Tag Archives: SXSW

SXSW – The Real March Madness

It’s been amazing to watch SXSW grow from a small independent hotbed to the biggest and most important music and arts festival of the year. Much like The Sundance Festival does for independent film, SXSW gives a forum and a voice to hundreds of aspiring artists every year. And more importantly, the chance to be seen and hopefully discovered by the movers and shakers of the established industry.

The complaints about SXSW are the same ones that Sundance endures. It has sold out. It’s increasingly dominated by established artists looking for a cohesive marketing launch for their product. There are too many events crammed into the schedule – not even counting the unofficial fringe events that occur outside the official festival – so the odds on making a mark are miniscule. Yet every year, a few acts come out of that event hotter than a comet, and those merely following the festivities  from a distance are immediately tipped to them.

As one who likes to sift through the plethora of publicity and promotion in search of good bands, comedians and films, I find these festival events fascinating. And sometimes the best results happen because they are chaotic and spontaneous, despite meticulous and careful planning.

So if you are not lucky enough to be reading this from Austin, click here for schedules and information. Not too late to jump on a plane.

If you just want to peek from afar, hit the Independent Film Channel website where they are streaming events live throughout the festival.

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John Oliver’s NY Stand Up is Back!

Britwit John Oliver has tickled our funnybones in featured guest roles on The Daily Show and Community, and last year he was given the reins of a comedy showcase called New York Stand Up. The format was deceptively simple; straight ahead stand-up comedy without the fluff, featuring some of the brightest minds working the NYC scenes today. Although limited to six episodes, we were treated to hilarious spots from Kristin Schaal, Matt McCarthy, Marc Maron, Janeane Garafolo and Nick Kroll among many others.

And wonder of wonders, it got renewed! The new season, again hosted by Oliver, premieres on Thursday, March 24 at midnight, after The Colbert Report.

The obviously titled John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show features Oliver opening each of the six episodes with original material and then introducing four comedians across the hour. Maria Bamford, Greg Behrendt, David Koechner, Kirk Fox, Al Madrigal, and Pete Holmes close each of their episodes with super-sized stand-up sets. The complete line-up boasts new stand-up from Anthony Jeselnik, Brendon Walsh, Deon Cole, Glenn Wool, Jen Kirkman, Kumail Nanjiani, Kyle Kinane, Marina Franklin, Mike Lawrence, Moshe Kasher, Rory Albanese, Rory Scovel, and Tommy Johnagin.

If you know these names, you will certainly agree that it’s an incredible lineup. And if you don’t know those names…man, are you about to have your mind blown. Oliver kicks off the season with a harrowing story of a flight diversion to Hanover, Germany and a thorough defense of the importance of swearing. Joining him on the premiere are Kyle Kinane, Glenn Wool, Rory Scovel and Pete Holmes. Leading up to the on-air premiere and throughout the new season, Jokes.com will feature preview clips and highlights from the series, as well as a special live version of the show staged at SXSW.

After yesterday’s devastating news, I can sure use some cheering up. It will be bittersweet knowing that there are a couple of people missing from that lineup, but I’m looking forward to great stand up comedy once again displacing some of the celebretard programming dominating my cable guide.

 

Such a cheeky little monkey...

 

 

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Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

 

Prediction-wise, that is. But not happy about it. 

I had a bad feeling that America was going to reject Laurie Kilmartin and James Adomian after last week’s set, and unfortunately those were the first two severed. When Jonathan Thymius and Maronzio Vance came out (what is it with finishing the eliminations with a duo?) I felt sure I was three-for-three even though if I were voting I would have sent Vance packing along with Rachel Feinstein and Felipe Esparza

But somehow, despite a strange and awkward set, Thymius survived. Did America really want to punish Vance for blowing his punch line last week? Because I don’t get how they can dig deep enough to enjoy Thymius’ surreal act yet not see the charm in Adomian’s equally obtuse direction. And god knows what will happen next week, because Thymius had an even stranger set with a really weak close…although he did slip a teabagging reference past the censors. 

Teabagging the toilet water?

I do not understand the fascination with Rachel Feinstein as a stand-up comic. She’s very attractive and leggy and is comfortable on stage and does great voices…but there are no jokes! I agree with some bloggers who suggest a career in voice-over work; she could be a versatile player in the animated world as long as someone else is writing the material. All she did last night was another extended ethnic rant

Myq Kaplan continued to riff strong material (although familiar to anyone who has his album) and once again he tagged a prior comic’s set to good results. And Tommy Johnagin continues to kill, peppering punch lines and adding that little bit extra, like pointing out his sweat stain and mocking the judges. I thought Mike DeStefano was more miss than hit this time around, although the “does it clean shame” line was solid. 

Roy Wood Jr. continues to be consistently good – never great – but always enough to get a few laughs. And while I’m not a Felipe Esparza fan, this was probably his best set; the crowd loves him. I’m starting to believe that it’s going to come down to the ethnic comic and the comic who can’t avoid ethnic schtick. That would be sad, but we are talking about a show that crowned Dat Phan as the funniest comedian. 

The best parts of the show continue to be Craig Robinson’s one-liners coming in or out of commercials. The judges are back, but why? They don’t criticize anyone – everyone is great and their sets are solid? It’s insulting to watch. I enjoy Greg Giraldo’s quips and Andy Kindler is reason enough to watch the show. And I’ve seen Natasha Leggero be funny, but it’s yet to happen on this program. But the bigger issue is that America is voting and they aren’t judging anything anymore – so why the pretense? 

Not certain how many go home next week but I predict the next two voted home are Thymius and Kaplan. Sadly, America will get what it deserves

— 

"Sitting in the back of a car..."

R.I.P. bass player Andy Hummel, leaving only drummer Jody Stephens with us from the late great Big Star (no, I don’t count Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow). I don’t really have to make any special effort to pull a Big Star album out of the racks as they’ve been in rotation for…oh, almost forty years

Hummel had been battling cancer for the last two years. My friend (and Not Lame honcho) Bruce Brodeen posted that he had seen Andy at SXSW in March, where despite his illness he flew in from halfway across the world to participate in the tribute. Bruce said his playing was “a blessing“, and I guess if you’re going to strap in for a last gig that would not be a bad one to go out on. 

Blurt and EW announcements.

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Another Alex Chilton Tribute

A week ago Saturday, Adam Marsland’s Chaos Band performed an Alex Chilton tribute show at a club in Marina del Rey and were astute enough to have some cameras rolling.

Marsland, one of the most seasoned DIY tour rats of the past decade plus, has always been a fan of whipping out some great cover songs (he’s been known to take the stage in a variation of Stump The Band, which always produces some eclectic choices). And a few years back he issued an excellent album of Carl Wilson and Dennis Wilson songs – live – called Long Promised Road.

Absolutely one of my wish I was there moments, but I’m on the Wrong Coast. And if you also were unable to attend, fear not – enjoy Adam, Evie Sands, Kurt Medlin and Teresa Cowles pay homage to the late, great Alex Chilton via You Tube…

Video: “Soul Deep

Here’s what’s available to enjoy so far; more songs might be forthcoming.

The Ballad of El Goodo (Adam and Evie co-lead)
Soul Deep (Evie lead)
Give Me Another Chance (Teresa lead)
Thirteen
When My Baby’s Beside Me
You Get What You Deserve
September Gurls
Kizza Me
Alex Chilton (Replacements cover)
Jesus Christ
The Worst Thing (That I Ever Did) 

Although that last title is an original, Adam refers to it as an Alex-influenced song. Close enough for me. Here is the link to the video tribute page .

The first post-mortem tribute happened at SXSW, of course, in place of the originally scheduled Big Star show. And just this past weekend another was held at The Living Room in NYC; dozens of others sprang up everywhere as musicians felt the need to tip their musical caps to one of their era’s defining artists. And although essays from famous musicians are turning up in newspapers and magazines as well, praising Alex Chilton is nothing new.

Alex won’t be forgotten because his songs won’t be forgotten. Simple as that.

And yes, it *rocks*.

Hurry up! There were less than five hundred copies made in this limited release of Adam’s newest album, Hello Cleveland. And if you never picked up Go West,  I behoove you to do that as well. All of Adam’s albums can be purchased at the usual outlets or through his website merchandise page.

Adam on MySpace

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T.G.I.F. – Ten Chilton Classics

Not in sales, no - but in impact? Oh, yes.

“Thinking ’bout what to say / and I can’t find the lines…”   

Alex Chilton died the other day, and so did a piece of me. I first heard Alex when his booming gravel voice launched out of my transistor radio with “The Letter”, the brilliant Box Tops single that didn’t waste a second of it’s not quite two minutes. I was still buying singles then, and follow-ups like “Cry Like A Baby” and “Soul Deep” made it all the way from Memphis to my ears. 

From The Box Tops to Big Star

But most singles bands from the 60s had their moment and hit the wall when music turned towards FM radio and longer, more sophisticated album cuts. And although I was getting into progressive rock and glam and the beginnings of heavy metal with Black Sabbath, I retained my passion for short sharp pop songs. I wouldn’t realize until years later that the Box Tops weren’t a group of friends hanging out and writing songs like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were, but rather they were a staunchly controlled vehicle for a group of writers and producers and that a disillusioned sixteen year old was in fact that singer who sounded like he had already lived a hard life. I was half right. 

Thanks to someone’s insight in a rock magazine – I’ll wager that it was Creem – I was tipped that this new band was aces and I was able to grab a copy of the first Big Star album called #1 Record. What an audacious title, I thought, but dropping the needle on that album was an electrifying experience. Here was an album of impeccable chestnuts, from the rocking “Don’t Lie To Me” and “In The Street” to the sweet and fragile “Try Again” and  “Give Me Another Chance” (and when that crescendo of angelic vocals comes crashing in…oh, my God!). The fist fight between the tambourine and ringing guitar chords in “When My Baby’s Beside Me”. And that dagger-through-the-heart, “Thirteen”, which dripped with teenage angst. 

December Boys got it bad

The second album, sans Chris Bell, was almost as good, a little sloppier and esoteric with absolute standouts like “Back of A Car”, “September Gurls” and “O My Soul”. Meanwhile “What’s Going Ahn” and “Daisy Glaze” and “Morpha Too” hinted at the fragility that was to come in Third / Sister Lovers. Despite some genuinely upbeat sounding moments in “Thank You Friends” and “Jesus Christ”, it was painful to listen to “Holocaust” and “Big Black Car”, almost the soundtrack of a man falling apart. 

A perfect album title; he could have used it twice.

The post-Big Star years were a mixed bag; there were moments of pure joy and fun and others of witnessing painfully inept performances. I remember being in a club with my friend Bill waiting for a band to come onstage, and the most horrific atonal version of “The Letter” came over the sound system. As we cringed, the bartender informed us that it was a tape of a recent Alex Chilton performance; I remember thinking that he sounded like he would die mid-set. 

But in the coming years he regrouped and rebounded, issuing some solid EPs before getting talked into reforming Big Star with Jody Stephens and a pair of Posies in Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. When The Replacements blasted out the dynamic single “Alex Chilton” the legend was reborn; more indie bands started to admit the influence and at long last Chilton was getting the popular response to match the critical hurrahs. 

 

But Alex took it full circle and reunited The Box Tops, for as esoteric and varied as his playlists had been over the years – from soul to powerpop to MOR standards – the New Orleans via Memphis vibe never left. He seemed to enjoy the Box Tops shows more than the Big Star ones, and perhaps that’s why their reunion album In Space was a disappointment – his heart wasn’t in it anymore. 

But his soul and his heart and his pen and his voice came together often enough to leave behind an incredible legacy. So here are ten tunes that are a huge part of my life, songs that hit me like a ton of bricks or dovetailed with the emotions I was going through when I first heard them. They are fresh and timeless and will resonate with me no matter how old I am. I’m in love…with that song. 

And now the show for SXSW will go on as a tribute.

Icewater

 * September Gurls. December boys got it bad, I know, Alex, I know. Me too. 

* Cry Like A Baby. “Today we passed on the street/and you just walked on by/my heart just fell to my feet…” 

* The Ballad of El Goodo. “I’ve been trying hard against unbelievable odds” 

* Take Me Home and Make Me Like It. Is that the best pick up line ever? Hilarious and sloppy. 

* Soul Deep. Pop Soul Perfection. Neil Diamond shat himself when he heard this. 

* I’m In Love With A Girl. I can’t help but smile every time I hear this simple, fragile love song. There’s so much angst and pain in Alex’s catalogue; this is a nice exception. 

* No Sex. More for the fact that the EP signaled his return than the song itself. 

* Back of a Car. Thinking about what to say, and I can’t find the lines

* The Letter. The two minutes that started it all. 

* Thirteen Maybe the most poignant song about fumbling adolescence ever written. This one went through my heart like a spear, even though I was eighteen when I heard it. 

Rest In Peace, Alex.

All Music Guide tribute from Steven Thomas Erlewine 

Memphis Commercial Appeal says goodbye 

Some thoughts from pop critic Mike Bennett

Alex Chilton wiki with links to multiple discographies

The tribute at Popdose

Auditeer and music columnist John Micek remembers

Ed Ward from NPR chimes in

Anthony Lombardi talked to John Fry about Alex.

Others pay tribute from SXSW.

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NEW ALBUM! Tinted Windows

Pure Pop for Then People

Pure Pop for Then People

I’m going to lay my cards on the table right up front, so if you want to be one of the snarky majority you can click away now. Because I’m here to tell you that Tinted Windows – the self-titled album from Bun E. Carlos, Adam Schlesinger, Taylor Hanson and James Iha – is the best pop record anyone has released to date in 2009.

(Waits for snarky people to laugh…or leave…)

Sample this, mofos.

This album rockets right out of the box with “Kind of a Girl” and doesn’t let up, which is no surprise considering Fountain of Wayne‘s Adam Schlesinger wrote the first four tracks (and seven of the eleven songs overall – eight if you count the co-write with Hanson). “Kind of a Girl” is jukebox glory; it has the big hooks, the octave choruses, the machine gun drums and Hanson’s best Robin Zander impression. Like a few songs on the album, it’s reminiscent of Cheap Trick‘s landmark In Color album (look no further than the ‘c’mon c’mon’ within “Messing With My Head”, another single in waiting). Adam’s second best contribution is the rocking “We Got Something”, which hopefully follows “Kind of a Girl” out of the chute as a single. It’s classic 70s powerpop with a more muscular mix.

But the killer single here might be track 3, the power ballad “Dead Serious” – I don’t think I’ve heard a better radio song all year. It is a monster. You give this track to any American Idol contestant, any young pop star being marketed to the melodic pop crowd…hell, any country-pop female from Kelly Clarkson to Shania Twain and they could top the charts with it. It’s that simple. It’s that infectious. It’s that perfect. But the industry isn’t going to let a man band run with this, even if the lead singer is as close to a teenybop idol as the rock world has at the moment.

“Dead Serious” live at SXSW.

James Iha adds a hooky mid-tempo “Back With You” (Bryan Adams would top the charts with this) along with the riff rocker “Cha Cha”(if The Sweet reunites, this is a natural). Hanson’s two efforts are solid pop as well; “Nothing To Me” again sounds like a Big Star track ghostwritten for Zander, and the co-write with Schelsinger (“Take Me Back”) is classic stutter-stop power-pop, complete with those ooh-ooh-ooh choruses that make girls swoon. Bubblegum pop so sticky sweet that you’ll need to wipe your hands after listening…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But despite all of the above, this album and band/project (whichever it turns out to be) will ultimately fall a bit short. Why? Because there is no market for power-pop. Every one of these tracks would sound just fine blasting from the radio, especially in summer, but the likelihood of that peaked thirty to forty years ago. Powerpop doesn’t have a fan fest. Powerpop doesn’t have a video channel. Powerpop doesn’t go well with skateboards and hoodies.

You could give these songs to Pink and she’d make an album that would sell millions with minimal changes to the arrangements. Shania would have Mutt country-punch the production and she’d revive her career. Britney Spears could even have her people douse these songs in beats, ridiculous echo and synth programming and hire forty dancers…but if she cut these songs people would take her seriously again.

But any of those people – and more – would probably just fuck it up anyway. Instead we have the right men for the job, albeit at the wrong time. It’s too bubblegum for Cheap Trick. It’s too consistently rocking for Hanson. It’s too lyrically adolescant for Fountains of Wayne. And as far as Smashing Pumpkins…well, it doesn’t suck.

But whoever cobbled this foursome together hit the bullseye – a great songwriter, a classic pop drummer, a chunking power chord guitarist and a cherubic vocalist. They sound like they’re having a blast and most importantly they play to their strengths. Iha proved on his solo album that he’s not a front man, but he has chops; likewise Schlesinger knows these songs are more about hooks than message and need to be sung by a younger, more enthusiastic pop star. Carlos, as always, is a rock solid foundation. They released a great album. Hopefully the lads will look in the tinted mirror and tell themselves  “We Got Something”.

All those bad reviews are missing the whole point. They are wrong. I am right.

But stop reading and let your ears decide.

 Live version of “Cha Cha”

Live version of “We Got Something”

Video for “Kind of a Girl”

Video for “Messing With My Head”

NOT Tinted Windows.

Frankenstein project, monster hits.
Frankenstein project, monster hits.

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Under The Radar: Muck and the Mires

 

Anytime I can get an IPO shirt and Manitoba's in the same pic, I'm doing it

Anytime I can get an IPO shirt and Manitoba's in the same pic, I'm doing it

I try to stay on top of upcoming release lists, which is harder and harder to do since most bands I’m curious about are not on the major label circuit. Of course, this makes it easy to be out of sight, out of mind, as there are only so many Post-It notes I can slap on a wall. Of course, most of the projected release dates slip anyway, especially in this dodgy economy, so sometimes I find myself stumbling upon a band name during some tangent and click towards their site with great anticipation…and mixed results.

Sometimes I am floored that one slipped by me (like the third E.I.E.I.O. album!!), but often times I find that the release date has shifted, or the scheduled date has quietly passed by with no update. Such is the case with the upcoming album Hypnotic from Muck and The Mires, which hopefully will see the light of day this year. Originally set to be released by the band, it then was slated for Dirty Water Records and indeed might still come out under that moniker via Get Hip Records here in the US.

There’s been a lot of acclaim for the band, from winning an Underground Garage competition on Little Steven’s show to opening the stage for the New York Dolls at SXSW. Yet, criminally, they’re still under the radar…

 

Great record - you can count on it.

Great record - you can count on it.

MUCK AND THE MIRES: 1-2-3-4 (Dionysius) 

Looking for the bastard son of The Sonics and The Beatles? Look no further, as Boston’s Muck and the Mires once again birth a platter that channels the energy of the former and the song craft of the latter. My god, this is what rock’n’roll music is supposed to be! Great growling vocals, snapping drums, walking bass lines and ringing guitars; it’s a sixties band with 21st century chops and production values. Twelve tracks that clock in under twenty-five minutes and in a better world there would be six hit singles here, at least.

The lone cover, “(Just Like) Romeo And Juliet” is played with as much spirit and reverence as the originals. Their other albums are solid as well, but on 1-2-3-4 they’ve nailed the clarity and sonic balance that puts these songs in their best light. Evan Shore (“Muck”) should be a star, and hopefully by the time you read this, he will be. Buy this and make people listen!

(original album review written for Pop Culture Press)

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