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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

We're off to Lollapalooza 2008

We're off to Lollapalooza. This year's lineup features an incredible group of headliners, but down the bill, the lineup isn't as deep as it has been in the past.

I'm ready for CSS to make up for last year, when they canceled at the last minute due to flight problems, leaving me devastated. If they cancel again, Lovefoxxx will be dead to me.

It's also Kanye West's shot at redemption, following his widely-panned half-performance at Bonnaroo. Chicago is his hometown, so I have no doubt he'll deliver.

There is rampant speculation that Barack Obama is going to make an appearance, perhaps to introduce either Wilco or Kanye West, both prominent Obama supporters. I will lose my shit if this happens. We're not going to see Wilco, though, so we might end up missing him.

Last year there were a ton of conflicts - bands I really liked playing opposite each other. This year, that is not the case. In fact, since I can skip Gnarls Barkley and the Raconteurs because I'll be seeing them a week later at the New American Music Union Festival, I have no significant conflicts at all. The biggest conflicts I can come up with are Black Lips vs. Holy Fuck and Brand New vs. Explosions in the Sky.

Scott's most anticipated acts:
1. Radiohead
2. Kanye West
3. CSS
4. Okkervil River
5. Gogol Bordello
7. Rage Against the Machine
8. The Go! Team
9. Girl Talk
10. The National

Deena's most anticipated acts:
1. Nine Inch Nails
I've never seen a Nine Inch Nails performance, and I'm really excited about hearing tracks from The Slip as well as (hopefully) some older material.
2. Bloc Party
Their new song, "Mercury," is a slightly different direction than previous Bloc Party, but definitely good. Hoping these guys pack a good live show.
3. Rage Against The Machine
I'm stoked about seeing such a powerhouse band at a big festival show--can't wait to see the atmosphere of the crowd, and I hope I can get close enough to the stage without getting my ass kicked...
4. Girl Talk
I am going to dance my ass off when I see this guy.
5. Gnarls Barkley/The Raconteurs
Since the New American Music Union Festival in Pittsburgh sold out and I didn't get tickets, I'm definitely going to have to split up from Scott to catch these performances. Both have notable recent albums that I really enjoy.
6. "Special DJ Sets" by VHS or Beta and Does It Offend You, Yeah?
Since I've never been to Lolla, I'm not exactly sure what these DJ sets are all about, but I enjoy both of these electro-rock groups and am curious to see what these sets could bring.
7. Toadies
Back from the vaults! The Toadies, one of those forgettable bands from the early 90s who hit it semi-big with the single "Possum Kingdom," are reuniting for Lollapalooza. I always liked their southern goth-rock sound of their album Rubberneck.
8. The Weakerthans
For some reason I looked at my schedule at least a dozen times before I noticed that The Weakerthans were going to be at Lolla. Looking forward to their Canadian indie pop-punk.
9. Flogging Molly
What's not to like about an Irish punk band? Hopefully I'll be able to find a Guinness tent nearby.
10. Mark Ronson
This may or may not be good, since Ronson is more of a producer than an artist himself. I love Version, but unless he gets a star-studded cast on stage to perform it, I'm not sure his performance will be as noteworthy as I want it to be.

And finally, a few MP3s from Lolla acts...
MP3: Girl Talk - Hands in the Air (from Feed the Animals)
MP3: Gogol Bordello - Wonderlust King (from Taranta)
MP3: CSS - Rat is Dead (Rage) (from Donkey)
MP3: Battles - Ddiamond (from Mirrored)
MP3: Iron & Wine - Innocent Bones (from The Shepherd's Dog)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Was this really the Warped Tour?

William Beckett of The Academy Is...

CONCERT REVIEW: Warped Tour 2008
July 29, 2008

Post-Gazette Pavilion, Pittsburgh

I never would've thought that the best band at this year's Warped Tour would be an act I didn't even realize was on the bill.

This morning, I turned on MTV and saw a video by some rapper, with Weird Al as his sidekick. I thought, how odd! Then it finished, and I found out it wasn't Weird Al - it was the rapper known as Shwayze. I'd seen Shwayze's name on the charts, but I had no idea what he looked or sounded like.

Two hours later, we walk into the Warped Tour, and on the big schedule board is Shwayze! I didn't realize he was a part of this tour. And he kicked ass. In a year that boasted Warped's most diverse lineup yet, with everything from the standard emo/punk to synthpop, hip hop, and flat-out mainstream top 40 music, it's fitting that a hip hop act stole the show.


Shwayze, performing along with Cisco Adler, his Weird Al-lookalike sidekick, pumped up the crowd with his rhymes about weed and women. His act was so hilariously stupid that it was brilliant. Just went it appeared he couldn't get any more ridiculous, he sang "All Night," a track with the refrain, "If you got the weed, I got the pipe/ We can get high together all night." It was a decidedly fun way to kick off the afternoon.

Katy Perry

One of the big stories of Warped is the presence of pop sensation Katy Perry, she of the #1 hit "I Kissed a Girl," and she was greeted with one of the day's largest crowds. Unfortunately, she looked like the newbie she is. Her banter consisted of various questions she asked the audience, which typically were so strange they elicited blank stares instead of any sort of cheering. Sample question: "So, are you guys all MySpace friends with each other?"

Perry tried her hardest but was unable to create any enthusiasm as the crowd waited impatiently for her chart-topping hit. Finally, after an embarrassing "telephone call" roleplay skit, she played the song and everyone went nuts. But it was too little, too late.

Emo-pop's superstars were all here - Cobra Starship, The Academy Is..., Gym Class Heroes, Motion City Soundtrack. Cobra was the best of the bunch, their sassy pop songs especially winning over the teenage girls in attendance. From the opener, "The City is at War," to their well-known movie theme "Snakes on a Plane," to the sing-along closer "Guilty Pleasure," frontman Gabe Saporta danced his way around the stage and proved that pop music can have a home at Warped.

Cobra Starship

The other three acts weren't at their best. The Academy Is... didn't hit their stride until their final ten minutes, with the rocking "We've Got a Big Mess on Our Hands" and "Checkmarks." Motion City Soundtrack was solid as usual, but it's disturbing how their keyboards always get lost in the mix when they perform - the synths are what make them unique in this genre, but you wouldn't know it to see them live. And Gym Class Heroes just didn't excite me - Travis McCoy did too much talking and not enough performing. Plus, when the hooks from your two biggest hits have to be played on tape because the guy who sang them isn't even in your band ("Cupid's Chokehold" and "Clothes Off!" both feature choruses sung by Fall Out Boy's Patrick Stump), that tends to make your show seem lame.

Gym Class Heroes

The day's other standout act was Say Anything, the L.A. rock band featuring emo's poet laureate, Max Bemis. The band released an acclaimed double-album last year, ambitiously titled In Defense of the Genre, which is required listening for any would-be emo bashers. Today they tore through the the best tracks from it, including the standout "Shiksa (Girlfriend)."

Even though not all of Warped's featured acts brought their A-game, the tour deserves credit for the variety of its lineup, and hopefully the fans' positive reaction is a sign that diversity will continue into next year.

Motion City Soundtrack

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Another of Billy Ray's litter hits the charts

I was in a friendly tavern the other night when I caught a video on one of the TVs that grabbed me immediately - it was one of those carbon-copy emo bands, but the song was so damn catchy I had to go find out who they are.

Turns out I've been missing the boat - the song was "Shake It," the group is Metro Station, and it's been one of the biggest alternative rock hits of the summer. As someone who's attending the Warped Tour on Tuesday, I should be ashamed to have missed this.

Especially because one prominent member of the band is Trace Cyrus, Billy Ray's stepson and Miley's half-sister. Trace was adopted by Billy Ray after he married Trace's mother. So even if he's not biologically one of Billy Ray's litter, the point is these Cyruses are serving notice that they're going to dominate our pop charts for years to come, whether we like it or not.

"Shake It" is everything that I love about good pop music - sweet, satisfying, and disposable. It reminds me of Yellowcard's "Ocean Avenue," in that it's a similar-sounding summer hit that the band will probably never be able to equal again. But who cares... let's enjoy it while we can!

Watch now... Trace is the tattooed one who sings the verses.

Video: Metro Station - Shake It

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Must be the moon, must be the moon


July 22, 2008
Rex Theatre, Pittsburgh

Fresh off an acclaimed performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival, dance rockers !!! came to the Rex Theatre last night, delivering a nonstop dance party from start to finish.

The setlist didn't deviate much from a typical !!! show, although they did include a few new songs from their next album. "All My Heroes are Weirdos" got things moving, and "Heart of Hearts" and "Must Be the Moon" were among the other highlights.

Though the crowd was much smaller than I anticipated (maybe 300 people tops, which is less than little-known goth band Wednesday 13 had here last week), the band still gave its all. Which means singer Nic Offer climbing onto the speakers, two (and sometimes three) drummers pounding away, and Shannon Funchess shaking her sizable booty all over the stage. Very few bands are so good at firing up the crowd.

On a few occasions Offer gave props to Paul Quattrone, the drummer in Pittsburgh band Modey Lemon, who has served as !!!'s touring drummer for the past several months. Also worth mentioning were openers Icy Demons, who brought the funk with tracks like "Crittin' Down to Baba's."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Akon attemps to make Michael Jackson relevant

The upcoming collaboration between Akon and Michael Jackson, "Hold My Hand," leaked online earlier this month. I won't post the mp3 here because the web sheriff has been busy taking it down, but it's not too hard to locate.

Let me first say that I love Akon. The tone of his voice is so appealing, and everything he touches turns to mainstream gold, including collaborations with everyone from Gwen Stefani to Snoop Dogg. Akon and Michael's voices blend together nicely on this midtempo ballad. It's just a sweet, well-put-together song.

One funny thing about the track is that two men singing "Hold My Hand" to each other creates an unintentional homoerotic subtext, something that has been occurring with surprising regularity in recent months in the R&B world (remember Timbaland repeatedly urging Justin Timberlake, "Get your sexy on!")

Evidently "Hold My Hand" is intended for Akon's next album, not Michael's, so the jury is still out as to when Michael will release his follow-up to 2001's embarrassingly bad Invincible. If "Hold My Hand" is any indication, Michael would be wise to work with Akon on the project.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Weezer will never stop being awesome

Last month Weezer did one of the coolest things I've ever heard. For a small, intimate performance, they invited everyone attending to bring an instrument, so the crowd could be part of the show with them.

Audience members brought everything from guitars to clarinets to toy pianos. The band taught them how to play the songs, and away they went. They played about a half-dozen tracks, including El Scorcho, Beverly Hills, and Pork and Beans.

Videos from this session have now been posted online. It looks like a blast - I would've killed to be there! There's talk that Rivers Cuomo wants to do an entire tour this way. That would be brilliant. I'll take my harmonica, and try to lobby for that Say It Ain't So solo.

Video: Weezer & fans: Beverly Hills

See the entire concert here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Full-length CD reviews are for suckers

So here are our short takes on noteworthy discs from the past several weeks...

Scott: "These sing-along songs will be our scriptures," yelps Craig Finn in his sing-speak manner, and he couldn't be more true. "Sequestered in Memphis" might be the best song of 2008 - if "Stay Positive" isn't. Both are vintage Hold Steady, with the detailed plotlines, riveting piano melodies and soaring choruses that makes us love them. Those were the first two tracks I heard off this record, and that led me to believe this was an early contender for Album of the Year. The rest of the album isn't quite that good (if only "One for the Cutters" was as awesome as its title...) but this is still a terrific effort.

Deena: The predictableness of most Weezer albums has pleasantly lessened on their sixth record. Each band member sings lead on at least one track, which provides nice variety; some fun white-boy rapping shows up on a few songs; and several tracks meander away from the traditional 3-minute disposable pop song formula, with great success. Often the complaint about Weezer is that their lyrics haven't been as emotional or personal since Pinkerton, but the Red Album might actually deliver on that as well, particularly the deluxe edition, which contains some equally good tracks that didn't make the final cut.

Scott: My favorite here is "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived," Rivers Cuomo's most ambitious song ever. Rivers channels Kanye West's ego for a masterpiece that might be the band's best since "Only in Dreams." The spoken-word bragging is the high point, with Rivers claiming, "If you don't like it, you can shove it. But you don't like it - you love it."

Scott: A brilliant disc. Gone (for the most part) are the plodding 9-minute epics; instead, more than half the songs clock in at 4:15 or less. They are also much more lively, starting with the opener "Gobbledigook", while the last two minutes of "Inní Mér Syngur Vitleysingur" are as perfect as pop music can get. Sigur Ros also throw in their first-ever English song, "All Alright," which ranks up there with "Heysatan" and "Samskeyti" as one of their most beautiful tracks.

PRETTY. ODD. Panic at the Disco
Scott: This is better than it has any right to be. Panic sets out to make a record that the Beatles would make if they recorded in the year 2008, and remarkably, they come close to succeeding. "She Had the World" and "Beyond the Sea" wouldn't be out of place on Sgt. Pepper. This is one of those records that's a major artistic step forward, even though it's not likely to match the commercial success of their debut.

Deena: Even though I bitched that Panic abandoned their original producer, Danny Elfman, on this album, I really can't complain about the end result. Like the new Weezer album, most of the band gets a shot at the mic, especially lyricist Ryan Ross, whose voice is a pleasant departure and yet a great complement to lead singer Brendon Urie.

NO, VIRGINIA Dresden Dolls
Scott: This collection contains most of the songs the Dolls have performed in concert over the years but never put to tape. "Lonesome Organist Rapes Page Turner" is an intense track that is so fun and upbeat you almost don't realize Amanda Palmer is literally singing about a lonesome organist raping his page turner. "Night Reconnaissance" is another standout, Palmer speaking for outcasts everywhere when she sings, "Nothing is crueler than children who come from good homes."

ROBOTIQUE MAJESTIQUE, Ghostland Observatory

Scott: GLO is a favorite of mine, but this one doesn't live up to their previous efforts. "Dancing on My Grave" is a quirky electronic pop tune that stands out from a batch of unremarkable songs. Singer/snakedancer Aaron Behrens has given up the guitar on this record, and while I didn't think that would be a bad thing, it ends up leading to a lack of variety on this disc.

Scott: As a huge Kathy fan, I have to say this CD is a bit of a disappointment. Her stories aren't as compelling as usual. Instead of giving us behind-the-scenes stories from award shows, she talks about what she's seen lately on Oprah. Lame! Her stories about Marie Osmond and Stevie Wozniak aren't terribly exciting either, but there are still plenty of laughs, particularly when she talks about her 88-year-old mother randomly discovering new reality tv shows - "Kathy, I just don't want you to end up like those goddamn Kardashians!"

Saturday, July 12, 2008

China will have a democracy before Axl makes up his mind

I've had it with Axl Rose. I opened up the latest Rolling Stone, which has worthwhile articles on Barack Obama, Bonnaroo, Nas, and Beck, and I almost threw up upon discovering YET ANOTHER ARTICLE on the supposed upcoming Guns 'N Roses album Chinese Democracy, which has been in the works for about 45 years now.

It seems that some of the songs have leaked online. I could go find them to see what they sound like, but I have absolutely no interest. I stopped caring years ago. I despise Axl Rose and his self-important bullshit. His performance at the MTV awards a couple of years ago proved that his voice is shot beyond repair. Why the hell do music publications continue to write about this man and this album? NO ONE CARES!

My favorite thing to happen in music in this decade was when The Offspring announced they would call their 2003 album Chinese Democracy. What a great way to stick it to Axl! But then the bastard actually went to court to block the album's release, so they renamed it to avoid any delays in putting the record out.

Axl, nobody cares about your stupid album that's never going to come out. You stopped being relevant 15 years ago. Please do us all a favor and JUST GO AWAY.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Favorite album from every year I've been alive

Reaching into the basket of stock blogger ideas, I pull out a simple but challenging activity. It's slightly embarrassing in places, and if nothing else, it proves that I listened exclusively to top 40 radio in the 1980s. Surely something better must've come out in 1985 than Phil Collins?! Perhaps some research on '80s alternative music is in order (If someone wants to send over some Sonic Youth and Husker Du records, I'd be happy to start my education...)

List your favorite album from every year you've been alive:
1976 ~ Queen ~ A Day at the Races
1977 ~ Soundtrack ~ Saturday Night Fever
1978 ~ Blondie ~ Parallel Lines
1979 ~ Michael Jackson ~ Off the Wall
1980 ~ Joy Division ~ Closer
1981 ~ Prince ~ Controversy
1982 ~ Joe Jackson ~ Night and Day
1983 ~ Culture Club ~ Colour by Numbers
1984 ~ Prince ~ Purple Rain
1985 ~ Phil Collins ~ No Jacket Required
1986 ~ Bon Jovi ~ Slippery When Wet
1987 ~ Guns 'N Roses ~ Appetite for Destruction
1988 ~ Tracy Chapman ~ Tracy Chapman
1989 ~ Madonna ~ Like a Prayer
1990 ~ Mariah Carey ~ Mariah Carey
1991 ~ U2 ~ Achtung Baby
1992 ~ Sophie B. Hawkins ~ Tongues and Tails
1993 ~ Meat Loaf ~ Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell
1994 ~ Weezer ~ Weezer (The Blue Album)
1995 ~ Tracy Chapman ~ New Beginning
1996 ~ Dave Matthews Band ~ Crash
1997 ~ Hanson ~ Middle of Nowhere
1998 ~ Dave Matthews Band ~ Before These Crowded Streets
1999 ~ Dixie Chicks ~ Fly
2000 ~ Radiohead ~ Kid A
2001 ~ Rufus Wainwright ~ Poses
2002 ~ Bright Eyes ~ Lifted or the Story is in the Soil, Keep Your Ear to the Ground
2003 ~ Junior Senior ~ D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat
2004 ~ Dresden Dolls ~ The Dresden Dolls
2005 ~ New Pornographers ~ Twin Cinema
2006 ~ Dresden Dolls ~ Yes, Virginia...
2007 ~ Architecture in Helsinki ~ Places Like This
2008 ~ Sigur Ros ~ Með suð i eyrum við spilum endalaust

Some honorable mentions...
Radiohead ~ OK Computer (1997)
Michael Jackson ~ Thriller (1982)
Prince ~ 1999 (1982)
David Gray ~ White Ladder (2000)
Damien Rice ~ O (2002)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

July Pittsburgh concerts

7/22 !!! @ Rex Theatre
Dance-rock's least self-conscious frontman, Nic Offer, brings his escaped-mental-patient dancing style to the Rex in what is certain to be the biggest party of the month. Having seen !!! on large festival stages at Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, it's a little hard for me to imagine them playing the Rex. The energy just might blow the roof off the place. Pittsburgh crowds are notorious for not dancing, but I have a hunch that won't be a problem at this show.


7/16 Wednesday 13 @ Rex Theatre
Murderdolls frontman and his horror punk band will bring lots of kids dressed in black to the South Side.

7/18 Dr. Dog @ Club Cafe
It's been months since there was a noteworthy show at Club Cafe (who's booking that place now?) but blogger faves Dr. Dog end the dry spell with an intimate show two weeks before they head to Lollapalooza.

7/28 The Police & Elvis Costello @ Post-Gazette Pavilion
The Rock & Roll Hall of Famers continue their reunion tour with a stop in Burgettstown. It's your chance to play the "Roxanne" drinking game in person!

7/29 Warped Tour @ Post-Gazette Pavilion
Go ahead, pretend you're too cool to care about Warped. But this year's Warped Tour boasts its best lineup in years. It's a who's-who of emo/punk, with Against Me!, Gym Class Heroes, Motion City Soundtrack, Cobra Starship, Does it Offend You Yeah?, The Academy Is..., Say Anything, Set Your Goals, Angels and Airwaves, and Reel Big Fish.

Other shows of note:
7/7 The Hush Sound @ Diesel
7/11 Virginia Coalition @ Rex Theatre
7/15 Elf Power @ Brillobox
7/18 Projekt Revolution (Linkin Park, Hawthorne Heights, Busta Rhymes, The Bravery, Chris Cornell) @ Post-Gazette Pavilion
7/23 Pink Spiders @ Mr. Small's Theatre
7/26 Weird Al Yankovic @ Palace Theater
7/26 Foo Fighters & Supergrass @ Petersen Events Center
7/30 Filter @ Diesel
7/30 Ed Harcourt & the Gutter Twins @ Mr. Small's Theatre