Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Life is a carnival

Just caught another interesting episode of Austin City Limits (one of many lately, after a longish dry run) featuring Gnarls Barkley and Thievery Corporation: a perfect double bill in many ways, not least of which was my suspicion that it would all be a lot more fun if I saw it in person. Not that the two sets weren't plenty of fun on the tube, mind you, but both of them were so clearly focused on the live experience: participatory, energetic, unexpected.

Watching GB in action, it dawned on me that they are the Was (Not Was) of the Aughts--wacky lyrics, juxtapositions that shouldn't work but mostly do, surprise mainstream smash hit, general sense that they're smart folks who think about what they're up to. Maybe in 20 years DangerMouse will end up doing commentaries on NPR, like David Was does now.

I'd seen Gnarls on TV before and knew what to expect, but TC was a revelation as a live act. I've enjoyed their recordings, both the mix compilations they curate and their own album projects, but their concert incarnation is a circus, complete with seven vocalists, a sitar player, a horn section, a dancer, and miscellaneous other folks filling the stage at various points. I learned from the end credits that that was Frank Orrall from Poi Dog Pondering on ukulele and percussion, and it was a treat to see and hear Seu Jorge join the ensemble for a cover of Jorge Ben (Jor)'s super-catchy "Umbabaraumba."

The most striking aspect of the TC spectacle was the fact that its two ostensible frontmen, DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton (the latter can look kinda cute when they're wearing formal attire, which they weren't doing this time, alas), were way back in the mix, both sonically and visually, occupying center stage only when they took their final bows. Fleshing out what began as a two-man operation with 14--count 'em, FOURTEEN--guest performers is a gutsy and, to my way of thinking, very smart move. Shy guys in electronic music is all but a given; I watched the two men who make up Autechre hide behind laptops several years back, and DangerMouse spoke in his post-concert ACL interview about not particularly relishing the live aspect of his job (no problem in his case, since Cee-Lo is such a forceful figure onstage). The Thievery solution not only allows them to share the stage with folks who are much more at home on one, it also gives a human form to the political themes in their lyrics and the dazzling range of genres (bossa, lounge, dance, hiphop, Indian pop, and so much more).

Here is but a tease. Judicious searching on YouTube will surely yield you longer examples of both acts in concert.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's a beautiful morning

Two more songs that ran through my head on Inauguration Day. You may think they couldn't be farther apart from each other, but America's first biracial prez (after the one foreseen here, that is) is all about the union of opposites, is he not?

1. Shortly after I evoked another George Clinton masterwork, I came across an Inaug Day post on Arthur's blog that reminded me of an incredibly obvious praise song for the day:

2. And, from the other side of the universe, this anthem from the-end-which-is-really-the-beginning of Stephen Sondheim's score for the beloved flop (which I've only heard recently and totally love) Merrily We Roll Along.

True, I'm taking it out of its original context, but I won't tell if you won't. And I truly couldn't get it out of my head when I thought about the colossal changes our culture is undergoing at the moment, and the way the Obama family has connected with a new generation. In the musical, whose plot unfolds backward from the early 1980s to the mid-50s, this hopeful song is undercut by the fact that we already know what will come of all this youthful optimism. In real life, we have no need yet to be so cynical, which is pretty damn exciting.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tear the roof off the sucker

Couldn't help but think of this classic as the First Lady of Soul took the dais today:

Once a psychedelic dream, now a reality.

Here's to a brighter future, CC.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Up, up, and away

In the car on this MLK Day I caught fragments of the morning news and the talk show that follows it. Somewhere in there, snippets of two songs caught my ear.

1. Bruce Springsteen, during Sunday's inauguration kickoff concert in DC, doing a powerful acoustic version of "The Rising" supported by a full gospel choir. Here it is, at least until HBO inevitably yanks the clip:

2. A studio recording of a song Mahalia Jackson performed during the 1963 March on Washington. (I can't remember which one, but it was gorgeous.) This was almost certainly not the song, but it works so beautifully with the title, theme, and tone of Bruce's--to say nothing of the zeitgeist at this particular moment--that I can't resist sharing it:

#2 inspired me to pull out my copy of ...

... this compilation of Jackson's recordings for Columbia as a way of honoring the present confluence of anniversaries, inaugurations, and such.

I'm actually not the biggest fan of either the Boss or the Queen of Gospel, but of course I recognize their places in popular culture and music history, and each has created many moments that speak directly to me. Today I heard two more, and the day--24 short hours before we officially welcome a president who can actually form complete, coherent, and even thought-provoking sentences!--was all the more inspiring as a result.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Song for the New Depression

This song has been on my mind a lot lately:

For the record, I have a huge backlog of subjects to write about here, but just moments ago I learned about GrooveShark and I'm learning how to use it. If it's as easy as it appears to be, I may at last be able to incorporate music on this blog. New depression? Not here!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Two tickets to Paradise

I was sad to read here that the delightful free music/culture tabloid Arthur is ceasing print publication unless and until a publishing partner materializes. (And just a few moments later, I learned about a gardening magazine also biting the dust.)

On the bright side, Arthur still has an online presence, including a fine blog, where at the moment you can pay tribute to the late Ron Asheton with some bootlegs and hear/read Brian Eno's thoughts on Gaza. And this might just be the time for me to shell out for this 2004 Devendra Banhart-curated compilation CD

featuring folks like Joanna Newsom, Vashti Bunyan, Six Organs of Admittance, Antony, and Iron and Wine. Even more enticing is the DVD of archival footage of the Living Theater's Paradise Now and other landmarks of experimental/political theater circa 1968-69. I've read about these plays since I was a teenager, and it's wild to finally find out what they looked and sounded like. Judging from this promo trailer, they were very, very shrill:

Not the kind of thing I'm going to want to watch on a regular basis, but as an artifact of a crucial yet bygone era, there's no way I'm going to pass it up. Meanwhile, here's hoping Arthur returns to print ASAP.

PS. In brighter news from the publishing world, according to Boing Boing you can now find every incarnation of the Whole Earth Catalog/Review online. Like the Living Theater, this was a staple of my adolescence, even though I was about 10 years too late to the party. Check it out, right here!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Breakdown (go ahead, give it to me)

OK, OK, so it's been a while since my last confession. Forgive me, Father. I never intended to abandon this blog, for I certainly haven't abandoned my obsession with music. Perish the thought! I"ve just been otherwise engaged--and I never move that fast even in the best of circumstances.

Call it a New Year's resolution if you must, but I'm vowing to devote at least a few minutes every day (starting, uh, yesterday) to working on one of the many blogs I have a hand in. By my count, there are eight or nine that are going concerns, including this one. I'm way overdue on announcing this year's--oops, i mean last year's--Ehmke(e) Award winners, updating that new "Shuffle Off" feature I'd started a while back, and sharing lots of thoughts on lots of music. And it's all coming, folks. It's all coming. But not right now, for I've spent much of the evening prepping this entry on a sort-of-brand-new, sort-of-long-gestating blog instead. All things in time.

PS. Oh, yeah--about that photo up there. Little snafu involving some cleanser from DeltaSonic making its way into the radio/CD player and remaining there for weeks. (They were very good about paying for the repair, btw.) You'll be happy to learn that the situation has long since been rectified. My original plan was to use the image to re-introduce the "Shuffle Off" series, but then weeks/months went by, as they always do. Now it seems like an equally apt metaphor for the hole in all our lives left by my not posting anything here in nine long months.

Stay tuned. While you wait for a new entry, enjoy that new playlist feature over on the right. I just set that up tonight, after reading about it here. Nice addition, because I haven't yet figured out how to add audio clips to my posts like everybody else without getting hauled off to jail with that guy who leaked Chinese Democracy.