Saturday, July 24, 2010

Bardot Hotel by Rob K: Best Rolling Stones song in 38 years

So I believed the hype, or was at least curious enough to check it out for myself. I bought the mid-priced version of the remastered Exile On Main Street, the one with the second disc of "unreleased outtakes", because it happens to be one of the most kickass/murky/richly atmospheric rock & roll albums ever made, as well as the last time the Rolling Stones put out something that was more about depth than gesture. I figured that there was a chance that there might be some more goodies in that well.

Reality: some decent groove-oriented tracks, some blah early versions of songs that were much better after they were finished, and several Frankenstein monsters where Jagger takes an old backing track, writes lyrics, overdubs vocals, and mixes said vocals ridiculously loud just to please his own ego. (When you have the kind of voice that sounds best when it's buried underneath a pile of loud guitars, that's hardly an effective strategy or a good listening experience.)

I see a clear agenda coming from rock's most famous London School Of Economics graduate: after decades of mediocrity, people may still love to go to Rolling Stones shows, but nobody cares about new Rolling Stones albums. However, if you shove some new songs onto a deluxe edition of one of your old, beloved classics, you might get more of a reception just because of the context. And some of the new/old songs aren't half bad, but they simply don't belong on the same street as Exile.

Which is a rather roundabout way of introducing another really cool video we shot a while back:

Here's my idea of what a good Exile On Main Street outtake would sound like. Rob K, Mark Abramson, Mary Kelley, and Debbie Hopkins serve up the most sensuously dirty, swampy, sexy midtempo groove imaginable while Rob delivers another hilarious, mystical, profane tall tale. The spirit of Keith is all over this one in the best possible way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fooled you twice, shame on who?

Oh surprise, surprise. The whole "Shirley Sherrod hates white people" scandal turns out to be a complete lie. Who would have thought that the very same guy who instigated the defunding of ACORN through laughably edited video footage would do it again, after seeing how spineless the Democrats are when an alpha bully picks on them? At least some people are paying attention.

Which is worse: a "traditional values" party run by nihilistic sociopaths who would gleefully destroy the entire planet to put a little extra change in their pockets, or a supposedly "progressive" party who consistently rolls over and plays dead because they're scared of what Fox News might say? I wish Obama was even one tenth the left-wing radical the wingnuts are convinced he is. We'd all be a lot better off.

Shirley Sherrod should be rehired and given a public apology. Andrew Breitbart should be sued for defamation of character. See how simple this is? Oh, and by the way, why didn't the Obama administration declare a state of emergency and start issuing executive orders when this BP oil spill happened, instead of letting some Bush-appointed judge keep him from placing a moratorium on the kind of risky deep-water drilling that is destroying the Gulf Of Mexico, especially after the oil companies have proven themselves incapable of and uninterested in taking responsibility when something goes wrong? Or does the "unitary executive" status he inherited from his predecessor only apply to continuing the Bush policies of secrecy, torture, war, illegal imprisonment, etc. After all, he wouldn't want Glenn Beck to call him a dictator, would he? Damn it Barack, we really want to support you; why do you pull this wimpy crap?

UPDATE: The White House shows some class after all. Lesson learned?

FURTHER UPDATE: Wow, this really is becoming a massive story now. The mainstream media are desperately wiping the egg off their faces. The MSNBC liberal media ghetto is having a field day with this, and they should. Olbermann reminded us again tonight what a pleasure it is to watch him when he's really pissed off. Again I have to ask: is our Democrats learning? All this stuff is sort of insider politics, but it's a very important indicator of whether America is capable of governing itself.

Time to quote some Richard Hell:
Look out liars and you highlife scum
who gotta keep your victims poor and dumb--
Your motives and your methods are not disguised
by your silk, soap, sex, or your smiling lies.

Look out here
you pompous jerk
Look out here
I go berserk...

You were sixty-five when you wiggled out--
your mind all twisted and your mom all shout.
I'm a man with his share of excess nice
but it can't be spared for drooling lice.
Of course, The Granite Countertops have a song that comes to mind in this event too:
And they say: “We create reality!
What we declare will be
We are the masters and we make the decrees
For the good of all…and that means us.”
Stop handing power over to these hacks already. People in the business of deliberate disinformation are not to be trusted, especially when the issue involves an innocent person's career. You'd think this crew of allegedly shrewd political operators would have a clue about this. How will they react the next time the slander circus comes to town? It won't take us long to find out.
(Graphic stolen from the ever-brilliant Watertiger, with thanks.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Old enough to repaint, but young enough to sell

Yes, I know the correct lyric is "repay", but that doesn't make a lick of sense. The above is the way I always heard it since the record first came out, which I totally understood: old enough that you could arguably use a fresh coat of paint, but still young enough that people are interested in what you have to offer. That's 60-something Neil Young in a nutshell. Hey, he's still young enough to sell us two unbelievably expensive tickets to see his solo show at Oakland's Fox Theater on July 12.

Do I regret it? Naaaahhh. I never saw Neil Young before, though I've liked his records since I was a tad. In between, he's had his ups and downs, the worst of which may have been his bizarre brain fart of outspoken Republicanism in the 80s (which I'll forgive; a great many "classic-rock" artists became unbelievably useless in the post-punk years, but a lot of them got over it later in fine style, Neil included).

But the first decade of the 21st century has been an interesting one for Young. The fascinating biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough paints a portrait of a passive-aggressive guy who's burnt many of his bridges, lost his essential producer/collaborator David Briggs, and didn't look likely to contribute anything new and important in the future. What happens after the book comes out? Neil Young releases Greendale, a sweet, eccentric, moving, heartfelt multimedia piece (album, movie, performance, and soon-to-be comic book) that revived the socially conscious (especially when it comes to the environment) side of his art. And who's that playing Grandpa in the movie? None other than Ben Keith, the wonderful pedal steel guitarist who McDonough portrayed as having been so let down by Neil that he would never work with him again. Goes to show that life is a process, and while we may be caught up in our grievances in any given moment, tomorrow may bring new opportunities, new revelations, and new priorities.

Later in the decade, Neil puts out a very blunt album of protest songs called Living With War, coerces Crosby, Stills, and Nash into a tour where they are required to delve into their most confrontational anti-war songs and bring them to venues that aren't ready to greet them with warm nostalgia, and makes a film about the whole thing. Clearly, old age has brought out the fire in this guy, and resting on his laurels is the last thing on his mind. I haven't heard the much-maligned album Fork In The Road, which was apparently a whole album about how we need to switch to electric cars, but I guarantee that, like everything this guy does, there have to be at least two songs that are as good as his intentions. Because that's how Neil Young rolls.

This year, it's all about the "Twisted Road" tour: solo shows, mostly electric, lots of new songs. Fans have been moaning that he's been using the same set list every night, to which I say, WHO ON EARTH can afford to go to more than one, maybe two, of these gigs? If it's got to be this expensive, I appreciate that he's thought very hard about his program and what he wants to put across, and he's not just winging it.

Bert Jansch, a legend in his own right, opened the show. Sensuous acoustic guitar, purring vocals, thick accent I could barely understand, the music went down like a hot toddy. I would have liked it if people had talked less during his set. He was personable and enthusiastic, and his music was sublime.

Neil Young got down to business, starting with some oldies like "My My, Hey Hey" and (as quoted up above) "Tell Me Why". He tended to favor songs from the early 70s, especially from After The Gold Rush, but the real point of the show seemed to be the eight unrecorded (I'd say "new", but some of them apparently go back a while) songs. Every single one of these was striking.

I noticed the big difference between old Neil Young songs and new ones; in the 60s and 70s, his lyrics were primal, subconscious and random, like mad non sequitur fever dreams that evoked strange emotions but never added up to anything logical. The songs were wide-eyed, delirious, enigmatic, sometimes downright insane. Can you tell me what is going on in "Down By The River"? Do you even want to know?

The new songs are nothing of the sort. They are as strikingly direct as the old ones are strikingly mysterious. Neil Young is taking you aside, confiding in you, cracking jokes, and telling you exactly what's on his mind. And he's got a lot of interesting things to say, whether he's reflecting on a deceased friend, the themes of his own writing over the years and what more can be said about "Love And War", or a very straightforward cataloging of his drug experiences and how they made sense at the time and how he moved on. Once a poet, now a storyteller. If he doesn't change his fickle mind and goes ahead and records this batch of great new songs, this could be the best new Neil Young album in quite a while.

You have to acknowledge this guy for the stubborn bastard he is. He will not budge an inch from where he thinks his muse is leading him at any given moment. At the same time, he will change direction on a dime and leave everyone around him high and dry if his intuition tells him that's what he must do. I'm sure it makes him hard to work with, but if you read between the lines in Shakey, what makes this artist tick is so obvious even his biographer misses it: not only is Neil Young an intense, curious, creative person, but he is also an epileptic. When he was younger, playing with Buffalo Springfield and CSNY, he was plagued with horrible seizures, often while he was onstage. It makes sense that rather than going the way of Ian Curtis, he decided long ago when he had achieved a certain level of success that he was not going to subject his nervous system to any stress by doing anything other than what is fulfilling him at this exact moment. This is how he functions. The rest of us either like what he's doing or we don't, but we don't have a say in what that is. We can only choose whether or not we want to witness his process. He's certainly done his part by keeping things interesting most of the time. Long may he run.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

R.I.P. Sugar Minott

In the early 80s, my late girlfriend Maati started working with Karen Lippmann, who did a radio show on KALX in Berkeley under the nom de dub of Jah Light, to promote local reggae shows at The Stone on Broadway. The first one was a stop on a tour that combined the talents of the legendary veteran reggae organist Jackie Mittoo with an up-and-coming roots/lover's rock artist named Sugar Minott. At the time, I was playing a lot with my roommate Alan Korn under the tentative band name PDR, which eventually evolved into X-tal. At this time, though, we are talking about a 2-track reel-to-reel and two guys who can't find a drummer but have a few ideas. Nothing special.

It so happens that Alan was a BIG fan of Sugar, especially his Lover's Rock showcase album, whose title song was pretty incredible, a gluey groove featuring a huge, warm blaring trumpet and Sugar's sweet, heartfelt croon. Somehow, due to Maati's instigation, Alan ended up driving Sugar and Jackie around San Francisco in his VW bug. He dared to play the visiting musicians a cassette of one of our early demos, a dub-flavored song I wrote about the Mission District called "Party In The Street" which you have never heard because...well, actually, it wasn't all that great, to tell the truth. BUT we had done a good recording with melodica and percussion overdubs. Apparently, Jackie listened and commented, "This sounds like the Clash!" A short while later, he added, "No! Better than the Clash!" which was certainly encouraging at the time.

Later, Maati gave the guys a ride in our trashed Plymouth Valiant station wagon, an oil and brake fluid-leaking monstrosity which we had just bought from Karen Jah Light for $100. Sugar and Jackie couldn't help making comparisons: "Didn't like that other cyaar. Now, THIS a good cyaar, mon!"

Anyhow, it was an incredible show all those years ago. Sugar went on to put out an intimidatingly large catalog of records, including the obscure but magnificent "Buy Off The Bar", (a real favorite in our Rough Trade days), "Four Wheel Wheelie", and the rootsy "Wicked A Go Feel It". I remember him as a nice, down-to-earth, sincere guy with a golden voice. Unlike some of his contemporaries like Gregory Isaacs, he wasn't particularly cool, suave, or sexy, just a regular dude from Trenchtown who sang like a dream.

Maati and Jackie left this plane years ago, and Sugar just followed in their footsteps this weekend. Thanks for the memories.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Painting The Devil's Office

You really need to acquaint yourselves with the brilliance of Rob K. Here is another song we shot at An Undisclosed Location from his in-progress song cycle about purgatory.

The introductory rap is priceless. "Life hands you lemons so you...commit a terrorist act." Yeah, this is how a LOT of people are feeling right now, is it not? This is an awesome song about the drudgery of labor and the inequalities of power. Again, Rob is ably supported by Mary and Debbie of the Contractions, along with his longtime crony, Mark Abramson. Rob is probably best known as the frontman of New York City's Workdogs, but his recent work isn't getting as much attention as it ought to. Here's a taste.

Now if he can just finish that new album. (Which may or may not include a sample from the Experimental Bunnies, by the way...)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fool's Gold at the Mezzanine

Fool's Gold are a unique band from Los Angeles who combine many diverse strains of (mostly) African music, from the desert blues of Tinariwen to traces of Zimbabwean Chimurenga or Ethiopian sounds, with lyrics in various languages, primarily Hebrew. A real American band.

We shot this at the Mezzanine in San Francisco on May 26, 2009 when Fool's Gold opened for Sila & The Afro-Funk Experience, along with Diego's Umbrella. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ear Candle Radio's Top 20: June 2010

Another month, another top 20. Another rare bootlegged outtake from the Stones' psychedelic period tops the chart; this time it's a mad Moroccan-Indian jam that shows they kept going long after the final edit that appears on Their Satanic Majesties Request. One of the interesting things about these session tapes is how noticeably in charge Keith Richards actually was during this project. No matter how trippy and exotic the results end up, each song is built on some snarly, droney, syncopated Keith riff, every bit as much as the songs on Exile On Main Street. Exhaustive, revelatory, and tedious by turns, The Satanic Sessions is an intriguing fly-on-the-wall document and a correction of revisionist rock history.

One of the Ramones' most exhilarating cover versions; drones, echoes, and affirmations from Yoko Ono; an eerie, mysterious Fall track from the 80s; David Bowie's best song from the 90s (just in time for the 4th of July!); an underrated, mellotron-flavored Kinks classic for cat lovers; Neo's favorite cover of "Hallelujah" (of course, he's a little biased since these are his boys!); the Minutemen's incomparable opening shot from their masterpiece Double Nickels On The Dime; a beautifully catchy and scathing a capella cover of a 19th century protest against the garment industry courtesy of Chumbawamba; expansive, spiritual, psychedelic jazz from Alice Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders; an obscure, evocative grumble from Vivian Stanshall's rare solo album...

(Pausing to catch breath)

...mathematical bliss from the great composer Steve Reich; a bouncy pop song from Trader Horne (short-lived group featuring ex-members of Fairport Convention and Them); a lecture on economics and basic human needs from Fela Kuti; compulsive punk-soul from Detroit's mighty Dirtbombs; a multilingual flamenco-tango-chanson thing from SF's Rupa & The April Fishes (title means "I Am A Clown"); an exquisite folky number from Portland's Golden Bears (two ex-members of late great SF band the Quails...welcome back, Juliana and Seth!); a great song-poem bemoaning the state of human absurdity, which has only gotten more absurd since this recording was done some 40-odd years ago; Julie London's slow, seductive take on a 60s bubblegum hit; and finally, a good sarcastic pre-Lawrence vs. Texas protest song about the audacity of a state declaring themselves to be a place for lovers at the same time their legislature is taking way too much interest in what goes on in their citizens' bedrooms. (Presumably Virginia is a little bit safer for lovers these days...maybe.)

AAAAAAAAAAAAAND, that's the charts for this month! Keep on rockin' in the sort-of-free world!

1. The Rolling Stones - Gomper Part One (Takes 2 - 6) - The Satanic Sessions Vol 2
2. The Ramones - Do You Wanna Dance? - Rocket To Russia
3. Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - Calling - Between My Head And The Sky
4. The Fall - Gross Chapel -- British Grenadiers - Bend Sinister
5. David Bowie - I'm Afraid Of Americans - Earthling
6. The Kinks - Phenomenal Cat - The Village Green Preservation Society
7. Conspiracy of Beards - Hallelujah - Demo CD
8. Minutemen - Anxious Mo-Fo - Double Nickels on the Dime
9. Chumbawamba - Poverty Knock - English Rebel Songs 1381-1984
10. Alice Coltrane - Isis And Osiris [Live] - Journey in Satchidananda
11. Vivian Stanshall - Strange Tongues - Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead
12. Steve Reich - Music For Mallet Instruments, Voices And Organ - Music for Mallet Instruments
13. Trader Horne - Better Than Today - Morning Way
14. Fela Kuti - Original Suffer Head - Original Suffer Head/I.T.T.
15. The Dirtbombs - The Thing - Ultraglide In Black
16. Rupa & The April Fishes - Soy Payaso - Este Mundo
17. The Golden Bears - You and All the Other Humans Like You - Wall to Wall
18. Norm Burns & Singers - Human Breakdown Of Absurdity - The American Song-poem Anthology: Do You Know The Difference Between Big Wood And Brush
19. Julie London - Yummy, Yummy, Yummy - Yummy, Yummy, Yummy
20. Black Angel's Death Song - Virginia Is For Lovers - Due Ragazze