Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Killers, "Sam's Town"

I got a copy of the new Killers album "Sam's Town" (which I keep wanting to call "Sam's Club"). Here's a preview for all you fans out there.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Cheers, Pitchfork!

Pitchfork Media has its share of critics, but probably no more than its fair share. The site can be as pedantic as perceptive, inept as astute, elitist as populist, and, truth be told, as fallible and unreadable as the publications it seeks to supplant, or at least supplement. But hats off to Pitchfork for their \“200 Greatest Songs of the ‘60s” feature.

Rather than tackle that decade’s best albums, the site sensibly focused on singles, which in itself is no small feat. Really, between the Stones, Beatles, Motown, Stax, Phil Spector and a few other ringers (Kinks, Beach Boys), coming up with 200 great songs from just a handful of sources is a cinch. That Pitchfork came up with an eclectic, diverse and occasionally surprising list of obvious selections and more obscure picks that sounds absolutely nothing like the staid soundtracks of so many mini-series and nostalgia-driven movies says a lot of the effort put into the project, and the comments each writer submitted are more often than not totally on the money.

Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” in between Sly Stone’s “Everyday People” and King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man?” Steve Reich’s “It’s Gonna Rain” next to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” followed by “Victoria,” by the Kinks? Sure, why not? It was some decade, one that made room for Terry Riley and Albert Ayler alongside the Supremes and CCR, the Byrds, Beatles and Bob Dylan alongside the Stooges, MC5 and Sonics. Desmond Dekker and David Bowie. “White Rabbit” and “Stand By Me.” Nina Simone, the Velvet Underground and the themes from “Doctor Who” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Patsy Cline. “96 Tears,” “A Day in the Life” and “God Only Knows.”

The methodology may be mysterious, but I must admit, the song selection makes for one of the best 13-hour mix tapes I’ve ever heard. It’s the soundtrack not to the ‘60s but to several different ‘60s, each equally fascinating and fabulous. At least for the time being, you can download it all here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Go Bus Yourself

Today I saw something I'd never seen before. No, not the hot pink SUV with the license plate BAD CHIK; I saw that yesterday, too. Today I saw an angry man jaywalk in front of a school bus, turn to the driver and threaten him with a raised fist and a sneer.

It was a short bus, too.

Last night Alma and I went to a concert together, our first in months (and my first since, um, Friday, when I saw an absolutely electric set from A Tribe Called Quest). Alma and I caught Golden Smog, the Wilco/Jayhawks/Soul Asylum supergroup. This being Chicago, we lucked out, since for most of the scant dates the group has been playing it's been more of a Jayhawks/Soul Asylum deal, sans Jeff Tweedy, but of course Tweedy showed up for the tour ending hometown show. Now, if only they announced he'd be on the bill maybe the show would have sold out. You think?

Cleaning a Squid

No, it's not a gross euphemism, nor is it a lost Orwell essay. It's just what it sounds like. I'm making a paella tonight, and bought some squid in preparation. Raw, whole squid. For some reason it didn't occur to me that I'd have to clean it until I got home, but thanks to the internet I figured it out. Needless to say, if you think squid are weird on the outside, you should see 'em on the inside. Or maybe I should say feel them on the inside. Yuck.

Friday, September 15, 2006


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Speaking of anniversaries ...

I'm so glad that since I don't have cable and, because I was watching Baby Z. yesterday, I was never in one place long enough to read the news or listen to the radio, I missed virtually all the retrospective September 11th stuff yesterday, and boy, am I happy. I remember that day like it was yesterday, not so much because it was seared in my mind but because it was only five short years ago. Why do we need all this overkill tribute crap? Who doesn't remember? Who needs to be reminded, again and again, what happened, especially while the giant hole in Manhattan is still - mysteriously, frustratingly, preposterously - just a giant hole?

Anyway, all thinking back about it does for me is make me very, very angry. Not so much at what happened - there have been bigger disasters in American history, and there will be bigger ones still, perhaps terrorist related, perhaps not. Heck, at this rate it won’t be long until more Americans have been killed in Iraq than at the World Trade Center, and that, truly, will have been for nothing. Also, at least in the case of Sept. 11 there was someone to blame other than fate, which at least allows for some degree of potential catharsis.

No, the reason I get so mad is that for all the blame to go around, the one person who seems to attract the least of it is President Job, who, lest one truly forget, was the friggin' president who let this happen on his watch. I mean, for crying out loud! I guess the rest of his time in the White House has been so equally disastrous that people are too in tune with what he's screwing up now to address all he's screwed up in the recent past, which in terms of his screw ups feels decades ago already. I suppose that's why we have history, huh? So that, when the histrionic, strident and exploitative anniversaries fade away and Sept. 11 inevitably becomes just another national holiday, we'll be able to pause and ponder the mess of a world around us and think back:

This is all his fault.

My catharsis will come when this destructive, senseless, witless man leaves office, gets some cushy corporate job (‘cause he can’t cut it as a motivational speaker) and whoever replaces him gets to work righting all he’s done wrong.

Pop Music History in the Making

It occurred to me last night, as I watched Mariah Carey parade around the United Center in a series of skimpy outfits, that I could very well be the only person on earth to have seen both Carey and, after last weekend's Touch and Go festival, Scratch Acid. Or Big Black, for that matter. Kind of surreal, to be sure, but also kind of neat.

Mariah wasn't terrible, either, especially compared to her totally soma performance from 2003.

Speaking of Touch and Go, everyone I talked with was so proud, not just for what the label has released over the years, but also for the Hideout for pulling the party off. I talked with Tim, the club's indefatigable owner, some time between Brick Layer Cake and Black Heart Procession, and told him what a good job he did.

"No, man, it's all Touch and Go," he replied, modestly.

That, of course, was nonsense. The Hideout block party was several times its normal size, and all weekend Tim was running around doing everything from fixing toilets to snagging working amps when things went wrong. He was a one-man crew, and I reminded him that my VIP bracelet had both a "10" and a "25" on it. "25" for the Touch and Go anniversary, but "10" for the number of years the Hideout has held its block party. He seemed genuinely touched but also proud like a new papa.

Tim's a machine. If I didn't have to get home I would have stayed behind and helped him pick up trash at the end, because Tim, being Tim, was doing it all himself. With a little help from his friends.

Some highlights of the weekend included, beyond the music:

-Steve Albini’s Big Black banter: “I know you’re probably wondering, what’s the big deal? Believe me, it was cooler in the ‘80s.”

-Hearing stories of Axl Rose’s mysterious stint rehearsing at the Metro in the early ‘90s.

-Hanging out with Joe Garden, friend to all.

-Learning that at David Yow’s late ‘80s Austin going away party, before he relocated to Chicago and formed the Jesus Lizard, that he snorted a line of hot pepper. As someone who was there asked of me, rhetorically: “why would anyone do that?”

Because he is a rock and roll animal.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Touch and Go

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Piece of Rock History

Bethany, if you're reading, this might make a nice summer home. And the rest of the year, you can rent it out to Pink Floyd fans!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Paul McCartney: Mayor McCheese

Last night a friend and I went to see Tributosaurus recreate the Paul McCartney/Wings experience, with an impressive 24 members on stage. That’s right, just Macca solo and Wings, no Beatles. This was mostly for my friend's benefit, since he likes solo McCartney, but I do love Tributosaurus, no matter who they appear as. Heck, they were even good as the Doors. Besides, it’s good to be reminded every few years why and how much I dislike Paul McCartney’s solo work. It lends perspective.

Anyway, some observations:

1) Paul McCartney didn’t let the ‘70s down, the ‘70s let Paul McCartney down. From the production techniques to the synthesizers to the sentiments, the '70s were an unfortunate time to be a filthy rich superstar, since every indulgence has only been exacerbated over time. It didn't help that McCartney was neither cynical nor ironic, not that either is a necessity for good music, but definitely because a bit of either would have helped his shmaltzty post-Beatles work withstand the test of time rather than sound dated on arrival. Which leads us to:

2)With the exception of his self-titled/self-played first solo album, featuring the stirring "Maybe I'm Amazed" as well as such curiosities as "Junk" (both performed last night, both sung by Steve from Frisbie), Paul McCartney’s solo career is largely a big, embarrassing, completely irrelevant wash.* He produced so much crap. When one of your commercial/creative/conceptual apexes is “Silly Love Songs,” you’re in trouble.

3) McCartney’s songs are so boring that both their frequent brevity and ADD arrangements indicate he may have been just as bored with them. Why couldn’t “Band on the Run” have been three goood songs instead of one OK song? One exception: the manic, melodramatic “Live and Let Die,” like an awesome over-the-top cartoon theme. Still campy, though.

4) The (ironic) highlight for me was a version of “Ebony and Ivory,” proof of McCartney’s conspicuous fallibility. God, that song sucks, and he has many, many more just as bad where it came from. "Let Me Roll It." "Wonderful Christmastime." "Say, Say, Say" and "The Girl is Mine" (both with ex-friend and former owner of the Beatles catalog Michael Jackson). "Freedom." God, the guy is such a cheese monger. In an ideal world someone would just tell him "no" once and a while. Hey, maybe that's what Elvis Costello did in the late '80s, when Macca suddenly got good again. Or at least a lot better.

No question, though: the guy remains one of my favorite bassists of all time.

* Some exceptions include "Another Day," "Too Many People" and “Let ‘Em In,” played last night, too. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back to Work!

It's been a really quiet last couple of months, for reasons too varied and numerous to recount. But things look to be busy again, which means lots of concerts and interviews. Next week alone I see Mariah Carey, Massive Attack, Tom Petty and A Tribe Called Quest. As for interviews, I've talked recently with a gypsy/Roma rock star in Serbia (first time I've ever called Belgrade), a punk klezmer singer in New York and one of the two guys from the always brilliant Basement Jaxx.

Coming up are interviews with mash-up kings 2 Many DJs and cut-up genius du jour Girl Talk.

Then this weekend is the Touch and Go Records 25th Anniversary party, which every self-respecting Chicago rock fan will be attending.

And all this doesn't include the usual playgroups and activities with Baby Z., plus other obligations.

In a word: phew!

Green City Market

After months of curiosity, I finally managed to make it to the Green City Market, the well-regarded farmers market on Chicago's north side that regularly draws all of the city's big name chefs for their super-fresh produce and artisanal creations.

Needless to say, I felt a little out of my league - wouldn't you feel that way around any stand that boasts over 80 varieties of tomatoes? - but there was plenty for even the layman to enjoy. Alma and I bought some delicious crepes (she peach, me blueberry), plus Normandy bread (and amazing apple-sweetened loaf), red and yellow raspberries, cheese and a couple of tomatoes.

We're lucky that the local Oak Park farmers market is so similarly strong, but this was still a nice change of pace. And on a beautiful day, what really beats spending some time outside in the park, shopping for fruits and veggies in the shadow of star chefs and the people that actually grow the food?

J. Dilla, or Why Downloading Music Makes Music Fans

Not long ago, hip-hop producer J. Dilla aka Jay Dee aka James Yancey died of complications due to diabetes. Sad story, of course. The guy was prolific to the point of working on his final album "Donuts" while in the hospital. But I never quite understood the hype. Though hailed as a genius by many, I couldn't even place just what tracks J. Dilla had produced, let alone remember whether they were any good.

Enter the internet. Curious, thanks to the praise of so many friends, I sought out a taste of J. Dilla's ouvre at my favorite (illegal) download site and hit the motherlode: a fan-compiled 12-disc set of J. Dilla's greatest "hits." Needless to say, few were actually hits, but there have been plenty of pleasant surprises so far. I totally forgot he had so much to do with Common's excellent "Like Water for Chocolate" album, for example.

Now, barring the one-stop shopping (as it were) of the internet, it would have been impossible for me to track down all, most or even some of Dilla's work. A track here, a track there, a whole album here, a single there, a remix way over there - it's just too spread out. Now that I have it all in one place, I can easily access it, find what I like, and search it out in the stores.

Beats buying some 40 CDs for just a few songs, huh? Sure, the music industry lost those sales, but it did gain a newly appreciated fan of not just Dilla but several of the artists he worked with.

Super Tuesday

Yesterday was one of the all-time greatest release dates for DVD reissues, with a massive stack of classic titles getting cleaned up and shoved back on the shelves, nice and shiny and proud. The hit parade included new Criterion editions of Akira Kurosawa’s “Seven Samurai” ((three discs!) , Fellini’s “Amarcord,” Jacques Tati’s “Playtime,” Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” and even “Godzilla,” available for the first time in both its original Japanese version (released the same year as “Seven Samurai,” 1954) and the re-edited American version.

But the best release may have been the biggest tease: “Blade Runner: The Director’s Cut,” a remastered limited edition of one of the best pieces of eye-and-brain candy ever made. Why a tease? Because this limited edition arrives a few months before the planned super-duper edition, which is slated to include not just this director’s cut but a new (somewhat paradoxical) director’s cut as well, plus a bevy of special features and supplements fans have been hoping for since “Blade Runner” first appeared on DVD.

By the way, “Blade Runner” was one of the first two DVDs I ever got, along with “Boogie Nights,” as part of a buy-a-player-get-two-movies-free deal at Target. This was back in 1998, I think. Funny how it took almost 10 years for “Blade Runner” to get the upgrade, but rights issues can be nasty, and downright infuriating, as far as classics go. Glad a new version is on its way, at least.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Isn't She a Cutie?