I've had nearly a dozen different people ask me the same question over the last week or so: “What have you been listening to?”
Luckily, it's been a fruitful season for (relatively) new music. Here's my answer:
PJ Harvey —Let England Shake: Harvey's latest gets better and digs deeper with every spin via its textured arrangements and curious, Folk-tinged genre U-turns. I'm still not sure I like her more overtly topical lyrical bent, but her voice is as affecting as ever.
My life usually has a musical component, so it's not shocking that my vacations have many musical memories inexorably tied to the trips. I'm sure most music lovers have had similar experiences.
My family went to Washington, D.C., every 4th of July for many years when I was growing up and The Beach Boys always played a free concert next to the Washington monument. These late ’70s/early ’80s gigs are what I've always considered my first concerts. The memories are vague but deeply entrenched. I'll never forgive my folks for not letting me watch opener Joan Jett (at her "I Love Rock & Roll" peak). I was about 11. And I was pissed!
I have many amazing Lollapalooza road trips memories, from the first-tour Cleveland stop in 1991 when fans charged the gates as Nine Inch Nails played an early set to getting seriously beaten by bouncers (then evicted from the premises) after telling them not to be dicks during my trip to Indy for the Beastie Boys/Smashing Pumpkins headlining year (1994). I also had a personal rebirth on a trip to the standalone Lolla in 2007, feeling inspired by seeing Amy Winehouse, Iggy Pop and the Stooges and Patti Smith under the mammoth Chicago skyline.
But many musical vacations aren't concert related, nor intentionally "musical." I vividly remember "Rhinestone Cowboy" being played on the radio nonstop during a trip to Atlanta as a child. If I hear that song now I can think of nothing but being 6 or 7 years old, flopping around in our un-air-conditioned, early ’70s VW bug's cubby hole, the small compartment between the backseat and the engine. We not only didn't wear seatbelts or sit in carseats back then — we were allowed to play in literally the most dangerous spot in the tiny death trap.
I remember an L.A. trip the month the Beastie Boys dropped Check You Head. I played it nonstop on a Walkman and arrived in Los Angeles to discover everyone dressed exactly like Adam, Mike and Adam. I found the summertime wearing of winter hats hilarious. It seemed all based on one music video and an album cover.
That same trip I developed a supernatural bond with Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking and Smashing Pumpkins' Gish. I listened to both several times on that trusty Walkman as I sat alone on a Pacific Coast beach, mesmerized by the moon's reflection on the vast, dark ocean mirror, the sound of waves crashing perfectly in time with the music's hypnotic psychedelics, just figuring my life philosophy out, scared but excited for whatever the future held.
I've had some great odd music-related coincidences on summer trips, as well. As I giddily drove over the horizon on my summer journey to New York City to intern for several months with an editor and caught my first glimpse of the always jaw-dropping skyline of Manhattan, the dance remix version of "Miles Iz Dead" by personal hometown heroes of mine, The Afghan Whigs, just happened to come on the terrestrial radio station to which we were listening. It would be the no-brainer soundtrack selection had it been a scene in the movie of my life.
My vacation from which I just returned, a trip to the deepest-south Alabama, was filled with several interesting coincidences, all related to a single, singular musical icon, a fascinating man I learn more about every day.
I only connected the dots when I got home. Had my memorial trail actually been evident to me as I journeyed along, I would have explored more, to connect even more dots.
As it stands, it was a fun if inadvertent adventure, even in hindsight. An accidental pilgrimage of sorts.
Gradually, I pieced together evidence Hank Williams spirit-guided me on my recent trip:
1) Drove through Butler County, Ala., and saw signs for Mount Olive, birthplace of Hiram Hank Williams, as I later discovered.
2) Drove past Montgomery twice, where Hank cut his teeth and launched his career.
3) Drove a stretch of highway officially dubbed the "Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway."
4) Admired the massive shipyards along the bay in Mobile, where Hank worked during World War II.
5) Held in my hands the heavy vinyl version of the The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams (2011) compilation in the building headquarters of the record company that released it (Third Man Records in Nashville).
6) Nearly bought a weird old Hank Jr./Hank Sr. split LP at another Nashville record shop and walked past Roy Acuff's record store (where the above photo was apparently taken).
7) Touched and was awestruck by the grandeur of God's Own Listening Room, the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry when Hank performed there (and was later banned for life).
8) Roamed Broadway and the alley beside the Ryman where I am fairly certain Hank once frolicked pre- and post-gigs.
9) Walked by the current Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Hank was among the first three artists to be inducted in the Hall's first class of inductees in 1961.
10) Returned to work this morning, seated four floors above where Hank Williams recorded "Lovesick Blues," a crossover smash that cemented Hank's status as a superstar, as well as "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and other classics.
There's a piano down there Hank probably played when he was in town. I think I'd like to go down there, tickle those ivories and see if Hank's ghost wants to hang out and chat for a while.
I do believe these are all merely fun coincidences. Maybe it was all subconsciously strung together to help keep my sobriety in check. Hank's a musical hero of mine, but not a role model. He's a cautionary tale; I am an alcoholic who would likely have met a similar tragic fate as Hank's had I not stopped boozing.
Sometimes great vacations can take you down more than just literal new paths.
But if Hank is my life journey's Sherpa, I'm more than ready. I only insist that he doesn't drink while we're driving; that shit's frowned upon nowadays. And it didn't end well last time.
There’s something about the written word that adds finality to a subject. Contracts are finished with a signature, newspapers are often considered bastions of truth and obituaries often put a person’s death in perspective for their loved ones. Perhaps this is why I put off writing this story for so long; I didn’t want to admit the truth: at the end of the year, two of the most important places in my life will cease to be. The Mad Hatter has already shuttered its doors and the Southgate House is closing after Saturday. And I can’t quite bring myself to accept that.
Today in 1996, one of the greatest, most influential bassists ever, Bernard Edwards of Disco/Funk group Chic, passed away after contracting pneumonia while on tour in Japan.
My personal favorite bass line is Sly Stone's lick on "If You Want Me to Stay," but it's hard to deny the power of Chic's "Good Times," a Disco-era hit that helped lay the groundwork for Hip Hop. Edwards' bass line from the song is considered one of the most sampled pieces of music ever and it has been mimicked almost as often. Songs that wouldn't exist with Edwards' riff include Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust," Hip Hop trailblazers Sugarhill Gang's breakthrough "Rapper's Delight," Blondie's "Rapture," Daft Punk's "Around the World" and Wham!'s "Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do)" (hey, they can't all be winners).
R.I.P Bernard Edwards. And thanks for the groove.
Click on for Born This Day featuring Bez, Skip Spence, Grandmaster Caz and Robert Christgau.
If you're a hardcore devotee of the creative Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene exploding across the world right now, the place you'll most want to be tonight isn't your favorite dance club, but a movie theater. That's because the intriguing documentary film Re:Generation Music Project is premiering simultaneously in theaters across the country, including locally at the AMC theaters at Newport on the Levee and the Rave theaters in Florence, Ky. Showtime is 8 p.m. (Click here to buy advance tickets for tonight's screening or the encore ones Feb. 23.)
The film's premise is quite clever and not what you might expect from a documentary seemingly about the state of contemporary Electronic music. While five of today's most popular producers/DJs — Skrillex, The Crystal Method, Mark Ronson, DJ Premier and Pretty Lights — are at the heart of the movie, it really sounds like it is more about the inherent mongrel nature of music in general and how all music evolves organically through hybridization.
Acclaimed documentarian Amir Bar Lev directed the film, which follows the five featured artists as they prepare to write and record a new track with someone renowned for their work in a decidedly different field of study. Subtitled "5 DJs Turn the Table of the History of Music," Lev takes viewers along as recent Grammy winner Skrillex teams up with members of Rock band The Doors, The Crystal Method head to Detroit to collaborate with Motown legends Martha Reeves of The Vandellas and The Funk Brothers, Ronson gets down on some New Orleans Jazz with Trombone Shorty (as well as Mos Def, Erykah Badu, The Dap Kings and Zigaboo Medeliste), DJ Premier goes Classical with the Berklee Symphony Orchestra and Pretty Lights explores Bluegrass with Ralph Stanley (and LeAnn Rimes).
By exploding genre and generational barriers, Re:Generation makes a great point about the development of music in society. While Stanley and Pretty Lights' Derek Vincent Smith are a half a century apart in terms of age, they share the common ground of being artists and creators, which makes them able to "get" what the other is doing on a unique level that often only artists can access. The new generation of Electronic Dance Music artists are also perfect to focus in on, since the younger musicians of today (especially in electronic music) feed off of invention and seem willing to experiment with any source. As long as it services the song, who cares where it's placed in the iTunes store?
Here's a clip from the film featuring Skrillex and his legendary collaborators, The Doors.
On this day in 1973, Paul McCartney and Wings had their very own network TV special, James Paul McCartney. The variety/musical show was a bit cheeky and a bit sappy — in other words, pretty funny to watch now. Paul and Co. do a bunch a Beatles tunes and a bunch of Wings stuff, including the just released "Live and Let Die." Worth watching (or at least skipping through) if you were a fan of Sir Paul's kick-ass mullet, always wanted to hear a drunk Paul sing drinking songs in a crowded pub or wondered how "The Cute One" looks in a pink tuxedo and mustache.
Paul's most recent adventures in visual entertainment contains a bit more star power:
Click on for Born This Day with Dusty Springfield, Akon and Ian MacKaye.
Music Tonight: The Southgate House's Parlour stage will be rockin' tonight with firecracker energy and creative, complex song structuring as Pittsburgh foursome edhochuli (yes, named for the unlikely cult hero/NFL ref) comes to Newport for a 9 p.m. show. The band is joined by excellent local Post Punk/Post Hardcore trio Knife the Symphony and Vacation, a local progressive Punk group that is fresh off of a string of East Coast tour dates with fellow Cincinnatians The Dopamines. Vacation's debut full-length is currently streaming through The Recording Label site (here), the locally-based home to free downloads of albums by Pop Empire, Sacred Spirits and The Kickaways.
I caught a tweet from Noam Pikelny (The Punch Brothers) the other night. It said the new Rascal Flatts song “Banjo” made him want to kill a small pet. While I tend to steer clear of anything involving Gary LeVox and the gang, I will listen to anything involving a banjo. So, I clicked on his link to a YouTube video.
I made it to the end of the chorus before I not only stopped the video, but I shut down my entire web browser. The last two lines of the chorus are, “And you kick it into four-wheel drive when you run out of road and you go, and you go and you go-go-go/’Til you hear a banjo.”
Of course I understand that “Banjo” is supposed to be a fun, light-hearted song, but I still don’t appreciate the fact that these “country artists” have once again tried to associate the banjo with little more than Deliverance.
Michael Jackson's dead — what more can we say? The response to Jackson's death has made me revisit a long-running question that's rolled around my squishy mind for a few years now: Is it possible to separate an artist's personality and deeds from his or her creative work?
You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and then you have the MidPoint Music Festival. Well, none of it was bad; I mean, if I have to bitch about something, it’d be that there weren’t enough bathrooms. Just kidding. Who do you think I am, some writer from The Enquirer or something?
It was my first trip to Cincinnati’s annual music event, so it was my MPMF deflowering, if you will. And just like every teenage girl’s dream, Midpoint popped my cherry by easing me in slowly and sweetly, but ended up giving it to me hard enough to have me worn out by the end of the night. Also, since almost all the shows were at bars, they even got me a little tipsy before they ravaged my mind with their delightful musical fuck-fest (what gentlemen!)
I started my night at Washington Park, where New Zealand’s Psychedelic Indie Pop rockers Unknown Mortal Orchestra took the stage. When they finished, I didn’t know how I felt about it. The songs were catchy and the music was very beat-driven, with intermittent fetching riffs and wailing solos from the lead man and mastermind of UMO, Ruban Nielson, but there was still something off about it. To me, it sounded like the vocals were turned down too low, almost becoming a backdrop for the Pop-induced musical acid trip blowing through the amplifiers. Then again, it also may be the fact that I didn’t know many of the lyrics. Either way, it ended up being like meeting a cute girl at a bar that ends up just having an OK personality. She sparks your interest for a while and you may even take her on a couple dates, but there’s only so much you can hear about how cute her cat is or why The Vampire Diaries is such a great show before you realize she’s just not for you.
After UMO ended, I decided to finish my brew, skip out on Grizzly Bear (mainly because someone else had to be covering it, right guys?) and headed down to The Drinkery to see Boston duo You Won’t. It may have been the best decision of the night.
On my way there, I had to force myself to walk by the Third Man Records rolling record shop (because I’m broke) and contemplated going to the free advice booth/box truck to see if somebody can tell me why my life is always falling apart, but decided to get a drink instead (maybe I just answered my own question).
When I arrived at The Drinkery around 8 p.m., it was a ghost town. That sounds stupid and cliché but, including the bar staff and the two other people I brought with me, there were approximately 15 people in attendance.
By the time You Won’t actually started (around 8:30 p.m.) there were about eight people watching. The rest were sitting at the bar either enraptured by the masterful pitching performance Homer Bailey was putting on against the Pirates (who can blame them), off in their own conversations or at Washington Park seeing Grizzly Bear. After the end of You Won’t’s first two songs, however, I was already impressed.
Lead singer, Josh Arnoudse, who in addition to being a really cool guy (I spoke with him briefly after the show) had one of the most distinct voices I’ve heard in a long while. At first, I thought it to be like a higher pitched, better toned Bob Dylan, but as the set progressed, Arnoudse hit his falsetto with ease (on numerous occasions) and showcased a wide vocal range during the 40 minute show. The other half of You Won’t, Raky Sastri, was quite the musician, as well, manning the drums, keyboard, accordion, harmonica, tambourine, organ, xylophone, and, oh yeah, he did back-up vocals, too.
Yet, the best part of their performance was about halfway through, when Arnoudse decided that if people weren’t going to come to his show, he was going to bring his show to the people.
He then proceeded to run out into the “crowd” with his acoustic guitar and play by the pool table because "the vibing" better. Oddly enough, he was right. People started to come around, circling Arnoudse and Sastri, while Arnoudse played to their cell phone cameras as if they were on national TV (look out for those on YouTube later.)
When You Won’t ended, I basked in all my fan-boy glory, praising Arnoudse for his set and buying their LP, Skeptic Goodbye. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Dark Knight (Bailey) rose as he achieved the Red’s first no-hitter since Tom Browning did it against the Dodgers back in ’88 (I wasn’t even born yet) and celebration ensued. People were going nuts, drinks were bought and high-fives were given as the general mood of the bar had done a 180-degree turn in less than an hour.
After partying it up with those patrons, I headed down to Mr. Pitfiuls (what an awesome name) to check out old school Country band The Tammy Whynots and I was not disappointed. Although I had to leave about six songs into their set, these guys (and gal) really captured that classic Honky Tonk Nashville sound that was so revered in the ’60s and early ’70s. With their bedazzled rhinestone jackets, Kelly Thomas’ vintage Loretta Lynn-style dress and throwback hair-do, The Tammy Whynots not only hit the sound right on point, but the image, too. I don’t want this to sound like they are purely a tribute act, paying homage to Country legends like Johnny, June, Tammy and George, because if they had come along earlier (like a lot earlier) they could have easily fit right in right along side those legends.
The final band I saw Friday, were the high-octane, high-energy, in-your-face Rock & Roll band The KillTones back at The Drinkery. It was the thing I had been waiting for all night; finally, a band with some fucking attitude. This was not only the four-piece Blues-infused band’s first time at MidPoint, but also their album release party. They knocked their really tight set out of the park. No no-hitter here.
The guitarist, Josh Pilot, was like a combination between Tony Iommi and Chuck Berry if they hung around Jack White a lot. The lead singer, Clinton Vearil, was about one of the most enigmatic frontmen you'll find, contorting and gyrating all over the tiny stage at The Drinkery. My favorite part of their set was a slow, bluesy song that really let Vearil’s vocal abilities shine, as he went from a mesmerizing high-pitched scream to a really soulful and sultry sound in the verses.
Although, this was definitely the best festival experience I have ever had, I only have two regrets. The first was that I was too tired to go see F. Stokes at the end of the night at the Blue Wisp. I know, I’m an idiot, but you can blame The KillTones for that; they wore me out. The second is that I didn’t have the money to buy The KillTones CD, which is consequently all I want to listen to at this moment.
Anyways, I couldn’t have asked for a better night. Good bands, good beer, my first Reds no-no and a new-found respect for the Cincinnati music scene. Thanks, Midpoint for taking it easy on me for my first time; you really know how to treat a girl right.