Posts Tagged 'Tom Waits'

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 11

For February’s music update, click here.

March has brought me some fantastic new cuts, and several blasts from the past that I hadn’t heard before, making them new to me. I will say that I downloaded The Jackson’s “Blame it On the Boogie” which is simply sublime. But through 56 new songs, including an album that won’t be released until next month, March was good for music. I’m almost sad to see it end, until I remember that once it does, I get to start all over again with April…

Dessa, False Hopes: Released in 2005, False Hopes is a 5 song EP from Dessa (@dessadarling) of Doomtree. Why write about a 2005 release as “new music?” Well, have you given this EP a listen yet? While short in length, this EP is huge on style and poignant, introspective lyrics against musically gripping backdrops. “551” looks at an addictive and damaging relationship over a dark beat laced with piano. Throughout the album, Dessa mixes her vocal talent with her rapping and slam poetry background to great effect. “Mineshaft” utilizes an urgent string backing and heavy drum beat to accentuate the sense of loss in the song. Many of the lyrics focus on a central theme of personal loss (“The list of things I used to be is longer than the list of things I am,” “I lost an octave to the Camel Lights”) and they’re delivered with such intensity that her personal experiences become visceral for the listener. “Kites” delivers an eerie underwater feeling that brings to mind the melancholy feeling I first heard on listening to Atmosphere’s “God’s Bathroom Floor.” Through just 5 solo songs and her contributions to Doomtree, Dessa rivals P.O.S. in her passion and creativity on this album, and one can only hope that her poetry, lyrics and music gain the public recognition that they deserve. Don’t Sleep On: “Mineshaft,” “551,” “Kites.”

Kero One, Early Believers: This man does it all out of his self-run label, Plug, in the Bay Area. DIY in every sense of the word, Kero One plays his own instruments, makes his own beats, writes his own lyrics, produces and mixes his own songs and then created a label to self-distribute. For the full review of his sophomore release, Early Believers, set to drop April 7th, click here. Don’t Sleep On: “This Life Ain’t Mine,” “Welcome to the Bay,” and “On and On.”

N.A.S.A., The Spirit of Apollo: The idea behind this collaboration album is bringing North American hip-hop together with South American beats and influences to create a cultural mash-up album with global appeal. And for the most part, the odd pairings of guest artists along with the sample heavy and culturally defiant music does the trick. As hip-hop laced with world music continues to gain traction on radio airwaves and popularity among listeners, it comes as no surprise that artists with a broad fan base such as Kanye West, Tom Waits and George Clinton were willing to contribute. Other international artists got in on the act too, with Santogold, Lykke Li and Seu Jorge joining the fray.

If there’s one drawback to this album, it’s that some of the songs come off as too packaged, relying more on the featured names than on the music itself. “Spacious Thoughts” featuring Tom Waits and Kool Keith is interesting, but forces too much of a juxtaposition between the rapper and the singer, leaving the transition from verse to chorus feeling fractured. If you’re into heavy, crunchy dance tracks, “Whachadoin?” feat. Spank Rock, M.I.A., Santogold and Nick Zinner is dense with bass and electronic flourishes, but a bit repetitive. Of course, where the songs are on, they’re on. DJ Qbert and Del tha Funkee Homosapien rip “Samba Soul,” the beat perfectly capturing Del’s sense of pace and timing, and “Gifted,” the track with Kanye, Lykke Li and Santogold has almost instant club appeal with grimy effects offset by a starry and airy video game tone sequence in the background. For the most part, N.A.S.A. plays like a who’s who of guest stars where the sum total of the music falls short of the artists involved, but on a handful of songs, the desire for North to meet South in interesting ways comes through. Don’t Sleep On: “Samba Soul” featuring Del Tha Funkee Homosapien and DJ Qbert, “Money” featuring David Byrne, Chuck D, Ras Congo, Seu Jorge and Z-Trip, and “Gifted” featuring Kanye West, Lykke Li and Santogold.

The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart: After a 2007 EP release, PoBP@H released this debut self-titled effort in February on Slumberland records. The initial offering finds the group exploring the various genres of Indie Rock, Shoegaze and Sugar Punk and the spaces between them. The band utilizes a variety of sounds to evoke different moods, not shying away from using both electric and acoustic guitars depending on the song, and descending into lo-fi static where necessary. The lyrics seem less important to the songs than the contribution the singing melody lends the tunes and the drums remain consistent throughout to lend the backbone to a group that alternates between sulking and exulting. In some places, 80’s influences sneak through, “The Tenure Itch” being a song that could have easily made the Donnie Darko soundtrack. But whether they’re soft or hard, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart remain effusive in their energy, bringing a sense of urgency and drive to every song that keeps the album moving. Don’t Sleep On: “Stay Alive,” “This Love is F*****g Right!” and “A Teenager in Love.”

Indiefeed Hip-Hop: Dirt E. Dutch from Indiefeed (@dutchman) brought out some more stellar cuts this month, but one of my favorite, Dutch’s “Welcome to the World Kayla Vivien!” is a smooth and mellow instrumental affair to celebrate the birth of his daughter that was actually put out in February. Finale’s Black Milk remixed track “One Man Show” moves with low-end bass touches and high-end electronic agility while B Real’s “Don’t You Dare Laugh” uses an interesting interpolation of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” All in all, a positive showing this month.

The next few months are looking solid for new music releases, so keep it tuned.

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Lollapalooza Going MixMatch

In a press release today, I read a most interesting thing about the long-running mega music marathon known as Lollapalooza. Founded in 1997 by Perry Farrell to say good-bye to the legend of Jane’s Addiction, the tour stalled out on the national level to be revived in a format similar to Bonnaroo, Coachella and this year’s Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco. While not a multi-day festival like these, the Bridge School Benefit has been doing much the same at the Shoreline Amphitheater for more than 20 years now.

Of course, the most frustrating portion of these festivals is the opportunity to see a wide variety and assortment of acts, and then never hearing their music or their collaborations again. In recent years, Bridge School has started recording and releasing acts by the artists, but it seems to me that in this day of high quality live recording and digital distribution, it shouldn’t be that difficult to release an entire live set from one of these festivals a few days after it ends.

For the charitable festivals (Outside Lands/Bridge School), this can increase the revenue poured into the cause, and for artist-centered festivals, it can help increase their revenue from the show. But really, it’s the unique collaborations that happen on stage between dissimilar artists that are usually the highlights of these shows. Tom Waits performing with the Kronos Quartet at Bridge School, Tom Petty sharing the stage with Neil Young. These are musical moments that are incredibly memorable to the audience (“Man, you should have been there when X and Z performed together!”) but retaining the way it sounded in your mind is much more difficult over time.

Now, with the line-up at this year’s Lollapalooza, featuring distribution revolutionaries Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, odd couple Gnarls Barkley, Bloc Party, Broken Social Scene, G. Love and Special Sauce and the rapidly diversifying Kanye West, the potential combinations are endless. How about Trent and Thom settling their digital download dispute through a mash-up of “Hurt” and “Idioteque?” Or Kanye and Barkley going “Crazy” over “Diamonds From Sierra Leone?”

Well, in an idea that sounds like it came straight from the MixMatchMusic garage, Farrell has announced that he will be attempting to collaborate with the Empire that is Apple and iTunes to release iTunes-only music from the festival in digital formats that could include on-stage collaborations followed up with studio releases of those collaborations for download. Whether Farrell is actually focusing on the release of the live performances isn’t too clear, but he talks openly about his idea of having bands who have performed on stage together at the concert working through the internet and various worldwide recording studios to put the songs together in a more polished format.

The talk of all of these artists coming together in music in some way gets my pulse racing. One can only hope now that Farrell doesn’t stop short. Sure, the idea of studio versions of these collaborations is very cool, but he should well know that with a festival like this, fans would love to get their hands on copies of the entire live set, and will certainly want to download the various combinations of these artists. All that’s left is to let Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails debate over which file format the songs should be available in to download.

Songs of the Streets

The Wire (McNulty)If you erased the entirety of television history; if you took everything ever broadcast and pretended that it had never existed, you would be at the beginning of understanding just how badly The Wire puts the term “television show” to shame. It’s beyond a television show. The Wire is a piece of visual fiction, a novel told in sixty minute chunks on celluloid. It creates a community of characters that you care about, because you know they exist somewhere. It creates a tapestry of an environment that is seems as tangible as the office you work in or the house you sleep in, because it doesn’t seem like fiction. And how do you get such a well-written, detail-oriented, rich in texture tapestry that captivates minds, spurs imagination and thoughts of what kind of prison we’ve created for ourselves in our society? You mix and match of course!

You take a former cop/school teacher and match him with a journalist/writer. You take cops, dealers, politicians, union workers, middle school students and dope fiends and mix them together. And of course, you mix vibrant visuals with amazing audio and music made to match. Part of what helps contribute to the atmosphere of the show is the music.

The responsible parties always pick songs that are authentic for the setting at the time, be it a slumland street or a blue collar bar, swanky political fundraiser or a police officer’s wake. The beauty of it is that they never play songs just to play them, and they never take over the scene, merely complete it. Cars passing by, a radio on a front stoop, a band playing in a bar, an alarm clock, a song on the radio during a conversation in a car. Songs are subtle background pieces that perpetuate the realistic feel of the entire show. Sometimes, as with some of the Baltimore rap songs, they float subtly from a car window of a passing Escalade to remind you of your surroundings. At other times, as with The Pogue‘s song “Body of an American” and “Efuge Efuge” by Stelios Kazantzidis, they become central to the action as they bring together characters in revelry.

And now, thanks to the good folks over at HBO, you can fill your ears with the songs and dialogue of The Wire. Released January 4th, …And All the Pieces Matter (or on iTunes) shows the diversity the show possesses. The rap songs are here, the rock songs, the four different versions of Tom Waits‘ “Way Down in the Hole” from the first four seasons, and the songs that are used in the season finale montages, all peppered with memorable clips of dialogue from characters both dead and alive. It’s extremely well balanced, featuring songs and clips from the first four seasons and a small tease clip from season 5. So go cop the package, son. The next time you’re in your car or walking with your pod, you’ll feel like you’re back in Bodymore, Murderland.

Music Builds Bridges

Over here, we like it when things are thrown together and stirred around for a new outcome. And nothing says “mix and match” like the annual Bridge School Benefit held every year at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. Started by Neil Young as a fundraiser for the Bridge School, a school focusing on the education of children with very specific needs, the benefit is always one of the highlights of the concert season. Because of several of the basic principles of the Bridge School and the benefit, the event always turns into a sharing and communal concert celebrating life, happiness and the pursuit of education.

As for the mixing and matching…take multiple well-known and wealthy musical artists. Sprinkle in some lesser known artists that deserve some spotlight. The resulting line-up always covers an incredible spectrum of genres, and as a result, brings in one of the most diverse and eclectic concert going crowds you might ever see. Then, you make all of the artists, even those known for rocking hard, switch to acoustic for the event. Finally, you have all of these musicians and music fans coming together to support and donate to children that, for the most part, they could never imagine being in the shoes of.

So just how diverse are the musicians? This year’s show featured Regina Spektor, Tegan and Sara, My Morning Jacket, John Mayer, Tom Waits with the Kronos Quartet, Neil Young, Jerry Lee Lewis and Metallica. Yes, Metallica, at an acoustic show.

I missed Regina Spektor’s set.

But we’re there in time for Tegan and Sara, which was one of the groups I was interested in seeing. Virtual nobodies before and now starting to bud on the national music scene, Tegan and Sara is one of those groups that got sprinkled into the Bridge School Benefit of 2000, which is where I first heard of them. Scared little children on a stage, they still put on a duo acoustic set that prompted me to download their music and get into them. Now, 7 years later, here we both were at completely different parts in our lives. I’m in the middle of telling some people, “I saw them for the first time when they played Bridge School,” when they tell the crowd, “the first time we came here, it was for Bridge School and we were 19.” It was nice to see them make their Bridge School return, now quite a bit more mature, with a band backing them, and a second cd to draw music from. They bicker on stage a bit, but I believe they do this to entertain the audience, although, sometimes it’s a bit embarrassing as you end up feeling that you’ve walked into a private family meeting. The highlights of their set are “I was 19,” “Like O, Like H,” and “Back In Your Head.”

Eddie Vedder and Flea were supposed to play after Tegan and Sara, but due to personal problems of Vedder’s, they had to cancel and were replaced by My Morning Jacket. I have never heard of this group before, and if the set they put together yesterday was any indication, I never want to again.

John Mayer, at least in my personal opinion, falls into that annoying category of singer/songwriters that succeed due to mass marketing, cheesy songs, romantic expectations and a sound simple enough that the general public goes, “oooh, this is really good!” Someone tried to compare Mayer with Dave Matthews at one point, and I almost threw that someone off a balcony. The lyrical depth isn’t even close. The guy that sings the “Had a Bad Day” song, John Mayer and Jack Johnson should get together to form a pop sensation super band in which all 102 songs of their catalogue sound vaguely similar and they go quadruple platinum because of how easily digestible their music is to the public. But hey…that’s just my opinion, right?

For the set, it’s Mayer and two other guitarists. Mayer comes out trying to act very relaxed and nonchalant, sits down on a stool, gives a raspy “How you doing out there?” to his female admirers, and proceeds with a set that sounds like a frat boy playing guitar in the middle of campus hoping to get noticed, if not laid. He pulls out the same raspy voice on the majority of his vocals, I can’t tell the difference between the songs other than slight tempo changes, and while they try to disguise it with tricky camera work, every guitar solo of even remote musical complexity is done not by Mayer, but by one of the other two guys on the stage with him. I’m about to give up the set as a complete washout when he closes it by covering “Free Fallin.” It’s a nice touch, but he comes dangerously close to screwing this hallowed classic up by failing to sing the chorus with anything remotely resembling Petty’s range and energy. If you ever want to listen to John Mayer, I suggest going down to your local campus and looking for a guy playing guitar…he may not be as well known, but hey, he could be the next John Mayer, and if not, he’s certainly more affordable to see in concert.

Following Mayer we have Neil Young. First off, you can’t say anything negative about his set because he puts on the event, his songs are as old as the Amphitheater itself, and he’s always Neil. You can’t say much positive though because bands have a tendency to lose their effect after multiple shows. Neil plays at every Bridge School, so I think I’ve probably seen him 8 or 9 times now. He’s solid, and you have to give him one thing…he’s extremely consistent. The only thing he didn’t break out last night was the big stand-up organ I’ve seen him use from time to time, but this is probably due to the fact that he usually closes the show and this time went in the middle of the sets. I don’t recognize any of the songs, but at the end he tells the crowd that it’s mostly new material and he doesn’t expect anyone to have recognized any of it.

Next up is one of the primary reasons I bought tickets for this Bridge School, and the performance of Tom Waits and the Kronos Quartet delivers. For those of you who don’t know the Kronos Quartet, they’re the group that performed Clint Mansell’s arrangements for Darren Arronofsky’s movie Requiem for a Dream based on Hubert Selby’s book. But when you mix a legendary, eccentric and out there rocker like Tom Waits with an incredibly proficient and polished string quartet like Kronos, the outcome is something spectacular. I’d almost want to dub this Chamber Rock. They come out and open with the theme song from HBO’s The Wire, which is stellar. He also plays some old time blues songs with the Quartet behind him straying into some dark and menacing arrangements. He plays a variety of songs with completely different sounds. One sounds like a Gotan tango song laced with arsenic, and one takes on the style of a macabre show tune. There aren’t a whole lot of succinct words to describe this performance, but it was one of the more interesting musical collaborations I’ve seen and ranked right up there with last year’s Trent Reznor/string quartet performance (although Trent didn’t use Kronos, so he loses some points there). After Waits leaves, I feel like the energy in the place is knocked up a few notches, and I’m wondering if they can bring him out for another set.

Jerry Lee Lewis is one of the other main reasons I bought tickets for this show. He’s one of the few truly incredible icons and musical prodigies that I had yet to see in concert. He comes out with a slower walk, a pair of glasses, long hair slicked back off his forehead and sits down at the piano. Now, he’s older, so you can tell his fingers can’t take the speed and ferocity he used to be known for, but he’s still a master musician. He comes out playing old hits and most everyone in the audience is moving with him. He at points lapses into a deep Southern twang, and almost consistently refers to himself in songs as “Jerry Lee.” He can’t dance at the piano like he used to, but the voice in his songs and the way he attacks the piano give you a clear idea of who he used to be as a performer, and just how much, even this late in life, is still there for him. His set is remarkable, and in conjunction with Tom Waits and the Kronos Quartet, the price of the ticket is well justified. The highlights of his set include “Roll Over Beethoven,” “You Win Again” (Hank Williams cover), “Your Cheating Heart,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.”

After Lewis finishes up, Metallica comes out to close the show. They, like Tegan and Sara, have made two Bridge School appearances, and I’ve been lucky enough to be at both. They came out and played 5 covers and 3 originals. Thanks to KFer (not KFed!) for the info…They started with “I Just Want to Celebrate” (ironically used in the final episode of 6 Feet Under, making this an evening where two tracks from HBO series were played) then played Nazareth’s “Please Don’t Judas Me.” Personally, I found it excellent and amazing when they covered Garbage’s “I’m Only Happy When It Rains,” right before Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms.” Following this, they went into “Disposable Heroes,” “All Within My Hands,” and Bob Seger’s “Turn the Page” before closing their set and the show with “Nothing Else Matters.”

All in all, it wasn’t the most impressive Bridge line-up I’ve ever seen…My Morning Jacket and John Mayer could have definitely been left off the guest list. But seeing Metallica acoustically, Jerry Lee Lewis for the first time and the unreal performance of Tom Waits and the Kronos Quartet made this a very successful, diverse and memorable Bridge School Benefit. See y’all next year.


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