Sunday, June 27, 2010

Urbana Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival

This Friday and Saturday, the sons of a lot of famous blues musicians rolled into town for the Urbana Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival. In addition, there were five or six different establishments offering barbecue, and there was cheap beer outside and good beer inside -- but I never made it inside.

On Friday night, Big Bill Morganfield was the middle of three acts to play on the main stage in the evening. The son of Muddy Waters, Big Bill Morganfield only started playing the blues after his father's death -- raised by his grandmother in Florida, he started his professional career as a schoolteacher. He played mostly originals -- at one point hushing an audience request by saying, "How 'bout I play you something that I wrote?"

Big Bill's band had some good chops. Clark Stern on piano took some particularly notable solos (although he sometimes needed to warm up into them) and, when he really got hot, appeared to be playing the keyboard with a karate chop! Doc Malone was also blowing pretty hard on the harp, although the timbre of the guitar and the harmonica were very similar in the mix, which diminished the ability of the solos to really stand out. That said, I never quite felt like they got into the pocket and so the set stayed a little shy of really drawing me in.

For dinner on Saturday, it was a pulled pork sandwich from Bliss Barbecue in Charleston, Illinois. The pork was pretty well smoked but not melt-in-your-mouth tender. In part, I made the mistake of not putting enough sauce on the sandwich.

Bernard Allison closed out the night on main stage. Wearing a blue track suit, he moved around stage with a lot of energy -- a contrast to the classic stationary bluesman grimace with which Big Bill Morganfield played. The set was energetic, but the members of the band didn't stand out quite as much as those from Big Bill Morganfield's band.

On Saturday, I headed back over to the festival grounds -- two blocks from my apartment -- for lunch.

Lunch was from Louie's BBQ -- a catering outfit that doesn't have a restaurant. Their pulled pork sandwich was good -- the pork had some nice spice to it, helped out by the mix of tangy and hot sauces that I put on it, and the bun was just the right kind -- but they were relying on some sort of oil (which got all over my hands), which kind of breaks the barbecue rulebook, I think: they achieved their tastiness using means beyond the smoker, in other words.

The band that was playing at 12:30 on Saturday afternoon to a rather small crowd (the picture makes it look worse than it was -- people were seated in the shade off to the side) was the Blues Deacons (misspelled on the official schedule as the Blues Decons -- I thought perhaps they were a bunch of Derridists, but no, that was not the case).

These guys were playing to a small crowd, but they were playing all out. A trio of guitar, bass and drums, they had a sound that was equal to a five-piece -- a testament to what can be done if you get the right tone on your amplifier. (Indeed, I thought of Andy Bean's collegiate quest for "perfect tone" -- back before he traded in his electric guitar for a four-string banjo.) They were playing high-energy, raw-sounding tunes -- it was solid stuff by which to eat a sandwich. Then I split to watch the USA go down to Ghana in the World cup.

Coming back in the evening, Wayne Baker Brooks put on a set with a little too much P-Funk going on in the bass line. When they played a Howlin' Wolf tune, it was interesting to hear the ways in which the rawer sound of the original were just much more compelling that the glossy sheen that comes from bands playing today.

I went and grabbed a pulled pork sandwich from Po' Boys BBQ. Served on white bread, rather than a roll, it was a little bit messy. I liked the sauce that was on the sandwich but found the meat a little undersmoked: it tasted more like pork that had been cooked and then shaved rather than smoked and then pulled apart.

Waiting for John Lee Hooker Jr.'s set to start, I got to see the harmonica player from the Kilborn Alley Blues Band doing a solo set out on the midway. He was working it! Blowing away on the harp and sometimes switching to a second, high-pitched harp, while pounding out the rhythm on a kick drum, this was good blues music. He had a funny patter that showed up in between musical phrases, and a nice crowd gathered around him to hear and see.

John Lee Hooker Jr. came out on stage and was distinctly not his father: no guitar, no "Boom Boom" -- armed with a microphone and a funky backing band, he played music that was more original than some of the other acts at the festival, even as it stretched beyond the boundaries of the blues. There was a dose of hip-hop; there was some Gil Scott Heron-style messaging; there was some more appropriate P-Funk bass. I dug what he was trying to do, although when I finished my commemorative mug full of beer, I decided that I had dug enough and headed home.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dad's Life

I just took a coffee break with my colleague Gisela, and she introduced me to this little gangsta-style number:

Monday, June 14, 2010

New Devo CD

I arrived in Sao Paulo on Saturday morning -- early on Saturday morning -- checked into my hotel, flipped on the ol' MTV (actually VH1, I think), and wham! there was Devo singing "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" from 1978's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!.

Since the commercial gods act with purpose -- I think -- it turns out that Devo actually has a new CD out -- their first in 20 years.

Ben Ratliff, though, is not a fan:
Devo’s new album, its first in 20 years, sounds as if were made by people who want to sound like Devo between 1981 and 1984 but can’t use the original music because they don’t have the licenses.


[T]he music has no spark. If “Something for Everyone” doesn’t quite achieve the level of facelessness of “Smooth Noodle Maps,” the band’s previous record, it comes close. Its hooks are wilted, and its lyrics run over with clich├ęs and canned memes from news and television....


In that spirit I suggest you stay away from this record.
Well, then...

Since I'll follow Ben's advice and stay away from the record, let me observe that the video for "Satisfaction" is a pretty good one -- I'm sure that I've seen it at some point in my life, but I enjoyed its playful interpretation of the Stones' lyrics. It's also interesting to think about Q: Are We Not Men? having come out in 1978 and then the breakthrough video for "Whip It!" not having come out until 1980 -- such a two-year delay soon became unimaginable (although some late-breaking hit stories do exist).

And finally, I can't help but think fondly of a day back in 2002 where I was sitting in a line outside of Madison Square Garden all day in advance of a U2 show -- hoping to be relatively close to Edge's feet (and indeed eventually having that dream fulfilled). As people walked by, they would say, "Why are you all sitting here?" And often we would say, "To see U2," but I, to amuse myself, would sometimes lie. And I'll always remember the gleam in the eye of the dreadlocked gentleman in a business suit who took the bait that I offered and said, "Devo? Like 'Whip It!' Devo? They're having a reunion concert? Wow!" And that's how rumors are born...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Buddy Guy Getting the Blues about The Blues

From an article in the New York Times:
When [Buddy] Guy arrived [in Chicago] in 1957, it was the heyday of Chess Records, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and there seemed to be a blues venue — like the 1815 Club, Theresa’s, the Blue Flame Lounge — on every other corner. Some were no more than tiny rooms that could fit 35 people if no one took a deep breath.


“Pre-integration, the black community was a lot more vibrant,” [musician Lincoln T. Beauchamp] said. “Along 47th Street and Cottage Grove, you had a community that was able to sustain itself, and the blues and jazz clubs were part of it, not just socially but also politically.”

“Now, as gentrification takes place and the neighborhoods crumble,” Mr. Beauchamp said, the social fabric changes and the clubs disappear. “You’ll probably never again see the same kind of deep, soulful pulse coming from the neighborhoods, because the neighborhoods aren’t there anymore.”


Bruce Iglauer, president and founder of Alligator Records, a major blues and roots record label, said he had watched the blues in Chicago become a tourist attraction — sanitized, prepackaged music for “middle-aged white people who discovered it during college,” he called it.
I always think of the scene in The Blues Brothers where Maxwell Street is full of people, first, listening to John Lee Hooker and, then, dancing to Ray Charles and the Blues Brothers Band. Thanks to the University of Illinois at Chicago, that street scene is no longer there.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Mountain Stage: Folk Families Editions

Mountain Stage this past week has been putting together brief shows of recordings featuring related (or formerly related) people who maybe would not necessarily appear on stage together today.

So for instance, you can hear Loudon Wainwright III with Lucy Wainwright Roche, followed by Lucy's mother Suzzy Roche singing as one-third of the Roches, followed by Loudon's other daughter Martha Wainwright, followed by Martha's mother Kare McGarrigle singing with her sister Anna. (Did you get all that?)

Or you can hear Richard Thomspon, followed by his son Teddy singing with his mother Linda and then some solo Teddy. That's slightly less convoluted, but to label the show "The Thomspon Family" makes this blogger raise his eyebrow just a bit.

Note in "Dimming of the Day," the lyrical switch that Linda makes.

In the original version of the song from Pour Down Like Silver, the lyrics are

What days have come to keep us far apart?
A broken promise or a broken heart?

In this performance, Linda sings instead

What days have come to keep us far apart?
A broken promise and my broken heart?

Whoa! First time I've heard that. Does anyone know if that's how she commonly sings the verse?

(For more on Lucy Wainwright Roche's awesomeness, see here. For more on Richard and Linda Thompson, see here.)

(HT: Beth Popp.)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Cleveland Tourism Video Take II

Back in January, I called your attention to a funny little tourism video made for Cleveland.


(HT: Cleveland native Bonnie Weir.)

Avant Gaga

According to Steve Smith, writing in the New York Times,
Judy Kang, a Canadian violinist[, is] most likely the only musician to have worked with both Pierre Boulez (during his 2005 Manhattan School of Music residency) and Lady Gaga (in her current touring band)."
Awesome! Can anyone out there challenge the claim?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Irving Plaza to be Called Irving Plaza Again!

Hooray for this welcome piece of news! (Not that I -- or most people that I know -- ever stopped calling it Irving Plaza.)

Neuroscience of Music

According to Aniruddh D. Patel -- as interviewed here -- the fact that this bird can dance is quite impressive. And to really see if the bird was responding to the beat of the music, scientists altered the tempo of the music over 10 times to see if Snowball -- that's the bird -- would adapt to the changed beat: he did!

Apparently, cats and dogs do not do this. Just parrots.

So Patel speculates:
What do humans have in common with parrots? Both species are vocal learners, with the ability to imitate sounds. We share that rare skill with parrots. In that one respect, our brains are more like those of parrots than chimpanzees. Since vocal learning creates links between the hearing and movement centers of the brain, I hypothesized that this is what you need to be able to move to beat of music.
And for grant-seeking academics forced to use euphemisms, he also tells this story:
One of the founders of this field, Dr. Robert Zatorre, before 2000, he never used the word music in a grant application. He knew it would get turned down automatically because people thought this was not scientific. Instead, he used terms like “complex nonlinguistic auditory processing.”

Countertenors vs. Jay Leno

In an article about the singing group Chanticleer, Chloe Veltman reported this little dust-up from the end of last year:
A few days after Jay Leno had seen the all-male a cappella ensemble Chanticleer singing Christmas songs on the “Today” show [sic] last December, he poked fun at it during the monologue on his own show. After asking his audience if it had ever heard of the group (a voice offstage answered no), Mr. Leno showed a clip of group members singing, and then cut to a shot of himself in white tie, holding a score and singing in falsetto.

Within a few days the group had created a tongue-in-cheek vocal tribute to Mr. Leno, which it posted on YouTube.
The video can be found here.

What is really shocking to me about the whole thing actually is how few people watched the video after the New York Times story. Veltman reports, "The video has received almost 18,000 views to date." Well, it's four days later, and the tally is at ... 18,269.