Wednesday, March 25, 2015

After the Gold Rush

Sweet flying spaghetti monster.


When the least extraordinary thing about this performance is the glass armonica solo—seriously, a damn glass armonica solo!—you know something serious is going down. Dave nails it when he says, "this is gonna be very good."

Monday, March 23, 2015

It Don't Matter to Me

I'd already liked Phil Collins—if you were a fan of mainstream rock in the early 80s, that was almost inevitable, to some extent, and if you were also a fan of pop, it was a foregone conclusion. Genesis was hip but not too popular or poppy yet; they had a handful of hits on both Top 40 and classic rock radio, although probably nothing that went back more than four or five years, so the overkill and backlash was still quite a ways off.

What's more, I was a drummer, so while I was sorta kinda offended by a drummer who left his post to prowl enemy territory (i.e., the front of the stage), and was not nearly as blown away as seemingly everyone else by "In the Air Tonight"—drum machine? heresy!—I loved his style and his chops. His voice was likeble, maybe a bit slight but with a bit of soul, and his self-deprecating humor delightful. Not to mention he had a way with melody, and I'm a sucker for melody. Boiled down, Collins wanted to be a funkier Beatles, like the Fabs + Stevie Wonder, with maybe just a hint of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and damn if that doesn't sound like one hell of a great recipe to me.

So I liked him. I liked his first solo album and I liked the Genesis albums Duke and Abacab. But what really pushed me over the edge into full-fledged fandom was this song.


First, the horns. I loved horns. I loved horns. I was already a huge fan of Led Zeppelin and Eric Clapton and other guitar-oriented musics, but horns in a pop song? Guitars were the nouns, drums the verbs, bass the adjectives, but horns were the punctuation. Question marks, commas, exclamation points, m-dashes, ellipses, even the oh so often misunderstood semicolon. Necessary, sure, but even more than that, they made the sentence, the song, come alive.

But even more, in this case, was Collins' drumming. I already heard him play more complex stuff, songs in 7/8 and 9/8, and later I'd hear much more technically impressive stuff from his stint in the fusion band Brand X. But his use of syncopation here blew my little white suburban mind. So casual, so assured. His use of ghost notes and moving the expected 1st note on the snare forward from the 2 of the measure to the e of the 1 just thrilled me. I had no idea you could do that!

Now, if I'd listened to more funk, I'd already have known that, of course. And while cultural appropriation is something of a hot topic these days, I give props to Debussy for introducing the gamelan to a wider audience, rather than criticizing him for not inventing Balinese music. I applaud David Bowie's efforts to spread the gospel of the Velvet Underground, both through covers and from utilizing their advances in his own songs.

Either way, the drums blew me away, both the syncopation and the musical stings and stabs—the way his drums play with, in and around, the vocal and the horns is just delightful. The snare is the most obvious, but his hi-hat work is fantastic, subtle and ever changing, using different shades, opening it, sometimes only slightly, in unexpected places.

It was amusing to later find out that the Phenix Horns, the horn section of the mighty Earth, Wind & Fire, found Collins' music some of the most challenging they'd ever played, largely due to his unconventional use of horns and odd phrasing, as well as his inability to write or read notated music, but listening to him put them through their paces here it shouldn't have been a surprise.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Stayin' Alive

So this actually happened?


I assumed it was a parody, and was impressed by how on the money the Ozzy impression was (although I thought there were a few bits where they didn't get him quite right), and then discovered that, no, it's really him and Dweezil. Turns out this was released during the years where I had almost no access to new music or radio or TV or any of those things in the paleolithic period before the internet.

All of which is to say my life is slightly better now than it was an hour ago.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Metal Machine Music for Airports

This—a mashup of Brian Eno's transcendentally serene Ambient 1: Music for Airports with Lou Reed's famously abrasive Metal Machine Music—is absolutely brilliant...in theory.


It's actually not too far from what Eno has done in other contexts and it's not hard to imagine Reed would have at least been amused by it.

The problem is actually one of execution: the mashup has the industrial noise classic as loud or louder than the ambient track; if the mixer had just pulled the fader down a bit, it would have actually gelled quite nicely, giving the Eno some extra texture and creating something new and fascinating. Instead, it's nearly as unlistenable as the original Reed. Which may, of course, have been the creator's point. Rendering this entire post moot.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Original White Stripe

Great visuals. But something about it always seemed familiar to me. What could it have been...or who...


'


Oh. That's right.






Everything old is new again.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hotel California

Don Henley wept. (That's a good thing.)


That is exactly how I wanted it to be.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Time

People, man. People. You see or hear the things others say and do and just shake your head, wondering how on earth they could be so foolish, ignoring—or trying to—how guilty you are of the exact same damn thing.

That Roger Waters wasn't fully cognizant of how integral David Gilmour's contributions to his artistic successes just boggles the mind. I can understand Roger being proud of his own lyrical prowess—and well he should be. I understand that Gilmour could be lazy, something David himself has admitted. I get that Roger wrote more and more of the music as well, and it wasn't entirely his own megalomaniacal tendencies (although those certainly contributed), and that by the time you've composed most of The Wall you're feeling pretty confident in your own abilities. I get that.

What I don't get is how someone can forget that they wrote this:


which is certainly a nice piece of writing, with good if not yet finished lyrics and a decent melody, but which musically doesn't sound any more advanced than the stuff he'd been writing three or four years earlier. And then the phenomenal guitarist/outstanding singer and excellent keyboardist/good singer and, yes, even the not technically accomplished but stylistically identifiable and tasteful drummer—your best friend—in your band turn it into this:


and you don't think, huh...maybe I've got a pretty good thing going, but instead, sod 'em—I'm going solo and I'll show them...I'll show them all!

32 years down the road and Roger Waters has yet to record a single song as notable as any of dozens he created in the last decade of the band. (Nor, for that matter, has David Gilmour or Rick Wright.) It's a thing that happens, when musicians begin to fancy themselves auteurs, and it's a shame. For them and for the rest of us.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Promised Land

Hell yes, I wanna know what it sounds like when Sleater-Kinney covers Bruce Springsteen.


Oh. Huh. Yeah, that's about right: a bit rough, more than a little ragged, and totally kickass.

[H/T: Legends of Springsteen]

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Kayleigh/Lavender

Despite this being apparently the largest crowd Marillion ever appeared in front of, I'd never seen this footage before. The size of audience is staggering for just about any act, but for a second or third generation prog rock band? Crazy. But what's also notable is just how much the crowd clearly knows and loves the material—and their enthusiasm is extra impressive, given that it appears to be a hot sunny summer day and the audience looks to be absolutely baking—don't even try to count the number of cases of serious sunburn. I suspect the medical tent, if there was one available, was packed.

The next thing that hits is is just what a shitty frontman Fish is here. He's got the de rigueur 80s accouterments, with the Bowie/Gabriel/Adam Ant painted face, the Springsteen/Knopfler headband, the t-shirt with the arms cutoff, despite the fact that he's not exactly sporting a Springsteen/Sting-like physique, to put it mildly. (As the owner of a similar spare tire, I'm at least somewhat sympathetic.) But rather than putting on a show, ala Springsteen or Fish's spirit animal Peter Gabriel, he just sorta...bobs and weaves slightly, like a punch drunk fighter just trying to pick up one last paycheck on a lousy undercard. More than anything, his moves seriously resemble an earnest high school student aiming for immortality at the year end talent show.

What's more, it looks—and, sadly, sounds—as though his monitor goes a bit on the fritz during "Lavender,"as he seems to start having some problems hearing himself. As he's already avoiding some of the highest notes in "Kayleigh," this is unfortunate.

And yet the thing is, the strength of Steve Rothery's guitar lines and Ian Mosley powerful, intricate and yet tasteful drumming, combined with the sheer quality of the material carries the day.


Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so? 
'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Here Comes the Sun

Here's a lovely little something from the famous Concert for Bangladesh.


Pete Ham, the Badfinger guitarist who's George's only accompanist here, said George only asked him about playing the song the day before...and they never even rehearsed. Yet if there's a single clam anywhere in there, I can't hear it. They even manage to negotiate the tricksy measures in 11/8 and 15/8 seamlessly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Heroes

Though nothing will drive them away
We can be heroes just for one day
We can be us just for one day


Well. There 'tis.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Jumpin' Jack Flash

The great Dangerous Minds recently posted this live rendition of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" by the Rolling Stones, complete with the transcript of Mick Jagger's revised lyrics:


“Yah Awa bo anna craw fah huh cay
Anna ho alamo in a try ray
Buh ah ray ah now yeah and fad is a gay
Oh ray now, a jumpin jay flay sa gas gas gah.
Ah wa lay bah a toodleh beedeh hay.
Ah wa sko wid a strap rahda craws ma bah.
Bahda oh ray now en fad is a gay.
Buh oh ray now jumpin jah flah sa da ga ga geh”

Yeah, that looks pretty accurate.

I have a friend with absolutely outstanding musical taste—no surprise, really, given that our taste in music overlaps heavily (if not perfectly: he actively dislikes virtually all Bruce Springsteen's music, even as he thinks the guy himself seems pretty cool if more than a little overhyped). But the thing that really seems to baffle my pal is why I think the Stones suck so badly live. I don't really understand why he doesn't get it—I don't understand why anyone with working ears would ever claim they were even good live, much less great, when to my ears it's simply undeniable that they suck suck suckety suck live —but because I am by nature a people pleaser, I shall explain.

Simply compare and contrast that live version up there with this, the original recording:


That's why.

The live version wouldn't even get an honorable mention at a junior high talent show—more likely they'd get the hook. The original version, on the other hand, has never been bettered in the history of recorded pop music—not by Elvis, not by the Beatles, not by Dylan, not by Springsteen. The massive gap between the two is where the snark, the disappointment, the anger is created.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

My Love and I

In case you were sitting there wondering, "say, what's the most gorgeous song ever?"


And now you know.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Needless to say, my mind was blown again."

http://catchingfire.ca/new/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/mindblown.jpgScott and I frequently like to play the "Can you imagine?" game.

It basically imagines what it must have been like to hear something amazing for the first time. Like "Like a Rolling Stone" or "Thunder Road." Or The Beatles in Hamburg in 1961. Or to be with Brian Wilson or Stevie Wonder in the studio when they were creating Pet Sounds or Innervisions. To be the proverbial fly on the wall. But also to be able to recall what the hell it must have been like to hear something so game-changing for the very first time.

I have just one of those memories with one of my pantheon-level bands, which I documented a few years ago here.

But thanks to an old buddy from my journalism days nearly 25 years ago, here's another one for you. Which I hope you'll enjoy.

When I first became a just-outta-college daily newspaper reporter in Connecticut in 1990, I was fortunate enough to meet some of the most seminal people of my life right off the bat. One was my (and is my) always and forever wife, whom I annoyed right from the start on my very first day. One was my first editor Ron Winter, an accomplished journalist and decorated Marine from the Vietnam War who taught me not only how to be concise but thorough, tough but fair, but also taught me about loyalty and how to treat people.

And another was my buddy Steve Starger, a brilliant arts writer who also had (and still has) one hell of a personal history as an author, musician, songwriter and recording artist. He played with a psychedelic band called NGC 4594 in the 60s. He played with a terrific horn band called Sunship in the 1970s. His review of Miles Davis' Jack Johnson is referenced on that album's Wikipedia page. His poems and writings have been published in myriad publications for the past 40+ years. He's written plays and a biography of comics giant Wally Wood. And, as he once proudly told me, he once lit Aretha Franklin's cigarette!

Steve's now semi-retired and living the good life with his good wife in Rhode Island. Harkening back to our "Can you imagine?" game, here is something Steve told me about his reaction to a certain rather important piece of music, while he was serving in the Army in Puerto Rico in the mid-60s, as the Vietnam War was ramping up.

“You asked about my coming home from Puerto Rico and freaking out (so to speak) at what was happening in the country. The story goes like this: My friend Chas Mirsky (NGC 4594's guitar player and a man of exquisite wit and mental acuity) and his then-wife, Arlene, came to visit me when I was in the Army in Puerto Rico in 1966. We of course had a great time, and Chas brought with him a copy of the just-released Revolver. Needless to say, my mind was blown again. I had heard Rubber Soul and Freak Out while on leave the previous year and said "What the fuck???" any number of times. Revolver deepened my curiosity and the feeling that I was at least a year out of the time-flow back on the mainland.”

I would say that is a rather perfect reaction to what this rather perfect rock-n-roll album meant to America's (and the world's) dramatically changing existence at the time. An example of just how crazily and indelibly we were changing culturally, politically and ever other way you could imagine. Mayhap you agree.

I mean, for the love of Mike (not to be confused with Mike Love, because fuck Mike Love), just listen. And imagine what it must have been like to hear this for the first time in 1966, after being away for the previous couple of years.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Stuck On You

It has just come to my attention that the Lionel Richie collection titled The Best of Lionel Richie: 20th Century Masters (Millennium Collection) does not include "Stuck On You," thus rendering its own title a lie.

Look. I loves me some "Penny Lover," adore "You Are" and don't even think for a moment I come in second to anyone in my love of "Hello" and its adorbs memes. And that's without even getting into his work with the Commodores. [Oh, "Sail On"...you are the sun, you are the rain that makes my life this foolish game. You need to know I love you so and I'd do it all again and again.]

But his best song is so clearly "Stuck on You."


I mean, it's so obvious. It's not even up for debate, any more than evolution or climate change or the need to vaccinate your kids. It. Is not. Open. For debate.

Listen to it. Start with that hushed and lovely opening. His voice is just the right mix of sweet and yet commanding. The way he hits certain phrases; listen to the way he sings, almost murmurs "...that I just can't lose." This is someone very gifted operating at the height of his talents.

The melody, simple and logical, remains nothing less than perfect, especially impressive given the way the phrases blend unexpectedly into each other in an oddly circular manner. Listen to the way the little fills in between the verses resemble another straightforward and classic lovely love song, "Wonderful Tonight." And much like that gem, Lionel offers no tricks here, just intimate and intricate affection.

There is so much to love here. That the meat of the song—hell, the very title of the song—is on you from the start. Just as "Losing My Religion," years later, would be rightly lauded for its popular and artistic success as a pop song despite its lack of a real chorus, so too with "Stuck On You." Instead, it has just a few verses that quickly wind their way into your subconscious, just like "Operator" and "Something" and a few other of the finest love songs ever written. The harmonies are sublime. The sentiment is both real and realized. The bridge builds the suspense by staying on the minor third and minor sixth chords over and over, ramping up the tension until he finally brings us back to the still unresolved but more familiar subdominant and dominant chords. And just as soon as it gets going again, it ends. The entire thing is a fleeting, indelible show of beauty that you want to revisit time and again.

Lionel Richie had a barnful of hits that made him a deserved legend. He is worthy of a greatest hits collection, no doubt—in fact, his record labels seems to believe him worthy of a dozen such collections. But a wise man once said, "A flute with no holes is not a flute. And a donut with no holes is a danish." Sorry, Millenium Collection. Lionel Richie had a great many hits. But without "Stuck On You," it is not a "best of" collection, not even close, nevermind one deserving of the appellation Millenium.