Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Nevada: Leading the Revolution

Looking back on the states I have completed so far, it is glaringly obvious that the newest of the new holds very little weight in my estimation of what is really important in music history. This is really a shame because by definition if I had written this blog, say, fifteen years ago, many of the listed artists would still be on their first or second albums, and therefore would warranty little to no consideration.

Of course, if I had written this blog fifteen years ago, I'd be trying to find a way to post my thoughts to my Prodigy account, or to a local BBS where scary dudes in their basement were discussing the best way to hack public phone booths. Regardless, my point still stands, and I will rectify what I consider a grave injustice to 'today's music' via the state of Nevada.

When someone says 'Nevada', most of us immediately think 'Las Vegas'. A city known for gluttony, greed, lust, and any other deadly sin you can come up with. It's also a town that has no place for sentimentality. Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is going to be here sooner than you think, so while cities across our nation, and across the world are putting up 'historical landmark' plaques on structures that have done nothing more than manage to exist in the same spot for 100 years, the city of Las Vegas celebrates it's history by imploding it. So goes the history of music in the state of Nevada.

Sure, there was a time in which Reno was the up-and-coming counter-capital of punk based on the work of seminal straight-edge punk cult-icons 7 Seconds, and their involvement with punk organization Positive Force which later spread to notoriety in the Washington DC straight-core movement. However, like most things Nevada, Reno's punk burned white-hot for a short time and then fizzled, and faded away. The same could be said Elko, Nevada's attempt to become a hot-spot for country music in the mid 1980's. Since 1985, Elko has been home to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, but much like failed casinos of days gone by, Elko's claim to fame has as yet gone unchecked.

Perhaps the below modern-day selections will fade like dust in a hot Nevada wind over the course of time, but for the moment, the western desert burns bright with musical talent which we will discuss at length in just a short while. Until then, you know there's fascinating factoids to be shared...

- You may have not heard, but you can SO gamble in Nevada... Some places you can even use your winnings on a fully legal hooker!

- I am a huge fan of Nevada. Particularly Las Vegas. Particularly because of the legal gambling. Oh, and the free booze.

- I have never taken advantage of the state's liberal hooker-policy. Really... I haven't...

- Nevada is more than just wagering, sex, and liquor... They also blow shit up!

- Weather in Nevada ranges from effing HOT in the summer to effing COLD in the winter. The hottest recorded temperature in Nevada was 125 degrees, recorded in Laughlin, NV.

- I tend to think it's been hotter, but anyone around to witness the event burst into flames before they could get back inside the beautifully air-conditioned casino.

- Abraham Lincoln, and more specifically, the American Civil War is the reason Nevada is a state. A majority of the land now known as the state of Nevada ceded from the Utah Territory at the end of the Utah War in 1858 and was rushed to statehood in 1864 due in part to add clout to Lincoln's work in his first presidential term, and due to their support of maintaining the union. Remember that as you're tipping your cocktail waitresses.

- God bless Abe Lincoln.

- Nevada has no personal income tax or corporate income tax.

- Contrary to it's 'liberal' reputation as the capital of sin, The state of Nevada is noted as having the harshest penalties for drug offenders in the country. In other words, be careful of what you're lighting up on the Nevada side of the border...

- For the last five years, the crime rate in Nevada has been the highest of any state in the union. I'm going to go out on a limb here, but maybe it has something to do with 1. Allowing people to wander around drunk in public. 2. Encouraging tourists to meander the streets at all hours of the night with pockets full of cash. 3. Imprisoning people for even slight drug infractions, thereby boosting 'crime' statistics. Admittedly, these are all just *guesses* as to why these figures are inflated...

- Fierce political rivalry exists between the heavily populated southern portion of Nevada, which despite having a vast majority of the state's citizens, has a minority of the representation in state government, and the northern part of the state that has... ummm... a lot of dirt I'm guessing...

- Sin City, Las Vegas was initially settled by the notably anti-sinner Mormons. Despite a break from the Mormon culture in the last hundred years or so, there is still a sizable Mormon community in the Las Vegas area, including the lead singer of our honored band...

Band: The Killers
I spent the earliest days of our new century mourning the loss of good music. The last few years of the 1990's into the early years of the 2000's were a mine field for horrible music. Even U2 put out what is without a doubt their worst album, 1997's Pop. I was in a dark place, filled with old music, old thoughts, and old feelings. I reached the place most 1960's rock fans did round about 1974. I was positive the world had passed me by, and it was the time for the next generation to take up the reigns of 'liking the new stuff''. U2 returned to form with their next release All That You Can't Leave Behind by the end of 2000, but the writing was pretty much on the wall. I was going to be an old-band fan.

Then 2004 happened, and with it came the release of The Killers' debut, released on U2's founding label Island. Hot Fuss dod something that very few albums, especially albums by debut artists has ever done before. It impressed me cover to cover from the very first listen. To this day it ranks up there with Garbage's Version 2.0, The Breeder's Last Splash, ane The Beatles' Beatles For Sale as an example of a perfectly crafted rock album. That's not to say that this, or any of the above mentioned LP's rank in the top 10 of my favorite all time albums (although Beatles for Sale is close), but instead they all managed to impress me the very first time I heard them from the opening notes to the closing chords. In some ways, building a great album that hits the listener immediately is even more impressive that compiling a historically great recording that stands the test of time and gets better upon every listen.

It's even more impressive when said 'instant classic' is your debut effort, and The Killers have only gone up from there.

Their next effort, 2006's Sam's Town, was touted by lead singer Brandon Flowers as 'The album that would keep Rock & Roll afloat'. He was chastised for saying it, and rightfully so. Still, since I'm not a member of the band, and don't make any money off of others purchasing and listening to it. I can freely say that this album has helped to keep Rock & Roll afloat into the modern day. Unlike Fuss, I was not all that impressed upon first listening to it, but after numerous listenings, this is now (at present day) my favorite Killers album, and continues to get better with every listening, as a truly timeless album should.

2007's Sawdust literally picked up where Sam's Town left off. It is a collections of b-sides and covers that did not make the original album, and holds up pretty well on it's own considering it's cutting-room-floor material. Especially worth listening to is the cover of Dire Strait's Romeo & Juliet. Here also is a perfect example of just how much I enjoy this band. After merely two albums had no qualms purchasing their b-sides collection...

Most recently in 2008, the boys released their 3rd official long play Day & Age. Like Sam's Town, I was not 'blown away' upon first listen dispite really enjoying a handful of tracks. Also like sam's Town, I find myself enjoying it each time I listen to it a little bit more. I've given it about a dozen listens at this point, and I would not be suprised if a dozen or so more from now it doesn;t overtake Sam's as my favorite of their recordings. That is the power of The Killers, and I have no reason to believe that will change in the forseeable future.

From their newest, Here's Human

Solo: Jenny Lewis
One time child actress and lead vocalist of college radio staple Rilo Kiley, Las Vegas native Jenny Lewis has proven through an extensive catalog of tandem and solo recordings that she is so much more than just a part of the sum. Aside from leading Kiley to label-signing glory in 2005 after the prior year's successful indie album More Adventurous, Lewis has also teamed with The Postal Service, Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, M. Ward, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (and The Postal Service), and The Watson Twins. That's a regular who's who of All Songs Considered...

Perhaps most importantly, at least in MY mind, is her collaberation with 'Top 5'er and blogspiration Elvis Costello on 2008's Elvis Costello and the Imposters album Momofuku. Anybody who sings background for Elvis is good enough for me. Especially when they also had a guest star credit on TV's Mr. Belvedere...

Here's Jenny with her most-notible musical project Rilo Kiley singing the song earned them a spot in Warner Bros. stable, 2004's Portions for Foxes:

Honorable Mention: Panic! At the Disco
Although it's a tenuous grip, Panic! still holds the spot for the best band with a exclaimation point in their name (though watch out for Los Campesinos!). Their debut album A Fever You Can't Sweat Out sold a ton of copies and landed them at #13 on the Billboard US 200 chart. Their second album Pretty. Odd. managed to hit #2 on the same. They're unapologetically Emo, as evidenced by songs like Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off, and damn it if they're not a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.

Panic! has been lumped in with the new guard of plastic-Emo-bands standing on the shoulders of the sucess of fellow Nevadans The Killers, and while Killers front man Brandon Flowers has publically apologized for furthering these beliefs with his own sour-grape statements, it's pretty much the truth. The thing is, if you can take what others before you have done and put your own spin on it, where's the problem? Yes. Panic!, Fall Out Boy, et. all owe a debt to The Killers, who owe a debt to The Cure and New Order before them, who owe a dept to Souxsie and the Banshees, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, The Beatles, Elvis Prestly, and various and assorted American jazz greats before them... What the 'new guard' is doing, that the 'in-between' artists who came of age in the late 90's and very beginning of the 00's couldn't muster is owning their place in the historical pantheon of Rock & Roll. The road less taken is less taken for a reason. Instead of always trying to event your own sound, just be good at what you do, entertain an audience, and, if you're luck, collect a livable wage for doing so.

With that, Here's Panic! At the Disco entertaining us with Nine in the Afternoon.


phil said...

Did you catch Jenny Lewis' recent appearance with Elvis on his Sundance show? Yowza she is impressive.

OCKerouac said...

I have not caught that one. I'll search it out, thanks!