Tag Archives: Nirvana

Black Francis

I like people who get excited about things. Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black, a.k.a. Charles Thompson, a.k.a. former frontman of The Pixies) gets passionately obsessed about weird things like fringe Dutch musicians. To paraphrase, “Is he weird, is he white, is he promised to the night?” Yes? Bonus.

In the last year Black Francis has released two EPs/short LPs, Bluefinger and SVN FNGRS. I was never a big fan of the Frank Black (and the Catholics) solo stuff, but these new discs more than deserve the old moniker. They rock like nothing I’ve heard of his since The Pixies, and the live show was impeccable.

Bluefinger is a theme album, based on or at least inspired by the drug-crazed life and times of Herman Brood. The disc contains a cover of You Can’t Break a Heart and Have It (by Herman Brood and His Wild Romance), in which you can hear coked-up pounding anguish that makes it such a good song for Black Francis. You can hear how it would influence him. Sort of like, if you listen real hard to Nirvana, it makes so much sense that Kurt Cobain‘s first band was a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band.

Listen to Threshold Apprehension from Bluefinger and When They Come to Murder Me from SVN FNGRS on his MySpace, but know neither song is as intense as the overall vibe of the discs.

But if I had to choose, I’d pick SVN FNGRS (vowels are so uncool) for sure. The incisively short songs vamp (or is it harp?) on those good ol’ bloody themes: birth, sex, battle, death. Watch the video for the song I Sent Away. The album’s title comes from the seven-fingered-and-toed Cúchulainn, a mythological hero from Irish folklore “known for his terrifying battle frenzy or ríastrad, in which he becomes an unrecognizable monster who knows neither friend nor foe.” Sounds like the transformation that occurs when pasty, bald (and blue suede shod) Charles Thompson rips into a two-minute song as Black Francis.

I saw Black Francis with a bass player and drummer perform almost every song from both discs at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska. The jukebox, the beers, the size (capacity 470!), the jaw-dropping bookings, the overall aesthetic … everything’s perfect in that bar/venue. And Charles commented more than once on how great the club is for performers.

The Slowdown’s excellence comes from the fact that it was created by owner/operators who are musicians themselves–folks from Omaha’s own Saddle Creek Records (Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes, Cursive, et al.).

I highly recommend The Slowdown … and so do others. It was named Esquire’s Club of the Year.

Getting back to the obsessions of Black Francis. He has recorded songs to accompany the 1915 film Der Golem, which I think will be released as another album soon. This is the third film I know him to sing about, joining the ranks of Eraserhead and Un Chien Andalou.

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The Breeders

How do we love thee, Kim Deal! Let us count the bass lines. The Breeders‘ (Kim and Kelley’s) new album Mountain Battles comes out tomorrow. It’s the best sort of rocker girl jukebox music, and lord knows jukeboxes the world over could use a bit more of that. There are too many girlies and not enough Deals out there. Stream the whole album!

The new disc was produced by Steve Albini using no digital whatnot whatsoever (except on the title track, “which pains me so hard,” says Kim). Read about this recent manifestation of his “All Wave” push here: “This should not be construed as a call to arms, but could become at least as significant as the Ska revival or perhaps the WNBA,” and his 1993 treatise The Problem with Music here.

It’s been six years since the twin sisters’ last album, and can you believe Last Splash was 1993?! For old times’ sake … Check, check; ahh-oooooooo-ah, ahh-oooooooo-ah … watch them play Cannonball on The Jon Stewart Show back when they were touring with Nirvana on its tour for (Albini-produced) In Utero. That performance, that song, those voices … if I would have seen that I would have made some sweeping statement about these being rockers, not women doing rock music, which would necessarily relegate them to the margins … well, read what Kurt Cobain said about The Breeders (and The Pixies, for whom Kim was the bassist).

Back to the new disc. You can watch them screw around on a YouTube video while you listen to the very agreeable song Overglazed and the crystal-clear We’re Gonna Rise. Or download the mp3s of the infectious Bang On and Night of Joy.

Now buy the thing and go see ’em live.

Apr 25 – Coachella – Indio, CA
Apr 28 – Canes – San Diego, CA
Apr 29 – El Rey Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
Apr 30 – Slims – San Francisco, CA
May 2 – House of Blues – Las Vegas, NV
May 3 – Clubhouse – Tempe, AZ
May 5 – Emos – Austin, TX
May 6 – House of Blues – Dallas, TX
May 7 – Meridian – Houston, TX
May 9 – Bottleneck – Laurence, KS
May 10 – Pops – St. Louis, MO
May 23 – Richards – Vancouver, BC
May 24 – The Gorge – George, WA
May 25 – Berbattis Pan – Portland, OR
May 27 – The Depot – Salt Lake City, UT
May 28 – Ogden – Denver, CO
May 30 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
May 31 – Metropolitan University – Chicago, IL
Jun 1 – Magic Stick – Detroit, MI
Jun 3 – House of Blues – Cleveland, OH
Jun 4 – Pearl Street – Northampton, MA
Jun 5 – Paradise – Boston, MA
Jun 7 – Toads Place – New Haven, CT
Jun 8 – Theatre of Living Arts – Philadelphia, PA
Jun 10 – Webster Hall – New York, NY
Jun 11 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC
Jun 13 – The Loft – Atlanta, GA

I’m interested to hear what the set list is like, especially since Kelley said, “I’ve never felt excited about bands on tour. I never want to hear more than three new songs, just the old stuff. But this time, I’ve told Kim we should just start off with [1993 hit] ‘Cannonball’ and only play the new album from there.”

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Kurt Cobain: About A Son

I’ve been geeking out on the soundtrack for Kurt Cobain: About a Son. I can’t speak to the way the songs articulate with the film, because I haven’t seen it, but I have gotten a lot of enjoyment from listening to and thinking about the artists that influenced KC.

Buy the About a Son CD or DVD for reasonable prices. The trailer for the documentary pulls from 25 hours of interview tape done for Michael Azerrad‘s biography Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana. (His other book, Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, follows Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Minutemen, Sonic Youth, Beat Happening, The Replacements, Butthole Surfers, Big Black, Fugazi, and Mudhoney.)

Azerrad wrote the liner notes to the soundtrack, which contains no Nirvana songs but instead other artists’: “stuff he studied and worshiped and adored … So if watching About a Son is like seeing the world through Kurt’s eyes, then listening to this music is like hearing it through his ears.” I think fans will appreciate the amount of respect this choice shows for them and their ability to do the mental labor of analyzing influences and processing the clips of KC speaking that are sprinkled among the songs.

In particular, I like the inclusion of the Creedence Clearwater Revival cut Up Around the Bend because KC’s first band was a CCR cover band. CCR was logical, in retrospect, according to Azzerad, because it’s “basic, chunky guitar music, easy to play and yet boundlessly resonant, full of simple, catchy melodies and a singer with a voice that sounded like a tuned scream.” Nicely put. And when the CCR is juxtaposed against Put Some Sugar On It by Half Japanese (download), the Nirvana sound emerges around the margins.

Two songs that Nirvana covered are included: the original David Bowie version of The Man Who Sold the World (download) and Son of a Gun by The Vaselines. If you’re interested, Matt Yglesias talks about Nirvana covers of Vaselines songs here.

Of course Mudhoney (download Touch Me I’m Sick) and Lead Belly (The Bourgeois Blues) are on there. But I was unpleasantly surprised to note the absence of The Pixies and The Breeders, who influenced KC mightily. The Pixies’ lyrical ambiguity (for a discussion of that, see the 33 1/3 book for Doolittle) is what lets Nirvana go national; it made the angst malleable to any set of personal circumstances, to anyone who thought that the world and/or themselves were SNAFU central.

My only other complaint is the incongruous cut by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and The Postal Service; his unmistakable voice concludes the CD with the song Indian Summer, and it sort of leaves me lost. I would have liked to see something more assertive or definitive as a closer. He helped compile the songs on the CD, so this track sort of feels like when a first-time film director gives him or herself a cameo.

But, regardless, the thing is worth buying. And in case you aren’t convinced yet, check the list of artists on the soundtrack I didn’t even talk about: R.E.M., The Melvins, Bad Brains, Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid, Arlo Guthrie, and Iggy Pop. Whew!

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Top-Shelf Jukebox Songs

So I’m chalking my pool cue at the pub this loverly St. Patrick’s Day, and I says to my friend, I says, “List of the best jukebox tunes? …”

Billie Jean
– Michael Jackson
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) – Looking Glass
Roxanne – The Police
Superstition – Stevie Wonder
Fishing in the Dark – Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Cecilia – Simon and Garfunkel
Fire and Rain – James Taylor
Gloria – Van Morrison
Black Betty – Ram Jam
Amie – Pure Prairie League
Me and Bobby McGee – Janis Joplin
Melissa – The Allman Brothers Band
The Weight – The Band
Can’t You See – The Marshall Tucker Band
Proud Mary – Creedence Clearwater Revival (sorry Tina)
Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
Ain’t No Sunshine – Bill Withers
Chain of Fools – Aretha Franklin
Won’t Get Fooled Again – The Who
Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield
War – Edwin Starr
After Midnight – Eric Clapton
Come Together – The Beatles
Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
All Along the Watchtower – Jimi Hendrix
Somebody to Love – Jefferson Airplane
Black Water – The Doobie Brothers
American Pie – Don McLean
Sunday Bloody Sunday – U2
Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ – The Velvet Underground

1990s:
No Rain – Blind Melon
Self Esteem – The Offspring
Are You Gonna Be My Girl – Jet
Say It Isn’t So – Weezer
Black Hole Sun – Soundgarden
Heaven Beside You – Alice in Chains
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Bound for the Floor – Local H
In the Meantime – Spacehog
Hunger Strike – Temple of the Dog
Santa Monica – Everclear
Creep – Radiohead
Mary Jane’s Last Dance – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Lightning Crashes – Live
Super Bon Bon – Soul Coughing
Possum Kingdom – The Toadies
Killing Me Softly – The Fugees
Time Bomb – Rancid
What I Got – Sublime
If You Could Only See – Tonic
Closing Time – Semisonic
Hey Man, Nice Shot – Filter
Mr. Jones – Counting Crows
1979 – Smashing Pumpkins
Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam
Pepper – Butthole Surfers
Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart – Stone Temple Pilots
Machinehead – Bush
Devil’s Haircut – Beck
When I Come Around – Greenday

Bonus:
Hurt – Johnny Cash

Such lists are necessarily, perpetually, horrendously incomplete. Make things right in the comments section!

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The Polyphonic Spree

The Polyphonic Spree‘s new video Crawl is worth a watch. It’s an intimate look at the band and frontman Tim DeLaughter, who has more charisma in his little finger than [insert lame comparison into this cliché here].

Watching Tim from his Tripping Daisy days (I cannot stress enough that the albums I Am an Elastic Firecracker and Jesus Hits Like an Atom Bomb are your listening homework if you don’t know them already but are even remotely into the Spree or The Flaming Lips) through The Beginning Stages of… and into worldwide success with the Spree, you can’t help but sense that he consistently does the dangerous work of exposing his soul to the world. That must be necessary to make music so expansive and touching. He always projects genuine elation, but the elation seemingly must be ripped out of (his) pain and (our) apathy to be sustained. I think this makes him one of the hardest working men in music.

At Tripping Daisy and Spree shows, Tim always seems to be standing on the monitors, surrounded by something. Sometimes it’s props like bubbles or plastic bits from a fake snow machine. But sometimes it’s light doing interesting things in concert with the sound, such as a flickering fluorescent bulb or a sunbeam breaking through the dreary clouds during a raucous version of It’s the Sun (both shows in Denton, Texas, at two very different venues).

I find the Spree’s recordings difficult to listen to since I know how bitchin’ they are live. In fact, it’s safe to say I like the Spree best at their margins, out of the studio doin’ their own funky thing. At the end of one show, they allowed the harpist time to perform a full song solo, and it was truly fulfilling in a basic sort of way, like eating bread. The improv moments during shows are some of the most fun bits, like when Tim broke spontaneously into a Tripping Daisy chorus while the rest of the band waited patiently. And their covers are fierce. Grab Nirvana’s Lithium, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s LHCB, and Wig in a Box here at Deaf Indie Elephants. You can buy covers of Lithium, Tripping Daisy’s Sonic Bloom, and The Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way on the EP Wait. And I always love a little Ride Captain Ride.

Side note about the rockin‘ movie (and soundtrack) Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The Spree’s cover of Wig in a Box appears on a benefit album of the same name, along with other covers (by Bob Mould, The Breeders, Frank Black, Sleater-Kinney, Spoon, Ben Folds, and voice by Stephen Colbert long before I knew who he was) of Hedwig songs such as Rufus Wainwright’s pleasant rendition of The Origin of Love.

Tim does an interview with You Ain’t No Picasso, where he talks about his life philosophy and also a subject dear to my heart, albums: “I love making albums. We are in a world of singles and more people are interested in picking little jewels off the record. But for me as an artist, to have my creative worth and feel worthy, it’s got to be more of a concept. It’s got to work all together as one unit in one listen.” And for me as a listener, I can’t grow love for artists or their bodies of work via singles or mp3s on shuffle. Only albums will do.

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