Goodbye Mr. T

Posted in Dancing about architecture on November 14th, 2015 by bill

In a reversal of the usual situation, Allen Toussaint is in the foreground here, with Dr. John in the background.

We lost one of the greats this week: Allen Toussaint, legendary New Orleans songwriter/producer/pianist and all-around musical genius, who dropped dead of a heart attack shortly after finishing a show in Madrid.

Toussaint was not exactly a household name; he mostly stayed in the background, I think by design. But his influence on American popular music was broad and deep. He recorded with everyone from Fats Domino to Elvis Costello, Etta James to Dr. John, The Meters to Paul McCartney. All his work – with the possible exception of that Wings album – shared a common vibe; not just funky and groovy, but soulful and positive and uplifting. In short, some of the best music ever made by humans.

Many of us came to know him through his work with Lee Dorsey, which the kind of stuff you know even if you don’t know you know it. Toussaint and Dorsey recorded “Yes We Can Can,” which later became a big hit for the Pointer Sisters; “Workin’ in a Coal Mine,” which I came to know first in Devo’s cover version; and of course “Everything I Do Gonh be Funky,” famously referenced by the Beastie Boys in “Sure Shot.”

I don’t know if everything Mr. Toussaint did in his life was funky, but his average was surely among the highest out there. The world will be measurably less funky without him.

(I’ve only scratched the surface here; for a deeper dive, I recommend this article by Mike Powell.)

Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 5)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on October 26th, 2015 by bill

There have been many versions of Pere Ubu over the years, but this is something like the version that I saw in 93.

In related memories, there was the time I saw Pere Ubu at Slim’s in San Francisco in 1993. The common thread here is legendary Cleveland underground band Rocket from the Tombs. After a brief but influential tenure in the mid-70s, which produced a few singles and many live performances but no actual album, RFTT splintered into two factions. One became the Dead Boys, featuring Stiv Bator, later of Lords of the New Church. The other, including David Thomas – known as Crocus Behemoth during his time with RFTT – and the soon-to-be late Peter Laughner, became Pere Ubu.

Ubu recorded a number of strange and innovative albums in the late 70s and early 80s, and in the late 80s returned in a somewhat more accessible form. I was not really aware of them until I saw them open for the Pixies at the Warfield in 1991, but when they came around again in support of 1993’s The Story of My Life, I was right there at the foot of the stage.

They opened with the first song from Story of My Life, “Wasted,” a slow-moving number that starts with just voice and accordion. But a minute or so in they stopped. David Thomas indicated, quite clearly, his displeasure with the way the accordion sounded; there was a pause in the action.
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Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 4)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on October 22nd, 2015 by bill

Rock legend has it that Stiv Bator used to stuff Martha's muffin.

This is another show that comes under the heading of “Foggy but Fond Memories” – as do most of the shows I write about, now that I think of it. Is this a natural result of aging and the passage if time, or is it directly attributable to the Rock’n'Roll Lifestyle, or some combination of the two? Impossible to say at this juncture, and I don’t suppose it matters that much.

Anyway: the band was the Lords of the New Church, the venue the venerable Berkeley Square, and the time…em…sometime in the latter mid-80s? A web search spits out the date March 22, 1986, which seems a bit early by my timetable. But it could be right…perhaps I was spending spring break with the Babbs of Vallejo? It’s plausible.

This was as close as I ever came to attending a genuine Punk Rock show. But while the Lords had impeccable punk credentials – singer Stiv Bator and guitarist Brian James were veterans of the Dead Boys and the Damned, respectively – they were really Beyond Category, mixing Stones-y rock and 60s garage with bits of funk and a dark theatrical streak that caused some people to mistake them for a goth band.
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Some of My Favorite Shows (Part 3)

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on October 13th, 2015 by bill

In the news today was a story saying that David Bowie has officially retired from live performance. This comes as no huge surprise, as David has not played a gig since 2004, nor has he shown any particular inclination to do so.

And it’s probably just as well; Dave is creeping up on 70 now, and though his voice still sounds pretty good on record, it might not be able to stand up to the rigors of a lengthy performance, to say nothing of an actual tour. I had been holding out some hope that he might see fit to favor with us one last show, hopefully simulcast worldwide, but seemingly it is not to be. Though, of course, it is Bowie’s prerogative to change his mind; remember when he said he would never play his hits again after the 1990 tour? “Going back on my word is part and parcel of what I do for you,” said Mr. B back in 2003. “Part of my entertaining factor is lying to you.”

I was fortunate enough to have him lie to me in person four times: once with Tin Machine, once on the Earthling tour, and twice on the “A Reality Tour.” The first two were, on the whole, disappointments. I liked Tin Machine more than most people, but their live show (at the Warfield in SF) was a bit of a slog. I remember that they did a noisy version of the Pixies’ “Debaser,” which was pretty cool, and that “If There Is Something” sounded good. Other than that it didn’t leave much of an impression.
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Don’t Let the Smoke Get in Your Eyes

Posted in Dancing about architecture on September 21st, 2015 by bill

So yesterday I read an article celebrating the 30th anniversary of Love and Rockets’ Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven. That means that the following are also 30 years old:

Camper Van Beethoven: Telephone Free Landslide Victory
The Cure: The Head on the Door
The Jesus and Mary Chain: Psychocandy
LL Cool J: Radio
Meat Puppets: Up on the Sun
Minutemen: Three-Way Tie (for Last)
New Order: Low-life
Run-DMC: King of Rock
Shriekback: Oil and Gold
The Sisters of Mercy: First and Last and Always
Sonic Youth: Bad Moon Rising
Talking Heads: Little Creatures
Tears for Fears: Songs from the Big Chair
Tom Waits: Rain Dogs
After Hours
Back to the Future
The Breakfast Club
Desperately Seeking Susan
Into the Night
Jagged Edge
Runaway Train
The Sure Thing
Weird Science

And here we have hard evidence, in case anyone needed it, that time is passing entirely too quickly. In 1985 – the year I started college – 30-year-old music would have been things like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and so on. Ancient relics, so we thought at the time.

And yet 1985 doesn’t seem so long ago. I can well remember the feeling of Friday afternoon in Santa Cruz, when after my last class ended, I would put Seventh Dream on the stereo, indulge in certain substances, and sit looking out over the Pacific Ocean in the distance. That marked the beginning of the weekend.

There were some good weekends back then. But this last weekend was no slouch either, featuring good company, ample food and drink, and a wiffle ball game for the ages that ended in a final score of 33-32. I can’t tell you where I was, but it rhymed with “Bite Nub” (and that’s probably what Buckwheat would have called it). As always, being back in workaday reality is a bit of a shock to the system, but I shall bravely carry on. Over and out for now.

The Going Gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro

Posted in Dancing about architecture on September 2nd, 2015 by bill

It's Weird Al's world, the rest of us just live in it. Baby deer included.

Last night found me in the audience for Weird Al Yankovic’s show at the Van Duzer Theatre, and while I feel like my younger self might have had some snarky things to say about that, at this point in time I have nothing but respect for Al. He knows who he is and what his audience wants from him, and he gives it to them. Perform “Fat” in vintage fat suit? Check. Sing “Eat It” to the tune of that acoustic version of “Layla”? Check. Two songs about “Star Wars” as the encore, closing with “Yoda”? You wanted it, you got it.

After more than 35 years in the business, Weird Al has carved out a niche that is entirely his own. Song parodies are still his bread and butter, and he still plays the accordion, but he has become an all-around entertainer who puts on a solid, professional show from beginning to end. His entrance was inspired: the band started the first song with Al nowhere to be seen. Then he appeared on the projection screen, singing with a recognizable part of the HSU campus behind him. The camera followed him as he made his way across the quad and into the building, where the crowd, of course, went nuts.

The energy level stayed pretty high throughout, the songs interspersed with video highlights from Weird Al’s career that covered the many costume changes. Highlights for me were the Devo-inspired “Dare to Be Stupid” – for which Al and band wore yellow radiation suits and red energy domes – and “I Wanna B Ur Lovr,” which despite its goofy intent achieved an impressive level of genuine funkiness.

If I was going to sum up this show in one word it would be, perhaps surprisingly, “triumphant.” Weird Al has outlasted all his detractors and many of those he’s parodied, he has a loyal and adoring audience that covers a wide spectrum of demographics, and as the flaming wreckage of the music business falls around him, he is laughing all the way to the bank. It’s inspiring, in a funny sort of way. The old saw from William Blake says that “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” Weird Al is not a fool, but a foole, as in a jester; and by persisting he has become, in his own particular world, the king. Long may he reign.

The Thrill Is Gone…

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 15th, 2015 by bill

…is what every article about the passing of B.B. King today at the age of 89 will be headlined. And who am I to quibble?

B.B. will be missed, but he had a hell of a good run. I assume that Lucille will be buried with him, as is only fitting.

This is one of my favorite B.B. tunes, clocking in at an economical 1:29, and containing the immortal couplet:

Nobody loves me but my mother
And she could be jiving too

And isn’t that just the blues in a nutshell?

What’s Blowing My Mind, 2015 Edition (Part 4)

Posted in Dancing about architecture on May 8th, 2015 by bill

“Your mind…blow it, blow it.”
-David Bowie, “The Gospel According to Tony Day”


For a few months in 1983 there was a station in Philadelphia that played quote unquote Modern Rock, and for that brief period it was like a window onto a whole other world had opened. Despite the fact that it is a large city on the Eastern seaboard, Philly is a bit of a backwater burg whose musical tastes run toward the Springsteen end of the spectrum. (With some notable exceptions — for instance, Philadelphia absolutely loves Bowie, for reasons that no one has been able to fully explain; he has opened several of his tours there, and David Live was recorded at the Tower Theater.) So it was a bit of a shock to the system when suddenly there was a radio station that would play New Order, the Cure, and other more obscure post-punk artists.

It was at this time that I was introduced to Shriekback, whose debut album Care appeared in 83. The song that got airplay was “Lined Up,” which was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. I could try and describe it to you, but in this age of the YouTube, I can just embed it right here instead, so I think I will:

This song employs what I now know as the classic Shriekback strategy of deploying the tools of funk for different — more sinister — purposes. This kind of stuff hits me right where I live, so I started looking for more Shriekback, but it was not easy to find. Care was released by Warner Brothers in the U.S. but deleted almost immediately; I did not see a copy of it until many years later. It was not until a trip to Cambridge, Mass. with my senior class in 1985 that I ran across a copy of Shriekback’s second album, Jam Science (and I am talking, of course, about a real, old-fashioned vinyl record here). I wore that motherfucker out over the following months, and introduced it to everyone I could. As always, it was very satisfying to be into a great band that no one knew about.
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Album of the Year 2014

Posted in Dancing about architecture on April 8th, 2015 by bill

It has taken a while, partly through indecisiveness, mostly through laziness, but I am finally ready to name my album of the year for 2014: the self-titled LP by Benjamin Booker.

I use the term LP advisedly, as this music would sound right at home on scratchy old vinyl. It is a gloriously analog production — just guitar, bass, and drums, and of course Booker’s voice, which has the raspy authority of a grizzled bluesman though he is only 25 and this is his debut album. He just sounds like an old soul, sort of like Amy Winehouse did; hopefully he will be around longer than she was.
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The Serve of the Thin White Duke

Posted in Because he's David Bowie, that's why on March 31st, 2015 by bill

Poking around Chris O’Leary’s Pushing Ahead of the Dame today, I was struck by the following passage about David Bowie’s 1999 sessions with the band Rustic Overtones:

The band had wanted to invite Bowie for a [ping-pong] match during the sessions but thought better of it: this was a serious rock artiste, after all. Later, they read that Bowie was actually an avid ping-pong player and once had an epic match with Lou Reed.

Sadly, I was unable to find any photographic evidence of a table tennis match between Messrs. Bowie and Reed, but I did find this:

And this:

And this, which I believe is from The Man Who Fell to Earth:

Which was enough to make me pretty happy. Note the Batman symbol on David’s kimono. Awesome.