It was 80’s night at House Of Blues on Saturday as British quintet Spandau Ballet made their return to the States after almost 30 years. The group played a few shows in California in January, but officially kicked off the Soul Boys Of The Western World campaign to coincide with the release of a documentary about the band. The audience was made up mostly of folks who were probably in attendance for Spandau’s last show in the midwest, and as soon as they started playing everyone reverted back to a 21 year old.
If you only know the band from their hits “True” and “Gold,” you probably think they fall easily on the “light” side of the rock spectrum. I was actually a bit surprised at how loud it got. More like a KISS concert than what I had assumed. They even took it way back to their early electronic days for a few songs in the middle of the set.
My favorite aspect of the show was watching Steve Norman make his way through a bevy of instruments, often switching multiple times in one song. He played guitar, percussion, two different saxophones (alto and tenor I think)-each one like a masterful expert and with the unbridled enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store.
The enthusiasm part was true for everyone in the band and the audience alike. It was fun to see people taking such joy in seeing their favorite band from the 80’s back on stage in Chicago after such a long hiatus. Lead singer Tony Hadley was definitely feeding off the energy in the crowd, especially when he led a short acoustic sing-a-long of the bands classic “Gold.” Every word poured out of the audience like they were cruising the streets in their Trans Am with the radio blaring and the top down.
The band was tighter than most expected. I heard a lot of comments around me about how good they sounded after 30 years. They have been playing overseas for the past year, so it’s not like they’re out of practice. They’re probably better now than they were in the 80’s, just a little older. They don’t show any signs of slowing down, though. I think I was more exhausted after their set than they were.
Spandau Ballet has global dates booked through September, including a handful of east coast and west coast shows. You can find dates and ticket info on the groups website. Soul Boys Of The Western World gets its official release in the U.S. on April 29th.
Chicago group The Luck Of Eden Hall are experiencing something a lot of Americam bands have over the years: being more appreciated overseas than they are in their native land. Now they have an opportunity to head over to the UK, record a live album in Wales, and play in front of their European fan base. But that costs money so they made a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary $13,500 they need to get there.
With only a week left they’re about five grand short of their goal, so this is the last chance for you to help them achieve their dreams. You’ll be rewarded for your contribution, of course. Everything from limited-run vinyl and t-shirts to getting to choose your own cover for the band to record or a painted Stratocaster.
You can always donate just to donate and refuse any kind of reward, proving that you are (clearly) better than most people because you give without expecting anything in return. Any amount is helpful, but if you’re a super rich head of some agricultural conglomerate, a hefty donation is also tax-deductible so open up the checkbook!
For more info and a list of all rewards, check out the Kickstarter page
If Albert Broccoli had selected Red Hot Chili Peppers to write the title sequence song for one of his early 80’s Bond films, it would probably sound a lot like this single from The Graveyard Kids. The throbbing bass mingling with a lush string section of violins, viola, and cello would make perfect sense for Octopussy. It’s sad we never got that song, because “Bought And Sold” proves that it’s a pretty great sound.
The Graveyard Kids are going out on their own terms, releasing one final EP from which this is the single. They’ve been making music together for a few years, making a handful of releases at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen in New York. This tune is one of the very best they’ve done, which makes it harder to see them go, but we’ll always have the music they’ve shared with us on Bandcamp.
It’s been five years to the day since Welcome To Ashley put out Beyond The Pale and I heard Coley Kennedy’s voice for the first time. I’ve counted myself as a fan ever since, be it with WTA or his more recent work with The Buddies. His voice has a quality that just holds your interest. He could be singing about making pasta or some other completely mundane thing and it would be entirely captivating. Now he’s back with Black Vincent, a new project that touches some of the same themes as his other albums in a more somber way.
Teardrop Deluxe hits a lot of highs with these downers, but never as high as the third track, “When We Was Young.” The spare echo-y guitar that opens and closes the song feels like a solitary man walking through the desert. When that instrument is joined by voices singing in harmony as the song picks up steam it’s like he’s found an oasis of acceptance. That feeling is fleeting, though, as the voices fade away and the lone guitar continues until the song goes down over the horizon.
On “Smilin’ Jim Is Down Again” Kennedy changes up the vocals for a Bowie-esque delivery. There’s a great mix of piano and electric guitar that clash against one another to add to the peculiarity of the tune. It’s almost like a dream sequence, reaching a fever pitch when the piano-guitar combo meets in the middle and shakes the whole thing down to the ground.
Recorded to tape over a three-day period in Nashville, the album doesn’t sound like anything else Kennedy has been a part of despite featuring a lot of the same players. The usually energetic frontman slows things way down and allows the songs to survive in a vast space. Producers Justin Collins and Adam Landry use that space to create an atmosphere of nostalgic longing throughout all nine tracks.
After years of fast-paced songs that felt like a mix of punk and country, this is not what I was expecting from Kennedy at this point. Like Beck releasing Sea Change, it’s a complete 180 from the usual. And also like Sea Change, that’s a good thing. The album has some heavy moments, like the final minute or so of “Her Love,” with crashing cymbals landing all over the place, but for the most part it’s a measured piece that allows the listener to come to it rather than being in your face.
I can’t say that one is necessarily better than the other, but Teardrop Deluxe is certainly a welcome change of pace. Like a lot of people, I appreciate when musicians grow along with their audience, and when Kennedy sings “I soldier on until I’m numb. You’ve made your move, I’m done,” I know that he’s faced his hard times over the last five years, as we all have.
You can check out the full album on Black Vincent’s bandcamp page. It’s also available for physical purchase as a CD for $12 (digital is $7 but then you don’t get liner notes and artwork).
Coley Kennedy – Voice
Justin Collins – Guitars, Keys, Vocals
Pete Javier – Guitars
Scott Collins – Guitars, Vocals
Jeremy Barrett – The Bass Guitar
Adam Landry – The Drums, Keys
Kim Collins – Vocals, Toms
How do you follow an Evening With Spike Lee at City Winery? With more great films, concerts, and panels of course! Today’s lineup features some really cool discussions early in the day: At noon head over to Emporium Arcade for The Legacy Of Lounge Ax. They’ll be talking about the significance of the rock club that closed its doors 15 years ago. 1st Ward is hosting Unsound, an all-star panel featuring Hank Shocklee, Mark Ribot, Count, and Jeffrey Boxer to discuss free internet culture and the corporate takeover of the internet and how it effects the creative world.
If you’d rather just check out some films today, head over to Logan Theatre and find a litany of great options: at 12:30 Killer B3 is playing. It’s a documentary about the Hammond B3 organ, a 425-pound beast with a unique sound that features in a lot of great songs. 3:35 is your chance to catch Theory Of Obscurity: A Film About The Residents. The director and producer brought about 40 minutes of the documentary to CIMM Fest last year, and now they have the whole thing ready. If you’re a fan of the avant garde experimental band, you really need to see this. Rye Coalition: The Story Of The Hard Luck 5 plays at 6:45. It follows a band as they work tirelessly to make it as a post-hardcore band, and when they finally get their shot it all comes crashing down. A great film if you love rooting for the underdog. American B-Side plays at 8:45. It’s a documentary that can sometimes feel like a fever dream as it follows Joe Fletcher through the American south, picking up records and finding their creators.
If you’re looking for a great set of music tonight, CIMM Fest has you covered there as well. Over at City Winery Todd Snider will be performing with Rorey Carroll at 6pm. At 7 The Hideout will have a special CIMM Fest edition of Get Off The Couch, a singer/songwriter showcase featuring Laura Joy, Free Lion, Frances Luke Accord and Dickie. Catch a late-night set by B3 organ master Chris Foreman at The Green Mill in Uptown at 11pm.
You can find tickets for all these events and more on the CIMM Fest website!
Another day packed with great stuff today, and it’s a weekend so you can get an early start! If you’re done buying vinyl for Record Store Day, check out The Possibilities Are Endless at noon. It’s a doc that follows Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins as he struggles to recover after a cerebral hemorrhage wipes his mind clean. Playing at Logan Theatre.
One of the big gets this year for CIMM Fest is Jaco, the Robert Trujillo-produced doc about pioneering bass player Jaco Pastorius. Trujillo and director Paul Marchand will be conducting a Q&A after the 6:15 showing at Logan Theatre.
The doc about the great drummer Sam Lay has added a second show, so if you didn’t get tickets to the early showing of Sam Lay In Bluesland, you still have a shot.
The Hip-Hop Fellow plays at Society For The Arts at 9pm. It’s the story of Patrick Douhit, known as producer 9th Wonder, teaching The Standards Of Hip-Hop at Harvard.
More great shows tonight as well! Luck Of Eden Hall is playing at Moe’s along with Waxworks and Chicago Semisweet. Chicago Mixtape has a showcase featuring the great Chicago band Santah, as well as The Rapper Chicks happening at The Hideout.
20 Feet From Stardom star and Rolling Stones backup singer Lisa Fischer will be performing at Thalia Hall. If you love great singing, you should definitely check it out.
Tickets for all these shows, and more, can be found on the CIMM Fest website.
Song essay for Music. Defined.
The Triffids – Wide Open Road
I know The Triffids’ “Wide Open Road” is my favorite song because it has remained my favorite song for more than five minutes. It’s been my favorite song for almost six years, beating its predecessor, Brian Eno’s “By This River” by three. In 2008, I was visiting home from my freshman year at college and while searching the internet for a live version of John Hiatt’s “Have A Little Faith In Me” (I found it and it briefly became a contender for my favorite song. It was a weird summer) I found a website that quickly became one of the most important things in my life. I say this even after taking into consideration the websites Google, AOL, Dogpile, Xanga the Electrical Audio tech forum and BibleGatweway. The site was a blog called C-60 Low Noise and besides my wife’s iPod it was the music collection that most informed my musical taste. From what I could gather by the limited information on the blog, C-60 was run by an older film industry worker from Nottingham, England who went by the name Time Bandit but was really named Peter (I think). His avatar on Blogger was that of Larry Llyod who I am now researching and discovering was a very important soccer player. Don’t bother going to the site; he obliterated the blog unexpectedly around 2011. The Wayback Machine doesn’t even have it. The entire archive is gone save for two posts: one about early 80s roots band The Long Ryders and one about late 80s art rockers New Model Army. I like to think that he kept these records on display because of how well the intersection of the two represents the blog as a whole. He’s in love with the staunchly traditional and the unlistenably weird and abstract. His blog was full of art damaged rock and roll, country, rockabilly and punk from roughly 1970 to 1995. Through him, I found records by Giant Sand, Mary Gauthier, Jason and the Scorchers, The Damned and Neil Young. The most important record came to me like so many others: while I was mindlessly clicking through the hundreds of records in his archive.
Nothing stood out as exceptional when I started reading Time Bandit’s entry for The Triffids’ 1986 masterpiece Born Sandy Devotional except that they were from Australia and that their frontman David McComb was very tall and died young (unrelated to his tallness). The brief summaries that Time Bandit included with each entry were always impeccably written but had a clinical tone or were preoccupied with English rock club trivia. To my memory, this record and the debut record by art rock band Doll By Doll (which I didn’t really get) inspired sudden, uncharacteristic fervor and gushing by Time Bandit, only enhancing for me the intrigue evoked by the deserted beach on the record’s cover.
I started with the video for the record’s lead single and the band’s biggest hit “Wide Open Road”. It’s hard to explain why this song hit me so hard. In 2008, I wasn’t listening to anything featuring drum machines, synth pads, terrible digital reverb or, really, any songs from the 1980s. The song doesn’t have much of a hook (weirdly, the closest thing to a hook is the bass guitar line) and it opens on nothing but a slow drawl of a synth line, a skittering drum machine and one hell of a bad mood. The song lives and dies by its atmosphere and while the skeleton of that mood is established by the minimal music, the real star of the show is David McComb’s cavernous voice and Imagist lyrics which are obsessed with isolation, loneliness and redemption:
“The drums rolled off in my forehead / the guns went off in my chest / I remember carrying the baby just for you / Crying in the wilderness
I lost track of my friends, I lost my kin / I cut them off as limbs / I drove out over the flatlands / hunting down you and him”
I like lyrics that are based around strong images (Eno’s aforementioned “By This River”) and “Wide Open Road” delivers on that. Some might label this song “cinematic” but I don’t really think it is. The song sounds huge but the lyrics offer by contrast a highly specific, highly personal journey. We catch a glimpse of the expansive Australian wilderness but mostly we focus on our protagonist alone in bed, alone in a car, alone in the desert. McComb’s voice is equal parts angry, weary and vulnerable. My favorite part in the song comes at the end, when the song’s title is refrained. By the end of the song, the optimistic thought that “it’s a wide open road” morphs into a claustrophobic mantra. The narrator is being mocked. The highway is usually a symbol of freedom but to our narrator it’s just another terrible thing that stands him and the object of his revenge. Think of it like a weird country song. The myth of the road, the scorned lover and the act of cutting out into the wilderness alone are all common images and themes in country music (see Hank Williams Sr. “Lost Highway”’) I don’t think the pomp of the production style dilutes this interpretation but rather helps transport what would be a traditional story song into an alien landscape where familiar images of the open road can become freshly sinister. There’s a reason that McComb had a pedal steel player in his band but there’s also a reason that the pedal steel sounds more like screeching machinery than a country + western standby.
I’ve tried playing this song since I first heard it and it just hasn’t worked out. It’s one of those songs that is tied up in the writer/performer and it’s not easy to make it sound right in another voice. I think this adds to the mystery of the song; it’s kind of untouchable to me. You don’t hear anyone sitting around playing it like a Bob Dylan song. It isn’t a “singer’s song” or a “guitar player’s song.” It’s a diary entry from one guy, David McComb, and there’s no way to change that foundational characteristic by just changing the handwriting. The recording perfectly captures the world that McComb intended to create and I think that makes it even more precious, like a limited physical resource rather than words and music that can be transcribed or written down.
Thanks, Time Bandit. Blog on you crazy diamond.