Dreamin’ Songs – “World Leader Pretend” By R.E.M.

b000002lfu01lzzzzzzz.jpgOur air conditioner is broken again, and as it was 86 degrees inside our home last night, the wife and I decided to take a trip to some fine air conditioned air in the local Barnes and Nobles. As most of our CDs are now locked inside cardboard boxes we were limited in our music choices for the drive.

We wound up choosing REMs major label debut, Green. I say we, but it should be noted that in fact the decision was really nothing but my wife putting it in the CD player. I make that distinction as I probably would not have chosen that particular album. It turned out to be a good choice, as it is an excellent album. A fact I tend to forget.

I say all this to point out the sheer simplicity of understanding why “World Leader Pretend” floated back into my brain this early morning.

It is what I would call an underrated classic. “Pop Song” and “Stand” tend to get the glory from this album, or even the beautiful “You Are Everything” but “WLP” should get high praise as well.

Musically it is a little mid-tempo number with lilting guitars and a bit of a cadence on the drums. It sounds a little military – well military with background vocals by Mike Mills. The sound fits the lyrics which use a great deal of military language to discuss deeper, personal ideas.

It juxtaposes the concept of governments raising walls and preparing its defenses with the singers own emotional walls and defenses, proclaiming at last that he raised these walls and he will have to be “the one to knock it down.”

That’s a pretty universal sentiment, and one that has struck large chords with me at various times in my own life, when I raised my own defenses.

It is also, I believe, the only time REM have printed a songs lyrics in their liner notes.

Movie Review: Transformers

transformers.jpgIt has been a good long while since I did a proper movie review. The blog has turned into something totally different than I had ever intended. Since the invention of the China connection my world has turned a little lopsided and haggard and busy as crap. I try to post regularly with snippets of interest from the web or youtube or the occasional life story, but proper reviews and really interesting stories have kind of fallen by the wayside. I hope that once China really gets going, I shall be able to get back into regular writing, for real.

All this is to say I am going to give a smaller version of a movie review for Transformers – call it movie review-lite.

Though we couldn’t really afford it, my wife and I decided to watch movies with friends for the Fourth of July celebration. My friend, Daniel, had his heart set on Transformers, where my wife wanted nothing but Ratatouille. Truth be told I would have rather seen the cartoon rats, but Daniel had already seen them and like a dutiful friend I saw the cartoon transforming automobiles.

Transformers was pretty much what I expected from a live action version movie based on an 80s toy product directed by Michael Bay – lots of action, little sensible plot.

The plot involved a group of warring robots who have come to Earth in search of this Rubix Cube that will ultimately change their war torn planet into something nice again, or if you are a Decepticon (bad guys) it will destroy the planet or the good guys or something. It isn’t really made sure why they want the box, but darn do they want it.

To add a human element there is a story about a young, nerdy boy trying to get the popular hot chick. It works better than it ought to, but ultimately it is just filler until we get to the robot battles.

There is a very traditional Michael Bay subplot involving a soldier and his wife and his never-before seen baby. They add absolutely nothing to the plot, are cardboard thing and only serve to allow Michael Bay believe he can write real stories and for sentimental parents to cry a little bit in a movie about giant robots.

Oh and there is some conspiracy theory jumbo involving a top secret government agency (with sadly, John Turturro appearing for a pay check.)

The Transformers are pretty kick arse though. They look super cool, they transform in really brilliant ways and they fight like mad. The fight scenes are well worth the price of admission although throughout most of the film I had no real idea who was fighting who as when the bots are transformed into humanish form, they look mostly like each other.

Hearing Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime was admittedly the bomb, even if I am a bigger GI Joe freak than Transformers.

It was worth watching and I’m glad I caught it on the big screen, though I still would have preferred the cartoon rats in Paris.

I jokingly said to my wife before going in that she was going to have a theatre full of screaming children, while I would have a theatre full of screaming middle aged men. The fanboys were out in full, but it really made for a better experience over all.

First Thoughts On Icky Thump

I finally, um, obtained the new White Stripes album, Icky Thump. There has been some weird championing of it since it is (mostly) a return to their loud, blues/garage rock roots after moving into a lighter, more layered sound scape with their last album, Get Behind Me Satan. I say it is weird, as when released Satan was lathered with a lot of high praise, but now it seems everyone has forgotten how much they loved that album and want nothing more than loud guitars.

Whatever, I really liked GBMS and while not the worlds biggest White Stripes fan, I tend to listen to it more than others. I’ve mentioned before how my middle-agedness has turned me a lot more mellow and thus the music I tend to listen to has much softer edges than the grunge/punk/alternative stuff I dug in my youth. While I dig the older, rockin-er albums of the WS, I really dug how they created a fuller, more rich sound with Satan.

With Icky Thump they have returned to a louder, more guitar based sound (mostly as songs like “prickly thorn, but sweetly worn” are softer and more cuddly.) I’ve only given it a listen and a half, so I can’t really give it a full review, but I’m liking what I’m hearing.

Even at middle age I still like a little edgy guitar riff to throw my (ever thinning) head about. As usual Jack and Meg have put together a turn-to-eleven, slam up against each other rock-fest. I dig Jack’s periodic talking blues pieces, even if I’m not exactly sure what the crap he’s talking about, and I like the more experimental sound collages.

I don’t think this will be replacing GBMS anytime soon, but it is a nice album to put on, crank up and pack my house to.

Concert Review: Wilco – Murat Theatre, Indianapolis

music_3-08_wilco_05.jpgWe had three tickets to see Wilco and only to people to go. A friend who belonged to the other ticket had to cancel at the last moment. I had posted to message boards and asked friend to come, but no one responded.

Free tickets to see one of the greatest live bands playing today and no one responded. I think I need to find new friends.

So we arrived at the venue early, hoping we might find some hapless soul willing to buy the one ticket. Almost immediately we found some guys on bikes with signs saying they were buying tickets. There was a little haggling, and I found myself on the losing end of that. Ten bucks and I was free one ticket. That’s a lot less than I paid, but a little more than nothing.

The Murat is a beautiful old theatre in downtown Indianapolis. Having arrived early to unload the ticket and having already done such, we walked into the entryway of the theatre to await the doors to open. Many folks were already there. An odd thing this always was to me as we had assigned seats so there was literally no reason to arrive so early, but there we were.

Our earliness was paid off as a young man came out stating that the band had asked him take fan requests. My mind went racing. I was dying to come up with something obscure and unique – something that the band would see and love and no doubt talk about from the stage. Maybe even ask me to come on down and sing it with them.

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Concert Review: Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival Featuring IIIrd Tyme Out And Dr. Ralph Stanley

My wife and I have lived in Bloomington Indiana now for the last five years or so. While living here there are several things we have always planned to do: see an IU football game, not for the game (for no one wants to see the Hoosiers play football) but because my wife is a band geek, and she’d like to see the marching band perform. We’d like to go to a basketball game, as basketball is the one sport IU consistently does well. We feel we ought to see the Indy 500 and the Kentucky Derby just once, though neither of us can gather up any kind of excitement for that. And we always plan to attend the Bill Monroe bluegrass festival.

Until this week, we’ve seen exactly none of those things. Since we are headed to China in August, we finally decided to buckle down and attend the bluegrass festival. Even then, we had plans to attend every night of the eight-day festival, but due to problems of infinite proportions, we were only able to make it Tuesday and Saturday.

You could say bluegrass is in my blood, though I didn’t know it for many years. My great-uncle played with Dolly Parton when she was little, and my cousin plays guitar in Ricky Skaggs band. Most of my dad’s family plays some sort of instrument, and they say family reunions are a sight and sound to behold.

None of this information was actually known to me for many years. I thought we were a pretty boring family for most of my youth. In fact I can remember my parents deciding to go to a bluegrass festival when I was in my early teens an

d I had to ask what the heck bluegrass was.

“It’s like country, but faster and with more twang,” Mom told me.

Continue reading “Concert Review: Bill Monroe Bluegrass Festival Featuring IIIrd Tyme Out And Dr. Ralph Stanley”

Concert Review: Ryan Adams, Paula Cole, Suzanne Vega, Charlie Louvin and Vietnam at the Brown Theatre in Louisville – May 19, 2007

After the whole Ryan versus Gillian debacle I had settled down into a wonderful Ryan Adams groove. I’ve been listening to his music for weeks and generally freaking out about seeing him. My mantra has been “I’m going to see Ryan Adams, I’m going to see Ryan Adams.” The world’s troubles melt away with these words.

But before I talk about the show, I must say a few words about Holly. She is my wife’s friend from college. I was also supposed to have married her instead -(acording to my sister anyway.) You see while I first started to date the girl who became my wife, my sister was then in college with Holly (a different college than the one my wife and Holly attended, but that’s another story) and she noticed some similarities between me and Holly (all of which have long since been forgotten) and decided we were perfect for each other. And she told us this information, separately and frequently. We both collectively shrugged our shoulder and moved on.

Somehow, a few months ago Holly and I became fast friends. It turns out we do have a lot in common, namely a great passion for music and Ryan Adams. Lots of e-mails have passed through our portals and a few phone calls, but the whole physical presence thing was absent (well except for a couple of weddings, but both of those were brief and pre-friendship weirdness.)

All this to say that I was looking forward to her coming and a little nervous about it all.

She came, it was a little weird, then it was fun and silly and great. There was one of those long, 3 am I’m-sure-I’m-going-to-regret-saying-all-this-in-the-morning conversations. Except I don’t regret it. Not at all.

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Concert Review: Patty Griffin – Indianapolis, IN – April 28, 2007

pattygriffin1.jpgTraveling to Patty Grffin’s concert at the Vogue theatre in Indianapolis this past Saturday, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and my enthusiasm was not all that high. Truth was, I wasn’t overly familiar with her music. A friend, whose musical opinion I trust very much, is quite the fan of Ms. Griffin, but the two disks I had heard of hers, had not overly impressed me.

It wasn’t that they were bad, the songs were interesting, and I could sense some excellent musicianship in there, it’s just that none of her songs really spoke to me. Nothing really stood out as something magic.

But like I said, I trusted my friend’s opinion and bought the tickets.

Oh Patty, you broke my heart, and taught me to love again – and that within the first three songs.

Normally, when my wife and I make the 60-mile trek to Indianapolis for a concert, we head straight to the venue for the show. This time, being a beautiful Saturday we figured we would make a day of it. Noticing that the venue was in the district known as Broad Ripple, and that I had heard good things about this area, we made this our destination.

I didn’t actually know anything about this district other than I heard commercials for various stores and restaurants in the area and my friend Heather had once praised it’s name.

Continue reading “Concert Review: Patty Griffin – Indianapolis, IN – April 28, 2007”

Bootleg Country: Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – 06/03/05

Some musicians take time to grow on me. A seed will be planted with one or two songs, but weeks, months, or even years may go by before I listen to another one. Sometimes I may hear a few other songs, but they won’t catch. In time a few more songs or albums may find their way across my musical table and their diggability may grow. Eventually I may even grow into true fandom, and on a few occasions that grows into total obsession.

Ryan Adams is such an artist. I first heard him with his big hit “New York, New York,” shortly after 9/11. His infectious, hopeful tune about a city so prominent in the nations mind, coupled with the video, in heavy MTV rotation, shot on the Brooklyn Bridge helped ease my own (as well as many others) pain in such tumultuous times.

It wasn’t enough to make me buy the album, though. Over the next few months, I heard little more of his work. There was a song or two that came to me through movies or TV shows, and I caught him performing during a Willie Nelson tribute, all of which I enjoyed but other than making a mental note that I kind of dug him, I did nothing else.

More months slipped by and my Mondo Brethren began praising the name of Saint Ryan. I downloaded a few more upbeat songs and found I really was beginning to dig this man. Then I got a copy of Demolition and all was nearly lost. At the time I was living in a tiny apartment in Strasbourg with only my laptop and some cheap, crappy speakers of which to fulfill my musical needs. Demolitions brand of slower, softer, sad-bastard songs did not bode so well in this format. None, but “Hallelujah” clicked with me and I put off my Ryan Adams obsession after that.

Continue reading “Bootleg Country: Ryan Adams And The Cardinals – 06/03/05”

Random Shuffle – 04/18/07

“Tourist Trap” – Bright Eyes
From NPR’s World Cafe

I woke up this morning to find several messages in my inbox about the Copyright Royalty Board’s decision to deny NPR’s appeal over the increased royalty fees for Internet radio. I am not a political writer, and this isn’t a political piece so I’ll let the discussion of that decision go on elsewhere. What I will say is that the thought of losing such great stations as Radioparadise, and Pandora saddens and angers me a great deal.

Real world radio for the most part sucks. When I travel the 600 odd miles to my parent’s house and hear the exact same songs played by DJs who sound exactly alike with the same jokes then I know radio aint got no soul no more. To be able to click my mouse and hear great, interesting and unique music for free is a great pleasure. It will surely be missed.

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Music Review: Lyle Lovett – I Love Everybody

Having written about Lyle Lovett bootlegs and concerts, it is pretty obvious I am a fan of the man.  I love his ability to spill over into genres ranging from country, to swing, to the blues, and folk music.   Call it alt.country.  Call it Americana.  Whatever it is I dig it.  To the max.  Right here we’re going to talk about one of my favorite Lyle records and the one that first turned me on.
We’re talking I Love Everybody.
I can’t remember exactly what my reaction was when I first heard this record.  I know I was a freshman in college.   I know it was my good friend Matt Mullins who introduced me.  But from there it gets foggy.  Obviously I liked the album for I bought myself a copy and have listened to it so often it is almost completely useless as a disk for the scratches.   But that period of hearing the songs for the first time and learning them after repeated listens is lost.  It is as I have always known it.

Continue reading “Music Review: Lyle Lovett – I Love Everybody