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By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Pixies rolled into town in support of new material.

The influential college rock quartet has now been around longer as a reunion act than in their initial stint. Reunited contemporaries like Dinosaur Jr. have released multiple new albums, making the paucity of new Pixies material – two songs – even more glaring. That changed late last year when lead singer/songwriter Black Francis dropped four new songs on an EP and followed it up with four more last month.

All but one of those songs were played when the band performed at the Midland Theater on Tuesday night. Toss in the single “Bagboy” and the as-yet unrecorded “Silver Snail” and new material comprised nearly a third of the band’s setlist. The new recordings received a mix reception online, but for the most part they worked in concert.

The appropriately noisy “What Goes Boom” blended seamlessly with the band’s cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” Later, in a quieter moment, Francis segued from “In Heaven (Lady in Radiator)” to “Andro Queen.” The songs were recorded 26 years apart, but sounded onstage like they were pulled from the same session.

JfDKB.St.81“Bone Machine” announced the band’s presence, and although the thumping bassline that introduced the song was familiar the musician wasn’t. Paz Lenchantin, a veteran of A Perfect Circle and Billy Corgan’s Zwan, filled the gaping hole left when founding member Kim Deal departed last June.

Lenchantin didn’t have any problems replicating Deal’s basslines, but her thin voice was often buried in the mix.The band arrived as if shot out of a cannon, blasting through the first eleven songs in less than 30 minutes.

Doing their best Ramones impression, the band rarely paused between songs and hardly acknowledged the near-capacity crowd before barreling into the next number. The songs were never rushed, but they were definitely urgent.

Some of the best moments were the demented rockabilly of “Brick is Red” and the surf guitar intro to “Ana.” Guitarist Joey Santiago got plenty of time to play with feedback during “Vamos,” one of the few times the band deviated from the recorded arrangement. A medley of “Nimrod’s Son” and “Holiday Song” started with“Nimrod” at full speed before bouncing into “Holiday Song.” A slowed-down arrangement of “Nimrod” closed the medley.

At 33 songs and 100 minutes, the band devoted plenty of time to exhume some deep cuts from its catalog, and deliver most of its biggest songs (including both versions of “Wave of Mutilation”). Francis let the crowd take over the choruses on “Where is My Mind?” and “Here Comes Your Man.” Given the band’s underground legacy, it was odd to see fists pumping in the air with every “chien” on the chorus of “Debaser,” but the quartet definitely knew how to work the theater crowd.

The Pixies first reunion concert in Kansas City was a victory lap. The second concert was a celebration of their greatest album. This third visit was a view of the Pixies as a working band, trying to prove they still have plenty to say. They do.

Setlist: Bone Machine; Wave of Mutilation; U-Mass > Head On (Jesus and Mary Chain cover); What Goes Boom; Distance Equals Rate Times Time; Ilsa de Encanto; Monkey Gone to Heaven; Ana; Brick is Red; I’ve Been Tired; Magdalena; Cactus; Gouge Away; Bagboy; Blue Eyed Hext; Crackity Jones; unknown song; Veloria; Havalena; Snakes; Silver Snail; In Heaven (Lady in Radiator); Andro Queen, Indie Cindy; Greens and Blues; Where is My Mind?; Here Comes Your Man; Vamos; Nimrod’s Son/Holiday Song (medley); Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf). Encore: Debaser; Planet of Sound.

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(Above: Mission of Burma play a rare show in Kansas City as part of the Middle of the Map Festival on April 6, 2012.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Mission of Burma’s invitation to this year’s Middle of the Map festival mirrors last year’s inaugural invite to Daniel Johnston. Both artists exist miles away from the mainstream, have dedicated cult followings and usually skip Kansas City on their infrequent tour itineraries.

The post-punk quartet held the last slot at the Record Bar on Friday night. Anticipation was so high the venue was one-in, one-out more than an hour before Burma was scheduled to go on. Halfway through the band’s 75-minute set, however, about half the room had cleared out.The two biggest contributing factors to this exodus were likely the late start time – the band didn’t go on until after midnight – and the emphasis on new material slated for release on the group’s fifth studio album this summer. Fans that stayed, however, were rewarded with not only a preview of what looks to be a strong continuation of a critically acclaimed catalog, but many of the early songs everyone came to hear.

Early number “Donna Sumeria” captured the essence of Burma. As drummer Peter Prescott lays down a deceptive disco beat, guitarist Roger Miller’s fingers fumble over the frets, creating a snakey melody. The lyrics invoke the Sumerian goddess of love and turn the dance goddess Donna Summer into an abstract plea for peace in the Middle East. Miller’s brief turn on the flugelhorn at the top seems like an abstract experiment, until soundman/manipulator Bob Weston reinterprets the horn back into the mix later in the song.

All of this may seem more fussy than anything the Ramones or Sex Pistols had in mind, but the core of Burma is still very much noisy, rebellious punk music. During their original incarnation from 1979 to 1983, the band managed a handful of singles, an EP and one full-length record. Since reuniting in 2002, they have nearly quadrupled that output. Although Friday’s set tipped heavy toward the new, all facets of the band were on strong display.

After previewing “Dust Devil,” the band’s newest single, they paired the 2006 track “Let Yourself Go” with their anthem “That’s When I Reach for My Revolver,” which had the crowd chanting along. Encores of “This is Not a Photograph” and “Academy Fight Song” kept the energy high.

The lead-up to Mission of Burma started six hours earlier at the Record Bar with Deadringers. Thee Water Moccasins and Life and Times did a great job setting the table for Burma, proving that the local music scene can stand neck-in-neck with that in any other town. Thee Water Moccasins recalled a more avant Yo La Tengo at times. The unabashedly poppy “No Control” provided the best moment from their 45-minute set. The Life and Times were propelled by the frantic drumming by Chris Metcalf. Both bands seemed to be as excited to be in the house with Mission of Burma as everyone in the audience.

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(Above: Alejandro Escovedo and his Sensitive Boys revisit “Chelsea Hotel ’78” at the Record Bar on August 28, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Before playing a note, Alejandro Escovedo apologized for letting five years elapse since their last show in Kansas City. That show featured Escovedo’s True Believers band mate Jon Dee Graham, a string quartet and ended with Mott the Hoople covers around two a.m.

Saturday’s sold-out show at the Record Bar was a little more restrained in contrast, but no less potent. The strings were gone, and Graham was replaced by other True Believer, drummer Hector Munoz. He was part of a lean, four-piece band that knew how to wring maximum emotion from Escovedo’s songs. The 90-minute  show also ended at a more respectable time – just 30 minutes into the next day – with a Rolling Stones cover.

Escovedo’s songwriting holds more facets than a jewel, encompassing classical, country, Mexican, punk and classic rock. He displayed several of those sides, especially on the gorgeous instrumental “Fort Worth Blues” and the south of the border flavored “Rosalie.” Mostly, though, the quartet modulated between two modes – full-throttle rock and poignant acoustic ballads. Songs like “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” and “Tender Heart” were too mature to be straight-up punk, but they weren’t far off. It was invigorating to watch the 49-year-old songwriter rip into his material with such raw passion.

Ten years ago, Escovedo played a benefit show at the City Market for Jim Strahm. A big influence on the Kansas City music scene, Strahm sold a lot of musicians their first instrument, booked them their first gigs or joined them onstage. Sadly, Strahm did not survive his bout with cancer – Saturday would have been his 50th birthday. Fittingly, Escovedo dedicated the show to his friend, which added extra juice to the opening song, “Always a Friend.”

While the electric numbers were delivered with a fury that barely allowed anyone, band or audience, to catch their breath, the ballads were given ample space to breath. An incredible reading of “Sister Lost Soul” was delivered at half its album tempo and felt almost like a prayer. It was followed by “Down in the Bowery” and a story about Escovedo’s 18-year-old son who once called his father’s music “old music for old people.” Built on the generations’ shared love of the Ramones, it included the line “I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff that they taught you.”

Regardless of style or tempo, one element was consistent: the intricate, interplay between Escovedo’s rhythm guitar and David Pulkingham’s tasteful leads. Some of their best moments included the solo over the stomping bass-and-drums introduction to “Street Songs,” “Fort Worth Blue” and “Rosalie” and “Real as an Animal.”

“Castanets” was one of a handful of the night’s songs that wasn’t pulled from Escovedo’s two most recent releases. Banned from setlists for a while after Escovedo learned it was a favorite of former president George W. Bush, it had the crowd dancing and joining in on the infectious chorus of “I like it better when she walks away.”

After performing a new song, Escovedo closed the night sans guitar on a lengthy cover of “Beast of Burden.” With a trio of fans onstage providing backing vocals or percussion, Escovedo worked the crowd like, take your pick, an exuberant wedding singer or fevered rock and roll evangelist. By the end, everyone was converted.

Setlist: Always a Friend; This Bed Is Getting Crowded; Anchor; Street Songs; Tender Heart; Fort Worth Blue; Sister Lost Soul; Down in the Bowery; Rosalie; Chelsea Hotel ’78; Castanets; Real as an Animal. Encore: Sensitive Boys; Lucky Day (new song); Beast of Burden (Rolling Stones cover).

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rock hall dvds

By Joel Francis

When the Rolling Stones were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, a tuxedo-clad Mick Jagger famously announced “Tonight we’re all on our best behavior — and we’re being rewarded for 25 years of bad behavior.”

That irony is on full display throughout eight of the DVDs in a new collection of induction ceremony performances released by Time Life and the Rock Hall this month. (A ninth disc features highlights from the 1995 Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held in Cleveland.) Despite white tablecloth banquet tables and austere surroundings, great music frequently prevails.

The “Rock Hall Live” discs each run between 75 and 90 minutes and have a loose theme of soul, punk or ‘50s pioneers and the performances span the first ceremony in 1986 to this year’s Metallica induction. The performances tend to fall in two camps.

The early ceremonies were all-star celebrations of the inductees’ songbooks shot with on a couple video camera. Through fly-on-the-wall footage we see Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry swap verses on “Roll Over Beethoven” and Little Richard rejoice through “I Can’t Turn You Loose” as Jagger, Bob Dylan, members of the Beatles, Beach Boys and other rock royalty stand shoulder to shoulder, holding mics and strumming instruments. It’s fun to play spot the artist during these early presentations. Sometimes the results are shocking, as when Stevie Ray Vaughan appears – playing a Les Paul, no less – during “Beethoven.”

As the ceremonies grew in stature, the performances were better preserved and choreographed. The past 15 years of inductions play like one massive VH1 special, makes sense as these events have been a spring broadcast staple on that channel for better than a decade. Although the production is smoother, the spontaneity is retained when Jimmy Page casually strolls onstage to join Jeff Beck on “Beck’s Bolero” and Queen jam with the Foo Fighters on “Tie Your Mother Down.”

With are more than 100 performances across the nine discs, some unevenness is expected. Some this is because of the health of the performers. These discs capture some of the final appearances by The Band’s Rick Danko, Ruth Brown, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Billy Powell and Johnny Cash. Brown and Powell are fine, but Danko and Cash labor through their sets. Sometimes the pairings misfire, as on Bruce Springsteen and Axl Rose’s duet through “Come Together.”

These missteps are minimized by the tight pacing of each disc, which moves from artist to artist like a well-paced soundtrack, with occasional snippets of introduction and induction speeches. (Complete version of selected speeches are available as bonus features.)  Despite the loose themes, each disc boasts a variety of guitar heroes, singer/songwriters, tributes and hits.

The best moments come when the performers reach beyond the formal atmosphere, like when Patti Smith spits onstage, or two kids bum rush the stage to help Green Day commemorate the Ramones. There is an impressive display of solos from guitar heroes Beck, Page, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Joe Perry, Carlos Santana, Peter Green, and Kirk Hammett, but the greatest six-string moment is Prince’s searing tribute to George Harrison on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Anchored by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Harrison’s son Dhani, the immaculately tailored Prince soars on an jaw-dropping solo that is long on both melody and style.

Each disc contains about a several bonus features, which highlight backstage moments like watching Steven Tyler and Joe Perry induct Led Zeppelin from the wings of the stage with the band (and Willie Nelson!). It’s fun to watch Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen and John Fogerty work out “Green River” and to eavesdrop on Hammett and Perry talk about guitars, but one viewing is probably enough.

One downside to this set is the packaging and sequencing. Each disc is housed in its own separate, full-sized case. This takes up a lot of shelf space. It would have been nice if they all came bundled in one compact, cardboard and plastic unit like seasons of TV shows.

The greater inconvenience is the sequencing. Cream’s three-song reunion from 1993 is spread across three discs. Ditto for the Doors’ 1993 set with Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder (three songs over three discs) and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street revival from 1999 (four songs on four discs). Culling the best moments is understandable, but it would have been great to get the multi-song sets in one place. It is also puzzling that less than two hours of the six-hour Concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are included.

Oversights aside, any of these discs stand alone as a fun romp through rock history and celebration of its greatest songs and players across most genres and eras. At $120, this set isn’t cheap, but it’s a heck of a lot more affordable – and easier to come by – than the ticket that gets you a plate at one of those sterile, banquet tables. You don’t have to dress up, either.

(Full disclosure: The Daily Record received a complimentary review copy of “Rock Hall Live.”)

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