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Posts Tagged ‘Nirvana’

 In a way, David Bowie’s unexpected death last January has freed his songs. Because we are no longer dependent on him to sing them, they are available to everyone to perform as they wish. On Saturday night at the Uptown Theater, the magic happened to come from a couple of the guys who helped create it in the first place.

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(Above: The Corin Tucker Band cap off a great show with an encore cover of The Selecters “Three Minute Hero” at the Record Bar in Kansas City, Mo.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Corin Tucker disappointed Sleater-Kinney’s small but passionate fanbase when she put the band on hiatus in 2006. Now touring in support of her second solo album, the excellent “Kill Your Blues,” the riotgrrl brought the small but dedicated Friday night crowd at the RecordBar up to speed on her life.

“I took some time to be a mom and have some kids,” Tucker sang on “Groundhog Day,” also comparing  herself to “Rip Van Winkle in a denim skirt” on the same verse.

Tucker’s solo work is more expansive, but also retains most of her trademarks. “None Like You” opened with a creepy synthesizer riff that was almost gothic. The breakdown on “Neeskowin” was almost disco, with drummer Sara Lund riding the hi-hat while bass player Dave Depper roped a funky bassline.

The song “Constance” may best exhibit Tucker’s growth and confidence as a songwriter. The imagery of a child ready to leave home and anxious parents not ready for her to go draws from emotions born of Tucker’s motherhood. At the same time the melody treads between a Nirvana-inspired chorus that would have been at home on any number of Sleater-Kinney albums, but also features nuanced choruses built around tiny organ riffs that points the music in a new direction. Later, Tucker wasn’t afraid to let “Joey,” a tribute to the late Ramones singer, flow with tenderness.

While the night was peppered with poppy moments, Tucker’s voice still flips and snarls like an angry acrobat when it needs to, punching and kicking notes with joyful abandon. Her minimalist guitar noodling played nicely off the large noisy wash from Seth Lorinczi’s guitar. At times, Lorinczi’s guitar sounded like an aggressive takedown of the Ravonettes.

Between songs, Tucker reminded people to vote, intentionally – and hilariously – confusing senate candidate Todd “legitimate rape” Aikin with American Idol Clay Aiken.

The 70-minute set leaned heavily on “Kill Your Blues,” featuring all but two of the album’s dozen cuts. The remaining spots in the setlist were filled with songs from Tucker’s 2010 solo debut, “1,000 Years.” For the encore, Tucker turned the ska bounce of The Selecter’s “Three Minute Hero” into a furious punk song.

Almost a year ago to the day, Wild Flag, the band featuring the other two-thirds of Sleater-Kinney, delivered an incredible performance for a sold-out crowd that hung on every note. The fans who made it a point to see the highly anticipated Wild Flag set, did themselves a disservice by missing Tucker. She may not have the NPR hype machine behind her, but Tucker is making music just as inventive and vitals as her former bandmates. Hopefully next time she’ll be playing to the full room she deserves.

Setlist: No Bad News Tonight, None Like You, Summer Jams, Half a World, Handed Love, Groundhog Day, Tiptoe, Riley, Constance, I Don’t Wanna Go, Kill My Blues, Joey, Neskowin, Doubt. Encore: Three Minute Hero (The Selecter cover).

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(Above: Justin Townes Earle performs the joyous/sorrowful “Harlem River Blues” for David Letterman.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

While he was living in Los Angeles in the throes of addiction, songwriter Steve Earle reached out to his son Justin, who was living with his mom in Nashville.

“I had very little contact with my dad growing up,” Justin Townes Earle said, “but once a month I’d get a package in the mail full of records.”

Steve Earle was a country sensation at the time, building on the success of his albums “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road,” but the albums he mailed his son bore little relation to ones he was making.

“I guarantee you I was the first kid in Nashville to have Nirvana’s ‘Bleach,’ because I got it from my dad in ’89 when it first came out,” Earle said. “I had all the AC/DC albums … Mudhoney. I got Ice Cube’s ‘Lethal Injection’ from my father.”

A few years later, the elder Earle — now clean of his addictions — offered some musical advice to his son: Write what you know and write honestly. By this time Justin Townes Earle, 14, had discovered the music native to his hometown.

“I took that advice and ran with it,” Earle said. “I’m the type of person who, once you point me in the right direction, just leave me alone and let me go.”

Earle plays the Bottleneck in Lawrence tonight. Fifteen years have passed since his songwriting career began, and although he suffered some of the same dark periods of substance abuse his father endured, Earle has persevered. He has released an album a year since 2007, each building on the last.

“My albums have been a conscious progression,” Earle said. “ ‘Yuma’ was me addressing my Woody Guthrie thing. ‘The Good Life’ addressed the honky-tonk ghost. With ‘Midnight at the Movies’ I was trying to push to the weirder side of folk, and then on ‘Harlem River Blues’ I was going for more of the gospel and blues.”

Last year’s “Harlem River Blues” opens with what may be the standout track in Earle’s impressive catalog, an upbeat, jaunty gospel number … about suicide by drowning.

“That song initially came from something I remembered when reading the ‘Basketball Diaries’ when I was young,” Earle said. “Jim Carroll and his buddies were the toughest kids in New York because they’d jump off the cliffs into the Harlem River.”

The darker elements draw on Earle’s days as a homeless junkie. Shortly after being fired from his father’s band in the early 2000s, Earle spent two years on the streets in perpetual search for the next fix.

“Because I am a drug addict, I have friends with fairly miserable lives and a few who actually took their own lives,” Earle said. “I talked with one friend about eight hours before he did it (killed himself) and as he told me his plan. I saw a look of ease on his face I’d never seen. It was what he wanted to do and why the song has a celebratory feeling.”

Barely 29, Earle feels like he has already lived several lifetimes. He quit school at 14 and ran off with some other budding songwriters at 16. A near-death experience hastened the start of his recovery from hard substances, although Earle still smokes and just swore off alcohol.

“The album ‘Harlem River Blues’ is about a man in his late 20s realizing he’s human and slowing down. The invincible part of my 20s are over,” Earle said. “I’ve run the gamut. There’s something about drugs that make you realize how delicate life is.”

Most of Earle’s immediate future will be consumed with touring, but he plans to take several weeks in October to record his next album. After that he’s moving from New York City to Europe for three years.

“I want to go to Barcelona on weekends and Paris for dinner,” Earle said. “I’ve been to Barcelona three times on tour but have never been to the beach. I want to spend a month in Marrakech. I just want to take in as much as I can.”

Thursday’s show will be Earle’s first appearance in the area since he opened for Levon Helm at the Crossroads in July, a night Earle calls “one of my favorite shows of all time.”

“I had done a couple shows with Levon prior to that night, but because his voice was bad he didn’t sing,” Earle said. “After my set I walked out and ordered a couple drinks from the bar at the right side of the stage. When the band kicked into ‘Ophelia’ and I heard that voice, I dropped my drinks and ran to the side of the stage.

“I didn’t move for the rest of the night.”

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(Above: Jay-Z takes fans behind the scenes for the making of  the cover for his 2009 release “The Blueprint 3.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

There is no shortage of books on album artwork. Pick a decade, genre or label and you’ll likely have several volumes to choose among. Johnny Morgan and Ben Wardle make an impressive entry into this crowded field with their book “The Art of the LP: Classic Album Covers 1955-1995.”

While some of the album covers are inevitably familiar – Santana’s “Abraxas,” Nirvana’s “Nevermind”  – the grouping sets this volume apart. Albums are arranged in ten categories ranging from sex, drugs and rock and roll to ego, drugs, politics and death.

artofLPwebIt’s fascinating to watch the evolution of styles and boundaries. In the 1950s, for example, just showing a black man’s face with a red tint as on Sonny Rollins’ “A Night at the ‘Village Vanguard’ was enough to shock a racially uneasy country in the middle of the red scare. Barely over a decade later, “black power” was in full force on covers such as Miles Davis’ “On the Corner” and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under a Groove.” More subtle comments on race and politics gave way to confrontational styles embraced in succession by reggae, punk and hip hop.

Especially interesting are the two-page spreads, like the one juxtaposing the use of the American flag on Sly and the Family Stone’s 1971 release “There’s A Riot Going On,” Bruce Springsteen’s 1984 “Born in the U.S.A.” and the Black Crowes’ 1993 album “Amorica.” Stone alters the flag’s stars to make it a statement against the Vietnam War, while the backdrop to Springsteen’s anti-Vietnam statement is seen as patriotic. The Black Crowes chose an image from Hustler of a woman in a flag patterned bikini. The authors note that the Crowes statement wouldn’t have been unusual in the free love era of the ‘60s, but needed the relaxed censorship of the ‘90s to gain mainstream circulation.

Arranging the albums so they comment and reflect on each other, not only reinforces the themes, but adds a deeper appreciation of the work. Students of art will undoubtedly relish this experience, but for the rest of us Morgan and Wardle have added a solid block of text for each work. This paragraph not only provides the context of the time and artists, but explains what the artist may have been trying to accomplish.

This text is especially fun on the disastrous covers marked with an exclamation point.  The authors clearly have a special place in their hearts for the Scorpions. No less than three of the ‘80s German metal outfit’s covers are denoted. Reaching a “Spinal Tap” moment, they muse “Would the Scorpions ever learn the difference between sexy and sexist? Of course not.”

Ending just before the peak of the CD era, Morgan and Wardle give their subjects the largest canvass possible. The oversized pages allow for half-size reproductions. Music fans used to viewing tiny CD booklets will be amazed at the details that spring from the page. Fans accustomed to vinyl sleeves won’t miss much. Gatefold covers or albums that answer the cover artwork on the back are also given full exhibition. The handsome hardbound book is housed in a red plastic slipcase.

“The Art of the LP” is a visual jukebox that will entertain and inspire music fans and artists alike. Unless your coffee table is already loaded with similar books, I suggest making room for this one.

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dv0302016

By Joel Francis

We never had cable television in our house when I was growing up. Some people are surprised when I reveal this tidbit, but I don’t think one would have to scratch to deeply to tie this to my long-running obsession with pop culture.

As a child this was no big deal, but as I got older being disconnected from the great mainstream fountain of MTV put my sister and I severely out of the loop.

To plug into the cultural zeitgeist we had to go to the Mecca of the cutting-edge, St. Joseph, Mo. There, at our grandparents’ house, we got to gorge on cable programming and feast on the forbidden MTV. Thanksgiving and Christmas were the best. With two extended breaks within a month of each other, my sister and I could catch up on all the Yo! MTV Raps, Club MTV, Headbanger’s Ball and Street Party we could get away with.

Our system was both simple and foolproof. The main TV in my grandparents’ house was in the basement by the fireplace. My sister would position herself at the bottom of the steps (with the door “accidentally” closed at the top), and I would hover my finger over the “previous channel” button on the remote, ready for her signal.

In that basement we saw the videos for Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “November Rain,” U2’s “Even Better Than the Real Thing,” and Michael Jackson’s “Jam” for the first time. We witnessed the evolution of Kurt Cobain, performing with cheerleaders, hanging on a cross and eventually playing unplugged in a natty sweater. We also saw the hot dance moves I knew my hopelessly uncoordinated body would never let me conquer. Armed with this information, we would return to school and be in the know until Valentine’s Day. In that brief window, all of our touchstones would begin to stale until we were once again relegated to the sidelines and second-hand video knowledge.

Of course watching that much MTV could only lead to premarital sex and other inappropriate behavior, but if our parents cared they didn’t let on much. They were probably just happy my sister and I weren’t fighting for once. There may have been several occasions dad watched with us just to see what all the fuss was about. Allegedly. (He was as impressed with the 360-degree camerawork on “Even Better Than the Real Thing” as us. In a pre-“Matrix” world it was pretty remarkable. I also remember him liking the dolphins in Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “Estranged,” not that it made any more sense then than it does now.)

My grandparents downsized to a condo in the late ‘90s. By then I was in college and my sister could drive to Westport and experience a more authentic musical environment. They eventually moved closer to our parents and better healthcare in Independence.

Grandma died a week ago today, five days after suffering a stroke that rendered her right side paralyzed and took away her ability to speak. She could still smile, though, and the half of her face that could lit up any time one of her loved ones walked into her hospital room. She went quicker than expected – Grandpa didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye – but peacefully in her sleep.

Truth is, of all my grandparents, my grandma and I probably had the least obvious connection. She was all the things I wasn’t: patient, selfless and completely uninterested in sports, music and movies. Her life revolved around church and serving her friends and family. Anything else that collided with that universe was just gravy.

The TV in her basement, like a lot of the furniture in that room was sold or given away long ago. But in a lot of ways, it was never turned off. I go back there in my mind when I pull up a long-forgotten Black Star video up on Youtube, or watch any of my music DVDs. And now I think of Grandma, waiting for us upstairs with a freshly prepared hot meal and a smile on her face. Come join us. There’s always room for one more at her table.

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