Wednesday, December 19th, 2012 | musiX | No Comments
16. Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE (Def Jam)
17. Spiritualized – Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)
18. Fellwoods – Wulfram (At War With False Noise)
19. KISS – Monster (Universal Music Group)
20. Baroness – Yellow & Green (Relapse Records)
Don Kirshner—”The Man With the Golden Ear”—had his hands in all things rock ‘n’ roll since the ’50s, working with songwriters from New York’s fabled Brill Building, who in turn provided some of the early hits for The Monkees. He later helped provide the tunes for the Archies ‘toons.
But Kirshner, at least for me, will always be known as the driving force (if not the simply the name) behind Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert. The show, which ran from 1973 to 1981, shirked the typical pre-recorded lip-synced performances in favor of gritty live performances from a wide range of artists including Sly & the Family Stone, the Ramones, KISS, UFO, Ike & Tina, Sparks, George Harrison, Weather Report, Brian Ferry … wow.
Kirshner died yesterday from heart failure at the age of 76.
I leave you with this 1975 performance from Black Sabbath on Rock Concert, which you gotta think scared the bejesus out of America. Just listen to Tony Iommi’s guitar tone, for fuck’s sakes.
Sunday, December 20th, 2009 | musiX, pdX | 12 Comments
Seems like it was only yesterday that I was cobbling together the TDoL best of 2008. Yes, time flies when you’re old and surly. And, yes, I know year-end lists are everywhere, cliché, overdone and a dime a dozen—but I do love them so.
These lists are difficult to make, too. I mean who has time to really absorb a full record when you’re being bombarded with hundreds of albums and mp3s? It was chore to make a list that exorcised both my discerning (wax-clogged) ear and my (beer-besotted) gut—the “I can see what this artist is trying to do here” versus the “this fucking rules and I’m going to sing it at the top of my lungs in my car/boxers” if you will. I prefer the latter—less thinking involved.
The following is a semi-in-depth look at what I liked about music in 2009 … in list form. It’s a magical place where good and evil coexist, where big, dumb rock mingles with smarty-pants indie, a place where it’s Christmas year-round. But before we get down to it, I’d like to present to you the following pre-list list.
Thing(s) to do after reading the TDoL Best of 2009:
1. Leave your own list in the comments.
2. Harshly ridicule and mock my list, also in the comments.
3. Praise my list for its fine taste and heterogeneousness.
4. Tweet/tell your friends to read it and do the same.
5. Explain to me what the hell heterogeneousness means.
6. Click on the album cover to purchase.
7. Note there is no Animal Collective on this list …
8. … or Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
9. But there is a KISS on my list.
10. Thank you for reading.
After years of wrestling with major label politics and personal demons—all of which led to members taking a two-year hiatus—The Mother Hips came back to release one of their best albums in 2007′s Kiss the Crystal Flake. Pacific Dust feels like its sister record, the Hips again playing to their strengths—gorgeous Bee Gees-inspired harmonies, pop hooks, country licks and the occasional Sabbathian riff. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Mother Hips are criminally underrated.
“Young Charles Ives” – The Mother Hips
I’m still trying to figure out how Mastodon became so popular among non-metalheads … though they aren’t your typical metal band. With Crack the Skye Mastodon has created a sweeping monster of a record that piles riffs on top of mind-bending prog passages. It’s as beautiful as it is brutal, sort of like Tool. And I guess if hipsters are listening to Mastodon, it means less time spent doting on Merriweather Post Pavilion and It’s Blitz … which is never a bad thing.
“Divinations” – Mastodon
Led by lanky guitar-whiz Andrea Genevieve, Purple Rhinestone Eagle strings together mighty riffs that crackle over the rib-rattling rhythm section of Morgan Ray Denning and Ashley Spungin. Amorum Tali (Talons of Love) stands firmly at the intersection between San Francisco flower power and Birmingham doom, especially on “Walk With the Wizard.” Add the fact that the lyrics often touch on deeper social and political issues and you have an incredibly potent rock machine.
“Walk With the Wizard” – Purple Rhinestone Eagle
The Thermals’ Kill Rock Stars debut doesn’t quite match the barbed nastiness of 2006′s The Body, the Blood, the Machine—it’s still intense, however, as guitarist/vocalist Hutch Harris reflects on his time on Earth after offing himself in the very first song. Now We Can See is a polished piece of wicked pop punk—songs are more refined, hooks sharper. And it took only, what, three releases for bassist Kathy Foster to finally lay down some backing vocals? Now we can hear!
“I Let It Go” – The Thermals
Surrogate hails from Chico, Calif., touring only occasionally and putting out some incredible pop records on a label that puts out some incredibly god-awful records. Multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Keene has come into his own after playing hired gun in his previous band Number One Gun, writing smart, earnest, well-produced indie rock that should make fans of Nada Surf take notice. Keene’s influences are all over the map, but it only takes one spin to make Popular Mechanics feel like home.
“Whiskey (Vomiting Words)” – Surrogate
Well, hand it to Jeff Tweedy and Co. for coming up with their most experimental album title in 2009. So the music within doesn’t come anywhere near the eclecticism of masterstroke Yankee Hotel Foxtrot —it’s simply another tried-and-true batch of songs that further cements Tweedy as one of the great tunesmiths of his generation. And musical wunderkinds Glenn Kotche and Nels Cline again show magnificent restraint. I just like that Wilco continues to simply do what comes natural.
“Country Disappeared” – Wilco
Screaming Females got a lot of play at TDoL this year, usually in my car as I was being transformed into a screaming male. The aptly-titled Power Move is a fuzzed-out, riff-laden rock ‘n’ roll that shrewdly pulls from each of the last four decades. The highlight, of course, is Marissa Paternoster, the band’s 5-foot-2 guitar goddess who cranks out noodly solos over an air-tight rhythm section. Album opener “Bell” shows that, as is the case with most shredders, it’s usually the riffs that really scream.
“Bell” – Screaming Females
What strikes me most about Portland’s WEINLAND, is the Jekyll and Hyde they pull with their recordings and live shows. Although Breaks In the Sun comes from less of a dark place than 2008′s La Lamentor, there’s still a calmness and beauty to it. Adam Shearer’s hushed vocals are the centerpiece, floating through emotionally-charged country folk songs brimming with pop hooks. Live WEINLAND transforms into a gritty bar band that would probably buy you a beer. It’s rather impressive.
“Autumn Blood” – WEINLAND
It’s unfortunate that Greg Cartwright is known only by weirdos who still like to spend hours scouring dusty bins for records by dead people. Love and Curses is the North Carolina quartet’s first record of new material since 2004, and big guitars and swirly organ still rule here. Cartwright’s voice is a little more ragged this time around, but he sure knows how to convey tenderness and despair whether he’s representing the everyman or a jilted lover. Yes, everyone should listen to more dead people.
“The Bells” – Reigning Sound
Chaim Witz and Stanley Eisen made good on their promise to deliver a klassik KISS album, and the former’s songs are the best of the bunch … don’t tell him I said that. Sonic Boom is one kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll party loaded with sexual innuendo, cheesy lyrics (I’m talking Easy Cheese between two slices of Velveeta sprinkled with Cheetos), riffs, cowbells, ripping guitar solos, walking basslines and anthemic choruses. Attn. hipsters: Wouldn’t it be totally ironic if you played this at your next party?
A holiday album on a year-end list? Take away the snow, Santa and menorahs and you’re left with some damn catchy songs with Brit pop jangle and Beach Boys harmonies. The hardest working band in snow business plows through classics as well as a few equal-opportunity originals like “Hanukkah Mambo!” and “Christmastime Is Here (Again!).” And I’ve been listening to it non-stop since August … which means either I’m weird, or it’s just that good. Probably a little of both.
“Christmastime Is Here (Again!)” – The Yule Logs
Bodhi’s influences are as clear as day—Bowie, The Stooges, Gary Numan—yet they manage to end up sounding like nobody but Bodhi. “Kids Are So Nice” is a fine slice from MTV’s early days when new wave, Nina Blackwood (and videos) ruled. Brian Carr’s voice is the glue that holds the myriad influences in place, even when the band decides to throw a new wave country song into the mix (“Bystander”). Went from 0 to No. 4 on my year-end in less than three weeks.
“Kids Are So Nice” – Bodhi
“Shooting Star” grabbed me before I even knew who Harper Simon’s pops was. Simon’s debut is a love letter to Nashville. He recorded there, recruited producer Bob Johnston (Nashville Skyline) as well as noteworthy Nashville musicians including pedal steel player Lloyd Green (Sweetheart of the Rodeo). Not surprisingly, he ended up with a beautiful, warm country record. Simon can’t help but sometimes sound like his father Paul—not a bad thing unless, of course, we’re talking about Graceland.
“Shooting Star” – Harper Simon
Boy-girl harmonies, jangly guitars and hooks up the wazoo (which is less painful than it sounds) reign throughout the New York quartet’s debut. As guitarist/vocalist Kip Berman explained to TDoL earlier this year: “I feel that pop is so wonderfully broad a style of music that you could never ever get bored or fully exhaust it—it’s infinite.” With all the press that TPoBPaH received in 2009, it’s nice to know that they aren’t interested in resting on their laurels. Hell, they might actually be in this for the long haul.
“Young Adult Friction” – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
In The Red put out some incredible records this year from King Khan and BBQ Show, Reigning Sound and Thee Oh Sees, but nothing grabbed me as immediately as the debut from Austin, Texas’ The Strange Boys. The combination of chops, songs and enigmatic confidence made these young(ish) boys sound well beyond their years. The band doesn’t go for lo-fi or silly garage-rock aesthetics, instead churning out no-nonsense, R&B-fueled rock ‘n’ roll that falls somewhere between Meet the Beatles! and Bob Dylan’s Newport Folk Festival performance. Guitarist/vocalist Ryan Sambol coyly unleashes his general disaffection through nasally vocals, while jangly guitars and a booming rhythm section crank out the soundtrack for a misfits sock hop. Effortless and fun. Come to think of it, the only thing lo-fi about The Strange Boys might be the album’s cover. But who really looks at those anymore?
“This Girl Taught Me a Dance” – The Strange Boys
The Best of the Rest of the Best …
Bitte Orca – Dirty Projectors
Paint the Fence Invisible – Drug Rug
To Be Still – Alela Diane
Rose City – Viva Voce
Survival Strategies in a Modern World – Liechtenstein
Friday, December 18th, 2009 | musiX | No Comments
So Jann Wenner and his rock ‘n’ roll boys club have again slammed the door on KISS, denying the band entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Lame this year after they received their first nomination. Well, at least John Cougar is in there.
On another note, TDoL’s year-end list—which I’m told is far more influential than any Hall of Fame—comes to you on Monday. Hint: Jann Wenner did not make the cut.
Friday, November 20th, 2009 | musiX | 2 Comments
The Smelly Tongues, Garth Brooks, Freddie Frehley, The Melvins, Metallkvartetten, Anthrax, The Hard-Ons, Lenny Kravitz, Motörhead, Aced Out, The Lemonheads, Scooter, Pansy Division, Nashville Pussy, Megadeth, Skin Yard, Pantera, Iced Earth, The Replacements, Clean Cut Plan & the Mobile Whorehouse, Metallica, Ace In the Pole, Maki Nomiya, Skid Row, Hayseed Dixie, Girlschool, The Donnas, Nirvana, Motorpsycho & Dag Ingebrigtsen, Spaceman Spiff, Death, Golden Showers, Dinosaur Jr., The Moog Cookbook, Kvikksølvguttene, Foo Fighters, Chamarras Negra, Red House Painters, Die Ärzte, No Use For a Name, Gin Blossoms, Good Riddance, Jonah, Metal Morfosis, Me First & the Gimme Gimmes, Hellacopters, Entombed, The Huckleberrys, Cher, Tony Gorilla, Hammerfall, Helloween, The Torpedo Girls, Extreme, Scary German Guy, Zeke, Cosmic Dropouts, Poison, Graceland & Dead Joe, and Redd Kross.
Mmm … love that last Kvikksølvguttene record. KISS has done a few covers in its day as well—tapping into some of the early British Invasion records as well as bubble gum pop and punk … even a Disney song. As part of the magic that is KISS WEEK, TDoL brings you all of the songs that KISS made their own … well, they definitely turned a few of them into something all right.
“Kissin’ Time” – Released in 1974 on debut album KISS
Original: Bobby Rydell, 1959
This little ditty didn’t originally appear on the band’s debut, but was added to later pressings when Casablanca Records founder Neil Bogart pushed the members of KISS—against their will—to record it in hopes of snagging a hit single. It peaked at No. 79. But it’s a hit single in my book.
“Kissin’ Time” – KISS
“Kissin’ Time” – Bobby Rydell
“Then She Kissed Me” – Released in 1977 on Love Gun
Original: The Crystals, 1963
KISS swapped genders for this cover of The Crystals’ 1963 hit “Then He Kissed Me,” a song that feels a bit out of place on a record that includes songs with titles like “Plaster Caster” and “Love Gun” (the latter of which, despite popular belief, is not about firearms). The Crystals’ version, of course, was produced by Phil Spector, who is all about firearms.
“Then She Kissed Me” – KISS
“Then He Kissed Me” – The Crystals
“Anyway You Want It” – Released in 1977, studio side of Alive II
Original: Dave Clark Five, 1964
This cover illustrating Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley’s proclivity for British Invasion bands. KISS stays pretty true to the original, which is not a bad thing—because the original is real good. I like the vocals on the KISS version, especially Stanley’s “It’s all right!” Should’ve played this one live instead of “Tossin and Turnin’.”
“Any Way You Want It” – KISS
“Any Way You Want It” – Dave Clark Five
“New York Groove” – Released in 1978 on Ace Frehley’s solo album
Original: Hello, 1975
What would begin a long relationship with British songwriter and Argent frontman Russ Ballard, who penned this song for UK glam rockers Hello in the early ’70s. Frehley’s became a hit and a live staple. He and KISS would go on to cover other Ballard songs in the future, including “Into the Night” and “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You,” which became a Top 10 hit for KISS in the UK and Germany.
“New York Groove” – Ace Frehley
“New York Groove” – Hello
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” – Released in 1978 on Peter Criss’ solo album
Original: Bobby Lewis, 1961
What, no Gene Krupa covers? Leave it to Peter Criss to take a great rock song and turn it into a funky R&B mess. KISS would later perform the song during the Dynasty tour, improving (slightly) on the cheesy studio version. Actually, let’s just pretend this never happened.
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” – Peter Criss
“Tossin’ and Turnin’” – Bobby Lewis
“When You Wish Upon a Star” – Released in 1978 on Gene Simmons’ solo album
Original: Pinocchio soundtrack, 1940
Gene Simmons will never live this one down—becoming perhaps the only rock star to ever cover a song by a talking cricket. I hear Jiminy tried to sue Simmons for skipping out on some royalty checks. And that’s just sad.
“When You Wish Upon a Star” – Gene Simmons
“When You Wish Upon a Star” – Cliff Edwards, as the voice of Jiminy Cricket (video)
“2000 Man” – Released in 1979 on Dynasty
Original: The Rolling Stones, 1967
One of my favorite KISS covers, peeled from the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. “2000 Man” is one of three Ace Frehley contributions to Dynasty, a record that showed KISS following the disco trend along with everyone else and their mothers including, coincidentally, The Rolling Stones.
“2000 Man” – KISS
“2000 Man” – The Rolling Stones
“Is That You?” – Released in 1980 on Unmasked
Original: Gerard McMahon, 1980
Although Peter Criss’ cartoon image appears on the cover, it was actually session/Dave Letterman drummer Anton Fig who played drums on Unmasked, one of KISS’ poppiest records. “Is That You?” kicks off the album, and was recorded after KISS heard the demo from an unknown British singer named Gerard McMahon, whose song “Cry Little Sister” would later appear on the Lost Boys soundtrack.
“Is That You?” – KISS
“Is That You?” - Gerard McMahon (video)
“Rock and Roll Hell” – Released in 1982 on Creatures of the Night
Original: Bachman-Turner Overdrive, 1979
Not many KISS fans know this is a cover, probably because the two versions sound completely different. Written by Bryan Adams (yes, the Bryan Adams) and Canadian producer Jim Vallance, “Rock and Roll Hell” appeared on BTO’s Rock n’ Roll Nights album and sounded very similar to the band’s hit “Takin’ Care of Business.” Three years later, Gene Simmons added a line, became a co-writer and threw it on Creatures of the Night, ironically one of KISS’ heaviest records.
“Rock and Roll Hell” – KISS
“Rock and Roll Hell” - BTO (clip from Jim Vallance’s website)
“God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You II” – Released in 1991 on soundtrack to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey; 1992 on Revenge
Original: Argent, 1973
This became a decent hit for KISS across the pond, originally appearing on the second (and, of course, best) Bill and Ted movie. “God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You II” will always be a KISS song to me … just like Keanu Reeves will always be “Ted” Theodore Logan to me.
“God Gave Rock ‘n’ Roll To You” – Argent
“Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” – Released in 2003 on We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to The Ramones
Original: The Ramones, 1980
This song works surprisingly well for KISS, and it’s actually one of the best covers on the We’re a Happy Family tribute. I love The Ramones. I love KISS. I love the song. I think KISS should do a cover of “I Don’t Wanna Go Down to the Basement.” And perform it live.
“Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?” – The Ramones
In memory of Mark Louis Arnone, Feb. 24, 1973 – Oct. 21, 2009
Friday, November 20th, 2009 | musiX, pdX | No Comments
Live: KISS and Buckcherry at the Rose Garden, 11.17.09
It’s interesting to think about the pre-show rituals for a KISS concert in 2009. There’s less beer swilling and doobie smoking in the parking lot, and a lot more face-painting with the fam before packing into the mini-van to head down to the arena.
I was standing in front of the stage with four other (real) photographers right before the show. I stared out into the large crowd … well, not just any crowd—the KISS Army! KISS Nation! Which is sort of the equivalent of Fast Food Nation (OK, maybe Applebee’s Nation). Lots of makeup. Lots of KISS shirts covering portly bellies. Lots of middle-agers and their kids. They forked out their dough (tickets are anywhere from $20-$126) and were ready for that 60-foot curtain in front of the stage to drop. As the final chords of Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” rang through the house speakers, those famous words cut through the darkness and the curtain fell. I immediately turned into a teenager.
Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons are large men—even without the heels. And 35 years in, they play their parts like seasoned actors in a Broadway production, rarely deviating from the script. If you’ve been to a KISS show before you know you’re going to get the classics: “Strutter,” “Shout It Out Loud,” “Cold Gin” (which these days is preceded by a PSA from Stanley telling audience members not to drink and drive) and “Detroit Rock City” (a song whose narrator meets his end after drinking and driving). All great songs. But how about “Love Theme From Kiss”? Or “Plaster Caster”? “The Oath”?
I’ve seen hundreds of KISS performances—four in person, many more on VHS and DVD—and I’ve heard the same between-song banter over and over and over. So I’m always looking for that rare break in the script. I finally got it about two-thirds into the show at the expense of a hooligan in the upper deck. Paul was about to go into his spiel about extended encores, when out of nowhere … “Y’all are gonna get to see me shove a light pen up a muthafucka’s ass.” Whoa. Paul, don’t forget there are children in the audience. Anyway, doesn’t this guy know that Stanley Eisen doesn’t tolerate lasers in his eye? After a short, one-sided exchange, the Starchild snapped back into character as if nothing happened.
KISS is a tighter band today than perhaps it’s ever been. Yes, it’s incredibly lame that drummer Eric Singer and guitarist Tommy Thayer are wearing Peter Criss and Ace Frehley‘s makeup (couldn’t they have come up with new characters? Perhaps some sort of exotic bird? Maybe a panda?), but KISS’ new lease on life wouldn’t be possible without them. Especially Singer, who drums circles around Criss. Thayer’s a fine musician, too, though everything that came from his fretboard was lifted from the Space Ace.
Not to mention letting Thayer sing “Shock Me” is fucking sacrilege.
But it’s about recreating that classic show, which is still big and loud and fun. KISS has retained the best and most campy elements from the ’70s—fog, fireworks, ticker tape parades, blood spitting—brought into the aughts with banks of video monitors that flashed images of old album covers and graphics that followed along with the songs. At one point, the cover of Sonic Boom appeared overhead as Stanley directed those in attendance to head down to Wal-Mart and pick up a copy. A commercial? I guess it’s the KISS version of an indie band telling a crowd they have a merch table with shirts and 7-inches? Can we go with that?
But hand it to Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley for still knowing how to rock ‘n’ roll all night—performing hundreds of shows a year, for more than two hours a night. And for a couple of guys approaching senior citizenship, they still get around pretty well in those 7-inch heels. These guys are the Kings of the Nighttime World. The Knights in Satan’s Service. And though I found myself cringing a few times, a KISS concert is still the greatest show on earth.
Photos by Mark Lore
In memory of Mark Louis Arnone, Feb. 24, 1973 – Oct. 21, 2009