Friday, November 27, 2009

The Cost Of Convenience

Yesterday being a holiday, and my house being filled with people (14 people, representing 4 generations) I was forced to ponder some heavy stuff. It always happens that way, when all the trappings of “normal” and “traditional” surround me my mind goes to other places. This time, as I was spending the entire day in food preparation I started to think about what change our society has undergone in terms of food gathering and consumption. Somewhere in the mid-20th century we became a society that stopped making food and started having it prepared for us. We become more and more used to the concept of “Fast Food” and as a result more than one generation of Americans has had their health destroyed. Diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and the calamitous results of factory farming on our environment have changed the world for the worse. Of course, when one starts examining this problem, it becomes clear that the race for convenience has affected all parts of our life. Television, while offering the most convenient form of information gathering and entertainment by bringing it right to us, has had a ruinous effect on our ability to focus on anything important whatsoever. It seems like a never-ending parade of pernicious influence, over-hyped bad news (mainly the morbid killing and sexual abuse of children), and inaccurate weather predictions designed to keep us inflamed and at perpetual orange alert - whatever the hell that is. Now, of course the Internet has made TV seem like child’s play. With no regulations or editorial oversight, it truly is the Wild West of misinformation, pornography and advertising. This is truly a golden age for an ideological vacuum.

Obviously, my mind had to turn to music and how the convenience factor has affected it. The 500-pound gorilla in the room was the five-ounce Ipod staring at me from my dresser. I purchased it a few months ago because I started to really feel bad about the little toxic pellets I was planting in the earth every time I threw out another set of batteries from my Discman. I loved my portable CD player for exercising and traveling, but those batteries were making me feel guilty. So I broke down and bought the Ipod, loaded up all my mix CDs that I use for exercising and went running. As promised, the Ipod is an incredible storage device that organizes or un-organizes your collection with minimal fuss and maximal speed. It didn’t skip, and best of all the battery could be recharged very easily and the charge lasts for a good long time. So where’s the big butt you say? It was there from the first second I opened the package. Steve Jobs is an evil genius. He designed the thing to be completely useless without the interface of the internet. It reinvents the hapless consumer’s way of thinking completely, by subverting the need for all physical manifestations of the art itself. There is the little silver box and that is all. It is the fast food of music. It is the ultimate of convenience, and the ability to do it is so simple a child can master it in seconds, and the tools are all free. Wow, I’m blown away by the clarity of Jobs’ vision of how to rethink everything. Is it comparable to other forms of music? Most of the people I deal with here at Twist and Shout actually care about music as art. The individual parts that make it up are important to them, specifically the integrity of the artistic vision and the quality of the sound. Artistically, the cover art becomes unimportant and the playing order is also irrelevant. Most disturbing to me, the sound SUCKS. I’m sorry, I’ve heard this that and the other guy tell me this that and the other thing, but I have to trust my own senses on this one. I have spent the better portion of my life listening to and thinking about music and I know the difference between good and bad sound. The IPOD produces a shrill, compressed, annoying chirp whether you play it through the ubiquitous white headphones or dock it to your stereo, and under no circumstances does it compare to the quality of sound one achieves through a well-produced CD or certainly an LP. These are major changes and compromises for the consumer to make, and yet millions have made the leap pretty quickly. The aforementioned news media is constantly writing the obituary of the music industry, and yet 80 percent of music sold is still sold the old-fashioned way. It is the public perception that has been altered. People are being sold a bill of goods and, lemmings that we are, are buying right in to it. The very real fact is that with each leap of convenience we collectively take there is often a demonstrable diminution of objective quality. Fast food is less healthy than home cooking, no matter what the executives from McDonalds say.

My younger relatives and employees assure me this is classic “old-fart” behavior; railing against the newfangled in the face of modern innovation, but I would like to return to my initial point, and that is that in each step we take towards becoming a culture of convenience, we lose something. There are always movements to recognize the loss, and regain some of the value - think of the slow food movement, story-telling societies, or the interest in knitting. Initially the practitioners of the old ways are considered “ologists” or “ophiles,” and as time continues to move forward they become crackpots and weirdos - the guy who still wears a straw hat and suspenders. I guess this is inevitable, but I know for myself, popular culture is the reverse barometer of those things that are actually of value, and those that will give me comfort and meaning in my daily existence. I, for one am not willing to trade convenience for the finer things in life. Now please, another piece of that homemade pecan pie.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Candy Beats 2

Gothic Theatre
Triad Dragons & Floorbangers

While massive raves and underground parties always have their appeal, I've always dug the smaller, concert-esque electronic shows too and Candy Beats 2 proved to be one of the better ones this year.

All the openers did their thing without a hitch and sounded great. The crowd started to gather around and start bouncing when John Debo hit the stage. It was hard not to bob your head and get lost in his great electro-house set. He dropped some good bass, and was great at getting the crowd fired up for the next set.

I have to say, Rank1 exceeded my expectations greatly! I was expecting something more along the lines of progressive trance from these Netherlands superstars, but was delighted with an amazing, hard hitting electro-house set that made everyone in the place bounce and move! Their set was bass heavy in the appropriate places, and also touched on their personal style by being classy and thoughtful in their breakdowns and build ups. As to be expected with most Djs, the live set is almost always different then their recorded pieces, giving the artist a sense of artistic depth. If this is the case with Rank1, then their artistic depth is much deeper than a lot electro-music artists. I look forward to having them back.

Filo & Peri never disappoint! The crowd was screaming before these guys were even on stage, because they knew what they were in for. Their energy and attitude were so positive and excellent as always and they blew the house up. Their set was such hard hitting electro house, that it bordered on being hard dance, and reminded me of Anne Savage's sets, but with more pop and funk influence. The go-go girls at this point were actually enjoying their jobs and did a great job getting the crowd hyped up. Filo & Peri were awesome, as to be expected, these guys make great headliners.

Despite their success with massives and nightclubs, it's great to see that Triad Dragons has not lost the ability to throw great small shows for people who want to hear the music, and not deal with crazy lines or terrible security. The lighting, the sound and the stage design were all amazing for such a show as well! This show was absolutely fun, and if you dig this type of music and weren't there, you missed out. Can't wait for CB3!

Chris Berstler.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Beatles in Mono

To be totally honest, I have not spent that much time with the newly remastered Beatles albums in MONO, until recently. When they first came in I listened to them all once through and filed them before they got damaged in any way (ah, the life of a collector). Also, I have been so enthralled with the stereo versions that I haven’t been able to get them out of my player. But now that we have another batch of the Mono box for sale I decided to really listen to them carefully. It has been an ear-opening experience. The early albums sound the way I like to remember - bright, loud little pop punches in the eye. It’s just like they are coming out of the one speaker in your car on your way to school in 1964. They really get revelatory as the years pass. Revolver and Rubber Soul are tapestries of guitar sounds - Rubber Soul lush with acoustic instruments and sculpted three part harmonies, Revolver abuzz with wiry electric guitar sounds. When we reach Sgt. Pepper, the point that The Beatles really started reaching for the stars, the Mono version is startling. The album is like a sonic tower, with the vocals teetering at the top-right in your face, and then all those baroque flourishes and layers of sound and effects are glued ornamentally to the sides like some crazy, cosmic X-mas tree. It is a completely different feel than listening to the stereo version. There are also differences in the mix itself. For instance, between “Within You Without You” and “When I’m Sixty-Four” there is a bit of Lennon audio horseplay that is either not on the stereo mix, or is buried in there so deeply I never noticed it before. Again, at the end of “Good Morning Good Morning” where the chicken miraculously becomes a guitar, there is a completely different mix that effectively neuters that little chicken. And that, ultimately is the point, these are tiny details that would be laughable to the average music fan, but to the diehard Beatles fan, this is the stuff of heaven - minutia of the smallest order. It gives one the ability to dig deep into the catalog that has inspired our love of music and come up with something new and unheard. What more could you ask for?
Paul Epstein

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

GWAR November 11th, 2009 - Gothic Theatre

GWAR has been kicking ass, saving earth, and spewing gallons of extra terrestrial bodily fluids on metal heads nightly for over 25 years now! Their 25th anniversary tour stopped by Denver's Gothic Theatre on the 11th of November to a crowd eager to have alien juices stain their clothes and to see Oderus Urungus literally rock out with his cock out.

The two opening acts were the Red Chord and Job for a Cowboy. The Red Chord started the night out pretty decently with great cookie monster vocals (Guy Kozowyk), a good accompanying bass and tons of drums. However, the crowd really started to act up when Job for a Cowboy started their set. Their sound was more refined, heavier, and the guitar (Ravi Bhadriraju) and vocals (Jonny Davy) were clear, fast and had a sense of mystery, without losing their great metal edge. They were a great choice to get the crowd bouncing around and to get the moshers warmed up for GWAR.

While the openers did their thing, the crowd was able to buy a $20 program, and use that as a backstage pass to meet GWAR. This was one part of the band's 25th anniversary program called “Meat and Beat,” which also included a $1 raffle for Oderus' mask.

GWAR kicked so much ass! They played a mix of old and new, but most of their set was from their newest studio album, Lust in Space. While I'm sure many people wanted to hear older stuff, it didn't matter because it rocked just as hard. By the last quarter of their performance President Obama was nice enough to come out on stage and personally thank GWAR for repeatedly saving the earth from other sexual alien threats. He was shortly thereafter decapitated by a gigantic alien robot and after splattering the crowd with gobs of blood and frantically running around, casually walked off stage. The robot was dismembered in an epic battle that ended with Oderus raping an alien baby with a sword and spraying the crowd with its bile. The Gothic was covered in plastic, and filled wall to wall with fans dressed in white when GWAR took stage; but when GWAR left the Gothic was covered in alien blood, bile and gore, and the fans were red, green, brown and had a lot of new bruises, but all were smiling or laughing.

Once you see them live, it's immediately clear why GWAR has been such a big name in metal for over 25 years, and I hope they get 25 more! Happy 25th GWAR!!!

-Chris Berstler

Friday, November 13, 2009

Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live

Take a moment to ponder Tom Waits' career. From his beginnings as a cult star performing an almost burlesque interpretation of modern beat poetry, he has slowly and ineffably moved to a consistently more artful, personal and modern sound, all the while refining (with the help of his writing partner, Wife, Kathleen Brennan) his songwriting away from tales of a drunken carny-like existence on the edges of hipster society to the thoughtful insights of a dedicated and caring family man and artist. His music is groundbreaking on so many levels. He is one of the few artists I can think of whose work not only defies time and categorization, but continues to define the forward movement of modern sound. He is alone in his previous accomplishments and equally alone in his ability to invent the future. I have not met an artist, musician or generally cool person who doesn’t like Tom Waits. At the same time, I have met very few non-music nuts who even know who he is. He has not penetrated modern consciousness except as a catalyst or seed for others to grow from, offering up a model for the artistic ideal. Because of this, new releases by Waits are greeted with an increasing fervor by those in the know. One can always be assured an unexpected and gratifying experience.

His latest is sure to be no exception. The musical soundscape is stunning throughout this document of Waits’ latest tour which focused almost exclusively on his last four or five releases. Shifting from sly jazzy shuffles to industrial skrapes and explosions and back again at the drop of a hat, the sonic ground beneath Waits’ feet never gathers moss. Much of the sound is seemingly new. How in this wide wide world of copycats and sampling does someone come up with something that sounds like it has never been done before? Partially by using found instruments and an array of electronic vocal treatments, but also by shrugging off the conventional strictures of all popular music and just creating. Lots of artists “just create” freely in what has been called The Avant Garde, unfortunately most of it comes out sounding like cacophonous shit instead of the poetry of Tom Waits.

Vocally, Waits has taken what might have been thought of as a liability-his gargling with barbed-wire and rat poison rasp of a voice- and turned it into the most interesting part of the show. He inhabits several distinctive personae during the course of a performance, alternately barking like some deranged street corner preacher, to roaring like an electronic beast from a Orwellian nightmare, to the pained croon of some injured beast in the distance. Each is also matched by a physical manifestation. I saw Waits early in his career when his act basically consisted of him sitting at the piano and winning the audience over with the strength of his imagery. Somewhere along the line, he developed into an unbelievably physical performer, presenting an onstage demeanor that falls between circus barker and Tourette’s victim. A Tom Waits concert is unlike any other experience, and it is one of the few generally interesting and exciting shows left to see.

As a bonus this album comes with a second disc called “Tom Tales” that will be instantly recognizable and welcomed by anyone who has seen Waits perform. Between songs he tends to launch into dissertations and rambling speeches about the things that occupy his mind. Often little known facts from the back pages of obscure referentiania, these observations are always entertaining, and sometimes quite enlightening. It is another facet of the man, the artist, the enigma: Tom Waits. -- Paul Epstein

Jerry Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins- Let It Rock

With the possible exception of his work with David Grisman, this first iteration of The Jerry Garcia Band was totally unique because it is the only time he had a musical foil who matched his own peerless skill; That person was Nicky Hopkins. Garcia, like all stars, tended to play with people less accomplished than himself. This is not by design, but rather the natural reality that few were as good as him. In Nicky Hopkins he found another world-class player with whom to share the burden of soloing. Hopkins proved to be a short-lived (less than a year in the band) but potent dueling partner for Garcia. The shows Jerry did with Nicky Hopkins don’t sound like any other in his career due to the slow, baroque deliberateness of Hopkins’ playing. On each song Garcia generously opens the door widely for Hopkins to solo. Like Garcia’s own playing, Hopkins shows a wealth of influences and stylistic ability that at times is hilariously anglophile in comparison with Jerry’s more Americana leanings. The result is a concert where the musician’s sheer enjoyment of each other’s playing is clearly audible. For his part, Garcia is in fine voice, singing sweet and high on songs like “It’s Too Late,” a gorgeous “I’ll Take A Melody” and an extended “Ain’t No Use.” The highlight is the 19 minute version of The Rolling Stones' “Let’s Spend The Night Together” that takes a bunch of detours before landing and giving way to Hopkins' signature song “Edward The Mad Shirt Grinder” which he originally recorded as a member of Quicksilver Messenger Service. As Garcia plays a slide guitar part that is totally unlike his usual style, one can hear not only why this pairing was so interesting, but why it was doomed as well. There just wasn’t enough room for two stars of such definitive yet divergent styles of playing. -- Paul Epstein

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Doors - Live In New York

Through their reissue company “Bright Midnight” The Doors have been pretty aggressive about releasing concert recordings. Many of them have come from the 1970 tour, which was recorded in its entirety for the album that would eventually be released as Absolutely Live. In the last few years they have released three or four of the shows from this tour in their seperately, and what it has revealed about this most misunderstood of bands is that they were both unpredictable, and capable of reaching the highest heights in concert. Each show on the tour is very different from the others and the greatness of the show was usually determined by Jim Morrison’s general level of sobriety. His drunkenness did not guarantee either a great or a terrible show, it just guaranteed that the focus of the show would be Jim’s state of mind. Like some Rock and Roll Rorschach , the Doors reflected the times and the seething angst of their audience on a nightly basis. Sometimes it was brilliant, sometimes drunken foolery, but it was always interesting. On this 6 CD release the four shows the Doors played at The Felt Forum in NYC are presented in their entirety. Each night feels very different as the band runs through various covers- “Little Red Rooster,” ‘Money,” “Crawling King Snake,” “Back Door Man” and even “Gloria” and mix it with their artiest material-“The End,” When The Music’s Over,” Celebaration Of The Lizard,” “Ship Of Fools” etc. and present the audience with something memorable every night. If you are already a Doors fan this will be a most welcome batch of new experiences, and if you are not, you may find yourself understanding why Rock concerts used to be considered scary, revolutionary experiences.
Paul Epstein

Molina and Johnson - Molina and Johnson

Two indie superstars (Magnolia Electric Co. and Songs:Ohia) join forces to prove the adage that the sum is greater than the individual parts. Both of these gentlemen have proven themselves to be superb songwriters, singers and makers of memorable albums. Most recently, Magnolia Electric Company’s Josephine has turned a lot of heads and ears towards Jason Molina’s skewed and specific view of American music. Molina & Johnson is a mixture of both of these artists’ strengths, presenting a slightly weirder setting for Molina’s touching songs and beautiful voice, and lightening up Johnson’s avant tendencies and more eccentric singing style. Musically things remain pretty spare and stripped down allowing plenty of room to reflect on the lyrical content and heartfelt performances. It is clear that these guys have a great deal of respect for each other’s work, precisely because they give each other so much sonic room, and embellish each other’s songs with such care and precision. There is no musical show-offery here, just two guys sharing their best and letting the tape roll. The result is a wonderful album of folky, artsy compositions that is sure to please fans of either of these talented men.

Paul Epstein

Nirvana - Bleach

History has been weird to Nirvana. At the time there seemed to be universal consensus that this was one of the great rock bands, but since, and maybe because of Kurt Cobain’s senseless, violent death there has been a lot of rewriting and denying history. Hopefully, the release of this special 20th Anniversary edition of Bleach (is it possible?) will settle the argument. Bleach shows Nirvana in the formative, explosive, pre-superstardom years, when they were clawing their way to the top with such other local contemporaries as Mudhoney and Tad. Cobain was not yet writing with the melodic sophistication he would find on Nevermind, and Jack Endino’s sludgy production creates a very different effect than Butch Vig would get with his crystalline rock perfection but the raw substance of Cobain’s greatness is right there to be heard. Songs like “Blew,” Negative Creep,” “Love Buzz” and the brilliant “About A Girl” show what a powerful songwriter Cobain was, and would become. The greatest strength of the band at this early stage was their rock and roll power. They could punish the audience with their three man attack like nobody’s business, and if you want proof, listen to the twelve song live show that is included in this edition of the album. Obviously playing to a local, partisan crowd the band just rockets out of the gates delivering one slab of hard rock after another and leaving the audience and the modern listener screaming for more. Nirvana was capable of an almost nuclear fury in concert and this show offers ample evidence of that fact. The fat booklet included with this release does not waste any time with wordy explanations of the times or the band, it just has a bunch of photos that show a group of kids - not grown-up men, just kids, living the rock dream. It is touching. Hopefully this excellent package will trigger a reassessment of Nirvana and they will once again be understood as the defining group of their era.

Paul Epstein