Reverend Horton Heat/Fishbone 09/30/17—The Cotillion Ballroom, Wichita, KS

You could make a lot of assumptions about the city of Wichita, KS. You could assume it’s a flyover state hellhole devoid of any culture or art, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume it’s a city full of hayseeds and rednecks who don’t take kindly to outsiders, but you’d be (mostly) wrong. You could assume there aren’t a lot of options for live music outside of country concerts…and you’d be almost right on the button.

There are others, however, who perform in our fair city time and time again—the dogged road warriors who tour relentlessly and build their following the old fashioned way, before YouTube hits made someone a celebrity without leaving their bedroom. When I think of who has played Wichita (country acts notwithstanding) more than anyone else, two names come to mind: rapper Tech N9ne from Kansas City (which practically makes him a local), and Dallas rockabilly legend Reverend Horton Heat.

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L-R: RJ Contreras, Jim Heath, Jimbo Wallace

RHH has played Wichita maybe six or eight times over the past decade. That may not sound like much, but as someone who’s spent the last ten years in the sunflower state pining for the old days when I could drive to LA or Las Vegas to see any concert under the sun, six or eight times in ten years is a lot. As for me, I’ve personally seen RHH at least eight times now in three different states, with three different drummers, but that hardly matters. No matter the circumstances, The Rev always puts on a fantastic show, and Saturday night at The Cotillion was no exception.

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Jimbo Wallace

One of the things I’ve always liked about Reverend Horton Heat is that, as with a lot of bands who tour exhaustively, they end up playing with just about everyone, which makes for some especially eclectic shows. Over the years, RHH has played with everyone from traditional rockabilly and country acts to White Zombie and Motörhead. Which is to say it should’ve come as no surprise when RHH hit the road with ska/funk/punk heroes Fishbone.

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Angelo Moore

Some may remember Fishbone from their early 90’s commercial peak with the release of The Reality of My Surroundings, featuring their only two singles to make the charts, Everyday Sunshine and Sunless Saturday. Some may also wonder what happened to them since then. It turns out Fishbone is doing just fine, thank you very much.

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L-R: Paul Hampton, Angelo Moore, Walter Kibby

Fronted by original vocalist/saxophonist Angelo Moore (one of three original members still playing with the band), Fishbone took a somewhat lukewarm crowd and had them eating out of the palms of their hands by the end of their almost hour-long set. Opening with the aforementioned Sunless Saturday, Moore and company set the bar high for the energy level they had to sustain for the rest of the set—a bar they had no problem clearing, and then some. Moore is as entertaining and energetic a frontman as you’re likely to find. His exaggerated facial expressions and grandiose, frenetic body language was fun to watch and a blast to photograph.

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Angelo Moore

With occasional help from a trusty roadie, Angelo switched from vocals to one of a myriad of different saxes with ease, even placing and re-placing the mic stand for his horn on cue every time. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the band sounded incredible. I spent the majority of the set planted in front of bassist and fellow original member Norwood Fisher, who laid down incredible grooves on an array of beautiful basses. By the end of closer Party at Ground Zero, the crowd was hyped and ready to testify.

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L-R: Walter Kibby, Norwood Fisher

 

Reverend Horton Heat, aka Jim Heath, has been cranking out his brand of rockabilly/punkabilly/psychobilly/whatever you want to put in front of “billy” since 1985, and has hardly let up since. Heath and his loyal sidekick/bass player Jim “Jimbo” Wallace were in the midst of recording a new album when previous drummer Scott Churilla decided to go his own way, leaving the band in a tight spot. Luckily, fate intervened in the form of fellow Texan Arjuna “RJ” Contreras, formerly of the terrific-yet-vastly-under-appreciated polka band (yes, that’s right) Brave Combo. He stepped in to record his parts for the album and was on the road touring before he knew what hit him. So would the new drummer change Reverend Horton Heat’s sound? Yes and no.

That’s because many of the songs in RHH’s set were classics and fan favorites. It would take some truly radical drumming to change the sound of set-opening instrumental Big Sky, or the dynamic push and pull of The Devil’s Chasin’ Me, but Contreras definitely has his own style, tinkering with certain drum parts and making them his own. Personally, I think RJ is a great fit for the band and I hope he has a permanent gig with the guys.

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RJ Contreras

The Cotillion Ballroom is probably my favorite venue in Wichita, and possibly the Reverend’s too, as he proudly declared how happy he was to be “in Wichita, Kansas at The Cotillion on Friday night!” despite it being Saturday. He may have been joking (he repeatedly said it was Friday, possibly just to mess with the inebriated), but if he was really confused, it’s easy to forgive—this was their 23rd show in 29 days. I’m impressed he even knew what city he was in, but then, when you’re the hardest working man in rockabilly, I assume touring with nary a day off becomes old hat.

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Jim Heath, RJ Contreras

As it turned out, the show at The Cotillion marked the end of their month-long tour with Fishbone and Los Kung Fu Monkeys (the tour’s other support act, Strung Out, bowed out the night before in Peoria, Illinois), and they commemorated the end of the tour by having a huge jam session on stage with members of all three bands. At one point during Fishbone’s set, I even caught the Reverend himself standing three feet from me, taking pictures of the band on his cell phone. It was a great show, and the best part is that with a band that works as hard as they do, I can count on them coming back to town soon.

Side note: if you don’t believe the “hardest working man in rockabilly” claim, check out RHH’s Facebook page—they already have tour dates up for the entire month of October, featuring some shows with country swing and doo wop master Big Sandy, and the entire month of December, those shows being an amazing triple bill featuring roots rock legends The Blasters and country guitar virtuoso Junior Brown. If they’re coming to your town, I highly recommend checking them out. If not, don’t worry—there’s a good chance eventually the Rev will come to you.

 

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The Black Dahlia Murder 08/20/17—The Crown Uptown, Wichita, KS

I’ve been a Wichita resident for eleven years, and a metal fan for considerably longer. Until recently, those two things—being a metal fan and residing in Wichita—rarely intermingled, as live bands playing anything but country or classic rock were few and far between (Steve Miller Band, anyone?). There  was the occasional metal show here and there, but not much in the way of a scene that people could support.

That may be starting to change.

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Brandon Ellis, The Black Dahlia Murder—sadly, the only zippered leather vest spotted all night.

In 2017, Wichita has seen shows by Mushroomhead, Cattle Decapitation, Superjoint, Amon Amarth, Hellyeah, Born of Osiris, and now, The Black Dahlia Murder. Combine that with the steady stream of shows full of local bands at smaller venues, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an actual scene.

The Crown Uptown is a gorgeous place. Although originally a movie theater when it was built in the 20’s (and dinner theater for years after), it seems almost custom made for concerts. As for TBDM show, turnout seemed a bit thin (blame the bad luck of having to book the show on a Sunday), although the fans who did show up were enthusiastic and appeared grateful to have another metal show in their town.

Kicking off the night was hometown act Parallax, playing a short but energetic set. Vocalist Trevor Rickett gave his all to try and pump up the crowd, with help from some vocal Parallax fans in attendance. The band was also shooting a video for a brand new song, so keep an eye out on social media for that one to drop.

Side note: Parallax is playing at The Elbow Room next month opening for Hed PE 09/22, so do yourself a favor and go see these guys while they’re still playing local shows—it may be only a matter of time before they’re touring nonstop and hardly ever home.

Betraying the Martyrs was up next, from Paris, France as a last minute replacement for Russian act Slaughter to Prevail. Their ultra heavy beats and growling vocals warmed everyone up, but the crowd was perhaps not ready for the occasional clean vocals and prominent keyboard parts that permeated the set.

At one point vocalist Aaron Matts urged the crowd to get moving and jump with the music, which the crowd did eagerly until the heavy riff they were jumping to gave way to keyboards and clean vocals, and the crowd lost their momentum. They’re a good band and they gave a tight performance, though by the end it I was thinking of them as “The THX band” due to the number of times their songs had beats drop like the THX surround sound intro that plays before a movie.

New Jersey’s Lorna Shore was up next, playing a short, tight set that was the first of the night to succeed in sustaining a circle pit for more than twenty seconds and consisting of more than two people. Closing with the title track off their newest LP Flesh Coffin, the band succeeded in loosening the crowd up for the remaining chaos yet to come.

Side note: Lorna Shore is returning to Wichita next month, opening for Miss May I at Rock Island Live 09/21. Don’t miss another chance to see this excellent band.

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Adam De Micco, Lorna Shore—guy liked to shred with his leg propped on his monitor.

The final opening slot (in the disappointing absence of Dying Fetus from this stop of the Summer Slaughter tour) belonged to the crushing Oceano. Led by one of metal’s most guttural vocalists in Adam Warren, Oceano brought an intensity the previous bands lacked. In fact, Warren even issued a warning to a member of the crowd to properly channel his enthusiasm, after he sprayed Warren with water during the opening number. After a reminder from Warren that people at the front of the stage were vulnerable to face-level kicks from Warren if he were splashed any more, the crowd put an end to the shenanigans and put their energy into proper displays of enthusiasm like a frenetic circle pit and the evening’s first instances of crowd surfing. Oceano was the band I was most excited to see and they did not disappoint. They were brutally heavy, buzzing with electric energy, and had the crowd worked into a frenzy for the night’s headliners.

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Adam Warren, Oceano—breaking it down while a fan headbangs.

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Chris Wagner, Oceano—you can tell he’s pounding that bass, look at his top string.

The Black Dahlia Murder capitalized on the crowd’s energy level and never let it drop throughout their hour-plus set. Running like a precision machine, TBDM cranked through song after song without sounding like they were rushing to get through their time on stage. Vocalist Trevor Strnad had a good rapport with fans, simultaneously joking around and keeping them buzzing between songs by encouraging them to keep the crowd surfing and stage diving going throughout the set, particularly among the females in attendance, who were up to the challenge.

TBDM closed with a brand new song, the title track from their upcoming LP Nightbringers, which was reminiscent of some of their most popular material. If that song is any indication, fans won’t be disappointed when the album drops in October.

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Trevor Strnad, The Black Dahlia Murder—pointing to a superfan.

Side note: Brian Eschbach had an absolutely insane guitar tone that made this guitarist and former member of metal and hardcore bands incredibly jealous.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—he knows his tone is sick, look at him.

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The Black Dahlia Murder—orchestrating chaos.

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Brian Eschbach, The Black Dahlia Murder—sponsored by PBR.

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Max Lavelle, The Black Dahlia Murder—mid-headbang

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Alan Cassidy, The Black Dahlia Murder—they had him tucked away and not even on a drum riser, like he was some second-class citizen. Drummers are people, too! (Barely)

It was a satisfying night of deathcore and extreme metal, with every band delivering in a big way. One can only hope that attendance was good enough to keep bringing metal acts to town and for a scene to develop. Time (and perhaps turnout at the upcoming D.R.I., Miss May I, and DevilDriver shows) will tell, but when crowds are as enthusiastic as this it’s only a matter of time before word spreads among fans and before you know it you have a thriving scene. May Wichita be so fortunate.

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Soles of shoes in a crowd shot = good concert.

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Ecstatic crowd surfer.

Chaos with a Smile: Andrew W.K.’s The Power of Partying Tour

In  the pantheon of great motivational speakers, certain people come to mind:images-2

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One of these things is not like the other.

Saturday night, thanks to an overwhelming sense of curiosity and a girlfriend who’s always up for something new, saw me at a venue normally associated with rock performances, hosting a rock singer. This, however, was different. It was a spoken word appearance by self-proclaimed King of Partying Andrew W.K., as part of his 50 state The Power of Partying tour.

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What I knew going in: I knew of Andrew W.K., as I suppose a lot of people might, from the 2001 hit single “Party Hard” (which, along with some other singles, has popped up in various video games) and from the now-iconic album cover featuring W.K. with one doozy of a bloody nose. Beyond that, all I knew was that Andrew had parlayed the party lifestyle he’d become famous for into serious motivational speaking gigs framed by his own rock ‘n’ roll viewpoint. He had some material prepared, but a large chunk of the evening would be open to Q & A from the audience.

Side note regarding the venue: I can’t believe it took me over a decade to finally go to Barleycorn’s. The place was cleaner, nicer, and smaller than I expected. Over the course of the night I must’ve remarked at least three different times “I really like this place.” I can’t wait to go back and see some bands, as with a capacity of only around 250 people there is literally not a bad seat in the house.

What I found upon arrival: Free pizza? Are you kidding me? Okay, the guy knows how to start a party—music, pizza, and alcohol. We got settled into one of the few remaining seats with our party accoutrements, and not a moment too soon—the show uncharacteristically (for a typical rock show, anyway) started right on time.

Andrew began the show by getting what I would’ve called in my prime pro wresting watching days “a cheap pop”—pandering to the home crowd for some easy applause. And yet, right off the bat I felt a vibe coming off W.K., in all his white jeans/plain white t-shirt wearing glory: the dude was completely genuine. There was no pandering, he was actually happy and excited to be there in Wichita, KS.

He spoke about the rigors of a 50 state tour, and how if he’d taken any time to think about it before committing he may have reconsidered. Before long, he got to the topic at hand—what it means to party in Andrew W.K.’s world.

So, what does “party” mean to man who’s practically made a career out of the word? A lot of things, actually. Positivity—being upbeat, finding the silver lining, etc. He spoke of having feelings of melancholy since he was a little boy, and how music helped him (then and now) weather the storm of negativity and gloom that would seemingly invade his thoughts.

One thing that really resonated with me was this (paraphrasing slightly): “Some of the biggest sparks of inspiration can come from the lowest of places. If you know how to acknowledge that bad feeling and roll with it, you can create something incredible.” I know exactly what he meant, as I’ve had a lot of bad things to draw inspiration from in the last year or so.

Although he didn’t use the term, a lot of what he touched on related to the concept of mindfulness. I’m nowhere near knowledgeable to go into detail about it, but if I had to try and sum it up in a sentence, it involves learning to acknowledge feelings and sensations as they happen without judgement (plus an awful lot more—again, I’m no expert). A major part of mindfulness is meditation, and while certain aspects appear to be easier to grasp than others, it seems incredibly beneficial to your mental and physical well-being if you can get a handle on it. You can learn more about mindfulness (highly recommended) by clicking here.

Upon opening the floor to questions, I was surprised how many people wanted to ask Andrew about coping with depression. I expected more rock ‘n’ roll stories from the road, or meeting celebrities, that sort of thing. (One guy asked about his high-energy live shows and W.K. described it as “chaos with a smile”, with raging mosh pits that would stop everything to help someone look for their glasses.)

My favorite exchange of the night was when a young woman asked him how she could help a friend who suffered from chronic depression and sometimes had suicidal thoughts. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Love them.” He went on to elaborate on that, but I (along with everyone else in the venue) was struck by the touching simplicity of his answer.

After the Q & A session, W.K. invited anyone who still wanted to talk or take pictures to come see him in the back of the bar by his merch table. Almost everyone in the room got in line to talk to him, or so it seemed. I was positioned to be able to see him with just a slight turn of my head, and I admit I enjoyed watching him interact with his fans, for a couple reasons.

First, just the act of hanging out like that to meet people and talk to them is a cool thing to do. He didn’t have to do that. It took upwards of 90 minutes for him to talk to everyone, shake every hand, take every picture. Second, he wasn’t just going through the motions. He was there, in the moment, with everyone who came before him. Eyes locked on theirs, listening intently to whatever it was they had to say to him. That really spoke volumes about the kind of guy he is, and I have to say it left me pretty impressed. That’s not to say he didn’t make a bee line out of there once the line was gone, but still. Just an awesome guy.

What I learned:  I learned that even guys who seemingly never have a bad day still struggle with their own demons. In the case of Andrew W.K., those don’t seem to be the typical rock ‘n’ roll demons of drugs and alcohol (I don’t think he even had a drink after the show, even though I’m sure people would’ve lined up to buy him one), but much more common ones: depression, self-worth, seizing the day, etc. It was nice reinforcement to know a fellow death metal loving oddball goes through it too.

W.K. mentioned he was about 1/3 through his 50 state tour, if he comes to your town I highly recommend catching him. He’s a good guy with a good message, and given the year I (and the nation) have had, you really can’t have enough people like that. Here’s a link to his remaining tour dates, check him out.

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I almost forgot, he also created a political party, The Party Party (naturally). I don’t know about any of you, but I’d sure vote for the guy.

So It Goes; Russian Circles

So, August turned out to be a pretty shit month for me and a lot of people I know. I try not to be one to complain, but…just wow.

Talking about it here, in a (relatively) public forum, may seem to some people like I’m oversharing or not keeping something private that others may not want made public more than it already has been. Not talking about it could imply a rather nonchalant reaction to a terrible situation, which is absolutely not the case.

Ultimately, I’ve decided not to go into it, at least not yet. Maybe someday, I don’t know. Either you know what I’m talking about or you don’t—if we’re friends (virtually, real-life, or otherwise) and you have no idea what I’m talking about, I apologize for being so vague, but feel free to message me on Facebook Messenger or send me an email through the website and I can fill you in. Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait.

In the meantime, I’m going to attempt a return to normalcy the only way I know how. The following post was nearly completed a few weeks ago, before everything went to hell on me. I added a little to it and voila. Enjoy.

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I had a post about 80% done that dealt with my disdain for nostalgia. In fact, it was titled “Death to Sentimentality,” and I railed against all the band reunions that have been happening, and all the reboots/remakes/re-imaginings dominating the airwaves—and that was before I saw the abhorrent mess that is Greatest Hits on ABC.

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When I think of Arsenio’s Dog Pound now, “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan plays in my head.

But I couldn’t finish it.

For one thing, it was a little hypocritical. While I’m not a huge fan of nostalgia, I have to admit that a lot of the music I listen to (in the car especially) is music from my youth—and no, I’m not so old as to predate recorded music, you assholes. Plus, the most anticipated show for me personally to get around to watching is Stranger Things, which capitalizes precisely on that nostalgia to capture some of its magic (seriously, I’ve heard not a single bad thing about it and cannot wait to see it).

Second, the whole notion of complaining about something like that just seemed so…grouchy. So old. So Clint Eastwood from Grand Torino. 

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Or just Clint Eastwood in general.

I don’t want this to be a place where I just bitch and moan—this should be a happy place. My  happy place, and if I’m any good at this, a happy place for you, too. Unless you only come here to read my posts and talk shit about them. Then again, doing that would still make you happy, albeit in a really sick, messed up way…I guess either way, if you read it, we both win.

My point is, rather than piss and moan about what I don’t like, I’m going to talk about new things I find that excite me. Not necessarily brand new per se, but at least new to me, like a 2004 Honda Civic with low mileage, previously owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sundays.

First up: instrumental rock band Russian Circles.

I’ve never been too keen on instrumental rock music, and I’ve come to realize it was because I held a pretty big misconception about it. By that I mean that for the most part I was largely ignorant to what kind of instrumental bands were out there.

The phrase “instrumental rock” brought to mind 60’s acts like Booker T. & The MGs, surf rock like Dick Dale and The Ventures, and the modern-day heirs to the instrumental surf rock throne, Los Straighjackets and The Ghastly Ones. I’m only vaguely familiar with Texas’ Explosions in the Sky, and at the height of my Kids in the Hall fever I even bought a CD by the Canadian instrumentalists Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet. But in the last six weeks or so my eyes have been opened, and I have seen the light.

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Before this, I would’ve guessed Russian Circles was some kind of sex act on UrbanDictionary.com

Russian Circles are a trio from Chicago, currently promoting their just-released sixth album, Guidance. Their brand of music is what is often described as ‘post-rock’ or ‘post-metal’. All that really means to me is that it’s got clear rock and metal influences but isn’t afraid to dip into other genres, or play with dynamics in ways traditional rock bands might not.

Some bands have one or two of what I would consider to be the magical elements: Stellar musicianship, excellent songwriting, killer production. Sometimes just having one of those ingredients is enough to create something really special. Russian Circles has all three. They are clearly near virtuoso-level masters of their respective instruments, they write songs (sans lyrics, no less) that keep from getting pretentious or boring, and their sound is absolutely incredible. The mix is just about perfect—nothing is muddled; each instrument can be heard clearly and easily, and when you’re listening to musicians this talented, you want to be able to hear every note.

A somewhat related tangent (bear with me here): I am really into food and cooking shows (mental note: why have I never blogged about food?). I don’t watch them as much as I used to, but I love Top Chef, MasterChef, Chopped, etc. Watching those shows as much as I have has ingrained in me the following: If you’re going to do something simple, the execution has to be flawless. Doing something simple perfectly takes as much skill as doing something complex, if not more. Russian Circles gets this (see, I told you it was related).

Case in point: the song Vorel, technically the second song off the new album, although the first song is really just an extended intro. Vorel is a lesson in the building and release of tension, and all that tension builds up to a classic metal riff so simple it’s almost hard to believe. But the execution is absolutely perfect, so it actually sounds fresh and new, even though it’s a variation of a fairly standard riff almost as old as metal itself.

Despite being a trio, Russian Circles’ sound is massive, due in part to a few things: the excellent production value, the fact that the guitarist multi-tracks on some songs (which he impressively pulls off live by sampling his guitar parts), and the occasional use of the distorted THUNDER SLUDGE bass tone (the term THUNDER SLUDGE © 2016, used with permission from BooksOfJobe Enterprises, LLC). The bass sounds terrific throughout, but once the distortion is added it takes the entire sound of the band to another level.

I’ve been listening to Guidance practically daily since discovering these guys on KEXP out of Seattle (which, if you’re in the mood for something different, give them a listen—any station that can fit Dead Kennedys and De La Soul in the same set of music gets my respect), but I’ve yet to give much of their first five albums a listen. I have a feeling I won’t be disappointed.

Well, there you have it. I eschewed negativity in favor of raving about something new I’ve found (and I almost forgot the equally impressive and heavy instrumental band Pelican), and I’ve provided you with ten—count ’em, ten!—different links to songs by every band I mentioned, plus the link to the KEXP website, where you can stream the station. So do yourself a favor and click a link or two. Check out something you haven’t heard before, or listen to a band you already know. Just listen to some music. It’s good for the soul, and dammit, you’re worth it.

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In Defense of Amy Winehouse

Her reputation preceded her—in my case, anyway. I was vaguely aware of “Rehab” and thought it was catchy, but it seemed like a gimmicky novelty song playing on people’s nostalgia of the old girl groups of the sixties. I liked the rebelliousness of the lyrics, though as time went on it became clear that rebellious or not, she needed help.

Before long, images of her reckless behavior flooded the media. That was the Amy Winehouse I thought I knew. The druggie. The drunk. The trainwreck. People enjoyed bashing her—for how awful she looked, for how strung out she was, for her penchant for getting into trouble. Admittedly, she was an easy target. Then, in 2011, she played with fire for the last time and died as a result of alcohol poisoning. Hardly a surprise. Another musician who can’t handle their addiction bites the dust, right?

Then I heard her music.

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I’m not sure how I came to hear the quote-unquote ‘real’ Amy Winehouse (by which I mean a song other than Rehab). It might’ve been because I had discovered Sharon Jones, and found out that her backing band, The Dap-Kings, played on Winehouse’s massive hit (and final) album, Back to Black. All I know is, when I pressed play on that first song (I wasn’t listening in chronological order—it was either Love is a Losing Game or You Know I’m No Good) everything else faded away. The world stopped turning for a minute while I sat entranced by the voice coming through the speakers.

“My God, THIS is Amy Winehouse?”

Granted, listening to her music posthumously gives it a haunting, verging-on-tragic edge that it might not have had when she was alive, but the fact remains her voice was simply amazing. Hearing her music, not just the one single I’d already heard, I finally understood what the big deal was all about.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people who don’t. A simple google search of her name returns as many links detailing her struggles with addiction as to her music itself. Where do we draw the line, between remembering someone’s contributions in the name of art rather than simply remembering the mess they made of their lives? Is it because her struggles were so public?

That’s the thing that’s gets me about her detractors—if you like music art of any kind, chances are strong that at least some of what you like was created by some truly screwed up individuals. The list of actors, writers, and musicians, etc. who are/were addicts or alcoholics is staggering. I started researching so I could list a few here, and the list was overwhelming. Everyone from heroin-addicted jazz musicians to Edgar Allen Poe to painter Thomas Kinkade, who died as a result mixing copious amounts of alcohol and valium.

Who would've guessed The Painter of Light battled with demons?

Who would’ve guessed The Painter of Light battled with demons?

Eventually, I’m confident time will take care of it. Maybe it’s already starting to. That’s one thing about art: it stands the test of time. Although it’s true that Amy found fame in the modern age of paparazzi and images of her being extremely messed up are all over the internet, people will care less and less about that as time goes on. Her music will still be there, and will still be amazing.

Even though her contribution to the world of music is relatively small at only two albums, it seems we should give her the same respect we give others who have fought and lost their own battles (Whitney Houston comes to mind). People should be defined by the art they gave the world, not the mess their personal lives may have been in the process.

And who knows, maybe she doesn’t need defending at all. Or, maybe the people out there who have no respect for her never will, and trying to defend her to those people is an exercise if futility. But if you only know the tabloid persona and you’ve never actually heard her music, forget what you think you know and give her a chance.

If you want a retro sixties vibe, stream Back to Black. If you’re more of the jazz persuasion, try her astounding debut (recorded when she was just 19 years old), Frank. If you don’t have that kind of time and just want to check out a single song or two, go back up and check out the other links. She wrote the majority of her own songs, and was a lot more than just a girl with a beehive hairdo, crazy eye makeup, and a substance abuse problem. She was an artist. Hopefully that’s how she’ll be remembered.

Auditory Time Machines and The Concert from Hell

A while back on Facebook there was a thread going around to list the first ten albums that sprung to mind that were special to you and had stuck with you over the years. It was a lot of fun, and not just in making up my own list but seeing the lists my friends came up with—there would be one or two that would stick out from the others that told you there might be more to your friend’s musical tastes than you thought.

When I looked over the list I made, I realized something: each album I listed brought to mind a very specific period in time. Sometimes it was a span of a couple of years, sometimes it was just one memorable night. Some examples:

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Minor Threat was a punk band with a short (but brilliant) career. Their entire discography is only about 45 minutes long, and was all released as one album after their demise, titled simply Complete Discography. Although they were around in the early 80’s I didn’t discover them until a decade later, when I was in my first real band and going to lots of concerts and playing shows of our own, etc. To this day, hearing Minor Threat puts me back behind the wheel of my old red Ford Tempo, driving around the desert picking up my friends without rides so our band could practice (a lot of good it did us *ba dum tish*).

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Jimi Plays Monterey is  a live album that was released in 1986, just after I had moved to a new town and started at a new school. I found a friend who also liked listening to his parents’ records, and instead of Flock of Seagulls or Depeche Mode we were listening to Cream and Jimi Hendrix. That album (which is still incredible if you’re a Hendrix fan) takes me back to doing homework in my room while furious guitar solos blared in my ear.

Then there’s the one that takes me to one night. December 26, 1992, to be exact. The concert from hell.

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I volunteered/was volunteered to drive four of us to see the band Ministry, on tour supporting their new album Psalm 69, with opening acts Helmet and Sepultura. All bands I really liked a lot—it looked to be an awesome night of music and I was really excited for the show. The concert was in North Hollywood, which was a couple of hours from our desert homebase, so we planned to leave early in the afternoon to avoid traffic and get there in plenty of time, which was standard operating procedure.

In the interest of anonymity, I’m going to change the names of my passengers. We’ll call them Paul, George, and Ringo. As we were leaving for the show, Ringo told me we needed to stop at his brother’s house on the way. His brother lived in a city that was right off the freeway and really wasn’t out of the way at all, so it was no big deal. Still, my spidey-senses should have started tingling right away. Without going into too much detail, things went down at said brother’s house which put my passengers in a much better mood but freaked me out A LOT.

Our stop was longer than intended and it put us behind schedule if we met any traffic on the freeway the rest of the way to LA, which was quite common. So we rushed back on the road and sure enough, stop and go, bumper-to-bumper traffic. Finally we seemed to get past the congestion as everyone sped back up to normal speeds again, when suddenly everyone slammed on their brakes again. I stood on my brake and came within inches of the car in front of me, letting out a sigh of relief until George yelled “REAR END!” and we were hit from behind by a car with, I’m guessing, worse brakes or poorer reflexes.

We dealt with the accident and got to the venue about twenty minutes after start time, missing most of the first band. We’re weaving our way through the maze of parked cars when George sees a nice Mercedes with a primo parking spot, and is suddenly very upset by this. Since he already had been complaining about needing to find a bathroom(and was of a mental state that could not exactly be defined as sober), he decided to kill two birds with one stone and proceeded to urinate all over the expensive luxury sedan. This freaked me out, because as part of the group I figured I was guilty by association. Luckily, no one saw this go down.

By the time we got inside the venue and reached our seats, I was an electric ball of nerves. It had been a long trip getting there, and I wasn’t looking forward to the drive back. Then to top it all off we managed to get separated at one point, so I didn’t even know where everyone was. Needless to say, Paul, George, and Ringo were all oblivious to my ulcer-inducing experience and had a much better time than I did that night. But ever since, whenever I hear any song from the album Psalm 69 I’m taken right back to that fateful trip to North Hollywood.

Okay, guys—story time. Tell me the memories you have tied to music, good or bad. What are your auditory time machines?

The Grammy Awards: Your Uncool Uncle

“The Grammys is the one award that doesn’t matter to anyone until they win one.”

For 15-20 years, I dismissed the Grammys as utter crap. It all started back in 1989, when they decided to branch out and recognize heavy metal and hard rock with its own category/award. And in a year when Metallica’s …And Justice For All ruled the rock/metal world (and, in my opinion, were still good and relevant), who was awarded the Grammy? Jethro Tull.

I repeat: Jethro Freaking Tull. A band with a flautist. How metal.

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It was an insult, a joke, and the moment I quit caring about the Grammys. And why should I? The music that mattered to me wasn’t even getting radio airplay most of the time, let alone being recognized by the industry. If a band I liked would’ve won a Grammy back then, I would’ve expected them to either not show up to receive it or give a vulgar and disparaging acceptance speech, detailing the ways the award was a joke and meant nothing to them. Breaking it on the stage would have been a plus.

In the early 2000’s I started watching the Grammys again, mostly out of morbid curiosity. There were some interesting wins here and there, some I agreed with and a lot I didn’t. There were interesting performances, some memorable and some miserable. But what became more and more clear is that for every tragic misfire there would usually also be a step in the right direction.

A prime example: in 2007 and 2008, Slayer won back-to-back Grammys. Slayer, one of the least commercial bands in the history of rock music, and one of my favorite bands. And all I could think to myself was, “It’s about damn time.” Suddenly the Grammys mattered, because a band I liked won one. And they humbly and graciously accepted the award, despite my wishes a decade earlier that any band I liked that won demolish the award immediately.

Now, I don’t always agree so wholeheartedly with who wins the Grammys (although I really don’t lose any sleep over any of it), but over the last few years I’ve come to view the Grammys as an uncool uncle you only see once a year—he isn’t as cool as he tries to be; he can sometimes be downright embarrassing; but, above all else he’s trying, and that counts for something.

Looking at this year’s rock nominees is a pretty good example: a handful of newer, and in my opinion more relevant artists mixed in with the likes of Black Sabbath, Neil Young, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. Led Zeppelin, for God’s sake. It seems to me more young acts should be nominated to keep interest in the awards, or else each new generation is going to write the Grammys off  as a bunch of geezers giving each other awards—although hopefully we never see another Jethro Tull-style goof up.

I had thought about doing a write up of the Grammys fully expecting it to be a snarky, sarcastic, excessively negative piece about the worthlessness of the awards. And while I still don’t think any band should care that much about winning one, it would be naive to say they don’t matter at all. The truth is, the Grammy is the biggest music award on the planet, and who wouldn’t like to be told their work is good enough to get one? The fact that they also give them to some of the worst songs/performers every year in the pop categories is another matter, and I’ll leave that issue to someone else.

I also have to admit that I’ve quite enjoyed the actual Grammy telecast the last few years; they really appear to be pulling out all the stops to make the show itself memorable, even if you don’t care about the actual awards. And with that, I’ll be the first to admit I’ll be watching Sunday night anxious to see who/what people are going to be talking about on Monday. Will you be watching?