Bullz-Eye’s Top Ten Music Moments of 2010: Staff Writer Rob Smith’s Picks

In my mind, 2010 will be remembered more for moments of strangeness, oddity, and lessened expectation, than it will be for transcendent music. The throwaway nature of pop has never been more transient or incidental; technology enables us to hear as much as we want and, by the sheer volume of those possibilities, to actively listen as little as we ever have. How else to explain Ke$ha and the Glee cast recordings, much less the continuing nonsense of Black Eyed Peas? Raise your hand if you think Bruno Mars or Rihanna are still going to be churning out hits ten years from now, or that Katy Perry (more about her below) will still be squeezing into latex after she and her pasty Brit hubby have two or three little Russells to contend with, and things start saggin’.

I will remember 2010 for several key moments:

Top 10 Music Moments of 2010

1. The Roots, Being the Roots. Are they the best band on the planet? It’s hard to argue when their versatility is put on display every weeknight, and when they reiterate their overall excellence by turning out two of the best records of the year (How I Got Over and Wake Up, with John Legend).

2. Dio, Chilton Die. We lost metal’s gentle sorcerer (Ronnie James Dio) and Big Star’s genius-in-residence (Alex Chilton) within a few months of one another. May they both rock in peace.


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Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


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Los Lobos: Tin Can Trust


RIYL: The Grateful Dead, Los Lonley Boys, bands that the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t gotten the head out of their asses and enshrined yet

Los Lobos are back with another fine album, Tin Can Trust. Do these guys ever put out a weak effort? This new collection of songs by the venerable east L.A. band, an American institution, is a much looser affair than their last album of original recordings, 2006’s The Town and the City. It has the feel of some of their earliest LP’s, such as How Will the Wolf Survive, By the Light of the Moon, and their triumphant The Neighborhood. Each song on Tin Can Trust has feels immediate, recorded with minimum overdubs, delivering the optimum effect of hearing Los Lobos live in a concert hall or some out-of-the-way drinking hole.

“Burn It Down:” is the lead track and first single. It’s a solid, radio-friendly song that features the great Susan Tedeschi singing background vocals with lead singer David Hidalgo. The second song, “On Main Street,” while simple in execution and lyrical content, has the right mood of a hot summer afternoon in the neighborhood. Try listening to it and not imagining yourself cruising around with one of your buds, the windows down, the radio cranked.

Cesar Rosas keeps the band grounded to their Chicano heritage with two excellent Spanish sung songs: the upbeat, rocker “Yo Canto,” and the more traditional (more accordion-driven) “Mujer Ingrata.” The title track is another example of Los Lobos’ gift for constructing a song out of repetitive simple chords and basic beats, creating something wondrous. Meanwhile, “Do the Murray” is a fantastic “get your ass of out that seat and dance” rockabilly/blues/Deadhead instrumental from the band. Hell Yeah!

Speaking of the Grateful Dead, that band’s lyricist Robert Hunter supplies words for a couple of songs, including the powerfully done “All My Bridges Burning,” which finds Rosas digging deep for his vocals. The band also covers the Dead’s “West L.A. Fadeaway” to great effect.

At this point in their career, in which Los Lobos primarily tour to support themselves, there seems no reason for the band to continue putting out new albums. They have enough material from their storied career that they shouldn’t need additional music. Yet, as artists, they are driven to continue creating and finding ways to express themselves through their music. Tin Can Trust is indication that Los Lobos is still one of the best bands around. Let’s hope they continue putting out more records for years to come. ( Shout! Factory 2010)

Los Lobos MySpace page
Purchase Tin Can Trust through Amazon

  

Lollapalooza 2010, The Final Recap: The Headliners, some final thoughts

This year’s batch of headliners is one of the strangest groups yet. Sunday was closed by another recently reunited monster of ’90s rock (witness Lolla organizer Perry Farrell giving his band Jane’s Addiction the final slot last year), Saturday night’s lineup featured arguably the biggest band in the world, while Friday’s opener – who easily drew the biggest crowd in Lolla history – is a million-selling pop star who first dazzled one of our writers on a Lolla side stage three years ago. Is it the most “alternative” group of closers they could have assembled? Probably not, but it’s very telling in a state-of-the-biz kind of way. We’ll leave it up to you as to whether that is a good or bad thing.

Let’s begin with the, um, enders, for lack of a better (or actual) word, in our week-long recap of the events at Lollapalooza 2010.

Chromeo, Friday, adidas Stage
Chromeo is officially ready for their close-up. They made lots of friends with this show, even if most of the audience was facing south in anticipation of Lady Gaga. Their riff on “Money for Nothing” was fun (they know their audience, that’s for sure), and even better was when they used Auto-Tune to sing, Sting-style, “I want my Chromeo.” Their new single “Don’t Turn the Lights Off” is a killer, and their other new songs sounded just as good.

Lady Gaga, Friday, Parkways Foundation Stage
Watching the crowd gather for Lady Gaga was an event unto itself. Her fans – and make no mistake, there isn’t anyone in all of music with a fan base as rabidly devoted as hers, ironic or otherwise – arrived early and parked in front of the Parkways stage all day long. Girls in fishnets, guys in drag, and more kids than we’ve ever seen at Lolla. Before Chromeo had even taken the stage at the northern end of the southern stages, there was already a bigger crowd waiting for Gaga than the one Depeche Mode played to last year. And Depeche played to a big crowd. But Gaga…this was borderline ridiculous. Some may have questioned Perry’s decision to bring Gaga back, since she’s now a full-fledged pop star, but he and the rest of the Lolla organizers were clearly laughing all the way to the bank.

Gaga_01
Photo by Dave Mead

As for the set, well, we lasted 20 minutes.


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Lollapalooza 2010 recap: Saturday night’s all right for rocking

The thing about Lolla is that it gets exponentially harder from day to day. Even with a good night’s sleep, today was, well, fucking impossible. The fact that the lineup was reeeeeeeeeally sparse compared to Friday’s lineup did not help. Damn it, why aren’t the Scissor Sisters here?

Before we hit the grounds, we hit one of our favorite Chicago restaurants: Heaven on Seven. Try the gumbo. The andouille sausage po’ boys are pretty damn good, too.

As we’re entering the grounds, there were some people who were interested in opening a friendly dialogue about religious philosophy and moral ambiguity in modern society. That, or they wanted to stone people to death on the spot, one of the two.

hell

Skybox, BMI stage
These kids are so cute I just want to pinch their little cheeks. They’re a bubblegum pop band from Chicago (think ’60s bubblegum, not the Jonas Brothers), and I love that they play the music they play; I just wished the songwriting was a touch stronger. But they’re young – they can grow into their songwriting shoes. That they’re starting out playing this kind of music, to me, is a sign of good things to come.

The Soft Pack, Budweiser stage
It’s harder and harder for guitar bands to stand apart these days, and these guys are unfortunately victim to that. There were some good tunes in their set, mind you, but they haven’t yet figured out how to separate themselves from the pack. I’m looking forward to the day when they find a way to do that.

Stars, Budweiser stage
There’s a joke here somewhere about how every Canadian musician under the age of 40 is in Broken Social Scene, but it’s just not coming to me at the moment. Everyone in Stars is also in BSS, and their new record The Five Ghosts is a pleasantly airy collection of mid-tempo, mildly electronic music, and surprise! So was their set at Lolla. That didn’t stop a bunch of people from dancing to them, though, and even I was bobbing my head to “We Don’t Want Your Body,” which is just begging to be released as a single.

Dan Black, BMI stage
For three guys with a couple guitars and a bank of machines, Dan Black made sure his show was as human as it could possibly be. And as luck would have it, I showed up one song before he played the “Umbrella”-sampling “Symphonies.” Can’t beat that with a stick.

Lunch break. Grabbed some fish tacos, sat next to a nice couple from New Orleans, who gave us a portable cell phone charger. Which came in handy…when the batteries in my camera died. Hey, I can recharge my phone at the hotel.

Listened to a little of the Royal Bangs after scouting their MySpace page. Not pleased. Moved on.

Metric, Playstation stage
I feel bad for the bands that play the Playstation stage, or the Petrillo band shell as it’s called every other day of the year. They get fabulous acoustics, but they’re on a downward slope, so anyone outside the cement pavillion will be all but unable to see them without peeking at the Jumbotron. Which sucks, because there are few things on this earth I love more than watching Emily Haines dance. I mean damn, is she the cutest thing on the planet or what? Look at the video for “Stadium Love” (easily the highlight of the set). Swoon. That girl owns me.

This pair of shoes and socks stood in front of me. Had to document it. You know, for when alien civilizations come to study us centuries from now.

shoes

Time to head down south and get a spot for Green Day, since they will surely draw another Gaga-esque crowd. But first, food. Chicken on a stick, with lo mein noodles. Yum.

Social Distortion, Parkways stage
Is there such thing as a bad set from these guys? And by that I mean, the margin of error on their sets is pretty damn small, isn’t it? Can one of their sets really be significantly better than another? What I’m saying is, it’s Social Distortion: you know exactly what to expect.

Slightly Stoopid, adidas stage
I’m not a fan of this band, but I felt bad for them. As my friend Tim and I found a spot to sit before Green Day’s set – and was shocked to see that there were a good five times as many people on the Grant Park softball fields for Lady Gaga this time last night as there were for Green Day – Slightly Stoopid had 15 minutes left to play when Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” started playing through Green Day’s speakers. Not at an obnoxious volume, but still loud enough that the band could hear it between songs. Then someone in a rabbit costume (I’m guessing it was Tre Cool) came out on stage acting drunk and silly. If I’m Slightly Stoopid, I’m pissed. That was bad form. If I’m Green Day, I expect to find my tour bus covered in feces, inside and out.

Green Day, Parkways stage
Say this for Green Day’s set: they put on one hell of a rock show. Not exactly a punk show, but a rock show (complete with classic rock medley including Sabbath, Van Halen, Guns ‘n Roses, and AC/DC), and aside from hustling the crowd in to waaaaaaaay too many sing-a-longs, thus stretching songs out a good two to three minutes longer than they needed to, they definitely brought the goods. American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown bookended the set, with pretty much every early-period Green Day song you can imagine in between (they even played “2,000 Light Years Away”), and they even deliberately went long by 15 minutes to make sure the crowd got their “Jesus of Suburbia.” Everyone who wasn’t wearing ear plugs for this show is surely regretting it thought, as the show was littered with fireworks. Loud, loud fireworks.

I texted someone I met over the fish tacos about how Phoenix was on the north side. “They owned,” he said, while Bullz-Eye’s James Eldred, on assignment with another publication since we only got one media pass this year (the economy, we guess), said Empire of the Sun’s set at Perry’s was awesome.

The crowd emptying out of Grant Park was so big that we didn’t even bother trying to get on the train and walked back to our hotel. Add another two miles to the day’s travels. Ow.

  

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