October 03, 2017

Tom Petty (1950-2017)

"It's good to get high and
never come down" - Tom Petty
   While Tom Petty lay unconscious the world devoted the day to its new, unwelcome loss. After a daylong deluge of confusion in reporting, the confirmation finally came. One of America’s most cherished songwriters, Petty, died after suffering cardiac arrest, holding on long enough to slip away in the hospital hours later. It was officially 8:40 p.m. in California when Petty left this world for the great wide open. He was 66.
   Petty wrote about America as a place of near-constant possibility, a place where the road always lead to something better, and over the decades his music with the Heartbreakers (and without) would become quintessential road music. Does nothing feel better than belting out a Tom Petty song while pushing 100mph on a straight, empty highway?
   Any one of them. Take your pick: the vein-cutting guitar on "Mary Jane's Last Dance" first comes to mind. Then it's "Running Down A Dream," "Into The Great Wide Open," “Breakdown," “Refugee," "Don't Come Around Here No More," "American Girl," ugh, I ache making this list, "Won't Back Down," "Louisiana Rain," "Zombie Zoo," "Don't Do Me Like That," Christ, I've forgotten, "Free Fallin'." Each one instantly recognizable. Each one painfully American.
   Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers debuted with their self-titled album in 1976 just as the counterculture had settled nicely into society.  They've owned every decade since and lay claim to the most satisfying end-to-end greatest hits collection. Petty’s song catalogue highlights American life better than any other songwriter before or after. Tales about being a loser, getting a record deal, road-tripping, fighting for love, rolling joints were dislodged from the everyday American experience and spun into radio gold.
   The man wrote hits with immediate impact. His songs didn't change the nation like Dylan's or venture far into the druggy id like Lou Reed's or wax politically like Springsteen's, but they put you in the mood to take what's yours & get something from the day ahead, nevermind what else. They weren't trying to be cool, they just effortless were.
   As iconic as they get. The jangly guitar and crooked-jaw nasally voice are unmistakable, easy to replicate. The blond hair swept over his eyes and the Adam's apple that hung out like a buzzard's. Petty’s smile was kind, but mischievous with his lips curled over those picket white teeth. And his look never changed until recently when he let the beard grow and looked like an ex-Hollywood shaman who crawled back down into the valley for a visit.
   Long known as deliverers of the hits live, the Heartbreakers finally started mixing their setlist with the back catalogue and jamming out beyond their most obvious songs. Recent years saw the revival of Mudcrutch, Petty’s original group with Benmont Tench and Mike Campbell, who released Mudcrutch 2 in 2016. Petty’s last solo album, Highway Companion in 2006, and 2014’s Hypnotic Eye with the Heartbreakers, are still as good as anything in their discography.
   Still hard to accept.
   Another legend lost.

May 28, 2017

At The Drive-In at the Marquee Theater

Cedric Bixler-Zavala points to the door, live with At The Drive-In, May 2017. All photos by Eli Jace.
Went to See At The Drive-In &
All I Got Was This Bruised Rib
     It started with maracas. An afro outlined in white light. Then a train-chugging drum roll along the tom-toms to start off "Arcarsenal," the first track off the seventeen-year-old album, Relationship of Command“I must’ve read a thousand faces!” At The Drive-In singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala screamed.
     When the rumbling breaks, the opening verse brings all the power and rage of lost innocence. The crowd was an instant cyclone of human bodies, arms up, gasping for air with each lyric. “Have you ever tasted skin?” Bixler asked. On this night we came for the internal bruising. “Sink your! Sink your teeth into!”
     At The Drive-In played The Marquee Theater in Tempe, Arizona on May 8th, three days after the release of their new, long hoped for album, inter alia. Their fourth album arrives four presidencies and countless international tragedies since their third. Relationship of Command was released in 2000 and soon after, to the surprise of almost everyone involved, they broke up.
     The members would all ride the burgeoning success of ATDI to form multiple bands: Sparta, The Mars Volta, Le Butcherettes, Sleepercar, Crime In Choir, Bosnian Rainbows, Antemasque--the list extends. None ever did or would do it quite like ATDI. They toured briefly during festival season in 2012, but this feels more like a real comeback (absent Jim Ward), even if for only one album.
     They kept with Relationship coming next to the punching drum roll that opens "Pattern Against User." And just like that seventeen years went to dust.
     The first new song played was the first song of the new album, "No Wolf Like the Present." The energy hit the crowd like a giant carpet was pulled from underneath them. The breakneck rhythm forced us to break our necks swept up in the swirl. Following was, “Call Broken Arrow,” with the addicting refrain, “And he’s always stealing flowers / from my stone, stone, stone.”
     Cedric, dressed finely black head-to-toe, has the same presence on stage. But, thicker in the neck, slower on the uptake. No snake-crawling across the stage. He steadies himself before standing on top of the bass drum. Looks before he leaps. But still leaps into the crowd and moves like his feet are shrinking. He’d let the microphone fall and kick it back up in a perfect half-circle, always retaining it in time for the next lyric.
     Omar Rodriguez-Lopez wore a skin-tight turtleneck with his hair cut back and glasses firmly up on his nose through all the thrashing. Rodriguez-Lopez, who pulled double duty opening with Le Butcherettes, played like Jimmy Page with his hair on fire. He made the guitar cry and choke, dropping tears of feedback in a circle around him. The rest of the band, Tony Hajjar on drums, Keely Davis on guitar and Paul Hinojos on bass, stuck to the gig at hand.
     The songs you’d most want to hear from ATDI arrived like injections of toxic nostalgia:  “Invalid Letter Dept.," "Napoleon Solo," “One Armed Scissor.” There was a moment of magic when the entire crowd sang breathlessly along to “Sleepwalk Capsules” as the song finds reprieve from Bixler’s poetic lacerations. "Lazarus threw the party. Lazarus threw the fight," in tones desperate and helpless, “Lazarus threw the party! Lazarus threw the fight!”
     They played half of the new album and those songs cemented into the old ones like a cinder block fence. They all felt like long-lost hits to the forehead. Hearing the new songs live made me appreciate inter alia a lot more.
     The set ended with a cannon shot. During the performance of “Governed By Contagions” the crowd turned totalitarian, arms raised, clapping along with the guillotine. Released as the first single last December, it is their best new song and it rips. The moshpit was in constant motion; everyone preening for every shriek from Cedric.
     After merciless applause, At The Drive-In reappeared for an encore of new track, "Hostage Stamps,” and the telltale, "One Armed Scissor." By then I was eating my tongue, no more comments, long live ATDI.

source: http://imp

March 26, 2017

REVIEW: "Prisoner" by Ryan Adams

On Prisoner Ryan Adams
Misses Her Like Candy
     In reading some reviews of Ryan Adams’ new album, Prisoner, released last month on, I saw one writer describe the cover as a self-portrait. Could be. But, really, I see two people embracing, one face-forward, one back, with an emotional finality.
    These songs were written in the aftermath of Adams’ marriage to actress and singer Mandy Moore. If Ryan Adams, released in 2014, postulated on the circumstances that inevitably lead to their divorce, then Prisoner sees Adams in the empty, discolored days of solitude after the case was closed. Here he takes on the stages of grief song by song.
    Prisoner opens up with the just-add-water classic first single, "Do You Still Love Me?" a song only Ryan Adams could muster with such perfection. An organ leaks into the track like sunlight across a windshield and leads to a three-hammer jab of  disgruntled guitar. The song is jolted each time it hits. The chorus finds Adams pleading desperately with the title’s question. He’s hoping against hope for a positive answer, but knows there are none. There could be no better way to start an album primarily focused on the separation of wife and husband.
     There is a clouded Eighties lens over the sounds of these songs. The drums sound 25-feet in diameter. The guitarwork twangs like Johnny Marr and pasted in the background are thick "Streets of Philadelphia"-era Springsteen organs. Adams switches between an electric and an acoustic guitar. The harmonica takes its seat in the front for "Doomsday," a rambling look back at a finished relationship. The drums are big and roll through with echoes.
     Adams’ mumble buzz heavy on “Haunted House” as he paces the place where love once lived. The acoustic guitar strums with kitchen reverberation. “My friends all disappeared / They all got lost,” he sings. On "Shiver and Shake" Adams starts to regretfully accept his circumstances. His fingers barely drag across the guitar. The organ matches the tremble in his voice as he tries, woefully, to drag himself forward. “I miss you so much / I shiver and I shake,” he sings. "I've been waiting here like a dog at the door / You used to throw me scraps / You don't do that anymore."
     On the sixth song, "To Be Without You," at the halfway point of the album, Adams begins to make amends with the pain of his separation and starts to confront his new reality. The second half of the album continues with Adams lifting himself up with song. “Anything I Say To You Now,” “Breakdown” and “Tightrope,” with its streetlight saxophone moping along, are the best of these.
     In Prisoner Ryan Adams has given the world another classic album to reach for in times of intense heartbreak (‘cause there’s never been a shortage of demand). He gets down the raw, misguided emotions that come when those feelings turn. Prisoner will heal anyone in distress as I’m sure it’s already been cried on by the millions.

Key Tracks: "Do You Still Love Me?," "Shiver And Shake," "Breakdown," "Tightrope"

source: http://imp

February 21, 2017

R. Carlos Nakai Quartet at Mesa Arts Center

R. Carlos Nakai is my spirit animal
    “Get your arthritis out,” R. Carlos Nakai said, shaking out his arms, before his Quartet took the stage of the Piper Repertory Theater at the Mesa Arts Center last Sunday. “Some of this you can move to.” The R. Carlos Nakai Quartet played songs off their latest album, What Lies Beyond, released on Canyon Records in Arizona.
   Nakai is perhaps the greatest Native American flautist to ever walk the earth. Born in Flagstaff, Arizona to Navajo/Ute heritage, the musician has had a long career finding the rhythms of the wind. He has a number of solo releases and collaborations, but recently has been involved with the R. Carlos Nakai Quartet made up of Nakai, bassist Johnny Walker, drummer Will Clipman and instrumentalist AmoChip Dabney.
Dabney, Walker, Nakai and Clipman. Photo from MAC.
   For the opening number Clipman sat center stage holding a wide vase-shaped drum in his lap. He tapped on it with his fingers making a light hollowed-out beat while the band slid into the rhythm. “Eel Valley,” the next song, Nakai explained, was about the large birds of Hawaii where they spend their time when off tour. “On Sunlit Wings,” written by Walker during a trip to Egypt, was like the sun dawning over the Pyramids. Each note held an appreciation for life.
   Dabney, with long tumbling dreadlocks, took his place behind a two-keyboard setup. Throughout the performance he’d also pick up a saxophone or an acoustic guitar. Johnny Walker stood strong and steady on bass. In addition to a stacked drumset, Clipman also used a number of different drums, noisemakers and shakers.
   Nakai dressed in a green, red and purple patterned dress shirt stood to the right next to a table of flutes, all different lengths and widths. Around his neck hung a bird whistle. When Nakai plays his cheeks puff out and in like a little warbler bird. When he’s not playing the flute, Nakai lets loose in a hoppy swivel moving like a wet noodle hanging from the spaghetti bowl.
    To introduce “Kathmandu This” Clipman told a story of touring in Morocco and meeting indigenous drummers who played the traditional tar or bendir drum. The head of the drum Clipman had was about two feet in diameter and had an almost electric sound to it, a ringing reverberation and buzzing tones. The drum tumbled loudly with the bass like they were rolling in the mud. Together they created a drone that filled the auditorium. Then, Dabney dropped in on the saxophone and time bent in half. Each musician circled around each other like alternating wind currents trapped in a valley.
   “Fiddy Fo,’” Dabney explained, was written in honor of the great American jazz composer Dave Brubek and his 5/4 time signature. It featured great interplay between the sax and the flute. Each musician played in a different overlapping time signature with Clipman as the  constant barometer. “CafĂ© du Monde” was a piece of French Quarter funk that hit like a strong cup of coffee.
   On stage Nakai exhibits the spiritual calm that his music creates. During the final song he did the “wallaby dance,” a move he created during an improvisation session in Colorado. He bounced around with a goofy grin, his butt stuck out and the bird whistle swinging around his neck.
    The encore brought the party funk. Dabney got it going with the catchy refrain, “The party ain’t stopping ‘til the speaker’s blown,” and then tried his best to comply. After the band picked up speed he grabbed his sax and let loose on each wing of the stage. He ran over stage right to match the rhythm of a grey-haired lady who was dancing with her shoulders swinging left to right at the tip of the stage. Then, without showing fatigue, Dabney leapt back to his post to play the saxophone and the bassoon at the same time. His lungs created tones no average human could make and everyone was on their feet letting their applause show their joy.

source: http://imp

February 02, 2017

Code Orange / Youth Code / GATECREEPER at the Nile Theater

     The streets above ground were calm and quiet in downtown Mesa last Sunday night. Down below, though, beneath the pavement and piping, in the Nile Theater’s underground basement venue, the guttural rumble of GATECREEPER shook the upper level. The crowd was packed, pushed wall to wall by the mosh-pit void that had opened. The people moved around it like particles pulled by the gravity of a black hole.
     The metal band from Arizona started off the night with a sharp set of songs mostly from their debut album, Sonoran Depravationreleased last year on Relapse. Singer Chase H. Mason, with the black and white GATECREEPER flag behind him, stalked the stage, crutched by his microphone stand. Something jumps inside him and dies before a performance and the fumes of death rise up and spew from his esophagus. He was flanked by the rest of the band and their drone metal gnashing came like solar bursts to earth. Their last song, “Patriarchal Grip,” started with its spellbinding lull and ended with a hammer to the head.
Youth Code performing at the Nile Theater. Photos by Eli Jace.
     The second act, Youth Code, out of Los Angeles, arrived without guitar. Only a tabletop of pedals, controlled by Ryan George, were set up with Sara Taylor desecrating the mic. Their sound is a ferocious mix of Nine Inch Nails industrial scuzz and jacked up, panicked death metal. Commitment to Complication, their second full-length, was released last year.
     Their set started with a deep bass pulse and then Taylor took over. She explodes as a frontwoman. She tosses her body to the ground, her white hair whipping around. When the distortion gurgled to the surface in loud roars she’d bend down and throw a few fists to the floor.
     Apparently the teetering crowd was in a trance and didn’t know how to react. She kept shouting for everyone to dance or at least show some life. At one point during a mechanical breakdown, she thanked George for letting her scream about her problems. Whatever those problems are Youth Code make a good case for their audio equivalent.
     It was clear a majority in attendance were there for Code Orange. Even George couldn’t tamp down his excitement to see them when Taylor brought it up. The Pittsburgh group is one of the new growing warts of hardcore. Their sewer-scorching third album, Forever, was released last month on Roadrunner Records.
Code Orange performing at the Nile Theater. Photos by Eli Jace.
     Front and center I was ready for the beat down. The stage for the Nile Underground is about two feet high. Shin-level. A constant tripping hazard when the people behind you move like they’re on bath salts. Eric Balderose and Reba Meyers, on guitar, and drummer Jami Morgan all claim vocal duties, but it wasn’t always easy to tell where the carnal yells were coming from. Each lasting scream dissolved in the dark. In addition, two different vocalists jumped up from nowhere for a song each.
     Their set was stuffed with new songs. “The Mud” with its tar-melting interlude halfway through brought an eerie calm to the basement for a moment that did not last long. The slow-crushing brutality of the album’s title track sideswiped everyone.
     Joe Goldman, on bass, took up the middle of the stage looking like an outcast Street Fighter character. His presence was alarming. He threw hook-armed fists into the air, spin-kicked and left no distance between the front row. Before songs he’d lift servants up by the shirt collar and scream in their faces to get up. Miraculously I avoided the bent end of his guitar colliding with my head. 
     The Nile put on a great line-up this night. GATECREEPER, Youth Code and Code Orange, three ripening groups that each attack metal and hardcore from three different angles.

source: http://imp