I swear to god, in this light and on this evening

If rock and roll’s about anything, it’s about fast cars, loose women and cheap intoxicants. Of those, the House of Blues’ Foundation Room seems equipped only for the lattermost. Step through a pair of unguarded yellow doors on Lansdowne Street in Boston, opposite Gate C at Fenway Park. You’re immediately intercepted by two nattily-dressed gentlemen who check your name off a list, affix sparkling red bracelets and offer to take your coats. Up two flights of stairs to a plush foyer that isn’t so much dimly lit as heavily darkened: concealed, indirect lighting pointing toward the crown molding. Overstuffed couches form a defensive perimeter around a roaring fireplace. The bartop is black marble and a Miller Lite is $6; rather cheap for a Boston club, and they’ll even pour it in a plastic cup so you can carry it onto the floor.

tom-smith-editors

Editors, who played the House of Blues this past Thursday, don’t fit the other two criteria of rock ‘n roll either. Tom Smith, lead warbler, has three microphones to choose from: one in front of each of two keyboards and a standing mic to lean into and twitch. Chris Urbanowicz, in addition to the guitar slung from his narrow shoulders, has both an autoharp and a step sequencer to choose from. The show starts with the lights dimming, the band emerging, and a few switches being flipped: the dominating tones of “In This Light and On This Evening” leap into the dark air. The set precedes with a technical precision that would make a stage manager nod with lips pursed. Victoria, who took my extra ticket, notes that she never saw Tom or Ed Lay (drums) check in to see when the next song should start. Why would they need to?

What Editors lack in spontaneity they make up for with intensity. You never get the sense that this will be a crazy rock show, one of those rare live occurrences where anything could happen. Tom Smith would never stop two verses through his first song, apologize to the audience and then launch into “Radio Radio” (not the least reason being it’s not his song). But total control of the musical experience, in the hands of talented artists, can create a thick curtain of sound that billows over you. Editors layer gutsy guitar hooks with baroque synthesizers and an anti-artillery barrage of percussion. Like the Foundation Room upstairs, it’s all plush textures and dark corners, something you almost feel vulnerable sharing. It’s that quiet moment before the storm.

editors

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you don’t know love like you used to

In This Light and On This Evening: So we’re cool with Tom Smith being this generation’s Ian Curtis? I wasn’t around when we took the vote; sorry. But it seems to be a done deal?

I’m cool with it, don’t get me wrong. But it seems like any claim Editors had to not being Joy Division all over again got chucked out the window with their latest. Combine their indie lyricism and their emo sentimentality with a full electronic symphony and you get this gem, In This Light and On This Evening. The effect may not be original, sure, but it is potent.

You get beautiful dance-hall hits like “Papillon.” You get songs that sound like dungeon music from Zelda II (“The Boxer”). And you get the occasional track that just cuts me down at the knees, like the hit single “You Don’t Know Love.”

Seeing these guys later in February; will report more in detail.

the memories will linger on; the good old days, they’re long gone

I still sit in dumb amazement, sometimes, at the power music has over me.

Standing in Johnny D’s on Saturday, watching the Ravens lose, Bobby pointed out a particular Beatles song that Beatlejuice was covering. It reminded him of the old shareware game Scorched Earth, which he used to play for hours with a friend while listening to Beatles albums. I saw his reminiscence and raised: one of the first CDs my parents got, when they upgraded to a CD player and a full stereo, was Revolver. I remember listening to it while playing my dad at Conquest of the Empire.

“It’s odd, the associations we make,” Bobby observed.

After the Ravens finished failing, I stumbled home. A sudden wave of nostalgia for Baltimore and childhood overtook me, and I turned to the surest remedy: The Band’s self-titled 1970 album.

As a scientist, I have to discount the effect that nostalgia may have on me. I remember listening to Levon Helm’s crooning on summer road trips with the family: Baltimore, MD to Cape Hatteras, NC in eight hours or less. I’ve always had a facility for lyrics and rhythm: it only took a few times for the songs to be ingrained on my consciousness.

And yet Martin Scorsese agrees with me: there was something about The Band that made them uniquely talented. They displayed the same penchant for odd but touching harmonies that the Beach Boys had. Combine that with the folksy strains that resonate with half of the American continent and you have a factory for classics. Rolling Stone, always a tough audience, was amazed that “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” wasn’t a century-old spiritual. It wasn’t. It was written by a Canadian. That’s how fucking good The Band was.

Blend once-in-a-generation talent with the lure of nostalgia, and you get a powerful brew. I would learn to play the guitar just to cover half of these songs, and I could never do it as well as Robertson. As it stands, I could never see myself turning to drugs so long as music like this exists in the world.

play your part

I saw Girl Talk at House of Blues on Monday night.

I had nothing but good things to say about the venue before visiting on Monday; after, I had my doubts. When we got in line outside, one of the staff checked our tickets and sent Serpico, Kim and I to the upstairs mezzanine, RJ to the floor. We’d arrived early enough that there was still space on the floor, but our tickets dictated otherwise. Having to split up a party bugs me.

Serpico, Kim and I squeezed up to some space near the front of the upstairs mezzanine. Senior Discount, a punk band in that nasal style that the late 90s gave its sanction to, opened for Girl Talk. They rocked through a couple fast and loud covers and a few fast and loud original songs. I liked them better when they were called Lit, I texted.

After a long wait, the stage was cleared save for a long metal table with two rugged, plastic-wrapped laptops on it. Gregg Gillis danced out in a high-stepping jog, complete with cheap white sweatshirt and headband. He fired up one of the laptops. A horde of kids decked out in 80s gear, chosen in advance by the floor staff, swarmed him. Then the music started, and for ninety minutes straight it didn’t stop.

girl-talk

Even at the highest energy electronic shows (RJ and Kim later confirmed), you intersperse one or two downtempo songs just so the DJ can stop moving for two minutes. But Gillis kept up the pace of pop hits and fast beats throughout the entire set. I walked out of there aching, sweaty and exhausted.

there’s a clock on the wall and it counts my time

Saw some live music at the House of Blues this weekend.

The Islands
The first opening act, The Islands combined the best aspects of Radiohead with the worst aspects of The Arcade Fire. Good stuff but I don’t feel compelled to buy it. I was really confused since I showed up long after doors had opened and the guys on stage had a drum kit with a Happy Mondays sticker on the bass. “Really?” I said. “None of these jokers looks old enough to have been in the Goo Goo Dolls.”

The Happy Mondays

Shawn Ryder

The Mondays actually showing up did not clarify matters much. The only reason they brought Shawn Ryder along was so they could actually call themselves the Happy Mondays; short of him, there were no original members on stage. And say what you will of his poetic lyrics, the man’s not much of a singer. Or not much of a stage presence, either. He stood crooked on stage with sunglasses on and a jacket zipped up full to the collar, one finger in his ear (right, because flatting those notes would disappoint all the Mondays fans), and didn’t move much. I danced, because it’s good house / rock music.

The Psychedelic Furs

Richard Butler

Phenomenal show. The stage felt spartan in comparison to the previous acts: the same number of musicians, but spread out to all corners of the vast space. Richard Butler, looking for all the world like a 57-year-old lesbian, swanned on to “Love My Way” and a house full of cougars roared. The band marched without pause through the rest of the Furs’ biggest hits and dearest fan favorites: “President Gas,” “Heartbeat,” “Heaven,” “Ghost in You,” “Pretty in Pink,” etc, etc. “Heartbreak Beat” is the only one I missed and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re just sick of it.

Dan Butler

I’ve got that rock and roll; I’ve got that future flow

We’ve Got The Beat That Bounce
Watching the video for “Boom Boom Pow” this weekend – just because, okay? – raised the obvious question: what do the other two guys in the Black Eyed Peas do? Why are they there? You’ve got Will.i.am producing the songs – and as little as I like their songs, “Boom Boom Pow” has a really catchy beat to it. You’ve got Fergie on vocals and eye candy. While the latter trumps the former in most pop acts, she has a good voice in her own right.

But then there’s the other two guys: the ugly one and the guy with the samurai topknot. What do they add? They’re not very talented rappers. I can’t imagine they have a lot of female fans screaming over them. Now that the Black Eyed Peas have become world-class superstars, why are these guys around?

The world seems to have answered that question for me, in that Will.i.am has made tentative crossover steps (like his role in X-Men Origins: Wolverine) and Fergie has a solo career. Whereas no one cares about Taboo’s aborted solo projects, or his role as Vega in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li. So, asked and answered.

Of course, it would be rather mercenary for a band to drop its less attractive / useful members once it achieved superstardom. And since pop music isn’t known for its mercenary attitude, I suppose we’re stuck with those two until the end of time.

Things Not To Say, Even At A Whisper, In A Conference Room Full of Coworkers When You Realize You’ll Have To Present First
“Balls.”

Have You Come Here For Forgiveness? Have You Come To Raise the Dead?
U2 played at Foxboro Stadium, south of Boston, this past Monday. I did not go to see them, though I had ample opportunity. At least three friends e-mailed me, forwarding along info from friends who were trying to offload tickets. One of them needed to get rid of a dozen club-level seats (private bathrooms, free snacks, etc) at $250 a pop.

I like U2 as a concept; I’m glad they still exist. But I have no real desire to ever see them live. Certain bands generate an energy when heard live that trumps any of their albums. I can’t imagine what hearing U2 live would add, other than “more fireworks” and “Bono’s face on a Jumbotron.”

Here’s some anecdotal data: I’ve gone to karaoke probably one hundred times in the last three years. My favorite haunts all have very extensive songbooks. But I have never heard anyone sing a U2 song from later than 1996. And if we exclude the one time somebody covered “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me” (from the Batman Forever) soundtrack, no one goes more recent than Achtung Baby. That’s eighteen years of irrelevance.

I Guess I Thought You Had The Flavor
In conversation with a friend recently, I realized how much the question, “Why do I always want what I can’t have?” answers itself. You want what you can’t have because you don’t have it. If you had it, you wouldn’t want it any more – because you’d have it. This is true whether you’re talking about romantic partners, careers or a 42″ plasma TV. Wanting what you can’t have doesn’t make you weird or broken or hopeless – it’s part of the human condition.

“Why do I always want what I can’t afford?” is an interesting question. But wanting what you can’t have is normal. There’s a reason Buddhists say not wanting is such a big deal: because it’s really, really hard.

it’s a big ol’ land with countless dreams

Nine-Eleven, Nine-Eleven, Nine-Eleven
I heard perhaps the worst song I’ve heard in years – worse even than Gwen Stefani’s “Wind It Up” – while grocery shopping on Sunday: Aaron Tippin’s “Where The Stars and Stripes and Eagles Fly.”

This song wasn’t written in a Los Angeles studio by cynical shysters looking to cash in on nationalistic sentiment, but you couldn’t tell by listening to it. It has nothing going for it except its patriotism, and it’s not even good patriotism. Rather than putting art in the service of sentiment, Tippin simply checks off every item on the Feel-Good ‘Murrican Song checklist, line by line. The resulting 3:42 potboiler plods through its images like a bus driver calling out stops:

  • God
  • Stars and stripes
  • Eagles
  • Dreams
  • Hard work
  • the Statue of Liberty
  • the Liberty Bell
  • Freedom
  • The price of Freedom
  • “I pledge allegiance to the flag”
  • “And if that bothers you, well that’s too bad”
  • Pride
  • Raising a family
  • Doing things the same way Dad did
If he’d worked in a reference to Not Letting the Terrorists Win, he would have boxed the full exacta. As it stands, though, it once again demonstrates how sincerity will always be funnier than sarcasm.

The next song after this was a Sousa march, leading me to wonder if September 11th Weekend now merited every patriotic song in the catalog on Shaw’s Muzak station.

You Baby Emcees Drink Pedialyte
I was in the Enormous Room on Saturday, having a few drinks and chilling between other engagements. The DJ always picks a good selection of tracks to groove to, but plays them too loud for conversation. This leads to a chill music appreciation as you nurse the Enormous Room’s hipster-bait*.

I started tapping my toes as Jurassic 5’s “Quality Control” bounced to life over the speakers. The mix of talented and toneful lyricists with Cut Chemist’s well-harvested beats never fails to put a party in the right frame of mind. That’s a sign of true quality: an album that can still move you, even nine years after holy shit, Quality Control is NINE YEARS OLD? And I wilted back into the couch.

The young have no appreciation for classics. Greg Wymer recounted a story to me on Saturday about his most recent DJing gig at The Joshua Tree in Allston. He put on Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September,” since “this is the one time of the year I can always get away with playing that.” A strapless, tanned twenty-something marched into the booth a few seconds later. “Did someone request this?” she asked. No. “So you put this on yourself?” Yes. “Well, I suppose you know what you’re doing.”

Fuck you, you Allston scenester. If it weren’t for Earth, Wind and Fire, you wouldn’t even be alive.

_______________
* Hipsters reliably order the cheapest non-Budweiser beer on the menu, in this case Red Stripe ($4).