Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Aracde Fire’s Everything Now is everything I need to listen to, at least for now.

The sharp snark and blistery bad news infected my social media stream on the eve of Everything Now. This was it. The end of Arcade Fire. Of course Arcade Fire almost ended for me after Neon Bible, for I don't know why! Something about the brilliant Suburbs or Reflektor never saturated my ears, until now, what were my fears?

After getting stirred up by the all the online shouts of angry fire in a crowded arcade, I was curious. What could this new album sound like? Feel like? ABBA, really? Too curious, on the day before the drop, I decided to find out, while in my car and flying from the endorphin surge sparked by my morning walk. Some cosmic force turned my attention to YouTube and videos for Everything Now, Signs of Life, and Creature Comfort. I wasn't even on the fence when this inquiry commenced. I was about to hand the haters some extra nails for their critical coffins and join the chorus of jaded cruelty. From the glories of Wake Up back in 2005 to this Twitter-tested toxic wake! But something happened to my head and heart in the short investigation.

By the time I got to the blood burning punk disco of Creature Comfort, I was parked in the carport and on the verge of crying. This teenage anthem of existential worries hit me in a flurry with a fury of our common insecurities. Just make me famous, just make it painless. We don't know what we want, just that we want something. The death of desire meets every desire organizing itself against death.

Behind the whole Everything Now project is a brand-name alternate universe, where "everything now" is a corporate concept that is also a mock corporation. Each song is an imprint with its own logo. Because I was so busy dropping-out during the first years of mobile phones and the internet, I also missed U2's pop-infused critique of pop culture the first time around (but later came to admire it). Of course, that was called Pop, and just like so many people were so busy mis-reading that cul-de-sac, the same seems to be happening to the big-tent happening currently being engineered by the evangelistic enthusiasms of the Win Butler Family Band. If Everything Now is Arcade Fire’s Zooropa-Pop period, let them have at it, and let us enjoy the sparkling beats.

Because I had spent some moments lost in the cultural studies wings of literary and social theory during the eight-year arc of my undergrad days, it would be easy to think Arcade Fire was just rehashing and recasting a giddy projection of nuanced simulation. But honest, I really groove into ths poor-man's crash course in Situationist propaganda, warmed-over Society of the Spectacle for people too young to remember May 1968 or Greil Marcus on the Sex Pistols. The same artists that brought us a Neon Bible clearly know something about the mirrored-hallways of Baudrillard's hyped-up hyper-boredom.

If people think that Everything Now and Infinite Content are only Abba-inspired happy-clappy innuendos about Googling GIFs or other image-heavy, throwaway "whatevers" found in the endless gigabytes of entertainment on smartphones and tablets, they might be missing the point within the point. I don't think U2's Playboy Mansion was about a good Christian boy like Bono losing his way among Hefner's young hotties. I thnk it was really about postmodern ecology of Protestant eschatology, that is finding true heaven, even out of discards from hedonist hell. Somehow in the same way, Arcade Fire lyrics can turn on a dime into theological, ecological, and psychological manifestos of hope. Inside every single one of these infectious new-wave-disco jams is some juicy nugget of higher truth.

My favorite meditation for these multiple meanings, this comes deep into the disc, with the slinky slipperiness of Good God Damn. This is some wild Sunday-morning-coming-down revelation, a burning bush for the people too burned-out for burning bushes. Like an earlier track, it's grooves can be misleading, in this case some hangover funk filled with suicidal ideation. But the song begins with a desperate curse and flips itself into a dynamic prayer, simply by the lyricist changing which word in the title, which is also the chorus, he emphasizes. There is also a missing comma or long dash in the title. So the "damning" is not an epithet aimed at undermining the eternal It, but rather, by the song's conclusion, it is an exclamation of needed recognition. So it is not "Good, goddamn" by any means but a song about a "Good God" that prompts the poet to utter a divine belch of relief in the final "Damn!"

Within a few listens, I am completely inside Everything Now, and it is inside of me. I found myself driving to another city just to snag a copy of the vinyl on the weekend it dropped. I watched the band's livestream from Brooklyn on the eve of the album release, watched their spot on Colbert including some goofy bits fromt he Everything Now corporation, watched their recent Sunday-night headlining set from Lollapalooza on RedBullTv, and also snagged tickets to see them soon on the upcoming tour. Hearing the new songs mixed with old ones clarifies that Arcade Fire are purveyors of a coherent canon, a band in the best sense, worthy of our attention, admiration, and even pushback, if that is your thing. (I asked a friend for their take, and they came up with something totally different.)

There seems to be an easy rendering of Everything Now that says the disco flavors must be ironic and detached against the formerly inspired intimacies of earnest rock in the tradition of Springsteen or U2. Just because Everything Now had some crazy and clever marketing gimmicks doesn't mean the band has given up on meaning. I don't think they meant to be coy or cute. Case in point is the cheesy send-up Peter Pan. Why not just enjoy the giddy narration of eternal youth without nitpicking it as the worst song ever? I get it, Everything Now might take some unpacking for some Arcade Fire fans. I now regret not giving Suburbs or Reflektor their proper due, but reuniting with this band has been a gratifying celebration.

Sure, you can say that Infinite Content is just about how many channels you have on your smart TV and how many days and days of unwatched wisdom you have clogging your Netflix queue. Of course, whether the omniscience of which they sing is corporate or cosmic depends on the context of how we are hearing the song, but I suggest both angles for listening have license. Yet if you only hear self-referential media theory with a pop hook and not the possibility of liberation and love, you might be missing the better version. So I hopefully hazard that Arcade Fire are also reminding us about everything and infinity in their more transcendent sensibilities, to help give us courage and joy to face the coming days.

the author and Win Butler, ten years ago, in Asheville

Monday, July 31, 2017

Grits & Gravy (TOTR 302)

The Fame Gang - Sweet Caroline
The Fame Gang - Grits and Gravy
Boz Scaggs - Loan Me A Dime
Wilson Pickett - Hey Jude
Aretha Franklin - The Weight
Bob Seger - Ship Of Fools
The Rolling Stones - You Gotta Move
Arthur Alexander - You Better Move On
Etta James - I’d Rather Go Blind
Clarence Carter - Patches
Percy Sledge - When A Man Loves A Woman
Rod Stewart - The First Cut Is The Deepest
Jimmy Cliff - Sitting In Limbo
The Staple Singers - I’ll Take You There
Paul Simon - Kodachrome
Joe Cocker - High Time We Went
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Comin’ Home
Jason Isbell - Alabama Pines
Jason Isbell - The Magician
Traffic - (Sometimes I Feel So) Uninspired
Bobby Womack - I Can Understand It
The Black Keys - Unknown Brother
St. Paul & the Broken Bones - Like A Mighty River
Dr. Hook - Storms Never Last

Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music

Monday, July 3, 2017

Hippies & Cowboys (TOTR 301*)

I migrated from Motown to the mid-south on the first day of 1995, in a used Winnebago that broke down before we got to Nashville. After a long detour around the continent and a winter in Key West, I settled in Tennessee for good in 1996.

Now that I’ve lived in Tennessee longer than I lived in Chicago, longer than I lived in Cleveland, longer than I lived in Detroit, I claim Tennessee as home, borrowing the term “yankabilly” that I learned in a Cookeville laundromat around 2007.

One of my first attempts at my own assimilation went down in the kitchen, as I taught myself to make collard greens and cornbread and homemade BBQ sauce in the late 1990s.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with learning about the sounds of my adopted lands, the sounds that take place on the turntable or in the tapedeck, with the laptop and the headphones.

This is not a new passion in my lifelong hardcore hobby of music fan, in my perpetual avocation a writer/blogger/fanzine editor/DJ, so I hope this post is one of many exploring the intersections of southern rock and outlaw country and so much more under the Americana umbrella.

I couldn’t find my way to the WTTU booth for a live set for #301, so I offer this note, this YouTube commentary, and this playlist for your edification and listening pleasure.

It’s summer, and I think of the lazy days that evaporate like fresh rain on hot pavement, I think of the dirt and the dust, the early mornings and late nights, the fire-pits and grills, the glowsticks and lawn seats at the amphitheaters of America.

Check out Dixie Lullaby by Mark Kemp.

TOTR 301*
Hippies & Cowboys

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - Last of My Kind
Cody Jinks - Hippies and Cowboys
The Youngbloods - Hippie From Olema No. 5
Townes Van Zandt - To Live Is To Fly
The Marshall Tucker Band - Fly Eagle Fly
Jason Isbell - Flying Over Water
The Allman Brothers Band - It’s Not My Cross To Bear
Robert Earl Keen - I Would Change My Life
Rich Mountain Tower - Circle Sky Moon Mix
Goose Creek Symphony - Rush On Love
Turnpike Troubadours - Quit While I’m Ahead
Jason Isbell - New South Wales
Waylon Jennings - Don’t You Think This Outlaw Bit’s Done Got Out Of Hand
Willie Nelson - Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond Of Each Other
Barefoot Jerry - Hospitality Song
Elizabeth Cook - All The Time
Allison Moorer - Thunderstorm/Hurricane
Margo Price - Tennessee Song
My Morning Jacket - Nashville To Kentucky
Drive By Truckers - What It Means
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit - White Man’s World
If You Wanna Get To Heaven - The Ozark Mountain Daredevils
Little Feat - On Your Way Down
R.E.M. - Country Feedback

Monday, June 19, 2017

Keep The Fire Burning -- Our 300th Show

Ohio Players - Fire
House of Shem - Keep The Fire Burning
Anderson East - Keep The Fire Burning
Elvis Presley - Burning Love
Johnny Cash - Ring of Fire
Bob Dylan - This Wheel’s On Fire
John Denver - Fire & Rain
Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros - Man on Fire
The Rolling Stones - Play With Fire
The Doors - Light My Fire
U2 - Fire
My Morning Jacket - The Bear
Grateful Dead - Fire On The Mountain
Ryan Adams - Let It Burn
The War On Drugs - Burning
Lord Huron - She Lit A Fire
Vance Joy - Fire and the Flood
Josh Garrels - Fire By Night
Phosphorescent - Sun’s Arising
The National - Sunshine On My Back
Michael Franti & Spearhead - The Sound of Sunshine
Nina Simone - Here Comes The Sun
Yusuf Cat Stevens - The Wind
Elton John - Candle In The Wind

The Staple Singers - This Little Light Of Mine

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

#Ready2Roo 2017

We are excited to be heading back to Bonnaroo, after taking last year off and wondering if we would ever be back. 

 My Bonnaroo history in brief; I attended in 2006 as a guest of a performer; 2007-2013 as a volunteer coordinator & teacher at the Academy tent in Planet Roo; 2009 was my first Sober Roo; 2010 was my wife Jeannie's first time; 2014 was my first year to skip to attend the PCUSA general assembly in Detroit; then 2015 was my first year to attend as a paying customer &we thought our last Roo; 2016 I attended the next PCUSA general assembly in Portland! When U2 announced this as their first US major festival headlining appearance, I knew this will be my 10th Roo!Here are some shows I hope to catch this coming weekend.
Friday 6/9/11
2pm         Wilderardo              That Tent
345pm     Kevin Morby          That Tent
445pm     Car Seat Headrest   This Tent
545pm      Cold War Kids       Which Stage
645pm       Kaleo                     What Stage
11pm        U2                           What Stage

Saturday 6/10/11
2pm         Reuben Bidez                     Who Stage
2:45         Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real             
                                                            This Tent
3:45         Rainbow Kitten Surprise      Which Stage
5:45         Joseph                                  That Tent
6:45         Michael Kiwanuka               This Tent
7:45         The Head & the Heart           Which Stage
8:45         Chance The Rapper               What Stage
10            Cage the Elephant                 Which Stage
11            Red Hot Chili Peppers            What Stage

Sunday 6/11/11
1:30pm    River Whyless                        That Tent
2:15   Baskery                               NMOT Lounge
3:15pm    Aaron Lee Tasjan                    That Tent
4:15        Sweet Crude                    NMOT Lounge
5:15pm    Mandolin Orange                    That Tent
7:15pm    Greensky Bluegrass                That Tent
8:15          Lorde                                    What Stage


Monday, May 22, 2017

Wake Up / Beautiful Feeling (TOTR 299)

Big Country - Fields of Fire
The Alarm - Marching On 

The Waterboys - I Will Not Follow 
The Dream Syndicate - That’s What You Always Say Pretenders - My City Was Gone 
Big Audio Dynamite - The Bottom Line 
World Party - All I Really Want To Do (Dylan cover) 
The Pogues - Sally MacLennane 
The Dubliners - The Wild Rover 
In Tua Nua - Right Road to Heaven 
Hothouse Flowers - Hallelujah Jordan 
Hoodoo Gurus - Bittersweet 
The Mission - A Wing and a Prayer 
Lone Justice - Belfry 
Lou Reed - Satellite of Love 
BB King - The Thrill Is Gone (with Tracy Chapman) 
Little Steven - Solidarity 
Damian Marley - Road To Zion 
PJ Harvey - Beautiful Feeling 
Kings of Leon - Slow Night, So Long 
Interpol - Evil 
Keane - Somewhere Only We Know 
Arcade Fire - Wake Up 
The Killers - All These Things I’ve Done 
 Simple Minds - Promised You A Miracle (with KT Tunstall)

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Back to the Blinding Lights: U2 in San Jose in April 2005

from my personal archive; originally published on Interference!

On tour throughout this year, with what’s proving to be one of the most craved and desired tickets in rock ‘n’ roll, U2 cannot imagine a disappointed customer. The elegant and earnest combination of catalog-mining dedication and back-to-basics-inspiration that defined the Elevation shows returns without apology.

An inclusive invocation of spirituality and social justice transcends rather than tramples on the integrity of the experience. As Bono illustrated in a recent short interview with NME, the new Vertigo tour comes with the character the best U2 shows have almost always possessed. "At times it was a political rally, at times it was a gospel tent, at times it was a Las Vegas show,” he told the British music magazine.

From the confetti-drenched elation of the people screaming at the opening twinkles of "City of Blinding Lights" to the teary-eyed edification of 20.000 sharing an intimate refrain of the band’s final, prayerful chorus of "40," the Vertigo tour is a triumphant moment of the arena-sized concert succeeding as serious performance art and redemptive rock ‘n’ roll.

As much as the venue and the crowd matter at a concert, the San Jose scene Saturday was lovely, with a warm and enthusiastic crowd. I cannot imagine a more Beautiful Day and night than this to see my first concert on the Vertigo Tour.

Early doubts and questions about Bono’s tired throat chakra or his overall commitment to vocal delivery will hopefully wane. If this seventh show -- two weeks into a tour that might last two years -- has any hallmark quality to make it one memory among many, it’s the frontman’s fierce devotion to wed technical performance with soulful personality, to utter every nuance and transition with the rhetorical loyalty of a radio preacher, to nail every chorus and every verse as if this were the band’s last night on stage.

Dedicated, traveling fans looking for wild and risky set list variation may feel disappointed; at least at this point in the tour, the switch-ups in song selection and sequence have dramatically settled down. The self-professed apostles of stage design may miss the experimental excess of previous projects. Fans for whom the concert experience depends on the band’s compliance with a must-hear list of songs might find fault with the increasingly solid shape the set list on the first leg of Vertigo appears to be taking. For the second San Jose show, of course, the band could launch a whole new set list, stripping this theory entirely. If a fan’s distinction between a good and great show is irretrievably linked to its degree of spontaneity, there may be reason to quarrel with the organic and elegant flow this two hour set has developed.

As preachy as the self-appointed rock prophet can be, Bono’s sermons tonight are shockingly sparse and almost painfully precise. But in his moments of ethereal ebullience and churchy evocation, the "insufferable little Jesus" is actually his most modest. The most elaborate homily came in the lucid build-up to "Miracle Drug." Pontificating about the pontiff, Bono confesses his own "pope complex" while describing his encounters with the hip old patriarch. Since we all know how the deceased father advocated global solidarity with the poor, Bono spends more of this dedication paying tribute to the man’s deep and piercing eyes.

While the white flag represented the unequivocal refusal of all nationalism, Bono’s current litany embraces an almost utopian global unity. While this message remains as moving and motivated as it is carefully choreographed during the Africa encore sequence of "Pride," "Where the Streets Have No Name" and "One," Bono complicates and challenges easy answers during the battle drums and ballistic guitars of "Love and Peace or Else," "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and "Bullet the Blue Sky."

"Bullet" is perfect example of the post-ideological tightrope Bono dances on. Over the years, this reliable crowd-pleaser has evolved from a vicious critique of US intervention in Central America to a more nuanced statement about the cost of American foreign policy. At times, it’s been about other topics altogether. Often the piece can be read as more about the religious nature of American conflict, with an almost pharmaceutical dose of Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar that reflects a tortured but still-present patriotism. This time, the tune has taken on a whole new aura: the final sequence, once an angry and haunting recitation about a preacher peeling off dollar bills has been transformed into a hymn that includes a somber "When Johnny Comes Marching Home," some of the most wickedly metalesque Edge guitar ever and a few lines from "The Hands That Built America."

Some in the old-school set might miss the younger, brasher Bono’s biting the hands that feed him in deliriously dadaesque defiance of politicians and politics as usual. Especially for those fans with political leanings to the left of John Kerry, the newer, shrewder singer as pragmatic negotiator and power-broker might come off a little lukewarm. But in his current phase of nonpartisan passion, this refusal to pledge allegiance to the left or right actually carves a space for more sustainable moments of meditation. While a favorite point of the band’s harsher critics, these self-conscious contradictions have become an expected facet of Bonoism.

But without fail, from Edge’s howling and moaning rock-god solos to Bono’s exaggerated gestures and Christ-like POW poses to Larry’s pounding, pulsing, puncturing percussion to Adam’s understated ability to keep the sound on the ground even as it soars outer stratospheres, the emotional center of this show remains connected to the riveting heart of all great arena rock.

After "Bullet the Blue Sky," the band reclaims the old-school transition into "Running to Stand Still" which fades into an almost heart-breaking series of Bono’s "hallelujahs." Just when the show looks like it’s turning into a welcome but sober late 1980s revival, the band immediately follows the universal Declaration of Human Rights statement with the fierce and Euro-funky early 1990s trilogy of "Zoo Station," "The Fly" and "Mysterious Ways."

After a long and beautiful dance with an overjoyed fan and without a break, the band leaves its most hedonistic and secular segment of the show for the three songs ("Pride," "Streets," "OneĆ¢€) that Bono uses to define what he believes is the defining question of our timeĆ¢€”what will this generation do about global AIDS and extreme poverty? While communal text-messaging for the sick and starving at an upscale rock concert can come off as a tad much, even to those most sympathetic, Bono before "One" is his most painfully sincere rhetorical salesmen, asking those in the crowd with cell phones to dial in on behalf of The One Campaign. It’s hard not to believe every word. Even as this one phone call might be the most activist gesture some of these fans ever make, it’s one that might actually save lives.

While those following this tour closely will notice how much this part of the show relies on a rehearsed formula, its musical integrity surpasses the intrinsic shortcomings of the cell-phone gimmick. And this emotional section is only getting us ready for the even more sentimental encore.
Through the late 1990s, the once holy band wandered though the global shopping mall of fashion and sex and flirted with getting jaded and detached through decadent industrial music. But when the band went on tour to places like Sarajevo, Tel Aviv and Mexico City, the hope and sincerity seeped through. And to the emotional pleasure and moral satisfaction of the band’s most devoted fans, U2′s released its most overtly religious album since "The Joshua Tree."

Years ago, Paul McGuinness and other handlers of the band’s image guaranteed that these wide-eyed evangelicals avoided the Christian rock pigeonhole like the plague. Such a worry wouldn’t make sense to this latter day U2. So, from an open stage, the four men all dressed in black close the show in the manner of traveling apostles as they transform a cavernous arena into a cozy revival tent. The final trilogy combines two recent songs with one that’s more than 20 years old. The punk hymn "All Because Of You" prepares the way for an acoustic "Yahweh" and the standard coda of the old school, simply called "40."

Although I’d experienced this enchanting ritual with thousands before on both the Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree tours, the first time I grappled with the sentimental gravity of "40"as a show closer was watching the video from "Under a Blood Red Sky." Around that time (it was probably still 1983) I read an article in Rolling Stone where Bono compared the band to The Beatles and The Who. The cynics saw Bono’s now-trademark pomposity but laughed off the claim.

Today U2 stands alone, having long since left behind its peers in the 1980s new rock revolution. In fitting tribute to those bold ambitious comparisons, Bono channels those whose crown he’s stolen, with delicious snippets of "Blackbird" during "Beautiful Day" and "I Can See for Miles and Miles" at the end of "Electric Co.”

U2 has revived the big music of arena rock from numerous near-death experiences. Perhaps that’s too much for one man, perhaps this is too much for one band, but U2 seems up for the challenge of keeping it real and keeping it human, a fact exemplified again and again by Bono’s accessible and down-to-earth demeanor that can be see when he’s chatting up his fans who gather outside each venue early, hoping to get a glimpse of the band. If the world of pop music is a kind of musical polity, it’s a place where Bono is unashamedly pope, president, and king.

Yet because of U2′s unrelenting loyalty to the fans, and the enduring grace and power of the music itself, it’s a society we’re still willing to pay to be citizens of, if only for one (or, maybe, more) night every four years.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Help Me (TOTR 298)

Neil Young - Tonight’s the Night
Jamey Johnson - High Cost Of Living
Gary Allan - It Ain’t The Whiskey
Steve Earle - Oxcontin Blues
Phil Odgers - Sunday Morning Coming Down
Son Volt - The Storm
Ryan Adams - Breakdown
Sturgill Simpson - Keep It Between The Lines
First Aid Kit - My Silver Lining
Joseph Arthur - I Miss The Zoo
John Mayer - Helpless
Buffy Sainte-Marie - Helpless
The King’s Singers - Helplessly Hoping
The Michigan G-Men - Helplessness Blues
Straight No Chaser - Helplessness Blues
Donna The Buffalo - One Day At A Time
David Benton - Came To Believe
Luka Bloom - Bad
Mickey Harte - Running to Stand Still
Ed Sheeran - Save Myself
Can We Hang On? - Cold War Kids
Johnny Cash - Help Me
Corey Harper - Keeping Me Alive
Mondo Cozmo - Shine