Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of Montreal/James Husband split 7" (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)

Of Montreal deliver a track in the horny Prince mode, or should I say in the mode of "Victor," Prince's dark alter ego. Be wary, boys and girls! But no such warning needed for the aptly named Husband...this guy is marrying material! Like Prince/Victor, this lush pop charmer seems to have a doppleganger in the flipside band (not Kevin Barnes, but Of Montreal's multi-instrumentalist James Huggins), and maybe the fact that this lovely tune mentions a dead dog should have hinted at a touch of menace.

all girl summer fun band/cars can be blue split 7" (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)

AGSFB, one of my all time fave indie pop combos, delivers a coupe of gems, one of them a delightfully mean hate song sung with Hello Kitty notebook cuteness. CCBB do the always great coupling of lo-fi indie production and 60s girl group ambition with nice results. Plus a poop song blooper. A pooper? Had you been in the HHBTM singles club and got this in the mail you would have been super happy.

Apples in Stereo/Patience Please split single (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)

You know how sitcoms in the 60s or 70s or 80s would have a fake folk or hippie or punk or metal band and try to boil the essence of what they misconceive the music to be into some weird strange wrong thing that nonetheless is kind of the best example of folk, hippie, punk or metal even though it's totally fake sounding. If you didn't tell me who these bands were I would have thought these were fake songs by someone making fun of Apples in Stereo's bubblegum psyche indie rock and Patience Please's lo fi indie pop candy music. Which is to say, these songs are sort of perfect!

Chica X/He Who Corrupts split 7" (Cassette Deck)

I have a stack of split 7" records in front of me, and I probably should have saved this for last, because it is the perfect double bill. The A-side is Chica X, a pre-teen rapper with attitude and charm, who comes off as a G-rated Peaches despite her best efforts ("I'm 8 years old with a heck of a mouth"). These are ultra-awesome electro songs about going to the mall, not being tall, and your parents coming to your show, with every line obviously actually crafted by a kid who isn't so much a prodigy (the lyrics are very 8-year old-ish) as she is beautifully brave...any kid theoretically could take the stage, but it takes a noble kind of confidence to actually do it. I love Chica X! How could you make her better? By coupling her with brain-blowingly intense ear-melting super fast political hardcore that gives you seizures! These two bands are the new peanut butter and chocolate!

I, Crime "Dove Skin Gloves" b/w "Candy Stripes" (Woodbridge)

When I slap a new 7" vinyl record on the turntable I naturally expect either punk, garage or some kind of lo-fi indie. I guess with the CD in its death dance it could be anything these days, even enchantingly 80s-style Anglo something or another (this is halfway between New Romantic and shoegaze with some X-style boy/girl vocals thrown there even a name for that?) Should be called "I, Dig."

Raw Nerves "Murderers Among Us" (Poisoned Candy)

This is some hardcore Hardcore -- the kind where you actually feel a little a scared listening to it. Menacing message music that made me mess myself.

YOKO ONO Live at Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC February 15 & 16, 2010

(Guest Review by Madeline Bocaro) At last the day has come when Yoko Ono is appreciated for her art, music and work toward world peace. At last, after 50 years, I am now proud to be living on a planet with people who understand that she is special. Nobody believed John Lennon. It took time, and a younger, purer generation with not much space between their heads and the sky. It took the youth of the world who don't need to imagine peace, but simply live it. This generation (and mostly her son, band mate, and biggest fan and supporter Sean Lennon) have turned the world on to the glory of Yoko.
On the eve of her 77th birthday, superstars and pop stars, young and old, celebrated the woman who WOKE up the Beatles, joining Yoko in the re-formation and expansion of the Plastic Ono Band. The first show was a 3-hour rehearsal / jam, and even more special guests showed up on the second night. The interchangeable Plastic Ono Band was revived for Yoko’s latest album, Between My Head and the Sky, and the core band still has 2
Lennons (Yoko and Sean), and various Japanese musicians including Yuka Honda and Cornelius.
Yoko’s art was scattered throughout the venue; Wish Tree, Apple, War Is Over! posters, and her 1966 Film No. 4, Bottoms was playing in the lobby. The sound of twittering birds filled the hall, prior to an informative film montage spanning Yoko’s incredible life.
Then she appeared alone, small, glowing and magnificent, singing a capella, ‘It Happened’. The band cranked up ‘Waiting For the D Train’ with Mark Ronson incorporating the bass-line from ‘Why’, and it was full-on from there. The first hour was a pure Yoko fest – including the screamers
and the dreamers! ‘Calling’, ‘Between My Head and the Sky’ and ‘Mind Train’ were lengthy free form rock/jazz/funk excursions to places we’ve never been before. The haunting ‘Walking on Thin Ice’ brought back chilling memories.
If suffering produces the best art, then all that this woman has endured in her life has led her to this moment – the accumulation of all the hardship, sadness and loss - and the expulsion of it all in her music. Nobody sings the blues like Yoko. She once explained, "If you are drowning, you don’t say, “Excuse me but I seem to be falling deeper into this water, and I would appreciate if you would be so kind as to help me.” You just scream, “Argghhhhh!” And that's just what she does. Then, at the end of each song, she instantly purges the pain, revels in the wild applause
and still seems amazed (after being conditioned by years of indifference) that people actually love her now!
There was a wonderful light-heartedness and warmth throughout both concerts, as Yoko and Sean had conversations with the audience and with each other, explaining the origins of each song with amusing anecdotes, love and laughter.
Of course, there were many delicate moments of beauty, like ‘Rising’ and ‘Higa Noboru’. Yoko sang intensely, mostly with her eyes closed during ‘Moving Mountains’, and you just knew that somewhere in the world, the earth was shifting. At times it resembled the intense, very Japanese
soundtrack of a Kurosawa film. The ambience of Haruomi Hosono (Yellow Magic Orchestra) blended beautifully on these songs.
After the intermission, the Scissor Sisters performed ‘The Sun Is Down’. Justin Bond rendered ‘What A Bastard the World Is’. It was hilarious seeing a drag queen, dressed like Liza Minelli in Cabaret, singing the brutal and biting lines from the ultimate (perhaps the very first) male-bashing song - way ahead of its time in 1973!
Kim and Thurston of Sonic Youth joined Yoko on ‘Mulberry’, playing screeching guitars that wept with bows and sticks. We could envision the magnificent sunset as a young Yoko gathered mulberries from the countryside bushes in war-torn Tokyo for her starving brother and sister. She
lived through this as a child, finding beauty in a desperate situation, and we lived it with her.
Original POB members, Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner and Eric Clapton joined Sean and Yoko for the Beatles’ song ‘Yer Blues’. Yoko started out inside a black bag, for old times sake. As we were still reeling from that, Sean announced a song that’s never been performed live before (a Yoko classic from 1973’s Approximately Infinite Universe album) the stunning, bluesy ‘Death of Samantha’.
On the second night, I was living someone else’s dream, sitting in the front row as Eric Clapton wailed away right in front of me! Several hours of boring technical virtuosity can’t compete with one sincere primal howl from Yoko, but Clapton gets 10 points for showing up and supporting her.
He actually rocked out, playing slide guitar on ‘Yer Blues’, and ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’, and a nice
lead on ‘Death of Samantha’.
There were two lovely acoustic guitar duets; ‘Oh Yoko!’ by Sean and Gene Ween, and Paul Simon along with his son Harper gently harmonized on the delicate ‘Silver Horse’ and John Lennon’s ‘Hold On’.
The Plastic Ono Band became the Plastic Ono Orchestra, with a tuba, horn and various strings as Bette Midler arrived to wild applause, and sang a divine ‘Yes, I'm Your Angel’ from the Double Fantasy album. Perfect for Midler, it’s a sweet and campy song that Yoko wrote for John in 1980 when he was anxious about turning 40. Sean explained that Bette had worked out the whole
arrangement for the song herself.
The crowd broke into a spontaneous chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’, which touched Yoko deeply. She then led everyone into ‘Give Peace A Chance’, and left us with the undying message of love and peace from John and Yoko.
Yoko sees things that we can’t see, hears things that we can’t hear, and knows things that we
can’t know. She knows that one day there will be peace on earth, and lives her life as if it is undoubtedly so. We would be foolish not to believe her. Like animals, who can sense danger before it happens, she knows. The universe has let her in on some profound secrets, and she is trying to share them with us all. She is trying to tell us something, and we should pay serious attention!
The very first form of music that existed must have been just like Yoko’s – millions of years ago - before language, before instruments…the first prehistoric bird call, the grunt of a cave man, the first vocal expression of joy or sadness. The music of the future will probably resemble hers as
well (whether it be made by humans or aliens) pure and simple. It’s already starting to happen. The circle will eventually be complete.
I am proud to share my time on earth with Yoko Ono, and blessed to have been touched by her. I really hope there is an afterlife for one reason only - so that John Lennon can see all of Yoko's triumphs, and know that his dream has finally come true. For all we know, he might be behind all of this, wherever he may be.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Spider Bags "Teen-Age Eyes" b/w "Eileen" (Odessa)

They spun themselves a web of awesome!

"Bare Wires "Let Down" b/w "Looking for Some Action" (MNH))

This awesome single presents some serious "bedroom boogie" music, meaning both the obvious definition (heh heh) and also that it sounds like a sleazy 70s boogie rock record that was somehow made by a modern-day dude in his bedroom with a four track.

White Mystery "Powerglove" EP (HoZac)

Three raw, spare (obviously, it's a drums and guitars duo) beautifully weird trash rockers form Chicago's best sibling act since Polk Brothers. stopped selling Frigidaires. The standout here is "Ye Olde Stone" where suddenly Miss Alex is vocally channelling Grace Slick, but the weighty SF 60s vibe is brought to earth by lifting song structure from Larry and the Blue Notes' "Night of the Sadist"/"Night of the Phantom," as gloriously un-progressive a garage single as any ever made! The only mystery here is why they ain't playing the Superbowl halftime show!

The White Wires "Goodbye Girl" b/w "Pretty Girl"

This record sounds so teenage it left Clearasil stains on my turntable. This record sounds so garage I had to clean oil stains off the tone arm. Basically, a lot of stains.

The Fresh & Onlys "Laughter is Contagious" b/w "Horrible Door" (Trouble in Mind)

The best psyche pop should always sound more intriguingly nightmarish than dreamy, and triumphantly this slab o' wax had me doubling my therapy sessions!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

F.T.A. DVD (Docurama)

After reading about this in Paul Mooney's memoir I was excited to find out it had been recently released on DVD after being pulled from distribution (for political reasons, one is led to believe) shortly into its 1972 release. This is documentary about Jane Fonda's musical/improv comedy group that was doing miltary-themed routines that were pro-soldier/anti-Army (mostly pandering by making fun of high ranking officers or doing dumb drug jokes). The show is far from radical (they actually pussyfoot around saying "Fuck the Army" out loud, as if using "fuck" is the grandest statement/punchline in 1972) and not that great (Jane Fonda, who is neither a singer or a comic does a lot of singing and comedy). Along those lines, they don't really seem to know what they had. Mooney, eventually an iconic black comic, is never featured, and Holly Near, soon to be a leading womyn's music icon, rarely sings. Donald Sutherland was a member, and his overserious reading of Dalton Trumbo's "Johnny Got His Gun" is hard to call a highlight. And though the troupe on the tour is half black, the only black member who prominently performs is folksinger Len Chandler, a pleasant, earnest, nerdy, far from revolutionary artist (he's best known for writing the novelty tune "Beans in my Ears"). There is one beautiful performance by Rita Martinson and a powerful spoken word piece by Pamela Donegan, but remove those two numbers and it's hard to see how this was speaking to the many black Viet Nam soldiers they were performing in front of. And they also never put themselves in harm's way; their trips to Hawaii and Japan to entertain troops were pretty safe. And at one point when they get heckled by right wing soldiers they totally freak out and crumble. So as far as entertainment or politics, this is pretty unimpressive. But there are a lot of riveting interviews with actual soldiers, some fully radicalized, and there's something to be said for witnessing the failures of this thing, so even though cries of F.F.T.A. would not be unwarranted, I would recommend a rental.

Clown Vomit "Sunshine in the Morning"

I bet this unpleasent-sounding artless novelty prog band gave themselves such an awful name so that when lazy reviewers like myself said, "They sound like their name smells" or something to that effect, they could pretend the person didn't actually listen and just reviewed them based on their name. I wish I didn't actually listen and just reviewed them based on their name. How come the doody's always brown? I think you know that answer, Clown Vomit.

Black is the New White by Paul Mooney (Simon and Schuster)

It would be inaccurate to say that there are no good books by comedians -- some very interesting novels and short story collections have written by penned by the likes of Steve Martin, Ernie Kovacs, Woody Allen, and others. It's the memoirs that usually disappoint. In them the Jerry Senfields, Bill Cosbys, or Cedric the Entertainers of the world claim to be telling tales of their lives while actually just transposing their best jokes into written form -- a true worst of both worlds. Don't get me started on the Rickles book! That said, every now and then you get an imperfect tome that is nonetheless fascinating because the comic actually recalls interesting things and actually reveals aspects of a unique (and genuine) non-stage persona. Mooney's book, though far from groundbreaking, is fairly rivieting. The comic has become known as a sort of elegant, brilliant, elder statesman of black comedy, a man who can impart wisdom and truth about race, life and the nature of humor. This image exists in part because of memorable roles in Spike Lee's Bamboozled and on Chappelle's Show portraying an elegant, brilliant, elder statesman of black comedy, a man who can impart wisdom and truth about race, life and the nature of humor. A very funny guy, and a sharp comic writer, Mooney has definitely earned the respect he gets, but as the book reveals he has a pretty thin resume. Yet it's the most awesome thin resume ever. While he's often credited as being a former writer on Saturday Night Live, he really only helped write the Richard Pryor episode. Yet, he wrote the Pryor/Chevy Chase job interview sketch, one of the greatst moments in that show's history. Though he did write for Sanford and Son, it was only three episodes out of 136. Yet Mooney scripted the funniest scene in the ultra-funny show's long history (and despite what he says in this book, it is intact on DVD, "N"-word and all). So he clearly made the most of his limited shots and desrves adulation. True, befriending and collaborating with Richard Pryor (who liked having a cocaine-free friend around, declaring at parties, "I get Paul's share") opened most of the doors, but once they opened up the doors he got it himself. What makes the book fascinating is what he did between these rare high profile gigs. Mooney, with his good looks and charm, was able to survive on the fringes of the entertainment world for decades, finding himself Zelig-like on the margins of fascinating scene after fascinating scene. As a kid he somehow carves out a place for himself in the Bay Area's amateur hambone dancing scene (?!?) hustling talent shows; then he finds himself on the edge of the folk music scene; he also makes his name as a race-barrier breaking dancer on a teen dance show; he later grooves in the background on Playboy After Dark; he wins The Dating Game; he is a cast member in Jane Fonda's anti-war improv troupe FTA; he even plays Sam Cooke in The Buddy Holly Story. It's far more interesting to read about this career than a superstar's career, and it's more interesting because Mooney's beautiful ego never acknowledges second-class status -- and why should it. He was pretty and talented and making it, so why be humble? He also loves to take credit for things; not only does he lay claim to advising Pryor to do most of the memorable things in his career, but he also says he invented "Nigger, please," and best of all, he taught Obama the fist bump. He never, however, denigrates the genius of Pryor, and about a third of this book is a sort of professional biography of Pryor, so fans of his should really read this. But fans of comedy, the entertinment fringes, and esoteric books would also be wise to fist bump this book.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Baby Dee "A Book Of Songs For Anne Marie" (Drag City)

Although it's hard to call Baby Dee anything but an original, there are two modes she works in that fall squarely into the tradition of gender bending cabaret-style performance history. Few others can write more enjoyable bawdy, weird little comic ditties, marrying raunch and wry cleverness. But her bread and butter are the fragile, tragic songs that many cabaret/drag performers only use as a coda, or as subtext. In concert I've seen Dee ask the audience if they want her to pick up a squeezebox and sing something silly after a bunch of serious stuff -- and they usually answer yes. But on her new album she never asks that question, and we get a serving of comic relief-free music, with ethereal harp, spare piano, and a voice that utilizes odd inflection, long silences, and some kind of alchemy where resonant baritone and falsetto seem to bleed together like the colors on a child's marker drawing dropped in a rain puddle. While I would be the first person to yell out for Dee to get goofy in concert, the delicate songs here are chilling -- all of them simultaneously frail and robust. And though the tone is even and airy, the songs are incredibly distinct, memorable and moving. Of course, if her next album is all ukulele drinking songs, I won't complain, but for now this is pretty dreamy. Or, at least, dreamlike.

Xerography Debt #25 (

There is nothing I love more than good -- or even mediocre or bad, but still original -- zines. There's a lot fewer out there these days with this whole internet/blog fad, so I have to champion Microcosm which has spent years helping distribute, compile into books, and often publish some of the best zines out there. One of the driving forces of the zine explosion in the 90s was Seth Freidman's revival of Factsheet Five, a printed zine review/info guide that in the pre World Wide Web days helped feed a worldwide web of zinemakers, mail artists, manifesto makers, diary sharers, and kooks. There are less good zines these days, and there's also way less zine review zines, and some of those out there are pretty dry. Xerography Debt is one of the best, with writers really injecting perosnality into reviews. So out of love for Microcosm and Xerography Debt I'm going to pretend I can't think of any conflict of interest of a publisher publishing a zine that inevitably reviews its other publications. This is me pretending. And enjoying the well-written reviews, and ordering a bunch of zines. Not all of them from Microcosm.

Wesley Willis's Joy Rides It's A Rock You Mentary DVD (MVD)

In 2003 a documentary about Wesley Willis showed the Chicago behemoth doing what he did -- selling his CDs, headbutting people,dealing with his mental illnesses as best he could, and writing strange, monotonous songs that played to white rock audiences lurid expectations of seeing a big crazy black man curse and rant (and reference their favorite bands). The documentary didn't so much give an insightful portrait of Willis as it (appropriately) gave an outsider's view on how people saw him, dealt with him, and exploited him. This was done by giving as much, or more, camera time to people who interacted with Willis because his oddity amused them as it did with people who really cared for him and sacrificed and negotiated bureaucracies to keep him as healthy as possible. This documentary, obviously long in the works (Willis died around the time of the first doc's release) definitely leans towards the latter group of people, as with a few exceptions (an art collector with a disturbing glint in his eye) this portrays the people who genuinely cared for him. Some of these are family members who shared his challenging childhood (they even track down his estranged father). If you lived in Chicago during Willis' rock scene days he was really a person you had to experience to appreciate (and I don't mean seeing him perform, I mean having him hustle CDs and have sideways conversations in your direction), and listening to disc after disc of his hundreds of similar songs may not be the best way to understand his presence. This documentary does a pretty good job telling the world who Wesley was and what he did for the last decade of his life.

Monday, February 15, 2010

You Weren't There A History of Chicago Punk 1977-84 DVD (

(Guest Review by Chris Butler) I think I first heard of Naked Raygun in a Maximum Rock N Roll Chicago Scene Report. Looking through my back issues, turns out it was MRR #19, November 1984. This is at the end of the period covered in “You Weren’t There, A History Of Chicago Punk 1977 – 84." So it’s true, I wasn’t there, or even especially aware of Chicago punk until ‘84. But thanks to Joe Losurdo and Christina Tillman, the directors of this cinematic scene report, it feels like I was there a little bit. This is one of the major strengths of this documentary. It genuinely portrays the alchemical nature of regional US punk ‘scenes’ in the early and mid ‘80s. There was an insularity to these pre-internet scenes that sort of necessitated a close relationship with other members of the scene in order to remain aware of shows and parties, etc. And there were many similarities to the scenes I was lucky to experience ( Denver, Detroit/NW Ohio and Columbus) and the Chicago scene. There were the scene celebs, rivalries, infighting, tragedies, victories, displays of scene pride, disputes with the cops, etc. It was a fun and romantic time and that comes through in the film.
Another strength of the film is, of course, the music. Starting with the fantastic KBD era rock of Tutu and the Pirates in the late ‘70s to the classic mid-80s line up of Naked Raygun, the quality of the music is pretty great. And I remember when I first saw Naked Raygun’s name in the MRR scene report, I thought it was kind of a dumb name. I guess I had the typical punk mindset of the time that punk had to be hyper-serious and super-fast and maybe a little mean. I was befuddled by Chicago ’s bands seemingly sacrilegious take on punk. This unorthodox attitude is covered in a number of the interviews in the movie. And of course I became a big fan of most of the bands covered in ‘You Weren’t There” and many of them have had a lasting effect on the contemporary punk universe.
I don’t know if it’s possible to have an 80s style scene, or any kind of underground scene anymore, with the internet and all. Watching this movie might be as close as you will get.

Sonic Chicken 4 "Surf on a Plane" b/w "Crushed" (Trouble in Mind)

You know how you sometimes bite into a piece of chicken and it's fucking delicious but then you see this freaky big nasty blue vein in the meat and you get sorta nauseated and don't know what to feel but you finish eating it anyway because it is awesome tasting. This is the sonic equivalent

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Betty Davis "Is It Love or Desire" (Light in the Attic)

(Guest Review by E.IV) Is It Love or Desire is the shelved album from 1976 Funk Queen Betty Davis. Even the cover image suggests revelation, like she is about to show you something. It beckons you to make the discovery. She is going to show you everything. The album opens with multiple Betty voices all at once, a strong start. Betty brought back something for the lovers "When Romance Says Goodbye," the muthas "Bottom of The Barrel" (anti-disco + pro “real music”) and the fuckers "Whorey Angel" (one of the best song titles!). Luckily, I have been waiting since only '02 and not the late 70's. I was more excited about this release than any other for the fall season. Heavy rotation is an understatement, to quote the title of track two "It's So Good!" I think she had to know that and now we can too. She literally makes you beg for it in "Let's Get Personal." She sounds a little like Mae West. It sounds like she presses right up to your speaker, you come closer to a one sided conversation. You are put in your place. The album will make you feel dirty. She talks about the rejection of the album in "Stars Starve, You Know." "They won't take what I'm givin', so it’s hard for me and the band to make a livin'." This album did not let me down; it is all over the place in the best way. Betty was incredibly original, creative and had a lot of ideas. It feels like a present. This is something for the funk Antiques Roadshow and something for now.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Red Krayola with Art & Language "Five American Portraits" (Drag City)

Whenever I go to one of those highbrow silent movie screenings where some instrumental jazz or noise or avant garde band makes random squonkings during Buster Keaton's antics or the Klan's heroic birthing of a nation or the ominous sleep walking in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari I always think how awesome it would be if you cut out the silent flick's title cards and a country, or hardcore, or garage rock, or rap group just did a musical accompaniment involving absolutely literal wordy vocals that redundantly described every action on screen and correctly said all the dialogue as the character's spoke. This collection of songs trumps me fantasy exercise in literalism. These vocals meticulously describe actual portraits of five iconic Americans in clinical, non-rhyming, impassionate visual detail. For example: "A wisp of grey hair at the left temple, a shadow at the forward edge of the right sideburn, a shadow above and between the teeth, a shadow at the point of the chin, extending to the right of President Jimmy Carter." This dispassionate approach means that politics don't encroach upon the artistry. Thus, though Carter would rarely be confused with George Bush II, this corresponding description of Mayo Thompson's fellow Texan judges him not: "The hair from the top of the right of the head to the left temple a patch of hair over the left temple, creases in the left forehead." Even Rachel Maddow would be hard pressed to find Iraq war criticism in that passage. But of course, Red Krayola's Thompson, even under the influence of legendary conceptual art collective Art & Language, certainly abandons the literal lyrics in the sure-to-be free, expansive and weird music, right? Um, yes and resoundingly no. There are passages of "The Eyes of Texas" for Bush. interpolations of "Georgia on my Mind" for Carter and Bo Diddley's "Roadrunner" for Wile E. Coyote, and best of all "Paint it Black" for artist Ad Reinhardt, who, of course, painted it black ( I couldn't recognize the heroic and cowboy John Wayne music). But there are also excursions into free sounds (some extremely lengthy, John Wayne's ambles into the sunset with shofar-like horn, ominous drumming, and crashing sounds for fifteen minutes) and minimalist takes on traditional American music, all expertly kept at the same measured tone as the descriptions, sonically elevating the "one liners" of the literal-minded song choices. Although it's hard to say "one-liners" because you don't want to outright call this a joke -- I've seen Thompson be funny, but always with a deadpan, so it's hard to say when he's joking. But, fuck it, I'm going to call this a novelty record, and file on the Neil Hamburger and comedy drum instruction DVD side of my Drag City shelf rather than the art rock and freak folk side. Meaning I will listen to it a lot more than Gastr del Sol.

Mass Shivers "Torrid Sex in East Berlin" b/w "Tickled on Poppers," Contoured Heat

(Licking River/Drag City) Despite this power trio releasing a brilliant record that's got hints of prog, Beefheart, hypno-rock, Stoner, post-rock, and fifty other things that usually don't make you dance, the killer drum poundings and giganto riffs put my rear in gear, thus, suggesting a more appropriate band name might be Ass Quivers.


For those still old enough to peg the launch of British Rock to the February 9, 1964 Ed Sullivan Show, think of this:
A different U.K. band just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary with a series of sold-out concerts at London’s mammoth O2 Arena.
At the height of their success, this band placed an astounding twenty-eight hits atop the British charts, have all told released over one hundred albums worldwide, and their lead singer was knighted by his Queen before Elton John, Tom Jones, Mick Jagger or even Sir Cute Beatle Paul was.
That singer’s name is Cliff Richard. His band is The Shadows. And Eagle Rock Entertainment’s grand new Cliff And The Shadows: The Final Reunion DVD, documenting those landmark 2009 O2 performances, constitutes no less than a two-hour, note-by-perfect-note primer of and for pre-Fab British rock.
Accordingly, barely a minute into the proceedings, no less an authority on the subject as legendary Shadows guitarist Hank B. Marvin claims Cliff’s 1959 chart-topper “Living Doll” as, and I shall quote, “the first real British rock and roll record.” That classic is duly performed herein, along with forty-one (!) other songs in just under 137 minutes flat. Each comes fast and furious, short and sweet, and at a near assembly-line pace, captured in sight and especially sound which is clean, bright, and sharp from beginning until final encore.
Truly the music of Hank, fellow guitarist Bruce Welch, and drummer Brian Bennett deserves no less: This is one yester-band that remains in remarkable fighting form, their matching red Fenders sporting all the twang of Owens’ Buckaroos, the whammy of vintage Ventures, and the precision of Les Paul at his 78-RPM finest. Not only that, but those tightly choreographed little dance steps the band often break into whilst performing – moves which were once the bane of the Beatle-era pop combos – now seem far more fun and even fashionable than merely quaint.
Yet lest you fear these guys simply coast along atop their fancy footwork, a three-song “unplugged set” halfway through the proceedings, wherein Bruce, Hank, and even Cliff break out acoustic guitars, sounds surprisingly more Wilco than skiffle. In fact, their “All Shook Up” could easily have been arranged by P. Townshend circa Tommy, I kid you not!
Indeed, while you may be hard pressed to recognize (m)any of the dozens of hits performed in this package, you will spot traces of their melodic influence – not to mention stinging Marvin guitar licks – scattered throughout the more discriminating reaches of your music collection. Because while they may have never made lasting impressions upon the American hit parade (save for Cliff’s “Devil Woman” reaching Billboard # 5 in 1976), the six-string-powered sound of The Shadows has been cited as an indelible influence upon artists as diverse as Randy Bachman, Carlos Santana, and even Neil Young.
One evening spent with The Final Reunion, volume cranked all the way of course, will most easily show just why. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

X-Ray Spex "Live @ the Roundhouse London 2008 CD/DVD (YearZero)

So basically the main reason to watch/hear this is to find out if Poly Styrene still has her mojo. I can think of only two releases in the last few decades (an early 80s solo record with songwriting more subdued and jazzy -- perhaps because of a Hare Krishna mellowing -- and an under appreciated X-Ray Spex mid-90s reunion record), but basically if you've recorded what stands as just about the best punk single ("Oh Bondage") and the best punk LP ever recorded, what do you have to prove? Well, I guess if you're over 50, possibly you have to prove that your appeal was more than being be adorable, raw, spunky, and perfectly imperfect -- attributes that a cynic might attribute to her youth during her band's Germ Free Adolescence. Unfortunately, we'll never know if Styrene's magnetism and ability to project joy even when relating genuine outrage can be separated from her adorableness, because on this live DVD/CD is is just as cute and fun and raw and stylish and beautiful to the core as she was as a teen in braces. This is more impressive considering that the band is a bit too slick at times ("I Am A Cliche" has a little too much driving Pro Rock behind it) and that they are in a posh concert hall with a full lightshow, bouquets of disco balls, and a massive futruristic globe-shaped video screen over the stage showing vintage Poly imagery during the concert. But none of this takes away from Styrene's great performance, and the true testament to this is that unlike the aging rockers who fill most reunion show crowds, this crowd includes droves with teenage punk girls in ecstasy.

The Sugar Stems "Sweet Sounds of" (Dusty Medical/Dream On/Bachelor),"beat beat beat" b/w "Crybaby!" (Bachelor)

This super charmer of an album should be spun at every cheese tasting and pillow fight in the Central Time Zone, and this killer single should be on every jukebox in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Heaven. Midwest vintage-sounding bubblegum that will have you blowing a big bubble that will pop and stick in your hair and you'll leave it there.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Drop Dead Rock DVD (MVD)

The kindest thing one can say about this newly released 1996 would-be rock 'n' roll comedy is that both Adam Ant and Debbie Harry both look good and deliver their lines coherently. Other than that it's hard to be too enthusiastic about this fart of a farce in which a terrible garage band kidnaps a washed up 80s punk-ish star (not sure if he's supposed to spoof Billy Idol, Gary Glitter, John Lydon, or a member of Sigue Sigue Sputnik) as the star's treacherous manager and balloon-boobed wife (and some random terrorists) conspire against him. Musically it's OK, as the two songs that are repeated over and over are kind of ridiculous and rocking, but as far as story, acting, gags, and tone this is pretty flat. That said, I sort of recommend this for the bonus feature/making of/director's commentary. Produced by the guys who did the Beastie Boys video "Fight For Your Right to Party," you'd expect them to be pretty clever and in on the jokes, but unfortunately at no point in their comments do they acknowledge that the movie kind of sucks (Lloyd Kaufman never makes that mistake), but other than that it's pretty valuable to hear them give genuinely practical tips about how to make a no budget movie and make it look professional. They also point out that only crew/cast member who went on to become a superstar was the costume designer, which makes you realize how important wardrobe is, because rocker Spazz-O's stupid costume and the rest of the couture really do elevate this thing.

The Uzi Rash Group Band "Hight and Phree" (Freedom School Records)

They don't make a turntable that can properly play this mess-terpiece. I suspect the best way to hear this deranged psyche artfuck minimal home-taped residue echo is to go into the bedroom in which this was recorded, position the vinyl on the penis of the artiste and spin it 33 1/3 rotations per whatever measurement unit you choose while listening to headphones plugged into whatever orifice is offered. If, in fact, this artist is a woman, than modify the penis part of this equation.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Yolks (Randy/Bachelor)

This is a Chicago garage band that's been kicking around for a while and had I heard this record before last August I probably would have written it off. Though the band works hard, has decent musicianship (especially the sharp drumming) and seems to have fun, the live sets I've seen have leaned towards the cutesy, pop punk side of garage rock, vocalist Nathan betraying his height and stature by singing like a little mousy dude. In fact, after their opening set that fateful August night I still was skeptical (though the rest of the crowd was mighty moved). But then, as the Witching Hour approached, and rumors abounded that headlining act Nobunny had been in an accident and was unable to play his much anticipated set of manic, mangy bubblepunk, a miracle happened. Nobunny hit the stage, his signature bunny mask now crafted of tape and cut up cardboard, his hirsute body on display as he danced around in his underwear, his pubic bush and package girth enhanced by what seemed to be a medium sized dead rodent stuffed in his shorts. He also appeared to have grown a foot or two. The hero of the night, it seemed, was shameless Nathan, who saved the show by delivering a ridiculously awesome set of Nobunny songs incognito. After his brilliant mess of a set Cynthia Plaster Caster, unaware of the charade, turned to me and said she was interested in casting the critter she just saw. There's no better affirmation than that. Thus, listening to this album I am more in the Yolks camp than I've ever been before. While this is far from the raunchy romp one hopes for from garage heroes, I also can't hear any of the pop punk fluff I'd previously attached to the band. This diverse set of bubblegum, garage, country, and punk is pretty sweet, especially a driving, ultra-catchy rocker about going on a peanut butter sandwich picnic. So the moral of the story is, if you really want to know what a band sounds like, you need to see them flail around in their underpants. Although I'm not sure if that would get me to like Dave Matthews Band.

Soul Train - The Hippest Trip in America (VH1)

(Review by Jake Austen) I was really excited when VH1 contacted me after my Soul Train in Chicago article came out and told me they were making this documentary. Of course, I had a little dread that it would be filled with faux-nostalgia and goofy afro-wig jokes, but I trusted that anyone with access to the amazing, transcedental footage featured on the show would do the right thing and make a righteous testament to the best music show ever produced. Overall, it was much better than I expected, and I was really pleased with it. I would have liked for it to be longer, and I was surprised by some omissions (there certainly should have been more of dancer Damita Jo Freeman – her cameos with James Brown and Joe Tex are all-time highlights). But mostly, I constantly found my wishes being fulfilled. Clips of host Don Cornelius going down the Soul Train line, the manic crowd during L.L. Cool J’s debut, and the bizarre Don vs. Marvin Gaye in basketball episode were great to see. I had done plenty of research on the Dick Clark Soul Unlimited fiasco, where he responded to Soul Train's ratings, by producing a copy-cat show, but had never seen footage, and it was great to see the awesome set Clark built. I thought almost all of the little segments were interesting and well edited:Soul Train pop locking/robot dancing and its influence on Michael Jackson/Don’s hostility towards Hip Hop, with killer footage of Kurtis Blow taking a blow to his ego/the Afro Sheen commercials – which avoided camp by showing the sincere devotion of Quest Love and others to these remarkable black-audience commercials. While they did shortchange the 80s, leaving out or downplaying some of the most memorable dancers, and they blew off the post-Cornelius years (half-mocking replacement Shemar Moore), it’s understandable why they would want to focus on the early 70s when the show was at its aesthetic peak (I love when the performers are framed by the dancers’ wild, staccato movements – you feel sorry for them for being told not to look at these legendary artists, but it sure paid off visually). And I thought the balance of informed, thoughtful musicians, and youthful, intelligent academics (like Imani Perry and Tricia Rose) really did a good job of explaining how important this show was without ever reverting to the empty nostalgia of VH1’s “I Love the 80’s/Best Week Ever” scripted talking head hooey. Most impressive, after so many years of bitter, angry and sullen interviews and sound bites, was Don Cornelius’ relaxed, funny and sharp reflections. While he may not have been giving the deepest or most insightful answers, he was really demonstrating a true storyteller’s skills, and he knew which anecdotes were the killers. I especially loved his admission that he thought L.A. kids were terrible dancers and didn’t want anything to do with the funky dance style that quickly made the show a phenomenon. Basically, it really seemed like selling the Soul Train empire a couple years back has taken a weight off his shoulders, and it was nice to see a public Don Cornelius relaxed and loose.

As far as the documentary acting like Gino Vannelli in 1975 was the first white guest, when in fact Dennis Coffey was, I think they really meant Gino was the first white sex symbol/crossover star (I watched this in a room full of older black women and they all squealed with nostalgic excitement when Vannelli came onscreen). Considering the way press reviews of the documentary latched onto that brief section of the film covering white guests it was wise for them to use someone better known than Coffey for this clip, though Coffey obviously had a more awesome record to perform ("Scorpio," in 1972) than his poodle-haired successor.
I was also pleased that they covered the days of Soul Train in Chicago at length, though I was dissapointed not to see any pictures or footage I hadn't already seen (they used alot of stack footage that looked like it was from the period to show a TV studio from the 60s and people watching TV). All the images of the local Chicago Soul Train episodes used in the film were photos I found during my research and lent to the production (in the film Cornelius says no footage exists of Chicago episodes, but I was told otherwise by company that bought Soul Train; I suspect the producers didn’t want to deal with costly transfers from archaic video formats).

Please see the show if you can. I doubt it will make it onto DVD. I also want to share my experiences at the L.A. Premiere of the film on January 29th at the Paley TV museum in Beverly Hills. I learned about the screening at the last minute and was able to get in because of my involvement in the research for the movie. I got there early and there were plenty of dancers there, most dressed in suits and sharp dresses, but it was notable that Louie Carr was dressed like the show was shooting a new episode, sleeveless, with signature shades and hat. Following the film was a panel in which Don Cornelius, Jody Watley, Smokey Robinson, Cuba Gooding, Sr. and Quest Love (who helped with the score of the documentary) were to be interviewed by journalist Cheo Coker. When I arrived I hung out at an hors d’oeurves and vodka reception, where I spoke to an awesome older Japanese guy named Aki, who in 1973 (while he was at UCLA as a student) arranged for Soul Train, Midnight Special and ABC In Concert to air on Japanese TV, making all our beloved ST bootlegs possible. They ran from 1973-1983, he told me. Aki also mentioned that in addition to the forthcoming Time-Life Soul Train DVDs (which will feature clips, not whole episodes) he is arranging for an Asian DVD set, which will not have the same footage (it is being assembled separately, he thought) but there is no release date yet. He was also proud to have first put The Sound of Music on Japanese TV. And he mentioned that when he went to Cornelius’ home to sign the contracts in ’73, Cornelius conducted the entire meeting in pajamas, which impressed Aki (he was also pleased that when he spoke to Don at this event, Don remembered him). At the reception big screen TVs showed what seemed to be teaser reels for a proposed DVD set Don Cornelius Productions must have assembled years ago. The clips were grouped together with titles like “The Comedy Years” (with Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx, and Arsenio Footage), “The Jacksons Years” (with J5, Janet and other siblings footage), and less likely titles like “The Bill Withers Years” and the “The Ike and Tina Years.”

I unfortunately had to sit in the overflow room during the screening, but was able to sneak into the theater for the panel discussion/Q&A. It was nothing short of spectacular. Coker was over his head and had no idea how to moderate this thing and basically gave up almost instantly. Upon asking Cornelius the first question, Don just started reminiscing and pontificating and going from topic to topic to topic. Like the documentary, he shared many very good stories, that had nice punchlines and good rhythm, but he also would go off on tangent after tangent, and would rarely get back to his original point. The second (and last question) was aimed at Robinson, and before Smokey could speak Don cut him off with a lengthy digression. While it instantly became a raucous joke that Don would keep cutting off everyone and not let them talk, it also was pretty revealing, as Cornelius seemed unable to yield the floor. There was lots of joshing and ribbing and insult humor between Smokey and Don. Gooding was a little nutty, delivering his tributes to Cornelius and his legacy with unfocussed eyes, in an almost threatening tone, but as Cornelius and others made clear, the lead singer of the Main Ingredient was genuinely regarded as one of the most gifted vocalists of his day, so despite being the butt of a few jokes (and despite at one point shilling for his QVC channel 70s Soul compilation home shopping show) he was treated with respect. Watley kept quiet during most of the more chaotic passages, but when she did speak she had an almost regal bearing, bringing dignity to a bar room bull session of a panel. As she did in the documentary she revealed that the jealousy she perceived being directed at her from other dancers weighs heavy on her Soul Train memories, but she had some nice things to say. The best panelist may have been the Roots drummer. It turns out Quest Love has been a collector of ST episodes since the days when you would pay a thick wad of bills for shitty dubs of shows. He was a super expert, and even said that for the seven years they were recording the D'Angelo record at least five hours each work day was spent watching old Soul Trains for inspiration (they had planned to have “D’Angelo perform “Untitled” at the Grammys with a 40 piece orchestra set up exactly like the Barry White ST, but backed down). At one point Quest Love asked Cornelius about the philosophy behind keeping his cool demeanor and doing a straight interview even when groups were outrageous and surreal, like the Undisputed Truth in their KISS/LaBelle costumes, or the Mandrill performance where one guy was in a gorilla suit. Quest's question was super long and detailed and at the end of it Cornelius paused for a beat and said, deadpan, "Who's Mandrill?"

Then they went to the audience and most of the questions were not questions, but rather dancers from the show standing up and announcing who they were and expecting applause (which they deserved and got) and then praising Don, or telling an anecdote about themselves. Most just wanted Don to acknowledge them. Fawn Quinones started off telling Don “I know you remember this voice,” and too-cool Don told her he remembered her. But he tried to deny her anecdote, in which he asked her brother Shabba Doo “Where is your crazy sister?” When informed that the exchange was on camera he conceded, “Well, tape don’t lie.” The best anecdote was Tyrone "The Bone" Procter telling how when he won a car in a dance contest on American Bandstand he couldn't get it because you had to pay $300 in taxes that he didn't have. So he meekly went to Soul Train’s offices and asked Don for it, sure that the Soul Train conductor would not be happy about Proctor dancing on a rival show, but Don just took out the checkbook without hesitation. I asked Cornelius a question about local Chicago host Clint Ghent and he gave one of his most succinct, clear answers of the night, saying he kept the show in Chicago on the air for Clint; he really thought of him as a protégé who he really wanted to thrive. Though the entire affair was a beautiful, hot mess, it actually ended sublimely. The last question in the audience was from Mark Wood, the vocalist from Lakeside, who went down the line and said a perfect thing to everyone sitting on the panel, thanking Quest for bringing true drumming to the current generation, praising Gooding for his musical gifts, savoring the chance to speak to Watley, whom he had not spoken to since Lakeside and Shalamar were on Solar Records together, to belatedly congratulate her on her solo success, genuflecting to Robinson as the greatest songwriter of his generation, and telling Cornelius how he had done God’s work bringing music to the people, guiding a generation of young folks, and allowing groups like his to still make a living playing music because of the exposure and respect he gave them in the 70s and 80s. Overall it was an amazing night. As I left a confused Cuba Gooding, Sr asked me for help finding the parking lot. I was happy to help him, and the next time I watch this great Soul Train documentary on VH1 I might just switch over to QVC and see what he’s up to.

The Paley Center, and its New York sister museum, usually make these presentations available for viewing, many online, so look for this absurd panel soon.

Shunda K "The Most Wanted," "I'm The Best" maxi-single

(Fanatic) Because they were so awesome it seemed OK to ignore the "exoticism" involved with Yo! Majesty becoming hipster superstars a few years back.  Real-live black foulmouthed crazy-assed lesbians seemed too good to be true for some audiences, and coupling them with acts like CSS and Peaches -- women who seemed to pray they could become real-live black foulmouthed crazy-assed lesbians -- was just too perfect. But, among other things, what made the group worth the hype was that Shunda K and Shon B offered a legitimately different perspective, and their reunion single "I'm the Best" (with about 867 remixes, French rapping included) offers some of the best examples of that. Shunda K, invoking God and Satan, is legitimately riled by scriptural sexism, her concerns about abuse are harsh and heartfelt, and while her (and Shon B's) "I'm Da Best" mantra is functional old school boast rap, it is also a non-didactic, non-corny battle cry against the mindset of female inferiority. So whatever reasons, legit or icky, people have for geeking out over this, hopefully the geekery will make this huge. Listening to the full-length CD gives further fuel to the fire that you should use to incinerate any thoughts of gimmickry. tokenism, exoticism, etc. when accessing Shunda K's worth. The fact is she is a crazy gifted rapper, capable of verbal gymnastics that would hobble a 12 year old Chinese tumbler, and possessing a voice as muscular as a shirtless boyfriend in a Tyler Perry play. These tenacious tracks are powerful, positive hip hop her-icanes of verbal dexterity and The Most Wanted leaves listeners wanting for nothing.