Category Archives: 2010s

Today’s Top 5: And That’s the Way It Is

Sometimes I listen to music in the car. Other days, however, I tune in KYW-1060AM, the Delaware Valley’s all-news channel. It provides local and national headlines, breaking news, traffic reports, business updates, weather and sports, and at 6:30pm – if I’ve left work late or am just stuck in traffic – a simulcast of the CBS Evening News. I also read/subscribe to the digital edition of the Washington Post, and check out the New York Times and Philadelphia Inquirer from time to time – aka the “fake news” outlets so labeled because they report actual facts, not the partisan propaganda our dear leader prefers.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: And That’s the Way It Is.

1) Neil Young – “Ambulance Blues.” This song percolates through my synapses pretty much every time America’s answer to Erdogan speaks. The line “I never knew a man who told so many lies” may have been inspired by Nixon, but it describes him, too.

2) Juliana Hatfield – “When You’re a Star.” I came to the conclusion, long ago, that Juliana is basically Generation X’s Neil Young. Think about it: She started her career in an influential, but commercially under-appreciated group; she’s at home on acoustic and electric guitar, solo or with a band; and has a distinctly idiosyncratic outlook on life. And no one can write her songs but her. This week, after the sordid news from Hollywood broke, she tweeted a link to this song, which was inspired by both the lecher-in-chief and a former Jell-O salesman. It’s from her Pussycat album.

3) Bob Dylan – “Talkin’ John Birch Society Blues.” Originally slated for The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, but yanked by Columbia due to lawsuit concerns, this classic satire of political paranoia remains relevant today. The dear leader and his minions, after all, see enemies everywhere.

4) First Aid Kit – “This Land Is Your Land.” Diane and I watched the Woody Guthrie biopic Bound for Glory a few weeks back. Great movie. It got me to thinking that that era, more than any other, is the era Trump and the GOP want America to return to – where some have plenty, but most nothing at all. First Aid Kit’s cover of the song includes the two “radical” verses that speak to the song’s message that America is for all its people, not just the rich and well-off. (See the Wikipedia entry for more.)

5) The Long Ryders – “Masters of War.” The Ryders’ cover of Dylan’s classic, about old men sending young men to their deaths, still rings true today. (The pulpit’s bully is itching for war, after all.)

And two bonuses…

6) Grant Hart – “Now That You Know Me.” During the winter of 1989-90, I played Hart’s Intolerance CD more than most – and this song wound up on many a mixtape. I won’t lie and claim to have kept up with Hart’s career in the years since, but the news of his passing in September shook me all the same. Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade and New Day Rising were monumental albums in my life.

7) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Peace in L.A.” The L.A. riots of 1992, sadly, weren’t the last riots spurred by racial injustice. One of Petty’s best yet lesser known singles, this call for peace was recorded mere days after the figurative fires were put out; and was on the radio a day later. “Stay cool. Don’t be a fool.”

 

Advertisements

Give Me the Beat, Boys (Paul Weller @ the TLA in Philly, 10/4/2017)

Sunday, Diane and I made our way to the Electric Factory on North 7th Street in Philly to see Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul. The general admission/standing-room only concert hall first opened its doors in 1994, yet it was my first time on its cement floor.

Steven and his 15-piece band, which includes a horn section and three backup singers, came on at 8:30pm and played for about two hours, delivering a solid 22-song set that worked best with the uptempo songs. The slower numbers, such as the doo-wop “City Weeps Tonight” and funky “Down and Out in New York City,” drowned beneath the din reverberating from the bar. It didn’t help that – as the picture below shows – we were far back from the stage. Also, the sound was trebly and dense, akin to sparkly sludge.

Still, it was a good show and night, though by the time I collapsed into bed it was technically early Monday morning. I slept through my 5:50am alarm, rolled out of bed about two hours later and hit the road minutes after that – which was when I learned of the mass shooting at the country music festival in Las Vegas.

Since 1983, I’ve attended concerts large and small, in hallowed halls and cruddy clubs, and there are literally only a handful that I wish I’d skipped – the Singer Who Must Not Be Named springs to mind, especially. That is to say, I rarely leave a show unhappy with anything other than the drive home. Diane’s cut from the same cloth.

We see concerts. It’s what we, in part, do.

Don’t get me wrong. We’re not out and about every night, week or even month, though sometimes it may seem that way; and spinning an LP, cranking a CD, or clicking play on the Pono Player or Apple Music can be just as wondrous an experience. As Tom Petty has been quoted as saying, “Music is probably the only real magic I have encountered in my life. There’s not some trick involved with it. It’s pure and it’s real. It moves, it heals, it communicates and does all these incredible things.”

Music may not be salvation, but it is God’s gift. No matter the style or genre, be it rock, pop, country, hip-hop, R&B, soul or blues, or any of the many sub-genres therein, whether it’s critically acclaimed or not, it serves a purpose larger than itself. It feeds the spirit. That such a secular communion was bloodied by someone with a gun? It breaks my heart.

And then the news of Tom Petty’s death came. I’ve been a fan – though not a hardcore fan – since “Refugee” and Damn the Torpedoes, and saw him and the Heartbreakers in concert at the Spectrum in 1990. (Look for an Of Concerts Past entry about it in the near future.) I’ve actually contemplated seeing him in the years since, but for one reason or another – usually venue – decided “next time.”

Perhaps because of all that, a show that I’d been anticipating for months – Paul Weller with Lucy Rose at the TLA on South Street (aka “the hippest street in town”) on Wednesday, October 4th, proved even better than expected. Paul Weller, of course, is a longtime favorite; Lucy Rose entered my life earlier this year by way of the Staves, and has quickly become someone whose music I adore. When she was added to the bill, months after I’d purchased our tickets, I knew a great night was going to be even greater. (At least, I hoped that.)

Now, the TLA has been around forever and a day, primarily as a movie theater but also as a playhouse; it wasn’t until 1988 that it began life as a concert venue. My first time there, I think, was in late 1982 to see Ciao! Manhattan – though it could have been earlier that year to see another esoteric film. The first time I saw a concert at the locale, however, came seven years later, when I took in the Indigo Girls on back-to-back nights. Back then, the venue was stellar, as it retained movie-style seats – you sat back, and the music washed over you. Somewhere along the way, however, the powers-that-be realized more money could be made by removing said seats, as bodies could be packed in, and it became primarily a standing room-only venue. Eventually, in the mid or late ‘90s, a balcony was added and…off the top of my head, the last show I remember seeing there was Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band in 1999.

Anyway, this night, we were in what’s called the “Crow’s Nest” – a VIP (more expensive) section that I imagine was added at some point in the 2000s or 2010s. It features a great view of the stage and, too, there are seats, which – given that I was still dragging from Sunday’s late night – were a necessity.

Lucy Rose, for her part, overcame a sea of indifferent Weller fans to deliver a sublime (if too-short) set of her stirring songs – as I tweeted her after she left the stage, she really needs to play a venue more geared toward singer-songwriters, such as the World Cafe Live.

Paul Weller hit the stage at 9pm and, over the course of 135 minutes and 30 songs, exemplified all things mod, rock and soul. Among the treats: two Jam classics (“Monday” and “Start!” from Sound Affects), three Style Council favorites (“My Ever Changing Moods,” “Have You Ever Had It Blue” and “Shout to the Top”), plenty from his solo years, such as the hypnotic “Above the Clouds” and “Wild Wood,” plus seven from his recent A Kind Revolution album, including the aching “Long Long Road” and contagious “Woo Sé Mama.”

After the main set, he and the band returned for five acoustic numbers that I assumed – given the time of night – would cap the concert. I was wrong. They then switched back to electric and…whoa! “These City Streets” from Saturns Pattern, “Peacock Suit” from Heavy Soul, the Jam’s “Start!,” “The Cranes Are Back” from A Kind Revolution and “The Changingman” from Wild Wood ended the night in tremendous fashion.

Here are three highlights:

In short, it was a great, great concert. Weller delivered blistering guitar solo after solo and raucous piano runs, his dual drummers pounded out propulsive rhythms, and the band as a whole – wow. Just wow. There were a few songs that I wasn’t familiar with in the moment, but it didn’t matter. The show washed away the heartache and heartbreak from a bad week, and renewed my spirit. He and his crack band gave us the beat and freed our souls…if only for a night.

And thank God for that.

Today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV

Fall has (finally) arrived to our neck of the proverbial woods, which means our front lawn will soon be cluttered with leaves from trees that are not rooted on our property, or even on those adjoining ours. No, the wind whips them up and down and across the street(s), and for whatever reason they amass at our house as if attracted by a magnet. It’s maddening – as is what’s been an interminable commute home of late. Thursday, I left work at 5:45 and exited the turnpike at seven. Friday’s crawl clocked a similar runtime.

Yes, of course, those are penny-ante annoyances. In the words of the noted philosopher Roseanne Rosannadanna (1946-89), “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.”

And on that note, here’s today’s Top 5: New Music, Vol. LVIV.

1) First Aid Kit – “It’s a Shame.” “Lately, I’ve been thinking about the past. How there is no holding back, no point in wasting sorrow on things that won’t be here tomorrow.” Those aren’t my words, but First Aid Kit’s. They released a new single this week, which means a new album is (hopefully) near. “It’s a Shame” delves into the dark side of life on the road, loneliness, and moving on while others stay put, and the fleeting relationships that form as a result. It’s not a new topic for the sisters Söderberg, of course, but it’s well executed. And those harmonies…

2) Neil Young – “Powderfinger.” Hitchhiker just gets better with every listen. While stuck in traffic on the ride home Friday, I played it, then played it again. And this morning, while out and about doing mundane errands, I played it yet again. It’s a hypnotic set that – and I don’t say this lightly – is in the running for my fabled Album of the Year honors.

3) Erin O’Dowd – “Queen of the Silver Dollar.” Erin’s full-length debut, Old Town, is due in early December for those of us who backed her on Kickstarter, and I can’t wait. She possesses the voice of a world-weary angel. Here, in the first of hopefully many “Porch Swing Sessions,” she shares her spin on this Shel Silverstein classic, which has been recorded by everyone from Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show to Barbi Benton(!) to Emmylou Harris.

4) The MonaLisa Twins featuring John Sebastian – “Waiting for the Waiter.” The Liverpool-based duo, who may well be best known for their Beatles covers, turn in this bluesy original about…is it a metaphor? Could be. Could be not.

5) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Sea Town.” Can a day go by without me listening to Courtney? Yes. But then I hear a song such as this, the b-side to her recent “Near You” single, and it’s like a flip switches inside my soul and I want to listen to no one but her…

And one bonus…

6) Courtney Marie Andrews – “Near You.” What I said above. Times two.