Thursday, January 15, 2009


And the trees are stripped bare
Of all they wear
What do I care
And kingdoms rise
And kingdoms fall
But you go on…..

---- U2

I wouldn’t have survived the 2004 election were in not for the special extended edition DVDs of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—an entire world to get lost in. Likewise, I don’t think I would’ve survived the last month of all Sarah Palin news all the time were it not for the exquisite distraction of 3 stellar live shows. I’ve had bits of papers of notes from these shows, and am finally getting around to compiling them. There’s been too much “Obamaphoria” to concentrate on anything else. I read a great Frank Rich column in which he says something to the effect that we’re finally able to recover from our 8 year abusive relationship with our government. I thought it was a brilliant analogy, and helps explain why we’ve all been walking around with our heads in the clouds for days. It’s a new world.


Literary death rock.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – 10/6/2008

9:30 Club, Washington DC

This show was a 68th birthday present for my mother, so my folks came down for a visit and I drove us to DC. Remarkably, they were not the oldest people in the crowd, but they were probably the oldest people there who were not allowed to drink. Yes, that’s right, we were carded (of course!), thanks to their freakish fountain of youth daughter (come on people-- I have wrinkles all across my forehead, and laugh lines, too, I do not look under 21!) And, of course, being the responsible senior citizens they are, they left all of their credit cards, IDs, etc. back in my apartment in Baltimore. So they both got black ink stamped on their hands which FORBADE them from drinking alcohol! It’s a good thing they aren’t drinkers and didn’t care, though my dad was somewhat delighted that he was carded—he’s nearly 70! We should’ve known we were in for an exceptional evening from the start.

The openers were more monotonous than monotonous, and I don’t even remember their name. And then it happened, Nick and company took the stage, looking like a haggard band of pirates/gypsies/Amish settlers—all thin men in weathered suits, with long, straggly hair. And there he was, the ring master of this motley crew, as seedy and sinister as Mack the Knife, and as sinewy as Mick Jagger. He would be the sexiest 51 year old I know were in not for the pedophile mustache (seriously!), but it’s no wonder Polly Jean and the doe-eyed Anita Lane both dug him. (youtube “Nick Cave and PJ Harvey-- Henry Lee.” It’s reportedly one of the first times they met, and is, um, intense.) It’s disappointing that he’s married to a supermodel, but I guess freakishly beautiful and tall women also dig intense, skinny guys. Bummer.

Their 2008 release, “Dig, Lazurus, Dig” dominated the setlist, but they played songs from across their catalogue, including my first of their albums, 1992’s “Henry’s Dream.” It was an evening of pure theater, but at the same time, remarkable music. They are not simply vampiric in style and image, but also play like the undead—beautifully and relentlessly. I’ve never heard so many lyrics about God and dead lovers—but it’s a testament to his skill as a songwriter and the musicianship of the Bad Seeds, that this never dissolves into art school drivel. It completely works, and you’re transported to another world. The evening can be summed up with the chorus from ‘Deanna”: I ain’t down here for your money, I ain’t down here for your love, I’m down here for your soul…

1. Hold On to Yourself
2. Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!
3. Tupelo
4. The Weeping Song
5. Red Right Hand
6. Midnight Man
7. God is in the House (1st half only, missed the lines, so he just stopped it)
8. Love Letter
9. Today's Lesson
10. The Mercy Seat
11. Moonland
12. Deanna
13. Papa Won't Leave You, Henry
14. More News From Nowhere

15. Your Funeral... My Trial
16. Jesus of the Moon
17. Get Ready for Love
18. Stagger Lee

I was a lover before this war.

TV On the Radio with the Dirtbombs - 10/10/2008

Electric Factory, Philadelphia

I discovered the Brooklyn band TVOTR earlier this year quite by accident. I’d seen their name in Rolling Stone at some point, and just happened across 2 of their CDs at the library. From the opening bars of ‘I Was a Lover’ on 2006’s “Return to Cookie Mountain” I was completely hooked. I don’t remember a time in my adult life feeling so excited about a new record. It was akin to being a kid and hearing “War” or “Synchronicity” or “Louder than Bombs” for the first time. I was completely at a loss, pacing around my apartment, wondering who I could possibly share this momentous news with who would truly UNDERSTAND, and not just say “that’s nice” and go back to their spouse or kids and think me self-indulgent for having the luxury to obsess over a band. So, of course, I called my mom, who listened to me as if I was 17 and describing why “Monkey Gone to Heaven” was the greatest song in the world. (Thanks mom!— I was right, of course, because if there’d been no Pixies, there would’ve been no Nirvana, and kids in small towns across America would’ve never been exposed to indie rock). It was a fortuitous discovery, since late 2008 saw the release of TVOTR’s “Dear Science,” which proved to be a critical and commercial favorite, if not as ground breaking as their 2006 release.

I first heard them live during the summer at Merriweather Post Pavilion outside of Baltimore— a great venue with great acoustics for a band with an expansive sound like TVOTR. There, however, they shared the bill with several other bands (Thievery Corporation, Ladytron, Federico Aubele, and the much-hyped Seu Jorge—who was very disappointing in his 1 song appearance), and I was eager for more TV on the Radio.

The Electric Factory— in newly gentrified northern Philly – is similar to the 9:30 Club. I wanted to be close to the stage, and wasn’t planning on drinking, so I joined the under 21 crowd on the floor. From what I could see, it was your typical indie rock crowd (young, white, predominantly male hipsters), but certainly more racially diverse than Nick Cave’s crowd, whether this was because it’s Philly or because the band members are predominantly African-American I’m not sure. Race is always discussed in regards to TVOTR, and every review/interview describes them as a black rock band, as if that’s an anomaly. The band members are always quick to point out that despite the popularity of hip hop and R&B, rock ‘n roll has historically been black music, so the fuss is much ado about nothing.

TV on the Radio ARE, in fact, an anomaly, but not because of race, but because of their SOUND. Their combination of rock, new wave, and funk is courtesy of their dual frontmen, Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone, and multi-instrumentalist (and “it” producer, notably of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and (cringe!) Scarlett Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers) David Andrew Sitek. The band is rounded out by Gerard Smith on bass and Jaleel Bunton on drums. Following Detroit’s hard-rocking and crowd pleasing Dirtbombs, TVOTR opened with ‘Young Liars’ from their 2003 EP. It’s a great song of gradual build-up that just doesn’t work in a small venue with muffled acoustics, but the crowd didn’t care, and neither did I, and I let myself move and sway and dance, which became increasingly easier to do as the set became funkier. Hell, Tunde even sorta raps on ‘Dancing Choose.’ The band’s energy was electric, although the dissonance sometimes overpowered the band’s most original feature—the complement of Tunde’s baritone and Kyp’s falsetto. However, on songs like ‘Province’ and ‘Dreams’ it totally works and you hear two powerful, distinct voices on top of Dave’s grooves. Personal favorites were ‘Wolf Like Me’ (although it was somewhat disconcerting to be in a sea of adolescent hormones at the time), and ‘Blues from Down Here’ which is one of my faves— partly because of Kyp’s voice and partly because it reminds me of the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. The 4 song encore ended with ‘Staring at the Sun’ from their 2004 debut album, which begins with the line “Cross the street from your storefront cemetery, hear me hailing from inside and realize, I am the conscience clear in pain or ecstasy, we were all weaned, my dear, upon the same fatigue…” All in all it was a great show, although I would’ve loved to hear their killer version of the Pixies’ ‘Mr. Grieves.’

Far from my teenage days of wanting bands only to myself (it was so sad to share beloved bands with the unworthy masses!), I want TV on the Radio to be multi-millionaires who sell records worldwide. I want everyone to know their name. TV on the Radio is not Radiohead (even though their debut EP was named ‘OK Calculator’!). But they have the potential to be.

Set List:
Young Liars
The Wrong Way
Dancing Choose
Golden Age
Wolf Like Me
Halfway Home
Blues From Down Here
Shout Me Out
Love Dog
A Method
Staring at the Sun

Talking to the tax man about poetry.

Billy Bragg with the Watson Twins - 10/28/08

Ram’s Head Live, Baltimore

I first discovered Billy Bragg after hearing my sister’s college radio show when I was in high school, and then saw him live for the first time while living in Seattle in ‘96. (He was touring with Robyn Hitchcock—what a great show!) So even though I’d sort of lost track of what he’d been up to (after Mermaid Avenue), I was psyched to have the chance to see everyone’s favorite socialist in Baltimore, especially 1 week before the election. I figured if Billy couldn’t deliver hope, well then…

I’d never been to Ram’s Head before, and must confess I totally misjudged it. For some reason I was under the impression that that whole area catered to the fake tan and fake nails set, probably because that’s the crowd I spied when waiting for the last Harry Potter book to come out while people watching the kids at the anime convention (they were the cutest alternative kids in the world, if I was born 2 decades later I would’ve so been there as Princess Mononoke!). Anyway, Ram’s Head turned out to be a great place to see a show, and for the first time in 35 years, I was right up against the stage, right under Billy’s microphone. Woohoo! I met a nice couple who first saw Billy in the 80s, and had seen him hundreds of times since. They were also huge Pogues fans. I didn’t tell them my story of seeing Shane in Dublin and being rescued from the drunken youth by the security guards. I felt more like listening than talking, and they were good company.

The Watson Twins—2 pretty sisters with pretty voices from Louisville, KY—opened with a set of pleasant but utterly forgettable acoustic ballads. Billy opened the show with ‘Help Save The Youth Of America,’ a cold-war era song that includes the line “the cities of Europe have burned before and they may burn again, but if they do I hope you understand Washington will burn with them…” Yes, it was that kind of evening. And while Billy didn’t hesitate from addressing a wide range of issues from global warming, to worker’s rights, to Barack Obama, he also addressed more benign issues including the virtues of throat coat tea, and, um, Ingrid Bergman. While there were, surprisingly, some right wing hecklers (yelling about John McCain—how odd), most of the crowd appreciated his musings on politics, the Clash, and getting older. And in fairness, although he is seen as a political singer, he’s written some killer love songs, one of my faves being Brickbat (which he didn’t play): “I used to want to plant bombs at the last night of the proms, but now you’re by me, with the baby, in the bathroom..” And of course ‘Levi Stubbs Tears’ which got more press this year because of Stubbs’ death. He is a true storyteller, and his songs and guitar playing are an added bonus.

One of the evening’s highlights for me--in a monologue about Obama and how 1 person can’t fix everything but can still make a significant difference—was when Billy talked about how disappointed he was in Tony Blair, but how, despite everything—the war, Blair’s support of Bush—he was still partly responsible for peace in Northern Ireland, something Billy never expected to see in his lifetime. Something Billy had to give him credit for. Now, I don’t need to tell you what this meant to me. My jaw and my stomach must’ve both been on the floor. It’s been a great disappointment to me that the left in this country has such an easy time romanticizing the struggles of ‘the other’—why, for instance, Baltimore’s radical bookstore, Red Emma’s, sells Zapatista coffee, but not, say, Irish republican army breakfast tea (!!!)—and not examining conflicts like Northern Ireland. That’s not to say Irish Americans haven’t supported Northern Ireland, they have, for better or for worse, and perhaps THEY have romanticized the struggle. But the left has been notably silent. So it was thrilling to have Billy Bragg discuss how remarkable and really earth shattering is it that the Good Friday agreements have been implemented, that Gerry and Martin were seated in the Northern Ireland Assembly, that the RUC was disbanded. I wanted to cry. I don’t understand why we’re such anglophiles as a culture. I mean, we learned all our Guantanamo tactics from the Brits—they had plenty of practice in Ireland and India and elsewhere, and internment of Irish citizens without being tried or charged was the precursor to our dreaded Patriot Act. Anyway…Way to go, Billy! England Get out of Ireland! (He didn’t quite say that!)

But we just elected an African-American man named Barack Hussein Obama as President, so all things are possible…“I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England, I’m just looking for another girl…..”

Couldn’t find a setlist online, but he played these songs (in no particular order):

Help Save The Youth Of America
Farm Boy
Shirley (Greetings To The New Brunette)
The Milkman of Human Kindness
A Lover Sings

I Keep Faith
There Is Power In A Union
Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

Levi Stubbs Tears
Sing Their Souls Back Home (with The Watson Twins)
A New England

No comments:

Post a Comment