If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know what a huge fan of Yuck I am (more here, here, and here). Its not very often that a new band comes along with a full album of solid tracks like Yuck's current album, so when I heard they were coming to LA to play the Troubadour, I jumped at the chance.
You can't see a band at a venue like the Troubadour without taking a moment to recognize the venue itself. With so much music history packed into one tiny little room, the ghosts of music past become an extra band member for the night.
Notes About The Troubadour
The Troubadour is one of those small, local, intimate venues that's been around forever and has seen everyone. The stage is in the center of the room and feels a part of the crowd, instead of creating the normal separation between artist and fan. Here, everyone's in the same room - a room that has witnessed some of the great moments in music history. According to their website, The Troubadour opened its doors in 1957. Lenny Bruce was arrested for obscenity there that same year, thus beginning a storied history for this great venue. Over the next 50+ years, The Troubadour witnessed moments in spades most venues hope to get once. Artists like Buffalo Springfield, James Taylor, Carole King, The Eagles, Elton John, Tom Waits, Fiona Apple and Lilly Allen all got their starts in the US here. Janis Joplin spent her last night here. "Killing Me Softly" was written about a performance here. Carly Simon met James Taylor here. Glen Frey and Don Henley met here. The list of iconic moments goes on and on.
Seeing an up-and-coming band in such a storied venue felt somewhat paradoxical but made perfect sense by the end of their no-frills set. Their setlist was extensive and almost encompassed their whole album, as well as their single Milkshake, a B-side Coconut Bible, and some new songs. The performance was raw, uncluttered and sounded just as good as their album.
You can always tell how legit an artist is when you see them live, and when a band sounds like they do on their recordings (or better), you know you've got the real deal. Aside from the fairly extensive guitar effects and some feedback stunts, the sound was stripped down, yet full through songs like The Wall, Shook Down, Georgia, Suck and Suicide Policeman.
Yuck has mastered the notion of making something sound slightly familiar with their throwback-to-the-90's sound, but manage to keep it brand new and fresh. Seeing them at The Troubadour, one can almost sense the presence of all past Troubadour performers meandering about, waiting to pass the baton onto those acts that are worthy. I'd say Yuck is on their way.
I first heard Bell X1 while listening to RTE online one day. RTE is an Irish broadcaster, and thanks to their online streaming, I can sometimes find out what's different in music in the UK and Ireland that we might be missing out on in the States. These guys are a prime example.
The first song I heard was "Bad Skin Day", off their third album, Flock. I had never heard anything quite like it. It was sort of alternative rock slash alt pop slash.....I wasn't even sure what else. But I knew I had to hear more.
Who is Bell X1?
Bell X1 is a band that's enjoyed success in Ireland for a few albums now, but who haven't quite broken in the US. (Shame on us). Originally a band called Juniper which was fronted by Damien Rice, Bell X1 has evolved with a slightly different sound each album. After Damien Rice's departure, Juniper's remaining members moved on, renaming the band after the first plane to break the sound barrier- the Bell X1. The band had some further shakeups with the departures and additions of band members until reaching its current iteration: Frontman Paul Noonan, Lead guitar David Geraghty, and bassist Dominic Philips.
Bell X1's first album release (as Bell X1) was Neither Am I in 2000 (with songs written with Damien Rice); Music in Mouth 2003; Flock in 2005; Tour de Flock (a live album)in 2007; Blue Lights on the Runway in 2009; and in April of this year they released their sixth album, Bloodless Coup, which I have written about extensively here. And here. And here. And here. And here.
My first suggestion is to start with Bad Skin Day (above). This is what got me initially hooked and made me want to know more. From there, begin with some songs from Blue Lights on the Runway. Blue Lights has a sound unique from their other albums, and unique to anything else I've heard in this genre of music. Its pop-py but with melancholy and electronic undertones, making for quite a unique juxtaposition of music and lyrics.
The Ribs of a Broken Umbrella
Light Catches Your Face
One Stringed Harp
Next, check out Music in Mouth which has the lovely song Eve, the Apple of my Eye
Off of Flock I suggest Rocky Took a Lover, one of my favorite Bell X1 songs, mostly because of the back story. Paul Noonan, the lead singer, had a homeless man living behind his home in the Dublin area. The man had once been a boxer, and thus was nicknamed "Rocky". The homeless man (Rocky) occasionally had a lady friend with him (took a lover) and this is the conversation Paul imagined they'd have, with lyrics like, "If there was a God, then why is my arse the perfect height for kicking?"
Rocky Took a Lover (for album/studio version click HERE)
Paul Noonan explaining Rocky Took a Lover
Bell X1 released their sixth album this spring, Bloodless Coup which has some great tracks like Velcro, and Nightwatchmen.
While Bell X1 is by no means a new band, and their music is by no means new music (aside from the new album), they haven't yet enjoyed any kind of massive exposure in the US. But there is something to be said for discovering new-to-you music- there is an entire back catalogue to enjoy and discover.
Especially with Bell X1.
Why do people like covers so much? Who wants to hear something that's already been done before? I mean, really, isn't that all a cover is?
People like covers for a pretty simple reason. Its familiar. Yet new. You think you know what to expect, but as the person doing the cover gets started- as they play the first few familiar notes, they may start to stray. Different key, different tone, even different lyrics sometimes. As the listener, we get treated to hearing something we love, but different enough that its almost like we've never heard it before. And sometimes, the cover is so different that it DOES sound like something we've never heard before.
That's why we all like a good cover.
I heard a cover today on blip.fm that inspired me to find some others. It was the Stereophonics doing an almost wistful, unexpected version of Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares 2 U":
There are obviously many a great cover out there and I fear my lists of covers will never be completed, but I shall try anyway. Here are a few more.
Florence and the Machine-Addicted to Love (Robert Palmer original)
Damien Rice- When Doves Cry (Prince original)
Smashing Pumpkins- Landslide (Fleetwood Mac original)
One of my all time favorite covers-- Counting Crows- Ghost in You (Psychedelic Furs)
Keith Urban - Free Fallin (Tom Petty original)
Rolling Stones - Not Fade Away (Buddy Holly original)
Bono - I am the Walrus (The Beatles original...duh)
John Mayer- Message in a Bottle (try to ignore the girlie screams) (The Police original)
Everyone loves to do year end countdown lists. And some like to do half year countdowns. I've been seeing a lot of "best album of the year so far" type lists on the web lately, and while I don't do a lot of album reviews, I do happen to do a lot of digging around to find the best and coolest music stuff on the web. While I occasionally talk about an album or band or songs I'm digging, I haven't done nearly enough to do a 'best of', so I decided to do a 'best of' of what I've done a lot of- finding cool music stuff on the internet. So, dear reader, I give you:
The Best of Music Stuff We Think Is Cool Found on the Internet But Know You Don't Have the Time to Troll the Web to Find, Year To Date:
So let's see...that's Iron & Wine, All Songs Considered station, U2, Adele, Adam Duritz, Bob Dylan, Swell Season, Hallelujah, Coachella, Yuck, one Pink Floyd reunion, The National, Death Cab, Sasquatch, Bell X1...and a partridge in a pair tree. Good start, 2011. Good start.
I was driving in my car today, and got stuck in traffic (damn you, LA!) so I turned on a local radio station that I've talked about before. Its a local station in LA that isn't owned by some giant conglomerate and actually plays music, with DJ's who know more about the music than the people who wrote the songs.
The format is kind of eclectic, but with a heavy focus in classic rock. Today I turned them on and heard this:
Let me tell you, there is nothing more discombobulating than hearing Johnny Cash singing 'Jackson' from Live from Folsom Prison-- on the radio. But this station has "album sides" days where they play entire album sides, on vinyl (You can listen to The Sound LA (100.3 on the dial if you are in the area) online. They are doing this album-sides-on-vinyl all weekend, and its streaming online at http://thesoundla.com/) Even so, hearing Johnny Cash on the radio isn't something most of us are used to hearing. When I realized it was also the whole album side (on vinyl!) I wanted to tell someone else, so I called people, "Turn on this radio station! They are playing Folsom Prison on VINYL! On the air!"
I haven't yet decided if that makes this radio station insanely cool, or if this is just a really sad commentary on the rest of radio today...either way, I wanted to find someone else who would appreciate this experience too. Radio used to be a place where other people you knew were listening to the same DJ and the same song you were listening to at the exact same moment. You used to call your friends, "Turn on X100! (insert song you both love) is on!". Now, you don't call your friends to say "Hey dude, just wanted to tell you I am currently listening to Foo Fighters on my iPod by myself."
Radio used to be ubiquitous. Now, a million different ways to consume music exist, and there is no longer one set medium that most people use. This point was brought home today when I called people to tell them Folsom Prison was on, and no one had a radio! I don't really have a radio either! I have the one the car manufacturers put in my car. I have the one that came with my speaker system's receiver. And that's it. If there is a station I really want to hear, whelp, they better be streaming online. But that doesn't make it mobile.
The walkman. It was practically the first mobile music device- bring your radio with you! Now even the mobile music devices don't come with radio, Sure, you can get Iheartradio, but that's limited. Even the manufacturers of the most widely used music devices today know that radio isn't where its at. Typical radio plays the same 10 songs over and over again, and no one wants to put up with that when there are plenty of other options to find music. Finding a good station is like finding a diamond. Like finding a gem in a sea of radio crap.
Here's another gem I discovered on a road trip recently. Actually, re-discovered. KFOG in San Francisco. I was first introduced to them in Napster's heyday, when a good number of the tracks I found were from KFOG live sessions, even though I had no clue where KFOG was. Imagine my surprise when, years later, I was in San Francisco listening to the radio (in the car, of course) and found it. Here's what's on their 'recently played' list:
Kandi - One Eskimo (great song)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da- The Police
My Hometown- Bruce Springsteen
You & Me- Dave Matthews Band
You Make Lovin Fun- Fleetwood Mac
You can listen online at http://www.kfog.com/ where you can also save their playlist and share with friends. Share with friends. Just in a different way than we used to.
Maybe this is why services like blip.fm and turntable.fm are becoming so popular. They bring back the camaraderie that we used to get when we heard a song. Now instead of calling your friend and saying "Dude turn on X92 they are playing Monster!", you post on Facebook, "Dudes, I am DJing on turntable.fm, currently playing Monster by Kanye West, come listen." Is it the same? No. But I'm glad we're bringing it back.