Music notes in the key of D(ubbatrubba)

A few concert-going odds and ends from the past couple of weeks:

I saw Joan Shelley open up for Richard Thompson two Fridays ago.

Hearing her voice in that setting, it’s easy to make comparisons to the late great Sandy Denny, with whom Richard played eons ago in Fairport Convention.

I know that’s high praise for folkies, but Joan deserves it. NPR is streaming her new album (produced by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco) – spend some time with it.

This past Saturday I saw Cincinnati’s own Wussy at the Woodward Theater. They were a bit rusty (they’re taking a break from touring to record), but amazing as always. The sandpaper & silk combination of Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker on vocals is, in a word, beautiful.

Wussy had two local bands opening up. Note to all local bands: if you’d like to attract more fans, maybe try a volume other than “eardrum-piercing.” Seriously, my friend Dave and I could only last 30 seconds with the first band before we retreated outside. You win the volume contest, local band… but ironically you lose a chance to be heard by more people. Wouldn’t you rather have folks up by the stage rather than rushing for the exits or cowering in a corner? TURN IT DOWN! WAY DOWN! (See, you don’t like it when I turn up the volume either, do you? Now you know how the audience feels.)

Thank goodness I had my Earpeace earplugs. If you go to concerts, do your ears a favor and get a pair. A mere $20 will get you the HD version, and they come with their own handy carrying case.

I spent years using those disposable foam factory/construction site earplugs, which muffle all sounds. Earpeace plugs actually filter the sound, so you can enjoy the bands without killing your hearing.

On Monday I saw a great double bill, again at the Woodward. Ron Gallo opened up for Hurray for the Riff Raff. Both were fantastic. Ron’s songwriting and guitar skills are as impressive as his hairdo, and that’s saying something:

  

Hurray for the Riff Raff is fronted by Alynda Lee Segarra, a self-proclaimed “New Yorican” (i.e. New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent) and pint-sized dynamo. Her new album is The Navigator, and it’s great. The band sounds fantastic in concert too, and Alynda isn’t afraid to speak her mind about all sorts of socio-political topics. She introduce a couple of tunes by saying “this is an immigrant song.” Here’s their performance at SXSW last month.

Ron Gallo and his two other band members even joined Hurray for the Riff Raff on stage for a couple of songs, Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “Living in the City” (here’s a brief clip)…

…and a raucous encore version of a John Lennon tune, “Bring on the Lucie (Freeda People)” (another snippet):

 

 

Aaaaand finally (I know, tl:dr)….

NPR is also streaming an album where artists from Dolly Parton to Pearl Jam cover Brandi Carlile’s The Story. It’s called “Cover Stories” and it’s for a good cause:

The musicians on Cover Stories joined the project, in part, because they believe in the cause Cover Stories benefits – all proceeds go to War Child UK, a non-governmental organization supporting children affected by conflict

Peace out.

Happy Earth Day to You

Hey, it’s Earth Day, the one day out of 365 (or 366) that we actually give a damn about the planet we all share. Each year is the hottest on record. Smog is getting smoggier. Rains are turning to floods. Earthquakes are a fracking nightmare. A 94-year-old engineer may be our last hope.

OK, maybe I’m being overly dramatic. But I’m also being overly Dramarama…

What Are We Gonna Do? – Dramarama from Damian John Spooner – Upton on Vimeo.

What are we gonna do? Here are some ideas.

Happy Birthday, Planet Earth!

Bye Bye David Dye

David Dye, longtime host of NPR’s wonderful music program World Cafe, signed off a couple of Fridays ago after a quarter century of spinning a ton of great tunes.

My musical tastes veer away from the mainstream, to singer-songwriters and indie rockers and “legacy” artists who still push the boundaries. I could always count on World Cafe for two hours of music that was right in my wheelhouse – check out David Dye’s list of 25 albums from the 25 years he hosted the show for a taste. Better still, the show also featured interviews and live performances from the artists. It was appointment listening for many years for me, on the local affiliate WNKU-FM. Now David is gone, and WNKU is soon to follow.

But when one door closes, another opens. My wife got me an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, and all I have to do is say “Alexa, play radio station KEXP-Seattle” and I’m immediately tuned in to what is, in my humble opinion, the best station going.

It’s not the same as having a local connection, but I’ll take what I can get. Gotta keep rockin’.

King Richard the First… and Only

Last night I saw Richard Thompson live in concert at the newly refurbished Memorial Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ve seen him a dozen or more times over the past quarter of a century. I originally opted to skip this show, mainly because:

  1. I had seen him so many times prior to this show.
  2. Tickets weren’t cheap and I’m trying to save cash.
  3. As a suburban 52-year-old with a job, a wife and 4 kids (two of whom I have to wake up at 6 a.m. every weekday) I can’t make as many shows as I’d like to.

But last week some friends of mine were talking about going, and I got the fever. One catch: the show was sold out. I checked StubHub and SeatGeek to no avail. On a last-second “what the heck” whim, I checked Craigslist, and lo and behold, another suburban dad had a pair of tickets that he had to unload because the concert conflicted with a Daddy-Daughter dance. Which is how I wound up at a Kroger parking lot on a Wednesday night, meeting a stranger for a ticket purchase.

The show was a typical RT show… which is to say, amazing. I don’t think you’ll find his rare combination of talents in too many folks:

  • virtuoso guitarist – I’d put him up against any teenage phenom. Even solo and acoustic, like last night, the dude can shred
  • phenomenal voice – so strong, even at age 68. And the acoustics in Memorial Hall did it justice.
  • fantastic songwriter – great, sometimes twisted lyrics and wonderful melodies. It’s no wonder his tunes have been covered by the likes of R.E.M., Elvis Costello, Bob Mould, Bonnie Raitt, Reckless Kelly, The Neville Brothers, Marshall Crenshaw and Dinosaur Jr. (that’s a festival lineup I’d like to see).
  • entertaining stage presence – that dry British wit is always in evidence. Last night after absolutely tearing up the solo on “Valerie” and getting much-deserved applause from the audience, he shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s easy.” He also referred to himself as a “folk rock dinosaur.”

I went with my neighbor/friend Mark, a true music fanatic (he’s been to hundreds of shows over the last 40 years, still plays in a local band, went to Cleveland a few weeks ago to see Patti Smith… you get the picture). Mark’s a longtime Richard Thompson fan, and saw him in 1986 in the same venue as last night’s show. The vast majority of folks in the audience were in the same age bracket as Mark and I are. (The show should be sponsored by a doctor who specializes in knee and hip replacements – he’d make a killing.) That’s a shame. Richard’s always been a niche artist, an acquired taste, a critic’s darling almost completely ignored by the mainstream. But he puts on a fantastic show every damn time. You whippersnappers should go see him – now get off my lawn!

Next time I have a chance to see such an amazing artist in a gorgeous venue, I won’t trust my fate to Daddy-Daughter dances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling Music

My wife and two youngest children are on a Spring Break trip out west, with our friend Heather and her two kids. Meanwhile I’m stuck in rainy Cincinnati with our teenage sons. (I’m not bitter.) The way my music-loving mind is wired, every time my wife sends me a photo of their adventures, it makes me think of a song.

They started their trip in Las Vegas (where my Raiders are moving):

So naturally that makes me think of “Viva Las Vegas” – but not the Elvis version, the Shawn Colvin version from the Doc Pomus tribute album (and The Big Lebowski credits).

Next up was the Hoover Dam:

I cannot hear the words “Hoover Dam” without thinking of Sugar’s song by the same name.

They spent some time on Route 66:

Then they headed to the Grand Canyon:

That’s your cue, Drive By Truckers…

They’ve been spending a lot of time in Arizona

That calls for a double-shot, twin spin:

 

Yesterday they were in Sedona:

Great scenery… great tune by Houndmouth too!

And tonight they’ll get to Phoenix.

 

Looks like they’re really enjoying their time way out west:

 

And I am too, vicariously, via the soundtrack in my head.

Rock & Roll Never Forgets… or does it?

Here’s a great article on NPR about Bob Seger’s presence (or lack thereof) in the age of digital music.

His influence appears to be diminishing (along with his sales and airplay) and his legacy is losing a bit of luster because you can’t find many of his albums and/or songs on digital and streaming platforms. So he’s missing out on a chance to gain new fans.

I found the article fascinating… and I was also fascinated by the fact that it was written by Tim Quirk, who was the lead singer of the band Too Much Joy, a group I remember from my early 90s days at 97X, mostly for their fun (and funny) songs like “Long Haired Guys from England” and “That’s a Lie.”

Check out the article. Then check your dad’s record collection for some vintage Seger.

 

 

 

 

Now hear this… and this… oh, and this too!

NPR Music’s “First Listen” allows you to stream entire albums prior to their official release date (usually about a week in advance). This week, it’s a sonic smorgasbord of tasty tunes, featuring new releases from:

Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

Alynda Segarra, a.k.a. Hurray For The Riff Raff

 

The Magnetic Fields – 50 Song Memoir

(it’s one song for each year of Stephin Merritt’s life, NPR streams the first 20)

Stephin Merritt, not a UPS driver.

Valerie June – The Order of Time

Valerie June, not Medusa

Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives – Way Out West 

(produced by Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers)

They sound as good as they look.

First Listen also features an original Broadway cast recording, an Afro-Cuban album and the new release from Jay Som, a 22-year-old indie rock artist from Oakland who plays every instrument on the album. Get your ears over there now, add them all to your listening queue and have a harmonious Hump Day.

Don’t be a stranger. On second thought, DO be a stranger.

An article about Craig Finn’s living room tour is on Salon.com, and the writer was in attendance at the show at my house (fondly referred to in the article as “a stranger’s living room somewhere in Cincinnati”).  So I’m a stranger, but an internet-famous one.

It’s a nice interview, and there’s an interesting video diary too.

Hat tip to Professor Joe Sampson (who  attended the show) for sending the link my way.

I’m ready for the next show…

Yo Adrian… Belew

Adrian Belew is one of the most inventive guitarists ever. Don’t take my word for it, just ask anyone who has ever seen him play. Way back when, he toured with Frank Zappa and David Bowie. He was a member of King Crimson. He’s also played with everyone from Talking Heads to Nine Inch Nails to Paul Simon, and put out several solo albums, as well as albums with the brilliant but overlooked power-pop group The Bears.

Adrian Belew is also one of the nicest rock stars I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He’s from Covington, Kentucky, just across the river from Cincinnati, and back in the early 90s when I worked at 97X in Oxford, Ohio, our paths crossed quite a bit. My friends and fellow DJs Ric and Dave agreed that his nickname should be “The Nicest Guy in Rock.”

Last night, Pixar’s Piper won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short (it really won, there was no confusion), and Adrian Belew did the score for it… his first movie score ever. Nice to see a nice guy finish first for a change.

You can read more about Adrian’s work on the movie, as well as his contributions to Bowie and Zappa tributes, here. Another interesting interview is here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

L.A. back in the day

I recently finished reading the book Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk by John Doe (of the band X) and Tom DeSavia. 

The book features several chapters written by John Doe, interspersed with single-chapter reminiscences from many other luminaries from the L.A. punk rock scene of the late 70s, including his bandmate and ex-wife Exene Cervenka, Jane Wiedlin and Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos, Henry Rollins of Black Flag, Mike Watt of the Minutemen and Dave Alvin of the Blasters. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire book, but the penultimate chapter from writer Kristine McKenna (one of the first mainstream journalists to chronicle the early L.A. scene) really sums things up nicely:

By the time the Sex Pistols released their first single, “God Save the Queen,” in May of 1977, the LA scene was already percolating, so we found our way to the mountain without a map. We weren’t copying anybody else, and from the start there were things that distinguished LA’s punk scene from the scenes in other cities. The first generation of LA punk was literate and really smart, for starters, and each band had its own sources of inspiration. Much of the punk that came in its wake wasn’t very smart at all, nor was it particularly original. A tremendous amount of diversity coexisted under the rubric of early LA punk too, and there was a surprising degree of parity between men and women—it was not a sexist scene, and women were treated as equals. Latinos and gays were welcome too, as were old people: your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? It was that way for a brief spot in time.

Later, she points out a key difference between a “scene” back then and now:

All kinds of people materialized, and anybody who’d gone to the trouble of showing up had a right to be there. It took a while for all this to start cooking, though, which brings me to the scourge known as social media. LA’s first punk community took a while to get up to speed because things didn’t “go viral” then. The jungle drum of word-of-mouth was how information got around, and measured against the lightning speed information travels today, LA’s first punk community coalesced at a glacial pace. People had to physically be in rooms together and talk to one another to learn about things then, and that world was intimate and tactile and visceral in a way texting can never be.

And I loved the way she described the innocence and optimism of youth:

We’re all like trees, and the leaves that are the people we love flutter to the ground one by one. Time is a brutal, devouring force, and until it’s begun to do its handiwork, it’s impossible to comprehend how very beautiful it is to be young, how privileged and innocent it is. You may think you know the score when you’re twenty-four years old, but you never do, for the simple reason that you can’t: life lobs curveballs that are unimaginable at twenty-four. We believed we were dangerous and subversive back in the day, but in fact, we were babies, yet to rub the fairy dust from our eyes. Time takes a heavy toll on ideals, and looking back, it all seems unbearably idealistic and sweet.

She does end on a redemptive note:

So the scene is gone, and many of the people who created it are gone too, and I suppose that’s how it’s meant to be. Great art is immutable and eternal, though. I recently attended an X show where I watched young people—yes, they were young—crowding the lip of the stage, mouthing the words to “White Girl” and “Year One.” The music continues to mean something to those who need it, and those who need it will continue to find it.

If you’re an oldster like me who enjoyed (and still enjoys) bands like X, The Blasters and The Minutemen, this book is definitely worth a read.