Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Anything said

forgot to link to my Say Anything preview in Time Out, which resideth here. tho it kinda don't matter too much, since the show in question was *tonight*!

attended w/ Laal. had great deals of fun. this one was a first on several levels. had not seen Say Anything before, but had also not been to Hammerstein Ballroom before. i generally despise the vicinity of my office, so i bolt as quickly as possible, but tonight i had to stick around b/c the Hammerstein is like four minutes from where i work. for those who have not had the privilege, picture Webster Hall reimagined as an airplane hangar and you're part of the way there. this place is fucking HUGE, cavernous, etc. i felt like i was at a track meet or something.

it would have been dumb not to expect a raging teenybopper crowd at this one, but the whole MySpace Music Tour thing caught me a bit off-guard. i had kinda half-registered the fact that the site was sponsoring the tour (other bands were Hellogoodbye and Polysics, both of whom i missed, and the godawful Young Love, who were like a lobotomized version of the Cars or somethin.). i name-checked MySp in my article above, but it was sort of more a reference to the whole emo zeitgeist than a specific nod to that online community. but lo and behold, there it was: manifested in a gargantuan MySpace-logo-festooned tour bus parked on 34th St and in actual MySpace-equipped kiosks stationed throughout the venue. as if people need another excuse or opportunity to fucking go online...

and there were of course references sprinkled throughout the set. one of the guitar players was like, "So how's everyone enjoying the MYSPACE MUSIC TOUR?!?" he was totally serious. Max Bemis (lead singer) was a bit less tacky; asking if people had checked out the songs from their new album, he said, "If you've checked our MYSPACE page anytime recently, you might have heard this one." his tone was gently mocking, but yeah, the pluggery was intense. (as was the camera-phone-video proliferation. jesus christ, you can probably view every second of this show from like 7000 different angles on YouTube as we speak...)

as was Say Anything's set. the band is a joy to watch. Max really works the crowd and sings his guts out, but he's got a lot of help in the form of, count 'em, FOUR guitarists, all of whom double on vocals. yeah, a lot of motion of the stage. all the guys look so young, especially the drummer, who couldn't have been 20.

the band was in total crowd-please mode setlist wise. about 70% of the tunes were taken from "...Is a Real Boy," Say Anything's 2004 breakthrough disc, which over the past few months i have come to regard as one of the catchiest, funniest and most insanely ambitious things ever to emerge from the alt-rock movement. "Belt," "Woe" (Laal's fave), "Every Man Needs a Molly," "Yellow Cat (Slash) Red Cat," "The Futile" and of course the two biggies, "Wow, I Can Get Sexual Too" and "Alive with the Glory Love." the audience was screaming along with every word, and i gotta say, it was pretty amazing to hear "Alive," dealing as it does with the Holocaust--my oh-so-eloquent preview sez the song "recasts [Bemis's] grandparents’ persecution in Nazi Germany as a teenage sex romp--screamed by a bunch of young'ns: "Our Treblinka is alive with the glory of love!"

a few tunes from the new disc, "In Defense of the Genre," were played, and i gotta say, i'm pretty happy it was only a few. the disc (actually it's two discs) has been sort of dudlike for me. out of almost 30 songs, i only really like two or three, which is pretty paltry. it's still very ambitious and grandly conceived, but a lot of the awesome self-deprecation and quirky humor that makes "Real Boy" so great is just totally missing. as are the badass hooks. though the song "Shiksa (Girlfriend)"--currently spinning at, whaddya know!, the band's MYSPACE PAGE, which (OMG!) actually has a scan of my frickin article--is fucking killer, a really vicious slice of sexually intoxicated emo. hope i come around on the rest of the disc b/c i've fucking worn out my copy of "Real Boy."

you've got to hear that CD. if you haven't checked the two "hits," please do so.

(that one is absolutely hysterical! brilliant, presumably autobiographical lyrics about a vegetative phone-sex addict:
"If I die and go to hell real soon / It will appear to me as this room / And for eternity I'd lay in bed / In my boxers, half-stoned with a pillow under my head...")

and "Alive..."--a less-inspired video, but a song for the ages, no b.s.:

that one gives you a nice view of the long-maned bassist's epic hair-flips, which were in total daredevil effect tonight.

cool show, and so short! less than an hour start-to-finish.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

At the Helm

Laal and i checked out the Midnight Ramble at Levon Helm Studios last night! definitely a trip. basically the deal is this: Levon Helm, former drummer of the Band, has built himself a studio/performance space in a big, beautiful barn in Woodstock, NY, and every few weeks, he puts on concerts there.

i'd known about this for awhile and though i'd wanted to catch Levon forever, i avoided it b/c it was too damned expensive. but the stars (cough, press perks, cough) aligned this time and everything worked out. it was definitely a pilgrimage sort of thing--i was really happy to be able to check Levon off my list of Idols Witnessed in Person.

we flaked and did not bring a carved pumpkin, as was requested. but many other attendees came through as you can see above (photos weren't allowed inside the show, so this is all i got). i thought it was a little funny that someone chose to carve the "Last Waltz" logo given Levon's very public disdain for that concert and production (the full story is in his incredible memior, This Wheel's On Fire, but Levon's basic position is that the Band's breakup was a money-grabbing stunt perpetrated on the other members by Robbie Robertson), but the pic still gives you an idea of the homey vibe happening up there.

so it really was a barn, for real. people brought all sorts of chips and cookies and potluck sorts of things that were laid out on the first floor. the studio was upstairs--all unpainted wood and brick. modern-looking but very classy. the ceilings were high but space was pretty limited. if i had to estimate i'd say about 100 people fit in there. though they could have, they didn't oversell the thing. most of the folding chairs were taken, but there was plenty of room for dancing and whatnot.

we watched from the balcony for most of the set. Levon's band came out after a few opening acts, which we missed for the most part. he's got a pretty excellent little group, with two guitarists--one of whom, Larry Campbell, produced Helm's new album and happens to be the brother of this dude who was my boss at an old temp job--a stand-up bassist, a trombonist, a saxist, a pianist and a few guest singers: one a female country singer and an excellent blues singer/harmonica player, Little Sammy Davis. [sorry for the sketchy personnel info; can't find all these folks' names.]

Levon's voice is hoarse, but very much there. he sang lead on about half the tunes, and drummed on all but a few--getting up for some mandolin numbers in the middle. the setlist was probably 70% old-timey blues, country and rock & roll (songs like "I Want to Know" that i hadn't heard, but that felt very familiar), with a few Band songs ("Ophelia," "Rag Mama Rag," "The Weight" and--probably the highlight of the night--"Chest Fever," w/ Campbell doing a really solid lead vocal and a great guitar imitation of Garth Hudson's famous organ part) and a few Dylan songs (including a great version of "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry").

this isn't intended as an insult, but Levon's music post-Band is not rocket science. he's not a songwriter in any sense, and he's not really interested in expanding his repertoire; he just likes to groove and have a good time, and this show reminded you that his real gift is entertaining. being a drummer, i obviously had my eyes glued to him the whole time, but i know i wasn't the only one. he just exudes good cheer and pure rhythm and the bounce and groove were heavy all night.

in some of the Band videos, especially "The Last Waltz," Levon's performance has an almost dire vibe, with a lot of grimacing and visible effort. here though, he was all smiles. there was rarely a minute when he didn't have this huge grin on his face--his hair is silver, but he looks totally sharp. he was winking and nodding his head to various audience members--i think i even got a nod at one point and felt totally blessed--and just generally holding court. the sound was absolutely excellent and though it was a little chilly right near the entrance, the studio was really, really cozy and awesome.

back to the drumming, though. i'm sort of stalling on this part of my account, because it's hard to evoke it accurately. let's just say that his chops and groove are completely intact and that i was totally digging the copious classic Levon licks he was busting out. his fills were minimal yet epic as always; there's that great little move where does a little press roll moving from the hi-hat to the ride and gives that little snarl. and then there's his awesome syncopation, the way his cymbal hand generally follows his snare hand--totally busting up the idea that drumming is all about limb independence. there were many times last night where he was playing the exact same thing on the cymbal, snare and bass drum, and the pocket was just insanely deep. he was also throwing out those awesome one-handed rolls--he never uses back-and-forth sticking unless he needs to. also, i was thrilled to hear maybe my favorite rhythmic figure in rock played live: that cavernous syncopated bass-drum thud in the outro of the chorus of "The Weight"--duh / duh / duh / duh / duh --***boom***... kang. i felt that so deeply last night.

listen, if you're a fan, you've got to go check this out at least once.


made contact with another phenomenal drummer on Friday, Mr. Cleve Pozar, alive and well in Clinton Hill. i'm working with Cleve on his oral history, portions of which are scheduled to be electronically published soon. i'll keep you posted! absolutely fascinating cat. details were sketchy when i posted on him awhile back, but i'm getting the full story from the source! short list of heavy players Cleve has worked with: Bob James, Cooper-Moore (then Gene Ashton), Eric Dolphy, Bill Dixon, Jimmy Garrison, Peter Ivers. many crazy tales, i assure you...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lance Hahn is dead

just heard some really fucked up news, which is that Lance Hahn from J. Church died on Sunday of kidney disease. it seems petty to write myself into this story, but i was just listening to the band yesterday at work; i even poked around for some info on what they were up to and heard about Lance's illness, but man, nothing about this...

i don't know what to say about J. Church (which, for all intents and purposes, was Lance, with whomever he happened to be playing with at the time)... they were one of my favorite bands in high school, one of those bands that seemed to completely transcend the genre they were tied to. i guess you could call them "pop-punk" but this music was just so much more real, honest, intelligent, etc. like there was a time when i would've applied those adjectives to Bad Religion, but i've long since outgrown that phase. not so w/ J. Church, who still sound real to me.

Lance's lyrics were incredibly personal, incredibly poetic... i always liked this verse, from "Foreign Films":

"She comes around on a Thursday night,
With a six pack of Becks and a lot on her mind,
I’ve got to work tomorrow at eight A.M.,
I find two glasses that have not been used,
She follows me into my room,
She plays that same R.E.M. record again"

it doesn't look as good typed, and might even appear self-consciously arty or whatever. but there was just this sense listening to J Church that you were listening to the sound of someone sort of scraping by, getting through. and not in a woe-is-me way: actually sort of celebrating the marginal aspects of their existence.

Lance was always very upfront in his songs about the almost gravitational force that work was in his life. he wrote about it often, as in the song "Bottom Rung," which really captured the ecstasy and despair of the five-day work week, something of which i knew nothing when i first heard the song, but which now makes almost too much sense:

"Friday night I went out for a drink.
Saturday and Sunday I was free.
Free to sleep.
Free to read.
Freedom from security."

jesus, amen. on a similar theme, there's a really interesting little treatise on that topic here, which seems to amount to a reversal of Hahn's earlier position. in that blog entry, he claims that "I sort of feel all musicians should also have a day job." he describes a period when he was only touring and how he felt sort of guilty or useless. maybe it's just that without the daily grind, he didn't have much to write about. he wasn't a mope, but existential despair was pretty central to what he did.

beautiful singer, beautiful melodies, extremely literate, always rattling off philosophy and free-jazz references in an extremely nonperfunctory way (check out the Hahn review of Bill Dixon's Odyssey that's archived here--it's listed as "In the J Church Listening Room"), definitely a classic punk-rock lefty--he wrote for Maximum Rock & Roll and was not above scene politics. but he always took a feminist stance that was very appealing: a sticker on his guitar read "overthrow cock rock and idolize your girlfriend."

anyway, speaking of work, that's where i've gotta go, so i'll leave you with two of my favorite J Church tracks:

Tide of Fate
[meditation on futility: "I can sleep under open skies if I'm back at work by Monday / Swim against the tide of fate if I'm back at work by Monday." whew...]

Contempt for Modesty
[beautiful minute-long relationship parable]

J. Church forever. thank you so much, Lance. peace. Great American Artist for sure.

[lots of great J. Church info is here, as it always has been. i strongly recommend the albums "Prophylaxis," "Arbor Vitae" and "The Precession of Simulacra."]

Monday, October 22, 2007

And for the record...

thanks to Olympia's TWIN, Brooklyn's Animal and L.A.'s Veer Right Young Pastor, as well as the awesome venue Goodbye Blue Monday and the booking expertise of Susie Deford, it was still possible for us to have an awesome show on Saturday night that had absolutely nothing to do with CMJ.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Hyper, ballad

some of my thoughts on CMJ are here, interspersed with reports from my Time Out colleagues. highlight was Ruins Alone at the Knit on Friday, hands down. (HEALTH and Aa completely slayed at same show too, tho.)

and apropos of absolutely nothing, a really intense performance of a truly gorgeous song:

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dear flabby


i sent a letter to Pitchfork today. this might seem like a trifling point, but it's been bothering me for a while. the context is that there's a review of the new Nels Cline Singers disc on the site today. or should i say "recent" Nels Cline Singers disc--it came out in ***late June***. i brought up a similar point a while back when they reviewed the latest USA Is a Monster disc three months late. it might seem stupid, but i find it disrespectful, as if they were using these esoteric records as arbitrary and haphazard seasoning in the indie-rock stew. hopefully the Animal Collective analogy i use in the letter makes the point more clear. i'm not faulting the writer--the review is reasonably well-argued and astute. i just take issue with the editorial ethos behind it.

anyway, here's what i sent:

Dear Pitchfork,

As an avid jazz listener, I appreciate the fact that this genre is not really within the scope of what Pitchfork regularly covers. But it frustrates me when you run jazz reviews many months after a record's release date--it shows a blase attitude toward the style and makes it difficult to view this coverage as anything other than tokenistic. In the jazz world, a new Nels Cline Singers CD is at least as important as, say, a new Animal Collective CD is in the indie-rock world. Whether one agrees with your assessment of "Strawberry Jam" or not, the fact that that review ran on the day of the album release is at the very least a statement that you are engaged in a serious way with your subject matter. The average Pitchfork reader probably has no idea that you're reviewing the new Nels Cline CD four months after its release, well after the jazz community (not to mention many mainstream outlets such as "The New York Times") has already has its say. But if you want to engage with the wider music community outside the indie-rock bubble--as opposed to just throwing the odd bone to an esoteric record--you've got keep your coverage in those areas fresh. Running CD reviews on time would help me to take your jazz coverage more seriously.

Thx for listening,

Friday, October 12, 2007

In pieces

here's that article on Alex Ross's new book i promised, with interview snippets. had fun with this one--enjoy!

also some thoughts on the superweird new Neil Young disc. this one ain't too solid, but i'd highly recommend listening somehow to the tune "Ordinary People." it's kind of insane.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Showed up

Laal and i have been spending all our damn time in rock clubs of late.

1) tonight 'twas Qui at the Mercury Lounge. a case of "be careful what you wish for." the general vibe seemed to be "let's bait David Yow into doing something 'edgy,'" which amounted to throwing debris onstage and poking him punily. i guess everyone got what they came for, b/c he freakin' barfed midset. and you know what? it really wasn't the least bit funny. it was pretty depressing actually. the set started off really powerfully, with Yow prancing and shitkicking and really bellowing. he is a simply phenomenal vocalist. but alas, this band is lacking a certain pizzazz. despite their abrasiveness, the songs are really sort of stiff and static. warmed-over '90s ideas performed in an uncharismatic, workmanlike way. sorry, sorry, but this is how it is to me. plus there seemed to be some tension between Yow and the guitarist--the latter did not seem entirely down w/ the former's unhinged vibe, kind of a problem when you've invited one of the most reckless performers alive into your band. oh well...

2) last night was Cheer-Accident at the Cake Shop. outstanding trio set, with a guest vocalist (she was at the last Chicago show i was at--i keep forgetting to get her name). highlights included three "Enduring the American Dream" classics: "The Reenactment," "A Hate Which Grows," and of course, "Dismantling the Berlin Waltz," the latter featuring some outstanding drum work from Dave Bodie of Time of Orchids (they played a really intense and emotional set afterward), who had apparently first heard the tune only days before. additionally, there was a nice long trance-out on "Filet of Nod." the band grooves so hard on that--i could base a religion on Thymme Jones's left-hand hi-hat pattern. anyway, a very warm, warm vibe as tends to be the case when C-A hits town. (plus, Thymme was kind enough to bring me a copy of "Trading Balloons," a CD-R release from '97. one 52-minute song: a kaleidoscopic montage of rad that shows off all sides of the band. whirlwind brutal prog, melancholy drone, ecstatic singalong. gorgeous stuff.)

3) Saturday was Melvins/Big Business (depicted above) at Luna. since i always insist on standing in the front, we had to contend with some ridiculous mosh-type activity throughout but that sorta made it comical. at one point the dude next to us seemed to be having some sort of nervous breakdown right in the middle of the set--people kept bumping into him and he started clutching his head and screaming. kinda freaky. anyhoo, had seen the new MLVNS lineup (now featuring ALL of Big Business) and though this set wasn't as disgustingly bludgeoning as the one at Warsaw last year, it still kicked hard. they seem to be digging real deep into their back catalog these days and two highlights were "Let God Be Your Gardener" from "Ozma" and "The Ballad of Dwight Fry," an Alice Cooper cover from "Lysol." the latter was stretched waaay out w/ a verse i've never heard before and sounded truly epic. if Yow/Qui was an example of a somewhat ungraceful aging, this was the exact opposite. i'm not sure there's ever been a more confident, ungimmicky band in the world. Buzz and Dale are sounding as good as they ever have and they will not slacken. killin' it.

(in looking up the song title to that "Ozma" tune, i found this insane repository of live Melvins mp3s. dear god...)


so yeah, i'm sick of hanging out in rock clubs, but if you're not:

this Thursday, 10/11

Child Abuse

Stay Fucked
Upsilon Acrux
Extra Life

8:30pm-ish, $CHEAP
Cake Shop, 152 Ludlow bet. Stanton and Rivington
Noo Yawrk

Friday, October 05, 2007


man, it's been hard as hell to find time to blog recently. i feel like i'm going to have to go into super-efficient digest mode for this one. i'm going to do a LIST of things i have been finding awesome of late, with potential for elaboration.

1) finally recording w/ Aa. was such a unique joy to play in this band and i was always worried that my contributions to the sound would go undocumented. but i finally went in last night and got a few things tracked. some astounding musical minds in this group--John, Aron, Nadav and now Josh, and formerly Sean and Mike. it's a real pleasure to collaborate with folks like this, especially since what i play in Stay FKD is so utterly different. so... thanks to these dudes and all best of luck in future endeavors (which hopefully will involve me at least intermittently!).

2) Nate Wooley. have loved this guy's trumpet playing for awhile now. he plays as though musical ideas were calories and he's gotta watch his weight--a real efficiency. never moves on until he's really exhausted a concept. i just get a feeling of intense, poignant concentration, even meditation when i listen to him. caught Nate's set w/ Paul Lytton and David Grubbs (!) at the Festival of New Trumpet Music on Sunday and it was really fascinating. look for a published review soon. in the meantime, definitely check out the Lytton/Wooley CD on Broken Research. i don't see it listed on that page yet, but apparently it's out soon. anyway, it's an exemplary document of experimental improv circa '07. brief pieces, very listenable, and again with that deep sense of listening and honoring the ideas you introduce. Lytton sounds NOTHING like he does w/ Evan Parker in this project. check it! (i also love Wooley's 2005 solo disc "Wrong Shape to Be a Story Teller" on Creative Sources. extremely tense, quizzical, almost scarily FRAUGHT music. pins and needles the whole time.)

3) the new reissue of Peter Brotzmann's "Machine Gun" on Atavistic, which was sent to me out of the blue yesterday (thanks, dudes!). how effing easy is it to underestimate Brotzmann? c'mon, raise your hands, you've all done it. yeah, "burly, blustery German tenor in the post-Ayler vein," blah, blah, blah. i'm as guilty as anyone. i've always considered his work as having a ceiling due its perceived one-dimensionality. and i always thought of this record as being basically ground zero for why i and so many others think that way about him. but it's kind of bullshit, i'm realizing. this is a very, very diverse, not to mention deliberate session. the title track has a blowout aspect, sure, but it's also got incredible plotting and pacing. it's a real episodic piece. and the other cuts on the record (one by Fred Van Hove and one by Willem Breuker) are so damn odd and so diverse. "Responsible" even has this sort of calypso thing happening! the live take of "Machine Gun" is also great; it doesn't have that crazy bomb-shelter sound of the original, but you can really hear what's going on so it's a good reference. great tactile playing throughout all this stuff, especially from the basses. so gritty. but so much more spacious than i'd ever thought! i thought i knew this record, but i absolutely did not. it's a RECORD, not just a gesture of brute catharsis.

4) Say Anything. basically my favorite band right now. a more, er, formal expression of this sentiment is brewing, so i'll shut up. but i feel like a damn teenager in anticipation of their new album and upcoming tour. Laal and i may be the only ones there over 12! (is "...Is a Real Boy" one of the greatest rock concept albums ever made, or is it just me?)

5) "The Rest Is Noise," Alex Ross's history of 20th-century classical music. huge fucking ups on this one. this was one of those books that i'd wished someone would write: i.e., a challenging and thorough, yet totally accessible intro to a subject i'd wanted to explore forever. just dipping my toe into Messiaen, Schoenberg, Feldman, Reich and others, but i'm so glad i have a road map. was fortunate enough to be able to interview the author, so i will wave a flag when that piece is readable online.

6) Ben Ratliff's new "Coltrane" book. mentioned this in my previous post about my little '65 Coltrane phase, which is still going strong. a very fascinating, insightful and extremely idiosyncratic book. unlike the Ross tome, i can't say i was waiting for another Coltrane book, but that's sort of what's so amazing about it: Ratliff actually writes the book from the perspective of being weary of all the mythology surrounding Coltrane and so he just methodically dispels it. his approach is not so much cold as incisive. i could never write the way he does, but i really admire the book's economy, the fineness of its points. plus i'm hugely envious of Ratliff's excellent grasp on jazz theory, something i'm a bit of a dummy about. he really helped me understand, at least in broad terms, Coltrane's journey from chord-change playing to modal to free. i have to say that my favorite sections of the book, though, were the ones that dealt with Coltrane's assimilation of Albert Ayler and other avant-garde players.

Ratliff writes that Coltrane "had a baseline authority. He was a master bebop player. The overwhelming percentage of jazz lovers, who as a rule do not like to hear screaming through the horn, would never have tsk-tsked him about not having come to terms with Ayler. He could simply have ignored him." Coltrane as perennial student is one of the major themes of the book. he apparently was able to see the good in just about any musician and Ratliff lets you feel exactly how revolutionary an approach this was.

i found the first section of the book--the step-by-step unpacking of the recordings--a bit more meaty and engaging than the second, which examines the evolution of Coltrane's reputation over the years. but overall, i marveled at Ratliff's unique confidence as a critic. there's no pretension to definitiveness in this book whatsoever. every sentence is a personal statement. it is an extended riff, a work of pure criticism--Ratliff sifting through all the documents and constructing his personal narrative of this man and his myth.

as with "Machine Gun," you might think you've thought enough about Coltrane, but reading "Coltrane" gets you thinking not just about Coltrane but about the way you're thinking about Coltrane. it's a deep book, more a hip philosophical treatise (Ratliff is a critic first, a storyteller second and a fan third) than a jazz-history book. this guy is such a wry, curious writer. his turns of phrase just jump up and bite you. i loved the way he described certain Monk tunes, such as "Four in One," as "gnatlike." anyway, deeply engrossing book and an awesome counterweight to the sumptuous history presented by Ross.