At packed Stubb’s, PJ Harvey thrilled fans and avoided nostalgia

PJ Harvey at Stubb’s (all photos: Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman)

 

PJ Harvey could have cashed in long ago.

Back before the White House was a vague twinkle in Trump’s eye (heck, before Obama was even elected to Congress), every single person at Stubb’s Friday night would have been more than  happy to cough up for her to recreate, say, 1993’s snarling “Rid of Me,” one of the best power trio albums of all time, or 1995’s bluesy “To Bring You My Love,” the palette-expanding breakthrough that made her an alt-rock icon.

But no, Harvey had different ideas, sometimes waiting half a decade between records and even longer between tours, figuring out where she wanted to go next.

The show at Stubb’s, her first time in Austin since a 2009 pop in at South By Southwest, supported her 2016 album “The Hope Six Demolition Project,” a reflection on time she spend in Afghanistan and Washington, D.C.

Harvey, looking like she had not aged a day in 20 years, took the stage with a nine-piece band who took the stage in single file, some playing horns (Harvey played a sax on and off throughout the evening), most playing drums. It looked and felt like the world’s most Episcopalian second line.

Mick Harvey (no relation), left with PJ Harvey.

Many of the musicians she had worked with for years (multi-instrumentalist John Parish has played music with Harvey since the latter was a teenager; former Birthday Party/Bad Seed Mick Harvey has collaborated with her almost as long; guitar James Johnson was also one of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds).

Everyone present played on the “Hope Six” album — this was a crack group, capable of recreating walls of guitar (“the Ministry of Defense”). splashy, emotional horns (“Chain of Keys,” “Medicinals”) knotty rhythms (almost everything).

Harvey played the chanteuse-in-chief, used to be the brilliant center of attention with pipes that remain remarkably strong (particularly stunning on “Dollar, Dollar”). I really hope she wasn’t making a “hope is the thing with feathers” joke with her vest.

One did wince a little at the lyrics to “The Community of Hope,” developed from a tour she took of Washington, D.C. with a reporter: “Here’s the highway to death and destruction/ South Capitol is its name/And the school just looks like shit-hole/Does that look like a nice place?/ Here’s the old mental institution/ Now the homeland security base/ And here’s god’s deliverance center/ A deli called M.L.K”

Yikes.  As one might expect, politicians were incensed, the DC music community was appalled and the whole thing smacked of a paternalism that Harvey probably didn’t intend but rang out nonetheless.

PJ Harvey and band.

As for nostalgia, fully half of the songs were from “Hope Six” with three from the enigmatic “White Chalk” and a smattering from older albums.

The crowd, the median age of which was “tenured” was thrilled to see her but roared to life when the band ripped into the galloping “50 Ft Queenie” from “Rid of Me” followed by the Clinton-era classics, shuddering “Down by the Water” and appropriately melodramatic “To Bring You My Love.”

Perhaps Harvey knew that the crowd would have become completely unglued had she leaned more on older material (though it would be wonderful for her to pick up a guitar on stage again — she is a fascinating player) and wanted to leave with the venue standing.

Don’t look for her to lean on her past. She has other ideas. She always has other ideas.

SET LIST
Chain of Keys
The Ministry of Defense
The Community of Hope
The Orange Monkey
A Line in the Sand
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
The Glorious Land
Medicinals
When Under Ether
Dollar, Dollar
The Devil
The Wheel
The Ministry of Social Affairs
50ft Queenie
Down by the Water
To Bring You My Love
River Anacostia
ENCORE:
Guilty
Is This Desire?

EXCLUSIVE: Neko Case fans need to check out Hot Cotton’s bright new single ‘Late July’

Eva Mueller IS Hot Cotton (but also comes with a band)

You might remember Eva Mueller, aka the sole permanent member of Hot Cotton, from her time in The Unbearables, the New Pornographers-ish indie outfit One Hundred Flowers and the duo Polar Optimist.

Mueller, the great-niece of “The Original Singing Cowboy” Carl T. Sprague, launched Hot Cotton as a solo project back in 2012, soon expanded it to a full band situation and started writing and recording “The Secrets I’ve Kept” in 2016 with producer and multi-instrumentalist Gary Calhoun James (Daniel Johnston, Marmalakes) at Bell Tree Studio with such Austin pros as Gary Newcomb, Ehren Lorfing, and Marshall Escamilla,

Hot Cotton play the  Hot Cotton Single Release Party at the Mohawk March 30 with Carry Illinois and The Human Circuit.

Lift to Experience returns to SXSW with remixed masterpiece

Lift to Experience (photo: Breanne Trammell)

Part gospel as imagined by the son of a Texas Pentecostal preacher, part shoegaze as imagined by guys who listened to a bunch of My Bloody Valentine, part pure Texas weird, the Denton band Lift to Experience cut a cult-like swath in the late ‘90s Texas underground.

Lift came together around singer/guitarist Josh T. Pearson and bassist Josh Browning in 1996, releasing an EP in 1997 with a pal on drums. That friend bounced and they hooked up with  Andy ‘The Boy’ Young on drums, played extremely loud shows and working on “The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads” a deeply odd concept album about the end times, Texas and the fact that USA was the center of the word Jerusalem.

Eventually released on Bella Union, the then-young British label run by Cocteau Twins Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie, in June 2001,  the double-disc “Texas-Jerusalem,” with its weird Pen and Pixels-ish cover and deeply unflattering mix (more on that in a moment) never completely hit as hard as it should have. But it’s end-time feel, release mere months before 9/11, made it a cult classic for a certain generation of sensitive young person. And John Peel adored them; the band recorded three sessions for him.

The band fell apart soon after its release. Pearson did odd jobs, struggled with various demons and put out a few solo records. Seeing him opening for My Bloody Valentine at Austin Music Hall as somehow as weird as seeing MBV itself.

Young played in Western Arms, with Elbow frontman Guy Garvey, and The Flowers of God. Browning plays bass in the Fort Worth outfit Year of the Bear.

Earlier this year, Lift was invited by Garvey to play the Meltdown Festival in London and Mute announced a re-release of “The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads,” this time with a whole new mix supervised by the band.

Lift played three warm up gigs in Texas in June, did Meltdown and chilled for a bit before playing SXSW 2017.

“We didn’t end on that good of a note the first time around,” Pearson said in May. He started thinking about his own mortality after David Bowie died and getting the band in front of people again. “We were always a little volatile and want do some shows for our friends just to make sure we don’t implode.” The June shows went well, as did Meltdown.

Pearson laughs when asked why they wanted to remix the album. “Due to financial concerns, we were not there for the first mix,” Pearson said. “I lost my head over that record, I was a mess, I shopped it around and didn’t get so much as a rejection letter. The only label that wanted to put it out was Bella Union.”

The Bella Union folks saw the band at SXSW and snatched them up. But after recording the album, the band didn’t have any money to mix it. Bella Union offered to mix it and put it out. “Between that and nothing, that was better than nothing,” Pearson said.

“But the original mix, for which we were not present, kind of chopped the balls off of the record,” he continues. “We were this testosterone-driven band and a live powerhouse and the record didn’t reflect that. It was not what I had in mind AT ALL.”

So the band remixed “Texas-Jerusalem” over 10 days, teaming up with engineer and Centro-Matic drummer Matt Pence to make the album sound more like the band sounded live. “I just think this mix more accurately describes how the band made you feel when you were in front of them,” Pearson said. “There’s no money grab here. There was no money to begin with. We did not radically change anything. There is no Greedo-shoots-first thing going on here.”

Lift to Experience plays the headlining slot (1 a.m.) March 16 at the Parish and March 18  at Central Prebyterian Church.

Listen to James Brown’s awe at Clyde Stubblefield’s ‘Funky Drummer’

Clyde Stubblefield (Robin Little)
Clyde Stubblefield (Robin Little)

Word has it that the great drummer Clyde Stubblefield has died at the age of 73.

Stubblefield was one of two drummers (along with Jabo Starks) who animated James Brown’s funkiest period, more or less from “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag” as a creator, when Brown seemed to be breaking new musical ground with every single. He played on such classics as “I Got the Feelin’,” “Cold Sweat” and dozens more.

But it is the James Brown song “Funky Drummer,” recorded in late 1969 and released in the extremely funky season of 1970, that made Stubblefield a legend.

Like a lot of Brown’s songs at this fecund time, it’s a vamp both simple and enormously sophisticated.

And there are a bunch of different edits of the thing, I first heard this song on a 7 minute edit on the indispensable James Brown boxset “Star Time;” I don’t think this version exists outside of the boxset in that form. The single was about five minutes across two sides; the album version on “In the Jungle Groove” is nine minutes long.

These time codes refer to the seven minute version below. At around 4:41, Brown says, “One more time I want to give the drummer some of this funky soul we got going here. You don’t have to do no soloing, brother, just keep what you got.” he says to Sutbblefield, “Don’t turn it loose, ’cause it’s a mother.” This is correct, as were many of Brown’s improvisational exhortations — the groove, it is sick and does not need to be expanded upon.

At 5:34, after Brown says “One two three four hit it,” Stubblefield’s plays a 20-second break. It is the sort of drum solo for which people should be put on Mt. Rushmore. A small chip on the $20 bill should play it whenever said bill changes hands. It is that good. It is that important.

No wonder it became the root integer of classic hip-hop, sampled by everyone from Public Enemy to Dr. Dre to NWA to the Beastie Boys to George Michael’s “Freedom ’90” and very literally about 1,000 more.

During it, Brown makes noises and says, “Ain’t it funky…ain’t it funky….ain’t it funky…ain’t it funky…a one two three four!” and the band comes back in. The groove continues.

But my favorite part comes at around 6:45. It is as if he needed a few minutes to process what he just heard.

It’s all Brown can do to simply credit the songs to Stubblefield:  “The name of this tune is ‘the Funky Drummer’…’the Funky Drummer…” Brown sounds in AWE of what young Clyde has done, almost stunned. Brown was not a man lacking in confidence and he doesn’t sound shaken as much as blown away. The future is being made in front him.

 

Diamanda Galas coming to the Paramount April 14

These are the 61-year old singer’s first records since 2008’s “Guilty Guilty Guilty.”

“All The Way,” which find the singularly intense vocalist covering jazz, blues and folk standards, is her first studio album since “The Sporting Life,” her 1994 collaboration with John Paul Jones. “At Saint Thomas the Apostle Harlem” is a live album from May 2016 concerts in Harlem. Both albums are out March 24.

For nearly 40 years, Galás has been one of American music’s most intense and confrontational singers and performance artists. As much as any singer around, her blood-curdling voice, sometimes bellowing, often shrieking, sounds like weaponized rage.  (I also lover her prose; check out this savage rant about Clive Davis and Whitney Houston — she was a big fan of the latter, not so much the former.)

Besides the upcoming albums, those looking for a deep dive into her work should examine “Masque of the Red Death” trilogy about the AIDS epidemic — ” The Divine Punishment (1986), “Saint of the Pit” (1986) and “You Must Be Certain of the Devil” (1988). Those who would like a shorter primer should listen to “Plague Mass,” her amazing 1991 live album covering much of the same material.Those who love the sound of rock music should try “The Sporting Life,” which does indeed rock.

Here are the tour dates

March 31 – Seattle, WA @ Neptune
April 5 – Los Angeles, CA @ Cathedral of St. Vibiana
April 8 – San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic
April 11 – New Orleans, LA @ Joy Theater
April 14 – Austin, TX @ Paramount Theatre
April 17 – Chicago, IL @ Thalia Hall

Tickets to the Paramount show are not yet on sale.

Five dope vintage rap songs that reference Donald Trump

Kanye West meets with President-elect Donald Trump in New York in December. Sam Hodgson/The New York Times
Kanye West meets with President-elect Donald Trump in New York in December. Sam Hodgson/The New York Times

Back in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and Donald Trump was merely an example of when-you-got-it-baby-flaunt-it! wealth and not the Russia-endorsed leader of the United States, the latter showed up in a whole lot of rap songs.

Seriously: a whole lot of them.

What with his vast wealth (but nobody is entirely sure how vast), conspicuous consumption and love of the spotlight, he seemed an ideal aspirational figure (or at least a rich white guy).

As you might imagine, references to the man have gotten grimmer since, say, 2015. They are unlikely to get more positive any time soon.

Here are five of the best hip-hop songs that shout out the current president-elect. All of these are older and actually mention the man, unlike Run the Jewels’ brand-new “2100,” which they wrote in response to the election but which does not mention the president-elect by name.

1. Nelly — “Country Grammar “

“From broke to having brokers: my price-range is Rover/ Now I’m knocking like Jehovah/ let me in now, let me in now Bill Gates, Donald Trump, let me in now.”

In one of 2000’s best pop songs, Nelly blended playground/double dutch rhymes with spare, loping beats. The clean version is better than the dirty.

2. UGK —  “Pocket Full of Stones”

“It’s gettin’ so bad I got pregnant fiends hoin’/ (REDACTED) and (DEFINITELY REDACTED) just to get a pump/
(BEEP) Black Caesar, (BEEP) call me Black Trump”

A classic ode to that trappin’ life from Houston gods Underground Kingz. RIP Pimp C.

3. A Tribe Called Quest — “Skypager”

“The ‘S’ in skypage really stands for sex/ Beeper’s goin off like Don Trump gets checks”

A deep cut from Tribe’s immortal “The Low End Theory,” “Skypager” takes us back to a time when, well, folks had pagers. The line belongs to the late Phife Dawg. It’s a bit of a throwaway, but as with so much on “Low End,” that beat is RIGHT.

4. Raekwon– “Incarcerated Scarfaces”

“Poisonous sting which thumps up and act chumps/ Rae’s a heavy generator/ But yo, guess who’s the black Trump?”

A stone classic from the still-knotty “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,” considered by many heads to be the finest of the first wave of solo Wu Tang albums. (Yes, “Liquid Swords,” “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Ironman” all compete for the top spot, don’t @ me).  How strong was “Cuban” as an album? “Scarfaces” was THE B-SIDE to “Ice Cream.” Those were the days.

5. Kanye West — “So Appalled”

“I’m so appalled Spalding ball/ Baldin’ Donald Trump, takin’ dollars from y’all”

Well before he was taking meetings in Trump Tower, Ye manages to work in a joke about the Donald’s hair. And yeah, it’s not the strongest track on the opulent “My Dark Twisted Fantasy” (indeed, the whole opening has a freestyle feel), but it takes us back to a time when Kanye and Jay still talked to each other, which is nice to recall. And the chorus is probably how about half of Americans will feel Jan. 20: “It’s like that sometimes, I mean ridiculous/ It’s like that sometimes, this (beep) ridiculous.”

 

 

 

The Cure: Three epic hours of “you”

I love you. You love me. We love each other. Or maybe you don’t love me. I certainly love you even if you don’t love me. I miss you. I am thinking about you. I care about you. I don’t care about you. You don’t care about me. I wish things could be different. I wish they could stay like this forever. I think this might be a dream. I will always love you.

"Pictures of You"
“Pictures of You”

And that pretty well covers the themes Robert Smith and his band the Cure have been mining for nearly 40 years. His fans, thousands of them at the Frank Erwin Center Friday night, mostly in their 30s to 50s, were totally fine with this.  This was a night to re-acquaint one’s self with the epic melodrama that is adolescent romanticism. The complexities of adulthood, the pragmatic nuts and bolts of long-term relationships? Those are not Smith’s wheelhouse (see above).

What is Smith’s wheelhouse, what it became over the long term, is wide-screen psychedelic pop/rock.

For all he and the Cure are (rightly) identified with post-punk, 80s-night dance pop and the pre-Nirvana idea of “alternative,” the Cure are, at their heart, a set of pro-grade acid rockers, fond of sweeping keyboards, processed guitars, the occasional “tribal”drum beat. The Cure covered Jimi Hendrix on its very first album; that sort of thing has always been part of his DNA.

And for all that Smith is the band’s sole constant, bassist Simon Gallup and keyboardist Roger O’Donnell have been with the band on and off since 1979 and 1987, respectively. Drummer Jason Cooper dates from the 1990s. Guitarist Reeves Gabrels, a longtime David Bowie associate and friend of Smith’s, has been with the group since 2012. These guys know each other’s moves cold. Other than some ripping solos, mostly from Gabrels, there wasn’t much room for improvisation.

But it did mean they could play 33 songs in three solid hours and four encores, drawing on virtually every period of the band, have a four song, self-described “rock” encore and a six song “pop” encore and have it all make total musical sense.

Though they have played festivals in the interim, including ACL in 2013, this was their first major U.S. tour since 2008 (they played the Austin Music Hall on that one; it was very sweaty). In a press release, the band promised “to explore 37 years of Cure songs.”

The Cure performed in concert at the Frank Erwin Center on May 13, 2016 in Austin, TX. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman
The Cure performed in concert at the Frank Erwin Center on May 13, 2016 in Austin, TX. (Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman)

SEE MORE PHOTOS OF THE CURE AT FRANK ERWIN CENTER

And yep, that’s what it was, including a B-side (“The Exploding Boy”) that hasn’t been played since the Reagan administration. This was a set for and about life-long fans, with the band even in the radio-and-culture-aren’t-paying-much-attention years (from about 1996 to now).

A plurality of material (seven songs) came from the 1989 career-defining “Disintegration,” which is as good an example of knowing the audience as you are likely to see. The epochal “Just Like Heaven,” one of the best songs ever written, became a requisite scream-along.

the backdrop for "Friday I'm In Love"
the backdrop for “Friday I’m In Love”

Certain songs were treated as icons: “Pictures of You” and “Friday I’m in Love” came with a massive projection of the single’s sleeves, as if to day, “we know you stared at this thing while you played it in your bedroom and moped.”

But this set was mostly about massive blue moods “All I Want,” “Closedown,” “Prayers for Rain”) even as the encores split their skill set in two. For the rock encore, a new song fans have dubbed “Step Into the Light” felt like vintage Cure, while “Shake Dog Shake” recalled their acid-rock period “Wrong Number” turned into guitar thunder noise rock and “Never Enough” morphed from a dance

The Cure performing "Shake Dog Shake"
The Cure performing “Shake Dog Shake”

track to choppy rock.

“Hot Hot Hot,” to me an annoying attempt to write a Chic song (Smith is a lot of things but funky isn’t one of them) worked far better live, while “A Forest” and the obligatory “Boys Don’t Cry” closed the evening.

37 years of you, packed into three hours. Not too shabby, gents.

SET LIST

Out of This World
Pictures of You
Closedown
A Night Like This
All I Want
Push
Last Dance
Lovesong
Just Like Heaven
This Twilight Garden
Lullaby
Fascination Street
Screw
The End of the World
Want
Us or Them
The Hungry Ghost
Prayers for Rain
Bloodflowers

Encore:
Step Into the Light
Shake Dog Shake
Never Enough
Wrong Number

Encore 2:
Hot Hot Hot!!!
Close to Me
The Exploding Boy
In Between Days
Doing the Unstuck
Friday I’m in Love

Encore 3:
Burn
It Can Never Be the Same

Encore 4:
A Forest
Boys Don’t Cry

Prince live: Incredible concert moments (and more)

Seeing as how Austin is the Live Music Capital and all, let’s celebrate one of the greatest showmen of all time with some live videos.

The 1983 recording of the song “Purple Rain,” which he cut live at First Avenue in Minneapolis before editing and adding overdubs.

Here is Prince doing “Gett Off” on the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards and it is incredible.

Here is a full Jan. 30, 1982 concert at the Capitol Theatre (Passaic, New Jersey)

Here is a link to a stellar performance of “Housequake”. (Can’t embed this one.)

Prince at Coachella 2008 doing Radiohead’s “Creep”

Here is a fan-shot video of the Purple One blending “Sign O The Times” and “Hot Thing” in 2013. Not much this dude could not play.

Here is Prince and Cee-Lo doing “Crazy” live in NYC. Nice soloing from Mr. Nelson here.

And lest we forget, Prince was also incredibly funny. Here is Prince throwing shade (which he did insanely well).

 

 

 

 

New Explosions in the Sky album “The Wilderness” out April 1

explosions useAustin band Explosions in the Sky announced Monday a new album called “The Wilderness” due out April 1 from longtime label Temporary Residence. 

Preorder that sucker here.

It has been five years since their last studio album  “Take Care, Take Care, Take Care.”

Longtime collaborators with Austin director David Gordon Green, Explosions worked on the soundtracks for “Manglehorn” and “Prince Avalanche.”

Here is a profile of them I wrote in 2009, a few years before “Take Care.”

Fun Fun Fun Fest 2015: Dag Nasty plays authentic, old school Washington DC punk rock

So, every year at FFF, there are one or two bands that seem like (FFF organizer) Graham Williams specials: Stuff designed for him to stand at the side of the stage and sing along (or possibly stage dive).

This is not a knock; the bookings are not indulgences, not really. People come out for vintage hardcore acts such as Gorilla Biscuits and Madball, two bookings from earlier FFFs.

Dag Nasty (photo: - Dave Mead, @dave.mead)
Dag Nasty (photo: – Dave Mead, @dave.mead)

But there was something about Dag Nasty (who existed from 1985-1988 with reunions in 1992 and 2002)  playing Fun Fun Fun that seemed like the ultimate Graham Williams move. Not only was the vintage DC punk band playing, they were going to be performing with original singer Shawn Brown, who was in the band just long enough not to be on any albums. (in 2010, Dischord Records released “Dag with Shawn,” an LP of the often-bootlegged recordings Brown made with the band.)

Dag Nasty continued with singers Dave Smalley and then Pete Corner, creating several beloved albums and having a career and everything. Baker famously went into hair metal with Junkyard

After Brown split, he formed the terrific punk act Swiz, then a few lesser known bands. He reunited with some Swiz folks to start the band Red Hare a few years back.

Reunion shows can go any number of different directions, so when Dag Nasty took the stage – Brown, guitarist and sole constant member Brian Baker (he of Minor Threat and Junkyard fame), bassist Roget Marbury and drummer Colin Sears — the audience was enthused but very slightly cautious

It was absurdly, ridiculously fun.

Brown, now a tattoo artist and a bit heavier than 30 years ago, was a thrill to watch, as was Baker, still whippet skinny in the rock-n-roll manner. With melodic basslines, anthemic riffs and Brown’s everyman yell, songs like “Can I Say,” “Thin Line” and “Circles” roared to life. The band even broke out a Swiz song, “Ghost,” exactly the sort of deep cut that made assembled eyeballs pop and fists go into the air.

It was also a sharp reminder that hardcore was very much a regional music, that those sounds were very much of a time and place, that a label such as DC punk label Dischord was essentially a folk label, documenting the sound of middle-class kids annoyed at the world.

Say what you will about reunion shows, but these were the folks that made that music, in front of us, tearing it up.

Is it too much to hope for Swiz next year?