Friday, December 7, 2012

The Truth (About The Rumour) Is Evident

Graham Parker and The Rumour at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston, Mass.  12/6/12

Saw a terrific Graham Parker and The Rumor gig at the Wilbur Theatre last night. I've seen G.P. a dozen or so times since the mid ’80s, but I don’t recall ever seeing him so positively agitated. Playing all his early hits, not to mention his latest stellar release (Three Chords Good), with the original musicians who helped him mint them seems to have lit a fire under the old sardonic Brit.

An added bonus was a great opening set by G.P. sometime accompaniests and wonderful band in their own right, The Figgs. Our front row seats didn’t hurt either.

Being that close, made for an interesting sonic perspective. We caught more of the sound out of the band members’ individual amplifiers (hearing Martin Belmont’s delightfully clean and crisp vintage Strat tone the loudest since his amp was 10 feet directly in front of us). We caught a bit of bleed of the mixed sound out of the back of the stage monitors, as well as from the house PA sound that filled the space behind us in the small theater. Fortunately, Graham’s voice cut through loud and clear, but it did make for a bit of a different effect than one is accustomed to hearing. 

The new and old tunes fit seamlessly, with standout new tracks being the new “Coathangers” (which Graham noted had “stirred up a bit of controversy ... never a bad thing”) and “A Lie Gets Halfway ’Round the World” nearly matching the most inspired classics: “Protection,” “Get Started (Don’t Start a Fire),” “Stupefaction,” “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” and “Don’t Ask Me Questions.” 

I won’t be surprised to see an official live recording of this 2012 reunion tour before too long. I know I’d buy it. Despite their encroaching geezer-dom, G.P. and the guys proved without a doubt that, indeed, “Passion Is No Ordinary Word” when it comes to their music. 

Here’s looking at you, Graham!

The Wilbur Theatre, Boston, Mass.
Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012
    •  Fool’s Gold
    •  Never Gonna Pull It Apart
    •  Hotel Chambermaid
    •  Coathangers
    •  Get Started (Start a Fire)
    •  Old Soul
    •  Stop Cryin’About the Rain
    •  Long Emotional Ride
    •  Live in Shadows
    •  A Lie Gets Halfway ’Round the World
    •  Watch the Moon Come Down
    •  Discovering Japan
    •  Nobody Hurts You
    •  Protection
    •  Stupefaction
    •  Local Girls
    •  That Moon Was Low
    •  Passion Is No Ordinary Word
    •  Don’t Ask Me Questions
    •  Soul Shoes  (with The Figgs joining in)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mali Men’s Uplifting Blues

My favorite rockin’ nomads from North Africa made their second visit in two years to The Paradise in Boston last month and, once again, they presented an exotic blend of riff heavy, blues-based, trance rock with an undercurrent of tribal rhythms.

Despite the rampant riffology, overall the music is an upbeat, joyous, trance-like tapestry of melody, rhythm, singing and chanting. 

While many of the songs are indistinguishable to all but the most knowing of the group’s fans (I own six of their CDs yet have a hard time differentiating specific tunes on the fly), there is a definite sense of individual songs. It’s far from some endlessly meandering ebb and flow a la some Grateful Dead shows. The band certainly does jam, but most-often in distinct 2- to 6-minute arrangements that, for the most part, adhere to our Western sense of song structures (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.). 

There was no Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the group’s most recognized public face and legendary founder, this time around. He may be phasing out of his role after 30-plus years leading the band. In last year’s Paradise show, he took the star turn and made little more than cameo appearances during the group’s lengthy set. The blue-robed Alhassane Ag Touhami (I think) took the lead role for most of that show and now he appears to have assumed the role of senior band leader, perhaps now, in turn, to yield the stage in increments to the next generation of newcomers. 

One new face – proverbially speaking, given what little you can see of them – this time was a tall dude, dressed in white with black head garb. He sang and clapped in the background for most of the nearly two-hour set, but on a handful of tunes he took the center mic to sing and play more ferocious, and more Western-sounding, electric guitar. He was spurred on by his seasoned bandmates, particularly the funky bassist who wouldn’t have been out of place grooving along to some Motown hits. The tall dude was also the only band member to sport a shiny new Gibson Les Paul on one tune – otherwise there’s a lot of sharing of guitars among the three six-string slingers.

The band’s authentic desert nomad apparel adds to the exotic flavor of things, but it also makes for an interesting juxtaposition considering the desert-meets-the-delta vibe of the music. I couldn’t help being struck by a thought spawned by the growing appeal of this North African music among American audiences and the anonymity of with its main proponents. If the tribe has as deep a well of talented musicians as it seems, they could outfit several touring groups to be traveling different parts of the North America and Europe through out the year (or at least in the desert off season). Kind of a musical Blue Man group from the Dark Continent. (I suggest that only partially in jest, and certainly with all due respect.) I hope Tinariwen come back for another annual visit next fall.

In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for other purveyors of these engagingly semi-exotic sounds from Timbuktu and beyond.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Dylan: Tempestuous to the End

Early reports on Dylan’s new album, Tempest (released on 9/11 like his eponymous debut record and 2001’s Love and Theft), suggested that it is his darkest record yet. This notion is belied by the upbeat breeziness of the album’s two opening tunes. But it is, in fact, a fairly accurate assessment of the album’s remaining eight tracks.

Tempest, even more than most Dylan offerings, is all about the words. The music, while adequate, mainly just sets the groove over which the Bard’s verses – and there are many! – unfold. Music wise, there are few hooks, memorable melodies or “catchy“ tunes.

For many, that may be fine, since Dylan really is about the wordplay and the message. For me, though, the coupling of those things with poignant music is what distinguishes Dylan’s most lasting work from the rest of the chaff, and there's no denying: the musical muscle – in the songs – not the musicianship – is a bit lacking on Tempest.

That said, there are a few unsuspected standouts musically, even little things like the maracas on “Early Roman Times”; the downshift of the rhythm section that segues into the some tasty, understated lead guitar in the coda of “Duquesne Whistle” and the interplay of the various stringed instruments on “Scarlet Town.”

With so much focus on the words, though, I do wonder how much of the verbiage is Dylan’s doing and how much came from the pen of co-lyricist Robert Hunter (he of Grateful Dead renown). The themes certainly echo Dylan’s particular – some might say peculiar – views.

In talking about this new batch of songs to Rolling Stone a few weeks before its release, Dylan said that he initially thought he was going to do a religious album, but it turned out to be something else. I’m not sure how true that is. It’s not unlike Bob to be coy about such matters. 

I hear definite religious aspects in much of Tempest. No, it’s not the overt proselytizing of Dylan’s notorious late ’70s Born Again phase as heard on Saved or Slow Train Coming, but there is definitely an apocryphal vision running through much of the album that represents Dylan’s ongoing fascination with the End Times. That’s OK, though. Done right, it’s good subject matter.

For me, the peak of the album comes about midway through with the one-two punch of “Scarlet Town” and “Early Roman Kings.” The former, the album’s best track, is a dark, banjo and haunting fiddle-driven folk ballad. The latter, though lyrically one of the better songs, is an endlessly chugging blues, enlivened only by the swampy organ and effect-laden harmonica bursts. The band churns away beneath Bob’s verses of dispirited, ill-fated people living in a depraved world. Dylan still digs Armageddon.

There are two parlor ballads that evoke images of the 1890s: the album’s jaunty opener “Duquesne Whistle” and the tale of the Titanic told in the album’s title track. Dylan goes on to croon romantically over weeping pedal steel on the ’50s-ish pop ballad tonality of “Soon After Midnight.”

The rest of the way, though, the music is bluesy vamps, shuffles (“Narrow Way”) and pulsing banjo-propelled dirges (“Tin Angel”) mixed with haunting, minor key, folk ballads. The one exception is “Pay in Blood,” which sounds like a mid-tempo, modern-era Stones song with multi-layered instrumentation featuring prominent electric piano and guitar.

Overall, Tempest is a decent, listenable, modern era Dylan album. It ranks above Modern Times (2006) and Together Through Life (2009), not quite on par with Love and Theft (2001) and nowhere near Time Out of Mind (1997). A Gentleman’s B.

A Broad View of GP’s Repertoire at the Narrows

Graham Parker does an acoustic take on "Heat Treatment," the title track from his debut album with The Rumour in 1976, during his 9/29/12 performance at the Narrows Center in Fall River, Mass.

Last month, my wife and I made seeing Graham Parker at the Narrows Center in Fall River part of our 22nd anniversary celebration. It seemed fitting since we’ve enjoyed many GP shows – solo and with various bands – together over our years.

This Saturday in late September was no exception. Despite claims of being under the weather and not exactly road ready – it was one of only two shows he was doing on this stint, having added the Narrows to his trip to Cambridge for a commemorative event at the famed folk club Passim – Parker sang as soulfully as usual and regaled the audience with characteristic humor and sarcasm. 

The Narrows is a great venue for fans and perfect for the likes of GP’s solo shows, which he’s made an annual habit of bringing to the old warehouse-cum-artists’-studios in recent years. When out on his own like this, Parker adeptly accompanies himself on acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica and even kazoo – the latter more than once! But mostly it’s about the songs; and, yes, to a lesser degree, the banter.

This show was particularly notable in that besides a handful of the requisite – and welcomed! – favorites, Parker dug deep into his back catalog, pulling out several songs I’d never heard him perform in any of the previous dozen or so times I’ve seen him live. 

Another highlight was the debut of a catchy riff-based tune from the yet-to-be released GP and The Rumour album. Throughout the evening, the noted singer/songwriter and former angry young man spoke with a mix of disbelief and enthusiasm about his former band’s upcoming reunion tour. I know I’m excited; I already have my tix – front row! 

Wanting to end his performance on an upbeat note, Graham Parker performed “Life Gets Better” from his 1983 The Real McCaw album. Of course, as you’ll see in the video above, GP being GP, he couldn’t resist injecting a bit of cynicism into one of his most optimistic songs. Despite that, it holds a nice sentiment for an anniversary celebration. Happy anniversary, baby!

Monday, August 13, 2012


The Hindenburg over Boston, a year before the crash.

I’ve long been fascinated with the Hindenburg crash. Not sure why. I suspect that there are a number of factors that come into play. 

Yes, there’s the iconic association with my favorite rock band of all time, but there’s also my interest in history. Then there’s the relevance of the locale. The airship crashed about 25 miles from where I grew up and, I recently learned, it also routinely flew over my adopted home of Boston and eastern Massachusetts during its 17 Atlantic crossings prior to incendiary ends at the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, N.J. 

Perhaps most of all, though, it may be the archetypal nature of the story, one of man stretching his mastery of the universe only to be humbled by the ultimate authority of nature (in this case in the form of static electricity).

Anyway, the point of all this is The Atlantic recently published a fascinating collection of a few dozen photos in tribute to the 75th anniversary of the Zeppelin’s disastrous end in May 1937.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Life in an Infographic

I recently came across this interesting depiction of musician Jack White’s life (so far anyway) depicted as an infographic:

From Paste Magazine, 6/14/12.
It’s not a particularly inspired graphic, as these things go, but it does kind of make me contemplate what the infographic depiction of my life would look like at this point in time. Hmmm ... perhaps a future post.*

* Yes, I know there are various apps and tools that will suck all your digital pictures, updates, status posts, etc., from their various repositories and spit out a personal “life story” museum exhibit, but there’s no actual curation involved, so it’s quite arbitrary – not to mention that unlike younger folks, a not insignificant portion of my life did occur back in the analog age.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Biased Media? Biased Readers!

Here's a fascinating article I just came across from the Nieman Journalism Lab about media bias, or rather how we, as information consumers, perceive media bias. Proof yet again, that context matters – and, in this case, it really matters! 

How do you determine when news is biased? Food for thought.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Wall Revisited

Roger Waters and band perform “In the Flesh?” at Fenway Park, 7/1/12.

So after a 32 year hiatus, I caught my second performance of Pink Floyd’s The Wall last week. Of course, a bit has changed since the first time. Back in February 1980, it was the original full (though not necessarily chummy) Pink Floyd putting on what seemed at the time a highly theatrical rock concert in the canyon-esque confines of the Nassau Coliseum.

This time, of course, it was Roger Waters solo – OK, plus the backing of 12 hired guns, including a few recognizable names (G.E. Smith, Dave Kilminster and Snowy White on guitars), who were obviously more beholden to do the master’s bidding than his former bandmates. It was also staged in gargantuan proportions at Fenway Park (one of a handful or two ballparks to host Waters’ extravaganza of sight and sound this summer).

In fact, songs and a bit of the storyline aside, the two shows are largely incomparable. Floyd’s original was epic in its majestic power and artistic reach. Waters’ new version is a bombastic sensory overload. Even the themes have evolved, with the modern rendition emphasizing the anti-war and Big Bro gov. aspects to far greater extent, while downplaying the personal paranoia and psychosis storyline of the original.

Yes, there were puppets, though fewer in the outdoors stadium, perhaps for fear the wind would set them careening around the city. Yes, there was projected animation, much more of it, in fact. That's because there was a whole lotta wall to fill. The Wall itself had to be three to four times the size of the original arena version, running from foul ball territory in left field all the way to Fenway’s famed centerfield triangle. The Green Monster was dwarfed.

The stage itself extended forward nearly to the infield dirt between second and third bases, leaving just a smattering of people in front of the stage since the Red Sox don’t allow concert fans to tread on the diamond itself.

Forty-two projectors flashed some familiar but massively expanded visuals on the Wall stage left and right, as well as on Floyd’s old circular screen above the drum riser and even on centerstage itself when the wall was completed, with portions opening up to reveal glimpses of the band behind during the second set.

The visuals were constant and relentless. At times, they even overshadowed the massive sound, something that never really happened the first time around. In fact, the whole show exuded a dense, busy and freneticism that was not there in the first, but undoubtedly fitting for of our times.

Of course, even without David Gilmour’s searing guitar and sonorous singing, there were musical highlights (though the famed “Comfortably Numb” wasn’t one of them – that classic just isn’t the same without ol’ Dave singing his parts and wailing that epic guitar solo from atop the Wall. Waters and Co. did, however, deliver rousing versions of “In the Flesh,” “Another Brick in the Wall,” “Empty Spaces,” “Young Lust” and others. Thankfully, the Brechtian climax of “The Trial” seemed a bit abridged. All in all, Waters’ Wall is still a spectacle worth seeing – even from the other side of 30 years.

Roger Waters and band perform “Young Lust” at Fenway Park, 7/1/12.

See “Another Brick in the Wall,” too. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Awesome Power of Stupidity

You know what they say: Never underestimate the power of stupid people in masses. This is something most of us intuitively know. Now here is some science to prove it. ... This is too good to ignore!

I particularly like No. 4:
“Non-stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals. In particular, non-stupid people constantly forget that at all times and places and under any circumstances to deal and/or associate with stupid people always turns out to be a costly mistake.”

Does that not suggest the “non-stupid” are, in fact, stupid, too ... and, therefor, not really “non-stupid” to begin with?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Two Walls Better Than One

Pretty amazing to see this transformation ... and I thought the Stones’ stage set at Fenway a few years back was elaborate—damn thing looked like it had functional plumbing inside its faux apartment facade—but Roger Waters’ Wall hits another level entirely.

It’ll be interesting to see if the ol’ Fenway field is left with the same scars that Wrigley suffered a few weeks ago.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The 'Boys Do Yeats Proud

The Waterboys’ 2011 release, An Appointment with Mr. Yeats, was a heartfelt – if hit or miss – reinterpretation of several of the famed Irish writer’s verses (the poet himself referred to his poems as “songs” for they were, in fact, lyrical). In honor of what would be the poet’s 147th birthday, here’s a stripped down version of “Mad as the Mist and Snow” – one of the strongest tunes on Mike Scott and the ’boys’ Yeats collection – recorded live in France earlier this spring.

Dig the masks, too – another Yeats fascination.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Live and Local!

Like Neil Young said, “Live music is better, bumper stickers should be issued.”

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Groovin’ NBA Ad

As a both huge music fan and a dedicated basketball fan, I love this recent NBA commercial:

The athletes’ expressions are a perfect mimicry of musicians’ emotive facial contortions. A good use of Sam and Dave’s classic tune, too.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Feelies Touch Boston

The Feelies at The Paradise Club, Boston, 5/12/12

A small but enthusiastic crowd took in a characteristically lengthy, slowly-building set from The Feelies in what appears to be shaping up as an annual visit to Beantown. Almost exactly a year from the band’s last area appearance at Cambridge’s Middle East, the Jerseyites this time took the stage at The Paradise.

The two sets featured 34 songs, representing a wide selection from the cult heroes’ back catalog, as well as nine songs from 2011’s Here Before. True to form, they also sprinkled in quite a few choice covers, which included most of the usual selections and one surprise in Dylan’s “Seven Days.”  

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston  5/12/12
First Set
•  Bluer Skies*
•  For Now
•  There She Goes
•  Invitation
•  Nobody Knows
•  Should Be Gone
•  Let’s Go
•  Again Today
•  For Awhile
•  The High Road
•  On the Roof
•  When You Know
Second Set
•  Deep Fascination
•  On and On
•  Higher Ground
•  The Final Word
•  Away
•  Slipping (Into Something)
•  Doin’ It Again
•  Way Down
•  Time Is Right
•  Too Far Gone
•  Raised Eyebrows
•  Crazy Rhythms
•  Seven Days
•  Box Cars (Carnival of Sorts)
•  Paint It Black
•  Take It As It Comes
•  Fa Ce-La
•  Everybody’s Got Something to Hide
•  She Said She Said
•  I Go to Sleep in Your Arms
•  Later On
•  So Far
* Not sure if this was the opening track since I arrived mid song on this one.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

M. Ward Rocks ... Sublimely

M. Ward, House of Blues, Boston, 5/8/12 

I finally got to see Matt Ward perform recently at Boston’s House of Blues. I’ve long anticipated this based on the facts that I’ve long heard from discerning muso friends that he puts on a good show and that I own all seven of his studio releases.

Despite all this, I didn’t really know quite what to expect in terms of which of the Portland, Ore., singer/songwriter’s multiple incarnations would come to the fore in concert this time around: The folky singer/songwriter, the lyrically sharp crooner, the closet rocker, the folk guitarist with the tasteful country jazz flare? I was fairly confident that it would be a lot more formidable than his pop forays as part of She & Him (with Zooey Dashanel) or the rootsy singer/songwriter supergroup Monsters of Folk (with Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James). With regard to the latter, I was one the mark; as to the former, Ward’s performer featured a bit of it all.

The guy is an accomplished pop craftsman, an emotive singer with a truly unique voice (one that takes some getting used to for some), and a masterful guitarist who avoids flamboyance despite his impressive chops. His tuneful constructions featured spritely finger-picking forays and he even played a few instrumental songs, both solo and with his quartet of drums, bass and acoustic/pedal steel. And you don’t cover John Fahey unless you’re serious about your guitar playing – and quite confident in your ability to pull it off. Ward didn’t disappoint at all.

His set list was perfect as far as I’m concerned, if surprisingly weighted toward earlier works, particularly 2006’s Post War release. Bafflingly, he featured only three songs from the just-released A Wasteland Companion. But he played nearly all my faves from his robust catalog.

What did it sound like? Well, for the uninitiated, it’s American country-folk with hints of rock and a notable jazzy undercurrent, most evident in Ward’s crooning and his modal chording. There are shades of Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen and Buddy Holly, mixed with a bit of country twang, folk melody and rockabilly spirit, all filtered through modern production with genuine artistic sensibility. Though slight in stature, make no mistake: M. Ward is musically a man of great substance and taste.

Throughout 80 minute set, his fingers danced across both acoustic and electric guitars, and he even tickled the ivories for one song on the otherwise neglected piano at stage left toward the end of the evening. Besides the Fahey cover, Ward dusted off his transformative slow acoustic rendition of Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” featured on 2003’s Transfiguration of Vincent, rollicked through a bouncy version of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and kicked off the encore with Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” (see video above).

Ward may not yet be a household name – though the Dashanel partnership would be the fast track to that if not for the pseudo-anonymity of the duo's collaborative moniker – but he’s got far reaching appeal that should resonate with the masses, not just critics and connoisseurs.


M. Ward, House of Blues, Boston 5/8/12
Post War
For Beginners
I’m Gonna Give You Everything
Chinese Translation
Fuel for Fire
guitar instrumental
Let’s Dance
Magic Trick
Me and My Shadow
I Get Ideas
Primitive Girl
John Fahey song
Fisher of Men
Rave On
   Roll Over Beethoven
   Big Boat

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hitting “The Wall”

I’ve been listening to the new remastered release of The Wall this week. Pink Floyd’s monumental 1980 CD has been on my mind lately not just because of this new issue, but also because I just bought tickets to take my teenage daughter to see Roger Water’s updated rendition of the spectacular personal dystopia at Fenway Park this summer.

I’ve resisted previous opportunities to see Waters’ brick-by-brick revisitation mainly because the very first concert I ever saw was Pink Floyd’s last U.S. performance of the masterpiece in Long Island in 1980. The real deal: hard to top that! Hence, I’ve been reticent to risk tainting that memory with a lesser construction. But friends with discerning musical tastes who have seen Waters’ performance have assured me that I would not be disappointed. And it was hard to resist the idea of the old ballpark’s famed Green Monster mutating into Waters’ psycho-barricade.

But back to the reissue of the original CD. Yes, the original two record set does sounds a little bit crisper in the is new version, but I bought it for the “work-in-progress” band demos for the album included on the third disc, not for the marginal modernization of the originally released material.

The band sketches of these songs we all know and admire (if not love – that sentiment doesn’t seem quite fitting for most of these twisted tunes, somehow) are interesting in that they are evidence of how much the band and producer Bob Ezrin worked on the material in the studio. That is to say, the raw songs weren’t much akin to the polished gem they became.

Waters’ stuff is all idea and little execution. Gilmour’s parts are predictably much more polished musically, but not fully developed—in fact, the demo version of “Comfortably Numb” is surprisingly weak. Wrights keyboard parts are interesting, when they’re noticeable.

Perhaps unlike many listeners, I usually enjoy demos of well-know masterful works for what they reveal about the raw essence of the songs, the initial inspired impulse that, eventually refined, yields something for the ages. Somehow this batch of demos doesn’t quite leave me with that feeling or appreciation. Again, it does drive home how far the songs came, but mostly it leaves me wondering how the band got from this ... to that!

So, ultimately, I guess these demos are revealing, just not in the ways that I expected or which will lead me to repeated listening.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Trampled Under Turtles’ Feet

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston, 4/18/12 (Another Sick Frank photo)

I saw some rockin’ bluegrass last week at The Paradise courtesy of Trampled By Turtles. It was the third time I’d see the string-slinging quintet from Minnesota, but the first time I’d seen them performing standing up, which clearly put extra kick in their boots. Of particular note was Ryan Young’s alternatively frenetic and hauntingly forlorn fiddle. Young sparred playfully with Erik Berry’s lickety-split mando melodies and machine gun-like chording. When all five musicians put pedal to metal they accelerated into an acoustic rave up that would’ve made The Yardbirds proud.

The ecstatic sell-out crowd was well familiar with the Turtles’ catalog, singing along with singer/guitarist Dave Simonett on many old faves (e.g., “Codeine,” “Darkness and the Light” and “Wait So Long”), while fervently persistent in their unrequited requests for others (“Whiskey”). It’s worth noting too that six songs from the just-released Stars and Satellites record fit right in with the Turtles’ classics, despite the overall mellower tone of the new collection.

For the uninitiated, the cumulative sound of Trampled By Turtles live suggests something like the Del McCoury Band meets Uncle Tupelo with a dash of Fisherman’s Blues-era Waterboys and a pinch of Ramones. All that is to say that not only do these guys have the authentic bluegrass chops to hold their own at any ’grass fest, an earned maturity and confidence means they comfortably and effectively transcend the genre. They were right at home in rock environs and they ripped the joint.

The Turtles really hit stride a few songs in with “It’s a War,” from their great 2010 release Palomino, and the intensity rarely waned—whether they were playing fast or slow—for the remainder of the 100 minute set. They concluded the main set with a jangley, R.E.M.-ish rendition of “Separate,” followed by a buoyantly rousing “Wait So Long” and an epic “Alone,” the latter featuring all five members of openers These United States joining in on backing vocals. The North Country quintet returned for a frenzied run through “Feet and Bones” before signing off with a somber, lonesome-fiddle fueled “Again.”     

The Paradise Rock Club, Boston, Mass.  4/18/12
Midnight on the Interstate
Help You
Widower’s Heart
New Orleans
It’s a War
The Darkness and the Light
(?) Still in Love with You 
High Water
Don’t Look Down
Bloodshot Eyes
Walt Whitman
Wait So Long
Feet and Bones

Friday, April 6, 2012

Nope, Not Intoxicated at All!

I first came across this video when it was referred to in an article on Paid Content. The story detailed the copyright issue EMI asserted over the posting of this police cruiser surveillance video on YouTube after it was submitted as evidence in the legal proceedings related to the incident preceding the footage.

Seriously? I know EMI is a huge (read, idiotic) corporation passively overseeing the demise of a dying enterprise, but surely even the suits who once ruled Britannia’s recording biz must realize that this viral video phenomenon can do nothing but possibly prompt the sale of a few more copies of Queen’s iconic “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Anyway, all that aside, the video is entertaining. It can’t possibly have helped the defendant’s case in court. But forgive the singing and you have to admire his unimpaired memory and perseverant rendition of the tune Wayne and co. immortalized in another backseat performance.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wild Flag’s Pop Power

Wild Flag: Mary Timony, Janet Weiss, Rebecca Cole and Carrie Brownstein

I saw a very good performance by Wild Flag at Boston’s Paradise Rock Club tonight (the new band’s third Beantown appearance in just over a year). These ladies really know how to nail melodies – not just on record but live, too. Tonight’s show was a little less punky indie rock and, somewhat surprisingly, a bit more neo-psychedelic at points than I expected.

I loved last year’s debut album, but some of the video clips I had seen of live performances (undoubtedly from their early gigs; they’ve been together little more than a year) seemed very energetic, but less nuanced in the playing and melodic sensibilities (which are a major part of the band’s allure). But, tonight, the power pop prevailed.

The harmony vox were exceptional, expertly handled by keyboardist Rebecca Cole and drummer Janet Weiss, providing a soaring sweetness to the sound while also instrumentally delivering a gritty verve that energized frontline. Cole, in particular, was impressive in providing a vibrant undercurrent of keys, but her backing vocals practically carried the band. Then again, Weiss’ drumming almost stole the show. I’m tempted to say she’s the best woman drummer I’ve ever seen; not because that qualification is needed, but because female rock drummers are a rarity. Suffice to say she’s a great rock drummer: period. That notion is supported by the fact that she has been an in-demand guest on many albums since her days with Sleater-Kinney.

Fellow S-K alum, singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein is undoubtedly the most well-known of this Portland, Ore. and Washington, D.C.-based quartet, not only because of that previous bands’ noteworthiness, but nowadays even more so for her key role in the IFC show, Portlandia, in which she co-stars with SNL’s Fred Armison.

Brownstein and Mary Timony, formerly of Helium, trade off both lead guitar and lead vocal duties. Brownstein’s singing is more distinctive, but Timony, though more traditional in approach, is no slouch. Guitar wise, their styles are also different, but very complementary. Before tonight’s concert, I was more familiar with Brownstein’s approach, but I was really impressed by Timony’s melodic, neck-traversing leads. All together, the band reminded me of a more urgent and feminine version of Television (think “Friction”), and not just because they performed “See No Evil” during the encore.

Having only one album to draw upon, and not expecting them to dip very deeply into their previous bands’ catalogs, I wasn’t anticipating a terribly long performance (the roughly 75 minute show was fitting and satisfying). There were a couple of new songs performed, though not identified as such.

This audience video (not mine) features a snippet of Carrie Brownstein’s new song (“Can’t Fill the Void with the Void” maybe?), the most bluesy sound of the evening.

Overall, the 16-song set was well-paced, though it did seem to take three or four tunes to get the energy level fully amped up. (Brownstein, sipping tea throughout, mentioned that she had a sore throat and fading voice, but her singing was powerful and unaffected for the most part.) The band really hit stride on “Boom.” It was soon followed by a pleasantly surprising extended jam on “Glass Tambourine” – one of the aforementioned neo-psychadelic moments, conjuring hints of Hendrix and Traffic.

Other stand outs included “Future Crimes,” “Racehorse” (the other really extended jam, this one a bit too long perhaps) and the set closer “Romance.” They finished off with an encore of “Endless Talk,” the previously cited Television cover “See No Evil” and a spirited version of Fugazi’s “Margin Walker.”

I can’t wait to hear Wild Flag’s next release and see them again.

Set List: The Paradise Rock Club, Boston 3/31/12
Electric Band
Short Version
Black Tiles
Winter Pair
Something Came Over Me
Glass Tambourine
new Carrie song: Can’t Fill the Void with the Void — maybe
new Mary song: Cool Reaction — maybe
Future Crimes

Endless Talk
See No Evil (Television cover)
Margin Walker (Fugazi cover)