Friday, March 20, 2009

The Digital Eye

Peter Tosh - The Ultimate Peter Tosh Experience
Wow, what an unexpected mind-blower. It was a thrill to see such an ambitious Peter Tosh project released at this late date - but that it is so beautifully packaged and so loaded with cool stuff you have never seen or heard made for one really great day off. I spent most of my day watching and listening to all three discs and reading the intelligently written booklet. Tosh was singular among Reggae stars. He had similar gifts of songwriting, singing and playing as his former partner Bob Marley, but was also armed with a far more militant and mystical set of beliefs. Tosh courted controversy and danger everywhere he went. Whether it was his unwavering commitment to equal rights for all Blacks and a return to Africa, or his very public advocacy and use of herb, or his calling on the carpet politicians, record producers and other scoundrels and thieves from the stages of the world, Tosh was an intense man living on the razor’s edge at all times.

Lavishly boxed, the contents include the full-length documentary called Stepping Razor-Red X. This movie, which has floated around in lesser quality for a number of years, is the definitive look at Peter Tosh, the man and the musician. Riveting concert footage is interspersed with interviews with Tosh and those who knew him. The movie’s life-affirming musical sequences are always tinged with darkness, for the shocking reality of Tosh’s murder at the hands of acquaintances has left a trail of sadness and conspiracy theory that lasts until today. Red X is compelling on every level, and will leave you running to your collection to put on Legalize It immediately. The second DVD is a collection of concert clips of Tosh at various stages in his career. If you never saw Peter Tosh it will be a revelation what an immense and charismatic man he was. Rail thin and way over 6 feet, he cut an imposing figure on stage. His shows were laced with challenge-filled raps to the audience (which could last for many minutes when he got on a roll). When the music plays though, he is totally engaged and engaging. You will see him menacingly wave a saber over his head, play his machine-gun shaped guitar, dance like a wild man, and calmly and brilliantly discuss his philosophy in interview segments with Wailers scholar Roger Steffens.

The final disc is a CD containing cross-section of rare and classic recordings by Tosh. There were a few things I didn’t have including some cool dub mixes, but it won’t take the place of owning the entire catalog of this important and beguiling artist. Watching these videos will remind you what an important artist he was.

Phish - The Clifford Ball
In the annals of music film history, one can point to very few examples of an actual turning point in history being captured at the moment it happens. Woodstock was big, Monterey of course. Gimme Shelter caught the moment the rarified air of the 1960’s went out of the balloon and the ideals of an entire generation lay there on the ground like so much crumpled rubber. Most often however, the process is more similar to a Ken Burns documentary. Directors find appropriate stills and footage from around the time to reconstruct what it must have been like. In the hands of a master this can be thrilling, but often the viewer finds himself thinking “I wish they had footage of the actual event.”

Phish’s two concerts in Plattsburgh, New York in 1996 which they called The Clifford Ball capture the exact moment when a home-grown Vermont jam band with a rabid cult following hit the big time. Put on Disc 1 and watch as the band walks on stage to a crowd twice as large as they had ever played before and see the thrilled awe on their faces as they and the audience recognize at the same moment “We made the big time!” It is palpable on screen as they launch into the first of six amazing sets of music that the band has crossed over from obscurity to fame and are the masters of their environment. Each set has its own special charms, and some of them - like the second set the second day - have some extraordinary jamming but it is that first set the first day when the band plays with such exuberance and awareness of the moment that I love best. The set-ending “David Bowie” is just as good as it gets. The band is on top of the world and the wonder of the moment is played across their faces throughout. Disc 7 contains a bunch of documentary material as well as the fabled “parking lot jam” with the band playing on a flat-bed truck that circles the campground at 4 in the morning. Like all the music played that weekend it is a cut above the norm and there is a unique ambience on stage and in the audience that makes this one unforgettable keepsake of one of THE great weekends of Phish.

Les Claypool at the Fillmore 14 March, 2009

At this point, I've lost count of how many times I've seen Les Claypool live. Between Primus, Sausage, Oysterhead and his various solo incarnations it's been at least 20 times over the years. Even with all of those various ensembles and configurations his current touring lineup might just be the most intriguing yet. Joined by frequent cohorts Mike Dillon on percussion and Paulo Baldi on drums, the quartet was rounded out by cellist Sam Bass. That's right, a cellist. While Claypool's distinctive bass gave the ensemble a familiar grounding, the unusual lineup had more of an old-time theatrical flair.

And theatrics was definitely the name of the game on this tour. Dubbed The Oddity Faire, the tour featured a circus theme with sideshow performers entertaining in between sets of the multiple support acts. First on the bill were Secret Chiefs 3, who I was almost as excited to see as the headliners. Led by ex-Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance, the Chiefs dress in black robes and play middle eastern flavored rock with elements of thrash, electronica and various other influences. They are an extremely talented group and I certainly hope they come back for a headlining show soon as 30 minutes was not nearly enough. Poet-rapper Saul Williams followed in his glammed-out Niggy Tardust guise. The Yard Dogs Road Show provided the peak of the theatrics with their burlesque-cabaret performance.

Finally, the headliners took the stage, Les leading his mates through a spirited rendition of the Primus tune "Fisticuffs." The setlist touched on material from all of his solo releases included the brand new Of Fungi and Foe. There was a surprise guest midway through the set in the form of former Frog Brigade guitarist Eanor, who joined the band for an amazing cover of King Crimson's "Thela Hun Ginjeet," easily the highlight of the evening. Midway through the set was the now-customary drums-percussion showcase, with Les joining in on his unique one-stringed instrument dubbed the Whamola. The night was topped off with an encore of Black Sabbath's "Electric Funeral," the headbanging classic given a chamber-rock makeover that delighted the packed house. Once again, Les Claypool delivered an evening of superb musicianship and entertainment.

- Adam Reshotko

Friday, March 13, 2009

Raphael Saadiq at the Bluebird, 10th March, 2009

Tuesday night several Twist & Shout folks were treated to a terrific show by Raphael Saadiq. He and his band (four instrumentalists, two backing singers) took over the Bluebird Theater for a full-on soul revue of his hits (both solo and with Tony Toni Tone) and a generous portion of his great new album, The Way I See It. As the band hit the stage, the crowd was obviously loving the moment, excited and geared up for the show. Two backing singers – one male, one female – entered in matching suits and Saadiq took the stage in a fine pastel green suit and picked up a guitar for the first number. I was a little bummed that his guitar didn’t feature much more in the night, but given that he traded multi-tasking for a terrific vocal performance, I can’t really complain. Besides, it’s not like he didn’t have another guitar player to take care of things – the four-piece band was flawless, performing really tight versions of the music and concentrating on recreating the ambience of the studio versions without being tied down to making exact copies on stage. Band stayed tight in the back while Raphael and his backing singers carried the front line with charisma, with energy and with great voices across the line. A beautiful night of music overall and I know I saw a bunch of our regulars there – hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, though I can’t imagine the person who wouldn’t have enjoyed this.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Are You Listening to Lately (Part 12)?

King Sunny AdeJuju Music
At first I didn't love this one the way I do now - subtler dynamics and a hook value somewhat lower than Ade and Martin Meissonier's subsequent outings for Island meant that it took longer to sink in. But after much acclimatization to Sunny Ade's catalog, it's easier to hear how this fits in as a particularly brilliant sampler of what he was doing around the time on his own before Meissonier put his hands in and added some Western touches to attune it more to the Euro-American sensibilities they hoped to hook into. Not too much though - this one's a good halfway point between the uncut Juju that brought Ade to fame and fortune in his native Nigeria and throughout Western Africa and the more pointedly Western stuff that failed to break him on a Marley-like scale Stateside and in Europe. All songs are good to great - more consistent than Synchro System if not quite as dynamic and about equal to the overall quality of much more Euro-African synthesis of the great and underrated Aura (though this one's way more Afro- than Euro-). "Ja Funmi" is one of the highest points I've heard in his catalog, kicking the album off right. And it never lets up afterward, even if the dense synthesizer forest of "Sunny Ti De Ariya" and the English lyrics of "365 Is My Number/The Message" are the only times afterward that it really makes major marks as standout tunes again. But it's high quality across the board, even if it sometimes - here's that subtlety again - doesn't exactly stand up and announce the differences in tracks. There isn't a part of this I don't enjoy at any time of day or night, especially when it's played loud (as it should be).

Miles Davis The Musings of Miles
A really interesting and a unique, if not wholly exciting, item in the Miles catalog for a few reasons. First - it's from just before his triumphant return to public form at the Newport Festival in 1955 and shows him working at the peak of his 1950's style. Second - it's on the cusp of the formation of his First Quintet and has all the stylistic marks of that era of his development. Third - great song selection and pacing, starting with mid-tempo and ballad numbers then slowly speeding up over the course of the record and closing again with a nice ballad. Fourth, and most importantly - it's a quartet, just Miles and rhythm. There is nowhere else in his entire catalog where you get to hear him so nakedly and clearly without another horn drawing your interest away (especially since he had such a knack for picking really great players to work alongside him). But back to song selection a moment, where I'd like to point out his very interesting "A Night in Tunisia," in which Miles craftily dodges the part where every saxophone player has to take on "the famous alto break" if they're gonna tackle the song, and Miles just slyly makes it his own, giving a nod to Charlie Parker and then doing his own thing with it. As much as I enjoy the rest of the record, a good if not outstanding one in the catalog, this is the highlight. And it's that not-outstanding-ness of the rest of the record that keeps it hovering somewhere better than good, but not quite great. It's all well-done, it's all enjoyable, but only on "Tunisia" does it blindside you with surprises, even if I dig his Monk-answer "I Didn't" and other parts quite a bit.

FunkadelicLet’s Take It to the Stage
George Clinton and Co. are rarely perfect at album length. Their best ones always leave you a spot or two where you can run to the kitchen and get the snacks; where you'll skip to the next track; where you won't bother ripping some songs to your Ipod; and this one is no exception. That said, I enjoy it all even if not all equally. I count four great ones and six lesser ones, including the lengthy Bernie Worrell organ and synth workout with George's dirty mouth embedded deep down in the intro. But the overall mood is great; off the cuff nasty, funky, funny, soulful, rocking - everything you'd ask of these guys (and gals). And it's perhaps the best representation of their late-Westbound period; the point where they'd given up on the extended druggy drones of the early albums but had not yet achieved the slicker sound of their Warner Bros. years. It starts out great, hits another winner with the utterly un-P.C. "No Head No Backstage Pass," scores a classic to close the A with "Get Off Your Ass And Jam" and then opens the B with the almost Gothic-metal "Baby I Owe You Something Good." These four great ones are surrounded by fun, by funk, and by as solid an outing as they'd make under the name Funkadelic (and yes, I'm including Maggot Brain) or would make until One Nation Under A Groove. Pretty great, but not perfect - and isn't that more or less what you'd expect from George?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Independent spirit looms large.

Two weeks ago I went to Nashville to attend the yearly convention of CIMS (The Coalition of Independent Music Stores). This year we were joined by AIMS (The Alliance of Independent Media Stores), thus a large percentage of the great record stores left in the country were represented. One would have thought that this would have been a gloom and doom filled week in bummersville, but it was completely the opposite. In fact it was an amazingly uplifting blast. Here was a group of retailers who are not only facing the same economic downturn that everyone else is suffering, but are also in a business that is suffering a period of severe turmoil. What I found was a group of super-smart, brave, tenacious music fanatics who are determined to remain of value to their respective communities. And community was indeed the common denominator in almost every aspect of this gathering. During the day we sat together and openly discussed our stores, how to best conduct business, the future of music and most importantly we shared the specific and subtle ways we have each become part of the fabric of our home towns.

At Twist and Shout we have been very lucky to live in a great music community. We have always had an embarrassment of riches in the concert department including the greatest outdoor venue in the country: Red Rocks. We have a strong local scene that is right now at its strongest ever, and we have sort of taken for granted all the musicians, journalists, politicians, and just plain cool folks who regularly shop in our store. What I learned was that every independent store has the same story. Each one of them has quietly become part of the town’s heartbeat. By offering an egalitarian social outpost that caters to all who love music, the record store has become one of the few genuine “town square” experiences left in America. Unlike work or parties or sporting events, at the record store, everyone is just themselves. I have often posited that people come to the record store to validate their own identity. I know for me, in my formative years of record collecting, the experience of finding a record that I thought I would never find was a life-affirming thrill. “I can’t believe they have this! I was looking for this! How did they know?” It was great to think that there might be someone else like me out there. Each in his or her own way, the gathered record store owners have tried to contain that emotional reality in a brick and mortar shell for all to share. To sit in a room with a bunch of people who have this experience in common and hear how they have each uniquely fit into their own communities was fascinating and inspirational.

As if to make solid this very ethereal and smoke-like concept, we discussed the second annual Record Store Day. I think it is fair to say that last year everybody in the music business was blown away by the fun and excitement that surrounded this celebration of the idea and reality of the record store. There were musical performances, and sales, and more special CDs and records than you could shake a stick at. Each store tries to make this day a memorable event for employees and customers alike, and this year is shaping up to be huge. There are very limited releases from some HUGE artists that I think will excite people and motivate them to get in on that day.

Also on everyone’s mind was the imminent launch of the independent community’s digital solution. In the next couple of weeks we will have our own download store with the great music you find in our store everyday, as well as some exciting exclusive stuff you won’t find at other download sites. I don’t think a few years ago I would have believed it if you had told me that vinyl and downloads would be competing for my attention in day to day business, but there you go. Vinyl is experiencing a jaw-dropping resurgence, and downloads are taking their place as one of the ways serious music lovers consume music. People want it all, and we are trying to give it to ‘em.

In addition to all this heavy business stuff, we found lots of time to party and see music. Among the highlights was a series of shows at an amazing store called Grimey’s. Not only do they have a really cool record store in a house, but, in the basement of that house was a venue where they have concerts all the time. We saw great sets by a bunch of acts, but my favorites were a rousing set of screaming gospel-rhythm and blues from Mike Farris, a hypnotic singer/stand-up bass player named Amy Lavere, and the house being brought down by the legendary Del McCoury. If you like Bluegrass, you love Del.

Much of the best stuff comes after the shows though, when a bunch of record store owners get together in hotel rooms, get crazy and really talk about stuff. Unfortunately, I am bound by the limits of my own damaged memory and the 5th amendment to not repeat those stories... …yet.