Thursday, February 24, 2011

This Changes Everything

I'd only recently become aware of the Odd Future collective when I clicked "play" on the video for Tyler the Creator's "Yonkers" a couple days ago. I immediately sensed that I was watching something significant, a game-changing work of art that will eventually have an enormous impact on pop music and on popular culture as a whole.

The electrifying moment brought similarly revelatory past experiences to mind. I'm not the world's greatest prognosticator, and I've slept on the initial stirrings of countless groundbreaking movements- I failed to grasp grunge, for instance- but I've created a list of twenty things that I recognized as crucial when they were brand new. In other words, things that subsequently altered our perception of everything else.

Interestingly, my list doesn't include a lot of the stuff I treasure. The influence of my favorite indie rock and alt-country projects seems incremental rather than immediately revolutionary. And jazz, classical and so-called world music didn't make the cut only because the impact of each endeavor (save #19) is so limited.

1. The Ramones (1976, album)
The Ramones' debut caused me to trade in my Emerson Lake & Palmer and Kansas albums. I remember chanting "Beat On the Brat" as I bullied kids on my way home from school.

2. The Sex Pistols- "Anarchy In the U.K." (1976, 12")
I've never listened to the Sex Pistols for pleasure. Didn't like 'em then. Don't like 'em now. But shortly after I bought this pre-Never Mind the Bullocks imported 12" out of curiosity, I knew that I might never listen to my collection of Paul McCartney albums again.

3. Talking Heads- Fear of Music (1979, album)
The Talking Heads combined two of my favorite things- the Ohio Players and "new wave"- to make something new. Until 1979, that simple premise seemed to have been against the rules.

4. Laurie Anderson- "O Superman" (1981, song)
"You'd better get ready." How was this a hit? I'm still not sure, but this fluke and Gary Numan's "Cars" launched a new subset of popular music that I still don't particularly care for.

5. Prince- 1999 (1982, album)
"I Wanna Be Your Lover" was a staple of dances at my school. It wasn't until 1999, however, that Prince changed everything. In addition to breaking down racial barriers, he brought synth-rock into the mainstream.

6. Run-DMC- "It's Like That" (1983, song)
"It's Like That" was probably the first hip hop song that immediately resonated with me. The Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow stuff had sounded kind of corny. This didn't. LL Cool J's stunning Def Jam singles were still two years away.

7. Michael Jackson- "Billie Jean" (1983, video)
You know how countless experts rhapsodize about the impact of this song at MTV? It's all true. I grew up watching the Jackson 5's cartoon show on Saturday mornings, but this was something else entirely. And everybody knew it.

8. The Police- Synchronicity (1983, album)
It's almost impossible to comprehend today, but when Synchronicity was released in 1983, the Police were still considered a weird and vaguely threatening "new wave" band. Within a year, many of its songs were staples on radio and MTV. I hate to admit it, but Synchronicity collapsed the barrier between "classic" and "alternative" rock.

9. N.W.A.- Straight Outta Compton (1988, album)
Although I've since made my peace with it, I hated this album for years. I preferred the (self-)righteous Public Enemy. Everything about N.W.A.'s message disturbed me. Everything, that is, save Dr. Dre's production. While guys like Schooly D had been performing gangsta rap prior to 1988, it was Dre's contribution that brought it to the masses.

10. Beck- "Loser" (1993, song)
While attempting to ape hip hop. Beck came up with something entirely new. This odd hit made the endless recycling of music socially acceptable.

11. Britney Spears- "...Baby One More Time" (1998, video)
When I saw the teenage trollop's video on MTV, I instantly knew that we'd entered a new era of lasciviousness. God help us all.

12. Mystikal- "Bouncin' Back" (2001, song)
The Neptunes go to the Dirty South. Even after T.I. took over, the song remains mind blowing. (Pharrell, obviously, is not an Earthling.)

13. Missy Elliott- "Get Ur Freak On" (2001, song)
Wait... what just happened? High concept, museum-quality hip hop hits the mainstream.

14. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002, album)
How I hated this album the first three times I listened to it! Most of what's touted by NPR's All Things Considered and Paste magazine is at least tangentially related to this project.

15. Kanye West- The College Dropout (2004, album)
I still remember almost driving off the road immediately after purchasing this future icon's debut album.

16. Run the Road (2005, album)
The grime compilation introduced me to Dizzee Rascal, Lady Sovereign and the Streets. The influence of the icy approach to hip hop was soon heard in the music of the Gorillaz, Thom Yorke, Air and Bjork.

17. Lil Wayne- "A Milli" (2008, song)
He'd been around for years, but in 2008 Lil Wayne proved that swag and a beat were all that's necessary to create a monster hit.

18. M.I.A.- "Paper Planes" (2008, song)
You already know what it is. "Paper Planes" ushered in the long-awaited era of truly international pop music.

19. Esperanza Spalding (2009, performance)
And the heavens parted. That's how I felt when I witnessed Spalding's concert at the Folly Theater. I know my wishful thinking can and will be mocked, but Spalding is "The One." Mark my words...

20. Tyler the Creator- "Yonkers" (2011, video)
Smart, funny, anarchic and irredeemably nihilistic. The end is nigh.

My Middle of the Map festival band-of-the week is Tamaryn.

I'm falling way behind on new releases. The new Brad Mehldau is near the top of my list.

Kansas City Click: Ben Rector performs Thursday at the Record Bar.

Jamey Johnson opens for Kid Rock at Sprint Center on Friday.

Malevolent Creation is at the Riot Room on Saturday.

Ron Ron is among Rick Ross' support acts Sunday at the Sprint Center.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review: Rhys Chatham- Outdoor Spell

Video snippet of a recent Rhys Chatham performance.

There's a lot of electrified barbed wire here in Kansas. Its siren song is irresistible. Even though you know it's going to hurt, the wire simply must be touched.

I feel much the same way about Outdoor Spell, the forthcoming album by Rhys Chatham. It's often excruciating, yet I've been listening to bits of it every day for over two weeks.

As with many of my generation, Sonic Youth's early work served as my introduction to artistic noise. Pouring over pre-internet interviews with the rock band led me to Chatham. Years of willful appreciation of the sonic assaults, however, didn't prepare for Outdoor Spell.

After a relatively tranquil opening track, "Crossing the Sword Bridge" quickly becomes unbearable. It sounds like air squeakily escaping from a balloon, the insistent whine of a vacuum and the irate honking of a dozen taxi drivers. Chatham seems to be challenging listeners to to endure all eighteen minutes of the piece. (I can't make it without taking a couple breaks.) "Corn Maiden's Rite" is made only slightly more tolerable by arrhythmic drumming. Its chorus of trumpets sounds like a flock of dying geese. Long swathes of "The Magician" resemble a flatulence-induced car crash.

It's genius.

My friend S. tipped me off to Odd Future. I love these kids! And this is the single funniest thing I've seen in 2011. There's a riot going on.

The new video for Hidden Pictures' "Anne Apparently" is cute.

Mac Lethal is featured in another high profile battle. The action starts at 3:30.

I reviewed Todd Clouser's Sunday outing for Plastic Sax.

Kansas City Click: Smith Westerns is at the Record Bar on Tuesday.

Cage the Elephant return to the Beaumont on Wednesday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

George Shearing, 1919-2011

George Shearing- "My Funny Valentine" (video stream)

People who suggest that they were born in the wrong era baffle me. I'm just glad to be here. I freely acknowledge, however, that I experience music through a contemporary filter. Django Reinhardt's scratchy recordings from the 1930s strike me as up to date as Jay Electronica. Other artists, George Shearing among them, evoke a period that seems somewhat foreign to me. His romantic and formal sensibility, while immediately accessible, is rooted in an entirely different time and place. I can appreciate it- I can even love it- but I'm several steps removed from its origin. George Shearing died on Valentine's Day. He was 91.

My latest ECM infatuation: Mistico Mediterraneo by Paolo Fresu, Daniele di Bonaventura and A Filetta.

Max, the man behind Nuthatch-47, has a new song and video. (Via Wayward Blog.)

Who Is Arcade Fire? has made me laugh out loud every day this week.

The Life and Times is responsible for my tenth favorite album of 2009. The band is performing at the Middle of the Map festival in April.

While there's still no mention of the news at the Kansas City Symphony's site, a recording featuring the ensemble won Grammy Awards for "Surround Sound Album" and "Producer of the Year, Classical."

Hey, Kansas City music lovers- this is what a real record store looks like. Grimey's in Nashville is just killing it.

Kansas City Click: Motorhead will make everything louder than everything else Thursday at the Midland Theater.

Phonologotron performs at City Center Square on Friday.

Thomas Pridgen's band The Memorials will be at the Riot Room on Saturday.

I previewed Todd Clouser's Sunday appearance at the Record Bar for Plastic Sax.

Julian Lage plays the Blue Room on Monday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Blues at the Crossroads at the Uptown

"Bittersweet!" a woman in the row behind me repeatedly shrieked Saturday at the Uptown Theater.

It wasn't going to happen. The oblivious woman may have paid $55 to hear Big Head Todd and the Monsters play its signature song, but Todd Park Mohr, the leader of the Colorado-based band, made it clear from the outset that the evening would be dedicated to the blues. (Here's my review of 100 Years of Robert Johnson.)

A decidedly mixed bag, the quality of the concert can be reduced to a simple axiom. Less is more. Mohr's solo acoustic work was shockingly good. A critic in Ann Arbor savaged his effort on the previous night, but the bandleader was far more convincing than I'd expected. Lightnin' Malcom's duet segment with James Cotton was the evening's clear highlight. Malcolm offered the same sort of tasteful support for Hubert Sumlin.

Things weren't nearly as nice when all of Mohr's Monsters were on stage. The large ensemble's version of "Come On in My Kitchen," for instance, might easily have been mistaken for "Bittersweet" by that frustrated fan. She was probably also pleased to hear hits by Bryan Adams and Bonnie Raitt played over the PA at intermission. I suspect that she didn't notice the unexplained absence of David "Honeyboy" Edwards, either. I'd really been looking forward to seeing Edwards one last time. For entirely different reasons, she and I both came down with a bad case of the blues on Saturday.

Here's Joel Francis' proper review of the concert.

After I wrote this essay about the significance of Esperanza Spalding in 2009, I've taken to referring to her as "The One." As of today, she unofficially supplants Wynton Marsalis as the face of jazz.

Quit your hating. I loved the Grammy broadcast. My favorite performances, in order: B.o.B, Bruno Mars and Janelle Monae; Cee Lo Green; Arcade Fire; Eminem; and Mick Jagger's tribute to Solomon Burke.

Kansas City rapper Dinero Fazil has a nice video for "Mi Vida Escrita En Papeles". (Via Credential Hip Hop.)

Kansas City Click: I suspect Mark Lowrey will play "My Funny Valentine" more than once at Sullivan's on Monday.

Carrie Rodriguez, Erin McKeown and Mary Gauthier team up Tuesday at Knuckleheads.

The Record Bar hosts Sebadoh on Wednesday.

(Original image of Sumlin, Malcom and Mohr by There Stands the Glass.)

Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: 100 Years of Robert Johnson

Recent fan footage of a David "Honeyboy" Edwards performance.

If you scroll down the column to the right you'll see Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 10 Days Out: Blues From the Backroads on my top albums of 2007 list. I don't particularly care for the blues-rock guitarist. For that specific project, however, Shepherd featured veteran blues artists including Etta James and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown. I loved it.

100 Years of Robert Johnson, officially released on March 1, is a very similar project. Under the moniker of "Big Head Blues Club," the project is essentially Big Head Todd and the Monsters backing a number of blues greats on material associated with Robert Johnson.

A discerning blindfolded listener might sense that a rock band is behind the project, but BHTM's jam band instincts are tastefully sublimated throughout the wonderful album. Almost all of it sounds fresh. Only Ruthie Foster's contribution to "Kind Hearted Woman" fails to thrill me. Charlie Musselwhite has rarely sounded better than on the eerie version of "Last Fair Deal Gone Down." B.B. King seems vital on a funky rendition of "Crossroads Blues." David "Honeyboy" Edwards and Hubert Sumlin also shine.

I've never been a huge Big Head Todd and the Monsters fan, but I intend to buy a ticket to see them perform these songs with Edwards and Sumlin in my town tomorrow. And don't be surprised if you spot this album listed over in the column to the right eleven months from now.

In anticipation of the recently announced Middle of the Map festival, I'll highlight one of the festival's performers each week. The April event provides my first opportunity to see Daniel Johnston outside of Texas. Here's a touching rendition of "Devil Town."

I'm not oblivious to the inherent cheesiness of the broadcast or its ludicrously inept history, but I'll watch Sunday's Grammy Awards with the same rabid attention football fans accord to the Super Bowl.

Kansas City Click: Death Angel headline Friday's bill at the Riot Room.

Kid Congo's Saturday gig at Crosstown Station will probably begin after the Big Head Blues Club show at the Uptown Theater concludes.

Joyce DiDonato sings Sunday at the Folly Theater.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Marvin Sease, 1946-2011

If you had asked me to speculate about which of the veteran performers on the bill at the Midland Theater last February 20 would be the first to pass away, I wouldn't have named Marvin Sease. Bobby "Blue" Bland, God bless him, was distressingly frail. Then again, I thought Bland looked shaky when I first time saw him thirty years ago. He's tough. Shirley Brown and Floyd Taylor weren't exactly doing back flips twelve months ago either. As the evening's top-billed artist, Sease delivered his signature song with gusto. Depending on the context and my mood, lewd soul-blues material like "I Ate You For My Breakfast" can either delight or offend me. Sease died earlier this week.

Kansas City Click: The Lynch Mob will be rockin' like Dokken at Crosstown Station on Thursday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Gary Moore, 1952-2011

Video stream of Gary Moore's "Nothing's the Same"

I never cared for this version of Gary Moore. His stints with Thin Lizzy didn't do much for me either. His decidedly European guitar work on languid late-career blues-based material, however, never failed to move me. Moore died Sunday.

I can imagine a parallel universe in which The Decemberists are my favorite band. In a world without the likes of Chuck Berry, James Brown, John Coltrane, Dr. Dre, Iggy Pop or Richard Wagner, I might dedicate myself to polite chamber rock. The addition of Sara Watkins tremendously enhanced The Decemberist's performance last night at the Uptown Theater. Here's Tim Finn's review.

Finn composed an excellent portrait of Making Movies. The band's video for "Tormenta" was my top Kansas City video of 2010. The song is available as a free download at Bandcamp.

Kansas City Click: Matt Otto brings his new "folk jazz" band to Jardine's on Tuesday.

The New Vintage Big Band plays Wednesday at Knuckleheads.

Lynch Mob appears at Crosstown Station on Thursday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Review: The Go! Team- Rolling Blackouts

Video trailer for Rolling Blackouts

How is it that I fully embrace The Go! Team's shenanigans on its new album Rolling Blackouts but cringe every time I hear the phrase "up in the morning feeling like P. Diddy"?

Both The Go! Team and Ke$ha emphasize fun. The former's "Voice Yr Choice" references drinking Grey Goose while clubbing. Ke$ha claims that she brushes her teeth with whiskey on "TiK ToK." My hypocrisy has nothing to do with any sort of cool quotient. I quit playing that card years ago. The answer, obviously, is in the music.

The drill team audacity of "T.O.R.N.A.D.O." is in keeping with the rolling thunder go-go vibe often co-opted by a few of my favorite Midwestern hip hop acts. "Buy Nothing Day", featuring a cameo by Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino, is pop perfection. The DayGlo blissfulness of "Secretary Song" is right behind it. "Yosemite Theme," one of several instrumental interludes on Rolling Blackouts, is positively Mantovanian. "Lazy Poltergestist" sounds like Jon Brion and Brad Mehldau on the worst day of their lives.

Hey, The Go! Team: I don't know what I ever saw in Ke$ha, anyway. I'm "Ready To Go Steady".

I love the video trailers for Doomtree's albums. Here's the the pitch for the forthcoming Sims project. It comes with a box cutter!

I reviewed A Vibe Called Fresh at Plastic Sax. Here's video footage from the event.

I've been negligent in not linking to my unpopular review of a recent rock show headlined by Buckcherry.

Kansas City Click: Bobby Watson's Horizon performs Friday at the Gem Theater.

Junior Mance returns to the Blue Room on Saturday.

The People's Liberation Big Band plays at the Record Bar on Sunday.

Mountain Man open for the Decemberists at the Uptown on Monday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Review: Jake Mann + the Upper Hand- Parallel South

Jake Mann + the Upper Hand's "Days Are Long" video stream.

It's not a cool thing to confess, but I prefer Pavement's Terror Twilight to the band's earlier "classic" albums. That predilection allowed me instant affinity with Parallel South, the new album by Jake Mann + the Upper Hand. It's far more polite than the music I generally prefer, but the refined jangle and semi-ironic blue-eyed soul of Parallel South is highly recommended to music fans who like to debate the relative merits of Bon Iver and Iron & Wine.

Milton Babbitt has died.

I just discovered the trailer for a documentary about The Fleshtones. Love that stuff.

Bill Frisell and Vinicius Cantuaria together? Bliss!

John Barry has died.

Kansas City Click: Anthony B is at Crosstown Station on Tuesday.

The Sacred Have Fallen are one of several metal bands performing Wednesday at the Riot Room.

Ana Popovic returns to Knuckleheads on Thursday.

(Original image by There Stands the Glass.)