Music

The Radiators: Earth Vs. the Radiators: The First 25

Hunter Felt

The Radiators

Earth Vs. the Radiators: the First 25

Label: Image Entertainment
US Release Date: 2004-06-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

The title of the latest release from the Radiators, Earth Vs. The Radiators, is no a joke. The Radiators have managed to do something that seems to defy all Earthly laws: they have survived 25 years of constant touring while maintaining their original line-up. Most bands would celebrate such an accomplishment with a huge anthology, perhaps a box set, accompanied by a worldwide victory tour and a huge press barrage touting their longevity. However, perhaps due to a refreshing lack of self-conceit that has helped keep the original line-up together for so long, the Radiators have chosen to celebrate by offering up a sampler of what they do best: a double-disc set documenting one of their legendary live sets.

It seems odd to celebrate 25 years of music and memories with something as ephemeral as a live album, but the decision fits in with the Radiators' musical philosophy. Where most musical acts would suffer from the need to examine the past and catalogue "perfect" moments, the Radiators live "in the now", an impulse that runs counter to the archival nature of most "anniversary" events. The album's best track, a roaring ten-minute version of "River Run", begins with a brief cry of despair over the finite nature of life, but through words and an overpowering groove, it ultimately urges the listener to surrender to the flow of time and appreciate the moments of joy and understand the necessity of the moments of pain. Not only is this a respectable philosophy of life, but it is also perfect musical philosophy for a live act. Live acts like the Radiators exist not to hope for some artistic immortality by capturing their music on little pieces of plastic, but rather for the brief moments of on-stage glory.

Of course, a more cynical reviewer would note that the Radiators' studio albums are, as even the most hardcore fans would admit, rather lackluster affairs, and that a concert recording is the perfect way to recapture the scope of their career while still focusing on the band's superior live skills. This would be a convincing argument if the Radiators had even made an attempt at picking material that would best summarize their career.Yes, some fan favorites are here, but also some obscure songs, songs from their most recent album, and even a cover here and there. They aren't even obsessed with focusing on their own chops, as the band often steps back and lets the countless guest musicians, including Gregg Allman and the stage-stealing Bonerama Horn section, take the focus of attention. There is no real rhyme or reason to the song selection, which may have more to do with their propensity to ignore the set list than conscious planning, which suggests that Earth Vs. The Radiators is little more than a really good live album showcasing a band that plays younger than its years.

It seems that this refreshing lack of "specialness" itself comes from the band's own "live for the moment" nature. It seems odd to attribute a specific philosophy to what is essentially a party band, but what better vehicle to spread the message of the Epicureans than such a group? The band's ultimate message with this curious choice for an anniversary album may be that there is nothing that makes any day, even a 25-year anniversary, more special than any other day.

Thankfully the Radiators are such a powerful live force that they really could make any performance special. The Radiators sprung from the same New Orleans muck that gave the world the Meters and the Neville Brothers. Their music grows from the proto-funk of New Orleans R&B and is seasoned with elements from the city's blues and jazz heritage. This pedigree works to their advantage, as the Radiators, unlike most of the bands today labeled "jam bands", are able to create actual grooves that allow their solos and improvisations to leave a greater impression of necessity than the reasonless noodling of most modern improvisational rock and roll.

The real key to their success is that the Radiators have an uncanny ability to incorporate a lot of different genres into their music while maintaining an identifiable sound. For lack of a better term, the Radiators make "wet" music. There is a loose nature to their sound, full of swirly organs and Zydeco-influenced guitar work, that instantly recalls the swampy atmosphere of their native Louisiana. Listening to the two beautiful water-related songs on the album, "Waiting for the Rain" and "River Run", one hears a perfect combination of sound and subject matter that leaves no doubt about why members of the band's cult fan base call themselves "fishheads" (way before those other Phishheads).

The Radiators' unique sound can be best heard in their covers, where they can take iconic songs and make them their own. The band, on what should be their anniversary showcase, brings on Gregg Allman to sing his own "Midnight Rider", complete with boozy back-up by the Bonerama Horns, but the result still manages, improbably, to become a Radiators tune where the mournful country-rock tune becomes a gorgeous exercise in swing (the dreamy instrumental bridge has never sounded better). "Siting on Top of the World" is even better, taking the tragic irony of Howlin' Wolf's original and replacing it with actual joy without compromising the song's blues roots. It sounds like the work of someone sitting on top of the world, trying to bring the listener along with them.

Of course, as with any concert document, it isn't all good. Earth Vs. The Radiators is so long and unwieldy that is impossible to appreciate in one sitting. The jams can meander on occasion, and some songs simply don't gel right, particularly the bluesier numbers such as "Crazy Mona" and "I Like My Poison". Still, as they point out on "River Run", moments of pain are necessary to appreciate the moments of bliss. Earth Vs. The Radiators has enough moments of bliss to justify the duller stretches.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less
3

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

Keep reading... Show less
5
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image