Monday, December 31, 2007

Best Albums of 2007

Everyone is pretty sick of these lists by now, but I had to throw my two cents in like everyone else. So take a quick glance, and post a comment about how I’m obviously deaf and perhaps mildly retarded. Making this, I was expecting to go on a diatribe about how bad a year ’07 was for music, but I realized there were actually plenty of albums I liked. Some of my favorites disappointed (looking at you White Stripes), and many of the blog flavor-of-the-months didn’t hold up to the hype (sorry Arcade Fire). However, there’s a nice mix of great stuff below from both newbies and veterans. Enjoy, and happy new year!

HONORABLE MENTIONS (because I couldn’t not mention them): Steve Earle – Washington Square Serenade; Joe Henry – Civilians; The National – Boxer; Robert Plant & Alison Kraus – Raising Sand; Mavis Staples – We’ll Never Turn Around; Tegan and Sara – The Con; Various Artists - I’m Not There Original Soundtrack.

#10: Mark Knopfler – Kill to Get Crimson
I’ve been a Dire Straits fan forever, but have never investigated much into Knopfler’s solo output. Picking this one up on a whim, I might need to check him out more. Though it couldn’t be more different from the Straits. Where they were funky and rocking, this disc is stately and subdued, with half the songs being nylon-stringed waltzes that sounds straight out of Victorian England. Only on “Punish the Monkey” does he indulge his fuzz-box solo inclinations a bit.
Sample track: Behind With the Rent

#9: Buck 65 – Situation
The best Canadian rapper since…yeah right, like you can name another Canadian rapper. He’s been running around the underground for years, building a cult following with his hip-hop incorporations of everything from folk to blues. He goes back to basics a bit on this one though, eschewing samples for rough production and sloppy drums (though that was more out of fear of getting sued than anything; apparently there’s an “original” version circulating with the samples).
Sample track: 1957

#8: Patti Smith – Twelve
Always a cover artist extraordinaire (see her re-working of Gloria), she finally flexes her interpretive muscles on this all-covers disc. Taking on everyone from Dylan to Tears for Fears, she uses her nasal drawl to drive the lyrics home. Arrangements veer from the faithful (White Rabbit) to the wildly inventive (Smells Like Teen Spirit), but she hits gold in each case. The cover album is a genre with twenty stinkers for every gem, but no one should be surprised for Patti to find the diamond in the rust. Hey, there’s a song she could do…
Sample track: Smells Like Teen Spirit

#7: Anberlin – Cities
Hard-driving rock often falls into the trap of being loud but unmemorable, but the boys of Anberlin put poetic lyrics being tight instrumentation in melodies that will hit you hard and leave you singing the refrains long after they end. Not a departure from previous albums, but the sign of all their promise coming to fruition. The nine-minute long closing “(*Fin)” has enough to justify an EP all by itself.
Sample track: A Whisper & A Clamor

#6: Beirut – The Flying Club Cup
Listening to the album, you picture a group of world-weary Eastern Europeans vagabonds playing this enchanting music, not some kid from Santa Fe. Regardless, though, these offbeat folk melodies use instruments from french horn to melodica (look it up) to wrap around you. World music has never been so close to home.
Sample track: La Banlieu

#5: Die Ärzte – Jazz Ist Anders
With foreign language albums, it’s hard to know how much someone who doesn’t speak the language will appreciate the music. Though I know a little German, I haven’t paid much attention to the lyrics, and love it all the same. These Berlin punks, the self-described “beste Band der Welt” (best band in the world), have been around for twenty years though singing about everything from spanking to social consciousness. They lean a little more towards maturity on this one, without leaving behind familiar themes, as in Licht Am Ende Des Sarges (Light at the End of the Coffin). The production is spot-on, leaving the power chords crisp and tight as they crib from everyone from The Cars to Barry Manilow. My favorite track, however, is the softest one with light guitar and bittersweet backing vocals, Nur Einen Kuss (Only a Kiss).
Sample track: Nur Einen Kuss

#4: Bruce Springsteen – Magic
I was a little taken aback first hearing this as, after several decades of glorious experimentation with new bands, solo material, and back-porch revival music, Springsteen has made what sounds like a stereotypical Boss album in every way. There’s one difference though, the political anger that comes through in every song. He never names names, but the metaphors of a “Long Walk Home” and unnamed soliders coming home aren’t too subtle to hit home.
Sample track: I’ll Work For Your Love

#3: Kanye West – Graduation
West finally lives up to his bravado. He may be a cocky son of a bitch, but when he claims he’s the best rapper in the world, at least he’s right. He’s not especially fast, not particularly clever, but every song is a knock-out for the way the words sound, rolling over each other atop flawless production and perfect samples. I hate to push such a mainstream choice, but there’s no way “Stronger” is not the song of the year.
Sample track: Homecoming (ft. Chris Martin)

#2: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder
The blog darlings of ’05, that album was did not live up to all the hype. They prove themselves worthy of the indie admiration on this year’s follow-up, however, confounding listeners with distorted-beyond-recognition vocals and thrashing and twitching guitars in one fascination (not to mention catchy) track after the next. Listening to it with the lyrics in front of you helps a great deal, as you won’t make out a one otherwise, but they’re great in a very abstract sort of way.
Sample track: Emily Jean Stock

#1: Gogol Bordello – Super Taranta!
Taking Eastern European music in just the opposite direction from Beirut, these gypsy-punks bring the party worldwide as they blast forth with accordion, violin, and one of the wildest frontmen music has seen in a while. Their live shows have achieved legendary status, but the music is worth the energy. The description of their music as “the Clash having a fight with the Pogues in Easter Europe” fits nicely, provided all involved were on speed.
Sample track: American Wedding

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Rodrigo y Gabriela in Glasgow 12/11/07

Next up in today’s concert twofer is the acoustic latin-metal duo Rodrigo y Gabriela. These guys have been making a lot of noise this year promoting their self-titled album at every festival the summer season has to offer, and wowing at every stop. Having missed them at Bonnaroo myself, I made up for it at a stop at Glasgow’s Barrowlands.

Unannounced, at least as far as I’d seen on the ticket or the website, David Ford opened the show in memorable fashion. He came on with one woman and about a dozen instruments, and proceeded to loop his way through the opening song. He started out shaking maracas, recording that and looping it over and over as he played a simple piano riff a couple times, adding that loop on top. Loop after loop was added, with him doing four-part harmonies with himself, as he sang overtop. The woman did the same thing on her violin throughout the song, so that the two people ended up with a cacophony of virtual instruments by the song’s end. He only did this for about half his songs, but creatively enough that it became more than a gimmick.

The songs he did not use the loops for, but just performed solo on piano or acoustic guitar, were distinctly less memorable. “Poetic” lyrics came off as pretentious, as he tried to create a more modern Tom Waits vibe without the weirdness. The exception to the rule was his State of the Union, a political song more about general necessities of the political sphere than any specifics o
f today, but featured the memorable lines “With friends like these, well who needs politicians?” and “Come on Jesus Christ, come back, all is forgiven.” Given that he’s from East Sussex, it’s unclear whether he’s talking about America, Britain, both, or neither. It works for all of the above.

It’s hard to describe Rodrigo y Gabriela. There have been a lot of catchy phrases tossed around, like latin-metal, flamenco-funk, or acoustic-thrash, but none of them really get at the heart of the duo. It’s simply two people from Mexico playing instrumentals on nylon-stringed guitars that somehow makes you feel like you’re at a Metallica concert.

Taking to the stage, they exuded a poise and humility that contrasted with the flashing and swooping lights, loud opening music, and wild visuals behind them. Throughout the show close-up videos of their hands playing were taken by two tiny remote-controlled cameras by each of them and broadcast on the screen behind them. Being able to seeing their flying fingers, especially Gabriela’s blur of a hand strumming and thumping her furious rhythm guitar, but the camera delay just couldn’t keep up with the speed at which they were playing. Regardless though, the many visuals helped keep a show that I thought would get boring – two people sitting on chairs playing guitar – engaging up to the last minute.

The main credit for that, however, goes to the duo themselves. Through incredible playing and medleys very different than their albums, they kept the audience focused by guessing what they would do next. A setlist would be difficult to figure no matter how familiar one was with the word-free songs, because of how the different melody lines would weave in and out of each other, throwing in snatches of unrecorded songs and unexpected covers, like Seven Nation Army, Smoke on the Water, the James Bond theme song, and, I think, Norwegian Wood. It was only towards the end that they began to mix things up and move around, as one or the other took a well-deserved break. Rodrigo turned out to be a dynamic frontman in the few instances he used it, strutting the stage while playing and organizing the crowd into a three-part cheer to lead into their cover of Metallica’s Orion. A little more opportunity to express this charisma would benefit the show, though perhaps overshadow Gabriela’s quieter demeanor.

A live highlight in each show is a crowd singalong of Wish You Were Here but, as they’re not actually doing much on guitar for it, it is much less impressive than their Stairway to Heaven (especially appropriate, being as it was a week before Led Zeppelin’s London reunion gig). It’s a song I can’t stand the original of, but once the pretentious lyrics and Plant’s crooning screeches are out of the picture, emerges as a nice tune that builds to a rocked-out frenzy.

Download a live show from 7/4/07 in Chicago:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

We Are Scientists in Edinburgh 11/7/07

Over the last few months I've seen a few concerts that I never got a chance to review, so I'll just shove 'em together in summaries. And I'll throw in some audio recordings to sweeten the deal.

First up, my favorite new band of 2006, We Are Scientists. Their hook-filled brand of rock'n'roll is refreshing in a world of shoegazing, strange instruments, and angst. I hadn't had a chance to see them, but they took a night off from their tour supporting the Kaiser Chiefs for a headlining gig at the Potterrow Student Center at University of Edinburgh, November 6th.

They had two openers, Kid Harpoon and The Departure, one of which almost stole the show. Kid Harpoon looked like a dock waif in ripped leather jacket and mullet, bouncing around with his acoustic guitar in front of a five-piece band. He joked at one point that most of his songs were about killing girls, which was pretty accurate, most of his lyrics being Decemberists-esq accounts of antique times and values. Closing with a cover of First We Take Manhattan on speed (see here for a recording), his twenty-minute set quickly convinced the small crowd that this misfit was worth keeping an eye on.

The Departure were as generically loud and angsty as a group could be, with no one moving on stage and everyone moving in the audience…by walking away. A well-named band, as everyone was glad when they did just that, departed.

The crowd somehow tripled in size in the twenty minutes before We Are Scientists came on. When they did, the three-piece had turned into a four-piece, with an extra member named Max on keyboards and guitar. He was all but worthless, as his instruments were never audible and, if they had been, I still can’t imagine what they would have added. Part of the allure of the band is the stripped-down raw sound that adding more instruments will just clutter. The other line-up change was a recently added replacement drummer. He looked dorky and confused the whole time…so he fit perfectly.

They kicked right into their hit (small hit) and my favorite song, Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt and followed with ninety minutes of relentless rock’n’roll. The between-song comedy banter they are known for was at a minimum, but the fun they were clearly having was not. It’s generally not considered “cool” for rock bands to go around grinning, but their happiness was infectious.

Having only one official album (plus a b-sides set that they ignored), they played most of its songs with plenty of room for new stuff. All the new material, the titles I can only guess at, stood up proudly next to the old stuff, to the point that by the end of the songs people were singing along. Most featured absurdly catchy choruses, “woah-oh-ohs” aplenty, and the guitar thrashing of lead singer Keith Murray. As a side note, this show also marks the first time I’ve seen a crowd sing along to a guitar riff, on The Great Escape.

Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt
The Scene Is Dead
NEW SONG (Impatience)
NEW SONG (Let's See It)
Can't Lose
NEW SONG (Altered Beast)
It's a Hit
Worth the Wait
NEW SONG (Tonight)
Lousy Reputation
NEW SONG (After Hours)
The Great Escape
NEW SONG (Dinosaur)

Download a soundboard recording from a set on 12/12/07

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Yesterday Is Here: Tom Waits Covers Vol. 2 & 3

Yesterday Is Here: Tom Waits Covers Volume 2
Various Artists
a the3penguins compilation

Here's volume two of Tom Waits covers (volume one here), with almost all new artists and almost all new songs. And we've got some great ones, with Bloodkin rocking out Clap Hands and the Boro Boogie Pickers doing just that (picking) out a bluegrass Jockey Full of Bourbon.

All tracks are good quality, with many soundboard. I have done nothing to them except fading in and out in Audacity.

If you have any ideas for other live unreleased Waits covers, let me know!! I need suggestions (and providing files themselves is even better!), so pass them along.

1. Clap Hands - Bloodkin - Caledonia Lounge Athens GA 2004-10-04
2. Strange Weather - Great Atomic Power - Hugh's Room Toronto Ontation 2007-06-07
3. 16 Shells From a Thirty Ought Six - Les Claypool's Frog Brigade - Mountain Aire Festival Angel's Camp CA 2000-05-27
4. House Where Nobody Lives - Reed Foehl - Webster Underground Hartford CT 2003-08-21
5. Get Behind the Mule - New Monsoon - Rhythm Room Phoenix AZ 2005-02-23
6. Goin' Out West - Widespread Panic - Center Cityfest Charlotte NC 2001-04-29
7. Jockey Full of Bourbon - Boro Boogie Pickers - Tiki Town Rebellion Waynesboro PA 2007-05-26
8. Heart of Saturday Night - Jonathan Kingham - Tractor Tavern Seattle WA 2004-11-02
9. Blind Love - RB Morris -Rading Holland The Netherlands 2005-05-16
10. Buzz Fledderjohn - John Hammond - Guitar Festival New York NY 2004-01-27
11. Rainbow Sleeves - Jane - LeStats Coffee House San Diego CA 2004-10-22
12. Ol' 55 - Pat Guadagno - Sugar Shack Highlands NJ 2007-09-03
13. Picture In a Frame - Pearl Jam - Bridge School Benefit Mountain View CA 2006-10-21
14. Jersey Girl - Holly Cole - KCRW Morning Becomes Electric Santa Monica CA 1995-10-09


Yesterday Is Here: Tom Waits Covers Volume 3
Various Artists
a the3penguins compilation

Here's the third volume of Tom Waits covers, with loads of new songs and new artists. A killer Way Down, a long jam on Murder, and an acoustic I Don't Wanna Grow Up are some highlights. Enjoy!

1. Gomez - Goin Out West - Bowery Ballroom 2006-10-05
2. Red Wanting Blue - Pasties and a G-String - Downers Grove IL 1996-07-08
3. Madeleine Peyroux - Heart of Saturday Night - Asiago Rome Italy 2007-07-11
4. Steppin It In - New Coat of Paint - The Liver Benton Harbor MI 2006-03-31
5. Steve Earle - Way Down in the Hole - ACL Austin TX 2007-09-15
6. The Bridge - Gun Street Girl - Kiss Cafe Canton MD 2005-05-17
7. The Radiators - Heartattack and Vine - Karl and Cris Stillwater MN 2004-04-11
8. Eric McFadden - Murder in the Red Barn - Levelz Steamboat Springs CO 2005-08-27
9. Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles - Blind Love - Marlboro MA 2007-08-25
10. Eleni Mandell - Foreign Affairs - Guitar Festival New York NY 2004-01-27
11. Hootie and the Blowfish - I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You - Kelseyville CA 2006-03-10
12. Norah Jones - Long Way Home - Hammersmith Apollo 2007-8-27
13. Hayes Carll - I Dont Wanna Grow Up - Cheatham Stree Warehous San Marcos TX 2006-11-30
14. Peter Mulvey - Time - Tree House Pacific Grove CA 2004-06-15
Total Time: 1:00:06


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Patti Smith Rock'n'Rimbaud Live at Shepherd's Bush 10/20/07

"Welcome to Rimbaud's celebration, where we salute with great love and irreverence one of the greatest poems ever in the history of the universe." And with that, Patti Smith and her band kicked off the annual Rock'n'Rimbaud at London's legendary Shepherd's Bush Empire, one of the finest venues I've ever seen a show in. The crowd started slow, but grew in size into what must have been near capacity (how a Patti Smith show can not sell out is beyond me) by the start time.

I was expecting Kimberly to kick off the set, thinking this was the Rock'n'Rimbaud tour and not realizing this was a spec
ial, one-off birthday concert. So things were gonna be a lot different than all the setlist-watching I'd done. She kicked it off with Ask the Angels, the first track on 76's Radio Ethiopia, a song I'd never heard but was conventional enough to quickly catch on. The energy from the get-go was enormous, Patti rocking out in her own way by the mic stand, dancing and occasionally ripping the mic from the stand (knocking it over more often than not in the process) and coming closer to the audience. Between songs she would generally just walk around smiling and waving, which with anyone else would seem incredibly lame, but for some reason with Patti it still seemed punk rock. The fact as she's doing this (as well as during songs) she periodically spits on the stage helps.

The slow organ intro led into the first of many songs off Easter, Privilege (Set Me Free), which built to an even higher height than it does on record, tha
nks in large part to Lenny Kaye's echo vocals and Jay Dee Daugherty's crashing drums during the recitation of the 23rd Psalm ("The Lord is my shepherd" being especially appropriate given the venue). "Oh I'm so young, so goddamn young" takes on a whole other meaning with Patti in middle-age, less a statement of fact and more a declaration, a call to arms, to not backing down.

Patti's dissonant clarinet work (shows my newbie-ness: I didn't even know she played the clarinet at all) led into the slow guitar strumming of the first song off of this year's cover album Twelve, Hendrix's Are You Experienced? It was one of my least favorite on the album, but was a whole different beast live. The fact that it was over three times as long as the album version helped, with a psychedelic meltdown courtesy of Lenny and the clarinet. Halfway through some subtle cymbal hits turned the song into a spoken-word recital of a poem, by Rimbaud I assume. Back into five more minutes of the song, now at a near deafening volume with Daugherty's drum rolls shooting it along.

The first of many anti-corporation speeches about our tribe rising again as the "mass minority" led into the "Tayi, taye"s of Ghost Dance. The slow, repeated "We shall live again" of the chorus inspired the audience, as they sang along quietly moving nothing but their lips. Lyrics alternating between traditional tribal and nü-Catho
lic combined in a solemn plea for rejuvenated life. I can't say as much about the lyrics to the next one, Dancing Barefoot, though. It was a minor hit in its day, but these sorts of verses seem to be confusion for the sake of confusion: "She is sublimation / She is the essence of thee / She is concentrating on / He, who is chosen by she." Sounds like one of those mental puzzles where you have to figure out who is who's aunt. It was played pretty faithfully to the recorded version from 79's Wave.

We learned a little more abou
t Rimbaud's life before the rhythmic acoustic strumming led into a concert staple, Beneath the Southern Cross. It's the sort of song that hypnotizes you in a way where, when it's over, you don't feel guilty not having paid close attention. She stood still by the mic stand, using a guitar for the first time, seeming to roll each word around in her mouth for a bit before releasing it. While the volume slowly increased over the seven minutes, the structure did not, as she and Lenny faced each other hitting their guitars more and more vigorously while Daugherty took mallets to the bass drums.

Tony Shanahan's striking bass riff provided the backing for a slow monologue about Rimbaud as an intro to Ain't It Strange. The band's backing vocals were full of emotion, but mainly served to provide the bed on which Patti could lay her soaring vocals. She has a reputation for not being able to sing but, nasal though her voice may be, she has a pretty impressive range. The song also provided the vehicle for the first real guitar solo by
Jack Petruzelli, on loan from Rufus Wainwright's band.

More Rimbaud biographical information about Season in Hell and his time in Ethiopia (then called Abyssinia) and how National Geographic refused to publish his work. "So the next time you write a poem and don't get accepted into some hip poetry journal, you're in good company." At some unspoken cue the band started providing ambient noises as she went into his death and from there, into the noise epic Radio Ethiopia. One apparently either loves it or hates it, but I can't see why it is so divisive. It was certainly focused enough tonight, with even a special addition at the end of her reading Rimbaud's last "poem", a telegram he dictated to his sister asking for passage on a ship. The last lines are "I am in no condition to do what I must do. The first dog on the street could tell you that. Please take my body and place it in a litter on the ship so I can go back to Abyssinia. Please tell me what time I should board." He died shortly after. The ship didn't even exist.

A spiel about seeing Television at CBGB's (where Patti got her start) began the song about guitarist Tom Verlaine, We Three. A straightforward rendition once again showcased Patti's voice, before Jack played one of the most familiar rhythm guitar riffs ever for Gimme Shelter. Though Patti's version is not hugely different than the original, it seems to have even more energy (and thus be more sing-a-long-able) which was capitalized on live as the crowd went wild. Patti turned it from a cry for freedom to a call to arms, screaming her own lines like "Oh, the streets are waiting / Come on people, have your say!"

Patti left the stage to take a much-deserved break while Lenny broke into a cover song off his famous compilation Nuggets (in which he all but coined the term "punk rock") at breakneck speed, The Seeds' Pushin' Too Hard. Thirty seconds later he stopped, due to an out-of-tune guitar - but what's more punk rock than an out of tune guitar? At any rate, he got a new one and tried again. It was loud and frenetic, the Ramones on speed, and the band seemed to be having more fun than they had all night, running around the stage. A couple minutes in Patti danced back on, and stood next to Lenny as he sang, watching. He apparently didn't notice her though, as about thirty seconds later as he's going into the chorus he glances next to him and leaps back with a huge "Yeaow!" (listen for it on the recording). Regaining composure, he leaps back at the mic to finish and Patti joins Jack and Tony on backing vocals.

"This next song has nothing to do with Arthur Rimbaud" was an interesting segue into a story about waiting for her boyfriend, MC5's Fred 'Sonic' Smith to call. Luckily he stood her up, because she took the free time to put words to the tune Bruce Springsteen had sent her, resulting in her biggest hit Because the Night
. And when he called seven hours late? "I wasn't mad at all." Very cute. The song, a little too poppy on her album, was appropriately rocking live as the audience sang the "Because the night"s for her. In such a serious poetry-concert, having a little fun was clearly cathartic for the audience.

It didn't last too long though, as Kevin Shields, frontman for My Bloody Valentine, came out to provide some additional ambient noise for an improvisation speech about Rimbaud. At one point a heckler screams out for her to sing, and she hilariously silenced him with "Sing out brother! Don't mind me, I'm just thinking out loud here. Nothing really, just something about some old poet motherfucker." He wasn't heard from again. She alternated between personal description of his life and recitations of his poetry (with some nice clarinet in there as well) for five minut
es or so before slowly winding down.

She wound back up again real quickly though, bringing the lights down for the slow acoustic and bass intro to her phenomenal cover of Smells Like Teen Spirit, the clear highlight of the recent album. It's a little different live (no banjo) but the mellow, clear lyrics recitation to chiming guitar and brushed drums remained the same. One of the most innovative covers of recent years, pulled off brilliantly live by a band in perfect sync. It wound up a little louder than the recorded version though, as Kevin Shields stayed on his electric.

An impromptu speech about the real meaning of the word "pray" formed an unrelated intro to "The boy was in the hallway," an extended spoken-word beginning to one of my favorite songs, the 11-minute long Land. Lenny's choppy guitar slowly came in, getting faster and faster as the audience started clapping along until the rest of the instruments kicked in with "surrounded by...horses, horses, horses". The greatest moment of the show for me came a few line later, when she kicked into the Land of a Thousand Dances part of the song with "Do you know how to pony? Like bony maronie?" An uncomfortable catchy chorus to a song about rape, and more disturbing because of it. The audience, of course screamed along to the reason the song was probably played, "Go Rimbaud! Go Rimbaud!" She got so energetic there that she forgot the words to the next verse, and had to ask Lenny for help. She ended up accidentally repeating the first verse, but that was fine with us as it just extended the song (afterwards: "I just noticed...I did that part twice. I must be in that state of mind where you only remember...nothing"). Another verse later, she improvs a story about seeing an invitation that said "I don't care who wins the fucking rugby match [England was in the World Cup at that moment, possibly explaining the lower attendance. They lost.] It's not about who wins or loses. It's about who has the best fucking party!" From that story she segues into "I look on the window, see the sweet young thing humpin' on the parking meter, leanin' on the parking meter", and the audience explodes as they realize it's Gloria. The band hit a new high of punk-rock energy, tearing through this as if it was still 1975, the audience screaming every line of the chorus at deafening volume. In her most rock star move of the night, she held the mic out to let us sing the "Gloria" only doing the "G-L-O-R-I-A" duties. The last lines, appropriately enough: "Jesus died for somebody's sins...R-I-M-B-A-U-D...Glooooooria!"

After a few minute encore break, with the audience needing the time to catch their collective breath as much as the band, she came back on for the opening line of Babelogue "I haven't fucked much with the past, but I've fucked plenty with the future" before adding some new lines about the need to unite to change the world. Not too much of that though, as she predictably went into "Baby was a black sheep, baby was a whore"...Rock'n'Roll Nigger. What could possibly be more punk than a middle-aged white woman screaming about how Jesus was a nigger to a huge crowd? Unfortunately, near the beginning of the song the audience gasped when, running to reach the microphone, Patti tripped over an amp and fell hard. The band almost stopped to go see if she was ok, but she waved them off and slowly got up. They kept playing quietly "I'm alright, and I'm not even fucking embarrassed, cause I've done worst than that. In this life you've got to keep your fucking balance. A small fall from grace happens if you don't want to lose your fucking life, if you don't want the corporate powers to decide how you live. You don't need their shit!" That's right, she turned a near fall into a lengthy speech of pure poetry on not losing your identity to the Man. The band built and built, with the whole moment so perfect you wondered if it had been orchestrated (it hadn't; the fall was big news the next day). She kept going about how, pointing to her elbow, "You gotta get some fucking battle scars!" in a furious anti-war (war, not the War) tirade. A true artist in every sense of the word.

Five or so minutes later, she transitioned perfectly back to the actual song, leading the audience in yelling "Outside of society". A few quick bows, and she was gone.

-As a side note, I waited with a friend for an hour outside the stage door to get an autograph. Though there were only a few of us, she brushed us off, saying she was in a hurry, before getting in a car that didn't go anywhere for 15 minutes though. At the time I was quite peeved, but looking back on it maybe she was more injured than she let on and not in the mood for pictures. Benefit of the doubt."-

If you've made it this far, here's the whole show as mp3's:

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Tom Waits for No Man

With Tom Waits touring so infrequently, opportunities to hear his songs live are few and far between. However, Stewart D'Arrietta has been satisfying that need for the past few years with a tribute concert/theater piece, originally called Belly of a Drunken Piano, but in its most recent incarnation it's Tom Waits For No Man. With something like this there's much to be apprehensive about. Cover bands are one of the worst experiences in music, especially when they pretend to actually be the people. Kiss even has one with midgets and one with children. Dreadful. So love Tom Waits though I do, the prospect of a Waits cover band was alarming.

I needn't have worried, however, as Stewart is not a cover artist in the standard sense of the word. Rather, he uses his performances of Waits songs to structure a piece as much theater as concert. Running at London's Riverside Studios through October 28th, I saw it the night of Friday the 19th. The room was tiny, an all-black sound studio bathed in low blue light with a hundred or so bleacher-style seats. On stage was a birdcage piano (vertical with strings parallel to the keyboard) with the front pried off, revealing the inside, and an upright bass. At 9:15 Stewart and the bass player walk quickly out with no introduction and take their positions. Stewart has a porkpie hat, ruffle shirt and jacket, with the bass player rocking a Slash-esq top hat.

The lights go down even more as they begin a very surprising opening number, the spoken-word What's He Building. D'Arrietta was lit only by a handheld flashlight sitting on the piano that he would occasionally wave about
as he jerked about going through the bizarre tale of the creepy next door neighbor. Very Texas Chainsaw Massacre, so quite appropriate with Halloween coming up. The bass player plucked his bass, strummed his bass, bowed his bass and punched his bass as he rustled chains around throughout. D'Arrietta only hit the occasional dissonant piano chord, leaving a far more stripped-down approach that had the exact same feel of terror as the original.

Before the applause died down the bass started a fast riff that led into a rasped "He got himself a homemade spacial"...Walking Spanish.
With such a limited musical arrangement, the song was staccato and quick, with each hit of the piano counting. Halfway through he shoved his chair back, Jerry Lee Lewis-style, and stood for the rest of the song, staying that way into Red Shoes at the Drugstore. A surprising choice for sure, cementing my prediction that this was not going to be a Waits greatest hits setlist. Without a clear piano line, it became almost a spoken-word piece, backed mainly by the double bass. D'Arrietta's voice is very similar to Tom's, without sounding like an imitation. It creates the same mood without sounding like a two-bit knock-off.

An actual spoken word piece followed as D'Arrietta took on the persona of small-time huckster to roam the stage inviting the audience to Step Right Up. Tom's version never did much to me, and I now discovered why: it's a visual piece, has to be seen. As such, it was a highlight of the night as Stewart roamed the stage and aisles raving about the amazing product that mows your lawn, picks the kids up from school, gets rid of age spots, and makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar. Lots of laughs from the audience, probably unfamiliar with the original. A drop in energy signaled the transition into Frank's Wild Years, the last spoken piece of the night about a happy family man who on a whim lights his house on fire.

D'Arrietta finally takes a break from the performance, sitting back at the piano and chatting about both Tom's childhood and his own. As a kid Stewart had a friend name Doug, who has a tough time ("for goodness sakes, his name was in the past tense") in a wheelchair. Waits' song Kentucky Avenue, about the pranks and misguided dreams of children spoke to him in the line about the boy who plans to "steal a hacksaw from my dad and cut the braces off your legs." The original version of the song had passed me by, but I can't imagine why as it is gorgeous. The emotion dripped through in Stewart's performance of it as the bass player stood by listening.

A story about Tom seeing a man have a heart attack led into, predictably, Heart Attack & Vine. D'Arrietta's version was frantic enough, but nothing (including the original) can approach Screamin' Jay Hawkins explosion of a cover. This was one was over almost before it started, leading into Jersey Girl. I like almost every Tom Waits song...except this one, so I was disappointed that out of all Tom's good semi-hits (Ol' 55, Downtown Train), D'Arrietta chose to play this Van Morrison knockoff.

He more than made up for it with next number though, a phenomenal piano take on God's Away On Business. The sound was very different than the Waits version, choppy and frenetic with an energy unmatched. A Scottish hec
kler was given a tambourine that D'Arrietta would occasionally give him a cue to hit when he paused his staccato pounding. The clear highlight of the show.

A spiel about marriage ("a beautiful institution...for those who want to be in an institution") led into a woman coming out in a ripped, bloodied wedding dress, one high-heel in her hand, doing Crystal Gayle's part in the duet from the One From the Heart soundtrack, Picking Up After You. I didn't know the song, but wasn't blown away by it, except for the fabulous line "How long you been coming your hair with a wrench?" Having a duet was a nice change for the show, and after she stormed off D'Arrietta went into the familiar piano chords to one of my favorite Waits tunes, Invitation to the Blues. So much that makes the song great is Tom's delivery, so no cover could match up, but it was nice to hear regardless.

He kicked the energy into high gear again with a rousing version of Way Down in the Hole, before bringing it back to an early ballad The Piano Has Been Drinking. I'd thought of it as a one-joke number, but listening to his presentation brought out all the other little nuances, with the necktie that's asleep, the carpet that needs a haircut, and the jukebox that has to take a leak. The audience busted out laughing when the finally got to the "not me," surprising me that they didn't know what I'd thought was a staple.

A "minor hit" again with The Heart of Saturday Night, often covered and never really worth it. I learned the interesting fact that apparently some Vietnam vets adopted this as their theme song though. After finishing this, Stewart left the piano again for a bass-driven Romeo Is Bleeding, superbly executed with enough intelligence to let the story tell itself without unnecessary theatrics. The bass kept everything moving along without getting in the way.

The woman came back out again, not in any costume, for This One's From the Heart, a gorgeous ballad delivered straight-up. Her soaring voice complemented Stewart's rasp perfectly, adding beauty to the songs without any over-the-top warbling. She stayed on for Hold On, swaying quietly just as the woman in the song, and once again fit the mood perfectly. They traded verses of this Mule Variations gem before doing another from the same album, Big in Japan.
Having a female duet-er would seem like a terrible plan for this hard-driving rocker, but it worked perfectly adding volume and power to the song. The bass player tipped his bass down, playing it like an electric guitar as D'Arrietta slammed the piano, probably breaking it more than it already was. The lady's attempts to invite audience members up to dance went nowhere, but she didn't seem put off as they continued jamming to this one for all it was worth before crashing to a halt, taking a bow and leaving.

D'Arrietta came back solo for the predictable encore Tom Traubert's Blues (the guy is Australian). It was faithfully done, and as such couldn't help but be beautiful. He left with a quick thank-you and surprisingly fervent applause from an audience who I hadn't even realized was that into it. If they had the same fears of the lame tribute concert I did, they too were obviously proved wrong with a moving musical show and theater piece that is tied to the songs without obscuring D'Arrietta's own obvious talent for showmanship and vocal delivery. His London stay is almost over, but wherever the show goes next, make it a destination.

Here are a few songs to further convince you. These are from his New York incarnation of the show, Belly of a Drunken Piano, and so have more instruments (guitar, drums) missing from the London version. Judging from the recordings, the show is much better without them.

Kentucky Avenue
God's Away On Business
Tom Traubert's Blues

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Yesterday Is Here: Tom Waits Covers Vol. 1

Tom Waits is a covered far more than name-familiarity with the average person would suggest. Indeed, the covers of his songs are invariably more famous than the originals. A long list of A-listers have had hits with Tom's songs, including The Eagles, Rod Stewart, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Seger. But there are plenty of Tom Waits covers you won't find on iTunes, the thousands that have been played live, but never released. This series is an attempt to give some of those covers wider-circulation, some by famous artists, others by obscure ones.

Volume one features both, with Cold War Kids and Joan Baez rubbing shoulders with Josh Ritter and Giant Sand. Of special interest are the incredible bluegrass take on Cold Water, the rocked-out Yesterday Is Here, and the piano stomp Dirt in the Ground.

Download the full set of mp3's at the bottom, or individually. The full set links should last longer than the individual ones. All available in lossless format at DimeaDozen.

If you have any suggestions for further volumes, let me know!

Yesterday Is Here: Tom Waits Covers Volume 1
Various Artists
a the3penguins compilation

1. Blind Boys of Alabama - Way Down in the Hole (Waterfront Blues Festival Portland OR 7/5/07) DOWNLOAD
2. Patrick Dennis and Atom Orr - Goin Out West (Twiggs Green Room San Diego CA 3/26/07) DOWNLOAD
3. Cold War Kids - Dirt in the Ground (First Unitarian Church Philadelphia 3/29 /07) DOWNLOAD
4. Giant Sand - Ol' 55 (KFZ Marburg Germany 2/3/96) DOWNLOAD
5. Railroad Earth - Cold Water (The Palms Winters CA 1/20/96) DOWNLOAD
6. Rod Stewart - Downtown Train (Madison Square Garden New York NY 10/3/98) DOWNLOAD
7. Gurf Morlix - Come On Up to the House (Thumbs Up Yokohama Japan 4/30/07) DOWNLOAD
8. Beat Farmers - Rosie (The Caralyst Santa Cruz CA 6/19/87) DOWNLOAD
9. Holly Cole - Heart of Saturday Night (KCRW Morning Becomes Electric Santa Monica CA 10/9/95) DOWNLOAD
10. Dig the Particulars - Yesterday Is Here (Fremont Oktoberfest Seattle WA 9/22/06) DOWNLOAD
11. The Great Lake Swimmers - Innocent When You Dream (AB Club Brussels Belgium 10/8/05) DOWNLOAD
12. Domestic Problems - Better Off Without a Wife (The Intersection Grand Rapids MI 4/30/07) DOWNLOAD
13. Southside Johnny - Gin-Soaked Boy (Tower City Amphitheater Cleveland OH 5/26/07) DOWNLOAD
14. Moxy Fruvous - Walking Spanish (The Iron Horse Northampton MA 10/31/98) DOWNLOAD
15. Pat Guadagno - Long Way Home (Sugar Shack Highlands NJ 9/3/07) DOWNLOAD
16. Joan Baez - Day After Tomorrow (Burg Abenberg Abenberg Germany 7/14/07) DOWNLOAD
17. Josh Ritter - Johnsburg Illinois (Park West Chicago IL 2/11/07) DOWNLOAD
Total time: 1:09:26

The Full Set On Rapidshare Download

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Weird Al in Gilford, NH 8/10/07

Al hasn't toured since 2004, so excitement was high for this time out. And for good reason, as he's touring for a full year at the moment, and will probably continue into '08 with his unique type of concert where the visuals are just as important as the audio (hence the reason there are so many pictures/video links here). The Meadowbrook Music Centre was about as lame as you might expect, with as much attention going to the sales of fair food as to the concert itself. Reminded me a lot of the Dylan show in Essex Junction. If you can tune out all the extra junk though, it can still be a great time. The two previous times I'd seen Al, in '03 and '04, there had been a local stand-up comedian warm up the crowd, but not tonight, when at 8:15 his instrumental Fun Zone started blaring, having been his intro music for years.

A montage of talk show hosts introduci
ng him led to the light coming up to reveal Al and his band going straight into their newest polka, Polkarama! He always starts his show with one of these, which is somewhat ironic in that it's the exact opposite of what he normally does. Here he doesn't change any of the lyrics, but makes the music, you guessed it, polka. The band is in sync to the original music videos (like this), artists like the Pussycat Dolls, Weezer, and 50 Cent, Weird Al rocked out his accordion for a fun start. From there he threw on a thin red tie and went straight into the Green Day parody Canadian Idiot. I was never a huge fan of it on record (it seems a little too easy) but it was a good choice for early in the show, loud enough to get things going. Having bright maple leaf visuals going on behind and a climactic shot of red and white streamers into the audience were great effects, covering well for the fact that it turned out Al needed a little warming up, as there was a distinct lack of energy (by his standards at least) for the first few songs. Another thing that surprised me was the audience response. Many of them seemed unfamiliar with many of the songs, cracking up at the best lines like I did the first time I heard 'em.

The "drum soooolooooooooo" break of two hits by Jon "Bermuda" Schwartz gave Al enough time to throw on a pair of shades and a hat for the Cake style-parody (meaning it's not a parody of any particular song, just their sound in general)
Close But No Cigar. By far the highlight here was the strange percussion instrument Al kept hitting absurdly loudly, making the song sound truly bizarre. Like an actual Cake song. Reuben Valtierra played the piano intro to the Weird Al original Why Does This Always Happen to Me, off of the last album Poodle Hat. Though we didn't get the treat of having Ben Folds come out and do it like previous shows have gotten, it was still an early highlight, the lyrics making me crack up as much as ever. "I was watching my tv one night when they broke in with a special report / About some devastating earthquake in Peru / There were thirty thousand crushed to death, even more were buried alive / On the Richter scale it measured 8.2 / I said, God please answer me one question / Why'd they have to interrupt the Simpsons just for this?" You get the idea.

Everyone left the stage while one of m
any AlTV interviews was shown. These are fake interviews Al does with celebrities, making up questions to fit the real (and generally hilarious) footage of the celebrity in some other interview. A frank talk with Jessica Simpson in which she kept saying her name was Jessica Sampson was enough time for the guys to get changed for the Puff Daddy (now P.Diddy. I think.) parody It's All About the Pentiums. It was basically the same as when I saw it at the other two concerts, so nothing too exciting, but the insane strobe light chorus is always exciting (and seizure-inducing). A video break with Mariah Carey and Celine Dion interviews as well as an unbelievably funny informative video Lessons in Carelessness (watch the whole series in decent quality here) led into another song I didn't think I was a huger fan of...until tonight. The history behind the James Blunt parody You're Pitiful is that it was recorded with James' blessing and intended to be the first single, until at the last minute Blunt's label Atlantic Records banned it from being released. So Al released it on his website, but it never made it onto an album. He came out in this bulky rain jacket, which I was confused by, but thought maybe Blunt sings in a rain jacket. He's weird enough that I wouldn't be altogether surprised. It became clear though when after the first verse he removed it to reveal a bright gold lamee shirt. I thought he looked kind of bulky, and wondered if he'd gained wait, until he whipped off the lamee shirt to reveal a skeleton t-shirt. I thought I was catching on here. That soon came off (he must hold a record in shortest time removing t-shirts) to reveal another shirt, and the another. Eventually, he took off a to reveal a yellow t-shirt with bright black letters: Atlantic Records Sucks. 90% of the audience probably didn't get it, but those of us who did almost died from laughter and applause. Anyway, he kept going from there. This picture shows how he ended up.

I thought it wa
s a good look for him, but it didn't last long. The next video segment featured an interview with Madonna (maybe the best of the lot - that woman is strange), Steven Tyler, a Friends clip featuring a not-particularly-funny Al reference, and this clip about giving back to the community. He came out in a red leisure suit and went into another one off of his previous album, Wanna B Ur Lover in all its Prince-esq sleaziness. He slinked and swerved all over the stage before strutting in the audience to use sure-fire lines like "You must have fallen from heave...that would explain how you messed up your face" on the women of the audience, sitting on one person's lap for one line and panting in someone else's hear the next. The highlight was him gyrating his pelvis inches from an old lady's face (it's ok, she loved it), but the whole number was great. You felt dirty just watching it.

An interview with Eminem (including anothe
r inside joke about Em vetoing Al's parody video) preceded Weird Al and the guys coming out dressed as...normal people. Well, not quite, with Al dressed in the hoodie and jacket for the Lose Yourself parody Couch Potato. He started with the second verse, which I thought was a mistake, but it turned out it wasn't just the song, but a whole medley. He whipped off the hood to reveal a tousled gray Taylor Hicks wig for Do I Creep You Out. From there he donned Gilligan's white floppy hat and red shirt for an unreleased song I'd never heard before, I'm In Love With a Skipper (twenty bucks for what that's a parody of). The song itself wasn't hugely imaginative, but the video clips from the show were priceless, making the old family comedy look more homosexually charged than Will and Grace. Another surprise was next in the medley, with a new verse to Headline News, his Crash Test Dummies' MMM MMM MMM MMM parody, about Paris Hilton (previous shows have had a new one about Britney Spears). From there it was a little Usher with Confessions Part III into Avril Lavigne, A Complicated Song (the best verse, about inadvertent incest), into the Backstreet Boy's I Want It That Way parody Ebay. And we're only halfway through the medley. Bedrock Anthem -> Ode to a Superhero -> Pretty Fly for a Rabbi -> an awkwardly long (in the best way possible) video-synced Trapped in the Drive-Thru -> Gump. Whew. That wasn't quite all though, as the stage manager brought his keyboard onstage and Al threw on his red leather jacket and did his Michael Jackson dance for a verse of Eat It. With so many songs people want to here, these medleys are fabulous and I wish he had more of them.

After that marathon, he took another break to one of the best videos of the night, Al presenting the Sexiest Video Award on VH1's VMA's. As you can see here, they're pretty sexy. An interview with Keith Richards followed, and then the clip of Ghandi II from Al's 1987 movie UHF. Al came out in some military jacket and a long rasta wig, with Steve Jay the bassist in some 3/4 length baseball shirt and Jim West the guitarist rocking a boy scout shirt and a baseball cap. As they went into I'll Sue Ya, I was still trying to figure out who they were until I noticed that Jim looked kind of like Tom Morello. Didn't think much of it, until suddenly it dawned on me that Morello is the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine, and I'll Sue Ya is a style-parody of them. Got it. Another song I hadn't paid much attention to on record, the lyrics made me laugh out loud, lines like "I'll sue Colorado, cause you know, I think it looks a little bit too much like Wyoming." For the final chorus Al got down on his knees in front of the stage while a dark red spotlight shown on his face. Even cooler, at one point something above the stage started spitting out dollar bills with Al's face on them to the crowd below.

An interview with Paul McCartney led into the band coming on in their Star Wars robes. The Saga Begins/Yoda sequence has always been the closing number of the show, but it seemed a little early. Then I realized he hadn't done a few songs I knew he would, including his current single, so I guess the tradition of it being last is no more. The Saga Begins was not too exciting, a song I've heard too many times and one without exciting stage action. Al grabbed the accordion and they launched into Yoda, another one that doesn't do much for me live...with one huge exception. And that is the famous (in the right circles) Yoda Chant. It is this elaborate incoherent chant and dance that everyone on stage does in sync. Each tour they add on a little more, but it has to be seen to be understood, so check out that video. Speaking of videos, quite a few next, starting with an interview with Celine Dion, a great video for a song Lousy Haircut, an interview with Justin Timberlake (by now the interviews were starting to get old), and the video for his new song Weasel Stomping Day. With that long break, I figured Fat was up next, but it turned out to be Smells Like Nirvana. He had two gothic cheerleaders join him for the song which, combined with Jim's Dave Grohl wig, made it look pretty angsty.

The best interview of the night (with reasons to come later) was the next one with Michael Stipe of REM. For part of it he agreed with Stipe to collaborate on a song, and asked Stipe for some profo
und lyric. The response, "We've all got cell phones, so come on, let's get real" Al put a little tune to. Michael seemed unimpressed. Combined with a Johnny Bravo clip, an Avril Lavigne clip, and a video of Al's appearance on the Simpsons, it made for another long break. Amish Paradise is also one I'm kind of sick of (the end of the show has a lot of these, the big hits), but the scene of the whole band dressed as Menonites is memorable visually. For the choir part they showed the music video video clip of all the Amish singing along, joining the band. An interview with Kevin Federline (once again, too easy) turned out to be a good segue into a song by another guy who should never rap, the Chamillionaire parody White and Nerdy. The band was dressed up as office geeks, while Al had a bandanna and an oversize White and Nerdy hoodie. He rode in on a segue and zipped about the whole first verse, no hands. Steve and Jay didn't play instruments for the only time that evening as they rapped backup. Weird Al is parodieing a dork who would think he was a rapper, but Jim and Steve really seemed the part, not really in time and horrendously out-of-place. I don't think it was intentional, but given that they're middle-aged, probably inevitably. The first time I heard it, I thought it sounded terrible, but now think it just adds to the appeal. Behind the band a video was showing of outtakes from the music video, mostly Donny Osmond dicking around and mugging for the camera. Hilarious, even funnier than the real video itself. You can see a lot if (with terrible audio quality) here. After the horrendous Tonight Show performance of this one, he's really figured out how to pull it off live.

Most of Al's videos are obviously jokes, but his commercial for a fake MTV Unplugged set is so sincere if you didn't know him you'd think it was legit. You've got the candles, the golf-clapping audience members, and the obnoxious speech about getting back to the heart of the music, etc. I'd love to hear full unplugged arrangements of all those songs too. The video intro of the Michael Jackson parody Fat, maybe his biggest hit ever, led into Al coming out in the fat suit (how he gets that thing on so quick is beyond me). I didn't think it was going to do much for me, but it's a blast, with every movement Al does eliciting some percussion sound (watch Jacko's original video, it's bizarre) and doing leg kicks lying on the floor with the band. The choreography is definitely what keeps this song fresh, and is probably necessary since there's a limited number of things he can do in that suit.

I wasn't sure if there'd be an encore, since there weren't any obvious songs he hadn't done, but the lights stayed down and I was thrilled to see the band come on, Al just in a Hawaiian shirt. "Alright, there's one song we know you all came here to see, so here you go. Enjoy." As I wracked my brain to figure out which hit he hadn't done, he started singing. "We've all got cell phones..." A funny little joke, except there was nothing little about it. After an acapella verse (just the line three times, followed by "cell phones.....(very earnestly) let's get real") the drums came in and it became an epic sing-a-long. Needless to say, audience members were soon prompted to hold up their phones (most had done so already) so the audience was bathed in electric blue light. You gotta watch it to understand (and realize what a really catchy song it is) here. At the end a familiar drum intro came in, the audience exploding. When I placed the riff, I was sure it was a tease. Al never plays Albuquerque live (except in a certain city) because it kills his vocal chords. And is over 11 minutes long. Well, apparently that's changed too as he busted into the least likely song I ever thought I'd see. Any moment I expected him to stop it, but he did the whole damn thing. Don't know how he's managed to survive vocally, but he's figured it out as it was full of shrieks, screams, leaping, sprinting, and general on-stage mayhem. An amazing and unpredictable end to a concert even better than I'd predicted. If only he played more old stuff, only doing three songs, plus a couple in the medley, not on his last three albums (and the guy's got twenty). But after doing Like a Surgeon live for a dozen years, maybe it is time for a break.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The White Stripes Live in Boston 7/23/07

The first impression I had of tonight's concert was how bizarre the Agganis Arena seating arrangement was. In addition to all the sections with chairs around the side, the floor was divided into two sections, for no obvious reason, one up front and one that had a barrier halfway down the floor. That ended up working out well for me though, as I got there an hour before the show and ended up second row, dead center. If we'd reach, I almost could have shaken Jack White's hand. The first floor section wasn't near full though - if I was in the second I would have been mad with 30 feet of empty floor space in front of me.

Dan Sartain was fun once again. He mixed up the setlist a bit, but it was nice to sort of know some of the songs. He also added another guitar in addition to the hollow-body, a standard electric. The three songs I remembered to find later were Flight of the Phoenix (turns out it's Finch), Panama City Beach, USA, and one with a chorus of hoo-hoo-ha-ha-hoo-hoo-ha-wellcomeon. Still working on identifying that last one.

He got off at 8 so I assumed the Stripes would be on at 8:30, but it was almost 9 before they took the
stage. The first nice surprise was that the audience didn't move. No pushing to get to the front, no shoving anyone out of the way, no moshing at all. Some people have called the crowd lame as a result, but it worked out great for me. Much quicker intro today, straight into Dead Leaves followed by When I Hear My Name. The latter seemed significantly longer than yesterday's, extended with a few flailing solos.

From there he grabbed the white acoustic and went into another fast version of Hotel Yorba. The crowd didn't seem as into it as in Portland though, and that lack of overall energy was reflected in the performance as well. Jack then grabbed the hollow body and went into my first new song of the night, 300 mph Torrential Outpour Blues. And what a song it was, Jack channeling his inner Robert Johnson with some great acoustic slide work and funky rhythmic breaks. A song that didn't do much for me on record, it exploded live. The Stripes perform plenty of blues, but they should do more quieter ones like this.

Grabbed the Airline guitar again for a familiar riff, Cannon (sounded like Dead Leaves at first). A absurdly high-energy version during which hen jerked and flailed all over the stage of this led into another great I'm Slowly Turning Into You. It was about the same as last night, but just as fun, and the crowd loved it just as much. The techs weren't quick enough picking up after him though, and his guitar cord kn
ocked over all his other guitars when he came down from the second level. Jack neither noticed nor cared.

Next came an early highlight of the night, an incredible cover of Blind Willie McTell's Lord, Send Me an Angel. They've covered it life frequently over the years, and even released a promo single of it in 2000, but it hasn't lost any of its life. Loud, but unusually beautiful for them. It featured a lot of Jack vocals about himself ("These Boston girls won't let Mr. Jack White rest!") that got enormous applause each time.

From there it was another one I saw last night, Catch Hell Blues. He seemed way more into it tonight, really wailing for all he was worth before leaping back into that little picking part. He hit the keys again for a song I associate with last night's Mother's Heart, Same Boy You've Always Known. The take was very focused, with vocals fluctuating between straight and banshee shriek seemingly uncontrollably. Then into another In the Cold Cold Night, about the same as last night's. The one difference was that Jack seemed more into is - when Meg played the riff on organ, instead of playing the same thing he did some loud chords soloing of his own.

I'd thought Apple Blossom yesterday was a surprise, but apparently not as he played it again today. It lost a little something as the crowd around me wasn't as into it as they were last night, but a nice little song regardless. He ended over by Meg's kit and went straight into Hello Operator, an old song I'd never seen before. It was loose, sounding on the border of falling apart, and turned out better for it.

About this time something interesting happened. This really loud fluctuating noise almost like an air raid siren started. It didn't sound like feedback exactly, and Jack moving around didn't fix it. He went over to Meg and loudly yelled "What?", to which she just shrugged. It didn't stop, so he knelt down and crossed himself. A pretty funny scene, but he might have been frustrated as the set ended pretty abruptly soon after. Not before Icky Thump though, which featured him grabbing the hand mic on the back amp for the "you're an immigrant too" line, before throwing it over Meg's drum kit halfway through the verse.

The last song of the set was the perennial audience favorite (and one he played live with Bob Dylan in '04) Ball and Biscuit. I always want to like it more than I actually do though, and tonight was no exception.

The main set was excellent, but the encore was really where it got interesting (for better and worse). The break beforehand was exceptionally long. I saw one of the stagehands hurriedly whisper to another after a couple minutes and he scurried off setting up the bass! So I knew what was coming as Jack grabbed it and went into My Doorbell. This may be one of the most drastic reinventions they've ever done, from catchy little piano ditty to distorted bass screecher (the first time Jack's even played the instrument no less) and the general consensus is sucks. I was pleased to hear it, and one of the reasons I love the band is that they take risks, but this one was a swing and a miss. In a big way. The bass could be cool on other songs (a slower Blue Orchid comes to mind) but coupled with the bouncy melody he's singing here it sounds absolutely ridiculous. By the end I was laughing at how bad it was.

They didn't let that slow them down though, as from the worst song of the night they quickly transitioned into the best song. Or should I say songs. Lots of them. Without a setlist, they fly off the cuff, but this took it to a new level. Jack played the riff to I Just Don't Know What to Do With Myself once, then played the I Think I Smell a Rat riff once. Back to Myself, to Rat, and back and forth, leaving the audience guessing which song he'd end up singing. It turned out to be Rat, but he didn't stay there long as he quickly switched to singing Screwdriver. A verse or two of that and he was suddenly playing the Rag and Bone riff as intensely as I've seen. Never actually sang it though, as after a verse of that riff he was back into Screwdriver. And then back to I Think I Smell a Rat to close ouit the medley. and as if that wasn't enough, there were chunks of Dead Leaves, Cool Drink of Water, and some line about gasoline thrown in there for good measure. So basically, seven songs in one, maybe more. Ridiculous.

Seven Nation Army was mostly the same as yesterday (though the stop/start arrangement was gone), but Boll Weevil was much more fun, for one reason...the monologues. As he began he talked about how great it was to play Boston and how they'd be back soon and before the third verse he talked for quite a bit. Something along the lines of "Well this last verse is about myself, a topic you've already heard way too much about to night. But if you'll just indulge me this one last time that would be grand. And at the end we'd like everyone out there, you, and you, and you, to sing a long with us. That would make Meg and I ever so happy. If you do, we might even come clean out your garage for you, right Meg? The words are, he's looking for a home." One verse, two choruses, one bow, and they were gone.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The White Stripes Live in Portland 7/22/07

After seeing a good, but not great, Stripes show at Bonnaroo, I wasn't exactly sure how they'd stand up on their proper tour. After a string of dates encompassing every Canadian province and territories (yes, even the obscure ones) combined with a secret 50-person show each afternoon, the American tour that started in Portland seemed to be anti-climactic news-wise at least. Within their first notes at Portland, however, they proved that, though all the extra stuff was gone, the show itself had all the energy it ever had.

First up, however, was Dan Sartain. I had never heard of him before, but he blew the crowd away. Playing an old hollow-body, his three-piece group raced through song after song of what can only be described has half surf-rock, half grunge, with a little Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. Sort of like the Beach Boys, if the Beach Boys were demonic vampires. If that helps at all. The two nights I saw him he apparently had a special guest drummer Ben Blackwell. Blackwell is the Whites Stripes official archivist, roadie, website manager...and Jack White's nephew. A damn good drummer too, very loose and fluid, keeping the beat without being constricted by it. Sartain cruised through songs like Flight of the Finch and PCS Beach USA that people were singing along to be the end, even throwing in a little bit of scat-beatboxing at one point. Definitely an artist I'd see again.

The break before the Stripes seemed to take forever, but the crew (all in black and red three piece suits with matching feat
hered fedoras) did have a lot to set up. Such as Jack's regular mic, Jack's piano mic, another pair of mics that would each only go to one channel, left or right, and a distortion mic on the back amp. And that's just so the guy can sing. The stage and backdrop was all solid red, including three stairs to a second level that they hadn't had at Bonnaroo.

Eventually they came on. Seeing shows in Portland is always an interesting experience, because the people are somewhat starved for big name groups, so they get very excited. A little too excited, as the pit quickly became dangerous, with people getting injured and everyone on the verge of falling down. I'm all for energy, but when it takes away from enjoying the show it becomes too much. Anyway, Jack was wearing all red, only broken up by a shiny red and white belt buckle proudly on display while Meg had black pants, and red and white stripes shirt, and a little sideways necktie thing that made her look like a very fashionable pirate. They stood ready to go, but the intro music didn't stop. So Jack started stomping his foot, ready to go, but the music kept playing. No acknowledgment of the audience though as they eventually decided to overpower the music and went into...noise. Lots of it, that eventually turned into Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground. They've opened most shows this tour with it and it's always enjoyable, though not hugely memorable compared to what was to come. Seemed a little faster than it is on record.

Another classic second song, they raced through When I Hear My Name at breakneck speed, going through the whole thing (including a solo) in under two minutes. Unfortunately, we were in a bad spot (or his mic was too low) because Jack's vocals
were very difficult to hear. His deranged-man falsettos were barely audible. What was cool, however, was the lighting. Bonnaroo had been outdoors, so lights weren't an option, but that missed out on a lot. The blank red screen behind them was filled with their 40-ft tall shadow as they played. Watching Jack (which is where your attention is most of the time) with an enormous Meg behind him was a great view, but not as cool as his shadow. He looks insane enough in person, but a 40-ft tall silouhette made him look like Edward Scissorhands on guitar. Kind of creepy actually, but in a good way.

I expected Icky Thump next, and was pleased to hear the intro to the Dolly Parton cover Jolene. He played around with the riff a little, keeping it only barely recognizable, but otherwise it seemed a pretty standard rendition. After it was over he introded himself and his "big sister" Meg and mentioned this being their first time in Maine (not true for him though, as his band the Raconteurs played in Portland last November - see the review here) and then tried a little rhyme. "The Maine...falls....mainly...on...the stage?" Long, long pause where he looked confused and scratched his head. The longer he didn't do anything, the louder the audience got. "Repeat after me. The Maine...falls..." Another long pause (all for dramatic effect, my guess would be, and well executed at that). A few more times of this and then he got it right. The audience repeated and...

Bam, right into Effect and Cause, the song I was most hoping to hear off the new record. The guitar, a gorgeous white acoustic with a pick-shaped hole, was much louder and more jarring than on record, but it worked well. Unfortunately this was the first time of many I was distracted by the insanity of the audience and missed my favorite lines, "I'm not saying I'm innocent, in fact the reverse, but if you're headed to the grave you don't blame the hearse."

Just saying the name of Hotel Yorba got a h
uge response from the crowd, who pogo-sticked frenetically during the whole song. He switched to Meg's mic for the "4, 5, 6 ,7" part then switched guitars and played a riff so overwhelmed with distortion and feedback I couldn't make it out. When I finally did, I realized it was my favorite song, I Think I Smell a Rat. Only played the riff though, as he immediately transitioned into an old song on a new record, Little Cream Soda. This song was invented at an Ohio concert in 2003, but not put on record 'til 07. It was killer live as Jack rocked the songs memorable riffs for all they were worth.

Next up was another new song, one that had been a low of Bonnaroo. Tonight, however, it was far and away the highlight of the night, I'm Slowly Turning Into You. He started on organ, using his fist to cue a huge "YEAH" from the audience after every line which he seemed to love. After a verse he switched to guitar and started the chorus over by Meg's kit. He soon stopped singing and just went to the front of the stage letting the crowd belt the chorus. And then it really got going, with a solo that took him all around the stage, on top of the front amp and, finally, up those stairs to the second level. He walked across the platform with jerky stomps and each time his foot hit the floor a puff of smoke (baby powder I'm guessing) would shoot up. An awesome effect, soon enveloping his feet in smoke that exploded with each step. As he walked his guitar cord got tangled in one thing after another, leaving the crew to sprint around fixing it before it screwed Jack up. That also gives him the effect of being completely out-of-control, as every time he throws over a microphone or kicks a guitar he's got people in suits running around fixing it as he keeps playing, seemingly oblivious.

As he picked up the hollow body and the slide I thought Death Letter was up, but it turned out to be the third new song in a row, Catch Hell Blues. His slide work was amazing as always, but other than that the 12-bar blues wasn't too memorable.

Unfortunately my memory of the next two songs isn't great as I was distracted by some doped-up guy causing a disturbance next to me. We eventually got him ejected, but not before he'd ruined Do and The Hardest Button to Button. Button seemed to have lost most of its signature riff, but I might just have missed it amidst the commotion.

My favorite song off the new album was up next, A Martyr For My Love For You. Didn't have the memorable lead-in of two people being engaged as it did at Bonnaroo (read about that here), but everything else was just as good. It's a very complicated song, musically as well as lyrically, with a flamenco tint to it. Definitely a high for the group, and played to perfection. Even had some almost-complicated drumming.

Jack was sweating bullets by this point, so I wasn't surprised to see him give himself a bit of a break by playing In the Cold Cold Night. He went back and sat behind Meg's drums as he played, letting her come front and center to sing. Though exhaustion may have also been a factor, sitting almost out of sight and relinquishing the spotlight to her was a classy move. She gets a lot of flak for being a bad drummer, and certainly doesn't have the charisma JAck does, but the White Stripes couldn't exist without her any more than it could without him. She has a better voice than I remembered. It might get irritating after a while, but for only a song or two it's very nice.

Some bouncy little keyboard chords led into a song I never expected to hear (though apparently it's not rare this tour), Apple Blossom. This poppy little jingle made for a nice break from all the loud distortion, and it sounds much better with the keys than the original acoustic guitar. The show could have used a few more changes of pace like this.

Jack played a slow bluesy riff over and over again that I didn't recognize. When he started singing though, I couldn't believe it, a super-slow version of the originally frantic Astro. He only did one verse of it, but it was still a highlight before hitting that weird one-note-at-a-time keyboard thing for Icky Thump. I'm not a huge fan of it on the album, but it was much more enjoyable tonight. It might have been that that awful keyboard was quieter though, I don't know. He switched over to Meg's mic for the "white America" line though, which the audience cheered for. Those Maine liberals.

After a short encore break, they came back out and went right into Blue Orchid, the first song off of Get Behind Me, Satan they'd played. Songs from that album haven't been played that much this tour, but that's ok with me because at my first show in '05 they played the whole thing live. The rendition was as high-energy as ever, but even more memorable was the lighting, in which they seemed to unleash every trick they had. The stage darkened and a huge disco ball threw rotating flecks of red light everywhere. Then the started switching it between red and white flecks, then they strobed em. You could watch it on mute and it would have still been awesome.

From there right into the second Satan song, The Denial Twist, which Jack sang over by Meg's kit. Only a couple verses of that though before he threw that guitar down and grabbed the acoustic. I thought it would be We Are Going to Friends, a song I have no idea why is so popular as, but it turned out to be the super-rare Sugar Never Tasted So Good. It was very enjoyable, extended with a lot of solos, but I only vaguely knew it so I wasn't as excited to see it as I should have been.

Dammit, turns out I hadn't avoided Friends after all. Everyone loves that song, but it seems incredibly stupid and obnoxious. The crowd was so into it though that it was bearable, especially as Jack let us sing half the lines. From there, though, he went into another major highlight of the night, I Want to Be the Boy to Warm Your Mother's Heart on keys. Very similar to the album version, but a rarity that was well performed and well appreciated.

He then picked up the hollow-body and I knew it was almost over. Seven Nation Army featured an unusually long intro though, as he would play the famous riff, then just stand there stomping his foot for a while before playing it again. This long pause shows up again before the third verse. Though they do play it every show, it's nice to see them changing it up a little.

I hoped that wasn't the end (as it often has been recently), but luckily he went over and grabbed his Flyer guitar for one of the all-time great show closers by any band, Boll Weevil. The song was originally by Leadbelly, but has largely been rewritten. He did the standard long intro about "This is the last song, and it's about a creature that destroyed people's homes" and then encouraging the crowd to singalong before the "verse about myself" in a typically odd Jack White way. Needless to say, the "If anyone asks you people, who sang you this song, you tell em it was Jackie White, he's done been here and gone" got a roar of approval and from there Meg just pounded the drums while he led the audience in singing. One more loud chorus and it was over, with a brief bow from the two on the front amps, and then they were gone. Til tomorrow night.