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Wednesday, Aug 20, 2008

On episode 10 of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 21st at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific), the Subways discuss how the three-piece dynamic adds to the energy and adaptability of the band, and claims that each member is so excited by the songs that the band brings exactly the same fervor to playing for 10 people in a studio as it brings to playing for 10,000 in a stadium supporting Foo Fighters. Then the performance proves those claims. Drummer Josh Morgan plays as though his life depends upon it, and guitarist Billy Lunn and bassist Charlotte Cooper shout out their shared vocal duties while dancing all across the studio floor and diving from the bass drum during “Oh Yeah” from 2005’s Young For Eternity. “Strawberry Blonde” and “I Won’t Let You Down” from this year’s Butch Vig-produced All or Nothing demonstrate some serious songwriting chops while still showcasing what Lunn calls The Subways’ “ferocity”.


From ferocity to funk and fun, Gnarls Barkley performs tracks from 2008’s The Odd Couple. “Whatever” seems slow to start at first, but builds, layer-like, until Cee-Lo’s smooth delivery and Danger Mouse’s spellbinding melody has filled up every speck of space in the studio. “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul” are each equally and hypnotically compelling, riveting in a way completely contrasting the Subways segment before it. Gnarls Barkley’s gift—that of seamlessly combining both creative personalities, both approaches and both sides of life—shows even more clearly here than it has on past work.


Herbie Hancock saw bringing the past into his present as a welcome challenge. He performs two tracks from his Grammy winning River: The Joni Letters. Accompanying vocalist Sonya Kitchell on “All I Want” and “Court and Spark”, Hancock is the consummate bandleader, stately and sedate playing his part in a quiet study of perfection, all the while finessing, caressing,  commanding the performances of the musicians around him. It’s the polar opposite of the energy displayed at the beginning of the episode, but in no way less energetic.


Upcoming Line-ups:


Episode 11 - August 28
Bryan Adams, Ben Harper, Justin Currie


Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson


 


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Friday, Aug 15, 2008
Polyhedron - Little Jinder

There’s something about the diminishing quiet of this song that draws me into the subterranean chase of its music box clatter.  The Bjork touchstone seems obvious, but its not forced or even earnestly parroted.  She doesn’t have the range and seems less interested in doing a floor routine with her vocals than in curling through curious and coy paces.  The sound parallels the work of Little Dragon (no relation) in that they both seem to be working with R&B out of its modes and moods, complicating the traditional subject matter and glacially arresting the genres movements with slipper beats and elongated ambience.  The VCR and the dated recording equipment add to the artifactual elements of the song, which, ironically, sounds like a perfectly shaped, delicate piece of pop architecture. The lush room fabrics and casual observers further deepen the song’s intimacy, making it seem like Josefine Jinder just shuffled her way up to a cozy coffeehouse open mic.  It’s a security blanket song and an easy ease into the weekend.


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Thursday, Aug 14, 2008

When the Old Grey Whistle Test DVD Set came out, for some reason I wasn’t surprised that the Replacements performance wouldn’t make the cut. Although I never got to see the band during their days of performance, countless hours have been spent on YouTube seeking out their performances—and “Kiss Me on the Bus” has been one of the most consistent, exceptional pop songs that the Replacements ever produced.


This performance, circa 1986—shows the Replacements in their prime. Although not quite as memorable as their famed Saturday Night Live performance, this highlights Paul Westerberg’s raw vocals at their best, and Bob Stinson whips up a solo variation that has the guitar sounding massively out-of-tune, and massively wonderful. Every time you watch the Replacements play, there’s something different to be offered, and that’s part of the glory of the Replacements. They never tried to be something they weren’t and the songs were never perfect. They were more focused on a valued performance and a songwriting that left an impression—a lesson a plethora of bands that spend entirely too much on their image and exact reproductions of the studio sound can learn from.


Tagged as: the replacements
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Thursday, Aug 14, 2008
The introduction to the video for "Poppin'" provides a pretty good summation of what viewers can expect: "Hopeless Records Presents All Time Low."

I once attended college in Los Angeles, where I came across a lot of rich So-Cal kids (or rich, wannabe So-Cal kids) who casually used the n-word to insult each other and openly admitted their racism, even expressing pride in it.


I’ll be damned if this piece of garbage doesn’t remind me of some of those old acquaintances. These guys might as well have filmed their minstrel video in blackface.


Tagged as: all time low
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Wednesday, Aug 13, 2008

The ninth installment of Live from Abbey Road (Sundance Channel, Thursday, August 7th at 10 p.m. Eastern and Pacific) is quite possibly the most dynamic yet. The Kills kick things off with “Getting Down” and “Last Day of Magic” from Midnight Boom. These are those fantastic, kinetic types of tunes that can only come from two people feeding off of each other and inspiring ever-escalating bursts of brilliance. It’s clear watching VV and Hotel facing off for these performances that they are locked into each other on every level, musically, and that’s what makes the songs so compelling.  Of course, good songwriting is important too, and the Kills have that locked in as well. “Goodnight Bad Morning”, also from Midnight Boom, is a languid, churning and obvious ode to the Velvet Underground, but it feels very in-the-moment, rather than sounding like a Lou Reed rip-off, which imparts an even greater sense of depth within the song. 


Sara Bareilles begins her segment by discussing—and then demonstrating—the depth of her relationship to music. She talks about not being taken seriously as a musician, because she’s a young girl playing “pop” music, but concludes that it ultimately doesn’t matter, because she knows who she is. Who is she? Well, to judge from these performances, she is a remarkably assured songwriter with an equally strong voice. If you’re unfamiliar with Bareilles’ piano-based songs and no-frills style, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised with this segment. She performs “Gravity” and her big hit, “Love Song”, from her debut disc, Little Voice, and then she pulls out all the stops for a stripped-down version of The Beatles’ “Oh Darling” in honor of the “sacred” atmosphere of the environs.


The Fratellis were one of my favorite finds of the past two years, and this set of songs doesn’t disappoint. Tales are told of coming up to St. John’s Wood for a weekend at 18, only to wander up and down Abbey Road all day (because you can’t just walk into the studios, you know!), and a bit of a warm up with some Pink Floyd is played to get the band ready for its set. First up is “Flathead” from the band’s incredible debut album, Costello Music, and in case you were wondering, yeah, neighbors will look at you funny if you funny if you’re dancing in front of the television and singing along to the chorus. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it anyway, this performance practically demands it.


“Milk and Money”, off the sophomore release Here We Stand starts as a piano ballad featuring, dare I say it, a Harrison-esque guitar sound and a sad and lovely refrain questioning what happens when the last song has been played. Then it erupts into a frantic, all out rocker before briefly returning to the mournful piano melody as it ends. Finally, “Mistress Mabel”, which had its lyrical genesis in Cream’s “Badge” (yet another George Harrison connection!), closes out the Fratellis segment, and does so with possibly more energy than all the songs in all the segments preceding it! 


So if last week’s episode was about being happy and letting it come through in the music, this week is all about relentless, high energy coupled with an anchoring, unshakable depth. And remembering to close the curtains when we dance!


Upcoming Line-ups:


Episode 10 - August 21
The Subways, Gnarls Barkley, Herbie Hancock w/ Sonya Kitchell


Episode 11 - August 28
Bryan Adams, Ben Harper, Justin Currie


Episode 12 - September 4
Teddy Thompson, Martha Wainwright, Brian Wilson


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