Show Review: Jose Gonzalez, Okkervil River @ Emo’s, 09.26.2008

September 30, 2008

For those of us who have braved the hell of the Austin City Limits Festival one too many times in our lives, and/or those of us who are too old, poor and/or lame to go anymore, there are still plenty of other options in a sweet town like Austin to tide over your rock ‘n’ roll soul.  One feature that always comes along with the ACL Fest is the ACL aftershows, held all over town at venues such as Stubb’s and Emo’s.  The great thing about these shows is that you can see some of the best acts around in a slightly more intimate, much cooler (temperature-wise), and less sweaty setting.  The awful thing about these shows is that the price of a ticket almost triples.

Anyway, on Saturday night, Gordon and I took an excursion down to Emo’s to see one of our favorite local bands, Okkervil River, rock out the Emo’s stage once again.  The first time I ever saw Okkervil River was at Emo’s on 8/21/2004, when they opened for perhaps my favorite rock band that’s still playing together, New Jersey’s The Wrens.  At that time, Okkervil River was still fairly unknown, with less than a year to go from the 2005 release of their breakthrough and critically adored 2005 record Black Sheep Boy.  They made immediate fans of both Gordon and I, playing a restrained yet emotional set that hooked me from the beginning.  Gordon has seen them several other times, while I’ve remained content to follow their progress by way of each successive album release.   With the recent dropping of their latest record, The Stand Ins, and over four years since my last time seeing them live, I knew it was time.

By coincidence, José González happened to be playing the first set of the night on the indoor stage at Emo’s at 10:30, with Okkervil River playing outside much later.  This may have been partly responsible for the tripling of Emo’s ticket prices from their usually reasonable amount, along with the madness that is ACL.  Either way, I was stoked.  I’ve been a fan of José González since first hearing his 2003 record Veneer.  I was curious to see how his quiet lullabies were going to translate to a live setting in a small club.

Let me tell you, José blew me away!  I have seen many a show on the indoor stage at Emo’s, and one common thread is that the sound is usually awful.  Of course, the indoor stage usually plays host to many loud punk and metal bands, and the brick walls don’t do a great job of absorbing any of that crunchy sound.  However, I have now discovered that the indoor stage is the absolute perfect setting for a quiet acoustic folk act like José González.  With just his classical guitar, two pitch perfect backup singers, and some very sparsely used bongos, José absolutely owned that room.  His voice was immaculate, his guitar picking a wonder to behold.  He played several familiar tunes, such as “Crosses”, “Lovestain”, “Broken Arrows”, and “Remain”.  It was a great show, even though someone in my near vicinity had a particularly bad case of gas.

It was now time fto move outside for Okkervil River.  And what a huge disappointment it was.  I cannot blame the band for the poor show, though.  Frontman Will Sheff bounced around the stage with fire and energy, engaging the crowd at every turn, and the rest of the band played with precision.  The thing that ruined this show was the sound.  I don’t know if they have a new sound engineer at Emo’s, but this was hands down the worst sounding concert I have ever attended there, and I would estimate that I’ve been there somewhere around 50 times.  Beginning with opener “Plus Ones” and continuing all the way through closer “Westfall”, the bass guitar was turned up way too loud, the vocals were turned down too low, and the whole band sounded muddled and almost indistinguishable from one another.  The bass was so fucking loud that the hairs on my legs were vibrating.  Later, the bass got turned down a little bit, but then the organ on new song “Singer Songwriter” was so loud that nothing else could really be heard.  There was also a heavy haze of white noise throughout the entire set.  It was disappointing to say the least.  Gordon made the comment that he would have been disappointed if he had spent just $10 to see that show, but instead we paid $30 apiece.  So Emo’s, what the hell?  If you’re going to triple your prices for admission, at least give us a set worth listening to!  Bad form!

Maybe I should have just gotten drunk.

New Releases of Note: 9/30/08

September 30, 2008

Via AMG.

Box sets from The Jesus and Mary Chain and Roy Orbison are this week’s most interesting new releases.  In addition, nearly every single artist in the world seems to have simultaneously released a Christmas album, including Faith Hill, Bela Fleck, Melissa Ethridge, and The Archies(!).  I’m not going to list them, so check your favorite bands’ websites to find out if they have some Christmas joy for you!

The Jesus and Mary Chain – The Power of Negative Thinking: B-Sides & Rarities

Roy Orbison – The Soul of Rock and Roll

T.I. – Paper Trail

Robin Thicke – Something Else

The Fall – Imperial Wax Solvent

Ben Folds – Way to Normal

Megadeth – Anthology: Set the World Afire

Tom Morello, The Night Watchman – The Fabled City

Kellie Pickler – Kellie Pickler

U2 – Under a Blood Red Sky [Deluxe Edition]

Full list here.

Awesome Covers Corner: Cover Songs at ACL

September 30, 2008

A staple of any music festival past or present, cover songs were abound at this years Austin City Limits Festival.  So I figured I would put together a list of all the ones that I saw performed.  Please let me know if there are any that you witnessed that I didn’t list…

BeckPillbox Hat (Bob Dylan)
Jenny LewisLove Hurts (the Everly Brothers)
N.E.R.D.7 Nation Army (the White Stripes)
the Swell Season – Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
Conor OberstKodachrome (Simon & Garfunkel)
Jose Gonzales – Teardrop (Massive Attack)
Jose Gonzales – Heartbeat (the Knife)


Gnarls BarkleyReckoner (Radiohead)


Note: I heard conflicting reports of Allison Kraus and Robert Plant playing a Led Zeppelin song… some say it was Black Dog, some say the Battle for Evermore.  Can anyone verify??
Oh, and btw… the 2 best sets of this years ACL… MGMT and Band of Horses.

The World’s Largest Record Collection

September 30, 2008

Pittsburg, Pennsylvania resident Paul Mawhinney has 3 million records and 300,000 CDs.  Thats over 6 million songs.  And he wants to give them to you for the low-low price of $3 million.  Thats a steal when you consider that his collection is estimated to be worth $50 million.   He could sell it off piece by piece and earn enough money to take care of his medical bills but he’s aging and he wants the collection kept intact.

Watch the short film.

Update (GW): I used my God-like Administrative Powers to both fix the link and embed the video. (Oddly, the embedded video is visible in Firefox on my laptop but not on my desktop. If you don’t see it, use the link.)


September 30, 2008

Hell, yeah.  Jean-Claude Van Damme.  The Muscles from Brussels was a staple of my high school and college years.  I didn’t see every movie he released during his prime, but I did see Bloodsport, Cyborg, Lionheart, Double Impact, Hard Target, Street Fighter, and Sudden Death.  Probably a few others, too–those are just the ones I can remember.

Van Damme eventually drifted into direct-to-video hell, probably an inevitable fate for a niche action star.  But I think I speak for millions of permanently immature boys in saying that Van Damme kicks ass!

Well, would you believe he’s made a comeback?  And he’s getting good reviews?  As an actor?

Introducing J.C.V.D., starring J.C.V.D. as J.C.V.D.

…I never thought I’d utter these words, but Jean-Claude Van Damme gives an exciting, impressive performance here, careening between action that leaves him breathless and comedy that leaves us laughing, revealing not only the timing and charisma that made him the action star we know him as but also a human side we probably had never imagined. There’s nothing more vain than insisting you’re without vanity, but Van Damme strips himself bare here — the aging action icon, the man who finds living other people’s dreams a nightmare, the star who is in danger of losing a part to Stephen frickin’ Seagal.

J.C.V.D. has been picked up for American distribution, but I don’t think a release date has been announced yet.  Those of us in Austin can rest assured that the Alamo Drafthouse will be all over this one.  And so will I.

In the meantime, here’s the trailer:

Music Mystery #398 – Love Rollercoaster

September 28, 2008

OK, this has to one of the most outrageous urban legends surrounding a song in music history.

Is it true a woman was murdered during the recording of “Love Rollercoaster”?

The most popular rumor states that a girlfriend of one of the recording engineers was murdered in the studio next to the one Ohio Players was recording in, and somehow her scream made it onto Ohio Players tape.

A popular variation on that is that the model for the cover of Honey was badly burned in the photo-shoot for the album cover. Allegedly, the “honey” wasn’t actually honey but some sort of synthetic resin like fiberglass and it ripped all her skin off after the photo-shoot. Why anyone would do that instead of using water soluble honey is beyond me. Perhaps they had a problem with bears where the photo was shot and they didn’t want to take any chances on the set.

So apparently she went to the studio just as the band was recording the track “Love Roller Coaster”, and when she threatened the Ohio Players manager with a lawsuit he stabbed her to death in the studio! Another variation states that the band themselves killed her because she was a groupie that would not leave them alone, and other less interesting variations on the “groupie” scenario.

Listen to the “scream” at 2:33, it is kind of creepy.

The truth is the scream is really there on the track, but it’s Billy Beck screeching off-mike and they decided to leave it on to give the song a looser feel. There are plenty of these types of casual slips on OP’s records. During live performances of this song Billy Beck often screams and laughs during the percussion break. The band stated that they were big fans of the “Paul is dead” hype The Beatles were able the generate, so when a popular DJ in New Jersey began spreading the rumor they made a decision to remain quiet to add to the hype.

The Song That’s Been Stuck In My Head All Day

September 28, 2008

Part one of an endless series.

“Homosapien” by Pete Shelley.

Freedom Rock

September 27, 2008

“Is that Freedom Rock? Well Turn It Up Man!”

There appears to be what looks like a gallon of jug of gasoline to the right of the excited talking hippie who is no doubt “hopped up on goofballs”. My theory is that they were probably about to go out an torch the administration building of Kent State University, when they were suddenly distracted by the incessant corporate pandering to the “Baby Boomer” generation. Effin’ sellouts!

Bill Monroe – Uncle Pen

September 27, 2008

This is 52 years old.

The Great Paul Newman Has Left Us

September 27, 2008

There will be hundreds, if not thousands, of obituaries and tributes written over the course of the next week, all of which will likely do a better job than I can, so I’m not even going to try.

My favorite Paul Newman moment is in The Hustler, where he declares, “The pool game is not over until Minnesota Fats says it’s over.”  I love that line.  A victory in battle does not mean victory in the war.

Paul Newman lost the battle against death, as we all will.  But he won the war against mortality.

Actor, Oscar winner, veteran, race car driver, entrepreneur, humanitarian, father, faithful husband for fifty years.  Legend.  Rest in peace.

I couldn’t find a clip with my favorite line, but this one will do just fine.

Album Review: Calexico – Carried To Dust

September 26, 2008

In 1998, a film was released that, while performing modestly at the box office, would go on to become a cult classic that gained widespread recognition as one of the greatest comedies of the 90’s, if not of all time.  In that film, The Big Lebowski, we follow the adventures of The Dude as he wanders the ins and outs of Southern California in order to replace his living room rug that was urinated upon in a sad case of mistaken identity.  Why?  Because that rug really tied the room together.

Fast forward to ten years later.  Calexico, a well-respected yet still fairly outside of the mainstream group releases the album Carried to Dust.  The Arizona duo has been quietly grinding it out on the indie music scene since forming as a side project of LA band Giant Sand in the mid-90’s, whilst farming out their considerable musical talents to back such performers such as Iron & Wine and Nancy Sinatra.

Calexico has spent the years cultivating a fascinating blend of jazz, mariachi and other Latin styles, and rock ‘n’ roll to create a gorgeous pastiche of the American Southwest.  My first experience with a Calexico song was hearing the blaring mariachi horns of “The Crystal Frontier” from their 2001 EP Even My Sure Things Fall Through.  The song was an immediate hit with me, but I could never escape the feeling that it was all a little gimmicky and could not sustain them through a full career.  Of course, I had similar feelings the first time I heard the pirate rock of The Decemberists, so I have been proven wrong before.

And proven me wrong Calexico has.  Their 2003 full length Feast of Wire is a masterpiece of experimental fusion, and such songs as “Sunken Waltz” and “Across The WIre” brought a new dimension to their mariachi rock.  2006 follow up full length Garden Ruin saw the band take a few steps away from their experimental side, reining in the horns and completely eschewing their all-instrumental tracks to bring forth a much more straight ahead rock album.  They pulled off the transition incredibly well, and it looked as though Calexico’s mariachi days may be left behind.

Now, with Carried To Dust, Calexico has once again proven me wrong.  The album is an incredibly cohesive demonstration of everything they have learned in their past, an amalgam of the mariachi playfulness that has served them so well in the past matched with skillful pop songwriting and, most of all,  wondrous arrangements.  It took me a long time to make the connection, but Calexico’s sound, past and present, is a not so distant cousin of the out of character but incredibly masterful Pixies song “Silver” from landmark 1989 indie album Doolittle.  Perhaps inadvertently, Calexico have taken the desolate sound and feel of Black Francis and Kim Deal’s wailing western world as a foundation, and they have crafted something wholly new.

The album begins with “Victor Jara’s Hands”, a rousing salsa number with guest vocals by Jairo Zavala, who lends a Gipsy Kings feel to the song.  The albums first perfunctory Calexico waltz comes in the form of “The News About William”, which features a marching snare, quiet horns, and intricate string melodies that gorgeously intertwine with Joey Burns’ lead vocal to create a chillingly sorrowful song.  Another highlight is the island-tinted flamenco of “House of Valparaiso”, featuring guest vocals by Sam Beam of Iron & Wine.  The nautical imagery and light-as-air percussion, classical guitar, and horn accompaniment take the listener on a trip through coastal waters of Baja.  Here, as in almost every song on the album, the real star is the arrangments of both the music and the vocals, which coexist and intermingle in such subtle and understated ways as to lend an effortless and goosebump-inducing authenticity to each tune.

Calexico have been on the indie rock scene for years, and they have slowly and quietly established themselves at the top of the genre, blending styles and honing their craft to a sharp edge along the way.  Like The Big Lebowski, they have gained a slow but inevitable cult following that may one day elevate them to the status of one of the greatest of all time.  For now, I am glad to be one of those that has had the privilege of following them from back when they were unknown.  With Carried To Dust, Calexico have finally found that perfect mix of their myriad influences that, in the words of Walter Sobchak, “really ties the room together.”  Fuckin’ A.

“Two Silver Trees”

CCR’s “Effigy” by Uncle Tupelo

September 26, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival put out an astonishing amount of good material in the few years of their existence.  Best-ofs cannot cover it all–neither Chronicle, their most famous best-of, nor Chronicle, Volume 2, their second most famous, contains this song.  (AMG tells me that, strangely, some gas-station budget best-ofs do, but you likely didn’t pick up any of those.)  The original is the final track on Willy and the Poor Boys.

As one who speaks from experience, Uncle Tupelo has changed many a life.  I will write more about them later, but for now, here’s their cover of CCR’s “Effigy.”

They slow it down and give it the full Neil Young treatment.  This works so well, you wonder why it took someone a quarter-century to think of it.  Or maybe it just seems obvious in retrospect.

This version is available on the spotty ’90s benefit comp, No Alternative, and Uncle Tupelo’s “best-of.” (Scare quotes because I have my quarrels with it.)

The CCR catalog will be re-released in a week or two.


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