Saturday, May 31, 2008

Adrian Belew Power Trio at Skipper's

This concert experience began for me this past Wednesday when I was hosting Step Outside, the Strange and Beautiful music program on WMNF 88.5fm. At the last minute I was alerted that legendary guitar hero Jerry Outlaw would be coming in to talk about the Adrian Belew Power Trio show at Skipper's Smokehouse where his band would be the opener.

Being intimidated by the thought of doing an interview I felt a bit nervous. I'm glad now that it was Jerry who was my first interview. He is a very, very nice guy; intelligent, witty and an incredible musician. He is very humble about his playing and the interview went well (live) and even though I was programming, juggling CD's and answering the phones while trying to keep Jerry entertained, the program went smoothly. And what an opener his band was, playing several great originals as well as some great (GREAT!) versions of songs by Jeff Beck, Frank Zappa ("Dog Breath" and "Black Napkins") as well as a note-for-note version of "Miles Beyond" by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (off the air Jerry told me they would have played "Birds of Fire" but didn't have their violin player).
Friday night came around and as usual the ABPT put on an incredible show. Backed by Julie and Eric Slick, Adrian Belew played from a catalog of music that extends back to the early 80's when he began with King Crimson. He played a lot of new songs from his Sides albums as well as music from Lone Rhino and Op Zop Too Wah. As always, either with King Crimson or solo, he was energetic, friendly, amazing. He was discovered by Frank Zappa in the late 70's and was hired on as a "stunt guitarist" in Zappa's band at the time before he was stolen by David Bowie and then later joined the Talking Heads. From there he formed his own band that opened for League of Gentlemen where he met Robert Fripp and together they formed Discipline which immediately became a revamped version of King Crimson.

Ade played only three King Crimson songs at Skipper's: "Dinosaur" (which I always think of as a Beatles song), "Three of a Perfect Pair" (which sounds almost as good as the King Crimson Double Trio version) and "Thela Hun Ginjeet". "Neurotica" was on the list but was not played. Perhaps because the vocal pre-records were not triggering correctly. Maybe Ade is saving other Crim songs for the King Crimson 40th anniversary concerts coming up in August.
Great crowd overall. Just a few basement dwellers, too few to distract. Lots of friends to meet and greet, great local talent in the crowd and pretty, pretty girls.

Highlights included:

"Ampersand"; an amazing extended jam version of "Beat Box Guitar"; Adrian solo, playing The Beatles' "Within You, Without You"; "Thela" even with a late entry pre-record; also great were "Big Electric Cat" and "Of Bow and Drum".

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Portishead: P3

Not the happiest of music. What were you expecting? It's Portishead. The long awaited third album, appropriately titled Third, is already lining up to be the best album of the year. Along some other great albums which have come out (NIN Ghosts, Radiohead's In Rainbows, etc.) it has already established itself as "classic". Portishead is the sort of group who can pull that off. This was a triumphant resurrection, with a delivery that would have had The Stone Roses crying in their pants. 
  At once mysterious, melancholic and entirely smoky and moody, Portishead has always been a futuristic band with a firm grip on a retro sound. 21st century noir, always looking back (torchsong, primitive electronics, turntable-ism, Krautrock, et al.) but pointing forward with a sound and style that is often outside of any genre.
  A lot of reviews have mentioned that Third is of "our times" which is really a shame since I always consider Portishead's music a thing of the future (see previous blog entry) and I don't think that in five or ten years the album will sound dated or represent anything since it already exists in its own era. The music exists in a limbo that is neither here nor there.
  It is true that some of the songs reflect contemporary themes ("Silence", "Machine Gun", "Threads") but isn't making any statement. The music is as great if not better than their two previous albums, an updated sound for the group. A brave and often uncommercial sound that's just making the kids go wild. The smart kids, at least. The adventurous and the faithful.
  Their set at Coachella 2008 was one of the most anticipated performances of the year and they will soon be touring in England. 
  Chances of seeing them where I am currently located: zero. At least there is video footage to enjoy.
  For me, "Silence" is the greatest song they've ever written and pays homage to every great Krautrock band: Kraftwerk, Faust and especially Can (its beat is reminiscent of Can's live version of "Spoon"). So far, along with Radiohead's In Rainbows, it's the one album that's been getting the most play.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Idioteque: Radiohead Report from the Front

In 1998 some time, I'd stumbled onto a used copy of Radiohead's OK Computer. Having heard so much about it I sampled it at a used record store and thought how odd it was, this pop band who'd scored a hit with "Creep" had released this album filled with electronic experimentation (and some truly terrific songs). It wasn't until they released Kid A that I stood up and took notice. "Oh, they're that kind of a pop band... paving the way for the future of popular music." My thoughts on OK Computer, perhaps at the time, were that this was music of the future and I just wasn't ready to listen to it. It took several years (and Kid A, Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief) for me to back track to that important album. Kid A was the equivalent of U2's Achtung Baby. Everybody everywhere says that they hated this album, even some of my beast friends, but it sold really well. It even earned Radiohead a Grammy. This was some sort of hybrid rock music filtered through drum machines, modulations and electronica. And it was terrific. And it didn't sound like Britpop. Was this the beginning of the death of Britpop? Finally and thankfully, yes! Not having considered myself a fan, I'm glad the music pissed off a lot of fans. I've heard people tell me that they love everything Radiohead did up to Kid A. I say I love that and everything after that (and really, they should have returned to the fold by now since the new album In Rainbows harkens back to everything before OK Computer). Like Achtung Baby had split the camps, so did Kid A. But the trip so far has been pretty damn terrific. Maybe those older fans left to make way for the new ones.

I put Radiohead in the category of a handful of bands from the 90's that to me actually matter; that have a place along side of innovative bands like Tortoise, Wilco, Portishead and Stereolab; musicians like Beck, Goldfrapp and Air. Bands who've combined electronics with organic combo playing. I listen to Radiohead, not because they make feel-good music (they don't, really) but the music and musicians are always challenging.

The Tampa show was exceptional. For a city that usually hosts rowdy concerts with ill-mannered attendees, this was a nice and almost mellow show. You're always going to have talkers during the soft songs. It is obvious at this point that they have compromised the show because they've stopped listening to the music. Sometimes the music doesn't exist until it is given ears. This show was not as sweaty and intense as when I saw them at Bonnaroo two years ago, but then nothing can really compare to a Bonnaroo performance.

The Setlist:

all I need
there there
lucky bangers and mash (Thom Yorke drumming)
15 step
pyramid song
the national anthem
you and whose army
everything in its right place


the gloaming

the tourist
faust arp
exit music

encore 2

the bends
house of cards

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Keeping Up

  Too many things going on at the moment to report properly. I stopped writing one book and decided to edit another. I didn't plan on touching this new (old) manuscript for some time but here I am head first into the editing process. This is the worst part about writing. If I could write it and throw it away and never have to edit it would be great.
  In the past week I took in episodes of The Sopranos, the Robert Ginty film The Exterminator and most recently Walker, directed by Alex Cox.
  Walker is the story of William Walker, American expat who went to Nicaragua to instill democracy and wound up becoming a dictator who eventually pushed to reinstate slavery in the region. He also had ambitions of taking over the regional countries in the area until he really fucked up and got himself executed. In the hands of Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy, etc.) the film is a violent and sometimes comedic ode to American imperialism while underlining the facts yet somehow making Walker a likable character who's weak and flawed. The actors in the film are a who's-who of Cox's usual cast of players: Miguel Sandoval, Dick Rude, Joe Strummer, Sy Richardson, etc. Walker sometimes plays like a more serious version of Straight To Hell which was Cox's previous movie. The film disassembles itself by the last reel and turns into a strange parody much the way Blazing Saddles ended. There are plenty of sight gags and some inside jokes and the Joe Strummer soundtrack is one of the best of any Cox film. Mr. Strummer (RIP) also shows up uncredited as the character Faucet. I never understood why The Clash was so popular (or even considered "punk") but Strummer's solo career has always been overlooked. And he was a fun actor.
Best of all on this Criterion release are the extras, including a documentary of the making of the film which sometimes reminded me of The Burden of Dreams, the documentary about Werner Herzog's making of Fitzcarraldo. At times Walker reminds a little bit of a Herzog film, noticeably Aguire, der Zorn Gottes or Cobra Verde. Since Alex Cox has proven he can direct any genre, the film never feels historically inaccurate, however sporadically hysterical. The ensemble cast reminds me that this is very much an Alex Cox film (without whom, we'd have no Robert Rodriguez, Quinten or Alex De La Iglesia). After this film, its many poor reviews and anti-American/Reagan tone, Cox was blacklisted from Hollywood and wouldn't make another film until Highway Patrolman (which was filmed in Mexico in Spanish). In the 90's he set about making a wide range of films, all done in his own anarchistic style, experimental yet never straying from the tone he set for himself with his first film, Repo Man. His tone remains intact even when directing different genres (Death and the Compass, the surreal Three Business and one of my favorites: Revenger's Tragedy (which works as science fiction and historical recreation, strangely enough). As far as contemporaries I can only name Jim Jarmausch (who starred in Straight To Hell) for being as stubborn as Cox in his determination to make his films his own way. As far as his influences? I can think of three directors that influenced Cox: Sergio Corbucci, Sam Peckinpah and Louis Bunuel.

  Next up: The Exterminator. 
This film was one of those sleazy "grindhouse" pictures from the 80's that made me feel dirty and guilty after watching it recently. But it had all the great elements (cliches) of revenge movies made in the 80's. Let's see the check list:
  • Vietnam vet coming to New York in the early 80's
  • black buddy that saved him in 'Nam
  • working in a meat packing factory frequented by the mob
  • black buddy is crippled after attack by local thugs
  • prostitute mutilated in sleazy sex dive, rescued by hero
  • hero puts gangster through meat grinder
  • hero uses flamethrower to get revenge on gang members
  • this movie stars Christopher George
  What more does one need for a sleazy revenge classic from the 80's? Sure, it's not Rolling Thunder nor Death Wish 2 (or 3) but it is that one movie that spawned an equally sleazy sequel starring Mario Van Peebles. Those were the days and a lot of the footage of Manhattan from that period in history shows it. I think there's a Target or a musical theatre now where this film was shot in Times Square. Although not the greatest of films, I found myself nostalgic for this time in NYC (I was living there when this film was released). I wish they still made them like this.