Monday, May 30, 2005

Gang of Four

OK, so the first time I saw Gang of Four was in 1983. At Drumlins Country Club in suburban Syracuse, New York. (Keep your snickering to yourself, I saw The Cult play there a few years later in support of their, at the time, latest album "Love".) Anyway, it was also the first time I got drunk. See, I knew a guy who was a busboy there who knew a bartender. That bartender served up whisky sours before the show and I ended up sitting on the edge of the stage while there was a great racket going on behind me. This time there was still a great racket but I was able to actually enjoy it.

As you are probably aware, the Gang of Four, the original members, decided to get together and hit the road. No album to support. They apparently decided it was time to show the current generation how it is done. And man, did they ever. The place was the 9:30 Club in DC. The doors opened at 10. Waiting in line I saw a collection of old guys like me and younger kids who, I suppose, wanted to see where their favorite bands got their inspiration.

The opening act, Radio 4 , went onstage around 11. While musically proficient and interesting (guitar obviously inspired by Andy Gill) the lyrics were insipid and repetative. After a 30 minute set the crowd was left to wait. And wait. And wait. Around 12:10 the lights dimmed, some strange African chants were played over the sound system and then... The choppy distinctive Andy Gill style. From that moment on there was just an intense energy coming off the stage. I never would have thought that forty-something men could put on such a physical show. Jon King jumped all over the stage and, during the song "Why Theory" beat the crap out of a microwave with a steel baseball bat to keep rhythm. With Dave Allen, Jon King and Andy Gill strutting all over the stage, jumping about and striking rock-god poses I kind of felt bad for Hugo Burnham getting stuck behind the drums.

I won't try to recall the set list but I can say that all but a couple songs ("I Parade Myself" and "We Live As We Dream, Alone") came off their first two albums. Well those two and their third and final encore of "Sweet Jane" (whaaa, don't get that one). Of the songs played "Paralysed" was great as King and Gill played off of each other with their own individual monologues.

The staging was minimal. A few different colored gels. Three mic stands and that's about it. But, after the show started it was obvious nothing more was needed.

Overall the sound was great. The 9:30 Club is a fantastic place to see a show. The sound was clean and not muddy at all. And what a sound it was! You could hear the individual instruments and the vocals were not completely drowned out. They played an 80 minute set and it was just great. I have to say, it was the best concert I've ever been to.

posted by MGSoden, 7:48 PM | link | 3 comments

Monday, May 23, 2005

You don't see THAT every day...

With the warmer weather upon us in the DC metro area there are often imprompteau neighborhood gatherings. This evening , for instance, Jeannine picked me up at the metro station. As we were unloading the kids from the car we ran into a couple down the street and their two boys. While Sebastian was running up and down the sidewalk with Evan and Davis and Jeannine and I spoke with Ken and Athena there was suddenly the very distinct sound of a military jet on afterburners. Once you hear the sound you never forget it and will not mistake it for a civilian/commercial airplane. I looked around and suddenly there appeared a grey angular shape hustling through the sky south to north. An F-16. About 15 seconds later a second jet appeared. We watched them fly off in the distance and then circle back around. This is not TOO unusual as we live fairly close to the flight path to Andrews AFB. I've seen two F-117s flying in formation, several C-17s, a few C-5s and a fair amount of F-16s. So, not completely unusual but worth looking up. The odd part was the afterburners.

Then we saw the Cessna.

The F-16s circled it like sharks around a bleeding surfer.

Then we we saw one of the F-16s line up on the Cessna and fire a flare. A very bright flare. The Cessna began to change its course and was escorted by the two F-16s out of our view. We suspected that there was a pair of pants that needed changing at 2000 feet.

About 10 or so minutes later we again heard the roar of the jets flying back down south towards DC. At the same time a MD State Police helicopter flew north over our houses in the direction it appeared the F-16s escorted the Cessna. Somebody was not going to make it home for dinner.

posted by MGSoden, 8:45 PM | link | 4 comments

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Work from Home!

I got a cool, unexpected thing in the mail yesterday. Bill Horner, one of my friends from Denver (he lived next door for years, and stayed with my parents for a year to allow him to finish high school after his parents moved out of town), sent me two handmade CDs and a (shocking!) hand-written letter of explanation.

Seems he and a couple of friends decided to start a "CD-of-the-month" club, where each committed to making and distributing a certain number of CDs at a pre-determined interval. After each CD had been compiled and recorded, the compiler also produced relatively lengthy 150- to 200-word mini-essays about each song: what the song meant to the compiler, and why it was included in the set (thematically). Recipients of the CD include all the other compilers, plus anyone else to whom the set might be meaningful (I was the latter type of recipient).

I'd like to start a similar club. The folks who congregate here are perfect participants -- we all love music, and we all have wildly divergent (but, except for Pat, really good) tastes. Importantly, we can all write about it compellingly and evocatively.

Please leave a comment here if you are interested in participating. I'll draw up a schedule and we'll get this baby rolling.

posted by Bill Purdy, 9:20 AM | link | 6 comments

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Again with the E-Comedy - Drunk People!

I love drunk people! God bless you drunken bastards!

I especially love messin’ with drunk people. Like rearranging the furniture in their apartment while they are in the bathroom. Even better, a drunk person that has passed out! Yeah, gimme a passed out drunk guy and a Sharpie and I’m in heaven!

Do you ever get those emails that are titled “Never Get This Drunk?” Those are SWEET! They have pictures of people that have puked on themselves and stuff! Awesome! There’s always pictures of people who passed out and were written on or had some body part shaved… Some guy was kind enough to pass out in his own bed, only to have his buddies saran-wrap him to the mattress! Then there are the two guys that passed out and their “friends” stripped them naked and made them spoon. Try explaining morning wood the next day in THAT situation.

I went out with some friends from work the other day and we somehow got into a conversation about the first time you got drunk and crazy things people did in college when they were plastered. One of our directors was telling some stories about his roommate, which always ended with us questioning natural selection.

Then the girl sitting across from me spoke up. She was very pretty, mid-30’s, married with two kids – a little mom weight, which is fine. Just a beautiful girl. She told a story about visiting her cousins in Arkansas when she was 19. They had a homemade gin mill, “and you had to strain the alcohol through a paper towel. And it STILL made your tongue tickle!”

I was waiting for the Blue Collar Comedy Tour to bust in!

(In fake Jeff Foxworthy twang) “If you are drinking alcohol that has to be strained through a paper towel, yyeeewwwww might be a redneck!”

(Pretend to be writing on hand) “Will drink damn near ANYTHING to get drunk – here’s yer sign.”

Then I started to think about it a little. Back when this girl was 19, before the husband and kids and mom weight, she was probably pretty hot! And willing to drink that crap to get drunk? Now I’m thinking, “git ‘er done!”

I didn’t go to a fun party school for college. I didn’t go to Texas or Florida or California where the girls have two primary goals: 1) get drunk, and 2) no visible tan lines. Nope, I went to Creighton university in Omaha Nebraska where there are two basic seasons: 1) freezing rain with fifty below wind chill, and 2) tornado. Not only that, but Creighton is a private Catholic university, so most students came from small private Catholic high schools. Go ahead; picture the classic Catholic schoolgirl in the white knee-high socks and the plaid skirt and the white oxford. Now, let’s turn her into a Creighton girl!

Keep in mind that Creighton is in Omaha Nebraska, which means many of the students were from Nebraska and surrounding states, such as Kansas, Iowa, South Dakota, etc. I understand that there is a lot of inbreeding going on in those states, so your Creighton girl needs a minor deformity. Something slight, like a droopy eye or one nostril bigger than the other or a hair lip. In fact, the best player for the women’s basketball team was totally cross-eyed. We’d yell, “Throw it to the cock-eyed bitch! Yay, she scored! Go cock-eyed bitch!”

Also, (remember the location) people in that area of the country are usually about 5-15 years behind as far as style and fashion are concerned. Many of them still have mullets and wear Buttafuco/Zuba pants. So, your Creighton girl should have either a really bad perm or 6-inch high mall bangs.

Since Creighton is in Nebraska, you’re going to have to corn-feed your Creighton girl now. Just simply add about 40 extra pounds at least.

Now how does your cock-eyed, hair lipped, perm haired, chunky Catholic schoolgirl look?

You know, our cheerleaders were so fat, we used to call them the Moo Crew! In fact, I think we had a special budget for herding dogs to get them on and off the basketball court during timeouts.

Not many were cute, but I look back at my yearbook now and think of how I adapted to the environment to start hitting on some of them! Even better – they would play hard to get! Yeah, THEY were being picky! You’re drinking an Old Mill, but I’m not good enough? Oh, sorry – I forgot – you’re “saving yourself.” For what exactly? You ain’t getting any younger and my standards can’t get any lower!

posted by Pat Angello, 5:58 PM | link | 3 comments

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Coachella, Part Two: The Reviews

35 artists in two days. That’s a lot of music. Here’s my take on what I saw…

Five performances that totally rocked my world:

1) The Arcade Fire

Unquestionably the standout performance of the festival, this was a career-defining moment (think U2 at Red Rocks – I know, cuz I was there, too) on the Outdoor Theatre stage. An enormous crowd of 10,000 or more people (like me) chose The Arcade Fire over The Gang of Four reunion on the main stage (a totally unfair choice to ask us to make – shame on you, Goldenvoice), and were rewarded with a soaring, reckless performance that had everyone in the crowd shouting along with the band. Made all the more grand by a startlingly beautiful sunset, the band tore through its set with a passion that’s rare in rock music these days. Consider: 1) Richard and the sociopathic extra guy in the band (he wasn’t on stage when I saw them in Chapel Hill) climbed the scaffolding twenty feet up, frantically pounding on it and each other the whole time. 2) Win did the most incredible stage dive I have ever seen, hurling himself across a six-foot gap and a fence. 3) He hurled his mike 60 feet into the audience at the end of the show and it didn’t leave a microphone-sized hole in someone’s head. Simply epic.

2) The Fiery Furnaces

Everything I said in my Cat’s Cradle review applies to this performance. They performed a breakneck 45-minute medley of nearly every song in their repertoire, without stopping. The crowd, which was larger than I expected, ate it up. Even the sound check was fun.

3) The Kills

The Kills killed. They slayed. They fucking rocked. They single-handedly redeemed our Saturday. What a show! A guy with a guitar, and a rock chick with a serious case of the look-at-me’s, making sadistic, chunky rock’n’roll love while pounding out crunchy riffs and bluesy, PJ-Harvey-esque moans and wails. It was glorious, this Kills show was. This was the first band of the weekend that made the most of their Coachella showcase, spitting and vomiting pure rock and roll at an adoring audience of converts like me. I loved every minute of it. I ate it up. And hated it when it was over. So fuck me.

4) Mercury Rev

All I saw was one song – a part of one song, actually – but what I saw was simply beautiful. Everything came together for Mercury Rev Saturday night (in contrast to the last and only other time I saw them, after which they broke up) – the soaring psychedelic guitars, the smashing drums, Jonathan Donahue’s ethereal voice – and the band knew it, coming back out onto the stage after their set was done beaming with smiles a mile wide, and bowing gratefully to the relatively small (but appreciative) crowd. Mercury Rev was the only artist I saw at Coachella (including The Arcade Fire) this year who so visibly displayed their own satisfaction with their performance.

5) The Secret Machines

This band has grown so much since I saw them in Raleigh last summer (maybe constant touring is better for you than I thought it was), and the music has gotten louder, more immersive, and just plain better, too. This was the only band I saw in the Mojave tent whose performance was improved by the monster light kit in the tent – for everyone else I saw there, the painfully bright forced-perspective marquee overhead and the strobes that popped like a fireworks display finale were simply overwhelming. For The Secret Machines, their blinding intensity was perfectly matched by the sheer volume of the performance. I felt a pang of regret for finishing this set instead of seeing Four Tet, but the near-sensory overload made me forget the pain.

Four performances that surprised me, in a good way:

1) Gram Rabbit

Prior to the show, folks in animal costumes tossed sets of fuzzy bunny ears to most of the 300 or so early birds clustered in front of the main stage under a high desert sun, setting the scene for the slightly surreal spectacle that followed. I had little idea what to expect, but it turns out Gram Rabbit is a bit of a concept band -- though exactly what the concept is, is unclear to me. Cross suggested they’d fit right into any Tarantino film, and I’d have to agree – filter Siouxsie and the Banshees through Lucas’s THX-1138, and you’ll begin to get an idea of what we’re dealing with here. The music was an electronic fusion of goth and country – electro punkabilly, perhaps? In any case, it was pretty cool stuff.

2) Jem

Lilith Fair outcast? Dido clone? That’s the knock against her (I thought Jem was a band, but it turns out Jem is the singer’s first name – think Jewel, but better, more engaging). Granted, she gets bonus points for being the only female performer in the entire festival with the balls to wear a bikini top onstage, but turns out she also puts on a pretty good show. Even though she didn’t do much for Cross (who had a pre-built aversion to her in the first place), in a year where good surprises at Coachella were hard to come by, Jem was a refreshing drink of cold water on a hot day in the desert.

3) Rilo Kiley

Surprising fun facts: Jenny Lewis, singer for Rilo Kiley, provides vocals for some of the more arresting tracks on the Postal Service CD. She also ditched a fledgling acting career when she started the band (look up her IMDB entry – I dare you!). Aren’t you surprised? I certainly was by their performance, which was tight, fun, and perfectly balanced between indie rock and country twang.

4) Shout Out Louds

Even though she elected not to go to Coachella this year, Beth made me promise to see these Swedes, who attracted her attention with their band name. My expectations were admittedly low, but the band was surprisingly good – easily the best of the dozen or so bands on this year’s bill who draw on ‘80s new wave as their primary inspiration (and the biggest problem with this year’s lineup was precisely that homogeneity across the board). Cross summed up their sound succinctly: “If John Hughes were making movies these days, the Shout Out Louds would be included on the soundtrack.” Go, Cross, go!

These five performances surprised me, too. But in a bad way:

1) Bloc Party

The hype. Oh, the hype. Please. Great band name, but not much more than that. If the singer weren’t black, there might be even less to talk about.

2) The Chemical Brothers

This set was probably the biggest disappointment of the weekend. Basically, the Chems played songs from CDs while standing on the stage and waving their arms in the air like they just didn’t care. We made it through four cuts and bailed, our expectations dashed by a listless crowd that seemed to realize they’d been hoodwinked, too.

3) Spoon

A most highly anticipated set (I love my Spoon CDs) that was ultimately dashed by Brit Daniels’ hoarse voice, surly disposition, and nonexistent stage presence (to say nothing of the distraction caused by his uncanny resemblance to Gary Busey).

4) Weezer

By the numbers. Predictable. Boring. None of which you’d expect from weirdo frontman Rivers Cuomo. We certainly didn’t expect it. And when it became clear Rivers wasn’t going to do anything interesting, we moved on.

These performances were good, not great:

We caught four songs from this set, all from their debut CD (one of my faves this year). Their Sonic Youth meet Pixies sound is nascent, but with scads of potential. Keep an eye out, as a dense tour schedule (they’ve been to the Triangle three times supporting three different bands this year alone) should provide them with an opportunity to refine their live set.

The Dresden Dolls
The Dolls had the most visible fan base of any band at Coachella – hundreds of girls wandering the polo grounds dressed conspicuously like slutty goth porcelain figurines. They also played the oddest set. When we got there, they were covering Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Then, they played a drinking song. Then, a lumbering instrumental piece before closing the set with “Girl, Anachronism,” their signature cut. Not bad by any stretch, just weird and incongruous. This year’s The Sleepy Jackson.

The Faint
Better than expected, but their politi-disco shtick still sounds an awful lot to me like Dead Or Alive. And what’s with their fans? Dozens of folks noodling like they’re at a Dave Matthews show. Easily the most perplexingly rabid fan base of any band I saw this year.

Herman Cattaneo
The Argentinian DJ shmo actually pumped up the rave tent more effectively than The Chemical Brothers did. Good for you, amigo!

Miss Kittin
Everything Herman Cattaneo did, but even better. It’s hard to write definitively about a DJ set, though, since basically it’s just some shmo (in this case an ex-stripper shmo, but a shmo nonetheless) playing records on the stage.

The Perceptionists
Intellectual hip-hoppers were the best of the rap acts we saw this year, with smoov grooves and equally smoov rhymes. And, yes, imploring all in attendance to put their hands in the air and wave them like they don’t care. In this case, I actually thought about doing it for a second.

Wilco bailed on last year’s Coachella slot because singer Jeff Tweedy needed to go into rehab. Now that he’s sober, he seems to have concluded Wilco have become serious rock stars, adored by the critics and rich from the thousands of fans who gleefully fork over $50 and up to see them play. Unfortunately, no matter how many times they say it to themselves, Wilco is not a “BIG” rock band. Their music is much better suited to an intimate venue, where you can best appreciate the subtle intensity of the lyrics, and the complexity of the composition. Those important features of Wilco’s music were lost on the big main stage Saturday. Nevertheless, I enjoyed hearing the music, which was quite good even absent the intensity and complexity that makes it great on CD.

These performances were fair, not good:

Ambulance LTD
Truthfully, I remember nothing of the three songs we heard. Cross says they’d make a competent bar band, and I am inclined to believe him.

Armin Van Buren
He’s a DJ, a shmo who plays records on a stage. Or, maybe he’s a trance artist. Is there a difference?

Black Star
Mos Def may have starred in last week’s number one movie (Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), but this anticipated reunion with Talib Kweli didn’t do much for me. He does look good on the Jumbotron, I noticed.

The Bravery
I didn’t see this set exactly, but like I did for The Killers’ set last year, I ate my dinner just outside the tent where I could hear them. And thus, I am qualified to say that The Bravery listened to a lot of New Order and Depeche Mode growing up, and that they will in all likelihood sell as many records as their “rivals,” The Killers (just as soon as they ink that iPod contract). Cross suggested that if the rival bands really wanted to piss each other off, they should start playing each others’ songs live. Great idea!

British Sea Power
My book report is about British Sea Power. British Sea Power is a band with a cool logo. In conclusion, buy the t-shirt. The end.

Another DJ. He was fair, not good. But then again, what do you expect from a shmo who plays records on a stage for a living (he does get to work with M.I.A., though, so at least he has that going for him)?

Donovan Frankenreiter
You thought this was another shmo DJ, didn’t you? Well, I did, too. We’d both be wrong. Frankenreiter fronts your basic guitar-based noodling jam band, easily confused with the Aquarium Rescue Unit, Warren Haynes, Phish etc. Not so much a “fair” performance (it was really quite competent) as one that was better suited for Bonnaroo than Coachella.

Josh Wink
Trance? House? Beats the shit out of me.

The first band we saw Saturday, M83 was a victim of timing as much as anything else. Their electronic-based music (like an updated Jean-Michel Jarre, as performed by Mike Oldfield) would have been much better suited to the rave tent at night, with lasers. As it was, in the middle of a hot desert day, in the open-ended Gobi Tent (think a huge car port), the set fell flat. I still like their CDs, though.

Just plain weird. These otherwise subtle electronic glitch artists were poorly placed in the Gobi tent, where their quiet experimental electronic clicks and burps were drowned by a stiff cold breeze and sound spilling in from all of the other four stages. Furthermore, the set looked more like an art exhibit than a musical performance, with three guys in suits huddled in front of sequencers and an amp stack while random maps flashed on a screen over their heads. We lasted five minutes before we bailed.

New Order
For at least seven years of my life, New Order were unquestionably my favorite band in the universe. And I never got a chance to see them live, so even though they are no longer my favorite band (probably not even in the top 100, sadly), I was excited to see them. But not even playing two Joy Division songs (Transmission and Ceremony – I heard they did Love Will Tear Us Apart later in the set) could overcome the curmudgeonly onstage persona of Bernard Sumner and the beer-addled corpulence of Peter Hook’s visage on the Jumbotron. We left after five songs.

Cross raves about their CD, but this performance did nothing for me. Competent, but kinda dull. Perhaps they’d be better in a different venue.

The Raveonettes
To be fair, I only caught one song, from far away, as I was walking through on our way to see M83. And that one song didn’t sound bad. In fact, it sounded exactly like the CD version, played loudly, in the distance.

Snow Patrol
While the new CD works for me as a buff alternative to Coldplay, the live show did not. Competent, but bland and safe – just like Matchbox Twenty (credit to Bill Cross for that one).

These three totally sucked ass:

1) Bright Eyes

This was the second year in a row Bright Eyes sucked – must be a Coachella record. It was a performance so colossally bad even his cadre of loyal fans were streaming out to see the Prodigy just four songs into this set. Using much better-loved The Faint (who preceded the Bright Eyes set with a pretty good one of their own) as his backup band, Oberst croaked through a mopey electronic set that confounded me, Cross, and everyone around us. If this is the best we’re going to get from the much-hyped “greatest lyricist of his generation,” then I proclaim his career trajectory (musically, anyway; his record label seems to be doing pretty well) downward-trending. Sinking. Dead in the water. Crap.

2) DJ Peretz

Any shmo can play records on stage and call himself a DJ. That axiom is proven every couple of hours in the Sahara tent. Perry Farrell (yep, same guy who fronted Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros, and who founded Lollapalooza) calls himself a DJ, but clearly has no idea what the hell he is doing. First, he needs to play good records, not the maudlin down-tempo crap he favors. Next, he needs to make an effort not to look like a complete dork on stage. Irony is not his friend. It’s mine. Third, he’s gotta give people a reason to stick around and dance. After all, why are they there in the first place? Peretz fails on all three counts, miserably, horribly, and embarrassingly. Stick to your day job, Perry.

3) Jean Grae

Not much to say here, except she showed up 20 minutes late for her 40-minute set (which is downright unconscionable in an environment like Coachella), then ordered me to put my hand in the air and wave it like I just don’t care. Fuck that, I ain’t waving shit, bizznatch.

posted by Bill Purdy, 10:51 AM | link | 4 comments

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Coachella 2005, Part One: Getting There

Since we saw 35 or so bands over two days, it'll take me a bit of time to write up my reviews. Expect them to be posted here by the end of the week. Meantime, here is a little description of the ride from LA to Palm Springs I wrote while waiting for my airplane. Enjoy.

Los Angeles goes on, it seems, for 90 miles as you drive east from LAX, with a Target store located (for your convenience) at a minimum of every 3rd freeway exit. Traffic moves absurdly slowly, but it does move; rarely do you sit motionless for more than five seconds at any one time. The topography conspires to confound your sense of direction. North, south, east, and west become abstractions. The concrete river on which you ride determines your vector and your speed. No matter where it deposits you, nearly every need can be catered to within a short distance of the freeway exit. Such is the gift of abundance in Southern California.

In our case, the concrete river dumped us at a casino at the edge of the desert, a tall glass skyscraper that rises like a ship’s sail from a sea of outlet malls. Here, at this verdant retail delta which spans from one freeway exit all the way to the next, you can buy a pair of sunglasses at not one, but three sunglasses stores, two of which are affiliated with the great Sunglass Hut International (because one never knows when the urge to buy a $200 pair of Maui Jim’s will strike).

I decided to buy a new watch at the Nike outlet, and Cross bought a floppy hat from a branded store called RipTide that makes him look so mooky I cannot look at him when I speak to him for the first hour he wears it. More than anything else, our little shopping excursion served to restore bloodflow to our posteriors, compressed as they were by ten to twelve hours in airplanes and 4-wheeled kayaks. We returned to the car refreshed, but concerned by the stiff, cold breeze that whipped around my naked calves. I thought briefly about heading to the Gap outlet, or the Kenneth Cole outlet, or even the Ralph Lauren outlet to buy some jeans, but then I decide I want to get to Palm Springs and eat as soon as possible. Clothing optional.

Between Los Angeles and Palm Springs is a surreal natural wind tunnel, surrounded by mountains on two sides, Los Angeles to the east, and the desert to the west. Evidently, wind blows here quite regularly, for someone has erected hundreds (if not thousands) of giant windmills that cover the hillsides and plains for miles, in some directions as far as they eye can see. Many are over a hundred feet tall, all of them (except the odd one here and there that seems to be resting) twirl in a mesmerizing rhythm that nearly makes me drive off the road several times, such is the allure of their loopy motion and the sheer scale of the operation.

From the casino, it takes less than a half hour to get to our lodging for the weekend. We hastily unpack the car and head to dinner, at a Belgian bistro recommended by the friend of Cross’s whose parent’s condominiums have been loaned to us. I have a consommé and frites, Bill has osso bucco. Neither dish is memorable, but the Belgian beers were quite good, refreshingly robust. We returned to the condos full, sated, and sleepy.

Sleep was important that night. Coachella 2005 began the next morning.

posted by Bill Purdy, 8:44 AM | link | 1 comments