20 faves #8: van morrison, astral weeks

8th of 20, roughly by chronology.

OK, so there is a lie in the above sentence. I can talk about how all 20 of these albums are favorites of mine, I can talk about how I could have easily added another 20, I can say that I've chosen chronology because I can't really rank the 20 albums. But the truth is, if this was a list of one, if this was me telling you my favorite album, that wouldn't be a difficult decision.

Last month, a book by Ryan Walsh was released, Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968. It's a fascinating book that places Astral Weeks in a context you might not have considered before: Boston in 1968. The thing is, I learned more about Boston than I did about Astral Weeks. Which may partly explain why even the best books about the album necessarily work from the outside. Because Astral Weeks is pretty inscrutable, and much as I've tried, I've never been able to clearly define its greatness. Only one writer I've read has pulled this off: Lester Bangs, in the book Stranded.

Astral weeks

Here is Lester, writing about the above clip:

After going through all the verses, he drives the song, the band, and himself to a finish which has since become one of his trademarks and one of the all-time classic rock 'n' roll set-closers. With consummate dynamics that allow him to snap from indescribably eccentric throwaway phrasing to sheer passion in the very next breath he brings the music surging up through crescendo after crescendo, stopping and starting and stopping and starting the song again and again, imposing long maniacal silences like giant question marks between the stops and starts and ruling the room through sheer tension, building to a shout of "It's too late to stop now!," and just when you think it's all going to surge over the top, he cuts it off stone cold dead, the hollow of a murdered explosion, throws the microphone down and stalks off the stage. It is truly one of the most perverse things I have ever seen a performer do in my life. And, of course, it's sensational: our guts are knotted up, we're crazed and clawing for more, but we damn well know we've seen and felt something.

pink, the beautiful trauma tour

When Beautiful Trauma came out, I offered the opinion that I wouldn't really know how much I liked the new songs until I'd heard them in concert. Her albums are always top-heavy with great material, but I don't think she's ever had a perfect album. The title track hit me from the start, and a few others gradually inched their way into my consciousness, but much of the latter half seemed a bit like filler. It didn't help that the big hit, "What About Us", struck me as heartfelt but far from great.

Last night, she sang 7 songs from Beautiful Trauma, and besides the title track, which I already loved, a few that were improved in the live setting, like "Revenge", which features Eminem ... it's OK on record, but the live version was also clever, as an enormous inflated doll that looked like Eminem came on stage to do his part, with Pink flying in the air and punching him out. "I Am Here", the gospel-sounding track, was excellent, thanks in part to backup singers Stacy Campbell and Jenny Douglas. And "What About Us" works perfectly before a crowd of people who sing along with the chorus of their anthem.

She always does covers ... this time, she attached No Doubt's "Just a Girl" to "Funhouse", which worked well enough, and performed a straightforward version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit". Perhaps not as adventurous as The Funhouse Tour, where she took on The Divinyls, Led Zeppelin, Queen, and Gnarls Barkley, but this year's song fit in perfectly.

There's not much left to say about the aerial acrobatics. It's harder now to be surprised by the stuff she does, although we took our daughter for her first Pink show and it was fun watching everything through her eyes. Tellingly, one of the show's highlights was its final song, "Glitter in the Air", which in its earlier live performances had been so wonderful that the version at the Grammys is imprinted on the minds of everyone who saw it. This time, she just sang it, and it was lovely.

As for the band, it must matter that the same people have been in her band for ... I don't know, at least a decade. They aren't "A Band", they are "The Band" ... they don't go on tour as themselves when Pink isn't around. They are working musicians who play with many other artists. If you think about singers you've watched for a long time, I don't think you'd find many examples where the backup group is mostly unchanged. But these folks have back Pink on tour long enough that they sound just like a "real" band.

Special mention to the opening act, KidCutUp, a DJ who did about 40 minutes and had the Arena dancing and bopping ... odd, but the DJ was one of the best opening acts I've seen.

My second Pink concert was at The Fillmore, and was the last time I saw her just play, without a Show. Later, she brought on dancers, and eventually her aerial skills, but that show at The Fillmore established for me that Pink can do great shows, even if all she does is sing. Each year, that show at The Fillmore seems farther away. She retains her remarkable rapport with her audience. And we're going again next April, which is about the right space between shows.

Here she is in Seattle, a week or so before we saw her:



music friday: 1986

The Smiths, "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out". Two weeks ago, I congratulated myself on knowing a Smiths song. I don't know this one, and listening to it, I don't care that I don't know it. I appear to have zero interest in The Smiths.

Run-D.M.C., "Walk This Way". Aerosmith owes Run-D.M.C. big time.

Madonna, "Papa Don't Preach". Sometimes when I vote, I look to see who supports an issue or candidate, or who is against it, to get a sense of where the matter lies. Tipper Gore liked this song.

The The, "Infected". This list contains a lot of music I don't care about. It also includes a lot of artists I've never seen live. This may say something about my music tastes in 1986, when I turned 33 years old.

Robert Cray, "Smoking Gun". Christgau gave this album an A+, and I like Cray enough ... nice that someone was still playing blues in 1986. But Last.fm tells me that listening to this track for this blog post was the first time in ten years I'd listened to a Robert Cray song.

The Bangles, "Walk Like an Egyptian". Guaranteed to put you back in 1986, if you happened to be alive then.

Elvis Costello and The Attractions, "I Want You". Should be played by depressives on Valentine's Day.

Eric B. & Rakim, "Eric B. Is President". The first single from these Hip Hop icons.

Janet Jackson, "What Have You Done for Me Lately". Still a few years away from making better albums than her brother.

Bruce Springsteen, "Because the Night". The video is a cheat, taken not from 1986 but from a 1978 concert when Bruce used to play yet-to-be-released songs. Patti Smith's version was the hit in 1978, and it was a great track. But we loved hearing this in concert, and it turned up on Bruce's 1986 live box set, so it belongs here, right? That version came from 1980. We saw Bruce three times on the Darkness Tour in '78, probably marking the moment when he became our favorite for good. It remains the best tour I've ever seen.

Here's one more song, since I feel like I had too many on this week's list that didn't speak to me.

Spotify playlist

20 faves #20: pink, greatest hits ... so far

20th of 20, roughly by chronology.

Stepping outside of chronology (which explains the first sentence in the next paragraph), because we're going to see Pink tomorrow night.

This was more fun than I expected. And as I choose my 20th, I'm uncertain, for this is an artist who has never made a bad album, but also never made a great one. There are usually several hits, along with songs that are forgotten when a new album and tour arrives. For this reason, I am very tempted to choose her Greatest Hits package, which eliminates much of the lesser material (and even adds two tracks that aren't just filler but actually good). But she has made two more albums since then, with plenty of songs I'd hate to leave out here. So do I go with the Hits, or do I let the "real" albums represent her. There is also the "problem" that she is such a dynamic live performer that with many of her songs, I'm attached to the live versions rather than the ones on the albums.

Well, I guess I'll go with the hits, with apologies to M!ssundaztood and Funhouse and The Truth About Love, and "Blow Me" and "Beautiful Trauma". And I'll tip my hat to the kind of optimistic title we see so often, but which rarely turns out to be true. For these were her Greatest Hits ... So Far.

Pink greatest hits