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Archive for the ‘Wilco’ Category

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.

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1979SOUNDTRACK: HAPPYNESS-Tiny Desk Concert #468 (September 4, 2015).

happynessHappyness are a trio from London: Benji Compston (guitar), Jonny Allan (bass) and Ash Cooper Drums).  They play mellow Britpop with rather clever lyrics.

The first song “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere” opens with a steady bass line and smatterings of guitar chords.  And when the guys  sing, Benji sings into a normal mic in a kind of deep whisper and the Jonny sings into a processed mic to make his voice sound kind of tinny (in harmony).  And the lyrics are great.  I like when the second chorus comes in and the processed vocals go up an octave for a really cool harmony effect.  And I mentioned the lyrics.  Here’s an interesting verse:

I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair / There’s a scalpless singer of a Montreal rock band somewhere / And he’s all right

Before the second song starts, they have a bit of fun while Benji tunes his guitar.  Everyone is standing around awkwardly and Benji tells Jonny to tell his whale joke.  Jonny says no and that it’s not his whale joke he took it off the internet and would like to put it back.

For the second song, “It’s On You” the guys switch places (it  was suave, kind of Bob Fosse-ish).  Benji sings into the processed microphone. The song also has some busy basslines but the guitar is more pronounced.  Hearing him sing in that processed tinny voice is really interesting.  More interesting lyrics: “You said I’m an anarchist, communist, feminist phlebotomist.”

Before the final song, they switch places again.  Benji says he’s “not the most flexible boy in this collection of people.”  “Who is?”  “Definitely [the bassist].”  Bob asks, “Who tells the best jokes?”  “Unintentionally [the drummer]  Jonny says to the drummer: “You could do the whale joke… don’t do the whale joke.”

The final song, “Weird Little Birthday Girl” is nearly 8 minutes long.  It opens with a cool bass riff and some lovely overlapping guitars.  There’s a nearly three-minute instrumental opening and when Jonny starts singing it has a distinctly Wilco quality (partly because oft he processing on his voice but also his delicate singing).  There’s a nice shout out to Prefab Sprout in the lyrics:

Its so easy to replace it / some things hurt more much more than cars and girls / an evening in an iron maiden / a morning in your funny little world.

I really enjoyed this set a lot and I’m intrigued that their album (on bandcamp) has some really short songs too.   I wonder if their sound is different on the record.  Guess I’ll have to give it a listen.

[READ: July 12, 2016] The Complete Peanuts 1979-1980

I foolishly thought that this book would play up the idea of moving into a new decade. But as I should have learned from years past, Schulz doesn’t really care about when it is.  His strip is mostly timeless.  There are of course references to time passing, but they are very minor.  So, on New Years when it  turns 1980, the strip heading says 1980, but there’s no other mention of it.

It’s also interesting how some things that he’s talked about in the past cycle again–many many years later.  In January 1979 Peppermint Patty is on a quest for a library card (we saw Sally get one like 5 years ago).  She says that once she gets one she wont leave home without it.  Marcie says Karl Malden will be happy to hear it. This is a reference to a an American Express card commercial that I remember hearing all the time when I was a kid (although I had o idea it was Malden doing it).  She also get a very funny line about junk food: “Life is more than carrot sticks, Marcie…what is a stomach that’s expecting a chocolate bar going to say when it gets a carrot stick?”

The World War I Flying Ace never really went away, but it seems to be making a resurgence in this year, with Snoopy wandering around speaking French and then later German to all the young ladies. (more…)

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nameless SOUNDTRACK: TWEEDY-Tiny Desk Concert #391 (September 22, 2014).

tweedyI’ve recently become a major fan of Wilco and Jeff Tweedy’s songwriting.  This band is Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer (on drums).  They usually perform with a full band, but here it’s just father and son.

The songs sound very much like Wilco (Tweedy’s voice is unmistakable), but there is a different, almost patient feel to these songs that makes them seem not-Wilco.  Spencer’s drumming is not flashy (that wouldn’t work here anyway), but it is right on the beat with occasional flourishes.

“Wait for Love” is a sweet ballad.  “New Moon” is a bit more upbeat.  There are 20 songs on the record.  After the second song, Jeff says he doesn’t know how many songs they’re supposed.  Bob says they’re supposed to play til 6″ (it appears to be early afternoon).

Jeff says they can stay till six, There’s nothing happening in the world, right? Bob states, “There is no news today.”  Jeff smiles and says that later “Spencer and I are going to reveal our strategy for ISIS, so it’s a good thing you’re here.”

“Low Key” is more rocking with some cool chord change progressions in the middle (ans a little drums-only section).

Before the final song, he says he wrote it for Mavis Staples (She didn’t sing it when I saw her…bummer).  He says that “Spencer didn’t play on that record… but we know how to play it together.”  He pauses and says, “We know how to play all of our songs together.”  Pause  “I’m such a good front man” (to much applause from everyone).

Jeff laughs and says that Spencer is gonna get a microphone and “you’ll have to talk to people.”

“You’re Not Alone” is a bit more complex and powerful than the others and that repeated refrain of “open up this is a raid” is really great.

The Wilco Tiny Desk Concerts have been raucous and fun.  This one is much more low-key and shows off a different side of Tweedy.

There’s a sweet moment at the end of the set where Spencer give his dad a hug.

[READ: April 20, 2016] The Nameless City

Faith Erin Hicks has been consistently excellent with her graphic novels.  I was pretty excited to see that she had a new book coming out.  And I was even more excited to go to the library and see that Sarah had requested it already.

I dove right in to this story.

It begins with some unnamed people riding down the River of Lives and going into a city.  They ask several different people what the name of the city is and they get several different titles.  They determine that this is the nameless city.

It turns out that every civilization that has conquered the city (which happens every thirty years or so) renames the city.  And, depending on which invaders you like best, that would be the name you would choose to call the place.  We later learn that most of the conquerors only conquer the main walled city proper and that the houses and markets on the other side of the wall pretty much just go with the flow.  The people who live outside hate everyone who is in charge and just try to keep their heads down to survive. (more…)

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boilenSOUNDTRACK: ANGEL OLSEN-Tiny Desk Concert #333 (January 27, 2014).

angelBob Boilen has liked Angel Olsen for some time, so when she did her Tiny Desk and most of us had never heard of her, he was already a fan.

Olsen plays a long set but with four songs.

She sits very still, strumming with her thumb and singing kind of low–not unlike Sharon van Etten.  The first song, “Unfucktheworld” is only two ans a half minutes.  The second song, “Iota,” is a little longer.  She sings in an affected almost falsetto style, although the guitar remains very spare.

Between these songs, she is coy about the title of the new record although she is quick to say the first word of the title “burn.”  Later she admits that the final song contains the title of the album, if we wanted to spend time figuring it out.

I marvelled at how high the chords were that she played on “Enemy,”  She seems to eschew any bass for this song.  This one is five and a half minutes long and is just as slow as the others.

Before the final song they talk about whether this is the most awkward show she has done.  She says everyone is very alert–and indeed you can hear utter silence between songs.  But then they talk about the storm outside (and potential tornado) and how this show may never air if the storm is really bad.

“White Fire” is an 8 minute story song.  She does use the whole guitar for this one, which has many many verses.   Since I don’t really know Olsen’s stuff that well, I don’t know if this was a good example of her show or a fun treat to hear her in such an intimate way.

[READ: May 10, 2016] Your Song Changed My Life

This site is all about music and books, but you may be surprised to know that I don’t really like books about music all that much.  I have read a number of them—biographies, autobiography or whatever, and I don’t love them wholesale. Some are fine, but in general musicians aren’t really as interesting as they may seem.

What I do like however, is hearing a decent interview with musicians to find out some details about them–something that will flesh out my interest in them or perhaps make me interested in someone I previously wasn’t.  Not a whole book, maybe just an article, I guess.

I also really like Bob Boilen. I think he’s a great advocate of music and new bands.  I have been listening to his shows on NPR for years and obvious I have been talking about hundreds of the Tiny Desk Concerts that he originated.  I also really like his taste in music.  So I was pretty psyched when Sarah got me this book for my birthday.

I read it really quickly–just devoured the whole thing.  And it was really enjoyable. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: June 12, 2016] Flight of the Conchords sing Flight of the Conchords

chipsAfter having gotten a number of concert tickets fort he summer, I had planned a moratorium.  But it was impossible to pass up the opportunity to see Flight of the Conchords.  Especially if they were going to be singing Flight of the Conchords!  I didn’t even realize they toured (clearly they do), and since there were no plans for a new television season and since Jemaine Clement has lent his voice and face to all manner of awesome evil roles, I assumed the FotC was no more.  [Bret McKenzie has also done things but not nearly as much as Jemaine].

Since we loved the show and the music, I jumped on tickets once they were available.  Once again, I thought our seats would be better than they were (I really need to understand seating charts better), but it didn’t matter because they had two giant screens on which they projected the two of them and did many great visual effects as well.  It was easy to forget to look at them on stage since the screens were so compelling, but it’s always important to see what the guys are doing too.

They played 13 songs in total and did a lot of very funny banter in between.  The strange thing is that I didn’t know they had released a second album (how did I miss that?) so a lot of the songs that I thought were “new” were just new to me.  Although there were some brand new songs thrown in as well.

It was also awesome that as soon as Arj Barker left the stage, there was no delay before Flight of the Conchords came out. (more…)

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