Usually, I try to be generally funny and positive in my choice of post topics. Unfortunately, there is something that is weighing so heavily on my mind that I can’t help but share it with you.
For some time now, ex-drummer and sometime singer of Genesis Phil Collins has been battling perhaps the largest set back in his professional career. Last September, he announced on the Genesis website that he had underwent neck surgery in an attempt to heal nerve damage brought on by poor posture while drumming during Genesis’s 2007 world tour. The This news shocked and dismayed many, but Collins was ultimately optimistic saying, “Maybe in a year or so it will change, but for now it is impossible for me to play drums or piano. I am not in any ‘distressed’ state, stuff happens in life.”
Unfortunately, things have yet to turn around for the drumming legend. Phil Collins is still drumming away, currently working on an album of Motown covers (why, we’re not sure) but in order to play anything, he is forced to tape the sticks to his hands. But even despite this frustrating setback, Collins still is managing to remain upbeat about his injury.
Rolling Stone recently got in touch with the drummer, where he lightheartedly told them that taping drums sticks to his hands was “like wearing a condom” and that his biggest concern with it was that it “cramps your style”. Obviously this is a diminution of the problem, but he still finds hope in this dark situation. As he says in the article,”Three years ago I didn’t know I’d be in this position and three years from now it may not be like this.”
But all news is bad surrounding Phil. Two Mondays ago, Genesis was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Although Peter Gabriel was not in attendance due to his busy European tour schedule, Collins, Mike Rutherford, Steve Hackett and Tony Banks were honored at the ceremony with covers of “Watcher in the Skies” and “No Reply At All” by the jam band Phish.
Here’s their Trey Anastasio’s introduction and Genesis’ acceptance speeches and footage of the Phish performance:
Despite Anastasio’s nerdy theses on “the power of Genesis”, he hits on something true: “the point of music is community, not the player. Musicians are simply channels to link the audience to the music and each other. Genesis understood that always.”
Hopefully Phil Collins realizes that although he may be out of commission for the time being, he is still an inspiration and a role model to many, including myself.
If I remember correctly, my sixth birthday was “lunar module” themed. In our unfinished basement, we laid down masking tape on the cement floor to create tracks for the rover races. On the walls were cutouts of the lunar lander, and everyone left the party with some freeze-dried ice cream.
Now, as a chunky six-year-old, I thought this party was the coolest thing ever. Little did I know that some people bring in rock bands for their sixth birthday parties.
That’s right – it’s the big oh-six for 107.1 The Peak, WXPK, coming your way in the first week of April. And to celebrate, they’re bringing in the bold Brooklyn band The Hold Steady.
The Hold Steady - From left to right: Tad Kubler, Galen Polivka, Bobby Drake, Franz Nicolay (who recently quit the band), and Craig Finn
Headed up by Craig Finn, a guy that looks like he could be the the embodiment of nerd-rock, the band actually has a hard-hitting, gritty sound. Here’s their video for “Chips Ahoy” – have you ever seen a rock star more convincingly wear George Costanza glasses?
They’re also renowned for its ability to tell a story, thanks in large part to Finn’s intricate, weaving lyrics. You may recognize their lexical prowess from “Sequestered in Memphis” which has received a lot of air time on the Peak. The band ties many of their songs to characters from history and literature – like Sal Paradise from Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, or the american writer Nelson Algren. Their nods to pop culture references are even better. For instance, in “Knuckles” of off The Hold Steady’s first studio album in 2004, Finn sings, “I’ve been trying to get people to call me Sunny D/I’ve got the good stuff kids go for”. Here’s the bad in a more traditional rock band role than the last video:
The Hold Steady has been holding steady for almost seven years now – with four LP’s out, and another one on its way this May.
Craig Finn and Tad Kubler, the lead guitarist, have been playing together for a long time. In 1994, they formed half of the band Lifter Puller. Listening back, you can hear a lot of similar styles and stories in the Lifter Puller songs, and you can connect the lines from the nineties to the aughts to see the evolution of The Hold Steady.
Here are two songs from the Lifter Puller days:
“Secret Santa Cruz”
The new Hold Steady album, Heaven is Whenever, is out May 4th, and with the Peak Birthday Concert on April 2nd, you’re bound to get a sneak preview. So head on over to 1071thepeak.com to grab your tickets to the show. As an added bonus, The Oranges Band, formed by the former bassist of Spoon, Roman Kuebler, will be opening the show.
And it’s all happening just down the road (or up the Hudson line) in Ardsley. Hope you can make it!
So I was going to put up a dry concert watch of all the hip-hop-happenings in New York’s backyard this month, but I’ve just spent the last two hours rediscovering one of my favorite music video producers, so I thought I’d share him with you.
Vincent Moon, a.k.a. Mathieu Saura
His name is Vincent Moon, and he is a contributor to the French music blog, La Blagotheque. Now I don’t speak much French outside of “j’mapelle pamplemousse”, so navigating around the blog is a lot of fun for me, but here’s what I’ve figured out: Moon (born Mathieu Saura) loves taking bands out from the natural habitats and films them playing super stripped down versions of their songs. Most of the time, this is for portability – because he loves shooting on the move, or as he calls it, “nomadic filmmaking”.
He’s filmed an astonishing number of artists and bands, from the obscure (like De Kift, the Dutch tuba-loving oompah rock band) to the upper-echelon indie (e.g. The Arcade Fire and Andrew Bird). Since his first video with The Spinto Band in 2006, the crispness of these recordings has really bloomed (thanks in part to great hosting provided by Vimeo).
His videos are charming, worldly, and seem to capture the essence of the artists in a way that surprises even the artists themselves. Spontaneity is valued above all else, and the results of his devotion to that aspect of the process are fantastic.
Here is one of his first videos, filmed in Paris with the sunny British pop group, The Kooks, of “She Moves in Her Own Way” fame:
At the end of the video, singer Luke Pritcher is in disbelief about the crowd they gathered, as they walked through a local high school. “That was the most insane thing I’ve ever done,” you can hear him saying.
Here’s one that takes the idea of a journey in a whole different direction. This is the supremely talented folk singer Elvis Perkins strolling the streets of Paris armed with just a guitar and a hat. If you choose to watch any of these videos, this is definitely the one to watch.
A still from Vincent Moon's "Take Away Show" with Elvis Perkins, singing "While You Were Sleeping"
It’s a quietly observant song, as Elvis Perkins slowly and thoughtfully takes in the city around him. The camera work here is incredible, and glances at the camera from the kids and adults passing by really stick with you long after they’ve left the frame.
Finally, here’s a big fish. Everyone’s favorite band, Phoenix, performing a rock-solid version of their single “1901” at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. It is just beautiful and optimistic.
And last, but certainly not least: The Arcade Fire, a band that’s gotten a lot of attention on this blog recently, but this video is too incredible to be left out.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven… eight people in the band cram into a freight elevator minutes before a show to do a rendition of the “Neon Bible” that looks as claustrophobic as the song feels. In a good way, of course. Then the band solemnly walks into the middle of their crowd to perform their hit “Wake Up”. It’s incredible:
This kind of experimentation is what music is all about.
CONCERTS THIS WEEK IN NY’S BACKYARD:
Joan Osbourne tonight! She played at The Peak’s Pleasantville Music Festival
. two years ago or so. Catch her again at 7:30 at the Julia Miles Theater in NYC.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are playing at Ridgefield Playhouse this Friday
. at 8pm.
The Allman Brothers are playing United Palace at 7pm the same day, and again
. Saturday night.
And you can catch Blue Oyster Cult (classic) this coming Saturday as well at 7:30
. at BB King’s Blues Club.
Bands that explore the definition of rock and roll, breaking down genre and expectation.
Nick Urata, left, lead singer of the gypsy-rock band DeVotchKa
Think of a rock song. Any rock song. I’m going to guess that the song you chose has certain elements. It has at least one guitarist, an electric bassist, a drummer who’s locking down the beat, and a singer with a soulful voice singing about love, lost or won.
And while there’s nothing wrong with that, today we’re going to delve into some bands that incorporate novel instruments and ideas into their music.
A Young Bob Dylan
One of the first artists to bridge the gap between rock and another genre is someone most Peak listeners know well. I’m talking about Robert Allen Zimmerman a.k.a. Bob Dylan. From the time he dropped out from the University of Minnesota in 1961 until his electric debut in 1965, Bob Dylan played solely folk music, aiming to be a disciple of his idol, folk legend Woody Gurthrie. But as Dylan matured, so did his music, and he began to incorporate more rock themes into his work. The best example of this is definitely his most famous electric song “Like A Rolling Stone”, released in 1965. There’s a very prominent drum track on the song, thanks to Bobby Gregg, especially towards the end of the song, and of course you can’t omit Al Kooper’s impromptu position as session organist. “All Along the Watchtower” (1968) and “Hurricane” off 1971’s Desire are two more songs that feature a great folk/rock sound. To sweeten the deal, here’s an electric version of Dylan’s famous “House of the Rising Sun”:
Now, there’s someone I mistakenly neglected to mention when I was talking about some of my favorite drummers two weeks ago. Who? Billy Cobham, the Panamanian maniac. But what band does he play for? He played with Mahavishnu Orcestra, a jazz-fusion band that took a lot of rhythmic influence from Indian classical music. Take a look at this video, first of all to see how incredibly skilled Cobham is, and secondly to get a glimpse into the diverse nature of their music:
I don’t know why McLaughlin is talking so oddly, because while most of the band was from around the world he came from plain old Yorkshire, England. There’s some rock in there, some funk and a lot of violin, to boot. The Indian influence came from guitarist John McLaughlin’s studies with Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. It was Chinmoy who bestowed McLaughlin with the name “Mahavishnu” which means “divine compassion, power and justice”. Here’s a track that’s a little more accessible, but equally as awe-inspiring:
Nickel Creek, from Left to Right: Chris Thile, Sara Watkins and Sean Watkins
Switching gears now, we’re going to tone back the volume just a tad, as we get acquainted with the “progressive acoustic” (read: cool bluegrass) band Nickel Creek. Here’s their “Smoothie Song” performed live – the only one of their songs that to my knowledge has been played on the Peak:
You can already feel the rock vibe in their music. They’ve been getting steadily more progressive since their second to last release, This Side (2002). They’ve even gone so far as to include drums making them the most badass bluegrass band ever. Check out this song from their most recent album Why Should the Fire Die?
Chris Thile, who sings and was the primary mandolinist for Nickel Creek now carries on the progressive acoustic banner, releasing a fairly rock-oriented album, called deceiver, features this track:
But despite all of the variations in rock music that we’ve seen so far, there is one rock genre that really strays from its counterparts – electronic rock. The eighties was championed by both good electronica artists like Depeche Mode and bad ones like Erasure (if you can watch this without smirking, you are a superhero). The nineties saw great bands like Moby and the Chemical Brothers. The torch was held through the aughts by some forward thinking bands like the Flaming Lips, TV on the Radio, and Ratatat.
One artist who deserves a lot of credit for his exquisitely layered songs is Martin Dosh, who by day drums for violin virtuoso Andrew Bird and by night beeps, boops and loops his way to some fantastic music. Here’s a video of him at work in his at home studio:
It’s really incredibly to watch him move from instrument to instrument, adding and removing layers as he goes.
That’s all I wanted to talk about for today, but here are some other of my favorites to whet your appetites so you’ll explore what else is out there:
Roderigo y Gabriela – Two of the most accomplished guitarists I have seen, from Mexico City – mixing insane flamenco rhythms with rock music. They’ve covered Metallica, Led Zeppelin and others. Check out some of their music in “Other Music”.
The Cat Empire – From Melbourne, Australia, these guys have managed to tame reggae and jazz and make them work together in their five piece rock band.
DeVotchKa (Russian for “Young Girl”) – from Denver is probably best known for scoring the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, but they’ve got some great music, adding Romani, Slavic and Greek facets to a solid rock sound.
Sufjan Stevens – This artist gets enough weird points for embarking on a series of concept albums about the 50 United States (a project that’s currently on hold). But he’s known to throw some great instruments in his mix, from glockenspiels to horns and lots of strings.
Beat Circus – out of Boston comes this great folk-rock band. They cover such a range of styles that it’s hard to pin point what you’re listening to, but definitely worth a listen.
Owen Pallett – The artist formerly known as Final Fantasy, who I harbor a grudge against for saying in the Times Magazine, “[d]rummers ruin bands”. He goes on to say “If you’re in a mediocre band, just fire the drummer, and chances are you’ll have the best band in the world.” Other than that, he’s a fantastic artist who also uses a lot of strings, being a violinist himself, and writes songs with well thought out and elaborate orchestrations.
Here’s a beautifully complete song called “Tryst With Mephistopheles” off his album, Heartland, which came out this year:
…and if you listen closely to the track you can hear the sound of… are those drums?! It’s surprising how well they complement the song.
OK, that’s really it. Check back next week for what great concerts are happening in New York’s backyard in March.
Most of the time, we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about what our northern neighbor is up to…. until the Olympics, that is. Suddenly I’m seeing more advertisements for whale-watching in the Canadian outback than commercials featuring creepily mature babies talking about their stock options. And for me, that’s a problem. That, and getting whooped by both the British and the Canadians in curling. (Full disclosure: I’m watching curling right now, and the match is not going so well.)
The point I’m trying to slowly meandering towards is that Canada has great music, and the Canadian music scene is something definitely worth paying attention to.
The Band, on a beach near Robertson's house in Malibu in 1975
There are the big names in Canadian music. Perhaps the biggest being The Band, from Toronto, which was four-fifths Canadian, with legends Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson (fun fact: Roberstson just masterminded the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese psychological thriller Shutter Island). The one non-Canadian in the band was “the only drummer that could make you cry” – America’s own Levon Helm.
Also from Toronto was a band I talked about last week, the prog rock gods, Rush. Their last album, Snakes and Arrows, came out in 2007 but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been busy. The Sports Network (TSN), Canada’s ESPN, was looking for a way to add some pizazz to their outdated “The Hockey Theme”, originally composed in 1968. The solution? The theme, which plays before all NHL games on the network, would be re-recorded by Mr. Peart which means many, many drum fills. Oh, so many drum fills. Check it out:
The new theme is set to play for the rest of the season, and hopefully will last longer than a previous tongue in cheek version recorded by the Barenaked Ladies, who also happen to be from Toronto.
Back to music that is actually written by the artists themselves: From Midland, Ontario comes one of my favorite bands, The Born Ruffians. Formed by Luke Lalonde, Mitch Derosier and Steven Hamelin, the band makes some great music that is sparse and erratic yet wonderfully rich. Take a listen to this song, and be warned that it gets a little gory towards the end:
Luke’s unique voice is what sets the band apart from other small-time indie bands, and in terms of classic vocalists he can doo wop with the best of them. In preparation for the release of their upcoming album, Say It, the band will be playing in March at the SXSW music festival but they’ll be stopping by New York before then for two private shows, one at Colgate University and the other at NYU, for the lucky students who attend those schools.
We head back to Montreal for the so-called “trip rock” band, Beast, consisting of just two members: Betty Bonifassi, and Jean-Phi Goncalves. They’ve been growing in popularity because in addition to their main single “Mr. Hurricane” being a free download on iTunes, it was nominated at the Grammys for Best Short Form Video. Despite Bonifassi’s annoying tendency to add unnecessary syllables to words (“me-a”, “safety-a”, “sea-a” etc.), the song’s really fun to listen to thanks to a fantastic drum and bass section and some spiffy production courtesy of Goncalves. And the video has some pretty cool special effects, done at a discount by Joshua Sherrett who worked on 300. But the song is the best part, and if you don’t like bees, don’t watch this:
But no Canadian group has been so prominent in recent years as The Arcade Fire, indie-rock superstars. Husband and wife duo Win Bulter and Régine Chassange have led the band to incredible fame. They have been all over the place: possibly working with Owen Pallett (the indie-violinist who formerly released solo works under the name Final Fantasy) on the soundtrack for Richard Kelley’s (who directed Donnie Darko) upcoming film The Box (incidentally, The Box is also a Canadian new-wave band from the eighties); re-recording their song “Wake Up” for the Where the Wild Things Are trailer; and licensing that same song for this past Superbowl – all the while coming in and out of the studios so they can release their third LP sometime later this year. Wow that was a mouthful.
Some of the members of The Arcade Fire, with Butler and Chassange and their duplicates in the center
For the ardent Arcade Fire fans, here’s something at least I hadn’t heard about until this week: Three other members of The Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld, Kelly Pratt and Pietro Amato, play in the six person instrumental band Bell Orchestre. Here’s a sample of what their hauntingly beautiful music sounds like:
I’ll come back to Bell Orchestre and Owen Pallett as well as the progressive bluegrass band, Nickel Creek, and others next Monday as I take a look at some bands that have been pushing the boundaries of rock and roll.
Well, we lost our match against Britain, effectively dashing our (my – and his) hopes at a curling medal. Canada is 6-0 at the time of this post… I guess they know what the sport is all aboot.
Shoot. I promised myself that I would contain my Canadian accent… but no one’s gonna take it to heart, eh? OKAY, I’ll stop. As long as Canada keeps turning out great tunes, I’ll leave them alone. I can take solace in good music. That, and the fact that we beat them in hockey. USA!
[If I missed your favorite Canadian band, please feel free to let me and the rest of the readers know by leaving a comment down below!]
Is it rock-solid timing? Is it stick twirls and flashy licks? Is it the ability to string together a sick solo or add that driving edge to a song? Isolating what makes these guys special is difficult, but they each stand out in their own special way.
First at bat is Keith Moon of The Who, whose volatile drumming style was only matched by his personality and the hi-jinks he got himself into. Early on in his career he scrapped most typical rock beatss, trading them in for waves of fills and double bass. “Moon the Loon”, as he was sometimes called always sprinkled in a little dose of crazy into whatever he did. At the time he died, he was banned from multiple hotel chains – mostly for exploding toilets with dynamite. True story. Check out this performance of “Baba O’Riely”:
Watching the video, you can get little glimpses into Moon’s wild energy. For instance, if you watch him in the dark before the drums come in you can see him filling madly in the background – furious 16th notes all around the kit. This whirlwind leads directly into that first cymbal hit, almost shocking that he comes in on time.
Now here’s Keith Moon a slightly different environment, and mood. In this video, The Who is covering The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” with Keith manning that ear-piercing falsetto. Wearing what looks like a 1920’s bathing suit he really lets loose for some hard rocking out with guitarist Pete Townshend. Take a look:
Next, taking out the bass drum and a few others pieces from Keith Moon’s kit, we’re left with what Violent Femmes drummer, Victor DeLorenzo, played on in the band’s ground breaking debut album Violent Femmes. Using a standing, Tito Puente style of playing, he rocked out on a snare drum harder than anyone ever had before. He was also a genius in creating great hooks, most notably those two eighth note hits throughout the Violent Femmes’ most famous song, “Blister in the Sun”:
In the innovation department, we have Roy Wooten a.k.a. Future Man, Victor Wooten’s older brother and fellow member of the fusion band Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. He’s the only drummer on this list to invent the instrument he plays – dubbed by him the “Drumitar”. Underneath a mass of drum machines and samplers, the Drumitar is Metallica singer James Hetfield’s SynthAxe. This isn’t the only instrument he’s created, however, he’s also credited for constructing the “RoyEl”, which as far as I can tell is something like a piano but it plays funkier notes.
Here’s Future Man soloing using some samples of African folk songs. And surprise! – There are some real drums in front of him, too:
Finally we get back to the heavy arsenal. First, Mr. Neil Peart of the progressive rock band Rush. First inspired by The Who, Peart is a drumming god in terms of face-meltingness, mind-blowingness, and other made up adjectives that can only hope to capture the extent of his technical ability. He would take the songs composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and then sit at his desk and write the extensive drum parts to complement the crazy time signatures that the band came to be known for. Peart’s solo in this performance of “YYZ” (the canadian version of the Morse “SOS”) says it all. The bell melody Peart plays at the beginning of the solo has become widely known and quoted.
And at long last we have come to my personal favorite, John Bonham, who with bassist John Paul Jones formed the backbone for Led Zeppelin. From his quick-footed bass drum work (he never used a double bass) like on “Good Times, Bad Times”,to his powerful, demanding beats (“When the Levee Breaks”); from his psycho-noise breakdowns (“Whole Lotta Love” and “Dazed and Confused”) to his original ideas and rhythms (“Fool in the Rain”) he played with an extremely varied style. But like YYZ, nothing speaks to his talents better than his solos – and there is none more famous than his 20 minute “Moby Dick”. Here’s a clip of him performing (less than half of) it live:
For the die-hard fans, here’s the original recorded solo in its entirety:
You can’t rock harder than that. All of these videos really make me wish I had a drum set in my dorm room, but with floors 1 and 2 below me, and 4 and 5 above, I’d probably irritate the whole building. WWKMD?
What would Keith Moon do? Somehow I think I’m going to stick with tapping the hell out of my desk for the time being, and let the kids who walk past my door think what they will. Oh is that my neighbor knocking on the wall, imploring me to stop? TOO BAD.
Peter Gabriel, the former lead singer of Genesis, is putting out a new album. It happens to be his first in seven years. It also happens to be contain covers (or “song-swaps”) of some of the most varied big-name artists. Here’s the full track list:
01 “Heroes” (David Bowie)
02 “The Boy in the Bubble” (Paul Simon)
03 “Mirrorball” (Elbow)
04 “Flume” (Bon Iver)
05 “Listening Wind” (Talking Heads)
06 “The Power of the Heart” (Lou Reed)
07 “My Body Is a Cage” (Arcade Fire)
08 “The Book of Love” (The Magnetic Fields)
09 “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” (Randy Newman)
10 “Après moi” (Regina Spektor)
11 “Philadelphia” (Neil Young)
12 “Street Spirit (Fade Out)” (Radiohead)
Most of those names are familiar, I’m sure, but some may not be. Elbow is a British band – heavily influenced by U2 – that sounds like a stripped down Coldplay. The Magnetic Fields come out of Boston. As a point of reference, both bands have been about for 20 years.
Album Art for Scratch My Back
Starting his musical career as a drummer, Peter Gabriel was drawn into music by its craftwork. In an interview on his website, Gabriel says that he’s alway had interest in doing “the dreaded covers album”. But he wasn’t about to go about it in any old fashion. He reflects, “I thought, ‘If I’m going to do that, I’m going to do something different with it.”
Gabriel wanted to create self-imposed rules to rein in the creative process, stating that “giving an artist total freedom is castrating them”. At first he toyed with the idea of using homemade instruments, but finally decided that a strict no guitar, no drums policy would be the way that Scratch My Back would go.
And in the absence of guitar and drums, Peter Gabriel has turned to New Zealand composer John Metcalfe, who has written string arrangements for The Cranberries and The Pretenders. But the compositions on this record have strayed far from the beaten pop path into the realm of minimalist and classical music. Gabriel himself says that Metcalfe had Steve Reich and Arvo Part in mind when composing the music.
This has led to the creation of songs that deserve to be listened to with your full attention. These songs create in my mind a white, unadorned and simple room where the empty space is filled in by the beautiful textures of Metcalfe’s compositions.
But enough talking, take a listen and decide for yourself. First up, “Heroes”, originally by David Bowie.
A fantastic string section adds a dramatic edge to the song, especially in the context of Gabriel’s recent contribution of the track in an effort to support Haiti.
His cover of the Bon Iver song, “Flume”, starts with somber piano and then slowly brings out french horns and coronets to back the haunting lyrics, “Sky is womb and she’s the moon”. Take a listen, and if you like it, you can download the song here.
But the pinnacle of the album, or at least the songs I’ve heard so far, is his cover of The Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage” – an incredibly original and dynamic song to begin with. The song explodes two and a half minutes in, and is the only song on the album to feature a full chorus.
By contrast, his cover of Radiohead’s “Street Spirit” is surprisingly disappointing. Barely choking out the words, or just grumbling at times, it’s simply not pleasurable to listen to.
But in the end, Peter Gabriel really has accomplished a great deal with this album. In his own words, “working with the negative” of the songs allowed him to set his album on a different plane than where the “positives” lie.