Thursday, September 28, 2006

Back to Tottenham; Playing on the radio

(Note: I wrote this last night but for some reason, it wouldn't post.)
Playing right now: Dave Clark Five - More Greatest Hits

Yeah, I finally found it for a reasonable price at Jerry's. $4. And you know what? It's pretty good. Once you get past the 3 songs they're best known for ("Bits and Pieces," "Catch Us If You Can," "Over and Over" [which I hear at work any time they play '60s songs]) and get into the deep cuts, they aren't as lame as some folks might have you believe. And kind of garagey. "I'm Thinking" has a raw riff underneath. And Rick, or Denny, whoever the sax player was, sounds like he's blowing baritone instead of tenor on a couple tunes, which gives it a little more oomph. The bass has no sustain, and sounds clunky, but some of the bass lines are pretty good. Their version of "Reelin' and Rockin'" is pretty good.
And then there's "Try Too Hard." Now I want to cover it.
The record is in mono too. I've been getting back to mono lately. First I found a mono copy of Sgt. Pepper at a yard sale. Then a friend dubbed me a copy of Piper at the Gates of Dawn with the original mono mix. And let me tell you, both of these albums sound a lot more vital in mono.

I played on the radio tonight with the Living Praise Choir. It was on WRCT, CMU's station. Each week at 9 p.m. EST, they feature a different local band. (Check 'em out at, you out of towners. They stream live.)
Playing on the radio is always a little dicey because it's often hard to hear the vocals in the room. Plus they put baffles around the drums and some of the amps, so there's a little bit of a disconnect between the instruments. Tonight we couldn't hear the vocals, but Bob our singer had headphones on that worked intermintently; just enough to keep him on track. I was a little sloppy on a few songs, but for the most part, it was a pretty spirited performance. At the end of the last song we did our traditional thing of hitting the final chord, letting it ring and turn into feedback, then Bob yelled, "Onetwothreefour" and we made a noisy racket, then he cued the final chord, yelled "onetwothreefour" a couple more's a blast.
Since we covered two Syd Barrett songs, I concluded this racket by bellowing another one of his lyrics that I kept wailing at practice: WOULDN'T YOU MISS ME AT ALLLLLLLLLLL???
Maybe you had to be there, but it made me feel good.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Lou Reed wants to hear my songs

Playing right now: Henry Mancini - Uniquely Mancini (a rather unsyncopated, but kind of swinging version, of "Green Onions," specifically)

I've been having all kinds of weird dreams lately, many of them taking place at work. Which is weird, because I don't think that's happened since I first started there.
But last night, sleeping at my in-laws' house, my dreams took another twist. Not sure where I was, but I was talking to George Harrison, who was something of an acquaintance in this dream. At least well enough that I could chat freely with him about music. I told him that I was listening to one of his albums and that it was helping me in writing songs. My problem, I said, was I can come up with words and chord changes, but when it comes to a melody for the lyrics, I always end up singing a fairly monotonous part. But listening to him was giving me ideas.
Lou Reed was in the room. And when I finished talking to George, who seemed interested and supportive of my efforts, Lou chimed in, "Hey, Mike, why don't you ever show me your songs?" I was kind of taken aback, because Lou has such a rep for being a bastard. And all of a sudden, he seemed willing to help me.
"Because I just figured you'd hate them," I said.
"No, that's not true."
"Sure, you'd go through my lyric book and say, 'This one sucks.' [make a gesture of flipping to the next page] Boring. [Next page]. Oh geez.'" I really wanted to do my Lou imitation for him, but, worrying that it might piss him off, I kind of couched it in a low mumble.
But Lou was really encouraging and said he'd really like to hear or take a look at my song ideas on Monday.
Tomorrow's Monday. I better get some songs together.
Oddly enough, I have a song idea that I want to get down on paper with chord changes and lyrics. Last Thursday, the synapses were firing and I came up with an idea for the final verse [I already know what the chorus and first verse are going to be], and a bridge.
Not sure why I dreamt about Lou Reed. George might've been in my head because I recently dug out a Let It Be bootleg and, a couple weeks ago, I was revisiting his 2 songs on the Yellow Submarine soundtrack.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Time to gush about my peeps

Playing right now: The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi (by Damon & Naomi). Features a cover of Country Joe & the Fish's "Who Am I," which is probably one of the saddest songs ever written, at least when Damon Krukowski sings it. It's really beautiful too.

The past week has been a fairly steady diet of John Vanderslice and Nothing Painted Blue. Especially with the weather getting gloomy, Vanderslice's Pixel Revolt has been good listening. The new NPB album, Taste the Flavor, is their first in 8 years, and it's been sitting in the vaults for about four of them. It was worth the wait. I might review it next week if I get the chance. Maybe I'll MAKE the chance.

I want to go on record saying John Vanderslice and Franklin Bruno are two of the greatest songwriters of our times, and anyone reading this should buy anything they can by either of them. Ask me and I'll be glad to tell you where to start.

I actually had a song storyline crystallize in my head this morning at work. I mean specific ideas about what the final verse will say, how it will end, etc, plus a bridge idea. Now all I need is a melody and some words to fill in this outline.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sebadoh III, Second Installment -- the CD reissue

Sebadoh III (Domino)

Sebadoh III is not the strongest album in the Sebadoh catalog. That honor should probably go to either Bakesale or Harmacy. But like the early stages of a relationship, where the awkward moments coexist with the new, uncharted moments of bliss, the album's highpoints keep things at an exciting level. And also like a couple who are just getting to know each, the band's members - Lou Barlow, Eric Gaffney and Jason Loewenstein - were evolving from a bedroom project into a real band as the album took shape. This resulted in something a patchwork quality to the 23 songs. (The length made it the first Homestead Records album that was not released on both vinyl and CD). Within a few years, Guided By Voices would be making this sonic gear shift de riguer.

Instrumentation went from solo Barlow recordings to full tilt power trio, with all three getting a chance at the mike. And even when it song didn't make the grade -- or in the case of Gaffney's material, when it got under your skin -- there was always the reassurance that things would pick up within a track or two.

After two albums of lo-fi home recordings by Gaffney and Barlow, Sebadoh III's opening notes come as a pleasant surprise. "The Freed Pig" comes out of the gate with an especially catchy one-string guitar lead that immediately hooks the ear, before Barlow calmly unleashes an open letter to his former Dinosaur, Jr. bandmate J. Mascis. Messy as the lyrical message is (so much so that Gaffney refused to play on it once he heard the words), it sounds like a pop hit.

Many of the album's best moments come in three-song stretches. The best is Barlow's confessional trilogy: "Truly Great Thing," "Kath" (a love song to his future wife, recorded at home as she slept on the other side of the bed) and "Perverted World." Long before emo made heart-on-the-sleeve songs common, here was a guy who sounded shy as he expressed his deep emotions in a way that sounded genuine, playing them over fragile semi-acoustic riffs. "Kath" in particular has a compelling Beatles-cum-flamenco minor riff to it. Then, as if to prove he's not so timid, Barlow grabs Gaffney and the dangerous duo performs a murderous version of Johnny Mathis' "Wonderful Wonderful" where only the lyrics remain from the original.

Loewenstein's trilogy comes in the middle of the disc and presents his sole contributions to the disc. The faux jazz of "Smoke a Bowl" offers a respite from Gaffney's drug-laced scream fests and proves some yuks. "Black Haired Girl" and "Hoppin' Up and Down" are nowhere near as strong as his later material, but they work as sketches in progress.

By the time Eric Gaffney left Sebadoh a few albums later, he had digressed into the one-dimensional screamfests that would become the norm for indie bands that couldn't do Sebadoh's laundry. But on this album, he managed to temper the lung workouts with dreamy riffs and some whacked out Syd Barrett-like imagery ("Fritos roost on dancing wire/ puzzling out a selfish high/ commandment of meadow mouth/ kiss the ground, lift up the house" - "Scars, Four Eyes").

Gaffney's epic "As the World Dies the Eyes of God Grow Bigger" stands as something of an endurance test with its quiet-to-loud shifts, along with similar vocal work and a hard-to-follow narrative that's part narrative and part stream-of-consciousness (due to the bottle of whiskey Gaffney downed during the sessions.) The song, and the album, end with the singer repeatedly screaming "Blood on the walls," which gets lost in a wall of echo as it fades out, making him sound like he's put the blood there himself and he's off to continue the carnage.

The first time I played this album, I nodded off sometime during that song, waking at the climax only to be freaked out, fearing the end had come. In a certain sense it had, since indie rock was turning a corner. Nirvana released Nevermind within a week or two of Sebadoh III's hitting the streets, and we all know what happened there. But Sebadoh was now a living breathing band and at that moment, that was all that mattered.

The reissue's bonus disc contains a few demos of songs that eventually wound up on the album, without offering too different a picture. The real treasure is the "Gimme Indie Rock" EP, which kicks off disc two. That song still packs a sarcastic whallop 15 years down the line.

"Showtape '91" the 12-minute track that closes the disc, is probably for diehard fans only. When the band set-up or switched instruments during the 1991 fall tour, Barlow would flip on a tape of bogus band introductions: "Your post-modern folk-core saviors, Sebadoh!"; "Your new favorite dope smoking renaissance threesome, Sebadoh!" All of them appear here. Self-indulgent, yes. But like the song that launches the second disc, it isn't afraid to lampoon the categorization that indie fans took so seriously at that time, and still do today. So I'm glad it's there.