Wilco Worries

I saw Wilco play on Oct. 5. Or perhaps I should say I saw Jeff Tweedy play with his backing band for the first time. Either way, what I saw was not the same group I’d seen over the years at the Majestic Theater. It certainly wasn’t the one I’d seen perform at Aquinas College in support of Mermaid Avenue or at the now-defunct Lounge Axe during the NBA Finals in 1998.

Of course it wasn’t the same. Bands change over the years, they release albums, they drop and add members. Sometimes a good band starts to suck. Sometimes bands just call it quits and other times they drag out their own death as solo projects, age, drugs, whatever, begin to take their toll. I’m not suggesting Wilco is necessarily going down any of these paths, not when their best album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, has been recorded and awaits release. But I’m nervous.

I’m not going to go into an in-depth analysis of the show, set lists, etc. Suffice to say, it was a good show. I enjoyed it. Most of the crowd seemed to enjoy it. Though from my observation, Tweedy didn’t, and that’s where my nervousness comes from. He/they played for about an hour, Tweedy standing at the forefront, Tweedy calling the shots, Tweedy obviously at the center of everything happening, the others acting merely as support. Fine. But having seen the way that Jay Bennett and Tweedy used to riff off each other, having seen the two of them fueling each other on stage, well, I missed that. Apparently, so did Tweedy.

After the first hour, having not previously addressed the crowd, Tweedy comes to the mic between songs and asks the question: Are you guys enjoying this? The crowd cheers and Tweedy responds: I guess I’ll have to take your word for it. Then he says this will be the last song and they play “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” And it rocks and they leave.

The music is, in a word, phenomenal. But the attitude. . . huh?

After the obligatory 10 minutes, the group returns to rabid cheering. And Tweedy lambastes the crowd for “people talking in the back.” Now mind you, the vast majority of the first hour of music was YHF stuff, which, lest they all have broadband Internet connections, I can’t see faulting the crowd for not knowing or being into. But see, it’s not really the talking that’s the problem, people talk during shows all the time. It’s more that Jeff Tweedy is “alone” on the stage now; Bennett’s gone, his guitar(s) left with him, and the ultra-introspective Tweedy is left with no creative foil and a hell of a lot of guitar work. So Tweedy’s looking to the crowd for the sort of feeling he used to get performing with Bennett. As we all know, the crowd is a fickle mistress. (As Tweedy alluded to, some of the people out there are trying to get laid, get drunk, or worrying about shit that’s a bit more important than his lamentations on American society. And I’m sorry, Jeff, but you’ve got to let them be.)

So perhaps I’m just such a Wilco geek that I can’t stand to see the band change? Perhaps, but remember, I liked the show. I had a good time. It was better than the last Wilco show I’d seen at the Majestic. Once Tweedy got over his talking-in-the-back angst and started rocking, or “playing the hits” as he may have felt he was being forced to do, even the talkers shut up and screamed along to “Passenger Side” and “California Stars.”

So, take it at face value; go see Wilco for yourselves. Let me stress, it’s a good show without Bennett. But it’s different and there’s always potential for disaster when things change, just as there’s potential for further greatness. We can probably all agree that the last thing in the world a band that’s been as wonderfully creative in reinventing itself with every album should do is churn out Summerteeth replicas, AC-DC-like.

But be forewarned: If you see Tweedy up there on stage sucking down the coffee and whining, he might need cheering up. He misses Jay. Buy him a beer—or offer a ten-spot to pay for your CD-R copy of Yankee.

[Correction: the show referenced in the lede was at Calvin College in support of Summerteeth; Wilco has never played Aquinas. -ed. 10/18/2017]

Jenny Toomey: Beauty, Pt. II

Jenny Toomey at Schubas, Chicago, 10/16/01

It was a regular independent music hoedown inside Schubas music room Tuesday night, as Jenny Toomey brought her solo act to Chicago, building out from her indie rock roots with a backing band that showcased not only Toomey’s trademark voice, wit and lyrics, but the challenging interaction of keys, cello, bass, violin, and even some castinets.

Throughout the 1990s, Toomey played and sang in great bands like Tsunami, Grenadine, and Liquorice. If that wasn’t enough, she was also the creative force behind Simple Machines Records, which functioned both as a source for amazing music by such groups as Rodan, Autoclave, and Lungfish, as well as an incubator/how-to manual for anyone wishing to put out records and generally give the Record Biz the big kiss-off. Toomey and Simple Machines partner Kristin Thomson’s 24-page record-making guidebook is at least as legendary as their label’s stellar music releases. And Toomey’s literate punk rock approach to the DIY aesthetic only grew. After A Brilliant Mistake, Tsunami’s 1997 swan song, the rocker and Georgetown grad formed the Future of Music Coalition, a group dedicated to artists’ rights in the brave new world of digital music and even bigger Big Business.

Toomey returns in 2001 with Antidote (Misra), an ambitious double-disc set that offsets the traditional tools of rock with instrumentation like vibes and strings. One thing that hasn’t changed throughout her career though is Jenny Toomey’s self-confident, sardonic, and extremely straightforward view of all things love and life. And Tuesday night in Chicago, those sensibilities were in full-effect, fronting her crack backing band. With Franklin Bruno on keys, Amy Domingues doubling up on cello and electric bass, Jean Cook’s violin existing as fiery monster or sidling accompaniment (sometimes both at once), and Jay Tobey’s understated, genre-bending percussion, Toomey’s new material came off as a potent mixture of moods, and a brightly-toned illustration of just how far independent music has come since the days of Simple Machines’ first few 7″ recordings.

Recorded in both Nashville and Chicago, Antidote‘s songs give Toomey an opportunity to furthur showcase her wonderful pipes, while still putting forth plenty of observation into not only love and relationships, but just what the hell we’re all supposed to be doing here. Touches of her more rocking past surfaced here and there Tuesday, but it was the deeper material that gave she and her band a real opportunity to show off their chops. With Cook’s violin meshing with both the keyboards and the bass, Toomey was content to fill in with her guitar while really relishing her vocals. An appearance by Chicago’s own Edith Frost (also a collaborator on the record) on backing vocals was a real treat, as was The Coctails’ Marc Greenberg sitting for Bruno at the ivories for a few songs. And Domingues might have stolen the show with her cello, playing deliberate lines that followed the ebb and flow of Toomey’s fiery/funny/sad/jazzy vocal delivery.

Mixing instruments not necessarily in concert with one another is nothing new. But sometimes it can seem like a cliché, like in the context of an artist’s first solo work, and especially if that album is a two-disc affair. But Antidote is quite the opposite. Toomey recorded much of the Nashville material with members of Lamchop, that city’s fine collective of musicians that have been melding soul, country, bluegrass, and rock together for over ten years. And she also collaborated with Calexico, another group that has made great music with their stylish cocktail of southwestern and country/western influences. At Schubas’ on Tuesday night, it was actually the more instrumentally diverse material that had the most resonance, which would have silenced any blowhards in the crowd, had they shown up to, say, heckle the band featuring funny instruments. So at the end of the show, when Toomey told a funny story about buying a pair of antique castinets in a junk store, and Domingues produced the very items from her bag of tricks, strapping them to her fingers and taking position with her hands by the mic, no one thought anything was out of the ordinary. And then Jenny Toomey and her band performed a wonderful Spanish-tinged number from Antidote, castinets and all, and it rocked just as much as any rock band would.

Artists have the right to create whatever music they want. And when it happens to be really amazing, that’s even better.

JTL

Wilco Film: Get It While You Can…

There’s a new web site for the unfinished, unfinanced, unreleased documentary film based on the recording of Wilco’s unreleased fourth album. The album, of course, is Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. The film is called “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart.” And just as Wilco has turned to the internet to stream their new album to its fans, director Sam Jones is making clips of his film available online. According to the site, “The film is currently about halfway complete, and the filmmakers are seeking financing and distribution through independent means.”

There is a ton of information here, and I haven’t even begun to get into it all. Along with the movie clips, there’s a photo gallery, a filmmaker’s diary and a message board.

Regarding the movie clips, the site says:

This page consists of unedited documentary footage culled from over 50 hours of film, and will change every two weeks. The website may be the only venue to ever show these clips, as they may very well end up on the cutting room floor. Keep an eye on this page for snippets of new songs, rare performances, and unedited dialog.

Sounds good to me. I can’t wait to get home and dive into it. Until then, let’s all cross our fingers and hope that this movie actually gets completed and released… Oh yeah, the album too.

More Glorious Noise Radio Updates

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last playlist update, so we swapped in ten new songs hand picked by Glorious Noise contributor Johnny. The new stuff includes tracks by the Rolling Stones, Jim White, PJ Harvey, Tribe Called Quest, Clem Snide, Fugazi, the International Submarine Band, Wire, Sleater-Kinney, and the Verve. So check it out by clicking on the radio icons at the top of the page. New feature: you can now see what’s currently playing on Glorious Noise Radio by clicking here. There’s over four hours of great music (66 songs!) constantly streaming for your listening pleasure.

Another thing: as you might have noticed, the site’s layout has moved around a little. The Glorious Noise design department is furiously cranking out plans to make the site more navigable, easier to read and better looking. Updates will be trickling in over the next several weeks. Let us know what you would like to see improved…

Continue reading More Glorious Noise Radio Updates

Your Mother Wears Combat Boots

Punk rock gives birth to a whole new generation…literally.

By Phil Wise

Like any era, scene, phase, what-have-you, punk rock has grown into something much bigger than the dirty architects imagined in their puke drenched booths at CBGB. It’s matured (egads!) and even been accepted by the mainstream (don’t tell Johnny Rotten-Lydon-Rotten), despite the New York Dolls being snubbed for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yes, it seems rock and roll’s snot-nosed, loudmouthed little brother has grown up a bit. And so have some of the followers of the scene, which has given birth, er, to the punk rock mom. And they are hot.

All around big cities and even some small towns you can see punk chicks pushing strollers and toting wet naps. Decked out in their leather jackets, spiked hair and Doc Martins, they’ve added to their uniform another list of accessories that includes binkies, Pampers, animal crackers and Tickle Me Elmo. These mavens of punk Momdom can just as soon be heard humming the theme to Barney as the Dead Boys‘ “Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth.”

And the punk moms may not just be raising fine kids, they may in fact be the saviors of a movement that’s been subjugated and tamed by mass media. Imagine the looks of blue hairs (those whose hair is blue due to age rather than by design) when punk mom strolls in with Baby Stiv on hip and a Walkman blasting “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment.” Punk kids may have lost all their shock value but what about the punk moms? Not to mention they’re raising a generation brought up on gobbing as a sign of respect, something babies are naturally adept at.

Now, punk broke some 25 years ago and certainly there were scenesters who became parents in that quarter century, but never before have we seen such a proliferation of punk in maternity wards as we have today. Perhaps it’s because punk’s influence over those years has spread to include a wider range of people. Regardless, there is a new wave of mothers out there still clinging to punk ethics, fashion, music and politics and they’re raising children!

Yes, God May Not Save the Queen, but as long as there are moms out there listening to Television, shacking up with guys who “look exactly like Richard Hell” and know that “Gabba Gabba Hey” is NOT baby-talk, then I’ll sleep well knowing America is in good hands.

The Ear of the Beholder

For reasons too tedious to contemplate and therefore innumerate, I use MSN to connect to the Internet. As a result, when I long in I get to a horribly inane interface and the MSN homepage. Or maybe it is a “portal.” There is a multitude of clickable items and images, from news to weather to fashion to entertainment to. . . .

Today I happened to spot a line: “Ugliest Bands of All Time.” Which, I admit, is intriguing due to the oddity (but nowadays who can tell: who’d ever even been thinking about anthrax outside of a few metalheads or fans of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” before now?). So I clicked through and found the following list with no explanation:

· “We’re Not Going to Take It”—Twisted Sister

· “Run-Around”—Blues Traveler

· “Pet Sematary”—The Ramones

· “American Girl”—Tom Petty

· “Heaven Can Wait”—Iron Maiden

· “Search and Destroy”—The Stooges

· “No One Likes You”—Scorpions

· “My Best Friend’s Girl”—The Cars

· “Free Bird”—Lynyrd Skynyrd

· “Tearin’ Up My Heart”—’N Sync

What the hell is this all about? Is Tom Petty thought to be uglier when he sings that song? Is Iggy more attractive-post Stooges? Does the list maker have something against Germans? And why isn’t there a picture of Dee Snider’s mug if the whole thing is about profound unattractiveness?

One thing of note is that the list consists wholly of men. Which is not sexist in the way that you might think. I’d argue that with few exceptions, ugly women just don’t make it big in show biz. From Britney to Shania, from Madonna to Jessica, it is all about looks first and pipes second. Which is often audibly unfortunate and visually appropriate. Ugly men abound, which makes me think that there isn’t, perhaps, a whole lot of distance between TV newscasts and the music industry (e.g., can you image a female version of Willard Scott talking about the weather?).

Who needs music television? Not us.

Since they no longer play videos on MTV (old news, I know), we must turn to the Web to get our fix that used to at least be satisfied by 120 Minutes. For a while there, I used to tape that show every Sunday night and watch it Monday evening. I was turned on to some great new music that way. I saw the Travis video for “All I Wanna Do Is Rock” on 120 Minutes back in 1997, and that’s still my favorite song of theirs.

But now musicians know how to use the Internet, and I’ve got a broadband connection, so here are three videos that I think you should check out:

Liz Phair – Down. This is a new song from Liz, and I still love her even though she moved to LA as soon as I moved to Chicago. She may be avoiding me, but she still writes great songs. This is a cool video with interesting (for once) use of that goofy, stop-frame/multi-angle technique (as seen in Gaps ads and football games).

Liz Phair 'Down'

Bjork – Pagan Poetry. First things first: Bjork’s boobies are featured in this kinky, unsafe-for-work video. The song is brilliant, and the video is disturbing.

Björk – Pagan Poetry (Official Music Video)

Gorillaz – Rock the House. I initially gave the Gorilllaz album some shit because I was disappointed that there were only two songs with my man Del on them. I’m still upset about that, but I’ve gone back to the album several times recently, and have started to really like it. Except for the handful of songs where the guy from Blur sings in his annoying falsetto. Uggh. But a lot of it is really good. This new video from them is the other Del song.

Gorillaz – Rock The House (Official Video)

If you know of other cool videos, please add them to comments section. It’s Friday and I don’t feel like working…

[Update: This was originally posted years before YouTube, but 15 years later we embedded working videos. -ed.]

The Strokes: Fell in Love with You before the Second Show

The Strokes Blow Up The Spot (And That’s No Hype!)

On Friday night at Metro, the Strokes ran every route in the rookie rock star playbook. They played the waiting game with their sold out crowd, booked an impossibly shitty band as an opener, performed behind a shroud of smoke, and even fell off the stage, just like alleged burgeoning rock icons should. Thusly, you could call them prima donnas. You could even be like the dude in front of me, and scream out “You make me hate rock and roll!”

Or you could have shut the fuck up about the hype, the hair, and the RCA cheese, and reveled in the series of real rock moments that the NYC quintet tossed off with casual efficiency and genuine dedication – just like real rock icons should.

The Strokes don’t just wear their influences on their sleeves – they went to St Vincent DePaul and scrounged up the whole damn suit. And so what? When they finally emerged from backstage about 2am, and Julian Casablancas keeled over his mic stand, promptly misjudging the lip of the stage during the set opener, all of their Velvet Underground tendencies and New York accoutrements mattered little. The band that has J.Lo’s PR types scratching their skulls detonated their own hype and kicked the debris into the balcony, right in the faces of all the pretty people politely cheering with their pinkies raised. An obviously inebriated Casablancas could give a shit about celebrity guests or the slicked-back gold card humps that clogged the cramped environs of Metro. Performing their bare-bones catalog in 45 sweaty, tightly-wound moments, Casablancas, dueling guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond, Jr, drummer Fab Moretti and bassist Nikolai Fraiture pretty much made each of their 12 songs sound like a true anthem. Casablancas’ vocal – a sandpaper-y cross between Lou Reed and Morrissey – weaved in between the two guitars’ soloing and the rhythm section’s admirable groove, even as his motor skills failed him to the point that he must have leaned on each of his comrades at least twice during the set.

Towards the end of the set, Our Fair Singer pushed the dirty, sullen mop out of his eyes. Introducing “New York City Cops,” a track removed from the forthcoming Is This It? LP in the wake of September 11 (subsequently pushing the release of the record back to October 9), Casablancas was sincere through his drunkenness. “People have been writing some shit about this next song,” he slurred. “Yeah, well, we were fucking there, man, we were fucking there, okay? [And all we’re trying to do] is be confident!” With that, The Strokes launched into “New York City Cops,” a song that would only be misconstrued as offensive by those who tend to make decisions without even hearing the music. The number burned like white phosphorus, and followed up by “Take It Or Leave It,” The Strokes left the stage with a one-two punch of hard-edged, REAL rock and roll that showed their true colors as passionate musicians and — perhaps — future rock icons.

Too much has been written about the Strokes’ stylish pedigree, both by this website and other outlets (Hello, Rolling Stone.) But if Friday night’s show proved anything, it’s that the band can talk the talk. The group’s reverence for its NYC rock forbearers is obvious, both in print and in person. But what about Albert Hammond, Jr’s stage moves on lead guitar, those that recalled Joe Perry, or even Slash? Those guys aren’t New Yorkers. What about the obvious New Wave influences in the precision of the songs and Valensi’s high strung, frenetic rhythm guitar? I swear I heard the Housemartins floating around in there. And the whole band’s underlying groove of booze, love, and anger remind me as much of Mission of Burma’s “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver” as they do of Television or The Ramones. There’s the rub: For months, we’ve been hearing all about the Strokes, without really hearing – really listening to – the music itself. Though the group’s fantastic plastic hype machine will undoubtedly help it sell records, it’s fire-in-the-belly performances like what took place on Friday night that will really make them rock stars. After all, something’s going down in music these days. Pop is dead, Nu Metal is over, and Hip Hop’s wack clown princes are marginalizing the form’s true artists. Rock and Roll never died, but a group like the Strokes – with their energy, simple enthusiasm, and of course their drunken antics – can certainly help the Rock get back on track, and reap the benefits of what it has sown.

JTL

Note: Sting will be glad to hear that I officially hate Moldy Peaches more than he and his soulless corporate whore yuppie rock. Moldy Peaches are a duo from New York City who I had the nauseous fortune to stand through while waiting for The Strokes to take the stage Friday. Remember that geeky neighbor kid that always tried to hang out with you and your friends growing up? The one that copped all your bits, tried to hang but couldn’t, and had food stuck in his braces? Well, New York City’s Moldy Peaches are that kid, if he listened through the wall while Beat Happening, The Vaselines, Frank Zappa, and The Flaming Lips practiced. A bastardized, shitty version of these venerable artists, The Moldy Peaches are the worst thing I’ve paid money for since dollar dances at the Ypsilanti Déjà Vu. Kimya Dawson and Adam Green, two dopes riding a very different New York pedigree than that of the Strokes, came off like The Frogs or Ween if those groups put their wicked senses of humor in a cryogenic chamber and received a year of free lobotomies. Unfunny, unoriginal, and utterly horrible, The Moldy Peaches are the worst thing to happen to music since Fred Durst had kids. You’ve been warned.

JTL

Love: American Style

Glorious Noise is happy to introduce a new member to the team. Kristy Eldredge is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her new feature article reports from New York on her finding true love in the arms of Quasi. Be sure to welcome her to the group and post your thoughts in the discussion section.

Continue reading Love: American Style

The David Caruso Factor

The Beatles are a sterling example of the concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

It came as something of a surprise to me—a pleasant surprise, I must say—that there was no blow-by-blow breakdown of the “tribute” to John Lennon that appeared on cable earlier this week. Although I still remember where I was when I heard that Lennon had been shot (for some reason, remembrances of such things are supposed to signify an import beyond the norm, which I’m not so sure about, as it could simply be a function of difference, not significance), it has always seemed to me that his post-Beatles career with such things as “Instant Karma,” wasn’t much more than a variant of a Ray Stevens novelty act.

The whole veneration of Lennon goes back to something that happened during my generation, when The Beatles were new and we were children. Everyone had their “favorite” Beatle. Although they were considered as individuals (e.g., “Paul is the cute one”; “George is the shy one”), the band members were inextricably tied to the band as a whole; there was no notion that there could be solos. Of course, the main dichotomy was between John and Paul for the simple reason that they were the two up front: No one—at least no one at age 10—was pouring over the small type on the label on the vinyl to see who was responsible for what. Even on the Saturday morning cartoon of the band there were obvious differences between the two. John was the guy who made the most cracks while Paul evinced a certain niceness. And so it has remained ever since.

But let’s face it: for every “Mind Games” or “Maybe I’m Amazed,” there has been a whole lot of post-Beatles dreck. Not that I think that those guys should have stopped working after the band broke up, but it does seem to me that there should have been a bit of critical distance applied to their subsequent music. Less fawning. More listening.

For some reason, musicians who have gained success, recognition and popularity through their membership in a band almost never (I really can’t think of a good counter example, but I’m keeping my options open) do as well solo. Think, for example, of all of the albums released by Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Pete Townshend and on and on and on. How many of these are better than the Stones, Zeppelin, Who, or Whomever?

Note how the Patron Musician of this site, Neil Young, has been a part of many bands but has always been apart from them. In my argument, Buffalo Springfield been successful, we would probably not be giving Neil quite as many props today—if any at all.

Rock and roll can change your life.