Smokin’ on the UWS

Headed up and to the left last nite to listen to some B3 grooves, and help out in some belated birthday activities. The venue was Smoke, an old-fashioned uptown boite de jazz. This place is what a jazz club should be, it’s small, has good sight-lines everywhere, good sound system, not too expensive (unlike those downtown tourist traps), nice vibe and comfy couches. And, as someone at our table pointed out, Smoke, sans smoke, is nice. (I could digress into a brief request that we pillory all those fools who screamed that banning smoking would kill the city’s night life–the place was packed, and not an iron lung in sight.)

As for the band, the Mike LeDonne quartet played them some good grooves. I was most impressed with tenor man Eric Alexander. This cat’s good. And he has that cool, serious, young jazz genius thing down, think Steve Dallas in The Sweet Smell of Success. In fact, Eric pretty much stole the set. I thought that guitarist Peter Bernstein would finally get his moment during a scorching slow blues–that’s guitar turf, man! But Bernstein is so intent on doing this quiet, unassuming melodic style, that he still held back. By the end of his solo, the blues had worn down to a funeral march. It was a weird moment. I liked his playing and loved his tone, but I wanted to hear much more. Peter, cut loose once in a while, you’ll feel good!

Violated on the Bowery

Just got back from seeing those Depeche-mode-playin’ gals at a newish club called Crash Mansion. Professor E. was crashed out on a couch as we checked out the opening act, a U2 cover band that doesn’t seem to realize it’s a U2 cover band. Ho hum. Violator hit the stage and this new iteration is the best one yet. This is the third guitarist I’ve seen them with, and she coaxed some nice textures out of her LP->Pod->Twin setup. PG’s bass sounded better than ever, with a nice Korn-like crunch. Tracy the drummer, whose birthday was the excuse for this here gig, rocked steady as ususal. Then t’was out into the cold street and into a warm cab to zoom back uptown and tuck the Prof into another cozy crash pad. As for me, I’m going to browse “How to play Bebop” for a while longer…

The all spins zone

The engineers at Cyberkrunk Labs need to keep their audio equipment calibrated with contemporaneous vibrations and are therefore always on the lookout for new sonic material. Some recent entries include the Kasabian debut, relatively well received, and the latest Weezer, which was almost spat out. Both Franz Ferdinand discs were recently submitted and the results were surprisingly good. The Postal Service was also entered, and once again the meters hit the correct zone.

At the same time, older reference material serves as a good baseline and we couldn’t be happier with the tests we have performed on Richard Hell and the Voidoids’ Blank Generation album. The machine hummed and sputtered, then outputted on the teletype interface “Where has this been hiding all my life? More!”

Sonically, the Voidoids fall almost precisely between Television (whom we love dearly) and The Clash. But unlike either, they are funny. To wit:

Love comes in spurts
Oh no! It hurts!

This track weighs in at 1:59, not a second too long, practically begging you to play it again. You will either hate this record for its sophomoric crudity or love it for the same reasons. Was 1977 the apex of American pop music?

At the same time, it is always good to re-acquaint the monster cable with Gang of Four’s Entertainment. Their resurgence was almost guaranteed following the anthrax scare of ’01. And they’re touring, too. I just read that they were doing a date in Brooklyn. That’s near New York, isn’t it?

Now, let’s hear that song again…

Joni said it right

Watching a fascinating DVD set of Dick Cavett music shows from the ’70s. Joni just came on and sang this, a cappella. She prefaced it by saying, “This is how I feel as a Canadian living in America.”

The Fiddle and the Drum

And so once again
My dear Johnny my dear friend
And so once again you are fightin’ us all
And when I ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say I have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But I can remember
All the good things you are
And so I ask you please
Can I help you find the peace and the star
Oh, my friend
What time is this
To trade the handshake for the fist

And so once again
Oh, America my friend
And so once again
You are fighting us all
And when we ask you why
You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
Oh, my friend
How did you come
To trade the fiddle for the drum

You say we have turned
Like the enemies you’ve earned
But we can remember
All the good things you are
And so we ask you please
Can we help you find the peace and the star
Oh my friend
We have all come
To fear the beating of your drum

–Joni Mitchell

Jimi got it right

Rainy day, dream away
Ah let the sun take a holiday
Flowers bathe an’ ah see the children play
Lay back and groove on a rainy day.

Rodgers that

In all the late-60s-English-blues-guitar-god listening I’ve been doing lately, I’ve taken a real fancy to Free. I’m drawn to both Paul Rodgers tasty, cooler-Rod-Stewart vocals and Paul Kossoff’s tasty Les Paul guitar tones. (Though he is also named Paul, Paul McCartney does not enter into the picture, though Pauline Kael might.) Free had, true to their name, a nice looseness that Bad Company lacked. And although Free had a big following, the songs on “Fire and Water” have a quiet intimacy–they would come across better in a small club than a stadium. “Cooler Rod Stewart?” you ask. No, it’s not a joke; I’m thinking of Rod in the “Jeff Beck Group” era, before he blew all his blues rock cred with those horrible multi-platinum albums in the mid 70s. Pagey formed Led Zepplin as his New Yardbirds (with John Paul Jones on bass). How much less ridiculous would Zep had been if Rod was its singer. As he was in Jeff Beck’s own version of the New Yardbirds. Well, you can compare them directly since both groups did “You Shook Me” on their first album. Personally, I prefer Stewart to Plant. Gasp! Here’s more fantasy football, what if Rodgers had been the singer for Zep? Would it sound anything like “The Firm”, the group that Page and Rodgers eventually formed together in the 80s? Don’t know, never heard them. Any comments here?

Where am I going with all this? Ah, grasshopper, always impatient. When Zep formed their vanity label, Swan Song, Bad Company was the first act they signed. Their other big act was the group that Paul Rodgers is now touring with, and of course I’m talking about Queen. And now you know… The rest of the story!

Rock ‘n Roll politics

A while back I celebrated my long-delayed Karaoke debut. This took place appropriately enough in “Music City, USA”. Nashville certainly earns that title, covering as it does that wide stylistic expanse from Country to Western.*** Up on stage, S.Fo and I performed My Generation (my choice) and LA Woman (his choice). Both songs are probably revealing of something or other. Leafing through the giant binder full of songs, I flipped past one page with about a third of the page blacked out. At first, I just continued browsing, but the blackened section piqued my curiosity, compelling me back to figure it out. Wild Turkey in hand, doing my best darkened Honky-Tonk 1:00 a.m. Wednesday squint, I gradually began making out letters behind the magic marker. When the mystery was revealed, I was hit with a wave of queasiness. In a move confounding authoritarian jackassery with patriotism, someone had blackened out all the songs by The Dixie Chicks.

What reminded me of this funny and sad incident is the new story about Sweet Neo Con, the new Rolling Stones tune that tells president Bush what the Glimmer Twins really think of him. Now, instead of three young Southern women criticizing Bush, you have the full force of the British Rock ‘n Roll empire launching an attack. And funnily enough, the calls for burning their album in the street haven’t been heard. The calls to ban Start Me Up from football games. And while it’s generally true that bullies don’t like to pick on people their own size, I suppose I can imagine another defense, Scott McLellan informing us that “The United States does not interfere with the Rock and Roll of sovereign nations.”

So more often than not, Rock and Rollers are part of the VLWC, and of course most C&Wers are Ditto-Heads, but there are plenty of notable exceptions. We have the Dixie Chicks on the one hand, and Johnny Ramone on the other. We saw the documentary “The End of the Century” last night. If you’re the kind of person who has read “Please Kill Me”, you need to see this movie. Just like the book, the story of the Ramones is interesting and surprisingly sad. Much of the movie focuses on Johnny, for two practical reasons 1) he was still alive (unlike Joey) and 2) he wasn’t strung out (unlike Dee Dee). Joey had succumbed to Cancer at age 49. In 2001, Dee Dee ODed at age 49 in 2002, two months after the film wrapped, and Johnny made it all the way to 55, losing out to prostate cancer in 2004. Johnny comes off as a humorless, fairly bitter, generally not fun to be around kind of guy. Which is a shocker, but you realize that without his level-headed discipline, the never would have survived for as long as it did. Johnny was the enforcer. He made them practice, he made them dress alike, he made them tour like maniacs, he kept tight reins over their finances. And because they were all such complete misfits, they stuck together, realizing they would collapse without each other.

Even though they hated each other.

Johnny had a revealing and unfortunate Spinal Tapian moment when, reflecting on Dee Dee quitting the group, he utters words to the effect that the band would have been exactly the same with another bass player, another drummer and… another singer. For Johnny, it was all about Johnny. For the rest of us, of course, the Ramones are all about Joey. We already know what the Ramones would sound like with out Joey: Green Day, Blink 182 or take your pick of a few dozen other imitators. And I’m not buying any of them. Johnny and Joey’s bitterness had many sources, not the least of which was Johnny stealing Joey’s girl and marrying her. (The KKK took my baby away.) Politically, they were polar opposites with Joey playing the New York Jewish Left-wing Woody Allen type, and Johnny on the Right. Johnny took time to praise president Bush during the band’s induction in to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But I like to think that at that moment, in Rock and Roll heaven, Joey and Rock ‘n Roll Jesus glanced at each other, rolled their eyes and smiled.

***Evidently, I never tire of that joke.

Proof that advertising works

OK, you’ve all seen that VW ad featuring the kids that look like all of us circa 10 years ago dancing to this great garage song, getting into a row with their downstairs neighbor. They climb into their VW, the song still blaring. Eventually you see them dancing to the tune in their new house. The problem is that back then none of us could have afforded that car or that house. But, hey, the point of the ad is that things are different now! So, believe it or not, I broke down because of that ad: I bought the CD. The group is Kings of Leon, and the song is “Molly’s Chambers”. Classic garage, and it’s one great song. The rest of the album isn’t bad either.

Saw “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” last night. At one point, I turn to N and say, “this movie validates my taste in pop music.” Not that it particularly needs validating. But it is nice to see Devo gaining new respect these days. Mark Mothersbaugh does a few of his tyical Wes Anderson cues for this pic–nice but almost too understated. Not as effective as the scene underscored by the classic Devo tune “Gut Feeling.” And the use of “Search and Destroy” is almost too on the nose. Especially since I got the thought process behind the choice right away. They’re rescuing the bond company stooge… stooge… Stooges… Search and Destroy! Oh well, Wes isn’t exactly an obscure director (not, I mean, into obscurity) and it is after all one of the greatest garage band songs ever. I always like hearing Bowie in a film but I think the samba gimmick fell a little flat. eXpecially at the end of the film when you first hear Bowie playing Queen Bitch, and then right away the Samba guy. Ouch! That’s not playing fair!

Right now I have Kasabian in the deck. Thanks to Clickradian AG for the tip. I had seen them on Letterman, then saw their video on Mexican MTV. So we have critical mass. The story here is that BMG copy-protected the thing so it won’t just play in a CD-ROM drive. Oh no you di ‘nt! Forced me to copy WMA files and play those. Hey BMG, that sucks. Especially since I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t listen to mp3s. I listen to CDs exclusively. Oh well, I guess it’s just a challenge to get at the uncompressed audio.

The “Team America: World Police” DVD is out, and if you saw the theatrical release, it’s still worth watching to see the stuff they had to cut out to avoid an X-rating. Once again, the songs make the picture. I particularly like “Pearl Harbor Sucks and I Miss You.” Which brings me back to that Sith business. I don’t want to write too much about. In the New Yorker review, the writer can barely keep to the subject (look, the movie is just plain bad) and supposes that it would have been more effective as a silent picture. No dialogue, just the music. I agree, but even better would have been puppets! The puppet acting and dialogue in Team America was for the most part more convincing than what Lucas accomplished. How does he do it? He must put his stars through the “de-actorizing machine.”

You didn’t really think I was going to buy a car did you?

Another sad day for NYC

Bobby Short died this morning. Just two weeks ago I wrote a short list of things I needed to do right away; seeing Bobby Short play his gig at the Carlyle was number 1 on the list. Number 2 was to see Les Paul do his show at the Iridium; we’re hoping to do that tonight.

Sweety Das Küken and other weird iMemes

On my last few working trips to Europe, I would tune in to German MTV from time to time. Somehow inanity dubbed or subtitled into German is more engaging than plain old English inanity. But if you watch for more than a few minutes, you will see, endlessly repeated, these bizarre little commercials for special songs and ringtones to download into your mobile phone (that is, after they’re permanently encoded into your neural network) … The most popular one seems to be this little singing and dancing chick called Sweety das Küken. If you’ve never seen Sweety, maybe that’s for the best. If you’re really curious, go ahead and google, but mostly you will find video along the lines of “Sweety in a Blender,” the sure-fire sign of Internet mega-memedom. (Europeans are now completely obsessed with the customized ringtones. It’s not uncommon to see a senior executive at the second largest company in France run out of a meeting clutching a phone blaring something ridiculous like Dragostea Din Tei, a hit Romanian techno tune.)

And if you happen to make a video of yourself chair-dancing (Roadie!) to this same techno tune, you become instantly famous a la William Hung. This story has hit the Times a few days ago. If you haven’t seen the video yet, you owe it to yourself to watch. For me, I think the kid is genuinely talented, if a little misguided. Sorry to hear that he’s so distressed by all this unwanted attention.

I don’t know how I managed to miss it the first time around, but in 2003 a teenager from Quebec, who became known as the Star Wars Kid, inspired countless video post-production hacks to produce hundreds of minutes of video based on the kid’s 1:48 clip of himself practicing Jedi arts. This one is funny to watch too, but the attention SWK got was a little more mean spirited. Just google “star wars kid” and you’ll be amazed at how much stuff is out there.

And it’s not an iMeme, but Roxy Music’s “Do the Strand” must be a virus from outer space…

Numa Numa, Yay!