Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Blacky MacBlackenblack & His Blackest Blackness

If you're tuning in from last month then you know I recently saw the Black Keys and the Black Angels. (I guess Black Mountain and Blackalicious had other black plans.) I'm firmly putting this show in my all-time top five, alongside (in no particular order): Unwound/Blonde Redhead at the Middle East in '98; the Reverend Horton Heat at Avalon in '94; Kiss at Great Woods in '01 (where I cracked up everyone around me with a shouted request for "Love Theme From Kiss"); and the AC/DC cover band Fat Angus at a Somerville dump called Good Times a couple of years ago. AC/DC cover band!

(The funny thing about the Unwound and Rev. shows is that my expectations were low, low, low. I'd seen Unwound about a year earlier and they had a shitload of technical problems, culminating in the amps breaking down one last time and the band becoming fed up and walking off the stage. Vern was a prick but Justin realized it wasn't the crowd's fault, so returned to the mic to tell us "Sorry for all that shit and thanks for sitting through our crappy show…" only the mic stopped working after two syllables—it was like a bad sketch. When they came back to town I might have considered not going, except that Blonde Redhead were opening and I'd been wanting to see them awhile. And let me tell you, Blonde Redhead killed. They were so good I actually felt bad for Unwound having to follow them, especially with the baggage—same club, too. But wouldn't you know it, Unwound blew me away. Just an awesome night. Hard to believe they would emerge as the decade's Yes within two years.)

(Meanwhile, I saw the Rev. on the Liquor in the Front tour. They came out and played the first two songs off that album right in a row without even acknowledging the crowd, and I immediately thought "Pricks!" They warmed up though and put on a good show, having a bunch of fun with us too (including soliciting and accepting shots of Jägermeister from the crowd). It's funny, this was in the days when I was up front at every show and pogoed the whole time—no wonder I was twenty pounds lighter back then—so whenever I hear them now I think of how much I sweat during those two hours.)

Where were we? Black. It's been a month since the show and I'm honestly not remembering it too well. A. came with me though, which was cool because she got into the Black Keys soon after I did (around Thickfreakness). I was afraid she would hate the Black Angels because she's not so much into the feedback/distortion sound (i.e., not at all). But she's a trooper and thought they were decent enough. Truly, though, once "Manipulation" started playing I thought to myself "This is the song she'll walk out during." I wasn't far off.

The band was great but I developed a bias against the female keyboard player. She had what Lee Ranaldo called the I'm-in-a-band look and was doing some sort of swaying/grooving thing throughout. I'm certain it was supposed to look cool and blithe and sexy but it too closely resembled what happens when you're walking along and your knee kind of gives out for a second, except over and over. Other than that it was a great performance, and I was glad for them that it was nearly a full house (either I underestimated how popular they are or I don't give Boston music fans enough credit). Also, I made some remark to A. about how impressed I was with the use of a sitar on the band's newish Passover (good album, great artwork), only there wasn't a single sitar on stage and the music sounded exactly like it did on record. So now I'm the non-musician with an opinion about a non-existent sitar—George Harrison and Brian Jones are not happy. (Hey, at least I wasn't that-guy standing in front of us who bought a Black Keys tee shirt and put it on between sets. As much as I love the entirety of PCU, its greatest contribution to society is the "don't be that guy" sequence where Piven yells at Favreau for wearing a shirt of the band he's going to see.)

I wish I could give some kind of set list of what the Black Keys played, but I just don't remember anymore. I can say they hit everything I wanted to hear, including "I've Grown So Ugly" in the encore. I might have pouted for a week had they not played that. It's a lot of noise for two guys. You wonder how much overdubbing goes on in the studio when a small band makes a big sound, but nothing was lacking in the live show. Dan and Patrick are just really good at what they do.

So here are Dan and Patrick, tearing the place apart, whaling on us. A mercilessly excellent show. Patrick is something to watch on the drums, a big gangly dude who's just flailing his arms and legs, but not in a spastic way. Because of the format has to turn his kit into a lead instrument à la Ginger Baker and I'm all for that. It was hard to take your eyes off him. (I read a recent interview with him where he discussed hip-hop and how much he likes it—aren't the best drummers always hip-hop fans?)

Anyway, it's become apparent to me that I waited too long to write this. But the Black Keys were awesome for the whole ninety minutes, seemed very gracious in front of an adoring crowd (I later learned this was the first show of the tour) and really exceeded our high expectations. Pound for pound, my favorite show in about eight years. And despite the awful album art, Magic Potion is probably my favorite album of the year, which may or may not be saying something because I've bought maybe three 2006 albums. More on that later.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Shame and the electric jug

[As promised, I now return to these lands with more regularity. I've just completed a pretty rigorous graphic design certificate program, which took up a large chunk of the last three years of my life. I can't even tell you how awesome it was to watch Pats games without constantly thinking to myself "OK, I've got to start my homework after the next drive." So, honestly, congratulations to me. I look forward to writing a bunch of new nonsense that matters to no one but my reader and me. Such as this!]

Is it wrong to buy a band's compilation album? I always experience semi-guilt here, not because of the great "go to the mall" scene in High Fidelity but because I feel I'm letting myself down with a lack of commitment.

Example: I recently bought Going Up: The Very Best of the 13th Floor Elevators. Aside from the atrocious title—oh, because of the elevator!—it's a really solid disc. I never could make up my mind whether to get The Psychedelic Sounds of… or Easter Everywhere (the latter of which has to be tied with the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle as the most over-mentioned "influential" album in interviews with up-and-coming shit bands that likely have never heard either). Anyway, this disc does a nice job of picking the best stuff from their three studio albums, plus a B-side and a live track for good measure. My only complaint is the inclusion of the single version (my worst enemy) of "Slip Inside This House," one of my favorite songs. But what are you gonna do, I'll just hang onto the MP3.

I'd say this resignation is a sign of aging and laziness, and maybe a little cheapness. But every now and then I've broken down and decided an artist doesn't have a proper album that's strong enough to buy, so I'm going to buy whatever has the highest ratio of songs I like. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and get the greatest fucking hits.

Shame didn't elude me with the Elevators, just like it didn't when I got The Best of Mountain. Going through my CD collection, here are the other culprits, with defensive arguments where appropriate:

13th Floor Elevators – Going Up: The Very Best of the 13th Floor Elevators
See above. It's a truly solid mix, but I'd swap in "Street Song" for "May the Circle Remain Unbroken."

Aerosmith – Gems
That's right: Aerosmith. Screw you.

Animals – The Story of the Animals
Singles band through and through. This has almost every song you would want from these guys, especially if you have horrible taste and favor the wretched '83 reunion track "The Night." (Seriously though, this two-disc set's a keeper.)

Chet Baker – The Best of Chet Baker Sings
Essentially the album Chet Baker Sings plus a handful of other songs, so I'm not sure it counts.

Beastie Boys – The Sounds of Science
Got this for the rare stuff. Surprisingly good flow considering the time it spans.

David Bowie – The Best of David Bowie 1969–1974
Every time I go to Newbury Comics (the local record store that used to be awesome and undercut everyone else by at least $3 a CD but has since jacked up their prices, stopped including coupons in the Sunday Herald and instead decided to focus on crap like barista action figures and ska calendars) I pick up either The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust & the Spiders From Mars or Aladdin Sane and almost buy it, until I remember they all have at least two throwaway tracks that are just bad enough to keep me from shelling out the dough. Plus, this comp is actually really good. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre – Tepid Peppermint Wonderland
I wrote about this already. Kind of a hit-or-miss band, but T-P-Dub pulls together quite a lot of the cream.

James Brown – Classic
James Brown – Motherlode
James Brown – In the Jungle Groove
James Brown – Make It Funky: The Big Payback

The wheels really come off here, but I'm not sure which LP is better than any of these (maybe The Payback). In the Jungle Groove is indispensable.

Johnny Cash – Murder
Excepting the American Recordings releases, wasn't he mostly a singles artist? That's what I'm going with.

John Coltrane – The Best of John Coltrane
This is the first Coltrane CD I ever got, when I was curious about jazz back in college. It's basically five of the "best" songs recorded live in Europe in 1962 and 1963 that ended up on countless Pablo Records albums. I couldn't be happier to have dumb-lucked myself into this instead of a studio collection because it's terrific and, without getting all spacey, it really opened my mind (Elvin Jones is a maniac). I also learned that the Doors ripped off Mongo Santamaría's original "Afro Blue" riff for their own "Universal Mind." Drunken thief. Anyway, I've since gotten a shitload of Coltrane stuff.

Donovan – Greatest Hits
Another mostly-singles artist. Plus the liner notes are the shit, like when he explains how "Led Zeppelin" played on "Hurdy Gurdy Man," which isn't nearly as true as he'd like. (Jones yes, Page maybe, Bonham no).

Go-Go's – Go-Go's Greatest
Who needs more than one CD by this band? Beside me, that is, since I also have the God Bless the Go-Go's reunion album.

Kinks – Greatest Hits
Most of their early singles are on this, predating their album-oriented run that probably began with Something Else by the Kinks. (By the way, I'm sick of this popular belief that The Kink Kontrovery was an immature effort and that the "good Kinks" era began with Face to Face; Face is a good album but, goddammit, so is Kontroversy, despite what these riff-o-phobic pussies prefer.) I love these guys.

MC5 – The Big Bang: The Best of the MC5
This is a good mix, but I'm puzzled by some of the song selections. Love the early singles at the beginning and the selections from the first and last albums (which I have), but why the fuck is Back in the U.S.A. the most heavily represented? Can we all agree that it's sort of an underwhelming mess?

Mountain – The Best of Mountain
No guilt whatsoever here. I would fight anyone who has a problem with Mountain and/or The Best of Mountain. People who don't like "Mississippi Queen" are assholes.

Mudhoney – March to Fuzz
Hey, I'm listening to this right now! Nice to have all the rarities together on the second disc. I will like Mudhoney my entire life.

Nina Simone – Compact Jazz
No real defense here, I'd heard "Feeling Good" and had to get something that included it, but I also wanted "Mood Indigo" and "I Put a Spell on You." Plus the disc ends with ten minutes of "Sinnerman," and as you may or may not have figured out I like pretty much anything longer than seven minutes.

Run-DMC – Greatest Hits
Similar to Bowie, Run-DMC has no great album—just way too much filler. I guess it couldn't be helped when putting out an album a year in the mid-eighties, before sampling got creative enough to stretch things out. Let's face it, though: most Run-DMC songs are exactly the same. Glasses, rock and Jam-Master Jay… that's about all they rapped about.

Temptations – Psychedelic Soul
Almost all their psych shit on two discs. Except for the alternate mix of "Ball of Confusion" (what in the worldwide fuck?), I couldn't be more content. Bonus points for several full-length versions too.

Troggs – The Best of the Troggs
They've got good songs not included here ("The Raver" and "66-5-4-3-2-1" come to mind) but I think this generally represents their best stuff, excepting a lack of Troggs Tapes meltdowns.

Van Halen – Fuckin' Van Halen
I can't even tell you how awesome this homemade mix is. Unfortunately, Van Halen is another one (like Bowie) that sprinkled otherwise strong albums with capital-F filler (though "Sunday Afternoon in the Park" might be one of the best filler tracks ever).

Link Wray – Rumble: The Best of Link Wray
That's right, I first heard of this guy because of Quentin Tarantino. But I'll still take "Rumble," "Jack the Ripper" and "Hidden Charms" any day of the week.

So there it is, every compilation I own. Surprisingly more than I expected but hey, I like them all. Fuck it.