Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Hold Steady Saturday in Tucson

The tipping point of any good summer is that one night when you step out of that lazy routine and find yourself somewhere new - still partying at sunrise; or across town at some pool party with people you barely know; or out on that roadtrip that just sorta happened at the last minute; or when this, that and the other somehow fell together and you met her.

It's those nights that you feel like you should've gotten caught or busted somehow and brought back down to Earth. It's those sublime moments when the impossible rises up like some salty mist to tap your shoulder and point: that-a-way to the action.

Those nights are the fulcrum of a memorable and self-fulfilling summer, smashing apart the sort of careful balance that keeps sanity in check.

The Hold Steady's "Constructive Summer" encapsulates all of that, and more. Craig Finn has miraculously captured the universal "this is gonna be the best summer ever" mentality that runs from the early teens to as far into adulthood as people will let it. That precious gem of possibility is at the core of the song: "Let this be my annual reminder that we can all be something bigger."

It's a rush of a song, fast and loud and jumpy, with a piece of solid dynamite for the chorus: "We’re gonna build something, this summer." And Finn gives you every bit of encouragement you need to light that fuse. This is full audience participation: not only do you get to shout out loud with the band, but that summer is also yours to break wide open, just so long as you "raise a toast to Saint Joe Strummer."

The subtle biblical imagery is no surprise from Finn, and it's applied as enthusiastically as ever in "Constructive Summer." I'll gladly sign the petition stating that "Our psalms are sing-along songs." And as Finn's line that "We are our only saviors" - well, I've definitely felt that simultaneous late summer night feeling of being lost, frustrated and yet absolutely certain that I was on the right track, just unnoticed by most everybody else.

Stay Positive is a fantastic record: a praise album for the spirit of rock 'n' roll, a steady and surprisingly sober meditation on how time passes in the lives of those who refuse to abandon the rock 'n' roll spirit, a continuation of the inter-woven stories and characters that Finn has sketched over the Hold Steady's existence, an energizing statement on the faith that you can draw from everyday existence - in friends, in revelry, in nostalgia and in the possibility of a great summer.

So c'mon on down to the Rialto Theatre on Saturday. Join me up front. Sing loud.

The Hold Steady - Constructive Summer (live, Minnesota Public Radio)
The Hold Steady - Cheyenne Sunrise (live, Minnesota Public Radio)
Get the whole in-studio interview/performance as a zip file.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1980

1. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Redemption Song - Legend (originally on Uprising)
Hot damn we started off this week on a high note. This is without a doubt one of the greatest songs ever written.

2. The Ramones - Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio? - RamonesMania (originally on End of the Century)
The Ramones broke away just a bit from their straight-forward punk sound on this one, adding some pop elements, courtesy of Phil Spector's production. Still, it's catchy as hell and undeniably the Ramones despite any embellishments.

3. U2 - Shadows and Tall Trees - Boy
I just got this album and while it's not exactly all that good, it's fascinating to hear what U2 ditched on their way to being the biggest band in the world. For one thing, they pretty much abandoned any sort of darkness, which is the best way I can describe Boy. It doesn't have the despair of Joy Division, but there's a post-punk type of edge that overrides most of the album, with the band's future pop sensibility peaking out just occasionally.

4. Billy Joel - You May Be right - Greatest Hits (originally on Glass Houses)
This one breaks up a pretty smooth shuffle. This one hit when Billy Joel was about the biggest star in the world. I really dug into his hits my first couple years of college, so I have a bit of nostalgia for his piano-based rock songs (moreso than the ballads, which get sappy), but my Billy Joel listening is almost non-existent nowadays.

5. AC/DC - Back in Black - Back in Black
These guys are kinda the opposite of Billy Joel for me - I couldn't stand AC/DC until just a few years ago (might have something to do with that karaoke waitress who'd sing "You Shook Me All Night Long" while dancing on the bar...). Now I fully recognize and celebrate the fact that AC/DC brings the rock like nobody else.

6. U2 - Stories for Boys - Boy
This one sounds much more like the U2 that would create War, with the Edge's distinctive guitar in the forefront. Still, there's a definite Cure vibe, especially in the chorus. This one and "I Will Follow" are the only songs I'd heard from this album up until just the last month or so.

7. The Serfers - Green On Red
I don't really know where this one comes from, but I tracked it down a few years back in a search for all things Tucson music. The Serfers were fairly short-lived, but took the title of this song for their new band name - and Green On Red enjoyed a fairly acclaimed career after relocating to LA. This tune is a tense punk/new wave tune, with a menacing organ riff, sounding like a cross between Jonathan Richman and the X type of punk rockers emerging out on the coast.

8. U2 - Twilight - Boy
I think shuffle is telling me to purchase the new deluxe reissues that U2 just came out with for the band's first three records. Sheesh. I'd have preferred to drop one or two of these Springsteen and X songs that are coming up right around the corner.

9. Neil Diamond - September Morn - Greatest Hits (originally on September Morn)
Despite owning the Greatest Hits and being somewhat of a Neil Diamond defender overall, I have no memory of ever hearing this song. And it sucks. This is the type of shit that makes it hard to defend Diamond for his much greater earlier work.

10. John Mellencamp - Ain't Even Done With The Night - Words & Music: Greatest Hits (originally on Nothin' Matters And What If It Did)
I can't say much good about the early Johnny Cougar stuff either. The guy had enough good songs through the middle 80s to have earned his Rock n Roll Hall of Fame induction. But this song could fit proudly and unmemorably into any John Hughes movie.

U2 - Redemption Song
The Serfers - Green On Red

Monday, July 28, 2008

Live: Eef Barzelay & Tracy Shedd

Untethered from the band he helmed for five records, Eef Barzelay has turned acoustic, dropping the fuller sound that swung from soul to country to chiming rock. And it's a perfect fit for someone who's lyrics demand a bit more attention than normal. Clem Snide was a strange and excellent group, turning in songs that were more often than not sad at their core, and Eef's singing was the perfect fit for such melancholy.

His first solo record (I haven't heard the second one yet, just bought it last night) starts with the title-track, the aching "Ballad of Bitter Honey." Eef sings from the point of view of a young woman who's lost just about everything. Once a background dancer in a rap video, she's dropped out of nursing school and has the bitter wisdom to go along with a life of hard knocks: "Don't hate me because I know just what the world is all about."

Playing an acoustic guitar with just a pedal steel backing him on most tracks, Eef has gone in a decidedly low-key direction. But his poignant and often witty songs (mostly solo, save "Fill Me With Your Light") don't need any more. Check out the Tucson Weekly's interview with Eef.

And for some excellent live recordings, download Eef's performance at Daytrotter.

Opener Tracy Shedd is making waves locally and is on the verge of releasing her latest record, "Cigarettes & Smoke Machines." As I wrote about her last record, Shedd "has a sharp sense of how to blend melody with distortion. She has a dreamy, languorous vocal style, which blends well with buzzing, feedback-prone guitars and the looping, urgently propelling drums."

Eef Barzelay - The Ballad of Bitter Honey
Tracy Shedd - If You Really Cared About Me You Would Have Kept In Touch For All These Years
Get the whole Louder Than You Can Hear album for free at

Friday, July 25, 2008

Monsoon music

We're smack in the middle of the desert's most thrilling and theatrical time of year - the monsoon. The daily threat of startlingly intense thunderstorms is both friendly and fierce. The rain will come, or it won't, any afternoon or evening. And if it comes, it comes quickly and with such a force and authority it seems as if each individual thunderstorm is trying to match the surrounding mountains for sheer grandeur.

When I was in school, I'd walk into an afternoon class with the August sun bearing down and energizing thermometers well past 100 degrees. I'd walk back out 50 minutes later to a gray dampness everywhere, temperature hovering somewhere near 72, and often never actually see a drop of rain.

I've always associated some songs with rain, or with the desert's aura following a rain. Most are quite lyrically obvious, but there's just something special about hearing somebody singing about rain while it's actually raining and I've always liked to put those matches on the stereo. Some songs below, but first, a poem:

Desert Water
By Richard Shelton
once a year
when infallible toads
begin to sing
all the spiders who left me
return and I make room for them
I am too proud
to mention their long absence
then the owls
send a message in code
from saguaro to saguaro
and the toads stop singing
a sea of warm air
rolls over quickly and relaxes
we wait for the promised rain
for the second coming
of water
each time it arrives
like the flood and I know
I have not wasted my life
spiders still come
to my house for shelter

James - Sometimes (live 1993-12-09 - Brixton Academy)
Neko Case - Buckets of Rain (live, Bob Dylan cover)
Rusted Root - Cruel Son (live 2007-06-16, Rochester)
Uncle Tupelo - A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall (live, Bob Dylan cover)
Counting Crows - Rain King (live, 'Thunder Road' interlude)
Roger Clyne - Nada (acoustic)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Morning came and the morning went

Some days are simple, some songs are simple, and sometimes simple is the best.

One of the easiest, loosest and most ramshackle songs that ever found its voice in a circle of guitar strummers and light-hearted singers is "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," the Dylan classic that first fell upon the Earth with the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Rodeo. It's a song that even I can play.

It's the perfect song for several singers to each take a verse and all come back in on the swelling chorus. And it's got that playful, childlike absurdity that sometimes crept out when Dylan was holed up in Woodstock.

Tons of versions of this song exist (my collection currently holds more than a dozen), but let's stick with two wonderful cover versions and one of the early Dylan bootleg versions for now.

Bob Dylan - You Ain't Goin' Nowhere
Counting Crows - You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (live Bob Dylan cover)
Arlo Guthrie - You Ain't Goin' Nowhere (live Bob Dylan cover)

And a video of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova singing their version, which is also on the I'm Not There soundtrack.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Mountain Goats coming to Tucson

The Mountain Goats just announced a fall tour and are stopping by Tucson - Club Congress specifically - on Oct. 29. No Phoenix date for the tour, so count on a few extra friends in town for the night and no doubt this one will be packed.

And while Heretic Pride didn't necessarily make big waves this year as I would have expected, this is a band with extensive and excellent catalog.

The Mountain Goats - New Monster Avenue (from Heretic Pride)
The Mountain Goats - New Year (live, 2007-03-08, The Independent, San Francisco)
The Mountain Goats - Going to Georgia (live, 2006-08-10, 40 Watt, Athens)
Get both excellent shows at Archive.Org - The Independent, 40 Watt

The Hump Day Shuffle: 1979

For the first installment of the Catfish Vegas shuffle project: songs from the year I started raising hell:

1. The Eagles - The Sad Café - Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (originally on The Long Run)
Wow. Surely the Shuffle gods are using this song to clearly demonstrate that I'm playing this game by the rules - hands off, no cherry-picking. Like with most of the Eagles songs, it's mostly harmless. Just limit your dosage.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Roulette (original version) - Best of the Lost Masters
Ah, the bootlegs show up right away. The first I heard this song was on the Tracks boxed set, which was supposed to be a definitive statement (featuring much cleaned up sound) and make people forget about all those old bootlegs. Trouble is, this version is better, and it's precisely the rawness that makes it so.

3. The Clash - Lost in the Supermarket - London Calling
The first top-notch back-to-back of this project. This was one of the Clash songs that really confused me when I first started listening to Story of The Clash. It's so clean and catchy, so un-punk, that it just fried my expectations. Just one of millions of lessons against taking expectations into new musical discoveries, I 'spose.

4. The Jam - Butterfly Collector - The Sound of the Jam (originally B-Side to Strange Town)
The first of what I'm sure are a great many songs I'll confess to listening to for the first time during this project. No wonder these blokes are so well-regarded. This fits right in between Joy Division and Elvis Costello.

5. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - Even The Losers - Greatest Hits (originally on Damn The Torpedoes)
One of rock 'n' roll's all-time greatest opening verses:
"Well, it was nearly all summer we sat on your roof
Yeah, we smoked cigarettes and we stared at the moon
And Id show you stars you never could see
Baby, it couldn't have been that easy to forget about me"

6. Michael Jackson - Don't Stop Til You Get Enough - Off The Wall
Thankfully shuffle tossed on one of the hits I actually know. This is dance music in the waning days of the disco era, from a wunderkid who would go on to be known as one of history's strangest human beings. Did anybody see it coming that far back?

7. Allman Brothers - Crazy Love - A Decade of Hits (originally on Enlightened Rogues)
Southern guitar boogie that I never quite jumped on. I dig the more laid-back, sing-along hits from the Allmans. They were just never big enough in rural Arizona to make much of a dent in my teen years.

8. Anita Ward - Ring My Bell - Pure Disco, Vol. 2 (originally 1979 single)
Man, I only really know this disco standard from the DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince cover version on 1991's Homebase (wouldn't it be great if that showed up on shuffle too?)

9. Billy Clone and the Same - Don't Look Back - Arizona Sounds Vol. 3 KDKB
An early Bruce Connole project, I got this one from the treasure trove that is AZ Local. Proof that even punk and new wave in Arizona had a distinctly strange skew, a feature that defines bands in the arid madlands to this day. This song is slower and more countrified (right up until a saxophone solo swoops in outta nowhere) than the band's X and Y record released the same year.

10. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - You Tell Me - Damn The Torpedoes
One of dozens of reasons to break off the Greatest Hits Highway and dig into the deep catalog of an artist like Petty. This song a similar feel to "Breakdown," with more of groove than his sing-along classics.

(A note: I've done my best to tag songs on greatest hits collections properly, to reflect the year it was first released, not when the record companies money grubbing repackaging hit the shelves. In the event that songs crop up in a wrong year, I'll skip them. Those will be the only skips. And I'll note which album the shuffle delivers. For example, "Even The Losers" in this shuffle came from the Greatest Hits, even though I have Damn The Torpedoes as well.)

Bruce Springsteen - Roulette (original version)
Tom Petty - Even The Losers (live 1980-03-06, London)
Billy Clone and the Same - Don't Look Back

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Live: Wolf Parade

No exhaustive review tonight, but I gotta say Wolf Parade is damn good - not great yet, but they probably will be and this just seems like one of those band you don't want to miss on the upswing.

I was a little surprised they packed close to 1,000 people into the Rialto, but At Mount Zoomer is a strong record to be taking out on tour. They're energetic, excellent musicians, and just fascinating to watch as they create on stage all the subtleties that give their tunes such a dense and sound.

Earlier this year with his new record, Mike Doughty talked of a concept he refers to as "Dude Theory," which is basically the idea that when you listen to the album, it comes across as the work of four guys playing music - it's easy to hear the different instruments apart from one another, there aren't a lot of overdubs or sonic layering and overall the songs are just really easy to connect to.

Wolf Parade occupies the advance end of that notion - for the first time I could really dig out all those different sounds and let the music sink in a good deal more as I watched them on stage. With the two keyboardists usually playing two keyboards apiece and two guitars as often as guitar and bass, there's just so much there. And it's a rich and often startling sound - full of musical jumps and vocal yelps and the songs crash and careen around before bending back to the hooks.

From the opening "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son," the crowd seemed barely but perceptibly more responsive to the material from 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary, but then again At Mount Zoomer is barely a month old (officially) and I saw plenty of people walking from the merch table with copies on CD and vinyl.

For me, the highlights were simply the highlights from the albums: "Language City" and "Soldiers Grin" from the new one and "I'll Believe In Anything" and "This Heart's On Fire" from Queen Mary. The closing "Kissing The Beehive" was an appropriately rocked out and extended jam version, and the two-song encore was just an absolute surge of energy.

I doubt Wolf Parade is a band that's hit their peak - if so, then there are two high quality records - if not, I'll take a thrill in saying "I saw them back when..."

Wolf Parade - Language City
Wolf Parade - You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son

Catfish at the cinema

Did anyone else get the feeling that The Dark Knight is sort of a spiritual cousin to The Empire Strikes Back?

Seriously, what an amazing movie. It says here (among hundreds of other places, I'm sure) that Heath Ledger bags an Oscar come award season. His amazing performance is one of several reasons this film rises so high. One of the handful of best movies I've seen in several years, at least.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Calexico: Silver Trees

Today Calexico posted "Silver Trees" from the upcoming Carried to Dust as a free download on the band's MySpace site. The record is out Sept. 9, and this is the first full preview the band is giving, though a couple of teaser video clips are also up. Taken together they form a curious look at Tucson, with a long panning shot of the Boneyard in one and various Downtown scenes giving way to Joey and John playing in the Taproom in the other.

Calexico - Letter to a Bowie Knife (live 2006-12-02 Tucson)
Get the whole show at Archive.Org

Live: James McMurtry

Saturating myself with James McMurtry's Just Us Kids for the past two weeks paid off big-time tonight as the Austin singer leaned heavy on the new record, playing eight of the album's 12 cuts.

It's an incredibly strong record, and McMurtry brought it to the stage smoothly, with his Texas drawl right at the center of the mix. I'd known him mostly as a word man up until tonight, but I came away just as impressed by his dynamic and fluid lead guitar playing.

McMurtry is an artist I picked up from my dad, courtesy of an old friend of his I grew up calling Crazy Uncle Don Becker. McMurtry has kind of settled into my head as one of the Last of the Great Troubadors. He's a masterful word-slinger, building his best songs out of long narratives, drawing crazy and tragic characters with his slow drawl, then drilling the whole rich scene into your skull with a simple repeated hook.

He opened as a tight three-piece combo, and added a second guitarist about halfway through the nearly two-hour set. McMurtry's no stranger to Tucson - he attended the University of Arizona in the early 1980s - and he looked the part, comfortable in a guyabara and fedora, with his "long hair turnin' gray."

It'll get passed over by most of the indie-rock set, but Just Us Kids is certainly one of the strongest records of this year. It's a dense and thoughtful record, political at times (think Steve Earle's The Revolution Starts Now, but with more snarl than shout) but just as often about the other struggles of American life - growing old, falling out of love and the various disconnects that force their way in to complicate what ought to be simple about relationships.

McMurtry started out with "Bad Enough," one of four songs he played from his last record, 2005's Childish Things. "Just Us Kids" came third, and with it one of McMurtry's greatest songwriting tricks: somehow making time seem to disappear, unnoticed, as life rushes by. The song opens with two teenagers hanging out in a parking under the great unknown banner of the future, and has them starting at retirement before they know it. And McMurtry snaps it off with a shrug of his shoulders: "It's a damn short movie / How'd we ever get here?"

"Hurricane Party" has its narrator stuck at the end of the road, knowing what he's missing without having much of a clue as to where or when his failures struck. What's repeated in the chorus is a kind of empty resignation: "There's no one to talk to / When the lines go down."

Joking that the time had come in the set to play the big hits, McMurtry launched into "Choctaw Bingo," one of the strangest songs ever written. It's a spastic talking blues hybrid, dropped on top of a dirty blues beat, with McMurtry describing one psychotic relative after another on a trip to a family reunion that's balanced on the axis of the "North Texas-Southern Oklahoma methamphetamine industry." Just before he got to the verse about the narrator's lust for his leggy second cousins, McMurtry said he was happy the crowd was movin', because "The good part is better if you're movin' when it happens."

The epic "We Can't Make It Here" followed, with its downhill rumbling indictment of the economic and social decay brought about by the Bush years. First released nearly four years ago, the song has grown an extra layer of simmering snarl and I'm sure McMurtry could just as easily add a few more verses now that the second Bush term has brought a whole new heap of struggles.

The rest of the band departed for the next number, the heartbreaking "Ruby & Carlos," a tale of mismatched lovers who are both on the losing end of their disintegrating relationship. "Ruby & Carlos" and "Hurricane Party" form the 13-minute emotional core of Just Us Kids and it was interesting to hear the set list split them apart, giving each more time to shine up against some of the rougher tunes.

McMurtry returned to the politics with a vengeance on "God Bless America (pat mAcdonald Must Die)" which calls to task the war profiteers that have emerged from every corner as the Bush team raided the treasury for corporate handouts in the name of "Iraqi Freedom." Sadly, McMurtry didn't follow that up with "Cheney's Toy."

On "Ruins of the Realm," another Just Us Kids stand-out, McMurtry strapped on a mando-guitar, a duck-billed platypus of an instrument, an electric 12 stringer with a mandolin-sized neck. The instrument's echoing chime itself is hypnotic, and as McMurtry's lyrics circle around and around it all meshes perfectly.

The show wrapped up with an electrifying jam of "Too Long In The Wasteland," with McMurtry and Tim Holt taking turns on lead guitar as if they were lighting off fireworks - you'd still see the smoke from one as the other one started burning.

Opening was the Dedringers, also from Austin. Though young, they have a road-tested bar-rock sound, leaning on some boogie blues guitar licks and some great harmony vocals. In the great Texas tradition (like McMurtry and Alejandro Escovedo) they blend country, rock, folk and blues - and do it great on stage.

James McMurtry - Cheney's Toy
The Dedringers - Sweetheart of the Neighborhood (live)
(Check out the whole show, and also get some free downloads from their new record here)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

James McMurtry at Congress tonight

Austin's James McMurtry makes another trip to Tucson tonight, in support of his fantastic new record, Just Us Kids. A consummate storyteller, McMurtry's songs unfold in a slow drawl, backed by bluesy bar-band guitars. His last two records have heavy with political statements - and scathing "Cheney's Toy" on Just Us Kids is more than just a protest song, it's among the first statements of any type to really get to the heart of what sort of legacy Bush will leave behind.

Check out McMurtry singing "Ruby & Carlos" during a performance last month at WNKU in Cincinnati. It's trademark McMurtry, a long winding narrative of a tune that seems more like a novel than a song:

More on the new record and a review of the show coming later...

James McMurtry - WNKU performance/interview
James McMurtry - We Can't Make It Here (acoustic)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

This band could kick your ass

(At least that's what the Little Morts promise in their caption for this photo. And I don't doubt it.)

It's been a while since I checked in on my rowdy friends, who skipped outta Tucson a couple years back for Austin, saying that blues guys make their deal with the devil down at the crossroads, but country bands head to the neon of a hot Texas night to trade in their souls.

The boys are still rockin' their own brand of heavily amplified twang and ass-kicking grooves. And what's more they're back recording again.

I filed this report right after their final Tucson show, a boozy and excellent chaotic mess that'll be hard to forget for quite some time:
I never saw anybody smash a banjo before. But neither could I have dreamt of a better description of the drunken punk-country of the Little Morts, or a more fitting moment as their final show spun out of control and crashed in sweat, smiles and tears.

Irish and proud, Daniel Long is a red-headed growler, not so much a stranger as an friend as he writes of booze, jail, travelin’ and the last moments of reason in a day, the strange, uncomfortable, curious sobriety of a bright noon. Just wonder.

The Little Morts stole from Johnny Cash and Tom Russell and the Stones (and not just songs for their last show), a while back borrowed a guitarist who elevated the performance past great to incredible and begged a lot from their audience (mostly shots of whiskey and Jaegermeister). But they loved a lot too, the tunes, the fans and the stage.

I’ll leave it to someone down the line to write the history of the Little Morts, because they sure as shit ain’t done yet. Bigger stages are waiting out in the Texas night.

But I will say that as I stood in front for their final show, head bobbing in a corduroy cowboy hat, ears open and joyous and mind swimming in a whiskey river, the Little Morts couldn’t have been better. It was a good-bye full of swagger and joy and 20 songs that weren’t nearly enough.

So raise a drink to the Little Morts and enjoy these tunes.

The Little Morts - Sober
The Little Morts - Girl Next Door
The Little Morts - Live at Studio 2A KXCI whole show as a zip file

Friday, July 18, 2008

Catfish Vegas Radio on Pandora

For all those lucky souls with a nifty new iPhone (or nifty new capabilities on an old iPhone), make sure and download the Pandora app and then check out Catfish Vegas Radio.

New Giant Sand song

We've got both old and new Giant Sand here today.

Leading off is the new: The first single from the upcoming proVISIONS record has been posted to Giant Sand's MySpace page. "Increment of Love" has the sort of spare, dusty outlaw vibe that characterizes Howe Gelb's music so well.

As I wrote earlier, the record features guests as notable as Neko Case and M. Ward, so I'm excited that Howe Gelb is returning to the "mood" that is Giant Sand, as he describes it. His other preferred description, joking or not, is "erosion rock," and something tells me this record will be the perfect study piece for such a term.

And now the old: I just came across an amazing post from Bradley's Almanac, a Boston-based blogger who I've been following for a while. He's recently posted a bunch of performances from the Sub Pop 1992 Vermonstress Festival.

There is an absolute treasure of high-quality downloads in this post, but we only have time right now to concern ourselves with the Giant Sand tunes, which are absolutely amazing.

Giant Sand - Wearing the Robes of Bible Black (live 1992-10-11, Vermotstress Festival, Burlington) - From Bradley's Almanac
Giant Sand - Wearing the Robes of Bible Black (live 2005-09-02, Club Congress, Tucson)

The Bradley's Almanac stuff is amazing, so get all the Giant Sand songs.

And I've talked up the Giant Sand performance at the 2005 Club Congress 20th Anniversary Festival before, but I have to bring it up again. Seriously, download this.

Howe announced today that "Increment of Love" will be available as a free download from Yep Roc on Sept. 2 (not sure if this is a one-day special or ongoing...). Just go to, enter an email and it's yours.

Naim Amor

Photo by Shaun Hendry

I've never understood the Tucson-Europe connection that's made bands like Calexico, Giant Sand and Greyhound Soul more successful in Italy, Spain and Germany than they are in their hometown. So the fact that a French singer-songwriter would relocate here is extra mysterious.

But Naim Amor, born and raised in Paris, made the leap, moving to Tucson in 1995 at the suggestion of countrywoman Marianne Dissard, who'd already settled here, and soon met Howe Gelb and Joey Burns of Giant Sand. He played for years with Thomas Belhom as the Amor Belhom Duo before setting out to record as a solo artist.

The "what the hell?" attitude that led to the move has brought Amor plenty of opportunity. To him, Tucson has strong parallels to New York City's artistic awakening in the 1960s, when folk and rock musicians, painters and filmmakers alike could all settle in a tight-knit area and, more importantly, get by with cheap rent. The space and time afforded musicians and artists by that sort of low overhead is the key to the sort of creative atmosphere that Amor described to KCRW when he gave an in-studio performance last week.

Singing in French, and sometimes English, Amor has a troubadour style that definitely recalls the type of classic French pop that Wes Anderson finds captivating. He has a typically laid back approach, with a strummed or finger-picked electric guitar and a quiet, languorous singing style that isn't too far from Sam Beam of Iron & Wine. But don't think Amor's 13 years in the desert don't also show up in the songs. There's also this atmospheric spaciousness that isn't quite desert rock, but neither does it sound like Amor is singing from the nightlife of Paris.

Amor's KCRW performance drew mostly from his latest record Sanguine, the Joey Burns-produced disc that caught the taste-making Santa Monica station's attention. But he did throw in a nifty version of "It's Not Easy Being Green." Demitri Manos of Golden Boots and Tom Walbank's Ambassadors sat in on drums for the spare and intimate performance.

Amor has two upcoming Tucson shows, July 24 at Plush (with La Cerca) and July 29 at the Arts Incubator Gallery, next to Grill on Congress.

Listen to Naim Amor's KCRW performance/interview here.

Amor Belhom Duo - Elevator Baby
Naim Amor - Les Bruits (from Sanguine)
Naim Amor - La Javanaise (live Solar Culture, 2001)
Get the whole 2001 show live at Solar Culture here.

Naim Amor Live w/ Calexico and Friends from on Vimeo.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Weekend shows

We're coming up on a hell of a week of great live music, with both really top-notch local and national bands booked every night from Friday through Thursday (at least).

Don't pay any attention to the fact that this isn't the type of thing that's supposed to be happening in July in Tucson... embrace it. Maybe the heat has lost its edge as the sort of cretinous deterrent that robs us of summer visitors.

We'll start with Friday: It's too bad I can't find any promo downloads for Tongue Dried Sun, because from the sound of things on their MySpace, this new record is a tight bunch of hard and melodic 1990s-type rock tunes. And no wonder, because this Tucson quintet settled in with Alice In Chains producer Dave Jerden with a fairly lengthy stint of recording sessions in LA. I've seen the band a couple times, but these tunes are at least a few steps better than what I remember.

Check out "Holiday," which sounds like the super-mad-mega-hit that any grunge/alternative/metal band had when they turned in a simmering champion of a ballad that starts with an acoustic guitar and ends with you wanting to marry Stephanie Seymour.

Opening the record release show at Congress is Pretty Bird. Smash, the new project from intriguing Tucson singer-songwriter Brian Field, who puts this round in the "hardcore anti-folk" realm, saying the sound is rooted in a 12-string guitar with heavy distortion combined with gigantic drums. Damn.

Saturday brings us a narrowly averted dilemma, saved by an early show at Club Congress. Tracy Shedd takes stage there for a teaser performance in advance of her new record, the triumphant Cigarettes & Smoke Machines, her fourth full-length (but first recorded in Tucson) that comes out in September.

Later Saturday, don't miss Greyhound Soul at Che's Lounge. Tucson's most venerable Americana band never plays better than when they're prepping for a European tour, and the band has no less than 16 dates booked in Germany alone this fall. A band of this caliber at a club as intimate as Che's is an undeniable treat. Few bands in the world can sit so confidently at the intersection of folk, blues, classic rock and

More later on a Sunday show from storytelling troubadour/rocker James McMurtry and Canadian indie heroes Wolf Parade, who hit the Rialto on Monday. And f'ing Steely Dan (who I'll have to miss) on Tuesday! It hardly seems like late July in the forgotten pueblo...

Brian Field - And She Moved On (demo)
Tracy Shedd - Blue (Blues Explosion version)
Tracy Shedd - Louder Than You Can Hear album download
Greyhound Soul - Rainer (live)
Greyhound Soul - Angelina

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Hump Day Shuffle: Prologue

Good bloggers start lazy trends, reliable bloggers jump on those trends right away, and your more laid-back bloggers tend to saddle up just as those trends are starting to smell pretty ripe.

So here's Catfish Vegas' take on the "pick a favorite album from every year you've been alive" meme. (Others are here, here, here, here, here and of course here.)

And this is just a prologue to the first weekly feature here at Catfish Vegas presents..., another void-of-originality exercise: The Weekly Shuffle, ten songs chosen at random by iTunes, going year by year, starting next week with 1979 and ending precisely 29 weeks later with 2008 (though I'll probably start easing into the whole Turning 30 thing by giving a bonus week of shuffle that represents the first seven weeks or so of 2009, so, you know, get ready to embrace that...)

The weakest musical year of my lifetime? 1981. The best? 1993. Other greats were 1979, 1984, 1991 and it's probably just 'cause I'm paying closer attention, but every year this decade has delivered numerous top-quality albums. And I don't get to cheat and list runners-up or anything, meaning you'll never know if your own favorite lost in a dead heat to the one you see here, so no complaining.

Here goes:

1979 - John Stewart - Bombs Away Dream Babies
1980 - Bruce Springsteen - The River
1981 - X - Wild Gift
1982 - Violent Femmes - Violent Femmes
1983 - Meat Puppets - Meat Puppets II
1984 - R.E.M. - Reckoning
1985 - Giant Sand - Valley of Rain
1986 - Paul Simon - Graceland
1987 - Replacements - Pleased to Meet Me
1988 - Billy Bragg - Workers' Playtime
1989 - Pixies - Doolittle
1990 - Social Distortion - Social Distortion
1991 - U2 - Achtung Baby
1992 - Dr. Dre - The Chronic
1993 - Uncle Tupelo - Anodyne
1994 - Soul Coughing - Ruby Vroom
1995 - Jayhawks - Tomorrow the Green Grass
1996 - Refreshments - Fizzy Fuzzy Big & Buzzy
1997 - Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind
1998 - Beck - Mutations XO
1999 - Wilco - Summerteeth
2000 - Steve Earle - Transcendental Blues
2001 - Old 97s - Satellite Rides
2002 - Neko Case - Blacklisted
2003 - Calexico - Feast of Wire
2004 - Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
2005 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
2006 - Band of Horses - Everything All The Time
2007 - Feist - The Reminder
2008 - The Hold Steady - Stay Positive

John Stewart - Gold
Uncle Tupelo - Slate
U2 - Ultraviolet (Light My Way)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Popless - From the Outside

Rolling Stone and Spin were the twin pillars of music magazines as I hit my late teens and felt important enough to join the world of well-informed (and often hipper-than-thou) music fans. I subscribed to both for years and I've held onto that Rolling Stone subscription up to the present, but the stack of unread magazines on my coffee table proves that I've finally lost faith in the publication I started to sour on years ago. I'm letting my subscription lapse, after about 13 years.

As I got more serious about following music, and post-college had a bit more cash to aid the effort, I turned online more frequently and started following more and more publications (? though online isn't really publishing...). There's Pitchfork, and now the world of blogs, and an alt.weekly in any city worth supporting a music scene, but I years ago I set on The Onion's AV Club as the single source that seemed to hit the nail on the head more than any other.

The writers still strike me as more geekier than hip, more true fans than scenesters, and more thoughtful in their approach to criticism and commentary most others, sticking closer to the material at hand and not trying to play the role of tastemaker at the expense or on the coattails of the band of the week. The uggliest part of this indie-online-hipster-whathaveyou world is the backlash, and though it brings some snark, the AV Club stays by and large above the fray.

One AV Club writer, Noel Murray, is on an impressively extensive and for my tastes mind-numbingly regimented project: a 10-month marathon listening session of his entire music collection, alphabetically, to re-aquaint, re-orient, re-evaluate and re-embrace and certainly purge. It's the great step-back-and-take-it-all-in of music fandom history. This is the fictionalized Rob Gordon/Fleming "autobiographical" re-organization, but in real life and with a steady narration.

And, blogger or not, of course I tuned in from the start.

Murray has established "Popless" as a weekly column to document this process: after 17 years of professional music writing, he's taking the first 10 months of this year to abandon all new music and instead bore into his extensive collection (a collection that, as he makes clear, is even unlike most obsessive music fans, in that he's been the recipient of promos from everyone and anyone for almost two decades), going alphabetically through more than 30,000 songs. And while his columns are long, excessively detailed and depending on how well you're in tune with the various artists/bands can occasionally see-saw between maddeningly insider-ish and 'no-duh' amateurish, they're must-reads.

I've been through just about every word of the 28 weekly columns so far and I have no intention of jumping off the train. I actually sit with a pen and paper and as I listen to the song clips, jot down bands to check on. I've found easily a dozen bands or albums from Murray's column (and I don't doubt I could share as much with him. I was shocked that he seemed to gloss over Giant Sand/Howe Gelb entirely, despite praise for some early Meat Puppets records).

Popless isn't a project I could undertake. Like I said, it's too regimented, and my OCD only goes so far. I also don't have nearly enough of a background to tackle such an extensive music collection with the sort of authority and attention he gives it. And since I've neither written about music professionally or written about music for nearly two decades, I can't call up my earlier reviews as a parallel to any sort of a re-evaluation.

Since the iTunes/mp3 revolution that's made just about anything ever recorded readily available to the savvy Web searcher, I've been able to grab albums at a pace that really outstrips my listening capabilities. So I haven't forged such close personal associations with as much of the music I have Murray seems to have achieved. To put it another way: my "popless" would either take much less time, or as a process involve much more music that was new to me anyway.

But in a way, Murray's Popless "State of the Music Collection" endeavor is at the core of what every music blogger seeks. And I think that it's true that perhaps even moreso than the thrill of seeking and discovering new music, fans of this stripe are on the quest to find out what it all means. As obsessed as I am I could no doubt write thousands of words about what music means to me, but boil it down to a quicker answer and I'm in trouble. The truth is I don't really know what it means, but music drives my life and that's that. Same for Murray, I think.

My ripping-my-CD-collection-into-the-sweet-new-Macbook project (that's nearly complete, by the way, after only five months) shares a bit of the same goal: I want to know what I have, what I've listened to from my teens until now, to bore into my memories of why it all matters, and to try in some way to see MUSIC as some sort of a singular whole entity in my life. I've written about some of the crappier music that I've dragged along all this way, and here and there this blog has hit on what I've found most fulfilling.

But there's no way I could ever bring myself to attempt any sort of a project that hits on literally everything. Nor could I forgo new tunes for any significant period of time. But then again, I'm down to write 1,000 words on someone else's journey through his music collection. Cheers, Noel, you're a better man than I, and I'll be around for the next 16 (?) weeks for sure.

DOWNLOAD (the Popless-inspired version):
The Clean - Thumbs Off
The Detroit Cobras - Midnight Blues
Drive-by Truckers - The Living Bubba
Glossary - Only Time Will Tell

Glossary - The Better Angels of Our Nature (whole album download)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Last cigarette songs

Years ago, back in my days as a smoker, I'd finish each day with one last cigarette, sitting out on the porch (several porches, actually, and even a stack of phonebooks during my stint living in Phoenix) with some music floating around my head as I just sort of let everything draw to a close.

And what closed out each day as much as the cigarette was that one last song I'd pick out to go along, something to wrap it all up with a listening experience as focused and meaningful as possible. It was never haphazard; I almost never selected a song on a whim. I was deliberate and decisive about selecting the accompanying song. Usually I’d stick with one for days, or even weeks, on end. Sometimes I’d mix it up back and forth between a couple for quite a while. Sometimes it was two songs that just made glory back to back. But they were always songs that could be counted on to keep giving a lot on each successive listen.

The songs naturally tended to be somber tunes, ones that could really say something about life and the world, more poetic songs that offered space for a whole bunch of thoughts. But there had to be nuance and passion in the music, there had to something there to firmly set the song in my head, where it could spring forth as needed, or as it saw fit.

Those are moments I miss now, more than four years removed from cigarettes. I miss that last cigarette and song so much because frankly, there's just no functional replacement. Putting on a song and sitting there for five minutes doesn't come close to matching the sort of reflectiveness and routine, the downright ritual nature of it.

I had, and have, no better way of summing up the day in my head, of trying to tie a loop around whatever's going on, of carefully and purposefully putting a bookmark right where I'm stopping, ready to pick it up again the next day.

That sort of ritual will tie certain songs to you forever. Those last cigarette songs of mine are the the ones in which the song and a period of time are the most closely interwoven for me. Those songs evoke memories that aren't memories, that are something more, less concrete than a single incident or happening, but sitting far deeper in my being. Those songs evoke things that I can't really tie to specific senses, but instead bring a complex mesh of feelings and people and eras.

Over the course of so many close, repeat listenings, any good song will reveal more and more and more about itself. I would bore deeper into the lyrics time and time again, drawing out associations between the songs and my life, discovering insights as that external singer's words developed a cohesion with something internal.

And sure, any sort of favorite song, or any music tied directly to a time or place or person in anyone's life has such a strong personal reaction.

But for me, as often as any other sort of listening or musical experience, what hits my core are those songs that closed out my day, with one last smoke.

Wilco & Billy Bragg - California Stars (live on Letterman)
Willie Nelson - My Own Peculiar Way
Bright Eyes - One Foot In Front Of The Other
Joel Plaskett - True Patriot Love (acoustic, Q104)
Townes Van Zandt - To Live Is To Fly
Soul Coughing - True Dreams Of Wichita
The Replacements - Here Comes A Regular
Billy Bragg - The Short Answer (Peel Sessions)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bishop Allen with The Swim @ Club Congress tonight... FREE

Brooklyn's Bishop Allen is rolling into town tonight, and the ultra-catchy indie pop band is more than well-matched by locals The Swim. They're joined by the Lemon Drop Gang, another set of locals I haven't heard before, but aren't lying on their MySpace when they describe the music as "girlgroup popsicle sweet."

Bishop Allen gathered a lot of buzz for putting out an EP every month in 2006, a bold and attention-grabbing move that could've easily failed, but I think it mostly just raised expectations for the band's full-length debut, last year's The Broken String.

The funny thing is, I've seen little promotion for the show, which seems to be a one-off for Bishop Allen - the only other show the band has booked this month is Wicker Park Festival in Chicago. But a free Friday show at Congress, and especially one billed as X-Mas in July, promises a lot.

Bishop Allen - Click Click Click Click
Bishop Allen - Rain
Bishop Allen - Calendar
The Swim - Margaret With Comets
The Swim - Beautiful Endeavor (demo)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The importing continues: Why the hell would you listen to that?

So I'm still working my way through the epic CD-ripping effort that began when I bought this sweet new Macbook back in March. (I was down for about a month there while I sat around lazily not getting the optical drive fixed after it crapped out.) I haven't bothered to pay too close attention to the sheer numbers, but I've easily passed the 1,000 threshold, with the end just maybe kinda in sight, somewhere ...

What's surprising is how few CDs I've elected not to digitize. It's been at least seven or eight years since I went through any sort of large scale purge and tried unloading lackluster albums at used CD stores around town. But the remaining ones are keepers, by and large. And even the duds are keepers in their own charming little ways, ways that don't have much to do with the actual music.

Holding (certainly not proud) positions in my collection, to this day, are R.E.M.'s Monster and the first Hootie & The Blowfish album, which are almost certainly the two most unwanted multi-platinum records of all time, proving that despite the tremendous highlights 1994 had musically (Ill Communication, Mellow Gold, Roman Candle, Grace, Cash's first Rick Rubin collaboration, The Downward Spiral, Crooked Rain X2, Dummy, Ruby Vroom, Wildflowers, Weezer) the year was not immune from top-selling duds. I may be a bit generous in saying so, but neither record outright sucks. Monster has at least one great song, and Hootie was certainly far more harmless than much of the shit that would become chart-toppers just a few years later.

Aside from the no-way-in-hell-I-could-actually-get-rid-of-'em-so-I-might-as-well-just-toss-'em- in-the-pile albums, there are a few duds worth keeping for other ludicrous and deeply personal reasons.

Meat Loaf's craptacular Bat Out Of Hell II: Back Into Hell leads this category for me. I don't ever want to hear any of that overwrought, dramatic schlock again, but check this out: On numerous occasions, I've used the album for, I 'spose I ought to say, rather devilish pranks.

It's really quite simple: If you happen to wake up earlier than other people at your house, particularly on a weekend or the morning after you've hosted a party, just throw on the album, track one, really damn loud. The 12-minute version of "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)," with its glorious motorcycle-revving opening, is sure to wake up every roommate and guest you have.

At first they'll wonder why there's a Harley rally just outside the door. Then they'll figure out that the noise is actually coming from the stereo. Then they'll wonder why you're angry at them. Seriously, the damn thing just seems to be endless. All the while you're chuckling away, gleeful to be in full control of such an upsetting noise, gleeful to rouse people from sleep in the strangest possible manner and just generally gleeful to have put one over on peacefully sleeping friends.

Then there's the Pure Disco compilation that was key to four 70s Parties I threw... And Slippery When Wet, a CD purchased on a nostalgic whim because it was the first tape I bought for myself and listened to endlessly as an 8-years-old... And that Paul Westerberg album I really liked just before I picked up my first Replacements record and really had my eyes opened... And the first two MTV Party To Go compilations that I just ate up in seventh and eighth grades...

Everything I've thrown on the hard drive has something going for it, and otherwise bad music that sets me on a path right back to some long-gone age contains a pleasure all its own.

So to everyone who's felt even a bare-bones tinge of denim-jacket toughness at hearing "Chino danced a tango with a broomstick in his hand" two decades out of context... rock on. Don't purge what might well be an embarrassing and misguided part of your past if it still feels good on some level.

Bon Jovi - Let It Rock
Meat Loaf - I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)
R.E.M. - What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
P.M. Dawn - Set Adrift on Memory Bliss
Paul Westerberg - Love Untold

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Calexico album trailer

In advance of their new record, Calexico has released a short video clip featuring some Tucson sites and a bit of a music video recorded in the Tap Room:

"Two Silver Trees" sounds fantastic, and while the band hasn't yet put up any of the new songs on their MySpace page, here's a video of the song played live at the Rialto Theatre on May 23:

Calexico - Sunken Waltz (live Studio 2A, KXCI, 10-15-2002)
Get the whole set as a zip file.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Luke Doucet

My introduction to Luke Doucet came at The Independent in San Francisco, when Kathleen Edwards brought the Canadian guitar dynamo out as her special guest on lead guitar.

I'd never even heard the name, but he proved to be a commanding player, flashy when necessary but always true to the song.

He's apparently backed all sorts of folks, including Sarah McLachlan and a host of other performers, but is sadly little known in the U.S.

Doucet filled in marvelously during Edwards' S.F. show, and in fact one of the show's highlights was a duet they turned in on Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," stripping the tune down to an acoustic guitar and occasional violin.

Last week I remembered to look him up and
lo and behold, Doucet just came out with a new record, Blood's Too Rich, released on the Canadian independent Six Shooter Records.

The U.S. has had a rather fickle approach to Canadian artists, and while it seems like these days Montreal is white-hot south of the border, it's good to remember that only a certain sort of "indie" bands are breaking through from Canada. Artists like Edwards and Doucet might've gotten much more attention a decade ago when the trend was riding higher here.

Hopefully Doucet gets enough attention because Blood's Too Rich is really a strong record. "The Day Rick Danko Died" is a bluesy romp of an ode to The Band's late bass player and singer, with a ramshackle barroom beat and guitar licks just lapping over every edge of the song.

"It's Only Tuesday" is a mid-tempo rocker that recalls Paul Westerberg's better solo work, while "Blood's Too Rich" rides a sharp-edged, surf style guitar reverb that strangely sounds familiar to the desert tones that show up in Neko Case and Calexico records.

Taken together they demonstrate that Doucet is widely skilled as a guitarist and is a compelling songwriter. It's his seventh album and I'm definitely inspired to start checking out the older stuff.

Check out a clip of Doucet and Edwards doing "I'm On Fire":

Luke Doucet - The Day Rick Danko Died
Luke Doucet - It's Only Tuesday
Luke Doucet - Blood's Too Rich

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Today's find

There was a while back in the day when I used to keep record-store receipts inside CD cases, a fascinating practice that I think I'll try to keep in mind for the future.

I was going through some CDs to import last night and found another one: Zia Records, 03-03-2000: Tom Waits - Mule Variations; Medeski, Martin & Wood - Combustication; and Superchunk - Indoor Living. They were all used, at $7.99 apiece. Not too bad at all.

What strikes me most is the fact that I was able to string together three so disparate albums in one purchase. Those were the days when I was walking into Zia practically every week, with a well-prepared list, often looking for certain albums time and time and time again until I could find them used. So it's not exactly a surprise that a modern funk/jazz album, a 3-year-old indie-punk triumph and a new masterpiece from the legendary Tom Waits ended up on the same receipt, but I haven't come across another one yet that's similarly eclectic.

I've written more than enough about Tom Waits lately, but I haven't touched on either of the other bands.

Indoor Living was the album Superchunk was touring on when I saw them at Hollywood Alley in Mesa in 1997. So I'm kind of surprised to look back and discover I didn't get that record for nearly three years. Sure, I'd heard it from Mr. Suit, who turned me on to the band and plenty of others, and also drove to the show. And I had several others. So my Indoor Living was a bit behind the curve, but I ate that album up. "Burn Last Sunday" in particular still resonates, with the opening lines: "Another season crashes to and end / The branches you thought you'd break, they just bend." That still sums up much of college for me: big plans end up falling to substantially less in return.

Medeski, Martin & Wood was definitely out of my comfort zone in those days, as I'm sure it was for so many of the jam-band type bands they lured in. But they had really solid grooves and an amazingly versatile style. Add in the turntable work and Combustication was a truly unique record that hit somewhere in between jazz, funk, hip-hop and the jam circuit, a strange little Venn alcove that they alone inhabit.

I'll turn out some more of these posts as I stumble onto more Zia receipts stuffed into CD cases.

Tom Waits - Hold On
Medeski, Martin & Wood - Just Like I Pictured It
Superchunk - Burn Last Sunday

Tom Waits - Storytellers Live 1999
Tom Waits - Live at Lee Furr's Studio, Tucson 1975

Friday, July 04, 2008

Hey Baby, It's the Fourth of July

Happy Independence Day everybody!
Enjoy the grilled meat, the explody things and the rock & roll, and remember:
"Nobody living can ever stop me, as I go walkin' that Freedom Highway!"

Check out some tunes, including this incredible version of "Masters of War" by the Roots, who turn the Dylan song on its head by copping the melody from our national anthem. It's subversive as hell, but what a statement!

And how 'bout "This Land Is Your Land" as our new national anthem? It's got my vote.

The Roots - Masters of War (live Bob Dylan cover)
Arlo Guthrie & Bruce Springsteen & Taj Mahal & Emmylou Harris & Bono & Little Richard & John Mellencamp - This Land Is Your Land
Bruce Springsteen - 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)
Dave Alvin - Fourth of July
Bruce Springsteen - Independence Day (live, Oct. 23, 1999)
Elliott Smith - Independence Day (live Dec. 20, 2001)

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

2008.5, part 2

Following up with the second part of the rundown of the first half of the great ¡El Ocho!:

Best shows:
1. Tom Waits - El Paso, Plaza Theatre, June 20
I thought my best opportunity to see Waits melted when two shows in Phoenix sold out in a matter of minutes. But then came the only redemption that El Paso, Texas will likely ever inject into my life. The man is a performer extraordinaire and just owned my being completely for two plus hours. We're talking about possibly the top show ever, and the more live music I see the rarer those declarations become.

2. Fleet Foxes - Solar Culture, June 30
This is why you never decide to sit it out for a while after catching a show so awesome that it can't possibly be topped for quite some time... If I'd have let that Tom Waits high ride as long as it could've, I would have robbed myself of the swirling and soaring magic of the Fleet Foxes, a band that is more advanced and more captivating vocally than any I have ever seen.
I put together a short preview, but haven't properly reviewed the show, so I'll just say that Robin Pecknold is an amazing talent and the Fleet Foxes are a uniquely transfixing combo that will never play a room as small as Solar Culture again.

3. Arlo Guthrie - Fox Theatre, April 26
The Solo Reunion Tour had Arlo playing alone for the first time in ages, a format that let his storytelling take center stage. Arlo's versatility also stood out, as he played blues songs and ragtime piano and Hawaiian guitar... And I got to meet him afterward, a moment that I'll always treasure.

4. Kathleen Edwards - Club Congress/The Independent, May 13 & 20
Probably my newest favorite performer, Kathleen Edwards is a Canadian singer in the mold of Lucinda Williams, skilled enough go from rough-and-tumble to heartbreaking within a chord change.

5. Chango Malo (acoustic) - Club Congress, June 1
The Bad Monkey Blokes sent Mr. Jennings off in style, and brought the house down with a show that put heart and passion on the line to resounding success. Check out their cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come":

6. Dean & Britta - Club Congress, Feb. 20.
7. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Plush, April 24.
8. Suicide Kings - Hollywood Alley, March 14.
9. X - Rialto Theatre, June 7.
10. The Swim / Fourkiller Flats - various shows, but especially the Che's Lounge performances.
They're my two favorite bands to see in Tucson's best watering hole.

Best albums of 2008 (so far):
1. The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
2. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
3. Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers
4. Portishead - 3
5. Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes / Sun Giant
6. The Swim - Random Walk
7. James - Hey Ma
8. The Hold Steady - Stay Positive
9. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Real Emotional Trash
10. The Suicide Kings - The Suicide Kings

(Acknowledging of course that there is plenty more to hear this year, including a great many records already out that I have yet to catch up to.)

Best new-to-me music so far in 2008:

1. Eric Bachmann - To The Races
2. Avett Brothers - Emotionalism
3. The Capstan Shafts - Euridice Proudhon
4. Tracy Shedd - Louder Than You Can Hear
5. Otis Redding - Otis Blue (why I stuck to just the greatest hits for so long I'll never know)

Tom Waits - Way Down in the Hole (live, El Paso)
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal (live)
Arlo Guthrie - In Times Like These (live)
Kathleen Edwards - I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory (live)
Dean & Britta - Night Nurse (live)

2008.5, part 1

A half year is a period of time that never gets enough credit. Six months is a damn long time, but we wait for the reflection until a whole 12 have been collected?! Screw that. Just as Mr. Chair has adopted July 4 as his own sort of New Year's, I've grown to embrace the idea that the dead middle of summer - with its own touchstone moments of Independence Day, the glorious summer solstice, and around these parts (typically), the arrival of awe-inspiring thunderstorms - is ripe for taking a little time out to think about the previous six months.

So what's happened in the first half of 2008? For one, I decided right away (before even seeing the light of day on Jan. 1) that this year was to be, at every opportunity, referred to enthusiastically as ¡El Ocho! It's an important year, and that's not just me spitting jive, it's built up that way, and there are expectations everywhere. There's a presidential election and the Olympics and this overwhelming sense that history will be made.

So what have I done with these 180 odd days thus far in El Ocho? I've abided, that's for sure. There've been strikes and there've been gutters. I dressed as The Dude on a Jazzercise kick while sharing the winding and hilly streets of San Francisco with 100,000 other demented souls on a bright Sunday morning. I hate to admit, though, that my gettin'-out-of-town this year hasn't included much else. Two trips to Phoenix were more than decent, though to call them vacation is a stretch.

I've been a live music hound as much as possible - by my latest count I've squeezed in 34 shows and this week holds at least two more. I've been a joyous well wisher at three weddings, with one more top-notch nuptial to attend before the year closes out. Not only that, I have two friends damn near ready to pop out babies, and yet another new child to welcome later this year.

And ¡El Ocho! still holds a lot more: I've got two trips out to the Bay for sure-to-be-awesome music festivals. There are still albums to hear from Okkervil River, Beck, The Hold Steady, Dr. Dog, The Walkmen, Calexico, Giant Sand and many, many more.

Stay tuned for the list-style wrap-up of Catfish Vegas' first half of ¡El Ocho! tomorrow: best new records, best old record discoveries this year and best shows.

For now, here are the best jams of my ¡El Ocho! so far:

SumKid Majere - Chuck Norris On Drugs
The Swim - Margaret With Comets
Kathleen Edwards - Asking For Flowers (acoustic)
Source Victoria - Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948
The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead
Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
Bon Iver - Skinny Love

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tracy Shedd: Louder Than You Can Hear

As Tracy Shedd (a relatively new Tucsonan) preps for the release of her fourth record (Cigarettes and Smoke Machines, produced by Craig Schumacher at Tucson's Wavelab Studio, due out Sept. 23 on Teenbeat Records), the singer-songwriter is making her previous release available as a free download.

Louder Than You Can Hear, released in 2004 by Devil in the Woods Records, has a sound that spans from spare singer-songwriter material to the noisy end of shoegaze, and throughout Shedd has a sharp sense of how to blend melody with distortion. She has a dreamy, languorous vocal style, which blends well with buzzing, feedback-prone guitars and the looping, urgently propelling drums.

The album opens with the percussive and mesmerizing "Inside Out," a head-nodding tone-setter with the repeated line "You're the only one that ever mattered" fading into the swirl of guitar noise.

The record's highlight is the six-minute third song, "If You Really Cared About Me You Would Have Kept In Touch For All These Years," which starts with a build-up of guitar and drum noise, then slows to just one strumming guitar as Shedd starts singing. The distorted lead guitar breaks back in as a soaring echo that intertwines with Shedd's understated vocal.

Next is the up-tempo "Try And Get Some Rest" and Shedd settles into a groove that stands next to the best early Liz Phair tunes. The album's title comes from the chorus to "Wednesday's The New Thursday," another song built upon layers of guitars and a thumping drum beat.

The closer "Blue (The Blues Explosion Version)" is another perfect example of what Shedd does best on this record: wrap a delicate song inside screaming guitars with a balance and tension so captivating that six minutes pass unnoticed. It starts slow, with finger-picked guitar and Shedd singing the opening lines ("If it takes me all night, I'll get it wrong") with an air of forlorn detachment. The explosion part of the song hits after a beautifully hypnotic three minutes, with a squeal and crash that breaks the quiet but leaves the song's hypnotic core intact.

The previews on Shedd's MySpace page point to an even better record, a tighter and more assured batch of songs that could very well make her one of the buzz singers of the fall.

Tracy Shedd - If You Really Cared About Me You Would Have Kept In Touch For All These Years
Tracy Shedd - Blue (Blues Explosion Version)

Download the whole album from