Our first real interview: Cherielynn Westrich

I’ve posted something new in our Features section, an interview with multi-talented Cherielynn Westrich, who is most famous for playing Moog and singing with the Rentals. She also writes, sings and plays guitar with her new band, the Slow Signal Fade, and before the Rentals, she had a band called Supersport 2000.

It’s no secret that I absolutely love the first Rentals album. I like the second one too, but it suffers from a lack of focus and the lack of Cherie’s vocals. She rules, so check out the interview and check out the Slow Signal Fade.

Continue reading Our first real interview: Cherielynn Westrich

Astral Musings

Brown dwarfs are objects in the universe that are smaller than normal stars, bigger than planets. These objects are incapable of sustaining stable nuclear fission like ordinary stars do. So what happens is that they slowly but surely contract. Their light dims.

Last week, sab mentioned how many rock stars of days gone buy are still working it, yet are becoming embarrassments. He cited Lou Reed. Pete Townshend. Bob Dylan (aptly noting that the picture on the new disc makes him appear to be the reincarnation of Vincent Price). And others. So far as he’s concerned, one of the fortunate few who is maintains relevance is Neil Young. (As I watched/listened to Young perform “Imagine” in last night’s “America: A Tribute to Heroes,” it occurred to me that he is probably the only artist living who can actually do the song.)

So a question that arises is whether some of the people whom we blithely designated as being “stars” are really no more than brown dwarfs: Bigger than many, but with an inability to really sustain a shine. Certainly, to stick with this whole astrophysics metaphor, it is true that all stars eventually burn out. But when a star goes, it goes big: It gets extremely hot before it collapses into a black hole.

Related to all of this (funny how things come together) is an ad that I encountered in the October, 2001, issue of Wired for the Toyota Camry. As a bit of background: Toyota is undertaking its biggest marketing campaign in its history. For one thing, it has the all-new Camry, a car that has been the best-seller in the U.S. for years running, a position for the car that the company wants to keep. For another, the managers at the company know that “Toyota” has become synonymous with “quality” and “reliability.” While those are certainly good attributes to have for a vehicle, they think that it is important that people associate the brand with emotion, too. So the new tagline for the company is “Get the Feeling. Toyota.” (Similarly, Lexus, Toyota’s luxo marquee, has gone from “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” to the “The Relentless Pursuit of Passion.”)

One of the things that all of us associate with emotion (and all too rarely for some people, I’m afraid, passion) is music. So in the multipage gatefold add, the new Camry, tagged “Number 1. With a Bullet”, is associated with musicians, two solo artists and two bands.

The first solo is Kina, a musician from Detroit whose music I am entirely unfamiliar with, so I must, fairly, leave her out of all musings to follow.

But the next one is, surprisingly, Lyle Lovett. Surprisingly, because although I admire the Camry from a technical standpoint, I must admit that the last car that I can imagine Lovett rolling in is a Camry. Something old. Something beat up. Something with, well, character.

Then there are the Go-Go’s. OK. The band has a relatively new album. It is attempting to make a comeback. The band has a certain nostalgic freshness for people who followed its music through the ’80s. Perhaps in an effort not to fade, Belinda Carlisle, arguably the front woman of the band, recently appeared in Playboy. One of my office colleagues brought in the issue (note: there are four males in the office). The photos were examined as though we were the “Lone Gunmen” of X-Files fame. And we became convinced that while the noggin was Belinda’s the remaining, ah, attributes had to be those of another. In an earlier time, when wearing fur was something that was still acceptable, there was a series of ads with the line “What Becomes a Legend”—a.k.a. a bona-fide “Star”—”Most?” and the payoff was Blackgama furs. The photo in the ad was an actress or singer wearing, ostensibly, nothing but the fur coat. Now, evidently, what is imagined to be becoming is nothing. (Apologies to Sartre.)

The final band in the Toyota ad is Earth, Wind & Fire. As I have already dealt with their Pfizer-powered comeback in a previous post, I’ll let them go at the moment (although the relationship of the photo of the Go-Go’s and EW&F is somewhat amusing: Belinda is the closest member of the band to the Viagra-sponsored).

So I wonder: Are Lovett, the Go-Go’s, and Earth, Wind & Fire stars or brown dwarfs? The first has never really made it “big.” Perhaps by design. But maybe a performer doesn’t get to make the choice of big or not: the public makes that decision. The Go-Go’s and Earth, Wind & Fire, by the measure of recordings sold, certainly are star material, but just as the astral brown dwarf is incapable of sustaining stable fission, there was an apparent diminution of their luster over the years, and I doubt that appearing in a Toyota ad is going to help generate the flare that would be characteristic of a real star.

But maybe there is another consideration that has to be made. Few besides astronomers are familiar with things like brown dwarfs. Most of us live our lives without having the slightest idea of where the nearest celestial object is located (hint: you’re on it right now). Perhaps breaking down Camry ads is as curious a pursuit as gazing at the real stars in our universe.

(Shine on, Neil.)

Kings of Convenience: Herbal Tea is the New Moonshine

Norway’s Kings of Convenience Sing Me To Sleep

America revels in sameness. Freeway exits, waffle houses, and hemmed jean shorts on overweight men – The USA is easily categorized. In a location-based Pepsi Challenge-style competition, it’s a sure bet that most wouldn’t confuse Paris, Texas with Paris, France. That said, sometimes you see a photo. Maybe it’s cropped strangely, or the focus is off. But for whatever reason, you can discern from the scant details present that the shot is distinctly European. Sometimes, you can even posit a theory of actual location. (Even without using your broad knowledge of Teutonic street signs.) In the slightly-off architecture of a parking garage in the background, the particular hue of a painted wall, the nuances of Europe make themselves clear.

It’s in the details that The Kings of Convenience dwell. And, like looking at old issues of National Geographic in your basement, a quick scan of Quiet Is The New Loud ‘s cover art reveals that the Kings of Convenience don’t hail from Topeka. Upon a blue stone sits Erland Oye and Eirik Giambek Boe, the duo that make up the Kings. Boe comforts a female friend; Oye gazes into the camera with a look of bemused intelligence. I’ve never been to Norway. But if I ever go, I expect it to look much like this album cover. In fact, I expect the country to sound like Quiet Is The New Loud.

The title is no joke. The material never seems to go above a lover’s whisper, as cryptic tales of love, loss, and realization unfold. “I realized that the one you were before,” sings Boe in “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From,” “had changed into somebody for whom I wouldn’t mind to put the kettle on.” His voice, resonating off the speaker cabinets in your living room, imparts the knowledge gained from a difficult relationship. Like a nicer, Scandinavian Joe Pernice, the embers glowing within the song give off its true warmth, even in pain. Conversely Pernice, the infamously sad troubadour of Scud Mountain Boys and The Pernice Brothers, never takes his knee off his audience’s chest. You smell the liquor on his breath as his songs of love, heartbreak, and drug use crash into ditches off US 131.

The Kings of Convenience give one the impression of getting up early…and liking it.

Is tea and clean living better than cloudy weather, crumpled cigarettes and Old Grandad? Will a new movement of Scandanavian Hug-Core save the world? Not necessarily. But listening to Kings of Convenience and their astute pop music, it’s almost like receiving an aural detox. Quiet Is The New Loud features a centerfold in its booklet – a panoramic view of a pristine Norwegian lake at daybreak. The shot is evocative of the album’s peaceful moments. The plunking of nylon strings, quietly harmonized vocals that revel in the endings of words – these are the details that define the music of the Kings of Convenience, just as the curious idiosyncrasies in an aging, yellowed photo on the wall of a booth at Waffle House can give away its European locale.


Rock Star

Rock_star_ver1If you’ve ever worn a Twisted Sister pin on your jean jacket. . .

If you’ve ever owned a copy of Condition Critical. . .

If you’ve ever slow-danced to a Van Halen song. . .

If you’ve ever cut the sleeves off of a black concert T-shirt. . .

If you’ve ever written “666: The Number of the Beast” on your Trapper Keeper. . .

If you’ve ever hung out in Derek Lado’s basement. . .

If you’ve ever wished you looked more like Stephen Pearcy and less like Klaus Meine. . .

I admonish you: Go see Rock Star. See it in the theater, on the biggest screen, with the best sound system you can find. The story is predictable but the screenwriting is pretty good, given the weak plot. It’s basically about a guy (Marky Mark, in a good performance) who fronts a hair-metal tribute band in about 1985. When the real band’s lead singer leaves, they hire him to replace the guy and he gets to live the dream. (Supposedly, this is based on the true story of current Judas Priest lead singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.) The concert sequences are amazing, the music is totally cool, and there’s no way you can sit through the whole movie without making the sign of the devil.

Live Music Is Better? Lucinda Williams in Ann Arbor

Live Music Is Better?

Lucinda Williams

Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor

Sept. 19, 2001

As Neil Young’s rabid hyperrust.org fans have long proclaimed, “Live music is better.” I’ve always bought into the notion, but for the first three-quarters of Williams’ two-hour set, I was beginning to question it. Sitting in the beautiful, yet sterile Michigan Theater, sitting for way longer than I’d think someone who pays $28 to see a show would want to, I started to get antsy. Is this show ever going to rock?

Well, it did rock, eventually, and I left satisfied. I never did get up out of my seat, and neither did anyone else. No dancing in the aisles, and of course, no smoking or drinking in the theater—only in the lobby or outside on the street could one indulge any vices. Which brings up a point far more important than any analysis of Lucinda (in a nutshell: She’s sexy, she can play, she’s got a great band, and her voice is far more amazing live than it even sounds in her very good recordings). What are we doing going to see musicians play in stuffy theaters, bland concert halls, and venues that don’t allow the sex and drugs? Is this rock and roll, man, or what?

The thing that makes rock rock is that it’s inherently dangerous. Not necessarily violent dangerous (which it can be), but dangerous like it might shock you or bring about unintended consequences. In a good way—cause you to get up out of your seat, move a little bit, have another beer, shake your ass, dance with a stranger, break a sweat. Rock might just exceed your expectations, it might sound better than it did on that CD. It might make you stop and say, “Damn, I oughtta quit my job, buy a guitar and move to Austin.” Now we all know we’re not going to do that, but we might just have a flash of fantasy where we consider leaving the wife and kids and the mortgage payment. . .

So Lucinda is a prime candidate to bring those emotions, those vibes, to even the most corporate-free-ticketed yuppie type. Hell, that’s what her songs are all about. And with a pretty damn near full house, a lot of enthusiastic fans, during an emotionally-charged week, this was rock and roll waiting to happen. But we all just sat there, politically-correctly clapping enthusiastically after each song and then fading to a silence, waiting eagerly for the next track on the, err, set list. Two second pause. The band resumes playing. Why is this happening?

I can blame it partly on Williams. I realize she’s got to warm up those pipes, but to come out and play the first two songs on Car Wheels in order, sounding exactly like the album, well, that wasn’t such a good way to set the tone. Especially when you figure she’s got a lot of slower songs and ballads, and she’s obviously not going to let the band loose on every joint. So for the first hour and a half, the rocking numbers that could have whipped up the crowd kept getting deflated by the next song. Great tunes all, but the set was seemingly designed to inspire passive listening, as if two songs in a row with guitar solos might have caused civil unrest. (A thought, perhaps more true than it might seem.)

Now you might be thinking that I’m being hard on Lucinda, just bitching about a set list that wasn’t in my preferred order. Or wanting her to be something she’s not, a reckless rock and roller the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn. But that’s not it at all. Get this: Williams comes out for the encore, tells the audience that the next song is the best explanation of her “feelings” that she’s ever heard; it was written by Bob Dylan. And as I whisper, “Masters of War,” she starts to strum the opening chords. The audience goes wild and she and the band deliver the statement I’ve been looking for all night: This is a dangerous lady; she wants peace.

I’ve been thinking about Williams’ performance all day now, and I keep wanting to compare it to when I saw Neil Young’s Ragged Glory tour. It just so happened that we were in a similar state of political unrest when I trecked out to Auburn Hills to see Neil play with Crazy Horse in 1991. He came out of the darkness with a distorted guitar note that rippled into another of Dylan’s songs, “Blowing in the Wind.” Charging up the crowd from the draw, he and the Horse told it straight: Support the troops, think twice about the war. Not unlike Williams, his set had some slow numbers, some rockers, some electric, some acoustic. But we didn’t sit on our hands, because Neil had given us reason to stand in patriotic pride, in defiance, in awe. Williams may have given us just as much, but she was already half out the door when the message came. And part of me doesn’t blame her, because part of me doesn’t think the audience or the promoter would have wanted it differently.

After all, just one more song and it was eleven o’clock—time for the respectable people to go home and return the babysitter—and the lights came on. Lucinda had delivered, at truly the eleventh hour. We were all happy, but as I scanned the crowd, there were a few that had the same look in their eyes as I did. Again: What are we doing here? We should have been sitting down at the bar right now, trying to carry on a conversation over the ringing in our ears, debating the merits of Essence and Sweet Old World. We should at least have been able to light up, smoke that after-climax biscuit, and rub our weary eyes.

And this problem is not just here at this show, but everywhere. Good old venues are disappearing, replaced by clean and corporatized places in neighborhoods where people with good jobs aren’t afraid to park. Promoters aren’t willing to take any chances, and when the non-mainstream, usually-NPR-backed artists do tour nationally they all seem to get stuck into a sort of pre-fabbed concert experience that’s about as exciting as going out to get a frappucino. Williams’ statement is downright daring in this climate. Even in a place as supposedly progressive as Ann Arbor, there’s just no space for the sort of venue or band that might push the limits of social acceptance. Don’t believe me? Ask Chris Robinson why he plays in neighboring Ypsilanti when he comes to town now and whether it has anything to do with the Black Crowe’s “no-enforcement” of marijuana laws requirement at their concerts.

Audiences are perhaps even more to blame. I remember going to see Johnny Cash at a county fair a few years ago and being told to shut up by some jackass in front of me because I was singing along to “I Walk the Line.” That guy seems to turn up more and more with every show I attend. He paid his Ticketmaster service fee* and damn it, that gives him a right to sit on his ass and be pissed at anyone who wants to Stand Up and Shout. Considering that everyone can already “see” the artists on VH1 and MTV, the ostensible reason to come to the show is to see and hear something bigger, something more than what you can find on the recordings. Yet it’s almost as if a sizeable chunk of the people come to shows to sit and listen with the expectation that things will be “as seen on TV.” Are artists afraid to fuck with a song (in the fashion of Wilco’s amazing “punk” version of “Passenger Side”) because some radio-listener might not recognize it? Tell me it ain’t so. . .

There’s trouble everywhere in the music biz these days, from radio banality to blockbuster-oriented sales tactics to independent record store failures to ridiculously-priced pay-TV mega-concerts. Add the deterioration of the local live concert to the list. If things continue this way, I might just have to move to Austin…

*My ticket was bought at the box office without paying Ticketmaster one red cent in service fees. Fuck Barry Diller.

Big milestone for the site

According to our goofy little counter, Glorious Noise has had 10,000 unique visits (whatever that means) since we started in February. I think that’s pretty cool, and I’d like to thank you all for stopping by. Even if you just got here by searching Google for “Britney Spears fucking.” (It’s true — you’d be amazed by the referrer logs — people are creepy!)

We’ve got our own radio station now so be sure to check it out. It’s served up by Live365, who — despite their barrage of ads — might go out of business any day now, so get it while you can. There’s a version of it for people with broadband connections and one for people with slower connections. We will be swapping in new songs every couple of weeks or so until we get bored with it and then it will probably just stay stagnant. But there’s over four hours of music, so rock on.

Also, recently there’s been some activity in the message boards, so please go in there and participate. That’s what Glorious Noise is all about. Well, at least that’s part of it. Some of it is just us making noise, but we want to hear your noise too, so get in there are rant!

Anyway, thanks to all our readers for making this site as “successful” as it is. I guess I would define success to mean that it feels worth the time and effort that we’re putting into it. If it stops feeling worth it, we’ll stop doing it. If it’s not 100% fun, right? Thanks again. We love you all.

Yeah, I talked to Jeff Tweedy last night

I did actually. Wilco was on WXRT’s Sound Opinions last night and I called in and got through. I was taking notes on the show for an article in Glorious Noise, so I didn’t have time to think of a decent question to ask, so I asked a dumb one. At least that’s my excuse. I’m not very familiar with the whole radio talk-show call-in technique. I should have had something prepared. But I didn’t. Oh well. I still talked to Jeff Tweedy last night.

It was a cool show. They played some songs live in the studio and talked a lot. The hosts, Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune and Jim DeRogatis from the Chicago Sun-Times, are obviously big fans of the band and big music geeks, so the show had a comfortable, laid back atmosphere. They talked about last Tuesday’s events and how it changes the way we listen to Wilco’s new album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. “A lot of weight has been added to a lot of music,” Tweedy said, when asked about the significance of the song “War on War.” “Music is all about spirit,” he said, and that the message of that song is “working towards less fear is the only way to live” and that you’ve got to “learn how to fail.”

Jeff TweedyThey talked about how they’re going on their upcoming tour because the new record is out now. Unofficially, of course, but everybody who wants to hear has already heard it. In fact, they’re streaming the whole album from their official website. It’s so insane that Reprise wouldn’t release this album. Apparently, after they sent the final mixes to the label, Reprise responded by saying that they “don’t hear it,” according to Tweedy. Not even the record label cliché, “We don’t hear the single.” They straight up didn’t hear it, the fucking morons. When asked when and where it was going to come out, Tweedy said, “It will come out eventually and actually it’s out there now. It’s a fact of life right now that once one person gets it, everyone can have it.” They’ve come to accept this apparently. “Music needs a listener,” Tweedy said. But we better not hold our breath for it to be released officially. Not this year anyway according to the band. They’re still “trying to figure out some ways to put it out,” whatever that means.

Then they got around to the subject of the changing line-up. By this time I was on the phone on hold, trying to think of something decent to ask. So I couldn’t take notes very well, but I did catch a few things. “People grow in different directions at different speeds. Things change. Friends leave.” And when asked what he thought about how some of the fans freaked out about Bennett leaving, Tweedy said, “I understand why people feel that way. People don’t like change. Ken [Coomer, former drummer] and Jay contributed an enormous amount to the band.”

Then it was time for some calls. They took mine. “Jake’s got a question for you guys.” I stumbled around for a second trying to thank them for not making me feel guilty about downloading the new album. “You should still feel guilty,” Tweedy said to me. Ha ha, everyone laughed. They told me that they hope I buy the album when it comes out. “Oh I will, I will,” I said like the nerdy little fan that I am. Then they plugged their website some more and tried to remember its address. Then I asked my question, “I’ve heard that Jay had, like, hundreds of guitars and stuff. Do you guys have any equipment left?” Yup, that’s what I came up with. Tweedy snickered a little and said something like “We’re doing all right” or something like that. The hosts said something like “You should see their rehearsal space. There’s this giant wall of guitars,” and Tweedy sighed, “Not anymore…” So it was kind of funny. The next guy who called asked something far more intelligent and interesting, but I don’t remember what it was.

Then they started on their Desert Island Disks feature. Tweedy immediately threw out “I Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” by Melanie. Leroy Bach wanted “The Cricketer” by Roy Harper. John Stirrat requested Colin Blunstone’s “Say You Don’t Mind.” Glenn Kotche said he would have picked “Sister Ray” but instead he opted for a song by the English psychedelic band, Patto. Tweedy then officially chose “Don’t be So Fearful” by Bill Fay from his 1971 album, Time of Last Persecution.

Then it was 11:30 pm, and although the show was going to go on for another hour, I am a working stiff, so I had to get some sleep. Too bad my cassette deck and all my blank tapes are in storage, otherwise I would have taped it.


Pop Plugs in the Patch Chords in a Paean for Posterity

Johnny Loftus

Soon, the pop princesses will fail their piss tests, and be sent off to the glue factory. This is no great prophecy; it’s simple fact, like poor ol’ Leslie Visser, pushed out to pasture in favor of Melissa Stark. But this is pop music, not Monday Night Football. And I’ll bet you the combined cost of Eric Dickerson’s speech therapy classes that the stable of pop divas currently inhabiting MTV and Neutrogena ads will be out in the back 40 chewing their cud by year’s end.

But whatever will the KISS-FMs of this world do? What vacuous tripe will replace Mandy Moore in the hearts and wallets of a million pre-teens, frantically dialing the KISS lines when they hear the touchtones, hoping to score tickets to an arena show featuring 20-minute sets by performers whose names they do not yet know?

Fortunately, the uber-producers that record companies look to for this sort of thing have an answer. And it seems to be the Rock. No, not as in Kid. And not that howl coming from the gaping maws of The Bald And The Angry (Stain’d, Disturbed, etc.). No, the rock of which we speak is the twee kind, consisting of cheap power chords and overblown, Hanson-like production, currently being purveyed on pop radio by the likes of a re-tooled L.F.O. You remember L.F.O. A boy band before boy bands were boy bands again, L.F.O. blew up the 1998 Spring Break scene with their ode to girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch. These dorks were 2 dudes short of Color Me Badd, but had left the shitty flow and re-tread back beats intact. Well, in a twisted turn of events that has to make the three guys who are actually in L.F.O. truly feel like the commodities that they are, the group has re-emerged in a new millennium as the American BB Mak, singing a ditty about –really? – a girl. But this time, in the accompanying video, one of the faceless dopes who isn’t the frontman totes a Les Paul, hesitantly strumming along with the song’s simplistic power chords and looking all the while like he’s afraid Slash is going to return any minute, drunk and angry, wondering why the fuck this pretty boy is trying to play his guitar. But it doesn’t matter how convincing L.F.O. are as rockers (they aren’t), or how much actual rock is contained within the cheap walls of the song (not a lot). For the producers and label figureheads brokering in Pop, the addition of electric guitar and some Eddie Money sensibilities to their normal collection of Blackstone The Magician drum tracks and keyboard blips is a way to subtly distort their product into something ostensibly new and exciting. L.F.O. – re-packaged and re-sold for your purchasing pleasure. “And listen for those touchtones for your chance to attend the KISS-FM Star Party, featuring L.F.O., EMF, ELO, and EE Cummings!”

There’s nothing memorable about L.F.O. They will most likely complete their 2-month run of mall appearances and low-level arena gigs, and find themselves back in their holding tank at Jive Records, waiting to be re-assembled as a klezmer group. But their re-emergence under the guise of Rock marks what could be a disturbing trend, as the Pop life breaks down and the money train runs out of gas. Rumor has it Britney’s covering “I Love Rock & Roll” on her upcoming record. The popularity of Incubus will no doubt spawn soundalikes performing a less-talented version of that band’s Alice In Chains-meets-Ben Harper soul-core. And a young lady named Michelle Branch is making waves in multilple radio formats with her song “Everywhere,” a number that grafts the riff from Barenaked Ladies’ “Old Apartment” onto the pacing of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn,” all the while with Michelle cooing like a cross between Britney and Jewel. The Rock is definitely back on Top 40 radio, but in a homogenized form that does nothing to save an already decrepit format. It will be interesting to see if this trend towards power chords continues, especially if Britney releases her Joan Jett cover as a single. But if the Rock becomes the new Pop, chances are it’ll be the same old, same old situation, the same old song and dance, and won’t do any artist who actually cares about his or her craft any favors.

Madonna’s always been a trend-setter. Maybe that funny photo of the Material Girl jamming on a Les Paul will prove truly influential, and not simply a photo-op.


Jay Bennett’s Big Night Out

September 16, Schubas, Chicago IL (opening for Allison Moorer)

By Phil Wise

Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy casts a long shadow. His former songwriting partner in Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar, is still living with comparisons some seven years after the two parted ways. Now, just weeks after announcing his split from Wilco, guitarist/songwriter/keyboardist Jay Bennett presented a set of ten songs in 30 minutes ranging in style from Elvis Costello-inspired pop to goofy country bumpkin sing-alongs.

Nursing a severely cut finger, Bennett enlisted the help of fellow Chicago scenester, Edward Burch (playing the very same Epiphone guitar featured on the cover of Wilco’s sophomore release Being There), to accompany on guitar and vocals. The two meshed onstage together like a partnership should with Burch providing not only levity in his stage banter, but inspiring vocal harmonies pulled straight from the Paul McCartney playbook. It made for the most musically rewarding half-hour I’ve experienced in ages.

Debuting selected cuts from his someday-to-be-released solo album (some three years in the making), Bennett and Burch ambled through a set peppered with bitter sweet love songs, the best of which was “Mirror Ball,” co-written with Bennett’s friend Sherry Rich. Bennett made several cracks about his Wurlitzer electric piano sounding too “Billy Joel,” but the stark accompaniment provided startling renditions of these soulful and melodic songs.

But it wasn’t all kisses and tears. Bennett and Burch also played a rousing rendition of the Woody Guthrie-penned “They’ll Be No Church Tonight,” presumably from the Mermaid Avenue sessions, and a rambling country knee-slapper “Watching Junior Drive,” which brought a rousing applause and caused Bennett to quip, “It’s always weird when the stupidest song you’ve ever written gets the biggest applause.” Bennett struggled honorably through the flat picking of the latter with his injured finger and still managed to amaze me with his playing.

Though never prominently featured on a Wilco recording, Bennett’s vocals were surprisingly strong and soulful. His voice is low and gravelly, sounding a bit like Elvis Costello doing his best Leonard Cohen impersonation. And while his voice may not be as distinct as Tweedy’s (ah, so the comparisons begin), it’s strong and possesses its own quality.

Jay Bennett was a key player in the evolution of Wilco’s sound and instrumental in the songwriting as evidenced by the credits from Being There through to the anxiously awaited Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and I was sorely disappointed to hear of his departure from the band. While I was confident Jeff Tweedy would carry on and continue to create great music, I was afraid Bennett would slip away into the darkness and the wake left by Wilco’s front man. After last night’s performance I think it’s safe to say that I’ll not soon lose track of Jay Bennett as long as he’s willing to step out of the shadows.

Missed this show? Catch Jay Bennett and Edward Burch at The Hideout in Chicago, September 24.

Obsession, Insanity and Fanaticism

There’s a new article about Syd Barrett on Last Plane to Jakarta. As with the vast majority of John Darnielle’s writing, this piece is at times hilarious and insightful and celebratory and sad. He hits pretty close to home for me in one of his famous “footnotes” discussing the track, “Opel” which remained unreleased until 1988:

It was a great moment for music, but a terrible moment for obsessive people around the world. For years we’d wondered what might lay gathering dust on some London studio shelf or in a Cambridge bedroom — what hidden treasures, what lost masterpieces? When sub-par material is unearthed, there’s hope for us: perhaps someday we’ll learn to enjoy what we have and stop losing sleep wondering whether there are unreleased full-band recordings from the Birthday Party’s final, turbulent, incredible year together. Perhaps we will stop digging through the endless morass of the internet trying to find Joy Division bootlegs we haven’t heard yet. (There are none.) Then something like “Opel” turns up — a lost recording that confirms the possibility that the very best stuff is still unheard. There is no hope for us, my friends. We are doomed to our sad record-collector existences.

I’ve done my share of obsessing. And I can tell you that it’s not healthy. I’ve driven myself pretty close to the edge of some fairly Syd-like insanity over some bands in my day. And it’s bad. You end up burning yourself out after while. That’s why you’ve got to learn to take it slow. Take it easy. You gotta just get it under control. Can stop any time. I’m still a record collecting addict, but I’ve learned to manage my addiction.

I went through a phase in high school when I bought every Smiths twelve-inch. That was a difficult thing to do on a part-time dishwasher’s wages in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Thank God for Vinyl Solution and Zak’s Diner, I guess. Herm at Vinyl kept that Smiths bin well-stocked and my Zak’s let me work just enough to buy my records. After I owned everything ever released (the elusive “This Charming Man” single was the final Holy Grail), I stopped listening to them. Almost completely. Only recently have I let them back into my life again. Slowly. And with an objectively critical ear. Johnny Marr’s production doesn’t sound nearly as perfect to me as it used to. It sounds muddy and overproduced a lot of times. You don’t really need twenty-five layers of guitar parts on one song, do you? And Morrissey’s lyrics which I once swallowed hook, line and stinker now mostly sound overdramatic and silly. But there are moments that cut through the nostalgia and still stand up on their own. “I Know It’s Over” is still a beautiful song. My man Phil is working on an extended feature about people’s continuing obsession with the Smiths. I look forward to seeing what he uncovers in the souls of all those people who are still feeling what I once felt.

Rock and roll can change your life.