Friday, July 3, 2015

Old Man Attends Concert, Nearly Has A Good Time

I could go on Facebook and say it was the greatest concert ever, but that wouldn't be true. I could have said we had a wonderful time, but I didn't.

It was just another concert, and it turned out the way concerts generally turn out for me. Okay, but frustrating as hell.

Why does this always happen? Well, it could be my impossibly high standards, but circumstances do enter into it.

We had tickets to Sufjan Stevens at the newly - and awesomely - refurbished Kings Theatre, and there was no reason to think we'd have anything but a wonderful time. Except all of my prior concert experiences.

Unlike my fellow near 58 year olds, I won't lie to you and tell you about all the concerts I've been to. When I was younger I DIDN'T go to a lot of concerts. I didn’t see Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones. So when I did get to go to a show, I’d invest so much emotional capital into it, it would be almost impossible for the show to satisfy me.

Other folks would come to have a good time, by dancing, standing and talking to friends. But I must have been starved for entertainment, because. I’d sit there leaning forward, never taking my eyes off the stage, making sure I was taking in every sliver of the experience.  And heaven help anyone who came between me and that experience.

I'd be there hoping for a PERFECT show, which would comprise the following:


  1. Great seats.
  2. Nobody's fat f*cking head in front of me.
  3. A great song selection. A corollary to this is that there’s a good mix of old and new.  Too much old is playing it safe, too much new is not fair to the audience, and reeks of hawking new product, like a 1978 Dave Mason concert that my friends and I would later refer to as the “Here’s another one from the new record…” show. 
  4. Faithful but enthusiastic renditions of the songs. Not robotic note for note replications of the record, but also not drastically different arrangements of them, a la Dylan.
  5. If you’re a solo act, a good band
  6. A good sound system.
  7. No assholes. which means nobody talking throughout the show, and nobody screaming out during quiet songs.
  8. A three hour show.  Okay, this isn’t as important as it used to be. I’d have to hit the bathroom during such a marathon.  And I saw a pretty short Elvis Costello show in 1979 that was nonetheless one of the more intense concerts I’ve ever seen, and so I didn’t leave feeling gypped, like that other EC, whose 1974 show was the epitome of the bad concert. I’d waited months for that show (and years for him to come out of hiding) and it sucked, striking out on virtually all of the above criteria.
As you can see, I tend to place a lot of expectation on an event involving a multitude of factors and thousands of people out of my control. And I usually was disappointed.

Would Sufjan do any better, I wondered? It’s funny how things change, though. I’d set my expectations so low I’d almost forgotten we’d even gotten the tickets.

When we entered the theater, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It had been closed for a long time, but had just been refurbished, and was absolutely beautiful.

And the opening act - Moses Sumney - started at eight sharp! - was really very good. A perfect start.

So Sufjan comes on and starts off great, playing songs from his new record. And playing them. And playing them. About seven in a row, actually.

Now, given my inability to appreciate music the first time I hear it, I try to prepare for a show by listening to the new album a few times ahead of time. Arcade Fire didn’t give us much of a chance releasing The Suburbs the day before we saw them in 2010. Sufjan had a little more consideration. But I still felt rushed, and only got a few grudging listens in.

A good, but solemn, record. And while you can definitely put it on when you're in that mood, you may not want to remain in that mood for the length of an entire concert, which should be a little more, uh, fun. And given how I’d been feeling in general, more solemnity was the last thing I needed.

He did play some other songs, but they seemed few and far between. And it took him almost half the show before he even talked to the audience.  So it was a little too much like going to mass.

But how did we do overall?

1. Seats? Row S. Excellent. A-
2. Fat F*cking Heads?  Not bad - I had a great view but there was the young lady who insisted on resting her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder, blocking my wife's view. But then she'd lift it again. And then put it down again. I was outraged by proxy, but Mrs. Jaybee said she didn’t mind. B+
3. Song Selection? As I said, too many new ones. B
4. Faithful but enthusiastic....?  A
5. The Band? Excellent! Stripped down, and mixed gender, too! A
6. Sound System? Usually excellent, but sometimes the guitar was too loud and Sufjan also tried - in the wrong way - to expand the tone of the material. B+
7. Assholes? Surprisingly, sensitive Sufjan draws assholes just like any other artist. Despite threats to the contrary, talking during the show was pretty minimal, but there were the douche bags who screamed out during the quiet parts of songs. What are these people thinking? That they're adding to the experience?  And a new phenomenon. People showing up late for the show! Like an hour late. Really? Is this just one stop in your wonderful evening? Who are these people who buy tickets to shows and come in when it’s more than half over?  That’s like buying a pizza and throwing away four slices on the way home. B
8. A three hour show. Not even close, but I don’t care anymore. A-  

Overall, the show gets a strong B+, with the song selection being the biggest problem. Which is a damned shame since I’d find out later how great, and how durable, these new songs were.

But it's like deciding when to eat dinner. At my age, I spend a lot of time not being hungry, only to immediately follow that with that nice hungry feeling, but only for about five minutes. It’s immediately superseded by nausea, thus making the timing of a meal challenging, to say the least.

And with new songs, if you overplay them you get sick of them songs before the show. You need to play them just enough to want to look forward to hearing them again. And then stop until the show.

So I went into the show  thinking I’d gotten to the essence of these songs - thinking I was ready to really enjoy them. But I was wrong. It was too soon. I’d only skimmed the surface. But I’ll talk about that at another time.

So it wasn’t a great show, but I’d only blame Sufjan for the abrupt end to “Chicago”, which should have gone out on a fading choir of angelic voices. See?

We’ll go back to the Kings Theater in October to catch Yo La Tengo and I’ll report back on my narrow comfort zone and the potential attendant assholes. Let’s see if I, or they, learn anything.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Rock Music for the Old at Heart

There I am, yearning for some great new music, and get Aphex Twin instead, so I decide to go musically conservative, hoping that will improve the odds of hitting a winner. I end up with something that the old and not very bold WNEW-FM would have been proud to play.

And that's the problem.


War on Drugs.jpg

The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

Spacious, but grounded, or something like that, said the blurb on the cover. Which is a way of saying it’s well produced, I guess.

Leader Adam Granduciel is trying to sounds like mid-60s Dylan, vocally, but puts a thick slab of U2-ish spaciness on top and ends up with some pretty commercial sounding AOR.

But Christ, he sure takes his time.

With its long intro and attempted build-up of momentum, the good but not quite great opener, “Under the Pressure”, never quite takes off the way it's meant to, and after eight minutes, ultimately collapses under all that, well, you know. Unlike Bowie’s “Station to Station” - an even longer song with an even longer intro - which builds and builds to reach an actual climax, this song never gets to that level of intensity.

And this is the fatal flaw of the record. Ten songs adding up to over sixty minutes of music, each attempting an intensity that is rarely reached, indicate that this guy doesn’t know how to turn things up a notch, or when to wrap it up. And well, I’ve got a bus to catch.

It's like he's trying to achieve the trance-like state you might normally get from an extended dance track, but via the intensity of rock and roll. But he never gets there. He’s just too damned slow. Plus dance music typically has  you know, a beat.

Maybe because he sounds so much older, he can only go so fast. Believe me, I can sympathize with that. But unlike Dylan, whose ever-whinier voice was always at least urgent, this guy sometimes sounds like that uncle you’re always avoiding at family get-togethers.

The second song, “Red Eyes”, does okay, but the third one - called "Suffering" - is kinda slow, so I guess it's aptly named. Not a bad song, Just a bad one to have follow two that didn't quite meet their potential.

“An Ocean in Between the Waves” moves a bit more and thus succeeds at its goal, but still takes seven freakin' minutes to get there.

Then there are a few more on the long and slow side that are obviously trying for some atmosphere, and succeed. If only that atmosphere wasn’t boredom! That’s not fair. They’re nice, but nothing more.

Then he goes all Bob Seger on my ass. Not the fun “Good Old Rock and Roll” Bob Seger. The later oh so older/"wiser" “Like a Rock"/“Against the Wind” Bob Seger. Granduciel also likes the wind. (Now there’s a joke I won’t even try to make.) He "fixes his eyes to the wind” (which I can’t do because I just get crap in them and end up rubbing them raw, so maybe I'm jealous) And god does that wind blow for a long time!

Even the short instrumental interlude takes three minutes!

“Burning” tries to borrow some grandiosity from “Dancing in the Dark”, but by this point things are just getting silly.

Paradoxically, the two tired songs that finish things up are actually pretty good. Maybe because by this point, I'm tired, too. The music (and the sentiments) - by sheer force of will - move beyond the cliche, and are quite moving, even though they’re not very specific. Hey, I’ll take what I can get.

This is “serious” rock music, which I find hard to take seriously. I know this sounds snobbish, but it’s really the opposite. I was always well behaved as a child, but this guy tempts me to throw spit balls from the back of the classroom.

And two or maybe three stirring moments spread out across an entire hour is more than I have the patience for anymore. Maybe some editing and the addition of a sense of humor would have made this the classic it’s clearly trying to be.

But his heart’s really in it, so I have to give him props for that. And it’s growing on me.

But only so much.

B+

When to Play It: When You've Got Company, and They're Your Own Age (Old) But Haven't Admitted It Yet

When to NOT Play It: When you’re in a hurry.

“An Ocean In Between the Waves”

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Easy-To-Not-Listen-To Music

Now that everything is just great, I brace myself for the unending tidal wave of musical brilliance that is to inevitably flow through my life, now that I know I still have a hankering for it.

But instead of a tidal wave, it’s more of a trickle. I need musical Flomax.

To put it another way, music continued to disappoint, but this time I don't think it was my fault.


Aphex Twin.jpg

Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85 - 92

This is the happier, peppier cousin to the record that I use for my depressions.  And as I said previously I thought it might serve as a halfway mark to music that was more fun than what I had been listening to during that long, cold winter.

But my (admittedly unreliable) first impression is meh.

My second impression, awful, and in it’s own way, even more depressing than his other record.

And, as is usually the case my third thru whatever-I’m-up-to-now listen, better.

This is one of the first records ever called “electronica”. And the issue, to me, will always be Does It Have Any Soul?  And by that I don’t necessarily mean does it have Aretha Franklin singing on it, but rather, does it have real (or very well faked) feeling to it?

This is a valid question for any kind of music, but especially important for electronica, where there’s less of a reliance on words, and where there’s always a danger that the technology will overwhelm the the human.

That seems a fair way of judging this record. Here’s my reaction to each track, without the track names, because they’re silly.  (ie. “Xtal”, “Tha”, etc. You get the idea. It’s like he’s a member of a Sci-Fi themed fraternity):


  1. We start off promisingly enough. Very sleek electronica. But the key element is the woman's voice in the background that humanizes it. 
  2. Again, voices in the background - this time spoken - humanize this one, but not as successfully  as before. I like my alienation as much as the next guy so I hang in there. It's somewhat sterile but the ghosts in the machine help.
  3. A less cool, and thus more humane, melody and beat that will one day get used to great effect by Erasure
  4. Here’s where I start to get a Pure Moods vibe link. (Do you have Pure Moods? Of course you do. It’s a phase we all go through. Dont let it get you down. It’s not so bad. But it does kind of announce that you’re middle aged.) For a while I thought I was hearing heavy breathing on this one, but that turned out to be my son Michael exercising. So, thumbs down here, although the bass is trying.
  5. And now I just don't care. He's trying to be Eno, and failing. Thank God it’s short.
  6. And now he's getting desperate - he speeds things up a bit, but all I’m hearing are a lot of synthesizer farts.
  7. And here he tries to be haunting and almost gets away with it. But not quite.
  8. Now, this is a pretty cool track, and I can definitely imagine it getting played in clubs, where, you know, humans go. (Not me, cool humans.)  But there’s that whole “we are the music makers” lyric. Well, screw you buddy. We're the ones paying the music makers.
  9. And again, not bad. Techno, but not entirely soulless.
  10. More, techno, and perfect for that club.
  11. Now he goes to outer space, where no one can hear you snore.
  12. And then back to Earth, where’s it’s not all that exciting, either.  After a minute or so it perks up a bit.
  13. Kind of brooding, in a good way. Kind of peppy too. It’s got the right attitude.

Most of these cuts are pretty long, and to be fair, they usually need a minute or so to kick in. But I don’t know if I’ve got that kind of time.

I suppose that, in its infancy, these are the areas that electronica had to explore, but I find more heart in Eno/Moby/DJ Shadow and even Burial.

From what I understand, Richard D. James (secret identity of Aphex Twin!, Oh my god, I gave it away!) was in his teens when he started out, so in that light, this is quite an achievement.

I also noticed a disturbing resemblance to the type of music they'd play on Miami Vice (another extreme dislike of mine from the 80s), which makes sense given that this collection covers 1985 to 1992.

This is music for those desperate to feel cool. And it works better in a club than it does out here in real life. Or to paraphrase Mark Twain, it’s music that sounds better when you’re not listening to it.

But it’s growing on me. A little.  The big joke on Aphex Twin is that, instead of this being apt for nighttime at a club in the city, how much better this sounds on a Saturday morning when I’m trying to do chores.

As it so happens, I’ve just gotten out of bed. I’m in a tee shirt and haven’t shaved yet, so I can practically pass for Don Johnson. So let me put on that blazer, roll up the sleeves and do the dishes!

To the tune of Aphex Twin.

B

"Crystal"

Friday, May 15, 2015

How Jaybee Almost Got His Groove (Which He Never Really Had in the First Place) Back. Sort Of.

When we last left off, Jaybee was trying to get back what passed for his mojo/groove/rhythm.

He never really had it in the first place - it all of that went to the kids - but you can't blame a guy for trying.

Like I said previously, I had a couple of reasons to sour on music at the beginning of the year. And avoiding music turned out to be not nearly as difficult as it should have been. It made me wonder if I'd lost my taste for it.

So I began to plot my way out. I’d look at the various year end best of lists for inspiration, where I found Wussy, St. Vincent, The War on Drugs piqueing my interest. But I knew I wasn’t in the mood for them at the time.

And the weird electronica and environmental sounds I was listening to led me to consider Aphex Twin, whose Selected Ambient Works, 85-92 might server as a halfway point back to normal, (Volume 2, its evil twin, was such a good companion during a very dark period. Like how you need a fellow drug addict around when you’re trying to quit.) Volume 1 is supposedly poppier, so I thought it would put me in the right direction, and lead me out, towards the records above. But it wasn't time yet.

Well, I finally passed those tests I was studying for, and then wondered if the music urge would come back.

It took about a day.

And what did I decide to listen to?  Why, that other great companion during that very dark time:



Wilco: Yankee Hotel Foxtrot 

Back then, this, and Aphex Twin, were the only two records I could listen to for a three month stretch. And I didn’t even love the record. It was just the only one that fit the mood.

But it does open with a number that reminds me of someone breaking out of cocoon (and then falling on his face, but at the time, I would settle for anything). And now, it seemed like a good transition to real life.

"I Am Trying to Break Your Heat"

The drumming is like how I dance, and it ends like my speeches do - in complete incoherence. But it was exactly what I needed.

I even brought the record to work where all dreams normally go to die. And they didn’t.

Well, by now I’d come out of the cocoon, and I had to take the next steop. Would I stumble?




My Bloody Valentine: Loveless

This was more like a volcano erupting. A dam breaking.  An explosion caught on tape. But, you know, in a good way.

When I first got this record, I found it so anarchic I had trouble finding where the beat was most of the time. Forget about melody.

This song doesn’t have that problem. The “melody” is a drunk slide guitar playing the same figure over and over (and over) again. The beat is basically a t-rex stomping on your head. By 3:23 you have to choose between going mad or just going with the flow. (Of water, not lava. Damn you, mixed metaphors!)

"I Only Said"

But, like I said, it was what I needed. 

So, I ended up feeling my version of normal, which I can’t recommend, but it’s all I’ve got.

Let's see where that leads.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore, Part Four: Drowned

‘What’s the hell is that racket?”

Mrs. Jaybee thought the computer was malfunctioning, but it was just me listening to a new CD. (This happens a lot.)

It was mid-January when a Christmas present meant for me finally came in the mail.  And again, it fit this weird, not-interested-in-music mood I was in. (Some mood. My third album and it wasn't even February.)

But those three records were near accidents. Neu! was a perfunctory buy. As You Like It a shot in the relative dark. And now an almost forgotten amazon Wish List item popped up out of nowhere.




David Toop is a, well, I’m not sure what the hell he is, exactly. But he did compile this collection of weird sounds only some of us would call music. He also wrote a book about it, but that’s for another time. Let's call him a musical anthropologist.

He's put together a wide array of recordings that differ in time, place, tone and instrumentation. Why Toop thinks they should sound good together will be something I'll discover once I read his book, but for now I'm left with only the actual experience of hearing it.

And it's quite an experience.

Toop jumps continents/decades/genres with each track. Hence we start with Jamaican dub, but then go to jazz fusion, (which, oddly, doesn’t suck) electronica, ambient, third world, fourth world, classical, shoegaze, and we’re only halfway through the first disc. 

The segue from Les Baxter to My Bloody Valentine is particularly striking. Usually you progress from chaos to beauty, this goes in the opposite direction, and still works.

The one from Paul Schutze to the Velvet Underground isn’t as successful ("I Heard Her Call My Name" doesn't fit easily anywhere except right where it is - at the beginning of side two of White Light/White Heat - right before “Sister Ray”) but I give him credit for trying.

But overall, it’s miraculous how these disparate pieces hang together so well. I think the secret is that Toop doesn't try to make them hang together too seamlessly. He wants you to notice the differences, but at the same time realize how short a leap it really was.

There’s chanting, a Buddist ceremony and various “found sounds”.  My favorites are the Howler monkeys. Not the Monkees (this time), but actual monkeys. At one point, when a ship’s horn blows. Mrs. Jaybee joked “so when’s the train coming?” And sure enough, as if on cue, along comes the train.

Otherworldly, and yet so of this world - just some parts of it I’ve never been to. This is NOT Pure Moods. Not easy listening, either. More like Music to Listen to Alone. And some of it isn't music at all. But if you’re in the right mood it is nature itself.

You can listen intently, or ignore it and it’ll still sound like life is going on around you. 

One listener gave it a so-so review on amazon, and I can’t even argue with it. The review - like the record - makes sense on paper.  But unlike the review, the record also makes sense to my ears. The music. The sounds. Often both.

And like the last time I was in such a funk, and could only listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Selected Ambient Works, Volume 2, I stuck to this record for the better part of three months.

A

When to listen to it: At night. Preferably a dark night of the soul.

When NOT to listen to it: When everything's going great.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I Don’t Want to Hear It Anymore, Part Three: Any Old Way to Choose It

So it’s mid-January and I’ve decided I’m “not into music anymore”.  The weather is cooperating, too. The cold and snow are beating any enthusiasm I had for beauty right out of me, and you, too, I’m sure.

But I’m still in the middle of my World History Project (some day I’ll explain what this is), and I’m up to around 1600, which means I’m reading and watching lots of Shakespeare. Okay, so it’s not a day at the beach, but under the circumstances I could be doing worse.

So I take Camille Paglia’s advice and check out As You Like It. There are lots of versions of most of Shakespeare’s plays, and since I’d already seen KB’s bitchin’ Henry V and entertaining-as-hell-even-at-four-hours Hamlet, I went with his version of AYLI, which stars Bryce Dallas Howard (Ron Howard’s daughter and Gwen Stacey from Spiderman).

And with a striking change of locale to 19th century Japan, it was almost as good as those other two efforts. One element that really added to my enjoyment was a lovely violin theme that ran with several variations throughout the movie. It deftly combined classical and eastern melodic ideas. Which is a bullsh*t (and maybe racist) way of saying it sounded nice and exotic at the same time.

So, somewhere in between SAD and sad, I broke down and bought it.




Patrick Doyle: As You Like It

And immediately regret it.

Impulse buys are like that.

Now, Jaybee, you might say, it really doesn’t count as an impulse purchase if you actually, you know, HEARD it.

But I would reply, Not So, dear reader!  Any record I haven’t thoroughly researched (allmusic.com, metacritic.com, complete background check on all contributing musicians, etc. - you know, what anyone would normally do) is by definition an Impulse Buy.

The dreaded IB risks diluting the pureness of my record collection! The last time said pureness was threatened was when I got married - when now-Mrs. Jaybee and I combined our record collections. (The Ohio Players? Shalamar? What the hell have I gotten myself into, I wondered?)  But with the help of a Marriage/Music Counselor we worked through it.

And the first listen doesn’t make me feel any better. My first listens are notoriously tone deaf to begin with, and what made it worse were the awful speakers on my crappy laptop.

So now I’m thinking: So this is what it’s come to. I’m now buying soundtrack albums? How sad is that? I’m not the guy who buys soundtrack albums! I’m the guy who makes fun of the guy who buys soundtrack albums, because he does it for the same dumb reasons I just gave above! Now I’m Him!

As you can tell, I’ve never been much of a fan of original soundtrack (OST) albums. Like rock and roll song lyrics that sound profound while being sung by Jim Morrison, let’s say, but look like grammar high poems on paper, soundtracks can rarely stand on their own, and are best left where they are, in the background of the movie, and forgotten at the end of it.

But this movie was so romantic, and the violin theme so lovely, that I thought I’d found a way out of my musical dead end. Maybe I was just getting desperate, grabbing at anything that caught my attention.

But what’s wrong with it, I asked myself. Part of it was that - as should have been expected - the theme I liked so much wasn’t playing throughout the whole movie, as it turned out. If it was, I probably would have had my fill of it by the end of the movie. (For an example of a song - even a great one - being played too much during a movie, check out Muriel’s Wedding, where Dancing Queen must get played at least a dozen times. They could have fit the entire soundtrack on a single. All of which goes to show that “Dancing Queen” must be a tremendous song, because I still like it.)

So a lot of what’s left on the CD is the other stuff I didn’t really notice all that much while the movie was on. And it didn’t sound like it had much personality.

But a second listen - on better speakers - make it sound much, much better. The instrumentals are starting to grow on me, too. Yes, the actual songs with words still annoy me. But every time they do, that damned theme I love so much comes back on.

I still don’t like the soundtracky-ness of it, and what I like best is the same theme played about six different ways.  But you know, it’s real, real pretty.

But, so what? I’m not really into pretty in mid January.

And then it suddenly recedes into the background, as if swallowed up by an Ocean of Sound.

B+

“Violin Romance”

To Be Continued...

Saturday, April 4, 2015

I Don’t Want to Hear It, Part Two: Happy Neu! Year

So, like I said, 2014 sucked, and 2015 was offering a compelling reason to just take a break from music altogether.

But sometimes circumstances call out for it. And after hearing about the untimely death of an old friend, I knew I’d need something.

We’d heard he was sick around Thanksgiving and found out he’d died right after Christmas. The wake was on New Years Day.

The next day, I needed to go for a long walk and along the way bought a CD, but my heart wasn’t in it.

The funeral mass was the day after that. We came home feeling drained and numb. I was off from work that week and finally gave myself permission to do nothing. I decided to just lie down and read for a while. I could have opted to listen to nothing, but since I’d just gotten a CD the day before I figured I’d put it on.

So I lay there reading, so tired I felt glued to the bed. I’d nod off occasionally as CD played, so before I knew it, it was over. So I put it on again. And again.

So it was - and I mean this as a compliment - a good substitute for nothing. In a way, it was an expression of nothing. Again, a compliment. I certainly didn’t want to hear singing, at least not in English.


Neu!.jpg

Neu! (1972)

These guys left the pre-famous (if you’d call it that) Kraftwerk because they (the latter) weren’t weird enough. Neu! would eventually be renowned for a synthesizer sound that would later influence David Bowie’s late 70s sound (Low and Heroes, two of my faves) and Brian Eno in general.

On this, their first album, there’s more guitar than synthesizer. Still very drone-y though. And although the six songs are all rather long, and the guitar touches are pretty minimal, the drums keep you feeling like you’re getting somewhere. On paper, it all sounds pretty boring, but because they change up the beats, on the best cuts, it verges on hypnotic.

And they’re not afraid to make noise. And not just musical noise. Noise noise. Like a jackhammer. I mean it. An actual jackhammer. That one’s call “Negativland”. No sh*t.

At times quiet, for a cold cloudy day. And at others, an explosion of distortion and rage. Then it ends with a whimper. On purpose. Works for me!

But it may be music for people who don’t like music, or who are tired of it. Exactly what I needed.

I’ll have to try it again when I’m feeling better.

Neu! musik for the Neu! Year

B+

“Hallogallo”

When to play it: When you’re alone.
When NOT to play it: At a barbeque.