All posts by Derek Phillips

BEASTIE BOYS, OTHER MUSICIANS AND ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS OPPOSE BUSH’S ENERGY PLAN

MUSIC COMMUNITY MOBILIZES, THOUSANDS OF FANS TAKE ACTION

George W. Bush is a fucking dumbass

Numerous well-known artists have joined Mike Diamond (aka Mike D. of Beastie Boys) in an action with the Save Our Environment Coalition to oppose President George W. Bush’s energy plan. Some of the artists include: Alanis Morissette, Mike Diamond of the Beastie Boys, Jackson Browne, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Matthews Band, Moby, Trey Anastasio of Phish, James Taylor and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

Dubbed the New Power Project, the innovative effort uses the artists’ popular web sites, fan email lists, and concert tours to rally hundreds of thousands of fans and other supporters to sign petitions and to fax their members of Congress and the Bush administration, expressing outrage over the plan’s disregard for environmental protection and failure to support conservation and renewable energy programs.

“President Bush’s energy plan recommends drilling for oil in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, increasing reliance on nuclear power, cutting research spending on alternative energy, and basically causing irreversible damage to the planet, heading us back to a time when humanoids dragged their knuckles on the ground,” says Diamond.

The music community has allied with the Save Our Environment Coalition—a collaborative effort of over a dozen of the nation’s most influential environmental advocacy organizations. Mike D, Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morissette and others are writing letters to their fans asking them to oppose the Bush plan, and have posted the letters on their web sites and in emails to their fans.

As a result, thousands of fans are visiting the saveourenvironment.org/ live action center where they can make their voices heard by sending a fax to their Members of Congress and Administration officials; over 40,000 faxes have been sent opposing the Energy plan so far. Congress has recently dealt several blows to the plan, with the House voting to oppose the plan’s provision in National Monuments, but Republicans rammed the drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve through committee, and a final showdown is expected on the floor. The Save Our Environment Coalition is also coordinating volunteers to gather opposition to the plan at the artists’ concerts.

Gene Karpinkski, Director of the U.S. PIRGs and a Coalition member says, “These artists are helping people understand that President Bush’s energy plan is dirty, dangerous, and doesn’t deliver for consumers. It’s a recipe for more drilling, spilling, asthma attacks, nuclear waste, and global warming.”

According to the Sierra Club’s Carl Pope, “Mike D and the artists and fans can make a real difference stopping the flawed Bush energy plan and building support for a solution to our energy needs that is cleaner, faster, cheaper and safer.”

The New Power Project artists will further its efforts by engaging environmental activists at their concerts nationwide. Recent shows by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in Atlanta, James Taylor on Long Island and Trey Anastasio in San Francisco have featured a petition-signing and information component. Alanis Morissette will play an important show for this campaign on July 31st in Anchorage, Alaska, just a short plane ride away from the endangered Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

In talking to her fans about her involvement in this effort, Ms. Morissette points to a lack of openness on Bush’s part to explore alternative sources of energy: “The sunlight the earth receives in 30 minutes is equivalent to all the power used by humankind in one year. George Bush has chosen to ignore this by cutting renewable energy research by 37% and energy efficient research by 30%.” According to a recent Department of Energy report, 60% of future electricity demand could be met by increasing efficiency and production of clean renewable energy.

Meanwhile, Diamond suggests harnessing power of a political kind. “This is our world. If each person goes to the saveourenvironment.org/ live web site right now and sends a message, we can stop this.”

Members of the Save Our Environment Coalition are:

American Oceans Campaign, American Rivers, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, Environmental Defense, Greenpeace, League of Conservation Voters, National Audubon Society, National Environmental Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Ocean Conservancy, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, The State PIRGs, Union of Concerned Scientists, The Wilderness Society, World Wildlife Fund.

What about me? It isn’t fair, I’ve had enough now I want my share: Open mic night

Open mic nights are a pisser. The talent ranges from three-chord Lisa Loebs to MFAs trying to impress their hippy girlfriends with Phish covers. It’s a funny scene and most bars that host open mics foster a certain group of regulars. Tonight I hit the open mic night at Quenchers on Western and Fullerton here in Chicago. It was standard fare.

A friend of mine called and left a message that he’d be down at the open mic at Quenchers and that I should meet him there. Well, I had some other business to attend to so I wasn’t sure if I’d make it. After some wrangling with the guy at the video store over my WAY overdue late fees for Bring it On and Citizen Cane, I made my way to Quenchers.

At first, things were slow. The hosts of the night were still trying to get the P.A. to work and weren’t having much luck. Rule #1 of open mic night is a crap P.A. Bar owners feel that if you’re willing to play for free, unannounced and without a bar tab, then you probably don’t deserve a P.A. Tonight at Quenchers was no different, but with enough spilled beer and cursing they got the damned thing in order and opened the night up.

The hosts of tonight’s free-for-all didn’t do it for nothing. They were a two-piece acoustic group with a CD to hawk, and man did they. They opened the night with a short set and then promised to return for a midnight reprise. It was a girl singer who mentioned Lucinda Williams as an influence but wrote and sang more like any other college girl with an eighth grade break up on her mind.

Just the same, they were better than act two. The second group to perform was a “blues” group (this is Chicago, after all) fronted by a late twenty-ish guy decked out from head to toe in pristine Nike gear. Our boy Damien did his damnedest to bring us down to the delta but only managed to bring us to Bone Daddy’s Rib Joint on Armitage. The first song of his set was some rambling number in a standard blues progression that had something to do with leaving his girl alone. The only vibe I got from this cat was a sense that his shoes were too white, his golf shirt too pressed and that he was probably singing something along the lines of the Mutual Funds Blues— a tune my unemployed ass can’t even hum!

Act two fared worse. Candy took the stage with her ornately decorated guitar. It was a hodge podge of catalog pictures and Precious Moments scenes all laminated on the soundboard of her $35 guitar. To make matters worse, her songs gave me the distinct feeling that she was a charter member of the First Wives Club. Egad, would this torture never end?

Yes it would. As soon as we came back to our hosts.

They came back on stage for an early staging of their midnight set to calm the brewing frustration in the bar. The original numbers were well rehearsed, tightly written and easy on the ears. But their triumph did not come without a price. In the middle of the second song of the set someone from the audience decided to join in, This isn’t necessarily unusual and is often encouraged at open mic nights, but this character took over the set. A regular, who plays the conga, set up right next to the stage and proceeded to pound away at his native beats while our heroine poured her heart out. Now, not only was the interloper too loud, but his African ballyhoo was entirely out of place in the middle of Plain Jane’s honky laments. Evil eyes were cast upon Conga Jim, but to no avail. He played on and nodded appreciatively between songs. Nobody knew what to do, so they played with their uninvited guest. The essence of the songs was lost and we all kind of clapped dully when the set was finally over.

As another brokenhearted stockbroker strapped on his Ovation guitar for a round of health club sorrow, I ordered another $1.75 Pabst and scratched my name on the board. Who am I but another out of work dotcomer with three chords and a story to tell?

I-Rock, you rock, we all rock in Detroit Rock City

i-rock

I-Rock, you rock, we all rock in Detroit Rock City
Semi-Fiction
(Intro to a feature from GLONO contributor, Phil Wise)

Being in a local band is cruel business. Local music scenes are full of assholes and egos—and that’s not counting the musicians. There are loads of ruthless club owners and booking agents who will take a band for every cent of the two hundred or so dollars they make in a night. There are dilapidated vans waiting to strand their hopped up occupants just out of reach of their gigs. There are jealous bands scheming to wreck your set to ensure that they walk out the favorites. There is very little to encourage local musicians to stick with it, but the rewards do come on occasion. You all strike THE note at the right time and your head spins and your spine tingles and that feeling you had when you heard the first record that moved you is coming from your own body.

The Overtones were my band. The whole concept was my idea and we paid heavily for it. I had hung out in Kalamazoo for years and seen ball crunching rock from groups like the Sinatras, Twister, Fortune & Maltese, the Sleestacks and King Tammy. All of these bands were actually just different variations of the same five or six guy line up under different names. Mike Limbert was bass player for Twister and the Sleestacks and he was also Mike Maltese, the keyboard-playing partner of the nefarious Freddy Fortune. Fortune & Maltese were backed up on drums by Sinatras smasher Scott Stevens and later the group was augmented on keyboards with Karl Knack when Jason Fortier, who came by way of King Tammy, left F&M under mysterious circumstances and Mike Maltese (Limbert) had to take over bass duties once again. The whole lot made up the fantastic and semi-fictional label Leppotone Electrical Recordings and I wanted to join the club.

My first stab at Leppotone stardom was with the Vantrells, a four piece pseudo-mod group that quickly disintegrated when lead guitarist, Matt Southwell, headed west in search of movie stardom and Mike Nesmith. The Vantrells wore skinny black ties and suit jackets and played crunchy power pop with a hint of the Who and the Knack—maybe it was more than a hint, I’m not that creative. When the Vantrells died I moved quickly to establish a new group and saw a hit with other Kalmazooians Jay Howard and Collin Stoddard. Jay and Collin signed, skinny ties and all, and we set out on Michigan with a grudge and crappy amps.

The problem with being a local band is getting out of town. The Overtones had great shows in Kalamazoo, thanks to loyal friends, lots of attitude on stage, and Jay’s good looks, which drew a sizable crowd of girls to our nights at the legendary Club Soda. But we were determined to break from Kalamazoo and we looked east to the BIG BROTHER of Michigan: Detroit.

Read the rest of the story in GLONO’s features section.

Continue reading I-Rock, you rock, we all rock in Detroit Rock City

Record Shopping with Phil: Rummaging through Rock’s Lost and Found

Stephen Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle”

I am unemployed. That means I have a lot of time on my hands and aside from sending out resumes and cover letters and searching through the countless crap jobs our floundering economy offers, I also shop for records. I have two quaint and excellent record stores in my neighborhood. There’s Laurie’s Universe of sound just around the corner, smack in the middle of Lincoln Square and there’s The Record Round Up on Montrose, just a few blocks away. Laurie’s has somewhat punk/indie rock leanings, while the Record Round Up appropriately focuses on folk and country with a smattering of rock.

The other day I wandered down to the Record Round Up as I was needing a walk on such a fine spring day. I love the Round Up. It is the perfect local record shop with an affable guy behind the counter who NEVER asks me more than once how I’m doing or if I’m looking for something specific. This guy knows my kind. He is my kind and knows damn well that that I am doing just fine and that I am NOT looking for anything specific.

The place is a veritable junk store with books, old photographs, cowboy shirts and, of course, thousands of moldy records. I almost always find something in this store. This week I bought two records: Steven Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening at Home with Teegarden and VanWinkle”

I love Stephen Stills. I love his voice, I love his guitar playing (from the 70s. Anything else must go, but that’s another article). I also love early 70s country rock, the kind you hear from Gram Parsons, the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” or even on CSNY’s “Country Girl.” The cover of Illegal Stills is promising. It’s a Mason jar with a label featuring Still’s goofy mug peering out from under a cowboy hat. It declares itself to be “Hill Country’s Best” and 33 ½ proof! I’m a bit of a drunk and ready to down this jar o’ shine just as quickly as I can get home. Turns out this potato mash juice is bunk and warm to boot! It unfortunately possesses the elements of Still’s music that I hate: ultra clean production and instantly forgettable melodies. It’s a bust.

Record number two fares better—much better. I found it buried way back in a stack on the floor. These are the records that don’t even get a spot in the racks. But that’s where I find my gems. I found The Tough Guys soundtrack featuring the fantastic and often sampled “Hung Up on My Baby” in the forgotten pile. I also found Stephen Stills’ Live album recorded in 1975—one side Electric, one side acoustic just like his hero Neil Young—which led me to the above purchase.

I almost skipped over Teegarden and VanWinkle, but something about the name rang a bell. This is a live album recorded in I’m guessing the early to mid 1970s (there’s no copyright date or other dating information) at the Red Carpet in Detroit. Sab and Gary can tell you all about the Detroit scene both past and present, that’s not what drew me to this album. Upon investigating the inner sleeve of this gatefold beauty I spied a familiar name. It seems An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle was produced by James Cassily: father of longtime friend and fellow band mate Josh C. Rogers. Cassily was also once the producer for my own Vantrells. We’d gotten in plenty of dust ups over production and what was appropriate and what wasn’t. He must have wondered who I thought I was. Cassily had worked with Detroit legends including Seger. I’d heard plenty about Teegarden and VanWinkle and was now about to hear the majesty that is Jim Cassily.

The album is good. Not great, but not bad. It’s good. In fact I like it quite a bit. It’s introduced by the very young voice of Herr Cassily, which immediately brought a smile to my face, and launches into a groovy medium tempo blues jam called “Today I left for the big city.” It’s kind of a mix between the working class blues-based jams of Detroit’s past and the soul marathons of Geno Washington. I love it. It’s getting’ high music. It’s slow summer days. It’s my home of Michigan. It’s my old drummer’s dad!

Record shopping is tedious work. It takes patience and a keen eye. But the rewards are fantastic. You can find stinkers and records you bought simply for the cover which will bloat your collection and cause a severe dilemma come moving day. But sometimes you find gems and sometimes you find the perfect segue from Hazel Adkins to P-Funk and sometimes you find an old friend. The dusty, musty stacks of records hidden away in your local vinyl shop are just like the boxes of fuzzy mittens and dank hats hidden under the counter at the bus station. Dig around and you might find a size that fits just right and you can’t beat the price.

White Girls Can’t Jump

Brassy live at Double Door

Chicago, IL

March 20, 2001

Let’s get it out in the open. The lead singer for Brassy, Muffin Spencer, is Jon Spencer’s, (he of the Blues Explosion) sister. Ok? We can’t ignore it. Why try? Sure, Muffin gets a little steamed from time to time when people always ask what Brother Jon is up to, but c’mon. He’s Jon Fucking Spencer!

Now, Muffin decided to do things her own way. She packed up and moved to England years ago to start her own band. Pussy Galore be damned with their punched-up New York Dolls impressions. Our Muffin was up to something else.

I don’t know how old Muffin is, but I’d guess she’s old enough to remember most of the Sugar Hill artists of the early 80s and ALL of the new wave artists of that same time. Mix that together with a pinch of punk a la Buzzcocks or even a touch of the Plazmatics and you have Brassy. That’s great. Everyone loves it when new sounds are created from tried and true genres. But that’s where Brassy falls short.

Throughout the 40-odd minute set, Muffin did her damndest to get people to shake their rumps or at least pump their fists, but aside from one portly fellow with a striking resemblance to Kelsey Grammer, it just wasn’t happening. Mainly because of the poor sound quality that Double Door is too often associated with, but also to the fact that Brassy can’t pull off a hybrid of hip hop, new wave and punk.

Guitarist, Stefan Gordon, is capable and had some great early 70s soul effects throughout most of the set and bassist Karen Frost does her job in typical riot grrl (I’ll bet you thought that was over, eh?) fashion with just enough detached attitude and growling bass to make the guys go wild. That alone is the foundation of a great sound and would be perfectly rounded out with tight drumming and a gregarious front woman/man. But Brassy just misses.

Drummer/DJ Jonny Barrington is the perfect minimalist punk drummer. Simple, three-piece set and excellent fills. He’s also a decent DJ with some creative mixing and tight, albeit standard, scratching. But he can’t do both; try as he may. The switches between drum kit and turntables were often awkward and distracting. They sometimes threw the whole band for a couple of bars. To really pull off this sound I think Brassy needs a drummer AND a DJ. I mean, is Jonny the only game in town? Get that sorted out and you really have some balls and the spark of something really hot. That alone will almost get the ass shaking.

Which brings us back to Muffin. Glorious Noise contributor Johnny Loftus told me he had heard that Muffin was a sassy bitch, much like her older brother (sorry Muffin. That’s the last reference to him). Well, sassy ain’t enough to lead a band. You also need some charisma. Parroting 20-year-old rap anthems (B to the R to the A to the S to the S to the Y) works for the Beastie Boys who have a deeper box of trick than Carrot Top. Muffin fails to dig deeper and ends up sounding like a 1987 white comedian making fun of rap on the Tonight Show. Until there is some sense of real emotion and attachment to her music, Brassy will always sound like the white liberal kids who dig black music but can’t play it in the house until dad goes to work.

Luckily, headliners Idlewild took the stage within ten minutes of Brassy’s departure and final got the crowd to shake their asses—and the band didn’t even have to ask.

That’s your cue Johnny.

Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection

From this week’s Onion:

Dubious Inclusions Damage Credibility Of Entire Record Collection

HAMMOND, IN— The credibility of 26-year-old Jeff Gaskill’s record collection is badly damaged by the inclusion of several albums of dubious artistic merit, friend Rob Appel reported Monday. “He’s got tons of awesome stuff, everything from [X-Ray Spex’s] Germ Free Adolescents to [Al Green’s] Call Me,” Appel said of the 750-plus CD library. “But then, smack-dab in between The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy & The Lash and Portishead’s Dummy is Poison’s Greatest Hits.” Continued Appel: “Before I could ask him what the hell it was doing there, I spot Hell Freezes Over by The Eagles. That record alone negates the coolness of Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets and The Flying Burrito Brothers’ The Gilded Palace Of Sin.”

Leroy Bach, Edward Burch and John Stirrat at the Hideout

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Leroy Bach, Edward Burch and John Stirrat at the Hideout. March 5, 2001

Everyone has that bar that just fits. Maybe it’s only for the summer or your junior year in college, but it is exactly where you want to be on any given night. The Hideout in Chicago is that bar for me right now. The hideout has a long reputation for being a great place to see country-ish music and it is still a premier venue for club-sized concerts. But what makes the Hideout MY Place is the genuine neighborhood feel you get when you walk in the door.

A group of us made our way to the Hideout last night to see Wilco’s John Sirrat and Leroy Bach play with other local fave Edward Burch. Since Wilco is a Grammy nominated college chart fave and the patron saints of folk rock here in Chicago, I expected a smoky, packed bar and annoying frat guys, the likes of which we had at Jeff Tweedy’s final performances in the now closed and sorely missed Lounge Ax. Instead, what we got was a completely un-miced acoustic performance similar to those taking place in countless rec-rooms, college dorms and back porches across America.

As soon as we walked in we were welcomed by Bach who told us to get a beer and have a seat. It was standing room only, but just by the Hideout’s front room standards. There were maybe 30 people in attendance and the seating arrangement was quickly fixed when the affable bartender told us to go get some more stools out of the back room. We stumbled clumsily past Bach and Burch to find our seats and drag them back to the front. They waited patiently until we were comfortable before starting in on another of their old timey folk tunes from the Carter Family or Louvin Brothers. Their voices blended nicely in loose harmonies. Occasionally we’d miss some words over the chiming of Burch’s 12-string guitar, but the mood was right and I was ready for some Pabst.

PBR $1.50 bottles. “I’ll take two and save myself a trip.”

Soon, Wilco bassist John Stirrat, ambled up to the front and played a few selections from his recently released little record, “The Green Hour” from his side project The Autumn Defense. The songs were pretty with a definite 70s AM radio, singer/songwriter influence. Stirrat’s voice was a little shaky, but that was understandable given his un-miced performance and the increasing din of the patrons enjoying Pabst.

Come midnight the dread of another Tuesday at work was weighing heavy and after Burch and Bach’s second set I meandered out to my car and drove home happy to have spent another night living in Chicago.

The kids are alright…right?

Michael Goldberg’s Insider One March 2 opening article talks about media marketing and the manipulation of youth culture. Am I being optimistic or na├»ve, or are the kids smarter than that? Actually, isn’t the piece really just talking bout the zombies of the teenage population who are no more programmable than their Gen X and now Gen Y counterparts? Surely he doesn’t mean all teens.

The piece is a fictional account of how Viacom honcho, Sumner Redstone, pays consultants to observe “typical” teenagers and then makes programming recommendations based on their behavior. Goldberg cites MTV’s Jackass as a prime example of this kind of research’s output. He also mentions groups like Backtsreet Boys and Incubus as examples of “product” that can be marketed to different demographics within the teenage ranks: BSB for the mall-walking, cutie pies and Incubus for the aggressive, angst-ridden tough guys. But this is no different than the type of marketing directed at older age groups. I mean, since when is it OK for 30-year-old men to wear orange cords and ride scooters? Since Gen-Xers hit the wall, Old Navy opened up and the Razor scooter became the dotcom-preferred mode of transportation in the city. Believe me, it’s all about the marketing.

But, are the kids really more susceptible to marketing ploys than anyone else? Can their opinions be that easily molded? Last fall I was outside the Metro in Chicago as an all-ages early show let out. Hundreds of youngsters streamed into the street. As I was there to hand fliers for a friend’s band, I ended up talking to some of the kids and asked them who it was they were there to see. Surely it was one of the groups I’ve seen on MTV. Judging by the staple punk wardrobe (docs, safety pins, plaid, pants cut off just below the knees, etc.) I knew it wasn’t J-Lo or any of the other unlistenable “R&B” groups that dominate the 3:00 to 7:00pm slots on MTV. The place was devoid of neon or high-soled platform shoes, so it was a good bet that Carson Daley and his ilk were not to be found. Who were they there to see? It must have been one of the ultra-marketed major label touring acts that pitch for Burger King or Sprite? Right? It was the Get Up Kids, a melodic EMO band who’s signed to Indie stalwart Vagrant Records. As far as I can tell, the only exposure this group has had is the occasional mention in SPIN and a one-time appearance on MTV’s never-watched (anymore) 120 Minutes.

Now, the Get Up Kids have a substantial following and certainly have the pop sensibilities to become MTV darlings, but they’re not yet. And the kids love ’em. Why? Perhaps it’s because the tunes are catchy and the energy from their live shows will sweep up the coolest of punks into a bona fide ass shakin’.

So, it seems the kids aren’t as dopey as Sumner and Goldberg think. Maybe they actually just like the music they like and that’s that. Maybe it’s all about good music getting to kids and shaking them to their scuffed docs. Maybe I’m just remembering how much my dad hated NWA and I want to stand up for the kids as not being so easily manipulated by marketing. But then again, NWA was marketed to the suburbs and white kids and there are even allegations that the heated disputes on wax and in the videos between NWA members was all a ruse to drum up sales for solo products (See the Feb. 28th posting by Jake Brown regarding NWA). After all, four top 10 albums are better than one and I started drinking malt liquor because I wanted to be like Cube. It doesn’t matter. I’m going to pop in my copy of Straight Outta Compton and run down to the Gap to get some baggy Khakis.

You can see the Get Up Kids touring with Weezer now. Check out their website www.thegetupkids.net.

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio

I am ready to open this can of worms. It’s an ugly can with a torn label. When I open this can it won’t open cleanly. The lid will still be attached and the jagged edges will surely cut the shit out of hand and the worms will twist in their muck and my blood, but here it goes.

Sarah Vowell should be banned from radio.

I know, she’s is a great writer and a great interviewer and all around cool chick, but radio is a medium of sound and the sound of her voice is killing me. Radio personalities should have a smooth voice. Listen to any classic rock DJ, they are the best voices in radio. The soundwaves that flow from their mouths are smooth and long and rounded with deep, deep valleys of bass. Sarah Vowell’s are sharp, jagged and harsh like a bent up cheese grater. The insides of my ears actually get chapped if I listen to her with headphones.

Now, I acknowledge her talent and don’t wish her ill will, I just want her off the airwaves. She is a witty and insightful writer and should certainly pursue that medium for her excellent music reporting. But please, don’t give her a microphone. Just as the old joke goes—That lady has a face made for radio—Sarah Vowell has a voice made for magazines.

Discuss…

Phil