Arcade Fire Finds Renewed Inspiration in “The Suburbs”

July 31, 2010

“All the kids have always known that the emperor wears no clothes… but they bow down to him anyway, ‘cause it’s better than bein’ alone.”

So wails Win Butler on “Ready to Start”, the second track off The Suburbs, Arcade Fire’s latest and most epic paean to the ennui of life on The Grid.

Among other things, the lyric seems to be saying that, as children, we have no choice over the place we’re given to grow up, and whether we reject that place or not, we can never truly escape it.

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Groovy Old Men

July 28, 2010

In 1982, I stood with my older brother in our nosebleed seats at the Cleveland Coliseum, immersed in the Rolling Stones Tattoo You tour. We were 14 and 17 respectively, and I watched in awe as real “grown-ups,” some still in their work clothes, just plain rocked out. I marveled at some “old dude,” who was probably no more than 35, not yet dreaming this future would be mine, a man in his 40s with fandom’s blood blazing through my veins, still catching shows like I did as a teenager.

Remember how all that nonsensical neophyte fatalism about staying young forever finally died young? You know, the slippery slogans about not trusting one’s elders, about hopefully dying before we get old? Aren’t you grateful all that jibberish died? I’m grateful for folks like Petty and Panic, for groovy old men teaching the hipsters a thing or two about how to hit it and rip it in the evolving world of rock and roll. I’m grateful that the Grateful Dead in another guise called Furthur are still jamming with Phil Lesh now in his 70s. I’m grateful that the diverse flower of the Dead’s jam-band descendents blooms widely and wildly enough to grasp both futurist techno and the blues from which we all come.  I’m grateful I finally got to see Kris Kristofferson — twice this year; the man can’t really sing, but his presence alone breathes a soul poetics the better kids ought to be learning about.

When Bono turned 50 this year, he probably reckoned with mortality as he marked the occasion by suffering a massive injury. Despite the best care and an apparent speedy recovery, the incident surely inspired some introspection inside the frontman. Bandmates that always said they didn’t want to flame out too fast, can now be counted among the elders in the business. In the book U2 by U2, Bono speaks about using his fame to really learn from the elders of the profession.

He explains, “Being famous, if you’re smart, gives you a route to more knowledge, as opposed to stopping there. You have the opportunity to meet people whom you’re interested in, to explore ideas that you might not have been able to explore otherwise, to go to the source. So you leave your privacy behind but the life of the imagination becomes the real mansion. There are more rooms you can go into. Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Allen Ginsberg, I went after all these people to see what I could learn. In the UK and Ireland, these people are treated like old ghosts but in rock music, you’re supposed to be dead after twenty-seven years.”

Forty-three summers since I swam in my mama’s womb, Bono’s words ring true. Summer’s here, and of all the soundtracks to choose from among new releases, I’m listening to lots by people my age or older, suddenly not turning to the vast catalog of hip new releases by the hipster elite. It’s not like I’ve become a fogey or that I’ll swear off the best of new music by new artists for very long. But for most of July, I kept coming back to the same artists with either new releases or epic retrospectives.

Only about five years ago, I was finally introduced to the un-Googlable 90s band Live, being told by my cousin that they were “the poor man’s U2.” I devoured the records he let me borrow, quickly becoming a huge fan of several tracks like “I Alone,” “Run To the Water,” “Dance With You,” and “Overcome.” This summer, 39-year-old singer Ed Kowalczyk returns with his first solo album Alive.

Still nurturing his post-grunge prophetic purrs and growls, Kowalczyk comes hungry for and offering spiritual food. In the opening track “Drive,” narrator admits he’s “thirsty for something more than the whiskey that had become my water” and needs God to take the wheel of his life and drive. The entire record explores that “something more” that the mature and middle-aged seeker requires to further his spiritual evolution. Kowalczyk glows with gratitude for his children on “In Your Light,” grows past shattered delusions on “Soul Whispers” and generally gives us a daily devotional disc clothed in radio rock riffs.

For years, based on an anti-jam-fan bias, I resisted seeing the Sunday-night Widespread Panic show at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. In 2008, my heart- change regarding Panic occurred at the Rothbury Festival in Michigan when their shimmering sounds lured me from a peaceful repose in the woods to go dance by the stage. Frankly, I’m no longer put off my the “jam band stereotype” and have grown into a much deeper appreciation of the musical innovation and escalation this genre brings the world.

Since then, I’ve met more Panic fans and have been sampling Panic tracks to play on Teacher On The Radio. With their latest release Dirty Side Down, Widespread Panic and 48-year-old singer John Bell defy my dying anti-jam assumptions with a solid 12-song-set (with the longest less than seven minutes) of southern boogie and blues rock. From the contemplative title track to the sweet mellow message of “Clinic Cynic” to the regional rocker “Cotton Was King,” Panic pounds it pretty for the duration.

Thanks to MTV and rock radio in the early 1980s, 58-year-old John Mellencamp’s gripping voice is forever etched into the vinyl of my brain. Earlier this summer, he released the sweeping retrospective  called On The Rural Route 7609 and is once again touring with Bob Dylan. Later this summer, he’ll release a T-Bone Burnett-produced folk-roots record called No Better Than This.

While Rural Route is filled with moving demos and outtakes and obscure versions of his greatest hits, the thing that strikes the soul about these songs is the overall spiritual depth of his American vision, a pragmatic peacemaker’s anti-racist populism expressed in songs like “Jim Crow” (there’s a spoken-word companion piece read by Cornel West), “Freedom’s Road,” “Peaceful World,” “Rodeo Clown,” “Love and Happiness,” and “Forgiveness.” As daily news cranks out more partisan bile reflecting a widening rift in the guts of our great land, Mellencamp’s box set brings a welcome balm of believing in a better way.

If the magical monster of a new record Mojo is any indication, age hasn’t hurt Tom Petty who’ll turn 60 this October. Slinking through the laid-back sexy island rock of “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove,”eating and drinking his way to a tasty paradise on “Candy,” or skanking to the reggae-infused legalization hymn “Don’t Pull Me Over,” Petty surely owns the bill of a groovy old man. But it’s not just a party on this packed and primal set as “High In The Morning” faces the dark side when too much of a good time turns everything bad. And with the erotic pinch of the  “Lover’s Touch,” Petty and the Heartbreakers sound a lot like The Black Keys (both artists will be filling houses in Nashville on the same night this August 12th).

Middle-age feels better by the day when the peers of my generation and of my parents’ generation refuse to stop rocking. While I’m far from done following blogs and tuning into the best new songs by artists now young enough to be my own kids (heck, my daughter’s 16 and will be kicking it hard at the Southern Girls Rock and Roll Camp this weekend), I sure like what’s getting laid down by some groovy old men. –Andrew William Smith, Editor

NME Leaks Win Butler’s Unclassified Praise For Bono’s Meetings With Bush

July 28, 2010

Arcade Fire’s Win Butler has praised U2′s Bono for “engaging” with George W Bush over Aids relief in Africa.

Butler, whose band are appealing to fans to donate to the Haiti Kanpe charity, said that although Bono often got stick from musicians and fans he believed he was having a positive effect.

The Irish rocker described the then-US president as “bold” in 2003 for increasing the US’ Emergency Plan for Aids Relief budget in Africa and the Caribbean.

“As much as people slag Bono, I will forever give him credit for engaging with George W Bush when he was president,” he said in this week’s exclusive NME cover story interview. “Even though it was a deeply unpopular move, even in his own band. The HIV medications in Africa, every aspect of the US foreign policy – it was a hell of a lot more than any president before had done.”

He added: “Bono was engaged in the work even though the situation wasn’t ideal. That’s not my path, but I will never fault someone for trying to be engaged in the world.”

reposted from

Leaving Sleep for Merchant’s Musical Hypnosis

July 26, 2010

Natalie Merchant – Leave Your Sleep Tour – July 18th 2010 – Bethesda, Maryland

It’s about time that I explain why I was in Washington D.C last week.  American singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant invited us to the third stop on her Leave Your Sleep Tour at the Strathmore Center in nearby Bethesda, MD.

What? It’s as if I had never before flown cross-country to meet an artistic icon at a musical landmark — like that night outside the Apollo Theatre and the woman I thought was Mickey Rourke. But I digress.

To appreciate Natalie Merchant is to close our eyes and open our senses, swept away by one of the most beautiful and empowering female voices of the past 30 years. Today, some musical acts challenge your senses to follow the action around the stage without a chance to fully let the music in. With full service light shows with fog machines and lasers bouncing off LED screens, it’s commonplace for the music to take a backseat.

On Natalie Merchant’s current tour, the polar opposite is true. Merchant´s haunting voice forces folks to pay attention, and her eight piece band provides ammunition to guarantee that we can’t escape the music. Touring in support of her most fascinating and ambitious album Leave Your Sleep, Merchant brings to life a plethora of lost poems from the last three centuries, fascinating fans with the fruit of her work.

From Edward Lear´s “Calico Pie” to Lawrence Alma Tadema´s “If No One Ever Marries Me,” the 3000+ audience left sleep to be swept into musical hypnosis for 2 and a half hours by the seemingly effortless variety and elasticity of Merchant and her musical abilities. Although most of the setlist focused on songs from her new album, there was space for her all time classics including the final encore which included her staples “Carnival” and “Kind & Generous” which brought the crowd on its feet for the euphoric finale.

Whether you are into country, rock, salsa, roots, or whatever, Natalie Merchant’s new music has something for you. As she tours across North America this summer, this artist transcends musical genres and unites us with her pure talent and pure presence. –Jaime Rodriguez, Contributing Writer

See for tour dates!

Follow Jaime on Twitter: @jaimearodriguez


The Sleepy Giant

Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience

The King of China’s Daughter

Spring and Fall: To a Young Child

The Janitor’s Boy

Bleezer’s Ice-Cream

The Man in the Wilderness

Maggie and Milly and Molly and May

The Peppery Man

If No One Ever Marries Me

Adventures of Isabel

Calico Pie

The Dancing Bear




Eat For Two

The Worst Thing

Gold Rush Brides

Frozen Charlotte

Encore 2:


Break Your Heart

Kind And Generous

Scissor Sisters Dance Into The Light On Night Work

July 22, 2010

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then few groups manage to pay such fitting and genuine tribute to their diverse musical influences as do Scissor Sisters. And while the ever-funky, utterly danceable glam-pop quartet has managed to conquer the best (and worst) of the 1970s in their previous two albums, the band’s newest offering, Night Work, synthesizes all that we love (and love to hate) about the synth-driven ear candy that dominated the airwaves of 1980s pop radio.

For those of us whose musical tastes were formed during those halcyon days of drum machines and the DX-7, the irresistible flavors of funky electronica that pervade Night Work will immediately produce a visceral, almost nostalgic reaction; it’s hard not to move your body to this music.

Yet Scissor Sisters’ unique gift is to not limited to imitation and re-contextualization; they manage to embody their own unique sound, even whilst reminding us of familiar sources.
Part of their secret is the ability to draw on several different influences at the same time, extracting the best elements of each and weaving them into a delectable pastiche that somehow manages to be more than the sum of its parts.

A fine example of this is the track “Running Out,” whose Edge-inspired opening guitar chords invoke mid-80′s U2, only to move into a Devo-esque verse section, and instrumental bridge that most closely resembles the more lighthearted electronica of Depeche Mode’s early offerings. The Sisters blend stylistic elements with the finesse of a skilled d.j., creating a mashup of 80′s cliches, that manages to retain the catchiness of the era without sounding like a cliche itself.

That’s not to say Scissor Sisters avoid fits of cheesiness. In fact, they revel in it. They are unabashedly willing to let their listeners wallow in the tension between how utterly addictive their music is, and the palpable embarrassment of enjoying it so much. This is not music for dour consumers of “serious” electronic music. This is pop, with all its virtues and shortcomings.

On the track “Any Which Way,” cringe-inducing lyrics like “I want you to funk me… your battleship has sunk me,” are counter-balanced by a funky bass line that would make George Clinton proud. Moments later, when vocalist Ana Matronic segues into a lusty monologue about her search for a man “that is the right shade of bottled tan, a man that smells like cocoa butter and cash,” it is not the silliness of her rant, but the cleverness of her word-craft that stands out.

But while Scissor Sisters’ style seems to be maturing, it has come at a price. Absent from this album is the more unusual experimentation that marked their first two albums. You won’t hear any ragtime ballads like “Intermission” on Ta-Dah or anything as disconcertingly incongruous as the disco cover of “Comfortably Numb” from their debut, self-titled album. Scissor Sisters have stuck to safer ground on this album, eschewing experimentation for its own sake, while focusing on what they do best: funky, danceable, electronic pop that takes few risks, but consistently keeps their listeners moving.

That’s not to say that this music is shallow. Undoubtedly, it is party music. But in both lyrics and musicianship, Night Work transcends the trivial and the petty. The production quality and musical execution are immaculate. The band weaves electronic elements and live guitars, bass, and drums with artful dexterity. And their lyrics reveal not the shallowness of the disco, but the potential for personal transcendence that can sometimes happen in the midst of the disco. It is Dionysian music, at times mystical in its reverence for the ecstatic, for the pleasures of the flesh and the joy that comes from being moved to one’s very core by music.

“I was a young girl, knew next to nothing, living in the suburbs,” Matronic sings on “Night Life,” the band’s homage to underground dance music. “My heart was lusting for a new way, and a new sound crawled over my hang-ups to the underground.” It is a story familiar to many of us who came of age during the past two decades: the redemptive powers of dance music in a world of mundanity and conformity.

Yet nowhere on the album are the Scissor Sisters more clear in their expression of the sacredness of the dance floor than on the album’s finale, “Invisible Light.”

The track (whose driving rhythmic guitar and vocal stylings pay tribute to the influence of Pink Floyd) breaks into a long instrumental bridge with a poetic narrative; think Vincent Price’s monologue on Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” crossed with ancient Greek theater.

“Babylon, where bricks of mortar and diamonds tower, sailor’s lust and swagger lazing in the moon’s beams — whose laser gaze penetrates this sparkling theater of excess and strobe lights… Painted whores. Sexual gladiators. Fiercely old party children. All waked from their slumber to debut the Bacchanal. Come to the light! Into the light! The invisible light…,” the narrator commands.

With this newest addition to their discography, Scissor Sisters stand on the shoulders of musical giants calling us to dance, joyfully, playfully, reverently into that light. –James Genaro

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