Friday, February 22, 2008

That question mark goes operative

There are three Mountain Goats shows here in SF next weekend, and they all sold out weeks ago. I haven't missed a Mountain Goats swing through town in a loooong time, and I've been thinking tonight about various strategies for showing up at the Sunday afternoon BBQ show and getting in. Leading plan so far involves bribing someone with vegan cupcakes. But in getting to that, I was thinking back to the last time I went over to a too-popular/too sold-out show at the same venue [Bottom Of The Hill] and stood in line until enough people left. Man Or Astro-Man? clone tour. In 1998 the band [MOAM?] sent not one, but three groups of stand-ins on tour, playing MOAM? sets, with some prerecorded dialogue bits explaining how the clones were remotely controlled by the actual band, blah blah further elaborating the sci-fi schtick. Arum can probably explain how this all got conceived (I can't), but whatever - Has there ever been a more brazen indie rock stunt? (Don't tell me) You've got three cover bands touring the country at the same time, handpicked by the actual band,and they're selling out shows while the actual band kicks back in their orbital platform and lights cigars with hundred dollar packets of astronaut ice cream candy. Supposedly clone group B was all female, and you'd think there would have been some Woman Or Astro-Woman? shirts, because why not, except to stick with the clone story. Chutzpah! Anyway, I was on a bus from Oregon to SF and I met these three German girls, and the most incredibly cute of them was so excited about the chance to see Man Or Astro-Man? the next night. Do I explain that it's not the real band she's crossing traveling paths with, and suck a little bit of magic out of her 2 days in SF? I do, because this is a ridiculous hoax, these are tourists on a budget, and I really thought Birdstuff was a better man. Astro-man. I'm smitten, I try to explain it sympathetically. But the whole clone concept doesn't translate at all. Her English is good, but not up to taking in improbable meta-schemes, and we all go to the show and stand in line and get in and she sits on the edge of the stage and loves it, and y'know, the clones are pretty good. I can't even remember if they did or didn't have a Tesla coil or if that was the show where Jello Biafra stepped up and sang improvised lyrics to "Destination Venus." It was a stunt, and I'm still impressed.
OK, if you can think of a comparable stunt, tell me.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

State of the Union

In honor of G.W. Bush's final State opf the Union Address, please enjoy these songs.

President Gas, by The Psychedelic Furs

Here Comes President Kill Again, by XTC

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Changing Landscape of Music

My favourite musician, David Usher, recently posted this comment on his Facebook (yes, Facebook) page. On Christmas Day, he posted a free mp3 of his rendition of White Christmas. He has also posted songs in various stages of development (usually just a camcorder pointed at him while he tries out the song), then once finished, links these songs to iTunes for purchase. Times seem to be a-changing.

Anyway, here is the comment. I am most interested in what you have to say!

what crazy possibilities the world gives us now. technological revolution, communications revolution, changes the way we can make art. changes who we are. that cycle of write, record, release still exists but so many of the old controls are gone. we get to explore this new space, the new world of music and art without the old walls. its like landing on the moon for the first time. are you going to stay in the ship because it feels safer, or go tearing around, exploring?
i think i like the moon…

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Cover Songs and Album Covers

Once upon a time, we had a brief volley of posts here waxing eloquent on our favorite cover songs. A week ro so ago, in passing, Arum mentioned he had further thoughts on the subject, but I'll beat him to the punch with this brief post to state my love of the previously mentioned cover of Townes Van Zandt by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

Here's Van Zandt's "Nothin'" as performed by Plant and Krauss.

And speaking of covers, here's a pretty genius collection of photos that brings both a literal and figuartive spin to the notion of "doing a cover." My faves are Jay-Z, Ted Nugent, and Johnny Mathis with a teddy bear.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


You know the beginning of Proud Mary when Tina Turner is laying it down, just how it's going to be? Lord, I hate that musical moment. Maybe it's that the context gets lost as so many bar and wedding bands ape that intro when they do the song. There's a fair amount of that kind of grandstanding or pieces of the puzzle that just don't fit for me on a lot of Ike & Tina stuff (outside of Too Much Woman for a Hen Pecked Man, which I think is perfect).

Well, lately I've been listening to A Black Man's Soul, a collection of Ike Turner tracks collected from about 1969. It's a wonderful set of tunes, mostly instrumental, and has no nonsense in it for me.

What do I see in these recordings? Well, I love the way they're recorded. It's sloppily but well-documented, certainly not polished, the prominent horns with a real raw rip to them, and the drums existing in a space that's, well, perfect. You can hear the sound of the room in every beat (listen to the breaks in Funky Mule). There's occasional odd sounds coming in, too, not in a stoned out Funkadelic sort of way, but in a live way that reminds me of the Ex (listen to the clinkiness in Black Beauty).

This has been my driving music of late. It's been part of my daily life on and off for the past few weeks.

Funky Mule
Black Beauty


Post-Holiday Music Post

I got my hands on a few records over the holidays that I've been enjoying, and I thought I'd share them with y'all. Many of these show up on a lot of critics "best of" lists that are so fashionable at the end of the year.

Jens Lekman / Night Falls over Kortedala
A few years ago, I opened a show for Jens Lekman, and wasn't terribly impressed with his stuff, though he was really nice guy. So when this album came out earlier this year, I didn't really pay it much mind. Then I started reading and hearing a number of positive reviews...finally, I broke down and bought the record. And I really like it. Jens Lekman is like the Swedish Morrissey. He croons, and his lyrics are often really funny in the way he sings with such earnestness about pedestrian moments.

For example, the song "Your Arms Around Me" opens with a celestial harp and violin line...very pretty, then come the drums and the guitar lick, all very earnest in a poppy love ballad kind of way. But the first lyric is "I was slicing up an avocado." It's the last lyric you would expect, and it totally works.

Another such moment is in the song "A Postcard to Nina." The song is about Jens Lekman posing as the boyfriend of his lesbian friend Nina to fool her father. He's got to get his story straight with what she's told her family, and he's having trouble: "Oh God, Jesus Christ! I try to focus on your eyes. We're having dinner with your family now, I keep a steady look at your left eyebrow. If it's raised it means yes, if it's not it means take a guess. Hey! You! Stop kicking my legs, I'm doing my best. Can you pass the figs?" I crack up every time he sings "Can you pass the figs."

Night Falls over Kortedala is a really fun and fresh pop record. Good arrangements, hummable melodies, and delightful and surprising lyrics that give you a sense of a real person singing the songs, some one you might like to hang out with, not an "important songwriter" with "important lyrics." And in the pedestrian moments, Lekman finds some authentic insights. Delightful is the bets word for this album. It is full of delights.

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss / Raising Sand

When I first heard about this record and mentioned it to some friends, they laughed and thought I was joking. But it's no joke. It's a terrific album, and the disconnect people seem to find in Plant and Krauss is really unfounded. Plant has always been a musical journeyman, venturing into different genres, playing with different musicians, and singing duets with beautifully voiced women. Perhaps you'll recall Sandy Denny's soaring vocal on "Battle of Evermore."

The first track I'd heard off the record was "Please Read the Letter" which was a track Plant and Jimmy Page recorded for their "Walking to Clarksdale" album. I think because I already knew the song form the lackluster Page/Plant effort, I wasn't that impressed with the Plant/Krauss version. Still, the glowing reviews kept piling up, and I really do love both Plant and Krauss, so I put it on my Christmas list and I'm glad I did. What a great album. And Plant/Krauss's version of "Please Read the Letter" has redeemed the song for me. It's wonderful.

T Bone Burnett produced it, and it bears his eerie mark, reminiscent of Lanois's production of Dylan on "Time Out of Mind" but more organic and warm. The ethereal production is the perfect compliment to Krauss's angelic voice, and Plant's superbly delicate delivery. Also in the mix is one of my favorite guitarists, Marc Ribot, who's distinctive style only adds to the otherworldly space the music creates. There are too many highlights to mention, but 2 songs that stand out for me as exemplary of the mood and sound of the record are "Polly Come Home" and "Nothin'".

Plant sings lead on both of these tracks, and for me, he is really the glue of the record. Krauss has an amazing voice, no doubt about it. And she can use it. But anyone who thinks Robert Plant is just the guy who said "push push yeah" a lot in Led Zeppelin hasn't heard what this guy can do. When he sings lead on this record, it's delicate, reserved and incredibly emotive, while still leaving room for Krauss. When Krauss sings lead, Plant shows his range in his absolutely essential, but often nearly imperceptible supporting vocals. He's an exeptional singer, and he shines on this album. And Plant and Krauss sing absolutely beautifully together on the full fledged duets.

Finally there's Tinariwen. I'm sort of short on time at the moment, but briefly: Tinariwen is a Tuareg band from Mali, and the music is trancey and hypnotic and totally intoxicating. Amazing from start to finish.


Jens Lekman / A Postcard to Nina
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss / Polly Come Home
Tinariwen / Matadjem Yinmixan

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The kid comes around

I heard Kid Dakota years ago. They sent in a press kit and demo to a label I worked at that dropped a lotta names (in a way that makes you think, my, they are trying hard), and a demo of some songs that were, well, good, but nothing that would make you want to take them home, dub, or listen to in shipping while working all day.

My neighbor Dan lent me their follow-up CD The West Is The Future well over a year ago. It's a perfect record. It's recorded well. It says something. The varied vocals and lyrics both work. It comes in a gorgeous package. There's great flow song to song. There's incredible musicianship -- the drumming itself is beyond human. The sounds of the instruments and the sounds in the background cast settings they're so perfect. I think I'd quit my day job to be in an outfit this good.

The fellah that sings could have done an acoustic bit with these numbers. The lyrics hold up on themselves, and the subject matter, or perhaps locale -- South Dakota and Minnesota -- kinda lends itself to acoustic music. But fleshed out in this magical way, the songs are so much better. And that's quite an achievement.

The lyrics have a tone as consistent as a literary work would, a collection of related short stories, perhaps by someone like Sherwood Anderson.

duck huntin', ice fishin', Paul Bunyan, pilgrim, the thought of ten thousand lakes, at the Prairie Bowl, winterkill, be a better man, high on the horizon, the west is a promise, they're blood-related, drums in the distance, and there's unrest, and now the minister has come, tumbleweed at breakneck speed, this here county, in spite of the airplanes, bless you my beauty, the west is an old lie, bless you my little one, howdy there, pilgrim.

I've had this CD in my life since 2004. It's one to own, to cherish. It's held up as high art. I finally found a copy in Chicago last weekend. I forgot how much I liked the art ("by Will Schaff" it says). It's one to reflect on, because it's saying something. It's one to take apart musically, because this drummer Christopher McGuire, is downright incredible and original in a way that you know that mentally he has to be ordered unlike most humans, but has found a way to use that to his advantage, because the drumming seems inhuman, beyond human, yet at the very same time not too too showy.

My favorite three tracks are:

Pine Ridge
Atomic Pilgrim