November 13, 2001

Elevation 2001: My Nose Is Still Bleeding


U2 at Los Angeles' Staples Center, November 12, 2001

Cross-posted from @U2.

Eighty-five dollars for last row upper-deck seats. A two hour drive in traffic from Santa Barbara. Rain, and lots of it. Thirty dollar T-shirts. Ten dollar beer. A cavernous arena, Los Angeles' Staples Center, and the muddiest, mushiest sound mix that I have ever heard at any major concert. Instead of PJ Harvey we got No Doubt, local heroes dwarfed by the venue and the stature of the headliners. U2, one of the most exciting and dynamic live rock bands, delivering one of their most predictable and impotent setlists ever, a jukebox of crowd-pleasing '80s hits and almost no surprises and twists. If U2 are looking to be empathetic to the United States in our time of crisis, they're doing it in an unfortunately unpalatable way, at least to this spoiled California kid.

None of the above gripes would matter if the band delivered. U2 is famous for inducing listeners and fans to suspend disbelief at their shows and swallow a mix of hokey good feeling with snarling and powerful rock music. Tonight my disbelief was suspended for five all-too-brief and ecstatic moments by one of my favorite bands, but the rest of the show made me think the tour has definitely run its course. Sorry folks, this isn't going to be the kind of cookie-cutter press you've read about U2 for the past year. You know the type -- the cut-and-paste performance reviews of blind praise from every daily paper across the country, relieved to happily trumpet the return of a user-friendly U2 that is taking on the mantle of national grief counselor to millions of dazed and confused Americans. Not from me. My heroes barely delivered tonight, and what disappoints about that is the knowledge that it could have been so much better.

U2's 2001 Elevation Tour, on its first and best leg earlier this year in the U.S., was truly a force to be reckoned with. Bootlegs and reviews reveal that multiple-night stands in many American cities had seen our heroes put the setlist in a blender, and with a liberal selection of songs from all over their considerable back catalogue well-rehearsed and ready to go, not one show seemed tired or predictable. Each was always exciting and always better -- in terms of quality, life, and power -- than their most recent album of craftsman-like comfort food, All That You Can't Leave Behind. Tonight, all the nightly wild and glorious re-assertions of U2's premiere status among global rock bands evaporated into a combination of nostalgic and overplayed hits like "Pride," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "New Year's Day" and an especially snail-paced "Sunday Bloody Sunday," with some serious clunkers from the new album, "Stuck in a Moment" and "New York," two fundamentally superficial tunes now clogging our airwaves for no other reason than a tangential connection to the fear and grief engulfing much of our country post-9/11. Gwen Stefani did liven up "What's Going On," but not enough to justify its presence, and while "One" and "Walk On" are the kind of excellent big ballads U2 do effortlessly, attempts to tie them to the attack victims fell short on me, if not the rest of the crowd, who took every opportunity to hoot and holler the way arena crowds do at groovy sentimentality. Even Bono's stage patter about his recent re-evaluation of the U.S. flag didn't go down as well as his and U2's sincere claim to be "honored to be touring the United States of America right now."

In spite of all that, U2 did deliver at some points. Perennial concert workhorses like "Bullet the Blue Sky" and "Until the End of the World" (with a smooth segue into "New Year's Day"), brought the house down with powerful authority. "Kite," the best song off the new album, is ready to take its place with those songs as a live favorite, and "Please," itself muted here in an acoustic/vocal arrangement, remains one of U2's best elegies. "Bad" showed snippets of "40" and "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" before it flowed flawlessly into "Where the Streets Have No Name," always excellent live and the only big '80s hit of theirs that I will never tire of. Musically, Edge, Adam and Larry have never been better; tight, assured, and excellent playing informed almost every song, a testament to the admirable fact that they truly love making music. Some lucky babe did get plucked onstage to play "People Get Ready," and as a bass player in my own band, my envy got the better of me. Still, the harsh attrition of many of the tour's previous non-hit high points, namely "The Ground Beneath Her Feet," "In a Little While," and "Gone," was something of a letdown, but not as much as the gaping hole left behind by the omission of both "Mysterious Ways" and my personal favorite U2 tune, "The Fly" -- both in revitalized versions shown regularly earlier in the tour. Without those sexy songs, the show's pacing was relentlessly and almost artificially earnest, something that a fan like me, who grew up on the '90s U2 many fans yawned at, found sorely unmoving.

Maybe I was the only one underwhelmed (hey, I saw an early PopMart show before it got good), but this concert was almost not worth my $85 nosebleeding-seat tickets and the long story of their roundabout Ticketmaster/Wherehouse acquisition, even though at the end of a very long day, it's just a rock and roll show. Maybe the excellence that I know U2 had so recently achieved on this tour made me expect something more.

June 07, 2001

Positively State St: Happily Running Amok Downtown


Originally from the Santa Barbara Independent. Highlights from a fabulous rock & roll fortnight.

ROCK MUSIC AND MELANOMA: I’ve had an exciting rock and roll two weeks. Following a superb Frank Black show and an even better Tom Petty concert (on Bob Dylan’s birthday!), my Mojo Wire compatriots and I had a blast this past Sunday, finishing up our new mini-album, You’re On Your Own, and playing as part of a pro-choice Reproductive Freedom rally in Isla Vista’s Anisq’ Oyo park. The event’s bill read like name-checks of every column I’ve written this year: Buttcheek Doofus still gleefully defied categorization while leaping from openers (at the previous Friday’s excellent Chick Rock Bonanza II at the Edge) to headliners in two days. Gravity Willing, perhaps suffering attrition from the all-day Saturday UCSB Extravaganza concert, showed up as a duo but still riveting, as if none the worse for wear. Terrific singer/songwriters Kirsten Candy, Thais Albert, and L.A.’s Jenni Alpert provided some mellow counterpoints between rock bands. Rounding out the lineup were melodic rockers The Bang, returning to I.V. from Ventura to reprise their unique Anglophile pastiche.

Highlights from this fabulous fortnight included Frank Black (pictured above with backers the Catholics) nonchalantly ripping into a bevy of Pixies tunes (perversely with ex-drummer David Lovering in the wings selling merchandise) to a semi-appreciative (“isn’t this the song from Fight Club?”) crowd at the Edge. Tom Petty, looking for all the world like some knackered Don Quixote, delivered a fairly comprehensive set, nicely augmenting opener Steve Earle’s country rock. Chick Rock II went off well as expected, emceed by KJEE’s Dakota, and marred only by the apparent desire of lead singer Heather Grody of Gush to remind all of us up here how provincial we are. But there is more to come—bassist Ben Pringle from The Mades was already promising a Chick Rock III halfway through his band’s powerful set.

Jumping into all this after five years in the wilderness is quite the head-spinner for us Mojos, but you haven’t seen the last of us. We thrashed through six songs of our own at Sunday’s time-crunched rally (with so many acts, is there any other kind?) and have the sunburns to prove it. Rock music and melanoma—oh, the humanity.

Ah, you say, but all this is in the past. Indeed—notable upcoming shows include Jennifer Terran tonight at SOhO, accompanied by fellow singer/songwriters Kate Bennett and Caroline Aiken. The Stiff Pickle Orchestra continues its run at the James Joyce on June 12, but not before stopping in two days before at Old King’s Road across the street. Hard rockers Nogahyde and Les Benson turn up at the Edge tomorrow night, and hey, here’s a wild one for you—the Dickies grace the stage at Kennedy’s tomorrow night, touring behind their latest release, All This and Puppet Stew. Punk, punk, punk!

Come to think of it, those punk (and quasi-punk) bands just don’t quit, do they? Local boys Idiot Savant, Sick Shift (up in Petaluma this weekend), House Cup (recently invading Sharkeez to toss that place on its ear), Slutmagnet (at the Madhouse recently with Sick Shift), and those ubiquitous Titsofrenix (with a one-two at Kennedy’s and Extravaganza last weekend), are happily running amok downtown these days. All the romping through I.V. and the Living Room for the last six months leads to two questions: Journeyman punk? At such a young age?

Oh, and let’s not forget—paternal princes of pop Paul Simon and Brian Wilson are set to bathe the Bowl in their lush and harmonic baby-boomer-ific sounds on Friday, June 15. Guilty pleasures rarely come this aurally pleasing, especially after such storied careers. It should be just what I need after the annual Isla Vista apartment move. Enjoy.

April 12, 2001

Positively State St: In And Out Of Enemy Territory


Originally from the Santa Barbara Independent. Featuring the mighty Buttcheek Doofus, pioneers of the unusual.

I KNOW, I JUST KNOW that you like live music better in the middle of the week. Well I do, so venue-hopping as usual, I stopped in at Roy’s Jolly Tiger this week, a place known for an eclectic range of acts gracing its stage. I noticed that slated for April 12, tonight, is Tree O Frogs, a competent super-combo of San Francisco groove-funksters, and veterans of numerous festival shows. If you like S.B. regulars Animal Liberation Orchestra, you might go for the Frogs—the two bands have often shared the stage.

What to expect from Tree O Frogs? Crack musicianship and a long set; an appearance last year at the New Orleans Jazz Festival lasted an “epic four hours,” according to bassist Brian Shira. The Frogs’s recent album Butter Your Lips, while sporting masterful proficiency, swerves way too far into jam-band territory for me—songs run on up to eight minutes with the musicians masturbating through their solos. Otherwise, prime movers like “Urchin” and “Certified” burst from the gate just fine—there’s no denying that the Frogs make excellent booty-shaking music.

Hey, speaking of booty, how’s this for a good band with a weird name: the Frogs’s openers, S.B.’s Buttcheek Doofus (pictured above)—if you know them, you envy them. From their recent mauling of the Tom Waits tune “Filipino Box Spring Hog” at the Jolly Tiger’s February “Waits Tribute Show” to their hijacking of the Isla Vista rainforest benefit crowd at Giovanni’s in January, these resolute crazies have an impressive streak of musical individualism already on record—their genre-bending albums F.I.sh and april both melt time signatures at whiplash speed but still leave time for melody. If you’ve seen a show you know what I mean—the rabid anti-television and anti-Britney Spears rants of frontwoman Johanna anonymouS are consistent with one of the band’s guiding principles, “irreverently flipping the finger at the industry.” Indeed, their cheek-spanking new indie CD Highway Mona Lisa includes a bent little ditty called “I always wanted to name a song Bob Dylan” that takes on the Top Forty with breathless verbiage faster than “Subterranean Homesick Blues” or R.E.M.’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It.” Each of these little visions of johanna is clear, concise, and exciting—especially live, so treat yourself and check them out.

WHEN? In support of their album, Buttcheek Doofus, “a three-piece band that stands against established paradigms, fronted by a young woman with a defiant point of view and an even louder guitar,” according to bassist Norm Reed, will be at Roy’s Jolly Tiger on April 12, supporting Tree O Frogs at 9:30; on April 13 as part of A Benefit for Hemp at 8 p.m. in Victoria Hall; and helping to kick off this year’s Take Back the Night rally in UCSB’s Storke Plaza on April 16 at noon. Acolytes of truly original indie-rock will come away with that warm, smug, snide, and fuzzy feeling inside.

Also joining the Doofus at UCSB will be singer/songwriter Kirsten Candy, who will bring herself and her piano to Alcazar tonight (and again on April 19) at 9 p.m. Gravity Willing have a big Friday the 13th—first they appear live on 99.9 KTYD’s Morning Show at 9 a.m., and that night have a show at Dargan’s, beginning at 9:30 p.m. Also promised to feel Gravity’s pull is a live television appearance on Thursday, April 17—stay tuned for details. For those with the punk jones but without a fake I.D., I haven’t forgotten you. Get a jump on the next generation of punk road rats—The Living Room is hosting a Battle of the Bands on Saturday April 14 at 8 p.m., and the kicker is that 50 percent of each band’s members must be 18 or younger.

March 22, 2001

Positively State St: Super Chick-Rock Bonanza!


Originally from the Santa Barbara Independent. Reporting live from the front lines of disposable-income distractions...

FRANKIE, SAY WAR: Santa Barbara’s latest (well, okay, ongoing) battle of the bands isn’t actually between musicians but, in conjunction with today’s ultra-corporate times, the joints that host them. Two in particular, new kids The Edge and 634, seem intent on mutual assured destruction—bad for the loser, but good for the rest of us who live for the good rock. The surge in excellent live music over the past six months is refreshing; it’s about time I had trouble choosing where to spend my Saturday night downtown.

HOWZAT? Well, despite its recent blunders (the tepidly bland Jonas/Cool Water Canyon snooze-a-thon and the well-meaning but unfortunately truncated Sugarcult release bash), the Edge made up ground on March 10 and presented a good case for itself with the fabulous Chick Rock Bonanza. Getting ahold of the Mades or the Titsofrenix (pictured above) is a good bet in itself, but the lethal combination of both with Rilo Kiley (but alas not Gush) destroyed all Saturday night competition. 634, to its credit, has previously scored with El Jefe and Ozomatli, and this last weekend came back with a great show...is it me or is pub-rock coming back? Among the multitude of indie bar bands risking Hootiefication (albeit with much more class) is the Mother Hips (from darkest, dankest Chico), who cruise right down the straight and not-so-narrow path of feel-good, California semi-cowboy rock. The Hips’ great strength is their tight songwriting, which translates extremely well live in part because of their refusal to jam excessively. Their latest effort, Green Hills of Earth, pours on the old Pet Sounds/Rubber Soul harmonies to great effect, augmenting a few one-dimensional (but not bad) lyrics that are also more than made up for by great songcraft and good playing, two virtues not often introduced to each other so elegantly.

All of this was on display Friday night at 634, where Green Hills songs were received enthusiastically by the die-hard crowd, much to the pleasure of vertically-unchallenged frontman Tim Bluhm. San Clemente roots-rockers 5 Foot Tuesday built up enough energy and adrenaline to whip the Hips faithful into shape, accomplishing that rare opening act feat: threatening to upstage the headliners in front of their own audience.

YOW. Yeah, but what with all the recent wild, rocking, and rainy nights filled with orgies of guitar-rock and pop (thank you Lance Parker and Cory Sipper), you may want to make with the road trip thing to see the Queen of Santa Barbara, Jennifer Terran, diplomatically conquer Cambria on Saturday, (or catch one of her home concerts this Friday, March 23rd). If not, you can take refuge in the Mercury Lounge with Vancouver’s maniacal Big John Bates; apparently even the far-flung colony is coming in from the wet, cold winter. Hallelujah!

SO WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Uh, isn’t John Lee Hooker playing in Ventura? Damn right, on March 29, and it’s gonna be a revelation. Also at the Ventura Theater will be the Fat Wreck Chords Humanitarian Intervention Tour on Monday, March 26, bringing with it Canada’s Propaghandi, melodic hardcore greats Avail, cactchy pop-punks J Church, and (you gotta love this) lesbian overkill-core rockers Fabulous Disaster. It’s only ten bucks, and all ages are welcome.

CHECK IT OUT: The S.B. band of all sorts, Claude Hopper—led by singer/guitarist David Cowan, and influenced by “The Jayhawks, Steve Earle, Neil Young, Counting Crows, and the Wallflowers,”—is releasing its CD this Sunday, March 25 at SOhO (with Janet Robin) and again next Friday, March 30 at the Jolly Tiger Lounge (with the sliding rock-blues of the Alastair Greene Band). It’s bluesy songwriting from the heartland of the heart.

February 22, 2001

Positively State St: How To Survive Your Own Tour


Originally from the Santa Barbara Independent. The irrepressible Jenni Alpert flaunts her latest album “Nothing’s Wrong.”

HOW TO SURVIVE YOUR OWN TOUR: For the great unsigned masses, this week’s lesson comes courtesy of L.A.-based singer/songwriter Jenni Alpert, who makes regular stops in Santa Barbara. She appeared on Valentine’s Day at the UCSB Hub and then later that night at Alcazar’s—two stops on a swing up the West Coast to Seattle.

STEP ONE: Bring your friends. Alpert and her daffy DiFrancoisms are supported by Dawn Thomas sitting in on guitar and backup vocals (and a substantial chunk of her own solo stage time) and Chris Jones playing a weepy acoustic slide guitar. Thomas was introduced to Alpert six months ago by a mutual friend, and was subsequently drafted to go on the road too, while Jones is Alpert’s next-door neighbor. When sharing the stage the three form a pleasant enough power trio, but on her own, Alpert relied upon guitar, a few effects pedals, a narrow but powerful voice, and some solid tunes. Which leads to...

STEP TWO: Bring good songs, which Alpert did. Her latest album, last year’s Nothing’s Wrong, is competent without seeming slick or contrived, but offers few pretensions beyond the earnestly-sensitive-girl-with-guitar motif (her honesty makes it difficult to call it “formula”) that was run into the ground on the Lilith Fair tours of the past few years. Vague tales of personal relationships cloud some levels of her lyrics, but Alpert’s lighthearted delivery keeps things from getting too serious. “Moonshine,” augmented with some nice guitar echo, was far more ethereal and creepy than the album version with a full band, and “Just This Moment” was typical of most of her set: strong, tight compositions that work well solo or in a combo. From there, Alpert was off and running; requests to translate her mile-a-minute banter between songs were shrugged off by Jones, who just laughed and shook his head at the impossibility. They were all having too much fun up there (egged on by inebriated coeds) to stop and talk about the business, which is...

STEP THREE: One cannot ignore the business side of things, period. Alpert and Thomas came prepared with plenty of copies of their CDs, which sold quickly, and took information from everyone to add to their mailing lists. They talked to anyone about anything. A grateful Thomas explained that Alpert has the drive to do it all, while Thomas doesn’t sweat the small stuff: “I just like to go up there and play.” For her part, Thomas’s voice overpowered her own minimalistic guitar; despite the Hub’s notoriously muddy acoustics Thomas still rumbled the rafters on the other side of the building.

STEP FOUR: On your own independent tour you can kiss regular sleep and meals goodbye. Sure, that sounds normal in theory, but in practice it’s another story on what’s basically a microcosm of a full-throttle rock tour.

Thomas was holding up well despite waking up at 4 a.m., but she wasn’t looking forward to the six-hour drive to their next stop in Mountain View. Alpert, used to such cross-country treks playing to small audiences, is unfazed. How does the veteran road rat make people care? “Nobody cares,” she matter-of-factly replied. “You have to care yourself or else it’s not worth it.” Apparently taking additional cues from the Ani DiFranco school of self-empowerment, Jenni Alpert is persistent and confident enough to record her own songs, manage her own affairs, and book her own tours—but all with a little help from her friends. Hey, indie rock may indeed be a festering fraud, but indie touring is still where it’s at (if you don’t forget to budget your gas money). Righteous, babe.

January 27, 2001

Stowed Away with a Few Pints


I've been feeling a little over the hill lately. Maybe it's the thinning hair, or even the unconscious desire to watch more VH-1 than MTV, but I get the feeling that the impulse that keeps me away from Gold's Gym is the same one that keeps me happily stowed away with a few pints at the James Joyce every Saturday, soaking in Ulysses or some other amalgamation of men that look like my grandpa churning out that ancient twentieth century music called jazz. I bet those guys don't feel as old as I do sometimes, at least not when they're onstage. It's just too easy for me to find that one location and stick to it, like I was born ten years too late and missed the casting call for Cheers or something.

So while I'm getting ready to depart again, like some poor misguided Andy Capp, to my alcohol closet of choice, it occurs to me that if I don't act soon I'm gonna end up older than Ulysses and feeling worse about it in no time. "Hey," I say to myself, "I could at least be in the same boat with those guys in thirty years- I'm a musician, so why don't I start acting like one?" Now, before I figure out it's not a rhetorical question I get as dressed to kill as any postgraduate with a midlife crisis, and am soon raring to go promote myself and my musical talent on Lower State, with of course a final tour of James Joyce at the end.

Tonight most of the excitement and variety comes in the guise of the many incentives I have to use to convince my girlfriend to come with me: "Hey, maybe we'll meet KEYT''s John Palminteri again!"; "I'll make all the trips to the peanut barrel for you!"; or even "Well, it can only be better than last time, right?" She's less than impressed; she knows my real reason for crawling around downtown this time is to hawk demos of my own rock and roll band, the Mojo Wire, to various club promoters and managers, and she wants no part of it, despite the promise of our favorite Irish pub as the eventual destination.

I don't blame her, and as a fellow Isla Vistan on a limited budget, I appreciate the paranoia that comes with consideration of the many issues at stake: a) How crowded Bill's Bus will be at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, which leads to b), how many taxis will be available afterward (and how expensive is it- we really got gouged once after a Mermen show at Soho), and finally, c), why don’t we know anyone who lives down there that would spare us the angst and simply let us crash at their place? Of course if we were really impulsive enough we wouldn’t even think this far ahead and would be down there now, already tossed and lost, demos be damned, but we’re far too compulsive to even think of it.

Eventually she relents, though I’m unsure she doesn’t regret it, as the bus ride progresses and I regale her with more stories she already knows, like how I almost got booted from the Wildcat last summer for not looking anything like my seventeen-year-old self pictured on my I.D., or the time Cool Water Canyon covered “Billie Jean” at the Tank/Toes/Sharkeez (they’re all beginning to run together now) to a rabid audience of beautiful women, and on and on through every bar downtown, all the while simply throwing my demos away on people who probably won’t listen, until we reach the James Joyce. Ulysses is there, though they’ve recessed for the moment, so we stand over by the infinite well of peanuts with our pints and wait.

When the band returns, they play an excellent Dixieland set to all ages clapping and stomping the floor to splinters as peanut shells fly and beer sloshes (were it not for the booze, this could be, ugh, Disneyland) and everyone has a good time and we don’t care how un-hip it is. My girlfriend surveys the crowd for a while, smiles, laughs, and concludes confidently that if I were to become a geezer of a bass player, amusing my fellow musicians onstage in thirty years, she would gladly be the loudest cheering grandma in the club. I thank her of course, but I realize all too belatedly that I’m no older than I thought I was. I just need to step out of I.V. and into the rest of the world every once in a while to be reminded of that fact.

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