Friday, April 22, 2005

Top 7 TV shows for catching good live music

Ever since high school I've been collecting music videos and live TV performances whenever I can. But two innovations have made this hobby much more fruitful as of the last 5 years: The internet (heard of it?) and digital cable. With the internet, I can find out exactly who will be appearing on what show by checking out the RockonTV guide, an older service that was recently taken over by VH-1. Meanwhile, if you find it within your means to upgrade to digital cable, you'll find all sorts of gems. Here are seven TV shows whose listings I've found worthwhile to keep checking:

  • 7. Late Night with David Letterman (TRIO, weeknights). That's not a typo. I mean the old Late Night on NBC from the 80s and early 90s. Worldwide Pants has licensed a handful of old episodes to be shown in syndication on this digital cable network. Trio is the best digital cable offering, top-to-bottom, but that's for another post. Thanks to reruns of Dave's old show, I have R.E.M. playing Radio Free Europe in their first national TV appearance, some Elvis Costello, not to mention my sister's few minutes of fame in Viewer Mail. Let's hope they release more of his archives - the entertainment could be endless.

  • 6. Late Show with David Letterman (CBS, 11:35pm EST). His current competitor on NBC doesn't even warrant a passing mention. But Dave still manages to keep in touch with the hip crowd by booking the occasional interesting band. Letterman is where you might expect a solid live performance from the more famous indie/formerly indie artists like Wilco, Beck, or The Flaming Lips. As little as 5 years ago, you could have seen Elliott Smith and Cat Power, and I think we can expect more good things from him before he retires.

  • 5. Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson (CBS, 12:35am EST). Craig's predecessor, the smarmy Craig, rarely would book anybody I was interested in. But even though Craig mk. II is older and British, he has already managed to win my attention as I peruse the TV Guide. This is where Dinosaur Jr. made their national TV debut recently.

  • 4. Later with Carson Daly (NBC, 1:35am EST). Surprised? Don't usually stay up late enough to catch Carson, or never had any interest? Well, give him a try. Carson obviously is a music fan, given his career, and his show walks the gamut from hip hop to indie. Expect acts on par with Iron and Wine and Matt Pond.

  • 3. Late Night With Conan O'Brien (NBC, 12:35am EST). Conan is going HD fulltime starting next week. That means better picture and better sound, and the better for me to record. And that makes me particularly happy because among late night TV shows, Conan still kicks out the jams best. I give him extra props because his own personal musical tastes are reflected in there somewhere. He seems to genuinely enjoy some of the music he hosts.

  • 2. Austin City Limits (PBS, ). ACL has recently re-invented itself, just as PBS has been trying to do across the board. They know that younger equals a larger audience and underwriting. This would explain why The Flaming Lips, The Shins, Wilco, and Guided By Voices were all part of the 2004 ACL line-up. There are no commercials, you can enjoy at least five songs per artist, and it's all in High Definition with 5.1 surorund sound. Glorious.

  • 1. Later with Jools Holland (OVATION, Fri. 8pm EST). When it comes to true alternative music, Jools Holland is the only choice. He has reggae, Tom Jones, brit pop, and emerging underground artists. I got digital cable practically just for Jools Holland on BBC-America a couple of years ago, but then they switched their format to British crime dramas and makeover shows and squeezed him off the air. I was ecstatic to learn that Ovation has just picked him up this year. Welcome back to America Jools!

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pennsylvania: Pond, Matt

Artist: Matt Pond PA

photo courtesy of

Album: Emblems

I learned about it...: Radio K (770 AM - Minneapolis/St. Paul)

Comments: Heavy Metal, Tamil, Bastard Pop - that's all well and good, but don't you ever just want some well-crafted pop songs? Every once and a while some singer-songwriter comes along who makes music that admittedly blends very nicely into the playlist on KS95 or whatever your local Matchbox 20 station is... at first listen. But the differences are deep if you pause for a second. Matt Pond started recording on his 8-track at his home in Pennsylvania in the 90s, and his influences are much less Fleetwood Mac, and more Neutral Milk Hotel (he actually covers Lindsay Buckingham and Jeff Mangum on his 2005 EP Winter Songs). When I saw him live on Carson Daly (again, you might balk) I was pleased to see that he bears a passing resemblance to our old friend Brian Quast, complete with old black tee and Chuck Taylors. You might put him in with Eric Matthews if you're looking for a college/indie rock comparison to his sound. But even that's too music-school. Elliott Smith? Far too melancholy. So let's quit trying to draw comparisons and sit back and enjoy him and his friends making some highly enjoyable, well crafted music that the whole family can enjoy.

Sound clip: Closest (Look Out)

More Clips

A Catholic Edumacation

Artist: Teenage Fanclub

Album: A Catholic Education

I am a stinking, hairless ape and "A Catholic Education" is the fuzzed-out monolith that I continually smack my rock loving brain against.

I once went two years without ever taking this album out of
the tape deck of my '91 Cavalier
(That's right ladies - a '91).

It sounded like this:

flip - perfection - flip - perfection - flip - perfection - flip... add infinity (or two years).

It's a favorite album of mine, and for the longest time I couldn't even recognize it as such because it had become so ubiquitous that it ceased to be a record and instead, became part and parcel of my being - almost like a big toe. And who goes around picking their favorite big toe?

I just recently bought it on CD, but to be honest, I'd rather listen to it on that crummy little cassette.

Here are other albums that sound better on cassette:
Sugarshit Sharp - Pussy Galore
Fakebook - Yo La Tengo

Don't get me wrong, cassettes are a horrible medium
but I challenge you to pick these up in that format and give them a roll,
then tell me I'm wrong.

Awww forget it.

Memorable Record Stores:
The Record Hole, Raleigh, NC

The Record Hole (R.I.P.)
2900 block of Hillsborough St.
Raleigh, NC 27607

In my hometown, The Record Hole is legendary. In fact, there might be a nationwide legend surrounding John Swain's old record store, at least among any obsessed record collectors who visited Raleigh in the 1980s.

First, what a great name: The Record Hole. It's simple, memorable, and descriptive on so many levels.

Second, the proprietor, the late John Swain, was a towering but tragic musical figure on the scene in Raleigh. There were few people anywhere that knew more about all kinds of music, but particularly, blues, R&B, rockabilly and rock and roll, than did John Swain. He could be the kindest, most helpful store-owner, particularly when he was sober, the weather was nice, and the store wasn't very busy. Once, I was looking for some Nervous Norvus singles as a gift for my dad (despite being in high school in the '50s and college in the '60s, the only rock and roll memories my dad has ever shared with me are Nervous Norvus on the jukebox - he's more of a Kingston Trio kind of guy). John Swain took the time to dig around for both 45s he had, plus shared all that he knew about Mr. Norvus. On the other hand, on a bad day you might question John as to why he was charging you $4 for a record you found in the dollar bin and he would snap back at you, "Well, some asshole must have stuck it in there! Do you still want it?!" My friend Malcolm was selling some of his own records there once, and as John was flipping through them he said under his breath, "John Lennon - dead, Janis Joplin - dead, Led Zeppelin - dead...". Malcolm asked, "What do you mean Led Zeppelin is dead?" And John fired back at top volume, "THEY DON'T SELL!"

Third, of course, was the music selection. The decor was simple, the record collection magnificent. I don't remember ever seeing a CD in there, but I could be misremembering. I only wish I was less into the Cure and Sonic Youth at the time and more into Fats Domino and Leadbelly so I could have taken full advantage of it. This place was a goldmine.

Others in Raleigh older than myself probably have far more stories and spent far more dollars in his store. I only managed 2-3 years of record shopping there before sadly, John died ultimately of complications from his alcoholism. The most fitting tribute anybody could have given was the clamor over his "estate" (an amazing record collection) after he died. His store is now some head shop, I think.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Only Children

Artist: The Only Children

Album: Change of Living

I learned about it...: Magnet magazine

Comments: Southern Blues Rock is making a comeback, according to some in the alternative press. These natives of Kansas made a name for themselves as The Anniversary among the emo crowd. Thankfully they've shed their cardigans for this new sound. I like it.

Sound clip: Change of Living

Monday, April 18, 2005

Bastard Pop

Or whatever you want to call it. If you haven't clicked it, the link above goes to a Wikipedia article that begins thusly:
Bastard pop is a musical genre which, in its purest form, consists of the combination (usually by digital means) of the music from one song with the acapella from another. Typically, the music and vocals belong to completely different genres. At their best, bastard pop songs strive for musical epiphanies that add up to considerably more than the sum of their parts.

The first bit of bastard pop that I got into was last year's Strictly Kev (aka DJ Food) opus Raiding the 20th Century - A History of The Cutup, described here like so:
From Borroughs to b-boys & beyond & back, Raiding the 20th Century is, to put it succinctly, pure brilliance.

Layers of mash-up tracks and samples galore seamlessly stitched into 39.03 minutes of utter apology for bastard pop(sters) everywhere. Subtitled a history of cutup, Strictly Kev's tour de force is sophisticatedly streetwise in its academic intentions. It highlights through reinstatement and excitement the castration inflicted by copyright to the building blocks of our cultural conversation. It stresses the polished turn-of-phrase that can be articulated through our common artistic alphabet. It underlines the function of fun.

Raiding the 20th Century is like a 21st Century ragamuffin rewrite of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, penned with sound-editing software on a laptop somewhere in the global dystopia of the suburban or inner-city sprawl.

To be honest, it is fairly difficult piece to listen to as it skitters maniacally from clip overlayed upon clip. This is not the sort of music you can play in the background. You have to listen carefully to catch what's going on. At the same time, it all comes so thick and fast that it can get to be almost annoying, like flipping channels on the tv and finding nothing but commercials. I think it aggravates my a.d.d. as well.

Better that Strictly Kev, in my opinion, are The Kleptones. Instead of doing the shotgun cutup thing, Eric Kleptone meticulously matches mostly familiar vocal parts (usually hip-hop) to rock and pop songs. I recommend everything available on their download page. "Yoshimi Battles The Hip-Hop Robots" is what you think it is: the Flaming Lips album of similar name mashed up with hip-hop lyrics, and very well done. Even more ambitious is "A Night At The Hip-Hopera", in which the musical fodder is exquisitely arranged and recompiled classics from Queen where Freddy Mercury shares duties with a seeminlgy endless procession of rappers, and which begins and ends with an impassioned audio-collage apologia for copyright reform. It is really quite something. Best of all, this music is 100% free, so enjoy it all you want and never feel guilty about not paying for it.

Random Records: Fripp and Eno

Craig randomly grabs a record from his shelf and shares his deepest thoughts and feelings.

Fripp and Eno: Evening Star (1975)

Statistically speaking, random picks should be randomly assorted throughout the musical spectrum. And once again statistics can be relied upon.
Robert Fripp and Brian Eno began their collaboration with No Pussyfooting in 1973, and Evening Star was their second and final in 1975. This is the better of the two, in my opinion, although the first may well impress you more given how raw it sounds, not too mention the historical context and how unique this music was to their pop/rock audience at the time. On Evening Star we get five tracks that are less "songs" than musical soundscapes. The technical aspects are summarized nicely for a lay audience here. To quote the authors (Malcolm Humes from North Carolina and Tom Boon of Reading, UK):

Eno is perhaps most known with regard to tape loops for introducing Robert Fripp to a system of looping two reel-to-reel decks which became known as Frippertronics. It's not clear if Eno devised this particular system or found it after someone else did. Eno almost certainly wasn't the first to explore the technique and probably picked it up from Steve Reich or Terry Riley. I've heard that Pauline Oliveras was using a system like this in the 60's. Eno was at least very familiar with Reich's tape pieces and cited It's Gonna Rain as an influence at his talk on Generative Music at the Imagination Conference in 1996. Frippertronics isn't so much a tape "loop" as it is a tape delay and looped signal. Conventional tape loops are cut and spliced together at the ends to form a loop. Frippertronics uses a reel of tape on one reel-to-reel and records on that machine - the tape runs out to a take-up reel on a second reel-to-reel instead of on the first deck, and the signal is played back on the second deck and also can be looped back and mixed into the electronic inputs on the first unit. This creates a degenerative delay, which with level control on the "feedback" signal can be used to sustain a repeating "loop" or to let it decay into the tape hiss and infinity. This system was used for the Fripp & Eno releases Evening Star and No Pussyfooting, using guitar and some synth, recorded in Eno's living room. Fripp later started using it for solo guitar, occasionally using pre-recorded frippertronics tapes to solo over. Fripp and Eno first recorded with this system in September 1972.

So, there's a whole lot more there for someone with a little more music education than myself. But I find it plenty enjoyable to just let the beautiful bath of sound surround me while doing absolutely nothing but lying there with the stereo on. Unfortunately, I don't find the time or have the patience to do this as much I did when I was younger. But if you have an occasion to do so, then this should be your soundtrack.

Where I bought it: Memory Lane Records in Richmond, VA.

Would I buy it again?: As I hinted at above, this is one album where given my current attitude toward recorded music, I very well might pick it up on CD rather than vinyl if I were still into Fripp and Eno. But the truth is, I'm not that into the ambient music thing right now, and therefore this record is more fun to have as part of a collection than it is to actually have booming on your jam box while raking the yard or driving to work. And if I were to try to listen to it while going to sleep, I would run the risk of annoying my wife (though we used to do that occasionally early in our relationship).

Sound Sample: Wind on Water

This makes me oh so very happy!


That's right it's happening.

The original line-up of Dinosaur Jr - J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph - are reuniting and hitting the road in support of the Merge reissue of their first 3 albums (Dinosaur, You're Living All Over Me, Bug) .

Their very first reunion performance will be tonight (Friday, 4/15) on national TV. Tune in to the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson on CBS for the first-ever national TV performance by the original line-up. That will be followed by a special performance on Saturday (April 16th) at Spaceland in Los Angeles.

Later this summer, after a trip across the pond for some UK shows, J, Lou and Murph will embark on their first U.S. tour in over 15 years.

Remember to bring your earplugs!

Here are the dates:

7/7 - Lake Buena Vista, FL @ House of Blues
7/8 - Atlanta, GA @ Variety Playhouse
7/9 - Norfolk, VA @ The NorVa
7/10 - Carrboro, NC @ Cat's Cradle
7/11 - Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
7/13 - Philadelphia, PA @ Electric Factory
7/14 - New York, NY @ Central Park SummerStage
7/15 - Boston, MA @ Avalon
7/19 - Cleveland, OH @ House of Blues
7/20 - Pontiac, MI @ Clutch Cargo
7/21 - Covington, KY @ The Madison Theater
7/22 - Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave/ Eagles Club
7/23 - Minneapolis, MN @ The Quest
7/24 - Chicago, IL @ Grant Park (Lollapalooza)

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Let's Tussle

Artist: Tussle

Album: Kling-Klang

Heard about it: saw them play live here in Portland. 2 Drummers, a keyboard player, and a bass player.

Comments: My very musical friend Andy Cabic plays bass in Tussle. They are dancy, dubby, trippy. Maybe they remind me of Can? Geez, I hate trying to describe music with words. So just listen and pick out your own adjectives.

Sound Clip: Rehearsal recording by Tussle with minidisc and one microphone (more)

ps - here's my audioscrobbler page if anyone wants to see what i'm be listening to.