Archives For Random Music Writing

Go here to—->Download: MMJ @Charter One Pavillion, Chicago 8/17/10

As expected our heroes from Louisville, My Morning Jacket, blew the clouds out of the sky at Chicago’s Charter One Pavilion on August 17th staving off what could’ve been a mood crunching rain.  While I’ve seen Jim and the boys a number of times before, this show added a bit more jam to my toast which was nice considering I was still reeling from four nights of Phish.  One to remember for sure.

Opening with one of the many beautiful sections of “Rollin Back” from It Still Moves they then launched into one of only three songs recorded before 2003, “The Way That He Sings” from 2001’s At Dawn and never looked back.  It was a smoking set that, to my surprise, contained their breakthrough It Still Moves almost in it’s entirety.  While that album shows heavily in most sets it was nice to see (sorta rare to me)  “Masterplan,” ” Easy Morning Rebel,” and the always welcome but seldom witnessed “Steam Engine.”  The rest of the set was a nice mix of Z and Evil Urges with the latter bringing the most jubilation from the crowd due the cape that Jim James dons for songs performed from it.

They also played one new song, “Circuital” that sounds like a culmination of many of the sounds and attributes in their repertoire that make them so special; Jim, a touch of his falsetto, a smidgen of noise, a pinch of acoustic strumming, and a punch of shake appeal.  That one has me really looking forward to new material!

Highlights: Rollin’ Back section, Run Thru and Lay Low reprises.  With Califone opening the show, MMJ didn’t have as much time to melt our faces as they usually would so they worked in the jam sections from the latter two crowd favorites.  It was a nice touch and very friendly.  They started “Run Thru” at what I call the ‘disco Slayer’ section and “Lay Low” at the peak of the jam.  While I would’ve preferred to hear each song in it’s entirety, I was happy with what we got.

“Bermuda Highway”– This is the song that I played over and over and over my first summer of getting familiar with the band.  It is also the first MMJ song that my loving wife heard and she has been anxiously waiting to see it.  QUICK STORY I remember that Rochelle, myself, and our friends Tom and Sarah went to Louisville to see them a couple of years ago and I all but guaranteed Rochelle that they would play it.  Well. They didn’t.  After that she had planned on writing them a letter that explained that we had seen them in four states and traveled x amount of miles and all she wanted was to hear “Bermuda Highway” live.  She never wrote that letter and now she never has to.  Hearing her excitement and seeing her smile on that evening made the show even better.

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whatkatiedoes.com

I’m pretty sure I’ve only read one review of Animal Collective’s live show.  I’m also pretty sure that that review was negative (horrible even) and should deterred me from attending their stop at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater, but since the keys are tap tap taping you better believe that I didn’t. How could I? For one, a couple of years ago it would have been nearly impossible to see them without driving to Chicago or Minneapolis and secondly, this years Merriweather Post Pavilion has been causing permanent ear damage since it’s January release.  Needless to say, I was excited to hear songs that have made me as elated as the arrival of the first Spring day after an extended winter but also nervous about the possibility of being frozen, dumbfounded, in the crowd while inescapable and unfamiliar noises laced with unintelligible chants made me wish I had brought ear plugs. 

 But when the 2nd #9 was empty and “In the Flowers” started to ooze from the stage (> a giant glowing sphere dangled above them while behind them, the trippy green alien blood droplets of MPP’s cover acted as a backdrop) a slight perma-smile started to take shape. This may be my favorite song of the year and even though the sound in the room was too loud and the bass deep enough to make my heart palpitate with each pulse, I liked how it translated. While I was pleasantly surprised that most of the material played was culled from this years critically acclaimed release (the bouncing, sweaty, and bearded hip kids up front too) the highlight of the evening had to be “Fireworks” from 2007’s Strawberry Jam.  It was 13 or so minutes of harmonic bliss and emotion that live, easily trumped its version on record.   It’s a song that gets stuck in your head, makes you frantically bob your head, and scream along the lyrics.  I did all that on this evening and I loved it!  Other musical highlights: “Banshee Beat” “Comfy in Nautica” “What Would I Want Sky” (new song) and “Leaf House”.

 Post show, Gentle John and I discussed how we were both pleased that we stood up front.  Even though I had a hard time hearing this discussion, it was nice to be able to move freely.  Many times at the shows most jolly moments, “Brother Sport” for instance, I hopped along in a sea of happy music lovers while the seated appeared paralyzed.  I’d a been jealousJ had we not gotten lucky and allowed wrist-bands from a very friendly Riverside employee. 

 Overall, I was extremely impressed by the three guys that hovered over their white cloth covered machines that made loud noises.  It would have been nice to see what they were doing up there but I guess they only came to dominate one of our senses.

The Killers Milwaukee Review

Truth be told, when I decided to spend an asinine amount of money on two tickets to see the still semi popular band from sin city, The Killers, it was only because I needed a Valentine’s Day gift.  While I liked a handful of tracks from their first two releases, I shrugged at their third release, Sawdust, and had blown off the first two singles from their newest album, Day and Age.  While “Spaceman” is a head bobber and a bit of a leg shaker, the first single, “Human,” has lyrics that can only be described as laughable. I mean, “Are we human. Or are we dancer.” What in the sam hell is that supposed to mean? Another detractor was the fact that the show was to be played at The Eagles Ballroom. Anybody that has ever been there knows that it’s A) one of the worst rooms in Milwaukee to hear live music B) beverages are often warm and overpriced (beer is $7.50 & WATER is $2.00) and C) the place sweats more than a fat kid in Florida in August. (Trust me on this one) So, again, I was going to this show because “All These Things That I’ve Done” dominates EVERY workout playlist I’ve ever put together and more importantly, my wife has been dying to see them ever since she gushed over Hot Fuss and glued her eyes to Brandon Flowers donning a pink suit on SNL.

It has now been over a week since the show and I am still somewhat amazed at how great it was.  Minus witnessing multiple women throwing up in a gargage can not ten feet away, the sights and sounds were some of the best that I have ever seen and heard in that shit box.  Overall it kind of felt like I was living the Ben Folds song “Zak and Sara.”  “I saw the lights, I saw a pale English face, some strange machine repeating beats and thumping bass, visions of pills that put you in a loving trance, that make it possible for all white boys to dance.”  It was bar none the largest production that I have ever seen in that building.  The usual basic and bare backdrop was exchanged for a Vegas show stage backlit by thousands of bright white bulbs.  Bright pink, purple and blue lights snaked around the crowd, obliterated the stage, and added an awesome visual dimension that was very welcomed by this reviewer.

All I can say about the sounds is that it was impossible knowing or not knowing the songs, the words being audible or inaudible, to not bounce along to nearly every note they played.  I found that live, The Killers music is better, more energetic and more infectious than the Swine Flu at an elementary school lunch table (sorry, it was the day news broke).  Infectious was also the fun that front man Brandon Flowers was clearly having as he moved around the stage like a sprite singing everyone’s favorite songs and melting the crowds hearts by telling them multiple times that it had been way too long since they played Milwaukee.  As good as the entire show was, they TKO’d me as they closed the set with the 1-2-3 punch that was “Read My Mind,”  “Mr. Brightside,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done.”  It was one of those smiling wtf moments.  A welcomed cluster fu@# where you are in utter amazement that they are playing all of the songs you like in a row.

NOTE TO SELF: See The Killers whenever they are within a comfortable driving distance.

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There are days that I wish that my car windows were tinted so dark that no one could peer inside.  You see.  It’s just that. My car is my sanctuary. It’s the first place that I get to road test and familiarize myself with new artists, songs, albums, etc.  And more importantly it is the most likely place that I can be found gushing like a little girl, fist pumping the steering wheel in time with a kick drum, or shredding my vocal chords as I sing along to the music that corrals my sanity.  I may just be a little weird when it comes to this.  It’s almost as if I experience the emotion and feeling of the music that then exits my body in a Joe Cocker like spaz-out whilst in traffic.  I go through a stigmatism weekly, except no marks are left on my wrist or in my side.  I merely bring this up not because I totally want to let you behind the curtain but because on Easter Sunday Reese, Gentle John, and myself were three of very few audience members at Madison’s Café Montmarte to witness Strand of Oaks pour his heart out in song. 

 

On this night, Timothy Showalter’s words and voice, pregnant with what might be the most emotion ever put to music, hung in the balance and lingered in the air long after the last note was played. During his set he told brief and comical stories to momentarily move away from the loaded content of his lyrics, like when he joked about the night’s previous performance in his hometown where he nervously played “Sister Evangeline,” a song about a failed relationship that yielded a child and a broken heart, in front of his grandmother.  Joined on stage only by the rhythm guitar work and hushed vocal echoing of his cousin, Tim glided through the majority of his first album, Leave Ruin, with a delicate and focused nature that was more than fitting as an Easter night cap.  The live version of “Dogs of War,” stripped down and bathing in its naked truths, instantly became my favorite song of his. Very soon after, similar qualities that brim from “Two Kids” returned it to its place as number one.  A back and forth battle similar to this goes on nearly every time I push play, usually ending with a different answer each listen. The autographically tragic “End in Flames,” closed the book on the set and we three music lovers were to finish our pints and head back to Milwaukee.  Only we didn’t…

 

While the rest of Madison slumbered and prepared to return to classes the next morning, Ryan from Muzzleofbees introduced Tim to Capital Brewery’s Mai Bock as we all talked about music, politics, the Midwest, and the probability of Huey Lewis & the News playing a basement show in a small town.  We got to know each other as much as we could in the short few hours that we spent together.  The only reason I bring this up is because of how it relates to the first paragraph.

 

To say Leave Ruin moves me is a bit of an understatement (see earlier post titled Music for the Harvest).  The electrical charge given off by it is enormous and has affected me since my first listen.  But I found that when I listened to track five, “New Paris,” a song purposely omitted on Easter for personal reasons on Easter, on my way to work more than a week after that glorious night, I felt my eyes begin to moisten in their corners.  And as the song built up steam and the tempo increased, I began to bob my head and stomp my feet on the floor mats as my Mazda crawled past Miller Park.  Surely onlookers may have thought I was nuts but the choice to flail that way was not my own.  The music owned me in a way that it might not have ever owned me before. 

Tip: If a band or artist that is gaining momentum or popularity but is still relatively small is playing in your area, you go.  Each and every time you go.  Because maybe, just maybe, you will amass a connection to the music that you never thought possible.  Or, maybe you’ll have a horrible time that will go down as the most forgettable night of your life.  But believe me, the small entry fee is always worth the gamble!

 

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When it was announced that Wilco would play two nights in Milwaukee to open their 2009 tour, excited doesn’t even begin describe the feelings that flooded my veins. To add to that indescribable elation, the magnificent and intimately small Pabst Theater would play host.  

Now to some there might need to be some sort of decision to be made.  Which night works best? Which night will they be more likely to “bring it”? Those questions and possible others never crossed my mind.  It was a no brainer. I wouldn’t even need to ask permission for this one. It’s Wilco. It’s Milwaukee. It’s the Pabst Theater. It’s my destiny.

Words to live by:  If a band that you like is coming to town for multiple nights, you go EVERY night. The sets will be different, the crowd will be different, and most importantly, the energy will be different.  I mean, who really wants to hear that the show that they didn’t go to was a way bigger shit kicker than the one that they did go to? Or that some rarity that has seldom been played, was, and will be now locked in the memories of those fans and those fans only because it will never be played again after that night.  These are all instances that are based on “what ifs”. And in these economic times, I’m sure that it’s hard to spend hard earned money on “what ifs”.  But if you’re me, you take the chance.  

I’ll spare you the long story about the difficulty of getting tickets and all that, ((if you want to know, leave a comment and I’ll respond) psssh)) but we managed to get both nights and we couldn’t wait. My friends and I went to our usual pre game eatery, Comet, for $1 Old Styles, soups, and sandwiches.  Anticipation mounted as the swill settled.

 Without going into a song-by-song, show by show analysis, I would have to say that both nights were quite lovely.  The first song of the tour was “The Wilco Song”, which a friend and I discussed as coming into its own, after being thought of as somewhat of a parody after being played on The Colbert Report.  The energy that filled the theater on Tuesday was unrelenting. Normally a sit down venue, the people were up and getting down for the entire evening. 

 

 As has been reported elsewhere, the material for both nights relied heavily on YHF and AGIB material, which never disappoints.  If files from these shows surface, look for outstanding takes on “Jesus, Etc.” and “Ashes of American Flags,” from night one and both from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.  These songs that are standard in the setlist, were played slightly differently and with tinges of greatness.  A consistent complaint that I have about “Jesus, Etc.” is that, when played live it fails to contain the beauty that it does on record.  Often hurried through and standard, the first night performance was garnished with some of the prettiest and layered lap steel that whined perfectly in line with Tweed’s vocals.  While Nels Cline has helmed the sacred instrument for probably every rendition of the song since joining the band, this particular version was tear jerking.  Same goes for “Ashes…” The song was played perfectly (every song was) but they added an extended outro to accent one of my favorite tracks off of that album. It was fully of heavenly effects and voiceless emotion.  On this particular evening in April, Wilco’s reputation for being labeled the American Radiohead was not quite dead nuts, but extremely visible.  

 Other highlights for night one were “Box Full of Letters,” “Via Chicago,” an inspired version of “Kingpin,” Nels Cline killing the crowd with his crazyily possessed guitar playing (think Joe Cocker with a guitar) and lead singer Jeff Tweedy sporting a Milwaukee Brewers hat for the encore.

Nels spastic axe handling. This is a perfect capture.

Nels spastic axe handling. This is a perfect capture.

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Night two, great as it was, was a lot more standard to this guy.  I’m sure people liked night two better, but in my opinion it lacked the energy of the first.  The setlist had a few repeats that were played with less gusto but the songs they didn’t play night one were great.  Highlights for night two: Waiting outside the Pabst Theater to possibly be pictured on the cover of the new Wilco record, selling both of my extra tickets, “Hell is Chrome,” “Company in my Back,” “Misunderstood,” “Forget the Flowers,” “Red Eyed and Blue,” “I Got You,” “Casino Queen,” and being in bed by midnight.  While there may be more song highlights from this night, the energy was turned down a couple of notches.  

It was amazing that Milwaukeeans got to see them two nights in a row as Milwaukee hasn’t always been a tour destination for a lot of bands.  However, with the great things that the folks over at The Pabst Theater are putting together, we’ve had some fantastic multiple night runs and tour openers.  I’d like to especially thank them for bringing great music to a hungry community.  Your work does not go unnoticed.  I’ll be spending three nights with them again this week, (Ray Lamontagne, M Ward, Neko Case).  We are surely blessed to have them around.  

Real quick. I had the luxury of borrowing my mom’s new car for another short stint down to Chicago on Monday.  Besides being an amazing performer, it still carries the satellite radio trial that made the drive an absolute blast.  I stumbled on to E Street Radio, which I’ll admit I really didn’t expect much from. I have a love/hate relationship with the Boss. Besides the fact that he’s called the Boss he made some, in my opinion, sappily mediocre albums in the eighties that made me believe he was an over hyped d-bag. “Pink Cadillac” still makes me want to vomit.  But lately, he’s churning out great album after album and my fascination with The Hold Steady has forced me reevaluate my ill feelings and listen to some of his earlier work.  So, I already knew that Born to Run is classic but the track posted above from Greetings from Asbury Park blew my mind.  The lyrics are great. The soft bass groove snakes (and is absent from the solo acoustic version) and his voice induces goosebumps. Maybe you’ll dig it too and we can empty a couple tall boys while listening to it someday.

The Last Day of Atomic!

March 15, 2009 — 2 Comments

 

Me & My Favorite Record Store

Me & My Favorite Record Store

 

Sleeping Beauty

Sleeping Beauty

 

The Lion's Final Roar

The Lion's Final Roar

I stopped by Atomic today, its last day, twice. I stopped on my way to work because I wanted to one more time feel some of the anticipation that I used have, waiting for that door to open.  It was quiet and peaceful, at rest.  Not open for 4 hours.  

I then returned after work, already knowing that the records that I had held out on were already in the clutches of someone a little less in need of a bargain than I. I wanted to look through the stacks just once more, hoping to find something rare, something I would treasure.  I wanted to breathe it in one last time, see that group of people that made shopping for music an experience.  

I had my camera along so I snapped the above pictures and a few more of the outside and in, the posters and walls, the crazed and quick fingered seekers. And I thought as I left that I would like to take a picture with Rich the owner, Mark the clerk that “is” Atomic to me, but I realized that I don’t need pictures to memorialize this. All of the sensory remembrances of Atomic Records are stored in my head.  Those will last longer.

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I can still remember August 14th, 2004 like it was yesterday.  In preparation for a major event to be held at my Wauwatosa, WI apartment, I had procured a fridge packed to the gills with Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout, and two bottles of Shiraz to go with the two giant steaks that I would make for my wife and I on that Saturday evening.  I woke up early, turned on my newly acquired XM Radio that softly serenaded me with Yo La Tengo’s “Tears are in your Eyes” and got ready to go out to breakfast with my older brother and his wife.  It was to be a major day in my life. My first conversation went something like this:

 

“What’s up man?” You’re all smiles. What’s going on?” my brother asked. 

“Phish show tonight, buddy.”

“Really? I thought you guys went to that it June?”

“Right. We did. It’s not here man. It’s in Vermont.”

“So. What’s that have to do with you?”

“It’s being broadcast on XM. I’m going to grill some steaks, drink some beers, and listen to it in my living room.”

“When’d you get satellite radio?”

“Yesterday.”

When the announcement came down that the band that was responsible for helping me to an infinite amount of fantastic experiences, took me to places that I’d have never gone without following their lead, and gifted me a relationship with music that will remain unbreakable until my final breath, was calling it quits after their August 14th & 15th shows in their home state of Vermont I dragged my feet.  Why? Easy. I had been there before. In 2000 they did the same exact thing by telling fans that the October shows at Mountain View, CA’s Shoreline Amphitheater were going to be their last for an unknown amount of time. And at this point in time I was ok with this. 

 

While Phish may have been at the top of their game, the jamband scene and the music that shook everyone in it was starting to deflate.  Other sounds picked up steam, got more interesting, and began to take control of the tasteseekers.  When I read that a new day was dawning, I was ready to awaken from the multi year dream that had kept me in a smiling and somewhat irresponsible haze.  I was ready to wipe the sleep from my eyes, wash the patchouli out of my hair, and put to work what I had learned from those years of bliss.  And it was a fairly easy transition.  Sure I missed the smiles that I had traded in for the twang, twee and philosophy that now graced my headphones but I embraced the change that acted as soundtrack to the end of my youth.  And even though those once glowing smiles were becoming smaller and less frequent, I was too entrenched in life to notice. But still I never forgot.

 

Fast forward to July 2002. Elation erupts in a Madison, WI apartment as the headline on a popular Phish webpage reads, HIATUS OVER.  Phones rang, emails were sent, jigs were jigged, and this guy couldn’t have been happier as the stone enclosing my countenance began to break.  The shows in New York and Hampton, VA that would ring in 2003 would be a fitting way to shake the shadow of adulthood that had tailed me since I left town.  Sadly, I didn’t get tickets and we didn’t go mill around town searching for entry.  Worse, I didn’t get tickets for the February show at the old Rosemont Horizon either.  But, I still gladly downloaded and burned sets from campus computers and enjoyed every minute in anticipation for that Summer’s shows at Alpine. 

 

And we went. It was sort of like old times. My wife, trooper that she is, went along even though she didn’t care for the music (on her birthday). However, the shift in scenes, music, was a trauma that made me worry that I was a caped crusader at these, to me, reunion shows. Was I putting on a costume? Did my body still house the DNA that would allow me to semi soberly enjoy this seemingly foreign thing that had once carried me to new heights? Sure, Phish still represented all that it was supposed to but it was just different. Phish had been frozen for two years and then thawed and thrown at me at a completely different stage of life. I still told myself that I loved it. And deep down I did. 

 

Another year goes by only this time I have got my bearings back. I’m ready for whatever they throw at me. I’m back in Milwaukee, loving life, and ready for Phish to command my musical universe for as long they’ll do it for me.  I spend hours downloading, burning and listening to my ever-growing collection of live shows.  Summer 2004, I am now as dialed in as I was when I was in the eye of the storm.  Alpine shows announced. Alpine tickets ordered.  Anticipation is high and adrenaline is on the rise.  And. Then. The. Announcement:

 

Last Friday night, I got together with Mike, Page and Fish to talk

openly about the strong feelings I’ve been having that Phish has run its

course and that we should end it now while it’s still on a high note.

Once we started talking, it quickly became apparent that the other guys’

feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways —

most importantly, that we all love and respect Phish and the Phish

audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the

point of vibrancy and health. We don’t want to become caricatures of

ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. By the end of the meeting, we

realized that after almost twenty-one years together we were faced with

the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in

our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.

 

So Coventry will be the final Phish show. We are proud and thrilled

that it will be in our home state of Vermont. We’re also excited for the

June and August shows, our last tour together. For the sake of clarity,

I should say that this is not like the hiatus, which was our last

attempt to revitalize ourselves. We’re done. It’s been an amazing and

incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that

you’ve shown us.

 

 

n   Trey Anastasio

 

Deflated again, and more depressed now, possibly weeping as I read the words of a man that has meant so much to me over the years. They were done.  DONE.  And now I couldn’t hold on to the possibility that they may be back. A hiatus is one thing, but if Trey says they’re done. They’re done.  So, after the tears dried and the once racing memories slowed to a crawl, I again came to terms with the decision.  There was nothing I could do but see them that June, dance my ass off and try to burn the feelings and images of that last night into my synapses forever. And. It was a damn great night of music.  So damn good that it forced me to do everything from finagling with ticket brokers, to designing a t-shirt, to writing my favorite Phish memory in an attempt to get tickets to those final two shows. And if you remember the beginning of this post, all of them failed.

 

So, on August 14th and 15th of 2004, I did exactly what I had told my brother I was going to do.  I grilled steaks, drank some beers (& wine on Sunday), burned sticks of nagchampa, and listened to every single fucking note that was played on a small XM boom box. I barely moved for those six sets except during breaks.  I don’t think I ever listened more intently in my entire life.  And when they cried on stage on that final night, I cried with them (must’ve been the wine). And when the “The Curtain With” faded to its beautiful ending, that second and final chapter of my book of Phishstory was going to be closed, ready or not, as well. 

 

So, I calloused up, packed away my memories and went back to my daily life.  Like before, never really missing them but always still thinking about them in some capacity.  Years went by, rumors (that I continually bought into) started to spread, all the while I stayed toward the back.  Never diving in headfirst, but always trying to stay abreast of the smallest possibility. And then this:

 

Phish To Play Three Concerts

Phish returns to the stage for three concerts at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia on March 6, 7 and 8, 2009.

 

 What? They were done. Weren’t they? WTF? I never actually expected this to happen, so I was hyped, but not super hyped. Excited but not overjoyed.  So, when I got my rejection letter for tickets I didn’t feel the least bit burned by the rash of noobs that would be allowed into the Hampton Coliseum on those three glorious nights.  I deleted the email and got up early on a Saturday morning in order to get tickets for Phish’s return to Alpine Valley.  Well, Live Nation didn’t make that the easiest task in the world, but I secured myself admission. 

 

Since that day, money getting lighter, other bands coming around that I HAVE to see, I have thought about ditching my tickets and giving someone else the opportunity to spend the evening with my once upon time dream weavers.  Then, Friday March 6 comes around.  I start to follow @Phish on Twitter.  “phish fluffhead” reads their first tweet and I smile at the Laundromat.  “phish Divided Sky” reads the next, as my smile gets bigger.  With each song played I start to get happier and happier, thinking that the tapes of this show cannot come fast enough.  I download the show Saturday afternoon, listen to it Sunday morning and bring a replacement for it Monday.  I told myself Monday morning that I wanted to listen to something else, fact is, when I got into my car, and Page’s solo at the end of “The Squirming Coil” hits my ears my body is completely paralyzed and unable to move.  I couldn’t come to replace Phish in my cd player Tuesday either.  I still love them.  And no matter what anyone thinks of them or the brand of music they play, they are still a large part of who I am and I wouldn’t trade any of my travels with them for the world. And I can promise that the thought of selling those tickets will never cross my mind again. 

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It is now the third month of 2009 and I already have my third favorite album of the year thus far.  I told you that I fall hard for albums in an earlier post and I will do my utter best to prove it to all ten of you loyalists.  First the bombastic and trail inducing ear candy of Meriwether Post Pavilion, then the beautifully honest and heartbreaking Leave Ruin, and now this.  Now, I don’t think that I’ll be shouting about this record from tall buildings or bridges, and I won’t even feel like a hip bastard for knowing about the gem that is Justin Townes Earle’s Midnight at the Movies before a lot of others.  Why? To tell the truth, it’s just not that type of an album.  I don’t think it calls for that type of a reaction at all.  It’s more of an album that plays on the jukebox of every wonderfully shitty bar that’s smoke filled and empty.  That’s how I encountered it. Golden.  A SMALL group of people met at a local bar, were dealt Pabst Blue Ribbon by a tattooed server, inhaled crazy amounts of carcinogens and listened as intently as possible over the uninterested but amusing backroom.  It was the perfect listening experience!  

 

My wife, upon hearing the first notes of a steel guitar and a piano at the start of track two, “What I Meant to You” said “I’ve heard this before. I have.  It sounds like something my grandparents used to listen to.”  After I momentarily and angrily chuckled at what I thought was a snide comment about my new passion, I with a (know it all) wink remarked, “EXACTLY.”  After she exited the car and went off to bury herself in PHDery, I drove out of the parking lot wondering just what it was about this music and this tall Tennessean that made me tap my foot like a grass chewing red neck and seek out every thrift store western shirt this side of the Mississippi.   And it basically comes down to one thing.  There is an absolute simplicity that bleeds into continuity behind this, and his previous record, that make them such pleasures to listen to.  Justin Townes Earle takes country music and doesn’t try to alter it. Doesn’t try to do too many configurations to it. He’s not trying to change the world by being the “next” anybody. Shit, he’s already got enough of a shadow with Townes & Earle making up 2/3 of his name to add any weight to his already hefty load. One listen may reveal slyly tossed in glitches of pop, indie rock sensibility, and even a little ragtime but in the end it all adds up to equal one hell of a country record that converts anyone that swoons even a little at the sound of a dobro or mandolin.

 

“Midnight at the Movies” opens as Earle tells a story about every wandering loner that has searched for solace in dark and dirty places that require silence and silent reflection.  “So, it’s half price, double feature, two and a quarter after seven o’clock….” His trips to the cinema come at a fair price but even though the auditorium is populated with gamblers, possible prostitutes, and pixilated celebrities, his company only illuminates the fact that he’s alone and has nothing waiting for him at home. It’s a sad song and one that normally wouldn’t fit at lead off, but he sings it with a confidence that brings you in.  Intrigues you.  Makes you want to follow him around and study his habits.  Not put him on suicide watch.  From this point on, you’re batting around.  The rest of the album plays out wonderfully mixing in toe tapping bluegrass-y numbers like “BlackEyed Suzie,” the toe stomping rag, “Walk Out” and classic country tracks like “Poor Fool” “Here We Go Again” and “Mama’s Eyes.”  Take my word for it, you definitely won’t have to worry about skipping over tracks on Midnight at the Movies.  The only time you’ll be reaching for the controls will be to play over a short and catchy ditty that’ll be stuck in your head until the day has died.  

For this post I will utilize two muses that fraternized in my headspace and produced what you are about to read. First, I recently watched a film, The Wackness, that’s subject matter and accompanying music teleported me back to my suburban upbringing as a mild teenage miscreant with an affinity for urban compositions.  The soundtrack was filled with A Tribe Called Quest, Notorious B.I.G., and Raekwon, doing many of the tracks that carried me through an awkward 1994.  Now while I’ll still occasionally toss old school hip hop in my stereo or spin some vintage sounds on my turntable when I need to get in a groove, I don’t embrace nearly enough the music that kept me up Friday nights listening to the hip hop block on WMSE or watching EPMD & Slick Rick videos on YO! MTV Raps.  This music was my escape and my agitator.  Even though I didn’t experience or understand half of the shit in a TOO $HORT rap, listening to it gave a swaggerless kid a swagger and made me feel a way that nothing else could.  And plus, as an adolescent with a Grand Canyon sized conscience, it was a half-assed way to piss people off without consequences (well there was that Public Enemy shirt that got me suspended in the fifth grade but, meh, that was nothing).

Second, I read an article in GQ titled, “The Last Record Store” that reinforced the overwhelming sadness and loss that I feel for small independent record stores (including my lifelong favorite, Atomic Records) that are slowly vaporizing in our communities due to the convenience of a mouse click or tap on the old track pad.  There will always be a sense of being and comfort that one gets from the stale smell of used record jackets or long haired clerks that are sometimes treasures chest of knowledge and other times arrogant pricks that silently think you’re a sentimental douche bag for bringing the latest Shins record to the counter.  But nonetheless that exchange will be completely lost when we are all forced to purchase or download our music online. So, after these different mediums acquainted themselves and commingled for a while, I remembered some exchanges that I had with record store clerks that I will never forget.

I might post more of these exchanges randomly but the first and most relevant incident occurred in or around 1994 when I was shopping at an area mall with my aunt and uncle.  Not trying to handcuff the “angry” youth that my sneer projected, they let me go off by myself and gave me a set time to meet them at the food court. Happier than hell to be able to go off on my own, I ran to the “tape” store to spend the Andrew Jackson that was earned mowing my grandmother’s lawn the day before and burning an enormous hole in my pocket.  I recall that this particular day that I must’ve looked through every tape in the store.  I remember seriously pondering the Michael and Janet Jackson duet “Scream” for minutes.  But I suppose my vast amount of time spent pulling out plastic cassette tape protectors wasn’t all that strange.  For those that have shopped for music with me, know that its like shopping for beer with me, I have to see everything on the shelf before I spend a dime. Glancing down at my watch I noticed that I had nearly spent the entire hour and a half already and I had a handful of tapes that needed to be dwindled down to two.  While I don’t remember every tape, I do remember the final three.  An album that pumped testosterone into the football locker room before games and practices my freshman year, Candlebox’s self-titled debut.  An album containing a song that I mistakenly thought was titled “Hearts and Thoughts that Fade”, one of the catchiest songs of the year and still one of my favorites, Pearl Jam’s Vs.  And an invigorating hip hop album with a hot single that breaks down that acronym that is its title, Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). 

I don’t know why I remember the Candlebox album because I didn’t end up buying it.  However, I do remember the others mainly because I recall the dude behind the counter laughing at me after I asked if “Hearts and Thoughts that Fade” was on the Pearl Jam album followed by his refusal to sell me the Wu- Tang album that I had tactfully placed “Parental Advisory” side down. “Yeah it’s on there man. It’s called ‘Elderly Woman…though.  And dude.  I can’t sell you this.  What are you 12? Sorry man.”   As a baby blemish faced kid of 14, I didn’t have the nerve or wit to give’m hell, or tell him what a dick that I thought he was.   So I walked away, head down and teary eyed, back over to the Michael & Janet single display rack. I stood there for what must’ve been an eternity. I picked up and put down that shitty recording (M&J) about thirty times, while my foot, like a pendulum, glided back and forth over the carpet.  After an approximate 15 minutes, the asshole clerk that was taking advantage of the only power he had in this world, called me back over the counter.

 “Hey, you’ve obviously got decent taste in music because you’re buying Vs.  I’d rather you buy a Pavement tape instead of that other shit but I suppose I won’t stop you.  I mean, if you don’t spend your money here you could just have someone buy it for you elsewhere or worse, DUB it. That’ll be $8.”

I don’t think I spoke a word to him.  I was scared that I would say something that would make him take his gift back.  I was also too in shock and too thrilled that I would be listening to nothing but C.R.E.A.M. for the next two weeks straight (I did and remember going to baseball practice singing the chorus the next day).

Thanks record store guy!  Thanks for a memory that iTunes or a torrent couldn’t provide.

I’d like to say another HUGE thank you to Atomic Records for providing me with rare music, awesome memories and the ideal record store experience for so many years.    You’ve made music shopping a pure joy and are probably a big reason why I love music so much. Thanks Rich and the numerous members of Team Atomic over the years.  You will be so incredibly missed.  Only good thing for me is, at least now when I buy records elsewhere I’ll no longer feel the painful guilt of unfaithfulness.