Tag Archives: Metallica

Not Your Mama’s Rockers

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?

Helena

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:

On Ice

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

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.

Happy Listening,

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD:  MAHAVISHNU

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Five Drummers That ROCK

What makes a great drummer absolutely legendary?

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.

Rock on.

~Josh

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PEAK KEYWORD: FACEMELTINGEST

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Concert Watch October 2009

Mr. Bob Weir

Mr. Bob Weir

Ok, I’ll grant you that there are a rip-roaring ten days left in the month of October… BUT that is not an excuse for you not to go out a catch some great live performances in New York’s backyard.

For instance,  Bob Weir and RatDog will be finishing up their five show set at the Beacon Theatre. They’ve performing apart from the Grateful Dead for coming on fifteen years now and they’re still going strong. They’re playing this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday all tickets just under 40 bucks. There’s no better place to hear live Dead tunes.

And Van is coming through town! Van Morrison will be playing at Madison Square Garden on the 26th. Just this year he released his fifth live album, Astral Weeks Live at the Hollywood Bowl, which was recorded during two concerts out at the Hollywood Bowl in L.A. The concerts took place forty years after the release of the original album, and this live edition was claimed to be one of the top 5 most anticipated pop events of 2009.

Van Morrison

Van Morrison

But there’s something else that everyone is talking about. Something so jam-packed with big names that, in fact, they’re buttressing the venue for the bringing down of the house that’s sure to come. We’re talking about the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame celebrating its 25th anniversary. The performers include, in no particular order (this might be a good time to sit down):

U2, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Simon and Garfunkel, Metallica, Paul Simon, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Friends and Eric Clapton.

And if that’s not enough, they’re not all coming together for one measly concert, but two nights of Rock ‘n’ Roll legendry. Catch Simon and Garfunkel, Steview Wonder, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and the Boss on October 29th, and then come back from U2, Aretha, Clapton, and Metallica on the 30th. The Hall of Fame is touting it to be a “once in a lifetime” experience, and I have no doubt that it is going to live up to it’s name.

The BossStevie WonderSimon and Garfunkelhero_csnU2Eric Clapton

But let’s not let the big names outshine some smaller, less known, but equally talented individuals. For instance, Mike Doughty will be coming through New York. As you may know, Doughty performed last year at The Peak’s 5th birthday party and is a great friend of the station. He’ll be at Le Poisson Rouge in the city on the 31st. And last but not least, let us not forget Tegan and Sara, the artsy identical twin sister duo from Alberta, Canada. They’re playing a sold out show at Town Hall, which should be featuring some tracks from their new album, Sainthood, which wasn’t due to come out until the 27th. Fortunately, due to the magic of the internet it was leaked out ten days early.

So you see? A lot can happen in ten days. Especially in New York’s backyard. So get out there!

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PEAK KEYWORD: RED ZONE

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