Monday, September 28, 2009

Bands Paying Homage: The Gaslight Anthem to The Clash

I am inspired when I hear a song or watch an interview in which an artist pays homage to bands and songwriters that have influenced their life and career. It is a reminder that, no matter what success and fame comes a band’s way, they are still able to hear a favorite old song and be humbled by the power that song first had over them.

How many of us recall introduction to a sound that rocked our world unlike anything we had ever heard before? For me, it was Led Zeppelin, and I was 14 years old. For many of my peers at the time, that sound was Nirvana. It’s heartening to know that even Jimmy Page and Kurt Cobain experienced the same rush of falling in love with music. Page was inspired at an early age by the blues music of the American South, and Cobain famously made lists of the music that inspired him, ranging from The Stooges to Leadbelly. Although as individuals we are emotionally affected by different sounds and genres, the power of that emotion is a common ground that connects us; we are all fans.

One of the least veiled tributes is the song “I’da Called You Woody, Joe” by the Gaslight Anthem. It is a punk song that, surprisingly, tugs the heartstrings because it is such a sincere tribute Joe Strummer of the Clash. It also describes a feeling I personally recall so vividly – the complete and utter awe of hearing something profound for the first time. This is Brian Fallon singing about the Clash's influence on his virgin ears:

And then I heard it like a shot through my skull to my brain,
I felt my fingertips tingle, and it started to rain,
When the walls of my bedroom were tremblin' around me,
This ramshackle voice over attack of a bluesbeat,
Tellin' me, he's only looking for fun.
And this was the sound, of the very last gang in town.

As heard by my wild young heart,
Like directions on a cold, dark night,
Sayin', "Let it out, let it out, let it out, you're doing all right."
And I heard it in his chain gang soul.
It wasn't just the same sad song.
Sayin', "Let it out, let it out, let it out, you're doing all right."

Fallon goes on to sing about the comfort the songs bring him as a constant in life through good times and bad. You wouldn’t typically associate the Clash with “comfort” and that’s what’s cool - one man’s chaos can be another man’s comfort! That is what makes the listener experience so personal; songs evoke different feelings in all of us, and that is the reason fans forge deep connections with songwriters. In naming the song “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” I believe Fallon is expressing the kinship he felt with Joe Strummer, even if he had never met him. If he had met Joe, he would refer to him as a friend would - by his nickname, “Woody.”

Below is the music video for “I’da Called You Woody, Joe,” where you can hear the song in its entirety. I will explore the topic of “Bands Paying Homage” on future posts. There are several examples of songs that reveal band fandom, so feel free to comment or email me your favorites!


Friday, September 25, 2009

The (Joy) Division Between Dark and Light

Writing about Joy Division is tricky because they are the most analyzed and revered band of the post-punk movement. However, most articles you read about Joy Division lead the unfamiliar listener to believe that their music is too depressing for an emotionally well-adjusted person to enjoy. Yes, if you focus only on Ian Curtis’ lyrics and vocal, there is quite a bit of weight there (obviously). The brilliance of Joy Division though, is that the weight of the lyrics and vocal are often juxtaposed with upbeat rhythm and melodies.

The Ian Curtis and Jim Morrison comparison is an easy one because of their similar baritone voices and stripped-down lyrical style. But Joy Division certainly shares other similarities with the Doors. The trademark high bass lines of Peter Hook serve to uplift Joy Division songs and shine light on them in the same way Ray Manczarek’s keyboard playing does for the Doors. Hook and Sumner’s playing add levity to the moodiness of Curtis’ singing. Despite their very different sounds, both Joy Division and the Doors have a rare hypnotic quality and frequently cross over from dark to light, or project both simultaneously.

I recently read a quote by Editors frontman, Tom Smith, expressing his frustration for how his band is constantly characterized as “dark.” What he said resonated with me:

“...dark is interesting, dark is exciting, dark can be funny, there’s real life in the dark, real life IS dark. When an album feels like this, the fragments of hope and love that do occasionally shine through shine through ten times brighter than they would normally do so."

YES!!! So true.

It’s hard to come by a clear definition of what “post-punk” and “post-punk revival” mean exactly, but I believe the answer lies somewhere in the interaction between light and dark, joy and pain, and the existence of both within the same song. When I listen to Joy Division, I hear all of the complexity and emotion that is part of the basic human experience. I believe that emotional complexity is a key component to what has made them such a sustainable, meaningful influence on musicians and fans over the past three decades.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bring Back Midnight Show!

It is impossible to single out a favorite concert clip of the Killers (but I’m going to try to anyway). They are so phenomenal live and they don’t take their audience for granted. They play like they are giving it their all every time they go on stage, and you can’t say that for all bands. I have only seen them in smaller venues but it seems that they shine the brightest on the big festival stages.

Lately, the band is dusting off some old favorites from Hot Fuss – Believe Me Natalie and Change Your Mind. Although I won’t be attending another show on this current tour, I am still lobbying for the return of MIDNIGHT SHOW!!! This is one of my all-time favorite Killers songs and it gets no love! It is fast, dark, and you are hard pressed to find a more poetic description of death by strangulation than in the lines of that song. Lyrically, it’s just brilliant.

I am posting this clip of the Killers playing Midnight Show at Glastonbury 2005. It is faster than the studio version and it highlights how energetic and polished their playing was, even before they had a few years of touring under their belt. Mark and Ronnie are especially blowing my mind here. If you have not seen it in a while, it is worth another watch, and if you’ve NEVER seen it . . . Enjoy!


Monday, September 21, 2009

The West Beach Music Festival

As a huge fan of the rock music embraced by UK music fans, it’s fair to say that I am green with envy as I witness, via the internet, the coming and going of the festival season on the other side of the Atlantic. I live vicariously through the numerous UK fans that are lucky enough to have the summer season chalked full of massive festivals that take place within reasonable pilgrimage distance. That’s not to say that we don’t have great of music festivals in the States, it’s just that unless you make it to Coachella or Lollapalooza, you aren’t going to see big international acts play the same stage.

Yesterday, however, I got over my UK-envy and reconnected with my California roots at the West Beach Music Festival in Santa Barbara. California music festivals have a sound and a culture all their own: a sun-soaked mix of cultural diversity, wafting smells from taco stands mixed with burning weed, chicks in bikinis, and the blend of surf-rock, skater-rock, reggae, punk, ska, hip-hop, dance and Latin sounds. West Beach, in its third year and 14,000 fans strong, takes place on the strip of sandy beach between the wharf and the harbor.

This is not a concert review. I did not see the headlining acts, including Ben Harper and G-Love, who I have seen play live before. But thanks to a well-connected friend, I was able to attend the sold out Sunday show featuring Santa Barbara’s own Rebelution, and SoCal favorite, Pepper. I enjoyed Rebelution, think they have a good reggae-rock sound and are very listenable. My attention span faded a bit during Pepper’s set; they sounded like Sublime to me, down to the vocal styling, but with less provocative lyrics. But hey, Brad Nowell died 13 years ago and every new decade of California college students needs their own Sublime-like sound. It’s the perfect backdrop to that beachside kegger.

As California reggae-rock grooved on in the background, I walked around, ate some food, drank some beer, looked at the art, and soaked up some sun. It wasn’t Glasto, but it felt good to embrace my own Left Coast festival culture. It was a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon - the festival-goers were happy, mellow, and everyone seemed to be feelin’ irie.


P.S. Chatting up a Spicoli look-alike is pretty much as one-sided a conversation as you might imagine.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Mad Minds of Muse

Ahhh, it is good to be a Muse fan. Every few years we are treated to a jaw-dropping display of ear candy that rushes the bloodstream like a double shot of Jack. As a bonus, we also are reintroduced to that familiar brand of vocabulary that inevitably follows every Muse release – “bombastic,” “epic,” “shamelessly ambitious,” “conspiratorial,” and the new one now popping up, “laughable.” And so with this week’s release of The Resistance, we have another round of critical analysis.

Muse has always proven to be an easy target for criticism because of the grand scale of their sound. The reviews have overall, been pretty positive. Strangely, I think the fans have reason to be proud of the negative reviews; the silver lining - in even the most critical reviews - reveals that, whatever critics think of the new album, they generally feel that:

  • Muse’s talent is indisputable, and there are few bands in the world that can match their skill and creativity;
  • The band pushes boundaries and they continue to evolve with each new album;
  • Their use of genre overlap challenges conventional notions of modern rock and roll;
  • Muse is a one-of-a-kind original in a time where homegrown originality is hard to come by.

I adore Muse, but their albums are not ones I typically love cover to cover, and this one is no exception. If Muse has multiple personalities, I personally prefer the up-tempo, bass-heavy (Uprising) and the spacious, more breathable (Undisclosed Desires) personalities to the operatic personality (EURASIA! – SIA! –SIA! –SIA!). I have a bit of an aversion to Queen, but I have to respect that Muse totally out-Queens Queen on this album. The magnitude of the sound that these three guys produce is phenomenal. I think NME had the best quote about The Resistance when they wrote “when they go unapologetically batshit insane they’re untouchable.” I couldn’t agree more.

Without a doubt, Muse is one of the most compelling bands of our time.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

The AZ Axioms

As my first post, I thought I would take the opportunity to reveal some AZ philosophy, just to give you an idea of who I am as a listener, a writer, and a fan. So here goes . . .

  • If singers don’t write and perform their own songs, I’m just not interested. I can’t get behind American Idol. If that makes me a music snob, so be it.
  • I love language. Lyricists are my poets and I am old school when it comes to writing. You’ll find slang and swearing here - but sorry, no text language. NO JGMNT 2 TXTERS ;-)
  • I refer to my favorites by first name. Van (Morrison), Stevie (Nicks), Tom (Petty), and the Bobs (Dylan and Marley) have inspired and comforted me since I was very young and I guess I feel a kinship toward them.
  • When I really connect with the work of a songwriter or band, there are never “good” albums or “bad” albums, only ones for different moods. Naturally, I still do have favorites.
  • I believe in lyrical obscurity. I don’t know what Stevie meant when she sang about “a charmed hour and a haunted song” and I don’t care. It conveys an image, a mood . . . and it just sounds cool.
  • I am a sucker for a kick-ass bass line and I believe that bass players as a group, excluding Paul McCartney, are criminally underrated.
  • I believe the songs that completely turn you off upon first listen, serve the function of stretching your brain and expanding your musical palette. We often don’t like what is new and unfamiliar; a second listen is usually required.
  • I believe there is too much negativity surrounding music forums. People don’t seem to realize that year after year - album after album - artists have the courage to bare their soul to the listening masses. If you don’t like something, move along. No need for the vitriolic rant about how “the new album is shit” and “they haven’t been good since 2004. ”
I write about the music I like and don’t waste time on the music I don’t . . . And with that, Audio Zealot is born. I hope you read my posts and email me your thoughts and new music suggestions.

Be well and listen with an open heart. -AZ