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 SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (May 27, 2017).

Fourth of four shows at The Horseshoe Tavern dubbed Spring Nationals.  Some bust outs at this show – Take Me In Your Hand, Jesus Was Once A Teenager Too, Edmund Fitzgerald as well as Opera Star and Take The Money And Run – another awesome show.

Lineup is: Dave Bidini / Dave Clark / Hugh Marsh / Ford Pier / Martin Tielli / Tim Vesely

Jeff “J.C. ” Cohen the owner of The Horseshoe introduces the show.  He talks about the 70th Anniversary of The Horseshoe.

He mentions thee 1950s and 60s when artists like Willie Nelson would do a full week here. No cover from Mon-Wed to get to know the band and then a $3 cover and then a $4 cover.  They made this dump a legendary live venue.  Nothing beat 25 nights of Stompin’ Tom Connors.  That kind of thing doesn’t exist anymore except the Rheos.  He mentions how during their last Nationals they went to like 3:45 AM.

The opening acts were Southtown from Texas and Hydrothermal Vents (John Tielli’s Montreal-based band)

This nearly three-hour(!) shows starts off pretty mellow with Tim;s new song “Music Is The Message” which sounds more pretty than ever.  It’s followed by a whispered version of “Stolen Car” with gentle violin and backing vocals to start.  Although about 3 minutes in, an ever escalating feedback starts taking over the song and they have to stop mid-song (gasp!)  DB: “Live music!  These are not backing tapes, not yet.”  Martin picks up right where they left off perfectly.

Dave: “We’re mostly playing waltzes tonight.”

They mention the “bad” fan from last night. The Habs fan, he was very anti-fellatio.  Clark: “That’s the big guy from Shakespeare, right?”

Ford: “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Fellatio.”

“King Of The Past” sounds great.  I love Hugh’s violin at the climactic moment.  It’s followed by “Northern Wish” Dave notes: My wife wrote those land ho’s.”  He also mentions that Martin is “quite the cowboy.”  So Martin recites in a drawl, “Everybody’s talking about me, but I don’t hear a word they say.”

Someone shouts, “You guys gotta play ‘Saskatchewan.'”
DB: [quickly] “Nope.”
Audience guy: “Why not?”
DB: “Well maybe.  Seeing as you asked so …nicely and not at all brusquely.  We’ll see.  The set list is merely a sketch.”

DC: “This ain’t brain surgery.”
DB: “Or Brain Salad Surgery.”
Tim: “Or hot dog salad surgery” (an inside joke about the very first tour they went to the 7-11 in Thunder Bay in our under pants and it was seriously cold.  All we could afford was hot dogs so we loaded on as much salad as we could.  I don’t think they have police in Thunder Bay because we should have been arrested.

Then comes the first huge surprise, a bust-out of “The Ballad Of Wendel Clark Parts I & II.  It sounds great and during the ending section they do a few Stompin’ Tom songs: “Bridge Came Tumbling Down” and Algoma 69.”  Then they take it back to G sharp for a folkie verse of “P.R.O.D.” and then the Wendel ending.

Dave talks briefly about the Lake Ontario Waterkeeper our legacy as a generation.  It’s a beautiful body of water that nobody goes in.

There’s a very smooth sounding “Claire” with nice washes of synths.  It leads to a terrific version of “The Albatross” which gets better with each playing.  We learn that it was written after a Martin solo tour which is why it sounds so very Martin.

“Soul Glue” is a fun version with lot of violin.  Amusingly, Tim messes up the opening lyric, starting with the first syllable of the second verse.  Dave asks, “You need some help, Tim?”  But Tim is quickly back on track.  A ringing of feedback returns but is quickly squashed.  The pretty ending of the song leads an abrupt loud rocker, the introduction to “AC/DC On My Radio.”  It has some great drums at the end and Dave even asks, “Could you guys clap your hands?  I never ask people to clap their hands.”

“P.I.N.” sounds great and is followed by another bust out: “It’s Easy To Be With You” or “It’s easy to be with Hugh.”

Tim: This one’s called “smoke break slash washroom break.”  It’s a pretty acoustic version of “Bad Time to Be Poor” with Tim on guitar and High on violin.

Tim thanks the “multi-nighters” and then Martin introduces “my brother johnny” who helps out on “Jesus Was Once A Teenager Too.”  The songs tarts quietly with just piano and builds and builds.

They have some “high level talks” about what to play next.  They agree on “What’s Going On?” Then Martin suggests “Saskatchewan” “for those guys.”  Tim: “maybe that will shut them up.   Just to be clear it’s Part 1, right?”  Dave: “he’s left, he’s puking in the bathroom.”

There’s a very pretty ending that launches into Martin’s heavy riffing for “RDA (Rock Death America).”

Then the man who has been compiling all of these live shows, Darrin Cappe gets a dedication of “Christopher.”

A fun, rollicking “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” segues into “Alomar” (sort of, Dave notes) and then back into “Dope Fiends.”

After an encore break, Dave plays “My First Rock Concert.”  Dave says “Maybe Tim Mech will join me.  maybe not.”  But then, “This song features Tim Vesely on the drums.  He’s got one fill but it’s a really good fill. [Tim plays].  That’s a new one! [Tm plays another]. That’s all I got.

As Dave sings about his first rock concert which his dad drove them to, Tim says, “Fred…. in a Delta 88.”

Dave asks: Ford what was your first concert?  Ford is using Tim’s mic, no sound.  Tim: “They didn’t turn my mic on tonight.”  Ford: “But you made so many awesome jokes.  You got to repeat them all.”  After some hemming and hawing he says: “D.O.A. or SNFU or Personality Crisis or Chocolate Bunnies From Hell… or Big Country.”  Dave: “You can only have one, Ford.”  Ford: “Nope.  Too convoluted to get into here, but I am the kind of person who has had many firsts in his life.  I’m a complicated man.”

When he sings the “swan dive,” Tim says “No you didn’t.”  Dave: “He was there.  No I didn’t.  But it works with the song.”
Ford: “See, truth is less important than meaning.”
Dave B: “Truth is less important than loyalty.”

Dave Clark: “Beach Boys, 1973, Surf’s Up, with my best friend Karen Lindhart.”
Tim: “Triumph at Exhibition Stadium.”

They play “Take Me in Your Hand.”  Dave: Tim, two drumming songs in a row how do you feel?”  Tim: “Elated and vindicated.”  There’s a great organ sound throughout the song, which they haven;t played in a long time. Although the acoustic guitar cuts out during the outro.”

Dave Clark has the audience do something with their hands and ultimately touch their ears and says he does it with little kids all the time in class.  I’d like to know what that is.

Martin notes: “Timothy Warren Vesely on the kit… on the traps.”
Ford”  “I want to tell you all how thrilled I am to be here with my dear friends, playing like the best music there is.”

Dave mentions some upcoming shows through the summer and then one that’s not in Toronto that their lawyer Woody Springsteen told them not to talk about.

Martin: This next song was written by a good friend of ours…”
DC: “G. Gordon Liddy.”
Martin: “G.  Gordon Lightfoot.”
Ford: “He could have killed every person in this room with any object on this stage.”
Tim: “We ask that there be no lights for this song….”
Dave B: “Total dark in the beginning, Marsen.”

It’s amazing that they do an 11 minute version of “The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald.”  It sounds really great and just builds in intensity until there is absolute silence at the end of the song.  Really amazing.
Martin asks, “When’s the last time we did that, Dave?”
Dave: “I don’t know, a long time ago.  But sometimes it’s good to take a break from a song.”
Tim: “Or from a band.”

Dave B: “Who is not from Toronto?  It means a lot.  Jesus, I don’t think I’d drive to see us.  …because I’d be replaced and that would be terrible.  It would be sad.”

There hasn’t been a ton of banter during this show, but as it gets near the end, they are talking more.  They dither about what to play

Audience: “play a good song.”
Dave B: “that’s a terrible chant.”
Audience: “play a bad song.”
Audience: “play my favorite song.”

They play “What’s Going On Around Here?” with Tim on accordion.  It sounds great and then as they get near the end, Hugh starts playing a crazy violin solo–weird effects making bizarre almost human sounds with Martin doing bizarre backward mumble vocals.  It’s pretty neat.

Dave, sounding exhausted: We have one more maybe one and a half more.

Tim: “I think we played the show stopper like five or six songs ago.”

Dave C: “Martin’s gonna surprise you, kids.”  He plays Neil Young’s “Opera Star” and then a sloppy version Steve Miller’s “Take The Money and Run” that doesn;t quite sound right but still sounds good, especially Hugh’s wild solo.

Dave B: “Now that’s a show stopper.”
Tim: “That’s because we know no other songs.”
Dave B: “Should we do one more to bring it back.”
Tim, “No, we know no more.  That was bottom of the barrel.”

Requests from the audience, but Ford Pier, he’s in the band, we have to honor his request.  We’ll soon be having an opening on keyboard after Ford Leaves, and if you’re in the band you request songs and we have to play them.
Ford: “I didn’t know how that worked.  ‘Chemical World.'”
Clark: “I’d love to play that.”
Dave: “I’d love to pay ‘Satellite Dancing.'”
Martin starts singing “Radio 80 Fantasy.”
Dave starts playing “Body Thang” then says, “I just wanted to see Tim make that face.”
Ford:  “What a bunch of yoyos.   All those nice things I was saying before, I take it back.”

They settle on “Self Serve Gas Station” which opens quietly with lots of violin from Hugh.  “What went wrong with Johnny?  And Dougie too.”  They play the end in a crazy ska fashion.

This was a great four show Nationals and I wish I could have been to at least two of them.

They played throughout the summer, but the only shows left on the site as of today are four more from December 2017.

[READ: April 20, 2018] Baseballisimo

Baseballissimo is about baseball.  In Italy!  That’s a pretty good title.

I have read all of Dave Bidini’s books so far but I put this one off because it’s about baseball in Italy, which I didn’t think I’d care about.  And I don’t really.  But I did enjoy this book.  I especially enjoyed reading this at a removal of some 15 years from when it was written.  There was no reason to have any vested interested in the current status of anybody in the book (except Dave).  I just assume that fifteen years later nobody in the book is still playing baseball and we’ll just leave it at that.

So in the spring of 2002 Dave took his wife Janet and his two little kids on a six month trip to Nettuno, Italy, a seaside town of thirty thousand about an hour south of Rome.  His plan was to follow around the local third-tier baseball team the Peones for their season.

Many on the team wondered why he would write about them.  They seemed puzzled by the very idea.  One of the players asked

“Photo?”
“Si”
“Photo nudo?”
“Maybe”
“Angalaaaaaaato” he said using a Nettunese expression for lovemaking

But mostly they wanted to know why he didn’t want to wrote about real baseball.  We play for fun, no?
Dave said, “I’m mot interested in real baseball.” (more…)

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 may162SOUNDTRACKRHEOSTATICS-The Horseshoe Tavern, Toronto (December 9, 2016).

First of two shows at The Horseshoe Tavern featuring the return of Dave Clark on Drums. Featuring Hugh Marsh on Violin and Kevin Hearn on Vocals and Keyboards.

I’m not sure how many shows the band played since the previous show in April.  This show was eight months later and the improvement in Martin’ on stage behavior is remarkable.  He seems calm and comfortable.  He hits his notes and (almost) doesn’t forget any lyrics.  Hugh Marsh is on violin.

This is a really remarkable show.

It’s also the introduction of five new songs!

The recording sound is quiet and a little flat, so you really don’t get a good exposure to the new songs which don;t sound that great in this setting.

They start the show confidently with “Stolen Car” and Martin sounds great.  Tim says, we don’t have any setlists (no sure if that’s bragging or complaining).  It is followed by “King of the Past” with some soaring violins from Hugh.

“Claire” feels quiet, but the whole show does, like it’s missing a low end or something.  After the song, Tim says, “That’s it for the hits, sorry.”

But Dave counters, “Here come the near misses” and they launch into “P.I.N.”  Followed by a song from The Story of Harmelodia (Don;t worry it ends well) “It’s Easy To Be With You.”  They both sound poppy and great.

Dave mentions the “wintertime seasonal shenanigans” as Kevin starts playing samples of Mister Rogers: “Sandwiches.  I like to talk to you.  You’re very special to me.  Even if it were raining I’d like it with you.”  This is the lead in to “Michael Jackson” which has a lot of fun keyboard sounds on the verses.  The song instrumentation sounds very different, even if music hasn’t changed.

Then come the five new songs:

Music Is The Message (Tim Vesely) 4:45  This is a slow Tim song.  It is heavy on piano and,in fact, feels like the other guys aren’t really part of it (I assume the recorded version will sound bigger).

Before Dave’s song, Martin says:

“Remember… eye contact with the first three rows. Make love to their faces.”
Dave: “I don’t know if i can do that with all of those people.”
Martin: “You can a little bit.”
Dave: “I have my eye on someone special, Martin.”
Kevin: “You’re a man of great stamina.”

Mountains And The Sea (Dave Bidini) 5:05  This song has a sing-song quality with a kind of farty keyboards (a recording issue no doubt).  But once again, heavy on the piano and rather mellow.  There’s a kind of orchestral middle section that’s quite unlike a Dave song (there’s even soaring vocals).

Dave Clark: “Martin,  I’m not going to cheer because of those miserable people on deck.”
Martin: “The boys of the crew.”
Kevin: “Why don’t you like the boys of the crew?”
Dave: “They’re so cruel.”
Martin: “They kill stuff for fun.”
This is a lead in to The Albatross (Martin Tielli) 5:35 which Martin explains is pretty directly from a [Charles] Baudelaire poem called “The Unlucky Albatross.”   It’s a very Martin piece, quite theatrical.  It’s about the boys beating to death the unlucky albatross.  The middle section is a very theatrical waltz with muzzy keyboards and a plucked violin.

At the end, Martin says: “That was in 16/11.”  I’m not sure if he means the tempo or the year.

Someone shouts, “When are you releasing a new album?”
Bidnini: “It’s complicated.”
Martin: “We gotta get out of our contract with Sire Records, first.”  [much laughter]
Tim: “Forty more years don’t worry about it.”

Kevin’s gonna lead us in this next song, Chemical Valley (Kevin Hearn) 5:27.  It’s a very Kevin slow song (and quite long ).  Again lots of keys and limited guitar (sounds like maybe Martin is soloing trough).

Bidini: “Dave Clark on the drumset tonight.”
Someone in the audience shouts: “I love you, Dave.”
Bidini: “I love you too, ma’am.”
Tim: “Other Dave.”
Clark: “Wow, Tim is a tough crowd.”
Super Controller (Dave Clark) 4:55 has a big “ba da da” verse.

Then back to the older stuff with a great “California Dreamline.”  Martin sounds terrific.  And they joke about “spooning in the dry sand.”  Bidini: “We were into spooning like way before it was popular.”  Martin: “Before there was a word for it.”  Clark: “They tried knifing, they tried forking.”  Bidini: “You guys ever whisk?  That was dangerous.  We learned how to whisk in Vancouver.”

“Legal Age Life At Variety Store” has a wild wah wah solo from Hugh Marsh, it also has part of “Uncle Henry” and a song with lyrics “We’re digging a hole on a military trail” which I can’t place.

“Queer” sounds great (with excellent backing vocals) and has a reading by Kevin dad of “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski.  Kevin takes a little vamp through “I’m Waiting For My Man” before the song ends properly.

“Dope Fiends and Boozehounds” is wild with some cool keys floating over the top and then an effects-filled drum (and keyboard?) solo and then an “Alomar” type solo before the howls and sirens bring the song to an end.”

The pages says “Shaved Head” but there is no “Shaved Head,” just a long encore break.

They return with a walloping “Peoples Republic Of Dave” (“You ready for G sharp?”).  That was Martin’s request.
Kevin: “Was it from before you joined the band?”
Martin: “It was as I joined the band.”
Dave B:  “It was before I joined the band …weird.”

Martin sounds great on “Saskatchewan” and “Northern Wish.”

And they do come out for a second encore.  Clark says, “I’m gonna play brushed on this one.”
Martin: “We are Ratt.  This is called “Round and Round”

They start “Self Serve Gas Station,” with Martin messing up and joking (!) “Sometimes its gotta start right.”  He even throws in a jokey line: “What went wrong with Bilbo, is he dumb?”

In addition to Martin sounding fantastic, Clark is remarkably restrained.  back in the day he was t he wild and checked id of the band, making jokes, reciting poetry.   In this show he made one or two comments but was otherwise just an amazing drummer.

Knowing that they sound this good now means that I absolutely must see them again when they play next time.

[READ: June 16, 2016] “A Life of Adventure and Delight”

I found this story to be a little confusing.  The action all made enough sense, but there was something that felt…off about it.

As the story opens, Gautama is shoved into a police van with a bunch of other men.  It’s the first time he was arrested for calling a prostitute.  He was 24 and a student at NYU.

He was from Gwalior and knew he would have to get married one day, so he wanted to have as much sex as possible.  Perversely, he though that any woman who would have sex before marriage was depraved and foul.

Gautama had hired many prostitutes although his favorite thing was the negotiation (the actual sex was so immoral it was hard for him to enjoy it).

He was released the next day and made to do community service. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: GORDI-Tiny Desk Concert #740 (May 7, 2018).

I had an idea of what Gordi sounded like (a much more rocking band, who was I thinking of?)  Rather, Gordi is Sophie Payten a woman with a piano (and a harmonium and a guitar).  Gordi has a lovely deep voice (dusky and evocative) that is not afraid to break.

The blurb says her voice

usually gets enshrouded somehow: It often sounds like it’s echoing down a stairwell, or else she’s bathed it in vocal effects a la Imogen Heap or Gordi’s occasional tourmate, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. But Payten’s voice is an expressive and powerful instrument on its own, as her debut appearance behind the Tiny Desk demonstrates.

Aside from a bit of looping — in the strangely infectious notes that open “Heaven I Know,” from last year’s terrific Reservoir — Gordi here keeps her voice both unadorned and centered within warm, cool arrangements that include piano, acoustic guitar, pedal steel, a harmonium named Barbara, a saxophone played by Yellow Ostrich’s Alex Schaaf, and more. The effect here is rawer than on Reservoir, but that’s part of the point: These songs stand up to being stripped down, every time.

“Heaven I Know” is really pretty with a staggering sense of loss.  She met her backing badn while they were playing with The Tallest Man on Earth.  She plays piano, there an electric guitar and some kind of synths in the back.  And the drums (played by Zach Hanson) crescendo as needed.  The song runs a little long but it’s quite pretty.

For “Can We Work It Out” guitarist Alex Schaaf switches to saxophone.  Gordi pulls out the harmonium.  She says she bought the harmonium on the Australian version of Craigslist called Gumtree.  She bought it from an Indian lady named Barbara so the harmonium’s now called Barbara.

For the final song, “On My Side” she’s on guitar and Ben Les switches from keys to pedal steel.  The song is a little faster with some great harmonies from the drummer.

This is really lovely stuff.

[READ: October 10, 2017] Death of the Pugilist

Okay, so this is a boxing story.  That means that there is going to be a fight and the guy he is writing about is either going to win or lose.

That’s the attitude I took when I started this story–I don’t care for sports stories in general and feel that they have to work very hard to be more than just win or lose.

This story is a little different because each section starts with a question.

Who was Burke? His beginnings. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RHEOSTATICS-Massey Hall, Toronto, ON (April 29, 2016).

After their farewell concert at Massey Hall in 2007, who would have guessed that some nine years later they’d be back again.

When I heard this show was announced I immediately bought a ticket, not really thinking about how I would logistically manage such a thing.  I was able to get it to a fan who could go, but at least I’ll have my email confirmation:

Live at Massey HallRheostatics
Fri 04/29/2016 8:00 PM
Main Floor Centre Front  Seat I-44   $29.50

This time Martin’s voice is working again.  But in the intervening years he has had something else go on with him.  I don’t know details, but there’s some kind of anxiety present–and it comes out during this show.

Amazingly, for such a big show, there is hardly any evidence of it online.  There’s a few fan videos but no full sets available.

The only performance available that I can find is the official release from (the terrific) Live at Massey Hall series.  The whole series is wonderful–professionally filmed and beautifully recorded.  The only problem is that it’s so short.  I don’t know how long the show was, but the video is only 40 minutes.

The video opens with Martin talking about his laryngitis, “laryngitis taught me to enjoy singing in a lower range.”  There’s Tim talking about seeing Devo (who were walking on treadmills the whole show) at Massey Hall and overheating from wearing a heavy coat in winter.  Dave saw lot so new wave bands who weren’t great live but were great because they were in Massey hall–it’s a forgiving and inspiring place.

Big red letters in the back of the stage spelled out RHEOSTATISC (sic).

The set opens with “King of the Past” Martin plays a lovely solo and gets some applause and the whole thing sounds great.

“Californian Dreamline” opens with some great sound effects from Martin, Hugh Marsh and Kevin Hearn.  But after the “sensamilla” bit, Martin freaks out.  He steps away from the mic and waves everyone off.

Dave jumps in, “this happened in Montreal once. It’s true.  We were opening for Moxy Fruvous, so it’s a kind of curse we’ve got to exorcise.”

The band jams on and them Martin comes back to sing and the crowd gives him a big cheer–there really is no more forgiving crowd than a Rheostatics crowd.

The opening acoustic guitar of “Claire” begins.  That’s Tim on acoustic, Dave on bass and Martin on his gorgeous double neck guitar.  The letters have been rearranged to say SORTA ITCHES and Martin plays a great solo.  Tim sounds perfect, of course.

They start “P.I.N.”  Martin sings the first line and then has an issue.  He steps away again while the band plays on. He catches himself and returns (again to encouraging applause).  Once it gets going it all sounds great.

Dave finally gets a lead vocal song.  The letters spell out SHITCOASTER as they play a flawless “Mumbletypeg.”

Then apparently the entire rest of the show happens and we get the night-ending encore–a wild and raucous “Dope Fiends and Boozehounds.” (The letters finally spell RHEOSTATICS). The song gets off to a pretty good start.  For the middle, Martin and Hugh face each other (Martin always seems comforted by being with Hugh) and then Don Kerr gets a drum solo (with sound effects from Kevin Hearn).

At the end of the song, for the “moon,” there are howls, probably from Kevin, possibly from the audience.  As they slowly fade away, Dave jumps of the drum rise and the end of the song begins.  But this is an extended jam ending.  Hugh and Kevin make some menacing sounds and then Martin plays a solo with a slide.  It’s a weird, very undramatic ending for such a dramatic band.

I have always been sad that I couldn’t go to this show, but it sounds like it would have been a real roller coaster of a night.

Read this review from Radio Free Canuckistan for the perspective of someone who was there.

Over the closing credits, Kevin Hearn’s father read “The Laughing Heart” by Charles Bukowski.  I assume he read that before the band came out (accompanied by Hugh Marsh).

I don’t know much by Bukowski, but this is great for its simple profundity.

The Laughing Heart

your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
know them.
take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
in you.

[READ: March 5, 2018] Head Games

As with some of my favorite books, the story behind the creation is almost as interesting as the book itself.

Craig McDonald is a journalist and he says that he is often frustrated by trying to write the truth: “read five biographies about the same person and you’ll feel like you’ve read about five different people.”  With fiction maybe you can find something bordering truth.

The introduction by McDonald tells us that we will be riding with pulp novelist Hector Lassiter.  Lassiter is the protagonist of a finite arc of ten novels. The last one, Three Chords & The Truth is a sequel to Head Games and appeared in 2016.  Lassiter is a charmer, a rogue, a rake and a crime novelist who lives what he writes and writes what he lives.  Hector was born in Texas in 1/1/1900 and the arc of the novels spans the 20th century.

McDonald says the publishing history of the books is not chronological. Head Games was the first novel published.  The second was set in 1935 and features Hemingway prominently.  Other books hopscotched through the decade. They have recently been reissued and presented in roughly chronological order.

The novels “follow secret histories and underexplored aspects of real events.”  They’re set in real places and use history and real people to drive the plots. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: “WEIRD AL” YANKOVIC-“The Hamilton Polka” (2016). 

Lin-Manuel Miranda has declared his love and respect for “Weird Al” on many occasions.  So it makes perfect sense that he would ask Al to contribute to the online Hamilton project known as HamilDrops.  The Decemberists’ “Ben Franklin’s Song” is amazing too.

But seriously, how could Al parody a more or less biographical story of a historical figure (that’s two hours long)?.  By not parodying it at all.

Rather, he makes one of his polka mashups which he’s been doing hilariously since his second album.  They are often a highlight of each new album.  This song compresses (almost) the entire musical into 5 minutes.

“The Hamilton Polka,” provides what’s essentially a CliffsNotes-style run-through of the musical’s hooks and highlights — just enough to get the entire musical stuck in your head all over again.

I love the way in the original, the third sister, poor Peggy, is sort of musically dissed whereas Al is just explicit about it.  And of course, how could he refuse to include some actual gun shots for “Not Throwing Away My Shot?”

So they cram in 

Alexander Hamilton
Wait For It
The Schuyler Sisters
Yorktown
You’ll Be Back
The Room Where It Happens
Guns and Ships
Washington On Your Side
Non-Stop
History Has Its Eyes On You
My Shot

And Al can really sing and rap some of those lyrics quickly.  It’s a really fun mashup.

[READ: January 11, 2018] Alexander Hamilton: The Graphic History of an American Founding Father

Before the musical, most people’s familiarity with Alexander Hamilton probably came from this (awesome) commercial (even if none of us could remember what it was ultimately for).

Actually, my father worked for (and owned for a time) Alexander Hamilton Printing in Paterson, NJ, so Alexander Hamilton has always been a part of my life.  Although I had no idea why.  Not really.

There’s a new reason why people know about Alexander Hamilton (can you even say his name without singing it?).

And I’m sure that reason has something to do with the creation and publication of this book.  But Hennessey is not just jumping on the Hamilton bandwagon.  Well, maybe he is, but he has two other historical graphic novels out already: The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation (2008) and The Gettysburg Address: A Graphic Adaptation (2012).  He also has books called The Comic Book Story of Beer, and The Comic Book Story of Video Games so he’s not all stuffy.

The musical is far more catchy than this book–far more steamy.  But this book is really chock full of details that the musical skips (for various reasons, obviously).  The book is a lot less interested in the romantic dalliances of the founding father, although it certainly does acknowledge them.

Indeed, the book is 176 fully illustrated pages jam-packed with information.  It reads a little, if not dull, then certainly more academic.  That’s because there’s a lot of text and a lot of history. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2016 Tour Box (2016).

This was the third Tour Box containing material that is similar in spirit, but different in fact to the previous two.

As always, it starts with the Wind extract, the sound of Fripp’s mellotron warming up and a voice saying “I prefer the early ones.”  It segues into a beautiful instrumental of “Moonchild.”  Once again, the lyrics are interesting in the song, but it sounds great without them.

The music stays in somewhat chronological order of release, but often with contemporary versions.  Like the 2015 recording of 1970’s “Peace” (which is okay) and “Pictures Of A City” (which is great).

“Prince Rupert’s Lament” is a two and half-minute guitar solo which has the Toronto crowd from the previous track overlaid, making this recording sound like a live one, when it is in fact an except from the recording session of Lizard.  There’s a rehearsal of the full 10 minute “Islands” from 1971 or so.

Then a “new” song, the two and a half-minute 2014 “Threshold Soundscape” which segues into the 2014 live version of “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I” which is quite bass heavy.  Up next is a recording session of “Easy Money” without all the bells and whistles.

Then comes two live recordings from 1974.  “Improv I” which is full of gongs and guitars and chaos and segues into “Doctor Diamond.”  This is a song I had never heard before.  It never had an official release and this version seems like they’re just trying it out, like they weren’t really sure about the words, especially.  It’s heavy and  more than a little odd.

After a 30 second clip “From the Drummer’s Stool” which is the a drummer playing the intense “21st Century Schizoid Man” drums, the full song is played from 1974, sounding quite old in the mix.

The second disc continues with all manner of things in no particular order.

There’s more extracts from Lizard, this time a very pretty solo piano version of “Prince Rupert Awakes.”

And them it’s on to a non-Crimson album.  “The Other Man” is an alternate early version of the song from the Jakszyk, Fripp, Collins album A Scarcity of Miracles which I don’t know at all.

Next comes “Making Of Discipline,” it’s clips from bulk of the album spliced together into one song.  It’s very nifty.  There’s a demo instrumental of “Walking on Air” and then a three-minute live track called “Radical Action (to Unseat The Hold of Monkey Mind).”

There’s a demo of “Meltdown” (with guide vocals) and then a 40 second clip “From the Drummers’ Stools I” and a 20 second clip “From The Guitarist’s Stool I” which is part of the 21CSM solo.

Then comes some heavy stuff.  “The ConstruKction Of Light” live from 2014 with no vocal tag at the end followed by the bizarre Beatles mashup “Tomorrow Never Knew/Thela” live from 2000.

There another sample “From the Drummers’ Stools II” this one from “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I” which is followed by “Nuages” (which I read as Nu-ages.  It’s trippy with bouncy bass

There’s a 2014 recording of the slow, jazzy “The Light Of Day” also originally from Scarcity of Miracles. It’s followed by a Lizard excerpt “From The Guitarist’s Stool II” and then a fast complicated 40 second 2014 soundcheck for “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic I.”

Moving away from that classic business, we jump to a new mix of “Dinosaur” from THRAK.  It’s followed by a final 45 second “From The Drummers’ Stools III” and then concluding with a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.”  This version is from 2000 and I find it kind of weak, especially compared to the powerhouse versions they would unleash later.

Overall there’s some cool stuff on this box, but I feel like there’s a bunch of stuff that’s not quite my Crimson taste.

[READ: January 12, 2018] The Nix

The Nix received some pretty positive reviews and I was quite interested to read it–even though I had no idea what it was really about.  It’s not until nearly page 100 that we find out what the title even means.

The Nix (in the story, not the novel itself) is a ghost story from Norway.  The protagonists’s mother heard about The Nix from her Norwegian father.  The Nix was a horse.  It encouraged you to ride it.  When you did, it never stopped running until it ran off a cliff with you on it.  In modern terms, The Nix is a person–usually someone you think you love. Someone who will leave you.

Summarizing the book is either really easy or something of a challenge depending on how many aspects you want to include.

The book more or less follows one man–starting with his failing writing career and then flashing back to how he got where he is.  That sounds pretty dull, but the book is set on the backdrop of contemporary America–from the rebellions of hippie parents to the rebellions of the 99%ers.

There’s also these wonderful subplots that prop up the main story. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: KING CRIMSON-The Elements Of King Crimson – 2014 Tour Box (2014).

When King Crimson reunited in 2013, they prepared to tour as a seven piece behemoth the following year.  There would be three drummers, two guitarists, bass and horns.

And they were totally reinvigorated.

To celebrate this tour, Fripp and his minions created this Elements Tour Box, a 2 -disc set dedicated to displaying the elements that made up the band from the beginning until now.  It was made up of alternate takes, excerpt (lots of excerpts), live recordings and rehearsals from the entirety of the Crimson canon, including some of the 2014 shows.

It is a treasure trove for Crimson fanatics.  But it is also an excellent resource for anyone looking to explore the Crimson underworld without buying $150 boxsets.

The discs follow a vaguely chronological overview, starting in 1969 and moving on through 2008.  But there are 2014 takes of old songs thrown in as well–some sound better than others, but overall the quality is quite good.

The first disc covers 1969-1974.  It opens with
“Wind Extract,” which is the sound of Fripp’s mellotron being turned on back in 1969.
“I Talk To The Wind” is an instrumental version of the second song on ITCOTCK.  Purists will be able to tell how many things are different between this version and the actually-released product, but in a nutshell, this is the album version with no vocals.  It’s really interesting to focus just on the music and not the words for a change.  The song is quite pretty, with lots of flute.

“Cadence and Cascade” is from In the Wake of Poseidon and no one involved in the recording remembered Greg Lake singing a version of it.  Guest vocalist Gordon Haskell sang the album version.  Then someone recently found this “guide vocal” version of Lake singing it for apparently the first and only time.

The boxes often contain brief excerpts like this one–fifteen seconds of Fripp’s classical sounding guitars from “Cirkus.”  This is kind of an acoustic bridge before we hear the full song recorded in 1971 on the Lizard tour.  This song in particular sounds very dated live and the middle “circus sounds” sections are 70s crazy.
“Hoodoo (extract)” is a 2014 rehearsal that’s all of 20 seconds which segues into a raucous recording of Fripp playing a wild guitar solo for “Sailor’s Tale.”  It’s wild and really shows Fripp throwing everything he can at the song.
“The Talking Drum” is an early alternate mix which sounds great to me.  It gets really crazy by the end.

The “Lark’s Tongues in Aspect I” excerpt is from 2014 and is just Mel’s flute for 2 minutes.  It’s followed by a 1972 extract that’s just violin and dulcimer and harp.

This turns into a great new mix of the 11 minute “Fracture.”
After a minute of gorgeous harmonics by Fripp from “Fallen Angel,” we get a full, gorgeous 6-minute instrumental version of the song.  Because Crimson songs are so complicated and so carefully constructed, they are one of the few bands whose songs can have lyrics removed without them falling flat.
There’s a weird-sounding version of “21st Century Schizoid Man” from 1974, which sounds so very mid-70s in the recording style.  It seems somewhat slapdash compared to the utter tightness of the 2014 band.  The disc ends with Mark Charig’s cornet recording for the end of “Starless.”  On the proper release they use Mel Collin’s saxophone, but the cornet sounds delightful.

Disc two covers 1981-2008.

  This is pretty much the Adrian Belew era.  Belew was not invited back for the new incarnation, so that’s a little awkward.

It begins with an alternate take of the instrumental “Discipline.”  After a 45 second drum intermission, there’s a track called “Manhattan (Neurotica)” which is an instrumental version of “Neurotica.”  I love that the opening guitar sounds like sirens and car horns.
A minute and a half of the middle of “Neal and Jack and Me” is followed by the Steven Wilson mix of “Sleepless (Bearsville)” with an incredibly 80’s sounding slap bass from Tony Levin.

Then there’s a recording session of “Sex, Sleep, Eat, Drink, Dream.”  We hear lots of stops and starts, bass only, guitar parts and someone repeating “this is tough, tough shit.”
There’s a live version of “THRAK” followed by a minute of Fripp soloing around “Larks Tongue” called “Venturing Into Joy.”

This is followed by two tracks from Fripp’s side ProjeKcts,  “The Deception of the Thrush” is performed live by ProjeKct Four in 1998 with big thumping almost splatting-sounding drums.  Then there’s a trippy and ambient early version of “Heaven & Earth” by ProjeKct X.

After a scorching “Level Five” from 2008, there’s a minute long drum solo which would ultimately morph more fully into “The Hell-Hounds of Krim” and then two tracks from A Scarcity of Miracles.  “Separation” is an edited version of the bonus track (the disc label calls it something else).  And there’s an alternate take of “A Scarcity Of Miracles”–still long and a little too jazz-lite for me.

This is a really solid collection of all eras and styles of Crimson.  And it also showcases the various parts coming together.  A great production all along.

[READ: January 19, 2018] Monsters of the Ivy League

This book collects a series of Ivy League graduates and puts them in context with a they have a lot of support for all of their declarations.  Each entry gives a brief (biased) biography that highlights their flaws, outrages and downright unforgivable behavior.

So, rather than rewrite summaries of these assholes, I’ll present a grid with the shortcut (and some choice tidbits).  You can find the book and read the details for why our Ivy leagues have bred so many shitheads, including current miscreants:

Samuel Alito, Ben Carson, Ann Coulter, Ted Cruz, Laura Ingraham, Henry Kissinger, Dr. Oz, trump, and many more.

The introduction says that the term Ivy League refers to a bunch of football teams. (That’s why it says “league”).  The League was formed in 1954 to formalize the sporting relationship between eight teams: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Univ of Penn, Princeton and Yale.

Of course, no one goes to these schools for sports, they go to find the best future contacts for your budding careers.

But read this book and remember:

An ivy education doesn’t force you to become a hideous person, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent it, either.

What follows is a smart-shopper warning to those applying, a count-your-blessings consolation to those who have been rejected and a watch-your-back caution to those already attending.

(more…)

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