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Archive for the ‘The Beatles’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: MELLOTRON VARIATIONS-Tiny Desk Concert #953 (March 3, 2020).

Most Tiny Desk Concerts list the musicians and what instrument they play.  So I got a kick out of this lineup:

John Medeski: Mellotron; Jonathan Kirkscey: Mellotron; Robby Grant: Mellotron; Pat Sansone: Mellotron.  [that’s the lineup left to right].

Indeed, Mellotron Variations are four guys standing behind Mellotrons making a universe of sounds.

The Mellotron was a magical 1960s invention that predates sampling. It’s a keyboard instrument, with each piano key triggering a tape loop — the sound could be a string ensemble, a flamenco guitar, a saxophone and so much more. Think about the flute sounds on The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever” and you get the idea.

We’ve never had an original Mellotron at the Tiny Desk until now. Much like a Hammond organ, it’s big, heavy and fragile. When they fired it up, with all its mechanical gears turning tape loops and moving play heads, the 15-year-old geek in me blissed out.

Pat Sansone introduces the band and gives a fascinating history of the Mellotron and how it works.  Each of the 35 keys plays a magnetic tape like on a reel to reel player (I remotely understand that and it is cool to see the mechanism at work).  The modern ones, still made by Mellotron are all digital.

When Mellotron Variations keyboardist Robby Grant and I began discussing an all-Mellotron Tiny Desk, we quickly realized that having four of these beasts wouldn’t fit behind my desk. So Robby Grant, Pat Sansone (Wilco) and Jonathan Kirkscey performed on the portable — and still incredible-sounding — 21st-century version of the instrument. At the same time, John Medeski (Medeski, Martin & Wood) tackled the original beast.

The band plays three songs.  The first, “Agent Cha Cha” sounds like a trippy spy movie.  It’s really fun watching Medeski play the original machine and seeing him kind of forcibly make the sounds do what he wants–I guess he is literally slowing down the tape that’s playing?

Robby Grant seems to handle all of the drums and percussion.  It’s then fun to watch as Sansone holds down one key to get a 60’s cartoon melody mid song.

Jonathan Kirkscey and Robby Grant play some real spacey, synthy sounds as they segue into the next song.

“Dulcimer Bill” opens with some dulcimer sounds.  It is trippy and spacey sounding for a bit and then Sansone plays what S. immediately recognized as the opening to The Beatles’ “Bungalow Bill.”  I assume Sansone has simply sampled the guitar as he plays it with one key.  The end of the song sounds so incredibly 70s (Pink Floyd all over the place)

The sonic landscape they produce as Mellotron Variations is ingenious and impressive. It’s a score with the audience as collective filmmaker, each one of us capable of creating imagery in our heads to this music of mystery and sometimes comedy. In the words of my teenaged self, “it was a trip.”

The trip concluded with “Pulsar.”  The song opens with industrial space sounds from Kirkscey while Medeski plays flute loops. Grant adds the drums while Sansone plays a kind of harpsichord in space.

[READ: March 30, 2020] “Futures”

This is a story about tennis.

It reminded me a lot of David Foster Wallace’s essay about Roger Federer.  Not because it was like it in any way, but because the one character felt about Federer the way Wallace did.

But that aspect is somewhat minimal in terms of the plot.

The story Toby lives with his father.  Toby was supposed to become an professional tennis player, but he was never quite good enough.  But Toby’s father insisted upon hosting a young Asian tennis player every year–in part to bet upon his success (Toby’s father was a gambler) but also to have a tennis pro around to help Toby get better. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: SHARON VAN ETTEN-“Radio Cure” (from WILCOvered, UNCUT Magazine November 2019).

The November 2019 issue of UNCUT magazine had a cover story about Wilco.  It included a 17 track CD of bands covering Wilco (called WILcovered or WILCOvered).  I really enjoyed this collection and knew most of the artists on it already, so I’m going through the songs one at a time.

Sharon Van Etten continues down her more ambient and mellow style with this cover of “Radio Cure.”

She plays everything–keys and piano–hushed and echoed while her voice soars around the song.  About a third of the way in, the drums kick in, giving it a but of oomph.

I really like the original of this song and I don’t quite like the direction she went with this cover.

[READ: February 17, 2020] “With the Beatles”

I have realized that I really enjoy reading Murakami’s words.  I don’t always understand what’s happening.  I don’t often understand why one part of a story is put with another part. And often when I’m done I’m not entirely sure what happened.  But I really enjoy the journey.

This was one where some parts seemed mysteriously tucked into the story.  It kind of all works thematically, but it’s still a bit disjointed.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading the whole thing.

The narrator starts by saying that he doesn’t mind getting older, it’s seeing other people who have gotten older that is so weird.  Really it forces him to admit that his youthful dreams are gone.

He will never forget a girl (a woman who used to be a girl) whom he didn’t actually know.  It was 1964 and this girl was hurrying down the hallway of their school, skirt aflutter, clutching the LP of With the Beatles–the original British version.  Their black and white faces were facing out as she ran.  He has turned this memory into a beautiful moment–he thinks he remembers the way she smelled even (if that is possible).  The moment was thrilling.

But he never saw her again in two more years at school.

He has met many women over the yeas and always tried to recreate that moment to no avail. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: December 29, 2019] Phish

I blew off two of the three Phish shows I had tickets to this summer.  (I really should have gone to that Sunday show).  Camden is such a hassle.

Somehow, I find getting to Madison Square Garden much less of a hassle–which makes literally no sense.  These were my fourth and fifth times seeing them at MSG (compared to two in Camden).  But this MSG trip involved driving into the city ($15 tunnel toll?) and then getting a garage.  And, because I planned to go to an after party at Le Poisson Rouge with Marco Benevento, I decided to park in the village and subway it up.  That’s actually a lot of hassle.

But it was worth it.

This was my eighth Phish show (I could be in double digits by now if I didn’t sell those Camden tickets).

The theory is that the Sunday night of the New Year’s Eve run is always great.  And boy howdy was it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PEARL JAM-“Gimme Some Truth” (2001).

On December 2, Pearl Jam announced that their fan club holiday singles will be released to streaming services.  Their first holiday single was released back in 1991.  It was “Let Me Sleep (Christmas Time).” They are rolling out the songs one at a time under the banner 12 Days of Pearl Jam.

These releases are coming out as a daily surprise.

“Gimme Some Truth” was written by John Lennon during the Nixon administration.

Pearl Jam played this song live a bunch of times during the George W. Bush administration.  They had played it twice before recording this version at the Groundwork Benefit, Key Arena, Seattle. October 22, 2001.

It’s quite a faithful cover.  The original has angry guitars and Lennon’s growly voice. Although the original has a very distinctly Beatles-sound from the guitars (Which is obvious, but still somewhat surprising).  Even Lennon’s guitar solo has that Beatles sound.  The Pearl Jam version doesn’t have that feel at all–it sounds very much like a Pearl Jam song.

In fact, Eddie and the guys updated the lyrics for the George W. Bush administration.  I’ve listed both sets of lyrics at the bottom of the page.

The song is catchy and passionate and, frankly, is even more applicable now with the Liar in Chief’s administration literally incapable of saying a true word.

[READ: December 12 2019] “The Sacred Family”

This year, S. ordered me The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my fourth time reading the Calendar.  I didn’t know about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh), but each year since has been very enjoyable.  Here’s what they say this year

The Short Story Advent Calendar is back! And to celebrate its fifth anniversary, we’ve decided to make the festivities even more festive, with five different coloured editions to help you ring in the holiday season.

No matter which colour you choose, the insides are the same: it’s another collection of expertly curated, individually bound short stories from some of the best writers in North America and beyond.

(This is a collection of literary, non-religious short stories for adults. For more information, visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.)

As always, each story is a surprise, so you won’t know what you’re getting until you crack the seal every morning starting December 1. Once you’ve read that day’s story, check back here to read an exclusive interview with the author.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

I’m pairing music this year with some Christmas songs that I have come across this year.

I have read a number of stories by Rachel Kushner.  I tend to enjoy them, although this one was more thought-provoking than interesting.

The story concerns a man, Hauser, who is warden at a women’s prison.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: DANKO JONES-Garage Rock! A Collection of Lost Songs From 1996-1998 (2014).

Danko Jones has released nine albums an a bunch of EPs.  Back in 2014 he released this collection of songs that he wrote and recorded before his first proper single (1998).

This is a collection of raw songs, but the essential elements of Danko are in place. Mostly fast guitars, simple, catchy riffs and Danko’s gruff voice, filled with braggadocio.  With a cover by Peter Bagge!

He describes it:

Back in the 90’s,the Garage Rock scene, as I knew it, was a warts-and-all approach that favoured low-fi recordings and rudimentary playing over any modicum of musical prowess in order to glean some Rock N’ Roll essence. However, once a band got better at their instruments, songwriting and stage performance, the inevitable crossroads would eventually appear. Deliberately continuing to play against their growing skill would only evolve into a pose. There were a lot of bands who did exactly this in order to sustain scenester favour. We did the opposite.

What you hold in your hands is a document of what we were and where we came from. We didn’t know how to write songs and could barely play but we wanted to be near to the music we loved so badly. We ate, slept and drank this music. We still do. That’s why we have never had to reunite because we’ve never broken up. After 18 years, we’ve stayed the course, got tough when the going did and, above all else, we have never stopped. This album is the proof.

The first two songs are the best quality, with the rest slowly deteriorating with more tape hiss.

1. “Who Got It?” a big fat bass sound with lots of mentioning of Danko Jones in the lyrics. [2 minutes]
2. “Make You Mine” is 90 seconds long.  With big loud chords and rumbling bass Danko says “one day I’m going to write a book and let everybody know how to do it.  Seems to me there a lot of people around who want to see if I can prove it.  I been a rock prodigy since the age of 20 and my proof… my proof is right now.”
3. “I’m Your Man” is a bit longer.  The quality isn’t as good but the raw bass sound is great.
4. “She’s Got A Bomb” is good early Danko strutting music.
5. “Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue.”  He would name an album this many years later.  This song is fast and raw and only 90 seconds long.
6. “Dirty Mind Too” This is a fast stomping one-two-three song that rocks for less than a minute.
7. I’m Drinking Alcohol? This is funny because later he says he doesn’t drink.  I don’t know what the words are but the music is great–rumbling bass and feedbacky guitars with lots of screaming.
8. “Love Travel Demo” and 9. “Bounce Demo” are decent demo recordings.  “Bounce” has what might be his first guitar solo.
10. Sexual Interlude” “ladies it’s time to take a chance on a real man.  I’m sick and tired of seeing you women selling yourselves short, going out with a lesser man.
11. “I Stand Accused” Unexpectedly he stands accused of “loving you to much.  If that’s a crime, then I’m guilty.”
12. “Best Good Looking Girl In Town” a fast chugging riff, “oh mama you sure look fine.”
13. “Payback” This one sounds really rough but it totally rocks.
14. “Lowdown” Danko gives the lowdown: “You want a bit of romance?  I got you an bouquet of Flowers and a box of chocolates.  Why you crying for?  That ain’t enough?  Me and the fellas wrote this song just for you.”
15. “One Night Stand” garage swinging sound: Danko is a one woman man and you’re just his type.
16. “Instrumental” is great.
17. “Move On” is a long, slow long bluesy track about love.

It’s not a great introduction to Danko, but if you like him, you won;t be disappointed by this early baby-Danko period.

[READ: August 10, 2019] I’ve Got Something to Say

In the introduction (after the foreword by Duff McKagan), Jones introduces himself not as a writer but as a hack.  He also acknowledges that having something to say doesn’t mean much.  He has too many opinions on music and needed to get them out or his insides would explode.  He acknowledges that obsessing over the minutiae of bands is a waste of time, “but goddammit, it’s a ton of fun.”

So this collection collects some of Danko’s writing over the last dozen or so years. He’s written for many publications, some regularly.  Most of these pieces are a couple of pages.  And pretty much all of them will have you laughing (if you enjoy opinionated music writers).

“Vibing for Thin Lizzy” [Rock Hard magazine, March 2015]
Danko says he was lured into rock music by the theatrics of KISS, Crue and WASP.  But then he really got into the music while his friends seemed to move on.  Thin Lizzy bridged the gap by providing substance without losing its sheen or bite.  And Phil Lynott was a mixed race bassist and singer who didn’t look like the quintessential rock star.  What more could Danko ask for? (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEGATIVLAND-Helter Stupid (1989).

Helter Stupid was the follow-up to Negativland’s “smash hit” (maybe 10,000 copies sold?  I have no idea) Escape from Noise.

It is a concept album based on a hoax that they perpetrated.  Wikipedia summarizes:

In 1988, the group released a mock press release to suggest that the song “Christianity Is Stupid” was connected to murders by David Brom, and that the group was forced to cancel a planned tour in support of Escape from Noise. However, there were no connections with the murders, and the tour was cancelled only due to shortage of funds and free time. Their next album, Helter Stupid, made use of the event by sampling news reports of the controversy surrounding Negativland.

So they generated their own controversy and then made art from it.  Can you imagine the attention that would get in 2019 compared to the minor coverage they got in 1989?

The first half of the album is composed of the tracks “Prologue” and “Helter Stupid” which form an extended piece lasting over 22 minutes. The concept, and some of the sampled material, came from a San Francisco television news program that was taken in by the media hoax. Other samples used included those from Rev. Estus Pirkle (further samples from the same sermon used in “Christianity Is Stupid”), an interview with Charles Manson, and “Helter Skelter” by The Beatles.

The disc opens with a man reciting lewd(ish) rock lyrics.  Then comes clips of ads for murder movies–murder, mayhem, marauding!

The prologue continues with extended samples of the news reports that talks about them being connected to the murder case.  At the end of the track a phone rings.

Song 2 begins with a call from Rolling Stone asking if there is any backward masking on “Christianity is Stupid.”

The rest of the 18 or so minutes is a mashup of all kinds of samples, spliced and cut up.

we don’t have enough data ; S-I-M-P-L-O-T ; murder and music–this isn’t the first time controversial music has been linked to tragedy.  A lengthy quite from Charles Manson and one from John Lennon

There is section where engineers hear something on a tape when you run it backwards–play it backward and you hear (rather amusing) evil messages.

Then comes the riff of Helter Skelter with The Beatles singing Helter and then “Stupid” sampled over “Skelter.”  The middle of the track goes on to emphasize how stupid the controversy is by continuing to use the “stupid” sample in all places

It’s believed night stalker suspect Richard Ramirez was influenced by AC/DC’s Highway to Stupid album. Ozzy Osborne song “Stupid Solution” became the focal point of an actual stupid case involving a Southern California teenager

And then a clever splice to create: “Christianity is triggering the murders.”

It’s intense and thought provoking and sometimes funny.

Side Two is completely different.  There’s 7 tracks all called “The Perfect Cut” with different parenthetical names after each one.  It’s introduced as Dick Vaughn’s Canned Music Moribund Music of the 70s, brought to you in authentic 70s stereophonic format with music, news reports, contests, and more.  The tracks contain samples from “The Winning Score”, a 1977 presentation by TM Century, producers of radio jingles and imaging.

“The Perfect Cut (Canned Music)” talks about short IDs and promos for radio and loops the phrase “execute a perfect cut.”

“The Perfect Cut (Rooty Poops)” features someone talking about being the greatest radio personality in the world.  He then says he spins the dial and finds nothing good–what a bunch of rooty poops.  There’s lots of samples from 70s funk and the absurdly high note of “Loving You.”  There’s also a bit of Casey Casem.

“The Perfect Cut (Good as Gold)” is all about “staying power and the announcer wondering who will still be around 7 years from now in 1992.  Their list: Bruce Springsteen will not burn out’ Prince (unless he gets a whim and decides to drop out of music) ; Michael Jackson ; Lionel Ritchie ; U2 ; Bryan Adams ; Talking Heads; Eurhythmics.  [That list was about half right].   There are samples of : Fragmentation and standardization.

“The Perfect Cut (Piece of Meat)” mostly features a sample of someone growling “I’d like a piece of meat.”  And the admission that the music industry suffered from denationalization but it became big business.  All of this over disco bass and strings.

“The Perfect Cut (White Rabbit And A Dog Named Gidget)” opens with a high school student saying “I’d like to become a lawyer and go to UCLA.   I hear it’s got nice weather and lots cute guys.  I’d like a white rabbit convertible a dog named Gidget.  The most important thing in my life is to go to heaven when i die.”  There’s more Casey Casem talking about learning to appreciate new music.

“The Perfect Cut (11 Minutes)”  A Top 40 listener’s average listening span is only 11 minutes.  Jingles need to be shorter and more frequent.  A shotgun intro with accents on each of your call letters.   I enjoyed hearing this promo.

LPs sale priced at $2.66. 8-track tape $4.44 including this Billboard toppers: The Jackson 5, The Carpenters, Elton John, Neil Young,Cat Stevens, Black Sabbath, James Taylor, Ike & Tina Turner.

There’s also this news headlines for Dec 1978–the average price of gas soars to 76 cents per gallon (!).

Dick Vaughn–From Jan 1, 1970 to Dec 31, 1979, we’ve got your moribund music.

“The Perfect Cut (48 Hours)” is inspired by an ad “You’ve got 48 hours to save a lot of money.”

Someone says it’s so annoying I used to shut the radio right off.  Then there’s silence for 10 seconds followed by, “just when you thought it was safe to turn on your radio.”  And the promise/threat: “Nothing happens until someone buys something.”

The Weatherman shows up to talk about “sewer mouth.”

And then there’s this gem: Take 2 high quality stereo LPs, put them in a full-color jacket, add a beautiful sexy gal on front and candid photos of the KQ jocks inside and you’ve got a bombshell [EXPLOSION].

This is a fun and interesting experiment.  Some tracks do actually bear repeated listening to hear just what they’re trying to do.

Personnel: Richard Lyons (credited as “Dick Vaughn”) ; David Wills (uncredited) ; Don Joyce (uncredited) ; Mark Hosler (uncredited) ; Chris Grigg (uncredited)
Musical Samples The Beatles – “Helter Skelter” ; King Floyd – “Groove Me” ; Carol Douglas – “Doctor’s Orders” ; Minnie Riperton – “Lovin’ You” ; Tavares – “Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel” & “It Only Takes a Minute” ; Zapp (unidentified) ; Brothers Johnson – “Strawberry Letter 23” ; Brick – “Dazz” ; Natalie Cole – “This Will Be” ; Joe Tex – “I Gotcha” ; Donna Summer – “Love to Love You Baby” ; Bebu Silvetti – “Spring Rain” ; Bill Summers & Summer Heat – “Jam the Box” ; Mungo Jerry – “In the Summertime”

[READ: April 20, 2019] “The Seven Circles”

This story started as one thing and then turned into something else very dramatically.

It begins with Vinod completing his B. Com and being told by his parents that he should get ready for marriage.  They had the girl picked out and since he had no objection to her, they went ahead with the plans.

He found himself at his future in-laws looking at the gifts that his bride-to-be, Sheetal, would bring with her.  He glanced at her during this surveying of the gifts and he was sure he saw her looking back at him with distaste.

He desperately tried to get her to look at him over the next few weeks, but even during the ceremony she would not look him in the eye.   He thought about running away during “the seven circles” of the ceremony, but he went through with it.

That first wedding night was awkward as they slowly got to know each other.  The had a little, but not much, in common.  And he didn’t even consider doing anything physical.  He did manage to get one kiss in before the night was over. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WHITEHORSE-Live at Massey Hall (December 8, 2017).

I saw Whitehorse open for Barenaked Ladies a few years ago and they blew me away.  I really want to see them again.

When I saw them it was just the two of them and the magic of their interplay was what really impressed me the most.  For this special Massey Hall show, they have a full band.  But as Melissa McClelland explains:

This is the first time playing the Massey stage with a full band.  We wanted to … finally invite some friends on stage with us and play music.

Those friends include John Obereian on drums, Ryan Gavel on bass, guitar and backing vocals and on keys and bongos and guitar, the second best singer in this band Gregory MacDonald.  He replies, “Thanks to the second best guitar player in the band.”  I have seen MacDonald on tour with Sloan a bunch of times and he is awesome.

As to why they are a duo, she says

we knew that Whitehorse was always going to be just the two of us and that everyone would know that we are equal partners in the band.  But we didn’t want it to be a folk duo so we started brainstorming and bought looping pedals and a kick drum and a stomp box and we  found new arrangements and once we got it we were like Yeah!

The show opens with hand clapping from the band and the audience and then Melissa’s slinky bass intro to “Baby Whats Wrong.  Then comes Luke Doucet’s echoing Western guitar. Their voices are wonderful together and I love when Doucet sings in that weird telephone microphone.  He also plays a ripping guitar solo.

Luke introduces “Tame as the Wild Ones” by saying they needed to write a sexy song so “Melissa kicked me out and said she’d do it alone.  I go to the bar to get drunk and when I come home, she plays me this song.  And nine months later our son Jimmy was born.”  I love the way the bridge (or is it a chorus) builds and settles–that melody is just gorgeous.

“Pink Kimono” has a simple rocking riff and the two singers singing at the same time.   Doucet’s soloing is on fire in this song.

“Die Alone” is a showstopper.  A slow moody piece in which Melissa sings over a wash of synths.  The music so much build as just unfold as first Luke sings with her and then the band kicks in.  Wow can Melissa belt out a song.

“Downtown” is a celebration of how you can put hundreds of thousands of people in a city and for the most part everyone gets along.  It s got a great throbbing bass and some cool guitar scratching and riffs from Doucet.  It’s a bummer that they interrupt the awesome middle solo section with an interview, even if it is quite interesting.

After Melissa lays out how they wanted the band to sound, Luke says that when people ask him about what it’s like to do Whitehorse, he says

we were solo artists first but we had been involved with each others albums as singer or producer  or touring musician.

So in order to be successful

you have to hang out together for five or six years and play in each others bands and make eight albums together and then you have to go on tour as freelance/hired gun musicians working for Blue Rodeo or Sarah McLachlan and then you have to live together for five or six years and listen to music together and fight and then you have to get married and once you’ve done all these things and listened to 10,000 hours of music and dissected Tom Waits entire catalog and argued about which is the best Beatles record and had fights on stage about who is speeding up or slowing down and once you’ve done all those things together then start a band.

It certainly worked for them.  The only bad thing about this show is that it’s only 30 minutes.

[READ: January 24, 2019] Hits & Misses

It has been a while since Simon Rich published a collection of his stories.  This one was pretty enjoyable.  Overall, not as much fun as some of his previous collections, but still a lot to laugh at.  Rich tends to write what he knows, which is often a very good sign.  However, sometimes what he knows is limited to writing and filming, which tends to miss the everyman silliness of his earlier pieces.

Having said that there are still some hilarious pieces that anyone can enjoy and some pieces about writers that are very funny.

A few of these pieces appeared in the New Yorker, and I indicate as much, with a link to my longer review.

“The Baby.”  This was a highlight.  A sonogram reveals that their baby is holding a pen–he is going to be a writer!  But when word gets out that the baby is already getting a reputation AND representation, well, that baby’s writer father is pretty damned jealous.  Wonderful absurdity based on reality taken to its extremes. (more…)

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