Bob Dylan

Over the Weekend (Nov. 30 Edition)

New music, new videos, and other fun stuff as you recover from the holiday weekend…

The music world continued to respond to the tragic events in Paris earlier this month, including a touching message from Eagles of Death Metal themselves.  Other bands have shown their support by playing EoDM songs at their own concerts, including this Pearl Jam cover of “I Want You So Hard”.  EoDM has responded to these efforts by asking others to play “I Love You All The Time”, with the band then donating the royalties.  My Morning Jacket fulfilled the request at a recent show in New York, and Consequence of Sound has the footage.

Eagles of Death Metal also sat down for an emotional interview with Noisey, though it may be too soon for some fans to watch.

David Bowie recently released a bonkers new video for the title track off his upcoming album Blackstar, and though Mos Def & Talib Kweli do not make a cameo appearance, the bizarre sci-fi vignettes are worth watching regardless.

M.I.A. also released a controversial new video for her song “Borders” from the upcoming Matahdatah, featuring a cast of dozens of refugees.  You can view the video in the link above, since this YouTube copy will probably be taken down in the near-future.

Walter Martin is continuing his solo career during the hiatus of his former group The Walkmen, releasing the easy-going folk song “Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich & Famous” from next year’s Arts & Leisure.  In a fitting gesture, he first released the song through his LinkedIn profile.

Coldplay has probably the last big release of this year, with A Head Full Of Dreams coming out on Friday.  The first single is the soaring “Adventures of a Lifetime”, accompanied by a video featuring computer-animated gorillas, because why not.

Finally, The Verge alerts you to a new Sony website that allows you to mix Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone”, which should be a great way to waste some time this week.

Titus Andronicus, Live at Mississippi Studios

It may have taken a few years longer than we would have liked, but Titus Andronicus finally returned to Portland as headliners on Friday night for a thrilling set in the intimate confines of Mississippi Studios.  Fresh off the heels of the release of their sprawling rock-opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy, Patrick Stickles & Co. delivered a spirited set to an energetic crowd, seamlessly weaving songs from across their four albums into a series of mini-epics.  The band left the audience so amped up by the end that a trip to one of Oregon’s brand new legal dispensaries was probably necessary, though there were probably only a few that needed such an excuse to indulge.

Classy marquee inside the venue

Classy marquee inside the venue.

After a brief explanation as to why the group made an exception to their policy of performing all-ages show, frontman Patrick Stickles began the night with a solemn version of “Upon Viewing Brueghel’s ‘Landscape with the Fall of Icarus'” backed by a mournful keyboard, then effortlessly segued into a spirited full-band version of the similarly-titled and locale-appropriate “Upon Viewing Oregon’s Landscape with the Flood of Detritus”, setting the tone for the rest of the night.  Perhaps inspired by the format of their most recent release, the group blended songs from throughout their career into unpredictable but brilliant suites.  Stickles made sure to spotlight guitarist Adam Reich and give him kudos for his “Pearl Jam-like” ability in constructing the setlist.  For those unfamiliar with the reference, it is heady praise indeed.

The band found the right mix between professional and loose, able to knock out such difficult maneuvers as a dual tapping-solo guitar attack for “A More Perfect Union” while also avoiding any stiffness from attempting to pull off these complex tricks, and just letting mistakes slide by–as referenced by Stickles, who said he didn’t need to hear any more of his guitar in the monitors so he could ignore any flubs.  The audience ate up both the old and new material, with many singing along to songs from Tragedy, though the response to early tracks like “Albert Camus” and “Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ” generated the fiercest reaction.  The recent legalization of commercial sale of marijuana also prompted a short speech on the “evils” of pot, and spurred a spirited take on “Tried to Quit Smoking”–only to pull a fast one a couple of songs later by throwing in a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35”, to which everyone sang along to the memorable chorus of “Everybody must get stoned.”

Deciding on an encore song.

Deciding on an encore song.

After a furious finish with “Dimed Out”, the crowd was able to goad the band into a quick encore, despite the show pushing well past midnight at this point.  Eventually, as a nod to both the baseball playoffs and their upcoming trip into the Great White North, the crew indulged the crowd with an enthusiastic take on Neil Young’s “Walk On”, before ending the night with “I Saw Her Standing There” from The Beatles.  Though it would be difficult to beat what we witnessed, here’s a suggestion for the guys if they need a Portland-specific cover for their next trip into town (which will hopefully be as soon as possible): you can’t go wrong with anything from the Wipers.

Catching Up On The Week (Aug. 28 Edition)

A few #longreads for your perusal as you relax this weekend…

Now that you have read our extensive look at the discography of Wilco, be sure to read Jeff Tweedy’s interview with Rolling Stone talking about the creation of Star Wars and how the band is already working on the next record.

The New York Times has an in-depth piece that takes a thorough look at the evolution of the “Creative Economy”, and in particular scrutinizes the way the music industry has developed in the wake of technological advances.  While I would take some of the conclusions they reach with a grain of salt, the article is worth reading to see the process of how they came to develop these arguments.

Another weekend, another anniversary–this time, Stereogum is taking a look back to the year 2005 and the release of Kanye West’s second album, Late Registration.  Considering his continued impact on popular music, it is somewhat amazing to realize Kanye has only been around for a little more than a decade, and this well-written piece makes the argument that Late Registration stands out from the rest of Kanye’s formidable catalog.

Consequence of Sound has a retrospective piece on the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s seminal album Highway 61 Revisited, with the added bonus of including tidbits from a couple of the session players that contributed to the record.

Finally, Pitchfork has a piece that uses the twentieth anniversary of Rancid’s hit “Time Bomb” as a jumping-off point for a look at the history of 2 Tone Ska, analyzing the differences between its development in the UK and the US as well as how the social issues that were a central part of the music decades ago still are relevant today.

Catching Up On The Week (July 24 Edition)

Some #longreads for helping you pass the time while you luxuriate in humanity’s greatest sin, Central Air

It’s the dog days of summer, and so it’s probably about time we share some of the pieces we’ve bookmarked over the past few months but neglected to pass on to you.  One such example is this account from Vulture detailing Bob Dylan’s first Letterman appearance, and the unique group of musicians he enlisted for support.

Deadspin has another great piece that would have been better if we shared it at a more appropriate time: a look at the history behind Alice Cooper’s classic anthem “School’s Out”.

It is usually a blast to read the interactions between artists of different generations as they discuss their appreciation for the work of each other.  This interview with Frank Black/Black Francis of the Pixies and Tunde Adebimpe in Time Out is one such example.

We were fortunate to finally catch one of our favorite bands live a few months ago, and it turns out it was worth it to take on the additional expenses to do so, since The Replacements have seemingly broken up once again.  The Guardian has a profile of the band that ran shortly before a couple of the band’s final shows in London.

Stop Caring About The Grammys

The Grammy Awards are a good idea in theory.  We like to recognize artistic merits in a variety of disciplines, and we feel good when we come together and come up with some sort of consensus decision as to what is “the best.”  The Academy Awards have worked pretty well for film over the years, and the Emmy Awards (despite never giving an award to the greatest television show ever) have done an adequate job as well, so why shouldn’t it be the same for music?  And yet, pretty much from the very beginning, the Grammys have always been garbage.

I remember the moment when I completely lost faith in the Grammys, and it should be noted that this happened when I was in middle school, because that is when any hopes and dreams you may have had about the music industry recognizing artistic merit should die, and you can then readjust your expectations accordingly.  It was when Radiohead’s ground-breaking, landmark album OK Computer lost out to probably Bob Dylan’s tenth-best effort (Time Out Of Mind) that I decided it was probably for the best that I stop giving a shit about this particular award.  I probably should have seen the signs from the previous year, when Beck’s Odelay and the Smashing Pumpkins Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness lost out to Celine Dion, but at that point I didn’t have the same investment in either of those albums that I did in OK Computer.  Even at that age, I knew that with that album I could divide my history of listening to music as pre-OK Computer and post-OK Computer, and no matter how good an album Time Out Of Mind may be, it wouldn’t be remembered in the same way.  If you want to view the award as an acknowledgment of the greatness of Highway 61 RevisitedBlonde on BlondeNashville SkylineThe Freewheelin’ Bob DylanJohn Wesley HardingThe Times They Are A-Changin’, and Blood on the Tracks, that’s fine, but that’s the only way to defend it.

It was then that my cynicism fully set in and I finally understood the rants of many alternative artists about the quality of the Grammys.  Here’s how I can best sum it up: “How many Grammy Awards did London Calling win?  That should tell you exactly how much attention you should pay to the Grammys.”  This is an album universally recognized as one of the greatest of all time, one that ends up atop best-of-the-decade lists for two different decades (because of its UK ’79/US ’80 release date), and it received exactly zero Grammys.  In fact, The Clash won precisely one Grammy in the course of their career, an award in 2002 for “Best Long Form Music Video” for the documentary The Clash: Westway to the World, long after the band had stopped making music.  And to top it off, the Grammys had the gall to put together a supergroup performance of “London Calling” to honor the life of Joe Strummer when he died, as if the Recording Academy gave a damn about the group at all when they were around.*

Consider this: Exile on Main Street… Loveless… NevermindIn the Aeroplane Over the SeaAre You Experienced?Who’s NextRemain in LightWilly and the Po’ BoysUnknown PleasuresFear of a Black PlanetThe Velvet Underground & NicoHunky DoryDoolittle…not a single one of these albums received a nomination.  And not only could I list dozens more examples, but I could point to a ridiculous number of artists who never won a Grammy of any kind.

Part of the issue may be with the nature of the Grammys themselves.  The sheer number of albums that are produced dwarf the number of films that are released or television shows that end up on the air, so the mere act of getting thousands of academy members to listen to the same records is enough of a challenge on its own.  Then consider the wide variety of musical genres that exist, and contrast that with the simple comedy/drama divide that characterizes film and TV–it’s even tougher to build any sort of consensus when you take this into account.  And then there is the simple nature of voting, which anyone with a background in political theory can point to as a potential stumbling block.  All of these issues make the Grammy Awards an exercise in futility, and yet for some reason people still get up in arms with the results every year.

Was Morning Phase the best album of the year?  According to us, probably not, though if one considers it in comparison with the other nominees, we agree with the decision.  Though it’s not Beck’s best (which is a nearly-impossible hurdle to clear, considering his incredibly consistent output and the Odelay/Mutations/Sea Change triumverate), if you judge it on its own merits, Morning Phase is a great album filled with gorgeous musical moments and poignant lyrics that will be remembered for years.  But let’s consider that if the Grammys were actually interested in honoring the best of the year in music, then they would have had to invite Death From Above 1979 and have them perform, and despite the fact that they’re only two guys they would have melted the faces off of everyone in the audience with their blistering performance, and then no one would be able to work on Monday.

So really, the fact that the Grammy Awards don’t recognize the best music of the year is more of a public service than anything.  Just don’t get up in arms when they make the “wrong” decision.  They were doomed from the start.

*This is not to disparage any of the performers that participated, all of whom I assume had a great amount of respect for Joe Strummer and The Clash.

Covered: “Pink Moon”

Covered is a feature where we examine the merits of various cover songs, debating whether or not they capture the spirit and intent of the original, if the cover adds anything new, and whether or not it perhaps surpasses the original.  If we fail on those counts, at the very least we may expose you to different versions of great songs you hadn’t heard before. 

For this edition, since we’re in the middle of “Beck Week” here at RIJR, we’re going to be using him as a pivot in this feature.  In other words, we’ll be examining both a cover done by Beck as well as another artist covering one of Beck’s songs.

Initially, I was going to analyze Beck’s cover of Dylan’s “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”.  I first heard this cover at a live show on the Modern Guilt tour, back when I was in New York.  I remember how energized Beck was for that particular song, which was a marked contrast to his demeanor for most of the rest of his set (I also want to pin some of the blame on the audience, who were pretty indifferent to much of the set, even when it dipped into Odelay-era rarities like “Minus”).  I wasn’t sure how much the lackluster performance could be blamed on doing a multi-night stand, or on the venue (the United Palace Theater is a pretty stunning venue, but while it’s perfect for acts like Sigur Ros, it’s not as conducive to a full-on rock show), or just general malaise from doing yet another tour.  In subsequent interviews, I learned that Beck had severe back pain during that era, which makes me feel a bit bad for being generally disappointed with the show.

To keep a long story from going any longer, I decided to go with a different cover, because while I enjoy Beck’s version, I feel that it’s a little too close to the original to be worth further analysis.  It’s pretty much how you would imagine a Beck cover of a Dylan song would go–it’s got the ragged feel of the original, slightly more uptempo, with a fuzzier bass and electro-country leads.  In other words, it’s not exactly like Death Grips taking a lyric from the song and going in a completely different direction.  Instead I’m going to look at a cover that I only learned existed recently, that of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon”.

Like many of my generation, I am not ashamed to admit that I first heard the song in a Volkswagen ad.  It’s not as if I had a huge knowledge of the English folk scene from the 70’s back in high school, so please pardon my ignorance.  But I was touched by just the pure beauty of the song, from the soft vocals, the churning acoustic guitar, and that delicate little piano melody that somehow in one line ties the whole thing together.  The album would soon hold a dear place in my heart, most notably as a soundtrack to my first couple of semesters of college.

Beck does a great job of capturing the same atmosphere and emotional feelings of the original, and is definitely faithful in that regard.  It’s interesting how it is distinctly Beck’s voice, but he is still able to evoke the memory of Nick Drake’s vocals.  The difference between the two comes from the guitar parts, which leads to a focus on different rhythms in each version.  Most people don’t realize the technical complexity of Nick Drake’s guitar playing; it is an example of how sometimes the most difficult things to do sometimes appear easy to the untrained eye.  He used a lot of alternate tunings that allowed him to play a lot of complex rhythmic and lead parts at the same time, often interacting with each other in the same measure.  That’s why there’s a consistent drive to the rhythm in the original.  Beck (wisely) chooses to not imitate the complexity of those guitar lines, and instead emphasizes certain beats with strummed chords, giving the song a more laid-back feel, and in turn making it somehow even more melancholy.  This even extends to the famous piano melody, which with this extra bit of drag conveys an even greater sense of longing.

Now we have the slightly more difficult task of looking at those who have attempted to cover Beck.  Surprisingly, there are not that many from which to choose.  On the one hand, Beck has composed hundreds of songs, dabbled in dozens of genres, and been around for over two decades now, so you’d think there would be a wide variety of artists that would attempt to cover his work.  But even through all those various detours and musical experiments, there is the singular persona of Beck that shines through, and he leaves a specific stamp on each song that he does.  But it makes sense that it’s from his album Sea Change, in many ways his most straight-forward singer/songwriter record, that we see at least an attempt by others to try out.

“The Golden Age” kicks off the record, and in many ways after those opening lines (“Put your hands on the wheel/Let the Golden Age begin”), it’s all downhill from there, at least emotionally speaking.  I’ll never forget that when the Boston Red Sox won the World Series back in 2004 that the network broadcasting their victory decided that this was an appropriate song to mark the occasion, making it one of the best examples of an executive green-lighting a song without ever hearing the whole thing.  Who doesn’t love celebrating with a song whose chorus goes “These days I barely get by/I don’t even try”?

It’s hard to even call this a cover, since the Flaming Lips toured with Beck shortly after Sea Change came out.  So you know they at least do a faithful job of covering the music.  I do appreciate the rumbling low-end that the Lips manage here, but I miss the slide guitar parts from the original, which added a great counterpoint to the melody.  Wayne Coyne adds a bit more fragility to his vocals, but he doesn’t get the same longing feel that Beck conveys in his part.  What I find most interesting though is the fact that they omit the second verse, which is actually the one that I prefer.  This may be due to the live nature of the performance for a radio show, but it’s an interesting comment if it’s intentional.

Another cover of a Beck song that I think is worth sharing is The Cinematics performing “Sunday Sun”, also from Sea Change.  Already one of the more uplifting songs on the album, The Cinematics turn it into a genuinely happy song.  It’s not just in the attitude and tempo, but through each part, from the drums (the sixteenth-note hi-hat rhythms help drive the song), to the guitar tones, to the vocals themselves which are simply cheerier.  Beck’s original is much more dramatic, and does a great job in building and building over the course of the song.  But even when the melody soars, Beck maintains a certain tension with his vocals over the course of the song, which makes the collapse at the end fit perfectly.