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Thursday, October 21, 2004

  Crossing Bob Dylan off my "Before I Die" List

Just got back from seeing Bob Dylan and his band perform at UCS... er, a large basketball arena on a UC campus. (:

The rasp was out in full force. Dylan's voice is now analogous to Hedwig's "angry inch", in that "it's what I have to work with". Once that was adjusted for, I have nothing bad to say about the concert (other than the obvious, that being "why didn't you play the 50-60 songs I really wanted to hear?").

His band was excellent. Having given up the guitar on stage, old Mr Zimmerman spent each song behind a keyboard, sweat dripping from his cowboy hat and sequined collar. He did, however, give us healthy doses of harmonica. He was accompanied by two guitarists (one of whom spent a lot of time playing pedal-steel), a very capable bassist and a versatile drummer. Their proficiency more than made up for the terrible acoustics of the Thun-- er, the particular arena on a UC campus where I saw him.

The setlist was solid, with "Just Like a Woman" and "Highway 61 Revisited" appearing early on, interspersed among some Love and Theft stuff. "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" was also inspired. My hope against hope that a selection from Blood on the Tracks would find its way into the set was not realized, but I have no complaints about the end result.

The encore selections were "Like a Rolling Stone", on which Bob held back from his usual raspy rapid-fire lyrical delivery, and took his time on the all-important "how does it feel" line... and a drivin-hard rendition of "All Along the Watchtower". Let me put it this way: Bob didn't play his version of that song.

Anyway, a splendid time was had by all. And the advent of the camera-phone has thrown a wrench into the standard "no cameras" policy at concerts lately, I've noticed.
Bren 10:28 PM

Thursday, October 07, 2004

  More Songs About Cars and Dessert

Band: Cake
Album: Pressure Chief

Huzzah, the kings of late-90's irony, the pride of Sacramento (move over Papa Roach), Cake has returned to the scene with a new album, chock-full of... with lots of... with flashes of... eh, it has its moments.

It's not that perma-goateed singer John McCrea has been tamed in any real way, it's that now there's so much more going on in every song than before. The mix on previous Cake albums each had a certain sparseness that somehow suggested an air of irony in and of itself (think "Is This Love", "Frank Sinatra", "Hem of your Garment" and the great "Commissioning a Symphony in C"). On many of the songs of Pressure Chief, that sparseness is filled in with electronic filler and the occasional techno beat, and the result is that at times there's a feeling that something was lost in the transfer. "Dime", while still a delightful ditty, is sweetened by synthesizer fills in its chorus that are a little too serene, and frankly un-Cake-like. I shouldn't tell them who they are, but yeah.

Still, the album has moments of both humor and genius. "Wheels" is a triumph of cynicism, complete with a post-chorus fuzz guitar part that has no business being on a major-label record. Good for them! "No Phone", while at times sounding like a Cake version of "Hey Baby", is an inspired piece, highlighted by a late Talking Heads-ish vocal break before the last chorus.

From there, it's either hit, miss, or maybe-it'll-grow-on-me. Their cover of Bread's "Guitar Man" works for the first couple of listens before descending into a post-novel novelty status. "She'll Hang the Baskets" is a sweet song, and longtime Cake fans may hear a very "I Bombed Korea"-esque acoustic guitar under everything.

Oh, that's the other thing. More than on any other Cake album, McCrea's slightly-distorted acoustic guitar has been de-emphasized on Pressure Chief. Make of that what you will, but it's a net loss for me. It's like telling Eddie Vedder to enunciate, or Michael Stipe to go to the Hair Club for Men. (no offense, of course... I think I'm just bitter that California isn't a swing state)

Then again, maybe it will indeed grow on me. Give me a couple weeks.

Brendan gives it: C+ (as in, the album missed all its sections but had sex with the GSI)
Bren 2:10 PM

Monday, October 04, 2004

  Congrats and Content(!!)

First off, I would like to welcome any new readers who may have been linked by the Berkeley Newscenter article's honorable mention of us. In full disclosure, though, only 4 of us are Berkeley students or alums, but the other two are Berkeley in spirit. We've been in a bit of a content lull, and Ive wanted to start reworking my unpublished archives, and our mention was the tipping point - who knows, maybe Ill even post something tomorrow! Here goes....

Anyone whose sole experience with The Thrills through their last album, So Much for the City, missed out on half the fun. While the album is a slow, sunbaked waltz through California, the Thrills' live show is an entirely different beast. Accentuated by more percussive piano, a lively rythm section, and a singer full of rock-star moves, the songs propel forward far more than on record. Several people, having seen the live show, commented "why can't the album be like that?". So hopes were high that the sophomore album could capture that feeling.

On first listen the aforementioned sophomore album, Let's Bottle Bohemia, sounds like what The Thrills actually managed to bottle was that live sound. Helped along by the aforementioned piano work, guitar riffs and solos, and the requisite "oohs" and "alrights", the new album has the kick City lacked. Songs like "Tell Me Something I Don't Know" or "The Irish Keep Gate Crashing" are boisterous and danceable, or at least "head-bobbable", which is sometimes all you can really ask for. The orchestral accents are a nice touch for a band desperately looking for Brian Wilson's muse, and rarely overpower the key elements of the band. Slower songs like "Not for All the Love in the World" aren't destroyed up by this newfound punch, instead becoming more dramatic and affecting.

A closer listen reveals the downsides of this new sound - there is little of the songwriting substance and emotion that carried The Thrills last album. More than half the songs, with "Rosebud" being the most clear example, ruin an verse verse and bridge with a unworthy chorus. Some of the lyrics are downright inane, with "no one ever chewed off a leg/to escape with no hint of regret" being not only a lame couplet but a rythmic wart.

The final verdict? The Thrills have managed to get through the sophomore slump by plowing right over it, leaving little trace of their former sensitive selves. Listeners seeking a comforting album full of introspection will best remember them by their older album, but those looking for a good time (or a dancefloor) will appreciate the new sound.

A Small Coda: After seeing The Thrills twice and being awed by their power, I managed to catch a free show at Mod Lang the other day. Just weeks after releasing their second, boisterous album, the free show was a quiet, mellow affair, much more in tune with the first album's feel. Maybe next time....
Andy J 6:38 PM

Sunday, October 03, 2004

  Rhapsody rocks my sad little world.

That's right, I signed up for the fancy discoutned Rhapsody for Cal students. For now, subscription is free (until All Hallow's Eve, after which it's $2 a month), and downloads are just 79 cents per song. I also think there's a price break for entire albums. Plus, for my fellow Cal studs, any bill you accrue is charged straight to your CARS account. So if you're a spoiled turd whose parents are suckers enough to pay your bills, you have nothing to lose. Except maybe some hard drive space.

The downsides? Well, there isn't any Beatles (or the members' solo stuff...which is sad, 'cause I just can't get enough Ringo) in the catalog, but that's because ye olde Fabbe Four aren't available (legally) anywhere on the internet until that pesky Apple Records/Apple Computer mess is mopped up like so much vomit under the bleachers. But Rhapsody does have the Shins, Nick Drake, Leonard Cohen, Pink Floyd, Ben Folds, most John Denver, and almost anything else a hip kid like me would want to listen to.

Final score: 17.
Scale: Eh, I'll leave that up for interpretation.

Rebecca C. Brown 1:38 PM

Studying to: Pet Sounds, The 'Mats

Blog: The Facts Machine

Email: camstar(at)
On Rotation: Elliott Smith

"Too sweet for TV"


Blog: CalJunket

Upcoming Album Releases:
Ani DiFranco - January 20
The Coral - January 27
Moby - February 3
Jonny Greenwood - February 24
The Hives - February 2004
Melissa auf der Maur - February 2004
Garbage - Early 2004
The Vines - Early 2004
The Who - Spring 2004
Wilco - Spring 2004
Beck - Summer 2004
Ben Folds - 2004
Chemical Brothers - 2004
Eels - 2004
Interpol - 2004
PJ Harvey - 2004
Queens Of The Stone Age - 2004
R.E.M. - 2004
U2 - 2004
Coldplay - Late 2004
Paul McCartney - Late 2004
Oasis - Late 2004

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