All posts by Thomas Durkin

Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides

Wesley Willis's Joy RidesNewly released on DVD, Wesley Willis’s Joy Rides is a beautifully assembled biographical documentary of one of Chicago’s most unique artists. Wesley Willis was a diagnosed chronic schizophrenic who found a way to turn both his art and his music into a reliable source of income over his tragically shortened life; he died at 40 of leukemia in 2003. Willis’s twin careers as both an artist and musician fascinated some, offended others, and were marginalized by still others.

His career as a visual art is sometimes even further obscured by the same subset of fans who loved his music. While it is easy to dismiss his ballpoint-pen artwork of cityscapes, to do so is to do Wesley a huge disservice. I wasn’t aware that to a degree, Wesley had formal architectural drawing experience. The amount of detail in his drawings is staggering, and the fact that years after he’d visited a certain city he could draw a building or a subway tunnel from memory is an astounding ability. The movie shows Wesley in the latter part of his life while drawing, and it’s fascinating to see the artist in action.

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My Bloody Valentine: Live in Chicago

Kevin ShieldsMy Bloody Valentine at the Aragon Ballroom

Chicago, September 27, 2008

They had told me that it would be the loudest concert I’d ever attended. They foretold of amazing sonic onslaughts. They said that it would be unlike any other show I’d seen.

They were right.

My Bloody Valentine came to the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago last Saturday, and delivered a concert at a level of intensity I don’t expect to ever see again.

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The Loud Family’s Scott Miller: Better than Grease II

Scott MillerBack in 2000, the Loud Family released what appeared to be their final album, Attractive Nuisance. Even though the group’s leader, Scott Miller, told Glorious Noise that he was leaving the door open to further activity, years went by when it seemed that Scott was more than happy to start a family and focus on his other career as a database programmer in the Bay Area.

Then in 2004, it was announced that he was collaborating with Sacramento pop eccentric Anton Barbeau. The result of that odd heritage, What If It Works?, was just released by 125 Records in mid-July. The record contains sounds and songs which long-time Loud fans will be able to recognize, yet somehow, against the odds, different (MP3s: “Rocks Off,” “Flow Thee Water”). You could always tell that each prior Loud Family record was planned to the nth degree; this one, even though it is still thorough in its soundcraft, also gives the impression that the sessions for it could have been more relaxed, less fussed-over. Scott graciously answered my questions on what got him to break his sabbatical, and what the future holds for Scott, Anton, and the Loud Family.

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The Who – Tommy and Quadrophenia Live DVD

The WhoTommy and Quadrophenia Live (Rhino)

Rhino Records has just issued a triple-DVD set chronicling not only live performances of Tommy and Quadrophenia, but two very different configurations of the reunited Who touring band. Though the purpose of the set is to archive the live versions of the two famous rock operas, the DVDs inevitably show the right way for the Who to have reunited and toured, and the wrong way to have done it.

In 1989, the Who staged a full tour after a seven-year layoff. I was fortunate enough to catch them that year, and at the time, I was awestruck upon hearing them open the concert with a fully fleshed out overture from Tommy. Through the sheer joy of seeing the Who play during my lifetime, I was willing to overlook the excesses of that tour. And God were there excesses! Three background vocalists, a percussionist, a second guitarist, and a full horn section which strayed too often into Phil Collins territory, it was a lot to swallow for fans of a band who used to encapsulate the lean, mean, less-is-more theory of noisemaking.

The DVD has the Los Angeles “all-star” performance of Tommy, a Vegas-revue version of the Who that hasn?t aged well. The drummer at the time, Simon Phillips, was much more Neil Peart than Keith Moon; his over-drumming doesn?t serve the arrangements well. The guest stars for the most part turned in okay performances; they can?t be faulted for the bombast.

Tommy as an album was a more cohesive story, and easier to understand than Quadrophenia. This makes some of the songs taken individually hard to take out of the context of the story as a whole. Welcome to which camp? If you?re free, why the hell are you waiting for me to follow you? Quadrophenia, on the other hand, is a tougher story to follow without reading the liner notes, seeing the movie, having a rough working knowledge of the history of mid-60s youth subcultures, etc. The songs work well on their own even though most of the American audience won?t get the story. But considering the strength of the material, the story is almost irrelevant.

In 1996, the Who re-reunited to celebrate Quadrophenia. This time, the arrangements were kept as close as possible to the original album, and the performances rock harder than the 1989 versions of the same songs. In Zak Starkey (yes, Ringo?s boy) the Who have found as perfect a replacement for Keith Moon as they could ever hope for. Zak drums as hard and as passionately as Keith did, inserting fancy fills without calling attention to himself. There are still a lot of people on the stage, but they?re used judiciously. They also used video inserts between songs to more clearly explain the story and why the Mod movement was so important to British youth.

The third DVD, the ?hits? set, is composed mostly of the non-Tommy portion of the 1989 Los Angeles show. Again, it?s cool to see this footage preserved, but the excessive instrumentation leaches away some of the passion of the music. The encore from the Quadrophenia show, as short as it was, contains far stronger performances.

Sonically, the producers of this set created a 5.1 mix from original stereo source material, and the sound is respectable. However, the Who released a double DVD in 2000, Live At Royal Albert Hall, which was a stunningly wonderful sonic experience, and loud as fuck. Even the DVD of The Kids Are Alright was shown more care in its sound qualitu. By comparison, the sound on this Tommy/Quadrophenia live set is underwhelming.

For bonus features, there are interviews with some of the contributors, including Billy Idol, who starred in both productions. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey give chestnuts of information about the original operas, the live performances in question, and lots and lots of self-congratulatory puffery. Daltrey felt the need to declare: ?I?ve always been totally dedicated to making Pete?s music work. That?s been my whole life. I?m the best instrument he?s ever had.? Don?t you just love self-important rock stars?

The whole release seems to be a way to ultimately document these tours, and then bury them into a time capsule. In this respect, it?s successful. For a list price of $29.95, you get a lot of concert footage, while not much of it is essential. Casual fans should probably start out with The Kids Are Alright first, and only pick this up later if you still want more after Live At The Royal Albert Hall. Die-hard Who fans, on the other hand, will definitely get their money?s worth.

Blame Pete!

Guilty!Brothers and sisters, I gotta testify; my name is Tom, and I’m a rockaholic.

I place the blame squarely on Pete Townshend’s shoulders. Roger, John, and Keith are just as guilty, complicit as they are in catalyzing my conversion. But the songs were Pete’s, so he gets the lion’s share of the blame. I was only seven—my resistance was already low—when an album pushed me completely over the edge of rock fandom from which I will never emerge.

My very own rock opera

In 1979, my father received an 8-track recorder from my uncle, who had just made the upgrade to cassettes. At the time, Saturday Night Fever was still huge, so my parents borrowed the soundtrack record from my uncle and taped a bunch of Bee Gees, Tavares, and Yvonne Elliman onto the first two sections of the blank 8-track tape that came with the recorder. [FYI for the kids: 8-track tapes were divided into four sections (“programs”) with room for several songs on each program—Ed.] But on the remaining two sections were the greatest songs I’d ever heard in my seven years of life: a deaf, dumb and blind kid who had an evil cousin, the Christmas he couldn’t appreciate, a quack doctor who couldn’t cure the kid, and of course, the kid was a pinball wizard.

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Interview with Scott Miller of the Loud Family

The Passion and the Fury

In the second in our series of essays called “Music That’s Changed My Life: GLONO Readers’ Real-Life Experiences,” Thomas Durkin interviewed one of his heroes, Scott Miller of the Loud Family and Game Theory. If you would like to share a story of music’s effect on your world, get in touch with us…

In 2000, Scott Miller of San Francisco’s The Loud Family announced that Attractive Nuisance would be the last album that the group would release, and that the tour behind it would also be the band’s last. This sent a wave of desperation through his fanbase; there are fans who had been hooked since 1985, when Scott’s previous group Game Theory released a glittering song called “24” and an equally brilliant album called Real Nighttime. Others became fans after listening to his 1992 Loud Family debut, Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things.

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