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Songs of Summers Past (Part 1)

(Me, summer 2004.  Back when I had short hair.  It’s very strange looking at that now.)

For whatever reason, the advent of summer has bought back a lot memories.  And most of these memories somehow revolve a specific song, and are tied to a specific moment in time, which will be forever etched in my mind.  Every time I listen to The New Pornographers’ “Use It”, I’m immediately transported back to the summer of 2007.  The Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” takes me back to my teenage self when I used to listen to that dubbed cassette version of Sand in the Vaseline on my Walkman during road trips with my parents.  And some of these songs, well, I probably wouldn’t write about them otherwise.   (And for those I mention here, you know who are, though for the public domain, you shall remain nameless.)

Offspring – “Come out and Play” (Summer 1994)

The summer of 1994 was the first summer I really remember.  Not surprisingly it’s also the first summer where I could identify songs which were popular and the older kids were listening to.  That summer I was on a Swim Team with two my childhood friends (who are also still my best-friends). Even at this early age, getting up at 8 o’clock during the summer was not something I wanted to do.  As we swam laps, the lifeguards would blast music on their stereo.  I’m sure there were other songs, but the only two songs I seem to remember playing were Offspring’s “Come Out and Play” and Pearl Jam’s “Daughter”.  I really hated “Daughter” – it would be years before I actually liked the song and Pearl Jam themselves.  Even then I could sense that Eddie Vedder meant everything that he said.  “Come Out and Play” though, as much as I tried to pretend I hated it, I secretly liked its chunky rhythms and aggressiveness.  And even if you disliked the song it was hard to get away from, “you gotta keep’em separated!”.   Being 12, I was impressionable and if the 16 year old lifeguards thought it was cool, obviously it must be cool.  They knew every single word.

Years later, when I first discovered the Itunes Store in the summer of 2004 – “Come Out and Play” was one of the first songs I bought.  I’m not ashamed to admit.

Beck – “Where’s It’s At” (1996)

“Where It’s At” still remains a great song, however it remains stuck in 1996 – a song where time doesn’t apply.  It hasn’t aged, but it doesn’t seem to fit into a broader context.  Part of it probably has to do with its mesh of sounds and hook – “I got two turn tables and a microphone!” – which was inescapable in the summer of 1996.  My older brother who was 21 at the time, suggested that Beck’s Odelay was the Highway 61 Revisited of his generation.  Quite a bit of hyperbole on his part, I think.  This was the first summer when I was allowed to actually hang out with him, and we used to blast this song constantly. Its odd keyboards, bleeps, robotic voices, and stream of consciousness lyrics were unlike I ever heard.  I had previously been under the impression that songs had to have a certain sound and structure to be good – and “Where It’s At” demolished my previous ideas of what a song could actually sound like.  Oddly enough, the very things that make me critical of it now, were very appealing to my teenage self in 1996.  The windows of the car were down, the music was very loud.  Those who stared at us at we drove around, just didn’t seem to get it (whatever I thought it was at the time).

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Scar Tissue” (Summer of 1999)

“Scar Tissue” is a song that captures the sound of a hot summer evening.  The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a lot of good song, but this is the one that comes close to perfection.  Its melody is infectious, and John Frusciante’s guitar breaks are tasteful and full of beauty.  This song was everywhere in the summer of 1999 – the year that I was about to enter my senior year of high school.  The summer before I had gotten my driver’s license, but it was this summer that I was really able to drive around by myself and get out of the house, even if it was just driving to Borders. To me, the song represented wide open spaces and possibilities.  By being able to drive, I had achieved a sense of freedom that was previously unavailable.  “Scar Tissue” was a radio staple that summer, and I’ve never gotten tired of it.

U2 – “Bad”

2001 was the summer of U2.  The previous fall they had released the fantastic All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which reaffirmed their status after the abysmal Pop a few years earlier.  When they toured the US that summer, it would be the first time I would see them after years of trying. As a live band, U2 have few rivals and “Bad” has always been the centerpiece of their show whenever they play it.  It’s also one of the few U2 songs that is different every single time they play it.   Sometimes it could be 12 or 13 minutes long with several extended endings or 7 minutes long.  Bono would often sing lines from other songs such as “Sympathy for the Devil”, “People Have the Power”, “Norwegian Wood” and U2’s own “40” before the band kicked it back into high gear.   I’ve read that the song is about heroin addiction, but it’s also much more than that – it’s about letting go and not taking life for granted.   When Bono shouts “not fade away!” as the band kicks in and The Edge repeats his delayed chords, it really is transcendent, to use a cliche term.  I spent the summer of 2001, downloading as many U2 bootlegs from that tour, simply trying to find as many variations of “Bad” as I could.  And each version is magical in its own way.

 

More to come.

 

 

 

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Top 20 Concerts Part 2

I should note that some of these artists I have seen multiple times, so I will only list my favorite concert from each particular artist.  Otherwise the top 10 could easily include multiple repeats.

Pearl Jam (May 2006 – Camden, New Jersey)

I’ve seen Pearl Jam a total of three times over the past few years, and I have yet to see a bad show by them.  Pearl Jam treat their shows like every single one is a special event.  Eddie Vedder is the Pete Townshend of lead singers – jumping across the stage and doing guitar acrobatics that lesser men would like downright silly even to attempt.   The last time I saw them in DC in 2008, they only made it about a minute into “Evacuation” before the band stumbled.  In the old days, Vedder might have walked off screaming.  Instead the band laughed it off, and went on to the next show like nothing happened.

I realize that I probably might get shit on for including Pearl Jam on this list by some people I know.  I still think that the lady at the concession lying when she said that drinks were no longer being served at the “artists’ request”.

 

The New Pornographers (October 2007 – 930 Club, Washington DC)

Twin Cinema is easily one of the best rock-pop records of the 2000s.   On record The New Pornographers have a lot of energy, but live they are well-oiled machine.   Neko Case and Carl Newman remain the band’s not-so secret weapon united in harmony, but it’s amazing to see them pull it off so effortlessly on songs like “All The Things That Go Make Heaven and Earth”, and “Use It”.  And when the coda for “The Bleeding Heart Show” kicks in, you wish it would go on forever.

 

Kings of Leon (October 2005 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

In 2005, Kings of Leon were down right sleazy.  Not like the pretty boys and rock- pop cons you know today.  If the whiskey soaked songs, and dank of Sonar weren’t enough, the show included girls dancing on poles between sets and a magic show.  You could feel the sweat flying from the Followills foreheads as they blazed through countrified-punk versions of “The Bucket” and “Slow Night So Slow”.  Appropriately enough, they closed with the aptly titled, “Trani”.

The concert was awesome, but things turned sour later on, including being stuck in a traffic jam with the gas-tank on empty, and a fall down a flight of stairs.  (Both incidents turned out to be ok, but the gas tank was a close-call.)

 

The Black Crowes (August 2007 – Sonar, Baltimore MD)

Another show at Sonar. This is not really a criticism, but The Black Crowes are the best Rolling Stones cover band with original songs.  It was an old-fashioned rock and roll show at its best.  I distinctly remember it being the hottest night of the year – it was so fucking hot, and the compressed venue of Sonar only made it worse.  But somehow, it only seemed fitting to see the Crowes that way.

The Pixies (December 2009 – Constitution Hall, Washington DC)

I ended up going to this show at the last minute.  I got a phone-call in the afternoon from a friend telling me that an extra ticket was available.  So off I drove to DC during rush-hour to go see The Pixies.  I was almost late because I got lost to my friends house on the way – even though I had driven there at least 5 times prior.

This show was part of The Pixies “Doolittle Tour”. Prior to this show, I had never seen a whole album show, and was curious about how it come off.  The songs off of Doolittle are short and concise, so even the duds (there are really only about 3 off of an otherwise great album) are over before you know it.  The big songs – “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” got the most response, but it was on “There Goes My Gun” and “Vamos” The Pixies really came alive.  The former proved that even in his mid 40s, Frank Black can still scream like a motherfucker, and the latter included an extended feedback solo that peeled the paint off of the otherwise stale Constitution Hall.

 

 

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Best Of The Year

Jesus, it’s been a while hasn’t it?  Sorry for the lack of updates, I’ve been kind of experiencing a bit of writer’s block lately.  Not sure why.  But since we’re at the end of the year, I thought I’d give out my picks for the best records of the year.  And here we go!  (Note: Re-issues, don’t count otherwise I would have had Dylan and Springsteen on my list.)

 

Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

“I’m living in the 21st century, doing something mean to it, do it better than anybody you ever seen do it,” He declares on “Power”.  Sure he might be boasting, but when you deliver songs like “Runaway” with its haunting piano there’s a reason to.   Sonically, the songs are all over the place – “All of the Lights” is rap/pop at its best, then there’s the slow-stoner burn of “Gorgeous” complete with a distorted guitars, and a song that uses a choir chanting endlessly in the background, plus a King Crimson sample should not work, but somehow “Power” does just that.  Kanye West may be everyone’s favorite whipping boy at the moment, but he’s moved onto the future and everybody has to play catch up.  As he says in “Monster”: “I’m living the future so the presence is my past.  My presence is a present kiss my ass.”

The New Pornographers – Together


I admit I was actually bored by the NP’s last album, Challengers. It seemed to be lacking something, and I could never pin it down.  Luckily, the band probably had the same idea, and discovered their love for power-pop with Together, while adding some new ideas into the mix with the Black Sabbath-esque riff of “Your Hands (Together)”.   The hooks are there again, and the harmonies between Carl Newman and Neko Case never sounded sweeter as they do on songs such as “Silver Jenny Dollar” and “Moves”.

Elvis Costello – National Ransom


While the last few efforts by Costello have been of high quality (Momufuku, Secret Profane & Sugarcane) with National Ransom, Costello digs deep and delivers one of his best albums in years.  Costello ever being the musical nerd (and this is a good thing) like Dylan in recent years draws on pre-rock influences – “My Lovely Jezebel” sounds it was written in the mid west, circa the late 1890s.  Bluegrass also seems to be an influence on many of the songs as well particularly “Dr. Watson, I Presume”.   Even the straight-up rock of the title track has an old-time feel to it.  Costello may not rock like he used during the hey-day of the Attractions, but with albums such as National Ransom it’s clear he hasn’t entirely mellowed out.

Matt & Kim – Sidewalks


My girlfriend introduced me to Matt & Kim last year and at first I was not sure what to make of them.  Was this mix of dance/punk serious or were they being ironic?  I couldn’t tell despite liking some of their songs.   But with this year’s Sidewalks, Matt & Kim have proved one thing: it’s okay to have poppy songs once in a while.  Just make sure it’s covered in enough noise and irony so that that the hipsters don’t cry “Sell outs!”

Cee-Lo Green: The Lady Killer


Leave it to Cee-Lo to bring the old school R&B sound back, with a twist.  “Fuck You” might be the album’s stand-out and quite possibly the best song of the year, but “Bright Lights, Bigger City” recalls 70s disco records.  Throughout the album, Cee-lo’s voice stands out, not only because he is one of the few male stars that can actually sing, but he has conviction.  Cee-Lo is believable in his updating of Motown, and that’s what makes it a success.

 

(Check tomorrow for best movies.  I know this is a music blog, but it’s the end of the year.)

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