Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Alejandro Escovedo's "Lust for Life": Real Animal

Austin, Texas isn’t known as the “live music capital of the world” for nothing, and you don't need a SxSW wristband to partake. On any given weeknight, a live music addict wandering 6th Street or South Congress can step through the nearest pub door and find a quick fix of blistering rock and roll-- one-off live shows that would shame more anticipated and choreographed productions taking place only on weekends in other cities.

Even by Austin’s standards, though, Tuesday nights in particular must seem a bit special of late. Beginning last year and continuing through January, Austin's Alejandro Escovedo (link) took up a Tuesday night residency at the famed Continental Club. Listening to the concerts, Escovedo and his band (his frequent mix of string quartet and buzz-saw guitars) sound muscular, confident, and ready to take to the road.

Of all of the residency shows, however, none were more anticipated than a special show last Friday night, when Escovedo and singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet debuted material from their highly-anticipated release, Real Animal. Real Animal, an album of songs reflecting on Escovedo’s life, including the title track, a tribute to one of his biggest influences, Iggy Pop, is slated for release in June. In fact, last Tuesday's show not only “debuted material,” but, following a set by Prophet and his band (touring behind Prophet’s 2007 release Soap and Water), Escovedo, Prophet, and band roared through through Real Animal in its entirety, track-by-track, in order.

Escovedo is no longer by any means Austin’s Best Kept Secret, but for an artist's artist with a rock and roll c.v. reaching back to the 70’s (see here) and a catalog of stunning solo work, neither is he the household name that he should be. Enter Real Animal, a work that, even in its rough live version, gives promise of appeal to more than just the SxSW faithful: a highly autobiographical work touching on the various phases of Alejandro’s colorful rock life, set to music of the very time it describes.

Standout tracks include the opener, “Always a Friend,” in which Escovedo repeatedly begs a lover to “let yourself go, let yourself show.” The chorus is punctuated with “Oh-oh Oh-oh”’s lifted directly (and presumably intentionally) from David Bowie’s "TVC15," and the song sounds as though it could have come from that same era.

The balance of the record skips across All Things Escovedo—a stint at NYC’s artist-haunt the Chelsea is chronicled in “Chelsea Hotel,” wherein Escovedo, recalling life immersed in the artist community, observes, “We came to live inside the myth of everything we heard.” History is laid out clearly in “Sensitive Boys,” a track about the punk/glam scene where “nothin’s ever what it seems,” and “Nun’s Song,” wherein guitars pound along over a foundation of orchestral strings, as Escovedo chronicles the Nuns, one of his first bands that met with “a touch of fame.” In “Chip and Tony,” Escovedo reaches all the way back to his start in Rank & File, shouting, “All I ever wanted was a four piece band!”

This live set portends a full studio production rife with harmonies, dueling guitars (the listener is reminded, Prophet can play!), and classic rock vocal fills, thereby matching musical theme to the story. The timing of its release may coincide closely with an upcoming live music documentary about Escovedo’s life and work. Scheduled to be shot in Austin’s Las Manitas restaurant by Jonathan Demme, who’s resume includes such concert films as Stop Making Sense, Storefront Hitchcock, and Neil Young: Heart of Gold, the film will likely debut in Austin prior to a wider release.

Escovedo’s story has been highly visible in the media in the past couple of years, spurred largely by the release of 2006’s critically-acclaimed The Boxing Mirror, in which Escovedo dealt with his mortality in the wake of a serious health diagnosis. Real Animal will give the public the entire bio, a life inspired by Iggy, whom Escovedo refers to in his introduction of the title track as “a big influence on my life . . . and I’ve paid for it every day since.”

Monday, January 28, 2008

Liam Finn: I'll Be Lightning - Review

In the late 80's, smack dab between his MTV-friendly Split Enz and his more recent solo singer-songwriter career, Neil Finn commissioned famed luthier Danny Ferrington to build two guitars. Finn was seeking inspiration in writing and performance with his then-band, masters of crafty pop Crowded House. Closely tied to his family, both in his life and in his music, Finn asked Ferrington to inlay the ebony of the first guitar's fretboard with pearl symbols representing each member of his family. Perhaps in a fit of wishful thinking, Finn requested that the fifth fret, representing 7-year old son Liam, be adorned with a drum kit.

Nearly twenty years on, it appears Neil got his wishes, as Liam is playing the drums . . . and the bass, and the guitar, and the piano, and nearly every other instrument appearing on I'll Be Lightning, Liam's solo debut released this month on Yep Roc. Though the project is chock full of lyrical phrasing, melodies, and the voice, that voice, that all draw lines right back to Papa, I'll Be Lightning finds Liam skipping right out of his father's tall shadow.

Lightning is nothing earth-shattering. It's a pop record, and it doesn't attempt to be anything more. But it's a beautiful pop record, fat with double and triple-tracked vocals, keyboards, and infectious melodies that sneak from your iPod into your brain and live there for the afternoon.

The record starts in simplicity with "Better to Be," a bit of a throwaway song built around a loopy keyboard riff. From there, the complexity increases quickly through the strong three-song run "Second Chance," "Gather to the Chapel," and the closer to what feels like the album's first segment, "Lead Balloon," ending in a screaming bit of pop-punk.

Finn's vocals are a bit thin in places, especially where only single-tracked, as on the plodding rhythms of "Energy Spent," or in the silly "Music Moves My Feet." In fairness, the weakness in Finn's voice is due in part to his freshman lack of confidence in delivery, but also to the less-than-conscious comparisons the listener inevitably makes to the more muscular and pop-seasoned pipes of Finn's father.

By the album's close, Finn hits his stride. Reviewers trotting out Brian Wilson references may be a bit cliche, but the references are warranted in this case. More directly, the last half of Lightning references the Fab Four, not so much as mere influence as outright homage at times, especially on the title track, which ends in a beautiful chorus of Finn vocals.

Identifying the weaknesses in this solo release seems almost unfair, as this is a strong solo debut that is a worthy purchase, and not just for Finn completists. Rolling Stone was dead-on in identifying Liam Finn some months ago as one of its "Artists to Watch."

Finn Footnote: That second guitar? Neil had Ferrington build a miniature version of his own guitar to give to boy Liam. Neil immediately borrowed the mini-guitar and carried it into the studio, where it can be heard on "Four Seasons in One Day," "Weather With You," and "She Goes On," three standouts from Crowded House's 1991 pop-gem Woodface.

Review on Deck: Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning

"Second Chance"

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Inimitable Andrew Bird: Imitosis (live)

Andrew Bird . . . only fully understood when seen live, in the act
of creation.  Layers and loops and layers and loops and . . .
whistling!  Love-er-ly!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Armed Forces RFP: Desparately Seeking Celebrity Band

Government Requests for Proposals are not typically fun reads, but this one caught my eye. In perhaps the most bizarre RFP I have ever read (linked here), it seems that our federal government, specifically, our armed forces, seeks a rock band . . . but not just any rock band--

According to the RFP's strict guidelines, this rock band must be a Professional Celebrity Rock Music Band.

Well, I know a little about rock and roll. Civic duty calling, I must offer my help:

**Professional Celebrity Rock Music Band**

Ok. The Police, or

The Polyphonic Spree, or

Radiohead, or

The Cars, or

Wilco, or

The Who, or


**Group not to exceed seven people**


The Police, or

The Polyphonic Spree, or

Radiohead, or

The Cars, or

Wilco, or

The Who, or


**Active Rock Band**

Oh. OK.

The Police, or

Polyphonic Spree, or

Radiohead, or

The Cars, or

Wilco, or

The Who, or


**Music Genre consisting of Southern Rock, Pop Rock, Post-Grunge, and Hard Rock**

Crap. Seriously? Um . . . Radiohead fronted by Donnie Van Zandt of 38 special and Eddie Vedder, calling themselves “38 Pearlhead”


Wilco, fronted by Dave Grohl, calling themselves “Fooco.”

**Protective equipment, such as kevlar, body armour, eye and ear protection will be provided when the group is travelling on military rotary or fixed wing aircraft.**

Hmmmm . . .

Phil Spector with 38 Pearlhead


Ted Nugent and Fooco.

**Factor 4, Celebrity Status of the Proposed Artists. The government will evaluate offeror’s submitted documents . . . to identify the “professional celebrity” status of at least one member of the group.**


Ted Nugent and Fooco, with my neighbor Steve, the Guitar Hero champion of my block.

Oh, wait: **Evaulation system for Factor 4:

Poor: The Proposed Group does not contain at least one celebrity member.

Adequate: The Proposed Group contains at least one member who may be recognizable within a certain metropolitan community, although not nationally and internationally.**

OK, Ted Nugent and Fooco, fronted by Rudy Guilianai.

**Excellent: The Proposed Group contains at least one member who is a recognizable celebrity nationally or internationally**

Ok, got it: Phil Everly and Yoko Ono Calling Themselves the Beach Boys with the Remaining Ramones and Stewart Copeland, fronted by the Lovechild of Mitt Romney and Dr. Phil, calling themselves, “King Crimson.”

Well, that was easy. Take that, Bin Laden.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hopedaddy on the air: WFHB Morning Music Mix 1/23/08

Marah, "Faraway You," Kids in Philly
Manu Chao, "Rainin' in Paradize," La Radiolina
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, "Johnny Appleseed," Global a Go-Go
American Analog Set, "Punk as Fuck," Know By Heart
The Bird & The Bee, "Again and Again," The Bird and The Bee
Badly Drawn Boy, "A Peak You Reach," Soundtrack: About a Boy
Andrew Bird, "Skin is My," Andrew Bird & the Mysterious Production of Eggs
Postal Service, "Such Great Heights," Give Up
Magnet, "Where Happiness Lives," On Your Side
The National, "Green Gloves," Boxer
Radiohead, "Jigsaw Falling Into Place," In Rainbows
Gillian Welch, "Black Star," Black Star EP
Ryan Adams, "Oh, My Sweet Caroline," Heartbreaker
Emmylou Harris, "Where Will I Be," Wrecking Ball
Alejandro Escovedo, "Velvet Guitar," A Man Under the Influence
Jon Dee Graham, "Holes," Full
Peter Mulvey, "The Knuckleball Suite," Notes from Elsewhere
Daniel Lanois, "O Marie," Acadie
Chris Stills, "Fanny," When the Pain Dies Down (Live in Paris)
The Band, "When You Awake," The Band
Teddy Thompson, "Wake Up," Teddy Thompson
Liam Finn, "Lead Balloon," I'll Be Lightning
Bela Fleck & The Flecktones, "Hoe Down," Outbound
Oliver Nelson, "Hoe Down," The Blues and the Abstract Truth
Al Green, "Here I Am," Greatest Hits
Olu Dara w/ Nas, "Jungle Jay," In the World: From Natchez to New York

That's So . . . 2004

Wherein, Hopedaddy asks, where was I?  This time out, the wayback machine takes only a short spin back up the block, pulling over to the first shiny object in the road: Magnet's 2004 release, On Your Side. Magnet, the alter ego of Norway's Evan Johansen, turned in a delicate and lushly produced record, full of strings, horns, multi-layered voices, and even Radiohead-esque electronic snippets, all packed into a perfectly dreamy pop release.  Imagine a highly-produced Jose Gonzales, and you are about there.  A "new discovery"?  Where was I?  Check it out.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Arthur Imitating Life Imitating Arthur

Artists often unleash expression across the spectrum . . . and with varying degrees of success.  For every gallery with a Joni Mitchell photography/painting exhibit, there is also a playlist with Keanu Reeves thumbing his bass in Dogstar.  As fans and art consumers, we get to taste the good with the bad— many of Mitchell’s visual works are lovely, but in the name of all that is good and holy, have you ever seen Reeves try to act?

A couple of years ago, I foolishly skipped a Joseph Arthur show at Birdy’s in Indianapolis.   I can’t for the life of me recall the conflict that I thought warranted the pass— Arthur’s Our Shadows Will Remain was one of my favorite releases of 2004, and I’d never seen him live— but I have regretted it ever since.  Friends who attended excitedly told of a very unique performance--  Arthur regaled the audience with both creation of an onstage mural and a concert of original music . . . at the same time.  Without missing a literal or figurative beat, Arthur played and sang an entire set, all while painting a mural along the back of the stage.   I’ve since chased down video of his live shows on several occasions, but even the best do not make up for the lapse in judgment that caused me to skip that show.

I heard today of a gallery that opened in New York City to show Arthur’s visual works: The Museum of Modern Arthur (  The gallery includes a section of "live stage paintings."  Among the gallery's missions: MOMAR seeks to broaden the parameters of the fine art world by fostering a multi-disciplinary interation among innovators in painting, music, poetry, performance, and the visual arts.

If one could truly write about the essence of music, we would no longer need music.  With music, an artist expresses the otherwise inexpressible. When Joseph Arthur paints, I assume only that he is trying to say something another way . . . I might not always love it, but I am paying attention.  

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some 30 Odd Foot of Grunts to listen to.

The Tug of the Music, The Scene of the Crime

Illogical as it may be, the Hopedaddy housecleaning and re-start was provoked largely, not by rock and roll inspiration, but by a Tyson-esque slug to to the rock and roll gut.  In the past month, Marah, the one band that I've firmly believed was the last hope to save rock and roll, was locked, loaded, and ready for battle as it never had been before.  In an industry that seldom affords true artists even a first chance, Marah was enjoying round three.  After a couple of years on the road with new additions on guitar and drums, the heart and soul of Marah, brothers Dave and Serge Bielanko, found themselves again as a band.  Those seeking proof needed to look (and listen) no further than this month's release of their new record, Angels of Destruction.  Loose and full of life, Angels felt like a return to form that die-hard Marah-stafarians hadn't heard since Kids in Philly, their critically-acclaimed 2000 masterpiece, now appearing in a cut-out bin near you.

Ten days post-release, a slew of raving reviews, and an appearance on Conan O'Brien later, the unthinkable happened.  Speculation that began on the message boards was eventually confirmed: Marah, famously allergic to success, was coming apart at the seams.  Adam and Dave, the very "shot" of Marah's recent much-needed "shot in the arm," were leaving the band.  Forcing the collective jaw of the Marah Faithful the rest of the way to the ground was the news that longtime Marah fixture/bass player Kirk, considered by many almost a third Brother Bielanko, also found a pink slip in his pay envelope.  The timing could not be worse.  A half-page picture and review in the new Paste landed in my mailbox six hours after eighteen tour dates were canceled.

The sacking of half the band, the poor timing, the silence from the inner circle, and the ensuing discussion on the message boards occupied more than a fair share of my time and RAM in the past week.  My friends have suffered enough, and I won't go through all of the analysis here again, save for a few observations, good and bad, that weren't lost in The Fire:

(1) At times in the past week, the depths of my despair caused me to step back and question my own priorities-- I'm 41 years old for Christ's sake-- was I this unglued about the breakup of a rock band?  Somewhere in the back of my mind, the voice of Nick Hornby, introducing Marah in the back of Schuba's on a hot Chicago night two summers ago, was echoing, "Nothing like this can actually change your life, not when you're a grown-up with a job and a family."  Sure.  But Nick has felt it.  Plenty of my friends have felt it.  I have certainly felt it.  Aside from being a great bunch of guys, this band has given me, a veteran of hundreds of live shows, many of the greatest rock and roll moments of my life.  Now, as they briefly stood thrice-poised-for-greatness, I could only stand idly by, watching them become the Angels of Self-Destruction. There will be no apologies for the sincerity and magnitude of my malaise, a sentiment that appears to be a common thread through the Faithful.

(2) The speculation, hand-holding, rumor, and smack talk on the message boards, for all of its worthlessness, did manage to repeatedly stimulate an interesting topic of discourse: What personal explanations does a band owe its loyal fans?  In my angriest moment, I certainly weighed in:  No, artists should not have such responsibility . . . typically.  But Marah are anything but "typical" artists.  What makes the faithful love them through thick and thin, spend thousands of dollars flying around the world to see them, ram them down friends' throats, collect hundreds of bootlegs of their shows, log onto the boards from home and from work and from vacation, and generally feel like family, is that this HAS been a family.  We've all been there at shows where 10 people were in the crowd and shows where 500 were.  Dave and Serge invited us into their world every time-- they stuck around and talked to us all night after shows, they regularly jumped on the message boards with updates, and, most importantly, they bared their hearts to us in their art.  We obliged and spread the gospel.  We shared and we sang and we drank, and we danced all crazy with our rubbery legs.  So, for a bit, I felt justified in just being pissed.  No, this band is not all about us . . . but it is a lot about us, right?  At least it always had been, and that's the very essence of why we love them.  The art that means the most to us is the art that reflects something in us that we recognize.  In prying for details, I was not paparazzi chasing Britney into the beauty salon . . . I just wanted a bit of explanation for what I was seeing in my Marah mirror.

(3) With a bit more patience, just the right amount of explanation finally trickled through.  When Dave broke his silence, it all came rushing back to me: Dave and Serge make music.  They always have, and they always will.  They are not businessmen (clearly!), and, moreover, they are human:

"For these untimely events to occur . . . I understand it seems self-defeating, career damaging, whatever . . . but to us who remain, it's all gotten a bit too prophetic, spooky even . . . Now it's time for us to get the fuck outta here and start racing toward redemption, and fast!  With the best interest of the music in mind, we are more than fine.  Our principles and spirit remain intact.  Score!  Let's just take a deep breath and share a moment of silence for every soldier who ever died along the 'Road to Rocksville.'  God bless us all."

Thanks, Dave.  I don't need to know anything else.  Marah is and always will be Dave and Serge Bielanko.  I loved this version of the band dearly, but I eagerly await the next chapter, already being written in anticipation of European tour dates.  Marah (3.0?), blistering guitars, table dancing, suprise covers, extended stories of snakes and hookers and catfish and busted vans and, and, and . . . I can't wait to share, sing, drink, and dance all crazy with my rubbery legs, SO-COME-ON!