This is Marianne's pal Dena, commandeering this space one more time to bend your ear about beats and bleeps and bloops because that's what I'm digging these days. I am delighted to inform you that Marianne is recuperating nicely from her recent health travails and will soon be filling this space with more bizarre thrift-shop finds and concert recaps. In the meantime, doesn't Bassnectar have pretty hair?
Reading my better half’s ruminations on hipness the other
day, it struck me again how we both have always had our antennae out for that
next jolt of musical inspiration or transcendence. Sometimes we have shared our
thrills in dark, sweaty clubs and concert halls and sometimes we have found
them separately, but the common thread is that we are both always searching for
music that tickles our neurons in ways they haven’t been tickled before. I
shall always remember 2014 as the year I fell out of love with Rufus Wainwright
and heeded a magnetic pull to electronica, which is how I found myself at a
Bassnectar show in Las Vegas on November 5, grooving to phat beatz with a bunch of kids who
were young enough to be my offspring.
I’m not sure how it happened, but these days I find I spend
a lot less time contemplating jangly guitar music on my headphones and a lot
more time blasting Robyn and The Knife on my Road Rocker in the basement while
I play with my hoops or fold laundry. I’m still a newcomer to the genre and I
mostly know just a handful of songs that I’m obsessed with, but I need energy
and melody and beat, or I am just not satisfied. I was torn when I saw
Bassnectar was playing at Brooklyn Bowl on my last night in Las Vegas before I
flew back to Chicago. For one thing, I was boarding my bus to the airport at
6:15 the next morning.But goddamnit,
for once I had the cash resources to see almost any show I wanted and what I
wanted was a nonstandard Las Vegas experience. I wanted to see a show that was
not the same every night, so I bought my ticket and set my controls for the
heart of the Brooklyn Bowl.
I saw the doors opened quite early, so I thought I would
saunter in late, sidle up to the bar for a drink, and blend into the crowd. Instead,
the line snaked out the door and onto the Linq Plaza when I got there. Shortly
thereafter, they moved the line forward and we all stood on the stairs for
about an hour for reasons that remain unknown to me. Between that and the fact
that they frisked me twice and confiscated my brand-new Lip Balm before I was
finally admitted to the venue, I could have gotten really cranky. As it was my
feet ached and my lips were getting paler and dryer by the moment, but I could
not help reflecting that this was the nicest and most polite bunch of people
with whom I had ever been trapped on a staircase. They all seemed so happy I
was there with them and I was Dena and we were all seeing Bassnectar together
that I tapped into the welcoming vibe and felt my anticipation building. Then
Mr. Bassnectar started his set and my hair stood on end from the bass, and I
knew I was in the right place.
I’m not here to write a detailed review of this show. That
would be no fun for me and I do not have enough knowledge of Bassnectar’s music
to do it justice. The only song I heard all night that I knew was his remix of
“Hello” by Martin Solveig and Dragonette, a song I first heard when it popped
up on Spotify and which I have played as compulsively as just about any other
song I heard this year. By this point, I wasn’t sure if my hair was standing on
end because the bass was so loud or because I was having a mystical experience.
The kinetic visuals enhanced this sensation, from Lorin Ashton’s evident
enjoyment as he bounced back and forth between two laptops and tossed his long,
flowing hair with abandon to the wonderfully trippy video projections that
covered not only the screen behind Bassnectar, but also the front of the DJ
booth itself. And then there was the delightful candi-festooned crowd, full of
exuberant movement and joy, splashing beer on me right and left and then
apologizing sincerely every time. I felt pretty bad that I had to leave early
to go back to my hotel and pack, but I knew I would do it again the next chance
I’m an old fart on the far side of my fifties, but I’m not
dead yet. Once upon a time I was the youngest person in the room when the Dolls
played their last shows at Max’s Kansas City (with Blondie as opener and Wayne
County in the DJ booth, no less), and now I’m one of a small handful of obvious
geezers at the Bassnectar show, almost forty years later. This flip in
perspective seems completely appropriate when I think about it. My neurons fire
harder and I feel more alive and energized when I place myself in these highly
charged situations. I don’t know if always keeping one eye open for new
aesthetic kicks and settling only for music that makes my hair stand on end
ever qualified me as a hipster, but I fully intend to keep sticking my finger
in sockets until I finally short myself out.
Sometimes our goddamn earthly vessels decide to communicate that something is wrong by staging a massive shutdown that forces us to kick back and recalibrate, and so it is that Marianne has found herself bedridden for the nonce. I have no doubt she will be back in her batcave banging out blog posts before we know it, but in the meantime, please aim all your most potent healing gamma rays in your direction. This is Marianne’s pal Dena, stepping in for just a few days to make sure all of ye faithful Popthomologists do not lack for new quality content to ponder. Since my own head is currently running on empty due to post-holiday work overwhelm, my lovely and talented spouse Bill Tarlin has stepped up to the plate with a few timely observations regarding life as an aging hipster. Cool, daddio. I would be amiss if I did not inform you that Mr. Tarlin is a legit writer of poetry of whom we are very proud. Check out his stuff here. Now, Quick! To the Batmobile!
The other day at work someone mentioned a local punk band that had gotten back together. I said, “Oh yeah, I saw them. They were on first that time Husker Du opened for the Dead Kennedys.” Suddenly all eyes were on me like I had witnessed the signing of the Magna Carta. Or as one flanneled hipster put it, “Dude, I wasn’t even born then.”
On this side of 50 there are too many opportunities to say “Well back in my day…” and it’s probably only going to get worse. The funny thing is, it isn’t like saying I lived through the Great Depression and suffered the privations of 3 front-page wars. It’s more like, “Yeah, you got that Einstürzende Neubauten tattoo 10 years ago but when I saw them play at EXIT, you were still in diapers.”
When I was their age I didn’t want to relive another generation’s greatest hits. In my day sonny, I wanted the absolute fringes of novelty. It seemed to be a decades long wave of Now and I don’t know where the grey snuck in. And I suppose I was on the front lines of protests against the first Gulf War, though no one wants to hear about that. Its popthamology that is persistent. I saw REM when Michael Stipe had long hair. Really. I slipped off the pop wave years ago to explore alleys of ethnographic and avant-garde purity. You have to blaze your own trail. Oh, and Jazz. Every fart used-to-be hipster has their jazz. So I don’t have a clue whats on the radio now. (Is there still radio? Marianne will know.) But it’s satisfying to know that twenty-somethings take an interest in the soundtrack of my twenty-sometimes. Meanwhile David Bowie belongs in a museum now. Literally!!! We have tickets to see the exhibit next week.
That’s no coincidence. Lately I’ve wandered back out of the alleys and am revisiting the greatest hits of my prime. Much of my demographic is surely doing the same. Look for more and more relics of late-stage baby boomage to flood the high and low markets. Look for stadium acts to be franchised like Australian Pink Floyd. Weird mash-ups of Andrew Lloyd Weber and the Sex Pistols? Already happened.
One thing that is worrying about being an aging culture consumer is that we can keep winding the clock backwards until we are insufferable. Along with the music of my college days, I’m revisiting the comic books of my teens, the tv shows of my tweens (we didn’t have that word in the 70s) and so on back to infancy. Is that what getting old will be like? When I’m seventy will I be pulling the binky out of some grandkid’s maw and letting them know I teethed on rawhide? I hope so. Frighten the little ones so they’ll make a better world. But as I was saying. Um. (I get the forgets sometime). Everything is being served back to us. It can be beautiful. A new mom we know posted after xmas about watching Adam West’s Batman for the first time. That show is now guaranteed another couple of generations of pop brilliance. We are in a golden moment where we have access to almost everything. (Except justice and peace?) The door may slam shut when the Barons figure out a better turn-style and raise the rent on our past. But until then I am privileged that I can google proof that my generation was cooler than yours. I was there when it stank of tobacco and originality. That gum you like is back in style. And the toys I desperately wanted when I was 5 years old had better commercials than any shite on the shelfs now.
In the midst of the general chaos that is my every December, it is a genuine pleasure to revisit the year in new music and spend a few hours going through all the wonderful album releases I have enjoyed in 2014, in part because this task also involves some spirited chair dancing and tasty eggnog. My selection parameters are these: the albums must be new music released in 2014 (but, hey, don't miss out on The Kinks 5-CD set The Anthology 1964-1971), and that they must have contained songs that left a lasting impression and kept me singing, dancing, rocking, and thinking all year. I kept coming back to these albums for moremoremore, and invite you to discover them for yourselves if you have not already! Let's go!
One of the great joys in life is that there are always, always, fascinating things to discover and share, new or new-to-you. I am particularly interested in entertainment technology of the last century, so when I came across this amazing little animated film from 1933 on TCM, I was excited to bring it to you here.
Ted Eshbaugh (1906-1969) was a pioneer in animated color cartoons, and an independent name often buried in history by more-famous and corporatized cartoon competition (cough-Disney-cough). The legendary film processing company Technicolor commissioned Eshbaugh to produce author L. Frank Baum's "The Wizard of Oz," a one-reel color cartoon testing its new three-strip dye-transfer technology. Note the beginning of the cartoon, as Dorothy's bland Kansas morphs into the Land of Oz's super-saturated riot of color -- an idea that was replicated six years later in the groundbreaking and beloved 1939 MGM version of "The Wizard of Oz," which also featured the arduous Technicolor three-strip process. For reasons unknown, Eshbaugh's gorgeous, historic cartoon was never offered to the public (cough - Disney had a contract with Technicolor at the same time - cough), so remained largely unseen, only circulated underground in poor quality until its first commercial release in Canada in 1985, also in less-than-ideal condition.
Fortunately for us, Thunderbean Animation has fully restored Eshbaugh's cartoon to its proper glory this year, and you can purchase it along with several other delightful and historic cartoons of the era on Blu Ray and DVD. (hint: the holidays are coming up like NOW). It's worth seeing on your big screen HD TV. For now, please to enjoy!
It is inarguable that the world is in constant, ceaseless change. It is also true that we often resist change, preferring to reside in our comfort zones until prodded out. One thing I have noticed over these decades as a dedicated music fan is, MAN, people HATE it when a beloved lineup of a favorite band goes through a radical change. The "new guys" always have it rough, trying to live up to recording and performance legacies that can be pretty daunting. It's not fair, but it's common.
Take Thee Oh Sees, the Hardest Working Band In Showbiz. The California garage psych combo, featuring frenetic lead vocalist/guitarist/mastermind John Dwyer, was long made up of Brigid Dawson on vocals and keyboards, Petey Dammit on bass, and Mike Shoun on drums, until a band "hiatus" was announced about a year ago. Fan lamentations were shouted to the sky, fearing a permanent dissolution. This did not quite happen, as the band released their album "Drop" early in 2014, and a new touring lineup was formed of Dwyer, Nick Murray (from the touring lineup of White Fence) on drums, and Tim Hellman on bass. What?? No sweet Brigid, no shreddy Petey, no steady Shoun? Well, no, because CHANGE, as we have discussed. Embracing the idea of change, I landed at the Crocodile in Seattle this past Monday excited and ready to see and hear what the Trés Oh Sees would bring.
My arrival timing was off, however, since I expected opener Jack Name (who also tours with White Fence) to start later in the evening. By the time I got there and set up my camera gear, his set was nearly finished. It was an unusual set-up, in near complete blue-hued darkness, with the musicians facing each other instead of the audience. I felt a bit like I was an unwanted guest, and had trouble connecting to the chilly, somber demeanor and synth-heavy sound. That said, perhaps if I had been there for the entire set I would have dug the groove. Punctuality is important, kids.
The all-ages, sold-out crowd at the Croc filled the floor with shiny faces and moshy bodies, ready to go Oh Sees mental. Lineup change or not, it was certain that Dwyer would bring his trademark manic energy to the set, and that drives everything. In near-constant motion, he held his guitar high on his chest, wielding it like an assault rifle, filling the room with a reverb-laden crunch. Immediately, the crowd began to release its own energy back, the center swirling and undulating like a hurricane sea, waves of arms and shoulders and heads crashing into each other, quite happily.
I enjoyed the show immensely as well, straight through to the two-song encore. Dwyer, Murray, and Hellman did a damn fine gig, and if there were any jitters or mistakes, I sure didn't hear them. Here are the changes I noticed:
Vocals: It's all on Dwyer now. He's more than up to the challenge; however, since he sings in a higher register most of the time, I do miss the warmth and strength of Brigid doubling-up with him. It's a lot for one person to be heard over all that glorious noise.
Keys: Dwyer added a little synth here and there. Again, I liked the extra keys myself, but it's not critical to the live Oh Sees sound.
Bass: Hellman is the performance-opposite of Dammit -- reserved vs. high-energy. It wasn't easy for me to hear him specifically from where I was, but he did just fine. Also, in place of Petey's Doc Martins, Tim prefers the naked onstage foot. The More You Know!
Drums: I'm already familiar with Nick Murray's style, which is quite different from Shoun's but equally appealing. Shoun is crisp, precise, and no-nonsense, with clean and complex fills, making me almost sure he learned to play drums in school. Murray has a more relaxed feel reminiscent of mid- to late-'60s psychedelic drum styles -- more organic, you could say, and very comfortable in Dwyer's longer jams where his loping, rolling power propels the songs in a wholly different and interesting space.
Now is the time we enjoy The Fabulous Flying Hair Of John Dwyer! Click on the photos to enlarge and click on the Flickr set link for even more photos!
Nostalgia and the holidays go together naturally, like a cold day and cocoa, or horrible ice storms and tire chains. I like to remember all the pleasant, fun things about Christmas from the days when it all was quite exciting and magical and all I had to do was make a few paper snowflakes and show up in my flannel jammies on Christmas morn. I don't have any religious traditions around the holiday, but I do take from Christmas the sincere spirit of goodwill, generosity, and kindness, and do try to remember it throughout the year, as best I can.
I came across a little piece of nostalgia today that warmed my heart when I saw it. It is just a small thing: a one-minute-long interstitial station ID from CBS-TV, from December, 1966. It was designed by the award-winning illustrator R.O. Blechman, animated by the very accomplished Willis Pyle, and the music was written by Frank Ledlie Moore, arranged by Arnie Black, and performed by Frank Levy on cello. I remember it very well, and am sure it must have been shown for several years after. It needs no words to tell its story, and is playful, sweet, and touching. It's everything you'd want in a piece of art, and everything good you need to take from a season that is often bludgeoned with commercialism and stress.
I'm Marianne Spellman. I am in Seattle-ish. I like and make music and words and photos and coffee and have crappy eyesight, like every other blogger. I do freelance thingies for cool people and places every so often. I post here often.