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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Drozd’

By Joel Francis

A 30-day lockdown in my hometown of Kansas City, Mo. was announced today. It looks like this trek through my record collection will continue a while longer.

Bruce Springtsteen – Western Skies (2019) The Boss made his legion of fans wait five long years between releases before dropping Western Skies in the middle of 2019. The first few times I listened, I didn’t like it at all. The songwriting was good, but the strings were too syrupy and heavy-handed. Even though I couldn’t get into the album, when I saw it on sale online the completist in me pushed the buy button. I don’t know what changed, but something happened when I played it this morning. I heard everything with new ears and finally heard what Springsteen was trying to accomplish with the orchestra. I can’t wait to dig into this one again.

Neville Brothers – Yellow Moon (1989) The highs and lows of this album come in rapid succession at the end of side one. Aaron Neville voice soars cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Going to Come.” The civil rights hymn is accented by producer Daniel Lanois’ tremelo guitar and guest Brian Eno’s ethereal keyboards. The civil rights theme takes an uncomfortable turn with the next song, “Sister Rosa,” a well-intentioned by horribly awkward rap tribute. Fortunately the ship is righted with Aaron Neville back in the spotlight with a tender cover of Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side.” Elsewhere, the album explores cajun and the brothers’ native New Orleans on songs like “Fire and Brimstone” and “Wild Injuns.”

Kelis – Food (2014) Her milkshake brought the boys to the yard, but Food is a full meal of biscuits and gravy, jerk ribs and cobbler. Working with producer Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, Kelis’ most recent album to date rejects contemporary production and attempts at Top 40 success. The organic arrangements with live instrumentation make this a Kelis album with the singer in firm control, rather than a vehicle with her voice slotted into other producers’ ideas. The relaxed comfort of the sessions comes through in the songs. “Cobbler” opens with gales of laughter as a slow Afrobeat groove slowly builds. Those same horns also pop up in “Jerk Ribs” and “Friday Fish Fry,” propelling everyone straight to the dance floor. “Bless the Telephone” might be my favorite moment on the album. It’s also one of the most basic –Kelis and Sal Masakela sound so honest and vulnerable singing over a gorgeous acoustic guitar line. Then the party roars back to life.

The Flaming Lips – The Terror (2013) The Terror isn’t my favorite Flaming Lips album by a long shot, but it felt the most appropriate right now. Half the band was in a bad way when this album was being made and it shows. Singer Wayne Coyne’s longtime romantic relationship had ended and multi-instrumentalist Steven Drozd relapsed into substance abuse. There aren’t any hints of the magic and wonder fans got from the band’s breakthrough albums. Instead there are songs like the seven-plus minute “Butterfly, How Long It Takes to Die,” which sounds like the dawn of a nightmare in some post-apocalyptic desert. But hey, when you haven’t left the house in more than a week and have just been alerted your entire city is on lockdown for the next 30 days, sometimes even cold comfort is comforting. Happy spring, everybody!

Son Volt – Straightaways (1997)

Uncle Tupelo – Anodyne (1993) The first time I saw Son Volt was in support of Straightaways, when they opened for ZZ Top at Sandstone Amphitheater. The venue was your typical outdoor shed and my friend and I were miles away from the stage, out on the lawn. Frontman Jay Farrar was never known for his onstage energy and the songs sizzled out well before they reached us.

Oh to have seen Farrar just a few years earlier. If I could build a time machine, one of the first places I’d go would be to an Uncle Tupelo concert. Hearing Farrar’s voice pair with Jeff Tweedy’s on the chorus of “Slate,” the first song, always sends me to a happy place. While the sessions for what would be the pair’s final album were acrimonious – at least from Farrar’s viewpoint; Tweedy has said he had no clue of his partner’s hostility and disillusionment – the result is a timeless slab of alt-country goodness.

Bleached – Welcome to the Worms (2016) Centered around sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin, Bleached operates somewhere between Blondie and the Donnas. I first saw the band at the now-shuttered Tank Room on Halloween night with Beach Slang. The sisters, along with bass player Micayla Grace, all performed in costume. These songs were a little more garage-y in concert, but it is still great girl-group rock however you slice it.

Ahmad Jamal – Inspiration (compilation) This 1972 collection finds jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal primarily working in a trio format with bass and drums. The assemblage hops around from the mid-‘50s to the late ‘60s in both studio and club settings. Several of the songs are augmented with a string section, which can be a little jarring, since Jamal isn’t know for orchestral work. Despite the seemingly hodgepodge nature, the four sides make for a generally cohesive play. Jamal made a ton of records and none of them are very expensive. Any good music shop will have at least five or six inches of his platters to choose from in the stacks. This isn’t a bad place to start.

Emmylou Harris – At the Ryman (1992) Emmylou Harris was coming off the worst-performing album of her career to date when she stepped onstage at the storied Ryman Auditorium for three nights in the spring of 1991. Backed by her new bluegrass ensemble the Nash Ramblers (lead by Sam Bush), Harris tackles several hit songs associated with other artists. While her versions of Steve Earle’s “Guitar Town,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill” or John Fogerty’s “Lodi” won’t make you forget the original performers, Harris puts her own distinctive stamp on them. One of my favorite singers of all time, Harris’ voice is particularly affecting on the a capella “Calling My Children Home” and a medley of Nanci Griffith’s “It’s a Hard Life Wherever You Go” and “Abraham, Martin and John.”

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(Above: “Us and Them,” one of the few unaltered numbers from the Flaming Lips performance of Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” in the early hours of 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

OKLAHOMA CITY – The average Flaming Lips concert already feels like the greatest party on earth. Spending New Year’s Eve with the band in their hometown felt like living inside a kaleidoscope.

For nearly three hours, the Lips said goodbye to 2009 and hello to 2010 with a 90-minute main set and a rare performance of Pink Floyd’s classic album “Dark Side of the Moon.” For that feat, the band had assistance from Stardeath and White Dwarfs, the opening act, fronted by lead Lip Wayne Coyne’s nephew, Dennis Coyne.

The Lips/Stardeath version of “Dark Side” is less an homage than a deconstruction. If Floyd’s vision was a Cecil B. DeMille epic of careful, layered arrangements, then the Lips’ plays like one of Steven Soderbergh’s handi-cam experimental films, loving thrown together on a low budget, more intent on capturing the spirit than articulating the original performance.

“Breathe” was stripped of its shimmering guitars and lush harmonies and given the same blocky textures and blunt rhythms and bass lines that fuel much of the Lips’ new album, “Embryonic.” Similarly, “On the Run” was no longer a pattern of tape loops and manipulations, but fuzzed-out orgy of noise.

“Dark Side”’s most well-known number was also the least recognizable. The minimalist take of “Money” reduced the song to its signature bass line, with electronically manipulated vocals.

There were several nods to Pink Floyd in the Lips’ original material. “Vein of Stars” foreshadowed the straightforward reading of “Us and Them,” right down to the piano part and laser effects. “Pompeii am Götterdämmerung” sounded like something the Syd Barrett era of the Floyd would have pounded out in the late-‘60s London underground.

The spirit of Floyd was also evident in the material from “Embryonic.” Its songs are a little more abstract and less focused than anything the band has delivered in more than a decade. Although it was a bit jarring to shift from the ultra-catchy fan-favorites to the new material, it was nice to hear the band spazz out.

With its perpetual thump of bass and guitar, “Sea of Leaves” felt like being run over by an 18-wheeler. Wayne Coyne delivered the last half of “Silver Trembling Hands” from the shoulders of a person in a gorilla suit, a bizarre vision for a bizarre song.

The poppier moments of the first set drew the biggest response. The crowd threw a lot of force into “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” and the air was charged when the house lights came up and everyone joined in on the chorus (“with all your power”). The slower arrangement of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (Part 0ne)” felt like a giant campfire. “She Don’t Use Jelly” was a reliable feel-good moment.

Although the arena was two-thirds full and loaded with energetic fans, the band seemed to have trouble filling the void. It was unusual and unexpected, because I’ve twice seen them rock a vast field at the Wakarusa Music Festival. Maybe it was the abundance of slower, spacier songs and unfamiliar new material, but the Cox Arena – which resembles a slightly larger, late-‘60s edition of Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium – felt spacious.

Whatever the reason, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Most bands tarp off the unseated sections behind the stage. The Lips filled them with balloons. As fans filed in, hundreds of the brightly colored latex orbs waited to be bumped, thrown and ultimately popped when the appointed moment arrived.

As the Lips floated into a poignant, sing-along reading of “Do You Realize??,” the balloons slowly started cascading from the balcony to the floor. When the song ended, it was nearly midnight and the house lights came up. As the crowd counted down, the band vamped and balloons filled the coliseum, obscuring the stage. Somewhere in the melee a wedding proposal was accepted.

While the music blared and balloons bounced, the stage crew had the thankless job of clearing debris from the stage for the second act. A flurry of confetti fell again over the crowd as one of the stage hands used a leaf blower to clear the area.

Despite the crew’s efforts it was a tedious 40 minutes of sound checking and testing before the Floyd set took flight. Once-giddy fans now laid or sat down in the back of the floor and yawns abounded. When the heartbeat that signaled the start of “Breathe” finally started, the crowd responded with a cheer of both anticipation and appreciation.

Material aside, the second set was markedly different from the first. After the powerful downbeat and swirling intro to opening number “Race for the Stars” the arena was awash in balloons, confetti and streamers. As the audience danced, Coyne grabbed a fistful of streamer and started twirling around like a cross between a color guard and Roger Daltrey.

But that was hours ago. The joviality and props disappeared when the band ventured into the “Dark Side.” In their place was a hovel of nearly a dozen musicians, surrounded by fog, hunched over their instruments. Although Coyne still danced, striking a cymbal with his maraca in the center of the stage, it was obvious this was Serious Music.

Coyne may have been the ringmaster, but “Dark Side” was clearly guitarist/keyboard player Steven Drozd’s show. He served as conductor, signaling the changes and conducting the performers. During “Great Gig in the Sky,” he sang the wordless melody into a megaphone, creating the musical equivalent of an epileptic seizure.

Nepotism aside, Stardeath were a great enlistment for the feat. The majority of the songs in their 45-minute opening set had a druggy, progressive bent straight out of the early ‘70s. The band showed their hand early by opening with a cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sweet Leaf.” Uncle Wayne showed his approval rocking out from the wings of the stage.

Stardeath’s centerpiece was “The Birth,” a side-long proggy throwback complete with Theremin solo and lengthy bass/drums breakdown. The set ended with an imaginative cover of Madonna’s “Borderline.”

As the final pulse of “Eclipse” beat out, a last blast of confetti showered the crowd. The New Year was only 90 minutes old, but had already logged its first great rock moment.

Set List:
Race for the Prize, Silver Trembling Hands, The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song, Vein of Stars, In The Morning of the Magicians, Convinced of the Hex, Evil, See the Leaves, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pompeii, The W.A.N.D., She Don’t Use Jelly, Do You Realize?? New Year’s countdown and intermission. Dark Side of the Moon (with Stardeath and White Dwarfs): Speak To Me, Breathe, On the Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Money, Us and Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse.

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