The coolest thing I’ve seen Ben Gibbard do

I’m a huge fan of Tom Waits, particularly his oft-overlooked debut album, Closing Time. Waits has possibly never been more accessible, as his voice has a more natural quality to it and most of the songs feature a booming chorus. Anyway, I specifically remember trying to learn the album’s fourth track, “Old Shoes (& Picture Postcards),” on guitar, spending hours with the song instead of focusing on homework. It’s a country-flavored number with a sweet message, perfect for jamming with friends while having a drink or two.

Last week, Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar covered the song live. The pair are currently on a brief tour in support of One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur, their soundtrack to the film of the same name.

Per TwentFourBit:

The pair enlisted Nick Harmer, Mark Spencer, and Jon Wurster for a 6-night jaunt through a few major U.S. cities and they even branched out a bit from their album One Fast Move or I’m Gone. ”

The banjo and steel guitar make it work.

AC/DC: Backtracks


RIYL: Motorhead, Kiss, Van Halen

Backtracks is AC/DC’s second compilation, and the first to include anything from the post-Bon Scott era. There are a lot of rarities out there in the AC/DC catalog, thanks to an abundance of B-sides, cut tracks and “international” editions of their records, which in the past routinely featured different tracks than the Australian editions. And while Backtracks does a great job of collecting all those rarities, the quality of said rarities is a little lacking.

While some of the lost cuts are great, such as the rollicking “R.I.P. (Rock In Peace),” most were buried for a reason. “Love Song” is just that, a love-dovey ballad that is the thematic opposite of nearly every other song AC/DC ever recorded and other Oz-only tracks like “Fling Thing” and “Stick Around” aren’t as bad, but they’re entirely forgettable. Some later-era stuff is here as well, and it holds up a bit better. The Blow Up Your Video B-side “Borrowed Time” is actually better than most of the tracks that made that album, and then there’s “Big Gun,” the standout from the excellent “Last Action Hero” soundtrack and probably one of the last truly great songs the band released.

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The live disc is good, but is nothing that the stellar AC/DC Live didn’t already do better, and the music video DVD should really appeal to completists, literally in fact, as it completes the “Family Jewels” DVD collection that first came out in 2005, picking up where that set left off with the video for “Big Gun” and ending with Black Ice clips “Rock N Roll Train” and “Anything Goes.” Watch and be amazed that an AC/DC video from 1991 and an AC/DC video from 2009 are nearly identical, the only things that have changed are softer focus and kinder lighting.

As AC/DC goes, this set is a little uneven, so if you only own Highway to Hell and Back in Black, then this box set isn’t for you. And if you’re still holding out for a greatest hits album or online release (the band remains one of the few iTunes holdouts), then this box set isn’t for you, either. However, do you own the Australian and American versions of all their albums, and have an AC/DC tattoo on your shoulder that you like to show off when you rock the sleeveless shirt at your local rib-off? Then, oddly, this box set isn’t for you either; instead, you’d want the deluxe edition. That comes with an additional CD and DVD of live material, a huge coffee table book, tons of memorabilia and a bonus LP that includes highlights from the rarities CD (which is expanded for the deluxe edition to include several more songs). The packaging for the deluxe edition is equally excessive, as it’s a working guitar amp. That’s the way to go. This regular edition is for pussies. (Columbia 2009)

AC/DC MySpace Page

Strokes returning to the stage after lengthy hiatus

Strokes

The Strokes haven’t played a live gig since 2006. That’s strange to think about considering how instantly popular they became after the release of their debut album, Is This It. Frontman Julian Casablancas has recently released a solo album, Phrazes for the Young, and kicked off a tour of America, Canada, Europe, and the UK. Most had considered The Strokes permanently defunct, but it should please their countless fans that the band is playing the Isle of Wight Festival next year. Jay-Z and Pink will also perform.

The three day festival, held at Seaclose Park, Newport, takes place 11-13 June 2010 and will also see performances from Pink, Orbital and Blondie.

Last year’s event was headlined by The Prodigy, Stereophonics and Neil Young.

Tickets for the festival go on sale on 4 December.

Maybe the band will play Coachella as well.

Norah Jones: The Fall


RIYL Cassandra Wilson, Grace Potter, Patty Larkin

Advance word to the contrary, Norah Jones’ fourth album shows a marked change in approach but little difference in attitude. Stirring up the ambiance with synths, effects, beats and a general trend towards more modern programming tools, Jones lays out a steady series of laments about traitorous lovers and ruined relationships with a distinct emphasis on disillusionment in general. Titles like “Stuck,” “I Wouldn’t Need You” and “You’ve Ruined Me” offer an early hint of her malfunctioning mindset, but lines like “If I touched myself the way you touched me…then I wouldn’t need you,” speak directly to her disappointment. Conversely, the carnival-like atmosphere of “Chasing Pirates,” the practically jaunty “Tell Yer Mama” and the propulsive duo of “Young Blood” and “It’s Gonna Be” prove a welcome respite from the deathly serious tact that Jones helped trademark on her three earlier albums.

Norah edit 2

And while there’s still ample evidence of that wounded, torch song set-up imbued in “Manhattan,” “Even Though,” “I Wouldn’t Need You” and “Waiting,” even her more sobering perspectives seem somewhat more illuminated, given fuller arrangements that detract attention from her solitary keyboard and instead steer the proceedings towards the emphatic strum of her electric guitar. Ending the album on a lighter note that finds her offering an ode to her dog – the winsome “Man of the Hour” – shows that for her all her trepidation and turmoil, Jones has the capability of picking herself up, no matter how serious the fall. Blue Note 2009

Norah Jones MySpace page

Paul McCartney: Good Evening New York City


RIYL: Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones

When Paul McCartney opined about the bliss of eventual retirement in “When I’m 64,” no one could have guessed at the time, that in actual fact he’d put that premise to the test and choose to ignore that option completely. Indeed, here he is at 67, showing no signs of slowing down while wailing away and glibly commanding the stage like a rocker half his age. McCartney’s sixth live set in the past 19 years – a remarkable feat in itself – finds the aging mop top dutifully spanning his entire career as always , but oozing out an emotional commitment that’s truly astonishing. Yes, the usual standards – “Let It Be,” “Yesterday,” Hey Jude,” “Live and Let Die” – make the cut for the umpteenth time, usurping slots that could have best been taken from the hundreds of other worthy contenders. (It’s worth noting that the entirety of McCartney and Flowers in the Dirt, unquestionably two of his best albums, have been booted entirely.) Still Paul, ever the crowd-pleaser, clearly doesn’t want to deny his fans the old stand-bys.

Recorded at the opening show of Paul’s three-night stand at Citi Field (a fitting choice, given its approximation to Shea Stadium), the two-CD/one-DVD Good Evening New York City spans nearly three dozen tracks, with the usual inclusion of newer material – the jocular “Dance Tonight,” the full tilt “Only Mama Knows,” the irresistible “Flaming Pie” – along with a handful of songs seldom revisited; an emotional ode to Lennon, “Here Today,” the ever-compelling duo “Paperback Writer” and “Day Tripper,” a jaunty “Mrs. Vanderbilt.” Tributes to former band mates via a ukulele-initiated “Something” and an unlikely medley of “A Day in the Life” (with Paul managing John’s part as well as his own) and “Give Peace a Chance” add a nice touch, but ultimately it only heightens the sense of nostalgia that can’t help but shadow every McCartney appearance. Ghosts of Shea haunt practically every facet of the proceedings, from the archival clips of that concert to animated images appropriated from the recent “Beatles: Rock Band” release to an effusive reprise of “I’m Down,” Shea’s rarely performed show-stopper. As much as Macca strives to remain freshly re-groomed, clearly he can never outrun the memories, causing even his best new efforts to eventually dim in comparison to his former band’s luster. After all, when it comes the Beatles, memories don’t easily cede the spotlight.

At times in fact, it seems like heresy hearing Paul’s backing band appropriating john, George and Ringo’s roles on the old Beatles chestnuts, or for that matter, finding Billy Joel offering up a cameo on “I Saw Her Standing There.” But then again, Paul’s four-piece backing band is as adept as it is streamlined, and given that the current set stretches nearly three hours as opposed to the 30 minutes granted to Shea’s screaming masses, there’s something to be said for updating the MO. Ultimately, it’s a good – make that, great – evening indeed. (Hear Music)

Paul McCartney website

Live Nation and iTunes reach deal

Live Nation

Perhaps in an effort to challenge audio bootlegs and video taken on camera phones, Live Nation and Apple have teamed to provide concert footage via iTunes.

Apple’s iTunes will have a section featuring the concerts of about 20 artists ranging from Jesse McCartney to Ziggy Marley, when the service begins, the companies said in a statement. They expect hundreds of more shows in the coming months. Prices will start at about $7.99.

Los Angeles-based Live Nation will produce most of the offerings from the more than 20,000 concerts it promotes each year. The company has reached licensing rights deals for live performances with major label owners and artists to enable a smooth launch of the service, it said.

Eh, there’s something enticing about a shaky (and probably illegal) video recorded by the average concert attendee. Plus, I don’t have to pay to watch it on YouTube.

Dinosaur Jr. at “Yo Gabba Gabba” live show

“Hi, kids.”

Last night, Dinosaur Jr. performed at the “Yo Gabba Gabba” live show at New York’s Beacon Theater. “Yo Gabba Gabba” is a spazzed-out Nickelodeon show sure to cause future problems for our youth. In the video, the band performs “Banana,” a song from the show originally done by L.A. ska band The Aggrolites.

Jimmy Fallon as Neil Young

It might be some time before I’m a dedicated viewer of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” but the show is definitely improving. I think it’s because Fallon is finally doing characters similar to his act or from his days on “Saturday Night Live.” His impression here of Neil Young performing “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” is pretty awesome. It’s very difficult to replicate Young’s style of singing, but Fallon does an awesome job.

Robbie Williams: Reality Killed the Video Star


RIYL: Seal, Pet Shop Boys, the phrase ‘Produced by Trevor Horn’

How did it take this long for Robbie Williams, one of the UK’s biggest pop stars, and Trevor Horn, one of the UK’s most successful producers, to make an album together? Perhaps Horn wasn’t interested while Williams was still getting his freak on – “Rudebox” may be a stone cold jam, but it’s not exactly in Horn’s wheelhouse – and Williams is just now ready to make a grown-up pop record. Whatever the reason, Reality Killed the Video Star, the first Williams album to see a Stateside CD release since 2002′s Escapology (2005′s Intensive Care and 2006′s Rudebox are download-only), is everything you’d expect from a Robbie/Trevor joint venture. It’s flush with perky, if mannered, electronic beats, and Williams is still extremely candid in his lyrics (“All we ever wanted was to look good naked,” he observes in the UK #2 smash “Bodies”). Reality isn’t teeming with potential singles the way, say, Sing When You’re Winning was, but there’s not a duff track in the bunch. Well, there is one duff track: “Blasphemy,” his reunion with longtime collaborator Guy Chambers, which yields a lyric that would make Paul Stanley blush. (“Was it a blast for you? / ‘Cause it’s blasphemy.” Wow.)

Robbie_Williams_03

While it’s nice to see Robbie get scrubbed down and dolled up, one gets the sense listening to Reality that this whole grown-up thing is just a phase. As phases go, it’s an extremely pleasant one, but it would not be at all surprising to see Williams go full Lady GaGa with his next one. (Virgin 2009)

Robbie Williams MySpace page
Click to buy Reality Killed the Video Star from Amazon

Book Review: The Light in Darkness by Lawrence Kirsch

bruce and band

For many die-hard Bruce Springsteen fans, the 1978 tour ranks as his best. It was Springsteen at the height of his powers, when his live shows truly became the stuff of legend. The tour lasted only seven months, and he wasn’t playing arenas yet so he wasn’t yet drawing the huge crowds that would see him in the 1980’s, but the tour lived on in the numerous bootlegs created during these incredible shows.

So, when I heard of a new book about the tour, I had to check it out. The Light in Darkness by Lawrence Kirsch is an excellent tribute to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and the memorable tour from 1978. Bruce would release Darkness on the Edge of Town during the tour, which broke a three-year drought caused by Springsteen’s legal battles with his previous manager following the success of Born to Run.

The first thing you notice is the photography. Kirsch compiled an impressive collection of photos from that time period, many of which came from fans and had never been previously published. But the stories are equally rich, as writers, fans, DJs and others who saw the tour or participated in various ways share their experiences.

Bruce piano

Growing up in Cleveland, I was introduced to Springsteen through WMMS, the legendary AOR station that featured Kid Leo as the afternoon drive DJ. Kid Leo became Springsteen’s most enthusiastic supporter outside of Springsteen Jersey/Philly base. I didn’t get to see my first Springsteen show until 1980, but I was introduced to the 1978 tour when WMMS would replay the incredible free concert Bruce gave at the Agora in Cleveland that was broadcast on WMMS. Like everyone else I taped it and memorized the entire show. Kid Leo game the memorable introduction to Bruce and the band that everyone can hear on the recording: “I have the duty and the pleasure of welcoming, ladies and gentlemen, the main event. Round for round, pound for pound, there ain’t no finer band around – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band!” Bruce then tore into Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and then “Badlands” to kick off the epic performance. Through the years you hear the evolution of Springsteen’s live versions of his signature songs, but the raw intensity he displayed on this tour has always stuck with me as Bruce at his very best.

In The Light in Darkness, Kirsch includes four stories about this memorable performance, two from die-hard fans, one from John Gorman who helped produce the show’s broadcast and one from WMMS DJ Denny Sanders. I learned that Bob Segar was quoted as saying “This was the greatest rock and roll show I ever heard,” and that Max Weinberg called it “The best show the E Street Band ever did.”

The book is a celebration of rock history. If you’re a Springsteen fan, it’s something you’ll have to add to your collection. You’ll want to break out the old bootlegs and rock out to the Boss all over again. If you’re a rock and roll junkie who’s never been a big Springsteen fan, this book might be the introduction you need to one of the best live artists in rock history.

inside front cover

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