Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Song of the Year 2009

So, before we get started, let's be clear about something that I realize you already know:

I ain't much of a music critic. In fact, I don't have a heck of a lot of use for most music critics because they seem to get a bigger charge out of panning records than praising them. I'm short on time these days; all I really want is for you to tell me what's good that I might have missed out on.

So, I'm a little apprehensive about doing my second "year end list" post. Shit, I'm not even that good at this, much less endowed with anything but that same snarky-ass music snob attitude that I completely abhor in others...

All of that having been said, I've been giving a little thought to what my personal song of the year is. And don't read anything else into that title; this basically is just a slightly less dorky way of saying "My Favorite Song This Year".

I didn't have any sort of methodology for determining this. I tired to make sure that all the songs were more or less from this calendar year (or close to it), but that was the only rule. Otherwise, this is just me subjectively trying to figure out which songs captivated me the most this year. Nothing else.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here goes.

Honorable Mention:
singles By The Kings of Leon

I know we all want to hate them, but you have to give it to Kings of Leon this year. Its easy to forget that they were a well-loved "indie" band for a good five years or so before they broke in 2009, and much as the radio saturation was a turn-off, the trio of "Notion", "Sex on Fire" and "Use Somebody" was one of those miracles of hit-writing that's on par with U2 or Morning Glory-era Oasis.

I'm not giving any of those three songs the nod, but you all should know that I gave it some thought. Because those are three absolutely excellent singles, and my head is not yet so far up my ass that I can't hear it in them.

Second Runner Up:
Zero - The Yeah Yeah Yeahs

I fully admit that I expected the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to blow their load after their ridiculously excellent debut album, but I've been proven wrong.

I wasn't entirely sure if I liked the whole idea of this track when I first heard it. I even admit that I kind of dismissed it as foolish dabbling outside of their area of specialty. (Dude, "Fever to Tell" is what Danzig would have sounded like if he was a half Korean girl and the rest of the band went to liberal arts colleges. To hear such a talented rock band make such an effort to go electronic sort of irked me.)

But this fucking song stayed with me for months, eventually resuting in a November iTunes purchase that totally skewed my value of this track just in time for the blog. And timing is everything. Congratulations, Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

(Dumb video, BTW....sorry).

Runner Up # 1:
1901 - Phoenix

Disco-pop, electro-clash, synth-rock.....I can't keep track of what you call this stuff anymore.

But I sure wish that it had been around when I was 24. Because this song reminds me of nothing quite so much as drunkenly dancing all night with some girl you just met two hours ago...condifent that you would go home with her, but knowing that you'd be greatful for nothing more than a kiss and a phone number and a chance to see her again.

Before I get carried away, let's back up....

There's plenty to hate about this kind of music. Sometimes the synths are overbearing. Often, the songs sound like they were written by the bass player. The drums frequently are not actually drums.

And we should also take a moment to remember that this genre is particularly beloved by coked-up jackass hipster kids.

But goddamned if this isn't one of the most infectious choruses I heard this year.

This song has been sitting on me all year long (not helped at all by the no-longer-controversial decision to feature it during a high-rotation automobile advertisement). And all year long it never really wore off. I'd be shocked if I wasn't still hearing that bouncy-jangly-yelpy thing in my head this time next year.

Song of the Year: 2009
Crooked Head - Fucked Up

Only a total asshole would choose a hardcore song as his song of the year. But Crooked Head put me on my ass this year.

I have always had an "emperor has no clothes" attitude towards hardcore - an unpopular opinion here in old D.C.

Regardless as to if it was the self-riteousness of Minor Threat or the homoerotic macho nonsense of the CroMags, I just never understood the big deal over a genre of music that is largely defined by shouting your balls off over thin arrangements and rudimentary songcraft.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across Fucked Up.

Perhaps not a hardcore band in the truest sense (whatever the hell that means), Fucked Up immediately impressed me not only with the majesty of their arrangements on "The Chemistry of Common Life", but also their good humor and their abundant intelligence - all done without sacrificing the power of loud drums, overdriven guitars, insane tempos, or German Shepherd-styled vocals.

Of course, because I'm a giant drama queen, there is naturally a deeper reason that this was my song this year.

This was a year what I found out what it's like to be on the outs in the corporate machine. And the truth is that it doesn't matter how much you tell yourself that you won't be defined by your job; when you get yourself in a situation where no one at work wants to put up with you anymore, its a lonely place to be.

And its a very worthless feeling to have.

And sometimes you have to take a nice long look at yourself and figure out who you are and what you're doing with yourself.

This song was a great comfort to me during those weeks in October and Novemeber, when I was trying to transform into the comeback kid. When I was trying to correct course. When I was working to earn back my spot as a part of the team.

But it also was a time when I looked around the office and made a few decisions about who I am as an individual, and what I did not want to become, and how I was going to try harder to strike that balance.

I pulled it out with something of a grand slam in late November, by the way. Something of a redemption, I don't mind telling you. And as good as that felt, I never forgot that they're all just dogs fighting over a bone.

And I'm going to live, and I'm going to leave it alone.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Christmas Medley

No time to write, but here's my abridged Christmas video playlist for this year. Give them all a chance if you can....Merry Christmas to all.

Low - Little Drummer Boy

Frightened Rabbit - Its Christmas So We'll Stop

Robert Earl Keene - Merry Christmas From the Family

Darlene Love - Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Year in Concerts

This wasn't a big year for me and live music. In fact, you could probably define this year more on the shows I missed (the Cult, In Flames, Edwin Sharpe, Motorhead, Cthonic, Ted Leo), than the ones I attended.

What can I say? I'm getting old, my energy is getting low, and things seem to sell out a lot more often these days than they used to.

Still, I managed to squeeze in a few notable shows this year, so in the spirit of year-end retrospectives, here's my top ten list for 2009:

10. Gogol Bordello at the 9:30 Club - The conceited and insecure part of me (that writes a snarky blog that no one reads) sort of hates to admit that I enjoy gypsy music. But these guys are total professionals, and I had an outstanding time watching them do their thing. And the vision of that band....the vision. At a time when any jackass with a creepy mustache can move to Williamsburg and suddenly be in the next big thing, it's nice to occasionally see a spectacle like Gogol and think.....only in NYfuckinC.

9. Sigur Ros @ MOMA - Ok, so this concert didn't actually happen this year. And I didn't actually attend it. But this WAS the year that I got the Current Channel and it was the year that I found myself watching this concert film over and over and over again. And almost every time I ended the night welling up with tears because the whole thing is so beautiful and joyful and pure and wonderful and now I'm crying again....

8. The Flaming Lips on the National Mall - A Flaming Lips show is like some sort of rite of passage, and I'd missed out on it up until this year. I'd say I'm half a fan of the Lips (at best), but I respect them immensely, and a free outdoor show is still a thing of beauty. Aside from the uninspiring weather and maybe one clunker in the middle of the set, it was basically everything I'd been led to expect. Well played, Mr. Coyne.

7. The Run for Cover Party at the Black Cat - It's not like D.C. invented the concept of the Run for Cover party, but having attended every single one of them since they were hosted in a basement in Northern Virginia, I can't imagine that any other city does it with a better, more community-oriented vibe. And while this year's line-up didn't necessarily impress the way that previous years had, the Bon Jovi and Bee Gees bands were particularly fun. God, I love this tradition.

6. The Legendary Shack Shakers at the Rock and Roll Hotel - Another band I'd been waiting to see for years and had never gotten around to. And as a double bonus, I'd invited my difficult-to-impress friend, Dan, to this show, and for once I didn't disappoint him. Score. Then I had to ruin it by getting drunk and accidentally smashing a bottle on the floor. Fail.

5. Fucked Up at the Talking Head
- Hardcore ain't my thing. But Fucked Up does it right, with actual arrangements and a subtle sense of humor. Drove an hour to this show by myself only to run into acquaintances from D.C. while I was up in Baltimore (on a school night). That sort of thing rarely happens anymore....

4. Fucked Up at Subterranean - Playing an exclusive-feeling pre-show set before the Pitchfork Music Festival, this show was noteworthy not only because I saw the same band twice in six months, but also because my good friend Phil was kind enough to meet us out on our first night in Chicago, despite his being on business travel for the previous 14 hours.

3. The Pixies at Constitution Hall - Read my review here.

2. Lamb of God at the 9:30 Club - I promised myself I'd write a review of this as part of the "A Day Late" series, but that's looking less likely each week. This was my first metal concert in a LONG time, and I distinctly got the impression that I might have been seeing this band at their absolute peak. The band was absolutely furious, the crowd was decidedly more energetic than D.C. crowds ever are, and the entire affairs was very much more executed than performed. I honestly feel a little sorry for those motherfuckers in Metallica for putting Lamb of God on as their opening act this past year. No way I'd want to be that far past my prime and getting on stage after those guys. No fucking way at all.

1. The Living Things at the Rock and Roll Hotel - Listen to me right now: This is the best fucking rock and roll band in existence at this moment. And they blew Patrick Wolf and his silly ass fashion show about three blocks off the stage and into Trinadad. I love, love, love, love, love this band.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Day Late - Volume III - Review of Last Week's Pixies "Doolittle" Show

There is a certain type of music fan for whom the Pixies are a heroic band.

After all, the Pixies were, by all accounts, outsiders. None of them are particularly good looking. None of them ever went out of their way to display a decent fashion sense. None of them have great hair. And their music was....a little weird.

Not totally weird, mind you. But weird enough to defy convention and make them inaccessible to those of us who like our hooks served up fresh and simple. And, thus, this made them perfect for the oddball kids who were perfectly comfortable to live at the fringe of college and high school norms.

So, yeah, I wasn't a huge Pixies fan back in the day, which shouldn't surprise anyone. I had no opinion of them, in fact, because they weren't really relevant to my existence.

It's not like I wasn't an outsider. I just wasn't a *cool* or *smart* or *quirky* outsider. I was just a kind of lame, middle-of-the-road outsider.

(Maybe that makes me a legitimate outsider-outsider. Hm....score one against the cool kids AND the smart kids!)

((I guess...))

I did catch onto the Pixies at some point, but it was really late. I mean... embarrassingly late.

I know this much -- My old band did cover "Gigantic" at a party some time in the late 1990's (hosted at the Ruppert's art gallery on 7th street - adjacent to the spot where the Warehouse Theatre would one day be, and across the street from a hole in the ground this is now the D.C. Convention Center). And I'm sure that I knew the melodies to "Debaser" and "Here Comes Your Man" for years before I knew the titles or the artists for either song.

But simply put, the Pixies were never on my radar until maybe six or seven years ago.

So, given those facts...and my general disdain for the "classic album as setlist" tour may seem surprising that I attended this show.

However, the Pixies are the favorite band of my girlfriend. And despite her best attempts to covert me, "Doolittle" really is the only album that ever stuck. Having struck out on tickets the last few times the Pixies reunion came to town, this seemed like a good choice for both of us.

And despite some reviews that seemed somewhat crotchety (as though the reviewers were bitter that people like me - the fans who were not TRUE fans back when it mattered - were getting this opportunity) I had a goddamned blast.

The seats were excellent - a box directly above the light booth - positioning us for excellent sound. (Yes, yes, I know that boxseats are not very punk rock).

With the band unexpectedly starting with a collection of b-sides, the crowd was understandably timid. But by the middle of the second tune, a lot of folks started losing their inhibitions, and I have to admit that it was a glorious thing to see. Folks were absolutely geeking OUT, and it was beautiful.

And after four tracks I'd never heard, Kim Deal finally began the opening to "Debaser". While I fully expected the place to go crazy, the mood was almost one of relief - as though the plane taking you to vacation had finally taken off after an unexpected delay. (Don't get me wrong, nobody thought that the b-sides were bad. But it was sort of like having a girl take you back to her place at the end of the night, only to suggest that you play with her cats for 20 minutes....its fun, but its a lot less fun than what you were expecting).

This entire mood changed with the emergence of track # 2 - the mighty "Tame", performed at an absolutely breakneck pace that highlighted the fact that David Lovering is one of the most underrated drummers out there. People were really coming to life, and that's the way it would stay for the remainder of the night.

Other highlights included "Here Comes Your Man" (a track I'd momentarily forgotten was on this album....i know i know, fuck you), "Hey" and "La La Love You". But really, it was more or less a buffet of whatever you liked best from the record, which I guess is the beauty of these album tours.

The other highlight was the sparse stage banter from Kim Deal, who may or may not have tumbled off the wagon. (She was drinking quite a bit from green glass bottles, and grinning madly throughout the show. I hope that she is in a happy place).

After a short encore that included an alternate take on "Wave of Mutilation" and "Into the White" the band left the stage only to reemerge to do a quick second set of material that I think was largely from "Surfer Rosa".

I must admit that I didn't know much of it, but it didn't really matter. Closing out the second set with "Where is My Mind" and "Giagantic" made up for it all.

(I should point out that the opening to "Where is My Mind" was a complete high point of the show - and arguably a high point of any live performance I've ever seen. All the house lights were up, and just about the whole damn place was singing along to Kim's ethereal "oooooh-ohhh" vocal. For a few days, just the memory gave me goosebumps. In fact, it still does. Sounds corny, but it was one of those live concert experiences that doesn't really translate on paper).

On the way back to the car, there was a lot of talk about people's memories of listening to old Pixies records back in the day. And it got me thinking:

It is an indisputable fact that I will never be able to go back in time and be the cool kid in high school with ridiculously awesome taste in music. I'll never be the smart, hip, geek-chic 19-year old, either. It just wasn't in the cards for me.

But when your girlfriend is so goddamned cute that the lighting guy has no problem handing over his copy of the setlist at the end of the night, I guess that means that life turned out ok anyway.