Monday, November 30, 2009
Last Monday I had the good fortune to catch the Pixies' 20th anniversary Doolittle show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC. I am pleased to report that, 16 years after their farewell LP Trompe le Monde, they still are one of the most powerful, most rocking bands on this Planet of Sound.
Playing their watershed album Doolittle sandwiched between B-sides of the period, the Pixies validated both the Reunion Tour Without A New Album concept and the Playing A Classic Album In Its Entirety concept.
Highlights were many. Of course there were the 120 Minutes classics "Debaser," "Wave of Mutilation," "Here Comes Your Man," "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Gouge Away." The group attacked these songs with the same force and energy that galvanized a generation of fans and followers. The players were magnificent. Leader and mastermind Black Francis whooped howls of delight and strummed commanding rhythms with his Telecaster. Joey Santiago played with feedback-drenched, surf-infused fury. Kim Deal held down the bottom with her thumping basslines, and the very underrated David Lovering's drums drove the whole thing home.
Just as thrilling as the so-called hits were the deeper cuts, such as "Crackity Jones" - this is the type of strange, hillarious song you will only get from the Pixies. For all the postgame analysis about Kurt Cobain being heavily influenced by the Pixies, the Pixies deserve to be appreciated on their own terms, with no talk of who they influenced or who influenced them.
Perhaps most thrilling of all was the Kim Deal B-side "Into the White" with an almost overwhelming strobe light fog show. Though this fan-shot video isn't pro-quality, it gives a pretty good idea of the majesty of the moment.
The A-side of "Into the White" (also available on their best-of Wave of Mut ilation) was the band's foray into pop-hitmaking territory, and the song most known by Pixie knowlittles, "Here Comes Your Man," a song the Pixies had in the can for years before recording it for Doolittle.
But before you think it's a sugary sweet sellout, bear in mind that the song is actually about nuclear holocaust. As Wikipedia notes: "The true subject of this song is the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. "Boxcar" refers to the plane that dropped the bomb, named Bock's Car. The name itself is alluding to the nuclear bomb dropped, named Fat Man."
Looking forward to the Bossanova XX tour in 2010.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
In 1987, while students at the University of Connecticut, my good buddy Richard Fronapfel and I were walking through the Student Union, discussing the Iran-Contra Affair, when a sign on a bulletin board caught our attention.
MTV was coming to UConn to audition contestants for a new game show they were planning called Remote Control. Those auditioning would be required to display a sweeping knowledge of popular culture and stand up and talk about themselves, two things Rich and I were better at than most.
Rich and I auditioned a few days later with dozens of other Huskies and, lo and behold, we were both chosen to be on the show.
I went down to the studio in Manhattan on a Wednesday to compete on the show, but was bumped and rescheduled for what happened to be the same day as a final exam, which I alas could not move. I was never on.
Rich, however, went on Remote Control a few days later and won it all. Remote Control, of course, was hosted by Ken Ober, who sadly passed away last week at age 52.
Richard, whilst devastated by the loss of his partner in pop culture immortality, was kind enough to share his memories of working with the late, great Ken Ober. Take it away, Rich:
Kenny Wasn't Like the Other Kids; Lamentations for a comic hosting pioneer
by Richard Fronapfel
22 years ago last month, I lay comfortably on a Craftmatic(TM) adjustable bed (complete with duckie-adorned sheets) in a TV studio on Manhattan's west side made up to look like the late Ken Ober's basement.
60 seconds later I found myself pulling Remote Control creator and host Ken Ober onto the bed in celebration after correctly identifying Dire Straits's "Walk of Life" video to win a trip to Jamaica (as well as a Brother Word Processor, a wardrobe from Naf Naf, a Casio keyboard and other various and sundry prizes). Sidekick Colin Quinn and the show's cute, quirky hostess, Marisol Massey, were hugged and pulled with equal abandon, and I basked in the reverie of a truly unique day.
At this point, Remote Control had yet to have its on-air debut. I had no idea what I was getting into; nor did I realize that Ken Ober's brainchild would be MTV's first foray into series television and a cult favorite for years to come.
All I knew was that on a crisp, fall day in 1987, I met a gracious, funny pioneer who was quick, engaging and approachable. Without hesitation, he pulled Colin and I into a candid discussion about the peaks and valleys of stand up comedy, and I caught a glimpse of the boyish enthusiasm with which Ken Ober approached this project and his career. Au revoir, mon frere!
Remote Control, 1987 (alas, not featuring Richard Fronapfel)
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Here at Rock Turtleneck, we don’t normally get into the Christmas spirit until Santa makes his way up Broadway at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. But then we saw Bob Dylan’s yule-tastic new video for “Must Be Santa” from his new holiday record Christmas in the Heart, and now we’ve got egg nog running through our veins.
The video is pretty much a direct reenactment of Rock Turtleneck’s first office Christmas party in 2006: music a-blarin', punch overflowin', pretty girls aboundin', stuff getting broken for no apparent reason, and Dylan behind the bar with wine and a cigar.
This rollicking video is also notable for the return of Bob’s long blonde wig, which hasn’t been seen in public since his triumphant return to the Newport Folk Festival in 2002, 37 years after he first rocked the folk world by plugging in. Guess he just busts it out on special occasions.
Christmas in the Heart fulfills our long-standing fantasy of an Xmas album by Bob, who is well-versed in all styles of the American song form. Putting a zydeco-polka spin on the tune, Dylan, known for his way with words, cleverly rewrites one of the verses:
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen
Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon
Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen
Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton
In addition to featuring great old-school takes on classics from "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Silver Bells" and "Little Drummer Boy," Christmas in the Heart is going to put over 4.5 million meals on needy tables, as bobdylan.com explains:
"During this holiday season, Bob Dylan’s immediate donations from the Christmas In The Heart proceeds will provide 500,000 meals to school children in the developing world through the World Food Programme, 15,000 meals to homeless people in the United Kingdom through Crisis and more than 4 million meals to 1.4 million families in America through Feeding America."
“Must Be Santa” has long been one of my favorite Yuletide tunes, receiving heavy rotation on Mitch Miller's seminal 1961 Holiday Sing Along with Mitch LP. Together, Bob and Mitch and a big bowl of punch could easily get you through the holidays.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Happy 64th Birthday to genius, hero, iconoclast, guiding light and inspiration Neil Young, born on this day in 1945.
Now that he is comfortably in the AARP target demographic, it would be easy to say "Old Man, take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you" or something like that. But in spirit Neil is neither Young nor Old; he is ageless and timeless. In fact, watching this 1971 clip of "Old Man," hearing the thump of his Martin and the howl of his voice, he was so much Older then. He's Younger than that now.
Neil's commitment and sense of urgency have never waned, whether he is writing songs, recording albums, switching genres, playing live, converting his Lincoln Continental to biodiesel, starting the Bridge School to help physically impaired children like his son, buying and saving the Lionel Train Company, making esoteric films, releasing his Archives,... you get the idea.
I had the good fortune to see Neil way up close at Madison Square Garden last December, and he attacked "Cinnamon Girl" with a fury that was scary and awe-inspiring. Wuss-bags like Green Day who call themselves punk should take a look at Neil and see what real rocking is all about.
Now that we have seen Neil as master of acoustic and electric, let's take it home with something sort of in between: Neil and his buddies Crosby, Stills & Nash playing three beautiful hollow bodies on an intense version of his 1969 murder ballad "Down by the River." HB & TCB Neil.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
In honor of Veteran’s Day, let us pay tribute via Radiohead’s tribute to a veteran among veterans: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of).”
Patch, who was born in 1898 and died this past July at age 111, was the last surviving British soldier from World War I. He fought in France’s Battle of Passchendaele (pictured below), where he was injured and three of his friends were killed right next to him.
For many, many years, Patch refused all requests to talk about his experiences in the Great War. Only in 1998, at age 100 did he agree, participating in a BBC One documentary called Veterans.
From that point on, Harry's voice would not be patched. In 2007, at age 109, he published an autobiography called The Last Fighting Tommy and was very active in preserving the memory and dignity of fallen WWI soldiers.
Thom Yorke of Radiohead was very moved by Patch’s thoughts on war from a 2005 BBC radio documentary. Upon hearing of Patch’s death, he and bandmate Jonnny Greenwood were moved to write this song.
With no band instrumentation, only the epic sweep of a string arrangement written by Greenwood and recorded in an abbey, “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" conjures youth, bravery, loss of innocence, senseless death, the passing of time, regret and the final curtain. Yorke’s spare lyrics for “Harry Patch” were inspired by Patch quotes from the BBC interview, and are very powerful.
I am the only one that got through
The others died wherever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I've seen devils coming up from the ground
I've seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn
Radiohead released the song in August via its website, a day before Patch was buried, and you can get it here for 1 pound at the band’s online store W.A.S.T.E. Proceeds from the song benefit The Royal British Legion, a charity for veterans of the British Armed Forces.
Rock Turtleneck salutes the unimaginable sacrifices made by soldiers and veterans everywhere. As Harry said, "We weren't heroes. We didn't want to be there. We were scared. We all were, all the time. And any man who tells you he wasn't is a damn liar."
Radiohead W.A.S.T.E.: “Harry Patch (In Memory Of)”
Monday, November 09, 2009
The great Lyle Lovett played NYC's Beacon Theatre last week and Rock Turtleneck's critic-at-large was there. Thanks to Dan Cassidy for filing this review. -Editor
I've been a fan of Lyle Lovett for 20 years, so there was no question I would catch his most recent gig. I’ve seen him at least five times and always walk away feeling as if I got the better of the deal. So there I was Wednesday night when the Texan brought his Large (not Big) Band to the bright lights of Broadway’s Beacon Theatre, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the walls were still ringing.
Having the Large Band in tow is no small undertaking—there were by my count up to 15 musicians on stage at any given time, including: a pedal steel guitar, fiddle, cello, 2 drummers and a quartet of voices that was by turns mournful and joyous, yet always astonishing.
Lovett’s new CD, Natural Forces, was featured heavily, as you might expect, and it sounds like another great entry in the canon. Standout tunes included the title track, "Farmer Brown/Chicken Reel," "Sun & Moon & Stars," "Bohemia" and "Pantry." But in his typically wry way, Lovett didn’t want anyone to come away thinking he was shamelessly plugging his new CD, so he used a wonderful bit of reverse psychology: “Please, please don’t go out and buy it. Just go right ahead and download it for free”, he deadpanned.
Mr. Lovett ran the room not only like a well-seasoned performer, but like a well-seasoned comic. His self–deprecating style combines with a low, pause-filled monotone that holds onto the joke just long enough, and then brings it in for a soft landing — Bob Newhart in a Stetson.
Here's a recent clip of Lyle playing "Pantry" on the Jools Holland Show. This version features Jools doing — what else? — playing a mean boogie-woogie piano. I don’t really think Lyle's singing about food here, though I could be wrong.
Lyle is often tabbed (wrongly) as “country”, but that doesn’t begin to tell the musical story. Whether it’s the country blues of “Nobody Loves Me But My Baby,” the bluegrass of “Pantry” or the western swing of “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas,” Lovett never feels like he’s hell-bent on genre jumping. Rather, the best word I can think of to describe his music is American—authentic, unique, wry, individualistic and a bit restless. Maybe that’s why he’s equally at home playing to Upper Westsiders as he is playing to his native East Texans.
One of the highlights of the show was "Ain't No More Cane," a decades-old prison song that, unbelievably, I’d never heard before even though it’s been covered by everyone from Lead Belly to Dylan to The Band to the Black Crowes. Lyle and his remarkable soul singers brought the house down with this one. Here's Lyle and the Large Band doing it in Kansas City in 2007:
Walking out of the Beacon with a crowd of New Yorkers —listening to our “funny accents” and rapid-fire speech— it was plain to see that “that’s right, we’re not from Texas”, but after seeing Lyle at his finest, you almost wish you were.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
The Beatles' "Hey Jude" is one of those songs like "Stairway to Heaven," "Satisfaction" or "Like a Rolling Stone" that is so ingrained in the public consciousness that it's impossible to hear it objectively.
But a couple weeks ago I picked up the freshly remastered version of the 2-CD Fab compilation Past Masters, which features "Hey Jude," and enjoyed the song as I hadn't in years. In fact I played it pretty much constantly for a few days. It's a true epic, their most popular song, and one of their best. To pretend you are immune to its charms is a fool's errand.
Back in the Beatle days, John Lennon spent most of his time on tour, on LSD, or on Yoko. Ironically, the bachelor Paul McCartney spent more time with John's son Julian than John did. Not long after John cooly told his wife Cynthia he was leaving her and the boy for good, (Yoko was sitting at the kitchen table in a bathrobe when he broke the news), Paul drove out to the country to cheer up 5-year old Julian.
On the drive, the tune "Hey Jules, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better" sprang into his head. He changed "Jules" to "Jude" and the group, in the midst of recording The White Album, immediately went to work on "Hey Jude," as a freestanding single, knowing they had something big on their hands.
Here is some pretty amazing footage of the boys working on "Hey Jude" in the studio, salvaged from an out-of-print BBC documentary:
Lennon, who was fond of writing off McCartney's tunes as overly fussy, loved the immediacy of "Hey Jude." When McCartney first sang the song to him, Lennon said Paul's nonsense lyric "The movement you need is on your shoulder" was "the best bloody line in the song" and refused to let perfectionist Paul change it.
John also thought the song, with lyrics like "You have found her, now go and get her," was a secret message to him and not his son. McCartney, who was also in the midst of romantic upheaval, having left his longtime bird Jane Asher for Linda Eastman, thought maybe he was subconsciously writing to himself. And if you have ever had your spirits lifted by the song's beautiful, effortless melody, you may have thought it was written to you, too. And maybe it was.
In fact, the endless "Na Na Na Na"s at the end somehow seem to sum up the entire 60s, a loss of innocence or something like that. In any case, they take a sad song and make it better.
The "Hey Jude" single, released in September of 1968, was a huge smash, topping the Billboard US chart for a whopping nine weeks. The boys made their first TV appearance in years to mark the event, playing an incredible live version on the David Frost Show, surrounded by fans, that is one of their greatest moments.
Besides being the Beatles biggest hit and arguably most beloved song, "Hey Jude" also has the distinction of being the first 45 on the band's new label Apple Records. In typical Beatle yin-yang fashion, its B-side was its polar opposite, Lennon's raw, political, supercharged "Revolution." They played this on the Frost show as well.
You can get both songs, along with many other Beatles classics, on Past Masters. Those guys were pretty talented. Turn it up.
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
In a flash of true marketing genius inspiration, Weezer is offering a free copy of their new CD Raditude when you buy an official Weezer Snuggie from their website for the low, low price of just $29.95. You can get yours here.
The Snuggie, as you must know is the fleece "blanket with sleeves" that instantly makes any user, old or young, skinny or fat, smart or stupid, look like a cult member with Stockholm Syndrome. Weezer is a huge fan of the Snuggie and took to wearing the leopard-print version onstage earlier in the year, before deciding to come out with their own version, complete with infomercial:
If you’re wondering how a band could have such a brilliant marketing acumen, the answer is simple. Weezer maestro Rivers Cuomo hails from Storrs, CT, the college town and intellectual crucible that is home to the University of Connecticut, where yours truly went to college, and went to E.O. Smith high school on the edge of the UConn campus. Back then his name was Peter Kitts.
So if you, went to UConn in the late 1980s, as I did, there’s a good chance that when you drunkenly stumbled into Store 24 in search of a Beefy Hot Burrito, young Peter/Rivers was in the next aisle, flipping through the latest issue of Spin magazine, wishing he could do so while wearing a blanket.
Rivers has come a long way from Storrs, helping to invent the sensitive-punk emo subgenre of rock, getting a Masters Degree from Harvard and releasing a steady stream of fun, funny, melodic and rather timeless power-pop singles and albums.
Here’s Weezer on Late Show with David Letterman the other night performing the excellent “I'm Your Daddy” from Raditude in full Snuggie regailia. Looks like even Paul Shaffer and the Late Show Orchestra have drank the Weezer Kool-Aid.