CD REVIEW: Freeman / Gene Ween “Freeman” (East Bay Express 7/16/2014)

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CD REVIEW:
Freeman (Gene Ween) Freeman
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 7/16/2014

Since forming the oddball alt-rock act Ween with Mickey Melchiondo (aka Dean Ween) in an eighth-grade class near Philadelphia, Aaron Freeman (aka Gene Ween) has played very weird and very memorable music (Ween was, in some ways, to Frank Zappa as Phish is to the Grateful Dead) and struggled mightily with drug abuse. Two years ago the malleable-voiced singer-songwriter announced the end of Ween in a Rolling Stone interview, to the shock and rage of not only the band’s fans but also Dean Ween, his bandmate of almost 30 years. Now, the artist formerly known as “Gener” has unveiled an album called Freeman–with a band called Freeman–that serves as a proper solo debut (Marvelous Clouds, an exceptionally strange—but underrated—collection of Rod McKuen tunes, was released in 2012). 

“Covert Discretion,” the LP’s opener, establishes Freeman as the most earnest, or at least outspoken and personal, work by anyone associated with Ween. Written a week after Freeman’s incredibly ugly 2012 onstage breakdown with Ween in Vancouver, “Covert Discretion” alludes to his fight to either keep himself sober or keep making big money, and triumphantly ends with a repeated coda of “fuck you all / I’ve got a reason to live / and I’m never gonna die.” Freeman, which juxtaposes the androgynous operatic rock of Queen and early Elton John with Freeman’s more jangly late work with Ween (see: “Tried and True” and “Spirit Walker”), occasionally grates with religious tales of “wheels of alabaster” and golden monkeys. But its highlights, like the inviting “(For a While) I Couldn’t Play My Guitar Like a Man,” with its endearing guitar solo a la “The Stallion Pt. 3,” are a window into how hauntingly brilliant Ween records like White Pepper and Quebec might’ve sounded with a focus more on introspection than Zoloft and cocaine. If only Bill Hicks was alive, he’d have Freeman as proof that sober musicians don’t always suck. 

CD REVIEW: Andrew Bird “Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of…” (East Bay Express 7/2/2014)

CD REVIEW:
Andrew Bird Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of… 
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 7/2/2014

It’s common knowledge that Andrew Bird’s genius transcends music. Witnessing a recent performance of his new indie-Americana group Hands of Glory, each time Bird touched his violin, or whistled, I felt unable to stop recalling the times I saw transcendent athletes (Mario Lemieux, Barry Bonds, etc.) in action as a kid. But, as evidenced on Bird’s new album Things Are Really Great Here, Sort of… , the forty-year-old violin virtuoso is no Steve Vai. The prolific Bird’s love of irreverent-yet-profound songwriting dates back to his late-Nineties days collaborating with Squirrel Nut Zippers and leading Bowl of Fire. Things Are Really Great Here, which continues with the dusty Americana style Bird undertook with 2012′s Hands of Glory, focuses solely on covers of Handsome Family tunes. The Albuquerque-via-Chicago duo’s darkly enlightened odes to everything from cathedrals that look like spaceships to sad milkmen to poodles who think they’re cowboys fit Bird well. Though the Handsome Family is more steeped in folk tradition (as though June Carter teamed with Stephen Malkmus) than Bird, several sparsely recorded tracks here, like “Tin Foiled” and “Drunk By Noon,” seem more like an evolution of Bird’s sound than covers. Bird’s been known to write about snack machines that dream and clouds mistaken for mountains — and his strong, sweet voice would fit in any era of American music — so these captivating tall tales (“The Giant of Illinois”) and modern American curiosities (“Frogs Singing”) succeed in simply bringing a touch of eccentric country, and almost Gothic wildness to an artist often known for getting by on instrumental prowess and playful lyricism alone.

 

SHOW REVIEW: Mavis Staples in Boulder (6/25/2014)

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SHOW REVIEW:
Mavis Staples at Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder
6/25/2014

Standing just feet from Mavis Staples as she swaggered through Buffalo Springfield’s classic “For What It’s Worth” last night at Boulder’s historic Chautauqua Auditorium, it was obvious – even as she approaches 75 years old – why Bob Dylan famously asked Staples’ father for her hand in marriage so many years ago.

She’s got moxie; she’s got blues; she’s got style; she’s got class; and she’s got taste. That was clear when Staples and her band – three backup singers, including her sister; drums, bass and guitar – launched into a confident, badass version of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People.” Even Stop Making Sense, one of the great concert films of all time, could’ve used Mavis Staples.

“We bring you greetings from the Windy City…but I can breathe much easier in Chicago,” Staples (who, with the Staples Singers, was once considered the musical voice of the Civil Rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) admitted at one point. “We come to bring you joy, happiness, inspiration and positive vibrations…enough to last you maybe six months.”

Mixing in other classics (like a spot-on “The Weight” and Staples’ signature “I’ll Take You There”), gospel-tinged tunes, freedom rallies and lonesome-yet-hopeful ballads like “You’re Not Alone,” Staples and her band succeeded even where nearly everyone fails: They got the stilted, virtually all-white Boulder crowd to seem even a smidgen like an old-time revival, hollering “positive vibrations” right back.

“We love you, Mavis!” someone shouted between songs.

“I love you more!” the legend responded.

SHOW REVIEW: Andrew Bird in Boulder (Boulder Weekly 6/23/2014)

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SHOW REVIEW:
Andrew Bird at Chautauqua Auditorium, Boulder
Friday, June 20, 2014
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly

When I first heard that Kanye West had referred to himself as “the Michael Jordan of music,” I immediately recalled the first time I heard Andrew Bird’s instrumental Useless Creatures album, which introduced me to a genius that really does transcend music. To see Bird playing violin, guitar and xylophone; singing; and whistling is like watching a world-class ballerina, athlete, chess master, etc., at work. And yet even a shred of the kind of classless, shallow egotism that makes West, also notorious for saying “I am Michaelangelo,” so abhorrent is missing from Bird. That sadly antiquated humility made his performance at 116-year-old Chautauqua Auditorium in Boulder this past Friday especially fitting.

The first time I saw Andrew Bird in concert was with my partner, Irene, at the Ogden in Denver, back in 2009; that show was oversold, packed with chatty hipsters and plagued by repeated sound problems. And still, Bird’s exceptional musicianship, and sheer love of playing, came through, making for a special night with the future mother of my child and love of my life. Bird has a way of delivering his poetry and music as if it flows from him as naturally as snowmelt down Boulder Creek, but a rock club isn’t the best fit for him.

The big, beautiful barn (at the feet of the Flatirons) that is Chautauqua Auditorium, however, felt like it was made for an Andrew Bird concert. The 40-year-old Chicago virtuoso, who has released four albums and two EP’s in the past three years, followed a sweet opening set by Tift Merritt with three solo tunes that juxtaposed tasteful, mesmerizing loops with Bird’s strong, clear voice. The highlight of Bird’s solo turn was “Hole in the Ocean Floor,” from 2012’s Break It Yourself; the swirl of playful, neo-classical music and lyrics about “all God’s creatures roaring” brought to mind hikes in Flatirons just feet from Chautauqua.

After telling the sold-out audience of around 1,500 “This is truly one of my all-time places to play music and I’d play hear every year if I could,” Bird brought out his new, old-timey band The Hands of Glory. Featuring standup bass, pedal steel, acoustic guitar and drums, the quartet’s indie-Americana sound, which includes just the right amount of country spunk, and enough stop-on-a-dime classical and jazz credibility to back up Bird, was perfect for such an old-timey venue.

But the group didn’t just focus on tunes from Things Are Really Great Here, Kind Of…, Bird’s new album of Handsome Family covers. Instead, it delved all the way back into Bird’s Bowl of Fire days with “Dear Old Greenland”; unleashed a fitting cover of Townes Van Zandt’s gentle classic “Colorado Girl”; and succeeded into translating eccentric beauties, like “Effigy,“ from Bird’s more art-rock (think Blonde on Blonde meets Amnesiac) periods into a more Americana realm.

The moments when the whole band, save for the drummer, huddled around one microphone to convey tunes was particularly transporting. Especially for listeners sitting on ancient wooden benches in a venue so old you can almost smell the sawdust that once covered the floor back in the days when the likes of John Philip Sousa was on stage.

Let’s hope Bird does keep playing Chautauqua every year. After Friday, I’ll also hope I happen upon a friend with homemade pre-show apple pie on the grass outside the Auditorium every year.

The Jokers of Spades: Interview with Red Fang (Boulder Weekly 6/5/2014)

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THE JOKERS OF SPADES
Red Fang Likes Its Sludge-Metal With a Hint of Whimsy
by Adam Perry for Boulder Weekly, 6/5/2014

Not many modern metal groups are featured on NPR’s First Listen or routinely garner nearly a halfmillion YouTube views when a new music video is released. But Portland sludge-rock favorite Red Fang, which plays the Gothic Theatre in Denver this Friday night, has a unique way of maintaining a sense of unbridled fun, for both band and listener, while playing remarkably heavy songs with remarkably dark lyrics.

“I think both darkness and whimsy can come from the same place, which is an indirect expression of repressed feelings,” Red Fang lead vocalist and bassist Aaron Beam says. “In many cases, I think whimsy is an expression of repressed darkness.”

Murder the Mountains, Red Fang’s critically acclaimed 2011 sophomore longplay, was accompanied by an exceptionally whimsical video for the song “Wires,” which hilariously features the band spending a $5,000 check from its record label — ostensibly meant to cover the video’s production budget — on junk food, beer, a used car and miscellaneous items (from gallons of milk to furniture) the members of Red Fang jubilantly run over with the car. It was literally a smash hit, quickly becoming a YouTube sensation and making Red Fang as close to a household name as underground metal bands get.

Probably not since Suicidal Tendencies’ legendary 1983 “Institutionalized” video has a metal group so creatively and successfully roped audiences who might not normally listen to heavy music into its unrelenting lyrics and music with a brilliantly comical video.

“The ‘Wires’ video is amazing and turned us on to a lot of new people for sure,” Beam says. “Making [it] was definitely about as much fun as you can have making a video. I mean, come on, we got to smash shit with a car all day. Duh. It was all our buddy Whitey McConnaughey’s idea. He is a genius for ideas like that. He’s made all our videos so far.”

Not surprisingly, Beam remembers the glam-metal act Twisted Sister, with its memorable videos starring Animal House’s Mark Metcalf, as “the first band I got interested in, and it was definitely because of the video for ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It.’”

Still, despite the more widespread attention brought by numerous whimsical music videos — and a performance on The Late Show with David Letterman, of all places, with Paul Shaffer sitting in — Beam says Red Fang isn’t focused on homogenizing its image or sound for a wider audience.

“We’ve never written any rules for ourselves,” Beam says. “No, I lied. We wrote one rule: If we all like it, it can be a Red Fang song. Doesn’t matter at all what it sounds like or how heavy or light it is.”

Beam, whose “first favorite pop song” was “Private Eyes” by Hall & Oates, insists there is no musical formula for Red Fang, despite the obvious influences of early metal such as Black Sabbath and the gory lyrics of sadistic greats like Samhain.

“Each of us listens to and appreciates pretty diverse music, and I think that definitely affects our songwriting,” he says. “Our fundamental form of expression, no matter what we are listening to or thinking about when we are writing, is dark and heavy…[but] we don’t really think about trying to achieve a balance.”

“Speaking just for myself, it’s really just whatever comes out when I put the pen to paper. Usually it is some sort of expression, whether direct or symbolic, of emotional shit I am trying to process. Sometimes I don’t even know what the hell a song is about until months after writing it.”

The term “stoner rock” has been used in regards to Red Fang’s music, which continued its thick, driving — but well short of hardcore as far as tempo goes — tendencies on last year’sWhales and Leeches. The crunchy psychedelia of classic stoner rockers such as Kyuss is missing, but the pounding drums, dark themes and God-size rhythm guitar of Sabbath’s surely stoner-rock early ’70s material are crucial to Red Fang’s big, imposing metal. Not that Beam pays any mind to how his group gets labeled.

“I feel like stoner rock has blossomed as a genre in the last five years or so, to the point where there is basically a formula for making a stoner band,” he says. “We do not fit that formula…but if you enjoy smoking weed while listening to us, then I guess we are [stoner rock]. I guess I don’t really care, because ultimately, labels are sort of useless.

“I think the closest you can come to describing what a band sounds like is to do one of those formulas where it’s like Black Sabbath plus Hot Snakes plus Balkan Brass Music minus trumpet solos equals Red Fang. But that still is obviously not 100 percent effective, and genre names are convenient and people like them, so whatever.”

Red Fang, more than anything else, embodies what Flea once called “playing ferocious music as a healthy release of anger…turning a source of misery into something beautiful.” No matter how you choose to describe Red Fang’s sound, it’s obviously an impressive feat to gain such widespread appeal while juxtaposing such uncompromisingly heavy music with lyrics like “just before I take you / paint your lips with blood / you’ve stripped away the skin / babe frothing at the teeth / carry him to me, his blood like cream.”

It’s no sin for Red Fang to acquire much of that mainstream attention, which no doubt has helped the group book its mighty metal into some major festivals this summer, by making music videos featuring such unforgettable sights as a zombie ripping a bloody fist through Fred Armison’s rib cage Alien-style in a dive bar just to snatch a can of Tecate from the Portlandia star. The videos are veritable sugar to get the medicine (Red Fang’s searing live shows) down and deliver what the band calls “The Joy of Red Fang.”

“I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, expressing darkness through the music and lyrics means that I have purged it in a way, and then I don’t carry it with me, so I don’t act like a goth,” says Beam.

 

CD REVIEW: Led Zeppelin “Deluxe Edition” of 1st 3 Albums (East Bay Express 6/4/2014)

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CD REVIEW: Led Zeppelin “Deluxe Edition” of 1st 3 Albums
by Adam Perry for the East Bay Express 6/4/2014

When a colossus of classic rock such as Led Zeppelin releases previously unheard music, the event is always billed as “a must-listen.” And Zeppelin’s new box set, which includes the English heavy-rock legends’ first three albums and various live tracks and rarities, is certainly a big deal — and not just because of the previously unreleased original material, such as rough mixes of “Whole Lotta Love” and “What Is and What Should Never Be” and a few enjoyable, but unremarkable, unearthed originals. The real story here is the live tracks from a 1969 gig in Paris. Zeppelin, a group that has very few live releases, sounds downright human in these performances — and that’s a good thing.

A raucous medley of “Good Times Bad Times” and “Communication Breakdown” finds the band struggling to agree on a tempo, and a barely legal Robert Plant trying to decide on lyrics. But the quartet’s unprecedented wall of sound, which must have seemed almost demonic to audiences accustomed to Herman’s Hermits, negated the necessity of things like a steady tempo or a intelligible lyrics. With drummer John Bonham bashing his Ludwigs, the band had the explosiveness of the Sex Pistols but with lyrics about “hobbits, sex, and sex with hobbits,” as Jack Black famously said.

These early live tracks remind us why Zeppelin mattered — its energy. On that note, it must have taken a lot of gall for a 21-year-old kid who grew up in a small town outside Birmingham, England, to tell a hushed French audience, “Good evening, and welcome to Paris,” as Plant does before the band rips into “Heartbreaker.” But the singer, then on his way to becoming rock’s first “Golden God,” already knew that rock ‘n’ roll is about attitude as much as ability.

Please Donate to My “BIKE M.S.” Effort!

Photo of Coyote Ridge, Ft. Collins

So a buddy of mine, Dan, just invited me to join his cycling team on a 50-mile Ft. Collins loop on June 28 to benefit the fight against Multiple Sclerosis. This is a serious cause and I’m excited to do the ride and raise money - at least $250 is required from each cyclist, and I hope to raise significantly more than that. Any dollar amount helps, and it’s tax deductible. Just click this link to my personal page and make a donation if you can!