Thursday, December 8, 2011

Since Words Are My Business, And All

My fantasy of getting paid for my writing is creeping closer to reality. I say nothing more. At this time.

What I would like to do with this post is give readers a solid overview of where I am in running this here business. I've wanted to do something all-encompassing for some time now, but held off for a variety reasons, chief among them the fear that it was just my hubris short-circuiting my brain.

So with cause for optimism and walk to match the talk, here it is.


415 101

My baby, and this gestation period has been ridiculous. Yet, it has been exactly the length it should be. The first of "The Lucy Wayne Trilogy," this finds this not-quite heroine struggling to find her creative feet with adulthood looming. Release date late 2012.

The Grief Show

Second of the trilogy. My attempt at combining the hoary theater troupe premise with the most devastating event that any human being can ever face. Project 70% completed.

Mother Brain

Lucy goes out in style. Also, to Japan. Eschews the ensemble and focuses on duality-as-joy-as-agony. Project 15% completed, a number which will leap by the end of the year.

One Crisis At a Time

Not part of any trilogy, 'cause then that would indicate I don't know how to count. Tale of a single case involving Washington D.C.-based private detective Laura Hamer. I have about 12 different ways I could take this...still in the outlining process.


Spirit Desire

AKA, "No Setlist 2." The first monster dedication to inspiration proved so popular I had to do a second pressing, which itself has sold out. This blog let me know people wanted to read what I wrote, but that book told me they were also willing to pay for it as well. What a world. This will not be published until 415 101 comes out, so late 2012, early 2013 for this baby.


Lyrics For Monster Movie Music

Collected verses/fragments since 1995. Release date 2012.


A Splash of Her #1

Thanks to a friends suggestion, Patrick and myself are partaking on what we hope will be a multi-issue zine-dealy. The debut issue (featuring my text and Trick's image-mashing) showcases the women in music who have influenced me the most profoundly as both a female and artist. If this sounds rote to you, then you must not be very familiar with my writing. I don't do "rote." I do, rather: Entertaining. Edifying. Honest.

Release date January 2012.


Yeah, I'll still be tossing up the goods right here on Trapper as well.

The Space In Between Is the Place--Devo and B-52s discography review (January 2012)

Neither Elegy Nor Effigy Be--The 30 Greatest Sonic Youth Songs (And 10 Worst) (January 2012)

Glamour Boys--Duran Duran 1980s discography review (February 2012)

It's the Girl in the Red Truck, Charlie Brown (February 2012)

Blogs Ruined Music For an Entire Generation--Free Kitten discography review (March 2012)

It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown (April 2012)

He's Your Dog, Charlie Brown (April 2012)

The NASA Space Station (May 2012)

Snoopy's Getting Married, Charlie Brown (June 2012)

The Birth of the Constitution (July 2012)

Snoopy's Reunion (July 2012)

He's a Bully, Charlie Brown (August 2012)

The Wright Brothers At Kitty Hawk (August 2012)

Happiness Is a Warm Blanket (September 2012)

Why, Charlie Brown, Why? (October 2012)

The Mayflower Voyagers (November 2012)

Shut Up, White Girl--My Ten Favorite Hip Hop Albums of All-Time (December 2012)

Gods For the Godless--Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth discography review (January 2013)

I would so love to have the Big 4 reviews out sooner, but that shit is just a massive undertaking. That said, I've never felt discouraged, just...beaten. But that's good, y'see. Writing should make you feel like you're either about to conquer the world or get crushed underneath of it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

What's Romance: Wild Flag and Lee Ranaldo at the Bell House, Brooklyn, NY 10/15/11

This review is a truncated version of the one that will appear in my book Spirit Desire. The pre-show and post-show sections have been edited for space and palatability therein. The show review is as it will appear in the book.

A person can be homeless despite having four walls to call their own (or four walls they can pay someone else for the right to pretend they are their own). Patrick and I, individually and as a crime-fighting duo, have many a home. Our respective pads in Maryland, paramount of course; Seattle, which never fails to entice Patrick despite its very real status as the most sprawling gray anything on the North American continent; San Francisco, the city I fell in love with either because of or in nose-biting spite of the hilly streets I walked over and over for six hours; Baltimore, which is so much more than what was shown on The Wire, but is all of that without question; Washington D.C., the richly textured American capital, where the haves and have-nots co-exist in desperation; and New York City.

Our trip on a weeekend in early October to see Erase Errata, Talk Normal, Edie Sedgwick and this art-scat duo that were so unforgivably self-aware and uselessly indefatigable in their quest to confront the disengaged crowd that I have forced their name from my brain. (They're just gonna have to find another four walls.) It was EE's first NY gig in five years (and four years since we saw them in Baltimore) so our attendance was a given.

The show, save naturally for those unnamed twats above, was sweet as the empty sugar factory across the street from the venue no doubt once was in its halcyon days. But as I mentioned earlier, we made a weekend of it, and something about that combo of music, visual art (a ceaselessly fascinating trip to MOMA, and a fruitful venture to the not-gone-yet St. Marks Bookshop) and the satiation of culinary rapacity (Japanese street food at Otafuku; Sri Pri Phai in Queens, the best Thai food to yet touch my tongue) ignited our shared tinderbox. We'd been to NY many times before, done so much fun shit, but this trip, of all the trips, this one tripped the wire?

Well, yeah. It was just an unspoken understanding (that didn't stay so for very long, 'cause we are some fuckin' silence-killers) that we would have to up the frequency of our visits. We became determined to detect any excuse to return, then jump on it, wrestle it ground-down, and tag it with a big ol' blue and red sticker that said "J & P."

Wild Flag's forthcoming tour in support of their imminent debut album seemed the optimum opportunity to sidle off and on subway cars and cast shadows on sidewalks wider than Santa ass. Of course we were going to see 'em in DC, I mean that's one of our shared homes of the heart after all, but why not in NY too, goddamnit? As it turned out, the most exciting not-precisely-new racket-gang of the past five years were touching down twice--the Bell House in Brooklyn, and then the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan. Well, the latterly, more alliterative gig was not a go--fell on a Wednesday and we both got jobs. The Bell House gig was ideal, falling as it did on a Saturday. Small snag, though--it was already sold out.

Paul Lynde's ball sac! Yet, we remained hopeful, or at least I did. Trick is oftentimes crazed inscrutable. It got worse when we discovered--independent of each other, mind--that the opener at the Bell House gig would be Lee Ranaldo. By turns a member of Sonic Youth, a writer, a string sculptor, and a bike enthusiast, whose long-awaited "singer-songwriter" solo rec is slated to be released in early 2012.

Charles Nelson Reilly's taint! I brought to Trick's attention two things: first, my agitated attitude, and StubHub, where a couple tix to the gig were going for double face value. To me, it was a no-brainer. The J & P Show goes to shows like this, or what's the point of us? My nagging and whining was operating on peak championship levels, but Patrick deflected my pleas.

Le sigh, Charlie Brown.

The next day, he casually announced he had purchased the tickets.


Whenever feasible, make your time in NYC stretch. Stuff the fresh space created by elongation with wish fulfillment. Do your research, but never lose the element of surprise.


Surprise, however, can bring things to a halt as much as propel them forward.

9:30 Friday night, Olney. (Patrick's home-away-from-heart.) The house was all ours, what with Trick's mother attending some pseudo-bacchanalian soiree, and his pops wisely ensconced at the family's beach house in Delaware. Patrick whupped up a couple soothingly cool drinks--Cosmo for he, SoCo Lime for me--and then settled in to fiddle with his new toy, an iPhone 4S, which he had received at his door earlier that morning, as he was virtually just out the door for work. AT&T's 3G was presenting some problems, namely that it wasn't registering on the damn thing. He was a sight to behold, butt riding the edge of so-soft lazy chair, brow furrowed, light of the MacBook screen completely whiting out his eyes behind his glasses. I was semi-sprawled on the couch nearby, red velvet cupcake in hand, eyes glued to a rerun of that weeks Parks and Rec via OnDemand.

Without a word or even sound of warning, Patrick paused the show. I was a bit taken aback at the sudden cessation of the only actually funny sitcom on network TV, but that was baby emotion compared to what I would soon have to process.

Patrick was now gaping at the computer, his features softer now.

"What's up?"

"Oh wow."

"What? What, man?" Somebody died.

Minutes within seconds.

Patrick's eyes became visible to me again as he leaned back a bit in the chair. Always gorgeous whatever the mood of the man who boasts them, they had widened just enough that I could tell this was some news beyond a new-fangled tech gadget, or a particularly assholish display by cops in the midst of peaceable people, this was the kind of news that was going to hit our chests with a thud and leave a ringing in our ears that maybe only a good nights sleep would shoo away.

"This is from" Man, do you have any idea how many times either of us has not spoken that sentence? Already everything is all off. He read the following aloud, in a voice that sounded like it didn't believe a syllable of what it was actually saying.

"Musicians Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore, married in 1984, are announcing they have separated. Sonic Youth, with both Kim and Thurston involved, will proceed with its South American tour dates in November. Plans beyond that tour are uncertain. The couple has requested respect for their personal privacy and does not wish to issue further comment."

"The fuck?" Eloquence is my true middle name. I just use three of the letters to make it easier.

"Wow. Wow."


"I know."

Not terribly long after that initial volley of shock, my phone went nutty from Twitter and FB. I checked messages and notifications as my Sonic brethren registered their reactions, and repeated, "'Plans beyond that tour are uncertain.' Oh I don't like that at all. Christ, Trick. I think hearing news that someone died of smallpox would be less of a shock."

And that still remains to me the most devastating sentence of the whole statement. For Kim and Thurston's family and friends, the dissolution of their marriage actually hits home. For the people who know them, this is a haymaker. I'm grateful for what their relationship made possible, and I find them both interesting creatively, but I don't know them. I don't care how many records I have, interviews I've read, videos I've watched, shows I've attended, I do not know who they are. At all. I know what they have shown me, what they have shown all of us, but that's still a kaleidoscope perspective itself.

The very real possibility of no more Sonic Youth? No more albums, no more tours? What the hell am I gonna do for my summer vacations now? I'm two concerts shy of 60, damnit! I know Sonic Youth. Yeah, that's a kaleido-view too, but they're an artistic collective, that's how it's supposed to come across to our eyes. 21 years now they've been the biggest positive influence in my life that I don't also refer to as "Mom." Where would I be if I hadn't found them and decided they were worth keeping around? As a woman, as a writer, as a daughter, as a friend, as a does my head in to consider it otherwise.

The Internet is absolutely nothing if not a dumping ground for jejune spew, and there's more Tumblr posts, tweets, forum ramblings on no longer believing in love than I can handle. More than a couple people are saying--without caveat--that this news is affecting them even more than the separation of their own parents. The people who made them possible versus the people who made "Sleepin' Around."

My parents never divorced (it took death to part them after 49 and 1/2 years, imagine that) but even if they had...I can't imagine the end of a semi-famous couples marriage would mean more to me. These folks saying such things don't seem especially stupid, as I check out their other web feats, so I can only conclude they are in fact insane.

Of course...the news is fresh. First reactions are often over the top. But some of these folks are scaling the planet in a single half-witted bound.

Confusion is certainly next. And next after that is...conclusion?


Up until we board the train early the next morning, Patrick and I are in a commonwealth of shock. We're set to be staying with our friend Annie, and meeting up with who knows besides, and there's no question what topic will dominate conversation.

Some of my friends online take this news harder than others. I empathize. My buddy Mike puts the video for "The Empty Page" on his Facebook, and dedicates it to me, and we both know why.


So the Bell House, as it turns out, is in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. We begin a walk that will take us over several thousand avenues before Patrick realizes he has misread the address and notice immediately the WANTED posters with sketches of at least six attempted rapists plastered on a few storefront windows. Then we notice the children. Then the pharmacy advertising the surplus of herpes medication. Annie and I quickly conclude that Park Slope is run by children (and thus undesirable to either of us as a place of future residence) and Brooklyn is unquestionably the rapiest borough in all New York.

When we pass by a stoop and spot a young towheaded boy teetering on his feet in front of his mother, li'l dark blue GAP sweater on, quiet oh so quiet, we all three decide to nominate him for mayor.

"Why is there a stickball game happening in the street right now?" I ask with a desperation I'm kinda surprised to realize isn't a put on. "Is this 1940s Hells Kitchen or some shit?" Turns out the street was blocked off for some mild construction work. All the better to let your children run wild and free, 'cause as they say in Park Slope....


The Bell House holds 350 folks standing, which is a nice crowd to be part of. Not terribly small, not at all large, and as a bonus the stage is like a half-octagon. Tempting as the sides looked, we made our way up front, side Mary B. T. Trick and Annie grabbed a trio of Stella cans while I protected our spots, and Patrick beat me to the "Slayer back cover" reference upon their return.

I had voiced earlier in the day that our pal George would no doubt find us at some point in the venue, just like he had at the much larger Williamsburg Waterfront when the Flag played with SY. When he did, I was just a couple sips into my beer, and felt kinda guilty that I had to give him a cold-can handshake. The yak was SY-heavy, of course. I was personally surprised that George wasn't on side Carrie, as he has a confessed crush on the rather rambunctious Ms. Brownstein. But, that meant he'd be with us, and I'm all for friends not letting friends attend shows alone.

Doors were 8, but Mr. Lee didn't set foot on stage till round about 9:30. The pre-gig music did its best (B-52s, Gang Starr, and some non-obvious Beatles--"It's All Too Much." Which even reminded me of SY, with that "Catholic Block"-esque intro) but damn. Not as bad as the solid two-hour wait for Devo at the 9:30 Club (I wanted to amputate my goddamn feet) but I was struggling to nurse my Stella and frankly, I was about to bust from the anticipation. Lee's solo shit! The drama, real and imagined! How many peeps would want to be one of the few hundred packed sick in that space that night? I knew quite a few personally.

Before hearing note one, I could tell that Lee's new solo shit was going to be superior to the most recent offering of his much taller bandmate. Demolished Thoughts is not a bad album, but you can't see review after review liken a record to a classic (in this case, Beck's Sea Change, the comparison abetted by the presence of Mr. Hansen behind the boards) and then have it be just good. Also, I'm lately thinking of "Benediction," and its recurring hook of "I know better to let her go," and shit is massively depressing.

The repeated threats of a "singer-songwriter" offering from SY's resident Dylanophile led a few in the fandom to expect a laid-back Lee, gentle acoustic and sweet croon, serrated poetry and wide swaths of branding colors. As the guest list on the album became public knowledge, however, expectations changed. Bob Bert, Nels Cline, Steve Shelley, Alan Licht, John Medeski. Not the stuff of "Gentlemen of the Echo Canyon."

My own personal hope as a listener was more or less made manifest by Lee's set that night. With help from a band of Licht on guitar, Irwin Menken on (sometimes 8-string) bass, and SS Beat Sgt. himself playing Janet Weiss' drumkit (save for a tom and cymbal that he switched out at set's end), Lee presented an eight-song set that sounded pleasingly similar to his tracks on latterly Sonic Youth albums--verse chorus verse, strong searing melodies, thoughtful lyrics presented with a warm delivery, and generous delay pedal, baby.

Patrick shot vid of two songs, "Angles" and "Xtina," on his phone. (If he'd known somehow in advance that "Off the Wall" was going to be the most enthralling of the whole set, he'd-a got that one too. Oh well, next gig.)

Surely we weren't the only attendees wondering how if it all Lee would broach the shocking news of the previous day. He got it out of the way before strumming chord one, doing the standard stage chatter of greeting and preemptive warning before musing that it was "a strange night to be starting a new project." Some tittering in the audience. He then introduced "Angles" as "kind of a love song. This goes out to a couple of dear friends of mine who are going through some shit right now." He said this all with barely a change in vocal intonation, reminding me--again--how useless the speculative essays of imperfect strangers are in response to news of this nature. I felt for the guy right then. Steve, as well.

Lee has that knack, though, if his songs are anything to go by. He's won a fair legion of devotees with a bracing approach to his art, that plain-spoken even whilst plain/plane-traversing style that has stood in such stark contrast to Kim and Thurston's approaches since way back "In the Kingdom #19." If you count yourself among that crowd, I can tell you that you will love this shit he has forthcoming. Straight on. Patrick and I agreed, not one hitch on the setlist, every tune a winner.

The highlight, as previously stated, was "Off the Wall," which fucking rocked picture frames, clocks, shelves, posters and plasma screens. Best origin story goes to "Shouts," which was inspired by the photo of a couple making out in the riotous Vancouver streets, post-2011 Stanley Cup Finals. (Patrick and I vow to engage in some really intense hugging right outside Verizon Center when the Capitals finally win the Cup, just FYI.)

When Lee introduced his stage mates, Steve naturally got the most enthusiastic reaction. Almost lost in the applause was Lee's remark: "Still playing together."

Lee and band were a good lubricant for the crowd, who were ready to fly the Flag, or have the Flag flown, or what the hell ever. This would be our third time, and Annie's true first, as she arrived late to the Williamsburg gig and that was an opening slot anyway, and those kinda don't count. (To me, anyway, and even then not always.)

I was a bit surprised they kicked off the set with "Black Tiles," which ends their debut, and not "Romance," but I shouldn't have been. It has that rug-ripper riff and the mystical influence of so much Mary Timony work. "Romance" was right on its heels, however, a great song about great songs. Wild Flag are definitely less political than Sleater-Kinney, which is not an "X" in their column at all, 'cause not all ballads should be about ladymen, nor should all songs about ladymen be ballads, necessarily.

High-energy, occasionally high-wire (an incorrigible pedal of Carrie's threatened to derail "Future Crimes," but thankfully Janet Weiss refused to relinquish the reins), if my big goofy ass is in the front row fuckin' rockin' then I'm not sure what anyone can use as an excuse. Strong female presence no shit, but salutes aren't gender exclusive. The good stuff never is.

The good stuff doesn't have to clash to matter, but with Wild Flag the admixture makes them a fixture in my heart, mind and gut. Carrie's raw, base musings on the power of music, Mary's whimsy in spell-casting and virtuosity in dragon slaying, Janet's redoubtable power, and Rebecca's keyb waves, which come together with the more angular riffs to create a definite B-52-ish effect on a song or two. Annie opined that Ms. Cole is the "Tito" of the group, which if you're going by star power alone she is, but that's still not too fair. Oh Annie.

"Boom" remains my favorite, on record and in crowd, an electrifying chromatic rebirth, and I swear I heard Janet add some "ooh" on the chorus (couldn't glimpse her sufficiently, sadly.)

"Something Came Over Me" is a grower. Mary's verses are pre-sunset but the chorus is new sunrise...huzzah? Dusk or dawn, damnit pick one! You picked both! And we love you for it.

"We're gonna let the good times/Let the good times toll." And wow are they.

Two new songs in the set: Mary's "Nothing," a constant jog of a song and Carrie's "Winter Pair," a staccato burst that sounded like nothing else they've put to record thus far (there was something very Devolved about the workmanlike structure and even tone of the guitars). Nothing rocked like "Racehorse," though, which treated doors jammed shut like they should be treated. Dollars, pounds, Euros, lira...Wild Flag are a solid bet regardless the currency exchanged. Serves much the same purpose "Let's Call It Love" did for last-tour S-K--an excuse to stretch out (sometimes, literally) and celebrate the moments.

Two covers finished the night, one of which I did not recognize (and later found out was "She," by the Misfits) and one of which damn near blew us away: Television's "See No Evil." (I distinctly remember the wide-eyed "Oh fuck are you kidding me?" look passing between Annie and myself as that classic li'l riff filled the air.) Mary on vox! She's my Richard Lloyd. Can you really fault Carrie for being up in her Kool-Aid half the show? Mary B. Timony, and the B doesn't stand for bacon but it should, 'cause she sizzles.

Sweaty and sated, we stood back and let the crowd disperse. Trick noticed Lee hanging out in the space near the steps leading up to the right side of the stage, just in front of the doors permitting backstage entrance, chatting it up with some folk he knew. Figuring that I fall into that category, I let Patrick talk me into sauntering over and waiting my turn to hold court with dude. I knew somewhere deep down Patrick wanted badly to atone for his first and only time speaking with Lee, Cincinnati 2003, where dude was so shaky-legs he accidentally called Jim "Lee." To Lee's face. (Man, if you don't have No Setlist by now...there's only three copies left. Just sayin'.)

With Annie and George hanging back, we waited, J & P Show in the wings.

Man, I hope he remembers me to see me. I know he remembers my name, I got one of those names you remember, last name anyway, but he might not know me to look at me. I have lost some weight. My hair's a little longer. Oh man, I don't wanna pull a Patrick....

In an absolutely unnecessary face-saving move, I meekly asked Lee if he recognized me. I don't know why I'm so ruthlessly self-deprecating, y'all, just am. And sure as sugar boots, he did. He momentarily threw Trick off asking him if he had a handle on the board (we both initially misunderstood it to mean if he had some hand in site maintenance) until Patrick recovered in time to introduce himself as AKA "Pantophobia."

The three of us had a nice talk. Really couldn't praise the new stuff enough...found out the record will be out Feb./March next year, he will be touring, and his band will hopefully feature an organist, as John Medeski's key work features on the album throughout. So there's a whole other element to look forward to! Talked about that news, talked about WF. Didn't get to touch on if O'Rourke is on the album anywhere, or the Brooklyn show in August, or his personal recommendation for where to get pizza in the city, but fuggit. Next time?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Book Report (For Once, Not Mine)

Things that I learned reading Girls Like Us:

1. Everybody pretty much slept with everybody, from like 1964 up till 1978.

2. While Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon both gave up the gushy to the inexplicably (despite what the dogged anecdotes try to tell me) magnetic James Taylor, Carole King did not. I had long believed she was one of his conquests, but this pleasant clearing-up of misinformation means that Carole King--when one takes into account her work with Gerry Goffin, her early solo work, the fact that she, oh yeah, was a massive influence on the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, and her refusal to spread 'em for the aforementioned sad-eyed, horse-riding troubador whose most tolerable song he stole from her anyway--is the greatest of all these women.

3. Yes, Joni has the greatest single album of all 'em (Ladies of the Canyon; I put Blue right behind it) but external factors must always be, uh, factored in. Not only did she shtup Sweet Baby, she also for a time dated Jackson Browne. My God. Consider Roberta Anderson knocked down a notch to number four on my list of Jenn's Top 5 Canadians Ever. I don't care if she diddled with Leonard Cohen. It was only for two weeks, that hardly erases the horrible sin of letting Jackson Browne even get past second base.

4. Women, and our unique triumphs and struggles, will never actually be taken seriously.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Girl Where You At

Caught in a fictional world of my own creation...I have not abandoned this blog or promised projects...but my mind pulls me a myriad of ways.

In the meantime, the top 5 Beatles bass lines:

1. "Rain"
2. "Taxman"
3. "I Want You (So Heavy)"
4. "Hey Bulldog"
5. "Something"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Spell--Sonic Youth Live 8/12/11


Williamsburg Waterfront
New York, NY
Note: this is the truncated version. The full review of our weekend will appear in the No Setlist sequel, Spirit Desire. The pre-show writings have been edited for this blog, and everything I wrote about post-show has been omitted as well as Kurt Vile and Wild Flag's opening sets. Again, all of that material will make the book. The review of Sonic Youth's show is exactly as it will appear in the book.

Arriving in Brooklyn a bit after noon, we emerge from the underground onto Bedford Avenue. As I text Robin, Dave calls. Another mass meet-up is materializing nicely.

Lunch at Sea Thai after an appetite-increasing walk around the general crammed area. It has a positive rep, and is certainly the most aesthetically pleasing Thai restaurant I've frequented, very modern decor and a Buddha-blessed pool in the middle of the dining area. The tofu Pad Thai was quite good, but the shining star of the meal was the iced coffee.

Upon figuring out we could just walk into East River Park, our day took a turn for the awesome. The stage was off to the left as we entered, traversing over gravel and dirt, marveling in the skyline view across the water. The MetLife building is cool as always, but lacks Snoopy. Why they don't have a Snoopy on top of the tower, or a smiling Snoopy face on one side, or even Snoopy climbing the building ala King Kong, I could not tell you.

The seaplanes were in effect. Imagine, a seaplane flying by King Kong Snoopy on the side of the MetLife building! Brilliance.

Not long after our entrance into the park, Sonic Youth began soundchecking. Getting to witness soundcheck is a rare, beautiful thing, like a mini-golf course with no kids around. As it turned out, this particular soundcheck was like a mini-golf course where kids are explicitly banned.

To our shared astonishment, we were able to walk up a small hill and stand by a waist-high barricade and enjoy the views. (Well, for awhile, anyway.)

Preamble is useless, and believe me I tried. I love words and the smiths who love them, but sweet crabcrackin' Christo Beans, they played: BRAVE MEN RUN, COTTON CROWN, WHAT WE KNOW, GHOST BITCH, INHUMAN, there, the caps lock was on and broken in our shared sonic soul. We were banished to the bottom of the hill for the last three songs, but oh well what's that mean, the band doesn't have to be distracted by scraggly outta-towners?

Our buddy Aaron stopped by, full beard in effect. He got to hear "Ghost Bitch" and "Inhuman" with us. All in agreement, they've been rehearsing the former song for awhile, despite its 25-year absence from setlists. Way tight, even when Lee Ranaldo nearly bonked himself whilst playing the cymbals. I won't lie, when we saw dude bust the acoustic out, then conjure up the unholy scree and...and..."Slowly pour/The liquid down" I got chills and clutched Trick's left shoulder like a string of pearls. I knew I brought my Bad Moon Rising tote for a reason.

Thurston sang "Inhuman" real delicate-like, which only makes sense; the reason that song is so sparsely played by SY is that it destroys T's throat, namely when he screams the title for minutes on end like he's being tortured.

I made Facebook updates intended to enlighten, not enrage or enervate. I knew even as I tapped the screen on my iPhone fervently, though, that I may end up doing all three.

Robin and his girl found us thanks to my Snoopy tee. Not the first time I've been pinpointed in such a way, and I hope it's not the last.

We depart for the line outside and Dave finds me. His purchase of No Setlist is captured on camera. Robin and Aaron express interest, and I'm that much closer to selling out my second pressing. (Final pressing also, I'm thinking.)

Dave and I hit it off quick and fierce, talking about the words of music and the music of words. Everyone in our makeshift crew got along, and why wouldn't we? We're here to enjoy Sonic Youth. I like turkey, you think it tastes dry and flavorless, your favorite album isn't my favorite album, boo hoo. DID I TELL YOU THEY SOUNDCHECKED "BRAVE MEN RUN"?

I didn't want to put that info out there pre-gig, but as it turned out, Robin's girl was talking to a group of young fans and one of their number--a fresh-faced dude with brown hair cut close to his skull, and face contorted in permanent half-smile--told her he wanted to hear "Brave Men Run."

"Jenn, Jenn! Come here, tell him what you heard at soundcheck."

"Uh, 'Cotton Crown,' 'Brave Men Run,'"--

"What?! What?! That's my favorite song!" He proffered a hand and of course I accepted.

They let us in and amazingly we got near the front, side Lee. George found us, sandwich in hand! Cool dude, always. Derek located us as well. Unfortunately our girl Annie wouldn't be getting off work till 6:30, but she'd find us. She always does.


The time creeps closer.

"Tonight! Is the night!"

Yeah, Robin! I join in.

"That the skies will open! And spray forth the divine hand with poison finger!"

I had no way of knowing, even with soundcheck, how permanent an effect this show would have on me and Patrick. I will tell you this, though; as soon as we saw Kim Gordon come out in a tight orange dress just polite enough to be served, we knew it was on.

"Brave Men Run"--Reactions immediate and delayed ricocheted 'round, but all I could think was They're doing it, it's happening, oh my shit hell, seven days seven nights and twenty-five years! Twenty-five years since they've done this one live, that's longer than some of the people here have been maintaining heartbeats!

The intro plucks on the recorded version are focused crystalline blue; live, those same notes felt like a bristly soul-kiss.

I couldn't help but glance over at the dude from the line, my brother in hands. To have your favorite song kick off a concert, and it's one they haven't dusted off in a quarter-century (hello, 2011!)--wowo. Meanwhile, I get my favorite SY song revisted acoustically on a crappy TV show.

"Death Valley '69"--I turned slightly towards Trick. "Bad Moon medley," I remarked approvingly. Lust-crazed rams doing ritual battle have not thing one on Sonic Youth and their raging peace.

"Cotton Crown"--Welcome back! If you don't like those C's, feel free to borrow some K's.

New York fans are forever going to deny SY the unconditional love they deserve. They're so cool, I mean shit, do you not listen to lyrics, the city from which they hail is "forever kitty." I dunno what that means, but it probably means something. Maybe New York City is pussy in that good wet way, pussy in that bad cowering way, or pussy in that it slinks meows and coughs up hairballs and makes me sneeze uncontrollably.

Angel reveries sound eerily similar to cascading white waterfalls underneath a sky black and thick as pitch. So I don't care about the cool kids and their self-central snark.

"Kill Yr Idols"--I mean they're just taking this song to heart, right? Riiiight. Shocker in Kittytown y'all, hide the rice. Not played since 2003 (and sparingly at that), "Kill Yr Idols" has been a mainstay on the J and P Wishlist. From the very first seconds (a possessed music box that requires constant winding up) I was gobsmacked. That feeling would hang around.

Jesus but I musta been a sight. There's been mad hubbub this week about the Kanye West/Jay-Z collabo album, and I don't know if anyone else has ever seen Jay-Z's Fade To Black documentary, but amid all the self-aggrandizing and Fugazi-sampling is a delightful session with feted producer Timbaland. Timbo, who looks like he's hiding sides of beef underneath his tee shirt, is knocking back some mystery liquid from a gallon jug and playing Jay some of his most recent, as-yet unclaimed beats. Several come and go, and then the instrumental that would be turned into "Dirt Off Your Shoulders" blasts over the speakers. Always sounded like the music Rosie would play as she cleaned up after the Jetsons to me, but Jay was immediately taken. As he listens, his head nods and his face contorts as if he's so impressed by the music that he's just disgusted.

That was me all night, pretty much. "I haven't heard that live until tonight," I told Robin after the final evisceration of Baal. Oh, I had no idea.

"Eric's Trip"--After not hearing Lee's signature tune from SY's signature LP for a li'l while, it was cool as a walrus in a bowler hat to flip once again with the boy Eric.

Lee is the coolest poet. His eyes seemed to be transfixed on what I can only imagine was a gorgeous East River behind us. Who knows the sparks that set off in his mind, coupled with the words that escaped his mouth.

Craning my neck to peep Lee also brought into sharp (I'm gonna need) relief how high up the stage was.

"Sacred Trickster"--I thought this set would have like four or five Eternal tracks, so the placement of "Sacred Trickster" this deep in the setlist was a bit of a surprise. Guess what else was a surprise? Everything.

Lee still has the "Theresa's Sound World" sign taped to his amp, bust it out. My body is ready.

Setlists for non-album-tour gigs are always good value. The choicest cuts of the previous wreck-hard are chosen so's to keep SY from playing a "greatest hits" set (well, except for Prospect Park last year) and "Sacred Trickster" is an terse, tense excuse for Kim G. to chuck the guit, to jump, kick and pump, free to be, to poise upon the precipice of the stage and Hey the rope's gone. I'm just now noticing that?

Watching Sonic Youth in LA, 2002, I heard a guy from the crowd proclaim his desire to bear Kim Gordon's child. I've never thought that was weird.

"Calming the Snake"--Hey, no new crap! Play "Kill Yr Idols"! Oh wait, you did. Proceed!

Reason 312 to stand on Lee's side: you get to not only see but hear his pre-verse riff of impending unpleasantness. Reason 124 Kim is the Goddess of Music: Just when I thought her prolonged shrieking on "DV 69" couldn't be topped, she unleashes a monster wail here.

I was nice and lubricated by this point, no alterants (other than the one I paid forty bucks for) to credit or blame. Thurston was too, it seemed, but I'll wager no amount on his sobriety.

"I have to ask Lee a chord question."

"I'm asking Mark the same question!"

I turned around and said to Dave, "Yeah, 'cause he's been playing those old songs so long now."

Thurston explained that the band were delving "super deep" for this show--'course, if you were hip to the Twitter tease, you knew that. You just didn't know how far into the water they were willing to dive in order to find treasure.

"Starfield Road"--Of course, they coulda been like, "Leave the treasure to Link, we got riptides to create. Strongest at the surface, y'know."

Caught in a rip current, the body's natural response is to swim against it, towards the safety of the shore. That didn't apply tonight. 'Cause Sonic Youth busting out "Starfield Road" for the first time since the infamous gear theft of '99 is not a natural occurrence. It's not a natural song. You know the scene it makes? Not a fucking nature one, that's for certain.*

When Sgt. Steven Shelley brought the beat in for questioning--boom boom tish-tish boom boom tish-tish--the other prisoners went bafunkers and applied sleeper holds on each other in their shared ecstasy. And for "other prisoners" you should of course read, "me and Patrick." Our simultaneous capture of the Sacred Specter was blessedly immortalized via Dave's camera.


"Noooo! Shiiiiiit!"

Yeah. No shit.

That's what happens when you leave your spaceship unattended, ostensibly peaceable Martian visitors!

*Someone in the audience did yell out for "Making the Nature Scene," prompting a smile and mouthed "No" from Lee. I've seen him react that way to a shouted song request once before, 2002 in Baltimore, when our friend-we-hadn't-met-yet Tony made his standard plea for "Genetic." You know what that means, then...RIP "Nature Scene."

"I Love Her All the Time"--Under the influence of a haze so profoundly relaxing as to be damn-near post-coital, I was still able to survey a scene almost too scandalous to stand: Lee, screwdriver jammed between fretboard and strings (now that's some high action, badumpish hi-o) and Thurston, drumstick placed similarly on his instrument, and another drumstick clutched firmly in his right paw.

I was still capable of being in disbelief, even after "Starfield Road." I whipped around to Trick. "Nice intro," he said. I was jarred a bit, but when I paid attention, I could hear the cow calls of "Marilyn Moore" over the speakers as the band prepared to unearth another gleaming gem. He did not, however, seem to register what was about to happen. The same guy who's seen The Year Punk Broke 1,991 times, who has probably gleaned more pure inspiration from SY's live footage on said doc than anyone else who's ever viewed it, he was not getting it. I dunno if he was still stunned, I mean likely he was. (His initials are PTS, after all.) But when I told him what this unsuspecting gaggle was about to get smashed with, he reached into my ever-prescient Bad Moon tote bag and provided yet another update for my Facebook page (I would have done this myself, but my hands were shaking and iPhones ain't cheap). "Starfield" auto-corrected to "Starbucks," and dude didn't even notice.

The air was turning purple, purple as that Vikings cap shoulda been, and I was sober as a chastened lover.

Innocent hands here, a frantic mouth there. Not real life, not fantasy, so...

"Ghost Bitch"--Lee brandishing the acoustic means a Dylan cover is afoot, or, "Ghost Bitch." The flaw-free soundcheck turn was replicated for a crowd that may or may not have realized the gravity of the situation (25 years since they last played it live!) Happy Jumpy Dude up front, are you even that old? Why do you love Bad Moon Rising so much that every note of every song that comprises its formidable, unbroken whole propels you upward, inspiring to hurl your ululations into the sweaty air? I wanna know your story, 'cause I'm pretty sure I'll hear a great chunk of my story in there too. Don't bother with your phone number, lets exchange epiphanies.

"Tom Violence"--How come every time T-bone dedicates a song to someone that isn't his daughter, it's always "Tom Violence"? Do these lucky folks actually request the most frequently-played song in SY live history or is it the fail-safe go-to if someone is indecisive or carefree about what song the band plays after shouting 'em out? My friend Chris got "PCH" by request in Portland a couple years ago (and oh my God, if SY did this setlist in Portland, forget it, the Roseland would be roofless at this point in the show) and my buddy Mike straight-up approached Thurston outside the Metro in Chicago pre-show some nine years ago, gave him a whistle and said, "Play this during 'Silver Rocket,'" and that is precisely how shit went down that night.

"Later on a large rattlesnake head's gonna come over the river and introduce us to 2012. It's gonna spray LSD with angel dust. And we will all become women."

Which is all mighty fine and jim dandy to the emotional rescue, but what about those of us who already are women? Do we get, like, two more tits and an extra vag? Did the drug-spewing Sistrurus even consider that his actions would have consequences?

"What We Know"--Dude, I know nothing right about now. What are y'all doin'? What is life without your love? How do I live? Which way is up up up and away in my beautiful my beautiful seaplane? Do you know where you're going to? Did you remember to make a copy of the cake recipe? Don't you know that loving you is easy 'cause yer beautiful?

"Drunken Butterfly"--"This is our last song."

"The fuck it is!"

Wow, I can hear my thoughts now!

I suspected the return of this 'un. It's fun, it's simple, it's Kim as a hypnotic orange whirl. (Ever been a pervert with some sherbert?) Whoever I have to kill to get legs like hers, they died for a worthwhile cause.

Ah, encores! A time for the band members to refresh and rehydrate. A time for crowds to show if they really love the band or are just in it to come-n-go. A multi-tiered necessary evil, is the encore.

Dave noticed a pair of women--twins?--in matching flamenco dresses, holding ukeleles skyward. People like that could only be up near the front. Billyburgers to the back, texting about how the show sucks because they haven't played "Schizophrenia" and do I need to pick up any PBR or are we good?

No, you most assuredly are not good. You are drinking PBR. Stop that.

Kim shouting out Wild Flag and adding "Woooo!" was like whoa. As soon as she dedicated the next song to them, Patrick knew what it was.

"Flower"--I knew right then I was not in any way exaggerating how incredible this concert was on some "me I'm super fangirl, super duper fangirl" pitter patter. Confirmation received: 8/12/11 was a show for the ages, from the ageless, for all ages, under a sage spirits aegis. Blessed be those.

"Flower" isn't precisely a wordy song--but I yelled all those words at the tip-top of my weak lungs anyway. Probably looked goofier than I sounded, but I'm through being cool. Sweaty, loud, aching from the non-stop crank 'n raunch, that compulsion to move when you hear music that has direction.

"Support the power of women

Use the power of man

Support the flower of women

Use the word


The word is love"

Everyone should have their poetry read aloud by Kim Gordon. Unwavering, hearty, a woman of the world.

I'm very curious as to whether or not Thurston realized the bottle had water in it when he decided it would make a nice substitute for a plectrum. It was a simultaneously hilarious/unsettling/liberating sight, the world's oldest teenager making wet plastic love to his guitar.

"He could've been electrocuted," Patrick said at the song's conclusion, almost as an afterthought.

"Yeah, I don't think he cared."

"Sugar Kane"--Biggest pop of the night? Prob'ly. I envied the band their watery view especially here. "SK" has always put me in mind of a beach dreamsicle scene, waves of an indeterminate blue shade pounding against millstone-hued sand, underneath a sky gone white and orange, whilst the goers below lay out on Chudley Cannons towels and sip Sunkist Icees. No matter the number of times I've heard this one, and no matter how many sighs I exhale at the concession to the casual fan (and believe me, the reality that Sonic Youth can and do have such a thing turns my noodle map all soggy), the pole shift always uncoils my guts. Top dropped, pedal pressed, sensation as the only moral rule. Just another portal to pass through.

I love being at or near the front. That's where the excited people are. The ones who shimmy-shout. The unabashed fans, the proud lovers. My people. Hold on.

Bam, second encore!

"Psychic Hearts"--I distinctly remember thinking, "I am nonplussed as shit right now." I wish I had said that to Patrick, but all I could do was look over like, dude. He just let loose with a soulfelt "wooooow" and rummaged in my bag.

"What the hell, summers spell."

You said it, big fella.

17 going on 18 I was when I picked up Thurston's new solo album, and the title track left pockmarks chest-wide. Inarguably some of the man's most magnificent lyrics, stark imagery and lush empathy for the devils inside all the angels. In that crowd, at that moment, in consideration of all that had come before, I felt sincerely that that song was for us. Sonic Youth do not play songs from other members solo records. Ever. Not the whole goddamn band, as part and parcel of a predetermined setlist. They were having a blast first to last, playing with the possibilities, weighing the probabilities on a futzy scale, and we got to experience the glorious outcome. Got no time for sad songs, baby.

At Patrick's behest, I tore myself away from Thurston's stoic form and paid greater attention to Lee. The band had been doing a straightforward rendition for most of the songs duration, but as the tune wound down, Lee was letting off some unobtrusive lickage that nevertheless stood bravely alongside Thurston's counsel in the ameliorative effort. Now that I think on it, it woulda been too fuckin' cool if Lee had put in some backing vox for those couple lines where T double-tracked himself on the recorded version. His tender tenor would sound superb on a line like "Love 'em all and say it loud."

And then they were gone. Again. Lee picked up a paper airplane that had made its way to the stage earlier (one of several, in fact) and launched it up towards the lights. Too much height, as it turned out.

"Dude, did we just hear Sonic Youth play 'Psychic Hearts'?"


"This...this isn't happening."

"Yes it is. It really really is."

"Well they can't just end it like that."

"Inhuman"--They can end it like that, though.

Third encore? Sure. I've forgotten what planet this is happening on, I mean maybe my spirit has passed into the dimension where Sonic Youth concerts are always like this. Cool. So what's next, a track off Lee's imminent solo record? How 'bout "Sunday" with Mary Timony on third guitar? How 'bout a goddamn interpolation of "Song For a Future Generation" by the B-52s with Rebecca Cole on synth? Hi my name is Jenn and I'm a Libra and the only way this show could get any better is if I'd worn my Snoopy backpack like I'd originally planned and if they played "Starpower" with Kim on vocals and yeah yeah, I know it never happened that way, Thurston always sang it live, and they haven't played that song live in 25 years, but as of this concert right here right now, throw everything you expect from SY live out the fuckin' window. It hit someone in the head? Are they still conscious? No? Job well done, then.

I looked over at Robin's girl and...this is her first Sonic Youth show.

Sky is the limit and my flame is no longer extinguishable by likelihood and probability. 58 shows and SY just shocked me. The gall, the audacity, the nerve of you, Sonic Youth.

When Thurston strapped that bass on, it was the beginning of ten minutes of funk. Not like James Jamerson funk. I mean funk like stairwell piss. Funk like the assuredly hairy backs of CT's own Charter Oak Motorcycle Club, who Thurston felt compelled to tell us about, in his mildly Hedbergian manner. Funk like the ukeleles the flamenco twins tossed to Lee (although only one made it to the stage) and funk like he played that motherfucker too (despite bemoaning its lack of a jack). Funk like bodies in the pit that inevitably broke out.

"My body is a pastime, my mind is a simple joy."

It wasn't dancing, it was like shaking yourself dry after being sprayed clean with a riot-ready hose. It was jarring a loose cog back into its proper place through decidedly improper technique. 

The drop out after verse one was almost stunning. A plummet exposing the nagual, but the window of opportunity was limited before they and we returned to the bass line of the blue screen of death.

"Inhuman" was created to be destroyed. Sonic Youth accomplish this in a myriad of fun ways. Lee hit a cymbal-like instrument that I could not identify, shit-eatin' grin on his face the whole time. Later he would take drumsticks and de-string two of his guitars the old-fashioned way, twirling twirling twirling towards freedom. Kim hits the deck and conjures up some scree. Thurston loses the stringed accoutrements, grasps the mic, and proceeds to


A relentless cry of identity, slathered in equal parts greed, guilt, pleasure and pain.


Thurston maniacally ripped the cords free from the tape that kept them immobile on the stage. All the while I'm thinking what I did to deserve seeing "Inhuman" twice in concert in my life and also, his exhortations sound a bit similar to those of Captain Caveman.

It could not have happened. It did. It was the kind of show I wish all my Sonic Lifers could've attended, all clustered together, feeding off the novelty and energy, reveling in the reveille.

"Anything is possible through the power of love."

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 7--Stop When I Tell You


Those who wondered how Sleater-Kinney would handle the transition from Kill Rock Stars to Sub Pop Records had to feel like they wasted their time. A month or so after the release of their seventh record, S-K announced they would be going on "indefinite hiatus." The curtains on the cover was one early hint; the fact that this album almost didn't get made due to increasingly fractious band relations was another.

The news devastated the band's devoted fanbase; this acolyte in particular was fond of saying, for months afterward, "Music just got 63% more suck." An annoying off-shoot of this grieving, however, was the alleged dearth of worthy female bands once Portland's pride shuffled off to side projects. Like Erase Errata, Electralane, and Mika Miko didn't exist!

So far as parting shots go, The Woods is a quality one, but I'd be a flat-out fibber to say they couldn't have departed on an even higher note. There are only ten songs, and a couple of them get lost in a locked room. The decision to jack up the levels and blow out the jellies (hi, Flaming Lips producer David Fridmann!) means every song is coated thick as the sand that is quick with distortion. Madlib said "You must be out ya head if your system ain't up to the red," but for many listeners the chronic static drove them batty by "ruining" fundamentally good songs.

"The Fox"--A Timonian tale of duck/fox seduction that draws vexed circles around the mismatched combatants. A Burtonian headbanger. A Zeppelin-esque moon shot. A Robitussin-abetted night swim.

You know that delicate guitar interplay you love about Sleater-Kinney? Yeah. You shouldn't grow so attached to things. 'Cause it's gone.

"Wilderness"--Carrie and Corin trade off in this fair-minded ode to the formers parents and their doomed union. Like "Light Rail Coyote," the music shimmers sparsely with the skies and streets of the PNW, but the words tell a much more solemn story. Carrie bravely tells the tale from dual POVs, and wisely avoids the pitfalls of ornate sentimentality no matter the person. Nothing is too sweet, nor is it too bitter.

"What's Mine is Yours"--It's like "You Make My Dreams Come True" for people who appreciate how good that song is in the first place.

This one's for the freaks, who pronounce the "b" in "subtle" just 'cause they know that's not how you say it, but they hate that word anyway. "You can bleed, as long as they don't see it." Sleater-Kinney, from start to finish, never hesitated to give voice to those society shunned.

The guitars detect ghost whistles...the vocals grasp, gasp and scorch...the drums make paste of bones strong and brittle. Carrie's minute-long goddess move may have put some fans off momentarily, but as a fan of Sonic Youth, it warmed the cookies of my heart.

"Jumpers"--On the short list of "most-beloved" songs in their history. Inspired by a New Yorker article detailing the unfortunate status of San Francisco's storied Golden Gate Bridge as a Mecca for the suicide-minded, Sleater-Kinney wrote a song that is, naturally, riveting. Carrie and Corin's verse-work is somber and even soothing if you're not paying too close attention. The jam-punting that follows gives just a few seconds prep-time before Corin lets the desperation fly.

Every line is memorable, but I've always been fond of "The Golden spine of engineering/Whose back is heavy with my weight." A depression so deep, a misery so massive, an emptiness that can inexplicably be measured. Two sublime achievements of mankind (that would never know to identify themselves as such) come together for the purpose of creating a ridiculous arc in the sky plan. The best of us, the worst of us.

"Modern Girl"--A lachrymose Carrie number that waits way too long to unlock Janet from the bathroom, "Modern Girl" is like a soggy corn-chip that challenges one's ability to sing along whilst maintaining a smirk fit to fell bearded Billyburg boys right where they slouch.

It features harmonica. Yes. We get it, Carrie. Sarcasm. Your whole life is not a picture of a sunny day. No one loves you, thus you ain't really so happy. And this super-donut of which you speak defies even the greatest fantasies of Homer J. Simpson.

"Entertain"--Ah, here we go. Blunt Carrie. Brazen Carrie. Back in 2005 there was this slew of Gang of Four knock-offs that people with no sense of history enjoyed listening to. Jet, Franz Ferdinand, and where are they now? Hey, it was a righteous fight at the time. If patently unfair. As it is, "Entertain" goes a minute too long--stop it, stop it, they're already dead!--and they don't exude the sneering joy that I prefer to see in fraud-exposers.

"Rollercoaster"--The riffage is fittingly looping. What's weird is the metaphor mixture: love as rollercoaster ride with trembling start, euphoric ride, jarring stop (and gotta love how the song itself "returns" for another ride, so to speak); love as food ("We had a good time at the beginning/It tasted just like all the things I was missing"). Now, the only common ground with rollercoasters and food is they can both make you puke. And, you can find plenty of each at Dorney Park. But, Dorney Park has Snoopy. Snoopy, he would tell Corin to just hush up and enjoy the pizza 'cause there's more comin', I mean it is Pizza Saturday after all.

The food metaphor is evoked much more often, as well. Might have behooved 'em to name the song something like "Bouillabaisse Babies."

"Steep Air"--A very uncharacteristic, plundering air keeps this song from distinguishing itself.

"Let's Call It Love"--YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS. This is more like it, so can we have more like it? Eleven minutes long, this one. Eleven sultry, sweaty, sexy, muggy, torrid, are you ready yes I'm ready, to falllllllllll in love, is that what this is, yeah let's call it that minutes. Metaphor this. Sex music for ant people, ant music for sex people. Don't imagine mountains where none exist. Multiple orgasms will sharpen the vision. Y'all know "The Rule of One," right? Which is? It ain't enough.

Creamy raunch and buttery roll. Don't get precious about that which we would not be without.

"Hit the floor, honey/Let's battle it out." Corin supplants Robert with every shamelessly lascivious line.

"Show me your darkest side." Upon first listen, Patrick and I really wanted to believe this line was "Snoopy/The dog is sick." When I saw them do this song live, I looked over at Corin from my cozy spot in front of Carrie's mic and could easily imagine she was actually saying "Snoopy/The dog is sick." And it cheered me.

Letting the music breathe as they do here was an unusual move, like giddy parents introducing a new sibling. Listeners accustomed to fighting for air along with the songs either cooed over the clean pink slate, or ground their teeth to the colicky red cries. Again, as a Sonic Youth fan, I was tickled to hear Sleater-Kinney stretch out. (SY weren't too displeased, either; I spoke with someone who stood next to Lee Ranaldo at SK's show at the Roseland Ballroom in New York and during "Let's Call It Love," Ranaldo could be seen shaking his head in amazement.)

"Night Light"--The sentinence of said light can be heard here in Carrie Brownstein's string witchery. Sturdy, smart, and not enough. Never enough. Shit.

A night light is there for peace of mind. But bulbs burn out, and require a replacement. A night light is generally outgrown by the one who came to rely on it. Come on, sleep in the dark. Lights out. Night.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 6--Protest and Survive


The American government's message to its people after the attacks of September 11, 2001 was to show the world that no tragedy could send us from knees to belly. How best to accomplish this show of strength? Buy stuff. Engage each other in meaningful dialogue about the government's repulsive foreign policies? No, go to Disneyland. Or World. Or both, 'cause more bucks is more freedom is victory is safety is family is America.

The 80s underground music scene flourished under the conservative reign of Reagan, suffered accordingly for both of Clinton's terms, so cool hunters could realistically expect a rebirth of passionate protest from the sidestream's finest.

But wow...nothing happened.

With the Patriot Act making it easier for citizens rights to be diminished for The Greater Good, artists suddenly scurried into their dark holes, frightened to raise questions and rattle cages. Sleater-Kinney were among the few brave souls, and they weren't content to offer just a protest song; One Beat is a whole damn album dedicated to the fight against fear and its many children--complacency, ignorance, hatred, and propaganda.

"One Beat"--Shakin' out the fossilized thought from second one, Corin asks "Is real change an illusion?" and the answer is...In these days and times, most likely. Real change is necessary for any body to stave off atrophy, to develop strength and wisdom, to reach ever closer to its fullest potential. If the denizens of this here globe had never at any point provoked genuine revolution, those of us alive right now wouldn't find ourselves in the world as we know it. A world where we have more information at our disposal than ever before, but too much disposal information. Hence, the unlikelihood of real change for the better.

"One Beat" sets the sonic tone with jagged, defiant guitar work, voices confident enough to slip on passion, and the march-precise drumming.

"Far Away"--With just a second to steel ourselves, we the listeners are thrown into Corin Tucker's raw remembrance of September 11th, when what should have been just another fabulous morning with her new baby boy went to hell already on fire. This recollection of watching the horror unfold on television, in a home thousands of miles away from the disaster sites, proves that tragedy is not provincial. (So much galled me about that terrible time. Nothing more so than the loss of thousands of lives. But my God, when otherwise well-intentioned people started that whole "Today We Are All New Yorkers" crap. I got no time for it. When an event of that magnitude occurs, it throws into sharp relief the silliness of boundaries, labels, barriers and dividing lines. We are citizens of the world.)

Corin gives her words the room they need to reverberate. Which they do with a power unmatched by any other song in their history.

"Far Away" is a shield against a collapsing sky. Dented, but not destroyed.

"Oh!"--Come along and ride on an onanistic voyage! After a pair of political powder-kegs, it's time for Carrie Brownstein (armed and legged with a new, sassier delivery) to bring that heart beat, oh it's a love beat. "Crazy to sane," "black to blue," it's all star power star power star power over y'all.

"The Remainder"--An abrasive rebuff of a traitorous relation. Yessir. I do not know who or what put the idea in my head that the subject of this song was Sara Dougher, Portland musician/writer/teacher and SK collaborator. The watery effect on Carrie's background vox is unnecessary, but harmless.

"Light Rail Coyote"--A tribute to Portland told with a short story writer's descriptive eye, "Light Rail Coyote" is all brown and green. This music is the new classic rock ("dirty river" is so CCR). Warm, familiar, to be blared. And based on a true story.

"Step Aside"--Canopies torn away, solar-powered sockets spark the dirt dance floor, pardon me is that a horn section? Yeah, but the breakdown is the hottest rock, so step to a side but don't stay there.

A lyrical misstep, however: "When I feel worn out/When I feel beaten/Like a worn-out shoe/Or a cake half eaten." Well shit, at least it didn't get waterlogged, so you can make it again! (Bringing up cake in songs is almost always not a good look.) Alternate lyric: "When I feel beaten/When I feel worn out/Like a used-up fuel/Or a page torn out."

"Combat Rock"--A fitting song title for the racket-gang that realistically could be called, from 1997 on, The Only Band That Matters. Carrie's terse Morse Code of Moral Cohesion is blunt and insolent and refreshing. Simply put, all the boys in all the bands weren't writing songs of this fiber. They fucking still aren't, actually.

Love is never having to bite your tongue. America the Beautiful, America the Brutal. We need to get off our knees and sing these songs at the top of our lungs.

"O2"--It's vital to stay strong. It's helpful to thrill to the wide open spaces. Elixir is hoax-milk; music is the juice of life. "O2" is always paired with "Light Rail Coyote" in my mind as sweet evocations of Portland life, foliage updates and all. Don't you just love those songs that are one continuous climax? Don't they roil all the good honest emotions up in your chest until you just laugh 'cause it sounds better than a shout or scream?

"Funeral Song"--Carrie returns to her usual semi-croon here, 'cause ain't nothin' sassy 'bout dyin'. Dead's just dead. "Nothing says 'forever' like my very own grave."

Janet is as relentless as an assassin. Here, there, everywhere. She's got more than one beat, even though one really is all you need. Beat back the hounds; don't fear the reaper, set that fucker on fire. Fill the void with rocks and sounds. Great pyro-imagery here, and if the last thing I hear before my fire is snuffed out by the coldest hand is the buzz and whine of a theremin, I can (cease to) live with that.

"Prisstina"--A tale about a bookworm gone club-bunny that sounds more than anything like a New Wave experiment. I'm not sure why this made it, but "Lions and Tigers" didn't. (I'm sure Patrick will jump in to explain the importance of mood in sequencing. Then he can jump right back out and get me a sammich.)

Holy shit, are those male backing vocals? Yes but unfortunately it's not Fred Schneider, it's Stephen Trask. Who is a top-notch individual I've no doubt. Certain crevices of the Interweb were explored and found to contain fans who were nonplussed (definition the first) over Trask's contributions. Something about the exclusively female realm being breached.

(Neat bit of trivia that will never appear on Jeopardy! and made Slim Moon think about reaching for the Tums: on the vinyl and CD tracklistings, "Funeral Song" and "Prisstina" are transposed.)

"Hollywood Ending"--Hollywood, where real change is an illusion, along with every other goddamn thing else. Sun, smog, fame, love. Everyone is doing instead of being, slick as lotion on fake skin. "You stay on till you're good and raw."

"Sympathy"--Corin's is the strongest overall voice on One Beat, and the closing salvo is a spiritual stomper. "Far Away" gave us a peek at new mother Corin fearing for the world her child would inherit; "Sympathy" tells us that it almost never happened.

On the list of things that will, almost without fail, cause even the staunchest skeptic to reach out to a God somewhere, almost losing your newborn child has gotta be top 3. I still maintain that thinking you may be about to die is number one. We are selfish creatures, us humans. "We are equal in the face of what we are most afraid of, " sings Tucker. No one has ever been too great to die. But goddamnit, the terrified parent says, give my child the chance to be great first!

To hear the selflessness of "Sympathy" is to hear the quintessence of motherhood. Mama Bear will do anything for Baby Bear, including taking a steaming bowl of porridge (just) right to the face.

If the only thing between me and a black bear is my mom, I can tell you this. Maybe that black bear dies, maybe my mom dies, but you know who doesn't die in this scenario? That's what moms do. A mother's love for her child is the purest love there is. I won't say "purest love imaginable," because it can't be imagined. It must be felt, first-hand. Heart to heart, one beat at a time.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 5--Burning Down the Clubhouse


The final finger for the fist was the band's most accessible platter yet, crafty and clean, polished and powerful, smart and fun throughout. An additional treat is the increased presence of drummer Janet Weiss on backing harmony vocals.

This is my favorite SK album, which is not a popular opinion whatsoever. It's that record many fans say "It's better than almost any other bands best, but compared to the other Sleater-Kinney albums..." Yeah, yeah. It might not be a gate-crushing rocker like Dig Me Out, but it's more varied and controlled, and a 101 on how to challenge the parameters of patriarchal thought without coming across as sententious assholes.

The replay value of this album is off the charts. Let's go.

"The Ballad of a Ladyman"--The showtime sheet at a Japanese rock festival read: "Sleater Kinney 8:30 'Ladymen'." The showtime sheet at ATP 2002 in Los Angeles read: "Sleeter Kinney." Outdated ideas of masculinity and femininity and masculinity versus piss-poor spelling, clearly Sleater-Kinney know how to fight the real enemy.

"I gotta rock!" Compromise is fer babies.

One of the greatest lyrics in their catalog ("Boys who are fearful of getting an earful") and one of the finest breakdowns of music recorded in the 21st century. Not perfect--'cause perfection sucks and should never be yearned for--but superb.

"Get-High Cream" would stink worse than Hitler breath.

"Ironclad"--Being a resident of Western Maryland, I pop crazed mental chubbies for Civil War references. My favorite field trip was the Antietam Battlefield; I've devoured book after book dedicated to the fight between the Blue and the Grey; I live a mile from the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, which is not only an educational building but haunted as well. So when Carrie namedrops the Monitor and the Merrimack, yeeeeessssss. History! No surprise "Ironclad" was a staple on their setlist when they hit DC.

The jitter-jagger of Carrie's guit plays nice with Corin's corded muscle-work. Janet plays hide and seek lackadaisically, knowing that when she's found, the party is on. Right there in the middle of the museum.

You have many songs about hero worship, but not many about hero warships. In the frequently fractious relationship between the two C's, I wonder who was which ship?

"All Hands on the Bad One"--Sleater-Kinney, the hypocritical thinkers worst enemy. The first to on snark get set go all over the two-faced sycophants. You can get to heaven on the back of these harmonies. Everyone say hello to Sarah Dougher on organ; she'll pop up again. She'll also appear on the next album.

"Youth Decay"--Less sycophants, more psycho baby elephants.

The said issue of eating disorders doesn't deserve to be belittled by sour meanderings anyway. SK know the score: 1200 calories to 500. I'd love to gather up some bricks, concrete blocks, piss balloons and wet leaves and just blitzkrieg a McDonalds with this song blaring from the getaway car.

Is there some incest happening as well in this sordid domestic scenario? "Daddy says I got my Mama's mouth"? Eww.

"You're No Rock N Roll Fun"--Arguably the best SK song ever.

Two weeks after the release of All Hands, my favorite band of all time ever the one the only the Sonic Youth put out NYC Ghosts and Flowers, to my mind their weakest full-length release. Usually SY records take over my life, but this time I kept going back to SK. It's not inaccurate to say that for the remainder of 2000, the Pacific Northwest's finest had deposed the Beasts From the East as my number one racket-gang.

With songs like this, how could I resist? A smart-not-clever jibe at the self-important rock stars stinking up the post-gig scene, "You're No Rock N Roll Fun" does the Loco-motion all over those pretentious twats. Listen to this and learn how to get down.

"#1 Must Have"--At this point--the not-quite halfway mark--Sleater-Kinney have firmly established themselves as the most confident band on planet Earth. Nonbelievers invited to commence with the fucking of themselves in 3, 2....

Noted for Corin's direct identification of herself as a riot grrrl, "#1 Must Have" is a tic-tac-toe board X'ed and O'ed out with disgust and hope. At the band's final East Coast show in Washington, DC, Tucker dedicated this song to a young girl sitting onstage who had been brought to the show by her father. It's been five years since, and I hope that young lady will never fail to refer back to that moment for inspiration.

"The Professional"--A minute and a half is all it takes. Inerrant, erratic, radical. Carrie doesn't enunciate much here but who cares. Clarity is for the professionals. The "she" is the "them" there, see? Sleater-Kinney did nothing but piss off professionals their whole life long. The chorus mimics the feeling of being rewarded with a cheesecake.

"Was It a Lie?"--The agony of women as entertainment. This song was inspired by real-life, the pathetic story of a man who captured video of a young woman being struck by a train. The video became a sick hit, a source of comedy for too many.

Fittingly, "Was It a Lie?" is reminiscent of a deserted place: useless train tracks, sleepy hollow side roads, rednecks heads. Was it an evitable situation? Yeah. But whether or not this woman was fucked up, homeless, tired, lost, that makes her violent death funny? "A woman's life got cheaper that day." Everyone's life is becoming cheaper every day.

"Male Model"--The male ideal of musicianship gets a nice swift kick here. Corin is awesome, but Carrie is for the chidren. "Show me your riffs"? Holy shit that's fantastic. Fuck you, Woodstock '99. To this day. And the greatest mondegreen in the band's history can be found within these walls, as well.

"Don't get me wrong/I'm not opposed to something big." Clearly. This band once covered Boston live and took massive inspiration from the B-52's just as much as Gang of Four.


"Leave You Behind"--This coulda been a single, with a quirky video directed by some indie iconoclast, featuring the members in mini-skirts swaying offbeat in a hideously-decorated kitchen waiting for the pancakes to finish up. Lovely but lightweight.

"Milkshake N Honey"--Dedicated to the fans at SK's final show ever. This song breaks the swag-o-meter. Corin is dripping here, people. This is a gender-fuck par excellence. "I've always been a guy with a sweet tooth/And that girl was just like a king-sized candy bar." I'm guessing Patrick doesn't rate this song highly 'cause he's one o' them boys fearful of the earful. Too bad; this is a beautifully sleazy body-full.

"Pompeii"--The partially buried, now free to see the world. Nothing too deep here. Corin goes Grape Ape, so stick around for that.

"The Swimmer"--An engrossing routine that could have been titled "The Shimmer." Breast stroke all the way, then towel off, change and relax with a night-time kite-flight while Chopin streaks the sky from your stereo. A stunner.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Fall Down on the World: The Music of Sleater-Kinney, Pt. 4--Steal Away


Musically, The Hot Rock represented a drop in room temperature. To the consternation of some, the album's pace was slower overall than that of Dig Me Out; Carrie's lead lines were more abstract than before, and nearly every track features structural shifts that abruptly halt the pogo wherever it's stuck. Fans who'd fastened onto the raucous sound of the prior album may have lamented the lack of rave and bubble, but only briefly, because Sleater-Kinney's zeal is uncompromising as ever.

"Start Together"--The reason SK connected with their fanbase in a way few bands of their era could match is pretty basic: the band understood how crucial feeling connected to something is. It's a need that crosses every imaginable barrier--race, gender, age, religion, nationality.

Corin is downright sweet-sounding here (think tone, not content) over Carrie's superbly woven web.

"Hot Rock"--I've never seen the 1972 movie of the same name, starring Robert Redford chief amongst others, and I likely never will, just 'cause heist capers don't intrigue me like that. Resolutely un-punk, but hypnotizing. At a couple minutes in, Carrie's lead coaxes Janet's rolls out of the oven. MMMMM.

Trying to follow the lyrics will leave your brain scrambled, blood thickened, eyes crossed and mouth slackened. Not unlike what happens when you eat at Carls Jr., but at least Sleater-Kinney don't overload you with empty calories.

"The End of You"--Corin took her inspiration from The Odyssey, using the marine navigation metaphor to stand in for the life of a rock band.

SK specialized in introductory riffs uniquely suited to send crowds into a froth, all high-pitched shrieks and arms shot skyward. "Bless me with Athena/There's no meaner, she's the best." The goddess of war, wisdom, strength, justice and the female arts? Uh, yeah. (I'm sure Corin's partial to the Olympian version of her birth.) A tribute to talent and guts in abundance.

"Burn, Don't Freeze"--Corin and Carrie demand the listener learn to multi-task over one of the most abstract guitar patterns to bless a Sleater-Kinney wreck-hard. Carrie's saying more stuff, and although it takes some time to discern, also the more interesting stuff. Listen to this muffucka in headphones and you will agree: salient points made all round.

"God Is a Number"-- The observation that numbers and equations are insidiously replacing letters and reason as the preferred mode of communication between bipeds is so obvious that even Christians agree. It's all John 2:11 that, and Corinthians 8:22, right?

This is not the song you play to get people into Sleater-Kinney. They will run screaming from the chorus, and leap right out the nearest rattling window.

"Banned From the End of the World"--Anyone who lived through the millennial hysteria of 1999 can attest to how annoying it all was. Y2K! Computers are going to kill us all, planes will plummet from the sky and anarchy will reign! Philip K. Dick, the rumors are true! Except none of that. I thought humanity couldn't get anymore ridiculous in my lifetime but well, 2012 is only a year away. "Party without fear," ah, tis only a sweet dream. One of the happiest guitar parts they ever conjured up, too.

"If you want it, I'll come right over." Oh you do that.

"Don't Talk Like"--Sad. As hell. Except with walls of blue flame, not orange or red. Corin sounds mournful as a widow, and Carrie's playing is infused with intensely focused invention to keep the tears from abandoning their ducts and leaving tell-tale trails.

One of their most overlooked songs, and maybe the best guitar tone on any of their tracks as well.

"Get Up"--Corin Tucker is Luna Lovegood directing a Wrackspurts porno flick. Should be incorrigible and twisted, but isn't, thanks to AD Janet Weiss as Hermione Granger's insistence on logic. When the title comes, it's exhilarating not because of some key change or speed bump, but because it feels like a natural conclusion.

"One Song For You"--I'd much rather hear Carrie get sexual than Corin, for a few reasons. Even when Ms. Tucker takes over the chorus, I'm still stuck on Carrie's subtle come-on. Another neglected gem from this album.

"The Size of Our Love"--Uncomfortable, but touching, from the opening line introducing us to the cancer-ridden lovers and taking us each agonizing step to the end of all ends.

"I'll die in this room/If you die in this room."

The addition of violin is as tasteful as you'd hope with a song of this nature.

"Living in Exile"--Living a lie, more like. An Ice Queen in search of heat after a shattering abandonment. It's quite Buddhist, really. Nothingness is everything. Melt away, back into the earth. Sounds same-y by now, which is not a complaint. Most of the riffs on the album would have no trouble making Fred Schneider do the Monkey whilst gripping a cowbell.

"Memorize Your Lines"--Good grief, more love in shambles? More violin? What's love got to do with it though? Humanoids more often than not prevaricate on instinct, spew bull even when the truth would save the day. The best actors are sociopaths, and if sociopaths are people who never learned the basic societal functions, who's to say someone couldn't unlearn those functions as well?

"A Quarter To Three"--The chorus has never not reminded me of "Back on the Chain Gang" by the Pretenders, fronted by noted Riot Grrl negator Chrissie Hynde. (For all her bluster, I couldn't help but agree when Hynde voiced in an interview exactly how writing PUSSY POWER on your abdomen signalled revolution. But.) Carrie sounds like a stripped-down Chrissie at scattered points throughout SK's discography, so the evocation may not be coincidental.