I look back in weird ways, I guess. I have a compulsive need to chronicle the past, and assemble tidbits, and remind myself that it happened. To remind myself that bands existed. I collect flyers, set lists, broken drum sticks, drawings, strange notes between band members, letters, practice tapes, broken strings. I sometimes present these items to their originators years later, like a mom bringing out the third grade report card again. “See?” I implore, “You ripped this Paxton Quiggly sticker off your bass in the middle of your set at the Highway 12 house in 1995, and you threw it on the floor, and you thought you’d never see it again, but look, here it is! And look, you got an ‘S’ in reading, and your teacher wrote ‘Is attracted to the books of Judy Blume’!”
It’s fine and dandy to be reminded of third grade, but it’d be downright ridiculous to actually go to your third grade classroom again, and cram into the tiny wooden desk seats with all the others you went to school with, and attempt to re-create the magic of watching “Riki Tiki Tavi” for the first time on the 16mm projector. This is how I feel about band reunions. Know your past, and build on it, but don’t rehash old moves.
So. Pavement is reuniting for a tour in 2010. Pavement is one of the greatest bands of the last 20 years, and we should by rights be shitting our pants about this, but how excited can even a diehard fan be with dead weight of Malkmus’ mediocre solo career and Spiral Stairs’ failures in the 10-year interim? Does context not bog down the grandeur of “Stop Breathing”? If the band smiles while playing “Major Leagues,” is it because they love the song, or because they’re getting paid? Is it unfair to read too much into an ex-band’s good time?
There is no concerted band-reunion backlash. This is the summer of nostalgia. Michael Jackson, Woodstock. Pastel-colored T-shirts with white blazers. Reissues, repackages, reunions, retracing. Bands performing classic albums in their entirety. Everyone clawing back ceaselessly into the past, avoiding whatever it is they’re scared of facing. I can understand needing a warm familiar place to reside say, during the Bush administration, but why now? Look around. Now is when we have a smart president and we have these weird artistic opportunities because of the depression and we have this gung-ho spirit of change and hope and possibility, and the best we can do is help the Pixies sell out three shows of a no-surprises song-for-song set of Doolittle, a very good and very old album they recorded over 20 years ago.
Next week’s Bohemian column is on a stellar book coming out on September 29, Gimme Something Better: The Profound, Progressive, and Occasionally Pointless History of Bay Area Punk from Dead Kennedys to Green Day. It’s a collected oral history of a very special time in many people’s lives, my own included, told by over a hundred band members, scenesters, zine editors, promoters, volunteers and old friends who save things like set lists and practice tapes. A mammoth work at 500 pages, it will have an impact on the Bay Area in ways we can only prognosticate, except for one. “Are you ready for the bickering to begin?” I asked authors Jack Boulware and Silke Tudor yesterday. “Oh, it’s already started,” Tudor said. “It started when we began interviewing people.”
I’m a champion of history, which shouldn’t be confused with nostalgia; history is telling stories about an old flyer, while nostalgia is trying to book the same show with the same bands at the same venue all over again. History can also be unsettling, and having events close to one’s life wrapped up neatly into book form sometimes gives the eerie feeling of mummification. I mentioned this to Boulware, and asked, “Why write about all this stuff now? Isn’t it a little too early?” He laughed.
“When you’re too young, you don’t really have a perspective on it, as much as when you’re older,” he explained of most of the book’s interview subjects. “When you’re in your 30s, you’re embarrassed of the stuff you did in your 20s, and you don’t wanna talk about it. But when you’re in your 40s, and you’re talking about something that happened in your 20s, you have a little bit of distance on it.”
In other words, if Boulware and Tudor hadn’t tracked these people down now, who knows what stories they’d have been unable to share? Lots of writers have tackled the Bay Area punk scene and failed; by handing the book’s voice over to the people involved, Gimme Something Better is like being homesick without leaving home, and an epic chronicle that people will be talking about for years to come. I can’t say as much for the average band’s sad-sack reunion tour, where the prevailing feeling is that of watching overgrown children dance for Grandma.
Along with uninteresting bookings like Styx and Rick Springfield, Konocti, which is owned by Local 38 Union of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, has consistently brought the biggest names in country music to the area. Look at the list of performers who’ve played there, and it reads as a who’s-who atop of the country music charts: Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Toby Keith, Carrie Underwood, Brooks and Dunn, Faith Hill, Trace Adkins, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Brad Paisley all come to mind.
Country music stars are often just as easy to make fun of as leftover arena-rock slop like Lynyrd Skynyrd and KISS, but with Konocti closing, where around here are people going to be able to see them? Toby Keith can’t play the Wells Fargo Center; it’s simply too small. Maybe someone could book him at the Petaluma Fairgrounds, but will he really want to play on a temporary rented sound system in a dirt rodeo grandstand? Konocti had a solid working relationship with these artists, and they kept coming back to the place, as run-down and decrepit as it may be.
Some people say it’s just as well that Toby Keith, a confirmed douchebag, can’t play around here anymore, to which I recall the last time I went to Konocti, to see Trace Adkins. He sang songs about soldiers and mama and workin’ hard and America. To see the fat shirtless guys cheering, the disabled veterans crying, the kids in wheelchairs smiling, the toothless MILFs dancing, and the plumbers, pipefitters and journeymen and their families all singing along was to witness a culture that we too often criticize without understanding.
The bottom line is that a slice of happiness for these people has been lost.
Good morning, absurdity. How did you know to arrive on time, and in the form of Charo?
Her 2002 show at the fair in Santa Rosa is still one of the best five dollars I’ve ever spent, and the passing of time hasn’t dulled her ludicrous sensibility one bit, as evinced by a glorious appearance singing Rihanna’s “Don’t Stop the Music” Sunday on the Jerry Lewis telethon. Try to watch it with a straight face. I dare you.
These DJ Shadow Handmade records really are something special. They come in die-cut sleeves with hand-stamped titles. They’re pressed thick with textured, wrap-around covers. And yes, they come Sharpie-personalized and numbered with your name written on the back cover.
Better yet, they’re great mixes. I once saw DJ Shadow at the Fillmore in 2000 spinning a short, dark set that included a nice vocal loop of “Quality Control.” It was cut short by an overflowing bill (try keeping 28 DJs on schedule, including Invisibl Skratch Piklz last show), and a VHS tape of the show was released, but without Shadow’s set. Lost to the gods.
Or so I’d thought. Skratchcon Rehearsal Mix is that set, recorded at home the night before the show, and the unheard second half is killer, based around the Zack de la Rocha collaboration “March of Death.” (Also keen for clicking the cart is Evening Session Mix, the long-rumored Miami booty bass set Shadow spun during one of Mark Herlihy’s Future Primitive Sound Sessions at the Japantown bowling alley in San Francisco.)
If you want to see DJing at its finest, check out the video below of Shadow and Cut Chemist at the Fillmore later that same night, re-creating, from original sources, Double Dee & Steinski’s famous “Lesson” series. It’s almost ten years old, but since Serato has come along and threatened to eliminate this type of skill entirely, it’s more relevant than ever.
I love San Francisco. I love Ocean Beach, and I love biking through Golden Gate Park past the eucalyptus and bison, and I love getting closer and closer to tour buses, road barricades and the sound of distant bands warbling in the wind. I love dropping my bike off with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and I actually kinda love running from stage to stage to see as many bands as I possibly can before riding back to the beach.
It didn’t used to be this way. I hated festivals. Too many bands, not enough time, way too much marketing, and the worst offense of all—no free water. All of these symptoms are present at the Outside Lands festival, and yet what can I say? I love Golden Gate Park, and love is blind.
The Outside Lands festival returned this year to a flurry of neighborhood complaints about noise and fan complaints about lineup, and the first thing we notice is that there’s way fewer fans and way more people shoving handbills in our faces than last year. Other than that, and the near-universally recognized weakness of this year’s headliners, the Outside Lands festival is pretty much the same as last year—with batting cages.
Right before Built to Spill goes on, a girl, about 19, asks me if I’ve ever seen them before. “Yeah, about 12 or 13 times!” I tell her. “I’ve never heard them,” she says, “but my friend told me they’re like Band of Horses. Are they like Band of Horses?”
I admittedly am biased when it comes to Built to Spill, and I feel bad that they’ve been given the unprestigious 2:30pm time slot on a Friday. What’s it like being a hugely influential band, only to have the younger generation care more about your stylistic debtors? The old way of thinking was to raise a bitter ruckus and let as many people as possible know that you haven’t been given your due.
The new way of thinking is that through either Zen or humility, Built to Spill are unfazed at their spot both on the festival schedule and in the tight-jeans handbook. They play “The Plan,” “Else,” “Car,” “You Were Right,” “Big Dipper”—perfect songs that don’t sound old. They play a new song from their upcoming album, with lyrics about Canada and locks on the door, and it sounds just as fresh. Guitarist Jim Roth breaks a string and changes it himself mid-song. Doug Martsch chirps his simple “Thanks.”
Afterwards, a fan is overheard saying, “Dude, Built to Spill and Vicodin… soooo good.”
The Dodos recorded an album recently and said fuck it, let’s just stream it online for everyone to hear. In this day and age, that isn’t shattering news, but in light of Visiter and its huge success, it’s admirably surprising that their record label was cool with essentially giving the anticipated follow-up away for free.
Even more surprising, for me, is that live, the Dodos are imbued with the full-on spirit of thrust. Their records have their mellow moments, but the noise made by just Meric’s acoustic guitar and Logan’s drums on stage is baffling. They have a guy playing vibes. Everyone sings along to “Fools.” Their San Francisco friends are out and about, but no one’s razzing them ‘cause they’re ruling it.
The best thing to do in San Francisco when there’s a lull in the day is to ride down to Amoeba to score some records by Dinah Washington, Jeru the Damaja, Dirty Projectors, Larry Young, Sunn o))). Hit up the liquor store on Stanyan and pound an entire 32 oz. Gatorade on the sidewalk. It’s hot, man. Bad day to wear black jeans.
Q-Tip takes the stage with a full band—guitar, bass, drums, DJ, and a wacky dude with star earrings and dyed red hair who plays Fender Rhodes, saxophone and keytar. I loved Q-Tip’s album from last year, The Renaissance, and he comes out to its lead-off track.
Q-Tip, of course, is commanding the stage; he’s one of the most charismatic hip-hop performers in history. He breathes in rhythm like the Meters, he throws his head back and howls like James Brown, and, in a brief tribute to Michael Jackson, hammers falsetto after falsetto. His band follows his every cue, hitting the floor and cutting the volume at the right times, rising with each scream.
People sometimes ask me who my all-time favorite rapper is. I won’t choose just one, but if all of the hip hop records in the world disappeared tomorrow, I might be placated if the albums made by A Tribe Called Quest were spared. So it’s exciting when Q-Tip hits the first verse of “Oh My God,” and when he flips the beat on “Sucka Nigga,” and when he closes out “Find a Way” with a full-on talk box solo by the wacky keyboard player. When he beatboxes the Brady Bunch theme song into “Bonita Applebum,” the crowd loses their minds.
“Turn off your phones, your iPhones, your Blackberries!” he shouts during an extended jam on “Electric Relaxation.” “We feelin’ the music right here!” The energy level keeps rising and rising. “Check the Rhime” follows, then “Scenario,” and every Tribe Called Quest fan in San Francisco is losing their mind.
And then, oh shit, it happens.
Phife and Q-Tip on the same stage performing “Award Tour” at Outside Lands may just be the highlight of the entire festival, for me and a handful of others. My only question: Why in the world didn’t Q-Tip bring him out on Tribe songs sooner, especially for the back-and-forth of “Check the Rhime”? Phife’s voice may not be in the best form, but any rapper who evidently carries a microphone around in his pocket is obviously ready to go on a moment’s notice.
Q-Tip acknowledges the history of the moment, says, “I don’t know when you’re ever gonna see that again,” and lets the crowd trickle away to “Life is Better.”
To answer your question, no, nobody threw panties at Tom Jones—at least not for the first few songs. I’m stumped. I remember hearing about Tom Jones issuing a statement about ten years ago asking people to stop throwing panties at him, but no one took it seriously. What’s the deal?
Jones sings “I’m Alive,” “Give a Little Love,” and “Green, Green Grass of Home.” During the fourth song, “If I Only Knew,” a lone red pair of panties flies through the air and alights near Jones’ feet. He ignores it. 40 seconds later, another pair of panties arcs toward the stage. Then another, and another, and another. By the end of the song, it’s just a crazy hailstorm of panties falling on Tom Jones, and I sort of feel sorry for him but I gotta admit, it’s also funny as hell.
He does “Hard to Handle,” “Mama Told Me Not to Come” and “Delilah,” and saves “It’s Not Unusual” for the end, when most of the curious and ironic onlookers have bailed to catch a painfully boring band called Pearl Jam.
I hope that eventually, someone will chronicle a history of the walk-on music that bands use to take the stage. Fans of Morrissey seem especially devoted to this, as are fans of Depeche Mode, who even released their pre-concert mix on a CD for their fans. Tom Waits played old blues 78s through tinny cone speakers on his last tour; Springsteen plays “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” when he’s at a baseball stadium; classical recordings of great bombast are popular. Like so many other ephemeral pieces of the concert experience, walk-on music is something that’s forgotten halfway through the first song—and yet for a brief minute, after the lights go dim, it unites the entire crowd in an innervating herald.
Pearl Jam’s walk-on music is “Metamorphosis 2,” by Philip Glass. There’s some other songs that happen between that and our walking back to our bikes, and Eddie Vedder seems like a nice guy and all, telling the crowd to “keep track of each other and make sure that no one goes down,” but you know. It’s Pearl Jam: The Sound of the ’90s. They are completely and hopelessly dated. Sorry, grunge fans.
More photos after the jump. (more…)
Elvis Costello opened his show at the Wells Fargo Center in Santa Rosa Friday night with an absolutely rollicking version of “Mystery Train,” complete with a showbiz ending that had the short, bespectacled leader kicking his heels, pumping his arms and conducting his diesel-engine band to a chugging, smoke-spewing halt.
It was one of the evening’s highlights in a lopsided concert that included as many yawn-inducing patches as it did occasional resurrections of the idea that Elvis Costello is one of the universe’s most impressive performers.
Even with an all-acoustic band, featuring Jim Lauderdale, Mike Compton and Jerry Douglas, Costello acted the consummate rock star by strutting across the stage, thrusting the neck of his guitar into the air and posturing wildly at the end of his songs. He cracked wise with the crowd, told stories and brushed off requests between songs. He finished his four-song encore with “Alison,” left the stage, and indulged the crowd even into the second hour of the show with more songs.
The only problem—and this is kind of a big deal when they take up so much time—was the songs. Elvis Costello has something like 863 songs, and a sustainable percentage of them are so good it hurts. Friday night, he played barely any of them, pulling instead mostly from his dull new album and a bunch of cover material. This was expected, yes—although when Costello’s magic lies in providing the unexpected, the evening felt lazy and predictable (especially when contrasted against his powerhouse setlist the first time he appeared at the venue, with Steve Nieve, in 1999).
The night had its moments. Along with “Mystery Train,” a downright psychedelic “The Delivery Man” was one of the few treasures that actually showcased the spine-tingling dynamics of the band, complete with distorted fiddle and atmospheric stillness. The accordion pulled slowly, Costello’s 4-string guitar buzzed, and the tune wound down like a late-night AM station slowly fading out of range.
“Mystery Dance” and “Blame it on Cain” both rambled with accented minor-blues-thirds the original recordings always hinted at, and a honky-tonk reworking of “Everyday I Write the Book” made more sense that it should. And though a 3/4-time cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” and an encore of the Rolling Stones’ “Happy” had people literally dancing in the aisles, Elvis Costello ambling through “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” for the zillionth time had them nearly asleep.
That’s the problem with this tour (one of them, at least). Elvis Costello has never been great at singing country music. He’s just as unconvincing singing “Americana,” and just because he calls together an amazing group of players and whips up some crowd-pleasing stuff like “Friend of the Devil” doesn’t mean that he’s on his game. He’s on someone else’s game, and for someone as singularly intelligent and talented as he, it doesn’t fit. Sure, he can be proud of writing a terrible song for Johnny Cash, or for hiring the finest dobro player in the universe and not giving him any space to stretch out and be showcased, and that’s fine, but why not listen to John Prine or Gillian Welch do the same thing with far more heart and soul? As for his new material, it’s not a good sign when Costello’s explanations of the songs are infinitely more entertaining than the songs themselves.
And yet just like he knows how to end a tune, Elvis Costello knows how to end a show. He brought the house down with his last encore, recalling the fire and joy of Springsteen’s Seeger Sessions tour, and closed the night with “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”
Shouldn’t all shows end with that song? No matter how drab the interim, it forgives all.
It began all the way back in February, right after their West Coast tour and a recording session with J Robbins that apparently didn’t go smoothly. Friends of friends delivered the news that Thorns of Life broke up, and while I knew Aaron was out of the band, I thought Blake might at least find another drummer and keep the name.
Now, the long-running rumors about Thorns of Life breaking up can be made official.
Blake Schwarzenbach writes on his Facebook account: “the name of this band is forgetters. (no “the,” no capital “f.”) we played our first show on August 22nd in Crown Heights. members are: blake (guitar/vocal); caroline (bass/seaweed); kevin (drums).
“Kevin” looks to possibly be Kevin Mahon, the original drummer for Against Me, and “Caroline” fulfills Blake’s standing wish for a female bassist. Here’s hoping that some of the cherished Thorns of Life songs (the Gilman download is here) stay afloat under this new banner, and more importantly, that this band lasts. I’m glad Blake didn’t retreat back into musical hibernation for another six years. For now, though, there’s two burning questions.
1) What’s to become of the master tapes from the Thorns of Life studio recording?
2) Is forgetters a better or worse name than Thorns of Life?
More news as it arrives.
Two weeks ago, I sat at work, writing about Mistah F.A.B.’s terrible new song that blatantly rips off The-Dream’s “I Luv Your Girl.” Then, the phone rang, and my wife, Liz, calmly told me that she needed to go to the hospital. I set the receiver down, and I looked up at my co-workers.
“Well,” I said to them, “I’m having a baby.”
Ten hours or so later, with Liz exceeding all barometers of awesomeness on a medication-free labor, our baby girl, Lena, was born. It was an amazing and very, very happy experience, and when I held her in my arms for the first time, I instinctually began singing to her the first lines that came to mind: “That perfect night, the night we met / There was magic abroad in the air. . .”
And so it began. I am both purposely and inadvertently going to fill Lena’s beautiful little head with more music than it knows what to do with, and I am going to obsess over the impact it’s having or not having on her life. I mean, It’s kind of cool that when she’s grown up, I’ll be able to tell her that “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” was the first song she ever heard, but honestly, is there really any lasting import to the songs I sing to my kid?
Plenty of parents think so—just look at horrendous crapola like the Mozart Effect, or, on a slightly less nauseating scale, the sincere awe in parents’ eyes when they discover that their small children like Blondie, or Nirvana, or Radiohead, or, gee, I dunno, whatever those parents happen to be playing around the house all the time. I drives me crazy. They’re kids! Of course they’re gonna like it!
Really, parents’ perception of what music their babies like and don’t like is 60% projection, 35% happenstance and only 5% authentic reaction. If parents play the Beatles, the kid is gonna like the Beatles. I play Lil’ Wayne, and the kid likes Lil’ Wayne. I can’t delude myself that Lena actually appreciates the melodic or lyrical nuance of “Money on My Mind” or “Weezy Baby”—I’ve been singing a lot of old barbershop songs to her, too, songs like “The Darktown Strutter’s Ball,” “Huggin’ and Chalkin’,” “Hard-Hearted Hannah.” She likes them. I’ve rapped L.L. Cool J verses to her. She likes it. I’ve sang both Peggy Lee and MDC to her, and she likes it.
What can I say? Kids like music and they’re not that discriminating. The best hard evidence of this is that when she’s crying, I can put on John Coltrane’s Ballads and she’ll wash over with bliss, close her sweet little eyes and stay quiet, but I swear to God the same thing happens when I play Coltrane’s late-era, cacophonous Interstellar Space.
But the most exciting thing is playing certain records and knowing they’re hitting fresh ears for the first time. Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um. The Dirty Projectors, Bitte Orca. Jurassic 5, Quality Control. The Cribs, Men’s Needs, Women’s Needs, Whatever. Sam Cooke, Night Beat. Morrissey, Vauxhall and I. A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory, which is the first record I played when we brought her home. Having a baby around the house is like having a close friend who’s never heard every record you love, and getting to experience the magic of them all over again—for the first time.
So thanks to everyone who sent in their good wishes, and thanks to the readers for being patient while I was gone. Thanks also to the dozens of friends who’ve brought us food, helped with building the baby’s room, come over and done the dishes and generally looked out for us. You know who you are; I owe you all chilaquiles.
That said, some things have happened in the last two weeks which bear mention:
1. Rashied Ali, who comprises one-half of the aforementioned Interstellar Space, died in Manhattan at age 74. See a wonderful interview with him here.
2. Les Paul, too. The first Terry Gross interview I ever heard was with Les Paul, and I remember being completely touched by his generosity of spirit. When Gross asked him if it was discouraging, with arthritis, having to adapt to fretting his guitar with only two fingers, he replied with, “What do I do? I just figured out, that if I could do whatever I did then, I just figured out how to do that with two fingers.” (The interview’s here.) For years, he played every week in New York City, and the New Yorker calendar listing always gave him his propers and identified him as “national treasure Les Paul.” Some years ago, the New Yorker calendar editor demoted him to “electric-guitar innovator Les Paul,” which was a tiny little thing that made me sad.
3. This guy, who apparently loves Miles Davis and Nintendo in equal doses, has paid glorious tribute to Kind of Blue by rendering the complete album in 8-bit.
5. I have stopped being irritated that these lists exist, but if you’re looking to get riled up about what other people think, be their guest.
I’ve been working a nonstop string of 12-hour days doing construction on my house lately—building a bedroom for my first baby-to-be—and while nailing, sanding, wiring, sheetrocking, and plumbing, I’ve had lots of music-listening time. Construction work is traditionally affiliated with heavy doses of AC/DC, but because I would rather be placed in a vat full of rancid hamburger juice than listen to AC/DC for any extended period of time past, say, two and a half minutes, I’ve had to make do with less-macho tunes.
Okay, okay, I did listen to Thin Lizzy, but hey, it was their first album, which is meandering, sort of psychedelic, and totally cool. No one would mistake it for AC/DC. Its first song is “The Friendly Ranger at Clontarf Castle,” for cryin’ out loud, which is an anagram for “Defer Thinly a Fragrance Transect Toll.” Bon Scott would never come up with something like that.
Jack DeJohnette, who is the most bendable drummer I have ever seen, released a record earlier this year with Danilo Perez and John Pattitucci, both currently with Wayne Shorter’s group. It’s called Music We Are, and if you would like to hear jazz musicians who predate the Bad Plus by many years sound like the Bad Plus, it is the recording for you. Heavy left-hand pumping on the upbeat, drumming that sounds like egg beaters. Pattitucci, as always, is the Entwistle of jazz—anchored and regal.
It Still Moves is the album that sold me on My Morning Jacket, but Okonokos drained my proverbial bank account—I listened to the entire double live album every day for a complete month, if I recall. It’s always weird going back to the studio recording when you’re accustomed to the live versions, and part of me had been thinking about getting rid of all the My Morning Jacket albums besides Okonokos. Yesterday, while screwing drywall, I realized that would be a foolish maneuver.
Smokey Robinson plays a rather expensive concert this weekend at Robert Mondavi Winery, but I want you to consider how your life would be changed if Smokey Robinson had never been born. Think: No Motown as you know it. No “Ooo Baby Baby” or “Who’s Loving You,” or “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” or “I Second That Emotion,” or . . . ah, I could go on and on. And speaking of live versions that rival studio recordings, check out this footage of “Tracks of My Tears,” proving Smokey Robinson is still in top form. Wait for the bridge, and man, brother, that’s from 2008! Now dry your eyes, and let’s move on.
It is the fate of even the greatest DJ mix CDs to be listened to for a week, absorbed, loved, and discarded. For some reason, I’ve kept Andy Smith’s The Document around for years now, probably because of the presence of both Peggy Lee and the Jeru the Damaja on one mix. Paul Nice’s Soul on the Grill has stayed with me for years, too. Others, like Cut Chemist & DJ Shadow’s Brainfreeze or Z-Trip and Radar’s Future Primitive Soundsession, belong in a mixtape hall of fame of sorts; admired from behind glass, remembered for their achievements, and rarely listened to ever again.
Litany for the Whale has put out Dolores, an album I cannot help but compare to Converge’s Jane Doe. It begins with a couple terrifying minutes of noise courtesy of the Velvet Teen’s Judah Nagler—I think of it as a more ferocious, cracked-out stepsister of “Sartre Ringo,” from Elysium, and makes stronger the case for noise as composition. The rest of the album is like morphine for people raised on hardcore, which is not to say it’s wimpy. Just soothing.
Some nights are Lennon Sisters nights. Others, the Boswell Sisters. Lately I’ve been resting my bones to the McGuire Sisters and their collection Just For Old Times’ Sake. I can do without the honkey education of “The Birth of the Blues,” but give me signature songs by Jimmy Durante, Johnny Mathis, the Platters, April Stevens and Duke Ellington sung by some effervescent gals on a diet of Jesus and yellow corn, and I’m there.
I know nothing about Woods, except that they are unfortunately from Brooklyn. Making the discovery that a good band is from Brooklyn is a lot like discovering a good baseball player is on steroids. Therefore, I wish Woods were from Lexington, especially since they sound far more Kentuckian than Park Slopian. They also bear the distinction of being the first band in some months whose record I bought after hearing them on the radio. It’s messy, untied, and perpetual.
Speaking of the radio, 95.9 KRSH has been getting lots of construction airplay on the job site. I am always thrilled when the KRSH plays things like Spoon or M. Ward, which happens every so often, but even more glad when hear “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” as sung by Hayes Carll. Something about “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” always seemed corny to me, especially when the Ramones covered it. Hayes Carll turns the same words and chords into a completely believable treatise on eternal adolescence. It’s like the song was written just for him. Bill Bowker yesterday also dropped the needle on Jeff Buckley’s version of “I Know It’s Over,” which reminds me of two things: 1) Jeff Buckley is one of the fortunate few who could actually present a necessary Smiths cover, and 2) Bill Bowker has now been on the radio for 40 years. Way to go, Bill!
Also on the ghetto blaster, competing with the nailgun: the Majesticons’ Beauty Party, the Blasters’ Hard Time, The Queen is in the Closet, Los Lobos’ Good Morning Aztlan, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, and quite a few spins of Drum Dance to the Motherland by the Khan Jamal Creative Arts Ensemble.
I’m gonna be a dad here in the next few days, and then I’ll see you again soon.
1. If Beyoncé were placed inside a time capsule and sent into space, aliens would immediately decide to become friends with Earthlings.
2. Every outfit Beyoncé wore last night at the Oracle Arena in Oakland showed off her legs.
3. Three cheers to the cameraman for putting a feverishly hugging gay couple on the jumbotron during “If I Was a Boy.”
4. Beyoncé is like every pop superstar before her wrapped up in one but without the narcissism. “Ave Maria” was pure Streisand, leather beefcake dancers pure Madonna, ever-increasingly noticeable doses of Michael throughout.
5. Beyoncé now has the most touching tribute to Michael Jackson yet. End of the show, during “Halo,” a canned but nonetheless incredibly moving speech about how he showed her the way—preceded by a video of her when she was a child, emulating his moves, and concluded with altered lyrics about his lasting influence. It beats any other token tribute I’ve seen.
6. Mid-show: bass solo, behind the head, to “Billie Jean.” Beyoncé’s band is all-female, a fact she has every right to point out three or four times throughout the show.
7. Sorry, took a break there. Did I mention Beyoncé is our Earth’s ambassador to space?
8. The feminism of Beyoncé is what the Spice Girls always promised but never delivered: the “Be sexy, but own it, be in control of yourselves and support each other” feminism. Snippets of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and Alanis Morisette’s’ “You Oughta Know” proved she knows her Lilith Fair history, but she makes being a strong woman seem way more exciting than the Lilith Fair ever did. (My heart will actually stop if Beyoncé adds “Double Dare Ya” to her set on this tour.)
9. Beyoncé’s brand of feminism also leaves little room for women who don’t look like Beyoncé, so the point might be moot.
10. People-watching prize: the group of middle-aged women wearing matching custom T-shirts, reading “Fun and 50.”
11. I did not text my special message to the jumbotron before the show, but the girl who told the entire arena she was going to lose her virginity after the show definitely did.
12. There’s a go-to look of wonder that Beyoncé splashes across her face at a moment’s notice, like she’s seeing God or something. Most of the time, I believe her.
13. Okay, okay—walking down the aisle, singing directly to her fans. Oh shit, singing directly to a small child! Holding his hand, looking right into his eyes, singing straight to him—and the kid looks bored, like he’s in math class. 20,000 lbs. of envy in the room.
14. The only thing more exciting than “Crazy in Love” is taking a bathroom break and seeing the Giants’ no-hitter up on the lobby screen. SO CONFLICTED.
15. Scratch everything I’ve just said. The most important thing about Beyoncé is that she resurrects the pop music ideal of mass emotional oneness: everyone feeling like everyone else feels exactly the way they do at that precise moment. This is actually her greatest tribute to Michael Jackson, whether she knows it or not. Evidence during last night’s show included a YouTube collage of “Single Ladies” dances (Hey, we all did that!), footage of the Obamas dancing at the Neighborhood Ball, during “At Last” (Hey, we all watched that!) and allowing the entire crowd to sing “Irreplaceable”’s first verse and chorus (Hey, we’re all doing this, right now, here, together!). Michael had that effect in droves across the world; no one besides Beyoncé has had it to such a degree since.
16. (Side note: “Minute” does not rhyme with “minute.”)
17. Those in the $500 front-row “diva zone” seats were deservedly doted upon, with multiple sweat-towels thrown, hands touched repeatedly, and one guy from Hawaii with a sign that said “It’s My Birthday” who got “Happy Birthday” sung to him. We’d joked about the people who paid $500 for seats, but damn.
18. Second stage, in the middle of the floor, about 25’x25’. Crazy-intimate. Everyone standing on chairs, crowding in tight, taking videophone footage, especially during “Video Phone.” Beyoncé crouching down, talking to fans, reaching out, “seeing God” wonder-face in abundance, genuine gratitude, asking people to say her name. People 100 ft. away in “diva zone” bummed.
19. “She’s sexy, but she’s sexy like a man,” says Liz.
20. End of show, after child-serenading, after Michael tribute, after walking through the crowd flanked by security, after outpouring of love in both directions, the phrase “I Am…” flashes on the screen. “I Am.” Surely, “Sasha Fierce.” No? “I Am…” “YOURS.” “I am yours,” Beyoncé says. “I will give you 100% of everything I have.” Unfuckwithable, because even though in reality Beyoncé’s one of the most private celebrities in the world, she’s just created a sociological time-emotion-music-love vortex in Oakland. How is it possible, night after night? With absolutely pitch-perfect, non-lip-synched singing? Is she even from this planet? Someone please explain.