Archive for October, 2009
As I was purchasing my ticket to this show at Knoxville’s Valarium, the dude behind the counter at the record store mentioned to me, “Hey, you know Ween is sober now, right?” Given Ween’s reputation as a hard partying act, one which I have seen barely able to finish a set coherently at times, this was a bit startling to me.
“Sober?” I asked, “Like, completely?”
“Yeah. They don’t even drink anymore because they think it will lead back to worse things.” Interesting, and what was not to believe? Though I have probably seen Ween play live more than any other band out there (except maybe Wilco, who might be equal in this regards), it had been some time. Since before La Cucaracha was released actually. I had no idea what was up with them these days.
I bought the ticket, went to the show, and quickly noticed a few differences from the last time I had seen them. For starters, Gene Ween is kind of looking like Daniel Johnston these days. Also, they’re stage show has become filled with lots of fog accompanied by an expensive and powerful light show. Lastly, they have stepped their musical performance up to a level far beyond that which I have ever seen them at before. This was easily, the best all around Ween show I had ever seen.
It’s not that they did anything especially novel or different than any other Ween show. It was simply that they played really well. They also played really long, topping out at almost three hours with no set breaks. As always, they hit on many favorites as they crossed this expansive amount of time, pulling songs from each of their albums but The Pod. This night, there seemed to be a particular propensity toward Chocolate and Cheese and The Mollusk. Of particular note was a rather booming version of “Ocean Man” on which Gene played a mandolin. They also finally delivered a “Roses Are Free” that worked as a worthy visitation to the studio version, whereas usually this song falls flat live when compared to the one found on Chocolate and Cheese. (Phish’s recorded live cover of the track may have set the bar high for Ween, ironically enough. At this show, they certainly cleared it by miles.)
As mentioned, they came this time with a ton of fog and lights. Their liberal use of both made for an incredibly surreal visual experience. The downside is that the haze often obscured Claude Coleman on the backline, which is unfortunate since his powerhouse drumming is something to see. The trade off, though, was a very good light operator who was obviously familiar with the material. Hence, his contribution to the show was also something to see, indeed.
When all was said and done, Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) hit the road immediately. I was, however, permitted to go back stage to attempt to interview Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) for this blog. I figured, after such an intense show, three simple, irreverent questions wouldn’t be too intrusive. Perhaps I could make three question interviews a regular staple of this site. I sat down catercorner to him, introduced myself again (it was the second time I had met him, actually), explained the deal, then fired the questions:
1. What are you listening to currently?
2. What is the one influence you’d like to keep away from your son?
3. What are you going to be for Halloween?
He looked at me blankly as I rattled them all off at once. Then he broke eye contact, shuffled his head around and mumbled something like, “I don’t know…whaaa mmuuhh hhnnnn.” The girl to his left answered two of the questions for him. According to her (though I question the authenticity of these answers) he was going to be a banana for Halloween and he was listening to…Belinda Carlisle? Yeah. I don’t know.
I tried to thank him for an excellent show, letting him know I had seen many and this was the best. A slightly disturbed look came across his face as he mumbled something else through more slurred and discombobulated speech.
“Well whether or not it felt to you like you did a good job,” I consoled, “from the objective viewpoint of an audience member, it was fantastic.” It still didn’t seem to register with him. Just more incoherency.
The announcement then came that the bus was rolling out and it was time to go. I exited without any of my interview questions really formally answered (though maybe he is being a banana for Halloween and maybe I misheard Belinda Carlisle). However, I did have a larger, more pressing question answered for me and I didn’t have to say a thing.
Is Ween sober these days? Absolutely not.
Here is some video from the show:
Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)
Back when El Deth Records was a newly budding record label, they used to have some insane events around the southeast United States. Their El Halloween was always perennial favorite that generally brought excellent music, packed houses and enough damage that they’d have to change locations every year. The one five years ago, the 2004 edition, occurred on a huge tree farm south of Knoxville. The line-up included David Davis, Dire Con, Obadiah, Next to Never and Matgo Primo, who more or less owned the better part of the night. Now, to commemorate the five year anniversary of that powerful night, and just in time for Halloween, El Deth has released El Deth Halloween 2004: Dead & Live. It’s a recap of Matgo Primo’s set that evening, in it entirety. (Granted, a bootleg of this night has been floating around for years, but now it’s remixed and remastered from the original tracks.)
Nowadays, Matgo Primo is a very refined band that is about as top notch as music can get in the southeast. Back then, in their infancy, they were no less excellent, but a whole lot more raucous. They often wore strange costume fashions while performing, but on this evening they were decked out in zombie gore. They must have played the part well because this recording captures a very uninhibited, gruff aggression on the stage.
None of the songs performed would eventually end up on Matgo Primo’s debut disc, None, Never. Many of them were recorded in the studio at one point for a great lost album that was produced by Simon Belmont. Though those sessions never surfaced, this live recording is still a pretty good document of that time period and some of their earliest songs. Musically, the most immediately engaging are the ones with member Dorain DeLuca shredding a guitar, rather than keys (“80’s Pop” and “Get to the Show,” for example). There is, however, a noticeable and refreshing increase in the intensity after the cops show up and force an intermission. “In Advance of a Broken Arm” pound swift and steady amid shouts of “Fuck the Police!” “Swamp Thing,” written specially for the show and whose sequel appears on None, Never, is a perfect Halloween song with dark noodlings that climax into an impudent horror show of guitars and yelling. Oddly enough, the whole thing begins with a cover of the Ducktales theme song.
There is a deal of banter on the disc, including an entire track of stage announcements warning of police outside the gates. Most of it is engaging as it’s aimed at the audience. None of it detracts from the meat of the thing. Plus it all sits on the ends of each applicable track, which makes for easy skipping if you really can’t handle the swears and nonsense.
If you’re curious about exploring Matgo Primo more, as you very well should be, but can’t seem to find their catalog hanging around, you’re in luck. El Deth Records has the entire Dead & Live set for free download on their website. Click here to go there and check it out.
Around Halloween, my girlfriend, myself and another couple traditionally venture down to the Netherworld Haunted House in Atlanta, Georgia. It is perhaps the largest, most professional and damn scariest haunted house in America, and well worth the visit. This year, however, we decided to cram in a few other festivities for the weekend. On Sunday, this included a visit to The Center for Puppetry Arts to see a performance by The Ghastly Dreadfuls. The official title this year is actually, The Ghastly Dreadfuls II: Handbook of Practical Hauntings and Other Phantasmagoria.
When the idea to check this show out was presented to me, I apathetically agreed to doing so but left it at that. A puppet show…okay. Sounds good. Whatever. I soon learned that the Ghastly Dreadfuls are far more than a puppet show, and far more entertaining than I had initially imagined. The Ghastly Dreadfuls, themselves, are a group of seven vastly talented musicians, actors and puppeteers. Their show combines all three of these art forms into a very slick, very engaging performance.
On the music front, they move around their instruments with a skillful ease. No one seemed to miss a beat. Using keys as the backbone, they dealt out a number of macabre originals, as well as more popular songs, both classical and contemporary. Everyone shared in the singing duties, though their soprano, Reay Kaplan (as Lady Dreadful) stole the show numerous times. Also of particular note is their absolutely affecting string section, comprised of Scott Depoy (as Dizzily Dreadful) on violin and Kristen Jarvis (as Daftly Dreadful) on cello. These two elements added immensely to the dynamics of the sound. Said sound, itself, resonated around the room with crystal clear acoustics. Sound designers, Elisheba Ittoop and Mimi Epstein, were wholly on top of their game in this regards.
As for the acting and puppetry aspects, they basically depicted several spooky stories from around the world, including some originals. These stories were largely predictable, mainly because most people have heard similar versions of them already at one time or another. This was no matter, though, for the execution was fantastic. There was a large variety of puppet mediums used, from hand puppets to marionettes to large cardboard cartoons. Sometimes the puppets and the people interacted with each other as part of the storyline. Whatever the case, there was no lack of emotional gravity. Mostly, it was humorous, but they also delved into some disturbingly sad material (The Deep End of the Pool) and also displayed moments that were downright touching (11:59).
The whole thing culminates into a finale (“All Hallows’ Eve”) that manages to be eerie and uplifting at once. As strange new lights appear, the performers console us: “Open up your eyes / Take a look around / No one ever dies / What is lost is found.” The effect is stirring and a perfect close to the show.
The Ghastly Dreadfuls’ performances are running until November 1st at the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. If you are anywhere near the southeastern United States, this is completely worth your time and money. It should be noted, however, that the material is not exactly for children.
Co-writer, Jason von Hinezmeyer, put together this sampling of last year’s show. It’s out of focus and certainly doesn’t convey the quality of the actual show, but it might give you an idea of what you are missing…
The new Built to Spill album is called There is No Enemy. Before I listened, I was under the impression that I was about to embark on a journey of rainbows and happy faces. Then I saw the album cover and expected something a bit different perhaps. Maybe something deep and dreamy, resonating the idea that everything is going to be just fine. Finally, I let it into my ears and realized that, no, everything was not going to be fine. For an album called There is No Enemy, this album sure has a lot of somewhat depressing insights into the human experience.
I was right about the deep and dreamy, though. Musically, it’s shimmery guitar work is captivating as in any of their prior releases. It also has the odd distinction of a slightly new production style. With the exception of their earliest works, most of their stuff sounds like it’s coming down from a mountain. This one sounds kind of like it was recorded in Doug Martsch’s den. The drums are softly implied and the vocals…well…they might have been recorded in the bathroom. This does not detract, though, at all. On the contrary, it seems more personal and simplistic. This album is for you.
So what kind of things do they have to say to you on this go around? Basically that everything is a mess, everyone has been a bit mislead through history and nothing is going to sustain forever. Perhaps the most jarring of these assertions comes in the song “Things Fall Apart,”
which boasts a fantastic horn solo. Affecting and prolific, Martsch deduces, “If no one thinks of no one / Then no one believes in no one / And no one fucks with no one / Then no one’s afraid of no one / We’ve all seen enough, now it’s time to decide / The meekness of love or the power of pride / It doesn’t matter if you’re good or smart / God damn it, things fall apart.” He gives the impression that he doesn’t just believe it, he knows it…and it’s been on his mind a lot.
All of these fantastically somber lyrics come painted on music that does not cover any new terrain for the band. Everything drifts along pointedly and profoundly, which is to be expected for Built to Spill. The guitar work is strong and detailed and, as usual, repeated listens expose subtle nuances in the music. Yeah. It’s Built to Spill. You know what to expect. It’s good. It’s safe. You can trust it and get a lot of quality time out of it. Just watch out for the bite of those lyrics, damn it.
So given those lyrics, why do they call it There is No Enemy? Well, this is where the poetry of it all is tied together in a neat little package. I’m pretty sure that the reason the album is called There is No Enemy is because all of these human faults and emotions which are brought to the center are pertaining to all of us. Generalized pronouns such as “everyone” and “no one” are abundant here. Our fears are internal and our fates are eternal. There is no enemy because we’re all trudging through the harshness of life together.
We at GMBM would like to share a recent podcast we were invited to check out. It’s by our friend in Kentucky, Mariah Franklin, through 8tracks.com. As you may have already concluded by the title of the thing, it’s kind of a moody ride, but worth lending your ears to nonetheless. If you’d like to listen to it (and you should), then click the link below. It will take you to the site where it is housed, as opposed to allowing you to download a full length mp3 like our other podcasts. If you’d rather listen on site, you can simply use the embedded player at the bottom of this post.
PODCAST: music for murdering your darlings
“Northern Sky” – Nick Drake
“Hallelujah” – Leonard Cohen
“Losing Your Affection” – Future Bible Heroes
“These Fangs” – Say Hi to Your Mom
“Daria” – Cake
“I Don’t Mind” – MC5
“Rome” – Dear Neal
“No Children” – The Mountain Goats
Jim O’Rourke pretty much does whatever the hell he wants and more power to him. His production style always feels warm and eccentric, regardless of what he is touching. And yet his roster of things he has touched is rather eclectic. He has produced the likes of Wilco, Kahimi Karie, Stereolab and Joanna Newsom, to name a few. He has scored film by Werner Herzog. He’s been a full fledged member of Gastr Del Sol, Loose Fur and Sonic Youth. He played for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He’s pumped out almost two dozen solo albums. He’s received grants and a Grammy. Now he lives in Tokyo, Japan and, to reiterate, he does whatever the hell he wants.
And again…more power to him.
His newest solo effort, recorded in his Tokyo apartment but sounding much larger, is called simply, The Visitor. It is one long and ever evolving track, clocking in at about thirty-eight minutes. The standard O’Rourke fare is ever present. There are clean, acoustic guitars, delicately touched piano keys, soft ambiance, 70’s era electric guitar flourishes, darkish downturns, distant pedal steel sounds, and touches of driving beats with an emphasis on snare rolls. Yep. It’s all there and eloquently arranged as always.
The tone of the piece may perhaps go through the perceived emotions felt through the duration of the title visitor’s visit. That’s just the obvious assumption, though, and the true intent is between O’Rourke and his music. Suffice it to say that the work changes its colors several times through its duration. As best I can figure, there is an undercurrent of longing that seems to hold the whole thing together. It’s dotted along the way with moments mostly comprised of whimsy or mystery, and a sense of intense satisfaction just before the longing and sentiment return for the very end.
It’s a powerful arrangement of sounds. It would serve well as background music, though to fully appreciate it takes a few close and purposeful listens. There are no vocal parts, but it feels as though dialogue is being traded somewhere in the mix. I suggest a dark and quiet room when you are ready to tune in. You’ll have to make a trip to the record store first, though. There are no digital sales of this one.
Normally I wouldn’t make a whole new post just to tell you an album is coming out today. I would think my readership to be competent enough to stay on top of their own interests. However, this one deserves a bit of special attention.
As you probably read in the title of this post, the new Flaming Lips disc, Embryonic is out tomorrow. Okay great. The additional excellent news, however, is that the price is down 43% from the suggested retail here in the final hours before release.
That means you can order the whole disc for just $7.99 from Amazon. (The expanded version is $16.99.) That’s less than what you would pay if you bought a download for each song. Additionally, this is one of those records that you don’t want to listen to with space between the tracks.
As far as multi-act live shows go, it’s rare that one comes along that is definitively awesome from beginning to end. Sometimes the acts may all be quality, but the in-between time breaks the flow of the evening. Sometimes the headliner is all that’s worth giving one’s time to. Sometimes it turns out to be the same case for the supporting acts. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like a show, so much as just some stuff going on. Audience can play a part, too. Sometimes a lack of audience enthusiasm can wreck the energy of the thing. And yet sometimes too much enthusiasm can distract from the thing on the stage. I’m so very glad to acknowledge that not one of these circumstances played out as such the other night at Knoxville’s Club Catalyst.
Everything kicked off a little after 10PM with local DJ, Modifi. I have followed Modifi for several years now. At least since his humble beginnings in garage rock bands around town. I’ve watched him evolve from a decent guitarist into an incredibly skillful turner of the turntables. (You can download one of his earlier releases, as DJ Simon Belmont, here.) On this evening, he had at his disposal two said turntables, a laptop and the necessary mixer. Perhaps he was harboring more on that table, as he’s been known to use an MPC and other goodies from time to time. I couldn’t elevate my perspective enough to tell for certain. Whatever he had, though, he used it well.
Without veering hard into pop territory, Modifi kept the music moving as any good DJ should. There was a touch of M.I.A. and T.I. here and there, but never as a standalone. The more modern servings were cushioned all around by Modifi’s own signature beats, as well as elements of classics and obscurities alike. As his set went on, it became difficult to discern what was coming from where anyway.
After a relatively swift and smooth transition, Kid Koala took the stage. His set up was mostly minimal. Three turntables and a mixer. No computer. No beat machines. Not even headphones. There was, however, a video projector displaying his set up (and all that he did with it) on a large screen above his head. This allowed for a more defined audience focus on his ability, pure and simple, and not just the music, itself. We were not in a position to merely dance, but to admire and be awed.
His set moved primarily between rock, hip hop and jazz. Meshing it all together, he did some tricky maneuvers. There was the usual exchanging of records and sliding of faders one would expect. Also, though, there were drops and juggles that could only be executed by a man who knows his music very very well. When I say, “knows his music,” I am not intending to pay respects solely to a knowledge of songs. Sure, he has good taste, but he literally knows his music. He knows not only what is tonal with what, but specifically where on his records those tones occur, bouncing the needle appropriately.
Among the more memorably novel aspects of his set were an ode to Louis Armstrong, an onstage remix of the White Stripes and the spacey, ambiance drenched work over of “Moon River,” dedicated to his mother. There was also the matter of a girl named Dawn. Dawn was celebrating her birthday at the show by heckling Kid Koala. Apparently she was expecting something more pop and less “turntable crap,” and so the Kid bantered with her from the stage. This lead to her taking to the stage, barely saving herself from a potentially nasty fall, and actually turning off one of the turntables by accident. The crowd booed her, but Koala was endlessly diplomatic and gentlemanly toward the southern, drunken birthday girl. By the end of the set, she was dancing her ass off like everyone else, even returning to the stage again to prove it.
The aforementioned “Moon River” closed the set out. After another brief, seemingly seamless intermission, Telepath took to the stage. Their equipment (guitars, drums and electronics) had already been set up on the stage, allowing them to dive right in. Their music complimented Modifi and Kid Koala well, as did their fairly decent light show. Where Kid Koala’s act was very forward and driving, Telepath worked it down into something that sat back and grooved. The dancing bodies continued to dance, but now without having to think or focus as much. It all drifted into the realms of a casual love in.
There’s not much to say about Telepath aside from the fact that it’s great music (and their guitarist has crazy Eraserhead hair). I hesitate to label them as a “jam band” though they obviously do jam around in their songs. If they are of such a classification, though, they are of a new school. This is not the sleeper shit popularized by the Grateful Dead and driven into the ground by Widespread Panic. No. This is tolerable. This is good because it’s really good…not because you are on drugs. (Though I couldn’t imagine the drugs not helping, I guess.)
Walking away from that show, I felt as though I was leaving some big shit event. It felt like something people attended with absolutely no doubt about its freshness. Call it an energy in the air. Call it an exceeded expectation, or a perfect surprise for some, perhaps. Whatever it was, it all equated out to a perfect storm of entertainment and a truly stellar evening for all involved. Even Dawn.
Kid Koala’s Ode to Louis Armstrong:
Kid Koala’s interaction with Dawn, the drunk heckler:
Modest Mouse has come a long way without having to water down their music or message. Modest Mouse has come a long way because it’s genuinely great music. They reeled in the indie rockers early on with a handful of simply produced, thin music with heart. They slowly unfolded into dimensions of space rock and more macabre offerings as on The Moon & Antarctica. By 2004, they were able to capture a commercial audience, while still maintaining positive critical reception, with Good News for People Who Love Bad News. And then, at last, with the release of We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, the boys hit number one on the Billboard charts. Truly a rags to riches story if ever there was one.
Their newest offering, No One’s First, and You’re Next is a collection of repolished, unreleased material from the sessions that produced those latter two, commercially strong releases. Though this disc is technically a collection of outtakes, it still feels like a whole new album. It also feels like something of a return to the wirey, gruff sound that defined everything before those commercially strong releases…with better mastering, of course.
So it’s as close to older Modest Mouse as we’ve had since newer Modest Mouse. Perhaps that’s why these tracks were kicked off the final versions of their prospective initial releases. They are not so much of an evolution of any aspect of the band’s talent. There is no major forward motion in the exploration of the sound. There is nothing that transcends the color of the last two discs. This is an acquired taste that takes several listens to fully explore and appreciate. For Modest Mouse purists, this is excellent news.
None of this is to imply that this is a formula they should always follow. Good News and We Were Dead are both fantastic releases. It’s just nice to know that, beyond their increasing grandeur, the band is still in touch with its core simplicity and frivolity. It is also still in touch with their sardonic nature. As usual, it’s a bit snide, but never tactless. It also carries a weird undertone of positivity, which is not new for Modest Mouse, and still difficult to pin down absolutely.
Generally more poetic than sentimental (or at least poetic about sentiment) Isaac Brock’s lyrics are primarily filled with subjective observation. He dives headlong into the ironies of human nature. “We all try harder as the days run out,” he reminds us on “Perpetual motion machine.” He determinedly explores the absurdity of adopting false ideals to fit in with one’s peers on the opening track, “Satellite Skin.” “Even crooks have to pay the rent,” he quips on “King Rat,” an apparent outtake from We Were Dead.
This release is a healthy one. First, it’s inexpensive, without sacrificing quality, since everything was already recorded. Additionally, it’s the kind of thing that allows the band to take a step back and press out all they have sitting around before moving on to the next step. Call it closure. From here, it’s tough to say what they will do next, but we can count on two things: 1) it will be good and 2) it will sound like Modest Mouse.
I can’t truly figure out Busdriver’s true propensity for “selling out.” He certainly has more talent then Lil Wayne, Yung Joc, Young Jeezy and 99% of all else on the idiot radio. This talent comes both in vocal ability and beats. He’s also been in the game much longer than most of today’s redundant rap robots. Yet there he sits, unknown to all the wealthy suburban thug assholes that eat up all the gangsta garbage and keep the money flowing. Busdriver deserves to be what everyone likes in a perfect world. It’s barrier breaking, catchy and far ahead of its time. He also rages quite blatantly about all those rappers contributing to the imperfect world they continually pollute.
So what is it, Busdriver? Are you truly so benevolent that pretzels and cheese are more than enough earnings so long as you can keep to the truth you’ve always perpetuated? Or is the rest of the world so simply ignorant that they have never given you the myriad of expensive possibilities you deserve? Busdriver is one of those entertainers that deserves to have millions thrown at him, all the while honoring his list of demands. You know…like Beck.
On the other side of the coin, the perks are these: First of all, Busdriver belongs to himself and his moderate number of fans. The Dave Matthews Band stink of a frat following does not exist here. Also, and most importantly, whenever he raps against the evils of the recording industry and the “entertainers” they support, there is nothing false about it. He does not simply state these criticisms, he practices what he preaches. Could Busdriver be the Jesus Christ of the rap game?
Okay. So Jhelli Beam is the newest offering from our beloved Busdriver. My first impression is that it’s very difficult to imagine that something so truly unique came out of Los Angeles…a land generally only as unique as the corporate destruction they impress on grassroots goodness from other lands. However, this seems to be the deepest digging yet from Busdriver. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if this is hip hop or…something else? As far as genre goes, it’s relatively undefinable in places.
Busdriver has always dealt in obscure samples and rich, multi-layered textures. On Jhelli Beam, though, every single phrase of sound at least feels like something new. It is as if a painting, with a new flourish of color for every three inches or so of canvass. He tackles sound structures that are highly unconventional for rap or hip hop. There are tempo changes (“Scoliosis Jones”), minimalist jazz drumming (“World Agape”), African roots fusions (“Manchuria”) and nonsense that dares to be poetic, rather than hokey (“Unsafe Sextet”). Verbally, Busdriver’s cadences are always sharp, thoroughly versed and on-point. Listening, it becomes painfully obvious that neither an autotuned asshole like Kanye West nor a generally sensible bigwig such as Jay-Z have the base talent to keep up with them, let alone mimic them.
Jhelli Beam is everything that rap and hip hop could have been and should have been. Unfortunately, it was hijacked by cocaine corporate interests and watered down to the sad state it exists in today. Lil Wayne may be content to program a simple, repetitive beat loop, say a bunch of repetitive, unaffecting words over it and cash his checks. Busdriver, however, is dedicated to the craft more than the millions…and it shows.
Please do the world a favor and reallocate your money as necessary.