Music Archives

September 12, 2006

Country Club and the Porn Horns

The thing that distinguishes Country Club and the Porn Horns from most other bands in the NYC music scene is front and center in their live show-- a three-person horn section. Matt Kelly (tenor sax), Will Hoffman (trumpet), Scott Zillitto (alto & bari sax) give Country Club and the Porn Horns an enormous sound that brings to mind Tower of Power, Fishbone, Frank Zappa and the Blues Brothers Band. The band's sound draws on classic rock, ska, and funk to sound unique and fun. And LOUD. Don't forget loud.


Last month, the band released a new 7", 2 Under Par.

Tonight, Country Club and the Porn Horns play at Sin-e.

Download songs from 2 Under Par, Friends Don't Make Forearms and The Station Wagon Revolution in The Country Club Media Room.
Stream music at myspace.

September 15, 2006

Balkan Beat Box

When I first saw Balkan Beat Box last year at Irving Plaza, I was amazed to see a band that got a New York crowd dancing. BBB combines jazz and electronic beats with klezmer, balkan and near eastern influences in a way that is fun and danceable.

Founded by Tamir Muskat and Ori Kaplan, Balkan Beat Box is joined on stage with a variety of singers, horn players, guitarists and percussionist to create something that is very unique and all kinds of awesome.


Balkan Beat Box plays Southpaw tomorrow night (Saturday Sept. 15)

Stream tracks from their self-titled debut album on JDUB records at the Balkan Beat Box website or buy at iTunes.

October 9, 2006

Logjam? Logjam!

Logjam has a new video for "The South Will Rise Again":

October 10, 2006

WOXY is back!

Thanks to La La, WOXY returns to the net today and is once again a free service. More details at the Digital Music Weblog: La La aquires WOXY, streaming radio gets kick in the pants. WOXY mk.III is set to become not just a streaming radio station, but to become more of a recommendation community. As WOXY already hosted a popular set of music discussion message boards, this could become very interesting.

At the very least, it is one more outlet that is devoted to introducing listeners to new music. Upcoming Lounge Acts will include Headlights (today!), The Purrs, Asobi Seksu and The Wrens.

October 12, 2006

What about vinyl?

More people are buying their music online, rather than on CD. According to the IFPI, "18 per cent of recorded music sales [are] now being made through digital channels. Digital music sales in the US increased by 84 per cent to US$ 513 million in the first six months of 2006."

Earl Greyhound

Earl Greyhound may have the best combination of stage presence and performance of any band in NYC. Seriously, they're that good. The power trio, with Matt Whyte (guitar/vocals), Kamara Thomas (bass/vocals) and Ricc Sheridan (drums) powers through their songs with vigor and volume in a throwback to bands like Zeppelin and T.Rex.

As much as I dug Earl Greyhound the first couple of times I saw them play this year (with the Walk Ons opening at Mercury in January and at a Deli show at Asterix in May), not many of their songs stood out. In both of those sets, the performances were notable, but I didn't walk out humming any songs. Of course, the Asterix show was a veritable sonic assault from every angle.

But Saturday's CD release show at The Annex was a revelation. While some of the EG catalog is still searching for a hook, the band played a couple of stand out songs ("All Better Now," and "S.O.S.") After listening to Soft Targets a few times, there are enough hooks and style variations. In particular, "It's Over" and "Yeah I Love You" are lighter and poppier, but don't forget how to rock.




But, Earl Greyhound are just such great performers that they could play a set of only "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and it would still rock.

Earl Greyhound S.O.S. [Some Records]
Earl Greyhound [Myspace]

Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker, Off to the Races: "Whether or not Earl Greyhound are the Next Big Thing is irrelevant—watching them will convince you that they are.

Kevin O'Donnell, The Village Voice: Hard Targets: The rockneck-inducing splendor of Earl Greyhound.

To-do: Bamboo Kids at Magnetic Field, Friday

Tomorrow night, The Bamboo Kids are having a CD release show at Magnetic Field. The new album, "Feel Like Hell," will be on Empty Records.

The Bamboo Kids are on the most consistently fun local acts. They're just playing straightforward top quality garage rock with some edge.

Magnetic Field is one of my favorite venues. They don't have live music every night, but when they do, it's usually someone worthwhile seeing. And, it doesn't hurt that it's in the neighborhood.

October 27, 2006

CMJ Considerations

So, CMJ is next week. We're not playing this year, and without some other source of a badge ("hi, I blog at a site that has a readership of, um, me"), I won't hit all that many shows. But going through the schedule, here are a few that look promising, in no particular order:

(There are only a few names I recognize on the Tuesday schedule and even fewer that I've heard. This may be the night to just pick a venue at random):

  • Medeski Martin and Wood (Hammerstein, 9:00)
  • Golem (Mo Pitkins, 10:00)
  • The Eames Era (Knitting Factory Tap Bar, 9:30)


  • The Mugs (Magnetic Field, 9:00)
  • Tigers and Monkeys (Fontanas, midnight)
  • Man In Gray, The Unsacred Hearts, The Octagon, Kickstart, Dracula Zombie USA (Knitting Factory Old Office)
    A rare entire lineup that is NYC-centric (since it is the showcase for local label Serious Business)
  • Laura Cantrell, Steve Earle and Allison Moorer (Southpaw)
    For the alt-country set
  • Other Passengers, The Gritty Midi Gang (Union Pool)
    Other Passengers are loud. Very loud. In a good way.
  • Dr. Dog, Cold War Kids, Tapes n' Tapes (The Bowery Ballroom)
    It's the blog-buzz show of the night. None of these bands are super-amazing, but they are what's hot with the kids these days. It's sold out, so does that mean that CMJ resurrected the bands the blogs killed?


  • John Medeski meets Kid Koala (Merkin Hall)
    This could be all kinds of awesome, or all kinds of awful-- no middle ground
  • The Wrens, The Walkmen (NYU)
  • Charles Bissell (The Slipper Room)
    This is scheduled for the same time as The Wrens show at NYU? How is that possible?
  • Goes Cube (The Delancey, 11:00)
    None of their songs have titles. All are simply "Goes Cube Song #X." Playing songs by the number would confuse the crap out of me. Fortunately, they've saved the creativity for the music.
  • Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin (Europa)
    I have no idea if they are any good, but they have the best band name ever
  • Bling Kong (Fontanas, 11:30)
  • Nicole Atkins and the Sea (Mercury Lounge, 8:00)
  • Jonny Lives! (Crash Mansion, 10:00)
  • Proton Proton (Trash, 8:00)


  • The Decemberists (Hammerstein Ballroom)
  • Longwave, Albert Hammond, Jr., Tokyo Police Club (Mercury Lounge)
  • Thunderbirds Are Now! (Pianos, midnight)

  • The Teeth (The Delancey, 11:30)
  • George Clinton & the 420 Funk Mob (Crash Mansion, 11:30)
    Yes, THE George Clinton
  • Goat Explosion (Fontanas, 9:00)
    Formerly Elkland. No idea if they're any good, but it's the best band name that doesn't reference Boris Yeltsin


  • The Mooney Suzuki, The Dansettes (Rebel)
  • Earl Greyhound (The Delancey, midnight)
  • Logjam (Pussycat Lounge, 10:00)
  • The Head Set (Trash, 8:00)

This doesn't include any concurrent non-CMJ shows. Is there anything I've missed?

Vertically Integrated Venues

The NY Times looks at the state of the rock music club ecosystem in the city: Where the Beat Goes On: "For every Bottom Line or Fez or Continental that has shut down or quit live music in the last couple of years, a Rockwood Music Hall, Union Hall or Studio B has opened up — and maybe a Fontana’s or Club Midway as well. And in the next few months, at least five major spaces are set to open, giving the city’s rock infrastructure its most substantial expansion in years."

The most interesting part of the article is the development of the "vertically integrated" booking chain and the competition between Live Nation (ClearChannel) and The Bowery Presents. The Bowery group did secure the lease on Northsix and will renovate it, add upstairs balconies, and convert it into the "Music Hall of Williamsburg."

Further east, the Times reveals that Live Nation will have a hand in booking the new ~300 person capacity Luna Lounge. Live Nation is also adding Rebel (formerly Downtime on W.30th St, cap. 325) and the Gramercy Theater on 23rd St. (cap. 600) to its venue roster.

Are there enough acts able fill these medium/large rooms?

Previously: Williamsburg Mega-Venue Coming?

November 1, 2006

Halloween with Goes Cube and Boris Yeltsin

Goes Cube and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin at Union Hall

Goes Cube Photo #2
Goes Cube Photo #1

Goes Cube Photo #1
Goes Cube Photo #2

Goes Cube is loud, intense and dark. They have hooks amidst the sonic assault, so the takeaway is more than just distortion and double-bass pedal polyrhythms. Even though the songs are all titled "Goes Cube Song #X," each has its own character.

Goes Cube is playing at Guero? on Thursday afternoon and at The Delancey Thursday night (11 pm).

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Another person was taking a photo of a band with blog buzz? That's a real shock. But at the exact same instant? Well, that is different. And yes, this probably would have been a good venue to experiment with flash photography for a change. Even at ISO 800, the F30 can't get good photos with this little light sans flash.

Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin is the best band name EVAR! No, seriously, it's brilliant. It got me to get to this show early despite never having heard anything from this band. The closest point of reference is probably The Shins, with perhaps a bit more edge.

They're in town for the week, playing tonight at Pianos, tomorrow afternoon at the CMJ daystage at Avery Fisher Hall, tomorrow night at Europa (in Greenpoint) and Saturday afternoon out at Asbury Lanes.

November 6, 2006


Jon Pareles rounds up CMJ in the Times: The CMJ Big Break? Not Such a Big Deal: "Bands aren’t waiting for their big break anymore. Or if they are, they’re keeping mighty busy in the meantime. That was the gist of this year’s CMJ Music Marathon, the showcase for independent music that expanded to five days this year, presenting music day and night from last Tuesday through Saturday."

This is more of a broader overview of the trends and implications of the entire festival than the detailed micro-level reviews in the blogs.

Also in the Times today, The Bowery Presents is showing that they have a good PR person, with another article about their purchase of Northsix and the club's impending transformation into the Williamsburg Music Hall: Polishing the Grunge: "Williamsburg is not losing a rock club, then, but gaining one that may be more suited to its current state of gentrification, to the 40-story condos being planned along the East River nearby. Where Northsix has distressed, paint-caked wood floors and rudimentary high-school-style risers, the Music Hall will have balconies and a big-city gloss."

November 7, 2006

Ra Ra Ruh?

I've never heard anything from Ra Ra Riot, but Heart on a Stick posted the definitive bad review of the band: I Wouldn’t Like Death If Death Were Good, Not Even if Death Were Good: "Ra Ra Riot makes the sort of music that would cause entire villages in Africa to machete themselves to death."

November 9, 2006

Devin Davis

Devin Davis released one of my favorite albums of 2005 with "Lonely People of the World, Unite!"
I can't say how much I enjoy this album. Some of the high points include the badass squonky sax solo on "Iron Woman," the sheer joy of glam-stomper "Moon Over Shark City," the swagger of riff heavy "Transcendental Sports Anthem," and the twisted tale of driving down the road with Willie Nelson in "Cannons at the Courthouse." It's hard to resist the charms of "Giant Spiders," when the song shifts from the catchy chorus to screaming with reckless abandon "we'll be fine if we can survive the giant spiders!" (You can hear the exclamation point in the singing.) With quirky lyrics, solid songwriting chops, and everything but the kitchen sink instrumentation, this album is just a lot of fun.

Iron Woman
Turtle and the Flightless Bird

No, it's not a new album, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun. Davis is in the midst of recording his follow-up for a 2007 release.

Buy Lonely People of the World, Unite!

Sixeyes: Devin Davis Interview

November 24, 2006

Fortunate Son

While they're not quite in their heyday, it's still pretty damn cool to see John Fogerty play "Fortunate Son" with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band:

December 8, 2006

Reviewing the Reviewers

Time Out NY rates this town's music critics. They give the top nod to The New Yorker's Sasha Frere-Jones, followed closely by the Times' Kelefa Sanneh.

December 18, 2006

Agents of Good Roots

Agents of Good Roots, my favorite underappreciated band of the late 90's, is playing a couple of their occassional reunion shows this week in DC and Richmond:

Thursday, 12/21/06
Iota Club
2832 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201

Friday, 12/22/06
Alley Katz
10 Walnut Alley
Richmond, VA 23223

December 29, 2006

7 Favorite albums of 2006

I've been alerted that if I don't post one of these before the end of the year, the music blogger community will shun me. Even more.

Eh, what the heck. Here are 7:

  • Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
    They're not as good as the hype would make them out to be, but this album is still excellent. And it's their debut album?

  • The Bamboo Kids - Feel Like Hell
    Is this a cheat? Most of these songs were released on "This Ain't No Revolution" in Europe last year. Whatever. It's still a lot of fun.

  • The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
    Prog-rock sea shanties. Put that way, it sounds really unappealing, but it's actually all kinds of awesome

  • Gnarls Barkley - St. Elsewhere
    "Crazy" is this year's "Hey Ya!" How can you not like it?

  • Earl Greyhound - Soft Targets
    Have I mentioned how Earl Greyhound is all kinds of awesome?

  • The Hold Steady - Boys and Girls in America
    They don't sound alike, but thematically, this is the cool uncle to the Arctic Monkeys album

  • The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
    Straight-up straight-forward fun

And the "It was released last year, but I didn't get it and listen obsessively until this year" album of the year is Devin Davis - Lonely People of the World, Unite!

Elsewhere; 2006 Music Bloggregate

January 9, 2007

Poor Gary

Van Halen, the Ronettes, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, R.E.M. and Patti Smith will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year. The Times reports that both David Lee Roth and Sammy Hagar will be inducted with the Halen, but that there will be no love for interim sub Gary Cherone: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Backs New Members.

January 24, 2007


Mancino is yet another band from Brooklyn. The three piece is set to release their new full-length, Manners Matter next week, preceded by a CD release party at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday, Jan. 27.

Here's the fun and clever video for the catchy (if hard to spell) song "Hetchie Hutchie Footchie."

February 2, 2007

The Walk Ons at Southpaw

A high-energy performance from The Walk Ons at Southpaw:





April 2, 2007

The Apples in Stereo

I've been enjoying the latest album from The Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder. The songs are densely-layered poppy and catchy. And while I'm not a fan of the songlets-- short transition pieces between the songs, the core songs are well-done-- Energy and Same Old Drag jump out as two of the stronger tracks.

This video for Same Old Drag is fun, too:

June 22, 2007

Magnetic Field and Music in the 'hood

While at Magnetic Field last night to see Goes Cube count up some of their new songs (the debuted Goes Cube songs numbered 47, 48 and 49), I realized that I've seen some excellent bands play the Field recently that I've been meaning to write about.

Low Red Land trekked out from San Francisco to play some shows in their old east coast stomping grounds. They've become very excellent, conjuring the sounds of country-tinged Americana twisted through distortion. I'm not quite sure how to classify their music-- maybe the alcoholic bastard offspring of Neil Young, Sonic Youth and Wilco?

Modern Skirts have strong pop sensibilities and bring fun. With a lot of piano, their music is lighter than most of the indie rock. There's a good bit of Ben Folds and REM informing the Skirts' sound. Strikes me a lot like Voxtrot-- who I saw at the Field thinking that they are going to be moving up in the music world (and have since). But I think the Modern Skirts have a higher potential upside-- they're more of a pure pop band.

And Goes Cube continues to sound unique. And loud. Did I mention loud? Beckon the Dagger God was released this past week on Cordless Records (Warner):

Ear Farm Matt has a higher resolution download of the New Music Video for Goes Cube Song 34

August 29, 2007


The Boss has a new album, "Magic," coming out on October 2.

The lead single, Radio Nowhere is available as a free download on iTunes. It's no Born to Run, but a solid song.

More exciting is the news that Bruce and the E Street Band will be going on tour this fall, with four dates in the area:

  • October 9-10 East Rutherford, N.J., Continental Airlines Arena

  • October 17-18 New York, N.Y., Madison Square Garden

Both the MSG and CAA shows go on sale September 10

Farther afield, Albany, Hartford and Philadelphia are also stops on the tour, for when NYC and East Rutherford sell out instantly.

Backstreets interviewed Bruce

Rolling Stone talks with producer Brendan O'Brien

August 30, 2007

Chico Fellini

Chico Fellini plays flamboyant dance rock. They're from Kentucky. We joined them for a show here in NYC at the Mercury and one in their hometown of Lexington. Since I'm thrilled to have my camera back from Fuji repair, here are some photos in lieu of words.





February 7, 2008

William Howard Taft

The Two Man Gentlemen Band bring their old-timey song style to video, with this snappy song about the only person to serve as both President of the US and Chief Justice of the US. And the only President whose girth enabled him to get stuck in the White House bathtub.

March 16, 2008

SXSW Day 3

The culinary highlight of day 3 was lunch down at Polvos south of downtown. If nothing else, SXSW is a great excuse to eat a diet consisting exclusively of BBQ and Tex-Mex.

As far as music, the most notable day party was the Mercury Records one where I went to meet up with Mr. F and caught a couple of bands. The first, whose name I didn't catch, is worth noting for no other reason than they do have a sax player in the band. Represent! And while I never caught up to Vampire Weekend (with a stake), the buzziest act I saw at the festival was probably Duffy. Pitched as the next Amy Winehouse, Duffy has the vocal chops to fill that role, but her backing band didn't have anywhere near the soul of the Dap Kings.



Went over to catch up with Brooklynites Gold Streets who were sounding good, despite some equipment troubles and a venue that didn't seem to host rock bands outside of SXSW week.



Ran from there over to the WFMU show to see The Homosexuals (the touring lineup includes members of NYC's Apache Beat and the Unsacred Hearts.) This was a great energetic set that felt like it was in fact time-shifted from decades ago.




After having to consult iPhone's maps a bit too much, ended the night over at the After the Jump house party to see These United States again -- in a yard in a residential Austin neighrborhood. Outside on a Friday night, this was amplified music going on with other houses nearby and it wasn't shut down by the police just after starting. Wow. Here, saw Salt & Samovar, Oliver Future, These United States and The Lisps.



And that was it for BRR at SXSW 2008. Because of waiting too long to book flights, the only reasonably priced flights I found required returning to NYC on Saturday morning. On a connecting flight, through Chicago.

April 23, 2008

Opera Today

The NY Times reports on a rare occurrence at the Met-- an encore of an aria, Ban on Solo Encores at the Met? Ban, What Ban?: "After the tenor Juan Diego Flórez popped out his nine shining high C’s in “La Fille du Régiment” at the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night, the crowd rose and cheered. Mr. Flórez obliged with something not heard on the Met stage since 1994: a solo encore. He sang the aria “Ah! Mes Amis” again, nailing the difficult note — a kind of tenor’s macho proving ground — nine more times. It was one of those thrilling moments that opera impresarios live for."

The Journal goes behind the stage to explore the rarely-seen world of opera prompters-- which aren't screens scrolling libretti, but people prompting the singers, It's Not Over (Yet) for Those Who Cue Divas: "The prompter's job combines the skills of a conductor, musicologist and linguist, with an unusual ability to listen to the orchestra, keep time with the hands and deliver the singers' lines a moment before the downbeat."

July 16, 2008

Goes Cube Blog Post #77

Over at Ear Farm, Goes Cube gives up on From the Inside Looking Out: Goes Cube (premiere of “Clenching Jaws”) : EAR FARM :: music information helps grow ears: "Not long ago, we decided that 'Goes Cube Song 58' should be called 'Sorry, Were You Sleeping?', 'Goes Cube Song 59' should be called 'Read Right,' 'Goes Cube Song 61' should be called 'Loose Ends,' 'Goes Cube Song 62' should be called 'Gravestones Like Chess Pieces' and 'Goes Cube Song 63' should be called 'Clenching Jaws.' 'Goes Cube Song 60' will change, too, but it’s an instrumental and not recorded, so we’re taking our time picking out a real interesting title for that one."

I will be horribly disappointed if they never get around to writing and recording "Goes Cube Song #√-1" (square root of -1, in other words, the imaginary number i)

October 15, 2008

The CMJ Band Name Index 2008

The CMJ festival rolls into town next week. While we'll have some number of posts about shows during the week, one of the best parts of these big festivals is looking through the list of bands for trends in band naming.

Black dominates this category with 10 bands. White is a strong second with 5. Blue defeats Red for third place with 3 bands claiming allegiance. (OK, one band is both black and white and another is both red and blue.)

The number one threat to CMJ is bears! Or bands named after bears. 8 groups look to the bear for their names. Tigers have 4 band names. Various birds combine for 5 names. Horses, Apes and Whales also inspire multiple bands.

The king stays the king in the category



Ringo Starr

Other People

Girls are more popular than boys who are more popular than men who are more popular than women.

Geography and Places

Modern Clothes

The explanation point wins this category by a landslide!


So nice, they named it twice (or more)

Other Notably Entertaining Band Names

Who are you looking forward to seeing? Who is worth checking out? Who is skippable?

October 22, 2008

I was wrong

Given the length of time that it's been rumored to be close to completion, I always figured that the release of Guns N' Roses "Chinese Democracy" would be preceded by the emergence of Chinese democracy as a political system. But here is Axl's single, Chinese Democracy

There is another month until the release of the album, but I wouldn't count on China becoming any ore democratic in that time.

But at least you, the American music and soda pop fan, can get a free Dr. Pepper, thanks to Axl finally letting the world in on his album.

October 31, 2008

Jersey Devil

While Bruce and Patti aren't hosting their usual Halloween display because its popularity was overwhelming their neighborhood, the Boss does have a new song (and video) available online, "A Night With the Jersey Devil": "If you grew up in central or south Jersey, you grew up with the 'Jersey Devil.' Here's a little musical Halloween treat. Have fun!"

September 16, 2009

Jazz Now

NPR's A Blog Supreme is asking contributors and readers to name five albums you would recommend to somebody looking to get into modern jazz.

Here are my picks:

The Bad Plus - These Are the Vistas. Already the one album I've seen mentioned the most on these lists and for good reason. It may capture the best of modern millennial jazz music. Equal parts lyrical and dischordant in the best ways, The Bad Plus swagger through this record with driving force and relentless energy. It's as punk as any acoustic jazz album. For the cross-over crowd, covers of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Blondie's "Heart of Glass" are accessible but full of enough restless energy to subvert expectations. Is "These Are the Vistas" the most timely jazz album of the decade?

David Binney - Welcome to Life. This is probably my single favorite jazz album of the decade. Binney assembled a group of musicians who all lead their own groups and bring their distinctive individual styles to elevate Binney's sinewy and intricate compositions. Brian Blade's drumming constantly propels the music forward while accenting unexpected places and always building tension. The interplay between Binney's alto sax and Chris Potter's tenor shifts subtly from unison melodies to interesting harmonies that diverge and intersect with the piano of Craig Taborn and guitar of Adam Rogers. Each of the sax players contributes solos that have particularly strong narrative arcs.

Brad Mehldau - Largo. Mehldau's sparse arrangements, deliberately delicate playing and first rate production (courtesy of Jon Brion) make it a good entry point from listeners who enjoy music in the precious NPR indie darling category. And the covers of songs by Radiohead and The Beatles

Chris Potter Underground - Follow the Red Line. Chris Potter may be the most impressive sax and woodwind player in jazz today, because he approaches his playing with unrestrained musicality. In personnel, Potter's quartet is almost like an abridged version of David Binney's group, with Potter working again with Craig Taborn (Rhodes) and Adam Rogers (Guitar.) But where Welcome to Life is more subtle and intricate, Follow the Red Line is raw and visceral. Both are products of the same New York scene but lets each leader make his own artistic statement.

September 25, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures

There aren't many bands who I will buy tickets to see by only knowing the band's lineup. But if the rhythm section is Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones? I'm there. Add in Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age) and you get Them Crooked Vultures, who sounds something like this:

Jim DeRogatis was at their US debut: Them Crooked Vultures at Metro, "The best show by far of Lollapalooza 2009 really was part of Lollapalooza in name only: the after-show at Metro in the wee hours of Monday morning that marked the world premier of Them Crooked Vultures, the new supergroup featuring Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, former Nirvana drummer and current Foo Fighters leader Dave Grohl and the legendary John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.… During an amazing 12-song, 80-minute set, Them Crooked Vultures went on to prove it is one the rarest things in rock: a supergroup that not only deserves that appellation, but which actually is greater than the sum of its storied parts."

Them Crooked Vultures play Roseland on October 15.

September 29, 2009

Barbra Streisand at the Vanguard

As a jazz fan, I always love going to the Village Vanguard. Sitting in the club, you can feel the room's connection with Miles, Coltrane, Sonny, Evans, Dolphy and all of the jazz past, present and future. The club's pedigree elevates the level of performances on its stage. And so when I got invited to see Barbra Streisand there, how could I refuse?

Playing to a jam-packed house filled with contest winners, Streisand's family and friends (including President Clinton and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), and film crew (and their lighting equipment), the show was as much an intimate gathering of friends as it was a film session as it was a concert. Streisand performed a mix of standards, tracks from her new album and her signature hits.

Eschewing an opening act for introductions by Vanguard owner Ruth Gordon and some of the other people who helped Streisand first break into success as a performer at various clubs (of a now-bygone era) in the Village kicked the evening off with the special feel. The audience was part of a small intimate party and performance.

Once the show started, however, from one perspective, we were taken out of the immediacy and intimacy of the show. Sitting on the side of the room towards the front, the view of pianist Tamir Hendelman was blocked, but the view of Streisand's teleprompter was clear. So we could read the script that Streisand followed. To one extent, this took away from any sense that the set was a loose, improvised and breezy little set in front of a group of friends, but was a reminder of the major film production part of the hybrid nature of the evening.

On the other hand, having a sense of that a good deal of the banter was scripted gives one a tremendous appreciation of why Streisand is in such high regard as a performer, because you could see how much meaning she puts into every phrase. And though the teleprompter cues were used more as reminders of the points she wanted to discuss rather than a script, Streisand's voice is so expressive that she could (as the trope goes) read the phone book and make it engaging, dynamic and interesting. Whether Streisand's performance is impeccably rehearsed or spontaneously improvised, I doubt you could tell the difference, because her dynamics are so precise and expressive.

Unlike most broadway-style performers, nothing about Streisand's performance felt artificial or calculated. It all felt natural, heartfelt and authentic. And it's not to say that the show was perfected to within an inch of its life. There was enough of a rough edge to the set that Streisand walked off stage to close the set one song earlier than she intended. As a result, the audience got an encore twice as long as intended.

The backing quartet, led by pianist Hendelman, was impeccable, but also unobtrusive and rarely featured. Hendelman played one well constructed and melodic solo and tasteful segues and vamps between songs. But for a album intended to be more of a jazz album at the country's premier jazz club, there was no swing to the set until the final encore, "The Way We Were," where the drummer switched to sticks from brushes for the first time in the set and the guitarist added interesting and tasteful soaring lines.

But since Streisand's voice was the top-billed star of the show, in impeccable form, that's what carried the show. Anthony Tommasini interviewed Streisand for the New York Times and discussed her vocal technique. Streisand’s Fine Instrument and Classic Instinct

"[Streisand] revealed herself as a vocal artist with powerful, if innate, insights into phrasing, legato, vibrato, interpretive nuances and, most important, the art of singing as an expression of words.… Opera singers might learn from Ms. Streisand’s way of treating singing as an extension of acting. In working so hard to cultivate the beauty and carrying power of their voices, too many opera singers compromise with indistinct diction and generic expression. Ms. Streisand sings as if she is speaking to you."

That's what carried the show. Not the songs, not the dynamic interplay between the singer and her band, but her voice. Which is not to say that there weren't moments where the arrangements came together to propel, as in "My Funny Valentine," which was one of the high points of the night. But on other songs, such as "Make Someone Happy," where Streisand's voice conveyed deep emotions and forged a connection with the audience, and she embodied all the pathos of the song and earned a standing ovation. And despite a lack of songs at anything faster than a ballad, the set did have an arc and momentum that carried it to the end, culminating with classic standards ("Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered") and her own signature hits ("Evergreen" and "The Way We Were.")

All in all, a tremendous performance, and an encouragement for all major musical artists to play rooms a few sizes smaller than they ordinarily would, to try material in more intimate arrangement and less stage-managed settings.

The Village Vanguard Set List

The New York Times, Lucky Streisand Fans Were A-Listers for a Night

NPR, Barbra Streisand, Live At The Village Vanguard?

The Barbra Streisand Forum, An Evening with Barbra Streisand at VV (The Show)

October 16, 2009

Two hypotheses of live music

1. The better the venue is for the performer, the worse it is for the audience.

2. Hearing songs for the first time is a very different experience than hearing them a second, third, sixteenth or 64th time.

Last night, I caught Them Crooked Vultures' debut NYC performance at Roseland Ballroom. Prior to the show, I had not heard more than a 30 second clip of any of their music. But a few factors convinced me to buy tickets for the show. The rhythm section comes from two of the greatest rock bands of all time (Led Zeppelin and Nirvana) and the guitarist/lead singer from a band that I appreciate and enjoy (Queens of the Stone Age). Aside from hearing a single, I went to The Raconteurs first appearance in New York with no more information than knowing the prior work of Jack White and Brendan Benson, and caught a great show. But I was only appropriately whelmed by Them Crooked Vultures. I suspect that the venue and familiarity kept this show from reaching the next level.

Venue & Comfort
Roseland is a pretty terrible place to see a concert. The sound is muddy and booming in the cavernous room. Any precise and dynamic bass playing just gets lost in the mud of Roseland's acoustics. Fortunately, John Paul Jones plays with a fairly distinctive sound that helps emphasize the attack at the beginning of each note. The sightlines from the floor are atrocious. There's not enough traffic flow for the capacity this room can handle to make entering and exiting easy or quick.

New York's other venues of similar capacity, including Hammerstein Ballroom, Webster Hall, Terminal 5, also present similar compromises to concertgoers, with boomy sound, crowded feeling at capacity, poor sight lines and insufficent bar staff to handle peak rush without queues. Which leads me to propose the hypothesis that there is an inverse relationship between a venue's quality of experience for performers as for audience. At a large hall like Roseland or Hammerstein, the artist has a proper dressing room, large stage, a dedicated sound engineer for the monitor mix, and space for a big lighting rig. But the audience has to deal with the hassles. At a small club with capacity of up to a couple of hundred, bands may lack a dressing room, someone to run lights, inadequate monitors and have to deal with the hassles of loading gear on and off stage through the crowd rather than directly back to a dedicated back-stage location, but the audience benefits from good sight lines and decent sound. The larger the artist is of a draw, the more the artist needs to be pampered and the audience will be willing to put up with more hassles. The smaller the artist, the more the audience needs to be made comfortable.

Here's an approximate graph of the relationship between venue size and comfort level for artists and their audiences:

At the intersection of the audience comfort and artist comfort curve is Bowery Ballroom along with other clubs of similar size. Big enough to have enough resources to put on a top-level show, but small and intimate enough to offer a good experience for the audience.

There's a certain level of familiarity with a piece of music that makes it more enjoyable for a listener. The brain needs to do some amount of work to process music at first that listening to a song that one's heard before is a very different experience from listening to a new song. Stravinsky's Rite of Spring was so different and difficult, that the audience rioted at the piece's debut. Seriously, they rioted.

And I can think of a couple of concerts I've seen the familiarity phenomenon in full effect. At the Raconteurs first show at Irving Plaza, The audience became significantly more engaged once the Raconteurs played the one single they had released to date, "Steady as She Goes." When U2 played a free concert in Empire-Fulton Ferry Park in 2004, the first 7 songs of the set were all songs from their new, yet-to-be-released album. It was very obvious to see who downloaded the album in advance from the internet and who hadn't. But the energy level of the crowded raised dramatically when the band broke into older singles, "Beautiful Day" and "I Will Follow." The audience was much more engaged and energized by hearing familiar material that U2 played the new single, Vertigo, again to feed off that energy to get a better performance for the film crew.

By not releasing more than snippets of music, Them Crooked Vultures gave the audience something new, but not anything especially engaging. And because it takes mental energy to process new music, the crowd was sapped of a lot of its energy. The last time I went to a concert at Roseland was to see Radiohead nine (!) years ago. And all of the drawbacks of the venue were there, but the crowd had more energy, in part because Radiohead played a couple of days after their album dropped and also had old fan favorites to mix in with their new material.

The first few songs of Them Crooked Vultures' set were all huge, riff-heavy energetic tracks that, as expected, combined the bombast of Nirvana with Zeppelin's grounding and Queens of the Stone Age sludgy grit. The last song featured an epic and heavy jam. But neither the songs themselves nor Homme's singing helped make the performance more than the sum if its parts. The biggest influence on the group's sound was Queens of the Stone Age. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing-- unlike some other groups assembled from members of other well-known groups, the parts here add up to something good and coherent. But it also lacked Nirvana's skill for songwriting and Zeppelin's heft and showmanship.

As expected, Grohl is a formidable drummer. But you also see just how Jones' style works with Grohl's to give the rhythm section a taste of Zeppelin, but not attempting to mimic or ape the Jones/Bonham sound.

NPR's Bob Boilen was very enthused with the band's show at the 9:30 Club, "It's been a while since I've been to a show that I'd call 'balls to the wall,' but Them Crooked Vultures aren't holding back. From their first song, 'Elephant,' to the song playing right now, called 'Highway 1,' nuance has left the building. Granted, I'm only four songs into the show, but good lord, this rocks." I suspect that at a club the size of the 9:30 Club as opposed to Roseland, the room didn't swallow up much of the show's appeal, which helped the audience enjoy the show that much more.

Don't get me wrong: this was a very good show. Unfortunately, with a couple of tweaks, it could have been an epic show.

See also, Rolling Stone: Them Crooked Vultures Blast Through Jams at New York Debut

October 20, 2009

The CMJ Band Name Index, 2009

This is now an annual tradition! For the second year in a row, we're going to look through the big list of bands coming into town this week for the CMJ Music Marathon and see if we can divine any trends in band naming.


Two is by far the most popular number referenced in band naming. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 12, 28, 69, 70 and 1,000,000 are also represented among this crop of names:
  • Jupiter One
  • Once
  • 2am Club
  • Mystery of Two
  • Twin Atlantic
  • Twin Berlin
  • Two Fresh
  • Two Tears
  • Mother Of Three
  • Mighty Five
  • School of Seven Bells
  • The Middle Eight
  • 12th Planet
  • 28 North
  • 69 Eyes
  • Expo 70
  • A Million Years

Other Quantities

Some quantities aren't expressible in discrete numbers
  • So Many Dynamos
  • So Many Wizards
  • Super Extra Bonus Party


Surprisingly, fast and slow are equally represented
  • The Fast Romantics
  • Slow Country
  • Tempo No Tempo


Go west, young man! All four of the compass directions are represented, but west is the most prevalent.
  • 28 North
  • Far East Movement
  • Mark Knight and Dirty South Live
  • Smith Westerns
  • Western Civ
  • The Western States Motel


Planets and Satellites
  • 12th Planet
  • Hooray For Earth
  • Man on Earth
  • Jupiter One
  • Moonbabies
  • Moondoggies
  • Under The Sherry Moon
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • We Are The World
  • Antarctic
  • Pacific Theater
  • Twin Atlantic
  • The Brazil Show
  • Casino versus Japan
  • Electro Morocco & Dreams in Static
  • Japandroids
  • Japanther
  • Look Mexico
  • The Maldives
  • Portugal. The Man
  • French Miami
  • Spanish Prisoners
  • These United States
  • Volcanoless In Canada
  • Arizona
  • The Gulf Of Michigan
  • Appomattox
  • Brighton MA
  • Capital City
  • David Dallas
  • French Miami
  • Invade Rome
  • My Jerusalem
  • NYCSmoke
  • River Phoenix
  • Twin Berlin
  • Bel Air
  • Diamond District
  • Harlem
  • Robbers on High Street
  • The Bowery Riots
Geographical Features
  • Beach Fossils
  • Best Coast
  • Black Bay
  • The Frontier Brothers
  • The Frontier Ruckus
  • The Gulf Of Michigan
  • River Phoenix
  • Spiral Beach
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • Vertical Horizon
  • The Emergency Room
  • Home and Garden
  • The Library
  • Uninhabitable Mansions


  • 2am Club
  • A Million Years
  • All The Day Holiday
  • Black & White Years
  • Love In October
  • The Minutes
  • Overnight
  • The Past Times


  • Eternal Summers
  • Winterpills

Deoartment of Redundancy Department

Bands so nice they named them twice:
  • Bang Bang Eche
  • Beep Beep
  • Blip Blip Bleep
  • Champagne Champagne
  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Dum Dum Girls
  • Fra Fra Sound
  • Future Future
  • Kill Kill Kill
  • Motel Motel
  • Runner Runner
  • Santino Santino
  • The Seedy Seeds
  • Shout Out Out Out Out
  • Still Life Still
  • Takka Takka
  • Tall Tall Trees
  • Tempo No Tempo
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Veil Veil Vanish
  • Voices Voices
  • You Scream I Scream
  • You, You're Awesome


  • Aeroplane
  • Aeroplane Pageant
  • Denney and the Jets
  • Flying Machines
  • Hospital Bombers
  • In-Flight Safety
  • Jets Overhead
  • Paper Airplane
  • Still Flyin
  • Land
  • Army Navy
  • Bridges and Powerlines
  • Brit and the Cavalry
  • Broadfield Marchers
  • Delorean
  • The Motorcycle Industry
  • Unicycle Loves You
  • Sea
  • Army Navy
  • Floating Action
  • Sugar Plum Ferry
  • Space
  • Spaceships are Cool
  • We Landed On The Moon!

High vs. Low

  • The High Dials
  • The High Strung
  • Higher Giant
  • Highlife
  • The Hi-Risers
  • Robbers on High Street
  • Skyzoo
  • Jets Overhead
  • Low Frequency In Stereo


Stereo is exactly twice as popular as mono!
  • Stereo Skyline
  • Low Frequency In Stereo
  • Monogold


Black is again the most popular color represented, followed by gold.
  • Black & White Years
  • Black Anvil
  • Black Cherry
  • Black Diamond Bay
  • Black Holes
  • The Black Hollies
  • Black Swan Green
  • Black Tie Party
  • the black watch
  • Black Whales
  • Cruel Black Dove
  • Dan Black
  • Red Wire Black Wire
  • Small Black
  • Soft Black
  • Gold Streets
  • The Golden Filter
  • Golden Silvers
  • Golden Triangle
  • Goldhawk
  • Solid Gold
  • Sugar & Gold
  • Monogold
  • Hi Red Center
  • Red Collar
  • Red/X
  • Red Wire Black Wire
  • Bobby Brown
  • Bosque Brown
  • White Tie Affair
  • Black & White Years
  • Blondes
  • Blood Orange
  • Blue Scholars
  • The Bronzed Chorus
  • Greycoats
  • Pink Noise
  • The YellowDogs

Light vs. Dark

Light is slightly more popular than dark and shadow.
  • Headlights
  • Lightning Love
  • The Lights Out
  • Lights Resolve
  • Dark Meat
  • Dark Room Notes
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death


Bears, birds, whales and dinosaurs, oh my!
  • Angry Vs. The Bear
  • Bear Hands
  • Bear In Heaven
  • Care Bears on Fire
  • Mama Bear
  • Birds
  • Common Loon
  • Cruel Black Dove
  • Black Swan Green
  • An Albatross
  • Fearsome Sparrow
  • Hawk and Dove
  • Heavy Birds
  • Rainbird
  • Slang Chickens
  • Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt
  • Whales
  • Black Whales
  • Freelance Whales
  • Vulture Whale
  • Cats
  • The Jaguar Club
  • Japanther
  • Kittens Ablaze
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Spring Tigers
  • Tigercity
  • Wolves
  • Julia Wolfe
  • We Are Wolves
  • Whistling Wolves
  • Other Dogs
  • Coyote Eyes
  • Pitbull
  • Moondoggies
  • The YellowDogs
  • Dinosaurs
  • Claymation Velociraptor
  • Dinosaur Feathers
  • Insects
  • Beehive
  • Annie And the Beekeepers
  • Deer Tick
  • Chimeras
  • Dinowalrus
  • Dragon Turtle
  • All Others
  • The Antlers
  • Batrider
  • Cobra Skulls
  • Crystal Antlers
  • Fox Jaws
  • Goat Whore
  • Kate Bradley & Goodbye Horses
  • Mussels
  • Pig Destroyer
  • Skibunny
  • The Telepathic Butterflies
  • We Are Country Mice
  • Wild Yaks

Food & Drink

  • Bamboo Shoots
  • The Beautiful Taste
  • Black Cherry
  • Blood
  • Coconuts
  • Cookie Martini
  • Dark Meat
  • Drink Up Buttercup
  • Hank & Cupcakes
  • Heavy Cream
  • Hungry Hands
  • Hungry Hungry Ghost
  • Lemonade
  • Mussels
  • Pomegranates
  • Sugar & Gold
  • Sugar Plum Ferry


  • Fat Tony
  • Fatkid Dodgeball
  • Heavy Birds
  • Heavy Cream
  • Heavy Trash

New vs. Old

New and modern are much more popular than old, vintage, classic or historic.
  • Awesome New Republic
  • Future Future
  • Miracles of Modern Science
  • Modern Science
  • Modern Skirts
  • The New Collisions
  • The New Loud
  • New Villager
  • The Past Times
  • Old Canes
  • Linc with Old Soul

Government and International Relations

Republic is by far the most favored form of government and the Senate is the preferred representative body by this year's crop of bands. Surprisingly, no fans of direct democracy in the bunch.
  • Awesome New Republic
  • Great Republic of Rough and Ready
  • Senator
  • The Senate
  • French Horn Rebellion
  • International Espionage!
  • Invade Rome
  • The Surrender
  • Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt


A surprising number of bands are either vampires or decided to use blood in their band names for some other reason.
  • Blood Orange
  • Blood Warrior
  • Bloodgroup
  • The Bloodsugars
  • Surfer Blood
  • Type O Negative


  • Best Man
  • The Boy Bathing
  • The Brothers Frank
  • Brother Joscephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Frat Dad
  • The Frontier Brothers
  • Gentleman Auction House
  • Holy Sons
  • The Lives of Famous Men
  • Madison Ave Boys
  • Male Bonding
  • Man Like Me
  • Man on Earth
  • Natureboy
  • octoberman
  • Papa
  • The Protomen
  • The Queen Killing Kings
  • Female
  • Bodega Girls
  • Kleenex Girl Wonder
  • Little Girls
  • Mama Bear
  • Metermaids
  • Mother Of Three
  • Priestess
  • Screaming Females
  • Sister Hazel
  • Sister Sparrow and The Dirty Birds

Young vs. Old

  • Chris Young The Rapper
  • Choir of Young Believers
  • Grandchildren
  • Bodega Girls
  • Holy Sons
  • Kleenex Girl Wonder
  • Little Girls
  • Moonbabies
  • My Teenage Stride
  • Natural Child
  • Teenage Bottlerocket
  • The Teenage Prayers
  • Young Boys
  • Young Prisms
  • Youth Group
  • Baby Monster
  • Kid Color
  • Kid Theodore
  • Kidz In Space
  • Kidz In The Hall
  • Jim McTurnan and The Kids that Killed The Band
  • Mother Of Three
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Frat Dad
  • The Neanderthals
  • Old Canes


Does French Horn Rebellion have a french horn player in the band?
  • The Bongos
  • Cymbals Eat Guitars
  • Erin and Her Cello
  • French Horn Rebellion


  • Boogie Boarder
  • Fatkid Dodgeball
  • Hockey
  • Let's Wrestle
  • Surf City
  • Surfer Blood
  • Swimclub
  • The Swimmers
  • Tennis Pro
  • Unicycle Loves You

Teams vs. Bands

Surprisingly, this roster features slightly more bands that are teams than there are bands that are bands.
  • Team Facelift
  • Team Genius
  • Team Robespierre
  • Team William
  • Math the Band
  • Menahan Street Band
  • Mia Riddle & Her Band

Body Parts

  • The Idle Hands
  • Hungry Hands
  • Hammer No More The Fingers
  • The Naked Hearts
  • No Eye Contact
  • Shaky Hands
  • The Unsacred Hearts


    Hot is more popular than cold.
  • Cold Cave
  • Cold Flamez
  • Hot Lava
  • Hot Panda
  • HotChaCha
  • Spit Hot Fire

Life and Death

  • Dead Heart Bloom
  • Dead Leaf Echo
  • Dead Men Dreaming
  • Dead Sexy Inc.
  • Dead Stars
  • Deadbeat Darling
  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Diehard
  • Kill Kill Kill
  • Kill Krinkle Club
  • Ringo Deathstarr
  • Valley of the Shadow of Death
  • We Should Be Dead
  • Highlife
  • Still Life Still
  • Mammoth Life
  • Jonny Lives!
  • The Lives of Famous Men

Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll

  • Drug Rug
  • drugdealer
  • Drunken Barn Dance
  • Dirty Sexy Soca
  • Dead Sexy Inc.


  • Enemy Lovers
  • The Fast Romantics
  • Unicycle Loves You
  • Love Heist
  • Love In October
  • The Love Language
  • LoveLikeFire
  • The Lovely Feathers
  • Lovemakers


Not surprisingly, loud is more popular.
  • The New Loud
  • Quiet Loudly


  • The Elusive Parallelograms
  • Goes Cube
  • Golden Triangle
  • The Octagon


  • Filthy Dukes
  • General Fiasco
  • I Was A King
  • Jess King
  • King Chango
  • The King Left
  • Sgt Dunbar and the Hobo Banned

The Four Elements

  • Man on Earth
  • Air Waves
  • The Fire & Reason
  • Fire Ex
  • Care Bears on Fire
  • Kittens Ablaze
  • Last Tide
  • LoveLikeFire
  • Quest For Fire
  • Spit Hot Fire
  • Sure Fire
  • Rain Machine
  • Rainbird
  • The Sea


Big and small are tied at 5 apiece.
  • Giant Cloud
  • Gigantic Hand
  • Nomadic Massive
  • Big Sean
  • The Big Takeover
  • Little Fish
  • Little Girls
  • Little Teeth
  • Small Black
  • Beautiful Small Machines

Complete sentences

  • We Are Country Mice
  • We Are Enfant Terrible
  • We Are The World
  • We Are Wolves
  • We Have Band
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • We Should Be Dead
  • Jonny Lives!
  • We're Pregnant
  • The Whore Moans

Exclamation points!

  • Die! Die! Die!
  • Gunfight!
  • International Espionage!
  • Jonny Lives!
  • We Landed On The Moon!
  • pow wow!
  • Tiger! Shit! Tiger! Tiger!
  • Zo! & The Els

Other Snazzy Names

These are some names that I couldn't build a cateogry around, but are entertaining nonetheless:
  • Meeting of Important People
  • Phil & The Osophers
  • Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers

Names in bold are bands we can definitely recommend seeing. Band names in italics are bands we would consider seeing just because their names are awesomely clever or ridiculous.

See also Ear Farm's CMJ preview, which provides recommendations and information about silly little details like time and location.

October 30, 2009

Brief Thoughts on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Concert @ MSG

So this little venue in NYC, Madison Square Garden, hosted a small concert last night in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The bill featured Bruce Sprinsteen & The E-Street Band, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and friends. Perhaps you may have heard of some of these artists?

So yeah. That was some bill. And the show lasted until 1:30 AM, as all of the performers brought out special guests, which included Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Dion DiMucci, Little Anthony and The Imperials, Smokey Robinson, BB King, Sting, John Legend, Jeff Beck, Sam Moore, Darlene Love, John Fogerty, Tom Morello and Billy Joel.

Some of the collaborations seemed superfluous, such as Sting playing bass on "Higher Ground" with Stevie, with an awkward segue into a tepid cover of "Roxanne." Others didn't have any flow-- the two acts who played with Simon and Garfunkel (Dion and Little Anthony)-- were obvious influences on Simon and Garfunkel, but didn't really bring any new shadings to the set, which probably would have been more musically memorable if Art Garfunkel and his awesome hair sang with Simon on one of Simon's solo hits. Or just if they dug deeper into their catalog. But Crosby and Nash offered backup vocals to Simon's cover of "Here Comes the Sun." And "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was just tremendous as Garfunkel's voice was more than up to the task of filling the Garden. (Of note, according to the image projected behind the stage, the East River is apparently troubled water.)

Some of the collaborations made up for the extraneous or boring ones. Half of Stevie's guests were teh awesome. Jeff Beck came on stage to wail on the guitar for "Superstition." And it was tremendous. John Legend sang a competent version of Marvin Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me" with Stevie. (That's a case where a competent version is a tremendous complement. Not an easy song to pull off, and while it didn't reach any higher ground, the song worked.) Legend also sat in on piano with Stevie to cover Michael Jackson's "The Way You Make Me Feel" for an emotional performance.

Aside from an opening trip to "Woodstock," the Crosby, Stills and Nash set felt lightweight and superfluous to the rest of the night. All three were in fine form vocally, but I could have used another hour of Stevie and Jeff Beck jamming.

Springsteen's choices of guests revealed much about his influences. Sam Moore showed how much of an influence he had on Springsteen as a performer and frontman. It also demonstrated that (with some extra horns) the E Street Band make for a solid soul revue show band. John Fogerty and Tom Morello showed a bit of the continuity of politically oriented rock music. By far, the highlights of Springsteen's set were the songs that Morello sat in for. I'm not a huge fan of Rage Against the Machine, so I had no expectations for Morello's playing (unlike, say, Jeff Beck.) His blistering solo on "The Ghost of Tom Joad" brought the song to a new level and helped elevate a cover of "London Calling" from acceptable to great.

Less musically interesting and successful was the summit meeting between NJ's Springsteen and Lon Gisland's Billy Joel. Unlike the other guests, Joel's appearance wasn't announced on the event's website beforehand, so it was a surprise for me until Bruce started talking about the similarities between NJ and LI and the stagehands brought a second piano on stage. The contrast between Springsteen and Joel is interesting. Both came up in the 70's in the New York suburbs writing and performing music mainly about disaffected teens in the suburbs. While Springsteen's is somewhat more influenced by the soul and folk traditions, Joel's is more directly descended from Tin Pan Alley. Although Sprinsteen himself is a guitar player, his best album, "Born to Run" is as much of a piano-driven album as anything by Joel. But even as someone who is unashamed to own Billy Joel albums, the juxtaposition of the two on the same stage showed me how much more

The interesting contrast between the two is where they took their music after their initial success. Springsteen became an outspoken advocate for the working class through song as stagflation gave way to Reaganomics. He delved deeper into the folk tradition with Nebraska and The Seeger Sessions. He released one of the most relevant and timely albums of this decade with "The Rising" and has continued to write new music. In contrast, Joel evolved from singing about disaffected teens to singing about disaffected middle age adults. His music remained personal, while Springsteen's evolved to add activism and politics to the personal. Joel may have said everything he has Perhaps that's why Joel last released an album of new rock music in 1993, Springsteen has released 6 new albums (3 with the E Street Band and 3 folk albums).

And Springsteen still leads the biggest and baddest rock and roll carnival to roll through town. As a 60 year old, the Boss has more energy than most 25 year old indie rockers.

Via The Star Ledger, Setlists for the show.

Rolling Stone: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Turns 25 With All-Star Sets From Springsteen, Wonder and More, Epic Moments at the Rock Hall 25th Anniversary Concert, Morello, Raitt, Crosby Pay Tribute to Fellow Legends Backstage at First Rock Hall Concert

January 19, 2010

Heavy Indicia

Igot invited to see a taping of The Late Show with David Letterman at the Ed Sullivan Theater last night. And aside from Dave being more engaged and energized by another situation involving the Tonight Show and Jay Leno over at NBC, this was incredibly worthwhile to attend, because The Heavy were the musical guest and rocked the house. As soon as the show wrapped, I was looking for their tour schedule to see if they were playing a full set later. Unfortunately, the Late Show wrapped up their US tour.

How often does Dave ask the musical guest to keep playing the song for another go round with the CBS Orchestra then vamping on the riff after the band finishes?

According to the Late Show website, it was "unprecedented." They also have the full and complete encore performance

But sometimes when a band is just setting up, you get a feeling that you're going to like them. If they've set up a four piece Gretsch drum set, Rickenbacker bass, Telecaster guitar through a Fender amp, baritone sax, tenor sax and trumpet, you get a sense of the sound they're going to have. Combine with a British flag and before the band is even on stage, that's a pretty solid indicator of the kind of sound they're going to have. Borrow the Dap Kings horn section and execute well and there you go: a recipe for awesome.

The Heavy []

WXPN: The Heavy, Recorded Live In Concert (Jan. 15, 2010)

NPR: The Heavy: Dirty Basement Soul "Like the early White Stripes, The Heavy sometimes threatens to cross the line between reviving and archiving. Also like the early White Stripes, it's good enough to get away with a lot, and smart enough to take full advantage."

The House That Dirt Built: Vinyl CD MP3

March 4, 2010

Vinyl, CD and MP3

Now that I've ripped all of my CD's into compressed digital formats in iTunes, I've acquired a turntable and started listening to more music on vinyl. As a listener, it's nice to have a more active and physical connection with music. Hard disk-based libraries are wonderful for depth and variety, but for listening to the great albums that you love as albums, the album-centric listening experience is rewarding and engaging.

Instead of building a multi-hour playlist of digital music spanning dozens of genres, artists and albums across hundreds of songs, an LP listener has to flip after each side and can't easily skip ahead from song to song. The medium forces more engaged listening.

But the LP is also an inferior medium to the CD and even compressed digital formats. The CD has tremendously more dynamic range. Dynamic range is the amount of sounds that can be reproduced from a recording-- from the lowest note and softest volume to the highest frequency and loudest volume.

But today's recordings are mixed and mastered to push the average levels as high as possible, using less dynamic range than the CD medium is able to deliver. Robert Levine published the definite take on the so-called loudness wars in a 2007 article in Rolling Stone, The Death of High Fidelity, "Over the past decade and a half, a revolution in recording technology has changed the way albums are produced, mixed and mastered — almost always for the worse."

Pete Bilderback, Yo! Turn It Down!

"Dynamic range compression is not new. Producers of popular music have been using it for decades, and--used in moderation--it is actually an essential tool in producing good sounding pop and rock recordings. But over the past several decades producers, mastering engineers and recording artists have engaged in a race to create the loudest possible sounding CDs (the so-called "loudness wars") and in doing so have severely restricted the dynamic range heard in today's popular music recordings."

Most modern music is seemingly optimized for listening in a 128 kbps MP3. Below about 192 kbps, MP3 files sound washed out, but above that are close enough to CD to be intistinguishable, except perhaps on truly audiophile equipment.

Music recorded earlier than the mid-1980s was not only mixed, mastered and produced to fit within the limits of the medium, but also recorded to sound best on the medium. While 2" analog tape has a much wider dynamic range than an LP, did any artists not seek to make the best sounding LP possible?

Bob Speer, What Happened To Dynamic Range?

"What happened to dynamic range? That's a question that should be asked of record labels, producers, artists, and last but not least, recording and mastering engineers. The question needs to be asked because we're the ones responsible for what's happened to our music. Much of the music we listen to today is nothing more than distortion with a beat. Great music is suffering because it lacks dynamic range. When music lacks dynamic range, it lacks punch, emotion, and clarity."

Mastering for vinyl can be more artistic than mastering for digital because of the limitations of the medium. Kevin Gray, Producing Great Sounding Phonograph Records

Comparing the waverforms for the CD and LP versions of Bob Dylan's Eyolf Østrem looked at the amount of dynamic range used by the different masters of the same album and concluded, Someone Please Fire Jack Frost. Even though the CD is capable of delivering a more dynamic representation of the music, it's often end up delivering as loud of a delivery as possible with less dynamic range.

Given that digital formats are using less dynamic range than LP's, and that analog distortion is warmer, more musical and more natural than digital clipping, the vinyl record is remaining relevant, because the inferior medium is used in a superior manner. The loudness wars are making modern digital recordings sound worse than records. Which is a shame, because properly recorded and mastered digital recordings are more dynamic. The deepest lows and highest highs that a CD can reproduce are higher and lower than those on vinyl, but for albums that don't use all of that dynamic range, the warm sound and focused experience of listening to albums is more compelling for music fans.

March 12, 2010

A Reality Tour

"I hope you've got some sleeping bags and tents. This might be a really long show tonight," says David Bowie from the stage a couple songs into his newly released live disc A Reality Tour. This turns out to be accurate as the show doesn't conclude for almost thirty more songs encompasing two discs. Pulled from a pair of shows recorded in Dublin back in 2003, there's little to hint that this turned out to be an ill-fated tour (it was cut short due to Bowie's health issues, and one show was cancelled after the death of a lighting tech). Bowie sounds energized and in good voice, has a top session band behind him and an energetic crowd (mixed high). Overall, the disc does well in conveying the feeling of being there.

To his credit, Bowie picks songs from throughout his catalog, with about half the selections coming from his prime Seventies albums and the rest mostly from his post-Eighties work. In fact, only a few Eighties songs sneak in, and the most well-known only as a bonus track ("China Girl"). The highlights still come with the older material, including a great duet with bassist/vocalist Gail Ann Dorsey on Under Pressure (she kills on the Freddy Mercury vocal), the slow-building, anthemic Heroes and the suberbly sung Fantastic Voyage. Hang Onto Yourself comes late in the set as part of a trio of Ziggy Stardust songs and is the only really rocking moment of the show. The rise in energy (and beats per minute) produce the best crowd reaction of the night.

The band plays well, though only occassionally catches fire. On many of the songs from Bowie's later albums, including "Heathen" and "Reality," the guitar parts turn more atmospheric or noisy, robbing the songs of the kind of riffs that make something like "Heroes" compelling, and giving a lot of the material a sameness (the lack of strong vocal melodies doesn't help). Some of the instrument tones are problematic, with guitars sounding like they are played through solid-state amps (and if they weren't, the culprit may be too many digital effects) and the bass tone a bit too bright (see "Sister Midnight" and especially "Ziggy Stardust.")

Which is not to say that the discs aren't a good listen. Bowie didn't have much to prove on this tour, and really just needed to give a good show, which he does with good cheer and occassionally excellent performances from him and the band. In the end, A Reality Tour is a meant more for his fans than as a way to convert non-believers, and as a token of the tour, it does an admirable job.

October 25, 2010

Brief CMJ 2010 Impressions

When we at Buzz Rant & Rave World HQ realized that CMJ was coming up again, the response was distinctly unenthusiastic. While it's great to have the festival atmosphere along with all of the opportunities for afternoon drinking, as a festival, it's never been the reason for many interesting and unique collaborations or bills that wouldn't otherwise exist. Generally, the promoters and venues book acts who they would normally host on a typical bill (or would like to.) As we've gotten further from college age, the presence of all of the college radio programmers makes us feel old at the festival. And it encourages the annoying music blogger groupthink that's turned us off from reading too many music blogs. Despite all of these drawbacks, it's still an important presence in the NYC music scene and perhaps the best indie music festival after SXSW.

In years past, we've spent more time plotting out a schedule with a detailed timeline to hit as many showcases as possible. Unlike the last couple of years, when we analyzed trends in band names, we barely glanced through the roster this year (see Music Snobbery's review of some of the weird, strange and usual of this year.) But the CMJ experience this year involved much more random sampling of bands playing in venues we like at convenient times, especially scheduled to fit around other non-CMJ social plans. But we still had the opportunity to catch some highlights.

The single best act I saw during the festival was Australia's Philadelphia Grand Jury. They played a LOT during the week, but I caught them at the I Rock I Roll day party at The Delancey on Saturday afternoon. If Flight of the Conchords self-aware, funny and humble pop music represents New Zealand, Philadelphia Grand Jury (or the Philly J's) are the embodiment of Flight of the Conchords' TV show take on Australians: raucous, loud and brash-- unchecked id. Unlike many of the bands to play NYC in general and CMJ specifically, Philadelphia Grand Jury wasn't afraid to have fun. They announced every song as "[their] favorite song and the best song." The band members all jumped out on stage, into the crowd and had fun, despite some issues with the mic stands unable to stand up to the frenzy. They're a do-not-miss act the next time they're back in NYC.

Philadelphia Grand Jury

Philadelphia Grand Jury

Philadelphia Grand Jury

Earlier that afternoon, Ted Leo played a solo set at Public Assembly. He's one of the few artists who can play a solo set that's sufficiently rocking to be fun and engaging. The Brutalist Bricks has grown tremendously on me to become not only one of my favorite Ted Leo albums, but one of my favorites of the year. Catchy, diverse, incisive and rocking.

Earlier in the week, just down the block from Public Assembly on North 6th Street in Williamsburg, Screaming Females put on an impressive set at Music Hall of Williamsburg. Although the band's name is both descriptive and misleading: there's only a single screaming female in Screaming Females, they're still great. A classic power trio with dynamic and virtuostic guitar playing. Punk rock and lyrical, epic guitar soloing usually exist in opposite corners of the rock and roll universe, but Marissa Paternoster brings it together in a fresh and exciting way.

Screaming Females @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (CMJ 2010)

Screaming Females @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (CMJ 2010)

Screaming Females @ Music Hall of Williamsburg (CMJ 2010)

May 12, 2011

Movits! at Bowery Ballroom

Even though they sing in Swedish, Movits! brought a sizable crowd out to Bowery Ballroom on a Sunday night. Only a fraction of this crowd spoke Swedish. Part of this is due to the Colbert bump they received by performing on The Colbert Report. But the main reason is likely that Movits plays music that is unafraid to be fun and is full of gleeful enthusiasm that transcends language.

At least, that is the case for me. More than any other artist currently working, Movits makes the kind of music that I want to make. It's got a unique voice, it's fun, it's happy, it's danceable and it features saxophone. Upright bass is an extra plus. Of course, I probably wouldn't go with lyrics in Swedish. Aside from some brands (Ikea, Volvo) and proper names (hockey player names and characters from Steig Larsson's novels), I don't know a word of Swedish. Yet I couldn't stop smiling throughout the show. Perhaps that's a result of a lack of comprehension and perhaps the words are very serious and somber in contrast to the fun and danceable music.

But whatever the lyrical content may be, Movits did get a New York crowd dancing by the end of the show, which is no small feat in and of itself. They play an interesting mix of live and sampled, with most percussion coming via DJ (although a few numbers did feature acoustic guitar or live drum), but with live upright bass and saxophone.

I wasn't in the best mood by the time the show started, because of the long wait between me getting to Bowery and the show starting. The show was billed as Movits playing at 9 with doors opening at 8. Even though Bowery Ballroom set times are often scheduled for 30 minutes later than advertised (but not always), no one hit the stage until 9:45. And then it was unannounced bonus extra opener Zacke, a Swedish rapper (a frequent collaborator with Movits!)

But once Movits took the stage, it was all energy, fun and joy, a wonderful contrast to how Americans often think of Sweden.


About Music

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Buzz Rant & Rave in the Music category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Podcast is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Powered by
Movable Type 4.37