Sunday, December 19, 2010

Best Music Videos of 2010

It's that time of year again. I'm sure you've been anxiously awaiting the countdown of the year's best music videos. I believe this will be my 4th (2007, 2008, 2009). And while we still have a week or so left in 2010, I'm confident that no one will make a good one in that time. It's safe to post this.

Luckily, the internets has picked up the torch that MTV and VH-1 abandoned for pregnant teenagers and rehab shows. The #1 video of the year, as you'll see, epitomizes the influence that the internet (a.k.a. the only place to see music videos now) has had on the medium.

So let's get to it! I give you the 15 best music videos of 2010:

#15: David Crowder Band "SMS [Shine]"
Remember when you were 7 and you had used up all the templates that came with your Lite-Brite? And you came up with your own design? Didn't you feel like such an artist? Well, after watching this video, you'll realize that the smiley-face sun you made was crap. Check out the "making of" feature here.

#14: TIE between Local Natives "World News" and Mumford & Sons "The Cave"
I don't know which band came up with the idea of resort hotel staff lip dubbing their song first...but I think we can agree that they BOTH stole their aesthetic from Wes Anderson films.

#13: Broken Bells "The Ghost Inside"
I prefer this fan-made video to the official video, which is pretty great in it's own right. But come on. Hall & Oates! That beats the chesty gal from Mad Men in a sci-fi tragedy any day.

#12: The Boy Least Likely To "George and Andrew"
While we're on the 80's male pop duos kick, let's talk about Wham!.Not since the cast of Seinfeld fictionally reunited on Curb Your Enthusiasm has a fictional reunion...well, ever happened. And what a coincidence that Andrew is still wearing his "Choose Life" shirt!

#11: Hanson "Thinking "Bout Something"
You're damn right I'm putting a Hanson video on the list. Deal with it. It's sort of a cross between a homage to pawn shop scene in The Blues Brothers and the parade scene from Ferris Beuller's Day Off. Plus Weird Al is inexplicably playing the tambourine! I dare you not to love this video.

#10: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists "Bottled In Cork"
TC wrote about this a while back. I'll let his review do the talking.

#9: Janelle MonĂ¡e (feat. Big Boi) "TightRope"
This is more about the song than the video. Still, both One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and It's Kind Of a Funny Story would have been well served to have an asylum dance-off.

#8: B.o.B. (feat. Rivers Cuomo) "Magic"
This was my favorite pop song of 2010. I still love it. And the video is just as good. Sexy Fruity Pebbles in the bathroom. Bizarro Being John Malkovich-like plot. Rivers Cuomo wearing a puffy vest from 2001. Classic.

#7: Cee Lo Green "Fuck You"
I'm not the biggest fan of the Happy Days-ish video. I prefer the text-only version. There's something mesmerizing about it (did you know that the third "oooo" in the chorus is spelled 4 "o"s, not 3?!).I mean, honestly, this song is clearly about the words. Oh, and you have to check out Whitney Avalon's reply, "Clearly Obsessed"

#6: Ok Go "This Too Shall Pass"
Of course they're on the list. And while I have a soft spot for their alternative version that features and is played by the Notre Dame Marching Band, you just can't beat a Rube Goldberg machine. It's the rules.

#5: Kanye West "Runaway"
I've been rooting for Kanye. He gets picked on my bullies like Taylor Swift and Matt Lauer. Jerks. And yet, while everyone else is declaring his new album the best of the year, I've been left a bit disappointed. Still, his short film about a Phoenix falling from the sky (and a giant paper mache Michael Jackson head?) is epic indeed.

#4: Arcade Fire "The Suburbs"
From the best album of 2010 (my opinion...sorry Kanye), and the best music video director around (my opinion...sorry Hype Williams), this video reminds me of the climactic scene in E.T., but without that older brother with the giant nostrils...or the iconic red hoodie...or the alien.

#3: The Black Keys "Tighten Up"
I first saw them when they opened for Guided By Voices NYE show in Indianapolis in 2002 or so. This year, the Black Keys have deservedly blown up. And as adorable as the kids are in the video, I think my favorite moment is the sage advice given in the first few seconds...that when your playmate partner smells like ranch dressing, you just hold your breathe or something.

#2: Vampire Weekend "Giving Up the Gun"
So many great things in this video. RZA reffing tennis. Joe Jonas wiping his hand off after his post-loss handshake. Evil Jake Gyllenhaal taking a swig of booze before and during his match. Coach Lil' Jon. The flaming tennis racket. The boom box playing "Holiday." It took a technological spectacle at #1 to knock this out of the top spot.

#1: Arcade Fire "We Used to Wait"
I've probably watched this video using roughly 20 different locations. If you're unfamiliar, you start at the video's website
. You enter an address, preferably your childhood home, to get the most of the nostalgic/tragic/creepy feel they're aiming for. And then you watched a hooded figure run around your old haunt while trees begin to sprout. It's nuts/awesome.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Bad Idea 2010 Playlist Part II

2010 Playlist: The Sequel.  Does the quality of Volume 2 rise above that of Volume 1 (a la "Kill Bill"), or does it merely serve as a cheap, soulless imitation of the earlier inspired incarnation (a la Schottzie 02, the dog that NEVER won a World Series.)*  I maintain that much like the legacy of George W. Bush, history will have the final say on which answer is correct, at such a point in time that both you and I will likely have been dead for ages.  Happy holidays everyone!  Let's kick out the jams!

UPDATE:   Soundcloud took down the stream - advance straight to the zip file.

LCD Soundsystem - If you are a fan of things that are great, you'll be interested in James Murphy's outstanding interview this week on Sound Opinions.  He is quickly rising to Tweedy/Darnielle/Finn status as front men who as entertaining in interviews as they are musically.
Jonsi - I always find it enjoyable how Sigur Ros lyrics are sung in a non-existant language, so I was a little worried that Jonsi singing in English would lessen the impact.  Fortunately, you still can't understand anything he's saying!
Arcade Fire - After years of struggle, they've finally worked their way up to the level of critical acclaim enjoyed by Katy Perry.  (Sidenote: Have you looked at the list of recent "Album of Year" winners?  It's amazing!  I think the reason there hasn't been a proper Outkast album since 2004 is because they're traumatized by their win.)
Frightened Rabbit - I legitimately wonder what the benefit is for bands to sign with major labels any more.  Radio play and promotion budgets don't really exist for rock bands in 2010, right?  
Kurt Vile - I enjoy mocking bands whose music may appear on Grey's Anatomy, but anyone who gets a song to close out Eastbound & Down is a winner in my book.
Hollerado - I had never heard these guys before seeing them open for Free Energy last month.  They made a video for this song that's so awesome, I imagine OK Go watching it and seething that they didn't come up with the idea first.
Frontier Ruckus - Yesterday I said that Phosphorescent reminds me of when Ryan Adams was good.  Frontier Ruckus apparently reminds RYAN ADAMS of when Ryan Adams was good.
Harlem - I'll always be partial to sloppy garage rock.  Likewise, I'm always inclined to negatively pre-judge any band in the "chillwave" genre.  That's the worst new genre name, right?  Am I forgetting a worse one? 
Girls - This band was started by someone who grew up in the Children of God cult!  Seems like he should have been able to come up with a more creative band name.
Gayngs - This song is from their live Daytrotter session.  Justin Vernon's falsetto was made to cover Sade songs.  The couples' skate soundtrack at the hipster roller rink.
Yeasayer, Local Natives, Sharon Van Etten, The National - These songs are all great.  Enough with the chatter already.

--Zipped file of all 25 tracks here (216 megs)--

*I went to Marge Schott's wikipedia page to verify when the original Schottzie died, (1991 if you're curious) and read something I'd never seen before.  She re-gifted flowers to pass them off as a condolence bouquet for John McSherry's funeral.  This of course, came AFTER she bitched about McSherry collapsing on the field and "ruining" opening day in Cincinnati.  I obviously knew she was an old mean racist, but STILL, holy shit!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Bad Idea 2010 Playlist Part I

Musically speaking, 2010 has clearly been the year of the reunion.  Four regroupings inparticular triggered my interest, each for a slightly different reason.  Observe my reaction to each:

Regarding Soundgarden's pre-Lollapalooza gig: "Holy shit!  I loved them in high school and am very excited!"
Regarding Pavement's reunion shows: "Holy shit! I only got into them during the Terror Twilight phase, so I missed most of their hey day.  This will be great!"
Regarding the Guided By Voices reunion:  "Holy shit!  I've missed these guys!  And they're only playing songs from between '92-'96?!  I don't have to sit through 'Glad Girls'?!  That's so great!"
Regarding new album/tour from Superchunk:  "Holy shit!  I forgot that band still existed!"

And while Soundgarden, GBV, and Pavement were all enjoyable, the re-discovery of Superchunk was my personal highlight of the year. 2010 has not been my favorite year for a variety of reasons, but I've listened to "Majesty Shredding" more than any other record since it came out in September, for no reason other than the fact that it's one of the few things within my control guaranteed to improve my mood immediately.  And look at all the happy bouncing taking place at the video at the top of the page!  For a band that's now known more for the label they started as opposed their musical output, this is the best album they've made.  I hope they don't take another 9-year break before the next one.

On that note, Allow me to present Part 1 of my 2010 playlist, AKA the songs I dug the most these past 12 months.  Part 2 is coming tomorrow.

UPDATE:   Soundcloud took down the stream - see the main page for the zip files.

Phosphorecsent - Remember how great Ryan Adams was at the beginning of the decade?  That's what this record reminds me of.
Beach House - In my top 3 for favorite albums of the year.  iTunes tells me I've listened to this track more than any other 2010 song.  It's fun when a song's personal worth to you can be validated statistically. 
Steel Train - Liking this song might mean I'm a 14-year-old girl, but so be it.  I thought the same thing last year when it came to the band fun.  Try and get this melody out of your brain.  You will fail.
Warpaint - My newest obsession of the year.  Their album is good, but the live setting is where they shine brightest.
Superchunk - Come find me in 20 years, and I'll be a 52-year-old still singing "Slack Motherfucker."  Majesty Shredding is streaming here, and a digital download of the album is currently less than $6 on Amazon.
The New Pornographers - The Steve Nash of indie pop bands.  Always reliable.  Always consistent.  Always Canadian.
Kanye West - Great album, but it is NOT perfect.  For example, that Chris Rock bit doesn't exactly improve with repeated listens (though the line "I put the pussy in a sarcophagus" does improve with age.)  The Nicki Minaj verse is so great here that it bums me out even more that her actual album is so terrible.  
DOM - I know nothing about this band.  If you told me they were a chorus of home-schooled children, I'd happily believe it.  It sounds like a trippy jingle for a Skittles ad.
The Hold Steady - "The theme of this party's the industrial age.  And you came in dressed like a train wreck."  Boom!  Roasted!  Best steampunk-related burn I've ever heard.
Deerhunter - It seems odd that this is the only band on the list to incorporate an animal within their name, since it seems like every other indie band formed lately involves a deer, bear, panda, bird, or fucking wolf in their name.  In fact, I just invented a new band named Bear Wolf and we should have coverage on Stereogum within the week!
Cee Lo Green - The can't-miss album of the summer!  So of course it was released in November!  Score another great decision for major labels!
The Besnard Lakes - These guys did an awesome free show at Millennium Park in May.  I was looking for footage on YouTube and found this crappy cell-phone clip, where the back of my head is featured prominently in the foreground.
Ariel Pink's Haunted Grafitti - If any John Hughes movies had featured recreational use of ecstasy, this would be the soundtrack for the montage scene.
Bottomless Pit - Last month, John Darnielle issued an order to see this band.  I followed that order.  He was right as usual.
Justin Townes Earle - Winter in Chicago encapsulated in 4+ minutes.  From the gospel according to Springsteen.

Part 2 (and a link for download) coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Take a whispering class!

Any down time in my last 24 hours have more or less consisted of jumping between Cee-Lo's delightfully profane "non-video" video and this magical journey to the stage of Ted Leo and the Pharmacists:

Interestingly, The AV Club (along with the plague mouth-breathing, mutant commenters that render that otherwise great site mediocre) are viewing this clip as pure mockery of Green Day, though I didn't see it that way at all.  I think it's no doubt satirizing the trend for Broadway to latch onto pop music as opposed to other original content, but it's not "mocking" anybody specifically, except maybe the Rx themselves.

That said, the video didn't remind me of Green Day nearly as much as it reminded me of the AMAZING disaster from four years ago, when a musical based on the music of Bob Dylan was actually greenlit, and actually on Brodway for a month before everyone realized it was terrible and nobody was going to see it and they should all stop making it.

If you've never seen this, it's amazing. And you will never be able to un-see it as long as you live.

How does it feel? It feels terrible. To describe my feelings any better, I'd need a giant ball to bounce on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Off the Record

A couple nights ago, I was watching POV on PBS. One of the short films that aired was based on record collector Paul Mawhinney, who has been trying (unsuccessfully thus far) to sell his collection of 2.5 million vinyl records. The 7-minute-feature (shot two years ago) can also be seen here, and I highly recommend it, as the direction is top-notch, and the lighting of Mawhinney's cramped archive is truly gorgeous.

Judging from the majority of responses on the POV site, people see Paul Mawhinney as a martyr who spent his life devoted to collecting an artform that society has deemed basically worthless.  People see him as an ultimate victim who has sought after and cared for these items, yet now in his time of need he's unable to sell them for even pennies on the dollar.

I'm clearly in the minority, because I see him as kind of an asshole.

Obviously, Mawhinney's health concerns inspire a large part of the emotional response, and indeed it's sad to see these ailments taking hold of his body, understanding that he could no doubt use the money this sale would bring. But a significant amount of Mawhinney's own commentary raises some red flags as to A) his status as a "collector" vs. "dealer," and B) His understanding of the marketplace.

My issues started literally within the first 20 seconds of the video, with Mawhinney showing off this supposedly priceless artifact by pawing at it, slapping his entire palm over it like a gorilla ready to toss its own feces. And he doesn't say anything along the lines of "Imagine the history of what I'm holding, etc..." He just mentions (twice!) that it must be worth a boatload.

Throughout the rest of the video, I have a hard time seeing this guy as someone who's truly in love with what he possesses. The way he talks about records is the exact same way that show dealers at Eastgate Mall talked about baseball cards when I was 11 years old. They enjoy what makes them money, and they are always in sell mode when showing off what they've got.  When he shows off The Rolling Stones crown jewel of this collection, he doesn't make mention of how many copies were printed, or whether it's a UK or US edition, or any of those music nerd details. But he sure as shit knows the price range for it. Of course, his range of $6k-$10k is pretty wide, and a copy sold on Ebay last month for less than $1,800, so perhaps he sould take it easy with throwing that 10 grand figure around. By that same token, Mawhinney's dealer-enhanced claim of the collection being worth $50 million means nothing without a buyer. Shit, how about if I hereby appraise the entire collection of Ken Griffey Jr. Starting Lineup figures through the years at 15 grand! Do I hear a bidder?  Act now and I'll throw in every Dante Bichette model from 1995-97!

I'm highly skeptical of his claim that 83% of the music in his collection isn't available through other media formats. We live in a time where releasing reissues with a built-in and known demand is a far safer business proposition for labels than bankrolling new bands, so it would seem a safe assumption that most of the music in his collection that legitimately won't be re-released to the public is most likely not that valuable to being with.

Granted, Mawhinney's commentary about people "not giving a damn" about vinyl have been disproven in the time since the video was made, so he can't be chastised for not knowing that in the time since he made those comments, vinyl sales would be the ONLY media form of the record industry actually thriving. But Mawhinney's insistence to sell the collection as one lump all-or-nothing transaction seems...well...stupid. If these albums truly mean something sentimental, why not keep them and pass them down when death comes knocking? If they don't hold that attachment, sell what people are willing to buy.  Either way, Mawhinney's act of martyrdom seems played out at this point, nearly a decade after he first had a deal fall through with the U.S. Library of Congress.  I'm guessing that deal (which he rejected) was for more than $3 million.  That small plot point wasn't mentioned in this feature, but I'm guessing it just didn't fit the narrative.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Drift Shaft records not included

I made peace awhile ago in regards to what Weezer has become.  Despite the diminishing returns of each album, they still have become masters in marketing themselves in ways that have nothing to do with their songs themselves (Exhibit A-Z: Snuggies!)  Perhaps Weezer truly are the second coming of Kiss?

The pitch of style over substance was on display again this week.  I saw the band's new single linked a few different places, but those mentioned were dwarfed drastically by news of the album's cover photo.

Delightful!  Although Hurley was partial to another band, this photo couldn't be more joyous if he were fully decked out in a Mr. Cluck's uniform.

Will the album be good?  Who knows?  Probably not that good, but maybe kinda good!  Does it matter?  Not really!  What matters is that I want LOST connections on all indie rock album covers from now on!  So I took it upon myself to make several of them!  Feel free to print these at and glue them to your CD covers. (That is a joke - nobody buys CDs.  Please copy and past into your magical lower-left iTunes box to your heart's content.)

Was this good use of a couple hours on a Thursday?  Or THE BEST use of a couple hours on a Thursday?  You do the math.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bad Idea Show Review: Lollapalooza 2010 at Grant Park

It's 2010, everybody.  We as a nation need to examine proper crowdsurfing situations with a more discerning eye.  I'm not going to go so far as to say it's inappropriate in every situation, but there is no acceptable reason for why crowdsurfing is occurring during sets from Yeasayer or The Black Keys.  Let's all make better choices.  Go with yourself.

My Lollapalooza weekend started a night early, as I unexpectedly had the chance to see Soundgarden at the small Vic Theatre on Thursday night with a friend. It was a really fantastic show, consisting mostly of Badmotorfinger and Superunknown tracks. Cornell’s hair was at 1992 length, as was his voice which sounded great. Kim Thayil is now fat, with a gray beard and goofy hat that at first made me wonder, “When did Dr. John join Soundgarden?” Anyway, after getting the rock endorphins flowing, the weekend was off and running. And by running, I mean walking carefully. Nobody needs to run at festivals, kids!

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Last Nite

photo via Kate Gardiner

Of the 37 Strokes songs on my iPod, roughly 2/3 of them have been listened to 4 times or fewer each.  Of course the first two Strokes albums were released before I had an iPod, so those numbers may seem a bit deflated in relation to my actual enjoyment, but the fact remains that as much as I still love hearing one of their songs, I haven't particularly had an urge to listen to them much in recent years.  With Lollapalooza serving as their U.S. reunion debut, I was looking forward to the set, but by the end of a long, action-packed, not-that-hot-but-still-pretty-hot Friday, I wasn't expecting a whole lot.  

Since Lady Gaga started 30 minutes before The Strokes, I watched the beginning of her set.  If it had been worthwhile, I was contemplating staying there, but it ended up being mediocre community theater, complete with terrible between-song "dialogue" and lots of screaming the words "Chicago!" and "Lollapalooza!" to force undeserved screams.   So to the North stage I moved, noticing when I got there that in all honesty, the crowd disparity was 75/25 for Gaga.  Huge gaps in the crowd allowed me to move within 100 feet or so from the stage.  And then we waited.  The 8:30p start time came and went.  After about 15 minutes (during which time I honestly thought to myself "Maybe they've broken up for good just now!")  At that moment, the stage went black, and Queen's "We Will Rock You" blared through the speakers.  And another thought took over.  This might be good.

What it ended up being, hyperbole aside, was one of the best shows I've ever seen.  As in, top 5 in my life.  Since the moment it ended, I've been trying to think about what made it so fantastic.  The band was as perfectly tight as ever.  Casablancas' voice was on point, bouncing from slurs to screams while still rocking a hooded sweatshirt AND leather jacket in decidedly non-chilly conditions.  But what put the night over the top was the crowd, and I don't think I've ever thought that at any point during a festival show.

I'm placing the credit firmly on the counter-scheduling of Gaga.  Throughout the day, it was shocking to me how many Gaga fans were in attendance, but it was also obvious that she was going to get all the casual Lolla-goers as well.  This of course is perfectly understandable.  If she had been playing opposite Phoenix or Green Day, I probably would have gone to her set as well out of sheer curiosity.  The Strokes, on the other hand, were not going to have anyone seeing them out of ambivalence.  Even people who hated Lady Gaga were going to opt for just going home as opposed to standing and watching a band they don't really care about sing songs that were never on the radio.  If you were going to see The Strokes, it was because you loved The Strokes, not because you wanted to stand and watch while chatting with friends.  Again, this a mindset that really never happens at festivals, but last night was a perfect storm, and from the moment the band opened with "New York City Cops," it became evident that this was something different

Festival shows can provide a lot of great performances, but they hardly ever result in transcendent moments.  When they do connect, it's a lightning strike of collective energy.  LCD Soundsystem at Pitchfork this year was a perfect example of an otherwise outstanding set, that contained within it a moment of something different during "All My Friends" wherein a  switch was flipped, and the collective power of the crowd went off the charts.  The Strokes' set last night was that moment, for about 70 minutes straight.  Every word to every song was screamed by every person, fists in the air and dumb grins on our faces.  (Okay, maybe not every word, but only because nobody can really sing the chorus of "Hard to Explain" without butchering the order of the lines.)  

Gaga had the majority of people on her side of the park, but there is no possible way they were louder or happier than we were.  Her stage set was the most expensive in Lollapalooza history, and from what I saw it was sterile and underwhelming.  The Strokes had an Atari version of Pac-Man being played on the screen behind them, and it was perfect.  From one song to the next, the collective energy just kept going, to the point where everyone had a look in their eyes wondering "Is this happening?" and the only answers you would get were the looks in other peoples eyes asking the same thing.  The set was a little short, but nobody cared.  We just filed out, hearing seemingly every person around mumbling "Oh my God," at what just happened.  Everyone was saying the same thing, but it wasn't quite as synchronized as our collective chorus of "Juicebox."

Your work is cut out for you on Sunday, Arcade Fire.  Act accordingly.

The Setlist:
New York City Cops
The Modern Age
Hard to Explain
What Ever Happened?
You Only Live Once
Is This It
Vision of Division
I Can’t Win
Last Nite
Under Control
Heart in a Cage
Take It or Leave It

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bad Idea Show Review: Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park

I attended my third Pitchfork Music Festival last week, and it seems to be following the trajectory of the greatest trilogy in cinematic history – Back to the Future.

  • Pitchfork 2008 was my introduction into a new world of music festivals (or time travel)
  • Pitchfork 2009 took it to an even higher level with multiple epic bands (or hover boards)

Let me first point out that the crew I rolled with was stellar. They are exempt from my less than glowing review.

  • Tom (host and brother)
  • Paul (newbie and loudmouth)
  • Crystal (girl and vodka-smuggler)
  • Pat (future Mr. St. Vincent and industry insider)
  • Joey (Venom enthusiast and a 3.7 rating)
So let’s with the fashion! The only thing Pitchfork-goers like more than music is making fun of hipsters (while casting a blind eye on their own hipster tendencies). When trying to figure out what hipster wardrobe was the hippest in 2010, I sadly noticed that it looked identical to 2009: Ray-Bans and 90’s basketball jerseys. This guy know what I’m talking about. And so early on, I gave up on tallying up the fashion trends. Like when George gives up on trying to ask Lorraine to the dance when he sees that she always swoons over Calvin, I mean Marty.

Now, onto the music:


Comedy stage: We never ventured to the comedy stage on Friday, and my most accounts, that was a good thing. Michael Showalter, who I love, apparently bombed. And the rest had to talk over rock bands. Who do you think won that battle? My guess is that the comedians got pretty frustrated with this, and snapped at the band stages just like Huey Lewis snapped at Marty McFly’s band during their talent show audition.

Robyn: The pop star was doing her set while we were waiting in the ID bracelet line…and the beer ticket line…and the beer line (there’s gotta be a better way!!!). By the time we had a beverage, her set was pretty much done. But she’s not really in my wheelhouse (I didn’t know she was in Pitchfork’s wheelhouse, either), so I didn’t mind listening from a distance. I saw her on Letterman this week, and think that during her Pitchfork set, I probably would have just stared at her chipped tooth anyway. She must be one tough cookie.  Is she the female goon in Griff’s posse?            

Modest Mouse: When Pitchfork was announced, this was the band I was most excited to see. If I had done the scheduling, I would have had them end Sunday night, switching places with Pavement. But I’m a young buck of 29. What do you I know? I do know that I thought Modest Mouse killed it. The first time I saw them live, I was surprised at how rabid Isaac Brock performs. I used to make fun of my friend Brennan, who broke his ankle moshing at a Modest Mouse show, but then I saw this, and I started to realize that despite the banjos and horns, Modest Mouse doesn’t resign itself to folkiness. They don’t mess around. Isaac Brock = Biff Tannen!

Free Energy: I really didn’t want this band playing at 1:00 pm on Saturday. Before the festival, I listened to most of the bands, and couldn’t get enough of these guys. Simple, loud pop rock. They energized the crowd that was there as the gates opened for the day, and I imagine if they’d played later in the day, they may have been thought of as one of the best rock bands on the weekend (Pitchfork seemed heavy on both ambience and dance music, but light on rock). While I wish they would have ended with their self-titled song last instead of their other single “Bang Pop,” it was well worth getting to the park early.

DeLorean: Well, I love their name, for reasons made obvious by my clearly unhealthy obsession with BTTF. I would have been happy if the car just rolled out on stage and opened its doors to the sky. But their music forgave their lack of a stainless steel time machine. The festival was a little dance/electonic heavy for my taste, and I was expecting to leave this set fairly early, trying to save myself for LCD Soundsystem, but I loved this band. As with most electronic music, I can’t really pinpoint why. It’s attraction and power is as mysterious as the flux capacitor.

Titus Andronicus: They played the first Saturday slot in last year’s festival, and this year upgraded they the fifth. I guess that’s progress? While Paul will forever be disappointed that no bagpipes were played, they still held their own with the more traditional rock and/or roll instruments. While they’re a bit too historical for a guy like me, who prefers not to listen to lyrics, I enjoyed slow tapping (then stomping) my feet to their music. They definitely aren’t a band that will be playing the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance anytime soon. And as evidenced by the stars and stripes adorning their stage, they sure do love 'Murica.

Wolf Parade: Paul insisted that I give this band much attention before the festival, and I’m glad I did. Their performance was one of the most energized of the weekend, but one that I think, if unfamiliar with the music, I wouldn’t have gotten. Still, their music did inspire an assembly line of morons trying to crowd surf from the middle of the crowd by using a recycling trash bin as their launching point. It did not go well.

Panda Bear: Tom reported that most people were tweeting “more like Panda Bore!” during whatever Panda Bear wanted to call it (A performance? No, there was nothing to watch. A set? No, there were no clear starts/finishes to songs. Concert? Hell no). But I should get too worked up. We just sat on the ground in front of LCD’s stage waiting for the real deal.

LCD Soundsystem: Wowsa. For a guy that looks like a fat Brett Favre, James Murphy knows how to get 18,000 feeling like their on top of the world. There was virtually no dead time between hits. The crowd didn’t stop dancing. The skanks shaking it on top of the trash cans previously used as crowd surfing launch pads certainly didn’t. My only wish was that the final song brought the crowd’s spirits up, rather than back down to earth, as “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” did. I mean, even Marvin Berry and the Starlighters knew not the end the dance with “Earth Angel.”


Beach House: Ug. I was bored by this. As much as I love glitter kites (and I LOVE glitter kites!), I just can’t handle the blahness. I’m going on record to declare a fully anti-blah music philosophy.

Local Natives: Another band I had listened to quite a bit before the weekend, their lead singer’s moustache only improved their stock. They remind a lot of people of Vampire Weekend, which I get. Their set actually reminded me of Vampire Weekend at 2008’s Pitchfork, only these guys seemed to be loving what they did, whereas Vampire Weekend seemed obligated. I could easily see this band blowing up in the same way. Perhaps fame is their density…I mean, their destiny.

Surfer Blood: We sat down in the shady corner while this band played. We definitely thought it was enjoyable to listen to….while sitting in a shady corner. At that point, there wasn’t much that would have gotten us to stand up and actually watch a band. But they certainly didn’t push us away. I think that’s a win.

St. Vincent: While Pat kept proposing to her from afar, I wasn’t as impressed with her set. I don’t know. I had trouble with the drastic shifts in tempo, tone, style, etc. I like to know what’s coming next. But with St. Vincent, I just felt like I had ordered a nuclear bomb, but was only given a shoddy bomb casing full of used pinball machine parts. And we all know how well that goes over.

Major Lazer: Holy crap! Giant Dragon puppets, a hype man that looks like what will happen if Dave Chappelle is cast as the next Riddler, only with a sex addiction. Ballerinas. A ladder. This band caught a lot of people off-guard while they waited for Big Boi. No other act did I see cause so much of the crowd to stand up, face them, and try and figure out what the hell was going on. Did he just reverse cowgirl that dancer? Yes. Did he just scream that someone in the crowd was gonna get pregnant? Yes. Did he just take off his pants while standing atop a 10-ft. ladder? You betcha. And my personal favorite, did the dj just throw in a sample of Ace of Base? Hellz yeah!

Big Boi: I listened to his new album on the way up to Chicago. Twice. Eh. I really feel like both he and Andre 3000 together are greater than the sum of their parts. Luckily, Big Boi did not shy away from Outkast’s catalog. In fact, he went through its entirety. Granted, most songs were about half the length (because, you know, half the band wasn’t there), but I enjoyed its frenetic pace. And come on, child break dancers for “The Way You Move”?! Outstanding.

Pavement: Talk about going back to the future! While I still wish they’d have switched places with Modest Mouse, Pavement did impress me. By the time I got to college, Malkmus had already gone solo. So I knew of his solo work first, and Pavement second. And they’re one of those bands that I don’t even try to get into, for the mere fact that their cult fanbase implies an all-or-nothing mentality. Either you know every single song, or you shouldn’t even bother. What I found, though, was that even as a casual fan, I recognized most of what they played. Not specific songs, necessarily, but in contrast to St. Vincent, I knew where they were going. Knowing that old man Biff is going to create alternate 1985 doesn’t stop me from watching it happen. Of course, I wish Pavement had axed the whole comedy skit introduction so they would have had time for an encore, but it was Sunday night. I was certainly spent.

Just like Back to the Future III has the components of everything I love about the first two films (time travel, allusions to previous films, Doc freaking out) while in no way living up to them, it felt like this year’s festival had everything I love (a festival in the city, reasonable start/stop times, exposure to new music) while still leaving a bit to be desired. But let’s be honest. Even if Pitchfork pulls a BTTF III and goes western next year, I’ll be there, ready to help get that train up to 88!

Best Performance: LCD Soundsystem
Best New (to me) Band: Local Natives
Band I Regret Not Seeing: Here We Go Magic
Band That Is Most Likely To Inspire Dave Chappelle to Return to Comedy: Major Lazer

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Scenes from a Winnipeg City Bus

I would defy any motion picture art director to design a scene with as much nuance as whatever is happening here.

The longer I look at this, the more questions I have.  First off, the captain of the Stanley Cup champions is riding on mass transit of Winnipeg, Canada, for reasons that go unanswered.  The bus itself is cramped and claustrophobic.  The sunglasses on the ignored toddler are pulled from central casting.  And Jonathan Toews is legitimately channeling his inner Lost in Translation/Broken Flowers-era Bill Murray to pull off a vacant unflinching stare of existential contemplation.  Finally, add in the Stanley Cup, which makes every situation approximately 71% more surreal simply by its mere presence, and before I know it, I feel myself staring at this thing the way Cameron Frye was captivated by Georges Seurat.  

Sunday, July 04, 2010

I'll Fight Like Hell to Hide that I am Giving Up

The year is 2010, and a black democrat is in the White House. As you can imagine, it’s becoming more and more difficult for Rage Against the Machine to viewed with any degree of relevancy. Oh sure, some “musicians” in RATM’s position might decide that the time is right to inflict another terrible album onto the masses, but after some quick thinking, they remembered their penchant for empty political posturing, and thus the Sound Strike was born, to protest State Bill 1070 in Arizona.

I am not going to argue about the merits of the bill one way or the other. But what I am going to argue against is the overall inanity of the artists who have chosen to boycott the state as a result of this bill. The list contains a curious number of bands who aren’t even currently active (Nine Inch Nails, Throwing Muses, Tenacious D) as well as a few whose presence on the list I find genuinely disappointing (My Morning Jacket in particular.) Michael Moore and Maroon 5 are also on the list, which if anything seems unfair to the other 49 states that they’re choosing to NOT boycott.

As an Arizona concert promoter succinctly pointed out, this boycott basically only hurts the people actively supporting (both financially and politically) the majority of these bands. In response to the points raised by the promoter, Conor Oberst recently answered back with his own open letter. I decided to give Oberst’s letter the Fire Joe Morgan treatment that it so richly deserves. His actual words are in bold.

Dear Charlie,
I read your letter and I do understand where you are coming from. You bring up valid points. I personally regret any of the collateral damage the boycott is causing you, other like-minded arts promoters and the fans in Arizona. A boycott is, inherently, a blunt instrument. It is an imperfect weapon, a carpet bomb, when all involved would prefer a surgical strike.

Did you want your war analogies brought up before your appetizers?  Because they're ready immediately.  It's an interesting tactic of basically leading with “we’re destroying everyone in your shitty brown-people fearing state.”  Do go on...

I agree with you in part, and the radio host you quoted, that the authors and supporters of SB1070 could give a shit whether or not my band, or any other Artist, ever plays Arizona again. The only thing, clearly, that these people care about is Money and Power, that and the creation and preservation of an Anglo-Centric Police State where every Immigrant and Non-White citizen is considered subhuman. They want them stripped of their basic human rights and reduced to slaves for Corporate America and the White Race. They are engaged in blatant class warfare. It is evil, pure and simple.

Oberst math lesson: “Only thing” equals several things. And possibly another thing!
Oberst grammar lesson: Use capitalization whenever the hell you feel like it.

I have on many occasions spoken my mind from stage. I have offered organizations table space by the merch booth. I have donated a dollar-a-ticket, or the entire guarantee, to different causes. I have registered voters. I have played on behalf of political candidates.

“These actions allowed those organizations to raise money for their causes. They helped my supported candidates get elected, and in general they provided a forum for people who may not have known each other at the beginning of the day to connect and join forces to affect positive change for their community.  Obviously, that was all pretty fucking dumb.”

Sadly, this time, I fear none of that is enough. If I return to Arizona to pay lip service to a roomful of kids at the Marquee it will do absolutely no good for anyone.

Hey, remember in the 1960’s when Bob Dylan went down to Mississippi to “pay lip service” to kids during the civil rights struggles? What a rube he was! He obviously would have been much more effective singing his protest songs from coffeehouses in the Village. I can’t believe that asshole thought it did any good by confronting the issue at its source, when he should have just boycotted the South!  Too bad his foolish fuck ups rendered him a mere footnote in how to integrate activism and music.

What I can do is to help organize, and play my small part in, what I hope is the largest and most effective boycott this country has seen in a long time. To work it will have to involve members from all sectors of society. The Sports Industry, the Entertainment Industry, the Tourism and Convention Industry, other State and City governments, private businesses and individuals from around the country and the world---all of whom, by the way, are already participating in the boycott. Much of the Artist end of the boycott is symbolic, I acknowledge, and no real threat to the economics of the State. But it is an important part none-the-less for awareness and messaging. The Boycott has to be so widespread and devastating that the Arizona State Legislature and Governor have no choice but to repeal their unconstitutional, immoral and hateful law. It has to hurt them in the only place they feel any pain, their pocketbooks.

Did this dumb simpleton proofread his letter? He readily admits this boycott has “no real threat to the economics to the state,” but one sentence letter claims it has to hurt said said state’s legislature in “their pocketbooks,” which he just acknowledged won't happen. This is not like withholding a giant events on the scale of the Super Bowl or massive conventions that states build their budgets around, where those travelling to the state are staying in hotels or spending multiple days supporting the economy. This isn’t even a massive event like Lollapalooza; it’s a lot of little rock shows by bands who enter and leave the state within the same day, and the powers that be couldn’t give a fuck about such short trips that are inconsequential from an economic standpoint. The only point where it will get any recognition at all by state higher-ups will be after rock clubs, promoters, caterers, stage crews, etc, have already slowly bled to death. Congrats, asshole, you’ve ruined the lives of the very people who allow you to tour in the first place.  Go fuck yourself.

What I would encourage you to do, if you haven't already started, is to organize with all the local businesses you can to put as much pressure as possible on your State Government until the Law is repealed. An economic death rattle is the only cry of outrage they will hear.

“I don’t live in your state, but please allow me to tell you how to handle your local politics. I suggest you complain to them when our actions put you out of business.” What a piece of shit. He should have the word “economic” taken away from his vocabulary. He can have it back when he learns to use it properly.

I realize that the people of Arizona did not vote on SB1070 and I empathize with the anger and frustration you all must feel. I applaud what you are doing with Viva Arizona and do wonder if there might be a way to reconcile both our efforts while maintaining the integrity of each. After all, we are trying to achieve the same thing. But just as you may feel the boycott is an empty gesture, I fear that if we return to business as usual (under the guise of some civic movement) that this will all devolve into the typical grandstanding that is political activism in music. It might make us feel better but won't do a damn thing to change the minds of the radical, racist minority that seem to have controlled Arizona politics for decades. In short, it will lose its teeth.

Playing in Arizona = “guise of some civic movement.” 
Staying away from Arizona=GENUINE civic movement, apparently. 
I have to be honest.  I always considered Bono pretty untouchable in the category of most self-delusional “activist,” but Oberst is pulling out all the stops here and approaching with Super Saver-like speed.

Just this past week, the little town of Fremont Nebraska passed a very similar, almost more radical, city ordinance. It was co-authored and championed by Kris Kobach of Kansas who helped write SB1070. I was outraged, saddened and embarrassed for their town and my state. I am already in the process of organizing a fund-raiser for the NE chapter of the ACLU who is suing the town of Fremont. Our situation requires immediate legal action and a campaign for public awareness (there has been very little press on this). Charlie, I promise you, if this Fremont law had been passed Statewide instead of in a rural town of 25,000 people, I would be the first to call for a boycott of my home state. This way of thinking and legislating is so dangerous, and such a threat to our basic ideals as Americans and Humans, that we cannot stand by and do nothing. We cannot play on as if nothing is wrong. This is not just about Arizona. I am not just skipping a tour date. This is not going to be easy for anyone.

So it's worth setting up a fundraiser in Nebraska to protest a city ordinance, but if that ordinance had been passed state-wide, you would stay away completely? Get fucked, asshole.  Seriously, this feels like a contest to see how many different ways this you can show yourself to be an abject fool. A nice touch letting Nebraska know that they’re on notice though, tough guy. Why not cut the bullshit and just say that all Red States are on thin ice?

Here's a little-heard about a small state called California.  In 2008, the state passed an amendment in 2008 known as Prop 8, which reversed the State Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex couples to legally marry. The amendment (which was passed by the voting public, as opposed to Arizona 1070) was protested by an overwhelming majority of musical artists, yet mysteriously nobody on the Sound Strike roster has argued for a boycott of the state. It’s fortunate to know that the civic minded artists haven’t passed up any paydays in LA, San Fran, or San Diego.

Charlie, I consider you a friend and you have always been great to my bands and me. I have played for you many times and I hope to do so again soon in New Mexico or anywhere else. I sincerely look forward to the day when I can return to Arizona and this will all seem like a bad dream. But I can't come back now. I'm sorry. I hope you will understand.

“Charlie, feel free to drive your sorry ass 8 hours from Phoenix to Albuquerque if that works for you. Otherwise, assuming the actions of myself, Joe Satriani, and that guy from System of a Down don’t cause your business to go under, I’d be glad to let you work on setting up a show for me down the line. I truly hope we can agree on an occasion where it becomes more beneficial for my image to venture into enemy territory. But for right now I really need to milk this stunt for all it’s worth. I hope you will understand. Though I honestly couldn't give a shit either way. 

Conor Oberst"

Monday, June 21, 2010

One ring to rule them all (except for 65 others)

We can all agree that this is completely ridiculous right?  I just want to make sure I'm not alone on the island of brain explosions.  Because looking at this makes my brain explode.

They actually make NIT rings?  Is this something I should have known?  Because it seems insane.  Thank you, Josh Parker, for the aneurysm.  Go Flyers.