Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wilco @ 9:30 Club - 2/27/08

SETLIST: Sunken Treasure / Remember the Mountain Bed / Company in My Back / You Are My Face / Side with the Seeds / She's a Jar / A Shot in the Arm / Nothing'severgonnastandinmyway (Again) / Handshake Drugs / Pot Kettle Black / When the Roses Bloom Again / Impossible Germany / It's Just that Simple / Someday Soon / Box Full of Letters / I'm Always in Love / Pieholden Suite / Jesus, etc. / Hate it Here / Walken / I'm the Man That Loves You / Hummingbird / On and On and On // Via Chicago / California Stars // Casino Queen / I'm a Wheel / Monday

GH: This show -- like a few others of theirs I've seen -- is kinda like the Freewheelin' Jeff Tweedy, with a band. The set's opening third seemed filled with songs that could've essentially been solo vehicles, but, as per usual, the band dressed them up pretty well. The setlist had great variety, though they left out most of my personal favorites; I'd say "Walken", "Hate it Here", or "Pieholden Suite" were the night's best tunes. Much like GL, I was really hoping for Red Eyed and Blue --> I Got You, but they set that one aside last night after playing it a number of times this tour. Other thoughts: 1)Tweedy was typically hysterical. He went after Dave Groehl for his Grammy acceptance speech and played up his "Carmen Miranda" hat to the NPR-stream listeners. 2) Stiratt is the McCartney of indie rock bassists. His parts are consistently more melodic and interesting than your average player, and he also sings good harmony. 3) Was Glenn Kotche wearing a tuxedo shirt? 4) Nels Cline is over 50. What if he was your dad? GL, what say you?

GL: Ha, Freewheelin' Jeff Tweedy. I like that a lot. I'd have to agree with my esteemed colleague in that they left out a lot of personal favorites, though it was fun to hear some songs that don't typically get a lot of live love. John Stirrat singing "It's Just That Simple" was a cool moment, not only because he's the bassist and doesn't really get a lot of attention (or any), but also because that song has the distinction of being the only one in the catalog not sung by Tweedy. Kind of shocking, yet not at all. The slow burning and soulful "Side With The Seeds" was a highlight for me as was the always enjoyable "I'm Always in Love". Also, as I mentioned to GH last night, I really don't like Sky Blue at all...but the songs off that album are pretty damn enjoyable in a live context. "Impossible Germany" and "Hate it Here" were also tours de force, mainly due to Nels Cline's ferocious fretwork and even more ferocious wardrobe. Seriously, what's up with the manpris and combat boots? He kinda scares me. Staying with the sartorial theme here, Glen Kotche was indeed wearing a tuxedo shirt. A pale yellow, frilly tuxedo shirt.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Top Five Wilco Firings

Wilco's in the midst of a two-night stay at the 9:30 Club (last night and tonight), and what better time to compile a list of the Top Five Wilco Firings, ceremonious or otherwise.

5. Jim O' Rourke - Neither G.L. nor I really believed Mr. Jim "I Ruin Records" O' Rourke was really part of Wilco (nor do we believe he ruins records), thus he gets placed at #5. Yet O' Rourke's tenure with Wilco has a distinct phoenix element to it, rising seemingly out of nowhere to mix the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot tapes into the most glorious mess the band ever put onto record, produce the follow-up A Ghost is Born, and throw together two comically uneven side project records with Jeff Tweedy and drummer Glenn Kotche under the Loose Fur moniker (those of you owning LF self-titled debut will perhaps agree that both "Racoonists" and "Scrotales" were better band names). His indie celebrity factor -- having been a Sonic Youth member for five years before leaving in 2005 to pursue "film"making -- gets him on the list over the relatively anonymous Brian Henneman and Bob Egan. No offense, guys.

4. Max Johnston - the oft-forgotten roots-oriented multi-instrumentalist of the band's early, greenhorne years, his departure proved ironic, as he left the band in 1996 because he sensed Jay Bennett (see below) was taking control of the coveted "Wilco, multi-instrumentalist" role, which, by my count, has been held by no fewer than five different people in the past decade. Johnston's departure from the band was symbolic of the group's direction; as an adroit banjo and dobro player, he saw little room for him during Wilco's mellotron-infused days down the road. Johnston -- the brother of singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked -- was also a member of Uncle Tupelo, and has gone on to play with sister Shocked, Steve Forbert ("Romeo's Tune") and The Gourds, with whom he continues to play and receive the support and affection he deserves.

3. Ken Coomer, along with fellow Uncle Tupelo holdover John Stirrat, joined Jeff Tweedy when he split with Jay Farrar to form Wilco in 1994. Perhaps not so surprisingly, the first couple Wilco albums sounded like Uncle Tupelo 2.0 – solid alt-country and American rock and roll records with some witty lyrics and just enough grit. Coomer’s playing was equally as solid and he and Stirrat continued the formidable partnership they began in Tupelo. What’s noteworthy about Coomer’s departure was not that there was any tabloid-esque falling out, but rather that the end of his tenure coincided with a new direction for Wilco. During Summerteeth, which would prove to be Coomer’s final record with Wilco, the band (or rather, Tweedy and Bennett) were experimenting with various different studio effects and employing overdubs ad nauseam. This led to Coomer and Stirrat alike feeling marginalized as the new production techniques limited their role in the process. Coomer would split with the band in an (allegedly) amicable way and the percussion role would eventually be filled by Glen Kotche. Stirrat, by either sucking it up and swallowing his pride or by selling his soul to Mssr. Tweedy, continues on.

2. Leroy Bach - Another multi-instrumentalist, Bach lasted exactly one album as a full-fledged member of Wilco. That album was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, meaning he was also extremely well-documented in Sam Jones' full-length promotional video, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. In the movie, he famously claims that everyone in the band is capable of "shaping a musical moment", which becomes painfully funny when we later see Jay Bennett (see below) stumble over himself trying to figure out the intro to "Heavy Metal Drummer". Bach toured with the band through their lean four-piece (and on into their "four piece plus an iBook") period and then left. He toured with Beth Orton a little bit, and apparently he still plays with a funk/fusion outfit in Chicago, but he's flown mainly under the radar.

1. Jay Bennett - The most epic – and best documented – departure from Wilco is, by no surprise, that of Jay Bennett. As those who have seen the documentary I Am Trying to Break Your Heart will surely remember, things came to a head during the recording of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. From the documentary, Bennett surely comes off looking like the asshole – he’s brash, he’s uncompromising, he’s clearly a bit unstable and lacks a number of social skills. Tweedy, who surely shares a lot of these same qualities, unceremoniously dumps Bennett in the middle of recording YHF and never looks back. It’s sad really, because the partnership of Tweedy and Bennett was always a great one in my opinion; Bennett was the McCartney to Tweedy’s Lennon, providing the Pop whereby Tweedy provided the Pomp. Not to mention, he was a good studio tech and mixer, basically taking Summerteeth on himself. Summerteeth is not only my favorite Wilco album, but also the milestone record in the Wilco catalog, not YHF, as many would have you believe. This record, and Bennett, it must be said, ushered in a new time for Wilco, one that would see the band enjoy its most prosperous and successful period yet.

Credits: GH posts 5, 4, 2; G.L. posts 3, 1

Wilco - "Kingpin" (Live at the Riviera)

Wilco - "Magazine Called Sunset" (Demo)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Four For Tue(sday)

Some songs for a drizzling Tuesday here, downriver from our nation's capital. There's a theme.

The Swell Season (aka Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova) - "Alone Apart"

Wilco - "Not for the Season" (aka "Laminated Cat")

Yo La Tengo - "Season of the Shark"

The Zombies - "Time of the Season"

Evangelicals/Headlights/We Were Pirates @ Iota

G.H., a TRS VIP and I went to Iota last Thursday to check out these bands. I went mainly for Headlights, not expecting much out of the others.

Two words for Death Cab (ahem!), I mean We Were Pirates: bop verse? Seriously? I don't know much about this band going into it (actually, nothing) and have no desire to know any more going out.

After what seemed to be a half hour of sound checks, Headlights finally started playing. They opened with my two favorite songs off of their newest album, Some Racing, Some Stopping. "Get Your Head Around It" and "Market Girl" are almost perfect indie-pop songs. The former consisting of soft verses and chorus, a powerful bridge of "bah bah bahs," and a sudden soft ending. Remember that sound check? Normally in such a small place a long sound check between bands is unnecessary, but thank God for it. When you have a song that's one big controlled reverb, the sound needs to be perfect, and it was quite close to that. "I Love You Laugh" separated what turned out to be two upbeat pop sections of their set. Rounding down the set with "Cherry Tulips," Nick Sanborn dropped his bass to wield the accordion I was eying all night long. Can't remember what song they actually played, but it was good.

When Evangelicals went on stage, I really didn't want to like them. Who asks for more and more reverb? Covered in Day-Glo and requesting their own lights, these Omahanians rocked so hard, they blew a fuse. The most memorable song of the show was "Party Crashing," which, at the show, I thought was 3 different songs, but apparently not. Highly entertaining show. I was laughing most of the time, mainly at the band's demeanor.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Color Me Embarassed

I just looked at the date and it's been two weeks since our last post. Embarassing. Our collective bad. We weren't really doing anything -- we just weren't blogging. In fairness to us though, the DC concert slate has looked a little barren lately, but it's about to heat up soon.

In the meantime, I've personally been doing a lot of rock-reading, as my last post suggests. Last night I finished Decemberist head hauncho Colin Meloy's 33 1/3 series book on The Replacements' seminal Let It Be. I picked it up this weekend in Boston (the Harvard Book Store had an extensive collection of them) and started reading on Monday evening. It's a slim volume.

This was my second in the series, the first being Love's Forever Changes by Andrew Hultkrans. The two could hardly be more different. Where Hultkrans was all about setting Arthur Lee and Love's anti-Summer-of-Love, psych-folk manifesto in its proper historical and cultural context, Meloy's is really about himself. Frankly, he barely even touches the material at hand, providing no details about the album's genesis, its musical style and structure save a few lyrical snippets that serve only to illuminate his emotions as a middle-schooler in Montana.

In that sense, it was pretty disappointing. When Meloy offers a taste of that in describing the MTV-baiting "Seen Your Video", it seemed to promise that more might be on the way. In fact, he's much more concerned with discussing the cover -- which I never found particularly remarkable at all, though appropriately tossed-off and well-suited to the 'Mats -- than the music within. Meloy mentions that some of his fans might find his choice of an all-time favorite album surprising, as it doesn't sound a damn thing like his own band, The Decemberists. It's somewhat ironic, then, that the book probably most appeals to Decemberist fans (I wouldn't count myself in that group), as it's a nice little read about how Meloy fell in love with music, about how music became a part of his personal identity as a young teenager in Helena, MT. He also writes well, with a short, concise style that is just as far from his word-stuffed songs as the Replacements music is from the Decemberists'.

So I didn't love it, but still an interesting entry to one of my favorite concepts in music writing. Next time I'm checking out the Velvet Crush/Tyde drummer Ric Menck's take on one of my dad's favorite, The Byrds' David Crosby swansong, Notorious Byrd Brothers. Anybody else care to recommend (or not) one of the books in the series?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Revolution in the Head

Last year I gave my dad Ian McDonald's book, Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties. He loved it and passed it on to me when he finished. I'm in the middle of it now, and it's terrific. McDonald first gives a pretty healthy introduction into what he means by "Revolution in the Head", and then lays out the social and cultural atmosphere that helped mold the band and the atmosphere that they themselves helped shape. He opens with a quote by Aaron Copland -- "If you want to know about the Sixties, play the music of the Beatles" -- which seems particularly appropriate, and also makes me feel like I have some kind of grasp of what the Sixties were all about.

What the book does really well, though, is make their music come to life. I have never wanted to hear these songs so much. I listened to "She Loves You" maybe a dozen times yesterday, just to catch the little "jazzy sixths" and "offbeat tom-tom quavers" that he's going on about. There are also some great anecdotes of the recording sessions, reminding you what an incredible band (in the technical sense) they were and also just how far out some of these recordings (masterminded by the genius George Martin) were at the time. Here's one of my favorites, from the entry on "Twist and Shout":

"The Beatles had been recording for twelve hours and time was officially up. George Martin, though, was looking for one more number -- something to send the album out with a bang. Accordingly, he and his team retired with the group to the Abbey Road canteen to take a final breather and have a think. Over coffee (or, in Lennon's case, warm milk for his ragged throat), they weighed their options before deciding on the wildest thing in The Beatles' act: 'Twist and Shout', their cover of a record by the black Cincinnati family act The Isley Brothers which had been a summer hit in America the previous year.... Back in Studio 2, the group knew they had at most two chances to get this demanding song on tape before Lennon lost his voice. At around 10:30 pm, with him stripped to the waist and the others 'hyping' themselves by treating the control room as their audience, they went for it. The eruptive performance that ensued stunned the listening technicians and exhilarated the group (as can be heard on McCartney's triumphant 'Hey!' at the end). Trying for a second take, Lennon found that he had nothing left and the session stopped there and then -- but the atmosphere was still crackling. Nothing of this intensity had ever been recorded in a British pop studio."
Don't know about you all, but the thought of Lennon drinking warm milk just to stay in the game then tearing through one of the greatest covers of all time, the band so riled up and buzzing that even Paul's hollering during the recording -- it kinda gives me goosebumps. This was February of 1963. Just to give you an indication of the other stuff also released in 1963, you have Lesley Gore's two big hits, "Judy's Turn to Cry" and "It's My Party", "My Boyfriend's Back" by the Angels, "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March, "Hey Paula" by Paul and Paula, and freaking "Dominique" by the Singing Nun. It's a great portrait of what came before The Beatles, and just how much things changed when they hit the scene.

And also, one year later, in the first week of April 1964, The Fab Four held the top five singles in America (1. Can't Buy Me Love, 2. Twist and Shout, 3. She Loves You, 4. I Want to Hold Your Hand, and 5. Please Please Me). Just one week later, they would hold FOURTEEN of the Top 100 -- something I can't imagine we'll ever seen again.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Observations from Iraq

During my stay here in Baghdad, I've noticed a couple things: the current US Embassy has the greatest sandwich bar known to man (100 feet of meat and cheese, with more energy drinks than you can handle), a white MacBook was probably not the best choice of computers to bring with me (it's no longer white), apparently "Monterey Jack fuckin' cheese" is delicious, and as much as I love our soldiers and contract soldiers and respect what they do for our country, their taste in music is slightly (read: extremely) irritating.

It's unfortunate that the best music I've heard is the Iraqi guy on a bullhorn wailing away in Arabic after dark. If I have to listen to another GnR or Linkin Park song in the bar on camp, I'm going to shoot someone. I'm still searching for Iraqi rock and roll in the Haji shops (and no, that's not an invitation to send me Clint Black albums).

On that note, I'm off to the shooting range to pop off a couple automatic weapons. Goddamn, I am manly...