Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Depeche Mode Live 1990

One of my long-standing music-related mini missions has been to track down a quality live recording from Depeche Mode's "World Violation" tour. It was the tour for the album that's usually cited as their best, and yet it produced relatively few bootleg recordings. Then again, it's not too difficult to speculate on the reasons for this. They were now firmly in place as a stadium-only band, and the larger the venue, the harder it is to make a half-decent sounding recording. The "Music For the Masses" tour produced the famed "101" tour film and the legendary Rose Bowl concert, the "Devotional" tour produced the concert video of the same name (and the finest of the band's career), and the subsequent four-year gap stretches to the DVD/internet/filesharing age, where concerts are far more easily recorded and distributed. "World Violation" ended up being the neglected middle sibling of Depeche Mode's history.

Pay a visit to this webpage and you'll find not only a pristine soundboard recording of DM's July 1990 concert in San Fransicso, but a load of other rare electronic music gems, such as a few Scion + Tikiman gigs and one of the very first Autechre shows from 1993. The DM recording is actually a bit too pristine, as you get all of the sound with none of the atmosphere, for all the crowd noise is completely eliminated with the exception of leakage into Dave Gahan's microphone. And the recording only proves what I have long since known from other, crappier-sounding bootlegs -- that this tour represented something of a creative nadir for DM. Without the benefit of hearing the music in a stadium packed with tens of thousands of freaks going apeshit in their long black coats and skintight black leather pants, the musical arrangements sound too crisp, too sparse, too sterile. Most of the songs remained frozen in time since the "Music For the Masses" tour in that the versions they play sound nearly identical. While it's nice to hear the live debut of the "Violator" tracks, most of them have been staples in live sets ever since, and newer versions are far superior versions to the ones from "World Violation". But beginning with the "Devotional" tour, the band overhauled (and dismissed) the 80's setlist, changed up the arrangements, started relying on guitar/drums/percussion to augment their live shows, and became a even more exciting live band in the process.

Of course, part of me couldn't care less about any of this analysis because Depeche Mode are my favourite band ever and I saw their Toronto concert about a month before this and have long since sought a way to help relive those amazing memories with the help of a quality sounding bootleg.

Friday, March 27, 2009

But what would the Mafa make of The Arcade Fire?

There are about a million things wrong with this study that lays claim to Western music's innate ability to convey emotion. I haven't read the academic journal article but on the basis of the Nat Geo report, I have about a million questions, starting with "where is the control study?" How exactly does Western music convey emotion in ways that, say, traditional Japanese music doesn't? I probably should track down the tracklist they used for this experiment, but a simple formula along the lines of "slow tempo = sad music, fast tempo = happy music" seems to apply itself quite well to music from radically distinct cultures, so how was this study able to distinguish the affectations of rhythm/tempo from those of melody?

Maybe they should have used the new movie trailer for and asked the Mafa if it represented a happy or a sad movie. Maybe they could help me figure it out, because I watch that clip and swing through a superposition of highs and lows that leave me essentially wrecked at the end of two minutes. The clips around 0:45 are the parts that suck out my heart the most, where Max is peering around the doorway in his animal suit, a lonely boy who wants nothing more than to vanish in the night and escape to a world that's his and his alone, and using Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" is the perfect choice for capturing all this childlike brooding and wonder, and do I ever want to see this movie after viewing the trailer and no, I couldn't give a crap that the book is like thirty pages long and so how are they possibly going to extend that into a full-length movie. I think the only way to ruin it completely would be to choke the movie with too much dialogue, because the book's magic lay in the wonderment of its images. Any convoluted plot that invents some sort of diabolical evil for them to vanquish could turn into a disaster because the book isn't about the conflict between good and evil, it's about the conflict between fantasy and reality.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Week in Music

Unfortunately I've been badly falling behind on my writing lately, except as it concerns Alexis Grace's completely non-shocking elimination seeing how she's been on autopilot since the semifinals, Megan Joy's ongoing laziness notwithstanding the flu, Anoop Desai's return to awesomeness, and Adam Lambert's latest crime against good taste (btw, Simon, criticizing Adam for being too indulgent is like criticizing grass for being too green).

I have been listening to a lot of music though:

Best DJ mix so far this year is Surgeon's RA podcast, and it's not even close. It's quite a bit tamer than other, rawer, more aggressive sets I've heard from him, but toning down the maximalism is actually a benefit here. You're not always in the mood to have your ears blown off for an hour, which is why a milder set like this can stand up better to repeat listens.

Another reason to improve my Hebrew: so that I can read what might be the Israeli "Generation Ecstasy", Nissan Shor's new book "Dancing With Tears in Their Eyes". It's a history of the past 50 years of Israeli club culture, and examines the connections between the nation's club-going hedonism and it's turbulent political/security situation. Says Shor, "I think Herzl would have preferred endless partying to endless war." 1. DUH. 2. Words to live by. Thanks to RA for the reading tip.

Suede were awesome, and I have to say I'm surprised at how well their version of retro-rock has held up over time, compared to say, Blur's. In other words, "Animal Nitrate" is still spectacular and I can hear without thinking "Bowie theft", whereas anything from "Parklife" feels quaint and precocious. None of these criticisms are new, but perception is everything, and these days I'm ready to chalk up Suede's superiority to them having stronger, more memorable singles. Relive the fun more introspectively with this clip from a Brett Anderson solo gig that finds the ex-Suede singer in remarkably fine voice after a few rough years in the late 90's/early 00's.

Props to J. Viewz ... I don't like a lot of downtempo stuff, and some of the vocal tracks are a bit weak, and the album drags on a bit long, there's a lot of quality smoothery going on here too.

Stereolab's "We're Not Adult Orientated" reminded me of how untouchable that band used to be. This is why I tend to curse "Dots and Loops" and can't identify at all with the people who think it's their best album, because Stereolab used to be FIERCE and that album marked the moment when they became wimps and never looked back.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

American Idol Wild Card Round: The Passion of Tatiana del Toro

The top 12 13 is set, and I hate only a few of them, so let's chalk this top-36 crapshoot + wild card round experiment up to experience and move on. I think I'm ready to take back most of the positive things I said about the format last time, because at least when they chose to eliminate the lowest four each week until they were left with 12 finalists, it was the viewers at home who were making the decisions. This season, the path to 12 13 was full of homerism, with the producers and judges manipulating everything in their power (performance order, comments, dubious choices for the wild card round) to get their personal favourites and pet projects into the finals by hook or by crook. Danny Gokey, Adam Lambert, and Lil Rounds were given the show-closing spots while plenty of others were left to die midway through everlasting two-hour broadcasts, ensuring that they'd be forgotten by the time people had the chance to vote. Scott MacIntyre drew huge praise from the judges that was based not on the quality of the performance he actually gave, but on the quality and style of performances that they hoped he'd do in the future. Similarly, Matt Giraud got out of jail free after blowing his big chance by stupidly choosing to sing Coldplay, and was brought back for the Wild Card because the judges liked the talent he'd shown previously. Plenty of other contestants made dumb song choices too, and were appropriately penalized by the voters. Why the preferential treatment? Why are some stupid song choices forgivable and not others?

Simon Cowell made a comment about "casting" for the finals, i.e. wanting to pick an interesting variety of people instead of twelve copies of the same singer. I mean, everybody knows that this is what they do but I was still surprised to hear him admit it, live on the air. How else to explain the inclusion of the horrible Megan Joy Corkrey, who might be the laziest singer to ever make the finals of AI? At the end of every phrase she sings is a fugly half-spoken warble that isn't even remotely in tune. "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" never works on AI, it wasn't good when Katherine McPhee sang it (both times!), and it wasn't good here. Megan doesn't break new ground for AI, she's just a drugged-up Brooke White.

"Casting" is what put the completely unremarkable Jasmine Murray into the finals. She was awful in her semifinal performance and there were probably ten people more deserving of a second chance. On one hand, we hear that the show needs "current" personalities like Megan, and on the other hand, the producers collectively panic at the thought of an entire season without a cute, young, black R&B diva to pick up where Jordin Sparks left off.

The treatment that Tatiana del Toro received was inexcusable, bordering on nasty. Yes, her sudden change of accent was completely O_o and everybody knows she's kind of crazy. The judges already knew all this months ago, so why string her along only to belittle her every chance they get? They put her through several rounds of Hollywood cuts, into the top 36, and into the wild card round after she did a damn good job in the semis -- since it's clear that there was never any intention of picking her for the finals, was there any point to any of this other than a shameless ratings ploy?

Since when has performing a song for a second time been some kind of major detriment? We've seen repeat performances countless times on past seasons. But more to the point: how many times in the past three weeks have we heard criticism along the lines of "you tried to do something different, but this isn't the person we fell in love with during Hollywood Week." The current semifinal format is "one strike, you're out", so why wouldn't somebody go with a safe choice that had worked for them in the recent past? Tatiana argued that with only one day's worth of preparation, she would not have been able to learn a new song and sing it any better than the one she'd sang for her first performance ("Saving All My Love For You"). Sure, other contestants had the same prep time and managed to do it, but some of them had made terrible song choices to begin with, which is a mistake that Tatiana, to her credit, had not made. Not to mention that Anoop Desai also repeated a song (albeit from Hollywood week) and was not criticized for it.

The good: Anoop's priceless reaction when he was given the surprise 13th spot, everyone getting up in arms at when Simon compared Matt Giraud to Taylor Hicks (the kiss of death?), making this a one hour show and not stretching out this mess for two hours.

I won't hazard any detailed predictions right now, seeing how we've barely seen anything from most of the finalists, but I think I can see the Danny Gokey/Lil Rounds final coming down the pipe.

My personal feelings aside, right at this minute I can envision Lil Rounds, Danny Gokey, Megan Joy Corkrey, and Allison Iraheta actually selling records (and maybe Kris Allen -- I think he's more versatile than most people realize, search his Hollywood Week version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" if you need evidence). As for the rest, forget it.