Friday, October 31, 2008

Boss says Boo!

As the evening's witching hour approaches, New Jersey's favorite son appears with the tale of New Jersey's diabolical devil.

Download the song for free here.

And in the spirit of the day, enjoy these moments that rocked my youth, from the epic Paul Lynde Halloween Special:

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Speaking of Lead Balloons

Nothing good could possibly come of this, could it? I understand Queen going on with Paul Rodgers in the role of front man. After all, Freddy's dead. But Zep without Plant? I hope they open every night with "What Is And What Should Never Be."

On the other hand, if it's half as good as this, I say go for it:

(Hat tip: Back to Rockville)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Everything That Happens Will Happen on a Gravel Road

This post is about a week overdue for reasons that aren’t particularly interesting (got a little busy, got a little virus, etc.), but here goes.

If, in order to save humanity, I were forced to give away all but 20 of my albums, odds are good that the remaining collection would include Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. The former is, in my judgment, the apex of a great band, where their more exotic influences were consumed, tamed and fused with their own jittery punk rock sensibility to create a bracing, enduring masterpiece of brooding, high-concept funk. The latter, quite simply, is the most perfectly realized vision of any singer/songwriter working in the field. The yearning in the words, the well-worn creak in the voice, the tremolo of the guitar – these things get me every time.

And so it was my great pleasure last week to see Talking Heads’ mastermind David Byrne and Lucinda Williams play on back to back nights, from seats in the first four rows, at the same theater in my hometown.

As has been noted here before, Byrne recently released Everything That Happens Will Happen Today, his first collaboration with Brian Eno in roughly a quarter century. When he hit the stage last Sunday night, Byrne first explained that the evening would consist of songs produced in collaboration with Eno, including songs they created with “other musicians,” the only oblique reference of the night to Talking Heads, who Eno produced on More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light. To understand my glee at this, project yourself back to age eight, and imagine your mother saying that tonight’s dinner will consist of Smarties, taffy and Cool Whip.

The show that followed the announcement exceeded even those expectations (imagine if, for an encore, mom presented a dessert of powdered sugar donuts and Twizzlers). With no opener, a prompt start (8:15 on an announced 8:00 p.m.), and a tight, briskly-paced set, the night was perfect for the roughly 75% of the crowd who had to get home to relieve babysitters. Byrne was one of eleven figures on stage, all clothed head-to-toe in white, in an ensemble that included three back-up singers and three dancers, whose quirky choreography – sometimes featuring Byrne himself – reflected the off-kilter energy of the music.

Byrne opened with “Strange Overtones,” the first single from the new album, and segued into “I Zimbra,” the lead track to Fear of Music. After that, it was off to the races, with new songs seamlessly integrated with the old. An early high-point was the rousing slow-boil of “Houses in Motion,” a key Remain in Light track. But the show really began to take flight mid-set, when Byrne played the elegant, pristine “Heaven” to set up the murderer’s row that followed. “Crosseyed and Painless” was sheer catharsis for the packed house, and the one-two of “Once in a Lifetime” and “Life During Wartime” sent the show through the roof. Maybe it’s because there has been no one to play these songs for the past twenty years – and maybe because some, like me, never saw Talking Heads live – but it all came off with a fresh intensity that eradicated any trace of nostalgia.

The first encore began with the crowd-pleasing “Take Me to the River,” but the second encore provided the biggest bang. After playing “Air,” the lush Fear of Music track, Byrne swapped out his electric guitar for an acoustic and announced that “this next song departs from the dogma of the evening.” He then played the stuttering opening figure to “Burning Down the House” (from the non-Eno Speaking in Tongues), and proceeded to do just that, sending all us middle-aged crazies into paroxysmal fits. The hymn-like title track to the new project followed, and then we all walked out into the night, minds thoroughly blown.

Lucinda’s show on Monday could not have possibly lived up to what we saw the night before, and it didn’t. But the comparison is unfair. I haven’t seen five shows in the past fifteen years that could have satisfied that standard.

A Lucinda Williams show is complicated, because she’s complicated, at once enormously gifted and deeply damaged, unable to believe that she is as great as she really is. I’ve seen Lucinda triumphant (on the Essence tour) and tentative (the times I’ve seen her since), but on this night, she walked a line in between, comfortable in her skin but more humble than she has any need to be. It’s amazing that the woman who wrote “Crescent City,” “Sweet Old World” and “Drunken Angel” would lack for confidence, but she seems to need the encouragement of a good audience to have faith in herself, and when that wave of affection comes back at her, she seems genuinely surprised. Good natured but a tad sheepish, she soldiers on and finds that the crowd loves every song. Twice, she almost apologetically introduced songs from “the album we released on Rough Trade,” and it was all I could do to resist shouting “it’s called Lucinda Williams,” wishing that she would own up to her talent.

Still, it was a fine set, twangy and swampy and - relatively rare for her - happy. Through the bouts of stage fright, a contentment showed through. Her band Buick 6 (led by longtime accomplice Doug Pettibone) wrapped her in a comfy, crackling cocoon, on a rocking, bluesy set that perfectly matched her moan-at-the-ceiling drawl. And by the end, when she let loose with covers of Waylon’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys” and AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” everything began to flow in the right direction.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rewriting History

The new Rolling Stone arrived today, and it's notable on a few levels, including a redesign (the oversize format is gone, replaced by something that looks much more like Esquire) and Barack Obama's face on the front (this is getting to be like Oprah magazine, with the same cover model issue after issue). But on my initial flip-through, the thing that grabbed my attention most forcefully was the four-star review of the reissue of the Replacements' 1985 album Tim. Now, I understand that four stars is a good review (or "excellent" on the magazine's stars-to-words conversion chart). I also understand the reluctance to score a new album higher right out of the gate; great albums earn their fifth star over time. But twenty-three years later, does anyone not think Tim is an essential, classic album? Sure, "Dose of Thunder" is a casually rendered flake of Westerberg's dandruff, but it stands alongside "Kiss Me on the Bus," "Bastards of Young," "Left of the Dial," "Swingin Party" and "Here Comes a Regular" (among others), on one of the most swaggering, mesmerizing, mind-blowing records of the post-punk era.

If the star system is consistent, then the magazine declares that Tim is of roughly the same quality as new releases by Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Eagles of Death Metal, Kaiser Chiefs, Raphael Saadiq and Juana Molina. Those may all be terrific albums (I've heard the Adams record, and it's sensational), but if, in 2031, there's a consensus that any of them are in the same league as Tim, be sure to check back here for the live video stream of me eating my own head.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs 1936-2008

Levi Stubbs, dynamic soul singer supreme, died today. You may not recognize the name, but I guarantee you'll recognize the voice.

There’s never been a time I can remember when The Four Tops were not a part of my life. My older sisters loved Motown and they played and danced (quite poorly) to “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” for just about their entire adolescence. I can still see that blue Motown map label spinning on that 45 – back when 2:42 was my entire attention span. I guess not much has changed.

The Four Tops (Levi Stubbs, Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson and Lawrence Payton) remained together for over 40 years without a lineup change. They were the greatest of all Motown groups, and Levi Stubbs Motown’s most powerful singer. And I got to sing with him. Fortunately no audio exists to document the momentous occasion, but I’ll never forget it.

It was April 1981 and The Four Tops were well past their commercial mid-60’s peak but still a tremendous live act. This was before the repackaging of oldies acts as nostalgia bon-bons and many of these genre-shaping bands were playing small nightclubs because… well, because that’s what they did. The Tops that night were at Ripley’s, a South Street fixture that hosted hundreds of 80’s rock shows, and this night’s crowd was a curious mix of hipster rock scuzzballs in jeans and sneakers (who you looking at?) and stylish 30-40-something African American couples dressed to impress.

The Four Tops were a human jukebox, singing and dancing (oh yeah, their moves were still breathtaking) for an incendiary 70 minute performance that seems to have elevated to almost mythic “Bigfoot”, Ming-Ling-ish status in the intervening years. Were they really that good? And late in the set, during “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”, Levi Stubbs crouched down, put his arm around me, and we belted the “I’ll Be There” refrain together. A moment frozen in time that still provides goose bumps.

But tonight, let’s toast Levi Stubbs, and let's remember that voice.

The Four Tops - I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)
The Four Tops - Reach Out (I'll Be There)

David Johansen Group - Reach Out (I'll Be There)
David Johansen - Frenchette

Billy Bragg - Levi Stubb's Tears

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Phillies Win!

The Philadelphia Phillies are headed to the World Series for the first time since 1993. The losingest franchise in professional sports tries to capture their first World Series championship since 1980 and their second title in 126 years. We are painting the town RED!
To commemorate, here's one of the all-time greatest baseball songs.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

One Song

There is always at least one song that is constantly buzzing my brain, wreaking havoc with my thought process, often making me sing out loud and therefore wreaking havoc with others' thought processes. Currently that song is "Dog Bumped" by Tim Barry. Prior to Friday night, I had never heard of Tim Barry or this song, and now its an indelible part of my DNA. Barry was in Philadelphia as part of The Revival Tour, a loose aggregation of punk rock rebel rousers who amped it down to loosen it up. The other songwriters were Hot Water Music's Chuck Ragan, Lucero's mercurial Ben Nichols (hobbled by a "dancing incident in Atlanta), and a poorly recieved, lackluster set by special guest Jesse Malin.

But Tim Barry, lead singer for Avail, stole the show. I can't comment on Avail ( calls them a "gritty punk quartet from Richmond,VA"), but Tim Barry seems located at the intersection of Joe Strummer and Charlie Daniels, a good ol' boy who's seen his share of barroom fights and backstreet brawls. But it's his tough guy vulnerability that carries the day and, as my freind Allen noted "I'd go to NASCAR with that guy... and I hate NASCAR".

"Dog Bumped" is a cathartic, self-defense revenge tale brought to life by Barry's vivid storytelling and anthemic crowd sing-along that had us shaking our heads - how had this song escaped us for two years?

Check out Barry's excellent 2006 release, Rivanna Junction, and look for his upcming new disc Manchester, due in November.

Tim Barry - Dog Bumped

Monday, October 13, 2008

More Dance Therapy

In a comment on this post, intrepid TK reader juanita has another suggestion for dancing the dark times away, and we're nothing if not responsive to our readers, so back away from the computer and dance some more.

Take that, fascists!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What’s in a Name?

While watching game one of the American League Championship Series on Friday night, I learned that the Tampa Bay Rays have a pitcher named Grant Balfour, an unfortunate appellation for one in his profession, akin to a surgeon named Ima Vivisectya or Chance O’Complications.

It’s not, of course, the first time one has possessed a name uniquely suited (or unsuited) for his chosen field. I have friends who know Lester Wang, a medical doctor specializing in urology, a line of work that former NASCAR driver Dick Trickle, lamentably, did not pursue.

Joe Strummer? Sounds like a coffeehouse singer. Shoulda been Joe Kingofthefreakinguniverse. Barry White? The Barry’s right, but no one of my hue has ever owned such a boudoir baritone. James Brown? Close, I suppose, but as his song goes, James Sayitloudimblackandimproud.

The phenomenon even strikes here at Teenage Kicks. You know the only way to stop a certain middle-aged rock and roll blogger in a pickup hoops game? Trip McClatchy.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Random Tune for a Troubling Time

These are dark times, or at least it seems like it this week, with the world's financial markets in a panic, and with some of the worst kind of fear-mongering happening on the campaign trail (I thought this race was going to be contested on a higher road than any in recent memory; I was wrong). It's times like this when you can lean on music as something more than pleasant diversion. Think of it as therapy. So I encourage you to turn up the volume, step back from the computer and dance your ass off.

Dance to this!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Get Harpooned!

Today marks the release of Inside the Human Body (just ordered my copy), the second full-length effort from Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, an indie band you could build an entire world-view around. Three songs from the new album are streaming now at their MySpace page. If those represent a fair sample, the band has tightened and muscled up without sacrificing any of Furman's loopy lyrical charm.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Jenny Lewis & Yuengling!

Oh YES! And rumor has it she cut a recent encore short to catch the end of the Phillies game.
Here's Jenny and boyfriend Jonathan Rice getting all Gram and Emmylou on us with a spare take on "Love Hurts".
Jenny Lewis - Love Hurts
And here's one by Deer Tick - Providence, RI's (Lou?!) contribution to the slightly skewed alt-country sweepstakes and inspired opening act choice for Jenny Lewis' Friday show in Wilmington, DE. Young savant John McCauley (he's only 21) has got one of those voices - battle lines will be drawn. I'm hearing the late, lamented Gear Daddies and a drummer whose high harmonies and over-abundant facial hair were a concert highlight. Not to mention guitarist Andy, who was playing his first show (not with the band... ever!) and bassist Chris, a Napoleon Dynamite doppelganger, who rushed the stage at the end of Jenny Lewis' set like two love-struck schoolboys. I love these guys.
Deer Tick... tis the season.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Friday's Classic Cover

Maybe this will become a recurring idea, maybe not, but via Let's Sexy Fighting, please enjoy Spoon taking on some prime Rolling Stones at a San Francisco show earlier this week.

Spoon - "Rocks Off"