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Kacey Musgraves in Joshua Tree

Kacey Musgraves gives me hope for America’s future

There’s no question that over the past couple of years Americans have really come around on two major political issues: gay rights and marijuana legalization. A poll from earlier this year found that 59% of Americans approve of same sex marriage. It wasn’t that long ago (1998) that Ellen DeGeneres lost her ABC sitcom after coming out. Later that year, NBC’s “Will & Grace” seemed positively subversive. That probably seems insane to kids today, but it’s true.

Acceptance of marijuana has been a lot more gradual, but it’s still shocking for those of us came of age in Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” 80s to see people finally loosening up about pot. Not only is recreational marijuana use legal now in Colorado and Washington, but 19 additional states allow medical marijuana and 12 more states have pending legislation in the works. A recent poll found that 55% of Americans believe that marijuana should be made legal.

These poll numbers are soaring and they’ll continue to climb as grouchy, uptight old people die off. Young people don’t care what you smoke or who you hook up with. It’s almost fun to watch the social conservatives freaking out and getting wackier as they realize they’re on the losing side of history. They know they’re going to be seen in the same light as the assholes with the “Whites Only” drinking fountains. Not surprisingly, bigots skew old, Southern, conservative, and less educated.

So with drugs and perversion flooding the mainstream, where’s a good old boy supposed to turn to find a moment of decent, God-loving American peace of mind? Surely country radio will continue to honor the traditional values that so many real Americans hold dear.

Well, maybe not for long . Because now a young gal named Kacey Musgraves is pushing YOLO on the sacred stage of the Grand Ole Opry:

The fact that she appeals to dorks like me shouldn’t surprise anybody. But the mainstream country music establishment also seems to be accepting her, which has got to be a good sign for the direction that America’s heading in. She won the 2013 Country Music Award for New Artist of the Year, and she brought home a couple of Grammys (Best Country Song for “Merry Go ‘Round” and Best Country Album for Same Trailer Different Park).

Then again, she’s apparently having a hard time getting much airplay on mainstream country radio, so who knows? Maybe her upcoming tour dates opening for Katy Perry will elevate her to a status where pussyfooted program directors have no choice but to play her songs on the radio. Crazier things have happened and this industry follows the money.

So even if Musgraves never becomes as big as Taylor Swift (who ever will?) it’s great to see her out there making inroads. It’s certainly not my area of expertise, but I’ve been hearing a lot of cool young country gals lately. And not just in the insurgent Bloodshot department but coming straight out of Nashville. I would have never expected to be getting more excited about a mainstream country artist than I am about the current crop of indie rock, but hey. That’s where we are in 2014. Love what you love, I guess. We only get so many trips around the sun, right?

(Apologies for the perpetuation of stereotypes regarding country music fans. And Southerners. I know there are plenty of good, tolerant people out there in every region of the country who like all different kind of music. This Kacey Musgraves situation just blows my mind.)

Beatles

The Beatles: Dying Young

If we think back to our English 101 classes, classes that occurred so long ago, we’ll undoubtedly recall a poem by A.E. Housman, even though we have no idea who the hell A.E. Housman was, which is somewhat understandable, given that he died in 1936, and we’d be unlikely to have any reason to read him outside of an English 101 class.  (Sort of sad to think that he is considered one of the greatest scholars of all time, and here I am, dismissing him like some circus curiosity.)

Our familiarity would be with one of his poems, “To an Athlete Dying Young.”  The opening quatrain:

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

But then, as the title indicates, the athlete died.  And Housman writes:

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

 

Which brings me to the Beatles.

Here we are, at the 50th anniversary of their arrival in America.  Of their walking down the steps of a jet (would they have used a jetway had one been available, or would Brian Epstein realized the importance of visibility, back in a more innocent time, when people could actually get beyond the TSA screening without a boarding pass?).  Of their appearing on the Ed Sullivan show, when they might as well have been more unplugged than the Chili Peppers at the Super Bowl.  Lipsync hell.  They could have just stood there and shaked their heads on occasion.  That would have been enough.

A few weeks ago I was in Las Vegas, the place where entertainers go to earn a meal ticket when the grueling life of touring it too much.  “Love” is still playing at The Mirage.  This reimagining of Beatles’ music will probably be playing at The Mirage long after Donny and Marie give it up due to hip replacement surgery.

The Beatles are still with us.

But we are without the Beatles.

(No, that is not a conscious reference to “Within You Without You.”  Honest.)

There will never be another band like the Beatles.  And in large part, that’s because the band, to gloss Housman, died young.  They never became “lads that wore their honours out.”  They put out a body of work at a time when there wasn’t an endless drone of alternatives that sound like the opening of “Tomorrow Never Knows.”  They pulled the exceedingly neat trick of continuing to create new music and new fans while retaining their old fans.  Consider that Meet the Beatles was released in 1964, Revolver in 1966, The Beatles (aka, The White Album) in 1968, and Let It Be in 1970.

That was it.  That short period of time with such a wide range of music.  (Yes, there were other things in between, but clearly those releases mark huge differences, one from the other.)

What would have happened had they continued, had they not had the falling out?  Or what if one member left the group to be replaced by someone else?  Or if the member left and he was replaced by a series of someones?

Would the Beatles have become The Beach Boys?

Would they have the veneration and the esteem?

Would we be celebrating 50 years in a public way, or would there just be a group of fans who’d acknowledge the anniversary?

There will never be a band that will be as big at the Beatles.  This is not only due to the proliferation and cacophony that is so characteristic of the music scene now.

But because there will probably never be a group of guys who will have created such an amazing body of work and then saying, in effect, “Fuck it.  We’re done.”

In effect, dying young.

Total U.S. Album Sales (physical + digital in millions)

Music Sales Over the Years: 2013 Year-End Soundscan Data

I love it when Billboard releases the year-end Soundscan data. It’s fascinating to see how people are spending their money on music. I wouldn’t be surprised if within a few years Billboard starts incorporating streams into their year-end charts somehow. Although — come to think of it — I’m not sure whether or not the streaming services have a way of tracking “album streams,” or if they even care. I would imagine it’s a miniscule number anyway without much relevance to anything.

I still listen to albums sometimes, but I spend most of my day with iTunes shuffling a byzantine custom playlist that depends on a song’s ranking, when it was last played, etc. It’s convoluted but it works for me and makes sure that songs I love don’t fall off my radar completely. I’ve dipped into streaming a bit but it doesn’t totally appeal to my sense of hoarding. Yet.

My favorite albums of 2013 were Phosphorescent’s Muchaho and Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. I also totally obsessed over Father John Misty’s Fear Fun (2012).

Anyway, here’s the Soundscan data for 2013 compared to as much prior history as I could scrape off the internet. If you can help me fill in any gaps (especially 1991-1995, the early Soundscan era), I would certainly appreciate it.

Total U.S. Album sales (physical + digital in millions)

Total Album Sales (physical + digital albums)

2013: 289.41 million
2012: 315.96 million
2011: 330.57 million
2010: 326.15 million
2009: 373.9 million
2008: 428.4 million
2007: 500.5 million
2006: 542.4 million
2005: 618.9 million
2004: 667 million
2003: 687 million
2002: 681 million
2001: 763 million
2000: 785 million
1999: 754.8 million
1998: 711 million
1997: 651.8 million
1996: 616.6 million

Compact Discs

2013: 165.4 million
2012: 193.4 million
2011: 223.5 million
2010: 239.9 million
2009: 294.9 million
2008: 360.6 million
2007: 449.2 million
2006: 553.4 million
2005: 598.9 million
2004: 651.1 million
2003: 635.8 million
2002: 649.5 million
2001: 712.0 million
2000: 730.0 million
1999: 648.1 million
1998: ~578 million*
1997: 504.6 million
1996: 448.4 million
1995: 368 million

Digital Albums

2013: 117.58 million
2012: 117.68 million
2011: 103.1 million
2010: 86.3 million
2009: 76.4 million
2008: 65.8 million
2007: 50 million
2006: 16.2 million
2005: 5.5 million

Vinyl albums

2013: 6.1 million
2012: 4.55 million
2011: 3.9 million
2010: 2.8 million
2009: 2.5 million
2008: 1,877,000
2007: 990,000
2006: 858,000
2005: 857,000
2004: 1,187,000
2003: 1,404,000
2002: 1,339,000
2001: 1,246,000
2000: 1,533,000
1999: 1,405,000
1998: 1,376,000
1997: 1,092,000
1996: 1,145,000
1995: 794,000
1994: 625,000

Cassette albums

2009: 34,000

2007: 274,000

2004: 8.6 million

2002: 29.8 million
2001: 49.4 million
2000: 77.2 million
1999: 105.5 million
1998: ~130.8 million
1997: 146 million
1996: 166.7 million

Digital tracks

Digital Track Sales (in millions)

2013: 1.26 billion
2012: 1.336 billion
2011: 1.27 billion
2010: 1.17 billion
2009: 1.16 billion
2008: 1.07 billion
2007: 844.1 million
2006: 582 million
2005: 353 million
2004: 141 million
2003: 19.2 million (SoundScan monitored them only during the year’s second half)

Track equivalent albums (where 10 track downloads equal one album)

2013: 415.3 million
2012: 449.5 million
2011: 457.7 million
2010: 443.4 million
2009: 489.8 million
2008: 535.4 million
2007: 585 million
2006: 646.3 million
2005: 654.1 million
2004: 680.7 million

Streams

2013: 118.1 billion
2012: 89.5 billion (calculated on reports that 2013 was up 32%)

Sources: USA Today, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, USA Today, Computer World, New York Times, Hollywood Reporter, CTV, BBC, WSJ, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Billboard, Pitchfork, Narm.

Robin Thicke will eat your feet.

I’m Down With Alan Thicke

I’ve mostly avoided the hullabaloo around Robin Thicke because I thought I didn’t care, but the truth is that it bugs the shit out of me. Not because I feel a need to defend him (but I will) or that I think he’s some amazing artist (who cares?) but because the hypocrisy of the whole thing is just obnoxious. I mean, really…are we really ready to surrender to the squares?

The basic argument against Thicke breaks down along two lines:

  1. He “stole” Marvin Gaye’s mojo for his song of the summer, “Blurred Lines”
  2. He’s a lout for carrying on with Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards and calling women bitches

The first is so preposterous I am amazed I even have to address it, but here it goes: Popular music always has and always will feed on itself.

Traditional folk music and bluegrass structure is built around a handful of simple patterns. Same with the blues. Same with most rock and roll, including so much of the rock canon we all adore.

Keith Richards has been clear for decades now that his style is lifted directly from Chuck Berry. Of course he’s built on it and created riffs, solos and chord progressions of his own—but they all start with Chuck. And then they’ve led to new music, which includes everyone from Neil Young (the riff for “Mr. Soul” teeters dangerously close to that of “Satisfaction”) to The White Stripes…and beyond.

“Yes, but that’s the Stones and the blues,” you say? One of the Beatles’ most famous riffs is also a bit of a borrowed tune. Listen to Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” and discover the origin of “I Feel Fine.”

We could do this with The Kinks, Led Zeppelin, The Ramones, The Clash, Television, The Strokes, Madonna, Lady Gaga…we could literally do this all day.

“Ok, but he calls women bitches and did you see the VMAs? He’s a married man!”

Well, he calls a woman a bitch in a song and the VMAs are a spectacle of the ludicrous.

I don’t call women bitches and don’t hang around guys who do, but I listen to TONS of songs that use the word, and I bet you do too. Everything from your off-the-shelf hip-hop jam to track one, side two of Sticky Fingers (The Stones again!). It’s an offensive word, but not one unique to Alan Thicke.

And yes, I saw him perform with Miley Cyrus…and yawned. Am I shocked that an older married man danced provocatively with a younger woman on an MTV awards show? No more than I am when Prince does it.

I first heard “Blurred Lines” at a rooftop party in Chicago after a day at Lollapalooza, where I saw countless young men and women in skimpy clothes making out in the streets and dancing like fools. I wasn’t offended by either because that’s what summer parties are all about and Thicke’s song is a good jam. Is he a great guy? I don’t know, who cares? If I limited my music collection by those standards it would be sadly lacking in albums from James Brown, Ike Turner and Chuck Berry (all known misogynists ) or even the recently departed and universally recognized asshole, Lou Reed. These aren’t my friends, they’re musicians borrowing from each other and creating new and interesting or sometimes just dumb, ass-shaking songs.

So please, can we all just shut up and dance?

Bob-Dylan-1966-barry-feinstein

A Glorious Noise Guide to Bob Dylan

Bob-Dylan-1966-barry-feinstein

I have a favorite era of Dylan, and it’s short: 1965-66. There’s stuff he did before and after that I like a lot, but the bulk of my mix comes from those two years. And I’ll defend that decision to the death; feel free to make your own Dylan playlist that represents his career more thoroughly. These are songs that I love, songs that showcase my favorite themes of Dylan’s catalog: aching love songs, bitter breakup songs, country-fried rock songs with trippy wordplay. That’s my bag.

There aren’t any “protest” songs here (Dylan dismissed them as “finger pointing songs”), but there’s still plenty of finger pointing. Instead of obvious targets such as warmongers and segregationists, my favorite Dylan songs take aim at his fellow Baby Boomers for being a bunch of pretentious phonies. He was prescient like that.

1. Tell Me, Momma – Dylan is known for his lyrics, but that’s not why I kicked off my comp with this song. “Tell Me, Momma” sounds closer to the Velvet Underground than any other “classic rock” of the era. Dig that organ drone! It certainly doesn’t sounds like folk music, and the barely discernible lyrics are secondary to the racket. A blatant “folk you!” to his audience’s expectations.

2. Subterranean Homesick Blues – Another one where the words don’t really mean anything. Except, of course, when they mean everything. “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows,” after all. It’s the sound of a guy having fun with language, and daring pointy-headed beard-scratchers to try to make sense of it.

3. Eternal Circle – I like this because all he wants to do is finish his damn song so he can go out and hook up with a girl, but it just won’t end! Tom Waits ended up with the same punchline on “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love with You.”

4. All I Really Want To Do – Gotta love that harmonica. If you’re listening to this on the train, everybody around you will know it’s Dylan. I love the way this is recorded, where you can hear his sniffling and chuckling between words. This might be a love-it-or-hate-it vocal for Dylan newbs. I love it, but I can understand it might take some getting used to. My wife told me that when she was a little girl she heard a Dylan song on the radio and asked her mom how a guy who sounds like that could be on the radio. The answer: “It’s political.” Perfect.

5. If You Gotta Go, Go Now – I like it when Dylan gets a little raunchy. “It ain’t that I’m questioning you to take part in any quiz / It’s just that I ain’t got no watch and you keep asking me what time it is.”

6. Tombstone Blues – This sounds like the Pixies, like it could be on Come On Pilgrim with the frantic acoustic and screaming lead guitar. And Dylan’s voice doesn’t get any snottier than this.

7. Highway 61 Revisited – Get past the clown whistle, and just listen to that Wurlitzer electric piano boogie. The conversational lyrics are playful and funny. Dylan’s humor is often overlooked when he is depicted as Serious Artist, Voice of a Generation. Dude could be hilarious.

8. Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window? – My favorite Dylan narrative structure is his second-person plea to a woman about what a dick the guy she’s with is. This one’s about a controlling asshole: “Why does he look so righteous while your face is so changed?”

9. Like a Rolling Stone – OK I know this song is overplayed to the point of becoming sonic wallpaper but hear me out. I almost put an alternative take or live version on here to force you to listen with fresh ears, but the master version is fucking perfect. As I get older the lyrics hit me harder and harder. I’m pretty darn happy with how my life has turned out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have regrets. And this song is all about how the hubris of youth gets quashed by the realities of life. One of the bits that kills me every time is: “You’ve gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely / But you know you only used to get juiced in it.” My poor mom worked three crappy jobs to be able to afford to send me to my fancy-assed private college, and what did I do there? Get wasted. I’m aware that my life could’ve easily turned out like the subject of Dylan’s scorn (still could!), and I try hard now not to take things for granted when I’m hanging out with “all the pretty people drinkin’, thinkin’ that they got it made.”

10. Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues – Gotta include this for no other reason than the Beastie Boys sample (“Finger Lickin’ Good”), but even without that its moody, piano-driven vibe makes it worthy. Plus, Dylan’s exhausted vocals perfectly fit the Kerouac-inspired tale of a trip to a border town.

11. Visions of Johanna – This is another one of those songs that you can listen to a million times and catch new stuff each time. I’ve tried to parse out a linear narrative, and sometimes it feels like I’ve almost got it, and then it just disappears. Which, I guess, is kinda the point of the song. By the end of the second verse, you might think you’ve got it figured out: “Louise, she’s all right, she’s just near / She’s delicate and seems like the mirror / But she just makes it all too concise and too clear / That Johanna’s not here.” Sounds like a fairly straightforward “I want the one I can’t have, and it’s driving me mad” scenario. But then in the third verse our narrator can’t sleep and ends up out in the hall with Little Boy Lost: “He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all.” And the fourth verse has him making fun of tourists in a museum until “these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel.” The final verse introduces a bunch of new characters, builds to a musical climax, and at the end “these visions of Johanna are now all that remain.”

12. She’s Your Lover Now – Another second-person stream of vitriol, this time the “you” in question flips between his ex and her new guy. My favorite line is: “You just sit around and ask for ashtrays, can’t you reach? / I see you kiss her on the cheek every time she gives a speech.” It has the bitterness and that specificity of an early Mountain Goats song. The fact that this take trails off before the song is actually finished just makes it even better, as if Dylan is so pissed he can’t even make it to the end without kicking over his mic stand in a fit of spite.

13. If You See Her, Say Hello – Similar subject but different perspective. No longer angry. “She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.”

14. Tangled Up in Blue – My favorite line in this song is: “I must admit I felt a little uneasy when she bent down to tie the laces of my shoe.” Heh heh.

15. Simple Twist of Fate – A relatively simple story about bringing a woman back to a hotel and waking up alone. It’s in the third-person until the final verse where Dylan takes it into the first-person (“I still believe she was my twin, but I lost the ring”) for a little extra oomph when we realize the woman he’s talking about there probably isn’t the same lady he hooked up with in the beginning of the song. Oops.

16. Blind Willie McTell – Recorded in 1983 and inexplicably not released until 1991 considering the fact that it’s better than everything else he did in the eighties combined. An apocalyptic travelog that takes us through time and across the South to explore the roots of American music from “charcoal gypsy maidens,” chain gangs, and “ghosts of slavery ships.” Heavy stuff.

Lollapalooza

Lollapalooza 2013: Fun Times in Babylon

Lollapalooza

Friday

There’s something thrilling — maybe even masochistic — about entering a big music festival on the first day. So many people at the gates, squeezing in, getting hassled by security goons, all intent on making it inside. Once you’re finally in, you can take a deep breath and get your bearings. Bar, porta-potties, stages. Check, check, check.

I showed up on Friday at Lollapalooza excited to see Father John Misty, and Josh Tillman’s band did not disappoint. Tillman is a charismatic front man, poking fun at both the VIPs in the platinum section as well as the “idiots in the back.” The band was tight and since they only have one album, they played all my favorite songs. It was such a great show that I was afraid nobody would be able to top it for the rest of the weekend.

Father John Misty

Father John Misty

Crystal Castles had me thinking how the electronic stuff that used to be relegated to Perry’s tent/stage has spilled over on to the main stages. I was coming up with a theory about EDM’s recent influence on indie rock…when New Order came on and reminded me that this has actually been going on for at least 30 years. Beer can make you a little slow.

New Order is a band I’ve wanted to see for a long time. And even without founding bassist Peter Hook, I figured it would still be fun. And it was. For a while. I guess it’s pretty obvious but seeing them live really drove home the fact that Hooky’s bass is the defining characteristic of a New Order song. Bernard Sumner’s voice has never been particularly strong, and now that he’s an old man it’s even more obvious. Gillian Gilbert looked bored and annoyed. The songs are classics though.

An enthusiastically wasted young girl next to us was super into it and asked who this band was; she misunderstood and shouted, “WOOOO! NEW ORLEANS! I LOVE NEW ORLEANS! WOO!” for the remainder of the set, which of course became the highlight of Day 1 for me and from now on I’ll exclusively refer to this band as New Orleans.

I don’t get why people are so into Nine Inch Nails. I like “Head Like a Hole” as much as the next guy, but is Reznor really doing anything that Ministry and all the other Wax Trax bands weren’t already doing? He reminds me of Jim Morrison in his ability to convince teenagers that he’s deep.

The sound was amazing though. The organizers have done a good job of making live music sound good and loud in a giant, outdoor setting. That didn’t really help poor Lana Del Rey, though, who had to deal with NIN’s beats that were clearly audible around the corner at the “Grove” stage, formerly known as the Google Play stage (2012), the Google+ stage (2011), and the Sony Bloggie stage (2010).

Speaking of which, this year only three of Lollapalooza’s eight stages were sponsored this year, down from six in previous years. Only Bud Light, BMI, and Red Bull claimed naming rights, so we got Petrillo, Lake Shore, and the Grove instead. Sony was nowhere to be seen, whereas before their brands (including Playstation) were splattered all over Grant Park. Google and Adidas were also noticeably absent.

Lollapalooza sold 100,000 tickets per day this year, up from 90,000 last year. Did they release more tickets to offset the loss of big sponsors?

Lollapalooza

Saturday

It shouldn’t surprise anybody that Charles Bradley started out as a James Brown impersonator. He’s got an amazing voice and awesome dance moves and more soul than all of this year’s headliners combined. He was also wearing an Iron Maiden influenced Nudie suit.

I had one of my favorite Lollapalooza moments back in 2007 when I stumbled across Matt & Kim filling in on a small stage when the scheduled band got held up at customs. Six years later and they’re huge! Their fans spilled across the Petrillo shell, which is still the worst stage at Lollapalooza thanks to its abundance of cement and claustrophobic walls.

We met up with friends who were into Local Natives and had a blanket spot. We spent the next couple hours camped out there with occasional expeditions out for beers, felafels, and porta-potties while we waited for the National.

The National

The National

From across the field Eric Church came across as typically cheesy modern country. Every time I heard a new cliche, I would shake my head and think, This has got to be a joke, an ironic spoof created to fuck with the indie kids. “Jack Daniels kicked my ass again tonight.” Really, dude? Faux-outlaw horseshit.

The National is a good band with a bunch of good songs and maybe a few great ones. I never got into them until I saw them at Lolla in 2010, and they were even better this year. But they didn’t really need that 75-minute set and by the middle I was yawning.

And I had to pee. And because of the upcoming Lumineers/Mumford double whammy, the entire south side of the park was already packed. And the porta-pottie lines were 30 people deep, no shit. I had to walk for 15 minutes to find a place with lines only 3 or 4 people long. Dudes were pissing everywhere, including in their pants. How much can it cost to rent a few thousand extra johns? It’s not as if they don’t have room for them.

By the time I got back the Lumineers had started and were playing their hit. So we packed up our camp and headed back across the park to get in place for Postal Service.

100,000 people is a shit ton. So despite the fact that the majority was watching Mumford, the Postal Service side was still packed. And Gibbard, Tamborello, and Jenny Lewis put on a good show. It’s sort of ridiculous for a band with one only album to be given a 90-minute headlining spot to fill, but they pulled out some b-sides and a cover and finished with a psychedelic freakout and everybody had a fun time.

Afterwards we met up with some pals from the Mumford side who told us they got bored after three songs and split. From what I’ve heard, their reaction was not unique.

Major Lazer

Sunday

This is the day I realized that most of the bands that I wanted to see on the weekend’s lineup were playing between 5 and 10pm on Sunday. To make it work would require some tough decisions, a little planning, and a lot of footwork. I ended up crossing the length of Grant Park (one mile from end to end) six times in five hours to see partial sets by nine bands.

Tegan and Sara have clearly been working on their pop craftsmanship since the last time I paid any attention to them. Some of their stuff reminded me of Cheap Trick, some of it wouldn’t sound out of place on a Taylor Swift album.

We split in the middle to catch Wavves, who I’ve liked since they stole Jay Reatard’s rhythm section. We only stuck around for a few songs though because my crew wanted to see Alt-J. I got to hear my favorite song though (“Bug”), so I was happy.

We should’ve stuck around longer because Alt-J was pretty boring. We couldn’t get close enough to get engaged because apparently everybody loves Alt-J. Who knew? Not me.

We headed up to Perry’s for Dog Blood who took too long to set up. When they finally dropped the giant screen their shit was intense and crazy. I joked that if people knew this was Skrillex’s band they’d have attracted a lot more people. A minute later they introduced themselves and I watched dozens of newbs on the street simultaneously mouth, “Holy shit, it’s Skrillex,” and run over toward the stage. I appreciate the self-sabotage of anonymous band names.

#plur

#plur

But I had to be across the park again to catch the end of the Vaccines. There was nobody there so we got right up front as they kicked into my favorite song, “Norgaard.” Phil said I was totally Reaganing. Everything was working out great.

Vampire Weekend was up next, and I’ve loved this band from the first time I heard their debut album. Despite the fact that I’m a midwesterner who’s a decade older than them, their early stuff just sounds like college to me. And college was fun! Their new album shows they’re getting older and dealing with shit you figure out as you’re closing in on 30. But fuck it, my twenties were fun too!

Ezra Koening is an adorably charming front man. Everybody around me was having a blast. It was a family-friendly show with lots of parents dancing with their kids all around us. Good vibes were on full display. There were two bros standing next to me decked out in total #fest bro gear (tank tops, cargo shorts, Camelbaks, baseball caps) making out with each other. Nobody seemed shocked. We stuck around for the whole set, the only complete set I’d catch that day.

Back across the park for the Cure, but first a stop at Perry’s for a little Major Lazer. I saw them at Pitchfork in 2010 where they blew my mind and confirmed that indie rock was boring and dance music is where the action is. I’ve softened up on that stance a bit, and EDM has settled into some of its own boring cliches. But Perry’s stage is still where you go for a blast of youthful exuberance. The kids are covered in glitter and mud and #plur, throwing garbage in the air, macking on each other, and dancing their asses off. It’s awesome.

I love the Cure, and they sounded great, but seeing Robert Smith was disheartening. I know I know I know that people get old. Even rock stars. Even spooky goth dudes. But Robert Smith looked like Elizabeth Taylor…right now. His famous mop looked like the world’s craziest comb-forward. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he was 80% bald on top. I know I’m being shallow and ridiculous, but the rest of the band looked great; they need to convince old Bob to join them them at gym.

After 45 minutes we headed up to check out Knife Party at Perry’s. As usual, the EDM stage made all the guitar bands seem old-fashioned. And once again, I saw two tank-topped bros totally getting down with each other. It’s incredible how quickly the acceptance of gay folks has advanced over the past several years. This would’ve been shocking when Lolla settled in Chicago in 2005, and unimaginable at the first Lolla tour in 1991. Now it’s like, two dudes on ecstasy making out in the mud? No biggie. That’s progress!

Cat Power

Cat Power

We made it across the park in time to hear Phoenix play “1901″ (again: Reaganing!) and see Thomas Mars crowd surf on top of a bunch of kids who couldn’t decide whether to support their hero or film him on their phones and let him crash into the dirt. Phoenix was the “Strokes moment” of 2013 for me, where I had been excited to see a performance (back in 2010 it was Lady Gaga) only to be disappointed and ultimately redeemed by a band that was unexpectedly awesome.

Finally, on our way out we caught the last ten minutes of Cat Power’s set as Chan collected white roses from fans and threw them back into the crowd. I had managed to see a reasonable chunk of all four headliners’ sets that night, a Lolla first for me. My feet were sore from the non-stop back and forth, but it wasn’t anything a burrito from El Cid couldn’t cure.

Lollapalooza is a lot like IKEA. It’s crowded and overwhelming and hard to get around. It’s full of annoying people and tons of shit you don’t need. But if you go in with a good attitude and list of what you want — as well as some flexibility — you can get a lot out of it. I’ve enjoyed it every year and I’m already looking forward to next year.

Photos by AMP. See more here.

Neil Young - Everybody's Rockin'

Songs, Law Suits & Sundaes

Neil Young - Everybody's Rockin'

While the idea that artists can make music that is not what people, fans, mainly, think or expect them to make and yet that music has as much validity as anything that they may have previously recorded or performed raised in this recent entry about Elvis Costello, it has come to my attention that this isn’t some philosophical rabbit hole, but potentially something that could have crippling consequences for the performer in question.

That is, back in the 1980s, when Neil Young was signed to David Geffen’s label, Geffen sued Young for $3-million, with the suit claiming that the music that Young was putting out—Trans and then Everybody’s Rockin’—were “unrepresentative” of, well, presumably Neil Young music.

The suit was dropped, but consider what the existence of the suit in the first place meant.

Neil Young was signed to a label presumably because there was something that was considered to be “Neil Young Music.”  Prior to that point in time, Young had put out a rather robust body of work, a collection that could be considered, to put it modestly, eclectic.

Does, say, Harvest (’72) have much similarity to Rust Never Sleeps (’79)?

Yet Geffen seems to have thought that there was Neil Young Music and there was something that was Not Neil Young Music.  He had paid for NYM.  He was getting what he perceived to be NNYM.  And so he wanted his money back.

If you went to an ice cream store and ordered a banana split and they gave you a hot fudge sundae, you’d probably want a redo, at the very least.  Arguably some of the components of the banana split are like those of the hot fudge sundae, but that’s not what you had in mind.

And Geffen didn’t have, apparently, Trans and Everybody’s Rockin’ in mind, either.

So who’s right?  Who decides?  The artist/performer or the person paying for the product?  (Yes, “product” is a loaded word, but most musicians are not involved in personal not-for-profit undertakings, because when they go to the ice cream store for that hot fudge sundae, the person behind the counter expects money, not a song.)