A few weeks ago, there was a leak that Muse, the Foo Fighters and Eminem would headline Lollapalooza this year. In previous years, when band names have been leaked well before the official announcement, they’ve been accurate, so let’s assume that those are your headliners. Pretty cool and eclectic group, if you ask us. We’ve seen some dyed-in-the-wool alt rockers scoff at the idea of Marshall Mathers playing Lolla, but why the hell not? Snoop Dogg did it two years ago, and no one complained about that.
The festival’s organizers are a good month away from unveiling their lineup, so while we’re in the lull between the leak and the formal announcement, we decided to have a little fun. Here are some bands that we’d love to see take the stage in Grant Park this summer.
Don’t laugh – this makes more sense than the decision to invite Metallica in 1996. They rock harder and faster than anyone alive today, and courtesy of their appearance on “The Young Ones,” they were instantly grandfathered as alt rock forefathers (Ministry’s Psalm 69, anyone?). Still think it’s a long shot? Consider this: Head Foo Fighter Dave Grohl loves Lemmy and has recorded with him, plus the band just released a new record (The World Is Yours), which means a tour is sure to follow. Come on, Perry. You know this would be awesome. Lemmy shows up, drinks all the other bands under the table, and wipes the floor with them onstage. That’s the way we like it, baby.
Of the big UK bands of the last five years, only Franz Ferdinand and Coldplay have yet to play Lolla, and we’re not sure why. It looked as though the stars were aligned for them to play when the band released Tonight, Franz Ferdinand in 2009, but for whatever reason, it never happened. Considering the heavy nature of the three headliners, both musically and lyrically, the festival could use a party band. The only catch is that the band is not working on a new record, and therefore will not likely be on tour this year. Pity.
As if there needed to be proof out there that trying times can lead to the most inspired music, singer/songwriter Ruth Gerson hammers that point home again on her latest, This Canât Be My Life. The album was recorded and ready for release in 2007, but a divorce and sudden single-momhood put the project on the shelf for a few years. Lucky for us, Gerson finally did release it, and the painful time period she endured shines through loud and clear on This Canât Be My Life, her first full-length effort since 1998. Gerson writes music with heart, and delivers it with equal parts bluesy brood and rocking growl. Itâs also melodic enough to be accessible to the masses, but still unique and cool enough to be considered alternative. Right from the title track, a piano anthem that sets the tone for the rest of the set, Gerson tells her story with simple yet powerful lyrics: âI made two lefts / I shoulda gone right / If I made one more left, it would have been right / It canât be, canât be my life.â This and the singsong âBulletproofâ have a falsetto melodic bent a la Aimee Mann, while âFresh Airâ and âSomeday Soonâ have a dark yet powerful pull akin to Fiona Apple. Add the jazzy, rainy day feel of âHazelâ and the guitar-picking âTake It Slow,â which will remind you of a female Nick Drake, and youâve got a very complete, damn good album here. Whether Ruth Gerson breaks out big or remains on a smaller radar plane doesnât matter. What matters is that sheâs shared her stories with us, and is doing what she does best – making great music. (Wrong Records 2009)
It takes real talent to create music that is hip, yet melodic; accessible, yet not forced; and catchy yet not catchy to the point that you donât want to listen after five spins. Piano songstress Beth Thornley has done this on her third album, Wash U Clean, a bouncy collection of pop tunes that are as infectious as any piano-driven ditties youâve ever heard. Thornley herself is apparently amazed at the variation between the artists she is compared to, but thatâs because that variation is genuinely as wide as the Grand Canyon – even from track to track. Thatâs just one of the many reasons to like this terrific set of music, and itâs a bonus that youâll feel as cool as some hipster blogger while listening to it. The title track features a horn riff that will remind you of the synthesizer in Gary Numanâs âCars,â but the soaring chorus is like one of those long-lasting wads of bubble gum. From there, Thornley weaves in and out from Ben Folds-like anthem (âStill Canât Hideâ and âItâs Meâ) to the Aimee Mann-ish âThereâs No Wayâ to the best track of all, the stunning ballad âWhat the Heart Wantsâ – the musical version of a lazy Saturday afternoon. Beth Thornley has really delivered a beauty with Wash U Clean, and youâll be hard pressed to find a bad song on it. (Stiff Hips 2010)
The 2000âs werenât great for breaking new and exciting artists but some established folks sure put out some good material. The Purple one returned to make his best record in a long time and a metal specialist put out a mellower, kinder disc with compelling results. One of the best characters the music business has ever produced created an incredible record about saying goodbye with grace and dignity; he pulled it off with a little help from his friends. In our final final installment of our series on the best of the 2000s, here are the ten best releases from the most recent decade:
1. Warren Zevon: The Wind (2003)
Zevon was a ridiculously clever songwriter and half the time you couldnât tell if he was making fun of you while you found him clever or not. He was intelligent, witty and knew how to construct a great song. Faced with terminal cancer, he willed himself to complete the album and see it completed (in direct contrast to his doctors’ orders). It was more than a simple swan song; it was a graceful and bittersweet conclusion to his life and underrated career. An all-star cast of cameos (Bruce Springsteen, Dwight Yoakam, Don Henley and Tommy Shaw, to name a few) really enriched the material. âKeep Me in Your Heartâ is the sweetest, most haunting ballad ever written and a further demonstration of the class and dignity of the artist.
2. Aimee Mann: Bachelor No. 2 or The Last Remains of the Dodo (2000)
No one quite knows how to tell someone to fuck off as intellectually as she can. The fact that she had to rescue the album from the record company just like Wilco had to rescue Yankee Foxtrot Hotel makes this album even more satisfying. She always comes up with strong material but this record is perfect. Several tracks appeared on the “Magnolia” soundtrack. The rest of the material is sharp, melodic, catchy and full of unmistakable and brilliant Aimee Mann lyrics.
3. Sugarland: Twice the Speed of Life (2004)
A flawless country record with incredible pop crossover appeal. Jennifer Nettles establishes herself as a tremendous front woman and the material is top notch. There isnât one wasted track. âBaby Girlâ is a tremendous tune because the story feels authentic and the ballad âJust Might (Make Me Believe)â is Nettles at her best as she sings the hell out of it.
4. Johnny Cash: American IV â The Man Comes Around (2002)
As Cash is dying, Rick Rubin gets one more gem out of him, including the haunting version of âHurtâ in which Cash clearly steals the song away from Trent Reznor. Guest appearances by Fiona Apple, Don Henley and Nick Cave really enhance this marvelous record of Cash covering other artists and re-interpreting a few of his own. I suppose, off the top of your head, you would figure that Johnny and Nine Inch Nails, or Johnny and Depeche Mode would be silly, but you would be wrong. This is the best of the four American Recording records, but the other three are terrific also.
5. System of a Down: Mezmorize/Hypnotize (2005)
The three previous records indicated how good SOAD could be, but these two records realized all that potential and to this point is the pinnacle of their work. Angry, assaultive, and full of noise and tempo changes, these two records leave you exhausted and your ears begging for both mercy and for more. Serj Tankian and Daron Malakian blend their voices perfectly similarly to the way that Layne Staley and Jerry Cantrell did in Alice in Chains. Serj is clearly the lead, but Daron (like Jerry) adds an intense layer of complementary harmony and occasional leads. Serjâs solo record is very good (Elect the Dead) and Scars on Broadway (Malakianâs band) had some solid moments, but I believe the whole is better than the sum of the parts. The parts have put out some compelling stuff: bring back System of a Down.
6. Cathy Richardson: Delusions of Grandeur(2006)
Now that she is a member of Jefferson Starship and busy touring with her own band, I wonder if she will have time to produce any more records under her name. This is an incredible work of art, from the songwriting to the soulful vocal performance to the album packaging. It is exquisite and her talent is overwhelming. It was my favorite record of 2006 and belongs on this list as one of the best of the decade. Her ability to move seamlessly through genres and sound equally at home and competent is unique. âOverwhelmedâ is an absolute gem and a perfect example that Ms. Richardson knows exactly how to use that extraordinary vocal talent. âAinât No Homeâ is flawless laid back soul which much like the rest of the record sharply expresses the pain of loneliness. This is a great record, period.
7. Devin Townsend: Ki (2009)
Talk about a change-up. Townsend has been the songwriter, shredder and lead screamer for Metal monsters Strapping Young Lad, sang lead for Vai (the one album band project for guitar God, Steve Vai) and produced some fascinatingly heavy records under his own name and the Deven Townsend Band. After taking a break from touring and writing to clean up and recharge, Towsnedâs first record in a four-record cycle is mellow, engaging, beautiful and melodic. Many of those adjectives shocked Townsend enthusiasts, but the man has depth. Ki is an incredible record which shows that the man can write very interesting introspective stuff and sing, yes, he can sing. Ki adds to the amazing range of a gifted musician. His sense of purpose in following his own muse, not what is expected, is a necessity that the music industry desperately needs.
8. Prince: 3121 (2006)
The little purple fellow finally put out a record that was worthy of his royal name. Yes, he borrows heavily from himself, but he funks the heck out of the album and it is a fabulous addition to his accomplished catalog. Most of his records after Purple Rain featured excellent tracks, but no record is as consistent as this one. He turns up the volume on the bottom end and really lets it fly. It took a long time to get to 3121, but it was well worth the wait.
9. The Mob: The Mob (2005)
There is something exhilarating when a band comes out of nowhere (unfortunately they’re most likely a one-off) and produces a spectacular melodic hard rock record that no one saw coming (and probably no one outside of Europe heard much). This super group made up of shredder Reb Beach (Winger, Dokken, Whitesnake), Dug (yep he changed his name) Pinnick (Kingâs X) on vocals, keyboardist Timothy Drury and drummer Kelly Keagy (Night Ranger), was produced by Kip Winger. The music is tight, the production is pristine and the songs are memorable. âThe Magicâ is a great power ballad and the best thing sung by Kelly Keagy (his only lead on the record) since âSister Christianâ.
10. Richard Marx and Matt Scannell: Duo (2008)
I am going to catch hell for this, but the ’80s ballad schlockster and the lead voice and songwriter of Vertical Horizon combine for an absolutely gorgeous recording of nine previous hits and one original. The production on this is clear; every strum on the guitar and vocal harmony is treat for the ear. Their voices blend naturally and the material sounds fresh and revitalized by these simple but elegant arrangements on acoustic guitars and occasional piano.
Honorable mentions certainly can be passed out to the following which just missed out on the top ten:
XTC: Wasp Star: Apple Venus Volume 2
Nik Kershaw: To Be Frank
They say that you never get a second chance to make a first impressionâŠunless you’re a musician, of course. In what other world can you hate something with the white-hot fire of a thousand suns, only to discover one day that a switch involuntarily flipped in your head that makes you think, “You know what, I really like these guys!”? Truth be told, it happens to us nearly every day, and most of the time it’s with a band or artist that we as music reviewers are supposed to love unconditionally but, for whatever reason, we just don’t. Or at least didn’t up until recently.
Call this the companion piece to our list earlier this year of bands that we just don’t get â which was almost universally misinterpreted as a staff-wide condemnation, rather than each writer speaking for himself â only with a much more positive vibe. The Bullz-Eye writers bare their souls and confess to previous biases that have since turned to heartfelt crushes (or at the very least, tolerance of a band’s existence). The list of acquired tastes is a who’s who of Hall of Famers, critical darlings, andâŠCobra Starship? Who let that guy in here?
My first exposure to the Flaming Lips was seeing the video for “She Don’t Use Jelly” on MTV’s “Beavis and Butthead” show, which immediately pegged the Lips as a novelty in my mind (and not one that I even enjoyed all that much). How could one not see novelty in a song with a character who spreads Vaseline on her toast? This was kid stuff, and yes, I could be a silly kid, but where I drew my lines of tolerance for silliness were admittedly very arbitrary (example: I unironically enjoyed Mister Ed). As such, I completely shut out the Lips.
Fast forward five years later: I was just about finished with college, working at a record store, yet still very skeptical when a respected friend and coworker slipped me an advance copy of The Soft Bulletin in 1999 (10 years ago already?). His taste was generally pretty spot on, so I gave it a shot. From the first song, I heard a completely different band, one that was drawing inspiration from one of my all-time favorites â Brian Wilson. I came around almost instantaneously upon hearing “Race for the Prize,” and even grew to dig “She Don’t Use Jelly” too. How stupid could I have been all that time? Blame it on my youth. â Michael Fortes
Guided by Voices
The buzz was loud and clear on Bee Thousand, the lo-fi masterpiece by Dayton alt-rockers Guided by Voices. This was the record that everyone positively had to own, so I borrowed it from a friend of mineâŠand totally didn’t get it. The songs aren’t finished! Are these demos? When lead singer Robert Pollard â whose last name should be a synonym for âprolific’ â saw a song to its completion, as he did on “Tractor Rape Chain,” I was definitely into it, but too many of the songs felt like piss takes to me, so I politely stayed off the bandwagon. Five years later, he made “Teenage FBI” with Ric Ocasek, which I loved, but still didn’t buy any of their records. Then they dropped Human Amusements at Hourly Rates, a compilation of Pollard’s more, ahem, finished songs, and I finally bit, and the disc scarcely left my CD player for months afterward. And then, of course, the band broke up just when I was beginning to appreciate them. Luckily, they recorded 16 albums in 17 years before calling it quits. The only question now is: which one do I start with? â David Medsker
What do you get when you cross a classically trained but independently minded pianist with two folk/rock instrumentalists? You get a Joni Mitchell/Aimee Mann/Jenny Lewis hybrid, which is probably accurate when describing the music of New York City based trio Elizabeth & the Catapult. This jazzy alt-pop trio, fronted by singer Elizabeth Ziman, released an EP on their own in 2006 and then created enough of a buzz through touring that they were courted by major labels. But they ultimately signed with indie Verve Forecast, and the guess here is so that the group could maintain creative control, which is a good thing for all of us. Their full length debut, Taller Children, has two of the groupâs best tracks from the EP, the bouncy and snarky âMommaâs Boyâ and the dreamy, Jill Cunniff-ish âRight Next to You.â But thereâs much more, with the rest of the LP continuing to jump between bouncy and dreamy, but Ziman and her cohorts deliver it all with precision and pizazz. Other standouts are the uber catchy title track, melancholy âRainiest Day of Summerâ and quirky âEverybody Knows.â (Verve Forecast 2009)
Do you find it hard to keep track of how many VH-1 âYou Oughta Knowâ type singer/songwriters there are? You know, that wispy alt-pop thing – think Sara Bareilles, Erin McCarley and the like. Well, donât look now, here comes another one; Nettwerkâs latest signing, Molly Jenson, with her debut, Maybe Tomorrow. Try as you may to dislike it, Jensonâs sultry voice and more than pleasant melodies will keep you listening. Sure, it sounds like everything else the genre is putting out, but letâs face it – these songs donât write themselves. Jenson and writing partner Greg Laswell have crafted a fine effort of pop tunes and if youâd rather not lump her into the current crop of female singer/songwriters, consider that she could be a young Aimee Mann, bending falsetto and all. On the title track and as well as on âBeginning Here,â there is this perpetual feeling of being dragged along through a thick fog – she gets you to where youâre going, but you may struggle to enjoy the ride. But then, Jenson is at her best when she throws some hip swagger in, as she does on âThinking of Youâ and âAlongside You,â as well as the simply beautiful guitar and vocal track, âWait For You Here.â (LABEL: Nettwerk)
2008 has been a fantastic year for rock & roll to this reporterâs view. Last year, I felt like I was struggling to come up with enough albums just to fill a top 10. Itâs been a far different story this year as sifting the top 10 from the many worthy honorable mentions has been a tough process that has required rigorous listening and re-appraisal. When new albums by longtime personal faves like the Black Crowes and Kingâs X canât quite crack my top 10, I can only pay homage to the music gods for such a plentiful bounty.
Top 10 Albums of 2008
1. Jefferson Starship: Jeffersonâs Tree of Liberty
One of the greatest rock heroes of the â60s comes back with superb new relevancy as Paul Kantner hits the jackpot again with Cathy Richardson, the bandâs dynamic new vocalist. The soaring harmonies between Richardson, Kantner and David Freiberg are simply majestic, adding a revelatory new flavor to songs that are mostly covers of â60s tunes that inspired the Airplane back in the day. But the new âOn the Threshold of Fireâ might be the song of the year â no other gave me chills like it did.
2. Susan Tedeschi: Back to the River
The blues diva delivers her best album yet, packed with soulful rockers, guest stars and oh so compelling vocals that assure the blues are in good hands with the current generation. âPeopleâ is one of the top tracks of the year and should have been Obamaâs victory song in Grant Park. Itâs among several tracks that offer a taste of the musical magic that occurs when Tedeschi and hubby Derek Trucks (slide guitar) join forces. Look for a Soul Stew Revival album featuring that combo to top this list in 2009 or 2010.
3. Michael Franti & Spearhead: All Rebel Rockers
Franti and his rock/reggae/hip-hop/funk/soul crew help keep the Bay Area at the cutting edge of the music revolution with their best album since 2001âs album of the year, Stay Human. Thereâs no one else mixing it all up like Franti, and no one else lyricizes the zeitgeist of the times like he does. Guest vocalist Cherine Anderson sounds like a star in waiting.
4. Guns nâ Roses: Chinese Democracy
Itâs overproduced, should probably be labeled an Axl Rose solo joint, and should have been released at least six years ago. But all that aside, Rose has finally delivered the unique type of kick ass rock nâ roll that only he can (although the lyrics arenât nearly as accessible as they used to be.) Heâll probably never live down the backlash over the albumâs tardiness, but tunes like âBetter,â âThere was a Time,â âCatcher in the Ryeâ and âI.R.S.â are epic rockers that conjure that classic GnâR sound. Now if only Axl would pick up the phone, apologize to Slash & Duff for being so difficult, and get the band back together. Theyâd sell out every arena in America.
5. Blue Turtle Seduction: 13 Floors
Iâd never heard of these Lake Tahoe jam rockers until they saved last New Yearâs Eve in San Francisco with their stellar âHitchhikerâs Guide to the 12 Galaxiesâ show to usher in 2008 in festive style. Then they issued this superb album packed with tight playing and a bunch of tunes that sound like instant classics. Is it rock? Bluegrass? Funk? Punk? All of the above and more.
6. Sound Tribe Sector 9: Peaceblaster
These electronica-oriented, yet still organic jam rockers make their bones with their incendiary live shows, but this release captures that energy and delivers it in an album form that can get ya bumping in your car or grooving around the living room. The production value is dazzling, as the electronic layering is expertly mixed with top-shelf percussion and superbly tasteful guitar on songs that still inspire deep thoughts even though theyâre instrumental. The band also put up a great informational companion site, www.peaceblaster.com
7. Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement
Alanis joined up with British electronica producer Guy Sigsworth to create a dynamic album thatâs her most compelling work since her 1995 breakthrough. Tunes like âCitizen of the Planet,â âStraightjacketâ and âGiggling Again for No Reasonâ ripple with unique sonic energy, while the rock goddess delivers an array of dazzling vocals demonstrating sheâs still one of the best in the biz.
8. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
This album could have ranked higher but the songs are too short (it clocks in at a mere 40 minutes) and it could really use a couple more rockers. Still, Adamsâ uniquely cathartic vocals are superb, the pedal steel guitar from Jon Graboff is majestic and itâs another solid collection of tunes. But itâs starting to look like Adams is falling victim to jam band recording disease â plays amazing live shows, canât quite capture the same fire in the studio. Still waiting for another album to approach 2005âs best of the year Cold Roses.
9. The Watson Twins: Fire Songs
These Los Angeles-by-way-of Louisville gals break through in a major way with this compelling platter of alt-country magic. The identical twinsâ otherworldly mix of country, soul, gospel and rock is mesmerizing â their voices are akin to the sirens they sing of on the ethereal last track, âWaves.â The girls can sort of rock ya too, on tunes like âBar Woman Bluesâ and âHow Am I to Be.â This is the first album since I canât remember when that I was inspired to rush out and buy after witnessing a performance by a band I wasnât so familiar with, following their revelatory Saturday night set opening for Railroad Earth at the Fillmore in September.
10. Anti-Flag: The Bright Lights of America
These political Pittsburgh punks polished up their sound a bit here to deliver an album of arena-ready rock that sounds big but still rails with punk angst and energy. The lyrics are a spot-on indictment of Uncle Samâs paradigm of Titanic turmoil, and what could be more punk than that? Rolling Stone should be utterly ashamed to have given Bright Lights only two stars. Green Dayâs American Idiot is the only punk album of the decade that tops it.
Cleveland â Mifune: Time Is Watching Us
Husband and wife team Jacob (guitar) and Chris (vocals) Fader dial up a dazzling sound on their second album that blends the rhythms and horns of an afro-beat instrumentation with a groovy psychededelic jam vibe. The politically edgy lyrics continue a band tradition of looking for trouble with authority, and modern rock can always use more of that.
Dallas â The Bright: In Lucid Dreams
Formerly known as Superstring, the Brightâs mix of alt-rock edge with power pop grandeur and charismatic vocalist Julie Lange is a winning formula. The production value here is superb. Theyâve licensed songs to MTV, but the major labels still havenât called for some reason. The bandâs cover of âKashmirâ is epic.
Oakland â The Passive Aggressives: Conflict Resolution
Take an alt-rock power trio with a heavy Les Claypool influence, add in a vocalist whoâs like a cross between Alanis and Amy Lee, and youâve got a powerhouse sound. Former Israeli Defense Forces member Keren Gaiser is a breakout star on the verge now that sheâs shed her Celine Dion-style past and found her inner rock goddess.
Breakthrough artist of 2008
Cathy Richardson of Jefferson Starship â She not only sounds amazing on the album, she delivers stunning power and mesmerizing rock ânâ roll mojo onstage, from Airplane classics to the new mashup âImagine Redemption.â Sheâs got the skills to land next to Grace Slick in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame some day.
Live performance awards
Multiple-night performance of the year
Phil Lesh & Friends @ the Warfield Theater, San Francisco CA
May 13-14, 16-18
This monumental run of five shows in six nights to close down the Bill Graham Presents era at the venerable Warfield was simply stunning, in so many ways. Start off with the fact that the 68-year-old bassist is not only still truckinâ, but is at the height of his powers. The first three shows offered the Grateful Deadâs first six albums played in their entirety, but of course way more jammed out, which was tremendous. The sets featuring the GDâs eponymous debut album on night one and American Beauty on night three were among the best sets that Lesh has played since Jerry left us.
Night four featured two live albums in their entirety and then the finale was a three-set, six-and-a-half hour marathon akin to New Yearâs Eve in May, complete with âSugar Magnoliaâ balloon drop to kick off the last set. Lesh topped that off by offering up a free soundboard of the electrifying 5/13 show, a magnanimous gesture he is generally known to grant at least once per tour. How many other artists can say the same?
Unprecedented collaboratory jam of the year
New Monsoon + EOTO @ The Fillmore â San Francisco, CA â February 9
EOTO, the new electronica project from String Cheese Incident percussionists Michael Travis and Jason Hann, warmed up the night â with guest help from SCI mandolinist Michael Kang â for a set that blew the roof off. New Monsoonâs second set opener then built one by one until all members of both bands were onstage for an epic jam that summoned all of the Fillmoreâs legendary psychedelic power.