Neil Young

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.

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Over the Weekend (Sept. 21 Edition)

News, new music, videos, and other fun stuff to help you get through the week…

After months of waiting, Run The Jewels finally released their highly-anticipated Meow The Jewels, a joke-remix album for charity that had several producers and musicians recreating the brilliant record Run The Jewels 2 using only cat noises.  If you want to take a listen, a free download is available through the RTJ website, and yes, it is about as ridiculous as you would expect.  As you enjoy such great remixes as “Paw Due Respect”, be sure to read El-P’s interview with Deadspin discussing the project.

Of course, if you want to listen to a more traditional version of Run The Jewels, we highly recommend that you check out their electrifying performance with TV on the Radio for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, if you have not done so already.  Speaking of Mr. Colbert, he had a busy week last week, with the highlight probably being his vocal assistance on Pearl Jam’s cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World” to close out one of his shows.

The team-up between Colbert and Pearl Jam was part of a promotion for Saturday’s Global Citizen Festival, with Stephen helping to host and Pearl Jam closing out the festivities.  One of the highlights of Pearl Jam’s set had to have been Eddie Vedder’s performance with the one and only Beyonce of Bob Marley’s classic song “Redemption Song”, though you may have to search for the video yourself as different versions keep getting deleted.

In other news, The Strokes informed announced to the crowd at their recent D.C. show that the band will soon be recording a new album, which we personally hope will be better than Comedown Machine.

Broken Bells premiered a new concert film over the weekend entitled Live at the Orpheum, and the group shared a new track to help promote the movie, an upbeat track with a jittery disco beat called “It’s That Talk Again”.

Don Cheadle has a new film about Miles Davis coming out next month, and Vulture has a brief primer on the legendary musician for those who would appreciate some background before seeing the movie.

And finally, be sure to set your DVRs or plan your schedules accordingly, because Austin City Limits announced that they will be taping shows with Kendrick Lamar as well as D’Angelo and the Vanguard in the next few weeks.  Both of those should be memorable performances.

The Strange Intersection of Musicians and Politicians

We have a strange political system here in America, where we have managed to turn elections into multi-year affairs.  A lot of this is the fault of the media and especially 24-hour cable news networks, which have to find something with which to fill their airtime, and incisive policy discussion ain’t gonna cut it.  As a result, we end up with breathless coverage of every single appearance that a “candidate” may make, followed by countless pieces which attempt to either present us with straight-up bullshit or worse, find a unique bullshit angle to discuss the bullshit.  No, I am not a cynic.

One such example is this recent piece published in the New Republic concerning music played at political rallies.  There have been several instances over the years where artists have asked candidates to refrain from playing their music, with several providing cease-and-desist orders and threatening other legal action.  The author of this particular piece pleads with these musicians to stop engaging in this practice, and in the name of bipartisanship allow their music to be played without regard to the candidate’s politics.

To this I say: Fuck no.

The author makes a very simple mistake in his argument, and that is to confuse a candidate’s personal taste with his or her professional work.  Simply put, when music is played at a rally, there is an implicit connection made in the minds of the audience between the artist and the candidate.  This is not unintentional–the music is selected to convey a particular message, so there is definitely a level of forethought to the presentation that exists beyond “the candidate likes this song.”  And just as it is the case in film and television, an artist has the right not to associate his or her work with a candidate.  Few would argue that an artist must comply with a filmmaker’s demand or an advertiser’s wishes to include a particular song, so why would one assume that a politician should be able to use a song without regard to the wishes of the artist?  That is part of the protections offered by copyright, and a musician should certainly be able to defend that right.

Squishy notions of bipartisanship should not play a part in the decision at all; it may be that the vast majority of examples of refusals may be against Republican candidates, but an individual musician is under no obligation to make up for the gap when their politics are entirely diametrical.  Survivor had every right to be pissed when their megahit “Eye of the Tiger” was used as the soundtrack to the recent rally for Kim Davis–they would much rather have their song associated with the triumph of Rocky instead of affirming the beliefs of a bigot.  If it means that more conservative candidates have to lean on country cliches, that says more about the current sad state of the genre than anything else.

The editorial was on the right track when it discussed the intrusion into the personal lives of candidates; Springsteen does come off as a dick in his interactions with Chris Christie.  If the candidate can separate personal and professional lives in meeting with a hero, the artist should be able to do the same.  I have no doubt in the sincerity of various politicians when they profess their love of certain bands–even though Paul Ryan’s budgets make it seem like he has never listened to a word that Rage Against The Machine has said, he would not be alone in ignoring the content of their message.

Oh, and just because Neil Young wrote “Rockin’ in the Free World” as a protest against the policies of President George H.W. Bush, that does not mean Young should allow it to be used by a competitor against Bush’s son.  Everything that Young said about Bush goes ten-fold against Mr. Trump.

Catching Up On The Week (Jan. 9 Edition)

Some #longreads for the moment you unthaw your internet-ready device…

This morning Billboard published their cover story interview with Kendrick Lamar, who gave few clues about his highly-anticipated new album (beyond a general look at his average day in the recording studio), but did provide a lot of insight into his philosophy and upbringing.  As illuminating as his answers are, my mind is still reeling from the fact that Taylor Swift apparently thinks that “Backseat Freestyle” is her personal theme song.

Marilyn Manson is preparing to release his tenth album, The Pale Emperor, and recently talked to Noisey in a wide-ranging interview.  Even if he’s just bullshitting, Manson is always an interesting interview.

Neil Young is putting the final touches on the official release of Pono, launching the website for the high-quality digital music files this week and announcing that the special player will be available for purchase in stores in a few weeks.  He sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone, who were kind enough to provide a video of the exchange.

The AV Club has a bizarre write-up on Men At Work’s “Who Can It Be Now?”, and it deserves a link because it at least has snippets of a conversation with Colin Hay.  You probably already have the saxophone line stuck in your head.

With the release of his latest solo album Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper today, now is the perfect opportunity to catch up with the most prolific member of Animal Collective and read Pitchfork’s voluminous cover story on Panda Bear.

And finally, if you’re looking for a few laughs this weekend, you should check out this compilation of Portlandia parodies provided by Billboard, many of which feature some of our favorite indie rock artists.

Over the Weekend (Oct. 27 Edition)

News and new videos that have nothing to do with Halloween…

It’s always worth checking out the music videos that OK Go produces, and today’s release of “I Won’t Let You Down” is no exception.  Check out the band as they construct an elaborate routine with the help of a few (hundred) friends.

This weekend was the annual Bridge School Benefit, and I’m sure additional videos will be trickling out over the next few days, but so far there have been two featuring Pearl Jam that are definitely worth viewing.  First, there’s the band hanging out with “Uncle Neil” as they perform “Throw Your Hatred Down”, a track from the Pearl Jam-backed Neil Young album Mirror Ball.

Then there was the Temple of the Dog “reunion” as Chris Cornell joined in to sing “Hunger Strike”:

Speaking of Chris Cornell, his regular gig Soundgarden today released a brand new song, “Storm”, which you can stream here.  It’s got a nice, dark groove driven by Ben Shepherd’s bass, and might be deemed a spookier cousin to “Superunknown”.  It will appear on the band’s upcoming rarities compilation, Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path, whose tracklist can be viewed here.  The three disc set is scheduled to be released on November 24.

Wayne Coyne talks to NPR about the upcoming With A Little Help From My Fwends, the Sgt. Pepper cover album that The Flaming Lips recorded with several of their colleagues, ranging from J Mascis and Maynard James Keenan to Dr. Dog and My Morning Jacket to Tegan & Sara and Miley Cyrus.

My Morning Jacket also announced today a charity single cover of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land Is Your Land”, which is now available on iTunes.

Finally, Wilco is set to perform three songs this evening on The Tonight Show (though not all of them will probably be broadcast), featuring tracks from their upcoming rarities compilation.  In addition, Herbie Hancock will be sitting in with The Roots, so tonight might be the time to try to stomach Jimmy Fallon.

Covered: “Cortez the Killer”

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.

Zuma is one of my favorite Neil Young albums, but there is one track that stands out clearly from the rest and is the major reason why most people have this record in their collections: “Cortez the Killer”.  Even my mother, who is only a casual music fan and not really familiar with Young’s work, was compelled to remark about the song when she heard it for the first time, saying “that was beautiful.”  The song is known for its epic guitar solos, but unlike the vast majority of songs with the same claim, the tempo never gets above an ambling pace.  For over seven minutes, the audience is enraptured by gorgeous guitar lines that snake and wrap around the listener’s ears.  It’s an amazing feat.

Over the years, a lot of people who enjoy proving how smart they are, have taken aim at the lyrics and dismissed the song because of the historical inaccuracies.  True, to say “and war was never known” about the Aztecs, out of all the indigenous peoples of the Americas, is pretty ridiculous.  However, the song came out at a time when historians were beginning to teach a revised version of the interaction between European settlers and Native Americans, and if Neil Young swung the narrative too far in the other direction, it’s understandable.  However, consider that just saying “Cortez, Cortez…what a killer” was enough to apparently get this song banned in Spain during the 70’s, and that part was true.  In the end, I’d just say to those critics to get over themselves and enjoy the true beauty of the song, and let the guitars wash over you.

You know how I mentioned above how it was “an amazing feat” for Neil Young and Crazy Horse to keep the listener’s attention for over seven minutes simply by the beauty of the guitar solos?  Think how impressive it would be to do the same thing, except for twenty minutes.  That’s what Built to Spill was able to accomplish, as recorded on their Live album.

Over the years, Built to Spill has been known to play several covers and do an outstanding job on each of them, ranging from classic rock staple “Don’t Fear the Reaper” to M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”.  I remember seeing a particularly impressive version of The Smith’s “How Soon Is Now?”, with the band able to perfectly nail that distinctive effect for the guitar.  But there may not have been a finer cover than their version of “Cortez”, which still amazes me to this day.  Doug Martsch is a fair match for Neil Young’s distinctive whine, and that’s without even an attempt at imitation; Martsch’s vocals also carry an additional fragility or vulnerability, which helps bring out the beauty of the song even more.

The astonishing thing about their cover is that at no point when listening does it ever feel like “this is a twenty minute song”; it sounds like it takes roughly around the same time as the original, even when you’re listening to several rounds of solos at the end.  And man, those solos…each separate round is able to offer new variations on the well-known melody without sounding repetitive, and able to galvanize the listener without showboating or grandstanding.  The solos keep building and building, and then reach a glorious climax, before slowly receding into the ether, because you have to take some time to calm yourself after witnessing such beauty.  It’s also way tougher to do than just fading out like the original did, though to be fair, that was apparently due to a lack of tape.

The point is, if you have nothing to do for the next half hour, listen to these two versions.  You can thank me later.

Over the Weekend (June 9 Edition)

Let’s kick off the week with some fun videos and some new music, shall we?

Probably the best thing that I saw this weekend (aside from the news that Bill Watterson made a surprise return to the comics page) was this video of Sir Mix-a-Lot performing his classic hit “Baby Got Back” with the Seattle Symphony.  The last time we saw this kind of synergy between the classical music and hip-hop worlds was back at the ’96 Hullabalooza Festival, when the London Symphony Orchestra performed “Insane in the Brain” with Cypress Hill.

It’s definitely worth checking out the Oral History of the song as well.

That was not the only salacious thing to happen this weekend–it appears that Neil Young’s Twitter account was hacked, and followers ended up receiving a bunch of porn suggestions.  Apparently, all is well now, so you’ll need to check in with another classic rock legend for your porn fix (as a commenter pointed out, David Crosby would probably be a great bet).

The biggest news from this morning (or late last night, if you were up) was the surprise release of the first half of the new double-LP from Death Grips, the powers that b (though they do have a penchant for this sort of thing).  It’s available for free from their Facebook, and after a couple of listens this afternoon, I can say it’s actually a less-rambunctious release than you might expect (I do love that the automatic genre tag that appears when you load into iTunes is “Pop”, though).  And you’ll see a lot of mention that Björk does guest vocals on each track, though her appearance shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

A couple of links to check out from NPR–first, there’s Spoon performing the brand new track “Rent I Pay” live in New York; and speaking of New York, they also have the early stream of Familiars from NYC’s The Antlers.  In the email sent to fans about the stream, The Antlers mentioned that there will be limited edition white label copies of the LP available at some of the band’s favorite independent record stores.

Pitchfork has Father John Misty performing a cover of recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Cat Stevens’s “Trouble”, released as part of the soundtrack to a documentary on Hal Ashby.  The site also has news that Steven Drozd and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips are releasing an album as “Electric Würms”, with Steven assuming more traditional front-man duties and Wayne backing on bass.

And finally, because we’re always fans of what our favorite Portland heavy metal band is up to, check out Red Fang discussing their influences in this interview with Loudwire.  A few of their choices may surprise you.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 21 Edition)

We don’t have any real #longreads for you to scroll through this weekend, but there are a lot of shorter interesting articles that are worth your time.  That’s probably a good thing, because I imagine a lot of people will be focused on the NCAA Tournament this weekend; then again, if you were looking for us a source of distraction, we’re sorry.

First, for the music theory enthusiasts out there, Slate did a piece on one man’s quest to determine the time signature of the theme from The Terminator.  If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a time signature in music, there’s a quick explanation in the article, so don’t worry.  For the record, my initial guess was 10/8.

Not The Terminator, but frightening nonetheless

Not The Terminator, but frightening nonetheless

I was glad to see that one of the conditions of the settlement between GoldieBlox and the Beastie Boys was a public apology by GoldieBlox.  If the case had gone to litigation, there was a potentially an intriguing fight over how parody in certain contexts should be handled under Fair Use.  Complicating matters for GoldieBlox was the fact that they were using the parody for other commercial purposes.  After all this, I hope everyone learned this lesson: always ask permission, and make sure you get the proper license.

There have been discussions recently on the issue of audio quality and the way that digital technology from both the musician’s and consumer’s perspective has had a significant effect on recording (See “Pono”), this article takes a look at how musicians have attempted to push for greater rights and use of live musicians instead of samples.  The piece makes good points about how difficult it is to actually replicate live sounds, and how musicians (especially string players) are often screwed when it comes to compensation.  However, the article fails to account how some artists take advantage of the more mechanized sound and use it to their advantage (See the entire career of Kraftwerk).  I appreciate their intentions, but it’s not the only pathway.

On a similar note, here’s some more disappointing news for musicians: Late Night with Seth Meyers is booking fewer musical guests than the show did under Jimmy Fallon.  Billboard reports that this is by design, as the show believes that Meyers has other strengths.  Say what you will about Fallon’s ability as a late night host (and believe me, I have), I always appreciated that he would often book underground acts and give them exposure, like Titus Andronicus or Parquet Courts.  Hell, Refused even played Fallon’s show.  Hopefully Fallon will do some similar booking with The Tonight Show in the future.

Record Store Day is coming up in a month, and there are several cool releases to look forward to picking up this year.  But while RSD has provided a lot of good exposure to independent stores in the past few years and have provided a lot of foot traffic, this article explains that the type of product being offered often languishes on the shelves and other such factors mean that the “holiday” may actually hurt several stores.

CNN continues to show that they have little idea about how to do anything right.  Deadspin has a piece on how they used an absolutely awful lede in a story about Kurt Cobain.  The original article has since been altered, but the Deadspin staff had fun in coming up with their own versions of other possibly awful openers that CNN could have opted to use.

Finally, here’s a pleasant song for your weekend: Real Estate recently did a live cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, and Pitchfork has the video.  It’s one of my favorite songs, and I appreciate the spirit of the cover.

Catching Up On The Week (Mar. 14 Edition)

Aeon has a great article exploring the psychological underpinnings of our appreciation of music, specifically discussing the key that repetition plays in our unconscious love.  The article analyzes how the mere act of repetition has a specific psychological effect on our brains, and it can essentially even create the illusion of “music”, even though if we were removed from the process we would not give that objective determination.  It then goes on to discuss the significance of “rituals” and how music mirrors this concept, and their impact on our brains.  I find these scientific explorations fascinating, and I highly recommend reading it–I’m sure I unintentionally bungled some observations and that my imprecise language may have obscured some of the true results.  That said, the article still needs to explain how it could be that Krautrock is not the dominant musical genre of our time.

Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age (and many, many other bands) recently did a video where he answered questions from fans, covering such topics as his band’s treatment at the Grammys and the recent dispute with other members of Kyuss over the use of the band’s name.  It’s always fun to hear Josh pontificate, so it’s well worth a listen.

Repetition

Repetition

If you follow our Tumblr, you know we’re at the very least intrigued by Neil Young’s new digital music service “Pono”.   We’re not entirely convinced about its necessity, and to that end we’re looking into posting a discussion with an engineer experienced in the field of acoustics to discuss the technological merits of the service.  But we’ll save the technical mumbo-jumbo for another day–here, you could read an article from The Quietus with some bullshit about the “iPod culture”.  Here’s a frightening quote:

“The spontaneous practice of iPod users then comes to very closely resemble the model developed by researchers working for the Muzak Corporation in the mid-twentieth century.”

A much more enjoyable discussion of music culture comes from the latest entry in the AV Club’s series on punk rock in the 90’s (“Fear of a Punk Decade”), which discusses the impact of different labels on the decade’s sounds.  It looks at the rise of several independent labels, including some that had the impact of major labels (Epitaph and Dischord for example), and the mutual relationship between bands and their labels.

Switching gears, The Oregonian takes a look at the significance of a good van for the touring indie act.  It’s difficult to realize the various struggles that bands have to go through especially with things we take for granted like our own vehicles.

And finally, Wye Oak has a discussion with SPIN about their new album Shriek.  In this interview, they discuss lyrical themes, the move away from guitars for this album, and their (slightly) relaxed touring schedule.  Wye Oak is a band that that is pretty powerful live, though their albums haven’t translated in the same way; we’ll see if that’s the case for Shriek.