Wilco @ Coney Island : Donate And Get It.

Keyspan Park on Coney Island
Keyspan Park on Coney Island

In an effort to encourage people to donate to the relief effort in Haiti, Wilco posted 2 shows on their website in exchange for a donation (its the honors system, they link to a few charities, don’t screw your karma here!) Of course, we shouldn’t need incentives to help those in need…but a few live concerts is a nice touch. One of the recordings is this summers show from Keyspan Park in Coney Island. It was a beautiful summer evening, outdoor small stadium, free ice cream trucks in the parking lot, Nathans hot dogs, Feist and the dude from Grizzly Bear sat in, all good things. But listening back, as is often the case, the energy doesn’t translate as well. A live album is a tricky and mysterious thing. For every “Live At Budokan” there are hundreds of “Kiss Alive XXVII”.

Tweedy and Feist in Brooklyn
Tweedy and Feist in Brooklyn

In my earliest days of audiophile aspirations, I traded cassettes of live shows. This was in the early days of the Internet, we still mailed cassettes, CD burners were not commercially available…and you could barely send a jpeg…UPHILL IN THE SNOW BOTH WAYS! Recently when my parents moved from their house, I found all these original cassettes in the basement in several racks. There were hundreds of them. Sometimes you would get lucky, as in the case of The Black Crowes, i believe it was the Palace Theater, in Syracuse 1996. Someone leaked a soundboard recording of the show, I still remember the insert card on the case, it was bright pink photocopied, with some Fillmore style text on it. Even on that crappy inconsistent speed of the cassette, probably 9th generation, you could feel the incredible multiple drug infused energy of this band at their peak. On the other hand, pick any one of thousands of Grateful Dead tapes from XYZ Arena, and you have the opposite effect.

As far as official live releases go, the classic AC/DC life is pretty near flawless.  The Stones live classic “Get Yer Yayas Out”  Is a perfect picture of a sloppy burnt out bunch of English rockers at their best, just about to fall apart and create a masterpiece in the studio.  It seems like back in the day, more thought was put into a live album, since so much preparation had to be taken in order to make it happen.  With remote recording rigs so readily available, I would venture to say that most larger bands record nearly everything they do. Sometimes they all get released- as is the case with the Live Phish series, as well as current Black Crowes shows. Others, as in the case with Wilco, they filter the releases a little more. The Keyspan Park show probably suffers in the technical mix a bit, maybe we were just distracted by the beautiful surroundings of Coney Island at the time, who knows. But in some cases, I think my new philosophy will be to live in the moment as far as shows go, and not seek recordings after the fact.

Steve Liveblogs Lady Gaga

Today dear reader, lets take a journey together. A journey into uncharted territory. I will now attempt to liveblog a Lady Gaga Album.

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Who is Lady Gaga? Chances are you know better than I do. I have no idea. Her name is thrown around by pop culture fanatics and esoteric hipsters alike. She apparently is the new Madonna? I don’t know, you don’t come here to hear about Lady Gaga. In all this hubbub, I feel the need to be in on the action. Steps have been taken to clear my mind of all preconceived notions, I’ve done some stretching exercises, my subscription to Lala.com has been created (this site seems absolutely kick amazing, thanks to Eric Tarn for the recommendation). I will listen to 30 seconds of each song from whichever album I find first, then do about a minute of stream of conscious writing. Ok, the album will be Fame Monster. Ready? GO.

BAD ROMANCE: This seems like the opening of a meatloaf album. I feel like some giant guy is going to descend from the ceiling in a cage carrying a red rose and pluck a woman from the top of the empire state building. After that fog will fill up the stage and various scantily clad dancers will come out until suddenly the action stops and that song “Ya’ll Ready For This!” comes on and Lady Gaga appears in an 18th century ball gown, which is being carried at the ends by various doves, all dyed different colors and glowing in the dark. NEXT SONG.

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ALEJANDRO: Ok this one i had to extend to 35 sec since the first 30 is all intro. She puts on a french accent, some violins are playing. We’re on a dark street corner (not an actual corner, but some type of film set) and the fog machines are once again blasting. Meatloaf, who is still in the cage from the first song is the subject of her desire, after a wardrobe change, she makes various hand gestures, maybe in Kabuki style makeup perhaps? When she tells our beloved Loaf that she just can’t be with him anymore, the cage explodes in a fantastic pyrotechnic explosion of glitter, and Loaf is now her dance partner, in some type of tuxedo with a rose in his teeth. Lady Gaga is in some type of S&M getup (ok, shes basically Madonna, even after 1:05 of music I have come to this conclusion) and various backup dancers each dressed as a different historical figure shadow their every move. There is Napoleon, Einstein, Patrick Ewing, and Andy Warhol…NEXT!

MONSTER: How is it that every song so far fits into my idea that Meatloaf is a constant character on this album? Meat is now back in a different cage…a jail cell! He has been re-incarcerated after his glittery escape from captivity, at least he got to enjoy a night on the town with his lady, Gaga. He sobs, as she looks on longingly, yet with an heir of confidence, that her life will now be free and easy without a giant Meatloaf/gorilla shadowing her every move, preventing her from getting in taxicabs, things like that. As the auto tune of “He Ate My Heart” comes in, the prison guards turn out to be her backup dancers, the dramatic lighting kicks in, you know where it goes from here.

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SPEECHLESS: Oh my god, its a meatloaf album. Seriously, this song is like Rocky Horror Picture Show. Loaf remains in the cell as Gaga has run off, and left him a single red rose. A spotlight appears and a piano is rolled out next to him. As the power ballad drums come in, he dramatically switches back to tuxedo, the single rose in a vase atop the piano. I’m only listening to 30 seconds of each song, but I’m willing to wager that this one ends with a dramatic piano/vocal outro, which in our imaginary live Broadway production, Loaf would remove the rose, give it a dramatic sniff, and a single tear would run down his cheek. (again, the fact that Lady Gaga is singing is irrelevant, this song clearly belongs to Jim Steinman and Meatloaf)

DANCE IN THE DARK: Gaga now begins her dark descent into the seedy underworld as her one true love has been taken away. The intro carries her through various back alleys, with our trusty fog machines working full force (they really are helpful with this album) She becomes more and more disheveled as these first 30 seconds of the song continue. By the end she looks like one of those heroin chic models from the mid 90’s, with that crazy black eyeliner. Shes in a bad part of town with a sketchy clientele as the music kicks in, and the various vagrants once again become her backup dancers. When this goes to broadway, we’ll save a lot of money by just using the same 5 backup dancers, but dressing them as prison guards, historical figures, homeless junkies, you get the idea.

TELEPHONE: She is in the midst of embracing her 2nd act life struggles. Shes in the club, as the lyrics state, blocking out memories of one Meat Q. Loaf, remaining alone in captivity, for reasons we do not yet know or understand. The lyric “I Got No Service In The Club, Sorry I Cant Hear You I’m Kinda Busy” is clearly a metaphor for her running away from her problems and embracing a life of crime and substance abuse. She has various visions of scary things, maybe theres even a guy in some type of demon suit (a la that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the hotel lobby) Yet in the midst of all this, there is a sure to be classic dance sequence on the club floor. This will rival both Travolta in Saturday Night Fever and Jackson in Thriller. I’m willing to bet the next song will be some type of ballad….lets see.

SO HAPPY I COULD DIE: Ok, i should really look at titles before I predict the next song. But this is truly live, no preparation or extra time has been taken. Lets call this one Conflict Resolution. Shes getting her life back together. This could be where the Training Montage comes in, various scenes of her becoming independent and powerful, taking life by the horns. Buying expensive clothes, having high powered meetings, volunteering with young children, shes on the path for success. She passes by some of her old associates on the street who are not doing well, she doesn’t even stop to look. She has business to attend to. And that business sang Paradise By The Dashboard Light. NEXT!

TEETH: Man, Whats with this last track? It just doesn’t make sense with the rest of the album. There is no conflict resolution, no final romance, no triumphant ending (well at least in the first 30 seconds) I Hate to leave this unfinished, so maybe we can come up with some type of ending? Maybe its a really artsy film where the end doesn’t have to make sense? Or like Kubrick where he says “you won’t understand this for 20 years” I don’t know. Gaga, I mean, its a catchy track, but you’re really not working with me on this one. Mabye Jim Steinman who seems to have wrote most of the previous material we have discussed took a lunch break, and while he was having a sandwich she finished up the album. That’s what I’m sticking to.

meatloaf

Whew! Well that was grueling. I guess after a look back (I made no edits, that was truly live) this was less of a live blog and more of a “Live Dramatic Interpretation.” As a closing thought, I would agree with the Madonna comparisons that are so present in her media criticism. But I really think they’re missing the boat with her Meatloaf influence. The obviously put on drama, the introductions, its all there.

Spoon: Transference Album Review

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When I initially learned of the new Spoon album, Transference, I was not so excited to go out and get it.  Gagagagaga was a good recording, but I felt like my relationship with the band had ended there.  We would remain friends, acting cordially towards each other at gatherings, but never rekindle the magic we once had.  Really, it was that live show that did it.  Spoon’s albums are well crafted in my favorite sense.  The sounds are not too polished, the arrangements kind of stripped down, the groove is always good, and the melody always obvious yet not too in your face.  Its got a minimalist thing that I love.  The guitars always sounded great.  “Commercial Appeal” was a fantastic track, go listen to that just for posterity then we’ll continue.

Spoon at Terminal Five last year
Spoon at Terminal Five last year

But a few years back they played Terminal 5, and I was left so unsatisfied that I had trouble listening to the band afterwards.  It was not as if they were horrible, or even sub-par, they were really just….par.  Nothing jumped out at me, its like they weren’t connecting with the audience.  And maybe its unfair to judge a band based on one show, but it just left me feeling uncomfortable.   So Spoon records went unplayed on my ipod, new of the band went overlooked by my short blog related attention span.

But this morning while listening to the Sound Opinions Podcast (a great podcast which I highly recommend from Greg Kot and Jim DeRegotis from Chicago) they reviewed the new Spoon album.  I heard some clips, and the fire was re-ignited.  They claimed the tunes were more stripped down than on Gagagagaga, no fancy horn arrangements or attempts at pop masterpieces, just a straight ahead kind of artsy minimal rock record.  Well Jim and Greg, lets have at it.  I went through the morning considering the options of how to purchase (or illegally download) and made a decision.  Normally, such decisions would be kept between Trent Reznor and I, but I bought it through iTunes, strictly because it came with a Digital Booklet.

This is one of the most overlooked concepts in the digital download world.  Why does every album not include one?  Its not like there are any extra printing costs, you’re just including a .pdf file with the artwork.  It really gives a context to an album. The greatest thing that everyone misses about the CD and even Vinyl days is the artwork and liner notes.  Its a little insight into the feel of an album, perhaps even some notes from the band.  For tech junkies like me, I love to see where it was recorded, or if i know the engineer or any guest musicians.  Maybe some in studio photos?  I’m getting nostalgic just thinking about it.  But anyway, whats keeping this from being included with every album on iTunes?  For real, I would like to know.  Someone get Steve Jobs on the phone, patch him through to my secretary, I’ll be in meetings until after lunch.

Spoon-band-2005

It turns out this album was self produced.  I like the sound of that, to me that says “we had success with our last release, now we’re just going to do what we want, we’ve already got your money, so lets enjoy ourselves”  whether this is true or not, I can only speculate, but the album delivers that feel.  It sounds like it was recorded in 4 days, with not too much attention paid to detail (that’s a good thing).  Songs end abruptly or with a quick fade, delays and other effects seem hastily piled on, orchestrations are minimal and song structure is simple.  It was moving in the right direction.   Overall, this is a Bass and Drums record.  I can barely remember one interesting guitar part, yet all the drum and bass parts connected instantly.  Some great fuzzed out bass tones, some punchy Motown style licks, I enjoyed all of it.  On the drum side of things, it was like they went into my brain, picked out some ideal drum sounds, and ran back to the studio with them.  (Yes, I am accusing Spoon of intellectual thievery, you will be hearing from my imaginary lawyer any moment.)  One thing that stands out, is the use of shaker over hi hat. This has been my new goal in life, ever since I listened to Jay Bellerose (T Bone Burnett and Ray Lamontagne’s main drummer.)  The snare is always very flat and present, there are no extraneous drum fills, its as if the drums walked in the room where you are currently sitting, greeted you warmly, sat in a chair directly in front of you, and started tapping on your head in a pleasing yet interesting manner.

Lets select some highlights from the record, as we don’t have time to go through the whole thing, we’re all busy people, with important government related business to attend to.  Based on initial listening, my favorite tack is “Who Makes Your Money”  and not just because I’ve recently really been into AC/DC’s “Money Talks”.  It makes use of all my favorite elements, but not just in a trivial way, they all serve the song.  Shaker instead of hi hat, incredibly consistent bass line, weird delay on either a guitar or keyboard, very basic etherial sounding melody.  The song achieves almost a hypnotic trance feel, its so even and driving that you begin tapping your foot, and maybe even swaying a little bit on the PATH train on your morning commute while the guy in an uncomfortable looking suit sitting in front of you gives you a quizzical look.  I’m just sayin in general, not specifically.  The song clocks in at just over 3 minutes, there is no messing around.  The background vocals have this weird tremelo-delay thing happening, its kind of like if 50’s rockabilly met some dub reggae music.  The prechorus breaks down to just bass and drums, a technique I’m very much a fan of- subtraction rather than addition.

One key characteristic tying many of these songs together is the lack of a bridge.  This I also support.  Don’t just add extra stuff for the sake of adding it.  There was that Death Cab For Cutie “Open Door EP” released recently, which featured the fantastic song “My Mirror Speaks”, which might have been one of the best songs ever, had it not included a pointless and distracting bridge.  Lets stop this before it gets too far to turn back.

spoon

“The Mystery Zone”  runs along similar lines as “Who Makes Your Money”  with a great consistent feel, almost as if your brain is on autopilot being driven by delay effects, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but lets talk about another song.  “Written In Reverse”  slams along like a White Album Beatles track, with more soul.  Slamming on piano and guitar, with some lower octave background vocals and big distorted bass fills, it all comes together. It might just be one chord for most of the song, which again, I fully support.  Its not even a riff, its more of a drone, accented by dynamic changes and sloppy guitar fills.

If there is any immediate criticism, I would say that for such a driving and consistent album in the middle, it starts off kind of hodgepodge with “Before Destruction”  which seems to lack a little focus.  These days, who cares, we just put the songs we like on our ipods and shuffle away.  BUT, since the digital booklet was split up into “side a” and “side b”  for the track listing, I am holding Spoon to it.  The also include the phrase “buying records at actual record stores is cool”  which I respect, even though I bought it on iTunes.  Overall, Transference is a solid album, it veers towards the weird side.  Its like a giant drone, flavored with some rock music.  You’ve won this round Britt, see you next time.

Coming up next week, I’m going to listen to 30 seconds of each track of the most recent Lady Gaga album, which I have never heard, and write stream-of-consciousness for 20 minutes after.  What results, is any-one’s guess.

Lets discuss, shall we?

Wow, where did my blogging go?    Ok, we don’t have time for that now, much to discuss.  Well, not that much, but some.

There will be some upcoming shows, which will then be reviewed, all of which I am very excited about.  The first will be Tuneyards, Feb 5th at the Bell House.  If you read my original tuneyards review opening for the Dirty Projectors, you understand that this is a significant event.  I believe it is their first large headlining New York show, and I expect nothing less than pure genius, 100% mind blowing ukulele jams.

The next will be Wilco at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair.  If you know me personally, you know of my great love for all things Jeff Tweedy, so this will be an important day.  But like any true obsessed fan, I’m just as ready to denounce anything new in favor of the old which will never be recreated.  In other words, I’m just a loose cannon, accept me for me, thank you.

Then, Nada Surf at Music Hall of Williamsburg.  This is a band I am not that familiar with, but I have been encouraged to check out by a trustworthy source, so its on.

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Also, if you’d like to take a listen to the Bad Plus New Years Eve broadcast, as written about in a recent post, it has now been posted here.  Although I did not take this photo, John Rogers did, this was our view the entire evening.  Also notice the ghetto sound foam we gaff taped to a mic stand next to the drums.

Much has been happening in the music world recently.  Our band continues to record various demos, and the results are overwhelmingly positive.  We’ve gone head first into the Logic world.  My goal for this project is to never be tainted by the evil of Pro Tools for as long as the songs exist on a hard drive.  We’ve overdubbed shakers while fighting the heinous bleed of a drummer practicing out of time lame ass fills in the rehearsal room next to us, we’ve eaten many a box of Entemans mini cookies, the bridge pickup is dying on both my SG and Telecaster, we’ve triumphed in the face of adversity.  And I still don’t know how to punch in using Logic, so nearly everything has been one complete take.

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In Addition to band recording, I took part in a film scoring session last night for a documentary on that guy in the question mark suit who tells you how to avoid paying taxes or something, I’m not even going to google his name, because I was told he is one of the least trustworthy people in America.  Anyway.  We were emulating the classic 70’s guitar sound, and it was the perfect opportunity to break out the seldom used, often secretly desired, Wah Pedal.  Now dear reader, I’m about to blow your mind with the eternal secret of guitar tone.  Are you ready?  Sit down, have your feet on the ground, and relax.  Take a small amp, we used a 50’s Danelectro, turn it to 10, plug in a phaser, and turn on the wah.  Thats it. You’re done.  You might as well burn everything else you own.  I have no doubts this tone will never be recreated again,the battery on the phaser was nearly dead, and as we all know from esoteric message board posts, that is essential for the sound and is as elusive as the white rhino and giant squid combined.  You know what?  Don’t even try it.  I take it back.  Lets leave it mysterious.

In Defense Of Mono

This weekend I was at a friends birthday party, enjoying some food and beverage in lovely Jersey City.  Things were progressing normally, TV sporting event on part of the time, Computer playing iTunes at others.  At the end of the evening, when the location was about to change, someone turned on some Velvet Underground.  I’m not going to go into some hipster rant about Lou Reed or the positives and negatives of Nico, this isn’t even about a particular band….wait, one quick side note.  I once had a Velvet Underground CD which perished in a spectacular car fire.  But there is no time for that now, I have a point here.  I turned to someone and said “is this coming from an AM radio? That’s fucking awesome!”  In fact, it was coming from one of those little ipod dock type of things, with one small speaker.  Pure mp3 sound, made fantastic by the context.  Had this been playing through much larger and more expensive speakers, the effect would have been not nearly as intense.

beatles-studio

I read an interview with Paul McCartney once, who was asked what he thought about Mp3’s and quality issues.  He responded with something like “well, you know mate, before I was a billionaire, in our early days we used to take the little battery powered radio to the beach and turn on the old AM to hear the latest hits, before I was the one writing them because I’m awesome, and we had a jolly old time, with just that one tiny speaker, before i was bathing in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck!  So what really matters is the song!”    Quote me on it, those are his exact words, with possibly a few more ego maniacal rants thrown in.  But Sir Mrs John Lennon has a point there.  Maybe there are even those among us who recall listening to a cassette walkman, cranking out the hits in lofi questionable speed control tapes, getting all we could from the song.  Bob Dylan made that amazing and relevant statement not too long ago that everything recorded recently sounds like garbage.  It kinda does, with a few notable exceptions which we do not have time to discuss in this post, but lets say T Bone Burnett is producing most of them.  So what if we make a drastic move to bring things back into perspective.  Ready?  Lets get rid of the 2nd speaker.

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Ringo, probably trying to steal emerick's grammy.

In Geoff Emerick’s fantastic book “Here There and Everywhere” he discusses his philosophy on mono in the days of early stereo.  Emerick was The Beatles engineer for the majority of their career.  He created most of the sounds everyone has tried to emulate since.  George Martin was a bitch, this kid was the brains of the operation.  But an interesting point he made, is that stereo was pretty much a joke when it came out.  They would do silly panning effects just because they could, nothing to further the strength of the song, they would just mess around.  If you feel like dropping several hundred dollars on these new Beatles reissue box sets, just listen to the mono recordings and there is no comparison.  In fact, I encourage you to choose your friends based on which box set they would go for, mono or stereo.  If we can consistently learn anything from The Beatles, its that limitations of technology can enhance creativity.  Those kids had 4 tracks, and mono.  Look what they came up with.  If they had a pro tools rig and surround sound, Idon’t think the albums would have been as good, and I don’t think many people would disagree.

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For the greatest of all Wintertine Jewish Octetular Present Presentations…Hannukkah, I got an Tivoli Model One Radio.  Its a small, well designed box, featuring one 3.5 inch speaker.  With all this hi-fi hubub going on recently, I felt the need to give 1 speaker a chance.  There is an intimacy in mono that you just don’t get from some giant hifi system.  I think the first night i plugged it in, Little Feat’s “Willin” came on a WFUV show very late, and it heightened the experience.  It also has one huge tuning knob, no digital anything, and a 1/8″ input, should you choose to put a turntable or ipod through it, which I do intend to do.  Obviously I feel conflicted about playing some mp3’s through a well designed analog box, but we are children of technology, so lets just selectively embrace it, ok?

For about 2 years I would only record drum overheads using one mic.  I heard somewhere that all of the Rolling Stones “Some Girls” album was recorded with only one overhead, a kick and snare mic, reinforced with a PA system. That’s how it should be done.  KISS Method, not Gene Simmons.  Why has this trend not come back into fashion?  Why does no one release mono LPs or something anymore?  Can’t we start a hipster trend in the depths of bushwick, and take away every home studio’s left speaker?  Lets start a crusade.