Friday, September 30, 2011

Who, indeed?!

Some potent questions!

What do you think? Do you think this work is endorsing or criticizing the ideals of the United States? How and why?
Find a little more context and some further thought-provoking queries about this piece of art by Barbara Kruger here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Wilco at the Wang!

I don’t have time to write a proper review of Tuesday’s Wilco show at the Wang Theatre in Boston, but I wanted an excuse to post the cool poster from the gig. This one, by Massachusetts artist (corrected) Stephen Bowman, is perfect. So obvious, in fact, it’s amazing that it hasn’t been done before. But that’s part of the beauty of creativity isn’t it, discovering the obvious that’s yet to be realized?

A few quick notes on the show:
The set featured lots of new songs, expertly performed. Maybe it came across as a bit heavy on new material to casual fans, but for those of us who have seen Wilco live many times over the years, it’s welcome to hear a generous sampling of new stuff – presuming it’s up to par, which these tunes certainly are. Of course, hearing many of the old favorites is great, too!

Since, Nick Lowe opened the show with a solo set, the headliner’s performance was limited to 20 songs, which is quite abbreviated by Wilco standards. Bandleader Jeff Tweedy even remarked that the last time the band played Boston, they played 39 songs! (“Ain’t gonna happen,” he noted wryly, adding his view that it’s better to be able to bring Lowe along for the ride than to hear that much Wilco. Many fans would disagree, but the sentiment was sincere, and we still got our money’s worth of Wilco.) Of the 20 songs the band played Tuesday, seven were from the yet-to-be-released-but-widely-previewed (on NPR and elsewhere) new CD, The Whole Love.

Standout aspect of the 90-minute performance were:
• Guitarist Nels Cline, as always, and, increasingly, multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone.
• Tweedy channeling Neil Young during his electric guitar solo on “At Least That’s What You Said.”
• The incomparable menace of “Bull Black Nova” – talk about setting a mood with sound!
• “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” emerging as one of the “classic standouts” of Wilco’s live set.
• The rockin’ climax of “One Wing.”
• The absolutely sublime rendition of “One Sunday Morning” – an understated epic in the making.
• “Handshake Drugs” taking things even higher late in the set.
• Nels going interstellar on his jazzy, Allman-esque, Skydog flights of fancy building up to a frenetic climax on “Impossible Germany.”
• “Born Alone” sporting a nuance and aggressiveness not quite captured on the new record.

It was also interesting to hear songs from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that were being debuted when I first saw Wilco live 10 years ago now firmly established as much-anticipated staples of the show. I wonder which of the new songs we heard this time will be the classics a decade from now? I’m sure a few of them will be.

WILCO – Wang Theatre, Boston 9/20/11

Art of Almost

I Might

Black Moon

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

One Wing

Bull Black Nova

At Least That’s What You Said

One Sunday Morning

Shouldn’t Be Ashamed

The Whole Love

War On War

Born Alone

Handshake Drugs

Impossible Germany

Dawned On Me

A Shot in the Arm

The Late Greats

I’m The Man Who Loves You


Outtasite (Outta Mind)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Indeed, Sometimes It Does ...

Hats off to Megan O’Neill’s SocialTimes Web Video blog for ID’ing this whacked-out accident scene interview from a recent Fox newscast in Phoenix ...

... and then the even better “Songify” treatment by The Gregory Brothers. Don’t cheat, you have to watch the original broadcast video first to appreciate the second one:

If you want to see the full lyrics and chords – and I know you do! – click through to the Songify version posted on YouTube.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

R.I.P., R.E.M.

Today, R.E.M. announced their break up after 31 years as a band. Few seemed very shocked by the news, and many, myself included, believe it was overdue – perhaps even long overdue.

Don’t get me wrong, the boys from Athens were great in their day; industry-shaking and authentically artistic. Drawing from rock, country, folk and even punkish influences, they applied their own brand and created a unique sound that has since influenced many others. In fact, matched only by U2 and The Clash (maybe), R.E.M. was the defining rock band of the era – at least in terms of the intersection of artistic merit and commercial success – for my generation (i.e., those in college during the early to mid 1980s).

But the bottom line today is that they have not been a noteworthy or relevant band in the present tense for more than a decade. Peter Buck’s extra-band activities (with Robyn Hitchcock, Tired Pony, The Minus Five and others, as well as guesting on sessions with The Decemberists et al) have been far more interesting than his primary band’s output for quite some time.

On top of that, Michael Stipe has grown increasingly obnoxious and annoying over the years. The consensus seems to be that he was better liked (artistically) as Mr. Mumbles, when no one could understand what he was singing, and (personally) when he just kept his mouth shut. (Ever see Charlie Rose’s interview with the singer and aspiring photographer in 2007? If so, you get my drift on the latter point.)

Nevertheless, several of R.E.M.’s records (Reckoning, Fables of the Reconstruction, Document, Automatic for the People and New Adventures in Hi-Fi) will always have a special resonance for me. And I’m very glad I got to see the band in concert a number of times – from small theaters and large clubs to arenas.

I loved Buck’s approach to guitar. He singlehandedly gave new life to Rickenbacker sales in the mid 1980s – OK, maybe Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers deserve a bit of credit for that, too. And later he made a place for mandolin in rock music not heard since The Face’s “Maggie Mae” and Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore.” As an ever-dreaming indie record-store manager in Athens prior to hooking up with Stipe and forming the band, Buck was a student of rock history from ’60s’ garage bands onward. That enthusiastic scholarship served R.E.M. well, shining through in more than just the Byrds-meets-Velvet-Underground, jangle-pop of the band’s first few recordings.

Meanwhile, Mike Mills was the band’s secret weapon; underrated, but essential, not just as a bass player, but as a keyboardist, arranger and, most of all, harmony vocalist. And then there was Bill Berry, a good drummer and an important contributor to the band’s overall sound. The truth is, the band should’ve called it a day when he resigned in 1997. Nevertheless, that doesn’t diminish R.E.M.’s accomplishments at the height of their artistry, or their legacy. So while they may not really be missed, they will be fondly remembered.

Despite popular perception, not a love song.

My Favorite R.E.M. Releases:
  1. Document (1987)
  2. Reckoning (1984)
  3. Fables of the Reconstruction (1985)
  4. Automatic for the People (1992)
  5. New Adventures in Hi-Fi (1996)
  6. Murmur (1983)
  7. Life’s Rich Pageant (1986)
  8. Out of Time (1991)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Music as a Well of Understanding

... or At Least an Emotional Rescue

A hole in the heart of the city, a scar on the psyche of the nation ...

In the flurry of 10th anniversary of 9/11 tributes, observations, reflections and analysis, NPR Music did an interesting, though limited, article on how in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 many of us looked to music and our favorite musical artists to help us make sense of what had transpired – the unthinkable, the unimaginable. Check out the NPR piece here.

For my part, I caught concerts by three artists in the month following the attacks.

First was up was David Byrne at Avalon in Boston, 10 days or so after that infamous day. It was the first time I had seen Byrne and, to be honest, I don’t remember a whole lot about the show. Perhaps I too was still a bit numb. I do remember not being sure quite what to expect of the concert – and not just because I hadn’t seen Byrne before. There was such a different and somber mood in the air. The vibe was utterly changed, at least for a while.

Prior to the show, I wondered: How will it be? How will the audience behave? Will the performers address the situation? Will it be a concert experience like we’re accustomed to, or will it be something else? Such was the pervasiveness of the feeling that our world had been twisted in some unknown and irreversible way.

I do remember Byrne saying something along the lines of what was mentioned in the NPR piece when introducing of the old Talking Heads classic, “Life During War Time,” but that’s about it.

A couple of weeks later, on Oct. 2, I was back at Avalon to see Wilco. It was the first of many times that I’ve seen the Chicago-based folk/alt-country/art rockers play live. At this time, guitarist Jay Bennett had just been booted from the band and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was yet to be released, after much inner-band turmoil and record-company discombobulation over the release of the album (all well-documented in the film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart), but it was the record the band was debuting during that fall tour and it was a convincing show.

In hindsight, this was clearly a transitional period for the band, both in terms of musical focus and member wise. Having shed their alt-country roots, they were just beginning their lengthy foray into more adventurous pop art-rock explorations, which would later result in some incredibly inspired cacophony that conjured comparisons to Pink Floyd and Radiohead at times. But in early October 2001, those days were yet to arrive and guitarist extraordinaire Nels Cline and multi-instrumentalist Pat Sansone were not yet part of the band. Yhis was a rare period in which Wilco performed as a four piece.

But back to the Avalon concert: band leader Jeff Tweedy made no mention of recent events. In fact, there was almost no direct talking to the audience at all – in itself unusual given his typical loquaciousness. But the new song “War on War” from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and Mermaid Avenue’s “One By One” both seemed to be imbued with extra resonance as the crowd and the band tuned in to the poignancy of the moment in a noticeable way, even if it wasn’t overtly acknowledged.

Just four days later, I caught back-to-back performances by The Waterboys in New York and Boston. By now, almost a month after the attacks, the magnitude and lasting effect – in essence the realization that our world was truly and fundamentally changed – seemingly forever – had really sunk in.

Mike Scott and Co., touring in support of their new release A Rock in the Weary Land, played concerts that perfectly captured the spirit of resilience in the face of malevolent times. At once uplifting and defiant (in thoughtful way), it was as if many of the songs on A Rock in a Weary Land had been written specifically for the occasion. Even old favorites like “We Will Not Be Lovers,” “The Pan Within” and “Savage Earth Heart” took on a passionate intensity that seemed driven by the times.

The Scotsman also made the most direct statements of any of the concerts regarding the current state of affairs:

In New York: “We’re so glad to see you all. We love this city. And after what happened on September 11th, we really are proud to play for New Yorkers. And we stand shoulder to shoulder with America, too.”

And, in Boston: “Tonight there’s war in the world, but the show goes on.” ... And, “You know, after what happened September 11th, it’s our honor to play for Americans. We’re really glad to be here with you. I noticed that everything is different, and even in a little matter like rock songs, things are different. Stuff that seemed important before, now seems really trivial. We’re going to do a song that I used to dedicate to Jerry Springer, it doesn’t seem so important now, but it’s still fun to poke one at Jerry. The song is called ‘Dumbing Down the World.’”

Which raises an interesting question for today: Ten years on, are we any smarter?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Smells Like Curatorial Spirit

Here’s another interesting video segment that strikes close to home for me from the folks at Ragan Communications:

Music to my ears! As a bonafide “content curator” by day (that is, in fact, my current job title) and a confirmed “curatorial obsessive” relative to various personal interests the rest of the time (of which this blog is partial evidence), I live and breathe this stuff.

While the idea of “curation,” has become a trendy buzz word in the last year or so, the essence of true curatorial execution is often misconstrued. As Shel Holtz notes in the video clip above, it’s about qualified “filtering,” not mere collection and regurgitation. Good curation – whether it’s centered on creating or simply showcasing good stuff – involves qualifying the content and sourcing, providing meaningful context, and then presenting it in a way that's meaningfully targeted to a particular audience. Part of the contextualizing is making the curated content truly your own – i.e., stamping it with your own voice or brand.

At least that’s my take on it, and what I strive to do. What does it mean to you?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

No Paperback Writer: McCartney, Rejected!

I recently came across a humorous guest post by novelist Jon Gibbs on Nathan Bransford’s writing and publishing blog. It’s a well-executed, if somewhat predictable, tongue-in-cheek reject letter sent by a snarky literary agent to Paul McCartney as if The Beatles’ 1966 classic “Paperback Writer” had been an actual query letter.

This certainly appeals to the “publishing geek” in me, and no matter which side of the equation you might be on in the publishing formula, you can sympathize with the perspectives played out here. Or you you might simply enjoy it as a Beatles’ fan. Regardless, it’s worth a read. (Check it out here.)

And, to refresh your memory, here’s the original promo video the lads did for the song:

And, given the details of the referenced blog post, the full lyrics to the song might help, too:

Paperback Writer
(Lennon/McCartney) - but really Paul

Paper back writer (paperback writer)
Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?
It’s based on a novel by a man named Lear
And I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

It’s the dirty story of a dirty man
And his clinging wife doesn’t understand.
The son (The Sun? Nice double entendre!) is working for the Daily Mail,
It’s a steady job, but he wants to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few,
I’ll be writing more in a week or two.
I can make it longer if you like the style,
I can change it round and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

If you really like it you can have the rights,
It could make a million for you overnight.
If you must return it, you can send it here
But I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer,
Paperback writer.

Paperback writer (paperback writer)

While tracking down the original video above, I also came across another interesting rendition of the song. This one is a rawer version the band prerecorded on a stage set in England in place of an in-person appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in early 1966. It also includes the B-side to “Paperback Writer,” John Lennon’s “Rain” – further example of the songwriting duo’s potency during this period. (Who else was making singles with, in effect, two strong A-sides?)

I never noticed McCartney’s chipped tooth in this before now. Apparently, others noticed, too, leading to so many comments about it on YouTube that the video’s uploader got annoyed and disabled the comment capability. He does, however, explain that it was the result of a motor scooter accident. Obviously Paul (the cute one) had it fixed soon thereafter.