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)
I lived here for ten years, so it should not surprise me in the slightest that things will not go according to plan when I pop into Midway. Even a transaction as simple as a receipt for some Combos would be easy…right? Wrong. The credit card-paying woman in front of me got a receipt with no trouble, while I watched the same woman that helped her hit an infinite series of buttons over and over, only to get the “beep beep” sound again and again…and again. I eventually let it go, thinking it was just a buck and change. I collected my suitcase from baggage claim and headed for the Orange Line.
There are multiple options for riders when you are looking for train passes at the CTA. I was looking for a five-day pass, but all I saw were three-day passes, seven-day passes, and the ‘give us all your money and it will never be enough’ passes. I reluctantly bought a seven-day pass, since I knew I had a hell of a lot of train traffic in my future, and to my benefit, I at least got a pass, which the person in front of me did not, because his transaction “timed out.” I asked the machine to print a receipt, and it said ‘Okay’…then did nothing. Damn, man. I paid for two extra days of travel, and you can’t print me a receipt?
Welcome to Chicago, kids. “The city that works.” So I took my seven-day pass and went to get on the Midway stop on the Orange line. Out of curiosity, I asked the woman at the handicapped entrance, “Did they get rid of the five-day pass?” “They sell those at currency exchanges and Jewel/Osco’s,” she told me, about 30 seconds too late. How convenient, I think. That would have required me to buy a pass to get on the train, get off the train, find a currency exchange or Jewel/Osco, buy a five-day pass, then reboard. Again, welcome to Chicago, the city that works…but doesn’t print receipts.
So I jump on the Orange Line train for my hotel, and the second the doors close and the train heads on its way towards downtown…there is an inescapable whistling sound on the train. It has nothing to do with the train’s velocity – it’s just…there. So even as I try to forget everything that has happened up to this point, the damn subway train is taunting me. “You didn’t get a receipt, sucker! Ha ha hahahahahahahaha!” To make matters worse, my wife texts me later in the day and says, “Sit down,” then tells me that John Hughes is dead. This, after I saw some guy tear around the Sears Tower (technically the Willis Tower, but sorry, it’s way too soon for that) in a convertible, which instantly made me think of the garage attendants from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” taking a joy ride with a similar car. Creepy.
Friday’s forecast: Chance of thunderstorms, high ’80s. Sorry, but the day after John Hughes dies, it should rain in Chicago. The entire world lost a brother, a son, a father, an uncle, and their best friend. I know that I’m supposed to be excited about covering a music fesitval, and I am…but damn, man, I just lost John Hughes. In fact, I just talked with English Beat singer Dave Wakeling, and happened to ask him about John Hughes, Man, this makes me sad.
BE: When John Hughes contacted you in 1987 and asked you to write the title track for his latest movie, did you think that you had just been touched by the hand of God?
DW: Well, that god had touched my hand a few months before. He came backstage in Anaheim after we played a concert. And as he shook my hand, he said, “Anybody who’s got the balls to put a bassoon in a pop record, and get it in the charts, is my man.” He was referring to the bassoon part in “Tenderness” [mimics bassoon line]. We became good friends and I went to his house a few times, and he’s got a wall of records, 50 feet long, 12 feet high. You could point to anywhere on it, and he knew exactly which record it was. Far more serious about music than I ever was, that’s for sure. It was before I had become computerized – and probably before a lot of people had – so we’d talk about this idea of “She’s Having a Baby.” We both had young children and we discussed the ways it makes things better and some ways it makes things worse, and the changes it brings to couples once they start having kids. And then we started writing each other, so I wrote the first draft of “She’s Having a Baby,” and I would send it to him, and he wrote back with suggestions, or angles, where he thought the movie was going. We wrote back and forth three or four times, which I thought was one of the most exciting co-writes I’ve ever done, really. Brilliant man. I don’t even know what he does now. Did he just retire, or what?
BE: He pops out a script about once every seven years. It’s weird. He pulled a Terrence Malick; he just disappeared.
DW: I wonder what he does. I’d like to see him. Is he a happy chap, or is he a reclusive type?
BE: I honestly have no idea. I know that I miss him.
Boston-based Big D & the Kids Table are still chugging along, with a tenth album in 12 years. Unfortunately that is all they seem to be doing, playing the same, tepid ska-punk that rolled out with the Third Wave in the mid-’90s, and hasn’t changed much at all in the intervening time. Third Wave Ska was much less political and much more pop, thriving on a dynamic hard rock attitude that made big names like the Mighty Might Bosstones and No Doubt thrive, and that dynamism is completely missing on Fluent in Stroll.. The call and response between lead singer David McWayne and the gaggle of rudegirls is entertaining at times, but McWayne’s vocals are bland as white bread and their reputable live energy is too diluted in the studio to capture much attention. Lyrically there is nothing more challenging than fare for teens and drunk college students at a summer fair. Perhaps that is the appeal of Big D; they are predictable but comfortable, undemanding but fun like sipping a watery American beer at your favorite local pub. Perhaps they are too similar to their contemporaries from the left coast, Reel Big Fish, who also continue to churn out the same old ska punk… both had well received albums in 2007 that tried to put a lie to “ska is dead,” but both 2009 follow-ups fall flat. Side One Dummy
Covers are nothing new to Reel Big Fish. They gave A-ha’s “Take on Me” the full blown ska treatment, offered a doo wop version of “New York, New York” and reggaed Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” on past releases. In 2007, they joined with Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer in splitting an EP of covers and offering co-lead vocals on each other’s tracks on the tremendous Duet All Night Long.Fame does make you smile because Aaron Barrett and his merry band of nuts are as funny as they are talented, but if falls short of Duet because too much of it is simply ska versions of very familiar material. They do sound like they are having fun (as they always do), but these versions lack the fire and enthusiasm that the Duet record captures. Highlights of this quick-hitting 30-minute record, which features covers of Poison (two, actually), Van Morrison, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty, include a reggae-soaked take on the Eagles’ “The Long Run” and the minimalist duet between Barrett and Tatiana DeMaria (from the Rock/Punk outfit Tat) on Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me,” which is comprised of a rhythm guitar track, handclaps and an excellent and understated vocal performance. Fame has its moments and is more like an after dinner mint then a meal. (Rock Ridge Music)