Friday, July 29, 2016

Sixteen

It's been some time since I wrote anything and today's a good day for a comeback. Back in the year 2000 (the distant future) a marriage happened. My marriage. Our marriage. I think we decided to do it that year so it would be easy to count how many years were married every time our anniversary came up. We're practical that way. So, thanks to foresight and easy math, I know today it's been 16 years, and as such, I was planning a playlist or a song about being 16. It's a running gag (I'm probably the only one aware of it) I started when we hit 13 years where I refer to our marriage as a teenager. Thing is, as I was searching today for an appropriate song it really became clear that just about all songs about 16 year olds are pretty fucking creepy when you really listen to them. The worst one I heard was Neil Sedaka's "Happy Birthday Sweet 16."


"Tonight's the night I've waited for, because you're not a baby anymore," seems innocent enough (not really) until you realize he never makes mention of how old he is or who he is to this girl who he clearly saw grow up. There's never any indication that they grew up together, mind you. Just that he's been waiting, patiently, for this day since she was 6. So, yeah, fuck this. Never mind the gag, I'm actually gagging. I'm disturbed. Tralala indeed, you sick fuck.


Anyway, I guess that leads to this song, with a hard right turn. We've been growing old together for all these years and we'll continue to add years, gray hairs, laughs, tears and all that shit (romance). Life is hard as fuck, but at the end of the day, having someone who knows that and sees you for who you really are, when most people don't, it's all worth it. So, there you go. I love you. 


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Smashing Pumpkins and Liz Phair at The Broward Center

billy corgan

I have a weird relationship with Billy Corgan. He made some of the most brilliant, honest and emotional music of the 90s without falling into most of the era's genre traps. The Smashing Pumpkins always sounded like The Smashing Pumpkins, no matter where that took them. That much I can say without hesitation. Mellon Collie is still one of my all time favorite albums, no matter what anyone says. Past that, though, it gets strange. Some of the music he's put out in the 21st century I kinda like. Some, I hate. And then there's his eccentricities which, you know, he's a human being, so that's his thing. And maybe it's exactly these complications that prevent me from putting him on some pedestal even though some of his music has felt so extremely personal to me, that make me respect him regardless.

I say all this as a frame of reference that sort of brings together a running theme that I've brought up often on here about how the 90s were a weird time where I was depressed and experienced a musical cultural explosion from a distance. It's a thing that I think haunts me because I wish I could go back in time and see these bands then and be part of this thing that felt like it was meant specifically for me and was exactly what I needed. So, on Sunday night, I finally saw The Smashing Pumpkins live and I didn't go back in time, but I might have gotten something else - something more grounded - out of it. Honestly, I don't know. Let's see where this takes us. I imagine this will be a very stream of consciousness type post.

ft. lauderdale

Let's begin with Liz Phair, who opened the show. She's an artist who I've always wanted to get into, to really love, but have never been able to. I can say that I am glad she exists and everything she represents about women in music, in rock, in life are things I've pretty much always been passionate about. Having daughters now, it's only heightened all of this because while they are far from ready for her lyrics, when the time comes, they need this point of view. At one point, she talked about how great she felt to see young women in music who were now not held to labels that she had to fight against. Anyway, at the show, seeing her with just an acoustic and sometimes electric guitar, I really got a new appreciation for her. I always felt her voice was lacking before. On Sunday, watching her naked confessions set to music, two things materialized: 1. She's a highly underrated guitar player. Seriously. Not flashy, but the more I fiddle around with guitars the more I have come to appreciate just the simple act of playing complex and maybe not even that complex chord changes in an actual musical way. The fullness of her playing was really something. And 2. her voice is just fine. She has a certain understated range that can seem a bit strained or oddly disaffected, but now I think that's kind of the point. I don't honestly know, but she made me think of Dylan and it wasn't the last time this thought would come up that night. All I know is I went a bit beyond just being glad for her existence and now I need to reevaluate her catalog. She ended the night with a cover of "Nothing Compares 2 U"  joined by some of the Pumpkins that was pretty faithful to Sinead O'Connor's version and was pretty moving. A fitting tribute.

So then Billy Corgan appeared in a suit and hat, looking like an old blues man, and played some songs alone and acoustic and I was a little confused. There was an air of a late career walking into the sunset thing going on that was somehow more poignant due to his voice being inconsistent. And I use that word intentionally. Corgan's voice has always been an acquired taste, that again, made me think of Dylan. I don't say it as a bad thing. I think he's always had a range where he can achieve things by shear fearlessness that I think more classically "good" singers don't even come close to. But, even at his "whiniest" it was always consistent and you felt like he was in control of it. On Sunday, there were moments were it felt like that wasn't the case. There were cracks and strains that felt like they were out of his hands and more a sign of age than anything else. The thing is, as the night progressed, and I thought more of Dylan's latter day growl (the new band) it just made sense for Corgan to assume this role for Gen X freaks and ghouls.

As the show went on and he played a good portion acoustically alone and with Jeff Schroeder, there were moments where I wished the full band would come out and the geek rock passion would be unleashed in overwhelming catharsis. But then there were moments, like when Liz Phair came out and harmonized with him on "Thirty-Three" that were quite moving. When this older Corgan sings "And for a moment I lose myself/Wrapped up in the pleasures of the world/I've journeyed here and there and back again/But in the same old haunts I still find my friends," it has a new weight to it and his friends, our friends, are the songs themselves. Much like they were for me back when I first heard them. So maybe it's a different type of catharsis: a subdued and mature one.

Once the whole band came out, we were told that the following would be the part of the show where they played most of one album. Our selection would be Siamese Dream, which I do love, but I was little disappointed it wouldn't be Mellon Collie. This section did include a slowed down "Rocket" that I liked but again, made me long for the past. Also, no "Cherub Rock" or "Hummer" means I call bullshit. Of course, that regretful nostalgia was replaced by something else when they played a few Adore era songs, complete with drum machine, even though Jimmy Chamberlain was there. I didn't care for those electronic type songs at the time, though honestly, a couple of them that night I think I may even appreciate a little more. But it still seems like a wasted opportunity to not rework them with live drums, especially considering every other song played was reworked into something else anyway. I'm not sure why these had to be the exceptions that were presented exactly as they were on the album.

ft. lauderdale

But once that bit was over came what was, by far, the highlight of the night for me. I've mentioned before how to this day, no matter how much it's been played, "1979" still gives me chills. Well it still did, even though his voice was way off. It was a pretty straightforward performance of the song, but it was a moment of crowd energy taking it to another level. It was the only time the whole crowd was really all in, it seemed. For an artist with a vast and varied career, that's a big deal I think. There was a part of me that felt this was the moment that would erase a little bit of my 90s regret nostalgia syndrome. That was probably too much to ask, but in a way that did happen. But not how I thought. I think maybe seeing and experiencing that single moment where everyone was connected through this one song, even though most seemed very far removed from the freaks and ghouls, gave me a new picture of maturity and of what it means to be an outsider. It was a picture that relates to Billy's suit and hat and to the idea of being a real geek or not or a real punk or not or a real anything or not. I'm not sure it's as simple as "we grew up" or we aren't outsiders anymore, but something. Maybe that there really is no "us" and "them" and the drunks dancing to this just because it was a hit song have as much claim to it as those of us that were affected by this anthem on a deep level. Maybe it's not worth thinking too much about or trying to put into words because it's not about words. So I won't.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear them play "Lily (My One and Only)" from Mellon Collie, as it's always been a favorite. And while there were 3 more songs and an encore after this, this was really the final song of the night as far as I'm concerned. I mean, come on, it ends with "good bye," it's just perfect. Instead, the theme that was hinted on earlier was sort of brought back with a cover of "Knocking on Heaven's Door" that felt unnecessary and a bit obvious. It was fine, I guess, but man that song has just been played out for so long now that you almost wind up respecting the balls to cover it again. Almost. The one encore was The Rolling Stones' "Angie" which, again, is a song I like, but felt unnecessary. It's his show and all, but to me a good encore would have been something like "By Starlight" off Mellon Collie. Of course if I had my way the whole show would have just been that album start to finish.

So I don't know. I guess I'll always have a bit of that 90s regret nostalgia and it'll be different for certain bands from the era. I'll just have to deal with the fact that I missed the Pumpkins when it would have mattered most to me. But I do have to say, like it or not, I think Billy has found a really great way to transform these songs into something that is still relevant to him. And that's good, but he could use some editing, maybe (said the guy that just posted this rambling thing).

Monday, May 2, 2016

The Roots at Sunfest 2016


I knew The Roots were playing Sunfest for months and considered going early on. But I don't normally like big outdoor festivals like this because the sound is never great and you don't get the intimate experience I like. So I went back and forth on whether or not I would go for months. Then, just by coincidence I wound up reading Questlove's book and got all hyped up to see them, no matter what. I'm glad I did.

By now, anyone that's into watching late night TV is probably at least aware of what a wide range of talent there is in The Roots. I don't watch the show, but I'm sure what they bring to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is unlike any other band in the history of late night talk shows. I'm sure if your not familiar with what they do it would seem odd to have a hip hop band as the house band for a show like that, but The Roots are - well, it's not that they aren't hip hop or that they are more than just hip hop, as much as that they are about the real foundations of hip hop, not the false stereotypes that often dominate popular culture. They are about music, pure and simple. And just how hip hop beatmakers might sample records from any genre, The Roots as a band will play music from any genre as well. And while that doesn't necessarily make a band talented on it's own, the way they do it, the way they can make it all fit - jazz, R&B, funk, rock, hip hop, blues - is really something that needs to be seen live to be truly appreciated.

They hit the stage and it was instant funk with "Me and Baby Brother" by War. Right off: the bass. We were right up front and I felt the bass in my chest, in my gut, and my hair was like a field of grass being rustled by the low end breeze. And yet, it wasn't over everything else like a shitty trunk rattling car on the street. It was all loud and crisp. Any concerns I had about the sound at a festival were gone. "Me and Baby Brother" flowed into Bobby Byrd's "I Know You Got Soul" and two things ran through my mind: 1. Holy shit this is awesome and 2. Black Thought is not just a rapper or even an MC: he's a funk frontman also. I came to the show because of the musicians with instruments: the band, if you will. I knew Black Thought was talented, don't get me wrong. But man, watching him spit ridiculously complex rhymes, intelligibly in a live setting, singing, dancing and generally working the crowd without ever seeming out of breath was a revelation to me. The energy level never dropped and I was just wondering if this dude who I believe is a few years older than me would come on the mic gasping for air. It never happened.

The whole band was insanely awe inspiring, really, but a special mention MUST be made for Damon Bryson, AKA Tuba Gooding, Jr. This man was jumping around with a fucking tuba on his shoulder like, well, nothing I've ever seen really. He was matching everything Capt. Kirk Douglas was doing, down to jumping off the bass drum at the end, but Douglas was just holding a guitar. And of course, there was Questlove. He tells a story in the book about how, because his parents didn't let him listen to Prince, he'd listen on headphones while practicing his drums. Except, to throw them off, he'd listen to Prince while playing something different on the drums. He says this like it's nothing in the book, completely blowing past the point of how hard that has to be to do and how that had to have either taught him or developed his sense of rhythm and flat out multitasking in  a way that is unheard of. I've sat behind a drum kit and granted, I have no training, but the coordination it takes to just be adequate is beyond me. At the level he's playing at, which isn't flashy, it's an act that seems magical, really. 

The momentum did drop for one moment in the middle when they let Jeremy Ellis do an extended DJ/beatbox beat that included a tribute to Prince. I don't want to take anything away from Ellis. What he does seems like it's not a lot, but it absolutely is not that simple. I get it. It's a talent. But after a couple of minutes it felt like a DJ club set and I just wanted the band back on. Once they came back it felt like some of the momentum had been dissipated and it took a little bit for them to get it back. At the same time, it was hot and they had been playing nonstop so I imagine it's a good time to take a break so they can catch their breath.

It was a little weird to be out in the heat watching what I kind of wish had been a club or at least small theater show. We were right up front by the stage, but it being so high up and with the phenomenon of concert goers growing taller in recent years*, it was still a lot of neck strain and discomfort and being old. None the less, it really says something that I would do it again for The Roots. I'd see them anywhere now that I really know how they are live. And I would recommend not missing them any chance you get. You don't like hip hop, you say? Well, see them anyway. Trust me. In the meantime, a close approximation is the complete set from Saturday, shot by CHeeSeHeaDPRoDuCTioNS.


*I'm thinking of doing a study to prove how concert goers are not only getting taller, but how a tall fucks level of tallness is directly correlated to their level of being a rude asshole who stands in front of people as if they weren't even there. Science!


Friday, April 22, 2016

Prince

purple rain

On the way home yesterday I put the actual radio on in my car. I can't tell you the last time I heard the radio. Has to be at least 15 years. But something about yesterday made me want radio specifically and although it didn't last thanks to Miami's shitty DJs, for a brief moment, listening to Prince over the actual airwaves, communally, took me back to when I was 10 or 12 and taped his songs off the radio on my boombox. I used to make legendary mix tapes this way. Prince was on a lot of them.

I really don't have much to say about it beyond that without getting into everything we all know: he was likely the greatest musician of the 20th century and I'm not sure anyone is ready to take that mantle in the 21st. I've seen comments about how he was more than just the hits, which is true. But the thing is, those hits were brilliant, uncompromising and groundbreaking as well. The fact that some of them were even played on the radio defies logic, never mind becoming hits. "When Doves Cry" is an infamously bizarre song when you think about it. And that is exactly what makes it the perfect hit it is, but nobody else could have ever pulled that off.

piano

Prince never stopped reaching for something.He made about 39 or so albums and maybe not all of them were perfection, but damn it if they aren't at the very least interesting. They may not all be your cup of tea, most aren't mine either, but you can't honestly find fault with any of it. He wasn't lazy about his art. He was never commercial for the sake of being commercial. He was true to his art, to his fans and to himself, without compromising any of those for the sake of the other.

Yeah, that's about all I got. As the news was breaking yesterday, before it was confirmed, I was furiously, nervously, checking twitter and news feeds and everything I could think of to get confirmation that it wasn't him. That someone else had been found in his estate. Maybe someone died after hearing his latest funksterpiece because he had finally reached some actual cosmic energy with his music and it was too much for human ears. Maybe they didn't die though, but instead merged with the funk and became eternal. Maybe that's exactly what happened. I'm still not ready to listen to "Purple Rain" though.