Monday, December 29, 2008

Couple of RIPs: Delaney Bramlett and Freddie Hubbard

The legends just keep on croakin'...

I took a look over at today, as I usually do every day, and was sad to see that both guitarist Delaney Bramlett and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard have died.

Bramlett, you may recall, had a short-lived band with his first wife Bonnie (Delaney and Bonnie) that was flanked by some of rock's biggest stars, i.e. Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Dave Mason, etc. As it stands today, his best known work is probably what you've heard on Clapton's first solo album, including one of my personal Clapton favorites, "Let it Rain." Bramlett was 69.

Thanks to YouTube user "Morasch," we can relive the experience of hearing Delaney and Bonnie's "Only You Know and I Know" 45, in tribute. This Dave Mason composition was a top 20 hit for Delaney and Bonnie, and was also covered thereafter by both Eric Clapton and Badfinger:

Hubbard was known throughout the '60s as one of a group of jazz musicians often referred to then as the "young lions." His string of releases on the Blue Note, Atlantic and CTI labels are all held in high regard, and several are bona fide classics. At the turn of the decade, with the release of his 1970 masterpiece Red Clay, he was thought to be the next great trumpet legend in jazz, the heir apparent to Miles Davis. Unfortunately, things didn't quite turn out that way. Hubbard sank into contrived mediocrity in the mid to late '70s, and by the '80s, his artistry was at a low point as the next generation of "young lions" (Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, et al) seized a golden opportunity to steer jazz back towards its roots.

While many of Hubbard's peers, like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams, Ornette Coleman, and others, continued to have late-career successes, Hubbard remained sadly quiet and never did follow through on the promise of his early reputation. I've always considered it a tragedy that he wasn't out there cementing the legacy so many of us thought he deserved, and showing the younger generation just how great he could be. His health, unfortunately, was a factor in his absence, and his attempts to get back out on stage earlier this year yielded mixed results. But even as it stands today, his output from the '60s through the first half of the '70s will still secure his place in the pantheon of jazz greats. Hubbard was 70.

Here's Freddie while he was still at his peak and worthy of the Miles Davis comparisons, performing an awesome version of "Straight Life" at the 1975 Downbeat Awards (thanks to YouTube user "eatsleeptrumpet" for making this available):

My top 10 best albums of 2008 at Bullz Eye

Only a few days left in the year, and it's still hard to believe. 2008 really flew, and the ten albums that were its soundtrack, for me, are recapped for all over at Bullz Eye. For the lazy, I have reprinted all but my intro paragraph below:

1. The Parson Red Heads: Owl & Timber (EP)
There’s a timelessness to the sound and the vibe of the Parson Red Heads that’s beyond explanation. You can single out the familial harmonies, the guitar interplay that recalls the Byrds and the Dead, the irresistibly solid pop songs, or their flowery evocation of a bygone era. But when it comes down to it, this band’s music simply feels good. No other band has released music this irresistible and uplifting in years, and only a select lucky few up and down the West Coast have had the luxury of being able to see and hear them live. With a little luck, this may change, and we’ll be able to look back at Owl & Timber as one of the elements that made it happen.

2. Brian Wilson: That Lucky Old Sun
Following up the 37-years-late Smile with another similarly built song cycle seemed like little more than a fantasy in 2004. But here we are in 2008, and Brian Wilson pulled it off. Mike Love would be proud to hear that there’s only one “downer” on the album (the beautiful, Pet Sounds-worthy “Midnight’s Another Day”), while all the rest are upbeat, aural murals depicting the sunny side of Southern California. It’s Brian doing what he does best, and outside of Smile, it’s easily his best, most enjoyable solo work.

3. Bob Dylan: Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Vol. 8
Technically, Tell Tale Signs is an archival release, but the recent vintage of the material (1989 through 2006), the abundance of never-before-heard songs, and the fact that most of it was recorded during the same period in which Guns n’ Roses’ 14-years-late Chinese Democracy gestated, qualifies it as new. And even if it didn’t qualify, it would still be listed here, since it does as good a job (if not better) as any of his last three records of proving that, even in his old age, Dylan has lost none of his power to inspire, confound, delight and move his audience.

4. The Gutter Twins: Saturnalia
Mark Lanegan and Greg Dulli have collaborated in the past on a few tracks from Greg’s Twilight Singers albums, and while those duets were pretty good, they were never major stand-outs. Not until the two covered Massive Attack’s “Live with Me” on last year’s A Stitch in Time EP, anyway. As good as that cover was, this full album of originals by Greg and Mark is even better. Dulli stretches himself here, eschewing his usual rockin’ R&B swagger and falling under Lanegan’s dark, spiritual influence.

5. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights: Movie Theatre Haiku
That straight-laced dude from Portland with the Harry Nilsson fixation strikes again, this time crediting his road band and turning in an even more confident record than last year’s The Drunken Dance of Modern Man in Love. If the 1966 Beatles were a young band today, they’d likely be playing songs like Robley’s “User-Friendly Guide to Change.”

6. Joseph Arthur: Vagabond Skies (EP)
Of the four EPs and full-length album Joseph Arthur released this year, Vagabond Skies rises to the top not only for bearing some of his most captivating and ethereal songs, but also for containing the year’s most memorable guitar solo, in the EP’s centerpiece “She Paints Me Gold.” Plus, the cover art is damn cool.

7. The Happy Hollows: Imaginary (EP)
They’re funny, they’re smart, they’re tight as a conservative’s behind, and they’re the most exciting live indie rock band in L.A. right now. Imaginary is just a short burst of five songs, but what a burst it is – from the simple exclamatory chant of “Colors” to the almost prog-like tour-de-force of “Lieutenant” with singer/guitarist Sarah Negahdari’s Eddie Van Halen-esque guitar tapping, Imaginary tantalizes and teases, just like you want it to.

8. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Yes, it’s bloated and overproduced. No, it’s not the old, sleazy Guns n’ Roses of the late ‘80s. Yes, it should have been out ten years ago, and would have sounded even more contemporary in 1998 than in 2008. But Axl Rose is still the king of tortured, overwrought power ballads and menacing rock n’ roll screams, and on these counts, Chinese Democracy more than delivers – it beats you over the head with its twisted logic.

9. Metallica: Death Magnetic
Metallica sounds like Metallica again! It may be clich├ęd to say this is their best album since …And Justice for All, but it’s true, and it bears repeating: Death Magnetic is Metallica’s best album since Justice.

10. My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Evil Urges goes to great lengths to prove that My Morning Jacket is no typical southern jam band. Not that they ever needed to go so far as to throw some Prince-like falsetto singing and funky R&B into the mix, but as it turns out, it sounds pretty cool.

Honorable mentions:

The Fireman: Electric Arguments
Rachel Taylor Brown: Half Hours with the Lower Creatures
Vampire Weekend: Vampire Weekend
Portishead: Third
Neil Diamond: Home Before Dark
Juliana Hatfield: How to Walk Away
Randy Newman: Harps and Angels
Deerhoof: Offend Maggie
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan: Sunday at Devil Dirt

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"Eat shit and die"

Kanye West got so pissed after a fan threw a penny at him during a gig in Melbourne four days ago, he free-styled his way into minute-long rant culminating in a sing-along of "eat shit and die." And he was singing through auto tune the entire time!

I'm not a fan of Kanye West, but this video is hilarious. This is why YouTube rules:

Saturday, December 6, 2008

22 Best Songs of 2008 (in my opinion)

Like most music publications worth a damn, Bullz Eye (which isn't exclusively a music publication, but does take its music content kind of seriously) will be publishing its writers' picks for best albums of the year very soon. Some of the staff may also be including their picks for best songs in their published pieces on the site, but not me. I did, however, share my picks with the staff, just for them to take in and enjoy. Now I figure I'll share them here, too, as a preview to the best albums features coming up in Bullz Eye. It's actually one song longer than what I shared with the staff, since I recently got caught up with an album I totally missed. Order is not ranked in any specific way - but I did listen to the songs in this order, and it flows well as a playlist, if you're so inclined...

...links go to, for all songs that have available streams. As for the resr, that's what Amazon is for. Enjoy!

01. The Fireman “Sun is Shining
02. Brian Wilson “Oxygen to the Brain
03. The Parson Red Heads “Got it All
04. My Morning Jacket “I’m Amazed”
05. Joseph Arthur “She Paints Me Gold
06. MGMT "Electric Feel"
07. Vampire Weekend “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance”
08. Juliana Hatfield “Law of Nature”
09. Neil Diamond “Home Before Dark
10. Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan “Back Burner
11. Rachel Taylor Brown “Abraham and Isaac”
12. Rachel Taylor Brown “B.S. (Beautiful Savior)”
13. Portishead “The Rip
14. Chris Robley & The Fear of Heights “Atheist’s Prayer”
15. Bob Dylan “’Cross the Green Mountain
16. Randy Newman “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country”
17. Silian Rail “Not the Wind, Not the Flag”
18. The Happy Hollows “Lieutenant
19. Deerhoof “Numina”
20. The Gutter Twins “All Misery/Flowers”
21. Metallica “The End of the Line”
22. Guns N’ Roses “Prostitute

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Popdose 100

When Billboard revealed their list of the 100 most popular singles of the past fifty years, it was inevitable that readers would take issue with the list's contents, in spite of the well documented method in which it was compiled.

Among those taking issue were my colleagues at, and as a result, we tallied our collective votes for our own favorite singles of the past fifty years. The results were revealed November 24 as "The Popdose 100." Of course, nobody is completely satisfied with this list either, but it sure is an interesting one, not the least because we also compiled write-ups for all 100 songs.

For the record, my votes are listed below. Let it be known that I do not necessarily agree with my own choices today, though at the time, this seemed about right:

1. Beatles "A Day in the Life"
2. Beach Boys "Surf's Up"
3. Beatles "Hey Jude"
4. Beatles "Strawberry Fields Forever"
5. Beach Boys "Good Vibrations"
6. Beach Boys "Heroes and Villains"
7. Bob Dylan "Desolation Row"
8. Bob Dylan "Like A Rolling Stone"
9. Bob Dylan "Tangled Up in Blue"
10. Antonio Carlos Jobim "Wave"
11. Elvis Costello "Veronica"
12. Chicago "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?"
13. Rolling Stones "Midnight Rambler"
14. Nina Simone "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"
15. Van Morrison "Moondance"
16. John Lee Hooker "It Serves You Right to Suffer"
17. Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
18. Rolling Stones "Happy"
19. Juliana Hatfield "My Sister"
20. Afghan Whigs "Gentlemen"
21. Supremes "Reflections"
22. Sonic Youth "Teenage Riot"
23. Pink Floyd "Echoes"
24. Pink Floyd "Run Like Hell"
25. Derek & the Dominoes "Layla"
26. Replacements "I'll Be You"
27. Marvin Gaye "What's Going On"
28. Chicago "Beginnings"
29. Clash "The Magnificent Seven"
30. Norman Connors "You Are My Starship"
31. Cheap Trick "He's a Whore"
32. Cheap Trick "Surrender"
33. Cheap Trick "Dream Police"
34. Slayer "Angel of Death"
35. Neil Young "Cortez the Killer"
36. Byrds "So You Want to Be a Rock n' Roll Star"
37. Byrds "Eight Miles High"
38. The Band "I Shall Be Released"
39. Velvet Underground "Rock and Roll"
40. Randy Newman "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country"
41. Harry Nilsson "You're Breakin' My Heart"
42. Black Sabbath "N.I.B."
43. Allman Brothers Band "Seven Turns"
44. James Brown "Get On the Good Foot"
45. Lou Reed "Perfect Day"
46. Mark Lanegan "The River Rise"
47. Luther Vandross "Never Too Much"
48. Joni Mitchell "A Case of You"
49. XTC "Senses Working Overtime"
50. Pearl Jam "Go"
51. Stevie Wonder "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing"
52. Screamin' Jay Hawkins "I Put a Spell on You"
53. Guns N' Roses "November Rain"
54. Tubes "She's a Beauty"
55. Stooges "I Wanna Be Your Dog"
56. David Bowie "Station to Station"
57. David Bowie "Heroes"
58. Suicidal Tendencies "Suicide's an Alternative"
59. Neil Young "Like a Hurricane"
60. Guns N' Roses "Patience"
61. Alice in Chains "Would?"
62. Johnny Cash "Cocaine Blues"
63. Marvin Gaye "Sexual Healing"
64. Spandau Ballet "True"
65. Buddy Holly "It Doesn't Matter Anymore"
66. Bob Dylan "Shelter From The Storm"
67. Al Wilson "Show and Tell"
68. Johnny Cash "Folsom Prison Blues"
69. Paul McCartney Tug of War
70. John Lennon "Happy Xmas (War is Over)"
71. Raspberries "Go All The Way"
72. Shuggie Otis "Strawberry Letter #23"
73. Michael Jackson "Rock With You"
74. Badfinger "Day After Day"
75. Blue Oyster Cult "Don't Fear The Reaper"
76. Yes "Long Distance Runaround"
77. Jethro Tull "Aqualung"
78. Billie Holiday "I'm a Fool to Want You"
79. Erykah Badu "On and On"
80. Nat "King" Cole "Somewhere Along The Way"
81. Bruce Springsteen "Brilliant Disguise"
82. U2 "Zooropa"
83. Dramatics "Whatcha See is Whatcha Get"
84. Prince "Let's Go Crazy"
85. Paul McCartney "No More Lonely Nights"
86. George Harrison "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)"
87. Tony Bennett "Who Can I Turn To When Nobody Needs Me?"
88. Prince "Sexy MF"
89. Bruce Springsteen "Tunnel of Love"
90. Lou Rawls "You'll Never Find Another Love Like Mine"
91. Syndicate of Sound "Little Girl"
92. Television "Marquee Moon"
93. Mamas and the Papas "Dedicated to the One I Love"
94. Friends of Distinction "Love or Let Me Be Lonely"
95. Frank Sinatra "Angel Eyes"
96. Smokey Robinson "More Love"
97. Ringo Starr "Photograph"
98. Nirvana "Lithium"
99. Nat "King" Cole "Route 66"
100 Muddy Waters Got My Mojo Workin'

Friday, October 31, 2008

Vinyl creeping into Best Buy

Nope, this is not a Halloween post (screw that festivity, I'm watching "Nixon" after I get back from the gym).

The creeping that's happening here is of the vinyl variety. Or "records," or "albums," to those of you (like myself) who still think there was nothing wrong with the old vernacular. I mean, this isn't siding for your home or a cover for the seat of your car. This is an actual document - yes, a record - that we're talking about. Or several, as in this case.

I just find it amusing that there are still folks out there who insist that records don't really exist anymore, as Frank Nicotero recently did on Chelsea Lately in discussing the recent announcement of the imminent arrival of Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy. I believe the exact quote was, "it's been so long since they released anything, their last album was an album!" Um... Live Era was a triple record, in 1999. Yes, 1999.

You kind of have to look at store shelves to know these things, though. And I know it can be hard sometimes, but not at Best Buy these days.

These photos were taken yesterday at the San Francisco Best Buy location on Geary Blvd and Masonic:

Right in the front entrance, here we have a display hawking Elton John's new The Red Piano live album - as a triple vinyl LP. Priced at $39.99. Way to welcome a vinyl hound!

Metallica's Death Magnetic - double LP, $24.99. I'm pretty sure there hasn't been a Metallica album that wasn't released in the vinyl LP format.

Coldplay's Viva La Vida. I'd never buy this one, but still, yay for the format.

This one's a beauty, though you can't really tell from the photos: a 50th anniversary edition of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, which would be a great coffee table piece for someone with a coffee table the size of a bed. Two CDs, a DVD, a 60 page 12x12 book, and a 180 gram vinyl LP of the original Kind of Blue album on blue vinyl. Sweet! $99.99.

This one here's truly amazing, and a great way to get fans of the original Queen to buy the new album with Paul Rodgers, even if they never listen to it. This $120 box includes the new Queen + Paul Rodgers album The Cosmos Rocks both on CD and double LP, as well as LP repressings of four of the original Queen's '70s albums: Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, and A Day at the Races. There's a live DVD in there too. It's totally excessive, but looks like it would be a really fun package to tear open on Xma$.

So there you have it - records aren't just for indie retailers anymore. Now go get yourself a turntable and take those annoying, tinnitus-inducing iPod headphones out of your ears!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Office politics

As seen in the copier/kitchen area of my workplace:

The sign at the bottom reads, "Distressed Homeowners Mortgage Relief Fund"

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Palin's here to stay?

No matter who wins the election next week (and you already know who I'm rooting for), we'll likely be seeing Sarah Palin on our TV sets and computer screens for a long time to come. She seems to have become a pop culture hit, especially with the way Saturday Night Live has taken to her, which will assure her a place in Hollywood for years to come. Bulldog Reporter's Daily Dog reports:

- - -

Hollywood Has Its Eye on Palin: Should GOP Fall Short on Nov. 4, Don't Be Surprised to See Sarah Hosting Talk TV

Issue Date: Daily 'Dog - October 27, 2008

As campaign managers for Sarah Palin plot last-minute tactics to get her elected, Hollywood bigwigs are convening strategy sessions of their own. Their goal: finding the ideal on-air vehicle for the VP candidate if and when she exits politics. But as more and more polls cast doubt on the McCain-Palin ticket, producers and agents across the entertainment world are discussing possibilities for capitalizing on her fame, ranging from an Oprah-style syndicated talk show to a Sean Hannity-like perch in cable news or on radio, the Hollywood Reporter reports.

"Any television person who sees the numbers when she appears on anything would say Sarah Palin would be great," said veteran morning-show producer Steve Friedman, citing the double-digit ratings gains her appearances on "Saturday Night Live" and "CBS Evening News" generated. "The passion she has on each side, love and hate, makes television people say, 'Wow, imagine the viewership,'" he added, report HR writers Andrew Wallenstein and Steven Zeitchik.

Although none of the execs has — at least as far as anyone is admitting — made direct overtures to the Alaska governor, they are readying their battle plans if she decides to give up her day job. Of course, even if the McCain-Palin ticket loses, the Tina Fey look-alike still has a job in politics for at least another two years as governor of Alaska.

But the candidate has undeniable onscreen charisma as her "SNL" performance proved last weekend. And though the Palin Express sometimes veers off the tracks — as it did in her notorious interview with Katie Couric — Americans enjoy celebrities as much for their contretemps as their talent.

Cable news is a possibility, particularly Fox News Channel, if Palin wants to keep her conservative bona fides intact. There's a well-worn path between the Beltway and TV, from Pat Buchanan to as recent an example as former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who just began his own weekly series on Fox News.

A weekly cable news berth also could be a less demanding side gig to occupy while still in office in Alaska, though losing the election could dent her credibility among conservatives.

Eric Wattenberg, an agent at N.S. Bienstock, a New York-based agency that counts many news anchors among its clientele, believes syndication is a safer bet. "I could see her getting more traction as an Oprah than as an Anderson Cooper," he told Variety.

Some combination of talk and news could even be in the cards: One agent recommended News Corp. let her hone her chops for a few years on Fox News in anticipation of rolling out a broader-appealing talker over Fox's stations after 2010.

And then there are those who are thinking outside the box, as in reality television. One producer floated the idea — only half-joking — of taking advantage of the curiosity surrounding the entire Palin clan and their Alaska setting and packaging "The Palins": Think "The Osbournes" meets "Northern Exposure."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Catching up: some recent reviews, August-present

I'd like to draw attention first to the two recent live reviews that ran at Popdose, as well as my most recent Popdose Guide:

SEPTEMBER 4, 2008:
Making a Joyful Noise: The Happy Hollows @ The Knockout, San Francisco
This has got to be the best band in L.A. right now. Check out their fearless leader Sarah Negahdari's blog. The girl's a riot and a half!

AUGUST 28, 2008:
L.A. ’s Best-Kept Secret: The Parson Red Heads @ Kimo’s, San Francisco
This is also the best band in L.A. Seriously, between the Happy Hollows and the Parson Red Heads, my musical soul has been given a major jump-start.

AUGUST 18, 2008:
The Popdose Guide to Juliana Hatfield
Her entire catalog reviewed. Book review coming soon...

- - -

...and here's the heap of analysis I've contributed to Bullz Eye since August. Maybe you can find some early Xma$ shopping ideas in here somewhere:

OCTOBER 17, 2008:
The Clash "Live at Shea Stadium"
John Coltrane "Soultrane" (vinyl edition)
Dressy Bessy "Holler and Stomp"

OCTOBER 10, 2008:
David Gilmour "Live in Gdansk"
Bill Evans "Waltz for Debby" (vinyl edition)
Yusef Lateef "Eastern Sounds" (vinyl edition)
Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (vinyl edition)
Sonny Rollins "Saxophone Colossus" (vinyl edition)

OCTOBER 3, 2008:
The Replacements "Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition)"
Santana "Multi Dimensional Warrior"
Do You Remember the First Time? (This is a fun little feature in which the Bullz Eye staff recall their first concert experiences.)

SEPTEMBER 5, 2008:
Joseph Arthur "Foreign Girls"

SEPTEMBER 2, 2008:
Jimmy Witherspoon featuring Robben Ford "Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival"
Shirley Horn: Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival
Cal Tjader: The Best of Cal Tjader Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival

AUGUST 29, 2008:
The Verve "Forth"
Pork Pie "Transitory"

AUGUST 15, 2008:
Juliana Hatfield "How to Walk Away"

AUGUST 8, 2008:
The Parson Red Heads "Owl and Timber"

AUGUST 1, 2008:
The Beach Boys "U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years 1962-1965"

Heart "Playlist: The Very Best of Heart"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Guns N'Roses, Obama, a kidney

In the spirit of employing the power of positive thinking, I am putting out this thought to the universe...

Three things I want to see by year's end:

3) Guns N' Roses Chinese Democracy

Nine years ago, it had already been long enough since The Spaghetti Incident? dropped in '93. That was when "Oh My God" appeared on the End Of Days soundtrack. And the Live Era double live CD came out. But Chinese Democracy didn't appear. In December of 2002, I saw Guns N' Roses at the Fleet Center in Boston (this was the tour that was cut short after Axl Rose caused a riot when he failed to show up for a gig in Philly), where they performed new-ish songs "The Blues," "Chinese Democracy" and "Madagascar" alongside the classics. It looked like they were setting us up for the album. But no... I saw them again two years ago at the Warfield in San Francisco. More new-ish songs were performed ("I.R.S." and "Better"), but still no album. But it looks official now, what with Billboard reporting a November 23 release date (exclusively at Best Buy) and the album showing up in a search on Best Buy's web site. It may not be the same band anymore, and maybe calling this band Guns N' Roses imposes a whole new idea of what "Guns N' Roses" actually is, but I agree with Sebastian Bach -- the songs are epic, which is exactly what I like. I, for one, am glad they're not writing "It's So Easy Part 2" or "Welcome to the Jungle... Again." Not to take away from those songs, but given the choice these days, I'll take the epic stuff like "November Rain," "Estranged," or that mystery song whose real title we'll know in five weeks over most of Appetite for Destruction. That album did sound pretty awesome in 5th grade though, let me tell you...

2) Barack Obama for President

More than his policies (yay to repudiating "trickle-down economics"), more than his stance against the war in Iraq (yay to ending a war that never should have been started in the first place), more than his positive message of hope and change, I'm most impressed by his unwavering ability to keep his composure. I have watched all three debates, and this is what struck me the most. Even tonight, when John McCain was at his most fiery, Obama didn't take the bait. He remained calm, and laid out his words logically and coherently. I was struck by McCain's audacity to point to this very quality of Obama's and try to turn it into a negative. As far as I'm concerned, this is exactly the kind of person I want to run the country. He'll be catching hell from other political adversaries, and he'll be tested by unstable leaders from parts of the world who intend to do us harm. I think his inner strength will allow him to stay calm and think his decisions through in a sensible way, which will minimize the possibility of errors in judgement. This is what it comes down to for me: character. He's got it. The polls are in his favor right now. Let's hope that this translates to victory next month!

1) A kidney

In February of 2007, my parents had to cancel a trip to San Francisco to visit me when it was discovered that my mother's kidney function was dangerously low. She has been on dialysis ever since. She has her up days and down days, but days are looking better since she started working again this year. Not only that, she has moved up to the top of the list of donor recipients in waiting for her blood type (B). My prediction to her was that she'd have a new kidney by Christmas. Anyone want to speed things up and be a living donor? (Hey, I had to ask!)

- - -

Tangentially... one of my fellow Popdose contributors, a dude known as Scraps who ran my favorite Popdose column, the regular Friday feature/game "Name That Tune," suffered a stroke last week. He is a freelance writer and, as with most such people, does not have health insurance. Donations to cover his medical bills can be made here.

- - -

And finally, a public service announcement: if going to a concert is like having sex, then earplugs are your concert condoms (or dental dams or whatever else you choose to use). Wear 'em every time without fail! I say this because I should have known better than to forget my earplugs before going to see Earthless on Saturday night. My right ear is still ringing, and I'm a tad on the worried side... don't be an idiot like I was.

And this concludes the ramblings I didn't have time to make in the first place...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

An on-the-spot reaction to Jack White and Alicia Keys' "Another Way to Die"

I finally caved in to curiosity and watched the official video for the cynically novel Alicia Keys-Jack White "Another Way to Die," commissioned for the latest installment in the James Bond franchise:

It was tough for me to watch this. Admittedly, a lot of that has to do with the pedigree of music that has consumed me lately. Look at the video in my previous post. Listen to the song. Listen to those lyrics. Even though the quality of the video is ramshackle by Hollywood standards, it's startlingly real. The camera lens could have been channeling your own pair of eyes, had you been standing in that very spot in the club. The sound may be less than perfect, but booming bass approximates what you would actually feel if you were standing by the club's PA. The music itself is unassailable. And the words work not only as lyrics, but as advice you can carry home with you, or to work, or anywhere, really.

And then the Nina Simone box set I'm digesting, and the Dylan set (reviews of which you'll be reading at Bullz Eye in short order) have been skewing my perspective. I clearly have a bias right now for music that comes from a place of relative purity.

Jack White and Alicia Keys both possess pure talent on their respective instruments, true. But this combination is... less than pure. I mean, it's technically good. They do complement each other sonically. But it's clearly novel seeing and hearing them together. It's a natural draw just contemplating the two of them collaborating. Wow, what must THAT sound like?

Well, it sounds exactly like what you'd expect - two monster talents with huge egos and powerful stage presence putting all their energy into projecting their musical personalities into a song that has little use beyond serving the film that catalyzed its creation, and enhancing the respective images of the stars who made it. Look at how they prance in the video. See how much emphasis is placed on Alicia sitting at the piano, Jack playing guitar, and Jack playing drums (which is another novel feature - look at how many instruments he plays!) in between sweet shots of both singers together at their microphones. See how little emphasis and few visual references are made to the Bond film.

What does this all mean, and why do I have this repulsive, empty feeling and an ache in my head after watching this video twice?

Why do I torture myself so?

I don't even care for Alicia Keys all that much. She possesses chops I can only ever dream of having. My issue is with how she uses them. Same with Jack White. I kind of dig the last Raconteurs album and the White Stripes' Elephant, and thought enough of Icky Thump to place it in my top ten albums of 2007, but just like the whiskey, a little Jack goes a long way. But I was curious, and even felt some sort of responsibility to know what these two pop culture titans were doing together, just like I had to hear what Timbaland did to Chris Cornell. Hearing those clips of the latter again, I suddenly feel a little better about Jack and Alicia...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Parson Red Heads "Time is Running Out" @ Spaceland, 10/3/08

I've got a ton of links to share that have piled up over the last month... but THIS is the mother of them all. The band emailed it to me today. It's what I consider to be the best song by the L.A. group the Parson Red Heads. I've bugged them enough about getting this song out, and now - finally! - you can hear it on YouTube:

Is that an instant classic or what? Few songs have touched me in recent years like this one. I say Rick Rubin ought to foist this one upon Crosby, Stills and Nash and make them add it to their forthcoming covers album.

Here's a review of the Parson Red Heads' headlining show at Kimo's on August 23:
L.A.'s Best Kept Secret: The Parson Red Heads @ Kimo's, San Francisco

Hear more at their MySpace profile.

AND... if you're in the area, go see them at Hotel Utah on October 18. I'll be there eating, drinking, cavorting, and engaging in general merry making...

Monday, September 15, 2008

R.I.P. Richard Wright, Pink Floyd keyboardist

I had no idea he was battling cancer. He sounded great on David Gilmour's solo tour a couple years back. Here's the story from the Associated Press:

Pink Floyd member Richard Wright dies age 65

By MEERA SELVA, Associated Press Writer

LONDON - Richard Wright, a founding member of the rock group Pink Floyd, died Monday. He was 65.

Pink Floyd's spokesman Doug Wright, who is not related to the artist, said Wright died after a battle with cancer at his home in Britain. He says the band member's family did not want to give more details about his death.

Wright met Pink Floyd members Roger Waters and Nick Mason in college and joined their early band, Sigma 6. Along with the late Syd Barrett, the four formed Pink Floyd in 1965.

The group's jazz-infused rock and drug-laced multimedia "happenings" made them darlings of the London psychedelic scene, and their 1967 album, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn," was a hit.

In the early days of Pink Floyd, Wright, along with Barrett, was seen as the group's dominant musical force. The London-born musician and son of a biochemist wrote songs and sang.

The band released a series of commercially and critically successful albums including 1973's "Dark Side of the Moon," which has sold more than 40 million copies. Wright wrote "The Great Gig In The Sky" and "Us And Them" for that album, and later worked on the group's epic compositions such as "Atom Heart Mother," "Echoes" and "Shine On You Crazy Diamond."

But tensions grew between Waters, Wright and fellow band member David Gilmour. The tensions came to a head during the making of "The Wall" when Waters insisted Wright be fired. As a result, Wright was relegated to the status of session musician on the tour of "The Wall," and did not perform on Pink Floyd's 1983 album "The Final Cut."

Wright formed a new band Zee with Dave Harris, from the band Fashion, and released one album, "Identity," with Atlantic Records.

Waters left Pink Floyd in 1985 and Wright began recording with Mason and Gilmour again, releasing the albums "The Division Bell" and "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" as Pink Floyd. Wright also released the solo albums "Wet Dream" (1978) and "Broken China" (1996).

In July 2005, Wright, Waters, Mason and Gilmour reunited to perform at the "Live 8" charity concert in London — the first time in 25 years they had been onstage together.

Wright also worked on Gilmour's solo projects, most recently playing on the 2006 album "On An Island" and the accompanying world tour.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

"You're a very pretty girl"

MySpace has this 'Artist on Artist' video interview series going on, of which I just took notice today when I saw Brian Wilson's mug on their site. Check the video below - he's interviewed by the young actress and indie artist Zooey Deschanel, who is clearly star-struck. If you remember Chris Farley's SNL sketch with Paul McCartney back in the day, you know what I'm talking about. It's totally awkward to watch, and funny at the same time. If this interview had taken place ten years ago, I could easily see Brian giving one-word answers to all of these questions (i.e. 'yes' and 'no'). But he's come a long way since he finally got SMiLE finished and released, and he takes it all in stride and appears to be enjoying himself. Best part is the compliment he pays Zooey at the end.

Artist on Artist: Brian Wilson & Zooey Deschanel

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Held hostage by wax

Two greatest things I've acquired this year: my new laptop, and candles. Seriously. I have typically only used candles for two purposes in the past. I've used them for parties, which was just great back when I had a bigger apartment. But I don't have parties at my own place anymore. I could, but I like wide open spaces (not the Dixie Chicks album). So since then I've used them only for romantic mood lighting. Which again, is great, love it. When I'm feeling it. But now? I'm using 'em to ease me out of day-job mode and into after-hours writing mode. There's just something about spinning a record with a flickering flame nearby that helps get the focus back on finishing a review for one of my freelance gigs. I'm constantly telling people "I'm busy" as it is, but I feel far less guilty about it now since I simply can't wait to get home, quickly scarf down my dinner, fire up the laptop and light up a candle. It's like a Beavis and Butthead punchline come true: "if I could [insert euphemism here], I'd never leave the house!" Danger! Danger!!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

SLAMMED with music - a few standouts from the pile

Since I've been writing for Bullz Eye, my email address has been picked up by a bunch of publicists. I get so many press releases emailed to me that it's impossible to keep up with them all.

Sifting through the pile this morning, I went into quick-'n-dirty executive mode to make a dent at what I've missed recently. What I'm seeing is that lots of so-called "emo" pop-punk stuff comes my way. Don't get me wrong, it has value, but for the most part, the stuff from which it apparently descended, the decidedly non-pop D.C. hardcore of Rites of Spring, Dag Nasty, basically anything on Dischord Records, is more my cup of tea.

Take One Small Step for Landmines, for example. They're actually one of the better bands of this ilk, in that their recordings aren't maxed out with volume, and they don't look like they just spent $500 on a hairdo. Actually, the more I listen to this band, they kind of grow on me. But those sweet power-pop harmonies rubbing up against punked-up rock mix in my brain like oil and water. Blink 182 never did it for me either. I dig juvenilia, I dig punk rock, but not the way they mixed it with super-polished punk rock. It can be hard to explain exactly what excites me musically and what doesn't when just one quick listen can give me the answer in an instant, but I suppose it's just like choosing who to date or what to eat. You have a set of criteria that you go by, but on a moment's notice, your choices can confound others and even yourself when some unnamed quality you pick up on trumps all the rest.

Here are a couple other bands that I probably wouldn't go out of my way to cover in the face of the other assignments I have on deck, but still had me listening longer than the others sitting in my inbox. They're actually quite good, so see if they do it for you:

The Ting Tings:
British new wave/punk group, throwback to the late '70s early '80s. Just a drummer
and a frontwoman from the U.K. That crazy hooligan Calvin Harris remixed one of their songs too. From press release: "For the duo's recent limited edition UK single, 'Great DJ,' a Single of the Week in the NME, The Ting Tings recycled old 7" singles, inverted the covers and relabeled the sleeves with the band's name and song title using colored duct tape. Previous limited edition Ting Tings single campaigns have included a four city tour where the band invited the audience to decorate 100 blank 7" sleeves at each show. The lot decorated at each show were sold at the following gig." Sounds pretty awesome to me. Oh, to be a barhopping club goer in Manchester right about now!

Alt-country project spearheaded by At the Drive In alumnus Jim Ward. I never got into
the the Old 97's -- they should have been a band I liked, but they just never clicked with me. So by and large, the faster, punked-up Old 97's-influenced material on Sleepercar's West Texas doesn't do much for me. But when they slow it down, keep it mellow, and pull out the pedal steel, they give me that warm and fuzzy feeling I get from really good alt country. Add them to the growing list of bands giving Texas a good name.

There will be more, I'm sure...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I guess folks really are reading these reviews!

Of the five new reviews I will link and share below, I'd like to draw attention to one in particular:

I wrote Fallen from Grace: Music of Real Life Pop Criminals for Bullz Eye's "Mix Disc Monday" series, in which fifteen songs are tied together in a different theme every two weeks. It appears that a 25 year old "writer and pop culture junkie" from Brooklyn liked it enough to submit it to Digg, where, as of now, it has collected 92 "diggs" and seven comments. It is also, as of now, the Bullz Eye story with the fourth most diggs. If anything, I'd say this says a lot about the kinds of things people find fascinating. Bad behavior is always hot, I guess.

So, if you like it, digg it!

And, here's the rest of stuff you missed from the past couple of weeks, all from Bullz-Eye:

7/29: "The Future is Unwritten: Joe Strummer" DVD review
One of the best rock docs I've seen.

7/25: Joseph Arthur Vagabond Skies EP review
Prolific dude, discovered by Peter Gabriel, talented visual artist too. Greg Dulli approves, and so do I.

7/18: This Car Up Smile When You're Alone CD review
Decent debut from East Coast indie band.

7/18: The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery: Keepnews Collection CD review "quick take"
Classic. Simple as that.

7/11: Return to Forver The Anthology CD review
Yet another compilation from another band that jumped on the reunion bandwagon...


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Steely Dan, the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 7/26/08

I hadn’t been to the Greek Theatre in Berkeley until this summer, even though I’ve lived in the Bay area four years now. Steely Dan’s set last Saturday was the third show at the Greek I’ve attended this summer, after Robert Plant & Alison Krauss and R.E.M. last month. This was also the third time I’ve seen Steely Dan – saw them also in 2003 and in 1994. They say three is a perfect number…

Anyway, what do you get at a Steely Dan show other than perfection? Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are renowned for creating perfect sounding records, and their concerts are no different. I suppose it can sound boring if you see them too many times, but going nine years or five years between shows keeps it fresh. In this instance, besides pristine sound, playing, arrangements, etc., we got a fun opener in the Joey DeFrancesco trio. He plays the Hammond B3 like nobody’s business, and since Jimmy Smith is gone, Joey’s the modern day torch bearer for the B3’s place in jazz. The set length was just right, the two keyboards and drums trio setting worked surprisingly well (the second keyboardist, Pat Bianchi, kept his volume just a bit lower than Joey’s and complemented him tastefully), and Joey’s tongue-in-cheek reworking of “Got My Mojo Workin’” left us in an upbeat mood, and ready for Becker and Fagen to go all crabby on us.

Actually, Becker himself proved to be a funny guy as well later in the evening.

Here’s how it went down:

The band, sans Becker and Fagen and the backup singers, started the set with a two-song, unedited instrumental medley, so we could have sung along if we liked, but I think I was the only one who attempted that. First up was Everyone’s Gone to the Movies, in a funky arrangement with the melody played on muted trumpet, and a sweet baritone sax solo. This led straight into The Fez, with a cool horn arrangement overtaking the song’s signature keyboard part, and some guitar and alto sax solos. A short drum solo bridged it over to The Royal Scam and a stately opening trumpet solo. It was at this point that out come Becker, Fagen, and two female singers with huge afros. They sounded awesome, and when they were introduced later in the evening, it became very clear why that was so.

Fagen looks like a balding old man who kind of enjoys being old, smirking his way through the years because he can still sing most of his songs in the same key that was comfortable for him when he was younger. Yay to that. Another drum solo fades the song down (are we sensing a pattern here?) and another segue into…

I Got The News
. They were digging deep into their catalog early on, and they just kept on digging! Another drum segue and then…

Showbiz Kids, in a completely different arrangement, much improved over the studio version. A new theme was played to a lightweight James Brown beat, an extra chord was played for the ‘Show business kids makin’ movies of themselves’ line, and then another new chord was added for Becker’s guitar solo. The studio version of “Showbiz Kids” is one of the most boring and disappointing songs in the Steely Dan catalog (musically anyway; lyrics are another story); live, it’s totally redeemed. And after the song’s closing theme, the segue-fest finally ends so Fagen can speak to us. He cheekily proclaimed that “the Think Fast Steely Dan orchestra” would be “playing songs from various stages of our magnificent career,” and he actually wasn’t kidding on that count – every Steely Dan studio album was represented by at least one song (the first three albums and their two recent reunion albums) and as many as five (that honor went to Aja, not surprisingly).

When they played Everything You Did (in a reggae version for a new twist), the line in this jealous lover song that goes “I’m gonna a get a gun / shoot the mother down” reminded me of a story that my guitar teacher told me of a run-in with Becker in a parking lot in New York that sounded awfully similar to the story told in this song. Could it be…?

Two Against Nature was next, and it really breathed with real drums instead of whatever was done with the beat on the studio version. This is another song that I never really cared for in its studio version, but live, Fagen was in the groove, Becker’s solo swung too – it was yet another improvement, with an awesome ‘solo’ spot from the backup singers.

Hey Nineteen was the first hit that we heard in the set. Having seen Steely Dan in the Boston metro area the last two times, it was weird not hearing a huge applause for the “sweet things from Boston” lyric. But hearing Becker riffing on that bit about taking your beloved home and getting her drunk before the ‘Cuervo Gold’ bit was even funnier than when I heard it before. Maybe that’s because Fagen did it last time. Fagen is the voice of Steely Dan when he sings, but Becker just seems more like a naturally engaging storyteller when he speaks.

Godwhacker was the representation for 2003’s Everything Must Go. The breakdown each time on the ‘be very very quiet’ part was a clever touch, and the blues-derived changes set up the bari, tenor, trumpet trombone solos really well.

Fagen then pulled out the disco-fied The New Frontier from his first solo album, which was a good lead-in to the equally faux-funky Glamour Profession. Then came Gaucho in a different key, which seemed strange at first until Becker started singing it instead of Fagen.

At this point, the drum solo bookend pattern that was present at the beginning of the show gave way to a new one. Fagen played a dreamy electric piano solo that led into Home at Last. Then he laid back and let the backup singers take the lead on Parker’s Band. Charlie Parker was pictured on the screen behind the band, but incredibly, there was no sax solo at the end! How can you play a tribute to Charlie Parker and not have your band’s sax player blow a little solo on the alto? Small complaint overall, but still!

When Black Friday started, with its exaggerated shuffle beat, we knew the end was getting near. Fagen returned to his electric piano for another brief solo before the next song, Josie, which sounded like it might have been brought down a half step. Aja, however, was definitely in its original key, and was a high point of the evening.

“It sounds like the ‘60s!” said Becker, as that familiar Motown beat started up and the backup singers teased with a bit of the Supremes’ Love is Like an Itching in my Heart before Becker introduced the band over the band’s vamp. Why were those singers so good? Their names told me everything I needed to know: Cynthia Mizell and Tawatha Agee!! Cynthia sang alongside Lisa Fischer with the Rolling Stones during their Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle tour of 1989-90. And Tawatha was the lead singer in Mtume from ’77 till ’86. I always loved her singing on those Mtume records, especially the very first one from ’77, Kiss This World Goodbye, with “Love Lock” and “The Closer I Get To You” (which James Mtume co-wrote with Reggie Lucas for Roberta Flack). But most folks probably recognize her as the lead voice on Mtume's biggest hit, "Juicy Fruit." Here's the video, but alas, no afro (it was the '80s, boo):

Peg and Kid Charlamagne closed the main set… and when they came back for the encore, it was a somber Third World Man that preceded Fagen’s last electric piano mini-solo of the evening. They took us out with Do It Again, and Becker and Fagen walked out to an instrumental as the band kept playing; strangely, the audience started walking out too, before the band even finished! Weirdness.

That’s right, no “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” no “Reeling in the Years,” no “Deacon Blues,” no “Bodhisattva.” It was a fan’s set, for sure, and a thoroughly satisfying one.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Stevie Wonder, Shoreline Amphitheatre, Mountain View, 7/5/08

Stevie Wonder Hotter Than July album cover
Stevie’s back on the road, and I was there last Saturday, at the Shoreline, this time with four others. As he did last year, he’s billing these shows as “A Wonder Summer’s Night” and he’s playing straight through the evening with no opening act. Huge band, lots of percussion, and this time he even brought his 6 year old son Kailand to play a little bit of drums towards the end of the evening. The kid was probably the only person in the entire venue who didn’t have a huge grin on his face. Did he not want to be there? Does he take drumming that seriously? Does he not like Stevie’s music? Was he mad at his dad? Who knows… the rest of us were very happy to be there.

Casually strolling out in the early evening light with daughter and backing vocalist Asiha Morris guiding him to his perch, Stevie opened the show with some positive remarks about Barack Obama and, when he got the band started, four songs in a row off Hotter Than July. Talk about digging deep! “As If You Read My Mind” and “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me?” were two of the songs I least expected to hear, and like most of the night’s performances, they were note perfect. Even with this four pack, Innervisions was still the best represented album of the night, with five songs (“Visions,” “Living For the City,” “Golden Lady,” “Higher Ground” and “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing”).

The talk box came out again, as it did last year, after some fun call and response with the audience. This time he only used it for one fun cover tune – the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round,” and it was a pretty complete version too.

Biggest surprise of the evening: a full performance, with band member solo spots, of Chick Corea’s “Spain” (as heard on the second Return to Forever album, Light as a Feather). [Though Lee Hildebrand's piece for the San Francisco Chronicle identified this tune as Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez," in reality, Hildebrand only identified the intro to "Spain," which Corea lifted from Rodrigo's piece. The rest of the tune is Corea's].

Songs missed: would have been nice to hear something off A Time 2 Love. He actually announced “So What the Fuss” at the end of the night, but played “Superstition” instead and called it an evening. Not a bad trade-off, but still.

Most polite audience moment: the crowd actually hushed to listen to Aisha sing a jazzy rendition of “I’m Gonna Laugh You Out of My Life,” and good thing – she wasn’t always easy to hear. Good singing voice, definitely has her dad’s genes.

Most welcome diversion from the hits: we were treated to a new song called “Keep Fooling Yourself Baby Girl,” from the forthcoming album Through the Eyes of Wonder. There’s nothing like hearing a legend who refuses to rest on his laurels. Even though it wasn’t the most memorable tune (can’t remember the melody for the life of me), it certainly sounded catchy at the time and was modeled in classic Stevie fashion. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the album!

Most annoying abbreviation of a song: Stevie performed acceptably abbreviated versions of “Isn’t She Lovely” (I wonder if Aisha ever gets sick of hearing this song?) and “I Just Called to Say I Love You” (1 verse and two choruses do just fine), but when he stopped the band after his harmonica solo during “For Once in My Life” and declared “that’s enough of that,” man, that was nothing short of mean!

Bottom line: the man is still 100% dynamite, a national treasure. Go see him! If everybody could experience Stevie Wonder live, the makers of Prozac would surely go out of business.

Set list:

As If You Read My Mind
Master Blaster (Jammin’)
Did I Hear You Say You Love Me?
All I Do
Knocks Me Off My Feet
Audience jam/People Make The World Go Round
Higher Ground
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing
Living For The City
Golden Lady
Keep Fooling Yourself Baby Girl
I’m Gonna Laugh You Out Of My Life (Aisha Morris)
Isn’t She Lovely (2 verses)
Ribbon In The Sky
My Cherie Amour
Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours
Sir Duke
I Wish
Do I Do
I Just Called To Say I Love You (1 verse, two choruses)
For Once In My Life (stopped after harmonica solo)
Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

"A Day in the Life," Shakey style

Thanks to Isorski for tipping us off on this recent performance of "A Day in the Life" by Neil Young this past Sunday in Dublin, Ireland. See, the Beatles were full of it when they said that the Pepper material couldn't be done live by a small rock band. So what if you can't fit an orchestra on the stage? Who needs all that lot when you have guitar distortion? Neil shows us how it's done, and it's done quite beautifully. This video really made my evening:

Let's all hope he keeps this one in his set list when he makes his way back to the States...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The reviews just keep on coming...

More of what keeps me busy outside of the day job:

In the June edition of West Coast Performer, I have a review of the debut EP by Hot Challenge. The band plays the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco next Wednesday.

June 20 at Bullz Eye, two reviews ran:

A 'Quick Take' on Moreland & Arbuckle's 1861 (fine, tough, no-nonsense blues rock with the sound and purist attitude of the best practitioners from the late '60s and early '70s).

...and a full review of Radiohead's The Best Of. This album bears the lowest rating yet I've attached to a Bullz Eye review.

Also on June 20, Popdose's weekly Friday feature, a fun little game called Name That Tune, featured my input in the form of creating the answer key and acrostic puzzle for the purpose of giving away two copies of Dennis Wilson's just-reissued Pacific Ocean Blue as prizes to the first person to guess the puzzle song, as well as the person who guessed the last remaining song. This is one of my favorite Popdose features, so I was more than happy to contribute. Check it out every Friday. You might be surprised at how many songs you can actually guess from the one-second snippets (or how impossible it is some weeks).

...and finally, a review of the double disc 'Legacy Edition' of Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue ran on June 27. Run out and grab this one while you can, before it goes out of print for another decade and a half! Amoeba Records sold out the week of the release...

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 6/27/08

I almost didn't go to see Plant and Krauss. I had a late afternoon party to attend, for which I was a key component in both the planning and entertainment, so I couldn't exactly predict if I'd even be able to make it to Berkeley in time for the show. Plus it was sold out. But as luck would have it, I was able to not only get to the Greek just in time, I also scored what appeared to be the lone single ticket sold outside the venue by an unassuming old dude with white hair who parted with it at face value.

I had the welcoming screams of the Greek crowd and Plant & Krauss' opening number, "Rich Woman," as the soundtrack to my entrance and journey to my viewing location. Once I was settled, I saw on the stage a simple set-up with a total of seven musicians: Jay Bellerose on drums, Dennis Crouch on bass, Buddy Miller on guitar, multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan (fiddle, mandolin, ukulele, guitar), bandleader/guitarist/vocalist T Bone Burnett, and of course, the show's two stars.

Thanks to Jon Cummings' Popdose Review of the Plant & Krauss show earlier in the week at L.A.'s Greek Theatre, I was kicking myself for not having followed my impulsive idea to fly down south for the show. Fortunately, my last-minute attendance at Berkeley was not among the kind of non-plussed crowd that Cummings experienced. They were pretty chill, but the group of three whose prime viewing space I crashed really seemed to be enjoying the mostly country-bluegrass-Americana set with tinges of gospel. The dudes behind me were really digging Krauss' good looks (as was I), though really, her stunning, pitch perfect vocals would have been enough to satisfy me. And when I say stunning, I mean I really felt paralyzed by the beauty of Krauss' voice on "Trampled Rose." I mean, WOW. And down below my perch, hippie girls were gingerly dancing to the more upbeat numbers in the set. I wasn't hearing any grumbling about the lack of Zep tunes or rock n' roll in general. This crowd seemed to know exactly what they were in for, and loved it.

Plant's presence at the show was maybe a bit less than I expected. I knew that Krauss had some solo space, which was great, but when T Bone sang a couple of songs without Plant or Krauss, that's when the extraneous conversation around me was at its peak. If anything, I attribute this portion of the show to Plant & Krauss' appreciation for the fact that T Bone himself is a modern day master of his craft, and if it weren't for his masterminding of the whole project, we wouldn't even been seeing this show. Or listening to the brilliant Raising Sand album, one of last year's best album releases overall in my humble opinion. Shame that the Zep reunion at the Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert overshadowed it completely in the press.

But back to the show... I haven't checked back against the record, but most if not all of Raising Sand was performed, along with some other covers and a few old nuggets from Plant's distant past that elicited the greatest response of the evening: a bluegrass rendition of "Black Dog," straight readings of "Black Country Woman" and "The Battle of Evermore" (with accompaniment from Krauss that, for my money, bettered Sandy Denny's performance on the original Zeppelin recording), and an awesome rustic recast of Plant's solo hit "In The Mood" done as a medley with the old English folk ballad "Matty Groves."

Even though Plant is clearly immersing himself in the music and going with the flow, he couldn't help but have the strongest stage presence due to his old rock god moves. He was shaking and dancing throughout the evening, having a ball and inspiring others who weren't planted in seats to do the same. He only occasionally let out some rockin' wails that recalled his past, notably on "Nothin'", which earned him some applause that was almost as loud as what the Zep tunes garnered.

I walked away having heard all my favorites from Raising Sand -- "Gone, Gone, Gone," "Killing the Blues," "Please Read the Letter," and "Your Long Journey" -- and feeling only mild disappointment. Why? Well, the show was so good, and I was so transfixed the entire evening, that I failed to engage the hot blond next to me. She was afraid to hop the fence at the edge of the lawn seating area to join her friends, and only joined them after I encouraged her to follow my lead. Man, if only the show sucked as much as some of the observations in Cummings' Popdose Review and comments on Shay Quillan's San Jose Mercury News blog suggest, I might have gotten my head together to ask for her number. Damn you Robert Plant! Damn you Alison Krauss! Come back soon, and try to suck just a little bit more next time.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Defeat Dementia!

Today marks the launch of the UCSF Memory and Aging Center's YouTube channel. It's part of a larger outreach campaign to educate the public about neurodegenerative diseases such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (aka mad cow), frontotemporal dementia, and the one most of us are familiar with, Alzheimer's disease. The channel contains numerous educational videos featuring several of the major players at UCSF who are leading the way towards new discoveries for treating (and hopefully curing) dementias.

In addition to the YouTube channel, there's also a "Defeat Dementia" group you can join on Facebook, where you can connect with others and learn more.

Spreading the knowledge even further is the little widget (created by yours truly) you can see on the right side of this very blog (and a larger version too, created by Hot Studio). Grab it, place it on your blog, email it to your friends, and know that in doing so you will be helping to further the cause of discovery and developing cures for these awful diseases. If you've ever witnessed a family member suffering from Alzheimer's, you know what I'm talking about.

Please spread the word, and thanks!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mid-June reviews update

Not writing so much here only means that I'm doing it more often elsewhere. Some recent pieces from the first half of the month of June:

- - -
West Coast Performer Magazine

Hot Challenge EP -- this young electro-rock band from San Francisco could pick up some serious momentum if they keep their fingers on the pulse, so to speak.

- - -

Bullz Eye:

Priscilla Ahn A Good Day -- you know times are strange when a major coffee shop chain can and does regularly define an entire subgenre of pop music. You know where I'm going with this one...

Cherry Poppin' Daddies Susquehanna -- remember these guys? You know, the "Zoot Suit Riot" band? Forget about the '90s swing revival before you look into this one (just like you had to put all thoughts of trip hop out of your mind when digging into the new Portishead)...

Joan as Police Woman To Survive -- a new set of baroque pop tunes by the former violinist from the Dambuilders. Now she sings, now she sobs... wait, that's a Chick Corea record. This one goes well with equal doses of Antony and the Johnsons and Rufus Wainwright.

- - -

What else awaits us the rest of the month? We shall see, in due time. Or hear, rather. Two from the vaults to pick up, regardless, on Tuesday: the double disc Legacy Edition of the late Beach Boy Dennis Wilson's Pacific Ocean Blue, and Chicago's lost album Stone of Sisyphus. The latter has unfortunately suffered from an ill-advised historical revision by omission by excluding one of the original album's heavy rock tunes, and a reject from one of their worst albums was appended as a bonus track, but at least there are 11 solid tunes on the disc worth hearing...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

R.E.M. at the Greek Theatre, Berkeley, 6/1/08

A couple weekends ago, I had the pleasure of seeing R.E.M. for the first time at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley. Missed the two openers (Modest Mouse and the National), but wasn't peeved. After all, I had seen Modest Mouse play a short set once before and didn't feel like being teased again. Next time I see them, it will be in a headlining slot, playing a full set.

Anyway, I noted that R.E.M.'s audience seemed oddly detached and sedate throughout most of the set, and not just during the 7 or 8 new songs from this year's Accelerate (which is excellent, by the way -- it rocks, but modestly, unlike '94's overrated Monster). Nobody really made much in the way of noise till they pulled out the big guns: "Losing My Religion," "Man On the Moon," "Orange Crush," etc. No "It's the End of the World as We Know It," fortunately. I never really got into that one. "Ignoreland" was a pleasant surprise, and one of my favorites of the evening, along with "Man Sized Wreath." Better still, I walked away having been introduced to one excellent song I hadn't heard before that I particularly enjoyed ("I've Been High," from 2001's Reveal).

For a band that is kind of "legendary" at this stage of their career, they are doing an excellent job of maintaining their signature sound, and still emanating a bit of freshness and youthful vigor. Stipe is still in fine voice and modestly charming as a front man, Buck and Mills still play as if they're enjoying themselves, and only one other guy (Scott McCaughey) augments the core quartet (with touring drummer Bill Rieflin). They're lean, not very showy, very solid, well worth seeing.

A superior, more detailed overview of the evening can be found at The Concert Blog.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

I am alive and well

Contrary to what any of you might have read in the Providence Journal's blog, a) I am not 19, b) I still live in San Francisco, c) I am very much alive and well. What's more, I am not related to the unfortunately deceased, as far as I know. My first name is quite common, though my last name is not, so any time somebody with my name dies, I hear about it. And it's only the second time, in recent memory...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Get your whore on

That whole "prostitute mix" bit that came out of my interview with Chris Robley last Fall, and which was expanded upon here, has been finalized as part of's bi-weekly "Mix Disc Monday" feature. I've already handed in a few entries, and "Love For Sale: The 'Prostitute Mix'" is my inaugural contribution. Go on and get your whore on!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

An atheist finds religion

God, thy name is free fall:

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A chat with Rachel Taylor Brown

Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing Portland-based singer/songwriter/pianist Rachel Taylor Brown for Bullz Eye. Not only does she make truly unique, though-provoking music, she's a genuinely nice person on top of it all. The only problem? She needs to get some more live shows booked!

Here's an excerpt from the interview, where she talks about the genesis of her toy piano fetish:

[Producer] Jeff [Stuart Saltzman] has all these interesting instruments lying around in his house, which is a studio, and when he’s working on something, I’d start playing around on different instruments. Like the VSF 30, that’s where I first saw the Yamaha VSF 30 and I had to have one. And it’s kind of the same thing with the piano. A lot of what I have, I’m just copying Jeff Stuart Saltzman (laughs) because he has so much interesting stuff around his house. So that one song on Ormolu, there’s this kind of like experimental tune similar to “Hemocult” on Creatures where it’s toy pianos and Mellotron and things like that. And that was one of the times where I was messing around on the toy piano, and then Jeff is just really good at just silently setting up microphones around me when I’m involved in doing something like that, and that whole tune just ended up being improvised on toy piano and all the other stuff, kind of like “Hemocult” was. And so, yeah, once I played Jeff’s toy piano, I wanted my own toy piano, and I wound up with three or four, ‘cause I’m greedy.

Her latest album, Half Hours with the Lower Creatures, is out now.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Funcrunch live performance videos

At long last, they're here! Full video clips of all nine songs (ten if you count the opening medley as two songs) from my recent band workshop performance are now up on YouTube, thanks to Julie. Watch, listen, enjoy, complain, comment, relive the night, pretend you were there, etc.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Popdose Guide to Badfinger is here!

Head over to Popdose and check out my latest contribution there: an overview of the recorded output of Badfinger. They wrote some amazing songs, had a few hits with them, and met with a lot of tragedy in the end despite being the most successful artists the Beatles signed to their Apple label. Lots of archival video footage linked from YouTube to sift through... Enjoy!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reviews update, upcoming show, Myspace, etc.

Another week whirls away... in its wake, I have left behind:

A review of the second full-length disc by Seattle pop-rockers Gary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity at Bullz Eye.

A couple of entries in this month's edition of West Coast Performer Magazine, including a small part of their Noise Pop feature, and an online-only review (scroll to the bottom) of a February show at the Hemlock Tavern featuring the Speakers, Correatown, and Chris Robley and the Fear of Heights (pictured above, photo by April Chick).

And speaking of Chris Robley, he will be appearing at Cafe du Nord next Sunday, April 20, with fellow Portland-ites Norfolk & Western, along with openers Weinland. If you haven't seen him yet, this will be a nice, intimate intro.

And in the spirit of shedding light on the absurd, since all but one of the artist links above are Myspace links, I'd like to point you in the direction of Lila Nelson's side-splitting song about Myspace, called "I Accept Everybody," which you can hear... on her Myspace page, of course. Lila is from Aracta, and I heard her perform this song at her early set at Portland's Mississippi Studios back in February, prior to Rachel Taylor Brown's headlining trio set that evening...

- - -

Finally got my hands on a copy of The Last Waltz on DVD. After hearing one of my coworkers talk it up fairly consistently since I've known him, and then recently finding out that he was actually at the '76 concert in question, I had to check it out. Plus I had seen Scorsese's other big concert film, Shine A Light, last week, so it was due to happen. My appreciation for The Band has been upped since watching it. It's very easy to forget, without actually seeing them, that they were all pretty much multi-instrumentalists and singers. I found myself wishing that they were the full-time backing band for all of the artists who appeared at the show. Of course they did their time with Dylan, but would that they had longer associations with Van Morrison, Neil Young and Emmylou Harris. Neil Diamond, eh, he could have toned himself down a bit. I like him much better now as an old vet working with Rick Rubin and the Heartbreakers. But if The Band were all alive and active today, they would have been the ideal choice for Diamond's comeback records.

Now at some point I need to finish watching Alejandro Jodorowsky's Fando & Lis. WOW. I don't know how I'm going to distill that one into a short synopsis, but I will try once I've absorbed it all...