Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Blur's Live At the Budokan Reissue Out On iTunes (Listen to "Girls & Boys")

Official Blur calendar of 1996 with Albarn,
 James, Coxon & Rowntree (left to right) 
The Blur live double album, Live At the Budokan, is now remastered and available on iTunes via Parlophone Records Ltd. This Japanese-only release was recorded during a 1995 tour for The Great Escape, the band's fourth out of seven studio albums.  I came late to this band, as Brit pop kings Oasis won over listeners in the states during the 90s.  The group was originally called Seymour (!), formed in 1989 by vocalist/keyboardist Damon Albarn with guitarist Graham Coxon and bassist Alex James. Drummer Dave Rowntree joined soon afterwards, and they were signed to a subsidiary of EMI Records following only a few gigs and recording that all-important demo tape. Supposedly the label suggested a name change and presented a list, so the guys chose Blur.

Since I never saw them live (although I caught Albarn in a subsequent band, The Good, the Bad & the Queen), this redo is a wonderful guilty pleasure. Take a listen to "Girls & Boys," one of my very fave Blur songs with its bopping dance vibe and sing along chorus -- although I could do without the fans singled out in Karaoke!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Modest Mouse @ The Capitol Theatre, NY August 5

Isaac Brock
Sometimes you just don't really know a band (or its fans) until you experience things live in a concert setting. Such was the case with Modest Mouse, indie rock stalwarts from the Pacific Northwest since 1995 that burst onto the music scene in 2004 with the crossover hit "Float On."  I'd count myself among the fans not-so-patiently waiting for another studio album since 2009's No One's First and You're Next (containing only B-sides and unreleased tracks), as it's not a coincidence that frontman Isaac Brock's own record label is called Glacial Pace. Tour dates were cancelled last year among rumors about time needed to complete the album, which has yet to appear. So you'd think hitting the road this time around would be a good way to keep the connection going, but no reintroduction needed as a rabid and raucous crowd came out to their show at The Cap on a gorgeous summer's night.

Modest Mouse songs swing from the soothing to the frantic, all infused with a seething underbelly via Brock's lyrics and a vocal attack that breaches into speak-singing. His nomadic upbringing in Montana, Oregon and Washington included polar opposites of hippie communes and a Christian religious sect. Brock is still searching, clearly not sure if there are any answers. The opening number from 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News, "The Good Times Are Killing Me," sweetly mocks his own drug use. (Thankfully Brock was looking extremely fit in a dress shirt covered in a cactus pattern, with boyish bangs that became plastered with sweat as the set continued). The stage was covered with equipment, instruments and nine musicians, who allowed the music to become as unhinged as the audience that filled the venue. Brock switched from guitar to banjo  as needed and checked in with everyone with an occasional "How y'all doing?" He confessed to slamming a finger at 4 am, chocking it up to the fact that if you're up at 4 am, then "Shit happens."

The band brought out "Confessional" early in the set, kicking up the intensity of this instant party tune from 2007's We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.  A new song slipped in afterwards, creating a honky tonk vibe with Brock barking "Be Brave," along with two more later on, flirting with old school Rockabilly in "Sugar Boats" and a wavering rocker "Pistol." And with so many shows utilizing busy backgrounds projected on scrims plus other stage props, the straight up light show of colorful streams was something to be appreciated. However I waited till the end for my moment to finally hear and sing along to "Float On," but that was not to be. There were plenty of sing along moments, from "Fire It Up," to "This Devil's Workday" and especially the repeating line, "Are you dead or are you sleeping?" in "Satin in a Coffin." But not witnessing the biggest hit and my introduction to the band left me wanting -- along with that next studio release. Check out some pics, videos and set list below.

Paul & college pal Mark telling tales to the next generation
Paul & Me

Next gen music fans

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Talking Heads' Movie Stop Making Sense Out Digitally in Honor of 30th Anniversary

Original poster from movie premiere
The Talking Heads' concert documentary Stop Making Sense is finally out in a digital format via Palm Pictures, just in time to celebrate its 30th anniversary.  As directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia and The Master Builder, an adaption of the Ibsen play which is currently playing at NYC's Film Forum) the groundbreaking cinematography focused on the band, allowing the movie-going audience to become one with the live show crowd.  Find Stop Making Sense on iTunes here plus if you're lucky during a limited theatrical engagement. (NYC's Film Society of Lincoln Center is even hosting a Q&A with frontman David Byrne this Friday, August 1 at 9 pm with a showing.)

The original footage was collected over three nights at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood back in 1983, using long camera shots and stripped down lighting to create a virtual reality -- a "you are there" feeling that only gets even better as the camera pulls in tightly,  placing the viewer right on stage with this iconic 80s band.  I was at the Forest Hills tour stop, up to the side in bleachers usually reserved for watching tennis.  It was such a thrill to see Byrne walk out solo with his acoustic guitar to play "Psycho Killer" along with a little cassette recorder. It was a quirky yet appropriate beginning to the show, as he stumbled around the stage in precise choreography that would continue throughout the night. (See the first video below to relive this moment.) Then song by song, Byrne is joined by the rest of the group: Tina Weymouth on bass, Chris Franz on drums, and Jerry Harrison. The core group just kills it as they joined together for "Found a Job" in the second below, showing their strength as a quartet with a much bigger sound that transcended genres and now time.

At the time, I owned all the Talking Heads records including the latest, Speaking in Tongues, which would bring the band its first and only American Top Ten hit, "Burning Down the House." My favorite song would be the album's sweet last track, "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)" and just love how Byrne created a homey look with a floor lamp that he proceeds to dance with just like Fred Astaire.  Check out the backdrop of books and random images in the third video below. (There were plenty of random words elsewhere in the show as well, both radical use of stream of consciousness associations that seem quite ordinary today.) It showcases the talents of Bernie Worrell (of Parliament-Funkadelic) on keyboards, Alex Weir on guitar and back up singers Lynn Mabry and Edna Holt, along with additional percussion provided by Steve Scales.

On our rooftop with neighbors Bruce Meyer and Nancy Geist
Yet it was the song "Girlfriend Is Better" that gave the film its title, with the lyrics "Stop making sense!" Paul and I, just newlyweds, were out at Greenwich Village hot spot Da Silvano after the movie release, when someone upstairs lowered a note to Byrne's sidewalk table. It read "Stop making sense." It was my first of many NYC encounters with this musical genius, fangirl that I am and always will be!

I also went to the movie premiere party at The Ritz on 11th Street (now Webster Hall), where the band came out on stage to introduce the movie before it played on the big screen hung from the ceiling, mostly used for music videos to keep the crowds dancing.  It was one big party that night, and afterwards I walked back to our first apartment with a coveted poster that still hangs in our home -- as well as in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And while I don't still have my concert t-shirt, at least I have a photo of me wearing it (featuring the artwork of Speaking in Tongues, see album cover at end of the post).  This is a snapshot archiving my look at the time as it's paired with a black cotton mini-skirt, low-heeled pumps and back-combed 80s bangs. Clearly some things, like Talking Heads music, are better equipped to stand the test of time.

Album cover artwork

Friday, July 25, 2014

Band of Horses @ The Capitol Theatre, NY July 24

Singer Ben Bridell
Band of Horses creates the kind of music that makes you stop, listen and feel.  The group is unafraid of grand gestures and deep emotions, with an indie rock base that crosses into Southern rock. Lyrics delivered in a distinctive twang deal with screen doors swayin', fixin' drinks in the morning and incredibly romantic yearnings, such as "my thoughts drift to you." Chorus lines repeat to emphasize meaning while building fervor, never as a repetitive exercise. Over four albums since 2004, their sound swings from sweet lullabies to soaring crescendos of melody and stomping rockers with blasts of guitar -- all benefiting from the immediacy of live performance. 

The core quintet since 2010 is now based in Charleston, South Carolina and treated fans to a 20-song set at The Capitol Theatre, all wearing jeans and beards on recent summer's night: singer/songwriter Ben Bridell (guitar), Tyler Ramsey (guitar), Bill Reynolds (bass), Creighton Barrett (percussion) and Ryan Monroe (keyboards/mandolin). This evening began with Midlake downsized to an acoustic trio, which unfortunately drained the songs from any anthemic punch. Band of Horses then led off with the lilting "Way Back Home," moving into the sweeping orchestral gestures of "Factory," both from Infinite Arms (2010).  Another hit for the band, "Ode to LRC" from Cease to Begin (2007) was offered up early, a song with the audacity to break into a "la-di-da" ending after declaring "The world is such a wonderful place" over and over (as captured in the video below). "No One's Gonna Love You" brought another highlight with heartfelt lyrics how "No one's gonna love you more than I do" (my soundtrack choice if I should ever feel a need to renew my wedding vows).  

Brindell earnestly responded to the appreciative crowd with lots of "thanks you'all," allowing the music to do the requisite soul bearing. Even bandmates Ramsey and Reynolds knew to step back occasionally and keep things still to let the passionate vocals ring out through the venue. Check out the set list along with some photos and videos, plus at the very end of the post is an awesome poster printed especially for the night by a friend of the band (that I got signed by all five members of the band after the show!)

Happy fans with set list (thx for the photo op!)
Me & Asheville's own Tyler Ramsey
Paul & Ryan Monroe

Thursday, July 17, 2014

New Compilation Album -- Red Hot + Arthur Russell (Due October 21)

The Red Hot Organization has released over fifteen compilation albums since 1989, as part of its dedication to fighting AIDS through pop culture. I was able to thank founder John Carlin firsthand during an interview for this ingenious method of supporting a worthy mission, one that continues to haunt those of us who watched friends with the disease given a death sentence during the 80s and 90s. The latest album will pay tribute to Arthur Russell, part of the music scene in NYC's East Village during that time until his untimely death at age 40 in 1992 from AIDS-related causes. He was a talented cellist, pianist, and singer, who easily shifted from classical to folk and disco when composing. 

Red Hot + Arthur Russell (due October 21 via Yep Roc) features 26 tracks by more than 20 artists. It includes many faves from my New Music Playlists: Hot Chip, Sufjan Stevens, Phosphorescent, Junip's José González, Devendra Banhart, Arcade Fire's Richard Reed Parry and Neon Indian's Alan Palomo (as VEGA INTL). Hot Chip is a perfect fit for one of Russell's dance tunes, as witnessed in a preview video showing some behind the scenes recording of "Go Bang."  Check it out along with the track list below, and add this album to your list for fall listening.

Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell Tracklist:
1.     Jose Gonzalez – “This Is How We Walk On The Moon”
2.     Lonnie Holley – “Soon-To-Be Innocent Fun (Interlude)”
3.     Robyn – “Tell You (Today)”
4.     Hot Chip – “Go Bang”
5.     Sufjan Stevens – “A Little Lost”
6.     Lonnie Holley – “In The Light Of The Miracle (Interlude)”
7.     Richard Reed Parry, Little Scream, Sam Amidon, Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld – “Keeping Up”
8.     Liam Finn, Ernie Brooks + Peter Zummo – “This Love Is Crying”
9.     Rubblebucket + Nitemoves – “Eli”
10.   The Revival Hour – “Hiding Your Present from You”
11.   Sam Amidon – “Lucky Cloud”
12.   Devendra Banhart – “Losing My Taste For The Night Life”
13.   Phosphorescent – “You Can Make Me Feel Bad”
14.   Blood Orange – “Is It All Over My Face & Tower Of Meaning”
15.   Scissor Sisters – “That’s Us/Wild Combination”
16.   VEGA INTL. – “Arm Around You”
17.   Oh Mercy – “Planted A Thought”
18.   Lonnie Holley – “Hop On Down (Interlude)”
19.   Cults – “Being It”
20.   Richard Reed Parry – “Just A Blip”
21.   Glen Hansard – “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face”
22.   Thao & The Get Down Stay Down – “Nobody Wants A Lonely Heart”
23.   The Autumn Defense – “Oh Fernanda Why”
24.   Alexis Taylor – “Our Last Night Together”
25.   Lonnie Holley – “The Deer In The Forest (Interlude)”
26.   Redding Hunter – “Close My Eyes”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Upcoming Releases - Listen to Caribou New Song "Can't Do Without You"

All of a sudden there's a bunch of upcoming releases; I'm counting the days until their drop dates (see list below). One of them is from Dan Snaith, the Canadian mastermind behind the electronica band Caribou (as well as Manitoba and Daphni). His gyrating, funky tune "Odessa" caught my ear with heavy airplay on KCRW back in 2010, and landed a spot in my Late Fall 2010 Playlist plus a Top 20+ Songs of 2010. Based on this one song I was thrilled to catch Snaith live at Moogfest 2010, where he huddled as a quartet behind a drum kit in a corner of the arena stage. (Snaith plays drums, guitar, bass and synths but chooses percussion when performing concerts.) With openers, there's plenty of equipment announcing the next band behind the group and taking up space, but I loved how Snaith felt a need to be even more scrunched together with the rest of the musicians.  It also made the performance much more intense, as they fed off of each other's energy while the sound resonated in the cavernous space before a huge crowd.
Dan Snaith (photo via Merge Records)
The lead single "Can't Do With You" is filled with disjointed samples leading into a fluid groove that finds that "Odessa" bliss once again.  It is off the sixth studio album, Our Love, to be released October 7 via Merge Records.  Caribou will be appearing during the four-day music festival celebrating the Merge 25th Anniversary on July 26 in Carborro, NC before a full tour this fall, stopping at Webster Hall in NYC November 11.  (Merge also recently partnered with Google Play for a label doc and exclusive songs in honor of 25 years.) Check out the song here and other releases -- I've marked my calendar already!

August 5 - Spoon, They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
August 26 - The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers (Matador Records)
September 9 - Delta Spirit, Into The Wild (Dualtone Records)
September 9 - Avi Buffalo, At Best Cuckold (Sub Pop Records)
September 9 - Interpol, El Pinto (Matador)
September 16 - Generationals, Alix (Polyvinyl)
September 23 - Sondre Lerche, Please (Mona Records)
September 23 - Tweedy, Sukierae (dBpm Records)
September 30 - Christopher Owens, A New Testament (Turnstile Music)
October 7 - Caribou, Our Love (Merge Records)

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beck @ Hammerstein Ballroom NYC June 30

Fans filled the gracious space of NYC's Hammerstein Ballroom June 30th for Beck's first Manhattan show since 2008, where they were treated to the artist cranking out new songs and old hits with the same musical intensity.  Just a year ago, Beck appeared content presenting an acoustic folky vibe and I thought I might never see some of my favorite songs ever in a concert setting. For decades he has composed whatever interested him at the time, without any preconceived notions not to mix and match genres. But there he was on stage, leading his band through a deep catalogue of alt music hits. Beck chose to begin with the sweet tune "Golden Age" from  Sea Change (2002). This, along with "Lost Cause" from the same collection, mixed in well with the songs off the new release, Morning Phase, as Beck has described these are companion albums in concept.

He explained that since it had been so long since a "proper concert" in Manhattan, they needed take extra time to "catch up." Beck disclosed how things would start off a bit slow before getting rowdy, and he was right.  After the shimmering acoustics of "Wave," "Waking Light" and "Blue Moon" the stage lit up with the churning intro for "Devil's Haircut" (the video for this song off 1996's Odelay shows Beck walking around NYC carrying a boombox).  Standing on the side in front of a speaker, I could feel the sound waves pulse in time. Beck has always had a knack for pulling off crazy movement while performing in an endearing and slightly geeky way -- he obviously enjoys pulling off these complicated songs with a fresh intensity. The dance party continued as more classic Beck tunes followed: "Black Tambourine,""New Pollution" and "Think I'm in Love" (where he broke into Donna Summer's "I'm in Love" just like Franz Ferdinand did at last fall's ACL Music Festival!)  He brilliantly broke out "Loser" mid set, saving "Where It's At" for an epic closer.  Sean Lennon even joined in on tambourine after serving as a solid warm up presence with his psych rock band, The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger. Check out the full set list below, along with some videos from the night.

Early birds line w/Empire State building in view
My collection - remember CDs?