Tuesday, April 25, 2006

the serpent swallows its tail in reverse

Interesting post over at Coolfer today where guestblogger Alec Hanley Bemis (sort of) laments the loss of Chuck Eddy over at the village voice. Much of his argument concerns the precarious position Eddy and by extension all alt-weeklys (especially the Voice) are in right now as a result of the music writing they feature. Brief, concise (occasionally) clever, and directed mostly at the writer and people like him/her. To explain, the story referenced this rather telling lead from a recent Voice piece about E-40:

since Tupac's shooting, the Pacific sensibility -- ranging from the barbecued grooves of G-funk to Mobb music's electro picaresques -- has hemorrhaged cred since the mid '90s, while surrendering Billboard real estate to young blood in the Bible Belt. New scenes have been flashing in the pan at strobe pace, with a spate of geo-genres springing up along the nation's rim: crunk, screw, trap, and snap. Add hyphy to the list—maybe.

OK, I think I sussed out maybe half of that, and that probably puts me ahead of Bemis. What this means is both of us are probably not the biggest of hip-hop fans (guilty!) and that this story isn't written for anyone but the biggest of fans of the genre, in which case...what is it hoping to accomplish sitting out there for general consumption?.

I'm not entirely sure of the answer. Alt-weeklies should be a source for material with a more challenging learning curve than, say, the daily paper. But why antagonize your audience with so much jargon and slang for slang's sake? Is this the blogosphere's and (by extension) Pitchfork's influence, to allow writers more freedom to express themselves at their most obscure but at the expense of the reader at large?

Maybe. I just hope I haven't been too guilty of the same.

This evening's musical selection, apropos of nothing:

"It's a Lie," by Acetone

Somehow this song lept into my head as i was walking the dog this evening, probably because I was on Avenue 42 which is just a stone's throw from the source of Acetone's swan song, "York Blvd." Acetone's not with us any longer, and neither is its lead-singer and bassist, Richie Lee, but they left behind a handful of albums that were categorized as somewhere between slowcore, shoegaze and alt-country. On this song, everyone's right. Much of the song is this big chugging, sorta roots-rocking hayride, but there's that big, round Rickenbacker bass tone that came with the shoegazer crowd followed by a few breaks between verses that are slow, coupled with a few wandering, lazy guitar solos coated in a layer of sparkling fuzz. A nice cocktail.

This record was one of my favorites back in 2001 when I first picked it up, then for the last couple years I completely forgot about it before tonight's walk. Sorry about that, Richie. Thanks, York Blvd.

Monday, April 24, 2006

dance around in your bones

Took a ride along with The Black Rider at the Ahmanson this past Saturday, L.A.'s very own staging of the 1993 musical combining the talents of Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs and Robert Wilson. For those unfamiliar with the CD of the same name, it's not one of my favorites, and I figured this production might crack the music open for me just a tad, just as 2002's "Woyzcek" had with "Blood Money."

Now before I get all theatre geek on you (it's bad enough I've referenced two plays in the same paragraph), I've got to say I'm not a frequent theater-goer. I dislike, no, dispise...no wait, have utterly no use for, musicals. Yes, Hedwig's a decent exception and, sure, I suppose Jose Feliciano's "Roxanne" in "Moulin Rouge" makes the room seem a bit chillier, but really, I just don't get 'em. Tom Waits was the draw here, and teaming him with Burroughs and the stubbornly avant-garde Wilson was going to keep this night pretty far from Doris Day or Rogers and Hammerstein.

Indeed, the Black Rider's got all the elements that's right in Waits' wheelhouse--the devil, a circus train and, yes, madness--and Burroughs takes a 150-odd year myth and manages to twist it into a junkie fable. But it's Wilson's staging that's the biggest challenge here. With bizarre, asymettrical sets and shafts of red and white light sometimes the only decoration, not to mention a knack for casting the same actor in multiple roles with little explanation, the play remained just a bit beyond the grasp of my wife and I, just as the music still does, to an extent. But one song still stands out like a black wind on a summer morning.

"November," by Tom Waits

That dark wind rises in the form of a whinneying saw before you've even settled in your chair, and a lonely banjo does a staggering tango at the funeral for a busted barroom piano. But Tom Waits' lyrics are what's serving you lunch and spitting on your fork. They're the most deliciously hopeless short story that's ever been told. Listening to them, you're in a bad place. You're staring down a firing squad, tied to an old dead tree with ravens circling overhead. Now you're sunk. Hope? Hope's following that wind out of town. And who's to blame? November, that sunovabitch. It's all over now. Summer's never coming. Go ahead, go on along with the Black Rider. See where it gets you.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

mr. peabody and sherman's march on holland

Okay, I know that with this post I'm veering dangerously close to becoming a some crazy parallel TenClub, but it's a pretty remarkable 'p.s.' to post about that Avocado dropping in a couple weeks. Regardless of how that album shakes out, this video's from PinkPop 92 is such an amazing snapshot of what all the fuss was about back in the day. Hey, if they can celebrate their legacy I can too.

I think some of the images from this show were captured by Charles Peterson in "Screaming Life", but having only seen those shots I had no idea the class five weather event these kids unleashed on that festival. If you weren't paying attention back then, you can see the whole band is this infectiously honest atom bomb of energy. There's no cringing embarrasment about the of-the-time celebration of stage-diving and mosh pits, just this explosion spreading out from the stage to the crowd. I remember reading this review of a Pearl Jam show from like Creem or Spin or someplace ridiculous (see, there were no blogs back then, boys and girls) saying that clubs couldn't contain this band, that their sound literally rose and crashed against the walls and the audience like waves. You can see that here.

This stuff was like crack to a rock addled 19-year-old...and no matter where you stand on these guys now it's just a remarkable snapshot of what the early 90s looked and sounded like. And it was good.

Anyway, watch, turn it up, and revel at the 10-legged hurricane. We were a different nation then.*

*Also, you can't help noticing all the incredible push of crowd going on toward the front, especially once young Eddie throws himself on them (hey, it was 1992). It's the kind of thing that just went with the territory back then, and up and killed a couple of kids in present day. You can't help thinking of Roskilde when you watch this. Sorry to bring the room down, kids, but it had to be said...

42% less geekery tomorrow. Maybe.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

come back to wednesday

Having a strange sort of evening tonight. Ever since I got back from my little hiatus it seems everything's coming out a bit starchy and forced, like that loaf of bread you pick up from Trader Joe's but leave in the fridge for a few days. I feel like my mind's having a hard time being quiet, and it's probably not helping matters that I'm trying to take this on after a long day of pushing the pixels around at work.

But, the only way out is through, so I've heard.

It's only April and, at least inside a poorly insulated house, it's a hot summer night, and a little bit of a dreary one at that. This song might relax things a bit, or at least give my mind the courage to go toward the bad mood side or just a thoughtful good mood before heading off for the night.

"Sometime Later" by Alpha

Came across this song courtesy of the beautiful and clumsy "My Life Without Me," a peppy little number about a young woman who discovers she has a terminal disease but decides not to tell anyone. Not her husband, not her kids, not her mother. But, surprisingly, it's not a three-hankie, toss yourself out the window special. She calmly makes a to-do list and sets about accomplishing whatever she can in whatever little time she has. Mark Ruffalo shows up and does what seems to be his usual Mark Ruffalo thing, except it's ratcheted up a bit with the whole strange, awkward tone the whole movie carries. Scenes go for about a beat, maybe a beat and a half too long, conversations bump into eachother like sleepy drunks, and you're a little putoff by the way the whole movie comes at you. Really, I'm not doing it justice, but it's a movie worth seeing.

ANYWAY, I don't know much about Alpha, but this track played over the closing credits. Much of their record struck me as nondescript electronilounge, the kind of stuff I used to say you could open a gallery to. But this track's a little different. Sure, it still walks on that cool, late '90s plain where DJs turned bandleaders along the lines of Air or Zero 7 dialed up what sounds like a vintage soul singer to crank up the atmospheric for their downtempo, but here it seems like Alpha's reached their own land. A torch song playing in a Film Noir-themed bar in the 22nd Century.

Whomever's singing is exhausted, but she's hit a point where she's comfortably between being happy and sad, like she's deliriously happy now but what's coming soon...well, that's got her a little uncertain. She's living in this grainy, black and white world full of slow motion and fuzzy contrasts, and she's right in the middle of this incredible night, the kind of night with someone that can't ever end. Maybe things will be just as good tomorrow, but it may not, so all you know you have is that night, and as the faux strings and synths swell and stretch around her you can just feel that clock ticking. Even the song's running out, so she starts getting desperate. Hold the sun down, she pleads, hold the sun down. It's never going to get better than this, let's just stay right here. But, really, it's going to be okay...let it come.

Monday, April 17, 2006

he not busy living is busy

Yes, it's me, back again after another long and successful absense. It's tough when you try and strike up a conversation with an old friend after neglecting them for awhile, isn't it? You tense up, you start wondering if you'll be able to say the right thing, you act...a little different. In short, you stop acting like the natural friend you were in the first place, which, it stands to reason, makes you no longer the same friend. Let's not do that, all right?

Instead let's talk about something that's been sort of sticking in my head the last couple of days, an issue of sorts, and that issue is my still unresolved feelings about a band that was my best friend for an awful lot of years, the terminally unhip and unfortunately Creed-spawning Pearl Jam.

Yes, there's a vocal lot of you out there, most definitely, who are on my side. I just saw on stereogum yesterday a post that suddenly deviated into a Jam-fan flamewar between those who are with Mssrs. Vedder, McCready, Cameron, Gossard and Ament and those who are not--and man, those who are certainly can shout down those who aren't, can't we? It's like we're a bit overly sensitive or something.

Sure, ours (?) is a pretty easily defended position: Pearl Jam is one of the best rock bands of the past twenty years. Period. Fair point, that. And those against inevitably drege up feelings from the tired Nirvana v. PJ holy war from waybackwhen, where the cool kids liked punk rock, integrity and Cobain, and the dorky jocks who loved Three Dog Night and Pepsi sided with Ed Ved & Co. Or something like that.

But, and the part of me who has far too much shelf space devoted to Pearl Jam's bootlegs, albums and singles quivers as I say this, where are they now? We know where Nirvana is, they're in the pantheon--tragically elevated to such status, yes, but elected because they never had to awkwardly age, evolve, and yes (*shudder*) suck.

Pearl Jam does not suck. Everyone calm down. Their place is secure as well.

But they've got this new record coming out, and a few of the songs sampled in that handy promotional video that made the rounds had a nice level of aggression to them that showed promise but...sometime in the last couple albums or so...something happened.

It hit me at the Irvine Mea--Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, excuse me--a couple years ago, watching the band burn through the standards--Jeremy, Even Flow, Alive and the like--along with a couple newer nuggets like Love Boat Captain and Thumbing My Way that really got the crowd into an expected mid-level lather. Trouble was...I didn't, or I wasn't, whatever. I think Love Boat Captain is...a little trite, to be honest. That legacy bit of the show, the one with the above hits off "Ten"? I thought it seemed...a little tired. A lot tired. Like I was watching a tribute band going through the motions-tired. And I became very sad.

But, the show picked up, thankfully. The surprise "Blood" raised the energy level nicely. "Boom" Gasper on keys kept things going through the end of the show, particularly with Baba O'Riley and this 10 minute "Crazy Mary." But still...there it was, like a little cloud on an X-Ray of my brain, that dead spot in the show. I'd never felt that at a Pearl Jam show before. It was like a half an hour where I was, you know, satisfied, but it wasn't the same, you know?

So here we are, on the cusp of Avocado Day when the new album gets released on J Records (?????), and the boys were even kind enough to wrap up a live CD from 1991 in with the deal as part of the pre-release candy for fans like me, encouraging us to place our order Now NOW NOW! while supplies last.

I haven't yet. Sure, it's a cool promotion and a way to give back to the fans, but isn't this already a tacit acknowledgement of 'the glory years' on the part of the band? To package the new stuff with the old stuff, or essentially what the Rolling Stones have done and their fans have grudgingly accepted with albums like Voodoo Lounge and Steel Wheels? Is that who we are now? And, even worse, I didn't get to see the band's performance on SNL last weekend, but a few people I know were a little let down, saying they looked a little old, a little tired, and a little like their best days were behind him. Even as I listen again to those songs from the new record that pack all that renewed energy, some of it sounds...familiar. Doesn't World Wide Suicide sport the same hook as Satan's Bed? It does, right?

Maybe it's not too late. Maybe that album's going to knock my socks off and be like Michael Jordan out of retirement, Jack Nicklaus in the 88 Masters, or Al Pacino in "Angels in America," an old master somehow miracling its way into just one more inspired, brilliant performance to make all us "remember when" nostalgists smile. Let's listen to this song from the 2003 tour with Sleater-Kinney and hear all that passion spilling out of this veteran band...and try not to think about how much of it is coming from Carrie Brownstein.

Pearl Jam (with Sleater-Kinney), "Fortunate Son"

Let's still be friends.

Monday, April 03, 2006

pay the fiddler

Sorry about my silence the last couple of days, things have been, shall we say, getting in the way of my sitting here at my monitor and spilling out whatever I've been listening to of late. Planning a big event--biggest of events so the magazines would have you to believe--isn't easy, and as I've been saying a lot it doesn't matter if it's 35 people or 3500. I don't know how event planners do it, people like Jennifer Lopez in that funny funny movie with Matthew McConehghaehy or whomever it was basking in her ever-lovin' glow.

(smell that? that's sarcasm.)

Anyway, little time today and even littler space in my brain that's not consumed by "who's sitting here? what song is playing when? will people dance to 'if I should fall from grace from god' by the pogues?" But, at the end of it all, it's going to be a great day, and that's rain or shine, tablecloths or no, flowers or pinecones.

"Flesh Balloons of Tibet," by Sun City Girls

This...is a little like I feel right now. Not bad, not at all, just a little off., partly fueled by this headcold of sorts that makes my skull feel like a helium balloon. This isn't much of a 'song,' at least as you or i know of it (it's not even 2 minutes long), but it is a stream-of-consciousness rant that's one part creepy, three parts crazy, and at least a part and a half funny. I have a weakness for the sound of the unhinged, and Sun City Girls (none of whose members are, by the way, female) are most definitely that. Like some guy wandering the streets sporting a dangerous combination of a handful of acid and a handle full of whiskey (thank you, A!), you're not quite sure what to make of these guys or their song. Or maybe it's not that complicated. Just the sound of someone sitting calmly on a stool and emptying their vaguely twisted brain and seeing what people think. Just like this.