Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Flaming Lips At Hollywood Forever Cemetery: 'When The Going Gets Weird...'

Let it be said that I have been to some interesting shows in my time, and just on paper this was ready for the top ten, before it even commenced.

Flaming Lips in a cemetery, what's not to love? I made the 'Soft Bulletin' show, sticking with what was near and dear to my heart, although I do look forward to hearing reports of the second night, where they took on 'Dark Side of the Moon, as only they could...featuring guest appearances from opener Marnie Stern and the one and only Peaches (!).

Night one was all about them, and suspense built through the last minute adjustments and sound checking. Wayne Coyne hit the stage to open the festivities with a thank you to the cemetery, and a warning about the lights, and tips on how to handle a man in a giant orb coming toward you.

From what is now the middle of their catalogue, The Soft Bulletin was a tipping point, when the harsh oddness of their early days wore off, and thanks to an oddball MTV hit, they were faced with actual commercial prospects, and the question became: 'what now?'.

Finding a sympathetic ear in producer Dave Fridman, (who helped transform Mercury Rev's Deserters Songs), they hit the jackpot with a lush, stunning cycle of songs that didn't shy away from the complications of growing older.

Thanks to Jimbo & the Exposure Room, the whole show is available here to view.

Caveats on my videos: the sound overwhelmed my poor camera, being right up front, & see the video above for the whole spectacle, but mine will definitely give you a feel of how special 'right there' was...

Mo' caveats: please be mindful of the first video if you have any strobe related is after all, The Flaming Lips...The first video, below, is the 'grand entrance', i.e. introducing band members from a giant eyeball, Wayne taking a spin in the hamster ball, i.e. the usual...

Video #2 is the lead track, "Race For The Prize", and as you will witness, is just pure batshit pandemonium...

Highlights from the rest of the set include Wayne borrowing some fake blood from the audience during "The Spark That Bled", and what other audience can you count on being equippped with fake blood?

A touching take on "The Spider Bite Song" gave respect to the core members, the oversized laser-shooting hands made an appearance, and the set peaked with an emotional rendition of "Waitin' For A Superman"...

On stage right, the supporting cast included Interpretive Dance With Light Saber, amongst the characters!

Final note: didn't have much time to poke around Hollywood Forever before the sun went down, but on the way out, I was delighted to trip over the final resting place of none other than Johnny Ramone, which made for a fitting end to an unforgettable evening.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goodnight Big Man...

The recent stroke that felled Clarence Clemons, (the Big Man in the E Street Band), proved to be fatal. He was 69. His singular place in the band's mythology helped cement the band's place in rock history. While ill health, (hip & knee issues), slowed him in recent years, and lessened his onstage role, the interplay between he & Springsteen was the rock upon which the band was built.
Rest In Peace, Big Man...

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Buffalo Springfield Rides Again...

Giving power to the phrase 'never say never', after much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, the passing of two members, and 45 years of water under the bridge, it was with both heady excitement and blind fear that I awaited the return of Buffalo Springfield.

They clocked in for two nights at the Santa Barbara County Bowl this week, in the midst of a handful of California warm up dates, setting the stage for an appearance at Bonnaroo this weekend.

I studiously avoided anything in the way of reviews; figuring just to play it out and hope for the best. Knowing the involvement of Neil Young, a certain amount of faith could be invested that a) the process would not be easy, and b) that his quality control would be in effect. Which ultimately turned out to be the case...the man seems very vested in every part of his legacy, and not only was the Springfield crown brushed off, but one would say burnished. The band only lasted '66-'68 and managed a few records before imploding into acrimony, and never had the advantage of playing shows where the technology matched the talent...

So, this was what had to be put right, and the answer turned out to be a resounding 'Exceeds Expectations'. Like the Pixies reunion, it was driven not wholly by money, or new material, but a chance to shine a light on an unjustly overlooked band, as the setlist reaffirmed. Not only that, but it was done the right way, giving out star turns to the players, but keeping the entire night focused on the unit. The big takeaway was the indelible tightness of the players. In just their sixth official show since returning, the tone was set early on, from the emotionally charged opener "On The Way Home", they slid into "Rock and Roll Woman", Steven Stills and Young trading off solos like it was yesterday, as Neil gruffly observed between songs: "We come from the Past..."

The setlist was well chosen, giving everyone a spotlight, and they made the most of it, from Richie Furay turning "Kind Woman" into a sublime tribute to his 40+ year marriage, to Steven Stills masterwork "For What It's Worth", where his tattered growl showed it's age, but aged like good whiskey. Stills' finest moments might have been when he donned a solid body Gibson and added delicate tonal colorings to the songs. Seeing the songs played gave lie to everyone's subsequent individual celebrity and reinforced the greatness of the band.

As for Neil, two things I never thought I'd see or hear: #1) Neil genuinely laughing & joking onstage, just generally having a blast...and #2) a beautifully arranged version of "Broken Arrow". Wow.

Opening the evening were Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, now with a few shows under their belt after a long hiatus, and they stepped up their game to the big stage. Unfortunately, as an opener, they were treated to the typical Santa Barbara apathy/hospitality, the audience looking to be about 70/30 yakking/engaged. They stepped out in the Nudie suits reserved for special occasions, and battled through a set of the highlights of their catalogue, and near the end, the normally unflappable Rawlings was even moved to observe audibly that: "There's a whole lot of time between the bands to talk..." After the set closer, "Revelator", they still had some time, and had the sound crew amp up the reverb, and pitched headlong into a noisy cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit", thoroughly drowning out intended conversations...Which, ironically, earned them a standing ovation from the pit in front of the stage, most of whom had spent the show talking...Hmmm.

Programming note: lack of supporting media with this screed will be explained by the humble sign. My guess is that the shows were being recorded, as another sign stressed that after the show started, no one would be seated for two songs, and then only in between songs. For the main event, it certainly brought a hall ambiance to the great outdoors, and people, for the most part, complied with the cell phone photo restrictions.

It was a night to remember for all, and apparently the experiment worked, because word has come down that they'll be adding more dates in the fall. It's so nice to have them back, and I'm looking forward to reading about their reception at Bonnaroo.
  1. On the Way Home
  2. Rock & Roll Woman
  3. Burned
  4. .A Child's Claim to Fame
  5. Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It
  6. Go and Say Goodbye
  7. I Am a Child
  8. Hot Dusty Roads
  9. Kind Woman
  10. Mr. Soul
  11. Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing
  12. Everybody's Wrong
  13. My Kind of Love
  14. Sad Memory
  15. Bluebird
  16. (encore) Broken Arrow
  17. For What It's Worth
  18. Rockin' In The Free World

Friday, June 10, 2011

Anna Calvi, Troubador, LA

Anna Calvi made her Los Angeles debut Tuesday night at The Troubador, the last leg on her first North American jaunt. With only a single and January's LP behind her, set list wasn't really the question, just order of songs.

Drama was the operative word here, with Mally Harpaz, (percussion, harmonium, guitar), and Daniel Maiden-Wood (drums), filling out the trio. They essayed the twists and turns of the tunes, bringing to life a sound that seems to tap equally from the blues and Morricone...Like early Kills, it's a soundtrack for films yet to be made, and in it's finest moments, out there in David Lynch territory.

The sound was lush and loud, and from the opening instrumental of
"Rider To The Sea", Anna Calvi was in command, half visible in the dark shadows of the stage as light slowly leaked out, illuminating the proceedings. Straight into "No More Words", where she showed a great command of dynamics, dropping to a whisper and forcing the crowd to quiet. You could feel people leaning forward, engaged. Without pause, she let rip "Suzanne & I", scaling back up the heights of volume, concluding the opening trio of songs with admirable poise.

While "Desire" got the most crowd response, high point of the set was a sassy, controlled take on the Elvis chestnut, "Surrender", with a close second being a showstopping take on the first single, Edith Piaf's "Jezebel".

All in all, a night to remember, and a nice conclusion to a trip in which Ms. Calvi made some waves. Originally scheduled to debut in March at SXSW, an unfortunate arm injury caused her to delay the U.S. journey.
Before her departure, time was found for a pop-in to the Morning Becomes Eclectic show on KCRW, who sponsored the Troubador show...Catch up here with a live in studio take on "Desire", and don't forget KCRW at pledge time!

Just Gimme Indie Rock!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Thinking Inside The Box...

The devaluation of music has recently reached a new low, what with Amazon pimping the entire new Lady Gaga LP for just .99 in a recent two day release special...And one can say it worked, shifting 1.2M 'units' in its first week, 600K of which were digital, & who knows how many of those were the .99 variety, because, along with paying taxes, Amazon is not fond of releasing sales numbers. Looks like the 'Opening Weekend' box office mind set is taking over what's left of the music biz...

But we come here today to dwell on the opposite, to celebrate 'value per dollar', and examine the last vestige of quality in the industry, the Deluxe Box Set! (or, the insane money grab from suckers like me, but fill in your own...)

So far this year, I've fallen for four ventures that fall into the DeeLux category...Here's the breakdown for the morbidly curious in order received, not, (ahem Radiohead), order ordered:

Decemberists: The King Is Dead comes in a lavish cloth box, (Bogart came separately), and includes: one LP on white vinyl no less, a hardcover book with session polaroids done by Autumn De Wilde as well as the CD and the bonus Pendarvia short film on DVD, a print by Carson Ellis, (wife of Colin Meloy), as well as one of the actual polaroids done by Ms. De Wilde.

That they did this under the eye of Capitol Records might be the craziest thing of all. The album itself, featuring guest spots from Peter Buck (R.E.M.) and Gillian Welch, asserts itself as one of their most musically cohesive collections, and if rumors having it to be their last are correct, the beauty and work that went into this box set are an impressive monument to leave behind.

Los Campesinos! have taken an entirely different turn with the first issue of Heat Rash. Their latest endeavor is a quarterly 'zine to fill in the gaps between records, and provide a more literary experience than blogs & files.

On the left is a 7" single of two new songs that will stand alone from the new album, recorded last month and being mixed as we speak. On the right is Heat Rash #1, (the Romance issue), full of lyrics, band poetry, essays, recipes, and closing words from Neil Gaiman!

Okkervil River went all the way with their newest effort, I Am So Very Far in every sense. Their box set, (which came before the CD street date-yay Jagjaguwar), lives up to the name, arriving in a wooden box!

Said wooden box contains: CD, bonus songs/demos on 7'' single, bound hardcover chapbook of lyrics, poster, laser cut cover art from William Schaff, (longtime affiliate of the band), and a signed letter from Will Sheff...

The main event, I Am Very Far, is stretched over three sides of vinyl, the fourth given over to a laser etching of Schaff's artwork. Very cool.

Worth the wait, Radiohead's King Of Limbs (newspaper LP edition) finally arrived after much weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Heeding to their In Rainbows random announcement here it is strategy, they notified the world, released the download a week later, then we who ordered the physical package settled in for The Wait. Like the music itself, it's no so much understated as distilled.
Not overflowing with a million goodies, but it does contain the newspaper, the cd, the traditional out of control artwork, and the LP done as two ten inch clear vinyls, mastered at 45rpm, and it sure does sound swell.

What i haven't fallen for yet, although truth be told I had one in a cart and backed off at the last minute, is what might be the piece de resistance of all of the above...Only the Flaming Lips would conjure up the idea of a gummy life size skull enclosing a USB drive with new music. If you wondered exactly how Wayne Coyne would top last years tour posters done in part with his own blood, well, let this be your answer...

And we can't close without mentioning the continued good works of Mr. Jack White, whose latest endeavor is the Third Man Records Rolling Record Store, a mobile truck equipped equally to sell records, merch, and whose custom sound system allows it to do gigs on the go! Someday i'll run into this wonder on wheels, and I will be taking pictures.

Even with the industry in a state of flux, it's nice to know that there's folks out there doing things a little differently...

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Highway of Dreams: Gillian Welch/David Rawlings In Big Sur

Memorial Day field trip saw me working my way down (not up...long story) Highway One...Destination: The Henry Miller Library. Shows at the Miller Lib. are always special, sitting outdoors in the courtyard, surrounded by pines...nice alternative to the usual club or small theater.

Headlining was the inimitable Gillian Welch and her trusty aide de camp David Rawlings, kicking off their first official tour in many a moon, a perfect spot for an intimate warmup to shake off the dust and rust. Her new album, The Harrow And The Harvest, will be out 28 June.

The Welch/Rawlings team has become our own Alt/Country comet, appearing irregularly and burning brightly...

It was a stellar evening, broken up into two sets, drawn from all her albums, with a spotlight song given to David Rawlings in each set and a tantalizing taste of the new LP.

Despite the long gap between LP's (8 years now), and infrequent touring, the magic is still there, and the most fun part of the evening was watching that chemistry and love of playing on display, and the few glitches actually had their own charm for the grace and self deprecating way in which they were covered.

Highlight of the first set was the *new song*, (above), which for the sake of argument we'll call "Throw Me A Rope", and stand corrected when the LP comes out. This would be the very same song that was hushed a rowdy Coachella audience in 2007, one of their best, and it's nice to see that it's finally coming out officially.

After a brief intermission, the second set kicked off with "My First Lover", included another precious new song, and hit its peak with a stunning rendition of "Revelator", always a showstopper.

Dipped into covers for the encore, essaying Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty, the chestnut "I'll Fly Away", and finishing the night with the harrowing "Long Black Veil".

At work that morning, I happened on a Buffalo Nickel, what i took to be an omen for the day to come, and in the company of Welch and Rawlings, it was a welcome trip back to, as Greil Marcus put it, the Old Weird America...

Final note: Not only are Welch and Rawlings undertaking their own tour, but on a string of the dates they'll be opening for the long anticipated Buffalo Springfield reunion.

30 MAY, 2011

Orphan Girl/Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor/Rock Of Ages/Dear Someone/I Want To Sing That Rock & Roll/Elvis Presley Blues/*Throw Me A Rope (new)/Ruby/Red Clay Halo
My First Lover/No One Knows My Name/Wayside-Back In Time/*The Way That It Goes (new)/Revelator/Sweet Tooth/Look At Miss Ohio/Caleb Meyer
Encore: Pancho & Lefty/I'll Fly Away/Long Black Veil