Riding with our good Irish correspondent Fionnan Sheridan around the city of Dublin—where, as you can imagine, U2 are revered—my brain settled on a perfectly reasonable question. “Do any members of U2,” I asked, “still actually live in Dublin?”
I say “perfectly reasonable” because in 2006, U2 notoriously moved their enormous assets out of Ireland and into a Dutch tax shelter once the famous Irish tax exemption for artists was capped. I’d say that constitutes a pretty big “up yours” to Ireland, especially when just months before, Bono had loudly appealed to Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern to increase Ireland’s overseas aid. Following the money, wouldn’t the band’s members leave Ireland behind and move to France, New York, or—in Bono’s apparent wishes—a mansion in Heaven next door to Jesus?
“Some of them still live here,” said Fionnan. “Right up here a ways is Larry Mullen’s house, actually.” And in minutes, we were driving down a narrow street of large houses with big front yards, stone fences, and locked gates. Fionnan continued: “Phil Lynott’s mother lives somewhere on this road, as well.”
My heart skipped. Really? “Oh, sure,” he replied, like he was talking about the shopkeeper down the way, or the guy who sells newspapers on the corner. He then pointed out the church in Howth that was the site of Lynott’s funeral, and quickly thereafter we were driving by Saint Fintan’s Cemetery, where the great Thin Lizzy frontman is buried.
Anyone who knows me knows that I can’t pass up a celebrity grave—and certainly not the one of Phil Lynott. So we hoofed it across the long, flat cemetery with flashlights, trying in the dark to locate where he’s buried. Like most celebrity graves, it was easy to spot from far away: flowers, guitar parts, leather necklaces, steel bracelets, and handwritten and photocopied tributes piled all around.
I reflexively sang the riff to “The Boys are Back in Town,” which is naturally the first Thin Lizzy song I ever heard. But then I remembered the vast catalog of great Thin Lizzy songs I’d discovered about five years ago, thanks largely to my friend Josh, and so I hummed one of my favorites: “Dancing in the Moonlight.” Sort of apt, actually, under the dwindling Dublin skies.
I talked with Fionnan’s brother a little bit about Phil Lynott, and what it was like growing up in the same neighborhood. “When I was little,” he told me, “you’d see ‘em walking on the beach here together, Phil and his mom. And you’d just think, ‘wow.’”
“He’s got a pretty unmistakable profile,” I offered.
“Oh, yeah. An’ in that time especially, seeing a black person in Dublin was unheard of. It’s still rare now, but back then you really noticed it.”
On this graveyard expedition with us was my 15-year-old niece Qiana, who had never heard of Thin Lizzy at all. So I tried to explain that they were this total kickass rockin’ band that was known for these crazy rockin’ songs, and I air-guitared the solo to “I’m a Rocker” to demonstrate, but that they also had this really tender side, too, with tortured pleas like “I’m Still in Love With You,” and come to think of it, their first album was pretty weird and psychedelic and had this great song called “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle.”
Qiana just laughed at me. I guess I can’t blame her. She’s into Zac Efron and Kanye West.
When we got back to the house and to a computer, I showed Qiana some Thin Lizzy videos, but I’m pretty sure it only cemented my looniness—especially when I showed her the video for “Sarah,” a.k.a. the most amazingly dorkiest video ever made. Seriously. Watch it, and try to imagine any 15-year-old in the world today thinking that it’s at all cool.
Greetings from the drizzly grey skies of Dublin, Ireland, where last night I saw the greatest Tom Waits show I’ve ever seen, hands down, holy shit, it was INCREDIBLE.
We actually saw Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen on the street in downtown Dublin yesterday, before the show, coming out of the Georges Arcade. Said hi, kept walking. Running into them on the street isn’t such a rare thing back home in California, but it is a truly surreal thing on the other side of the world.
You want surreal? How about a six-tiered circus tent in the middle of a park? ‘Cause that’s where Waits played last night. Christened “The Ratcellar,” it was every bit the Barnum & Bailey spectacle you’d think: purple and yellow stripes, a grand marqueed entrance, red velvet curtains, raked seating on all sides. Built just for these shows, Waits booked three nights here, under the big top.
Tom Waits must really love Dublin. The strolling around town, the building of a special tent, the three-night stand—and undoubtedly one of the greatest shows he’s ever performed. Two and a half hours, 26 songs—the set list, below, was unbelievable—and most of the time, he made the enormous tent of 3,000 feel like an intimate parlor. He certainly seemed honored, and more than a little grateful, to be in Dublin.
Tickets to the show were 138 Euro—about $215 each (the highest price I’ve ever paid for tickets). There was a lot of grumbling about this in Dublin. After the show last night, I can’t imagine anyone grumbling about it anymore.
Waits came out to thunderous applause, threw himself and his band into “Lucinda,” and we were off and running. “Raindogs” was a good sign right afterwards, and it soon became apparent that the set had changed drastically from the time I saw him last month in Phoenix: “The Other Side of the World,” from the film Night on Earth, with an excellent flamenco-guitar solo by Omar Torrez, and “I’ll Shoot the Moon” from The Black Rider, with a please-call-me-baby long spiel mocking modern telephone communication. “Your phone is also a camera,” Waits quipped, “but my sunglasses are also a tricycle.”
“This is a song about family reunions,” Waits said next. “I hate family reunions. There’s so much family there. All these people I’ve been avoiding all year show up. . . Uncle Bill, I owe him money. Look away. No, wait, he owes me money! Get his ass over here. And of course, the infamous. . .”—and starting “Cemetery Polka”—“Uncle Vernon, Uncle Vernon, independent as a hog on ice. . . “
“Singapore” wrapped up with Waits falling over horizontally and banging like a kid on the highest keys of a toy piano, ending with a gargantuan gong-like thud that rumbled dramatically throughout the tent, which became the perfect venue for a long, spoken-word freeform about the circus. As the band played “Russian Waltz” in the background, Waits spun taut yarns about carnival characters such as Yodeling Elaine, Funeral Wells, Little Tiny, Poodle Murphy and Tripod (“how he got the name Tripod is another story altogether”). Interspersed with a snippet of “Tabletop Joe,” the inspired number ended with Waits shouting, like a howling broken wino, “Leave the bum! Leave the bum! Leave the bum!”
True to tradition, Waits dissected the various laws, both real and imagined, native to Dublin: “A lot has changed since I was here last,” he said. “It’s now illegal to force a monkey to smoke in Dublin, for example. And it’s against the law to get a fish drunk here! I used to come here just for that.”
Pointing out that the beginnings to many of his songs sound the same, Waits plowed into “God’s Away on Business,” one of many newer songs that benefited from fresh arrangements. Being on the road has invigorated Waits’ more recent material; they’re looser, more open. They breathe more. “Metropolitan Glide,” “Hoist That Rag,” “Lie To Me”—I saw these songs last month in Phoenix and they’ve changed, drastically, for the better. “Hoist That Rag,” in particular, was amazing, with beautiful Stravinskyesque piano solos by Dublin’s own Patrick Warren, possessed electric guitar soloing by Torrez, and blistering saxophone work by a rejuvenated Vincent Henry, playing and joking astride Waits’ youngest son Sullivan on second tenor sax.
On the subject of the band, I gotta say, Casey Waits on drums has come through like no one could have ever imagined. Much like Denardo Coleman backing up Ornette, it seemed a novelty at first, back when Casey was 14—but now, Casey’s grown into his own, and he’s perfect for his dad’s behind-the-beat style. Kudos, my friend. And bassist Seth Ford-Young, who came in just a week or so before the tour to replace Larry Taylor, very well may have secured himself a permanent place in the band. He’s excellent.
The band was given a break when Waits sat down at the piano to deliver the highlight of the night. “This was a request. . .” he announced. “. . . my own request.” A beautiful, beautiful “Tom Traubert’s Blues” ensued, to a ridiculously wild standing ovation. It didn’t stop there. “On the Nickel,” an overlooked gem from Heartattack and Vine, came next, and then “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis,” which slaughtered the sentimental hearts of everyone in the crowd. He started “House Where Nobody Lives,” but then ditched it. “That’s a short one,” he said, “sometimes the short ones are the best. Why don’t we do one we can all sing on?” Alas: “Innocent When You Dream.”
“Green Grass” had Waits in a low whisper, while “Lie to Me” brought him strutting around his dusty pedestal. “Dirt in the Ground” was played in a striking new meter, sort of a 6/8 over a 4/4, as Waits loosely whispered the words in a low, ominous tone, and “Make it Rain” became a self-fulfilling prophecy: the tent started pattering away with raindrops from above. Long, drawn-out, and heavenly, the song came to a close with Waits cupping his hands to his mouth and shouting “Make it rain!” back up to the obliging sky. Upon the final chord, a hailstorm of glitter showered down from the top of the tent. “Good night!” said Waits, and as the crowd bumrushed the stage, he made his way across the entire front row, reaching out over the edge and touching hands with the devoted, clearly overwhelmed.
The three-song encore ended with “Time,” and there was no more perfect way to end the night—except, perhaps, wandering out into the raining Dublin night with 3,000 other fans utterly dumbfounded with bliss. It was about a mile-long walk to the nearest pub to meet up with our ride, and we were soaked. It didn’t matter. Last night was simply one of the greatest shows I’ve ever been to, and worth every step through every rainy night in any blustery city in the world.
Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Lucinda / Ain’t Goin’ Down to the Well
On the Other Side of the World
I’ll Shoot the Moon
Get Behind the Mule
Cold Cold Ground
Circus / Tabletop Joe
God’s Away on Business
Tom Traubert’s Blues
On the Nickel
Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minnneapolis
House Where Nobody Lives (false start)
Innocent When You Dream
Lie to Me
Hoist that Rag
Bottom of the World
Way Down in the Hole
Dirt in the Ground
Make it Rain
Jesus Gonna Be Here
A city so terrifically entrenched in the past and yet so ahead of us in a million little ways. Music in London, especially, is such a silly thing. Robotic techno songs dominate the Top of the Pops and yet they use Ernie K. Doe’s New Orleans funk classic “Here Come The Girls” to sell shampoo on BBC 2. There’s no less than 26 different subgenres of House in every record store (Post-House, Funky House, Classic House, Post-New-York-Jazzy-House, ad nauseum) but then they sell De La Soul’s 3 Ft. High and Rising on vinyl for, like, four bucks. Primal Scream is still popular.
I walked over to Cargo, a club I went to eight years ago to see Coldcut and the Herbaliser, to stop in and see Ratatat. Sold out. I don’t like ‘em that much anyway, but I lingered in the bar area and listened through the curtain for a while, reading the club’s little newsletter. Just when I couldn’t fathom why Ratatat was so huge in England, there it was on the flyer: “Daft Punk fancied them to open on their recent tour!” So I wandered back to our hotel, passing Favela, a club blaring Brazilian Baile funk, a pub with Vampire Weekend on the stereo, and numerous multimedia street murals. Banksy’s influence is everywhere, even though Banksy himself is passé. Everyone I talk to hates his guts.
Stopped in at Rough Trade to visit my old friend Sean Forbes, who incidentally is one of the funniest people I have ever known. We record store types tend to stick together, providing crucial information like which shop in town might have a copy of Thatcher on Acid’s The Illusion of Being Together 12″, or how many copies of the A Touch of Hysteria LP might still be left. He filled me in on the goings-on of London friends, like my old pal Ben Corrigan, who had the Black Keys, Joanna Newsom and the Kills all play at his deliciously debaucherous wedding last month, and Jamie, who I miraculously hadn’t noticed from the glut of free tabloids everywhere in London is now dating Kate Moss.
Because most of my European travels thus far have involved being on tour with bands, I haven’t seen a lot of things that one “should” see over here. I’ve been to Rome twice and have never seen the Colosseum. Likewise, I’ve been to London a number of times but had never been to the Royal Albert Hall. Ever since Sgt. Pepper’s, when I was 10, and on up to The Man Who Knew Too Much and even into The Odd Couple Sings, I’ve had a longstanding back-burner fascination with the Royal Albert Hall. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I bought tickets, way up in the nosebleeds, for just 6 pounds each, to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall last Wednesday.
90-year-olds tailgate the Royal Albert Hall. Seriously. There was a gang of them in the parking lot, silver haired, diamond festooned and pouring champagne for each other before the show, against a fence.
Inside, the place is unbelievable. No photo could do it justice. We were in the very last row, with a full view of the building. I was pleased to see that the large floor was full of people standing up. Apparently the Albert Hall keeps the Globe Theatre tradition alive, where the standing-room cheap seats are closest to the stage—which is the way it should be, in my book. The program opened with the William Tell Overture and ended with Elgar’s first symphony, sandwiched with Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1, and I couldn’t have been more juiced. Check it off the list, Jeeves.
Avoid: Basshunter – “All I Ever Wanted.”
Pursue: The Ting Tings – “That’s Not My Name.”
Next Stop: Dublin via Bras-d’Asse.
Borrowed laptop battery: nearly dead.
It wasn’t the castle. Nor was it the exquisite views, or the wonderful weather, or the feeling of being in a pastoral renaissance drama. It wasn’t even the awe-inspiring performances, though they ran a tight second.
No, what made Joshua Bell’s appearance at Castello di Amarosa tonight so infinitely remarkable is that during the intermission, while still bathed with perspiration from a dominating run-through of Grieg’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 3, Joshua Bell hopped off the stage, strolled down the aisle, and hung out.
Classical musicians do not “hang out.” Classical musicians of Bell’s caliber, especially, do not “hang out.” But there he was, doing just that, hanging out—chatting with fans, charming old ladies, signing programs for young violinists, and taking photos with visibly bowled-over members of the audience.
You don’t get this kind of close camaraderie at Avery Fisher Hall or the Kennedy Center. But in the Napa Valley, Bell thinks to himself: What the hell. I’m at a castle, it’s kinda weird, and these people seem cool. I think I’ll stand over near that cast-iron dragon head under the coat of arms unfurled on the wall and, you know, hang out.
Bell’s casual presence didn’t diminish the absolute seriousness and command he demonstrated on stage just moments before, in an utterly stunning display of precision, taste, and verve alongside the excellent pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet.
Jogging onto the stage in an untucked white shirt, magazine-current haircut and winning smile, Bell raised his bow and dove hungrily into Grieg’s sonata. Containing numerous passages which in the hands of others might be choppy or scratchy, the piece proved a demonstrable showcase for Bell’s glassy smoothness. Flawlessly quick changes from low growls to feathery high notes abounded, and Bell’s final note of Grieg’s second movement—reaching as high as the violin can play—had the gossamer quality of untouched water at dawn.
It may be a cliché to imagine an instrument as an outgrowth of the body, but if so, the cliché begins and ends with Bell. His 1713 Stradivarius protruded from beneath his chin as an extra appendage, a thing incomplete when it is not next to him and—in ways—vice-versa; he played it as if brushing back hair, natural and thorough. His connection was just as strong with Thibaudet, who joined Bell in a telepathic understanding of the piece and of each other, handling his end with a marvelous touch at the piano.
Bell has been performing the Grieg sonata for some time now, and it’s high time he recorded it. No doubt the crowd tonight would nominate Thibaudet as his studio mate. At the end, after the intricate plucking and ferocious dance passages of the third movement, the audience was on their feet, bringing the pair back to the stage for three separate sets of bows—all of them more than deserved.
Opening the concert was soprano Lisa Delan, in a light purple dress with thin straps, singing the world premiere of Gordon Getty’s Four Dickinson Songs. A moving and often daring musical adaptation of four Emily Dickinson poems, the work nonetheless received a lukewarm reception, despite Delan’s dramatic interpretive ability. After the intermission, Thibaudet returned to the stage with the Rossetti String Quartet for a perfectly thrilling Piano Quintet in F Minor by Brahms. Like Bell’s performance, it was joined somewhat charmingly by the near-constant sound of birds chirping in the sky above the castle’s great outdoor room.
Festival del Sole co-founder Barrett Wissman was in a cream-colored suit jacket and black slacks, nursing a plastic cup of red wine; his wife, the cellist Nina Kotova, wore a chic black dress, diamond earrings and a gigantic amethyst necklace that attracted comments every ten feet or so. The Castello di Amarosa, too, was done up nicely; even the posts holding up the stage tent were covered in a faux stone to match the castle walls, as film crews from PBS were on hand, recording for a special.
But it was the close atmosphere and the proximity to greatness that defined the evening. In fact, at one point, while poking around upstairs, who should I see through a small stone window but Joshua Bell himself, in the castle’s dressing room, blowdrying his hair. It was a strange and beautiful moment, and one that I was glad I had my camera for.
All in all, it was a truly memorable night. More photos below.
Don’t ask me how I know this, but I assure you it’s true: Tom Waits officially recorded his show last week at the Fox Theater in Atlanta for a broadcast on NPR. From all the reviews on Eyeball Kid, it seems like one of the best shows on his entire tour so far. There’s also this great little Excel spreadsheet-type calculation thing of every single song Tom Waits has played on the American leg of his tour over at Eyeball Kid, which is a drool-inducing jealousyfest for fans like me.
In a matter of incredibly arcane Tom Waits trivia, we here at City Sound Inertia bow our heads in remembrance of China Light, the dingiest little Chinese restaurant in Santa Rosa, on the corner of College and Cleveland Avenues. I used to live around the corner from the place, back when it was painted a ridiculous pink color, and every night at about 10pm they’d close so the whole family could eat around a large round table in the family dining room, off to the side. It was sweet. What does this have to do with Tom Waits, you ask? It’s this room that Tom Waits chose for a photo shoot, posing with a book about human oddities, right after Mule Variations was released.
The best thing about China Light, of course, was the beautiful misspelling on its corner sign: “Lunch Specil.”
I’m not sure that Waits ate there very much; he probably just liked how run-down the place looked. Do you remember when a car crashed through the front of the building, and it took the owners 8 months to patch up the gigantic hole? Seriously, for 8 months there was just a pile of bricks and a sheet of cardboard covering the wall. I checked their health code violations on the Sonoma County Food Inspection website once—they had about 5 or 6 critical violations. Not that it mattered; I loved their soup, although it did go a bit downhill. The last time I ate there was the day that Blowfly played at Michele’s, in Santa Rosa, and all I remember is that the chicken was so gooey and undercooked that I was literally spitting it out onto the ground as I left out the front door.
Apparently Tom Waits signed his contract with Epitaph at Rinehart’s Truck Stop in Petaluma; or, to be more precise, the now-defunct Zoya’s Truck Stop Cafe. Now that’s a place I miss. A perfect cheap spot between Santa Rosa and San Francisco, with the most amazing painting of an eagle, on the wall above the booths. Run by Russians; on bad days, it smelled more like borscht than burgers. Story goes that Waits was willing to sign with Epitaph, but insisted on meeting label head Brett Gurewitz there. So Gurewitz drove up from L.A. and met him at the truck stop, contract in hand. (It’s on the same exit where the makeshift memorial for Georgia Lee Moses is, immortalized in Mule Variations‘ “Georgia Lee.”)
Greg at Flavor told me tonight that Waits used to come there every Tuesday for a while. Then he stopped. Aw, hell, I could go on and on about Tom Waits—hey, what about restaurants? Bummed that Cafe Japan, right next to Flavor, closed; they were such nice people, and to my mind the best sushi in town. Here’s to a good run.
Probably the strangest dining experience I’ve had lately was eating at Mariscos F. Magiy on Sebastopol Road a couple weeks ago. While I ate my squid quesadilla, I was kept company by a very large and smiling bulldog, panting and drooling next to my table. I love dogs, but some guy (who works there? hangs out there? I dunno) saw me and firmly warned, “Stay there. Don’t move.” Eventually he got the bulldog to go back into the kitchen. “He looks friendly,” he said, “but he’ll turn on you.” Hmm. Incidentally, the quesadilla was delicious.
Old Santa Rosa diehards like me are all abuzz over the news that Traverso’s is moving to Fountaingrove; it makes sense for them to be across the street from a lot of old people with money, but I will miss them being downtown in a major way. But now who will spend all day politely dealing with people asking for change for the bus? Mr. “Shut Up Hippie” over at Cafe Martin?
I was talking with Michael Traverso, one of the friendliest check-out clerks in the world, after they sold the building and started looking for a new location. Here’s my favorite thing about the move: Michael says they’re completely planning on taking the store’s hardwood floor with them. “Really? You can do that?” I asked him. “Sure!” he said. “It’s the original floor! We moved it from our old location when we moved here!” You gotta love stuff like that.
Is there a copy editor out there who can solve the mystery of the Traverso’s sign? Right next to the smiling man holding a stretch of salami and the promise of “101 Varieties Cheese,” it proudly boasts their motto: “Traverso’s Got It!” Since the name of the joint is Traverso’s, shouldn’t it read “Traverso’s's Got It?”
The sandwiches at Pete’s market on 4th and Mendocino are better and cheaper anyway.
Long overdue are my dorky kudos to the city of Santa Rosa for making our sidewalks more skateboard-friendly! Just about every raised crack in town, it seems, was shaved flat back in the springtime. The skateboarders of the city thank you. Now if only it was legal to ride on the sidewalks!
Parking meters, parking meters: those new pay stations are wack and everyone knows it. I’m guessing they’re here to stay, which is ridiculous since there is a much more convenient way for people to pay for their parking. It also requires no adaptation of the city’s current meters: have you ever noticed the credit card-sized slot in the city’s LCD meters? It’s there to accept parking cards, a program that the City of San Francisco has used to great effect. It’s easy: you buy a parking card from City Hall, it has a certain dollar amount on it, and when you park somewhere, you insert it into the slot while the meter counts up. Reach the desired time, remove the card, and that’s that—no change needed.
I asked a woman at City Hall’s Parking & Transit office the other day if there was any possibility of the city issuing parking cards to use in these ready-and-waiting slots. “Not gonna happen,” she said. “Not in this budget cycle, at least.”
The two most plausible theories about the city’s excitement over the new pay stations that I’ve heard are 1) With the new pay stations, the city can make more money because it’s impossible for drivers to tell if there’s money left on a meter, and 2) Some outside city analyst suggested that removing all the parking meters would make the city look nicer.
They’re finally fixing the drinking fountain in Courthouse Square, at least.
License plate of the week, parked at the Odd Fellows Hall in Santa Rosa.
I was sitting on some steps eating a sandwich a couple weeks ago and looked over and saw this collection of heroin needles in the bushes. Corner of Mendocino & Silva, where the cops routinely crack down. Kind of a weird place to shoot heroin, in my opinion.
Isn’t this supposed to be a music blog?
I was defeated in a lyric-remembering showdown recently, when Anna Allensworth knew the correct opening line of “Sunday in New York” and I, in shame, did not. I thought it was “New York on Sunday / Big city havin’ a ball.” Anna was right: “New York on Sunday / Big city takin’ a nap.” Two very different things. Congratulations, Anna!
In a related tangent, I have been together with Liz now for almost seven years, and only just tonight, I discovered that she knows all the lyrics to “Singin’ in the Rain.” I thought Gene Kelly was the only one who knew more than the first four lines. Congratulations, Liz!
After he played it for me one night and I couldn’t shut up about it for days, Josh Staples gave me a copy of an amazing, amazing album: Modern Windows by Bill Barron. It rides a real fine line between post-bop and avant-garde, and it’s all one long uninterrupted suite separated into different movements, and Barron’s tone on the tenor sax is a menace. I love it. Thanks, Josh!
Okay—enough rambling. Time to get back to watching The Big Knife. It’s a great film that was part of the United Artists 90th Anniversary Film Festival at Film Forum in New York, but unfortunately not part of the touring version which hits the Rialto at the end of this month. Video Droid‘s got it. Rent it from them, and no, I still don’t have a Netflix account.
I think I may have just stumbled upon the reason why the Highlands are one of my favorite local bands: they incorporate a zillion different styles of music (punk, jazz, folk, classical, prog, blues, electronica) with the world’s most hands-on, organic approach. It helps, too, I guess, that it took me years to discover and embrace all these styles myself, and when I first saw the Highlands, in 2006, they’d already impressively conquered the holy amalgam before they were old enough to drink.
They were so chaotic and unhinged that first night I saw them, but I knew, with all their propulsive energy and scarred beauty, that I was hooked. I’d say “hooked for life,” except I didn’t at all expect them to last as a band through the end of that year. But here it is, two years later, and the Highlands have survived. Not only that, but they’ve gotten better and more together as the years have rolled on, and though there’s certainly an argument to be made for the innocence of slop, I’ve been preferring the tighter Highlands over the wildly flailing, drumsticks-throttled-everywhere, no-one-playing-exactly-in-time, somersaults-in-the-air, Jesus-Christ-I’m-gonna-get-decapitated-if-I-don’t-get-the-hell-out-of-here Highlands of yore.
Much of the old Highlands’ insanity was catalyzed by Anthony Jiminez and Richard Laws. In fact, the first time I saw Richard, that first night of seeing the Highlands, he was upside-down on top of the crowd, mangling a melodica, and I barely recognized him from the mild, studious bassist I’d come to know through profiling Triste Sin Richard. His movements were entirely unpredictable, and his saxophone playing—reminiscent of the Contortions, or the Magic Band—seemed like an anarchic fuck you to the stringent rules of his classical upbringing. He eventually moved to Portland, formed Church, and thus, the self-fulfilling prophecy: we were sad without Richard.
So it was a shock to stroll into the Black Cat the other night, beneath the bras, and see none else but Richard Laws, setting up with the Highlands. He’s decided to just live in his van for a while and drive around—he’s got a slightly Bobby Darin-esque philosophy about it—so a one-off show with his old friends? No big deal.
As mentioned before, I’ve been pretty stoked on how tight the Highlands have been getting lately, but when I saw Richard, I thought, “Great—there goes that idea.” But you know what? It wasn’t like the old insanity-riddled shows at all. It was stronger and tougher and tighter and better than ever. It was, for a brief six- or seven-song set, a perfect demonstration of everything the Highlands do best.
Take “Gargoyles,” a song from their latest album, The Things I Tell You Will Not Be Wrong. The song itself is conventional, at least by Highlands standards, with chords that sorta make sense together in the subterranean pop idiom; but at the end of the tune, all four members broke from their metaphorical leashes and took off across the playing field. I’d say they all went in different directions, but no—it was more like a pack of excited dogs running circles around each other and generally advancing as a group to the same destination.
“An untamed sense of control”—that’s how Bob Dylan described Roscoe Holcomb and that’s how I think I’ll describe the Highlands. By the set’s closer, the incredible “Ocean of Blood,” which matches the BPMs of the human heart (no shit; on the record, it opens with a haunting, magnified recording of an actual sutured vein thrusting startlingly loud blood cells), the triumph was complete. They’d taken a baritone guitar, a cello, a saxophone and a drum set and turned it into something entirely their own. That you cannot fuck with.
For this edition of On the Stereo, we welcome my friend and fellow record collector Gerry Stumbaugh. Gerry’s worked at the Last Record Store in Santa Rosa for almost ten years now, and he’s hosted the Left of the Dial radio show on KRCB for eight years. His preferred format is 7”s, bless his heart, and while he pounded Negro Modelos and I macked down on some El Farolito, we hung out and listened to nothing but 7”s.
I have to warn you—this play-by-play goes on forever. Click after the jump at your own risk. We’re record nerds. Lots of swearing, too. Sorry, Dad.
Included are discussions of 7”s by Themes, Bikini Kill, the Gaslamp Killer, Ratatat, Built to Spill, Santogold, No Age, Spank Rock, Screeching Weasel and Navy of the Nice, along with tangential excursions into Mexican snack treats, the unusual breakfast diet of Mike Watt, and the follies of WCW Tag Team Wrestling.
This is so ridiculous I’m amazed that I even feel like pointing it out, but despite what you’ll read in just about every corner of the Internet media, no one is actually selling tickets to Bon Jovi’s Central Park concert for $1500.
In case you haven’t heard: 60,000 tickets were distributed free by the city of New York, and the media is having a field day over the fact that one person and one person only posted a Buy It Now listing priced at $1500 for a pair of tickets on eBay.
This does not mean that tickets are “selling” for $1500. All it means is there’s some total schmoe online hoping to dupe someone into paying hella more for something than it’s worth, and I’m sorry to say, but that happens every single day. Good job, Bon Jovi’s publicist!
(A 10-second check of completed eBay listings shows that Bon Jovi tickets are actually selling for about $10 to $20 a pop.)
I, myself, am more inflamed over the increasing prominence of StubHub. They’ve even got TV commercials now.
Here it is, folks: the age is upon us when everyone’s a scalper, none of the concerts you want to see have available face value tickets, and StubHub takes a 25-percent cut of all tickets sold for two, three, five times the face value.
In 38 states, it’s still illegal to sell tickets on the sidewalk outside of a concert, but StubHub, which is owned by eBay, is posting huge profits year after year.
Giving money to a guy on the street: Bad! Giving money to an $8 billion company traded on NASDAQ: Good!
No other band suffers such a disparity between their widely perceived “one hit” and their actual creative prowess as Los Lobos. It’s still one of the great misconceptions in rock and roll: while Los Lobos’ albums Kiko, Colossal Head and Good Morning Aztlan rank amongst the most invigorating and exciting listening experiences of the last fifteen years, drunk accountants in Cabo Wabo T-shirts at the Marin Fair last night still yelled for “La Bamba.”
“Not yet, man,” countered Cesar Rosas, no doubt resigned to the request by now. “If we play it, you’ll all leave!”
No true Los Lobos fan really gives a damn about hearing “La Bamba”—I’ve seen them twice before, and they didn’t play it, and no one asked for their money back. But a County Fair is a different story altogether, and Los Lobos knows this. So you’ve gotta hope that the old trick worked; namely, saving the payoff until the end, while in the meantime providing a look into one of the great catalogs of American music.
I, for one, am completely enamored of Los Lobos, which puts me in the company of bugeyed ex-Deadheads, aging Latino expatriates from L.A., and Sierra Nevada-swillin’ dudes with hairy shoulders. So be it. I love Los Lobos fans, if only to imagine them crawling into work the next morning, bedraggled in the best possible way, while their coworkers chug lattes and try to out-chipper each other with peppy chitchat.
Indeed, the large tent at the Marin Fair—on an island in the middle of a man-made lake—was packed with people preparing to feel like crap the next day. Dancing, swaying, drinking, singing along, and having the time of their life on the ever-festive last night of the fair. At certain moments, such as the ferocious three-way soloing pinnacle David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas and Louie Pérez achieved in “That Train Don’t Stop Here,” it felt like the entire tent might explode.
Other highlights included “Short Side of Nothing,” “The Neighborhood,” “Kiko and the Lavender Moon,” and “This Time”—the latter of which Hidalgo started, then looked puzzled for a second, and finally asked the crowd, “Hey. . . who knows the first verse?”
If I’m not mistaken, the band played nothing from Colossal Head nor Good Morning Aztlan, but it didn’t matter—they’re so good live, and so dependent on how they play, that it’s somewhat negligible what they play. A few cumbias, a long blues jam, some newer songs, a guest saxophonist, and hey, they still rule.
If there’s any shrug to be had with the set, it’s that it was almost identical to the last time I saw Los Lobos, an entire five years ago. Then as now, covers included Traffic’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” as well as a sing-along of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” segueing into the Dead’s “Bertha,” which sent the twirl brigade off and spinning on the fringes of the island.
But it was the final cover of the night that really lit people up: an encore of “La Bamba.” I made my way around the crowd and saw nothing but smiling, laughing, and getting down; and to my surprise, the aforementioned drunk accountant knew every Spanish word of the song. When Los Lobos seized on the chord progression and interpolated the Young Rascals’ “Good Lovin’,” the place went nuts. How can you argue?
I got a Philly Cheesesteak sandwich, watched the fireworks, rode the Merry-Go-Round, and then walked along the railroad tracks, to the rhythm of the bassline of Colossal Head‘s “Revolution,” stuck in my head, back to my car.
(P.S. Steve Berlin, if you are reading this—I’ve always wanted to ask if you’ve got any idea whether Lee Allen intentionally quoted both “Andalucia” and “Across the Alley from the Alamo” during his saxophone solo for “Roll ‘Em Pete” on the Blasters’ live EP, Over There, or if it was merely a musical accident. I’m totally serious—it’s plagued me for over ten years. Any clue?)