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Month: June 2010

BET’s Tribute to Prince: Janelle Monae, Esparanza Spalding, Alicia Keys, Patti LaBelle

This past Sunday, Prince was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 10th annual BET Awards. Prior to the presentation, four of his favorite ladies took to the stage to pay tribute to His Purpleness, and let me tell you, this was no half-ass tribute. The performers were reportedly hand picked by Prince: Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding, Alicia Keys, and Patti Labelle – and they all killed. Let’s take a look…

Janelle Monae – quirky, unconventional, and flat out weird (in the good sense of the word) – chose the perfect song to match her style and to kick off the festivities: “Let’s Go Crazy”. Watching her perform made me slap myself for missing her when she stopped through town last week with Erykah Badu. I love the way she writhes and slides and pops and twists (aka her flavor of dancing). And to top it all off, she’s carried off the stage after the tune. Prince seemed to dig it, didn’t he? So did I.

Esperanza Spalding was next, stepping to the mic with her stand-up electric bass, and launched into the classic from side 3 of Sign ‘o’ the Times, “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It sounds like they used the original studio intro, sans Prince’s “oooo’s”. I wonder if Prince provided the backing track? Top notch performance of one of my favorite Prince tunes.

Next up was Alicia Keys with another Sign ‘o’ the Times standout: “Adore”. I have NEVER been more attracted to Ms. Alicia Keys than during this performance. It may have something to do with kicking off her heels and crawling barefoot on top of her piano and doing serious lusty justice to the song. She stayed pretty true to the nuances of Prince’s vocal delivery too – though she couldn’t hit some of those falsettos where Prince is up in the stratosphere like only Prince can do. Outstanding stuff from Alicia Keys. Yum yum yum.

To top off the tribute, Patti LaBelle emerged for “Purple Rain” (which Trey Songz had segued into briefly during his performance a few minutes earlier). Patti was on fire. She was having some issues with moving around in her heels, so off they came. She kicked one toward Prince, who swiftly grabbed it up. Patti’s voice was in top form, and was letting loose after her first and only verse. It was a great finale, and Prince was clearly moved, as you’ll see.

Since 1984, for better or worse, through good times and bad, I’ve always loved this man’s music. It was a treat to see him honored like this, and a treat to watch him enjoy and be emotionally affected by these performances.

Nicely done, ladies, nicely done.

Watch.

The Friday Five: June 25, 2010

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson (from Bad, 1987)

It’s a bit hard to fathom that it has been 12 months since Michael Jackson passed away. I remember clearly that upon learning of his death, this was the song that was left ringing in my ears, and in my heart. I’m dedicating this week’s Friday Five to him, and his legacy.

“Human Nature” by Michael Jackson (from Thriller, 1982)

A few weeks ago I finally felt prepared to sit down and watch “This Is It,” the film documenting Michael’s final days, as he prepared for his return to the stage. What struck me was how alive he was in the moment. And it was the performance of this song, in particular, that set the hair on my arms on end. There were no signs of frailty, rather an incredible, engaged performer breathing life into one of his masterworks.

Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson (from Thriller, 1982)

This video actually came on while I was listening to this week’s five, and moved me from the iPod to the television – VH1 is running a marathon celebrating the King of Pop – and it instantly brought me back to the first time that I saw this video.

Beat It” by Michael Jackson (from Thriller, 1982)

I was never felt as emotionally attached to “Beat It” as I suppose I should. I mean it’s Michael and Eddie Van Halen, how can you go wrong. It’s not that I don’t love the tune and crank if up every time it comes on, but it was never my favorite. This oddly enough leads into…

P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” by Michael Jackson (from Thriller, 1982)

Going out on a high note, this was – and remains – my jam. I’m planning on letting this shuffle play all day, so I might be back in the comments with another five. In the meantime, I encourage you all to drop your five — MJ-related or not – and get out and enjoy the hell out of today.

What’s on your shuffle today?

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Wake Up Our Nation

It’s always a treat when Paul Weller releases a new record. Being second only to John Lennon in my eyes, Weller epitomizes my love for Brit Rock. Through his years in The Jam, The Style Council, and now his solo career he has always managed to astound me with his most excellent tunage. Now we can add “completely blows me away ” to the list of reactions. Wake Up The Nation is Weller’s finest solo CD next to his self-titled debut. It’s that good and you need to own it.

When I first heard the single “No Tears To Cry”, I was wondering if I had bought the wrong disc. The voice coming out of my speakers sounded like a mid-60s Stax singer – full of wonderful soul and deep beauty. It was, in fact, Mr. Weller. A week later I bought the full length and was astounded by it’s diversity. I’m not really sure how to describe this album but here’s a shot.

Imagine if it were possible for Pet Sounds to make love to Low and the resulting offspring was the Superfly soundtrack. That’s the best way to illustrate the dynamism of this record. We hear the direct influence of all three of these records and much more all over the 16 track disc.

The treat of the record (and my favorite track) is “Fast Car/Slow Traffic” which features former Jam partner in crime, Bruce Foxton on bass and backing vocals. It sounds like a Jam song that easily could have been featured on a never-going-to-happen-in-a-million years reunion album. “Trees” is just flat out bizarre in a very wonderful way. “7 & 3 is the Striker’s Name” is another gem with a musical style that, as one insider on the making of the album describes, “Stockhausen meets the Small Faces.” “Aim High” straps us all in for a trip back to the early 70’s and could easily be the theme song to an urban cop film. I can see the moustaches and hear the talk of the man keeping us all down.

“I wasn’t even thinking of making another record,” Weller remarks in the liner notes. In my opinion, that’s usually when the best ones are made. The new Weller disc was just released stateside and, as always, I’m hoping that our nation is somehow woken up to the God like genius of the Modfather.

Buy Wake Up The Nation (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version – Deluxe Edition)

Stream the whole album on its Yep Roc page.

Recap: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros / Dawes at the Clubhouse in Tempe

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros

Music discovery. I feel sorry for those that don’t keep their ears open to new sounds. As the calendar flipped over to 2010, I knew nothing (or next to nothing) about Dawes or Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Last night at the sweltering Clubhouse Music Venue in Tempe, I enjoyed the hell out of these two great bands.

It started with the Coachella webcast back in April, when I watched E.S. & TMZ ‘s set. Freaky, folky, hippie vibes – something refreshing and different. So when I saw their Arizona date (and no boycott – woo hoo!), I was all in. So then, just last week, I got curious about the opening band, Dawes, and checked out their web site. I watched a couple videos (“Love Is All I Am”, “When My Time Comes”), really enjoyed the sound and the harmonies, and promptly snatched up their full length debut, North Hills. And what an impressive debut it is – I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it since.

So it was with this frame of reference and mind that I went to the Clubhouse last night – getting there nice and early to catch both full sets.

Dawes are a four piece folk-influenced rock band from the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles. Led by brothers Taylor (lead vox, guitar) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), they have something special going with their brand of catchy melodies and three-part harmonies. Man, the harmonies! They filled up the room from the onset, with the great opener “How Far We’ve Come” – where Griffin took the first line of the verses, Griffin and keyboardist Alex Casnoff on the second line, and Taylor joining in on the third. Great stuff. Harmonies abounded on tunes like “Love Is All I Am” and the crowd favorite “When My Time Comes”. They also showed a harder edge with a nice new one, “Fire Away” and “My Girl To Me”. Their set had us drawing comparisons to The Band at times, and they obviously grew up listening to a lot of Byrds and CSN.

Dawes

Great all around musicianship and singing with Dawes, but a special tip o’ the hat to the singing voice of Taylor Goldsmith. The guy can flat out sing. And when he gets way up there, there’s a soulful growl that wouldn’t sound out of place on an old Stax record. Great, great live band and great album. You’d do yourself good to pick it up.

On to Eddie and his Zeros, also formed out of the fair city of Los Angeles (the Silverlake section). By the time the band came out, the place was a stuffy, unventilated sweatbox. I got some reprieve by being directly under a fan behind the soundboard, but man, this venue clearly does not care about the comfort of its patrons.

After watching a live set online, I had a good idea of what was in store. And though the Polo Fields of Indio, Calif. have absolutely nothing in common with the Clubhouse Music Venue, the group’s vibe and spirit were intact. Some early microphone issues almost jeopardized that good overall vibe, turning frontman/leader/messiah Alex Ebert a tad grumpy – but all was sorted out.

And so the band played on – mostly tunes from their solid 2009 album, Up From Below. They kicked things off with “40 Day Dream”, “Up From Below” and “Carries On” – a trio of catchy sing-along songs that hooked in the crowd. Edward’s muse, Jade Castrino, was the sole female Zero of the show. Usually, Nora Kirkpatrick is along for the ride (*cough-hotblonde-cough*), but sadly she missed this gig in the desert. If you’ve watched Jade on stage, you’ve probably noticed she’s a little unorthodox as far as live performers go. She won’t face the audience – she sways and faces to the side, shyly smiling, with her eyes locked in on Alex 90% of the time. If you’re questioning the messianic quality of Alex Ebert, you’ll be convinced after watching Jade for a while. But anyways, she seems like a sweetheart, and she got some lead vocal duties with a song called “The River Won’t Flow”.

“Janglin” and “Home” were the feel-good highlights of the evening. It’s hard to not like these songs, paraphrasing my buddy Trevor. The gang of characters there on stage – keyboards, percussion, a trumpet, guitars, bass, and lots of smiles – the band clearly enjoys playing these tunes for the people, even in a 110 degree steam room. The band then wrapped up the evening in mellow fashion, singing “Brothers” while seated on the floor amongst the crowd.

It was short but sweet set, although a hot one. I got the feeling the band was good n’ ready to jump in the bus and make haste for L.A. Can’t blame ’em.

The experience was worth the heat though – two new, fantastic bands with tons of promise. Lucky for me, they’re both playing the ACL Festival this year, so I’ll be seeing them again in October.

Here’s a nice series of moments from the evening, courtesy of Rand LeSeur Photography

Set List
Clubhouse Music Venue, Tempe, AZ
June 22, 2010

40 Day Dream
Up from Below
Carries On
Black Water
Come In Please
The River Won’t Flow (sung by Jade)
Janglin
Desert Song
Home
Om Nashi Me

-Encore-
Brother

[Ick’s Pick] Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine

I discovered the treasure trove that is the music of John Prine back in the early 90’s, during my last year of college. The Missing Years about knocked me on my butt, with its witty wordplay, catchy cadences, and gorgeous melodies. The album led me directly to Great Days: The John Prine Anthology, which gave me a crash course in this American treasure, the postman turned folk singer from Maywood, Illinois.

In reading the liner notes of the new tribute album, Broken Hearts &Dirty Windows – Songs of John Prine, I found out that Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver) had the same experience – growing up in Wisconsin and happening across the Anthology; getting to know John Prine through classics like “Sam Stone”, “Paradise”, “That’s The Way That The World Goes Round”, and “Hello In There.”

With the release of this fantastic new tribute album, it’s clear that Prine has had a similar impact on a host of younger artists – and it’s interesting that the artists on this record rank among some of my current favorites: Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket, Old Crow Medicine Show, Deer Tick, Drive-By Truckers… it makes sense now: we’re all rooted in Prine’s music, and as they’ve matured and made music of their own, its these same roots that have pulled me into their music.

The common theme is humble, genuine, gritty, homegrown American music.

The standouts for me on this record include Deer Tick’s “Unwed Fathers”, featuring the sandpaper vocals of John McCauley and the sweet accompaniment of Liz Isenberg; Josh Ritter does “Mexican Home” from 1973’s Sweet Revenge. Ritter takes Prine’s uptempo version. and slows it way down – exposing the song’s melancholy core:

“My father died on the porch outside
On an August afternoon
I sipped bourbon and cried
With a friend by the light of the moon
So its hurry! hurry! Step right up
It’s a matter of life or death
The sun is going down
And the moon is just holding its breath.

Drive-By Truckers do their thing, taking The Missing Year‘s “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” and shifting it into overdrive; My Morning Jacket also do a Missing Years tune, “All The Best”, which Jim James and Prine recently performed on Letterman (worth a look); the Avett Brothers pick what I think is the perfect song for them: “Spanish Pipedream”; and Old Crow Medicine Show take the beautiful “Angel from Montgomery” and add their old timey flavor to it.

The big surprise for me was the album’s finale – “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” as performed by Those Darlins, a female trio from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. First off, it’s one of Prine’s most hilarious songs, the innuendos flying left & right. And then you add a sexy rhythm, an island feel, and the sensual and sassy singing of Those Darlins. Play this at a BBQ this summer, it’ll be a guaranteed hit. It’s such a fun ride, and a fitting finale to what amounts to a great tribute to good ol’ John Prine.

Home Town Boys: The Time live in Minneapolis

I wish I was Morris Day.

This desire might seem odd coming from someone who is quite literally whiter than anyone – including all white people – on the entire planet. As Morris said long ago, “You got to shake your ass like the black folks, you might get some tonight!” Needless to say, I can’t really shake my ass without eliciting laughs and hardy guffaws from my family and friends. This has always been a source of enormous consternation on my part given the undeniable fact that I love funk and soul so much that they are pretty much exactly like my blankie that I had when I was a kid.

When it comes to the greatest funk band in history I’m not white, though, I’m CLEAR. And I always will be for The Time.

I had heard the original line up of Morris Day, Jerome Benton, Jesse Johnson, Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis, Monte Moir and Jellybean Johnson was back together again making a new record produced by Jam and Lewis. More importantly, there was little or no involvement by Prince. It would truly be a Time record unlike their first four releases. My favorite of those four will always be Pandemonium simply because the tyrant from Chanhassen allowed Jam and Lewis to really take the reins and make a great record with some of his songs. In so many ways, that record sums up the very essence of the band: silly, fun, happy, sexy, and super funkilicious.

Of course, I had seen Morris Day’s touring version of the Time with Jellybean, Moir and sometimes Jerome over the years but not the original (and best) line up. The yearning to see the original line up has always been strong and when I heard about the new record, I was amped that a tour would be forthcoming. That feeling went nuclear when I heard that two quick gigs were planned to get the band “feeling tight again” as Jimmy Jam put it. One was scheduled in Detroit and one in the band’s hometown – my hometown -Minneapolis. I found out about it two days before the show and snagged a ticket immediately.

The venue that was chosen was quite ironic. Now called Club Epic, it used to be Prince’s old club from the 90s, Glam Slam. They have since remodeled and it really looks and sounds fantastic. Everyone was in a great mood, dancing to the DJ and waiting for the band to come on. When they did, it was (pardon the pun) Pandemonium. Minnesota loves it’s hometown heroes and the adulation was insane – stunning really – when Morris and Co. first took the stage.

Their set list was the same as the Detroit show two nights earlier, and simply spectacular. “Wild and Loose” and “777-9311”, both almost 30 years old now, sounded as fresh as ever. Songs from Pandemonium (“Blondie”, “Jerk Out”) were completely out of sight. I also quite enjoyed “Skillet”, a hilarious number about the joys of cooking and food.

The real treat of the night was Jesse Johnson. That guy can fucking play the guitar! There were moments when I felt the spirit of Jimi Hendrix and this was never more true than his mini 4 song solo set in the middle of the show. Playing old and new songs, Jesse stunned the crowd with his prowess on his gorgeous white Fender. Honestly, I really felt blessed to witness it.

The show wrapped up with the customary girls on stage for “If The Kid Can’t Make You Come”, a loving and dedicated-to-Minneapolis “Ice Cream Castles”, a heartfelt and surprisingly crushing “Gigolos Get Lonely Too”, a military crisp version of “The Walk” with the whole band dancing, and anyone who wanted onstage for the melee know as “The Bird”. As the rest of the band filed off to await the encore cheers, Jimmy Jam and Jerome Benton stayed on stage to thank all of us for starting their careers and talked a little bit about the new record due soon. Jimmy Jam is just a class act. No doubt about it. Everyone came back out and they did “Jungle Love” (natch!), and were then sent off into the night dreaming of phone numbers, sticks, COOL, birds and gigolos. Weary eyed, I dreamed of what always do…

I wish I was Morris Day.

More photos after the jump…

The Friday Five: June 18, 2010

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

The Five:

“She” by Kiss (from Double Platinum, 1978)

I’ll admit to having a Beavis moment when this shuffled up first. No one does big dumb rock n’ roll better than Kiss. Well, early ‘70s Kiss, at any rate; I’m still not sure that I’d be willing to give it to them for anything past Dynasty. My Mother love telling the story of how, as a little kid, I would run screaming from my older cousin’s room, afraid of his black light Kiss posters. Thanks, Mom!

“Nothin’ at All” by Heart (from Heart, 1985)

It may be formulated arena rock, but I can’t help but love ‘80s Heart. I swear, to this day I will stop and turn up any of these singles when the come on the radio.

“La Isla Bonita” by Madonna (from The Immaculate Collection, 1990)

Someone needs to mash up Madge, Gaga and Ace of Base, because I’d probably pay to hear a masterful mix of “La Isla Bonita,” “Don’t Turn Around” and “Alejandro.” Fuck, as I’m listening to this song I’m singing “Don’t call my name, don’t call my name, Alejandro” in my head and it’s awesome.

“I’m the Magnificent” by Special Ed (from Youngest in Charge, 1989)

This is one of those party bomb records. Back in my DJ days, I always had a stash of record that would guarantee to get everyone on the floor and shaking their asses, and this was at the top of the heap, right next to “It Takes 2.” Hell, this came on in the headphone and I started wiggling in my seat.

“And We Danced” by The Hooters (from Nervous Night, 1985)

The iPod must know that I’m going to see Acoustic ‘80s tonight! Which reminds me, if you are in NYC, come on down to Wicked Willy’s – 149 Bleeker St (Laguardia Street) – and there is a good chance that you’ll find a slew of your favorite writers all rocking out to the acoustic styling’s of Jason Hare and Michael Burke. Now, I’ve just got to convince them to play this song!

What’s on your shuffle today?

June 22 in Tempe: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

Next on my live music calendar is June 22nd for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. I knew little about this group until I caught their set on the Coachella webcast. It was the highlight of my armchair weekend at Coachella.

The group is the brainchild of Alex Ebert (aka Edward Sharpe). They definitely bring the communal, hippie vibe; and it’s hard not to see Ebert as the prophet-like Jesus figure among his merry band of peace loving misfits (at least they look & act like they love peace). The music itself is highly infectious, supercharged positive-energy folk rock. Last year’s full length debut, Up From Below ($5.99 for the mp3 album), comes highly recommended.

If you’re in AZ, come join me at the Clubhouse in Tempe on Tuesday the 22nd. I’m not crazy about the choice of venue, but hopefully the band can transform the gloom and doom atmosphere of the place. You can pick up tickets on the Stateside Presents web site, or in person at Zia Records, Stinkweeds or Hoodlums.

Check out this nice 3 song set, where the band crowds into NPR’s studios for “Janglin'”, “Home”, and “40 Day Daydream…

Also, here’s the band’s first network TV appearance on Letterman last September…

Señorita, Come Sit By My Fire…

Watching Bruce sing “Rosalita” tonight on Palladia‘s airing of Hard Rock Calling 2009 prompted me to track down this video ASAP and post on the blog. If you know anything about the Boss, you know that this 1978 version of Rosie live in Phoenix is one of the quintessential live video documents of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.

It took place July 8th, 1978 at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. It was the main arena in town at the time. The Phoenix Suns played there. Nowadays, it’s brought back into service during the Arizona State Fair every October. I’ve seen Bob Dylan and Steve Miller in that old arena (not together, mind you).

According to Brucebase, the most reliable source for every Bruce Springsteen performance known to man (until ’08), this was the night after the legendary July 7th club show at the Roxy in L.A. (a show that I still have available for you fine folks to listen to). It’s the middle of a hot summer in the desert, Bruce is still flying high after one of the most exhilarating shows of this career, and let’s just say the atmosphere is electric.

It gets no better.

The Friday Five: June 11, 2010

Friday Five

Friday Five : ‘frī-(,)dā,-dē ‘fīv : On the sixth day of every week, I hit the shuffle button on my iTunes, then share the first five tracks and thought for each track. Sometimes there is a playlist involved, occasionally we’ll have a guest, but most of the time it’s just me. The rest is up to you, our friends and readers! Fire up your media player of choice and share the first five random track of your shuffle in the comments.

Editor’s Note: I have to go ahead and thank all of you for keeping the Five alive these past couple of weeks, especially my Popdose brethren Jason Hare, Rob SmithMike Heyliger and of course all our readers! – Michael

The Five:

“Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai (from High Times: Singles 1992-2006, 2006)

“She Has a Girlfriend Now” by Reel Big Fish (from Turn Off the Radio, 1996)

“Alone” by Heart (from The Essential Heart, 2002)

“Already Free” by The Derek Trucks Band (from Already Free, 2009)

“Haunted Henry” by Roger Manning (from Catnip Dynamite, 2009)

What’s on your shuffle today?