Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #361:
The Sex Pistols – My Way
Probably the greatest cover song ever: “To think, I killed a cat, and not in a gay way.” The Great Rock n Roll Swindle soundtrack credits this to the Pistols; others credit it to Sid, backed by Cook and Jones, mocking Sinatra so hilariously that this version would eventually supplant the original in the public consciousness. Talk about appropriating the language of the oppressor.
Concert Review: Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens and Burning Spear at Prospect Park Bandshell, Brooklyn NY 7/30/09
A frequently spellbinding show by two spiritually-inclined artists who don’t overstate their case. Brooklyn gospel veteran Naomi Shelton and her backing vocal trio the Gospel Queens – a recent addition to the Daptone roster – were backed by a capable four-piece band, their keyboardist sitting inscrutable behind his wraparound shades Brother Ray style. With her contralto rasp, Shelton doesn’t implore or go into a frenzy: she lets the songs speak for themselves. Likewise, the Gospel Queens – two of whom were given a turn on lead vocals and didn’t disappoint – keep the harmonies going without any ostentation. Their eleven-song set mixed scurrying vamps, warm Sam Cooke-inspired sixties-style gospel/soul and finally a funk number punctuated fluidly and soulfully by the bassist. But their best songs were ominously bluesy and minor-key: their opener, an understatedly dark version of Wade in the Water and their closing tune, the hauntingly memorable anthem What Have You Done.
Between sets, Burning Spear casually walked from the wings and addressed the crowd. Nobody seemed to notice or pay any mind: it looked as if he was presenting his guitar player with a ticket to the Grammies (Spear is a perennial nominee). Then the two went backstage again. But when the band took the stage, with a brief number sung by the rhythm guitarist and then a brief instrumental medley of hits, the crowd reaction was 180 degrees the opposite. This was a young massive, about 90% West Indian from the looks of it – awfully nice to see the youth of today in touch with the man who when all is said and done will probably rank as the greatest reggae artist of alltime. Jah Spear rewarded them with a characteristically intense, hypnotic show: now in his sixties, in his fourth decade of playing and recording, his warm, unaffected voice, casually magnetic stage presence and socially aware songwriting remain as strong as ever. Probably the most popular Jamaican artist throughout the decade of the 70s (Marley’s audience back home never matched his fan base in Babylon), Burning Spear’s songs typically build on long, trance-inducing vamps, in concert frequently going on for ten or fifteen minutes at a clip. Because this show had an early curfew, the band didn’t stretch out quite as long as they can, but it didn’t matter considering how strong the set list was – Spear has a vast back catalog, but this one was rich with gems from throughout his career. He opened with the sly boast Me Gi Dem, as in “Me gi dem what they want, yes me do.” The swaying 70s classic Old Marcus Garvey got a Tyrone Downie-style clavinet solo and then an incongruous metal solo (thankfully the only one of the night until the very end) from the lead guitarist. Slavery Days, from the classic Marcus Garvey album became an audience singalong, mostly just bass and drums behind the impassioned vocals. Burning Spear can be very funny despite himself: this time out, he was already asking the crowd, “Do you want more original reggae music?” three songs into the set.
They finally went into dub territory a bit on a long version of Jah No Dead, followed by a characteristically mesmerizing version of Driver (i.e. Jah is my driver; Jah is my rider also!). They closed the set with a soulful version of the backcountry anthem Man in the Hills, a tersely delicious take of the catchy Nyah Keith (best track on the classic 1980 Social Living album) and the only even relatively new song of the night, Jah Is Real (title track to last year’s excellent cd) which never really got off the ground as a singalong. But the first of the encores did: the scathing anthem Columbus, inarguably the most resonant deflation of the “Columbus discovered America” myth had the whole arena raising their voices to dismiss the “damn blasted liar” who happened upon Jamaica several millennia after the Arawaks did. After that, the catchy 70s hit The Sun couldn’t be anything but anticlimactic, but they ended the show on a high note with African Postman, Burning Spear relating the contents of a telegram with the message that “Now is the time that I and I and I should go home, yes Jah!” And with that the mellow posse of merrymakers departed, Jah Spear encouraging everyone to “watch your back on the way out, and on the way in.” If you weren’t there, you missed a real good one. Considering how vital he still is, it looks like he’s going to be around for a long time; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.
New wave legends the B-52’s are on the road again promoting their latest album Funplex. Opening on the first leg of the tour are up-and-coming Boston new wave throwbacks the New Collisions, driven by frontwoman Sarah Guild’s chirpy, devious lyrics backed by playfully oscillating vintage 80s synth, snarling guitar and an infectious dance beat.
Upcoming shows include Saturday August 1 at the Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA; Sunday, August 2 at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, MA and Saturday, August 8 at the Filene Center At Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA, August 12 at Innsbrook Pavillion in Glen Allen, VA; August 16 at Sunrise Theatre in Ft. Pierce, FL; and August 20 at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkson, MI. In between they’re squeezing in a show opening for Blondie on August 10 at the Community Theatre in Morristown, NJ.
Watch this space for additional dates.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #362:
Radio Birdman – Murder City Nights
Ferocious garage punk from the Aussie legends’ second and best album, Radios Appear, 1979, bandleader/lead guitarist Deniz Tek contributing a characteristically intense, lightning-fast solo.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Thursday’s song is #363:
The Rolling Stones – The Lantern
Finally, three hundred and twenty-three songs into this list, a Stones tune. Why so few? Because you don’t need Lucid Culture to tell you how great the Stones were. When we first dug the list out of the drawer and decided to put it up online one song at a time, there were a ton of Stones tunes on it. But we figured it would be karmically smarter and vastly more useful to feature more obscure artists rather than just listing Stones song after Stones song, ad nauseum. This one happens to be delta blues reinvented as macabre psychedelia from Their Satanic Majesties Request, 1967, Brian Jones’ greatest moment in the band. Mp3s are everywhere and since this was a major label release, don’t feel guilty downloading it.
This is one of those rare works of art where every element strengthens and reinforces the other. Consider the cd package: the wraparound cover photo shows a house at night from the shadows, beckoning yet unreachable like Kafka’s castle. Inside under the cd, another photo, a weatherbeaten wooden shack behind a picket fence, decrepit lounge chair rotting in front of a half-furled plastic canopy. Truth in advertising.
Roger Waters once said that he crafted the lyrics to Dark Side of the Moon to read as simply as possible to make sure he got his point across and the same applies to singer/songwriter Bobby Vacant. His words are plainspoken yet potently metaphorical: there’s always another level of meaning lurking underneath, and it’s not pretty. It would not be an overstatement to call the new album by Bobby Vacant & the Weary a classic of dark existentialist rock, right up there with Closer by Joy Division and anything Pink Floyd ever recorded. Vacant sings in the thin, worn-down voice of a middleaged man. Homelessness and addiction are not merely alluded to but addressed directly with a disconcerting offhandedness: there’s a ring of authenticity here. Yet as bleak as much of this is, Bobby Vacant maintains a vise grip. “Don’t look to tomorrow, just get through the day…don’t go gently, just leave the sky aflame,” he encourages in the nocturnally atmospheric Some Walk. From time to time, he imbues the songs with a gallows humor, as in the hypnotic seafaring ballad Waveflowers, where he can’t resist pulling up anchors and slipping off unseen into the night: “And if they ask/What the hell is the past/Just tell ’em it’s deep down below.” Or on the vitriolic Dylan’s Dead, a Nietzschean slap upside the head of boomer complacency:
You’re the one said Dylan’s dead
Flew a jet right through his head
Once again we killed the dream
Onward marching soldiers sing
The Weary (AKA George Reisch, mastermind of Chicago’s Luxotone label, one of this era’s most acerbic, accessible writers on philosophy and editor of Pink Floyd and Philosophy and other titles in the series) takes Vacant’s simple, catchy songs and orchestrates them with the gravitas of Floyd yet also with the terseness of Joy Division: as with pretty much everything else Reisch has ever recorded, there are no wasted notes here. A bell tolls in the distance, just twice, as Some Walk builds to a close. The title track works up an understated feast of jangly guitars worthy of the Byrds. The marvelously textured crescendo of guitars on Dylan’s Dead takes a blithe Forever Changes mood into surreal, distantly reverberating Sandinista territory; the stark twelve-string on Waveflowers evokes Marty Willson-Piper of the Church. There’s also a beautifully wistful interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, and the even more lushly, vividly plaintive crescendo that closes the album.
Vacant vacillates between embracing the darkness and the occasional grasp backwards at a doomed relationship. The opening track, Don’t Love Me Anymore cautions that he won’t be around much longer: “All my years just wasted smears, wings too wet to fly.” The title track, on a literal level a snide after-the-party tableau, gleefully announces that “The night is kind, the night is warm, the night is calling your name.” The best song on the album is Never Looking Back, an anthem for anyone with a checkered past. “Here we go. Stand back. It’s a road. It’s black,” Vacant sings with not a little triumph in his voice: he knows that this isn’t merely where we all end up – it’s where we’ve been all along, and he’s finally been vindicated. “Went to the town, went to the school, went to the park with the lonely fool, uh huh,” he relates: the story of our lives, isn’t it?
Not much is known about Bobby Vacant. His real name is Tom Derungs, he lives in Switzerland, records vocals and guitar tracks in his home studio and sends the product to Luxtone for overdubs, mixing and pressing. He also plays the occasional acoustic gig (the next one is in Lausanne on August 14) and contributes to the blog Library of Inspiration. One hopes this cd – as strong a contender as any for best album of 2009 – will not be his last.
Every great city has its cosmopolitan traditions, but you can go to Paris or London and find something that equates to Shakespeare in the Park or a picnic at the Cloisters. Only New York has Mingus Mondays. No disrespect to the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra or gonzo gospel pianist Rev. Vince Anderson, both of whose weekly Monday shows are rightfully the stuff of legend, but the weekly Monday Mingus show at the Jazz Standard is New York’s most transcendent weekly residency. It’s probably the best in the entire world.
Under the inspired stewardship of the great composer’s widow Sue Mingus, three ensembles alternate from week to week: Mingus Dynasty, the original seven-piece repertory unit; the ten-piece Mingus Orchestra and the mighty Mingus Big Band, who happened to be on the bill Monday night. To play Mingus, you have to have great chops but you also have to have real fire in the belly. Under the direction of bassist Boris Kozlov, the group treated what appeared to be a sold-out house to a passionate, frequently ecstatic performance, which wasn’t particularly surprising considering what a treat it must be to play this stuff. It could be argued that there has been no composer in any style of music who has written with such fearlessness, ferocity or consistently counterintuitive creativity since Mingus’ sadly early demise in 1979. Even when the band had to sight-read a piece, in this case a darkly swaying number doing double duty as workingman’s lament (an update on Stormy Monday) and somber meditation on race from Mingus’ 1965 collaboration with Langston Hughes, they dug in and gave it plenty of gravitas.
Otherwise, the show was a spirited romp through Mingus both popular and obscure. Beyond the noir atmospherics, the swing and the stomp, perhaps the most fascinating thing about Mingus’ work is how he’d leap from genre to genre, from mood to mood, sometimes in the space of a few bars. Sometimes that makes for a jarring segue, but the effect is intentional – it keeps both the band and the audience completely tuned in. #29, an early 70s composition stuck a growling, marvelously murky low-register passage in the midst of a bustling, bluesy swing tune that gave tenor player Scott Robinson (who absolutely slayed earlier this month on bass sax with Musette Explosion) a chance to go jaggedly skyward, followed by alto player Mark Ross who took off in a bubblier, more playful direction.
Invisible Lady featured Elvis Costello lyrics sung by trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, pulling out every ounce of sly double entendre when it came to the phrase about the hourglass as the band wove in and out of a warped latin vamp. A 1959 outtake, GG Train, was exactly the opposite of that other train with a similar name that never arrives, galloping down the track but taking the time to stop for some playful call-and-response between piano and drums and a completely macabre piano breakdown before picking up again with a blazing trumpet solo. They closed with the John Stubblefield arrangement of the classic Song with Orange, a noir blues that morphs into a boogie and then ends surprisingly on a quizzical note just thisclose to unrestrained wrath.
And a word about the venue: if you remember the Mingus Orchestra’s long-running residency at Fez back in the 90s, you’ll also remember how that club had delusions of grandeur but was really a dump, and an overpriced one at that. The Jazz Standard, by comparison has actual grandeur, yet the vibe is downtown and casual. And they have NYC’s best mac-and-cheese – it’s pricy ($8 as of this writing, 7/09) but it’s the gustatory equivalent of the lushest, richest Gil Evans arrangement you can imagine.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #364:
Fairport Convention – Sloth
Richard Thompson once dismissed this as “an instrumental written by the bass player,” and whether it was Tyger Hutchings or Dave Pegg playing on it, the bassline is to die for. Yet ultimately it was Thompson who would always set this psychedelic antiwar epic ablaze. The 1969 studio version is excellent, but of the zillions of live versions out there, possibly the best is on the Live Convention reissue from 1974
The cd cover of Bay Area Afropop dance band Aphrodesia’s new album (available both digitally and on yummy vinyl) depicts an old 1970s vintage boombox in a briefcase, as if it’s been smuggled in from somewhere. Likewise, the music on the new cd has a defiant feel – it’s insanely good to dance to. Aphrodesia earned their cred in the African music community the hard way, touring the continent and eventually being invited by Femi Kuti to play his famous Shrine club in Lagos. Fela and Antibalas are Aphrodesia’s obvious antecedents, but they add their own fiery, relevant lyricism over a delirious, horn-driven dance groove and adrenalizing solos from the whole band. The songs stretch out, moving between styles comfortably but intensely, especially when the horn section is going full blast.
The instrumental that bookends the album has frontwoman Lara Maykovich playing a mbira (thumb piano) through a bunch of loud amps for something of an over-the-top vibraphone effect, a vividly original evocation of the joy of the morning after Election Day, 2008. The cd’s second cut, Special Girl serves as the title track, a sarcastic rail that mocks the fearfulness of mass consumption (and the global sex trade): “Too much to buy in the marketplace,” Maykovich comments sarcastically as the horns soar ecstatically over the hypnotic, busy shuffle of the guitar and percussion. Track three, Make Up Your Mind takes a jazzy Sade-style ballad and transforms it into catchy funk with a characteristically pointed Maykovich lyric and a long, searing backwards-masked guitar solo
Think/Suffer is a big swaying anthem opening with a fiery horn riff, eventually working its way down into a slinky reggae groove with more explosive noise guitar. Friday Night works a catchy, hypnotic, jangly riff: Vampire Weekend only wish they were this tuneful or fun. “Friday night you ask me for a penny, Saturday night I’ll give you a dollar…when I come you say you’re sick; when I go, you say you’re well,” Maykovich relates sardonically. Spiced with playful sax, Say What is a more traditional, hypnotic Afrobeat groove building to a blazing crescendo of horns.
By the Iron kicks off with an insistent reggae beat and an apprehensive horn chart, morphing into a horn-driven Yoruba chant and then back to the reggae with the horns working up a mighty storm. The rest of the cd includes a couple of more straight-up funk numbers, the second even catchier than the first, and the slinky, wah-wah driven, self-explanatory Caminando. Wow! Don’t put this on if you’re planning on falling asleep. If this album is any indication they ought to be amazing live; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.