Top Left: Steve Earle works his dobro hard for the Sheridan Opera House crowd. Top Right: Jonny Lang brings the blues in Mountain Village. Bottom Left: Junior Brown rocks his guitar / lap-steel hybrid in Mountain Village. Bottom Right: I ponder life’s great questions with a Franziskaner in hand.
Yes, folks, life was sweet last week. My wife and I plopped the kids into the truck and drove the 9 hours from the Phoenix area to the beautiful San Juan Mountains of southwest Colorado. We met up with my parents, my two brothers and their families for some 4th of July fun in Telluride, Colorado.
As you can see, the music gods were smiling on me during my vacation. Among the hiking, dining, and fly fishing (3 times, 1 brown trout, and a ton of fun) were these three great events that kept the Ickmusic vibe alive….
It’s summer time in Arizona, which means it’s high time to hightail it out of town. This week finds me back in one of my favorite places on God’s green earth – Telluride, Colorado. I snapped the pic above this afternoon near the Nelly Mine, up in the San Juan Mountains at about 11,200 feet. The hike kicked my ass, but as you can see, there’s a lot around to inspire and motivate a weary hiker.
I felt fortunate too that the song bouncing around my head today wasn’t one of the selections from ’30 Songs for Toddlers’ that played 3-4 times on the drive up from Phoenix. Nope, it was this Band of Horses song – a tune that has been getting more air time than any lately. Ben Bridwell – voice from the heavens. Just beautiful. Listen to it all.
The next couple of nights are good nights for music here in Telluride. Tomorrow night, it’s Junior Brown, who’s playing a free concert up in Telluride Mountain Village.
I just watched Heartworn Highways last night. It’s a great music film, a snapshot of the mid-70’s Nashville and Austin outlaw music scene. It features Rodney Crowell, Guy Clark, David Allan Coe, Steve Young, a very young Steve Earle, and Townes Van Zandt (among a lot of others). In this clip, Townes has just got done listening to Seymour Washington talk about his life. Seymour is an old timer, 79 years old at the time this was filmed in 1975. He talks about his life on the farm, of shoeing horses, of the importance of good whiskey. This clip picks up right before Townes plays “Waiting Around to Die”. You’ll see Seymour in the background – an emotional moment, as you’ll see…
I used to really enjoy creating mixes for friends and – well – especially girlfriends. Inspiration would smack me like a freight train, and I’d dig into my collection and weave together tapestries of musical brilliance (at least I thought so!) and what I thought to be clever proclamations of affection. Well, the girlfriends are no more (my wife would kill me), but I have to get my mix fix in every now and then. So indulge me, my internet friends, and take in my new Ickmix.
It’s a fairly mellow mix. I’m a mellow fellow. I hope you enjoy. If you do, let me know. It may give me a kick in the pants to make more.
I’m glad to say that I’ve never been in the position to identify with Steve Earle in his song “Valentine’s Day”. But if you’re one of the unlucky ones who wakes up Thursday morning cardless and giftless, simply drop to your knees and sing this song.
This is one of the sweetest, most emotional tunes that Steve has ever written. It showed up on his amazing 1996 album I Feel Alright. Providing the perfect background vox are gospel legends the Fairfield Four. If you don’t have the album, I strongly recommend you remedy that right here, right now.
Steve Earle – Valentine’s Day (mp3)
I know you’re probably all sick of the obligatory year end list mania sweeping the interwebs, but indulge me, if you will, as I throw in a few favorites myself. I give you….
Pete’s Year in (Ick)Music: 2007
Songs of the Year:
1.“Intervention”, by Arcade Fire – Win Butler and his band of gypsy maniacs known as Arcade Fire rocked my soul with this song. I had the heard the song in earlier incarnations, specifically on one of AF’s Morning Becomes Eclectic appearances. But it was after Neon Bible was released, when I was on a run with the iPod, when this song raised the hairs on my arms, brought tears to my eyes, and zapped me with an extra dose of adrenaline. In my opinion, “Intervention” is an epic masterpiece, joining songs like “Purple Rain”, “Thunder Road”, “London’s Burning”, and Steve Earle’s “Goodbye” on my mantle of all time favorites. The church organ, the lamenting lyrics that spotlight the brave and innocent soldier stuck in a unnecessary war:
“I can taste the fear
Lift me up and take me out of here
Don’t wanna fight, don’t wanna die
Just wanna hear you cry.”
“Intervention”s lyrics are a bitter reminder of our current leadership here in the U.S – an administration that continues to take a giant dump on a lot of the ideals of our forefathers. As of this writing, there are 390 days left of this god-awful president and his gang of deceivers. The door’s over there, fellas – don’t let it hit you in the ass.
Cheers to Win Butler and Arcade Fire.
2. “F.U.N.K.”, by Prince – Who knew? He still has it in him. All it took was a little passion and anger to get a great song out of him. Too bad his ire is directed at his most passionate fans – those who have carried him through his career. Finally, we get inspired, funky, creative Prince. Whatever it takes, I guess!
3. “City of Immigrants”, by Steve Earle
Though it’s still hard to adjust to the latest live incarnation of Mr. Earle (Steve, a guitar, two turntables and a DJ), he released a very solid album this year – Washington Square Serenade – and to me, this track stands out from the rest. NYC / Brazilian group Forro in the Dark back Steve up in this spirited homage to New York City’s immigrant roots. Steve’s delightfully upbeat mandolin playing, Forro’s Brazilian percussion, and the sweet backing vocals of Allison Moorer make this one of my favorites of the year.
It’s worth watching the Letterman performance of it too…
Albums of the Year:
1. Magic, by Bruce Springsteen
Refreshing. Like opening the windows on a cool, sunny morning. The man just has it, doesn’t he? His talent at songwriting and tunesmithing (not to mention performing) leaves me in awe. Bruce’s tip o’ the hat to Brian Wilson and sixties pop, “Girls in Their Summer Clothes”, leads the charge for me. But there is no shortage of excellent songs on this one: “Gypsy Biker”, “Long Walk Home”, and “Livin’ in the Future” to name a few. Now if only Bruce would book a date in Phoenix on his early 2008 tour. Still nothing, and it’s killin’ me!
2. Sky Blue Sky, by Wilco
This album reached out to the mellow, country-rock side of me, and wrapped its arms around me. I’ve enjoyed all of Wilco’s albums (particularly from 1999’s Summerteeth on) for their spontaneity and originality. You just never know where they’re going to head next. When I threw on Sky Blue Sky, it immediately connected, right from the opening notes of “Either Way”. It’s the opening salvo of songs 1 through 4 that move me the most: “Either Way”, “You Are My Face” (can there be a cooler song title?), “Impossible Germany”, and the title track. I could listen to Jeff Tweedy sing the phone book. His scratchy, smoke & whiskey-soaked voice makes jeff one of my favorite vocalists around.
Disappointment of the Year:
Planet Earth, by Prince
No one wants a great Prince album more than me. Every year I hope I’m going to hear it, but once again, Prince underwhelmed. Songs like “The One U Wanna C” and “Somewhere Here on Earth” were the highlights for me, and gave me some hope. But duds like “Mr. Goodnight”, “Lion of Judah”, “Resolution” and the title track pollute Planet Earth enough to make Al Gore pitch a huge hissy fit. And the song that had the highest funky Prince potential – “Chelsea Rogers” – is marred by Shelby J.’s mic-hogging, with Prince’s vocals just a footnote in the background.
The Throwing It All Away Award of the Year:
I discovered Amy’s music back in February when I heard the retro, soulful, yet still modern “Rehab” of hers. Then I picked up Back to Black. What a VOICE! Effortless and so rich with soul. Then it soon became apparent how troubled she was (and is). Her demons & addictions (and those ratty old ballerina slippers she insists on wearing) have been all over the tabloids and gossip web sites this year. Surrounding herself with folks like her hubby Blake Fielder Civil and chronic fuck-up Pete Doherty don’t bode well for her future. Of course Blake is locked up now for the foreseeable future, but it doesn’t look like she’s using it as an opportunity to straighten herself out.
Back to Black was recently nominated for six Grammy awards. We’ll see if she even turns up for the ceremony (by the way – Year 2 of Ickmusic Live Blogging the Grammy’s, comin’ up!). You can’t help but pull for her, though. So much talent. Get it together, Amy!
Underground Hip-Hop Double Blast of the Year:
Ahead of the Curve, by Lateef & Z-Trip
Rise Up, by Zeph & Azeem
These two joints were a breath of old school fresh air to my hip-hop starved lungs. If you’re looking for something – anything – to prove to you that real hip-hop is alive & well, pick up these two albums now.
Best Live Show of the Year: Arcade Fire at Austin City Limits Music Festival, September 15th. 90 minutes of adrenaline-filled bliss for me. They are one of a kind: inspiring, energetic, and grandiose. Like I’ve said before, there’s something powerful about Win Butler’s stage presence and charisma. The defining moment of this show was their encore finale, “Wake Up”… a sea of humanity singing along with the band, a collective of goosebump-filled arms raised in the air. To me, Arcade Fire are one of the defining bands of our generation. There’s something very special about these guys & gals.
Best New (to me) Artists
Music is all about discovery for me. Often times I don’t pick up on an artist until well into their career. Here are a few that I came across this year – some who have been around a while, others who haven’t.
Aceyalone – Acey has been a fixture on the LA underground hip-hop scene for years. I was finally brought into his world through his reggae/hip-hop album Lightning Strikes.
The Avett Brothers – These guys hail from Concord, North Carolina, and knocked me out with this year’s album, Emotionalism. Cool neo-bluegrass folksy sounds come out of this trio’s guitar, banjo and stand-up bass.
So what will 2008 bring? No idea, but I look forward to finding out. Don’t be shy about sharing your favorites with me. I’m always interested in quality tunes, wherever and whenever they may come from.
With the cancellation of the White Stripes, Saturday’s headliner, many called this the weakest day of the festival lineup-wise. But for me, it turned out to be my favorite. Here’s why:
Raul Malo – What can be said about Raul Malo, other than he has the voice from the heavens and could sing the phone book and it would sound great. The former singer for the Mavericks kicked off the early afternoon with a fantastic set at the Dell stage, peppering in Mavericks classics like the barnburner “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” and “Dance the Night Away”, with the steamy Latin love song “Besame Mucho”, a cover of Dwight Yoakam’s “It Only Hurts Me When I Cry”, and the mambo classic “Sway”.
One of the great things about seeing Raul Malo live is his sunny disposition. The guy seems to always be in a great mood on stage, and it’s rare not to see that beaming smile throughout his set. He has a way of putting the audience in a good place, and that good nature comes through in his music. Dammit I feel all warm and fuzzy just talking about it.
Here’s some sweet vid I shot of Raul and band doing “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down”:
Steve Earle – Having been tuned into Steve Earle’s new album with Dust Brother producer John King, I wasn’t surprised to see a couple of mic stands and a DJ rig set up for Steve’s ACL set. But it was a sight that probably made a few people go “hmmm.” The first few songs were just Steve and his gee-tars. He walked out and told his Townes Van Zandt / Amigo the Horse / Crested Butte story that prefaced Townes’ “Rex’s Blues” into “Fort Worth Blues”. Then he reached back to “Tom Ames Prayer”, “Rich Man’s War”, and “Copperhead Road”.
THEN, up crept DJ Neil, who laid down a funky lil’ beat which led into “Tennessee Blues”. I was front and center, and I heard some laughter and sounds of surprise from a lot of the crowd as they tried to comprehend what they were seeing: not Steve Earle & the Dukes, or Steve Earle solo, or Steve and the Del McCoury Band, but Steve Earle and a DJ. Two turntables and an acoustic guitar? Damn straight!
The Steve-DJ Neil portion of the set was dedicated solely to Steve’s new material from Washington Square Serenade (out September 25th). He played 8 of the 12 songs from the album. His wife Alison Moorer came out for a few songs (“Down Here Below”, “City of Immigrants”, and “Days Aren’t Long Enough”), looking radiant in green…
When the set ended, and we were shuffling off to the next stage, I overheard a young lady say “That was weird.” I don’t think she meant it in a good way. For me, it’s the weirdness and unpredictability that attracts me to artists like Steve Earle, and I know a lot of people agreed with me on that day. It’s the courage to try something new, instead of sticking with the same formula. The same courage that inspired Bruce to release Tunnel of Love after Born in the U.S.A. (or head off on tour with the Seeger Sessions Band), or Prince to follow Purple Rain with Around the World in a Day. It may shake off some fans, but those of us who are interested in following artists along on their journey – wherever they may go – are in for a thrill.
Steve Earle carries himself like he’s sporting a perpetual middle finger to “what’s expected” of someone. Watching him strum along with the manufactured beats and samples of the DJ certainly was different than my past Steve Earle experiences, but was a lot of fun to watch. I caught a couple of moments where Steve and DJ Neil were interacting, and you could sense genuine happiness on Steve’s face – the joy of kicking down the walls and trying something completely new. Keep on going, Steve – I’ll be following along.
1. Story About Townes Van Zandt
2. Rex’s Blues
3. Ft.Worth Blues
4. Tom Ames’Prayer
5. Rich Man’s War
6. Transcendental Blues
7. Copperhead Road
9. Tennessee Blues#
10. Satellite Radio#
11. Oxycontin Blues#
12. Down Here Below#*
13. City Of Immigrants#*
14. Days Aren’t Long Enough*
15. Steve’s Hammer#
16. Way Down In The Hole#
Beausoleil – I regret not being better positioned for the Beausoleil set. We were off to the side, just far enough to miss out on the full Beausoleil experience. But we treated to some great traditional Cajun sounds, with leader Michael Doucet’s great voice and fiddle playing. I need to see them when they pass through Phoenix, but like a lot of the bands and artists I admire, Phoenix isn’t part of the tour itinerary. I think I need to be a promoter and pull in some of these acts. No Wilco? No Arcade Fire? No Beausoleil? And I could go on and on. I guess it has to do with the local radio market too, which is saturated with your run of the mill country, classic rock, “lite” jazz, and talk stations. And people are satisfied with this? Blechh… sometimes I feel like I live in a town with no fucking soul. I guess I feel especially sensitive to this right now because I just returned from Austin. But it’s always there. Of course, I’ve chosen to live out in suburbia in the land of cookie cutter houses, SUV’s, everybody and their uncle on their damn cell phones all the time (talking to their little bluetooth headsets), no sense of community. Did I say blechh? Let me say it again: blechh.
Arctic Monkeys – These Brits are a favorite of the music critics out there, and there are a lot of devoted fans – probably a lot of you – but they didn’t click with me. I can appreciate and admire the energy and creativity with their Brit-pop-rock-punk stylings, but I need a melody. I wasn’t hearing one. Not that they’re pitted against each other, but gimme Kaiser Chiefs!
Arcade Fire – Many people have asked about who I enjoyed most at ACL. “Arcade Fire” is my answer. It’s often followed by “Arcade who?” or “What kind of music do they play?”. I never know how to answer the “what kind of music” question. That’s why I struggle with reviewing records. It seems in order to write an accurate review, you have to pigeonhole artists into categories. I’m guilty of it by lumping every post of mine into genre categories. But I hate to define music. It’s so subjective. And people like me who appreciate every kind of music under the sun have a hard time putting it to words. “What kind of music do you listen to, Pete?” – Um, everything?
So how to answer the Arcade Fire question? I try with words like gypsy rock, high energy, Montreal, indie, Epic (with a capital E)…. does that do it justice? No. For one person, I pulled out my iPod and had her listen to “Intervention”. That’s Arcade Fire.
Ever since I first heard “Old Flame” about three years ago, I’ve chomped at the bit to see Arcade Fire live. Win Butler’s amazing vocals and the unique instrumentation promised for a great live experience. And great it was. We weren’t too far from the stage at all – a little to the front and left of the soundboard. We were in a sea of people with not too much room to move (my bro wasn’t too fond of the sixty-something, writhing hippie with an affinity for pouring water on his head to cool off). But when the music started, it turned into an intimate, communal experience.
They’re a seven piece ensemble. And they’re not the reserved bunch. Richard Parry flails around like a wild banshee, banging drums, crashing cymbals, and I think I saw him hitting a motorcycle helmet with wild abandon. Régine Chassagne, Win’s wife, played some wild looking instrument with a crank, played keyboards, played drums, and acted out lyrics at different times. Holding them all together is Win Butler. There’s something about the guy. I don’t know, some sort of wise and spiritual aura. Whatever it is, I can’t get enough of his voice.
My highlight was “Intervention”, which has to be my favorite song of the year. Goosebumps.
And the communal craziness of their encore, “Wake Up”, is evident here:
Here’s a brief recap of my first day at ACL: Friday, September 14th….
Jesse Malin – my bro and I walked in part way into Jesse’s set. Jesse gets instant cred in my book because he pulled the Boss in to his new album to sing “Broken Radio” with him. He’s got the east coast pure rock n’ roll vibe going, and he delivered with his set. One of those acts that I need to see in a small club. I’ll be catching him next time he hits Phoenix.
Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts – far be it from me to be a superficial, “typical male”, but the bass player for Joseph Arthur & the Lonely Astronauts enhanced the show for me. Her name is Sybil Buck, turns out she’s a model for Yves St. Laurent, and she shakes and shimmies like she stepped out of a Robert Palmer video. The Astronauts set was a favorite of both my brother and I. Buck and the other female in the group, killer lead guitarist Jen Turner, laid down some sweet harmonies – making some of the tunes sound very ethereal and even Pixies-like at times. A great set, and it made me re-listen to their latest release, Let’s Just Be, with a new appreciation. Hail hail Joseph & the Astronauts…
Will Hoge – the mid-afternoon, post fire set by Will Hoge at the Austin Venures stage was a nice well kept secret among the throngs at the festival. A relatively small crowd got treated to some down home rock n roll, often reminiscent of the Black Crowes (at least to these ears). Hoge even busted out some trademark Chris Robinson moves at times, complete with some handclaps and mic-stand staggers. Good set.
Blonde Redhead -We only caught a couple songs before getting positioned for Crowded House, but what I did hear sounded interesting. I’ll have to dig into some of their stuff.
Crowded House – my bro’s highlight of the weekend was seeing Crowded House, who he hadn’t seen since the early 90’s in Minneapolis. It was my first time seeing Neil Finn, Nick Seymour and the band. It was a solid, tight set that was the last of their six week North American tour. Hearing familiar tunes like “Weather With You” and “Don’t Dream It’s Over” was mighty nice.
M.I.A. – We were stuck behind the soundboard for Maya’s packed set, so we cut it a bit short after a few songs. But I watched some video screen action of M.I.A. and her dance partner jump around to the likes of “Bucky Done Gun”, “Sunshowers”, “Boyz”, and “World Town”. I should’ve pre-positioned myself for this one, if you know what I mean (huh?)…
Spoon – okay we were about 2 football fields back and I laid down and closed my eyes for a while, then we were off to see the Kaiser Chiefs. But I did hear some cool tunes off the new album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, like “The Underdog”, “Don’t You Evah” and “The Ghost of You Lingers”.
Reverend Horton Heat – I’ve seen the Rev a multitude of times over the years, so it wasn’t a priority to catch the whole set. But we did manage to catch the last several tunes, which gave us “Psychobilly Freakout”, “Bales of Cocaine”, “It’s Martini Time”, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, “Greensleeves”, and “Folsom Prison Blues”. It’s always good to see the Rev and his Gretsch, Jimbo and his stand up bass, and their latest drummer.