As a self-professed anglophile and fiancee to one very cheeky Brit, I certainly appreciate the many aspects of our wry, Founding Fathers. From stodgy meals, statuesque cathedrals and sublime music, England is a nation enriched in all aspects: cuisine, culture and most importantly, creativity.
My most recent English example? Indie/blues/rock/soul/funk mash-up musicians known as The Heavy.
Hailing from Britain’s rain-sopped turf are The Heavy; four very talented lads who emerged onto the music scene circa early 2000s. Their most notable song, “How You Like Me Now?” has been featured in countless adverts, movies and video game trailers (and was the first tune that sparked my fan frenzy).
The Heavy reeks of rawness. They’re uncut and unparalleled artists who perform as well at gigs as they do on VEVO. I would know; I’ve frequented three of their concerts within the past two years, and have yet to be disappointed.
While The Heavy is relatively under-the-radar, their undeniable talent is worthy of high accolade. Take a peek at the ghoulish video for their new single, “Can’t Play Dead,” and let us know your take on this British, bass-heavy/bad-ass band.
It makes perfect sense that a documentary about SoCal ska punkers Fishbone would follow in the wake of “Anvil! The Story of Anvil.” Both bands were far ahead of their time, proved to be wildly influential – Gwen Stefani, for one, sings Fishbone’s praises to the heavens – yet neither band could sell a record to save their lives. Slash offers a great quote about how several speed metal bands ripped Anvil off and left them for dead. Fishbone had a few more chances at the brass ring than Anvil did, but the end result proved to be the same. “Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” explains, in often uncomfortable detail, several of the reasons why they were often their own worst enemies.
The structure of the story is not your typical ‘analyze the band’s career from album to album’ approach. Unfortunately, that turns out to be a problem. The great Laurence Fishburne narrates the band’s tale, but disappears for long segments at a time, and since the timeline jumps around a bit, the viewer never really knows when to expect his return. Also, several albums from the band’s catalog, including 1986’s In Your Face (which included minor MTV hit “When Problems Arise”), are not discussed at all, which denies anyone unfamiliar with the band any sense of momentum, or lack thereof, the band had as they soldiered on.
The first act of the film, though, is pure genius. As the band members recall the early days and their formation, the stories are backed with “Fat Albert”-style animation that both nails and works in stark contrast to the vibe of the band and the area in which they lived. David Kahne, the Columbia Records exec who produced Fishbone’s first four albums, admits that their failure to reach the next level is his greatest career disappointment. There is a wealth of live footage from the early days. Most of the content, though, is a landslide of conflict and hard times; we see lead singer Angelo Moore get evicted from his place, and worse, we see him on video laying into Norwood Fisher, the only other surviving member of the group. Even the guy shooting the video is telling Angelo to stop before he’s gone too far. Then you see Norwood talk about sharing a band with a guy who insists on being Dr. Mad Vibe on the Theremin in the middle of Fishbone gigs, and it’s suddenly easy to see why the band is exactly where it is.
But hot damn, were they awesome at times, and in an industry where the pioneers are scapled a lot more often than they’re rewarded, you can see why someone would want to pay their respects. We’re betting that even the filmmakers did not anticipate the places “Everyday Sunshine” would go, and while that would occasionally lead to an eye-opening moment, the conclusion does not instill the sense of optimism that Anvil had when their credits rolled. Pity. (Cinema Guild 2012)
When a lone member of a band continues to tour under the name that made him famous, it’s usually a sad sight. Infighting has led to acrimony, lawsuits and injunctions are filed, and worst of all, the last person standing, most likely the lead singer, is too proud to admit that maybe their songs and their singing or playing ability have just not held up well, and it’s time to pack it in.
Then there’s Dave Wakeling.
Wakeling is the leader of ska pop giants the English Beat, and rather than get into legal dust-ups with his former band mates, he and fellow singer Ranking Roger have worked out a deal where Wakeling tours as the Beat in the United States, while Roger, along with original Beat drummer Everett Morton, tours as the Beat in the band’s native England. Everybody makes money, everybody’s happy. How refreshing. Even better, Wakeling is not content to waltz into the sunset – the band he hired to round out the US version of the English beat are smoking hot, and the two-hour show they unleashed on the ecstatic audience at Skully’s Music Diner was a textbook lesson on how to do a so-called nostalgia show.
We use that word ‘nostalgia’ reluctantly, but it must be said. Wakeling loathes the recording studio – his direct quote to us, when we interviewed Wakeling in 2009, was “I think the process of recording 12 songs in a row, at the same time, I used to find it interminably boring. I hated it. You know, you just listen to your own songs for three months, good God” – and hasn’t released anything new under any name since 1995. Not surprisingly, the evening’s set list contained the lion’s share of the Beat’s debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It, with a few songs from Special Beat Service and Wakeling’s spinoff band General Public mixed in (“Never You Done That” was a most welcome surprise), and by sticking with their best-known songs, Wakeling and crew had a mostly 40+ crowd dancing nonstop for two straight hours, which is no small feat. Wakeling’s between-song banter is lightning quick and often hilarious, and his band, anchored by terrific drummer Rhythmm Epkins, were super-tight, with several songs stretched well past their album running times.
There are only eight dates left on the English Beat’s current US tour. If they’re playing in your town, or even within 50 miles of your town, go. The live show is sensational and the tickets are cheap, plus they still have the coolest t-shirts of any band alive.
Landing a cool 10 months after the release of Volume I of Yo Gabba Gabba’s Music Is…Awesome! series, this set rights some of the wrongs of that first album by including some of the bands they overlooked the last time (Jimmy Eat World, MGMT, Datarock, and thank God they finally released the Ting Tings’ cover of “Happy Birthday”). The catch with this set is that the songs by the contributing rock bands are much better, but the songs from the show are, well, not. Yes, “Hold Still” finally makes an appearance, but it’s the lesser of the two versions that have appeared on the show. Meanwhile, the “Freeze Game” song here does not measure up to the ‘you can’t catch us!’ ‘Freeze’ song from another episode. (Perhaps they chose the version they did so they didn’t have two songs that featured Brobee whining about not being able to keep up.) Alas, the Aggrolites’ song “Banana” is still nowhere to be found, nor is GOGO13’s song “Pick It Up” which, years after their debut on the show, are still the two most commonly sung “Yo Gabba Gabba” songs in this writer’s household. Their exclusion from these sets is bordering on comical, if it weren’t so tragic. Still, the Weezer song (“All My Friends Are Insects”) is great, as are the songs by Hot Hot Heat (“Time to Go Outdoors”) and the Apples in Stereo (“That’s My Family”). In the end the album, much like the show, has some moments of genius, surrounded by stuff that you merely tolerate for the sake of your kids. No excuses, guys: put “Pick It Up” and “Banana” on the next set, or there will be hell to pay. (Filter 2010)
RIYL: Old school hip hop, hipster bands, your children
Anyone who was lucky enough to snap up a copy of 2008’s here-today-gone-yesterday Yo Gabba Gabba! CD will likely be disappointed with Music Is…Awesome!, the newest release of songs from the TV show that’s a hit with both kids and stoners. Eight of the 13 tracks from the previous release are here, along with songs from the Shins, Chromeo, Of Montreal, I’m from Barcelona, and Money Mark. That’s a whole lotta hipster, right there, and the decision to include the hipster bands over acts that actually had our kids singing along – there is no excuse, for example, for the exclusion of the Aggrolites’ “Banana” or GOGO13’s fantastic ska tribute “Pick It Up” – is a curious one, to say the least. Then again, the soundtrack supervisors had positively tons of bands to choose from (The Bird and the Bee, the Ting Tings, Mates of State, Jason Falkner, MGMT, Jimmy Eat World, Datarock, the Clientele, etc.), not to mention original songs (“Hold Still,” “Please, Thank You”), so it stands to reason that they were going to leave some essential YGG moments out. Be that as it may, Music Is…Awesome! is good, but not quite as awesome as it could have been. (Filter/Fontana 2009)