Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A cautionary tale

I wonder if Amy thinks she still looks good? we've all seen the photos of her wandering around in a bra and shorts, dazed in the middle of the night.

She looks like she is slowly dying. The new Rolling Stone mentions that she went into the studio for a week with producer Mark Ronson who produced "Back To Black" and he reported it as a very sad experience.

Tom Waits- Tomorrow night!

This is one I've been waiting for ever since Jeff and I saw him at the Paramount in Austin in 1999(!). That night was one of those cold-cock upside the head evenings. The show started late, long after midnight, and we were exhausted from the marathon that is SXSW. That show brought an energy to me, even though I can say that I was (and still am, if I admit it) a casual fan of Tom's music. Some of it turns me on, most of it is hard to listen to.

In concert, Tom Waits shines. He reminds me of Lyle Lovett, not in music, but in the sense that both are storytellers and bring a smile to the audience as they weave a narrative between songs that bring context to the music. I'll let you know how it was.

Photo from Gary Miller, Dallas show, June 23.

Friday, June 20, 2008

experiencing a concert vs. observing

I went to a Wilco concert a while back. It was excellent. Jeff Tweedy had the audience in the palm of his hand the entire time. But this post isn't necessarily about the concert so much as what happened, what I saw. I was sitting on the rail upstairs at the pageant, behind the reserved seats, and noticed a guy with his cell phone aimed at the band. I thought he was perhaps taking a photo of the band before I realized that he was holding his arm perfectly still, taping the whole thing. People cheered, they smiled and turned to friends to comment on something they enjoyed. And he sat there the whole time, never once taking his eye off the prize, never once seeming like he was enjoying the show.

Here was a person at a show, but also one that was completely removed from it. As far as I could tell, he was not experiencing anything, other than having the experience of a collector, adding a new bauble to his collection. What fun is that? What compels someone to disengage and be some distant observer? Is there some visceral feeling to be "the one" who captured the show, a piece of fame?

In some way I think we have become a society of observers, and don't get out and experience enough, sitting in front of the computer and reading about fallen celebrities and sporting events, watching music shows on Pitchfork and youtube, but not letting ourselves be caught up in the rush of excitement of the first-hand rush. It's a shame.

I wanted to tell the guy to stop. He was cheapening something special, a panoramic view condensed into a 2x2 square with sound coming out of tiny paper computer speakers.

Flash back to a few months before that. Saw Jens Lekman at Emo's in Austin, TX as part of SXSW. He comes out and the phones all go up, photos are being taken, video is being shot. He looks at all of us and says (and of course I'm paraphrasing. I didn't tape the thing) " I want to ask you to not take any pictures or video of this show. I want it to be special, just between you and me, so we, and only we, will have this special night together, just us." All the camera phones went down, and we enjoyed sharing a sublime 45 minutes of music as a community.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alice Cooper August 7

Oh, yeah, he's back and coming to the pageant. Unfortunately, he has a new album coming out. See, here's how an Alice show works: If he has a new album out, he feels beholden to play at least 5-6 new songs, which just don't ever seem to be any good. There are few newer songs that have made it into his sets past the "new album tour", the exception being "Lost in America" from 1994's "The Last Temptation". Here's the problem with any Alice disc in the past 15 years (has it been that long? Ah, jeez, I still love you man, but that's a long time...): they are generically heavy, and mediocre, with not a lot of sense of humor and finesse. The Alice that I love, the one reflected in his hits like School's Out, No More Mr. Nice Guy, Elected, Under My Wheels, Be My Lover, etc. always had a fun aspect, and a quick wit. Then all of a sudden we were subjected to Brutal Planet, Hey Stoopid, and I can't go on. I have bought each album, hoping that this one would be a "return to form". Well, you know how that goes. Yes, I will buy the new one. I'll let you know how it is, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised/shocked that it is good. And I will be there, because even with the new songs, he is a great showman.

Pick up ANY of his older albums and you will be in for a treat. I recommend "Welcome To My Nightmare", "Killer" and "Love it to Death".

To be fair to Alice, he did have some good songs on "Dirty Diamonds", released in 2005. They weren't brutal metal, and had a sense of humor: Perfect & The Saga of Jesse Jane. Here are some lyrics for Jesse Jane:

I'm in jail in a texas town
in my sister's wedding gown
I drive a truck all night long
listening to Judy Garland songs

Now I'm locked behind bars of steel
I was just looking for a happy meal
I park my rig and went inside
They've never seen such a lovely bride

Jesse Jane, are you insane?
Or are you just a normal guy
Who dresses like a butterfly
Jesse Jane

And it goes on from there, with Alice eventually pulling a pistol from his Wonderbra, killing them all dead...

Will he get it back on track with the new album? Man. I hope so.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

So Many Dynamos: So, so good.

I went to the University City Loop on Sunday for the RFT Music Awards shows that were going on all day and night with the expressed reason to see two local bands that are ready to blow up nationally: Gentleman Auction House and So Many Dynamos. Neither disappointed, even though they had the unenviable task of playing at 3 and 4 PM in the blazing sun. As the guitarist/keyboard player for SMD said, "I can't see the lights on my footpedals! It's too-- sunny!

Gentleman Auction House recorded sounds a bit like Iron and Wine with a bit more rock thrown in, with cobwebs in the corners of the cassette. Live they are more muscular than expected, which is a good thing. There is nothing worse than being excited by the potential of a recording and going to see the live version and being underwhelmed by stage presence and the snap of the beat.

SMD are right there. Soon Pitchfork will either crown them kings or talk about how their first two indie releases were better. Screw them, these guys are great, and entertaining as hell live. Wonderful photos from Wonderful Jason Stoff. They have a nervy energy that is totally contagious. To get the heads bobbing in 90 degree sunny heat is a great thing. Thank you boys, and good luck.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

More words of old skool wisdom

If a review says an older artist's new work is a "return to form", don't believe it.

I'm talking to you, Cheap Trick, Alice Cooper, REM, etc. I truly love you all, but that is a bunch of B.S.

The music industry is healthier than it has ever been

How's that for a controversial line? But I mean it. Here's why I think this:
We hear over and over again about how bad off the music industry is. Labels are bleeding money all over the new carpet, firing workers faster than a frat boy can down beers on a Friday night. This is true. What this means is not that the music industry is suffering. It means that big labels have lost their footing and they don't know what to do. The world and the industry have changed and the labels tried to sue us back to the stone age to stop the progress of illegal downloads, etc. In the process, they've pissed off the people that they were supposedly set up to serve. They did not respect their audience and let them know it. Now I'm not saying that their task was an easy one, but hindsight says that they messed things up even worst than they were.

And they still don't know what to do. Watch out, because they are like a wounded bear, lashing out at anyone around them.

But Mr.Old Skool Review, what do you mean, the industry is healthier than ever? Aren't the labels taking it up the old pooper scooper? Why, yes they are, dear little johnny. But that doesn't account for all the other facets of music. I submit that we are actually in a golden era of music, with more options than ever before to choose from. While the 800 pound gorillas are suffering, the real winners are everyone else. This is a time when a band like Wilco, or the Flaming Lips, or the Dresden Dolls, or Feist, can make a living as a musician. These bands don't need to constantly hope that a label "discovers" them so they can have the fame or fortune. They can post their music to their myspace page, sell digital music via emusic, even itunes. Right now many of the local bands in STL can be found on iTunes. ITUNES! Back in the old skool days, you released a cassette or 45 and prayed it would fall into the right hands nd the only people who bought a release from you were your parents, friends, and someone who saw your show.

The model has changed from the taste-making decisions being in the hands of the powerful few, to being in the hands of all of us. From a musical economy of the haves and have-nots, to a burgeoning middle class of professional musicians who can make money year in, year out and not worry if they are going to be signed (or dropped).

It's an exciting time. I'm just glad I don't work for a large label.

words of old skool wisdom

If you ever hear about a new artist, and they/she/he are described as "Just like --insert name here-- only better!!!!" run away as quickly as possible. 

Case in point: Duffy. Just like Amy Winehouse!!! But less crazy!!! As bat-shit crazy poor Amy has become, her music has true depth, while Duffy is the sanitized big-label cash-in on this crazy hot retro style all the housewives are digging right now. Duffy gets on my nerves witha sound that is one dimensional. I really wanted to like her, but I can't.

Ms. Winehouse, please get it together and show us that you have more than one brilliant album in you. Otherwise, we'll be stuck with labels shoving pale imitations down our throats, trying to pass tin off for gold and platinum.