I was surprised by a few things at this past weekend's Beastie Boys performance at San Francisco's Warfield, where the veteran hip-hop/punk band played material from their latest album The Mix-Up. Mainly, I was thrown off by the gray hair and the good manners.
Members of the Beastie Boys have hit their 40s, so it's no big surprise to see MC and bass player Adam Yauch rockin' the salt and pepper up top. But it wasn't just the gray hair that got me. The Beastie Boys were so damned nice and polite. There was no shit-talking or rabble-rousing, and barely any cursing. The atmosphere was one that made you want to sip tea and dance rather than drink beer and punch the guy next to you. I have to say it was jarring to think that not long ago, I was jumping around like a fool at one of their concerts in a sea of hyped-up break dancing and moshing 20-year-olds.
That said, I'm not complaining. I dig it. The musicianship of the band is impressive and the songs are loungy and heavy with organ, percussion, wah-wah guitar licks, and lots of echo, reverb, and sci-fi sounds. It's similar to their earlier instrumentals from Check Your Head and The In Sound From Way Out!, but without any semblance of punk rock.
And the Beasties have traded in their signature Adidas track suits and beanies for old-man suits with pork-pie hats and skinny ties. It's not hip hop, it's mod, all the way. And I'm liking it.
Towleroad reminds us of a hilarious clip from the brilliant UK TV series "Little Britain" (a US version coming to HBO soon!) that Senator Craig maybe should have watched before formulating his denial. "Little Britain" is edgy but this clip is basically safe for work, unless your boss knows what a "Split Rose" "Spit Roast" is. (That one makes more sense, come to think of it).
Two weeks ago, I predicted M.I.A.'s Kala would debut at #39 on the Billboard albums chart. How did I do? Well, her sophomore effort spent most of the week in the iTunes Top Ten so it's not surprising I was a little low: Kala landed at #18, ladies and gentlemen, with 29,000 sold the first week. Go, M.I.A.!
Of course, to put it in perspective, Disney's High School Musical 2 stayed at #1 for a second week, selling, uh, 367,000 copies. Yeah. Moving on, Talib Kweli's Ear Drum sold 60,000 copies, which is good for #2 this week, and Swizz Beatz' debut album as a solo artist lands at #7. Unintentionally (?) hilarious San Diego Christian metalcore outfit As I Lay Dying hits #8 with their fourth album, An Ocean Between Us. Well, at least it's something different.
Rilo Kiley sold out on Under the Blacklight, and that's good for a #22 debut with 28,000, while New Pornographers stuck to their guns on Challengers and entered the charts at #34, selling 20,000 copies.
I got my fill of hip hop this year at Rock the Bells, a nationwide hip hop event that graced San Francisco with its presence August 18. I heard so much hip hop that day, that I couldn't listen to any beats and rhymes for days afterward.
With 19 hip hop groups in the lineup—split between two stages—performing from 11 a.m. past 10 p.m., Rock the Bells was a music marathon.
The lineup was phenomenal. The Coup rocked harder than any straight-ahead rock band, and Sage Francis turned a rant about portable toilets into poetry. EPMD live was much better than that beat-up cassette tape of theirs I used to listen to in junior high. Mos Def danced with the crowd, The Roots knocked it completely out of the ballpark with a full band and horn section, and Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, and Rage Against the Machine were as good now as they were 10 years ago. Three decades of hip hop were all in one place for a day in front of more than 40,000 people, and it was a damn good time.
But would I go again? Probably not. I think next time, I'll just bring a folding chair and set up right outside the fence. The stage was maybe 50 feet away from the perimeter, and there were three huge television screens mounted on the stage. Yeah, if money's tight, I'll just camp out and watch it all on TV.
78-year-old singer-guitarist Bo Diddley is reportedly stable after suffering a heart attack in Florida. The legendary blues-rock musician also suffered a stroke in May.
Lou Reedhas recorded a brand new track with Vegas alterna-rock stars The Killers. The song is called "Tranquilize" and will appear on the upcoming compilation of Killers rarities later this year.
Okay, fine, everyone else is reporting on this: Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins assured a topless female audience member at the UK's Reading festival on Sunday that "American girls are sluts too."
Dancehall superstar Buju Banton continued walking a confusing line on the topic of anti-gay lyrics this week, after protests against his appearance at the Reggae Carifest in New York. It has been both confirmed and denied that Banton signed the Reggae Compassionate Act, and this week the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation lodged a protest against Carifest for inclusion of Banton and Bounty Killer for the violently anti-gay lyrics in some of their songs. NY1 talked to Banton about the protest, and he either denied promoting hatred or continued to promote it:
Banton said has a message for people who say he's promoting hatred. "I would say to them they are ignorant, they are stupid, even though they proclaim to be intelligent," said Banton.
The New York Times reported Banton did not perform his infamous hit, "Boom Boom Bye" (which contains the lyrics that most upset protestors) at the sparsely-attended festival. NY1 talked to attendees who seemed nonplussed by the affair: "It's just music, so I feel when people make their music they have freedom of speech I go to gay parade, I come to reggae music, but they don't push us to go out there and bash gay people."
The New Jersey rocker (who's seemingly a bigger influence than ever lately) has announced his first tour with the E Street Band in four years, set to kick off in October, in Hartford, Connecticut. Their new album, Magic, is out October 4th, but they're offering the first single free for a week from iTunes (and various other websites who've taken the initiative). "Radio Nowhere" is a driving, reverby, uptempo number, kind of like "Jenny (867-5309)" except about 100 times ballsier. The UK Guardian says it's like "Springsteen singing Interpol," and while I'm not sure I'd go that far, it's pretty good. Download it from iTunes or grab an mp3 from the Guardian.
In this edition of the Top Ten: some French techno, as usual, plus French-Canadian hip-hop, as well as some hip-hop made by ladies, although they're not French or French-Canadian. Plus a mashup with a French band too! And, if you think about it, you can probably see the moon in France, although I have no proof of this either way. Actually, maybe I do.
10. The Moon (from The Sky, available outside your house)
Well, I just took that picture there out my window, and you can't really tell since my camera's pretty cheap, but tonight's moon seems extra bulbous and psycho bright, perhaps in anticipation of being eclipsed in just a few hours. I was reminded of Laurie Anderson's "Sharkey's Day," although she was talking about the sun, "like a big bald head / rising up over the grocery store."
9. Parts & Labor - "The Gold We're Digging" (video)
Supposedly this clip took endless hours to shoot, considering each alteration of the background color blocks meant another take, really. The end product is a little like "Fell In Love With A Girl" divided by "Everybody Wang Chung Tonight," both hypnotic and spastic. Thankfully the song is also kind of like that, a noisy double-time stomper that's somewhat reminiscent of Joy Division.
8. The Pharcyde / J Dilla - "Runnin'" (from Jay Deelicious on Delicious Vinyl)
Originally on the LA hip-hop group's fantastic 1995 album Labcabincalifornia, this was one of my favorite tracks of that year, before I had any idea who Jay Dee / J Dilla was. Of course, now I know he produced it, and while Delicious Vinyl's altering the credits on these tracks to read "J Dilla and The Pharcyde" is a little silly, it's nice to see they're alerting people to the impact he had on hip-hop. Plus there's instrumental versions!
7. Vitalic - "The 30,000 Feet Club" (from V Live, out 9/18 on Different/Pias)
(mp3 via Kids by Colette, or listen on his MySpace)
Before Justice stole the fire, Vitalic was France's great techno hope. 2005's brilliant OK Cowboy presaged the current crop of electronic CDs that actually cohere as full-length albums. Plus, live, he's actually pretty interesting, and he's beating Daft Punk to the punch by releasing a live recording of a performance in Belgium last year. This is one of the new tracks from that set, a propulsive, buzzing number that seems to fall out of tune now and then, only to resolve itself with greater energy.
6. Payroll - "Daft Prayer" (Daft Punk vs. Bon Jovi) (mp3 via his site)
I know, something Daft Punky has to be in every Top Ten it seems like, but this is really worth it. UK bootlegger Payroll basically leaves Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer" alone (since it's perfect as is, natch) and cheekily cuts up "Around the World" to fit, creating a combo that's both an awesome dance remix of Bon Jovi and a great way to enjoy both songs at once.
Flipping channels last night, I headed for Fox in search of some rerun Family Guy, and was confronted with the Teen Choice Awards. Normally, nothing could make me hit a button—any button!—on the remote more quickly, but I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I had set the remote down to eat a snack before I realized what I was watching, or maybe I saw David Boreanaz smirking his way through an intro and got flustered, but I suddenly found myself watching a live performance by Kelly Clarkson. The American Idol winner has been in the news lately since her apparent rumbles with Clive Davis over her new album, My December; the singer wrote most of the album herself and Davis didn't like it, I guess. The single, "Never Again," has been floating around the Billboard charts for a while, but I'd never actaully heard it, and her performance of it last night illustrated the conundrum perfectly: as the camera cut to an audience of shrieking teens and pre-teens, Clarkson and her band performed a driving, passionate, minor-key rock song. Clarkson reached into the upper registers of her voice to deliver lyrics that laid bare the agony of heartbreak with uncomfortable autobiographical references: "Bet it sucks/To see my face everywhere." Erp! The chorus avoids an obvious hook and instead just ups the emotional level from "fiery" to "conflagration," and overall the song is reminiscent of, I dunno, Heart's "Barracuda" or something. It's not great, or even that good, really, but her voice was flawless, and the performance was intense and affecting. However, the kids in the audience had looks in their eyes like the Tooth Fairy had just picked up a chain saw. Davis is probably right about the material's accessibility, but Clarkson may be headed somewhere far more interesting.
It's reunion mania! Remember in that post on the Smiths below where I said they're one of the last major defunct bands of the past 30 years who haven't gotten back together? Well, right there next to them stands My Bloody Valentine, a band whose fans erupt into seizures of glee at the mere mention of a possible reconciliation. Rumors are swirling that the band will come together at 2008's Coachella festival, reports Billboard magazine. While such rumors have popped up before previous Coachellas, it seems slightly more likely this time: first, the producers of the event have finalized a continuation of their contract with the polo fields in Indio, something that was apparently not guaranteed; second, there's basically nobody left who hasn't played; and third, the wild success off the Daft Punk tour proves an appearance at Coachella can re-launch a career. The booker for Coachella and a My Bloody Valentine representative both declined comment to Billboard.
Now legendary, the British-Irish combo (led by American-born Kevin Shields) had humble origins. They produced only two albums (1988's Isn't Anything and 1991's Loveless, above) and were part of a tangential British genre: "shoegaze," which, like most artistic movements, got its name from a mocking journalist, in this instance describing the bands' tendencies to stare at their effects pedals rather than engage the audience. However, the second of those two albums exploded across the music world like a fuzzy pink bomb. Marrying the thick, distorted sound of The Jesus & Mary Chain to the abstraction and delicate beauty of the Cocteau Twins, Loveless was a revelation, but critical and popular acceptance took a few years, by which time the band had fallen apart. Shields, in his own words, went "crazy" and isolated himself, while the other members drifted away, and the band's label, Creation records, was forced by financial problems into partnership with Sony, eventually dissolving.
In the meantime, Loveless has seemingly become all the more treasured as time goes by and a repeat performance seems less and less likely. Shields has emerged now and then, dropping hints about new material or a possible reunion. Whether the desert will swoon to the sounds of classic dream-pop next spring, we'll have to wait and see.