Friday, March 26, 2010

Furthur-March 5th and 6th 2010 Broomfield, Colorado

Was I crazy, or were these shows as good as I thought they were? Well, we have the CDs for sale in the store now, and I can safely say that I was not crazy. This iteration of the post-Jerry Dead has finally achieved the thing that has been missing for so long; confidence. That’s the difference between Furthur and The Other Ones and the three different versions of the Dead we have seen over the last 15 years. With new guitarist John Kadlecik (from Dark Star Orchestra) the band has what it has needed; a guitar player who knows how it is supposed to be played and plays it the way it is supposed to be played. I think the world of Jimmy Herring and Warren Haynes, but they did not play The Grateful Dead’s music with the confidence needed to free the other players up to do what they are supposed to do - which is play freely. With all the other variations the guitar players were hesitant, forcing Bob and Phil to compensate, thus making them drop the beat and the whole thing goes to hell. One of the things about the Grateful Dead that is not properly understood, is that their ability to improvise was based on a 100% stone-cold mastery of the material. Musicians cannot go out and blow freely and stay in the right key and hit the changes unless they have the music DOWN. Now with John Kadlecik nailing the Jerry parts, the music flows freely like it used to. During the first night, while the band was chugging through the rare “Mason’s Children” I remember thinking, wow, Phil is playing free-I haven’t heard him play this free way in years. He wasn’t having to lead the band, and so he was free to play like Phil Lesh. Without fail, every single person I spoke to after these shows was thrilled with the band, the venue and the overall experience. The song selection at the Broomfield shows was totally memorable, and it is worth reliving the moment when they shifted from “Dark Star” to Pink Floyd’s “Time” over and over. Get em while they’re hot.
Paul Epstein

The T.A.M.I. Show

I first saw this film on TV, late night, sometime in the early 70’s. I remember thinking, "wow that was really a fun concert." I couldn’t believe the number of young musicians appearing (in 1964) who by decades end would be the biggest names in popular music. And here they were, playing in what looked like a small auditorium in front of a crowd of screaming teens. There was something uncharacteristically relaxed about the whole affair. The artists played and then announced each other, and there seemed to be a very comfortable vibe onstage. Sometime in the late 70’s or early 80’s I got my first bootleg VHS tape of the show. It was horrible quality, with un-synched sound, and it seemed to be missing stuff I remembered - most notably the Beach Boys segment. Over the next 30 or so years I got many different copies of T.A.M.I. and became more and more obsessed with this wonderful film. My interest in it shifted throughout the years. Initially I was most excited by the set by a young Rolling Stones - full of piss and vinegar. Keith was such a complete bad ass playing stinging guitar parts while Mick and Brian Jones flirted with the crowd. Mick is clearly already a performing genius. Somewhere in there I became aware of James Brown’s incendiary performance. It is arguably the greatest 10 minutes of popular music ever recorded. It has everything - or I should say James has everything. His vocal power is unmatched, and he is singing in his own language, replete with screams, cries, unidentifiable words and, when he wants, sweet soul crooning. But the real revelation is his physical presence. After watching this video of James Brown at his peak, you can only marvel at how Michael Jackson learned EVERYTHING from James Brown. He is the most physical, powerful, energetic and magnetic performer ever. You can’t even take in all his movements, he is so blinding. And confidence - there has never been a performer who looked more like he belonged on stage than James Brown. Throughout the years, I would bring music fans to my house, and when I had discerned that they might appreciate it, I would put on James from T.A.M.I. and watch as their jaw hit the floor. Now, it is finally out legitimately, in way better quality than ever before, and, once again, it is a complete revelation.

The Stones and James Brown remain as incredible as ever, but now my focus has shifted to some of the other performers. Chuck Berry opens the show and is magic to watch at this young age. His moves are classic and he is absolutely the textbook of rock and roll riffs. This is obvious as throughout the show we see other groups like The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean completely rip him off. The Motown contingent is also in full effect with an incredibly handsome Marvin Gaye knocking it out of the park and the Supremes showing off why Diana Ross would become one of the biggest stars in the world during the next decade. Surprisingly, Leslie Gore is something of an eye-opener too. She looks fab with her flip haircut but really knocked me out with her strong, confident vocals. It made me reevaluate my appreciation of her. The other huge revelation of this set is the previously missing set by The Beach Boys. It is very fun and enjoyable until Brian Wilson steps to the mike to deliver an absolutely devastating version of “Surfer Girl.” His falsetto is heartbreaking, and the knowledge of what would happen to the poor guy later in life makes this an extremely poignant performance.

The final revelation of this wonderful movie is the audience. I sat there and literally teared up as I watched all those teenage girls screaming at the top of their lungs. SHIT, this used to be really fun and life affirming. It is a million miles away from what music has become. If you are a baby boomer watching this audience, you will remember the thrill of what drew you to rock music in the first place. If you are younger, it will show you why baby boomers mistakenly thought they created the universe. There is such excitement and vitality in the performances and the audience’s reaction it seems like it had to be made up. It couldn’t be real. It is - it really is.
Paul Epstein

The White Stripes - Under Great White Northern Lights

A Twist employee and I were talking about The White Stripes as we were listening to the CD version of this chronicle of the band’s tour of Canada to promote the Icky Thump album. The employee (who doesn’t like most new music) was asking “what is it about The White Stripes? They aren’t doing anything that hasn’t been done before, yet…” My response was simply “sincerity.” There is something entirely real about Jack White. Even the affectations of dress and style do nothing to detract from the feeling that there is something so true to the heart of music in what he does. If you have doubted this up until now, I suggest you get Under Great White Northern Lights and see exactly what you have been missing. Directed by Emmett Malloy who has previously worked with Jack Johnson, Under Great White Northern Lights stands on its own as a fascinating and beautiful film, but it completely blows your mind as a rock documentary. There are several subtexts running through the film, all of which work together seamlessly to create a completely satisfying musical experience. The tour itself was unique in that it covered every province and territory in the Canada. This finds them playing in tiny towns and backwaters in remote areas. In addition they tried to perform impromptu gigs in the afternoons at weird locations. These scenes which show them in bowling alleys, lodges, bars, Indian community centers and town squares is some of the most compelling footage in the movie, and it gives the viewer a clue as to how fearless and talented Jack White really is. The scene of him playing a Blind Willie McTell song to a group of Inuit tribal elders sends chills down your spine. Jack’s partner in music, Meg White and her relationship to Jack are also delved into in a quiet and emotional way. It is now common knowledge that they are former husband and wife and it is very clear that lots of real heavy emotional baggage exists between the two. In fact the closing scene of Jack and Meg seated on a piano bench together - Jack crooning “White Moon” while Meg silently weeps by his side provides both insight and additional mystery to their relationship. Meg for her part is possibly the most alluring woman in music. Miniscule, sexy and pathologically quiet, she is the solid rhythmic rock to Jack’s frenetic aural quicksilver. She plays the absolute most basic meat and potatoes thud style of drumming, but it absolutely perfect behind Jack’s bluesy, hard rock guitar bravado. The fact that these two people create such a mightier roar than bands with 5 times as many members remains one of the secrets to The White Stripes’ appeal.
Ultimately the film turns on the riveting footage of the band onstage. There is no question in my mind that, as my friend Lu said “Jack White - he is the anointed one of this generation isn’t he?” Yes Lu, he sure is.
Paul Epstein

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

Queen of Denmark is the album John Grant was meant to create, after over a decade in local Denver band the Czars, John had toured the Western world with high acclaim. But like so many Rock ‘n’ Roll stories the band's story was riddled with conflict and pain. The band notoriously went down in flames and for a few years he continued to perform under the Czars moniker with a rotating cast, until a little lucky star shone in his direction through the Austin band Midlake. This amazing and talented band befriended him in his time of need, and with all the pain and wisdom he had garnered over the years John recorded this truly autobiographical musical journey.

John's voice is one of those deep beautiful timbres that reminds me of a Nick Cave, but his writing style has always reminded me of Joni Mitchell, and he has an appreciation for vivid imagery. He gives a nod to the great seventies band ABBA in the odyssey "Barbarella", and there is also a tinge of influence from Bread, but regardless of whom he is channeling, it brings you to a sunny time where music was a sweetness that could carry you away, as those amber retro organ sounds melt the years of cynicism away. This is one of the most impressive debut albums I have heard in a long time. This is such a well-crafted pop devotional that each song is strong and takes you somewhere deep, and at no point does it become laborious.
The album was produced and co-written with Midlake bassist Paul Alexander, for their shared label Bella Union, which has always had an ear for bands with rich textures and a bit of transcendent pop feel. The elaborate textures of Grant's melodies are given the love and care they deserve, and all his heartbreak is here on the album for you to share, as is the hauntingly beautiful world he has seen through his own eyes.

The album starts off wonderfully, with the intense song "TC and the Honeybear". It is so epic I always find myself singing along with his rich sultry voice and I feel my heart drop a little at the end of the song. That is the kind of emotive power that makes me want to listen to it over and over. "Marz" might actually be my favorite song, filled with innocence hope and delight, because as you close your eyes you will be transported to an old fashion soda shop heaven filled with ice-cream sodas and goodies galore.

Like so many Twist and Shout customers I love film and pop culture references, and for those of you who share my love the track "Sigourney Weaver" is right up your alley, some of the lines were so great it made me laugh out loud. It shows all of John’s insecurities as well as his strengths, plus it has some rocking distorted electric guitar. This whole album ranges across a spectrum of genres, from a rag time roll to some ELP-like synth, it absorbs you. There are some strong lyrics that just make me grin because clearly he doesn’t give a “fuck” about being censored. At times the album is like Scissor Sisters without all the glam and a really pissed off Elton John that would make Stevie Wonder proud. As a bit of a gay pop icon in the late 90's Grant dealt with his own struggles going against the mainstream tide. As I was listening to the track "Jesus Hates Faggots", I couldn't help but think of the intolerance Mississippi teen Constance faced while trying to attend prom with her girlfriend. John wrote "Jesus Hates Faggots" in a direct rebuttal to the absurdity of using religion to justify bigotry. Thank you John for being so brave with your words, I hope it gives us a little something to think about.

The Czars were so original and diverse, and one of my all time favorite Denver bands, and all the former members of the Czars continue to enrich our local music scene. But it was time for John to move on and make an album that was really all him. At no point during Queen of Denmark does the band take away from Grant's style, this is like a diamond that has been polished: it was beautiful before, but now it is stunning. We will have this album at Twist on Tuesday April 6th, so please come down and hear this little Colorado Music gem.


Monday, March 22, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #5: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Kicking Against the Pricks

We spend so much of our time buying, selling and listening to the latest releases that we sometimes forget to plumb the depths. Every one of us here got in to record store thing, at some level, because we have a deep interest and curiosity about all kinds of music. Most of us are collectors to some degree or another, and one of the abiding joys of collecting is to pull out the rare, beautiful, little known or downright obscure album and turn on a friend. Sometimes it's a classic that needs to be shined up and put back on the top shelf. With that in mind we are going to revive a column we used to include in our newsletters called, appropriately enough, I'd Love To Turn You On. This will give our super collectors and musical academicians to wax poetic about their favorite albums (or movie or book for that matter).

Nick Cave is a great songwriter.  Actually, Nick Cave is an amazing songwriter, one of the best in all of rock.  But as many great songs as Cave has written, I think he's an even better interpreter.  His cover versions always manage to shed new light on and bring new life to classic songs from a wide variety of genres and sources that also illuminate Cave's deep musical knowledge and appreciation.  That's why I consider Kicking Against the Pricks his greatest album.  Considering how many dubious all-covers albums have cluttered our shelves over the years, Cave and the Seeds' achievement here is all the more remarkable.

Kicking Against the Pricks was originally a 12-track album released in 1986.  The version I own and became obsessed with is a mid-90s CD reissue that adds two bonus tracks, "Black Betty" and "Running Scared," dropped right in the middle.  The version you're going to buy was remastered last year and released as a two disc set.  Disc 1 restores the original running order, Disc 2 is a DVD that includes a 5.1 mix, the bonus tracks, and some videos.

The first thing that must be discussed is the fantastic performance by the Bad Seeds.  Always more than a mere backing band, the Seeds are true collaborators and here they are in stellar form.  Barry Adamson and Thomas Wylder provide a solid rhythm section, Blixa Bargeld (from industrial pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten) throws in some stinging guitar licks and Bad Seeds MVP Mick Harvey is all over the place.

Of course, it's the songs themselves that make the album.  Opener "Muddy Water" may just be the best and it's mysterious in more ways than one.  The title, lyrics and mood suggest the brooding of deep southern blues.  But it was actually written and originally recorded by pioneering 70s bluegrass group The Seldom Scene.  Harvey's organ solo is breathtaking, eclipsed only by Cave's haunting vocal.  When he croons "Hard to say just what I'm losin/Ain't never felt so all alone" it’s like a punch to the gut.

Several of the selections are songs with numerous cover versions throughout the years, as if Cave were assembling an alternate universe songbook of rock/folk/blues standards.  "Long Black Veil" is no less effective for its fairly traditional reading, but "Hey Joe" is something else entirely.  It starts off tight and keeps wrenching up the tension level like a tightening noose.  Their take on master songsmith Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" is more Glen Campbell than Isaac Hayes yet still manages to convey the heartbreak beneath the song's pop surface.  The most radical reinvention just might be the Velvet Underground's "All Tomorrow's Parties" which comes across like a demented sea shanty.

Kicking Against the Pricks made Cave's fascination with all forms of song, particularly American folk and blues, clear for all to see.  It would serve as a map for his future musical directions but on its own stands as an amazing performance by an amazing performer.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dr. Dog – Shame Shame (available Tuesday, April 6th!)

When I think of Dr. Dog I always think back to 2006, when they put out the first 1000 copies of Takers and Leavers. The covers of the CD were custom made; each one was unique, with found images and chaotic random art (some were even by the band members themselves). Since then I have been a big fan of this psychedelic indie rock band from Philly. Known for their wacky, creative style, with their early tracks made in the basement with an eight-track player, these guys built quite a following. Over the past decade they have managed to retain that spark for individuality and the closeness of a barn jam filled with acidheads. Shame Shame is the sixth album by these DYI artists and the first to be on the Anti- Label. Though it gets more polish from savvy producers and a bit more shine, it still has this close intimate feel of an album that has pure artistic control. Dr. Dog was discovered by Jim James of My Morning Jacket, so it is no surprise to find him as a guest vocalist. They spent time touring with Wilco, and you can hear the influence that must have rubbed off along the road. Slide guitar meets crashing piano combined with knob-tweaking brilliance, it is as if they have found a way to merge the sound of 90’ British indie with something very modern and brand new. This feels like a very personal album influenced by their friends, family and neighborhood. If you are a fan of that Americana-meets-psychedelic sound then I think you will like this album as much as I did. - Natasha

The Knife - Tomorrow, In a Year

The latest release from the Swedish sibling electropop duo The Knife is a commissioned opera about the life and work of Charles Darwin and sees the artists teaming up with Mt. Sims and Planningtorock for an emotional, yet mostly quiet experimentation into the sound of evolution and variation. It has to be said that this album is not what a usual fan of The Knife might come to expect for their next release. This opera is more akin to the lo-fi, quiet sounds of Fever Ray, but much more subdued - it takes longer to interpret all of the sounds and get started. In fact, it takes over 4 minutes of static nature based sounds like leaves rustling for the actual vocals to begin. Since the newest release is an opera, it will take reading the libretto and a couple of times listening all the way through for the true quality of the album to sink in. Tomorrow, In a Year grows in sound layers, track by track, and by the end becomes something so much more complicated and meaningful than its natural beginnings. To further communicate Darwin's life the lyrics jump from technical observations in his work to his personal journals and other works. Most of the vocals are provided by Kristina Wahlin, and Karin Andersson of the Knife and Fever Ray doesn't make an appearance until track 8. The bonus CD will be more rewarding for fans of their past work. However it is also in a slower, quieter style. The last track on the bonus CD offers an alternative vocal version of "Annie's Box" sung by Karin. This song adds a beautiful cello piece that helps relate Darwin's pain at losing his 10 year-daughter, Annie, and Karin's vocal draws out some extra emotions as well. Altogether, this is a tough album to digest for any fan, but very rewarding for anyone willing to take the time and consider the immense ambition, style and amazing artistry put into it. -Chris B

Monday, March 8, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #4: Laura Nyro – Eli & The 13th Confession

We spend so much of our time buying, selling and listening to the latest releases that we sometimes forget to plumb the depths. Every one of us here got in to record store thing, at some level, because we have a deep interest and curiosity about all kinds of music. Most of us are collectors to some degree or another, and one of the abiding joys of collecting is to pull out the rare, beautiful, little known or downright obscure album and turn on a friend. Sometimes it's a classic that needs to be shined up and put back on the top shelf. With that in mind we are going to revive a column we used to include in our newsletters called, appropriately enough, I'd Love To Turn You On. This will give our super collectors and musical academicians to wax poetic about their favorite albums (or movie or book for that matter).

Laura Nyro was the New York high priestess of song for a few precious years in the late '60s and early '70s. Before Carole King ventured out solo and when Joni Mitchell was still a folk singer, Laura was blazing a trail, writing wild, original songs and performing with an energetic passion rarely seen in the pop world. She was a riveting performer, a fearless singer and a songwriter of genius. But, as is the case with many cult artists, the diamonds that Laura made are known to only a few die-hards. So go on and give this disc a spin – it’s one of the great albums of the 60s, by a singular talent. 

On Eli we hear a young woman singing her own songs. But that is where any familiarity ends. Laura's songs are strange. She has a blatant disregard for tempo and conventional structure, and loves tripping us up with frequent key and time changes. The band that accompanies her on this disc is obviously full of seasoned session guys, because they follow her brilliantly through the labyrinthine compositions. Laura likes to challenge and never holds back; the words are sung with a religious abandon that I've only ever heard in Van Morrison or Nina Simone. 

However it's not all crazy, and there is much here to enjoy on a casual level. If you've ever turned on a radio in the past 25 years, you'll recognize Laura's original versions of the classics “Stone Soul Picnic,” “Sweet Blindness,” and “Eli's Coming,” which were copied almost note for note (with the edges rounded off) by The 5th Dimension and Three Dog Night. There are pop songs and heartbreaking ballads, too: “Emmie” in particular is one of Laura's most gorgeous pieces, and the influence on Todd Rundgren and Rickie Lee Jones is palpable.

Although Laura had contemporaries like Janis Ian and Dory Previn, she was essentially out there on her own, doing her thing unlike anyone before or since. Laura fused Brill Building pop, show tunes, and gospel with her own raw soul - all combined for something truly unique. She's weird, geeky, awkward, deep and maybe a little damaged. Way ahead of the curve in 1968, Laura was touching on dark, poetic themes that conjured ghosts like an ancient blues record. Laura is not one of those boring, wet confessional songwriters, so don't be afraid.

Of course, Laura isn't for everyone. Not everyone is going to feel the way I do about Laura. Some will find her shrill, others might find her difficult, annoying. But, if you are one of the lucky ones you'll fall for her, and nothing else musically will quite matter the way she does.

Elvis Costello, Elton John, Bob Dylan and Alice Cooper are all fans. Now it's your turn.

--Ben Sumner

Friday, March 5, 2010

Check this picture out.

Dave Alvin, formerly of the Blasters posted this on his facebook page. It just kills me. Here you have one of the great American roots bands, The Blasters, as young men, running in to one of the great eccentric legends of modern music on the streets of Southern California. I love that Zappa is carrying some high-end shopping bags and looks every bit the sophisticated Cary Grant to The Blasters dead-end kids. I love both these artists, but with completely different sides of my brain. The Blasters represent the last gasp of American Rock and Roll that had some genuine connection to the grimy black and white streets of the mid-20th century. They were kids out of Downey, California who idolized the past generations of blues, country and r&b singers and forged their own version of real Americana. The band’s authentic arrangements were bookended by brothers Phil and Dave Alvin, who like all great brother acts could barely stand the sight of each other. Older brother Phil was a charismatic frontman gifted with one of the great rock voices. Dave is a lightning guitar ace who is capable of writing the great American short-story in 2 minutes 30. His songs like “American Music,” “One Red Rose,” “Fools Paradise” or “Just Another Sunday” are just perfect little rock gems - as good as anything that came out in the 70’s or 80’s. 
Zappa on the other hand, is a figure of such towering achievement, and so unlike any other popular artist that it is hard to talk about him in the context of rock and roll. He is an artist completely of his time, but detached from the constraints of popular fashion to such a degree that he was always leading his own parade. He was fearless in the face of style, political correctness and his fans expectations. This would lead one to believe that he was a real condescending jerk. Interestingly, almost every musician who dealt with him, on album or socially, has said quite the opposite. He had the reputation of being a generous and friendly person who did not feel he was above his peers in any way. He was friendly with many bands, and showed a keen understanding of all types of music. Dave Alvin remembers him as being friendly, and the picture shows him as a sweet, middle-aged eccentric - just the way you’d hope to remember him. I have nothing remarkable to say about this picture - just that it is two of my favorite musicians that have nothing to do with each other, together and looking, well - like humans.

Wanna check em out? Unfortunately some of the Blasters best stuff is out of print - but their first, primal recordings (American Music) are still available and very worth getting. Zappa is like exploring the universe. Where to start? How about a very obvious and a very un-obvious place? His early album Hot Rats remains one of the most musically satisfying rock albums ever. The fact that it was made in 1969 and still sounds futuristic still speaks volumes. Speaking of volumes of futuristic music, give Boulez Conducts Zappa a try if you want to hear Zappa’s music in a completely different context (classical), but still hear all the trademark wit and compositional abilities. No matter what he tackled, Frank Zappa accomplished it with a completely original, musical take that was uniquely his own.
Paul Epstein

Grateful Dead - Road Trips Vol. 3 No. 2 Austin 11/15/71

I’ve often considered 1971 to be one of the real transition years of the Grateful Dead. They were leaving the frenetic psychedelic explorations of the late 60’s behind, embracing a more song-based approach to their music with the albums American Beauty and Workingman’s Dead and making their in-concert performances more about crisp run-throughs of newer songs and less about long improvisations. Also, the recent loss of 2nd drummer Micky Hart and the addition of technically superior piano player Keith Godchaux made the band as tight as they had ever been, if not as spacey or experimental. Thus this concert from the end of 1971 is something of an anomaly as it incorporates lots of tightly played new songs and some longer improv barn-burners as well. Songs like show opener “Truckin,” a lean “Playin’ In The Band,” a beautifully sung “Brokedown Palace” and a hot-shit “Cumberland Blues” show the band smartly running through their paces and putting extra effort on the vocal front. The real highlights come at the ends of both sets when they break out unexpected longer jams. The first set reaches it’s climax with a “Dark Star” that goes into deep space, comes out improbably into “El Paso” and then descends back into the maelstrom before exploding into “Casey Jones.” The second set seems to be ending in a pretty standard fashion with the crowd pleasing “Not Fadeaway” when the band slips into about 7 minutes of extreme high-energy imrov touching on lots of familiar themes in an exhilarating fashion. They then go into one of the great versions of “Goin’ Down The Road Felling Bad” before finishing up with a reprise of “Not Fadeaway” and “Johnny B. Goode.” That sequence is played with such vim and vigor it will leave you breathless.

We currently have the version of this release that comes with an extra bonus disc from the night before when they played in Fort Worth, Texas and it contains some great playing, in particular a long and exploratory “Other One” with “Me and My Uncle” galloping out of the middle of the jam.
Paul Epstein