Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Cosmo Lee at Invisible Oranges is asking his readers which band or bands they've seen the most often. For me, the leaders are Iron Maiden, Einstürzende Neubauten and Cecil Taylor in a three-way tie. I've seen each four times, with my fifth Maiden concert coming up on 7/12.

Right behind them are the groups or artists I've seen three times each: Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Borbetomagus, Clutch, Fishbone, the Flying Luttenbachers, High On Fire, Isis, Machine Head, Motörhead, the Rollins Band, Slayer, Slipknot and Social Distortion.

Then there are those I've (only) seen twice: AC/DC, Black Sabbath (once with Ozzy, once with Dio), Butthole Surfers, Ornette Coleman, Dio (as a solo act), Exodus, Ice-T, Jane's Addiction, Judas Priest, Megadeth, Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Orthrelm, Pantera, Iggy Pop (once solo, once with the Stooges), Radiohead, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Sword, and Rob Zombie.

I'm probably forgetting some, too—bands I saw open for several different headliners, or other unmemorable circumstances. If you're reading this, are you a recidivist? Do you see the same bands over and over? Are you always happy you went?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The British gangster movie 44 Inch Chest seemed promising when I spotted it on Netflix. A movie starring Ray Winstone, Ian McShane, Tom Wilkinson, John Hurt and Joanne Whalley about a gangster who kidnaps his wife's lover? I was sold. But the movie I actually saw felt like a cruel trick.

(I probably should have done just a few seconds' more research. I didn't find out until after I'd sat through the thing that it was written by the same two men who'd previously given the world Sexy Beast, which I also hated.)

Winstone's wife (Whalley) cheats on him with a younger man. So he beats the man's name out of her and he and his gang—though it should be made clear their criminality is merely implied; no illegal activities other than some violence take place on-screen—drag the hapless boytoy off to a hidden location...whereupon they start yelling at him. And each other. A lot. For the next hour and a half, more or less.

Do you like watching middle-aged Englishmen shout adolescent obscenities at each other? Does the idea of watching Ian McShane mince around while John Hurt screeches hoarsely about how much he loathes gays sound like your kind of evening? Have you wished there was some kind of cinematic diorama that would illustrate the varieties of English masculine sexual dysfunction for you, in the most unsubtle and caricatured manner possible? Then by all means check out 44 Inch Chest. Me, I'm not such a big fan of old men shouting "cunt" at each other at the top of their lungs.

What I am a fan of is Timothy Olyphant. Justified was easily the best new show of this past TV season, and though I never watched Deadwood (didn't have HBO at the time), I've enjoyed his work in a whole bunch of movies: The Girl Next Door, Go, A Perfect Getaway, Meet Bill, even total crap like Hitman and Live Free Or Die Hard.

The Crazies isn't crap. In fact, it's better than the 1973 George Romero original. That one had a good idea—small-town America afflicted with a biohazard that drives the neighbors to homicidal rage—and that's what the remakers kept. They changed a lot more, mostly by paring stuff away. The military perspective, which was present in the first version, has been almost totally excised. All you get is one soldier telling our heroes (and us) that he knows nothing, and a (presumably, since he's driving a black SUV and isn't wearing camo) higher-ranking dude explaining what the pollutant in the town's water supply is, exactly. But that information only comes after people have already been rounded up and divided into the infected and the clean.

Olyphant plays the local sheriff; Radha Mitchell, who also does excellent work in genre movies (Pitch Black, Man On Fire), is his wife. The rest of the cast is basically anonymous (the exposition delivery system in the black SUV is played by Glenn Morshower, a Hey, It's That Guy! of the highest order) but they play frightened Iowans well. The violence is plentiful, but not splattery, and while it doesn't end as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake did, it has a similar fatalism. (Actually, it probably owes more to Return of the Living Dead than anything.)


The new issue of Alternative Press is out, and I contributed more to it than I have to any issue in several years. The editors decided to do capsule write-ups on every single band playing Warped Tour 2010, and I wrote (and sometimes rewrote) 15 of 'em in the course of something like ten days; I blurbed After Midnight Project, American Sixgun, Artist Vs Poet, Brass Tackz, Emmure, Every Time I Die, Eyes Set To Kill, I See Stars, Iwrestledabearonce, The Jukebox Romantics, The Mighty Regis, Parkway Drive, Pierce The Veil, Suicide Silence, and Terrible Things. I've also got reviews of the new albums by A Plea For Purging and The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza, and a review of the new In This Moment disc that's accompanied by an interview with vocalist Maria Brink. It was a busy couple of weeks, but when the check arrives, it'll all have been worth it.

Monday, June 28, 2010


Last week, I spotted a story on that Barnes & Noble was having a blowout online sale on trade paperback comic anthologies. So I clicked over, and sure enough, there were a whole bunch of titles that had been reduced to $2.99. Most were of no interest to me, but I spotted three that I decided I wouldn't mind revisiting. The lesson for publishers? Put out a comic—I'll ignore it. Anthologize it. Wait 5-10 years. Drop the price by 80 percent or so, and you might get my attention. Yes, I am your Ideal Consumer, am I not?

Actually, that's not totally fair, because I did wind up purchasing one book at more or less full price, in addition to the three I got ultra-cheap. My total haul: the Chris Claremont/Frank Miller Wolverine limited series paperback and the two volumes of The Trouble With Girls, at $2.99 each, and Miller's Ronin for $16.99 or something like that.

Ronin, for you youngsters, was a six-issue series Miller did immediately after leaving Marvel Comics for DC in the mid '80s. It was about a Japanese samurai who'd been battling a demon in his own time, but who was cast into a dystopian future through black magic before he could finish the job. In post-apocalypse (or maybe "brink-of-apocalypse" is more accurate) New York, he fights sewer mutants, ultra-baroque street gangs, and the demon he was chasing all along. There's much more to it, including corporate intrigue and a bunch of is-this-real? hoo-ha, but samurai vs. demon is the core of it.

You may notice that this is pretty much the exact same plot as the unbelievably awesome Cartoon Network series Samurai Jack. That's not a coincidence; SJ creator Genndy Tartakovsky has acknowledged lifting the core concept. (He also based an episode of SJ on 300, long before that comic became a movie.)

The first couple of issues of Ronin (and individual pages in the later ones) contain some of Miller's best artwork. There's real beauty on every page, not just in the way the characters are designed but the way the panels fit together and the way the action moves from panel to panel. It's tremendous stuff, much more impressive (to me) than, say, Watchmen, another series lauded for its art.

The Trouble With Girls is a whole other matter. These two paperback volumes contain the first 14 issues, which ran between 1988 and 1989, all based on a simple but funny idea—our hero, Lester Girls, is a secret agent who's neck-deep in beautiful women, crazed assassination attempts by enemies from every nation, and awesome adventures on land, sea and in the air, but all he really wants out of life is a quiet suburban home, a boring day job, and to finish reading John Steinbeck's The Red Pony. He reluctantly sulks his way through a string of mind-blowing exploits with his trusty sidekick, Apache Dick, all the while longing for a Ward Cleaver-esque existence he can never have.

It's written by Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones, two dudes who worked for National Lampoon in the early to mid '80s, and tonally it's not unlike something you might have seen in the back of that mag in those days, ripping on early- to mid-century manly-man pulp fiction and "men's adventure" novels of the Remo Williams/Mack Bolan style, including a fair amount of pretty raw ethnic humor and a shit-ton of sexism, not all of it satirical. I don't think it's as funny now as I did when I was fifteen, but it made me laugh more than a few times, so it was worth the six bucks.

The last thing I bought, a paperback containing the 1982 Wolverine four-issue mini-series and two related issues of X-Men (the latter two with art by someone other than Frank Miller), was a purchase based on pure nostalgia. I've never really liked comics about people with super-powers. I like Batman okay, because he's got nothing really going for him but untold billions of dollars and bottomless, obsessive rage. I liked Green Arrow (particularly Seventies "socially conscious" Green Arrow) for the same reason. And Wolverine, while he's clearly got super-powers (metal bones, healing abilities, animal senses), is in this mini-series at least more of a secret agent/commando than a costumed hero. He only wears his X-Men costume once, in the first issue of the mini-series; after that he's wearing jeans and boots, getting drunk and starting fights. Of course it's overwritten in boneheaded ways; every issue has to start with "I'm Wolverine. I've got these metal claws in my hands, and metal bones too, and I heal real fast," just in case it's someone, somewhere's first-ever Wolverine comic, or they were struck on the head by a brick between the last issue they purchased and this one. And the version of Japanese society portrayed in the comic is kinda ludicrous, too, of course. But the fights are very well-drawn, and the plot makes a reasonable amount of sense, so it's a fun, quick read. Which is all I wanted it to be.


Another two weeks, another nine reviews for All Music Guide:

Foghat, Last Train Home
Kruger, For Death, Glory, and the End of the World
Noctiferia, Death Culture
Parkway Drive, Deep Blue
The Ruins of Beverast, Foulest Semen of a Sheltered Elite
Sabbath Assembly, Restored to One
Witchery, Witchkrieg
Yakuza, Of Seismic Consequence
Dweezil Zappa, Return of the Son of...

Also, one that I submitted, but which didn't run:

Juan Gabriel
Juan Gabriel’s 2010 album, his first since 2003’s Inocente de Ti, couldn’t be more different from that record. Where Inocente was an attempt to modernize his classically gooey pop-balladeer style with alt-rock guitars and radio-ready pop songwriting, Juan Gabriel (as its cover art, with Gabriel perching a sombrero on the back of his head like he’s afraid it’ll muss his hair, should indicate) is a shockingly traditional album almost entirely composed of mariachi songs—trumpets and surging strings are all over this thing. There are some weird touches, of course; on “Por Que Me Haces Llorar?” the string arrangements are more Roy Orbison than Vicente Fernández, and the echo effect on Gabriel’s voice at the end of each chorus is distracting in a sort of awesome way. There’s even a song called “Mariachi,” and it’s as over-the-top as everything else here. Gabriel never sleepwalks through a song—he sells every note, which is exactly what a sobbingly dramatic style like mariachi demands. This is a terrific record slathered in Juan Gabriel’s trademark passion and vocal mastery.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


See if watching this giant spider crab molt (potential leg-span: 12 feet) doesn't make you wanna crawl out of your own skin:

You're welcome.


Rush - Beyond the Lighted Stage [2 DVD]I watched the Rush documentary Beyond the Lighted Stage last night on VH1, and it was everything the rapturous reviews I'd read in advance said it would be...and less. The home movies and stuff from their early days were fun and charming, revealing the quiet Canadian suburban existence and high school geekiness that fueled bassist Geddy Lee's and guitarist Alex Lifeson's lifelong friendship and creative partnership, and the inner life of hyperliterate, introspective drummer Neal Peart. The stories of their gradual rise to U.S. stardom following the recording of their debut album were interesting, especially (credit where due) the parts about their touring with KISS.

The movie made me want to listen to a lot more Rush than I've heard to date. All I own by the band is Gold, a two-CD compilation that's weirdly sequenced (it's not chronological, nor is it thematic as far as I can tell) but offers a pretty solid overview of what they do. Now I'm thinking I need to hear their whole string of '70s and early '80s albums; I'm not quite sure where I'll stop, but it'll probably be somewhere around Presto.

I'll admit it; the valentine aspect of the movie (and it's a valentine, top to bottom), while it made me interested in the music, also disappointed me. I would like to have seen more discussion of their working methods, and more in-depth discussion of each album's musical differences from the one before. But that would have required a six-hour film, and it would have had about one-sixteenth the potential audience of this one, with its good-natured jibes at the male-dominated nature of their fan base, its interviews with celebrity fans (Jack Black, members of Metallica and Tool and Primus and Smashing Pumpkins and Dream Theater and Rage Against the Machine), and all the rest. This is the kind of documentary every band wishes someone would make about them—a celebration and an ideal introduction. And who knows? Maybe the ultra-nerdy stuff I want is on the home version, which is a two-DVD set.

Saturday, June 26, 2010



I love Seventies rock. If you asked me to choose to listen only to rock records made between 1964-68 or only rock records made between 1969-75, I'd choose the latter without blinking.

(It may seem like I'm cheating by setting the boundaries that way, but aesthetically speaking, rock in 1969 really did start to get uglier and meaner, returning to a primitivism the Summer of Love had forced down. Think of the first albums by the MC5, the Stooges, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath...only Blue Cheer were selling a truly unholy racket in '68.)

The early Seventies were a phenomenal period for rock music. I mean, I've done the litany before... Aerosmith, Alice Cooper (the band), the Allman Brothers Band, Atomic Rooster, Beck, Bogert & Appice, Black Cat Bones, Black Oak Arkansas, Black Widow, Buffalo, Cactus, Can, Captain Beyond, Deep Purple, Dr. Feelgood, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, the Faces, Faust, Flower Travellin' Band, Foghat, Free, Funkadelic, Genesis, Grand Funk Railroad, Granicus, the Grateful Dead (only the live albums, thanks), Groundhogs, Hawkwind, Randy Holden, Humble Pie, James Gang, Jethro Tull, Josefus, Jukin' Bone, King Crimson, Leaf Hound, Led Zeppelin, Les Rallizes Dénudés, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Magma, Malo, Montrose, Mott the Hoople (I don't love 'em as much as some, but they had their moments), Mountain, Nazareth, Neu!, Nico, November, Pink Floyd, Elvis Presley (his early '70s trilogy—Raised On Rock, Good Times and Promised Land—are close to unimpeachable), Lou Reed (only Lou Reed Live and Rock 'n' Roll Animal, thanks), the Rolling Stones, Santana (not to mention Carlos Santana's albums with John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane), Savoy Brown, Bob Seger, Sir Lord Baltimore, Steppenwolf, Stray, Styx, Rod Stewart, Thin Lizzy, Toe Fat, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Van der Graaf Generator, West, Bruce & Laing, Wishbone Ash, Yes, Neil Young & Crazy Horse, ZZ Top... and that's just from scrolling my iPod. I'm sure there are dozens of groups I'm forgetting.

In the latter half of the decade, though, things really dropped off. At least that's how it seems to me. There were a few bands still producing quality work all the way up to the early '80s, like ZZ Top and Scorpions. And a new act or two popped up with records worth hearing (Rainbow, Van Halen, AC/DC). But in a lot of ways, rock really died after 1975. I'm not sure why. And don't tell me it was all due to punk. Punk was a ripple at the time, it seems to me; folks within the media bubble (New York, L.A.) paid attention to it, but it didn't filter out to the middle of the country for a couple of years, and when it did, it mutated into a hunchbacked, hairy-knuckled child named "hardcore." Whereupon the very critics who'd championed it in its art-school manifestation spat and turned their backs.

All this is a lead-in to say that I just got a six-pack of discs in the mail that probably won't cause me to re-evaluate my generally low opinion of mainstream hard rock from 1976 and beyond, but might convince me that there were some bright sparks I've heretofore overlooked. They're live albums created from episodes of the German TV show Rockpalast, and there are DVD versions, too (which I wasn't sent). I've got discs by the John Cipollina/Nick Gravenites Band, Jorma Kaukonen & Vital Parts (which might have been an ad hoc group, or records might be scarce, because none of the bandmembers are credited in the CD booklet), Spirit, Commander Cody, Paul Butterfield, and a double disc by Dickey Betts & Great Southern—one set from 1978, and a second from 2008.

I'm not sure any of these albums are gonna be any damn good at all. But they strike me as perfect examples of journeyman rock dudes cranking it up in a cultural atmosphere that really didn't have a place for them—they were past their prime, below the radar, touring European clubs instead of Stateside arenas, and falling back on the basics: country, blues and hard rock. (One surprise credit: Steve MacKay, saxophonist on the Stooges' Fun HouseFunhouse [Deluxe Edition], is blowing on the Commander Cody disc.) There are a lot of cover tunes, and a lot of extended jams, on these six discs. I'm hoping there are some pleasant surprises, too.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Jenni Rivera flirts with pop crossovers but remains true to regional Mexican music.

Jenni Rivera is one of the most popular singers, male or female, in regional Mexican music. She's carved out a unique niche for herself by specializing in banda, a genre dominated by all-male ensembles like Banda el Recodo or Banda Machos.

She frequently branches out into norteño and even pop, but the horn-heavy sound (trumpets, trombones, clarinets and tuba) provides the primary platform for her full yet often surprisingly intimate and even conversational voice.

Even by the standards of a floridly emotional genre built on lyrical storytelling, Rivera's albums have a strikingly personal feel; 2007's Mi Vida Loca, a commercial and artistic breakthrough, featured lyrics based on her own life, delving into single motherhood, bad relationships, a brutal divorce and more.

"I do touch subjects that other artists aren't prepared to do, or maybe they don't feel it because they haven't been through it," says Rivera by phone from her California home.

"I don't have a problem singing about women's survival, about how to get ahead in life, about being a single mother, about domestic violence, and basically it's because I have gone through things like that; it's because it's a reality," she adds. "It's not just me that went through that — there's a lot of my fans that may be going through those situations as well."

Of course, Rivera doesn't write all her own lyrics. Like most regional Mexican artists (and English-language pop and country acts, for that matter), she records a lot of material submitted to her management and label by professional songwriters. It's extremely important to her that every song she chooses must contain that core of genuine feeling and experience, though.

"It's not just about singing these days," she explains. "People need to believe what they hear, they need to believe what they see onstage, and I like to transmit a feeling or a situation, an experience, to my public. Maybe not necessarily something that I may be going through, but somebody listening may be going through that and can feel familiar and identify themselves with the song.

"It's mainly songs that could happen, songs that have happened to certain people."

That kind of honesty extends beyond the words Rivera sings. It encompasses all aspects of her public persona, right down to the way she dresses on her album covers. On early discs like Que Me Entierren con La Banda or Se Las Voy a Dar a Otro, she wore the half-buttoned shirts and cowboy hats required of female performers in regional Mexican music, but eventually she pushed back and decided to portray herself as she truly was: Not the daughter of a rancher from northern Mexico, but the U.S.-born, college-educated daughter of immigrants, living in Long Beach.

"Wearing a cowboy hat got too hot, it made my head sweat," she recalls with a laugh. "So I said, 'I can't do this, I gotta be myself.' I love baseball caps. There was a time when I put my hair in braids. And I figured I can't go out there and fake to be something I'm not. People like to see genuine, authentic people. And they're already hearing me as an authentic woman, so I might as well give them that image that I already have."

Rivera's mix of modernity and respect for tradition has been another hallmark of her career. In 2003, she recorded Homenaje a las Grandes, an album of songs made famous by other female vocalists, including Rocio Dúrcal, Lola Beltrán...and Diana Ross.

Like many children of Mexican immigrants, Rivera grew up listening to English-language pop, from oldies to hip-hop, as well as traditional and modern Mexican music. On various albums, she's recorded banda versions of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Rosie & the Originals' "Angel Baby," all songs with appeal to Latinos and non-Latinos alike. On her latest album, La Gran Señora, she tackles Freddy Fender's "Before the Next Teardrop Falls."

Naturally, given her bilingualism and her stature within the Latin music industry, the question of recording entirely in English has come up, but Rivera isn't particularly interested in effectively starting her career over in pursuit of Anglo listeners. She'd be more inclined to do pop arrangements of the type of songs she's banda-ized in the past; in her words, "an oldies album, something like what Queen Latifah did, remakes of oldies that maybe you can listen to on the [West Coast DJ] Art Laboe radio show."

Currently, Rivera's got one foot firmly planted in each world. La Gran Señora, her 2009 release, is a departure from her core banda style. Other than the two versions (one Tex-Mex country, one acoustic) of "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," it's a traditional mariachi album.

The project, she says, was "always in my heart, and I wanted to do it someday. Even though I was raised in the United States, my parents are 100 percent traditional Mexicans, and this is the music they taught me to listen to."

In support of the record, she'll be playing Houston with her full 15-piece banda and a ten-member mariachi group, doing two sets featuring traditional material, the new songs and her many hits. And later this year, she'll be touring as part of Lilith Fair, one of only a handful of Latin acts on the all-female bill, and the only one not playing pop or R&B-based music.

Rivera plans on making an indelible impression on the tour's largely white, suburban audience, most of whom are unlikely to have ever heard of her. She'll be performing her English-language repertoire while backed by an all-female mariachi band.

"What I'm gonna do is do songs I've recorded, but now it's gonna be mariachi and it's gonna be live," she says excitedly. "And then I'll be doing some traditional stuff like 'Puro Amor' or 'Cielito Lindo' or something like that, something the crowd will be able to relate to and remember.

"We've all heard those songs, whether you're Mexican or not, so people will be able to relate to that," Rivera concludes. "I'm gonna be trying to entertain the public in a Mexican way, basically."

[From the Houston Press.]


This Poptimist column by Tom Ewing is interesting and worth a read. I've never had the specific retail experience he describes—when I worked in a bookstore, it was a massive Barnes & Noble, the biggest one in the state at that time (might still be), and the music was piped-in classical or gentle jazz. I remember a particular classical piece always made me think of Daffy Duck ice-skating, and I would step a little more smoothly through the rows of shelves when it was playing.

I know I've definitely been guilty of the kind of "straw listener" projection Ewing discusses, though. There are certain types of indie rock that always form unpleasant mental images of the type of person who'd listen to it, and I've definitely avoided any kind of serious investigation of jam-band music precisely because I know who makes up its primary audience, having formerly shared an office with Relix magazine.

I listen to a lot of metal, obviously. And this is something that's bothered me about it for quite a while. The majority of metal that strives to be "shocking" does it in such a blinkered, ridiculous way that it frankly annoys me, and makes me feel pandered to as a listener. It's all about pitting oneself against an imaginary square. Sure, someone's grandmother might conceivably be offended if she heard what Cannibal Corpse frontman George "Corpsegrinder" Fisher was growling about, or saw a Marilyn Manson video. But under what circumstances would that ever happen? Cultural atomization is such that most of us never encounter any art we haven't chosen to engage with, unless billboards and advertising count. Sure, the occasional store will have music playing, but unless you're walking around consumed by white-hot hatred for, you're probably gonna be just fine.

So why is it so important that bands express opinions that would only create a negative response in people who will never hear them? It's risk-free. The occasions when it turns out not to be—if a singer shouts something anti-Republican at a concert and portions of the audience boo, for example—are so rare as to be legitimately newsworthy.

Bands should strive to engage their listeners' biases. Instead of mouthing rote anti-Christian clichés, simultaneously pretending that a) some Christian somewhere is gonna hear it and either be shocked or weaned of their faith and b) conceding the terms of the debate by granting religion legitimacy in the first place, death metal bands should take a "won't dignify that with a response" approach and talk about...shit, I don't know, anything. With the vocals the way they are, death metal songs could be about bricklaying. Soccer. Dog training. To paraphrase Steve Albini, lyrics are a necessity, so have some. But stop thinking there's controversy to be mongered. There isn't.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Legendary Chicago-based free jazz saxophonist Fred Anderson died this morning; he had a heart attack on June 14 and had been in the hospital ever since, reportedly in a coma. He was 81.

Here's some footage of him playing at the 2005 Europa Jazz Festival, with Jaribu Shahid (bass) and Hamid Drake (drums).

And here's an obituary, from Chicago jazz journalist Howard Reich.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


There's a video for "Let Me Hear You Scream," and it looks like this:

Also, I made a factual error in my review of Scream below; Mike Bordin doesn't play on the record, because he was busy touring with Faith No More. The drummer on Scream is Tommy Clufetos, a veteran who, despite being only 30 years old, has already played and recorded with Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent and (immediately before taking the Ozzy gig) Rob Zombie. (Also worth noting, that makes two RZ sidemen Ozzy has jacked. If Gus G doesn't work out, John 5 should probably expect a phone call.)


Your all-purpose guide to the Foreigner/Kansas/Styx triple bill

Who says there's no such thing as time travel? Three of the '70s biggest bands (well, versions of them) have landed in the present and are now on a cross-country co-headlining summer tour. If you're over 30, you grew up hearing their hits on the radio pretty much every hour. If you're being dragged to the show by your parents, here's a guide to what you'll hear.


WHO THEY ARE: A prog-rock band from the state they named themselves after, Kansas had two massive mid-'70s hits: the soft-then-hard "Carry on Wayward Son" and the just-plain-soft "Dust in the Wind." Their blend of stoner philosophy (which mutated into Christian rock on their later, less-successful albums), arena-rock riffs, and complex, violin-adorned arrangements have kept them on classic-rock radio for 30-plus years.

CURRENT LINEUP: Steve Walsh, vocals; Rich Williams, guitar; David Ragsdale, violin; Billy Greer, bass; Phil Ehart, drums


BIG HITS: The aforementioned "Carry on Wayward Son," "Dust in the Wind"

ALBUM TITLES CONTAINING STUPID PUNS: Leftoverture, Point of Know Return, Vinyl Confessions

BONKERS SOLO PROJECT: The cover of Walsh's 1980 album Schemer-Dreamer features the shirtless singer pointing a gigantic revolver straight at the (potential) buyer. Maybe that's why it didn't sell very well.

AWESOME SONG ONLY REAL FANS KNOW: "Child of Innocence," from 1974's Masque

POP-CULTURAL CITATION: In the movie Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, the title characters quote the lyrics to "Dust in the Wind" during a philosophical discussion.


WHO THEY ARE: Foreigner started out in 1977 as a solid radio rock band, co-led by tastefully slick guitarist Mick Jones (not the Clash guy) and soulful singer Lou Gramm. Their songs were catchy and extremely well produced, with a swagger that caught teens' ears without pissing off their parents. But with every album, Jones kept firing members, until he finally lost Gramm in 2003. Now it's just Jones and a team of hacks (OK, "journeymen"), including former Dokken bassist Jeff Pilson and Smash Mouth touring drummer Jason Sutter.

CURRENT LINEUP: Mick Jones, guitar; Thom Gimbel, guitar/sax/flute; Kelly Hansen, vocals; Jeff Pilson, bass; Michael Bluestein, keyboards; Jason Sutter, drums


BIG HITS: "Urgent," "I Want to Know What Love Is"

ALBUM TITLES CONTAINING STUPID PUNS: Double Vision (their second album), Head Games

AWESOME SONG ONLY REAL FANS KNOW: Nah — Foreigner were all about the hits, and they had plenty of 'em.

POP-CULTURAL CITATION: "Dirty White Boy," from Head Games, was used as the theme song for the TV show Dirty Jobs at one point.


WHO THEY ARE: Styx are a Chicago-based band whose mix of prog and hard rock might have pushed them into Kansas territory if original singer Dennis DeYoung didn't get his way. DeYoung's inclinations were more toward show tunes, and he gave the band major hits with "Lady" and "Come Sail Away," the latter of which could have been the showstopping number from a Broadway version of Treasure Island. By 1983's Kilroy Was Here, he'd taken the group into full-on rock-opera territory, and after the tour (complete with dramatic acting and costumes) kinda flopped, Styx broke up. Dig up the band's hilarious episode of Behind the Music for more details.

CURRENT LINEUP: Chuck Panozzo, bass; James "J.Y." Young, guitar; Tommy Shaw, guitar; Todd Sucherman, drums; Lawrence Gowan, vocals/keyboards; Ricky Phillips, bass

NUMBER OF ORIGINAL MEMBERS IN CURRENT LINEUP: 2 or 3 (Young, Panozzo, and Shaw — who wasn't there from the beginning, but played on all their hits)

BIG HITS: "Lady," "Babe"

BONKERS SOLO PROJECT: Both Dennis DeYoung and Tommy Shaw recorded songs for movie soundtracks — The Karate Kid, Part II and Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, respectively. In 1994, DeYoung finally got around to actually making an album of show tunes, 10 on Broadway.

AWESOME SONG ONLY REAL FANS KNOW: They've got a bunch of 'em — the group's first four albums were eclectic, adventurous prog-rock efforts. It was only after they let DeYoung sing the ballad "Lady" that they became the cheesemeisters who ruled '70s radio.

POP-CULTURAL CITATION: South Park's sociopathic Eric Cartman is obsessed with "Come Sail Away" — if he hears the opening phrase, he has to sing it in its entirety — and has performed it more than once on the show, even managing to speed through it in a mere 40 seconds one time when he was in a hurry.

[From the Cleveland Scene.]

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Did you know the phrase "American Idol" was some kind of hyper-protected trademark? I mean, yes, obviously, but maybe you weren't aware of just how carefully the lawyers who watch over it dole out permission for its use.

I just got a press release in the mail that made me shake my head a little. Now, I've never watched an episode of American Idol, because seeing young performers do versions of old pop hits does nothing for me. But apparently, the winner of the most recent season was some guitar-strummin' singer-songwriter guy named Lee DeWyze, who has two independent CDs out, recorded in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Now that he's won, of course, he's signed a deal with 19 Entertainment, the production company behind American Idol, and that's who'll be releasing his next album (through RCA Records) this fall.

From what I've read, the AI contestants' deals are horrifyingly exploitive, but that's not the point of this post. The point is, check out the linguistic tap-dancing in this press release put out by DeWyze's own indie label the day after he won American Idol:


Chicago, IL's LEE DeWYZE has won the competition! Last night, Lee was announced the winner at the season finale, competing against one other finalist. Only adding to his success, Lee's Wuli Records release, Slumberland, has reached #17 on the Billboard Top Heatseekers chart! Lee DeWyze is the first singer in the competition to have a record charting on Billboard during the show. In addition to this great chart position, So I'm Told is at #24 on the iTunes Top 100 Pop USA Album chart (as of May 27th)!

"The competition"..."the season finale"..."the show"...Did they expressly forbid him from using the words "American Idol" to promote albums that 19 Entertainment isn't getting a piece of? If so, I'm not surprised, but I'm a little disturbed. That seems heavy-handed, even for Simon Fuller.

I will now return to not watching or caring about American Idol.

Monday, June 21, 2010


I met Ozzy Osbourne once. It was in 2007, backstage at Madison Square Garden. Mark Weiss was taking his picture for the cover of Metal Edge, which I was editing at the time. The story was gonna run a month later than it should have—we'd originally planned to have Ozzy and Rob Zombie on the cover, because they were co-headlining a U.S. tour. But Ozzy couldn't make the originally scheduled Chicago photo shoot, so we got photos of Rob and ran our interview with him, by itself, in one issue. Then we re-scheduled with Ozzy and planned to put him on the cover by himself the issue after RZ. Part of me thought, and still thinks, Team Ozzy did it on purpose.

Anyway, I hung out with Weiss, waiting and waiting with all the lights, backdrop, everything set up for when Ozzy would be ready for us. We wound up getting about five minutes. He came down the hall accompanied by a massive bodyguard whose two responsibilities were 1) to clear the hallway, and 2) to point out stuff on the floor that Ozzy might trip over, like electrical cords. Ozzy was wearing loose black pants, whatever black tunic he was gonna wear onstage, and old-man shoes (Rockports, I think) with velcro instead of laces, and he walked with the shambling gait of someone over 70, or someone with serious neurological damage. He came in, made Ozzy-ish faces for Weiss for about five minutes, then was almost ready to disappear when I asked if I could have a photo with him. He obliged, mustering his trademark maniacal grin on cue and throwing an arm around my back (I was a full head taller than him). Then he was gone, even quicker than he'd arrived.

I've never been a massive Ozzy fan—the only albums of his in my iPod are the first two, Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. (Those two are being reissued in deluxe editions later this year, and I'll probably pick them up, especially if they come as two-CD sets packed with contemporaneous live material, or something like that.) I owned Bark at the Moon as a kid, but only ever really liked the title track and maybe one other song. After that, I caught a track here and there, whichever one MTV was playing. Some I liked, some I didn't. I don't think I've ever hated any of his music.

Anyway, there's a new Ozzy album, Scream. It's his first release in two decades not to feature guitarist Zakk Wylde; instead, Gus G of Firewind has been hired. The producer, Kevin Churko, is the same one who worked on Ozzy's last album, 2007's Black Rain. I think this one's better, though. Maybe. A little.

The first song, "Let It Die," kicks off with an almost thrash riff, and some shredding from Gus G. This could be the opening to an Arch Enemy album. But don't be fooled, because the whole thing goes sideways really fast. The guitars go away, and there's a mechanical rhythm, creepy keyboards, and Ozzy talk-singing (I wouldn't call it rapping) through a distortion box. Only on the chorus does the guitar come back, and it's not a metal riff; it sounds something like industrial-tinged radio rock. And the synths are always there in the background.

The next track (and first single), "Let Me Hear You Scream," is more amped-up and metallic; it actually kinda sounds like it was performed by three musicians in a room together. "Soul Sucker" doesn't (more industrial-lite effects), but it's got a decent, doomy riff.

The fourth track, "Life Won't Wait," is totally not metal. It's built around acoustic guitar over a big throbbing bass drum and synth throb. But it's a nice song. Ozzy gets to sing instead of yelp, and he's still kind of good at it, as long as you give him a zillion takes and someone pastes together all the good bits in ProTools at day's end. Seriously, this is a pretty nice song, with some good work from the band, Blasko in particular—his bass roams all over, almost the lead instrumental voice with the acoustic guitar just strumming along.

At this point, the parameters of the album have been pretty much established, and the next two tracks, "Diggin' Me Down" and "Crucify," hold to them. They're heavy, but not shockingly so; the lyrics are about religion and hypocrisy. They're good enough (the songs and the lyrics).

Then along comes "Fearless," and suddenly the album takes a big jump up the quality scale. It starts with some seriously nasty, distorted, crunching guitar, and the riff is more Motörhead than Ozzy. The drumming's a little stiff, like Churko locked Bordin's actual hits to a grid, but Blasko manages to swing around that, keeping the whole thing lively. It's a really pleasant surprise to hear something this truly metallic.

Up next is "Time," one of Ozzy's ballads, very much in the tradition of "Mama, I'm Coming Home" or any of a dozen others he's put out over the years. It's fine, but listening to it, you can't help but hear all the other versions overlaid. Plus, there's some seriously cheesy keyboard-and-backing-vocals stuff going on in the back.

"I Want It More," the ninth song, is another super-heavy performance by the band. The guitar riff is practically thrash, and Gus G totally earns what I'm betting is a massive paycheck with a shredtastic solo. In the song's final third, the piano and (synth, probably) strings come out, but it still doesn't suck.

That's followed by "Latimer's Mercy," which pairs an ultra-heavy, throbbing bassline with some wah-wah guitar and meant-to-be-creepy synths as Ozzy sings about torturing someone. It's not bad, but Ozzy's demonic guise is unconvincing at this point. He should give Alice Cooper a call, get some tips on how to still be a scary monster even after people have seen you stumble around in your bathrobe. The album ends with a minute-long interlude called "I Love You All," Osbourne's longtime (I mean longtime; it dates back to the Sabbath days) benediction to the audience. And that's it.

I like Scream. Ozzy Osbourne's not a clown to me, at least not when he's behind the microphone. But there's a not-so-slight disconnect between him and his band throughout the album. It's so slickly produced, I feel like they played, and then he came in and sang. Which is fine; that's how it works almost all the time. But it doesn't have to feel that way. The illusion of a band making music together is important, and Kevin Churko almost manages that here. Bordin's drums sound processed to hell, to the point that I'm not at all sure he played on ever song, but the guitars and bass sound really good, and both Gus G and Blasko deliver terrific performances on song after song. But Ozzy always sounds slapped on afterward. A truly cynical listener (i.e., not me) could wonder if he even heard the backing tracks before Churko played him the final mix. And metal's not supposed to be like that. It's supposed to be about bros working together to make something. Pop records are about one person up front and some semi-anonymous pros backing him or her up.

But I guess Ozzy is a pop musician, in many ways. He's mononymous, like Elvis or Bono or Frank. A lot of people know him for his showbiz antics and have never heard one of his songs all the way through. So really, Scream is the only album he could have made at this point in his career. Rob Zombie, his former tourmate, is still able to pull off an album (Hellbilly Deluxe 2) that sounds organic and raw, like four guys in a room jamming. Hell, it's his best record since White Zombie's major label debut. That's because he's defined himself by an aesthetic—white trash culture in a blender, with plenty of stage blood—whereas Ozzy has defined himself by a persona (former wild man, now aging and vulnerable to mockery). Zombie uses his persona in service to his aesthetic; Ozzy just shows up and is Ozzy, for however long you need him to be—a five-minute photo shoot, a 90-minute concert, or a 49-minute album. And if you know that going in, you'll find a lot to like on Scream.


Webster Hall
Friday, June 18

Farewell tours are weird, the celebratory nature of live rock being counteracted by the knowledge that this will never happen again; the listener can frequently walk away feeling weirdly hollow, as though the experience was somehow lessened by its unrepeatability. After 13 years and five albums (plus several EPs, a half-dozen or so live discs, a DVD, and dozens of austere, dignified T-shirts), the revered post-metal quintet Isis are calling it quits; their current U.S. tour is their final run of live dates. Their Friday night show at Webster Hall, which was followed by a Music Hall of Williamsburg gig Saturday night, was a concise summary of their artistic achievement—in effect, a final report on the work of the last decade-plus.

They launched the set with "Threshold of Transformation," the final track from 2009's Wavering Radiant. The drums were almost absurdly reverb-ed; live performance seems to bring out their prog-rock side, without the songs ever actually stretching. They sounded like Pink Floyd. Even the mammoth riff of "Collapse and Crush" (from their first album, 2000's Godflesh-besotted Celestial), couldn't break the numbed, drifting feel. If it wasn't for vocalist Aaron Turner's occasional roars, the seven-song set, which touched on their entire discography (two tracks each from Wavering Radiant and 2004's Panopticon, one each from Celestial, 2002's Oceanic, and 2006's In the Absence of Truth), would have been pure Gothic post-punk. The dominant bandmember wasn't Turner, but bassist Jeff Caxide, who seemed intent on turning every song into a cover of The Cure's "Fascination Street."

It's possible to have two drummers and still be rhythmically flaccid; the Grateful Dead managed it for decades. Not the Melvins, who've had both Dale Crover and Coady Willis behind side-by-side kits since 2006. Their set, which began and ended with taped music (the theme from Blazing Saddles and "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah," respectively), was one long, floor-shaking drum solo, with guitarist/vocalist Buzz Osborne (wearing what looked like an ankle-length robe with a turtleneck) and bassist Jared Warren (gladiator tunic and cape) throwing riffs and howls into the thunder here and there. Their set began with a death-march cover of Flipper's antiwar anthem "Sacrifice," then continued through an hour or so of mostly songs from their last three albums, all of which feature the four-piece/two-drummer lineup. Among the highlights were "The Water Glass," a military-cadence chant wedded to a huge, Led Zeppelin-esque riff, and "Pig House," which featured a surf-guitar break—both came from the brand-new The Bride Screamed Murder.

The first band of the night was Bay Area power trio Totimoshi, who played on the Melvins' equipment and served as their roadies. Guitarist/singer Tony Laureano has a rough, clenched voice like a Latino Scott "Wino" Weinrich, with a guitar tone that's somewhere between Helmet and Hendrix. He and bassist Meg Castellanos create a loose, bluesy groove, with drummer Chris Fugitt hammering the floor into place beneath them. Two of their six songs were instrumentals; the rest could easily have been, too, because the riff and the groove were what it was all about.

[From the Village Voice.]

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I interviewed Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover of the Melvins backstage at New York's Webster Hall on Friday night, an hour or two before they went onstage opening for one of Isis's final shows. Here's the video.

The show was terrific; the Melvins' set was like one long drum solo punctuated with the occasional guitar riff or shout from Osborne. Opening act Totimoshi was a heavy power trio, somewhere between '70s blues-rock and '90s noise-rock. And Isis sounded really good, too, playing a tight seven-song set that touched on all five of their studio albums. I'll have a longer review tomorrow on the Village Voice site.


Stephen Haynes is a trumpeter and longtime student of/collaborator with the late Bill Dixon. He can be heard on several Dixon albums, including In Italy Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur and Tapestries for Small Orchestra. He also recorded a 2008 double trio album with Taylor Ho Bynum, which I reviewed for The Wire.

Parrhesia, which comes out on Tuesday, is his debut as a leader; the disc also features Joe Morris on guitar and Warren Smith on drums, percussion and vibes. It's a sparse and abstract disc, full of smeared horn phrases, sudden rattles, lots of space between bursts of sound, and micro-melodies that never resolve into traditional song form. Haynes and Morris don't dialogue much, but they always seem to be listening to each other and thinking very carefully about what they play and why. Perhaps even more importantly (from my point of view, anyhow), Smith (who recites a poem on the sixth track, "Yet and Still"—you've been warned) plays the drums in a fully engaged way, avoiding the diffident brushed-cymbals-and-tiny-gongs approach that makes so much capital-I improv the ideal soundtrack to a nap.

Haynes is a friend and collaborator (he wrote a terrific session diary about Tapestries for Small Orchestra, including observations from some of the other musicians present, for Burning Ambulance). But even if he was a total stranger to me, I'd say you should definitely check this disc out.