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Archive for the ‘The Smiths’ Category

[ATTENDED: October 22, 2018] Johnny Marr

My friend Garry got me into The Smiths in high school. I had been exclusively into metal before that, but there was something about the guitars and lyrics of The Smiths that I really enjoyed.  And I quickly became a huge fan of Johnny Marr.

The Smiths broke up in 1987 and that was that.  Johnny Marr has since gone on to play with dozens of bands, including Electronic, The The and Modest Mouse.  He has also been releasing solo albums along the way, but I didn’t really listen to any of those.

Because of my love for The Smiths and much of Morrissey’s solo work, I tried to see Morrissey last year.  Of course that show got cancelled.  So I assumed I’d never get to see any members of The Smiths live (I have no idea what the bassist and drummer have been up to).

Then I saw that Johnny Marr was doing a one-off in New York City for his new album Call the Comet (which was getting great reviews).  I tried to get tickets but didn’t.  Oh well, no big loss.  Then a few months later, he announced a small U.S. tour including a stop in Philly.  He has only played Philly in 2003, 2013 and 2014.  So this seemed like my only chance.

I don’t know much about the guy himself.  Morrissey, as we all know, is a prat.

But what about Johnny?  Is he an aloof 80s alt rock star?  Like hell he is.  His merch all says “Johnny Fuckin Marr.”  He was chatty and funny.  He had on a great shirt and smiled a lot.  He was generally a load of laughs.  Who would have guessed?

But the real question is, Is Johnny Marr to stuck up to play Smiths songs?  Like hell he is.  Actually I didn’t know if he’d play any Smiths songs. But i was pretty psyched when he played six of them.

But he was there to promote Call the Comet and so he started out with a new song called “The Tracers.”  It had a repeating “whooo whooo” refrain and a rocking guitar part.  Knowing what I know about Marr, I never expected his songs to rock out like this.  And yet they did rock out.  Virtually every song he played was rocking and full-bodied.  And his backing band was fantastic James Doviak played guitar and keys.  I enjoyed that he supplemented Marr, playing mostly rhythm guitar but occasionally taking on some of Marr’s signature sounds as well.  Despite the shades, he never stepped into the bright lights

Johnny then delighted me and everyone in the room by playing the opening chords of The Smiths’ “Bigmouth Strikes Again.”  This is one of the first Smiths songs I’d ever heard and it was amazing to hear it live.  The crowd went berserk (so many old men dancing!) and then Johnny sang.

Johnny is no Morrissey and he does not try to be. He does not sing like Morrissey, but he does have the same Mancunian accent so while it was no Morrissey it was not exactly wrong either.  The delivery was less arch but was still right.  It was an awesome treat.  If that was the only Smiths song he played I would have been happy.  But he had a few more tucked away.

He followed that up with the new song, a B-side to “Hi Hello” called “Jeopardy” which had a rockin riff and trippy vocals.  Then he played “Day In Day Out” which has an acoustic-sounding guitar.  Doviak didn’t switch guitars, he juts switched effects which was pretty cool.

Johnny sang from the center of the stage where the soft lights were on him.  Sometimes he was obscured by white, other times, he was faintly visible.  But every time he took a guitar solo he walked up to the front of the stage where the spotlights shone on him and we could see him in all of his leather jacketed or heart-print-shirted glory. The only bad thing was that the really tall men (are all former goths really tall? At least none of them had Robert Smith hair) would put heir heads together blocking my view to scrutinize his playing, leaving me looking at pomade and bald spots.

He said, “Hi guys, how are you all doing.”  He then corrected that he wasn’t only talking to the men.  He’s from England, if he was only talking to the men, he’d say “hello darlings.”  This was an introduction of sorts to “Hi Hello.”   And then came the opening riff to “The Headmaster Ritual.”  So there would be more than one Smiths song!  This song, in addition to having a great guitar riff also has a notable bass line which Iwan Gronow played perfectly.  It was like hearing the band (except that Johnny sang “same old suit since 1982”).

The next cover was a huge surprise because I had forgotten that Johnny was in the duo Electronic (with Bernard Summer from New Order).  Neil Tennant was a guest on “Getting Away with It” (Neil did not guest at TLA, of course).  It was odd because I knew this song pretty well but it sounded so different. The original has lots of keys but this song had far more guitar than synth (and no Neil Tennant).  But the guy next to me (short with a nice head of white hair) danced like a fool.

“Hey Angel” has some great guitar soloing.  Then Johnny switched gears to play a beautiful “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.” It was interesting as he sang the words and I wondered what he thought about Morrissey’s lyrics.  They are so distinctly The Smiths, but would he have ever written anything like that himself?  Certainly he doesn’t now.  Did he feel weird singing it?  I can’t imagine that Johnny Marr has felt that way in decades 🙂

He joked that politics was fun eh?  Given Morrissey’s recent proclamations, who knew where he was going with this, but he just proceeded to say that “Bug” was dedicated to “you know who.”

Then he asked, “Any requests?  Bet you weren’t expecting to hear that!”  People shouted some favorites and he responded “That’s no one of our songs, sir.” And then finally he said, “What’s that you say sir ‘Get the Message’ from 1991.  Yea I think I can do that.”  This was another Electronic song although I wasn’t as familiar with it (but that other guy sure was).

“Easy Money” from his previous album also sounded familiar.  Perhaps it had some airplay a few years ago.  The guitar chords were very Johnny Marr but the riff was heavy and the verses were very synthy.  Either way it was pretty great.  He followed it up with another song from Playland, “Boys Get Straight.”  It was also a solid rocker, with great drums from Jack Mitchell.  Clearly I need to check out his solo albums.

Just as I was wondering how long of a show Johnny Marr would do, he started playing the most iconic riff in all alternative rock.  “How Soon is Now” was just amazing.  Johnny played the echoing chords and Doviak plays the searing note  The only downside to the whole thing was that I could barely see him or Doviak the whole time.  However, being in the same room as the guy playing those chords was more than enough.

That was a set ender and frankly could have been a concert ender, it was something I’d hoped for and I got and I was satisfied.

But they did indeed come back for an encore.   As has become traditional, the encore included two songs from the new album before getting onto real encore material.

He played that chord and we all knew it was “There is a Light That Never Goes Out.”  I never thought I’d hear a room full of middle-aged men sing “to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die!”  It was amazing.

When that song was over he told us that we were the last night on his tour so how about one more?  (It turns out he played the same two songs back to back on all of his shows.  In fact it was the same setlist all tour, but he did make us feel special).

And who cares if he was lying when the opening notes of “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby” rang out and once again, we all freaked out.  It was an awesome end to the show and left all of us singing and happy.

I had basically written off Morrissey bailed on us last time.  I basically felt that I would maybe go see him if he ever came back, but possibly not.

But now that I’ve seen Johnny Fuckin Marr play “How Soon is Now” what do I need Morrissey for?

 

SETLIST

  1. The Tracers 
  2. Bigmouth Strikes Again š
  3. Jeopardy (b-side of single)
  4. Day In Day Out €
  5. New Dominions 
  6. Hi Hello 
  7. The Headmaster Ritual š
  8. Walk Into the Sea 
  9. Getting Away With It 
  10. Hey Angel 
  11. Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me š
  12. Bug 
  13. Get the Message 
  14. Easy Money 
  15. Boys Get Straight 
  16. How Soon is Now? š
  17. encore
  18. Rise 
  19. Spiral Cities 
  20. There is a Light That Never Goes Out š
  21. You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby š

Call the Comet (2018)
Playland (2014)
š The Smiths cover
Electronic cover

 

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[POSTPONED: December 4, 2017] Morrissey

I have been a fan of The Smiths since my friend Garry introduced me to them back in the 80s.  I enjoyed much of Morrissey’s solo output (to varying degrees).  Obviously, I never saw The Smiths live.  I had never really considered seeing Morrissey live until my recent concert-going binge.

When he came around to Philly a couple of years ago I joked that he was probably going to cancel, so I didn’t bother getting a ticket.  But he didn’t cancel and my friends who went said he was great.

Over the past couple of months (alright, years) he’s been saying a bunch of really stupid-ass shit.  The kind of stupid-ass shit that should upset his fans, but probably no one else.  His fans are all a little to die-hard to care, though, so he’s sort of yelling into a vacuum.  Making headlines that people who hate him say “see he’s an ass,” and fans say, “oh never mind him.”

Well, I decided that this was the tour I’d go see him.  Fully cognizant of the fact that he might cancel the show.  And early on, he cancelled a show in L.A. because the temperature wasn’t right.

He played Madison Square Garden the night before this show and all was fine. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: FRAGILE ROCK-Tiny Desk Concert #635 (July 14, 2017).

Fragile Rock are an emo band.  But they are not your typical emo band because they are a band of puppets.

And for just 15 minutes on a glorious spring day in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio became National Puppet Radio.

It was the real-life breakup of band leader Brently Heilborn that led to the formation of the woefully woven band Fragile Rock. But these aren’t just any puppets — no. They are emo puppets, armed with drums and guitars and glum tales to tell, with songs like “Wake Up to the Breakup” and “I Am Sad (And So Am I)” that which draw from the spastic boogie of The B-52s and the laments of The Smiths. At one point, you’ll see Fragile Rock empty a bag of “bloodied” socks, tossing them into the crowd, before breaking into the song “Socks Are Murder,” a playful take on The Smiths’ thoughtful “Meat Is Murder.”

The band consists of seven puppets (handled by 8 performers) and three actual musicians (see below for the details).  They play three punky songs.  And I wish I liked the songs a little more.  There’s something that doesn’t quite live up to the visual fun of the band.

“Wakeup To The Breakup” is a fast punk song, but the song isn’t quite as catchy as I’d like.  But I do like the spirit of the song and the amusing “crowd surfing” of Milo S.  I also enjoyed the amusing commentary afterward: “There’s so many sad breakup songs… but sometimes it’s a wonderful thing.  So if anyone came here today with someone you don’t want to leave with… that song legally counts as your conversation.”

The second song is a lot more catchy (and a bit funnier).  As an introduction, Milo says, “A lot of you don’t want us to get political on National Puppet Radio.”  But they need to speak out that “Socks are Murder.”  The lyrics are largely clever: “argyle is a lie / with every step a puppet dies.”  I rather like the way the chorus starts with him dead panning “Socks Are….”  “socks are murder!”  When the song ends, he glowers: “We don’t appreciate your laughter.”

Before the final song, Milo says “We’re very happy to be here at the legendary Tiny Desk Concert.  We’re assuming we set the bar so high this will be the last one.  So we’d like to close out the series….”  The backing puppets all look aghast: “It’s not funny!”  The song is dedicated to everyone’s dark muse, “Fairuza Balk.” It’s the catchiest of the three with great backing vocals.  I like at the end when the final line is “She was in The Craft” and the guitarist chimes in.  “And The Waterboy.  She was in The Waterboy, etc.”

And in the spirit of the day Fragile Rock managed to crowd surf a puppet bringing giggles to a crowd of reporters, editors and friends, while puppets depicting NPR hosts Susan Stamberg, Michel Martin and Robert Siegel (the latter actually received a playful kiss from none other than Nina Totenberg) — all created by NPR’s own puppet master Barry Gordemer — objectively observed.

As the video ends, you can see the puppets getting of the elevator and then sitting behind the NPR microphone.

It’s a very fun, make no mistake.  I just don’t think I’d enjoy the songs without the visuals.

  • Musicians

    Milo S. (lead vocals, handled by Brently Heilbron); Nic Hole (bass, handled by Megan Thornton); Kyle Danko (guitar, handled by Chadwick Smith); CoCo Bangs (drums; handled by Taylor Love and Luke Wallens); The Cocteau Triplets (back up vocals; handled by Emily Cawood, Kim Stacy, and Bryan Curry); Cindy Ward (bass); Ryan Hill (guitar); Jayme Ramsay (drums)

[READ: August 1, 2017] “Le Réveillon”

This excerpt comes from a 1977 untranslated novel called Livret de famille.  It was translated by .

The piece begins as we learn of the death of Fats.

The narrator was 18 when he met Fats.  He was introduced to the large man (the nickname was not ironic) by a cabaret girl, Claude.  At midnight she would appear on stage wearing a mink coat and evening gown.  She would perform a striptease while two white toy poodles capered around her and snatched her underthings as she removed them.

Fats was a regular presence at her shows and would leave notes for her afterwards.  When she introduced Fats to the narrator, Fats laughed that the narrator had the same name as brand of cards in Italy, so he began calling him Poker. (more…)

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newSOUNDTRACK: DANISH STRING QUARTET-Tiny Desk Concert #399 (October 25, 2014).

danishI always enjoy hearing a string quartet that I’m unlikely to hear anywhere other than a Tiny Desk Concert.  It’s fun to listen to them before reading anything about them to try to imagine where they’re coming from musically.   The opening notes of the first song made me think they were a modernist quartet playing music that was repetitive and mildly atonal.

But they quickly swing it around into what turns out to be the first of many traditional Danish wedding folk songs!

While the quartet does play classical pieces as well, for this Tiny Desk Concert, they focus only on songs from their then recent album Wood Works.  The blurb says “the group recently took a musical detour that landed them in the foggy inlets of the Faroe Islands (a Danish outpost halfway between Norway and Iceland) and various Nordic hamlets where folk tunes are played and passed on.”

The first piece is actually three melodies: “Traditional: Ye Honest Bridal Couple — Sønderho Bridal Trilogy Parts I & II”  The piece begins somewhat atonally, but about 2 and a half minutes in the somber tones give way to a spritely melody that sounds like a great lost Irish jig.  But soon enough with the addition of the other strings it sounds very romantic indeed.  In what I presume is part II, around 6 minutes, the cello plays a wonderfully upbeat and catchy rhythm. The violins play staccato notes that keep the rhythm going while the viola and cello continue the melody–it’s pretty awesome.  Especially as the song fades and each of the strings plays the riff in succession.

The second piece is in fact two pieces: Traditional: Sekstur from Vendsyssel — The Peat Dance.”  Once again the two melodies sound kind of like Irish dances (I guess it’s time to call them Danish dances).  The second half of the first part sound great as the full quartet plays a wonderful melody.  But when the second part of the set comes and the super fast fiddling begins, it s hard not to dance (you can even hear someone tapping his foot as he plays).  The big difference between this and Irish dance is the rather formal sounding and lovely ending melody.

The final piece is the third part of the Bridal Trilogy from the first piece: “Traditional (arr. Nikolaj Busk): Sønderho Bridal Trilogy Part III.”  He says that these melodies date back many 100 years and are still used today.  It begins very slowly and almost somberly.  It doesn’t feel very wedding-like to me and of the three this is my least favorite.

The quartet sounds amazing. The players are Violinists Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen and Frederik Øland, violist Asbjørn Nørgaard and cellist Fredrik Schøyen Sjölin.  It’s also kind of funny since three of the four have beards–not something you typically see on a string quartet. They acknowledge this on their website: “We are simply your friendly neighborhood string quartet with above average amounts of beard.”

[READ: June 20, 2016] Something New

Knisley has made a rather successful career out of writing graphic novel memoirs.  She has covered food and travel.  And, in a somewhat surprising twist (if you have been following her books), she just got married.

This is surprising because the man she married is the man she broke up with in one of the previous books.  The story basically tells how they were on an off sorta kinda for years until they finally tied the knot.

So this book is the story of their relationship and their engagement. But beyond that it is also an interesting and helpful guide-book for those who want to get married but who may not be totally on board with all of the conventions and trapping of the wedding industry. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 2, 2016] Deftones

2016-08-02 23.24.33I tend to not go to metal shows all that often, but there have been a few bands that I’ve really wanted to see.  Mastodon was one and Deftones was the other.  I’ve loved just about everything Deftones have done since the super heavy “My Own Summer” and then the major turn they took into an almost shoegaze vibe on their later albums.  They are never afraid to experiment and their albums are always compelling.  Much of that is due to singer Chino Moreno’s voice.  He can whisper and sing beautifully and he can scream like nobody I’ve ever heard.  And all of that was on display last night.

Top it off with Chino being an incredibly charming and gracious frontman (who seemed to be more than enjoying himself) and you have an outstanding show.

The band sounded great.  I was right in front of guitarist Stephen Carpenter and it was amazing to watch the sounds he was making out of his eight string (8!) guitar.  I couldn’t really see bassist Sergio Vega all that well, although I was delighted that he was wearing a Smiths shirt and was singing great harmonies. (more…)

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basoonSOUNDTRACK: THE MUSIC TAPES-Tiny Desk Concert #182 (December 20, 2011).

musictaopesJulian Koster released an album in 2008 called The Singing Saw at Christmastime.  It was a complete CD of Christmas songs played on the saw.  That should tell you that Koster is an unusual fellow. But that doesn’t prepare you for what he unleashes during his Tiny Desk Concert with The Music Tapes.

Koster has a very high-pitched voice (I have a recording of him doing “I’ve Got My Love to Keep me Warm,” which is almost unbearable.  His singing is really close to the fine line of unique and bad (and I imagine for many it crosses the line). He’s also got a fascinating way of looking at things and of storytelling.  So this Tiny Desk show winds up being quite long (20 minutes) with quite a lot of different things going on.

First he tells a lengthy story about his great grandpa.  And how his great grandpa told him that baby trees can walk.  But they are tethered to the ground by an umbilical cord. And when we cut them down, we sever the cord.  And a Christmas tree is adorned and worshiped for two weeks and then set free to roam the earth.  It is a warm and strange and delightful.

Then he and a second member of the group play “The First Noel” on two saws.  It’s weird ad wonderful.  At the end of the song he has his saw bow, and Bob says he didn’t know a saw could bow.  Julian says they do and in fact that singing saws sing by themselves but we encourage them by petting them and placing them in our laps.

I don’t enjoy everything Koster does, so the second song “Freeing Song For Reindeer,” a banjo based piece about a tired old reindeer transporting Santa is slow and kind of sad and not my thing.

But then he tells a story of growing up with all kinds of culture and Holiday traditions which leads into a version of Gavin Bryars’ “Jesus Blood.”  I enjoy the original and didn’t know what to expect here.  They begin with a tape loop of an old man singing the song (possibly the one Bryars used, but I don’t know).  And then Koster starts playing the banjo with a bow.  And then a second guy does the same. Then the percussionist stars playing the toy piano and the noises build.  He switches from piano to trumpet and plays along.  Meanwhile the second banjo player switches back to the saw for the end. It’s really quite a lovely performance.

“Takeshi And Elijah” is another slow and keening banjo based song.  It’s pretty long, I don’t really like it, but by the end, as it builds with trumpet and toy piano, he ends the song sith a puppet Santa doing a tap dance as percussion.  It’s a great ending to an okay song.

The final song is “Zat You, Santa Claus?”  It’s played on bowed banjo and sousaphone.  It’s a fun and crazy rendition.   It’s one of the weirdest Tiny Desk shows and certainly the weirdest Christmas set.

[READ: December 5, 2015] The Bassoon King

I really liked Rain Wilson in The Office, but I haven’t seen him in much else (I forgot he was in Six Feet Under and Galaxy Quest) . I wanted to like Backstrom, but it got cancelled before we even watched an episode.

So why did I check out this memoir of an actor I like a little bit?  Well, primarily for the title.  The Bassoon King had an absurd ring that I really gravitated towards.  When I saw there was an introduction by Dwight Kurt Schrute, I knew this would be a good book.

The introduction (by Dwight) is very funny.  I love Dwight and I love thinking to myself “FALSE!” whenever I disagree with someone.  Dwight wondered why anyone would read a biography of a young semi-famous actor.  “Fact. NO. ONE. CARES.”  But then says he doesn’t care either because he is making a lot of dollars per word for this thing.

Rainn begins his memoir by making fun of his big head (especially when he was a baby).  It’s pretty funny.  And then he describes his hippie family and his weird name.  His mom changed her named from Patricia to Shay in 1965.  She wanted to name Rainn “Thucydides.”  But his dad always liked Rainer Maria Rilke.  Now, they lived pretty close to Mt Rainier, so they went for Rainn (“Tack an extra letter on there for no apparent reason”). (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 2, 2015] Built to Spill

2015-10-02 23.54.05 As I mentioned, I was supposed to see Built to Spill back in 2001 (11 days after 9/11).  I didn’t feel like going into the city or listening to live music so I didn’t go.  I recently learned that they did play that night.  And I’ve seen their set list.  And I think I’m probably happy I didn’t go.  I preferred going to this show with only the preconceived notion that my friend Jay has seen them about a dozen times (and met Doug Martsch) after a show) since I introduced him to them just a couple of years ago.  So I was pretty psyched.

But I was not as psyched as the two guys who run up next to me (I could touch the stage) just giddy with excitement that “the legend” was going to be just five feet away from them.  It sounded like they might have had a present for him (but who knows what that meant).  They talked about the set list they were sure he would play.  And they nearly melted when he came out on stage.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that much adoration at a show.  It seemed almost teeny bopperish to me, which I find especially amusing since Martsch is an old balding guy with a big beard who barely looks like he ever smiles.

But then there he was, indeed just a few feet from me. And that was pretty awesome. (more…)

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