The time is almost here. I'm packing up boxes upon boxes of CDs, books, photos and crap crap crap in preparation for my move back to my old hometown: Omaha, Nebraska.
The funniest thing about my return to that city over 10 years since I last considered it home is that now there's actually a music scene. It's not large (thought it sometimes thinks it is), but it's far more impressive and fruitful than the one that existed when I was growing up there. I tried as much as I could to support the scene back then, when the only real indie shows that came through town were held at the Cog Factory, a tiny little room that could become the hottest room on the planet on a humid summer night.
I once gave a cigarette to a nervous-looking Doug Martsch of Built to Spill there. I didn't even know who he was... I just figured he was some weird cat who hung out downtown at the Antiquarium book/record store. Turned out he was the leader of the band I was going to see that night.
Back then, bands really had to bust ass in that town to make a ripple in a virtually non-existant music scene. One of my favorite groups at the time was a Lincoln band called Mercy Rule. They were a trio lead by husband and wife guitarists, and they always played shows with three huge lights at their feet, so they looked massive on the walls behind them. Of course, I would have to leave Nebraska before I'd ever see them play live, in Columbia, Missouri. If I were forced to say what their "hit" song was, I'd say it was "Time of Day" from their debut, GOD PROTECTS FOOLS.
At that same Cog Factory, I once chatted with a geeky looking 14 year old kid who was gaining a little buzz as the new town prodigy -- a songwriter and guitarist for a band called Commander Venus. That kid was Conor Oberst. Here's him singing in just as squeaky of a voice on that band's "It's Fun to Grow Ornamental Peppers". For Bright Eyes fans, be forewarned: Conor is actually having a little fun here, so please hold your tissues and your tears.
Since Omaha is what I'd call a relatively small "medium-sized" town, I gradually came to realize how insular and incestuous the music scene (or really, any music scene) was. I sat next to a guy in one of my writing classes named Duncan Joyner, whose brother Simon also attended school with my brother a few years before. Simon would basically become a sort of godfather for what would become the Saddle Creek scene in Omaha, providing the blueprint for the folky misery that Oberst would ride to success. "The Simultaneous Occurance of True Love and Nausea in a South Omaha Burger King" is one of Joyner's earliest recordings, and a bit of a rarity if you've ever heard the guy. I think I once got a fried pork sandwich in that same Burger King.
If that example wasn't flimsy enough, I once worked a track meet for the Omaha Public Schools with a guy named Steve Pedersen. Steve and I were two of the only people tapped to stay behind after the meet and clean up the entire stadium over the course of a few days. Steve was in a little band called Slowdown Virginia, who had great songs like "Juan Pablo Shoe".
Steve's band also included Tim Kasher and Matt Maginn (the trio would later morph with one of Pedersen's other bands to form Cursive, undeniably one of Omaha's greatest bands), and their label Lumberjack Records would soon become Saddle Creek. I can't say enough good things about Cursive. One of the best tracks from the Pedersen era (he would leave the band for law school in 1998) is "The Road to Financial Stability," from STORMS OF EARLY SUMMER: SEMANTICS OF SONG. That off-kilter riff is 100% Steve.
After Pedersen left, Cursive's future was in question until the band added Ted Stevens. Ted had been in a band called Pole Cat (playing with a drummer named Boz Hicks, who was in my first little goof-off high school band with my friend Steve), and then in a band I have mentioned here before, Lullaby for the Working Class. As you can hear on "Honey, Drop the Knife" from BLANKET WARM, this wasn't exactly the same kind of band.
Doesn't matter, because when Ted joined Cursive, the band just got even better. They recorded a near masterpiece in DOMESTICA, and then added one key ingredient that completed the band's sound: a cellist named Gretta Cohn. Her presence on subsequent recordings like the 8 TEETH TO EAT YOU ep or THE UGLY ORGAN elevate the music above mere emo-hardcore-melodic-punk. Want proof? Listen to "Am I Not Yours?", "Art is Hard", or that fantastic breakdown on "Some Redhanded Sleight of Hand" and tell me that cello doesn't whoop more ass than a cello should.
Tim Kasher is the key ingredient for me, and his recent work with one of his side projects, The Good Life, has been as good as anything he has done with Cursive. The band's "new" album, ALBUM OF THE YEAR, is more sonically interesting, with a number of instruments and some subtle production nuances that really add to the ambience of loss on the record. It's a combination of Leonard Cohen, Wilco and Bauhaus, especially on "A New Friend". The lyrics are what really slay here, telling the story of drunken love gone wrong for all the usual reasons: "She said 'Space is not just a place for stars / I give an inch, you want a house with a yard" (from "Album of the Year").
I don't know who I'll be saddling up next to at the bar when I return home in a few days. I just hope I can pick up my guitar and give back to a few of these folks just a fraction of what some of them have given to me over the years.
This will probably be my last post until the move on Sunday. I'll see you at the 49'er, kids.
Sorry about the break in posting these past few days. I was on a fishing trip in (Slower Lower) Delaware. Between that and my upcoming move (check in the next few days for a post about my favorite Omaha/Nebraska music), I'm going to be pretty pressed for time. I'll try to post often in the next couple of days while I can, but if you notice a lull in posting for a week or so, don't give up on me. I'll be back for sure.
For now, I'd like to spend tonight closing off that Radiohead trilogy of b-sides posting I started a few weeks back. For this final installment, I decided to include a few collaborations by Thom Yorke outside of the band. Even though the rest of Radiohead don't play on these tracks, I think they all maintain the band's basic aesthetic: dour, quirky, and a little upsetting in a creepy, guy-in-your-bushes kind of way.
I Am a Wicked Child: A Radiohead Compilation (v.3)
13. "Maquiladora": If you've been following the whole CD concept of this b-sides collection I've been posting, this is a nice follow up to track 12, "Palo Alto." A BENDS-era bonus track from the "High and Dry" single, this one packs in all the stadium guitar heroics of that record, before the band's songwriting turned inward and more daring (or, in some folks' opinion, more pretentious). Fans of Jeff Buckley will love this, while fans of Ours will realize that this is that band's whole agenda encapsulated in 3 minutes. That guy wishes he could sound this much like JB.
14. "Lewis (Mistreated)": I really hate parentheticals in song titles. Just name the song one thing and be done with it. Of course, Radiohead gave that idea a huge "fuck off" on the HAIL TO THE THIEF album, where each song has two titles. Anyway, regardless of that transgression, this old number from the "My Iron Lung" EP was one of the early songs that got me into the band.
15. "I Am a Wicked Child": This mellow, funky little blues number was a castoff from the aforementioned THIEF album, and appeared on the excellent "Go to Sleep" single. Check out the lyrics and tell me this couldn't have been on one of those classic Harry Smith anthologies in a more skeletal form. No idea who plays the harmonica here, so if anyone knows, drop a line in the comments section.
16. "This Mess We're In": The first of three collaborations tonight, this track features Thom Yorke singing with PJ Harvey on her STORIES FROM THE CITY, STORIES BY THE SEA album. This track just oozes sex, not something Yorke has been noted for too often. A shame really... anyone ever heard Radiohead's live cover of the Carly Simon/James Bond anthem "Nobody Does it Better'? That's hot shit.
17. "I've Seen it All": Here, Yorke shares vocal duties with Bjork, on a song from her soundtrack to Lars Von Trier's incredibly depressing DANCER IN THE DARK (Bjork's soundtrack is actually called SELMASONGS). In the film, Yorke's vocal part is sung by Peter Stormare, but you can't fault Bjork for following her muse and going with the Radiohead singer for her recording. This Meeting of the Freaks is a soaringly sad meditation from a person coming to terms with permanantly losing their vision, as Bjork's Selma does in the film. The lyrics are absolutely killer:
Bjork: "What about China? Have you seen the Great Wall?"
Yorke: "All walls are great if the roof doesn't fall."
Yorke: "You've never been to Niagra Falls?"
Bjork: "I have seen water. It's water, that's all."
18. "Rabbit in Your Headlights (Underdog Mix)": The original version of this track, an incredible pairing of turntable genius DJ Shadow with Yorke, appears on U.N.K.L.E.'s PSYENCE FICTION album. This remix - from the "Rabbit" EP - is a pretty different take on the song, but Underdog still evokes Shadow's dark, stalking ambience. Radiohead were obviously fans of Shadow's ENDTRODUCING album, and Yorke worked with the DJ before the release of his band's OK COMPUTER album. If you have any doubts of this influence, you only have to listen to that album's opener, "Airbag," to hear what I'm talking about. (Trivia: the dialogue snippet at the end of this track, as far as I can tell, is from the Tim Robbins movie "Jacob's Ladder." Please let me know if I'm wrong on this one.)
Check the time at the end of this post. I just got home from work, and I've been up since 7 yesterday.
That is why there are no words this morning. Only songs.
"Natural's Not in It" by GANG OF FOUR: These are the guys that Franz Ferdinand wish they were. Punk, funk and politics all in one angry, angular package.
"Not Even Stevie Nicks", live 2003, by CALEXICO: Summer is coming, and that means that - at least for Chicagoans - the street festivals are on their way. Calexico have been a staple at these Chicago fests over the past few years, and they always prove themselves to be a stellar live act.
"Dear God" by XTC: This one's for the new pope. This single kind of shocked me as a kid, especially that kid singing the opening and closing. I guess I was sheltered and hadn't heard such intense conviction as that whole "If there's one thing I don't believe in... It's you." As Homer Simpson says, "Mmmm, sacrelicious." And while I'm thinking of XTC, here's a live take (Australia, 1980) of "Life Begins at the Hop." Take this, Franz.
"Crazy" by R.E.M.: This R.E.M. cover comes from the pretty damned good b-sides collection DEAD LETTER OFFICE (which also contains all of the band's debut EP, "Chronic Town," in its entirety).
Anybody wanna buy some CDs? My move to Omaha is coming in 2.5 weeks, and I'm going to have a lot of shit that I don't want to take with me. Still so much to plan, and a lot to stress about.
In lieu of putting forth any intellectual effort here tonight... I give you... the songs!
"Voices Carry" by SPOUSE: Since I was just posting about Aimee Mann a few days ago, I figured I'd include this cover of 'Til Tuesday's biggest (only?) hit. Not sure where I stand on this one, so you're on your own. I definitely don't like it as much as the original. From the vocals, this version sounds like it's from the viewpoint of the drunk abusive guy instead of the girl's POV.
"Maps" by ADA: I didn't think I was going to like this blissed out electronic version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' hit at first, but I found it pretty hypnotic after a couple of minutes. If you liked the Postal Service cover from the other night, or some of that electronic Radiohead stuff from the B-sides posts, you should check this out.
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by AL GREEN: I've got to say, Al Green is goddamned reliable when it comes to covering a classic song. If a cover song were an expensive car, you could always trust this guy with your keys. If you've never heard the Hank Williams' original, check it out right now. There are so many great things about both versions of this song, and each guy sounds totally sincere. I really love the restraint shown by Green's backing band, and in his own breathless vocal performance.
"I Love How You Love Me" by JEFF MANGUM: This cover of the Sonny & Cher hit
"A Well Respected Man" by JOSH ROUSE: I'm one of those people who cannot believe it when someone tells me they like Oasis but don't like The Beatles. It just makes no f#$king sense. But then I consider someone like Josh Rouse and what fans of James Taylor must think of people like me who love the former but can't stomach the latter. I like my wuss-rock, but I'm picky. I love Rouse's take on this Kinks classic, and I like that he tried something very different with the arrangement.
"If You Want Blood" by MARK KOZELEK: The original mash-up artist, Mark Kozelek has for years taken the strangest choices for covers and rendered them almost unrecognizable by applying his own dark, mournful twist. His Red House Painters turned a Cars song ("All Mixed Up") into an anthem of longing, a Yes song ("Long Distance Runaround") into Crazy Horse prog rock, and a Kiss song ("Shock Me") into two different dirges. A few years back, he had his artistic eyes set on AC/DC, the authors of the original "If You Want Blood" for his full length solo debut, "WHAT'S NEXT TO THE MOON." (Trivia: Kozelek played the bassist in Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous," and appeared briefly to mock Tom Cruise in "Vanilla Sky.")
FOR MORE ON TONIGHT'S RAMBLING:
Spouse's home page
Stylus Magazine's review of ADA's Blondie
Ada's home, Areal Records
Al Green at the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame
Old Pitchfork interview with Jeff Mangum
Not sure, but maybe you can buy "Live at Jittery Joe's" here
La casa de Josh Rouse (album stream)
Mark Kozelek's new band Sun Kil Moon
(photo by Tom Vincent)
I was having a discussion with my friend Jessica over dinner tonight, before seeing Built to Spill at the Metro. We were talking about cover songs, and how getting a live version of a cover on a mix CD is definitely not as cool or interesting as getting a studio version. (Jessica also has a strange personal rule of only having one cover song on any mix she makes, but it's probably no weirder than my personal rule about putting no song longer than 6 minutes on at the jukebox -- unless it's "Why Can't I Touch It?" by the Buzzcocks.)
She had a good point though. Any asshole can toss off a cover song in a live setting; any crappy punk band can do the formulaic "ironi-punk" cover of a song by speeding it up a little and steamrolling over all subtlety. There's just something more special, whether the song is good or bad, of a studio-recorded cover. Plus, you never know when a band you hate might pull off a cover you can respect.
Anyway, I didn't mean to pontificate so much. What I'm trying to say is: Here, have a couple of cover songs tonight.
"Suddenly Everything Has Changed" by THE POSTAL SERVICE: Back when I was trying to introduce some new music into my roommate's computer, I had added the debut album from these guys but wasn't sure how they'd take to the electrotweeness of it all. This cover of the Flaming Lips cut from "THE SOFT BULLETIN" was the spoonful of sugar that may have helped the medicine go down. The interesting use of one of their songs in the GARDEN STATE trailer didn't hurt, either.
"Seven Nation Army" by THE FLAMING LIPS: One of my fondest Chicago music memories will always be catching the double billing of The Lips with the White Stripes on New Year's at the Aragon Ballroom. I stood out in the freezing cold weather for hours to ensure that I had one of those sweet ass balcony booths, and I was never more thankful for that seat when midnight came and the two bands joined together to perform a joyous, explosive version of that Jack White song. This studio version is a different beast entirely, but somehow just as much fun as that concert. I recently read a review that said Wayne Coyne sounds like your grandmother here. I'd amend that to read "Your HILARIOUS grandmother."
"Give Me Some Money" by the GORIES: Here this sloppy Detroid garage band, lead by future DIRTBOMBS singer Mick Collins, puts a little motor city sludge into a cover of a song from the comedy masterpiece "SPINAL TAP." Take it as seriously as you think you should take the preceeding sentence.
"Seconds" by ROGUE WAVE: This cover of the "WAR"-era U2 song comes from the recently released "EXHUMED AND REGROOMED" EP, which includes this track and 5 new versions of tracks from the band's debut album. I love me some old U2.
After considering my words regarding Joan Jett the other day, I started thinking about a few of the other female musicians I've had crushes on. The list isn't all that long, so please don't take me for a groupie. I'd go gay for Joan Jett. I'm pretty sure my little crush on the Distillers' Brody Dalle has something to do with that former crush. I'd let Cat Power's Chan Marshall go all crazy apeshit on me, as I'm sure only she can.
But Aimee Man... I'd marry Aimee Mann. I would make Aimee Mann tea for breakfast every morning. I would sit and listen to her talk and nod and smile and marvel at how much smarter she is than me. And I'd be perfectly happy with that.
If you don't know who Aimee Mann is, you may still know who she is... She was in a band from Boston called 'Til Tuesday, and they were famous for a hit called "Voices Carry." (One of their minor hits that I've always liked is "Coming Up Close." You can definitely feel the 80s in there, but it's still a great vocal.) I remember being strangely attracted to her back then. She looked like a vampire... big eyes and this freaky white hair, and serious as a heart attack. Some guys out there will get this one: she's Martha Plimpton hot... not conventionally beautiful but like a girl you meet at a party and you just know she's cool as shit and has a great book and record collection back home. Plus, it's no secret -- I love a girl with a guitar.
After 'Til Tuesday disbanded, she embarked on a solo career and experienced something that will always attract me to a musician: record label hell. She fought for, and bought back, the masters to her third solo album and sold them through her own label. That album is the now classic BACHELOR No. 2. Paul Thomas Anderson used her music as the basis for "Magnolia," and Mann was nominated for an Academy Award.
I have to admit, I slept for a while on her last album, LOST IN SPACE. Looking back on it, I was a fool. It's a little on the dark, slower side, but the production is stellar, sounding like some kind of mash of Radiohead and Bob Dylan. I've already posted "This is How it Goes" on this site, but you should really check it out if you didn't grab it last time. As someone who has known a drug addict or two, I think it's a pretty accurate summary of the helpless feeling you get when someone's addiction is way more powerful than anything you have to offer.
"So I'll try to hold on
while you try to let go.
You won't tell me it's gone
but baby, I'll know.
Baby, I'll know."
And just who in the hell is her lead guitar player?! Damn good, that's who. His or her work on "Guys Like Me" (from the same album) is nimble and soulful. I like a guitar solo that doesn't call too much attention to itself as some sort of noodly showoff moment, and the one in this song does just that. (I also recommend checking out "High On Sunday 51," from your local download shoppe.)
Her new album, THE FORGOTTEN ARM, just came out and it's a step in a more... well, not so much "upbeat," but maybe a little more uptempo direction. It's mature and thoughtful, with a ton of great lyrics that tell the story of a boxer and his love as they flee to the coast (or something... come on, I've only heard the thing twice). Check out:
"That's How I Knew This Story Would Break My Heart"
Of course, all this fawning is pointless. She's got Micheal Penn, and I guess she'll just have to settle for him in this lifetime over me. At least in this divorce, I get to keep the music.
FOR MORE ON AIMEE MANN:
Stream The Forgotten Arm from her website. Check out the lyrics, too.
The main page there.
Aimee Mann in print.
For the musicians out there, Aimee Mann tablature
I just don't have the brain on to write anything tonight. Luckily for me, a Pimp named Nick sent me a burn (gratis, no less!) of a solo show from Wilco's Jeff Tweedy at The Vic Theater in Chicago. I'll try to let this stuff speak for itself.
The show took place on March 3, 2005 -- mere blocks from my apartment -- but I was just too broke to get tickets. It wasn't until a Yo La Tengo show a few weeks later that I'd finally get to see a show at The Vic. Hell of a place to see a show. Get there early and sit in the balcony like a god.
Since a lot of the first disc is riddled with static, I'm just featuring tracks from the encore. Luckily, an encore at a Tweedy show is typically just as long as the set. Actually, I just looked at the setlist and it is exactly that: 17 songs for the set, 17 songs for the encore (which included a bunch of Uncle Tupelo songs, along with two Dylan covers and a Randy Newman song).
Here's that part of the setlist, with a few links to tracks for your enjoyment:
Tweedy Encores -- The Vic Theater -- 3/5/05
2. We've Been Had
4. Henry & the H Bombs
5. Acuff Rose
6. I'm the Man Who Loves You
8. Laminated Cat (w/Glenn, Wilco's drummer)
9. The Family Gardener (w/Glenn, Pat, Mike and Pat from Wilco) This song, co-written by Scott McCaughey, is from the MINUS 5 album "Down With Wilco." Love the lyrics on this one; they remind me of The Kinks:
The family garden is a special place
In sun and shade there, I was raised
But voices fade away and rooms are rearranged
Now I'm the family gardener
You need a stethoscope and a good good rake
Some beer for snails and a rope for snakes
A flowerbed to fall in as the moonlight breaks
When you're the family gardener
And I'm the family gardener
As I look down with my two eyes and my two green thumbs
I despise the people who walk on the green green grass
I grew with my watered love
Now some other son sleeps in the southern wing
And someone else's mother sits to paint the pastoral scene
My father always said that I would never amount to anything
But I'm the family gardener
I'm the family gardener
10. How to Fight Loneliness (rest of songs feature all of Wilco minus Nels)
11. John Wesley Harding
12. Political Science
14. The Late Greats
15. Passenger Side
16. California Stars
17. I Shall be Released
I can't believed I've lived in Chicago for two and a half years and never had a public Tweedy sighting. Saw John plenty of times... but no Tweedy. My life is incomplete.
It's a new month over here at 'Pimps (I will also accept "Po' Gore" as a nickname), so that means I have a clean slate of bandwidth with those mad bastards over at Taco Robot. I must note it was the Tofu Hut that really brought in all the traffic at the beginning of the month, and not my own inane ramblings. This month I'm hoping maybe CNN.com will drop my addy in some article and really cripple me.
Until that day, here's another big old chunk of Radiohead b-sides... just a chip off of a huge, enjoyable block you can find on various EPs and singles out there. If you eventually burn these tracks to a CD, the next songs would represent tracks 7 through 12. I've actually tried to consider how the tracks are arranged on this hypothetical "album," but feel free to scramble them up any way you choose.
I Am a Wicked Child: A Radiohead Compilation
7. "The Amazing Sounds of Orgy": So fucking creepy. I'd love to make the three-minute horror movie that should go with this song. The opening verse and the refrain ("I want to see your smile again" and "So glad you're mine," respectively) juxtapose sentimentality against ominous lyrics like "The amazing sounds of the killing hordes / the day the banks collapsed on us." Hey, you've got spiders crawling all over you.
8. "Paperbag Writer": The creepy vibe remains here on this outtake from the HAIL TO THE THIEF sessions (released on the "There There" single), but shit gets FONKY... as fonky as it can get when it comes to England, really. Clock the bassline that enters at the 1 minute mark, or the strings that seem to be playing both forwards and backwards. I honestly think Dr. Dre would be impressed with the production on this one. Now that's the hotnezz. The Beatles reference in the title and the druggy lyrics only make it sweeter.
9. "I Am Citizen Insane": This instrumental track closes out my Radiohead/electronica trilogy for the evening in beautiful style, with what could be mistaken for a collaboration between Aphex Twin and and Luke Vibert. To those of you out there who don't listen to any 'electronic' music and didn't just tune the fuck out after reading those two names, give this track a shot. If you're at work, put it on repeat and keep doing what you're doing. If you manage to lose yourself in the song, I think you'll understand what the fuss is about.
10. "How I Made My Millions": Lead singer Thom Yorke recorded this demo on a minidisc recorder at home. If you listen closely, you can hear his girlfriend doing the dishes in the background. If I were dating someone and heard something this crushing coming out of the next room, I think I would have to end the relationship and walk away in sad, talentless shame. By the way, how great are the song titles tonight?
11. "Subterranean Homesick Alien (acoustic) ": This early version of OK COMPUTER's thematic center is an acoustic performance from the RARE ON AIR series of albums (Vol. 4 also features live performances from Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley and more). Not only did OK COMPUTER and the album version of this track finally soften me to Radiohead, but the lyrics of this song made me actually want to be abducted by aliens. It's quite a feat that they manage to convey both the strangeness of what it's like to be human and how peculiar humans would seem to another intelligent life form. The passage where the narrator begs to be stolen "on board their beautiful ship, show me the world as I'd love to see it," always jumped out at me as a unique response to an alien abduction.
12. "Palo Alto": There's a riveting sequence in the Radiohead documentary MEETING PEOPLE IS EASY where Thom Yorke mixes this song on a lap-sized mixing board, while footage of people hustling and bustling their lives away in dreary cityscapes is intercut. Seeing that documentary made me begin to consider what attracted me most to the band: they write what are essentially folk songs about the death of the human soul. "No Surprises." "How to Disappear Completely." Even "Creep." They're all about the different levels of disconnect we all experience every day. How sanitized life can become, with everything pre-fabbed, everything cookie cut and similar to everything else. "Palo Alto" is named after a city in California -- the "City of the Future" -- that played a huge role in California's second gold rush: Silicon Valley, or the La Brea Tar Pit of technology.
FOR MORE ON TONIGHT'S RAMBLING:
The city of the future, Palo Alto
Listen to some Aphex Twin samples
Order your Radiohead singles