Saturday, December 31, 2005
Coldplay - X & Y (Capitol) : Coldplay's third album wasn't working for the band in the early stages of recording, so, they cleaned the slate and started fresh. The result was something more than just an album; it was a painting of sounds which widened the scope of Coldplay's world of just a quality band into one of the blossoming greats of our time. The band slightly toys with their sonic textures to create something new yet familiar. By no means does Coldplay tred old water, but songs like "Speed Of Sound" and "Fix You" seem like they were on deck just waiting for their chance at the plate. A hidden track called "Til Kingdom Comes" (written specifically for Johnny Cash to perform before his passing) serves as a fitting end to an album racing towards the next horizon.
Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony) : They are the Scottish lads that put dance and style back into rock music and make it look fun again. The quartet add some more depth to themselves and avoid predictability. "Do You Want To" struts like a Las Vegas pimp on any given night, and "The Fallen" makes a nonchalant observation of the human desire to blow up one another ("What's wrong with a little destruction?"). But Franz Ferdinand deliver terrific transitions with "Walk Away" and "Eleanor Put Your Boots On." Here the band steps back for more understated performances that are both whimsical and breezy.
Oasis - Don't Believe The Truth (Epic) : During a musical campaign that has surpassed ten years, something that critics probably still can't get over, Noel Gallagher has managed to work a little magic from the small corner he and younger brother Liam have gotten Oasis into. No surprises are what listeners have come to expect from Britain's still reigning hit makers. With no original member left in the band other than the Gallaghers, Oasis has carried on while getting an injection of new blood from the likes of Andy Bell (Ride) and Gem Archer (Heavy Stereo). If you look beyond the fact that Ringo Starr's own son, Zak Starkey, gets behind the drum kit--offering a much needed kick--you will hear a band comfortable with resting on their past ("Lyla") while giving in to the idea that trying a new approach isn't so much a bad thing ("The Importance Of Being Idle"). Yet, somehow, Noel and company show off some fire that makes Don't Believe The Truth more of a whole album rather than a spotty one.
Paul Weller - As Is Now (Yep Roc) : The Modfather continues to get better with age, unafraid to display his softer side and more than eager to squeeze out some blistering guitar solos. Weller delivers his most straightforward rock song since his 1997 album Heavy Soul called "From The Floor Boards Up." There are no signs of Weller losing his touch throughout the album. On "Here's The Good News," Weller evokes Randy Newman with some saloon-style piano playing. Overall, there's a sense that Weller was going for a no-nonsense production and more for simply capturing the songs in the moment. As Is Now is quite possibly Weller's most direct solo album to date.
Chris Mills - The Wall To Wall Sessions (Ernest Jenning) : In three days and backed up by a 17-piece band, Chris Mills performed and recorded his fourth album The Wall To Wall Sessions. The process that Mills put himself through in such a short amount of time was the best decision he could had made at this point of his career. There is an excitement to the album that translates loudly with each song. "You Are My Favorite Song" romances with a smile, "Chris Mills Is Living The Dream" dances in buoyant spirits, and "Dancing On The Head Of A Pin" soothes like the softest of breezes. The heart of this album is its nakedness. Bypassing the trappings of the recording studio has opened new doors for Mills, and it is none more evident than on The Wall To Wall Sessions.
Doves - Some Cities (Capitol) : Since 2000's Lost Souls and 2002's The Last Broadcast the Manchester trio called Doves has enjoyed critical acclaim as one of the top acts in the U.K. music scene. What The Last Broadcast accomplished for the band Some Cities didn't quite reach--a leap forward. The Doves borrow from their own play book on "Walk In Fire," lifting "There Goes The Fear" (The Last Broadcast) for the song's overall structure. Even with its back to basics feel Some Cities still scores with songs like "Black And White Town" and "Ambition." If this is the sound of the Doves as an average band, then the Doves certainly come off as a damn good band with the ability to swith on greatness if they so choose.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Howl (Red Int/Red Ink) : The "acoustic" album happens at some point for any rock band. Just as this is B.R.M.C.'s third album it is also the band's attempt to produce Led Zeppelin III. The band sets down the abrasive howl of their previous two albums for more of a relaxed whisper, a bluesy moan. The piano-blanketed "Promise," perhaps the real soul of Howl, removes itself greatly from the Jesus Lizard-esque touch that has flowed B.R.M.C. As if content with the shadows, B.R.M.C. toys with the moody to create an atmosphere that quietly invites you in rather than rushes into your face. "Ain't No Easy Way" is the lone stomper that pumps with some smoking harmonica play backed by a good ole, down and dirty drum groove.
Son Volt - Okemah and the Melody of Riot (Sony) : Jay Farrar, singer/songwriter with a voice sometimes bigger than his own band, returns with Son Volt after a seven year hiatus. Although missing the original members of the band, Farrar produces one of the most melodically charged and socially conscious album Son Volt has ever made. "Jet Pilot" and "Endless War" take on the matters surrounding U.S. engagement in Iraq. Farrar seems to revel in the warmth of his electric guitar on "Afterglow 61." It's a rejuvenated vibe for Farrar as he feels out his newly transformed Son Volt. Closing with "World Waits For You," Farrar takes to the piano before the rest of the band enters in for the reprise. The song leaves very little indication on where Son Volt will go next, but, one thing is for certain, Farrar is at his best.
Star Wars Episode III - Revenge of the Sith - Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Sony) : It's the final chapter to a body of music that has spanned over twenty-eight years. John Williams' musical work, not only with the entire Star Wars saga, has given us some of the most memorable film themes in history. Once again at the helm of the London Symphony Orchestra, Williams charts out his absolute best work for Episode III - Revenge of the Sith, capturing the tragic transformation of Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. The emotions soar in themes like "Battle Of The Heroes" and "Anakin vs. Obi-Wan." Almost as if giving his own personal farewell to George Lucas' galaxy far, far away, Williams revists the most significant Star Wars themes during the end credit theme "A New Hope." They are classical scores that not only were key to the Star Wars films but were pieces of music that touched popular culture in ways reminiscent of Mozart. It's a fitting end for a composer that brought the opera to space and beyond.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
The award show will take place on February 8, 2006 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA and broadcasted by CBS.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Metro held an e-mail promotion for those that subscribe to their newsletter where they offered the first 50 responses two tickets for either Tuesday or Wednesday night's show. To my recollection, the shows were not sold-out. I entered the contest thinking it might be a decent time. I would have a better time dealing with the show knowing I got in for free than knowing I wasted $30 that I could have put towards gas for the car or tickets to ride Metra to work. My girlfriend had expressed an interest in seeing the show in the first place but she knew I wasn't impressed by the band when I glanced at them at this summer's Lollapalooza. I thought that if I won I would take her and let her enjoy the show even though I wouldn't be the most excited person in the crowd to be there. Well, sure enough, I received an e-mail on Wednesday afternoon congratulating me for winning 2 tickets for that evening's show.
Now, my only memory of Dinosaur Jr. was probably when I was either 13 or 14. MTV--when it actually played videos-- used to have this Dinosaur Jr. video on heavy rotation where J Mascis (singer/guitarist) was riding around in a golf cart. That's it. That's what I walked into Metro with in the back of my mind about this band. I decided I would review the show having a pretty open mind about the band and that my opinions would be that of a first time listener. Sure, I didn't think much of them at Lollapalooza, but I'm willing to give a band a second chance (I did it with the Secret Machines and came to love them). Opening the show were Magik Markers and local band The Ponys. Liz (my girlfriend) and I saw The Ponys as part of this past Hideout Block Party. Both of us really liked what we saw and heard. So, we looked forward to seeing them again.
The Magik Markers certainly removed all of the connotation surrounding the word magic with their 18 minute set of feedback. I would actually be doing The White Stripes a disservice by comparing Magik Markers to them. Think of Jack and Meg White reversed in their musical roles and sounding like they came straight out of the worst mental ward you can imagine. Jaw dropping? You bet. It was so horrendous that someone in the crowd wrote a large sign and placed it on the stage, not too far from where the drummer was, well, drumming (the fact he needed to adjust the microphone on one of the drum heads seemed rather feeble in the big picture). The sign read, "PLAY A DAMN SONG ALREADY! SIGNED: YOUR MOM."
The Ponys sort of came and went. I don't think The Ponys at their best could have rescued the crowd from what we all just experienced. They put on a good show, but it didn't hit me quite as hard as when I saw them at the Hideout.
Then came Dinosaur Jr. in the original lineup. Mascis had this massive amplifier setup that reminded me of Pete Townshend's setup in The Who when he used to play with 3 full stacks of Hiwatts. I used to think there's no such thing as too much volume. I stand corrected. The opening song was this mess of drums, bass, and guitar. Somewhere in all that was some singing, but I couldn't tell. I understood the female singer of Magik Markers mumbling, "Bull shit! Bull shit!' more than I did Mascis' vocals. The bassist, Lou Barlow, drowned out Mascis entirely. Lucky us, Liz and I were positioned in front of Barlow and his PA system. After the first song, I turned to Liz and said, "We'll leave before the encore." There were some in the crowd that pleaded with Barlow to lower his amplifier volume. He laughed and said, "Stand over there," pointing to Mascis' side of the stage. I wanted to try and give this show a chance, but after six songs enough was enough. Liz also felt the same way as I did about making our early departure.
What wasn't I hearing that the guy playing air drums heard? Was I missing something? Would ear plugs have made the show better for me? Did I not catch the right beat to let loose? What was it?
Somewhere, someone must have said to Mascis, "The Pixies are cashing in. You should, too." Some doors should just never be reopened. All I saw on that stage was a troll of an old man, an aging Cousin It, with a fancy guitar effects panel and big amplifiers. What J Mascis was on stage was everything Paul Weller did not ever want to happen to him as the frontman of The Jam at the height of their success: a sad, old man trying to play rock music to a bunch of teenagers and 20-somethings.
The only thing that salvaged the night was the spectacular meter parking found in front of a McDonald's on Clark St. just 2 blocks from Metro. You know it's a bad concert when at the end of the night you're at your happiest for finding street parking around Wrigley Field prior to entering Metro. J Mascis, you and I weren't meant to be when I was 13, and it just wasn't meant to be when I was 24. Farewell...
I contributed a write-up on The Black Keys. The article may be found on the following page:
Monday, November 21, 2005
Wilco - Kicking Television: Live In Chicago (Nonesuch)
The live album has a strange relationship with an artist's career. In some cases, the live album comes across to some fans and critics as filler in between albums to buy time until a new album of material is ready for release. If lucky, the live album captures the real essence of the artist on stage that studio albums have failed to do. It becomes a document of a time and place where the audience and the artist create an atmosphere so unique that it's almost impossible to argue that something magical took place. Cheap Trick at the Budokan (1978), The Who at Leeds University (1970), The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden (1969): these are just some of the moments where the spirit of rock and roll shined brightest, thought to be some of the greatest live albums in the history of rock music.
But a funny thing happens when the live album becomes a commercial success. Suddenly, the artist is left to wonder whether or not the public considers the live material better than the studio material. For Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick, their respective live albums out sold their studio albums by huge numbers becoming the highest selling albums of their careers. It then becomes a case of creative suicide when the artist is trying to live up to what the public loved so much about their live album rather than making the music that the artist wants to make.
So, why a live album now at this point of Wilco's career, especially when they are a taper friendly band? Well, to Jeff Tweedy's ears, this is the best incarnation of Wilco to take the stage during its ten year career. What was once 3/5 of Uncle Tupelo is now a band that has gone through some shuffles (most importantly in the past 5 years with the exits of Ken Coomer, Leroy Bach and Jay Bennett), leaving fans to wonder how long the new guys will be around. But with each change came a new piece that expanded the puzzle that is Wilco. Are they just your ordinary American rock band? Are they alt-country? Are they sonic wizards looking beyond your basic guitar chords? It can be said they are all of that and more.
Over four nights in May, Wilco took up residence at the Vic Theatre in Chicago. It was to be a two sided project: recording for a live album and filming for a concert DVD. Sam Jones, director of the Wilco film I Am Trying To Break Your Heart (2003), was once again working with the band for this concert DVD. Unfortunately for Jones and Wilco, the footage shot at these concerts wasn't deemed satisfactory for release. So, one out of two isn't all that bad.
Kicking Television presents a band that has been on tour for over a year and that has found a common musical connection. The album also marks an anniversary of sorts. These shows recorded at the Vic Theatre come very close to the date when new members Nels Cline and Pat Sansone debuted with the band on stage at Otto's in DeKalb, IL (May 19, 2004). It was also at that same show where Jeff Tweedy returned to Wilco after having gone through rehab earlier in March to solve issues with his self-medication for panic attacks and migraines. When listening to Kicking Television it's amazing to think that this band nearly came to an end.
Starting with the well-textured "Misunderstood" from 1996's Being There, Wilco marches on to focus more on its two most recent albums, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) and A Ghost Is Born (2004), while offering the rare treat from its backlog (the band doesn't lay a finger on its first album, 1995's A.M.). What certainly comes to the forefront with these concerts is how integral texture is to the band's sound and how it has blossomed. Songs like "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and "Shot In The Arm" transform into orchestral rock masterpieces. The steady stomp of "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" is now a mammoth guitar fest between Tweedy and Cline, hammered even harder by drummer Glenn Kotche. Wilco revists Woody Guthrie and the Mermaid Avenue projects with the elegant "One By One" and the rally call of "Airline To Heaven." Tweedy reveals more of a frontman persona to himself, even teasing some fans in good humor for driving from Kansas City to Chicago for a Wilco show. Throughout the two disc album Wilco doesn't miss a step. They mesmerize the mind with renditions of "Via Chicago" and "Hell Is Chrome," and they ring the ears with rockers like "I'm The Man Who Loves You" and "Kicking Television." It's obvious that the cameramen roaming the stage do not hamper the band's performance or alter the crowd's response to the songs. It's one thing to have a captive audience, but it's other thing to have a film crew looking over your shoulder or going for the close-up during your guitar solo.
Different setlists were performed at each sold-out show, and the band worked off a master list of over 50 songs (including cover songs). To the general public that hasn't experienced a Wilco concert, Kicking Television provides a good introduction to the band on stage, but, to some hardcore fans that probably have the entire 2004-2005 tour on bootlegs, this is just an added bonus to file next to their copy some Wilco show from 1997. The lack of deeper album cuts from the pre-Yankee Hotel Foxtrot era holds Kicking Television back from giving the listener a full scope of Wilco and how far they've come in ten years. For their first official live album, Wilco does a good job catching lightning in a jar (they had four nights to do so), but there's a sense of something missing that surrounds the album; it's almost as if the listener is being given half the story.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
I have created a new e-mail account specifically for this site to provide a more direct experience between myself and readers beyond just the "Comments" link. If you wish to contact me regarding articles on this site or anything else, click on the "View My Complete Profile" link.
Thank you for reading Getting In Tune. I look forward to the feedback, both good and bad.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
To our "Sound Opinions" Listeners:
After 354 shows on WXRT (93.1-FM), “Sound Opinions” will be moving on Dec. 3 to a new home on Chicago Public Radio (91.5-FM). Basically, we got an offer that is too good to refuse: a bigger budget for production, staff and our Web site, an amazing facility for conducting interviews and recording live music performances, and the opportunity to reach a national audience with streaming audio, podcasting and syndication. We are excited about the prospects of taking “the world’s only rock ’n’ roll talk show” to a whole new level and a new and larger audience, and we hope you will continue to join us every week. Details about our new Saturday time slot and repeat airings, among other things, will be announced soon, but in the mean time, we would like to thank everyone at WXRT for their support and encouragement over the last seven years; the “Sound Opinions” team—Matt Spiegel, Shawn Campbell, Jason Saldanha, Robin Linn, and all of our interns past and present—for all of their hard work; and most of all you, the listener.
Jim and Greg
Friday, October 28, 2005
I contributed a write-up on local band Detachment Kit. The article may be found on the following page:
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Monday, October 17, 2005
Ten years ago Jay Farrar first sang those words on Son Volt's debut album Trace. It was a sign of a new beginning for Farrar who had just stepped away from Uncle Tupelo, the group out of Belleville, IL that Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, and Mike Heidorn steered into a realm of unexpected greatness that planted the seeds for the alt-country movement. Although Uncle Tupelo carried on after the depature of their drummer, Heidorn, in 1992, it was Farrar's decision in 1994 to end the band that resonated the loudest. The demise of the band led to the births of Son Volt and Tweedy's band Wilco.
Son Volt was Farrar's clean slate to move forward, but, by 1998, he stopped Son Volt in its tracks to concentrate on his first born child. When he resummed working on his music Farrar went solo and left Son Volt on the back burner. In 2004, news finally came that Farrar and his former bandmates--Heidorn, Jim and Dave Boquist--agreed to reactivate Son Volt, record a new album and tour. But it seemed that within a blink of the eye the reunion was wiped away. Heidorn and the Boquist brothers made Farrar's head spin when they dropped out of the picture. Farrar's lawyer, Josh Grier, shed some light on the matter in the November 2004 issue of Chicago Innerview when he said, "I don't think anybody had any oppositon to the creative side of it, but, five years later, mortgages, kids and wives can change everything."
Farrar gathered new musicians to make Son Volt possible, and the end result was the brand new album Okemah And The Melody Of Riot which was released in July. It has been a quiet return for Son Volt in 2005, and that is't much of a surprise since the band's hiatus didn't cause a sea of headline news. For the fans that packed the Vic Theatre, the reestablishment of Son Volt in today's musical landscape didn't matter as much as seeing Farrar rejuvenated by his latest material. The set list spanned over thirty songs and reached into every facet of Farrar's catalog from Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, and solo career.
Farrar has never been known as an artist that lights up a stage. A showman he is not, but he's never sought to be a Pete Townshend (The Who) or Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick). There was an aura about him on stage like he was a walking myth, a sole survivor of the Crusades or some storied fable. The electricity that may not appear on the surface came across loud and clear through Farrar's play that night. With his larger than life voice and a solid band put together, the new Son Volt performed as a band that had been together longer than just a few weeks on the road. After laying down five songs off the new album at the start of the show, the band opened the show wide open. "This is an old song," said Farrar, "I think it's an antique." And with that brief introduction the band dusted off "Back Into Your World" from Son Volt's second album Straightaways (1997).
Farrar flowed with each song and fed off the muscle his band supplied. There also seemed to be a rediscovery for Farrar with his past; themes about seeking for answers as a young man are the same he still asks as a man with a family. Some of the biggest questions in America today deal with Iraq. Farrar summed up his opinions on the matter with a beautiful stroke of set list work by purposefully having "Jet Pilot," a direct shot at President George W. Bush, followed by "Endless War." Neither Bush or Iraq were ever directly mentioned by Farrar. He let his songs act as his soap box and his guitar voice his protest.
As the audience in the balcony rose in volume to sing back to the band during "Tear Stained Eye," it was evident that they hadn't turned their backs on Farrar. It was that sweet moment between fans and artist where the intangible of the music revealed the special bond that doesn't seem to go away over time. Farrar blazed like a bright fire with his guitar solos ("Medication"), refreshed the past ("Windfall"), and paved the way for the future ("Afterglow 61"). During the show's finale, Farrar became almost possessed in the music as the band performed Uncle Tupelo's "Chickamauga." The sweat dripped faster off his face and his intensity grew as he marched up and down the fretboard of his electric guitar. "Solitude is where I'm bound," sang a fully charged Farrar. As he tore through his wailing solos, was he remembering his old friend and partner Jeff Tweedy whom he walked away from all those years ago? Or was he thinking of his former Son Volt partners that left him to carry on the band? Stepping off the stage of the Vic Theatre after the last note Farrar gave an appreciative wave to the audience who stood on their feet cheering and applauding.
The band performed all of Okemah And The Melody Of Riot in front of a massive back drop of the album's cover hanging from the rafters. Promotional move? Sure. It was an evening to reintroduce people to Son Volt and remind them of the album. But for Farrar it was a statement to his fans that he's just as proud of his new songs as he is of his past Son Volt work; work that some may argue is still his best (Trace is Son Volt's best selling album to date). History has shown that Son Volt was the favorite to rise to stardom after Uncle Tupelo. Instead, Tweedy and Wilco have become that which industry insiders thought Son Volt and Farrar would be by now: commercially successful. Farrar may be destined to go it alone on his musical journey but it seems there will always be a crowd willing and waiting to hear what he has to say next. There is no Son Volt without Jay Farrar.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Saturday, October 15, 2005
As quickly as people paid attention to Nada Surf back in 1996 with the single "Popular" they soon went on to the next buzz band. In 2005, the trio out of Brooklyn has gone from being the flavor of the month to a well-respected group among the indie rock circle. The success of "Popular" was both a blessing and a curse; marginalizing the band and casting a shadow on their debut album High/Low. From that point, the band soldiered on with The Proximity Effect (1998) and the critically acclaimed pop nugget Let Go (2002). Though the band's skills in the studio have matured, their performance at Metro lacked an edge that could reveal another dimension not heard on record.
It's a reversal of the classic case of a band sounding better on stage than on record. Nada Surf is in touch with the whimsical and the melodic, elements that serve as strengths for the band. Opening with "Blizzard Of '77," it was amazing to think that this was the same band which wrote "Popular." The acoustic tune turned electric did not lose its softness as singer/guitarist Matthew Caws lingered on the lines, "I miss you more than I knew." From the melancholy to the sunny, "Concrete Bed" gave the first of many introductions to the new record. Drummer Ira Elliot, dressed like some cast member off of 70s TV show The Love Boat, was brisk and steady as he and bassist Daniel Lorca powered the song along.
The trio was solid throughout the night but never quite surpassed the level of greatness. The band sprinkled their newest songs by sometimes separating them with two older songs in between. This made for a choppy show where the pace would spike up and down as if teasing the crowd that some build up was in the making. What was apparent with these pockets of songs was how criticism of Nada Surf as a lackluster band in concert could be viewed as valid. "Hi-Speed Soul" brought the crowd to a bounce and "Always Love" hit the nail on the head with a crunching punch. But the effect of that one-two combo was soon deflated by the dreamlike "Killian's Red." It just seemed as if there was no real direction in place for the night. Not even the band's best songs could set the show straight. "Inside Of Love," quite possibly the strongest song of the band's catalog, carried Nada Surf into a light that it had faded in and out of all night, that of a band more than just average. Immediately following that magic, the band chose the most absolute sleeper of a song that could have caused the show to backpedal. The French sung "La Pour Ca" by Lorca simply killed the pop spell Nada Surf mustered up to perfection. Once again the tempo was shot; "Blankest Year" kicked up a shuffle but then "Meow Meow Lullabye" (a kitten's dream of becoming a cat) brought things to a stand still. "The Way You Wear Your Head" salvaged the set enough to even desire an encore. Surely they could deliver a knockout set to complete the night?
Instead of a blood rush, Nada Surf relaxed the crowd with "Your Legs Grow" and "Blonde On Blonde." It was nearly eleven o'clock on this Friday night and Nada Surf was keeping the crowd from a release. "Imaginary Friends" seemed to capture the unsteady evening, speeding up only to downshift gears into the slowest of tempos and then back again; this was all in the same song. Finally, the band flexed more power than they had done all night with their closing songs. Having been hungry for the band to really floor them, "Stalemate" probably got some in the crowd licking their lips in sheer excitement with its high octane beat. Lorca's bass soon signaled a metamorphosis as he began playing the riff to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." The band pulled off the move, something it has done before at previous shows. It was an ace they had yet to use and wisely saved. As Nada Surf lunged into "Hyperspace," the edge that had eluded them at various points of the show emerged. Why that aspect of its more rock driven songs couldn't adapt to the band's quieter, mid-tempo songs was really an issue that maybe no one inside Metro could lay a finger on. To some, it was Nada Surf being Nada Surf and that was alright. To others, Nada Surf realizes the doors they are opening at this point of the band's career but can't decide on what to do when inside. It's a matter of if and when Nada Surf become the complete package.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Monday, October 10, 2005
Supported by a three-piece band, Tegan and Sara strolled through much of their latest album So Jealous while making small talk with the crowd in between songs. The twin sisters amped up their sound from gentle, acoustic tunes into three minute pop power pleasures. Early on the stage was set with the rolling melodies of "I Bet It Stung" and the whispering "I Know I Know I Know." Equipment problems would occasionally plague Tegan and Sara, but they brushed them off their shoulders with a laugh. Something that couldn't be laughed at was how their duo vocals would get lost among the crunching electric guitars and bashing drums. One such moment was during the more acoustic flavored "Where Does The Good Go." Certainly, on record, it's one of the best songs Tegan and Sara have penned to date--weaving harmonies topped off with lush textures--but it's beauty got lost in the mix that night at Metro.
For a team of songwriters like Tegan and Sara, volume comes in second to the quality of the songs, but the girls have branched out to marry the sonic muscle with the words. It's that desire to be more than you are that slightly hampers them from being great. They are without question a solid, sometimes quirky duo that can achieve so much vocally. Their songs get better and better with each album. So, why try to become a rock band when you're not? Well, because they can. That's just not always the best reason to shoot for the BIG guitars.
It didn't seem to matter to the crowd. Every word and every note made them want to dance and sing along. The rough, punch in the throat blast of the chorus to "So Jealous" had fists pumping in the air. "Speak Slow" was infectious with its jumpy hooks, and "Monday Monday Monday" cast a dreamy spell over the crowd. Give Tegan and Sara some credit: they have a strong handle on their pop hooks.
The fun continued into their encore with a revamped, moody version of Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark." Surely, The Boss would have appreciated the different take on his song. Then joining Tegan and Sara for the show finale "You Wouldn't Like Me" were show openers Marjorie Fair and Northern State. It was the feel good end to the night. Tegan and Sara let their songs make the case that they are deserving of the praise and buzz. And while they may not be on the same level as sibling rockers Noel and Liam Gallagher of Oasis in terms of open rivalry on stage, they are still amusing with their openess to rib each other as only sisters can do--to talk about the other's period or trump the other's songwriting ability. What more could you ask for?
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Joined by keyboardist Richard Morel, drummer Brendan Canty of Fugazi, and Evanston native Jason Narducy (Verbow, Rockets Over Sweden) on bass and vocals, Mould kept the show on a fast pace without so much as a guitar change. The show opened just as Sugar's 1992 debut album Copper Blue opened: the crunching pulse of "The Act We Act," the out-of-control power popping "A Good Idea," and the melodic overdrive of "Changes." Mould also sprinkled a good portion of Body Of Song throughout his set among selections from his Husker Du and Sugar catalogs. Mould clearly felt free of the weight he would normally place on himself when performing solo. It was as if he was no longer driving a one lane road and merged onto a ten lane expressway; his guitar solos knew no boundaries and his vocals howled. A smile appeared on Mould's face during "Hoover Dam" as he and the band locked in perfectly with each other. Narducy (whose band Verbow had their debut album produced by Mould in 1997) had a strong sense of complimenting Mould's vocals almost has if he was some younger clone of Mould on stage behind a microphone.
As soon as the crowd began applauding the end of one song a brand new one would begin. That's how Mould worked the show, a no-frills, all-business affair filled with great songs. From Body Of Song, "Circles" and "Paralyzed" balanced all of Mould's musical traits that have grown through the years, mixing his command of an electric guitar and recent experimental side with electronica (as heard on his 2002 album Modulate). During "High Fidelity," another new song, Mould sang about being left behind in the changing times but somehow, someway he would figure things out. That really sums up a lot about Mould's career. After the breakup of Husker Du, Mould found creative success with Sugar and then success going solo. And while Mould may be considered irrelevant by 2005 standards of what's hip in mainstream music, he has managed to maintain a level of integrity that has kept the heart of his music still beating hard. So, by all accounts, Mould has continued to figure things out just fine on his own.
"It's nice to be back in Chicago," said Mould before the first encore of the night. The audience that filled every inch of Metro responded in kind with a generous ovation. Mould had been on target the whole night. His enthusiasm never faltered as he dug deep for older tunes like Husker Du's "Chartered Trips" and "Celebrated Summer." Here Mould showed he wasn't trying to capture the youth of the songs he had written in his early 20's but rather showed he hadn't lost the connection to how he felt when he wrote them. As Mould and company gave their second and final encore, they sailed into the night with Sugar's "Man On The Moon." Mould ripped into the opening riff like he was about to turn on a chainsaw, and Canty slammed in like a bulldozer behind him. The band became this sonic juggernaut that pushed the song to new heights and had fun doing it. Mould may know how to polish up his act for the studio, but in this instance he gave fans the raw rock show they had missed for ten years. Mould certainly didn't lose his touch in that department.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Friday, September 30, 2005
I contributed write-ups on Earlimart and the Foo Fighters. Both articles can be found on the same page:
Franz Ferdinand - You Could Have It So Much Better (Sony)
The Scottish quartet really make a statement on their follow-up to their highly acclaimed self-titled debut. As one of the most talked about debuts of 2004, Franz Ferdinand show no signs of a sophomore slump on You Could Have It So Much Better. The title alone is quite the declaration for a band that's just released their second album. It's probably the closest indication that their success has gone to their heads, but they back up the talk track after track.
They dress the way they play together as a band, with style. The album's first single, "Do You Want To," is alluring as it is exciting. Singer Alex Kapranos provocatively channels glam-era Bowie while drummer Paul Thomson lays down a beat that would have dance clubs, anywhere, bumping and grinding. Nick McCarthy lets off a call-to-arms salvo of precision guitar licks on the album's opener "Fallen." McCarthy's style continues to grow as some manic interpretation of The Ventures. Lyrically, the song is the most politically direct song the band has written, taking aim at the ever popular trigger happy, problem solving methods to global issues ("What's wrong with a little destruction?"). The band maintains a tight grip on their frantic side; the pull and shake effect they shape with their twisting arrangements still rattle the brain. Nothing is ever completely linear when it comes to Franz Ferdinand. But just when you think that can't pull it off here comes "Eleanor Put Your Boots On."
Mostly an acoustic number, diverting from the high charged nature of the album, Franz Ferdinand seem to take a seat, pack up the drums, and dress the song up with some gentle piano parts. Kapranos' relaxed vocals give way to McCarthy's shaded guitar notes which cast a bit of shadow to the song. It's a world where Nick Drake meets The Kinks for under three minutes--indeed an album highlight.
You Could Have It So Much Better definitely mixes up the moments to make a more attractive listen and keep the band from falling into familiar moves. They've taken that step from a good singles-minded band to a band that makes a start to finish solid album. Songs like "What You Meant" and "Evil And A Heathen" are polished to be bigger but never lose edge. The band provides a little breeze with another acoustic driven song, "Fade Together," and the mid-tempo jangle of "Walk Away." In 2004, they made it cool to dance to rock songs, again. Today, they simply make it look smooth defying expectations.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
In the Saturday edition of the Chicago Tribune, staff reporter Jason George examined Farm Aid's financial books and pushed the case that the organization was not distributing the money to farming families as it was set up to do; that the expense of putting on the concert was part of the problem. This report did not sit well with the folks at Farm Aid. Three days after the concert Chicago Tribune rock critic Greg Kot reported on the morning press conference launching Farm Aid back into action. In his article, Kot described Neil Young's venomous punch back at the Chicago Tribune article by quoting Young as saying, "The people at the Chicago Tribune should be held responsible for this piece of crap." Young then proceeded to rip a copy of the newspaper in half. This was definitely not the way organizers of Farm Aid wanted to start off their day at the Tweeter Center.
By two o'clock, roughly 33,000 of the sold-out crowd filled every corner of the venue. The afternoon went by swiftly as early acts of the day were given about 15 to 20 minutes to perform. Canadian singer/songwriter Kathleen Edwards was a stand out during her set as she promoted her latest album Back To Me. Edwards gave it her all in that brief period of time, her enthusiasm was vibrant on stage. Buddy Guy, a cornerstone of Chicago blues, was teamed up with John Mayer, who worked on Guy's upcoming album Bring 'Em In. Mayer kept within his role as Guy's second guitarist, shying away from the spotlight, and showcasing more of his blues roots. It was a sign of respect by Mayer to not let his image and popularity with the younger portion of the audience get in the way of Guy. Emmylou Harris was as gentle as the warm summer breeze that came through. As she did on her 1995 album Wrecking Ball, Harris provided a pleasant cover of Bob Dylan's "Every Grain Of Sand."
In their first local appearance since a four night stand at the Vic Theatre in May, Wilco gave a spirited performance that began with an extra kick by a rosing introduction from Illinois Senator Barack Obama. It was yet another special moment in a career that has risen to new heights in the past three years, commercially and artistically. Before the band concluded their set, singer Jeff Tweedy, who in recent times has grown more vocal at shows when speaking his mind, took sharp aim at the Chicago Tribune and the article it published on Farm Aid. Said Tweedy, "Chicago Tribune, you should be ashamed of yourself. I don't care if you write one nice word about us ever again. You fucked up." The roaring response from the crowd was a good enough sign that they were on the same page with Tweedy. Wilco soared off into the night with a pumping version of "The Late Greats."
Farm Aid cultivated a strong bill for their anniversary show, but some of their choices that seemed like sure bets on stage didn't exceed expectations. Jam band heroes like Widespread Panic and upstarts like Los Lonely Boys gave pristine performances that were bland on every level. Arlo Guthrie, son of folk troubadour Woody Guthrie, twiddled his time away with "Alice's Restaurant." The song was the endurance test of the day as it slowed the pace of the show down. Kenny Chesney and John Mellencamp are cut from the same cloth except one wears a cowboy hat. Chesney's appearance after Wilco brought the majority of the crowd to their feet for the first time all day. The country superstar didn't miss a beat, hitting every country cliche in the book and delivering the all-American feel good two step of the night.
But it was the big four of Farm Aid that took the show into it's final turn towards the finish line. Dave Matthews took to the stage with just his acoustic guitar and gave a solo performance. "When I was a little kid I wanted to be a farmer," joked Matthews to fight his nerves, "I don't know what went wrong." Regardless of his nervousness, obviously feeling naked without his band behind him, Matthews remained strong and encouraged by the crowd's positive response to every note he played. John Mellencamp put on his showman cape and gave the crowd a tasty selection of his classics. As one of the original organizers of Farm Aid, he took time out to reminisce about the creation of the benefit. The thought to attempt such a feat was described by Mellencamp as "naive."
Neil Young packed his anger towards the Chicago Tribune and must have put it into his set because he stole the show with an awe-inspiring performance. Opening with Fats Domino's "Walking To New Orleans" as a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims, Young immediately set a tone to his set, a life affirming tone. Young also featured songs from Prairie Wind, a new album musically linked to Harvest (1972) and Harvest Moon (1992). The band supporting him--Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, Rick Rosas, and Chad Cromwell--all had something to do with all three albums. Young set the stage on fire with a stunning and overpowering rendition of "Southern Man." With his seasoned black Les Paul, fondly called "Old Black," Young unleashed a fury of fuzz and distortion, each solo just more blistering than the last. "This Old Guitar," a new song, was very fitting as Young played a rather old guitar. "It's a song about a guitar," he said before playing. He then pointed to his acoustic guitar strapped across his shoulder. "It belonged to Hank Williams," said Young. The definitive heart of his set didn't come at the end but as the third song performed. Accompanied by a small gospel choir, Young sat behind the piano for another new song called "When God Made Me." His soft voice equalled by the piano notes transcended beyond just original music. If "Southern Man" was a snarl, then "When God Made Me" was a soul searching, introspective sigh. It was quite possibly the best sound all day to fill the air around Tinley Park.
By the time Willie Nelson arrived on stage for his headlining spot, much of the audience on the lawn cleared out to avoid the massive lines of traffic exiting the Tweeter Center. Having opened their gates at noon, Farm Aid rolled on without a bump in their schedule. It was a success on every aspect from the music to the money raised for the organization. The controversy stirred by the Chicago Tribune article didn't deter public support of the cause nor did it damage the image of Farm Aid.
Brazilian Girls - Brazilian Girls (Verve Forecast)
Talk about musical foreplay--mix a sultry female singer who can tickle the ears in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, on top of some spicy dance club beats, and the end result is something that teases just enough without showing a lot of skin.
Brazilian Girls make their debut after forming just two years ago in the New York City music scene. What they bring to the table are four geographical perspectives (Rome, Buenos Aires, California, Kansas City) with a common musical bond. It's not your ordinary dance music. The roots of electronica and pop are there in the music but with a twist. At the front of Brazilian Girls is Sabina Sciubba, a front-woman already gaining the reputation as unadulterated sensuality with a microphone. Sciubba captures the mood to each song as though she were the one leading the dance. Setting the pace of this dance are Jesse Murphy (bass), Aaron Johnston (drummer), and Didi Gutman (keyboards). One moment, the band is creating a jazzy, dreamlike environment befitting of a classic 1960s James Bond film--the French sung "Homme"--while during another they are the soundtrack to a hot night among sweating bodies at some New York club ("Dance Till The Morning Sun"). "Lazy Lover" seems to act as a homage to the worlds of Burt Bacharach and Henry Mancini.
It's all just a tease. There is a definite worldly flavor that Sciubba brings by singing in other languages other than English, and the band compliments her approach nicely with just the right attitude. But Brazilian Girls seem to hold back just a bit on their self-titled debut. There's no question that this album is filled with style and sophistication. However, the album plays up the smoothness too much. Sexiness in music is easy to fall for when it nibbles just at that right spot, and this album is covered all over in it. That's not a crime. "Pussy" is a not too shy, tongue-in-cheek, playful pop tune. As if walking all alone through Times Square at 4 A.M., hypnotized by the lights, "Ships In The Night" strolls softly into the shadows.
Brazilian Girls turn up the steam but quietly simmer back down. On their debut album, Brazilian Girls do just enough to keep you wanting more.
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
When it comes to a Paul Weller album fans may not know what they're going to get. Weller, like Neil Young, has successfully made a career by constantly reaching for the next step without fear of slipping. Rare as it been for an artist from a noteworthy band to excel their creative output they produced while in that band. Take for instance Pete Townshend of The Who: his solo career had a shining moment of commercial success with Empty Glass (1980), but he has never maintained a steady pace of solo work; opting to wear out The Who catalog on countless tours and make promises of a new Who album (minus deceased members John Entwistle and Keith Moon). To Weller's credit, he has never cashed in on his days with The Jam or ever hinted at reuniting the band, which he broke up in 1982 at the height of their popularity. Weller avoided that which he never wanted to become: an aging musician holding onto the glory days of the past.
The words "Fire & Skill" were taped onto Weller's amplifier, and they sum up a lot about where he finds himself today. Adulthood has become part of his craft, applying his years of experience into his music, but what hasn't been lost is Weller's intense drive to press forward. Weller's solo career has been squarely focused on living in the present day rather than attempting to recapture his past. Only in recent years has Weller began to explore his past work with The Jam in concerts. But another word that should have appeared along "Fire & Skill" is "Style." On a night where U2, Beck, and Franz Ferdinand were all performing at various venues in Chicago, Paul Weller proved that he has a fashion sense that all three artists would envy and a body of work that demands respect even if not the buzz artist on American charts.
As Is Now was not released in the U.S. yet (due October 11), but Weller gave his fans a nice sampling, performing seven songs from the album. "Blink And You'll Miss It" kicked the night off with a little funk and soul, led by Weller's distinguishable vocals. Giving Weller the bulk of his sound were bassist Damon Minchella, guitarist Steve Cradock, and drummer Steve White--White has been Weller's drummer since The Style Council at the age of 16. All throughout the evening, Weller either sang with grace or choked every note possible out of his electric guitar in the heat of a rocker. Song after song, Weller's reputation as an artist who doesn't disappoint on stage remained intact. The show built itself more on Weller's past releases while carefully adding the new material to maintain a flow. Songs like "From The Floor Boards Up," "Paper Smile," and "Come On/Let's Go" were some of the most rambunctious, straightforward rock tunes Weller has written in years since Stanley Road (1995) and Heavy Soul (1997). "Here's The Good News" recalled Randy Newman of the 70s; "Roll Along Summer" and "All On A Misty Morning" were smooth with romance and sophistication.
The energy between Weller and the audience grew in volume as the band dipped into Weller's past. The Vic Theatre rumbled as the first couple notes of The Jam's classic "In The Crowd" echoed in the air. It was almost as if Weller wrote the song yesterday. Weller led the song into an all out jam sensation as he and Cradock traded some hot guitar solos leading up to the adrenaline high of White's drum solo. Weller provided more Jam treats with fresh renditions of the cryptic "Tales From The Riverbank" and the social consciousness of "That's Entertainment."
From the psychedelic twists of "Foot On The Mountain" to a Style Council favorite "Shout To The Top!", Weller masterfully brought the audience to a peak, leaving them wanting more. In the final encore, Weller pushed the heights of the night. The raw and whimsical "Hung Up" was followed up by a gorgeous tribute to New Orleans in "Broken Stones." Finally, Weller and the band gave the most sharply tuned version of "Town Called Malice" to end the night on a definite high note; the audience vigorously booed the house lights coming on. It was a two year wait for Weller's return to Chicago. Hopefully, it will not be another two years for an absolute musical gem like Weller, in the creative prime of his life, to come back and shower a crowd with his Mod magic.
Monday, September 19, 2005
To many loyal patrons, the Hideout Block Party has come to mark the end of summer. It's that last hoorah outside before the winter coats come out of their closets and the salt trucks hit the pavement. As in previous years, the proceeds from this year's two day fest went to benefit the not-for-profit organizations P.L.A.Y. and Tuesday's Child & Literacy Works. Last year the Hideout raised $14, 238.58 for the two causes.
Tim Tuten worked the stage like some vaudeville announcer jumping up onto his rock and roll soapbox and preaching to the audience about the next band they were about to witness. The passion he would put into his speeches would leave some in the audience a bit out of breath. Behind the scenes he and his wife would be tending to the needs of the bands and making sure the train was running on time. Try to imagine a family Christmas gathering where all your second and third cousins showed up and you only have one table where they can be seated for dinner.
As the afternoon rolled along so did the music. Guitarist Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day slashed the calm air with his fuzzed toned guitar and murderous vocals. Since reforming nearly two years ago at the Double Door, Eleventh Dream Day has gone about their "comeback" quietly. "We just recorded these two weeks ago," said Rizzo regarding the batch of new material the band unveiled on stage. The songs were so fresh that even the band joked about not knowing what songs to play. Although the band was missing guitarist Baird Figi, who participated with the band's reunion show, the raw nature of Eleventh Dream Day's set still created a chill down the spine, not because it was nostaglic to hear one of the most venerated Chicago rock bands rekindle some old fire but because the music remains timeless even if you had never known about the band or its past.
Not only was Chicago well-represented on the bill but so was Canada. The Sam Roberts Band was the full-tilt rock show of the day, provided by our neighbors to the north, with polished guitar solos, thick beards, and big choruses to ignite the sing-alongs. Following Eleventh Dream Day's set and preceding The dB's, the Sam Roberts Band injected some kick into the afternoon even if it wasn't a real dose of anything at all. It's all well and good to play to a crowd as if you're playing a sold-out Wembley Stadium, but, without the songs to back up the swagger, it's then only a show with pretty instruments and tight jeans.
Chris Stamey, Peter Holsapple, Will Rigby, and Gene Holder are four names that when put together make The dB's complete. They are legends out of the Winston-Salem music scene of the early 80s and considered to be the torchbearers of the jangle-pop sound that was often attributed to The Byrds and Big Star. What The dB's started in their heyday R.E.M. continued as they rose in popularity into the late 80s and early 90s (early producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon, later on Scott Litt, had ties to The dB's). It had been a long time coming for the band since breaking up in the fall of 1988; Stamey had left the band in 1982. For all the lineup changes The dB's faced after Stamey's departure and slow record sales, there were still fans waiting with open arms for their band to come back again.
The band's performance at the Hideout was the first of two shows they had scheduled that day--the other was a late show at the House of Blues. The cheers were loud and clear as the foursome walked onto the stage. Eager fans piled in front of the stage already shouting out requests for "Neverland." To simply pick up a guitar and play on stage must have been a pleasure for Holsapple who recently lost his home in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina.
As they opened their set with "Ask For Jill," the Holsapple-Stamey vocal duo was harmony never lost. The band was a bit shaky early in their performance, but they would find each other within the songs. Rigby and Holder held the base of the band together, while Holsapple was the match that lit the fire; it was no wonder why R.E.M. used Holsapple's well of talent during their 1989 Green World Tour and subsequent MTV Unplugged in 1991.
The dB's dusted off their catalog and managed to throw in some new songs as well like "World To Cry" and "Santa Monica." In a touching moment, the audience let the band know they were game for one more song, and, with some encouragement fromTim Tuten, the band returned for more. Already against the clock with set times and changing gear on stage, it was a gesture of respect to allow The dB's an encore, and why not? It was a show that was twenty-two years in the making.
The sun began to set and the music got louder as some of the best local acts played into the night. It was a smoking trio of The Ponys, The M's, and The Redwalls that really took the block party up a couple of notches. Toss Joy Division and Sonic Youth into a blender and you would get The Ponys. Their frantic assault was simply just that; every note screamed chaos and every beat thundered like a bomb. The M's married the strange with swaggering melody--every word that singer Josh Chicione's whispered was like a secret with a sinister punch line. Placed near the top of the bill was The Redwalls. Their star has risen since touring with Oasis on their U.K. summer stadium tour and opening the first day of Lollapalooza. Born rock stars? You bet. The time with Oasis certainly has rubbed off the quartet out of Deerfield, IL. Now, when The Redwalls take the stage, there's more of a bounce in their strut. Singer Logan Baren nearly melted his microphone with his no-mercy powered vocals. They may have used The Beatles as their platform, but don't pigeonhole The Redwalls as merely a cover band making some noise. "On My Way" was smoother than a Las Vegas pimp, and a cover of Bob Dylan's "Just Like A Woman" came across with biting energy. The Redwalls closed out their night with a balls out rendition of "Robinson Crusoe," highlighted by guitarist Andrew Langer and his Pete Townshend-guitar trashing moment.
At the end of the night, the Hideout Block Party accomplished what it set out to do: provide great music. If you ever wanted to know what kind of people Tim and Katie Tuten are, just attend one of the block parties or Hideout shows and you'll understand. These people are their club. For just a donation of $10, eight hours of live music was put on stage, drinks were had, and order was maintained. It's not the place to be seen. It's just the place where you go and say, "I'm here for some good music." And in its ninth year, the Hideout Block Party kept up its reputation as one of the best summer street fests in Chicago.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
It was the band's first Chicago show since last year. The band recently came through town last July as John Hiatt's band, headlining the WXRT Free 4th of July concert at Grant Park. Fans of the band who were at that show probably were not used to seeing the band stick to a plan. Known for their fluid stage presence and "jam" band-like qualities (marathon guitar solos, band improvisation), the North Mississippi Allstars are considered to be in a class of their own, manipulating what they know to be the traditions of blues music and turning it upside down on its head with country, folk, and rock music.
If there was ever an obvious signal from the packed audience that they were ready for the band's flavor of boogie, it definitely came at the start of the show as a woman tossed her bra at guitarist Luther Dickinson. The shuffling groove of "Teasin' Brown" was an early jump start to the night. Drummer Cody Dickinson (Luther's younger brother) and bassist Chris Chew makeup the band's fat stomp of a rhythm section. Together, they formed a sound like a herd of oxen marching through open fields. The band gave their latest material heavy rotation throughout the setlist. Songs like "Hurry Up Sunrise" and "Deep Blue Sea" stepped back from their more sweaty counterparts and showed more of the band's softer, melodic side. In a tribute to R.L. Burnside, a blues legend in every aspect and friend to the band, "Shake 'Em On Down" got down and dirty as it blended a cover of Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie." The band wrapped their hands around another cover deep into their encore with a hot, sexy (possibly illegal in some states) version of The Rolling Stones' "Stray Cat Blues."
The night eventually drew to a close. Chew, the most talkative of the band members, joked often about how the band has been known to be asked to stop playing by the clubs hosting them. Once that switch is flipped to ON it's hard to get the North Mississippi Allstars to stop. Each member had their moments to shine: Cody Dickinson's washboard solo (yes, a washboard), Chew's funky basslines, and Luther Dickinson's flawless guitar work.
For every note, the crowd kept up with the band. It's almost as if the band dares any crowd to try and maintain a level of energy equal to the band's on stage. If you're going to be at a North Mississippi Allstars show, prepare to go all night with the band. To them, the music is like sex; each song gets the band and crowd closer to that monumental orgasm to cap off the night. The bra that was thrown onto the stage at the beginning of the show became Chew's trophy, dangling from the head of his bass as if to signify how great the night went. All parties were happily satisfied and smoked their obligatory cigarette when the lights came back on. With so many musical dynamics at their fingertips, the North Mississippi Allstars gave all the reasons why they consistently remain to be an explosive live band. The chaos which nature wielded upon thousands along the Gulf Coast caused enormous suffering for many. But for the Oxford-based band out of Mississippi the music provided just enough comfort to get through the night.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda
Thursday, September 15, 2005
The Redwalls - De Nova (Capitol)
Reinventing the wheel in rock and roll just doesn't happen over night. Often, bands have placed their stamp on rock music by taking pages from its past and giving it a new, fresh spin. The Redwalls don't add much of a different take on 1960s rock, but they do celebrate the influences with honesty and flare (just look how they dress).
On just their second album, the quartet out of Deerfield, IL were signed to Capitol Records and have made their major label debut with De Nova. Barely into their twenties, The Redwalls perform with the hunger and arrogance of a band that knows how good they are and how good they can become. You'd almost think that if they were teamed against The Rolling Stones today that The Redwalls would give the Stones a good run for their money.
Between Logan Baren, brother Justin, and Andrew Langer, The Redwalls display a three-piece harmony team that pack a lot of the punch to the band's songs. Probably not since R.E.M.'s trio of Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, and Bill Berry has a band really developed their vocals in such a way that they are just as important as the guitar parts, like The Beatles or The Beach Boys. Right off the bat, songs like "Robinson Crusoe" and "On My Way" suck you in with their attitude and their swing.
A lot of that stems from vocalist and guitarist Logan Baren. The young singer greatly echoes a young John Lennon with a touch of Liam Gallagher's venomous vocal spit. The themes on De Nova are pretty basic: the crush on the girl ("Love Her"), no desire for school ("It's Alright"), and just plain feeling like you're on a roll ("On My Way"). But there are moments of consciousness that really shine through; bent up frustration towards the FCC in "Falling Down" and the Dylan-esque look at war in "Glory Of War" give the album some added substance that make it a much more solid album.
Albeit a better effort from the band's first album Universal Blues (2000), The Redwalls don't throw many surprises on De Nova but give a lot of reasons why there's plenty of promise on the horizon. It would definitely fall under the category of "Nothing You Haven't Heard Before" just as bands like The Strokes. The Redwalls get a pass for their sophomore album. If they are to shake off the heavy weight of Beatles labels they even now shurg off--something Oasis can't seem to get past after ten years--The Redwalls best think of a way to make people believe otherwise. The grading is just going to get harder from now on.
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
North Mississippi Allstars - Electric Blue Watermelon (ATO Records)
It has been a steady ride for the North Mississippi Allstars. Over the course of five years, the band has become its very own institution of the blues, attracting all walks of life in music like Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Lucinda Williams, and the legendary R.L. Burnside. Their fourth album, Electric Blue Watermelon, finds the band trading their marathon jam sessions for more concisely polished songs. The fat stomp remains but what's slightly lost in the mix is the dirty muck that gave the band their raw edge.
As a trio, Luther Dickinson (guitar), brother Cody (drums), and Chris Chew (bass) haven't sounded better. Producer Jim Dickinson, father of Luther and Cody, keeps the band's loose stage presence while getting a tight performance out of the them. Dickinson helped produce the band's 2001 album 51 Phantom. What sets the North Mississippi Allstars apart from other blues acts of today is their willingness to go beyond the traditional blues structure that becomes repetitive, building on itself without ever branching out. Still rooted in the blues of their native Mississippi hill country, the North Mississippi Allstars find new ways to keep the blues fresh while respecting its past. The album's title is said to come from the name of a band once led by Memphis blues musician Lee Baker in the 1960s. So, it can't be argued that the Allstars don't know their history.
Any one musician in the band can easily lead the charge in a song. But when all three are locked into gear they make one hell of a sound. "Teasin' Brown" runs just a little over three and a half minutes but you can close your eyes and imagine the band turning on a dime to make the song last twenty minutes. The lyrical hooks--something that on record the band can either be hit or miss--varies from time to time throughout the album. A key weapon that seems to never falter in the band's arsenal and make up for the sometimes soft lyrics is their ear for a musical hook--the groove. "Stompin' My Foot" plays up on some funk. "Bang Bang Lulu" could have been an up-tempo B-side to The Beatles' "Yer Blues." There's a bit of The Black Crowes that echoes during "Deep Blue Sea" while Lucinda Williams lends her dirty pipes on "Hurry Up Sunrise."
Overall, Electric Blue Watermelon is a breezy album that doesn't divert too far from the North Mississippi Allstars' style of boogie shakin' blues. Already a sharp live act, the band still shows the potential to make the studio a place where the energy they create on stage becomes something so much more than just a straightforward performance album.
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Since July 27, 2005, when the first web counter was installed, Getting In Tune has attracted 1,404 readers to the site.
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Kanye West - Late Registration (Rock-A-Fella Records)
On Late Registration, Chicago native Kanye West brushes off any worries of a sophomore slump and continues to think outside the box of the hip-hop world. If last year's The College Dropout was West's declaration as one of the new premiere voices in music, then Late Registration emphasizes West's talents as a musical entrepreneur and solidifies himself as an undeniable presence that can not be ignored for one second.
For any artist with the opportunity, making an album is a dream come true. When world wide acclaim follows it and platinum records pile up, the thought of a follow up album has to be floating in the back of everyone's mind. That second step either proves they can find a path forward or fall backwards into failure. West could have easily delivered The College Dropout Part Two and sold millions. Instead, he recruited a producer in Jon Brion, a man with no hip-hop experience and whose credits include artists like Fiona Apple and the film score to Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The move was perceived by hip-hop big shots as artistic suicide, but, in the mind of West, playing it safe would compromise all that he has accomplished thus far. Although the ideas are bigger with bling and the line of guest vocalists longer on Late Registration, West can not seem to leave behind hip-hop's self-promotion mentality. A customer who paid $15.99 for the album shouldn't need to be reminded time and time again during a song exactly who they just gave their money to; that's not songwriting, that's advertising. But just when you think West is going through the motions for the crowd he creates a twist.
The soundtrack to 1998's Godzilla contained the over-bloated Puff Daddy opus "Come With Me," a song built on the sample of Led Zeppelin's classic 1975 song "Kashmir." Puff Daddy had already scored big the year before by using a sample of "Every Breath You Take" by The Police for a tribute to his fallen rap partner, The Notorious BIG (Biggie Smalls), called "I'll Be Missing You." Well, with "Come With Me," not even Led Zeppelin's guitarist Jimmy Page backed by a symphony could save this led balloon of a song. Simply mentioning the movie and its soundtrack is probably the most recent "publicity" it has gotten in seven years.
Where Puff Daddy failed, Kayne West succeeds with a song like "Gone." Still not the most superior rapper in the world, West has a keen ear for the right voices that can give his vision shape (count how many vocalists appear on the album). Rappers Consequence and Cam'Ron fill in the spaces West needs filled while sampling Otis Redding's "It's Too Late." The end result is a hip-hop hybrid, incorporating a driving orchestral arrangment that would make famed conductor John Williams (Star Wars, Jaws, Indiana Jones) stand and applaud. "Gone" is just one example of West allowing the music to be the song's hook. On "Touch The Sky," the horns in Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" get slowed down from their crisp flow to a head bopping strut. The late Ray Charles appears on the album's first single "Gold Digger." Using Charles' vocal from his 1955 hit song "I Got A Woman" and Oscar winner Jamie Foxx--who portrayed Charles in the movie Ray--as a guest vocalist, West creates possibly his smoothest, hotter-than-the-sun single yet.
As a producer, West knew how to take a song and make it a world in itself. "Drive Slow" takes a tour of Chicago's South Side on any given night, from Lake Shore Drive to the I-80 expressway east into Calumet City for a stroll around River Oaks Mall with the speakers pumping in the car. In "Roses," West recalls his dying grandmother to paint a picture of how 35 years of service to the church as a secretary doesn't matter in a hospital room when "the best medicine goes to people that's paid." His frustration builds as he is faced with humanity taking a back seat to the reality of health insurance, "You tellin' me if my grandma was in the NBA/Right now she'd be ok?"
There is a clear conscious at work throughout Late Registration even while hip-hop cliches creep up between songs. Like the introduction to The College Dropout, Chicago comedian Bernie Mac reprises his role as the loudmouthed teacher who sees West as a nobody. Unfortunately, West adds four nonsensical skits at certain points of Late Registration that do nothing but cheapen the atmosphere of the album. That said, West manages to remain hungry with something more to prove to hip-hop, always finding new chips on his shoulders to fuel his fire. The College Dropout is West responding to a dare to leave the shelter of the producer's chair and get in front of a microphone. Late Registration is the lion's roar--it is Kanye West taking on everyone and anyone who stand in his way towards that which all artist crave: respect.
Monday, September 05, 2005
On The Silver Line (2002), Mills stepped away from his alt-country sound and traded it in for a more pop heavy, melodic atmosphere often compared to Wilco's transition from Being There to Summerteeth. Mills has kept the sound but changed his delivery. Recorded on January 7-9, 2005, The Wall To Wall Sessions was by all means a back-to-basics move by Mills in terms of how he wanted to approach the creative process this time around. With a 17-piece orchestra and a two-track recorder, Mills took a detour from the studio magic available at his fingertips to create something raw and invigorating. The translation from studio to stage was remarkable as he and his band packed every inch of space on the small Schubas stage.
The assembled group, many of whom worked on The Wall To Wall Sessions, was a sort of Who's Who of the Chicago music scene. The rhythm section of Ryan Hembrey and Gerald Dowd are often found backing songstress Nora O'Connor. Susan Voelz has been a long standing member with Poi Dog Pondering. Fred Lonberg-Holm remains an active musician among the avant-jazz scene of Chicago while often lending his cello skills to others (most notably on Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot).
As Mills performed 90% of The Wall To Wall Sessions, there was a definite sense that Mills turned the right page he needed to turn to move forward in his career. He hasn't lost the heart to his music, but he has found new avenues to explore. The swinging waltz of "You Are My Favorite Song" captured the spirit of a young Chris Mills on 1995's Plays And Sings while the gentle lullaby of "Everything About The Heart" revealed how much Mills has matured over the years. Mills' soulful voice was at its best and his joy on stage was unmistakable. Mills dipped back in his catalog for songs like "Brand New Day" and "All You Ever Do" for some of the best rocking moments of the night; the size of the stage couldn't hold Mills back from leaping in the air with immense fervor. Chris Mills proved that he's still on a strong, creative stride and that his best work keeps getting better. Although Mills left Chicago a few years ago for Brooklyn, his heart sure hasn't, and the musicians that gave their skills to make the show possible on a Saturday night at Schubas showed that Chicago hasn't forgotten Chris Mills.
All Photos By: Chris Castaneda