Social Distancing Spins – Day 47

By Joel Francis

Stay strong and stay safe, my friends.

Johnny Cash – American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002) The final Johnny Cash album released in Johnny Cash’s lifetime is appropriately fixated on mortality. Then again, Cash has been singing about death since he shot a man in Reno to watch him die. The album works more often than it doesn’t. The title song is one of my favorite Cash compositions, funneling the Book of Revelations through a strummy Martin guitar. Similarly, Cash turns Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” into a gospel song. He adds a layer of guilt and gravitas to Sting’s “I Hung My Head” that is absent from the original recording. Best of all, Cash infuses a lifetime of pain and addiction into “Hurt,” completely claiming the song from Nine Inch Nails. Most of the rest ranges from fine to worse. “Tear-Stained Letter” is too jaunty and “Desperado” and “Danny Boy” are unnecessary. Cash isn’t adding anything to those well-worn tunes. Even worse, are covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (with Fiona Apple) and “In My Life.” Surprisingly, Cash seems lost on these songs, unsure of what to do with them. The high points more than make up for the milquetoast material – there is usually a little filler on Cash albums, but the result is the least consistent of the American releases to that point.

David Lee Roth – Eat ‘Em and Smile (1986) Diamond Dave is looking to settle scores with his solo debut. He brought in hotshot guitarist Steve Vai and bass player Billy Sheehan to generate one of the highest notes-per-second rock albums in an era that celebrated six-string excess. For better or worse, Roth can’t help being anything other than himself so even this grudge match was delivered with a broad wink and jazz hands. The key word in the album’s title is SMILE. All the songs push the fun factor to 11, but surprisingly nothing feels forced. Of course it’s all junk food, but like getting the extra butter on movie theater popcorn, sometimes you just can’t help it.

Four Tops – Second Album (1965) More often than not, especially in the 1960s, Motown albums were collections of hit singles padded with other recordings. The result was often uneven, but the album tracks on Second Album are pretty great in their own regard. No one can argue with the three Top 10 hits on the first side: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch),” “It’s the Same Old Song” and “Something About You.” The second side doesn’t contain any hit singles but doesn’t suffer from it. “Darling, I Hum Our Song” has a great Levi Stubbs vocal performance (really, he’s great on everything here) in a Jackie Wilson-styled song from the period when Berry Gordy was writing hits for Wilson. “Since You’ve Been Gone” first appeared as the b-side of “Standing in the Shadows of Love.” The energy from Four Tops and the Funk Brothers on this track make me think it could have been a hit on its own. Back on the first side, “IS There Anything I Can Do” is one of the few songs on the album not to come from the pen of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. Written by Smokey Robinson and fellow Miracles Ronald White and Pete Moore, it’s not hard to imagine the Miracles performing this song. Surprisingly, as far as I know they never did. Come for the hits on Second Album but stay for the album tracks that illustrate just how special the Four Tops were.

The Damned – The Best of the Damned (compilation) It seems there are almost as many best-of collections for the Damned as there has been lineups. I picked this up at a garage sale because it has many of my favorite songs from their first three albums, back when they were more punk than goth. At some point I might expand my Damned album collection to include those early releases in their entirety, but until then this is a great overview of a tough band.

The Stooges – Fun House (1970) The hype sticker on my album proclaims “Iggy and the boys find their troglodyte groove.” I wholeheartedly agree with this sentiment. The music on Fun House connects on a primal level, like howling at the moon. In a strange way, it connects with me in the same way as Howlin Wolf or John Lee Hooker – straight in the gut, without any pretense. Like it is hitting the lowest rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (food, shelter, etc.) In other words, the exact opposite of a pompous album review that references Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The song “TV Eye” came from a phrase that Stooges rhythm section Scott and Ron Asheton’s sister used about men leering at her. It forces me to exceed the speed limit every time it comes on in the car. “Down in the Sleep” came to Iggy Pop in the middle of the night. He got out of bed trying to play the power chord he heard in his head, waking his wife in the process. Unlike Ziggy, Iggy didn’t play guitar. Perhaps he never found that chord.

After the opening assault, Fun House changes up a bit but remains just as gripping. Steven Mackay’s saxophone squonks across the second side like the group has just discovered fire for the first time.

This album needs to be played regularly to make sure you are still alive.

The Shins – Wincing the Night Away (2007) The third album from the Albuquerque indie rock quartet was their first release after Natalie Portman proclaimed them life-changing in the film Garden State. There was a lot riding on this release, but frontman and songwriter James Mercer wasn’t afraid to stretch the band’s sound. He sprinkles synthesizers and funk basslines among the familiar chiming guitars and la-la-la melodies. As a result, Wincing the Night Away isn’t as strong as the two Shins albums before it, but it is still very enjoyable.

Willie Nelson – Teatro (1998) Willie Nelson seems game to try just about anything. Reggae album? Sure. Duet with Kid Rock? Why not? Still, the decision to record in an old movie theater with producer Daniel Lanois was a solid nod. Nelson revisits several of his lesser-known songs from the 1960s with harmonica player Mickey Raphael and the marvelous Emmylou Harris on backing vocals. Many of the arrangements are Spanish or Mexican in spirit and give a vibe like we are lost in a marathon of Ennio Morricone films south of the border. Nelson, the other musicians and the songs thrive in this atmosphere, making this a distinctly unique album in Nelson’s vast catalog and also one of his best.

Peter Gabriel – Us (1992) It took Peter Gabriel six years to release a follow-up to his massively successful album So. That’s almost light speed, considering he’s only given us one other album of original material since then. But what an album Us is. Gabriel throws everything from bagpipes to a Russian folk group in the should-have-been-single “Come Talk to Me.” Other songs are just as overstuffed and immaculately excellent. The horn-driven “Kiss the Frog” ranks as one of the greatest extended sexual metaphors of all time. “Blood of Eden” and “Secret World” are passionately romantic. The only dud is “Steam,” aka Son of “Sledgehammer.” There is a lot to unravel in Us, but Gabriel gave his fans plenty of time to process all of it.

Social Distancing Spins – Day 25

By Joel Francis

I’m still lost in the catacombs, down in the groove.

Lou Reed – New Sensations (1984) Lou Reed released several endeavors that sound more intriguing in concept than execution, but New Sensations stands out in a deep catalog full of non-sequiturs: It is relentless optimistic both lyrically and musically. I have no idea what put Reed in such a good mood, but it is a delight to hear praise impulsive behavior on “Doing the Things that We Want To,” turning the Detours’ “Do You Love Me” sideways for “I Love You, Suzanne” and celebrating a compatriot on “My Friend George.” If this sounds slight, fear not. There’s nothing here as lightweight as “The Original Wrapper,” which appears on his next album, Mistrial. New Sensations it a strong conclusion to an incredible – and diverse – trilogy of albums that appeared in consecutive years and represent Reed’s strongest run of material outside of the Velvet Underground.

Coathangers – The Devil You Know (2019) When first playing this sixth release from the all-female Atlanta trio one might think there was a mix-up at the pressing plant. Opening cut “Bimbo” opens with a light, bouncy guitar and piano line and airy vocals. Then the distortion kicks in at the chorus and we realize how the sonic dichotomy supports the song’s lyrics about making assumptions about women. Very clever. “Stranger Danger” employs a similar trick as coquette-ish repetition of the song title plays against more defiant vocals in the verses before all hell breaks loose on the chorus. The song does a great job of capturing #metoo-era menace in under three minutes. “Stranger Danger” sets the table nicely for “Fuck the NRA,” a song as brash and straightforward as its title and the album’s best moment. Clocking in at just over half an hour, The Devil You Know makes it point and quickly departs.

Sam and Dave – Double Dynamite (1966) Soul music abounds with upbeat songs and combos, but I don’t know of any as relentlessly happy as Sam and Dave. You can even hear them smiling during serious ballads like “When Something is Wrong with My Baby (Something is Wrong with Me).” Double Dynamite is Memphis soul at its finest, with Booker T. and the MGs serving as the backing band and Isaac Hayes and David Porter providing songs. The first side of this album has several of the duo’s hits, including “Soothe Me,” “Said I Wasn’t Going to Tell Nobody,” and “You’ve Got Me Hummin’.” The second side is less-known but still great and features a version of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s “I’m Your Puppet.”

Bob Dylan – Sidetracks (compilation) – This collection gathers all the non-album tracks released on box sets and hits collections over the years. The majority of the cuts come from the Biograph box set and are quite good, but I am partial to the songs from Greatest Hits, Volume II, which was a staple in my college dorm room. Dylanologists can rejoice than they no longer need skip through a half-dozen other anthologies for these hard-to-find tracks. Casual fans looking for the hits won’t find them here, but they will encounter a lot of great songs to send them scurrying deeper into the catalog. Non-albums singles like “Positively Fourth Street” and 1999’s Oscar-winning “Things Have Changed” which will satisfy both audiences.

John Entwistle – Whistle Rymes (1972) – John Entwistle solo albums can be a dicey proposition. The majority of them are more miss than hit, I’m afraid. Thankfully, Whistle Rymes (sic), The Ox’s second solo album is a safe endeavor. That’s not to say it’s not for the faint-hearted. The liner notes, penned by Entwistle, is the beginning of a fairy tale about a girl named Boobity. So, yeah. (If this tale was ever completed elsewhere, I don’t want to know about it.) The closing song, “Nightmare (Please Wake Me Up)” is a glorious cacophony of horns, piano, violin and drums. The rest of the album is quite good. Anyone who heard The Who songs “Boris the Spider,” “Silas Stingy” or “Heaven and Hell” and thought they needed some more will be pleased with Whistle Rymes.

Wynton Marsalis – Black Codes from the Underground (1985) The jazz world lost a tremendous gift when Ellis Marsalias, patriarch of the great jazz family passed last week. I saw Marsalis at a small theater in Kansas City about a decade ago with a combo that included his son Jason on drums. Somehow, after the show, a neighbor who played saxophone and went with me had talked our way into joining the band – minus Jason – for drinks at the hotel across the street. I soaked in the conversation and experiences until Ellis arrived. He started telling stories about when Charlie Parker was in Jay McShann’s band. McShann, Ellis said, tried to get everyone to take his young horn player because he was so undependable. “You found him, you keep him!” Ellis remembered the other bandleaders telling McShann as we all laughed.

I mention all this here because I don’t have an Ellis Marsalis album and because there will be other opportunities to discuss the rest of the Marsalis family. I have no doubt somewhere in heaven the newly arrived pianist is sitting in on a heck of a jam session.

Social Distancing Spins, Day 5

By Joel Francis

In observance of St. Patrick’s Day, here are some of my finest albums with Irish ties.

The Pogues – If I Should Fall From Grace with God (1988) The only thing wrong with this album is that the title song is too short. The extended 12-inch version on the Pogues box set solves this problem. Mentioning the highlights is like reading the track listing, but I’ll narrow it down to the absolute best. “Fairytale of New York” is my absolute favorite Christmas song and is just as powerful in August as it is in December. Hearing Kirsty MacColl and Shane MacGowan trade stanzas in the final verse always crushes me. This song’s all-time status was cemented in my soul when Bill Murray slurred his way through it with David Johansen and Jenny Lewis in his Christmas special.

There may be no finer tribute to the hope and heartbreak of the 19th century immigrants who traveled to the United States to start a new life than “Thousands are Sailing.” And that’s just side one. We’d better move on or I’ll be here all day.

Stiff Little Fingers – Greatest Hits Live in London (2017) The glory days of this Belfast-born punk band were long over when this live set came out. Although most of the material here pulls from the groups mighty four-album run in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s the fire on this inflammable material has dimmed. I really bought this album because it was marked down on a Black Friday sale and signed by the current musicians. As it’s the only SLF I currently own, it will be what I spin when I need to hear “Tin Soldiers” or “Suspect Device.” Oh, one more thing: “Alternative Ulster” makes a great alarm song on your phone. It’s hard not to want to kick the day’s butt after hearing that first thing.

Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak (1976) Yeah, this is the album with “The Boys are Back in Town,” the only song that classic rock radio deigns to circulate, but this is a solid slab of rock from start to finish. “Jailbreak” blows out the speakers like a lost AC/DC song. “Cowboy Song” starts off like a campfire ballad before Phil Lynott’s storytelling takes over and the guitars plug in. Can we talk about Lynott’s lyrics for a moment? “Emerald” reads like a preview to a great lost epic poem. The story in “Romeo and the Lonely Girl” is just as majestic as Mark Knopfler’s masterpiece “Romeo and Juliet.” All with those dual guitars that can sting like a scorpion out of nowhere. Thin Lizzy gets nowhere near the respect they deserve.

The Chieftains – 3 (1971)

Van Morrison and the Chieftains – Irish Heartbeat (1988) If you blindfolded me and played me any one of the Chieftains first half-dozen albums, I’m fairly confident I couldn’t tell them apart. The traditional Irish troupe expanded their sound when they started adding guest artists and gimmicks in the ‘90s. (The Chieftains play movie themes! The Chieftains go to Nashville!) There are many moments to savor on those albums, but I like the unvarnished simplicity of the jigs and reels on their initial run.

Ironically, it was the success of Irish Heartbeat that paved the way for these cross-genre exercises. I don’t begrudge the Chieftains for trying to reach a broader audience but to my ears they’ve never found a better partner than fellow Irishman Van Morrison. For proof, take a look at the group’s star-studded release Long Black Veil from 1995. Everyone from Sting to the Stones shows up, but Morrison steals the album with his own “Have I Told You Lately.” Irish Heartbeat brings out a playful side of Morrison rarely heard, particularly on “I’ll Tell Me Ma” and “Marie’s Wedding.” Hoist a pint and turn it up.

Dropkick Murphys – The Meanest of Times (2007) Irish by way of Boston, the Dropkick Murphys combine the traditional feel of the Chieftains with Thin Lizzy’s hard rock and Stiff Little Finger’s punk attitude. When I played this album in the morning my son announced that he didn’t like it and left the room. That evening he was captivated by the Murphys’ live performance online. I tried to tell him they were the same band from earlier, but he didn’t believe me. I guess some things need to be seen to be believed. (By the way, streaming this concert was a brilliant idea and really seems to be taking off while all of us are stuck at home. According to the counter in the corner, 128,000 people were watching live. That’s a far bigger crowd than they ever could have hoped to reach by playing a St. Patrick’s Day show in Beantown.)

Flogging Molly – Within a Mile of Home (2004) It’s hard to imagine a Dropkick Murphys fan not liking Flogging Molly as well. Molly are slightly less hardcore than the Murphys on record but both acts generate a considerable mosh pit in concert. I found Within a Mile of Home at a ridiculously cheap price on CD shortly after its release. Seeing Lucinda Williams was featured on one track, I picked it up. A couple years later, I found Whiskey on a Sunday, the follow-up EP/DVD under the same circumstances. Watching those live performances convinced me I absolutely had to see this band in concert. While Within a Mile from Home is the only Molly vinyl I own, I’ve seen them a handful of times in person and never been disappointed.

U2 – Boy (1980) If it is possible to think about this divisive Irish quartet without the hype, bombasity and preening it has accumulated over the years, then Boy is it. With the exception of opening track “I Will Follow,” the rest of the album has been excluded from setlists and compilations (although some songs have gradually crept back onstage). The menacing “An Cat Dubh” almost sounds like an anthemic early Cure outtake (with glockenspiel!) that slides into The Edge’s wonderful guitar textures of “Into the Heart.” (Along with Bono’s earnest vocals. U2 were never not-earnest.) There aren’t many hints of The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby here, yet all the essential elements of those albums are present. Sometimes spending time with the boy is more revelatory than hanging out with the man.

Review: Peter Hook and the Light

(Above: “New Dawn Fades” for Peter Hook and the Light.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

“This is the way,” Peter Hook sang during the opening song. “Step inside.”

The smallest crowd of the night at Middle of the Map’s outdoor stage was all too eager to follow.

Hook is a founding member of the influential post-punk band Joy Division. The British group famously broke up on the eve of their first U.S. tour. The surviving members were well into their second life as New Order by the time they finally reached America.

peter hookAs the bass player in both bands, Hook’s new group finally gives fans – many of whom weren’t alive during Joy Division’s late ’70s run – a chance to finally hear the beloved songs performed by a founding member.

The execution was as straightforward as it was magical: Both of Joy Division’s studio albums in their original order and arrangements, with a couple non-album songs at the end. The experience mimicked what fans have enjoyed for years at home, only exponentially better.

“Closer,” the second of Joy Division’s two albums, opened the night. After a brief break, the band returned to perform “Unknown Pleasures.” The combination of “New Dawn Fades” into “She’s Lost Control” – separated by a side break on the original album – generated one of the strongest one-two punches of the 90-minute set. By the end of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” Hook had his shirt off, tearing around the stage with a maniacal smile, acting like it was the first time he had performed the band’s best-known number.

A combination of cool temperature and constant mist of rain actually improved the atmosphere. Joy Division’s music is many things – groundbreaking, intense, visceral – but it is not made for a sunny afternoon.

Hook was ably assisted by the five-piece Light, which included his son, Jack Bates, handling many of his dad’s signature basslines. The remaining three members are veterans of Monaco, another of Hook’s bands.

Although the audience was intimately familiar with the material, there wasn’t a lot of singing along. Instead there were a lot of and spontaneous hugs and high fives when favorite songs like “Isolation” or “She’s Lost Control” started. There were also lots of closed eyes as fans let the music and experience wash over them.

Setlilst: Closer: Atrocity Exhibition; Isolation; Passover; Colony; A Means to an End; Heart and Soul; Twenty Four Hours; The Eternal; Decades. Unknown Pleasures: Disorder; Day of the Lords; Candidate; Insight; New Dawn Fades; She Lost Control; Shadowplay; Wilderness; Interzone; I Remember Nothing. Transmission; Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Keep reading:

Middle of the Map 2015 – day four

Middle of the Map 2015 – day three

Review: TV on the Radio

Review: Corin Tucker Band

(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).

Keep reading:

Review: F*cked Up

Review: Mission of Burma

Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

Top 10 albums of 2011 (in haiku)

(Above: Wiz Khalifa’s “Rolling Papers” did not make TDR’s Top 10 list, but was one of its most-played and -enjoyed albums of 2011. Don’t hate, dance.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Every music dork with a laptop is publishing their Top 10 list right now, but who else does it in haiku? Enjoy.

The Black Keys – “El Camino”

Building on “Brothers,”
pair trades blues for classic rock
with pal Dangermous.

The Roots – “undun”

Best band on TV,
builds challenging song cycle,
from flatline to birth.

F*cked Up – “David Comes Alive”

Like being hit with
a sledgehammer while feet are
ticked with feathers.

Big K.R.I.T. – “Return to 4Eva”

The South finally
joins the Native Tongue movement.
Backpackers rejoice.

Stalley – “Lincoln Way Nights”

Thoughtful baller makes
Intelligent Trunk Music,
blue collar portraits.

Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”

“Portlandia” star
pairs with fellow grrls to make
punk for NPR.

Raphael Saadiq – “Stone Rollin'”

Soul sound moves to ’70s.
Norman Whitfield, Sly Stone
Don’t call it neo-soul.

Hanni El Khatib – “Will the Guns Come Out”

Raw rock on Stones Throw
Does Elvis, Louis Jordan
by J. White, Stooges.

M83 – “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”

Two mine catalog:
Gabriel goes orchestral,
Frenchman goes retro.

Wilco – “The Whole Love”

Band finally brings
live energy to LP.
Best since “Ghost,” “Sum. Teeth.”

Read more haikus

Top 10 albums of 2010

Top 10 Albums of 2009

 

Top 10 Albums of 2008

Review: Social Distortion

(Above: Social Distortion frontman Mike Ness says he’s performed “Story of My Life” so many times it belongs to the fans more than him – but it never gets old to hear.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star 

Bathed in a white spotlight, Social Distortion front man Mike Ness generated a wall of distorted chords with his Les Paul guitar before belting out the lonesome words to “Making Believe,” a song first recorded more than 50 years ago. Ness was joined by the rest of the band on the second verse, adding a punch Kitty Wells and Emmylou Harris probably never imagined when they recorded their hit versions of the song. Before the chorus came around again the classic country number had been converted to a punk anthem.

For many of the songs in Social D’s 90-minute set Tuesday night the Beaumont Club the reverse was also true. It isn’t hard to imagine songs like “Bad Luck,” “Bakersfield,” and especially “Prison Bound” as traditional country fare cast in only a slightly different light.

Social Distortion’s presentation recalls Black Flag – full of furious energy and tattoos – but its content – songs of the downtrodden and desolate searching for redemption – could have come from the Acuff-Rose catalog.

The Orange County quartet have been smearing the line between country and punk for more than 30 years now, long before the alt-country era of Uncle Tupelo or even cowpunk contemporaries Jason and the Scorchers.

The sidemen sometimes change, but Ness and company roll into town regularly enough that the singer/ lead guitarist knew where State Line divides the town and that he was firmly planted on the Missouri side. The current lineup includes drummer David Hidalgo Jr., son of the Los Lobos singer and guitarist.

Although the band released its first album in seven years in January, most of the night was dedicated to fan favorites and fevered sing-alongs. “Bad Luck,” “Sick Boys” and “Ball and Chain” drew especially hearty responses. On the rare occasion when the fans didn’t know the words, as on the new song “Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown,” they participated by crowd surfing and jumping around.

Hard-driving instrumental “Road Zombie” took off like a brick dropped on the accelerator. The band barreled through half of their main setlist in about 30 minutes, before Ness paused to talk and slow things down.

Near the end of the first set, Ness introduced the fiddle player from  Chuck Regan’s band, who opened, and invited him to sit in with the band. Second guitarist Jonny Wickersham strapped on an acoustic guitar and an accordion player joined the ensemble for a pair of stripped-down songs. The resulting performances of “Down Here (With the Rest of Us)” and “Reach for the Sky” proved even unamplified Social D was still electric.

Ness is clearly proud of his band’s legacy. Before one number he stopped to chat with a young girl who named Social Distortion her favorite band. She wasn’t the only pre-adolescent fan in the crowd. As Ness said before “Story of My Life,” these songs have been around so long they’re not really about him anymore. They belong to everyone who grew up with the band or is just discovering his music. Shows like this will ensure that circle remains unbroken.

Setlist: Road Zombie > So Far Away; King of Fools; Bad Luck; Mommy’s Little Monster; Sick Boys; Machine Gun Blues; Ball and Chain; Down on the World Again; Bakersfield; Gimme the Sweet and Lowdown; Down Here (With the Rest of Us); Reach for the Sky; Making Believe (Jimmy Work cover). Encore: Prison Bound; Story of My Life; Ring of Fire (Johnny Cash cover).

Keep reading:

Review: Old 97s, Lucero

Review: Son Volt with the North Mississippi All-Stars and Split Lip Rayfield

Happy Clash-mas Eve

Who really got “You Really Got Me”

(Above: Metallica perform with Ray Davies at the 2009 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary Concert in New York City.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Every great song usually inspires about a dozen covers. Most of these are pedestrian and instantly forgotten. The few that transcend the original can be troublesome for the original artist. Should they mimic the new, more popular version or maintain the original vision? Bob Dylan has turned his nightly performances of “All Along the Watchtower” into a sort-of tribute to Jimi Hendrix. Trent Reznor, however, continues to perform “Hurt” as he originally intended, ignoring Johnny Cash’s transcendent interpretation.

Ray Davies wrote “You Really Got Me” in 1964 on an upright piano. The initial sketches suggest a loping bluesy number somewhere between Gerry Mulligan and Big Bill Broonzy, two of Davies’ biggest inspirations at the time.

Davies’ brother Dave had different ideas. Latching onto the riff, and drawing on “Wild Thing” and “Tequilla,” he drove the song through his distorted guitar. The song was born anew, and when Ray Davies heard the new arrangement he knew that’s how his number was supposed to be played.

Unfortunately, the Kinks had already taken the first arrangement into the studio. It was that version that Pye, their label, intended to release as the band’s third single. The Kinks and producer Shel Talmy successfully lobbied for another session to re-record the number with the newfound grit and rawness. The result was the band’s first No. 1 hit in their native England, thereby launching their career.

The Kinks’ next single was essentially a re-write of “You Really Got Me.” Despite the similar success of “All Day and All of the Night,” Ray Davies abandoned that style of writing for the most part for more lilting fare like “Tired of Waiting for You” and “Sunny Afternoon.”

Davies and the Kinks may have moved on, but the rest of the world was just catching up. “You Really Got Me” inspired the signature grimy riff of “Satisfaction,” the feel of “Wild Thing,” and all of “I Can’t Explain.” Heavily distorted guitars became a staple in the burgeoning psychedelic rock scene and, a decade later, the backbone of punk.

In the heart of punk movement, Los Angeles party band Van Halen decided to release their version of “You Really Got Me” as their debut single. Although the song only rose to No. 36 on the U.S. charts, it was tremendously popular, becoming a concert staple throughout the band’s career (and numerous line-ups).

For the most part, Van Halen’s 1978 arrangement of “You Really Got Me” stayed true to the Kinks version. The biggest difference was Eddie Van Halen’s fretboard pyrotechnics. This transformed the song from a proto-punk jam into a guitar hero workout. Matching Van Halen’s instrumental energy was frontman David Lee Roth, whose grunting and moaning punctuated an already-strong come-on.

In 1980, “You Really Got Me” was one of the last cuts on the Kinks live album “One From the Road.” The song had already been released in live format before, on 1968’s “Live At Kelvin Hall,” but this was the band’s first recorded response to Van Halen.

Sadly, the Kinks responded by turning into a Van Halen cover band. An excellent guitarist in his own right, Dave Davies fell flat trying to imitate Eddie Van Halen (as many, many other axeslingers would also discover). Ray Davies’ pinched London voice could not match Roth’s West Coast bravado. Instead of playing to their strengths, the Kinks played to Van Halen’s strong points, thereby undermining themselves and relinquishing ownership of the original “You Really Got Me.”

I mention all this, because this month Ray Davies has elected to release another version of “You Really Got Me” on his new all-star duets album “See My Friends.” Since the Kinks have been on hiatus since 1996, Davies chose Metallica to back him on this track. Although they are working with the original songwriter, the grunts and asides spewing from Metallica singer James Hetfield make clear that his band is covering Van Halen, not the Kinks. Displaying a leaden stomp that makes Black Sabbath seem nimble, Metallica drain the life from the song as Davies stands helplessly by.

The Kinks original 1964 recording of “You Really Got Me” is a brilliant track. Van Halen’s cover some 14 years later also remains exhilarating (particularly when it is coupled with “Eruption,” the Eddie Van Halen instrumental that preceeds it on the album). Sadly, we have lost one version in the wake of the other.

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Review: Public Image Ltd.

(Above: John Lydon made his first post-Sex Pistols statement with “Public Image.” “Rise” is one of PiL’s most accessible tunes. Here the reunited band performs them at the 2010 Coachella music festival.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

There was nothing rotten about the performance John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. delivered Monday night at the Midland Theater. Faced with a miniscule crowd in a minor market on a weeknight, Lydon and the band could have phoned in their performance and few would have known. The four-piece band held nothing back during the high-energy, two hour show.

Public Image Ltd., or PiL, is the band Lydon formed after the Sex Pistols imploded. Although the band carried on for 15 years, its catalog can be broken down into two distinct eras. The first three albums were a conscious deconstruction of the Pistols mythology, filled with long, heavy, experimental pieces. Later work boiled down to Lydon solo projects under the PiL name produced with a rotating cast of musicians (including, incredibly, Steve Vai).

The reconstituted PiL, back together for the first time since disbanding in 1992, drew equally from both eras, and tossed in a couple numbers from Lydon’s 1997 solo release for good measure. Older numbers, like the magnificent “Poptones,” the epic “Albatross” or “Chant” were studies in texture and ambience. As the rhythm section of Bruce Smith on drums and new member Scott Firth on bass anchored the songs, guitarist Lu Edmonds welded huge blocks of sound which Lydon penetrated effortlessly with his shrill voice.

The backing trio clearly enjoyed having the space to stretch out and play with different sounds. Firth and Edmonds sparred on “Flowers of Romance” before Edmonds delivered his first solo of the night on an electric banjo. Firth switched to upright electric bass for several numbers which added extra punch to Smith’s cadences.

Although Lydon was about the same age as his gray-haired compatriots he appeared decades younger. His head was shaved, save long, blonde spikes on top that looked like a mischievous crown. After removing a red vest early in the night, Lydon was clad entirely in black. He kept a lyric book on a music stand near his mic and although he rarely looked at them during a number, he dutifully turned the page after each song. When Lydon was really feeling the music, he would hop up and down or do a robo-monster march, a manic expression plastered on his face.

While the older material was dark and amorphous, the newer songs were bright, poppy and quite danceable. The set opened with PiL’s biggest number, “This Is Not a Love Song.” Later, “Sun” was delivered via acoustic guitar and mouth organ. As Lydon led the crowd in sing-along, the arrangement almost had a klezmer feel. “Disappointed” got the biggest reaction during the main set and had everyone near the stage bouncing. Lydon later joked about the song’s message of forgiveness didn’t quite stand with the cynicism of his other tunes.

During his four decades in the spotlight, Lydon has cultivated a reputation for acerbically speaking his mind, and he didn’t disappoint onstage Monday. “Warrior” contained a political diatribe and a few not-so-kind words for Sarah Palin. Lydon introduced “Religion” as “a song that is 30 years old and as accurate as ever.” He then made a few comments about the Pope that won’t be earning him a Vatican invite any time soon.

The night ended with “Public Image,” the song that most resembles Lydon’s former band, and the upbeat “Rise,” which contains an interpretation of the Irish blessing “may the road rise to meet you.” “Open Up,” Lydon’s collaboration with the techno duo Leftfield, closed the night. As the crowd danced to the heavy bed of looped synthesizers, Lydon’s voice panned and swirled around the room.

As the band waved good night, the punk provocateur let his guard drop with a fleeting moment of sincerity when thanked everyone from the bottom of his heart for coming out. The tiny crowd comfortably filled the first two tiers on the floor, but the third was sparse and the fourth was empty.There were a few dozen people sitting on chairs in the back, but the entire audience could have probably crammed into the Beaumont Club. That venue may have been more size-appropriate, but it wouldn’t have been much fun. PiL had no problem filling the vast Midland, and Lydon’s outsized persona needed – and deserved – a bigger stage.

Setlist: This Is Not A Love Song, Poptones, Memories, Tie Me to the Length of That, Albatross, Death Disco, Flowers of Romance, Psychopath, Warrior, USLS 1, Disappointed, Sun, Bags, Chant, Rise, Religion. Encore: Public Image, Rise, Open Up.

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Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

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Dischord finds harmony in D.C. hardcore scene

Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

(Above: The Taylor Texas Corrugators captured onstage via cell phone at the Record Bar on April 7, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

In person, Greg Ginn couldn’t be more different the songs he wrote for the legendary hardcore punk band Black Flag. The primary architect of the group’s sound, Ginn’s songs were brash, aggressive and threatening. In contrast, Ginn is gentle, soft-spoken and hospitable.

Likewise, the music Ginn is currently making with the Taylor Texas Corrugators couldn’t be further removed. Black Flag’s taught bursts of violence have been replaced by extended, amorphous, improvised pieces.

The mechanics of Ginn’s recent show with the Corrugators at the Record Bar, however, were eerily similar to the rituals he performed more than two decades ago. Ginn pulled into town late Tuesday afternoon and gave a brief, free performance at the Guitar Syndicate music shop in the Crossroads district before heading to Westport for the evening gig.

The three-piece outfit hauled all their own equipment in a white panel van that showed some scars from its many treks across the continent. With only one roadie/soundman in tow, they set up and broke down all their own equipment with an efficiency born from years of routine.

Once all the amps, cords and instruments were assembled onstage, a simple rat-a-tat-tat from Sean Hutchinson’s snare signaled the start of the proper set. For the next 20 minutes, the three bobbed and weaved, trying to make sense of the monstrous sound they were creating. Gary Piazza’s guitar solos were heavily indebted to Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia, but with enough bursts of feedback and weird noises to topple any jam band tedium.

At 55 years old, Ginn was easily older than the combined ages of his two bandmates, but he was very much the bedrock of the group. Anchoring the songs on bass guitar, Ginn hasn’t lost his keen ear for melody. Time and again he tossed out a bass line begging to be fleshed out and turned into a proper song, only to be discarded for the next impulse.

As Piazza wailed and Hutchinson held the backbeat, Ginn closed his eyes and swayed back and forth in unison with Hutchinson’s backbeat. One got the feeling Ginn would be doing this regardless, and was just as happy to play for fans on the road as in a studio or rehearsal space.

Ginn was equally happy to talk with anyone who approached him. He made it a point to catch everyone’s name, listened patiently and answered thoughtfully. Sadly, there were only a handful of fans at the opening end of the Corrugators’ allotted hour at Guitar Syndicate, and about two dozen souls in the Record Bar that night.

When I asked Ginn how he hooked up with the Corrugators, at the pre-show stop at Guitar Syndicate, he shook his head and shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “They’re probably into U2.” Turning to me he asked, “Do you like U2?” I confessed that I liked the band, but that their last few albums had been too similar and I had fallen away.

“Everybody likes U2,” he said with weary resignation. “I guess that’s why thousands of people turn out for Bono wherever he goes.”

Moments later, Ginn proved his disdain for the group when Hutchison threatened to start playing “Where the Streets Have No Name” one night during a show. “Is that one of their songs?” Ginn asked. “I don’t even know what that is.”

Ginn could be forgiven – even respected – for not knowing one of U2’s biggest songs. When that single broke in the summer of 1987 he was on the tour, reasserting himself after the recent demise of Black Flag. The road, the van, the do-it-yourself ethos weren’t just part of Ginn’s punk persona; they are the core of who he is.

The night ended as spontaneously as it began. After three songs and 45 minutes, Ginn thanked the sparse Record Bar crowd for coming out, and started packing up. It wouldn’t be long before the gear was hauled out and Ginn was back home, back in the van.

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