Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Pearl Jam's Latest

I hesitate to say that the new PEARL JAM is a return to form. It's really not fair to compare their most recent work with the first couple of records because those albums, "Ten" in particular, were touchstone musical moments. When a band crosses over beyond just the appeal of a fan base to something that is more mass then the weight of expectations often overwhelm the band. They may continue to write, record and release music but it will always pale in comparison to that seminal work of their initial recordings. This is different than a one hit wonder or a single album that sells well, this is the expectation that comes with music that has entered the shared consciousness as a common thread of youth. Like "Sgt. Pepper's", "Nevermind" or "Led Zeppelin IV". "Ten" holds that sort of place. The songs speak to a given time period and place for many of my generation. Anything after that will be a let down and it's not really fair to compare them.

But of course we will compare them. Pearl Jam's recoiling from stardom into a shell of just a band making music was in many ways refreshing. It would have been easy for Eddie Vedder to become a global star and part of the machine (which would have most likely killed the band). Vedder was a star on his own terms, trying to reconcile his fame with who he was (ultimately the same fight Kurt Cobain fought and lost). It has reached the point where Pearl Jam now justs put out a record ever couple of years, then tours, then disappears again. The fact that they do not feel the need to live in the constant spotlight says something about why they make music. I honestly believe they don't care if people buy their albums and for those that do they are appreciative. Being a Pearl Jam fan means loving them for their music, without pretension.

So here we are with "Backspacer". Any run of the mill band releasing this would be heralded for their songwriting acumen and lyrical prowess. With Pearl Jam, it arrives with little to no fanfare. It is certainly the friskiest we have heard them in awhile. The last record had all the press of a "comeback" album that it failed to connect. Here, the songs have a punch that hasn't been heard in awhile (it's as if they went back to their old Ramones records to remember what kickin' ass sounded like). Call it Pearl Jam's punk record if you will. "Got Some" could have been lifted from "Vitalology". "The Fixer" is a pop song played at warp speed, while "Just Breathe" is Vedder at his most sentimental. Then there is "Amongst the Waves". The song sounds like one would imagine surfing. A nice slow build, the anticipation of ride, then the soaring chorus. A truly remarkable bit of songwriting.

Vedder makes a calculated risk with his writing. He has assumed that his audience has followed him into middle age. Rather than pander to the youth with universal themes, he embarks on a voyage of discovery of middle age. He celebrates the joy of life and the maturity of adulthood while having his eyes firmly fixed on what lies ahead. This is not self-reflection, but the understanding of one's place that comes with moving on in life. These are themes that will not sell millions of records, but they are themes that his fans are feeling at their point in life.

I can usually tell where a record will fit in my personal life's playlist pretty quickly. Some records get a quick burst of airplay then disappear. Some build slowly over time till they find permanent home. Some come and go when the mood strikes me. While "Backspacer" is not on par with their first three records (and really very little is), I get the feeling it will be a key part of life for me for the next few years as my journey follows theirs to where ever we are all going...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frightened Rabbit Live at The Knitting Factory

My concert going has declined quite a lot over the past few years (chalk it up to having kids and a job that requires me to be coherent at 7am each day) so when I get a chance to go see a show it takes on a near mythic place in my calendar. So it should come as no suprise that I had been looking forward to seeing FRIGHTENED RABBIT for awhile. So when the wife and I ventured into downtown LA it was with a sense of nostalgia for lost youth and excitement that can only come from a dingy club with overpriced drinks and poor sound and light quality. So it no particular order here some observations:

1) Let's get this out of the way; Frightened Rabbit is a GREAT live band. The band has a clean sound that translate well live and enough energy to light three small states.

2) "My Backwards Walk" had a power live that cannot be matched on record. It's a good song on CD; a moment of transcendent bliss live. The addition of a building drum cadence gives it a majesty befitting of a brilliant live act.

3) The new song they played, a rocking tune entitled "Nothing Like You" signals that the band will continue their progression to a more mainstream sound with the next record. For some this is a bad thing, but in this case it suites them. Besides, it's not like they will write songs without profanity.

4) WE WERE PROMISED JETPACKS was up to the task as an opening act. We arrived a bit late but caught enough of their set to judge them worthy of watching. They have a power live that is very intriguing. When their songwriting catches up they will be very good.

5) THE TWILIGHT SAD were less than exciting. I wanted to like them but for some reason I found myself disinterested. Even a day later I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it was just an off night at the end of a long tour.

6) Strange story #1: Rainn Wilson (of THE OFFICE) was there last night. Instead of an Emmy after party he came to this show. Now that's indie cred...

7) Back to The Rabbit: "Poke" should have always been a solo acoustic song. Some songs just work better that way and this is one of them.

8) The only real misfire in the set was a less than enthusiastic rendition of "Heads Roll Off". Again, I chalk it up to the end of the tour and the 10,000 playing of the song. Still it was a little disappointing.

9) Strange Story #2: So about three songs in the light board starts to short out. So the light guy decides to fix it in the middle of the set. First there is a loud whirring sound followed by blasts of air into the board. At one point Scott made mention of it as a distraction. We up in balcony area are getting the brunt of the noise, so a guy goes over and asked the light guy to knock it off. The light guy yells at the other guy and then follows him back behind us and gets in his face. Fast forward to the end of the night. We are all filing out and sure enough there is surly Light Guy waiting. He follows the other guy to the door and yells at him challenging him to a fight. Seriously, we didn't come to see your dazzling light displays man, so calm down. It was surreal...

10) At the end of the night, during the finale of "Keep Yourself Warm", I thought to myself, I don't want this to end. I don't mind the oppressive heat, the $3 water bought at Costco for quarter a case, the couple who thought "Good Arms vs. Bad Arms" was a love song and set out to prove it right there, the creaky floor, the sweaty six foot five guy next to me... And I didn't care. I was lost in the sound. The glorious convergence of music, lyric and emotion that can only come from witnessing a band play live. You can listen to a song a thousand times and still it will be better live. I can't explain it, it just is.

I spent the day today replaying the set list song by song. It's a pale subsitute for the real think but it allows me to recapture that feeling for just a moment. And that will have to do...until I see them again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dusting off the Tape Collection (or record as the case may be)

It's funny how things take on a life of their own when time passes. I remember being really enamoured with a piece of vinyl that I picked up somewhere from a UK band called B MOVIE based mostly on the strength of a few KROQ spins of one of their songs. I remember enjoying the record at the time (remember this was the height of the Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, Erasure era of synth music) and I have since kept it as part of my "good vinyl" collection.

The term good vinyl entered my personal cataloguing system right about junior year of college. I had amassed a fair amount of records due to combination of my work as a DJ and the sheer kitsch value of having records. I have never been one to subscribe to the belief that records sound better than CD's, but I enjoy them nonetheless. Good vinyl was stuff I played for my enjoyment rather than as part of a wedding gig of retirement party. Here is where B Movie's only proper record has resided for all these years.

A few days ago I laid needle to vinyl for old times sake. I was shocked at how poorly the album aged. The lyrics (never to be confused with great poetry) are replete with outdated references and bad rhyme scheme. The music is a cross between "Seven and the Ragged Tiger" era DURAN DURAN and BIG COUNTRY. But I recorded the album to disc just for kicks. Damn it all if I haven't played that thing three times in the last two days. I can't explain it. It's so retro it's almost cool. It's like opening a time capsule.

Research on the band says that they feel apart after the release mostly due to lack of radio support. The guitarist was in PETER MURPHY's band for a spell. Other than that they just disappeared. Would greater label support given them a shot at some larger success? Probably not. In listening objectively the record is not very good. But my memories attached to it make it better and a welcome addition to my CD collection.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Logan Lynn's "From Pillar To Post" Review

Technology has allowed for some truly amazing developments in music. These days one can write, record, remix, package and distribute an entire body of work with little or no help from anyone else. Marry this to the splintering of the music industry where labels are less important as a connection to alternative media outlets and you have an entirely new methodology of music. The human connection is more important than ever when it comes to getting people to listen to your music. So the fact that I am even reviewing music from Portland based Logan Lynn is a testament to his connections.

Signed to the label founded by THE DANDY WARHOLS is a step in the right direction. Even though musically Lynn's sound is as far away from the Warhols, the name recognition helped me give it a chance. "Feed Me To the Wolves" almost sounds like a lost DEPECHE MODE B side (back when they gave a damn and weren't just manufacturing sounds for a paycheck) whereas "Write It On My Left Arm" has more of a Laptop Pop Feel (a la THE POSTAL SERVICE) but with more vocal effects. Other parts of the album have a more atmospheric approach that recalls MOBY in both music and vocals.

Apparently Mr. Lynn is quite prolific and after releasing this latest record he plans on two more in the near future. Which is also a by product of this new DIY computer culture of music; a near endless stream of creativity direct to the consumers. And that is never a bad thing...