Tag Archives: National Anthem

Elvis (Costello) Is King

As I walk through
this wicked world
searching for light in the darkness of insanity
I ask myself
is all hope gone?
Is there only pain and hatred and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside, there’s one thing I wanna know
What’s so funny about peace love and understanding?

Nick Lowe wrote it, and in the 1970s, to boot. But it’s Elvis’ song. And it should be our goddamned National Anthem.

My friend Bill has seen Elvis Costello live about twenty times over the years. After witnessing his three-hour performance at Rochester’s Jazz Festival (yes, I know…) earlier this month, he proclaimed it the finest show he had ever seen Elvis perform…ever. I do not take comments like that from Bill lightly; he’s not prone to hyperbole.

I missed that show; by the time I was available to get seats there were a few nosebleeders left for $95 (plus Ticketbastard charges), and $250 seemed a bit steep. Fortunately I discovered that two short weeks later he was performing in a beautiful outdoor setting at the Buffalo Harbor…for ten dollars. That’s like time-travel prices, folks! It’s also a magnificent place to see a show; I saw Crowded House there last summer.

There were two openers as the sun set over the water. A game Mark Norris and the Backpeddlers did their best and sported some catchy songs, albeit monitor troubles were likely the cause of some flat vocals. Then Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers came on – great band instrumentally, great concept and even very entertaining on occasion…like when lead singer Shilpa didn’t howl like a banshee impaled on a fiery pole.

With curfew, I knew Elvis now had only two hours, not three. But damned if he didn’t hit the stage en fuegofive straight classics without a breath between them – and wrung every second of time for all it was worth without so much as a momentary lapse of energy. I wish every young band who think they are the shit could watch and learn how to create, sustain and leverage momentum. This was a master class.

The band was phenomenal. Consider that had Bruce Thomas not left the fold for personal reasons, this was the same quartet that changed lives thirty-five years ago. But Davey Faragher – veteran of Cracker, John Hiatt and others – has been the perfect foil for Elvis both musically and vocally for years. And while the other two might not sit atop people’s lists of best drummer and best keyboard player, I cannot think of anyone else manning those chairs better.

Pete Thomas is still a dynamo of hands and feet, as steadily adept and pulsating as he was when The Attractions were at their peak. Unassuming but rock solid, he and Faragher are telepathic.

And Steve Nieve – is that the greatest rock’n’roll name ever? Not only was his mad scientist act on banks of keyboards as good as ever, but I have never seen anyone play a theremin with such impeccable pitch and control.

Elvis is no spring chicken, but someone forgot to tell him. His vocals were superb, whether artfully crooning “Shipbuilding” or spitting out the fast paced venom of “Mystery Dance” and “Radio Radio“. He paced the stage restlessly, played guitar god whenever the Gibsons were strapped around his neck, and damned if he didn’t do a little dancing, too.

The set list tilted heavily to the early years, but some of the obvious crowd-pleasers (“Oliver’s Army”, “No Action“) were skipped in favor of deeper dives like “Green Shirt” and “Clubland“. He even threw in spirited covers of  “Heart Of The City” and “Substitute” pleasing the old guard among us.

He did finally pull out “Alison“, and as couples hugged and swayed and the crowd sang along I couldn’t help wondering if he felt compelled to play it just because it was such a touchstone. But as he headed for the home stretch, the band’s volume ebbed and flowed as he stepped to the microphone and started to weave in other artist’s lyrics as if they were simply bonus verses. Hank Williams. Jimi Hendrix. Smokey Robinson. Not covering the songs, mind you – weaving them into his own melody and chord changes, and each fit like hand in glove. With dignity and subtlety the man was giving a goddamned rock history lesson from the pulpit, and we were renewed in our faith.

And as he wailed about infidelity to draw the song to its conclusion, and thousands of people already on their feet tried to stand even taller in appreciation, he lit off the cherrybomb that has become his signature song, and we were all one explosive beacon in one of rock’s finest moments.

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony, sweet harmony?

Right here, Elvis. Forever and always.

Elvis Costello

The Buffalo set list will eventually be here.

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Oversouling

I knew there had to be a word for it.

That ridiculous vocal yodeling (my term until today) that pop singers seem to think expresses emotion…not realizing those of us with ears and taste hear cats being herded into a woodchipper? Audio pyrotechnics, somersaults on the scale, the machine-gun burst of notes squeezed into one syllable of a song that rips any chance of credibility out of the picture and probably adds the song (as well as the artist) to my brain’s “Do Not Fly” list?

Yep, that’s an insult to yodelers – so let’s adopt oversouling.

Add in the liberal presence of Autotune and I am seriously wondering what the hell is wrong with people who aren’t revolted by a large segment of what passes for hit songs these days. I’m not someone pining for the good old days and refusing to accept that music has changed over the course of my lifetime, but I am shocked that the appreciation of musicians takes such a back seat to celebretards and vapid excuses for pop singers.

(Really, if you need recorded loops and Autotune…what the fuck are you actually doing on that stage?)

So when I got the email link to the Huffington Post essay by John Eskow today – courtesy Rock & Rap Confidential – I couldn’t help but smile and fist-bump myself (better than fist-bumping an imaginary companion, even if it does take the hands off the keyboard for a moment). For John not only nailed the main problem with Christina Aguilera’s trainwreck of a National Anthem, he hit the bulls-eye on the whole trend of oversouling.

“This is the same grotesque style — 17 different notes for every vocal syllable — that has so dominated the pop and R&B charts for years. Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston are relatively minor offenders, but singers like Aguilera — who admittedly possesses a great instrument — just don’t seem to know when to stop, turning each song into an Olympic sport as they drain it of its implicit soul, as if running through the entire scale on every single word was somehow a token of sincerity. It’s called melisma — the bending of syllables for bluesy or soulful effect — and what’s creepy about the way it’s used now is that it perverts America’s true genius for song…”

I implore you to read the entire essay and continue to the bottom for even further bemusement; his mention of Jerry Wexler elicits charges of racism from the great unwashed in Mommy’s basements across our fine land.

At least Roseanne Barr was joking…and she got the words right.

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T.G.I.F. – Ten For Independence

Canada Day, Independence Day, freedom! Have a safe and happy holiday!

fireworks_animated-gif 

Marvin Gaye with his incredibly soulful version of the National Anthem.

Canadian Neil Young ably echoed American sentiment with “Ohio”

Ditto American John Fogerty with “Fortunate Son”

What can a poor boy do? Ask The Rolling Stones.

Hey, baby, it’s the Fourth of July“. The X classic.

John Mellencamp sings his own national anthem, “Pink Houses”

Yes, Independence Day was a bit cheesey. But Bill Pullman rules.

Jimi Hendrix, a former paratrooper, with “Freedom”

U2 with the anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

And last but not least – my favorite actor of all time, James Cagney. I grew up loving his work, especially gangster flicks like Public Enemy, Angels With Dirty Faces and White Heat, any of which should have brought him the Oscar for Best Actor. He only won one, and it was for his performance as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. No one danced like that before or since, and if you think that’s good, check this out from the same film.

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