Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not sure if I ever mentioned the greatness of Gram Parsons W/ The Flying Burrito Bros' (hey, that's how it's listed!) Live at the Avalon Ballroom 1969 (Amoeba Records).  This 2CD is Volume 1, so I hope there's more to come in the series from around this period.  Taken from the Grateful Dead's live vaults, these two shows from early April '69 showcase The 'Bros in peak form with their classic lineup intact and Sneaky Pete Kleinow's fuzz-box pedal steel raining down like liquid phosphorus all over the Avalon.  Even better you can compare the two similar but distinctly different sets from the same tour and see how utterly in the coZmik boogie zone these boys really were, even if only for a short while.  Beautiful, beautiful performances captured at soundboard quality.  Classy album styled packaging with vivid recollections from the period in the liners.

Some Live Aktionz

Made it out to a few sweet shows this past week, including Woven Bones and Tinsel Teeth (at Brofest).  I hung out for a little more action (including Naam and White Mice), but didn't really feel like watching 10 plus bands straight through on a Sunday, so bailed pretty early.  That's right, no Sleepy Sun.  No Liturgy.  The horror (or non horror as it were).  I'm sorry I missed Liturgy actually but also have a feeling their brutalistic blackened onslaught might've been the death of me.  Old fart right here.  Tinsel Teeth's singer (TT is a hXc noise rock nightmare with a small female screamer on vox) stripped nearly to nothing but bra and torn tights and screaming in the faces of/collapsing on various audience members was both hilarious and kind of pitiful to behold, as I'm sure was the intention.  She came off like a rape victim trying to get anyone to call for help, or maybe the last survivor from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre just after she'd jumped out of the window and finally made it out to the highway.  So, naturally, when she slammed into me, I did my Kung-Fu Panda SKADOOSH thing and she flopped right off the belly and smacked the floor like a fish.  I went to help her up, but some valiant buck beat me to it.  Tinsel Teeth provided one of those what-the-fuck(?) train-wreck type live experiences that left me wondering if people too often confuse creative expression with seething, mutilated rage.  Regardless it's neat to see all the hipster stoics in their tattered hoodies holding their own like billiard pins in the wake of her elephantine bumper-car angst.  Woven Bones were less...complicated.  Minimal bass/guitar grooves with reverb-drenched vox and a cute lil Mo Tucker chick w/ glasses smacking the snare and floor bass (no cymbals per Mr. Reed's instruction), and though they sadly did not play "Let it Breathe" from the Janie 7", I was still adequately rocked 'n' rolled in a Wooden Shjips meets early JAMC kind'a way. 

The next night -- a Monday night mind you -- it was time to get Pocahaunted, drench the Wet Hair and get raddled by Rene Hall at The Lounge on Elm.  Blissed Out and local mellow psych merchants eyes, wings and many other things rounded out the bill.  I guess I arrived too late for Rene Hall, but Blissed Out brought their big fuzz/beat driven sonics down on the Lounge like a thousand com satellites crashing to Earth at once.  Maybe I just don't do enough drugs anymore to really enjoy these subliminal noise barrages, but it made for an agreeable background whitewash while smoking cigarettes and sippin' mixed drinks on the porch.  Headed upstairs for the bird's eye view of Wet Hair, Shawn from Night People/Racoo-oo-oon's (rip) new-ish duo project of banks of synths with live drums and echo-drenched vocals.  Three long tracks ranged from gooey glowing dollops of Spacemen 3 worship to further refracted beams of syncopated beats and komische drones.  Pocahaunted (who I'd not seen before) were operating in a slightly more conventional mode with the release of their rockin' new Not Not Fun platter, Make it Real, featuring some real eye-popping cover art to go with its groovy Raincoats-gone-West-Coast-psych vibe, and live these three ladies and two lads are a sight to behold.  Musically we got grooved out goth rainbow trances and methodical tribal rhythms graced with ceremonial war paint and sparkly sequined wraps and gowns.  I was reminded of the incomparable awesomeness of The Spires That in the Sunset Rise with less witch and more squaw, but as the wording suggests Pocahaunted aren't exactly up to the Spires comparison just yet, but at least they're reaching and in the process teaching.

Then just this past Saturday made it out to the Phoenix Project for a night of jazz -- two performances, one a quartet the other a trio.  The quartet of Norwegian bassist Ingerbrigt Haker Flaten (also of The Thing with Mats Gustafsson), Stefan Gonzalez (drums), Jason Jackson (sax) and Nick Cabrera (clarinet) started with the revered bassist playing upright acoustic for half the show, then plugging in the electric for a while.  The brass players were a bit more low-key and distant beneath the Haker Flatten/Gonzalez rhythmic low end, alternately punctuated and robust and flickering like a prairie fire in the wind.  The final track with Inger on electric bass went deeper into mid '70s Kraut fusion territory and pulled me in nicely.  The closing trio of Vancouver's Gordon Grdina on guitar and oud, Haker Flatten on bass and a phenomenal Canadian percussionist whose name I can't find (bad!) offered more trad swing interspersed with stellar region string eruptions that tempered the primal rumbling builds of Sonny Sharrock with the gale force winds of Sonic Youth.  Every player in this trio delivered stunning, world class performances that kept me tuned throughout on a sonic level and completely fascinated in terms of physical dexterity and observational telepathic precision.  All in all, another memorable night of world class jazz at the Phoenix Project here in Big. D.   

Monday, March 22, 2010

Been neglecting blogo duties of late. A lot of events have come and gone, and I've dug on a few. Too many folks have died lately. Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, him I definitely had some time for, and just before that Dallas's own Tommy Aldridge of The Great Tyrant and Yeti, and others still, near and far, including an actual relative. Farewell to my cousin, Bettie Claire Winters.

Decided to forgo SXSW this year to save some $$$ and avoid that all around madhouse for a change. Turns out Alex Chilton couldn't make it either. He died of a heart attack Wednesday at 59, and was scheduled to play the fest Saturday night. According to WFMU's Brian Turner, Big Star played anyway -- well kind of -- with original bassist Andy Hummell, Auer/Stringfellow/Stephens (the remainder of Big Star's current lineup), John Doe, Chris Stamey, Evan Dando, Curt Kirkwood and others. Sorry I missed it.

When people ask me, as they still do time to time, "Just who the heck is your favorite band anyway?" 90% of the time I say, "Big Star, of course." I'm not going to go all into specifics as to why that is. It's all in the music, three remarkable albums released from 1971-'75 for Memphis's Ardent Records: #1 Record, Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers that capture so many conflicting emotions, sounds, styles and images of an era that's special for so many reasons, and not just because I was born right in the middle of it all in 1973. Music simply sounded better before the encroachment of the digital age. Let's just leave it at that, but I like a lot of the digital shit too.

"Nighttime," "For You," "Big Black Car," "Blue Moon," "The Ballad of El Goodo," "September Gurls," "Thirteen," "Watch the Sunrise," "I'm in Love With a Girl," "Way Out West," "What's Going Ahn," "Mod Lang," "Holocaust" and, of course, "Kangaroo" (to name just a few) define pop excellence that rivals and arguably surpasses heavy hitters like The Kinks, The Byrds, CSNY, Buffalo Springfield and The Who on some deeper, more achingly existential level. I may be a little biased, but I'd waver that less than ten bands in the rock world actually have a Sister Lovers in 'em. The Velvet Underground's self titled comes to mind. So does Chris Bell's I Am the Cosmos and maybe Tim Buckley's Starsailor. Very few others.

(A vintage clip, featuring Alex and Chris, from the #1 Record sessions)

Rhino released a new Big Star 4CD box-set recently, Keep an Eye on the Sky, which consists mostly of early alternate takes and live material from the '70s era, but I've only just started digging into that stuff. Then there's Chilton's work as a teenager with soul garage teen idols The Boxtops, and his later more discordant solo work of damaged post-punk abandon. The Big Star story could probably be converted into its own HBO miniseries, complete with all the layered revelations, unexpected reversals and ironic ambiguities that make something like The Wire so profound. It can be heard in a song, such as Chris Bell's "You and Your Sister" on which Alex lends a harmony vocal long after the two had had their own version of the typical rock band falling out. It's the kind of healing that has to be sung instead of spoken. And for me that's what the music of Big Star is really about -- poems of hope sung in the darkest hour, just before the crack of dawn when the night is chased back into the dusty corner where it belongs. It's questionable whether Chilton or Bell ever really made it through to that bright morning, but then that's the point. It's not about getting there. It's about going as far as you can as long as you can, and maybe feeling a little love along the way.

Here's a recollection from an email of a Big Star/Posies concert I was lucky enough to attend on New Year's Eve Y2K in New Orleans just over ten years ago now. Jesus, where do da time go, mah peoples?

I saw Big Star play the Y2K New Years Eve show w/The Posies at the Howling Wolf in NO and for some reason it felt like a golden moment. My friends and I had rolled into New Orleans a few hours before and made the mistake of hitting up Pat O'Briens for a Hurricane or two. During most of Posies set we were irredeemably sloshed. I was afraid of this too, shooting our collective wad to soon so to speak. My friends actually dared to suggest an early retreat before Big Star even took the stage. How dare they! Ever the rocker soldier than I was (and still am), I insisted that if they could just hold on a little longer, that the band would start and the resultant power of the music and those classic melodies would revive the spirits of all in attendance (and kick in the endorphins too) and all would be well. And all was well.

After the Posies agreeable, low-key all acoustic set, it was time for the main event. As I said before this night felt special. One night you see a band firing on all cylinders/not missing a beat, the next you see a bunch'a pissy crybabies throwing things and blaming the sound man. But more than that it felt like seeing a boxer or old cowboy who'd come to terms with an affliction and slowly wrestled his way back to a place of contentment and even temporary nirvana. They were well rehearsed yet loose, exploding like it was 1972 all over again -- Jody's drums as crisp and metronomic as in the old days, Alex's guitar reverberating out across the packed house and filling the room like a chorus of church bells. He was all smiles too. He drank a toast from the stage at midnight and then broke into an appropriately stumbling version of "Auld Lyne Sang." Probably played close to 2 hours, nothing but hit after hit -- pow! pow! pow! Hadn't seen such a consistently enjoyable pop type set since Nirvana in late 1993, and let's just say Chilton looked like he was having a lot more fun that night than poor ol' Kurdt did back in '93. I've seen Big Star since and it was, dare I say, one of those sloppier, phoned in kind'a gigs. The kind of gig that has to get worked into the mix every once in a while so that the good ones burn so brightly. But that night, amid all the paranoia of impending doom and so forth revolving around Y2K (what a joke that was, right?), it was the stuff of rock 'n' roll dreams and a genuine life saver. So thanks Alex, Jody and the Posies for one of the best shows and most memorable nights of my life, and a lot of great music besides.

From Boing Boing, via Moistworks:

Ben Greenman remembers singer and guitarist Alex Chilton, who died tonight at age 59.
Alex Chilton, who died, wrote songs. He recorded songs. He made songs. He unmade them. In the end, the life was largely in song, and the songs all had life, and that's all there is to say, and there isn't anything that can be done. Once he covered "Let Me Get Close to You," which was Goffin-King via Skeeter Davis:

How long I'll never know
I've waited to tell you that I love you so
Now I have finally said it
Come on baby don't make me regret it

"It's Your Funeral" is an instrumental. There are no words.
RIP, Alex Chilton