Monday, May 28, 2012

Two Coachella gigs

Plastikman 19-04-2010.

In the '94 or '95 Xmas issue of Melody Maker, there a joint interview featuring Richie Hawtin, James Lavelle, and a third very famous DJ (it might have been Oakenfold?).  My memory is a bit hazy, and I couldn't track down that interview on the web, but I think those details are correct.  What I do remember quite clearly from that article was a quote from Hawtin about DJ'ing that was along the lines of "in Detroit, if I play a track that's more than one year old, the kids get very upset."

Fifteen years later, Hawtin brought back his long dormant Plastikman moniker for a series of live shows that had the hype and feel of a reunion tour, with a greatest hits set and stops at a number of major festivals.  The man who'd prided himself on playing sets full of songs you'd probably never recognize (or samples and loops reassembled into new unrecognizable forms) was closing his shows with his most well known track, "Spastik".

I'm not sure if a complete video of this performance exists.  Clips of the intro to the opening track, "Ask Yourself", are easy to find online (for this and for many of his other shows).  The visuals don't disappoint, a blinding ensemble of whites and reds that crackle, pulse, and flutter along to the music.  And the music is pure Plastikman, where minimal techno gets crushed under the weight of doom and paranoia.  This lived up to the hype and then some.

M83 14-04-2012

M83 concerts used to be sloppy, uncoordinated messes in 2003-4.  Their evolution from those beginnings to one of the most exciting live acts around is as unexpected as their gradual transformation from a MBV-via-synth semi-novelty group to indie royalty whose fans sing the words to all their songs at their shows. 

I've heard recordings from a couple of other gigs on the "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" tour, and festival recordings from past tours, and this one is easily the best.  What it lacks in sound quality it makes up for in atmosphere.  You can really feel the excitement in the air in the crowd, and effortlessly place yourself among the sweat and insanity.  "Couleurs" has gone through a few changes over the years, it was once their "Perfect Kiss" but has now become more like their "Fine Time" -- one of the best combinations of rock and club techno you're ever likely to hear. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Donna Summer RIP

I have no idea where to begin with this one.  Donna Summer ... dead?  Impossible.

Music for me has simply never existed without Donna Summer.  My earliest memories of listening to music don't involve Depeche Mode or techno.  It was all about disco and Donna Summer.  My parents had a huge collection of disco 12" singles and they were played constantly.  We had Beatles and other rock records too but they weren't in heavy rotation.  "Bad Girls" was.  These are pretty much the extent of my memories of the 1970's.  

When videos came along, Donna Summer was there too.  "She Works Hard For the Money" (the song and the video both) was a big hit at the time.  

In the days before file sharing, I exhausted myself trying to track down some of Donna Summer's music, but especially the remixes of "I Feel Love".  It usually doesn't need to be said, but if not today then when ... "I Feel Love" is probably the best song of the 1970's.  Saying that a song was "influential" is one of the most overused terms in music, but "I Feel Love" really did change the world of music as we know it.  I can't conceive of most club music (house, techno, trance, eurodance, etc., and most of their derivatives) existing without it.  Many contemporary DJ's still play it, and it always seamlessly fits in with whatever style of music they're playing.   Now that's a timeless track.  

RIP to one of the best music makers ever.

[edit: There are no shortage of Donna Summer obits being written, my favourite is Jody Rosen's in Slate.] 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Much belated link roundup

Catching up on stories and links that are a few weeks old ... (hat tip to Resident Advisor for these links)

1.  Orbital interview each other.  Why does Paul get all the hard questions and Paul all the softball questions?  Unless things come across differently in the unedited version ...

It's interesting that Paul chose the "Blue Album" as the least satisfying Orbital album because (and I'm paraphrasing a bit) it felt like the end of something, even though they knew the music was good.  I thought that was the whole point of the album.  Each song recalled a different time and style in their then fifteen year career, it was both a new album and a retrospective that reminded you of all the various reasons why Orbital were so incendiary.  In that sense, it felt like the perfect way to ride off into the sunset.

2.  Highlights from Kraftwerk's career-spanning shows at the MoMA in NYC last month.  I watch these videos and they hardly seem like human performances.  It's like looking at animated characters straight out of "Tron".  Yes, that's soooooooo Kraftwerk, but this time even more so.

"Ohm Sweet Ohm" gives me goose bumps ... being at the "Radioactivity" show would have been my first choice from this series, partly because most of those songs were never given a proper live airing.

3.  Michaelangelo Matos has written a history of the second wave of Chicago house music.  He interviewed many of the major players of the scene and includes links to a number of key tracks.  We need more articles like this one.  The first waves of Chicago house and Detroit techno (i.e. mid to late 80's) have been written about and fawned over to death, whereas the second wave of artists (beginning in the early 90's) have not only been comparatively neglected.  What's more, the second wave of artists were equally if not more influential, seeing as a greater number of them still play active roles in shaping their respective scenes.  

4.  Something of a fluff piece about Madchester 1989 (it was all about the music, lives were changed, etc.), written by Miranda Sawyer in the Guardian.  The article claims that Madchester was a Time magazine cover story in 1989.  I was skeptical about that, and a quick Google search turned up little besides links to this article.  She may have been mistaken and confused Time with Newsweek -- specifically, this article from 1990.  And the Newsweek article, contrary to what is implied by Sawyer, doesn't say much about the bands or the Madchester scene as a whole, but rather focuses on the rise of clubs and club culture.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

RIP Adam Yauch

The tributes to Adam Yauch are unlike anything I've seen before.  This is what it looks and sounds like when a particular generation of music fans have their hearts ripped out all at once and turn to their teenage reminiscences to ease the hurt.

There was a sense of collective mourning when Michael Jackson died too, but this is different.  Everyone knew who Michael Jackson was, he was everybody's phenomenon, even parents and grandparents knew his songs.  If you're under the age of fifty then you can't remember a time when Michael wasn't a star.  But if you were a teenager in the late 80's or early 90's, then you probably remember the impact made by the Beastie Boys when they burst onto the scene.  Whether you liked them or not, they made an impression.   And they were a group that your parents would never, ever, understand.  Plenty of rock and pop bands were ripping off the previous generation, long hair and makeup was by then a safe marketing choice, and your mom might groove to Duran Duran because they looked like movie stars and their videos were fun to watch.  But nobody would have confused the Beasties for hand-me-downs from your parents record collections.

I didn't listen to a lot of music in '86-'87-'88, I didn't buy albums, barely listened to the radio, didn't follow what was on the charts, and certainly wasn't listening to any hip hop.  But I knew who the Beastie Boys were.  You couldn't be a kid and not get accidentally exposed to them in those days.  I knew some of their songs, I knew they were bratty, I knew they were cool and wasn't completely sure why. So I wasn't much of a fan, mainly because I didn't get what they were about.  Then "Paul's Boutique" happened, the people who liked them were scratching their heads (of course it's since been universally acclaimed as a classic), and "Hey Ladies" was all over radio and Much Music and I couldn't stand that annoying chorus and cowbell.

I forgot about the Beasties for a while, "So What'cha Want" excepted.  At some point I heard "Check Your Head" and was surprised by how good  it was, especially considering that the Beasties were hasbeens who weren't supposed to be making relevant music anymore (or so I thought).

Then in spring '94, my friend Paul (who was and is a real hip hop head, unlike me) scored tickets to a Beasties show at a really small venue (the Palladium on Danforth Ave for you Toronto vets), it was a kind of warm up show for their upcoming tour in support of "Ill Communication" (which had just been released but hadn't yet broken big).  I wasn't keen on seeing the show, but he talked excitedly about how the tickets had sold out in minutes and how cool it would be to see them in a venue of that size.  Naturally he was right (he usually was, and still is).  I only knew about two of the songs they played, but was blown away by the energy of the show.  I saw them again that year at Lollapalooza, but watched most of their set from a safe distance.  They were massive by then, "Sabotage" was the most played video in the universe, and I wanted to hear and see them properly, not as I gasped for air in the moshpit while they shredded their way through "Paul Revere".  But the Palladium show was more fun by far, as if you needed to ask.

I thought their rap style was somewhat formulaic, I liked hearing their albums but didn't feel the need to own any of them.  The Beasties, like other 80's/90's alternative lifers such as Red Hot Chili Peppers, seemed like they would always be around making a healthy living from their live shows.  And you'd hear their new songs one way or another, whether you sought them out or not.

They were banned from Much Music in 2004 after they were invited to the Much Music Video Awards, filmed themselves on the red carpet without permission (the footage was used in the intro to the "Triple Trouble" video), and apparently acted like the snootiest of snooty prima donnas.  IIRC, Much had never banned anyone before this.  It was a dick move on both sides, but a funny one.  I tended to side with Much Music with this fight.

Hopefully my rambling has shown that anyone of my generation who was into music will have a fistful of memories of Adam Yauch and the Beastie Boys, whether they were fans of the band or not.  That's how you can tell the important bands -- the ones that define their times -- from the other 99% of bands that don't matter in the long run (except to their fans).

Friday, May 04, 2012

Lisa Germano live at Ozen Bar

I may have been in denial that I was finally going to see Lisa Germano play live, and it probably didn't help that I forced myself not to listen to any of her music in the weeks leading up to the show.  In that respect it wasn't any different from to the lead-up to any other concert -- I often make a point of not listening to anything by that artist because I don't want to "burn out" on their stuff and lessen the impact of hearing the songs live.  It's not a hard and fast rule, and most of the time I know it's a stupid rule.  By the night of the show this past Wednesday in the intimate third floor of the Ozen Bar, I hadn't listened to a Lisa Germano song in ages.

Then again, I spent most of 2006-7 listening to Lisa Germano, including a few solo live shows from tours for "Liquid Pig" and "In the Maybe World".  Her music has been imprinted in my brain so strongly that I can often vividly recall how it feels to hear her music without needing to physically play it.  I felt I knew exactly what I was in for.  And by exactly, I mean *exactly*.  I can't recall seeing a concert where the experience of being there so precisely matched my expectations of what it would be like.  It was Lisa Germano playing solo on stage with borrowed instruments, alternating between piano and guitar, in a darkened room in front of an attentive seating audience hanging on her every word, acting humble, explaining what some of the songs meant to her, forgetting words to some of the songs like she occasionally does at her shows (blamed this time on jet lag) because she's human and that's why we love her and relate to her, etc.

The only surprise would be what she would play.  Germano's sets don't really have a beginning, middle, or end.  Any song could conceivably open, she can segue virtually anything into anything, and anything could be an effective closer.  What's more, this two-night residency at Ozen Bar were her first concerts in over a year, so without a new album to promote and next album "No Elephants" still in preparation, she was free to play literally anything.  "Lullaby For Liquid Pig" still forms the backbone of her set, both in terms of the songs played and the style and substance of that album.  But there were a number of unexpected treats -- digging deep into the archives for a guitar version of "Cowboy" from 1993's "Happiness", two songs she wrote and performed for OP8 ("It's a Rainbow", "If I Think of Love") and rare live airings of "Tomorrowing" (from "Slide") and "A Beautiful Schizophrenic" (from "Excerpts From a Love Circus").  The end came with a simple, perfect encore of "Golden Cities" after a seventy minute concert that just flew by, which made me rethink how good that song and the entire "In the Maybe World" album was and whether I've been underrating it these past few years*.

The sad fact is that I don't see a lot of live shows these days, even though I still listen to music constantly. So I've gotten used to making connections to artists through their records and being satisfied with it, as if it's perfectly OK that they exist in shiny disc or digital form and not as real, music playing people who you can pay to see.  But Lisa Germano is more important than most.  I needed to see her.

*complaining about set lists is lame, and I always promise to never do it, but: nothing from "Magic Neighbour"?  Really?  I would have yelled out requests for "Snow" or "Cocoon" if I'd been listening to her music in the weeks beforehand and could remember the titles :(