Forget What You Heard – 2006 a Great Year for Music (in our humble opinion!)*

December 31, 2006

By Andy Smith and Carrie Alison
2006.12

The entire journalistic genre of “Best of” lists is ubiquitous yet ambiguous and ridiculous at best. Who cares what records you wasted money buying or time downloading and actually loving this year?

But we do care—not so much about that bureaucratic labyrinth called the ‘music industry’ but about music itself. Admittedly, we sometimes care more about our always growing record collections than our daily caloric intake or job security. That’s just fine with us.

Compiling a ‘Best Of 2006’ list required many things: collecting receipts of records purchased since January 1st, 2006; repeated, careful, and unscientific scans of the general music discussion threads in the Interference.com message boards; surveys of the major rock magazines and critics and their end-of-the-year catalogs; late-night listening parties and plenary sessions with the spirit of Lester Bangs.

Understanding that list-mania can only go so far in ritually marking and mentioning the cultural magic embedded in the passing of the calendar year, we as staff writers and forum users at Interference.com do hereby submit our top 15 CDs of 2006 (in no particular order, of course). To help convey the mood of each record, we’ve noted our reactions to each of the best records—either written earlier when the discs came out, or this week, looking back on them. In some cases, we’ve also added quotes from a variety of critics to show how they responded to the records when they were released. Our greatest hope is that you will do with this what we on the staff do with similar lists—get inspired to listen to some new music.

Muse – “Black Holes and Revelations”

Andy says: Mix Radiohead with acid-prog and anti-war apocalypse lyrics inspired by reading David Icke conspiracy theory, and you begin to approximate the epic, awesome, seductive oddness that is Muse.

Carrie says: “Knights of Cydonia.” Enough said. My Chemical Romance wasn’t the only band to look to Queen for melodic influence this year with beguiling results.

Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Stadium Arcadium”

Andy says: Since the springtime release of “Stadium Arcadium,” Interference.com forum users went crazy for this fiercely rocking and dependably funky double album. One frequent poster announced early, “Yeah. I’m almost ready to declare it ‘Album of the Year.’”

The Raconteurs – “Broken Boy Soldiers”

Carrie says: These guys would be satisfied enough to play anywhere, be it a back porch in rural Kansas, a dingy subway station, or in the middle of Union Square. I sensed not a shred or hint of ego emanating from the hallowed stage of Roseland Ballroom (especially from rock superstar Jack White), only confidence, and The Raconteurs certainly have every right to feel confident these days. Power chord and ’70s rock-pillaging criticism be damned—the Raconteurs have made this longtime White Stripes admirer a believer out of me.

Thom Yorke – “The Eraser”

Andy says: It sounds like Radiohead—except it’s easier to get into the lyrics, as one friend of mine aptly observed. The whole dark, rainy, movie soundtrack of a record reels in and stakes out a sad hypnosis on your soul. But the revelations I keep returning to are so stuck in one song: “Atoms for Peace.” When Yorke sings, “No more talk about the old days /It’s time for something great,” we desperately want to believe—no matter how hard it is to actually believe. So, with Thom, we pry and pray and “Peel all of your layers off” because we “want to eat your artichoke heart.”

The Decemberists – “The Crane Wife”

Stephen M. Deusner of Pitchfork says: “Winsomely balancing frivolity and gravity, the Decemberists assemble an oddball menagerie of the usual rogues and rascals, soldiers and criminals, lovers and baby butchers– but they’ve got a lot more tricks up their sleeves than previous albums had hinted. “The Crane Wife” employs an impressive variety of styles and sounds to tell [Colin] Meloy’s imaginative stories.”

The Killers – “Sam’s Town”

Andy says: If we temporarily forget the odd facial hair and Anton Corbijn photos, the disc itself has musical and poetic depth, anchored in an intentionally mystical, yet earthy, flavor. Sure, the record has an intricate and over-produced sense of its own power, but not a throwaway track among the 12, and several simmer with stunning similes and sonic soul. With so many soothing hooks, addictive anthems and hypnotic hymns, the band deserves better than to have its sophomore sojourn savaged because of the young singer’s loose and boastful tongue.

TV on the Radio – “Return to Cookie Mountain”

Andy says: SPIN calls it the best record of the waning year. It’s impossible to describe this transcendent experiment—which is exactly why critics trade metaphors like contraband and approach such Blake-ian heights to describe it. People keep referring to TV on the Radio (TVOTR) as a collective as much as a band—in the old-school sense that the ensemble sees the art and the sound and the life as a greater cause, one that smashes genres, collapses assumptions, and gets close to utter, anarchic epiphany.

Gnarls Barkley – “St. Elsewhere”

Andy says: For what’s essentially a pop record, this one has breadth and depth to burn. The Violent Femmes cover (“Gone Daddy Gone”) is defiantly delicious to those of us turning 40 who can remember shouting that song before we were 20. But for all the quirky sweetness across the disc, it’s the scary, hypnotic vulnerability of “Just a Thought” that sticks in your brain.

Nitsuh Abebe of Pitchfork says: “Imagine: Two guys fooling around with whatever sticks, musically, and yet here’s Cee-Lo, sounding as convincing as possible in his best reverend soul-voice, writing serious and sincere about life. It’s a joy, and in this context, where unselfconscious freshness can feel strangely hard to come by, it’ll charm the hell out of a whole lot of people—whether or not it’ll really stand up to more than a season’s listening.”

Cat Power – “The Greatest “

Andy says: Based on the persistent purrs and religious recommendations of a few Cat Power fans, I decided to catch Chan Marshall backed by a full rhythm and blues band in a steamy tent on a Friday afternoon at Bonnaroo. Having only heard some slices and snippets over the years, I was generally an uninitiated explorer coming to check out what the fuss is all about. From the moment she started singing, though, that quickly changed, as her voice got under my skin and tickled my heart chakra. I began to cry and proceeded to weep gently but steadily for most of the show.

Raoul Hernandez of the Austin Chronicle says: “Recorded in Memphis with Al Green’s rhythmic backbone, Mabon and Leroy Hodges, “The Greatest” is a groover and a grower, a neighborhood bar in a nowhere town where the jukebox only plays half-hearted regrets buoyed by boozy goodwill.”

My Morning Jacket – “Okonokos”

Andy says: For a band to sustain our intoxicated attention for an entire studio album―much less a two-disc live set or lengthy DVD―is no small accomplishment in the iPod age. But some listeners want more than three-minute morsels to add to the mix tape. My Morning Jacket blends classic rock perspiration with modern rock aspiration as though this were what they were born to do. Frankly, the mere idea that a live album has so much staying power is staggering testimony to the live act that produced it―a relentless touring ensemble that rigorously reinvents itself for more than two hours each night.

Snow Patrol – “Eyes Open”

Andy says: This album keeps growing in its addictive appeal, and thanks to a Grammy nomination and the durability of some radio-friendly tracks, such as the now ubiquitous “Chasing Cars” used to melodramatic effect on “Grey’s Anatomy,” the sold-out tour will continue into 2007.

Carrie says: Though the album as a whole felt too slickly produced for me, “Set Fire to the Third Bar,” the Patrol’s duet with angelic-voiced Martha Wainwright, was one of the most gorgeous and haunting songs I heard all year. A Snow Patrol concert has no bathroom break songs, no weak tunes and no pretension from a band just trying to sell its new album. Singer Gary Lightbody, guitarist Nathan Connolly, bassist Paul Wilson, keyboardist Tom Simpson and drummer Jonny Quinn love what they do, believe in what they do, know where they come from and love their fans.

Pearl Jam – “Pearl Jam”

Andy Strickland of Launch says: “Unfashionable as they probably are, Pearl Jam have gone some way to regaining both their fire and their relevance with this, a record that takes equally from classic Neil Young stylings as it does raging, polemic punk. The world rock landscape may well have changed a lot in the last six years, but there’s a clear message here―don’t kick out the Jam just yet.”

The Strokes —“First Impressions of Earth”

Carrie says: In March, The Strokes had New York City eating out of the palms of their hip and hooky hands. It was truly magical, with the entire crowd danced and sang at the top of their lungs the whole time, including Drew Barrymore and fellow “Charlie’s Angels” co-star Lucy Liu in the VIP section. Previously aloof on former tours and tough to connect with in the press, the band was visibly touched by the outpouring of emotion and support from their hometown fans. Bottom line: If you remotely like this band, you will love them in concert. The album was good too, notably hit single “Juicebox” (or, rather, “Juicy Juice”) and “Heart in a Cage.” Guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr.’s first solo effort, “Yours to Keep” is also phenomenal—look for its wider release in early 2007.

Tool — “10,000 Days”

Andy says: Tool should be listened to loudly—I prefer to feel them in my testes and toenails. Tool sounds amazing with the headphones on. At the end of the day, “10,000 Days” is still a Tool record, a sacred incision in the skin of the collective consciousness, insurrectionary incense for the ears, and a barrage of sonic stink bombs so entirely unique that the aural aroma will linger in your dreams for days.

Scissor Sisters — “Ta Dah”

Andy says: Outside the gay club scene, the Scissor Sisters have been embraced in the States by the eclectic and imprecise genre of alternative rock, a tent so massive that it can include punk and prog, goth and grunge, roots and rap. Somewhere inside this millennial mix tape mixer, a soothing soundscape emerges, shamelessly invoking everything from show-tunes to the epic rock and pop disco of the late ’70s.

As for 2007, what anticipated releases are you most excited about? As of today, Andy’s especially looking forward to new discs from Arcade Fire, Polyphonic Spree, and his Tennessee neighbors the Kings of Leon. Carrie can’t wait to get her paws on new releases by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Arctic Monkeys, Babyshambles, Interpol and Courtney Love.

Ashley Capps and Bonnaroo’s ‘Euphoric Sense of Community’*

December 22, 2006


By Landin King
2006.12

When most Americans think of Tennessee, they think of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and the legendary football fanatics wearing orange and white. But today, when alternative music lovers think of Tennessee, they think of Bonnaroo.

Born in 2002 from the vision of Knoxville-based rock promoter Ashley Capps of A.C. Entertainment, Bonnaroo brings together a beautifully eclectic group of people for three days of camping and music in Manchester, Tennessee. Still known to some as a jam-band epicenter, the festival actually reaches far beyond that patchouli-soaked niche, last year hosting a range of artists from hip-hop’s Jurassic 5 all the way to classic rock’s Tom Petty. When this past June 80,000 lighters illuminated the night sky with a sea of fire and the sounds of Radiohead’s “Karma Police” pulsated through the ears and hearts of every person, Bonnaroo secured its seminal role as an inclusive musical crossroads where “hipster meets hippie” (as the rock media described it).

Superfly Productions and A.C. Entertainment have just announced that the sixth annual Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival will return to Manchester from June 14-17, 2007. Earlier this fall, Ashley Capps shared his story about the spirit and the business sense behind the scenes, showing how Bonnaroo came to be the internationally-known festival that it is today.

Several years ago, Capps learned of the massive 500 acre farm in Manchester. Along with the New Orleans-based Superfly Productions, Capps and A. C. Entertainment transformed the farm into a massive rock carnival that would sell-out each year and garner international acclaim.

Capps remembered the many steps required just to conjure the vision of a festival this ambitious. Thinking back, he recalled, “I think it went through a lot of different phases, first obviously conceptually dreaming up the idea and then trying to find a site that was actually conducive to the type of experience that we were trying to create.”

Capps and his partners had some experience with similar, smaller festivals, yet still needed a professional corps to ensure success. “There is a real sense of purpose and community that the whole staff has,” he explained.

Cutting through piece after piece of red tape, the team slowly made its dream become a reality. Sam McAllister owned the farm and agreed to allow Capps and his team rent the land for a million dollars per year. Of course, convincing the community of Manchester to accept an event like this would be the next big challenge to overcome. Surprisingly enough, the community accepted the idea with open arms. Capps described his positive relationship with the community like this: “From the beginning, everyone we have had to deal with in an official capacity has been very proactive, and it’s been about a search for solutions and not really about overcoming any serious obstacles.”

But like with any situation, there were those who were not so supportive. Capps joked, “There are a few people in this community [Knoxville] who would rather there not be UT football games. You will never get one-hundred percent consensus on something, but as a whole, there were no major objections to Bonnaroo taking place where it did.”

Agreeing to host Bonnaroo ended up an unbelievable economic move for Manchester. A study by Middle Tennessee State University demonstrated that Bonnaroo brings Coffee County over $14 million in added revenue. Each year, Capps and his team begin speaking with artists about playing the festival very early, and all financial issues are handled up front. This has allowed for security in payment of workers and artists as well as sound and construction equipment needed to put this festival together. Sounding like a businessman as much as a music lover, Capps detailed, “It is an extremely expensive project, and it would probably be impossible to do it without adequate investment on the level that we have done Bonnaroo. It is common with smaller festivals for people to wing it a bit. They feel like it will be up to the ticket sales at the door, and that is definitely the kiss of death. That’s the quickest way to put yourself in a really, really difficult bind. I have seen it literally kill a lot of events.”

But such unsullied money sense was absent at the mother of all modern rock festivals. In 1969, the famous Woodstock music festival sold 180,000 tickets, making it almost undisputedly the festival of all festivals. But it was also a financial disaster. Contrasting Woodstock to Bonnaroo is like comparing a house constructed on sand to a house built on stable ground.

In 2001, with solely Internet advertising, Bonnaroo sold 70,000 tickets. The very next year, the camping areas were expanded to allow an extra 10,000 tickets to be sold. Even so, on the weekend of this glorious event, folks have showed up on the fringes of the festival, desperate music junkies searching for extra tickets. Bonnaroo has somehow managed to hold true to the culture attendees want while professionally avoiding the kinds of disasters that caused Woodstock’s downfall. Even the more skeptical campers have crossed the festival entrance to discover that Bonnaroo was all they anticipated and more. Already taking its place in history, the future of Bonnaroo shows no signs of slowing down.

Every year, Bonnaroo has amazed fans most with the overwhelming and magical sense of community. Since safety has been the number one concern in considering festival precautions, Capps and his team placed tents in the middle of all camping areas called pods. These pods were staffed by security staff, medical personnel, and knowledgeable volunteers, so that campers knew they had someone to go to if they needed anything at all. Each of these pods was complimented by huge experimental and environmentally conscious art exhibits.

While there has inevitably been those few who abused the festival’s freedom, the typically pessimistic media may have had an exaggerated and unnecessary take on Bonnaroo. Capps suggested, “There have been a couple situations where I feel there have been a deliberate influence on the negative, which a lot of news organizations just choose to do. It’s like they are trying to stir up trouble, and I think that’s unfortunate because it distorts the reality of what’s going on. It’s as if the coverage of the UT football game focused on the drunk who vomited instead of on the game. It’s not that it didn’t happen, but that’s not what the event was about.”

For three days, campers lived in a huge neighborhood of friends. Accidents have been inevitable, but Bonnaroo’s trained security people keep safety a priority by searching all vehicles for glass, weapons, and narcotics. Guards ride the farm on horseback and in utility vehicles. Not there to infringe on anyone’s privacy, campers have had few problems with the security personnel. Once campers have reached their campsites, they’ve been free to enjoy themselves. The only other time a camper might have made contact with security personnel was on entry to Centeroo, the area with all the main stages and concessions.


(Photo courtesy of Bonnaroo/Jason Merritt)

Inside Centeroo on five main stages was where the magic really happened. 80-plus artists have performed over three days. Smaller shows were scheduled at all different stages and tents throughout the day and were staggered enough that campers could catch at least a portion of everything they want to see. Main acts such as Tom Petty and Radiohead (headliners in 2006) were given multiple hour sets on main stages. During these headlining shows, all other stages were shut down. Then, nearly every Bonnaroo camper could be found in one huge field creating an ineffable energy.

Capps raved, “It’s an incomparable experience. I don’t know anything like it. It’s just so energizing. There is an almost euphoric sense of community during that weekend.” Every person in that audience, no matter how different, was experiencing a once in a lifetime moment. There will always be more shows to attend, but never again would this exact arrangement of people see those particular shows on those particular nights. This is what causes Bonnaroo to continue to sell out tickets year after year.

Capps continued, “At the end of the weekend, I am fifty years-old, and I have gone for several days in a row with about four hours of sleep in a night, which isn’t enough, and on Sunday afternoon, I feel like I never need to sleep again. It’s just such a great experience. And I’m not out there indulging in the things that some people are indulging in. My altered state is strictly from lack of sleep. You know, it’s a special thing. I remember calling my wife one year when she wasn’t there, and she said ‘You sound thirty years younger.’ It’s really got that kind of vibe to it. I know it sounds kind of corny, but it’s true.”

There must be something good going on in Manchester, Tennessee because people keep coming back. Capps and his team have every intention of throwing fuel on the Bonnaroo fire and creating more for music lovers to get so ecstatic about. Capps reassured, “We like to look to the European music festivals as our model, and some of those festivals have been going on for a very long time. One of the greatest is Glastonbury in England.”

Despite persistent rumors, MTV will not be running Bonnaroo next year, nor will Six Flags own the land on which it is held. Capps concluded, “I think we’re going to see events like this become more and more and more the norm, and our goal is to make sure Bonnaroo stays at the top of the list.” While other people in Tennessee will live up to legend and go to their UT football games, the only event of a similar size that attracts the real music lovers is Bonnaroo.

An early-bird presale of discounted tickets for Bonnaroo 2007 began on December 13, 2006, before the lineup was announced. Those tickets sold out in a few days. The initial 2007 lineup and regular tickets will be announced early in 2007. Visit bonnaroo.com for details.

Review: Dwight Richter and Nicole Nelson’s New CD a Diverse Treat for Everyone*

December 18, 2006


By Jonathan Swartz
2006.12

The music of Dwight Richter and Nicole Nelson is unpredictable and beautiful in scope, while incorporating varied musical styles suited to their strengths. Nelson is a blues singer in the tradition of Aretha Franklin and Natalie Cole, while Richter is more country than blues, but incorporates several styles into his singing and songwriting. Richter and Nelson, who both live in Brooklyn, New York, have collaborated on a previous CD collection, Nelson’s 2005 CD “Live at Club Helsinki,” a music club in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. While the previous collaboration featured many of Nelson’s original recordings, their newest collaboration “Dwight and Nicole” features something for everyone, mixing Richter’s country, folk style with Nelson’s rhythm and blues, and even though the collection is brief (only five tracks on the CD), it works, and is a heartwarming CD to listen to.

The first track, “Makes Me Lonely,” combines the techniques described above with a unique beat. It’s the kind of song innately perfect for a long drive either to work or around the country, with its smooth active rhythm. Nelson and Richter, unlike many duet recordings I am familiar with, share equal time in the song, and take turns singing lyrics together.

“Round in Love” is a standout track. It is mainly a showcase for Nelson’s beautiful, unique singing voice, and while very brief, captures her talents in a beautiful way that is reminiscent of other rhythm and blues singers of the period.

“Johnny Gets High,” is a harrowing portrayal of drug and alcohol abuse. Although beautiful, it brings the effects of tragedy back home, all the while featuring an exotic rhythm. Rather than romanticize, it educates listeners about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse and suggests that there is a solution to the problem.

The fourth track, “Everywhere I Go,” is a country ballad at heart, but combines elements of gospel music as well. This song illustrates Nelson and Richter’s striking, unique talents, as well as being a tale of romance and lost love. Combining Richter’s guitar with Nelson’s tambourine music, it suggests that many types of music—country, gospel, rhythm and blues—can be effectively combined together into one cohesive and beautiful melody.

The final track in the collection is “Move Right,” which is mainly a showcase of Richter’s talents. It is a melancholy, but lovely song that demonstrates what happens when two different styles are showcased with such a poetic tone that it leaves the listener wanting more. Though brief, it is worth listening to, especially in the evening driving home from work, or as a way to pass the time.

The talents and resulting collaboration of Richter and Nelson are as unique as music itself. I have seen them live several times now, and even though the compilation of songs on the CD is stunning, it only represents a sample of their exceptional talents. Richter usually plays the guitar and Nelson the tambourine. However, their act and instruments can vary from show to show, and generally only perform in small clubs in the Northeastern United States, but are worth seeing live if you can find them. The CD is a showcase of their talents, and demonstrates that they are an act to watch for many years to come. Let’s hope the masses do as well.

For more information on Dwight Richter and Nicole Nelson, please visit their MySpace page.

Review: The Killers Put on Audacious, Blissful Show in Philadelphia*

December 18, 2006


By Andy Smith
2006.12

With two chart-crushing albums brewed from equal parts of peppy post-New Wave and American-made mix tapes of fist-waving road music, The Killers stand in their best Saturday night threads at a pivotal career-shaping crossroads.

When the skinny, sexy lead singer isn’t mouthing off to the media and making enemies of his peers, Brandon Flowers actually lives up to his boastful reputation, owning each stage he steps onto with incredibly intoxicating performances, securing his own righteous place in the modern rock pantheon.

(Having seen both The Smiths and The Cure in 1985, I can attest to Flowers’ faithful 21st century interpretation of the inspiration provided for him by seminal 80s bands.)

In apparent harmony with all their professional ambition and preening artifice, the Killers’ command of the rock craft is writ large with electric hope and extravagant hype. Behind all this, there’s the songs themselves—epic and tenacious, built for rooms even bigger than Flowers’s braggadocio.

Currently finishing the first leg of the Sam’s Town world tour, selling out 3000-seat halls and theaters in Europe and America, the band will only take a short December break before spending much of 2007 on the road. Although the dates and details are yet to be announced, when they return to the States sometime in the spring or summer, the Killers will likely strive to fill larger venues with their fierce concerts and consecrated following. With more fame awaiting this ensemble, devout fans catching them on their last US dates in late 2006 ride the feeling that they’re bearing witness to something special, a bright flash of ascendant beauty shooting for the stars of shameless celebrity. The Killers really are, in this writer’s opinion, all that.

With its large logo paying tribute to Ben Franklin and its hippy-era predecessor venue of the same name, the Electric Factory is a converted warehouse in the heart of Philadelphia. The fans that arrived early enough on a mild and breezy afternoon to queue up for this General Admission gig were treated to an hour-long sound check-cum-rehearsal that they listened to in line, with the sound ricocheting off the tall buildings for an unusual kind of urban reverb. With lots of little breaks, Flowers babble, and musical messing around, the group casually tweaked loose and playful versions of “Bling,” “When You Were Young,” “Read My Mind,” “Bones,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Mr. Brightside,” and “Sam’s Town.” (The fans who’d driven in from Maryland in elf and Santa hats respectively later assured me that they also did a Dire Straits cover.)

As the temperature dropped, the line grew, and the eclectic collection of fans passed the time sharing their Killers’ stories. While some teenagers were dropped off by their parents, others attended with their parents, while still others were seasoned alt-rock fans old enough to be older brothers and sisters of said parents. All of the fans shared the wait with merry anticipation. One scalper—who couldn’t find any tickets to this sold-out and rescheduled show to resell—set up a makeshift concession stand instead, offering snacks to the hungry and patient. Ultimately, the infinite afternoon passed into evening. The doors opened, and the devoted filled the room to capacity, with incredible manners for a General Admission gig. After an energetic and cacophonous opening set by a young Philly band called The Cobbs (who allegedly joined the bill at the last minute), the faithful had only 50 minutes to take bathroom breaks and buy drinks, with many bypassing both to keep the best standing spots close to the front.

By 9:25 pm, the lights dimmed, and the Killers took the stage for what promised to be a killer show. After months of anticipation and an October cancellation, this faction of the faithful could finally taste the traveling pop carnival built from a neon “Welcome” sign attached to a piano that doubled as an altar, decorated with skeletons and fresh flowers, as if paying tribute to the Day of the Dead or perhaps the ghost of painter Frida Kahlo, especially if she were reincarnated as an indie rock goddess from the open spaces of a Mesoamerican mythology merged with the Killers’ “American masquerade.” From the elaborately decorated synth stand to the multicolored flags to the bright white lights to the extraordinary curtain backdrop, the Sam’s Town stage set provides a festive visual echo of the album’s audacious audio collage where every syllable Flowers sings in addictive anthemic allegory is draped in Dave Keuning’s dramatic guitar and brought back to earth by Ronnie Vannucci’s drums and Mark Stoermer’s bass.


(Photo courtesy of Nancy Chacon)

For the first moment of the 75-minute set, the Killers took us out of time into a timeless musical blissfest where the band demonstrated that a relentless work ethic can result in a tight musical interplay and sweet tempered camaraderie. The 16 songs followed one of a handful of tried and true choreographies chosen for this leg of the tour, alternating between both hit records and including a favorite B-side called “Glamorous Indie Rock & Roll.” They opened with the trilogy of “Sam’s Town,” “Enterlude,” and hit single “When You Were Young” before dipping into the first record with the always energetic “Somebody Told Me.” This tested sequence created an irrepressible, upbeat, and intense mood for the inspired masses. After so much wanting and waiting, we were rapt for the ride shared by the entire hall with heads bobbing, hands waving, and hundreds shouting each word or chanting, “Brandon! Brandon! Brandon!” between cuts. One fan who still prefers “Hot Fuss” to “Sam’s Town” noted that he didn’t realize how many songs on the new record he loved so much until he found himself singing along.

The middle of the set showcased “Smile Like You Mean It” and “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” from “Hot Fuss” along with new single “Bones,” “Bling,” “Read My Mind,” and “Uncle Jonny” from “Sam’s Town.” Since one young fan insisted she’d die if she didn’t hear “Mr. Brightside,” I’m sure she and so many others were thrilled when that track concluded the main set. The only disappointing aspect of the encore, of course, comes with the realization that the show is almost over. “My List” only prepared the way for a ferocious “For Reasons Unknown” with Flowers on guitar. When we hear the profoundly perfect opening line of “All These Things That I’ve Done,” we can’t help but wish there was room for one more song, for one more show. At the grand climax, Flowers climbed above us all like a postmodern Moses on his personal mountaintop. He stopped singing and pointed the mic stand at us. At his suggestion, we were happy to holler in our hoarse voices “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier” as the houselights went bright.

Flowers is such a flamboyant and engaged frontman that it should be hard to take one’s eyes off him to study the impressive antics of the other band members. But the Killers are a real four-piece in the classic sense, where each player brings his own personality and talent to the fore. Vannucci is a crazed rhythm monster, making mad love to his drum kit. Keuning and Stoermer are tight and on top of their game as they also obviously enjoy themselves and all the attention of any fans who let their eyes wander from the bouncing Flowers, even for a minute.

But when we follow the singer, he never stops holding us with his committed focus, his eye contact, his stadium-sized rock star gestures. What can compare to Flowers doing his boundless bopping? Who doesn’t love him standing on the monitors, standing on the piano, singing and shouting his soul silly and our killer fix?

After the excellent live version of “Exitlude,” the crowd at the front enjoyed a shower of crumpled set lists, fresh flowers, and flying drumsticks. Somehow the crowded Philadelphia streets seemed warmer and sweeter than they did only a few hours ago, with hundreds humming Killers’ songs on the way to their cars and into their dreams. Leaving was like living in the coda of one excellent song they didn’t play, “The River is Wild”:

“Now the cars are everywhere
Lacing dust at the fairgrounds

I don’t think I ever seen so many headlights

But there’s something pulling me
The circus and their crew
Well they’re just passing through
Making sure that merry still goes round”

Movies about Music a Feast for Your Visual and Aural Desires*

December 15, 2006

By Jennifer B. Kaufman
2006.12

The star-studded “Dreamgirls” starring Golden Globe nominees Beyoncé Knowles, Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson is one of most anticipated and critically-praised movies of 2006. The music world, however, has long been given the Hollywood treatment since the advent of “talkies” in the 1920s. Whether movies about music take a look at a singing group from its humble beginnings or taking a look at the apex of fame or delves into the mania of music’s most ardent fans; there are movies that cover all musical bases. Here is a sampling for every taste.

Diva (1981)
This French thriller combines the melodramatics of opera with Hitchcockian-like twists and turns. Frederic Andrei plays Jules, a lowly Parisian postal worker with a passion for the opera. He is especially obsessed with Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez), an American opera singer based in Paris. Miss Hawkins is such a diva that she refuses to be recorded. However, this doesn’t not stop the ardent Jules from illegally taping her at a concert. Somehow this tape winds up getting confused with another tape accusing a local police chief of having ties with the mob. Jules finds himself getting caught up in strange events while pursuing Miss Hawkins. “Diva” is stylish in a way that the French do so well. Fernandez does her own singing.

Eddie and the Cruisers (1983)
The always saucy Ellen Barkin plays Maggie Foley, a journalist who interviews the surviving members of Eddie and the Cruisers. Years after the death of the band’s lead singer, Eddie Wilson, their music is experiences a resurgence. The band revels in memories, when it is soon realized that someone is looking for unpublished tapes of the band’s last recording and this person just might be the “late” Eddie Wilson. John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band provide the actual music for the movie. They had a hit with their song “On the Darkside,” and even though “Eddie and the Cruisers” wasn’t a huge success when initially released, it became a cult classic when broadcast on cable television.

This is Spinal Tap (1984)
Mock documentaries do not get more classic or funnier than “This is Spinal Tap.” It’s 1982 and British Heavy Metal band Spinal Tap, featuring David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) are in America on a comeback tour. Rob Reiner plays Marti DeBergi, an American filmmaker who decides to capture all the magic on celluloid. On the road, the band deals with cancelled gigs, unlucky drummers, and run-ins with record company personnel, not to mention an 18-inch mock-up of Stonehenge. “This is Spinal Tap” is a biting satire that also has a lot of heart, where even the laughter goes up to 11.

Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Spike Lee’s films have deftly examined race relations, New York City, relationships between men and women, and the life of Malcolm X. He explores the world of jazz with “Mo’ Better Blues.” Denzel Washington plays Bleek Gilliam, a brilliant trumpet player and leader of the Bleek Gilliam Quartet. This movie explores the world of jazz and the musician’s desire for musical purity and perfection. However, Bleek also has to deal professional pressures and friendly rivalry with other jazz musicians, including sax player, Shadow Henderson (Wesley Snipes). Bleek and Shadow battle both professionally and personally which threatens to destroy the band. Washington’s trumpet sound was played by Terrence Blanchard and Snipes’ saxophone was played by Branford Marsalis.

The Five Heartbeats (1991)
The Five Heartbeats is a soulful, singing quintet of ambitious and hard-working African-American men hoping to make it big. Although they rise to the top, the Five Heartbeats learn some tough lessons about the music industry; they deal with the racism in 1960s America, and confront the personal frailties that threaten their success. Robert Townsend takes on more than the role of the Five Heartbeats’ singer, Donald “Duck” Matthews. Townsend also directed, produced, and wrote the script (with Keenen Ivory Wayans).

The Commitments (1991)
Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) is bored and feels he doesn’t have much if a future in the Barrytown slums of north Dublin. Jimmy decides the best thing he can do is form a band. Yet this band, The Commitments, is not inspired by their fellow Irish musical citizens, U2, Van Morrison, or Sinead O’Connor. Instead, they are inspired by 1960s American soul. Fronted by Deco Cuffe, played by a teenage Andrew Strong, The Commitments introduce the youth of Dublin the song stylings of Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Otis Redding. Gig after gig, the Commitments rise to the top, but have to deal with internal turmoil while living on dreams and hope. Sharp-eyed viewers will notice members of the Irish pop band, the Corrs, in small roles. “The Commitments” also spawned two hit soundtrack albums.

The Thing Called Love (1993)
Samantha Mathis plays Miranda Presley (no relation to Elvis), an aspiring singer/songwriter originally from New York City who comes to Nashville with dreams of making it big. One of her goals is entering a singing contest at the Bluebird Cafe. It is at the Bluebird Cafe where she meets talented folks with similar dreams of musical stardom. One of these dreamers includes James Wright (River Phoenix, in one of his last roles). Miranda finds herself falling in love with the charismatic yet difficult James. Miranda and James struggle to maintain their relationship and make their dreams come true. This movie also features a pre-stardom Sandra Bullock who wrote one of the songs, “Heaven Knocking on My Door.”

Grace of My Heart (1996)
Illeana Douglas plays Denise Waverly, a talented singer/songwriter who sacrifices her own ambitions to write chart-topping pop songs for other singers. Dealing with both professional and personal setbacks and triumphs, Denise finds the strength to strike out on her own and record her own album. This movie was inspired by the life and career of singer/songwriter Carole King. Anyone who is familiar with pop history will recognize characters based on record producer Phil Spector and pop princess Lesley Gore. The soundtrack, with many of the songs penned by Elvis Costello, is just as wonderful as the film.

That Thing You Do (1996)
Written and directed by Tom Hanks, “That Thing You Do” takes a light-hearted look at The Wonders, a Beatles influenced band out of Erie, Pennsylvania. Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott) is wasting time at his dad’s appliance store when he is asked to become the new drummer of The Wonders (formerly called The Oneders until the band realized that people were having a hard time pronouncing the name). Guy adds just the right flavoring to the band and soon they get a manager played by Hanks. The Wonders go from struggling garage band to a huge sensation on the power of their catchy song “That Thing You Do.” This movie looks at 1960s rock and roll with rose-colored glasses, when anything seemed possible, once a wide-eyed kid plugged his guitar into an amp.

Velvet Goldmine (1998)
In 1984, journalist Arthur Stuart (Christian Bale) is assigned a story about 1970s glam rock star Brian Slade (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and his faked murder. Pursuing this story takes Arthur on a glittery trip back to the height of glam rock, a time when peace lovin’ flower children were crushed by the platform shoes of decadent and mod rock stars. Brian Slade (based on David Bowie) is heavily influenced by American rock singer Curt Wild (based on Iggy Pop) played with sexy abandon by Ewan McGregor. Slade and Wild form a highly competitive friendship, and then some. Slade soon finds himself drowning in a rock and roll excess of his own making and fakes his own death. It is up to Arthur Stuart to investigate Brian Slade’s “murder” and the rise and fall of glittery glam rock.

Detroit Rock City (1999)
It’s 1978 and KISS is the biggest band ever! Four high school kids, lead by Hawk (Edward Furlong) will do anything to see their idols in concert. Even if it means they must steal, cheat, lie, or strip for the ladies. The road to rock and roll fandom is never smooth and our young heroes have many roadblocks in their way, including a rock and roll hating mom and people who don’t quite understand KISS’s allure. KISS is all over this movie. Two characters are named Beth and Christine after the popular KISS songs, “Beth” and “Christine Sixteen,” and Gene Simmons’ long time love, Shannon Tweed plays an older woman who proves to be quite pivotal to one of our young KISS protagonists.

Sweet and Lowdown (1999)
This Woody Allen movie focuses on the life of fictional jazz guitarist Emmett Ray played by Sean Penn. Emmett is an irresponsible drunk and obnoxious lout. He also happens to be an amazing guitarist. When not getting drunk or obsessing with guitar rival Django Reinhardt, Emmett is making beautiful music and falling for Hattie (Samantha Morton) a deaf mute that can’t hear Emmett play but loves him despite some of his despicable qualities. “Sweet and Lowdown” takes a very complex look at the nature of artistry and those who create it.

High Fidelity (2000)
Based on Nick Hornby’s cult novel of the same name, “High Fidelity” takes a look at Rob Gordon (John Cusack), a record store owner who has to face the inevitable: adulthood. Usually making lists about his obsession, music, Rob decides to make a list of his five worst break-ups after his much more successful and mature girlfriend dumps him. Rob seeks out these past loves to get the dirt on why they dumped him, with touching and illuminating results. Through this voyage of self-discovery Rob relies on the support of his fellow music-obsessed record store employees, including a hilariously manic Jack Black and his sidekick Todd Louiso of “Jerry Maguire.” “High Fidelity” features music memorabilia from singers and bands both popular and obscure.

Glitter (2001)
Who says all movies have to be Oscar-worthy to provide quality entertainment? Mariah Carey’s cinematic debut “Glitter” fills nearly two hours of guilty pleasure viewing. Ms. Carey plays Billie Frank, a biracial girl with a beautiful singing voice and the desire to be a star. Sent to an orphanage by her no-good drunk of a mother, Billie befriends Louise (Da Brat) and Roxanne (Tia Texada). In the early 1980s, Billie and her friends are discovered by a record producer played by Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard (hey, we all have to start somewhere). He wants them to sing backup for an upcoming singer, but Billie refuses to stay in the shadows. Underhanded deals are made and soon Billie is making hit records with new love DJ Dice (Max Beesley). Will our heroine be able to handle the pressures of fame and love?

Hedwig, the Angry Inch (2001)
Based on his hit off-Broadway play, John Cameron Mitchell plays Hedwig, an East German transsexual. She is the victim of both a botched sex change operation and having her songs stolen by rock star, Tommy Gnosis, a young man Hedwig once loved. Hedwig tells her story by following the Tommy’s tour dates with a tour of her own. Instead of playing sold-out arenas, Hedwig and her band are playing at Bilgewater Inn seafood restaurants. Whereas Tommy is playing to adoring fans, Hedwig is playing to audiences both disinterested and pathetic. “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a story for anyone who has felt the need to be heard. It also features a collection of brilliantly written songs.

Rock Star (2001)
By day, Chris “Izzy” Cole, played by rapper turned actor Mark Wahlberg, is a copy repairman still living with his parents. By night he’s the lead singer to a local tribute band to the heavy metal band Steel Dragon. When the lead singer of Steel Dragon gets booted out of the band, Chris receives a very surprising phone call. Steel Dragon wants him to replace their lead singer. Chris goes from small smoky bars to sold-out rock arenas. “Rock Star” examines what it’s like going from rock fan to rock star and the effects of overnight stardom, and shows that having all your dreams come true isn’t always a blessing.

Whether you prefer smooth as silk jazz or bang your head rock and roll, you are bound to find a movie that fulfills both your visual and aural desires. Log onto Netflix or visit your favorite DVD rental place and find a movie about music. American composer Aaron Copland once claimed that no words could sum up the meaning of music. But perhaps the fine composer was wrong. Movies about music are one way that the meaning of music can be translated into words.

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