Archive for August, 2011

My Talented Friends: Volume #1

Posted in Uncategorized on August 31, 2011 by pulmyears

I have a lot of talented friends, some of them make their own albums and send them to me. I love them. Sometimes I get to review them for paid publications, sometimes I just tell people any chance I get.  I’m probably biased and tainted by knowing these people but that doesn’t mean they aren’t actually talented. In fact, some of these people I only got to know BECAUSE they were talented. Anyway, faster than you can say “Full Disclosure”, I am introducing a new recurring feature on The Pulmyears Music Blog today: My Talented Friends

I have more than four talented friends, of course, so this is only the first of a constantly updated series (I promise, other friends, to do this again!)

Today we have…

Strippers Union: The Deuce

Strippers Union: Rob (left), Craig (right)

EVERYBODY loves Craig Northey, and I am no different, I have counted him as one of my better friends since I met him at Kevin McDonald’s house in Toronto over 16 years ago. I had heard an album by his band Odds, and I was hooked. Odds were (are) the band I always wished I was in. In 2004, Craig hooked up with Rob Baker from The Tragically Hip, a band that is legendarily huge in Canada yet only quite well known in the States, to form Strippers Union and they released a debut album called Local 518.

Now comes the follow-up, The Deuce. With horns blaring, guitars jangling and strumming, and amazing melodies, they have made an album that should be better known (Although, maybe it is back home in Canada). The album opens with “Making Strange” a defiant song (“That lie won’t set me free!”) which sounds to me like Odds backing Jackson Browne, with Baker wailing all Waddy Wachtel-like. (To be fair Odds were once Warren Zevon’s touring band, so they’ve earned the pedigree). I also hear shades of Neil Finn’s best wistful and obstuse lyrics in songs like “High”: “Exile in my own skin, at 2 a.m. my day begins, then ends, then begins. I’m High as a cloud to get me through, I walk through walls ’cause I have you, and I guess you have me too.”  They even do a reworking of Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Circle Is Small”, homesick! They are expertly backed by Odds Pat Steward, Doug Elliott and Murray Atkinson plus their frequent keyboards man Simon Kendall.  The CD has been in my car for over a week since I got it.

Here’s a video they made for “When Your Beauty Fades (You’ll Be Lonely)”:

And they rock like Rush or The Who this one, “I Give You Away”:

You can legally download it (in USA) at iTunes HERE,  and at  iTunes Canada (link may not work, but they have it!)

And of course for more information go to the Strippers Union website.

Adam Levy: The Heart Collector

“Would it really be a sin, to write God’s holy name on the head of a pin? If I’m playing a game that I never can win, would it really be a sin?” - Adam Levy, “Would It Really Be A Sin?”

Through Craig Northey, I met Tom DeSavia and through Tom, I met Adam Levy, on Twitter! I didn’t even know that he was a  jazz guitarist and had toured and recorded with the likes of Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Amos Lee and others. I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t have to pay a thing for his album The Heart Collector, but at the same time, I am hoping that others will now!  Working with producer Mark Orton, Adam has crafted an intimate, all-acoustic collection which showcases his nimble picking, warm voice and earnest lyrics.  Some lovely string arrangements pop up now and then, but it’s mainly a sit-down with an emotionally connected songwriter at the top of his game, communicating truth upon truth. Besides the quotation I opened with here, there’s another bit that really spoke to me, having adopted California as my home, from Adam’s song “A Promise to California”: “As soon as I crossed that state line, heard the harmony that never ends, in the echoes of the canyons, in the Santa Ana wind. In the crash of the Pacific, in the calling of the birds, I made a promise to California, and I never break my word.”

You can order The Heart Collector in iTunes HERE. Or go to Adam’s website: HERE.

Heather Waters: Propeller

And through following Adam Levy on Twitter (@Stringjuggler) I was introduced to the high lonesome twang of Heather Waters (@mightyrosebud). She graciously sent me a copy of her album Propeller. This is a stunning album filled with precious heartache and country comfort aided and abetted by a clean, clear production which centers on the voice amid all the trimmings and trappings of full arrangements. It ain’t all retro, despite the fact that I hear echoes of Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn in her voice, but I could even compare this to Maria McKee in places. Songs like “Diamond In Your Mind”  would make Jenny Lewis jealous, while the mid-tempo radio ready rock of “Wait For Me” is great top down California convertible driving music.

You only say you love me, when you’ve had too much to drink. And you never say you need me, baby what am I to think, ’bout your fairweather love?” – “Say You Love Me” from Propeller

On her website, she says her songs are all about “Love & murder, baby.” And according to her bio, she’s no stranger to Chicago’s South Side blues clubs, and Boston’s singer-songwriter scene, where she met producer  James “Hutch” Hutchinson (Bonnie Raitt’s bassist) who worked on her first album before she relocated, again, to Nashville and work with Delbert McClinton. But maybe Nashville wasn’t for her either, and now she’s out in L.A. where she made her 2004 album Shadow Of You.

In 2008, Waters produced Propeller herself, at the suggestion of Greg Leisz, and enlisted help from musicians Michael Chaves,  Sean Hurley, Craig MacIntyre and Peter Adams.

Here’s a live recording from a house concert, where she performs “Wait For Me” (with Chuck Lee Bramlet):

You can get Propeller on iTunes HERE.  Heather Waters own website is HERE (http://www.heatherwaters.com/fr_casa.cfm)

Kris + Dee: Still Here Inside

I first met Kris Abbott when my old band The Gravelberrys used to open for her band The Pursuit Of Happiness. Besides being one helluva guitar player, I always thought she was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. As far as I can tell, she always watched our sets from the side or in the crowd and we’d talk about songs she liked and encouraged me. (Actually all the TPOH people were like that, seldom have I worked with a band that open and friendly). Kris and I are both less directly involved in the band thing these days, but we are both refusing to let go of that urge to make original creative music. I salute this. Recently, Kris had been telling me that she was working with Dee McNeil, as Kris + Dee. Kris produced the CD she sent me, Still Here Inside and I love it. Here’s a kind of video documentary EPK thing about their sessions at The Bathouse.

Still Here Inside feels familiar to me. I grew up in Ontario, the music feels like my Canada, it feels like my soul. It’s bleak at times, but in the same way a high contrast, black & white Ansel Adams photograph reveals the stark rock faces of Yosemite, the soundscape Kris paints under Dee’s intimate vocalizations evokes time spent out of the machine. You need that sometimes.

After the opening, “Polar Bears”, which tells a tragic small town story, the darkness continues on “Empty Nest”:

“Do you feel that emptiness you’ve always felt? You’ve got a selfishness like no one else. And all this messiness you brought on yourself… Now you’ve got an empty nest like everyone else. How can they live with you when you can’t even live with yourself?”

Here’s a photo slide show someone made to their song “My Own Devices”

I wish I’d written the cleverly poetic lyric on one of the more uptempo songs here, “Presence of Me”: “Bound by your mystery, you fed my insecurity, could you fill that void in me and did you really even care at all? ‘Cause you walked away so easily, Now it’s harder than it needs to be, held by your memory, the absence of you, is the presence of me.”

They have some songs up on a Myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/krisanddee/music/songs?filter=featured

And you can get Still Here Inside on iTunes HERE.

__________________________________________________________________

That’s all for this installment of My Talented Friends. I have a lot of talented friends, though, so we’ll do this again real soon!

Is That All There Is?: Two Classic Songwriting Teams Lose Their Partners

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 by pulmyears

A few days late, but I want to say a few things about the passing of Jerry Leiber, half of Leiber & Stoller (with Mike Stoller), and of Nick Ashford, half of Ashford & Simpson with his wife Valerie Simpson.

NICKOLAS ASHFORD (May 4, 1941 – August 22, 2011)


Ashford left us, and his partner Valerie, on Monday after succumbing to throat cancer. He was 70 years old. His legacy had been cemented since the sixties and seventies, for co-writing (with Simpson) the iconic and epic love songs “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and the couple’s rare own recording of “Solid” which was one of the most played songs of 1984-5:

I have a short personal story about “Solid”. When that single came out, I was working at an office job where we had the radio on all day. I was even more of a music snob back in the day, so after fighting to have the “alternative” channel on, against the protestations of the accounting department, it was very difficult for me (and some of co-workers, Ken and Kevin) to give the local, smooth Lite FM channel a chance. There was some pretty dismal drivel on that station, despite the fact that the signal was smooth and clear, like filtered water. But here’s where my “snob” met up with my “songwriter”.

When “Solid” came on, I think I already knew who Ashford & Simpson were, I mean, I knew they’d written “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” which had been the signature tune for the short-lived but legendary team of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrel:

Also, Ashford & Simpson’s song “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was not only another hit for Gaye & Terrel

but the song was  later resurrected by Diana Ross (Nick & Valerie provided the backups on that one):

And of course, they wrote “I’m Every Woman”, a classic Chaka Khan single  (later covered whole cloth by Whitney Houston).

But “Solid” won me over, instantly. It was as slick as anything, and yet, the impassioned delivery and true love in the grooves reached out across the Lite FM channel, and made a human connection. How could you not love this song? Very few of the 80s classic R&B hits feel this way to me, especially some of the over-produced ones of the same year. But “Solid” remains special for me.

Nick Ashford made this world a better place, as he wrote in “Reach Out (and Touch Somebody’s Hand)”

And then there was one of the original R&B songwriting greats…

JERRY LEIBER (April 25, 1933 – August 22, 2011)


Last year, I read Ken Emerson’s Always Magic In The Air: The Bomp And Brilliance of The Brill Building Era, which chronicles the golden era of New York songwriting teams in the Brill Building and Aldon Music Building. The book shows the clear lineage from Jazz and Blues to the classic R&B and pop songs that Tin Pan Alley wrote for America, and by extension the world. The book talks about the great teams, The subtitle for the book is . [I wrote about that book in the second half of this entry (click through).]   Within that book’s richly researched historical account of a pivotal time in the history of American song, we start to see how the great song teams – Bacharach & David, Goffin & King, Sedaka & Greenfield,  Barry & Greenwich – were driven by the influence of one of the first teams, Leiber & Stoller (who were in turn influenced by Pomus & Shuman)

Leiber and Stoller’s go-get-em, instinct driven sense of fun and danger was one of  Elvis Presley’s secret weapons, and his version of “Hound Dog” (cribbed from the Big Mama Thornton original recording) is the best known:

Leiber died of cardiopulmonary failure on Monday, at age 78, and had 61-year songwriting and producing career, mostly with Mike Stoller.

They wrote Elvis’s “Jailhouse Rock”

Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” covered here by John Lennon:

Bad Company had a great rock version of their song for The Coasters “Young Blood”:

Originally from Baltimore, young Jerry moved to Los Angeles where he met Stoller at schooll. They were both fans of R&B and soon began writing songs of their own. Stoller brought the tunes, while Leiber was the wordsmith, redefining what pop songs could be about. They even produced Steeler’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle With You”:

I didn’t realize until yesterday that Leiber, in a rare co-write without Stoller, wrote “Jackson” (with Billy Edd Wheeler). The Johnny Cash & June Carter version is the definitive, but I have a soft spot for the Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood version, I recall from some corny TV show:

In 2009, Leiber & Stoller wrote a memoir, with David Ritz, entitled Hound Dog.

I feel like the last word should be from their 1969 hit for Peggy Lee (with lovely orchestral arrangements by Randy Newman):

“Is That All There Is?”

Singing the praises of Jack Layton (1950-2011) R.I.P.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 22, 2011 by pulmyears

After a long and, sadly, recurring bout with Cancer, Jack Layton, leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party who raised a “third party” brand into the mainstream position of Canada’s Official Opposition Party, has succumbed. I was an admirer who voted for him and his party when I lived in my homeland, and many of my friends knew him personally. I never knew him one-to-one like that, but if you can judge a man (or woman) by the works they do on earth, I can attest without a doubt that Jack (for we all knew him as just Jack) was that rare politician of decency and humanity, who was truly about “public service” rather than ego gratification. You sensed you weren’t voting for “him” but for the notion of what Canada is really about, and what it could become. It’s not for nothing that many embraced the image above, a blatant homage to  Shepard Fairey’s iconic Obama Hope poster. His passing is sad not only for his family and friends, but for Canadian politics which has lost a true champion of the people.

From Toronto, here’s what Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew tweeted:

I heard about this in a little round up over at Spinner featuring a selection of musicians praising Jack, you can read that here.

They also included a tweet from the UK’s voice of the working person, Billy Bragg, who was well aware of Jack’s values:

And of course, my good friend, ex-Barenaked Ladies singer Steven Page, who knew and worked for Jack on a few campaigns.

He was a smart and friendly man who liked to laugh and sing as well.
Here he was in 2005 singing the “new NDP Theme Song” (to the tune of Roger Miller’s “King of The Road”):

And here, he was interviewed by another Canadian institution, Narduar The Human Serviette:

His wife, Olivia Chow, also a politician, has released the letter to Canadians that Jack wanted published upon the sad eventuality of his death. I think you don’t have to be Canadian to feel this message. Also, I am hoping it is legal for me to reprint it here in full, my intention is to keep his word alive:

Letter To Canadians by Jack Layton

Dear Friends,
Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.
Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.
I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.
I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.
A few additional thoughts:
To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.
To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.
To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.
To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.
To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.
And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.

And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Jack Layton (1950-2011) Image by Matt Jiggins

Java Blues: Wake Up And Smell The Playlist

Posted in Uncategorized on August 18, 2011 by pulmyears

If you know me, and my apologies if you do, you’ll know that one of my few remaining vices is espresso coffee. Here at Pulmyears Studio I burn through espresso machines like some people go through metaphors for things that get used up a lot. I love lattes, make about four to five a day on my home machine, I trade intel with fellow coffee drinkers about where the best coffee is: “Have you tried Four Barrel?” “I swear by Blue Bottle” “Portland? Take me to Stumptown” and so on.

One of my favourite of my many unfinished songs, “Outside The Lines”, begins with the autobiographical couplet: “I drink a lot of coffee in the morning, and the afternoon / I kid myself that it inspires me / As I bounce around the room.” Gotta finish that song one day.

Coffee and songs got me thinking yesterday about some great coffee songs. Between espressos, and with the help of some Facebook friends, I  put together this coffee playlist celebrating the aromatic stimulant that fuels my world.

JAVA BLUES: WAKE UP AND SMELL THE PLAYLIST

1. “Java Blues” Rick Danko

2. “The Coffee Song” Osibisa (suggested by Stewart Mason)

3. “Espresso (All Jacked Up) Todd Rundgren

4. “Black Coffee In Bed” Squeeze

5. “Joed Out”  Verlaines (suggested by Stewart Mason)

6. “Black Coffee” kd lang & Grover Washington, Jr. (suggested by Les Doerfler)

7.Coffee And Cigarettes” Never Shout Never

8. “Coffee And TV” Blur

9. “The Cappucino Song” Tanita Tikram

10. “Starfish And Coffee” Soulwax (cover of Prince song)

NOTE TO SHELF: Seconds of Pleasure (and Live At Montreux) by Rockpile

Posted in Uncategorized on August 17, 2011 by pulmyears

I recently started a brand new feature here on The Pulmyears Music Blog which I call Note To Shelf. In this space, I recommend, or just blather on about, a recording from my shelf that I feel you should know about. I won’t do this everyday but when I do, it will be about recordings that “glow” or scream “play me” when I walk by the shelf (or the virtual iTunes shelf).
I recently went to the shelf to retrieve Seconds Of Pleasure (1980) by Rockpile.

Considered Pub Rock’s first Supergroup, and a rock force only rivaled by Dr. Feelgood, Rockpile was comprised of bassist/singer Nick Lowe, guitarist/singer Dave Edmunds, lead guitarist/singer Billy Bremner and drummer Terry Williams. The reason I took their ONLY official studio album, Seconds of Pleasure off the shelf this week was because I had been listening to an advance of the upcoming live album, Rockpile Live At Montreux 1980, recorded around the same time.  Williams is an undisputed master of the back-beat, shuffle and swinging R&B, walloping and galloping and driving the machine. Basher Lowe’s bass is right there with him, elegantly directing that rhythm toward the melodic instruments. Bremner is a fire cracker of lightning lead breaks unrivaled by anyone except perhaps his counterpart Edmunds, who not only plays a mean guitar, but sings with an authentic drawl and twang that belies his Welsh ancestry. And the set list for the Montreux show draws on the strengths of all four men.

Opening with “Sweet Little Liza” followed quickly (maybe via editing) into “So It Goes”,I Knew The Bride”, “Queen Of Hearts” and “Switchboard Susan,” you’re left as breathless as Nick and Dave seem by the time they hand off lead vocals to Bremner for “Trouble Boys”, with Williams sounding like a dog let of a leash. This band actually had hits, together and apart, and their biggest collective single, “Teacher Teacher” is here too, along Dave’s hit “Girls Talk” (written by Elvis Costello), and “I Hear You Knockin'”. But there are literally NO dull moments here, “Crawling From The Wreckage”, “3 Time Loser” and “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine” also stand out. While the recording is a bit squashed sounding, I suspect it was done for a radio broadcast, and the mix has a few errors (Nick’s voice is awfully quiet on “So It Goes” and elsewhere, lead guitars seem buried and under-mixed), but by the time you’re done with closing song “Let’s Talk About Us”, there is little doubt that this is a strong testament to the sheer performance energy of a seasoned, and well-oiled, rock and roll band.

But let’s talk about the studio album, Seconds of Pleasure.

Formed around a 1970 Edmunds solo album and tour, back when Nick was still with Brinsley Schwarz, for whom Edmunds produced an album in 1974. At the time, Edmunds was still signed to Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song label and it took a few years of negotiating solo band members contracts for Rockpile to get the chance to legally record as a group. By 1980, they were free and clear, to enter Eden Studios, in Chiswick, with Lowe acting as titular producer as he had, by then. made his reputation as Elvis Costello’s producer and as a solo artist in his own right with Jesus Of Cool a/k/a Pure Pop For Now People and other albums.  Incidentally, I just read that the distinctive jacket artwork, credited to “Dag” is in fact who I always thought it was, the late great Barney Bubbles, who also did Costello’s Imperial Bedroom and other great sleeves of the day.

Seconds of Pleasure opens with a song even the casual listener should know,  “Teacher Teacher”, a fairly big hit (Billboard #51 single) that I only recently realized was not written by the group but by Kenny Pickett and Eddie Phillips, from the 60s UK act, The Creation.

Then they lay into a great Joe Tex song, “If Sugar Was As Sweet As You”

Next Billy Bremner sings Nick’s “Heart”

After “Now And Always” they move into  the Kip Anderson’s comical blues tune “A Knife And A Fork”

And Nick’s “Play That Fast Thing One More Time” before “Wrong Again (Let’s Face It) (by Squeeze’s mainstays, Difford & Tilbrook):

Then a Rockpile original that actually sounds like another Squeeze song, “Pet You And Hold You” (oh, and forgive the LONG intro on this clip, I obviously didn’t make this):

And it wouldn’t be a party without a Chuck Berry cover,  “Oh What A Thrill, followed by one of my all time favourite Nick Lowe songs, “When I Write The Book” (WARNING: Whoever loaded this to YouTube kind of gave up before the song was over (??!?!?!?))

After Nick’s “Fool Too Long“, they close the album (proper) with a cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s  “You Ain’t Nothin’ But Fine”

Back when the vinyl album was released, some people got a bonus 4-song EP Nick Lowe & Dave Edmunds Sing The Everly Brothers.

When I picked up the Canadian CD, a long time back, they had added in the Everly EP at the end. The set was “Take A Message to Mary”, “Crying In The Rain”, “Poor Jenny” and “When Will I Be Loved”.  I found this audio only clip of Nick and Dave doing an Everly set at Capital Radio;

NOTE; A subsequent 2004 CD reissue of Seconds of Pleasure added in three more live tracks, including “Back To Schooldays” and “They Called It Rock” from a 1977 BBC session, and “Crawling From The Wreckage” from the  Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea (produced by Chris Thomas). 

Rockpile. Now THAT was a rock ‘n’roll group.

Saturday In The Park (I Think It Was The 13th Of August) **UPDATED

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2011 by pulmyears

This past Saturday, I found myself on two different guest lists for Outside Lands, in Golden Gate Park, here in San Francisco.

I tend to avoid big festivals but I will admit that I DO go to the GG park every October for Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, financier Warren Hellman’s FREE festival which, true to its name, is only very slightly about bluegrass music. Spoiled by the free-ness of that festival, and probably spoiled by the comp culture of being a journalist and musician, I find it hard to spend the money on big package tickets for PAY Festivals like Outside Lands. Still, the rewards are there, tons of bands, spending a day outdoors, and food on sticks. Yep. It’s like the Iowa Caucus with music to rock us. No fried butter though.

Roots official photo (Owen Biddle far left)

When I saw that The Roots were appearing at this years festival, I made a note that I should very much like to groove in “the glow of their majestic presence” (to borrow a phrase from They Might Be Giants). But being a spoiled, entitled freebie hog, I politely asked my friend Steven Mandel, who works with the Roots on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, if  I could squeeze in just for their set. After a bit of wrangling, Steven came through (thanks man). But while I was waiting, I heard that another Twitter acquaintance of mine, the brilliant comedian Paul F. Tompkins, was also appearing that day. So I hedged my bets by asking him as well. He also came through, which was super nice in that we’d never actually met before and this was an awfully sweet leap of faith and generosity.

After a traffic hassle on the drive to Golden Gate park, and a huge pedestrian jam at the gates, I entered the Outside Lands area. It was like a circus, with tents and amusements and food, food, food. Although, this being the Bay Area, there were several upscale wine merchants tents and booths showcasing Napa vintages.

OKGo (found photo)

I suddenly heard the strains of OKGo in mid-set. They were as awesome as ever, and I hadn’t even come to hear them, didn’t even know they were on the bill. Sweet.

I bought lunch/dinner at the Asqew Grill booth that was serving Thai BBQ Beef over Jasmine Rice (8 dollars) and picked up a Sprite (a rare, for me, sugary soda) which was a whopping 4 dollars. Still, they both did the trick and after the hassle getting to and in, I was finally enjoying myself.

As I was eating, my ears picked up something really great floating over from the Sutro Stage. It was Vetiver.

Vetiver's Andy Cabic (found photo)

To be honest, I’d only ever heard a couple of things by them before, but everything I heard on Saturday made me believe that they are a fine, fine group. They played with the confident maturity of a band twice their age, evoking a kind of slow-motion version of Wilco. I am sold, I will pursue this band further.

I bumped into Owen Biddle, bass player from the Roots, walking through the grounds with Jonathan Cohen, the man who books all the amazing musical acts for Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. Jonathan’s booking skills have made him sort of a hero to me, and he’s a nice guy too. I told them that I couldn’t wait to see The Roots set, later on the Twin Peaks stage, and let them go about their business.

[UPDATE: In my haste to post this on Monday, I neglected to mention Arctic Monkeys]

While looking around I noticed that Arctic Monkeys were already well into their set, so I walked toward the stage in time to hear a few songs. They have never sounded better and, while they may not be front of mind to a lot of people, they are quietly becoming a classic live band. Alex Turner is as impressive as ever, and they’re still playing the song that started it all for them, “I Bet You Look Good on The Dance Floor”, as though it was their new single. It occurred to me that “Dancefloor” is to Arctic Monkeys, what “Rock Lobster” was to the B-52’s, a timeless debut single that never seems to wear out its welcome.

Here’s a photo of Alex Turner, looking very “Beatles Hamburg era”, which I nabbed from The Audio Pervwebsite (which you should totally check out) taken by photographer Marcello Ambriz, who is also awesome. (I’ll take it down if you want, guys).I was looking for Paul F. Tompkins, mainly to apologize to him for missing his set, due to all the frustrating delays in entering the grounds. As it happened, I had just missed his 3 pm show. I started tweeting him and walked toward the Sutro Stage where The Old 97s were starting.

While I’ve never actually met Rhett Miller of the Old 97s, he’s also a Twitter pal and we have a ton of actual mutual friends like Jon Brion, Tom DeSavia and Craig Northey.  I really loved their set, loose and swaggering in all the right places, with that tumbling quality of an Irish dance hall band or the vaguely drunk sound of vintage Replacements, only twangier. I kept checking to see if Paul was gonna respond on Twitter, when I noticed that he had just tweeted a picture of The Old 97s in action. His view of the stage was almost identical to my view of the stage. I turned around and there was Paul F. Tompkins! We’d never met before, only chatted online, but hey, I know what he looks like from TV and he at least recognized me from my Twitter avatar pic. We shook hands and I handed him a copy of my Todd Rundgren book, which he accepted although I’m not really sure if he really wanted it. (He has since told me he’s reading it and enjoying it, so that’s nice.) Then I took this picture:

We chatted some, and then both laughed, in a delighted and decidedly non-spiteful way, at this dude dancing:

Then I bid him adieu and made my way over to the Twin Peaks stage.

The Roots were incendiary.

Drummer, leader (and commanding presence) Questlove slammed down the beats, funk over funk, coupled with slabs of big funk bass from my new friend Owen, who covered more bass than ever as tuba player Tuba Gooding, Jr’s horn valve had been damaged in transit, so he had to sit out the gig. They played original Roots tunes. Singer/Rapper Black Thought (a/k/a Tariq Trotter) barked with rhythmic authority while flash guitarist (Captain) Kirk Douglas was all flash and dexterity on his sunburst Les Paul, wailing impressive melodies over the funk soup. They covered Guns N Roses at one point, then broke into an urgent cover of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Bottle” in tribute to the fallen poet.

After the show, I was just going to split when I noticed Owen walking amid the crowd, looking for someone. He told me that his folks were there and that they were all heading over to the big stage to see Muse. We found his parents, two very delightful and hip people, and walked toward the pulsing and glowing Muse stage, which looked like a space ship landing in a farmer’s field.

Muse's Matt Bellamy (found photo)

I have to admit, having only seen the band on TV, I had never really warmed to them. I always thought that Matt Bellamy sang with far too much of the kind of histrionic affectation inherent in Midge Ure of Ultravox (think “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes”) and my take on their overall sound was lots of bombast signifying nothing. Yeah, I know, I can be harsh sometimes. Anyway, I kind of take some of that back, because in the flesh, standing before one of the most beautiful stages I’ve seen in a while — all neons, hexagon screens, platforms and Ikea microphone stands (kidding about the Ikea part) — the music really makes sense. It’s like the pomp of, say, Rush with the Indie emotion and longform pop songs of a Radiohead. It kinda works, and hey they’re huge right?

After the show, me and Owen and his parents, made our way out of the park, walking and walking and walking until we were very tired of walking. (Note to Outside Lands, next year MORE public transit to get people out of the GG park area, okay?)

My feet and calves were killing me when I finally got back to Berkeley but, all in all, it was nice day in the park.

CSNY: OHIO (A Facebook Theatre Production)

Posted in Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 by pulmyears

I have creative friends, many of them are on Facebook…

Sometimes, a comment can trigger a “thread”, and the topic becomes like one of those oversized beach balls at an outdoor summer concert, everybody swatting around until it hits a guitar tech or somebody knocks it over the rear fences.

Yesterday, I posted a simple, okay jokey, status on my Facebook page:

Tonight on CSNY:Ohio: Detectives Young & Stills follow a trail of blood stains leading to the discovery of “four dead in Ohio.” Meanwhile back at the station, Detective Nash investigates “two cats in the yard.”

What follows is a sampling of the response. Thanks to everyone who played. All names are real unless faked for Facebook.

Keith Porteous: While Detective Crosby is on leave while attending rehab.

Justin Smallbridge: Det. Stills: The question, Neil, is how can you run when you…[puts on sunglasses]…know? Roger Daltrey: Yeeeaaahhh!

Eric Ruben: Det. Crosby gets assigned to undercover. And to think, he almost cut his hair.

Darin J. Addison: Det. Crosby is undercover investigating an armed robbery at a sperm bank.

Elizabeth Racz: Det. Young is Wonderin’ how the powder got on the finger

Paul Myers: An interdepartmental conflict with Det. Stills forces Det. Young to temporarily leave the force, searching for the illusive, “heart of gold.”

Eric Ruben: That’s when he stumbles upon a dead man lyin’ by the side of the road…

Paul Myers: ‎”Don’t let it bring you down,” said Det. Young, removing his Ray Bans, “it’s only castles burning.”

Justin Smallbridge: Det. Crosby: It was like looking in my rear-view mirror and seeing a police car. Then I realized it was the backup I’d called for. Plus, I’m not giving an inch to fear. I promised myself this year.

Det. Young: The question, Dave, it whether you felt like you…[puts on sunglasses]…owed it to someone.

Roger Daltrey: Yeeeaaahhh!

Paul Myers: ‎“Traveling twice the speed of sound,” said Det. Nash, putting on his sunglasses, “It’s easy to get BURNED.” Roger Daltrey: Yeeeaahhh!

Charlie Salmon: Detective Young drops in on Starsky & Hutch.”Well Hello Mr. Soul -I dropped by to pick up a reason”..

Aaron Rubin: In this week’s episode, Long May You Run, Detectives Young and Stills team up, leaving Detective Crosby to ask “why can’t we go on as three?”1

Justin Smallbridge:  CSINY (CBS. 9:00) Tonight’s Episode — “Cortez The Killer.” Det. Young finds himself locked in a deadly battle of wits with a serial killer who may or may not be a professor of Mesoamerican history or a Spanish explorer. Musical montage: “Conquistador,” by Procol Harum & the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.

Paul Myers: SPIN-OFF: From the creator of CSNY:OHIO, it’s GREENDALE. After leaving the big city CSNY force, Det Young settles into life down the pacific coast from San Francisco. In the pilot episode, Det Young investigates the death of Officer Carmichael, a credit to the force.

Justin Smallbridge: CSIN&Y (CBS. 9:00.) “Powderfinger”: There’s a white boat coming up the river with a big red beacon and a flag, and a man on the rail. It’s less than a mile away. It’s got numbers on the side and a gun and it’s making big waves. Det. Young suspects it don’t look like they’re here to deliver the mail.

Aaron Rubin: Det. Stills: “Young, there’s something happening here.”

Det. Young: “You’re right Stills, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Adam Sobolak: Somehow, I can picture CSNY as a contemporary version of Dick Tracy Show characters like Joe Jitsu, Go Go Gomez, Hemlock Holmes, Heap O’Callory…

Jeff Norman:  The dying man lay on the shore. Horror gripped them as they watched him die. All they could do was echo his anguished cries. They stared – all their human feeling died. “We are leaving. You don’t need us.” Det. Crosby turned around, eyeing the wooden police boat: “Guess I’ll set a course and go.”

Jeff Norman: Det. Stills: “Can you explain your whereabouts Friday evening, or Sunday in the afternoon?”

Jaimie Vernon; Det. Young to grieving man on the banks of the Ohio: “Down by the river. Is that where you shot your baby?”

Jeff Norman: CSNY: Vice Squad – Det. Young, in front of a desert whorehouse: “Hello, cowgirl in the sand – is this place at your command?”

Mike Macfarlane: Finally, at the end of the Season, they return to the original scene at Ohio state, and Det. Young says [as he puts on sunglasses]…

“We have all been here before”…

Mike Macfarlane: ‎(Roger Daltrey: Yeeeaaahhh!)

Adam Sobolak: There ought to be room for Dallas Taylor and Greg Reeves as semi-regulars

Luke Jackson: Man, I used to LOVE The Crosby Show.

Jeff Norman: I remember when Crosby used to advertise Jell-o. Or at least, have huge gobs of it stuck in his beard.

Violet Benny: Hands down, one of the best threads I’ve ever read! To quote Rodger Datrey, “Yeeeaaahhh!”

Jeff Norman: Back to the original post: Pretty sure that trail of blood stains was on a four-way street.

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