NELLY FURTADO AT PARK WEST

It’s Nelly’s Party (Come Get It): NELLY FURTADO AT PARK WEST, 3/7/01

Will Nelly Furtado’s 21st century pop music bouillabaisse save America?

There were no flash pots, indoor fireworks, or multi-tiered stages. She wasn’t coming off a skin-tight appearance at The Super Bowl. And the only click track she needed was the beat of her two drummers. On Wednesday night in Chicago, Nelly Furtado brought her own brand of girl-powered pop to an audience in dire need of a real-rock transfusion.

All of 22, Nelly Furtado already has four major Juno awards in her native Canada. “Woah, Nelly!,” her domestic debut, is lodged at 64 on the Billboard 200 and climbing. And all this despite limited US airplay and exposure. It’s a damn shame. Furtado’s music combines the laid-back hippie vibe of Edie Brickell with the urban beats and slick production of Lauryn Hill or Macy Gray. She could be compared with Fiona Apple’s cabaret approach to pop, but she has none of Fiona’s bile-spitting anger. The world isn’t bullshit for Nelly. In fact, she seems to love it. Her songs are imbued with a sunny sense of themselves, which translates live to an easygoing sexiness that’s refreshing in a climate of pedantic aftermarket popstars.

Dressed simply in jeans and a tank top (no red unitards here), Furtado took the stage promptly at 8:15, fronting her male 5-piece band with a remote mic that let her skip around like a Canadian/Portuguese imp. Though her jaunty stage moves were a bit Gwen-like, they weren’t tripped out. She was obviously enjoying herself, and probably trying also to spice up a somewhat tepid crowd. While Furtado’s voice – a shimmering tool that can go high, low, and in between – was the star of the show, her band did its part to replicate the slick production of “Woah, Nelly!” Remember Andrew Farris, the ubiquitous keyboard player from INXS who seemed to play every instrument at once? Nelly’s keyboard guy saw him too. Often playing two keyboards while at the same time backing Nelly up with synthesized harmony, he was the guts of the band. With his electronics taking such a prominent role, the rest of the band suffered a little. When the guitar man strapped on his Strat, it was non-existent in the mix. But they were still a band, and she was still singing all her own stuff, which is light years beyond your average TRL artist. It’s tough to sing into the mic from the audience at a Britney concert.

As the night moved along, the upbeat material fared better. When Nelly and her band gathered on stools with acoustic instruments (including a crazy thing involving a long stick and what looked like a cantaloupe) to perform a few traditional Portuguese numbers, the bathroom lines lengthened. Which wasn’t surprising. Despite widespread critical acclaim, Furtado’s music has taken awhile to crack the American market, and has done so without the normal publicity juggernaut of KISS-FM airplay and mall appearances. So when she cranked up “Shit On The Radio (Remember The Days),” the (mostly underage female) crowd responded by shouting back the chorus. I realized then why the line for beer had been so short all night.

Nelly is good for American music. She has no use for Swedish songsmiths, oversexed posturing, or vapid layouts in Tiger Beat. Her approach to music is similar to countrywoman Sarah McLachlan’s, only without the adult-contemporary aftertaste. It ain’t no thing for her to switch from soulful high notes into gritty rap, which she pulls off with admirable flow. While the music sometimes enters over-produced, Mattel Sinsonic Drums territory, the slickness never overpowers Furtado’s voice or lyrics (which she writes). Watching her lead the audience in the chanting chorus to “Turn Off The Light,” it was easy to imagine her as a more organic Britney. While the new Material Girl and her ilk desperately try to extend their pyrotechnic fantasy ride, girls like Nelly are out there doing it for the kids, and with all the right moves: A little bit urban, a little bit hippie, and completely 21st century.

JTL

Rockin’ Country Style

I just found a great web resource called Rockin’ Country Style. It seems to be very well done, and simple to navigate. It’s all about the content. The guy who put this thing together is obviously a music freak; just take a look at his Criteria for Inclusion. If you need a rockabilly discography, this is the place to go.

RADIO, RADIO

During my formative years, I was tuning in the glow on the late-night dial. It was Chicago radio’s heyday. The Loop, WXRT, WMET, WLS, and later WCKG were all major contenders for the musical soul of the city’s youth. While I credit these radio outlets with strengthening my sense of musical history (lots of Beatles, Stones, & Zep), they’re also the reason I have reams of Journey lyrics stuck in my subconscious, and somehow know every weedly-weedly-ing lick in the outro to The Scorpions’ “Rock Me Like a Hurricane.” When you spend entire summer days bouncing a ball in the backyard with your neighbor’s outdoor speakers as a soundtrack, it’s unfortunate what you can recall later in life.

But I wasn’t raised on radio.

Fortunately, The Older Brother/Cousin Force ran strong in my family. While I might have been digging “Saved by Zero” on WBBM-FM’s “Flamethrowin’ Five,” the LP-buying example set by my brother and cousins helped me realize that doing anything my radio advised wasn’t exactly the hippest. It wasn’t necessarily the music that they bought (“Mr Roboto” in gatefold? Cool!); it was simply that these guys loved the record store, and the notion of actually listening to an entire album of music. There’s an image stuck in my brain like a “Fore!”-era Huey Lewis video. Once, when I was young, the family truckster pulled up in front of my cousins’ house. Two of them had painted the names of their fave bands on their window shades, and lit the room from the inside. And I’ll tell you, seeing “Rush” and “The Who” spelled out on those white shades went a long way towards making me a music fan. It was never just going to be about those late night stations, the ones playing songs bringing tears to my eyes. Radio may have been a sound salvation, but I knew there was something deeper. One thing leads to another, indeed.

Just like Don Simmons, the man with the tragic affliction of “no soul” in “Amazon Women on the Moon,” many Americans are unfortunately raised with the belief that they had better do as they are told, and listen to the radio. After spending their entire lives as radio listeners, they’ve become prisoners to what it has to say. There’s a good reason why the “Now!” series of current pop hits packages consistently sells in the millions. All the hits of the previous few months are compiled in one place for the listener to enjoy, without all that annoying filler one would find on a single artist release.

Sometimes this attitude is warranted. I wouldn’t swear Caviar’s recent self-titled release on anybody. After their catchy single “Tangerine Speedo” picked up speed on modern rock stations nationwide, Caviar’s album was hastily released by Island/Bomb Trax with bland cover art suggesting its used-bin future. None of the album’s mid-tempo, Verve Pipe-meets-Fountains-of-Wayne rock comes close to the cloying, sexy vibe of “Tangerine Speedo.” But who cares? Island ‘s release of the record was an afterthought. It had already made its money off of the single, placing “Speedo” on soundtracks for “Charlie’s Angels” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” where it would help piggyback sales with the other decent, yet mediocre, songs on those collections. To the average radio-influenced music consumer, an album by an unknown – even with a solid hit single – is a risk. A soundtrack or hits compilation is a better bet. At least you can play it at parties.

There will always be bands like Caviar, whose 15 minutes are sold out from under them before they can even cash them in for a groupie’s blow job. But maybe it’s a risk they consciously took, putting all of their Speedos in a tangerine-colored basket. The label upsells the shit out of these groups, and like Jordan says, it gets the hell out of Saigon. And as they taxi down the runway, they can hear the rock bands shout, “don’t come back here.”

But the labels always do. And they bring more money. And many of the bands rolling daily into Jordan’s studio have realized that, to get signed, you either shut up or get cut up. To the labels, it’s only inches on a reel-to-reel. And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools. But maybe, just maybe, you can be the next Sugar Ray.

My, oh my, what a dream to live for.

JTL

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.

Studio Perspective: Trends and How They Kill Themselves

First official posting by junior member J Franky:

Studio Perspective: Trends and How They Kill Themselves

Hi there. As some of you may know I actually get out of bed every morning and go to a Day Job, specifically at a recording studio in Chicago. I would like from time to time to share the little observations I pick up on while watching other bands, listening to random mixes and cleaning up other people’s vomit. Let me know after this article if this is anything that you gentlemen are interested in knowing more about, and if there are specific questions that I need to get to the bottom of in the studio. I can be reaaaaaaallly sneaky if properly medicated.

Anyways, I wanted to further expand on the ever-present cycle of popular/radio music, as exhibited in the Chicago scene (which I like to think is representative of the midwest in general). My studio has a fairly large variety of acts coming through the doors, but for the most part it’s blues and rock, and sometimes rockin’ blues. We have had a lot of Irish music, and there was a guy who played the sitar really well, but again, it’s primarily a Rock studio. It’s not the Most professional/expensive studio in the city, but it does get some fairly big names and tends to attract smaller bands who have saved up and want to make a really good demo to shop around. Those bands, the younger ones, never cease to impress me with their playing ability, their energy, and most impressively their total belief that every song they record will be a huge hit.

Why this poses a problem is because these bands are all writing the same song. I can’t tell you the Exact number of bands that have come through the doors sounding like Blink-182 or Papa Roach, but it’s mind boggling. Almost every young band that comes in is trying to sound exactly like one of those two, perhaps with a bit of a ska edge thrown in. And they’re not shy about it; they ask (or the engineer even asks them) to sound like an existing record. I know that the latest Rage Against The Machine disc has been sitting next to the mixing board for two months now. The engineer will pop it in and the tweak the knobs to get it to sound as much like the disc as possible. And this is what the bands want. Now granted this is not my exact cup of tea, but most of these bands sound like they could be on the radio to my ears. They all insist that they are bringing in lots of people to their shows and will easily sell these discs right off the bat.

All of us are extremely aware of the trends in the music industry, but it’s very interesting to see it on the ground-level where all of these bands are coming in sounding exactly the same as each other, but each one fairly talented, each one feeling that they have some little hook that will make them noticed over the others. The response from the labels around here has been exactly what you would think: sign a few, make some bucks off them, get out quick. It’s already on to the next thing, and these bands are still coming in by the boat-load. What happens when they realize that this trend is nearing completion and that they’re the ones who are driving it to it’s end? Will they morph into the Next Big Thing? Or do they give it up and are never heard from again? When speaking to the Elders of the Studio the conventional wisdom is that this is how music life goes. These bands will put out one album and break up and most will give up music entirely by the time they are 25. And it never stops. Hundreds upon hundreds of young bands will come in thinking they are riding the current wave, not having the perspective of sitting back and seeing that there are hundreds of bands doing it. Wouldn’t you think that modeling your sound off of something that was on the radio last year is a sure-fire way of dating yourself into instant obscurity? I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I get to see it first-hand now. And I’m trying hard to remember whether I felt that way before when I was a wee lad, if I wanted to sound exactly like the radio. I think I did, but I’m not sure anymore. Do you guys remember?

News flash from www.wilcoworld.net

News flash from www.wilcoworld.net:

First News of the New Album; lineup change

The next Wilco record is currently scheduled for release on July 10. The working title is “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and it will be on Reprise Records. The band will begin mixing the 20 or so recorded songs in April at which point they’ll begin the process of editing it down to the 12-15 that will likely end up on the record. As many of you have no doubt heard, Wilco also have a new drummer. His name is Glenn Kotche — he’s a Chicago guy who’s recorded and/or toured with the likes of Jim O’Rourke, Paul K. & the Weathermen, Edith Frost, and many others. He’s performed with Jeff a couple of times in the past — most recently at the Abbey Pub. He also worked with Tweedy on the soundtrack to the forthcoming film “Chelsea Walls”. The departure of Ken Coomer’s was quite sad for us all but everybody in the Wilco camp is now really excited about the way the band and the record are sounding with Kotche. More about all of this soon.

I wonder how much we’ll miss Ken Coomer. He was a great drummer and really contributed to the Wilco sound. Drummers are fussy though, right?

Quasar Wut Wut Breaks My Heart

When it was over, Jeff turned to Jolie and asked her how long that song had lasted. Jolie said about four and a half minutes. I was shocked. I would have set down my beer and put my hand on the Bible and sworn that Quasar Wut Wut had just played a twenty-five minute extended jam on the Rolling Stones’ “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker).” Apparently, the band has figured out a way to distort Time, which is good because even after twenty-five minutes of it I still could have used more.

When you’re friends with the guys in a band, you don’t want to compliment them too heartily about their cover songs for fear that they’ll interpret that to mean you don’t like their originals. With the Quasars this is not the case. Their own songs are great: weird without being obnoxious, and original without being pretentious. And if some of their compositions veer a little too close to the carnival or near some eastern european festival, then the next one will be a straight up rocker. They mix it up. And that’s good.

But they seem to cut loose a little more with their covers, as if they’re giving themselves the chance to rock out without worrying about being flashy. Guitarist Matt Schwarz never got as crazy on his originals as he went on “Heartbreaker.” And I mean Eddie Hazel crazy. He was amazing. For a moment there, he was a guitar god. For me right then, he was the best guitar player in the world. Why doesn’t he do that on his own songs? Is he afraid he’ll sound like Ace Frehley? Is that a bad thing? I don’t know.

Everything came together on “Heartbreaker.” Brent Sulek’s singing was right on and soulful. He must have been channeling Otis Redding at Monterrey (you know what I’m talking about: shake!). Jordan Frank and Matt Schwarz’s Doo Doo Doo Doo Doos sounded perfect and creepy, just like they should. The drummer had the Quasars playing twice as fast as the Stones, which made everything even better. Jolie tells me there was a moment when they all turned to each other in the middle of the song, acknowledging that they too realized that they were making some magic.

I’ve been questioning my feelings from the moment they stopped playing. Can’t tell the guys how truly great they were or else I’ll sound like just another dumb kiss-ass fan. Is it even possible that they were as great as I thought, or was I just out of my head? I honestly don’t know the answers. But I do know that in a crummy little bar in Detroit, those four guys shook the earth for either 25 minutes or four and a half minutes.

Either way, when I left the bar I had to wonder for a moment whether all the burned-out buildings surrounding me were actually caused by the earthquake that had just taken place in my head.

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 naïve, 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.

Call Me Mr Blackwell

Just Call Me Mr Blackwell: THE FASHION UNDERGROUND at Transit, 3/01/01

Transit is the kind of shadowy, bleeding-edge club where you have a nice time dancing one night, only to discover it’s a meatpacking plant the next. Pillars of smoke-filled light lead you through a dark hallway into a circular main room that looks like a crack-laced Thunderdome taking place inside the parlor at Monticello. I kept waiting for blood to come out of the sprinkler system.

On Thursdays, Transit is taken over by FORM – Fashion Or Music. A short runway extends into the club’s main dancefloor, and resident DJ Jernell Geronimo spins fashion-centric house and triphop. For last night’s Fashion Underground event, Geronimo’s selections ranged from Daft Punk’s latest to a nice remix of Sneaker Pimps’ “Spin Spin Sugar” from a few years ago that sounded great. Of course, when the club features a 25,000-watt sound system and state-of-the-art lighting reminiscent of space ships with expensive production design, my left shoe would sound good on the turntable.

After about an hour of carousing, dancing, and the downing of prohibitively expensive cocktails, Transit got the show on the road. A troupe of male and female models trotted out collections from five different Chicago fashion collectives, including Jesus Rodriguez, Supreme Parlor of Funk 2000, and Narcisse Designs. It wasn’t exactly Land’s End Outlet material.

In such a proto-urban space as Transit, with its shady location under the EL tracks and uncomfortable, haughty furniture, it was no surprise that the fashion wasn’t any different. The first collection on display was like a third grader’s Betsy Johnson paper mache project gone horribly 80s. Unkempt strips of multi-colored fabric formed rag-tag hoop dresses underneath black vinyl bustiers that would make Rosanna Arquette’s character in “Crash” shudder violently. In fact, the majority of the night’s clothing had a decidedly post-modern feel – post-modern retrofitted to 1986. Looking like rejects from Scandal’s video for “The Warrior,” models traipsed up and down the runway in get-ups that would not look out of place in a “Steel Dawn” road show. Post-apocalyptic? Maybe. But only if Gordon Gartrell is the leader of the New States of America in a bizarro new-wave future imagined by David Cronenberg and George Miller. In Narcisse Designs’ urban chic beta test, voluminous amounts of eye shadow and fetishistic, insect-inspired fashion somehow suggest what we’ll all look like in 2020. I hope I die before I get old.

As an overall music/culture experience, Transit’s FORM Thursdays aren’t a bad idea. Despite their inherent pretension, it’s still kind of cool to cock your head to one side and say “yeah, I went to a fashion show last night.” Unfortunately, I’m never going to understand the whole concept. Call me crazy, but I don’t think the swirling, flesh-colored bondage nightmares I witnessed on last night’s runway are going to trickle down to the local Greatland Target. When a designer’s line reminds me of a textile Pontiac Aztec, is that a good thing?

JTL