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Monday, December 31, 2007

Ranking every band I saw live in 2007, from 1-101

This year I saw more than 100 national acts play live, thanks largely to Lollapalooza and the Warped Tour, which provided 57 of them. The following is a ranking of every band I saw, from 1-101.

1. Daft Punk, Lollapalooza, August 3
Much of the thrill of seeing these guys is based on the novelty factor, knowing that they rarely perform live. Their show was quite the spectacle, with the two of them in their trademark robot outfits standing inside a giant pyramid, alongside a crazy light and video show. The energy coming from 30,000 people when the first notes of “One More Time” began was something to behold.

2. My Chemical Romance, Wolstein Center, February 26
They came out in their black & white Sgt. Pepper uniforms and performed the epic Black Parade album from start to finish. It was a brash display of rock 'n roll arrogance. Singer Gerard Way’s showmanship recalled Freddie Mercury. The title track was the high point - its Bohemian Rhapsody-like scope was magnified live, and just as the final triumphant chorus and soaring guitars kicked in, they shot off cannons of confetti. It was an unforgettable arena rock moment that few bands in the world are capable of pulling off.

3. The Hold Steady, Lollapalooza, August 4
I never thought a no-frills rock band could be this good. Craig Finn and his bandmates wowed me with their enthusiasm and authenticity. I missed “Stuck Between Stations” but I didn’t care, because “You Can Make Him Like You,” “Massive Nights,” and the rest more than made up for it. Finn’s sing-speak vocals, Franz Nicolay’s lively keys, and a surprisingly young crowd combined to make this one of Lollapalooza’s most fun shows.

4. Rodrigo y Gabriela, Lollapalooza, August 5
Normally the description “Mexican instrumental guitar duo” wouldn’t excite me, but these two were shockingly good. Gabriela’s fingers moved so fast I swore there was a drummer on stage, until I finally realized it was just her slapping the guitar between notes. “Diablo Rojo” was most impressive, but they also performed amazing covers like Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”

5. !!!, Lollapalooza, August 5
Sometimes a frontman is so good that he makes the show all by himself, and that was the case with !!!’s Nic Offer, whose horrific, so-uncool-it-was-cool dancing got everyone moving. His singing was pretty close to awful, but who goes to a !!! show to hear epic vocal performances? LCD Soundsystem should’ve been taking notes.

6. TV On the Radio, Lollapalooza, August 5
Sometimes a rock band comes out and plays a show so intense that when they leave, your ears are still buzzing and you feel as if you’ve just witnessed a fire, and the ground is still smoldering. That was the feeling after these guys tore through “Wolf Like Me” and “I Was a Lover” at Lolla.

7. Ghostland Observatory, The Music Box at the Henry Fonda Theater, November 30

The second time I saw them in ’07 was even better than the first. Despite the risky decision to open with their two best songs, “Vibrate” and “Sad Sad City,” the energy never dipped during their set. “Midnight Voyage” was a great 8-minute jam with a guitar riff that wouldn’t end, and the spacey “Silver City” was a great encore.

8. Dave Matthews Band, Post-Gazette Pavilion, August 8

I’ve seen DMB so many times that they have to do something special to impress me anymore, and they did on this night, playing classics like “Crush” and “Grey Street” and hitting the high notes that he could previously only sing in falsetto. “Louisiana Bayou” was funky as hell, and they also busted out the rarely-heard “Sweet Up and Down,” a track from the long-lost Lillywhite Sessions.

9. Girl Talk, Mr. Small’s Theatre, May 11

Witnessing his live mash-ups was a beautiful thing. He played to the crowd, reworking Night Ripper’s opening track, “Once Again”, to include part of local rapper Wiz Khalifa’s “Pittsburgh Sound.” The crowd poured onto the stage, and for one night Pittsburgh actually became a city that wasn’t afraid to dance.

10. Polyphonic Spree, Lollapalooza, August 3
The first memorable moment of the festival came when this 27-piece choral outfit changed from their military uniforms into their trademark white robes and played a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium.” They also tore up “When a Fool Becomes King.” Memo to self: Don’t skip the first half of this band’s performance ever again.

11. Pearl Jam, Lollapalooza, August 5
They played a hits-heavy set that included “Daughter,” “Worldwide Suicide,” a raucous “Alive,” and a performance of “Even Flow” that included fireworks and lengthy guitar solos. Though shorter than expected, their show lived up to expectations and was worthy of being the festival headliner.

12. World/Inferno Friendship Society, Mr. Small’s Theatre, September 20
How to describe this band? They blended punk/soul/cabaret and it was beautiful to witness them win over a hardcore punk crowd, thanks largely to the showmanship of frontman Jack Terricloth. Seeing teenagers with red mohawks dancing around to this music made me happy.

13. Ghostland Observatory, Lollapalooza, August 3
I knew little about this duo, but they blew me away with their White Stripes-meets-Daft Punk blend of hard rock and electronica, combined with a pigtailed singer who snake danced around the stage like Gwen Stefani and a cape-wearing drummer/keyboardist. I was instantly converted to a fan in less than 60 minutes.

14. Mickey Avalon, Lollapalooza, August 3
He probably doesn’t deserve to be this high, but this was one of my personal favorite shows of the year. There’s something about Mickey’s trashy white-boy rap that is irresistible. A small but dedicated audience went nuts as he played most of his debut album, finishing with “My Dick,” featuring Dirt Nasty, aka Simon Rex.

15. Patti Smith, Lollapalooza, August 4
Recovered from a slow start with spirited renditions of her hits “Because the Night” and “Gloria,” and a brilliant re-working of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which she turned into a passionate ballad about the evils of war. At the end of her set it started raining heavily, an appropriate capper for a majestic performance.

16. Luminescent Orchestrii, Theatre of the Living Arts, December 28
Eastern-European gypy-klezmer-tango-punk band showed off terrific musicianship. They damn near pulled-off their goal of having four musicians create the sound of an entire orchestra on songs like “Taraf Hijacked,” and got everyone laughing and dancing with the humorous food homage “Nasty Tasty.”

17. The Ike Reilly Assassination, Point State Park, June 12
I didn’t intend to stay for the whole show, but they were so good I couldn’t leave until it was over. Ike is one of rock’s great modern wordsmiths, and I especially enjoyed the songs he played from 2001’s Salesmen and Racists, like “Hip Hop Thighs #17,” “Cash is King,” and “Duty Free.”

18. Dresden Dolls, Theatre of the Living Arts, December 28
Amanda’s voice was ragged (what else is new?), but the band’s set was full of their best material – “Bad Habit,” “Gravity,” “Half Jack,” “Delilah,” and “Girl Anachronism.” Left-field covers of “Fight for Your Right (To Party)” and “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” made the show particularly memorable.

19. Fiery Furnaces, Mr. Small’s Theatre, November 2
They didn’t let a small, non-enthusiastic crowd deter them, and eventually found their stride with “Clear Signal From Cairo” and “The Philadelphia Grand Jury.” I was digging the odd song structures, and the addition of a guitarist and drummer for the live show made the sound much more full than on the record.

20. Fall Out Boy, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 23
They’re playing arenas for a reason. Their live chops are questionable (even they admit as much), but the songs on Infinity on High are good enough that they still rock even if not delivered at their best. Rolling Stone just named their record as one of the best of 2007, so there’s finally some critical acclaim to back up my liking of this group.

21. Nicole Atkins, Diesel, November 19
Terrific voice; if she doesn’t become a superstar, I’ll be surprised
22. The National, Rex Theater, June 19
Mr. November is one of my favorite rock songs of recent years
23. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Lollapalooza, August 4
A band that I never really liked finally won me over
24. The Rapture, Rex Theater, February 3
People don’t dance no more? They did tonight
25. Iggy Pop & the Stooges, Lollapalooza, August 5
I missed the part where he invited the crowd onstage
26. Fall Out Boy, Agora Theater, January 11
Small club show to road-test new material
27. White Rabbits, Lollapalooza, August 5
Peppy indie rock with multiple pianists and drummers
28. Marilyn Manson, Tower City Ampitheater, July 31
I waited years to do the fist-raise during Antichrist Superstar
29. Tokyo Police Club, Lollapalooza, August 4
Rough around the edges, but they’re young
30. Polyphonic Spree, Rex Theater, November 15
Didn’t play their best songs this time
31. High Class Elite, Lollapalooza, August 4
Trashy glam-rock took me totally by surprise

32. Cobra Starship, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 23
A sassy singer and a girl who plays keytar, that’s all we need
33. Rise Against, Wolstein Center, February 26
Anarchist attitude and solid material won over crowd
34. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Lollapalooza, August 3
Nice rock songs, like Mellancamp if he was cool
35. HUMANWINE, Club Café, March 28
Creators of a new genre – gypsy pirate rock
36. White Rabbits, Club Café, September 7
"Kid On My Shoulders" is incredible live
37. Anti-Flag, Mr. Small’s Theatre, April 22
Finally got to see the Pittsburgh punk rockers
38. The Ike Reilly Assassination, Allegheny Landing, June 23
Another quality show from these guys
39. Paramore, Warped Tour, August 8
The music’s almost as interesting as the colors in her hair

40. +44, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 23
Played only 1 Blink-182 song, but still rocked
41. Mike Doughty, Outside WYEP Studios, September 8
Mike never fails to deliver
42. Paolo Nutini, Lollapalooza, August 5
Thick accent sometimes distracted from songs
43. The Academy Is…, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 23
William Beckett is too skinny to live
44. Amy Winehouse, Lollapalooza, August 5
Always seems bored onstage, but you can’t knock the songs
45. Meow Meow, Theatre of the Living Arts, December 28
Freaky cabaret singer with an entertaining show
46. Interpol, Lollapalooza, August 4
Obligatory comparison to Joy Division appears here
47. Fountains of Wayne, Diesel, June 7
Nerd rock wasn’t half bad
48. Matt Roan, Lollapalooza, August 3
DJ had a cool Girl Talk kinda thing going on
49. Muse, Lollapalooza, August 4
Too Radiohead-ish for my taste
50. Pete Yorn, Lollapalooza, August 4
He covered Young Folks by Peter Bjorn & John

51. Against Me!, Lollapalooza, August 3
A killer version of White People for Peace
52. Black Moth Super Rainbow, June 4
They ended their set way too soon
53. New Found Glory, Agora Theater, January 11
Odd, unnecessary cover of Sixpence’s Kiss Me
54. The Switches, Lollapalooza, August 3
The very first band at Lolla this year. Nice way to start
55. The Roots, Lollapalooza, August 4
?uestlove is still my boy
56. The Rapture, Lollapalooza, August 3
They are too cool for you
57. Silversun Pickups, Lollapalooza, August 3
Lazy Eye is an amazing song
58. New Found Glory, Warped Tour, August 8
Playing to the crowd makes the vocals suffer
59. The Pipettes, Diesel, November 19
Better towards the end, after they stopped being sour
60. Coheed & Cambria, Warped Tour, August 8
I love his Rush-esque voice

61. Illinois, Lollapalooza, August 3
I enjoy the banjo as a lead instrument
62. Electric Six, Lollapalooza, August 3
I wish I could’ve caught more of their set
63. Via Audio, Club Café, September 7
They had a cool vibe going on
64. moe., Allegheny Landing, June 23
Some nifty jamming; where were the pot brownies?
65. Ben Harper & the Innocent Criminals, Lollapalooza, August 3
Too many songs about saving the world
66. LCD Soundsystem, Lollapalooza, August 3
I guess I missed the good part of their set
67. Hawthorne Heights, Warped Tour, August 8
Whiniest band ever… so they’re right up my alley
68. Subhumans, Mr. Small’s Theatre, September 20
I got no sense from their performance that they were real punk legends
69. My Morning Jacket, Lollapalooza, August 5
I can’t believe I skipped Modest Mouse for this
70. Motion City Soundtrack, Lollapalooza, August 4
I like this band, too bad I couldn’t stay longer
71. Silverchair, Lollapalooza, August 4
Aside from “Freak,” inexplicably played almost none of their old hits
72. Snow Patrol, Lollapalooza, August 4
“Set the Fire to the Third Bar” is a great pop duet
73. Permanent Me, Agora Theater, January 11
Fall Out Boy-lite
74. Sinead O’Connor, Allegheny Landing, June 23
She’s this quiet singer/songwriter now

75. M.I.A, Lollapalooza, August 3
Boring, just her dancing with two girls & singing to a backing track
76. Rooney, Rex Theater, November 15
“Are You Afraid” was a sweet 80s-sounding synth number
77. The Cribs, Lollapalooza, August 5
I was seriously unimpressed
78. Bad Religion, Warped Tour, August 8
I respect their history but I thought they were just ok
79. Roky Erickson & the Explosives, Lollapalooza, August 4
When CSS cancelled I was stuck with this
80. Alexisonfire, Mr. Small’s Theatre, April 22
I still don’t know if it’s “alex is on fire” or “alexis on fire”
81. Jack’s Mannequin, Lollapalooza, August 3
Imagine The Fray, if the singer had an emo voice

82. Tapes ‘n Tapes, Lollapalooza, August 4
Um, the singer wore a cool shirt?
83. The Starting Line, Warped Tour, August 8
More catchy than the typical Warped fare
84. Los Lonely Boys, Point State Park, June 10
I thought this would be a lot better
85. Killswitch Engage, Warped Tour, August 8
I don’t remember much except loud noise
86. Tiger Army, Warped Tour, August 8
See: Killswitch Engage
87. Peter Bjorn & John, Lollapalooza, August 5
No substance at all beyond Young Folks
88. Blonde Redhead, Lollapalooza, August 3
I couldn’t figure out why this band had any buzz
89. Smoosh, Lollapalooza, August 5
Their 8-year-old sis now plays bass!
90. Chin Up Chin Up, Lollapalooza, August 3
The couple standing next to me really liked them
91. Slayer, Tower City Ampitheater, July 31
Proof that I’m really not into heavy metal

92. 1900’s, Lollapalooza, August 5
A band that was stylish, but I don’t remember the music
93. Circa Survive, Warped Tour, August 8
“Progressive emo,” if there can be such a thing
94. Set Your Goals, Mr. Small’s Theatre, April 22
Their MySpace page rocks; it’s better than their music
95. Poison the Well, Warped Tour, August 8
Another faceless Warped act
96. The Fratellis, Lollapalooza, August 3
Didn’t they know this was an important show?
97. The Early November, Agora Theater, January 11
98. Pit Er Pat, Mr. Small’s Theatre, November 2
Instrumental openers for Fiery Furnaces even bored themselves, I think
99. Dear & the Headlights, Lollapalooza, August 4
Didn’t do much for me
100. Caustic Christ, Mr. Small’s Theatre, September 20
At least they have a clever name
101. Paul Wall, Post-Gazette Pavilion, May 23
Ok, I confess - I went to the concession stand while he played, so I didn’t hear any of his set. So, it’s possible I missed something great. But come on… it’s friggin’ Paul Wall!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Dresden Dolls at the Theatre of the Living Arts

Dresden Dolls w/ Luminescent Orchestrii and Meow Meow

Theatre of the Living Arts (The Fillmore)

Philadelphia, December 28, 2007

Tonight was the second night of the Dresden Dolls’ two-week mini-tour and, without a new album to promote, the band felt free to experiment with unusual covers and lesser-known material. They came on stage dressed in fascist military caps and opened with Pink Floyd's “In the Flesh,” with drummer Brian Viglione hammering away with ferocious intensity, breaking two sticks in the process.

After moving on to tried-and-true favorites from their self-titled record like “Girl Anachronism” and “Missed Me,” they brought out Sxip Shirey from opening act Luminescent Orchestrii (whom I recently interviewed) and played an unorthodox but thoroughly enjoyable cover of the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” with Viglione singing and playing electric guitar, Shirey playing the melodica (a small instrument that looks like a hand-held toy piano), and singer Amanda Palmer playing drums.

Palmer’s voice was a bit ragged, which she attributed to the flu, and that was partly to blame for “Delilah” and “Half Jack” not quite reaching their full potential. Both were underwhelming as they reached what are typically soaring climaxes. “Mrs. O” and “Mandy Goes to Med School” felt a bit too slow, but the latter was livened up by some guest piano work from Lance Horne. For the encore, the Dolls brought out the entire Orchestrii and joined them for a high-energy cover of “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).”

The Orchestrii’s opening set was a rock-solid mix of Eastern European and Jewish music, which got the less-timid members of the sold-out crowd dancing. The opener, “Taraf Hijacked,” didn’t go over very well for some reason, but the new hip hop-influenced song “Nasty Tasty” was a highlight, with humorous lyrics about their favorite foods.

Meow Meow, the evening’s first act, was part cabaret singer, part comedian, and part talk show host. She brought fans onstage and engaged them in witty banter, then demanded the audience crowd surf her back to the bar so she could have a shot. Her endearing act ended too soon, but as she said her goodbyes, she remarked, “You can write about me on your blogs!”


Thursday, December 27, 2007

December 27: Thumbs up/ Thumbs down

Josh Groban. I don't know much about the guy's music, all I know is that his recent Christmas album has come out of nowhere to become the biggest-selling record of 2007. This pleases me because the album it eclipsed was the High School Musical 2 soundtrack. It would have been an enormous embarrassment if that soundtrack had wound up being the year's top seller. Big ups to Mr. Groban, and all the soccer moms who purchased his music.

Robert Plant. The Led Zeppelin singer has agreed to tour with Alison Krauss next year. Their duet album has been one of the most acclaimed records of the year, and it will be a thrill to see the two of them perform together. The downside is this tour makes it less likely that Plant will do a full-scale tour with Zeppelin, as many people have been hoping. But I'm still convinced that both tours will happen.

Steve Perry. Journey's ex-lead singer still refuses to perform with his former bandmates. They just named a new vocalist, and it's some dude from the Philippines. Seriously. With all the hype from the Sopranos' use of "Don't Stop Believin'," the timing has never been better for the band to reunite. Perry is one of rock's all-time great vocalists, and I long for the day I can see him sing "Faithfully," "Separate Ways" and "Open Arms" on stage again.

Epic Records
. Natasha Bedingfield released a very successful album in Europe last year, N.B., which produced multiple hit singles. Yet, it was never released in the U.S. Now, Epic is finally releasing it here, but they're changing the track listing, and removing "I Wanna Have Your Babies," a bubblegum pop gem that is the best song on the record. What are these people thinking?! If you don't want to make it the lead single, as it was in Europe, that's fine, but don't remove it from the record entirely!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Interview with Sxip Shirey
of Luminescent Orchestrii


From the mutant harmonica to the tampon applicator, Sxip Shirey is one of the world's best performers of unusual instruments. He has toured as part of the bizarre circus troupe The Bindlestiff Family Cirkus, and is also a founding member of the gypsy-klezmer-tango-punk band Luminescent Orchestrii ("orchestrii" meaning "small ensemble with orchestral intent.")

The Orchestrii are one of a number of Eastern European/gypsy bands who have been gaining a larger audience in recent years (Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box, Slavic Soul Party, DeVotchKa). "What’s great about that music is, it hasn’t been mined to death," Sxip says. "There’s so much potential there."

With the Orchestrii about to hit the road opening for the Dresden Dolls, Sxip took some time to chat about his peculiar and interesting musical endeavors. Like, how exactly does one play the tampon applicator? "There’s at least five different techniques," he says with a laugh. "You can play it like a trumpet, and there’s other really odd ways you can play it also." Read on for more...

Hi Sxip, thanks for talking with me.
No problem at all, I’m glad to do it.

I’m guessing Sxip is not your given name?
Skip is the nickname that I was called before I was born. I’m a solo artist, and when I lived in Denver they wouldn’t book people unless you were a band. So I put the X in my name so they would think that I was a band.

That was rather devious of you!
Yeah, and then it ended up being a good marketing thing, so I left it.

Your band Luminescent Orchestrii will be opening some shows on the Dresden Dolls’ upcoming tour. You’ve opened for them as a solo artist in the past. What was that experience like?
It was great, fantastic. Their crew is wonderful to work with, and they have really great fans. People who are into the Dresden Dolls aren’t there to be cool. The Dresden Dolls mean something personal to them. I remember one night, I was hosting the show and I said, ‘How many of you are musicians?’ And almost every hand went up. And I said, ‘How many of you play something other than guitar?’ and almost all the hands stayed up. So I’m like, this is a bunch of choir and band geeks, you know? And so, their audience is really cool.

Amanda (Palmer) doesn’t choose the standard thing to open up for the Dresden Dolls. She has butoh dancers, circus artists, burlesque acts, and unusual music, and that’s an amazing thing to do in a time period where touring music acts tend to be pretty dull. It’s all the same thing anymore, so it’s really great that she does that.

You’ve collaborated with Amanda on the Hour of Charm. Can you explain what that is?
I’m a circus, theater, puppetry and film composer - I work in a lot of different situations, as well as being a solo artist. So, I like to put on shows that I want to see. I want to see a puppet show, I want to see men in giant women suits oil wrestling, I want to see a really entertaining, crazy-ass show. So, I guess it was in Boston that she saw me and we started talking afterwards. We found out that we had exceedingly similar taste, and we got really excited about sharing knowledge.

I was doing a show called Sxip’s Hour of Charm and I invited her to perform at one in New York, and it went really well. And then the American Repertory Theatre approached her about doing a cabaret. She was like, ‘I don’t have time, let’s have Sxip do it.’ She was generous enough to send it my way.

I understand the Luminescent Orchestrii was conceived as an all-girls orchestra.
Yeah, I found a 78 which was the Hour Of Charm All-Girl Orchestra, and I was joking with my housemate, Rima Fand, who’s a great violinist and fiddle player, ‘We should start an all-girl orchestra.’ So we tried, but it ended up turning into this other thing. We were interested in gypsy and Balkan music, but we were also interested in rocking out, and we were also interested in harmony, so we put it all together.

I do avant-garde music but I always need to have a band that’s really basic. So this is it, two violins, a stand-up bass and guitar. And what’s exciting about it is, in the ‘60s, all these bands got to explore blues music, and then they transformed it and became The Who, and the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. We get to do the same thing with gypsy music. We get to steal it and love it and caress it and eat it and regurgitate it out in our own image.

How do your songs typically come together? Is there one primary writer, or is it a collaborative effort?
I tend to write the ones that are immediately fun, the ones with funny lyrics, and Rima writes the ones that are really strange. She’ll bring something strange to the band and we’ll all be like, ‘How do we deliver this?’ (laughs) Everybody in the band brings folk songs and traditional music to the table, Turkish tunes, gypsy tunes, Balkan tunes, Macedonian tunes, and we all arrange it. And then we work on it, and there’s a certain point where we’ve gotten inside it, something special happens to it, and it becomes a Luminescent tune.

Your most recent album came out in 2005. Is there another one in the works?
Yeah, we’re almost done with it. It’s called Neptune’s Daughter. That should be out in February, hopefully.

Do you want to pass along any exclusive info about it? We can start the buzz now!
It has our most recent tunes and our most recent lineup. The beautiful songs on the album are more beautiful than anything we’ve ever recorded, and the dissonant and hard-rocking tunes are more dissonant and hard-rocking than anything we’ve recorded before. So we kind of went in both directions, we got more beautiful and crazier-sounding at the same time.

You also do some solo stuff. How is that different from the band’s music?
I use a lot of objects – marbles and bowls, amplified breath, bamboozlephone, obnoxiophone, industrial flute, mutant harmonica, it’s all this fantastic music being made with small objects. The solo music is about personal energy, about how everyone’s intimate life is epic to them. Your day-to-day life isn’t any small thing to you - it’s a huge thing. And so, that’s what I really try to key into. What I say about my solo music is, I want to pull the ghost from the meat. I want to create this intensity that makes people’s souls slightly move off their bodies.

Luminescent is about social energy. It’s about how amazing it is to be alive, with the immediate people around you, what an incredible thing that is, and how to fucking appreciate that. Because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.

And that’s what I love about Amanda Palmer, is that kind of vitality for living and getting up there and just giving it. And with the Hour of Charm, the people on the stage, they’re not pulling any shit on you. They’re gonna give you all they got. Or else, why do art? Why play music if you’re not gonna do that? Go be an accountant. And that comes from my punk rock beginnings, which is: Do it. Don’t fuck around. That’s why I love Amanda, because she’s so much about that.

How did you get started playing unusual instruments?
I started sticking paper clips in guitar strings, inspired by John Cage, inspired by an album by Roger Miller, who was in Mission of Burma. He put out this album that’s not very well-known called Maximum Electric Piano, where he put bolts in the bottom of his electric piano and then he’d do these industrial rhythms, loop them, and play piano passages on it.

Then I kept pushing it with different instruments. I’m still doing it - I just went to a museum of organettes and hurdy gurdies, and all these hand-cranked instruments from the late 1800s. I’m kind of obsessed with the past and future co-existing at the same time.

I don’t ever make weird sounds for weird sounds’ sake. I do it because when you make a new sound, it can get you someplace. And you’re not stepping in someone else’s footsteps. As good as a guitarist as I am, there’s a history of great guitarists. But there’s not much of a history of people who play the tampon applicator. I play the tampon applicator probably better than anybody alive, and you can’t say that about many things.

And it’s the same thing with Luminescent Orchestrii. I could form a rock band, but there’s already rock bands I love. I love the Pixies, I love Sonic Youth. I don’t need to do that. I’m just interested in doing something that’s different, but still rocking out, so it’s something I get to do with Luminescent Orchestrii.

Good luck with the new album and I’m looking forward to seeing you next week in Philadelphia.
Thanks. We’ll never have played for an audience quite like this before, that’s such a young audience, so I’m psyched about it. Thank you for chatting with me. Take care.

MP3: Luminescent Orchestrii - Warsaw
Luminescent Orchestrii - Taraf Hijacked


Photo credit (images 1&2): Carl Saytor

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

How's about some Christmas tunes

Three quick thoughts on Christmas music:

1. My favorite Christmas song is probably David Bowie & Bing Crosby doing "Little Drummer Boy", followed by Bruce Springsteen's classic "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".

2. The worst Christmas song of all-time is Paul McCartney's "Simply Having a Wonderful Christmas Time". This song, like most of McCartney's solo shit, is terrible, with awful keyboards and lyrics that are happy to be the point of being stupid.

3. I still can't believe the lyric in Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" where Bono sings, "Well tonight thank God it's them, instead of you." Yay! Let's celebrate! People in the world are suffering and dying! And it's not us! Woohoo!

And now, some mp3s... (yes, I'm being ironic with most of these selections...)

MP3: New Kids on the Block - Funky, Funky Xmas
MP3: Wham! - Last Christmas
MP3: Weird Al Yankovic - Christmas at Ground Zero
MP3: Alvin & the Chipmunks - The 12 Days of Christmas
MP3: Johnny Cash - Silent Night
MP3: David Bowie & Bing Crosby - Little Drummer Boy
MP3: Run DMC - Christmas in Hollis

And holy crap, look what I just unearthed... a live performance of "Funky, Funky Xmas" from the Arsenio Hall show!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My favorites of '07

I've read a ton of "best of 2007" lists on blogs, so rather than subject everyone to another top 10 or top 50 list, I decided to recap my favorites from 2007 in a slightly different way, with some serious and not-so-serious categories. Here's my list, with YouTube links for each.

Favorite album of the year

Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position

Favorite Track of 2007

Rihanna - Umbrella (featuring Jay-Z)

Albums that grew on me after some initial disappointment
Architecture in Helsinki - Places Like This
Junior Senior - Hey Hey My My Yo Yo

Albums that, regrettably, never grew on me
New Pornographers - Challengers
The Go! Team - Proof of Youth

Most Tragically Overlooked Pop Single
Natasha Bedingfield - I Wanna Have Your Babies

Favorite Rock Album
The National - Boxer

Best Rock Song
Against Me! - White People for Peace

Best Rock Song That Makes Use of Church Organ
The Arcade Fire - Intervention

Best Country Song
Rodney Atkins - These Are My People

Best Chorus
M.I.A. - Paper Planes

Best Foreign-Language Dance-Pop song Featuring Bouncing Ping Pong Balls
Enrique Iglesias - Dimelo

Most Overrated Album
Radiohead - In Rainbows
Come on people, the emperor has no clothes! I'm perplexed as to how people are calling this a return to Radiohead's earlier sound. It sounds nothing like The Bends or OK Computer. What it sounds like is Amnesiac and Hail to the Thief, with fewer weird sound effects. It's as if the band started recording it, then quit halfway through the process and said, 'Good enough.' By far the band's weakest effort since their debut.

Most Underrated Album
Fall Out Boy - Infinity on High
Scoff if you like, but this is a CD I couldn't stop playing. Other albums may have been greater artistic achievements, but this one had the most catchy tracks. And that's what I value most. Listen to "Bang the Doldrums" or "Thks fr Th Mmrs" and an hour later you'll be humming the chorus, whether you like it or not.

Artist I'm ready to give up on after three straight subpar albums
Rufus Wainwright

Best album from someone I'd given up on
Sondre Lerche - Dan In Real Life (soundtrack)

Most Impressive Job of Staying Relevant by Someone Who Shouldn't Still be Relevant
Avril Lavigne - Girlfriend

Best Album from 2006 I couldn't stop listening to in 2007
The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America

Best televised performance
Feist - 1,2,3,4 on Letterman (with New Pornographers, Grizzly Bear, The National, and Broken Social Scene)

Best live performance by a Mexican instrumental guitar duo
Rodrigo y Gabriela - Diablo Rojo on Letterman

Best use of the 'Shoes' girl in a video
Dresden Dolls - Shores of California

Best Use of Furries in a Video
Gym Class Heroes - Clothes Off!

Gayest Song of the Year
Mika - Lollipop

Catchiest Rock Song That Somehow Got Largely Overlooked
My Chemical Romance - Teenagers

Best Concert I witnessed
Daft Punk - Lollapalooza

Most Memorable Song Performance I witnessed

Pearl Jam with Ben Harper - Rockin' in the Free World (at Lollapalooza)

Most captivating dancer
Aaron Behrens of Ghostland Observatory

Best Nirvana cover
Polyphonic Spree - Lithium (at Lollapalooza)

Best attempt by a goth band to sound like Franz Ferdinand
Marilyn Manson - Heart Shaped Glasses

Best Song in the "Gypsy Pirate Rock" genre
HUMANWINE - Rivolta Silenziosa

Most Bizarre Pop Song That Still Rocks
Fiery Furnaces - Clear Signal From Cairo

Most Ubiquitous Song of the Summer Which Turned Out to be a Fluke from an Awful Group
Peter Bjorn & John - Young Folks

Artist I love even though I admit he has little talent
Mickey Avalon

Best Hip Hop Song
Kanye West - Stronger

Best Summer Jam
Justin Timberlake - Summer Love

Best Music Video
Justice - D.A.N.C.E.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '90s

The countdown begins airing next Monday. I have to say, I can't disagree with this list too much, at least when it comes to the best mainstream pop songs of the decade (You weren't really expecting them to include that obscure Sonic Youth or Aphex Twin album track, were you?)

Tracks I'm especially excited to see make the list:
-Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Sophie B. Hawkins (from my favorite album of all-time, Tongues and Tails)
-Jump, Kris Kross
-Poison, Bell Biv DeVoe
-Cannonball, the Breeders
-Stay, Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories

Tracks I can't believe made the list:
-Peaches, Presidents of the United States of America
-Tearin' Up My Heart, *N Sync
-Can I Get A..., Jay-Z
-I Alone, Live

Here's the full list:
1 Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit
2. U2 - One
3. Backstreet Boys - I Want It That Way
4. Whitney Houston - I Will Always Love You
5. Madonna - Vogue
6. Sir Mix-A-Lot - Baby Got Back
7. Britney Spears - ... Baby One More Time
8. TLC - Waterfalls
9. R.E.M. - Losing My Religion
10. Sinead O'Connor - Nothing Compares 2 U
11. Pearl Jam - Jeremy
12. Alanis Morissette - You Oughta Know
13. Dr. Dre - Nuthin' but a "G" Thang
14. Mariah Carey - Vision of Love
15. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Under the Bridge
16. MC Hammer - U Can't Touch This
17. Destiny's Child - Say My Name
18. Metallica - Enter Sandman
19. Beastie Boys - Sabotage
20. Hanson - MMMBop
21. Celine Dion - My Heart Will Go On
22. Beck - Loser
23. Salt-N-Pepa with En Vogue - Whatta Man
24. House of Pain - Jump Around
25. Soundgarden - Black Hole Sun
26. Eminem - My Name Is
27. Counting Crows - Mr. Jones
28. Ricky Martin - Livin' la Vida Loca
29. Vanilla Ice - Ice Ice Baby
30. *NSYNC - Tearin' Up My Heart
31. Radiohead - Creep
32. BLACKstreet - No Diggity
33. Spice Girls - Wannabe
34. Third Eye Blind - Semi-Charmed Life
35. Oasis - Wonderwall
36. C+C Music Factory - Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)
37. Green Day - Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)
38. Christina Aguilera - Genie In A Bottle
39. Goo Goo Dolls - Iris
40. Color Me Badd - I Wanna Sex You Up
41. Spin Doctors - Two Princes
42. Collective Soul - Shine
43. En Vogue - My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)
44. The Fugees - Killing Me Softly
45. Hootie & the Blowfish - Only Wanna Be With You
46. Shania Twain - You're Still the One
47. Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch - Good Vibrations
48. Matchbox Twenty - 3 AM
49. Jewel - Who Will Save Your Soul
50. Alice in Chains - Man in the Box
51. Tupac & Dr. Dre - California Love
52. Sugar - Ray Fly
53. Naughty by Nature - O.P.P.
54. Joan Osborne - One of Us
55. Fiona Apple - Criminal
56. L.L. Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out
57. Jay-Z featuring Amil and Ja Rule - Can I Get A
58. Sophie B. Hawkins - Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover
59. Weezer - Buddy Holly
60. Bell Biv DeVoe - Poison
61. Sheryl Crow - All I Wanna Do
62. Live - I Alone
63. The Notorious B.I.G. featuring Mase & Puff Daddy - Mo Money Mo Problems
64. The Presidents of the United States of America - Peaches
65. Digital Underground - The Humpty Dance
66. Edwin McCain - I'll Be
67. Deee-Lite - Groove Is In The Heart
68. Will Smith - Gettin' Jiggy Wit It
69. Korn - Freak on a Leash
70. Jamiroquai - Virtual Insanity
71. Arrested Development - Tennessee
72. Barenaked Ladies - One Week
73. Marcy Playground - Sex and Candy
74. Cher - Believe
75. Kris Kross - Jump
76. Blues Traveler - Run-Around
77. Ice Cube - It Was a Good Day
78. Lenny Kravitz - Are You Gonna Go My Way
79. Meredith Brooks - Bitch
80. Right Said Fred - I'm Too Sexy
81. Paula Cole - I Don't Want to Wait
82. Geto Boys - Mind Playing Tricks on Me
83. The Breeders - Cannonball
84. Snow - Informer
85. Cypress Hill - Insane In The Brain
86 The Cranberries - Linger
87. Billy Ray Cyrus - Achy Breaky Heart
88. Duncan Sheik - Barely Breathing
89. Liz Phair - Never Said
90. New Radicals - You Get What You Give
91. Sarah McLachlan - Building a Mystery
92. Public Enemy - 911 Is A Joke
93. Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories - Stay
94. Fastball - The Way
95. Montell Jordan - This is How We Do It
96. Nelson - (Can't Live Without Your) Love and Affection
97. Prince & The New Power Generation - Gett Off
98. EMF - Unbelievable
99. Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott - The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)
100. Gerardo - Rico Suave

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Everything's gonna be alright...

Alicia Keys blew onto the scene in 2001 with "Fallin'," and proceeded to win boatloads of Grammys and critical acclaim, but the funny thing is, she didn't have another really good song on that first record. In fact, since then, she's had a handful of hits, but nothing that could even come close to the perfection of her first single. I was starting to toss her into the "overrated" category.

Now, finally, she's released a worthy successor to "Fallin'" - the R&B/pop song "No One." I love the lyrics, I love the vocal, and I especially love the way she sings "Everything's gonna be alright." I don't know why, but that just does it for me. It's such a joyful, optimistic song, and I guess after listening to stuff like Radiohead and The National lately, I'm in the mood for something upbeat.

Video: Alicia Keys - No One

Monday, December 10, 2007

Bat for Lashes

(Warning: I'm about to hype an album that's over a year old...)

Natasha Khan's band Bat for Lashes got some crazy blog hype a couple of months ago, when their 2006 album Fur & Gold got nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. Up until then, I hadn't heard enough of it to give it my approval, but now I can.

Sparse instrumentation, entrancing, atmospheric vocals - I like this description from Pitchfork: 'Fur & Gold shows a band quite good at giving their songs room to breathe and evolve, allowing the songs to expand out before snapping back into focus on Khan's expressive voice.'

Bat for Lashes was the favorite to win the Mercury Music Prize, but it went to the Klaxons instead. No comment on that one...

MP3: Bat for Lashes - The Bat's Mouth
MP3: Bat for Lashes - Horse and I


Thursday, December 6, 2007

2008 Grammy nominee analysis, with comically small photos

Grammy night at my place is like Super Bowl night to everyone else. I take this shit seriously, although in recent years, as I've grown to like more non-mainstream music, the luster of the Grammys has started to wear off.

The nominations were announced today, and it's time to rip them.

Everyone agrees that Herbie Hancock in the Album of the Year category is totally bizarre, but the one that really gets me is Lily Allen for Best Alternative Album. On what planet is Lily Allen alternative? She could not possibly be more pop. She's up against the White Stripes, Bjork and the Arcade Fire. The alternative field is the one I really care about these days, and every year the Grammys manage to fuck it up.

My Chemical Romance's epic Welcome to the Black Parade got overlooked, except for a Best Box Set Packaging nod. MCR's label, Reprise, put out a press release touting this nomination as if it was something to be proud of. I can just see Reprise preparing this big press release, thinking that MCR were going to get a bunch of nominations, and then when they only got one, someone said, Shit, what do we do now? Fuck it, send the press release anyway! (Read it here).

Rihanna's "Umbrella" is hands-down the Record of the Year. I thought from day one that Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" was a stupid song, and I'm sticking by my story. Justin Timberlake got nominated, but for a weak song, "What Goes Around." It was as if the academy felt they had to nominate him, but couldn't really decide for which song. And the Foo Fighters have inexplicably been Grammy favorites for years.

It's cool to see female-fronted emo rockers Paramore in the Best New Artist field, though I can't say they truly deserve it. And I was a bit surprised to see my personal choice for Song of the Year, the Plain White Ts' "Hey There Delilah," actually be recognized in that field. Arcade Fire and Madonna also managed to score nominations.

The Grammys continue to do a decent job in the dance fields, where Justice, Mika and LCD Soundsystem got recognized, and Best Music Video, which features Justice, Feist, and Johnny Cash, who all made brilliant videos.

Politicians always show up in the Best Spoken Word category, and this year Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are all there. But my favorite oddity is R. Kelly, whose Trapped in the Closet Chapters 13-22 is up for Best Long Music Video. Sweet!

The full list of nominees is available at www.grammy.com.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ghostland Observatory at The Fonda

CONCERT REVIEW: Ghostland Observatory
The Music Box at the Fonda

Hollywood, CA

November 30, 2007

Seven minutes into Ghostland Observatory’s performance at The Music Box, they had already played their two most energetic and well-known songs. I braced myself for the inevitable letdown, but it never happened.

Singer Aaron Behrens captivated the crowd during the openers, "Vibrate" and "Sad Sad City," with his trademark, hard-to-believe dance moves, featuring plenty of strutting, snake dancing, and rock star posing, and the energy never dipped throughout the 90-minute performance.

When I saw Ghostland this summer at Lollapalooza, I got a little bored during the songs where Behrens played electric guitar – I remember thinking, Put the guitar down and start dancing again! But tonight, that was not the case. Some of the guitar songs were major highlights, including “Rich Man,” the second of three encores, and “Midnight Voyage,” the song that seemed to never end, as Behrens seemingly played the same riff over and over for 8+ minutes while cape-wearing drummer/electronic wizard Thomas Turner provided the electronic blips and bleeps.

Ghostland played four brand new songs, and while they all had decent enough hooks, none had that “wow” factor that several of the songs from Paparazzi Lightning possess. That does concern me a little – hopefully their next record isn’t going to signify a decline in quality or creativity.

The final high point of the evening was the first encore, “Silver City,” a brilliant older song which might be the band’s best. Its plodding synths create a powerful mood, making it one of Ghostland’s best live songs. Behrens’ mesmerizing girl-dancing rightfully gets a lot of attention, but this band needs to have substance beyond that in order to be successful, and tonight they showed they have it.

Check out the band at http://www.myspace.com/ghostlandobservatory

Friday, November 30, 2007

Interview with Bob Schneider

Photo credit: Alexandra Valenti

Bob Schneider is pretty much the coolest dude ever. He’s a singer/songwriter, but he's not a typical folkie – his songs are more rocking, with explicit lyrics, sharp wit, and in-your-face attitude. He’s currently in the middle of the “Songs Sung and Played on the Guitar at the Same Time With People in the Room Tour,” and he called in to talk about touring with the Dixie Chicks, the decline of the Austin music scene, and the varying degrees of giving a fuck.

You’re doing a solo acoustic tour right now. How much different is that from the full band thing?
Well, besides the obvious difference that there’s not a band… I can only play the good songs when I do solo acoustic. With the band we can play some shittier songs - because you have the band, you can kind of polish the tard, as they say, with good musicianship. The other difference is I engage the audience a little bit more in between songs, which I don’t do a lot of when I’m playing with the band. When I’m solo, I wanna feel like I’m having a conversation with the audience, so there tends to be a more intimate sort of concert setting because of that.

Can you do songs like “Ass Knocker” in that setting?
I get requests for that song all the time when I’m solo and I will play it, usually just to shut people up, but it’s not my first choice.

Which do you enjoy more, a small headlining show, or a large arena show where you’re opening for someone like the Dixie Chicks?
I like both, but I really enjoyed those arena shows. I would love to be headlining those arena shows. That would be the ideal situation. If I can’t do that, then opening up for somebody like the Dixie Chicks is great. Their audience isn’t too much different from my audience, so it was a nice match. If we were opening for someone like Ozzy Osbourne, it would be a harder sell, I think.

But it’s nice to headline too. There’s a certain energy in small clubs, there’s a certain lack of pretension. There’s a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude in a club that’s hard to generate when you’re in front of 15,000 people. You usually tend to give at least a small amount of a fuck in front of that many people. But you’re shooting for 100% don’t-give-a-fuck when you’re playing live, so it’s easier to do that in a smaller venue.

I listened to the track “Blauu” on your website, which you classified as “gangsta rock.”
(laughs). I classified it as gangsta rock?

Well, there you go. You can say anything on your own website, as you know.

You seem to like playing around with different styles and genres. Your first band was a rap-funk group, is that correct?
No, the first band I was ever in was called the Warriors, and it was a rock band. The first band that I made enough money to quit my job and start playing music full-time was a rap-funk band, sort of a rap-rock band similar to Limp Bizkit and Red Hot Chili Peppers. It was this band where you could get laid a lot.

I saw an interview where you talked about how language shouldn’t be censored, and that’s something that comes across in your songs. They’re kind of in-your-face lyrically.
Well, when I talk I cuss a lot, so I guess when I write songs I tend to use bad language in the song. It just depends on the song and who’s narrating it. If the narrator in the song uses graphic language, then you use it. I don’t write a lot of autobiographical things, so it usually tends to be from the point of view of somebody that’s not me.

The Austin music scene has exploded in the time you’ve been there. How do you feel about being one of the leaders of that?
Actually, I feel like it’s imploded. When I got here the music scene in Austin was really quite exciting and there were a lot of bands taking a lot of chances musically. It was really neat to live here. It still had a small-town vibe to it, and you didn’t have to work a lot to get by. You could just be a creative, drug-taking musician in this town. And then when the high-tech companies came in the mid-‘90s, it drove the price of living up. I think the town lost a lot of those slacker musicians that were making this really interesting music, and I think the music scene ended up really hurting because of it.

Recently, there’s some interesting stuff going on in Austin. There happen to be a bunch of pretty decent bands that live here, but they don’t play here hardly ever. They play here once or twice a year, but they’re nationally known acts. It’s kind of bizarre how that works. A lot of the bands that actually play here aren’t so good, I don’t think. I mean there’s a lot of music here, a lot of great players, but I have this romantic idea of the early ‘90s and that whole period of time when it just felt like there were so many great, great bands that were playing in Austin at that time. But having said that, I’m completely out of the loop. I play 250 shows a year. I don’t have time to go out and see music, so there could be tons of great shit that I don’t know about.

Do you have a favorite place to play?
I play every Monday at the Saxon Pub when I’m in Austin, and it’s my favorite show. We have a hardcore group of people that have been coming for years to those shows. That’s where I try out all the new stuff that I’ve written that week. That’s where I dig in and pull out songs that I don’t ever play anywhere else, so it’s a fun show for me.

Well Bob, thanks for taking the time to chat, I really appreciate it. I’ll be checking you out when you come to Pittsburgh next week.
Alright, come up and say hi!

Find Bob Schneider online at www.bobschneidermusic.com or www.myspace.com/bobschneider.

Upcoming tour dates for Bob Schneider:
November 30 LAWRENCE, KS Bottleneck
December 1 OMAHA, NE The Waiting Room
December 2 MINNEAPOLIS, MN Varsity
December 3 MILWAUKEE, WI Shank Hall
December 4 CHICAGO, IL Schuba's
December 5 CHICAGO, IL Schuba's
December 6 ST LOUIS, MO Blueberry Hill
December 7 INDIANAPOLIS, IN Music Mill
December 8 PITTSBURGH, PA Club Cafe
December 10 PHILADELPHIA, PA World Cafe
December 11 ANNAPOLIS, MD Ram's Head
December 12 NEW YORK, NY Knitting Factory
December 13 VIENNA, VA Jammin Java
December 14 VIENNA, VA Jammin Java
December 15 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA Gravity Lounge
December 16 ASHEVILLE, NC Grey Eagle
December 17 ATLANTA, GA Smith's Olde Bar
December 18 NASHVILLE, TN Exit/In
December 19 BIRMINGHAM, AL Workplay
December 21 NEW ORLEANS, LA One Eyed Jacks
December 22 HOUSTON, TX Mucky Duck

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Colbie Caillat and India.Arie - have you ever seen them together?

For a few weeks now I've been hearing this "Bubbly" song on the radio and thinking, Cool, India.Arie has a new song! Turns out it's by some broad named Colbie Caillat. I don't know who she is, but I've already decided I don't like her. We don't need another India.Arie. We already have one. Their voices sound exactly the same. It's too bad they can't combine themselves into one person, then together they might have a decent discography.

You know, in the same way that if all the hair metal bands became one, they'd be great. Like, Dokken and Winger and Cinderella and Ratt and Slaughter sucked, but if they were all one band, they'd have one hell of a catalogue!

Anyway, both Caillat and Arie are on Universal, a label which won't allow its YouTube videos to be embedded. So, I'm providing links to the videos in case anyone wants to check them out. Now that I watch them again, I'm not as convinced about the resemblance...

YouTube links:
Colbie Caillat - Bubbly
India.Arie - Video

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Saving the world: There's a right way to do it, and a wrong way

Causes 1 is a Darfur charity album featuring tracks from Bright Eyes, Bloc Party, Death Cab for Cutie, and the Black Keys, among others. Proceeds go to three organizations: Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, and Oxfam America.

The album will be available for download on iTunes for 90 days only. A good cause, and a good product.

MP3: Bright Eyes - Coat Check Song (live)

Meanwhile, have you checked out the latest Fall Out Boy video? It's for the Babyface-produced "I'm Like a Lawyer with the Way I'm Always Trying to Get You Off." The video was shot in Uganda and seeks to draw attention to the plight of that nation's children, as its civil war drags on. This is undeniably a good cause, but the problem is that images of Ugandan refugees are interspersed with footage of the band performing the love song in a field. It's downright bizarre.

Read more about the story behind the video at mtv.com.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Killers - Sawdust

The Killers' last record, Sam's Town, attracted a lot of attention (and scorn) for being a blatant rip-off of Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run. I never understood that. Musicians mimic their idols all the time. Oasis was beloved for ripping off the Beatles, but the Killers aren't allowed to rip off Springsteen?

The album's first single, "When You Were Young," was brilliant - the best single of 2006, in my estimation (and one hell of a challenge when playing SingStar Amped karaoke.) But the rest of the album was entirely ignored. Even by me. It sat on my shelf and I never really felt compelled to play it again.

I recently got around to checking out the Killers' latest effort, a collection of B-sides called Sawdust. This is an unusual B-side album, because most of these songs could've fit right in on Sam's Town. They're not inferior tracks at all. It almost feels like a brand new Killers record, instead of a collection of leftovers.

Lou Reed appears as a guest vocalist on the solid opener "Tranquilize," and the Killers also cover Joy Division and Dire Straits. Also included is a nifty remake of the Kenny Rogers 1969 hit "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town."

Overall, it's almost as good as Sam's Town itself - if I were going to give it a grade, it's a solid B.

MP3: The Killers with Lou Reed - Tranquilize Amazon

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Pipettes = Fembots; Nicole Atkins = budding superstar

CONCERT REVIEW: The Pipettes/Nicole Atkins
Diesel, Pittsburgh
November 19, 2007

I saw the Pipettes the other night. They came onstage and struck me as the most joyless creatures I'd ever laid eyes on. Up there wearing their polka-dot dresses and singing these happy pop songs, and yet they weren't even cracking a smile. It was as if I was watching three fembots perform. They looked tired and disinterested, as if they were in the middle of a long national tour (which they were).

Fortunately, they loosened up as the show went on and things got a lot more fun, although the audience seemed to enjoy their banter mainly because it was spoken in a cute English accent. I'm not sure how much respect people actually had for their musical abilities. That's something the Pipettes will need to get past if they ever want to be bigger than they currently are...

Nicole Atkins (recent interview subject of mine) opened the show and delivered a terrific set with her band The Sea, closing with a furious, spot-on cover of Patti Smith's "Pissing in a River." She has a great voice, good songs, and an engaging stage presence. I'll be very surprised if she is not huge within a year or two. My favorite moment was the introduction to "Cool Enough," when she said, "This song is about going back to your hometown 10 years later, and realizing that all the people who used to be cool in high school aren't anymore, and you are." I can relate!

I caught up with her after the show and she said she thought I looked like the guy from Grizzly Bear. Compared to the comparisons I usually get, I'll take that...

MP3: Pipettes - ABC (We are the Pipettes) Amazon

Monday, November 19, 2007

Interview with Nicole Atkins

If you’re not yet familiar with Nicole Atkins, you will be soon. Last year Rolling Stone named her one of its Ten Artists to Watch, and she recently made her national TV debut on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote her full-length major-label debut, Neptune City, which has been earning positive reviews for its lush arrangements and her seductive vocal delivery.

Nicole called in from the road in Vermont to discuss the album, the tour, dinner invites from Letterman, and being the new DeNiro (sort of).

You’re on tour right now, opening for the Pipettes. How is that going?
It’s going good, the shows have been really great.

How are the Pipettes' fans responding to your performance?
Surprisingly well. There’s a lot of younger fans in the crowd, younger girls with polka-dot dresses on, and they seem to really like us. They’ve been buying our CDs after our set, which is good. A lot of people were saying they were surprised they liked the opening act!

Neptune City is based on life in your hometown. Can you elaborate on the story behind the songs?
I was living in Brooklyn for four or five years, and I just got to this point where I was really sick of the city. I moved back down to Charlotte for a few months just to get my head together, and I decided to move back to New Jersey for awhile, and it was basically about me coming to deal with all that, and being ok with living in my hometown again, because I always wanted to get as far as I could away from it, and I ended up really liking it.

There are conflicting emotions in some of the songs – a sense of pride in your town, but also disappointment in the changes that had taken place.
Yeah, you got it. It was hard because I didn’t know anybody that lived there anymore, but I ended up meeting some of the best friends I’ve ever had. It became easier for me to live there and write songs and commute to New York a couple days a week to practice, than it was for me to actually live in New York.

“Brooklyn’s on Fire” stands out as a song that paints a vivid picture. What was the inspiration for that song?
That was actually the first time I met my best friend Susan, who was my old roommate. We met on the fourth of July in Brooklyn at a rooftop party, and it was about that time, you know, just being young and living in Brooklyn, hanging out in New York and making the best memories of your youth in that time. It was a tribute song to her.

I understand that Rick Rubin made some last-minute changes to the record. How did he get involved?
Yeah, well he became the president of Columbia and he got my record and he really liked it but he thought that the vocals were being too squashed. So he actually ended up taking the mastering off completely, and it really made all of the arrangements and vocals really crisp, and you’re able to hear the nuances of every sound. My voice ended up sounding like it was leading the track rather than just being a part of the track, so I was really thankful. At first I was apprehensive about it because I didn’t know what he wanted to do. I thought I was gonna get my record back with all this shit all over it, and in the end he just enhanced it, he didn’t change anything.

I imagine it felt good to have someone of his stature helping out with your album.
It was pretty neat. It was weird because he would call me all time. I’d be out for drinks with my friends in New Jersey and be like, 'Hold on,' and they're like, 'Who's that?' 'Oh, Rick Rubin.' (laughs). He’s a really cool guy.

You’ve cited people like Roy Orbison and Patsy Cline as inspirations, with that kind of old fashioned sound. What is it that draws you to that kind of music?
It’s more the vocal style. Most of my musical influences are from the late ‘60s on, but they are inspirations to me because, that old country style of crooning, it feels really good for me to sing that way. And also the way I write songs, I like to start them out really low and build it until it’s like pow! at the end. And that’s something they were really good at doing with their songs as well.

I have to ask you about playing Letterman a couple weeks ago. What was that experience like?
Really fun! It was completely nerve-wracking at the beginning but then after a couple glasses of wine we went on stage and had a blast (laughs). It was one of the coolest days of my life so far. It was weird because when we actually got on stage, it was almost like I blacked out for three minutes and just got so into the song I didn’t notice how nervous I was.

It seemed like Dave was quite smitten with you.
Yeah, he asked me if I wanted to go get a steak! I thought that was pretty funny.

You and your band also did an American Express commercial. How did you get that opportunity?
It was so random. An intern at Columbia, their friend worked at the ad agency. She wanted to get an up-and-coming female singer/songwriter to do the ad and they asked me to do it. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I weighed the pros and the cons and was like, wow, I can pay off my credit card bill finally, move out of my mom’s house, and people actually get to hear my song that wouldn’t otherwise be on the radio, so I couldn’t understand any reason not to do it.

You mentioned the pros and cons - there will always be some people who see doing advertising as selling out.
Yeah, but you’ve gotta think about how the music industry is today. The only songs that make it on the radio are Britney Spears... to the few radio stations that even still exist. Musicians need to make their money somehow, and I just figured all the American Express ads that I’ve seen were really cool, and they always had cool people in them, and I figured if it was good enough for DeNiro, it was good enough for me!

The only thing that was misportrayed was we don’t really lounge around in bathrobes and offer to fly our friends out to our shows (laughs). I asked them about that too. I was like, 'We usually stay at the Econolodge.' 'Uh, that doesn’t look too good on tv.' Ok, whatever.

You’re playing here in Pittsburgh on Monday. What can people expect from your live show?
They can expect to probably dance a lot, and it’s more of a rock show than people would expect from hearing the recording. It’s pretty much a full-on rock show.

Video clip: Nicole Atkins & The Sea perform “The Way It Is” on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Nicole Atkins & The Sea perform at Diesel with the Pipettes tonight at 8 pm. Check out her website and her MySpace.