discography is a bit too daunting to want to tackle head on. I figured that the Fairport tracks I'd have -- but in fact as soon as "Some Sweet Day" kicked in it was noticeably NOT the version I already had on the Fairports BBC box - so I grabbed my other albums and - damn! - these are all previously unreleased recordings! So worth the price of the admission right there. Then I note that the Etchingham Steam Packet (his band with Shirley Collins) track is another unreleased gem. The bulk of the other cuts are all pretty prime whether they're unreleased or not. Clearly this guy is an auteur of the most puissant sort and galvanizes whoever falls into his clutches.
*J. Henry Burnett "The B-52 Band" - haven't cracked this yet but J. Henry's better known these days as T-Bone. This recording is from '72
*Godflesh "Pure" - I had something by these guys back in the day but dismissed 'em as Swans wannabees and occasionally do regret dumping the stuff that came into my paws when Earrache Records was being distributed by Columbia Records for a few years. Listening to the first few tracks -- I'll need more time. Big thumping beat, noisy guitars. Seems fine enough, but...
*Jesu "Silver" EP - more recent work by Justin Broadrick of Godflesh. Most folks have pegged that as ponderously slow, monumentally heavy slunge -- more Swans wannabee-ism? But this knocked me out. It's much more like shoegazery but with an admittedly HUGE, megalithic bass underpinning. Up top - there's a thick porridge of multiple guitars, keyboards and restrained vocals all doing their best to have THEIR melodic content be heard above the rest of the din. And no one wins that battle! Making the resultant stew all the more intoxicating.
*Ministry "Anomositisomina" - I know that conventional wisdom is that Al lost it after the album with the indecipherable title that starts with "NWO" but lemme tell ya my brothers -- t'ain't so. The brother's kept making distinctive, ass-kicking records subsequently -- the last few lovely in their bold-faced frontal attacks on George Bush Jr. And if the shock of innovation has worn off over the years...well, time to grow up and get over needing that as an essential part of your listening experience. Music's just music and context, expectation, career trajectory are just bullshit metrics made up by folks who don't have ears so they can say SOMETHING that makes 'em seem niscient without having to listen too close or too long.
GETTING TIRED so here's just a list
*Sinead O'Connor "The Lion & The Cobra" -- the introduction of weirdie war-whooping to pop vocabulary, or perhaps the reintroduction after Kate Bush backed out her careering and decided to make art at her own pace.
* Rolling Stones "Voodoo Lounge" - this is one I've owned and dumped. So the secret is -- EVERY Stones album that followed "Goat's Head Soup" has been touted as a "return" to a more ballsy, basic, rockin' Stones. Which seems strange. That implies that the preceding album, in turn was NOT ballsy, etc. So how can each be a return to something that they all seem to be embraced as? The answer is -- they're all pretty solid, ballsy, basic, rockin' -- it's just that NONE of them engender that initial shock of discovery that Stones albums had up to "Exile On Mainstreet" Largely because the generation that came of age with the Stones just grew out of that phase where this band crystalized their hopes, fears and sense of solidifying self.
*Al Anderson "Pay Before You Pump" - solo album from NRBQ's lead guitarist of yore. As you'd expect, great peppy, tuneful, rockin' songs -- but vocals are serviceable in a strained, shaggy dog kinda way.

*Joanna Newsom "Have One On Me" - just curious. I loved her debut (which bespoke her inspiration by she-who's-name-cannot-be-spoken-by-hipsters -- MELANIE), Vs. just seemed this is a triple CD for $20. what the hey.
PS now that I've listened - can't say there's anything here you can't find on a Kate Bush album. Nothing wrong with that. If you need a faux Kate Bush album.
*Metallica "Live At Grimeys" - 2008 live performance they're only selling through indie record stores. $9.99 (and I'm sure bigger indies sell it cheaper). Canny move by canny band/mgt. team. This is from one live show so they only had to pay for recording stuff for one show -- and being as this record store's in Nashville ya figger it wasn't an effort to find reasonable studio rentals. The booklet lists the albums that the studio versions appeared on -- so it's a nice retail sampler. They got the front page of Billboard Magazine without it being an advertisement. Probably boosting their street cred. And let's face it -- there's still a good million hardcore Metallica fans who's buy anything they put out. So chances are their net will be quite respectable as well.
PS this sounds fine. If you like Metallica you'll like this. I don't know that I'd trade it for "Binge And Purge" tho.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Mr. Cohen BACK in the day

I've been watching "Bird On A Wire" Tony Palmer's film on Leonard Cohen's '72 tour. And I LOVE the music of course, but equally mesmerizing are the offstage moments - Leonard being interviewed, talking to band members, female admirers etc. - because his perspective and handling of EVERYTHING is couched in poetry.It's not pretentious at all and his language is not high falutin,' it's obviously geniunely the way he looks and deals with the world and that perspective is shocking in its beauty, wisdom, humility and perceptiveness. But actually you encounter that in ANY of the films made on Leonard ALL of which I'd recommend are worth viewing. And "Bird On A Wire" captures him being amazingly FUNNY - mocking his own image, making up songs onstage about the "tragic poet" and "skulls" being lowered from the rafters as stage props and so on.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Neville Alert

I've written about Ivan Neville before, mainly in conjunction with his band Dumpstaphunk. I was touted their "Listen Hear" EP at the Louisiana Music Factory in April and was utterly, immediately smitten [check out this link of them playing there - CRUCIAL:]. I've seen them twice since - both times at free festivals. There's no questioning the chops this band has or the passion they bring to their playing, but I must admit that the newer material they play live and recorded for their full length debut "Everybody Wants Sum" is not overly exciting to me -- a lot of it's expertly played jazz-funk, technically amazing but not especially engaging 'lessen yr drunk and dancing with a topless lady in the mud somewhere methinks.

Now I've picked up a couple live sets from past performances at Jazz Fest [which you can find here:] and noted that there were a number of songs they played in the past that have not turned up on either Dumpstaphunk release. Checking Amazon for Ivan Neville releases I noted that he recorded and released several solo albums before forming Dumpstaphunk. I've since picked up "Saturday Morning Music" a 2002 release and lo and behold the first two songs wound up as part of the early Dumpstaphunk repertoire - the very soulfully funky "What Do You Want From Me" and then "Ugly Truth" which is another soulfunk gem that presaged the best tracks on "Listen Hear." The latter has a great crunchy guitar hook that coulda come from a vintage Family Stone album or the Fishbone record that coulda followed "Reality of My Surroundings" if Kendall (the original guitar player and a key writer for the band) hadn't left the band for his dad's Jesus-cult. The track is almost worth the price of admission alone and if you can stand MP3 fidelity I'd advise ya buy a download immediately.

Tin Angels with Wings

The last time the Chapin Sisters played Philly it was at the Green Line Cafe in West Philly. Small crowd, rudimentary sound system. Very intimate and DIY. It was Lily and Abigail's first touring and done without half sister Jessica who had recently left the group amicably to better focus on her roles as wife and mother. In the time since, the ladies have toured extensively, working as backing singers on tour with Harper Simon at the beginning of this year and then with She & Him throughout the Spring and Summer.

They've been touring as headliners since September and the release of their album "Two" - a reference to this being their sophomore release and their now being a duo.

As they took the stage at the Tin Angel (with mom and dad [Tom] Chapin in the house -- they'd driven down from Piermont NY to lend them a car to drive to East Coast dates with) it was clearly a much more seasoned Chapin Sisters. While they had not in any way becomed slicker or pat, they'd clearly picked up a lot experience and stage craft.

Abigail and her sister were obviously at home stage, joking between songs to cover tune-up time, sharing tidbits about their year of living on the road and otherwise engaging the audience's attention and never letting it slacken.

Their singing was powerful throughout with their harmonies being flawless and often quite daring. Rather than harmonies with simple, obvious intervals most often Lily would stake out the lower registers and sing in obvious counterpoint to Abigail's high flying vocals -- letting them pretty much cover the same amount of vocal territory as they had as a trio.

As usual one is struck by their writing - lots of catchy tunes but the lyrics consistently, dark, rueful, ironically witty. So you get a nice balance between the sweet and bitter as opposed to most other latterday Ladies of the Canyon who basically are spinning cotton candy through and through.

Pee? Oui!

We went to the first night of preview performances of Pee Wee's Playhouse on Broadway at the Stephen Sondheim Theater. Mrs. W. is a BIG, longtime fan, owns the complete set of TV shows on VHS, has watched the original HBO special dozens of times (our personal dialect is richly seasoned with one liners taken therefrom), seen all the movies and have a respectable, not-quite-disturbing amount of merch on display or stuffed in crystallite tubs in the basement. There really was never a question of whether we'd go to this or not.

The production was a comfy mixture of elements from the HBO special with characters and bits from the TV mixed in as well as a certain amount of new material. There was a respectable amount of original actors returning to recreate their roles (Miss Yvonne! -- most lately seen as Charlie's dissolute mom in Every Day's Sunny in Philadelphia -- Jhombi, Mailman Mike)and the Playhouse set was likewise based on the original Groundling Theater set up but with the fuller realization that those visuals got on the network morning show.

From the moment Paul Reubens stepped on stage as Pee Wee it was clear that he was playing to the converted as the audience immediately broke out in frenzied applause. And in fact throughout the evening every time a familiar character made their first appearance the crowd went wild. Every familiar bit or verbal trope evoked tumultuous laughter. Lotta nostalgia involved and the production clearly was designed to speak to that. As the original stage show never played outside of L.A. it certainly was legitimate for an East Coast audience to be thrilled to actually be seeing this in the flesh. Still -- the L.A. production and the morning kids' show were genuinely innovative, cutting edge artistic statements, it was a little disappointing to see this work presented a comfy walk down memory lane, albeit a cool and definitely surreal memory lane.

Happily the new material that was worked into the show was strong and genuinely funny especially the sequence wherein Pee Wee gets online for the first time quickly becomes obsessed with acquiring as many Facebook Friends as possible.

What also kept the show lively and engaging was the minor slips and problems occurring as this was the first ever performance in front of a live audience at the Sondheim theater: at a point where Conky was supposed to hand Pee Wee the card with the Secret Word it, it'd slipped from the actor's hand and lay on the floor behind him, but Reubens noticed it on the floor, scooped it up and ad libbed without missing a beat. At another point the under skirt of Miss Yvonne's dress came loose and she deftly just tore it off and gaily tossed it away, again, without losing the rhythm of the show. Seeing the actors coping with these minor technical problems and thinking on their feet brought an added air of spontaneity to the production and a little edge of aesthetic danger that was one of my favorite parts of the show.

I did note that Reubens wasn't quite able to voice the Pee Wee character with all the high notes he was able to hit decades ago, but honestly, I think that once he's had a chance to live in the character a while that he'll adapt to his middle aged vocal cords and make appropriate adjustments with fine results.

Word is that after the month or so this production is slated to run on Broadway that Reubens starts production on a new Pee Wee film and on the basis of this show, I must say that my hopes are high.

Dulli Impressed

Johnny Brenda's is the nicest place I've ever seen Greg Dulli play in Philly. Good sound, nice sight lines all around. Decent red wine at the bar. What more could you want? Absolutely NOTHING.

'cause Dulli's always got game no matter what format he presents himself in and honestly they're all pretty consistent in sound and concept and the variations hsbr little bearing on the final affect. You start with that sandblasted voice of his -- not the most tuneful out there but no worse than Dylan's or Hendrix's and he's always been canny enough to be able to coax something moving and memorable from it.

This was touted as a solo acoustic tour and indeed instrumentation tonight was himself and Craig Rosser on acoustic guitars, Rick Nelson on violin and cello and a percussionist. But both guitars were plugged into FX boxes so you got the full rockin' assault Twilighters and Whigs fans are accustomed to with acoustic textures broken out when appropriate. Additionally, one of Dulli's trademarks is to construct a wall of sound wherein the end product is somehow bigger and grander than the sum of its parts and tonight's set was no exception. By the time they hit
"Bonnie Brae" your brain had adjusted to the smaller line-up and the overall effect didn't really seem significantly different from what he would have whipped up with a 5 or 6 or 8 piece ensemble.

Nice set list - drawing from Twilight Singers and Gutter Twins albums as well as the Afghan Whigs including covers from the "She Loves You" set and more recent additions.

This definitely whetted my appetite for the new Twilight Singers album due out next year!