Sunday, August 31, 2008

Fela Kuti: The Musical!, seriously. I have a feeling it could hang around a while.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


these are some more new things you should listen to and stuff


Emmylou's about as acclaimed as singers get - a sought-after duet partnet. Personally, wading through an album's worth of strummy, hookless, midtempo numbers dressed with her slooow smoky vocals does not appeal. There are certain tunes this woman cannot carry. The best tracks are mostly duets and collaborations.

RECOMMENDED: 13*** lovely country gospel with background vocals, 10** cover of Merle Haggard classic, 5* Duet with Ms. Dolly Parton, 9* Classic Billy Joe Shaver tune and another duet, 12 & 16 are co-written and sung with the McGarrigle sisters.


These guys are on some World Fusion shit. RIYD trancey, droney, raga & tabla-inflected renditions of traditional folk tunes, soaked in cold reverb... Otherwise? (yeah these guys have been around for awhile, promoting themselves with vague notions of redefining and and recontextualizing tradition music, so if that's your bag, be my guest)

RECOMMENDED: 11**, 4*, 5, 7, 10 (with absolutely terrible anti-war lyrics)


Couple-duo straight outta the 60's/70's folk revival. All of the conservative traditionalism of bluegrass with none of the emphasis on flair, technique and vituosity (oh, and that's a good thing, fwiw). Sterility of the arrangements can prove a bore on the slowest of the slow tracks, but mostly these are simple, beautiful (even v.v. beautiful) songs on a fine album.

RECOMMENDED: 2***, 4*** (play any, really)


I like this! Canadian duo sing weepy, rootsy ballads, bluesy torch songs and some surf/lounge pastiche - all with real purty, close, country-harmonizin'! Some melodramatic, meandering, half-baked story songs as well, which only makes them more endearing.

RECOMMENDED : 1 - goofy rockabilly romp, ode to vinyl (aww), 3*** beautiful C%W love song, 2 & 11 are weepy chick blues belters, 4* lovely highway romance ode, 7* super weird ballad about immigrant migrant workers in SoCal and also: heartbreak, 10* most upbeat and catchy


This fella is clearly impressed with his own ability to turn phrases. These songs are all overwritten and over-clever. Sometimes it is cute but also sometimes is is obnoxious. He also apparently feels the need to infuse all of his songs with his convoluted politics. However, I enjoyed some of these songs and maybe you will too? Avoid if you hate cheese.

RECOMMENDED: 2** - the best song, about Shakespeare and TV culture, 4* - over the top in a perhaps unintentional way but also pretty, 9 - mariachi horns. AVOID: 1 & 3 (about 9-11, Katrina...)


These guys sound like they're having lots of fun. They play a mix of jug band numbers, Western Swing classics (3 Bob Wills songs), plus early jazz and blues nuggets. They take a lighthearted and friendly approach to these songs, but that's certainly no crime. These are all classic songs and these fellas sound like very capable musicians. Two originals (1 & 10) but I think anyone would prefer the classics they cover. I like 'em all, pretty much.

RECOMMENDED: honestly, play any of these (and seek out original or at least older versions of these songs)


I wish we got sent more CD's like this one - contemporary songwriting consistent with traditional music, but not too concerned with aping it or "reviving" it. These folks mostly play some particularly tuneful (not just precise and austere) bluegrass, with some bluesy numbers and slower, more trad. country-oriented stuff. Close Country harmonies, tight bluegrass musicianship and actual cleverly written songs!

RECOMMENDED: most are bluegrassy (1*, 7***, 12*), 2*** is bluesier (so is 5), 3 & 6 & 10 are more country, 13 - weird rockabilly with delay vox


Bluegrass and Country compilation organized by blegrass legend Del McCoury - featuring old and new songs about the evils of big government and big money and the crimes they commit against poor rural folk. Equally moving, earnest, cloying and heavyhanded.

RECOMMENDED: 2****, 13**, 10***, 6***


Ry Cooder is a legendary blues/rock/ethno-theft slide guitarist. He's done a million things and you can easily look those up (played in Beefheart's band circa Safe As Milk, made that silly Buena Vista Social Club movie, et cetera). This album is the companion piece to a novella he wrote about a fictional rocker/salt flat drag racer... and it's really, really awesome and really, really weird - a mix of country, rockabilly, blues, and tex-mex, full of references to midcentury SoCal/Hollywood Americana and Classic Country Music. It's also fun and catchy and accesible, so don't be scared by the surface weirdness. This is one of the best albums I've heard this year, so far.



This is a lovely, simple collection of instrumental country and blues acoustic guitar tunes. Primarily in the finger-picking tradition of Piedmont bluesmen (and John Hurt) and country pickers like Merle Travis. He doesn't specifically copy any of these guys, though, and also doesn't try to revolutionize the style with some cheesy new schtick (ala John Fahey, Leo Kottke and whatever other pickers enshrined by indie fandom) - and these are both good things. Anyway, this is a really lovely album.


OK. LWIII is one of my favorite songwriters so I am totally biased in his favor and I always give him the benefit of the doubt. he's had a long, confusing career. Even though his fame peaked decades ago, he's still a vital writer and performer (the album he released alst year is one of his best). he he revists songs from his early career in the first half of the 1970s. Where the twentysomething boy whined over spare strumming, the sixtysomething man howls over lush, rootsy arrangements. His voice is a little worse for the wear so I still prefer the originals versions, but these are all still really good - a collection of wonderful songs - clever, but honest and direct.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Album Review: The Avett Brothers, "The Second Gleam"

As someone who's a fan of this NC duo's energetic, banjo fueled folk-punk, I was disappointed by this album. It's too ballad dominated, with songs that tend to wallow in their own sappiness. Still, the Avett Brothers are some of the best songwriters out there, and some of these songs are moving, rousing and well worth a spin.

Play 1, 2++, 4

Saturday, August 09, 2008

John Wills Live On-Air Interview Performance

Folk singer-songwriter type will kick out some strummy jams/talk (we'll see I guess?) here on KWUR 90.3 FM - beginning sometime around 2:00-2:30 pm, lasting until who knows how long (not very). Join us on your very own internet airwave accessor device.
Or: for you yokel locals, catch him live tonight (August the ninth) at the Broadway Oyster Bar at 5:00P.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Lollapalooza: Saturday (Kenny)

Photo cred: Tara Pham


Day 2 started (for me) with a solid performance from Foals, a post-punk outfit out of Oxford, UK. They chugged through their new album, Foals, which, to my surprise, the crowd seemed to dig. Don't get me wrong - it's hard not to tap your foot (or dance crazily) along to the infectious rhythm and sharp guitar - but it's rare that one sees such excitement (see video link below) surrounding a new band in this genre. Regardless, the album definitely translates well live, especially the horn section. Bonus points for the whole band-uniform thing, especially those shorts.

MGMT/Booka Shade

MGMT was next on my list, but let's say, uh, the heat got the best of me. Poor Tara and her friends had to drag my ass out of our prime position in the crowd to the shade, where rehydrated for a bit. They were able to catch at least part of the show, but I admit that I missed most of it. What I heard from behind the stage sounded good, but I'll leave it to her to give you a full description of the going-ons.

Meanwhile, however, I had the pleasure of catching at least part of the Booka Shade show. I had no plans of seeing them beforehand, so call it fate or what you will, but I'm glad I did. The duo's electro stylings seemed a little out of place in comparison to the rest of the line-up, but everyone at the Citi Stage was into it, so why not? In fact, despite my incapacitation, this was one of the high points of my weekend, and one of the reasons huge festivals like Lollapalooza are so vital to the music scene. With over 100 bands and 200,000 people packed into a tiny space, anyone with their eyes and ears open is bound to discover something great they hadn't heard before. Perry Farrell and company can offer no greater gift than that.

Explosions In The Sky

Allow me a short (but hopefully relevant) digression to talk about Lollapalooza's physical locale and history. As Wikipedia helpfully informed me, Lolla was not always a three day music festival in Grant Park - no, before 2005, 40 or so bands would hitch up the wagon train and tour throughout the United States. In 1997, the whole shebang imploded, and remained defunct until 2005, when Perry Farrell once again waved his magic money wand and assembled a stellar (though smaller) line-up. From that point on, the festival was located in Grant Park, Chicago, beneath the city's striking skyline. This last point is essential, as any Lolla attendee can attest to, because there's nothing quite like seeing one of your favorite bands jam dead smack in the middle of Chicago.

So, as I walked toward the Bud Lite stage for Explosions' set, the sun was just beginning to dip in the sky, looming precariously over the western skyline. The band entered, thanked everyone for coming, and immediately began the opening notes of Catastrophe And The Cure. For the next hour, they alternated between relentless attack and soothing release, coaxing pure, lyric-less emotion out of their instruments. As the band transitioned into Memorial, the sun crept between two skyscrapers, silhouetting the city and bathing the entire scene in a red-orange glow. Say what you will about post-rock - nothing seemed more appropriate than listening to achingly beautiful music as the sun set in the middle of the Midwest's largest city.

Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene followed Explosions In The Sky on the Bud Lite stage, and not to be outdone, they carried on with their own brand of instrument-packed (and more, er, vocal) indie rock. The band, comprised of an ever-changing line-up, played terrifically together, almost immediately busting out one of my personal favorite tunes, Cause = Time. I'm not really familiar with the collective's discography, but I was definitely entertained - for as many people as they had on stage, their sound and presence cohered well.

They all look the same!

Rage Against The Machine

I've been an avid Rage Against The Machine fan since, well, I started listening to music. Unfortunately, they broke up before then (yeah, I'm a young'n, but that was 8 years ago), so I was left clutching my copy of The Battle of Los Angeles and hoping against hope for a reunion tour. Lo and behold, when the line-up was released this year, I discovered that the Lollapalooza fairy had granted my wish. Sure, I was excited, even though they hadn't released new material since the breakup. So, as I took my place on the field in front of the AT&T stage, I expected this to be the Daft Punk of my Lollapalooza weekend. Air-raid sirens roared as they took the stage, calling to mind the beginning of Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. The sirens cut suddenly, the band ripped into Testify, and the crowd (myself included) went fucking nuts.

And yet, maybe halfway through the set (somewhere between the second violence-induced break and lead man Zach De La Rocha's mid-song rant), I realized, "hey, this really isn't all that great." It wasn't the much talked about violence (it's a RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE SHOW for Christ's sake), or even the near-constant stops throughout. No, it was the music - as much as I love Rage Against The Machine, seeing them live wasn't all I thought it would be. All the band members are extremely talented musicians, and they certainly played well live, but it seemed more like a "greatest hits" concert than anything else.
In all fairness, I did not come away from the concert disappointed, just... wanting something more. They played the hits - Sleep Now In The Fire, Bulls On Parade, Freedom - and they played them with unparalleled energy. Even so, I recall an interview with Tom Morello, who, when asked why the band was reforming, said:

"I think that the one thing about the Rage catalog is that to me none of it feels dated. You know, it doesn't feel at all like a nostalgia show. It feels like these are songs that were born and bred to be played now."

RATM's catalog is, without a doubt, applicable in this day and age (though I'm not so sure about de la Rocha's fiery rhetoric), but would it hurt to develop some new material?

So that's it for day 2, folks. Come back again tomorrow for my last installment of Lollapalooza 2008 coverage, this time with pictures galore!


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Lollapalooza: Friday (Kenny)

Another year, another long weekend in Grant Park, Chicago, another three days of sex, drugs and rock 'n roll at Lollapalooza 2008. This year the festival sold out, with some 225,000 in attendance, including a few of KWUR's own. Press credentials? Photo passes? Who needs 'em (we do). We here at KWUR, forever dedicated to the underground, are bringing you coverage of the festival at the ground floor.

The Go! Team

Even standing a good half a mile back from the stage, one could feel the excitement build as the Team assembled onstage. After a minor technical issue (read: FUCKING BANSHEE WAIL FEEDBACK) they kickstarted their set with the high energy hit Grip Like A Vice from 2007's Proof of Youth. Ladyflash, Titanic Vandalism, and Flashlight Fight (sans Chuck D., unfortunately) followed, amongst many others. The crowd followed in unison with every clap, chanting along with the Team's impossibly cheery choruses. The sun sat high above the Chicago skyline, beer flowed freely, and spirits were high. All in all, a great way to start the weekend.

Gogol Bordello

I admit, ashamedly now, that I'm unfamiliar with most of Gogol Bordello's discography (I seem to be in the minority here, because the rest of the crowd was yelling along to their indecipherable lyrics). Going in, I knew that they'd played the Warped Tour a few years ago, and was somewhat surprised to see that they'd been signed on to play Lolla (not much of a crossover crowd, you see). Well, paint me impressed, because they played a show with just as much chutzpah and bravado as the Go! Team, albeit in a different style (think Zydepunks). They wailed, they whistled, they played the shit out of that fiddle (kudos on that Slayer tour t-shirt, fiddler), and lead man Eugene Hutz fueled his performance with an entire bottle of (what appeared to be) bum wine. Bravo. I'm not sure how their music translates on CD, but they put on one hell of a live show.

The Raconteurs

This block presented the most difficult decision of the weekend, by far, as Bloc Party, CSS, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, The Cool Kids AND The Raconteurs were playing at the same time. I chose to trek across the park, once again, to see The Raconteurs, and I was not disappointed. With Brendan Benson and Jack White at the helm, backed by the equally talented Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler, the Raconteurs ripped through tunes from Broken Boy Soldier and their relatively new release, Consolers of the Lonely. White, without a doubt, stole the show - the man has charisma dripping from his pores. It almost makes one wish he'd get back together with Meg and start recording as the White Stripes again, but in the meantime, The Raconteurs make for an entertaining (and hey, artistically valid) side project. I left a bit early, catching a bit of CSS, so as to get a decent spot for...


The moment we'd all been waiting for - 7:59 rolls around and 75,000 people have packed themselves into a half square mile field, waiting patiently for Radiohead to take the stage. Headliners at Lollapalooza are generally allowed their own stage layout, and Radiohead took advantage of this by lining the stage with rows of long, cylindrical lights hung from the rafters. The boys made their entrance promptly at 8, starting things off with the first track of In Rainbows, 15 Step. From here on out, it was an odyssey of light and music, as they covered ground from almost all their albums (Pablo Honey being the exception). From my vantage point, the show did not disappoint, although with that many people packed into that small a space, it was difficult to hear/see the band at times. Overall, the show was more relaxed, with even more upbeat songs (such as There There and Bodysnatchers) played a few notches down. Their rendition of Paranoid Android was by far the most energized of the set, with amps and light-cylinders set to blow at full electrical capacity. Dollars and Cents was another high point - I swear, I remarked to the person standing next to me that the note they hit at the end was one of the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard (I stand by this assessment). 24 songs later, minds sufficiently blown, the humongous crowd exited the park at a truly glacial pace (I believe it took over half an hour to move 100 yards across the field).

So that's it for day 1. I saw a few other bands (Cat Power, CSS, and others) but only for a song or two - not long enough to justify a proper write-up. Stay tuned tomorrow for day 2!

EDIT: pictures to come as they become available.


Monday, August 04, 2008

McCarren Park Pool Party, 8/3/08

Kenny and Tara's proposal to cover Lollapalooza for the good ol' KWUR blog has inspired me to write a little bit about at least one of the concerts I've seen while here in exile at my parents' place in Brooklyn. I've hesitated before writing about the other stuff, since I generally think that the KWUR blog should be about St. Louis and the community, but I've decided that that is kinda bullshit, and that it's also the mission of the station and thus the blog to talk about good stuff that's going on all over. Long story short, here is the tale of a concert I saw this Sunday with our former personnel director Claire, and fellow DJ Karl: Tall Firs, King Khan and the Shrines, Deerhunter and Black Lips at McCarren Park Pool. I failed to take any photos or video, but thanks to YouTube and Google, it will be like you were there!

First, the venue. You can read more extensively about McCarren Park and the pool parties respectively here and here. Basically, a long time ago, before the city went ass-bankrupt (I believe that's the financial term), the city built and operated a gigantic public pool in McCarren Park, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Flash forward to when the city did go ass-bankrupt, the pool suffered from neglect and was finally closed and drained in 1984. For a period of about twenty years, the pool remained shuttered, although it also was filled with some remarkable grafitti, some of which has unfortunately been painted over. In 05, as part of an overall rehabilitation plan, the city permitted Jelly NYC to organize concerts in the space. Jelly NYC brings in some killer acts, and I've had some great experiences there. The space is gigantic, and the acoustics are pretty good, although I generally get there early enough to get a close seat. Among my personal McCarren Park highlights: the Mighty Hannibal, maybe the best Man Man show I've ever seen, and watching Questlove referee a dodgeball match. The drawbacks to the space is that the concrete of the drained pool tends to make the heat approach the edge of tolerable, and then of course, being in Williamsburg means dealing with the too-cool-for-schoolers. I counted not one but two polaroid cameras at the pool. Gag me with a spoon. But that's the price you pay for a great show.
First up, opener Tall Firs, which had "we have a really good manager who shoehorned us into this gig" written all over them. Noisy sounding, but didn't really go anywhere. I don't particularly want to beat up on them. This dialogue between me and my friend Sam pretty much sums it up:
Sam: Their amps are so tiny!
Me: Is that why they're so boring?
Sam: Maybe it's because they don't have a bass player. Then again, maybe not.

On reflection, it makes sense to me to discuss the other outlier in the bill now, even though they came between King Khan and The Shrines and Black Lips. King Khan and The Shrines and Black Lips sort of worked as a unit, since they both have this garage revival sound, and both are on Vice Records and share Vice's "let's have sex right here, right now, on this dirty rock" style. I don't really know why Deerhunter was included in this bill. My best guess is that the connection is that both Deerhunter and Black Lips come out of Atlanta, but Deerhunter's arty, noisy, wending rock doesn't really mesh with garage. I'm not really into Deerhunter, but I figure I'm pretty well disposed to them. This show, however, was only ok. It had its highlights (Brandon Cox's fuzzy, fingertapping guitar solo comes to mind), but generally, it was the same noise punk you've heard before. A solid B plus, but not anything to phone home about, although King Khan coming on stage, bending over and sticking flowers in his exposed ass during the last song definitely ended the set on a high note.

So, King Khan and the Shrines:

During this set, the following things happened:
1) King Khan encouraged the crowd to throw their trash on stage, at him, which they proceeded to do for the rest of the set, resulting in:
2) King Khan being nailed right in the balls during the set, inviting the chuckee on stage, and smearing his face with banana
3) An old man in a shriner's helmet rollerskating on stage with a bag of bananas, which King Khan proceeded to chuck into the crowd, which in turn threw mashed banana back at him
4)King Khan ripped out a picture of Duffy from Spin Magazine, poked a hole in her mouth with his finger, sung a verse using the picture of Duffy as a mask, ripped out a picture of her body, poked a hole in the crotch and stuck his finger out of it.
5) King Khan sung the last song from under a strange space robot helmet.
That was the show, more or less, and it was a great one. I say this even though the volume was inexplicably low (at first I thought he just wanted to emphasize the bass, but when the horns came in at a whisper, I knew someone had screwed up), and that, with all the antics, they probably did only five or six songs. But the energy! And the soul! To say King Khan has a great stage presence is the biggest understatement I could possibly make. Besides all the antics, he looks like a wonderful relic from a sketch alternate universe, bedecked in silvery underpants, a cape, and a sequined swim cap (Sam and I: "What are those scars on his side?" "It looks like he was pierced with something" "Looks like bite marks..."). But he knows all the soul cadences, and with his hoarse, whiskey-soaked voice, he can bring the house down with a scream or an extended ape grunt. And his band has chops, especially the keyboardist, who was flipping the thing around and playing it upside down like an asshole - but an asshole who's earned it.

Then, Black Lips:

Like I said, Black Lips and King Khan worked as one entity, more or less. Cole Alexander comes on wearing women's underpants, and Ian Saint Pe comes on with his fronts (the only white man I have ever seen or can even think of wearing fronts),
and the gritty garage madness continues. King Khan comes on, rips apart some tour bus pillows, and throws the down into the audience. Brandon Cox plays a solo on Cole Alexander's guitar with a chihuahua's paw. King Khan sings the vocals on the best song of the night, "Too Much In Love". Rolls of toilet paper go flying into the audience (and then, of course, back on to the stage). And the Shriner guy keeps rollerskating in the back of the stage. Oh yeah, and the music: solid, fun rock and roll, garage at its best, to the point, satisfying and delirious, with doo whop hooks and savage guitar. By the end, we're covered in toilet paper, pillow stuffing, and...smiles (aww).

Overall reactions? Claire was meh on this show; although she had a fun time, musically, the Black Lips and King Khan didn't particularly appeal to her. And you know, I can see that. As I've written on this blog, I'm wary of anything that can even loosely be corralled under "revival". Critically, it's always a problem. And musically, they really aren't the most interesting or innovative bands out there. But then, that's not always the most important thing. Black Lips and King Khan make great rock and roll, libidinal, nasty shit that makes you dance and sing along. They deliver it at a fever pitch. So what else do you want? Like a tool, you just wanna say, rock and roll, man, rock and roll.