MALE by Natalie Imbruglia 

There’s no non-creepy way to admit this, but I find it sexy when a female artist covers a song written by a male and doesn’t change any of the gender stuff in the lyrics (a love song about a woman staying about a woman and the like). Conversely, I think it’s pretty cool when a male singer does the same thing and doesn’t change the lyrics, which is rarer, but always super-ballsy. I bring this weird quirk about myself up because I specifically sought out Natalie Imbruglia’s cover album MALE because the concept behind it was that she would be covering songs written exclusively by men/male-dominated bands. Sadly, upon listening to the album, I discovered that Imbruglia swapped all the gender-specific lyrics. So, the Zac Brown Band song “Goodbye In Her Eyes” becomes “Goodbye In His Eyes.” At first, this bummed me out, but as I listened to MALE more, I forgot all about my weird hang-up/fetish and found myself enjoying the shit out of this record.

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Normally cover songs don’t do it for me, usually because the originals are always better. The times that cover songs work are when something dramatic is done to change the way the song is presented. Except for one track (which I’ll get to in a moment), none of the songs on MALE are better than the original versions. The songs are slower, more acoustic versions of the originals, sung by a woman, but remain very faithful to the original artists. And yet, I found myself utterly charmed by Imbruglia’s covers. Part of what makes MALE such a treat, besides Imbruglia’s talent as a vocalist, are the diverse choice of songs. The songs run the gambit from the aforementioned Zac Brown Band (country) to Death Cab For Cutie (modern Indie Rock) to The Cure (classic goth rock). Some of the artists are no-brainers, like Neil Young and Cat Stevens, however, there’s enough oddball song choices to spice MALE up and keep it from becoming too cliche. Examples of song choices that surprised me:  a twinkling twee-like cover of Pete Townshend’s “Let My Love Open the Door,” Damien Rice’s “Cannonball,” Tom Petty’s “The Waiting,” and a cover of Daft Punk’s “Instant Crush.”

That last track is the one song on MALE that outdoes the original. I went back and listened to “Instant Crush” on Daft Punk’s 2013 album RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES. The song, sung by Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, is a great track but Imbruglia’s version is vastly superior. For starters, the lyrics are ineligible. The famously mush-mouthed Strokes singer isn’t done any favors by the Daft Punk production which distorts (autotunes?) his vocals all to hell. And stripping the song down into an acoustic number adds a serious amount of weight/emotionality to the song.  That this song is the lead single of the album isn’t surprising, the quality of Imbruglia’s “Instant Crush” cover is pretty fantastic. “Instant Crush” opens the album, which probably isn’t the best idea in the world because the rest of the songs don’t measure up to its high-quality.

Don’t get me wrong, MALE is a great album as far as cover records go, but at the end of the day, it’s a curiosity. The concept behind the album, covering songs written by men, doesn’t break any new ground and most of the songs aren’t really about being men, per say. So the concept doesn’t hold as much water has I’d like, and the songs aren’t better than the originals (for the most part), so why am I writing about MALE? The album came out nearly two years ago and yet I still find myself listening to it. It’s a great last song of the night album, something I can put on when my kid is winding down to go to bed. Also, Imbruglia does have a beautiful voice, and her delicate touch adds a vulnerability to already heartbreaking songs like Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” and the Iron & Wine track “Naked As We Came.”

Take a moment to check-out the “Instant Crush” cover, and if you dig that, check out the rest of MALE. I think if you go in with guarded expectations you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it is.

 

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Metallica At Mile High Stadium 06/07/2017

With a throbbing head and ringing ears, I sit and wonder where to begin when it comes to last night’s Metallica concert. For starters, the band sounded fantastic, and the show they put on was top-notch. It had been a long time since I’d attended such a massive concert and I forgot how nice it could be to surround oneself with so many rock fans. On the other hand, the sheer scale of the event was staggering, and while I can tell my grandchildren that I did, in fact, see Metallica, I only saw them as distant specs and projected on skyscraper-sized monitors. It wasn’t as bad as the time I “saw” the Foo Fighters in St. Louis with my back literally against the upper deck of the venue. Nothing will ever be that bad because I refuse to attend a concert with seats that bad. Still, the vibe was certainly different that most of the concerts I attend these days. Is bigger better? Normally I would say “no,” however Metallica’s show was so bombastic and well-done that I couldn’t imagine seeing the band in any way other than ‘larger-than-life.’

I walked down an urban bike/running trail from my office just outside of downtown Denver to Mile High Stadium. My first order of business was to get a lay of the land. Fans had been at the stadium since 4:00 pm that afternoon (for general admission floor seats), but I didn’t arrive on the scene until 5:00pm-ish. They had wisely set up a merch stand so people could buy shirts before entering the stadium. Because tailgating was allowed, I was greeted with the strange sight of metalheads cheerily swinging Coors Light while they chatted with the friendly policemen (and women) providing venue security. I waded through the sea of black t-shirts and made my way to Little Machine Brewing, a nearby craft brewery I sometimes frequent.

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About halfway to the brewery, which is about three minutes walk from the stadium, I realized that it was going to be packed. And it was. Little Machine was completely taken over by metal enthusiasts getting their buzz on before the show. Still, I was able to buy a few beers and eat an (amazingly delicious)  plate of street tacos. If you’re in Denver, you’ll have plenty of options of places to get good craft beer, but I highly recommend Little Machine Brewing. Paying my bar tab, I headed back towards Mile High to begin the arduous process of getting inside. At least, I thought it was going to be arduous, but in fact, it was very easy. The lines were long but moved fast. Unlike many of fellow metal fans, I didn’t have anything resembling a weapon and was swiftly inside.

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These tacos, which I got from True West Tacos, were so damn good. 

I found my seat during Volbeat’s set. Volbeat is a Danish metal band that was very melodic and seemed like a fun group of dudes. I wish I could tell you more about them, but frankly, by the time I was settled in my seat their set was nearly over. I’d heard the band before and enjoyed what I heard, but I’m afraid I will need to revisit them at a future date before deciding if I like them or not. Once the stage was rearranged, Avenged Sevenfold took the stage. I only really knew the band from “The Beast and the Harlot” which was in one of the Guitar Hero games. People seem to be really divided about them online, for what reason I do not know. They seem like a slightly less generic modern metal band. They certainly didn’t blow me away, but I didn’t find them intolerable. Many of their songs blurred together, and I wasn’t even sure if they played the one song that knew. However, remember I was several beers into the evening by this point.

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The view from my seat, I was very close to where the GA section began. 

When Metallica finally took to the stage, it was dark, and the crowd had sufficiently swelled to an impressive “thousands.” They opened their set with the title track off their new album HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT! They immediately followed that up with another new song, “Atlas, Rise!” I was very glad that I’d gone back and re-listened to the new album, as part of me had expected a greatest hits-type show and didn’t think knowing the new songs would be very important. The band played a few more songs including “The Unforgiven” and “Creeping Death” before the night’s major snag hit. The band finished “The Unforgiven” and left the stage; a voice came over the PA and announced that the “show was not being canceled” but was “being postponed due to lightning.” During the first few songs a slight, not unpleasant, mist had begun to fall. By the time the band left the stage, it was starting to rain lightly. I didn’t see much lighting at first, but that might have been due to the band’s light rigs.

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Notice the RIDE THE LIGHTNING shirt in the foreground. The humor was not lost on the crowd.

So, a band who has an album titled RIDE THE LIGHTNING took at 30-45 minute break because of a possible lightning danger. To be fair to the band, Mile High Stadium is huge, and the upper decks were filled with people who could have easily been struck by lightning. Not to mention the huge speaker/light towers the band had erected on the field. Still, there was much complaining as everyone huddled inside the stadium and wandered around buying things and drinking more. It was at this time that two over-priced stadium beers were purchased and consumed. I was thankful for the good (relatively cheap) beers I’d had at Little Machine earlier.

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It was lightly raining. 

 

Eventually, the rain cleared and the clouds parted. The band retook the stage, restarting their show with “Now That We’re Dead,” my favorite song off the new album. Metallica’s stage show consisted of laser lights, flame pillars, Hetfield growling, and some light fireworks. The real fireworks came in the form of Kirk Hammett’s blistering guitar work and Robert Trujillo’s fantastic bass playing. Hell, the band as a whole were top notch, sounding fantastic. Even though I paid too much money for my ticket, I still feel as though I got my money’s worth just because the band sounded so damn good.

There was one encore, which consisted of “Fight Fire With Fire” and, of course, “Enter Sandman.” Denver was only shortchanged two songs due to the weather delay and the strict curfew. A few minutes after midnight I was stumbling outside the stadium trying to decide the best way to get home. Dazed and confused, everyone seemed happy and satisfied with their experience. Also worth noting, there were exactly zero fights witnessed by me and no shitty behavior.I feel like metalheads get a bad wrap, but for the most part, they are peaceful D&D nerds who look scary but aren’t. I wore a Guns ‘N Roses shirt, only partially trolling, and no one said anything (I was expecting an “Axl Sucks” or two).

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Squint and you can almost see them…

If you’re on the fence about seeing them, I would say “do it.” Pull the trigger and go, the show they put on is worth the money and who knows when/if the band will tour again. As far as dinosaurs of rock go, Metallica is definitely still hanging on to their prime.

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Pre-Metallica Concert Thoughts

In a few hours, I’m going to be seeing Metallica here in sunny Denver, Colorado. This morning my son and I listened to the band’s “Top Hits” on Spotify, and I must admit it got me jazzed for this concert. Growing up, all my friends listened to the local hard rock radio station, while I stuck to the classic rock station my parents liked. This meant that I missed out on Metallica at their late 80’s-early 90’s peak. Before I could form an opinion on the band, the whole Napster thing happened, and I found myself unwilling to give the band a shot. In hindsight, Metallica’s argument against Napster/illegal downloading of music isn’t as terrible as it seemed to me at the time. Now that I exist in a world where music is all but free, I can see that there were serious consequences. Small, up-and-coming bands went from making very, very, very, very little money to none at all. The Jay-Z’s and Beyonce’s of the world make a staggering amount of money, but nobody else in the music business does. Well, Metallica continues to do alright, too.

aHR0cDovL2ltZy5jY3JkLmNsZWFyY2hhbm5lbC5jb20vbWVkaWEvbWxpYi83NTcvMjAxNy8wMi9kZWZhdWx0L21ldGFsbGljYV9iaXJ0aGRheV9iYXNoXzBfMTQ4Njk5MzYxMi5qcGc=Anyway, it wasn’t until I went to college and started listening to a greater variety of music did I check out Metallica. One of the first albums of theirs I ever listened to was ST. ANGER, which as we all know by now, wasn’t very popular when it was released. In many ways, I feel like Metallica is a bit like Weezer in that their rabid fan base automatically hates every new album they release and wistfully pine for the previous albums…the same ones they trashed upon their initial release. Of course HARDWIRED…TO SELF-DESTRUCT has been pretty well-received, but I feel like this is the exception that proves the rule.

My affection for Metallica was further cemented by the 2009 Guitar Hero video game; if I’m honest, as pathetic as it will probably sound, most of my exposure to Metallica came from this game. Now with Spotify, I’ve gone back and listened to all their albums in their entirety (except for that awful 2011 Lou Reed collaboration album LULU). I enjoy their 1983 debut album KILL ‘EM ALL, mostly because it sounds like a band full of enthusiasm and intensity. But their super-popular 1991 ‘Black Album’ is also really good. Honestly, all their albums are solid which is rare in the world of metal and the world of music in general.

I’m excited to see how well the band is live, I’ve heard they are amazing. I will document what happens in a couple of days. I’m also really interested to see what the crowd will be like. I’m picturing a lot of gray hairs (mine included). For one thing, the tickets were a bit steep, and as a younger colleague pointed out to me today, “Metallica are old men.” But metal is a weird genre, one that is very fixated on the past, so I imagine there will also be plenty of younger metalheads in attendance as well.

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In Which I Drank The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017…A Month After Record Store Day

Record Store Day was April 22 and now, nearly a month later, I have finally tried the Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017. I’ve written a few beer-with-a-music-theme posts in the past, and they are always a disaster. Most specifically, there was the time I reviewed the Iron Maiden Beer, The Trooper, and basically wrote how much I hated it because it’s an ESB (English Special Bitter) and that was a style I don’t enjoy. Fast-forward to several years later, and not only do I love ESB’s, but I think The Trooper is a fantastic beer! So what gives? Well, kinda like how you don’t always click with your favorite album the first time you hear it, beer sometimes needs a little time before your palate can fully process it. And sometimes your tastes just change. For example, with The Trooper, one of my complaints about it at the time was that it was a lower ABV (alcohol by volume). Back when I wrote that post, having a lot of alcohol was important because less beer was needed to get drunk. But now that I’m older (and have a son), getting “wasted” is not really a goal I have when drinking. Instead, a complex beer with an interesting flavor profile is more enjoyable to me. And frankly, at this stage in my life, a lower ABV is desirable.

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The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017. Please don’t spill on your turntable  (or place your bottle so close that the records is scratched as it spins).

I write all of this, in a way, to atone for my sins against The Trooper, but also to tell you flat-out that my review of this beer is definitely subject to change. Or at least, it would were this beer not a limited one-shot release. The beer in question, Dogfish Head’s Beer To Drink Music To ’17, is the “Official Beer of Record Store day 2017.” Dogfish Head is a pretty famous Delaware-based craft brewery that’s known (at least to me) for super-hoppy IPA (India Pale Ales) that have so many IBU’s (International Bittering Units)  that my tongue literally screams for mercy when I drink them. Their most famous is probably the 60 Minute and 120 Minute IPA’s. These are good, well-built beers designed for people that are in love with hops. They are also pretty expensive to buy, which is why I don’t typically drink their beer. I’ve been eyeing the Beer To Drink Music To ’17 six pack for a while, mostly because it had such an unusual set of ingredients (which I’ll get to in a moment) but was put off from buying it because it cost about $14.99. That’s not insane, but it’s expensive enough to put me off from trying it on a whim.

 

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I am ashamed of how difficult it was for me to get this picture. My iPhone mysteriously quit saving my pictures and I ended up having to borrow Mrs. Defending Axl Rose’s phone.  So that smile is fake. Fake as shit.

 

I moonlight at a liquor store on the weekends, and I was finally able to snag two bottles after a customer discovered that one of the six-packs our store had was missing a bottle. Thus, unable to sell it at full price, the remaining five were split up for individual sale. I picked up two, splitting the first with my wife (Mrs. Defending Axl Rose) and saved the second one in order to write this post. It was actually while drinking the first one that I read on the label that the beer was “The Official Beer of Record Store Day 2017.” The beer in question is a “Tropical Blonde” that has been brewed with kiwi juice and hibiscus flowers (of all things). I’ve had hibiscus flowers in my beer before, but I had not yet drunk a beer with kiwi juice (a fruit that I love) so I was intrigued.

 

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Dogfish Head froma New Belgium glass. This picture is terrible, but the beer is pinky and slightly hazy.

 

Sometimes referred to as a “golden ale,” blonde ales are very light and “easy drinking.” What that means is that the hops are turned way, way, way down and the ABV is usually pretty low. These are hot summer day beers, the kind of thing you drink after you mow your yard or are having a co-ed BBQ in your backyard.  Beer To Drink Music To ’17 is a little heftier in the ABV department, clocking it at a modest 6.8% ABV (for comparison, Bud Light is 4.2% ABV). The beer pours a pinkish-red color and has a slightly sour fruity smell to it. The kiwi flavor is pretty much overwhelmed by the hibiscus, which I find tends to dominate any beer that brews with it. The flavor of the beer is a bit of berry mixed with a floral tang wrapped in a blanket of hops. The beer finishes with a sour bite, which I rather liked, but Mrs. Defending Axl Rose did not.

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The first time I tried this beer, I was not listening to any music, so for the purposes of science I listened to the brand new Biters album THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE. If you don’t know the Biters, they’re a great band with a punk attitude with a garage rock sensibility. This new album is a bit of a departure for them, they had the help of an outside song writer and some of the music strays from their punk-ish roots and actually sounds like 1970’s glam rock (think T-REX and not Bowie). I really enjoyed listening to “Stone Cold Love” which sounds like it could have been an outtake from ELECTRIC WARRIOR with it’s bass groove and Bolan-ish vocal style. Oddly enough, “Don’t Turn This Good Heart Bad” has a guitar hook that sounds like it was lifted from Bachman Turner Overdrive’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.” Still, despite the rather odd mix of influences, this is a fantastic record. I probably should have written a legit review of this album, rather than putz around with this beer.

Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what a tropical beer has to do with Record Store Day (an event I skipped for the millionth time). I guess that, and the price, are my biggest gripes about this beer. I’m not sure what a Record Store Day beer should be, but I’m not convinced this light floral beer fits with the theme. It’s refreshing and interesting enough, certainly, but I don’t think this is something very many people are going to drink and listen to music. If you see this beer, and you’ve either found $20 or it’s been heavily discounted, I guess check it out. However, this beer is probably impossible to find as May was the last month it was set to be distributed.

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RIP Chris Cornell

Today we woke up and learned that grunge pioneer Chris Cornell had died suddenly. Cornell died in Detroit (of all places), and it’s starting to sound like his death was possibly the result of suicide. Cornell is probably most famous for being the lead singer of Soundgarden. They were one of those 90’s bands that defined the grunge movement that sprang up in Seattle, along with bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. I’ll admit that for a long time I got Soundgarden mixed up with Pearl Jam. The bands are similar, but Cornell was always a little cooler than Eddie Vedder, who kinda comes across as a bit of a wanker. “Black Hole Sun” is probably being played in a thousand record stores today and all over the radio, and with good reason: that song rules. No fooling-no bullshit, “Black Hole Sun” is a fantastic song. Although my personal favorite Soundgarden song has to be “Spoonman,” which is apparently about a Seattle street musician who played…spoons. This song came out in 1994 when I was in my Beatles-only phase, so I came to this song via the popular late 2000’s video game ROCK BAND. There were so many nights of beer and ROCK BAND where someone would warble out the bizarre (but awesome) lyrics.800

For me, Cornell will always be remembered as the guy who put out the best modern James Bond theme song (pre-Adele). His song for the first Daniel Craig Bond flick, CASINO ROYALE, was a real corker. I remember not digging it the first time I heard it, but when the lights when down in the theater and the song was accompanied by the weird opening credits I thought, “this is a damn good song.” The song was called “You Know My Name, ” and it appeared on Cornell’s 2007 solo album CARRY ON. Hard to believe that that was a decade ago.

I have a friend who is a big Audioslave fan, I think she likes Audioslave more than Soundgarden, but I’ve never really given the band much of a listen. It feels kinda shitty to say this, but now that Cornell’s gone, I guess I’ll go back and spend a little time with both band’s back catalog. Of all the 90’s grunge bands, I think that Soundgarden probably holds up the best, after Pearl Jam. But maybe I’m wrong about this; it’s been awhile since I’ve done a deep-dive into that era of music. We’re used to losing heroes from the 1960’s and 1970’s music scene, but the death of Chris Cornell is truly shocking. I’m still in this weird mindset that 1990 was only ten years ago, but of course, that’s not true.

They’ll be playing “Black Hole Sun” all over today, take the time to check out “Spoonman” or better yet, “You Know My Name.” Goodbye Mr. Cornell, rest in power.

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Empathic Vibrations: How Music Allows Us to Understand One Another

This post is part of a series of daily blog posts written during the month of May as a form of artistic protest. This Blog March was organized by writer/musician Robin Renée. You can learn more about Robin and the Blog March by visiting her website.

A few years ago, I had a co-worker who was really into music. When he found out that I enjoyed many of the classic rock bands that he liked, he’d come by my desk to have long, meandering conversations about music. One day he and I were discussing Hendrix, and he said that he didn’t like Jimi Hendrix and thought he was overrated. I told him that I tended to agree, that the cult of personality surrounding Hendrix had gotten a bit out-of-hand. Then in another conversation, we were having about guitarists we thought were overlooked, I suggested Prince and his reaction was one of disgust. “Prince? Prince? Surely you are joking…” I thought that was an odd reaction for such a big music fan to have, but I didn’t think too much about it. Then there was the time the subject of blues music came up, and he emphatically told me that he couldn’t stand it and that it held little artistic merit (or some such thing). I thought that was a pretty odd perspective to have, especially considering his favorite band was The Rolling Stones. I called him out on this, and he shrugged me off.

Imagine my surprise, however, when his hero Keith Richards released an album of all blues covers. There was no way that this guy was going to like that, right? Wrong, he loved it. I called him out on his inconsistent stance on blues. Then I asked him if he listened to any music made by a black artist and he told me frankly: “I don’t listen to black music…it just doesn’t speak to me. I can’t relate to it at all.” I laughed, not because the statement was funny (though it was) but because I thought this guy was joking. He was not. It turned out this guy avoided “black music” and only listened to bands/singers who were white, like him. Now, whether or not this guy was racists is neither here nor there–the point is, I think it’s pretty common for people to enjoy music made by people who most resemble themselves. As I’ve said many times, I didn’t seriously listen to female bands/singers until I was in my early 20’s when radio host/E-Street Band member Little Steve told me that Tegan & Sara were “cool.”

Now, if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense for this guy to think he has more in common with Keith Richards than he does with someone like Robert Johnson. This guy was a teacher so economically, Johnson and his day-to-day life were much more “relatable” than Richards (who is a millionaire-vampire).

As I’ve matured and expanded my sphere of listening, I’ve come to realize how valuable it is to hear music created by people vastly different from myself. About a year or so ago, I was listening to a rap song, I wish I could remember what song or who the artist was (I think it was Run The Jewels), but I remember taking my headphones off and thinking: Oh, my God…”Black Lives Matter” means “All Lives Matter.” I had never taken issue with the sentiment of BLM, but like a lot of middle-class white people, I also thought it should be “All Lives Matter.” But through exploring both classic and modern rap/hip-hop, it became apparent to me that the way I experienced the world was fundamentally different than the way people of color experience it. Listening to rap provided a window of insight into how other people see and feel about things. I no longer have a problem with “Black Lives Matter,” because I can see now how they currently don’t matter (in this country and elsewhere in the world) and it was music that allowed me to begin the process of understanding. And right now what the world needs more than anything right now is more understanding.

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Run the Jewels.

100+ days ago, I would say this revelation would be pretty important, but now in May of 2017, I think it’s probably the most important thing music is. No matter who you are, take the time to explore the art of people who are different from you. Art is where we exalt our joy and preserve our pain. That old saying about not knowing someone until you walk a mile in their shoes? Well, one way you can do that is to experience their films, books, and music. I love Keith Richards to death, but it blows my mind that a person could enjoy his work and have zero interest in his mentor Chuck Berry. Don’t you dare be that narrowminded.

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The master and the apprentice.

Our Hater-In-Chief and those like him can only see divisions, but the truth is that our world is overflowing with art that can link us together. We’re all floating islands of isolation, but art tethers us not just to this world but to one another. Stop reading this post and listen to music made by someone who doesn’t look like you.

And if you want a suggestion:

 

Check out the next Blog March blog, by David Jamison here: https://davidjamison.wordpress.com/

 

 

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Shan Fowler’s Pitchfork Review of Jason Falkner’s CAN YOU STILL FEEL Makes Me So Angry

First off, this is all my fault. I should have known better than to go to Pitchfork to read about an album that I enjoy. I gave up on Pitchfork ages ago as it’s just a bunch of hipster douchebags ragging on everything that 99.999% of people find good. And yet, for whatever reason, I ventured onto Pitchfork and searched for Jason Falkner. I recently finished reading the excellent Jellyfish biography Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story and have been re-listening to Falkner’s last two solo efforts, I’M OK…YOU’RE OK from 2007 and ALL QUIET ON THE NOISE FLOOR from 2009. I don’t remember either of these albums being terrible, but they didn’t make much of an impact on me. Revisiting them 10+ years later, I’m finding them to be top-notch efforts that I want to hear over and over again. Seriously, these are great albums, so great I will probably be writing about them soon.

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Anyway, I went to Pitchfork to see if perhaps they had evaluated either of these records. Of course, they hadn’t. Pitchfork is too cool to review awesome indie records with little/no buzz. The only Falkner albums they have reviews on are a compilation of tracks called NECESSITY: THE FOUR TRACK YEARS and a “review” of Jason’s second album CAN YOU STILL FEEL? I put the word review in quotes because despite giving the album 5.8 out of 10, the article written on Pitchfork isn’t a review of the album. Instead, it’s a lame-ass bit of creative writing from some hipster jagoff named Shan Fowler. Rather than write a review that explains the 5.8 score (what’s good about the album, what’s bad about the album, what thoughts does Fowler have about CAN YOU STILL FEEL?) instead the reader is treated to an imaginary conversation wherein Jason Falkner goes to a front-man self-help/AA-style meeting and confesses that “the people aren’t coming.” The punchline of this “review” is that the “people” are never coming and that Falkner should just give up and move back home with his mother. Hilarious. So thought provoking. So insightful. Fowler is a fucking genius and should write for Saturday Night Live. Although, as funny as this review is, Fowler may very well write for the current season of SNL…it’s really that amusing.

This kind of shite is the reason I quit Pitchfork years ago. I’m okay that their gimmick is that they hate everything mainstream/you love and that they only champion obscure bands no one in their right mind actually enjoys. I think there’s a place for that sort of website/critical opinion. But this lame “creative” anti-review just pisses me off and makes real critics look bad. This is coming from a guy that wrote a positive and negative review of the same Lana Del Rey song. I was going to include a link to the review on Pitchfork, but frankly I do not want to give this “review” any extra clicks today. Here is a screen shot:

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The second album review on Pitchfork begins with the sentence, “Jason Falkner is a wuss of considerable talent.” I literally stopped reading and hit the back-button on my browser. Shan Fowler, wherever you are, I challenge you to write an actual review of this album. One that actually, you know, talks about the content of the music. Email it to me at DefendingAxlRose@gmail.com and I’ll post it for you and everything. 

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ROCK ‘N READ: Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story

One of the most influential pop bands of the last thirty years, Jellyfish is one of those bands that barely registered a blip but has a massive cult following. I’ve been saying for years that someone should write a book about them, well now someone has! Craig Dorfman’s book Brighter Day: A Jellyfish Story is a slim, but not unsubstantial, volume that records the band’s history. From the humble childhood beginnings of Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. and Andy Sturmer to the dizzying production of the band’s seminal album SPILT MILK all the way to the present with a “where are they now?” segment that ties up the narrative of this legendary pop band.

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The band only recorded two albums, 1990’s BELLYBUTTON, and 1993’s SPILT MILK, but the band’s legacy lives on. When I started Dorfman’s book, I was looking forward to finally discovering three things: 1. What happened/why did they break up? 2. What are the band members doing today? And 3. How did an overlooked 90’s act wind up being so influential? Dorfman, who interviewed all the major players in the Jellyfish story, does a good job answering my first two questions (mostly, I’ll get that my beef with #2 in a moment). But as I finished Brighter Day I found myself still unable wrap my mind around their lasting legacy. By all rights, Jellyfish should be household names and expect for a few bright spots on the Internet; they aren’t. Dorfman’s book doesn’t shed any light onto how Jellyfish ended up influencing so many fantastic pop bands that came after them. I thought perhaps that it was music critics who kept the band’s memory alive, but Dorfman’s book details the numerous brutal reviews of contemporary publications for the band. While there were some positive reviews, my take away from Brighter Day was that critical reception to the band during their active years was mixed at best.

I often sit and wonder about what happens to members of bands I love after the band calls it quits. I had hoped to get a nice accounting of what the members of Jellyfish had been up to. I’ve done research over the years (and have all the solo albums that there are) but I just couldn’t wrap my mind around how these Gods of pop music had, for the most part, just quietly slipped into obscurity. I knew that a band like Jellyfish hadn’t made millionaires out of them, so how were they supporting themselves? Dorfman’s book provides answers to this question: they work behind-the-scenes in the music industry or as hired guns for more popular artists. Brighter Day gives the answers I was seeking, but I wished more details were given about the post-Jellyfish careers of the various band members. Only because I know we’re never going to get a Jason Falkner book (sadly).

Brighter Day is written in a way that presents many pivotal moments and conversations like a novel would. Dorfman acknowledges at the beginning of the book that these conversations are not to to be taken literally and that some creative license was taken. This bothered me a bit at first, and I found myself wishing that Dorfman’s book was an oral history like The Beatles Anthology, but when I reached the end and read the acknowledgments page, I realized that getting all the parties involved in Jellyfish to talk must have been a massive undertaking. The idea of recording them and then parsing out a narrative would have been too great an undertaking. Still, the book’s central conceit, which Jellyfish was a vehicle for Sturmer and Manning’s songs and that meant the contributions of the other band members was very limited, thus creating a great source of tension, is somewhat underplayed. Dorfman repeats over and over that Manning refused to stick up for the various guitarists the band went through because he didn’t want to betray Sturmer as he had by writing commercial jingles when they were just starting out. This idea is tirelessly repeated throughout the book, and while I’m sure it’s not an incorrect assertion, I find it hard to believe that Manning’s motives were so simple. Andy Sturmer’s personality quirks are also mentioned, but it feels as though there’s more to the story than what Dorfman presents. Sturmer sounds like a bit of an asshole and perhaps on the spectrum maybe? None of this is explored. I suppose that is the price one has to pay to get official input from the band.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a great book, and I’m so glad that it exists. Dorfman should be praised for doing what so many of us thought about and recognized should be done but did not have the will to do ourselves. Dorfman should be forever blessed for getting this story written before any of the principal players died. And considering how short the life of Jellyfish was, it’s amazing that Brighter Day has so much content. This book has got me seriously thinking about Jellyfish again, which in a way is like having Jellyfish back. I’m also re-listening to the last few Jason Falkner albums and trying to hunt up my copy of Manning’s CATNIP DYNAMITE. Sturmer’s lack of solo material isn’t explained in the book either, which is disappointing (though he hints that the singer does record at home and that perhaps some of this material will see the light of day). Brighter Day is a book for hardcore “Jellyheads” who’ve listened to every outtake and b-side, who’ve bought the boxset and the live albums, the ones who’ve listened to the arty solo albums and studied the music videos for decades. Everyone else should seek out the band’s seminal dual albums to join the rest of us in pop nirvana.

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Where Have I Been? & 2017 Concert Updates

 

Hello Everyone,

It’s been three months since I’ve been active here at Defending Axl Rose, though I’m trying to get “back on the horse” as they say. I’ve been busy working…like a lot of working. I didn’t mean for so much time to pass, but here we are with so much time having passed since my last substantial update. Last year I didn’t attend very many concerts, but already 2017 is shaping up to be a HUGE concert-going year for me. On the horizon: I’m attending a Metallica show in June and a Guns ‘N Roses show in August. I kinda gave up on seeing GnR for a little while, but after the initial rush of ticket sales, the prices for decent seats at the Denver show dropped to where I was comfortable plunking down my hard earned coinage. I know that for a guy running an Axl Rose-themed blog this will sound like heresy: but I’m more excited to see Metallica at this point.

I have a couple of albums that dropped over the past few months that I want to review, I also have a book I need to finish and review on Jellyfish, and I have a couple of classic albums I want to revisit. There are things we have to do, and then there are important things we should do but don’t always have the time–and this website has always been in the second category, but sometimes life gets in the way.

Lastly, I didn’t write it up, but last month I attended an Against Me! concert up in Fort Collins and was totally blown away by them! If you happen to live in a city where they’re rolling through I highly recommend you check them out, they are so good live. Also, it’s not music-related, but I would like to take a moment to plug my friend’s blog Trope & Dagger where I sometimes write about pop culture stuff that doesn’t fit with DAR’s mission statement. I plan on writing something over there really soon, too.
I still check my email for this website, but it’s been a while since anybody has sent me anything cool. If you have a band or know a band that you want me to check out shoot me an email: defendingaxlrose@gmail.com. And if you want a positive review I can tell you where to send the check…

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Beach Slang at the Summit Music Hall 03/12/2017

Last night, bone tired after a 10-hour shift at my second job, I mustered the will to check out Beach Slang. They were opening for Minus the Bear, a band I still haven’t heard (yeah, I left once Beach Slang finished their set, don’t give me that look…I’m old). As some of you will recall, I got into Beach Slang in January 2016 after I discovered their first record a few months behind everybody else. You’ll remember I wrote that had I heard it on time; it easily would have been my #1 album of 2015. Beach Slang put out a second album, A LOUD BASH OF TEENAGE FEELINGS, last year that I was somewhat lukewarm about. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t ambush me the same way that first record did. While the songs were all great and the passion was still there, there was very much a “been there, done that” feeling to the proceedings. Before seeing the band last night I was a little worried that perhaps the band wasn’t as good as I thought they were and that maybe that first album was a bit of a fluke. Well, maybe fluke is too strong a word as music fans we all know about the “one hit wonder” phenomenon. Sometimes artists only have one really good album in them; there’s no shame in that. Well, there’s also the “sophomore slump,” which also explains why so many second albums aren’t quite as good as the first ones. Anyway, I don’t think either of these conditions applies to Beach Slang, especially after last night.

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The night began when the Californian three-piece band Sand took to the stage. They were a strange band, mixing indie rock with prog flourishes and doom metal-ish riffs. The (very young) audience seemed to titter every time the paunchy, balding bassists banged his head and slapped his bass. I thought they were cool in an unconventional sort of way. The drummer was goofy and did most of the singing (love those singing drummers), and the guitarist was technically great, but a bit lacking on the stage presence. The songs they played were pretty strange, and as I said tended to have heavy riffs and progressive structures. None of the songs they played stood out or were particularly catchy, per say, but I wouldn’t be opposed to hearing more of their music. Once Sand finished their set, the venue (or someone) had a “rock and roll comedian” come out and do 5 minutes. I’ve heard of comedy at rock shows but had never witnessed this phenomenon first hand. I was nervous for the guy (whose name escapes me), but he held his own with the standard druggie material. After he had finished his bit about secretly liking Crocs, Beach Slang hit the stage.

The first thing I noticed was just how odd lead singer James Alex looks. He’s a pretty tall dude, with a huge mop of shaggy hair. He was wearing a blue blazer with a heart patch sewn onto it. The band came out carrying plastic cups, Alex’s had a red liquid that he proclaimed was vodka and cranberry juice. Immediately I noticed the band’s guitarist was a chick. Beach Slang’s last tour imploded last year when their former guitarist Ruben Gallego was accused of sexual assault. Ultimately, both Gallego and drummer JP Flexner were let go from the band following an explosive concert in Salt Lake City. James Alex comes across as a pretty thoughtful, caring guy and when the news of the assault allegations hit he seemed genuinely upset. The fact that he replaced Gallego with Aurore Ounjian, a woman, surprised me–though I shouldn’t have been surprised Alex’s way more progressive in his thinking than the typical indie rocker. I expected the band to give a dashed off, slightly crappy performance if I’m honest. Not because Beach Slang come across as though they’d be shitty live, but because Alex seems to worship Paul Westerberg and The Replacements. The Replacements were extremely notorious for the quality of their live gigs, which often devolved into drunk messes.

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Much to my surprise, and delight, Beach Slang put on a stellar performance. Despite being the evenings middle act, Beach Slang came out and acted as though they were headlining. There were friendly chats with the audience, an impromptu cover of the Oasis classic “Wonderwall,” and zany stage antics (falling to the floor and spewing vodka cranberry juice all over the stage, playing the opening riff of “Smooth” whenever Alex said “it’s a hot one”). Alex was manic and full of playful energy as the band blasted through their best songs. I really enjoyed hearing “Porno Love” and “Ride the Wild Haze” from the first album live. Songs from the new album also came off really well including the Replacements-like “Spin the Dial.” They closed their set with “Atom Bomb” a song I didn’t really care for very much when I heard it on the new album. Played live, however, the track’s furious energy clicked with me and I came away with a new found sense of respect for the song. Besides the before mentioned cover of “Wonderwall,” the band also did a killer cover on The Pixies classic “Where is my Mind?”

Not only did Beach Slang sound about as good live as they do on their albums, but they managed to successfully walk the tightrope between super-fun and while singing gut-wrenchingly earnest rock songs. Alex wears his heart on his sleeve (besides on his blazer) and his music touches on serious topics like isolation and confusion. He writes music that comforts his fans and speaks to them in ways I haven’t seen an artist do in a long time. There’s something tragic in the music of Beach Slang, and I fully expected this concert to be a bit of a self-serious bummer. I was glad to see how goofy and cheerful Alex was, but I can’t help but think the silly ruffled shirt and mop of sweaty rocker hair is hiding some incredibly dark stuff. I was ultra tired when I went to the venue but left floating on a cloud of optimism fueled from seeing a passionate artist connect with his fans. I can’t wait to re-listen to both albums this week and hope I get a chance to see Beach Slang again–perhaps even in a headlining slot.

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