Thursday, June 30, 2011

Stooges - "My Idea of Fun"

When The Weirdness came out, the li'l Stoogeband learned this song. Then we thought better of it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nels Cline and Devin Sarno: "the wulf"

Thanks to T. Horn for the link. Makes me feel like playing.

Nels Cline + Devin Sarno - the wulf from ZF FILMS on Vimeo.

Roky Erickson to Oak Cliff cometh

That's right, he's playing at the Kessler Theater on September 30th. Tickets here on Thursday. C'mon!

Monday, June 27, 2011

6.26.2011, FTW

Since the li'l Stoogeband had to pull out of the FW Weekly Music Awards thingy but I had the day off anyway, my sweetie 'n' I went to Jubilee Theater to catch the final performance of the revival of Rudy Eastman and Joe Rogers' 2002 musical Alice Wonder and give Mondo Drummers honcho Eddie Dunlap, who kicks the traps with his old Master Cylinder bandmate Rogers in the Jubilee pit band, a book of photos that she took during the drummers' semi-monthly visits to Jo Kelly School this year.

Alice Wonder's a modern-day retelling of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland story, with the estimable Sheran Goodspeed Keyton (whom I saw inhabit the role of Bessie Smith at Jubilee a few years back) in the title role. It's the kind of show Jubilee made its name on under the leadership of its late founder Eastman, who passed in 2005 -- a ribald, rollicking, and ultimately uplifting romp, saturated with the spirit of the blues. Besides Keyton, 30-year Jubilee mainstay Robert Rouse shone as Cat Daddy (imagine the Cheshire Cat as a natty pimp, with his backup singers the Red Hot Pussies), as did the operatically-trained Keron Jackson as the Queen of Hearts (a towering drag queen who gets pushed onstage astride a pink toilet), but really, the entire cast (several of whom also perform with Keyton's DVA Productions) was a gas.

I remembered Eddie's offhand comment that "We'll probably never do this [show] again" when I saw Keyton and Rouse _nearly_ come out of character with emotion as the finale approached. New artistic director Tre Garrett makes his directorial debut with Once On This Island, which will run July 22 through August 21. Hopefully he'll be a better fit for Jubilee than Ed Smith was, and Jubilee will find a way to keep Rudy's spirit, which was definitely present for this arvo's performance, and shows like Alice Wonder alive in their repertoire.

Afterward, we fell by the Flying Saucer for a snack and a couple of pints before heading back to la casa, circumventing the "curmudgeon zone" before the multitudes came out for the Weekly event. Will have to try and make it back to Jubilee to check 'em out during the coming season.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Rockwrite Top 10

When I am without new stuff to read, as I often am because I'm diabolically bad at remembering authors and titles (Idiot; write it down!), I often find myself gravitating back to the same pile of music tomes that shaped my taste that I've been dipping into for years. Here they are, listed chronologically.

1) Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia -- I first owned this in hardcover when I was 12, after reading an excerpt on the Who that started a life-long obsession in a giveaway mag at school. Its author, an Aussie journo living in NYC and a familiar of Danny Fields and Germaine Greer, went on to champion the Stooges, the Dolls, and the women's movement before dying from an asthma attack, aged 41, in 1973. I recently scored another copy and was astonished to realize that at the time of its publication in 1969, most of the stuff I care about now hadn't happened yet. Much of the book consists of perfunctory entries and lists of records, but when she cares about her subject matter, her descriptions (of the Yardbirds, the Jefferson Airplane, B.B. King, the Blues Project, the Rascals, the Lovin' Spoonful, and the Velvet Underground -- her tastes were, perhaps unsurprisingly, fairly Noo Yawk-centric) are choice. Must to avoid: The ripoff 1978 edition, compiled by Ed Naha, that used none of Lillian's scrawl but co-opted her title, typographical style and format. Boo! Hiss!

2) Rock From the Beginning by Nik Cohn -- Also known as Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom, this also first appeared in 1969. An eruption of prose poetry that flew off the top of a 22-year-old novelist's head in a weekend when he thought it was all over, this was the first "music book" I encountered that was as exciting to read as its subject matter was to listen to. Still is. Cohn is probably my favorite writer. Besides this and his novels, he also has some good travel writing to his credit, as well as a book (Triksta) about his adventures as a hip-hop producer in pre-Katrina New Orleans. Oh, and he wrote the New York magazine story that inspired Saturday Night Fever. Must to avoid: The 1972 revision that toned down or deleted some of his wilder, more scabrous, and probably-borderline-libelous assertions. If you haven't read him, you owe it to yourself.

3) Outlaw Blues by Paul Williams -- When I was in Hawaii in '69, I bought a copy of Crawdaddy!, the rock zine Boston sci-fi geek Williams had founded as a teenager in '66 and had only recently backed away from. His searching intellect was matched only by his boundless enthusiasm, and he wrote intelligently from a fan's perspective about such obsessions o' the hour as Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, and the Doors. His lengthy explication of Jefferson Airplane's After Bathing At Baxter's is classic and made me a fan of the album, if not the band, for life. Brain-injured in a 1995 bicycle accident, he now suffers from dementia. He deserves better. (Who doesn't?)

4) Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child of the Aquarian Age by David Henderson -- Also known as 'Scuse Me While I Kiss the Sky. Fustest with the mostest when it comes to Hendrix bios, this 1978 tome by a poet whom I'd unwittingly already heard on Ornette's Science Fiction was a worthy read, even though large chunks were lifted verbatim from the September 1975 Hendrix issue of Guitar Player that was required bathroom reading the last semester of my aborted college career. My first edition copy was stolen by a former coworker when I unassed Austin in a hurry to go up to Colorado to make a band.

5) Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs -- I'd read St. Lester in Creem as a teenager, but this 1987 anthology hit me like a ton of bricks and set the stage for me to get pulled back into the vortex by Uncle Lou's New York album a couple of years later. The aesthetic put forth in Lester's freewheeling, occasionally fanciful, and frequently self-indulgent screeds on the Stooges' Funhouse, the Godz, the Count Five, and the Troggs eventually won out over the "classic rock" orthodoxy it opposed, although it proved to be reductionist and limiting enough in its own right. His running battle with Lou Reed was amusing enough, although ultimately a dead end, and his lengthy reportage on the Clash showed how much of a moralist Lester was becoming toward the end of his too-short life. His Peter Laughner obituary will break your heart, and some of his best writing on Beefheart, the Stones, and Miles had to wait for 2003's Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste to be anthologized. Goodbye, baby, and amen.

6) Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and Postwar Pop by Charles Shaar Murray -- In this, the best of the myriad books on Hendrix, a Brit journo/muso casts an analytical eye on Jimi in relation to the sexual and racial politics of his time, his meteoric flameout, and the way he was shaped by and, in turn, influenced blues, soul, and jazz. Good discography/filmography too, for its time (1991).

7) Flyboy In the Buttermilk by Greg Tate -- Just what the world needs, another muso-scribe. An intimate of Vernon Reid and a co-founder of the Black Rock Coalition during his days as a Village Voice scribe, Tate now conducts, plays guitar, bass, and laptop in Burnt Sugar the Arkestra Chamber. As saturated with lit theory as he is with music, Tate writes like a postgrad who's composing his thesis in hip-hop argot just to piss off his perfesser. He does '70s Miles better than St. Lester and Gary Giddins, and George Clinton better than anybody.

8) From the Velvets to the Voidoids: The Birth of American Punk Rock by Clinton Heylin -- Originally (1993) subtitled A Pre-Punk History for a Post-Punk World. Found this when I was moonlighting at Blockbuster Music and stumbling on things like the MC5's Thunder Express and the first Wayne Kramer album on Epitaph. It validated a lot of what I thought about the music I used to get made fun of by the older guys in the hipi record store for liking when I was back in high school. By the time the revised edition -- worthwhile for the updated discography and Heylin's carping about Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's more sensational oral history of the same period, Please Kill Me -- dropped in 2005, the war was over, and we had won.

9) Frank Zappa: The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play -- A Brit scribe for The Wire's Marxist take on the cranky cottage industry entrepeneur. Lots of references to Theodor Adorno and the Situationists. Luckily, there's plenty of a well-informed fan's analysis of the music, too.

10) Rock and the Pop Narcotic by Joe Carducci -- Former SST Records insider and thus-far-unproduced screenwriter expounds at length on the rock process (which he understands better than most scribes) and the deleterious impact of television, mass media, various cultural forces, The Biz, and critics on the music, before launching into an exhaustive assessment, ranging from a single sentence to several paragraphs per subject, of four decades' worth of rock performers. All this and humility too: "One day soon, dear reader, you may even forget that once up on a time I wrote the only book on rock and roll worthy of the name." Indeed.

The Clash's "London Calling"

This record always reminds me of mountains.

Let me explain: In the fall of 1979, I was living in Austin, working at the Record Town in Dobie Mall, and staying in a studio apartment on the Northside, up by Research Blvd. My phone number had previously belonged to a lumber yard, as a result of which I was always getting phone calls at 7am, which resulted in my sticking my phone in a drawer with a pillow over it. One night I awoke after a night of pub-crawling to find all of my furniture piled up in front of the door to my apartment. Not sure exactly what precipitated that.

One day I got a phone call from my old college roommate Bruce, the bass playing fella who'd taught me that there's more to playing music than stealing licks off of records. Our friendship was based on our shared ability to sing every instrumental part off Live At Leeds, discovered the night when I met him for the first time in a friend's dorm room after a kid up the hall had threatened to kill me for not giving him a cigarette.

Bruce impressed me with his ability to play Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart music, spoonfed me Trout Mask Replica a track at a time, and spent an entire semester teaching me how to play material by Zappa, Beefheart, Hendrix, Jethro Tull and Blodwyn Pig. With a drummer named Ronnie who wore a cowboy hat and looked like he was about 11 years old, we used to lug our equipment down to the quad, set up, and play until we heard police sirens. After that semester, we'd both dropped out -- no surprise. Now he was calling from Aspen, Colorado, inviting me to come up and make a band with him and his drummer from back home on Long Island.

Since we'd last seen each other the summer before, we'd both gotten into punk: the Ramones and Devo for him, the Heartbreakers and the Clash for me. Although we'd grown up within running distance of the city, the Bowery might as well have been the other side of the planet from our backwater burgs. In 1974, when Television was breaking the seal on CBGB, our respective bands were still playing stupid Cream and Allman Brothers songs.

I'd moved to Texas in 1978 after Stephen, my drummer from the year before I met Bruce, had called me from Dallas, where he was attending electronics school, and informed me that 1) he'd seen the Sex Pistols and they sucked, but the opening band, a Dallas outfit called the Nervebreakers, was great; 2) you didn't need liability insurance to drive in Texas (I was paying $900 a year in New York with a clean record); 3) you could drive up to a Texas cop with a beer in your hand and he'd just wave (or kick your ass, I learned later, if you happened to be in Fort Worth); and 4) you could earn $10 an hour for raking rocks in the road (the only work he reckoned I was capable of doing).

Long story short, I moved to Texas that summer, heard the Nervebreakers, the Huns, and the embryonic Big Boys, and listened a lot to the American version of the first Clash album and the Heartbreakers' Live At Max's Kansas City. When Bruce called, I didn't tell him that I hadn't touched a guitar in a year. Instead, I went out and bought the heaviest strings I could find (.013 to .056), practiced relentlessly like I hadn't in two or three years, gave up my apartment, and slept on the couch of a female coworker who was engaged to a guy that managed a minor league baseball team back East (which occasioned several very awkward telephone conversations) until I had saved enough money to buy a bus ticket to Aspen.

The trip up was a 36-hour ordeal. We were heading into the first big snowstorm of the year. In Lamar, the bus driver opened up the baggage compartment and told us all to get our warm coats out. I was supposed to have a six-hour layover in Denver and wound up barely making the connection. The bus from Denver to Aspen stopped in every bumfuck mountain town there was. We finally rolled into Aspen around 2am. I bought a six pack of beer, got a hotel room, drank the beer, went to sleep, woke up the next morning, opened the door to my room and saw snowcapped peaks everywhere I looked.

The sight struck me breathless. I ran to find a payphone to call the woman I'd been staying with in Austin, then spent the rest of the day walking from restaurant to restaurant, looking for my friends. (It might have made sense to have asked them where they were working, but that's not how I did things back then.) At the end of the day, I found John, the drummer, throwing pizzas in some spot. When he saw me, his jaw hit the floor. "Holy shit!" he said. "We were going to tell you not to come! We found another guitar player!"

Thus commenced the most dissolute winter of my life, which I spent working in a restaurant, staying in a three-bedroom apartment with six other guys, playing a little music, abusing substances fairly indiscriminately, getting in fistfights with my roommates/bandmates, and breaking my hand on the first day of the '80s by punching a cinderblock wall. Eventually we were implicated in some burglaries and invited to come down to the sheriff's office to talk. I was the only one foolish enough to go, and when I did, I was told that although they didn't think it was me, they did think it would be a good idea if I left town anyway, and never came back. They even escorted me to the airport. I've never been back to Colorado, either.

I left Aspen in March, but not before taking a ride down to Denver with a fella I worked with in the kitchen to buy the Clash's London Calling on the day that it came out. If my shakey memory serves, it was a sunny January day and the mountain passes were clear, and he drove his sportscar like a maniac, to the point where I feared for my life. But it was worth it.

I'd seen the Clash twice the previous fall, once at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin and once at the Palladium in Dallas, and I thought they were the most exciting band that I'd ever seen -- even more so than the Who. When Joe Strummer pounded his mic stand on the stage and snarled, you knew he meant it. Mick Jones and Paul Simonon bounded about like amphetamine-crazed madmen, and Topper Headon -- whose previous gig was with Canuck blooze rocker Pat Travers -- was a crisply precise and powerful drummer who made it all work in the same way as Stewart Copeland did in the Police (although Copeland had sophisto musos to work with, rather than the terrible tyros Topper had).

In the fullness of time, it's easy to see that the Clash were more of a "rock" band than a "punk" band -- which accounts for the fact that they don't mean much to cats I know who are in their 30s now and got on board the punk train after the hardcore development, which made the Clash, with their CBS "only band that matters" hype and opening for the Who at Shea Stadium as though some fraudulent torch was being ceremonially passed, seem irrelevant and even a little bit silly. Like the Who, the MC5, and Bruce Springsteen before them, they were ambitious and thus easily manipulated by management.

They were "rock" rather than "punk" not just in terms of their ambition, but in musical terms, too. Their debut album, as revered as it was as an import, just wasn't that good because Terry Chimes' drumming was one-dimensional and about half of the songs were weak. Already, though, they were writing anthems and trying to rally their audience, which is something the Sex Pistols, who played more powerfully while expressing more negative emotions, could snicker at. To these feedback-scorched ears, the American reissue, which replaced the lesser songs with Topper-propelled singles like "Clash City Rockers," "Complete Control" and especially "White Man In Hammersmith Palais," was a big improvement.

The Clash started to show their hand when they had their second album, Give 'Em Enough Rope, produced in New York by Sandy Pearlman, an ex-rockcrit who'd coined the term "heavy metal," then went on to assemble and manage Blue Oyster Cult. The songs were generally strong, filled with caustic wit, but the record was engineered to make the Clash sound like an American hard rock band. Like the Rolling Stones, they were seduced by their vision of a mythic America, and they wallowed in it when they toured here. London Calling was their Exile On Main St., only it sounds focused and committed where the Stones mostly just sounded enervated. If it hasn't worn as well as, say, its sprawling successor Sandinista!, it's only because so much sincerity can get hard to listen to after awhile.

London Calling is also the album where the Clash started reverting to type, Strummer to the roots-consciousness of his Ladbrooke Grove R&B band the 101'ers (which Joe Carducci maintains was better than the Clash ever were) and Jones to wanting to be in Mott the Hoople -- the band my high school buddies and I used to play air guitar to, even after a couple of us had actually learned how to play, whose performance at the Uris Theater on Broadway in 1973 put me off Big Rock Shows for life.

Mott, of course, was a Brit band put together in 1969 by Guy Stevens, a legendary pillhead, deejay, and producer (he'd previously pulled the strings behind St. Lester's favorite psychedelic extravagance, Hapshash and the Coloured Coat Featuring the Human Host and the Heavy Metal Kids) who had the bright idea of forming an outfit that would sound like Bob Dylan fronting the Rolling Stones. In due course, they became a popular live act in the U.K., and kids like Jones used to follow them around wherever they played. Although none of their records ever really took off, their end-of-the-road opus Brain Capers was a small masterpiece. They were on the verge of breaking up when David Bowie found them, wrote "All the Young Dudes" for them, and bought them another couple of years of quasi-fame.

Although Mott had a reputation for chaotic bashing, their real stock in trade was heart-on-sleeve sentiment, and that was exactly the facet of their legacy that Jones mimicked in all of the Clash songs that he sang. On London Calling, those included the Motown pastiche "Lost In the Supermarket," the faux Spector melodrama "The Card Cheat," the empty boast "I'm Not Down," and "Train In Vain," originally an uncredited "hidden" track that wound up being the song "classic rock" radio played more than any other Clash track up till Jones' "Should I Stay Or Should I Go" a couple of years later.

What Stevens brought to the table as the Clash's producer was a more spacious sound than Pearlman had provided, with a better balance between the rhythm section and the guitars, with the vocals clearly audible up front. (If you've got something to say, why hide it under a wall of buzzsaw guitars?) Also, his penchant for experimentation and out-of-control catharsis in the studio gave them room to stretch out in terms of both developing their material and incorporating sounds and influences, a tendency which would reach full fruition with the overindulgent Sandinista!

For his part, Strummer was busy interjecting rockabilly (Brit rocker Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac"), Nawlins R&B (the little snatch of "Stagger Lee" that opened the Clash's version of Clive Alphonso's "Wrong 'Em Boyo"), reggae (Jackie Edwards' "Revolution Rock," the 'riginal "Rudie Can't Fail") and even P-Funk (listen to "Jimmy Jazz" back to back with Funkadelic's "No Compute" and tell me that the similarity is a coincidence) into the mix. Lyrically, he was tackling subject matter that included history ("Spanish Bombs"), the cult of celebrity (the Montgomery Clift homage "The Right Profile" -- coincidentally, I'd read a Clift bio on the bus trip up to Aspen), emergent fascism in Thatcher's Britain ("Clampdown"), his own band's sellout ("Death or Glory"), and the exportation of culture ("Koka Kola") amid the anthems and invocations of apocalypse.

Like the Pistols' John Lydon, Strummer was a closet ex-hipi who willfully piloted the Clash into an anticlimactic crash-landing, then spent years in the wilderness as a sometime actor, soundtrack composer, and deejay before picking up the sword again at the ass-end of the '90s. Myself, I think he was the big talent in the Clash and that his posthumously released 2003 Streetcore album was one of its decade's best. Jones went on to found Big Audio Dynamite, while Simonon went off and became a painter. These days, the two of them tour with the Gorillaz. For me, London Calling is one of those records that resonates more for the memories it conjures than what's in the actual grooves, but I'm still happy to have it around to remind me of those days.

ADDENDUM: And I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that the Clash were the gateway that led me to the Wailers, the Maytals, and the Upsetter as inexorably as the Animals, Stones, and Yardbirds led to Hooker, Muddy, and the Wolf.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Mercury Rev's "Deserter's Songs"

Being a 20th century guy, I remain obsessed with albums like Pet Sounds, Odessey and Oracle, and The Village Green Preservation Society -- records that seemed to exist in their own worlds. As some scribe (coulda been Gary Giddins, but I haven't had my coffee yet) wrote in relation to jazz, one's perception of music's "golden age" is largely a function of when one first came on board. It's instructive, then -- particularly for one as seasoned and mature as your humble chronicler o' events -- to be reminded that there has, in fact, been music of similar stature produced in later years.

I had my coat pulled in this direction by a late-night virtual chinwag with Transient Songs/Indian Casino Records honcho John Frum, wherein we got on the subject of Mercury Rev's 1998 magnum opus Deserter's Songs, which recently received the inevitable double-disc deluxe edition treatment on the occasion of the band's 20th anniversary.

Mercury Rev's a band inextricably linked in the public mind with the more successful Flaming Lips. Their producer, David Fridmann, has also worked with the Lips, while Rev frontguy Jonathan Donahue moonlighted as their second guitarist for a time, as well as possessing the same sort of high, reedy singing voice as Wayne Coyne. Mercury Rev's been a far less cohesive unit over time, though. Since the band coalesced around the State University of New York at Buffalo, where pioneering avant-garde muso Tony Conrad was their mentor, their trajectory has been disrupted by episodes of interpersonal acrimony that include the departure of their original lead singer, a reported airline ban resulting from an in-flight altercation between two band members, and Fridmann's using their major label advance to send his mother on an island vacation. (On Deserter's Songs' leadoff track "Holes," Donahue sings, "Bands, those funny little plans, that never work quite right," and you get the feeling he knows whereof he speaks.)

While Roger McGuinn used to talk about the Byrds' music being influenced by the sound of jet engines, the early Mercury Rev albums -- Yerself is Steam and Boces, the latter named after the New York State vocational training program my mother wanted me to attend to learn auto mechanics when she thought I was going to drop out of high school -- really do sound that way; man, those records were _shrill_. It was music to match the lysergic chaos of the Lips' In A Priest Driven Ambulance, to which Donahue had contributed.

With Deserter's Songs, Mercury Rev's sound and lyrical vision became suffused with the same kind of human warmth that the Lips were adopting around the same time on The Soft Bulletin. Influence or coincidence? _You_ decide! It's a lushly orchestrated set of songs, with the eerily ethereal tones of a bowed saw -- kind of like a theremin, but more organic -- as one of its sonic signatures. There are musical quotes -- perhaps inadverent -- from Brahms' "Lullabye" (in "Endlessly") and "All the Young Dudes" (in "Opus 40"), while "Goddess On A Hiway" hits more like a sea chantey than a road song.

Their printed lyrics are kind of impenetrable, as they employ a stylized vernacular style in the manner of Captain Beefheart's "Orange Claw Hammer," but the real story on this shiny silver disc is in its instrumental arrangements, which the band tacitly acknowledged when they released a remixed version sans vocals earlier this year. Indeed, four of the album's twelve songs were vocal-free to begin with: "I Collect Coins," which hits like dimly-recalled late 19th century parlor music; "The Happy End (The Drunk Room)," which overlays a skirling gypsy melody on a slightly out-of-kilter ostinato; the soothing, atmospheric ambience of "Pick Up If You're There," which follows the album's soaring emotional climax, "The Funny Bird;" and the untitled, unlisted twelfth track, a pastiche of Varese-via-Zappa that undercuts the putative finale "Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp" to close the album on a quizzical note.

Like the Zombies circa Odessey and Oracle, Mercury Rev intended to break up after cutting Deserter's Songs, a decision which they reconsidered when the album catapulted them to unexpected success in Europe. While they've continued to record and tour since then, it remains their pinnacle.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

My scrawl in the FW Weekly

I penned a couple of the music awards blurbs. If memory serves, the "Guitarist" category and two of the "Hall of Fames."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

WTF? Pere Ubu live in 2011!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stooges - "Down On the Street"

Saturday, June 18, 2011

6.17.2011, Dallas

Went to the Palladium to see Bootsy Collins with T. Horn. I'd never seen any of the P. Funk mob live before -- closest I ever came was when G. Clinton headlined at Jazz By the Boulevard two years ago, and got rained out -- unlike Mr. Horn, who'd seen George three times, and Mike Maxwell from Zanzibar Snails/SubKommander, whom we encountered in the bar and who said he'd seen the Funk Mob in 1980 for his very first concert, as well as numerous times since then. (That's right, kids, experimental musos dig the funk.)

We killed a couple of hours in the Jack Daniels Saloon, then made it over to the Palladium after the start of Bootsy's set, just as they were starting to play "Cosmic Slop," which made Terry smile. They played "Red Hot Mama" and "Mothership Connection" later on, too. The band included Blackbyrd McKnight on guitar, Bernie Worrell on keys, Bootsy's Cinci homeboy Frankie "Kash" Waddy kicking the traps, J.M. Stevens (ex-Pretenders and Miles Davis) on second bass, three horns, three backup singers, a second keyboardist, and Bootsy's wife Patti dancing. He introduced all of 'em at the end of the set, before the encore, in a manner that was more intimate and less mannered than any performer I've ever seen addressing a coupla thousand people.

They played "Purple Haze" for Jimi and "I Want To Take You Higher" for Sly, only a couple of songs from the new album ("Don't Take My Funk Away," during which Bootsy quietly tipped offstage for a costume change, of which he had a couple, and the revived "Munchies for Your Love"), and at one point near the end of the set, Bootsy parted the audience like the Red Sea and came down among us to grip 'n' grin. ("Security warned us about doing this," he said, reminding me of James Brown letting the kids onstage in Boston the night after MLK was shot.) While the Mothership didn't come down (it's in the Smithsonian now, yo), I thought I could see its shadow for a minute there.

ADDENDUM: A weird thing -- when we walked into the Palladium, nobody asked for a ticket. Hope Bootsy got paid.

Apache 5's equipment stolen

Joshua Loewen sends:

So by now, many if not most of you know that on the eve of our (The Apache 5 - Myself, Austin Green, Kyle Barnhill, and Steffin Ratliff) CD release party/art show extravaganza at The Where House, almost all of our equipment and all of our to-be-released CDs were stolen (The illustrious Steve Steward also lost a costly and heavy piece of equipment as well.) Thieves who were bound and determined, while callous and cowardly, actually knocked down a wall of brick and triple-layered plywood to climb into our rehearsal space and relieve us of most of our amplifiers, instruments, pedals, cases, etc... This sucks and anyone can understand that right off. But here's the thing: the stuff we lost wasn't "stuff." It was hard-earned, it was money saved, it was *time* spent cultivating a sound-searching for the right stuff for each of us, and it was (especially with the CDs) a labor of love and personal choice. These things almost never turn out positive, but last night a healthy start towards that transformation occurred.

Many of you, many who I don't know, showed up to the Where House and gave YOUR hard earned money, and time, and most importantly your love and support. It was a peculiar and wonderful feeling for those of us who spent most of the day feeling disheartened, bitter, and violated. The evening was all that we could've asked for, and our friends lent their prized, time-saved, hard earned gear so that we could still play. While we had no CDs to release for the night, our show was an exorcising, transcending experience and was the best possible night cap on a terrible day. So this is simply a heartfelt thank you, and show of gratitude to Casey Smith, The Where House, Squirt & Prianha Bear, Nicole Ofeno, Thomas Knight, Mills & Co., Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers, and ANY AND ALL who came last night.

There are talks of an impending benefit show*, which is flattering and humbling, in the next few weeks and I will certainly get the word out when that comes to fruition. But for now, thank you all again so much and here is a list of what was lost for those who have asked and those who feel like helping in anyway. We may never see this stuff again, but I would rather try and get the word out, than just lie there and take it.

Stolen on 6/17 from 2512 Hemphill:


1. Late 2000's era Vox AC-15 Heritage, 50th Anniv, White Tolex
2. Early 1960's Silvertone 1484 - Head & Cabinet
3. Ashdown EVO 2 500 Bass Head
4. 2 Yamaha 12" Black PA speakers
5. 1990s era Fender Princeton Chorus (Black tolex)
6. 1990s era Fender Deluxe (Black tolex) (**These last two were not ours, but our close friends and maybe more difficult to recover but we shall try nonetheless, as we feel terrible for them too)


1. Early 2000's era Fender (MIM) Jazz Bass, Sunburst with Red Tortoise pickguard, chrome ash tray and thumb rest
2. 1980's era Epiphone Sheraton I (Korean made) - tobacco burst, custom chrome hardware, bigsby vibrato, *Has unique dowels with stars on them from where the original bridge was - one-of-a-kind guitar


1. New - Planet Waves Tuner
2. Rockett Pedals - Animal Overdrive - Red
3. Malekko Chicklet Reverb - very distinct, tiny, pink gum colored pedal
4. Boss TR2 Tremolo Pedal - dark green *All on one small, hand made board
5. Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
6. Full Tone OCD - Overdrive pedal
7. Boss TU2 Tuner
8. Voodoo Lab Pedal Power box
9. Marshall Blues Breaker - Over drive - dark blue
10. Line 6 Verbzilla Reverb pedal
11. Electro-Harmonix Q-Tron Envelope Filter*These were all on Steffin's board which is a large, flat road case

*No, we do not have serial #'s unfortunately, just not something any of us took the time to do, but maybe we'll get lucky and some of this will make it's way back to us.

** I just tagged as many people as I could that were related to this at all. Please pass this on, thank you!

Humbly and Gratefully,

Joshua, Austin, Kyle, Steffin, and Steve

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Who Sell Out

This is the first record I ever went totally apeshit over to the point where I had to hear it four times a day for months, until Live At Leeds arrived and supplanted it, to the great annoyance of my Sound of Music-loving sister. I bought it for a couple of bucks out of the bargain bin at the camera store where my first crush used to occasionally work on the weekends, where I bought lots of records on the off chance of having a convo with her. Last week I was in Half Price Books and stumbled on a double LP version, on the Russian label Vinyl Lovers, that I'd passed on when I saw it on Forced Exposure's list for 40 bucks, but figured it'd be worthwhile for half that. (I'm the shittiest/cheapest fanboy ever.) It combines one disc of the 1995 remix, sequenced the way the remastered CD was with some stuff that wasn't on the original LP, with a second disc containing all the CD bonus tracks, many of which I used to own on bootlegs back when you could still buy any record with the Who name on it and not be disappointed.

I'm not a fan of the '95 remix, because when Townshend's then-brother-in-law Jon Astley remixed it, he dispensed with the rinky-dink transistor radio sound that Kit Lambert got on the original LP, which was an integral part of the album's concept: a tribute, complete with fake advertisements, to the pirate radio stations that helped make the Who a success in England and provided a needed alternative to the stodgy BBC back in those halcyon, pop-mad days. Sure, Lambert had taken the Who's thunderous rhythm section and reduced them to a wash of cymbals with a puny-sounding hint of bass underneath, but that was part of the record's charm, and at least he recorded Entwistle and Moon better than, say, the cat that recorded the Asheton brothers for Raw Power without even bothering to get levels.

While I knew fuck-all about pirate radio when I was 13, the sound of The Who Sell Out reminded me of the sound I'd hear when I'd go to the beach in the summertime and hear WABC-AM blaring out of a thousand transistor radios. I don't want to hear Live At Leeds bass and drums in its place now, which is why I'm glad I own a clean original vinyl copy and have to restrain myself from "rescuing" every one I see while I'm out crate-digging. Still, the Vinyl Lovers version now sits near the top of the pile under my turntable, so I've been listening to it quite a lot lately.

Sell Out opens with a fanfare of cascading daily IDs that were probably meant to be played separately rather than in sequence -- a subversive gesture. Then into "Armenia City In the Sky," a silly piece of cod psychedelia written by Speedy Keen, Townshend's protege whose 15 minutes of fame came with Thunderclap Newman's hit "Something In the Air." Entwistle's one-note bassline and trumpet carry the tune, with a head-swirling orgy of tape manipulation and guitar torture in the middle to represent the Who's auto-destructive stage act. (I was fascinated early on, reading about Townshend, Beck, and Hendrix's use of distortion and feedback, but I probably owned Are You Experienced? for a year before I realized that all those sounds were guitar. B'deah, I'm an idiot.)

The most striking thing about Sell Out on first hearing was how light and melodic its sound was, in contrast with the loud and violent explosion I'd been primed for by reading their press. It was only much later that I'd realize that melody and extreme volume are not mutually exclusive. All the same, the record had a magical, shimmering quality, much more seductive to the ear than Tommy, which I'd found kind of flat and dull, sonically speaking. I first heard Sell Out in the spring, and it will forever conjure in my mind the vision of a mythic English summer that probably only ever existed in my imagination, represented by the lyrics of "Our Love Was" and even more by the chiming guitar and dancing cymbals on that song.

"Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand" was all acoustic guitar -- recorded so it sounded _huge_, like Buddy Holly on steroids -- and castanets. They'd tried recording it twice, in New York with Al Kooper on organ and an unnecessary key change, before they finally got it right. (One of those takes appears on the "bonus tracks" disc.) "Odorono" and "Tattoo" are the kind of slice-of-life story-songs that Townshend excelled at once he stopped writing brag songs for pilled-up Mods and before Lambert started egging him on past the three-minute barrier. (Others: "Subsitute," "I'm A Boy," "Pictures of Lily.") The first shows how much you can accomplish melodically using what are basically blues chords (the extra tracks include an unused and unneeded final chorus), while the second has a arpeggiated guitar figure (run through a Leslie?) that gives its narrative the dreamlike quality of a recalled childhood memory. I used to sing "Tattoo" to my children when they were small, as a result of which my middle daughter has always thought of the Who as "children's music."

"I Can See For Miles" was the record Townshend was keeping in his ass pocket for when the Who stopped having hits, and the last great example of his writing a song around the way Keith Moon played the drums. I've read someone's comment to the effect that it was Pete's attempt to emulate Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd, and while I don't think it's accurate, I can hear how someone might reach that conclusion. It's also a great revenge song, especially for a 13-year-old with zero experience with gurls, and a rare example of a song that's been played to death by "classic rock" radio that I still love to hear. You can tell the MC5 dug this song by the structure of their song "Come Together," and by Wayne Kramer's fondness for one-note double-stopped solos.

"I Can't Reach You" was written on an airplane and it has that sound, in the same way as the Kinks' "This Time Tomorrow" does, although it makes no lyrical reference to flying. Here, the dominant sounds are Townshend's rudimentary piano and Moon's cymbals and tambourine. Structurally, it's similar to "The Kids Are Alright," adding a key change at start of the instrumental break. "Medac" and "Silas Stingy" aren't the strongest songs that John Entwistle ever wrote, but the first one at least serves the album's concept (pretending to sell pimple cream the way "Odorono" pretended to sell deodorant) and the second one includes a round (you know, like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" or "Frere Jacques") in its chorus.

In the fullness of time, "Sunrise" has become my favorite song on the album, and I only just learned how to play it, finally mastering that 11th-to-flat-7th/flat-5th change, a cliche to jazz players but something new to me, having lost interest in my Mickey Baker jazz book before I got that far when I was 19. It shows the influence of both jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel, whose smooth chord work Townshend grew up listening to, and the Beach Boys, a big influence on the Who as they moved away from "maximum R&B," at least partially as a result of Moon's advocacy. Pete's falsetto here even recalls Brian Wilson's. I also remember reading someplace that Townshend called "Sunrise" a love song to his mother, but I'm not going to speculate on what that might mean. I do know that it and the much-later "Blue Red and Grey" are the loveliest things he ever wrote for the Who.

"Rael" is my favorite "long-form" Who song, and the source of the musical theme that, transposed from D to E, became "Sparks" and "Underture" on Tommy. The four bars of music that were excised from the song as originally released were added back into the '95 version, which only serves to jar the memory of anyone who's been familiar with the song for years. A snippet of something called "Rael 2" opens the "bonus tracks" disc and doesn't realy go anywhere, but fades into an unused fake ad for "Top Gear" -- a real London music store from which the Who must have been hoping to elicit free equipment -- that sounds like shades of "The Ox," the instrumental from the My Generation album. "Glittering Girl" comes across more like a Townshend-sung sketch than a bona fide Who song, although the riddim boys are their distinctive selves. The deal-breaker is the thinness of Townshend's guitar sound; he sounds distracted.

There are two ads for Coca-Cola here, which I believe were actually broadcast Stateside, as was an extremely ill-advised recruiting ad Townshend did for the U.S. Air Force that's not included here. (What was he thinking, urging American kids to enlist at the height of Vietnam?) "Melancholia" is definitely a second-tier Townshend song, featuring an atypically Eastern European-sounding minor key melody and a descending chord passage in the middle, influenced, like the ones in "I'm A Boy" and the intro to "Pinball Wizard," by the classical music that composer's son Lambert was spoon-feeding him in the '66-'68 run-up to Tommy. The breakdown at the end is a pretty good representation of the kind of instrumental improv they were doing onstage at the time, from bootlegs I've heard. "Someone's Coming" is a much better Entwistle song, sung by Daltrey, that originally appeared as a B-side and which I first encountered on the criminally slipshod holding action that was the Magic Bus album.

"Jaguar" is the best of the "bonus track" songs, and actually fits in with the album concept (fake car ad). It was the title track of a double LP bootleg I owned in early '73, when I was waiting for Quadrophenia to arrive, and it included some songs that wound up on the expanded '98 remaster of Odds and Sods as well as the ones that appear here. It gallops along through as many musical themes as "Rael," if not "A Quick One While He's Away." Still, it didn't make the final cut for the original album. Nor did a couple of blatant attempts by Entwistle and Moon to suck up to London car dealer John Mason.

"Early Morning, Cold Taxi" is another song that was on the Jaguar boot. It was co-written by Daltrey and Cy Langston, the Who roadie who wound up playing guitar on Entwistle's first solo album, Smash Your Head Against the Wall. For what it's worth, it's better than either of Daltrey's other two Who-recorded songs, "See My Way" (which was on the Happy Jack/A Quick One album) and "Here For More" (the B-side of "The Seeker"). The piss-take version of "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is pretty lousy compared to the one that SRC (the band that Lambert traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan, to audition and wanted to sign to Track) recorded for their Milestones album. "Girl's Eyes" was ostensibly written by Moon, but I'd bet a pint that his buddy Entwistle had a hand in it. After a couple of verses, it meanders instrumentally for a Very. Long. Time.

Things wind up with "Glow Girl," a Tommy precursor recorded in early 1968, after Sell Out was in the shops, and later released on Odds and Sods. It's puzzling that the compilers included it in this reissue, rather than, say, the two Eddie Cochran songs the Who recorded in '67, or the two Jagger-Richards songs they cut and rush-released in the wake of the Stones' Summer of Love drug bust. But that's just a trainspotter's quibbling.

I'm ambivalent about the Who's whole reissue program, which improved Live At Leeds (the original LP of which was just a sampling of what Nik Cohn promised in his New York Times preview of the album, which the '95 remaster finally delivered and none of the subsequent beefed-up versions have surpassed) and Odds and Sods (which was a jumble sale to begin with, so "more of the same" was definitely better) but faltered with the "deluxe" My Generation that was drawn from Shel Talmy's master tapes but was missing overdubs familiar to anyone who knows the record, and this Sell Out, which made the mistake of trying to "improve on" perfection. (That said, it's just nice to have all those "bonus" songs on sweet, sweet vinyl.)

A few weeks ago, my sweetie was talking about how the way you first hear music affects how you respond to it. Hearing music on a car radio, say, or at the beach is a very different experience than hearing it in the privacy of your own room, or in the company of close friends. The Who Sell Out was my first "private music," and the Who are an archetype that has affected my musical taste for over 40 years now. Later on, Live At Leeds would form the foundation for one of my closest friendships (based on our shared ability to sing all of the instrumental parts from the album, as well as the lyrics), and Quadrophenia has resonated more over time in terms of its thematic content. But Sell Out was the gateway, and any opportunity to experience it again is always welcome.

The Owl and the Octopus - "#7; 6.15.2011"

I do believe that playing bass with Stone Machine Electric is affecting T. Horn's solo music.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Peter Laughner

While waiting for the Peter Laughner box set that I really do believe Smog Veil is going to release one of these years, I've been downloading as much Laughner music as I can find online. The other day, it was a live recording of Peter's post-Pere Ubu band, Friction, via French blogger Dr. Faustroll. Then I discovered that the same blog had a link to Setting Son, an acoustic solo recording from '76 that I'd had earlier but lost when my iTunes took a dump and sent 70 percent of my downloaded music to the widowmaker. Today, I found an artifact that's been at the top of my want list for the past seven or eight years, the Clinton Heylin-compiled Take the Guitar Player for a Ride, via The Unblinking Ear.

You should also be aware, discriminating listener, that Smog Veil sez they're down to their last copies of the essential release The Day the Earth Met Rocket From the Tombs, which compiles the pioneering work of the band Laughner co-led with David Thomas that contributed personnel and repertoire to both Pere Ubu and the Dead Boys -- so you know what to do. While you're at it, if you're reading this, you probably can't live without The Shape of Things, the cassette-recorded chronicle of Laughner's very last performance with Ubu, either, so you should cop from Ubu Projex posthaste.

Having said all of that, I have to also say that I'm more than a little ambivalent about Laughner the man, who besides being a key facilitator of the fascinating mid-'70s Cleveland underground rock scene, was also a spirited (if highly self-indulgent) Creem magazine scribe who copped licks from St. Lester the same way he did from his musical mentors before dying from acute pancreatitis brought on by fairly indiscriminate alcohol and drug abuse when he was just shy of 25 years old. For a skin-crawlingly evocative portrait of Laughner near the end of his tether, read Ubu keyboardist Alan Ravenstine's short story "Music Lessons," anthologized in The Da Capo Book of Rock and Roll Writing. It's the prose equivalent of watching a car wreck.

I consider Laughner's death at such an early age as tragic a waste as, say, Hendrix checking out at at 27, Keith Moon at 32, or Bangs at 33. From my old guy's perspective (I'll be, um, 54 in a couple of weeks), it saddens me that as much as all of the above accomplished before shuffling off this mortal coil, in a just universe (or at least one where their self-destructive impulses could have been held in check), they'd have just been getting started. I feel the same way about the people I knew personally who died too young for the same stupid reasons. And saying something like "It's the rock 'n' roll lifestyle" cheapens both their senselessly shortened lives and rockaroll its own self. Tell it to Chuck Berry. (Who?)

Musically, while he was an enthusiast and connoisseur of a lot of other sounds (blues, Detroit, garage rock, Euro art rock), Laughner inhabited the territory roughly delineated by Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Richard Thompson, and Tom Verlaine. It's revealing that after making major artistic statements with Ubu on their first two singles, he reverted to playing sets of mostly covers. Like a lot of musos I know, Laughner was as much of a fan as a player. On Setting Son, after covering Dylan's "Visions of Johanna," he sings his very own subterranean homesick blues on two versions of "The Junk Man," which is _not_ about "H" like you might think. Speaking of which, while Laughner took pleasure in taking the piss out of Uncle Lou in print, in the manner of his writing inspiration Lester, it's noteworthy that the last song he sang with Pere Ubu was Lou's "Heroin."

Laughner came closer to capturing Thompson's somber vibe than anyone save Bob Mould on Workbook, and he could wring a Stratocaster's neck in the manner of the Brit folk-rocker, too. For proof positive, listen to Friction's version of "Calvary Cross" (which also appears on TTGPFAR). He idolized his contemporary Verlaine, and might or might not have been considered as a replacement for Richard Lloyd in Television, depending on whose story you believe. (Besides taking their name from a Marquee Moon song, Friction covered "Prove It" and the Verlaine-ized version of Roky Erickson's "Fire Engine," too.) But his own songs like "Ain't It Fun" (which Stoogeaphilia _will_ play again, so help me Ceiling Cat), "Amphetamine," "Cinderella Backstreet," "Dear Richard," and "Don't Take Your Love Away" can more than stand up to their inspirations. One can only speculate what additional treasures Smog Veil's long search will reveal when they finally get off the dime.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

So Long, Gil

I've been listening to Gil Scott-Heron's last album, I'm New Here, like a lot of other well-intentioned but negligent folks who were reminded of his continued existence by his death on May 27th, and forming a mental picture of him, at the end of the day, as a bluesman. Not just because he covered Robert Johnson and Bobby Bland, either -- the first as Dr. Dre might have, the second via a song from Two Steps From the Blues, but not the one I'd have expected, perhaps because it seemed too obvious. (Myself, I'd have picked "Lead Me On," with its opening lines, "You know how it feels, you understand / What it is to be a stranger, in this unfriendly land.")

After reading Greg Tate's Village Voice piece that I posted here a couple of days ago, I listened to Gil's "Your Daddy Loves You," relived the very worst day of my life so far, and knew that _he knew_. Taking it one step further, I began to suspect that perhaps the cathartic and ultimately cleansing anger in political pieces like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," "Whitey's On the Moon," "H2O Gate Blues," and "B Movie" stemmed from some deep well of pain in his life, the kind that ultimately drove him into traps like the ones he saw with open eyes and described in detail in "Home Is Where the Hatred Is," "The Bottle," and "Angel Dust."

All of which makes me sadder that Gil checked out, an HIV-positive cat who'd spent too many years on the pipe and in the joint, on the cusp of a redemption he still dared to hope for. "If you've got to pay for things you've done wrong, I've got a big bill coming, at the end of the day," he says, laughing, in one studio snippet. "No matter how far wrong you've gone, you can always turn around," he sings in the album's title track. Here's hoping it's true, for him and for us.

Bootsy Collins' "Tha Funk Capital of the World"

Like metal, funk exists in its own universe -- always timely, always timeless. Bootsy Collins knows. Born and raised in Cincinnati, schooled by James Brown, turned loose by George Clinton, Bootsy helped define the sound of the music in the '70s, slid into addiction and career eclipse in the '80s, rose phoenix-like in the '90s and treads the boards as I type this, spreading the gospel of the funk. On his new album, Tha Funk Capital of the World, he's joined by everyone from Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Chuck D. to Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Cornel West for a sprawling mass of testimony and tribute to his funky forbears and familiars.

Funk embraces hip-hop the way a mother wraps her arms around her only child, so of course the aforementioned triumverate of rap eminences fit "Hip Hop @ Funk U" like a glove. Ditto Phil Ade and CandiSweetz on "Kool Whip." "Mirrors Tell Lies" features Hendrix interview samples, affirming Jimi's influence on Bootsy's spacey "Casper" persona. (When I was stationed in Korea, I had "The Holy Ghost" written on my helmet's camo cover.) Rev. Al Sharpton invokes the Godfather of Soul on "JB - Still the Man," sounding for all the world like John Sinclair rhapsodizing on, say, Bukka White. Former JB's trombonist Fred Wesley's on hand to add his signature sound to the mix. "The Real Deal" also boasts a JB's groove, augmented by Sheila E.'s guest percussion. Engaged Ivy League academic Dr. West adds an upful testimony to "Freedumb (When-Love-Becomes-A-Threat)": "Straighten your back up, because folk can't ride your back unless it's bent."

While listening to Samuel L. Jackson (!) spin a yarn about the role music played in his raising on "After These Messages," I'm reminded by the backing track of the way P-Funk slowed down the groove from JB's frenetic fury, same way rock tempos slowed down in the transition from club to ballroom to theater to arena. (Compare JB's "Sex Machine," which had Bootsy on bass, with, say, G. Clinton's "Atomic Dog.") "Don't Take My Funk," lead-sung by venerable eminence Bobby Womack (last heard on the Gorillaz' Plastic Beach), is an old school summertime single that'd be right at home in a mix with Sly's "Hot Fun In the Summertime" and War's "All Day Music" -- Earth, Wind and Fire horns 'n' all. And the closing "Munchies for Your Love" reprises a proto-"quiet storm" jam from Bootsy's second Rubber Band album, replete with Gary Shider guitar solo and Tom Joyner DJ spiel over the fadeout.

The ominously thumping "Minds Under Construction" is a showcase for shredding guitarist Buckethead, whom Bootsy first encountered in the Bill Laswell-led underground metal-funk supergroup Praxis. "The Jazz Greats" isn't quite jazz, exactly; while fusion funkateer George Duke and Miles Davis' '60s bassist Ron Carter are present, it's more for sonic seasoning than substance. (Compare with Tony Williams' guest appearance on Bernie Worrell's Blacktronic Science, which wasn't a good fit but at least represented a noble attempt at a legit connection between funk and straight-ahead jazz.)

Bootsy's persona being as lighthearted as it generally is, it's surprising to discover that mortality is an overriding theme on Funk Capital, starting out with his shout-out to ZionPlanet-10, the child prodigy singer of "If Looks Could Kill" whose talent was sadly nipped in the bud. Funkmeister Clinton actually sings (or declaims) the blues while joining Gary's widow Linda Shider in a sweet farewell to the late P-Funk guitarist on "Gary Shider Tribute." "Stars Have No Names (They-Just-Shine)" might seem like an insipid pop R&B trifle until you listen to the words and realize that Bootsy's singing about his guitarist brother Catfish, who passed last August. Then he gets down to the real nitty gritty: "Sometimes you question God and ask, 'Why? Why'd he have to go?' And God says, 'Son, you perform on the stage while I run the show.'" Bootsy will be 60 this October, and while he still continues to bring the funky good time with him wherever he goes, he's hip that when the party's over, grief and loss are what we're left with. Which just gives us even more reason not to stop the party.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Nik Cohn's "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night"

Thirty-five years ago, New York magazine pubbed the story that became Saturday Night Fever, written by my fave author of all ti-i-ime, Nik Cohn. Read it here.

HIO's summer season

Artwork by T. Horn. Click on it to make it big.

My scrawl on the I-94 Bar

A review I penned of Richie Unterberger's Won't Get Fooled Again: The Who from Lifehouse to Quadrophenia is online now.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Greg Tate on Gil Scott-Heron

One of the best, on one of the best. From the Village Voice via Phil Overeem.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Boris' "Attention Please" and "Heavy Rocks"

What's Boris up to now? And more to the point, can it really have been three years since Smile arrived, in a confusion of American and Japanese vinyl and CD formats, all of which included different track lists, even different mixes or versions of the some of the songs? And then there was their performance at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studio, which wouldn't even have been possible if the Gloves' owner hadn't gotten his ear bitten off at a Boris show (in another town) on their previous tour.

The Gloves has the most skewed stage-to-room ratio of any rawk dump I've ever seen besides the late lamented Wreck Room, and when you added (or subtracted) the substantial merch area, you had a lot of freaks, most of 'em musos that knew each other, packed into a very small space. No matter. 'Twas a transcendent experience, the best show I've seen since the "Ann Arbor revival meeting" back in 2002 and definitely all-time top-ten material for your humble chronicler o' events. My sweetie 'n' I spent all of Boris' set -- about an hour and a half -- standing 15 feet in front of guest guitarist Michio Kurihara's chained Twins, in pure bliss.

Tiny slip-of-a-girl Wata remained completely immobile behind her Les Paul while the bank of Marshalls behind her sang pure Sturm und Drang; to her left, Takeshi -- he of the double-necked bass-and-guitar combo -- towered majestically while hiding his mug behind a curtain of hair; at their backs, leader Atsuo controlled the universe from behind his drumkit and headset mic. When it was over, Jon Teague -- who first pulled my coat to Boris by handing me a burned copy of Akuma No Uta when he was working door at the aforementioned Wreck Room and I was trying to make a living freelancing for the FW Weekly -- walked up to us, realized we weren't wearing earplugs, and walked away shaking his head. "Oh, you crazy kids."

Boris is, without a doubt, my favorite band of the last decade, and they have it all over their countrymen in bands like Acid Mothers Temple, Fushitsusha, High Rise, even the vaunted Les Rallizes Denudes, because all of said bands are, to one degree or another, one trick ponies without an ounce of melodic sense between the lot of 'em. Although each of 'em can, in their own way, kick up an impressive racket, there's not a lot to compel repeated listenings unless you're more of a monomaniac than I am.

Unlike those others, Boris gives you more: droney sludge-fests, outbursts of pummeling punkoid mania, spacey Floydian soundscapes, and extended shoegaze freakouts. Their discography includes album-length epic opuses (Flood and Feedbacker) as well as collections of more concise pieces (Heavy Rocks, Pink, the aforementioned Akuma No Uta). They've collaborated with like-minded folks as diverse as noisemeister Merzbow, doom-drone messiahs Sunn o))), and psych guitar master Michio Kurihara (my fave axe-slinger of the last decade, along with Nels Cline).

Smile was, in a sense, a summation of all the directions they'd pursued to date, with some interesting production touches (the dance-music mix of "Statement" that opened the Japanese version, f'rinstance). This year, as they approach their 20th year as a band (formed in '92 by singer/comically diminutive rockstar incarnate Atsuo, who assumed drum duties in '96), they went '91 Guns 'N' Roses/'92 Springsteen/'02 Tom Waits one better by releasing three, count 'em, _three_ albums simultaneously, two of which I have in rotation on my CD player as I type this. The other one, the prosaically-entitled New Album, is a Japanese-only release which shares four tracks ("Party Boy," "Hope," "Spoon," and "Dark Guitar" aka "Les Paul Custom '86") with Attention Please and two ("Jackson Head" and "Tu, la la") with Heavy Rocks.

To be clear, that new Heavy Rocks is _not_ the reissue of the 2002 album of the same name that I originally took it to be (even the cover art is similar, except in purple rather than the original orange); it's an album of all new material. (And could these guys not win the Truth In Advertising award for album titles? Jeez!) The head-banging "Riot Sugar" opens the proceedings with devil signs thrust high and the Cult's Ian Astbury standing in for Chris Cornell, Atsuo's relentless kick-snare-cymbal action, and Wata's thick-toned, reverb-drenched leads. The curiously-titled "Leak -Truth, yesnoyesnoyes-" alternates a spare minimalist pop -- almost Police-like -- with Boris' signature raging rawk. "GALAXIANS" opens with video game noises, then it's a pure punk explosion, complete with two-beat polka. "Missing Pieces" is the first of two long (12-minute-plus) songs that are the album's peaks, in this case a slow and moody one like Smile's "Flower Sun Rain," showcasing the band's command of dynamics.

Listening to "Tu, la la," one can't help noticing that Takeshi's vocals are mixed higher than usual, and there are actual guitar hooks. While the music's as intense and hard-edged as ever, it's also a reminder that the Boris musos jokingly referred to Smile in the press as their "sell out album" (although their idea of what's commercial is probably as skewed as, say, the Minutemen's was with Project Mersh). But it leads into "Aileron," which is the same sort of powerful, emotion-filled two-chord drone 'n' feedback fest as, say, Pink's "Just Abandoned Myself" or Smile's untitled closing number; like those two, it's a genuine soul rinsing. (There's a faster, acoustic version of "Aileron" on Attention Please.) Then they take it out with a minute and a half of unmitigated heaviosity they call "Czechoslovakia." While Boris isn't exactly pushing back any boundaries with their new Heavy Rocks, they demonstrate once again their mastery of heavy music.

Attention Please is something else again. For one thing, Wata does all the singing here, but don't get the idea that this is a cynical attempt to launch her as a pop diva. Many of the same sonic elements as always are present, but here the sound mix is frequently less dense than one would expect from a Boris record. For example, "Party Boy" (not to be confused with the Me-Thinks' song of the same name) is mixed like a dance track, with the kick drum and blorp-bleep electronics prominent. What differentiates it from yer typical dance club fare, though, is Takeshi's elephantine bass line. "See You Next Week" overlays Wata's dream-like vocal and guitar on a bed of pulsing static. On "Tokyo Wonder Land," rattling percussion is brought to the forefront and a monstro fuzz bass line is buried in the background. On "You," pretty much the whole track works off Wata's breathy, close-mic'ed vocal, sparse percussion, and layers of electronics that swirl and sizzle.

"Les Paul Custom '86" is like a cutup of garage rock rifferama and musique concrete weirdness, but it leads into "Spoon," a bracing blast of chordal thunder and forward motion that's as close to a "rock anthem" as Boris has written, with Wata's vocal wa-a-ay up front, the whole thing mixed trebly and hot. "Hand in Hand" is like an abbreviated version of your archetypal Boris album-closing freakout, reduced to four minutes and change of Wata's lullabye-like vocal, tremeloed guitar, and feedback echoes. All in all, it's a daring experiment; sometimes the biggest risk a successful artist can take is in alienating their audience by surprising them. What this might mean for the future of Boris, we can only guess, but until next time, there's plenty to be intrigued by here.

6.4.2011, FTW

Perhaps you have discerned from reading my scrawl on this here blog that I'm a trifle jaded when it comes to listening to music. Not about playing it, which is always magic and wonderful (although all of the associated administrivia are Something Entahrly Other), but when it comes to listening, there's definitely Stuff I Like and Everything Else. So I was surprised and delighted while leaving work today to hear the Forte Junior High School Jazz Band, a bunch of seventh and eighth graders from Azle, of all places, playing on the patio to an audience which presumably consisted of all of their parents and siblings (since clearly none of 'em drove themselves there).

The band, under the direction of Kevin Chapman, recently beat 20 other ensembles to take top honors at the TCU Jazz Festival on just an hour of rehearsal a week. (Which means these kids must be putting in a appreciable amount of time in the woodshed.) They played arrangements that were definitely not "for dummies" level, with a fair degree of elan and, dare I say, swing. There were even credible soloists among 'em. They might just be the best band I've heard at Central Market this year.

This evening, my sweetie 'n' I toddled over to Fairmount to partake of the soft opening of Shinjuku Station, the new venture of Tokyo Cafe owners Jarry and Mary Ho, located at 711 Magnolia, near the corner of Magnolia and Hemphill. I expected the menu to be more traditional than Tokyo Cafe's fare, and indeed, you won't find any, um, rolls with avocado in them that you might be accustomed to eating at the Cafe and elsewhere. But the menu at Shinjuku is also full of the kind of next-level fusion creations that chef Kevin Martinez has been dishing up at Tokyo, including "chef's special rolls" that don't even have names yet and change nightly, and a number of vegetarian options.

Some highlights of our dinner tonight included tempura king crab with masago aioli; okonomiyaki or "Japanese pizza" with pork belly, pickled ginger and nori; and sake steamed mussels in yuzu butter (the broth to which is a great finish poured over white rice). Have to wait until next time to sample the seared baby octopus. Black sesame ice cream was a nice surprise for dessert. The space looks inviting, with bare brick walls and an old safe which now serves as a knife cabinet for the small kitchen. Plenty of seating on an outdoor patio, too. Service was friendly and attentive in a way that we think will survive when they're slammed. There was already a wait by the time we left; a portent of good things to come. "Soft opening" runs through Saturday, 6.11.2011. You owe it to yourself.

ADDENDUM: My sweetie just used the term "Japanese tapas," which I thought was pretty apt. The other thing that might take some getting used to is the sharing of plates that's at the core of Shinjuku Station's concept, and the way Japanese people really dine. Also, everything's a la carte -- even rice. Prices are still reasonable, though, for what you get.

6.2.2011, Denton/6.3.2011, FTW

I've been extremely unmotivated to write anything lately, so Hickey beat me to the punch with his synopsis of Friday's HIO activity. T. Horn and I were about an hour late for our planned Friday night meetup with Sarah Gamblin to discuss our impending collaboration at the Houston Fringe Festival, but the upshot was that we think we can do it logistically (Terry found an affordable rental vehicle and his muso pal Ryan Supak is letting us crash on his floor for two nights) and we think we have a conceptual framework for the piece that'll serve; we'll find out when we rehearse with Sarah in August. It'll be in a theater, so the performance dynamic will probably be not dissimilar to the show we did at the FW Community Arts Center last summer.

Hickey's GPS guided us to the dance building at Texas Women's University, and after timely pause, we found the rehearsal room where the dance jam was taking place. The dancers included a couple of the Big Rig mainstays we've played with before (Sarah, Lily Sloan who was apparently getting married the following day, Ty Patterson), and there were a handful of musos -- a bunch of percussionists, an electric guitarist, a pianist, and later, a reed player -- already in place. We weren't sure whether to start playing or not, but after setting up my shit, I did. At first it was kind of an "us against them" kind of thing, bringing back unwanted memories of the Yanari/PFF(F)T "debacle of debacles" at the Firehouse Gallery back in '09, but eventually things began to cohere as we started responding to each other, ebbing and flowing to reflect the dancers' movements.

Afterward, we sat in a circle (as is the dancers' custom) and discussed the experience. We agreed that it was a more successful performance than most of the large ensemble things we've done. As we were loading out, we yakked with a couple of the players. Turns out that John Osburn, the head muso who goes to school in Ireland, had witnessed an HIO performance at 1919 Hemphill (which he called "3418 Mayhill" at first, leading me to suspect he might have seen another band there). Uncle Walt was right. Then we retired, as is our wont, to Hooligans to drink, make dick jokes, and listen to people making noises like animals in response to the basketball game. A very different kind of soundtrack.

Following night my sweetie 'n' I had plans to take in Il Trovatore with my middle daughter and her Army nurse husband (who's currently doing recruiting at TCU, awaiting school and then a permanent change of station to Washington State), then perhaps a bit of Pablo & the Hemphill 7 at the Flying Saucer. Lt James wound up begging off, since he was stuck in traffic on I-35 coming back from TWU (!), where he'd been doing some recruiting, and he opted to spend the evening with his buddy Michael, who just got back from Afghanistan, with Michael's wife Lindsey joining us for the opera.

Il Trovatore was kind of a letdown after last week's Mikado. While it was well-sung, including a Korean tenor in one of the roles, the production was kind of ponderous, with long delays for set changes (the production wound up lasting about three hours and 40 minutes), which caused my daughter to have to unass early to go retrieve her baby from her mom's. The plot is kind of implausible, anyway, but I have to remember that I'm not a 19th century Italian. The performance was better attended than last week's and it seemed like more of a "see and be seen" kind of thing for lots of the patrons. I would have been wiser to have gotten tickets for the Philip Glass/Allen Ginsberg collaboration Hydrogen Jukebox instead, but then I would have missed the guy who looked like the wrestler Ox Baker, who yelled "Brava!" after every big aria, proving that he was as well-schooled in convention as the folks who applaud after every solo at jazz jams.

I was especially bummed to miss Pablo in light of the fact that Joe Vano, whom I've been trying to armtwist into performing their song "The Great Bash" again for about five years now, said he was gonna last night. Now we need to go see 'em again, since we haven't in ages, and maybe he'll do it then.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

St. Lester

Pssst! Hey, kid! Wanna see a Bootsy Collins funkumentary?