Music

You can’t handle the truth! Bob Dylan in Winter

BOB DYLAN & HIS BAND and MARK KNOPFLER; Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, San Francisco, CA; Thu, Oct. 18, 2012

If you have been wondering if you should bother to go see Bob Dylan or not, now is the time to get off your ass and go. Dylan is on fire and the band is probably the best he’s been with since … well, The Band.

Guitarist Charlie Sexton is back in the fold and the whole group is firing on all cylinders. Dylan isn’t playing guitar right now, but more than makes up for it with some barrelhouse, Little Richard-inspired, work at the piano. Repeatedly stepping out from behind the keys to grab a harp and blow some of the best melodic lines that I’ve heard him play, Dylan proved he can be a consummate showman when he wants to be.

Naysayers who will tell you that his voice is shot are missing the point entirely. Dylan’s aged croak cuts through the cultural haze like a damaged warning from the end of days, a tenor that gives even old chestnuts like Ballad of a Thin Man and Highway 61 Revisited new and bone-chilling gravitas.

Opening for Dylan on this tour is his occasional partner in crime, Mark Knopfler, who turned in a sublime set of Celtic-tinged folk blues, much in the Richard Thompson mould.

The former Dire Straits leader drew almost entirely from his solo and soundtrack projects and was perfectly supported by a crack seven-piece band who fleshed out—yet never overwhelmed—the subtle arrangements. Knopfler’s set was a perfect appetizer for the avant-rockabilly-blues-punk-western swing of later day Dylan. What a show.

Setlist: Watching The River Flow, Love Minus Zero, No Limit, Things Have Changed, Tangled Up In Blue, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, High Water (For Charley Patton), Chimes Of Freedom, Highway 61 Revisited, Love Sick, Thunder On The Mountain, Ballad Of A Thin Man, Like A Rolling Stone, All Along The Watchtower, Blowin’ In The Wind

You know we got a party, man — get the other record! #78

“Gut Bucket” James Brown 2006

James Brown, The Godfather of Soul, would have been (by most counts) 78-years-old on May 3rd. This Christmas it will have been five years since he passed away and it’s pretty safe to say that the world has been the poorer for it. I don’t think it hyperbole to say that Brown was determination, strife, and life force personified—not to imply that he wasn’t crazier than a shit-house rat. At the time of his death at 73, he had been readying a new album and charging up to make yet another global tour, working to put insane multi-state police chases and PCP-driven rants behind him for good.

In 2005, Rolling Stone sent author Jonathan Lethem to Augusta, Georgia to infiltrate the rarified air of James Brown’s world and report back. He likens the arrival of Brown in the studio to a physics experiment, “Lines of force are suddenly visible in the air, rearranged, oriented. The band, the hangers-on, the very oxygen, every trace particle is charged in its relation to the gravitational field of James Brown.” Lethem posits a theory that in 1958, Brown, like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, had become a man unstuck in time allowing him to know the future of music before it would have naturally occurred and then making it happen at will.

This track from an August 2006 sampler from MOJO magazine was to be a sneak preview of Brown’s next album that was to come out in early 2007. Whether or not there is a great, lost, last platter from The Minister of the New Super-Heavy Funk is anybody’s guess. Judging from the lack of focus laid bare by Lethem’s piece, I’d guess not, but there is always hope. If nothing else, Brown was all about hope.

We could use a guy like that.

200th Post! The Drogues: Dutch Oven Demos

In celebration of the Monkey’s 200th post, we’re slinging a blast from the past, a splatter from the bladder: the piss ’n’ vinegar No Fact’s That Don’t Fit demos recorded by the Drogues at The Dutch Oven in Alameda.

Just listen to those scrappy young(er) kids before they fell victim to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle and became bloated caricatures of themselves. Smith, you remember that time you drove the car into the swimming pool? Ha, me neither.

Sit back and enjoy these angry broadsides from a distant time when the government was lying to everybody, we were embroiled in a couple of wars overseas, and the price of gas was going through the roof. Thank goodness that’s all over … what? Oh, Drogues, where are you when we need you?

Blank Check Face (KC Mix)
Don’t Change the Subject
Gunboat Diplomacy
Perfect Attendance Record
Secret Camera
State of the Union
Transport Devices
Westworld (KC Mix)

Some shit from an old iBook: Flying into Baghdad

After the Drogues finally finished our magnum opus, No Facts That Don’t Fit, in 2005, we fell into the lamentable cliché of struggling to follow it up.

The three of us retreated to our respective lairs to work on pieces with the idea of bringing them to practice and roughing them up. That method never quite caught on, but I did end up with a few interesting GarageBand tracks, which—while totally inappropriate for a post-punk trio—have something going for them.

I had become obsessed with a Persian scale (which I have since completely forgotten) and that became the main riff to this tune. The answering bass line sounds like I was trying to channel my inner Bootsy. I have no idea what kind of music this is, or why I named it Flying into Baghdad—I think there was a lot of concern at the time that Iran was going to be dragged into the conflagration we had started there. Anyway, here’s some weird music from a weird time. Cheers.

You know we got a party, man — get the other record! #72

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Earth, Wind & Fire 1972
[Full disclosure: The first concert I ever attended was Earth, Wind & Fire —way back in 1979—and I think they’re pretty cool.]

In 1972, Maurice White and his cadre of pan-African funkateers were standing on the threshold of greatness. Having taken wardrobe and cosmic spirituality clues from Sun Ra and working up a sound that combined jazz, Motown, Sly and the Family Stone, and even P-Funk into a radio-friendly groove that would provide the soundtrack to the second half of the ’70s, they weren’t quite there when they recorded Pete Seeger’s haunting anti-war folk song. After two albums of finding their way, EW&F had just picked up the missing piece. Their third disc, Last Days and Time, is the first to feature four-octave secret weapon Philip Bailey—and for my money, he nails this tune.

R.E.M. — Collapse Into Now (2011)

Once again, the music press and the fan faithful are working on their “return to form” statements regarding R.E.M.’s latest rekkid. The Boys from Athens have just released their How to Diffuse an Atomic Bomb on the ’80s “alternative” rock colossus timeline. Think about it.

After releasing one of their most sonically ambitious recordings—New Adventures in Hi-Fi could be seen as their Achtung Baby—they incorporated modern sounds and studio techniques that stripped much of the heart out of their music (Up/Reveal/Around the Sun vs. Zooropa/Pop), slid into irrelevance, and came slamming back with a hard charger of back-to-basics rock: Accelerate and All That You Can’t Leave Behind respectively.

Like U2’s sophomore born again release, there is a lot to like on Collapse Into Now, but one can’t help feeling that time will show it to be nothing more than a successful stop-gap, hopefully, on the way to their late-period masterpiece (Yes, I think No Line on the Horizon was that good).

So, it is R.E.M. by the numbers? Maybe. Is that a bad thing? No. In a word (or five): Rickenbacker, mandolin, Patti Smith, boom!