Monday, June 30, 2008

Jay-Z at Glastonbury

So the Jay-Z vs Noel Gallagher feud (it feels silly just typing that) came to an appropriate conclusion with Jay-Z's ironic cover (or was it a big "FU Noel", sung far and wide so that all of Britain would hear? Does it even matter?) of "Wonderwall". Lost in the controversy was Noel Gallagher's long since annoying push-button tactic of drumming up publicity of himself by slagging other musical artists -- he's been doing it since 1994 and I'm shocked (well, not really, given the British music press' all-consuming love of THE QUOTE from artists with quotable reputations) that people are dumb enough to always fall for it and continue to give him the time of day. Between Jay-Z's live band and the whomp-ass AC/DC sample in that clip of "99 Problems", he's more rock and roll than Oasis have been in years, further rendering Noel Gallagher's point moot. On the other hand, I think I'm going to be humming "Wonderwall" for the rest of the day ...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

My Bloody Valentine, London ICA, June 13, 2008 (mp3 recording)

I have recurring dreams/nightmares, but not the typical ones where you find yourself naked in public or back in school and writing a test that you haven't studied for. My dreams involve buying or receiving a wonderful gift -- usually CDs or something otherwise music-related -- and waking up to discover that it was all a dream and I don't own that piece of desired merchandise. Morning ruined: population Me. The fact that these dreams are strongly divorced from reality in that those CDs usually don't exist in real life is besides the point.

After MBV announces their return to gigging a few months back, many people's reaction was a breathless, sustained hope that this wasn't one of those types of dreams. I think a lot of these feelings lingered even as the tour dates lined up and anticipation began in earnest. The next step in the recovery process was fear. In a small sense, it was the fear that the live shows would be shambolic, reminiscent of Sex Pistols-reunion-style OTTness and poseurism that would only serve as a reminder of how cool a band they *used* to be. In a much larger sense, the real fear wasn't that they'd be bad, but that they'd develop into Just Another Touring Band that draws decent-sized crowds who flock to hear the hits from a generation ago. A lot of music fans prefer memories and romanticism to something tangible and in-the-present, and long-held romanticism dies hard when you have to stop peddling barely-whispered campfire stories to a generation of folks who'd give their right arms to have been there back in the day because all of them can now start blogging about gig experience that had been the exclusive domain of history for so long. The transition for Legendary Recluses to Just Another Touring Band has probably hurt the reputation of a band like Kraftwerk over the past ten years, to name but one notable example.

Maybe we'll reach that point with MBV someday. But for now, we have this comeback gig, which is astoundingly, crushingly good. There are a number of blips and mistakes scattered throughout, but this scarcely matters considering how fantastic the overall show turned out to be. Even more to the point, it's just the first gig of their return, and they'll obviously improve and continue to re-gel on stage and blast brains even more thoroughly. They play frighteningly loud, obviously, but with the guitars set less to "FX-drenched stun" than in the 1991-2 gigs, and more to "primal howl". In other words, more like the MBV of the 1988-9 era that the more frequently bootlegged "Loveless" period.

Only during the fourth song, "I Only Said", did it finally sink in that the whole thing was real and that this gig was actually happening. I'd seen a few grainy Youtube clips of this show that were taken with cell phones whose microphones were frazzled immediately upon sound impact. Their dismal quality had the effect of planting an irrational doubt in my mind, as if I wasn't seeing and hearing what the clip was purported to be, like the sound and vision equivalent of identifying a burn victim. But once "I Only Said" appeared in all its power and magnificence, the emotion of the occasion finally hit me. This recording is the best piece of music I've heard all year -- not the most original or most relevant, but certainly the most rewarding.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

A World Without Bo Diddley

I was more or less in awe of Bo Diddley -- his music, his guitar playing, his unconventional and un-rock star look (thick glasses, the "who me?" dumbfounded looks he'd give before starting to shred on the guitar), his bad-ass lyrics, the hot chicks in his bands. He stayed relevant well into his old age, not only thanks to a series of fondly remembered Nike ads, but because his groundbreaking music (which includes his distinctive playing and macho posturing style) has proved to be virtually timeless. Bo Diddley was a gunslinger, Jesus, and about two dozen other things. Everything he said about himself or was said about him -- it was all true. He was a bad motherfucker, the baddest. As far as musician deaths go, this is about as sad as it gets.

I think I took to Bo Diddley more so than other first generation rock and roll legends because I hear the roots of 90's rock in so much of his music. His use of the guitar as a rhythm instrument not only far predated James Brown's more celebrated style, but also anticipated the rise of scores of white experimental guitar bands. Listen to the intro of, say, "Roadrunner" and then slap on Sonic Youth's "Bull In the Heather" as a good point of comparison. Check out "The Story of Bo Diddley" and it's driving, repetitive chops and think about the debt that Stereolab owe to Bo Diddley. His obsession with effects (particularly delay) made him one of the first shoegazers, a true "smother the song with guitar" original.

Don't misinterpret this as my appreciation for Bo because he sounded "white". I could also write about my love for Bo Diddley the funk star and blues poet. But principally, it's silly to apply labels like "white" or "black" to music made by Bo Diddley in the 1950's that would only acquire race-related labels decades later. When Bo made his version of motorik rock, he was the trailblazer, making music that nobody else was making and as such, could not possibly be contextualized until a bunch of other bands (who happened to be white) picked up the mantle where Bo had left it. Bo Diddley's music was his own and nobody else's, and once elements of his style became some of the standard tools of white rock, the evolution of the music was well out of his hands. With the best artists, their legacy and influence is always this extensive, spanning multiple genres and scenes over multiple generations, such that disentangling is a confusing task at best, and futile at worst.

Now get thee to youtube if you haven't been doing so already for the past two days.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Junk notes

Just to check whether k.d. lang's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" is as good as I thought it was, I played it back to back with John Cale's version from "Fragments of a Rainy Season" (pretty much my favourite Cale album). I'll be damned if Cale's version didn't sound cocktail lounge-y next to lang's majestic performance. The girl has pipes, but you didn't need me to tell you that. With most singers, the song is just a pretty piece of poetry that makes you take notice of that person's enunciation more than you normally would. In k.d. lang's capable hands, "Hallelujah" sounds like the first and last word on all things related to love (with the exception of, naturally, "If You Could Read My Mind", and you can bet your left arm that I'd love to hear her cover *that* some day).

Thanks to Idolator for the link to the WOXY Modern Rock 500 List. I don't outright hate any of their top ten songs, but I count only one song in my personal pantheon ("Love Will Tear Us Apart", duh), three that I burned out on more than fifteen years ago and don't feel the need to hear ever again ("Sunday Bloody Sunday", "London Calling", "Blister In The Sun"), and five that I like but with reservations, as in "me likee but am glad that I don't listen to the radio anymore or else I'd surely be as burned out on them am I was for the previous three ("Creep", "Paranoid Android", "How Soon Is Now", Radio Free Europe", "Smells Like Teen Spirit"). The odd man out is the Pixies, a band that I never really got into, and therefore I never got around to liking them or getting burned out on them. The Pixies have become fixtures on Top ___ Lists over the past few years, much in the same way that the Ramones suddenly appeared on the same lists around ten years ago. The pop-punk Green Day disciples used to be everywhere, not indie rock is back in a big way, so the Pixies have stolen the slot that's seemingly reserved for all non-Smiths/REM/Clash 70's and 80's modern rock. In a few more years, the Pixies will be out in favour of a pioneer band in whatever will be big in modern rock circles in a few years time. I vote for either MBV (something called emogaze might take off) or Chemical Brothers (if big beat electronic music comes back via the likes of LCD Soundsystem-ish rock/electronic hybrids).

Matthew Sweet, "Sick of Myself" at #489 = a crime.

After several weeks with No Age's "Nouns", it's grown on me to the point that I'm convinced it's a masterpiece.