C & D from Arthur No. 31/Sept 2008: Dion, Fela A New Musical, Hacienda, Gang Gang Dance, Kasai All-Stars, Natacha Atlas, El Guincho, Megapuss, Little Joy, Mercury Rev, Desolation Wilderness, Grouper, the Antari Alpha F-80z, Matt Baldwin, Jonas Reinhardt, Raglani, Apse, Zach Hill, Eagles of Death Metal

C_D_Pete_Toms

Longtime Arthur music reviewers C and D, as depicted by Pete Toms

This C & D session was originally published in Arthur No. 31 (September 2008)

C & D
Two confirmed schmucks grapple with the big issues.

dionborntobewithyou

C: Our work continues.
D: Or at least our drinking does. Ahahaha.
C: [frowns George Will-style] Let the record show that whatever we say from this point forward about any of these records that the Arthur staff have so carefully assembled will invariably be colored by what we’ve just been listening to: Born to Be with You by Dion, 1975, produced by Phil Spector, downloaded off the Heat Warps blog. We are basking in its rather substantial afterglow.
D: A stone gem beaut of an album…which, by the way, has never been released in America! What is wrong with you people?
C: Have some pity on a country in decline. And you full well know it’s (apparently) Mr. Spector himself that kept the record from ever being released here. But keeping to the point: the readers should know that not only did we just listen to it, we just listened to it three times in a row. We are smitten by this version of “(He’s Got) The Whole World In His Hands,” which just sorta echoes all over creation in a melancholy way…
D: [muses] It is strange to feel so instantly nostalgic for a record you’ve never heard. And yet I have been having that distinct feeling for the last hour and 25 minutes as we have been watching the sun go down over the Manhattan skyline while listening to the wonderful, stirring, heartfelt, heretofore unheard-by-these-ears work of the incomporable team of Mr. Dion and Mr. Spector. I guess it’s what they call that old deja voodoo, eh?
C: Ha, yes I suppose they do…

fela

FELA! A New Musical
at 37 Arts in New York City
Book by Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones

D: So you went to a musical?
C: Yes, I did.
D: How did you like it? Did you laugh? Did you CRY?
C: From the first minute when the actor playing Fela sauntered by, two rows in front of me, on the way to the stage in his pink jumpsuit, led by his dancer/singer/wives, as Antibalas played the opening to “Everybody Scatter,” I was weeping openly.
D: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It is said that dancing by yourself in your living room to Fela Kuti music is the only known cure for depression.
C: If it is that good, imagine what it must be like if you dance with others to it in public! The collective righteous joy is unbelievable. This thing broke me out of my post-David Foster Wallace suicide negative power zone.
D: So it was a full-on simulation?
C: Well… It’s not simply a tribute/costume concert, it’s an extremely brilliant musical-fueled biography of the man himself. The piece is two hours, 40 minutes and is set inside Fela’s club in Lagos, the Shrine. It’s 1976, I think, and he is onstage performing, and preparing to leave Nigeria. He’s had it with the ongoing corruption and idiocy in Nigeria. The government has arrested him, the military has stormed his commune, beaten and raped his wives and thrown his mother out of a second story window, leading to her eventual death. So he’s in and out of songs and monologues, reviewing his life to that point, smoking his big marijuana joints, laughing and crying and leading this band and this dance troupe, putting on this two-tier Afrobeat performance of… It’s spellbinding, just awesome, and I gotta say… As somebody who’s watched every second of available Fela Kuti footage out there, I thought I’d understood, as best I was gonna be able to understand in 2008, the man and the music. Well, I was totally wrong.
D: Wouldn’t be the first time!
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MUSIC IS NEVER WRONG: A visit with Josh Homme & John Paul Jones of Them Crooked Vultures (Oct 2009)

MUSIC IS NEVER WRONG
A visit with Them Crooked Vultures’ Josh Homme and John Paul Jones

Interview by Jay Babcock
Posted: October 15, 2009

Them Crooked Vultures is a new band comprised of guitarist-vocalist Joshua Homme (Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss), bassist John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin), drummer Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters, Nirvana) and guitarist Alain Johannes (Eleven), with Jones and Johannes also playing other instruments. These guys really don’t need an introduction so you won’t be getting one here. What’s interesting is what they’re doing: Vultures have spent much of this year together, writing and recording music in a Los Angeles studio, and are now touring without having officially released a note of the music they’ve recorded. No album, no single, no YouTube video, no leak, no official photos, no nothing: the only way to hear Them Crooked Vultures, really, is to see them live.

In some ways, it’s an echo of the Eric Clapton-Steve Winwood-Ginger Baker supergroup Blind Faith, who did a similar thing in 1969, touring ahead of their album’s release, selling out tours on the strength of their collective pedigree. But unlike Blind Faith, who hedged their bets by including renditions of songs from their old bands, Vultures are performing 80 or so minutes of new Vultures music every night: no Zeppelin covers, no Queens jams, no standards. As Homme says onstage on the night I first see them play, it’s a “social experiment” as much as a musical one, and to the audience’s credit, there was not a single shouted request that I could hear for something other than what the band was playing: Vultures’ blind faith is being rewarded.

Perhaps this is down to a collective solidarity with the idea of the independent musician, or a real interest in simply unfamiliar music by trusted faves—or maybe it’s because most of the songs presented on Monday night were strong on first listen, and if listener’s fatigue inevitably set in at some point due to the continued ear-pummeling, then you could just stand there and behold the wonder of 63-year-old John Paul Jones, shoulders bobbing, at the helm of his instrument, smiling with pleasure at Dave Grohl as yet another propulsive, post-“Immigrant’ Song” (or “Achilles’ Last Stand,” or…) bassline locked in with Grohl’s powerhouse thumping and a distinctively Homme guitar riff. Interestingly, Grohl’s drumkit was not on the riser usually associated with big-time rock bands, which I’m sure disappointed some Foo Fighters fans, but it had the crucial benefit of placing the musicians nearer each other, allowing them to create a more cohesive sound in the midst of so much volume; as John Paul Jones said after the show, “I can feel Dave’s kick-drum that way,” and from his smile, you know that’s as much for his benefit as the audience’s.

Smiles. The amount of smiling between the Vultures onstage, as well as the sheer caliber of playing, reminded me of Shakti, the Indian-Western supergroup led by English master guitarist John McLaughlin and Indian tabla genius Zakir Hussain that fuses classical Indian music with Western jazz. I’m not talking about laughs between songs, or witty stage banter, although with Josh Homme at the microphone you’re always going to get that, but the smiles that occur in the midst of the music: the joy that emerges spontaneously in the midst of collective creativity, usually marking some new discovery or progress, or a new threshold being crossed, or something just feeling fundamentally good. In the last two decades of loud guitar music, this kind of uncontrived on-stage joy has been far too rare—outside of Ween shows, of course, and gee wasn’t that the Deaner himself backstage with the champagne on Monday night? Anyways. Josh, who I’ve interviewed before, and who headlined the second night of ArthurBall in 2006 as half of The 5:15ers (a duo he has with longtime collaborator Chris Goss), invited me to talk with him and John Paul Jones in the band’s dressing room just prior to their set at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory on October 12, 2009. Here’s how the conversation went…

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