Monthly Archives: April 2008

The B-52s at the 9:30: Everybody’s Fruggin’!


The B-52s’ mostly groove-tastic new album Funplex, is their first since 1992 (discounting compilations). They’ve never gone away, really — there’s been market enough for the kitch-krazed Athens, GA superfreaks to keep showing up and flogging “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack” since then, and they probably could have kept right on doing that until the mothership returned to carry frontman/mascot Fred Schneider back to his home planet.

Though you’d hardly know it from their meaty, beady, big and bouncy 85-minute performance, the 52s’ packed-to-the-gills Saturday-night 9:30 Club gig marked the eve of singer Kate Pierson’s 60th birthday. But however suspicious the neon-redness of her hair, Pierson walked like an Egyptian and sang like siren all night, playing the World’s Coolest Grandma to Schneider’s Creepy Neighbor. (He claimed at one point to have 18 G-spots — a win for him; hard-to-delete mental imagery for us.) Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s high harmonies shined on the Schneider-less numbers “Roam” and the new “Juliet of the Spirits”; on the 50s sci-fi prologue of “Planet Claire,” Pierson wailed the organ part without a crack. Tres cool!

Nearly half the 16 tunes were from Funplex, built by guitarist/musical director Keith Strickland around a slight update to the 52s’ venerable formula: Pierson and Wilson’s girl-group chemistry, Schneider’s staccato interjections about robots, outer space, and, er, the “spandex spiral vortex,” plus rumbly grooves tricked out with eletronica beats circa 1996 or so. Whatevs; it works. Dance music sounds so, so much better when performed live by an actual band of flesh, blood, and several cubic yards of eyeliner. The airtight rhythm section of Tracy Wormworth (bass) and Sterling Campbell (drums) laid down a fat-bottomed groove for the four surviving original 52s (plus keyboardist Paul Gordon) to soar over. The presence of conspicuous number of audience members in drag helped the atmosphere of bacchanal, too. Everybody’s fruggin’!

The line “Let’s keep this party goin’ all night long / Things are getting’ dirty down in Washington!” was not a regionally-adapted bit of crowd-baiting; but in fact the actual lyric to the closing number on Funplex. Since it proved true beyond a doubt, one has to wonder what else Schneider wasn’t lying about. “Space-love in zero gravity”? The 18 G spots? Ow! My consciousness is expanding!

A shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

The B-52s at the 9:30 Club, Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Setlist

01 Pump

02 Mesopotamia

03 Private Idaho

04 Ultraviolet

05 Strobe Light

06 Party Out of Bounds

07 Juliet of the Spirits

08 Roam

09 Funplex

10 Hot Corner

11 Channel Z

12 Keep This Party Going

13 Love Shack

ENCORE:

14 Planet Claire

15 Love in the Year 3000

16 Rock Lobster

The Band

Keith Strickland – lead guitar

Tracy Wormworth – bass

Paul Gordon – keyboards, guitar

Sterling Campbell – drums

Cindy Wilson – vocals, bongos

Kate Pierson – vocals

Fred Schneider – vocals, xylophone, tin whistle, mascot

Advertisements

Lou Reed vs. the 9:30 Club

Lou Reed called his most famous live album “Rock and Roll Animal,” but the title was kind of a joke even then, in 1974. The unofficial poet laureate of New York City is one of the least-pandering rockers ever, and his complete absorption in the music gives him a paradoxical charm: Like all icons of existential cool, he seems truly not to give semi-consensual anonymous back-alley fuck whether you like him or not.

Take Tuesday night’s powerful but frustratingly brief show at the 9:30 Club. The majority of the mere dozen songs performed were mid-80s-and-later album cuts, with only “Sweet Jane” (disposed of early in the set) and “Perfect Day” among Reed’s “hits.” He might have rolled his eyes introducing the Velvet Underground curio “I’m Sticking with You” (“This was in ‘Juno,’ that’s why we’re doing it”) but you just never know with this guy. Reed’s signature speak-singing, as distinct and authoritative as Johnny Cash’s, sometimes seems to veil everything in a protective layer of sarcasm.

Increasingly as he’s aged, Reed, 66, has used this vocal armor to get away with naked, frank introspection that would sound insufferably weak in anybody else’s mouth. (‘Naked’ is not just a metaphor here — few songwriters have addressed sex as Reed has, viscerally but with more revulsion than prurience.) The sole new song he performed, but didn’t identify, was like this, with its refrain, “the power of the heart.” But his tough-guy delivery also makes him out-loud funny sometimes, as in the well-chosen opener, “Mad.” (“I know I shouldn’t have had someone else in our bed, but I was so tired / Who would think you’d find a bobby pin?”)

The sold-out crowd followed Reed through his back pages without hesitation, though it was probably the incendiary chemistry of the band — featuring lead guitarist Steve Hunter, reunited with Reed from the 1973 “Berlin” album, along with longtime members Mike Rathke, Tony “Thunder” Smith, and Rob Wasserman — on numbers like “Ecstacy” and “Video Violence” that moved them. Reed rescued two from his fascinatingly clunky The Raven, adapted from/inspired by Poe: “I Wanna Know” felt unintentionally comic with drummer Tony “Thunder” Smith filling in for the Blind Boys of Alabama (not a task to be wished upon anyone), but “Guardian Angel” had the wrecked beauty of Reed’s best material.

The main-set finale was an apocalyptic “Magic and Loss,” Reed’s title cut from an album that chronicles two of his friends’ slow deaths from cancer. (Rock on, Washington DC!) “There’s a bit magic in everything,” goes one lyric, “then some loss to even things out.” That sounds about right.

A slightly shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.
NPR recorded this show for webcast pending Lou’s approval; they’re still waiting on that as of yesterday. Check their blog for some amusing stuff about how Lou kept them scrambling to find the right gear to capture the show to his exacting specifications.

Lou Reed at the 9:30 Club, Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Setlist

01 Mad

02 Sweet Jane

03 I’m Set Free

04 Ecstasy

05 I’m Sticking with You

06 [new one w/ some refrain about “the power of the heart,” Lou said it was new but didn’t give a title]

07 I Wanna Know (The Pit and the Pendulum)

08 Halloween Parade

09 Video Violence

10 Guardian Angel

11 Magic and Loss (The Summation)

ENCORE:

12 Perfect Day

The Band

Steve Hunter – lead guitar

Mike Rathke – guitar

Rob Wasserman – upright bass

Kevin Hearn – keyboards, vocals

Tony “Thunder” Smith – percussion, vocals

Seth Calhoun – “live electronics”

Lou – lead vocals, guitar

UPDATE: Excepted from the April 29 edition of WashPo pop critic J. Freedom du Lac’s “Freedom Rock” webchat:

Mt. Pleasant, D.C.: Please, please tell Post writers and all the critics you know to stop using phrases like “the unofficial poet laureate of New York City” to describe Lou Reed, because he apparently reads these reviews, takes them to heart and then decides 75 minutes of rambling, mid-tempo pretense constitutes a good show. Sure “naked, frank introspection” is a good thing, but it’s not enough to make up for high school literary magazine-quality lyrics and a kind of ostentatious lack of enthusiasm from the guy. I disagree with your colleague Chris Klimek the words sounded “insufferably weak” even from the mouth of The Great Man. I mean, he’s a legend, he can do what he wants, and no one needs to hear “Walk on the Wild Side”� again. But a little energy and a little wit to balance the ballads would have made for a show that was actually worth watching.

J. Freedom du Lac: Duly noted — and possibly/probably something Chris will respond to if he’s reading in real-time, or something close to it.

Everybody knows (or should know) that rock’s real poet laureate of NYC is actually Patti Smith.

But I thought the show was pretty solid. Not great, but absolutely worth watching, even if he did half-arse his way through some of the material, “Sweet Jane” especially. Maybe he was just tired after his weekend wedding.

Momofuku’d!


So today the postman brought me my long-awaited copy of Momofuku, the late-breaking, just-released-yesterday new album from Elvis Costello and The Imposters. I’ve been badgering Elvis’s People to send me a review copy ever since I head it was coming out, which was not very long ago. Elvis addresses the record’s quick genesis (“The record was made so quickly that I didn’t even tell myself about it for a couple weeks”) and novel release strategy — vinyl yesterday; MP3 as a courtesy to those who bought the vinyl next week; CD on May 6 (which is how I’m justifying reviewing it in the May 4 edition of “Media Mix” in the Paper of Record) — in a post on his refurbished official website:

” . . . The real version [emphasis mine] is pressed on two pieces of black plastic with a hole in the middle. You may prefer other, more portable, less scratchable, editions that will soon become available for your convenience but this is how it sounds the best: with a needle in a groove, the way the Supreme Being intended it to be . . . “

This is maybe not the wisest thing for a semi-professional music writer to confess, but I do not own the requisite equipment to play those two pieces of pierced black plastic. The record player I used to play my complete music library on vinyl circa 1987 (Michael Jackson’s Thriller, the soundtrack album to Oliver Stone’s Oscar-winning Vietnam movie Platoon, and a copy of George Michael’s Faith I got as a radio station giveway — B106, I think it was) might still be resting beneath a shroud of dust in my folks’ basement. I may have to go find out sooner than later, since my review is due Monday, and the Best Buy that just opened up around the corner a couple of weeks ago does not stock turntables.

Weirdly enough, the first phone call I got after first opening Momofuku ‘s gatefold sleeve (so much more inviting than a CD, though that die-cut cut sleeve for the Flight of the Conchords CD is pretty nice) was from Noted Actor Steve Beall, which was propitious and surprising for three reasons:

1) Steve is an unreformed vinyl advocate;

2 ) Steve was actually at that great 9:30 show I reviewed last May where Elvis performed “American Gangster Time,” the only song on this thing that I’ve actually heard; and

3) Steve never calls me. Ever. Today was only the second time.

Since Steve is always going on about “180-gram” vinyl (grams are like horsepower, apparently, or the bit rate of a compressed audio file; more = better), I asked him how I could tell if the 12-inch grooved black plastic disc in my hand was “180 gram.”

“If you hold it in your hand, and you whip it back and forth, you can tell,” said Steve. “If it’s stiff, then it’s probably 180-gram.”

“Okay,” I said. “Whipping.”

“You really have to whip it kind of hard.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “No one will ever know we had this conversation.”

Why Do You Talk? (Being a Short Conversation with Lou Reed.)

Tomorrow’s Paper of Record features my “Conversations” interview with the great Lou Reed. I’ll also be covering his 9:30 next week. I saw him play there in, I think, August of 1998, and it stands out in my memory as one of the ten or so most exciting concert experiences of my life. I remember that he opened with “Dorita,” that short instrumental prologue to the Magic & Loss album, then went straight into “Sweet Jane” from that. The first encore number was “I’ll Be Your Mirror.”

And that’s, um, pretty much all I remember about the setlist. But I was there with Mac and Shark, and a good time was had by all.

Media Mix VII: This Time, It’s Personal

Miss Crooks doesn’t like that I gave Flight of the Conchords a “B+” in this weekend’s edition of Media Mix. What can I say? Even a great novelty act is still a novelty act. (She was valedictorian of her high school class, so of course a “B+” to her = failure.)

Also reviewed: Billy Bragg, he of R.E.M.’s “baggy trousers” live remix of “Tom’s Diner” from 1991, and those two great Guthrie-lyric-adaptin’ Mermaid Ave. albums with Wilco.

“Empathy Is What Makes Us Sane”: Ira Glass @ GW Lisner Auditorium

ira-glass-by-nancy-updike-2006.jpg

Nancy Updike photo of Ira Glass appropriated from This American Life‘s marvelous website.

Ira Glass gave an inspiring, funny lecture at GW Lisner Auditorium Saturday night, and I tried to write down everything he said. F-bombs: Two, both in reference to Baltimore, where he grew up, as portrayed in The Wire. You won’t hear that on the radio!

I summarized his chat for DCist.

Here’s my interview with Ira Glass from the April 6, 2008 Paper of Record.

Continue reading

Some Lovin’ Someone Like You

Photo by Joel RIchardson for The Washington Post

Shelby Lynne at the State Theatre Monday night.  Photo by Joel Richardson for The Washington Post.

I was lucky to pick up an extra review assignment for the Paper of Record on Monday: Shelby Lynne at the State, touring the Dusty Springfield tunes from the Just a Little Lovin’ tribute LP I wrote about in my first Media Mix installment. This was also my first time reviewing an artist for, er, the second time, as I reviewed Shelby at the Birchmere waaaaaaaay back in October ’06.

Great show.  I like it when the State does this supper-club thing, as they leave the pit in front of the stage clear for those who want to get up close, and they can stand at the foot of the stage without obstructing the view for those in back.  Nice.