Thursday, May 28, 2009

Magnolia Electric Co. - new song & back to Tucson

Opening shows is a certainly a double-edged sword: you're playing to a half-full room of largely uninterested people, but then again it's a far larger crowd than you'd draw on your own.

Magnolia Electric Co. played a top-notch set leading up to the Avett Brothers three weeks back, and the band is headed back out on the road again this summer, with a July 27 show at Solar Culture. I reckon that show will be packed despite the deserted Tucson summer.

And just six days before that show, the band returns with a new album, Josephine. The title song is outstanding, a perfectly crafted sunset tale of wanderlust and broken love, with the expected piano, fuzz guitar and Jason Molina's high and lonesome vocals. "I saw the horizon and I had to know where it all ends. I lived so long with the shadows, Lord I became one of them." Damn.

Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 2004

1. The Shins - Fighting in a Sack - Chutes Too Narrow
The Shins second record is nothing short of fantastic - more up-tempo and jangly than the band's debut and easily one of my favorites of 2004. "Fighting in a Sack" starts with a jittery guitar intro and has James Mercer rushing through the lyrics faster than ever. Only bits and pieces caught me at first, but the image "Marionettes on weakening cables / Huddled up with fear and hate" has stuck with me ever since. The song was on my fall 2004 mix Talkin' Ponderosa Highway Blues.

2. The Walkmen - Bows + Arrows - Bows + Arrows
This is an album that I barely got into at the time, and have subsequently found to be a go-to just as much as the band's last two albums. In general, the Walkmen seem have have this disconnect built into their music. It sounds like the vocals and different instruments are coming from different places, and it's that separation that gives the songs that woozy quality. My top song from the album is "The Rat," but this title track is probably a close second.

3. Robyn Hitchcock - Tryin' To Get To Heaven - Spooked
Hitchcock's version of this latter-day Dylan classic is simple and somber, anchored by a fingerpicked guitar. He leaves behind Dylan's more atmospheric sounds and in doing so drops the sorrow and ache a few notches, trying and achieving instead a more gentle beauty. A huge Dylan fan, Hitchcock has picked a perfect song for his style and sentimentality.

4. Tom Russell - Tonight We Ride - Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs
I came to this song (and Tom Russell entirely, as a matter of fact) from my friends The Little Morts, a punk-country band that left Tucson for Austin a few years back, but not before having a solid couple years of performances that made them one of the Ol' Pueblo's best live bands. Russell is one hell of a songwriter - and should definitely be far better known than he is. Check out these two lines from the song: "If we drink ourselves to death, ain't that the cowboy way to go" and "If our bones bleach on the desert, we'll consider we are blessed."

5. Modest Mouse - Satin in a Coffin - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
I love how Isaac Brock builds some of his strangest tunes around the banjo, an instrument that makes far too few waves in indie rock. Brock's yelp is prevalent as always, but it just sounds so much creepier when the lyrics are "Are you dead or are you sleeping? God I sure hope you are dead." As far as I'm concerned this is the top album of the 2000s.

6. The Killers - Smile Like You Mean It - Hot Fuss
I still can't tell if the Killers have changed a lot since this debut album or whether I just listened to Hot Fuss enough to have it get in under my skin. But I really dig this album - the Vegas sheen of it, the Oasis wannabe posturing and the catchy-as-hell songs. If I were younger, I could see the Killers being a band that excited me and then I grew out of, but it's not like I was in high school in 2004. Go figure. "Smile Like You Mean It" still sounds great.

7. Luna - Broken Chair - Rendezvous
I saw Luna on the band's farewell tour in early 2005 at Club Congress and it was one of the best shows I've ever seen. I knew enough of their music to get the importance of it all and make sure I was there, but I'd never heard any of Rendezvous, which at this point is my favorite Luna album. Check out the trailer for Tell Me Do You Miss Me, a documentary filmed on that tour (and pay close attention to the exasperated disbelief of the cry "I'm in a bunk bed, in Tucson!").

8. Goshen - Believe It's True - Circus Wife
I found this Santa Fe band through my cousin Tommy when I was visiting a few years back. Goshen is drummer Jim Palmer and singer-songwriter-guitarist Grant Hayunga, whose combination of blues and American could only be found in the mountain Southwest.

9. Giant Sand - NYC of Time - Is All Over The Map
Nothing Howe Gelb does sounds quite like anything else, but it always sounds like Howe Gelb, and nobody else can even come close to sounding like Howe Gelb. "NYC of Time" is a fuzz-box rocker that Gelb drops some piano jazz on top of. I'd love to have on the headphones during a tour of lower Manhattan's seedier areas.

10. Social Distortion - Nickels and Dimes - Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll
When I reviewed the album at the time, I called it "gruff, loud and wonderfully familiar." Social Distortion's first album in eight year is consistenly excellent, a solomn tribute to the memory departed band member Dennis Danell, but never a downer. Like the rest of the album, "Nickels and Dimes" is high-energy and hard-charging, and the type of song only an old-school punk rocker could sing:
I’m a vagabond king with a stolen crown
I’m a jailhouse poet, a genius, a fool
I’m the pimp who’s lost his cool yeah baby
I’m your first class taste in a second class town
Robyn Hitchcock - Tryin' To Get To Heaven (live Bob Dylan cover)
Social Distortion - Nickels and Dimes (live)

and in case you're curious, here's my top 10 of 2004 as I blogged it back in the day:
1. Modest Mouse - Good News For People Who Love Bad News
2. Wilco - A Ghost is Born
3. Green Day - American Idiot
4. Elliott Smith - From A Basement On The Hill
5. Arcade Fire - Funeral
6. Social Distortion - Sex, Love and Rock ‘n’ Roll
7. Steve Earle - The Revolution Starts Now
8. Walkmen - Bows + Arrows
9. Ted Leo/Pharmacists - Shaking the Sheets
10. Killers - Hot Fuss

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday night dilemma

I've finally made up my mind - it'll be the Riverboat Gamblers tonight, barely eeking out a win over the Detroit Cobras.

It's rare enough in Tucson that I have to choose between two good shows on the same night, which is why it's so shocking that a random Tuesday at the end of May has such a dilemma.

There's the combustible punk rock of the Riverboat Gamblers - regularly touted as one of the best live bands out there - and then there's the seedy garage rock saturated (and wildly rearranged) Motown covers of the Detroit Cobras - who have a good live reputation as well.

While I've seen both bands before, I haven't heard much of their music recorded. I just finished listening to the Riverboat Gamblers' To The Confusion of Our Enemies, their 2006 album I bought after catching them play at Vaudeville a couple years back. The band has had at least on Tucson show since then canceled because of van issues, so this seems like an opportune time to catch 'em.

But watching the Detroit Cobras open for X last summer was pretty damn great too. Ultimately, I'm just feeling more in the mood for a punk rock night.

Riverboat Gamblers - A Choppy Yet Sincere Apology
Detroit Cobras - On A Monday

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jay Bennett: 1963-2009

From the Chicago Sun Times:
Jay Bennett, a rock musician with deep ties to Chicago best known as a former member of Wilco, died early Sunday.

A talented arranger and versatile musician who could play virtually any instrument he picked up, from mandolin to Mellotron, Bennett formed a fruitful partnership with Wilco bandleader Jeff Tweedy. His contributions over a seven-year period were key to the albums that resulted in the band's national breakthrough, including "Being There" (1996), "Summerteeth" (1999) and "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2002).
Jay Bennett - One Too Many Mornings

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 2003

1. Sun Kil Moon - Carry Me Ohio - Ghosts of the Great Highway
For whatever reason, this is the only Mark Kozelek project I've ever really gotten into, but I absolutely love the album. Overall, it's sort of a Neil Young meets Jesus & Mary Chain vibe... sorta. There's a mysterious beauty to the whole album, but perhaps no moreso than on this song - a slow and careful burner, with fleeting images of youth woven in with an unrequited love.

2. OutKast - The Way You Move - Speakerboxxx
The slightly less huge of two monster hits from this groundbreaking double album, "The Way You Move" has a Motown chorus, live Stax horns and one hell of a soulful groove. The way OutKast chopped, diced and reconceptualized hip-hop will guarantee that this album - slightly bloated though it may be - will live on for decades.

3. Rainer Maria - Mystery and Misery - Long Knives Drawn
A 2003 album I just found a few months ago, this is loud, uplifting alternative rock in the mold of the Breeders. The elements are all there: great fuzzy guitar, relentless driving beat and Caithlin de Marrais up front with one hell of a head-swinging, catchy chorus.

4. Jesse Malin - Wendy - The Fine Art of Self-Destruction
This is a perfect follow-up to the Rainer Maria, high-energy rock n' roll. This solo debut from the former D Generation singer was produced by Ryan Adams. Plus, The Boss is a fan, which never hurts as far as I'm concerned. You get what you expect - leather jacket attitude and all - but it's just so well done. I put "Wendy" on one of my mixes about four years back, and I still love this song.

5. Air - Alone in Kyoto - Lost In Translation Soundtrack
This is easily among the best and most appropriately tied to its film of any soundtrack I've ever heard. French electro-pop perfectly parallels the story of Americans wandering aimlessly through Tokyo. It's no coincidence that the song is titled "Alone" and the film is "Lost." This is a terrific pairing.

6. Emmylou Harris - I Will Dream - Stumble Into Grace
I've listened to the two Emmylou albums that proceeded this one - Wrecking Ball and Red Dirt Girl - a ton, but hardly at all for this one. But the formula and personnel (with Malcolm Burn producing, as he did on Red Dirt Girl) seem to follow suit, so I'm probably just slow to catch up. Emmylou Harris is easily one of the best singers ever, and after Rolling Stone rated singers last fall, I sat down to make my own list, and she came in second behind just Van Morrison. Where that leaves me, though, with a song like this one I barely know, is how to approach the song on its own merits, apart from the singer. Because even the best singers certainly have better songs just as they have lesser ones. We'll see...

7. Ryan Adams - This Is It - Rock N Roll
I can distinctly remember not giving a damn that Ryan Adams decided to turn his guitars loud and mean on this album. Sure it wasn't outstanding, but this album got shredded by critics. I like it, and not just as a curveball from a prolific songwriter. It it hadn't been Ryan Adams' name on the album, I think it would've been hailed as this great rock record that started peeling away the laters of 1980s alternative. Rock N Roll is easily as good as the Killers, or Kings of Leon, or the Strokes or whatever else was getting praise in those days. "This Is It" charges right at you, sharp and loud, but polished, part arena, part dirty nightclub, like a lot of what came before, but served up as good as just about anybody. For me, Ryan Adams peaked with Whiskeytown's Strangers' Almanac,and I was surprised he could turn in such a good rock album.

8. Crooked Fingers - Don't Say A Word - Red Devil Dawn
I bought this album when I first saw the Crooked Fingers play, in December 2003 at Solar Culture, and the band has been steadily rising among my favorites since then. Eric Bachmann is one of the best songwriters working today, and I don't say that lightly. "Don't Say A Word" is violin, finger-picked guitar, and a snare drum, but hardly delicate. Bachmann's rough voice brings all of his songs plenty of character. I've turned back to this album - and this song - an awful lot in the last five plus years. And it's not even Crooked Fingers' best work.

9. Steve Earle - I Remember You - Just An American Boy
This double live album very very closely resembled the first Steve Earle show I saw - half a year earlier, in support of the Jerusalem album, less than two months before the United States launched its illegal invasion of Iraq. The writing was on the wall then, for sure, and Steve didn't let it pass. But in his shows and on his albums, he still wrote and performed what I call his "Fearless Heart" songs, sorrowful and aching and the type of things that bore into you. Emmylou sang the female part on Jerusalem, but Garrison Starr filled in well live and on American Boy.

10. The Decemberists - Red Right Ankle - Her Majesty The Decemberists
I was knocked pretty hard by this Decemberists album - the first I heard and still my favorite, by a long shot. Despite the whimsy, there's a simplicity here, and that's a greater accomplishment than the more elaborate stuff they'd turn to later. If the Decemberists conjure in your mind folks outfitted in full-bore steampunk style, this is those same folks when they still wore T-shirts and torn jeans.

Decemberists - Red Right Ankle
Rainer Maria - Ears Ring

Friday, May 15, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Together Through Life review

My review of the new Bob Dylan record, Together Through Life, is now online. Check it out at the Tucson Weekly. The album is "a mix of spooky blues romps and lonesome country ballads."

For more Dylan, check out Rolling Stone's collection of excerpts from various interviews with Bob over the years.

And for Bob sakes, go get the damn album if you haven't already.

Bob Dylan - Beyond Here Lies Nothin

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Oh Oh Oh Oh

I'm really digging the new album stream...

SwedeFest Recap, Part III

(While this completes the SwedeFest Recap, the live album and concert DVD will take considerably more time to produce. Stay tuned.)

Since SwedeFest was on a Sunday and I’d planned for somewhat of an early show, I put 7 p.m. on the flyers. I should’ve put 8 or 9… But I got to chat with a lot of folks I don’t see near often enough, so the first couple hours were a great time anyway. If I hadn’t been growing steadily more nervous about actually playing guitar and singing I wouldn’t have had a single care about the slow pace of the night.

After waiting for a few key folks, I hit the stage to bring everybody inside, front and center for a little opening Thank You. And then I said (roughly) “Since I’m now 30 and therefore quickly approaching my deathbed, I thought I’d take this opportunity to make a public declaration of my final will and testament. And since it’s my party, I’m a-gonna sing it.” I invited Jeff onstage, grabbed the guitar out of its case, untwisted the strap from around the neck, sat down, adjusted the microphone, looked over at Jeff, announced the song and started in on “Throw My Ashes Over Wolf Creek Falls.”

We were playing without monitors and I could barely hear my guitar or my singing, so I tried to just act like I was staring out my bedroom window and play the song exactly like I had over and over and over the previous few weeks. I flubbed some – and a bit more later on – but it was a great experience.

Jeff and I ran through “Darkest Hour” pretty well and then before “The Primary Colors Song,” I told the story of the old Primary Colors Party, and congratulated the few folks in the house who had been at that legendary party eight years earlier. The song itself is simple and a great sing-along, and the SwedeFest audience didn’t disappoint. Hopefully the video captured a bit from the stage perspective of those hearty folks enjoying the song at the tops of their lungs.

And just like that I was done. I was simultaneously elated to have played my first “show” and fully aware that I was the mediocre three-song opener who should just go away quickly and leave the stage to the real bands.

I thanked everybody again, introduced the rest of the night and walked off to grab another beer before Honeysocks began his set.

Honeysocks started out with the fantastic “Dingoes Ate My Band,” one of his most notable compositions and a song that draws on humor as much as the folk tradition. “Who’d have thought that drummer meat would be in such high demand?”

Al also brought out some of his best covers – his deadpanned rendition of “You Can Call Me Al,” the barely recognizable but awesome folk-blues take on Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” and per my request, Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”

Up next was a short-handed Chango Malo, and I had no clue what to expect from a band whose singer was stuck out of town longer than expected on a film project. What they lacked in preparation or cohesion (and I say that lovingly, gentlemen), they made up for in audacity and piss-yourself humor (a turn of phrase, and not, thankfully, a literal description).

Jericho, the burly drummer, had already put down a few earlier, and was now on the microphone as the singer, and it seemed like he was MC’ing a roast of me as much as anything. They started with a version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird” unlike any other, and I’ll leave the description at that. Then Kane Flint from the Provocative Whites jumped up to play guitar on Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.”

And the band brought their short set to and end with a smokin’ version of Springsteen’s “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” guitars cranked high and saxophonist David Clark moving out front to sing, giving it his all on a performance that had me shouting along the whole way, just trying to keep up. Awesome.

Soon after, The Swim hit the stage for the band’s first show in quite a while, their first with a new guitarist – and barely enough rehearsal time under their belts. Well, if the SwedeFest set is any indication, The Swim have just gotten a whole hell of a lot better and will start making huge waves, probably sometime this fall.

The Swim’s main songwriter and singer, Caleb, a fellow Prescottonian and onetime roommate of mine, brought an intensity and focus to the stage that I just knew was going to mean one hell of a set. I sat down with Caleb and Nate a couple weeks earlier and talked about some cover songs, but I had no clue what they’d play along those lines.

And in a couldn’t-have-asked-for-more set, I got Wilco’s “A Magazine Called Sunset,” Tom Petty’s “Time To Move On” and Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire.” Ho-ly shite.

I had a dream back in high school that I was a ghost attending my own funeral, and that my friend 13, who was running the soundboard in the church, had played “Time To Move On.” So I’ve always had a spooky-close relation to that song. And I don’t really tell people about that dream, so Caleb had no idea when he was picking out the band’s set that he couldn’t have possibly chosen a more fitting song to play. It’s been about 15 years since that dream, technically and officially half my lifetime ago… And so on a 30-years-is-OLD sort of theme for the night, this “funeral” song was such a perfect fit.

The night’s finale was as I’d requested it: an all-star jam of “I Shall Be Released,” an explicit nod to The Last Waltz and the only thing I could think of as a fitting SwedeFest closer. Honeysocks and Chango Malo joined The Swim on a stage that was hardly big enough for everybody. They put it all out there, a passionate and joyous cover version of one of rock’s greatest songs. “I see my light come shining, from the west unto the east. Any day now, any day now, I shall be released.”

I was front and center, swaying and shouting along, drunk and happy and just in awe that the song and the night had come together so well, that so many good friends had gone out of their way to make it a great 30th celebration. I can’t thank them all enough, and I hope they had a fraction of the fun I had, that those great songs reached just half as far into their souls, that the moment and the music are half as memorable. I hope that everyone who got a shirt or a sticker or a poster will take fond memories of that night a great many years into their own futures.

It’s kinda a bummer that the video had run out on the song just before the finale, but I think that may be another sign that this whole SwedeFest thing might have to become an annual event. And if so, “I Shall Be Released” will definitely return. I don’t think it’ll take nearly another 12 months before I start itching for another SwedeFest. And another…

WILCO (The Stream)

We interrupt the SwedeFest recapping to bring you the following announcement:

Just as the band has done with their previous records, Wilco is now streaming Wilco (The Album) in its entirety. Listen here. I can guarantee I'll be listening right up to the moment I leave my house for Wilco's June 18 show at Centennial Hall.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

SwedeFest Recap, Part II

(The SwedeFest recap starts with a guest post from my good friend Josh. The recap will continue tomorrow.)

Somewhere along the way, I got the notion that I’d like to maybe get a couple bands to play for my 30th birthday. When I turned 28, Chango Malo – good friends and probably the band I’ve seen play more than any other – just happened to be booked that night at Sport’s on Congress, owned by Eli, my good friend and theirs. And I just happened to have been planning on celebrating all night there anyway.

Somewhere else along the way, I came up with the name SwedeFest, and from then on my 30th birthday celebration had its own brand name to live up to, and I knew I had better plan it out right.

I started talking it up months ago – asking Eli if Sport’s could host the celebration, and asking some bands if they could play. I went to Chango Malo first, then to my good friends in The Swim and then to Alaric “Honeysocks” Weber, a good friend and a hell of a folk musician. From the start I described it more or less as my-birthday-meets-The-Last-Waltz, and I encouraged covers and guest musicians and the like.

And somewhere else entirely along the way, I got the notion to be a surprise musical guest myself.

Once I’d confirmed the date and the bands (as best I could), I recruited my friend Jen to design a poster/logo, offering just the barest of outlines and a general request to make it look like an old poster from the Fillmore. And she absolutely hit it outta the damn park. I printed up the posters and got some shirts and stickers made and then it was on.

Not everything happened exactly as I would have liked, and there were some notable absences, but I have to say the night was top-to-bottom awesome.

I’d never played music in public before, and I’m not any good despite the minimal guitar knowledge that’s led to some fleeting rock n’ roll fantasies, but I figured I’d never have a better chance than at my own damn party. So I settled on three songs, recruited a secret out-of-town lead guitarist to play along and figured that everyone was gonna have to clap no matter what.

The Jeff Factor, a pal all the way back to freshman year of college and as steady a friend as you’ll ever find, was glad to jump in on guitar. But since he was driving down that day from Phoenix with his wife and little girl, we had to cram a sound check into the late afternoon as our only rehearsal. I had to clue in Eli (to get into the bar) and Al (to borrow his guitar because I needed an acoustic with a pickup), but I managed to keep the performance a surprise to everybody else.

Jeff and I plugged in, got the levels right with Eli running the sound, and then jumped into our practice: first up a song I wrote called “Throw My Ashes Over Wolf Creek Falls,” a bit of a downer, but an honest and decent song I figured I could introduce as my final will and testament in a neat little 30-years-old joke; Arlo Guthrie’s “Darkest Hour,” which is pretty much my favorite song of all time; and then “The Primary Colors Song,” written by my close (and temporarily ex-patriot) friend Cory for a party we threw years ago at the 505.

And that had to be it for practice, because all the time that was left was given over to a great dinner at nearby Maynard’s with Jeff, Lisa, Oli, Eric and Roland, and then a quick rush back to Sport’s to greet the early arrivers.

Monday, May 11, 2009

SwedeFest Recap, Part I

(I'm starting the SwedeFest recap with a guest post. I asked my good friend Josh - a musician, writer, comedian and fellow blogger - to do a write-up of the celebration as he saw it. I'll pitch in with my recap tomorrow.)

Milestones. They are exactly what they sound like, markers on the road of life to indicate distance traveled. We all celebrate them, some just ourselves, some we share. Getting your first steps, getting your drivers license, that first yard of beer at the Buffet at midnight, we all know these.

Last Sunday, May 3rd, I was lucky enough to be present for a significant milestone, and the inauguration of a new Tucson tradition. SwedeFest my friends. I was at Yasgur's farm on the 25th anniversary of Woodstock, but believe me it paled in comparison. OK, OK perhaps I exaggerate a little, but it was an awesome evening filled with some of the best local musicians and friendly faces.

All of this was to celebrate the milestone that was the 30th birthday of a friend to all, local music-hound and journalist at large, known simply as Swede. Though his actual birthday was a couple weeks earlier in April (guess the date Swede-Trivia fans), it was all about the man of the hour. Usually a fairly humble cat, this evening he had T-shirts, stickers and posters emblazoned with the very cool SwedeFest logo.

When I arrived Sport's on Congress (home to the fest) it was moderately full of patrons, however as the gay night wore on it filled and filled. Greeted by the host, adorned in straw hat, we sat for some drinks. I enjoyed seeing friends I don't run into that often. Having known Swede for quite a few years now we have many friends in common. It would've been nice to have seen more people make it, but this is just year one.

Later than was expected (you know musicians) the entertainment began. Kicking things off was the doctor himself. Swede on guitar and vocals, accompanied by a friend on guitar, played some originals. His first song, not too sure of the title, referred to his last will and testament, explaining his wishes to be scattered over a creek near his hometown of Prescott (Press-Kitt, to you outsiders). It was heart-felt and well performed.

The highlight of his set was an old Cory Spiller song from back in the rowdy days of the 505. Yes, "The Primary Colors Song" brought down the house, and a lot of good memories back for those of us who were there at the original "colors" party.

Swede was followed by local folk-favorite Al Weber, better known to audiences as Honeysocks. His set was low-key but as entertaining as ever. Starting off with his signature tune "Dingoes Ate My Band," The Socks filled the room with his spot-on yet wholly unique version of Zeppelin's "Ramble On." He did the Swede-requested "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere," by Bob Dylan, and an unexpected number from the Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack, which toward the end of the song the lyrics were changed to "Don't dream it...Swede it!" If you are around town and see a flyer for a Honeysocks show, check it out, 'cause he is pure fun.

I had to leave a little earlier than I wanted to, it being my wedding anniversary and I had husbandly duties to attend to (yardwork). The rest of the night only got better I'm sure, with music from two of the best bands in Tucson - period, no argument - The Swim and Chango Malo. Apparently there will be a DVD, ala Scorsese's Last Waltz, I'll have to see if Casa has it.

So I was expecting to see more Swedish tourists wander in, what with the name and all, but instead I saw great friends, great bands and Mr. Swede. I just had a pool-party BBQ when I turned 30. Who knew I could've had a concert? Nah, I couldn't have. That's reserved for true local legends...

Honeysocks - Dingoes Ate My Band

Video: Avett Brothers @ Bookman's

The good folks at Bookman's have posted video of the Avett Brothers in-store performance last Thursday:

Check the other two songs here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

10,000 songs

Milestone alert: my iTunes odometer, if you will, just turned over its 10,000th song. Just as when my 1977 Datsun turned over 200,000 miles, I find myself taking a small bit of pride in what can almost be called a sort of accomplishment.

I mean, 10,000 songs is an awful lot of music, right? It's lmost 27 days of solid, continuous music in fact, which takes up 64.35 GB of space on my hard drive. So, yeah, a lot. And I've listened to 4,613 of those 10,000 songs more than once, 2,962 more than twice, 1,365 more than five times, 611 more than 10 times and 95 more than 20 times.

The time frame on this is obviously artificial. I purchased my new Macbook on March 1, 2008 and began restructuring my music collection fully in the digital realm. So that's the zero hour, when all my music got recalibrated back to the start. I've ripped nearly my entire CD collection by now - I've just been slow to close out one last stack of burned discs that really aren't too important to me.

I ripped and played my favorite album first - Dylan's Blood on the Tracks - and just as much as I've embraced new music over the past 14 months, I've also dug pretty deep into the realm of forgotten favorites.

So what is this song that's become No. 10,000 in my 14 months of creating and listening to this new digital library of music?

The 10,000th song is "Smile Upon Me," by Passion Pit, from the 2008 album Chunk of Change, a recent recommendation from my good friend Mr. Chair. And because his description is priceless, I'll quote it wholesale: "A DYI EP that's kind of like The Format if they were on coke and covered in glitter. The hottest shit I heard in a while." And Mr. Chair is spot on here - Chunk of Change is poppy and dancy, with a bit of electronica thrown in, but not at the expense of the hooks. I'm digging the EP - it's providing a nice counter to this lazy Sunday. And I'll have to check out Passion Pit's new album when it comes out later this month.

Passion Pit - Sleepyhead
(which is now the 10,004th song I've played on my iTunes)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Fourkiller Flats CD release show @ Plush

I wrote a lot more about this Friday's Fourkiller Flats CD release show in my feature for the Tucson Weekly, but I had to toss it on the blog as well.

The band's new album, Treasure & Trash, is perfectly captures the Flats' brand of hard-charging rock 'n' roll: rough, twangy and loud, and full of raise-your-drink-and-sing-along hooks.

And on Friday, the first 20 people to buy the new CD will also get a copy of a two-song single. "Givin' Out" and "Nickels on the Dime" were recorded years ago, but never released. Get the details at the band's MySpace.

The album is now available for download at Digistation, and the band promises it'll be available through iTunes and CD Baby as well.

Check out the band for an in-studio live performance on KXCI Friday at 4 p.m.

I first saw the Flats play at Club Crawl in the fall of 2000, not long after they'd formed, and I picked up a five-song CDR that was all they'd recorded at that point. The band has seen plenty since those days - again, see my feature for plenty of details - and the long-long-awaited new record fully captures the Flats well-honed live sound.

Fourkiller Flats - Never For Free

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Hump Day Shuffle: 2002

1. Iron & Wine - Jesus The Mexican Boy - Tour EP
This CDR was the only recorded music available at the start of Iron & Wine's 2002 tour and featured demos not included on the debut Sub Pop album The Creek Drank The Cradle, which came out that fall. Three songs later found their way onto The Sea & Rhythm EP, while two more were re-recorded for the joint Calexico album. This is a fantastic song, as Sam Beam uses a poor Mexican boy as a stand-in for the compassion of Jesus to show how easily people can let down their fellow man. It's so often true that the poor are the selfless, more clear in their understanding of the brotherhood of man than those who are more fortunate.

2. Crooked Fingers - Solitary Man - Reservoir Songs EP
This covers EP features songs by Kristofferson, Neil Diamind, Springsteen, Prince and Bowie/Queen, and Eric Bachmann's band absolutely owns all of them. He's most similar vocally to Neil Diamond, but he turns "Solitary Man" into a spooky banjo ballad, taking all the breeziness out of the original version and replacing it with a wheezing euphonium. It's a daring and thrilling cover song.

3. Flaming Lips - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots Pt. 2 - Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
One of the albums crazier tracks, this interlude is full of electronic beeps and a bassline that sounds like it's climbing up and down stairs.

4. Wilco - I Am Trying To Break Your Heart - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
I could write plenty about the opening song to this brilliant album, but I'll stick to what I remember from first hearing it. I hit up Wilco's Web site when they first started streaming the limbo-stuck album, and soon had a CDR of it, and this song sounded like "Misunderstood," but with the wistful nostalgia of that song cut out and replaced by an alternately playful and menacing dreamscape. It was a song that hit hard, right away, but has enough in it for thousands of listen.

5. Steve Earle - What's A Simple Man To Do - Jerusalem
I listened to this song a ton in the months after it came out, and it's absolutely a record of its time. Like Earle's follow-up, The Revolution Starts Now, it's heavily political and somewhat rushed. Jerusalem came out two months after Springsteen's The Rising, and if the Boss was among the first to tackle Sept. 11 in American popular culture, Earle was perhaps the first to make an album exploring the dark and heinous cloud of the Bush years that were kicked into high gear by the terrorist attacks. This song rides a jaunty organ riff, at odds with its lost-job characters but drawing even more attention to the down-and-out lyrics.

6. Mike Doughty - The Only Answer - Smofe + Smang: Live in Minneapolis
The best live album ever recorded by a hip-hop beatnik gone solo acoustic. Doughty took his Soul Coughing songs and stripped them bare, throwing in some fitting acoustic tunes from his 2000 Skittish album. I searched for years for this album, but it was practically impossible to find pre-bit torrent. I was hugely into Soul Coughing in high school, and between Skittsh and this album I had a huge Doughty resurgence.

7. David Cross - Socks and Shoes - Shut Up, You Fucking Baby!
Biting, sarcastic and defiantly liberal in his political comedy at a time when that sort of thing was practically illegal in this country, Cross nailed the excesses and the hipocracies of the Bush administration from the get go. I laughed my ass off to this album over and over. Calling the $300 Bush tax break the disaster-enabling bribe it was, Cross said the following should've been on a bumper sticker: "I'm an ignorant motherfucker who just watches network news and I vote."

8. Tom Petty - The Last DJ - The Last DJ
I finally got to see Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers live on this tour (with Jackson Browne opening no less!), so I probably overrate this album quite a bit. It drew 1.5 of 5 stars from Ostensibly it's a statement of independence from Petty, as well as an expression of fondness for the way rock 'n' roll worked in his youth. That holds up fairly well on this title track, as Petty certainly has a strong point to make about corporate radio stations, but the album has its mine field of duds as well. Still, the album has one of my favorite Petty songs of all time, "Have Love Will Travel," with this exquisite verse:
How about a cheer for all those bad girls
And all the boys that play that rock and roll
They love it like you love Jesus
It does the same thing to their souls
9. Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Buffalo - Sonoran Hope and Madness
When this album came out, I bought it at Zia, save it for the next weekend, then played it in my car as I drove up the Mount Lemmon highway. Now that's a great way to introduce yourself to a record. Sonoran Hope and Madness is sadly the last Roger Clyne album I consider outstanding, but a streak of four in a row is damn good anyway. "Buffalo" was and is my favorite song from the album. It's pure Arizona, starting with a spare strummed acoustic, then the drums hit and the electric guitars and the song just starts exploding. At its core, the song is about fighting against the loss of nature at the expense of concrete and iron, something as personal to Clyne as anything.

10. Okkervil River - Lady Liberty - Don't Fall In Love With Everyone You See
I got into Okkervil River a few months after this album came out, and the one-two-three punch of the opening tracks just floored me. "Lady Liberty" is the third one, and by that time I was hooked by the band's ramshackle energy and the passionate yelping of singer Will Sheff. Soon after, Okkervil River swung through Tucson for a show on Thanksgiving, and later the band stayed at my house, up late into the night having beers and chatting about music, life and everything. Great times.

Iron & Wine - Jesus The Mexican Boy (demo)
Mike Doughty - The Only Answer (live)
Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers - Buffalo (live)
Okkervil River - Lady Liberty (live)

The Avett Brothers

On the verge of a tremendous 2009, North Carolina's Avett Brothers are visiting Tucson tomorrow, with a 5 p.m. performance at Bookman's on Grant before the evening's show at the Rialto Theatre, with Magnolia Electric Co.

I've been prepping all day, listening to the band's amazing blend of energetic, joyous and heartfelt songs. The Avetts play a brand of acoustic music that nobody else does - somehow taking bluegrass, country and folk building blocks and making loud, raucous rock music.

I missed them the last time they were in Tucson, so I'll catch 'em twice tomorrow to make up for it. The Tucson Weekly interviewed the band about Thursday's show, their new album and what it's been like see their fortunes rising so quickly after nine years of steady touring.

The Avetts are jumping from Ramseur Records to Columbia for I and Love and You, produced by none other than Rick Rubin and certainly one of my most anticipated albums this year (after Dylan, Wilco and Neko Case). The release date is Aug. 11.

I may have come to the band a bit late, but for the past year or so I've been wrapped up in Emotionalism, one of the most refreshing albums I've heard in ages. It's catchy and simple, intense and honest, and a sing-along record that I just can't wait to hear live. And I've been told their live show is one of the best around.

FWIW: the band is pretty active on Twitter.

And like I said before, I think I'll go nuts if they bust out this amazing Springsteen cover:

Avett Brothers - Will You Return?
Avett Brothers - Matrimony

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I don't know much about Cinco de Mayo - I'm never sure what it's all about

Actually, I do know what Cinco de Mayo is all about - a relatively minor battle against the French (?) and the fact that at this point in the calendar year, it's been a little while since there was a holiday for all the marketing folks to get all jazzed about. So eat Mexican food, drink Corona and "tequila" (the vast majority of what is consumed is not actually pure agave) and maybe catch a sale somewhere. In other words, celebrate this manufactured little holiday to your heart's content.

That sounds harsh, and in truth I've enjoyed some wonderful Cincos de Mayo in my years. But there's something in me that can't get over the fact that it brings so many assholes out of the woodwork. Here's a little theory: the spring has all these extra holidays to compensate for the lack of football - or more precisely the lack of tailgating and other football-related drinking festivities.

Think about it: aside from perhaps Halloween, there's nothing else in the fall that compares to the grand triumvirate of vaguely cultural springtime drinking fests - St. Patrick's Day, Mardi Gras and Cinco de Mayo.

Anyway, I'm doing my celebrating more in the Fifth of May realm than the Cinco de Mayo realm, by listening to Bob Dylan's "Isis" several times over. It was maybe the hardest Dylan song to crack for me, and it's been a fascinating relationship for years and years.

The opening line "I married Isis on the fifth day of May, but I could not hold onto her for very long" is a clever misdirection as the bulk of the song is some dreamlike journey into the "wild unknown country" and a "high place of darkness and light." There's a bit of treasure-seeking double cross and then it's back to Isis, and the awesome closing verse:
Isis, oh, Isis, your a mystical child.
What drives me to you is what drives me insane.
I still can remember the way that you smiled
On the fifth day of May in the drizzlin' rain.
The various live versions I have - including the official releases on Biograph and Bootleg Series vol. 5 - add an otherworldly menace to the song, with Dylan shouting the lyrics in a frenzied, chanting rush, as opposed to the casual violin-driven swing of the Desire version, which featured Dylan on piano and no guitar. I don't have any clue how much of the song was written by collaborator Jacques Levy, but it's fair to say that there's certainly nothing else in Dylan's catalog that is close to "Isis," not even anything else on Desire.

Various live recordings have Dylan shouting "This is a song about marriage" or "This is a true song" to introduce "Isis," and it's no secret his own marriage was rocky as hell around that time. But "Sara" it ain't. Another recorded version I have has Dylan dedicating the song to Keith Richard. I've read interpretations of "Isis" that tie the whole mystical treasure-seeking journey into Dylan's comeback tour of 1974. And returning to Isis equates to Dylan finding his muse again, after which he produced the stunning Blood on the Tracks and then Desire. Huh.

I'm in love with the mystery of this song and how much force Dylan brings to live versions. He's pushing, forcing, prodding, giving the lyrics an almost violent delivery. It's a song that crashes whether it's a subtle version or lit on fire. It's not an easy song, but it's absolutely one of the best ever written. Happy Fifth of May.

Bob Dylan - Isis (live)
White Stripes - Isis (live Bob Dylan cover)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Happy Birthday, Pete

Pete Seeger is going to enjoy one hell of a 90th birthday part tomorrow at Madison Square Garden. I'll be having my own 30th birthday celebration on the same night, otherwise I'd have been very tempted to fly out to New York.

Pete, Bruce, Emmylou, Arlo, Kristofferson, Steve Earle, Billy Bragg, Taj Mahall and on and on and on... what a great lineup. What a great reason to celebrate, too. At 90, Pete Seeger is probably the greatest living person. I mean that completely. His career in music and his dedication to peace and equality worldwide are both unparalleled. He's been a crucial and wildly influential part of American culture, the very life and soul of this country, for three of my lifetimes. Amazing.

I had the great fortune of seeing Pete and Arlo together at Carnegie Hall in November and that night will always be one of the treasured moments of my life.

Pete Seeger - Take It From Dr. King (live on Letterman)
Pete Seeger - Oh Mary, Don't You Weep

Friday, May 01, 2009


This weekend is definitely shaping up to be the busiest of the year.

Starting off the agenda, we have Damien Jurado and Laura Gibson in an early show at Club Congress. I'm pretty new to Jurado, but he comes highly recommended, and I haven't heard Gibson at all, so it'll be nice to catch up to so much new music live.

All day Saturday and Sunday is the Tucson Folk Festival downtown, and while I've tuned into KXCI's live coverage before, this is the first year I'm going to make it down there myself. It's too bad headliner Todd Snider goes on so late Saturday night, because I'll have to get over to the Rialto Theatre because...

Calexico returns for yet another hometown benefit show, with Sergio Mendoza y la Orkestra opening again. The latter is about a 20-piece band with the vibe of a mid-20th century Havana nightclub, playing hot Latin jazz and big-band mambo. Mendoza himself is an incredible showman, leading the band through the sweaty, intensly rhythmic set.

And then, on Sunday, there's SwedeFest...

Damien Jurado - Gillian Was A Horse
Laura Gibson- Hands in Pockets
Calexico - All Systems Red (live)