Saturday, December 22, 2007

Wrappin' up

One last post for '07 is in order before I take off for the holidays.

First, the last couple of pieces of music writing of mine that have run:

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West Coast Performer ran my review of the debut album by L.A. "slamgrass" band Old Bull. Viva la medical marijuana!

And Bullz Eye wraps up '07 with their year-end overview of the best music we surveyed since January. Each music writer submitted his own list, and as it happened, we all had a different number one entry (number one on my list is Herbie Hancock's River: The Joni Letters). A few albums appeared on more than one list, like Radiohead's In Rainbows, the White Stripes' Icky Thump and Robert Plant & Alison Krauss' Raising Sand. But for the most part, these lists are all over the place, and fun to read.

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The big rock show to close out '07 for me happened on December 7 at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, when Live 105's annual "Not So Silent Night" concert took place. I generally have avoided these big alt-rock package events in recent years, but as a friend had an extra ticket he needed to sell off and the headliner was a band I had wanted to see for at least the past three years, I went for it.

I arrived when Spoon was playing. The quick and dirty lowdown: Spoon put on a good set. Songs didn't stick to the brain, but their sound was excellent, more idiosyncratic (which equals GOOD) than what followed.

And what followed was Angels and Airwaves, the band Blink 182's Tom DeLonge now fronts. I was never a Blink fan. First time I heard them was when I received a promo copy of Dude Ranch when I was in college. My preference for punk then (and now) was the raw, unpolished and often political sound of the genre's first wave. Blink, to me, was always a teenybopper brat band with loud guitars and too much business sense to ever truly carry a punk aesthetic in a credible way. They just sounded too much to me like "product," and not very good product at that. But hey, they made lots of people happy, so more power to 'em. Better them than, say, Savage Garden. Anyway, Angels and Airwaves seemed to elicit the strongest crowd response of all the bands that played that evening. DeLonge was really into the Jesus Christ pose, and his tone of voice really put me off for some reason. He also liked to talk a lot, and referenced Blink a few times but never by name, as here in this clip from youtube:

His intention of creating music that expressed feelings and ideas that everyone else was feeling was a grand one, and he seems really sincere in what he's doing... but it wasn't for me. His band is often compared to U2. They've got the big guitars and righteous attitude, but I'm not tossing my copy of Zooropa any time soon.

Jimmy Eat World was next. They were also crowd favorites, and happened to be the only band on the bill that was recognizable to the French couple I hosted at my apartment the following weekend. So it seems they've achieved some reach, even though their star has faded a little. I honestly don't remember much of their set, as I was half nodding off in exhaustion. But it was necessary, so that I would be fully cognizant for the closing set by Modest Mouse.

Modest Mouse's headlining status was entirely deserved, just as it was last year. Their latest album, We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200 upon release this past March. And after something like 13 years together, the band has achieved a sonic identity unlike any other band out there. I've said this numerous times, and now I must put it in print: there's something truly beautiful about seeing a mass of people crowd surfing and moshing to the music of a band that employs the services of a banjo, accordion, stand-up bass, trumpet, two drum sets, and various other percussion instruments, not to mention the obligatory rock guitars, bass and keyboard. Amazingly, the mix of instruments never comes off as hokey or novel, or even excessive. And Isaac Brock's vocals are as unhinged live as they are on record. The only complaint I had was that two of the new songs, "Dashboard" and "Fire It Up," were lacking the fire and excitement of the studio recordings. Something wasn't translating well to the stage with those two. But everything else was pumped up and wild, and holy shit, what a way to open a headlining set with a banjo-driven tune like "Satin in a Coffin" - talk about off the beaten path! They even played "Float On" early in the set, saving an epic-length new song for the closing slot. They confound and delight, and that's my kind of band.

Here's a youtube video of Isaac Brock playing a typically nutty guitar solo during the song "Spitting Venom" at the NSSN show. Nothing fancy, just bent sound from a guy who dresses in a rather plain, not-too-rock n' roll way (kind of like myself):

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Web class ended last month. Where to take the skills now? How to retain them? It's a question I'll be dealing with in the coming weeks.

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2008 will see more writing coming out of me for Performer and Bullz Eye, not to mention the second coming of jefitoblog, now called PopDose and due to launch on January 1.

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And it's also looking like I'll be picking up one of my instruments again for another band workshop in the new year.

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So with that, to shut the door on the overwhelming feeling that's sweeping over me, I will say goodbye to 2007, wish you all a happy Xma$ and a merry goo year, and may we all find some kind of salvation for ourselves, collectively and individually, in the face of increasing demands and desires.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The "prostitute mix": a belly laugh with Chris Robley!

I'm probably the only one who was laughing at such a high volume when I read Chris Robley's comment on antiMusic's Inside Track report today, but who knows, maybe this will make someone else laugh too.

Talking about his song "The Love I Fake," Robley said:

This song inspired a music journalist in San Francisco to start a whole iTunes mix for songs about prostitutes. I think The Love I Fake and Roxanne are the only ones in there so far. Feel free to leave your suggestions in the box.

Of course, I was laughing so hard because the "music journalist" (I like the sound of that!) in question was yours truly, and the exchange we had about the prostitute mix during our interview was a great laugh at the time as well.

For the record, here's what I have for that mix so far:

  1. "The Love I Fake" by Chris Robley
  2. "Roxanne" by the Police
  3. "What Do You Do For Money Honey" by AC/DC
  4. "Love For Sale" by Ella Fitzgerald
  5. "He's A Whore" by Cheap Trick
  6. "Rider" by Juliana Hatfield
  7. "XXX" by Helium
  8. "The Kids" by Lou Reed
  9. "Midnight Caller" by Badfinger
  10. "Just A Gigolo" by Louis Prima (or David Lee Roth)
  11. "Bitter Suite" by Marillion [EDIT - added 12/10 per isorski comment]
  12. "Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis" by Tom Waits [EDIT - added 12/10 per anonymous comment]
  13. "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore" by PJ Harvey [EDIT - added 12/10 per anonymous comment]
  14. "The Prostitute Song" by Chef of South Park [EDIT - added 12/10 per anonymous comment]
  15. "Bad Girls" by Donna Summer [EDIT - added 12/10 per anonymous comment]

Some of these are questionable... such as the AC/DC song, which could just as easily be about your run of the mill gold digger. And "Rider" is really just about a promiscuous groupie, but since Juliana repeats the word "whore" seven times at the end of the song, I figured, what the heck, it counts. And I'm definitely counting songs about men -- all is fair in love and the sex trade. This could call for some serious song-by-song analysis later on...

What else should I add? If you know of any other songs about or alluding to prostitutes or gigolos, please point me in their direction so I can add 'em to the list!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Bullz Eye updates

As promised, my latest up on Bullz Eye:

The title of this new Oasis DVD is all too apt: Lord Don't Slow Me Down. I think the Gallagher brothers are due for a break.

And back on the CD front... yet another Van Morrison compilation. If you forget the fact that Van (and really, nearly everyone of importance from his generation) has been and continues to be anthologized to no end, and if your collection contains nothing from the man at all, then it's not a bad place to start.

I've also got a brief entry in Bullz Eye's annual holiday gift guide. It's the one on the Frank Sinatra box set.

All the music writers were also asked to survey their top ten albums for 2007, as well as their picks for the 90 best albums of the '90s. The 90 of the '90s are being tabulated... when the final list is posted, I'll share my own list here. The tastes and opinions over at Bullz Eye are fairly diverse, so it's safe to say that what gets published will have more than a few eyebrow raisers. Then again, I'm sure my own list has its fair share. But we shall see soon enough!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

I'm not there (anymore)

Back from a 6-day getaway out in Rhode Island, which is usually frigid and otherwise inhospitable this time of year. But, thank goodness for global warming, it was actually not that much cooler over there than it has been in the Bay area. And no snow! There was a touch of rain towards the end of my stay, but it was nothing to crow about.

The only really jarring thing about the trip was that, again, I felt like I was stepping into a new world. I swear, every time I fly there, new businesses open, new buildings go up, old businesses disappear... the amount of change that has happened there over the course of four years is pretty amazing. Don't know if it's good or bad, but something tells me that a huge high-rise luxury condo building in the middle of Providence that's failing to attract buyers can't be a good thing.

Also in the bad news department... I knew it was coming, but it was sad to hear nonetheless. Tom's Tracks, one of my favorite record stores, will be closing by year's end. Unfortunately, I couldn't even say goodbye to Tom because he's not well enough to tend to his store anymore, after having suffered several strokes. Oh, and he has MS too. Not fun. Tom was infamous for being cranky and grumpy with customers at times, but if he liked you and if you made a connection with him, you had every reason to keep going back. He was a fountain of knowledge, had great taste, and would hire similarly knowledgeable staff to help him out over the years. It was through some of those staff (one in particular I'm thinking of was also named Mike) that I got hooked on Black Cat Music, doves, the Hives, and others. As far as record stores go, Tom's was the last one standing on Thayer Street, after 23 years -- he outlasted them all. He even outlasted the Gap! With Tom closing up shop, I now have one less reason (and a HUGE one at that) to cruise by Thayer Street.

Ah, but the Avon is still there, my favorite single screen independent movie theatre! It was there that I saw Todd Haynes' new film, I'm Not There, not once but twice. And I have plans to see it again next week. Yes, it's that good, and it may unseat Bugsy as my all-time favorite movie. The music is, of course, fantastic. You can't really go wrong with Bob Dylan. A couple of the performances that sounded only so-so on the soundtrack double CD actually came off much better on-screen. In particular, I wasn't all that impressed with Richie Havens' take on "Tombstone Blues," which surprised me as he's generally a dynamic performer. But once that song was paired with the image of Havens himself strumming on a porch alongside the young Marcus Carl Franklin (as the "Woody" character), it became much better than just so-so. The other tune that benefited was Stephen Malkmus' version of "Ballad Of A Thin Man" -- this sequence was essentially turned into what amounted to a music video, with Cate Blanchett's "Jude Quinn" miming the song between images of the relentless BBC reporter who drew so much ire from him/her (there's a reason I used both pronouns, and not just because a woman is playing the role of a male here -- you'll have to see the movie to find out why).

Beyond the great soundtrack lies a real film, a real mind-bending non-linear narrative that weaves together the stories of six characters who were inspired by the real life (or lives, as it were) of Bob Dylan. All the actors who portray these characters -- Franklin, Blanchett, Christian Bale (who plays both "Jack Rollins" and "Pastor John"), Heath Ledger ("Robbie Clark"), Ben Whinshaw ("Arthur Rimbaud," as in the poet, not literally, of course), and Richard Gere ("Billy The Kid," "William," "Mr. B," or whatever you choose to call him) are excellent. But it's Blanchett who gets all the best parts and the lion's share of the zingers in the dialogue. Her resemblance to Dylan circa 1965-66 is uncanny, and being that this period was the height of his cultural impact, she had arguably the most challenging role to play. I wouldn't say she became Dylan the way Val Kilmer became Jim Morrison in The Doors or the way Jamie Foxx became Ray Charles in Ray, but she came awfully close, as close as anyone could. And that's sort of the point of the whole film -- as soon as you think you have Dylan figured out, he's on to something else. He might as well be somebody different every day. And here we have it on film -- six characters who are, but are not, Dylan. "I'm not there, I'm gone," Dylan sings in the old Basement Tapes song that lent the film its title. And yes, it's true. But it's not. It's a put-on. But it's not.

Go see it!

(...and learn for yourself just how far you can go in life when you master the arts of the con, thievery, and being an asshole... oops, did I just say that?)

Beyond that... I'm overdue for some Bullz-Eye updates. Look for those tomorrow.

Till then... take a cue from my parents' 15-pound cheetoh cat and go find something to toss around for fun:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Chris Robley interview at Bullz Eye (and an AC/DC DVD review too)

Chris Robley

The interview I conducted last month with Portland singer/songwriter (and fellow East Greenwich High School graduate) Chris Robley made its way up on the Bullz Eye site today. Read and enjoy!

AC/DC Plug Me In DVD

Also just posted: a review of AC/DC's Plug Me In DVD set. Two DVDs. Four hours. That's a lot of AC/DC. But you know, Bon Scott and Angus Young at their best really did put on a hell of a show.

Only three more web development classes left for me, the last of which I will miss as I will be airborne at that time, heading East for the Thanksgiving holiday. That's one flight I'll surely want to zonk out on...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Here, there and everywhere

Scattered thoughts from a scattered mind...

LAST WEEK: More adventures with food

I think it was last week anyway. After checking out a band called the Feeders with my drummer friend from the east bay, we stopped for some Chinese food at a real Chinese restaurant nearby. No Americanized dishes at this place. How Chinese was it? Take a look at the leftovers I had for lunch the next day:
pig livers in ginger and onion sauce
Those are pig livers in ginger and onion sauce. My friend pointed them out on the menu and jokingly said, "you should try that!" Being that a) I had quite a lot to drink that night, and b) I'm always up for trying unusual foods at least once, I went for it. They weren't bad! My previous experience with liver was when I was a young child, and as they crumbled in my mouth, they grossed me out so I never went back. But I think that was beef liver. These pig livers could actually be chewed, and mostly just took on the flavor of the ginger and green onions in the sauce. Get too close and it smells a tinge like pet food, but other than that, they get my seal of approval. As in, I'd eat them again.

EARLY THIS WEEK: Thinkin' 'bout Peter Green & Aerosmith one morning

When I walk to work, I fire up the iRiver and sometimes listen to something specific, other times go for shuffle play. Sometimes I shuffle till I land on something I'm in the mood for and then listen to just that artist till I get to work. Earlier this week, I specifically went for Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac, specifically the album Then Play On. I had forgotten about the song "Rattlesnake Shake," and when it came on, I got a good chuckle. It's THE single guy's song. I've been back in singledom for the past few months, and I didn't ever think that single guys needed an anthem until this week. "Rattlesnake Shake" is that anthem:

Now, I know this guy
His name is Mick
Now, he don't care when he ain't got no chick
He do the shake
The rattlesnake shake
Yes, he do the shake
And jerks away the blues

There were these kids in school I knew who used to make fun of people they didn't like (or just tease each other for fun) by saying they jerked off, as if it was the kind of thing that made you un-male. This was before puberty started to kick in for us. Once that whole scene started, the jerk-off taunts disappeared really quickly. Nobody ever said anything about it either.

Here's Peter Green, all scraggly looking, leading Fleetwood Mac through "Rattlesnake Shake" circa 1970:

Aerosmith latched onto this one too, and it served as a building block for the sound they created. It fits their sleazy image perfectly. Here they are in '77, all drugged up, jammin' on the shake. It's only a so-so performance, might require some reefer, but hey, it's history:

NEXT WEEK: "The McCartney Years" DVD

I'm excited about it. That's all. I don't get excited about DVDs, but this one, yes.


Thursday's appointment in Berkeley was a start towards clarity, I'll need at least one more, but till then... gotta get some singin' in over at the Mint. Karaoke is my addiction now. My poor guitars are suffering from abandonment. When will they be picked up again?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

New reviews and a follow-up to "other crap"

Alright, time for another update on my review activities... two more at Bullz Eye.

I write these things and I sometimes forget that I'm at liberty to let my imagination run a little wild. But this one I wrote up on Radiohead's In Rainbows I'm particularly proud of, precisely because I got a little nutty with it.

And then, something completely different: a box set distilling the early years of Frank Sinatra's recording career into an easily digestible, manageable chunk of 4 discs called A Voice In Time: 1939-1952. These recordings are so old, many of the masters predate the standard use of magnetic tape! We're talkin' glass and aluminum discs and metal 78 rpm pressing plates here. And yet, all things considered, the reproduction quality is so good you may not even notice the occasional clicks and pops.

And back to "other crap" from two weeks back... as the painful headaches and occasional nightmares continue, an important first step towards a resolution to my creative mind block starts on Thursday, when I see a career counselor at UC Berkeley. I'm hoping this will be the beginning of deciding which of my various "irons in the fire" are going to be most worth seeing through to completion, which ones to just toss aside or put on hold, and how best to get from point A to point B. That "sustainable, harmonious union" of interests I'm trying to achieve will soon be one step closer to my grasp...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The look of embarrassment, the taste of failure

What the fuck is this???

They were supposed to be pancakes. Noticing that I happened to have all the ingredients for pancakes sitting around doing nothing particularly useful this morning, and since I was eager to find an excuse to drag my feet on running my errands today, I decided to try something different. Specifically, vegan pancakes was what I was going for. No eggs, no milk, just the following that I found on some Australian vegan forum, which I will not link to due to the shameful photographic evidence above:

2½ cups flour
¼ cup sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

whisk together:
1 cup soymilk
1½ cup water
¼ cup oil

"Tip wet ing. into dry ones. Fold together until only just combined. The batter should be quite lumpy, which makes the pancakes light. If you beat the batter smooth, the pancakes will be tough."

I cut the recipe in half, and even at that, the batter was far too watery. Rather than add more flour, I decided to just see what would happen when I poured it into my frying pan. First "cake" stuck to my pan, which was the pan's fault. It tends to like its contents far too much to let them go, no matter what the temperature. Second one did the same, and the watery mess wasn't helping.

Finally, I became frustrated enough to pour all the rest of the batter into the pan and just let it cook as one big cake. This actually worked much better. Problem was, it never did gain that "cakey" consistency. Rather, it ended up somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between cake and gel. It actually tasted alright, but pancakes they were not.

Ironically, these egg-less, vegan pancakes came out far heavier than any real pancake I've ever had, and they're sitting in my stomach like grease-drenched Dunkin' Donuts chased with a 32-ounce ice cream shake.

Never again!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Fun with boxes

Pre-adulthood, I used to see features in magazines, newspapers, even ad inserts on CD box sets that appear around the holiday shopping season and read them with greater interest than the front page news. Oh, the simple joys of being young and curious!

Now, I get to write some of those little blurbs myself. Bullz Eye posted their "Hope You Enjoy My New Box Set" feature last week, which features eight entries by yours truly. I could have easily made all eight of those entries dedicated to the series of eight Miles Davis "complete" sets that Columbia/Legacy has been pumping out over the past decade. However, in the interest of variety, there's also some Dylan, Yes, Ornette, and others represented. The whole damn thing is really fun to read. Check it out.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bob Dylan & Victoria's Secret: a 40-year-old decision

This post is dedicated to Isorski, whose review of Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews prompted me to buy the book and subsequently make this discovery on page 75:

Dylan was interviewed at a live press conference on KQED-TV, San Francisco, on December 3, 1965, in advance of five Bay Area concerts that month. One question he was asked, in the face of recent 'sell-out' accusations since abandoning acoustic folk music in favor of electric rock n' roll:

"If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?"

Dylan's curt answer:

"Ladies garments."

Fast forward to 2006:

I guess he wasn't putting us on back then, was he?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New reviews at Bullz Eye and other crap

Got three new ones since last time:

Posted on Friday, we have The Very Best of Diana Krall. I've been diggin' her for ten years now... my, how time flies! Great singer, great pianist, deserves a better overview than this one.

Diana Krall "The Very Best Of Diana Krall" album cover

Also on Friday, we have my review of Chris Robley's second solo album, The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love. This one will end up in my year-end top ten, for sure. I do actually have to submit one of those top ten lists to Bullz Eye soon, so keep a lookout for that as well.

Chris Robley "The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love" album cover

And finally, from last week, there's PJ Harvey's White Chalk. One word to describe this one: spooky. If you don't go out for Halloween, play White Chalk as you're falling asleep and see if that doesn't get you in the mood.

PJ Harvey "White Chalk" album cover

As for the aforementioned "other crap," I woke up this morning having a nightmare about business card designs, logo presentations and looming deadlines. I had done well with keeping my day job from interfering with my slumbers until now. On the one hand, it's been kinda sorta exciting to be interfacing with artists and designers in finalizing a big huge important presentation to a big huge important client. I find the creative process endlessly fascinating when it involves a team. On the other hand, waking up in the dark all nervous about conveying this or that message to this or that person before deadline and not knowing how said message will make finishing the project either slightly more difficult or completely impossible... apparently I could have used another Dead Guy Ale last night.

Meanwhile, my own creative life (outside of reviews, of course) is seriously lagging, suffering from a loss of inspiration and drive. It's begging me for a complete re-evaluation of where I'm at in life. Apparently the course of action I chose last year, that being to immerse myself in web technology training while keeping up with writing and playing music a little at a time, isn't working. What will work? Answering this question is now more important to me than getting some web work, finishing a work of fiction, writing songs, or anything else I've wanted to do. It's back to fact-finding, compiling other possibilities, and trying other things out till something sticks and I can confidently say, "yes, this is what I'm doing, and I love it."

And then, from there, I'll be glad to have some more nervous nightmares.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lest we forget (or buried news, perhaps)

With all the hype surrounding Radiohead's direct-to-the-fans approach to releasing their new album, In Rainbows (which is a great album by the way, if you like Radiohead and think their last two albums were great), I was reminded of a news bit by Troy Carpenter that appeared in Billboard back in January of 2005:

At this late juncture, most artists have an idea how they're going to deal with digital distribution and the perceived threat of peer-to-peer file-trading. Something going on at Juliana Hatfield's official Web site to this end demands the attention of the curious.

Hatfield, whose last release was the 2004 album "In Exile Deo" (Rounder), has been posting unreleased tracks at her Web site since early December, offering MP3s for unlimited download, on the honor system. Remember the honor system?

Yes, next to each pair of tracks posted for download, Hatfield provides a link to Paypal, the popular online payment site, where a donation can be made to the artist. The iTunes-forged standard of a buck per song is suggested. Alternatively, downloaders are urged to send a dollar in the mail.

So far, the system seems to be working, as future postings have thanked listeners for their donations. So far, 14 Hatfield songs have been uploaded, essentially spanning her solo career, and to accompany the latest batch, the artist wrote a letter explaining the origins of each song so far posted.

Later that year, Juliana released Made In China on her own Ye Olde Records label, with the help of the funds raised from her experiment.

Though Juliana, whose "My Sister" and "Spin The Bottle" were radio hits around the same time that Radiohead made themselves known with "Creep," didn't maintain the kind of massive momentum that Radiohead did, she proved early on that there was still enough goodness and honesty in people to make some bread in the digital free-for-all environment that is wreaking havoc on major labels (it's their own fault!). And it looks like what Juliana called the "honor system" has apparently worked tremendously in Radiohead's favor this time around, according to early speculation.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Introducing... Chris Robley

Chris Robley performing at BrainWash in San Francisco, Oct. 13, 2007.

Some time ago, last month maybe? (Swiss cheese memory strikes again!), I received one of many regular "new CD arrivals" emails from Bullz-Eye. One of the discs I saw listed was The Drunken Dance Of Modern Man In Love by some guy out of Portland, Oregon, named Chris Robley. My eyes jumped out, because I knew a Chris Robley back when I was attending East Greenwich High School in its small namesake town dead center in the state of Rhode Island. Was this the same guy?

After following a link to Chris' myspace page and sending him an email, I happily discovered that it was indeed the same Chris Robley. And here I was about to review his album, whether it was him or not, just out of curiosity from name recognition alone.

Turns out the album is damn good too. It's mostly acoustic guitar based, with loads of other instruments adding color and flavor and a lyrical sensibility that would probably have Harry Nilsson banging down his door if here were still alive. You should see a review on Bullz-Eye probably by Friday of this week, if not next.

Chris concluded a brief West coast tour on Saturday in the South of Market neighborhood of San Francisco, at a place called BrainWash. It's a most unusual venue - part laundromat, part bar, part restaurant (the burgers looked amazing, but I stuck to a chai latte as I had already eaten), part video arcade, part internet portal... oh, and they host live music too! It was at this weird place where Chris - the guy who convinced me that 1980s Miles Davis albums weren't crap, hipped me to Jaco Pastorius' Birthday Concert, and played guitar so well that I used to call him "God" - and I reconnected after eleven years. We even did an "interview" across the street at Julie's Supper Club, the results of which will also be making their way over to Bullz-Eye once I finish transcribing the recording.

I say this with no amount of bias (call me a liar if you want, but I'm sticking to my story): hearing Chris' new music has been the biggest musical joy for me all year. There's a purity in his songs and performances that I haven't been able to find in a lot of the new discs I've heard this year, even in discs I've enjoyed tremendously from established artists like Modest Mouse, PJ Harvey, Springsteen... OK, I'm not going to say anything I've heard has bested McCartney's new one, but he's in a class by himself. But seriously, check this guy out!

And from youtube... a clip of Chris overdubbing a keyboard part on his song "Little Love Affairs." He uses analog tape, yet another reason to buy his albums!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Genesis, HP Pavilion, San Jose (10/9/07)

It wasn't the Peter Gabriel-fronted lineup, but Genesis still played a mostly excellent set in San Jose on Tuesday night. Rode down there with Julie and a couple of her friends, ate a typically overpriced meal inside the venue, and didn't have to wait long past the 8pm start time for the band to take the stage.

Phil Collins, Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were joined by the touring members who had been with them since the late '70s - drummer Chester Thompson and guitarist Daryl Stuermer. Phil and Chester were drumming together on separate kits for a good chunk of the night, and that's exactly how the show started. They opened with an instrumental intro based on "Behind The Lines" and "Duke's End" from the 1980 album Duke, and with the way the lights were cast, I actually couldn't tell who was on which drum kit. Both Chester and Phil are bald, and the lights made it difficult to tell which guy was black and which guy was white. But when Phil stepped down from the stage right kit to take the microphone on "Turn It On Again," suddenly Chester's darker complexion stood out.

"Turn It On Again" sounded a bit sluggish (due in no part to Phil's pudgy belly, mind you), and like most of the vocal tunes in the set, was taken down to a lower key to make it easier for Phil to sing. I got used to it after a while, but it was a shame Phil wasn't hitting as many high notes as he used to.

After a couple more big pop hits, they dug into the first of several longer prog highlights from the '70s. "In The Cage" started out sounding kind of sparse and the audience seemed not all that enthused, but by the time the band had kicked up the intensity halfway through the song, and then segued into an instrumental slice of the odd-metered "The Cinema Show" and concluded the extra long medley with "Afterglow," we were hearing some of the loudest applause of the evening so far.

Next thing I witnessed was a first for me. Phil sat on a stool to sing the suitable-for-the-dentist-chair ballad "Hold On My Heart," a song that was probably best left for one of his solo records. Apparently a good chunk of the audience agreed, because this was the first time I had ever witnessed a mass exodus to the bathrooms during a performance of a top 40 hit at any concert I've ever attended. "Follow You, Follow Me" received a much warmer reception. It's a slight little ditty, but there's something attractive about it. Perhaps the fact that it was born organically, out of a jam, is what has given it some appeal over the years. Not only that, it was the only song played where Phil was drumming and singing at the same time, which is always a fascinating thing to watch, especially for those of us who can barely coordinate one foot with two hands behind a kit, never mind the other foot and vocals too.

Other highlights:
The "Firth of Fifth" instrumental featured Daryl on lead guitar, segueing into a crowd-pleasing rendition of "I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)." This tune was about as close as the Peter Gabriel era got to a pop hit, and it works very well in an arena setting with Phil making it all his own.

"Ripples" was a nice surprise thrown into the set, though Darryl's guitar could have been turned up.

The drum duet between Chester and Phil started out with the two of them banging away on what appeared to be a tall stool. They gradually moved away from the stool and onto their respective kits without missing a beat. Here's a youtube clip from the show, just over a minute long, capturing the transition:

The duet crashed head on into "Los Endos," yet another '70s instrumental. This one pretty much contained all the most memorable musical themes from the A Trick Of The Tail album, and it came alive on stage in a way that the record never did.

They really piled on some prime old material, and it was all received quite well and played even better. They could have dropped some of the '80s hits and I'm sure few would have minded. Though I must admit, even though "Throwing It All Away" is one of their less interesting pop songs (yet another that would have been better kept for a Phil solo album), the video screen behind the band during this song was a kick to watch. Cameras would zoom in on various people in the audience, and it was a matter of a second or two before the person would notice his or her image up on the screen. Every person spotlighted seemed to delight in the attention. I kept waiting for someone to cover their face in embarrassment, but no luck - everyone was a star and enjoyed it.

Set list:

Duke's Intro (Behind The Lines)
Turn It On Again
No Son Of Mine
Land Of Confusion
In The Cage / The Cinema Show / Duke's Travels / Afterglow
Hold On My Heart
Home By The Sea / Second Home By The Sea
Follow You, Follow Me
Firth Of Fifth / I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Throwing It All Away
Drum Duet
Los Endos
Tonight, Tonight, Tonight
Invisible Touch

I Can't Dance
The Carpet Crawlers

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Cosmic Control reclaims Modesto!

L-R: Brian Bedell, Don Gerron, Brandon Kane, Rachel Knutton, Lara Schneider

Back on September 10, 2001, I started a job at Brown University working alongside a guy who would become a close friend, Brandon Kane. The next day on the job was an instant bonding experience, as we experienced the shock of witnissing the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center only moments after they happened, via webcasts, NPR and CNN. Needless to say, little work was done that day.

Brandon was just beginning work on his Diabolical Tales trilogy at the time. Six years later (last Friday night to be exact), Brandon and a small delegation from Cosmic Control Productions arrived in Modesto for the annual Shockerfest International Film Festival. The horror/sci-fi fest featured shorts and features from independent filmmakers, and among those featured was CC's own Diabolical Tales Part II: Vengeance of the Men from Within the Earth.

The first of the three Diabolical shorts was screened at the fest last year. Set in the 1950s, the sci-fi/schlock trilogy follows the adventures of FBI Agent Cooper (Brian Bedell) as he fights to protect America from the evil pursuits of Master Zun (Don Gerron) and his men (and women) living beneath the earth, who are bent on enacting the destruction of the "surface dwellers."

Even more than a triumphant return to Northern California for the cast and crew, it was specifically a happy occasion for us all to hang out again. Even though I wasn't part of the cast or crew, I was hearing all about the process from beginning to end, and felt like I knew many of the cast before I finally did meet them off-screen.

Diabolical Tales Part II was screened on Saturday evening. In attendance were Kane (writer/director), Don & Wendy Gerron, Brian Bedell, Rachel Knutton (Kate Cooper), and Lara Schneider (Zeena). And though this was the second trip to Modesto for all but Lara, it also turned out to be the first time for all but Don & Wendy to visit San Francisco (minus Bedell, who headed off to Sacramento to visit family). We drove down on Sunday to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge and check out the Blue Angels, who had been flying over the city all week. I didn't get any shots worth posting, unfortunately, as my fingers were fumbling. The jets were flying awfully close to the bridge, and one even skimmed the surface of the bay. The skimming I actually missed, but Brandon caught it and described the water mist that rose up as looking like a force field surrounding the jet. The weather was perfect, and we actually found parking, which didn't look promising when we first arrived at the vista point.

Diabolical didn't end up with a nomination this time, but it has another shot at another festival. It Came From Lake Michigan 2007, an indie film fest in Wisconsin taking place October 26-28, will be screening both the second and third Diabolical shorts. And next year, I'll especially be looking forward to the premier of Brandon's first feature length film, Scorpion Bowl.

It's been great not only watching these films emerge from an idea on paper to an actual product, but getting to know everyone involved. They become their own little worlds, which is ultimately the reason why they're so much fun for someone like Brandon to make. They're not just technical or artistic achievements, they're social networks. That's what keeps the process rolling. It's all about the people.

- - -

UPDATE: Brandon has posted more photos on the Diabolical site!

Monday, October 8, 2007

New reviews & previews

Actually, these have been posted for over a week now, and I'm just finally getting around to posting 'em here:

I've got one over at Bullz-Eye, a review of J.J. Cale's Rewind: Unreleased Recordings. If you like Clapton, you should look into this one. If you don't like Clapton, you should look into it too. He's an American original with one consistent sound, so if you like one recording, you'll probably like 'em all.

And then, over at West Coast Performer, I cover the latest from the Beltholes. Excellent band, best CD I've reviewed for Performer so far, and dig that Meet The Beatles LP cover homage.

(As always, all my reviews can be read in one place at The Front Parlour.)

Coming soon: more reviews (of course), and, shooting for tomorrow sometime, a recap of Cosmic Control Productions' return to Northern California this past weekend...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Bob Dylan & Elvis Costello, the Ryan Center, Kingston, RI (9/29/07)

After I booked this too-short trip back east to visit family, it was announced that Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello would be performing at my alma mater the night after my arrival. Talk about perfect timing! In attendance were Doug and both of my parents - this being the first time all four of us attended a show together. My mother had taken me and Doug to see Keith Richards back in '93, but my father has rarely been to concerts with me. I can count on one hand, probably, all the concerts he has seen with me and my mother. Let's see... Chicago, the Moody Blues, Engelbert Humperdinck, Paul McCartney, and this one. Yup, just checked, I still have five fingers on each hand.

In short, it was a mixed bag. First, the positives:

Parking for this venue was just a very short walk across the street, and it was very easy getting in and almost as easy getting out. It's only an 8,000 seater, so that helped. It also wasn't completely sold out, so that helped too.

Amos Lee opened. He has been Dylan's default opening act for the past several years. He's not remarkable, but he's not annoying either. Just a good, solid musician with a hard working rootsy band, sounding a shade like Levon Helm at times. It's easy to hear why Dylan likes him so much, and both times I've seen him open for Dylan, the audience was warm and accepting.

Costello was the absolute highlight of the night. It was just the man alone, switching between three different guitars throughout the course of his 11-song set. He walked out dressed in black, smiling and in great spirits. His full, well-toned voice was in perfect shape for most of the night, and he occasionally stepped away from the mic to create an echo effect in "The River In Reverse." Towards the end of this tune, he started singing John Lennon's "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier, Mama, I Don't Wanna Die" and, as is his style, got the audience to sing along (although they didn't all get the cadence and it sounded jumbled). He did this again when he turned "Radio Sweetheart" into a full medley with Van Morrison's classic "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)" - it was a perfect sing-along and it went off without a hitch.

The only real flaws of Costello's set were "Less Than Zero," which didn't really work all that well as a solo piece, and a new song co-written with Roseanne Cash that he debuted. Calling it simply "Song with Rose" since he hadn't titled it yet, the song wasn't all that memorable, didn't have much of a hook to speak of. Maybe it'll be another classic with some fine tuning, but thumbs up for trotting out something new.

The biggest surprise for me was hearing "Veronica." Even though this was his biggest hit (and his only number one single), he rarely plays it these days. What's more, it was played in a completely different key and sounded completely fresh. Probably for both of these reasons it earned him the first of about four standing ovations (he also got them for "The River In Reverse," "Radio Sweetheart," and of course after the last song). Ending with "The Scarlet Tide," he received his guaranteed mid-song applause when he sang the Bush-directed lyric, "admit you lied / and bring the boys back home." It's a genuine folk song, one of the most affecting songs he has written (actually co-written, with fellow "Coward brother" T-Bone Burnett) and has turned up frequently in his sets since its release on 2004's The Delivery Man.

With a voice like Costello's, having Dylan close the night was a bit anticlimactic. Not that Dylan's songs were any less remarkable, or his band overpowering or tasteless. Quite the contrary - Dylan played a well-chosen set of old and new classics, and his band is as tight as ever.

It's no secret that Dylan isn't a great singer, and anyone who buys a ticket to his concerts knows and expects that he is going to sound ragged. But this time, he sounded downright bored and sick of some of his old tunes. It was as if he could care less about even trying to emit discernible human tones on most of his old songs, especially on the first three - "Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat," "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" and "Watching The River Flow." He rushed through the lyrics, jumbling syllables together like a chain-smoking bullfrog with Tourette's syndrome. He'd then take a long pause to make up the time before finishing each line, in what sounded like a willful insult to musical cadence and (of course) melody. And yet... Doug and I found ourselves not pissed, but laughing. Quite frequently. "I think he's taking the piss out of people," Doug observed. Perhaps.

He may have just been bored too. For, by the time Dylan got around to singing some of the tunes off his latest album, last year's Modern Times (he played five of the album's ten songs), he was finally starting to reach for some notes, the mid-line pauses weren't so long, and one could actually make out some melodies.

One song where the spooky tone of his nearly destroyed voice worked especially well was "Ain't Talkin'" - he wrote this one with a melody very suitable for his limited range, and the many dark verses are exactly the kind of material that fit the world-weary personality responsible for early, winding epics like "Desolation Row." Every lyric was brought into sharp relief by his delivery, especially lines like "I'm tryin' to love my neighbor and do good unto others / But oh mother, things ain't going so well" and the closing couplet: "Heart burnin', still yearnin' / In the last outback at the world's end." You'd think he was resigned to the imminent end of time being just around the corner, and who knows, maybe it is.

But even a miserable Bob Dylan won't leave his audience feeling depressed, and "Summer Days" is exactly the antidote for the effects of his downer material. This tune, from 2001's Love and Theft, has become a latter-day classic thanks to its frequent appearances in Dylan's set lists since its release. It's the only song from the album that he performed on Saturday, and its jubilant rockabilly swing is nothing short of an instant party.

After a haunting, always relevant "Masters of War," Dylan encored with the "Summer Days" follow-up "Thunder on the Mountain" (from Modern Times) and the crowd-pleasing "All Along The Watchtower," modeled after the more-famous Jimi Hendrix cover, showing that Dylan clearly isn't above adopting another legend's improvement of one of his own songs.

But truly, we had to laugh. After all, the context in which we were hearing these performances was so cynically designed, I'm sure Dylan himself must be laughing too. It was the taped brass fanfare that signaled the start of the show, and the voice announcing Dylan as the "voice of the '60s counterculture, who disappeared in the '80s, subsequently found Jesus, and has returned with his strongest work starting in the late '90s" or something to that effect... I mean, these kinds of labels and hero-worship were exactly the kind of thing Dylan rejected and rebelled against for so many years. And in that context, coupled with hearing how ungodly he sounds today, how could one not laugh?

Clearly, Dylan has a (somewhat warped) sense of humor. And he's laughing all the way to the bank. Who else can "sing" like he does and get away with it? And it's not like he can't still sing clear melodies - his a capella rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" offered on one of his recent XM "Theme Time Radio Hour" broadcasts proved it. He just chooses to croak. And we choose to show up. It's quite the arrangement, and it makes for some interesting theater. That's why we dig Dylan, not just because he wrote some amazing songs and captured the mood of a grand, historic moment in time.

Elvis Costello's set-list:
The Angels Want to Wear My Red Shoes
Either Side of the Same Town
The River In Reverse
"Song with Rose"
Less Than Zero
(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding
From Sulfur to Sugar Cane
Radio Sweetheart/Jackie Wilson Said
The Scarlet Tide

Bob Dylan's set-list:
Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat
Don't Think Twice, It's Alright
Watching The River Flow
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Rollin' And Tumblin'
The Ballad of Hollis Brown
Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
Spirit On The Water
Things Have Changed
Workingman's Blues #2
Highway 61 Revisited
Ain't Talkin'
Summer Days
Masters of War

Thunder On The Mountain
All Along The Watchtower

Monday, September 24, 2007

More reviews and a yoga folly

Bringin' you up to date with my latest assessments of new(ish) music from opposite ends of the rock n' roll spectrum over at, once again, Bullz-Eye:

On the cutting edge part of the spectrum, I took a crack at Animal Collective's Strawberry Jam. If you're too lazy to read the full review (it's just over 400 words, don't be shy!), here's the two-word summation: acquired taste.

And on the moldy goldy end, it's Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino. The two-word summation for this one? Mostly awesome.

And now, in my favored fashion of mixing unrelated topics (would you expect anything less from a guy who sincerely enjoys both Minnie Riperton and Slayer?)... I've been practicing yoga, and I learned a very important lesson some weeks ago. No, I'm not talking about the importance of eye gaze, ujjayi breath, modifying poses when necessary or any of that...

Actually, this sort of relates to modifying poses. I occasionally have to use a strap for poses that require stretching hand to foot. I can't always reach that far, so I have to wrap a strap around my foot and grab onto that instead. At one session, the instructor walked up to me and asked if I needed a strap. I was already using one, or so I thought that's what I had taken from the locker.

Remember this now, if you plan on practicing yoga some day -

This is a strap:
And this is a jump rope:

Any questions?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

One dead link + three live ones and Brian Wilson!

About a week ago, went offline. The reason? Jeff's web hosting provider, Jatol, went under and unfortunately, the blog itself wasn't backed up locally. Whether jefitoblog will return is unclear at this point.

In the meantime, I've got three new blog links here to help fill jefito's huge void:

  •, the home of the always entertaining Chart Attack and Mellow Gold, was actually designed by jefito's Grab Bag Design company. So the look and feel is very familiar to jefito fans. Jason posts probably about as often as I do, which means it's easier to keep up with.

  • Isorski's Musings is based in Portland and comments on a lot of live music happenings, such as the recently announced Led Zeppelin reunion (I'm snoring at that news, which I should probably elaborate on in a separate post). He leans towards hard rock most of the time, and posts fairly regularly with great personality. This is one to get into, for sure.

  • Linear Zap's Blog is one of those awesome, generous music blogs like jefito's was, only with a strict Brian Wilson/Beach Boys focus. Which leads to...

Brian Wilson's recent performances at London's Royal Festival Hall featured the debut of That Lucky Old Sun (A Narrative), which is basically the follow-up to SMiLE. Dare I say Brian has created his third masterpiece (after Pet Sounds and SMiLE)? I think the long-form song cycle is really Brian's thing, much more than 3-minute pop songs. His last batch of pop songs (2004's Gettin' In Over My Head) sounded great, though they were bankrupt lyrically. He sounds truly inspired on That Lucky Old Sun, weaving the title song (yes, that same oft-covered Frankie Lane pop hit you know so well) throughout in variations, much in the way that fans had speculated Brian would do with his "Heroes And Villains" theme on a finished SMiLE. He draws on his rock n' roll roots by way of that plodding, idiosyncratic style he put forth on '70s tunes like "Let Us Go On This Way" in the part titled "Going Home," some of the camp of SMiLE in "California Role," the emotional intensity of Pet Sounds in "Midnight's Another Day," and pays tribute to his brothers in the closing section. There are little melodies throughout the piece that can be placed back to some of Brian's own work (like "Rio Grande," for instance) and, in "Forever She'll Be My Surfer Girl," he even nicks a riff from Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not To Come." And of course, Brian's patented harmonies he developed with the Beach Boys are present throughout, rendered lovingly by his backing band.

I'm placing my bets on a big Brian Wilson U.S. tour sometime next year to promote a new studio album. This will be the one that proves he's still vital, and not simply making his living by raising old ghosts. In a sense, this is even bigger than SMiLE, but we don't really know it yet, and probably won't for another 30 years...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Goodbye Joe

It was announced yesterday that jazz composer/bandleader/pianist/etc Joe Zawinul died at the age of 75 from a rare form of skin cancer. I saw the news and, just like every other time I hear of the death of a musician I admire, I groaned. Not another one!

Even before I recognized the size of his contributions, Zawinul's music drew me in and made me want to explore the sounds he created with Miles Davis and Weather Report. It was in high school when I bought my first copy of Miles' In A Silent Way, which Zawinul played on and composed the title track. Not long after that, a friend played me just enough of the first cut on Bitches Brew -- a Zawinul composition called "Pharaoh's Dance" -- to have me wondering what was happening. Bitches Brew, I had heard, was the beginning of jazz-rock fusion. I was expecting to hear loud, searing guitar work from John McLaughlin fighting for space with Miles' trumpet. Instead, I was hearing this light, slightly funky back beat with some bass, bass clarinet, and the mysterious tinkling electric piano of Joe Zawinul. I didn't quite know what to make of it, but in a year or so, I'd be playing Bitches Brew constantly in my dorm, loving every second of it, not yet knowing that Zawinul was playing electric piano with Cannonball Adderley before the innovative Miles Davis had even thought of going electric with his music.

Zawinul formed Weather Report with fellow Davis sideman Wayne Shorter in '71. This group, like Zawinul's contributions to Bitches Brew, had a strange appeal to it, with its multi-cultural sounds and many different keyboard textures. The absence of guitar (which would have balanced the keyboard-heavy proceedings) on most of their recordings initially made me reluctant to explore their catalog. But then, upon scoring used LPs of Sweetnighter and Mysterious Traveler (their third and fourth albums), I was hooked. The two records were released in 1973 and 1974, respectively, and were as different as night and day. Sweetnighter mostly mined dance grooves, beats which sounded quite ahead of their time for '73. The drum patterns actually weren't all that different from what Tony Williams was playing on In A Silent Way. And yet, Zawinul found new rhythms in his keyboard riffs that changed the way an old drum beat sounded. The acoustic bass was retained, which kept the sound otherworldly -- old rhythmic approach plus new rhythmic approach equaled something unusual. On Mysterious Traveler, the group transitioned to even funkier sounds as Alphonso Johnson joined on electric bass. But still, there were eerie mood pieces present like Wayne Shorter's "Scarlet Woman," and a playful acoustic duet between Zawinul and Shorter on "Blackthorn Rose."

From here, I had to hear it all. Actually, I never did pick up the last two Weather Report studio albums (1985's Sportin' Life and 1986's This Is This), but I explored enough to know that this was one hell of a group. In fact, on my jazz radio show during college, I would start the last hour of music I played with a Weather Report tune, after reading the day's weather forecast (cheesy, I know, but it was fun). I did this every week without fail, except for one special all-Miles edition. But even then, Zawinul was in there in somewhere.

Probably the most surprising fact I had learned about Joe Zawinul's music career centers around the 1967 pop hit "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy." I knew the song via the Buckinghams' hit, which used to be played on oldies stations back when they still played songs recorded prior to 1970. It had become fashionable in the late '60s for jazz artists to record instrumental covers of pop hits -- Wes Montgomery did this quite a bit with songs like Roger Miller's "King Of The Road" and the Beatles' "A Day In the Life," among many others. Hank Mobley covered the Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," George Benson recorded a version of the Monkees' "Last Train To Clarksville," you get the picture. It happened a lot. So when I heard Zawinul playing electric piano on Cannonball Adderley's version of that Buckinghams' hit, I was shocked when I looked at the credits -- Zawinul wrote it! And it was recorded the year before the Buckinghams' version hit the charts. Come to find out, this was a rare case of a pop group covering a jazz artist's tune, adding lyrics, and suddenly the cover becomes the hit. It would happen to Zawinul again in the late '70s, when the Manhattan Transfer won the 1980 Grammy for Best Jazz/Fusion Performance for their vocalese cover of Weather Report's 1977 hit "Birdland."

I never did get to see Zawinul perform live with his band the Zawinul Syndicate, which he formed after dissolving Weather Report. I have yet to even explore that section of his catalog. Fortunately, there are many recordings out there, both audio and video.

Check this video out -- it's vintage Weather Report, pre-superstar era, pre-Jaco, pre-"Birdland"... performing a version of "Directions" that is cut from the same cloth as Bitches Brew. It's one of my favorite Zawinul tunes -- open-ended, not too pretty, and ripe for jamming every time. It was the kind of thing Miles Davis loved to play. In fact, Miles used this tune as his set opener for at least a couple of years, albeit in a much different arrangement.

Thanks for the music, Joe. It's been a trip!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

More reviews, Rick Rubin and miscellaneous notes

Note to self, and to all: binging on tortilla chips (and when I say binging I mean consuming roughly half a pound in one sitting), apple juice and Italian grapefruit soda late at night can produce the same "hangover" feeling the next morning that would result by replacing said beverages and most of the chips with an equal amount of alcohol. Seriously, Trader Joes' jalapeno chips don't even need salsa, and they're worth the groggy morning. Once, maybe.

Those chips were also partly responsible for my falling asleep during my second attempt to finish watching Snatch. Third time will be the charm, I'm sure, though I already have seen enough to know that it's just a slower moving, more easily digestible cousin to Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. One's for the caffeinated, one's for the inebriated. Take your pick.

You also have your pick of a few different reviews. I've got four more to share, three of which were made available this week, and one which was actually published back when I said rock was dead, but if I mentioned that one, I'd have to make some ridiculous argument that Jethro Tull is not rock (which could be made, quite easily too). So...

And if you get bored with my garbage (very likely), take a look at this: the New York Times recently published an excellent story on music guru Rick Rubin. He's gone from co-founding Def Jam (thereby playing a big role in hip hop's crossing over to a mainstream audience), to producing records by Slayer and Andrew "Dice" Clay, to resurrecting Johnny Cash's career so that the man could go out on top, to his latest humongous project - leading Columbia Records as the music industry faces a dire present and an uncertain future. Can Rick help turn the situation around? He could be the industry's savior... he even looks like one!

(Photo Credit: By Jamie Rector For The Washington Post Photo)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Screw rock n' roll

Rock is dead. It's so dead you couldn't get electrocuted playing it in an outdoor shower built in the middle of a substation during a lightning storm.

Disco is where it's at!

And so is hip hop, yo.

Read some shit. Blow some dough. Tell me you like it. And maybe if you're lucky I'll give you some more!

This bit of drivel was made possible by the fine folks at Bullz Eye, the young and talented producer Calvin Harris, the chart-topping rap artist Common, and myself. The former three are responsible for all the greatness, and I'm just lettin' you know.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stevie on Sunday

Another 13 days gone by… I’d rather forget they even happened. Except for last Sunday – Stevie Wonder was up in Concord, stopping by on his first full tour in 17 years. I was there, with my good friend and co-worker Julie. And as anyone who knows Stevie’s music can tell you, it’s full of good vibes. The man himself is just overflowing with genuine positivity. And he gave us loads of it, all directly to us, with us, and for us.

Stevie had his daughter Aisha Morris at his side as he walked out to center stage. Before he began the actual concert, he told us about the effect his mother’s death had on him last year, and how he nearly canceled all appearances he had lined up. But he went ahead with an appearance he had at a wedding in Hawaii, and carrying on in his strong, bull-headed fashion, he’s out there now telling all of us ‘thank you’ for listening and for essentially giving his mother a much better life than she would have had otherwise. It was a personal, heartfelt introduction, in which he concluded by saying we’ll remember the night as a night we all spent together. And he was serious – he’d really involve us in the performance.

And then, he solemnly and softly began the show, after making it through some sound problems on his microphone during his opening talk to us, with “Love’s In Need Of Love Today.” Starting off accompanied only by his piano, Stevie was joined by Aisha on backing vocals in the first chorus, and then gradually the rest of the band joined in – one drummer, two percussionists (one on either side of the drummer), two guitarists, a bassist, another keyboard player, and a total of three backing vocalists (including Aisha).

From here, we got three songs in a row – the first three in order, in fact – from Innervisions, which is my personal favorite of Stevie’s albums. “Too High” was especially well done, sounding almost exactly like the recording, right down to the tempo and keyboard tones. “Visions” was arranged a little differently – electric piano was prominent along with acoustic guitar, and Stevie nearly doubled it in length as he extended the coda into a full-on preach against the violence we’re inflicting upon each other across the globe. He had us join him in chanting “stop it!” And then, “Living For The City” came next and got the biggest response from the crowd up to that point, being that it was the first big hit of the night that he played.

From here, the mood lightened considerably as “Master Blaster” came next. There’s no better way to get people moving than with a pure party song paying homage to Bob Marley. But it got even better – before returning to Innervions again for that album’s biggest hit, “Higher Ground,” Stevie proceeded to lead the band through a lengthy jam in which he played some funky clavinet, and then… the talk box came out. Stevie had been using it well before Peter Frampton made it famous, and I think we had all forgotten about Pete after Stevie jammed on “Mary Had A Little Lamb,” into almost all of “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” And then, he vocalized the rhythm for the band and gave us a verse and chorus of “Billie Jean” in which he faked the words. But even fake words sound cool on the talk box.

The intensity level came down a bit after “Higher Ground,” with the beautiful, mid-tempo piano-based ballad “Golden Lady,” again from Innervisions. This segued into a solo piano and vocal medley of “Can’t Imagine Love Without You,” “Too Shy To Say” and “You And I.” It was the mushy moment of the show, the one that was for the lovers who were already smitten by the appearance of the rising moon up above us. The rest of the band rejoined Stevie for “Overjoyed,” and then Stevie had to take a quick break to refresh his throat. He sounded a little hoarse during his introductory speech, but his voice was clear as ever when he sang. He explained to us, and had us cracking up as he did, that the “nasty” tasting stuff he was drinking to coat his throat (or “th’oat” as he told us, reminiscing along the way about his mother and father used to say it) consisted of cider vinegar and honey. He gulped it down, the percussionists jammed on for a bit, and then, on into…

“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” would be the last of the six tunes he pulled from Innervisions. The only other album so heavily represented was Songs In The Key Of Life, and at this point I actually expected to hear that album’s “Another Star” based on the percussion rhythms I was hearing. But that would actually come later.

It was back to party time again with “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.” At the conclusion of the latter, Stevie joked about how it could have been a country song and proceeded to mess around with country-sounding arrangements that came off almost like Ray Charles. And then he even played and sang, quite beautifully, a little bit of Charlie Rich’s big early ‘70s pop-country crossover hit “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.”

From here out, the order of the songs is a little fuzzy to me. But I know we got to hear a flawless “All I Do,” and got another funny story about a girl Stevie was dating who barely registered a reaction to a song he wrote for her. They broke up, but he got “My Cherie Amour” out of it. We were led through some call and response, which actually might have preceded “My Cherie Amour.” And there was a super funky jam on “Superstition” which folded in Parliament’s “Tear The Roof Off The Sucker” at the end, which again, had the audience singing along. We got “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life.” And we got the three big hits off Songs In the Key Of Life – “I Wish,” “Sir Duke” and “Isn’t She Lovely.” Aisha was standing by her father’s side on the latter, and gave him a big hig – this is her song, the one Stevie wrote for her when she was just a baby, and in fact she is the baby you hear at the beginning of the recording.

“Do I Do” showed up towards the end, which if I’m remembering correctly, was the song where Stevie got behind a drum kit towards the end for a little duet with the band’s regular drummer. He’s more known for his harmonica and piano playing, but Stevie is actually a fine drummer, and sounds better now than he ever did.

As the show wound up, we all helped Stevie on a stripped down arrangement of “Part Time Lover” in which the guys sang Stevie’s rhythmic vocal part, the girls sang the synth hook, and Stevie sang the leads and played piano. And we all shouted along the title throughout. It’s kind of a corny song, but this group participatory arrangement was pretty awesome. “I Just Called To Say I Love You” was played in a truncated version, and then I believe this was the point where we finally got to hear another new-ish song, “So What The Fuss,” from 2005’s A Time 2 Love. He had us all clapping along on it, before the song I was expecting to hear earlier in the set – “Another Star” – finally closed us out.

I probably speak for more than just myself when I say that I left the show feeling a lot better than when I went in, and not just because I heard so many of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs. The guy really knows how to engage an audience and make them feel like joyful participants. And though he preaches love a lot, he means it, and it comes across as completely genuine and meaningful. He chose the right time to get back out there and show us some love, and truly, there are few pop performers who can do it as well as he can, with as many amazing songs as he has. Thank you, Stevie. You got me smilin’ again!

Songs performed (not necessarily in order):

Love’s In Need Of Love Today
Too High
Living For The City
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Clavinet/Talk Box Jam (with Mary Had A Little Lamb, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Billie Jean)
Higher Ground
Golden Lady
Ribbon In The Sky
Can’t Imagine Love Without You
Too Shy To Say
You And I
(voice tip – cider vinegar & honey)
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
Country renditions/The Most Beautiful Girl In The World
All I Do
My Cherie Amour
Sir Duke
I Wish
Superstition/Tear The Roof Off
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
Isn’t She Lovely
Do I Do
Part Time Lover
I Just Called To Say I Love You
So What The Fuss
Another Star

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Safe for crackers!

Yesterday I received a last-minute request to write an entry for jefitoblog's ongoing "Safe For Crackers" series, which honors the 21st anniversary of rap crossing over to the pop mainstream. Back in '86, Run DMC and the Beastie Boys, among others, finally ushered in the hip hop era for the white suburban masses, and as I was one of those people, I was more than happy to share some stories associated with that time.

My "Harmolodic Edition" of "Safe For Crackers" runs today, so check it out at your leisure. And, as a bonus, see if you remember this great video from the early days of Yo! MTV Raps - MC Lyte's "Lyte As A Rock."

Saturday, August 11, 2007

New band videos! Part 5 - "Fake Tales Of San Francisco"

...and here we have the fifth and final "Lost The Plot" video post - our closing number, the Arctic Monkeys' "Fake Tales Of San Francisco." Christina chose this one, and it turned out to be the perfect set closer. Julie had fun working her way around the English flavor of the vocals, Christina got some cool bass fills, Djuna and I joined in on those fun background vocals towards the end... it's just a fun song to play all around, and fun for the audience too.

Not sure when my next performance will be, as my musical plans are up in the air at the moment. So enjoy these in the meantime. Better yet, get out there and start playing yourself!

Friday, August 10, 2007

New band videos! Part 4 - "Shut Your Eyes"

For the fourth installment of this video series... here we get a mostly good performance of Snow Patrol's "Shut Your Eyes," which drummer Barry chose. Aside from the end, I think it was one of our best performances as a band. We got the laid back feel of the rhythm down well, and the vocals were pretty tight (just plug your ears during my parts at the end). I never paid much attention to Snow Patrol, and the first time I heard them I was not impressed. But this song is alright, I'll give 'em that.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

New band videos! Part 3 - "Somewhere Across Forever"

The good thing about spreading these videos out one post at a time is that, if I forget to mention a relevant factoid one day, I have another chance to remember later. In this case, I wanted to mention that our drummer, Barry, was the one who came up with the band's name - "Lost The Plot." Factor in yesterday's little blurb on the band and I'm sure you'll agree it was an apt name.

The song performed in today's video had, in Spooner's words, a "lame ending." In spite of his criticism, which irked Julie considerably, we kept it as it was and it got a good response. I had never heard this song or the band that originally recorded it, stellastar*, until I signed up for this workshop. This was another of Julie's picks. She sang the lead, and Djuna and I supplied backing vocals and shared some indie-riffic lead guitar lines during the instrumental break.

The laugh here for me is this: before the show, Barry took me aside and asked me to set the tempo at an easier pace than I had been during rehearsals, as he found it difficult at times to maintain the tempo at the pace I was setting. Imagine my surprise when, after strumming the intro at the requested laid-back pace... well, watch and see for yourself what happened:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

New band videos! Part 2 - "The View"

Before we look at the next video, a little background on the band and yesterday's video:

This is the fourth band workshop I've played in since I began frequenting the Blue Bear School of Music, and the third I've played in with Bill Spooner as band leader. There were five of us rehearsing together for ten weeks -- myself on guitar and occasional vocals, Christina on bass, Barry on drums, Djuna on guitar and vocals, and Julie on keyboards and vocals. Christina and I had the idea of playing in a workshop together when we started dating, so we signed up together. Julie I had played with before in my last workshop, and we're also co-workers and friends. The three of us all knew each other already, and had played with Spooner before on separate occasions, so we all got along well. Barry and Julie did not mix, however, and Barry occasionally butted heads with Spooner as well. Suffice to say, it was an interesting group that had its fair share of drama, drunkenness and sexual tension. In other words, it was a true rock n' roll experience. Only things we lacked were hard drugs, a tour van and paychecks.

Anyway, yesterday's song was a tough one for Christina going in, but in the end she pulled it off rather well. It was the coolest sounding bass line in all the songs we played, and a song chosen by Julie.

Today, we get "The View" by Modest Mouse. I chose this one. Nobody in the band cared much for it right away, but after a while, everyone warmed up to it and it became a favorite. I take the lead vocals here, and I'll let you be the judge of their quality.

And before I forget to mention, the same guy who filmed the videos of my last workshop did these as well -- Damon Molloy of Dirksen-Molloy Productions.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

New band videos! Part 1 - "Texarkana"

On June 28, a little pay-to-play rock band called Lost The Plot took the stage at San Francisco's Red Devil Lounge and made some enthusiastic drunks get all crazy with rock n' roll convulsions. Or we just soundtracked their inebriation. In any case, I was there, playing a barely audible guitar and groovin' hard.

Yes, it was yet another Blue Bear School of Music rock band workshop, focusing mostly on the music of "contemporary" bands (though R.E.M., Prince and U2 are all "classic" by now... but they're alive, so whatever).

I'm going to share five videos from our eleven-song set with you. First up -- our version of R.E.M.'s "Texarkana."

More video (and more text) in the coming days...

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Bullz-Eye review: Their Satanic Majesties Request

Since that Slayer interview got published over at Bullz-Eye last month (are you sick of the regular Slayer mentions in this blog yet? It's not over -- I have uncovered my 'lost' 1998 interview!), I've officially become a "regular contributor" to the site. Hooray! It's a great entertainment site targeting manly men, i.e. the types who read old-fashioned paper magazines like FHM and Blender... the type depicted by Charlie Sheen in "Two And A Half Men"... the type epitomized by Howard Stern. The types who frequent Hooters for those great hot wings... you get the picture. About 5 million unique monthly visitors get the picture too.

Anyway, hop on over to Bullz Eye to check out the Summer Of Love feature that just went live today. In particular, pay attention to the three-star review of The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, penned by you know who, among the 14 "essential" rock albums of 1967 spotlighted in this very cool feature.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"The Complete Idiot's Guide to Slayer" cited on Wikipedia

Every once in a while it's fun to google your name and see what comes up. Yesterday I did just that for the first time in months, and found this little surprise:

A Wikipedia noticeboard on "reliable sources" was re-posted on a site called Thinking Australia. The first issue of debate on the noticeboard is whether citing my reference to the backwards "join us" chanting in Slayer's "Hell Awaits," as written in my "Idiot's Guide" on, in Wikipedia's Backmasking article was appropriate under Wikipedia's guidelines. The debate was whether a weblog is a "reliable source," no matter how "well-written and credible" the weblog is.

In the end, the citation stuck, as a footnote (number 39) in the backmasking article with two other sources to back it up.

And that was my giddy simple pleasure on a sunny Saturday. Giddy! My inner geek is coming out...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Beautiful Wreck

When you're sitting alone in an airport, having shown up extra early to get the mandatory (in)security strip search over with, waiting to board that big bus with wings, you have a lot of time to think. Or read. Or listen to your preferred portable music device.

In my case, the last occasion in which I had the honor of experiencing air travel in the 21st century, I did some of each. Now, if I was smart, I would have bought myself a laptop computer so I could chronicle my thoughts as they arrive (much earlier than the plane I'm waiting for), then I wouldn't have to force myself to extract something from my brain that I stuck way on its back shelves weeks ago. You know what happens to thoughts when you do that? Same thing as the food you forget about in your refrigerator -- they ROT. Or they ferment and take on a richer flavor, if you prefer the vintage wine perspective.

Actually, it's probably safer to go with the fermentation explanation here. Because, you see, I don't like to air my thoughts before they're ready. It's not always easy to know when "ready" is, and many times you just have to take comfort in the idea of a late expression being far superior to no expression at all.

Which brings me to the reason I'm writing tonight. Marvin Gaye. I had just acquired the "Expanded Love Man Edition" (more on what this means later) of Marvin's 1981 album In Our Lifetime, the record that turned out to be his last for Motown, and it was getting some serious play on the old (2 years old this month and still going strong!) iRiver. Now, this is a serious record with a very interesting story, even without the extra 90+ minutes of music. And it was cause for some serious thinking while sitting in the airport.

See, Marvin's method of creative madness was much, much different from mine. Whereas I tend to work things out in my head and try to spit out my words and thoughts fully formed so that there are as few mistakes as possible to go back and correct, Marvin took an equally inefficient route. He would, rather than write words out long-hand (or even short-hand) and be ready to sing something, he would waltz into the studio with nothing, and just improvise over and over until he came up with something he liked. With the kind of money he was making in the '70s, he could well afford the extra studio time to make this happen. Except by the time he got around to making what became In Our Lifetime, he had unfortunately tried the patience of Motown a bit too much.

Marvin started the album in early 1979, and had intended on calling it Love Man. It was to be a return to commercial, get-down-and-get-it-on music following the fascinating but commercially disastrous Here My Dear, which chronicled the breakdown of his first marriage. In spite of his intentions, the first song Marvin finished and released as a single was a philosophical, self-deprecating, and not-very-popular song titled "Ego Tripping Out." He started off the song with a pseudo rap boasting of what we'd refer to now as his "bling" (are we still calling it that? or am I five years behind the curve here?) and his sexual prowess (an irony in light of biographer David Ritz's revelation that Marvin suffered from, uh, "performance issues"). From there, Marvin goes on to take down the pimpin' party state of mind, declaring that "the toot and the smoke won't fulfill the need." Of course he couldn't heed his own advice, but he at least had the decency to warn the rest of us.

Even though "Ego Tripping Out" stiffed (no pun intended) as a single, Marvin nevertheless felt that the Love Man album he started and never completed was "jive" and sought to re-write the lyrics of all the songs to reflect his more philosophical state of mind. Good thing he kept the music mostly unchanged, because those Frank Blair bass lines are all priceless. They jump out of the floorboards and dance alongside you, whether you decide to shake your booty or not.

So, with a perfect set of funky, danceable, irresistible grooves -- perhaps the finest tracks in Marvin's entire catalog -- the master went about converting his Love Man album into the daddy of 1999. Marvin, who was once known as the prince of Motown, was a bit peeved that another R&B superstar was in the making in '79, simply called Prince. "I'm the prince!" is what Marvin thought, and he also recorded "In Our Lifetime" before Prince recorded his big hit with the same theme -- that the nuclear holocaust is probably going to wipe us out "in our lifetime," so let's get down and get funky while we still have the chance. Problem was, Marvin's song, while funkier than a motherfucker, was a) lacking a memorable hook, b) too long, and c) didn't even aspire to be a hit. He had earned the right to eschew blatant hitmaking in favor of high-minded funk, but that choice came with a price. Prince and Rick James stole his thunder (Prince even mined Marvin's oft-used sex vs. sanctity theme to great effect in later years), and In Our Lifetime would lose that battle whether it came out the way Marvin wanted it or not.

And it didn't come out the way he wanted, because Motown grew impatient after waiting two years for him to deliver a final record (two years! How long has Axl Rose been keeping the new Guns N' Roses album under wraps? Ten?), the tapes were secretly taken from Marvin and released without his final approval. In the process, an unfinished piece found its way into the marketplace not only as an album track, but as a b-side to the "Heavy Love Affair" 45. "Far Cry" gave us a view of Marvin's improv composition method -- many of the lyrics were mumbled and almost unintelligible, and sung without much confidence. It's the one song on that album that makes little sense, and this pissed Marvin off so much that he left Motown for CBS (which we now know as Sony-BMG).

Now, we get to hear not only "Far Cry," but all those Love Man outtakes where Marvin sings all those "jive" lyrics he tossed aside. Go backwards from "Heavy Love Affair" to "Life's a Game of Give and Take." Devolve from "In Our Lifetime" to "I Offer You Nothing But Love." Fall from the heights of the morality tale that is "Love Me Now Or Leave Me Later" to a half-hearted come-on, "Just Because You're So Pretty." The A-B comparison between the In Our Lifetime and Love Man versions is striking, and certainly makes a good case for Marvin's decision to re-write the record (dig the off-kilter scatting in "Just Because You're So Pretty" if you dare).

So in effect, we now have two full discs of sessions that never were deemed "ready" by the artist. And in his case, the plane took off while he was still preparing to board. Someone at Motown had the good sense to realize that it was going to crash anyway, so why delay the inevitable? In Our Lifetime is still a beautiful wreck. And if you don't agree, you can at least agree that saving Marvin from what could have easily become his SMiLE was probably a big favor for him -- one that drove him to a new label and, ultimately, "Sexual Healing."