Wednesday, November 17, 2010

It's Not You. It's Me - And It's Also You

Notice something? Yeah things about dried up here at the Sonic Parthenon shop. Per the economy, the staff has been mostly let go - little Timmy was the last intern and this old hack misses that kid's never-give-up attitude, especially when he had to fetch my coffee (there was never enough cream in it). Now only Doris is left to answer the phones while I try to figure out this Telex machine. Heck, we even lost the domain name to a Propecia ad (It's now but what does that matter? If you ain't usin' Google for all your clicking link needs, you're an older fogey than I am).

Alright so it wasn't entirely because ticket prices are too high in a time of savings and austerity (and I don't fault some of these price makers - they have to eat too) that has caused the well to run almost entirely dry this year. It's me.

The whole New-York-Rock-Socialite-Taste-Maker movement didn't pan out as it looked like it could have in 2007 and 2008. That life did not have enough of a return (again, a fella's gotta eat). And things being how they are, the day life involves not just a job but a job that takes a lot out of me. The energy is drained by the punch-out. Also there's a girlfriend and friends (and watching the entirety of Battlestar Galactica in a matter of weeks) but you don't need to know about all that. I have a mystique as a solitary type - punching away on a whiskey-soaked Smith-Corona - to uphold!

But also - it's you. YOU - New York Rock Scene and Music in General. I've listened to a ton of singles as usual this year but it's almost entirely from podcasts - public radio songs of the day. Not from word of mouth. Not from the alt-music media. Only these daily stabs in the dark that come lazily to me. And none of these tracks have truly led me to discover new bands to champion beyond that one song.

Where are the collectives and artists' dens? I hate to put it so crassly or with such shallow wanton need for feeling hip but where are the damn scenes?! Don't make me long for expired bulk from 3 years ago and 5 years ago and 10 years ago. Chillwave? What the fuck is chillwave? I like Wavves' "King of the Beach" but that's as close as it's gonna get. I even liked that boyfriend song by Best Coast but I knew what would happen if I went to the overpriced show: I'd be surrounded by spaced-out zombies dressed in Sally Jessy Raphael glasses (lenses optional) and lederhosen.

Bushwick? No.

Why do all the bands on Brooklyn Vegan or Pitchfork or Stereogum all have beards and plaid shirts with the sleeves pulled up? Or oversized shades? Why are there so many 80's techno beats? Why is it taking the Pains of Being Pure at Heart so long to put out the second LP? Why did the Airborne Toxic Event go on a tour with a classical quartet before ever putting out another record? IS there another record?

Also this whole Twitter business. It seems to be the dominant form of communication these days (more so than Facebook) but it does no favors for music and getting music out there. Do bands use MySpace anymore? Their own websites?

Sure, you could say it's me. That I had my fun in the early 2000's with the garage scenes and some of the singer-songwriters. That my shallow, retro fun came in the form of the Darkness and Electric Six and old timey roots acts. That I just couldn't keep pace when things began to change, as they inevitably would, and I would tire of whatever had replaced what I was into as being the most cited, most shared among the Indie music media.

You could also say its me because what I got into after the scenesterism was a response to my own life. I've been harping on the same bands for a couple years now - bands helmed by grown-ups, singing introspective songs. I haven't been with the hipsterati scene because I've just moved on and maybe - maybe - grew up.

Nah. That's not it. You guys just suck now. Stop it.

OK wait - so it's both of us. We have to come to some sort of compromise or we'll walk away from each other and regret it for the rest of our lives. Fortunately, there's a solution:

Hear me tomorrow night at 7PM when I once again join DJ Rez on his rock n roll radio show at We'll share, we'll love, we'll laugh - we'll learn from each other and from ourselves. You'll hear the sounds of bands of large, abandoned Midwestern cities and of vibrant, soul-inspiring acts from either side of the continent. There will most likely be some visits from across both ponds, the great barons of Punk, New Wave, and Glam. And we'll bring it all back home with some sounds from the great American songwriters - the drunkards, the lonelyhearts, the bastards of young.

This may be our last chance, Scene. Get yourself out of your latest hoola-hooping fake sport activity of the week and get back together with me before I totally ensconce myself in those new Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, and Nick Cave records and leave you and your eternal, texting-like-there's-no-tomorrow, youth behind once and for all.

Lights out.

P.S: I have never liked Sufjan Stevens. Ever.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Grinderman @ Best Buy Theater

Grinderman; Armen Ra
@ Best Buy Theater
New York, NY - November 14, 2010

Grinderman can best be described in the moment in which Nick Cave casually threw his tambourine behind him in a moment of rock n roll swagger...only to have that tambourine thwack Warren Ellis right in his face. That lovingly hilarious half-assed cockrockery encapsulates this glorious side project, the Id of the Bad Seeds that first reared its serpentine head in 2007. Back then, Grinderman only appeared at shows in New York and San Francisco. This time, in support of their album sequel, they are embarking on an actual tour and they began their American Sojourn back in the city where they stole the show out from under the White Stripes all those years ago.

The bawdy, delirious, rantings of Cave, combined with the tomfoolery of Ellis - who presumably is holding a family hostage in some Outback shack - and driven by the punk speed thundering of Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunos - make for the fittingly disjointed, incongruous, malcontented sounds of Grinderman. Ellis is screaming "Evil" from the floor while Sclavunos is murdering his drums. Cave is changing (or forgetting - as middle aged men are known to do) his lyrics while Casey...well...while Casey discovers his new found beard.

The new record has a sense of epic about it - "Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man", "Worm Tamer", and "Evil" sound big. Live, these songs were quick, bashed, and thrown at the audience. The same treatment was given to songs from the first record - "Get It On", "No Pussy Blues", "Grinderman", "When My Love Comes Down to Meet You" and "Love Bomb". But just when it seemed that Cave and co. were going to level you to the ground, they take "Palaces of Montezuma" and give it the Lanois/Eno-ish mystique (as in Joshua Tree) and prop up the extra cut "My Daddy is an Astronaut" with a shocking sense of grace - the kind of grace that adds a severe twist to the work of the Bad Seeds - the grace that keeps Nick from going back to the Birthday Party.

Armen Ra played the theremin for a half hour. He was the first act that I witnessed get heckled in quite a while. But then he played the theme from The Godfather and that seemed to appease the ruffled.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

An Open Letter to WRXP

Dear WRXP 101.9 FM New York,

These are trying times. The great American dynamo has ground to almost a complete halt. Signs of hope are coming but far and few between. The nation's citizens are depressed, angry at everyone (except themselves of course), and when they are not sad about the loss of instant gratification without consequences, they are distracted by their text messages, their social networking pages, and Jersey Shore.

Before people realized the mess they were in, they tried to make the most of it. I recall starting back in that grand old year of 2007, 101.9 on the FM dial in New York City made the most of it when it switched from a smooth Jazz format to an all-encompassing but Indie-flared rock n roll format. Radio's golden days were long behind it, and in a true go-for-broke style, the Emmis Communications corporation had a moment of clarity. Forget the reliability of easy-listening. To hell with teen and tween pop sounds. It was the 21st Century. And before the Internet killed the radio for good and all, here was an easy to find outlet for hearing the Velvet Underground, Elvis Costello, the Ramones, Social Distortion, etc etc. Truly, it was refreshing to hear some of the greats not-well-served by mainstream outlets be given proper prominence alongside Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and all the other legacy acts that dominate the perception of what's popular. In the years to follow, you gave new homes to unappreciated history like the Replacements, X, Split Endz, and any number of punk and Indie acts of old. You opened the window to new blood like the Hold Steady, the National, the Airborne Toxic Event, and Company of Thieves.

Well with 2010 coming to an end, it brings me no pleasure to inform you that in the last year or so, you have shirked your duties as the purveyor of free-thought rock in New York. Perhaps because of the demise of K-Rock at 92.3, or simply because of the lack of viability for Indie-centric rock on a commercial radio station, you have gradually transformed into a run-of-the-mill modern rock station. Where once I heard Westerberg and the boys sing of Alex Chilton, I now hear an endless loop of Linkin Park, Staind, Everclear (Everclear?! For god's sake!), and every single Pearl Jam and Red Hot Chili Peppers song ever made. It was if someone took the amenable, friendly local record store music nerd whose brain was wired into your playlist and switched 'em out with a backwards-baseball-capped "bruh" from the suburbs. All the life and originality have gone out of you. You're now just another boring, tasteless Walmart-shopping, mindless, American fool.

I implore you to stop. Turn this ship around. Upright the sails. Be different. Take a gamble. You have nothing to lose (except your jobs, but so what?! PRINCIPLE!). Take what good you have left and make it your entire identity, not the sop to those you know truly appreciate what you have to offer. Take Steve Craig's Punk Song of the Day and make it Punk Songs of the Day, ALL Day. Rich Russo's Anything, Anything should be on during the weekday. You know how Devo was going to headline one of your sponsored shows? When you play Devo, don't just play "Whip It"! Bring back playing the Hold Steady and the National like they were number 1 in the country and throw out Linkin Park. I'm begging you. Perhaps I can offer you some newer bands worth your time? There's Atomic Tom, there's the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, there's Tired Pony, the Colourings, Wavves, Fitz & The Tantrums, the Capstan Shafts...There are also some legends you are underserving, and they are coming in new guises you can play: Nick Cave in Grinderman and J. Mascis in Sweet Apple.

To show you I am a reasonable patriot, I will make you a deal: You can play Pearl Jam and the Chili Peppers once a day after 5PM. Heck, I'll even throw in Nirvana for before 5PM, if you give me three daily plays of Talking Heads. I have TV on the Radio and Metric waiting for the green light if you just put down that Puddle of Mudd. Please. Please. Please. Do. Not. Play. Puddle. Of. Mudd. Ever. Again. Ever. Please.

We have a hard road ahead of us. We're only going to make it if we work together. Now is the time for us to do just that. And it can start with you. And the playing of Cee-Lo's "Fuck You" on the air, beep-less, damn-the-FCC, right NOW.

Elwood D. Pennypacker

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