Friday, June 20, 2008

Amanda Palmer and the Boston Pops, Sloan Live

A quick update: the last two nights I was out hearing some live music.

Last night, Scott, Jamie, and I attended Amanda Palmer playing with The Boston Pops at Symphony Hall. Wow. Unbelievably, jaw-droppingly good. A definite top-10 all-time and maybe top-5 live show of all time (and I do not say that lightly). What a spectacle!

Normally, I'd provide more details, but there are actually tickets available for tonight, so instead I want to encourage you to go and not spoil the surprise. Unless you are HIGH (and maybe especially if you are), you need to see this. I'm committed to going out with a former co-worker tonight or I'd be back myself. It is THAT GOOD.

Let's allay some fears and overcome some objections:
  • "I've never heard of Amanda Palmer or The Dresden Dolls. I'm not sure I'd like it."
    Answer: Good news... it doesn't matter. You will still love it.

  • "I've heard The Dresden Dolls. I don't like their albums."
    Answer: Good news... it doesn't matter. You will still love it.

  • "I love The Dresden Dolls! They are my favorite band, and I actually dress up like Amanda/Brian in public. I own everything they've done -- even that album they released on their own! Go Dolls!"
    Answer: Bad news... you're an idiot. Why didn't you go in the first place? What kind of objection is that?
In all seriousness, if Amanda doesn't do this ever again, you are missing out on something that will be remembered in Boston Pops lore forever.

Once word of mouth gets around about this, it's going to be a must-see. You will not find a ticket a day after the box office opens if they do this next year or in the future.

So buy tickets here, or if that doesn't work, then here, and have a Friday night experience you will not soon forget. 8PM sharp at Symphony Hall.

And of course, my wonderfully talented friend Margo Saulnier helped pull it all together. You should really thank her for all of her hard work, even though you don't even know her.

On Wednesday night, Denis and I hit Sloan. Their previous album and show were both top shelf... and thus what occurred Wednesday at TT's was a real disappointment. It really comes down to two things: 1) they had a better setlist last year, and 2) the new songs from that tour's new album (Never Hear the End of It, reviewed here) played better live than this week's release of Parallel Play. It was not a performance issue; it might have been a venue issue; it definitely was a song-choice issue. Just too bad. I'll still go see them next time they are in town, but please, choose some better songs, and keep the drummer behind the kit for more of the show.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Yes - Union (1991), Talk (1994)

Yes, the horrible truth must be confirmed publicly: I am a Yes fan. Or at least I was. The first cassette I ever owned was 90125, which is still one of my all-time favorite albums. From about 1985-1992, my musical holy trinity was a simple list: 1) The Beatles; 2) Yes; 3) U2.

The cooler music kids told me I needed to go back and get their early stuff, which I did -- I still own everything they did from 1969-1987 on vinyl. And their box set (Yesyears), which came out in 1990, on CD.

Now here is the problem: after 1987's Big Generator and the box set, there was a period at the end of the sentence. Big Generator is an album I really enjoy, but I knew it was a step back from 90125. The box set meant I had every album I cared about from the group on vinyl and most of the songs I cared about on CD. So, even as an obsessive collector, I could be patient as the band was once again in turmoil.

The other big factor was that my friend Dan introduced me to Bob Mould in 1990. I realized this was closer to the music I was actually interested in, and I began a trajectory towards alternative/indie/ obscure but brilliant (IMHO, of course!) music, which I have remained on ever since.

The final capper: Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe. I really, really, REALLY wanted to like that album. I so did. But here is the fundamental issue with Yes: when they successfully walk the tightrope between "artsy" and "pop," they make unbelievable music. Absolutely great stuff: Fragile, Close to the Edge, 90125. When they fall off, they inevitably fall off onto the "art" side, and into complete self-indulgence. For forever
I heard about how Tales for Topographic Oceans (their four-song, two album "opus") was not just the greatest achievement in their career, but in all of progressive rock. I can't stand it. For everything that Close to the Edge is (a long-form pop masterpiece, 3 songs in 40 minutes), Tales (and to be completely honest, Relayer to some extent) is not: it is a meandering wobble of indulgent crap. I wasted so much time trying to get into that album... ugh. Now I know better.

But I digress. Back to 1991. I buy the debut from Anderson, Bruford, etc., and hate it. It's more Tales. This is the future of the band I loved? Forget it. I will wait until they come out with something that is universally regarded. They're bound to, right?

Fast forward to about 2004/5. Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin's album 90124 comes out... demos from 90125, before Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined the project, and the band Cinema became Yes. (That is a whole other story for another time.) Rabin holds a special place in my heart -- he revitalized Yes in the early 80's, wrote some great songs that are still favorites of mine today, had a woefully underrated (albeit very poppy) solo album Can't Look Away in 1989, and in general is the yin to the over-indulgent arty yang of the rest of Yes.

I got into some of his back catalog, and read up on him -- he's now almost exclusively doing soundtracks... except he actually did songs for Yes on 1991's Union and 1994's Talk. It's significant in the retrospect of 14 years of producing and soundtrack composition, in the same way at the time in 1991-1994 (when I was all about the grunge, for sure), it was not.

So here I am in 2008... realizing that Union is, without a doubt, a very good album. I can't believe there was no buzz about this album at all. There are just great songs here. I am really astounded that they managed to make this album. It's got great guitar, harmonies, and is 99% indulgence free. Now the "band" for this album is wacky: 2 vocalists (Anderson and Rabin), 2 drummers (Bill Bruford and Alan White), 2 lead guitarists (Howe and Rabin), 2 keyboardists (Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye), and 2 bass players (Chris Squire and Tony Levin).

What this means is that Union is a split-camp affair: highlights like "I Would Have Waited Forever" and "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day" are...
Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe (with Levin on bass)! In fact, this lineup plays on *nine* songs on the album. Apparently this was supposed to be their 2nd album; they merged it into the Yes project. Meanwhile "Miracle of Life" and "The More We Live - Let Go" are two of the four songs done by Anderson, White, Kaye, Rabin, and Squire -- in other words, the 90125 and Big Generator lineup. So the album is more like Merging Projects Under the Cash Cow Brandname than an actual Union.

But you know what? It feels cohesive. And it works. Anderson doing vocals on Rabin and Squire's songs and Squire contributing background vocals on the ABWH tracks are huge in making this sound like it's from the same family, and Jonathan Elias's production has to get credit here too.

on the other hand, is exclusively
the 90125 and Big Generator lineup, and produced by Rabin. The first thing that strikes me is that they released this on a label called "Victory," or, as I like to call it, "Defeat." Not a good start. This album sounds like a very, very tired band in need of a rest. Well, at least it's better than Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman. And how. (Get it? Yes, these are the jokes.)

CD Placement Rating: Neither of these get merch ratings -- I bought my t-shirt on the Big Generator tour and that's pretty much it for me. Union is a fine album, recommended for Yes fans. Portable CD Case. Talk is not good, but not bad either. It'll stay in the CD Rack until the next culling, when it will inevitably end up in Sell-back Pile 1.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Guest Blog: Scott Bishop on M83 (Live at The Middle East)

This is the first in a series of guest columns for The Snilch Report. Well, maybe not a "series," more like "something that seemed like a good idea after a few beers last night." Scott Bishop is a Cambridge-based musician I've mentioned a number of times in this blog, and I'd link to those posts if I weren't so incredibly lazy. Take it away Scott!

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way first:

I’m old. Walking into the Middle East downstairs, I immediately raised the average attendee age by five years.

And the Middle East, what a tough place to see a show—and I stress the seeing part, because a good portion of the allure of a live gig is that you can, you know, actually SEE the performers—and not just a bobbing head or an occasional peek at a guitar neck, but entire bodies, amplifiers, drum kits and the lot. If they posted a sign above the door that said, “Abandon all hope of getting a clear view of the band, ye who enter,” they would not be lying.

Don’t get me wrong—some of my favorite shows have been at the Middle East. Arthur Lee and Love, on his first tour in God-knows-how-long after spending years in prison. My first Sleater-Kinney show and a couple of great Crooked Fingers gigs, all with the Snilch. Rainer Maria in 2004. And of course The Dandy Warhols with Sean and the Snilch, where we actually stuck our heads into the speakers.

Still, if there’s one place in Boston where you absolutely have to get there early and claim a spot, the Middle East is it. And where was I when I could have been marking territory? Out in Waltham, at Bison County, watching game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals with the Snilch.

Yes indeed, music fans—sports once again interfered with a music aficionado’s ability to hit the club and rock hard. Snilch had to give M83 a pass and cheer on his beloved Red Wings. In a cruel twist of fate, Detroit gave up the tying goal with about 30 seconds left in regulation, then prolonged the agony into a third overtime before succumbing. In case you hadn’t heard, kiddies, life ain’t fair.

I was committed to seeing M83, so Snilch and I parted ways after the second period, and the #70 zipped me from Waltham to Central Square just in time to grab an IPA before M83 started.

M83 were good—not quite the rocking set that Snilch, Paul and I caught during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2005, but some of that may have been the shock from that first time of seeing a synth-driven band really bring it. You’d figure with a lot programmed keyboard and sample elements that a band would be locked into a tempo, and some of the life would get sucked out of the performance, but that really wasn’t the case. M83’s set at ACL was tight, propulsive, and hard hitting.

They had a lot of those qualities last night, but with a longer set—their ACL gig was closer to 45 minutes—they took more time to stretch out, bringing in a lot of the ambient and repetitive elements their longer songs employ. That was an aspect I enjoyed, but it led to the usual Boston response to quiet passages—chit chat.

Many Boston club goers seem to pride themselves on their music knowledge and a certain indie hipness (and yes, I’m pretty sure I would have won Indie Bingo last night—the Chuck T’s and PBR cans were as pervasive as ever). But except when Jose Gonzalez played Paradise earlier this year, I can’t recall a show I’ve attended in the last few years where people failed to talk during quiet sections. And to add a long time beef of our dear friend Sean, these people couldn’t be buggered to shake their asses when things went up-tempo, either. As an acquaintance of mine might say—because I’m all about stealing other people’s ideas today—Boston is not a giving audience.

Which is a shame. For the 50 or so minutes that I watched, I found the byplay of low key, repetitive buildups and mid-to-up-tempo songs to be pretty entrancing. They touched on key songs from Before the Dawn Heals Us and the poppier tunes from the new Saturdays=Youth. Once the sound man got the guitars in the mix—just after the second, “Graveyard Girl”—everything was nicely balanced. But as I said before, downstairs at the Middle East is a bitch for viewing, and the audience response to M83’s mellower elements represented one of the few occasions I’d have preferred to see a group in a seated venue, because it might have encouraged people to listen when things got quiet.

I ended up bailing halfway through, after M83 played my favorite song—“Don’t Save Us from the Flames”—which rocked as righteously as it had in Austin nearly three years prior. Hey, I’m old, I was feeling curmudgeonly… why not leave on a high note?