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Archive for the ‘Wilco’ Category

SOUNDTRACK:  DAN MANGAN + BLACKSMITH-Live at Massey Hall (February 28, 2015).

I know Dan Mangan from a Tiny Desk Concert.  I also had an opportunity to see him opening for Stars a month or so ago, but I couldn’t make the show.  I was bummed about that and am even more so after seeing how great Mangan is live with a full band.

He says his family flew in from Vancouver because Massey is like Canada’s Carnegie Hall.  Or should I say, Carnegie Hall is like America’s Massey Hall.

Then his bandmate says: Charlie Parker played here.  That’s ridiculous!
Neil Young played here.  That’s ridiculous!
We’re gonna play here.  That’s ridiculous!

Wilco played here; Arcade Fire; Joni Mitchell; Peabo Bryson (you know what I’m getting at–Peebs!); James Taylor; Dizzy Gillespie.

Massey Hall is from the days before there were mega rock concerts–when things sounded better.  The soul of that has been lost.  Music was made about the art and the music and not about being in the same room as someone famous.  There’s something about that soul of rock n roll has been lost.

“Mouthpiece” is a dark acoustic but fast, shuffling song.  It builds rather quickly to a noisy rock–which Mangan specialized at with some great drumming from Kenton Loewen.

“Vessel” opens with some screeching feedback and cool staccato piano riff.  Mangan’s deep voice works perfectly with this spare musical landscape.  The backing singer singing “it takes a village to raise a fool” works perfectly as the keys and trumpet build behind them.  I love how every few lines some other new piece of music is added, like the wailing guitar solo that runs through to the end.

“Rows of Houses” has a great building backing vocal section.  I love the quiet intensity of this song before it ratchets up to a loud stomper.  There’s s long noisy jam with trumpet (JP Carter) and keys (Tyson Naylor) blaring and a wild raucous bass (John Walsh) and a crazed guitar solo which ends with Gordon Grdina hammering the back of the guitar neck creating a wall of feedback and distribution

“New Skies” opens slow, but after a verse the band kicks in and it, too, rocks.

He says he needs everyone to sing the “oooohs” and he’s pleased with everyone’s response.  He sings some verses and then band starts singing the ooohs and he says “I forgot to tell you that’s where you come in.”

As the song moves along, there’s mostly a keyboard solo but then Grdina comes in with a pretty wild, sloppy but emotive solo.  Then Dan takes the mic and gets the crowd to sing along.  He exhorts: “When people stand they tend to breathe and sing little louder.

It works and it’s a great set ender.

He (and they) puts on a great show.

[READ: February 5, 2018] “The Burglary at Stormfield”

This excerpt is from a previously unpublished section of his autobiography.  When he died in 1910, he requested that his autobiography not be published for 100 years.

This excerpt is about his house outside of New York City.  He says he named it Innocence at Home but his daughter, Clara, called it Stormfield–“it is high and lonely and exposed to all the winds that blow.”  He concedes hers is a better name.

He got the money to build the house “out of a small manuscript which had lain in my pigeonholes forty-ones years, and which I sold to Harper’s Magazine.  The article was entitled Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.”

The focus of this essay though is burglaries.  He says that Stormfield has been broken into many times and he is surprised that the New York architect should have overlooked adding a burglar alarm to the building.  New York City is only an hour and a half away…”it contains millions of people, and most of them are burglars.” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 18, 2018] Jeff Tweedy

I knew I was overbooking myself this particular week (this was my third concert in three days), but how could I pass up Jeff Tweedy playing in Princeton?  He’d never played here before.  Who knew when he’d do it again.  And I could get seats by walking right up the box office.

After seeing Wilco live I knew I’d want to see them again.  And while Wilco is much more than Jeff Tweedy, Jeff Tweedy by himself is pretty great.  Especially if you’re in Row E.

I came to Wilco pretty late in their existence.  I didn’t want to know about any alt-country bands back then.  Who needed to add -country to alt- music?  Well, then I heard “Via Chicago” live and I was hooked.  I have retroactively enjoyed all of their releases.

So how awesome was it that he opened with “Via Chicago” just for me? (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 18, 2018] OHMME

I was slightly disappointed to find that Jeff Tweedy had an opening band as I was hoping for “an evening with” the Wilco frontman. When I looked up OHMME, really the only thing I learned from them was that they were once called HOMME.  But I’m not sure why they changes the name.

So I didn’t really know what to expect when two women came out on stage.  They each had a guitar and a microphone.

And then proceeded to play the most interesting duo rock that I’ve heard in a long time.

Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham (I’m not even sure who was who) played a vast array of styles and sounds (often within the same song) using just two guitars (and a violin) and their voices.  It was fantastic. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JEFF TWEEDY-Live at NPR Music’s 10 year Anniversary Concert (December 2, 2017).

I’m going to be seeing Jeff Tweedy live tomorrow night.  So I prepped for the show by watching this 20 minute session from NPR Music’s 10th anniversary.

There were a lot of performers at this Concert but for me Tweedy’s 20 minutes was the highlight.  He stood on stage with his white jacket and white cowboy hat and he effortlessly played five songs that spanned nearly 25 years. (There’s a terrific version of “Born Alone” which Tweedy sings with Kronos Quartet here).

His guitar playing is simple but effective and works as a perfect backdrop for his the focus of his voice and lyrics.

Thankfully for us and the audience at our 10th anniversary concert on Dec. 2 at the 9:30 Club, Tweedy’s set managed to run the gamut of [his] celebrated career. From his beginnings as a slack, alt-country rocker (playing Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had”) and A.M.-era Wilco (with “Passenger Side”) to his recent turn as Mavis Staples’ producer and songwriter (on “Jesus Wept”) and later, Nels Cline-era Wilco (“Locator”).

The constant in all this experimenting is Tweedy’s voice as a singer and songwriter — one that invites a deep trust, even when it courts darkness. Performing solo with an acoustic guitar, his voice was once again at the center of it all.

The first song, “Bombs Away,” was previously unreleased.  The lyrics were thoughtful and stark

“I leave behind a trail of songs / from the darkest gloom to the brightest sun,
I’ve lost my way, but it’s hard to say / what I’ve been through should matter to you.”

When he starts Uncle Tupelo’s “We’ve Been Had” the smoke machine sends wafts across his face.  “Is something on fire?  …  I am cooking!”  The song soars and is one of the more upbeat songs he plays.

He follows with “Locator” from Schmilco.  It’s certainly odd on the record, but this acoustic version lets you see the foundation of the song before all of the cool effects are added.

He plays the pretty but rather downbeat “Jesus Wept” which is something that he worked on with Mavis Staples for their collaborative album.  I don’t know her version, but his is delightful.  When it’s over he says, “I thought I’d pull that one out because it’s such a big celebration….  It’s a fun song.  Can anyone think of a song I should play that’s celebratory?”  [audience shouts out].  Jeff continues, “so you don’t know any of my songs, that’s cool.”

Someone shouted out “Passenger Side” and he plays that.

He ends with “I’m The Man Who Loves You” which gets lots of applause.  He has some fun with fast guitar playing, and he is clearly having a grand time.

I can’t wait to see what he does with a full set.

 

[READ: January 25, 2017] “I Didn’t Win Any Pulitzer Prizes This Year”

This piece was not in the magazine.  It was in the Daily Shouts section online.  I am refraining from writing about these online-only posts in general, but this one slipped past my print-only radar.

Just how do you stretch out a premise like this for an entire essay?

He explains that this egregious omission continues his twenty-nine year streak of not receiving even one of these prizes.

Overlooked in nonfiction: an email with the subject line “Re: (No Subject).”  The Prize committee did not conclude that the email was informative “but its brevity was what pushed it over the edge.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: WILCO-Live at the Newport Folk Festival (July 29, 2017).

Every year, NPR goes to the Newport Folk Festival so we don’t have to.  A little while afterwards, they post some streams of the shows (you used to be able to download them, but now it’s just a stream).  Here’s a link to the Wilco set; stream it while it’s still active.

I have been really enjoying Wilco’s most recent albums, but it’s their live shows that are exceptional.

Opening with “Random Name Generator” they segue into a very string-heavy “Via Chicago” (a one-two punch of greatness that would leave me flabbergasted).  The recording of this song is particularly great because you can really hear the craziness that Nels Cline adds to the noisy sections.  And the strings also loom large, which I find interesting.  It sounds like a full string section, but maybe its’ just synths?

Wilco have so many albums and so many songs.  Most of their live shows run over two and a half hours.  So this barely-over-an-hour set means excising.  And yet they don’t just play a hits set.  There’s quite a few songs from their latest album, Schmilco and a deep cut from Wilco (The Album).  That particular song “Bull Black Nova” has a cool guitar solo back-and-forth between Cline and whoever else was on guitar at the time.

A mellow “Reservations” leads to a lengthy “Impossible Germany” with an extended guitar solo from Cline.  “Misunderstood” gets a big round of applause (and a suitably chaotic middle section–a mini freakout).

Earlier, Jeff Tweedy said “I don’t feel like talking” but before “Heavy Metal Drummer he says, “I guess I feel like talking a little bit…  Nah.”  Then “Hope we didn’t ruin your lovely day, we didn’t mean to if we did.”

They play a fairly shambolic “I’m the Man Who Loves You” which means not that they play it sloppily but that they play it noisily–from time to time one instrument or another has a little noisy fun while everyone else keeps playing like normal.

As the set starts winding down and Tweedy starts to chat with the crowd, someone shouts something and he says

Happy birthday?  Don’t bring that up.  It’s nowhere near my birthday.  [pause] I might never have another one. [groans from the audience] I just wanted to draw everyone’s attention back to our mortality.  I thought we were having too much fun… it sucks. [pause]  You guys have been heartwarming and reassuring.  Every time I think that everything in the world completely sucks we get to play in front of an audience and share something with people that I know is real and I know it exists and will always exist…  And there will always be more of this than whatever the fuck that is.

They play a lovely “Hummingbird” and a crowd pleasing “The Late Greats.”  Tweedy tells us that “my dad says ‘life is happy and sad and it hurts,’ I wrote about 1,000 songs to say that.”

Tweedy can’t help impart some more advice for our troubled times:

Just show up.  Just show up for everybody and things will be all right.

Before the final two songs, he says, “A lot of people have been yelling for this song, which is understandable.”  It’s from the Billy Bragg & Wilco album of Woody Guthrie songs and it’s called “Christ for President.”  It’s more true now than ever.

For the final song, Billy Bragg himself comes out (that’s what so cool about Newport Folk Festival) and they play a rousing rendition of “California Stars.”

Festivals are never quite as good as regular concerts if you really want to see one band. The sets are always shorter than you want.  But this is pretty fine.  And the recording quality is superb.

[READ: June 20, 2017] “The Countess’s Private Secretary”

This issue has a section of essays called “On the Job,” with essays about working written by several different authors.

Jennifer Egan was indeed the private secretary to a Countess.  The Countess was a woman of some authority.  One time Egan was on her way to work for her.  There was some kind of fire emergency in the building and pedestrian traffic was halted.  The Countess shouted out the window to the emergency crews insisting that Egan be let through.  And she was.

Egan said that being the private secretary often meant “becoming” her–starting at 1PM their lives were more or less the same. It helped that Egan herself was tall and slender, Catholic and full of nervous energy.  She was also short-tempered, just like the Countess.  Indeed, even their handwriting matched pretty well.  Although the Countess told Egan that she liked and her, Egan always knew she was just a servant.  The Countess was not above telling her that garlic oozed from her pores for days after she ate it.  Plus her cowboy boots were coarse, her spelling was atrocious and so on.

(more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 28, 2017] Deap Vally

My friend Kaylo [who has the best concert karma I’ve ever heard of and–even though she and her family live in Minnesota–we have made a pact to see Pearl Jam and Wilco should they ever play together somewhere.  A long shot but a drool-worthy one] saw Deap Vally open for Death From Above 1979 and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club last summer and said they were great.  I had heard their song “Royal Jelly” on NPR and really liked it (and their album is the genius named Femejism which is pretty solid as well).

So Deap Vally is a duo: Lindsey Troy (guitar, vocals) and Julie Edwards (drums and vocals).  And as with many duos these days, they are able to get a huge sound out of just a guitar and drums (even during the guitar solo which can often leave a big sound feeling a bit empty).

I loved that Lindsey was wearing a custom-made (Sarah asked her) fringed, sequined red body suit.  Julie was more hidden behind her kit, but she was also bedecked in sequins.

They played a half-dozen or so songs and they rocked (they were quite a bit louder than Blondie, but maybe only slightly louder than Garbage).  But I loved the band’s ability to impress an audience (I’m assuming a slightly older audience given Blondie) with their solid songs and stage presence).

They were genuinely happy to be playing and both seemed to be having a lot of fun.  And Lindsey’s guitar sounded tremendous (Julie’s drums were pretty great, too).

The one flaw was that Lindsey’s vocals sounded a little less great but that’s because of the venue, not her.  They were not hooked up to the sound system I don’t think, because everyone else’s voices were pretty clean.  But if you listen to “Julian”. you can hear that she’s a little muddied.  And that’s a shame because their lyrics are really great.

Like “Smile More”

And I am not ashamed of my mental state
And I am not ashamed of my body weight
And I am not ashamed of my rage
And I am not ashamed of my age
And I am not ashamed of my sex life
Although I wish it were better
I am not ashamed I am no one’s wife
Although the idea does sound kind of nice

I don’t know all of the song titles that they played, but I did get a video of the the great stomper, “Baby I Call Hell” from their album Sistrionix.

They closed with “Royal Jelly” which sounded perfect.  I thought I’d taped a clip but apparently I didn’t.

After their set they were out in the foyer signing things and giving high fives.  If I had known they were going to be out there I would have brought my copy of Femejism for them to sign. Instead, I just told them how much I enjoyed their set and wished them luck.  And Sarah got this excellent picture of them.

 

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SOUNDTRACK: BILLY BRAGG-Tiny Desk Concert #281 (June 17, 2013).

I really like Billy Bragg.  Not necessarily all of his music, but I like a lot of it and I certainly love what he stands for.  If you like his instantly recognizable voice (which I do), then just about anything he does sounds good.  But no doubt some songs are catchier than others.

Bragg played a Tiny Desk Concert in 2016 with someone else as part of a duo.  I’d listened to that one first, but I liked this one more.

For this one he is accompanied on the first two songs by dobro player C.J. Hillman.

Bragg talks a lot–he has many lengthy stories between songs–and he’s pretty much always funny or thoughtful.  He introduces the first song by saying that moving into a new building always has troubles–you’ll always need someone to fix things up.  With that, his first song is called “Handyman Blues.”

It’s a great story song.  I especially like this line:

Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed / but I can write a song about how much I love you instead.

It’s amusing that in the next song workers actually interrupt his song.  They were “met with lot of hammering on our rooftop by some real handymen as they put the finishing touches on NPR’s new home.”

For the second song they

channeled the spirit of legendary American folksinger Woody Guthrie, with whom Bragg collaborated — albeit posthumously, in Guthrie’s case — when he took Guthrie’s unsung words and set them to song with the help of Wilco. Here, he takes a song Guthrie himself co-opted and altered: a gospel tune (“This World Is Not My Home”) he’d turned into an anthem against inaction.

Bragg introduces this song as saying he took it over when the U.S. was having the debate about universal health care.  He says that people still face all the same problems that this classic song talks about–people losing homes to banks or families struggling to make ends meet.  But the middle verse is about a wife who dies on the floor for want of proper health care.  Bragg says that that doesn’t happen in his country anymore and it’s hard for people in his country to imagine that a generous country like the US still hasn’t resolved that issue (and five years later things are even worse with Trumpcare–#ITMFA #RESIST).

Guthrie called the song “I Ain’t Got No Home (In This World Anymore”).  After he sings a verse, the hammering starts and they pause the song to wait for the work to finish before he re-starts the song.  In the meantime they talk about what his band should do in Washington.  Someone says the National Archives and he jokes the Nashville Archive?  He says that they really enjoyed Nashville.  Then he mentions the National Archive to CJ and says

We can find out how the Americans started the war of 1812.  (chuckles).  I just played Annapolis, they’re still sore about it over there.  Never mind who won the war but who started it.

It’s another nice story song.  The dobro works perfectly with it.

“Sexuality” is the only song on this set that I knew.  It’s an old favorite that is serious and funny as well (and very progressive for when it was written).  It sounds terrific and is super catchy.  Although he comments that the acoustics aren’t that great in this new building–there’s not much bounce back off the walls “for those of us who technically aren’t great singers.  But for those of us who are buskers like myself, it’s not bad.”

Introducing the final song, “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” he says he read an article on the BBC about a kid who proved that economics professors were wrong and the article commented that “the trouble with economics is that no one knows nothing anymore.”  He says that had just written a song with that same name, so he’s with the zeitgeist.

He also interjects that there will be pedants–“and there are one or two who listen to NPR, I’m sure” who will write in to say it should be ‘no one knows anything any more.’  But the first thing they teach you at songwriting school is that alliteration trumps grammar.

And then he starts strumming “Sexuality “and says “Oh, I’ve just played that.”

“No One Knows Nothing Anymore” is a nice folkie, very-Billy Bragg song–good melody and really good lyrics.

At the end, as the camera fades to black he says “Chris, pass the hat around.”

I’m so happy that Billy Bragg is still making music.

[READ: March 26, 2016] Persepolis

This graphic novel is legendary, and I’m embarrassed it has taken me 13 years to read it.

Persepolis is a memoir of a young girl growing up in Iran during the 70s and 80s.  I appreciated the contextualizing introduction in which she explains the history of the country.

The introduction lays out a basic outline of the history of Iran and the Middle East (that goes all the way back to B.C years).  She explains that Iran has always been a rich nation and has constantly been under attack.  When oil was discovered, the West came calling.  Great Britain wielded a powerful influence over Iranian economy.  During WWII, Iran remained neutral but then was invaded by the west.

The Prime Minister of Iran (not the Shah) nationalized the oil industry in 1951 which led to an embargo and a coup organized by the CIA.  The leader, Reza Shah was succeeded by his son, Mohammad Reza Shah–known simply as the Shah of Iran.  The Shah stayed in power until 1979 when he fled to escape the Islamic Revolution.

She says that since the Islamic revolution Iran has been associated with fundamentalism, fanaticism and terrorism, but she knows that this is far from the truth.  And that’s what inspired her to writ this book.

(more…)

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