Monday, September 26, 2005

They Been Done Here and Gone

The White Stripes; The Shins; M Ward
@ Keyspan Park
Brooklyn, NY - September 25, 2005

At the last minute, I got a seat ticket to the aggregiously big White Stripes show at Keyspan. But yet again Jack and Meg micromanaged and brought the stadium concert feel back to gig status. It may have well been a club for all the intimate love they effuse. No real surprises musically speaking, just more of the same ol' same ol' - that is, the jaw-dropping, mind-numbing, ass-kicking blues and blues-rock. And the experimental stuff, though in shorter supply on night 2, still worked. Jack taking polaroids and throwing them to the crowd was part of the new happy Jack. Though parts of old misanthropic Jack were quite fun (and recently appeared in combo with new happy Jack when that stage crasher appeared at the Berkley show), happy Jack relishes the live affair, the big crowd, the splendor of being a big time rockstar. Yet, at the same time, it's all done in that style of a regular guy, a real person. Good ol' Jackie White, whose been done here and gone. And ol' Meggie too.
The Shins still sucked...kind of.
M Ward, from what little I saw, offered an Irish punk voice with hard countryish punk. Not bad.

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Hoboken, Brooklyn...It's all Rock N Roll

It's a hell of a weekend in rock n roll in New York this weekend. On the edge, in New Jersey, over an hour from here by train...were the Greenhornes. Here, 3 stops and 20 minutes away are two nights of that little ol' duo from Detroit...the White Stripes.

The Greenhornes; The Black Hollies; Tigers & Monkeys
Hoboken, NJ – September 23, 2005

One of the more unlikely acts I have seen 4 times, the Greenhornes headline this nice, little intimate club show fresh off opening for the White Stripes around the world and in the States. The Greenhornes pounded away and smoothed through their songs. Drummer Patrick Keeler is particularly adept at his trade and when he, along with bassist Jack Lawrence, returns with Jack White and Brendan Benson in the Rancoteurs, it should be an amazing show (incidentally, White and Benson were on an off night of their tour and should have been around for some band practice). In a terrible moment, the crowd filed out before an encore, like a bunch of lame-o’s. Shameful. The Black Hollies were a mostly fun Jersey City band devoted to 60’s-ish garage rock and classic rock. Summoning the Yardbirds among other acts, the rather regular looking crew of dudes were fronted by a mod-looking bass player whose voice was so-so. More image than sound, the Black Hollies are suitable, but far from perfect. Tigers & Monkeys frankly stunk. Playing down-chord hard rock, with a boring, bad lead singer, this band was having a bad identity crisis. Are they punk? Are they garage? Are they downer rockers? Feh.

The White Stripes; The Shins; Brendan Benson
@Keyspan Park
Brooklyn, NY – September 24, 2005

Oh those White Stripes. Oh that pesky Jack White. His ability to let his music not be distracted by his antics (the good, the bad, and the curious), and his ability to not let his music be overshadowed by expectation and music snobbery from even his most devoted fans is something to behold. The new album, Get Behind Me Satan, is an exercise in study. As a fan willing to admit a band can screw up, one can also be overzealous in decrying the latest effort. The truth is, it is hard to judge Get Behind Me Satan. Experimentation is not something to boo but it can also be too risky. Jack White certainly experiments but it is hard to tell if he’s going beyond his self-imposed boundaries. And it’s also hard to decide if that even matters. In the end, it is a good album, worth listening to and enjoying, but it is not the kind of album that should recruit new fans (which doesn’t really matter) or blow away longtime fans. It’s an album to go “hmmm” to.
That all being said, there is no debate on the live show. None. It is an exercise in all-out rock n roll glory. Even when it’s the experimental stuff like “The Nurse” and its marimba nirvana, or the big piano smoothness of “My Doorbell” and “I’m Lonely But I Ain’t That Lonely Yet”, there is an air of rock n roll fun. And of course, when the Stripes dish out “Death Letter”, “Cannon”, “Screwdriver”, “Hello Operator” and “Let’s Shake Hands”, there is nothing to discern. It is the spirit and fervor of those old blues and blues-based tunes that still make a White Stripes show the best thing in the musical world. Above all, “Ball & Biscuit” remains the single greatest live song performed by anyone anywhere. It is the ultimate blues orgy. It is the ultimate period. The cover of Tegan & Sara’s “Walking With A Ghost” was a more than pleasant surprise. Jack’s ability to do pop is also disturbingly good, disturbing because it matches his blues and experimental abilities.
If there is one thing a little frustrating with a Stripes show it is not with the music but with the hoopla around it. The theatricality of a Stripes concert (and it is a concert, and not a gig) is for the taste of Main Event status. The elaborate fake trees, the little idols on the amps, the number of instruments, the tropical jungle theme, the Zorro outfit the large audience full of mainstreamers…this is all a far cry from just walking onto a small club stage, plugging in the guitar, and wailing away. And maybe that’s what makes the presence of Meg White so important. With her simple drumming, her delicately bad-but-touching voice, her lack of bombast, and her understated manner, she is the tie that binds Jack to his roots…to the blues, to the garage, to Detroit. Beyond all the magic and mysticism of new, intrepid songs, there is Meg, drumming away, and letting all the basics stick around for one rockin’ good time. Put this all together, and it is still evident why the White Stripes are number 1. One last thing: Last time I saw the band, it was in the chaotic drunken moshing frat crasher mess at Roseland. This time, it was a pot-filled, rather stiff affair. The lack of moshing, crowd surfing, and stage crashing was a welcome relief to fans like myself and to Jack for sure (remembering his tirade at Roseland), but this time it was almost too dull. Jack was visibly frustrated the other way…but in the end he was happy. And that’s what it is all about now, it’s about being happy. The White Stripes are just that.
Part of the reason the crowd may have been so dull lies with the Shins. Once again, the Stripes have a poor opening act in New York. The Shins are dull. Dull, dull, dull. Bad singing is fine when the songs are good and it fits. Here, the emo voice is lame. The songs are lame. The guys can certainly play, and they have a good attitude, but the songs are hollow. I don’t hate The Shins, and I don’t look down on anyone who likes them. But a White Stripes show? No. Brendan Benson has a few good numbers but the rest seem a bit sloppy (and not in that good Jack White way of being sloppy)…in pop, sloppiness is not good. The good songs though indicate potential. And when the Rancouters explode…that potential should manifest itself in decent songcraft.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

I'm A Reviewing Fool

The Hard Lessons
@Lit Lounge
New York, NY – September 19. 2005

I unfortunately did not catch Detroit’s the Hard Lessons wrap up the night at Trash Bar two nights before and I certainly regret it. The phrase “rock their hearts out” doesn’t come close to explaining the enthusiasm and intensity emitted by this band. The band generally played fast and furious rock n roll, sometimes bordering on hardcore punk, but they also dished out blues and pop tunes (including an excellently well-crafted original called “Milk and Sugar”) as guitarist Auggie and keyboardist Ko Ko traded vocals that ranged from gritty fun to gorgeously on-key. Ko Ko can especially belt it out, reminding one of Janis Joplin. Auggie is an exceptional garage guitar maniac, and his playing antics (running into the crowd, playing on a bench, bending his back over while on his knees) only liven up the scene. All the while, drummer The Anvil pounds out a steady rhythmic beat that matches the ranges of the tunes (these 3 also have real names, check them out on the album). My worries of bands from Detroit drying up have officially been abated. Here we go again.

Lord of War
A few brief words on this film: Nicolas Cage aptly plays a successful gunrunner in this rough, biting, but rather smooth and slick drama (and yes this is Good Oscar Cage, not Action Bruckheimer Cage). The movie is a bit preachy by the end - aw hell it is quite preachy - but this is a real issue to be preachy about. I am sure it will get the Hollywood-Sucks treatment from the patriotic Right Wingers (not just for the film's attack on American policy and on violence-as-resolution, but also for the nice jibe at the 2000 election thrown in) and the great typical ignoring from the American populace.
Writer-Director Andrew Niccol does make a compelling drama out of the ethical stance of the film but there are a few setbacks: The dialogue jumps from bland to overly witty and back, some of the acting is sub-par (though the performance of Eamonn Walker as Liberian dictator Andre Baptiste is powerful without being hammy), and I am sorry but I refuse to accept Cage as a Ukrainian-born Brooklyn-raised character when he's still speaking in his native surfer dude voice. After we get passed that snafu, however, Cage is quite good.

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Monday, September 19, 2005

Podcast Reviews

It's high time to review some of the more appealing podcasts out there. Podcasting has become a hot e-trendy deal, but it actually offers a lot. Furthermore, it has staying power. And one of the big areas podcasting has specialized in, is promoting less popular forms of music, particular the blues. Hence why most of my podcasts reviews are blues-based. The other neat thing of podcasting is the ability to package radio shows into podcast form. This is a great help, especially, for public radio - programs from WNYC and KCRW especially.

raven'n'blues logo

One radio program that has gotten a HUGE boost from podcasting is The Raven N The Blues. Broadcasting all the way from BFBS 2 (that's the British military's radio network), Dave Raven produces a weekly collection of blues tracks ranging from the early eras to today. All done with a classy British charm, and a voice that is radio-perfect, this is the most satisfying FM-sounding hour out there.

Few podcasts match the perfection of the radio programs. In fact, only one comes close and that's The Roadhouse, hosted by Tony Stiedler-Dension. Tony is a humble, soft-spoken, rather sweet fellow who doesn't sound tough but plays riproaring blues. His congenial jolly voice is actually rather comforting, along the lines of Dave Raven, and the access he has to genuine blues music is exceptional. The Roadhouse works on the tag line of "The Finest Blues You Never Heard" and 99.9999999% of the artists are indeed obscure and blues staples are rarely heard. Increasingly however, as the weeks progress, the podsafe catalogue is expanding rapidly - so by the 30th week, Tony was playing Aligator Records, Marica Ball, and Susan Tedeschi. It will only be a matter of time before the Roadhouse is the most definitive blues source around the world, period. It is that good and well-run.

Link to Bandana Blues
Another popular blues podcast is Bandana Blues, which has more FM style than The Roadhouse but is still a podcast for sure. Hosted by Beardo and Spinner, this podcast gives off that morning radio trash feel with it's hokey announcer intro and cornball names. However, Beardo, despite a Philly accent that is actually not too unbearable, is a blues expert, and knows how to dish out the records. His partner, Spinner, is a Dutch-based blues fan, a representative of the amazing preserved love of the blues in Europe.

Austin Riffs is the last of the 4 big blues podcasts. It features high quality blues numbers but it is almost entirely poor audio-quality discussion between it's hosts. That being said, the banter can be substantive...but they need to play more music.

Celtic Music News is the other music podcast I listen to a lot of. The selection of contemporary Celtic and Celtic-influenced music is well thought out. I've caught Flogging Molly once and that is as mainstream as it gets. The host, however, needs to be more professional. He sounds frustrated all the time, sometimes even bored. At least once per every few editions, he will apologize for saying he sounds exhausted...but he ALWAYS sounds exhausted. And I am unclear as to who he even is. He needs more zip and Celtic flair to match his excellent music selections.

Rock N Roll Inferno is a lesson in a great podcast gone wrong. The garage rock selections are perfect: BBQ, Scott Biram, The Black Keys, the Detroit Cobras, and Turbonegro are just some of the bands that have been played. This is what a rock podcast should be all about. But the host is a nightmare. He doesn't want to do this. If he doesn't want to do a podcast, then why is he doing it? He sounds bored...and he barely puts his words together (I cannot stand listening to someone who doesn't is a waste of time). Maybe it's a good thing, he's only made 10 podcasts in 6 months. it isn't...there is good music to be had. If he doesn't want to do it, I'll do it. Just send me the software and hardware and audio equipment and the playlist...and show me how to do it, and I'll do it.

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Sunday, September 18, 2005

CMJ Marathon Highlights: Uh Oh, It's Detroit again

My one participation in last year's CMJ Fest was a primarily Motor City affair. The all night cavalcade at the Mercury Lounge featured The Paybacks, The Sights, Blanche, and Cincinatti-Detroit wanderers the Greenhornes (along with friends Holly Golightly and Mr. Airplane Man) was my one CMJ show. This year I got the chance to see two. And while there were indeed more than a handful of intriguing non-Detroit acts to check out (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Dressy Bessy, International Noise Conspiracy to name some), I wound up at two Detroit gigs.

Gore Gore Girls; Fireball Ministry; The Black Halos; Crash Kelly
New York, NY – September 15, 2005

This is what the annual CMJ Marathon festival does. It slaps a 60’s garage retro throwback onto a night of another label’s set of bands…who have nothing in common with the headlining act. Granted, the musical and stylistic differences of these acts did make for an eclectic line-up, but all on a variation of metal. Metal. Nothing to do with the Gore Gore Girls for sure. The Gores (now armed with a Gore Gore Boy on bass) were much improved from their lackluster opening for the Cramps at Irving Plaza, which was when I saw them last. This much smaller club venue, the legendary Continental (think CBGB’s exactly, but with only half the commercialization inside), had the sound and appeal for the retro garage fun of Amy Gore and the gang. Amy’s leadership was more animated and fun and enthused from when they played Irving…considering they play clubs consistently, this was what I should have expected.
As for the multi-metal acts, southern hard rockin’ Fireball Ministry was surprisingly good (as they were not as thrash as they looked – in fact, they weren’t thrash at all) but the “other kinds of music suck and is for pussies” rants got a little old after awhile. The Black Halos were actually more hardcore punk than anything else but the Crow-look is done (and the aging lead singer was essentially Dee Dee Ramone…some combo)…and Crash Kelly were an 80’s hair metal throwback….they weren’t the Darkness…nuff said.

The Avatars
@Trash Bar
Brooklyn, NY – September 17, 2005

I have to admit the Detroit music…scene…has been getting a bit stale from an outsider’s perspective. There hasn’t been the constant flurry of bands to be discovered outside the city in over a year. One of the last bands to catch my eye were the Avatars, who had dynamite songs on their site…and were heavily pushed by But they never toured outside their Ann Arbor-Detroit area circuit…until now. As part of the CMJ tour, this Get Hip Recordings/No Fun Records show in Williamsburg began with this quintet. I was expecting a good show…but I did not expect to be absolutely floored. The Avatars are utterly perfect. Ranking up there with Detroit’s best (and therefore the nation’s best and the world’s best)…the Avatars offer a mix of pop, punk, and garage rock (which are all music snob ways of saying they play Rock n Roll)…but what makes them stand out is their solid skill. While other bands revel in their sloppiness, including musically sharp and talented acts like the White Stripes and the Dirtbombs, the Avatars deliver on crisp, tight goodies (only the Paybacks really remind me of this band). It was stunning to listen to the synchronicity of this rock. But it isn’t polished! It isn’t slick! It is raw, loud, and hard. The Avatars perfectly combine tight, skilled melodic hooks with fierce, straight-outta-da-garage intensity. The guitar players remind rock n roll fans of Angus Young and Johnny Ramone (an awesome combination to be sure)…the bass is fun and noticeable…the drums are intense but controlled (which is an apt description of the whole band) and lead singer and tambourine shaker Mariah Cherem is a dynamic spitfire dishing out intoxicating vocals (on-key and everything). It will be too long before the Avatars come around the East Coast again…but when they do…you see this? I can’t finish the thought. That’s how good the Avatars are.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Jesus Loves Scott H. Biram

Alice Texas; The Swedes
@Mercury Lounge
New York, NY - September 12, 2005

There is no one like Scott H. (that's Hiram) Biram. He calls himself the Dirty Old One Man Band...but that only tells a small part of the story. Musically speaking, the unique and brash merging of styles of American music, as done by Mr. B, may be unparalleled. His two primary forms of music, live-wise, are the blues...and metal. The man sings old gospel spritiuals with a gruff voice that he frequently turns into something out of Pantera or Sepultura. In fact, his show ending tune was a thrash metal song plain and true - but still using his old blues guitars and little foot stomping device (no drum kit). I've never heard "Jesus" and "Amen" invoked with such positive Satanic fervor. He did occasionally throw bits of old timey country, including one whole honky tonk ballad, but he seems to save that more for his studio work. Biram's attitude and on-stage persona is deleciously camp but it also seems genuine. Hailing from the great city of Austin, Texas, Biram is plain-spoken, full of piss and vinegar, and probably just drunk. He is a child of all the great sounds of American music (put through a ringer crafted by Slayer), with a realism unmatched in the quality of his performance. What I like most about Scott H. Biram is his social relevance...he is a a bonafide hillbilly redneck...who loves the rock n roll culture directly from it's source: African-Americans. If this guy isn't a wonder for race relations in America, I don't know what is.
The opening acts were dull: Alice Texas is a band that tries lingering, meandering alt rock set to the occasional big Texas guitar riff. Nice effort but a little lacking. The Swedes (not from Sweden for sure, but ironic since I was last at the Merc two nights before seing a bunch of acts from Sweden) were slow, trippy indie pop and completely out of place for the night. They weren't impressive either.

To listen to more Biram go here and here.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Vikings Invade!....Pop Vikings!

Sahara Hotnights; The Hong Kong, Marit Bergman
@Mercury Lounge
New York, NY – September 10, 2005

The Nordics invade New York: A show full of Scandinavian acts (I believe all Swedish) and a crowd of full of Scandinavians as well (with notable exceptions Ric Ocasek of the Cars and James Iha of the old Smashing Pumpkins hanging around…look at me, I’m the Scenester Page guy now!) The thing about Scandinavian popular music…it tends to be extreme…either death metal terror groups or sugary pop so sweet your teeth falls out. The Hives ushered in a change of pace – balls-to-the-walls, Rolling Stones inspired rock n roll and punk (though even their first album was unrestrained noise). The Sahara Hotnights originally fell into the same punk field…but have since become an 80’s pop redux. Their live act is in some ways a by-the-basics pop delivery – predictable and soft. But they do it well…and they do belt their hearts out on more than occasion. It’s good clean fun. Penultimate act the Hong Kong have a cute name but are too droll. Another Swedish act with a blonde girl lead singer and an all-guy band, their songs have no punch. Too much disco/pop Blondie and Nena and Pat Benatar and Kim Carnes. The first act of the night that I caught, Marit Bergman, had me fooled. I was so used to seeing Bands, I forgot that there are still acts out there that go by the name of the lead singer – as in, she’s a solo artist. Marit is a solo artist with SEVEN band members (horns, tambourines, organs, two guitars). The music? Ska-pop. Think early No Doubt crossed with Reel Big Fish and their ilk. She’s got a great voice and a likeable personality…but it was a weird night of pop music rather than rock n roll. Change can be good though.

- Update from way beyond in the future: The Hong Kong were not from Scandanavia, they were from New Orleans and they were/are based out of New York. And I re-evaluated them and like them, especially one song "Not Getting Better".

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Friday, September 09, 2005

Not Enough BBQ

Can one we really get enough BBQ anyway?

BBQ; The Demon's Claws; Turpentine Brothers
@Union Pool
Brooklyn, NY - September 2, 2005

I was looking forward immensely to seeing Mark Sultan aka BBQ for the very first time. Through a series of unfortunate goofs, I caught the last 3 minutes of a 10 minute set. The sliver I heard was raw and immaculate as I expected. Mark then drummed for the Demon's Claws (though he was supposed to be the headliner) and with that, I wasn't too thrilled. But by that point, that may have been more of my cantankerous mood. Opening act, the Turpentine Brothers, who included drummer Tara from Mr. Airplane Man, were pretty darn solid. In fact, they were great organ-supplied garage rock (think Mondo Topless).

Artists/Albums to Check Out
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club produced a debut album that had one decent trippy pop single, then they produced a shoulda-been death knell follow-up album. But they've returned with a stunning departure to roots/gospel/blues rock. It's a little too slick to be considered indie garage, but it's still refreshingly good. Nice comback boys.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Personally I am not totally interested in this act but they have enough buzz and cred to look into. They bypassed the record labels and released the album online. That's Brooklyn ingenuity for ya.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah reviews

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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Hurricane Relief Benefit

Theresa Kereakes, underground rock n roll authority, is putting together a benefit here in New York for Monday.
For those in the area, come on down or up, rather, as it's on the Upper West Side:

Hurricane Katrina Benefit
Monday September 5th, 4pm to 8pm
Ding Dong Lounge
929 Columbus Ave (bet 105th and 106th)

DJ's rack fight
Bake Sale
Rock n Roll Yard Sale/Record Swap

Bring stuff to donate for sale, bring $$ to buy stuff, come hungry!
All proceeds of bake sale, raffle and rock n roll yard sale go to the dispossessed.

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