Tag Archives: Rooney

Aping The Beach Boys

 

Last month, Ben Folds Five released their first new studio album since 1999.   After reading a few favorable-to-glowing reviews, I decided to check out the new album despite being a casual fan of the group.  To my great joy, THE SOUND OF THE LIFE OF THE MIND is a really fantastic album that’s chock full of really good pop songs, I encourage you to seek it out.

The opposite of “Rire and Rain” but not PET SOUNDS.

One song, though, really stood out to me: the second track “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later.”  The song, which begins with drums and very familiar-sounding vocal harmonies instantly made me think of Jellyfish.  Particularly their second album SPILT MILK which my mom got me into durin the 1990’s.  Hypnotized, I found myself listening to the song over and over.

Then, around the 30th listen or so, I had a realization: The Beach Boys.  In this modern age, where artists are paying homage to other artists who were paying tribute to other artists, it can be tricky to trace the musical genealogy of a group or song .  Now that I’ve thought abou it, it’s obvious to me that on “Michael Praytor, Five Years Later”  the band is clearly doing something that goes back to the 1960’s: they’re aping The Beach Boys.

The Beach Boys, as I’m fond of reminding you all, were pioneers in rock music and highly influential.  The band has a stuffy/boring reputation among many young people today, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve written before about my deep love of PET SOUNDS, but beyond that monumental album, the band’s influence can be felt today.  Being such a cultural-touchstone, other bands have been making sly (and sometimes not so sly) references to The Beach Boys in their work.  That this has been going on literally since they achieved their initial popularity in the 1960’s only serves to underscore just how damn important they were/are as a band.

We don’t know how lucky we are, boys.

The first time I can remember thinking “this band is making fun/referencing The Beach Boys” was when I heard The Beatles self-titled double album THE BEATLES (also known as the “White Album”).  The first song of the first album is “Back in the USS,” which is a direct parody of “California Girls.”  The Beach Boy-esque backing vocals are a perfect copy of The Beach Boys, but more than that The Beatles also poke fun at the band’s Apple-Pie/Baseball American-ness with their song’s Soviet Union-theme.  The Beatles were not the first, and they were not the last to ape The Beach Boys however.

Growing up, another band that I was exposed via my parents was REM.  I remember to practically wearing out their cassette of OUT OF TIME when it came out in 1991.  I had no idea what any of the songs were about, but I really liked them all, in particular the fourth track “Near Wild Heaven.”  The song, co-written and sung by bassist Mike Mills, is pretty much a spot-on WILD HONEY-era Beach Boys song.  And like “Back in the USSR,” it’s not the just vocal arrangement that’s referential to the Beach Boys, the lyrics and chords are also reminiscent of the band.  Looking back on it now, I think it’s weird that one of my all-time favorite REM songs is really just them riffing ironically on The Beach Boys. 

Not near enough…

English rockers XTC recorded a series of albums as their alter-egos The Dukes of Stratosphear and recorded “Pale and Precious,” a song that channels Wilson’s PET SOUNDS and SMILE-era lush production so well it borderlines on plagiarism. I feel weird mentioning the song because The Dukes were sort of a jokey-novelty, but “Pale and Precious” is too good to ignore.  Many people think these over-the-top homages are cheap, easy ripoffs but the amount of detail and knowledge required to create what essentially amounts to a “lost” Beach Boys song is incredible.  Anyone who willing to disregard the artistic merits of “Pale and Precious” can should try their hand at writing such a loving tribute–I have a feeling it’s harder than Andy Partridge makes it look.

Alt-rockers Everclear started their third album, SO MUCH FOR THE AFTERGLOW, with a massive Beach Boys nod on the album’s title track “So Much For The Afterglow.”  The song has an opening so Beach Boy-esque that when it comes on when I shuffle my iTunes I always mistake it for an actual Beach Boys song.  Jellyfish likewise opened their second album, the before-mentioned SPILT MILK, with “Hush” a lovely lullaby that exists thanks to The Beach Boys.

Sounds like The Beach Boys drunk on everclear.

Much like there are for The Beatles, there are a large contingent of modern bands who’s primary influence is The Beach Boys.  I vividly recall when California rockers Rooney broke onto the scene and were hailed by (the then-still somewhat musical) MTV as the “modern Beach Boys.”  The comparison wasn’t completely off-base, though I don’t think Rooney is as strongly connected to The Beach Boys as say,  South Carolina rockers The Explorers Club.   The Explorer’s Club have managed to cultivate a small, but growing fanbase with their supremely Beach Boys-like pop sound.  I  particularly enjoy their song “Run Run Run” of their most recent album GRAND HOTEL, which sounds like an eerily like an early 1970’s Beach Boy number.

This is a fantastic album, you should check it out.

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then Brian Wilson & Company must feel very flattered indeed.  It’s one thing to write a good song, it’s another thing to invent a unique style that others copy and build upon.  Below is a Spotify-playlist I’ve started for this interesting sub-sub-sub-genre of music, if you are a Spotify user please feel free to add songs you think fit into the category of Aping The Beach Boys. I’d be interested to see how massive the list can get.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Worst Opening Act

I try to keep it positive here at Defending Axl Rose, but sometimes you have no choice but to be negative.  We’ve all been there: hot, sweaty, pressed up against complete strangers in a darkened room desperately waiting for your favorite band to take the stage.  But before they can rock your socks-off, however, you gotta sit through the opening act.  There was a time when I didn’t care much for seeing opening bands.  Most of the time, when you see a “big” artist in a “big” venue, you only have to sit through one band that you didn’t pay to see…but if you’re a club-rat, seeing a shitty band in a shitty dive, you usually get to see TWO opening bands.

So there’s two ways to look at this: there’s the glass half-full and the glass half-empty approach.

1. Half-Empty: You got to sit/ stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.  

and

2. Half-Full: You get to sit/stand-pressed-against-a-fat-guy-you-don’t-know through two bands you didn’t pay to see and probably don’t care about.

Now what’s the difference? Your attitude.  Once I grew up and actually wanted to TRY and EXPERIENCE new things, I found myself actually excited to see what the opening bands had to offer.  In most cases the opening band is related, in some way, to the headliner.   That relation might be tangential at best*, but there is a relationship.  Once I started opening my ears and my mind, I found myself often walking out of dive-bars/clubs with a new favorite band.  In some cases, I actually liked the opening band better than the headliner.  Blasphemy? Only if you’re 13 years-old and you only want to hear the headliner’s latest hit-single.  Me? I’m a deep-album cut sort of fellow.

A few years back I took my wife to see The Kings of Leon here in St. Louis.  The Kings of Leon were good but the opening band, The Features, blew us both away.  We fell in love with them and they soon became her all-time favorite band.  We’ve since seen them five or six times because we love them dearly (and they tour like madmen).  Now, what if we’d have skipped the opening act? What if we’d showed up just as Kings of Leon took the stage?   The Features are the better band and the only reason we ever heard of them was because we showed up early for the concert and politely listened to a band we’d never heard of.  The sad part is, I think that happens a lot—and by that I mean really great bands opening for ones that are just “alright.”  In a perfect world, The Kings of Leon would be opening for The Features, not the other way around.

The Features, 1000% better than any headliner.

Want another example? I saw Rooney back in 2003/2004** and was really impressed by their opening band The Redwalls.  The Redwalls had better songs and rocked harder than Rooney***.  To this day, I own more Redwalls albums than Rooney albums and I feel that my life has been enriched by waiting patiently through an opening act that turned out to be damn sweet.

Of course, there have been some really awful opening bands I’ve had to suffer through.  The worst of all-time was a band called White Williams.  I was seeing Vampire Weekend (again with the wife) and White Williams was the first of two opening bands.  Actually, that’s not right…White Williams was not a “band” but rather two dudes in sweaters.  One had a laptop and the other had a guitar.   I’m all for experimental music, and I think there’s some really awesome stuff some artists are doing with loops and simple guitar licks, but these guys weren’t actually doing anything.  One guy just stood there with his guitar, looking like he was asleep, while the other dude dramatically pressed a few buttons on his laptop.  When I say dramatically, I mean this guy was pressing one button on his laptop every few seconds like he was Eddie Van Halen SHREDDING on a solo.  He had that intensity on his face like he was lifting the continent of Antarctica on his shoulders while at the same time working on a cure for cancer. In short, he was a acting like a complete douchebag: all he was doing was standing there with a sweater…pressing buttons.

The lead-laptopist of White Williams, taking a rare break from lap-topping.

What does the name White Williams evoke? Does it make you think of bland, vanilla, anglo-static?  Well that’s what I think that name evokes for me, and it turns out that’s what White Williams sounds like.  They’re the worst, bland electronica you can imagine.  I seriously hope one of the guys in White Williams is in a relationship with someone in Vampire Weekend, because if having them on the bill that night wasn’t a John-making-Yoko-happy-by-letting-her-sing-on-the-album situation then Vampire Weekend are idiots****.  People often talk and check their cell phones during an opening band, but I saw people drift dangerously close to falling asleep during White Williams’ set.  I don’t think rock bands should do idiotic stunts, but you’ve got to do more to wow an audience than simply show up with your sweater and laptop.

Another mistake White Williams made was essentially play one song for twenty minutes.  During their set they said nothing to the audience, for all I know they really did only play one song.  The only reason I know they’re called “White Williams” is because the guy with the laptop mouth-breathed it once just before exiting the stage*****.

I know all of that seems pretty harsh, but you have to understand, I did not pay to see White Williams.  I didn’t make that choice, they were thrust upon me.  I think if you’re going to be in the ENTERTAINMENT industry you should, at the every least, be ENTERTAINING.  But there’s a bad apple in every bunch, and for the most part I still maintain that opening bands are worth your time and your respect.  Be an adult and let the White Williams’ of the world actually let you down before you completely dismiss them outright.

ENDNOTES:

* Like they’re represented by the same management or were called last-minute to fill-in.

**It was a long time ago, I can’t really remember.

***Who eventually turned into a just okay pop band, which by the way is not a crime.

**** Read: I hope the dude in White Williams is blowing someone in Vampire Weekend.

****That’s a systemic problem in rock shows these days, nobody bothers so say who they are anymore.  I can’t count the number of really cools bands that get onstage, rock my world and then leave without adequately explaining who the fuck they are.  Don’t want me to buy your records, visit your website, blog about you, become your fan? Okay dude, good luck with that. TELL US WHO YOU ARE MORE THAN ONCE!!!

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,