(If you click on it, it’ll get big enough to be legible.)
Why yes, I am pretty goddamn pleased with the party mix I cooked up, at the invitation of managing editor Jon Fischer, for the Washington City Paper’s farewell-to-their-building party on Friday night. Some local pandering, some classic funk, just a pinch of rank sentimentality, a few reluctant sops to the 21st century. Something for everyone! Who is me or reasonably similar!
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a heterosexual white male in my mid-thirties.
“Full Disclosure,” Fugazi, from The Argument, 2001. Track 24. Continue reading
Reviewed for DCist, just like I used to do.
I dug the show, but the really memorable part of the evening was the sad but soul-nourishing conversation I had with the great and good Dave McKenna (who was there in house right Row J next to me, reviewing for the Post, like I also used to do) afterwards. Dave was kind enough to give me a lift home after the show. We talked about how bad things have gotten for anyone trying to earn a living from writing. “Next time we’ll talk boxing,” he promised.
On Friday I had the honor of doing 35 minutes of live radio with Andy Cirzan, the great archeologist of obscure holiday records who provided much of the inspiration for my own Yule-Tunes Eclectic and Inexplicable series. (I interviewed Andy a month ago for an essay about my mixtape project that ran in the Washington Post just after Thanksgiving.)
Anyway, Minnesota Public Radio’s The Daily Circuit invited us both on to talk about our mixtapes and recommend some yulejams that haven’t been played to death. I was afraid no one would be in the mood for this silliness when I realized our segment would follow an hour of reaction to the NRA’s spectacularly tone-deaf press conference about the Newton, Conn. school shootings, which the station had carried live a little over an hour before we went on. But I thought the segment turned out well. I had a great time.
You can listen to the whole segment here. Should it happen to pique your curiosity, my 2009-2012 yulemixes are on the upper periphery of your frame of vision, on the Musics of Christmas page of this site. You can grab Andy’s 2012 mixtape, Santa Soul, from Sound Opinions.
Happy holidays, everybody!
I don’t have a Christmas tree in my apartment yet. My friends haven’t seen me in weeks. My editors are all ready to fire me. I’ve been avoiding mirrors, but I assume I look like Ted Kaczynski.
It’s all for a noble cause: Every November & early December I fall into a four-to-six week time warp attempting to create the funniest and most reverent, most entertaining and most beguiling Christmas mixtape possible. (You may have read the essay I wrote about this project recently in the Washington Post. If you haven’t, please do.)
It is my great pleasure to unveil now for your hall-decking enjoyment entry No. 007 in my Yuletunes Eclectic & Inexplicable series. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the future of Christmas merry-making enforcement, Stay Hungry to Feed the World. In keeping with the perpetually inflating ethos of this project, it’s the longest one yet. When it comes to Christmas, less is less. And more? Is just the most. (Hear the mix after the jump.) Continue reading
I’m so honored and excited I’m sweating. Yes, it’s 70 degrees and muggy here in DC this December 4th, but it isn’t the climate that has me — svichting? Swatching? Whatever. It’s the fact that Andy Cirzan, my yulemix-making senpai, sent me his 2012 Christmas mix CD.
When it comes to holiday mixtapes, I am a mere padawan to Cirzan’s wizened Jedi master, dispensing ancient wisdom via oddly structured sentences he splashes around the swamps of Degobah. (He’s from Chicago, actually.) As you may recall if you happened to read my recent Washington Post essay about my yulemix, the seventh installment of which shall drop forthwith, Cirzan has been issuing compilations of obscure and often inexplicable seasonal gems for more than 20 years. Continue reading
My review of Sufjan Stevens’ “Christmess Sing-a-Long” — or to use its full, formal designation, the Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long: Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice — at the 9:30 Club Saturday night appears in today’s Washington Post. Continue reading
I was asked to provide a sidebar for my Washington Post essay (in today’s Sunday Style insert, with Helen Mirren on the cover, which actually came out Friday) about making my annual yulemix. We didn’t have room for my brief rationales for choosing the Twelve Songs of Christmas that I did, so I’m posting it here. Bow your heads and tremble before Twelve Songs of Christmas!
(Not the twelve songs, as if there could be such a thing. Merely a dozen yule-sides that ring my Christmas bell, presented chronologically.)
My essay about making my Christmas mixtape is in the Style section of today’s Washington Post, the pullout section with Helen Mirren on the cover. I was surprised how difficult I found it to write about this silly little project that’s come to claim so many
tens hundreds of hours of my time and moxie every fall. Continue reading
It’s a death trap! It’s a suicide rap! And so on.
My love of Bruce Springsteen is not exactly news. It may no longer even qualify as infotainment. He played the single best concert I’ve ever seen anyone play, out of hundreds of bands and artists. (This is merely a partial list.) There is nothing remotely controversial about the assertion he is the greatest live performer in the history of rock and roll.
I wrote all of this down three years ago, after I saw him play his penultimate show of 2009, in Baltimore’s appealingly small and out-of-date sports area, the end of a busy two-year tour wherein he also made one of his worst albums. Basking in the glow of that remarkable show in the days afterward, I knew if I were never to see Springsteen and the E Street band play again, I’d be fine with that.
I had a Born in the U.S.A. on cassette when I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until college that I became a hardcore Springsteen fan. His Live 1975-85 album (three discs, because I got it in the CD era) and his solo acoustic, recorded-in-his-bedroom Nebraska album were the documents most directly responsible for my conversion. At the time I was discovering this music, Springsteen hadn’t toured with the E Street Band in seven years. Another four would pass before they’d announced they were reuniting.
Those reunion shows in 1999 and 2000 were remarkable. I saw five concerts on that tour. They were different from the shows Bruce and the band had played in the 70s and 80s, the ones I had heard only on cherished (and in the pre-broadband era, expensive) bootlegs. There was no intermission. Bruce’s meandering, easily parodied, improvised on-stage stories were gone, replaced by a gospel preacher schtick. The shows tended to be about two-and-a-half hours long — a generous amount of stage time from anyone but Springsteen, who had regularly broken the three-hour mark all through his twenties and thirties.
His twenties and his thirties. Continue reading
Old 97s play their best album, 1997′s “Too Far to Care,” at the 9:30 Club tonight. Miller is second from the left.
Formed in Dallas in 1993, the alt-country act Old 97s combines the heart-tugging wordplay of Townes van Zandt with the attack of The Clash. After a couple of indie releases in the mid-90s, the group were the beneficiaries of a bidding war, signing with Elektra Records. Their major-label debut, 1997′s Too Far to Care, remains their best and best-loved album. Despite retaining a substantial following — their show at the 9:30 Club tonight is sold out — the group never reached the level of stardom their big label demanded. Since 2004, they’ve been recording for the New West label.
Their current tour supports a 15th anniversary reissue of Too Far to Care, which they’re playing in its entirety in sequence, along with a selection of other songs. I spoke with singer-songwriter Rhett Miller (whose career as a solo artist runs parallel to that of his band) by phone about the quest for perfect setlist, the excesses of major label recording contracts and the perils of singing songs you wrote at 25 when you’re 42.
This interview appears today on the Washington City Paper’s Arts Desk. Continue reading
Posted in interviews, music, Uncategorized
Tagged 9:30 Club, David Bowie, Exene Cervenka, interviews, Linda Ronstadt, music, Neil Young, Old 97s, Rhett Miller, The Pixies, The Wedding Present, Washington City Paper, X
I’m sorry to say that Cat Power’s concert at the 9:30 Club last night was another heart-rending chapter in her sad history as a panicky, fragmented performer. It’s always agonizing to watch someone on stage who clearly doesn’t want to be there. I hope she’ll get the help she needs. The club was sold out, so clearly her fans haven’t abandoned her. Last night’s audience struck me as uncommonly respectful, sympathetic and forgiving. Continue reading
Today my friend Amanda Mattos has left me the keys to her fine blog Pinna Storm while she is away on vacation. To help fill all that space, I wrote a thing about my man Elvis Costello‘s current, roulette-wheel-driven Revolver Tour, which I will be attending at the DMV’s finest outdoor music venue, Wolf Trap, on Wednesday night. But it’s really the problem of long-lived artists trying to summarize their careers in two hours, give or take, that I’m Rubik’s-cubing here.
I am pleased to present Santa’s Magickal Ho-Ho Bag, the fifth (!) in my annual (so far) series of radio Christmas cards featuring yule-tunes eclectic and inexplicable (TM), for your hall-decking enjoyment.
If they’re loading slowly and that’s cramping your style, you can also listen here.
Sorry I’ve let things slide around here for the past couple of weeks, everybody. But What ho!, new writing at last: I reviewed what turned out to be an epic Wilco concert — three hours, 37 songs, last Red Line train home – for the Washington Post. The blog version features a setlist and copious photos by the great Kyle Gustafson, while the paper-paper version has only one.
I thought I’d have more to say about the show, which included a lot of excellent, seldom-performed songs I never thought I’d hear, like “Some Day Some Morning Sometime” from Mermaid Avenue Vol. II , for instance, but for once I managed to stick to my allotted space. Amy Argetsinger gave me a little shout in her Reliable Source item about White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel being at the show, which is why the Daily Swarm linked to the review. I haven’t loved Wilco’s most recent pair of records as much the ones they released between 1996 and 2004, but I’ve seen them play a bunch of times in the last 10 years, and I don’t think they’ve ever been a better live band than they are now.
Here’s Valerie’s fine DCist review breaking down the value-for-money equation, with some great photos by Jeff Martin.
On an unrelated note, I wrote about Bruce Norris’s superb new play Clybourne Park at Woolly Mammoth for the City Paper last week, but the Best of DC special issue didn’t contain an arts section, so the piece didn’t come out until today. Apologies, Woolly Mammoths.
It’s almost impossible to imagine England’s glam-bastic future-shock trio Muse peddling their warp-speed, Dark Matter riffs and florid piano interludes anywhere smaller than the Patriot Center, the coziest basketball arena on the itinerary of their U.S. tour. Wembley-packing popular in Europe, they traversed American football stadiums last fall supporting U2, a gig they may have cinched for their ability to make the headliners appear restrained and subtle by comparison.
Subtlety was irrelevant at last-night’s retina-singeing ode to space operatic excess. For the 105-minute pageant to express the band’s apocalypse-is-coming, so-shall-we-rock quintessence any more perfectly would have required giant harvester-like robots to wander into the audience and atomize us with their laser rays. A stage comprised of three telescoping video-cube platforms yawned open to reveal the three band members, lightsabering their way through “Uprising,” the pulsing, ominous opener of their latest album, The Resistance. (This is one band where the titles tell you exactly what you’re in for.) Lyrics “They will not control us! We will be victorious!” flashed as the crowd chanted along, implicitly telling Them exactly where They can cram their . . . well, whatever. Continue reading
That’s not KISS, it’s the great and good Drive-By Truckers, having a little fun last Halloween. My interview with frontman Patterson Hood about The Secret to a Happy Ending, the new DBT doc by Maryland filmmaker Barr Weisman that will have its world premiere Sunday at the American Film Institute’s Silver Theatre, went up over at DCist yesterday. Patterson and I spoke on Jan. 29 of this year, as the film was supposed to debut three weeks ago, but it snowed a little.
As always, Patterson was a delight to speak with, giving up more good material than I could possibly use at one time. I’ve heard The Big To-Do, the Truckers album due on March 16, and it’s predictably superior. (Sample cut “This Fucking Job” is representative.) As ever, Mike Cooley’s songs have emerged as my early favorites.
Posted in DCist, job insecurity, music, shameless self-promotion, Uncategorized
Tagged AFI, cinema, DCist, documentaries, Drive-By Truckers, Patterson Hood, pop music
“There’s something about the authoritative wrong note that I’ve always really liked,” opined John Mayer at the Verizon Center Saturday night.
You think? Ever since his racy, racially inflammatory musings in a Playboy interview* hit the web, Mayer — the 32-year-old, six-foot-plus, sensitive balladeer and guitar lothario who once took home a Grammy for a song called “Your Body Is a Wonderland” — has been in a defensive crouch. For his 3.1 million Twitter followers, the rest has been (mostly) silence since 2:26 p.m. on Feb. 10, when he fretted, “They don’t make rehab centers for being an a-hole.”
That night, he nearly broke down on stage in Nashville, fumbling through two minutes, 50 seconds of awkward, apparently heartfelt apology for saying — well, he said plenty. Let it suffice that the interview begged the question of why megaselling albums like 2006’s Continuum and last year’s Battle Studies are such stubbornly
milquetoast insipid affairs when their singularly self-aware author seems to have at least a boxed set’s worth of early-Prince freakitude inside him. Continue reading
One thing about Canadians: They get that it’s better to promise modestly and deliver in spades, rather than the other way ‘round.
“Overall, I think you will be entertained,” Tegan — point-five of the identical twin folk-duo-turned-tandem-pop-punkstresses Tegan and Sara — undersold before a hormonally supercharged Warner Theatre last night, three songs into a date with an audience that surprised even those sensitive sisters Quin with the pitch and intensity of its lung-power.
The hysteria must have taken them back a little. The duo hadn’t yet outrun their teens before they were playing with Sarah McLachlan and The Pretenders — two useful reference points for triangulating the sort of tuneful-but-tough rock band into which they’ve evolved. Now just shy of 30 and a half-dozen albums in, Tegan and Sara are no longer primarily a sweetly harmonizing emo act beloved by gay women. Continue reading
The Magnetic Fields have roughly the cultural and commercial footprint of an arthouse cinema hit. But a few weeks ago, Stephin Merritt — the group’s songwriter and chief creative officer —found himself staring straight into the ruddy, swollen face of his blockbuster competition.
“I was sitting in a bar, listening to thumping disco music, trying to write songs,” says Merritt from his home in Los Angeles, 10 days before the start of his band’s tour, which opens tonight at Lisner Auditorium. (Drinking in a loud bar is his customary songwriting environment, yes.) “Suddenly there was this television show with the sound on — usually it’s off. And the music, even when they were praising it, was so terrible it was like watching a car accident from different angles.”
Confirmed, then: The Magnetic Fields Guy? Not a fan of American Idol.
What is he a fan of? Irving Berlin. Judy Collins. And of swatting down the stubbornly pervasive idea that songs are primarily the product of something more mysterious than talent and work.
“There’s this book called Songwriters on Songwriting. I think the interviewer must have been asking leading questions, because maybe two-thirds of the people in the book say they feel their songs are basically written by God,” he says. “I just literally cannot believe that they really think this. I tend to write songs while I’m tipsy-to-drunk. But I still don’t feel like they’re written by some supernatural entity.” Continue reading