Monthly Archives: September 2016

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL by The Beatles

I can’t think of a band I associate less with live performance than The Beatles. That’s partly because the group was long disbanded by the time I was born in the early 1980’s (thus no chance of me ever seeing them live). But for the most part, it’s because The Beatles so famously turned their back on touring and became the quintessential studio band. Over the years I’ve heard a handful of live Beatle recordings, mostly from the LIVE AT THE BBC double-album. I remember getting my hands on that set way back in my early Beatle-years and promptly tossing it aside. It’s not that the band was bad in concert, it’s just that live recordings from the era in which the Beatles performed live are spotty at best. So when it was announced that LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL would be coming out in conjunction with Ron Howard’s Beatle documentary THE BEATLES: EIGHT DAYS A WEEK, I bookmarked the release date but didn’t hurry to get around to listening to it until recently.

LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL documents several concerts from August of 1965, near the very end of the groups touring life. Released originally in 1977, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL has been remastered and remixed. I was pleasantly surprised at how good these recordings sound. I would say that this album is 100% absolutely the best live recordings of The Beatles I’ve ever heard. That said, the performances are solid but ultimately pale comparisons of their studio counterparts. It’s been argued that George Martin is the so-called fifth Beatle, these recordings help make that argument in my opinion. It’s not that the band is terrible live, it’s just that the songs are so damn good on the studio recordings.

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I may be a bit biased, as live albums really aren’t my thing. The only way a live recording can move beyond the good and into the essential is when they capture the intensity of their performance and bring something new to the table. Many songs recorded live differ from their studio versions, either because of technical limitations (no string section? no problem!) or because playing the same song over and over  gets boring for bands and they do something a little different. These live embellishments separate the hacks from the great artists. A decent song can become sublime when stretched out into an intense extended jam. Guitar heroics/wankery can also take a live recording to the next level.  Sadly, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL was recorded before the 1970’s, arguably the heyday of the live album. Thus, The Beatles are just performing their songs as best as they can like they appear on the albums.

What LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is missing is between-the-songs banter. The few times Lennon announces the next song with a goofy voice is a real treat. It’s a shame that there isn’t more of this sort of stuff on the album because it’s something the studio albums don’t have. What there is plenty of, however, is screaming girls. Famously one of the reasons the band quit touring, the girls are screaming on LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL. And. They. Don’t. Stop. It almost feels like a parody there’s so much crowd noise on the recording. Though it never goes away, the audience never really gets in the way, either. I chalk this up to an expert remastering. Ironically, those who’ve listened to LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL have probably heard the concert better than those who attended the show. One of the Beatles (I think it’s Lennon if I recall correctly) even asks the crowd at one point, “Can you hear us?”

Overall, LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is a fantastic musical artifact. The album is a bubble of amber perfectly preserving a fly (or Beatle) for all time. I’ve listened to it all the way through three times and frankly can’t imagine putting it on again. I’d much rather listen to the albums. LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL is really just for completist and band scholars (such as myself) and not an essential recording. The album has made me want to see Howard’s documentary, which apparently a Hulu-exclusive (which bums me out because now I have to wrangle a Hulu account in order to see it).

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End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

Well, it’s officially autumn! As summer fades into the distance, a middle-aged rock nerd’s thoughts turn to assembling a Best of The Year list. I haven’t done one since 2012, mostly because I wasn’t focused enough on music throughout the year. I’ve slacked off a bit this month, hence a New Song Round-Up post for September. I wish I could say I was busy doing something awesome, but the sad truth is I just couldn’t get myself focused enough to sit down and write anything up. Some big albums dropped in the last two weeks and I’m determined to get at least two album reviews out before October. We’ll see if that pans out (don’t hold your breath).

Anyway, without further ado, here are some new songs that hit the airwaves (???) and my radar this month. I’m sure I missed something, let me know what I should have paid attention to down in the comments.

The Defending Axl Rose End of September 2016 New Song Round-Up

“I Love the USA” by Weezer: You know that Best of 2016 list I mentioned above? Weezer’s latest THE WHITE ALBUM is 100% a lock for a top 5 spot. I can’t believe how much I disliked it upon first listen and how much it’s grown on me. Seriously, if you haven’t checked it out do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s great. What’s not so great is this B-side, “I Love the USA.” I really don’t know what to make of this track, to be honest. Apparently, this song was written to commemorate a successful NASA mission to Jupiter. You really wouldn’t get that from the lyrics (at least, I didn’t), but luckily Rivers Cuomo was nice enough to tweet an explanation. The song starts off as a soft piano ballad before building into a super-jingoistic guitar jam. With lyrics like “fuck yeah, this place is great/God save the King/God save the King” it’s easy to see how I missed the whole NASA commemoration point. This track probably would have worked better if it was ironic (maybe a scathing indictment of how messed up the country is?). The whole thing ends with a line about a missing boy who “didn’t make it.” What does this have to do with the Juno probe to Jupiter? I have no idea, and frankly, I don’t care. Sadly, “I Love the USA” isn’t the outlier in the modern Weezer canon, but instead that new album is the odd duck out (because it’s good).

Am I being too hard on Weezer? Let me know, I honestly can’t tell anymore.

 

“Hyper Dark” by Sleigh Bells: I really, really, really, really loved that first Sleigh Bells album. I had high hopes for the band but three albums in, I’m starting to lose faith. Modern bands that explode onto the scene seem to have a dismal track record for sticking around. It’s not that these bands aren’t talented, I think the issue is that labels don’t let bands percolate long enough. Then again, The Beatles cranked out hit after hit at a breakneck pace. Maybe the problem is that most of these bands are really only  capable of one good album? That’s exactly one great album more than I have inside of me, so forgive me if that seems judgmental.

Anyway, this new track from Sleigh Bells, “Hyper Dark” is ushering in a fourth album JESSICA RABBIT (which comes out in November). The song starts off a bit boring but rebounds into something almost interesting. It’s missing the brash brutality of TREATS, instead favoring an 80’s-ish dream pop quality. I wish the guitars were a tad louder, like on the band’s other new track “It’s Just Us Now.” That track had the bombast that made Sleigh Bells famous and got me excited about this new album. If JESSICA RABBIT strikes an equal balance between loud/fun Sleigh Bells and the quieter, more experimental stuff (like “Hyper Dark”) then this might be the follow-up album I’ve been waiting for.

 

“Waste A Moment” by Kings of Leon: If you’d gone back in time and told me how lame Kings of Leon were going to become when I first heard “Red Morning Light” back in 2003, I would have laughed in your face. YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is a stone-cold classic, a truly fantastic southern fried garage rock album. “Waste A Moment” is bland vanilla pudding. I’m not sure what about this song’s production is sapping it of all of its visceral energy, but this song could possibly put me to sleep. There’s no passion, no urgency to this song. I think the last Kings of Leon album I gave a fuck about was 2007’s BECAUSE OF THE TIMES. What happened to this band? They lost their balls and got dump trucks full of money. I don’t begrudge them from making a living, and hell yes I’m super jealous they have millions of 50-year-old women swooning at their shows now, but where is the band that wrote a song about Molly’s…ahem…chamber? The band has a new album, WALLS, coming out soon but just like the last two records, I’ll be sitting WALLS out. The only reason I even wrote about this track is because I wanted to mention how fucking great YOUTH AND YOUNG MANHOOD is. It’s great. Go listen to that, skip this song.

 

“Perfect Illusion” by Lady Gaga: I bet you think I’m going to trash this song, but I actually really dig it. When I saw that Lady Gaga had a new single out I decided to give it a listen mainly out of curiosity. Okay, I’ll admit…I wanted to see just how bad it was. I really like THE FAME and thought that Gaga was going to be my generation’s Madonna or whatever…instead she kinda became a disappointment/one trick pony whose only real talent was shocking little old ladies with meat dresses. To my surprise, Lady Gaga decided to channel Bruce Springsteen (and 90’s R&B)! While it’s a typical our-love-was-a-lie song, there’s passion in the vocals. I honestly wouldn’t have known this was a Lady Gaga song had I not known it was her. I guess I’ll have to give the new album a listen (barring any sort of freaky ass album art).

 

“Revolution Radio” by Green Day: You know, I think I was too harsh on Green Day last month when they released their song “Bang Bang.” I don’t think that “Revolution Radio” is the best Green Day song of the last 10 years, but it certainly isn’t terrible. And compared to “Bang Bang” it’s a 10/10 masterpiece. Sure, the cherry bombs and snarling is a bit cliche (and silly coming from dudes this old), this track sounds like Green Day. Not my little sister’s Green Day, but the version of the band that I remember listening to in the late 1990’s. The opening reminds me of the theme song for the old Colbert Show, but that’s my problem (not the song’s fault). “Revolution Radio” sticks with the protest themes we’ve come to expect from latter-day Green Day (“legalize the truth,” seriously guys?), but I can’t help but wonder what a snarling party anthem from old-ass Green Day would sound like. I wouldn’t mind if the band stopped being so serious and got a little fun. A little fun never hurt anyone guys.

So that’s it for the new songs of September! There was a new Beach Slang single released, but the album came out today and I decided to just do a write-up of that rather than feature the track here. Like I said above, I’m sure I missed something so please tell me below!

 

 

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Check Out This Video For “Approximately 900 Miles” by Harrison Fjord

Arizona musicians Harrison Fjord have a couple of really great things going for them. For starters, they have one of the best pun band names this side of Ringo Deathstarr. Secondly, they make awesomely atmospheric music that falls somewhere between jazz and psychedelic rock. The band sounds like a mellow, laid back Pink Floyd. I ran across them because they gained a bit of Internet fame thanks to a super-cool music video for their track “Approximately 900 Miles.” The song is a cornerstone of their most recent EP, PUSPA IN SPACE.

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The band apparently shot the video high up on the Mogollon Rim, bringing a generator to power their gear. I really dig the song and respect the hell out of them for putting out such a cool, creative video in this day and age (aren’t music videos all but dead?). If you enjoy indie rock that’s a bit quiet and a whole lot spacey, give Harrison Fjord a listen.

And even if you aren’t interested in jazzy-psych-rock from Arizona, check out this rad music video:

They don’t make ’em like they used to…

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