Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Swans' set list from opening date of U.S. tour, the Trocadero, Philadelphia, PA 9/28/2010
No Words/No Thoughts (from My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To the Sky)
Your Property (from Cop)
Sex God Sex (from Children Of God)
Jim (from My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To the Sky)
I Crawled (from I Crawled 12")
My Birth (from My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To the Sky)
Beautiful Child (from Children Of God)
Eden Prison (from My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To the Sky)
This set list perhaps explains my shock and delight at this first Swans performance in some 13 years at Philadelphia's Trocadero. A nice chunk of their excellent new album and a healthy helping of earlier songs from their distinguished canon. When I saw them at The Ritz at the time "Greed" came out, and then at the Mercury Lounge touring behind "Soundtracks For The Blind" my experiences (no doubt clouded by alcohol!) were that Swans tours were to showcase live recasting of their current body of work. So this set was a surprise, and one I'm certainly not complaining about! I honestly didn't expect to see the magnificent "Sex God Sex" performed live again in my lifetime (been experiencing a lot of reverse deja vu these days!)
The reactivated Swans consists of:
Michael Gira / guitar / voice
Norman Westberg - guitar
Christoph Hahn - lap steel guitar
Phil Puleo - drums, percussion
Chris Pravdica - bass
Thor Harris - drums, percussion, vibes, curios, etc etc...
...and they made a mighty noise! It wasn't the monolithic, impossibly dense, impossibly loud SLAB of legend... it was leaner, more economical and more focussed. And STILL accomplished what the mightiest Swans live performances also have -- creating an immersive sonic enviroment that can allow the audience to encounter trance states, hopefully tending towards the ecstatic. A number of songs might remind one of Gira's participation in some of Glenn Branca's early guitar symphonies (and Michael played on his "Symphony no. 3")but more powerfully recalled the live versions of the repertoire from "Soundtracks For the Blind" - the Swans at their most symphonic.
Other songs traded heavily in crushing beats driven home by Harris and Puleo smashing into their kits double-fisted and in tandem buttressed by throbbing bass guitar chords voicing primal, jagged riffs. Yes, it was heavy. Yes, heads were banged.
I came to this show not knowing what to expect but honestly it wasn't what I encountered -- which was far better than anything I could have dreamed up!
So yes, I have an unhealthy obsession with New Orleans' Dumpstaphunk. Got both their regular released records, some of the downloads of live sets from Jazz Fest (I likes 2008 and 2006 especially well) and such. And yes, I've complained on numerous occasions about the lack of opportunities to see them 'round these parts (how killer would it be for them to play John & Peter's in New Hope - you KNOWS Dean Ween would be sitting in on that shit!) And yes, I likes 'em enough to actually check their website every couple weeks (fug, I don't even check my own website that often!) So I go on the website -- note that they haven't changed anything on it since April 2010 and proceed to the one area they do update - the tours. As usual, no Philly date but...they're playing the Camden Backyard BBQ, on Labor Day weekend, for FREE! Their site says they go on at 6PM, the festival's site says the thing starts at 2PM.
To make a long story short, we drive down and get there at 5PM, find a schedule taped to the sound booth and discover they're on at 9PM (making us glad that we didn't take the Light Rail from Trenton as originally planned as the last train North leaves at 9:01PM - OY!) We thought to bring lawn chairs not knowing what seating arrangements would be (good thing too as there were some bleachers kinda far back and everyone else was flopped on the grass -- and 5 hours of sitting on the ground ain't kind to my back no more). But didn't think we could sneak in wine...tho obviously the cannier folks attending were hip to that fact and enjoying a bit of tippling while they sat through acts like The Radiators (yawn), Marcia Ball (good pipes, clearly loves what she's doing but I don't know that white ladies oughta be singing about chawing watermelon in Camden) and enjoying the view: the festival was right on the banks of the Delaware River with a gorgeous view of the Philly cityscape. Perfect weather too - balmy.
We killed some time by trying to get some chow. We waited on line at the one BBQ kiosk (tho festival organizers had advertised food vendorS, and it was a BBQ... the alternatives were a hot dog/hamburger stand and a funnel cake/french fries stand) for an hour -- and having reached the counter were told that chicken wouldn't be ready for another 20 minutes and to come back to the front of the line then. The wait wound up being another hour! And that chicken WAS good -- just not that good.
Finally Dumpstaphunk hit the stage and pretty much reprised their set in DC. Clearly the "Listen Hear" repertoire has been retired from the live set which is kinda disappointing but then again I shoulda been paying attention to these guys in 2007!
I seen Iggy & The Stooges at Max's Kansas City back in the 70's. A mighty fine show and one that's one of my golden standards for a great gig.
The second version of the reborn Stooges - with James Williamson stepping in on guitar since Ron Asheton's untimely death a few years ago - started playing big festivals abroad at the beginning of this year (maybe late last year) and this Summer began playing headlining shows in the U.S. I was thinking of seeing them at ATP over Labor Day weekend, tho dreading the festival-goer traffic compounded by the holiday weekend traffic. So I was exceedingly relieved to find them gigging in Atlantic City - a scant hour and a half from the greater Trenton area we call home.
The show being on a Friday in late August, we left mid afternoon to avoid weekend shore traffic and made good time. We checked into the Sheraton there (even buying the hotel room thru Priceline.com it was NOT cheap and it's easy to see why AC's tourist business ain't thriving during this recession -- TOO EXPENSIVE), crashed for a while, then walked through the phalanx of name brand outlet stores that line the route from the Convention Center to the boardwalk; as Stooges bass player mike watt might opine: BOUJ!
After winding our way thru the strategically designed maze of some casino (they're MEANT to keep you walking in circles from slot machine to gaming table and back of course) to the beach and strolled to the House of Blues which is at the far Northern end of the boardwalk. It's a trippy little trip with your typical slightly seedy South Jersey shore shops and pizza joints interspersed between the huge facades of the various themed casinos. Being accustomed to the Northern beaches -- and Wildwood which invests considerable resources in maintaining their beachfront -- ACs is kind of a shock -- a TINY sliver of sand; standing on the boards you could chuck a nerf ball into the ocean.
The House of Blues is your typical establishment swimming in faux culture -- made to look elegantly run down and funky; why not. I've seen gigs in far worst places.
So the Stooges take the stage and immediately start kicking serious ass pulling out the classic tunes from "Raw Power" - one of the great rock (as opposed to rock 'n' roll) albums ever in my book (and I know this is not an esp. unique or novel position). I've seen Iggy a number of times over the year and listened to the bulk of his solo work...one of the most immediately striking things about this performance is that he's obviously authentically invested in it, feeling it and believing in what he's doing. And when Iggy's into it, he's one of the greatest rockers out there. There were times when he appeared to be consciously "performing," doing his Iggy act, pulling the poses and routines that the audience came expecting/hoping to see. But there were as many times when he was clearly grooving on his bandmates, inhabiting the truth of the lyrics he was singing and basically being the primal gas-gas-gas his legend is based on.
No doubt having this band to work with makes this task viable. Scott Asheton remains one of the definitive drummers of the Detroit high energy school of rock. James Williamson's guitar was concise and explosive. By leaving music and carving out a successful job in the square-john world (something to do with Sony's computer shit), has allowed him to avoid the ennui and cynicism that he might have developed if he'd spent that time going to thru the motions trying to eke out a career in music with ever diminishing returns. mike watt -- to my mind -- is the perfect bassist to complete the equation. Technically dazzling -- one of those guys who can translate what's in his head directly to his fingers -- his love and reverence for the Stooges's legacy channels all that expertise into playing what those songs need i.e. some of the greatest hard rock riffing the world's ever known (courtesy of the late great Ron Asheton who played bass on the "Raw Power" songs) delivered in a state of utter ecstasy. Watching watt playing, clearly entranced by Iggy, then Scott, then James was a lovely treat. Oh yeah, Steve Mckay, saxist from Fun House was present and accounted for too.
Besides playing the "Raw Power" repertoire, they played songs from the first two albums (Ronnie refused to play the "Raw Power" stuff -- STILL miffed at being demoted to bassist, tho honestly - he was far more proficient on the 4 strings in my opinion) as well as songs written before, during and after the "Raw Power" sessions like "Johanna" which was especially thrilling to me as I never expected to hear any of those songs played live during my lifetime, ESPECIALLY not by the Stooges themselves. (yes, I know Iggy's played "I Gotta Right" as a solo artist over the years)
All in all -- a great night!
I've spent much of the Summer obsessing over New Orleans music, FINALLY gaining some small appreciation for its diversity and also the interrelationship between the various indigenous styles that've coexisted there over the past century or so. One of it's aspects that emerged as key and quite unique to this musical history is a continued respect for tradition and a desire to preserve and cultivate it -- while also innovating within it -- and that goes right back to Jelly Roll Morton and contemporaries like Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, and then continues on thru the likes of Rebirth Brass Band, DJ Jubilee et al.
I've majorly obsessed over Dumpstaphunk, a band led by Aaron Neville's son Ivan Neville - whose played keyboards with an interesting range of people including Keith Richards and of course the Neville Brothers. Checking on their website: http://www.dumpstaphunk.com/ (you should visit - once you enter it automatically plays a series of great live recordings -- I love the fact that the top item on their news board reads: "The newest feature of our message board is that it is now 100% pornography free!!") I bemoaned the apparent lack of regular touring that'd bring 'em close to Trenton or Philadelphia (my primary stomping grounds nowadays).
I was preparing for a trip to Baltimore and a visit to young Wuelf in Rockville, MD and trying to work the day job double-hard so I could afford the day off this would entail. It was BLAZING hot and I succumbed to turning on the air conditioner in my office, which only is effective if I shut the room's door- cutting me off from the stereo in the next room. So's I visit http://www.dumpstaphunk.com/ to use their sound feed for background music, casually look at their tour dates - and see they're playing a free show at the Museum of the American Indian in DC the same weekend we were planning on visiting!
That weekend, we planned too busy an itinerary leaving minutes to spare to go from city to city, event to event. And to make an overlong story slightly shorter -- we got stuck on the dreaded Metro waiting at Woodley Park station for 20 minutes with no indication that we'd ever start moving again. So at the time Dumpstaphunk were scheduled to start playing, we bolted out of the subway, hailed and taxi, burned rubber and arrived about 30 minutes late. The area looked utterly deserted and I feared we'd missed their set, but as we neared the Museum, funky sounds started slipping around its corner and as we closed in we could see the overflow of crowd spilling out onto the street.
It was a glorious set up - a lovely late afternoon in late Summer in the courtyard of the Museum, fountain bubbling off to one side of the stage helping to cool the breezes blowing over the audience, lovely golden glow bathing the stage. And Dumpstaphunk throwing down in fine style!
They concentrated on tunes from their new album "Everybody's Wants Sum" which tend to be jazzy instrumentals or more straightforward soul as opposed to the rock inflected P-Funk of their debut EP "Listen Hear." These guys are all world class players -- but who evince that not by instrumental pyrotechnics per se (tho there was some of that at some points) but by the effortless grace of their playing; they were clearly totally engaged with the meaning and feeling of their music, not having to give conscious thought to their playing. Hard to ignore that they're Ivan and the two bassists are also powerful and distinctive vocalists and no slouches at tight, soulful harmony singing.
They closed the show with a hot ready of Sly's "I Want to Take You Higher" joined by all the Native American performers they'd shared the bill with and then of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" - frankly the best version I've heard live or on record. This show was video'ed and you can view it here: