Video Tuesday #13
"Do They Know It's Hallowe'en"
North American Halloween Prevention Initiative
"Wolf Like Me"
TV On The Radio
"There's Always Room On The Broom"
"Blood and Thunder"
The MP3s available here are for sampling purposes. Please support the artists by buying their albums and going to their shows. If you are the artist or label rep and don't want an MP3 featured, let me know. Links will otherwise stay live for about two weeks before they vanish into the ether.
"Do They Know It's Hallowe'en"
North American Halloween Prevention Initiative
"Wolf Like Me"
TV On The Radio
"There's Always Room On The Broom"
"Blood and Thunder"
|Mike of Obscure Sound can't vote yet, but he's already honed some of the best musical taste in the tri-state area. That's especially impressive to me, considering I still have to blackmail my friends to keep my teenage-era purchases a secret. (Here's one freebie: Jewel's Pieces of You.) And Mike ably lives up to his blog's name, showcasing interesting under-the-radar acts from all over the stylistic map. Everyday, his page delivers the prospect of another thoughful departure, another promising sound. He's introduced me to a whole lot of great stuff, so I was grateful to get to lob a few questions his way. Here's my interview with the man behind the blog:|
Tell us a little about yourself.
I'm probably one of the youngest music bloggers out there, considering I'm still in high school. I'm just an average guy from New Jersey who enjoys music and sports, so I'm typically a fan of the Yankees and the Jets. I love music. I would like my future career to be in either music journalism or teaching English in an Eastern country. Actually, I'd like to do both. I make music too, though I'm not very good (myspace.com/mikemineo). I also enjoy running, which is where I listen to more music.
What first got you into blogging?
I listen to so much music, it may eventually become unhealthy. I also enjoy writing (about anything from media to sports), so I decided to combine the two to see if I would enjoy it. As it turns out, I do. Also, in my town (some suburb in NJ), people tend to have the same generic tastes (mainly emo), so most conversations regarding music are pointless. I enjoy talking about music and if I can't do it verbally, I'll do it through writing.
What’s the best thing about blogging? What’s the worst part?
The good things heavily outweigh the bad. One of the best things is when a band e-mails you and tells you that they just got signed because a label heard their music on Obscure Sound. This only happened to me a few times, but it felt great to know I was making a difference. Oh, and obviously discovering great new music and sharing it with other people. The only bad thing I can think of is writing an article and looking at the clock two hours later, realizing you should probably be doing homework instead. Time flies for sure.
What sets your blog apart from other people’s?
Some blogs just post a bunch of MP3s with no description. I don't do that. If people want to download music without reading about it, they can just go to Soulseek or OiNK. For the people who enjoy reading about what they're listening to, I try and fulfill that.
What artists or bands do you think have made significant leaps forward this year?
I find the new album from The Veils to be much more impressive than their debut. Joanna Newsom has really expanded on her talent, while Sean Lennon has actually made an album worth listening to. Also, I'm very surprised that the Pet Shop Boys have released their strongest album in about a decade.
Pick a post you think is especially cool for someone who's never seen your site.
This interview I had with Patrick Krief (The Dears) is causing a bit of a stir from the Morrissey fanbase. It's a great interview, though: http://obscuresound.com/?p=365. Also, there's this band of eleven-year-olds who actually wrote a song that is pretty fun, if not funny: http://obscuresound.com/?p=381. Also, Julian Nation can be the next Jens Lekman if he plays his cards right: http://obscuresound.com/?p=376.
You seem to have a staggering and very diverse knowledge of music. Where do you find out about all of the music you follow?
Thanks. I never really look for music actually. For some reason, it always comes to me through promos or personal recommendations. If I'm truly desperate (which I never am), I may go on All Music Guide and just randomly browse and look at acclaimed artists that I haven't checked out yet.
Which contemporary singers have some of your favorite voices?
Scott Walker. He just has such a great presence. I like prominent singers with strong vocals... Morrissey, Jarvis Cocker, Neil Hannon. Vocalists like those hit the mark for me.
What 2006 album has been your biggest disappointment and why?
The new Beck album puts me to sleep. Also, I was expecting The Strokes album to be at least a bit enjoyable (being a fan of the last two), but I can't get into that album at all. I don't like The Stills' new album as much as their first.
If you could get any two musicians to record a duet, who would you pick?
I think Morrissey and Jarvis Cocker would find something hilariously depressing and perverted to write about together. They both have solo albums out this year though, so I can't complain.
What broken up band would you most like to see get back together?
The Beatles, but maybe that's unrealistic. Seriously, I would like to see Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson (Suede) continue to write music together. They did so with The Tears' great album last year, but they have apparently gone separate ways again... so, damn.
What are some of the most memorable things you’ve seen happen at concerts?
At a Depeche Mode concert this year, Dave Gahan had horrible laryngitis but played the whole show with such emotion, almost looking in pain as he tried to sing. He still sounded great though, as he smiled at a sign that read "Laryngitis my ass!"
What are some of your favorite song lyrics?
The Smiths - "I Know It's Over." I may sound commonly pathetic saying I relate to that song, but it's true.
Which artists who sing in a foreign language are you really excited by?
I'm a big fan of music from Japan. Pizzicato Five, The B'z, Flipper's Guitar, Shugo Tokumaru, Kagerou, Swinging Popsicle, Hikaru, anything shibuya-kei... I enjoy the diversity. My friend gave me a compilation of African music, which is very interesting as well.
Which older albums have you rediscovered or just gotten around to discovering recently?
I was obsessed with XTC over the summer, listening to any album I could get my hands on.
* MP3: "I Know It's Over" - The Smiths from The Queen Is Dead [Buy it]
* MP3: "Divide" - Julian Nation from We Are All Writers [Buy it]
* MP3: "Sometimes" - Mike Mineo [Visit him]
At first, when I received Devastations' singer Conrad Standish's prompt reply to my questions, I considered holding off on posting it. After all, two posts on a band in one week might be viewed as overkill, right? But no, I realized, it's actually a fair representation of how predominantly Devastations have seized my attention lately. Their new album, Coal, seems to only richen and expand with every listen. I feel myself being drawn back to certain songs just as I think their pull has weakened. And I haven't yet encountered an occasion that their music can't complement.
Hopefully, I won't be one of the few to find out how excellent it is. In a packed, high-profile season, Coal is subtle and lovely enough that it could easily get lost. So do yourself a favor: pick up a copy of the new record soon and catch a most deserving band on the rise. In the meantime, check out my interview with the man at the mic:
NL: How did the band come together?
CS: We were all playing together in another band, which was kind of a more noisy, punk-informed kind of thing, which gradually imploded and then we emerged, panting and phoenix-like, as Devastations in late 2002.
NL: How did you decide on the song sequence? "Sex and Mayhem" seems like a bold choice to open with. The album probably would've been entirely different if you'd started with, say, "Cormina."
CS: Yeah, no one would buy it. That's not taking away from "Cormina" in any way, but it's not really how we wanted to introduce the record. To us, this is kind of a poppy record (in a slightly skewed way), and we wanted to illustrate that maybe by opening with "Sex And Mayhem." Plus you can't deny a Casio beat.
NL: What is living in Berlin like? What compelled you to base yourselves there?
CS: It's cheap, it looks good, and has a very interesting history. We kind of wound up there by accident, as in we knew some people there who we crashed with in between tours, and then it just made more sense for us to start renting our own place, and then it went from there. I like it. I have to move out of my place after I get back from the States though, as my housemate is a fucking Nazi.
NL: Why did you choose "Take Me Home" as the first single? Are there plans to release any others?
CS: It wasn't our initial plan to release that first, but then came around to the idea, as it's probably more immediate than anything else on the record, though not necessarily too indicative of the rest of the songs. As far as more singles--that's up to the label really. "Sex And Mayhem" would probably be the obvious choice as next single. I mean, it has the word "sex" in it.
NL: Who are some of the Australian artists you think should be getting more attention stateside? What about German artists?
CS: Everyone should definitely seek out HTRK (Hate Rock Trio), www.myspace.com/htrk--they are awesome. Like Nico out front of Suicide with a bent funk fixation. Stunning. Other than that, The Drones are very good value. German artists--pffft. Aside from Neubauten, Faust and all the obvious older contenders, I'm not really aware of anyone doing anything that great at the moment. Maybe Cobra Killer. I'm feeling kind of down on Germany today. Next question.
NL: What can people expect from Devastations live?
CS: Bloody fingers. Beautiful shoes.
NL: What song that you haven't covered would you love to cover?
CS: "The Original Disco Man" by James Brown. I want that played at my funeral.
NL: What has surprised you most about the music industry so far?
CS: I kind of expected it to be this fucked.
NL: What albums have you not been able to get enough of recently?
CS: HTRK - Marry Me Tonight. Liked the last Liars record too. Karen Dalton's In My Own Time.
NL: On this album, there's a whole lot of darkness, abuse, sadness and sexuality paired with some fairly sweet-sounding music. Was that a juxtaposition you set up intentionally?
CS: Yes and no.
NL: How did the collaborations with Padma Newsome and Bic Runga come about? Any chance of more Angus Andrew collaborating on the horizon?
CS: They're friends who were able to play instruments that we couldn't. Bic played the "Female Foil." Padma's contribution was massive. We will definitely work together on the next record if possible. It's probable I'll be doing stuff with Angus soon.
NL: What question are you tired of being asked?
CS: Most of them. I find music a very uncomfortable thing to actually talk about. It's something that you do.
NL: Where do you see your sound progressing from here? Are there any leads as to where the third album is heading?
CS: It's heading south.
* MP3: "Coal" - Devastations from Coal
* MP3: "Sex and Mayhem" - Devastations from Coal [Buy it]
* Band Website: Devastations
* Upcoming Tourdates:
27 - New York, NY, Knitting Factory
28 - Philadephia, PA, Johnny Brenda's
31 - Cambridge, MA, TT The Bear's
1 - Williamsburg, NY, Sound Fix (in-store)
2 - New York, NY, White Rabbit
3 - New York, NY, R&R (CMJ showcase)
4 - Toronto, ON, El Mocambo
6 - Chicago, IL, Empty Bottle
7 - Minneapolis, MN, 7th Street Entry
10 - Vancouver, BC, Media Club
11 - Seattle, WA, Crocodile Cafe
12 - Portland, OR, Doug Fir
14 - San Francisco, CA, Bottom of the Hill
15 - Los Angeles, CA, Spaceland
17 - San Diego, CA, Casbah
Tags: Devastations, Coal, Brassland, MP3, Sex and Mayhem, Conrad Standish, tourdates
1) "I Hate The War" - The Ballet from Mattachine! [Buy it]
2) "Killing Armies" - Wolf Parade from Wolf Parade EP 2 [Buy other Wolf Parade]
3) "History's Great Navigators" - Oneida from Happy New Year [Buy it]
4) "For The Love of A Soldier" - Susan Christie from Paint A Lady [Buy it] (via GvB)
5) "Running The World" - Jarvis Cocker from Jarvis (hidden track) [Buy it]
6) "Stop, I'm Already Dead" - deadboy & The Elephantmen from We Are Night Sky [Buy it]
7) "War On War" - Wilco from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [Buy it]
8) "MX Missiles" - Andrew Bird from The Mysterious Production of Eggs [Buy it]
9) "Neutron Bomb" - A-Frames from Neutron Bomb 7" [Buy other A-Frames]
10) "Support Our Troops! OH!" - Devendra Banhart from The Body Breaks/ Support Our Troops! OH! Devendra Banhart/Xiu Xiu split 7" [Buy it]
11) "Rockets" - Cat Power from Myra Lee [Buy it]
12) "God and Country" - The Thermals from Fuckin A [Buy it]
13) "Here Comes President Kill Again" - XTC from Oranges & Lemons [Buy it]
Clarion Alley is my favorite alley in America. It's an indispensable strip in the Mission District, connecting Valencia and Mission Streets, its length completely coated with eye-luring and ever-rotating graffiti and murals. The alley, which usually includes at least a few artists, admirers or druggies at any hour, is also the source of much of my Writing On The Wall series. So when I found out there'd be a block party there last Sunday, there was no doubt I'd be attending.
Spanning from one to nine p.m., the party constantly picked in a healthy overrun of people. Its narrow confines held more hipsters per square inch than a Deerhoof concert at McCarren Pool. Some of the artists were on hand too, adding a fresh swath of red to their design or spraying on a whole new work onto a metal gate. Local bands were rotating every half hour between the two setups at either end of the alley. The famous Tamale Lady was circulating through the crowd with her iconic cart. Rooftop partyers watched the action from above with 40s in hand. And closer toward Mission, skateboarders tested out new techniques for an impromptu audience.
The bands were a fun feature and added to the event's inclusiveness. In those eight hours, they tackled a whole mess of genres and approaches, swerving from pop to hardcore to klezmer and back. Not everything I caught was great, but it was consistently entertaining and inspiring. People were still thrashing away in garages. People were still milking three chords for all they were worth and making music to drive record executives insane. People were still creaing public art for the sake of creation. People still cared about ideas like community and creativity, especially when there's a kickass party centered around them.
Tinkture offers up the day's much-needed dose of girl-punk
Shotwell with "Body Count Politics." It gets pretty hilarious about thirty-five seconds in.
Can we please just agree that Manhaterrr is both your and my new favorite band from now on?
* MP3: "Inscription" - Tinkture
* MP3: "Resentment" - Tinkture
* MP3: "Behind Closed Doors" - Tinkture [Visit them]
"Over and Over"
"Pennyroyal Tea" (from MTV Unplugged)
"Where It Started At"
Hi-Tek ft. Jadakiss, Papoose and Talib Kweli
"F-Word" (Concert à Emporter series)
(via La Blogothèque)
“Hold on,” Conrad Standish sings as if he’s dangling over something truly terrifying. A few more fingers have just slipped from his grip on the precipice; his feet are limply swinging in the black air. It’s at least a fifty-foot drop down. Hold on. Hold on. Hold on, he’s commanding his shaky self. But it could also be a call for anyone listening to hold on before they jump to the by-now-tedious comparisons. The lovelorn baritone of Matt Berninger on “Cormina,” the gothic gloom of Nick Cave on “Sex and Mayhem,” the complex emotional life of Kurt Wagner on “Terrified,” the quiet smolder of Stuart Staples on “Dance With Me.” They’re all there, but reducing the Devastations to a compendium of other deep-voiced poets would be sadly short-sighted.
After all, the Devastations, a Berlin-by-way-of-Australia trio consisting of Standish, Tom Carlyon and Hugo Cran, have just released a truly gorgeous album. Coal is a wide-ranging work whose scope can’t be summarized with one or two tracks. It’s a slow-blooming work that can’t be fully taken in after one or two listens. It’s romantic and beguiling at one moment and then it suddenly takes a turn for the mysterious and malevolent. It also swoons, rocks, seduces and aches. My favorite songs change depending on my setting and my mood, but Coal seems to have one ready no matter how I feel.
Ultimately though, the setting I find it best suited for is nighttime listening. I can picture Standish at the end of a long day, unknotting his tie and tugging his collar loose. His defenses are down and maybe a glass of scotch is involved. The room is as dark as his mood. The songs start to spill out like the drink into his throat. Maybe under some other circumstance, he’d be able to keep his feelings locked up, but tonight, you can catch the quiver in his voice and how heavily his weighted words land. You can detect the dredged-up pain and desire laced into the music. You can feel the depth of the Devastations’ losses and how sweet catharsis can sound. There’s so much there to hold on to, but as this band stunningly proves, sometimes it's better to just let go.
* MP3: "Coal" - Devastations from Coal
* MP3: "Sex and Mayhem" - Devastations from Coal [Buy it]
* Band Website: Devastations
Tags: Devastations, Coal, Brassland, MP3, Sex and Mayhem
"We’re the heirs to the glimmering world," the crowd sang along in a shaky voice. "We’re the heirs to the glimmering world." It was one of the more moving concert moments I'll have this year, rendering one of the National's best lines even more magical. All that hope and regeneration, all that promise of youth and potential echoed by some of the people who'd be doing the inheriting. It was yet another reminder of how endless my love for this band is, of how Matt Berninger's mysterious lyrics only deepen with every listen. But wonderfully enough, it was also just one high point among many.
Another clear high point was opener Baby Dayliner. Wow, how do I even begin to describe Baby Dayliner? He looked like a cross between Vanilla Ice and Randy Travis, shimmied and swayed like a Star Search contestant, and crooned like some mix of Vegas headliner and classic soul legend. With his prerecorded beats pumping out of a soundsystem, he became a one-man-sensation, right down to his pompadour and suit jacket. It was all ridiculously entertaining, not to mention sonically fresh. Better yet, his performance never crossed into the tempting danger zones of irony or quotation. Baby Dayliner was just doing his electro-pop-neo-soul-retro-new-wave thing and doing it extremely well. And just to top out his cool factor completely? The man had none other than Ian Bavitz among his crew that night.
Next up was the Mobius Band, a young threesome from Brooklyn-via-Massachusetts not quite as original as their antecedent. At first, they trafficked in the kind of hooky guitar alternarock that defined mid-90s indie: catchy enough but indistinctive. But my interest was piqued when they started incorporating more electronic elements. That’s where their sound picked up and they started standing apart. I’d be interested to see where Mobius Band will go next and if they can separate themselves from the pack a little further.
Baby Dayliner performing "At Least"
And then it was time for the main event. Members of the National came up on stage, casually testing their equipment, as I jockeyed for the best position in the front row. The hall was getting more and more packed, more stray elbows finding their way to my back. But then the lights dimmed and everyone collectively relaxed and rejoiced. The band wasted no time in testing out new material, kicking off with “Start A War” from their as-yet-untitled fourth LP due in March. It was expectedly lovely and melodic, one of those songs in the vein of “Cherry Tree” that are bound to creep up on you.
Mobius Band perform "I Just Turned 18"
From there, it was a heavy dose of Alligator, which if you don’t already know was by far my favorite album of 2005. So yeah, I was pretty enraptured. (That’s a generous way of saying I was embarrassing and singing along with every song and taking pictures like a parent at a graduation ceremony.) Early on, their deliveries of songs like "Secret Meeting" and "Lit Up" hewed faithfully to the recorded versions, but as the set went on, the band started to experiment. The guitars and bass led the charge, with the Dessner brothers and Scott Devendorf adding raucous fuzz and volume in unexpected ways. Australian violist/violinist Padma Newsome, also Bryce Dessner's cohort in Clogs, was equally essential, jumping into the mix with stirring energy.
"Walk away now, you're gonna start a war"
The band also featured two other new songs I'd never heard before. They fit inconspicuously into the repertoire, not too stylistically different from their surrounding material. If they’re a fair indication of the overall sound to come, the National will keep on refining but not redefining its songcraft. But it’ll be very interesting to find out in March how they'll end up turning out.
Then it was back to cranking up Alligator with some divergences into Cherry Tree. (The only two songs from their last album not to appear were "Val Jester" and unfortunately "Friend of Mine.") I was hoping for a curveball pluck from their back catalogue along the lines of "Pay For Me" or "90-Mile Water Wall," but the band seemed more intent on looking forward.
The National perform one of their new songs
As always, one of the best versions of the night was "Abel," which is just destined to rock live. Berninger's twitchy, unhinged performance adds another compelling layer to the music, as he cradles the mic to his ear and suddenly detonates into the chorus. The only two versions that didn’t work for me were "All The Wine" and "Looking For Astronauts," which were too noisy and unfocused and drowned out the vocals. Berninger also forwent awesomely screaming "I'm in a STATE! I'm in a STATE!" on the former, as I saw him do in February and at earlier shows.
The National came back for a three-song chorus, closing with another new player to the team, "Fake Empire." It was another great set by one of my all-time favorite bands, only stoking my hunger to see them again and soon. Scott Devendorf came out and talked a little, shaking a few hands. Someone asked where the National was heading next. "We’ll be in Eugene tomorrow, then Portland after that," he said. Hmm... I could probably make it up to Eugene by tomorrow, I thought, already envisioning the miles of open road and hitchhiking set to the score of "Driver, Surprise Me." Instead, I forced myself to wander back onto the street, galvanized, exhausted, thrilled, and totally ready to inherit that glimmering world out there.
Note the Bryce Dessner autograph
*MP3: The National - Cherry Tree (Live) from Black Sessions, 11-17-2003
*MP3: The National - In A State (Live) from Black Sessions, 11-17-2003 (later renamed to "All The Wine") [Buy other National]
*MP3: Baby Dayliner - At Least from Critics Pass Away
*MP3: Baby Dayliner - Critics Pass Away from Critics Pass Away [Buy it]
*MP3: Mobius Band - The Loving Sounds of Static from The Loving Sounds of Static [Buy it]
*Band Website: The National
*Band Website: Baby Dayliner
*Band Website: Mobius Band
Tags: National, Baby Dayliner, Concert, San Francisco, Mobius Band, Great American Music Hall
Skin against sweater.
My forearm hairs bristle,
longing to make contact with
your mulberry cotton cilia,
the faintest of brushes like
pinning down a breeze.
The tenuous moat of the armrest,
the studied romance of negative space,
an elbow navigates dark waters
to pioneer your crooks.
Skin against sleeve.
The creep of desire is still
mute and unsteady, a bug inching
down the bedlam following a flood,
seeking harbor among all this mud,
flotsam and catastrophe.
Absence as foreplay,
I retrace the spaces you inhabited,
mapping the swiveling blue-black river,
disarmed by the mere premise
in the reciprocity of touch.
|We Go Way Back|
A film by Lynn Shelton
Now playing (limited)
51 Birch Street
A film by Doug Block
Now playing (limited)
A film by Kelly Reichardt
Now playing (limited)
For Your Consideration
A film by Christopher Guest
Opens Nov. 22
I need to invent some kind of impenetrable bubble to listen to Califone in. Even with the earmuff-like headphones that have become part of my daily outfit, the city won’t keep out. I’m walking down the street, trying to be overwhelmed by all the placid wonders of their “Orchids” cover. Meanwhile, tires are screeching, people are squawking into cellphones, and the wind is muttering like a deranged dog. Not exactly ideal circumstances to take in something so delicate and subtle.
Because Roots and Crowns belongs to a class of great albums that require your total attention and devotion. As with many other stars of 2006 (The Letting Go, Damaged, Devastations’ Coal, parts of Post-War), you may well enjoy the album after a few cursory listens. But to truly absorb it, to feel it as an evangelist feels his booming message, you need a patient ear and no distractions. You need to let every quiet note sink in and every elusive melody find you. You need to allow Tim Rutili's voice to mellowly carry you away. Then when you've reached the end of the thirteen-song cycle, start over and see what new ore you can dig up.
Lately, Roots and Crowns is what I'll listen to at night when I'm alone in my apartment. My phone is off and the lights are on a dimmer setting. It's not quite the bubble I'd envisioned, but it's a decent substitute. Tonight, I just noticed how essential that background percussion is to "Sunday Noises." How it holds up the track like a backbone, how it keeps on hammering away among the other elements. All this time, it'd been getting lost in the urban clatter. It'd just been waiting for me to track it down.
* MP3: "Sunday Noises" - Califone from Roots and Crowns
* MP3: "The Orchids" - Califone from Roots and Crowns [Buy it]
* Band Website: Pastry Sharp
Tags: Califone, Roots and Crowns, Orchids, MP3, Tim Rutili
Rhymefest ft. Kanye West
"The Sensual World"
When shit went wrong, there were the Blood Brothers. Work was hectic and I blared “USA Nails.” Disillusionment with women brought on “Love Rhymes With Hideous Car Wreck.” Against the cacophony and the rabid guitar, my own issues seemed almost sunny in comparison. It was like primal scream therapy, but all I had to do was listen. And when they unleashed post-hardcore masterwork Burn Piano Island, Burn in 2002, I was listening a lot.
Four years and two albums later, the Blood Brothers are back with another auditory assault. Their slash-and-burn sound on Young Machetes is largely intact, but there’s more melody and even some bona fide singing (!?) sneaking through. I was excited about getting the new release and finally catching them live. Could the band possibly produce as much fire live as they do on record?
The Blood Brothers’ only local appearance was a free set at Amoeba, so I made my way down to the Haight. The aisles were clogged with tattooed twentysomethings. They were mostly rocking the scruffy, unwashed look you find at art schools or on Missing posters. Slipping into the independent vinyl section, I had to battle back the urge to scoop up everything in sight. Two women twice everybody’s age wandered in after me. Obviously unaware of the upcoming show, they avoided eye contact while uncomfortably combing through the early years of Elton John and Billy Joel.
The band took the stage at six and spat out seven or eight songs. It was only a half-hour performance, but they did indeed showcase the volume and fury I was hoping for. Surprisingly, the highlight for me was a new song, “Set Fire To The Face On Fire.” It consisted of the two vocalists, Johnny Whitney and Jordan Blilie, repeatedly and vehemently ignoring the old adage of what not to yell in a crowded record store. Whitney was especially entertaining, sporting a bleached Koosh ball haircut, a bandana neckerchief and a candy cane V-neck. He patrolled the length of the small stage with a cocksure, pansexual Mick Jagger strut. The lanky Blilie mostly hunched over and wailed into his microphone, keeping it against his mouth as if he were planning to bite into it.
It was definitely a promising preview, and I may well have to check out the band again when they co-headline the Fillmore in December. I'm generally too content nowadays to need the music as much as I used to a few years ago. But even when shit is good, the Blood Brothers only make things better.
Roger Ballen Photography
Every day is a bombardment of images. From commercials and pop-up ads to billboards and street signs to just trying to absorb the theater unfolding in front of us, there's so much vying for our attention and so little that sticks. But that's never a problem for Roger Ballen's challenging photographs, whose twisted juxtapositions I'm still trying to peel from my brain. An American-born, South African-based photographer, Ballen established his reputation documenting the dorps and rural outposts of his adopted country.
Since then, however, he's taken a Lynchian turn for the weird. Works like Outland and Shadow Chamber feature troubling, surrealistic portraits, with Ballen's black-and-white monochromatics taking on a new sinister and grotesque feel. You can witness him delving in the dark corridors that we usually sidestep; you can feel the careful construction he's done to bring about these scenes. All in all, it's a brave deviation for someone who could easily have remained in a realistic mode. It's also very difficult to forget or look away, an increasingly noteworthy and necessary feat in these oversaturated days.
David Gordon Green. Cormac McCarthy. The Drive-By Truckers. Each, in their own medium, has newly expanded the vision of the South, complicating a region that’s too often reduced to hee-haw simplicity. Each of them considers and questions Southern identity, but they also proudly claim it. They commemorate the highs but acknowledge the lows. It’s a delicate balancing act that’s produced some pretty thoughtful art. What makes the Drive-By Truckers’ vision all the more compelling is how much they rock doing it.
I was really busy during Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, but was determined to catch the band as my third and last set of the festival. Ducking and dodging my way to the front of the field, I was surprised by how quickly Northern California seemed to vanish. Cowboy hats and trucker hats topped most of the heads around me. Beltbuckles and boots suddenly came into vogue. Someone was flapping a Confederate flag through the air. The prevalent smells were cigarettes and domestic beer.
Then the DBTs arrived and tore right in. Like a Cerberus of Alabama rock ‘n roll, they have three singer-songwriters, Patterson Hood, Jason Ibell and Mike Cooley, who trade off on lead duties. Hood, whose songs I generally like the least, was the biggest rock star, stomping the ground and twirling his guitar around like a prom date. He seemed to be having the time of his life, and the crowd was all too eager to reciprocate the enthusiasm. All three men had cigarettes poking out of their lips and threw back swigs from bottlenecks. Ibell’s wife, Shonna Tucker, held her own on the bass as her hair continually flapped into her face.
The set was altogether wonderful, fitting in a few introspective songs among the straight-up Skynyrd rock. Ibell’s ruminating "Decoration Day" was a definite highlight, at least as good live as it is on record. I actually got chills when he sang, "They’ve never seen my Daddy’s grave/ but that don’t bother me, it ain’t marked anyway." And Cooley, boasting the most unique voice among the three, also shined on “Gravity’s Gone,” far and away my favorite song on their new album.
My friends Colin and Jess arrived midway through the performance; the three of us moved up to a hill overlooking the crowd. The sun spilled over us and onto the straw heads of a hundred cowboys dancing. Jess, herself from southwestern Virginia, was wearing a camouflage T-shirt that read "Don’t Mess With U.S." and had a buff Ronald Reagan boxing a Russian. It was a fitting outfit, both a rejection of flag-waving patriotism and a reveling in it. Lately, she’s been creating an extensive art piece examining her Appalachian home, eager to add a sentence to the rich Southern conversation that the Drive-By Truckers spoke so fluently that day.
The DBTs perform "Gravity's Gone"
* MP3: "Decoration Day" - The Drive-By Truckers from Decoration Day [Buy it]
* MP3: "The Boys From Alabama" - The Drive-By Truckers from The Dirty South [Buy it]
Alejandro Escovedo has the kind of trajectory meant for a Behind The Music episode. He produced great albums in relative obscurity, earning industry respect but little fanfare. For his ‘90s genre-defying output, No Depression named him the Artist of The Decade. Then after the commercial break—bam! life sneaks in with its pivotal fuck-you twist of the knife—he collapsed onstage in Phoenix in 2003. He had Hepatitis C and his body had given up. Dosed with a drug regimen, an uninsured Escovedo got weaker and more broken down. He had gotten to a lower point than most people ever reach.
But wait, that last ten minutes of the episode guarantees an uplifting rebound. And Escovedo’s is as bright as his fall was dark. Inspired artists banded together to record a tribute album, Por Vida, to help cover the medical bills. Escovedo recovered slowly to enjoy the company of his new wife and daughter. And he returned to this year with one of his best albums, The Boxing Mirror, and a live show that’s even better.
His set at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass proved to be my highlight of the festival. In a forty-five-minute window, Escovedo rocked with the rejuvenated spirit of a man reborn. Every song felt fully formed and alive, whether it was a new fist-pump anthem like “Break This Time” or an older classic like “Castanets.” He dedicated the latter song to Joe Strummer and added that he felt “humiliated” when George Bush featured it as a favorite on his iPod list. Matt Fish’s cello routinely sweetened the electric roar of the guitar and Escovedo even threw in a dash of harmonica for good measure. It was all lively, lovely and inspiring. Escovedo was in top form that afternoon, confirming that's where he’s belonged all along.
It all depends on the day. When I'm happy, I can't imagine how anyone can be upset. Life is so ephemeral, I think, and we should spend every moment celebrating and cherishing how much we have. I want to go to the park and run the gravel trails and breathe in the zen of all the peripheral beauty. But when I'm upset, happiness seems impossible. People are still being persecuted for ridiculous prejudices around the world and history keeps replaying its grisly themes like a skipping CD. Feeling good feels almost naive. "Don't you read the paper, you grinning fucks?" I wonder when someone walks by with upturned lips.
I'm reserving today for happiness though. The weather's great, I've got four new albums on deck, and best of all, there's a fresh Podcast. The theme this week is "Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!," the perfect antidepressant for even the grimmest among us. My contribution, Bettye LaVette's "Joy," is actually a sad song, but don't let that stop you. You'll be on such a high from all of the other picks that even LaVette's crushing anguish won't bring you down. And today, that's the way it should be.
* MP3: "Joy" - Bettye LaVette from I've Got My Own Hell To Raise [Buy it]
* Website: Contrast Podcast
Tags: Bettye LaVette, Joy, Contrast Podcast, MP3