Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Gaslight Anthem - The Very Last Gang in Town

There’s a great intersection where punk, rock and soul meet – it’s sweaty, beer-soaked, jacked-up and juiced with sing-along choruses and songs that rev up quick and wind down fast. It is rockist and unrepentant (thanks Dan Rubin). There’s no room for solos, and there’s no room for the weak of heart. Beards come and go, t-shirts and jeans are the uniform (leather jacket and jeff cap optional) and fist pumps come by the bushel. There might be a mosh pit, (but in 2009 that’s really just the backwards hat-wearing, roid raged frat jock fatheads) but there will definitely be a positive rage.

The boiler plate for this animal is Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band (circa ’75) and The Rolling Stones (circa ’65), plus a shared love for Eddie Cochran and Otis Redding completes the package. Springsteen picked up the torch from the Stones and his rockabilly forefathers, as well as The Band, Mitch Ryder, CCR and the great soul shouters and screamers from Memphis, Muscle Shoals and Detroit. And once you’re hooked, you find that this rock-punk-soul life has got you in its sway.

Last night at The Trocadero in Philadelphia, The Gaslight Anthem proved them themselves worthy heirs to carry this tradition forward (even while constantly looking back) just like bloodbrothers-in-arms The Hold Steady, Lucero, The Felice Brothers, Philly’s own The Loved Ones, Jesse Malin, The Ike Reilly Assassination and Jersey nutjobs Titus Andronicus. Exploding onstage to “Great Expectations”, two things were immediately clear. One, that mosh pit that materialized in an instant right in front us would lend a little menace and energy to the night as it cowed some of the less hearty in the immediate area. Two, this was going to be an electric, body shakin' great rock and roll show. In 2009, great rock shows seem to be in shorter supply than newspaper sales as djs, laptop artistes, sensitive wallflowers and dinosaur cash grabs dominate the concert landscape.

Focusing mostly on their universally lauded 2008 sparkplug, The ’59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem relied on their DIY instincts as they connected immediately with the audience, as lead singer Brian Fallon told self-deprecating stories of his experiences as a kid in Philly at Troc punk rock shows with The Dillinger Escape Plan and Saves The Day. He also offered his services as a pool painter. Highlights included a searing “I’da Called You Woody, Joe”, Fallon’s heartfelt tribute to Joe Strummer from TGA’s first album, Sink or Swim, as well as “The 59 Sound” and especially “The Patient Ferris Wheel”, with the Springsteen redux lyrics about escape and desperation and the shouted lyrics (“I’ve never felt so strange, standing in the Jersey rain / Thinking about what an old man said / Maybe I should call me an ambulance”) that are still ringing in my head this morning.

The Gaslight Anthem will not save the world. But they are part of the great rock continuum, bands of brothers that will evoke spirits of Elvis, the Stones and the brothers Ruffin and they will bring you to your knees. Go see them, not because it feels like they might save your soul, but because they are alive, and like the only that band matters, they feel like the very last gang in town.
The Gaslight Anthem - I'da Called You Woody, Joe (from Sink or Swim)
The Gaslight Anthem - High Lonesome (from The '59 Sound)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Boom Goes The Dynamite

"Later he gets the rebound, passes it to the man, shoots it... and boom goes the dynamite".

At my house, the first two days of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament are the best 48 hours of sports entertainment - year in and year out March Madness delivers. Upsets, brackets, comfy couches, buzzer beaters, beer, mass hysteria (Bucknell! Stephen Curry! John F&?%ing Lucas III!, Laettner!), snack food, breathless calls to friends and family (no way Kevin beats me in the pool, but Cathy will, as usual, destroy me), cinderellas and # 1 seeds all bring an unrivalled orgy of drama and heartbreak, anxiety and heartburn.

This year my beloved St. Joseph's Hawks decided it was more fun to dribble away their allotted 35 seconds rather than make actual attempts at scoring, save the desperate running three as the shot clocked ticked away my will to live. So I will throw my full support to my three favorite teams in the tournament - Missouri (my esteemed partner's alma mater), local heroes Temple, and, as any true blue St. Joe fan will attest, whoever is playing Villanova.

Upset special - # 12 Western Kentucky over # 5 Illinois.

Cheech and Chong - Basketball Jones

Rogue Wave - Basketball

Monday, March 16, 2009

2008 Unsung - The Year's Best Cover Song

Tommy Keene + Teenage Fanclub + The Monkees + Merseybeat = Army Navy.

And Army Navy covering Maxine Nightingale's 1976 Top 10 world beater "Get Right Back Where We Started From" equals power pop nirvana.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Feelies at Johnny Brenda's 3/13/09

The Feelies tore it up earlier tonight at Johnny Brenda's with an electric show that featured several of their signature songs ("Away", "Sooner or Later", show closer "Fa-Ce-La") plus frenetic covers of "She Said She Said", "Paint It Black" and "Barstool Blues". Lotsa familiar faces there including Feeney, Fudgie, Turtle, Hook, Diane, DJ Mertter, Jamie, Steve K, Dan, Annie, Frank, Lisa and I'm assuming BagofSongs Tom and Hinchey.

Go see them if you get the chance. The Feelies, not Bagofsongs and Hinchey.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the Record with A.C. Newman

The leader of the New Pornographers has an excellent solo album out now, and I recently interviewed him for The Providence Phoenix. Read it here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Don't Tell a Soul

We’re tight, you and me. We have a bond. And I can trust that if I tell you a secret, you’ll keep it in confidence. Because I have something to say, and I’d hate for people to know.

A few months back, I found myself in a conversation about Genesis (the band, not the book). Though my disdain for prog rock has been chronicled here, as an impressionable adolescent I was influenced by some older teens (who I mistakenly believed to be cool) and became a fan of the band. Through my high school years, even as I was memorizing every mumble on Murmur and every bromide on Born in the U.S.A., I wafted away on the halcyon haze of moonlit knights and carpet crawlers.

And then one day my eyes popped open. Punk rock and new wave had led me to the light, and helped me reconnect with what I felt intuitively from the moment I first heard music, that rock and roll’s power lay in immediacy and intimacy, the kind that could be found on the A-side of any Stones, Creedence or Motown single. In Songbook, Nick Hornby meditates on his love for Rod Stewart’s early work and explains that part of his personal indebtedness to those albums stems from the introductions they provided to Stewart’s influences – Sam Cooke, the Isley Brothers, Bobby Womack – and to his influences’ influences, all the way back to the beginning of the blues. “The antecedents of Yes and Genesis,” he writes, “were Pink Floyd, and before that nobody much, really, and that was, in retrospect, part of the reason I didn’t like them very much. The music felt airless and synthetic, and it seemed even then as if all the prog rockers would rather have been classical musicians, as if pop were beneath them, somehow. They led you up a blind alley; there was nowhere to go.”

That’s exactly how I began to feel all those years ago. It seemed that in their effort to produce something greater than the pedestrian triviality of pop, the prog rockers ironically fabricated something terribly unsophisticated. Not musically unsophisticated, but emotionally unsophisticated, like high school kids who dress in black and take up smoking and existentialism. In effecting a knowing pose, they project naïveté and artifice.

Back to the Genesis conversation. When I detailed this prog epiphany to my friends, I told them that one day I looked at all my Genesis albums and thought to myself “I &%$#ing hate this &*^%. But I hate Duke the least.”

Immediately, I felt regret. Because though I hadn’t listened in twenty years, I suspected that I didn’t hate Duke at all.

To satisfy my curiosity and pay my penance, I recently replaced my quarter-century old copy with the new special edition CD. And then I listened to for the first time since the 1980s. Which brings me to my confession.

I kind of love this album.

There, I’ve said it. I kind of love Duke. And it’s not mere nostalgia. I spun The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway recently, and just scratched my head, lost at the intersection of “The Supernatural Anaesthetist” and “Hairless Heart.” But Duke hits me where I live, and I think it’s because the album represents the band’s accidental apex, the place where their two signature qualities, often in conflict, reached a near-perfect balance.

Genesis was defined by two vectors: Ambition and Pop. In the beginning (the left side of the chart), they were all Ambition and no Pop. To prove this, I need only mention that in 1971, they recorded an eight-minute song called “The Return of the Giant Hogweed.” You don’t even have to hear it; you just know. As you move across the chart, the Ambition Vector is a sharp downward diagonal, the Pop Vector just the opposite. By the time you reach the end, it’s all Pop, no Ambition, exemplified by Invisible Touch, as indefensible a pail of gossamer hooey that any major act as has ever thrust upon the public. In the middle, though, the vectors cross. And the moment where they meet is Duke.

Duke has melodies. It has steady rocking beats, and it rarely meanders (though the closing suite of “Duke’s Travels” and “Duke’s End” flirts with ruining a good thing). And though it has a (very) vague narrative theme, all forms of trolls and unicorns are conspicuous by their absence, replaced by tales of relationships in turmoil. Instead of striving for epics, the band settles for songs, and that makes all the difference.

It starts with something that sounds vaguely like an overture, and overtures are very prog, so let’s call it a “flourish” or better yet, a “motif” – yes, we can live with that. A motif. No overtures here, thank you. And it’s hummable and forceful and memorable. And when the band settles into a steady groove, we find a drummer more enamored with “Take a Letter Maria” than “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” Do you like good music? I mean sweet soul music? I do! And these guys do, too!

The songs have dynamics. They rise and swell. And they end. Ending is very important. Because when one good idea ends, another can begin. And there are lots of ideas here, some from very unconventional places. On the bonus DVD, Phil Collins confesses that the sound of “Misunderstanding” was influenced by, among others, Toto (!), a fact that makes a million unreformed prog-heads weep. There’s “Turn It On Again,” a full-out rock anthem that the band discovered (much like the Stones did with “Start Me Up”) by revving up a previously mid-tempo scrap. And though Collins in later years would come to wallow in syrupy relational pathos, “Please Don’t Ask” is a raw nerve, a vivid portrait of a doomed marriage that wouldn’t seem misplaced on a Carole King album.

Sure, some of my affection for these songs is almost certainly heightened by the fact that they take me back to that awkward age detailed here, but can any of us untether music from memory? Still, experience allows me to see the album in a new light, and I’ve had a bottomless pit of experience in the intervening years. Duke will never again be a companion, but it’s an old friend I’m happy to visit from time to time. Keep that to yourself.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Today's Quotes

"Cause it's one thing to start it with a positive jam
And it's another thing to see it all through"

--- The Hold Steady

"PC in, URI out... for now"

--- Joe Lunardi, ESPN bracketoligist (and St. Joe grad)


--- The Gaslight Anthem

"It's not whether you get knocked down, it's whether you get up"

--- Vince Lombardi

"It is fun being in the same decade with you"

--- Franklin Roosevelt, in a letter to Winston Churchill

"If God had intended us to drink beer, He would have given us stomachs"

--- David Daye

"We Gotta Stay Positive"

--- The Hold Steady

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (lp version)

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Non-Comm)

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Interface at

The Hold Steady - Stay Positive (Terminal 5)

The Gaslight Anthem - Miles Davis & The Cool

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Mystery Tune Contest # 2

This is a cover of one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite artists. Name the song and artist.

Winner gets a choice of a Teenage Kicks shirt, a specially crafted cd mix of said artist or an attaboy. Contest ends this Saturday, 3/7. Send contest replies to

Mystery Song # 2 by Mystery Artist # 2

Mastodon Auditions for Spinal Tap

This is Spinal Tap, the movie, is a a cultural touchstone for rock and roll freaks. You know who you are. Ask the guy that sits next to you at work if he knows This is Spinal Tap. He doesn't. The movie was the perfect cocktail of insider jokes and expertly executed caricatures of rock gods and demons, all played out with the knowing cynicism that only true lovers of the art form could muster. Spinal Tap (the band) was a one album, one tour, 18 month good idea. News of an upcoming "Unwigged and Unplugged" tour is disheartening. This joke was played out over 20 years ago and Spinal Tap's refusal to go away has spawned atrocities like Tenacious D, Flight of The Conchords and now the spectacularly awful The Lonely Island, which takes a one joke viral video ("Dick in A Box") and spawns an album that's as hysterical as those SNL MacGruber skits. Which brings us to the cruelest irony - Spinal Tap has become... Spinal Tap.

But fear not, the funniest album of the year is sure to be Mastodon's "Crack The Skye", a 7 song, 50 minute heavy metal song cycle that drops March 24th. Per Billboard, here's drummer Brian Dailor synopsis of the new magnum opus:

"It's about a crippled young man who experiments with astral travel. He goes up into outer space, goes too close to the sun, gets his golden umbilical cord burned off, flies into a wormhole, is thrust into the spirit real, has conversations with spirits about the fact that he's not really dead, and they decide to help him. They put him into a divination that's being performed by an early-20th-century Russian Orthodox sect called the Klisti, which Rasputin is part of.

Knowing Rasputin is about to be murdered, they put the young boy's spirit inside of Rasputin. Rasputin goes to usurp the throne of the czar and is murdered by the Yusupovs, and the boy and Rasputin fly out of Rasputin's body up through the crack in the sky and head back. Rasputin gets him safely back into his body."

"That's the basic story," he says, "but it's all metaphors for personal sh*t."

You can not make this stuff up. Actually, yes you can. You have been warned.

Facing the Past

I had some non-rock and roll thoughts, and I put them up at the other blog.