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February 17, 2006

I Can Do That But I Don't Want To

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Juggler Chris Bliss

This guy Chris Bliss juggling to the triumphant finale suite of Abbey Road is probably the best interpretive juggling you will ever see, until somebody juggles cats to "Paradise By The Dashboard Light." What a great idea. I'm surprised that nobody has ever found out that Abbey Road "syncs up" with a movie a la Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon.

Link to amazing juggling footage: http://marketplace.espeakers.com/movie.php?sid=5290&aid=10558

Don't "Rush", "Hold Steady" or You'll "Waste" Your Whole Weekend, (With A Little Bit of Mambo)

As I browse the concert listings I am filled with a variety of disappointments. First of all, if you're reading this, you're already too late to go and check out MC Vagina at the Zombie Lounge. That happened on Wednesday. Surprisingly, the good MC has a MySpace page.

My second disappointment happened when flipping past the ad for 4th and B. LIke Electric Waste Band keyboardist Paul Bell pointed out in our interview a few days ago, it seems as if 4th an B's days may be numbered due to the 600 pound gorilla that is the House Of Blues. As I scanned their listing, however, I thought for a moment that they had not gone down without a fight, without firing one last shot towards the HOB. But then I noticed that their show on February 18th did not actually say Lou Bega like I had first thought, but actually Louie Vega. They may as well pack it in now.

Despite the lack of a few big names, there are some entertaining options this weekend. Badfish, a Sublime tribute band plays at Cane's tonight. Every year or so, I will find myself surprised that songs like Santeria are still being played on the radio. There's nothing wrong with the songs, but they're in a strange valley of music that is above novelty hit, but really doesn't have classic staying power. Seeing how much faux enthusiasm these guys could deliver to their 4,000th rendition of What I Got Could be entertaining...

Tea Leaf Green
Tea Leaf Green


Or you could go see the Electric Waste Band open for Tea Leaf Green at the Belly-Up. Tea Leaf Green looks to be a jam band, their set lists on the website have a lot of ->'s in them, indicating that songs transfer into one another. I will probably go and check out the EWB and see what I think of the band. The show starts in Solana Beach at 9:00.

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Tom Rush - The Circle Game

Saturday, one of my dad's favorite performers, Tom Rush, is performing at Acoustic Music San Diego. I wasn't aware that this venue existed, and it looks like Tom Rush is the only name I really recognize on their lineup for the next few months. It doesn't really seem like Tom Rush gets his due these days, you never really read about him or hear anyone reference him in their reviews. His album "The Circle Game" featured his original work, as well as songs written for him by Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and James Taylor, and is worth checking out if you're a fan of any of those artists. Key tracks include the title track, featured on the Wonder Years, "Rockport Sunday", a great instrumental, and "No Regrets", the song that was playing when my dad asked my mom to marry him. The show on Saturday costs $25 dollars.

Saturday, the options also include the previously mentioned Louie Vega, (come to think of it, it's probably a safe bet that he goes by Louie to avoid the embarassing confusion. Try a bit harder Louie, Mambo #5 still carries some serious weight around here.)

The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady


For Sunday, there's really only one option, which is The Hold Steady at the Casbah. These guys are another band that I've yet to really gain the full appreciation of that other critics seem to grasp easier. However, I am willing to give them a chance, due to a formula that I recently developed for whether or not a concert is worth taking a risk to go see if you're not already in love with the band. If you're on the fence with a record, a great live performance can be the kind of thing to push you through into loving it. But how to tell if a show has the potential for greatness?

1. First of all, if you've got live reviews floating around out there, they're worth looking into. Pitchfork, for instance, published a live review of the band last week. Even though it includes the word "Meta," it appears to use it in a positve way.

2. You've got to listen to the record and see if there are opportunities for the live experience to expand upon what is recorded. Before seeing the Arcade Fire at the Casbah last year, I was equally as on the fence, but then I realized that "Wake Up" was probably going to be the show-opener, and that it was the kind of song that could really blow a crowd out of the water. Listen to the breakdown that happens with a minute and a half left in the song "Hornets! Hornets!" The organ, drums and wah-wah guitar could proove just as dramatic a way to kick off a set. The Hold Steady seem to be talented enough, real musicians that they will make it their priority to seize upon chances like these. This won't be like seeing the Strokes or Kings of Leon, where every solo is note for note with the record.

3. Do you not "Get" the record? Don't understand it's hype? It's possible that a lot of the hype has come from people who HAVE seen the band. The Hold Steady is from Brooklyn. If you've read reviews of them, and I have in sources as differing as Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and The New Yorker, don't forget where a lot of these people writing the reviews are living. The live access, though it might not be what they are reviewing, could still be fresh in their heads.

With these thoughts in mind, I'm gonig to try to see the ban on Sunday. Unfortunately the Casbah's website has been down since yesterday, so I have no way of knowing if tickets are still available. Nevertheless, that's where I will try to be.

The Hold Steady's official website is: http://www.theholdsteady.com/

The band performs Sunday night at The Casbah with Swearing at Motorists and The Daffodills. If you're still on the fence as well, head over to Podbop for some free Hold Steady MP3s

UPDATE: The Casbah's website is offline, but tickets for the show can still be purchased for $10 at http://secure.independenttickets.com/index.php

Friday Charts - 2/17/06

Let's take a look at the Friday Charts to see what people are excited about this week. These are the most shared albums on a music site:

1. The Flaming Lips - At War With the Mystics
2. Secret Machines - Ten Silver Drops
3. Calexico - Garden Ruin
4. Granddaddy - Just LIke The Fambly Cat
5. The Strokes - First Impressions of Earth
6. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
7. Jack Johnson & Friends - Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies From The Film Curious George
8. Islands - Return To The Sea
9. Arctic Monkeys - Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Higher Quality)
10. The Knife - Silent Shout

As you can see, the highly anticipated new Flaming Lips album (as reported in last weeks charts, quickly soared to the top of the charts. While the album may not exactly live up to the rabid expectations, (Read my review), it is certainly understandable that the interest and anticipation for this album were there. The rest of the top ten remain similar to last weeks. The Islands album is a side project of the now defunct Unicorns, which for some reason has had a large amount of staying popularity on this site. The only other notable inclusion on the list is the The Knife's "Silent Shout." Here we see the power of a Pitchfork review. Based on the coveted "Best New Music" status conferred upon the album in this review published Monday, Pitchfork is able to make people with the same interest in Jack Johnson and the Arctic Monkeys take interest in a pretty bizarre techno album. One of these days, I feel Pitchform is due to pull an Emperor's New Clothes style scam, where they hype an album that one of their staffers recorded while taking a shit, and seeing how many people they can convince to buy into it. If anyone is fairly sure that this has already happened, let me know.

February 16, 2006

Podbop - Get MP3s of Bands Coming to Town

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Podbop is a new service that combines a listing of concerts coming to a particular city with a database of legal MP3s from artist and label websites, so that you can navigate to your city's page and sample tunes from artists who will be in town soon. At first it sounded to me like something that is seems too complicated and generalized to really work, but its actuall very promising. The listing of concerts coming to any given city is disparate enough that there can't be anybody interested in having every MP3 downloaded for them automatically, but if you're using iTunes, the podcasted songs are kept separate from the rest of your collection and are easy to browse through. The regular listing of events and MP3s for your city is also handy tool. Bookmarking the San Diego page and clicking over to it to sample the latest artist that you've heard is coming to town is easy enough for most people to manage.

The site is still growing, but I'd say it is definitely worth keeping an eye on. The listing of San Diego concerts and MP3s can be found at: http://podbop.org/cities/us/ca/san_diego/

If you'd like to try the Podcast, which will download the MP3s for you automatically, then open up iTunes, open up Podcasts (underneath your main "Library" icon on the left side, and drag this little symbol into the main iTunes window:

February 15, 2006

Bob Dylan Musical Choreographed by Billy Joel Fan Surprisingly as Bad as You'd Think It Would Be

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So check out the above photo. Looks sort of like a brightly colored Grease-Meets Cirque de Solei, no? Well it's actually the promotional picture for the Old Globe Theatre's production of "The Times They Are A-Changin'", a musical based on the songs of Bob Dylan and choreographed by Twyla Tharp.

I possessed a morbid sort of curiosity about the show ever since I saw the ads start to pop up about a month ago. I wavered between just being totally against it, and thinking that maybe the $19 tickets might be worth just checking it out. I think that finally, my thoughts ended up in the "don't spend money on things that you are sure you will hate" category. Even though the Union-Tribune offers up a mostly positive review, I feel that my tastes would likely be more in line with the CityBeat reviewer. Many of the things that the UT offers up as compliments for the show sound like jokes:


“Blowin' in the Wind” is no longer the lilting acoustic folk tune that calls to mind Pete Seeger, but becomes a big, passionate, coming-of-age rock anthem by smooth-voiced star-in-the-making Michael Arden

Playing Captain Arab, Thom Sesma nails the seedy, sexy charisma of any aging rocker too long on the road. Like a blend of Neil Young and Dylan, but with good teeth
These two competitors for the affections of animal trainer Cleo (Jenn Colella) deliver “Just Like a Woman” as an arena-rock duet, howled from the apron of the stage with Donald Holder's bold beams of light dancing in the dark.

Anyone who wishes to discount Dylan points for his teeth, or uses sexy to describe the singer is likely not sharing my viewpoint on what makes Bob Dylan great. The same goes for anyone who casually reports on Just Like A Woman or Blowin' in The Wind being reinterpretted as Arena Rock Ballads like there is nothing wrong with that.

The CityBeat's review is a bit less forgiving:

Wow, this blows

My prediction is that the majority of the shows tickets will be bought by women who actively dislike Bob Dylan as gifts for their husbands who actively dislike the theatre. If Twyla Tharp ends up being responsible for your marriage ending, don't say I didn't warn you.


The Times They Are A-Changin' is playing at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. Check the theatre's homepage for ticket availability: http://www.oldglobe.org/productions/TheTwylaTharpBobDyla416.html

Student tickets are available for $19, but you must bring your student ID to the box office to purchase them.

Electric Waste Band: The San Diego Serenade Interview

It took me a long time to get to Winston’s on Monday night. It wasn’t because of traffic, and I didn’t get lost in the backstreet of Ocean Beach. Instead, it took me a long time as a music listener to get to the stage of my music appreciating career where seeing a Grateful Dead cover band actually became a priority of mine. A few months ago, I read a pitchforkmedia.com feature called "The Worst Record Covers of All Time" that, for once, contained a passge I was able to relate to:

Dancing turtles are among the reasons why so many have an innate bias against the Dead. Iconography rife with twirling hippie animals, LSD teddy bears, and grinning skeletons have ruined the band's image to such an extent that coming around to American Beauty and Live Dead now marks the 5th Rite of Passage for growing music geeks, the stage that typically follows "Getting Past the Idea That All Reggae Is the Same."

That described me pretty well. Having had the "Summer of Reggae" force fed to me by a friend a few years ago, (the nadir of which occurred at a concert where Yellowman's pelvic thrusts came dangerously close to my face), I indeed moved on to gain an appreciation for the Grateful Dead. I was surprised when I came to the realization that over the course of several months the Grateful Dead had become one of my favorite bands. Throughout my music listening career, I've always been a definitive studio version kind of guy. I never cared about the taping source of a show, never wanted as many different versions of the same song as possible. I had friends in college that would play nothing but Phish every time you rode with them in the car and my Phish bashing probably rivaled my Sex and the City tirades for conversations that I was most unpleasent to be around when discussing. For some reason though, I found myself really liking these live Grateful Dead recordings. There were just times on sunny early weekend afternoons where it seemed foolish or inappropriate to be listening to anything else.

Even after I realized that I was a fan of the Dead, it still took me months to get out to Winston's and see the Electric Waste Band. I think that in part, this was due to their schedule. They play there every Monday at 10 PM, so there was never any sense of urgency, that my chance was going to pass. There was also just the simple fact that more than any other day, on Monday people just don't feel like rockin' til one in the morning. The band acknowledges this and even puts a list of excuses for you to use when you call in sick to work on Tuesday. It was't until I planned to go see them on a Saturday, but was rendered inactive by an indulgent Friday night, that I vowed not to put off seeing the EWB for another week.

The band was well worth the wait, and is not the sort of musical institution that San Diego should be taking for granted. On Monday, a crowd of 70 people paid five bucks admission and sipped $1.50 Budweiser's while the band blazed through a number of Dead classics. They covered songs you've heard on the radio, (Casey Jones, Turn On Your Lovelight) to ones you'll only hear if you have ventured into the wild world of live Dead recordings, (Bertha, Wharf Rat). Psychedelic backgrounds and projections heightened the atmosphere as the five piece band traded solos, alternated singers, and kept things rockin' until the wee hours of the morning. It was a great time, and the sort of thing that once you hear the first song or two, you'll be smiling the rest of the night while inside you kick yourself for not sucking it up and being tired on a Tuesday much earlier on. It's hard to say whether this would be the catalyst to change a non-fan into a believer, but if you're wavering, few things are as indisputably much better in person than the music of the Grateful Dead.

The day after the show on Monday, February 13th, I talked with Electric Waste Band keyboard player Paul Bell. We discussed a number of topics from the San Diego Music Scene, Life in a Cover Band, The Legacy of the Grateful Dead and why we're not crazy for liking the Dead but hating all those other Jam Bands.

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Electric Waste Band Keyboard Player Paul Bell

San Diego Serenade: So was last night a typical turnout for a Monday?

Paul Bell:
That was the worst turnout all year. We normally get about twice that. Around 150 people is typical. I don’t know if it was because of Valentine’s Day the next day or what.

SDS:
Yeah, the streets, the bars, everything seemed unusually empty last night. I heard the story about how Andrew and Bob met up at a Dead show and started the band on Bill Walton’s “One More Saturday Night.” (available for download here.) How did you come to join the band?

PB: That happened in ’95. I moved to OB, and I went to see them every Monday night, and I thought I have to get in on this. Back then they had a sax player, Daniel Neilson, and no keys. They were called the Elastic Waste Band, and when Daniel left, since he was sort of responsible for the name, we decided to change it to the Electric Waste Band. So both the names have nothing to do with the Dead. I went to quite a bit of West Coast shows between ‘90-95, so I was well versed in all the songs. Really all I did for those five years was go to Dead shows.

SDS: How long has the band been playing at Winstons?

PB: Winston’s had Dead Head Mondays as far back as ’92 and it’s never gone away.

SDS: Obviously having a weekly gig is a great advantage for the band. Are there any other advantages you see to being a band in San Diego?

PB: Well, to us the advantage is that we all live here. Why would you want to live anywhere else? We all acknowledge that we are stuck at Winston’s. We don’t invest too many grey hairs in the band. In order for us to get beyond Winston’s, we’d have to get originals and hit the road. We’ve tried things like playing three sets, where the first set would be all originals, but playing in front of nobody doesn’t set a good tone for the whole night. People tend to go outside for cigarettes when you perform the originals.

SDS: So can you elaborate more on the limitations of being a band in San Diego, because having been to LA and New York, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but it sort of is seen as a Minor League sort of town as far as if you’re trying to make it as a band.

PB: Well, cover bands definitely fit better here, and I think that’s just because a lot of the residents of San Diego don’t see music as that important of a thing. All those Van Halen or Steely Dan tribute bands play for tourists. They play at Cane’s on the beach or the Cannibal Bar, or Humphrey’s. They play places where the people on vacation don’t have to leave their hotel to hear the music. Original music is tough to break here unless you’re into punk rock, and then there’s a very strong scene. There are very few places, Winston’s, Belly-Up, that are Dead friendly. 4th and B, but it seems like that’s in danger of being pushed out by the House of Blues. There’s just not a lot of great venues to choose from. The casinos are something we’ve considered, they pay pretty well. But the people doing the booking at those places, they here tribute bands and they assume that you’re dressing up like the bands. The Dead are probably the one band where that’s not something you want to do at all.

SDS: I saw a flyer on the wall of Winston’s last night for a touring Grateful Dead cover band. What’s the difference between you guys and the touring bands? I’ve heard of some bands that do try to keep it more detail oriented, like the positioning of the mic stands…

PB: Yeah, what you’re thinking of is the Dark Star Orchestra. What they do is they pick a certain bootleg show, and they’ll play that particular bootleg of May 5th, 1977, or whenever. They play the good, the bad and the ugly from that tape. They take it like the gospel. If on that tape the kick drum is way low in the mix, they’ll tell the soundman to make it sound that way. I think it really sucks all the deadness out of the dead, to take one show and say it’s the way that it’s got to be. Actually two years ago, the keyboard player for Dark Star passed away, and they considered me for the replacement. Didn’t want to move to Chicago though. The way we see them, they don’t really affect our crowd, they’re not a threat.

SDS: Have you ever taken the band out on tour?

PB: Not really a tour, but we’ve considered maybe going up the coast, playing a few college shows. It’s tough because all the guys are super busy. Our drummer [Ed Fletcher] plays in three other bands. We’ve got a lawyer. [Guitarist] Mark Fisher, he plays music every single night of the week.


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Electric Waste Band Guitar Player Mark Fisher

SDS: Are you involved in any other groups?

PB: I played in the Last Exit Band until two years ago. That was an all original project. I do a lot of songwriting. The matter of finding people to come to your show when you do originals is where all the effort comes in. If you do originals you might have 20 people coming to your show and then a year later you’ll have 35. Doing the Grateful Dead music, your fanbase is automatic. It’s a little too easy.

SDS: How does the band pick the songs to play each week?

PB: Well, we have a list of 150 songs, and next to each song, we make a note every time we play the song, so we can see when the last time we played it was. We try to make it as full a rotation as possible, because each song has somebody in the audience who thinks it’s their favorite. There are still a good handful of songs that we never play. The dead had 220 throughout their entire career, and had about 120 active songs at any given time. Some fall out for over a decade and then reappear. Our fans appreciate the song rotation, they know when a song is rare. Before a year or two ago, we’d just play it by ear without any sort of set list. Then you’d be scratching your ass in between songs and arguing what to play next. So now we make a list every week, but don’t adhere to it in stone. Jams just lead someplace naturally sometime.

SDS: So other than that basic set list, you don’t do any other planning during the week?

PB: We don’t even rehearse. It keeps things spontaneous that way. We can all do our homework on our own when we’re planning on doing a song we’re less familiar with. Each song is only played five to ten times a year. That’s not a lot of times to play a song over the course of a year when you’re not rehearsing. But the rough spots are overshadowed by the good moments that you couldn’t even have rehearsed if you tried. To keep things even more spontaneous, we’ve got a deep list of backup musicians to ensure that the music never stops. If you ever take a break, take a month off, people forget about us and it’s like starting all over again. Three of us could die tomorrow and the band would still be back at Winston’s on Monday.

SDS: Was that a backup drummer on Monday night? [Guitarist] Rockin' Bob Harvey kept saying things about him playing with the band tonight….

PB: No, that was our regular drummer. He was complaining about having to set the drum kit up so far back on the riser, he didn’t feel like he was really part of the band. Just a little band inside joke.

SDS: One thing I wonder about everybody who plays in a tribute or cover band, is whether or not you ever get sick of the music you’re playing. What do you do if the music ever comes on the radio, or at a party?

PB: I’m disassociated from the fact that it is Dead music by this point in time. The songs are good enough on their own. They don’t have to be played just like the Dead did for people to enjoy them. As a band, we distance ourselves from the way it “Should” be done. Going to Dead shows, people in the crowd were rooting for them to rock. We were saying, “Don’t take us up the cliff and then lead us back down, take us up and push it over!” They would shy away from what so many people in the crowd wanted them to do. So we don’t play it like the Dead would play it. We’ll do hammer on guitar solos, rock it out…

SDS: I heard the broadcast of Bill Walton’s satellite radio show [One More Saturday Night, on Sirius] and read on your website that [Grateful Dead drummer] Mickey Hart sat in with you guys once. When did recognition from those big guys start to happen?

PB: Well Bill started listening in ’99. He used to come in every week during the summer, so when we found out he had his radio show, we sent him a CD. His show is usually just him playing his favorite tapes, we were the first time he ever had a live band on. We met Mickey Hart when we were recording at Bill’s house. Mickey was storing his drum kit at Bill’s house and we were joking with him that he should sit in with us when we played St. Stephen’s into Drums. Well Mickey’s drum kit is so big, it surrounds him, and he hid out in there and played during St. Stephen. We didn’t even know he was there until we cut the song and he was there expecting us to go into Drums. Bill’s house is great though, it’s like Grateful Dead land. He’s got all the toys and stuff, huge ornately carved Grateful Dead furniture. I’d love to be Kato Kaelin staying in his guest house.

SDS: Do you feel that the Grateful Dead’s gets sort of short shrifted by the music fans because its reputation and culture overshadow its music?

PB: Well I think a major problem for the average music fan is that there’s too much to bite off and chew. You walk into a record store and see thirty cds and wonder, Where do I start?

SDS: Well what advice would you give the casual listeners like my dad, who only own Skeletons in the Closet [a Grateful Dead Greatest Hits compliation]?

PB: Skeletons in the Closet is awful. For an introduction, I would recommend the Europe ’72 live album.

SDS: That’s the album that made me turn the corner with my liking of the band.

PB: Well, Europe ’72 is a live/studio hybrid. They went back in the studio after the tour and recorded some overdubs, so they’re nice, tight renditions of the songs. And many of the live staples that have no studio version are on the album, Tennessee Jed, Jack Straw. There’s no 30 minute Dark Star.

SDS: I still don’t know if I’ve ever made it through an entire Dark Star in my life.

PB: Well, Dark Star is a song for driving on a windy mountain road with two hours to kill. It’s really not a sitting on your couch and just listening kind of song. Blues for Allah is also a great album that not many people own.


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Electric Waste Band Bass Guitarist Andrew Lantz

SDS: What are you favorite songs to play?

PB: Being a keyboard player, I’m more interested in the songs with more interesting chord changes. I like Crazy Fingers. Here Comes Sunshine. (Click to download free mp3s from the Internet Live Music Archive.)

SDS: Do you feel that since such a huge part of the Dead’s success came because of their live shows and touring, that their legacy might be diminished as entire generations start to grow up without ever having that be part of their experience?

PB: I feel that there are so many jam bands that siphon off the scene that the Dead created that fans will keep being into the dead. That’s enough to keep the scene alive. They really are two completely different entities though. The bands playing in the so called “Jam Band Scene,” they always play up tempo music, for you to dance, close your eyes, think about sunshine and positive energy. The Dead, on the other hand, sang songs about stabbing your brother and stealing his money. I think that the newer bands feel pressured not to play songs that are more meaningful. Launching into a ballad would just make the fans stop their endless grooving. Dead concerts were like a baseball game, there were different phases, different tempos. It allowed you to recover after particularly intense parts. Endless dancing makes you forget what you just saw.

SDS: That’s interesting, because I was never really able to figure out what about the Grateful Dead endeared themselves to me whereas when my roommates in college would listen to Phish all the time, it would drive me nuts.

PB: Oh, Phish irritated the hell out of me. Their lyrics sounded like they assigned words in a thesaurus a number then rolled dice to come up with the order of the lyrics. They were too whimsical and silly, there was not enough seriousness in the songs. Dead lyrics evoke something in the listener. China Cat Sunflower evokes something in you even if you don’t know what the hell it means. Phish minimizes the importance of lyrics. They take the easy way out, the easy way to get people to dance, to groove.

SDS: So what are you listening to these days that you can recommend?

PB: Pink Floyd is a much bigger influence on me than the Dead at this point in time. Check out the album Obscured by Clouds, it’s a soundtrack that came out right before Dark Side of the Mooon. The songs are concise, like Europe ’72.

SDS: What are the bands plans for the rest of the year? Festivals, more Bill Walton radio?

PB: We’ll play a few festivals, some street fairs, Baja Bash. Probably won’t do Bill’s show for another year or so. You can always see what we’re up to on our website.


Many thanks to Paul Bell for taking the time to talk with me.

The band is currently looking for someone who could tape their shows. If you're interested, please contact the band through The Electric Waste Band's Official Website, which also contains show dates, mp3s and setlists, can be found at: http://electricwasteband.4t.com/

The Electric Waste Band plays every Monday night at 10 PM at Winston's in Ocean Beach. They also play this Friday, February 17th at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Tom Waits High School Yearbook Sells for $288.24

Idyll High School Yearbook 1966

Got any of this Idyll High School Class of 1966 yearbooks lying around the house? Well now's the time to dust them off and turn them in to straight cash homie! One of of the above pictured yearbooks from the Chula Vista high school, sold on eBay for $288.24 on 2/14/06. The reason? The smiling lad pictured below:

Idyll High School Sophomore Tom Waits

One Tom Waits. Possibly San Diego's biggest claim to fame as far as I'm concerned, Waits is reportedly a sophomore in this photo. Waits has always been one of those people who, like your grandparents or Clint Eastwood, who appear to have always looked old. This picture proves that while Waits may indeed have been young, he has always been Tom.

Tom Waits & Denzil Walden Tom Waits' Yearbook

While Tom has moved out of the San Diego area and left Napoleone's Pizza House behind, those who share a yearbook row with him in 1966 have not strayed so far from home. Quick internet searches reveal that Robert Vermilya is a player in the local real estate market, that Denzil Walden, Jr. is a resident of La Mesa and that Pete Vredenburgh is a San Diego County Fire Batallion Chief with over 32 years of service to his credit. Mr. Vermilya did not respond to calls inquiring about any memories he might have about his yearbook row-mate, and honestly, I probably wouldn't have either.

February 14, 2006

Flaming! Lips! War! Mystics!

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When you pop in the Flaming Lips new CD, “At War With The Mystics,” do yourself a favor and skip the first track. Tell yourself that you’re doing this because it is called “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” and that with that name, it’s probably just a throwaway. You came for the good stuff, the conceptual journey through the titular War With The Mystics, not some track named with a tossed off shout out to a fellow critical darling. So take my advice and just drag the Yeah Yeah Yeah Song to the back of the playlist, where it will play after the other 11 songs on the album have finished up. This way, you can pretend that the wonderful, frenzied four minutes and fifty one seconds of the album opener is instead the closing preview of what the Lips will be up to on their next album, and not a woefully uncharacteristic intro to an album whose energy and spirit never live up to its initial offering.

As I pointed out last Friday, this new album by the Flaming Lips has been far and away one of the more anticipated releases of the year. It seems that everybody put songs from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robotson their mix cds, and that anyone who saw the band in concert during the past five years only had the collective genius of the group cemented in their heads, thanks in no small part to the dementedly fantastic stage show. In fact, this seemingly universal acceptance of the Lips probably obscures the fact that the band is just about the weirdest of any band to see mainstream acceptance in the past decade or so. That "At War With The Mystics" confounds expectations and teases us with promises of what it could be is not as much a testament of the strangeness of the album itself, but rather to the skewed perception that the we the public have of the Flaming Lips themselves.

When the Flaming Lips appeared at the San Diego Street Scene in Summer of 2005, their set coincided with performances by The Used and Method Man, with Snoop Dogg and 311 playing soon after. When Wayne Coyne addressed the crowd, and told them that when they encountered anybody who had been watching either of the other two stages, that they should tell them that they missed “The best fucking performance of the whole day,” there was little doubt in anyone’s mind that he was right. After all, The Flaming Lips had a giant bubble for Coyne to travel out in the crowd in, two dozen costumed characters on stage, incredible video accompaniments for all the songs, and a singing nun puppet. To even begin to compare it to the already forgotten The Used or deodorant spokesperson Method Man’s hype guys rapping overtop him to “Bring The Pain” was not something that people were even really considering a possibility. But this is where the Lips encounter their own peculiar dilemma. Their weirdness has gotten them this far, because that weirdness has at times traveled a similar path to the tastes of a more discerning group of music listeners. At times these listeners will be willing to adjust their tastes to the latest offerings from their musical heroes. At other times, the Flaming Lips will produce music that while unique, proves confounding and ultimately disappointing to this same group.

These expectations bring us back to the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song.” It starts off with the name of the song being chanted, not just the three times from the title, but over and over, with some additional wailing that sounds like Tarzan cruising through the trees, until the beat kicks in a few seconds later. This consists of guitar, drums, bass, handclaps and a great fuzzed out guitar lick. The music only builds from there. Different vocal effects join in on the chorus as Wayne Coyne asks, “With all your power, what would you do?” It’s the kind of strangely uplifting chorus that fans of “Do You Realize??” will instantly be chanting along to. The song chugs along nicely before hitting a peak with a minute and a half left. Here the band put everything they’ve got into creating a song that you can jump up and down to, sing along to, do handsprings to, run in circles to, juggle bowling pins that are on fire to, all while you’re dancing like a fool with one of those costumed kangaroos on stage with them. It’s fantastic.

But like I said, there’s nothing that really comes close to capturing this sort of magic again. The next song, “Free Radicals”, quickly abandons the momentum that has been built. Not just in terms of subject matter, but literally in terms of song craft. It sounds like the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” ran into a brick wall and shattered. Free Radicals lurches along in disparate segments of instrumentation. Guitars and vocals come and go as they please, along with background vocals and noises. The beat doesn’t even really kick in until halfway through the song, and there’s no particular melody to be found. Coyne does adopt a strange vocal effect, which sounds along the lines of Spoon doing Prince on “I Turn My Camera On,” but its novelty isn’t enough to salvage an enjoyable listen.

The record keeps on moving through a few forgettable and softer tracks. “The Sound Of Failure” sounds like a Steely Dan style track with a flute and jazzy guitar picking. It shifts into a two minute instrumental segment called “It’s Dark…Is It Always This Dark??” towards the end that mainly features additional wind instruments. It pretty much serves as an invitation to switch to the next track, “Cosmic Autumn Rebellion”. It continues the trend of long stretches of song without any sort of beat whatsoever, as Coyne pontificates about the significance of the birds flying away for the winter. The theme of the record might be introduced here, as he speaks of an unnamed group of individuals that will “Destroy You With Their Lies.” Eventually the fuzzy guitar from the YYY Song kicks in again, but simply plays a slower,soaring progression over huge crashing drums as the song fades out for the last thirty seconds.

The album moves on in a similar pattern, gradually fading away instead of building towards anything consequential. An instrumental track, “The Wizard Turns On…” seems to attempt to advance the concept of the record, and to its credit, it does convey quite well the sense that some sort of machine is being turned on. It even features mechanical sounds the likes of which Rahzel used to make while beatboxing for The Roots, and you would wonder why anybody wanted to listen to someone mimicking mechanical noises. Well, that question still stands.

Two exceptions to the slow, spacy, rhythm-less sound that permeates the majority of the record are the single “The W.A.N.D.” and “It Overtakes Me”. Both of these songs feature prominent riffs, and a much needed dose of energy. “The W.A.N.D.”, however, seems to feature nothing but the riff, which with little variation grows repetitive by the end, and “It Overtakes Me”, which is the second song to feature more than one movement. Its fuzzy, flanged guitars unfortunately give way once again to soaring background choruses and sustained synth chords. It is worth noting that both of these songs, like the “Yeah Yeah Yeah Song” also feature good old fashioned, Queen at Live Aid, Darkness “I Believe In A Thing Called Love,” Neil Diamond “Every Song He Ever Performed”, style handclaps!

The fact that these are the three songs where the Lips sound to have some life breathed into them cannot be coincidental. When the band lets their guard down and decides to have a bit of fun, the listener can tell that they are doing so. Nobody who has ever seen the Flaming Lips live can really think that they take themselves too seriously, but this album seems to dwell on songs and music where they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves as much as you’ve heard them do in the past. The feeling is unfortunately contagious to the listener. By the time the spare, reserved sounding album closer “Goin’ On” comes around, it provides a welcome relief from the destination-less swells and sustains of the rest of the album. Wayne’s voice remains vulnerable and untampered with in the studio on this track, and just some low key piano and guitar accompaniment make it by far the least theatrical song on the album. As it too eventually fades away, the listener is tempted to head back to track one, just to leave this latest Flaming Lips experience on a joyous note.

February 13, 2006

Who Is Allen Hamlette?

The music world contains many enigmatic figures whose talent, motivations and inspiration are intriguing to the general populace. Wondering how Jeff Mangum could produce a work of such great power as "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," or what exactly was going on inside Brian Wilson's head as he composed Smile back in the sixties are simply two of the mysteries that the average music fan wonders about on a routine basis. To me, however, there is no figure more enigmatic, no greater diamond in the rough talent-wise than former Virginia Tech student Allen Hamlette.

Allen was first called to my attention by a friend who had received an MP3 from his friend who attended Virginia Tech. It was a freestyle rap by a friend of his from high school, and it became the stuff of legends amongst my friends at the University of Virginia. The rap was set crudely recorded, obviously done in a crowded dorm room over a cd playing Biggie's "Hypnotize", but it was incredibly clever, vulgar, and contained enough slang and references that were then incorporated into our own culture of inside jokes. "Crazy Vocabulation," "I Got Two Nuts" and "Pat's Room" (where the recording evidently took place) were just a few of these catch phrases. A second, shorter freestyle was released, and while it could never hope to capture the lightning in a bottle of the first rap, it was reassuring that Allen was still putting his talent to use.

Now over five years have passed since the first freestyle was recorded, and despite my best efforts, I have been unable to find anything but the most basic and uninteresting information about Allen Hamlette. All I have been able to track down on the internet is that he once received the "Most Spirited" award for the Robinson High School marching band. Based on the freestyle, one can also conclude that he lived in or nearby the "Slusher Wing" dormitory in Virginia tech, pictured below:

The Infamous Slusher Wing Building A Slusher Wing Dorm Room - Possibly Pat's Room?

Slusher Wing Dorm & A Slusher Wing Dorm Room, Possibly Pat's

Unfortunately, after these two items, the trail quickly goes cold. So I put this plea out there to anyone who may know what Allen Hamlette is up to today: Send whatever information you have my way. An email address, a photo, any other recordings you might have. The man has talent, and it ought not to be the sort of thing that people only realize once it is too late.

Below are links to the two freestyles. The first, longer one, was evidently recorded on 10/29/99 and the second one a year later, on 10/02/00. I have also attempted a rudimentary remix that I created using the lyrics of the first freestyle with the beat to Jesus Walks by Kanye West. If anyone else is interested in composing their own remix of either freestyle, I would be eager to see the results of what someone with more talented mixing skill could do to Allen Hamlette's work.

All songs are in MP3 form, right click to save: First Freestyle, Second Freestyle and Jesus Walks Remix.

Holiday & The Adventure Pop Collective Live at the Liar's Club

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We live in a world of such differing opinions and combativeness that it is difficult to enthusiastically endorse any given thing to people. Putting it out there that you enjoy something, or are a fan of something, is tantamount to an invitation to people to find fault with it. Thus, in the past five years, I have endorsed only two things which I felt were bulletproof enough to really stake my reputation on them. The first was the 2001 release of the Stroke's "Is This It?" Three and a half years later, in April of 2005, I directed a large group of my friends towards the "Le Village Buffet" in the Paris Casino in Las Vegas by declaring it good enough to stake my reputation on. And now, eight months after that event, I offer up a third recomemndation that I feel confident enough to stand behind in the face of all criticism.

That recommendation is this: if you find yourself in a raucous bar, drinking delicious beers and eating good food on a warm Sunday afternoon in the middle of February when your friends and family back home on the East coast are buried under half a foot of snow, there will be no finer music to your ears than that of Holiday and The Adventure Pop Collective. Granted, this recommendation has a few conditions applied towards it, but like I said before, I don't just dole out stuff like this all the time.

For a review of the show and pictures click below...

We caught the band at the Liar's Club, which is widely regarded as the best bar in San Diego. Their beer selection, food and prices cannot be beat, and they are routinely honored in readers polls as having the best jukebox in San Diego. The jukebox debate is fodder for another lengthy article, so we'll address that in more detail later. Anyways, the LC celebrated their sixth anniversary this weekend, and while we were eager to join in the celebration, we approached it was a bit of trepidation. Talking with some friendly strangers at a bonfire on Saturday evening, they revealed that they had been at the Liar's Club for Friday's happy hour, before being driven out, along with half of the crowd, by the incredibly noisy punk band that was playing. I was curious if maybe these people just couldn't take the heat, but they said that people yelling "Turn it Down!" and filing out of the bar in droves. The Liar's Club is a small enough place that I could see this as being true, so we weren't really sure what to expect on Sunday.

When we walked in, we were happy to see that the band was far from the noisy, screaming debacle we feared. We had a guy playing an old fashioned Hank Williams looking Guitar, a drummer and a violinist.

Violinist Louis Caverly

The first song was an sped up hoedown that was full of energy and set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Throughout the course of the afternoon, Holiday and the Adventure Pop Collective played a style of music as diverse as their instrument lineup, which includes the previously mentioned guitar and violin, but also a trumpet, keys and the kicker for me - a tuba:

Tubaist Derric Oliver

I'm not going to lie. Seeing the tuba got me pretty excited. The tuba just adds a unique element to a concert. It's hard to really put into words, but it's similar to walking into a party and seeing a really huge fat guy carrying on an animated conversation in one of the corners. The whole time you're they're you'll be looking over in his direction, hoping you get a chance to run into him again. It's a relaxing, good natured instrument, that also has a unique sound that really helps this band stand out. It doesn't hurt that the tuba-ist, Derric Oliver, marched throughout the bar while playing, even leading a train of revelers out the back door and in through the front at one point in time. Anytime THAT happens, you know you are having a good time.

Holiday and the Adventure Pop Collective

Holiday and the Adventure Pop Collective

At one point in time, violinist Louis Caverly's bow broke, causing him to finish up the session on the keyboards. The band played unique renditions of "Heart of Glass" and "Fire on the Mountain," frequently switching instruments mid song. Both Caverly and Oliver sing, and Caverly has a voice that was reminscent of the Mountain Goats' John Darnielle. The music allowed plenty of time for improvisation and soloing, and the different instruments allowed this to never become repetitive or lose energy. Occasionally the band would record a sample of a groove on a spot and loop it through the rest of the performance, allowing them to take on the sound of a band with several additional members. At one point in time, Oliver announced that their next album would be a concept album about what would happen if the Greek God's came to the American Old West. Though this sounds like the sort of material that a Network Sitcom would tackled before being cancelled after two episodes, I'm sure that in more competent hands it will turn out musically sound.

The Band appear on Loudspeaker on 91X

After the show the band joined 91X's Al Guerra to broadcast the local music program Loudspeaker from the Liar's Club porch. Both Oliver and Caverly are from the area, and the band is currently touring across the west. They return to San Diego on March 24th to play a free show at the Whistle Stop. The promotional postcard is shown at the top of this entry. I purchased a copy of their CD "Become" at the show, upon which Derric told me that the content is also available streaming for free on the band's website, www.adventurepop.com

So I guess I just staked my reputation on a recommendation for the third time in five years. We shall see on March 24th whether the band can replicate the energy and enthusiasm of the Liar's Club show. Personally, I'd bet a dinner at the Paris Buffet on it.

Holiday and The Adventure Pop Collective play at the Whistle Stop in South Park on Friday March 24th. Their CD, Become, is available at their website: www.adventurepop.com

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