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Music Consumption: Moby Grape
01/16/2000 Moby Grape: Moby Grape

Moby Grape - Moby Grape I had picked up a copy of Oar for a friend, and shortly thereafter had a dream that suggested to me strongly that I needed to get the Moby Grape debut album, particularly for "Omaha." Make of this what you will. A couple of days later, there was a sealed vinyl copy in my favorite store. Man, is it one amazing album. Jerry Miller's Verlaine-esque (okay, so given the chronology, maybe Verlaine's leads are Miller-esque, in more ways than one) leads are the surprise treasure for me. Great three-guitar attack, and the harmonies are another attraction. Good songs, too. And "Omaha" is great, but check out...well, just about everything. Sadly, corporate greed and confusion, as well as star-struckness and too many drugs, kept the band from achieving what they could have. But we have the album. Listen.

12/18/1999 The Soft Boys: Underwater Moonlight

Someone--hard to believe, but stay with me--someone bought the CD reissue (with bonus tracks) of the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight and didn't like it. So I got it for eight measly bucks, which almost seems like too little. It's a great pleasure to hear Hitchcock with this much power behind him, even with the occasionally questionable recording quality.

12/18/1999 Robert Quine/Fred Maher: Basic

I managed to grab ahold of a vinyl copy of Robert Quine's and Fred Maher's Basic, an engaging and beguiling album of seamless collaboration. At times the drum machine is overmixed (yup, drum machine--Fred and Quine play guitars and bass on this, and no one plays drums), but I'm totally into "Pickup," "Summer Storm," and another one whose title I can't recall--I'm in a coffee shop right now.

12/18/1999 Paul Pena: Genghis Blues

One of the best films I've seen in a while. Blind songwriter Paul Pena teaches himself to throat-sing and ends up winning a contest in Tuva. Moving, funny, sad.

12/18/1999 David Grubbs

David Grubbs has done a couple of fine CDs after the dissolution of Gastr del Sol: Apple Orange Banana Onion whatever, and The Thicket. I'm still getting into these, but the first one--all solo guitar or solo piano--is deeply engaging, quiet and reflective.

12/18/1999 Ellen Fullman: The Long String Instrument

Some pretty amazing long drones from this acoustic (!) instrument. Very long strings that one walks along, brushing them with the fingers to play them. It's astonishing.

12/18/1999 Bibi Farber: Firepop

This is a fine pop confection overflowing with Richard Lloyd's exactly-right guitar playing. And he did one hell of a job producing it, too. Great sounding CD. I need to spend more time with it, but it's good.

12/18/1999 Glenn Branca: Symphony No. 5

Again, someone bought this and sold it again. Go figure.

12/18/1999 Tim Berne: Please Advise

Tim Berne/Paraphrase: Please Advise This has grown on me significantly. There's that simulated feedback thing going on with this one. While the performance of Visitation Rites is (to use a stupid metaphor) closer in (sonically, not necessarily musically), Please Advise has more space in it. It's enjoyable and instantly recognizable. When we were on our way to Columbus, this was on the car radio. (WRCT, people.)

12/18/1999 Tortoise

Scoff at me though the hip indie kids will (we are in the post-anti-Tortoise-backlash phase), I've really been enjoying Millions Now Living Will Never Die, particularly "Glass Museum," a nearly perfect confection of a tune with an immensely pleasing guitar tone.

12/18/1999 Television: live

Television and Tom Verlaine unreleased recordings. Nobody made money off this. And if any of these came out officailly, I'd buy 'em again--I hope they do come out officially. Some of these recordings are astonishing: San Francisco '78, the 1981 Tom Verlaine show from the Ritz, the Island demos, the last CBGB shows.... It would be nice for the band to be able to make some money on these after all this time.

12/18/1999 random listening: Zorn

Painkiller: Execution Ground and Naked City: Naked City and Absinthe I've had a need for aggressive noise lately, which has also come out in some new recordings I'm doing with a longtime co-conspirator. But when I need CDs to fill that need, these are what I'm listening to.

12/18/1999 random listening: Silkworm, Phelps, Television

Joel Phelps/The Downer Trio: Blackbird and Silkworm: Libertine Of course. These have hit me pretty hard, and my obsessive listening is very much like the obsessive listening I did to Television when I first heard Adventure and Marquee Moon. If you at all think you like music made with electric guitars, you can't go wrong with any of these mentioned in this paragraph.

12/18/1999 Jandek

Been listening to a lot of Jandek, as I prepare a cover for the upcoming Jandek tribute CD. Mostly I've been listening to the vinyl. The middle period (late 80s-early 90s) is probably my favorite, with Blue Corpse and You Walk Alone holding a special place for me.

12/18/1999 Fuck: Conduct

Fuck's 1998 CD Conduct has grown on me as well. From the reviews I'd read, I'd expected them to be like Bedhead, but there's a totally different trash-rock aesthetic at work here. After getting over my expectations, I can enjoy a lot of the really good moves they make. "Italy" is an astoundingly beautiful song, with a perfect ending, sounding almost like a post-alternative Television, "Monkey Doll" is enjoyable rock 'n' roll in the traditional sense, kind of, and "Stupid Band" is on heavy rotation in my head.

12/18/1999 Bedhead: Beheaded

I've become greatly attached to the mighty Bedhead's Beheaded, which has a very engaging atmosphere and shows some evidence of the greatness of Transaction de Novo. In a couple places, I wonder about the musical choices, but the brilliance is obvious.

11/20/1999 Tom Verlaine: live film soundtracks

I managed to realize a longtime desire by seeing Tom Verlaine perform live. This was at a program of live improvisations of soundtracks to avant garde silent films from the 20s and 30s--a favorite era and milieu for me, since I'm also a fan of Man Ray, two of whose films were on the bill. Never having been there before, I have to say that Columbus is a nice town, and it's an extra bonus to have friends there.

Saturday night we were at the 7:00 show at the WexnerCenter in Columbus, Ohio. Tickets guaranteed admission, but not necessarily good seats, so we showed up early. After a bit of a wait outside the theater in the center's lower level, we saw Tom come out with Jimmy and Tim Lanza, walking swiftly past the crowd on some errand or other. Tom's really tall. There's no mistaking him for anyone else, and he doesn't look like someone who's about to turn 50.

The theater was smallish--maybe holding 200 people max--and covered in neutral gray carpeting. I picked an aisle seat in the third row, which turned out to be an ideal spot. There was a low stage at the front with a video monitor on the floor at center stage, two amps (Tom: borrowed Matchless combo, Jimmy: Line 6 combo) on chairs, chairs for Tom and Jimmy, guitars (Tom: sanded-down Strat with chrome-plated pickup covers and no vibrato arm that I could see, and a blond Tele he didn't use; Jimmy: Strat), and assorted effects (mostly a bunch of Boss and Ibanez stuff; Tom was using a Tube Screamer, and Jimmy had an Ibanez modulation delay; others were hard to identify as I didn't want to get too close and make anyone nervous about the gear).

Tom didn't really acknowledge the audience much, addressing all his comments to Jimmy or Tim Lanza. Between films he'd take a swig from a coffee mug, retune, and introduce the next film with a low-E hit and the ascending jazzlike arpeggio. With each film, the arpeggio would be made strange in some way--heavy vibrato, Jimmy playing "wrong" chords over it, etc., making it seem like an inside joke of sorts.

Etoile d'Mer

This one began with technical difficulties. After signalling the projectionist with a low E hit, Tom's guitar cut out. It turned out to be the Tube Screamer--Tom borrowed Jimmy's, they rewired, cracked a few inside jokes, and got going again.

The soundtrack to Man Ray's surrealist relationship parable began with wistful sparse, sad lines. Very Warm and Cool-ish. As a Man Ray fan, I was looking forward to this one, although the film-through-rippled-glass effect gets a bit old. About halfway through, the film segues to a journey by train, to which Jimmy supplied the wheels-on-tracks sound (muted strumming through the Ibanez delay), and Tom put in some surprising Roy Buchanan style pedal steel licks. For some reason, I'd expected Tom's volume swells to be from a pedal, but no--just pinky on the volume knob. The man's a master.

Fall of the House of Usher
Creepy as you'd expect, this one featured lots of slide and digital delay--very "dark ambient." Tom laid in some screeching slide work (shades of "Break It Up"), and Jimmy did some guitar-as-percussion in time with the recurring hammer motif of the film. Tom also banged his slide between the neck and upper horn for extra creakiness. Overall, a heavy atmosphere of dread, and rather unlike the stuff Tom's known for. I'd definitely like to see this one released.
Emak Bakia
Man Ray again. A 3-chord rockin' tune, with Tom holding down some leads that verge on Hot-Rod/Surf territory. It occurred to me that this is definitely the guy who once said that "Music from the Twilight Zone" was his favorite LP. At times I wondered what he might do if there were a full band behind him on this one. Jimmy did an amusingly appropriate pick-drag for the ripping of the collars section.

They Caught the Ferry

Again, 3-chord rocking tune--Track 7 from the Cambridge MA Middle East show from October 98--with a low-E and -A based lead from Tom. Someone needs to release more of this guy's instrumental stuff. Definitely cool music to hang out to, and I've had it lodged in my head since. I can imagine this film getting infuriating if left completely silent, but the soundtrack's ascending changes built tension perfectly in what would otherwise be driving-around-the-countryside scenes.
Autumn Mist
Wistful sad music to go with a post-breakup meditation. Excellent mood music.
The Life and Death of 9413--A Hollywood Extra
This began with happy-bumpkin-in-the-big-city music, kind of like a parody of "Boulevard." Whenever the lead character moved his lips, Jimmy did a Peanuts-style wa-wa-wa-wa talking effect. The ending of the film--involving the afterlife--featured some of those creepy etherial slide whoops.
Ballet Mecanique
For some reason, a blank in my memory, but I do have recollections of swirling delayed melodies.
No encore; Tom seemed happy or at least bemused by the sustained applause, but certainly in a hurry to get out of there. Needing a smoke before the next show? I've talked a lot about Tom, but Jimmy impressed me greatly also. I don't know if I'd say he has a distinctive sound (certainly I wouldn't be able to pick his playing out unannounced), but I would say that he's very versatile. What I've heard on record with Tom didn't sound like the blues solo tune I heard on the radio once, and neither sounded like his performances in the soundtracks. The playing chemistry between those two guys is impressive (to me, anyway).

While I did have a connection to the guy who loaned Tom the Matchless (co-worker of a friend), I didn't get to meet Tom or Jimmy. I did hear that there was an emergency last-minute run for patch cords, but that's about the extent of the gossip that filtered out to me.

For tone-heads on the list, I'd say Tom's tone in this show was definitely more toward the Warm and Cool side than the hotter, edgier tube overdrive sound (Ritz 1981, or even track 7 of Middle East 98; see above). This may have been due to the Matchless, which was more powerful than could comfortably be cranked, I think. The overall volume level was perfect for me--I didn't need to put in the hearing protectors.

I'm really glad I went to this--definitely catch the performances closest to you, if possible, and rope other people into it, too. My wife counted it as one of the peak live music entertainment experiences she's had--truly entertaining. And we've both sat through enough experimental film to know how sorely some of it needs the kind of structure these soundtracks gave it. Well done.

09/12/1999 Joel R.L. Phelps: live

Joel Phelps's Blackbird tightens its grip, with songs that scrape open your wounds for cleaning. Standouts are still "Unless You're Tired of Living," "Get the Chills," the Donner Party anthem "Blessed Salt Lake," "Wading in the Water," and the Comsat Angels cover "Lost Continent." I'd list all of 'em, but then I wouldn't be listing standouts. Arrangements do indeed vary from guitar-bass-drums, with pennywhistle making a comeback on "Living," "One Got Caught," and "Lost Continent," which also features appropriate electric piano and a fine harmony vocal. Electric piano also shows up on "Wading" and acoustic 12-string puts in an appearance on "Chills." Not only do we have a great one here, but the Trio is playing in town tonight. I'll mention again that tour dates are available from Pacifico Records.

The show was excellent. I think "the Millvale Industrial Theater" is the best place in town to see shows right now--since it's not a bar, there's no "the show can't go on until we sell enough drinks" vibe. The opener was the local band Hovland, who were pretty good, apart from the singer's having ruined his voice shouting at a football game. They're worth watching for.

The Karl Hendricks Rock Band suffered from a bad mix, it's sad to say, exacerbated somewhat by the arrangement choice of two Gibsons--LP and SG. Maybe it's just me aging and losing my ability to hear high frequencies, but I really would have liked to hear one of them using a Telecaster or something.

The Phelps/Downer set was really good. As best as I can reconstruct it, the set list was this:

Rev. Robert Irving (acoustic)
Unless You're Tired of Living
Blessed Salt Lake
(new song)
I Got a Live One
Then Slowly Turn (I think)
Get the Chills
(new song, possibly titled "Little Thief")
Wading in the Water
One Got Caught (not totally sure of the order of this one, but late in the set)
Poor Delaney
Landslide Encores:
Hope's Hit (solo acoustic)
(new song--Joel acoustic, Bill on bass & drums, Bob on electric)
Lost Continent

While I'm sure the long drive from Chicago took some energy out of the Trio, they were in fine form for the Pittsburgh show. The songs were primarily from Blackbird, which is fine with me by this point. It was a great pleasure to hear Joel play electric live, with the Telecaster and (surprise!) a Matchless amp. Later he said that the Chicago show had him a little freaked out, having all that power after playing acoustic for so long, but there was little evidence at this show that he was less than comfortable. (At one point--on "One Got Caught," I think--he seemed to want to hold a note with feedback, but the system went microphonic instead. No big deal.)

Both playing and singing heightened the drama and introverted power of the songs. Vocally, Joel played a bit with the cadences, stretching out some words, letting some sit behind the beat, mixing it up. Likewise, some of Bob's bass lines were more minimal than on record, giving the songs a touch of understated tension as well as some extra space. Everyone remained standing, except for the first two songs of the encore set, and Joel alternately playing to the audience and turning inward toward the band.

Some favorites from the set were "Wading," "Unless," "Salt Lake," "One Got Caught" (which sort of revealed the song to me), "Landslide" (which went on for quite a while--the extended ending was glorious), and the encores--the new song in the encore set was stunning, "Hope's Hit" was the song that first grabbed me, and "Lost Continent" hit all the right emotional and musical points, even without the studio arrangement I'm fond of.

The mood of the set was relaxed and upbeat, even with the sad songs. Although the audience wasn't huge (Sunday night, after all), it was appreciative. I'm not sure if the three encores is a standard, but I'd imagine they wouldn't bother for an indifferent audience. If I have any dissatisfaction, it would be with the vocal mix--Joel's higher voice came through fine, but his chest voice was at times hard to hear. Not the Trio's fault, to be sure; it was true of the other bands as well. Overall, a really good performance--we brought a friend to the show, and he came away impressed. If you're lucky enough to be in one of the Tour cities, you should go.

09/10/1999 Tom Waits: Mule Variations

I also picked up the new Tom Waits CD, Mule Variations. Successfully mining much the same territory as Bone Machine, but perhaps less apocolyptically, Waits continues delivering what the blues delivers. Surprisingly, I picked this up used--somebody wasn't into it, it seems. Well, it's not Bone Machine, Night on Earth, The Black Rider, or Swordfishtrombones (in no particular order). But I'm rating it above Rain Dogs, for sure, and somewhere in there with the above recordings.

09/10/1999 Joel R.L. Phelps: Blackbird

The big news is the new Joel Phelps release, Blackbird. The first few tunes are way more distorted than even the Silkworm stuff, and then it opens up into quieter--but no less intense--tunes. Among these harrowingly emotional tunes, the sole cover, "Lost Continent," comes across as generous as well as moving. Some really amazing songs here. At the moment, I've only listened to it once. The way-distorted tunes are a bit of an adjustment, and there isn't quite the space around the instruments as on the other discs, but it's a winner, proof of which emerges on the chill-inducing "Unless You're Tired of Living" and "Blessed Salt Lake." Other songs are just as good, but I need more time to absorb them. And Phelps/The Downer Trio is/are on tour. Check the Pacifico Records website for dates and times.