Monthly Archives: May 2010

WHFS Festival 2010 and Other Festivals

(Thanks to Tracey for the tip on this one.)

I recently saw the line-up for the HFStival 2010, and wondered if it was 1999.  All of the bands that are listed were popular when I was in high school (except for Billy Idol).  Here’s a question – can anyone name more than one song for Lit, Fuel, and Marcy Playground?  What the hell are they going to play for an hour?  Ed Kowalcyzk from Live is also on the main-stage.  Solo albums from front-men of mediocre bands are almost always terrible.  Kowalcyzk is one of the worst offenders of what I call “high school book poetry”.  “The Dolphin’s Cry” might have had a great hook, but what is a “rose garden of trust”?  I’ll spend the rest of Memorial Day weekend pondering that, let me tell you.  I might even write an long post about it – you watch.

When I was in high school, the HFStival was a big deal. I’m not sure if it was a big deal to those who weren’t in college or high school or not, but they had big names back then.  Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots among others were there.  This may sound silly now – but this is when those bands were actually still making records and had numerous hits on the radio.  I wasn’t really a fan of most of the bands that played, but at least they were current and it seemed relevant.  Now all we have for the HFStival is a bunch of clowns and has-beens.

Of course, the festival atmosphere has changed as well.  Bigger and better bands aren’t going to head-line the HFStival.  Not when you have Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Bonnaroo to play in.  About 7 years ago, a friend of mine in college kept talking up Bonnaroo saying that it was the greatest festival ever.  I told him I had no interest because it was simply a hippie-festival.  Back in 2003, when it was basically just a love-fest for jam-bands, Bonnaroo was about as relevant as the HFStival is now.  To those who say Bonnaroo “sold out” – what would you rather put up with for three days?  A bunch of mindless jamming by bands that all sound the same or a selection of some of the very best music in the world?

This is one thing that I don’t understand about the hippie/folk movement.  A lot of followers say they’re open to new music, but when it comes down to it, they resist change.  It’s the same attitude that caused an uproar when Dylan when electric in 65.  It’s funny how the more things change the more they stay the same.

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Dear Kings of Leon…

Dear Kings of Leon,

I’ve been a huge fan of yours for a long time.  I’m not mad at you for making Only By the Night. It’s a bit polished for my tastes, and had some decent songs and two absolute masterpieces (“Closer” and “Cold Desert”).  “Sex on Fire” wasn’t bad, but you’ve an entire album (Aha Shake Heartbreak) on the same subject, but it sounded original and different.  You’re not pop-stars – you’re among the best rock and roll bands out in the scene right now, so with your next album prove to everybody that you’re in it for the long-haul.  Take a cue from one of your own songs below:



(I’ll love you forever, I swear.)

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Tour Cancellation

I’m already somewhat aggravated U2 cancelled their summer tour – but that was with good reason.  Bono pulled out his back.  Christina Aguilera decided to pull hers, because she doesn’t have enough time to prepare and is starring in a movie later this summer?  Why the hell did you book in in the first place?  Why wait until the tickets are on-sale?  Are you so ego-centric  you need to know  fans still want to see you perform, and then pull the plug once you know there’s a demand?

Aguilera has already been criticized for her new video, which blatantly rips off Lady Gaga.  If I were a fan of hers (I’m not) I’d be pissed.  For a female singer who was once a queen, she’s just bitter her crown has not only been taken, it’s been smashed in front of her face.

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Gaga Night On “Glee”

Gaga’s freaky and theatrical nature is a perfect fit  for Glee – a show where almost every major character has or had a mask at some point. Last night’s episode did advertise itself as being Gaga-centric, and only contained two performances of her songs.  (Although “Speechless” was played in the background, which would have been a perfect song for Kurt to sing when his father confronts Finn for using a gay-slur.)

During the performance of “Bad Romance”, I’m not surprised they took out the word “bitch”, but I am surprised they kept “the bluffin’ with my muffin,” line from “Poker Face”.   The “Bad Romance” segment only proved (as Christinia Aguilera has found out) that the over-the-top costumes and gags come naturally to Gaga, and imitations fall flat no matter how hard a performer might try.  But it was pretty cool to see all of the kids dress up in different versions of Gaga as Will tells his students, “Each costume shows off a different side of your personality.”

It was also pretty hilarious to see the guys don Kiss make-up on stage and for my money perform better than the real Kiss.  (It’s much more entertaining to see high school kids dance around fire-balls than 60 year old men.)  But the absolute highlight of the show was Rachel Berry and rival to the Glee Club,  Shelby Corcoran(recently revealed to be her biological mother) sing a piano version of “Poker Face” (which has its inspiration in Gaga’s own piano version which was sampled on the Kid Cudi single “Make Her Say).  Somehow (pronouns excluded) a song about a girl bluffing to he man r that she likes when she really likes chicks, becomes a song about a lonely teenage girl and her estranged mother covering up their true emotions to each other.

(Just a observation – and maybe I’m out of touch on this – but does anyone still really believe Gaga is a dude?)

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Irony and “Love” Songs

I was at a wedding the other day, and one of the last songs to be played was Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight”.  A decent song – not one of my favorites of his.  With its slow and loose feel, “Wonderful Tonight” and chorus of “you look wonderful tonight” it has become a perennial favorite for weddings, dances, and for many an ode to each other’s love.

But like many rock “love” songs, there’s a dark side to “Wonderful Tonight”.   Impatience lies at the heart of the song – Eric Clapton wrote it while waiting for his wife Patti to get ready for a party.  The attitude isn’t “you look amazing”, it’s more in the vein of, “yeah yeah, you look great honey…we’re late.”  She’s taking too long, and he’s bored.  This isn’t the sweet long song, that everyone makes it out to be but the music disguises the disgust, the impatience and the irony of the chorus.

I’m all for open interpretations of songs.  That’s what makes listening to and deciphering lyrics fun. But does this open-interpretation apply to a song is obvious?  At what point, does a song stand on its own without several interpretations?  Is irony lost when the lyrics are put to music? Lots of songs are written specifically to be open to interpretation, but I’m not sure that “Wonderful Tonight” is one of them.  Clapton is not being vague here.  But does the interpretation of “Wonderful Tonight” as sincere make it more powerful, or less powerful?

The same could be said for U2’s “One”, which isn’t about togetherness at all, but rather about breaking up.  Should listeners take what they will from a song, or go with the artists’ original intent?  Perhaps I’m being presumptuous here, but a lot of listeners only listen to the chorus (ie – “we’re one”, “you look wonderful tonight”) and only pick up on one aspect of the song.  It’s easy to say, “they don’t get it!”  (and I do tend to do that quite often).  But does that make the song any less meaningful to those who view the two songs as sincere?  Should the song mean more to me, because I “get” the original intent and see the irony?

Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm” has several verses many which refer to temptation, loss, and a mysterious woman.  At the end of each verse, Dylan informs us that she wants him to come in, she’ll get him “shelter from the storm”.  This song was picked during a ceremony for my class-rings in high school.  But just because the chorus ends with the woman saying she’s going to give shelter, doesn’t mean she actually is.  If that interpretation were true, the narrator’s situation would be getting better as the song progresses, but it doesn’t.  “If I could only turn back the clock to when her and God were born,” is the last line of the song before the refrain.  The narrator realizes the regret, loss, and suffering that has occurred, and yet the woman is still offering him shelter.  Sure the refrain at the end of each verse is ironic, but the rest of the song isn’t – it’s a very serious song.

Is irony in songs the interpretation of critics and music snobs?  Does irony make a song better?  I tend to think yes, but that doesn’t mean that my view is above anybody else’s.

(For the record, I think it would be funny to play “Wonderful Tonight” at a wedding knowing it is ironic.)



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U2 Tour Postponed and Summer Venues

Not that I’m wishing Bono ill, but this cancellation of the 360 Tour sucks.  I just bought tickets to the Philly show two weeks ago, and for various reasons this was going to be the first show of the year I was going to.  Usually I end up going to about 10-12 shows a year, so only having one to look forward to, and then having it cancelled is a bit of a blow.

Earlier today, I looked at other upcoming shows in the DC/Baltimore area.  I’m sure Bob Dylan is going to be touring Baseball stadiums again, so no doubt I’ll go to that.  Kings of Leon are coming to Jiffy Lube Live (what a terrible name – Nissan Pavilion wasn’t much better though), and I’m considering that too.  But that venue is a bitch.  I saw Coldplay there a few years ago, and since there is only one road to get in and out of the stadium, my friend and I missed about 20 minutes of the set even though we had left 4 hours earlier.  What should have taken an hour at the most, ended up being almost 4 hours in the car.

My absolute favorite summer-time venue is Merriweather Post Pavilion.  (And yes, that is what Animal Collective named their last album after.)  It’s easy to get to, lawn seats are cheap, and I’ve also seen some of the best shows there.  In 2008, I saw both Death Cab and R.E.M. there within two days of each other during what might have been the hottest week I can remember in recent history.  (Although seeing the Black Crowes in the summer of 07 and leaving  Sonar at midnight only to find it was still 86 degrees outside, also gets a nod.)

While I love going to concerts anytime of the year, going to concerts in the summer at an outside venue is an entirely different experience.  You get to go early and tail-gate (Merriweather is perfect for this.)  Your friends tend to have more free-time in the summer, so before you know you have about a group of 12 people coming to show.  There’s also nothing like drinking beer outside in the afternoon, listening to good music and hanging out with your friends.  This sense of being part of a community of music and people is about as close I’ll come to be a hippie.  And whether you like pot or not, there’s also something comforting in seeing a haze of pot smoke hanging over the audience.

So what are your favorite summer venues?  And any suggestions for good summer concerts?

(Iron & Wine last summer at Merriweather.  The date is wrong, it was sometime in August.)

(Me at the same show.)


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Bob Dylan – A Reflection & Personal History

(Since it’s Bob Dylan’s birthday, I decided to write about him – again.)

Say what you want about greatest hits collections, but one greatest hits collection changed my life.  On a break from college freshmen year, my dad decided to take me out to Borders to buy me some music to cheer me up since I was having a hard time adjusting to college-life.  My dad never quite understood my obsession with music, so it was significant that he would want to take me out to get music.  I couldn’t think of a CD to buy, and on a whim I decided on The Essential Bob Dylan. My dad looked at my selection and asked me if I was sure.  He may not have understood rock and roll, or my obsession with music, but I could tell that he knew who Bob Dylan was.

Once I got back to school and started listening to the CDs, I decided to do some research on Dylan.  If my dad knew of him, surely his influence must have been vast.  Once I started looking around, I realized that most of the other artists that I liked practically worshipped Dylan.  How had I been missing out on him all these years?

It wasn’t until I discovered “Visions of Johanna” that I became obsessed after hearing in it in English class. (This is what majoring in English is good for us let me tell you.)  My professor told us the line about the jelly-faced women sneezing is actually referring to a painting.  (For the life of me, I wish I wrote down the name of the painting, but you don’t really think about those things at 20.)  I knew Dylan was literate, but that little bit of information totally changed my view of him.  Here was a guy who was basically taking my love of literature and poetry and putting it to music.

I quickly when out and bought both Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited, and to paraphrase Bruce Springsteen, Dylan’s music opened up a whole new world for me.  It’s a world full of circus freaks, historical figures doing absurd things, literary figures trapped by their sins and lifeless, and quite often having the upper-hand in relationships.  It’s also a world where civils rights and protest is brought to forefront. While Dylan never played punk-rock, he retains its spirit in being anti-authority.  In Dylan’s world, nothing stays the same, and going against the grain is not just a credo, it’s a way of life.  Just when you think you’ve understood him, he turns the other way.  (For instance, lots of people were expecting Christmas in the Heart to be a very absurd take on the Christmas tradition, but by making a traditional Christmas album, Dylan  managed to go against people’s expectations of his version of Christmas.  In that way, it is very Dylan.)

Before listening to Dylan, I thought I knew a lot about music.  As it turns out, by listening to Dylan, I found out how little I knew and have to learn.  Nashville Skyline gave me a further introduction to Johnny Cash and traditional country music. The Basement Tapes provided me insight into Americana and folk music.  After listening to The American Anthology of Folk Music (which if you haven’t listened to, I highly recommend it) I began to understand where Dylan fit in with folk music.  To those who says they can’t stand his voice, his first few albums were sung in the voice that was part of a tradition of old folk music – he was just the first to truly popularize it.

By taking cues from folk singers and creating his own stamp on that world, Dylan recreated musical history.  So many of his early songs such as Blowin in the Wind, The Times They Are A-Changing, and A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall have been such standards and are so rich, it’s almost hard to believe that they aren’t traditional.  When Dylan and the Band recorded “Apple Suckling Tree”, many of the members of The Band, thought it was in fact, a traditional, and not a Dylan original.  Ultimately, unless you’re a folk-purist it’s almost impossible to listen to American folk music, without conjuring up Bob Dylan into your mind.  To many, he is American folk music personified.

American Folk music isn’t just the only type of music that Dylan has influenced vastly.  Almost every single genre of popular music has been filtered through Dylan in one way or another.  The Beatles began to shy away from songs about girls after listening to The Freewheeling Bob Dylan.  The great soul legend Sam Cooke covered “Blowin’ in the Wind”, Dylan himself dabbled in gospel during his Christian-period, and along with The Band, he single-handedly created alternative country.  And while Dylan has written many songs better than “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, with its quick barrage of lyrics and accompanying promotional film was a forerunner to rap, and MTV.

Besides his vast catalogue of songs, I think tend to think part of the appeal of Dylan is his attitude and mystique.  I’ve read quite a few books about the man, and I still don’t know that much about him.  Whether they admit it or not, almost every single person who listens to Dylan wishes they could take off for New York, erase the past and start a new life.  While many writers and artists try their best to subvert the system and attempt to say “fuck it”, Dylan did just that several times throughout his career.  It didn’t always work (think the Christian-period). But when in the mid 60’s Dylan took the attitude of, “fuck it, I’m going to do what I want, consequences be damned” and went electric, the world came around to him.

As much as I (or others) would love to have Dylan’s attitude and constantly be on the move, to paraphrase Bono – we’d all just be happy carrying his guitar-case.   So happy birthday, Bob.

(Also if you’re interested, check out my literary comparison between Dylan and James Joyce.)

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Quick Update

I’m going to a wedding for the weekend, so until Monday enjoy this clip of Joe Strummer performing “London Calling” with the Pogues.

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Eddie Vedder – The Best Surprise Guest?

No matter what you think of Pearl Jam, Eddie Vedder can sing.  And he also happens to be one hell of a performer.  He’s also an avid fan of music in general.  Pearl Jam sets are known just as much for their wide variety of covers as much as anything else.  It’s little wonder that he’s performed with dozens of bands and artists.  So he’s a few of my favorite Eddie Vedder guest appearances:

Eddie Vedder, Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street Band: No Surrender (2004)

R.E.M. & Eddie Vedder: Man on the Moon (2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Introduction)

Pete Townshend & Eddie Vedder – Heart to Hang Onto (Letterman 1999).  Vedder has played numerous times with The Who and Townshend, but this has always been one of my favorites since I watched it when it aired.

My Morning Jacket & Eddie Vedder: It Makes No Difference (2006? Maybe?)

U2 & Eddie Vedder: Old Man River (2oo5)

Kings of Leon & Eddie Vedder – Slow Night, So Long (2007). Best version of this song ever.  Also, if you only know Kings of Leon by way of “Sex on Fire” and “Use Somebody” they tear it up on this one.)

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Idol Does “Hallelujah” Again

On last night’s American Idol we had Lee DeWyze cover Leonard Cohen’s”Hallelujah” on last night’s American Idol at Simon’s request.  “We always talk about the moment. I wanted him to do something that shows he has the potential to be a great artist.” Cowell said.  Like “All Along the Watchtower” (which everyone seems to do as well) I have heard dudes at bars play “Hallelujah” and no big moment has come from that.

The idea that a great song will be a great performance is laughable.  If nothing else, my post on Bad Bob Dylan Covers reflects that.  It’s not so much the song, but what you do with it.  “Hallelujah” has now become the new standard for wannabes to think they can achieve credibility.  Whether or not Cohen views it this way or not remains to be seen, but he has definitely gotten tired of the countless covers – last year he asked artists to stop performing it.  It becomes a cliche – “oh this guy covered ‘Hallelujah’ so we must pay attention.”  The original loses its power and resonance as a result.  When I saw Leonard Cohen perform “Hallelujah” last year, I had to remind myself  I was seeing the guy who actually wrote the damn song performing it live, otherwise I might have groaned.

Some might say I’m being too cynical about “Hallelujah” and that I shouldn’t blaspheme a great song.  (It is by the way.)  And I’m all for introducing great songs by great artists to new audience.  But dig a bit deeper, and discover some of Leonard Cohen’s dozens of other great songs.  Covering “Hallelujah” doesn’t bring you rock glory.  Just ask that to the next guy  who performs at an open-mic night.

And for starters on Leonard Cohen, here’s one of my favorites by him:

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