May 29, 2011

A Song with Strange Powers Over Women of a Certain Age

This month's entry in my "I Was 15 and Pretty and Dumb Once Upon a Time" series is about one of the most polarizing (in my experience) U2 songs ever. "Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses" is equally revered and reviled by U2 fans, music fans, and almost everyone who seems to have heard it. Most of my female friends in high school (who shall not remain nameless) loved it. Most of my male friends in college hated it (or laughed or didn't know what it was). When I told them it was one of Bono's sillier love songs, they usually laughed and then hated it. Yes children, there are many precedents for The Terrible Crap That Is Coldplay.

Even so, aside from a few shitty lyrics from Bono (par for the course on every U2 album) the thing doesn't really offend my pathetically delicate macho sensibilities. It's far from my favorite song on the album, but I do like the album version better, with its Eno-applied walls of guitar feedback, than the the campfire-acoustic version that was released as the afterthought-ish 5th and final single from "Achtung Baby." However, that latter version always seems to make female U2 fans of a certain age go all gooey. Or at least the ones I knew. Remember, this came from a time (1991) when hair metal was, thankfully, dying in its own rotten cesspool of dumbfuckery, hip-hop couldn't walk without tripping over its own dick, and "grunge" seemed more about growly dudes and shrieking babes much angrier at the world than they had a right to be. The vacuum for "sensitive" mainstream '90s pop-rock love songs was waiting to be filled, and even acoustic stuff from Michael Stipe was decidedly too weird for some people (I know, right?).

Anyway, according to "U2 at the End of the World" author Bill Flanagan, when Bono originally brought the song to the Berlin album sessions, the other three guys basically wanted to toss it in the toilet, and it was in danger of getting lost in the shuffle of faux-breakbeats and diluted house allegedly sprinkled on the other songs' surfaces. However, Jimmy Iovine (the producer of U2's live albums "Rattle and Hum" and "Under a Blood Red Sky") was overwhelmingly in favor of it. His comment was something like "You wanna play 'house music?' This song IS house music! You release this, you get to live in a big fucking house!"

Of course, Iovine produced "Rattle and Hum," so take that with a mountain of salt. Anyway, here's the video (shot by Phil Joanou, who directed, uh, "Rattle and Hum"), where Bono screws up and cusses at the end:

Good goddamn, why am I still doing this stuff? Could it be because the album is more and more likely to get a deluxe awesome reissue this year? Maybe. Otherwise I'd be embarrassing myself for no reason at all. Again, par for the course. Oh well.

May 13, 2011

Elvis Costello and the Imposters at the Wiltern, Los Angeles, May 12th 2011

Setlist from

I Hope You're Happy Now
Heart Of The City
Mystery Dance
Radio Radio
I Want You*
Monkey To Man*
God Give Me Strength*
Watching The Detectives*
And Your Bird Can Sing
Doll Revolution+
Next Time 'Round+
Out Of Time+
Everyday I Write The Book*
Stella Hurt*

A Slow Drag With Josephine
Jimmie Standing In The Rain

Pump It Up (in 6/8)/Busted
So Like Candy/Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood*

Red Shoes/Purple Rain
Peace, Love And Understanding

* selected by the Spinning Songbook
+ with the Bangles on backing vocals

E.C. - vocals/giutar/piano. Steve Nieve - piano & Hammond organ. Pete Thomas - drums. Davey Faragher - bass/backing vocals.

This was only the second time Em and I have seen a Costello show (first was in March 2005 in Oakland for the "Delivery Man" tour). Some quick notes:

The band came on without an opening act (but with a frugging go-go dancer), blasting through five quick & dirty loud rockers before settling into some loungey, game-show music. From there, Costello acted the emcee/showman part to the hilt, ranting and raving in a carnival-barking preacher cadence, sometimes roaming the first few rows to select victims that would spin the big wheel and determine the set list, sometimes delegating that to "Katya," a dolled-up female assistant who looked like a hooker extra from an old Western. Fans who got on stage to spin the wheel could either dance in the "Hostage to Fortune Go-Go Cage" or relax on "society lounge" chairs near Nieve's keyboards. They usually chose to dance.

Like the original "Spinning Songbook" tour from 1986/7, this set was heavy on stuff from Costello's '86 album Blood and Chocolate, his last with the Attractions until 1994 and '96; "I Hope You're Happy," "Uncomplicated," "I Want You," and "Next Time 'Round" padded the early part of the set. Also like that tour, Costello introduced himself as "Napoleon Dynamite," his leering alter ego from that period and the cover subject of Blood and Chocolate. He made a point of saying something like "they made a movie about me once, but accept no substitutes—I am the original Napoleon Dynamite."

That wasn't the only flashback. The first "Spinning Songbook" tour had guest stars come on stage at every city, and when it rolled into L.A. twenty-five years ago, Costello called the Bangles onstage to sing along (and, somewhat ironically, dance in the go-go cage). Susanna Hoffs & Co. returned for this go-round too, singing backup on four songs that included some Beatles and Stones covers. Most of Costello's older hits from the '70s and '80s were played straight, but "Pump it Up" had a new 6/8 bluesy arrangement, and he sang it from the piano.

There was a quiet interlude where Costello played solo/acoustic, for two songs from last year's National Ransom album. He pulled a stunt we've seen many other people do recently (Jeff Tweedy, Avett Brothers, Mumford & Sons): step away from the mic and sing to the audience un-amplified. Emily said something like "singing without a mic is the new black," which is totally true, but Costello did it well, thanks to his voice and the always-awesome Wiltern acoustics.

If you're not familiar with Costello's recent stuff, "Doll Revolution" is from When I Was Cruel (2002), "Monkey to Man" is from The Delivery Man (2004), "Stella Hurt" is from Momofuku (2008), "Josephine" and "Jimmie" are from The National Ransom (2010), and "God Give Me Strength" is from his Bacharach collaboration Painted from Memory (1998).

Covers - "Earthbound" isn't technically a cover—it was written by Costello—but he never recorded it, Wendy James did. "Wheels" is a Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers tune. "Your Bird Can Sing" and "Girl" are of course by the Beatles. "Out of Time" is by the Stones, from Aftermath. "Busted" is an old country tune by Harlan Howard, made famous by (among others) some guy named Johnny Cash. "Misunderstood" is by the Animals, but it also appeared on Costello's King of America album in 1985. "Heart of the City" is by longtime Costello producer Nick Lowe, who also wrote "What's So Funny 'bout Peace, Love, and Understanding." And really, if you don't know who sang "Purple Rain" you don't deserve to live.

This was the second of two sold-out nights at the Wiltern. Costello's website has an L.A. Times review of the first night here. We had a super-fun time, and it was way better than our first Costello show 6 years ago.

Oh, and I also scored a t-shirt with this photo on it:

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