Sep 302007

"Boom boom boom boom"

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Some nights are just John Lee Hooker nights. Here’s “Boom Boom”.

Seriously one of the greatest American musicians ever.

Sep 302007

One of the (many) things that keeps me going to shows is the chance to experience true musical professionalism first-hand. Some bands have it and some don’t, but when I see real pros making music that they’re obviously passionate about, it really is staggeringly cool. That is one of several reasons why the Destroyers show was so awesome.

Unfortunately it got off to a slow start, with George and company not taking the stage until almost 45 minutes after the show was supposed to start. In a mark of typical Big Easy disregard for the audience, no explanation was offered for this delay, and people were expected to mill around and drink and just have faith that George Thorogood and the Destroyers would, eventually, play a show.

We were then treated to a few canned songs piped over the sound system after the house lights went down and the first of many blatant attempts to shill George Thorogood merchandise. Now, I understand that most bands make their money off of shows and merchandising. But it seems a little classless to run a full-blown commercial before you take the stage. Everyone knows there’s a merch table. At 90% of venues they had to have passed it coming into the show and will have to pass it again when they leave. Maybe, if you want to make sure that even the particularly slow and/or chemically altered members of your audience know that, hey they can by stuff with your logo on it, make an onstage announcement near the end of your set. “We have stuff for sale at the merch table” is every bit as effective as a fullout pre-recorded audio-visual commercial and seems a whole lot less douchey. I mean, we all know you’re only in it for the money, but at least give us, the audience, the illusion that you enjoy performing for us and aren’t just doing it for ticket money and on the vain hope that we’ll buy your swag. And you know, honestly, maybe I wouldn’t be so ranty about the topic if Mr. Thorogood and his compatriots hadn’t seen fit to play their call to capitalism three times throughout their set.

But aside from being a bit over-eager to sell us Destroyers merch, and being late to the stage (something which they may or may not have anything to do with; the Big Easy has a track record of being a bit lackluster in its treatment of audiences), the band were phenomenal. They played all the old classics (“Bad to the Bone”, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, “Love Doctor”, etc.) with energy, enthusiasm, and exceptional stage presence. George Thorogood, in particular, has obviously become used to playing the audience as much as his guitar and seemed to revel in his onstage aged bad-boy persona.

Between a solid initial set and two fairly awesome encores, the band played about two hours all told. It was wall-to-wall excellent blues-rock the whole way through. Thorogood and the boys may be old, but they’ve definitely not lost the ability to put on an exceptional rock show. And if the Spokane show is any indication, they definitely make it a point to play their material that people definitely know. So if you’re a Destroyers fan and they show up at a venue near you, you can expect a solid fix of some of your favorite Destroyers tunes along with a heavy dose of “please please PLEASE buy our stuff” self-merchandising.

Sep 272007

First of all, thanks to everyone who voted last week. We had some GREAT turnout. And, by a significant margin, the new Iron and Wine album was selected for next week’s review. So check in next week when I’ll have a review of the latest from Sam Beam and his amazing beard.

In the meantime, more albums for your voting pleasure. And, in continuing with the trend of the past few weeks, there are some awesome releases in this week’s batch. Of particular note is the comeback studio album from Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. But if the Boss really isn’t your thing, there’s also some stuff from seasoned pros like The Cult, Dashboard Confessional, Matchbox Twenty, Annie Lennox, Robert Plant, and John Fogerty.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Magic LINK (Couldn’t turn up any audio for you folks online, unfortunately. Link goes to Springsteen’s official website.)

The Cult, Born Into This LINK

Dashboard Confessional, The Shade of Poison Trees LINK

John Fogerty, Revival LINK

Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction LINK

Matchbox Twenty, Exile on Mainstream LINK (Link goes to the video for the single off the new album.)

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Raising Sand LINK1 and LINK2

Sep 272007

Artist: Dropkick Murphys
Album: The Meanest of Times
Label: Born & Bred Records
Release Date: Tuesday, 2007.9.18
Score: 8/10

The sixth LP from The Dropkick Murphys, Boston’s famous celt-punk yobs, upholds a long history of solid rock music with thick Irish folk roots. From start to finish, this album showcases the kind of energetic Celt-rock that has worked so well for the Dropkicks throughout their career. And while the listener might (accurately) fault the album for mainly just recycling the sounds that have worked for them in the past, one might just as well say that there’s no shame in that and that there’s a reason why those musical ideas work so well: they’re really good ideas.

As with a lot of previous Dropkick Murphys work, tradition, family, and society are important lyrical themes. The Meanest of Times is an album that comfortably walks the line between acknowledging its roots and being fettered by them. From the melodies and instrumentation, to the narrative themes and vocal flourishes, this is an album steeped in the Irish-American culture of Boston. The album opener, “Famous for Nothing”, in particular, sets this tone and treats themes of, in the words of the band themselves, “growing up in a tight knit parochial environment.”

This treatment of themes of friendship, relation, and roots stretches throughout the album, persistently accompanied by excellent, if uninventive, Irish-folk-influenced rock. Marching snare lines and bagpipes combine with snarling guitars rumbling baselines to that is a more Irish-folk than Stiff Little Fingers and more rock-and-roll than Flogging Molly. This fusion culminates, in many ways, in the cover of the traditional Irish folk song “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya.” What at first sounds like it could be a very conventional treatment of a classic suddenly explodes in a flurry drum fills and buzzsaw guitars. And yet, it sounds every bit as right for the Dropkick Murphys to be bashing and snarling their way through it as it does being drawled out in a drowsy brogue.

But for all its rock bombast, The Meanest of Times is far from empty or thoughtless. Indeed, it is the most reflective album yet from the Dropkicks. From the sociopolitical criticisms of “The State of Massachusetts” to the anti-Nihilism of “Loyal to No One”, The Meanest of Times shows that the Dropkicks know how to use their music to communicate and comment. I was particularly impressed with “Loyal to No One” which, while recycling some familiar Dropkick Murphys tropes, simply and concisely makes a point: “don’t count the cash, ’cause you’ll leave it behind.”

One song of particular note on the album is “(F)lannigan’s Ball” which, aside from being an excellently raucous pub song, features vocals from Spider Stacy (of the Pogues) and irish folk legend Ronnie Drew (perhaps most famously of the Dubliners). Stacy’s sly, punkish brogue and Drew’s deep, gravel-gargling baritone help add to the rowdy, drinking song feel of the tune. Both of them are exceptionally expressive singers and in good form for their brief cameos.

One fine Dropkicks tradition that The Meanest of Times continues is that of supremely excellent covers of classic folk tunes. Their version of “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ya” is driving and energetic, while managing to retain a great deal of the power of the song. Similarly, the song “Fairmount Hill” is a raucous, celt-punk, Boston-centric version of “Spancil Hill”. The Dropkicks do an excellent job of giving the song a modern feel and re-setting the song in their native Boston while keeping all of the reminiscent melancholy of the original.

This is really one for the fans. If you like what the Dropkick Murphys do, than this is a brilliant album. It’s not anything new or revolutionary, but it’s quality, high-energy Celt-rock. It’s often messy, always rowdy, and if you listen carefully, it’s sometimes deeper than you’d first suspect. And while it’s not the epitome of the genre, or even the best work the Dropkick Murphys have done (I, personally, think that Sing Loud, Sing Proud is their best work to date), it’s thoroughly Dropkicks, and it thoroughly rocks.

Sep 262007

Well kids, I REALLY hate to do this, but I’m going to be a little late on posting my review. *Hangs head in shame.* Terribly sorry. By way of a mea culpa, here’s the video for Jens Lekman’s “You Are the Light”.

Sep 222007

Delgados fans, take heart. The band may be gone, but Emma Pollock has a new solo album out. There’s also a decent article about her over at Aversion.

Sep 192007

Hey folks! Thanks for the great voting turn out last week. We had a well-represented and decisive vote in favor of the new Dropkick Murphys album. Which is good, since that’s an album that I’m really excited about. So tune in next week for that review. And again, I’m sorry I dropped the ball last week, resulting in no new review this week. I went to a few concerts over the last few weeks, so to make up for the lack of album review this week, I’ll be definitely trying to get reviews of those up. So this week, show reviews, and next Tuesday a review of the Dropkick Murphys’ The Meanest of Times.

And in the mean-time (ha ha, get it? “meanest of times” / “mean-time”!), more voting! We’ve got some great music again this week, with stuff from the beautifully-bearded Sam Beam (Iron & Wine), Joni Mitchell, Devendra Banhart, Foo Fighters, and the Weakerthans, among others. On the other hand (i.e. the, uh, “less than great” hand), there’s also a new Rascal Flatts album coming out next week. So, you know, that means that there’s also a voting option for those in the audience that hate me.

In other news, I’m going to try something a little new where I provide a link with each voting option to a sample of their music. Maybe a youtube video or a website with streaming audio or something. We’ll see how much time it takes me each week and whether you, the voters, think it’s a helpful thing. So, this week, please vote both for a band and for whether or not the links to music are helpful.

And without further ado, your options:

Devendra Banhart, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon
LINK (Click the red triangle next to the track name.)

Foo Fighters, Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace
LINK (Everlong is, as always, a classic.)

Joni Mitchell, Shine

Iron & Wine, Shepard’s Dog
LINK (“Naked as We Came”, “Jezebel”, and “Boy With a Coin” are all fantastic.)

The Weakerthans, Reunion Tour
LINK (to their myspace, because their regular website crashes my browser.)

Rascal Flatts, Still Feels Good

Sep 162007

In the wake of the absolutely fantastic Bright Eyes show last night, my good friend Ann has written a really interesting piece on the way Bright Eyes has matured over the years. It’s definitely worth a read. (LINK)

Sep 132007

Okay, okay, so I’ve sucked the past few weeks at this whole blog thing. I’ve broken some promises to you, my loyal readers and, for that, I am truly sorry. In my defense, school’s started back up again and Tuesdays are by far my busiest days. So I’ve been trying to figure out a schedule that allows for regular postings. So from here on out, I’ll be trying to get reviews and voting options posted on Mondays.

In the meantime, FFT is back with a new set of voting options for all of you, and it’s actually a great set. I mean, it’s got the new James Blunt album if that’s your kind of thing . . . If it’s not, it also has the new Dropkick Murphy’s and the latest release from chick-rock phenomena The Donnas. Oh, and there are a few other super-major names in there as well. So here you are, voting!

James Blunt, All the Lost Souls
The Donnas, Bitchin’
The Dropkick Murphy’s, The Meanest of Times
KT Tunstall, Drastic Fantastic
Rogue Wave, Asleep at Heaven’s Gate
Nelly, Brass Knuckles
Chamillionaire, Ultimate Victory

Sep 132007

Liars, Liars

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Artist: Liars
Album: Liars
Label: Mute Records
Release Date:
Score: 4/10

At its best uninspiring, at its worst pretentious, the self-titled LP from American rock band Liars, came as a rather pronounced disappointment for me. This is largely because, while I haven’t heard more than snippets of their music before this, they have an excellent talent for naming things (see their debut LP They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Flag On Top) and, among other things, I’m a sucker for a good name. Good names do not good music make, unfortunately, (much to bands like Fallout Boy’s chagrine, I’m sure). Liars is muddled, poorly produced, and surprisingly boring.

Right from the outset, Liars takes on a sloppy, amateurish feel with “Plaster Casts of Everything” which plods along messily with chunking, boring drum and guitar lines under falsetto vocals. The overall impression is of a gaggle of prepubescent metal enthusiasts jamming in their parents’ garage. And don’t get me wrong, I approve of young people learning to play music, and would even happily donate to the cause, but gussying up such an amateur-sounding effort and trying to pass it off as art doesn’t make me feel great about buying the album. That this is the band’s fourth full-length studio effort, however, seems to point toward the fact that they think that this is, in some way, good music. And I suppose that it’s technically proficient in that one can’t hear any obvious mistakes in the recording, but that that is the best thing I can think of to say about it indicates, to me at least, that perhaps it was not the wisest choice for an opening track.

Fortunately, the album does pick up a little from there and has some reasonably cool tracks. “Sailing to Byzantium” is a tasty little bit of laid back psychodelia. Admittedly it suffers from the same poor production as the rest of the album, but the tune manages to shine through despite of it. “Houseclouds” has a kind of groovy synth-pop feel to it, even if it’s not the kind of dance-inspiring fare one could get from pros of the genre like Freezepop or The Postal Service.

But for for its few promising points, the album ranges largely from “dull” to “painful.” “Freak Out” shoots for the same mark as “Sailing to Byzantium” it misses the mark by a significant margin, largely because of its muddied, repetitive sound and dull vocal work. “The Dumb in the Rain” takes pointless monotony to yawn-inducing new depths.

Liars is best viewed as a brief study of pseudo-artistic pretension. On a few brief occasions this self-important aesthetic navel-gazing pays off, but the resulting product is fairly unimpressive. It’s not quite unlistenable, but it’s not far off. So perhaps if you have some special affection for Liars, you might hear something in this mess that I don’t. Otherwise, this is probably an album that it’s safe to pass on. Hopefully Liars will eventually nail whatever great artistic insight it was they were hoping for this time around. But whatever it was, it seems to me like they’ve missed the mark on this go around.