Wednesday, September 26, 2007

My Three Songs - from the halfpod

When I got my ipod a few years ago I thought it wouldn't take much time to fill it to the maximum 7,500 songs. I'm pretty compulsive. Well, I've only just hit 3,750, 2-1/2 years later. I almost always set my entire music collection on shuffle and let the ipod do its thing, and I still marvel at what seems to be artificial intelligence. I've got about 400 Dylan songs on my ipod, yet on shuffle I'll hear Bob growling High Water after a Howlin' Wolf tune, followed by the Black Keys. A perfect trio. How does it do it? Allow me to share a few tunes from this week:

When I plugged the 3,750 song ipod in Monday morning for the shuffle, the first track to pop up was Hell is Chrome, probably my favorite Wilco song. It's a hypnotic dirge that reminds me of the Band, complete with the beautiful harmonies of the kind that Richard Manuel and Robbie Robertson used to hit. And I love the screaming guitar break in the middle.

Wilco - Hell Is Chrome

The album that pushed me over the halfway point this week was Boxer, by the National. Lots of buzz over this album, and rightly so. The music evokes Bryan Ferry, The The and Joy Division, brooding, reflective, and engrossing with each repeated listen. The track that immediately caught my ear is Apartment Story, one of the more up tempo tracks on the disc. There's something about the vocals and lyrics that is just magnetic. This one will most definitely make my best-of 2007 list.

The National - Apartment Story

Third, a Forgotten Record from the 80's. I've started digitizing my old vinyl, and I pulled out a 12-inch single by the Hoodoo Gurus, a song called Bittersweet from their album Mars Needs Guitars. It's a perfect pop-rock gem, and I remember going nuts over this song for a few weeks in 1985 (or 86?). The Gurus were overshadowed by their Aussie brethren INXS and Midnight Oil, but this is a great song that you will hum the rest of the day. These guys are still at it, and currently on tour.

Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet

Ok, time to start on songs 3,751 to 7,500.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

All the world's a stage, but what's with the chickens?

“Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.” The more that things change, the more they stay the same, sang Geddy Lee in the 1978 tune Circumstances. In April, 1980 I saw Rush at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. Dry ice, lasers, bursts of flame and a bombastic trio of Canadian rockers. Last Saturday night, I did almost exactly the same thing, only at an outdoor venue and with my 12-year old son. It was a little surreal, hanging out before the show, me with a beer, my son with a large Mountain Dew, checking out the Loop rock girls and the general goings on. Souvenirs have gone from $10 cheap black T-shirts with 2 pounds of glitter (remember those?) to $75 tour jerseys. There were quite a few young kids with their parents; otherwise, not much has changed. It’s the long lines, wafting smoke, the pre-show anticipation, and the collective roar when the lights go down, and it still thrills me today. I thought back to my first big rock show (Boston, at the Chicago Stadium, 1977) and hoped my son felt the same way. I realize that the window for us to share rock concerts will quickly close because it’s not cool to be seen at a show with your old man, but until he can drive, there might be a few more in our future.

As for the band, they were incredible. They played for nearly three hours with only a short break, jamming ferociously, with tight musicianship. It’s great to watch a band that still really enjoys what they do. They would hunker down in front of Peart’s drum kit and smile to one another as they worked out their complex tunes. After 33 years, you can immediately see that it’s still fun for them, and that’s what matters.

And what about those chickens? Rush has always had humorous side, able to poke a little fun at themselves in the midst of the philosophical lyrics and prog-rock bombast. On one side of the stage behind Alex Lifeson were the obligatory Marshall stack amplifiers. Behind Geddy Lee were three ovens of the same height as the amps, containing rotisserie chickens. Occasionally, a chef would come out and tend to the chickens during the music. Why? Why not? We were also treated to little video snippets during set, including the South Park dudes trying to play Tom Sawyer, and an over-the-top drum solo with a rotating drum set and a ridiculous number of percussion instruments (actually, this was serious, and Neil Peart is amazing). All in all, a splendid time was had by all, and for $17.00, less then I’ve paid for parking at some other recent shows.

Here’s a blast from the past – Bastille Day, from the classic double live album All the World’s A Stage, 1976. Rock on!

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Monday, September 10, 2007

New Music Monday - Blitzen Trapper

I was hoping to write about Blitzen Trapper before I saw any coverage in the mainstream media, but alas, they were in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. This Portland, Oregon based band is about as unclassifiable as they come, and that’s what I find appealing. Many new bands have a signature sound that courses through their records, sometimes to the point of repetition. Or their musical influences are too blatant, and the music sounds unoriginal. Their newest CD, Wild Mountain Nation, is incredibly imaginative, while also drawing on a vast array of influences. I hear the Dead, the Band, progressive, garage, psychedelic, pop, country, just to name a few. There’s classic rock and contemporary rock influences holding everything together. It’s really inventive stuff, and despite the chaos, its coherent, enjoyable music. In fact, it’s one of my favorite records so far this year. Maybe one of my favorite band names in recent years, too. The other thing I like about these guys is the grass roots marketing and self promotion. They’re local guys on the verge of big things.

Listen to Sci-Fi Kid

Go here for a cover version of Heart's Crazy On You


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Time is a jet plane, it moves too fast

It has been over a month since I've written anything in this blog. It's a classic case of too much to do, and too little time. Truth be told, I've been immersed in the biggest project of my career, and it has overshadowed most everything this summer, least of all this little blog. I've dedicated my career to keeping old buildings from falling down, and these images of my 1931 public school renovation project are but a very small fraction of the work at hand. There's light at the end of the tunnel though.

I will also admit a little bit of writer's block lately, and more than a little feeling of inadequacy in the wide ol' blogosphere. There are so many great music related blogs out there that do an incredible job of staying current and publishing regularly that my ramblings often seem irrevelant. Nevertheless, the purpose of this blog is not solely to inform, but to share my thoughts and some occasional music. Every once in a while, I get a nice comment from a reader, and that's enough to keep going. I've also had some problems with Ezarchive, the low cost, and increasingly insufficent file sharing site that I use to post my music files. And what's a music blog without music? I could switch to much better sites, but these will cost me. I'm trying out hipcast, see below.

Ok, enough whining. I will attempt to get back on track in the coming weeks. One of my missions with this blog was to revisit my vinyl music collection, which I haven't touched in 20 years, and slowly begin the process of digitizing the music, sharing some along the way. Over the years I've only replaced the bare essentials in CD format. I have lot of great stuff on vinyl that was a huge a part of my life until I bought that first CD player in 1986. Well I now have the technology, a basic USB turntable and software to convert the wax to wav files and mp3s. This week, for the first time in over 20 years, I actually pulled a vinyl record out of it's sleeve and dropped a needle in the groove. There was something really pleasant about this little ceremony, looking at the gatefold cover while the music played. I rarely listen to music at home; typically it's in my car or at work, on the ipod. I'm looking forward weeding though all this vinyl and just sitting down and listening.
Of course, there's the pops, hiss and scratches. We've been conditioned to reject any and all background noise in the digital age, even if it's at the expense of fidelity and rich sound. I have a few software programs that can filter out some of crackle, but I'm not going to obsess over it. It's nostalgic, and really the crackle is only there in the dead space.

The first record I pulled out is David Gilmour's outstanding eponymous 1978 debut album. One of the best solo albums by a group member that comes to mind, it reminds me that what I love about Pink Floyd is Gilmour's extraordinary guitar playing, and smooth voice. Waters may have been the brains behind Floyd, but Gilmour's talent just soars.

The popular track from this record is There's No Way Out Here, but I've chosen So Far Away, the second track from Side 1 (yes kiddies, there are 2 sides and we really did have to get up flip the disk after 22 minutes). If you like Pink Floyd but you're unfamilar with Gilmour's solo material, you owe it to yourself to buy this record.

David Gilmour - So Far Away

More to come, I promise.

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