Rage Against the Machine at Alpine Valley Music Theatre (East Troy, WI)

Performing to at least 35,000 attendees, Rage Against the Machine played its only scheduled Midwest date of the year last Friday at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. The day was hardly a gem on its own accord, offering anywhere between a slight drizzle to a heavy downpour, all to the disdain of the crowd who gathered under and around the outdoor amphitheater. But not only did the show go on, but it went off without a hitch.

The Coup found themselves playing to a relatively empty audience to open the show. MC Boots Riley entered the stage behind a full band, and a sound alien to fans of the group’s studio releases: hard rock. While last year’s release, Pick a Bigger Weapon, played as one of the year’s best hip hop albums, the large capacity outdoor environment dwarfed the group’s new sound — one that fell on many deaf ears. Somehow the group’s presence at the concert went un-promoted and the audience, full of Ozzfest-seasoned concert goers, obliged as such – only acknowledging the band to boo them.

The unfortunate circumstances failed to put a damper on the group’s enthusiasm as Riley and crew continued to trudge through key tracks such as “We Are the Ones” and “My Favorite Mutiny.” While the Coup was musical “on” its sound seemed a tad false on the occasion as it lacked the tremendous rhythms and beats which its albums focused on with such skill. Instead, the Coup almost pandered to a rap-rock crowd while forgetting that its crowd was far more rock than rap on this particular evening.

Queens of the Stone Age followed after an extended intermission, playing an hour long set heavy with songs from its recent Era Vulgaris album and the ever-popular Songs for the Deaf. On the way to the event, discussion between my friend and I focused on the question of how bassist Michael Shuman would fill the spot within the group that many still associate with Nick Oliveri. Answer: the young musician offered ear-shattering vocals and gave his bass an increasingly furious thrashing. Without a doubt he filled the role better than we could have imagined.

Crushing through many of the band’s standards including “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” and a jam-fused “Burn the Witch,” singer Josh Homme used his platform to raise the bar on the evening’s stage banter a few notches. First getting the entire crowd to clap in (semi) unison, Homme then hyped their stage-mates, “Y’know, there’s a band we’ve been waiting to hear for a few years.” As the crowd screamed and cheered he continued, “And I just go with the flow.” The band then slammed into its hugely popular 2003 single. As Queens of the Stone Age’s heavy smoke and light show faded out with its hard hitting “Songs for the Dead,” tension began building and fans began to clamor in anticipation of the headliners.

The long wait was finally halted as Tom Morello’s mother, Mary, came out to the stage – a sight familiar to those who had seen the band before in person or on video. “I’d like to introduce the best fucking band in the universe: Rage Against the Machine.” Morello then escorted his mother to the side of the stage as the crowd went crazy to the opening sounds of “Testify.” What happened from there cannot be defined as orgasmic, nor can it be defined as amazing, breathtaking, or mind blowing… it was simply legendary. “Bulls on Parade” upped the energy of “Testify,” and the entire crowd thrashed about in unison as Morello swirled about on stage, again – the things legends are made of.

As the encore reached its peak with the chorus of “Killing in the Name” the entire grounds were lit up revealing the hillside covered in music fans. For a moment (despite previous mud-sliding and drunken debauchery) the crowd was unified by the strength radiated from the stage. It was simply beautiful. With only a few minutes of soapboxing during “Wake Up” (which received a mixed reaction from the crowd) Zach de la Rocha showed no signs of rust after a nearly half-decade absence. Throughout this show, as I can only he has done with recent festival spots, he reinforced not only his presence in the history of music, but made damn sure that the lively Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk would not be remembered last for their roles in Audioslave. And if for only that fact, that is reason enough to praise the band’s reintroduction into both our lives and our culture.

Common & Lily Allen “Drivin’ Me Wild” Video

A video featuring Common alternating between a white tuxedo and a “robot is the future” t-shirt, Lily Allen in a spacesuit and Jeremy Piven in an ultra-brief finger pointing cameo…not necessarily the makings for best video ever, but by no means a bad video.

M.I.A. on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic

Continuing with a week crammed full of M.I.A. goodness, take a listen to a few tracks recorded from her in studio set from KCRW. Head over to the site to watch streaming video of the entire Morning Becomes Eclectic set including an interview conducted by Ed Harcourt.

Wu-Tang Clan at Myth Nightclub (Maplewood, MN)

Starting midday Saturday afternoon, the Rock The Bells tour stopped in the Twin Cities, playing Maplewood’s Myth rather than the previously scheduled parking lot at the Metrodome. Though the day began early, it wasn’t until late afternoon when I arrived, graciously welcomed to the club by “Free,” the lead track from Pharoahe Monch’s recent release. Not simply owning the stage on his own, the muscle bound MC was accompanied by a strong on-stage cast including a full band, and wildly vibrant backup singers.

Monch dedicated the afternoon’s set to those who were affected by the recent bridge disaster before continuing with “Push” and the title track from Desire, his first release in roughly eight years. The already lively crowd collectively threw their hands in the air as the opening beat of Monch’s 1999 single “Simon Says” rang out; it was from this point out that the bar was set for the rest of the night’s performers.

The night’s MC, Supernatural, took the stage during the changeover, hyping the crowd and eventually covering multiple tracks worth of freestyles. Introducing one song as an exercise he used to do with his brother, Supernatural invited the crowd to hold various items up in the air for him to include in his freestyle. The crowd complied, producing car keys, a pack of Orbitz gum, a Razor cell phone as well as empty bottles and leftover baggies; Supernatural even found himself wrapping his mind around a pair of panties and a walking cane that were offered to him. Concluding the intermission with “The Three MCs,” Supernatural described, “every time I turn around I’m gonna be a different MC.” And almost to perfection he backup up his words, verse one channeling Slick Rick, verse two Busta Rhymes and as an encore – Biggie Smalls.

Following Supernatural’s intermission was Chicago’s Talib Kweli, who almost immediately introduced a freestyle of his own that included a shout out to The Electric Fetus; the record store where he had played a packed in-store performance the night before. “How many people listen to hip hop” asked Kweli early in the set. The crowd responded accordingly as cheers almost deafened his next words, “No, how many people really listen to hip hop?” A sentiment echoing Pharoahe Monch’s earlier Nas tease, “is hip hop really dead?” The words would become all the more fitting as Monch would join Kweli on stage shortly after a raging version of Kweli’s Danger Doom contribution “Old School.”

Introducing himself as the MCEO of his new Blacksmith Records label, Kweli welcomed Strong Army Steady on stage for the next track. An obvious crowd favorite, Kweli ran through a number of tracks from his recent album Eardrum, but it was his 2002 single “Get By” that received the most enthusiastic crowd interaction of his entire set.

After another brief Supernatural-lead intermission, the lights dimmed as one of the night’s most prestigious performers dawned his lone spot on the stage. Nas immediately opened up with “Hip Hop is Dead,” a fitting track considering such a line-up as that of Saturday’s Rock The Bells.

Only one of many crowd teasers, the introduction for “Ether” rang out before Nas continued with “Black Republican.” Continuing his single-heavy set with “If I Ruled the World,” Nas went on to light up the crowd with the James Brown sampled “Get Down.” The track, which thematically plays on violent overtones, was emphasized by Nas’ announcement “this is the shit that Bill O’Reilly don’t understand” (in reference to the recent negative press focused at Nas by O’Reilly over his playing a Virginia Tech benefit show).

Continuing with “One Mic,” Nas went on rile the crowd with “Hate Me Now,” inducing a crowd-wide protest, “put your middle fingers up in the air – fuck the world” he repeated throughout the track. Ultimately however, Nas’ set came down to his parting thoughts, wishing the crowd “peace and love” before he exited the stage following “Made You Look.” And for as much heat Nas has received from seemingly all sides the past few years (including my own skeptical criticism) he stood strong in his set demonstrating his poetry and solidifying the his initial point that hip hop is far from lifeless.

The stage was quickly darkened as the crew began unveiling various risers yielding drums, guitars and a keyboard set up. Replacing the previously draped Rock The Bells banner was a R.I.P. O.D.B. banner, much to the crowd’s delight. As the stage set up a rumor spread throughout the crowd that the group would be late in showing up to the show. But almost on cue, Method Man was heard checking his microphone in the background; Wu-Tang had arrived.

Entering to a crowd full of Ws the group broke into a variety of classics, newer tracks and solo tracks, Wu-Tang Clan were as much hype as they were delivery – each member moving about the heavily populated stage adding to each track amidst ongoing microphone problems. Following a Cappadonna-heavy track from Ghostface Killah’s classic Ironman, the group blazed through GZA’s “Liquid Swords” and eventually touching on tracks by RZA, Method Man and of course, Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

Introducing ODB’s son, Method Man lead the group in renditions of both “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” eventually going on to share a moment with the crowd as Pharoahe Monch did earlier, dedicating the performance to the memory of those lost in the bridge disaster, ODB, and those who could no longer be with us. Far from sedate during the night’s performance Wu-Tang killed with the classics “Protect Ya Neck,” “C.R.E.A.M.” and “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man.”

Throughout the entire performance Method Man served as hype-man, interacting with the crowd and even venturing into the pit on numerous occasions. It was early in the set when, during Meth’s “Bring The Pain,” when he walked out on a barricade and eventually crowd surfed back to the stage. Maintaining the same level of energy throughout the set, it was during the previously mentioned “M.E.T.H.O.D. Man” that Meth walked right into the crowd, performing some fifty feet away from the stage. He would later pull an Iggy Pop during “Da Rockwilder,” standing on the crowd’s willing base of extended hands; later recalling from the stage, “That’s Wu-Tang shit, if anyone else tries that…drop ‘em.”

Before closing the set The RZA introduced System of a Down’s Shavo Odadjian who had been crudely bopping about the stage in his Slayer shirt throughout the entire set recording the show with his video camera. Odadjian joined in on his bass as Wu-Tang lit up GZA’s “4th Chamber,” one of the many classics from his Liquid Swords LP. Closing with the highly anticipated “Triumph” and “Gravel Pit” the group announced that it was “Tony Starks’ birthday” and touted free Cristal to those who joined them at the after party.

Rock The Bells – represent + respect + recognize: a world class hip hop platform. With emphasis on intellectually-based lyrics, free thought and a focus on circumventing the radio to find powerful music , the festival’s mission statement proved a legitimate insight into each and every act’s performance; Rock The Bells was not to be missed.

Spike Jonze Spends Saturday with M.I.A.

VBS recently produced a short series which followed director Spike Jonze through London as he discussed a variety of issues with Maya Arulpragasam (aka M.I.A.). After showering the star with gifts (finger nail stickers and stick-on eye lashes) Jonze and M.I.A. headed to “the asshole of London,” meeting up with the first person to sign to her Zig Zag label, Afrikan Boy (who also appears on “Hussel” from the recently released Kala). Further along in the series of videos, Jonze began to detail his questions and a variety of interesting pieces of information were brought up: M.I.A. got food poisoning and was quite ill shortly before shooting her “Bird Flu” video in India, her favorite song from Kala is “Bamboo Banga” because “lyrically it’s crazy,” and she was drawn to sampling the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind?” because Fight Club is one of her favorite movies. Speaking to the social aspect of her music, she recounted the stereotypical belief that Western cultures typically associate people from Africa and other nations to only listen to the roots-based music of their countries. She claims that it’s not at all how it seems though, and to paraphrase, “this boy knows who 50 Cent is but 50 Cent doesn’t know who this boy is.”

Much along the lines of this statement, Soul Sides‘ Oliver Wang reports for NPR on the album, “At a time when globalization is both dissolving and reinforcing national identities, M.I.A.’s music speaks from a blurry borderland through a lingua franca of agitated, propulsive pop.” While for the most part M.I.A.’s albums are viewed as much “indie” as anything else in recent memory the shattering realization of the situation is that Wang’s suggestions make sense entirely. Kala is a direct result of globalization, a direct result of mainstream pop, rap and rock, and without those influences it would have never been made; a scary thought indeed - that there might be an up-side to the down-sides of globalization.

The Illuminoids: Justice vs. David Bowie Mashup

The Illuminoids have produced a mashup that suggests some weight to the argument against Kanye West’s recent single “Stronger;” that being that the song is nothing more than a crudely remixed track serving as background to a set of mediocre lyrics. After hearing the song a few dozen times I can attest to the point that Kanye’s lyrics aren’t mediocre, but I can’t help but prefer the original “Harder, Faster, Stronger” to his “Stronger.” Utilizing David Bowie’s “It Ain’t Easy,” The Illuminoids prove that relatively unknown bootleggers can provide just about as much substance when using French electrosmiths as that of a Grammy award winning millionaire – and they got it for cheap.

Animal Collective “Peacebone” Video

Immediately this clip reminds me of something similar to those wildly creepy videos put out by Aphex Twin in the ’90s, but after the introduction “Peacebone” calms down a bit, even developing somewhat of a storyline. What may be shocking to those who haven’t indulged in the widely available leaks of Strawberry Jam (myself included) is that “Peacebone” actually sounds like a rock song, or at least as close to a rock song as Animal Collective can get. The video, half “Sheena is a Parasite,” half love story, serves itself as quite an abstractly pleasing adventure compared to the track which, upon first listen, fails to refresh the pallet. Not to say that it isn’t a great track, nor one undeserving of acclaim but it just doesn’t give you that warm feeling that much of Feels did. That being aside I doubt my sentiments will remain once I hear the entire album.

Craving a bit more Strawberry Jam? Here are a few more videos to wet your taste buds, all performed live in London and recorded for BBC’s “interactive cultural magazine” Collective. There is also a short interview with the band on the site which is definitely worth a glance.

O’Reilly Continues to Bash Nas & An Ill Doctrine Rebuttle

Continuing his assault on Nazzz (though since we last saw him, he must have been informed of the proper pronunciation of Nas’ name), Bill O’Reilly continued his verbal assault on both Nas and Virginia Tech President Charles Steger this week. First “going at it” with “liberal” personality Geraldo Rivera, then again with Fox News Correspondent Michelle Malkin and Democratic Strategist Kirsten Powers. Geraldo shockingly does little to argue with O’Reilly, though he begins to make what could have been a strong point against O’Reilly’s case to get Nas removed from an upcoming benefit concert for the families of the victims of this year’s Virginia Tech shootings. Geraldo suggests that “Nas could voluntarily withdraw,” and I think to some extent, if Nas felt that it was insensitive (for whatever reason) to take part in this event he should. Under no other circumstances however, do I feel it to be appropriate for Nas to not take part in this benefit concert, one which he was hand picked for and invited to perform at, with Nas knowing fully well that he would receive no financial reciprocity for doing so. In the same interview O’Reilly suggests that Steger was wrong for suggesting that in his blatantly misleading comments, O’Reilly was guilty of “miscategorizing Nas.” Nasty Nazz and his gansta rap…

The next segment begins with a “flabbergasted” Malkin doing everything she can to agree with her Fox News family member, and as he did in his initial segment, O’Reilly likens Nas’ inclusion in the benefit to the crimes committed by football player Marcus Vick while attending Virginia Tech. It’s at this point in time that Powers suggests the apparent, in that breaking the law (Vick) can in no way be compared to artistic expression (Nas). O’Reilly disagrees (whaa?) concluding the segment by saying, “this permissive culture is what’s killing me.”

If for whatever reason O’Reilly’s sentiments (which are based entirely on out of context sound bytes) do not offend you (or even if they do) - I implore you to take a moment and listen to Jay Smooth’s reaction to the situation as, in typical form, the Ill Doctrine founder spreads wisdom ans sensibility over the situation.

Side One, Track One: Tim Armstrong “Wake Up”

Artist: Tim Armstrong
Album: A Poet’s Life
Side One Track One: “Wake Up”

Marking his fortieth year on planet earth Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong released his first solo album this year entitled A Poet’s Life. The long awaited album celebrates lighthearted ska and delves heavily into melodica-based dub. “Wake Up” delivers a fairly mediocre lyrical base, the chorus being repeated generously in spite of the song’s two verses; but Armstrong’s music has never been heavily swayed by his writing. That thought is a bit humorous considering the album’s title, but when thinking back to his time spent in Operation Ivy, The Transplants or even his ongoing position in Rancid Armstrong has never really been considered that much of a street poet.

Should Have Been Side One Track One: “Into Action”

A Poet’s Life is ultimately carefree sounding as a whole despite its occasionally downtrodden lyrical base. Not to say that “Wake Up” doesn’t get the job done, but the uptempo ska of “Into Action” would have created a much better starting point for the album as it lends a considerable amount of energy to the mix. Additionally Canadian pop singer, and ├╝ber-contemporary of Avril Lavigne, Skye Sweetnam contributes to the track showcasing the pop sensibilities that go hand in hand with Armstrong’s lighter side.

Turbo Fruits "Turbo Fruits" Review

It is not considerably hard to categorize Turbo Fruits as something similar to last year’s sensation Be Your Own PET, especially so considering their sounds are both vibrantly based in a lighter, southern-whipped style of punk, and both self-titled releases come from bands that include drummer John Eatherly and guitarist Jonas Stein. Prefix Magazine‘s Eric Fitzgerald documents the band as “a mixture of surf rock and Bad Brains,” but unlike BYOP (who name check Bad Brains in their debut album), Turbo Fruits play something of a (slightly more) harnessed attempt at recklessness.

To suggest the group’s sound can be attributed to Bad Brains would be an inept comparison, Stein sounding nothing like HR and playing far more rhythmically than Dr. Know. True, the bands are in the same family, but they have far different personalities. Bassist Max Peebles and Eatherly act more along the lines of John Entwistle/Keith Moon, especially so during tracks such as “Know Too Much,” than the punks they are made to sound. It’s alarmingly simple to qualify the act, as it was was with BYOP, with the formula of ____ rock + punk = band name, but the band’s debut album offers so much more than that. Turbo Fruits' energy is almost the equivalent to that of early ’90s Seattle acts, one that helped introduce punk to a new generation.

The greatest attribute that be can said about the band is Stein’s phenomenal debut as a vocalist, sounding much too gritty to give substance to Fitzgerald’s “surf rock” comments. If Mudhoney’s Mark Arm were dead I might conclude that — based on not merely sound alone — Jonas Stein was Arm reincarnate. And as the album races by, that connection becomes far more apparent: Turbo Fruits sounding more similar to Five Dollar Bob’s Mock Cooter Stew than it does I Against I. And why not? It’s about time grunge got a face lift.

Hank Williams III, Big Red Goad & The Power of Country at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Kicking off the show with “a bit of national rag” Power of Country opened up with a rousing bluegrass introduction before singer Jim Goad (aka Big Red Goad) stepped on stage at First Avenue, promptly sticking his chewing gum to the microphone stand and taking stance with one boot firmly planted on one of the monitors. Goad, wearing a straw cowboy hat and sounding of his best Marty Robbins, began laying into a string of songs that would make a trucker’s heart weep.

The description for Big Red Goad’s 1996 release Truck Drivin’ Psycho reads, “I sing 14 country songs, 12 of them trucker-related” and with the invitation for crowd participation during “I Got Lost” (from said album) Goad firmly established his musical theme. Playing back-up band for the evening were members of Power of Country, a Portland-based country heartland band; midset Goad introduced its members including the chain-smoking Minnesota native Jay Johnson who received an animated response from the crowd.

Two years ago Hank Williams III, The Damn Band & Assjack played the main stage at First Avenue and the crowd was scattered at best. Then-opening act JB Beverley and the Wayward Drifters began the show to a bare audience, but this time around, even before the first note had been played, the crowd was rowdy, a bit sauced and antsy to blow of some steam. Before closing the set Goad acknowledged Williams’ appreciation of his book The Redneck Manifesto (one which was published not long before he was sentenced to two years in prison) the band stomped out one final session that poked as much fun at white trash as it celebrated it, comparing the Southern Caucasian culture to the “yellows and blacks.” After leaving the stage an audience member close to me winced to his friend, “that man has balls;” Jim Goad also has the ability to get a crowd wild.

A brief intermission broke with the unruly audience cramping the floor as “Straight To Hell” broke out, the long time opener to Hank Williams III’s shows and his latest album of the same name. From there on out Joe Buck slapped the hell out of his well worn stand up bass, Andy Gibson ripped his dobro, Adam McOwen almost sawed his fiddle in half and drummer Munash Sami kept the entire crew in line. Within minutes the pit had been whisked into a fury and after “Straight to Hell” Williams requested the house lights, revealing a bloodied crowd member exiting the floor; “get that man some ice,” Williams said before tearing into the next song.

Metal shows, punk shows, rockabilly shows; for lack of a better term rowdy remains a term best suited for the night’s crowd, and while I have been deep inside pits for all of the genres mentioned this pit was the rowdiest I had ever experienced. Even through the slower songs of the set, relative ballads, the crowd pushed and argued for elbow room; but when Hank was strumming and McOwen was punishing his fiddle the crowd was insane. Even before the first of Hank’s typical, and softest of, sets one audience member left with blood dripping from his head, at least two fist fights broke out and one female member was ripped from the pit after crowd surfing (wielding two cowboy boots as weapons).

While The Damn Band played its typical songs, “Mississippi Mud,” “The Pills I Took,” and “Country Heroes” amongst the rest there was a great track played that was new to my ears, “The Grand Ole Opery Ain’t So Grand No More.” After making a speech requesting the crowd’s participation in an ongoing petition to reinstate Hank Williams Sr. into the Opry (banished for his drinking), Hank III ripped into the fantastic vulgarity-laced song damning the country music patriarchs that continue to exclude his grandfather from their ranks, now almost sixty years after his death.

Two years ago, after the country set concluded with “Dick in Dixie,” Gary Lindsey took the stage and almost immediately the crowd was weeded out, with at most a hundred people sticking around to hear the hellbilly stylings of Assjack. I stayed and witnessed Lindsey bounce off the amp stack and roll around on the stage as Hank dawned his electric and pummeled the sound system. This time around, it was I who was among the now-minority who left after the country set, utterly drenched in sweat and ready to hit bed before waking up early the next day for work. Observing the crowd’s reaction to his milder set however, it may have been in the best interest of my own safety to avoid a grindcore-like set amongst a crowd who cheered hardest in response to GG Allin’s “Punch, Fight, Fuck.” All the same, the weed flaunting, whiskey drinking, skid row dressing, crazed country rebel has still got it.