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Monday, September 29, 2003

  A perfect A Perfect Circle album,
and another Ben Folds half-album!


Okay, so it's not Revolver-then-Pet Sounds-then-Sgt Pepper. Then again, maybe it is, to those with an affection for riff-heavy dark art-rock like myself. The visionary tennis match of albums between Tool and A Perfect Circle -- with singer/deity Maynard James Keenan crisscrossing the net to hit his own ball, metaphorically -- has given near-limitless pleasure, not to mention swallowed up thousands of hours of listening, for many of Earth's black-clad rock fans looking for substance beyond the latest 3-minute Linkin Park jig or aimless Staind durge. Tool's epic, sinister Aenima begat APC's towering, romantic Mer de Noms begat the former's five-tempo triumph Lateralus begat the latter's latest effort, the dark, hyperpersonal Thirteenth Step. And like the previous three, Step has remained in my CD player the entire week following the moment I purchased it.

Thirteenth Step is an album that seems to be about addiction, relapse and recovery, the object of those being quite ambiguous. The first two tracks, "The Package" and "Weak and Powerless", seem to say "drugs". "Blue" and "The Stranger" seem to say a person of some relevance. And "Pet" seems to say "George Bush and Tony Blair". Well, I dunno.

But it doesn't particularly matter, because Maynard's lyrics leave most of the songs wonderfully open to interpretation, which is quite an accomplishment, given his knack for nuance and emotion in his words. He does hit close to home in some places: The recipient of his frustrated rant in "The Outsider" resembles more than a handful of people I've come upon in my days on the planet. "The Outsider", by the way, is the one song on Step that matches the hard-rock bliss of 2000's "Judith".

It isn't just what Maynard sings, but how he sings it: Contrary to his work with Tool, where he had to compete for attention with the band's other three musicians (particularly the fantastic Danny Carey behind the kit), Maynard's voice rises to the very front of the mix on Step. His evolution from timid desperation to teeth-gnashing desire on "The Package" is a real treat, as are the lonely vulnerability of "The Stranger" and the supremely odd, haunting serenity of "The Nurse Who Loved Me" (a Failure cover).

Behind the bald-or-wigged one, the band has also really come together since their debut three years ago. Of course, the lineup has changed dramatically as well, with Maynard and guitarist Billy Howerdel being joined by Twiggy, formerly of Marilyn Manson on bass, and now James Iha on guitar. Because, yes, one of the best ways to convince people that you're more than just a "supergroup" is to bring in musicians from bands that peaked half a decade prior. Oh, but I kid. The atmospherics on this album bring with them a considerable sonic depth (the opening of "The Noose", and the sprawled, foreboding chorus of "Blue"). Twiggy really finds a good groove on bass, and the drumming, which was an afterthought on Mer de Noms, is vastly improved: Josh Fresse sounds like he spent last year locked in a basement with Jimmy Chamberlin and Stewart Copeland (save for the whole drumming-ahead-of-the-beat thing that Stewwie does). Fun tidbit about Fresse: he was the touring drummer this past summer for the Offspring. Huh?

Anyway, what I can say in a few words, summing up the last several hundred, is that this album is worth your 18 bucks.

Ben Folds Tangent: Since Rebecca appears to be just as huge a BF fan as I am, I shouldn't neglect to point out that you can purchase the 2nd of his 3 EP's this year, Sunny 16 at Ben's nifty website, attackedbyplastic.com. The first EP, July's Speed Graphic, which feautred a tight, quirky cover of The Cure's "Inbetween Days", and a couple of gorgeous ballads, "Give Judy My Notice" and "Wandering", can also be purchased there.
Bren 8:12 PM


  Want to watch a live webcast of an R.E.M. show? If so, tomorrow is your lucky day. From R.E.M. HQ:
REMHQ.com will webcast the band's show in Toronto tomorrow night (September 30th) live from the Air Canada Centre.

In order to view the webcast Tuesday night, click on the "Live From Toronto" button on the front page of remhq.com to launch the player. The show will begin at approximately 7:15pm EDT. The player contains songs and information about the all the bands on this tour. The webcast will be located in the section marked "LIVE."

Currently, the player features the R.E.M. show from Missoula, but it will automatically switch over to a live stream from Toronto at 7:15pm EDT. Sparklehorse will open the show.
Also, R.E.M. will be on David Letterman's show on October 2, presumably performing "Bad Day."
Paul 7:13 PM


  Breathe in for luck, breathe in so deep

So I finally listened to the "new" Dashboard CD, A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. At first I wanted to hate it. I wanted to rage against it. Then I saw the music video on MTV at 3AM, and I decided I liked the sound of the album as a whole. I can't believe I just admitted to watching MTV at 3AM.

So this whole "emo" thing. Last year our floormates affectionately called our room the "suicide room." Not because we were suicidal, but because on rotation were Juliana Theory, Howie Day and Dashboard Confessional 90% of the time. We consider Dashboard hardcore wuss rock. By hardcore we meant super-light. So it makes me wonder, what exactly is emo? How do we classify genres anyway? Is it even worth coming up with tragically hip subtitles for music, or is it all just one lumped together mess? And then with bragging rights (the John Mellencamp-y "I Saw You First" privileges), should we just divide music as Rock/Not and Indie/Commercial? Or how about pre-radio/post-radio?

And emo as a whole is so gray. Who's emo, and who's not? Juliana Theory is emo, but Something Corporate is pop punk (or "piano rock", as they affectionately rip off of Ben Folds), and yet they play shows together. Is part of the "emo" genre poor vocals? Because, let's be real, Conor Oberst is not wooing girls with his vocal prowess or with his guitar skills. When I think of not-so-brilliant-musical-arrangements-with-good-lyrics I think folk. Is emo the less talented, bastard, rocked version of folk?

Now for a very quick and random pseudo-ending: on a very superficial, non-music related level, I adore Chris Carrabba. If any guy wants to know why, just look at him. He is definitely in that realm where aesthetic meets lyric in a very nicely pre-teen packaged marketing machine. Based on his performance last Friday, I cannot wait to see him again.

I would just like to do a quick concert update and see if anyone else is going to any of these shows.
My credit card bill shows I'm catching:
Matt Nathanson & Howie Day @ Slim's, 10/23
Ani DiFranco @ The Greek, 10/24
Bridge School Benefit @ Shoreline, 10/25
Mae, RxBandits and Something Corporate @ The Fillmore, 11/5


I'm still debating about Jason Mraz. I promise all his songs are not like "The Remedy" or "You and I Both." I am a fan of his Bright Eyes cover "Love is Real" (from "Kathy with a K's Song"), "0% Interest" and "On Love, In Sadness." Yay for original indie releases.
Camille 10:27 AM


  Shameless Plug/Movie Tie-In

By now, youve probably all seen A Mighty Wind. And good for you - its a great movie, another excellent piece from Christopher Guest and friends. What you may not know is that A Mighty Wind is going on tour! The bands from the movie - Mitch and Mickey, The New Main Street Singers, and The Folksmen are all playing the Warfield (for Bay Area folk - check Pollstar for other locales) on November 13th. These are the real actors (well, they might sub someone - but anyone youll remember who played a instrument will be there) doing their thing - playing instruments and singing. Come see if they can hold their own on the stage and admire how youre there being postmodern AND breaking down the fourth wall. I saw Spinal Tap a few years ago, and it was a kick - seeing them play their songs and so stupid banter between songs, complete with 18" Stonehedge monument. A slight warning - dont go expecting a comedy show - Spinal Tap took the music very seriously, with the only comedy coming from snappy banter between songs. But at the same time, how many people can say theyve seen Spinal Tap live? Join the few, the proud, the elite of lowbrow comedy and come see A Mighty Wind Live!
Andy J 12:36 AM


  God Save the Queen

What have we been doing wrong all these years? Argue all you want the overall merits of American vs. British bands - Im pretty evenly split. But in the past few years, Americans have lagged way behind in the area of heavy metal (Ill define this as a screaming singer with some serious overdriven, simple guitar and solo breaks - hard rock has singing, emo has no solos). For the past several years, weve endured the likes of Linkin Park, Staind, and POD. And those are the top notch ones - I wont even delve into the Limp Bizkits and Crazy Towns of the world (the country, really). And during this time, England has an excellent metal band in The Darkness.

The Darkness' debut album, Permission To Land, harkens back to the days when long-haired men in tight pants played loud guitars. A mix of AC/DC crunch and Queen theatrics, Permission To Land isnt anything new, but it is done well enough so as to be refreshing. Double entendres (the somber final track is entitled "Holding My Own"), mega-solos, and riffs galore adorn the album, with nary a solemn word in sight (earshot?). The rhythm section of guitar, bass, and drums has perfected the crunchy, slave-to-the-beat sound Malcolm Young and company excel at, while the lead guitarist/singer screams with a falsetto that would make Freddie Mercury jealous (no seriously, it has to be heard to be believed) and puts out melodic, blazing solos that would fit in with the best of the decade (not this decade, one a few decades ago). The three-song block of "Growing On Me", "I Believe In A Thing Called Love" and "Love Is Only A Feeling" is probably the best of any album in recent memory, and the rest of the album is wild and fun enough to be enjoyable. Like Andrew WK, the Darkness plays over-the-top metal with passion, and works a tried-and-true formula to perfection for a thoroughly enjoyable guilty pleasure.
Andy J 12:32 AM


Sunday, September 28, 2003

  Why you'd be a damned fool to miss Ben Folds when he goes on tour
An essay in 480 words


Though no tour dates have yet been arranged, his new album will be released in early 2004, and we can only assume and hope that Ben Folds will be back on the road within the next half-year to promote his glorious brand of upbeat-but-not-devoid-of-sentimentality piano rock. Ten months and thirteen days ago, before I had heard any Ben save for what was occasionally played on KROQ during high school, I had the honor of seeing the man - no, the music machine! - play live at the Warfield for a mere $20, and subsequently my understanding of modern singer-songwriters crumbled. Previously, Elliott Smith and 70s/80s carry-overs like Elvis Costello and Michael Penn had dominated my appreciation of the post-1990 solo artist. After that concert, and a quick perusal of Ben Folds Five/Ben Folds four studio albums, he earned the title of One Of My Ten Favorite Artists Of All Time, sharing the moniker with the likes of the Beatles, Pink Floyd, and Mr. Costello.

Let me enumerate why Ben's studio work and, per the headline, his concerts distinguish him as an underexposed musical treasure.

He is seemingly incapable of writing a dull song. Jumping piano riffs and energized melodies dictate his upbeat songs, while wrenching chord progressions and pensive lyrics punctuate his more solemn tunes. Whether he's demanding that an ex return his black t-shirt, wailing about faux-suburban angst, or narrating the unfortunate tale of abortion, his lyrics tap into the subtler points of grand events with poetic appeal. No matter the topic at hand, he brings in a surprising level of enthusiasm. He's one of the few modern rockers who can discuss apathy and insincerity with a truly engaged and genuine tone. Ben Folds simply refuses to devolve into formulaic songwriting, and I can only predict that his upcoming album will not disappoint.

In concert, Ben becomes 160 pounds (a rough estimate) of pure atomic energy with brown corduroys. When I saw him last November, he was equipped with nothing but his piano (save for one song wherein a stage hand brought on the pieces of a kit one at a time during an extended drum solo), but nevertheless managed to fill the venue with sound in a triumphant redefinition of One Man Band. "Not the Same" and "Song for the Dumped" incorporated sophisticated audience participation; normally I'm too sheepish to even nod my head to a live performance, yet somehow I was willing to be the loudest backup singer at this show, as were hundreds of other disaffected hipsters. Most of his songs were new to me at the time, but the performance was infused with such energy and personal interaction that both Ben and his songs felt like old friends to me.

I can't recommend (or, as I say, Rebeccommend) enough that you see him when he comes to the Bay Area next year. I'll be there.

Rebecca C. Brown 7:39 PM


  How do you go from $17 shows at the Fillmore to $30 at the Warfield in 6 mos?


Launch a massive TRL campaign to get on MTV and VH1, that's how. I'm becoming increasingly frustrated with rising ticket prices. I paid $35 to see Jack Johnson and Ben Harper at the Greek, and it was worth it. I am not paying $30 to see freaking Jason Mraz with a NO NAME opener for 2 hours at the Warfield. What the fuck is that!? How do people get away with this BS? Sometimes I wish I could get my money back, or maybe get some kind of "I saw you first" kinda discount. Like, "Hello I saw you for $5 at the Cafe du Nord, I think you should cut me some slack now that you're all big and famous and on cable tv/clearchannel radio." Who's with me? We could lead the anti-inflationary-ticket-pricing revolution. AITPR? I'll work on the acronym.

On a totally tangential note I went to go see the KGB tonight at Blake's. Sol Americano started the show, and they were definitely the better act to catch. The KGB started at like 12AM and were terrible. Really and truly terrible. I was actually surprised at how terrible they were, because I've seen them live before (granted it was in high school), and I don't remember them being so terrible. Despite the hooch screen blocking the view of the stage (and thus blocking all the fun/silly/over the top stage theatrics), I was shocked -- how could guys who are moderately talented suck so bad in such a short time? It was kind of depressing to watch a high school band play like.. well.. a high school band... only now they're all 25-29.

As another aside: Is anyone planning to go to the Bridge School Benefit this year?
Camille 3:05 AM


Saturday, September 27, 2003

  Nobody Cares!

In a So. Cal town, Friday night, yours truly had the opportunity to attend one of the most unimaginative and least original set this listener has ever had the pleasure of hearing.

That said, it's safe to say that the UCR block party was an outright disaster. Booths lined up a block of road curving around the entrance to the campus, and sadly enough, only a couple of these booths had food and drink. So what you basically had was about.... 2000-3000 students packing a strip of road trying for the life of them to find something to eat or drink during the 4 or so hours the party lasted. I imagine most of the students left without being able to find anything - I by chance stumbled onto one of the food booths, which was selling these very tasty looking BBQ sandwiches. The line was something less tasty. I believe some people were waiting in line for over an hour to get their sandwich. I just left the block party and some friends and I went out to eat and start a party of our own. It went fairly well, with me ending up face down on someone's comforter and waking up this morning not remembering most of last night.

This was a good thing, since I did not want to remember the opening band that played, warming up the crowd for punkers Thrice - but as you can see, not even drunken stupor could erase that terrible memory. This band was a wannabe reggae blended with punk, and EVERY song in their setlist included the EXACT same beat. Surprisingly, the crowd wasn't into them, even though the band was pumped up and the music was very easy to dance to. I guess alcohol couldn't get the students to be excited about this band either. Well, the band was trying to get people to buy their CDs but they had no luck, as no one wanted them. So they started to throw out free CDs to the crowd who, still, did not care one bit. One student was hit by the lead singer in the face with a CD. Several people returned the favor by chucking the CDs back on stage. I guess even college students don't grab and take everything that's free.

Suffice it to say that the entire crowd was having a horrible time and was not in the least into this band at all. The band members tried to pump up the crowd, in the end, even resorting to telling the audience something along the lines of: "If you don't cheer loud Thrice won't come." Yeah, that's a good way to try and get the crowd to like you eh? Oh yeah, maybe they should change their band name too. Get this - "Nobody Cares." That is seriously the name of their band. They really need to put someone else in charge of marketing. Although, the name of the band suits them well. After all, not one student in the entire crowd cared about this band. I feel a little badly for them, because last night must have been one of their worst ever. It must be a desolate feeling when you know that you simply cannot pump up a crowd with your music but have to play anyway until the more popular band finally makes it to the stage.

Thrice finally showed up, about 2 hours late, and while I had left long beforehand, I heard from several sources that their show bit dust too and a lot of students left disappointed. Greg told me that the sound crew was having problems so the show really suffered from that. I can totally understand this, because I have attended musicals where the sound was bad and the entire performance was ruined because of it.

Well, this is running longer than I expected. I hope I haven't lost anyone reading along. In the words of the lead singer of "Nobody Cares" - "are you all awake out there?" To which the crowd actually fired up to let him know that they were indeed awake and very frustrated that they had to be awake while their band continued to play the afternoon away.
Gary 2:04 PM


Friday, September 26, 2003

  It looks like Brendan totally scooped New Musical Express. NME, on Sept. 26, wrote:
RADIOHEAD played one of their oldest songs at their high profile LA HOLLYWOOD BOWL show last night (September 25).

...

During their set, they performed ’Pablo Honey’ track ’Lurgee’, which has only been played once before in recent years.
But it wasn't any later than Sept. 24 that Brendan wrote about Radiohead's Sept. 23 show in Mountain View, CA:
A reasonably straightforward set from the boys, no terribly obscure choices, save for maybe "Lurgee". Thom Yorke's introduction to that song gave us a predictably amusing exchange...

Yorke: "We don't often play songs from our first record..."
Various fans: "Creep! Creep!"
Yorke (chuckling): "No no, not that one"
Where was NME after the Sept. 23 show? See, this is the sort of high-caliber output you can expect from us here at...whatever our name is.
Paul 8:31 PM


Thursday, September 25, 2003

  If you're having trouble picking a Democratic presidential candidate to support and you're the sort of person who would read this site, maybe this will help you choose a Dem.

Time magazine this week offers a summary of which candidates are being supported by which musicians. To summarize the summary:

John Kerry - Moby
Dennis Kucinich - Willie Nelson
Howard Dean - Dave Matthews
Richard Gephardt - Michael Bolton and Tony Bennett
Al Sharpton - James Brown

I think Gephardt might have a guilt-by-association problem on his hands.
Paul 11:38 AM


Wednesday, September 24, 2003

  Radiohead is so . . . near
Shoreline Amphitheater
Mountain View, CA
September 23, 2003

This was my first live Radiohead experience, as my previous listening experiences with the melancholy fivesome from Oxford (think of it as Isla Vista, but with Bill Clinton and Wesley Clark around), generally constituted pressing headphones against my ears at 3 in the morning, trying to suck in every morsel of violin from "Pyramid Song".

Anyway, the concert. Shoreline was sold out, as well it should be for such an event. The crowd was an equal-parts mix of the three central contingents of 'Head fans: 1) Happy, music-minded 20-somethings, 2) Melancholy 20-somethings with slightly-more-subtle makeup jobs than Cure fans, and 3) Boomers who heard that the band "was the new Floyd or something". All would leave the venue well-entertained.

The setlist:
2+2=5
Sit Down, Stand Up
Where I End and You Begin
Kid A
Backdrifts
Lurgee
Morning Bell
My Iron Lung
I Might Be Wrong
Sail to the Moon
Paranoid Android
Punchup at a Wedding
Go to Sleep
The Gloaming
Ideoteque
No Surprises
There There

1st encore:
You and Whose Army?
National Anthem
A Wolf at the Door
How to Disappear Completely

2nd encore:
Airbag
Everything in its Right Place

A reasonably straightforward set from the boys, no terribly obscure choices, save for maybe "Lurgee". Thom Yorke's introduction to that song gave us a predictably amusing exchange...

Yorke: "We don't often play songs from our first record..."
Various fans: "Creep! Creep!"
Yorke (chuckling): "No no, not that one"

Of the ten songs they played from Hail to the Thief, most of them went over very well in a live setting, particularly "There There", "Wolf at the Door", "The Gloaming" and "Backdrifts". In fact, Thom even sang the entire first verse of "Backdrifts" a half-step sharp, correcting himself during the chorus, but no one in the audience really seemed to mind, for the song kicked all the same. Also, "Gloaming" included some nice jazzy touches on bass and drums.

Other notes:
-Thom referred to "Kid A" as a "happy" song, the sort of statement that would lend ammunition to critics of the band who find their music too depressing.
-"My Iron Lung" marked the only appearance of The Bends in the show. Both myself and my three colleagues at the show had jokingly planned to shout requests of "Just", but to no avail.
-The recorded voices that preceded "The National Anthem" included some comments about Cruz Bustamante, for what purpose I was uncertain.
-The stage was flanked on each side by large, vertically-oriented video screens, which Thom put to very good use, mocking and taunting the camera during "You and Whose Army".
-"Everything..." descended into slight chaos when Thom sang the 2nd verse first, but he redeemed himself quite well with some gracious and unpretentious audience interplay.

The band was very energetic, with Thom dancing everywhere and running from instrument to instrument at times, Ed and the Brothers G often maniacally assaulting their instruments (though Phil was doing his best understated Charlie Watts impression behind the kit).

Opening for Radiohead were the British quartet Supergrass, who were perfect in that 1) their sound didn't make anybody leave, and 2) two songs into Radiohead, they were forgotten.
Bren 5:31 PM


  A Brief Pull-Over: Policing the Alt-Punk Scene

Hot Hot Heat
Make Up the Breakdown
7.2/10

Hot Hot Heat. No, I'm not talking about the summer. No, I'm not referring to that cutie in Heat Transfer giving me those sultry glances during lecture. I'm discussing a quirky emerging quartet hailing from Canada who right now are currently working their way from California to the East Coast touring like crazy. After America, these young boys have set their sights on Europe, before they head back into the studio to work on, compile, and record their next album.

Says singer Steve Bays, "We're always working on stuff... We have a million ideas floating around-- stuff on dictaphones, on a couple of computers, in our heads. We have a couple [of songs] that are completed and a bunch of stuff in the works... With Make Up the Breakdown we were trying to find a new sound, and that hasn't been completed yet." If their first full length debut CD, Make Up the Breakdown is any indication, the sound the guys are going to find themselves at is going to be fresh, exciting and fun.

I picked up Make Up the Breakdown recently and I have not been disappointed. These guys have a knack for blending your usual run of the mill punk stylings with more than enough innovations to crank out something quite entertaining. Of course, I'm a sucker for unique and interesting lead singers. His voice just adds so much to the flair this band has to offer. Don't get me wrong, his voice is definitely punk, just not generically so. The music is also more than your typical punk. Piano pieces dot the playing field from time to time. Sonically, the band creates some very nice layering that really add credence to their billing.

All in all, I had a great time listening to this album. It wasn't one of those "gems" or "diamonds in the rough" that will take 50 spins of the CD beginning to end to appreciate it. It's a good, fun romp, and pumped up with attitude. Hot Hot Heat may not be delivering the most original stuff out there, but, I can't express just how much I love to turn the volume up in my car, while driving 80 mph down the freeway, and have something like this blasting from the speakers while the wind runs through my hair, trying to be freaky like only Eden knows how to be freaky (which can be hard when you are trying to drive and eat your patty melt from the Mad Greek). Yeah I know, I must look real stupid to everyone I pass by, but hey, I'm living it up. Give a half Irish, half Filipino guy a chance.

Gary 1:40 AM




Contributors
Andy
Email: antyanax@uclink.berkeley.edu
Studying to: Pet Sounds, The 'Mats

Brendan
Email: gforce1718@aol.com
Blog: The Facts Machine

Camille
Email: camstar(at)berkeley.edu
On Rotation: Elliott Smith

Gary
Email: jtluge@aol.com
"Too sweet for TV"

Eamon
Email: accordionmartyr@hotmail.com

Rebecca
Email: rcbrown@uclink.berkeley.edu
Blog: CalJunket



Upcoming Album Releases:
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