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Don’t Call It A Comeback

I’m the kind of guy who likes to revisit his past. I believe that if I loved something or someone before I probably can again, and possibly always have and will. With that in mind, I post this to mention the possibility of resuming 2bitmonkey after a 2+ year hiatus. Readers, what few of you I had, must have abruptly noticed when after 20 months of blogging I suddenly stopped after a post about punk music in late July 2014. I’d explain why I stopped cold but I’m not sure I can. Things just kind of got away from me as things tend to do. 

The site had evolved over time, with less attention given to long featured essays and more to to shorter reviews. I think I liked the 2012 version better. So some things will stay, others will go … we’ll see. And once again we’ll evolve together. 
The important thing is that I want to write again. I hope you want to read me again. Enjoy!

History of PUNK in Playlist Form

On Monday night I had the pleasure of attending a really fun Brooklyn Brainery class: PUNK! A History: 1967-1982. The class itself (taught by punk enthusiast, Master’s degree candidate, and drummer Sean O’Brien) was about what you would expect from a 90-minute class that purported to cover the entire history of punk (to the extent that you believe that punk ended in 1982, which I emphatically don’t). From the class description: “This class will talk about the origins of Punk Rock, the bands that shaped the movement, the clubs where they played, the people who made an impact on the scene, and what it all means.” That’s a lot of ground to cover in 90 minutes. After all, the punk bible is over 600 pages long and would take even the fastest reader at least 10 Brooklyn-to-Manhattan subway rides to complete. Accordingly, this was a surface level class geared more or less to beginners, kind of like Punk 101. And I like to think that I’m at least ready for Punk 201, especially after this.

As far as Punk 101 goes though, O’Brien’s class was excellent. Because of the thoroughness, I was reminded of several bands that I’ve read about or heard once or twice but never pursued. Suicide, the Dead Boys, and the Slits all fall into that category, and the class put those bands into context for me (e.g., I didn’t know that the Slits were all-girl UK contemporaries of the Clash and the Sex Pistols). Also, O’Brien interspersed music throughout the class, which seems like an obvious thing to do but easily could have been regrettably omitted.

None of that helps you, dear reader. But here’s what does: O’Brien put together a spotify playlist consisting of all of the songs he played during the class (minus the songs he chose to play from Wire and Dead Kennedys, neither of which were on spotify). Consider this a soundtrack to the history of punk.

As a thank you to O’Brien for putting together and sharing this playlist, here’s a shout out to his band, Cuervo Jones.  Like them on Facebook to find out when they are playing next. On their bandcamp you can download their new EP for free.

Shriek of the Week: The Hives, “Hate to Say I Told You So”

Hives-Veni Vidi ViciousWhen the Hives exploded onto the scene with “Hate to Say I Told You So” in 2000, it was obvious from the get-go that they were one of the top bands of the new breed of guitar/garage rock that within a year or two would include the White Stripes, the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and others. The album, Veni Vidi Vicious, was actually the Hives’ second (though I’ve heard them call Barely Legal, their first album, an EP, which would make Veni Vidi Vicious a debut LP) but it wasn’t until “Hate to Say I Told You So” was released as a single at the end of 2000 that the Hives hit it big. That incredible song improbably led to a “best of” compilation (after just 2 LPs at most!), a re-release of the “Hate to Say I Told You So” in the UK on a new label, a re-release of Veni Vidi Vicious in the US on a new label, and finally a $50 million deal with Universal Music, all inside of 2 years. It was that good.

So what happened? After the dust settled from the bands that changed the face of music in 2001-02, how did the Hives get lumped in with the Vines rather than the Strokes? I’ve posted my thoughts on that topic before and so I won’t do it again here, but I will reiterate that dismissing the Hives as a early-2000s relic is a huge mistake. They are the epitome of a great pop-punk band both in their recorded music and their live shows, as even the most critical reviewer admits that the Hives are among the best live acts going.

In any event, whether you choose to believe me or not that the Hives are still as great in 2014 as we all thought they were in 2001, you can’t disagree with the greatness of Hate to Say I Told You So. And if you’re willing to taste their live performance with as little effort required as possible, you can download the audio from their 30-minute 7-song set at on 9/8/2012 at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland during Musicfest NW, courtesy of KEXP, or watch the video from that show below.

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Official Video: Hate to Say I Told You So

The Hives: Live at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, 9/8/2012

Shriek of the Week: Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”

After this month’s installment of LitMonkey, which I posted earlier this week, could my Shriek of the Week have been anything but this song?

Even so, it’s hard to figure out which is the cause and which is the effect: did I read Helter Skelter and Kitty Genovese because I was listening to Psycho Killer? Or is the other way around? I think it must be a coincidence that I suddenly found a really cheap copy of Talking Heads: 77, the bands 1977 debut album, which features this song as its one hit single. (Thank you Hold Fast Asbury Park.) But I bought many other albums that day – this is the one that I can’t seem to take off my turntable for anything else.

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I don’t think I have to sell anyone on the brilliance of Psycho Killer. The lyrics are meant to evoke the thought process of a serial killer, which is particularly menacing coming from the vocals of David Byrne. Tina Weymouth provides “one of the most memorable, driving bass lines in rock & roll” according to AllMusic. This combination makes the song at once both threatening and catchy, a rare combination. It’s both really weird and really pop. In that way, it was a signal for what was to come for Talking Heads over the next decade plus – the kind of music that would be both a critical and commercial success.

It may have been the only hit off of the album, but people in the know knew that Talking Heads would emerge from the CBGB stage and go on to great things. The album wasn’t a huge commercial hit at the time, but it was critically very well received and, from all I’ve read, there was a feeling that Talking Heads were the next big thing. The notoriously tough Village Voice critic Robert Chritstgau gave Talking Heads: 77 an A- grade, saying:

A debut LP will often seem overrefined to habitues of a band’s scene, so it’s not surprising that many CBGBites felt betrayed when bits of this came out sounding like Sparks or Yes. Personally, I was even more put off by lyrics that fleshed out the Heads’ post-Jonathan Richman, so-hip-we’re-straight image; when David Byrne says “don’t worry about the government,” the irony is that he’s not being ironic. But the more I listen the more I believe the Heads set themselves the task of hurdling such limitations, and succeed. Like Sparks, these are spoiled kids, but without the callowness or adolescent misogyny; like Yes, they are wimps, but without vagueness or cheap romanticism. Every tinkling harmony is righted with a screech, every self-help homily contextualized dramatically, so that in the end the record proves not only that the detachment of craft can coexist with a frightening intensity of feeling–something most artists know–but that the most inarticulate rage can be rationalized. Which means they’re punks after all.

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In Rolling Stone, Stephen Demorest was way more effusive, calling the album “an absolute triumph.” Some other quotes from is 1977 review:

“[Talking Heads] are the great Ivy League hope of pop music. I can’t recall when I last heard such a vital, imaginatively tuneful album.”

“David Byrne’s music is refreshing, abundantly varied and fun to listen to. He takes the buoyant, post-Beatles singles format of the Sixties — brisk pacing, great hooks, crisp playing, bright production — and impulsively veers off on unexpected tangents that are challenging without becoming inaccessible.”

“Not only is this a great album, it’s also one of the definitive records of the decade.”

For me, having never really listened to this album before, it’s like 1977 all over again (kind of cool since I hadn’t even been born yet). Despite all of the hits I know so well and the 1980s Talking Heads albums I’ve come to know and love, this debut album has really blown me away more than I thought it would. More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music and Remain in Light – the Brian Eno-produced trilogy – get all the love now (as well they should), but I believe that Talking Heads: 77 should be remembered on par with those four classics.
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Watch a video of Talking Heads performing “Psycho Killer” here:

Reading Bingo Challenge Mid-2014 Update

July seems like the right time for an update to my progress with the Retreat book club Reading Bingo Challenge for 2014. By way of reminder, here’s the 2014 card, courtesy of Retreat (part of Random House Canada) book club:

 

When I last checked my card in April, I had 16 out of 24 squares covered overall (without using any book more than once). Let’s see how many of the eight “open” squares I’ve covered in the three months since:

  1. A book with more than 500 pages? √  The last two books I read were each over 500 pages. Read about them in yesterday’s LitMonkey post.
  2. The first book by a favorite author? √ Wow, 2 for 2 on covering blank squares. I may strain my arm patting myself on the back. The book is Less Than Zero, and the author is Bret Easton Ellis.
  3. A book your friend loves? My friend Garl gave 4 stars to Helter Skelter, and he’s a notoriously tough grader. For Garl, 4 stars is true love. (And since I won’t use any book twice, that means Rip it Up and Start Again is my book with more than 500 pages. Glad I read the UK version.)
  4. A book that scares me? All that true crime and yet no real scares. I have a feeling this is going to be my toughest square to fill. Suggestions welcome.
  5. A book set on a different continent: Sid Vicious: No One is Innocent by Alan Parker.Vicious (and girlfriend Nancy Spungeon) both died in New York City, but 90% of this biography takes place in the UK where Vicious, and the Sex Pistols, were born.
  6. A book based on a true story: Here’s what I wrote in April and in July it still stands: Everything I read is either fact or fiction. None of this “based on” stuff.
  7. The second book in a series: Nope.
  8. A book with a number in the title: There’s Less Than Zero, but I used that above. So instead Ill go with One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak. The loneliest number, but still a number.

Five out of the remaining eight filled, which means that halfway through the year I’m at 21 of 24 overall. Yet I know these three will be hardest. I don’t read series, I don’t do “based on”, and I don’t scare easily. Luckily I have more than enough time to work on it …

 

LitMonkey – July 2014

LitMonkey is a monthly series where I discuss the books I’ve read over the past month in a highly personal way.  It is in no way an exact clone of Nick Hornby’s “Stuff I’ve Been Reading.”  This is the twentieth installment.  Enjoy!

Books I Read:

Books I Purchased:

Books I Borrowed from the Library:

  • “Kitty Genovese”

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June was a month for two things: Murder and early-‘80s (mostly British) music. The 33-1/3 book by Alex Niven fits in because although Oasis is a ‘90s band, they effectively murdered Britpop. For my review of Niven’s book, click here.

If you’ve read LitMonkey over the past year and a half, you’ve probably noticed that I read almost no history books and almost no true crime. So both Kitty Genovese and Helter Skelter are outside my typical wheelhouse. However, each book had something that intrigued me. The Genovese story is famous because of the outrageousness of the generally-accepted fact that 38 people witnessed the murder of the young woman over the course of a half hour’s worth of stabbing, and yet not one acted, even just to call the police. At the time it was considered to be evidence of the decline of morals in society, especially in New York City (Genovese was killed in Queens). Later on, it spurred psychological research into what became known as the “bystander effect,” a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. It’s an amazing story and an even more amazing phenomenon. The fascinating thing about Kevin Cook’s Kitty Genovese is his demonstration that most of the story is myth. The bystander effect is very real and has been proven, and so the Genovese example has survived and been cited in everything from introductory psychology courses to Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller, The Tipping Point. But the truth is that the story, first told by the New York Times, the story which everyone agrees would be a textbook example of this phenomenon, which in fact led to its discovery, was mostly fabricated by the newspaper and perpetuated by an angry populace and later by the psychological community. This got me thinking – if most people believe that the Genovese murder happened this way, and it could have happened this way, and the fact that it was reported to have happened this way led to a social psychological breakthrough, does the truth even matter? Cook’s book is an eye-opening tale of how the media can control a story, even in 1964, but I wonder whether 50 years later the story is all that matters.

Then there is Helter Skelter, Charles Manson, and the murders that not only killed innocent people but also are commonly said to have killed the ‘60s. Helter Skelter is a long book that had been sitting on my shelf for a long time, as I’d been waiting for the right time to commit to the detailed account written by prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi. I could not wait any longer. The more I read about the ‘70s, punk music, and pretty much everything that came after the hippie era, the more I saw that Manson was a blind spot that I needed to address.[1] That’s because before the Manson murders, hippie culture was all about drugs, peace, free love, etc. For most of my life I thought that’s all the ‘60s were about, and it was hard to see why it ever ended. Then, as I read about the punk movement and youth culture in the late ‘70s, I learned that everyone was rebelling against hippie culture, albeit years later. Why would a counterculture movement rebel against their hippie predecessors? Because they saw where it all ended up. Manson, and “the Family”, had turned something that was pure into pure evil. You might think that the Beatles are pretty vanilla when compared to, say, the Sex Pistols, but it was the music of the Fab Four that led to what is likely the most bizarre mass-murder case in American history. It was time for me to understand the inexplicable, by reading Helter Skelter.

Helter Skelter isn’t a book for the faint of heart (or queasy stomach). Bugliosi goes into gory detail about what the Family did, in particular over the two nights of the Tate and LaBianca murders, and what they did was incredibly gory. I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say that this wasn’t simply murder – it was a bloodbath, a slaughter. Moreover, the degree of control that Manson had over his followers, willing to do anything for him, willing to take the death penalty for him, is chilling. Then there is the motive, the idea of “Helter Skelter”, and Manson’s horrific notion (which even some of his detractors couldn’t easily dismiss) that he was Christ. Originally I wondered how so much could have been written about one mass-murder case; eventually, at one point during my reading, I began to realize that there is so much story to tell that 670 pages probably isn’t even enough. Bugliosi does a great job of telling it and is probably the only man who could have done so. As the prosecutor in the case, he had the motivation to dig into a level of detail that not even the world’s best journalist would. And Manson’s reach was so wide and so complete that a substantial number of people could speak to one aspect or another of his personality, his motives, or his relationships. This case is one that shook the nation at the time and is one that is still relevant today – just a few weeks ago one website made news with a hoax article claiming that Manson was released on parole. Kitty Genovese and Helter Skelter are both true crime books, but to my mind they have both entered the realm of popular culture, even if not for the stories themselves but for how they shaped society after. The pop culture enthusiast should not miss either, and especially not Helter Skelter.

Speaking of filling in gaps, in June I wrote a special edition of LitMonkey focused on punk books[2], which I read in part to fill a hole in my knowledge base. I wrote that, “I would classify myself as an ‘80s/’90s indie/alternative music listener. … but I finally started listening to – and learning about – ‘70s punk rock around the start of the current decade. Over the last few years I’ve become a huge fan and a little more educated, but I was still looking for that one text that would be my punk bible, similar to how I feel about Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad’s fantastic account of the 1980’s ‘American Indie Underground.’” Fortunately, I found that punk bible in the form of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. That book began with 1967 (the Velvet Underground and MC5) and ends with 1978, the death of punk.

From there, it only made sense to next read Simon Reynolds’ Rip it Up and Start Again. The subtitle alone – Post Punk 1978-1984 – almost makes it seem like a sequel to Please Kill Me. Meanwhile, Abrams books released a brand new book that I’ve mentioned on the blog a few times before and which I was lucky enough to get a free copy of from the publisher – Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s. I expected Mad World to, for the most part, cover bands I was already all-too-familiar with: Depeche Mode, New Order, and the like. As it turns out, the book is almost exclusively about the period from 1980-1983 (i.e., before new wave could have possibly hit me) and so much of the content of Mad World was brand new to me as well. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rip it Up and Start Again is not the first book I’ve ready by Simon Reynolds. That would be Retromania, which I wrote about here. In reading Retromania I discovered that when Reynolds decides to write a book he develops an encyclopedic knowledge base for the topic of that book and then bestows every last bit of that knowledge to his reader. Rip it Up is more focused than Retromania, which is a good thing because it forces Reynolds to stick to the topic rather than meander into a chapter on hauntology. That said, assuming you – like me – read the longer, UK version of Rip it Up,[3] which comes in at 752 pages in the hardcover version, you will undoubtedly be struck by the volume of information contained in this book, a book about a relatively small slice of music history when all is said and done. Words used by Goodreads reviewers like “thorough” and “exhaustive” really don’t do it justice; Reynolds writes thoughtfully, intelligently, passionately (but not too passionately) and critically about literally hundreds of bands – including many I’ve never heard of – strictly from two genres/eras: 1978-1981 post-punk and 1980-1984 new pop and new rock. Essentially, Reynolds takes the extreme opposite approach than Azerrad in his Our Band Could Be Your Life. Whereas Azerrad depicted an entire decade’s worth of underground music by focusing on 13 carefully selected bands, Reynolds makes sure that that there is nothing left to be said about post-punk and new wave (and if you think there is, you probably weren’t reading closely enough). At 752 pages, is it compelling reading at every turn? Of course not. But if you want to learn about these genres in depth, beyond PiL, Joy Division, Talking Heads and the various other big names featured on the back cover, this is the book to read.

Though I loved it, I understand that not everyone, not even the most ardent post-punk or new wave fans, wants to read a book that could double as an encyclopedia. Enter Mad World, the bathroom book version of Rip it Up. Reynolds’ book is 100% substance; Mad World, by contrast, is all style. It is very stylish though. The photographs are nice, the font and design is eye-catching and pops in an ‘80s sort of way – the book just jumps out at you like the opening theme to Saved by the Bell. The subtitle of this book is almost laughable. Mad World is not anywhere near a definitive oral history of new wave. There is probably more (in terms of content) about this era just in chapter 21 of Rip it Up (“New Gold Dreams 81-82-83-84: The Peak and Fall of New Pop”). Each chapter in Mad World is about one song and one song only; there is sometimes a little detail about other music from the artist, but not always. There is no continuity from chapter to chapter, no overall story told and often only one “speaker” per chapter. In each chapter the speakers are exclusively the band members – no other people from the scene are represented. And if a band missed the book’s cut they get no mention at all, which is especially odd when some obvious new wave bands (e.g., Squeeze) missed the cut while other non-new wave bands (e.g. Joy Division, in a chapter separate from one on New Order) are represented.

Fortunately, there’s room in the world (and on my shelf, and on the book table at Rough Trade NYC) for both kinds of books. Plain and simple, Mad World is fun. If you are a fan of early ‘80s new wave music you will enjoy it. (If not, don’t bother.) Take a stroll down memory lane and hear the thoughts of Simon Le Bon, Phil Oakey, Kim Wilde and countless others of your childhood idols. It’s the guilty pleasure of listening to “Come On Eileen” 30 years later (and yes, there is a chapter on Dexy’s Midnight Runners which claims that they are not one-hit wonders), but in book form. I think even someone as devoted to serious and thorough intellectual analysis as Simon Reynolds would agree.

Next month … I try to avoid reading anything about murder or English music. It’s summer after all!

 

 

[1] Another motivation: Mad Men. The constant comparisons of Megan Draper to Sharon Tate. If there’s any reference on Mad Men that I don’t get, I immediately set out to get it.

[2] One of those books: Sid Vicious: No One is Innocent by Alan Parker, an in-depth account of the life and death of the “face of punk music.” Maybe I have become a little murder-obsessed.

[3] The U.S. version is still long, but substantially shorter than the UK version. The differences are described here, with the key ones being: three chapters are cut and two chapters are compressed into one for reasons of space, the timeline is absent for reason of space, and there are no illustrations in the US edition. Frankly, if you’re bothering to read a book like this, I’m not sure why you’d bother with the shorter one. It’s a long book; bite the bullet or move on.

 

Shriek of the Week: Bruce Springsteen, “Born in the U.S.A.”

Happy 4th of July everyone! This record doesn’t just remind me of the 4th, it’s perfect for the place I find myself almost every year at this time – the Jersey Shore. Too bad it’s raining here right now …

Hope the weather clears up and we can all enjoy a great three-day weekend!

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Concert Review: Beck at Hammerstein Ballroom: June 30, 2014

Oh Beck. You never stop amazing me. The last time you were in New York City (for a Celebrate Brooklyn show at Prospect Park Bandshell last summer) you delighted the crowd with surprise covers like Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”. The “last time [you] performed in New York City proper”, as you referred to Manhattan on Monday night, was way back in 2008 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where you had marionettes take center stage. Now, for the first of two nights of shows in New York City, this one at Hammerstein Ballroom, then last night’s at Central Park Summerstage, you showed that you could put on a traditional rock show and still make it your own in a way that only Beck could.

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With his latest album Morning Phase being a somber one, it’s impossible for an audience to know what to expect when headed out to a Back show. Would we get sad, introspective Beck, playing mostly acoustic numbers? Would we get funny, funky Beck, circa mid-late ’90s? Would we get high-energy, high-speed Beck, circa mid-late 2000s? The answer came from Beck really early in the night, when he declared after the first song (“The Golden Age”), “We’re gonna start it out slow. Then we’re gonna build it up. And we’re possibly gonna get a little rowdy.” We were getting it all, something for every Beck fan, and he absolutely delivered.

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First came slow. After The Golden Age came eight more songs where the most upbeat was the last of the bunch, the pretty downbeat “Blue Moon“. Every one these nine songs were either from Morning Phase or the album to which it is a companion, 2002’s Sea Change. There was very little in the way of visual accompaniment for this portion of the show and very little dancing as well. But it was beautiful, especially when Beck slowed things down to an almost impossible degree on “Waves”. Hearing him croon the word “isolation” with a lone spotlight on him center stage brought up (perhaps not unintentionally) thoughts of Ian Curtis; the performance was simply breathtaking.

After Blue Moon there was a brief pause, denoting that Act II was about to begin. It also gave the audience a chance to give an extra-long applause for Blue Moon, which was an extraordinary, the perfect cap to part 1 of the show. Here’s where Beck lied – he didn’t “build it up.” He exploded. The first song of part 2 was a hellacious rendition of “Devil’s Haircut”. Already a loud and aggressive song, this was what I would call a Nine Inch Nails version. A rapidly flashing red and white digital display – the first real visuals of the night – added to the industrial nature of the song. Beck had gone from 0 to 60 in one song. Fasten your safety belts and keep your hands inside the car at all times.

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“Black Tambourine” and “Soul of a Man” were good follow-ups, popular but not Beck’s biggest hits, yet the right style to keep the momentum from Devil’s Haircut going. The show was then allowed to breathe a little bit as Beck went into his pop mode (Beck’s version of pop still wildly entertaining). A trio of fan favorites were played, starting with “The New Pollution”, then “Loser” followed by “Hell Yes”. Each song was modified from it’s album version to be louder, more guitar heavy, more bass heavy, just more everything. The New Pollution especially was, like Devil’s Haircut, almost an entirely different song in its loudness. The crowd and the band were in full party mode.

It seemed to me that this was a bit of a turning point. Whereas part 1 was beautiful and exquisite, and part 2 to this point had been upbeat and loud by design, Beck and his band (who more than once he said was his favorite band to work with) entered phase 3 in a great mood, ready to go off script. Everyone was having fun up there; you could tell he knew the show was going really well. “Get Real Paid”, which came next, is an odd song, and with the extra-robotic nature of it brought to mind Devo. At the beginning of “Modern Guilt”, Beck laughingly admitted in the middle of the first verse that he forgot the lyrics! “Think I’m in Love” featured a sampling of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. There were jokes about the marijuana smell coming from the crowd and about Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire. And there was dancing. Beck did his thing, the Beck version of dancing like Michael Jackson, while the rest of the band jumped around the stage with some abandon. By the time of main set closer “E-Pro”, where of course every single person in the audience sang along, the concert had become a celebration. The band had jumped and smashed into each other giddily throughout the song, a few mock falling to the ground when it ended. As the lights dimmed further, Beck unspooled a roll of yellow police tape across the length of the stage which read “Crime Scene Do Not Cross.” We’d come a long way from The Golden Age.

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After the break, Beck came back on stage, cut the yellow tape and went into the Midnite Vultures romp “Sexx Laws”. Finally, for the grand finale, he and the band played a very extended version of “Where It’s At” with Sean Lennon (John and Yoko’s son, from opening band The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger) joining them onstage with a “special tambourine.” In the middle of the song Beck began walking around the stage, bantering to the crowd, and then individually introducing the band members (who each got to do a short solo). Upon introducing himself, Beck jokingly said, “I don’t know what to do. I can sing up to 17 octaves.” He jokingly fell short, then put on an impressive vocal display, though again in mock self-deprecation he said “I guess 16 octaves.” Finally, after a short interlude of “One Foot in the Grave”, Beck and co. finished up Where It’s At, took some well-deserved bows and left the stage to loud applause. It was a fantastic show, a great night, and everything you could want or expect from this musical genius.

Y0u can read other reviews from Entertainment Weekly and theNew York Times Music Review. And here are photos by Gretchen Robinette courtesy of Brooklyn Vegan (though unfortunately these high-quality shots all appear to be from part 1 of the show, before the visual effects).

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Set List:

The Golden Age
Blackbird Chain
Lost Cause
Say Goodbye
Country Down
Heart Is A Drum
Waves
Waking Light
Blue Moon

[15 second break to mark end of the first half]

Devil’s Haircut
Black Tambourine
Soul of a Man
The New Pollution
Loser
Hell Yes
Get Real Paid
Modern Guilt
Think I’m In Love
Girl
E-Pro

[encore break]

Sexx Laws
Where It’s At (With band introductions and “One Foot In the Grave” interlude)

Hey Internet – They Might Be Giants Has a Special Gift For You

Just go here and claim it!

The always wonderful, fun and generous They Might Be Giants are sharing for free their entire first (self-titled) album (also known as the “Pink Album”), as recorded over the course of their 2013 tour.

Here’s what they have to say:

THE STORY OF FIRST ALBUM LIVE

These performances were culled from shows on They Might Be Giants’ 2013 world tour.  John Flansburgh and John Linnell are joined by their stellar band — Dan Miller on the guitar, Danny Weinkauf on bass, and Marty Beller on the drums. There is also a guest appearance by the Avatars of They.

THE STORY OF THE PINK ALBUM

They Might Be Giants’ first album, also known as the “pink album” because of the distinctive pink skyline in Rodney Allen Greenblat’s cover illustration,” was a turning point for both the band and the burgeoning world of indie rock.

They Might Be Giants had been performing in downtown NYC clubs and had become a fixture on the East Village scene where performance art and music  flowed together in a vivid late night club scene. In those earlier years, the band was  making recordings for their Dial-A-Song service and their demos were actively passed around town. While the album’s release in late 1986 was met with raves from critics (including the rare “A” rating from the Village Voice’s Robert Christgau), with no major label push or immediate radio interest, it seemed destined to settle comfortably into the Miscellaneous T section within a number of months. All that would change quickly when the band collaborated with video director Adam Bernstein, on a series of original clips that would get serious play on MTV….

TMBG has been releasing free stuff for years, and have consistently been ahead of the curve in Internet offerings. They have had both audio and video podcasts, a YouTube channel, a fan Wiki that they enthusiastically support, and an iPhone app. The Pink Album includes the song “Don’t Lets Start“, still a TMBG favorite. I haven’t listened to the live album yet (just downloaded now) but I’m sure it won’t disappoint. After all, it’s FREE!

Shriek of the Week: Beck, “I Just Started Hating Some People Today”

T-3 days until Beck hits New York City! In honor of those two shows, my Shriek of the Week is a stand-alone single that Beck released before his latest album Morning Phase, called “I Just Started Hating Some People Today“. For anyone who listened to Morning Phase and wished they got a little of the weird, funny, Midnite Vultures-era Beck, instead of brooding Sea Change-era Beck, this song is for you.

Beck-IJustStarted (1)

“I Just Started Hating Some People Today” was put on out on 7″ vinyl through Third Man Records, i.e. the Jack White record label. It features White assisting with some background vocals and he also produced the song. The B-side is called “Blue Randy” and features White on drums. “I Just Started Hating Some People Today” is a really unusual song (which I suppose is usual for Beck), starting out as an old-school country song that suddenly switches up into hardcore punk, until finally ending as a funky jam. Country, punk and funk, with a lot of humor mixed in – Beck in a nutshell.

Beck-IJustStarted (2)

Beck-IJustStarted (3)According to Third Man, the two songs were recorded in 2011 while Beck was in Nashville working on new material for his long awaited next album [my note: long-awaited then, it wouldn’t come out for 3 more years]. The songs spontaneously came together at the Third Man studio on Beck’s final day in town. The release became part of the Blue Series, a series of 7″ records from singers and bands that are traveling through Nashville, who are invited to stop by to record one or two songs at Third Man Studio to be produced by Jack White.  The cover photos are taken in Third Man’s “blue room” photo studio/live venue. Blue Series artists cover a wide spectrum of musicians, including Tom Jones, Insane Clown Posse, Stephen Colbert with the Black Belles, and Jeff the Brotherhood. But no combination is as potent as Beck and White. (There is also a small Green Series with spoken word records.)

Listen to “I Just Started Hating Some People Today” here. 3 days until the shows!

2014 Mid-Year in Music, Part II

Yesterday I posted Part I of my review of others’ mid-year music reviews (pretty meta, no?). It featured a sampling of the Top 25 Songs of 2014 So Far according to Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone and Spin‘s 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far.

As promised, today I’m going to move on from the mainstream music magazines and highlight smaller or less known music sites, starting with:

Music blog Pretty Much Amazing (PMA) which, like Spin, offered up its 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far (just posted yesterday). They also posted their 50 Best Songs of 2014 So Far. This site really is amazing, as despite the fact that they clearly meant this to be a six-month review, it was posted in mid-April! Nevertheless, I have a soft spot in my heart for PMA, as it was one of the first sites I leaned on to bring me up to speed on new music after losing my way for some years in the 2000s. Some highlights from the PMA lists, starting with the top albums (album links are to Spotify streams):

  • 49 Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines. Who know that Tori Amos was still making music? Is the Lilith Fair reorganizing too? (One prominent Lilith Fair artists says no.)
  • 41 Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal. The Brooklyn guitar kings make yet another list. Amen!
  • 31  Speedy Ortiz, Real Hair. This is a band I wish I was paying more attention to. Every time I hear Speedy Ortiz, I like what I hear. They’ve been compared to Dinosaur Jr., Pavement, and Superchunk, among other jangly early ’90s indie rock bands. Time to jump on board.
  • 25 Cloud Nothings, Here And Nowhere Else
  • 20 Future Islands, Singles. Future Islands are the 2014 band that is everywhere you look. In part because of their noteworthy performance on Letterman, in part because there’s always some indie band that captures the nation’s attention (remember .fun?), this is the cool band that your moderately cool friends love. I don’t dislike them for that reason – for example, the same could be said about Phoenix in 2010 and I love them – but I don’t care much for Future Islands.
  • 15 Beck, Morning Phase. 4 more days!
  • 14 Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence. Well this is a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think anyone was on the LDR bandwagon anymore. PMA calls it “a stunning accomplishment,” adding, “Del Rey and the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach (the album’s main producer) complete the logical trajectory laid out by “Video Games,” “Ride,” and “Young and Beautiful” and mercifully ignore everything in between.” As someone who still stands by those songs, I’m tempted to check out Ultraviolence.
  • 9 Perfect Pussy, Say Yes to Love. I didn’t mention yesterday that this album is only 23 minutes long. It’s hard to believe, because PP packs so much into so little time. An incredibly forceful debut that will be hard to follow up.
  • 8 tUnE-yArDs, Nikki Nack. Stop the madness!
  • 2 Sharon Van Etten, Are We There and 1 St. Vincent, St. Vincent. Women rule 2014.

Next up, some highlights from PMA’s 50 Best Songs of 2014 So Far:

  • 50 Dum Dum Girls, “Are You OK?”. Our first mention of the DDGs. I continue to believe that they went in the wrong direction with their latest album (which I talked about here), moving from low-fi to glossy. I hope their next is a return to form.
  • 43 Lykke Li, “No Rest For The Wicked”. Another first mention, and another artists who went in a different direction with her third album. And another whom I previously loved and am now on the fence about. I’m not per se against artists evolving – for example, I love the continued metamorphosis of MGMT – but in the case of both the DDGs and Lykke Li, where once I was a huge fan I am now skeptical of the future.
  • 36 Beck, “Country Down”. This would not have been my first choice off of Morning Phase (that would be “Blue Moon”). In fact, this might be my least favorite of the 12 songs on the album. It just goes to show how strong and diverse the album is overall.
  • 28 Sharon Van Etten, “Every Time The Sun Comes Up” and 10 “Your Love Is Killing Me”. With all the mentions of Van Etten over the past two days, I thought it would be useful to highlight the two songs that PMA put on their list.
  • 17 Caribou, “Can’t Do Without You”. I didn’t know that Caribou had new music out. “Odessa“, off their album Swim, was one of my favorite songs of 2010.
  • 16 Todd Terje, “Johnny and Mary (featuring Bryan Ferry)”. Wait, Brian Ferry? At a minimum it makes you ask, who is Todd Terje?
  • 02 Future Islands, “Seasons (Waiting On You)”. And here is the song that made them everyone’s darlings.

—————————————–

Moving on from PMA, I turn next to NPR, consistently a thoughtful guide to what’s worth listening to in today’s music. One of their many pieces of content is their All Songs Considered podcast, hosted by Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton . On this week’s show, the hosts were joined by NPR Music’s Stephen Thompson to recount their favorite music from the first six months of 2014. You can listen to or download the podcast episode here. In the meantime, here are some highlights from the show:

  • Stephen beats Robin to the punch to claim Perfect Pussy as his favorite new band of the year. He says, “”I was amazed at how much [this record] had grown on me. There’s this incredible ferocity but there’s also layers, textures and surprises that roll in throughout the record.”
  • Stephen names Sylvan Esso’s self-titled album one of his favorites of the year so far, saying “”Nick Sanborn creates these electronic beds for Amelia Meath’s vocals to lie atop. It’s an absolutely intoxicating record.” The song to check out is “Coffee“. Also, see Esso live in concert at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, courtesy of NPR.
  • Boilen’s favorite new artist is a band called The Family Crest, a San Francisco-based seven-piece group. Boilen: “I’m so thrilled about this band. … Liam McCormick is opera-trained, and many of the musicians are classically trained. There’s some jazz musicians as well … really quite a force.” The song to check out is “The World“.

—————————————–

Finally, there’s Stereogum, a site that could hardly be called “under the radar” anymore but is still (in my opinion) the leading indie music taste-maker. They too posted the 50 Best Albums Of 2014 So Far. Highlights:

  • The logo for the “50 Best” was styled to look similar to Pixies’ new album Indie Cindy; that would have made more sense had Indie Cindy made the cut.
  • tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack is all the way down at 47. I find that an encouraging sign that maybe it won’t make some year end lists.
  • Similarly, St. Vincent is at 46, Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There is at 29 and Future Islands’ Singles is at 28. Stereogum is clearly not afraid to stand alone with less-than enthusiastic rankings of these highly acclaimed albums.
  • And then, I see Beck’s Morning Phase at 45. Oh well, you were bound to get one wrong guys!
  • At #38 is the Hold Steady with Teeth Dreams. Doesn’t it seem like the Hold Steady’s time has passed?
  • At #35 … Coldplay with Ghost Stories. Wow. I really didn’t see that coming. Coldplay. Coldplay?! As you can see, words escape me.
  • We have another Perfect Pussy sighting, at #34. These lists are a little strange, aren’t they? How does one compare Coldplay and Perfect Pussy anyway, let alone decide that one is so slightly better than the other.
  • The best cover art on this list? Duck Sauce on their album Quack (#31). Meanwhile, cover art that most accurately depicts how I often feel – Wye Oak on their album Shriek(#21).
  • Two of my favorites are here again: Parquet Courts (25) and Cloud Nothings (23).
  • Lana Del Rey shocking me again as Ultraviolence is at #15. I was willing to write off the PMA ranking as a fluke but now I’m determined to get a copy of this record. Surprises like this are why I like doing these kinds of exercises.
  • The biggest surprise though is that nothing after #15 grabbed me. It was the usual assortment of albums that I’ve seen on these lists for two days now, the new ones from Swans, Sun Kil Moon, The War on DrugsAgainst Me!, and Real Estate. I’m sure these are all very solid albums, but I have a feeling they are more likely than not flavors of the moment rather than lasting pieces of art. I don’t see a future where I listen to the 2014 The War on Drugs album (even if it is at #3), while I think I’ll be listening to Morning Phase, Sunbathing Animal, and maybe even Ultraviolence for years to come. Time will tell. Which is why I always make my lists three years after the year in question. With that in mind, if you’d like to read my Best of 2010, go ahead! I’ll be listening to Lana Del Rey apparently.

2014 Mid-Year in Music, Part I

As the year reaches its halfway point, people and sites from all corners of the Internet have been posting their “Top 10/25/50 Songs/Albums/Whatever of 2014 … So Far.”  The people just love their lists. I could do the same, but I’ve never been one to give instant reactions. There’s just too much I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet, and even what I have listened to I still need months or possibly even years to absorb and reflect. Instead, I’ve decided to scour the web for sources I trust and highlight some of their picks, so you don’t have to.

First up: Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone and author of several entertaining music books gives us his Top 25 Songs of 2014 So Far. Some highlights:

  • At #1, my beloved Parquet Courts, with the song “Raw Milk”. I’m going to quote almost all of what Sheffield says here because I need the word the get out on this band:

All I was hoping was that these Brooklyn guitar twits would knock off the exact same album they made last time. Was that so much to ask? But Parquet Courts had different plans – Sunbathing Animal is so confident, so devious, so funny, so expansive, so loaded with surprises, so smart in places where you’d settle for clever. (And not a single track that sounds like Pavement. Crazy!) “Raw Milk” is their shaggiest guitar buzz: Andrew Savage and Austin Brown serenade the kind of girl who invades your soul and invites all her drunk dogwalker friends to crash in your room but you don’t mind because she’s there. (And then she leaves.)

  • And then all the way down at #25 (but amazingly still making lists like these) is Morrissey with “Oboe Concerto”. Sheffield: “‘Oboe Concerto,’ the show-stopper ballad from his new album, is the saddest, heaviest, realest song he’s recorded in a decade, as Morrissey raises a glass to mourn his absent friends.”
  • In between, here are a few songs that intrigue me and could make my own year-end list: Sharon Van Etten, “Your Love Is Killing Me” (#3); Perfect Pussy, “Interference Fits” (#5); Cloud Nothings, “I’m Not Part of Me” (#13); The Old 97s, “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” (#18); Tacocat, “Crimson Wave” (#22).

Next, in a bit of ridiculousness, Spin presents The 50 Best Albums of 2014 So Far. 50!! In other words two albums per week make this list. Lightweights need not apply. At least they weren’t audacious enough to try to put them in order; the top 50 are listed alphabetically. Some highlights:

  • Beck – Morning Phase Here’s what I wrote about Morning Phase when the album came out back in February. Since then, the more times I listen to it the more I fall in love with this record. Next week, Beck comes to NYC for two nights of shows!
  • Cloud Nothings – Here and Nowhere ElseSPIN‘s Claire Lobenfeld says: “Cloud Nothings take the best bits from their previous tutelage under alt-god producer Steve Albini, apply them to lo-fi pop-punk structures and infuse all of it with tightly wound angst.” Given how much I liked their 2012 album Attack On Memory, I’m excited to eventually get my hands on this one.
  • Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas – The Australian singer is the breakthrough indie star of 2014 thus far, and for good reason. Listen to “Avant Gardner“, the hit single off of this double EP, and you’ll immediately hear why.
  • The Men – Tomorrow’s Hits – Four albums in four years yet this Brooklyn band changes its sound more often than some people change … well, you get the idea. SPIN’s J.Y. calls this album a “sweltering orgy of noise.” That’s not exactly what I was hoping for from the band I once wrote about gushingly, but I still plan to check this record out in due time.
  • Perfect Pussy – Say Yes to Love – A very good debut album (I picked it up at the Captured Tracks shop), worth owning for the cover design alone.
  • Sharon Van Etten – Are We There – I like Van Etten, but her music doesn’t move me quite the way Courtney Barnett’s does. In the battle of up and coming indie vocalists, Van Etten has the lead but not my vote. To be fair, I haven’t heard Are We There yet. Yet I’m not rushing to.
  • tUnE-yArDs – Nikki Nack – I mention tUnE-yArDs only to point out an artist and album that is inevitably going to make all kinds of year end lists, yet I don’t get at all. Not only did I dislike their debut album, w h o k i l l, I couldn’t fathom what everyone sees in them. I’ve heard one song from Nikki Nack and the story remains the same. I’m open to explanations if anyone has one.

That’s it for today and for the mainstream music magazines. Coming up … part 2, where I’ll try and feature smaller or less known music sites.

Shriek of the Week: Alice Cooper, “School’s Out”

For all my younger readers out there, can there be any more appropriate Shriek of this Week than “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper? In addition to the purely liberating sound of this song – a true classic even for non-classic rock or metal fans, for anyone who has ever gone to school (i.e. everyone) – the album of the same is a classic piece of art as well. The sleeve is made to look like a school desk and opened up like one, and very early pressings had the record inside wrapped in a pair of girl’s panties. You can’t make this stuff up.

schoolsout (1)

Cooper once said this about writing this song:

If you can capture the two happiest moments in a year, what would they be? Christmas morning, when you’re getting ready to open all the presents, because of the anticipation, and the last day of school,” he says. “I said if you can capture on the last day of school the last three minutes while that clock is … 2:57, 2:58, 2:59, 3 o’clock and school is out for three months. If you can get those three minutes on tape and write a song about it you’ll have a hit record, and that’s basically what we did.

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For those of you who got to enjoy that moment sometime in the past week … Shriek!

schoolsout (3)

schoolsout (4)

 

Concert Review: The National at Prospect Park Bandshell: June 18, 2014

Yesterday I posted about the National’s first of three nights at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell, putting up a bunch of photos from the show, since I was lucky enough to be very close to the stage. On night 2 I wasn’t as close, but still had a great time as I moved from the left to the right and took in the concert from a bunch of different vantage points. One thing I learned: Once you get past the very front, the crowd at Prospect Park isn’t very engaged with the show itself. There is a lot of talking during the songs, little dancing … it feels a lot more like friends hanging out with the National playing in the background than a full concert experience. It’s not my preference but as long as people are having a good time I suppose it’s OK.

Like yesterday, I’m going to post the setlist with a photo for each song. I’ve tried to capture sights and angles that I didn’t show yesterday, which you’ll see in some of these pics. And if you’re looking for more that just pics, my thoughts on the National’s live performances and spectacular catalog of songs can be found here.

Just before I get to that, one thing I love about the National that I learned from their six night stint at the Beacon Theater in December 2011 – they change up their sets night to night so that people attending multiple shows have a different experience. About half of the songs played last night were different from the night before. Very few bands mix things up that much. I’m almost persuaded to go to night three! Anyway, without further ado, the setlist and pics:

Don’t Swallow the Cap

NationalPP618_stage

I Should Live in Salt

Matt claimed that the band would be riding their bikes home after the show

Matt claimed that the band would be riding their bikes home after the show

Mistaken for Strangers

Matt dedicated this one to his brother, "who isn't here tonight"

Matt dedicated this one to his brother, “who isn’t here tonight”

Bloodbuzz Ohio

NationalPP618_bloodbuzz2

Sea of Love

It was really hot both nights. Maybe that's why the crowd was a little subdued

It was really hot both nights. Maybe that’s why the crowd was a little subdued

All the Wine

The Dessner twins dedicated this one to their sister

The Dessner twins dedicated this one to their sister

Daughters of the Soho Riots

NationalPP618_soho

Afraid of Everyone

NationalPP618_afraidofeveryone

Squalor Victoria

NationalPP618_squalor

I Need My Girl

Don't way to pay for the show? You could hang out on the nearby lawn and listen for free

Don’t want to pay for the show? Hang out on the nearby lawn and listen for free

This is the Last Time

NationalPP618_TreesCrowdLastTime

Baby We’ll Be Fine

Merch!

Merch!

Lit Up

Apartment Story

Sorrow

See what I did there? (Click the link)

See what I did there? (Click the link)

Pink Rabbits

England

NationalPP618_England

Graceless

NationalPP618_Graceless

Fake Empire

NationalPP618_FakeEmpire

[encore break]

[The encore is, sadly, when my phone died, so no photos of Matt running through the crowd during Mr. November (getting beat up and bloodied), standing on the front railing during Terrible Love, and once again singing Vanderlyle folk-style with the band. But I promise it all happened!]

Exile Vilify

Mr. November

Terrible Love

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

Concert Review: The National at Prospect Park Bandshell: June 17, 2014

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote about the National’s show at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, saying that they “put on an arena-worthy show that was so good – so perfect in every way – that to describe it would not do it justice. Perhaps I love this band too much to do a fair recounting of the show.” One year later and nothing has changed. The National are simply my favorite band going today by a country mile, and once again they put on a 2-hour 24-song extravaganza. Every one of their last four albums were incredible and their live shows are even better. So once again, rather than review the show with endless platitudes, I’m gong to post the setlist with a photo taken during each song. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, right? Then here’s 25,000 words on the National’s first of three nights at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Bandshell. (As you will see, I was very close to the stage, on the left-hand side when facing it.)

Don’t Swallow the Cap

NationalPP_Cap

I Should Live in Salt

NationalPP_Salt

Geese of Beverly Road

"This song was written over there (pointing out into the park), just a stone's throw away"

“This song was written over there (pointing out into the park), just a stone’s throw away”

Bloodbuzz Ohio

NationalPP_BloodBuzz

Demons

NationalPP_Demons

Sea of Love

NationalPP_SeaofLove

Hard to Find

NationalPP_HardtoFind

Afraid of Everyone

NationalPP_Afraid

Conversation 16

NationalPP_Conv16

Squalor Victoria

NationalPP_Squalor

I Need My Girl

NationalPP_INeedMyGirl

This is the Last Time

NationalPP_LastTime

Green Gloves

"I sound like the guy from the Men's Warehouse. 'This song is called Green Gloves. You're gonna like the way it makes you feel depressed.'"

“I sound like the guy from the Men’s Warehouse. ‘This song is called Green Gloves. You’re gonna like the way it makes you feel depressed.'”

Abel

NationalPP_Abel

Slow Show

NationalPP_SlowShow1NationalPP_SlowShow2

Pink Rabbits

NationalPP_PinkRabbits

England

NationalPP_England

Graceless

NationalPP_Graceless

About Today

NationalPP_AboutToday

Fake Empire

NationalPP_FakeEmpire

[encore break]

Santa Clara

NationalPP_SantaClara

Mr. November

NationalPP_MrNov

Terrible Love

NationalPP_TerribleLove

Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks

NationalPP_Vanderlyle

Update: If you missed the show (or even if you didn’t) you can listen to the entire thing here, courtesy of WFUV (90.7 FM), Fordham University Radio.

Concert Review: Parquet Courts @ Sugarhill Supper Club, June 11, 2014

Last Wednesday night Brooklyn-based band Parquet Courts (the last great New York band?) made their triumphant return to the borough when they headlined a show at a most unusual venue –  the Sugarhill Supper Club in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn. In addition to this being a homecoming, it was also a chance for the band to show off some new music, as their second-full length album, Sunbathing Animal, was released last week. For a band that can seemingly do no wrong, why they picked the Sugarhill Supper Club – or Bed-Stuy at all – when there are so many great venues in Brooklyn is a bit of a mystery. Still, Parquet Courts overcame the conditions and put on a fantastic show.

Outdoors at the Sugarhill Supper Club

Outdoors at the Sugarhill Supper Club

Unfortunately I missed the three support acts, Protomartyr, Future Punx, and Xerox, before Parquet Courts took the stage near 11pm; they must have been good sets, because by the time I arrived the concert area of Sugarhill was hot and sweaty. It was nearly impossible to see the band from my vantage point (about halfway back) but I could hear the excitement in the crowd as PQ took the small stage. The band opened up with a heavy dose of songs off of Sunbathing, sort of easing the crowd in before hitting the better-known debut album, Light Up Gold. About halfway through the show they played the opening two tracks on that album – “Master of My Craft” and “Borrowed Time”, which really work as a medley – whereupon the hot and eager crowd took it up a notch. Not surprisingly, moshing was rampant and stage diving began. Security appeared overwhelmed (how many punk rock shows can Sugarhill have ever hosted?) as two large men joined the band on the already-cramped stage. Fortunately the crowd calmed down just enough for the show to plow on through on, though crowd surfers hit a couple of chandeliers and knocked a drop-ceiling off its grooves (pic below).

Security takes the stage

Security takes the stage

Ceiling falling, chandelier swaying

Ceiling falling, chandelier swaying

Everyone who hears Parquet Courts feels the need to compare them to indie rock bands from the ’80s and early ’90s, as if trying to say that this is the band carrying the garage-rock torch. For example, Rolling Stone once said, “The Brooklyn-via-Texas band makes near-perfect post-college rock, merging sharp, twitchy post-punk (Wire, The Fall, Gang of Four, The Feelies) and sweet, slovenly early-Nineties indie rock (Pavement, Sebadoh), while nailing all the right 24-or-so themes.” Even though they completely rocked Sugarhill, the poor acoustics and cramped conditions reduced Parquet Courts somewhat to a more traditional punk band, with a lot of the detailed nuance in their music lost. They did not play “He’s Seein Paths”, from EP Tally All the Things That You Broke, a song far removed from their sometimes-punk sound, because they couldn’t even if they’d wanted to. I once wrote about that song “the band shows the full range of its musical ideas. We’ve gone from rock to punk to college rock to … something entirely unexpected from the guitar rock band. The best way to describe the song, which comes in at a staggering long 7:38, is to say that if I didn’t know what artist it belonged to I would think that it was a Beck song. (The Beck sound was immediately apparent to me on the very first listen, but it feels good to know that both NME and Aquarium Drunkard agree.)” That’s the massive downside to trying to out-hipster the hipster audience by choosing this kind of offbeat venue – there’s a reason the other venues are more popular. I wish I could have seen Parquet Courts in all their glory in a place like Music Hall of Williamsburg.

With that in mind, the band still reminded me of their indie forefathers, just instead of Gang of Four or Pavement it was a much rougher, louder, more explosive sound. Perhaps the best comparison I can make is early-era Replacements. It wasn’t what I expected from a Parquet Courts show, but on the other hand that’s some pretty high praise. By the time guitarist and co-vocalist Andrew Brown started playing his guitar with a bottle of beer, the show was a jam session of mayhem. Perhaps that’s the explanation for them leaving their most popular song, “Stoned and Starving“, off the set list. Had they played it, the Sugarhill Supper Club may actually have come falling down.

 

Brown plays using beer bottle as a pick

Brown plays using beer bottle as a pick

 

There isn’t much more to say about this show. I hope I never have to go to Sugarhill again (though I kind of wish I tried the food station) and I really hope to see Parquet Courts play a more traditional club venue. They’re such a good band – probably my favorite new band to emerge over the past two years – they deserve better than this. Their fans do too.

Food station at Sugarhill

Food station at Sugarhill

Shriek of the Week: Deee-Lite, “Groove Is in the Heart”

1,2,3, blooooooooo!

Back in the late ’80s and very early ’90s – not exactly a great time for music – what passed for popular music often consisted of cheesy, quirky house, hip-hop or dance music. This was the era of Vanilla Ice, the Humpty Dance, C+C Music Factory, Tone Loc, Wiggle It … you get the point. (And if you’re too young to remember those artists and songs, click on some of those links. You will not be disappointed. 1990 was hilarious.) Among this shockingly dated material lives one song that appeared at the time to be just another “Everybody Dance Now!” but has survived the test of time to stand as a genuinely great dance song nearly 25 years later. I present to you Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is in the Heart“.

Groove1

Listen to Groove Is in the Heart and there are some things I promise you will do: Dance. Sing. Laugh. Smile. This song is the embodiment of joy. It’s a legitimately great song, a mix of disco and funk and hip-hop and sampling that just plain works. It rocketed up the charts and was a staple of clubs in 1990 and I only wish that it was still as ubiquitous today (not that I’ve been to a dance club in a long time!).

Groove2

I picked up the 12″ single when I stumbled upon it about six months ago and immediately threw it on my turntable. As you can see in the photo below, this single contains three remixes of the song, with names like Peanut Butter Radio Mix and Jelly Jam Beats.

Groove3

Watch the crazy psychedelic video below. See if you aren’t singing these wild lyrics before you’re through. Dig!

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Deee-Lite – Groove Is in the Heart – official music video

LitMonkey Special Review: “Oasis’ Definitely Maybe” by Alex Niven

The phenomenon of bands doing anniversary shows, where they play entire albums start to finish 10, 20, 25, or 40 years after the albums release, is not new but it seems to have reached an all-time high in 2014. Part of this is probably the nostalgia machine doing what it does best – getting the teens of yesterday to spend money today, and the teens of today wistful for a time they just barely missed – but I also believe that it’s because 1994 is one of the all-time greatest calendar years that music has ever seen. Nathan Rabin, contributing to the semi-regular A.V. Club series “My Favorite Music Year” agrees, writing about how “back when I was 18 [in 1994], music seemed to matter in a way it didn’t before and hasn’t since.” I am two years younger than Rabin, but I agree with every word he says when he writes:

Maybe it was the pummeling intensity of adolescence and the way it makes everything, even the very trivial, seem like a matter of life and death. Or maybe it was just that we had so little money, so few resources, and such meager access to music, especially new music, that we treasured each cassette in a way that would be imaginable today. At 18, the idea that one day I would have a little portable computer that could hold 10,000 songs at a time would have blown my mind.

It’s not just those of us who reached their critical musical age in 1994 who feel this way though. Buzzfeed asked the question at the very end of 2013 – “Was 1994 actually the best year for music ever?” (Their answer: “Probably, yeah”) – and then went on to post a list of 36 albums that turn 20 this year. This being Buzzfeed, not all that they cite are all time greats (Ace of Base!), but, in a year when a record breaking eight alt-rock albums topped Billboard, I think it’s safe to say that 1994 was – at least for rock music fans – one of the greatest years of all time.[1] I look back at 1994 today and the bands that come to mind as representative of the era all put out monumental albums that year. I can’t even imagine records of this magnitude and lasting importance all coming out in the same year nowadays: Weezer, Weezer (Blue Album); Beck, Mellow Gold; Nine Inch Nails, The Downward Spiral; Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York;Soundgarden, Superunknown; Pearl Jam, Vitalogy; Green Day, Dookie; Stone Temple Pilots, Purple; Sunny Day Real Estate, Diary; Hole, Live Through This; Liz Phair, Whip Smart; R.E.M., Monster; Ween, Chocolate and Cheese.

A few of those albums would make my “desert island” list, but if I’m being honest I’d have to admit that if you’d asked me sometime in early in 1995 to make my year-end list, none of those would have been on top as my favorite album of 1994. My favorite album actually came from a different corner of the world, musically and geographically– Britpop. Standing atop all of the alt-rock albums listed above, not to mention other classic 1994 Britpop albums from Blur (Parklife) and Suede (Dog Man Star) was Oasis’ debut album, Definitely Maybe. The legacy of Definitely Maybe has been tarnished beyond repair by the mess that Oasis has left in its wake in the 20 years since. Ask someone about that album now and they will either tell you that (1) it was a good but not great album[2], or (2) Oasis is terrible other than a few songs (which probably come from their second album, (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?).[3] The people in category (2) are late music adopters. They aren’t wrong that (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? has a few really good songs on it, but those people aren’t the ones who would have been listening to a new UK band’s revolutionary debut album, nor are they the ones likely reading any books in the 33-1/3 series. 33-1/3 readers are early adopters of new music and trends, careful and critical listeners, and often knowledgeable music historians – in a phrase, music nerds. And yet I suspect nearly all of these music aficionados would fall into category (1), describing Definitely Maybe as a good but not great album, failing to realize that in 1994 NME made it its Album of the Year. Even someone like me – who lived and breathed Oasis in late 1994-early 1995, who thought “Live Forever” was the single greatest song ever written, who was one of the first in the U.S. to see Oasis live when they played somewhere in New York City in ’94[4] – sometimes fails to remember how special this album was, like here, when I ranked it 8th (below Pearl Jam’s Ten) in my list of my favorite debut albums of all time (where the debut album is also the artist’s best album).

That’s all a really long introduction to Alex Niven’s 33-1/3 book, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe. Niven’s book contains answers to all of the questions you may be asking after reading that introduction: Is Definitely Maybe really a great album? What sets it apart from other Britpop and other rock or pop albums from the era (like those on the list above)? Why do we denigrate this album based on everything that Oasis did in its aftermath? And how did a band that was the biggest thing to come out of the UK since the Beatles produce nothing but sh*t after 1995, even though they (somewhat) stuck together, released many more albums and never once changed their sound?

Niven deftly answers each of these questions while examining Definitely Maybe both as a complete product and on a song-by-song basis. Lyrically, sonically, socio-politically, emotionally, Definitely Maybe has everything that makes up a great album. Niven details how Noel Gallagher’s seemingly simple lyrics (sung by his brother Liam) stand alone as representative of the feeling of the time, a strange mixture of hopelessness and optimism, a sense that the odds were stacked against you and you’d probably lose, but maybe, just maybe …. He shows how Definitely Maybe is not a collection of singles but thematic, with recurring references to the four elements: earth, water, fire, and air. Those elements, which are almost spiritual in nature, are set against the base aspects of real life that the bandmates and their brethren face every day – lives full of cigarettes and alcohol, gin and tonic, even Mr. Clean and Alka Seltzer. Noel is prone to a lyric like this, from the classic “Supersonic”:

Can I ride with you in your BMW?
You can sail with me in my yellow submarine

But that throwaway line (which no one ever forgets) is just an appetizer to get to the meat, the chorus, the brilliant section that is this:

‘Cause my friend said he’d take you home
He sits in a corner all alone
He lives under a waterfall
Nobody can see him
Nobody can ever hear him call

I’d never really thought about how terrific Oasis’ lyrics generally are, having more or less bought into conventional wisdom (as noted by Niven, quoting Q Magazine critic David Cavanagh) that Noel’s lyrics “scan; they fill a hole; end of story. They say nothing much about anything.” Niven will grant you that about “the nonsense rhymes of ‘Supersonic’” but he doesn’t end the analysis there:

The vast majority of pop lyrics are nonsensical, trite and embarrassingly basic. … Definitely Maybe is a great album – a great lyrical album – in part because it disregards pseudo-literary language and narrative vignettes in favour of the socio-political slogan and the instantaneous fragment. As working-class artists, Oasis succeeded in saying urgent, articulate things about British culture, but they used very different means of expression from the art-school vocabulary and sub-Philip Larkin sixth-form poetry of contemporaries like Suede and Blur. Though they have the potential to be just as meaningful, pop lyrics are not poetry. To dismiss Oasis’s lyric writing as sub-standard is, at best, to misread the true nature of pop, and, at worst, to be guilty of the sort of unconscious class prejudice that cloaks an aversion to working-class art beneath criticisms of grammar and accusations of intellectual weakness.

Niven spends the next two pages dissecting the chorus to “Supersonic”, discussing its rise from a high F# to a lower one, a comparison of their sound to the Smiths, a nod to the guitar riff near the end of the chorus, and finally the lyrics, hearkening again to an element (water) juxtaposed against the harshness of the situation (being alone and unseen, unheard).

This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Niven proving, definitively, that Definitely Maybe is better than you remember it. That it’s great. As mentioned earlier, he looks at the album from all angles – sonically (Liam’s voice, the complex yet punk-style instrumentation, the sheer loudness of it), sociopolitically (post-Thatcher, pre-Blair UK), and emotionally (broken, but not beyond repair).

Meanwhile, what sets it apart from other Britpop and other rock or pop albums from the era? Definitely Maybe was the album that bridged different aspects of the musical landscape in the early-mid ‘90s like no other. At the time of Definitely Maybe, Oasis was worthy of being unironically called the “Sex Beatles”, a reference to their being a cross between the Fab Four and the Sex Pistols; is there another band that could bridge those two famous and infamous groups? Niven illustrates the ways in which Definitely Maybe is actually a mixture of grunge (specifically Nirvana’s Nevermind) and shoegaze (especially My Bloody Valentine and Verve). And while the early-‘90s bands were bleak (Niven calls Kurt Cobain a “nihilist capable of writing surpassingly awful lyrics about licking open sores and eating cancer”) and the post-’95 bands were all sunshine and semi-charmed lives (none more so than Oasis themselves), Niven points out over and over again through examination of both the lyrics and the music that Definitely Maybe is a constant battle of hope against hopelessness, the rare album that is both bleak and hopeful at once, much like 1994 was overall. For example, Niven explains, “Perhaps Oasis’s greatest single achievement, ‘Live Forever’ is a song that embodies nineties feelings of limitlessness and generality in a way that is both musically thrilling and philosophically moving. Definitely Maybe might be an album that often sounds oceanic, but ‘Live Forever’ takes oceanic feeling and fashions a profoundly meaningful message out of it.” This is what 1994 was in a nutshell –limitlessness and generality. It’s hard to communicate both feelings at once, but, as Niven shows, Definitely Maybe – and especially Live Forever – does just that. Neither the Blur “Life” trilogy or any grunge or alternative album that came before or after captures that quite as well.

Assuming he’s convinced you that Definitely Maybe is, in fact, great, then why do we denigrate this album based on everything that Oasis did in its aftermath? If “[o]ver a two-year period, from the release of their debut single ‘Supersonic’ in the spring of 1994 to their gargantuan Knebworth gigs in the summer of 1996, Oasis became more culturally central than any band in post-war Britain, with the obvious exception of their role models, The Beatles”, why do we so easily forget that any of this ever happened? Naturally, one tends to lump all of an artists work together, and later failures inevitably affect our memory of early successes to some degree. But not typically to the extent that it has with Oasis. The closest comparison I can come up with is the Strokes – after a game-changing debut album that was considered the rebirth of guitar rock and the New York City music scene, their next two albums were generally considered uneven and their two post-hiatus albums were mostly critically panned (though I stand by my soft spot for Angles). Nevertheless, no one questions or misremembers the greatness of Is This It?

Unfortunately, this is an area where the author could have gone a little deeper, rather than simply stating over and over what we all already know – everything that Oasis did post-Morning Glory is just plain awful, a “travesty of popular art” as he puts it. If you read between the lines though, you can infer from Niven why we treat Definitely Maybe differently than, say, Is This It? The problem is that on its surface, Definitely Maybe sounds a lot like later Oasis music. A prime example of this is the lead track, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Niven writes:

Even more impressive is [Liam’s] searing, abrasive vocal, which manages to distil both the fierce idealism of Oasis’s ambitions and the pain of the environment that had engendered that idealism in the first place. On the words of critic Tom Ewing, Liam Gallagher’s early vocals wear ‘a tear in the fabric of pop.’ In later years, Liam’s absurdly elongated diphthongs would become a cliché. But the way he sings about ‘sun-shee-yine’ here – like a word slicing though a lake – brings out the wild hopefulness of what the band were trying to achieve.

To the untrained ear, after Definitely Maybe nothing changed. In reality, they became a parody of themselves. Liam could forever sing about “sun-shee-yine,” but it worked in 1994 in a way it never would again. That’s because you can sing about dreaming of being a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star before you become one, but not after you become the biggest band in the world. “When it was written, Oasis were not rock ‘n’ roll stars but losers in a failing city. Take Manchester out of the equation and it becomes an empty song, a song that Liam Gallagher would continue to sing some for 15 years after he actually became a rock ‘n’ roll star.” Seen in that light, Definitely Maybe no longer sounds hopeful, idealistic or revolutionary. It sounds bloated. Because the music is similar-sounding, and Oasis has come to stand for something in 2014 that it didn’t in 1994, it’s hard to remember that Definitely Maybe onceactually had meaning.

How did Oasis get from there to here? By all accounts – including Niven’s – the answer is Noel Gallagher. In 1991, Noel was the last member of the original five-man band to be added to Oasis, “but it was only after the addition of [Noel] that the band became a serious project. After watching Oasis play their first gig in August of that year, Noel agreed to join the band, and soon became lead guitarist, principal songwriter and ostensible leader.” There can be no debate about this – the brilliance and determination of Noel Gallagher made Oasis great. But in the beginning, if Noel wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star he had to do the dirty work, fighting his way from the ground up, which meant relying on the limited means at his disposal, including his band-mates. Niven explains when talking about “Shakermaker”, a song that succeeds because it is “the sound of apparent no-hopers suddenly discovering that they can create a magic formula out of limited means and rudimentary materials”:

This core of primitivism was the secret of Oasis’s early sound. Before string sections and prog-rock instrumentals became a stock feature of Noel Gallagher’s arrangements, Oasis derived a maximum of power from a bare minimum of musical elements. Without the massed financial backing he would acquire in later years, which meant that Oasis effectively became a band of session musicians, of Definitely Maybe Gallagher was forced to rely on the skills of the people around him – Bonehead’s [guitarist Paul Arthur] concrete barre chords, Guigsy’s [bassist Paul McGuigan] root-note bass parts, his brother’s rapturous punk howl.

Not unexpectedly, the rush of immediate success and money got to Noel’s head. Niven doesn’t talk at all about the many tabloid escapades of the brothers of the notorious rivalry between the two. He notes that that’s been covered elsewhere, everywhere. Anyway, boys being lads doesn’t necessarily limit their musical potential. But money (and the politics of being rich) did destroy Oasis. Noel quickly forgot what enabled him to make Oasis great, first firing drummer Tony McCarroll in 1995, the “hero” of Definitely Maybe according to Niven. Replacing McCarroll with session musician Alan White “was a serious misjudgment of what made Oasis such a worthwhile proposition in the first place. McCarroll’s drumming on Definitely Maybe is rudimentary, but then so too, in the best possible sense, is the songwriting, and so are the arrangements. … After McCarroll’s sacking, Oasis’s sound would lose this rhythmic backbone and become increasingly shapeless and over-refined. More importantly, McCarroll’s departure from Oasis marked the moment that they effectively ceased to be a Manchester band. ” Niven goes on to explain how being rich, and the social status that came with it, destroyed Oasis’ “orientation”, such that they became a hollow, bloated, stadium-rock band. Where once they were a quintessential anti-Thatcher outfit (even if they came after her reign), they had become a band famous for their association with right-winger Tony Blair. In 1999 Bonehead and Guigsy left Oasis as well, leaving the Gallagher brothers to put out albums that sounded like – but weren’t quite – Oasis albums. Expensive facsimiles of Definitely Maybe.

I’ve often said that the goal of a 33-1/3 book is to get the reader to enjoy and appreciate the album more after reading the book. Niven agrees, as from the first paragraph he makes clear that this is what he set out to do. By this measure, Oasis’ Definitely Maybe (the book) is a wild success. Unlike other entries in the series, this isn’t a case of finding new meaning in the album; this is a case of re-discovering what we once loved. If I have one quibble it’s in Niven’s failure to go beyond Definitely Maybe in just a little more detail. We don’t learn much about the history of the five men who comprised the original lineup (especially “everymen” Bonehead, Guigsy and McCarroll), nor is there enough talk about how things spiraled out of control. To be fair, the before and after are both touched upon, but I think a full chapter could have been devoted to each. That may not be the explicit purpose of a 33-1/3, but the best ones (e.g., Pixies Doolittle by Ben Sisario) manage to accomplish this without leaving anything on the table regarding the album itself. Still, Definitely Maybe is a great addition to the 33-1/3 canon.

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[1] It was a great year for non-alt-rock music as well: Beastie Boys, Ill Communication; The Notorious B.I.G., Ready to Die; Nas, Illmatic; Portishead, Dummy; Blur, Parklife; Suede, Dog Man Star; Guided by Voices, Bee Thousand.

[2] The most overrated album of 1994?

[3] I’m talking strictly about people in the U.S. In an NME.com poll taken in 2006 Definitely Maybe was voted the best album of all time, two Beatles albums, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Revolver, coming in second and third.

[4] I can’t remember where it was though I think it was Hammerstein Ballroom. I know that by the time of their 1995 show at Roseland I was priced out.

Jack White – Lazaretto (12″ Vinyl) – “Ultra LP”

This is “What’s Making Me Happy This Week,” a weekly feature inspired by the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

What’s Making Me Happy This Week is a present that was waiting at my doorstep a few days early. He may be an a**hole but he’s a brilliant one. Lazaretto officially comes out on Tuesday but the “Ultra LP” that I pre-ordered has already arrived. Here’s what Jack White’s new album features:

– 180 gram vinyl
– 2 vinyl-only hidden tracks hidden beneath the center labels
– 1 hidden track plays at 78 RPM, one plays at 45 RPM, making this a 3-speed record
– Side A plays from the inside out
– Dual-groove technology: plays an electric or acoustic intro for “Just One Drink” depending on where needle is dropped. The grooves meet for the body of the song.
– Matte finish on Side B, giving the appearance of an un-played 78 RPM record
– Both sides end with locked grooves
– Vinyl pressed in seldom-used flat-edged format
– Dead wax area on Side A contains a hand-etched hologram by Tristan Duke of Infinity Light Science, the first of its kind on a vinyl record

– Absolutely zero compression used during recording, mixing and mastering
– Different running order from the CD/digital version
– LP utilizes some mixes different from those used on CD and digital version

Pretty cool stuff. I can’t wait to start playing around.

And that’s what’s making me happy this week.

Shriek of the Week: Mott the Hoople, “All the Young Dudes”

Mott (1)I’m not sure that Mott the Hoople are worthy of  a “Greatest Hits” compilation, but “All the Young Dudes” is a great song and “All the Way from Memphis” and “Honaloochie Boogie” are decent listens as well. Nevertheless, I made All the Young Dude my Shriek of the Week mainly for the artwork on this record. I’ll now let is speak for itself.

 

Mott (3)

 

Mott (4)Mott (2)

Mott (5)

Mott (6)

Mott (7)