Also in this section:
Music Consumption: Mike Watt
10/04/2000 Mike Watt: live

Mike Watt and the Pair of Pliers: Despite my Dos collection and 80s punk history, I've never seen the Watt live. I got a chance to correct it, though--what an amazing show. Tight band, great choice of tunes. The band rocked, swung, and went "out"--what more could you want? Faves: a great, Americanized cover of Wire's "the 15th," a spirited, rubbery "Little Johnny Jewel" and a mighty "Friction." Given the nature of "the illness", it's probably not surprising that he kept apologizing for being "weak," but from my spot in the audience, man--I couldn't see, hear, or feel any weakness going on. Mike and the band were giving strength to the audience. (I know this set gave me some much-needed spirit after a high-stress day.) "Now everyone go start your own band," sez Watt. This band will be touring again in the spring, and is not to be missed.

09/30/2000 Don Caballero: Supersphere

I've been listening to a lot of stuff lately, but no time to review it yet. But for all the Don Caballero fans hitting this page lately, check this out: Supersphere.com has two streaming Don shows, and one Storm&Stress show. And it's free!

09/27/2000 random listening: Supersphere

Check out Supersphere.com, which has a number of streaming RealMedia shows from Silkworm and others. I've tried to point the people coming here for Don Caballero stuff to check out the streaming shows, but most of those visitors never leave the Music Listening Archive page. There's a great Tortoise show, and a very moving show from Dirty Three. Brokeback proved to be engaging, and I've been checking out a number of other bands as well. I must say that the Silkworm show in the 'burgh was much stronger than the one on Supersphere--one of those "had to be there" nights. So if you like the one archived there, get on out and see them in person.

09/15/2000 Neil Young: Zuma

Neil's return to working with Crazy Horse is one of the purest, most satisfying recordings around--emotionally gripping and paced for prime tension and release, from "Don't Cry No Tears" on through "Cortez the Killer." (Yes, I know the disc ends on the acoustic coda of "Through My Sails.") "Danger Bird" and "Barstool Blues"--all the electric tunes are a sonic shot of endorphins. And the acoustic tunes are nice, too. It's kind of embarrassing not to have had it in the collection before....

09/15/2000 The Chicago Underground Duo: Synesthesia

The abstract title track grabbed me on college radio, and I happened to find a used copy--cool. The percussion/vibes/cornet/electronics combination is astonishingly rich, and these guys are as inventive as hell. Well worth a listen.

09/15/2000 Poster Children: DDD

The latest from this veteran band who don't seem to be given the attention they deserve. This is another short CD--each song makes its point and makes way for the next. Standouts: The energetic "This Town Needs a Fire," the hypnotic "Strange Attractor," the funny, quick "Zero Stars," and pretty much everything else. The instrumental "Judge Freeball" is a tremendous adrenaline hit, an effective incorporation of math rock into the Poster Children vocabulary. It's loud, it rocks, it's great. And it's gotten me through some heavy production periods.

09/11/2000 Silkworm: live

Silkworm: As much as I've been listening to the quartet-era stuff, this is the first I've actually heard the trio...and I'm impressed. Very tight, strong, and they took whacks at the 93-94 stuff--"Garden City Blues," "Bloody Eyes," and a few others. Tim Midgett's tenor/baritone guitar playing is a great way to flesh out the trio sound, and Michael Dahlquist--one of the best unknown drummers in rock right now--was in fine form as well. The new tunes are great, and the new CD, Lifestyle, is an instant classic. Fave tunes: the Godard/Bardot homage "Contempt," the 2K slice-of-life "Wage Slave," Andy Cohen's affecting duet with Heather Whinna on "Treat the New Guy Right," his bitter "That's Entertainment," Tim's dark "Around the Outline" (sung by Michael), and two astonishing Tim Midgett tunes, "Raging Bull" and "Dead Air." Both of these short tunes could be inescapable radio staples. There's a great cover of the Small Faces' "Ooh La La" and an acoustic "The Bones." Overall, the atmosphere is a bemusement at the nature of life, love, and death, and an affirmation of the power of maturity both to accept and to rail against it all. Very well done, guys. One mistake on my part: arriving two songs from the end of the Karl Hendricks Trio set. In the trio format, Karl's got enough room to shine. The band was tight and energetic, and his guitar playing is rich, moving, and strong. I really should have gotten there earlier... I think he's busy being a parent at the moment, so there may not be plans afoot for a new record. But keep checking Merge...

08/31/2000 B.B. King: live

A friend asked me to check out the BB King set at the local blues festival. Heading in, we ran into several people walking out. "Oh, BB already played." "No, BB hasn't played yet." "You better hurry; his set's half over." Turns out that as we got in, his band was just starting the first of its three warm-up tunes before BB came out. Buddy Guy had played earlier, so I wonder if some of those comments from other attendees were coming from a "well, I saw some Black guy with a guitar, so it must have been BB" kind of thing. (sigh.) I expected BB to be coasting at his age, just sort of collecting the checks from putting in an appearance, but...I was completely surprised. His tone was hot, his touch excellent, and his set totally hit all the right electric blues nerves. A couple less-than-optimal things came up, mainly in a couple of "crowd pleaser" moments--"I can't hear you; clap louder" stuff, and "I don't have Eric Clapton here with me tonight, so let's pretend that ________ (the other guitarist) is Eric Clapton for this one." The other guitarist was obviously a capable player, but seemed a bit bored and couldn't be bothered to play or sound like Clapton; he stuck with his clean LP neck pickup tone and occasional jazzy runs. ("Now, doesn't he sound like Eric Clapton?" Crowd: "!!!!!") OTOH, as a friend of mine put it, hustling the audience in that way is kind of a soul man thing to do. Then there was the "isn't that just like a woman?" tune, with each verse covering a different "bad woman" from a different historical period to show just how "bad" women can be. OK, fine, but there was a verse devoted to...Nero. Huh? Hey, guys--Nero was a dude, OK? Overall, though, a pretty amazing set for anyone--not just for a guy in his 70s.

08/31/2000 Louis Armstrong: The Hot Fives and Hot Sevens box set

My new-working-situation present to myself was...the new Legacy/Columbia Louis Armstrong Box Set covering the Hot Five and Hot Seven lineups--truly amazing. I'd heard the NPR bit on "West End Blues" and had to get more. Many thanks to everyone on the Zornlist who pointed me toward this set. It's four discs of pure pleasure. Sounds great, fantastic notes and packaging--sort of a CD-era echo of the big books 78s came in. And there are treasures on here well beyond "West End Blues," too. There's something pleasing about hearing digitally remastered scratchy and fuzzy 78s. The performances! Truly something to behold, particularly Pops himself, and Johnny Dodds on clarinet...but, damn--the whole band cooked. There are a few tunes included out of a desire to be definitive--contractual stuff where they backed some sugary female vocalist, for instance--but otherwise, it is totemic.

08/25/2000 John Zorn: AMG reviews

Perfume of a Critic's Burning Flesh Department:

I've started doing freelance reviews for the All Music Guide on the Web. Considering that I grew up reading the Lester Bangs-influenced Creem Magazine (started reading it too late to read Lester's original columns, although I got plenty of that later on), it feels as though I've come full-circle, in a way. Of course, if you're familiar with Lester's stuff, you will be sorely disappointed in mine. Even so, the first two are up: a review of Naked City's Radio and Painkiller's Execution Ground. (They used the track list for the Buried Secrets colllection, rather than the correct one, but I'll let them know.) Pretty cool to be doing it, though. I've got a long list of things to review, which I'll be working my way through in the coming weeks. (The title of this section comes from a Naked City tune in the Torture Garden collection, which I've also been listening to of late.)

08/16/2000 Daevid Allen: live

With the University of Errors. Having listened to Gong as a teenager, it was interesting to finally see him live. Really good, tight band. One can only hope to be in such physical shape at 62. Silly, goofy, occasionally confrontational and disturbing, and it was nice to see the glissando guitar in action. This might be the first time I've ever been impressed by a sound check, too--his vocal improvisations while testing the mic were a small window of inventiveness and play into what's usually a tedious process.

07/25/2000 The For Carnation: live

Touring in support of the self-titled full-length. Very subtle, reflective, atmospheric, and deeply entrancing, even as they were battling a lousy monitor mix. They managed to silence an entire bar. I don't think I've ever heard a six-piece play so sparsely. The dark, quiet CD is an achievement as well--all the creepy atmospherics of Slint, but more electronic and with less of a guitar presence. Brian McMahan's sticking to his lower-register voice these days, which contributes greatly to the gentle gloom. Mihaly, a local instrumental trio, turned in a very impressive set as well, with lots of textural two-handed tapping and math-rock time signatures. A CD should be out by now, but I haven't yet found a site for them.

07/11/2000 Patti Smith: live

She began the set reading "Piss Factory" and spitting on the carpet. She ended the set with a stirring medly of the early three-chord tunes and the power of the Word. I got chills. While the newer stuff didn't move me as much as the older stuff (apart from "Gung Ho") and I really couldn't tell what Oliver was contributing to the band, it was great to hear Lenny and Jay in fine form, and Patti herself got hold of some serious Beat religion. Stirring. Now if the next CD has some of that spirit....

07/02/2000 Steely Dan: live

Really solid, enjoyable show. Tight band, good selection of tunes (although given the classics in the book, they were bound to leave out some favorites), excellent night. Highlights: hearing "Night by Night," a longtime favorite. They did a phenomenal "Hey Nineteen" with Becker providing some excellent soloing, and "The Royal Scam" felt exactly right, opening the tune for me in a new way. Well worthy of mention was the show-closing Larry Carlton homage--"Kid Charlemagne," "Peg," and "Don't Take Me Alive." Jon Herrington's 335 tone was really there, and he managed to pay proper tribute to those solos without aping them, but acknowledging them. I don't think lesser men would want to tackle these, particularly in a row. And it was nice to go out on "FM."

Everyone's a critic: there seemed to be a bit of a problem with the rhythm of the evening--not the timekeeping or drumming, but the flow of the set list. It seemed that when the show elevated, something seemed to take that finely-honed edge off. (The many-minute drum solo stomping all over the middle of "Josie"--very, uh, retro. Or the kinda rambling monologue to the audience in an otherwise mind-blowingly good "Hey Nineteen." The one female backup singer taking the lead for "Dirty Work"... I dunno, guys, just didn't do it for me.)

06/07/2000 Lullaby Baxter: Capable Egg

New treasure: Lullaby Baxter's Capable Egg. Brought to me by a Montreal friend, this one's totally charming and engaging. The lyrics are a big attractor for me--"surreal" would be an easy word to reach for, but it doesn't do her lyrics justice. They're strange, funny, and moving. (Sample: "I never meant to steal the ferris wheel/but you know flashing lights have a certain appeal.") The music has that accordian-based anachronistic feel that I'm a total sucker for (think gentler Tom Waits, and for good reason--the band is, pretty much, Oranj Symphonette), and Lullaby's a fine, understated vocalist. "Hopscotch" and "The Chatterbox Chronicles" grabbed me right away, and "Rooster in Love," "Mama (Should I Bake a Cherry Pie and Hide You Inside)," "Mr. Powder-Blue Breadbox," and "Ding-A-Ling" have been infiltrating my head as well. And the others are starting to take root, too. Get in on the ground floor, son, and pick this up.

05/23/2000 Robert Quine/Fred Maher: Basic

Robert Quine and Fred Maher's Basic has been on the turntable lately, and still provides thrills. It's got one of the strongest side ones in recent memory.

05/23/2000 Tortoise: TNT

Still stuck on Tortoise's TNT.

05/23/2000 Steely Dan: Two Against Nature

Steely Dan: Two Against Nature While a friend of mine put it well by calling their fascination with nubiles "more than a bit sad at their age" (thanks, Ray!), I've found this one growing on me in a big way. Sure it's all mid-tempo funk bop, and sure the snare has been Pro-Tooled into this weird crackly thing, but it's great to have them back. I've always loved Becker's solos on "Black Friday," "Bad Sneakers," and especially "Home at Last," and "Jack of Speed" is a worthy addition to the canon. "Janie Runaway" and "Almost Gothic" are still faves, and from there, the swank pleasures of the other tunes await. ("Negative Girl" is still a weak point of the disc for me--there's that weird structure to the chorus--but overall the disc is still a keeper.)

05/23/2000 Naked City: live

Some live recordings of John Zorn's Naked City have come my way and have thoroughly blown my mind. If he ever releases these officially, I'm first in line to pick 'em up. It's gotten me through the last several 100+ hour weeks.

05/05/2000 Yma Sumac: Xtabay & Mambo

Two (count 'em, two) Yma Sumac LPs (Xtabay and Mambo). Totally the '50s suburban idea of what Peruvian folk music sounds like. Extremely strange, and the liner notes are a major hoot. Sure, sure, the conceit is that she's this Incan princess or something, and the tunes are supposed to be ancient Peruvian folk songs. Of course, the same liner notes also say that the tunes were written by her husband/manager (and I've heard that they were actually written by Les Baxter). I don't think of it so much as the liner notes contradicting each other, exactly--I think the writer was making up so much, it turned into a state of all-embracing falsehood. Great vocal performance by our girl Amy Camus.

(I've since heard confirmation from two sources--who should know--that she's not "Amy Camus." They've also argued that the tunes are Peruvian folk tunes, but really for the life of me, as someone who's heard actual Peruvian folk music, I can't hear folk tunes in these. If they're in there, they're buried so deeply under the orchestration that the point is effectively moot.)