Friday, September 24, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #18: The Smashing Pumpkins - Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

In October of 1995 I had just turned fourteen and the Smashing Pumpkins were releasing their third studio album called Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. While I didn't know it at the time, this album was going to become the soundtrack to my teenage life and help shape the way I viewed the world.

“Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness is a loose concept album, with the songs intended to hang together conceptually as a symbol of the cycle of life and death. (Front man) Billy Corgan has said that the album is based on "the human condition of mortal sorrow"” –

The ambition behind Mellon Collie was so vast that nearly a third of the original work didn't even make it to the final release. Billy Corgan described the album as “The Wall for Generation X,” at the time of development. While the album lacked the consistency and linearity of The Wall, it made up for it in clever conveyance of raw emotion. The entire album is a highly contrasted, almost manic at times, ride through Corgan's attempt to write for people 14 to 24 years old. Corgan stated he was hoping "to sum up all the things I felt as a youth but was never able to voice articulately” and "I'm waving goodbye to me in the rear view mirror, tying a knot around my youth and putting it under the bed."
This album followed two consistent, alt-rock releases from the Pumpkins and a lot of drama that nearly split up the band. Luckily, this recording process incorporated two different joined studios in which the band was able to pull together, with all members eventually contributing, not only lyrically and compositionally but also vocally, in “Farewell and Goodnight” where every member sings in turn. The album was also a departure from their usual alt-rock sound in part because it was so vast. The album incorporated classical piano, synthesizers, MIDI samples, drum loops, a live orchestra, and even salt shakers and scissors in “Cupid de Locke.” All of the guitars were also tuned down a half-step to give the album a lower feeling throughout. The album was so well received that it ended up getting seven Grammy nominations that year as well.

Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness was the pinnacle soundtrack to my entire teenage existence. It was always blaring in my room, on my headphones or in my car. Everyone has their favorite album that they can recite by heart, in entirety, and this album is mine. The sheer intensity the album conveyed through Corgan's lyrics and compositions is an emotional roller coaster ride displayed with fury at times and with calm, poetic beauty at others. The ability Corgan had to communicate raw emotion - be it joy, unrequited love, helplessness or sheer rage - connected with me at a time when all of those scary and new emotions and situations were manifesting themselves in my own life. This album, more than any other, helped me identify my darkest and brightest times by giving me a catalyst for expression when I needed it most. It's a stand-alone album, which for me has stood the test of time. It's the one album that I can and have gone back to for fifteen years now and can always pull something new from or feel good listening to.

I find it hard to explain my love for my favorite album with out writing a book, and I am only allotted a page here, so I recommend you check it out yourself!
By Chris Berstler

JJ Grey at Twist and Shout

JJ Grey performed live at Twist & Shout on September 17th to a crowd of 130 loving fans.  The acoustic set was mostly songs from his new album Georgia Warhorse.  JJ shared great stories and funny anecdotes with us all.  During his meet and greet he stepped out from behind the counter to let fans have a more intimate experience.  Always a southern gentlemen, JJ is one of our favorite musicians to play at Twist & Shout!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Several Species Of Small Furry Thoughts - Grateful Dead Time

Three new releases from the land of the Dead this week. First is the awesome box set called Formerly The Warlocks which is comprised of two stellar shows from Hampton, VA October 8th and 9th 1989. I’m usually luke-warmish about the release of shows from the last 10 years of the band’s career, but this is a really special run of shows. In an attempt to quell the madness that was starting to happen in the parking lot of Dead shows in the late 80’s, they played a few “stealth shows” with little pre-announcement, in an attempt to make them for locals only. Great idea - except they then rehearsed a bunch of rare and wonderful songs and played what are probably two of the best shows of their later careers, thus driving the Dead Heads into a frenzy of promises to never miss another one. So, it didn’t really quiet down the scene, but it does make for some unbelievable listening. Housed in a super-deluxe wooden box with all kinds of cool ephemera in it, this is the fourth of the band’s ongoing multi-track, complete run series of releases. Because it was multi-tracked the quality is stunning. You’ve never heard these shows crackle with such intensity before. Each night the band broke out some major songs that had not been played for years. The first night saw the reemergence of the “Help On The Way” “Slipknot!” “Franklin’s Tower” suite which just shakes the arena to its foundations. What a great, jazzy vehicle for them to wail on. It is followed by a version of “Eyes Of The World” that is truly wonderful. Surprisingly, it is not the guitar solos or soulful vocals that make this version, but a wall of percussion that Billy and Mickey set up that sounds like a huge thunder storm brewing in the distance. Their unique abilities are really illustrated well on this “Eyes.” The other big surprise this first night was the encore of “We Bid You Goodnight” which had not been played since the closing of Winterland show. All in all a great show, but the main event was going to be the second night. A very strong first set sets the stage for one of the great second sets of their later career. Kicking off with a strong “Playin’ In The Band” “Uncle John’s Band” “Playin’ In The Band” sandwich, they are clearly in a great mood and playing with energy and precision. From there they slide into the first “Dark Star” in about five years and the audience goes ape-shit. It is a lengthy and spacey version with Jerry going way out on midi effects. The post-“Drums” contains a gigantic “Dear Mr. Fantasy/Hey Jude” medley and then, for the first time in almost 20 years they easily sail into “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” with Jerry, Bob and Brent all taking a verse. It is a profound moment. But the surprises weren’t over. The encore that night was a lovely version of “Attics Of My Life” which had been played maybe 10 times ever and certainly not in the last 20 years. This is one of the great runs in Dead history and an essential listen. There were very few times in their last decade that they raged like this.

Next up is the next in the Road Trips Series (Vol. 3 No. 4) that contains big chunks of two strong shows from May of 1980. Both of these shows shine with studio polish as the band was playing the songs from “Go To Heaven” almost every night of the tour. “Althea,” “Lost Sailor/Saint Of Circumstance” and “Feel Like A Stranger” sound like brand new songs and it is a blast to hear them trying to mimic the record so closely. The “Feel Like A Stranger” is almost absurdly faithful to the album version, until the end when they slow down, space out and flow gently into a hypnotic “He’s Gone.” Disc three contains the second set from Cornell U. in upstate New York which is a legendary venue in Dead history, and they live up to the excitement on this particular night. The heart of the set is a gorgeous “Terrapin” before “Drums” which then gives way to another great version of “Saint Of Circumstance,” this time separated from “Lost Sailor.” This was a fun and energetic period for the band as they broke in Brent Mydland and reveled in tons of new material. Just a month later, they pulled into Boulder’s Folsom Field to celebrate their 15th anniversary with Warren Zevon. I wish they would release those great shows.

Finally, something for the vinyl-minded. A new box set called The Warner Bros. Studio Albums. Somewhat self-explanatory, it contains new 180-gram versions of The Grateful Dead, Workingman’s Dead, American Beauty and the original mixes of Anthem Of The Sun and Aoxomoxoa which have not been available in decades. Those two albums in particular are quite different from the versions most people are familiar with, and Phil Lesh and many other Dead Scholars find this mix of Anthem to be the definitive version. The package is sumptuous and contains a beautiful 12x12 book with unpublished photos. The way these albums were meant to be heard.
-- Paul Epstein

Friday, September 17, 2010

Tegan & Sara @ Twist and Shout wrapup

Tegan and Sara played a live set at Twist and Shout on Monday afternoon at 1:30. Over 350 people came and bought up a storm of Tegan and Sara merchandise, and then hung on every word of the diminutive duo. Sometimes artists have a sympathetic outlook toward their audience. Tegan and Sara have something much deeper. Their audience was largely made of teenage and young adult Lesbian and Gay individuals. That is something I would normally never mention because it is irrelevant to their music, however Tegan and Sara seemed so loving and empowering to their fans that it transcended the typical one-way star-fan relationship and reached a level of touching solidarity. At the close of the event, when they were signing autographs and posing for photos, they embraced their fans in such a sincere fashion that we all noticed and were moved. More than a few fans left in tears. Tegan and Sara are real pros. From their friendly and willing demeanor upon first entering the building, to their completely endearing performance that included engaging and inclusive banter, to their sweet interaction with their fans, to their on time delivery of a great event, they were, like all the greats, understanding, patient and not forgetful of where they came from.

Monday, September 6, 2010

I'd Love to Turn You On #17: Spiritualized - Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

What happened to ambition? What happened to art that overarched its own expectations? What happened to epic rock albums? You know like Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? There are some new albums that qualify, but it is less and less common - a combination of changing tastes and a music industry unwilling or unable (financially) to take risks and let an artist just go for it. The truth is Jason Pierce, the main brain behind all things Spiritualized, spent much of his own money and resources to create this…this…masterpiece. That is a word I do not use often, but this album can go by no other name. It is a high water mark in all rock and roll, one of the rare moments when an artist’s creative dreams poke through the hazy film of the mundane and drags the rest of the world into the Technicolor reality he inhabits. And what is that world like? It is equally beautiful and scary. In spite of Pierce’s claims to the contrary, Ladies and Gentleman is a drug album. No, it is THE drug album - of all times. Throughout the twelve songs that make up this album, Pierce addresses his own drug use on almost every song. Want an example? From the second song “Come Together” he says “Little Johnnie’s sad and fucked, first he jumped and then he looked, the tracks of time those tracks of mine, little Johnnie’s occupied/So little J’s a fucked up boy, who dulled the pain but killed the joy, and little J’s a fucking mess but when he’s offered just says yes.” Or on “Home Of The Brave” he says “Sometimes have my breakfast right off of a mirror and sometimes I have it right out of a bottle.” Not a glorification, not a whining excuse, he’s just letting you know where he’s coming from. And he does it again and again throughout this album. He sets the scene and the mood and then piles on a wall of psychedelic sound that would make Phil Spector hide in the corner of his jail cell. The lyrical content is important on this album, because it is a constant reminder of the frenzied, almost desperate milieu that this artist toiled within, but it is the music that is the real revelation.

Pierce spent over a year working on Ladies And Gentlemen and it shows in every shimmering wall of guitars, every triple and quadruple tracked vocal, every tasteful horn fill, choirs, orchestras, dulcimers…each song is a fully realized sonic palette of rare execution. One really does have to go back to what are considered the greatest rock albums ever to find another group of songs so actualized. One can literally choose any song on this album and get lost in the folds of sound that pour forth. It MUST be played loud. Really. This is an album that is not for the faint of heart in any way. If you turn away from painful lyrics, go listen to Jason Mraz. If you are scared to turn it up to the point that your wife/mother comes into the room with a look of horror on her face, then go elsewhere. One must be brave with this album. It has to be allowed to become as overwhelming a listening experience as it apparently was a creative one for Jason Pierce. Here’s the only thing I can compare it to; did you ever take acid and stare into the mirror just a little too long? It’s like that. It causes a cosmic shiver, but it is an important step for any psychic warrior. If you can’t face yourself, who can you face? Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space is just that - an hour-long acid freakout in the company of a very intelligent, talented guy. The songs are alternately wild and quiet; ecstatic and demoralized, the lowest lows, the highest highs. 

So many albums are good for a song or two, or even worse a listen or two, and then they are discarded to the ranks of  “ok.” Jason Pierce’s finest album is not one of those. It is a keeper, and an extraordinary achievement. I believe every artist wishes he had an album this good, this ambitious, this memorable in his or her quiver. The truth is, most simply don’t have the talent, the drive or the tenacity to create something this great.