Friday, February 27, 2009

Pre-Birthday Announcements

In honor of the fact that I tend to spend a goodly portion of the weekend inebriated, and I am a staunchly anti blogging under the influence I've decided it's best to announce this weekend's pending birthdays today!

Honestly, I just get lazy on the weekend, have a few minutes to spare now, and no one of note was born today. That's the God's honest truth, and I hope it makes you feel like a better person to uncover my deception. Whatever... I'm like... SO over it...

Imagine if you will a world in which all of the advancements of science and medicine were mistaken. A world in which you could take all the drugs you wanted and still be just fine. If such a world existed, tomorrow would mark the sixty seventh birthday of founding member of The Rolling Stones, Mr. Brian Jones. Considering Jones was ousted from the Energizeresque super Brits that just keep going and going prior to his passing at the age of 27, he would likely spend this birthday laughing about how out of place Mick looks still chicken strutting across a stadium stage.

Jones recorded on the first eight Stones studio albums, the last of which, Between the Buttons is arguably my favorite of their recordings in spite of the fact that Brian missed roughly half the sessions. In my humble and fully uninformed opinion, the band was never quite as good after his departure. Here's the original lineup playing Paint it Black on the BBC classic rock & roll show Ready, Steady Go!

Filed under sixties rockers still kicking, Sunday the 1st marks the sixty fifth time Sir Roger Daltrey has celebrated a birthday. He may now retire, and take full advantage of early bird specials at assorted restaurants around the globe. Somehow, I doubt Roger will choose that route however, as he seems to be locked in a perpetual death match with the aforementioned Jagger to see who's hip can break on stage first.

On a less mocking note, I'm of the opinion that The Who is the most under rated rock band of the British Invasion era, while the Stones are certainly the most over rated. Don't get me wrong, there's a heck of a lot of great Stones tunes, but The Who can match them track for track, and the Stones never released anything even approaching the level of Tommy. The Who not only was responsible for the rock opera that influenced countless prog-rock recordings to come, but for my money that isn't even their best work. I give that honor to Who's Next.

It doesn't get much better than this, even if it has been franchised by the CSI steamroller...

Thursday, February 26, 2009

I fell in to a burning ring of birthdays

Had he not gone to join wife June earlier in the decade, Johnny Cash would be 77 years old today, and I wager that he’d be the coolest 77 year old around. Today’s quote of the day on my calendar of great rock quotes is attributed to the posthumous birthday boy:

“I followed trails and slept under mesquite bushes and in gullies… I learned to throw a bowie knife and kill a jackrabbit at 40 yards… Sometimes I might have gone a little too far, not such an uncommon trait in a person on amphetamines.”

I’m sure Johnny meant this as a ‘just say no’ speech, but has anyone ever made drug abuse sound more sinisterly manly? Cash oozed badassedness…

Aside from being an enemy to the jackrabbit, and a friend to country music fans the world over, in his later years Cash also collaborated with a couple of The Dance’s favorite artists, U2 and Nine Inch Nails. Here’s Johnny performing his cover of a Reznor masterpiece.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

While My Guitar Gently Births

If cancer wasn't such a dick, George Harrison would be 66 years young today. I say, just because he is no longer with us, that's no reason to not recall his legacy, and celebrate his majesty. I've often considered Harrison the most under rated Beatle, in spite of the fact that he did receive a good amount of well-deserved praise towards the end of his life. He was certainly the most musically gifted of the Fab Four. Like many of the greats, Harrison taught himself to play by ear just through listening to his favorite tunes on the radio. As his guitar prowess grew, he ventured out to other string instruments, learning to play sitar from the instrument's indisputable master, Ravi Shankar. He was instrumental (no pun intended) in the Beatles involvement in eastern religion and philosophy during the last part of the 1960's, and was actually the first to attempt to leave the band, as early as January of 1968, pre-dating the supergroup's 'official' breakup by almost two years. There is more to Harrison than just the Beatles though, and some of it is quite interesting.

- He was the only Beatle (to date) to write an autobiography entitled I Me Mine after the track of the same name on Let It Be.

- His first wife Pattie Boyd was stolen from him by best friend Eric Clapton. In spite of this the two remained close, living the 'bros before hos' code...

- George Harrison financed early Monty Python performances, and is credited by the comic group as the reason they managed to gain international fame and fortune on the tales of dead parrots and cross-dressing lumberjacks. This, more than any of the music, is reason enough to celebrate George's work...

- Two years prior to his death, Harrison was caught in a home invasion attack by a deranged man who felt he was possessed by the spirit of Harrison and was sent on a mission from god to kill him. Despite stabbing the aged rocker multiple times and puncturing one of his lungs, Harrison survived the attack due to the ass-kicking ability of his wife, Olivia Trinidad Arias. I highly doubt Patti Boyd would have been able to save George's life, so props to Eric Clapton for the cock-block...

There's oh so much more Harrison lore out there, but for now let's just sit an listen to the man and his guitar. Happy Birthday, George...

Friday, February 20, 2009

New Hampshire: Old Hampshire would be disappointed...

So Quebec has been eyeing New Hampshire recently, and I'd be inclined to let them have it, except then Vermont would be all sad, and Vermont can be a serious drag when it's upset... I guess that means unless we want to get inundated with late night phone calls from the 802 begging us to keep them company and buy their syrup we'll have to keep the 'Live Free Or Die'ers around a while longer. This means I get to seemingly by chance chose three random rock acts that I've vaguely heard of and either don't particularly care for, or don't really know...

That being the case, we'll spend a little time focusing on what New Hampshire has to offer OTHER than recorded sound packaged as 'music', and then VERY little time discussing said music itself, mostly because if New Hampshire disappeared into oblivion, I'd feel bad for the estimated $1.3 million people who call the state home, most of which would be fine if it happened during working hours since they'd probably be in Massachusetts anyway, but except for the large number of souls who would cease to exist, I can't imagine such a disappearance causing a direct impact on the country by and large. So as the kids say, Sorry New Hampshire... I'm just not that in to you...

That doesn't mean there's not plenty of New Hampshire fun facts to mock at will:

- New Hampshire became the first post-colonial sovereign nation in the Americas when it broke off from Great Britain in January 1776. Live Free or Die indeed!

- New Hampshire is the only state with neither a general sales tax nor a personal income tax at either the state or local level. Live Tax Free or Die indeed!

- As of the last estimated census, residents of the state of New Hampshire identified themselves as 'white' at a rate of 96.97%. Live Minority Free or Die indeed!

- New Hampshire leads the country in per capita sales of all forms of alcohol. Live Drunk or Die indeed!

- OK. I'll stop now...

- New Hampshire's major regions are the Great North Woods, the White Mountains, the Lakes Region, the Seacoast, the Merrimack Valley, the Monadnock Region, and the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee area. No word if any of these areas are inhabited by magical elves.

- New Hampshire was home to the rock formation called the Old Man of the Mountain, a face-like profile in Franconia Notch, until the formation fell apart in May 2003.

-The Republican Party was lead by John McCain until the old man fell apart on November 4th, 2008, thanks in part to the electoral votes of New Hampshire.

- New Hampshire was the birth place of the 14th President of the United States, Franklin Pierce. History has revealed Pierce to be one of our nation's worst Presidents due to his positive views of slavery, his secret plot to claim Cuba for the US through compromise or force, and his post-presidential support of the Confederacy before his alcoholism related death from cirrhosis.

- Still, a loaf of bread in New Hampshire is to this day known in some circles as a Pierce, due to his post-presidential ownership of the state's Dark Horse Bakery.

- Of US states with coastlines, New Hampshire's is the shortest at just 18 miles.

- What are you laughing at West Virginia? How much coast line do YOU have? Yeah... That's what I thought...

- The peak of Mount Washington, New Hampshire's highest point, is considered to have the worst weather on earth including hurricane strength winds every third day on average and holds the world's record for directly measured surface wind speed at 231 MPH. Live Windy or Die indeed!

- That's not funny. The weather conditions at Mt. Washington have claimed more than 100 lives.

- What IS funny is that in spite of these horrid conditions and confirmed deaths, people still visit...

- In 2006, New Hampshire had the lowest birth rate in the nation, confirming my prediction that within the next century New Hampshire will cease to exist.

- Only time will tell if the rest of the nation is impacted.

OK, you knew we had to get here sooner of later... The Selections-

Band: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Everything New Hampshire does is hard-edged, punk-fueled, and under-ground. So describes New York art-punk trio the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Despite making a name for themselves during the under-appreciated early 90's New York jazz-punk scene. Spencer himself is a native New Hampshirite. JSBX as they sometimes known are mostly not known... Including by me. I am familiar with one JSBX tune however, the intro theme to Tony Bourdain's Travel Channel show No Reservations.

Here's one of their tunes, the first eleven seconds of which sound promising... This is Wail.

Solo Artist: GG Allin
Born Jesus Christ Allin, the story of GG's 'musical' career reads more like the biography of a serial murderer than a punk rock pioneer. Personally, my opinion of Allin is that the only thing 'pioneering' about his music is that he wasn't afraid to suck, and he did it very, very well.

Known more for his onstage antics of defecation, urination, bloodshed, and coprophagia, and lyrics covering subjects such as misogyny, pedophilia and homophobia, Allin made a name for himself despite the fact that he was a much more tragic figure than a talented one. Allin spent two years in prison after accepting a plea bargain on a charge of rape and torture of a female acquaintance, corresponded, and later received art from serial murderer John Wayne Gacy, and eventually died in his New York apartment of a heroin overdose, not long after threatening to commit onstage suicide during one of his shows. Allin is an interesting case of the varied manifestations of psychological brain damage, but was not a very talented musician. He did however once play in a band with J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. We'll all be happier listening to one of THEIR tunes...

Honorable Mention: Mandy Moore
Her tunes are catchy, she's not afraid to mock herself, and ain't nobody else from New Hampshire, so sue me. Feel free to ask for your money back at the door... Besides...

For now, Mandy's missing you like candy...

It doesn't get much harder-edged than THAT...

That's New Hampshire. Hope you enjoyed. Next up Jersey, a state with some talent...

Birthday wishes into the ether

Had O. F. Mossberg decided to go into say, interior decorating, today would be the fourty second birthday of one Kurt Donald Cobain. In honor of this once happy but now tragic day, I suggest you strap on a flannel, find the largest coffee mug you can, fill it to the brim with a vaguely Italian sounding Starbucks creation, and find a quiet corner in which to cry as you enjoy this.

In the 'still with us' birthday catagory, today marks the celebration of Walter Becker's fifty ninth year on this planet. Becker was an original founder, and one half of the writing duo for beat-inspired NY 70's rockers Steely Dan. Becker also honed his guitar playing skills under the tuitalige of Randy Wolfe nee Randy California of one of my favorite 60's psych-rock outfits Spirit. If you find yourself confronted by a maudlin Nirvanite on this historic occasion, feel free to share with them the less tragic side of today's music history... They may offer to share their case of Oly...

Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Music News & Notes: February 2009

So my 'weekly' new music news and notes seems to have become more of a 'monthly', but I have at least fulfilled my goal so far of listening to new music. So much so in fact that I'll need to narrow down my selections to a manageable number. Otherwise somebody is going to get left out of the post labels, and well, that's just plain not fair...

I have to share. While I'm writing this post on 'new music', my iPod has decided to play the St. Louis Blues March by Glenn Miller... OK, screw you and your colorful sense of irony iPod...

Last time I limited it to seven artist entries, so I'll keep that as the 'magic number'. After all, seven is a magic number... Think about it... How many dwarfs are there? How many deadly sins? Prince sang about it, and I guaran-damn-tee you if someone asks you to think of a number between one and ten, the answer is ALWAYS seven...

OK, so my list is actually at twenty one different options at the moment, so I very well may do two or three installments of February's New Music News and Notes, but for now, I'll limit to seven...

So I've got seven artists here, and I've asked them each to pick a number between one and ten... The one closest will be on the list first...

1. Los Campesinos! chose seven...
A Welsh indie-pop seven piece with a decidedly Spanish... ummm... name... if nothing else (It mean The Peasants) is like playing the Oasis Definitely Maybe album on a portable boom box on one side of the room while the Smiths The Queen Is Dead spins on a turn table on the other side of the room as you sit someplace in the middle playing Nintendo with the volume maxed out. Sometimes you move closer to the turn table, sometimes the boombox, occasionally the Mario-laden TV, but most of the time you camp out in the apex of all three. Aside from mixing memories of years gone by, the peasants have managed to coin two musical nuggets that I shall recall at random from this point forward for the rest of my life.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder, but fondness makes the absence longer." and "When you got drunk, ate loads of crisps, and threw up by a football pitch." both from We Are Beautiful, We Are Doomed, which oddly enough is linked right here...

2. Fever Ray
Fever Ray is the latest incarnation of avant-Swede indie rocker Karin Dreijer Andersson, also the lead singer of electronic duo The Knife in which she collaborates with her brother. Ray is less about the club dub breakbeats as it his haunting melodies and the overtly dramatic clash of sound and thought. Think Bjork vs. Massive Attack beating each other senseless with those huge padded sticks from American Gladiators... This battle for mental supremacy is stark and clear on Keep The Streets Empty For Me. Yes, the song is just as dramatic as the title would imply... See for yourself...

3. She & Him
A sixties inspired sugar-pop duet made up of extremely talented musician M. Ward and equally gifted singer/songwriter/actress/pianist/banjo player Zooey Deschanel. The fish-out-of-water Why Do You Let Me Stay Here would have better fit the pop music mold of 1964's Motown invasion than the modern day DIY computerized sound of indie radio which makes a clean, crisp, and catchy tune stand out even better amongst it's contemporaries. Imagine Jackie DeShannon on pep pills... Alas, this is kind of a pet project of two otherwise busy artists, so we likely will not see numerous and repeated recordings from them together, but M. Ward as plenty of good stuff of his own, and Zooey's flicks are always worth a watch.

4. Blitzen Trapper
There's really nothing 'new' about Blitzen Trapper. The first of their current four album catalog was released way back in 2003. However, if you're like me, and you don't live in the greater Portland area, you probably have not heard of them prior to the last couple of months when they have become the darlings of indie radio. Combining a Wilco-like Tex-pop vibe with tunes and tones reticent of The Beatles circa Rubber Soul there is something both catchy and complex about tunes like Sleepytime in the Western World. Don't be surprised if repeated listenings don't make you long for some Bob Dylan studio tracks. Here's the folk-fabulous Furr

5. Beirut
Checking in from the Land of Enchantment, New Mexico, recently-turned-twenty-three year old Zachary Condon has assembled a motley band of mixed musicians to create a Vampire Weekend styled mix of indie/folk/world music. However, while the boys of VW tend to be more on the upbeat side of the spectrum, Zach and friends tend to fall somewhere in the range of drunken French cabaret singers. That sounds like a BAD thing, but trust me, it's not. Witness My Night with a Prostitute from Marsaille:

6. Army Navy
A debut act that gained notoriety with a spot on the soundtrack to Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, which features a who's who and veritable slew of indie-cred musicians. I am not familiar with the N&N track Silvery Sleds, but the below Saints reminds me of the straight-ahead rock of pre-Dirty Hearts INXS meshed with middle-America Matthew Sweet sensibilities. I hope to hear more in the not too distant future...

7. Peter Bjorn & John
We end this post with a definition of 'last but not least' a trio that is as popular on college radio as they are on Kanye West's blog. Our second entrant for far off Sweden, Peter Bjorn & John. With scintillating back beat, catchy vocal hooks, and a couple of killer porn 'staches, Sweden has found an amalgamation of Simple Minds and Right Said Fred... That sounds more like a Fellini inspired nightmare than an indie-pop finger snapper... How about Aha meets Adam when he still had his Ants? How about you decide?

Keep in mind, the above are in no particular order except the order in which I recalled them, so please do not use the numbers as any sort of 'rankings for the purpose of 'wagering''. If you'd like to place a bet on something, there's a good chance I'll take that action... I kind of have a problem, but there is no wagering on the level of enjoyment of brand new artists. It's just unfair to their potential future recordings...

Thank you for indulging my public service announcement. Now go forth and explore the wonderful world of new music that awaits...

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.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009



You surprise me. I expected to spend eight to ten hours convincing myself into selecting Mannheim Steamroller, of whom founder Chip Davis was born. I expected to plumb the depths of musical obscurity to find a once famous one-hit-wonder like Zager and Evans who from straight out of Lincoln brought us the hit In The Year 2525. I expected to apologize for taking Swoosie Kurtz of Omaha or Marg Helgenberger of Fremont who don't sing, but at least you've heard of them. You surprise me, Nebraska, because I didn't have to fudge my way through your great musical history.

More to come on that later. For now, Nebraska deserves the full treatment, which includes assorted tidbits of useless if not hilarious misinformation. From Wikipedia and my own addled brain.

- Nebraska's name derives from it's position in the great plains of the US midwest, and the Platte River which flows through it. It was derived from the Otoe words Ñí Brásge, meaning 'Flat Water'. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.

- In the 1860's, the population of Nebraska boomed due to the federal government offering free land grants to settlers. Makes sense... I can't think of any OTHER reason to flock to Nebraska...

- Arbor Day began in Nebraska, and the National Arbor Day Foundation is still headquartered there, in Nebraska City.

- Yes, there is a National Arbor Day Foundation, and they have a website...

- Nebraska has ninety three counties for less than two million residents. All told, each county in Nebraska on average contains less than twenty thousand people. Nebraska might want to consider some consolidation... We're in a recession after all...

- The Republican River traverses the southern portion of the state of Nebraska. It is known to trample on the rights of citizens, deny the existence of science, refuses to accept or uphold the separation between church and state, and is constantly babbling about how those that do not agree with it are 'Un-American' and 'hate our country'.

- See... it's the REPUBLICAN river... so it does what REPUBLICANS do...

- Nebraska is a triply land locked state, meaning that it does not border an ocean, none of the states it borders border an ocean, and moreover, none of the states THEY border, border an ocean.

- What I'm saying is, Nebraska don't surf...

- Kool-Aid was created in 1927 by Edwin Perkins in the city of Hastings, Nebraska. OH YEAH!

- Nebraska native William Petersen bestowed upon a weary world the Vise-Grip. Before it's 1924 introduction, the mob squeezed info out of stoolies and rats via the much less effective 'salad tongs' technique. Sadly, they would be forced to wait three more years before quenching their post-head-crushing thirst with some ice cold Kool-Aid.

- CliffsNotes, used by thousands of students in lieu of actually reading a book, were invented in Nebraska, although were actually taken from a previously existing Canadian product known as Coles Notes. So the next time somebody gives you crap for using CliffsNotes instead of actually READING some crappy 400 page Dickens time waster, wow them with the knowledge that even Cliff himself took the short cut upon inventing his company. Then gladly accept your F and move on.

SPEAKING of moving on... Time for some musical selections most grand!

Solo Artist: Matthew Sweet

With catchy pop-rock hooks, studio wise lyrics that you can't help but sing in the shower, and a duet performance with venerable West Coast rock icon Lindsay Buckingham, everything about Matthew Sweet screams LA music industry creation. What makes him so much more than the highly entertaining sum of his parts is that the whole thing is 100% natural, and 100% fun.

Sweet is not a product of the LA scene, he's a kid from Lincoln, Nebraska who after bombing around local garage bands moved to Athens Georgia to hit it big in the Athens scene. He collaborated on a recording with REM front man Michael Stipe under the moniker Community Trolls, and worked with Stipe's sister in the band Oh-OK. His connections garnered him an early deal with Columbia records, but couldn't bestow on him any album sales, despite positive reviews from the critics.

Matthew was bounced from Columbia, and landed at A&M, a label that would be bought by Polygram and become hugely influential in the 1990's music scene. Sweet's first album with A&M fared about the same as his Columbia release again appealing more to critics than to the mainstream rock audience.

Poet Robert Frost once said that writing prose poetry was like playing tennis with the net down. Similarly, Matthew Sweet was working the pop-rock industry from an 'innovation first, music second' direction that similar to revolutionary prose poetry of the 50's was like playing pop music 'with the net down'. His 1991 album Girlfriend changed all of that.

Sweet recorded with a new back up band, penning and singing songs that were straight out of the 'this is how you play rock' catalog of the fifties with the lyrical and emotional bent that would become the standard of alt-rock in the 90's. Sweet grabbed his tennis racket, put up the net, and began winning matches. However, Sweet's fear of swimming in the mainstream would keep him on the shores of rock super-stardom. His 1993 followup album Altered Beast again impressed rock critics of notable regard but did not have the pop power of Girlfriend. It seemed as though Sweet wanted to stay on the sidelines, but still wanted to make a living doing what he loved.

My personal opinion is that he struck a chord in 1995 with 100% Fun, combining the darker more personal lyrics of songs like Sick of Myself and Not When I Needed It with undeniably catchy choruses and classic rock riffs. Fun sold well, much like the Girlfriend album earlier in the decade, but true to form Sweet returned to a less-mainstream, more personal sound on 1997's Blue Sky on Mars from which he has not returned.

More recently Sweet has collaborated with Bangles rhythm guitarist-vocalist Susanna Hoffs on a collection of 1960's rock tunes called Under The Covers Vol. I, and continues to release solo albums, most recently 2008's Sunshine Lies.

Here's the Sweet tune that reminded Gen X'ers that it's OK to dance, 1991's Girlfriend.

Band: 311

If this is your first visit to The Dance, welcome, and it's lovely to see you. If it is not, you likely already know that I'm perhaps unhealthily obsessed with the music of the 1990's. I make no apologies for this. It is the decade in which I came of age, and therefore officially 'my music.' Anything recorded between 1988 and 1999 I feel I can officially lay claim to regardless how dated or marginalized it may be today. As such, I respectfully submit 311 as the bandest with the mostest from the great state of Nebraska with no irony or mock intended.

Despite their more recent teeny-bopper following, 311 was at one time on the outside of pop music looking in. A mix of pop-rock, hip-hop, and reggae beats the band's early initial success with 1993's Do You Right was short lived when none of the tracks from their followup album Grassroots managed to chart. Not discouraged by this sophomore slump, their 1995 self-titled album scored three successful singles Don't Stay Home, All Mixed Up, and Down. Since then, the band's next five studio releases have all reached into the top fifteen on the Billboard album charts.

Admittedly I've cooled on 311 since the early days, but I think the change is more in me than it is in them. Still, when I'm looking for a fun time and a little more dance inspired beat, 311, along with So Cal's Sublime always fits the bill. Oddly, like Matthew Sweet, the music of 311 sounds much more LA than it does NE. Just another surprise from the center of the nation.

Here's the 311 song that led me to give them a listen in the first place. I received the cassette in the mail from a local indie radio station operating out of the LA area at the time. The long since defunct Album Alternative FM 101.9. The station only lasted two and a half years, and remains one of the brightest spots in the history of LA area radio. It was, of course, re-formatted to a Spanish language station, and now features the unstoppable radio force that is Piolin...

I digress... Here's 311...

Honorable Mention: Paul Williams

Cursed with a common name, and uncommon looks, Paul Williams isn't exactly a household name, but I'm betting by looking at the picture you're currently thinking to yourself, or saying out loud 'OH... THAT guy...' If you are saying it out loud, and in an otherwise public place, I suggest you immediately start vocalizing ALL your thoughts as loudly as possible until everyone around you is SO uncomfortable they stop staring and make a concentrated effort to ignore you. If someone asks you what's wrong, simply speak LOUDER.

Anyhow... Back to Paul 'Phantom of the Paradise' Williams. Aside from his long acting career including a turn as Swan in Brian De Palma's filmic interpretation of everything groovy about 1974, PW is an acclaimed songwriter, singer, and humanitarian. He is best known by the works of others. Others who perhaps had nicer voices, or prettier faces, but the talent was ALL Paul, much like the plot of his cult classic P of the P.

Paul wrote Three Dog Night's 'Old Fashioned Love Song', penned mega-hits 'Rain Days & Mondays' and 'We've Only Just Begun' for the Carpenters, and was even outshone by a frog-puppet, having been responsible for the Kermit classic 'Rainbow Connection'. Paul Williams has never been bitter though. In fact, he has led what I consider to be the perfect life of fame. He is known enough by true fans to be respected, and well compensated for his work, but remains far enough out of the spot light to still enjoy his anonymity. That is, unless he dons a cowboy hat. Then he's OBVIOUSLY the guy who played Little Enos Burdett in Smokey & The Bandit.

Here's one of Paul's works, and a favorite of The Dance...

Next time we're in a state, the bright light city's gonna set our soul, gonna set our soul on fire... That's right, get all geared up for Nevada... Home of Las Vegas, and Winnemucca!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Welcome, February

Still uber busy, but done with travelling for the time being. Just dropped in to welcome our second, and shortest month, the 4 weeks known as February. As this is the 2nd, a few notes.
- Congratulations to the Pittsburgh Steelers on winning a record 6th Superbowl, and on giving the city of Pittsburgh a viable reason to not commit ritualistic group suicide.

- Happy Birthday to Graham Nash. Here's hoping that Crosby, Stills, and Young take you out to a nice dinner at the Olive Garden.

- All hail Gobbler's Knob, the small burgh that captures our attention just long enough each year to see if a rodent is scared by it's own shadow. You must be so proud.

- Here's hoping none of you are cursed with Bill Murray's Disease and subsequently forced to live this day over and over for the rest of recorded time, but if you are, at least the weather is nice here in California...