Wednesday, March 29, 2006

In Rotation...Dylan, Heron, Case & More

Finally got around to burning some discs tonight that have been in my lossless archives. First one in the player was Bob Dylan 3.28.05 at the Fillmore in Denver, CO. The sound is top notch. Not boomy at all with some very nice separation. Dylan's vocals are upfront with his "wolfman" growl nowhere to be found. He has kinda switched to a more speak-sing kind of delivery over the last few years, but when he wants to deliver a first rate performance he still can. I'm stoked to be going to San Antonio with a number of chums to see him next month. Should be a hella good time. I'll report on it after the show.
Also been listening to some Gil Scott Heron lately. I know I'm about 30 years behind schedule on this one, but better late than never. His classic The Revolution Will Not Be Televised has gotten the most play and I am consistently blow away by his smart, un-biased view of his surroundings and world view. This cat doesn't pull any punches or dilute the ambrosia. I first discovered him back in '92 thanks to my roommates Mel & Jason. Also had the pleasure of seeing him live in concert back in December of 1992 at the now defunct Rockefeller's here in Houston. A memorable concert to say the least. He was center stage at his electric piano with his drink at his side. He must have knocked a dozen drinks off their perch during the course of the evening, only to have them replaced by a faithful stagehand. He also had a young female piano player in the band that he would escort backstage during extended jams and return with a white plume of crack smoke as his shadow. I've never seen a performer as loaded as he was that night(Garcia might have been in '94 & '95, though). Despite his intoxication, he carried on and delivered one fine show that my friends and I still talk about to this day. I have a recording I made that I will someday digitalize.
Have recently discovered the seductive siren song of Neko Case. I've fallen in love with her just as I did Liz Phair more than a decade ago. Not that their songwriting or vocals are similar in any way. It's more their delivery. Her most recent release, Fox Confessor Brings The Flood, is filled with choice neo-folk. Songs like "Dirty Knife", "The Needle Has Landed", and "That Teenage Feeling" are just a few of the phenomenal tracks. Get!
A few months ago a friend burned a disc of mp3's that I just now loaded on to the iPod this week. I requested some Ween, but he included much more than that. And to be truthful, I'm much more impressed by his additions. The Super Furry Animals are fucking incredible. Their album Songbook is chock full of electronic psychedelic pop. Brilliant use of vocal effects throughout and some wonderful hooks to boot. I highly recommend it.
Next on the disc was Steve Burns' Songs For Dustmites. With a helping hand from his friends in the the Flaming Lips(Michael & Steven), Burns has delivered one hell of a freshman disc. Top notch songwriting and production that is pure ear candy.
And I saved the best for last. The Mercury Rev. Taking a page from the Flaming Lips book of magic music, the guys have now written their own with Deserter's Songs. Lush and beautiful, their songs are melodic snippets of angels breath with enough heart to make a grown man cry as he peddles his bike through town. With this one album, I have fallen head over heels for the guys and can hardly wait to check out their live performances as well as their five other releases.
There is some truly astounding music being made these days and I'm pleased as punch to be shoving it in my ear as fast as I can. Vive la renaissance!

iPod Song of the day: "Holes" from Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Townes Van Zandt: Be Here To Love Me

The irony that only a dozen people gathered upstairs at a local British pub to view the newly released documentary on Townes Van Zandt wasn't wasted on me. For even in death, one of America's greatest songwriters of the last century still has a difficult time attracting a crowd.
In the opening sequence of the movie an audio interview with Townes reveals that not only does he claim to know his fate, but indeed states that he designed it. It sets the tone for the somber and sometimes haunting film that chronicles a life filled with a succession of lows and the occasional high. His story is told through interviews with friends in the music business, three ex-wives, and an astonishing number of home movies and interviews spanning his entire life.
Early on, we learn that Townes was one tough sumbitch. A college friend recalls how, dressed only in a old pair of blue jeans, Townes strolled in to a school formal and parked himself next to the punch bowl and downed a few glasses to help get his buzz on for the night. As he walked out of the dance, Van Zandt is harassed by a number of his fraternity brothers for his lack of dress and his pervailing outsider attitude. Whereupon Townes approached the brother giving him the most grief, reached in to his pocket, pulled out his pledge pin, and pinned it directly on to his bare chest. Without saying a word, a small trickle of blood ran down his chest as he glared in to the eyes of his tormentor.
In another display of machismo, or temporary insanity, Townes purposely flung himself backwards off a fourth story balcony, landing flat on his back. In his own words he describes the incident, claiming his desire was to experience the feeling of going all the way to the edge and his realization that the only way to get there was to just do it. So, he did it. Wrapping it up by saying he never forgot the feeling. I guess not.
Steve Earle recalls a moment when the two were living in a wooden cabin in the back woods of Tennessee or Kentucky and how Van Zandt played a game of Russian Roulette in front of him and won...THREE TIMES IN A ROW! Needless to say, it tortured Earle to see his good friends unhealthy display of desperation and says it took him several years to forgive Van Zandt for putting him through such a disturbing incident.
But, above all, the most revealing, and downright heartbreaking, moments are when Townes songs are showcased. Inside his mobile home, a home movie from Austin(circa. 1974) captures a surreal moment as Van Zandt performs his song "Waiting Around To Die" before a handful of drinking partners including an elderly black man. As he sings the lines, One-time friends I had a ma, I even had a pa/He beat her with a belt once cause she cried/She told him to take care of me,she headed down to Tennessee/It's easier than just a-waitin' 'round to die, the lens focuses on the elderly man behind him as his weary, bloodshot eyes swell up with emotion at a verse that hits a little too close to home. As he wipes the tears from his eyes, Townes second wife, Cindy, puts her hand on his shoulder, drawing him closer in an effort to comfort the aching man's soul.
Guy Clark recalls receiving a phone call from Townes inviting him over to his hotel room where he had just completed the song "Maria" that morning and proceeds to premier the song for Clark with paper on knee. Clark then marvels at how, that very evening, Townes played the song live in concert for the first time and remembered every word to the newly born song without the aid of the lyric sheet.
In a home video from 2002, five years after his death, a heart wrenching moment catches his daughter, Katie Belle, quietly dancing and mouthing every word to one of his songs on the turn table.
Finally, in a video interview with Townes and old friend Guy Clark at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1993, Van Zandt recalls the first time he ever played nine ball with Clark as his teacher. As the balls were placed on the table in their familiar diamond setting, Townes promptly sinks the nine ball with his first break. Guy reluctantly hands over the hundred dollar bill that had been bet. But just as quickly, Townes loses the money in the second game. He claims that breaking even was all he ever wanted out of life and that Purgatory would be just fine with him. Going on to describe the three levels of life as Heaven, Purgatory, and the Blues. And concludes by saying he's been trying to claw his way up from the Blues since day one.
As the credits roll we see Townes, in a light hearted moment, trying on his collection of hats for the camera. There are a variety, ranging from cowboy hats to an old weathered Houston Astros baseball cap. A burst of spontaneous applause arose from the crowd of twelve.

from "The Hole"

What about my mother
I can't just leave her there to mourn
You don't have to think about her
Just forget you were ever born
I'll disappoint my father
you know he worked so hard for me
If you have to pay your father back
Just send him some misery

I'll miss, I said, a girl I know
I can't just leave there to pine
she's still got plenty of men to go
I'm sure she'll do just fine
What about my little boy
She said, he's just like you
Let a few short years roll by
He'll end up down here too
Free Image Hosting at

Friday, March 03, 2006

Adventures In Tinley Park

Setting: Tinley Park, IL. Summer 1990. World Music Theater.

I'm not sure how it happened, but I ended up riding with Marc and Lisa(the blonde sister on "That '70's Show") in a old beat up van to the show. This would be Marc's first(and maybe his last) Grateful Dead experience. Perhaps the desire to "show him the ropes" was my catalyst for joining them, I don't recall. I'm pretty sure this wasn't Lisa's first show, though. We would run in to each other, over the next few years, at shows far and wide. However, this would be the first(and last) run of Grateful Dead shows, closing out the 1990 Summer Tour, for the newly opened World Music Theater in the outskirts of Chicago.
The drive began uneventful enough but soon turned in to a nightmare as thousands of Deadheads converged on the venue, which was woefully unprepared for such an infestation. The highway was in total gridlock for as far as the eye could see. Finally, we decided to pull off the road and park in the back lot of a gas station a few miles away from the venue. In desperation, thousands of others had done the same, turning the roads in to a parking lot the size of which I'd never seen or would ever see again. Subdued chaos was the name of the game. Everyone was calm, but in a hurry. To make things worse, it started to sprinkle and would continue on and off for the remainder of the evening.
Arriving in the venue's lot, I quickly scored a healthy dose of LSD for Lisa and I(Marc stayed stone cold sober). We could hear strains of music coming from inside the venue, so we rushed along in hopes of missing as little as possible. I believe we got in somewhere during "Friend Of The Devil", meaning we had only missed about four songs. I had smuggled in a hand held tape recorder to document the show and in a moment of temporary insanity would record over it a few years later. Dumb! Soaking wet, we danced to the groove provided by the band(it also helped to keep our bones warm in the incessant drizzling rain).
The tape revealed that I was singing aloud to the second set opener, Scarlet>Fire, and came in too early for the chorus. This produced a number of laughs and sideways glares from our mates on the hill. I shrunk a little out of embarrassment. And the rain kept falling. Always with the rain!
As the show progressed, so did the psychedelic jumble that was my brain. Things were getting weird and would continue in this vein for some time. And oh, how the rain did fall.
In an attempt to get the best vantage point, we moved to a number of different spots, finally planting ourselves underneath the stage left speakers. As the set progressed, a ever growing mud pit under the speakers formed as a result of the falling rain and dancing feet. In an attempt to avoid being consumed by said mud pit, the crowd had increasingly retreated to its outer edges forming a human wall that enclosed it. Here's where things got stupid weird. While in the throws of deep "Space"(a freeform feedback segment mid set), we could hear an ever increasing groan emanating from the crowd behind us. Suddenly the crowd parted to reveal a large hairy man, dressed only in ill fitting Speedo undies, coming toward the pit at great velocity. He belly flopped into the pit and proceeded to throw his body in every conceivable direction, bouncing off the human wall that was surrounding the perimeter. On the tape, with Lisa looking at me with ever growing concern, I could be heard pleading with Marc to help guide us out of this insanity, as Lisa and I were unable to muster the ability to move our feet on our own. She & I were losing our shit, quickly. But having been forced, at our whim, to move to any number of spots on the hill during the course of the evening, Marc was deaf to our pleas. In our state, with Space exploding all around us, the "mud beast" was all she and I needed to push us over the psychedelic precipice. Aaaaaarrrggghhh! Not long after Space peaked and the Speedo undies came off, the faint strains of "I Need A Miracle" could be heard on the tape. To our fragile psyche's delight, out of the blue came what seemed like a bus load of orange security jackets and escorted Mr. Beast to Comfort Inn. A large approving uproar from the surrounding crowd could be heard on the recording.
Oh, but it doesn't end there. The show over, we started on our trek back to the car. In the ever present rain, Marc graciously loaned his jean jacket to Lisa as we started off across several large muddy fields, in and out of rain soaked ditches, and over barbed wire fences toward the car that seemed like a million miles away. By this time, it was close to midnight and we were growing more and more weary from our travels. Along the way, Lisa would take the jacket off, put it back on, then take it off again...well, you get the picture. In the moonlit mist we could finally see the gas station where we had abandoned the car so many hours before. Our final obstacle was a small clover leaf entrance to the highway. As we approached the road, Marc asked that Lisa retrieve the keys to the van from inside one of the coat pockets. Uuuuuuggghhhh. You guessed it. Somewhere along the way the keys had fallen out of Marc's coat. Lisa and I were sunk. We had made it this far and the Gods of Psychedelic were now getting in one final laugh at our expense. Lisa and I fell to the ground and began to whimper. We had been beaten. Game over, man. Game over.
With a sigh and the words, "I'll be back", Marc set off to retrace our steps across the muddy fields we had walked between the venue and freeway entrance. The poor fool, we thought. Here we were in the middle of nowhere, with only the moon as a light source, rain falling all around us, and this guy thought he was gonna find a fucking needle in a haystack. Lisa and I held each other for warmth as we sat on the side of the freeway cursing our luck and praying for a miracle.
And that's just what we got. Not fifteen minutes later, Marc stepped out of the cold rain and darkness with keys, and our salvation, in hand. I don't know how, why, where, or when he found them. I knew better than to ask. The Grateful Dead had performed their final bit of magic for the evening and we were there front row center as witnesses.
Climbing in to the warmth and comfort of the van, Marc started up the van which cued up the tape deck. And so began the music that was to become our theme for the evening. It was Blind Faith and the song was "Can't Find My Way Home". You can't make this shit up, folks. It was Grateful Dead whodoo-voodoo at it weirdest and finest. LONG LIVE GARCIA! I reclined in the back of the van and just watched the shadows on the walls as we headed for town.
Arriving home in the early hours of the morning, I sat in my room trying to piece together the events of the evening. It was fruitless. I was still too high and in a sort of numbed state of shock.
Not too much later the phone rang and it was the crew from Lincoln Ave. requesting my presence at their din of debauchery. Without shoes(I was feeling invincible), I walked fifteen blocks in the pouring, freezing rain to their apartment only to discover that each group had a tale as outrageous and miraculous as mine. "Gridlock" was the word of choice. Anytime the word was spoken, we would all burst in to hysterical laughter bringing tears to our eyes. This continued on for several more hours. And as if having an out of body experience, I could see myself sitting in the hallway, alone, with a shit-eating grin the size of Illinois, giddy with the knowledge that we still had another two nights of shows ahead of us.

But that's a story for another day.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Neil Young's "Heart Of Gold"

Walking in to an empty theater for the late showing of the new Jonathan Demme concert documentary "Heart Of Gold", I was once again reminded that my finger is nowhere near the pulse of America. I was eventually joined by two other moviegoers, though.
Let me state, first of all, that this movie is brilliant. It captures all the nuance and soul that a Neil Young concert has to offer. And let me tell you, there are mountains of soul presented here. I was quite literally blown away. I went in with high expectations, but after just a few moments I was reduced to tears of both sorrow and joy. It was an emotional rollercoaster to say the least.
The opening image of the concert is of the beautiful golden curtains of the Ryman Auditorium, lit only by its famous foot lights, as they part to reveal Neil and band. For a moment you actually believe the tall, lanky figure center stage is the ghostly image of Hank Williams Sr. making his triumphant return to the stage, where he was fired from the Grand Ole Opry, after more than five decades. It's a truly breathtaking moment.
Neil then leads his band through the entirety of his most recent release, Prairie Wind. This is no frills rock 'n roll at its finest. Except for the band and two backdrops that alternate, the gigantic stage is empty. Proving that the grand spectacles that are passed off as rock shows these days are really just meant as a distraction from sub-par bands with even more sub-par music. He's joined by a whole cast of fantastic musical talent including, Emmylou Harris, the Fisk University Jubilee Singers, The Nashville String Machine, and the Memphis Horns. His old bandmates Ben Keith, Spooner Oldham, and wife Pegi are also along for the ride.
At the completion of Prairie Wind, Neil then graciously presents the audience with a staggering set of classic songs from his vast catalog. And this is not your run of the mill "greatest shits" set. He digs deep in to his repertoire with songs like, "Old King", the Ian & Silvia classic "Four Strong Winds", and one of my all time favorites "One Of These Days" to close out the show.
In one of the more emotionally charged moments of the film, Neil speaks candidly about his father's dementia and eventual passing earlier that year. It's tremendously moving to see the normally stone-faced Young swell up with emotion before playing the albums title track "Prairie Wind" which begins with the line, Trying to remember what my daddy said/Before too much time took away his head. In-tense!
There's also a lovely moment during "Harvest Moon" where Neil glances back and grins at Pegi, his wife of over twenty years, during the lyrics, I'm still in love with you/I wanna see you dance again/'Cause I'm still in love with you. Very subtle and genuinely moving.
It's easy to see that Neil is quite overwhelmed by being on the historic stage of the Ryman. He graciously soaks up every bit of joy and love it has to offer only to project it back, through his performance, to the enthusiastic crowd that has gathered to witness the world premier of his new musical project. The audience is attentive and very well behaved with nary a hoot or holler during the proceedings except between songs. Neil's fans(or Rusties) are infamous for the way they've welcomed each and every new project he's presented to them with loving open arms. And here, they are well rewarded with a tidal wave of soul and a heart of gold as big as Nashville itself.
As the movies credits roll, we witness Neil alone on stage performing an acoustic version of his classic "The Old Laughing Lady" with only a guitar case and old weathered traveling bag as his companions. And as the credits finish we see his dedication and final proclamation of love for the evening. It simply reads, "for daddy".
As I walked out of the theater, I passed up my car and soon found myself several blocks away looking in the window of a local nick-nack shop. I quickly got lost in the brilliantly back lit, hand blown glass figurines as some lovely violin music floated above the parking lot. I realized that I had had such a wonderful experience that I didn't want the night to end. It was all like some beautiful gold tinted dream that had renewed my love of music all over again.

But it got cold, so I went home.

iPod Song of the Day: "Funny Little Frog" from Belle & Sebastian's new release The Life Pursuit
This is a great new pop album with a ton of great songs. I also saw them perform it live on Conan O'Brien tonight and it was killer!