The first time I saw Ben Harper live was in 1998 at the now defunct H.O.R.D.E. festival. Summer festivals were arguably at their peak, and H.O.R.D.E. pulled together all of the top “alternative jam bands” of the time. Founded by Blues Traveler and led by festival staple The Black Crowes, it was sort of like Lollapalooza for the folks who loved beads and hacky sacks (amongst other things).
Ben Harper was three albums into his career and really making a name for himself as one of the best live shows on the circuit. I remember being backstage at one of the shows as I worked for Sony Music at the time. They had a sort of self-serve ice cream stand set up, and there was a guy back there digging out a couple of scoops. He then looks at me and asks if I wanted some ice cream. I said, “Holy shit—you’re Ben Harper,” and gladly accepted his offer.
I was a casual fan of Ben Harper and had his first couple of records and I recognized him instantly. I chatted with him for a few minutes as we ate the frozen treat on what was a blistering hot St. Louis afternoon. We had a conversation about the tour and his set list that day and after a few minutes Ben said he had to run. I thought to myself, Ben Harper just served me ice cream and then hung out to chat, how fucking cool is that?
Benjamin Booker brought his unique blend of garage rock and blues to Chicago last weekend for a sold-out show at the Metro.
The New Orleans-based musician has quickly become a name to know since his 2014 self-titled debut album dropped, and his energetic and uproarious shows have rightfully added to the buzz surrounding him.
As far as punk blues goes, Benjamin Booker is the current kingpin. His raspy vocals and vigorous guitar riffs draw you in and his on-stage charisma keeps you there. Go see him in an intimate venue setting while you can.
You don’t hear the name bandied about much these days, but when I was an undergraduate and busy getting myself thrown out of the dorms, the Alan Parsons Project were big. A sort of poor man’s Pink Floyd, you could hear their 1976 debut, Tales of Mystery and Imagination—Edgar Allen Poe coming out of every dorm room, generally accompanied by the aroma of reefer. It was, as its title indicates, a concept album, and mixed progressive rock at its most unbearably symphonic with a few cool tracks that could actually pass—with a good fake ID—for rock’n’roll.
The Alan Parsons Project is chiefly remembered for 1977’s I Robot, but by then I had been unceremoniously tossed out of my dorm and was living in a collapsing group house where the ceilings were prone to cave in, and none of us wanted anything to do with it. There was drug music and then there was schlock, and The Alan Parsons’ Project were purveyors of the latter. We were glad to have escaped with our lives.
Not having listened to the damned thing for almost four decades, I was shocked by how well I remembered it. I mean, Tales of Mystery and Imagination might as well be ancient history, as ancient as the Bronze Age Hittites with their chariots and cuneiform texts. But what shocked me even more was how listenable it was. Or at least how listenable parts of it were. In my memory it was almost as bad as Emerson, Lake and Palmer, but say what you will about Parsons he had a populist streak that most all of your pomp rockers lacked, and he wasn’t averse to writing a catchy pop tune.
TVD DC/HQ’s Baltimore neighbor Dan Deacon is back touring in support of his newest release Gliss Riffer after a stint on tour with Arcade Fire. The electronic artist is well-known for his fun, interactive shows that embrace audience participation.
In his interview with us a couple of years ago, Deacon said, “I always think about the crowd as an element of the show like a parameter of the piece. The same way with the music or the PA system and the audience, the room, where the various exits are, and what we can partially do. The audience plays a huge role in that. I do a thing in the beginning that I call ‘synchronicity,’ to try and synchronize the crowd. We all get on the same page and from that I try to gauge if the audience is down for participation and interaction, or more of an audience that wants to watch.”
During his visit to DC last summer at Howard Theatre, Deacon had a dance battle between opposite sides of the audience, with two volunteers in the center of a circle, one leading the moves for each half of the room. When attending one of his shows, you might also catch a glimpse of the vegetable-oil-fueled converted school bus that he uses as his touring vehicle. Want to experience it all for yourself? We have a pair of tickets to give away to three lucky winners to any one show on his tour.
Let’s set the scene—it’s Saturday night. You and your friend and/or lover are intent on taking mind altering substances and having a good time. Tomorrow is Sunday, so fuck it… you can go wild. You have said substances, but what should you do to enjoy them?
A. Sit in your living room staring at a wall and wondering if aliens exist.
B. Go to the beach and freeze to death while pondering the vastness of water to land ratio on the Earth.
C. See Wand at Happy Dog.
Don’t be an idiot. Choose C.
Wand is a psychedelic/garage band from LA that brings a little bit of ’70s era glam flair to the mix with their latest record, Golem. On both Golem, and their previous record Ganglion Reef, there are tons of crazy fantasy/ Dungeons and Dragons/ magical vibes going on that—how do I say this—enhance the mood of the music to fit your state of mind. Both records from the band are excellent, but I’m expecting the live show to be next-level.
The Brooklyn trio Blackout specializes in a particularly heavy form of metal. Additional adjectives applying to their self-titled 7-song long-playing debut: sludgy, dense, thick, doomy. Few will describe them as original, though that’s hardly the objective. Rather, the aim is the inspired exploration of an esteemed style, and to this end Blackout succeeds. It’s out now on RidingEasy Records.
Blackout’s new LP first came to my attention while checking messages on my laptop. In so doing, the thumbnail image of the cover glimpsed above was reduced to roughly the size of, well, a thumbnail, and my immediate reaction before reading any clarifying text was that the email in question was promoting a mid-‘70s-vintage reissue.
It’s likely I would’ve thought the same had I stumbled over the record as I perused the B bin at my local wax shack. For starters, it’s a flat fact that the utilization of band photographs as cover art is far less common than it used to be, and by extension Blackout’s B&W portraiture, and the abundant locks and facial hair it captures, are the focal point of an undeniably retro design motif.
It reinforces the differences in Blackout’s approach, though Sabbath-roots aside the group doesn’t sound like they escaped from the ‘70s. No, part of their distinctiveness comes down to an undisguised sense of humor, which certainly stands apart in a field known for a high ratio of solemnity. This comic facet is healthy but not obnoxious, for no yuk-meisters are they; once the amps are plugged in and the picks and sticks are in hand, Blackout is a decidedly serious proposition.
Ah, Record Store Day. “Universal call Record Store Day ‘the single best thing that has ever happened to the indie stores,’” whereas Drenge say Record Store Day has “turned into a swamp of bullshit.” And, “Vinyl Specialists Claim Record Store Day ‘Puts Too Much Strain’ on the Record Industry.” (What say you?)
The vinyl resurgence, Record stores are on the rise again in Chicago: “Whatever the reason for vinyl’s comeback, it doesn’t appear to be disappearing again anytime soon, especially in Chicago. Here are a few of our favorite record stores…”
Calgary to see launch of Beatnik Bus, city’s first mobile record store
Sheffield’s Rare & Racy: the independent music store Jarvis Cocker says it would be ‘a crime to destroy.’ “Despite a 20,000-strong petition, Sheffield City Council recently voted in favour of demolishing this much-loved shop. So what does that say for the future of the city’s so-called ‘independent quarter?'”
GWAR Announce Special Record Store Day Performance As RAWG: “Heavy metal band GWAR have announced a special performance for Record Store Day. Many will be converging on Mesa, Arizona on April 18th for National Record Store Day, and the festivities that accompany the big event.”
Memories of York’s first dedicated record shop, Sound Effect: “Once it was a landmark for York teenagers, now a bench in King’s Square reminds us of Sound Effect; York’s first dedicated record shop…”
“What came first, the music or the misery…” “It’s true, we deal in the business of selling manufactured black discs that are chock full of depression. For every great love song someone wants to rant about I can hit you back with a break-up song that’s a million times better. To be honest most record collectors should be in therapy but we’re most likely too depressed to bother…”
PHOTOS: MICHAEL SOLOMON | Andrew Jackson Jihad came through Chicago’s Metro last Friday, March 27, and they brought a lineup stacked with passionate and lively punk acts. The Smith Street Band, Jeff Rosenstock, and Chumped each provided their own unique style, but there was a distinct common thread shared between all the bands that made for a fantastic overall show.
It had been a couple of years since I’d been to an authentic punk show. Growing up on Long Island, I spent much of my free time going to local punk/ska shows in church basements and neighborhood bars, and these shows taught me that the energy of a great punk show can be something special. When lyrics are shared rather than performed, and when there is a unifying spirit in the room which blurs the line between performer and audience. Friday’s show at the Metro brought back all of these feelings, and reminded me how extraordinary a punk show can be.
Chumped started things off and fit wonderfully as the opener. The female led 4-piece has a sound that lands somewhere between Alkaline Trio and The Get Up Kids, and their upbeat melodies had everyone bobbing their heads. Their catchy “Something About Lemons” contained a strong build-up and climax that landed particularly well with the audience.
As we noted upon the launch of our first of 9 weeks of vinyl giveaways, it’s easy to forget that going on 8 years now when TVD was in its year one (as was Record Store Day) the vinyl medium wasn’t “back,” sales weren’t stellar, and indeed record stores were a fading lot. No, worse actually. Shops we’re closing at such a clip, their disappearance literally informed the launch of the site you’re reading at present.
And as we’ll repeat for 9 weeks—vinyl and record stores go hand in hand. Their shared intrinsic value is the cultural commodity and the bedrock of any local music scene. Don’t believe us though…hit up your locals and the marriage becomes crystal clear.
But we too have been overwhelmed with the resounding popular and prevalent headlines as to vinyl’s big resurgence, yet they also arrive in tandem with far less rosy headlines such as “Starbucks to Open in Former Bleecker Street Records Space”—and worse, some very bad ideas when one advocates for record shops have, of late, become internet fodder. (Seriously, vinyl subscription clubs are the Carson Daly of record collecting.)
As such, picking up with an old TVD favorite, we’ve lined up 9 (count ‘em, 9) weeks of vinyl giveaways as we count down to Record Store Day 2015 to redouble our efforts to underscore the viability and the inherent need for your local brick and mortar record shops to remain the vibrant community touchstone that they intrinsically are. And while we kinda hate hanging out by the mailbox waiting for a record to show up (unless you’ve ordered it from a mom and pop or directly from a label!) we’re shipping out records for 9 weeks straight as sweet reminders that record stores are literally where it’s at.
In the year 2015, it sometimes seems difficult to locate real and true rock and roll that’s new and isn’t just a regurgitation of rock and roll from the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. This difficulty can be accounted for by any number of elements—auto tuning, the decreasing influence of record companies in the world of musical artistry, and MTV.
A while back Portlandia put forth a brilliant take on what had happened to MTV by placing a pre-teen girl in its leadership position as explanation of its ideological demise. The difficulty in question is just that however, a difficulty—not an impossibility. This past Saturday night at Webster Hall in New York City serves as exhibits A through infinity to attest to this latter fact.
Blackberry Smoke, having released four studio albums since its start in 2000, is most often described as a “southern rock” band, which it is—but this categorization seeks to minimize the band when it should be maximized and subsequently lauded. Blackberry Smoke is a straight-up rock and roll group. The band’s sound is derived from lead singer and guitarist’s Charlie Starr’s spot-on command of each song performed, along with support from fellow guitarist Paul Jackson, bassist Richard Turner, keyboard player Brandon Still, and drummer Brit Turner.
Holding All the Roses is the group’s latest release, and a number of tracks were showcased at the Webster Hall gig, including “Let Me Help You (Find the Door),” “Rock and Roll Again,” and “Living in the Song.” A terrifyingly gorgeous rendition of the group’s emotionally melodic work-of-art-track, “The Whippoorwill” would have stolen the show—if surprise guest Robert Randolph hadn’t stepped out to contribute to “Ain’t Got the Blues.”