Wu-Tang Clan

Catching Up On The Week (Apr. 24 Edition)

Some #longreads while you contemplate how a newspaper can bungle a headline so badly

It has been a busy week for new releases, and one of the albums we here at Rust Is Just Right have been enjoying this week has been Speedy Ortiz’s latest record.  Before you check out our review of Foil Deer next week, it probably would be a good idea to read up on the extensive profile that Pitchfork published yesterday.

This has been a busy spring for new music, and it is not going to let up any time soon.  One of the big upcoming releases that we have mentioned before is My Morning Jacket’s The Waterfall, which will be hitting stores in less than two weeks.  Rolling Stone talks to the band about the recording of the new album.

Deadspin has a short piece introducing readers to the site that takes a satirical look at the punk scene, The Hard Times.

The AV Club has a piece that dissects how the Wu-Tang Clan defied conventional thinking in the way the group was able to release several successful solo albums from its members.

Finally, The New Yorker has a detailed and fascinating look at the mechanics of the early days of music piracy, which serves as an excellent complement to this Pitchfork examination of how the economics of music have evolved over the years.

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Review: Ghostface Killah/BADBADNOTGOOD – Sour Soul

Ghostface Killah is in the middle of a furious creative outburst, and though for simplicity’s sake this review is nominally about Sour Soul,* it is necessary to examine Ghostface’s most recent collaboration in relation to his recent output.  It is tempting to lump together Twelve Reasons to Die36 Seasons, and Sour Soul as a trilogy, but considering that Twelve Reasons will have an official sequel of its own that would be a mistake.  Despite the fact that there is no official connective thread between them, this trio of albums do share a similar commitment to musical exploration of older genres that provide fertile ground for Ghostface’s preferred lyrical themes.  Twelve Reasons to Die, one of our favorite albums from 2013 (and an honorable mention on our best-of list), remains the best of the group, but Sour Soul comes close to reaching its peak and helps overcome some of the weakness of its immediate predecessor.

Adrian Younge’s spaghetti western/Italian horror-influenced production provided the perfect template for Ghostface on Twelve Reasons; the music contained the right amount of sinister ambiance to complement Ghostface’s pulpy tale of the revenge sought by a gangster spirit, a storyline as bizarre as it was captivating.  Younge’s use of vibrato guitars, jazzy organ flourishes, and expertly arranged strings all contributed to an enthralling soundtrack in its own right that perfectly evoke a 70’s-era noir film, with anachronistic touches like expertly deployed turntables helping provide a refreshing twist.   Younge was able to match the changing moods dictated by the demands of the plot without ever overpowering the rappers.  Ghostface shares the load mainly with fellow Wu-Tang Clan members who drop in to flesh out additional characters, with Masta Killa and Inspectah Deck in particular supplying memorable guest verses.  The success of all these elements coming together set up high expectations when the 36 Seasons and Sour Soul projects were announced.

With 36 Seasons, Ghostface kept up the throwback vibe, but opted for a more old-school R&B feel with the help of backing group The Revelations.  While the combination initially seems promising, unfortunately the album loses steam by the end.  Unlike Twelve Reasons, Ghostface is unable to keep the listener absorbed throughout the record with the storyline of Tony Stark’s return after nine years away from home.  The instrumentals on their own are often a bright spot, and the various interludes are well done, but too often 36 Seasons seems to drift along instead of settling into a true groove.  At several points Ghostface seems to drop out of the picture entirely, as guest verses make up an outsize presence on the record, leaving the listener to assume that there simply was not as much enthusiasm for this particular release.

Sour Soul ends up being somewhat of a mix of styles between the two previous albums, with BADBADNOTGOOD adopting elements of funk and R&B along with some of the more outlandish aspects of Younge’s work, most notably the vibrato guitar lines.  There is a sense of fun and adventurous on this record that was absent on 36 Seasons, which helps keep the listener fully immersed into the music.  Though the album suffers from the weakness of its underlying storyline like its predecessor, BADBADNOTGOOD provides enough variety to overcome this flaw, and shifts between a wide variety of genres with ease.  There are fewer guest spots on Sour Soul, but each emcee not only provides a strong presence but is helped by the fact that none of them are in Ghostface’s usual stable–they range from MF DOOM, Elzhi, to Danny Brown, the last of whom provided a smile to my face by dropping a reference to Toccara in 2015, even if his muppet-like style can be grating.

Ghostface simply sounds more engaged with Sour Soul, as if he enjoys the challenge of BADBADNOTGOOD and their ability to go in unexpected directions mid-song; even when Ghostface is covering tired cliches, he’s able to do so in an entertaining manner, as in the pimp’s lament “Tone’s Rap”.  Perhaps the best example of the difference between 36 Seasons and Sour Soul is that on the former he merely repeats the classic Wu-Tang line “cash rules everything around me” on “Double Cross”, while in the latter he plays with the callback a bit, declaring “money is the root to all evil, that cash rule” on “Food”.  Even though Sour Soul flies by too quickly at a little over a half hour, it ends up being a more satisfying experience because it packs a greater creative punch.  Hopefully Twelve Reasons to Die II will do more of the same.

*It ended up being too difficult a task to come up with a title that incorporated all three albums and did not create a formatting nightmare, but hopefully the greater context provides a more helpful review

Viet Cong and Free Speech: A Defense of the Offensive

Viet Cong is in the middle of a tour in support of their much-buzzed, occasionally brilliant debut album, but experienced a minor problem when one of their scheduled stops was cancelled by the promoter.  Oberlin College was set to host the band this upcoming Saturday but this last week announced that the show will be cancelled because of the band’s name.  Or, to put this in another way: months after negotiating a contract with the band to perform a show, the students who booked the show suddenly felt that they could not host a band with a potentially offensive name, even though the reference from said band’s name was immediately apparent to anyone.  The meaning of the name “Viet Cong” did not change in the past few months, but Oberlin’s reaction to it certainly did.

To a certain extent, I can understand the weariness of the promoter.  Having taken numerous history courses in high school and college that included the Vietnam War in its curriculum, I was well aware of the exploits of the Viet Cong and was initially skeptical of the group purely because of its poor choice of a name. Eventually I reconsidered, mainly because as a music fan and as someone who grew up with punk rock, I’ve long been accustomed to offensive names and never let that stop me from enjoying their music.  I cannot imagine what it would be like to have never listened to the Dead Kennedys or Gang of Four or Joy Division or New Order, and to possibly have been stopped from hearing their music because of their potentially offensive name is as asinine a reason that there could be.  Hell, I imagine most people only learned what the term “Joy Division” refers to after they heard it was controversial, highlighting the fact that people can use controversy to educate themselves; at the very least, it makes the audience think about what a name means and what it can represent.

Here, I’ll let Tony Wilson explain in a more eloquent and condescending manner:

The video should be cued up to the appropriate spot, but if it isn’t, fast-forward to the 2:42 mark*

Offensive band names are part of a larger discussion that we should be having about free speech in our society.  As an artist and as someone who appreciates art, I will almost always err on the side of caution in protecting free speech; we are richer as a culture and as a society when we have a free exchange of ideas and philosophies, and often that involves the discussion of potentially harmful or dangerous concepts.  This is especially true in art, where we explore certain concepts and theories from all angles to better understand the human condition, but often music is held to a different standard than other forms.  We don’t think twice when we see violence and other evils on screen, but if someone raps about the same thing, it’s time to protest.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect of this problem is that this principle of free speech is being attacked from both the right and the left.  I’m sure there would be plenty of students who would be upset if they were prevented from offering commentary that attacks the Catholic church or if they could not discuss the tenets and political underpinnings of Communism, yet they want to prohibit a band from playing a show because it adopted a name of a group that shares the beliefs of the latter example.  There certainly would be protests if a college banned artists that attacked Christian dogma or classes on leftist ideology, as well as they should–college is supposed to be a sanctuary where we can have a free flow of ideas with only the bare minimum of restrictions.  The Dead Kennedys were about as leftist as a punk band could be, but they certainly understood that fascism can come from either direction, as they illustrated in “Holiday in Cambodia” and “California Über Alles”.

I understand if there are Vietnamese students who may take offense to a band named “Viet Cong” playing on their campus, especially if many are from families immigrated to America as a result of their actions during the war.  However, attendance to the concert is not mandatory–no one is forcing these students to attend the show.  The aggrieved students could express their displeasure in a variety of ways, from writing tot he band to publishing op-eds in the student newspaper to protesting outside the show itself.  The students make their case and alert others to their concerns, but still allow others to enjoy the show if they so choose.

It’s one thing to complain about the possible offensiveness of the name, but it’s another complaint noted by the promoter that I find far more troublesome, that the name is “appropriative”; it’s not just the fact that the band calls themselves “Viet Cong”, but that it is four white guys from Canada that are using the name.  This specific complaint has become de rigueur in the past few months, and while there are certain contexts where “appropriation” can be an issue, that is definitely not the case here.  When discussing music, “appropriation” is generally applied in a pseudo-intellectual manner as a way to show off knowledge about different cultures, with total disregard for the fact that any form of music is the mix of dozens of genres derived from a variety of settings.  But in reference to band names in particular, it is a particularly galling argument, because 98% OF ALL BAND NAMES ARE “APPROPRIATIVE.”**

NEWSFLASH: If an artist does not identify himself or herself by his/her own name, then they are adopting a persona that is not theirs.  They are guilty of “appropriation.”  In this context, Franz Ferdinand is a group of guys from Scotland, not the Archduke whose death sparked World War I, and we really should not have been expecting the latter to be performing these days.

Let us examine the potential extent of this policy.  Would Oberlin have banned Nirvana from performing since they were not practicing Buddhists?  Would they bar the Wu-Tang Clan from appearing since they are not in fact Shaolin monks?  Would they prohibit the surviving members of The Monkees from performing since they are not in fact monkeys?!?!  And don’t even ask about what Oberlin would do with The Beatles…

Before they became Viet Cong, members of the band were in a previous group called “Women”.  Clearly, they should not have been able to perform under that name since they are in fact guys, but then you have to wonder that if they prevent them from performing under that name there is the implicit conclusion that the term “women” itself is offensive.  It is utter and complete nonsense.

I hope that this incident wakes people up to the potential pitfalls of adopting such a poorly conceived approach to free speech.  While minimal harm was done overall, I certainly hope that the band was compensated despite the fact they weren’t able to perform, since Oberlin breached their contract in such a dubious manner.  Of course, venues are free to book whomever they like, and are under no obligation to hire a specific band for any opening that they have, but once an agreement is made the venue cannot back out for such a questionable reason.  I wish that I was able to hear Viet Cong’s initial reaction for myself, but despite receiving dozens of emails a day alerting me to shows in the area I was unaware that they performed at Mississippi Studios just a few nights ago.  Unfortunately, I feel this will not be the last time that we will be having this discussion, but until then, don’t stop yourself from listening to a band just because they have a terrible band name, even if they don’t have a good reason why they chose it.

*That’s Rob Brydon interviewing Steve Coogan in the clip, which should delight fans of The Trip films/series.

**This is a conservative estimate.

Over the Weekend (Jan. 12 Edition)

Videos, live performances, lists, and general news as we determine the superior “O” state once and for all…

We left a ton of material on the table for today’s post, and with the flurry of news this morning our roundup is even more overstuffed than usual.  So let’s dive right in with the surprise release of the music video for the Beastie Boys track “Too Many Rappers”, featuring Nas in both audio and visual form.  While it’s sad to remember that Hot Sauce Committee Part Two will be the last album we ever hear from the Beasties, but it’s certainly great to have some more footage of the crew having fun together.

NPR has streams for two highly-anticipated new albums available this week.  First, there’s the long-awaited return of critical darlings and Pacific Northwest favorites Sleater-Kinney, who are releasing their first album in ten years next week with No Cities to Love.  Then there’s the self-titled debut of Viet Cong, who have garnered a ridiculous amount of buzz among various indie blogs in the past couple of months.  I don’t yet have the same enthusiasm, though it may take a few more listens of their noisy guitar rock to convince me.

Ghostface Killah seemingly never stops working, because after releasing his solo album 36 Seasons last month (and appearing on The Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow), he’s set to release another album next month.  This time it’s a collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, with their record Sour Soul set to be released February 17.  Their latest track, “Ray Gun”, features a guest spot from DOOM and has a nice grimy funk feel, complemented by some gorgeous strings.  Stereogum has more information, including links to previously released tracks, for your perusal.

There’s also a trio of album releases that were announced this morning.  Death Cab For Cutie is releasing Kintsugi on March 31st and will be their first album “without” founding guitarist Chris Walla, who while no longer a member of the band still has a presence on the album.  Sufjan Stevens is releasing Carrie & Lowell on the same day, which we can take as further proof that the “50 States” project is dead.  And Waxahatchee will be releasing Ivy Tripp on April 7th, and you should probably click the link because Pitchfork has helpfully included the new track “Air”.  We were big fans of her previous album Cerulean Salt, and while this sounds a bit more polished than that lo-fi classic, sounding like a stripped-down Joy Formidable is something we can support.

It’s disappointing that a once-vibrant genre as Country has become just a bunch of homogenized pablum, and worse yet is the fact that every year it continues to get worse.  The genre has just  become Nickelback with a half-assed over-enunciated Southern accent, and that’s a damn shame.  The thing is, consumers are at least partly to blame, since as The Atlantic points out, uniformity is what sells.

Last week featured some great musical guests on the Late Night shows, including performances from such RIJR favorites The War On Drugs (who performed the epic “An Ocean In Between The Waves” on The Tonight Show) and Parquet Courts delivering a dynamite version of “Bodies Made of” on Letterman, a song that initially sounds like a poor choice for the national stage until it gets to its epic breakdown.  But the standout of the week was Foxygen and Star Power performing “How Can You Really” on The Late Show, which prompted an enthusiastic response from Dave himself.

We here at Rust Is Just Right are always down for hearing more from Spoon, so we are pleased to share their appearance on Austin City Limits over the weekend as well as their guest spot on Sound Opinions.  We’ll see if we can go the rest of the week without mentioning them, but don’t bet on it.

And finally, a couple of fun lists that can either be used as a discovery tool or merely as argument fodder.  Stereogum has a list of “30 Essential Post-Rock” songs which along with usual suspects Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sigur Rós, and Explosions in the Sky includes several other bands that may not be as well known, though this may partially be due to a broad definition of “post-rock”.  You can have an argument about that specific topic as well as the following list from Complex, which goes through each year since 1979 to anoint “The Best Rapper Alive”.

Project Pabst 2014 Recap

We gave recaps for a couple of the bonus shows that came courtesy of Project Pabst, and now it’s time to give some thoughts on the main event itself.  Overall, it was a pretty fantastic experience, feeding off the successful aspects of MusicFestNW with an even better lineup and nicer weather (the sun was shining just the same, but with none of that unpleasant August heat).    If this becomes an annual event, we’ll welcome it with open arms, but it’ll be hard to top this debut.

The mascot for Project Pabst and Scotland's national animal.

The mascot for Project Pabst and Scotland’s national animal.

I’ve lived for over 15 years in Oregon and have spent time in Portland on countless occasions, but this festival marked the first time I had poked around the South Waterfront.  It’s an area that the city has thrown a bunch of money at for redevelopment, but for some reason a few towers of condos haven’t spurred people to come down and spend money in that area.  And if you look closely at the gravel pit from the photo above, you can see why.  That said, parking was convenient enough (for ten dollars) and public transport ran smoothly, so clearly this spot should be able to handle an influx of hipsters as necessary.

Violent Femmes up on the stage.

Violent Femmes up on the stage.

Since I had to make the hour drive up each day, I skipped a couple of unfamiliar acts, but made sure to at least catch an old favorite, the Violent Femmes.  Though I came in half-way through and probably missed alternative radio staples like “Blister in the Sun” and “Add it Up”, I did get to enjoy “Gone Daddy Gone”, “Country Death Song”, and “Black Girls”.  The group showed why they would be a blast at festivals, engaging with the crowd with great jokes and keeping things fun and loose.  They may be basically a nostalgia act at this point, but no one should be complaining.

While the sun was pleasant for the audience, Red Fang would best be enjoyed in a grey thunderstorm.

While the sun was pleasant for the audience, Red Fang would best be enjoyed in a grey thunderstorm.

It’s always a blast to see these hometown heavy metal heroes, but Red Fang really brought it at this festival.  I’ve seen the band headline numerous shows around town, and for the first time the band had a proper mix, at an outdoor festival of all places.  Both guitars and vocals came in clearly and at the right volume, and it made it easier to enjoy crowd favorites like “Wires”, “Prehistoric Dog”, and “Blood Like Cream”.  It was the perfect soundtrack for driving around and committing some misdemeanors (and maybe a felony or two), but luckily no one actually took up that challenge.

Phosphorescent with some breezy jams

Phosphorescent with some breezy jams

I enjoyed Phosphorescent’s 2013 album Muchacho quite a bit, so I was eager to see Matthew Houck and his friends perform live.  He kicked things off with the best track off that album, “The Quotidian Beasts”, and it did not disappoint–the song builds off Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” chord progression to provide ample space for gorgeous and thrilling solos.  The mood was pretty chill for the most part, which was perfect for the afternoon, but the band was able to keep the momentum going even through some of the ballad-filled lulls.

I assure you, those ants are Tears for Fears

I assure you, those ants are Tears for Fears

We took a break during Rocket from the Crypt’s set, partly because I can never forgive the band for not being Rocket from the Tombs, and sampled some of the foodcarts and the free “PBRcade”.  Being originally from Louisiana, if someone is offering a Muffuletta sandwich you’re goddamn right I’m going to order one, and even if it wasn’t great, it’s better than most options.

Tears for Fears were an unconventional headliner that made a lot of people scratch their heads (as they explained, they were a last-minute replacement for Kate Bush (yes, this was a joke)), but the crowd definitely seem to appreciate it.  The instrumentation was pretty spare, allowing a lot of space in the music, and probably could have benefited from some additional backup vocals.  They stunned the audience with an aching cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” (even if it failed to include the best part of the song as some would argue), then proceeded to capture the hearts of the hipsters in attendance with an Arcade Fire song.  I checked out at this point to get across town for Built to Spill, but as I exited they launched into “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”, so I hung out a bit right outside to hear one of the best songs of the 80’s live.

Speedy Ortiz keepin' the dream of the 90's alive

Speedy Ortiz keepin’ the dream of the 90’s alive

I was glad to catch the end of Speedy Ortiz’s set, since Major Arcana was one of my favorites from last year.  They draw from some of the best parts of Pavement and the early grunge era to write crunchy, meandering (in a good way) alt-rock, and while they could improve on their stage presence a bit, it was good to hear some noise.

The Thermals up on the main stage, and deservedly so.

The Thermals up on the main stage, and deservedly so.

The Thermals are the true hometown heroes, and they proved it with their blistering 45-minute set that tore up the main stage.  Granted, it was still early in the day and the crowd was a little sparse given their considerable effort, but the band played with a furious intensity that only let up when Hutch had to confront a bee on his microphone.  It’s always a treasure when the band throws in some tracks from Fuckin’ A in with the classics from The Body, The Blood, The Machine.

Shabazz Palaces rockin' the laptops and drums.

Shabazz Palaces rockin’ the laptops and drums.

Shabazz Palaces were a change-up from the rock-heavy lineup, and while it was nice to have some hip-hop, the duo’s set was a bit monotonous.  Sure, it was groovy for a bit, but there wasn’t much shape to their set, and it was hard for the newcomer to really latch on to the music.

GZA taught Portland the finer points of astrophysics

GZA taught Portland the finer points of astrophysics

GZA thrilled the crowd with not only a performance of Liquid Swords but also by tossing in some Wu-Tang classics, with plenty in the crowd ready on-hand to provide some of the missing parts.  Liquid Swords can be a difficult album to get into, but with the help of an excellent backing funk band GZA was really able to get the songs to pop and come alive.

Modest Mouse putting an exclamation point on a great weekend.

Modest Mouse putting an exclamation point on a great weekend.

We had seen Modest Mouse a few months earlier as they started touring once again, and while that was a fine show, it was nothing compared to how tight the group was for this performance.  Holy shit, this may have been their best show yet, featuring such highlights as “Night on the Sun”, “Broke”, and “Doin’ the Cockroach”.  The group at this point has evolved so much over the years, transitioning from a power trio into what seems to be an 8-or-so piece in its current incarnation, with dual percussionists (as has been the norm since Good News) and multi-instrumentalists handling horns and strings.  With its revolving-door-like lineup, it can often appear to be some sort of musician welfare program, and I say that with the best of intentions.

On Sunday night, after a brief delay at the start (it was fitting that Modest Mouse was the only band unable to start on time the whole day), the band effortlessly ran through their extensive catalog with nary a hiccup, beginning with “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes”, which in a nice bit of symmetry was the final song of the encore from the time we saw them back in May.  The band easily moved throughout their extensive catalog, capturing both the big hits and the rare gems alike.  As mentioned above, the rare early single “Night on the Sun” was especially memorable, with Isaac putting his gruff delivery to good use and firing off some especially wicked solos.  Though Isaac was battling a cold, the audience wouldn’t have noticed if it wasn’t for his announcement, but it did lead to one of his many funny anecdotes during the show; at one point he claimed to be bad at the “in-between song banter”, but anyone who’s been to a Modest Mouse show knows that’s far from the case.

The encore ended with an especially stirring rendition of “The World At Large”, augmented by a coda which made excellent use of the full band with horns and strings helping deliver extra power to that gorgeous instrumental ending.  The finale of “The Good Times Are Killing Me” provided the perfect conclusion to a festival put on by a beer company, with audience engaging in a gregarious sing-along with the band as the lights flipped back on.

* * *

For the most part, the crowds at the festival were excellent, though I want to make special mention of the audience at this last performance.  I’ve been to hundreds of shows over the years, and I’d never encountered a larger group of pure assholes than the ones that were ostensibly there to be “entertained” by Modest Mouse.  If you’re heading out to grab beer while the band is performing a rarity like “Night on the Sun”, then maybe you should just ditch the show entirely and go get wasted out in Old Town; believe me, the pisswater available at the show was not worth the trouble.  It was infuriating to see people just try to force themselves through groups of people when there were clearer paths available that were also easy to spot.  At one point, a bro tried to barrel through, pushing into me but armed with an excuse that “hey man, let me through, I’m carrying wine, so I gotta be careful.”  If you’re concerned about the safety of your wine, then maybe you shouldn’t be attempting to bulldoze multiple people as they’re dancing along to “Doin’ the Cockroach”.  It was just an unrelenting stream of assholes constantly behaving in this manner, and it nearly ruined an otherwise perfect ending.  Considering that the rest of the festival went off without a hitch, perhaps in the future they should consider cutting off alcohol sales before the last act, similar to how they’ll cut sales late in a baseball or football game.  Other than that, it was a total success.

Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails, Live at the Sleep Country Amphitheater

There are few things that would convince our crew to venture into the depths of southern Washington, but it shouldn’t be a surprise that a concert co-headlined by two of the greatest bands of the 90’s would qualify in that select list.  Yes, after months of talking about this unlikely partnership (check out everything we’ve written mentioning the tour by clicking on either of the band’s tags above), we here at Rust Is Just Right were finally able to witness the collaboration in person.  Both groups had wowed us with memorable shows in 2013, but the question remained whether either band could impress us once again in 2014.

This is the best photograph I have to commemorate the show.

This is the best photograph I have to commemorate the show.

Based purely on the logistics of the different stage setups, it made sense for Soundgarden to come on first.  However, once the introductory rumblings of Badmotorfinger‘s “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”  began to snake its way throughout the amphitheater, it was clear that the band had no interest in treating their slot as if they were merely an opening act, and thankfully, the audience reciprocated by standing up and raucously cheering.  This isn’t always the case–years ago, when Queens of the Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails toured together, I remember that the audience at the Rose Garden collectively decided to keep sitting through the entirety of QOTSA’s set, even though the band had clearly established itself post-Songs of the Deaf as one of the top bands in rock.  It can be a frustrating experience trying to rock out while staying firmly planted in your seat.

Soundgarden was impeccably tight and in fine form, as the reunion has shown that they still have the capability to line up their incredibly complex musical parts with astonishing ease, while extensively touring once again has improved their ear for balancing the sound mix in an arena setting.   To the crowd’s delight, the band focused on mainly their classic early material, with several cuts from both Superunknown and Badmotorfinger representing the majority of the set.  Hearing deeper cuts like the one-two punch of “My Wave” and “Let Me Drown” made my night, but the crowd’s biggest response was actually for Down on the Upside‘s “Burden In My Hand” (a fine choice if you ask me).  It’s a pleasure to see guitar-god Kim Thayil playing once again, and he effortlessly pulled off astonishingly sophisticated leads without breaking a sweat, and it was a blast to watch Ben Shepherd attack his bass in his own bizarre and unique way.  Matt Chamberlain proved to be a fully capable replacement for the legendary Matt Cameron behind the kit, creating another interesting link between the history of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden.  It takes real talent to line up the intricate drum part of “Rusty Cage” with the weaving guitar and basslines, but Chamberlain was able to pull it off. The biggest wild card at a Soundgarden show is usually Chris Cornell’s voice, and for the majority of the show it was on point.  It takes some adjustment on the part of the audience to realize that it’s impossible to pull of the multi-tracking vocals of the albums, but once that’s accepted, you can just marvel at the ability of Cornell to maintain that ridiculous range at his age.  Personally, I would think that it’d be easier if he settled on a lower register as he ages, but he’s still able to hit all those big screams and high notes.

Soundgarden begins rumbling...

Soundgarden begins rumbling…

Amazingly enough, we had yet another headliner to see.  With last year’s Tension tour, Nine Inch Nails provided some of the most amazing visuals ever developed for a rock show, setting the bar extremely high for this show.  The theme this time seemed to emphasize the minimalist element of Hesitation Marks and bring it to the live show.  The show began with Trent singing “Copy of A”  on a bare stage, with different musicians gradually joining with small keyboards and electronic percussion.   Eventually both the light show and the musical setup became more complex, building layers on layers throughout the set. For this tour, Trent stuck with a roster of only three other musicians to play the multitude of parts that make up a Nine Inch Nails song, switching out instruments with each track in a remarkable display of versatility.

Since the impetus of this tour was mainly nostalgia-based, commemorating the twentieth anniversary of The Downward Spiral, and that album along with Pretty Hate Machine made up most of the set.  Trent still mixed in a fair amount of material from the latest album, but unfortunately for us, not a single track from The Fragile despite our specific plea from last week; at least we did get “Gave Up” as a consolation.  But the goal wasn’t to just provide a rehash of the hits–time and time again, the band reworked old favorites with inspired new arrangements (though I wish that at some point Trent would leave the outro to “Closer” alone, because I believe that it’s fairly close to sheer instrumental perfection).

You can see why I went with a photo of the ticket as the lead

You can see why I went with a photo of the ticket as the lead

With the extensive production that Trent and company brings for each tour, it’s difficult to recap all the specific details of the elaborate visual components of the show. One particularly memorable song was “Reptile”, whose lights used a solely green motif, and when mixed with the mechanical sound effects of the songs recalled the kind of scene you would expect if you found yourself about to enter an arena to face off against the Mortal Kombat character. Another highlight was “The Great Destroyer”, which synced up to distorted, fuzzed-out images of violence, war, and various politicians to great effect (while also subtly integrating various configurations of red, white, and blue lights). It also set itself apart in that the song was one of the few times where the light show ventured beyond the abstract images and lights and into actual graphic images.

As impressive as the visuals were (and it’s hard to overstate just how groundbreaking each Nine Inch Nails tour is in this regard), they never overshadowed the musical performance.  I can say this even though I was disappointed to miss out on more than a few personal favorites (though considering the band’s extensive catalog, that’s to be expected). Trent was a constant display of barely pent-up rage and viciously attacked the microphone with each song, as if he was grappling with an unseen enemy when delivering his vocals.  The other musicians  effortlessly switched between samplers and instruments, showing their full capability of handling both the analog and the digital as well as matching the intensity of their ringleader.

As expected, exiting the amphitheater was a nightmare on all levels, and we enjoyed another early-90’s classic, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in nearly its entirety before even reaching the interstate.  At least I-5 south was a breeze after that–here’s to small miracles.

Catching Up On The Week (May 9 Edition)

A lot of quick-hitters, a cool graph, and a lot of talk about an anniversary this week for your #longreads weekend.

We’ve mentioned before that this year marks the 20th anniversary for several big albums, like SuperunknownThe Downward Spiral, Dookie, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.  This week, Weezer, aka “The Blue Album” gets its moment in the sun.  Grantland has a roundtable feature if you’re interested in a lot of half-baked memories and not-particularly-insightful analysis, and Stereogum has a more nuanced look back at the seminal album, as they’ve done several times already this year.  Of course, this leads to thinking about “how the hell did Weezer become so shitty?”, though as Film Crit Hulk observes, it’s not that surprising an answer (yes, it’s the firing of Matt Sharp).

We did a feature on them already this week mentioning their new album, so it’s no surprise that The Black Keys announced a huge new tour today.  Using the video posted above however, may have been a surprise.  We’ll be posting a review in the near future, but if you’re feeling a little antsy, Grantland has an early review.  In general, I agree with several of the points about the recent direction of the band, but I am still flummoxed by the mention of “Little Black Submarines” in the section about minimalist guitars–this is after all a song with a good “Stairway to Heaven” 30-second solo rip-off that serves as the climax of the song.

AVClub has several pieces worth checking out this weekend.  There is an extended look at the making of the Alice in Chains EP Jar of Flies, which features several of the band’s best songs (including my personal favorite, “Nutshell”).  They also have a quick plea to get people to listen to Big Star’s “O My Soul”–Erik Adams points out the nifty use of palm-muted non-chords, but to me the most brilliant part of the song was simply the way the drums were recorded; I don’t think I have ever heard a snare pop better than on that track, and on Radio City in general.  Also, be sure to read about how one band was able to trick Spotify and then check out this absolutely brilliant headline.

We previously did a bit on music infographics, and another one popped up this week that you might have seen tweeted out or on your friend’s Facebook page.  This one takes a look at the diversity of the vocabulary of a number of rappers and presents it in chart form, with Shakespeare and Moby Dick as points of reference.  It wasn’t surprising to see the various members of the Wu-Tang Clan (and the group itself) ranking so highly, or 50 Cent ranked so low, but I thought for example that Kanye would appear higher on the list.  The Fader interviewed the creator of the chart and gets some insight into its creation.

We haven’t had much of a chance to talk about Father John Misty, but his debut Fear Fun was one of our favorites from 2012, and we’re eager to hear the follow-up when it’s released.  Pitchfork did a quick interview with him to give us an idea of what he’s up to these days.

Finally, we linked to the very first Drum Fill Friday from NPR, but we neglected to do any followups.  Well, it’s a continuing series and lately they’ve stepped up the challenge a bit by bringing in the choices of some guest drummers.  We’ll give the spotlight to Michael Lerner, the drummer from The Antlers, and link to his selections (for the record, I got 4/5).  It’s definitely worth keeping up with every week.

Over the Weekend (Feb. 24 Edition)

I don’t plan on mentioning the name “Miley Cyrus” very much on this site, but when I found out that she performed a cover of “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1” with Wayne Coyne, I’m obligated to share that news.  Stereogum has the video of that performance, as well as her cover of OutKast’s “Hey Ya”, both of which were a lot better than I expected.  Also unexpected: the amount of times that Miley drops F-Bombs on her tween audience.

A highlight of any tour of Oklahoma City

We found it by total luck

Stereogum also has an inside look at the making of the new Fucked Up album.  I had recently been wondering about the status of the album, so it’s good to hear that it’s somewhat on track (less good to hear–the possibility that Stereogum may be reading my thoughts).  It’s an interesting look at the band’s unusual dynamic, where everyone kind of does their own thing, and reading about the internal tension between vocalist Damian Abraham and guitarist Mike Haliechuk is pretty fascinating.

Finally, if you’re stuck in a meeting, I recommend that you read up on a couple of old interviews.  The first one I have is an oral history of the making of the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) courtesy of SPIN.  As one would expect with any story concerning the Wu, there’s tons of great anecdotes about various members, including the ODB.  There is also a lot of revelatory discussion about the specific recording techniques that were used.  And finally, in preparation for the new Beck album that will be released tomorrow (and our upcoming retrospective on his career so far), it’s worth checking out this old wide-ranging interview with Pitchfork about his career.  You get a lot of insight into the early parts of Beck’s career and how he became an accidental superstar, and his attitude about the music business in general.  Towards the end of the interview, you also get a feel for Beck’s recording philosophy and techniques.