Monday, January 28, 2019

Rumble (TOTR 348)

Rainbow Kitten Surprise - Seven
Howlin’ Wolf - Shake For Me
Link Wray - Mordicai Jones - On The Run
Link Wray - Rumble
Link Wray - Hobo Man
Link Wray - Water Boy
Link Wray - La De Da
Link Wray - Take Me Home Jesus
Link Wray - Fallin’ Rain
Link Wray - Fire And Brimstone
Link Wray - Ice People
Link Wray - God Out West
Link Wray - Black River Swamp
Link Wray - Tail Dragger
Love - Can’t Find It
John Trudell - Hanging From The Cross
Keith Secola - You Got Land
Buffy Sainte-Marie - My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying
Joy Harjo - I Am A Dangerous Woman/Crossing The Border Into Canada
Annie Humphrey - Winter Mornings, Coffee & Cedar Smoke
Eagle & Hawk - Sundancer
Johnny Cash - Drums
Our Native Daughters - Quasheba, Quasheba
Ulali - Mother

[You can listen to the low-fi audio archive of this show here:]
[Mixed from my Lenovo Flex laptop to the WTTU board through an aux cord, ripped in Mono with Audacity on the studio Dell, exported as Mp3]

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Do You Mind? RKS Heats Up Winter at the Tennessee Theater

Bonnaroo is always a beautiful place to discover new favorites, and 2017 was no exception. But you are supposed to be standing, shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder, under a tent or under the stars or in the beating afternoon sun. But this time, I was under the influence an overheated Tennessee summer fatigue and napping in one of the air-conditioned VIP lounges. My wife had to wake me up to catch the band being streamed on one of the TV monitors.

You cannot miss Sam Melo’s signature dance moves or ever forget his catchy lyrical hooks or be spiritually unmoved by his prophetic charisma. The addictive rock sounds were at once familiar and strange. Early comparisons ranged from Modest Mouse to Kings of Leon, but there are also world music and hip hop influences abounding. I cannot help but see the spirit of Freddie Mercury busting forth but these young people were born from an Appalachian college campus origin story that also makes me think of Michael Stipe.

Our path to hardcore RKS fandom began in the sticky Bonnaroo dust, but we had to wait before it could continue outside of inhaling their back catalog. We left Bonnaroo and missed them immediately. My sweetie kept asking me to find us another show. The tour supporting their second eponymous disc RKS had long come and gone. But we were ready to go all in!

Then in the spring of 2018, they dropped their major label debut: How To: Friend, Love, Freefall. It was easily one of my top records of last year, not the least for its courage in addressing its singer and bassist coming out. Without hesitation, we grabbed our tickets to Sloss Festival for their Sunday set, only to have that stormed out and canceled. A free set at Nashville’s Live On The Green was a needed hit of their magic, but they were only openers sandwiched in a multi-band bill, and now, we were really hooked. The winter tour that we are now in could not have got here soon enough, and they are bringing some much needed heat to this January, soon February, cold.  

Sam Melo was raised by missionaries in the Dominican Republic. In college, his pedigree ranged from dance to religious studies. From his mysteriously gorgeous lyrics to the intensity of his stage presence, it’s all religion sex and alcohol rolled up in so much pentecostal spit. Only a handful of their songs are radio-appropriate for all the well-chosen cuss words that clutter Melo’s literary word bombs. Hurt and hunger, chaos and confusion, these and so many demons and doubts all mingle with energy and ecstasy, with joy and jubilee.

Their Saturday set at Knoxville’s eminent Tennessee Theater (how many great shows have we seen here over the years) starts with a slow burn of deep cuts, accentuated by a sizzling light show that would last all night. But the ceiling starts to come off by the time they get to “Cocaine Jesus,” followed by “Devil Like Me” and “Seven.” By the time we get to “Holy War,” it’s due time to remind ourselves what a truly eclectic and progressive ensemble this is, undoing fundamentalism and hate, without hitting anyone over the head, one song at a time.

One thing about about a seated show, even in a room as gorgeous and good-sounding as this one, it’s hard to get your dance on, even when standing at your seat. Toward the end of the set, Melo asked everyone to leave their seats, which prompted a couple hundred to head down the aisles toward the stage, increasing the palpable energy in the room which has been building all night. Peaceful enough, the ushers let it all go down, as the people started to really get down. The energy kept building, and the night’s rendering of “That’s My Shit” reminds you how hard this band can hit it with a range of hip-hop swagger and even Rage Against The Machine moves.

As RKS were winding up their main set, Sam Melo, who had not talked much all night, started sending shoutouts to the crew. Then he introduced the band, using feminine pronouns for the glamorous and gregarious bass player Charlie Holt; she kind of reminds me of Flea, if Flea were a gender-fluid gal from a North Carolina college town.

The section of shoutouts slipped into some speechifying that mingled the insanity of a street preacher, with a call to celebrate reminiscent of the MC5’s “kick out the jams” and “time to decide” speeches, more than a generation ago.  In call-and-response fashion, Sam Melo kept asking Knoxville, “do you mind?” One time after another, until the already loud crowd was even more deafening than the crunch of Ethan Goodpaster’s lead guitar, that also at this point reached its dirtiest heights of the night.

Once we were all worked into a frenzy, the band belted out the main set’s closer, which was the early track “Run,” rocking the rafters and kicking with the kids, lyrical licks of “money money money” mostly out-of-sync with the rest of the RKS canon, not that anyone cared, but it reminded me of that time late in the Jacket set when “Run Thru” would just shatter everything that came before it with epic badassery.

It’s impossible to understate the unbelievable jolt that comes from a band that clearly loves to perform live. Sam Melo is that singular yogi-shaman sparkplug whose glorious gift just covers everyone in the crowd as he twirls, gyrates, and caterwauls around a stage. The rest of the group are as into it as he is, but they allow the frontman to steal the show in that perfect frontman fashion.  

An encore of two songs -- “Fever Pitch” and “Hide” -- was far too short before the house lights came up after a stupendous 90-minutes of immersion into rock wonder. But that “Hide” has become their anthem says so much good, even as the American landscape experiences daily backlashes against the beauty of human diversity. From their unforgettable band name, to everything about their shameless authenticity, this is all a great and needed dose of musical medicine. Don’t hide, don’t hide love, and yes, we are grateful that RKS are not hiding one sonic thing.

RKS Setlist 1-26-2019
Tennessee Theater, Knoxville, TN

When It Lands
Counting Cards
All's Well That Ends
Cold Love
American Shoes
Shameful Company
Cocaine Jesus
Devil Like Me
First Class
All That and More (Sailboat)
Holy War
No Vacancy
It's Called: Freefall
That's My Shit

Fever Pitch

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Faith, art, and another book about U2

REVIEW of Timothy Neufeld. U2: Rock 'n' Roll to Change the World. 2017. Tempo: A Rowman & Littlefield Music Series on Rock, Pop, and Culture

When I was in 11th grade, I spent the entire school year reading, researching, and writing a major paper about black American author James Baldwin. From his novels and nonfiction, I discovered that the best literature lived at the intersection of spirituality, sexuality, and social justice. Turns out that an Irish rock band I fell in love with around that time also addressed the theological, sociological, and psychological with a similar inspiring intensity. Over the years, all the best poetry, music, and art that would captivate me seemed to always explore similar convergences.

When I am choosing textbooks for an Introduction to U2 Studies class at the University of Rock And Roll, Timothy Neufeld’s tremendous primer that was released in 2017 would definitely be on the list. Since the school where I teach undergrads is a little more old school, the best I can do is integrate U2 into my World Literature curriculum, which I do. Tim’s perspectives on U2 are some of the ones I most value and would most likely consult at this juncture in my academic fandom.

Granted, there are lots of U2 great books out there, both from a popular and from an academic perspective. It would be dishonest to deny that I would not mind owning them all, each and every one. But Tim’s text is one that I have read twice and keep going back to for regular consultations. He begins with a more-or-less chronological journey through the band’s canon and career. Even in doing this basic review, his take is prescient and profound. Even though it’s a story I have long loved and even lived since my days of teenage obsession, I learned lots while inhaling Tim’s version of the tale.

But it’s the back side of the book that truly catches an unforgettable fire for me, with the chapters “Faith and Art” followed by “Social Engagement.” Here, Tim interprets U2 with a lens similar to one I tried to apply to Baldwin back when. In fact, Tim does all this with near perfection, as great teachers and authors do when they compose an introductory text like this one. It’s also excellent modeling for his students, for all of our students, trying to figure out what academic prose about popular music is supposed to look like. Since Tim is also a seasoned online journalist for one of the great U2 fanzines, he knows not to get bogged down with idiosyncratic jargon or personal pet tangents. He keeps the main thing the main thing.

While those last two chapters are incredible as is, I want to point out something that I greatly appreciate about how he has written them. You see, when it comes to faith, art, and social engagement, U2 has its partisan choir loft and its chorus of haters. Somehow, Tim manages to deal with many of the criticisms and contradictions that turn people against Bono and the boys with bitter passion. Problems are in Christianity that U2 are too evangelical for liberals and too liberal for evangelicals. In politics and economics, they are too capitalist for leftists and too progressive for arch-capitalists. Tim does not water down or walk past some of the good points from either side, and he mostly just tells the true story as best he can, where these kind of issues inevitably come up.

He does all this without overly cheering one side, getting defensive, or even allowing too many fanboy biases to take over. See, we know Tim on Twitter, at the U2 conferences, at the shows, and on his online interactive show the Crystal Ballroom, and Tim is the true fan epitomized. But his writing is scholarly and sympathetic and open-minded in ways that we other fan authors ought to find enviable.
If I ever get around to writing my U2 book, the story will be much more personal, but until then, this will be my favorite U2 book, with some near rivals by Steve Stockman or edited volumes by Scott Calhoun or Beth Maynard. There are already some great U2 fan memoirs, and this is not one of them. But do not let the academic aspect scare you away. This book is just so well-written and accessible, it is a book you could give your non-U2-fan family members and colleagues to help them understand why we in the U2 fan community are the way we are.  

When this book was first released in hardcover, it was priced for libraries, specialists, and completists. Now out in paperback and Kindle, this book is yours for a fee that the regular people can afford.

If I were to summarize one takeaway that makes this text so great overall, it would be this: Tim fills in lots of gaps and aptly describes nuances that have been around all along, but they have never been found in one place, expressed so succinctly and so elegantly. Rock to change the world? Maybe, probably, perhaps. But to paraphrase a lyric, this music changed the world in me. U2 certainly changed Timothy Neufeld’s world, and now, this book also changed mine.  

Follow @timneufeld on Twitter. A playlist based on the chapter "Faith and Art." Photo -- Teacher on the Radio with Tim's book.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Infinite Entropy: The Collection brings more heartfelt music to your “Beautiful Life”

Sacred symphonic pop meets the heart-pounding and fist-waving folk rock, these revivals of the aughts have faded from fashion into formula. It’s a predictable passion, or an unsung underground, or worse, and lately, the trendsetters have turned to other genres. This fan still finds his heart in folk music, but unless you are at the stature of Musgraves or an Isbell, it seems the tastemakers are passing you by. Just look at how the Mumfords have fallen off the radar as they went more rock or how the enormous success of the Avetts seems more as a niche act now. Or at least these are my impressions.  

Enter a songwriting voice from North Carolina named David Wimbish. His voice soars like a Paul Simon, Paul McCartney, or Chris Martin, and his lyrical vision is as large or larger as these giants, even though Wimbish’s audience is smaller. When I first encountered this ramshackle troupe called The Collection, barefoot and bold at a steamy summer festival, they were on the unwashed leftish perimeter of the contemporary Christian scene. But the honest words on Entropy have traveled far enough away from religious rock to no longer settle even awkwardly into that box, if the canon of Wimbish works ever really did.

Entropy is not without its Biblical allusions, but have no illusions, there’s enough doubt, drink, dust, and divorce behind us to ever deem this worthy of the pop playlists of praise band hymnody. The Collection’s career spans three albums and an epic EP since 2011, and it’s all incredible, every record and every song. There have been lineup changes, personal injuries, and more than one broken-down van on a highway shoulder somewhere, with fans rallying with donations to get them back on the road.

I did not rank my best albums of 2018, but this is as good as anything I heard this year. Of course as a long-time traveler with the Collection, I am far from an unbiased critic. I just love this group, but I would not set aside time to scribble an album review if I were not over-the-top in my support. See, my loose criteria for a great album are fairly easy to follow, yet hard to achieve completely, and yet this set succeeds on all fronts. The lyrics are profound and provocative poetry without fail. The sound is stunning on every track, as all the songs stick to the insides of the listener's soul and linger long after several spins. The emotional resonance is an endearing ache but also a cathartic release.

For a band with a style that’s consistent across a career, there’s none of that stagnant sameness that sometimes sinks in. Each track stands out, not just the hopeful anthems, like the contagious motivational melodies of an opening love bomb called “Beautiful Life.”  

Other standout songs like “Left Of Your Joy,” “Carolina Coast,” “Becoming My Own Home,” and “Bandages Of Time” have the concurrent power to break your heart and get stuck in your head. “Wedding Party” is a haunting confessional track that triggers thoughts for me about my struggles with faith, fidelity, and addiction. “The Silence” sticks us with this slippery tricky moral quandary: “If you don’t make your bed, you don’t have to lie in it.” Part of me wants to scream, “no, you know it doesn’t work that way,” but that makes the track no less stunning.

If I had to guess, every David Wimbish record is at root about finding himself as a singer, writer, producer, and person. While soul-searching-as-sound can misfire as both predictable and depressing, it’s not like that here, not at all. This record, while far from sappy and sentimental, remains strikingly sincere in those ways that invoke awe and wonder. So I am extremely grateful that The Collection did not head down the religious road to get pigeonholed as a praise band, but this does not make their sound now any less sacred and holy.  

One definition for Entropy is “gradual decline into disorder,” but with this album bearing that word as its title, I also intuit an increasing incline into infinity. It’s just so much good, so much food for your soul. - Andrew William Smith