Tuesday, January 31, 2017

RIP John Wetton

First Chris Squire, then Greg Lake and now John Wetton. The list of great prog bassists from the 70s is getting mighty short. (Mike Rutherford and Roger Waters, you guys take care of yourselves, hear?)

Wetton had an interesting career. After being in perhaps King Crimson's finest lineup—with sincere apologies to the early 80s version—he toured with Roxy Music and then joined the big at the time but seemingly now virtually forgotten Uriah Heep, before forming prog supergroup UK with old Crimson bandmate Bill Bruford. When that didn't pay off with the kind of financial windfall many were expecting, he tried again, this time with Yes guitarist Steve Howe, Yes and Buggles keyboardist Geoff Downes and of course prog rock's answer to Buddy Rich, Carl Palmer. And boom: the money finally rolled in.

It wasn't really prog, of course, more like AOR pop rock, and that's fine; there's never too much catchy music around. But it was easy to forget just what a fine musician Wetton was when he was playing material as catchy but unchallenging to someone as proficient as he. So to remember him, we're going with this odd one-off supergroup, combining Steve Hackett, guitarist for almost all of the best Genesis albums, Ian McDonald, a member of the first King Crimson incarnation, later founding member of Foreigner, and the writer of this song, Chester Thompson, former drummer for Weather Report and Frank Zappa and, of course, touring drummer for Genesis, and Wetton himself.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Love Is All Around

In which one utterly kickass trailblazer suitably salutes another utterly kickass trailblazer.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Oddfellows Local 151

I mentioned the other day that the show in Charlottesville on R.E.M.'s Work tour was one of the best I'd ever seen. And this song—from a different show—was one of the highlights. It's one of the very, very few times Michael Stipe played guitar on stage, which alone made the performance special. But it's more than just that rarity. There's so much to love about this, from the murkiness of the lighting, which suits the music so perfectly, to the way the geometric lights blaze on the chorus, to the way Mike Mills and Bill Berry add harmony vocals on only the words "boy and girl" and only the second time through.

And yet, bizarrely, one of the things which is really vital to the song taking off is the style with which he plays guitar. He doesn't play at all while singing, and only some of the time during the instrumental sections, and yet his contributions are significant. He plays like a rhythm guitarist who's rarely played guitar. Which isn't to say he plays badly, just that he approaches his parts almost like a percussionist or keyboardist, adding textures without following a set pattern. When strumming, he concentrates more on sharp upstrokes, or vicious sixteenth note triplets, adding not so much a chordal bedding for Peter Buck's distorted but cutting leads, as an almost Sonic Youth-like din. Check out the way he stiffly but rapidly walks over to Buck at one point, mimicking (perhaps mocking) the traditional stage mannerisms of stadium rocker guitarists such as Keef and Woody or Don Felder and Joe Walsh, gunslingers staring each other down, or perhaps smiling in brotherly bonhomie.

It all works so well. And while I loved R.E.M.'s later tours, and understand why they brought more and more auxiliary musicians on tour with them, I often find myself wishing that they'd instead found ways to arrange the songs so they didn't sound just like the amazing studio recordings but were transmogrified so they could be performed by the original four members. Since, as this clip (amongst so many others) shows, there was a magic that happened when these four guys got together to play. Just look at how in this one song, Stipe's guitar—again, the first and only time he played it on an R.E.M tour—added more to the performance than all the times Mick Jagger or Bono played guitar on all those songs on all those tours combined.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


This is just about the greatest guest spot I've ever seen. Dude's really, really good...and then a guy who just may be the greatest living pop musician gets up with him. Phenomenal.

Of the many amazing things about this, one of the most amazing is that when it comes to the first chorus, Stevie—who has probably not had occasion to sing harmony on it since he first recorded it, roughly 10,000 performances again—immediately takes the harmony, rightly assuming that the dude wouldn't know it and would sing the melody. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

Like the Weather

Another cold and rainy day in San Diego brought this song to mind.

I'd never seen the video before—despite owning the album back in the day, as most faithful R.E.M. fans seemed to—and was immediately struck by Natalie Merchant's dancing.

I remember the first time I encountered 10,000 Maniacs. My pal Dave and I saw them open for R.E.M. in Charlottesville on the Work tour (and that show, as well as a later one in New Haven, still count as two of the best concerts I've ever seen). Despite eagerly anticipating the headliners, we were fascinated by the openers.

The band played catchy, accessible folk-rock type songs and were fronted by a singer who spun and whirled and twirled, the centrifugal force causing her long skirt to create utterly fetching patterns. The main thing, though, was that Dave and I spent their entire set—except, perhaps, when Michael Stipe came out to duet with her on one song—debating whether or not she was speaking English. There were times we were sure she wasn't, times we thought she maybe was, as a clearly English word would suddenly emerge, and most of the time we just couldn't tell.

Those are my main memories of my initial exposure to 10,000 Maniacs: the Stipe duet, the language debate, and the image of her whirling, twirling skirt. So when I saw this video for the first time, I saw surprised by her dancing. Not that it wasn't of the übër-polished, complex, technically impressive style pioneered in videos by the likes of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Janet Jackson, and later made an imperative by stars such as Britney Spears and Beyonce. It's that it was...well, so utterly graceless. Given that I have two left feet, I don't look down upon anyone for not being able to dance well. In fact, I've sometimes wondered if we've missed out on some fine pop stars over the past 10 or 15 years because, despite their other talents, they weren't able to dance. (Adele is an argument that there's nothing to worry about, but I'm not sure one possible exception, no matter how popular, can count for too much. Then again, I'm just talking out of my ass and, anyway, none of this is something which causes me to lose a lot of sleep.)

No, it's more that her dancing reminded me of something, but I just couldn't quite figure out what, until my good lady wife made the connection.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Learn to Fly In Bloom

Well, this is...awesome, if a little excessively mind-bendy.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Here Comes the Rain Again

It's raining this morning in San Diego, something which doesn't happen a whole lot. I don't believe in omens or portents...and yet given how dark this day is, it's hard not to lend it a certain amount of credence.

This is not the darkest time our great nation has ever seen.

Just the darkest in well over a century.

Things will get better. It's just going to suck until they do.