Black Lips & Quintron and Miss Pussy Cat at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, MN)

Playing a sold out show at Minneapolis’ 7th St. Entry, Atlanta’s The Black Lips defied their well documented reputation through most of their performance, playing a straight ahead brand of rock and roll equal parts punk and The Beatles. By the time the show was wearing down however the band had treated its audience to a gig worth remembering, one that escalated from sharing beers with crowd members to guitarist Cole Alexander finishing the set with his pants around his ankles and bassist Jared Swilley exchanging a joint with his new friends. Well before the band took the stage however New Orleans duo Quintron and Miss Pussycat played an unforgettable set.

Quintron and Miss Pussycat are a unique pair, each offering up a bit of spectacle, a bit of sweat and a whole lot of energy. Quintron, armed with his Drum Buddy, a hi-hat and a pair of keyboards, never stopped moving throughout the entire show despite being primarily stationed at his keys.

Far more darling in her delivery was Miss Pussycat, steadily keeping in time with her maracas while occasionally erupting with powerful vocal wails. Sounding like that of the many powerful female singers out there (the ladies from Mika Miko come to mind), Miss Pussycat (not unlike Quintron) performed with a strange sense of realistic sexuality that engaged the audience while negating stereotype. Later joined by a third member on stage the duo eventually stepped from the stage into the crowd during their performance, each individually raising the level of energy amongst the crowd of the sold out show.

After concluding their set the trio then took place behind the overbearing housing that accompanied them on stage, continuing the performance by delivering a surprisingly enjoyable puppet show. What started as something heavily uncertain eventually turned into something overwhelmingly enjoyable with the entire crowd loving the goofy storyline as it played out.

Rumor of The Black Lips’ shows often overshadow the music itself, this night’s show being no exception as it ravaged the small club. The floor directly in front of the stage was a strict vessel for those attempting to bash about drunkenly - so even when the action on stage was maintaining a moderate pace there was always something to watch out for. The group hit the stage around 11:30 with multiple beers in each band members’ hands. From there they quickly assembled their gear and waded surprisingly casually into a brief cover of Link Wray’s “Rumble,” the song acting as the introduction to the show.

As the set grew longer each of the band’s members took on a presence of their own. Guitarists Cole Alexander and Ian St. Pe balanced the band out, each standing at one end of the small stage; Alexander sporting a makeshift Friar Tuck hairdo and occasionally smashing beer cans on his head, St. Pe rocking gold fronts and a cocked Atlanta Braves hat.

The band blasted through a number of solid tracks from last year’s Good Bad Not Evil including “O Katrina,” “Bad Kids” and “Cold Hands” as the crowd continued its boisterous energy, often shoving bassist Jared Swilley’s monitor around the front of the stage and knocking St. Pe’s mic stand over.

After the bulk of the set had played out the band returned to the stage with beers and smoke in hand; St. Pe looking especially satisfied after the band’s extended break. The group continued by hammering out a few more songs, further inciting the crowd and getting everyone’s blood pumping. The audience might not been witness to the folklore that helped give the band its outlandish reputation on this night no blood, puke or piss, but it did see a fantastic show by a great group of guys who played the living hell out of their instruments.

Muja Messiah "Amy Winehouse"

Muja Messiah’s latest single takes on Rihanna’s “Umbrella” while celebrating his city, shouting out Amy Winehouse and heeding advice from Russell Simmons. The track comes from Muja’s forthcoming MPLS Massacre which is slated for a mid-March release. While Muja is deep within a Minneapolis hip hop scene that has been caustically deemed college-rap, his voice rears songs that are blatently street-centric, pushing thought and innovation alike with his critical take on Bush’s administration (”Patriot Act”) and his M.I.A. “Paper Planes” mash. As of late Muja was listed on Vibe’s list of The 51 Best MySpace Rappers, hopefully giving his upcoming debut solo album some well-deserved national recognition.

Dead Meadow "Old Growth" Review

In 2005 I was introduced to Dead Meadow as the group opened for Sleater-Kinney, the band epitomized neo-psych with its no-nonsense hazy drab. At the time the band's music came across as something terribly powerful while the makeup of its sound was tastefully cautious, the group never fully realizing the massiveness it sought. Cut to roughly three years later, on the same stage at Minneapolis' First Avenue, with the heavily touted To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie playing a showcase. Again I was witness to a band that seemed to be far more talented than it sounded, its music coming off as a blurred wave lacking any sense of harmony. Given a few years of expansion however, To Kill a Petty Bourgeoisie may prove me wrong much like Dead Meadow's increasingly colossal latest, Old Growth has.

That being said - Old Growth has been criticized for failing to move forward, Pitchfork's Tom Breihan elaborating on the album, "Since the release of 2005's Feathers, the band has relocated from D.C. to L.A. and returned to being a trio after additional guitarist Cory Shane came and went. Listening to Old Growth, though, there's barely any indication that anything has ever changed for this band." This is an interesting accusation considering the elaborate layering of such songs as "Till Kingdom Come" and the album's opener "Ain't Got Nothing (To Go Wrong)."

Breihan caustically demeans the group's sound, claiming, "Dead Meadow can write songs like these in their sleep, and they probably do," but therein lies the continual shallow observation of anything remotely using its weight in reverb or shallowly defined as shoegaze. Given that bands ranging from the Brian Jonestown Massacre's to The Upsidedown and Dead Meadow are all easily classified by the simpleness of their sound it's easy to cast aside the creativity that necessitates the music; if it sounds simple it can't possibly be art, right? But situations such as the carefully placed guitar solo late into "What Needs Must Be" demonstrates the band's willingness to step outside the reverb-bubble it's created and play-out an honest piece of music.

Old Growth is an album that is for the majority what one would expect of it, but it is also an album that is creative and enjoyable by its own right. Creating a record's worth of mood music is easy, but the band's inclusion of acoustic palatability without stunning the listener with a harsh abrasiveness proves that Dead Meadow has in fact grown.

[This article first appeared on I Rock Cleveland.]

Tapes 'n Tapes at Turf Club (St. Paul, MN)

An announcement made via the band’s mailing list and MySpace site the day of the show excited the limited few who came across the information: Tapes ‘n Tapes would be the surprise headliners to the already exciting Vampire Hands/The Blind Shake show at the Turf Club. While hearing the nationally recognized band play around the city is nothing new, it was the lack of advanced warning combined with the small club atmosphere and the allure of new music that peaked excitement for the show long before the work-day had let out. The foreboding bulletin on the band’s MySpace read, “That’s right kids, we’re playing a show tonight @ the Turf Club in St. Paul. We can’t tell you how excited we are. It’s true that we’re always talking about how excited we are about things, but we’re REALLY excited about this show. It’s with two of our favorite MSP bands, Vampire Hands and Blind Shake. And it’s gonna rule! We hope you can come on down. We’re gonna be playing all of Walk it Off (minus one song), and just straight rock-rock-rawkin! Be there or be square, Tapes ‘n Tapes.

The Blind Shake opened the night’s heavily anticipated show with a blistering set, each song short and simple yet echoing a sense of lightheartedness. Fronted by the brothers Blaha the band’s sound is defined through staggering power chords far jagged and sharper than the like of fantastic local drone duo Gay Witch Abortion. The band’s excitement barely held the brothers on the stage as they bounced about, each Blaha flailing a bit with their uniform black jacket and bald head. Drummer Dave Roper did little to keep the band’s energy in check as he crashed about his set, enticing the duo to maintain their go for broke mentality. After losing power to one guitar and breaking a string on another the band completed its set, and in doing so opened the show with enough energy make certain the the crowd was completely invested in the music despite the overwhelming headliners’ presence.

Following The Blind Shake were Vampire Hands, an eclectic group sporting a similar arrangement to that of Brooklyn’s Yeasayer who recently played a set at the 7th St. Entry. The group was well received, though the timing seemed a bit uncertain at times as drummer Alex Rose and co-front man Colin Johnson found themselves occasionally out of sync in their set-long drum procession. Notably reserved was bassist Chris Bierden whose vocal contributions were overshadowed during the set by Johnson, partially restraining the band from reflecting one of its strongest assets.

Around 12:30 the members of Tapes ‘n Tapes finished setting up their gear, each making their final approach to the stage before lead singer Josh Grier leveled a brief introduction as the band broke into the first song of the set.

In his review of the show, The Onion’s Christopher Bahn tossed about his first impressions of the band’s latest songs, “I didn’t hear anything that grabbed me with the immediacy of ‘Insistor’ or ‘Cowbell;’ before partially relenting, “Tapes have always been a better-in-the-studio band for me.” But through direct contrast, as the band played “Insistor” later in the set for instance, there seemed to be various songs from the new album that popped a bit louder and helped expand the experience of seeing the band play live. One such song was introduced by Grier, “we recorded it in a bubble,” attempting to distance his song from Patti Page’s “Conquest” recently popularized last year by The White Stripes.

Possibly the greatest confirmation of the night came when the band performed Walk It Off’s first single, “Hang Them All.” The track, which has received its share of both positive and negative feedback from the same internet hype-machine that pumped 2005’s The Loon to bloated proportions, was genuinely strong in the live setting. The track itself proposes a different side to the group, one reserving more of a traditional role that showcases a well defined and thoughtfully constructed chorus. Aside from the occasional equipment delay and loose atmosphere which the smaller St. Paul club contributed to - the band’s showcase confirmed that the music that is on its way with the forthcoming Walk It Off will not let fans down in the least.

“Lily Allen & Friends” Debuts, Is Sure To Fail

Lily Allen & Friends debuted on Tuesday night to a stream of skepticism, The Times‘ Adam Sherwin adding “Lily Allen reduced BBC Three’s average audience for the 10:30pm slot by some 200,000 viewers. The E4 channel attracted a higher share of the target youth audience during the evening. ITV2 attracted more viewers than Allen with an Arnold Schwarzenegger film.” Sherwin also notes that it “was billed as the first television show designed for the social networking generation. But not even Lily Allen could rescue the BBC’s latest attempt to lure the ‘youth’ market.”

While the show’s success rests on Allen’s ability to overcome her non-musical inabilities it also rests on that “social networking generation,” or more importantly - just who the heads at the BBC think the social networking generation may be. The first example of the show’s ineptitude comes in the form of Tay Zonday, who performed a brief rendition of Allen’s smash “Smile” following an equally unenlightening interview.

Call it a criticism on the state of entertainment, or at least an outsider’s view of what the term entertainment may mean in the context of BBC Three, but the sample in the following clip is not what television has the capability of being. The execution is dull, the material is dry, self-serving and unimaginative and for chrissake - is Cuba Gooding Jr. even remotely relevant anymore?! Even during the writer’s strike on this side of the Atlantic late night figureheads such as Stephen Colbert and Conan O’Brien have delivered segment after segment of brilliance - the majority of which subsequently drawing praise from the BBC’s target audience.

If one aspect from Lily Allen & Friends’ debut suggests a quick death to the show it would be the appearance of “YouTube legend” Tay Zonday. His appearance results in a moment of confusion rather than interest as it is honestly depressing to think that “Chocolate Rain” exclusives are still what’s being shat out of television producers’ think tanks months after the social networking generation started to lose interest. Rather than continuing to dig into Zonday (real name Adam Bahner)…though it irked me to no end how he attempted to describe “Chocolate Rain” as a universal theme whereas he once got it right, describing the song for what it is as “something silly”…I will conclude by saying that this show is doomed simply because the market that it is aiming for is in need of fresh, innovative entertainment and the show is certain to fail to deliver. This is a target audience that has no problem with moving on to something new because there is and will always be something more interesting out there and I’d like to think that I’m apart of such an audience…so much so that even I lost interest in this post about three hundred words ago.

Daniel Johnston at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Opening with “Mean Girls Give Pleasure,” Daniel Johnston quickly abolished any sense of discomfort that lingered in the crowd, chugging along on his unique electric, versing about the toils of following one’s passion at the cost of the heart. Johnston continued with a brief solo set before being accompanied on stage by long-time collaborator Brett Hartenbach. It was within the duo’s performance that Johnston’s words became free, the artist allowing himself to focus solely on the delivery of the stories he has been crafting his entire life.

Now the subject of legend, Johnston’s life was introduced to many through the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston — a film that captured the (almost) absurd demons that the man has struggled with since he was young. But as the set wore on it was Johnston’s humanity, not his checkered past, that became the sole focus of the night. “Hold me like a mother would, like I always knew somebody should, yeah/Though tomorrow don’t look that good.” Lyrics such as these, from “Living Life,” helped speak to the historical narration of the infamous documentary, proving to the night’s audience of how he once filled 3000 seat theaters and inspired legends.

Johnston’s benevolence carried on throughout the evening as he kept the audience in high spirits, “I heard they just sentenced a man to the death penalty... for trying to commit suicide,” went one such joke. Perhaps even in spite of his overwhelming shaking that hindered the singer throughout the night, Johnston maintained his composure and continued entertaining the packed venue. “What town is this?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Indianapolis?” (crowd: Minneapolis!) “Memphis?!…” While Johnston had won the audience over long before he even took the stage he ensured that he would not soon be forgotten with his colorful interjections throughout his set.

Before heading off the stage again, Johnston and Hartenbach delivered a brilliant rendition of the Beatles’ “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away,” one that had fans shouting in unison each time Johnston approached the classic chorus.

Returning again, this time with local act Bison Forest backing him, Johnston dawned a new role, one of an honest frontman. Though not necessarily as fitting of a role as that of the solo player, Johnston still delivered in a manner that was upbeat and warm; the band helping by kicking off with the classic “Speeding Motorcycle.”

Continuing with “Rock & Roll,” Johnston told a story that more than likely held words with which everyone in attendance could relate: “Oh, that rock and roll, it saved my soul” he sang. Eventually shedding the band, Johnston and Hartenbach completed the night’s performance beautifully with the traditional one song finale, “True Love Will Find You in the End.”

Some people talk of Daniel Johnston as a beautiful soul trapped in a dangerous mind, while others remark of him as a brilliant songwriter trapped in the body of an average performance artist. No labels matter when thinking of the Johnston as a person however, because there is something wonderful, sincere and valuable about anyone expanding on that which makes them who they are. Doing so is essential to the humanity of each and every one of us—this night proved to me that Danny Johnston is an essential.

Revisiting Super Dave Osbourne

Rare is the occasion when a long forgotten memory returns and is revisited with any sort of remote sense of fondness, but this past week during a conversation with a group of friends a thought of Super Dave Osbourne came to mind. While not necessarily as hilarious as some distant memories, those of Super, Fuji Hakayito and Mike Walden are as over the top, lighthearted* and enjoyable now as they were then.

MGMT & Yeasayer at 7th St. Entry (Minneapolis, MN)

The Battle Royale’s frontman, Mark Ritsema, disclosed to me before the show that the group had almost gone into a panic mode when the recent blizzard-like conditions here in the Midwest left the state of half the band in limbo. “We were going to leave at 5:30 this morning and get them,” he said, speaking of Sam Robertson (keyboards) and John Pelant (guitar) who attend college in Milwaukee. Thankfully for both the audience and the band the charter delivered the pair to Minneapolis in time for the show.

The group performed in support of its most recent album Wake Up, Thunderbabe released locally on Afternoon Records, though occasionally reverting to songs from its 2006 debut Sparkledust Fantasy. Sticking largely to the electronic-based sounds that make up the first half of Wake Up the set list neglected the acoustic-driven songs that carry the album allowing a shift towards song-writing and structure. In the evening’s context however electronic music ruled the event and the Battle Royale easily paved the way as appropriate openers. “We begged to get on this bill” Ritsema told me, and his band made the most of the evening using their limited stage space to joke around, have some fun and even dance (though Ritsema teased falling over a few times as he struggled to move about in his roughly four square feet of stage space).

In approach of the show the only real mystery of the night focused on Yeasayer, the band still supporting last year’s highly recommended All Hours Cymbals. It was odd that a band as highly touted as Yeasayer would be playing second fiddle to any act on such a stage but given MGMT’s latest push which included a recent spot on the Late Show with David Letterman, it made sense. Within minutes of the group’s opening chords however it was clear that no matter the band’s slot, this was a Yeasayer show.

Coursing through the bulk of the band’s debut release, lead singer Chris Keating began to make use of the stage space that the nights openers failed to have the luxury of — he sashayed about in his stocking feet, smashing a tattered cymbal, pounding his shaker, and jarring his keyboard. The performance wasn’t focused solely around any given member though, as Ira Wolf Tuton worked his fretless bass as hard as he sung, while guitarist Anand Wilder and drummer Luke Fasano kept the flow of the set in check, creating a base for which the music could take shape from.

Again – despite the band’s slot for the night this was a Yeasayer show, and without compare on this evening the group delivered a phenomenal set that beautifully translated the depth and layered structure of its studio tracks.

The main attraction may best be summed up by How Was the Show’s Carl Atiya Swanson who bore great detest for MGMT’s set, condemning it as “a wall of noise that lost any of the clarity and verve of the recording.” Each of the group’s five members packed enough auxiliary tools into the already overcrowded environment to choke even the heartiest of avant instrumentalists and in the wake of such sound was a band that overshadowed the music it made.

Given the cramped atmosphere the justification for maxing out registers was both unnecessary and unfortunate as each member’s overwhelming levels tended to blend sounds rather than accompany one another, especially unfortunate was the tendency to blend during the band’s consistently enjoyable single, “Time To Pretend.”

Eventually, however, the set flat-out spiraled out of control. As various instruments changed hands everything concluded in a ridiculous rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean,” which came to a close with overzealous fans being invited on stage to dance and join in on the then-musicless festivities. The ending could have possibly been expected of the night’s openers, all college freshman and sophomores, rather than a major-label act signed to a rumored six figure contract. Everyone has their fun in different ways though, right?

Cat Power at First Avenue (Minneapolis, MN)

Performing a classic set of standards, rarities and originals Chan Marshall and her Dirty Delta Blues band played to a near-sold out First Avenue. Marshall’s theatrical approach to the performance lit up the dim stage with terrifying consistency, her movements brash and continually intensified by the night’s band which included The Blues Explosion’s Judah Bauer, drummer Jim White, bassist Erik Paparazzi and Gregg Foreman on the keyboard.

Opening the set with a series of songs from Cat Power’s latest, Jukebox, Marshall and the band induced a calm awe amongst the crowed, all packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the Minneapolis club’s main room. Seductively bellowing out Billie Holiday, Janis and Sinatra before settling into the heart of the set Marshall invoked visuals of her musical patriarchs as she dramatized her every movement, expression and glare.

As she introduced “Metal Heart,” a song she wrote when she was “just a little girl,” Marshall enveloped the crowd with a feeling that carries throughout Jukebox; Marshall’s voice is beautiful and transposes itself wonderfully over the songs of others but her own words and music make a far greater impact in terms of honesty and beauty. The song, which is a personal favorite of mine, does more to service Marshall’s voice than the majority of those heard on this evening - its bold moody flare recalling songstresses celebrated by fans long after their time has passed.

Throughout the evening Marshall slinked off and hid behind the speaker stack to the right of the stage, accepting a lit cigarette, and snagging an occasional beer. She was charming in her diversions however, no longer did she appear to be vulnerable or on the verge of a breakdown; her veteran band creating a setting for her to come and go as she pleased only helped matters.

Late in the set Marshall gave the band a formal introduction through the time honored tradition of roll-call solos, something that was entirely refreshing considering the professionalism that attracts such gestures. Closing a brief encore with a rendition of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You,” the band quietly exited the stage, leaving Marshall to wave and thank the crowd with appreciation of their packing the house for the show; and quite the show it was.

Cat Power & The Dirty Delta Blues Band Minneapolis Set List:

Don’t Explain (Billie Holiday cover)
A Women Left Lonely (Janis Joplin cover)
Silver Stallion (Lee Clayton cover)
New York (Frank Sinatra cover)
Ramblin’ (Hank Williams cover)
Lost Someone (James Brown & The Famous Flames cover)
Aretha, Sing One For Me (George Jackson cover)
Lord, Help The Poor and Needy (Traditional)
Metal Heart
She’s Got You (Patsy Cline cover)
Song to Bobby
Life of the Party
Could We
Naked (Moby Grape cover)
Dark End of the Street (James Carr cover)
Blue (Joni Mitchell cover)
The Greatest
Lived in Bars
The Moon
I’ve Been Loving You (Otis Redding cover)

Drive-By Truckers “Brighter Than Creation’s Dark” Review

On “Not Everybody Likes Us” Hank Williams III lays into modern country music, grumbling “Well I think I’d rather eat the barrel of a double-barrel loaded shotgun, than to hear that shit they call pop-country music on ninety eight point one.” To some degree such sentiments could never be thought of when considering the path of the Drive-By Truckers, a journey that has now delivered Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. The band has never played or recorded any such “pop-country” that sickens Hank III but the band has also never embarked entirely on an album hinged entirely on rock; their 2006 release A Blessing and a Curse coming as the band’s most sincere attempt at shedding its Southern Rock label. In this, the group’s first release since the high profile departure of Jason Isbell, the band returns to a version of country that is full of struggle, pain and misunderstanding; the kind of country you’ll never hear on the radio or CMT and possibly as close to mainstream rebel country as is possible these days.

A recent article poked fun at the rules behind the blues; the most amusing part of the list was that it was spot on…which unfortunately might be why hearing honest blues is such a rarity these days. One line in particular sticks out in the article, not for being funny necessarily, but just thought provoking, “The Blues is not about choice. You stuck in a ditch, you stuck in a ditch–ain’t no way out.” For a certain sector of blues that has always been the case - you got no home, you got no woman, you got no teeth, that’s just how it’s gonna be. But when the blues branched off (was stolen) and found a new home in country music, a mystique began to build - one that allowed its subjects to find redemption. A case that teeters between such redemption and the “if you stuck, you stuck” mentality is that of the Patterson Hood-lead track “The Righteous Path.” The song is a blues text-book example of what’s gone wrong in a character’s life though all the while Hood attempts to clarify that the stay on the road least traveled might be the one worth taking.

Such personal salvation seems to be apparent throughout the album as well, especially so in the case bassist Shonna Tucker’s lyrical inclusion. Once married to Jason Isbell, Tucker has now been given a leading role in the band as the third vocalist and songwriter; her “Purgatory Line” is a triumph, blending the band’s echo into another blues-ridden hard luck story, “If Jesus walked on water then where’d he get them shoes? It just keeps gettin’ harder to lose these walkin’ blues. I want you to come and take me home for a while. Save me from this purgatory line.” Filling any void and then some, Tucker encourages a sense of collective between the band that has been lacking, one that allows the Drive-By Truckers to flow smoothly between each of the band’s structures, melodies and themes.

Pitchfork’s Joshua Love says of the balance found between the band’s different voices and opinions on the album, “Using the broadest strokes imaginable, gravelly and grizzly Hood is the endlessly vigilant, fiercely protective papa bear, while laconic slick-talker (Mike) Cooley the hell-raising, yarn-spinning fuck-up.” As much as each part is unlike the next, they compliment each other wholly; such an example of this is an old record that a friend introduced me to in college, Willie and Family Live. On the album Willie Nelson invites his touring family with him, dedicating their tales to one another and having a damn good time in the process. Like the Truckers, Nelson’s 1978 release invokes equal parts blues and rock with a sound dominated in country.

Enforcing the variety on the album is Hood’s “The Man I Shot,” a song crunchier than anything Nelson ever considered recording though it does justice to the sense of inclusion that Family boasts so consistently.Brighter Than Creation’s Dark utilizes its unique voices, stories and players the same way Family does so with Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris and Johnny Paycheck, both spouting stories of drinking, defiance, pain and loss. The Truckers’ latest also defies tradition, breaking free from the “ain’t no way out” blues mentality while avoiding any pop-country garishness - it is mainstream country with the purity of Hank III played the way Willie would have had he grown up a few years later.

Soft Focus Feat. My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields

Weeks ago this episode of VBS’ Soft Focus crossed my trail and I was as enthusiastic about it as I watched it then as I am now as revisiting it. The first segment in particular branches out a bit as host Ian Svenonius and Kevin Sheilds bat about ideas far outside musical terms eventually balancing them within context of Shields’ now infamous band. One of the key points that Svenonius articulates surrounds our nature to define art by time, focusing on the term “record” in particular as a method to define the music in terms of the year it was released. That being said, Sheilds interjects with a statement about My Bloody Valentine’s classic 1991 album Loveless and suggests that it was timeless to him by the time it was eventually released because it was written a few years prior to its acceptance into popular culture. Timeless before its time.

Cat Power “Jukebox” Review

For someone who finds her music often preceded by her reputation, various stages of Chan Marshall’s second covers album Jukebox are dominated by the reputations of both those who came before her as well as those who accompany her throughout. From Sinatra to James Brown, Joni Mitchell to Billie Holiday, Jukebox is meant to be as much a tribute as a collaboration of modern influences; among those along side Marshall for the album are one-time Zwan bassist Matt Sweeney, organist Spooner Oldham, long time Al Green collaborator Teenie Hodges, drummer Larry McDonald, violist Dylan Willemsa and the Dirty Delta Blues (including Judah Bauer of The Blues Explosion, drummer Jim White, bassist Erik Paparazzi and drummer Gregg Foreman).

“I Believe in You” takes Bob Dylan’s fantastic original and crafts it much akin to Marshall’s own fashion, a sleek cosmopolitan blend of grit and brilliance. The track sounds so close to “Ball and Biscuit” that the basic rhythm could easily be misconstrued as such; sounding far too much like a Jimmy Page for beginners instructional to be thought of as a White Stripes fuzz however. Rolling Stone’s Melissa Maerz suggests of the song, “Stripping ‘I Believe in You’ down to a single electric guitar and a shuffle, Marshall belts out a newly confident swagger as if she’s breaking in a new pair of fancy red shoes.” To a high degree such a suggestion, that the track and furthermore the album is a point of breaking free, radiates with brilliant truth. For as much as each cover song performed on the album is an homage it is just as much a step forward. Marshall’s “A Woman Left Lonely” sounds more like Grace Potter and the Nocturnals than Janis Joplin, a testament to her awkward step out of history, no matter how subtle those steps may be.

For as much emphasis as is placed on the almighty term of “influence” surrounding such an album it is Marshall’s revamped original “Metal Heart” that provides the clearest record of her as an artist at this stage in her career. She sings “It’s damned if you don’t and it’s damned if you do, be true ’cause they’ll lock you up in a sad sad zoo;” words that are roughly a decade old yet entirely relevant. For much like her image and reputation sometimes hurt her, to this point her sound too has hindered a vision of a truly unique artist. It’s often been a thought that such musicians as Marshall are in a situation where their sound, if not inspired themes, owe so much to that of those who came before them that they are slightly irrelevant unless they take the form of an overwhelming tribute. And almost in spite of her sporadic reputation, her documented issues with substance and her generally odd behavior Marshall takes her own music and revitalizes it every bit as much as that of those she idolizes. Damned if you don’t, damned if you do.

Conan/Colbert/Jon Stewart Made Huckabee Finale

Following the logic here: Mike Huckabee appeared on The Colbert Report and during his appearance Stephen Colbert gave Huckabee the Colbert bump, therefor - Colbert made Huckabee. That being said in 2006 Colbert appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, thus Conan made Colbert, and therefor Conan made Huckabee. But wait…Conan O’Brien once appeared on The Jon Stewart Show circa 1994, proving that Stewart made Conan who made Colbert, proving that Jon Stewart made Huckabee. In the end, there can be only one…

Jon Stewart: “Do you know what your moment of zen is tonight? Me going outside to kick some gangly Irish ass.”

Fred Rogers vs. The United States Senate: 1969

Last night over some delightful pizza a discussion was had that touched on the power of Mr. Rogers’ classic television show; one friend in particular addressed this, his 1969 appearance before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Communications in hopes of continuing funding for the young PBS. The situation is, as best I can come up with, is given an unparalleled description by the Fred Rogers entry on Wikipedia, “His goal was to support funding for PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, in response to significant proposed cuts. In about six minutes of testimony, Rogers spoke of the need for social and emotional education that public television provided. He passionately argued that alternative television programming like his Neighborhood helped encourage children to become happy and productive citizens, sometimes opposing less positive messages in media and in popular culture. He even recited the lyrics to one of his songs.

The chairman of the subcommittee, John O. Pastore, was not previously familiar with Rogers’ work, and was sometimes described as gruff and impatient. However, he reported that the testimony had given him goosebumps, and declared, ‘Looks like you just earned the $20 million.’ The subsequent congressional appropriation, for 1971, increased PBS funding from $9 million to $22 million.”

“What Do You Do?” Lyrics:

What do you do with the mad that you feel when you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh, so wrong…and nothing you do seems very right?

What do you do? Do you punch a bag?
Do you pound some clay or some dough?
Do you round up friends for a game of tag?
Or see how fast you go?

It’s great to be able to stop when you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead and think this song:

I can stop when I want to can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this and know that the feeling is really mine.
Know that there’s something deep inside that helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a lady and a boy can be someday a man.

Last nights informative review of Rogers’ appearance came with the caveat that he talked about anger and pain in a way that was fierce, but did so with a sensibility that addressed children and adults alike. I couldn’t have predicted just how much this song, as Rogers read, would impact me though.

For myself personally these last few months have been a very strange place, mentally at least, to live in, and possibly it is just the mental gravity of life that makes this song important for me. I’ve had to cut off relationships, even those that were blooming, for fear that I may ruin them or that they may ruin me. The struggle on my side of things has been with the identification of whether or not I am unable to control what I do and who I become when around substance. I have destroyed relationships because of my abuse and I have caused a lot of people pain. Now going on the longest sober stint I’ve been on in years, combined with the control that I’ve given myself in situations which could have landed me in danger, I am starting to find a wholesome peace with myself - one that is encouraging and scary at the same time. So to those friends, whether they know it or not, last night’s pizza and this morning’s video have taken me one step closer to someday becoming a man.

The Hands “Praying Hands Make Fists (Or Be Chopped Off)” (Influenza)

Approach Influenza as a series which serves to help give insight as to where music is born; these are the thoughts, influences and the inspirations directly from the mind of the artists. In this, the second of two parts, bassist Michael Tyler of Seattle’s The Hands reconciles the idea of staring into the nothingness of war in terms of one of the band’s best tracks, “Praying Hands Make Fists.” Importantly Tyler’s conclusions lead him to believing that the song is about “the moment that self-realized action overcomes contemplation;” truly one of the most important moments in anyone’s life.

On “Praying Hands Make Fists (Or Be Chopped Off)”:

Whenever I listen to “Praying Hands Make Fists” I think about class war. Not in the “Zack de la Rocha playing-revolutionary” kinda way, but more in the “this shit can only bend so much before it breaks” kinda way. If history is any indication, it’s only a matter of time before people get tired of being stepped on (see The French Revolution, The American Revolution, The English Revolution, The Bolshevik Revolution, The Velvet Revolution, etc.). And while I certainly wouldn’t advocate people stabbing anyone who drives a BMW in the throat with a fork to redistribute the wealth (it’d be illegal to do so), I do wonder about the point when people collectively decide corporations like Exxon Mobile shouldn’t profit six million dollars a minute for fucking up the environment and enabling people to die in wars for oil. And it becomes hard to reconcile that with a finite amount of wealth and resources in the world, such a disproportionate number of people control such a majority. And equally hard to reconcile that it’s only called a class war when the poor fight back.

“Praying Hands Make Fists” isn’t about class war, nor are The Hands class warriors; at least, not necessarily. What it conjures to me, to bastardize an old slave saying, is burning down Exxon Mobile’s riches with its own gasoline. But to be fair, it’s a song about the imperative to stand up against an oppressive force; it’s about the moment that self-realized action overcomes contemplation; it’s about an ambiguous breaking point, not a specific one. It applies to any war; be it personal or political; conceptual or literal; real or imagined. It’s about staring into the void. The urge to survive. The urge to love. The urge to fuck. The urge to create. The urge to destroy…

Pretty much Total War. - Michael Tyler