(Above: Best Coast perform “No One Like You” at the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Kan., on May 26, 2012.)
By Joel Francis The Kansas City Star
The backdrop depicted a large bear embracing the state of California, a nice metaphor for the music emanating just a few yards closer. For 75 minutes Sunday night at the Granada, indie-pop duo Best Coast showcased the many of the Golden State’s finest musical attributes: girl groups, surf guitars and bubbly pop melodies about summer and love.
The band makes a strong case for being their home state’s finest musical ambassadors since the Beach Boys. Opening number “The Only Place,” the title track to their recently released sophomore album, set the stage. “We’ve got the ocean/got the babes/got the sun/got the waves,” Beth Cosentino sang over jangly guitars. “So leave your cold behind/we’re gonna make it to the beach on time.”
The sun is usually out in Cosentino’s musical world, but not always in her heart. Her lyrics are direct and confessional, often reading like diary entries about lost, misplaced or inconvenient love. The band’s 2010 debut had a lo-fi feel that added to the intimacy of her words. Onstage, the twosome of Cosentino and guitarist Bobb Bruno are touring with a bass player for the first time. Combined with a new drummer, they finally had a live rhythm section that adds muscle and potency to the music.The bass added depth to the sound and gave Bruno more freedom on his guitar. The drumming enhanced the sense of desperation in “Why I Cry” and gave urgency to “Angsty.”Cosentino’s pop memoirs of longing came tumbling one after another. The set list comprised nearly all of “The Only Place,” more than half of their debut “Crazy For You” and a handful of singles. The whole room was dancing for the bouncy pairing of “Let’s Go Home” and “Our Deal,” but the slower material went over just as well thanks to Cosentino’s captivating voice. An emotional cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Storms” hinted at the direction Cosentino’s songwriting may be headed. It covered the same romantic terrain, but boasted more lyrical maturity and depth.
Cosentino and Bruno clearly aren’t tired of playing “Boyfriend,” their breakout hit. Cosentino threw herself into the delivery, nearly growling the words “how I want him.” The pair were all smiles throughout the one-two of early singles “When I’m With You” and “Boyfriend” that ended the night.
Just as Best Coast benefited away from the blistering sun and heat that capsized their mid-day slot at Kanrocksas last summer, opener Jeff the Brotherhood was better suited for the Granada than the cavernous Midland Theater, where they opened for the Kills last winter.
The sibling duo from Nashville’s half-hour set was driven by guitarist Jake Orrall’s 3-string, hybrid guitar. The axe featured a Gibson body and bass neck and was filtered, flanged and phased about every way imaginable, often sounding like Black Sabbath’s meeting with Swamp Thing. The high point of their set was “I’m a Freak,” a straight-up, classic rock guitar jam in the vein of “Stranglehold.”
Setlist: The Only Place, Last Year, Angsty, Summer Mood, Goodbye, Crazy For You, Sun Don’t Shine, No One Like You, How They Want Me To Be, Why I Cry, Mean Girls, Dreaming My Life Away, Let’s Go Home, Our Deal, Do You Love Me Like You Used To, Up All Night. Encore: I Want To, Sun Was High, Storms (Fleetwood Mac cover), When I’m With You, Boyfriend.
(Above: “Jefferson Jericho Blues” is one of several new songs Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers have been regularly playing on their tour this summer.)
By Joel Francis
The Daily Record
The sets Heart and Sarah McLachlan delivered back-to-back at last week’s Lilith Fair were studies in contrast. Sure their styles are wildly divergent, but each act presented three new songs during their one-hour sets.
Heart was proud of their songs, delivering them in succession. They may have gone one song too far, but the crowd responded positively. McLachlan, on the other hand, apologized for performing new songs. She sprinkled them throughout her hit-laden set and express regret before and after each one. She needn’t have bothered – the audience enjoyed them anyway.
Nostalgia is the single most lucrative element in the music industry today. Fans are wiling to shell out more than ever to see legendary artists in concert. Paradoxically, those fans are loathe to hear anything outside of the sacred catalog. This is a closed cannon. With a few exceptions, anything after two dozen hit singles or 10 successful albums is off limits. Some artists, like Billy Joel, are fine with this. Joel hasn’t written any new pop material in nearly two decades. Others, like Fleetwood Mac, shuttle most of their new music to individual projects (although the band did deliver a new album in 2003, their first in eight years).
Solo performers have fewer options. Paul McCartney and Elton John have bravely soldiered on, each releasing four albums in the past decade and highlighting his latest release in concert. James Taylor and Paul Simon have slowed their output to a trickle; both have only released one or two albums of original material in the new millennium, respectively.
Then there are the rare established artists whose fans salivate over new material. In 2007, Bruce Springsteen’s “Magic” hit No. 1 on the album charts. Despite a Clear Channel missive not to play any of the new material on its stations, Springsteen performed the majority of the album on his sold-out tour. When “Working on a Dream” appeared just 18 months later, it featured heavily in setlists as well.
The Original Wailers face an even more daunting task. Their catalog is not only the most popular and indelible in reggae, but Bob Marley, their frontman and songwriter, has been dead for 30 years. When the band performed in Kansas City earlier this year they boldly mixed many original songs from their upcoming album in with Marley’s classics. Surprisingly, the new riddims didn’t stop the dancing for a moment.
Artists have three choices onstage: ignore performing new material, apologize and play a couple new songs, or deliver a block of new material. None of these are optimal. (Quick caveat: the songs in question should be worthwhile additions to the catalog, not a cheap excuse to trot out the same tired hits yet again.)
Overconfidence in new material may send fans fleeing for the bathroom and bar. I’m confused why any artist would ever apologize for the music they perform, especially if it is something they have written or hold dear. Ignoring new work reinforces the same message as apologizing: I’m not proud of this material. If they’re not proud of it, why should fans bother?
Despite their perceived authority and glamor, artists have little power over how their music will be marketed, sold and received. Going onstage is as close to complete control that they will ever have. Songwriters should own all of their material, especially the latest and least familiar. Don’t be afraid to surprise. Weaving new material in with the old not only freshens the setlist, but shakes some dust off the favorites by placing them in a new perspective and context. It tells the fan “if you liked this then, try this now.” Remember: Today’s new songs are tomorrow’s sing-alongs.
(Above: Honorable mention R.L. Burnside, who was convicted of murder 1959 and sentenced to Parchman Farm. Burnside later said, “I didn’t mean to kill nobody. I just meant to shoot the sonofabitch in the head. Him dying was between him and the Lord.”)
By Joel Francis
Phil Spector is hardly the first musician to be convicted of murder. He’s not even the most famous or influential one. But he is the latest. In honor of Spector’s recent sentencing, The Daily Record recognizes five other musicians convicted of murder.
Cool C and Steady B
Cool C and Steady B both came of age in the 1980s Philadelphia rap scene. Steady, nee Warren McGlone, was one of the first Philly rappers to taste the mainstream, while Cool, born Christopher Roney, was a member of the Hilltop Hustlers. The two teamed up in the early ’90s to form C.E.B., which was short for Countin’ Endless Bank. Taking their moniker a little two seriously, the duo decided to rob an actual bank.
On Jan. 2, 1996 – perhaps fulfilling a New Year’s resolution – C, B and Mark Canty, another Philadelphia rapper, attempted to rob a PNC bank in the City of Brotherly Love. Needless to say, the heist didn’t go as planned. When officer Lauretha Vaird responded to the silent alarm, she was shot and killed by Cool C. Steady B exchanged shots with another officer as the trio hopped into a stolen minivan and made their escape.
Steady was arrested at his apartment shortly after the crime. When two handguns left at the bank were traced back to him, he confessed to the crime.
In October, 1996, Cool was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death by lethal injection. Steady got off with a second degree murder conviction and life in prison. Cool was granted a stay of execution in 2006, by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (probably a closet C.E.B. fan), but remains on death row. Steady also remains incarcerated.
Little Willie John
In the late 1950s, Little Willie John traveled in the same soul circles as his contemporaries Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Hank Ballard. His parade of hits started in 1955 with “All Around the World” and included “Need Your Love So Bad” (later covered by Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac) and “Fever,” which Peggy Lee made famous and took to the U.S. Top 10.
John had a golden voice, but he also had a bad temper and a taste of alcohol. Those three traits collided backstage at a concert in 1964 when John stabbed a man to death. He was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to Washington State Prison. John was appealing his conviction and aiming for a comeback when he died of pneumonia in 1968.
In the fall of 1964, trombone player Don Drummond was living the good life. The band he helped form, the Skatalites, were finally breaking through, thanks to a song he wrote. “Man in the Street” was a Top 10 U.K. hit and for many their first taste of reggae. One year later, Drummond’s arrangement of the Guns of Navarone also hit the U.K. Top 10. But 1965 was not as kind to Drummond.
Drummond earned the nickname “Don Cosmic” for the erratic behavior brought on by his manic depression. When the body of Drummond’s girlfriend exotic dancer Marguerita Mahfood was found in Drummond’s home with several knife wounds, the police quickly arrested Drummond and charged him with murder. Drummond was judged legally insane at his trial and committed to Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Drummond died in Bellevue in 1967 at the age of 39. His death was ruled suicide, but because no autopsy was performed conspiracy theories persist to this day.
Drummond left behind a catalog of more than 300 songs and pivotal role backing Lee “Scratch” Perry, the Wailers, Delroy Wilson at their earliest sessions.
Drummer Jim Gordon started his career backing the Everly Brothers in 1963. By the end of the decade he’d performed on “Pet Sounds,” “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” and numerous other albums. When Jim Keltner pulled out of a tour with Delaney and Bonnie, Gordon was brought in as the replacement. Gordon got on so well with the rest of the band, which included Eric Clapton, bass player Carl Radle and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, that the quartet played on Clapton’s first solo album, the first post-Beatles album by Clapton’s friend George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass”) and even a session with Ringo.
The group is most memorable, however, for the album it produced with Duane Allman. As Derek and the Dominoes, Clapton was able to pour out his unrequited love for Harrison’s wife Patti Boyd and Allman was able to lay down some of his best licks. Gordon gained notoriety for writing the piano coda to “Layla.” He composed the piece independently and had to be persuaded to let Clapton incorporate into what became one of the biggest rock singles of all time.
After Derek and the Dominoes broke up in 1971, Gordon played in Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. He also toured with Traffic and Frank Zappa. Gordon’s session work also flourished. He played drums on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” album. Gordon’s drum solo on “Apache” is one of the most sampled licks in hip hop.
In the late ’70s Gordon complained of hearing voices. Treated for alcohol abuse instead of schizophrenia, the voices had pushed Gordon out of music entirely by 1981. They pushed him even further in 1983 when Gordon killed his mother with a hammer. Gordon was properly diagnosed in his 1984 trial and sentenced to sixteen years to life with the possibility of parole. Gordon remains in prison.
Most musicians wait until after they’re famous to start killing people. Not the man born Huddie Ledbetter. Before he recorded a note for Alan Lomax, the towering legend of folk and blues had escaped from a chain gang in Texas, served seven years for killing a relative in a fight over a woman. Lead Belly learned new songs and honed his craft while in prison, eventually earning a pardon from Texas Governor Pat Neff, who enjoyed the religious songs Lead Belly had played for him. Five years later, Lead Belly was back in prison, this time for attempted homicide. After serving three years for knifing a white man in a fight, he was discovered by John and Alan Lomax, who fell under his spell and petitioned to have him released.
After taking Louisiana Governor O.K. Allen a recording of “Goodnight Irene,” Lead Belly was released (the official reason was time off for good behavior). He recorded several albums for the Library of Congress based on his book “Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly.” Unfortunately, Lead Belly could not shake his criminal past, and was back in jail again in 1939 for stabbing a man in a fight in New York City. Again, Alan Lomax jumped to Lead Belly’s defense, dropping out of graduate school and helping Lead Belly record an album of songs to pay for his legal expense.
Lead Belly became a fixture of the New York City folk scene in the 1940s. He appeared on the radio, performed with Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Woody Guthrie, and others and recorded a wide range of music. Acolyte Bob Dylan once said Lead Belly was “One of the few ex-cons who recorded a popular children’s album.”
“Goodnight Irene” became Lead Belly’s most popular song. Unfortunately, he did not live long enough to see Pete Seeger’s group the Weavers make it a No. 1 hit.
Lead Belly died in 1949, leaving behind a treasure of songs that includes “Midnight Special,” “Cotton Fields” and “Rock Island Line.”
Jr. Walker and the All-Stars – “(I’m A) Roadrunner,” Pop #20, R&B# 4
Not to be confused with similarly titled hit by Bo Diddley, or the great pre-punk anthem by the Modern Lovers, this “Roadrunner” is a pure Holland-Dozier-Holland confection. Jr. Walker has clearly overcome his earlier trepidation with the microphone to confidently deliver this paean to the open road. Answering his vocals with stinging sax lines, Walker proves to be his own best all-star. The elastic guitar lines show Shorty Long’s blues influence on the label, while the organ buried in the mix is the subtle glue that keeps the performance together.
The song isn’t even in the Top 5 of Walker’s biggest hits, but it’s held up better than better-charting songs like “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).”
Walker’s ’60s sax rival King Curtis was the first to cover the song, but the enduring number was also covered by a post-Peter Green, pre-Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, Jerry Garcia, Humble Pie, Peter Frampton and, most recently, James Taylor in 2008. – by Joel Francis
(Above: Picture this on the 50-yard line: the Flaming Lips, “Race for the Prize.”)
By Joel Francis
The five years since Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime “wardrobe malfunction” two things are clear: Nipple shields have not become the must-have fashion accessory everyone predicted; and halftime shows have never been better.
It would be easy to get tired of all the blue-chip baby boomer performers if they didn’t put on such compelling shows. The Rolling Stones abysmal 2006 act aside, it doesn’t get much better than hearing “Drive My Car” and “Runnin’ Down A Dream” at halftime. Yeah, they’ve been done to death, but they’re a lot better than whatever song Janet and Justin Timberlake were singing and Aerosmith’s pairing with Britney Spears. Does anyone remember those songs today?
Even fans tired of the oldies can’t argue with the energy that propelled Prince’s set in 2006 and Bruce Springsteen’s show last night into the top echelon of pop music performances.
Which is exactly why it’s time to change things up. The canary is choking; there’s not much more ore in the vein the NFL has mined these past five years. Let’s stop now, before Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles are serenading us with mid-game naps. It’s time to take the halftime show in a new direction. A direction hinted at in 2002 when U2 were brought in to play: dynamic bands that can connect with a huge audience, playing high-energy hits written within 20 years of their performance.
The Flaming Lips are the perfect band to open this new era. Imagine frontman Wayne Coyne rolling over the crowd in his giant hamster ball as “Race For the Prize” blasts through the stadium. Lasers penetrate the clouds of smoke as confetti, streamers and balloons rain on the crowd. Did we mention the Lips also come with their own space aliens and super heroes? Oh, and a flying saucer?
In their 25-year history, the Lips have twice rocked the massive crowds at Bonnarro and will have no problem connecting to the fans in the upper deck or on the couch. Their songs may not be as universally known as “American Girl,” but “She Don’t Use Jelly” was an MTV staple big enough to land the band on “Beverly Hills 90210.” And the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” will have as many people signing along as the outro of “Hey Jude.” The biggest obstacle will be cleaning up all the joyous debris on the field (lay down a tarp) and getting everyone to settle down enough to concentrate on the resumed game.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Blues Brothers (minus John Belushi) and Miami Sound Machine were given center-stage at the world’s biggest intermission. But there is a midway point between dinosaur bands and Top 40 vapidity. Once the Flaming Lips remind the audience of this territory, bands like the Foo Fighters, Arcade Fire and Robert Randolph and the Family Band are perfect future candidates.
Inoffensive doesn’t have to be the antonym of adventure. The Flaming Lips are the embodiment of the party atmosphere the NFL wants the Super Bowl to inhabit. It’s time to let them take the stage. Book them for 2010.
Read The Daily Record’s coverage of the Flaming Lips at Wakarusa in 2006and 2008.