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Archive for the ‘Yes’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: GUSTER-Keep It Together Live from The Beacon Theatre (2014).

In 2014, Guster released three CDs of them playing their early CDs live in their entirety (excluding for some reason their second disc Goldfly).  This is their fourth CD ‘Keep It Together’ recorded live in concert at The Beacon Theatre on November 30, 2013, ten years after its release.

As the disc opens, Ryan shouts, “Keep It Together starts now.”  This makes me think that they played other songs before it?  It would be great to hear an album in its entirety but not if that’s all they played.

After the first song, “Diane,” Ryan jokes,  “I guess there no real surprises in the setlist from here on out.”

Midway through the show, he comments that as an active band making new music, you want to be careful not to trade in nostalgia.  But he also knows that if one of his favorite bands played one of his favorite albums…it would be magical.

The band sounds great.  And, fortunately, it’s one of those shows where the live recording sounds at times even better than the original.

The only real divergence from the album is that after “Homecoming “King” they play “Chariots of Fire” on piano and strings.  I’m not sure why, but it’s fun.

One of the great moments of any Guster concert is when they play “Come Downstairs and Say Hello” and the Thundergod plays the bongos and smashes the cymbals with his hands.  It’s more fun to see it, but it’s great in this case to hear it.

“Red Oyster Cult” sounds great with the horns as an addition and Ben Kweller comes out and sings lead on the first verse of “I Hope Tomorrow is Like Today” (I had no idea he co-wrote it!).  They even leave a slight pause for the “hidden track” of “Two at a Time.”

This is a great version of this album, and well worth the listen.

[READ: June 2, 2018] “Fungus”

This is a story about carrying on after the unthinkable. But not just carrying on, carrying on with the mundane things that you can’t live without but remind you of exactly what happened.

The story opens with an insurance check and talk of geckos.  But the tone is not lighthearted like Geico commercials.  Andrew has access to Ingrid and Ron’s car, but really, he can only borrow it for so long.  It is time to buy a new one.

So Andrew and his daughter Willa go to the Subaru dealer.

These two scenes are simple enough, but they are fraught with meaning–with the undertone of what happened and how Andrew is allowed and allowing himself to deal with it.   There’s darkly funny thoughts (he’d like a homemade sign around his next that says “I don’t know”).  But the reality is that he has to go on for Willa’s sake, if not his own.

And then there’s this idea which is perfect for the story but works wonders in everyday life: (more…)

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[ATTENDED: August 31, 2016] The Claypool Lennon Delirium

2016-08-31 22.23.17I saw Primus back in 1990 or so.  I’ve been a fan ever since but I’ve never seen them live again.  In 2015, Primus was touring with Sean Lennon’s band Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (who are really good, too) but my schedule conflicted so I couldn’t go.  When I heard that The Claypool Lennon Delirium were playing in Philly, I snapped up tickets.

During the above tour, Les Claypool and Sean Lennon got together to make a song and they enjoyed playing so much that they made a whole album.  And it’s as trippy and weird, as you might expect.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from them live.  I mean, it seemed like it would be an insane spectacle (Primus had recently toured Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which was a real spectacle).  In comparison to what I imagined the show would be like, it was pretty subdued.  The backdrop was three (non-changing) banners, and aside from switching guitars and basses a few times, there wasn’t a lot of shenanigans.  In fact, the usually loquacious Les barely said more than a few words the whole night.  When he first came out he said Hello Philly and commented that we were all staring at him.  And that was pretty much it.

Because it was all about the music.  And the music was really freaking good.  There was a ton of jamming–with each guy showing off.  Les was Les and Sean really wailed on his guitar and effects.  From the picture you can see what appear to be tablets in front of them.  Were they for lyrics or chords or were they playing Pokémon Go?  Who knows. (more…)

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empireSOUNDTRACK: THE DEAD MILKMEN-“Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes and How!” (1990).

deadmYesterday’s album could only be followed by this song.  The Dead Milkmen, always willing to mock, wrote this song with that hilarious title.  Interestingly, the “buttholes” part is a reference to Gibby Haynes, singer for the Butthole Surfers, on lead vocals.

Despite the title, the song itself sounds nothing like a progressive rock song.  It’s only 3 and a half minutes.  On the other hand it is almost entirely instrumental and changes style about 3/4 of the way through.

But check out the topical lyrics:

We’ve got to get together
And we’ve got to save the snails
Let’s board the purple spaceships
Before they set sail

I want a Yes reunion
And you know I want one now
No more Anderson
Walkman, Butthole Surfers and How!

Listening to the opera
And smoking angels’ dust
You can’t get more fucking
Progressive than us

The guitar riff is pretty interesting and angular.  And it’s sloppy in a wonderful Dead Milkmen way with stupid sound effects at the end of each line.  And of course, it’s just funny.

[READ: April 12, 2015] Empire State

I was delighted to see this book at the library.  I have really enjoyed the four other books by Shiga that I’ve read (I was sure I’d read more, but I guess they were all close together).  This one comes before his mind bending Meanwhile.  While it is a pretty straightforward narrative, he does play with time a bit to make the story a little more interesting.

One of the great things about Shiga’s art is how simplistic (I would almost say childish, but that’s not right or fair) his drawings look.  His characters are pretty much round-headed with round eyes and oval mouth.  They could be done on a computer but I hope they’re not.

The story starts in Oakland, CA, where Jimmy is talking to his best friend, Sara.  They talk about her date last night and the creepy Craigslist date she went on recently.  All the guy’s profile said was looking for a nice Jewish girl.  And Jimmy (who is Chinese) says that he may have to use that line next time. (more…)

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shadowSOUNDTRACK: ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE-Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989).

The band with an amazing pedigree created a band with a preposterous name and an equally preposterous album title.  But who cares, right?  After the pop frenzy of Big Generator, why shouldn’t the “real” members from Yes (excepting Squire) form a band?  They even brought Bruford back (he has said that he didn’t realize all three other guys were part of it, he thought it was a solo recording).  Perhaps the most insulted person should be Tony Levin.  Not only did I not know he played bass on the album (Bruford brought him over from King crimson), but I can’t even hear him on it!  I have listened to this record a couple times recently and I can’t hear any bass at all.  It’s like the anti-Chris Squire album!

I remember when this came out I was pretty excited.  I remember drawing the album cover (look, kids, Roger Dean is back!), and I remember joking about the preposterous “Teakbois.”  But when I listened to it again (first time in probably twenty years), I didn’t recognize a lot, and I liked even less.

abwhThe album opens with “Themes,” a six-minute, three-part mini epic which should hearken back to Yes of old.  There’s an interesting slow circular keyboard piece and a pretty piano melody and then it gets funky, sort of.  About 4 minutes in, it changes to a new thing altogether but again the sounds are so…bleah,  the guitars sound pretty good (some great guitar work from Howe) while those keys just sound….  You know I said that Wakeman would never play the sounds on 90125 & Big Generator, but he went even blander on this song.

Track two is only 3 minutes long.  It’s dramatic and angry with some good keyboard sounds.  It’s probably the best thing on the album.

“Brother of Mine” is another three-part mini epic that runs over 10 minutes.  The guitar chords and style remind me of mid 80s Rush. There’s lots of interesting elements and the main verse reminds me of maybe early Genesis or Marillion.  Although the solo and other sections seem…obvious instead of groundbreaking.  The middle part is pretty good, with a very classic Yes feel.  But the final section sounds exactly likes something from a Disney movie, perhaps The Little Mermaid (which came out the same year).

“Birthright” starts off ominous with some interesting percussion.  Although all the percussion on this album is rather disappointingly electronic.  Not that’s there’s anything inherently wrong with electronic drums, it just seems wasted on someone as amazing as Bruford.  It feels vaguely like a Peter Gabriel song.  It’s pretty good but it gets a little melodramatic by the end.

“The Meeting” is a treacly ballad.  It sounds nice but is nothing special.  “Quartet” is the third mini epic.  This one is nine minutes and four parts.  The first part is folky and reminds me of Simon and Garfunkel.  Part 2 references tons of old Yes songs in the lyrics (which seemed to make reviewers of the album giddy) but which really just shows how weak this song is compared to those other songs.

elp“Teakbois” has got to be the biggest WTF recorded.  I’m all for bands embracing other cultures and it’s awesome that after Paul Simon released Graceland other bands added multicultural elements to their sound, but this 7 minute monstrosity sounds like AWBH went to the Caribbean and joined a tourist band.  I don’t know if they released many band photos for this album, but this songs makes it seem like this could have been their cover.  There is a chorus near the end of the song in which they sing “cool running” and I was relieved to find out that the film with that name came out four years after this song.

“The Order of the Universe” is another 9 minute, four-part epic.  Just thinking of this song makes me think of the closing credits for The Lion King (which came out five years after this at least) or something.  There are some interesting parts to it.  But the “Rock Gives Courage” section is dreadful and Anderson sounds like he’s singing a pop metal band

“Let’s Pretend” closes this album.  It’s only 3 minutes long and is co-written by Vangelis.  It’s a fine song, completely inoffensive.

So what is up with this disc?  Am I imposing a 21st century attitude on it?  Am I missing that it was actually really influential (on Disney songwriters anyhow) and that it’s not their fault that other people have poisoned the sound for me?  I understand that musicians change and grow, but with these four names, you’d expect something a lot bigger and better than this.

Maybe when I listen to it in another 20 years I’ll actually like it again.

[READ: May 10, 2015] The Shadow Hero

I really enjoy the stories that Gene Luen Yang creates.   And this one (which I later found out is actually meant to be an origin story of an already extant character) was really interesting.

The story begins in China.  In 1911 the Ch’ing Dynasty collapsed and soon after the Spirits who were born with China and watched over her had to decide what to do.  The Dragon, the Phoenix, the Tiger and the Tortoise came to a council.  Later, the tortoise left the country with a man who was too drunk to know why he was even on the ship he was sailing on.

Then we see that the story is told by a first person narrator when he says that his mother came to America a few years later.  She had high hopes of the prosperity and beauty of the country, but her hopes were dashed by the realization of the ghettos and slums of Chinatown.

His father (the drunk from above) owned a grocery store and Hank (the narrator) helped out.  His mother, the stronger-willed of the two was a driver for a rich woman and took no crap from anyone. (more…)

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profxSOUNDTRACK: YES-Big Generator (1987).

big genAfter the huge success of 90125, Yes released that solos EP and then buckled down to make the follow up.  It took a few years and sounded an awful lot like 90125, although not as good. I remember enjoying the singles, but when I listened to it recently I felt that it didn’t hold up at all.

Wikipedia tells me that there was lots of trouble while making the album (really??).

Big Generator’s sessions dragged on for two years, largely because of creative differences. Guitarist Trevor Rabin was aiming to progress beyond 90125, while founding lead vocalist Jon Anderson was beginning to yearn for more traditional Yes music. Trevor Horn, who was a major factor in the success of Yes’ previous disc 90125, was part of the early recording sessions. However, he dropped out after a few months due in major part to his inability to get along with keyboardist Tony Kaye. Anderson stated that Horn had told Anderson to stay away from the rehearsal and recording sessions for three months, presumably so that Horn could develop material with the other band members.

Given all that, is it any surprise that the album isn’t all that good.  90125 inspired a lot of music, including this album.  So this album sounds more like a retread rather than a moving forward.

“Rhythm of Love” opens with lovely Beach Boys harmonies (although at this point I’m imagining more “Kokomo” than “California Dreaming” even if “Kokomo” came out 2 years later).  That opening guitar section sounds so much like a pop 80s song (in a not so good way).  The chorus is quite good although it takes that group harmony one level further into uncomfortably sterile pop land.

“Big Generator” sounds like the b-side follow up to 90125.  The guitars are meaner and there are more orchestral hits.  There’s some interesting sections that Yes of old might have played–but they are recorded very differently here.

“Shoot High, Aim Low” is fairly uninspired (even if it was popular on the radio) and at 7 minute it’s way too long.  “Almost Like Love” is another song that sounds so much like 80s pop, it’s kind of icky.  “Love Will Find a Way” is credited solely to Trevor Rabin who really did sort of take over the band in the 80s (what does Chris Squire do at band meetings anyway?).  It is also very poppy but it has some interesting guitars and textures.

“Final Eyes” would be good if it was 2 minutes, but once the second part of the song starts, it drifts into less interesting territory (especially at over 6 minutes).  “I’m Running” is quite polarizing for me.  I like the interesting bass line that opens the song (occasionally Squire does something cool on this disc), but the overall Caribbean Feel is just so wrong.  If the song ended at 3 minutes after that interesting guitar riff it would be much better.

“Holy Lamb (Song for Harmonic Convergence)” ends the disc.  It is written (surprise) entirely by Anderson.  It’s pretty good and a surprisingly decent ending to the album, although there’s an awful 80s synth sound on it.

This was the last Yes album I bought.  I think I heard about Union when it came out in 1991 and featured nearly every person who ever recorded a Yes song, but I wasn’t interested in it.  Since that album they have released 8 studio albums and countless live albums, but I’m content with what the past has given.

Incidentally, this whole travel through Yes started when Chris Squire died recently.  Squire is the only person to have played on every Yes album.  But as I said earlier, I often wonder what he was like to work with.  It seems like when new players come in they kind of take over the sound and Squire is often shunted to the background.  I don’t know a thing about him personally or professionally for that matter. I just know that he could play an amazing bass and wish he’d shown it off more.

[READ: May 20, 2015] Who Killed Professor X?

This graphic novel intrigued me, in part because it was originally written in Greek (can’t think of too many modern Greek books I’ve read–translated by Phil Holland) and in part because it is a comic about mathematics.

The Foreword explains that the book is intended for two kinds of readers: those who have some knowledge of mathematics and those who have no knowledge of mathematics…. The first category of readers can try to solve the problems and determine whether or not each suspect has a valid alibi, whereas the second can simply skip this step.

So the (fairly thin, I must admit) premise of this book is that Professor X was killed while at a conference for mathematicians.  The room was empty for 20 seconds, so the killer must have been more than x meters away from the Professor in order to be considered innocent.

The suspects (we learn later) are all of history’s greatest mathematicians.  They go only by first name in the story, but the end of the book gives biographies of all of the real people they were based on (from throughout history).

Each of their alibis is a mathematical explanation of why they could not be the killer.  And as the Foreword mentioned, if you know math (high school level or so) you could figure out where each suspect was based on the clues given. (more…)

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colonySOUNDTRACK: YES-9012Live: The Solos (1985).

9012liveYes had released live albums before, and most of them had been quite indulgent, but none were as strange and indulgent as this live EP–a tie in with the popularity of 90125.  And yes, I have it on LP.

There are seven songs (in 33 minutes).  Two of them are proper songs from 90125.  The other five are the titular “solos.”

The two songs, “Hold On” and “Changes” both sound quite good.  The are notably less perfect than the album which is to be expected, but it’s still a little disconcerting given how perfect that album is.  The guitars are heavy and Anderson (and the other singer) sound in very good form.

Then there’s the solos:

“Si” is a rather uninspired keyboard solo.  It lasts 2:30 and the biggest cheers come when he starts playing “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”  I just have to wonder what Wakeman would have done with this–or if his head would have exploded at the sound of the disc.

“Solly’s Beard” is the guitar solo from Trevor Rabin.  Not unlike Howe, he plays mostly classical guitar.  It’s a good solo, although really not that mindblowing (or even as interesting as Howe’s “Clap”).  There are some keyboards in the background too, which I guess means this isn’t a solo.

“Soon” is Anderson’s solo.  He sings the end of “The Gates of Delirium” from Relayer.  I imagine that’s the only thing you’d hear from that album, so it’s a nice addition.

Chris Squire and Alan White get two solos together (so I guess they are duos, but then the title of the album is wrong).  The first is Squire playing “Amazing Grace,” which bleeds into the 8 minute “Whitefish.”  This is actually a medley of a few past performances like: “The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus),” “Tempus Fugit” and “Sound Chaser.”  Since Anderson said he would never sing anything off Drama, you can only hear “Tempus Fugit” during this solo.

I’m not really sure anyone needs to hear this more than once or twice, but it was fun to dig it out all these years later.

[READ: April 25, 2015] The Lost Colony

I really enjoyed the graphic style of this book.  It has a look of a wood press–thick lines and dark colors.  It was also very cartoony, which was a great way to address many of the issues that were brought up here–especially slavery.

The book opens with a man in a green suit and bowler hat hanging up signs for a slave auction.  There’ a little girl, Bertha Snodgrass, who sees the sign and thinks that she can afford one.  She follows the stranger as he heads to an island (the lost island presumably) in which Alexander Hamilton Snodgrass seems to have made himself president and treasurer.  There are black and white people on this island.

Obviously, there’ a lot of racial issues in this story.  There’s a “Chinaman” named Pepe Wong who dresses in a “bathrobe” and offers Chinese medicine but also speaks in Spanish (Madre dios!).  There’s a black woman who distrusts the heathen Chinaman and wants nothing to do with the slave auction. (more…)

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foiledSOUNDTRACK: YES-90125 (1983).

90125After the tumultuous release of Drama, Yes broke up.  And then, soon after, they got back together.  This time Jon Anderson was back on lead vocals and Trevor Horn was…producer?  Steve Howe did not return after the breakup.  He was replaced by a different Trevor, Trevor Rabin.  And returning behind the keyboards was original original keyboardist Tony Kaye (woah).

This reincarnated Yes was supposed to be a band called Cinema with Squire, Alan White and Trevor Rabin.  But when Anderson and Kaye joined in and Horn agreed to produce, they became Yes again.

They got rid of the old logo and replaced it with a bland one but a new symbol.   Long gone is Roger Dean, replaced by a high-tech looking cover and a high-tech sounding album title 90125 (which, rather lamely was just the records catalog number (7-90125-1).

Despite the old school returnees, this album was pure 80s pop.  I can imagine that many diehard yes fans hated it when it came out.  There are moments of yes (Anderson’s voice and the harmony vocals), but there’s no intricate guitar, there’s no melodious synths, even the drums are modern sounding.  The biggest difference between this and previous albums (aside from the whole new wave feel) is the crispness of the recording–sudden starts and stops, and really quiet breaks of songs.  It’s very “produced” and not very warm.

But I wasn’t a die hard fan when it came out and I rather liked it and I still do. In fact I talked about this album a while ago, so i figured I’d just contextualize some of those ideas.

“Owner of a Lonely Heart” is a much-sampled 80s classic.  The quality of the sound is pretty great and the music is also really spare–not a bad thing, just surprising.  This and “Hold On” were written originally by Trevor Rabin (even though “Hold On” sounds very Yes with the choruses and big vocals).  “Changes” was also written by Rabin.  And I am fairly certain he sings the lead vocals, although I can’t find that information anywhere–it certainly isn’t Anderson.

“It Can Happen” is a very poppy song (well, they all are) which was originally written for Cinema, but which they modified for Yes.  And so was “Cinema,” the two-minute instrumental.  It was originally 20 minutes long, but they seriously reduced it for the Yes album–I’d like to hear the original to see if there’s any sense of a Yes epic in there.

“Leave It” is one of my favorite songs from the album with the voices which I assume are sampled, but possibly not  There’s just so much electronic manipulation here, it is so un-Yes, but it sounds great.  The production is perfect and the song is great.

“Our Song” has a really good chorus but it doesn’t quite achieve the excitement of the earlier songs.  “City of Love” is the same for me, moments that are good, but the quality had to drop off somewhat on the record, right?.  “Hearts” is the longest song and it actually lasts too log.  Again, the chorus is good, but it kind of drifts after a bit.

That doesn’t stop it from being a great album, with a ton of great songs front loaded on the album and presumably a nice load of cash for the guys to spend (how mad must Howe be that he chose that time not to come back?).

Since almost every Yes album had different personnel, I’m going to keep a running tally here.  This is a biggie, look who has left!

Chris Squire-bass
Jon Anderson (#1, replaced Trevor Horn #2) vocals
Alan White (#2)-drums
Tony Kaye #1 (replaced Geoff Downes #4)-keyboards
Trevor Rabin (#3 replaced Steve Howe #2)-guitar

[READ: April 20, 2015] Foiled

Jane Yolen has written over 300 books apparently.  I know her more as a children’s book maker and hadn’t read any of her YA books.

This book was really wonderful.  And I’m aware that it’s part one of two, although it ended satisfyingly.

Aliera Carstairs is a fencer in high school.  She started fencing when she was 11 and had a real aptitude for it.  Her coach suggested she could make nationals.  She has defeated girls and boys much older than her.  She has a gift.

She has no social life, but she doesn’t mind.  She doesn’t fit in with the jocks, the goths, the nerds or really anyone, she just is herself.  She also has a cousin whom she visits every Saturday.  Her cousin has rheumatoid arthritis so she is confined to a wheelchair.  But she and Aliera play role playing games every Saturday.  While they play, Aliera becomes queen Xenda of Xenon, swordfighter extraordinaire (which she knows is not much of a stretch, bit it’s still fun).

She also has a mom who loves buying things at yard sales and Salvation Armies.  And she manages to get Aliera a practice fencing sword for $2.  It has a really cheesy ruby on the handle but aside from that it’s quite good. (more…)

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