Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An interesting political moment.

I realize that the coverage of the DNC has been omnipresent to the point of being REALLY annoying, but I experienced a moment on Tuesday that I thought was pretty interesting. On Monday, I watched Caroline Kennedy introduce her Uncle Ted Kennedy on TV. It was a moving occasion to be sure, but I noticed that during her introduction Caroline, repeatedly cut off the audience’s applause and attempted to go into her next line, thus stalling any momentum the crowd was building and losing the impact of her own words through the din of the crowd. It didn’t ruin it for me, I thought her uncle gave a fitting swan song of a speech, but I did notice it.

The next day, a Women’s economic group held a forum at the beautiful Colfax Events Center across the street from Twist and Shout. We were told Michelle Obama would be speaking there and maybe other guests, so we went. It was a media and security frenzy. There were T.V. and print journalists galore and lots of dudes in blue suits and sunglasses. We took our seats and listened as Michelle Obama was introduced. The place went nuts. She was articulate and sweet and incredibly skinny. As she spoke, it became clear she was leading up to an introduction to someone else. She then introduced Joe Biden (the crowd had no idea he was going to speak) and they really went nuts. When Biden walked in it was a total rock star moment; the air goes out of the room and all eyes go to this person. He had the glow of someone who had been in the public eye for a very long time.

Here’s where the interesting thing happened. The crowd was literally going ape-shit-standing ovation and all that, when Mrs. Obama realized she had not introduced Jill Biden, the Senator’s wife. Since this was a Women’s economic forum it was quite relevant for her to do so. She began to speak over the crowd just as Caroline Kennedy had the night before. She looked to Biden for a moment, and without losing one second of his cool, he held up his hand to her and mouthed “wait a minute.” He was cuing her on how to work a crowd. When you give as many speeches as this guy has, you don’t waste good applause. She waited a few seconds and continued her introduction, which was largely drowned out by the crowd. Biden immediately took the room by the throat and delivered a fantastic 10 minute speech, where he introduced the crowd to not only his wife, but his sister and daughter as well. He said nice things about Mrs. Obama and made everyone near him look and feel good.

The thing I found so interesting was the process of these total pros from one generation (Biden and Ted Kennedy) handing the torch to a new generation at the same time they are schooling them on how exactly it is done. It is an interesting reflection of our times, the acceleration of culture and the replacing of one generation by another, maybe before the replacing generation has learned all the necessary lessons. My little convention moment.
-Paul Epstein

Friday, August 22, 2008

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom

So here’s how one of the older reviews of this film that I found on IMDB is titled: “A sick disgusting piece of garbage.” Needless to say, this viewer gave it the minimum one star out of ten to register his disapproval. I gave it nine out of ten for being one of the most brutal, shocking and purely unpleasant films I’ve ever seen – but one with a point mind you – and even so I agree with the other reviewer, with one minor caveat, the film’s got an ideology and that makes it so much more effective and powerful than the exploitative trash that people take it to be.
There are two basic opinions about this film and very few that diverge from them. One calls it, as above, worthless trash, the other finds it a bracing and very difficult to watch piece of art about the limits of human cruelty and a denouncement of fascism.
How do you talk about violence in a film without depicting it? How do you convey the dehumanizing power of fascism without making it seem at any single moment glamorous, enviable, or attractive to some? Every anti-war film – except this one, if you choose to view it as such – makes war at some point seem dramatic or exciting. Not so here, and the resulting despair is what makes it more powerful. The people on-screen are debased, made to feel inhuman, and treated brutally – the bulk of the film is a shocking succession of images of mental, sexual and physical torture of a group of young people by a group of fascists supported by a small armed guard and secluded in a remote villa. I don’t view it as exploitation because it’s not simply there to shock or titillate you, to play a game of one-upsmanship wherein the filmmakers try to see what the viewer can take. The increasingly violent and graphic torments do push buttons but not so Pasolini can have a chuckle that you couldn’t handle what he’s dishing out. He’s doing his best to tear through any distancing the viewer may try to put between him/herself and the ideas of the worst of man’s inhumanity toward man – it’s no accident that the film is set in the Fascist period of Italy in the mid-40’s, when the Nazi-occupied Republic of Salò was the capital of Mussolini’s Italian Socialst Republic.
Hearing about brutality in war and witnessing the extremes that it actually entails are two very different things and rather than coating that brutality in some moralistic gauze, like most films about extremes of violence, Pasolini chooses to present the rawest, most hideous examples he can find – often taken from the novel that lends the film the rest of its title, the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom.
Suffice to say that this film is not for everyone. It’s a cathartic experience to watch the relentless parade of cruelty on-screen and if you’re not interested, I understand. If you see it and rate it one star out of ten only because a zero-star option was not available, I understand. If something in you wants to know about these things, wants to see the naked face of horror, here it is, ready to leave an indelible mark on you.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thalia Zedek Band - Liars and Prayers

I've long loved this chick. From the band Come (and Uzi, Live Skulls and Dangerous Bird before that), Thalia Zedek is what Courtney Love always wished she was. Raw, emotive, and kickass in the way of never needing to act the part. Obviously influenced by Patti Smith, this ex-junkie and continued smokeaholic delivers her vocals in a way that's quite rough around the edges, yet soaked in meloncholy and emotional hardship. Pair that with such tender instruments as the viola, piano and trumpet and you've got yourself a sound that can bring a tear to your eye from either sheer beauty of the music or the sheer ugliness of the message.

RIYL: Wovenhand, Patti Smith, Nick Cave, Kim Gordon

Check out Zedek performing "1926" at the ABC Radio studios for the Deep End show. July 2005 Melbourne, Australia.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Struck by the Sounds - August 15th, 2008

Lucinda Williams-Little Honey (release in 4th qtr.)

Based on the overwhelming reputation of her Car Wheels On A Gravel Road album, Lucinda Williams reached a level of respect and reverence reserved for the few. That album felt like the artistic culmination of a lifetime. Thus, it shouldn’t have been surprising when the following four albums felt like a series of near-misses. Essence and World Without Tears were both moving, emotionally raw albums, but neither of them hit with the emotional satisfaction of Car Wheels. Her Live At The Fillmore was pretty good, but the band wasn’t her best, and it felt perfunctory-especially after the release of a couple of live Car Wheels era concerts that just blew it away (Live At Austin City Limits and Car Wheels-Deluxe Edition). Her most recent album, West really felt like a misstep, with her normally refined sense of self-pity overflowing into a sad puddle on the floor. It felt like she might have peaked and be heading toward the sunset. 
Little Honey arrived on my desk in a plain brown wrapper with no song list or liner notes. I thought-“man she is just pumping them out now.” So, now it is my pleasure to tell you what an absolute miracle this album is. It is not a return to form, it is a new level of brilliance for one of the best America has. On this album, Ms. Williams seems to have gotten back in touch with her rock and roll heart. The upbeat numbers are filled with joy, the sad ones are real pathos, not just cry-in-your-beer mumblings. The album kicks off with a rocking tribute to new love. That subject never gets old does it? No matter how many times we (the audience) hear about it, and then see it fall apart, there is still that optimistic place in each of us that roots for someone else’s chance of finding lasting happiness. Each song opens a new chapter to the book of Lucinda’s heart-bluesy, lusty, regretful, loving and most importantly happy. There is a joyful spark in each performance that has simply been missing from her more recent work. Track seven is a duet with Elvis Costello that will please fans of either artist. Much of the album is about the vagaries of fame-something both of these artists have seen from both sides. Ms. Williams seems to have come out the other side with her glow intact.
The real issue is the songwriting. Lucinda has gotten back in touch with the muse that was avoiding her, and she is writing the kind of material that illustrates with every touching couplet that she is a thoughtful writer in full command of the language and her ability to turn an artistic phrase like no other. Like Car Wheels it feels like this album will be a constant source of revelation and sustenance for the lucky listener. 

Wovenhand-Ten Stones (in stores 9-9-08)

At the end of the first song on Wovenhand’s brilliant new album Ten Stones leader David Eugene Edwards sings “Beautiful the axe that flies at me.” This line sums up the mindset of his writing style. In a word he sings about dread. The dread of living a life of sin, the dread of impending judgment, the dread of existing on this world of danger and evil, the dread of the unknown heading at your head with the splitting finality of heaven or hell. Throughout this album, and his entire career for that matter, Edwards has depicted the fundamental schism of human existence with unnerving precision. The difficulty of living a life of beauty while swimming in shit has rarely been so accurately described. Like Nick Cave, Edwards has become extremely adroit at explicating the confusion about humans being either risen apes or fallen angels. Like all philosophers, he never comes up with a completely convincing conclusion. His yearning for salvation is matched by his awareness of his (and mankind’s) flaws and the inevitability of our fall. 

Musically this is Edwards’ most muscular album to date. Gone are the fragile, spacey arrangements, replaced by booming bass, strong drum tracks and a more confident guitar and vocal style. The idea of an Antonio Carlos Jobim cover would have seemed unlikely with the old Edwards, but he tackles “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” with swagger and aplomb, and it is one of the real highlights of an album of many highlights. The main attraction here though is, as ever, Edwards ability to explain the confusion and dread in his heart in a melodic and exciting way.  So many albums produced today are simply lighthearted attempts to grab the brass ring of fame. Wovenhand are attempting something with far greater aspirations. To quote one of his songs it requires a “White Knuckle Grip.”

How F’d up is the music business?

A good question, that many people who have absolutely no clue are trying to answer. If I have to read one more idiotic analysis by some snotty journalist who doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground I’m going to puke.The music industry is a mess, there is no doubt about that, but this is about way more than the apparent brilliance of one Mr. Jobs. It seems as though the only handle anybody can put on what is happening is “technology is changing.” This is most certainly true, technology is indeed changing, and it is turning away from the physical in all forms. However, nobody seems to get that with the change in technology there is also a change in culture. It is not as simple as the delivery system, for there are numerous societal implications as well. The biggest being the complete and total loss of a collective attention span. It seems as though our minds can no longer stay focused on a WHOLE book, an ENTIRE movie or a sixty minute set of songs any longer. The fact that there are fewer and fewer books, movies or albums worth a damn obviously plays into it, but there are still plenty of worthy artistic and intellectual opportunities for the inquisitive mind. 
What interests me here is specifically the music business and how it has taken it’s collective eye off the ball. Ponder for a minute the abundance of natural resources  this industry has been blessed with; a youth-oriented form of entertainment that is, by it’s very nature, equal parts art and marketing, a built in market demand and schedule of release, a product that every other product on earth is desperate to ally itself with and built in fun and sexiness. How could they possibly take such a winner and turn it to a complete loser? Sales of physical product continue to tank, and overall, interest in music has diminished on our cultural horizon. 40 years ago, 30 years ago, even 5 years ago the love and collecting of music was one of the most important things in people’s lives. Now, it is an afterthought. It is an accessory to a commercial, or a TV show, or a product. It isn’t the window into the artist’s soul (and thus the soul of a generation) instead it is merely the window dressing.  So, how could this happen? How could an industry with the Goose that laid the platinum egg let it go? I wish it wasn’t so simple, but it is two things-stupidity and greed, or more precisely the greed that only stupidity could breed. In one of the historically great ideological blunders, the captains of this industry stripped the inherent value of an art form away in a crass attempt to turn it strictly into a money making machine. Profitability has always been the obvious endgame of any business, but in the past, there has also been an unspoken understanding that in addition to the profit motive there was an implied stewardship as well. Perhaps I am being the ultimate Pollyanna by even suggesting this, but isn’t there any of that obligation left? I have come to believe that the music industry is actually out to hasten its own obsolescence. Unable to see further than this quarter’s profit and loss statement the industry rushes toward more and more aesthetically unpleasing methods of delivery and a less and less profitable business model. In the past, certain industries have been plowed under by the wheels of progress, but rarely has an industry so willingly, no-gleefully- participated in its own destruction. Every week, some piece of info comes down the pike about what the music industry is now doing to shoot itself in the foot. It has been breathtaking to watch. Similar to watching a once controlled person slip away to alcoholism and ruin, one can only shake his head in wonder.  
I still believe that music is one of the few great things mankind has created (Pizza and cashmere being two others). The intrinsic value of the arts must transcend cultural whim or the prognosis for our species is grim indeed. Every day I see people in the store who are still yearning for the comfort that only the arts can provide. I know there is still a desire to share a meaningful moment with others through the portal of creativity. As always, it remains interesting to watch.

DVD Under the Radar 15/08/08

One Take Volume 1 -
Alma Records' "One Take" series takes a group of jazz masters and throws them in the studio for a spontaneous session with no pre-planning to see what emerges. This was the first CD in the series - featuring Joey DeFrancesco, Guido Basso, Lorne Lofsky and Vito Rezza - and it's now appearing on DVD. The group runs through six jazz standards plus a tribute to Enrico Caruso. The interplay is great to watch as they discover each others' strengths and work through the tunes sans rehearsal, in only one take.

Sainkho NamtchylakFreedom Now (featuring William Parker and Hamid Drake)
A seven octave range, a shaved head, and a musical palette that includes avant-garde jazz and vocal performance, the Tuvan throat signing of her home country, and drum & bass makes Sainkho Namtchylak a unique and individual performer. This is her first DVD and in it she's ably supported by bassist William Parker and drummer/percussionist Hamid Drake. Beautiful stuff for the adventurous.

CJ7 (starring Stephen Chow) –
Stephen Chow draws so much on cartoons and silly comedy that him directing a children's film seemed inevitable. In the film, Chow definitely plays second fiddle to Jiao Xu, the young woman who plays his son in the film. The character follows a typical Chow arc, starting fairly self-centered and becoming a better person by the end of the film. It's a little of a letdown not to have Chow front and center, but with a performance as good as Jiao Xu's, I'm willing to go for the ride.

Films of Lech Majewski - Glass Lips; Garden of Earthly Delights; The Gospel According to Harry; The Roe's Room -

Four reissues this week from Kino Video of Polish filmmaker Lech Majewski's experimental vision of the world. I haven't seen any of them - and if the number of ratings on IMDB are any indication, hardly anyone has - but their descriptions sound fascinating. Majewski seems to work in the areas of the surreal and the absurd with a gift for startling imagery. If I were you - and of course I'm not, but if I were - I'd start with the English-language The Gospel According to Harry, which stars Viggo Mortenson, and work forward from there. But I'm big on chronology and I like Mortenson. Going strictly on their descriptions, his latest film, Glass Lips, which consists of 33 short films strung together into a single film, sounds pretty fascinating as well: "Banished to an asylum, a traumatized young poet relives his tormented childhood in a cascade of wordless images and tableaux." Explore.

Irina Palm - Marianne Faithfull stars as a woman who takes on work in a sex shop to pay for an operation to save the life of her grandson. A story like this can be done with intelligence and class or it can be a sordid mess, and this definitely qualifies as the former. Faithfull brings a gravity to the performance that's riveting and totally believable. Probably has something to do not just with her own troubles in her life, but also with the theatrical nature of some of the performances of her musical career - Kurt Weill is as good a primer for this type of role as anything I can think of in musical theater.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Porlolo - Meadows

Few albums have been able to contend with the CD I have been playing on a loop over the past six months. It was one of those CDs I took everywhere...finally something has come out that knocked me into a changeover. Porlolo’s second release Meadows is what I listen to day and night. It goes with me to work every morning, on my long bike rides and walks in the park. Meadows is the perfect summertime album. I feel transported through the music to a time when gas prices were low and Americans went on long road trips. Driving West to the sea with fields of golden grass blurring by. My heart softens a little when I hear these beautiful songs about relationships and the love of nature and animals.

To see Porlolo live is always a treat. Singer-songwriter Roberts has the face of a cherub with a seraphim-like presence. Her sweet yet strong voice always gives me the sense I am hearing something true and magnanimous.

She has teamed up with some of Denver’s finest musicians to put together this thoughtful arrangement of tunes. With Julie Davis and Carrie Beeder from Bela Karoli adding the string instrumentation to balance Roberts' glorious trumpet work, we get the feeling that this is not just Indie rock - this is something much more. The lilting electric guitar adds a dark Americana tinge. Notably Fine Audio’s Colin Bricker has added yet another gem to the Denver musical community, adding his influence in the electronic soft touches he is known for.

For days on end the refrain "Animals Should Live Forever” has haunted me with its sadness for the loss of the innocent lives of animals. I find myself lost in reverie… daydreaming in the sunlight.

To learn more about one of my favorite Denver bands please check them
out on myspace:


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Lucky Few - Calexico at Twist & Shout

A highly select crowd of smart musicos were lucky enough to be present at a rare Saturday in-store at Twist & Shout. We usually shy away from Saturday events but when a band as good as Calexico comes knocking, well you just have to say yes. We limited entrance so we could also continue doing business on such a busy day, so about 100 ecstatic fans got to see a wonderful, intimate 50-minute set of songs from their upcoming album Carried To Dust (9/9), some older songs and a few covers (Love’s “Alone Again Or” was a real standout). The sound was impeccable, Joey was playful, the crowd was greatly entertained and the entire band (including mariachi horn players) could not have been nicer to the fans and staff.

Thanks, of course, to the band for being so enthusiastic about the the event and so complimentary of the store. Thanks also to Leslie from Touch & Go, our employees for letting us borrow their amps, and to Shawn from Devotchka for lending his drumming paraphenlia. Oh, and to whomever gave the band a keyboard to use!

Check out them signing our big red, Joey signing his name backwards? Who does that??

Check out their "electro version" of Gnero Canelo

Spork some Indie onto your plate

Lord Dog Bird - Lord Dog Bird (jagjaguar)

Colin McCann is the guitarist from the band Wilderness. During their extended hiatus he recorded his own stuff on a four-track, creating a sound that is sharp, raw and well-reverbed as the songs take their sweet time to unravel. McCann's voice is seemly uncertain, sad and reflective yet quite direct. The album starts off with a repetitive guitar riff, sounding as though it were on the opposite side of a tiny church. When his vocals come in, the repetitive riff continues for the rest of the nearly-5-minute tune, until it all just stops. Be patient, the sound finally stretches out well into the third song. A truly fantastic side project we can appreciate even without any knowledge of McCann's full-time band. And if NPR is hip to it, well then........
RIYL: Black Heart Procession, Band of Horses, Neutral Milk Hotel

Friday, August 8, 2008

Struck By the Sounds

I watched three profoundly moving documentaries this week on three highly disparate individuals, but all three knocked me out and left me with lasting impressions.

Pete Seeger - The Power of Song
An intimate and eye-opening portrayal of a true American hero. Not only was Seeger an integral part of the “folk scare” of the 50’s and 60’s, but he was an extremely important figure in the political and social upheavals of the 40’s 50’s 60’s and beyond. A true lifestyle pioneer, Seeger lived back to nature, and near communally long before it was fashionable to do so, and his lifestyle choices were intertwined with his musicality in such a beautiful way. Unlike many cultural icons - he lived what he sang - it wasn’t and isn’t a pose. The film moves quickly and purposefully, encompassing an awful lot of cultural history and musical highlights. At the end, one has a gigantic lump in the throat over this man of tremendous principle and gigantic talent. A true American hero.

Joe Strummer - The Future is Unwritten
I watched this movie shortly after watching Pete Seeger-The Power Of Song and although Strummer and Seeger had very little in common musically (although Strummer went by “Woody” as a young man) their stories have a very similar effect on the viewer. They both were part of cultural and musical movements that helped define the personalities of an entire generation of listeners. Strummer seemed to have less predetermination about his activities - he just fell in love with rock music and went for it. His group, The Clash, were the seminal politico/punk group with great songs and the power of their convictions pushing them toward the vanguard of an important social movement. While not as articulate as Seeger in his ideology, there is clearly a desire burning in his soul and belly, and it comes out in a series of rock anthems that just bowl you over with their sincerity and sonic power. Strummer’s early work was informed by his refusal to “sell-out” above all else. Once The Clash became the biggest band in the world, his discomfort with that schism is one of the central themes of the film. He struggled with his message being diluted by the music industry as they marched the Clash to the top of the charts, and his relationships with the other band members suffered as a result of his confusion.
Ultimately, one is left with the portrait of a hard-working, sincere man who, by sticking to his ideological guns, was able to create some of the most vital rock music ever. His unexpected death is terribly sad, but one is left with the clear impression that at the end of his life he was at peace with his accomplishments and the fact that he never did sell out - not at all.

Love - Love Story
The story of the ill-fated Arthur Lee and his group Love is a classic of also-ran, almost-made-it, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God tales. One of the most naturally gifted and mysterious of the 60’s legends, Lee created some of the most sublime and ironically least-known masterpieces of the era. The fabulous Forever Changes is now widely recognized as one of the great albums of 60’s avant-rock, and Love’s first three albums in total represent a lost treasure of stylistically unique music. A low-budget affair, the movie relies too much on rambling, drunken discourses by Lee himself, but when it goes to archival footage and interviews with heavyweights like Elektra records founder Jac Holzman or Doors drummer John Densmore it is as compelling a history as I’ve seen. Sadly, Love managed to just miss each opportunity to become the next big thing, either by Lee’s eccentricities or the industry’s inability to market this multi-racial, willfully arty ensemble. Either way, one is left with a depressing view of a brilliant Black man who was ultimately just too weird and ahead of his time for straight White society. The last part of the movie focuses on Lee’s later life where he tried to resurrect Love, was unfairly thrown in jail for 5 years and then seemed like he might finally get his due, but was sadly taken by illness before that could come to fruition. Throughout, guitarist Johnny Echols comes off as insightful, generous and a true gentleman, co-writer Bryan Maclean comes off as criminally under-appreciated and the extra feature of original drummer Snoopy being weird in his treehouse in Washington state is almost hallucinogenic. This is a sad and compelling chapter in rock history, and one you will not soon forget.

DVD Under the Radar 08/08/08

Camp Out -
Fascinating documentary about a camp for gay, Christian teens is maybe a little more about resolving your faith and your sexuality than it is about simple acceptance (which I'd prefer to see), but I guess for a lot of people that's the first hurdle toward really being happy and accepting yourself as who you are. If you don't have a real concept of some of the hurdles that gay teens face, this is a great primer in understanding.

Tokyo Decadence -
Noted Japanese author Ryû Murakami takes the director's chair for this dark exploration of a young Japanese woman searching for some sort of meaning in the seedy underworld of the Tokyo sex trade. It's graphic without the "porno-" prefix, exploring a grim world where characters try to connect, try anything to stimulate themselves, from sexual fantasties to hard drugs. Through it all the lead character, Ai, retains an impassive air about the potentially degrading scenarios she puts herself in. Obviously this isn't for everyone, but for those whose interest lie in explorations of cultural extremes, in gender politics in cinema, and of contemporary Asian cinema (of the over-the-top variety especially), this will be a fascinating one.

Experience Hendrix -
Two live concerts honoring the late, great guitarist are pieced together here to create a lasting tribute. Performers include Hendrix Experience alumni Mitch Mitchell and Billy Cox, Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Living Colour, Robert Randolph, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and many others running through many of the finest moments in Hendrix's catalog. While there have been dozens of Hendrix tributes of varying quality out there since his death, the level of performance here and the guitar heroics on display make this one something special.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Struck By the Sounds - August 4th, 2008


I watched two new videos on my day off yesterday. The first was the new Phish concert DVD Walnut Creek which came out Tuesday. In a word - awesome! Sympathetic camera work and a sparkling 5.1 soundtrack make the watching experience great and the concert itself is representative of one of the great Phish periods. By 1997 Jerry Garcia had been dead for two years and Phish’s ascendance to the top of the heap was cemented. Many Deadheads looking for a continuation of the trip were jumping on board and Phish responded with an ambitious touring schedule, a treasure trove of new material, a consistently high level of musicianship and tight, focused performances. This would change in the next couple of years as aimlessness and rampant drug problems started to rule the roost. But for the time being things seemed great. The first set is highlighted by the new(ish) material like a beautiful “Water In The Sky,” a pounding “Vultures” and closing with a stadium worthy “Taste.” The real meat of the show is the sublime second set that kicks off with a nice “Down With Disease” which effortlessly melts into a hypnotic jam. It becomes clear that the band is making a great effort to actually listen to each other - the essence of successful jamming. When they tumble into “Mike’s Song” it is clearly as much a revelation to them as us. They follow with an equally revelatory “Simple,” “I Am Hydrogen” and finally “Weekapaug Groove.” Throughout the jam the viewer is struck by the little things; Mike’s rolled up pantlegs, Page jumping from piano to clavinet back to piano in the space of a bar or two, Fish’s masterful and subtle drumming and Trey’s ability to lead the band, provide the visual focus and rip off killer lead after lead with astonishing ease. He has to be recognized as one of the greats. The fleeting shots of the audience don’t bring the expected revulsion but actually seem quaint and nostalgic. It was always the audience that I found most objectionable at latter-day Phish and Dead shows - the obnoxious and egotistical idea that the show was somehow about them. Here it is easy to take and made me yearn for a summer tour. The show ends with another big bang. First they play what I consider one of their best cover songs, Los Lobos’ poignant “When The Circus Comes To Town,” and then a wonderfully delivered “Harry Hood” which stands as one of their most exciting concert staples. As the band winds into the snaking, ecstatic conclusion of the song, the power of the music is almost overwhelming. It made me want to be there again.

Interesting Customers

One of the parts of the job of running a record store that never gets old is the exposure to interesting, nice, upsetting and just plain weird people. I love talking to people who don’t fit the mold. Or more to the point, I hate talking to people who do fit the mold - you never learn anything of value. Anyway, I recently had a good one I’ll share with you. I have a customer who is a former cop, current covert government operative and full time eccentric. This guy has unsettling stories about doing the government’s bidding throughout the world since the 60’s. I have consistently thought he was either full of it or really dangerous. You know that movie about Chuck Barris that George Clooney made called Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind? That’s what this guy is like.
Anyway, a couple of days ago he came into the store and handed me two Xeroxed articles about himself. Well, they were fascinating, and they added a huge dimension of interest to this individual. One of them was about this guy buying the only known model of a Mandolin/Lyre that Orville Gibson (of Gibson Guitars) personally built. It is a one-of-a-kind item that nobody else in the world has, and here was this article with a picture of Fred holding it. He had told me this story before, and I had kind of been like “yeah yeah whatever you say dude.” But here it was - proof. He told me he sold it to Bill Gates for a quarter of a million dollars - hmmmm… The second article was about Fred tracking down some infamous test driver who was believed dead and had all kinds of subterfuge surrounding his death/disappearance. So Fred tracks this guy down using police investigation techniques and finds him living in poverty with an amazing story about industrial cover-ups and hush money that was stolen and on and on, and I’m sitting there thinking “who the fuck is this guy?” As far as I know, he is a customer who is obsessed with Janis Joplin and has bought a bunch of posters and records from my store. But under the surface there is clearly more going on. And that is the entirety of my point. The Janis Joplin Guy or the White Stripes gal, or the Beatles nut are much more than the limited caricature of a customer that I see on a daily basis. Many of them hold some deep, interesting personal cards that the rest of us probably will never see. Like I said, it’s one of the best parts of the job.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Struck By the Sounds

Rolling Stones - Shine A Light
I’m not sure why, but I was not over-enthusiastic to see this movie. I love some of Scorsese’s work (although I find some of it unbearable - what is it with gangsters hurting each other that is so compelling?), and I continue to love the Stones in concert even when they put out decades of crappy albums (to be fair I did like A Bigger Bang), but for some reason I just didn’t care about seeing the Stones run through their paces again. Now that it is out on DVD I somewhat reluctantly sat down to watch. The first sequence is somewhat irrelevant with manufactured angst between Jagger and Scorsese about the finer points of staging and filming the shows (at New York’s intimate and classy Beacon Theatre) and a ridiculous scene where Bill Clinton and his entourage make the four English lads stand up straight and act like proper gentlemen. Thankfully, this brief scene gives way to an explosive and visually stunning performance by band and director. For the most part, Scorsese stays out of the way and stays focused on the main course; Jagger and Richard. Each time I see the Stones I enter thinking about Jagger “What can the old goat possibly do to keep this interesting?” and I leave thinking “how does the old goat keep it so interesting?” The answer is; he is indefatigable in his desire to put on a good show. His physicality, for a man of his, or any age is breathtaking. There are a couple of points where he goes into a kind of frenzied primer of modern dance steps that are absolutely unbelievable. Not that he is Baryshnikov, but his energy, his perseverance, his singular melding of a visual component to his already impressive abilities as a songwriter and singer is truly a one-of-a-kind experience. In Rock and Roll Mick is THE frontmnan. There is just no other singer who can generate the excitement and illustrate his songs with his body the way Jagger can. Keith on the other hand, shows no sign of rehearsal or practice. Instead he shows signs of a Robert Johnson-esque pact with the Devil. He simply is the embodiment of a rock star. Someone who has given over mind and body to the riff. His every move and gesture demonstrates some kind of divine (or savant) connection to the music he plays. He misses plenty of notes and stops playing at times to just revel in the groove, but none of this has the effect of hurting the performance. Keith is all about the show and exhaling music as freely as he inhales nicotine.
The set list is just different enough to keep even tour hounds happy, with an extra dose of Some Girls era material and such rarities as “Just My Imagination,” “Lovin’ Cup,” “You Got The Silver” and “Connection” (the latter two delivered by Keith in some of the best footage of the movie). There are three guest spots with Jack White about to burst out of his skin with excitement, Christine Aguilera about to burst out of her clothes with sexuality, and Buddy Guy proving he is one of the few performers with the over-the-top energy of Jagger and the rock grok of Richard. It is an electrifying performance of Muddy Waters’ “Champagne and Reefer” and it is worth the price of admission alone. Throughout, the film is peppered with enticing bits of footage from throughout the Stones’ long and public history of misbehavior that add a touch of whimsy to the affair. As it ended with (what else?) “Satisfaction” it was hard to not wipe away a tear of recognition at this mightiest of all Rock bands. What an accomplishment - to play for 50 years and still be compelling to your audience. How many performers can make that claim?

Classical buyers -
With the death of Tower Records almost two years ago, we at Twist and Shout made a conscious effort to fill the gap that would be left when the only serious player in Classical music bowed out. I figured that the buyers would need a place to go, and that this was a very important gap in the world of music which needed to be taken seriously by someone. With that, we embarked on filling the holes (many) and trying to build a section that while not completely comprehensive (didn’t have a couple of million lying around) was interesting and representative of most of the important sub-genres. It was quite slow at first - trying to build awareness and customer support, but I was somewhat amazed when I recently looked at the figures and realized that Classical was now our 6th largest category on CD. As we have steadily built this clientele, I have made a somewhat unscientific study of the clientele that frequents the Classical section. The results have been surprising.

I fully expected the Classical section to be frequented by patrons over the age of 50 who were going to be hard to satisfy. This has turned out to not be the case at all. In fact, what I have discovered is that at our store, the typical Classical buyer is simply not typical at all. They are marked by their taste more than their age or appearance. It seems to me that most of the folks frequenting that section are SERIOUS about music. I have seen a number of Heavy Metal customers, Deadheads and Punks perusing the stacks of Krzysztof Penderecki, Henryk Gorecki and J.S. Bach. In addition there is a large contingent of professional musicians (Classically trained and otherwise) who look for inspiration in this section. Of course, there are plenty of the expected traditional Classical customers who generally don’t have much use for other types of music and want things to reflect that particular view (no loud music playing etc.). I actually have a great deal of respect for this type of no-bullshit attitude. When I go shopping, I often know what I am looking for, and wish that the retail world understood this and just got out of my way. The process of grocery shopping is so often fraught with misdirection and compromise that I sometimes wonder why I even bother. Possibly the most interesting facet of these customers is the sense of relief apparent when they do get what they want. To the Classical buyer, getting a particular piece of music is not a whim, it is a Grail quest that must be fulfilled in order for the world to be in harmony. I love this. Music is important. I often think it is THE most important thing in the world. It is the universal language that transcends the confines of words and in the language of emotions. UH did I get off track here? It doesn’t matter - it’s the blogosphere!

The Last Shadow Puppets - The Age Of Understatement

Looking for a substantive, fun album that reminds you of the kind of music made in the 60’s without being a slave to it? English band The Last Shadow Puppets have delivered a deliriously fulfilling album of pop, art rock and hook filled hits that is sure to fit the bill. Apparently they are all the rage in the U.K. but remain somewhat unknown here. A shame, because their album is so full of clever song craft and unexpected audio treats that it should be big everywhere. The songs rarely stray from standard structure but are consistently dropping brilliant flourishes of strings here, washes of psych guitars there, and (fab)ulous vocal flourishes throughout. I was immediately enthralled with the album and listened to it two or three times in a row and like it more with each turn. This has been a good year for old sounding new music. If you were excited by The Black Keys or Vampire Weekend this will also float your boat.

Almost imperceptible, Something inexpressible

Listening to The Police on vinyl could be listed as one of my favorite pastimes. This band influenced a large part of my musical preferences. Growing up in the 80’s I was swayed by their Reggae-infused New Wave style. Synchronicity is one of my all-time favorite albums. I continue to feel elated whenever I hear the title track.

Needless to say I was thrilled to see them live for the first time at my favorite venue! July 21st at Red Rocks, the energetic pop sounds of The Police exploded out on an adoring crowd. Beneath the mammoth Hi-Definition screen versions of themselves the band belted out all the tunes Police fans expect to hear.

From “Roxanne” off Outlandos d'Amour to “King of Pain” off Synchronicity we were led through classic hits of the entire discography. I enjoyed watching the computer font from Ghost in the Machine take over the visual display during “Demolition Man”. I was greatly amused by the way the audience freaked out when they launched into “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” from Zenyatta Mondatta.

The band was technically precise without ever sounding like worker drones running through the motions. They added a spirit and touch to each song. Sting (Lord Sumner) strutted around stage in his black mesh shirt. He would stand in regal pose, thumping his bass with a stage presence you would expect from a man who had just completed five hours of Pilates – he was completely invigorated by the music he was playing. Stewart Copeland kept the polyrhythmic heartbeat with his impressive percussion spread. Beneath the giant gong he was surrounded by a plethora of cymbals, bells and chimes which he breathed life into during “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. Andy Summers shredded his way through his back beat sounds. He seemed rather stoic and distant through most of the show, but his South Park guitar strap added a touch of humor.

The distance between them seemed palpable; I found it amusing during the encore that Sting sang the lyrics to “So Lonely” interjecting:

Now no one's knocked upon my door
For a thousand years or more
All made up and nowhere to go
Welcome to The Andy Summer Show (this one man show)

Elvis Costello opened the show with an impressive amount of energy. He seemed so much more upbeat than the past few times I have seen him in concert. A very playful version of “Watching the Detectives” fit into the theme of the evening of these musicians influenced by the Reggae sounds - after all the Police have an album named Regatta De Blanc, which means "White Reggae." Sting came out and joined Elvis for a rendition of “Alison” which was quite lovely.

Overall I was just struck with how great they sounded and of course how fit Sting looks. A woman to my right kept shouting at me “See how clear his eyes are?!?!?!?!” She was clearly taken by the fact that he may be the yoga poster child of his generation. I guess all that Tantra work pays off.

- Natasha

DVD Under the Radar 08/01/08

Classic British Thrillers (The Phantom Light / Red Ensign / The Upturned Glass) – One DVD containing three mystery films, notable primarily as two examples (The Phantom Light and Red Ensign) of the early, contract work of one of Britain’s greatest directors, Michael Powell. His ideas are only in nascent form here, but if you’re like me in following the careers of directors, this provides two more minor parts of the total picture.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater – Probably the most famous architectural accomplishment in the United States, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater is explored in this hour-long documentary and second disc of interactive material.

The Good Fight: the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War – The title pretty much sums it up, but this well-made documentary illuminates a fascinating chapter of American History, in which 2800 volunteers join Spain in an international fight against Franco’s forces, ultimately losing to the superior strength of the fascist regime and then returning home to suspicion and mistrust. Interviews with surviving participants archival footage and a powerful narration combine to provide a great portrait.

Victor Sjöström – I’m eager to check out two DVDs of silent works by Victor Sjöström, the man widely credited with giving Ingmar Bergman his start in film (and also the man who starred in Bergman’s great Wild Strawberries many years later). One features two films: A Man There Was (1917) and Ingeborg Holm (1913) while the other has The Outlaw and His Wife (1918) and a documentary made about Sjöström. I’ve only seen Sjöström’s classic The Wind (1927), but that was enough of a masterpiece that I’ve got to check out more.

Tai Chi Master – This is the DVD I’ve waited all week for. Suffice to say that if you don’t have an affinity for some of the great kung-fu films of the 1990’s, this is a great place to start. Jet Li is at his peak, Michelle Yeoh is terrific, and the humor and action intertwine beautifully. Along with the two Legend of Fong Sai Yuk films (also Li/Yoeh partnerships), this is one of my very favorite kung-fu films of the period.