Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Year That Was: Gas Tank Edition Part 1 - 1971

The other day I was putting gas in the car and because I never fill it up all the way unless I’m traveling (it’s this whole anti gas prices/OCD thing), I usually cap off around $20, or $19 and some change. Anyway, I randomly stopped at $19.83 and I thought, “You know, some good albums came out in ’83…,” and from there I decided I’d do a series of posts under the Year That Was category based on my gas pump costs. Over the next couple of weeks I randomly stopped around the $20 mark and came up with two more years. And again because of OCD, I have to start in chronological order, which is not 1983 but 1971.


The 70s brought a mixed bag of all sorts of styles, from dirty and nasty (punk) to glossy and chic (disco), but all essentially rock music, with 1971 providing some heavy hitters that simultaneously signaled the high mark and the decline/end of true grit rock n roll as part of the public mainstream. Many of the below artists were holdovers and mainstays from the hippie generation and the infamous Summer of Love, and in some instances a counter response to that, with these albums paving the way for the “classic rock n roll” sound that dominated and defined the first half of the 70s, and ultimately defeated the genre.

Rolling Stones – Sticky Fingers: My hands down favorite Stones album, it’s the perfect blend of blues and sleaze, with foot stomping rockers, sublime ballads and extended jams that cover pretty much everything these guys were best at in the midst of their heyday.

Michael Nesmith – Nevada Fighter: Perhaps an ever so slight dip in quality from previous efforts (I blame stiff/stifled production), Nevada Fighter is still a highly enjoyable album with an almost experimental bend. Full of Papa Nes' quirky humor and flawless song craft, side two displays his unique interpretation of other artists’ songs. All in all, it’s another example of country rock in its earliest and best form.

Papa Nes

The Doors – LA Woman: A difficult album personally, but a favorite for fans overall, this was the Doors getting even deeper and further back into their roots. Sounding road weary and battle hardened, they’re veterans of the rock n roll war but still have plenty of fight and energy to show the new recruits exactly how it’s done; a logical, if unintended, swansong to the Morrison era.

Black Sabbath – Master of Reality: Providing another installment of “hard n heavy 101,” the godfathers of modern metal further expand their sound by incorporating ballads and brief classical pieces into their signature fuzz and doom, while maintaining the signature dark imagery that gave them so much notoriety, reflecting on drugs, Christianity, the socio-political fears of the times and not worshiping Satan.

Black Sabbath

The Who – Who’s Next: Ambition was always the key with Pete Townshend, and while folks will argue which of his masterpieces is THE masterpiece, I would nod towards Who’s Next for the ultimate culmination of pop perfection and a progressive, genre breaking finesse that continues to reach forward as it both defines and defies all categories 40 years later.

Fleetwood Mac – Future Games: The first of the era that eventually moved them into superstardom, with Bob Welch and Christine McVie firmly in place, Fleetwood Mac sounds reenergized, relevant and (no pun intended) futuristic, as they break new ground for what would become standard 70s AOR rock, while retaining a uniqueness that is in all ways timeless.

Led Zeppelin – IV: The last in the series of blues-infused folk rock, this is the album that you need and yet after listening to it over and over again, never really need to hear again since it becomes engrained into your very soul. I’m not saying it’s their best, but it’s their most essential.

Led Zeppelin

Kris Kristofferson – The Silver Tongued Devil and I: Capitalizing on his debut’s success, Kristofferson offers a set of songs that, for me, are stronger, deeper, and more poetic, cutting straight to the bone (pun intended this time). Kristofferson makes country “cool” with a gritty elegance and a melodic, woe is me humor never achieved by any other artist of the genre.

David Bowie – Hunky Dory: Bowie was still shedding his hippie skin here, but also developing his own voice with a collection of “safe” yet progressively unique folk-pop tunes that, with Mick Ronson at his side, would set the stage to blow the walls off of the confines of rock n roll forever. This is either the last of the “pre-Bowie” Bowie, or the beta version of Ziggy Stardust. You decide.

David Bowie

Pink Floyd – Meddle: Truly stepping from beneath the shadow of Syd, here the Floyd begins to flex the muscles that would bring on later masterpieces like Wish You Were Here and Dark Side of the Moon, though in a rougher, more embryonic and, in some ways, more satisfying package.

Van Morrison – Tupelo Honey: When Van is at his prime, as he is here, you can pick up any album and get everything you need. Tupelo Honey is just one of the many tastes, combining funk and soul with folky pop in a affecting, down and dirty, up on your feet way that, when coupled with his all powerful and expressive voice, is truly like nothing else on the planet.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Performance Review - Psychedelic Furs

On June 7, 2011, the Psychedelic Furs played Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom, and I was there.

My affair with the Furs runs long and deep, as they hit me in a way that few bands did in my impressionable youth and still do today (this very minute even), which speaks to the power and timelessness of their music. And yet in many ways, and especially to the world outside (Get it? No? You will…), they remain an enigma. They’re one of those seminal 80s bands that everyone can sing a song or three, but no one really knows much about them, i.e. no one is really a “fan.” I’ve known some exceptions to that rule, JT being one and J-Hern being another, but most folks give them a casual nod, whistle “that song,” and move on.

This is a shame, because to put it plainly – The Psychedelic Furs bring it. And they’re still doing so.

Their recorded output ended some 20 years ago with the mostly, even scandalously, even criminally disregarded World Outside, one of three masterpieces in their brief but compelling catalog, and the mature (ten years on), even logical foil to the “beautiful chaos” of their 1980 self-titled debut.

For this tour they’re touting their much lauded and equally fantastic sophomore album (for its 30th anniversary), Talk Talk Talk. Still the original six piece wielding two guitars and a saxophonist, they effectively harnessed the all but controlled tumbling wall of sound from the debut and honed the edges into a more pop recognizable if not quite radio friendly blend of delicate snarl and raucous melody, the “everything punk can be” pushed to its final limits before breaking into something, well, transcendent, even socially defining (the stark realism found in these songs, though veiled, is truly staggering). This is the album that gave us Pretty in Pink, so I don’t have to tell you the cultural significance of that in and of itself.

And though this was not the classic line up that made the album, or even the full core members from their 80s heyday, we did get both Butler brothers (of course) and saxophonist Mars Williams (Midnight to Midnight, the soundtrack version of PiP, other 80s stuff you’ve definitely heard), plus Amanda Kramer from Golden Palominos and Information Society fame. Round it off with a couple of, relatively, newcomers, Richard Good on guitar and Paul Garisto on drums, and you had a solid band that was professional, competent and there to take us on a trip down memory lane.

Classic Talk Talk Talk line up

So, the Furs took the stage promptly at 8:00 and immediately kicked into the Talk Talk Talk album. This was the original UK track running, so Dumb Waiters came first, and it was as blistering, sardonic and borderline apocalyptic as it ever could have been 30 years ago. Richard Butler, still lithe in build and ever light on his feet, came out immediately charming, smiling, drawing us into the obscure yet insightful poetry of his lyrics, acting out the words as if playing the characters he sings about. He's truly a charismatic and inspiring performer...though I have to say Mars Williams about stole the show, and Richard both knew it and loved it.

And that, to sum it up, was the show.

Aside from a couple of thank yous, the band didn’t let up for the full 40 plus minutes of the album, keeping me on my toes with the unfamiliar order of the tracks, and following the notes and beats to the letter, which is exactly how you want it, ‘cos aside from great songwriting, it’s the little nuances that make Talk Talk Talk more than post punk, set apart from New Wave, something totally unique unto itself, and yet very distinctly Psychedelic Furs.

After a short break they were back, running through the retro radio hits (Love My Way, Heaven, Heartbreak Beat) and a few lesser known singles (Sister Europe, President Gas, Heartbeat), keeping the crowd engaged, energized and eager for more. Again, through the entire set, the band never lost momentum, never paused longer than it took to change out a guitar, say thanks and then burn into the next tune. I had wondered what Richard’s between song banter would be like, and I was thrilled that he kept it to a minimum, focused entirely on the set, the songs, his craft and, the reason for it all, the audience.

Richard Butler - the main man

I was highly expectant of this show and I was in no way disappointed or let down. Richard was in strong voice (which, after years of his gravely croon, I was sorta surprised about), the song selection was expected but satisfying (sure, there were songs I’d have liked to heard, and I’m saddened that both Book of Days and World Outside went overlooked, but it’s understandable) and the nearly full capacity crowd was truly great (see Nashville, you can do it…now why can’t you do it more often?). Honestly, you couldn’t ask for a better night for two folks for (much) less than the cost of 90% of the current acts who play watered down material with half the heart.

Listen to me kids, there are still a few dates left on the tour, and even if you only remember Pretty in Pink and/or Heartbreak Beat, if you love live music by a great band, go check out the Psychedelic Furs and let them Talk Talk Talk you into love with them.