Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Mr. Stress Blues Band's "Live at the Brick Cottage 1972-1973"

There used to be a band like the Mr. Stress Blues Band in every American city, after Paul Butterfield's mixed-race lineup exploded out of Chicago in '65 -- as world-historical an event as Dylan's "going electric" at that year's Newport Folk Festival (with backing by some Butterfield musos). The bands that followed in Butterfield's wake provided an opportunity for young musos and listeners who'd teethed on folk and rock to experience a taste of urban authenticity. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, the local simulacrum was the Prime Movers, whose drummer traveled to Chicago to sit at Butterfield drummer Sam Lay's feet before realizing he needed to make his own kind of blues, and reinventing himself as Iggy Pop. That's right: No Butterfield, no Stooges.

Even before Chrissie Hynde -- who'd rehearsed with his band a couple of times -- namechecked Bill "Mr. Stress" Miller in a song on the first Pretenders album, I was aware of his status as a Cleveland institution. I'd worked in a Dallas record store with Guitar Player/Living Blues scribe Tim Schuller (RIP), an Ohio expat who'd regale us with memories of Miller's droll humor. (The phrase that pays was "The more you drink, the better we sound.") So when estimable indie Smog Veil announced last year that they were releasing a live Mr. Stress recording as part of their CLE-centric "Platters du Cuyahoga" series, it piqued my interest.

Miller formed his band in the summer of '66, taking its name (which folks inevitably started applying to its leader-frontman) from a term used in psychiatric hospitals. Like those of Butterfield, Muddy Waters, and John Mayall, Miller's band served as a finishing school for local talent. Guitarist Glenn Schwartz (Pacific Gas & Electric), who held the chair in '67, brought along members of his "other" band, the James Gang, to jam. Following a brief hiatus in '71, Miller reformed the band with guitarist-singer Peter Laughner. It was Laughner who originally hustled the gig at the Brick Cottage, a rough-and-tumble joint where these recordings were made following his ouster from the band in the summer of '72. He'd go on to achieve proto-punk notoriety with Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu. Another future Ubu-ite, drummer Anton Fier, was also a Stress alumnus.

Miller -- who died in 2015 as this release was being prepared -- was a workmanlike singer in the same vein as Butterfield or Charlie Musselwhite. His harp playing was modeled on Little Walter's and Sonny Boy Williamson's -- whose wasn't? -- and he could hold his own onstage with Robert Jr. Lockwood, a familiar of both his exemplars who'd settled in Cleveland in the '70s. Miller fronted a hard-gigging, four-sets-a-night unit whose character changed with the musicians that passed through.

On this album, the guitar is ably handled by Chuck "Pontiac Slim" Drazdik, a skillful technician with a biting tone and fierce sustain that's reminiscent of Harvey Mandel. (Dig his solos on "How Many More Years" and "Sweet Little Angel.") Long-serving band member Mike Sands, who ultimately logged 26 years with Stress, tinkles the keys on the Wurlitzer electric piano deftly, while bassist Tom Rinda and drummer Pete Sinks provide solid, unobtrusive support.

The material's drawn from the standard Chicago blues repertoire, occasionally leaning toward rock in the manner of the white blues bands of the time. The songs are associated with artists as diverse as Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland, Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed, Little Milton, and B.B. King, but Miller and his crew tackle them in their own scrappy Midwestern style, rather than merely copying the originals. (The CD gives you 14 songs, the LP nine, plus a download card that lets you make up the difference.) Had they jumped on the offer of a Capitol contract that Miller declined in '69, they might have given the British blues imitators that were all the rage at the time a run for their money. For the Stress band played this music like they owned it, not as though they were borrowing it.

The sound quality is exceptional for its time, capturing the ambiance of the room so well that you can practically smell the sweat, the cigarette smoke, and the spilled beer. Nick Blakey's detailed and informative liner notes represent a journalistic feat on a par with Tom Ellis III's multi-part Butterfield saga in Blues Access, or any number of epic band histories in Ugly Things. If you were there, this release will take you back. If you weren't, it'll give you an idea why you might have wanted to be.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Confessions of a Jethro Tull fan

Even less cool than Bob Seger and Steve Miller, Jethro Tull's music was still as crucial to my misspent yoof as, say, the 'orrible 'oo's. Granted, I wasn't a fan for long -- I got off the bus with Aqualung, when radio and local bar bands were playing "Hymn 43" and "Locomotive Breath" unto death -- but the songs Ian Anderson was writing on Stand Up and Benefit came closer than anything but Quadrophenia itself to elucidating what was on my teenage mind.

I first laid eyes on them on a TV special -- I'd say it was one of Leonard Bernstein's "Young People's Concerts," but I can find nothing to confirm this -- which I also featured the Nice and (I think) Santana. They played "Bouree," a jazzed-up steal from Bach, which Anderson essayed on flute while standing on one leg, his upraised foot swinging like a pendulum, dressed in a tramp's jumble-sale attire, long ratty hair hanging down, rolling his eyes in suitably demented fashion. I went right out and bought Benefit, their current album of the time, and it went right over my head.

I'd just had the top of said head blown off by Live at Leeds, and was investigating the first wave of Brit R&B (Stones, Animals, Kinks, Yardbirds), and the compositions on Benefit were just a little too complex for me to process, the guitar a little too heavy for ears that were still ringing from the sting of PT on Leeds. For Martin Lancelot Barre, who'd taken over the lead guitar chair from the more bluesy Mick Abrahams, had the same dark, dense midrange tone as Tony Iommi, who'd briefly held the slot before thinking better of it and returning to his hometown Brum band Earth (soon to morph into Black Sabbath). Among the other axe-slingers who auditioned were Dave "I was fired from both the Nice and Roxy Music!" O'List and Mick Taylor, who elected to stick with John Mayall until the Stones came calling.

On Benefit, Barre's beefy sound was balanced by the lightness of Anderson's flute and acoustic, and what eventually pulled me in was Anderson's songwriting, which juxtaposed heaviosity with English folk and pop elements. "With You There To Help Me" and "Inside" depicted a community of supportive friends that I hadn't yet experienced at 14; to my alienated teenage ears, they were adulthood porn in the same way as Simon and Garfunkel's "America" was. "For Michael Collins, Jeffery and Me," inspired by the Apollo 11 moon landing, has a lovely lyric, including what must be the only reference in a rock song to the Lunar Excursion Module. And "Son," a nasty blast of vitriol and spleen aimed at Anderson's industrialist father, reminded me of my own complicated relationship with my dad -- kind of like Cat Stevens' "Father and Son," but without making me cry.

"Back to the Family" on Stand Up -- the album that preceded Benefit, which featured a pop-up of the band in the gatefold of its Jimmy Grashow cover (same artist who did the covers for a couple of Yardbirds albums I had in the early '70s) -- was less vituperative, but more revealing of the privileged kid Anderson was. Tired of the demands of his independent life, he goes home to his folks', but everybody there gets under his skin, so soon he's back in the city, where it doesn't take long for him to get bent out of shape with aggro again. Very much like myself when I was young and had "getting out of here" as my life's organizing principle, before I wised up and realized that I took "here" with me everywhere I went.

The spoiled-kid bitchfest continued with "For A Thousand Mothers," albeit with an impressive instrumental backing by Barre and the estimable engine room of Glenn Cornick (whose headband and hollowbody Guild marked him as a Jack Casady disciple) and Clive Bunker (a maniac of the Baker-Mitchell school), both of whom were soon let go in favor of Anderson's Blackpool homeboys who'd played with him in a teenage soul band, the John Evan Smash. While transitional, the '69-'70 Tull was mighty. (For evidence, see the DVD of their Isle of Wight performance.)

I'll also admit to a fondness for the "Life Is A Long Song" EP, all five songs from which appear on the Living In the Past comp from '72. This was the first recorded outing for JT with all the Blackpool boys in place. The title song in particular is charming, and I used to sing it to my kids when they were small. But Anderson, miffed with the press for calling Aqualung a concept album, retaliated with a couple of album-length opuses (Thick As A Brick and Passion Play) and I lost the thread, dedicating myself to stealing Johnny Winter licks before stumbling into Captain Beefheart.

A funny thing: Anderson and his Blackpool cronies were all big Beefheart fans, and a lot of their early-'70s stage business was inspahrd by the Magic Band that toured the UK around that time. In fact, once those musicians had parted ways with Van Vliet, Anderson staked them recording time in his studio to cut some demos, which Virgin wound up releasing (without their consent) as the first Mallard LP. Influence repaid.

Another funny thing: Ian's an ailurophile (big word for cat fancier). He even has a page on the J. Tull website devoted to his, um, musings on cats. While he gets docked a notch for favoring pure bred fancy cats, he gets it back for his efforts to protect the rare Andean mountain cat.

A version of Jethro Tull (Anderson and whomever; Barre left the fold a few years back) is still treading the boards. I remember when they came through and played the Bass Hall, with the guy who drummed on Uncle Lou's The Blue Mask (Doane Perry, for those of you without a scorecard) behind the traps. I briefly considered going, but decided against it. Listening to these albums again almost makes me wish I had. Almost. Even though I got over being mad at my old man before he checked out.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Elvis Costello's "Live at Liverpool Philharmonic" DVD

While Mr. McManus is, along with Tom Waits, one of my wife's perpetual faves (she digs the intelligent wordplay, something generally lost on myself, a Neanderthal who lost the facility for remembering song lyrics in 1973), it's taken me longer to warm up to him.

When he first hit back in '77, I wrongly lumped Elvis Costello in with the battalion of Van Morrison simulacra that were burning up the airwaves at the time, including Springsteen in his reciting-the-Manhattan-phone-directory phase, Brooce's Jersey homeboy Southside Johnny, Graham Parker, Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, Mellencamp in his "Johnny Cougar" phase, and so on. Once he'd dismissed Clover, the Meercun hipi band that backed him on My Aim Is True (kind of like Garland Jeffreys' Grinder's Switch backing John Cale on Vintage Violence) and formed the Attractions, a sort-of pub rock Sir Douglas Quintet that depended as much on Steve Nieve's Farfisa as it did on Elvis' snarl for its impact, he seemed to me a prime example (Talking Heads were another) of Music That People Who Work In Record Stores Like. (The man who brought me here sure did.)

He sang "I'm Not Angry," but I thought he protested too much. When he played the SUNY Albany dorms where I used to live, after I dropped out, it was reported to me that five minutes before curtain, he was rolling around on the floor with the head of the concert committee, fighting about money. In his cups, trying to get a rise out of a couple of complacent Meercun musos, he spat out a racist slur about Ray Charles that it took him years to live down. In the '80s, Maggie Thatcher finally gave him a target worthy of all his vituperation and spleen. Punch the Clock, released in 1983, included a song about the Falklands War ("Shipbuilding," covered by Robert Wyatt) and another about Tory austerity ("Pills and Soap"). On 1989's Spike, "Tramp the Dirt Down" is a richly deserved blast of bile directed at the Iron Lady. And this bit from "All This Useless Beauty" (1996) continues to resonate: "And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts / They still think they're the gods of antiquity..."

In the fullness of time, Costello proved to be something entahrly other than the "new wave" flash in the pan he originally appeared to be: a pop songsmith in the manner of Cole Porter, or Paul McCartney (with whom he's collaborated to good effect). His dabblings in different genres -- reggae, R&B, country, even classical, for chrissakes -- just showed how enamored he was of The Song in all its permutations. He collaborated with Burt Bacharach on 1998's Painted from Memory, and even I had to admire the elegance of a line like "Does the extinguished candle care about the darkness?" (from that album's "This House Is Empty Now," inspired by Costello's divorce from Pogues bassist Cait O'Riordan). He made three good albums with roots Americana producer and Fort Worth expat T-Bone Burnett, another with NOLA R&B stalwart Allen Toussaint in the wake of Katrina, and yet another with hip-hop band turned TV house band the Roots. (There's a vid on Youtube of Costello and the Roots playing his creepy desire-as-menace song "I Want You," which originally closed the first side of 1986's Blood and Chocolate, that's pure fire.)

He's also living proof of Nick Hornby's assertion that the main difference between Brit and Meercun rockers is that the Brits seem to like their parents more. Indeed, Costello's music is as full of Tin Pan Alley and British music hall as the Beatles' and Kinks' are, for good reason -- his father and grandfather were both performers. He gives them (and his mum, in the house the night Detour Live at Liverpool was taped) props in the course of his performance, which is solo acoustic and somewhat reminiscent of Neil Young's Massey Hall tour de force documented in Journeys. The stage is set with a piano, an array of guitars, small amps, a megaphone (that he actually uses at one point!) and a big fake TV set that's used for video projections and later, a couple of performances.

On the DVD, Costello sings his way through songs from his whole career, and talks story with an affability that belies his rep. Sometimes the guitar-only backing makes you wonder what song's coming, and he changes the rhythmic thrust of a few, but never in a Dylan "What-song-am-I-singing-now?" way. His singing has actually improved with age, gaining nuance and shading without losing any range or power; perhaps being married to Diana Krall has helped? On a few songs, he gets help from two mandolin-and-lap-steel-playing sisters from Atlanta who go by Larkin Poe professionally, a reminder of the days when he used to mentor like-minded newcomers like the Specials and Squeeze. A few songs that slipped by me when they were new made a strong impression ("When I Was Cruel No. 2" and "Jimmie Standing In the Rain"), and only once does he nearly trainwreck (doing the playing-along-with-looper bit on "Watching the Detectives"). Good value, and has me revisiting the catalog.

Friday, February 19, 2016

"Little Red Riding Hood Hits the Road"

Back in '71 or '72, when I started being able to get my hands on Creem (at the same place where I used to buy comic books), I read a review of, I think, Brinsley Schwarz's Silver Pistol in which the writer -- it must have been Marsh; I'm FB fwends with John Morthland, and he said it wasn't him -- identified two separate strains of rockaroll tradition. The earthy, song-oriented one he associated with Chuck Berry; the cosmic, jam-oriented one he associated with Little Richard. (The MC5, he wrote, started out Richard-cosmic but wound up Berry-earthy.)

I have to say that when I started listening to, and later playing music, it was the cosmic/jam/Richard impulse that drove me. My favorite records were like sonic baths, and after '73 or so, I paid little or no attention to lyrics. My last roommate in college taught me about musical structure by forcing me to sit with him and play songs (from Freak Out!, Safe As Milk, Axis: Bold As Love, Stand Up, and Ahead Rings Out) from beginning to end, over and over. Before that, I'd mainly focused on stealing licks, and tone (practicing a two-note phrase for hours, trying to get it to flow just right; rolling off the highs on my guitar and trying to strike the string with the pick just right to get that squealing harmonic like Leslie West did). When we started Stoogeaphilia in 2006, learning the forms to all those songs kind of ruined Funhouse as a listening experience for me. Now I think of those songs as playing forms, not a sonic bath like they were before.

In my dotage, I've come to dig songs more than jams, although I still fixate on songs (or parts of songs) that get me off the most. A few weeks ago, I listened over and over again to John Cale's Vintage Violence to hear a bridge that lasts a few seconds. (The last time I played it, the tone arm stayed stuck in the runout groove instead of rejecting for a whole day.) The band Goodwin, who were my favorite band when I was fixated on local stuff while writing for the local giveaway rag a decade or more ago, had a couple of songs that I listened to the same way: the four cymbal hits before the bridge in their song "Airport;" the descending bass line (but not the ascending one) before the chorus in "March."

So recently, I've spent a couple of weeks getting obsessed with Robert Wyatt's song "Little Red Riding Hood Hits the Road." It started out when I heard the version on Tin Huey's second album, disinformation, while riding in the car in the wake of the recent Half Cleveland show. Most of the album was recorded by the '81-'82 lineup, in which Ralph Legnini supplanted Chris Butler (who was off Waitressing), and Harvey Gold played bass. But there were a handful of tracks from the '78-'79 lineup that cut Contents Dislodged During Shipping, with Chris in the fold, Harvey on keys, and original bassist Mark Price (RIP) still on board. "Little Red Riding Hood..." is appended to a version of Price's "Robert Takes the Road to Lieber Nawash," a song they first waxed for a local indie before being signed by the major. Harvey sings in a voice brimming with emotion (he says it brought him near tears every time he had to sing it), which befits a song, the lyrics to which seem to have distilled all of the world's remorse and regret into a cocktail of sorrow that inevitably leaves the singer sounding bereft.

Those words are carried by a melodic arc that approximates the actual sound of human lamentation more closely than any Western one I've heard save Ornette's "Lonely Woman," winding its way from desolation to something like hope -- a curious effect. On examining a chord chart of the song, I realized that the B section chord sequence was the A section backwards. Damn clever, Mr. Wyatt!

Ex-Soft Machine drummer-singer Wyatt first recorded the song in 1973 for his Rock Bottom album, recorded upon his release from hospital after falling out a window while drunk and losing the use of his legs. It's a testament to his creative focus that he continued working during his recovery, repurposing material originally intended for his band Matching Mole for himself as a non-instrument-playing singer. On Rock Bottom, the song hits like an emanation from the Sun, its structure obscured by layers of backwards vocals and Mongezi Feza's pocket trumpet. The version I've been listening to at the house (with the chord chart out so I can pick up my beater acoustic guitar and plunk along when the song comes on) is from Henry Cow's Concerts album, documenting a live performance in which Wyatt was backed by those sober socialists and shared the vocal with their singer, Dagmar Krause. It has a plainer, sparser sound that makes it easier to hear what the instruments (particularly Fred Frith's uncharacteristically strummy guitar) are doing.

Sidebar One: The first cut on Tin Huey's major label LP was a cover of the Monkees' hit "I'm A Believer," using the arrangement that Wyatt had released on a UK single, post-Rock Bottom. His record caused a minor furor in the press when BBC managers objected to having Wyatt sing from his wheelchair on Top of the Pops; in the event, the artist prevailed. "I'm A Believer" always reminds me of the insurance salesman who used to hang around the record store where I worked as a teenager. Once after hearing me speak the title in response to a phone query, he asked, "So, Kenny...are  you a believer in life insurance?" This to someone who still thought he was immortal, lived with his parents, and earned $100 a week off the books. That guy probably died hungry.

Sidebar Two: Henry Cow, who dabbled in lefty politics, to paraphrase their drummer Chris Cutler, the way others did in drugs, took their politics seriously enough to make, say, the MC5 look downright reactionary. All band decisions were made by committee, and when they realized they were turning into a rock band (their repertoire was roughly equal parts rigorously through-composed stuff and totally unplanned improv), they split up. In their last touring incarnation, half of the musos onstage were women; even before that, half of their road crew had been. No sewing costumes or washing the floor for those. But enough with the digressions...

Since realizing the mirror-image chord structure of the song's two sections, I've had it pointed out by an occasional musical collaborator of mine, who was once the president of Wyatt's fan club, that the song "Move On" on David Bowie's Lodger album reverses the chords from "All the Young Dudes." And I suggested to another online acquaintance that he reverse the chords from Mingus' "Goodbye, Pork Pie Hat" to write a new tune called..."Hello, Pork Pie Hat."

Saturday, February 06, 2016

John Cale's "Music for a New Society/M:FANS"

I know people who have structured their entahr lives around going to rockaroll shows, but I am not one of them. So when I say I've seen John Cale more times than any other touring entertainer but Zappa (whom I think I've seen six times, a reflection of my state of mind in the late '70s), it only means I've seen him four times (I've seen the 'orrible 'oo thrice). The first time was at Mother Blues on Lemmon Avenue in Dallas, probably the spring of '79. I was the asshole that yelled for "Waiting for the Man" all night. Imagine my surprise when he played it!

The next time, a few months later, my roommate/coworker and I took one of the Fort Worth cops who worked security in the record store where we worked to see Cale at the Palladium on Northwest Highway. Cale was at the height of his "scary crazy guy" mock dementia phase, best exemplified on record by "Leaving It Up To You" and his cover of "Heartbreak Hotel." The svelte proto-goth of Velvet Underground daze had given way to something approximating a malevolent comeback-TV-special Elvis, and he'd finish up the night writhing on the floor, a microphone cord wrapped around his neck. The cop loved it.

The time after that, in '80, Cale had replaced the band from the first two times (for whom his song "Dirtyass Rock 'n' Roll" could have served as theme song and organizing principle) with one that was blaringly loud, slick and pro. (My buddy who worked at Manny's on 48th Street in Manhattan said that Cale was such an asshole that nobody good would work with him.) Sacrificial locals the Telefones (my future ex-wife's favorite band o' the time) cleaned his clock the same way Joan Jett wiped the floor with Iggy at the Palladium around the same time. Cale retaliated by blowing up their PA.

The last time was ca. '95 at Caravan of Dreams, where Cale appeared backed by the Soldier String Quartet and steel guitarist B.J. Cole. It was a great show, but I wasn't motivated to pick up Cale's current album of the time (Walking On Locusts), and the next night, I heard that he declined to get off the tour bus in Denton because the venue couldn't make his guarantee, and a local muso was arrested for standing outside yelling "LOU WOULD HAVE PLAYED!" (which was patent horseshit).

What those four shows taught me was that Cale -- unlike his Velvet Underground collaborator/adversary Lou Reed -- isn't a rockarolla at heart. A classically-trained Welshman who came to the States under the auspices of Aaron Copland (before the populist composer recoiled from what he perceived as the "destructiveness" of his protege's music), Cale went on to collaborate with the cream of the early '60s classical avant-garde (John Cage, Terry Riley, LaMonte Young) before meeting Reed and forming the Velvets in '65.

I'll admit to a preference for the post-Cale VU, the result of an unfortunate experience involving my parents' house, a psychotropic substance, and the first side of the Velvets' White Light/White Heat LP. But the first two VU albums with Cale were undeniably their most groundbreaking and experimental. Reed wanted control and fired Cale from the VU at the end of '68. In later years, they'd reconnect for a sublime Warhol tribute (1990's Songs for Drella) and a curiously unsatisfying and wholly retrospective Velvet reunion. The old wounds still festered.

On his own, Cale spread the Velvet virus as producer of debut albums by the Stooges, Modern Lovers, and Patti Smith. He broke the seal on a prolific solo career with 1970's exploratory pop-rock foray Vintage Violence, on which he was backed by Reed protege Garland Jeffreys' Woodstock band Grinder's Switch (not to be confused with Southern rockers Grinderswitch). Austin journo Margaret Moser has called Vintage Violence the template for all of Cale's subsequent work, and I'm inclined to agree with her. I love the bridge that starts at 2:10 into "Charlemagne," the first song on the second side of the LP, so much so that I recently spent an entire afternoon playing it over and over (you have to be paying close attention or you'll miss it).

My own favorite Cale album is 1973's beautifully orchestrated Paris 1919, produced by Chris Thomas of subsequent Sex Pistols/Pretenders fame, with backing by musicians from Little Feat. On songs like "Child's Christmas in Wales" and "Paris 1919" itself, gorgeous melodies carry inscrutable lyrics. ("The cattle graze bold uprightly / Seducing down the door" indeed.)

Among folks I know, Cale's most revered for the hard-edged triptych of albums he cut for Island in '74-'75. On those albums, Roxy Music refugee Phil Manzanera and free-lancer Chris Spedding laid down some of the most advanced rock guitar of the time, anticipating Television and the Voidoids, as well as Robert Quine's work on Reed's The Blue Mask. The most extreme, and my favorite, is the last, Helen of Troy, on which you can hear Cale intoning the somber "Cable Hogue" and the aforementioned "Leaving It Up To You" in a teeth-gnashing snarl of escalating mania, loaded with menace. Apparently, the secret ingredient was cocaine. US Island declined to release Helen, sticking a paltry three tracks on the '77 compilation Guts, but not Cale's finest song, "I Keep A Close Watch" (which he re-recorded in a stripped-down version for 1982's Music for a New Society).

By the time Music for a New Society originally appeared, I had already lost the thread, turned off by the skewed geopolitical ranting of Sabotage/Live. Recorded in 1981, after the mainstream had subsumed the "new wave" he'd helped foster, it's the sound of Cale trying anything and everything to write his way out of a personal and creative slump, over ten days alone in the studio, very much influenced by the procedures he'd followed on the two studio albums he'd produced for his VU bandmate Nico -- in particular, separating the vocals from the backing and surrounding them with "floating" sounds to create a sense of dislocation. (Zappa attempted the same effect by dubbing guitar solos over rhythm tracks from different events.) The result is as stark and close-to-the-bone a pop record as exists in the canon. (Pristine versions of a couple of songs are appended to the remastered original album for comparison.)

In 2013, requests from European festival organizers for a concert performance of the complete album led him to re-record the material instead, under the rubric M:FANS. By crafting new settings for the songs, he recontextualizes them in the same way that, say, Bill Laswell did with his remixes of Miles Davis and Bob Marley. (And Panthalassa is now my preferred way to hear "In A Silent Way" and "He Loved Him Madly.") Borrowing from hip-hop and electronica, Cale reimagines entahrly the harmonic frameworks of songs like "Thoughtless Kind," "Chinese Envoy," and the token "commercial" song "Changes Made," proving himself to be less attached to his forms than most musos of his generation.

The reboot loses a couple of songs from the original -- "Damn Life," with its Beethoven borrowings, and "Rise, Sam and Rimsky-Korsakov," a vocal vehicle for Cale's now ex-wife -- and includes two versions of "If You Were Still Around," a song that took on added significance when Reed died while the M:FANS sessions were in progress. My favorite topic o' the moment, mortality, also shows up in a new "Prelude," an electronically-treated phone call between Cale and his parents (he speaks to his father in English, his mother in Welsh, the language he was raised to speak).

Being the last man standing has got to be tough. Which is why I want to hear Cale produce Iggy again, before one or both of 'em shuffles off this mortal coil.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Half Cleveland Live in Akron, OH

I don't make pilgrimages to hear bands anymore, but tonight, from the comfort of my own sweet bedroom in Fort Worth, Texas, Where the West Begins, I was able (through the wonder of the intarweb and Periscope, a streaming video app) to watch Half Cleveland, the current performing incarnation of ex-Tin Huey bandmates Chris Butler (also of Waitresses fame) and Harvey Gold. They've been doing this on an occasional basis for years, and when Chris moved back to Ohio from New Joisey last year, they resumed live activity in earnest. Tonight's gig, at Musica in Akron, was a benefit for a free clinic and will be streamable for a little less than 24 hours from now, right here.

Harvey had promised a special set, and these geezer hipsters delivered, with new songs -- Harvey's "From Your Side of the Room" and Chris' "Thief" -- along with a selection of surprise covers (opening with XTC's "Towers of London," segueing from the Hollies' "Pay You Back With Interest" into Syd's "See Emily Play," closing with a stage invasion/singalong "All the Young Dudes" chorus that hopefully made the Thin White Duke chuckle in whatever plane of existence he's now occupying).

In between, we were treated to Chris' "Physics" (which I'd listened to on HC's Live @ the Wi-fi Cafe while vibing up this arvo), and two songs from his masterwork Easy Life (title track and "My Hometown"), which I'd love to hear in its entahrty as a stage piece sometime. Chris is a great writer/storyteller, as he demonstrated with a reading of some of his prose in the middle of "I Lie the Truth" from his I Feel A Bit Normal Today.

I even got a shout-out at the beginning of Harvey's "Lazy Boy" (which hopefully wasn't the reason he had sampler pedal problems immediately after). "Starts with art and ends with pain" indeed. All in all, it was a gas watching these guys do their thing in real time (and then of course immediately watch it again). Thanks to the fellas and Harvey's wife, Dolli, who handled the tech stuff. Seriously, man -- my wife says c'mon down to Texas. We'll make y'all feel welcome. "Hey, you with the glasses...I want you in the front. NOW."