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(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

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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).

Keep reading:

Review: F*cked Up

Review: Mission of Burma

Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

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(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

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(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).

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Review: Old 97s, Lucero

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

Happy Clash-mas Eve

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(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.

Keep reading:

“Death Magnetic” is Metallica’s creative rebirth

Bob Dylan: All Along the Watchtower

Lanois + Raffi = Eno

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(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.

Keep reading:

Review: Carbon/Silicon at the Record Bar

Ever Fallen For The Buzzcocks?

Review – Greg Ginn and the Taylor Texas Corrugators

Go green with Stiff Little Fingers

Dischord finds harmony in D.C. hardcore scene

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(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.

Keep reading:

Go green with Stiff Little Fingers

Dischord finds harmony in D.C. hardcore scene

Review: Carbon/Silicon at the Record Bar

Ever Fallen For The Buzzcocks?

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