Alternate Tuning

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Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, United States

Sunday, October 31, 2004

"A Weird Burt Bacharach Tropicalismo" Thing

That's how Jim White described the recorded version of "Static on the Radio" that he performed in concert last night. It's that kind of humility and humor that made White's show one of the best I've seen in years. He performed entirely by himself, introducing various pedals and effects as his band. He relied on a Boss loop machine and pre-recorded drum tracks for his backing, but it was his voice and lyrics that really made the show. That, and the toy stereo and melodica he employed. As a bonus, he played just under half his songs on a "banjocaster" that a friend had built for him.

White told stories between every song. Usually such talking irritates me at shows, but White's such an outstanding storyteller that the 2 hours of the concert flew by. Every tale -- whether about the making of his film, visits to Pentecostal services, or the recent hurricanes to hit his hometown of Pensacola -- fascinated me. White spoke honestly and openly, even thanking an audience member for bringing a child, because it warmed his heart while he was missing his 6-year-old daughter. He comes off exactly as he would describe himself, as a regular guy who liked playing guitar in his bedroom and ended up in the uncomfortable world of entertainment. The only way he seemed uncomfortable, though, was in the use of all his technology.

Bonus: He didn't leave the stage before the encore, commenting on how absurd that tradition seems.

This show was White's last one in the States before heading to Europe, but I can't recommend strongly enough that you try to catch him on his next tour, and pick up the new album, Drill a Hole....

Friday, October 29, 2004

Strictly Academic

My first true academic piece appears today in Chapter&Verse. It's on Jay-Z, John Coltrane, Amiri Baraka, Public Enemy, reader response, politics, etc. Go read.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

1918 in music

No links on this entry because, as Manny would say, "You make your own destination."

The music world in 1918:

Ella Fitzgerald and Leonard Bernstein were busy being born (but not together), Al Jolson was in fine form, Bartok has his swerve on, and people are into songs like "Hinky Dinky Parlay Voo" (cf. Dos Passos), "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm," "Tishomigo Blues," "Tiger Rag" by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and Enrico Caruso's "Over There." The Jazz Age wasn't fully underway yet and King Oliver had just become a bandleader.

I said no links, but let me just refer to,, and as great resources for this time of information.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

That High Numbers Show

I've been listening quite a bit to that High Numbers concert I mentioned yesterday, which seems to have taken place 11/24/64, to the best I can determine. It's exciting to hear the Who in such an early stage -- they're not nearly as good as they'd get, but the energy's there. Moon's barely in control, and I wonder how the sound came off to teenagers at the time. Was it as shocking as I'd guess it was?

I still disagree, but I can understand the people who say the group was all downhill after its first three singles. There's a rawness here that makes it feel like everything's just about to break into pieces. The group also puts off this sexual energy that they don't really have anywhere else, unless maybe on the '69-'70 tours (I'm thinking especially of "Young Man Blues" and "Shakin' All Over" from that era).

I'm a little confused about the mp3s, though -- I suspect there's some repeating and mis-ordering, but I don't have anything firm to go on, so I'm just offering this as a thought to anyone else listening.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Don't Forget Your Luna

Today Luna releases its final album, Rendezvous. The reviews have been mixed, but I quite like it.

Collection of Live Shows

Head over to this site for an incredible collection of live shows. The only thing I've listened to so far is a High Numbers (the Who) concert from 1964, when they were still playing mostly R&B covers. I'm actually astonished by some of this performance, such as their rendition of "Green Onions."

Monday, October 25, 2004

The Stylus Blog

There's an interesting section of Stylus called the Turntable, which is a blog for their writers. I should be appearing there soon, but you can visit now to check out my "currently listening" picks. It's a fun idea -- and one I just haven't had the time to implement here.

Pick of the Week 10/25/04

Spaceheads -- Spaceheads (Dark Beloved Cloud) 1995

Sunday, October 24, 2004

New Releases This Week

Nick Cave -- Abattoir Blues / Lyre of Orpheus
Leonard Cohen -- Dear Heather
Albert Collins -- Thaw out at the Fillmore
Groove Armada -- Best of Groove Armada
Luna -- Rendezvous
The Juan Maclean -- I Robot
Massive Attack -- Danny the Dog
Nels Cline Singers -- Giant Pin
Arthur Russell -- World of Echo
Sigur Ros -- Recycling Bin
Sigur Ros -- Von
Various Artists -- This Is Indie Rock (Deep Elm)

Friday, October 22, 2004

PopMatters Turns 5!

Click here to go to the PopMatters Fifth Anniversary Special. We've put together a collection of the best writing to appear over the last five years in a variety of categories, and there's really some pretty incredible stuff.

Just to toot my own horn, my TV on the Radio review made the cut...

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Iron and Wine vs. Devendra Banhart

I have to take issue with this article from Nude as the News.

Problem One:
'Still, it's difficult to describe in any specific or tangible terms what separates Banhart from Iron and Wine, though perhaps they're not quantitatively different. Perhaps the difference is simply that Nino Rojo was made by a Texan with an Indian name who was raised in a Caracas slum, and that it's got that indescribable something that can make the line "I wanna live in Jamaica blah blah blah blah blah blah" seem meaningful and important.'

No need to prop this album up for cultural reasons (it's trad folk) or, more insidiously, to exoticize the performer.

Problem Two:
'where Iron and Wine is wallowing its own lifelessness, Banhart is jumping with life and possibility.'

Nothing about I&W is lifeless. Slow and quiet, yes, but not lifeless. It's a lovely and complex album full of restraint. Banhart has some of those qualities, too -- moreso on this album than on his last one -- but he's not nearly the lyricist or performer that Sam Beam is. It's also a big critical mistake to judge I&W's restraint and melancholy through a lens that's focused on Banhart's jumpingness and energy. Despite both acts being from the same loose genre, the artists are really doing different things.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Good News for People Who Like Good News for Me

I've added a writing gig. Starting this week, I'm going to be doing reviews and other articles for Stylus Magazine. I think they've got a great crop of writers, and I'm looking forward to joining them.

Mos Def's Appropriately-Titled New Album

I'm only on the fourth track of The New Danger, but so far it's an absolute disaster. Please tell me it gets better...

Monday, October 18, 2004

London Booted

You ought to head over to Culture Deluxe to download yourself a copy of London Booted (and give to charity if you feel like it). This set came together as a challenge to DJs to do remixes of London Calling (one of my all-time top five albums, boring a pick as that may be). The tracks have been assembled in the album's original order, and they range from simple mashups with hip hop vocals over Clash music to barely recognizable remixes. It's a little uneven, but a very fun oddity. The top pick here is probably "Bubba's Got a Brand New Cadillac," which throws Bubba Sparxxx's "Ugly" on top of "Brand New Cadillac," but "Burnin'" comes close.

Pick of the Week 10/18/04

Dorothy Love Coates and the Original Gospel Harmonettes
-- The Best of Dorothy Love Coates & the Original Gospel Harmonettes, Vols. 1-2
(Specialty) 1991

Friday, October 15, 2004

PopMatters Honor

Good news at PopMatters: The newest release in the Da Capo Best Music Writing series is going to have two of our articles. One is by Mark Anthony Neal on Marvin Gaye and R. Kelly, and the other is by Lynne D. Johnson on Dre, Eminem, and 50 Cent. Big congrats to these writers and to PM in general.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Still Looking Good to Me

I saw a very good show at Tokyo Rose last night, headlined by Saturday Looks Good to Me.

The opening act, from near-by Harrisonburg, was Shapiro. They're equal parts Ben Gibbard, Sunny Day Real Esate, and the Unicorns, playing a quirky post-emo rock. The group's pretty tight, but they're not there yet. Special props for the drummer's energy, the guitarist's hair, and the Gibbard-frontman's ability to look like a cuter Will Ferrell that probably really appeals to the teenage girls.

The second band, the Fairburn Royals or something like that, played a steady sort of nerd-rock, but they couldn't get me or most of the audience into it.

I was getting a little drowsy (being the old man on the scene), but SLGTM perked me right up. They're down to a six-piece for the tour (the same members as pictured on the back of the new album). Their sound was more saxophone-heavy than I remembered from the CDs, and they definitely play harder live. In this format, the band's touchstones seem earlier than I had thought before -- more toward the late '50s or early '60s leading into the girl groups of that era, esp. Martha and the Vandellas.

I had tended to think of the group as more of a collective, but they played pretty tight last night and, more important, they really seemed to enjoy each other on stage, exchanging jokes and gags all evening, adding to the fun. The bassist must have great ears, as he handled the tuning throughout and seemed to be the tonal foundation (which makes sense). Fred Thomas played "When the Party Ends" solo and had a great time (as did the 2 or 3 bandmates who came out front to watch him). He added a bunch of silly rhymes to the song and interacted with the crowd, making my favorite cut off the album even more of my favorite. The band closed with still-high energy and I barely restrained myself from offering my floor when they announced that they still had nowhere to spend the night.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Cober-Lake on Dylan on Dylan

I'm just back from 4 wonderful vacation days in the woods of Virginia's Northern Neck. I spent much of that time reading volume one of Bob Dylan's new autobiography, Chronicles. It's a fantastic read, which I could barely bring myself to put down until I finished it last night. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Oh Mercy, one of my favorite Dylan albums (behind Blood on the Tracks and Bringing It All Back Home). The insight into the writing and recording process fascinated me, and Dylan provided a close look at what it's like to work with Lanois.

I liked seeing Dylan's reaction to meeting the people he looked up to, not only big figures like Archibald MacLeish, but also less well-known people from the '60s like Dave Van Ronk.

The book also has a nice structure. It's roughly chronological, but with flashbacks and one big jump ahead (from the early '70s to Oh Mercy. Highly, highly recommended for any fans of Dylan or the Village scene or folk music in general.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Pick of the Week 10/11/04

Arthur Russell -- The World of Arthur Russell (Soul Jazz Records UK) 2004

Convenience and the Cost of Free Music

Rob Horning has a great Marginal Utility column in PopMatters today. He makes some insightful points about the results of increasing convenience, the complicity of both the consumer and the industry in the music business (no individual v. corporation paradigms here), and music as artifact. It's a reflection on Benjamin and piracy, and, since at least one of those concerns many of you, Rob's article is well worth reading.

I think his reduction of music to convenience or collectible is a bit extreme, but basically he's right on. With so much music up for grabs, it can be hard to lock into an album and listen to it until its yours. I think the music world's shifting through this idea a bit now (ILM had some discussion the other day that I'm not going to track down). Just what does it mean when anyone can have access to the super-rare record? Part of me really supports the democratization of musical distribution, but the elitist side of me (larger than I'd like to admit) wants to have those artifacts, to make those surprising discoveries in used music stores. I still enjoy tracking down difficult-to-find music, but often it's more about tracking down the bargain than the music itself. Anything you want, you can hear with relative ease these days. Even a Mud Hutters' EP and Ten Wheel Drive material didn't give me too much trouble. But how much more would I appreciate them had I spent a year digging through bins? How much better off am I with an extra year to enjoy them?

By the way, after today I won't be posting for a while, so I'll get next week's pick up today. Don't go away (the three of you) during my vacation.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

To the 5 Buroughs

I'm surprised to discover myself really enjoying the new Beastie Boys album. I don't know how this happened.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Greatest Band in All the Land

I've never heard them, but this band has to be the greatest ever.

Music for Sadistic Dentists

If I were a dentist who hated his patients, I'd play DNA on DNA every time I did a painful procedure, like scraping an abscess. "You & You" backing the drill -- that would get those no-flossing slackers in line.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Joanna Newsom

Everyone needs to read these comments from Joanna Newsom, in a recent tinymixtapes interview:
I think it would be unconscionable to conceal my political leanings right now, because I think the world is in a state where such preferences transcend "politics," and begin to more closely resemble the true determinants of life and death, decisions upon which the psychic and emotional health of our country and world are hinged. This vote we're preparing for will either bring us leadership that will cast a dark shadow over all of our hearts and the future of the world, or leadership that could move us in a direction of reparation, connectedness, accountability, humanitarianism.... Not to romanticize the ever-increasingly-moderate democratic party, but the alternative is so ugly, so poisonous, so corrupt, fueled by a hatred and greed and heartlessness and fear that seep outward into every American's experience of life, attempting to justify the damage our administration is doing to the rest of the world--and concealing the reality of how deeply hated we are. This is the stuff of insomnia, hysteria, for me.

Me in Trouser Press

Not a WWF description, just a notice that my article on !!! is up on Trouser Press now. I don't have the majority take on the band, but I do have the right one.

Dizzee v. Wiley

The two hot British MCs right now are Dizzee and Wiley. It seems like they used to be buds until Dizzee patted some girl's bum and Wiley went home sleepy and Dizzee got stabbed. I'm with Wiley here -- you get tired and your boy's acting like an ass, go home. Not that D should have been stabbed, of course.

On the records, I'm going with Dizzee. I get up more hearing it, but mainly I pick him because he threatens to punch me in the nostrils and punch me in the shins, which is crazy. Most peeps who talk about nose-hits are talking the tip. With a precision nostril-punch in his arsenal, I want Dizzee watching my back. Let alone the shin-punch, picture: DR drops to one knee and throws the ninja punch to the tibula!

Wiley, for his biggest strength, has the most Atari beats I've heard in 20 years, and I'm loving it. Sometimes when I'm listening I black out and have these visions of swinging on vines and jumping on alligators' heads. My next project is going to be playing three hours of River Raid, Frostbite, and Jungle King; then sampling the sounds and getting MF Doom to rhyme over it. We'll release it as Herb Qbert and the Caleco Brass.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Pick of the Week 10/4/04

The Mud Hutters -- Declaration (Defensive Records UK) 1979.

Weekend at the Symphony

I'm back in town now after a trip up to PA to hear the new piece from Todd Goodman, premiered by the Altoona Symphony. As always, Todd was very impressive. This piece utilized samples of presidential speeches. He had a sort of narrative arc, but the piece was built much more as an emotional reflection on our past 60 years of war, response, and recovery.

Ju-Young Baek performed Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, and I was astonished.

You can't go wrong with Goodman music, but let me recommend Fields of Crimson, mainly because I worked on it and if you buy it I'll get paid. I have no shame, and I'm proud of it.