Friday, April 30, 2010

Our Branded World

Though most of us don’t think about it much, we all inherently know how powerful brands are in Western culture. A case in point is the “branded ABC’s” (shown below). At a glance, I can readily identify 25 out of the 26 brand-associated “letters.” Can you guess them all?

What is a brand really? In most cases, it not only represents certain qualities of a particular product (or line of products), if effectively infused in the public consciousness, it also represents certain affinities and aspirations of those who buy and use the product.

Whether we recognize it or not, even the less consumer-oriented among us have brand loyalties – in cars, gasoline, clothing, toiletries, laundry detergent, sports equipment, etc. Think about what brands you like … and why? How much of it has to do with pervasive and effective advertising vs. genuine utility and your satisfaction with the product(s). How much of it is habit without any real rationale? To what degree is it simply a matter of convenience?

Although I’d have to say my brand allegiance is tenuous in most cases, a few of my favorites that come readily to mind are: Apple, C.F. Martin, Dalwhinnie, Ecco, Ipswich Beer, Guinness Stout, Old Spice, Skagen, Scotch Tape, Starbucks, Staples, Tom’s of Maine, Volkswagen. There are a few other brands that I would’ve included on this list, but deterioration in product quality over time eventually led to their falling out of favor. Brand allegiance, after all, only goes so far.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

This Night Train: All Right, Outta Sight!

I just watched the new DVD release of the famed 1964 T.A.M.I. Show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. You know, the concert that Sting referred to in the 1980 Police song “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What’s Still Around”:

Turn on my VCR, same one I’ve had for years / James Brown on the T.A.M.I. Show, same tape I’ve had for years …

Well, I hadn’t seen this particular performance before, but watching this old footage (newly restored for DVD) leaves little doubt about what an incendiary and trailblazing performer James Brown was in his prime. One thing is blatantly clear from this video: There would be no Michael Jackson without the Godfather of Soul … that’s for sure! The guy’s feet had a life of their own.

You have to love the showmanship. And posturing though it obviously was, it’s priceless when, having given it his all and verging on the edge of physical collapse, J.B. just can’t help but throw off the robe, push his handlers aside and return yet again to the mic to give us just a little bit more. Soul power, indeed. Awesome!

It’s hard to believe that this was only 1964, and that Elvis had caused such a stir only eight years before – for doing nothing like this!

Here are two brief YouTube excerpts, but check out the DVD to get the full impact of Brown’s high-octane performance, as well as other worthwhile ones by Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes, and a very young Rolling Stones, among others.

Not nearly complete, but close enough to get the idea.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Cutler Goes Rhode Island ‘Red’ on New CD

I have to start with a disclaimer: I’m a huge fan of Mark Cutler’s music. His well-crafted, thoughtful songwriting, his biting-yet-melodic guitar playing, even his Petty-meets-Dylan-meets-Tom-Verlaine vocal style, has struck a chord with me since the day I first saw his then-new band, The Raindogs, at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge back in the spring of 1988.

The problem with being an evangelist for a particular musician plays out in one of two ways: Either you’re so smitten with everything the artist does that you can’t see the ebb and flow that is inevitably a part of any creative career, or you have such high expectations that you’re all-too-easily disappointed. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve leaned more toward the latter.

When it comes to the Rhode Island singer-songwriter’s new CD, Red, however, I’m happy to report that I’m far from disappointed. In fact, it’s a great record. Maybe not quite the best thing Cutler’s ever done in his 25-plus year career, but pretty darn close. Not only is it right up there with his finest solo work and the pinnacle of The Raindogs’ and The Schemers’ catalogs, it more than holds its own alongside the best rootsy, Americana music out there today.

As this is the first new full-length CD of Cutler compositions since the second Dino Club release, Bright Screen Wide, in 2004, and Mark’s first solo offering since 2000’s Mark Cutler and Lexington 1-2-5 album, it’s a momentous occasion for fans of his heartfelt, hope-and-melancholy-filled music.

In the few weeks that I’ve been listening to Red, it has continued to grow on me. Despite my familiarity with half of the CD’s dozen songs – from earlier, home-recorded versions previously posted on Mark’s MySpace page – when I first heard the new record as a whole, I was struck by the mellowness of the affair. Upon subsequent listening, however, what I first perceived as restraint, revealed itself to be richly nuanced, cinematically evocative songwriting. Cutler’s airy acoustic guitar and contemplative lyrics are adorned by conspicuous mandolin, accordion and piano embellishments. That’s not to say there aren’t some penetrating electric guitar moments on Red. There are, but they intercede intermittently, rather than dominate the affair. (Think more Gas Boy, than Raindogs or Schemers.)

Overall, there’s a sense of maturity and understated confidence to the proceedings. Pristine production, subtle instrumentation (great, clean-tones and masterfully layered sounds) and tight arrangements buoy emotive vocals, which are at times soulful, bluesy or rootsy.

Cutler employs a familiar troupe of musicians, prominently featuring long-time guitar compadre Emerson Torrey (this time co-producing, engineering and adding piano and backing vocals), fellow Schemers accordionist/keyboardist Richard Reed and bassist Jim Berger, as well as Mike Tanaka from The Dino Club on bass, along with a large cast of other contributors. The musicianship is top notch all around, with David Richardson’s mandolin, in particular, playing a pivotal part on several songs.

But, most of all, Red emphasizes Cutler’s skill as a singer-songwriter. Somebody once said about the writer Raymond Carver that nobody captures the darkness and hopefulness of everyday America better. I think the same can be said of Cutler’s songs. The predominantly slow and mid-tempo tunes on Red are often pensive, but there are dashes of faith and optimism throughout, frequently accented by Cutler’s characteristic exhortations to keep on trying.

Red is available on CD from 75orLess Records, and through iTunes and Rhapsody starting May 7. Cutler will be playing an official record release party at Nick-a-Nees in Providence on May 8. I know I’ll be there.

Hope in the Tracks

Mark Cutler’s new CD might be Red, but its palette covers much of the musical spectrum. Here’s a brief song-by-song rundown:

Vampires – Based on the song title alone, you might think: “nice band-wagon jumping.” But while this reflective exhortation to resiliency and perseverance does employ an oh-so-au-courant vampire metaphor, its musical and lyrical depth belie that notion. Musically, it sets a compelling stage for what’s to come with baritone guitar melodies, chiming mandolin, rich vocal choruses and a folk-rock-pop sheen that hint at both Tom Petty and Lucinda Williams in tempo and mood, but remain wholly Mark Cutler in theme and sound. A great album opener and potential single.

• Cousin Mary’s New Car – With a bit more bounce in vocal meter than the haunting melodies of the opening track, this imagistic character study depicts a carney-like cast of fringe-dwelling homeys. Musically mellow, this song is also driven by mandolin, accordion and Springsteen-like vocals and lyrics. It’s a bit reminiscent in lyrical motif to “Under the Rainbow” from The Raindogs’ Lost Souls.

• We Shall Always Remain Friends – The tempo perks up a tad for this touching tribute to the strength of friendship – either with a former lover or as brotherly devotion. Acoustic guitar joins the mandolin and shakers in musical dominance on this one. In no way derivative, but perhaps a little suggestive of the kind of thing The Wallflowers or Steve Earle might do.

• Just a Paycheck Away – After the mellow impression of the first three tunes, the electric guitar melody leaps out of the speakers right from the get-go on this one. It’s a timely and fitting “Worried Man Blues” for the Great Recession. Bluesy vocals are paired with the more aggressive guitar, making it perhaps the most Raindogs reminiscent track on the CD. It’s a quintessential Cutler song and one of the best on this collection.

• Hovering – This catchy tune changes the pace yet again, introducing a lazy country-and-western feel, with more prominent baritone guitar melodies, mandolin and an electric guitar that magically suggests pedal steel at points. Lyrically, the question remains: Is the hovering protective or obsessive?

• Doc Pomus Ghost – This titular nod to the early white blues singer and Songwriters Hall of Fame member (co-author of hits for Elvis, Ray Charles and others) is the most bluesy tune on the album. A tale of longing (to the point of delusion), it features some menacing electric slide guitar that gives it a kick-ass oomph not found elsewhere on the record. Knowing that Mark, like one of his heroes, Bob Dylan, is a discerning student of music, I have to wonder whether this song – with its “hidden charms” refrain and fierce slide guitar solo – isn’t also a tip of the hat to Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.

• You Know What to Do – In another effective juxtaposition to the preceding track, the somber tones of this song are forged by acoustic guitar, a haunting cello, mandolin and a ringing vocal chorus about a corrupted soul. One of Red’s most engaging mellow tunes.

• Jumpin’ Time – The beat hops back up again for this Cajun-meets-jump-blues tale of things not always being as they seem. Another one of the many real highlights on Red, the Dylanesque R-n-B feel is electric and percussive, but the spikey mandolin melody contrasts nicely with the funky context.

• You Can’t Give It Away – This may be the album’s tune that is most reminiscent of the softer side of The Dino Club (think “Isn’t It Fine”) and Cutler’s previous solo albums, though the beautiful cello lines (while not Johnny Cunningham’s fiddle) do evoke the mellower side of The Raindogs, too. Piano flourishes weave in and out of the layered acoustic string sounds supporting the sympathetic vocal. Like “You Know What to Do,” this is melancholy done right – in the vein of one of Cutler’s all-time classics, “Up in the Air” from Gas Boy.

• Ain’t Been Born – This slow blues tune rides gospel organ embellishments, understated slide guitar and strong soulful vocals that I can almost imagine Candi Stanton or maybe even Aretha singing. Another of the somewhat Dylanesque moments on the CD, this fully-realized song offers a different lyrical spin by taking the wind out of false hope. Kind of a slow burner, it has gradually grown to be one my favorite songs on Red.

• I Hear Your Car – This is a good enough tune, but the least-remarkable one on the CD. Somewhat “generic Cutler” to my ears, it’s the kind of thing you sense that Mark could write in his sleep. (Other artists should be so lucky!)

• Miss Connected – One of the CD’s most poppy, mid-tempo tunes ends the affair on a high note. There’s some nice electric lead guitar playing, a very strong vocal chorus and a lyrical narrative that paints an engaging picture of a past love affair that went awry. “A pop song crossed with the extreme / A love song denied, but almost redeemed” … “Clocks just don’t turn back, nor can we” ... indeed.

I have to admit to wishing that Mark had included “Kill the Devil,” one of the real standout songs among the home recordings he has streamed in recent years on MySpace. It’s a great tune – one of my favorite Cutler compositions of the past decade – but I can see why he might have decided that it didn’t quite fit the vibe of the rest of the CD. Maybe next time. Until then, I’ll be happily enjoying what is Red, right along with the best of Cutler’s past output.

This older YouTube video for the home-recorded version of “Jumpin’ Time,” updated on Cutler’s new CD Red, shows how, in a fairly low-tech way, you can create a compelling complement to a good song. Some great found images put to effective use here.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

10 Things I’ve Learned on Facebook

As a long-time media professional, I’ve always seen Facebook as a personal publishing platform as much as a social connection tool. It’s a useful vehicle for personal expression and (re)distribution of information and ideas – especially for those who choose to use it in substantive ways. (O.K., there aren’t too many of them, but that’s all right.)

After about a year and half of fairly intense use of the social networking site, I’ve learned a few things. This is it in a nutshell:

1. Many people have an awful lot of free time on their hands.

2. People are often not working when “at work.”

3. Humor is a very idiosyncratic thing and doesn’t always translate as well electronically as in person.

4. Some people are just plain argumentative.

5. Some people are overly earnest. (I’m probably more serious than most, but not all of the time. C’mon, people, humor is the spice of life! )

6. Many people (myself included) are obsessive about certain topics.

7. Some people feel compelled to comment on anything and everything – whether or not they have anything to say or know anything about the topic at hand.

8. Many people – and I mean MANY – comment on things without even reading them first. And of those who do read them first, some don’t do it very carefully.

9. I have more politically conservative friends than I thought (though plenty of liberal ones, too … whew!).

10. People sure do love farms (though I don’t know anyone who actually lives on one).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Attending Church

The Church at the Armory, Somerville, Mass.

“Tragic … Simply tragic.” I imagine the words spoken in Monty Python-ese by Michael Palin as I scan the sparse audience of 250 or so at The Church’s lone Boston area gig on their Spring 2010 tour.

How could a band as epically good as these veteran Aussie art rockers attract such a spartan crowd? Lack of promotion, years of record company neglect and managerial ineptitude, consumer complacency and ignorance, or some kind of cosmic artistic injustice? Whatever the reason, the turnout is disheartening for a devotee like myself. People should be flocking to witness this band’s transcendent brilliance on display.

Nevertheless, The Church hold nothing back in this, the 13th stop on their 22-date 30th anniversary tour. To mark the occasion, they’re systematically featuring one song from each of their 23 full-length albums, performed in reverse sequential order from most recent to earliest (albeit with a bit of cheating).

Having regained some momentum over the past few years, it seems The Church have come to accept that they have a small (but passionate) following that appreciates their sophisticated brand of chiming space rock. After all, the band did bill this tour “An Intimate Space.” And that’s precisely what the recently renovated Somerville Armory offers. A 300-seat, gymnasium-like performance hall (though a fancied-up one) on the outskirts of Boston.

I have seen The Church live a dozen or so times since 1986, and despite the fact that they’ve done a couple of acoustic tours in the past, this is the first time I’ve seen them in this arrangement. As I expected, it is energetic and interesting, although likely even more so for the already converted than for the new initiates.

The acoustic treatment and the near-constant trading around of instruments among the musicians draws out different nuances and highlights different aspects of the songs. Some are radically reworked (most notably “Reptile” and “The Unguarded Moment”), while others take on new power and prominence (“Invisible” and “10,000 Miles”), and at least one really shines in a whole new way (an absolutely combustible finale on “Grind”).

The harmony vocals are much more prominent than in the band’s electric presentation – a pleasant discovery for a grizzled old follower like me. Guitarist Peter Koppes plays quite a bit of keyboards, some mandolin and harmonica, as well as several different acoustic guitars. Meanwhile, Marty Willson-Piper plays various acoustics guitars, mandolin and bass on several occasions, as well as contributing his distinctive vocal stylings (lead and background) throughout.

I especially like the band’s turn on “Jazzy Reptile,” as singer/bassist Steve Kilbey dubs their rendition of the radio-friendly hit from 1988’s landmark Starfish album (but for the purposes of this concert associated with its appearance in acoustic form on 2007’s El Momento Siguiente release). Koppes plays MWP’s original, catchy, descending guitar lick on electric piano, while Marty translates Peter’s sustained electric guitar melody to acoustic guitar.

Other stellar renditions of the night are “Invisible” (from 2002’s After Everything Now This), “Comedown” (from 1996’s Magician Among the Spirits), “My Little Problem” (from 1994’s Sometime Anywhere), “10,000 Miles” (from 1984’s Remote Luxury) and “Grind” (from 1992’s Priest = Aura). The aforementioned “Reptile,” as well as “Almost With You” and “Appalatia,” on which Koppes takes a turn on lead vocals, are also quite remarkable.

Somewhat less effective – and I’m being hyper critical here, as only a long-time curmudgeonly fan is wont to do – are: “Louisiana” (one of my all-time favorite Church songs), which seems a little anemic, lacking the majesty of the electric version; and “Space Saviour,” which was better realized in fully electric form on last summer’s “So Love May Find Us” tour. The band’s first big hit, 1981’s “The Unguarded Moment,” came across as a bit too languid for my taste. Nonetheless, even these few misfires were still entertaining.

In typically blunt fashion, Kilbey has posted blog comments about feeling fatigued at points on this tour, but you couldn’t guess that from this performance. He played with exuberance and feeling, and warmly engaged the audience and his band mates between songs – something we’ve seen an increasing amount of in recent years as the singer has reinvigorated himself as the band’s frontman.

Drummer/engineer Tim Powles not only provided a solid foundation throughout on drums and percussion – giving the acoustic treatments impressive horse power – but he also played some piano, sang backing vocals and added to the entertaining intra-band banter. As the group’s newest member (only 17 years in the fold) and its fourth drummer, Powles is often overlooked. But, I believe, without him the band probably wouldn’t exist today.

There are nine more shows to go on this 30th anniversary tour – from New York City (4/22) to Atlanta (5/1). Go see one of them, you’ll be redeemed … and you’ll get a nice program and new CD free with your ticket!


First Set:


Space Needle


Ionian Blues

El Momento Descuidado (The Unguarded Moment)





My Little Problem

Second Set:



Under the Milky Way

Already Yesterday

10,000 Miles


Almost With You

Tear It All Away


Disarm (Smashing Pumpkins song)

Space Saviour


Think About It

Earth Day ... 40 years on: Some progress, but much yet to be done.

“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.” – Bertrand Russell

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Killer Twain

Mark Twain died 100 years ago today. He was an astute, and humorously acerbic, commentator on American culture. Many of his observations still ring true to this day.

This is one my personal favorite Twain witticisms, from one of his lesser-known tales, Lionizing Murderers:

Yours was not, in the beginning, a criminal nature, but circumstances changed it. At the age of 9 you stole sugar. At the age of 15 you stole money. At 20 you stole horses. At 25 you committed arson. At 30, hardened in crime, you became an editor. You are now a public lecturer. Worse things are in store for you. You will be sent to Congress. Next to the penitentiary. Finally, happiness will come again – all will be well – you will be hanged.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

It’s the Key

What more can you say about William Shatner? A true Renaissance Man! (Conan’s not too bad either.)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Working It Out

I saw a wonderful new play last night that was thematically right up my alley – combining music, philosophy and strong characters. Performed by the New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Michael Hollinger’s Opus is an intense character study involving the internal psychodynamics of a veteran string quartet, rife with knowing references to chamber music and a bit of philosophy about art and life.

If you’re in the Boston area and intrigued by this sort of thing, I highly recommend it. The play runs through Sunday, April 18, and there’s literally not a bad seat in the house at the small, but impressive, theater. The Boston Globe’s review from April 1, which spurred us to go, was on the mark.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hallelujah, D.J. Gets into the Hall

Johnson flanked by fellow Celtic greats Bird and McHale

It was nice to see the late Boston Celtics point guard Dennis Johnson finally honored with election to the Basketball Hall of Fame. It’s too bad he’s no longer with us to enjoy it.

Besides being a stalwart defensive player in the tradition of the great Celtics players from the glory days of the 1960s onward, D.J. was also one of the best players ever when the game was on the line. Even if he was having an off night, you could still count on him to come through in the clutch: sinking a pull-up jumper near the top of the key, stealing the ball or driving to the hoop and getting to the line to sink crucial free throws.

The Big Three may have got all the attention, but they wouldn’t have accomplished all they did were it not for D.J.’s adeptness at dishing them the ball. Larry Bird didn’t hesitate to call D.J. the best player he had ever played with. That’s no faint praise from the Celtics legend.

Even though Johnson spent the first half of his career as a star for the Seattle Supersonics, he retired firmly entrenched in Boston sports lore. His number hangs revered right beside Bird’s in the Garden rafters. Despite his celebrity status locally during the 1980s, it wasn’t uncommon to see D.J. around town, often with his family in tow. I ran into him once at TGI Friday’s on Newbury Street (he gave me a friendly, if low-key hello when I nodded in his direction) and my wife ran into him in the grocery store in Lexington once or twice.

Veteran basketball columnist Bob Ryan has a nice tribute to Johnson in today’s Boston Globe. Worth checking out and recalling D.J.’s heart, grit and critical role on the Celtics’ championship teams of the mid ’80s.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Wilco (the concert) ... Providence Edition

Say what you want about Wilco, but after 15 years they still deliver ... with both passion and abundance. Last night, they visited the 1,500 capacity Lupo’s in Providence’s old Strand Theater and put on a joyous, strategically-paced, three-hour onslaught of music to a completely smitten crowd.

Having seen Wilco live about eight or nine times over the past decade at venues as big as 10,000 seat arenas, I was surprised the band had chosen to play such a small venue, and the sold out show was the most crowded I’ve seen the place. Moving around was not easy, but most of us, having carved out a suitable vantage point, were planted for the duration. Wilco has made a habit of playing off-the-beaten-path places on occasion, and (unfortunately) these days Providence would qualify. The band will hit the stage in Boston at the Orpheum Theatre tomorrow night (4/6/10; slated to be webcast here).

The staging Sunday night was simple, but had some nice touches and the limited lighting was used to good effect. With six musicians and a lot of equipment, the Lupo’s stage was a tad crowded, but that didn’t stifle Wilco’s expansive music.

The band got right down to business, kicking things off with the jaunty “Wilco (the song),” including a comical segment introducing each band member. Over the next three hours they proceeded through 37 songs spanning their whole career, featuring many old favorites as well as a handful of tunes from their most recent CD, Wilco (the album).

All night long lanky guitarist Nels Cline produced subtle melodies and sound effects that gave way to frenzied bursts of jazzy, distorted chords and squealing leads behind leader Jeff Tweedy’s poppy, alt-country-meets-art-rock songs of love, loneliness, reality and remembrance. Considered a musical ace from the minute he joined the band in 2005, it took a little while for Cline to fit seamlessly into the band gestalt beyond the hired guitar-slinger role. Last night’s show, however, left no doubt about his full integration into the band.

Multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone was also very impressive in his all-purpose utility role, jumping back and forth between various keyboards and electric and acoustic guitars. Having joined the band around the same time as Nels, Pat ably patrolled the stage as part of the three guitar army with Tweedy and Cline on many songs. Long-time drummer Glenn Kotche was impressive as always, combining tastefully subtle percussion on the quiet songs and dynamic bashing on the rockers. John Stirratt, the only charter Wilco member besides Tweedy, buoyed the band on bass and harmony vocals.

Quiet man Mike Jorgensen complimented Cline’s six-string sonic assault by creating the swirling crescendos and artistic embellishments that make Wilco so much more than just another pop band. Thanks to Tweedy’s dual vision of creating something beautiful and different, ever-divergent from the expected, and Cline and Jorgensen’s combined sonic architecture, Wilco has, over the last decade, shared as much with Radiohead as they have Uncle Tupelo and the alt-country roots from whence they came.

In Sunday’s Easter night concert, the band really began to hit stride with the fourth song of the set, “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart,” the sonically cacophonous lead track from their breakthrough L.P. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. A few songs later, “Sonny Feeling,” from the most recent release, was revealed to be much stronger live than on the CD. By this point the crowd was really into it, bopping along and heartily singing – which was strongly encouraged according to the pre-show do's and don’ts announcements over the P.A. (audio recording OK; photography not so ... go figure!).

More highlights came minutes later with “Misunderstood” from 1995’s Being There, which had the crowd carrying the tune lyrically as much as the sincere singer himself. This was followed shortly by a rollicking version of “Handshake Drugs.”

A few songs later the band took to the front of the stage, illuminated by shaded living room lamps, and launched into an extended acoustic set, which featured reworked versions of “Spiders” (ambitious, but I prefer it as the lengthier electric workout),” the always-timely “War on War,” the poppy “Heavy Metal Drummer” (surprisingly effective) and the satirical “Passenger Side” (with yet another boisterous crowd sing-along).

Then it was back to the electrics for “Airline to Heaven,” “A Shot in the Arm” and “Jesus, Etc.” which featured the crowd singing nearly the entire song on its own with Tweedy strumming guitar and soaking it all in at the front of the stage. Perhaps the high point of the whole night, it was quite moving and indicative that this was a crowd full of serious fans.

Speaking of which, I overheard someone saying he had heard a bartender complaining that few people were buying beer. Aside from the difficulty of getting through the crowd to the bar, this was further evidence that these people had come to really listen to Wilco, not just to party with a band in the background. I was also struck again by the fact that the Wilco crowd must be one of the politest rock crowds I’ve ever seen (i.e., in how they behaved toward one another); an obvious reflection of the ethics of the band itself.

Wilco continued the relentless, play-all-night tact with a better-than-the-record version of “Hate It Here” and a sprightly “I’m Always in Love,” before delivering a somewhat sedate version of “Theologians.” Working toward the climax of the main set, they picked things up again with “Too Far Apart” and a simply ballistic take on “Walken,” followed by “I’m the Man Who Loves You” and the exuberant old favorite “I Got You (at the End of the Century).”

The band concluded the 2 hour and 50 minute regular set with a timely and thematically appropriate rendition of the late Alex Chilton’s “Thank You Friends.” With nary enough of a pause for the musicians to take a bathroom break, they returned for a spirited, three-song encore of favorites from their first two releases A.M. (1995) and Being There (1996).

As the first song of the night promised, “Wilco will love you,” it was more than proven by the time the final notes of last song faded amid the cheers. Theirs is an abundant love.

There’s not much to criticize about this performance. The band gave it their all, playing pretty much all the hits a diehard fan would want to hear, as well as some interesting lesser-known tracks and reinventing several songs along the way. To use a sports analogy befitting Opening Day of the baseball season (the Red Sox were squeaking by the Yankees up the road at Fenway as the band played), they pretty much left it all on the field.

The only things I could be faintly critical about were “Bull Black Nova,” which I had yet to see performed live, did not quite capture the menacing power suggested on record. I suspect this was because it was only the second song in the set and the band was still working up a sweat. Had it come later in the show, it would’ve had more oomph under the hood, I’m sure. I’ve also witnessed better versions of “California Stars” and “A Shot in the Arm” on previous occasions, but that’s not to say they were bad last night – just not as transcendent as they can sometimes be. But those few minor points aside, this was a very impressive and enjoyable Wilco show.

The Full Set List:
Wilco (the song)
Bull Black Nova
You Are My Face
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
One Wing
Radio Cure
Sonny Feeling
Summer Teeth
She's A Jar
Handshake Drugs
Impossible Germany
California Stars
Poor Places

Spiders (Kidsmoke)
What’s The World Got In Store
War On War
Forget The Flowers
Heavy Metal Drummer
Laminated Cat
Passenger Side

Airline To Heaven
A Shot in the Arm
Jesus, etc.
You Never Know
I’m Always In Love
Hate It Here
[brief ”Easter Bunny” ditty, Jorgensen on solo synth]
Too Far Apart
I’m The Man Who Loves You
Red-Eyed and Blue
I Got You (At the End of the Century)
Thank You Friends [Big Star song]

Dreamer In My Dreams
Casino Queen
Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Passenger

This song is one of the overlooked highlights of Iggy Pop’s illustrious career. It’s simplistically poignant (lyrically) with a great repetitive rhythm. There’s even some humor in this 1977 live clip – gotta love the horse’s tale; nice touch, Iggy! – in which the recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee looks something like a cross between Frankenstein and Perry Farrell. Not too many front men can compare to Jim Osterberg, that’s for sure!

This lesser-known-but-noteworthy track has since been covered by Siouxsie and The Banshees and The Waterboys, as well as some others, I suspect.