Archive for December, 2013

2013 Year in Review – Concerts

December 23, 2013

The Melvins, King Buzzo

Like most of the civilized world, I will use the time at the end of the year to reflect on what the year has brought me. I will not be writing a “best of 2013” post, but I will be writing about concerts I saw, people I met, and albums I bought. If you really want a “best albums of 2013” list, my friend over at 6 Days from Tomorrow puts out a pretty definitive list every year. You should definitely check it out.

2013, for me, was a year of concerts, albums, and meeting a few cool people. I will start off with concerts. I went to mostly “grunge” (or as grunge as they can be nowadays), a few other shows, and a few shows with friends to see bands I had never heard of.

Here are the shows I saw:

Chelsea Light Moving (Thurston Moore’s band)
Father John Misty
Tomahawk
Endino’s Earthworms*
Brothers of the Sonic Cloth (TAD)*
Mudhoney*
The Melvins
Mudhoney
Blizten Trapper
My Jerusalem
Mark Lanegan
Cold War Kids
Melt Banana
*I saw all three bands at the Sub Pop Silver Jubilee

I had a tremendous time at all of these shows. Let’s start at the beginning. Chelsea Light Moving was an early “must go”. I don’t quite remember how I heard about this show, but I saw that Thurston Moore was playing, so I knew I had to get there. I almost didn’t go. I’m glad I did. It was an awesome time. I had not heard of Father John Misty, but I had heard of, and was a fan of, the Fleet Foxes. A friend of mine told me about him, so I was pretty excited to see him. I was not disappointed. The next one was a big one – Tomahawk! Being a fan of the early 90s I liked Faith No More and The Jesus Lizard, so I was more than excited to see Tomoahawk which features Mike Patton and Duane Denison. I couldn’t have been more impressed. They almost made me want to start moshing – almost.

After the Tomahawk show, I was counting down the days util the Sub Pop 25th Anniversary Jubilee. If you want to read about my experience, you can do so here. I kept in high gear after the Sub Pop festival with The Melvins. That was an incredible show. They played for an hour and a half with no breaks and no encores. They sold no merchandise after the show and everyone left happy. Only King Buzzo and the gang could pull that off.

September 22-28 was a big week for me. I saw three concerts that week. All three were very different, but all awesome. The week started off with Mudhoney. They played in a cracker box of a venue and it was AWESOME! They rocked just as hard in 2013 as they did in 1988. Truly remarkable. The week ended with back-to-back concerts at a slightly bigger venue (but still pretty small). The first one was Blitzen Trapper, an alt-rock; alt-blues; alt-country; alt-etc band. They ended up playing for nearly two hours and then played a short encore. The next night, it was something completely different. For the first time ever, I went to see the opening band. The band was My Jerusalem, and they were opening for Electric Six. I couldn’t care less about Electric Six, but I had been waiting to see My Jerusalem for years, so I went. I convinced a friend to go with me and they played about 10 songs, killed it, then walked off. We left before Electric Six started.

On Columbus Day there was a concert I was really looking forward to. My favorite living artist is Mark Lanegan, and he was touring for his “Imitations” album. I bought tickets they day they went on sale. The show was at a really cool venue (a Jewish Synagogue) it was better than I could have hoped for. The setlist really did a good job spanning his near 30 year career. The last two concerts (Cold War Kids and Melt Banana) are concerts I went to because friends incvited me to go. I was familiar with Cold War Kids, so I knew a few of their songs and I had a great time. I hd never heard of Melt Banana so I had no idea what to expect. I left there in awe of what I had just seen. It was way more awesome than I could have hoped to imagine.

2013 was a great year overall, as well as for concerts. I hope that 2014 will be jut as good. Hopefully, it will feature some new acts that I have yet to discover. Good music is all around us if we know what to look for.

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The Atlantic Gets It Mostly Right On Nirvana Unplugged

December 16, 2013


Earlier this week, The Atlantic published an article commemorating the 20th anniversary of the airing of their MTV Unplugged in New York (Unplugged) album. It provides a great overview of the concert, some of which is transferred to the album, and some of which is only visible on the live show. However, I believe the author gets it wrong, as most do, when it comes to the subject of Kurt’s solo performance of “Pennyroyal Tea” (video above).

If you listen to the banter before the song, you could surmise that the solo rendition of the song was a spur of the moment decision made by Kurt, and the band was in such a bad place by then, that they had no choice but to listen for fear of a public melt-down. That is not the case, at all, though. Certainly, Nirvana was in a bad place. Dave had already been looking into a new band (what would become Foo Fighters) and Kurt had talked in interviews about a life after Nirvana. The album containing “You Know You’re Right”, assuming it would have been completed, could have easily been their last. However, this tiny exchange was not a micro-cosm of the bigger problems.

Nirvana had planned to play “Pennyroyal Tea” as a Kurt solo. They rehearsed it solo. The author of the Atlantic article jumps to several wrong conclusions.

Watching the video of the performance only heightens the effect. At the end of the first song Kurt looks at the camera and gives a gnarly forced smile. He later told the producers to make sure it was edited in because, “My manager tells me I need to smile more.” It’s a rare glimpse of humor from an agitated and prickly soul. Even Kurt’s closest allies seem wary of him. Dave Grohl sits quietly throughout, with only a stripped-down kit and a pair of brushes to protect him from Kurt, who repeatedly spins around on his chair and glares at the drummer over hunched shoulders. At one point Kurt passively tells Grohl to not play on “Penny Royal Tea,” [sic] saying, “Am I going to play this, alone?” Dave immediately understands that it’s not a question but a command and lays down his brushes on his snare: “Do it alone.” Grohl then nervously turns to guitarist Pat Smear, asking, “Do you have a smoke, Pat?”

Kurt goes on to play the very personal song alone with his eyes closed. As it ends Grohl shouts out “That was really great!” Kurt responds, “Shut up.” It’s a sore moment revealing a singer uncomfortable in his own skin, through addiction and depression, and a friend who seems to only want him to pull through.

The “nervous” conversation between Grohl and Kurt was more of a “should I really do this by myself?” with Dave answering “sure, why not”. The only question was if Pat would also help singing backup vocals.. As you can see from the setlist, it was always going to be jsut Kurt and Pat. The insecurity of Kurt show throughout the show. Right before he played “Pennyroyal Tea”, he starts of “The Man Who Sold the World” by saying that he “could screw it up” and after the song was over, with almost a surprised relief, he states “I didn’t screw it up, did I? OK, but here’s another one I could screw up…”

He then launched into “Pennyroyal Tea”. The song was rife with errors. He screwed up the second verse and subsequently, the second chorus. He also screwed up the chorus in the third verse. He did not screw up the guitar solo by not doing it. It was planned that he would not do it. Perhaps, it was a sign of his insecurity, perhaps he just didn’t feel like playing it. We’ll never know. He knew he screwed the song up, and Dave knew it as well. It seems that Dave was trying to ease the tension and anger Kurt felt after that performance.Kurt also did not, as the article states, play the song with his eyes closed. He played it the same way he played every other song during the performance.

Going into the Unplugged concert, Kurt was really nervous and anxious. There were at least two reason for this. This would be a stripped down set where everything would be exposed, and Kurt was keenly aware of his limitations on guitar; which is why Pat Smear was added to the lineup. The anxiety was also because of the setlist they chose. Nirvana had seen other bands play this concert and they were disappointed that they would play their hits. No one in Nirvana thought it was the proper venue to do that. There was a lot of pressure on Nirvana by this point. They decided to do the “Unplugged” concert because “In Utero” had not reached the commercial success of “Nevermind” and they weren’t selling out arenas anymore. “Unplugged” was a last ditch effort to breathe some new life into the band. All of this played into Kurt’s attitude and demeanor during the show.

All in all, The Atlantic piece is a great tribute to a great show, it just gets a few things wrong, reads into situations incorrectly. The “Pennyroyal Tea” myth has been persistent since people first saw it. The reality, however, is not as sex as the myth which is why it has persisted. To hear what the song should have sounded like at the show, listen to the demo version that was released on the box set. Because Kurt ended his life so shortly after the show aired for the first time and before the album was ever released, it has become the final portrait of a tortured soul. It has stood on it’s own merits for 20 years, and it will last the test of time.

Mudhoney – Still Going Strong

December 11, 2013

Mudhoney

Once on the verge of super-stardom, Mudhoney now sticks to mostly small clubs, but every once in a while (like right now) they get back to the top and do an arena tour opening for Pearl Jam. Not too shabby for a band who started in 1988 and practically started grunge and was (and continues to be) the poster boy Sub Pop. While never making the highest of heights like their contemporaries did, they still have left an indelible mark on music, and continue to put out great music.

I had the tremendous opportunity to go see them in concert in he fall in a tiny little cracker box known as U Street Music Hall. It was amazing to see a band like Mudhoney  at a venue as small as that, especially since they were about a month away from an arena tour with Pearl Jam. I wasn’t about to complain, though. The venue was so small that it could have taken place in 1988, or 89 when the band, and Grunge Rock as a whole, was just finding it’s legs.

Some will tell you that Grunge began with Mark Arm’s previous band Green River and the other bands of that era. That’s the best starting point this blogger has come across, but it really didn’t break out of Seattle until Mudhoney’s 1988 single “Touch Me I’m Sick“. Even though the song is 25 years old, when they played it in 2013, the place went just as nuts as they would have in 1988. It was an incredible thing to witness.

They have not slowed down at all. After trying their luck at a major label with limited success, they found themselves back at their roots – Sub Pop. They have released and re-released several albums in the latter part of last decade, and show no signs of slowing. They’re newest album, “Vanishing Point” hits just as hard as their earlier albums. They have not lost their edge and are great to see live. Giving up on Mudhoney would be a huge mistake.

One last thing. It would be a huge mistake if I didn’t mention that I had the tremendous opportunity to meet their legendary drummer Dan Peters after the show in the fall. It was an amazing experience to met one of my musical heroes. He was extraordinarily nice.

Album Review: Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EP

December 9, 2013

Soundgarden Screaming Life

Sub Pop Records did everyone a favor and, at long last, re-released Soundgarden‘s debut EPs “Screaming Life” and “Fopp“. It wasn’t the first time they were recorded (they had singles on a few compilation albums before this), but it was the first time it was just them. These two EPs set the stage for one of the most popular bands of all-time.

If you are only familiar with Soundgarden from “Superunknown“, then these two EPs will be a much different sound than you are used to. They are must more straight-forward rock where “Superunknown” is a more brooding album. “Screaming Life” was produced by the “Godfather of Grunge” Jack Endino and “Fopp” was produced by another grunge veteran, Steve Fisk.

Screaming Life is very hard-hitting. It is as ‘in your face’ as the album cover suggests. One of the more fun tracks is “Sub Pop Rock City”. It was originally not on the EP and was only on the seminal Sup Pop 200 album, but they included it for the re-issue. The song features cameos from Bruce Pavitt and Jonathan Poneman. The EP also has the first Soundgarden song ever recorded, Hunted Down.

Fopp provides a slightly different, more experimental sound. It shows signs of what would become “Ultramega OK” and the perennially underrated “Batmotorfinger”. It is a much shorter EP than “Screaming Life”, but it’s just as good. It really only has three songs as one of the songs is a “Fopp” remix. The title track provides a lot of fun and the remix is a great listen, as well.

These EP provide an early glimpse in to the early days of Sub Pop and the formation of what would be come to be known as “Grunge Rock.” Soundgarden played as big of a role, if not much bigger, as any other band and now we have a chance to listen to some of their earliest work and find out what helped shape their sound. It should’t be passed up.


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