Photo by Gene Chilling
Robin Wiliams is playing Las Vegas this upcoming Saturday and I'll actually be in town for the International Music Festival Conference promoting SCHED*. I'm going to see if I can go, he's been one of my all-time fav comedians.
You can listen to some of his comedy for free on one of my other sites, The Laugh Button.
Last night I caught the Brooklyn stop of the Evangelicals/Holiday Shores tour, which continues for five more days. Rarely have I seen two acts so perfectly suited to perform together: Both reference 1960s pop and garage rock while putting their different spins on it--and without sounding like simple regurgitation, the way a lot of "retro" bands do no matter what era they're copying.
The first band I saw at Union Hall was Tallahassee, Florida's Holiday Shores. When you can say that a group's synth sounds evoke the classic Moog so perfectly, there isn't much more praise to offer. Also, these guys do vocal harmonies well enough play a Byrds cover. But there's also a deliberate rawness--"reverb-soaked vocals" and "warbling Rhodes," as their Twosyllable Records profile describes it--that renewed my appreciation for the original garage bands that came out of the '60s, which embraced rough-hewn edginess over slick Brill Building-written pop hits. The fight against pre-fab (and now Auto-Toned) chart-toppers continues, and I'm glad Holiday Shores is on the right side.
Headliners the Evangelicals hail from Norman, Oklahoma, and so there's a midwestern sweetness to their show that I can appreciate. Maybe not sweetness, exactly, but more like they eschew irony and ennui in favor of simultaneously rocking the house while provoking thought. I could hear the Animals and the Doors in their songs almost as clearly as if I'd gone back in time. But inexplicably, the rhythm section will start cranking a disco beat. Or all four band members will wail loudly--yet still prettily--kind of like The Frames. Lead singer Josh Jones' voice teeters between tenor and alto, sounding at times like David Byrne or Robert Smith, offering another unexpected layer in the Evangelicals' music.
Boston, Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Bloomington still have a chance to catch the show--which was so good that although I went just to hang out with a friend, I ended up compelled to write this review.
Think of the first half as "crime" and the second half as "punishment" (detailing what happens to convicts, not victims).
(1) "Johnny Hit and Run Pauline," X
(2) "Date Rape," Sublime
(3) "Prison Sex," Tool
(4) "Cake and Sodomy," Marilyn Manson
The recent release of The Beatles: Rock Band video game. The boxed sets of remastered versions of all the Fab Four's U.K.-released CDs. The multitudes eager to buy it all. It sounds like the band has all the love it needs.
But there's also the hate. Hilarious hate. Hate that a music connoisseur--one who even loves the Beatles--can enjoy. BBC News ran this great story today on Beatles hate websites: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8246313.stm . "I just think they are either childlike and simple or rather leaden and pompous - one or the other all the time," says London radio show host Robert Elm.
It's an old, old, old controversy among music connoisseurs. Back in the 1960s, the big debate was "Beatles or Stones?" (It's a question whose answer, waayy later circa 1997, I know influenced one person from deciding whether or not to date someone.) The argument has always been that the Stones played "real" rock, taking to a new level the gritty, blues-based, electric guitar-driven race music of early-to-mid-century--and that the Beatles were so lousy at playing rockabilly and blues that they ended up inventing their own sound. (The Beatles themselves admit this.) Well, George Harrison was decent.
I can understand the argument of pompousness that Mr. Elm made, but I think it's more applicable to certain Beatles fans, rather than the band. I remember about eight or nine years ago, sitting at a table in a bar with a friend and his friends, all of us in our 30s or 40s. One of them starts talking about how "drugs made the Beatles great." You know, the kind of discourse about creativity-by-rebellion that people have when they're 14 and just discovering music on a serious level. These people were old enough to know better, pretty pretentious while not being particularly knowledgeable about music, and merely rehashing what they heard someone cooler than them once say.
That being said, I do love me some Beatles, specifically Revolver onward, for what they could and did do. In a few short years the Liverpudlians went from "I wanna hold your hand" to "why don't we do it in the road"! My sophomore year in high school was highlighted by the five days it took a radio station to change owners, during which time they played nonstop Beatles songs with no on-air personality to ruin them. And no one can deny the raw, gritty, headbanging (!) goodness of "Helter Skelter," my fave-est Beatle.
Nor can one deny that the Beatles were adept at making lemons into lemonade--that is, taking their inability to play newfangled edgy blues-based music that the kids were calling rock and roll, and coming up with a completely new sound. You need to like the Beatles for what they tried to accomplish, for embracing their failures, and for ultimately putting out songs that sounded like no one else. Whether they were good or bad.
EventChaser is a new blog (part of the Razorgator family) that hooks up bloggers with free tickets if they review the show and share their experiences. It provides me with extra motivation to write up a show so I figured I'd give it a shot.
Since I'm in Las Vegas for the week, first up will be a Cirque du Soleil show on Thursday. I'll capture what it was like, how to get there and any inside dirt I dig up. Let's go!
Don't let the fatcats at the mini-monopolies collectively known as The Industry decide the next big band. Do it yourself, with Makeastar.com.
I first heard about this contest (well, the original music portion of it) when the Hollywood band Orange excitedly announced that it won several preliminary and semii-finalist rounds. The upshot: These guys are appearing on the FUSE network at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time tomorrow, as part of the so-called "Hollywood round."
I'm rooting for Orange, a pop-punk outfit that's the first Hollywood band I saw after moving to Los Angeles a year and a half ago. They obviously worship at the altar of Social Distortion, in a good way, and I've been hearing that songwriter Joe Dexter has some really interesting compositions in the works.
Really, though, I'll be happy for any decent, struggling band to win the $10,000 grand prize!
Sitting down with Suicide Ali the day after their U.S. debut, I noticed something. Unlike most musicians I've known, these four guys from Osaka are larger-than-life when off the stage.
It's not the meticulous makeup, which lasted a long day of promo appearances at the Pacific Media Expo earlier this month. It's not the elaborate costumes and platform boots, which the band admitted are rather hard to move around in. It's because these guys really do live for their music--and that dedication is what Suicide Ali radiates, whether onstage or during an intimate face-to-face. During a fan Q&A session, when people asked about their favorite pasttimes singer/songwriter/band founder Goshi said one of his hobbies is photography--since it aids the creation of his music. "I'm hoping that it helps me understand the human psyche," he says through a translator.
No doubt it'll be the darker side of humanity that Goshi--as well as bassist and fellow band founder Hiroshi, guitarist/songwriter Yuu, and drummer Hisashi--will continue to explore. Most people call these guys industrial, though I like to describe Suicide Ali's music as a combination of American metal and European goth, Japan-ified with pretty vocals and immense sense of showmanship. Goshi's slow, deliberate moves onstage are mesmerizing; he pays attention to the tiniest flick of a wrist or finger. He reminds me of traditional Japanese performance, like that of a geisha or Kubuki actor, in which actions and music are carefully matched to evoke a mood or emotion, not just a character. I hear that this quality is pretty unique to Suicide Ali.
As is their music. Word is they are heavier than most "visual kei" bands. No doubt it's because of the influences the group cites: Ozzy, Metallica, Nirvana, and even underground metal like Dope and Murderdolls, which drummer Hisashi, who also digs Crue, tells me he likes because of Joey Jordison. Tempering brutal riffs and dark tales, however, is Goshi's voice: Smooth and super-emotive, and sometimes screamo too. It's no surprise that PJ Harvey is his favorite singer. There's also a lot of pre-recorded synth tracks that Suicide Ali utilizes both live and on their CDs, mimicing flutes, pianos, even a Theremin, but in an obviously manufactured way--much more effective than real instruments would be.
These guys could give Phil Spector a run for his money with their "wall of sound." There's so much layered into a Suicide Ali song that each time you listen to one, you'll hear something you didn't before. Perhaps a barely-there backing vocal, a sparse piano chord, or some un-placeable sound that adds just the right touch. Using an economic metaphor, their songs give you greater return-on-investment--each listening experience feels new.
Two of my favorite Suicide Ali songs are instantly recognizable when I listen to their latest CDs a few days after the show.
The last competition rounds--to snag a slot at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis early next year-- are happening as we speak. For Southern California, acts who made it to the finals are playing a marathon show, Battle Of The Blues Bands, this Saturday at The Cellar in Long Beach.
Personally, I'm rooting for 805 South, who play the first set at 4 p.m. sharp. Think of them as the Riot Grrrls of the blues: Two ladies sharing lead vocal and songwriting duties, backed by classic instrumentalists on bass, drums, and lead guitar. Each chanteuse has her own sound and style. Rhythm guitarist Lisa Shea proffers a smooth alto that some describe as "female Jimi Hendrix," though she carries a tune much better than that guitar god. Candy Bailey, meanwhile, has a pretty-yet-edgy voice that reminds me of underground power-pop songstresses . Indeed, like Nina and Louise of Veruca Salt, Lisa and Candy are able to combine their different sounds and smoothly trade roles as frontwoman or backup singer.
I never knew that a band--and their fans--could be at once bad-ass and adorable.
But that was the case with Suicide Ali, a Japanese "visual kei" band who made their U.S. debut last weekend at Pacific Media Expo. (And also, to a lesser extent, with L.A. J-rock band VAEIDOS, one of Ali's opening acts).
I've been to plenty hardcore/metal shows, and the sight of hundreds headbanging in unison is common. But after the PMX concert, I'm thinking my new favorite venue is going to be anime/manga/comic book conventions. There's an electricity in the air from fans giving off the vibe that no matter what, the bands onstage can do no wrong. Thus musicians are able to take risks and end up giving a performance that they might have been too timid to do otherwise. Even first-slot act Vamp Star found the audience instantly receptive to their energetic electronica-pop.
Take Suicide Ali, whose music can best be described as a mix of American metal and European goth--but Japanified in that certain je ne sais quois that has to be seen and heard to be understood. (Hint: It may be the uniquely Japanese sense of theatrics complete with insane makeup and costumes, or the lovely melodies juxtaposed over scary instruments.) They'd never played here before--and in their home country are more underground darlings than mainstream idols. But thanks to the love of Asian pop culture fans, and the hardcore Ali fans who flew in special for the convention, the visual kei cuties kicked ass. The first word I wrote in my reviewer's notebook? "Wow!"
Emo kids, fall to your knees and heed the wisdom of the legendary Ian MacKaye.
Before I go into MacKaye's Q&A speech on Sunday in Hollywood (he's been touring the West Coast the last several days), recall this: The musician/singer/songwriter/Dischord Records founder--of Fugazi and Minor Threat fame-- helped sow the seeds of the punk and hardcore scenes that flourish even now. And from which, in turn, sprung the "emotional hardcore" that begat today's emo.
MacKaye, a lifelong Washington, D.C. resident, talked about both music (he laments that his early band Teen Idles' demo was ruined by a disdainful producer, resulting in it sounding very different from the single that followed) and social activism (he said he welcomed the "Riot Grrl" movement, which is largely credited to the D.C. area, as it helped break down gender barriers in punk and beyond). Indeed, when asked whether music or activism was more important, MacKaye replied, "For me, music is activism."
I'm not writing this post just to school snot-nosed youths and the grown-ups who cater to them. (To be sure, the last line in this post shows MacKaye's not nearly as curmudgeonly as I apparently am.) Mostly, I'm doing it for the peeps--of all ages--who found their lives profoundly affected by him or his bands. It was clear who these fans were when, as pictured above, a lot of them lined up to have MacKaye sign mementos, or just to thank him personally.
The 1990s were, musically, the decade that began with a bang and ended with a whimper. The dawn of so-called grunge quickly paved the way for all kinds of "underground" music to get radio play and to be on mainstream store shelves. But for whatever reason, compelling music was soon driven back. Partly because these acts continued to grow, leaving behind the sounds they had made trendy (Pearl Jam, anybody?); and partly because the evil powers at major labels poured all their resources into pimping young girls and boys, so as to put pop back on top. "Underground" music resorted back to being niche, but for the occasional breakout act. No one seemed interested in inheriting the best early-to-mid-'90s components of music, and bringing them to the mainstream again.
I can't say for sure that Wickhead, who hail from Johannesburg, South Africa, sought to wear the '90s mantle into the 21st century. They probably didn't. But End Is The Beginning, their first international CD, intrigues me because it shows this is a band who has learned all the right lessons from the decades before them. There's a definite influence of the '90s and even the '80s, but the elements have a modern--rather than derivative--feel.
Lead singer Bronic's voice has more in common with Robert Smith than Rob Halford--mostly lovely while following melodies that could be at home on theater or club stages, while screaming with the best of them. Guitarists Mark Van Heeden's and Randall Knight's thick, chunky riffs are the meat of the music, possessing the listener as soon as they kick in; they're the reason the band gets categorized as "metal," although I would call them "hard rock." The rhythm section (KJ Forde, drums; Jay Hart, bass) balances radio-ready sensibilities with hitting hard, proving themselves with a 6/8 time signature on one song--a more "metal" one at that!
End Is The Beginning is a group of tunes that would be at home both on the mainstream airwaves, or sharing the stage at underground clubs with less commercially viable musicians. Ultimately, what I like about Wickhead is that I could listen to the CD, or go to a show, with friends whose music tastes aren't as divergent as mine, and we'd all enjoy ourselves. IIn a way, Wickhead is a bit like J-rock, a genre in which the heaviest instruments are always countered by sweet, pretty vocals.
MySpace made a big to-do over its new player last week. Rather than help independent/burgeoning artists the way the platform originally intended, though, the player screwed them over instead. We've already heard the complaints about how major label catalogues now rule MySpace at the expense of the little guys. But just as egregious was the re-set of song "plays" on bands' pages.
Many bands who'd had tens of thousands of plays for their individual songs found their tunes set back to zero. Sure, those counters have since been returned to normal. But for the few days they were out of wack, it really messed with bands' marketing efforts. Most acts need to show how popular they are, so that they can book gigs or show off to potential labels.
As more of the general social networking population moves to Facebook, MySpace needs to hang onto its niche as the place for musicians. Bugs and oversights like these only hurt its most loyal users.
There's a moment I've come to anticipate at a Death Pilot show: The last movement in the song "The Treatment," in which lead singer "Midian" proclaims, "The dead will rise!" over a steady, intricate blast of drums, bass, keyboard, and guitars. The interlude is at once hypnotic and stirring. But what really gets me is that I'm never sure what it means for the dead to rise. Yes, there's the obvious gothic horror reference. But every time I hear that proclamation--made so effective with "Capt. ?'s" gorgeous backing vocals--I want to interpret it as a positive. A sliver of optimism in a hell-tastic world. Like, maybe the dead whom we miss will rise so that we can be reunited.
I might not be off the mark in perceiving this dichotomy in Death Pilot's music, in seeing a juxtaposition of love and nihilism. "I'm glad that's how it's coming across," Midian tells me as we're parked outside Dream Street in San Diego after the first show of Death Pilot's first national tour. "Like, there's a negative tone yet at the end of it all, there's hope. I've always had this mentality that out of bad things, good things can come out."
Death Pilot, based in Los Angeles, is clearly Midian's brainchild. Yet the singer-songwriter has allowed many other talents to shape and hone his vision. There's the production company Dirty Icon (Logan Mader of Machine Head and Soulfly, and Lucas Banker; 30 Seconds To Mars guitarist Tomo Milicevic also produces the band), who hand-picked Midian to evolve his music and his voice well beyond the initial DP lineup. And then there are seasoned musicians "Ares" (bass) and "Diamondz" (drums), whose skills and musical maturity have turned DP's rhythm section into a formidable, unstoppable weapon. Finally, there's talent mixed with youthful vigor, in keyboardist/backing vocalist "Capt. ?" and guitarists "Machine" and "JD."
Those last two shine onstage during the song "Do Or Die"--though it's as metal as all get-out, the dual guitar lines are more classic-sounding, dare I even say evoking George Harrison? Come to think of it, every Death Pliot song, to me, sound as much like classical composition as metal: There are separate, specific movements, like a Beethoven symphony or Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, each evoking a different emotion: Anger, protest, love, despair, hope. Accordingly, Midian's voice often turns on a dime between sonorous and screamo.