Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Foo Fighters Being Awesome

The Foo Fighters are my son's favorite band.  When it was announced they were coming to Kansas City, I was able to get three of my firm's Founder's Club VIP tickets at Sprint Center, i.e., really good seats.  I pulled them from a blue interoffice mail envelop (an important detail later on) to show him and then put them safely on top of the pantry.  Months passed. Finally, Friday September 16, 2011 arrived.  About an hour before we were to leave, my wife warned me "make sure you have the tickets."

"I know exactly where they are," I said. I continued to dork around about thirty more minutes because I knew where they were.  As we were about to sit down to a quick dinner, I reached up for the tickets and, sure enough, they were nowhere to be found. Shit. I began a frantic search. If I had moved them, I was drawing an utter blank as to where.

With a slight I-told-you-so-tone, she asked me "are you sure that's where you put them? I don't remember ever seeing concert tickets there." I kept looking and freaking out. I had no clue. After twenty minutes of searching everywhere, she overheard me asking my son if he had seen them and describing the blue envelop.

"Blue envelop?" she asked.

"Yes, a blue firm interoffice mail envelop.  That's what they came in." Silence.

"Oh my God." She looked stricken.  "I put it out with the recycling.  I thought it was just trash."  Fuck. I felt sick, as did she. My son was heartbroken. Then my wife reminded me they were VIP tickets and asked whether there was anyone I could call. I vaguely recalled see contact information in an email and dug through by inbox until I found it.  In minutes, we had new tickets waiting for us at the will call window.

It's a good thing too, because the Foos put on an amazing show.  "We're not like those other bands that play and hour an half set," Dave Grohl announced to an ecstatic crowd.  "We don't fuck around." And they didn't.  Over the next two and a half hours, they plowed through a twenty five or so long set list.  I don't think I've ever seen a band play with more energy, nor one which seems to so genuinely appreciate their audience. Toward the end, they segued into the opening riff of  "Breakdown" as Grohl disappeared into the mosh pit to retrieve a stunned female fan. "I don't know this girl," he told us. "But wherever we play, I can look down and I see her face." She turned out to be French and indeed follows the Foos around the world. After serenading her with some Tom Petty, Grohl remarked how great it is to have such devoted fans.  "And a little creepy," he added.

Speaking of creepy, Friday may also be remembered for the Foos coming outside before the show to perform "Keep it Clean" in response to the mouth-breathing asshat protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church.  Well played, sirs.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Incoming Wilco

When Uncle Tupelo split up, I felt like I was friends with a divorced couple and sort of had to choose which one I was going to keep hanging around.  At first, I thought Jay Farrar was my divorce buddy.  Son Volt's debut, the magnificent Trace, took UT's pioneering alt country sound one step further, while Wilco's first effort, AM, seemed like more of a digression for his former band mate Jeff Tweedy, as he was trying to find his way. I still love Son Volt (and think that Farrar's work with Ben Gibbard on One Fast Move or I'm Gone was brilliant), but I have to hand it to Tweedy.  Like a latter day R.E.M., he has guided Wilco from indie darling to perhaps one of the most important and enduring contemporary American bands.

Tweedy also has a pretty wicked sense of humor.  At a recent Chicago book release party, his solo acoustic cover of the nauseatingly buoyant "I've Got a Feeling" wasn't exactly snark-free nor a parody.  It was just funny as hell.

Wilco's latest effort, The Whole Love, is due out in stores September 23rd.  I missed the forty-eight hour live stream preview, but judging from the first single off the album, the rocking "I Might," this could be Wilco's strongest work since YHF.

Wilco - I Might by antirecords

Even better, Wilco will be appearing at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on December 3rd.  

Sunday, September 11, 2011

When Music Really Matters

This bright and beautiful fall day is eerily like that Tuesday morning ten years go, both here and, as far as I can tell, in New York too. We all have our own vivid, awful memories of the events of that day. We remember where we were and what we were doing the moment we heard the news. With ambivalent thanks to television, a great many of us watched in disbelief, then horror, as it happened, even as we also witnessed incredible acts of courage and kindness.

Perhaps inevitably, 9/11 inspired a great many songs. Some were angry and jingoistic ("Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue" or "Welcome to Hell"), many others were mournful and reflective (Leonard Cohen's "On This Day" and "When New York Had Her Heart Broke" by John Hiatt). Not all of the 9/11 songbook is good, but almost all of it is cathartic to a degree.  It could be because my wife's father, brother and brother-in-law are all fire fighters, but for me, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" best shows the undeniable power of music to let us grieve at the same time it heals our wounds.  It reminds me time and again why music really does matter; why we need it. There's simply nothing I can say, nor anyone else through garden variety prose, that comes close to this:

Friday, September 9, 2011

Writing the Killer Love Song

Of all the subjects in popular song, romantic love is bar far the most common. Partly for this reason, it's very difficult to write love songs that aren't cliche ridden, sentimental tripe or both.  I can't seem to do it.  The closest I seem to have come is "She Loves Me Still," which is more of a creepy stalker song.  There's just no way a tune like that will get you laid.

It's a good thing I came across this absolutely awesome tutorial video on how to write a killer love song. Here's Australia's Axis of Awesome showing us how it is done. Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Artist of the Week Exacta

I'm a bit ambivalent about Texas. On the one hand, it has produced some amazing artists, writers and musicians and brought us Austin City Limits as well as SWSX. On the other, the right hand as it were, it's also the state that elected George W. Bush and, as if to drive home the point that intellect can only stand in the way of public office, Rick Perry. Be that as it may, there's simply no denying Texas is also home to an impressive array of highly influential songwriters, including folks like Willie Nelson, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Michelle Shocked and Robert Earl Keen, as well as an untold number of obscure but first-rate artists playing in countless bars and coffee houses in Austin alone.

Obscurity, should not be an issue for Havilah Rand.  Rand's eclectic sound blurs the edges of folk, pop and country much in the same way as Shawn Colvin. Her voice, always distinctive, is also superbly flexible and allows Havilah to work comfortably within a striking number of styles and influences, including Latin inflected jazz  ("Under My Clothes"), folk and Americana ("Telephone Pole") and straight-ahead rockers ("Low Down").  Havilah's latest CD Bengalese Butterflies is available now and is definately worth picking up.  Also, she will be touring away from Austin some this fall, so if you're in Southern Cal, New Mexico or Colorado, you really shouldn't miss her.

Additional props to the Lone Star State for giving us the splendid Town Walsh.  Walsh reminds me very much of a young Steve Earle (Guitar Town era), producing a blend of country tinged rock with vivid story telling and clever, literate lyrics.  There's also a rough-hewn Tom Petty quality in Walsh's voice that I find incredibly listenable and lacking in so much of the overproduced tripe coming out of music city.  Every song I've heard so far is standout, but  "Cold Light of Day" is awesome good.  About the morning after a regrettable hookup, the song eschews the honky tonk temptation to poke fun and instead empathizes, giving the poignant story serious emotional heft. There are too many great lines in that song to even repeat, so you're just going to have to buy Walsh's new album Shame the Devil for yourself. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Changing Tunes

This month's issue of Acoustic Guitar Magazine features a splendid Richard Thompson interview in which he discusses how alternate tunings can provide new inspiration and ideas for your songwriting.  Other than dorking around with Open G in learning Rolling Stones songs, I've never really explored the possibilities of using, say, the celtic drone of Modal D tuning as the basis for a song. It sounded like something worth trying, so I tuned to Drop D and started noodling. 

Sure enough, after a few minutes, I had a melody and a couple of verses about a guy watching the girl he loves getting married to someone else.  After a few rewrites, the guy became someone who may be a little crazy and who has convinced himself that the bride really wants him.  Through his eyes, when she cries at her wedding, it's not because she's happy, but because "she loves me still." Yet, as he also converses with angles, it's not entirely clear that she even knows him, making the ending bittersweet and/or our protagonist a fairly creepy stalker. Anyway, a demo of "She Loves Me Still" is here. I hope you like it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

What Matters

Eighteen years ago today my eldest son was born. Holy cow that went fast.  Older and wiser parents used to warn me of this and tell me to "enjoy" the younger years, which implies you can somehow slow time. I think the better term is savor. Every birthday is bittersweet in a way. Milestones come and go in a blur--first steps, themed birthday parties, herding bunches of kids a/k/a "coaching" soccer, teaching him to drive, his first speeding ticket, his second one..... fixing his speeding tickets.

I think being a teenager is much more complicated than when I was a kid. My son's generation grew up with hectic activity calenders, carefully planned by parents with corporate efficiency, leaving them less time to fart off and just be kids. Between the lure of video games and our fear of child predation, they played outside far less than we did. They've never known the world without the Internet, instant news cycles and an encyclopedia of information at your fingertips. He was eight years old on 9/11. He'll likely never know a world without the looming specter of terrorism. We've been a nation at war more than half of his life.

He's also facing daunting obstacles to the next "stages" of life that I didn't. My first semester tuition at the University of Kansas in 1980 was $256.00. Today. it's approaching $20k or more. College students are racking up enormous debt only to enter the worst job market in decades. Rather than feeling excited about their future, my son and his peers are just hoping they find a way to get by.

I know these things and he does too. But he plays things pretty close to the vest. He hates to talk about college or contemplate life much beyond the next week. He feels helpless and gets angry at times. As parents we found this a source of frustration until it dawned on me that he's scared shitless. It remains frustrating, but the more I think about it I can't really blame him.

During a bit of family drama a few weeks ago, I starting writing a song that began as a kind of parental rant. The first verse played off the line "you don't give a fuck about anything," and I felt guilty almost as soon as I wrote it down. But as the song took shape it started to change. I wasn't consciously trying to write about the stuff in this post, but it turns out I did.