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Entries in music (117)

Tuesday
Dec212010

2010 in Music

If it wasn't already obvious to you from the fact that I beat you over the head with it every time you visit this little corner of the internet, I'll spell it out for you: I spent almost all of 2010 listening entirely to Todd Rundgren and Rundgren-related acts. As so much of my 2010 record allowance was spent rescuing old 1970s LPs from dusty shops, I'm still just starting to discover most of the music that was released this year, making my way through Matthew Perpetua's 2010 Survey Mix and the well-appreciated opinions of the All Songs Considered pundits. So I'm sure by the end of 2011 I'll be able to actually tell you about all the great music there was in 2010.

There were some gems that managed to shine through the cracks and catch my eye down in my little 1970s mine, down where the glam shines bright and the Moog synthesizers echo the drip of water off stalactites, and so I've gathered them for you here. (Those of you reading this in an RSS aggregator will need to click through to the entry to see the player.)

End Love - OK Go / Solitude Is Bliss - Tame Impala / Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National / Lost In The World - Kanye West & Bon Iver / Swim Until You Can't See Land - Frightened Rabbit / This Time Around - The Radio Dept. / Myography - Apollo Run / Marz - John Grant / Sigh No More - Mumford and Sons / In The Mirror - Field Music / Tighten Up - The Black Keys / Fool's Day - Blur / Trešā elpa - Gustavo & Čiziks / New York Is Killing Me - Gil Scott-Heron / Stylo (featuring Mos Def and Bobby Womack) - Gorillaz

A note on the format: I grew up on radio. I interned for our local alternative station all through high school and college, and had my own radio show through most of college. (I once got chewed out for playing an Elastica b-side, which was considered "too mainstream," and my most loyal listeners were several gentlemen interned in the prison up the road.) I love that now you can play separate songs, a musical pick-n-mix. I do it a lot myself, skimming through someone else's musical tastes, jumping from song to song until I find something I like.

But there was radio. And there's something about finding a gem in the rough, hearing a song that you love among songs you're not too keen on. This is a very personal mix. The type of stuff I probably would have played on my own radio show, with some Patti Smith, Einstürzende Neubauten, or Jandek thrown in to keep the programmer happy. Turn down the ones you don't like, and wait for the gems. I promise you: we'll bump into each other somewhere down in these dark mines.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Dec082010

The Fans

Oh Jesus where are we on this journey; All adolescence out the window.
- Patti Smith*

Apparently, space is a precious commodity at a Todd show. Something to be fought for tooth and nail. I'm squeezing forward to get to where Pippi and her crew are standing, right down front. This is a mistake, I can tell as I snake through the crowd, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. I encounter stiff elbows and locked shoulders. Everyone weighted down to the tilted floor of the Gramercy Theater, like anchors. A group of women calls out "stand FIRM, ladies" as I pass, their arms akimbo. The most vocal of them continues to shout at the back of my head. "That's right, keep moving. This is our space." I turn around to apologize. "I'm just trying to get to my friends. They're right over…" "Keep moving, we don't want you here." My fists clench against my chest. And here I thought we all had something in common.

(I related this story later on to a guy from our neighborhood in our local bar. "They were older than you?" "Yeah. I'd say they were in their fifties." "So you got bullied by a bunch of moms?" I don't think he spends all that much time on the internet.)

Later I read somewhere that some people had waited in line for four hours in frigid temperatures to claim a spot close to the stage and realized that I was the jerk in this situation. When it comes to Todd fans, to the lengths they'll go to, I still have so very much to learn.

I finally make it to Pippi. "I made it," I say. "But I think I made a few enemies."

"It's a bit early for enemies, Zan," says Pippi, and welcomes me into the fold. And then it all unfolds: Black Maria, No. 1 Lowest Common Denominator, oh man he's playing Bleeding. His fingers on fire. His voice melting over the crowd. At concerts there is this ebb and flow of connection: the artist moves towards the crowd, and the crowd moves closer to the artist. A call and response of attention and attraction.

Then there is this: Todd is doing runs, challenging his backing band to echo him. Their own little game of call and response, all of us involved in this elaborate triangular give and take of listening initiated by the man in the middle. He hits a particularly beautiful trail of notes, casts them up into the air, watches them hang there for a moment, and from the mouths at his feet you can hear breaths caught in throats. All around us: everyone pausing to recognize the beauty of that moment.

I can't help it: I will gush. I will gush until there's nothing left in my heart to gush about, until it all runs dry.

The fans stand in awe. "This is the best he's sounded in years."

"Did you hear that?" says Pippi, turning to me. "The best in years."

"I heard that," I say. I secretly decide it's because I'm finally there.

Pippi reminds me of something he said the night before when she told him I'm a new fan, something that I'd forgotten in my delirium. "We must nurture her and help her grow," he had said, throwing his arm over my shoulder. He bends the strings on the guitar there on that stage, leaning back on his heels, and my little sapling heart grows three sizes.

"It's almost too much," I say, hand to chest. I feel it pounding.

"Too much?" says a fan behind me. "No way: MORE!"

We the insatiable.

*In what I can only describe as an homage to Patti Smith created by the circumstantial location of a BBQ joint I'd been wanting to try, I ended up walking from the Hotel Chelsea along 23rd street to the gig. This quote, from Patti's review of A Wizard, A True Star, feels fitting.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved. Todd Is Godd.

Tuesday
Nov022010

Words and Magic by Jonathan Richman

It's magic, it's magic the way we got together,
There's magic around us in the air
It's magic, it's magic, no, not at random
And there must be a higher power somewhere.

I never pay too much attention to lyrics. Odd, considering how important words are to me in every other aspect of life. But the melodies and harmonies of songs are always so distracting, so emotive and hummable. Words are an afterthought, a karaoke revelation.

There are times though, when you do realize what they're saying, and when those words connect with exactly what you're feeling right at that very moment... well, who doesn't like that kind of magic?

* * *

Last night, J took me to see Jonathan Richman at the Bowery Ballroom. We bought our tickets ages ago, and after a good but exhausting weekend and a rough day at work, it was with leaden feet that we headed to the Lower East Side last night, both of us wishing it had been any night other than that night.

Then three songs in—maybe during the one about how god gave us wine to taste, not to talk about? or the one about leaving the party whenever you feel like it?—I turned to J, both of us beaming: "This is just the perfect thing for us right now." By some strange magic, he was singing exactly what we needed to hear.

The man on stage was a magician, a hypnotist with Elvis hips. A dancing bard, a snakecharmer, a captivating storyteller. He pulled metaphorical flowers from his sleeve, set imaginary things on fire: he made the weary world disappear. The woman in front of me sat with her arms folded over the balcony railing, head tilted slightly to the side, barely moving. Listening. The whole crowd was listening to every single word. (If you've ever been to a show in New York, you know that this just does not happen.)

When Jonathan Richman finally left the stage, hand to heart, kisses to crowd, I turned to J: "That was amazing!"

I was giddy. He was wiping his eyes.

"Are you crying?"

"Just a bit."

Today I'm trying to remember the song he ended with that left us both in such different places. I sent J a message: "Do you remember any of the words from that last song? Something about what he's supposed to be but doesn't want to be?"

"I kinda don't something her being there or something..."

Maybe the real magic was that the words changed as we listened to them. At different points in the night, people were smiling, laughing, crying, or thinking. One kid stood at stage left and stared with eyes expressing either sadness or obsession, or maybe both. A couple reached out and grabbed each other's hands during a specific lyric that meant something to them, something more to them than to any other couple in the room. Another couple pogo'd while one woman stood still with her hand to her heart. A drunk girl at back danced flamenco.

Just before the show started, I scanned Twitter to see who else was there. Comedian Eugene Mirman was, and tweeted: "About to see Jonathan Richman at Bowery. I hope he plays all the songs of his I like in a row." Whether he intended it or not, he was saying something about Jonathan Richman's music that makes a heck of a lot of sense now that I've seen him live: Jonathan Richman is completely capable of playing everyone's favorite songs at the same time, in a row. Your own personal Jonathan Richman show.

Hey: it's magic.

Here's the Jonathan Richman song you like. He played it on Jimmy Fallon last night just for the kind of day you're having today.

(Jonathan Richman plays tonight at The Bell House in Brooklyn if you have the time to spare. You should go; I promise he'll play all the songs you like in a row. And in case you're wondering, Eugene Mirman drinks his Scotch neat out of a plastic cup, just like the rest of us.)

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

Tuesday
Sep142010

I've Seen Your Symptoms Many Times Before

Todd Rundgren. Todd Rundgren! TODD. RUNDGREN.

Shut up about Todd Rundgren, Zan.

Can we talk about Todd just this once? Tomorrow night, I get to see the man in concert for the first time. Surely that makes this an exceptional situation.

Go on then. Try to keep it under 500 words.

Oh, Todd. (Good god woman, are you blushing?) You're so hard to explain to others. Friends ask me which Todd songs they should listen to first. Honestly? None of it. It's not for them. Or I'll choose just one song, the perfect song for whatever type of person they might be. For the whistful: "The Range War." And for the intense: "Black Maria." Like writing up prescriptions. On each label: twice a day for five days, with meals.

Todd has a pharmacy full of them. Love of the Common Man Cure For The Common Cold. Feet Don't Fail Me Now Blister Bandages. Death of Rock N Roll Ear Plugs. Some Folks Is Even Whiter Than Me Sunblock and Can We Still Be Friends Breath Mints.

You do know that "Hello It's Me" was used in a Tums commercial? And that the album you're seeing him play tomorrow is called "Healing"? Aren't we beating this theme to death?

Then forget the pharmacy. That's all beside the point. The real point: I couldn't tell you why I started listening to nothing but Todd Rundgren. (I can tell you when: last September in Brooklyn, Big Star covered Rundgren's "Slut" in their encore; the next day, I came across Faithful, and consequently, this video. That video—that white suit—was the beginning of the end.) Or why I can't stop.

My friends all think I'm crazy. (Eden: "This has got to stop, Zan, you're just throwing yourself away for some rock musician who's old enough to play checkers with Ron Wood.") My boss—after pointing to the picture I have pinned to the wall above my computer and asking me who that girl was—wonders how my husband puts up with me. My husband, bless his heart, puts up with me enough to go to Morristown, NJ and sit in the back row of a theater for 3 hours to hear two entire Todd albums performed live.

I couldn't tell you why it's my latest thing. It's an infection, an itch I must scratch.

Maybe Dr. Todd can prescribe you something for that.

A recent review described Rundgren fans as "Trekkie-like," and while I have yet to meet any others, it personally feels very, very true. I need to know every episode inside and out. Or in this case: every record he's ever been involved with. J even mentioned that now that he's more familiar with Todd Rundgren's music (he's learning through "Toddmosis"), he can hear it in the Todd-produced albums: the XTC, the Patti Smith, the Psychedelic Furs. Those transitions on Skylarking? All his. The synths on Waves or War Babies? The layered backing harmonies in Cheap Trick's "Heaven's Falling"? Todd, Todd, Todd.

Go on, let's hear it then...

Twice a day for five days, with meals.

Open Your Eyes - The Nazz / Couldn't I Just Tell You - Todd Rundgren / Personality Crisis - New York Dolls / The Last of the New Wave Riders - Utopia / I Can't Take It - Cheap Trick / I Saw The Light - Todd Rundgren / Frederick - Patti Smith / Long Flowing Robe - Todd Rundgren / Summer's Cauldron & Grass - XTC / Black Maria - Todd Rundgren / Love My Way - Psychedelic Furs / Lucky Guy - Todd Rundgren / Broken Flag - Patti Smith / Death of Rock N Roll - Todd Rundgren / Ain't Got Nobody - Grand Funk Railroad / Sons of 1984 - Todd Rundgren

(If you're viewing this in your RSS reader, you'll need to click through to see the player. Though, really, no one's going to blame you if you don't.)

Further reading:

I Hate To Break It To You, Animal Collective, But Todd Did It First

Patti Smith reviews A Wizard, A True Star

Todd Rundgren Time Machine, etc.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved. Todd Is Godd.

Wednesday
Sep012010

Our Pride

We grew up in a house of music. My uncle the opera singer; my grandpa who built his own harpsichord. Cellists, clarinet players, baritones, altos, and tenors. Choirs and chamber orchestras. A violin passed down from generation to generation. My parents never forced us to be musical; we couldn't help but be so.

Brother and sister, though, they took it a step further than I ever could. They are musicians in the true sense: giving themselves up to their art, sacrificing, pushing the limits, writing non-stop. I write my heart out here, in the safety and comfort my own little world, feet tucked under my knees and a screen in front of me; they go out and perform, and can see people's reactions, can hear a response, can see if people dance.

I admire this something rotten.

What I love about these two videos is how divergent they are. Brother: balladeering pop songster. Sister: Shirley Bassey does freestyle reggae. I love the idea that we started off from the same point on the Map of Life's Potential Paths, and, thanks to our parents swinging as hard as they could, we were all catapulted skyward, each of us flying in different directions, here, there, beyond.

Pride has never meant so much.

Apollo Run - Myography

Lady Grew feat. Selekta Jahmaica - I Know

Go for it, you guys.

© Zan McQuade. All rights reserved.

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