music friday: sleater-kinney

Here they come again. This weekend, I will see Sleater-Kinney for the 16th and 17th time. No one whose name isn't Springsteen comes close.

I tend to remember dates by the events that accompanied them. We moved into this house in 1987, and I remember that because the Giants almost made the World Series. My daughter was born on January 15, 1978, the day after I saw the Sex Pistols, and I'm never quite sure if I remember the Sex Pistols' date because of my daughter, or the other way around.

My wife and I go way back with Bruce Springsteen, seeing him for the first time in 1975. It's a way of marking the passage of time ... remember that first concert? Remember when we were in the third row? Remember when we followed him up and down the west coast? Remember when he turned up as a surprise guest at a Gary U.S. Bonds show? Remember, remember, remember? (For the obsessive-compulsive among you, the years for those particular memories were 1975, 1976, 1980, 1981.) It's understood that our experiences with Bruce have covered a lot of years. Hell, Bruce is 70 years old now.

Well, sometimes I think of Sleater-Kinney as a band of riot grrrls, emphasis on girls. They weren't exactly girls, even when I first saw them (Carrie was 23, Corin was 25, Janet was an ancient 34). This is no longer true, and their music reflects their middle-agedness. At a show a few days ago in Texas, Corin celebrated her 47th birthday.

And so now I realize they have been around so long, and been important in my life for so long, that I can use them to mark time. Or I can just use them as another example of how time flies (i.e., I am getting old). I first saw Sleater-Kinney in concert more than 20 years ago, and that simple fact blows my mind. Let's put it in blog context: I saw them five times before I started this blog, and this blog is almost 18 years old.

That first show in 1998 was at the Great American Music Hall, which holds 600. It remains the smallest venue I've seen them at, and I've seen them there 7 times. Here they are in 1998:

Here they are in 2000, back when Janet would tell jokes:

And from the last time I saw them, New Year's Eve, 2016/7:

And most obviously, here is a complete show from a month ago:

 


geezer cinema: linda ronstadt: the sound of my voice (rob epstein and jeffrey friedman, 2019)

The Sound of My Voice suffers from some of the usual problems that come with documentaries about musicians. Most notably, we never get a full version of any songs, just excerpts. We get plenty of examples of Linda Ronstadt's remarkable voice, but each time, we're left wanting more.

Still, this is preferable to standard biopics that invent life events to match the songs the artist produces. And you don't have to worry about someone else singing for Ronstadt ... that's her on the soundtrack.

Ronstadt fans can rest assured, though. They will enjoy the musical moments, and the presentation of her life in music is straightforward, if mostly on her side. You will come away with a better understanding of why Ronstadt moved so easily between so many genres. As she says at one point, "People would think I was trying to remake myself, but I never invented myself in the first place." Gilbert & Sullivan, classic pop standards, Mexican canciones, all of these were part of her musical upbringing. However it might have seemed to audiences, Ronstadt was just singing what she knew.

The film presents a who's who of musicians and industry people who rhapsodize about Ronstadt. There is, in fact, too much of this ... every repeated gushing story takes the place of the music we came to hear.

Epstein and Friedman sidestep the issue of Ronstadt's tour of South Africa during the cultural boycott of that country. It is mentioned once, she gives a brief statement about politics and singing, and it's forgotten.

The Sound of My Voice isn't great, but fans won't care. And the final scene, of Ronstadt singing gently with family as she suffers from Parkinson's disease, is moving.

For those who want to read a detailed analysis of Ronstadt's music from a critic/fan, I recommend the 1978 essay "Living in the USA" by John Rockwell.


music friday: mink deville

I wrote the following back in 2007:

Mink DeVille, "Spanish Stroll." Somehow, this song manages to be vaguely New Wave while recalling the kind of culture that might have also spawned disco. We saw these guys once, and the opening act was an unknown local comic named Dana Carvey. Carvey was funny enough, but who comes to a rock concert to see a comedian? So he wasn't going over very well, and at one point he did some bit about a then-current commercial for Irish Spring soap. When no one laughed, he ad-libbed "what, you guys don't wash?" To which I shouted in reply, "We don't stink!" It was the only good heckle I ever got off. Robin liked Carvey, though, and so she wrote him a note on a napkin saying she thought he was funny and had our waitress take it to him. No word on whether or not he actually saw the note. He doesn't stink anymore, though.

The band was touring behind their first album, which made #29 on that year's Pazz & Jop poll. They had begun as Billy de Sade and the Marquis. As Mink DeVille, they were a house band at CBGB. That first album had a few memorable songs besides "Spanish Stroll", including a favorite of ours, "Mixed Up, Shook Up Girl".

The band lasted until 1986, and Willy DeVille had a solo career, releasing albums through 2008. He died in 2009.

Here is an Irish Spring commercial from the late-70s:

As for Dana Carvey, well, you know him. Here is my favorite Dana Carvey bit ... I believe this is from his tryout tape for SNL:

A few decades and a lot of money later:


music friday: nirvana, "where did you sleep last night?"

David Browne has a piece in today's Rolling Stone about Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in New York, which was released 25 years ago today. Browne does an excellent job of putting us back in time ... his angle is that he attended the taping for the show, which was a year earlier. As Browne notes, by the time the album was released, Kurt Cobain had been dead for more than half a year, which affected how the album was perceived.

The high point ... not sure that's the right term ... came when Cobain performed the traditional "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", a song recorded by many, including Lead Belly, who put out several versions in the 1940s. Cobain was working off of one of Lead Belly's recordings for his arrangement.

Browne writes of Nirvana's cover, "[T]he moment we all remember – when Cobain, pushing his voice up a register, shreds the word 'shiver' in the last chorus with a phlegmy rasp – remains one of the most jolting things I’ve experienced at a concert." Christgau wrote of the entire album, "The vocal performance he evokes is John Lennon's on Plastic Ono Band. And he did it in one take."


music friday: western stars (thom zimny and bruce springsteen, 2019)

The simplest thing to say from a consumer guide perspective is that if you love Bruce, you'll like this movie. If you love his latest album, you'll love this movie. If you don't have an opinion about Bruce Springsteen, I'm not sure what you'll think, but it will give you insight into a 70-year-old rocker who still has a lot to say.

There are two things to address here. One is the music. At its core, Western Stars is a concert movie, where Bruce and a large band play the songs from the Western Stars album. He has a huge string section, and they kick ass ... their unison playing gives the songs something of a Phil Spector feel. As is often the case with Bruce, the songs benefit from being played live. Favorite songs are even better, songs I didn't much care for are better than I thought. If you're looking for familiar faces, you'll find Patti and Soozie and Charles and Lisa. The music sounds great played in Bruce's old barn.

The other thing is the movie-as-movie. There is no escaping the fact that the songs, and their performance, are what matters. But it's a gorgeous movie, from the way the inside of the barn is lit to the wide-open spaces of Joshua Tree. The brief commentary that accompanies the songs is just enough to expand our appreciation. It's hard to find anything to fault in Western Stars as a movie.

I don't know if a newcomer to Bruce would be convinced by this film. Emotionally, the songs represent a culmination of his life's work, but the music is different from his usual, and I don't suppose you should start here. But for long-time fans, the movie adds greatly to the album. The intimacy is lovely and rewarding.


music friday: steve miller

[Edited to add: it's Chuck Berry's birthday!]
 
Steve Miller has a new box set out, Welcome to the Vault. It includes plenty of rarities, and is a fine package for fans.
 
This isn't the first such effort from Miller. In 1994, he released a box set so inclusive it had a conversation between a 5-year-old Miller and Les Paul.
 
But despite the kitchen sink approach to these two anthologies, one track has yet to make the cut: "Your Old Lady" from the soundtrack to Revolution. Since some of us believe that song features Miller's all-time greatest geetar blast, its absence is odd.
 
When I complained about this on Twitter, my brother noted that one live track, "Super Shuffle", included many of the hottest licks from Miller's "Your Old Lady" solos. "Super Shuffle is taken from Monterey Pop. You can see an excerpt here (not sure it will play if you aren't a subscriber to the Criterion site):
 
 
Looking around, I found a couple of promo videos from 1968, apparently connected to the band's first single. The A-side is "Roll with It" from Children of the Future:

The B-side was "Sittin' in Circles", written by Barry Goldberg, perhaps most famous for playing in Bob Dylan's backup band for the infamous "Dylan Goes Electric" performance at the Newport Folk Festival. Goldberg and Miller first met up in Chicago in the mid-60s. Goldberg was also a member of The Electric Flag. Goldberg recorded this song himself at least once, and it was on the first Electric Flag album. This video is introduced by an old friend:

Finally, the version of "It Hurts Me Too" on Welcome to the Vault is from Chuck Berry Live at Fillmore Auditorium. I've had that album for a long time ... it was re-released with a few extra tracks awhile back. They're all on Spotify. While I can't specify the date ... that album was recorded during a long stand by Berry with Miller's band as backup, and I can't remember which of the shows we saw, nor am I sure which ones ended up on that album.

Bonus: for the billionth time, I'll add "Your Old Lady" to this blog:


music friday: the avengers, 1978

I've told this story several times. On January 14, 1978, a friend and I went to see the Sex Pistols at what turned out to be their last concert (at the time). One of the opening acts was The Avengers. The next day, my daughter Sara was born. Fast forward a few decades, and my daughter and Avengers' singer Penelope Houston crossed paths a few times ... I forget how, and by then, Penelope had been playing more acoustic. Sara told me she had met someone I might know, a singer who might have been a punk rocker at some point. Her name was "Penelope". I made the connection, and told my daughter I'd seen her new friend the night before Sara was born.

At this concert, Penelope Houston had just turned 19. I was 24. Sara, obviously, was still zero.


throwback thursday: the who the dead 1976

43 years ago today, we saw The Who and The Grateful Dead at a Day on the Green in Oakland. Here is part of my post about that show, slightly edited, from 2011:

who dead

This was 43 years ago. It’s an odd pairing, if you ask me. It was one of Bill Graham’s Day on the Green concerts. It was the only time I saw either band live, which matters more to me because Keith Moon was still around than for any other reason. My memory is, he was just fine that afternoon. Here is what they sounded like (bootleg-quality, but hey, it was 43 years ago):

http://youtu.be/mHVjzBfK1aQ

And here is the entire set by the Dead, via Spotify:


music friday: noel gallagher (happy birthday, robin!)

I am aware of Oasis, and I don't hate them. I barely have an opinion about them, but I know they were a big deal and I should probably come up with an angle. For me, they were a few great singles at a time when I was getting older (I turned 40 in 1993) and my ability to "keep up" with new music was lessening. I was confused about why Oasis was compared to The Beatles. I was probably in the same place as Robert Christgau, who wrote later:

One of the many things I never got about this band was where the Beatles were. Where was the ebullience, the wit, the harmonies, God just the singing, and, uh, the songwriting? Cotton Mather made me understand that when Oasis say they love the Beatles they really mean they love the post-Help!, pre-Sgt. Pepper Beatles. Since that span encompasses Rubber Soul and Revolver, many would say tally ho, but (a) not me 'cause I love the Beatles start to finish and (b) only if you're writing songs as good as, uh, "We Can Work It Out."

This is coming out too negative. Mostly I'm trying to explain why I am more clueless about Oasis than I should be.

Their biggest hit was "Live Forever":

Maybe I just want to fly
I want to live I don't want to die
Maybe I just want to breathe
Maybe I just don't believe
Maybe you're the same as me
We see things they'll never see
You and I are gonna live forever

In the following video, Noel Gallagher talks about writing songs, pre-and-post fame. "When I was writing in the early days of Oasis, I was in the same circumstances as the audience. You're writing for the people that are coming to your gigs. And then there will come a period where the big checks arrive."

He wrote "Live Forever" pre-fame, when he could say, "Maybe you're the same as me."

This video is from the YouTube series Hot Ones, a current obsession of mine. The never-wrong Wikipedia tells us that "Its basic premise involves celebrities being interviewed by host Sean Evans over a platter of increasingly spicy chicken wings." The trick is two-fold: the hot sauces make the celebrities increasingly vulnerable, which opens them up to an arguably more honest conversation, and Sean Evans is an excellent interviewer, always well-prepared with great questions. This week's guest in Noel Gallagher, and to be honest, it's a so-so episode ... I wondered if I should post it here since newbies might decide the show isn't any good. But it's Music Friday, so here you go:

Here is one of the best episodes, where Halle Berry shames every other participant with her Hot Ones greatness:

Finally, since this is Music Friday, here is fellow Manchester native A Guy Called Gerald, mentioned by Noel in his episode:


music friday: concert history

This one's making the rounds, so I'll jump in. What's your concert history?

First concert: Judy Collins, 1967

Last concert: Pink, April

Next concert: Sleater-Kinney, November

Best concert: Any of the Springsteen concerts I saw in 1978

Worst concert: probably the Winter Brothers in San Diego. Forget what year, in a big arena, sound awful, left early.

Seen the most: Bruce

Haven't seen but want to: Elvis, 1968