31 May 2005

Halcyon Days

As I get older, I find myself growing increasingly less willing to make impromptu road trips to catch concert tours that won’t make stops in the towns in which I reside. Back in the day, I would hightail it from Evansville to Nashville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, St. Louis, Louisville (of course), even Chicago and see concerts. But now, when faced with the prospect of seeing Band X play in Town Y on Day Z, rather than get swept up in the thrill of catching Band X live, I think more about how long the drive will be, how much gas that’s going to cost, how will I find the venue, is said venue in a shitty part of the town to which I’ll be traveling, will I have to take time off from work and most importantly, if I don’t take time off from work, will I nod off at the wheel while driving back home at 2 a.m.?

In fact, in the past two years there have been a few shows featuring bands I like that took place right here in Louisville that I skipped because I was a little tired that particular day or, even worse, because there was a conflict with a TV program and the TV program won. Yes, I'm a pantywaist.

There’s something about Local H that turns my biological clock back to 23. I can say, with much confidence and without any irony or sarcasm, that Local H fucking rocks, plain and simple. They’re a classic rock band with punk rock passion and the indie rock aesthetic, and the novelty of their two-man line-up doesn’t hurt. Best of all is the fact that their albums are all start-to-finish perfect (well, except maybe their debut, which is kind of derivative, but I digress); with the wealth of top-notch material that Local H has in their arsenal, you really can’t lose when seeing them play live.

So as mentioned previously, a Memorial Day road trip was planned to Covington, Ky. to see Local H play at a club. Due to the fortuitous holiday timing and the show’s geographical proximity to my wife’s favorite grocery store, we made a long weekend out of it. We found the venue and our hotel with relative ease, then drove over to Newport to have supper and a few refreshments before returning to Covington for a night of rock and/or roll.

Now the bad news: For some bizarre reason, this particular venue booked two local acts to open for the band that opened for Local H. That meant there were four bands on a bill that was scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. If each band played a 30 minute set with the inevitable 30 minutes of breaking down drum kits, lugging of amplifiers and tuning of guitars between each set, this meant we were in for a long night.

But, a slight reprieve: Instead of starting at 10, or as I feared, sometime after 10 (because, you know, punctuality is so not rock ‘n’ roll), the first band started around 9:30. They were adequate, but I can’t recall their name. Denial was next; they, too, were adequate, but their lead singer was quite the little poseur. My wife said, “You can tell that guy spends more time looking in the mirror than playing his guitar,” which pretty much hit the nail on the head.

The Giraffes were next, and wonder of wonders, they were actually really good. So good, in fact, that I bought one of their CDs after the show. They were kind of like an indie rock version of Clutch. They’ve got a new disc coming out in July, so naturally I e-mailed their label and arranged to get a review copy.

And then the main event. This particular Local H tour is called “U-Pick It U-Eat It.” Concertgoers are handed a ballot with 60 tunes from the Local H repertoire (including six cover songs) arranged like a sushi menu and the instructions to pick seven of them. This is an intriguing prospect, because, as with every other band I’ve ever seen play live, Local H has six or seven songs that the play at every concert. Theoretically, with enough knowledgeable fans and enough well chosen votes, a truly unique setlist could be created at each show. Plus, my wife let me vote for her, so I attempted to rig the voting as best I could. I didn’t want it to be too obvious, so I used two different pens and made some adjustments between the two ballots so they weren’t complete duplicates of each other. All in all, I ended up voting for "Buffalo Trace," "Rock & Roll Professionals," "Mellowed" and "Cool Magnet" twice.

Did it work? Yes and no. The setlist is below. I voted for the songs in italics. Songs with an asterisk are ones that seem to get played at every show.

Half Life
All Right Oh Yeah
Fritz’s Corner*
Rock & Roll Professionals
Heavy Metal Bake Sale
High-Fivin' Mother Fucker*
P.J. Soles
Manifest Destiny (Part 1)
Buffalo Trace
Lead Pipe Cinch
Eddie Vedder
Sports Bar
Hands on the Bible
Bound for the Floor*
No Problem
Tangerine (Led Zep cover)
Toxic (Britney Spears cover)
California Songs

So, not my dream Local H show, but any Local H show is a good one. Also, "Buffalo Trace" is a 10-minute song, so maybe its epic length shortened the number of available songs.

Still... I would've liked to have heard more stuff from their latest album, Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles?. Or from Here Comes the Zoo or Pack Up the Cats or the No Fun E.P. It's like they're still promoting As Good As Dead, which was released in 1996 (and which isn't their best record, either).

26 May 2005

Rock & Roll Professionals

Going to see Local H on Memorial Day. I can't wait. I've seen them play four times and they never disappoint.

22 May 2005

As Sure As Eggs Is Eggs

The closest thing I ever had to a religious experience happened one strange, sad July 4th while repeatedly listening to "Supper's Ready" from the album Foxtrot by Genesis. Maybe religious is the wrong word, although the song is rife with Christian imagery. Perhaps mystical, metaphysical or spiritual are more appropriate? Whatever it was, it was strange.

Describe it? Not even. I don't think I could ever do it justice. There were no visions or hallucinations, but there was a weird sense of dislocation, moving from room to room without any memories of doing so, time compression and the distinct sense of being outside myself observing the whole thing.

No, I wasn't drunk.

However, at the time, I misunderstood the lyrics. Towards the end of the song, Peter Gabriel sings, There's an angel standing in the sun/And he's crying with a loud voice/"This is the supper of the mighty one"/Lord of Lords/King of Kings/Has returned to lead his children home/To take them to the new Jerusalem. But due to the way the song is mixed (and also because my CD is not the remastered version), I could not understand the "with a loud voice" bit, so I thought the climactic battle depicted during the "Apocalypse in 9/8" segment had been won by the forces of darkness/evil and that the angel was weeping, not heralding. My bad!

Furthermore, "Apocalypse in 9/8" features the parenthetical addendum "Featuring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet." Who is Gabble Ratchet? I read somewhere that the Gabble Ratchet has something to do with the souls of unbaptized children, which is a bit unsettling -- especially considering that I was never baptized -- but according to an online Genesis FAQ, it's "the sound of wild geese that heralds the arrival of archangels (or something similar)."

Anyhoo, the song has always held a special place in my cold, pitch-black heart. Clocking in at a healthy 22 minutes, 58 seconds, it's broken into seven seperate subsections, and, as "Come Sail Away" is to Eric Cartman, "Supper's Ready" is to me. Once I start the song, I have to finish it. As you can imagine, you don't really get too many opportunities to listen to 23 minutes of prog rock goodness, so when I decided to visit some friends back in my old stomping grounds, I loaded up on the Genesis and had a little party. "Supper's Ready" got me from my house to Indiana, so after the fadeout, I switched CDs over to Selling England by the Pound; for while "Supper's Ready" is my pick for best Genesis song ever, I actually think Selling England is a more cohesive album.

Plus, I didn't want to have an out-of-body experience while barreling down I-64 at 75 m.p.h.

18 May 2005

"Sith" Is an Anagram of "Shit"

I'm just saying.

As much of a geek as I am, as much as I love to wallow in nostalgia and the pop culture detritus of my childhood, somewhere, somehow I outgrew the Star Wars franchise. For instance, I can't remember a single thing about Return of the Jedi other than Luke Skywalker got a bionic hand and the damned Ewoks.

Salon's Stephanie Zacharek expressed my thoughts almost exactly. I emphasized the best quotes:

For years fans of the "Star Wars" series have been trying to convince us nonbelievers -- and, to an extent, themselves -- that George Lucas is a genius whose work plumbs deep universal themes, a fact that would be self-evident if only we'd accept Joseph Campbell as our personal Lord and savior. Somehow, a series that began as an enjoyable tongue-in-cheek amusement has turned into a runaway train wreck of convoluted yet facile mythology, one that inexplicably invites, but can't support, constant defense as a serious work. It's not enough that the "Star Wars" movies are the work of an occasionally clever but mostly simple-minded auteur-wannabe; they've also been hijacked by zealots who insist on assigning weight and meaning to every idiotic frame, spoiling the fun even for average moviegoers who simply have a nostalgic fondness for the original trilogy.

The release of "Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith" marks the beginning of a new era: one in which there are no more "Star Wars" movies to look forward to, or to dread.

17 May 2005

Two Wheels Good

It’s Bike to Work Week. At least, according to this website, it is. So accordingly, I’m riding my bike to work, which is not much of a challenge, as I live about two miles from my place of employment, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Plus, I kind of enjoy knowing that I’m annoying some of the people who are driving the route I’m riding. Having said that, if you happen to be driving down Fifth Street and see a dork on a bicycle, for the love of God, please don’t hit him – it might be me.

15 May 2005

The Fall of the House of Usher

I was at my health club the other day riding the bike and I needed something to read. I found the May 2005 issue of Men's Health magazine and started flipping through that. This edition's cover boy is pop star Usher. I'm aware enough of Usher that I know what he looks like, but I couldn't name any of his songs or albums if you put a gun to my head... but I can now, after looking him up on allmusic.com. Judging from the number of songwriters, producers and guest artists propping him up on his most recent album, it looks as if Usher is hardly a self-contained musical genius. Usher probably shows up after all the serious creative work has been completed and then sings the tunes and gets all of the glory.

Regardless, if I ain't got nuffin to read when I'm on the stationary bike, I'll get bored, so if I wanna do 30 minutes or more, I gotsta have me a magazine, yo. So there I was, skimming through Men's Health, reading little bits and pieces while simultaneously realizing that if I was a gay man, I'd totally subscribe to as many men's fitness publications as I could afford, because to describe them as "a little homoerotic" is like calling the Terri Schiavo kerfuffle "a little polarizing."

I made it to the cover feature and sure enough, there's Usher in all his shirtless glory describing his philosophy of fitness and life and otherwise pontificating like he's one of the 21st century's great thinkers. Now, Ush-Dog is in pretty good physical condition (although he and his trainer might wanna take it easy on his pecs -- boy's got some serious man titties going on), but why wouldn't he be? As a manufactured pop star/musical product, he has a personal trainer holding his hand through three-hour workouts and a nutritionist cooking perfectly balanced meals every day (and credit must be given to writer Scott Quill, who said exactly that in his profile).

But it was one of Usher's pearls of wisdom that really frosted my Pop-Tarts. Quoth the Ush-Man: "My life is work, work, work, work, work." Bullshit. Usher is hardly the first celebrity to whine about how much they "work," but he's the one that gets the full brunt of my wrath today. To wit: Bitch, you ain't never worked a day in your fucking life. Yeah, spending 12 hours a day in a recording studio might not be a non-stop party, but try working an eight-hour shift on an assembly line, or driving a bus, or cleaning toilets, you pampered sissy boy. First, you wouldn't be able to pay for that trainer and the three-hour workouts that keep your waist so narrow and your pecs so overinflated, but then, after a full day of real work, not that candy-ass show biz "labor" by which you're so "consumed," you wouldn't have the energy for one of your carefully supervised exercise sessions. So shut your fucking (low-fat, no-sugar) cakehole, Usher.

And what kind of a stupid-ass, retarded name is Usher, anyway? What was his mother thinking? Does he have brothers named "Plumber" and "Busboy?"

10 May 2005

Dusk Falls Upon the Temple of the Serpent on the Mount of Sunrise

I reviewed a few CDs for some of my outlets.

1. Nile, Annihilation of the Wicked (Relapse): Probably the best death metal band in America. I liked their last album, In Their Darkened Shrines, so when the opportunity came to get an advance of the new one, I said, "Why not?" I enjoyed this one, too, but Nile is one of those bands that I like on paper almost better than I like, y'know, actually listening to. For lack of anything better, this post is named after the disc's opening track (and it's not even the longest song title on Annihilation of the Wicked: That would be "Chapter of Obeisance Before Giving Breath to the Inert One in the Presence of the Crescent-Shaped Horns," which proves that they have a sense of humor). All of Nile's material revolves around the mythology and superstitions of ancient Egypt, which gives them a unique niche in the metal underground. Also, their former bass player was named Chief Spires, which is pretty bad-ass.

2. Statistics, Often Lie (Jade Tree): I was set to hate this CD because it's one of Dallas Dalley's band, and he plays in Desaparecidos with Conor Oberst, the most overrated musician in rock today, but damned if the disc isn't really fucking good. It's jittery, retro-sounding pop with traces of shoegazer guitar swirls and little traces of glitch techno thrown in for spice. It kind of reminded me of Floraline and Bon Voyage in style and tone; not an identical match for these bands, but listening to Often Lie put me in a similar headspace. This one might make my year-end best of. Dallas will be thrilled.

3. Coliseum, Goddamage (Manic Ride): They're hardcore punk, technically, but there's enough metal in their sound to seal the deal for me. This disc has a wonderful guitar sound -- thick and chunky, like good salsa. Coliseum is a local band, and I kind of envy their frontman, Ryan Patterson, because he plays in two decent groups (he's in Black Cross, too), plus he's a freelance graphic designer, plus he's King Cred of Louisville. I mean no disrespect when I say he probably doesn't feel as if he works for a living because his jobs (on paper, at least) are so rewarding. Of course, I don't know him, so he might also be a line cook at Golden Corral or something similarly heinous.

LEO ran a somewhat edited version of my COC review, i.e., they took out the cock joke. So here's the original draft for your edification:

Corrosion of Conformity
In the Arms of God


Back to their superior, full-length moniker after flirting with the acronym “COC” (which can be misinterpreted as “cock,” of course), Corrosion of Conformity’s long-awaited new disc In the Arms of God is manna from above for those who like hard rock and metal but deplore the way the genre has evolved into primarily too-fast playing and Cookie Monster vocal stylings. COC does it up right: big, thick slabs of humbucker-fueled riffs, underlaid with a rhythm section that both rocks and swings, a healthy understanding that quiet and slow bits are just as important as loud and fast ones, and best of all, songs. Album opener “Stone Breaker” kicks off with churchy keyboards that give way to a bluesy guitar figure before exploding into the familiar crushing rock. Pepper Keenan has a great voice; the way he makes his entrance bellowing the word “scorn” is worth the cost of the CD. Arabian flourishes add a “Kashmir” flavor to “Rise River Rise,” while “Infinite War” recalls COC’s roots as a hardcore band. Matter of fact, it’s hard to reconcile COC’s long-ago punk days with their current status as America’s premiere Southern-fried sludge metal band, so effortless does the band make it seem. With Keenan’s side project Down dissolved and that Metallica gig falling through, let’s hope it doesn’t take Corrosion of Conformity another five years for a follow-up.

Finally, the Van Halen party wrapped up last Friday.

Always a Bridesmaid

Praise be! Rob & Amber failed to win the final leg of The Amazing Race. This means that, in three separate seasons of two different reality TV series, self-styled master strategist and consummate competitor "Boston Rob" has never won. Boy, my wife is gonna be pissed: She loves Boston Rob and hates Uchenna & Joyce, the winners.

Also glad to see Ron & Kelly come in third. Kelly was kind of a hateful bitch (nice rack, though), but Ron was even worse. His rack was OK, I guess, but Ron served in the Iraq war and was a POW, something he mentioned every chance he got. Every place they went, it reminded Ron of downtown Baghdad: Istanbul, Johannesburg, fucking Miami, Florida. One imagines a trip to the video store or the post office reminds Ron of downtown Baghdad. Give it a rest, Gomer Pyle -- if you were that great a soldier, you never would've been captured in the first place.

Next season of Amazing Race promises to suck, as it's a "family edition," meaning a bunch of snot-nosed kids and their snot-nosed parents. Feh. I'll guarantee that several of the kids will have soap opera names like "Tucker," "Hunter," "McKenzie" and suchlike.

04 May 2005

A Cross Between Religion and Hockey

After I glibly named the last post "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" after a track on Van Halen II (because none of the song titles from Diver Down floated my boat), I listened to that song again. Wow, what a tune. The lyrics are simplistic, of course, but the chord progression is bitchin' and the intro power chords -- dunh, dunh, DUNH! -- makes the hairs on my arms stand up. So since Tuesday, I've only listened to "Somebody Get Me a Doctor" and I'm still not tired of it.

Part of me wonders if I'm retreating into some pathetic nostalgia bubble, but if the soundtrack is this cool, who cares?

02 May 2005

Somebody Get Me a Doctor

As a music critic -- or should that be, "music critic?" -- I have access to plenty of new releases. I try to stay abreast of trends and styles, but there are but 24 hours in a day and I gotta have time for me, so I often listen to old stuff when I'm in the car.

This week has turned into an unintended classic Van Halen marathon. I had Fair Warning in the car since Friday and every note reminds me of where I was when I first got into that particular album. I originally got it for my birthday right before I went into the eighth grade. My grandparents gave it to me as a gift -- thanks, Beulah & Joe -- and the reason I asked for Fair Warning as opposed to the other three albums in the catalog at the time was because A) it was their newest LP and B) I knew there were no pictures of the band on Fair Warning's sleeve, so therefore my grandma wouldn't give me any shit about the band's hairdos or general appearance (although in retrospect, William Kurelek's creepy painting that served as its cover illustration wasn't much better).

However, despite its pop-metal brilliance, Fair Warning is less than 32 minutes long, so after listening to that and nothing else for four days, I needed a break. I made due with Van Halen II for a little while, but that wasn't cutting it, so I went out and bought Diver Down on CD. I had that on on cassette when it was a current album (still got the cassette... somewhere) but I haven't listened to it in at least 15 years; probably longer. Diver Down is a decent album, but it's padded with a bunch of covers and instrumentals. Even as a stupid 13- or 14-year-old, I knew that meant that Van Halen was treading water creatively. Hell, even the record sleeve is half-assed; but what few originals the band managed to throw together are fucking killer.

Frex: I skipped over the remake of "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" that opens the disc and went right into "Hang 'Em High," which smokes. After that comes "Cathedral," one of Eddie Van Halen's patented solo instrumentals, but this one is actually subtle, featuring EVH striking chords with the volume turned all the way down on his guitar and then turning it up, which produces a warm, haunting sound.

Following that brief interlude is "Secrets." I surprised myself by remembering all the lyrics, but what really freaked me out was how damned catchy the tune was (and still is). It's pure pop with gorgeous harmony vocals, well-crafted lyrics from Diamond David Lee Roth instead of his standard cliches and cat calls, an actual bridge and of course, a flashy guitar solo. It's a perfect little gem of a tune and it shows that had the band, or their label, or their management or whoever let them have an extra two months to work on Diver, it could have been a classic record and not just a placemarker in their career.

(In case you're wondering, I'm one of those purists who only likes Van Halen with David Lee Roth. Just like Joe Dirt. While Sammy Hagar is a more technically proficient vocalist, he has all the personality of a toilet plunger. Diamond Dave just sold it better than Hagar. End of discussion.)

Christians Don't Believe in Gravity

The return of Family Guy. Freakin' sweet. Not the best episode, but I laughed a couple of times. Taped American Dad; the sneak preview they ran after the Super Bowl was such a piece of shit I decided to wait until later to see if they fixed it.

Also: two new episodes of The Simpsons. The "imaginary friend" episode was kind of underwhelming, but the second one, wherein Bart got fat and had a heart attack was pretty good. I thought the bit where Itchy showed Scratchy a picture of himself sleeping with his wife (helpfully labeled "me" and "your wife") was hysterical.

Which reminds me: The "imaginary friend" episode guest-starred Ray Romano. Those commercials that CBS is running, wherein they compare Everybody Loves Raymond to two species of animals on the endangered list, are tacky and insensitive. I'm no tree-hugger, but the eradication of entire species of animals, intentional or not, is no laughing matter and using it to hype the series finale of a third-rate sitcom is really disgusting.