Thursday, October 25, 2007

Three years ago today...

On October 25, 2004 legendary British DJ John Peel passed away. I advise all readers to take a moment of reflection while listening to what was widely known as his favorite single, "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Some albums worth checking out

I'm slowly realizing that I am/we are terrible bloggers. As of two minutes ago I've decided to make a concentrated effort to post more often. Granted, the quality of these posts may be on par with that of the plastic toy you'd get in a Happy Meal, but since none of our others are that great, it's a short fall to the ground, I reckon.

Here's today's. Instead of anything insightful or potentially entertaining, you get the most amazingly lazy and generic post possible from a blog of this type.

Yes! It's an "albums-I'm-enjoying-right-now" post!

Blondie - Blondie
Glass Candy - B/E/A/T/B/O/X
Talking Heads - 77
Pixies - Bossanova
Roxy Music - Country Life
The Units - Digital Stimulation

And then there's the French pop:

Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire de Melody Nelson
Serge Gainsbourg & Jane Birkin - Je T'aime Moi Non Plus
Serge Gainsbourg & Brigitte Bardot - Bonnie & Clyde

Fran├žoise Hardy - The Yeh Yeh Girl From Paris

A note on the Fran├žoise Hardy: the song "La Fille Avec Toi" is one of the greatest songs I've ever heard. I've heard a lot of songs. I don't know what she's saying, but it's fucking great.

The Glass Candy album is worth listening to, also, though it's one of the sad cases where the album recordings are simply not capable of capturing how spectacular the band sounded on a live stage. Any band member whose stage name is Johnny Jewel is ok in my books. When he produces insanely catchy synth beats while a cute girl singer bounces around like Tigger on X, all bets are off because you may be seeing the best show ever (then again, you may also not be seeing the best show ever, if you've been to a lot of good shows...).

Oh, and do you like the new banner? It's a work in progress. I'm already expecting derogatory remarks from both Sam (definitely) and Sean (possibly), but criticism/praise from anyone else is more than welcome.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Coincidence Weekend!

It's a pretty common belief that there are no coincidences, and that everything happens for a destiny-driven reason. While I don't deny the possibility of the existence of fate, I'll take the following events as mere chance encounters, even though some of them required such an uncanny crossing of paths that a larger, cosmic significance cannot be ruled out. For each event, I'll also be including a Coinky-dink Factor (CdF) score, on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being "wow, this is fucking insane!".

1. Charz - A few weeks ago I got a message from Charz. I'm pretty sure the exact words were "come to chicago on the 13th". Since I got this message in late September or early October, I could only (correctly) assume that he was referring to October 13, which was, coincidentally (!), the Saturday I would be driving down to see Superdrag's reunion show at the Metro (review of this will be posted soon, but I have a feeling it might take me quite a while to write). Charz was in town with his girlfriend, and the crossing of paths in the Windy City was a pleasant addition to what would already be a spectacular weekend.

CdF: 5.5. I'm in Chicago fairly often, and while it wasn't more likely than not that I'd be there this past weekend, it's not a highly implausible scenario for me to be there when someone else decides to take a weekend trip. Additionally, the time-range in question was pretty wide (4 days for Charz, 3 for me), and could have been widened had I decided to go down a day earlier. Take into account the heightened likelihood I'd venture down to Chi-town on a weekend versus during the week, and we've got a pretty cool, but ultimately unspectacular, Chicago reunion.

2. Rohan - After Superdrag finished their last song and the lights and house music came on at the Metro, Danny saw a guy in passing that looked familiar, at least enough for him to tell me "I think I know that guy". No additional thought was given to the encounter, and we ventured outside since the merch area was overwhelmed by people wanting to chat with the band and pick up the sweet early demos/rarities set and t-shirts they had for sale (Dave and I took care of this before the show).

After we get outside, we realize Danny hasn't gotten a copy of this double-disc set, which is a problem because it would not be available except at the seven reunion shows Superdrag was playing. This was a one-time only opportunity (aside from getting reamed by eBay prices later on), so with trepidation, Danny slinked back into the door after the timely distraction of the bouncer so he could get his CD set. Since there wasn't much to do in front of the Metro, but there was a hot dog place across the street (Wrigleyville Dogs?), we decided to grab some snacks/drinks and wait out Danny's quest somewhere we could sit down. The place was full of show-drunks, some of whom were quite hilarious, but that's not really important. About 20 minutes later, Danny comes back across the street with this weird surprised smile on his face..."You're never going to believe this, but there's a guy who went to Strake in there (where Danny, Dave, and I went to high school), who is in my poetry class at school in Houston, and he flew up here just for this show! How crazy is that!?"

It turns out Dave knew this guy in high school, but none of us knew he was a Superdrag fan. That he, like us (well, like Danny and Dave actually did, and I would have done if the circumstances had necessitated such a journey), would be willing to fly 1100 miles to see this show was absolutely mindblowing.

CdF: 9.0. When you go to a show that's literally halfway across the country, you don't expect to cross paths with someone from your fucking poetry class back home. This was one of those rare occurrences that merits special mention. It's almost like in the movies where the guy (or girl) goes to New York and the unrequited lover decides to follow with nary an idea of where their soulmate might be, but happens to run into them on the street, except that in this case the journeys were separate and unrelated.

3. Olga - When you're walking down the street in the third most populous city in the United States of America, you don't expect someone to yell your name from a passing vehicle. When I heard it, I turned and saw Olga in a silver Civic (I think), and the light turned so she was on her way. Who'd ever expect to run into a friend from college at the Belmont/Lincoln/Ashland intersection? Yeah it's bizarre.

CdF: 8.5. Since Olga actually lives in Chicago, this CdF is a bit lower because such a chance encounter is likelier (or so I'm inclined to believe) if one of the parties is a mainstay in the town of the meeting. Or it could be said that the Rohan meeting was likelier since all parties had a common destination, but the mere fact that he would have been going to the show in the first place is certainly worth 0.5 points.

4. Daughtry - A list seems pretty incomplete with only 3 items, so sometimes you have to throw another one on the fire, even if it's pretty inconsequential. While at the Reckless Records on Milwaukee, I picked up the copy of Daughtry's album from the used recent arrivals bin to show Danny in a sort of check-out-this-awesome-cd-i-found-but-it's-really-lame-actually sort of prank, where the anticipated reaction was recognition of the douche on the cover and a shared giggle, or maybe even full laugh. The cd went back in the bin right after that, and all was forgotten. All was forgotten, that is, until we were at the Reckless Records on Broadway and Danny overheard someone asking for Daughtry's cd only to be told that there were no copies at the Broadway location, but that the one in Wicker Park had a used one. Don't worry about rushing, dude, I'm sure it will still be there when you get there.

CdF: 1.6. This one only gets 1.6 because I'm so surprised anyone who bought this album would have sold it to a used record store. Since Wicker Park borders some slightly more "colorful" neighborhoods, I'm going to go ahead and assume that a crackhead stole it from a hipster's car and sold it for, you guessed it, crack rock money. There should probably be another point or two added because the guy asking for the album was in Lakeview. No one in Lakeview likes music that good; if they were truly awesome, they'd have moved to Wicker Park already (since they could easily afford it). Now I'm realizing the deficiency in my original rating, but it's too late to change. You see, I am at a loss for a reason as to why I did not buy this album myself, which would have made the coincidence in question impossible. Wow.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Black Lips, 9/29 - Milwaukee, WI

Have you ever visited America's Rust Belt? The Rust Belt includes a group of mostly older cities situated along the shores of the Great Lakes, cities that once thrived on a robust industrial-manufacturing economy, but ultimately were not properly equipped to handle the nation's transformation into an intellectually involved service-driven powerhouse. Because these cities thrived on labor which could be contracted much more cheaply overseas, factories closed and jobs were lost. Those who weren't able to flee to the more prosperous Sun Belt cities saw their surroundings deteriorate while the homes formerly occupied by their neighbors were first vacated, later boarded up, and later still broken into by squatters, crackheads, gang leaders, and, now in some places, tycoon developers.

Milwaukee is one of these cities.

Neighborhoods once overwrought with drugs, violence, and desperation are now beginning a mild shift as the social glorification of urban living and the proliferation of fix-it-and-sell-it shows on cable tv have convinced young white-collared college grads that if they're willing to tough it out for a few years (during which they earn massive cool points and street cred from their peers), then either a.) they'll secure an ideal homestead without paying the trendy prices their less adventurous friends will be forced to grapple with, or b.) they can turn around the property's condition and sell it to one of their less adventurous friends once enough white kids have decided the hood is safe to move into.

Why this mostly speculative and poorly-researched lecture on modern urbanism in America? Because Mad Planet, where the Black Lips performed, is in one of these up-and-coming neighborhoods, Milwaukee's River West.

A bit further north and you've got UW-Milwaukee and the associated student ghetto, and a bit south you've got a highway and a non-university-affiliated real ghetto. In between, you get River West, an interesting borough where you can buy a recently-rehabbed luxury condominium with easy access to all the narcotics your heart could desire, right down the street (or in some cases, right at your doorstep!).

In all honesty, the neighborhood isn't that sketchy, and it seems pretty clear that the initial efforts will be validated with full-scale gentrification in the coming years.

Right now, though, it's the perfect setting for a Black Lips show. You see, while I can't outright criticize Madison for not having decent concert venues, I can openly lambast the town's lack of a veritable shithole dive. Madison's got the squeaky-clean we're-open-and-accepting-of-all-races-and-backgrounds- (at-least-superficially) -and-only-two-people-get-murdered-here-each-year thing going for it, and that kind of culture doesn't exactly make it easy to break ground on a speakeasy marketed towards bands who are reported to often draw blood and expel a disgusting variety of bodily fluids on each other (and occasionally the audience) during their live show.

On arriving at Mad Planet, it's useful to take note of the skulky characters holding down their corners or ambling aimlessly down Center St. looking for a fix or walking off the MD 20/20 in a disjointed stupor, so that you can be appropriately watchful of your wallet and valuables as you get out of the vehicle. In the half block from the parking lot to the club you'll undoubtedly pass by the two guards on duty to protect these vehicles, and take solace in the safety of the windows on your '93 Corolla.

Oh, not to mention you get to feel really cool because you're willing to brave some serious shit to see this appropriately gritty band. Black Lips' live album wasn't recorded in some sterile-as-shit dentist's office of a room because of the perfect sound and acoustic architecture, but rather in a fucking dive in Tijuana. Fucking Tijuana!

So how bout those Black Lips?

Wow.

Normally I'll stick to the middle-back of a crowd, respecting the will of those in front of me who arrived early to stake out a premium view. Those rules did not apply at this show. Granted, a bunch of people didn't even leave the bar area before the Lips played (decent sets by the Selmanaires and Holy Mary Motor Club could be enjoyed from afar, as they were the bands who hipsters regard as apprentices of sorts, suffering through apathetic throngs of funnily-dressed social misfits in a rock and roll rite of passage), but still if you got up and moved up early you'd assume you'd be assured of that perfect view.

Are you pissed that I took your spot after the psychedelic punk flowed through the meat grinder and all over the fucking room? There was some bobbing, a lot of jumping, and a whole mess of outright organized chaos! (This was timid hipster chaos, so don't worry since no one was in any real danger of getting punched in the face or anything like that...). Black Lips kicked it off with the flawless "Lean" (reportedly inspired by Screwston, drank, and all that shit), and the mind-bending lyrical complexity of "Katrina" (maybe some backended criticism of the rise in crime rates in Atlanta [hometown of Black Lips] and Houston [hometown of yours, truly, and of aforementioned "Lean"] after the establishment of New Orleans gangs in new turfs after the hurricane evacuation and the FEMA debacle?), and then they muddied up the setlist by jumping back and forth across albums. There was lots of Let it Bloom, tons of Good, Bad, Not Evil, and I presume some older jams I'm not familiar with yet.

The energy levels were through the roof, both on stage and in front of it. I left the show drenched in sweat (not all of it my own--gross), beer, and hopefully nothing else. Particularly during "Not a Problem" I went insane, which makes sense because "Not a Problem" is a loud song with a simple infectuous guitar riff that leads into a vicious primal scream and entrancing narrative vocals before it rises and falls and ultimately culminates in the visceral yelled chorus that made my throat go raw when I sang along "(it's a problem)...NO IT'S NOT A PROBLEM TO ME...(It's a problem)...NO IT'S NOT A PROBLEM TO ME...".

Other highlights included "Bad Kids", "Sea of Blasphemy", "Can't Dance", "Cold Hands", "Dirty Hands", "Step Right Up", "Navajo", "Boomerang", "Everybody's Doin' It" and more and more and more. They blasted through quite a few songs before their tenure on stage wrapped up shortly before 2am. Notably absent from the setlist was "Gung Ho", which is only notable because I really love that song and I was yelling for them to play it between a lot of the other songs they played. It was loud, so they may not have heard me, but I think they were exercising their rock and roll cool muscles and passively telling me to piss off. I thank them for not kicking me in the face!

The moral of this story, kids, is that the Black Lips and no one else are the prodigal saviors of rock and roll. Veni Vedi Vici.

Anti-Bears: 4.8
I had to knock off points for the bassist telling me they wouldn't be at SXSW next year, and for no bloodshed on stage. Otherwise, it was a spectacular display that left my muscles aching the next day.

Bears: 2.4
My muscles ached the next day, which was not very comfortable, but I kind of enjoyed it. Most of the bears are due to omission of "Gung Ho" from the setlist and because of that one guy in the red sleeveless shirt who didn't think it appropriate to apply that stick of Degree before the show. If you're gonna stink like an asshole (edit - this pun was completely unintentional), at least keep your arms down. I almost passed out and I don't think I was the only one.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Behind the times

As of right now, I am behind on show review write-ups. Including the one I just got back from, there are four in the queue that I should probably get to before this weekend jumps that figure to a certain six or even a possible eight. I'm just letting you know that there is content coming soon, so don't think we've abandoned charz2k like we did in the past. I promise I'll have at least one review up by tomorrow night.

Here's a recap of what I'm behind on:
9/29 - Black Lips @ Mad Planet, Milwaukee
10/1 - The Blow @ Empty Bottle, Chicago
10/6 - Clap Your Hands Say Yeah @ The Annex, Madison
10/8 - Spoon @ Pabst Theater, Milwaukee

I'm not sure if it makes more sense do these as I saw them, or reverse chronologically so that the less poignant--but still mentionable--memories of the later shows do not fade away. I'll work on deciding that when I'm at work tomorrow and when I get home I'll hammer out an article or two or four.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Just another one of those things

Ever get a song stuck in your head that you know you know, but can't, for one reason or another, immediately identify, to the point of being driven absolutely nutters (a nod to our UK readers, or just Sam, who has managed to convince his parents that his semester-long crack-binge-with-an-accent is actually one of those respectable study abroad programs) on the quest to figure it out? Why do I bring this up, especially when I've got a backlog of show reviews that I've been too lazy to write (don't worry, they'll get here eventually)?

Precisely to inform you, the charz2k readership, that you needn't worry about my sanity, for tonight, the song that had been playing on repeat in my mind was cheerfully reunited with its title and performer so that I could play the song on repeat in real-life (and then listen to Real Life by Magazine, which I just realized I'm doing right now). That is the answer to the questions.

Background: during the Sea and Cake show, and again during the Andrew Bird show, one way or another this song wedged itself into the deepest crevice of my consciousness, into such a place where I could not connect the dots between melody and the actual song. What's more is that a week or so ago a song came up on shuffle that has an at least somewhat similar intro, which made me think I had figured it out. I was wrong. To the band (The Old Soul), thanks for exacerbating my problem.

Background 2: The other day when I was in Guitar Center, I did not get called "bro" even once. I'm not complaining, and though it's not germane to the story I'm telling, the lack of the abbreviated fraternal nickname threw me off guard and perhaps shifted my Guitar Center paradigm (use the words "paradigm" and "shift" in different contexts often to make people agree that you didn't get much out of your overpriced post-secondary education, but you got just enough out of it to still manage to sound like a douchebag every once in a while). Oh, yeah, the song thing. I was in the acoustic guitar room, because when you're in that room you can't hear the idiots playing their stupid metal riffs, and I picked up and started strumming a mandolin with one of the few chords I knew. What's remarkable is that this first chord I strummed is the first strummed chord on a mandolin in a song I have, both on CD and on my computer. When I heard what I had played, I was amazed that the one chord I chose sounded so perfectly like the opening chord strumming in that song, uh, shit. What's that song? Fuck fuck fuck.

Fast forward two days for the resolution of background 2: the song was "Irma" by the Magnetic Fields. There was no startling coincidence that triggered the memory, I just happened to remember more of the song than that opening chord thingie and after a little bit of time, it just clicked.

Fast forward to tonight: after thinking that the song in question was by a singer-songwritertype, particularly a Swedish one like Jens Lekman or Pelle Carlberg, or a non-Swedish one like Ned Collette, I was blindsided by something I noticed. The first song I had trouble placing was kind of similar to the second (no, it wasn't the same song; I'm not an idiot). Not the voice, exactly, but there were definitely some common compositional qualities. How tangible these qualities are is up to each individual reader, but that's neither here, nor there. What's worth saying is that identification of mystery song #2 directly helped me solve my mystery song #1 problem. How? Mystery song #1 was "As You Turn to Go" by the 6ths. Stephin Merritt put one over on me.

You almost got me Steve. Almost.