Sunday, August 11, 2013

Huh? This thing's still on, eh?

Alrighty then, I'll just have to do some posting in the coming days...

Just got back from a great vacation with lots of good music-related things! Saw the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park, saw the Queen musical, and had a wonderful visit to Rough Trade Records.

I'll post details soon.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Wilie Mitchell, dead at 81

I was sad to hear Willie Mitchell, who produced many of the great Hi Records albums, including I'm Still in Love with You by Al Green, died earlier this week. He was a great producer, but you can read more about him in the Times article. For now, I'll post a one of my favorite Al Green songs produced by Mitchell. A classic.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Linoleum Knife!"

Mastodon/Dethklok at Dallas House of Blues, November 11, 2009

As is the case many evenings, I was watching Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, and during a commercial break they put up a bump. The bumps usually contain something interesting or funny, so even if the show is on my Tivo, I hit play to see the bump writers have to say. They announced an upcoming tour with Mastodon and Dethklok, and I was ready to buy my tickets immediately.

You see, I’m a pretty regular viewer of Metalocalypse, and sometimes even enjoy the music. But it’s a fantastic skewering of the heavy metal scene. And Mastodon? Well, they’ve released some fantastic CDs over the past few years, including the most recent, Crack the Skye.

But I’m not going to subject my poor, long-suffering (non-metal-loving) wife to hours of grinding guitars and grunting, so instead I found a willing participant in Shaun, one of my guitar-playing friends.

First, if you’re going to this show and you want to blend in, wear black. With the exception of the wanna-be groupie in the red vinyl dress, the majority of the crowd wore black, usually with the name of a band somewhere on the shirt. Second, for the guys, which most of us were, you had to have facial hair of some sort. The bushier the better. I was kinda regretting trimming my beard the week before.

Thanks to uncooperative parking fee machines, we just missed the first band, High on Fire. The guy next too me said they were pretty good, but after further conversation, I wasn’t sure his musical tastes entirely matched mine. As we grabbed our seats, Converge was setting up. I approve of bands that set up their own gear…

…But I wasn’t really a Converge fan. They take elements of hardcore punk and some of the heavy grooves of metal and combine them with what I consider a screaming-type of vocals. The guitarist and the drummer were amazing, so I found some things to admire, but ultimately, there won’t be any Converge on my music-buying list. The singer had a manic energy that was fun at first. He seemed to draw on three classic icons of rock – he would put his toe, not the whole foot, on the monitor, which reminded me of Freddie Mercury of Queen. Secondly, he often twirled his mic by the cord and caught it, ala, Roger Daltrey of The Who. And third, and most peculiarly, he had this robotic neck twist/arm movement combo that looked like he was Dennis DeYoung from Styx, reenacting the Mr. Roboto video. “I’m Kilroy!” So yeah, that amused me for a bit.

And it was finally time for Mastodon! The stage was covered in equipment for all the bands, and they wheeled away the Converge equipment and uncovered Mastodon stuff. I’m pretty certain Shaun and I were both compiling Christmas wish lists while looking at all the gorgeous guitars and amps onstage.

Mastodon started out a little rough on the first couple of songs. It took them a few minutes to find their groove. I suspect they were having monitor issues, because the bass player kept messing with his in-ear, and the guitarists kept signaling changes to the monitor sound person. But once they got the kinks worked out, Mastodon lived up to their reputation. Musically, they were tight, the vocals sounded great, and they made it look easy. They began by drawing extensively from Crack the Skye, and then they started jumping around between the other releases. Aside from the guy next to me yelling for "Linoleum Knife" in between songs, it was great. The energy was amazing, and the band seemed to enjoy the audience enthusiasm. By the end of the Mastodon set, I felt full – listening to their dense music was like eating a rich meal. I was still reflecting back on some of what I’d heard when the crew started setting up for Dethklok.

In case you don’t know, Dethklok is the fictional band featured in the Metalocalypse cartoon. But of course, it’s never that simple… Dethklok music is featured in every episode of the cartoon, and it’s pretty good, as far as metal goes. Dethklok music is written and performed by Brendon Small, creator of Metalocalypse, and he’s released a couple of CDs as Dethklok. So yes, it’s a fictional band, but it’s also a real band. Got it?

There was always some Metalocalypse animation running on the LCD screen at the back of the stage. Sometimes it was a skit, such as the crossover promo for the Brutal Legend video game that ran prior to Dethklok’s set, while other times there were snippets from the show to help set the atmosphere for the songs.

I was of two minds during Dethklok’s set:
Right brain: “Hey, this is pretty good!”
Left brain: “Look at the animation, stupid right brain, it’s a cartoon band. They’re not even real!”
Right brain: “I know they aren’t real, but they’re pretty good!”
Left brain: “I just don’t think I can really enjoy a pretend band.”
And so on…

For the record, Brendon Small was doing most of the lead guitar and vocal duties, while surrounded by some musical luminaries that gave the necessary metal sound. And the music was really good, but it was by-the-book metal. Not much new or interesting about it.

I was surprised by the audience reactions. People were singing (er, growling) along, and seemed to know the words. That level of intensity for a cartoon band was staggering. After about 20 minutes, I’d had enough, and Shaun and I headed back towards the Fort.

Good show, overall. Mastodon made it all worthwhile, and I hope to see them again soon. Dethklok was cool to see for a few minutes, and I’ll keep watching the show, but I don’t see me becoming a big fan of the music. But their bus kicked some serious ass…

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Tale of Two Concerts

Woo-hoo! Second post of 2009...

U2/Muse, Cowboy Stadium, Arlington, TX, October 12, 2009
Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic, Center, Dallas, TX, October 16, 2009

I’ll be up front about this – I bought the U2 tickets because (a) I knew that by the time the concert rolled around, the hype machine would be in full force and I’d be wanting tickets anyway, and (2) they had some upper level tickets for $35 each.

I bought tickets for the Allman Brothers concert happening later in the week because (a) I’ve never seen the Allmans live, and (b) Widespread Panic was opening, and I’ve always had some curiosity about Panic.

Thirty bucks for parking at the U2 concert? Yikes… I was pretty miffed when that popped up on the Ticketmaster screen, but I went ahead and clicked it anyway. But once the date rolled around, it was nice knowing which lot we’d be parking in. I had experienced Texas Stadium traffic at a Pink Floyd show and a Cowboys game, so I was expecting the worst, but we got into the lot at Cowboy Stadium very easily.

As for getting to Center (stupid name… I still call it Starplex), I’m a pro. I learned a long time ago that you just go right on past the first Fair Park exit on 30, and take the second one instead. That little trick kept me from sitting in Radiohead traffic for 3 hours last year. Except it didn’t work this year… In my eagerness to see the Allman Brothers, I completely forgot that it was Texas/OU weekend at the State Fair of Texas. For those of you unfamiliar with Texas/OU weekend, it’s a little like Mardi Gras without the boob flashes and parade. In other words, just a lot of really drunk people everywhere you look.

Back at the U2 concert, we were in our seats by 6:45, and had already purchased t-shirts and a bottle of water. We were the picture of efficiency, and ready for the promised 7:00 start time on the tickets. Muse didn’t take the stage until 7:45.

Fast forward a few days to the Allman Brothers show, and we were stuck in traffic at 6:45, even with my super-secret quick route. Seems like other people knew about it as well… Paid my $10 for parking, got the car in a spot, and started walking to the amphitheater. About halfway there, 7:00, and I hear the crowd roar. Widespread Panic took the stage right on time. Finally got to our seats around 7:15…

Back at Cowboy Stadium, Muse is playing, and the whole thing sounds like mush. There’s no treble or mids in the mix, and it sounds like when you’re at a stoplight next to a car playing the stereo too loud. At least they have the video screen and light show going a bit to keep me from getting too bored. Everyone around me sits quietly in their seats. A few of them have alcoholic beverages, but they seem to be far from drunk.

While Widespread Panic is on the stage, I feel like I’m back at a Phish concert. Everyone around us is dancing and grinning like a maniac, having a great time. These aren’t the smooth, choreographed movements of someone trying to impress others with their moves – these are the jerky, seemingly random movements of sheer joy and ecstasy. The sound mix for Panic is fantastic. The lead guitarist is astounding, and the bass player is making me feel like the lamest bass player ever. The music is tight, the sound is great, and people are dancing their asses off…

Elsewhere in the time/space continuum, Muse finishes their 45-minute set, and frankly, I’m kind of glad. By the end, I could somewhat hear the singer’s voice, but it still sounded like someone had thrown a bunch of bass players into a blender. We sit quietly and wait for U2.

Back at Superpages, Panic finishes an amazing 2-hour set, and I’m actually a bit tired from dancing so much. Some very drunk people from down the row come down and start talking to several people about a ride they hated in the State Fair. One woman drops most of her beer onto the floor, and doesn’t seem to care. We sit and watch the drunk people and wait for the Allman Brothers.

At the U2 concert, Larry takes the stage and the crowd roars. Meanwhile, in my upper level seat, most of the people stay seated, clapping politely.

The Allman Brothers take the stage, and the Superpages crowd is on their feet, starting their herky-jerky dances again. The only people not dancing are the ones trying to get their joints lit. Can you say contact high?

The sound is better for the U2 part of the concert, but it’s still not perfect. Still sounds muddy and bass-heavy, and I’m a fan of bass. The first half of the U2 set is all about their fun party music. The second half seems to be focused on social justice and, to a point, spirituality. Several songs into the U2 set, I’m tired of sitting, so I stand up and dance a little. There are a few people on the row behind us standing, but most folks are sitting, staring intently at the stage below.

The Allmans sound great, but I’m not looking forward to battling this stoned crowd in the parking lots, so we stay until 11ish and head for the house.

Comparing U2/Muse and Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic doesn’t seem logical at first. It’s a definite apples/oranges scenario, but of course, that’s not stopping me. The U2 show was a spectacle. It was like going to the circus – you’re watching all of these things in front of you, but there’s a disconnect. At times, we were impartial observers. I kept wondering whether or not the members of the band were having fun, or if it’s just a well-paying job for them. I couldn’t tell by looking at their faces on the video screen.

At the Allman Brothers/Widespread Panic show, the band members looked like they were having a blast. It felt like the audience was an integral part of the show, pushing the bands on to do new and different things. It’s the difference between watching TV, and doing something in real life. They were both great shows, but only one was a true rock concert.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Laurie Anderson in Dallas, 10/12/08

Laurie Anderson persuaded me to buy season tickets to TITAS. Well, not Laurie personally, but the announcement that she would be performing her new show, Homeland, in Big D. I've seen Anderson at least 4 times, and it's always been a thought-provoking and mind-bending experience. Listening to Laurie Anderson allows me to slip outside my skin and recognize the overall strangeness that is the human experience. I'm convinced that the two best pop-culture windows on human life can be found in Blue Man Group and Laurie Anderson.

Anderson is currently touring her Homeland show, which the NYTimes reviewer thought could bookend her United States I-IV set. Homeland comments on the economy, war, and security in post 9/11 United States, along with a few miscellaneous stories thrown in so things don't get overwhelming.

In one of my favorite sections, Anderson comments that airport security ruins a potentially fun activity -- undressing in public. She does a wonderful job of describing the sadness and tension of people shuffling along with their possessions, attempting to get through security.

I'm very curious about whether the songs in Homeland have shifted over the course of Anderson's multi-month tour. There were several pieces on the scariness of the financial markets that would have seemed fairly prescient when her tour began in March/April. My guess is that some songs have been added in the past few weeks.

Will you enjoy this if you go? That depends on your attitude towards performances. If you attend performances for escapism, then no, probably not. It's like a newscast that also conveys emotional weight. But if you don't mind some socio-political commentary with your entertainment, you'll probably enjoy yourself.

This performance was also notable because Anderson seems to be singing more. Most of the Anderson shows I've attended in the past have focused on the storytelling, which I love. This performance seemed to be about a 50/50 split between singing and storytelling. The music isn't quite as energetic and bouncy as Strange Angels -era Anderson -- it's much more about atmospherics and synth washes.

Another major change from past performances -- the "Voice of Authority," Anderson's voice changer that makes her sound a bit like Walter Cronkite. Previously, the "Voice of Authority" has projected just that -- unflinching authority, occasionally questioning human motives and behaviors, but always dispassionate. But in Homeland, the "Voice of Authority" shows fear. In saying "There's trouble down at the mine," Anderson was implying that conditions in the U.S. are extremely dangerous, but that we're all just going about business as usual. Personally, I found it scary that after all the years of supreme confidence and detachment, the "Voice" cracked...

There were no projected visuals this time around, unlike past multi-media tour-de-force performances. The staging was simple, with candles on the floor and low-hanging lightbulbs just above the stage. Anderson stayed behind her keyboards for most of the performance, understandably, because the stage would have been difficult to navigate.

Lou Reed joined the ensemble for the final three songs of the performance, contributing vocals and guitar to a song seemingly titled "Lost Art of Conversation" (see the YouTube clip at the end of the post). After two standing ovations, Anderson came out and performed a solo violin piece for the encore. The violin was patched through the keyboard, so it had some effects running on top of the violin sound, but still allowed the gorgeous violin tone to come through.

All in all, a great show, and very thought-provoking, as Anderson shows usually are. As I mentioned earlier, I would have preferred more stories, but it was also nice to see a different sort of show from Anderson.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

One Fine "Day"

So. Good.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


Excuse me, sorry, but I'm approaching sheer giddiness right now...

Life is good... Life is very good...