Posts Tagged ‘Ben Folds’

By Joel Francis

Let the hit parade continue.

Sonic Youth – Washing Machine (1995) On the surface, Washing Machine appears to be just another release by avant rockers Sonic Youth. Released nine albums into their three-decade career, the band doesn’t have much to prove by this point but they certainly aren’t coasting through this set. All three of the band’s songwriters are in peak form. The album opens and closes Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo taking lead vocals on their respective compositions. Moore’s closing cut, “The Diamond See” is a fascinating 20-minute track that shows the quartet stretching out, yet never repeating themselves. It’s the longest they let a mood percolate on a studio album. (An even longer 25- minute version was released on The Destroyed Room rarities collection.) Overall, Washing Machine points to the more mature direction Sonic Youth would take in the early ‘00s.

One Day As a Lion – self-titled (2008) Well, this is it. The 20 minutes on this EP comprise most substantial release by Zack de la Rocha since the end of Rage Against the Machine at the end of the millennium. It boggles the mind how someone so politically aggressive during the Clinton administration could be so quiet during the Dubya and current administrations. If anything, you’d think de la Rocha would be out stumping for Bernie Sanders.

Brief as it is, the music here meets all expectations. It’s loud, combative and better than either of Rage axeman Tom Morello’s acoustic Nightwatchman full-lengths.

Andrew Hill – Point of Departure (1964) I discovered Andrew Hill about six months before he died. Even though I didn’t have a lot of history with his art, I was still deeply saddened by his loss. Selfishly, I had hoped that I would be able to see him perform at some point. I was also disappointed that such a monumental talent hadn’t achieved the renown and accolades Hill deserved.

It can be easy for pianists to get lost in the background when playing in larger groups, especially with reed-player Eric Dolphy in the mix. Hill’ steady hand is ever-present across this album, guiding every song and creating the spaces for Dolphy and saxman Joe Henderson’s solos (and delivering plenty of his own as well). “Dedication,” the final piece, is as beautiful a piece of music as you will ever hear.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions – Get Happy!! (1980) Elvis Costello has released so many great albums across so many styles it is hard to pin down a favorite. That said, of the four classics in his initial “angry young man” phase, this might be my pick as the best. Costello skitters across all forms of soul music in these 20 songs, moving quickly from Motown to Northern and blue-eyed soul. Ballads and Southern soul are also given their due. What reads like a dull, academic genre exercise on paper is a hoot to hear because of the Attractions manic energy – particularly Steve Nieve’s hopping organ – and Costello’s lyrics, that slash like a switchblade in an alley fight. You don’t realize how quickly they cut until they’ve moved on to the next victim. Best to keep dancing and sort it all out later.

Robbie Robertson – Storyville (1991) Anyone disappointed that Robbie Robertson’s debut album bore few traces of his time with The Band will find more to like with this sophomore effort. Although the performances are far more restrained and the production more polished than anything with his old group, it’s not hard to imagine Rick Danko singing on “Night Parade” (although he does contribute backing vocals on the gorgeous ballad “Hold Back the Dawn”). Taken on its own terms, this is still a very satisfying album. Neil Young stops by to help with “Soap Box Preacher” and the Neville Brothers appear on “Shake This Town,” recorded with Rebirth Brass Band, and “What About Now.” The spirit of New Orleans, where Storyville was made, also appears on “Go Back to Your Woods.” In a way, Storyville makes a nice companion piece to the Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, released the year before with Daniel Lanois, the man behind the boards for Robertson’s debut.

Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five – The Golden Era Series, Vol. 1 (compilation) It blows my mind that these recordings are approaching their centennial. These are among Armstrong’s first sessions as a bandleader. His solos here went a long way establish jazz as an improvisational genre. Satchmo doesn’t sing on every cut, but when he does it is always memorable. The dozen cuts here are so celebrated and influential it is impossible to have a favorite, but I’ll share some of the titles to whet the appetites of the uninitiated: “Heebie Jeebies,” “Struttin’ with some Barbeque,” “Gut Bucket Blues,” “Hotter than That.” Just reading those titles, how can you not want to dive in?

The songs here appeared roughly the same time as George Gershwin’s compositions and significantly predate Aaron Copeland’s most celebrated pieces. This is the sound of America growing up and forcing its way on the world’s artistic stage well before it became impossible to ignore as a superpower.

Ben Folds – Supersunnyspeedgraphic, the LP (compilation) The first three sides of this two-record collection encompass highlights from the digital-only mini-albums Folds released in the early 2000s. It’s fun to hear Folds give the Cure and the Darkness his own demented spin. His potty-mouthed cover of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s “Bitches Ain’t Shit” is funny the first few times, but gradually wears out its welcome. In his memoir A Dream About Lightning Bugs, Folds recounts a stint opening for John Mayer where he would perform this song several times in a row relishing the jeers. I can relate to how that audience must have felt. Original songs including “Adelaide,” “Songs of Love” and “Still” more than make up for Folds’ West Coast rap mishap. The fourth side of this set is a real treat, too. We get a half-dozen cuts from the Over the Hedge soundtrack, including a great cover of The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” and an alternate version of “Rockin’ the Suburbs” with an epic William Shatner rant based on real events.

The Supremes – At their Best (compilation) Conventional wisdom holds that the Supremes were over once Diana Ross left. True, Ross had much greater success as a solo artist than the Supremes did without her, but they were still a potent force. The group had six Top 40 hits in the post-Ross era and several more hits on the R&B charts. Many of those tracks are included on this 10-track collection, which spans 1970 to 1976. “Stoned Love” and “Up the Ladder to the Roof” are as good as anything the Supremes released in their prime years. “I’m Going to Let My Heart Do the Walking” and “You’re My Driving Wheel” update the group’s sound with elements of funk and disco. The Supremes were always a better singles act than album artists and this anthology is a fitting encapsulation and the final chapter.

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(Above: Neil Young, his wife Pegi and the late Ben Keith perform “Long May You Run.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Pity the Kindle reader or Web surfer. The computer screen is still years away from capturing the depth and richness in the pages of “Long May You Rung,” Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff’s new illustrated history of Neil Young.

Much of the book’s information will be familiar to longtime fans. What makes “Long May You Run” a treasure, however, is its presentation. Read about Young’s high school days at Kelvin Technical School in Winnipeg, and a photo of the school and two yearbook photos are right there alongside the text. Concert photos, tour programs and magazine covers all accompany entries on the myriad of Young’s tours. These and other similar visual clues that populate the book help put the events in context.

Also handy are the sidebars that detail Young’s sidemen, producers and female collaborators, his film career, favorite guitar, Motown stint, the Bridge School and nearly everything else that wouldn’t fit comfortably in the chronological narrative. The text is also punctuated with dozens of quotes from usual suspects Crosby, Stills and Nash and Eddie Vedder to Ben Folds and Toby Keith.

Authors Durchholz and Graff are clearly in their element. The St. Louis-based Durchholz boasts music bylines from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Washington Post and Rolling Stone. Graff has written for Billboard, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and New York Times and is the editor of “The Ties that Bind: Bruce Springsteen: A to E to Z” and the MusicHound Essential Album guides.

Their story opens with a photo of a two-year-old Young nestled by a full-page shot of his first band, the Squires. It closes with essays on his Linc/Volt hybrid car and the first volume of the Neil Young Archives. In between we see Young grow his hair long, cut it short, grow a beard, and dabble with folk, classic rock, electronica, country and grunge. Never comfortable with one look or style of music, the only constant in the narrative arc is Young himself.

Four appendices chronicle Young’s discography, providing the recording details, cover art and track listing for all of his albums, compilations and box sets. Further resources include the catalog number and a- and b-sides for all of his singles, his guest appearances on others’ albums and the tribute albums released in Young’s honor.

“Long May You Run” stops short of being a Young reference guide, but that was never the goal. It is a wonderful coffee table companion that is puts a trove of information, visual and otherwise at the reader’s fingertips. While there’s nothing in “Long May You Run” that can’t be found on a comprehensive Web site, it is a lot more fun to flip through and soak up.

Keep reading:

Review: “I Am Ozzy”

Review: “Big Man” by Clarence Clemons

Review – “Record Store Days”

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(Above: Devo get “fresh” on the Jimmy Kimmel Show.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Devo deserved better. Kudos to the local radio station for adding them to their Buzz Under the Stars lineup at City Market on Friday night, but the pioneering synth-pop band merited more than a 50-minute set shoehorned in with four other acts.

The five-piece band hasn’t played Kansas City in some time, and many in the crowd were seeing the band for the first time. They weren’t hard to spot. Many were sporting the group’s trademark blue energy dome hats that look like inverted Lego flower pots. Several more knew the precise moments to mimic singer Mark Mothersbaugh’s choreographed hand signals. At times they looked like a group of subversive air traffic controllers.

The five-piece band took the stage wearing matching gray suits with half-masks that looked like berets extending over the eyes. The kinetic keyboard riff to “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man)” a track off the band’s first album in 20 years, showed they hadn’t lost any of their zany energy during the time off.

Music was only part of Devo’s multimedia message. A large LED screen behind the quintet showed clips from past music videos and footage designed to amplify the songs. The footage during “What We Do” commented on mass consumption and the arbitrary nature of elections as partying humans gradually regressed into simians. Another new song, “Fresh,” featured rapid-fire images of fruit and a bikini-clad derriere.

The diverse lineup prevented the crowd from completely gelling with the music for most of the night. The one exception came during “Whip It,” Devo’s Top 20 hit from 1980. For three minutes, everyone was a Devo fan, whipping the air and singing along.

The final third of the set was an about-face. Synthesizers were replaced with guitars as the band embraced the punk roots of its first two albums. Dressed in yellow radiation suits, the band delivered wonderfully sideways covers of “Satisfaction” and “Secret Agent Man.” Closing song “Jocko-Homo” found the crowd answering Mothersbaugh’s question “Are we not men?” with the hearty “We are Devo.” And then they were gone.

The transition from Devo to Silversun Pickups was jarring. The Los Angeles-based quartet opened with the dreamy wash of “Growing Old is Getting Old.” Their very vocal supporters made a lot of noise during a great performance of “There’s No SecretsThis Year” that somehow managed to find dynamics and texture in an abysmal sound mix.

Guitarist and singer Brian Aubert also gave a shout-out to all the fans that came out for the band’s free St. Patrick’s Day show at the Power and Light district last year. The 50-minute set ended with a run through three of the band’s biggest singles: “Substitution,” “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye.”

Ben Folds closed out the night. His one-hour set included favorites like “Kate” and “Annie Waits.” Accompanied only by his piano, the crowd was more than happy to pitch in. They sang all of Regina Spektor’s part on the duet “You Don’t Know Me,” provided three-part harmony to “Not the Same” and participated in a joyously profane call-and-response during “Rockin’ the Suburbs.” Folds also sang “Levi Johnston’s Blues” a track from his upcoming album, and rarities “Steven’s Last Night in Town” and “The Secret Life of Morgan Davis.”

Against Me! and Crash Kings completed the evening’s bill.

Devo setlist: Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man); Peek-A-Boo; What We Do; Going Under; Fresh; That’s Good; Girl U Want; Whip It; Planet Earth; Satisfaction; Secret Agent Man; Uncontrollable Urge; Jocko-Homo.

Keep reading:

The Evolution of Devo

Review: Ben Folds

Review: Jonsi

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(Above: Savion Glover does his thing with plenty o’ swing.)

By Joel Francis

Continuing The Daily Record’s look at the state of jazz today, here is the final of three installments shedding light on 15 jazz greats to emerge in the last 20 years. Note that these musicians are not necessarily the 15 greatest jazz artists to arrive since 1990. A brief listen to any of them, though, should more than persuade the most ardent purist that jazz is alive and well.

Eldar Djangirov

Eldar Djangirov is the continuation of the great line of pianists to emerge from Kansas City, Mo. that stretches back to Count Basie and Jay McShann. The three have more than an adopted hometown in common, though. Although none were born in Kansas City, all experienced significant musical growth while living there. Unlike Basie and McShann, though, Eldar’s formation started before puberty. He performed at a Russian jazz festival at age 5 and at age 12 became the youngest guest ever on Marian McPartlan’s Piano Jazz radio show. Though his latest album is straight-up smooth jazz, Eldar’s earlier work has a breadth that recalls everyone from Ahmad Jamal to Art Tatum. Albums to start with: Eldar, Live at the Blue Note

Christian McBride

Bass player Christian McBride was mentored and hailed by no less an authority than Ray Brown before starting off on his own. McBride works comfortably in the traditional vein on his early albums like “Fingerpainting,” the excellent tribute to Herbie Hancock performed in a bass/guitar/trumpet setting. He gets more funky and touches on fusion with his three-disc live set recorded at Tonic and studio albums “Sci-Fi” and “Vertical Vision.” In 2003, McBride collaborated with hip hop drummer Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of the Roots and keyboardist Uri Caine for a spectacular collaboration known as the Philadelphia Experiment. McBride has also worked extensively with Sting and Pat Metheny. Albums to start with: Fingerpainting, The Philadelphia Experiment.

Joshua Redman

Expectations have been high for Joshua Redman since winning the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition in 1991. While Redman hasn’t fulfilled those unrealistic expectations by taking his instrument to the heights achieved by Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, he has built a strong career on his own terms. Redman’s early quintets helped launch the careers of Christian McBride and Brad Mehldau and his work as musical director of the San Francisco Jazz Collective paired him with legends like Bobby Hutcherson and new artists like Miguel Zenon. Redman’s catalog is adventurous enough to include covers of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” with guitarist Pat Metheny and funky experiments that recall Eddie Harris. Albums to start with: Spirit of the Moment, Back East.

Savion Glover

Jazz tap may have died with the golden age of big-budget Hollywood musicals, but Savion Glover is trying his best to bring it back. He has appeared in televised concerts with Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, collaborated with poet Reg E. Gaines and saxophone player Matana Roberts for the John Coltrane-inspired improve “If Trane Was Here,” appeared in Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled” and was a cast member of “Sesame Street.” Glover hasn’t recorded any albums, but his live performances are a potent reminder that jazz isn’t the exclusive province of those with a horn or a voice.

Bad Plus

Combining rock and jazz is nothing new, but the piano/drums/bass trio Bad Plus have done it in an acoustic setting that resembles Medeski, Martin and Wood more than Weather Report. Their early albums were filled with original material that split the difference between Oscar Peterson and Ben Folds, tempered by occasional arrangements of Pixies and Black Sabbath classics. Unfortunately, recent releases have steered sharply away from new compositions and saturated the increasing covers with more irony. While the concept of their newest album – all covers with a female vocalist – makes one wary, their early material should not be overlooked. Albums to start with: Give, Suspicious Activity.

Keep Reading 15 Jazz Greats to Emerge in the Last 20 Years

Part One

Part Two

Five Legends Still Adding to Their Legacies

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Above: Ben Folds and Regina Spektor: “You Don’t Know Me.”

By Joel Francis

The Kansas City Star

Ben Folds is so melodic that even when he writes bad tunes on purpose he ends up with something you can whistle and enjoy.

Case in point: Folds’ two-hour-plus, sold-out concert at the Uptown Wednesday night. Nearly half a dozen of the evening’s songs were spoofs that Folds and his band leaked to the internet before the release of his latest album, “Way To Normal.”

“We decided even though these songs were written to suck, we liked them anyway,” Folds told the crowd.

So while the album version of “Bitch Went Nuts” is about a man justifying a break-up by blaming the woman, the “fake” version is about a liberal woman who takes cocaine and goes Ralph Nader at her conservative date’s law-firm party. Folds was so enamored with his fakes that he A-side/B-sided them against the album versions two times during the night. Both times each version held its own.

As such, the night was heavy on “Normal” material. Opening act Missy Higgins joined Folds for the bouncy, synth-heavy “You Don’t Know Me”; “Frown Song” was propelled by not one, but two keytars. “Cologne” is a beautiful ballad about a deteriorating relationship that stands proudly among Folds best compositions.

“Brainwashed” recalled the best moments of the Ben Folds Five, and while his band jammed on the outro, Folds stood to the side of the stage with his hands together, beaming like a child at a talent show.

Folds peppered the setlist with fan favorites like “Landed,” “Zak and Sara” and a partial cover of Elton John’s “This Song Has No Title” (which he’d performed at a New York City benefit concert earlier this week).

The encore was essentially a half-hour second set for the faithful. “Still Fighting It,” “Kate,” “Philosophy” and “Fair” were pure Folds gold that the crowd devoured. He’s not afraid to flip on the house lights to get the audience involved, and they were not shy about taking the cue. The crowd jumped on “Army” with a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” level of interaction, taking over the three-part-harmony bridge with no instruction.

The five-piece band included drummer Sam Smith, who played so hard the “V-O-T-E” letters fixed to his shirt gradually fell off. Folds frequently dismissed the extra keyboard player and percussionist for a pared down bass-drums-piano trio on the harder hitting numbers.

Higgins warmed the crowd up with a 45-minute set of radio-ready acoustic pop, playing in socks because, she said, her shoes got soaked on an afternoon expedition to Broadway Café. The highlight of her set was “Going North,” which featured a great acoustic guitar solo by Ben Edgar.

The concert was Folds third local performance of the  year, following a late-winter, students-only show at UMKC and a 70-minute set at Wakarusa in June. If that set was slightly truncated, Folds made amends by playing for more than two hours and returning for two encores Wednesday night. The first encore set ended with the fake version of “Frown Song.” It’s hard to imagine anyone leaving with anything but a smile.

Setlist: Way to Normal/Effington/This Song Has Not Title/You Don’t Know Me (with Missy Higgins)/Gone/Brainwashed/Dr. Yang (fake)/Dr. Yang/Anne Waits/Cologne/Frown Song/The Bitch Went Nuts/Landed/Kylie from Connecticut/Free Coffee/Free Coffee Town/Hiroshima/Zak and Sara/The Bitch Went Nuts (fake) Encore: Fair/Still Fighting It/Philosophy/Kate/Rocking the Suburbs/Underground/Army/Frown Song (fake)/Not the Same

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