Monday, December 31, 2012

Try Not to Think So Much About (The Best Albums of 2012)

  1. Father John Misty-Fear Fun (your move, Robin)
  2. Walkmen-Heaven (dare i say it, heavenly) 
  3. Shearwater-Animal Joy (starts brilliant, just. gets. better.)
  4. Beach House-Bloom (not so different than Teen Dream, but even better)
  5. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti-Mature Themes (Suicide dumplings dropping testicle bombs (bombs, bombs))  (who sank my battle ship?  I sank my battle ship!)
  6. Stars-The North (hold on when you get love and let go when you give it)
  7. We Are Serenades-Criminal Heaven (i listen, and listen again.  pure pop brilliance.)
  8. Tame Impala-Lonerism (and i hate psychedelic rock)
  9. Wild Nothing-Noctune (everytime i listen to this, i ask myself where is the love, where is the love?)
  10. Metric-Synthetica (demerits for that horrible lou reed croak, wanderlust deserves better)

Why I Show

My first real concert was Billy Joel at the old St. Paul Civic center when I was in college (April 7, 1984).  Oh sure, I really wanted to go see the Police on their (farewell) Synchronicity concert in 1983, but somehow I lost my paycheck that would have paid for it (fell behind the fridge, undiscovered for the next two years, and how I was even going to work out the details before I lost the check, I have no idea), but it wasn’t until college that I started to go to shows.  And even in college, surprisingly we didn’t go to that many shows (which is odd in retrospect, because my dormmates and later, housemates, all were into music.)  Too many other distractions I guess (we did have a pool table instead of a dining table, so there is that) added to the fact that we all were rather poor.  I think we saw the gear daddies somewhere in there in the basement of Coffman union and there was a wallets show and Sussman Lawrence (suicide commandos too if I’m not mistaken).   

Shockingly, no Husker Du, no Replacements, no Prince.  Loved them all but never got around to it.  And sorta ambivalent about that, guess I was making a conscious decision in each case; husker du crowd was a little bit weird for me, replacement shows were so unprofessional, even in hindsight I would pass, and although I’d heard about a bunch of late night prince shows at first ave and elsewhere, the whole making me wait until 2 in the morning to hear him just sorta chaffed my thighs.

Then I graduated college and had money and time and a new crowd (and a friend who had a friend who worked for WEA) and I saw a lot of shows, (darden smith and boo hewerdine at the fine line was such a charmer although I saw the bodeans at first avenue way way WAY too many times).  Midnight Oil at first ave circa Dust and Diesel was the peak of that phase of my concert going period up to the early 90’s. 

Early to mid 90’s were a fallow show going period.  I bounced around geographically (Eau Claire, Mankato) for grad school, I broke my pelvis and there was the whole coming out thing, so I was spending my evenings (and afternoons and morning and late nights) on other things.  Still listened to music OF COURSE, but very little show going.

Started back on the bike by the late 90’s.  Slowly at first.  A block party here, a killer show at the 400 there, dabbling in first avenue.  By 2001, it was on, greater than ever.  The Irish had moved over here, Melloy and I were regulars at First Ave (and at the Soul Caliber AND Galaga video games) and there were lots of super fun shows.  Grandaddy, Ben Folds (first time, although the second time when I had to turn around and tell the chick behind me that I came to listen to Ben and not here…..and that her singing was flat was pretty memorable too), the Doves (they were so loud it the soundwaves rippled my t-shirt and drove Melloy back to the bar…or maybe he just needed another red bull and vodka), Concrete Blonde, Bob Mould, first time seeing Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs (and watching the BFG squirm).  Lots of fun nights up until everyone up and got deported or ran off to Phoenix (not that I’m bitter or anything).

A little divot then for a couple years.  A recalibration as it were, not so much a re-tooling as an expansion of sound and vision before the next great step forward.  Which brings us to now.  Or at least now as in 2007 to current.  Greatest show phase ever.  Lots of shows; great shows, truly memorable moments), a new mix of show friends, and an even wider array of venues. Love, love, love the varsity, and still a little sad about the 400, but maybe that just means we’ll get something new and cool out of those ashes.

Course, there are moments I wonder where it’s headed.  Sadly, I can see the road signs for 50Town (I’m not saying how many miles ahead) and I do feel kinda old at some shows (thankfully there will always be a Paul Simon show where there are more walkers than backpacks which is helpful and positive).  And god knows I was never a fan of closeness, so people flinging their hair in my face, rubbing their greasy sleeves on me or bopping in my underwear is now super super annoying (and what is with the backwards moving people?  Move forward people, move forward; stop being so republican!   

And I don’t like to know what the late night shows and a regular work schedule are doing to my sleep cycle (actually I know that and it’s not good, although the benefits still outweigh the costs at present).  Those Monday and Tuesday night shows are still killers and I can honestly say I avoid any band like the church and broken social scene who I just know won’t get started to 11 and keep going up til bar time.  My autobiography will be titled 6:15 Comes Early (apologies to Bob Welch, the pitcher, not the departed singer/songwriter) and it’s the chronicle of my struggle with sleep deprivation and insomnia.  A heart rending tale of having too much fun in real life and resentment that I’m not a bonus baby and can sleep until 9am every morning instead of dragging my sorry behind into work each day.  

 And did I mention the tinnitus?  High pitched ringing in my left ear.  Low volume, but pretty constant.  New thing just this year.  Not happy about this at all.  Guess it’s part of the aural landscape now according to my doctor (and another doctor, less handsome, but an ear,nose,throat guy (no idea if he’s a leg, chest or ass guy) Guess I should have worn more earplugs.  But really, it’s no ones fault.  These things happen and Dr. Clarkson said it would have happened regardless.  So it is what it is.   

Besides, I’m not going to go to shows?

Shows are where my perceptions of a band/performer get turned on their heads; positively (Sea Wolf) or negatively (Julian Casablancas) or just in some strange way that I can’t define but that makes an act different more than they were on record (every Peter, Bjorn and John show I’ve ever seen).  Some acts charm me so utterly that I’m still wordless.  Frightened Rabbit.  Varsity Theatre two years ago.  You know what I’m talking about.  The performance was great, but the love the audience gave the band and the genuine appreciate Scott and the band returned.  That was pretty amazing.  So true and how hard is it to find genuine truth when there is commerce involved. 

And maybe that’s the thing too.  Yeah, there’s money to be made and product to be moved, but I do feel like a lot of acts are doing it because they love it and we go because we love it and all the economics of it are inessential, byproducts of a process fundamental to human existence.  Frightened Rabbit would have been happy playing to ten people, to one person, to no one but themselves (and it would have still been a great performance) and that’s a lot of the reason I go (and a lot of the reason I don’t go see Aerosmith and Pink Floyd and Taylor Swift, because I don’t believe the same situation is true).  Which also, isn’t to say I don’t appreciate professionalism….again, I’ve avoided the replacements/ryan adams immature brattiness all my life, because that self indulgent, jokey, lazy stuff (especially when it’s done on purpose as opposed to being under the influence) is worse than a generic by the numbers plastic performance… “Thank you Minneapolis/st. paul….you’re the best audience on the tour by far.”  Although I suppose Julian Casablancas WAS sincere in his contempt for the audience.  So he’s got that in his favor which I can appreciate.

Shows are a never-ending font of happenings and stories (remember that time we saw the Phoenix at the Varsity.  There was a guy out front offering over $100 for a ticket and NOBODY was selling.  And the show was beyond amazing, even though (because?) it was ungodly hot and we were drenched in sweat after the first song and yet we couldn’t stop bopping up and down.).  And even though the age of the crowd makes me feel old (or at least getting older, feeling my age, my mortality), sometime at shows, I don’t exactly feel 22, but I feel….timeless, ageless, in some greater communion with the music and the performance, outside of my body, my mind (that first Yeasayer show for sure).  Ok, yeah, I’m saying it live shows give me religion.  I’m definitely not saying I’m getting in the space ship with my fellow dirty stinking hair dancers, but I have escaped the surly bonds of this earth at a few shows (and not because there is always some d-bag who’s gotta light one up as soon as the lights go down).

And yes, I may not ever be one of them (or one of anything, and of course, by them I mean the rest of the crowd, not EVER my special group of friends, show and more) but there are moments, wrapped within mind expanding moments of pure musical and visual (but please, no more strobey lights or turning the house lights on the audience please, strobe lights give me migraines, and turning the house lights on the audience, just makes us scuttle for cover like the eventual cockroaches we all are) bliss when I actually might feel a little love for the collective audience and might momentarily feel a little sense of community (but I’m still not talking of the jerks who have to lift their iphones to the sky and record the show….live in the moment my friends and enjoy the show, otherwise your memory (and my memory) will be of you recording the show instead of SEEING/FEELING the show)

Hell, there are some bands who not only surprise me and show me something in their live performance that I never saw/heard in their records, they show me something I never even knew I had in me.  Me?  Raise my fist in the air and pump it to the rhythm (out of time of course)  who am I?  What is this place?  Is this my life?  HOW DID I GET HERE?  (oh yeah, through the one two punch of hot chip/arcade fire, through the genius intricate drumming underlying every single national song, through the arch look and pose of Robert Forster as he strums the last chord of an obscure b-side, through the warm, genial witticisms of nick lowe as he regretfully (but not too regretfully) rues the wild days, wild ways of his callow youth)

So I suppose this is all just a long way around getting to the shows 2012.  There weren’t that many of them, and I’m sure I’m missing some (I had a post it note at work listing them all out and of course, I left it there when I went off on holiday and there’s no way I’m running in to grab it, so caveat or correct me in the comments)

Howler –Triple Rock-January 14, 2012 (brats but I loved them)
Soviettes (and a whole pile of shitty metal bands)-Triple Rock-January 28, 2012
Craig Finn-Triple Rock-February 4, 2012 (are you sensing a triple trend here?)
Dr. Dog-First Avenue-February 17, 2012 (love them, their audience now?  Not so much)
Elliot Brood-7th Street Entry-February 28, 2012
Roger Hodgson-Grand Casino-Hinckley-March 2, 2012 (not the best venue in the world mind you, but he was in remarkably generous voice)
Kasabian-First Avenue-April 3, 2012
Nick Lowe-First Avenue-April 18, 2012
Al Stewart-Dakota-June 4, 2012 (ooh, I messed up the dates on this one so we ended up going on the wrong night, but the Dakota folks were kind enough to find us seats and we ended up sitting right next to al as he was have a pre-show bite to eat.  I tried not to ogle)
Ramona Falls-7th Street Entry-June 5, 2012
Walkmen-First Avenue-June 30, 2012
Youth Lagoon-Varsity-July 15, 2012 (confession, I only went for the opening act, then left)
Twin Shadow-7th Street Entry-August 7, 2012 (extra added bonus, Poolside as the opener)
Rufus Wainwright-Minnesota Zoo-August 11, 2012 (ok, he was great)
Yeasayer-First Avenue-August 24, 2012
Sea Wolf-Cedar Cultural Center-October 26, 2012 (they surprised me. really enjoyed this show)
Magnetic Fields-First Avenue-November 12, 2012 (how could i forget this?)

Best show of the year for me was the Father John Misty.  And he was the OPENING act for Youth Lagoon.  He was funny, swaggerific, and maybe even a little sexy.  He belted out those songs like an old time (70’s) rock icon troubadour.  And I believed (and loved) every minute of it. 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

I'll Make it Worth-While for You

took me forever to get to the movie (which i liked well enough) but i've been listening to the "Lawless" soundtrack forever.  easily my favorite soundtrack of the year and a perfect foil to the mumford and sons/lumineers/avett brothers/lord huron/of monsters and men neo folkie stuff going on.

 and how the hell did Ralph Stanley slip by me?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

I'm Keeping You Right Here

Bummer about the 400 closing.  It was always one of my favorite venues and two of my all time favorite shows where there.

Saw the national just prior to alligator blowing up big.  D'ya remember ben?  the sign said sold out, and we soaked our sorrows elsewhere, only to decide all the other options sucked.  So we gave it one last try AND OF COURSE THEY HAD A FEW TICKETS left.  but man was that place packed.  somebody bought me a beer (a Pabst!  ack!!) and folks had to pass it to me overhead, and  i had to hold it chin high because there was no arm space nipple level and below (and you know how i love being close to people!)  but it was a great show.  matt fell off the drums (which was hilarious), and some dude behind us kept yelling for "pretty in pink" (which isn't hilarious, but somehow was) and i wish they would have played another hour.  or even just one more song.

And of course, the 400 was where i saw Robert Forster and Grant Mclennan before they reformed the gobetweens (monday, june 14, 1999).  that was such a great show.  i can still see Robert's strum and pose during "Rock and Roll Friend" so clearly in my mind's eye.  and Grant was so polite and shy between songs.  They had eaten at purple onion in dinkytown before the show and were surprised that the crowd knew the place. I sure hope they knew how much everyone in that audience loved that show (and them).  Folks didn't really even sing along to the songs (even though we knew every word) because we wanted to hear THEM sing. 

Right HERE

Monday, December 24, 2012

L'bel M'ker

“Hold me close, you turn nighttime into day.”

 I can’t hear America’s “Today’s the Day” without thinking of two things. And of course, I can’t help but think a few other things about those two things. One was how I used to take song titles and make little sayings out of them on the backs of my notebook tablets when I was in 5th and 6th grades. I distinctly remember writing “Today’s the Day and Tonight’s the Night” in the lower left corner, encircled by double wide blue ink. Not one of my better ones, but certainly what passed for my wit, and a moderate hit (peaking at number 15 on the elementary top 40) with my friends (I only accidentally alluded to the rod stewart song…..was not a big fan of rod the mod). By the way, yes, my penmanship sucked at that early stage too, although I was careful enough with my sayings so that people would be able to read them. Probably the last time I made an effort with my handwriting (thank goodness for computators, eh?) What I wouldn’t give to have just one of those cardboard tablet backings today. I might have to cast my memory back and see if I can’t catch something else out of that particular lake.

The other particular memory associated with that song is a vision of a 45 (that’s a vinyl single, miss Jackson if you’re nasty). Grey with overplay (no virgin black vinyl sheen there), mis-sleeved (I’m thinking RSO sleeve), clicks and pops abounding when played. The singles back then were almost all courtesy of my older sister, Eve. She was so lucky, she’d get used singles from her friend Glynne Hubbard (and no, I didn’t have to consult the yearbooks for that, btw) whose father owned a vending company that stocked jukeboxes, so when singles cycled out, Glynne would get a pile of 45’s and pass them on to my sis. . I bet I could sit right down and list out about 80% of those singles she had back in the day, so well played and remembered by me. And if you are thinking that’s where my fascination/obsession with the b-sides came from, you would be right. Also, I should be thanking my classmate, Brenda, Glynne’s sister, who provided me with a few stacks by the time we got to 7th grade, when my sis moved well into high school and beyond the pale of pop singles.

However, as much as I loved the catchy melody of “Today’s the Day” (even though America’s songs were usually keyed just a little too high for me to comfortably sing, they wrote the greatest earworms) and endlessly optimistic lyrics, the thing I remember most about that particular single was the lovely California themed label on the 45. Warner Brothers in the mid to late 70’s had this awesome artwork on the interior ring of the 45 (and lps as well although I was still a few years away from long player purchasing); radiantly green palm trees, blue skies and a road that seemingly went on forever that somehow. Talk about branding your product, particularly if your product is southern California rock (Fleetwood Mac pretty much HAD to be on warner brothers now, didn’t they?).
Before I got into albums, 45 label artwork created an amazingly strong visual identity for hundreds and hundreds of the singles of the day that obviously enough still resonates with me. I was all about the music, of course, but there was a healthy does of label artwork that drove my mania as well. I loved that particular label artwork immensely and have to admit I eagerly sought out the warner brothers 45’s in my sister’s stack just because of the artwork. I know I put “Blinded by the Light” on the console just because of that Warner Brothers label although I immediately realized I knew the song as soon as the needle hit the etching, but would I have flipped the single over and fallen in love with Starbird (and a lifelong love for the Manfred Mann band), if not for that palm tree label? Doubtful.
And yes, retroactively, I realize that there’s probably nothing California rock about that progressive rock classic, but somehow it fit my definition of SoCal rock back then as much as the Eagles (Asylum, kinda boring label) ever did…and besides, wasn’t “Hot Summer Night (Planet Records, not bad)” written by Walter Egan (Fleetwood Mac was all over Magnet and Steel, even though the single was on Columbia) and performed by Manfred Mann genius vocalist Chris Thompsons’ band, Night totally southern California rock).
Incidentally, I’m not a fan of the red/orange/yellow Columbia label of the 70’s. Kinda boring label although I think I liked the long player label just a little bit more. Can’t think of that label without thinking of Billy Joel, but I’m not saying anything. Or maybe I am (although of course, I loved those Billy Joel salad days.)
And have no idea what marketing genius changed the label to a bland white background just a couple years later (“we don’t want to be known as the southern California rock label anymore…that has only made us a gazillion dollars. Let’s go generic with our identity completely. And pass me the cocaine please”), but it seems like a huge mistake to me. And it bugs me to no end that I have to remember Rickie Lee Jones’ debut album (yes, I was onto lp’s by then, but I started with the 45 of “Chuck E’s in Love” and I still swoon over “On Saturday Afternoons in 1963.” “The most as you’ll ever know, is back where you used to know”) with that awful bland white label. I’ve mostly gotten over it, and of course, the music never minded at all. BTW, it’s still electrifying to watch Rickie Lee Jones in that video. “If this ain’t healthy, it is some kind of clean”
On Saturday Afternoons in 1963
Chuck E's in Love
The label artwork could be vanity, inspired, and genius. I was always particularly impressed with Elektra. There was the caterpillar; there was the butterfly (or was it a moth). I’m almost afraid to know who got which theme on their single and why. But of course, Queen would be a worm (caterpillar) and bread would be a beautiful butterfly (moth). I don’t want to know if it was random or linear (ok. 1976, we are going with the butterfly (moth) theme this year. In any case, I was delighted when I stumbled upon this little insider joke waiting for me in the stacks of my sister’s 45s.
And I loved, loved, loved the Big Tree label. It was so colorful and busy and full of birds (ok, robins, but still). And of course, I had a sweet spot for England Dan and John Ford Coley. But really, what’s not to like about this? (ok, maybe not the BEST artist to highlight the label)
Of course, the converse of that clever bit of marketing are these tedious labels from RSO (home of the Bee Gees and Geffen) ego much? Also, is that a cow or a pig? And is that a gold medal around the cow/pig (or pig/cow)? What’s up with those horns? And what is the red all about? Losing money? Evil?

RCA (the dog? Really? Well at least they don’t go with the flavor of the weak), Capitol and even A&M labels are similarly boring and corporate. Although at least the A&M label tried a little bit with the lettering graphic.

Arista’s label isn’t any better, but being the idiot of a barry manilow fan that I was, I had to throw it in here. (I definitely liked the darker Arista labels, btw)
Much like Arista, there is nothing particularly interesting about either the Sire or Harvest labels. But the Little River Band was originally on harvest and as infatuated with that band as I was, I couldn’t resist throwing the label up here (much better than when they moved to that boring corporate capitol label). Sire, similarly boring, M logo none withstanding, was a case of one artists (M in this case) leading me to a label that opened a whole wide world of other artists such as Talking Heads, Pretenders, the Cure, the Smiths and Echo and the Bunnymen (just to name a few) who either helped form, or lead me to other acts (such as Kate Bush and REM) that formed the bedrock of my musical aesthetic. As much as America and the Warner Label started this whole process, the Sire label (through M) really caused it to blossom.
It’s been a long time since I noticed label artwork on a new recording. First nail was probably my evolution into album buying. There were so many other bells and whistles to be dazzled by; album artwork, interior sleeves, LYRICS!!!, and detracted from the dominance the label artwork had on those little 45s. I still noticed of course, and I still had a few labels that would turn my head, but by the time I was all about the album, I knew enough to bet on the music and genre’s rather than any loyalty to a label (and I’m not sure where label or record company really differs when you get right down to it). I suppose the advent of the cd ultimately did in the concept of the label for me. All cd’s pretty much looked the same and they were all pretty boring and ultimately forgettable.

 Now vinyl is coming back and although I don’t buy vinyl (unless there’s some download code associated with the vinyl buy that will get me downloads to bonus tracks and b-sides) it’s kinda neat to see the retro labels pop up. Clearly Warner Brothers isn’t bringing back that boring white label. It’s palm trees, blue sky and that never ending road. Kinda cool that the record company marketing gurus are finally understanding what they had (long after they lost everything unfortunately). Not that the hubris of record companies is the point of this anyway (well…maybe small point, cos they had it all, pissed it all away, and besides blaming their customers for their downfall, they never really appreciated the art for which they were indirectly responsible.) Who knows, if this vinyl thing works out (again, it won’t be me, as much as I can appreciate the romance of the brilliant vinyl sheen, I’d take the clarity of a compact disc that plays in my car and never wears out any day) maybe instead of shutting down, maybe a new generation of labels will rise from the ashes. Phoenix records…ya…I like the sound of that.

One last label before i go (another personal favorite):