Friday, October 24, 2008

The National comes to Rice

Apparently, as part of Rice's Homecoming Weekend festivities, Brooklyn-by-way-of-Cincinnati-based The National is playing a free concert on the Rice campus on Friday, November 7 from 11:30am to 1:00pm (in the west quad behind Brochstein Pavilion, for those who are interested). I've seen The National play at the 2007 ACL Festival, and they were pretty good. In addition to ACL, The National has made the rounds of various other festivals--including Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Glastonbury--and they recently opened for R.E.M. (on its tour promoting Accelerate). No question, this is a pretty cool treat for the Rice community and for National fans in Houston.

Here is the band performing "Mistaken for Strangers" (from its most recent release, Boxer (2007)) at the 2008 Glastonbury festival:

And here they are performing "Fake Empire" (also from Boxer) on Letterman:

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

You are forgiven

How cool is this song? Ten. And how cool is this performance? Also a ten. That makes twenty! Keith Moon is completely endearing (and nuts) in this performance, by the way.

During their 2006 tour, My Morning Jacket, with guest Eddie Vedder, covered this song, and despite the fact that Eddie V. is an annoying person, the performance was ridiculously awesome:

Part 1:

Part 2:

(Thanks to Muzzle of Bees for the MMJ/EV video.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Amy Poehler FTW

From this past weekend's SNL, in which Amy Poehler (who is apparently twelve months pregnant) delivered a completely transcendental rap on behalf of VP candidate Sarah Palin:

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ryan Adams is a barrel of laughs

Actually, not really. I had never seen Ryan Adams before (even when he has been in the lineup for past ACL Festivals I've been to), but his bitchiness has been well documented, so I was kind of hoping to see some drama at Verizon Tuesday night. But alas, there was no meltdown, no tantrum, though there was some prickliness evident here and there--including giving some sass to one particular concertgoer who insisted on yelling "Freebird!" during a lull in the show (Adams responded by repeatedly whispering, "You're so smart, you're so smart . . .").

All in all, though, Adams seemed detached, perhaps due to his recovering from a bout of bronchitis (which had caused him to cancel two shows the prior week). But some of the general standoffishness seemed inherent--looking down at his shoes the whole night, showing little interest in the crowd, standing near the back of the stage the entire show, not playing any encore--so I guess, bronchitis or no, I can say I saw a typical Ryan Adams show.

The music, however, sounded very, very good. Adams and his band, The Cardinals, were tight, both instrumentally and vocally (rare is the band that can sing a four-part harmony--a fact that they seemed at times indulgent about), and the set list was decent. Sure, for every "Wonderwall" or "The Sun Also Sets" I would have traded for a "When Stars Go Blue" or "City Rain, City Streets," but there were definitely some standouts, such as the very pretty "Come Pick Me Up" and the strangely catchy "I See Monsters." A number of songs also came from the soon-to-be-released album, Cardinology (a kinda dumb name, if you ask me), though those songs didn't excite me too much.

Leaving the show, Gwen and I agreed that the show was probably a 6.5 out of 10. Good sound, skillful musicianship, and tight harmonies are commendable, but one can get that simply by listening to the albums. Live shows should deliver something more immediate or visceral or spontaneous. But this one was a tad sterile, albeit still enjoyable. Maybe part of the sterility was due to the fact that the show was structured like a classical music performance--the audience entirely seated, an intermission in the middle, and no encore. If that was Adams's pomposity at work, then it doesn't serve his music well.
Another downside of a seated audience is that there was no real opportunity for me to get super annoyed with anyone--one of my favorite pastimes--which was a bit of a bummer. And believe me, I tried. But while an audience full of people who look like they're alumni of Washington & Lee may be offensive in theory, I have to say they were, all in all, pretty well behaved and reasonable. But this is probably all the more reason there should have been a meltdown.

Here is a good performance of "Come Pick Me Up" on Letterman from a few years back:

(Photo above courtesy of The Spaghetti Incident.)

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kate Aumonier

I don't really know anything about Kate Aumonier, but here's what I do know: (1) she's British and (2) while singing, she looks a lot like Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. (In fact, I think it would be so badass if, as part of her act, she sang all her songs while handcuffed to a big dude in a white suit and a cowboy hat.) Oh, and (3): the one Kate Aumonier song I know, "Much Like Yesterday" (from 2004's Here I Am, which you can't really buy anywhere), has a pretty guitar riff throughout. Here is Aumonier performing the song at the 2005 Isle of Wight Music Festival:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ryan Adams in Houston tonight

Gwen and I are going to the Ryan Adams show tonight. Weird fact: it's all assigned seating. I'm kind of hoping for one of those infamous Ryan Adams meltdowns to where he storms off the stage in disgust, vowing never to come back. And then! Out of nowhere, I would get up on stage, grab one of the guitars, and just start WAILING, playing my OWN songs--including my soon-to-be-hit, "Dos Huevos (Por Favor)"--and the crowd would just get completely PUMPED. I would then get signed to a recording contract by the biggest record company in the world that same night and quit my job the next day. Next stop: a coke habit, rehab, and a tell-all book. I win again!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Spacier than an astronaut

Things I learned while in L.A. last week for my tri-annual camping trip with my Rice roommates:

1. "California Love" by Tupac and Dr. Dre is so much cooler to listen to when you're actually driving in California with a gat held sideways in your hand; doing it in Houston is nice, but it loses a little something in West U. or the Medical Center.

2. There is nothing comparable to Amoeba Records in Houston.

3. Nada Surf is not a half-bad band.

While Nada Surf is not a California band (they're from New York), I got some extended exposure to Nada Surf on the drive from L.A. to Los Olivos, and they grew on me. I had never really paid any attention to them, and in fact had kind of written them off simply because I thought their name was impossibly dumb. Also, I knew only three songs by them: the Weezer-esque "Popular," the Cake-esque "If You Leave," and the (unsurprisingly) Pixies-esque "Where Is My Mind?" (from the 1999 Pixies tribute album of the same name). My conclusion: meh.

Since coming back to Houston, though, I have to admit that I've warmed up to the band. While their music is not earth-shatteringly good, it is very melodic and pretty (though the lyrics are just okay). The main allure is just how absolutely straightforward their music is. They don't seem to be trying for too much, and for some reason, that works out for them.

Here is a live version of "Blonde on Blonde" (from 2003's Let Go):

And, just for fun, here's perennial favorite Kevin Devine performing an acoustic cover of "Inside of Love" (also from Let Go):

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

MMJ and the Milky Way

This past Sunday night, I was at Griffith Observatory in L.A. and what kick-ass band happened to be playing at the adjacent, outdoor Greek Theatre? If you guessed the original New Edition, you would be wrong (about their playing at the Greek Theatre on Sunday, not about them being a kick-ass band). No, it was My Morning Jacket and I could hear them very clearly from the grounds of the Observatory. The innerneck doesn't have very good footage of the show, but here's a good video of "The Way That He Sings," one of my favorite MMJ songs, from one of their ACL Festival appearances:

And here is Jim James taking the room down a notch on "Steam Engine":

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 6 without power

AN OPEN LETTER TO CENTERPOINT ENERGY: After six days of waiting for electricity, I've decided I don't want your power, so don't bother hooking up my house. Your laziness has taught me to do without. Move on to the next house; I'm sure they need it more than I do. I'm doing just fine on my own, thank you very much. And please, whatever you do, don't come crawling back to me on your hands and your knees, begging to give me power. Because I won't accept it. I'd probably just throw your electricity in the trashcan.

Monday, September 15, 2008

You have a "Join My Tribe" invitation!

BREAKING NEWS: The heavy devastation caused by Hurricane Ike has destroyed the city as we know it, but from its post-apocalyptic ashes, New Houston has emerged. It is the Year Zero. Federal American dollars are but worthless paper here; the only currency of value is silver and gold, potable water, gasoline, . . . and fear. I have adopted the name Maximillian Seven Guns ("Max7G"), and I have declared myself Ruler of New Houston. I have also put a spiked collar and an eyepatch on my dog, Gertie. My roving band of mutant punks, armed with chainsaws attached to our dune buggies, will fight against other warring tribes for survival and for domination in this barren wasteland. You are welcome to join my tribe, and I offer you my benevolence. And my mercy.

But first, a song:

Friday, September 12, 2008

My playlist for this weekend

"Shelter from the Storm" (Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks)
"Stormy Weather" (The Pixies, Bossanova)
"Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" (Creedance Clearwater Revival, Pendulum)
"Wild is the Wind" (Cat Power, The Covers Record)
"Happy When it Rains" (The Jesus and Mary Chain, Darklands)
"Hurricane" (Bob Dylan, Desire)
"The Wind" (Cat Stevens, Tea for Tillerman)
"Rain" (The Cult, Love)
"City Rain, City Streets" (Ryan Adams, Love is Hell, Pt. 2)
"Rock You Like a Hurricane" (Scorpions, Love at First Sting)
"Dry the Rain" (The Beta Band, The Best of the Beta Band - Music)
"Pissing in the Wind" (Badly Drawn Boy, The Hour of Bewilderbeast)
"So. Central Rain" (R.E.M., Reckoning)
"And it Rained All Night" (Thom Yorke, The Eraser)
"Like a Hurricane" (Neil Young, Decade)
"November Rain" (Guns 'n Roses, Use Your Illusion I)
"Evolve" (David Garza, Culture Vulture)

EDIT: How could I forget this gem, by a Houstonian, no less? I am ashamed. THIS is the theme song for this weekend, no question:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

We are having a heavenly time!

In my recent move to a new house, I had to throw out a lot of things because, well, Gwen made me. But one thing I couldn't part with was my favorite concert t-shirt from high school. Issued in 1985 to promote R.E.M.'s tour supporting Fables of the Reconstruction, it was such a kick-ass t-shirt, especially since I was wearing it in 1992. This, of course, allowed me to portray myself as being rad enough to have gone to an R.E.M. concert when I was in fifth grade, when the reality was I had red parachute pants in 1985 and almost had a crush on El Debarge (three reasons: I thought he was a girl with a mustache, "Rhythm of the Night" was just so ding dang catchy, and my grasp of masculine/feminine articles in Spanish was let's just say suspect). 

Anyway, a good article on R.E.M.'s early t-shirt designs can be found here.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Matt Costa > Jack Johnson

Former skateboarding pro Matt Costa started focusing on the guitar after a skateboarding injury (a shattered leg) in 2003 sidelined him for eighteen months of rehab. He began writing and recording songs and eventually ended up on Jack Johnson's 2005 summer tour. But unlike Jack Johnson, Costa is not an incredibly lame, surfer version of Jimmy Buffett with a carefully-cultivated "Hey, I'm all about chillaxing. Did you notice that I'm wearing sandals on stage? That's because I'm chillaxing" vibe.

Anyway, I'm a sucker for finger picking, and this song ("Astair" from 2005's Songs We Sing) has been stuck in my head all Labor Day. Here is a live version, performed at a Vans store:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This version is good, too

For some reason, this song--"Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila--just totally pumps up the crowd every time I sing it. Here is Marilyn Horne trying her hand at it:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Ryan Adams is rich

So Ryan Adams is playing Verizon on Tuesday, October 14, 2008, and I says to myself, I says, "Self, you deserve a treat. But since My Morning Jacket has decided to skip over Houston on its way to Dallas and Austin this month, you'll just have to make do with Ryan Adams." Which is actually fine because I do like the Ryan Adams. Songs like "City Rain, City Streets" and "I See Monsters" (both from 2004's Love Is Hell) are catchy. And also "Summer of '69." (God, I hate myself for just saying that. Number 4 sign that the person you're hanging out with is a complete bore: he or she still thinks that the Ryan Adams = Bryan Adams joke is funnee.)

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. What I don't like about all this is that the two tickets I bought for Gwen and me somehow cost $94.15. What the? Does Ryan Adams's guitar run on unleaded gas? Because that's the only way I can understand that price. WHY CAN'T WASHINGTON STAND UP TO BIG OIL AND STOP THIS MADNESS.

I will try not to sing on a Kia

Fact: misheard lyrics are mildly amusing at best. Fact: Joe Cocker was Stan Lee's inspiration for The Hulk. But further fact: the following video made me laugh kinda. (By the by, how freaking awesome is that above photo of the Cockster? Every time I look at it, I can't help but think, "He did the mash / he did the mooonster mash / the monster mash / it was a graveyard smash . . . .")

(H/T to Houston Clear Thinkers for this video)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Look what I can do with my feet

So I like this video and this song. I'm not hurting anybody!

Once again, back is the incredible

Pitchfork's video site, Pitchfork.TV, is commemorating the twentieth anniversary of Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back with a three-part video series offering a behind-the-scenes look at the making of that kick-ass album. You know what other great album was released in 1988? If you said Martika by Martika, then you get a gold star. I used to do this totally rad lip synch routine to "Toy Soldiers" in front of my stuffed animals, and let me put it this way: I got a standing ovation EVERY time.

Here's the first chapter of Pitchfork.TV's three-part look at Nation of Millions (go to the above link to see the full picture at Pitchfork.TV):

Monday, August 18, 2008

You're not a kid at 33

This 1972 gem by Danny O'Keefe, covered by countless others (including Elvis, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Rich, and Dwight Yoakum), is my favorite song of the moment:

Friday, August 1, 2008

We're fated to pretend

This song (from the 2007 album Oracular Spectacular) is catchy. (Yes, I know I'm late to the MGMT party.)  Here is a live version from the show "Later . . . with Jools Holland." You ingrate.

Lottery or car crash

Another good song from 1995's Post is "Possibly Maybe." The lyrics are interesting, and the opening riff is cool and spooky and moody sounding. And here we go:

And everybody knows Bjork's most famous song, "Big Time Sensuality" (from 1993's Debut). But here is a pretty different, live version of the song, with Bjork accompanied by Talvin Singh and Guy Sigsworth:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Betty Hutton did it first, but Bjork did it cuter

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Bjork of the 1940s. Okay, I'm saying that only because the Icelandic weirdo's "It's Oh So Quiet" (from 1995's Post) is a remake of Betty Hutton's "Blow a Fuse." Here is the original song:

And here is Bjork's remake, complete with endearing Spike Jonze video (I especially like the dancing mailbox):

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Only iTunes knows what I'm going through.

When I go to the iTunes music store, the songs it suggests for me (based on my recent purchases) are, in order:

1. "Baby Come to Me" by James Ingram
2. "Sister Christian" by Night Ranger
3. "Dance Hall Days" by Wang Chung
4. "So Much in Love" by All-4-One
5. "Pinch Me" by Barenaked Ladies

What's weird is that, if I had to come up with a suicide note made up of five songs, these would probably be the exact five songs I would choose. And in this particular order, no less.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

P. Cet in the house

I'm being totally serious when I say this was one of my favorite songs as an elementary school kid. Yes, I had a very dramatic internal life, full of romance and wonder!

And an external life full of getting beaten up.

The end of the universe

Here is Lewis Black doing his mildly amusing "End of the Universe" routine on The Daily Show. I like that it centers on Houston, though. Go H-town! Best end of the universe EVER!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Doctor says you're cured, but you still feel the pain

While everybody knows that Alanis Morisette's question of "Isn't it ironic?" should have been more appropriately worded as "Isn't it a bummer?," it was Howard Jones who penned the quintessential ode to misfortune some ten years earlier with his pretty rad "No One Is to Blame." That song is just so heavy, man. I mean, let me get this straight: dude's the fastest runner, but he's not allowed to win? What the frick kind of track meet is this? Who is the governing body here?

"No One Is to Blame" originally appeared on 1985's Dream Into Action, with the album version running 3:28. The song was remixed and released as a 4:12 single the following year (with new production, percussion, and backing vocals by Phil Collins), and it became Jones's biggest U.S. hit, peaking at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Almost twenty-five years later, here is Jones still b-tching about a clearly defective jigsaw puzzle where the last piece of the puzzle strangely doesn't fit:

As an aside, I think it would be fun to become the CEO of the Irish Spring Corporation but then not take any showers for weeks at a time, and then sing "Ironic" to your buddies but change the words to "Isn't it ironic . . . that I stink? A little too ironic, yeah I really do stink."

Because "stink" rhymes with "think."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Honky Tonk Sixths

Here is a good article on "Honky Tonk Sixths," which are major and minor sixths played on the top four strings. Not only do they sound very cool, but they are also pretty easy to play, and I have become enamored with them lately. The two most common pattern examples:

Honky Tonk Sixths are not limited to country music, however; in fact, probably the best known example comes from this song by an Irishman. You know what the best known song by a hobbit is? Probably this one. (EDIT: This song's signature riff actually comprises thirds, not sixths. I'm a moron, and I hate myself.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

And I will be alone again tonight, my dear

Some say love is one of life's great mysteries ("Love is one of life's great mysteries"), while others say love is all around ("Love is all around"). I say: Love is an L.A.-based band from the 1960s and 70s that had some great songs, including "Alone Again Or" (from 1967's Forever Changes). The song, with its Spanishy sound, has been covered by The Damned, Calexico, and Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet, and it has been featured in Wes Anderson's Bottle Rocket. Wikipedia says that the song was inspired by Prokofiev's "Lieutenant Kije Suite," but then again Wikipedia also swears that Texas A&M is an accredited university, so I don't know what to believe. Either way, the song is nice.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Like a knight in shining armor, from a long time ago.

Oh, what the hell. I'm all in.

You're the best . . . AROUND!!!

Will someone, preferably a scientist, explain to me how this is so awesome? Because I need to know. To paraphrase Michael Ian Black, this video blows my mind all over my face:

Just watching this video again, I feel faint from how ridiculously rad this karate is, what with the chopping and the punching and the kicking and the jumping and the hi-ya'ing. I had the VHS version of this movie in middle school, and I used to watch it constantly and get so pumped up. If there was one lesson I learned, it was that household chores can teach you karate. And learn karate I did: do the dishes, take out the trash, polish the silver, re-sew the lace doilies that go on the sofa, feed grandma her pills, clean out the cat box, etc. I learned all the sweetest moves.

Until I finally was ready to confront the group of bullies at school that had pushed me around long enough. Using my karate, I challenged my tormentors to a fight and proceeded to unleash a monsoon of kicks and chops the likes of which the quadrangle at St. Anne's middle school had never seen. While I still got got my head bashed apart pretty unmercifully that day, the main thing was that I finally stood up to those scary girls.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

If it's June, it's Rice at the College World Series

How much does this video get me pumped? Only like ELEVENTY BILLION units of pump up. Yes, I know the song does not have that much true merit, but I love this video so. 

Tomorrow, the 2008 edition of the College World Series begins, with the boys from dear old Rice playing in the Sunday game against Fresno State. This is Rice's third consecutive appearance in the CWS and its seventh appearance in the last eleven years. Now, I'm not good at math, but I think this means that Rice is good at playing baseball. They are not predicted to win the whole thing this year (like they did in 2003, which is where the video below comes from), but who knows? With Wayne Graham, anything is possible (I heard he has three unicorns at home, and I believe it).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Back online in a couple of weeks

The title says it all. In the meantime, one of my top-20 favorite songs ever (and definitely my favorite guitar intro ever):

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Breeders in Houston

The Breeders play The Meridian tomorrow night at 8:00pm (with opening act Colour Revolt), and I'm still on the fence about going. On the one hand, I'm not that familiar with their new album Mountain Battles (2008); on the other hand, I'm not that big a fan of The Meridian (the acoustics always sound shrill to me); and on the other hand, I'm feeling very lazy. But on the one hand, I've never seen The Breeders play live before (I've seen The Pixies, though), and on the other hand I really like Kim Deal. But on the other hand, Kelley Deal kind of sucks. But on the one hand, "Divine Hammer" is a great song. You see my predicament.

Monday, May 5, 2008

May I be weaved in your hair

One of my favorite songs of the last few years: Iron & Wine's "Love and Some Verses" (from one of my favorite albums of the last few years, Our Endless Numbered Days (2004)). I especially like the lyrics, which feature lines like: "Love is a dress that you made long to hide your knees" and "For your days and excitement, what would you keep for to wear? / Someday drawing you different, may I be weaved in your hair?" No idea what any of that means, but I like it. Here is the song accompanied by some dude's random video footage of his hands and feet and such. 

In addition to a pretty melody and a warm voice, I'm always a sucker for a nice, rolling kind of rhythm, which this song definitely has. You know what else I'm a sucker for? If you said "cats," give yourself a gold star!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

And the sky turns to fire, against the telephone wire

No two ways about it, this song by the excellent Patty Griffin is totally rad. A live version recorded from somebody's camera phone:

Davíd Garza is a cool dude

(David Garza at ACL Festival--photo by Steve Hopson)

About two years ago, in Rolling Stone's 1000th issue, Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament declared David Garza "one of the great unknown singer-songwriters out there."
David's obscurity is not universal, however. To those who went to college in Texas in the '90s,
David was a regular on the college party/club scene, touring relentlessly and pumping out album after album of extremely catchy pop melodies laced with an exuberant latin/world music rhythm. As proof of David's popularity in his hometown of Austin, in 1999 David was voted in the Austin Chronicle as the No. 2 Austin Musician of the Decade, behind only Stevie Ray Vaughn.

It was therefore always expected that David would one day take the radio charts by storm and become a national household name. But pop superstardom never happened for David. What occurred instead was a music career that evolved at its own steady pace, with brushes of fame here and there, but marked by a consistent output of great albums supported by constant touring. Along the way, David signed with Atlantic Records in 1998, had a single (the reggae-ish "Slave") on the soundtrack to the Gwyneth Paltrow-Ethan Hawke snoozer Great Expectations (1998), toured with various national acts such as Damien Rice and Fiona Apple, and regularly played the ACL Festival and SXSW. Although such moments never became turning points to superstardom for David, they also never seemed calculated to be such. Rather, it was always just David doing his thing: playing pop songs that make people bounce, regardless of the size of the venue.
This is true even when the show is in my living room. When I turned 30 a few years ago, David and his band played at my house, and it was completely boss. A couple pictures from that night:

One of the songs he played that night was "Discoball World," from 1998's This Euphoria. Here is the video for the song.

And here is a spotlight on David from HBO's music show Reverb, from roughly the same time:

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

25 Best Live Albums

Rolling Stone's unranked list of the 25 best live albums of all time. Enjoy. Really, it was no problem on this end. (Some entries on this list are completely whack-a-doo, by the way.)

Sinéad Lohan is quiet

Irish singer-songwriter Sinéad Lohan (no relation to anybody) has not put out an album since 1998's No Mermaid. I guess that doesn't really matter much, but I thought No Mermaid was pretty catchy. Here is the video to one single off that album, "Whatever It Takes":

Still rock my khakis with a cuff and a crease

If there is one album that I associate with the fall of 1999, it is Dr. Dre's 2001--one of those rare albums where each track is completely boss. I had recently graduated from school and moved back to Houston, and like Dre I too wondered where all the mad rappers were at (and also like Dre I was of the opinion that it was like a jungle in this habitat). 2001 thus gave perfect voice to my questions and longings. When you watch these videos, understand that everything Dre is rapping I myself have observed and come to similar conclusions about:

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Haley's Husband

A few years back, I traded a few e-mails with an old Rice friend of mine (and fellow art major), Haley. Ol' Haley had recently gotten married to an older guy who made a living as a musician--but it turned out this guy wasn't just any musician, but rather was renowned guitarist and ethnomusicologist Bob Brozman. A specialist in various forms of world music, including Gypsy jazz, calypso, Hawaiian, and Caribbean, Brozman is basically the master of the National guitar. Behold:

EDIT: I just bought Brozman's 2007 album Lumiere, and I rike it a rot. Great music for a nice Sunday morning.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Who's gonna pay attention to your dreams?

Okay, pop quiz: The Cars' unbelievably beautiful "Drive" (from 1984's Heartbeat City) was:

(a) The Cars' highest charting single in the United States, peaking at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart

(b) The song that somehow tricked Czech-born supermodel Paulina Porizkova into thinking she was about to be deported and thus had to marry the very next person that walked into the bowling alley (kind of like what happened to Michelle Pfeiffer in Grease 2: Electric Boogaloo (honest to God I know of this scene only because in the summer of 1983 HBO showed this movie so often that I think they even split the screen four ways and had four simultaneous showings of the movie, with each quadrant of the TV showing a different point in the film))

(c) The song by which I finally danced with one April Rogers--a salty young lass from La Porte who dwarfed me by about a foot--at the spring eighth grade dance in 1988 (I specifically remember my melodramatic eighth grade heart completely anguished over the fact that I would not be the one driving April home--never mind the fact I was 13 (and she had transportation courtesy of her dad))

(d) All of the above.

As you ponder the choices, here is the video to this truly excellent song:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

If we're ever troubled by the changing times

Back in the day (and by "the day," I mean the late-1970s and early-1980s), TV theme songs were not only freestanding tunes (with verses, choruses, and even bridges), they were more importantly also completely free of irony--45-second wistful reflections on a life in transition or a dream derailed, where things didn't turn out the way one had planned. Lyrics sang about prodigal returns ("the names have all changed since you hung around / but those dreams have remained and they've turned around") and wondered about love lost ("maybe you and me were never meant to be / but baby think of me once in awhile"). They also openly expressed confusion over world events ("We spend each day like bright and shiny new dimes / and if we're ever troubled by the changing times") and reflected financial strain ("temporary layoffs, good times / easy credit ripoffs, good times"). They also talked about some prick named B.J. who thought he was hot sh-t because his best friend was a chimp named Bear. Watching these clips now, it's difficult not to find the earnestness of those songs--and by extension, the shows and the times that created them--completely endearing.

And even as the '80s ushered in the age of Ronald Reagan--with more shows about rich people (Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, etc.) and featuring instrumental theme songs--the melodies were still tinged with a mild sadness and anxiety. Two examples:

You kids today, with your iPods and internet porn, you don't know how easy you have it!

Give to me your leather, take from me my lace

A kind-of amusing video of Will Ferrell and Dave Grohl singing Stevie Nicks and Don Henley's "Leather and Lace":

Saturday, April 26, 2008

So I tried a little Freddie

Because there's a war going on, there's no time to be coy and so I have to come clean: I find this song pretty dang catchy. Here is a solo acoustic version from the BBC programme (holy sh-t, did you see how I just spelled program? That was so rad) "Later . . . with Jools Holland":

EDIT: In this spirit of confessing, I should also add that I like this song. (Wow. That felt so good to get off my chest, y'all!)

"Grateful Dead for drunk lawyers"

That is how Philadelphia writer Sara Sherr describes Jimmy Buffett, and it is what justifies his inclusion on Sherr's list of The Worst Music Ever (a 1997 survey by Philadelphia's City Paper that includes other writers' personal lists of worst music as well).
Sherr is right on the money, of course. While one can probably shoehorn almost any band or musician into some category of "lifestyle rock" (where the lifestyle catered to may be bookish/intellectual, sophisticated/aware, ironical/kitschy, angry/rebellious, etc.), there is something profoundly insidious about Buffett's music in particular. A novelty act that somehow transcended severe musical limitations and built an empire on what is essentially a Slurpee with tequila, Buffett's music is irredeemable in that it trades on the supreme smugness and self-satisfaction of middle-aged doctors and lawyers (and their progeny, who even as teenagers dream of one day being middle-aged doctors and lawyers themselves). The central message of Buffett's entire catalog is basically, "Let's all sing about how sweet and easy life can be here in the highest tax bracket." No matter how you slice it, that's a pretty lame oeuvre.

Songs like "Margaritaville" and "Cheeseburger in Paradise" also have certain unavoidable associations. Button-down oxford shirts tucked into slightly too-short khaki shorts, worn with loafers sans socks. Sunglasses attached with Croakies. The schools of the SEC. Practicing air-golf swings (i.e., pretending to swing a golf club, even though there is none in hand) during conversation. Gated communities. Those incredibly retarded black "W The President" car stickers. Date rape. And a bunch of other stuff that's pretty hard to overlook.

Monday, April 21, 2008


In the world of musical instruments, few things can match the beauty of a Rickenbacker 360 in Fireglo red. A website dedicated to all things Rickenbacker. How much more awesome could it be? The answer: None. None more awesome. 

But can you put a price on rawk?

Although I stopped reading Spin magazine some time shortly after high school, it apparently still exists, and not only that, it apparently has some interesting information every now and then. Like this article on what various jobs in the music industry--such as a touring band's sound engineer or a music publicist--pay. For someone like me who's always looking with envy at the roadies as they set up before a show, the article is a valuable reminder that crappy desk jobs pay well precisely because they are crappy. So thank you, Spin; I'm sorry for having disregarded you for so long. But then again, you also run articles like this. So when it comes to your affect on the human condition, I don't know what to think. My conclusion: push.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Losing love is like a window in your heart

Speaking of lyrics, Paul Simon may be my favorite wordsmith, with "Graceland" and "Hearts and Bones" and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" representing real high points for Top 40 pop lyrics. Consider just one example:
The Mississippi Delta was shining
like a National guitar
I am following the river, down the highway
through the cradle of the civil war

I'm going to Graceland, Graceland
in Memphis, Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
poorboys and pilgrims with families
and we are going to Graceland

My traveling companion is nine years old
He is the child of my first marriage
but I've reason to believe
We both will be received in Graceland

She comes back to tell me she's gone
As if I didn't know that,
as if I didn't know my own bed
As if I'd never noticed
the way she brushed her hair from her forehead

And she said losing love
is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow

I'm going to Graceland
Memphis, Tennessee
I'm going to Graceland
Poorboys and Pilgrims with families
and we are going to Graceland

And my traveling companions are ghosts and empty sockets
I'm looking at ghosts and empties
But I've reason to believe
we all will be received in Graceland

There is a girl in New York City
who calls herself the human trampoline
And sometimes when I'm falling, flying
or tumbling in turmoil I say
Whoa so this is what she means
She means we're bouncing into Graceland

And I see losing love
is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you're blown apart
Everybody feels the wind blow

In Graceland, Graceland, I'm going to Graceland
For reasons I cannot explain
There's some part of me wants to see Graceland
And I may be obliged to defend
Every love, every ending
Or maybe there's no obligations now
Maybe I've a reason to believe
we all will be received in Graceland

In Graceland, Graceland, Graceland
I'm going to Graceland

The opener

While melody and rhythm, rather than lyrics, seem to drive the popularity of a song, it's always nice to come across a catchy tune that is as mindful of words as it is of music. Rarer still is that song that has a great opening line. Last fall, published this list that purports to, um, list the best opening lines in rock history. I think it's pretty clear that the editors at Spinner came up with this list during a time of great difficulty--perhaps while guarding enemy combatants at Abu Ghraib or some other place where the fog of war clouds judgment and loosens one's grip on right and wrong. I mean, "Tommy used to work on the docks"? "You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar"? These simply cannot be among the best opening lines of all time. And also, if we're going to be accurate, the opening line of "Livin' on a Prayer" is not "Tommy used to work on the docks." It's that talkbox-filtered "whoooa whoa whoa whooa whoa whoa" line, and it's TONS better than "Tommy used to work on the docks" because it expresses the plight of the song's protagonists so much more poignantly. (E.g., how Tommy is burdened by financial constraints and, from management's perspective, how he clearly presents a high risk for a worker's comp claim.)

Anyway, I'm not entirely sure what my favorite opening lines in pop/rock are, but a few songs automatically come to mind as definitely having good openers:

Paul Simon's "Graceland" ("The Mississippi Delta was shining like a National guitar")

Elliott Smith's "Alameda" ("You walk down Alameda, shuffling your deck of trick cards, over everyone") and "Clementine" ("They're waking you up to close the bar / the streets wet you can tell by the sound of cars")

Kate Wolf's "Across the Great Divide" ("I've been walkin' in my sleep, countin' troubles 'stead of countin' sheep")

The Indigo Girls' "Ghost" ("There's a letter on the desktop I dug out of a drawer / the first truce we ever came to in our adolescent war")

R.E.M.'s "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" ("Lookin' at your watch a third time, waitin' in the station for the bus")

Modern English's "I Melt with You" ("Moving forward using all my breath / making love to you was never second best")

Rilo Kiley's "Portions for Foxes" ("There's blood in my mouth, 'cause I've been biting my tongue all week")

The Replacement's "Valentine" ("Well you wish upon a star / that turns into a plane")

Prince's "Little Red Corvette" ("I guess I shoulda known / by the way you parked your car sideways / that it wouldn't last")

Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty" ("Livin' on the road, my friend, is gonna keep you free and clean / but now you wear your skin like iron, and your breath is as hard as kerosene") (obviously, the Willie Nelson-Merle Haggard version is the more famous)

Smashing Pumpkins' "Geek U.S.A." ("Lover, lover, let's pretend we're born as innocents / cast into the world with apple eyes")

Journey's "Oh Sherrie" ("Cinnamon gum! Knowing how I made you feel / And I cinnamon gum! After all your words of steel")

There are undoubtedly many, many other songs, but maybe that last one is my favorite (because of the gum angle).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

That's disappointing

I just looked up the lyrics to Elliott Smith's "Say Yes" (from 1997's no-duh-it's-good Either/Or), and the lyric in the bridge is "Crooked spin, can't come to rest / I'm damaged bad at best / she'll decide what she wants . . . ." For the past ten years, I've thought it was "Crickets spin, can't come to rest / I'm damaged bad at best," etc. That's actually pretty disappointing. The "crickets spin" part was my favorite line in the whole song. Here I was, thinking it was a lyric that captured a real sense of restlessness and anxiety, and come to find out it is "crooked spin," which just captures that Elliott Smith was probably on drugs when he wrote the line.
Anyway, here's some dorkasaurus fan's slide show set to the song:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ACL Festival 2008

The line-up for the 2008 edition of the Austin City Limits Festival--which will fall on the weekend of September 26-28--was released today. The big names include: Foo Fighters, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (pictured at right, with Plant apparently still wearing his make-up from his Broadway turn on Beauty and the Beast), Beck, David Byrne, Gnarls Barkley, The Raconteurs, Iron & Wine, N.E.R.D., The Mars Volta, Robert Earl Keen (he's kind of done, no?), Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band (that already sounds annoying), Silversun Pickups, Gillian Welch (awesome!), Patty Griffin (nice), Band of Horses (I like that one song), Neko Case (grating), Jose Gonzales (most people will go just for "Heartbeats"), M. Ward, What Made Milwaukee Famous, and about 10,000 other bands.
This line-up doesn't do anything for me. There are a few acts in there I'd like to see, but overall it's not a compelling enough line-up to compensate for spending two-and-a-half days in the Austin heat.

Once my pants are on, I make gold records

Everyone has seen this SNL skit a brazilian times:

But have you seen . . . THIS:

Monday, April 14, 2008

September Gurls

As anyone who knows me can attest, I have had only two Big Ideas in my life. The first involves me trying to manufacture a line of college-themed barbecue grills, named after our country's great universities, and intended for tailgating on Saturday afternoons during football season. My introductory model will be a little burnt orange number honoring the University of Texas, named "Cook 'Em Horns." Once enough buzz about this little grill spreads, the idea is that I will roll out successive models for other schools, with the next model being a blue and yellow grill called "Tailcook Scandal," which honors the U.S. Naval Academy. (The word "hook" really opens a lot of doors for me, because I just replace it with "cook.")
Anyway, my second Big Idea involves a particular Halloween costume. For years, I have thought that a good costume would be the anthropomorphic paperclip that randomly pops up in older versions of Microsoft Word, complete with big sleepy eyes and gigantic white gloves and shoes. And no matter what anyone at a Halloween party says to you, the idea is that you just respond, "It looks like you're writing a letter!" While people would invariably tell you to get lost, you and I would both know that they were hatin' only because they were mad jealous.

What does any of this have to do with music? Well, um, not much. But both football season and Halloween happen in the fall, which includes the month of September. And one of my favorite songs is Big Star's "September Gurls" (off of 1974's Radio City), which was later covered by The Bangles on their 1986 album Different Light.

Here is the original version:

And here is a live version by Susanna Hoffs (in her distinctive Susanna Hoffs voice), even though it was Michael Steele who recorded the song for The Bangles:


Sunday, April 13, 2008

At every occasion, I'll be ready for a funeral

Although my profound fear of all things equine had prejudiced me against Seattle-based (actually, now South Carolina-based) Band of Horses, I am big enough to admit that their 2006 album Everything All the Time has grown on me, and I am glad I gave it a chance. I have not bought their more recent release, Cease to Begin, but I figure I will at some point. One track from Everything All the Time that I've come to admire is "The Funeral," which--despite its use on various TV shows and even a commercial for the Ford Edge SUV--I had not heard prior to buying the album.
As with the other songs on the album, the most compelling ingredient of "The Funeral" is singer Ben Bridwell's evocative voice--a mix of Jim James's reverb with James Mercer's sharp, piercing tone. The moodiness of the song's opening riff complements Bridwell's vocals, and it fits well with the nice opening line ("I'm coming up only to hold you under"). I also like the chorus because it sounds big and sweeping, yet with the dour observation, "At every occasion, I'll be ready for a funeral." There is not a strong, identifiable bridge (it seems to last all of two lines), but perhaps this kind of song really doesn't need one, though the result is that the second half of the song can't help but be less interesting than the first (especially true with the 5:22 version found on the album).

This live performance of the song--from the band's network television debut on Letterman on July 13, 2006--is particularly impressive. Though dude looks like he has the teeth of an Englishman (but that may be mainly due to that little mousy giggle he seems to be stifling for most of the song). Maybe Dave said a funny joke right before they came back from commercial, and the band's still laughing at it. Or maybe Paul is wearing funny sunglasses off camera. Nothing says comedy like funny eyewear.

The traveling hands of time

While walking by The Continental Club yesterday--Gwen and I had just had lunch at the adjacent and delicious Tacos a Go-Go (the secret is the mayonnaise)--I noticed that Son Volt is playing there on May 16. While Son Volt has suffered in comparisons to Wilco as the less interesting and adventurous Uncle Tupelo spinoff, their music still has its virtues. So I will definitely try to catch that show. I don't have their last couple of albums, though, so I'll probably be That Guy who screams during the show for them to play songs from Trace or Wide Swing Tremolo (which will make people around me think wow, that dude's been into Son Volt from way back, but it's really just that I don't know any of the new stuff). Speaking of Trace, everybody loves "Tear-Stained Eye," and who am to argue: that song is pretty righteous. Here's a live version from 2005:

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where feelings, not reasons, can make you decide

In 1989, I was in ninth grade and spent the majority of my time drifting aimlessly through the halls of my high school, wistfully wondering whether the days of sweet youth and innocence were permanently behind me. (Answer: they were.) That same year, Ian Brodie was 31 and apparently juggling two careers: starring as honors program student Arvid Engen on the ABC sitcom Head of the Class, and fronting English pop group The Lightning Seeds, whose album Cloudcuckooland featured the UK Top 20 hit "Pure."

My buddy Logan refers to this song as a "guilty pleasure." I refer to it as hella sweet (because I'm really hip and up on how the kids of today talk--by the way, don't you guys just think that Zac and Miley are totally the most?!). Anyway, consider: