Monday, May 14, 2007

A Few Favourites for the Time Being

So, for lack of energy and because I don't have reviews already written, I'm going to update with my favourite artists of the moment:

Amy Winehouse
Boy Kill Boy
Ani DiFranco
Cold War Kids

And, though I'm not really a fan in general of Nickelback, I love their video, If Everyone Cared. Check it out on You Tube.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Daryl Hall for President: Schoolchildren & Politics

On Wednesday night, I went to see the Gym Class Heroes at the 9:30 Club here in the District and it was a great show. Admittedly, I felt a little old and their normal fan base is a little younger than me on average, but the show was good overall.

Jon and I didn't get there until the first performer was finished, so I don't have anything to say about K-OS, but we got there in time to see the other two openers, P.O.S. and the RX Bandits, and both were very good.

P.O.S. came out with a dj, a bassist, and a drummer and took me by surprise with his cutting lyrics to his song "Gimme Gimme Gunshots" that included the lines

Okay frustration takes a fat cat
And slows 'em down like a bullet forced through layers
of disgusting Biggie Smalls fat
Still gets the job done
But only now it takes like ten gun claps to stab the fat of just one
The effort of a bullet through a hero sees kick armor
Doesn't make him less a hero, more a metaphor for life
My effort works in full clips
Only hero's a farmer
Cause he helps me fatten up and that's my bullet into strife, you know?

And at first I wasn't quite sure how to take that, but as he started in with some of his other material, I really started to take it in and appreciate his style.

I wasn't expecting too much from the RX Bandits and when they came onstage, their look was something of a jam band, somewhat generic with a little rock twist. I made the mistake of thinking their sound would be very similar. When they started to play, however, I felt like I'd just fallen from a 12 story building without even knowing I was near the edge of the roof. I was completely blown away by their fusion of rock, metal, and horns. Their songs went from swing-influenced ska to headbanging soundtrack in a matter of seconds, but somehow also worked to their advantage. It wasn't disconnected and, in fact, even flowed from upbeat horns to dingy rock guitar and heavy drums while remaining aurally intact.

And, then, of course, there were the Gym Class Heroes. Travis was up to his usual crowd-pleasing antics; going out into the crowd and taking photos with people, running around, causing mischeif, etc. "Sexual Chocolate" (a.k.a. Disashi) was better than ever and I swear he's improved since last fall. The band really came together and rocked it out. As she was there, Travis dedicated "The Queen and I" to his goddaughter and it was the best version of it I've heard thus far. The bass really came through from Eric and it just emphasized all the best parts of the song. The chorus just echoed through my bones, though I was in the back of the club. The energy was just so high and both the band and its fans could feel it in every inch of the space.

"Viva La White Girl" was a total crowd-pleaser and "Cupid's Chokehold" got its usual response from the crowd, loud, lively, and extremely positive. One of the songs that stood out the most to me at the show was one I'd never had any personal connection with before, "Pillmatic" - for some reason, at this show, it just got to me. Something in the way Travis rapped or maybe it was the way Disashi filled out the song with guitar. I'm not sure what exactly what it was, but there was a new dimension to the song at the 9:30 Club and it just hit me all at once.

My favorite of the night, by far, though, was "On My Own Time (Write On!)" because I've recently been lacking motivation in doing literary writing, but have become interested in possibly orchestrating some music of my own. And the song is all about what it's like to write a song. Genius. Pure Genius!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Quality Control

So, I've been teaching for a while and this past week I heard a story from one of the other teachers. He said that they were at the Hard Rock Cafe and a video of a Korn cover came on the tv. The second teacher didn't remember the name of the song or the original artist. The first teacher explained that it was "Another Brick in the Wall" by Pink Floyd.

I have no problem with covers when they add another dimension to the original or when they give the song more meaning. Korn's cover actually isn't a bad version of the song, but I do find it outrageous that the teacher didn't know his musical history. How can you know Korn, but not Pink Floyd? Perhaps I'm too old school, but Pink Floyd is one of the best bands in history, not to mention a pioneer of the rock opera genre.

So, as the teacher was explaining the value of classic rock in general and Pink Floyd in particular, one of the high school students said that Pink Floyd was not worth listening to. As I heard the story told, the student would rather listen to Britney Spears, "Fergie," or Nelly Furtado. Not that there's anything wrong with listening to those artists, but the quality of music and the intensity and emotion of the lyrics does not even compare.

How can you value modern music without an appreciation of where it came from?

Friday, November 17, 2006

For the Kids: Music and Teachers

So, Jon and I went to a Gym Class Heroes Show up in Baltimore at Sonar a while ago and I haven't had a chance to write about it until now (and now only because I am home sick from work). I've been meaning to write a good review for the fan-friendly, albeit eccentric band who I'm friends with on their MySpace site.

Though the crowd was a bit younger than Jon or I am used to at concerts, the energy was good and the band has a definite loyal following. We weren't interested in the other bands that played before them, but did get quite a nice surprise in listening to an impromptu MC named K-Beta in the lounge area while we were hanging out before GCH went on. He was raw and intelligent, harsh, but also well-rounded. If you're into indie rap/hip-hop check out his site and buy his record, entitled Nigger, on Inner Loop Records. Disashi, of Gym Class Heroes, even gave the dude props and bought his CD before he stepped up on stage with his band a half hour later. If that's not an endorsement, I'm not sure what one is!

The energy was high as a skyscraper and as gritty streets of Baltimore City herself when we pushed our way towards the stage area. It was fairly late when Matt, Eric, Disashi, and Travis finally came out to play. When they started "The Queen and I," the crowd literally jumped in, waving their arms and singing, rapping in time with Travis... pretty impressive for a band that hasn't had any major national recognition. Matt and Eric were fairly calm in their demeanor, but Disashi rocked the guitar hard and Travis was all over the place. I swear that man has ADHD, but it doesn't make me love him any less!

When Travis started talking about his MySpace addiction, everyone in the crowd screamed. You'd think he was talking about hard drugs or alcohol or even caffeine as other musicians have written songs about, but his online addiction took over his mic and his fans could more than relate. In an generation that was raised on computers, uses the internet to research for academic papers, and buys clothing online, spends more time talking to their friends online than actually in person, the audience could more than relate to Travis' MySpace dependency. "New Friend Request" documents the dilemma of making acquaintences and furthering friendships online in an age when it's hard to find people you really relate to both in person and through any kind of correspondence, including phone calls, emails, and *gasp* MySpace messages!

The song that hit me most, both for personal reasons and due to the intense, immense energy of the band, was "Cupid's Chokehold." Another crowd-pleaser, "Cupid's Chokehold" was perhaps the most aurally stimulating, as well as the most visually stimulating, song the band performed that evening. Including interesting beats, pounding and varied bass lines, and an outstanding and innovative bridge, the band complimented Travis' lyrics so well it was almost as if they were all one body and mind. Insanely good. Or maybe just insane; energetic, drastic, and a little bit spastic. Great song to dance to, make out to, or throw a punch to... whichever your mood dictates.

Their other songs were all opuses of youth, both mature and immature, sexual and innocent, violent and full of love, stupid and intellectual. Their encore rendition of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge" was a spark in the dark, igniting the crowd from within when Travis came onto the floor and performed in the midst of a sweaty, albeit good-looking, crowd. It was a small area to perform in and GCH's packed 'em in, but the show was aural magnificence and the crowd ready to party and easy to pleasure.

More, please!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Soundtrack to My Life: What's Yours?

The Soundtrack to Your Life Survey

Make a soundtrack for your life, matching songs with the following:

Opening song: Two Girls - Paranoid Social Club

Waking up: Sunset - DJ Eurok

First date: Love - Mos Def

First kiss: Lilac Wine - Jeff Buckley

Falling in love: Falling Is Like This - Ani DiFranco

Seeing an old love: Where Does the Good Go - Tegan & Sara

Heartbreak: I'll Be Seeing You - Billie Holiday

Driving fast: Wish (Komm zu Mir) - Franke Potente & Thomas D

Getting ready to go out: Eigentlich Gut - Soehne Mannheims

Partying with friends: Sugar, We're Goin Down - Fall Out Boy

Dancing at a club: Back Again - Boy Kill Boy

Flirting: Your Retro Career Melted - The Faint

Feeling sexy: I N I - Amel Larrieux

Walking alone in the rain: Narcissist - Sage Francis

Missing someone: Out Loud - Dispatch

Playing in the ocean: All at Sea - Jamie Cullum

Summer vacation: Only the Good Die Young - Billy Joel

Fighting with someone: In the Streets of Boston - Dropkick Murphys

Acting goofy with friends: I'm a Rover - Great Big Sea

Thinking back: Forever Love (Digame) - Anna Nalick

Feeling depressed: Crucify - Tori Amos

Christmas time: Joy - Paul Winter

Falling asleep: Babylon - David Gray

Closing song: Lateralis - Tool

Take The Soundtrack to Your Life Survey

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(P.S. My reviews of the Family Values Tour at the Nissan Pavilion and the Gym Class Heroes at Sonar COMING SOON!!!)

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Lilac Wine: Exotic & Comfortable

So, as I'm doing other things online today, I'm listening to Jeff Buckley's Grace, which I haven't listened to in a very long time. It's one of those albums that I can listen to over and over again and never fail to see the genius of it all. It never gets old or worn-in. Every time I hear it, I'm struck by Jeff Buckley's tremendous and powerful sensual voice.

I also love this album because it reminds me of the poetry both in the lyrics of the song and of drinking a full-bodied inexpensive red wine, and smoking jasmine-flavored tobacco from a hookah.

Like Lilac Wine, the album is a little bit exotic, completely sensual, smooth and comfortable, yet marked by temptation and darkness. Every time I listen to this album, I'm taken back to those times and places and remember the feeling of true discovery.

If you've never listened to this album, go out and buy it now because it's definitely one that needs to be in every avid music-listener's collection. Besides, the haunting and beautiful "Hallelujah" is on it. Though it was written by Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley's version is often referred to as the definitive version. His cover of Nina Simone's "Lilac Wine" is one of my favorite songs in the history of music. Jeff Buckley's own lyrics and song-writing ability shine through on songs like "Mojo Pin" and "Lover, You Should Have Come Over."

Grace is Jeff Buckley's only "real" album [read: studio album], but I also own Sketched for My Sweetheart the Drunk and Live at Sin-é, which are equally as good. It's a tragedy one of the best artists of our time had to drown so young in a tragic accident.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Catastrophe: Poetry and Experimentation

On the spur of the moment, I decided to accompany a friend to a very small show at the Black Cat about a month ago. I had heard of Rainer Maria before, but had never really listened to their music and I had certainly never heard of the Mary Timony Band before. I went with no real expectations, after having briefly checked out Rainer Maria's myspace page. I was pleasantly surprised at what I found there.

Mary Timony Band
We went in, got some drinks in the Red Room and hung out for a few minutes before they opened the mainstage area. The Mary Timony Band opened up for Rainer Maria with a good set of inspired and obscure tunes. We were all taken aback by the impressive range and jaw-dropping guitar skills of Mary Timony herself. She was dressed in simple jeans and a t-shirt and looked less like a guitarist and more like a roadie, but her vocals more than compensated for her lack of style in dress. Timony herself, formerly of Autoclave and Helium, has released two solo albums previously, but is now back in DC after her stint in Boston and is more aggressive than ever on guitar.

In concert, Timony isn't afraid to exercise her vocal muscles. Her voice has a quality of grit, but smootly stretches out her lyrics. It sounds classicly-trained, but modern-influenced as if punk and opera were her favorite genres of music from the cradle on. Her impressive fingerings and skillful picking set off her voice in more a contrast than harmony, but the overall melody carried through each of the songs as her even electric keel steered the band.

Chad Molter on bass was harsh, jabbing, even toxic, adding depth in each hollow of every song. He was satisfying and indulgent, like a good steak accompanied by a very bold and not-quite-sweet red wine. Devin Ocampo on drums added necessary percussion, at times looking bored and lacking enthusiasm, but obviously the outward physical expression did not capture the fervor with which his body rammed into each piece of equipment at the appropriate, or rather inappropriate, but well-timed, intervals.

Their set seemed short, possibly because it was an opening set, possibly because it was very good, or more likely because Rainer Maria's set was longer and more engaging.

Rainer Maria

Rainer Maria, known more for the reference to the famous dead guy than for their music, put on a caffeinated, black-as-midnight, struck-by-lightning, inspired, yet poetic performance. Lead singer and bassist Caithlin De Marrais has a voice like I'd imagine Anais Nin would have if she were an indie-rock singer and her hands ran the bass like Henry Miller wrote. Her voice is at once electrifying, addictive, and soothing. A poor combination for a drug, but great for the voice of an indie-rock chick.

William Kuehn on percussion was a fantastic contrast to Devin Ocampo of the Mary Timony Band in that his facial expressions echoed every move his body made throughout the show. His finely-timed, hard-hitting motions brought the erratic heartbeat of the band out and filled the entire room with a taste for blood and poetry. Guitarist Kyle Fischer made me fall in love with the him and the band simultaneously. He reminded me of a friend I have who is famous for having underwear dance parties and rockin' out all hours of the day and night with anyone who will join him. Kyle's stage antics engulfed the crowd, but looked unintentional; it seemed as if he weren't playing for anyone but himself and that was good enough for him, and that was good enough for everyone. His voice drinks like a bold Arabic or Turkish coffee - a little bitter, but with sweet spices and a knowledge that it's both bad and good for you at the same time.

My favorite song of the evening, by far, was dedicated to DC. Entitled "The Contents of Lincoln's Pocket," the song was both pertinent and bold. Eric Gamlem says that Kyle's single vocal lead is "problematic as he seems to have finally mastered the art of his shaky off key voice creating an exciting look at both the contents of President Lincoln's pockets at death, the vision of poet Walt Whitman and Fischer's own understanding of histories and poetics," and I quite agree. This song really stuck out, as much due to Kyle's vocals as to the lyrics and the way they truly put every last drop of energy into each syllable and note of the song. And dedicating the song to DC probably wasn't a bad idea, either.

At the end of the night, I was glad I bought the t-shirt and found myself wondering when they'd be performing in DC next. Anyone feel like finding me at the end of world?