December 9, 2011

Beady Eye : Tonight, I'm A Rock And Roll Star

The term “rock star” is overused.  Everyone from your mom to your khaki-wearing, overfed and aging frat boy co-worker uses the term.  Everyone with even the slightest bit of proficiency at whatever it is they do has the term cast upon them now like some sort of honorary title.

If you use or go by the term, stop it!  Unless you’re a musician who channels the swagger of Rock Gods – and you know who they are – you are not a “rock star.”  In fact, most musicians post-Kurt Cobain are either purposely not rock stars, or are simply incapable of being rock stars.  This means that Mumford & Sons are not rock stars.  Gwyneth Paltrow’s husband is not a rock star.    

                                   (Four Letter Word - Manchester Apollo)

In this landscape devoid of rock stars, Liam Gallagher is a rock star. 

No further proof of this was needed than seeing the swaggering manner in which Liam and his new six-piece band Beady Eye took to the stage at DC’s 9:30 Club last night.  Entering to a film-projected backdrop of the band’s logo and the trippy instrumental soundtrack of Yellow Tail, the band launched into Four Letter Word, the raucous and slightly ominous opening track from their debut album Different Gear, Still Speeding.  Wearing an olive-green overcoat and scarf from his own Pretty Green fashion line, Liam seemed coolly aloof to the fact that part way through the show, he’d sweat through his coat.  Not to worry, he had a stack of pearly-white beach towels stacked next to the drum riser.  Rock stars are supposed to sweat.  The rest of the band looked every bit the proverbial rock stars as well, as they were all decidedly Mod-era Rolling Stones circa 1966.  Guitarist Gem Archer even resembled Rubber Soul/Revolver-era McCartney.  How appropriate that on this night – the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s death – the band would play Beatles and Stones as the third song in the set.

In classic Liam fashion, there was very little between-song banter.  There were no explanations of what song they would play next or its greater meaning.  There were no political messages.  There were no canned “We love you, DC” or “We were walking down…U STREET” or lyrical adjustments like “Champagne Super DC.”  Banter was limited to “Good Evening,” “Thank You,” and the occasional unintelligible Mancunian acknowledgement or comment about something Liam saw in the crowd.  There were also a lot of surly football hooligan poses and gestures.  Sure, Liam Gallagher is still a cartoon character…but an impossibly cool one.
During the band’s 17-song, hour and fifteen-minute set, they played all but one song – Wind Up Dream - from their album (not sure why it was left off, considering it’s such a swingin’, ‘60s-go-go-girl-doing-the-hippy-hippy-shake sort of tune).  The song-appropriate lighting and film projections throughout the show added to the overall T-Rex-meets-‘90s-Brit-Pop vibe of the band as well. 

….And now come the two 5,000-pound gorillas casting a 50-foot shadow in the room…Noel Gallagher and Oasis.  Was big brother Noel missed?  Honestly, no.  Certainly, his influence was loud and clear and undeniable in Beady Eye’s more pop-friendly numbers like The Roller and The Beat Goes On.  However, the band also seemed to swing and rollick more than they did when Noel was at the helm in songs like Bring The Light and Three Ring Circus.  As for the ghost of Oasis, sure, it might’ve been nostalgically cool if the band played Rock and Roll Star or Supersonic or even Champagne Supernova, but this is a new band – albeit, Oasis minus one – and you certainly can’t fault them for wanting to create a separate identity. 

With those two bits of business out of the way, Beady Eye is a solid rock band – and a damn good live one at that.  The only reason they are not huge stateside is because of the corporate monopoly that limits and strangles American radio – or whatever’s left of it. 

I imagine Cartoon Liam would say, “Ya, fook tha ray-d-o.  Beady Eye’s a fookin’ great ban’, mate.  The alboom’s fookin’ great too, innit?  So fookin’ che’ em out!”

I don’t disagree.  

December 5, 2011

Dressed For Dinner…With Sharks

Q: What do you get when you combine illusionist David Blaine, fashion designer Adam Kimmel, and a feeding shark?

A: The best James Bond intro (or a ready-to-wear fashion commercial).

                                   Dressed For Dinner

My Two Hours With Michelle

                  (My Week With Marilyn - ©2011 Weinstein Company)

When did Michelle Williams quietly become one of the best actors of her generation? Thankfully, she didn’t meet Tom Cruise, become a part-time actress, and acquire a zombie-like quality. Such a fate befell another alumnus of Dawson’s Creek.

Williams’ devastating performance in Blue Valentine last year should have earned her a Best Actress Oscar. Instead, that nod went to Natalie Portman for her campy – but commercially more viable – turn in Black Swan. This year, Williams returns with another tour-de-force performance in My Week With Marilyn. A making-of-a-movie within a movie, it is the story of a studio gopher who has a week-long fling with the chaotic Marilyn Monroe on the set of the 1956 film The Prince and the Showgirl, co-starring Sir Lawrence Olivier. The part of Sir Larry is played masterfully (and at times hysterically) in over-the-top diva fashion by Kenneth Branaugh.

If you’re looking for a Marilyn Monroe bio-pic played by a doppelganger, look elsewhere. This film is more a character study of an iconic hot mess who just so happens to be Marilyn Monroe. Williams’ brilliance hinges neither on an impersonator’s resemblance to Marilyn nor a slavish adherence to mannerisms – both of which she pretty much nails. Instead, what makes Williams’ performance remarkable is her unflinching portrayal of an outwardly famous, gorgeous, and irresistibly charismatic individual who inwardly is a severely damaged person with a horribly sad past, desolately lonely present, and an uncertain future. Williams captures Marilyn’s Borderline Personality Disorder, depression, drug addiction, desperate manipulations, and crippling insecurities all with such realism and sensitivity that – just like her performance in Blue Valentine – the line between theater and documentary is almost blurred. At a certain point, the fact that you’re supposed to be watching Iconic Sex Symbol Marilyn Monroe becomes irrelevant – you’re watching the story of a human being. Perhaps that’s Williams’ ultimate tribute to Marilyn Monroe, and the key to yet another Oscar-worthy performance.    

November 28, 2011

Art Du Jour

In Furs - © 2011, RTunes68

October 24, 2011

The Skin I Live In - Pedro Almodovar's Frankenstein

Pedro Almodovar is the auteur that David Lynch strives to be, but falls abysmally short.  Almodovar  said it best when he described his latest film, The Skin I Live In, as “a horror story without screams or frights.”  In fact, this is the most disconcertingly quiet horror film you’ll ever see, set mostly in an opulent home in Toledo, Spain with a lush musical soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias.

All the Almodovar trademarks are present in this dark tale of tragedy, sex, obsession, madness, violence, and sinister genius.

The story begins in 2012 at the estate of renowned plastic surgeon Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas).  The house is also home to the good doctor’s medical laboratory, operating room, prison, and violation of medical ethics.  To say that Dr. Ledgard is Dr. Frankenstein-gone-crazy would be an understatement.

Ledgard has discovered a burn-proof skin that he’s transplanted onto his strikingly beautiful prisoner Vera (Elena Anaya). The woman is dressed head-to-toe in a compression garment that oddly looks haute couture (Jean-Paul Gautier happens to  be the costume designer for the film).  Marilia (Marisa Paredes), Ledgard’s housekeeper, also serves as his outspoken prison guard.
Things begin to veer out of Ledgard’s iron-grip, calculated control when Marilia’s son, a burglar on the run dressed as a Carnival tiger, shows up demanding that the doctor perform a face transplant on him.  While waiting for the doctor to arrive home, the tiger-man notices on the many security monitors in the house that the prisoner looks exactly like the doctor’s dead wife.  Intimating a dark past with the doctor and his wife, the tiger-man proceeds to break into the prisoner’s cell and rape her. 

In Almodovar-ian fashion, the plot suddenly goes back six years involving Ledgard’s wife who was burned in a horrific fire and then commits suicide when she sees her deformed reflection, and their teenage daughter’s brief but pivotal involvement with a boy named Vicente. 

How the past and future-present weave together in nonlinear fashion to a disturbing revelation and resolution is the shocking and thrilling payoff that only Almodovar could pull off so seemingly effortlessly.    

October 10, 2011

An Audacious Installation of Warholian Proportions

A friend of mine has a comical and visceral hatred for Andy Warhol's work, and dismisses the notion that it is "art."  Throughout the years I’ve known him, whenever the discussion turns to art and inevitably Warhol, he launches into a rant that’s at once funny, thoughtful, perfectly valid, and contrary to the conventional wisdom of collectors, curators, and critics. 

I hold a slightly less extreme view of Warhol.  While I hardly find anything about it worthy of praise in terms of technique, I appreciate it as insightful and sometimes biting social commentary – consumerism, technology, monotony of modern life, and the worship of crass and vapid tabloid and celebrity culture.  Two decades after Warhol’s death, his art – if you want to call it that – is uncannily prescient. 

As I viewed the Hirshhorn’s Andy Warhol: Shadows exhibit, two thoughts went through my head.  First, my friend’s head would explode if he saw this grandiose and audacious exhibit of 102 variations of the same abstract design that was based on a photograph of a shadow in Warhol’s office – basically it looks like the shadow of a desk lamp. Second, my friend’s head would probably explode a second time for good measure if he read the small text panel at the beginning of the exhibit.  Referring to this gigantic installation, Warhol had commented, “Someone asked me if I thought they were art and I said no. You see, the opening party had a disco. I guess that makes them disco décor.” 

Even Warhol agreed with my friend!   

Maybe the joke's on all of us.  While curators, collectors, and consumers – or is that “fans,” given our Warholian fixation with celebrities – eat up all things Warhol as High Art, the man himself seemed to admit (perhaps teasingly and facetiously, but who knows for sure?) that his work was superficial and vapid. 

Perhaps therein lies his brilliance and art. 

Andy Warhol: Shadow, now through January 15, 2012, Hirshhorn Museum, DC (...I don't recommend this exhibit to my friend...)

Syd Barrett of the Alternative Generation

Evan Dando, 2011
It was good to see Evan Dando and his current lineup of
The Lemonheads at DC’s Black Cat on October 7 – much in the same way it feels to see an old, wayward friend.  The easy comment would be to note that despite the years of alleged drug use, Dando’s cover-boy looks and goofy slacker charm remain timelessly intact.  What’s more noteworthy is that, with the passage of time and the benefit and luxury of perspective, it’s become apparent that his deceptively simple-sounding songwriting masks a poignancy, fragility, and sheer pop bliss that should put him in the league with other rock eccentrics.  

If Kurt Cobain was supposedly the Voice of the Alternative Generation, then Evan Dando is Syd Barrett of the Alternative Generation - only Dando still makes vital, idiosyncratic music.  

                Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield, 2011 - "Into Your Arms"

Dando flirted with achieving critical mass – even voted as one of People’s “50 Most Beautiful People in 1993” – and had a highly acclaimed album and a mainstream follow-up with It’s A Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads, respectively.  Yet at the very moment when the big ol’ jet airliner of super-stardom should’ve skyrocketed The Lemonheads into becoming a household name, Dando instead sputtered into a seemingly permanent self-imposed exile in the fringes.     

Perhaps that’s exactly where Dando’s music deserves to be – on the fringes.  If you want it, you should seek it out.  It shouldn’t be so mainstream in its availability that undeserving consumers will latch onto the one song they’ve heard on the radio, and then move on to the next hit.  I’ve never been a musical elitist.  Yet there’s something so artistically…special…about Dando’s music that you almost want to keep it to yourself and a select group of appreciative friends.      

The Lemonheads’ show was exactly that – a gathering of people who appreciate Dando’s songwriting, and who sought him out.  The few others in the audience were obvious in their obnoxious shouts throughout the show of “Play Into Your Arms!”…even after they played the song.

In addition to playing the entire It’s A Shame About Ray album, the band ran through a number of their other more well-known as well as lesser-known songs.  The band was super-tight in its precision, yet there was just enough of loopiness and sense of “we’re winging it” from Dando that it all felt very spontaneous – as if you were watching them rehearse.  The highlight of the set was Dando playing unaccompanied.  Watching him play solo, you can draw the line from Brian Wilson to Syd Barrett to Gram Parsons to Evan Dando.  It was then that all the aforementioned poignancy, fragility, and special-ness really came front and center.

Despite my earlier comments about wanting to keep The Lemonheads a musical secret, I highly recommend that everyone seek out their shows.  Evan Dando is a unique talent who people should be aware is still playing special music.

September 5, 2011

"I'm With You" Once Again, Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Version 2011

If you've liked the musical trajectory of the Red Hot Chili Peppers during the past decade, you will absolutely dig their new album I'm With You.  The fact that they've managed to continue unscathed musically - despite the departure of John Frusciante - speaks volumes about the musicianship of new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer.  As Flea has stated in numerous recent interviews, Klinghoffer may not be a virtuoso/savant, but his unique thumbprint on this album is undeniable.  

The difference between Frusciante and Klinghoffer is that while the former tended play deceptively technical and often linear guitar riffs, the latter is almost entirely textural.  If that sounds a bit music-geeky, perhaps it is.  However, one listen of I'm With You, and you'll at least instinctively understand the difference.

The last time Frusciante left the Chili Peppers, the band went with a replacement - Dave Navarro - who was even more of a riff-meister, and the resulting One Hot Minute was somewhat less than fitting for the band.  Seemingly, having learned from their previous misstep, this time the band has gone in the other more textural direction and the result is seamless - yet different.

With a different approach on guitar, it's blatantly obvious within seconds of the album's opening track "Monarchy of Roses" that the musical heart - and to a large extent, the star - of this band is Flea.  The fact that Chad Smith, of Chickenfoot fame (I had to say that!), is so innately in snyc with Flea makes them the best rhythm section in rock today - bar none.  Add to all this Anthony Kiedis, whose best investment ever was to take vocal lessons because, since Blood Sugar Sex Magik, he has gone from being perpetually half-step out of key (go back and listen to "Under The Bridge") to becoming an extremely soulful, unique, and listenable singer.   

                 ("The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie" ©2011 - WMG)

I'm With You builds on the best elements of Californication, By The Way, and Stadium Arcadium - albeit without Arcadium's Physical Graffiti-esque heft - and throws in a heavy dose of slinky, disco funk.  In many of the songs, they also bridge the gap between pre- and post-Blood Sugar Sex Magik by switching off between pseudo-rapped verses and pop/arena rock choruses.  The result is a whole lot of infectious songs.

The early favorite for best song is "Did I Let You Know," a track that incorporates a syncopated bass and drums, be-boppy horns courtesy of Flea, steel drums, an over-the-top overdriven guitar solo, and the rhyme "cheeky" with..."Mozambique-y" as only Anthony Kiedis can deliver.  The track manages to cover Caribbean flavors, funk, disco, rock, and pop with a wacky audacity and self-assurance probably not heard since Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain."

I'm With You only further proves the point of their last three albums - that this is a band at their absolute prime. 

August 29, 2011

Know What Would Be Surreal, Dada, and Pop Cool?... see Andy Warhol eat a hamburger.  What?  Really?  I can?

Bon Appetit!

August 12, 2011

A Song To Get Stuck In Your Head Today

Q:  What do you get when you mix a Marley, a Slumdog, a Eurythmic, a crazy-hot chick with a voice to match, and a Jurassic lizard in a hot-pink suit? 

A:  The grooviest song of the summer of 2011. 


                             ("Miracle Worker" ©2011 A&M Records)

August 10, 2011

U.S. Royalty Revive The Lost Art of Rock

U.S. Royalty
The Doors at the Whiskey A Go Go.  Aerosmith at Max's Kansas City.  The Ramones at CBGBs. The Strokes at Mercury Lounge.

If you attended U.S. Royalty's recent show at DC's 9:30 Club, you got the feeling that it might be one of those seminal gigs where a band and their audience were onto something that the rest of the world just hadn't caught up to...yet.      

What makes U.S. Royalty remarkable is their "old-school" approach to music - catchy-as-hell songs played with the intensity of a band with a point to prove - that rock and roll ain't dead!

To hear lead singer John Thornley discuss the band's deliberate approach to their music - both live and in the studio - it becomes obvious that U.S. Royalty's meticulously crafted songs and blistering live performances are no happy accident or fluke.   


I purposely attended your recent 9:30 Club show without ever having heard a note of your music.  I didn’t want any preconceived notions or hype to cloud my impression.  What impressed me most was the band's effort to make it a Rock Show.  Compared to YouTube clips I've since seen of your earlier performances, there seems to be a progression in the “image and theatric” aspect of your shows.  Has your attention to the “show” been deliberate, or is it just a natural evolution?

I think it's a natural evolution.  Sure, we pay attention to it more, but because we are allowed the opportunity to.  The house shows, the small club shows, there's not a lot of control over the way you present yourself.  Not that bands can't set themselves apart in those arenas with imagery and such, but there are many factors that can make it derail and it becomes more of a distraction than an attraction.  So we opted to focus on becoming a tighter performing unit and on songwriting so that when the time comes for there to be more of a stage production, the harder parts of being a band are well practiced.  I think a lot of the parts of our "show" have always been what I envisioned in my head as what we would do, provided the chance to execute it properly.  This is just the beginning though, as we are taking more time in planning the stage production aspect of our shows.  We are a patient band.  There is a time for everything, we don't need to do everything at once.

Similarly, your songs take on a slightly harder, blues-ier edge live.  Is this an indication of the direction the band plans to explore in the future, or is it just the difference between studio and stage?

At this point it's the difference between studio and stage.  In the past we had people who wanted to record us and "capture the live sound" and we weren't really happy with the way it sounded.  So we went the opposite direction when doing Mirrors.  We said let's not make this how we sound live but rather a record someone could put on and listen to over and over because it sounds good.  So we focused on layers and parts and not so much a live and loud feel.   But we also took each song on its own terms and if it needed to be done live in a room with everyone sitting in, doing nine hours of takes until we got it, then that's what we did.  I think live shows for us though, will always be harder and bluesier because there's an energy that's there.  Maybe one day we'll capture that energy in the studio as well.  As for the future, the stuff we've been writing lately has been just as raw as "The Desert Won't Save You" to more droning and groove-oriented (songs).  As the months go by and we work through songs, we will see where we end up.

In an era when rock bands aren’t really the main focus of the few major record companies left, and at a time when even the few rock acts on these labels literally have one shot to score a huge hit right out of the box, what do you guys see as advantages to going the do-it-yourself route where someone like LA Reid isn’t breathing down your necks for Katy Perry-sized hits?

Mirrors was done with our own money and resources, so the only people breathing down our necks are the other guys in the band....whether it be to come up with songs, finish lyrics, write more parts, book shows, etc.  We all work to keep each other focused on the project we are trying to finish at the moment.  So I can't really speak from experience about being on a small or large label.

Esquire recently ranked you #35 (!!!) on their list of the 50 Most Fashionable Musicians.  You’re in the company of David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Mick Jagger, and Miles Davis!  You’ve also been involved with Gant Rugger and American Eagle.  How did the rock-to-fashion crossover come about?  Did you court the fashion world, or did they just notice what snazzy dressers you guys are and decide they needed to get with you? 

I think it just came about from being in and around NYC for the past few years and continually playing shows in all sorts of venues.  Some people from Gant had seen us at a show and  asked to use a song for their campaign.  That was the start of it all and now other people in the fashion industry continue to come to us.  We have never approached anyone to include us in their campaigns or shoots.  It seems to happen naturally.

What are your plans – albums, national or international tours, more forays into fashion, endorsements – for the immediate future?

We will be playing Midpoint Music Festival in Cincinatti, OH on Sept. 22nd.  We'll be doing other shows and such for the next few months.  In the meantime, we've been holed up in Potomac, MD writing and recording new material.  It's nice and quiet up there and it's close to Great Falls Park so we've been able to do some hiking.  Some of the new material we've been playing at gigs.  Right now, there are no set dates for any release of the stuff, just working on getting all the ideas down.  

August 3, 2011

Videos That Still Kill The Radio Star

This week being the 30th anniversary of MTV's premiere broadcast (you remember, that cable channel that used to play music videos), it seems like a good time to check out the best of the medium. These videos weren't just promotional music/film clips, they were artistic statements that captured the era in which they were created and also have managed to remain timeless.  Ironically, some of the most iconic videos pre-date MTV.

Note: the glaring omission of Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Lady Gaga videos was intentional.

(Miles Davis/John Coltrane - "So What?" circa 1959 - © Sony Music)

            (Rolling Stones - "Jumpin' Jack Flash" - ©1968 Abko Music)

                                             (David Bowie - "Life On Mars" - © 1971 RCA)

               (Bryan Ferry - "Slave To Love" - ©1985 Virgin Records)

 (Fiona Apple - "Criminal" - © 1996 Sony Music)

                    (The Strokes - "Last Nite" - ©2001 BMG Music)

August 1, 2011

Through the Distorted Lens of Dr. Feelgood

So Nikki Sixx of Motley Crue fancies himself a photographer, huh?  What are his subjects – Girls, Girls, Girls? 

It’s almost too easy to dismiss Sixx’s photographic aspirations as delusional and only worthy of being appreciated by ‘80s burn-out Motley Crue fans.  That is, until you actually see the photographs. 

Lonely Boy.  India
Put aside your preconceived notions and whatever you read in The Dirt, and pick up Sixx’s book This Is Gonna Hurt: Music, Photography and Life Through the Distorted Lens of Nikki Sixx.  If it helps, pretend you’re viewing a collection of photography taken by some random guy named Frank Feranna (Sixx’s real name).  What you will see are very stylized, at times almost gothic, and often heartbreakingly poignant photographs of the so-called “uglier” side of life – junkies, carnival performers, individuals with handicaps, homeless people, decrepit buildings, etc.  Yet through Sixx’s eyes, the ugly and downtrodden and decaying are compellingly haunting and uncomfortably beautiful.  You often want to look away, yet you can’t help but stare.

Blue Forest.  Tokyo, Japan

Mother's love. Homeless, Denver

Highgate Park.  London
Recently, Sixx began posting his photographs online, almost like a daily diary of his activities and experiences.  While there’s a good share of backstage Motley Crue photographs from their current summer tour, and beautiful shots of Sixx’s model girlfriend Courtney Bingham, the most compelling pictures are the ones of people and places from around the world taken during his travels.

If you define good photography as something that is capable of moving you emotionally, Sixx can be a master manipulator.             

July 31, 2011

A Royal Return of the Rock Show

U.S. Royalty
The Washington Post Express described U.S. Royalty's music as “Zeppelin riffs, Stones swagger, and Fleetwood Mac pop.”  With hype like that, I decided to purposely check out U.S. Royalty at DC’s 9:30 Club without ever having seen or heard a note….

Unlike 98 percent of the bands that pass through 9:30 Club – or even most American rock bands, in general, post-1991 – U.S. Royalty seem to remember the importance of the Rock Show.  Where indie rock celebrates the “We’re just like our audience, only we play instruments, man” ethos, U.S. Royalty harken back to a time when there was a clear distinction between performer and audience...and perform, they did.  For the uninitiated, their live image is a combination of The Faces, The Black Crowes, and The Strokes, with maybe a tip of the hat to vintage Guns & Roses.  Their live sound seems to incorporate all of the above bands and gives a few nods along the way to U2, the Killers, and lesser known ‘80s British pop bands like The Church.

              ("Hollywood Hollows")
Having since gone back and listened to their studio recordings, it’s obvious that U.S. Royalty are one of those rare bands who are actually better live.  In fact, they are almost a bit schizophrenic, as they go from super-polished in the studio to a preening, rollicking rock band onstage.  The band’s studio version of “Monte Carlo,” which is very reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” is transformed live, as it sounds like it was shot out of a cannon from 1970s Laurel Canyon into the pop-rock-you-wish-there-were-more-of stratosphere with the addition of rapper Phil Ade.  Judging from his onstage exuberance and the audience’s reaction, Ade came dangerously close to stealing an already great show. 

        ("Monte Carlo" - Before)

                                                                     ("Monte Carlo" - After)
The Express’ comparison of U.S. Royalty to Zeppelin, the Stones, or Fleetwood Mac is a lowest-common denominator review.  In fact, I hear no Zeppelin connection – live or in the studio.  As for the Stones, again, in the studio, I hear no resemblance, although live, they do share a ‘70s-era swaggering fashion sense, complete with glitter shirts, fur stoles, leather fringe, skinny jeans, and lizard boots.  Certainly, there is a strong Fleetwood Mac undertone in the band’s studio work, but onstage, U.S. Royalty take on a unique life of their own – even as they cover Stevie Nicks' "Wild Heart."  

Perhaps the best gauge of success for a band is whether they can win over a live audience.  The 9:30 Club crowd was about 50 percent girls who were probably there on the basis of hearing “Equestrian” on American Eagle commercials.  As for the guys, it was a vast sea of pastel dress shirts (most probably worn to work earlier in the day), khaki shorts, and flip-flops.  I’m assuming they came to the show because the chicks they’re diggin’ wanted to go.  When the band first took the stage, there was a noticeable look en masse of surprise, amusement, horror, and “what kind of band is this, anyway?”  However, in very short order, U.S. Royalty turned the seemingly Jack Johnson/Dave Matthews-friendly audience into fans of the Rock Show.  

July 29, 2011

La Moda de Paz de la Huerta

Sixteen gratuitous seconds of commercialism, fashion, photography, art, music...and, oh yeah, Paz de la Huerta!...

July 25, 2011

High Flying Birds In The Silence Before The Storm

Noel Gallagher
As much as I love this season, these really are the dog days of summer, especially musically.  The past week has seen a frustrating slew of first singles, first videos, and previews and snippets of long-awaited new albums that are to come only in the fall.  Joining this wait list now is Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds.

Noel's hat in the ring is "The Death of You And Me," the first single off his eponymously titled album due out October 17.  While brother Liam's Beady Eye fired their opening shots with the swaggering "Four Letter Word" and followed it up with the slightly more sedate "The Roller" and "Kill For a Dream," Noel seems to have taken the opposite route.  "The Death of You And Me" is a pensive, moody, and very British first introduction with a clever undercurrent of The Beatles' "For The Benefit of Mr. Kite" and some Burt Bacharach thrown in for good measure.  The song would feel very much at home on Oasis' The Masterplan.

(©2011, Sour Mash)

Judging Noel Gallagher's solo work subjectively is going to be a challenge, as I am of the firm belief that he is the most quintessentially and idiosyncratically British songwriter since Ray Davies.  There is a unique and almost nebulous quality about both Gallagher's and Davies' music that seems to render it impossible to have been written by anyone but someone from England.  "The Death of You And Me" certainly perpetuates and confirms that Noel Gallagher trademark.



July 22, 2011

You're Diamonds, Baby!

Diamond Baby

Glitter Rock, Ziggy Stardust, Blondie, Pat Benatar, Missing Persons, Berlin, New Wave…

Those are the images that are sure to flash through your head as you watch the video for “The Last Rock Star” by Diamond Baby (any relation to Bowie’s Diamond Dogs?), the electro-pop band led by drummer Matt Sorum (Guns & Roses/Velvet Revolver).

Certainly, Diamond Baby have adopted the Bowie/Ziggy Stardust nom de plume affect, as Sorum goes by the name Baron Von Storm.  Rounding out the band are the very Debbie Harry-esque “Ace of Diamonds” (lead vocals), “Mr. Fitz” (bass guitar), “Lisa the Lover” (keyboards), “Duke Oz” (guitar). 

If I’ve devoted the review thus far to their image, it’s only because it's an integral part of the band.  Diamond Baby are obviously influenced heavily by ‘70s Glitter Rock and '80s New Wave, both visually and musically.  Just don't be too distracted by the image and the funny names.  Below all the icing is very solid musicality.  They haven’t let style eclipse substance - albeit, glittery substance.

 (© 2011, DC3 Music Group)

The five-songs previewed on their Web site are apparently part of an entire album that they’ve already recorded (no information is available currently on a release date), and serve as a great teaser that leaves you wanting more.  Like their image, Diamond Baby wear their musical influences on their sleeves – gritty Lower East Side lyrics, Debbie Harry-meets-Pat Benatar vocals over a bed of vintage electronica, tight guitars, pulsating bass, and processed drums.  What elevates the whole affair from being a novelty exercise in kitschy nostalgia is the super-catchy, killer melody and the decidedly modern, radio-friendly production.
On a gimmicky silly note, I love the Jem-like trail of sparkle that follows your mouse as you run it over all the pages of Diamond Baby’s Web site!

July 20, 2011

Two New Songs To Get Stuck In Your Head Today


Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie (©2011, Warner Bros.)

Lenny Kravitz - Stand (© 2011 WMG) 

  Album reviews to come...


July 14, 2011

Art Du Jour: Leslie Nolan

Displacement -
Leslie Nolan, 2011

Recently, I attended an opening for Art Deck-O at the Touchstone Gallery in Washington, DC.  While I enjoyed many of the works in the show, what literally stopped me in my tracks was a piece that wasn’t even part of the exhibit – Displacement, by the Virginia-based artist Leslie Nolan.

Nolan says her works “explore emotional themes through figures and landscapes to convey the energy and spirit of modern life.”

The dramatic contrast between Nolan’s use of vibrant colors and the pensive mood of her subjects is visually stunning, moving…and all too relatable emotionally.

Check out Nolan’s Web site to see more of her art.  It’s masterful work.

5 Questions With The Artist

What’s your comment on modern life, as conveyed through your paintings – good or bad?

Rather than "good or bad," I feel modern life is complex and difficult.  Sometimes the fast pace of life, competitive working environment, and worries over finances and personal relationships can be overwhelming.  I try to convey that complexity by infusing a feeling of aloneness, anxiety, and confusion in my new painting series called Dissed.  The idea is to interject emotion into the subjects' physical stance and facial expression, allowing the viewer to interpret the ambiguity.

There seems to be a sense of isolation and restlessness - particularly in the Dissed and What’s To Come? series - that practically jumps off the canvas.  Would that be a fair characterization?

Yes, your comment is right on target.  These paintings are all about feelings involved in trying to cope.  There are so many expectations and worries in modern life.

You’ve studied with a number of artists. Were there any who particularly influenced your work? If so, how?

Maryland artist "Skip" Lawrence influenced my work tremendously.  He encouraged me to make paintings that are both personal and about ideas.  In doing so, I've found that the passion I interject into paintings about my own life and feelings resonates strongly with viewers.  The worst thing that can be said of an artwork is that it's boring – I try to be completely unique and honest, and that tends to be the opposite of boring.

Have your travels abroad affected your work? Again, if so, how?

Travel and work have been critical to my development as an artist.  I spent years at CIA, the U.S. Information Agency, and State Department doing national security work – keeping secrets, living in and traversing dangerous locales.  The need to be secretive and surviving alien cultures has had a long-term personal impact.  Things are not always what they seem.  Ambiguity rules.  I think these emotions continue to permeate my artwork.

Who are your favorite artists, and are there any contemporaries you particularly admire?

Favorite artists – Richard Diebenkorn, Nathan Oliviera, Kathe Kollwitz, Amy Sillman.  Touchstone Gallery has a particularly talented, uniquely creative stable of contemporary artists and I am proud to exhibit my work alongside them.

July 10, 2011

A Beady Eye'd Swagger

For people with gentler sensibilities, I'll start this politely...

People either loved or hated Oasis.  For a mere rock band - ok, the best British rock band since The Police - it can even be argued that your opinion of them revealed more about you than them.  They were a sort of musical Rorschach test.  You will probably have the same sort of reaction to Beady Eye, the new band featuring all the members of Oasis sans Noel Gallagher...

...ok, politeness just got thrown out the window...

If you’re someone who thinks Oasis were a two-hit wonder band from 1995, stop reading right now and go listen to whatever all your know-nothing friends are listening to at the moment.  If you think Oasis are nothing more than a Beatles rip-off band, first have your ears tested as soon as possible to rule out hearing impairment.  If you get a clean bill of health, have someone kick your head repeatedly until you can’t hear anymore...

…For the rest of you, check out Different Gear, Still Speeding.  If you like Oasis, you’re going to like Beady Eye.  It’s got the Liam Gallagher vocal swagger, the wall-of-guitar Be Here Now moments, the mid-tempo nouveau-psychedelic excursions of Dig Out Your Soul, the wink-and-a-nod Beatles references (and rather blatantly so, on “Beatles and Stones” - ok, so maybe I was being a bit harsh earlier..), and a couple of earnest ballads.  As much as Noel Gallagher may have given the impression that he was the irreplaceable brains of the band, little brother Liam and company have pulled off an album that’s every bit as good as Oasis. Noel’s absence is little more than a footnote.

Beady Eye's Different Gear, Still Speeding is deliciously mindless ear candy with all the requisite Oasis bluster.

The Swagger:  "Four-Letter Word"  (© 2011, Dangerbird)

The Mid-Tempo:  “The Roller” (© 2011, Dangerbird)

The Earnest:  Kill For a Dream” (Live from Abbey Road Studios)
(© 2011, Dangerbird)

July 8, 2011

Art Du Jour: Damien Hirst

Damien Hirst - For The Love of God
 The platinum cast of an actual human skull is covered with 8,601 diamonds and is estimated to be worth more than £50 million. 

See more of Hirst's work at the Art Beast.

July 7, 2011

"Edie Factory Girl" - Biography of Warhol's Femme Fatale

It’s probably a safe assumption that Edie Sedgwick – the original Reality Star – is probably someone that Kim, Kloe, Koo Koo, and whatever other Kardashians there are know nothing about. 

In their book, Edie Factory Girl (VH1 Press), writer David Dalton and photographer Nat Finkelstein give an insider’s glimpse into the dysfunctional, speed-fuelled, short life of Sedgwick during her brief but meteoric tenure as Andy Warhol’s muse and mid-‘60s It-Girl. 

In an appropriately pop-artsy, collage-like format with rare photos taken by Finkelstein, the biography is written from the authors’ perspective as inhabitants of Warhol’s inner sanctum at the notorious Factory.  Dalton writes in a colorful, wildly veering, and decidedly opinionated tone that captures the fabulous era, the avant garde circus that was The Factory, the Technicolor drugs, all of which mirror the trajectory of Sedgwick’s manic life.  The inclusion of interviews and quotes from many of the scenesters including Betsey Johnson and Marianne Faithfull adds to the immediacy of the biography. 

Whether Sedgwick was a unique product and footnote of the times or wholly a creation of Warhol’s or all of the above, for a fleeting moment she was America’s answer to Marianne Faithfull, Anita Pallenberg, and Twiggy.  However, unlike her closest British and European counterparts, Sedgwick was famous only for being famous.  Her sole accomplishments were being Andy’s visually arresting female twin at groovy NYC happenings and for starring in Warhol’s art films, which were usually mind-numbing, plot-less, script-less, hours- or day-in-the-life documents in bizarrely contrived, stoned-out scenarios.  Her mere presence in Warhol's films inadvertently made Sedgwick the world’s first reality star.  In retrospect, the films were Keeping Up With The Kardashians minus the editing, plus the drugs.    

Edie Factory Girl is a fast read in a good-looking package befitting its subject.  

July 1, 2011

For Sale: Imaginary Art - bidding starts at $160,000

One of the most sought after works at this year's Great Art Basel fair in Switzerland was "conceptual art" - art that either hasn't been created yet or never will be.  One such piece by American artist Lawrence Weiner was called "2 Metal Balls + 2 Metal Rings (Set Down in the Groove)."  It was nothing more than words painted on the ground that described Weiner's idea for a sculpture.  The lucky person to purchase his concept (starting price $160,000) receives a certificate allowing them to write the phrase in a room, or come up with their own sculpture. 

According to one collector of such art, "You may think more about a Weiner [text piece], over time, than about some canvas you've bought...An idea may not be material, but it's powerful."  The argument for wanting such pieces is that "it makes you wonder if it's even art - and therefore might be the art that's breaking new ground."

..Sound Duchamp-ian?  Zoolander-ish, even?  Read more in Blake Gopnik's Newsweek piece "Buying Art You Can't Take Home."

...Or don't read it, but pretend that you have read it, because the idea of reading it may be more powerful than actually reading it....

June 29, 2011

Art Du Jour

Blue Lou
©2011 RTunes68
Posted by Picasa

June 26, 2011

The Return To Form Of An American Auteur

Full Disclosure: I have an obsessive fascination with all things Paris in the 1920s and the Lost Generation.  So I secretly have a hunch – call it fantasy, if you must – that Woody Allen made in Paris especially for me, and no one else. 

For a while, I – like a lot of long-time Woody Allen fans – thought that Allen’s days of making classic, smart, insightful, biting comedies were a thing of the past.  Then he surprised everyone with Vicky Cristina Barcelona.  As if to prove that it wasn’t some late-career fluke, Allen follows up that cinematic triumph with another winner here.

Gil (Owen Wilson), a screenwriter with literary ambitions, and his fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) are visiting Paris with her stereotypically Republican parents (Mimi Kennedy, Kurt Fuller).  The conflict between Gil and his fiancée and her parents lies in the fact that he has romantic notions of giving up his lucrative Hollywood career to become a serious, full-time novelist in Paris while they want him to follow the money in Malibu and ignore whatever “fantasies” he may harbor.

One night, after a wine tasting, Gil walks alone through the streets of Paris.  At the stroke of , a 1920s-model Peugeot pulls up with a group of party-goers who invite Gil to join them.   At the party, Gil realizes that he has been transported to the 1920s where he is a sort of intruder in A Moveable Feast.  During the evening, he befriends Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Allison Pill, Tom Hiddleston) and Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll).  Hemingway, who speaks to hilarious effect just as he writes in economical sentences, even promises to have Gertrude Stein (Kathy Bates) critique Gil’s manuscript.

In the following days, Gil spends much of his time walking.  During the daytime while he’s in 2011, he meets a storeowner, Gabrielle (Lea Seydoux), with whom he shares a love of the 1920s.  His evenings are spent in the 1920s, where he meets such Lost Generation luminaries as Picasso, Salvadore Dali (played by a hysterically show-stealing Adrian Brody), and Man Ray.  One of the funniest scenes in the movie occurs when Gil confesses to his Surrealist friends that he is actually from 2011…and they find nothing particularly unusual about his revelation.  

Gil also falls in love with Picasso’s mistress Adriana (Marion Cotillard), who like Gil, wishes she lived in a bygone era.  Adriana pines for the romanticism of Belle Epoque, Paris’ Golden Age.  Similarly, a horse and carriage full of party-goers invite Gil and Adriana, and soon they are transported to turn-of-the-century Paris and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, and Edgar Degas.  Adriana is smitten with this era and proposes that the two of them stay. 

At this crossroad, Gil has an epiphany that while there is a “good old, glory days” comfort and romanticism to the past, it was never as perfect and memories have a way of rewriting history.  He decides that it’s better to accept the imperfections of the present and make the best of it.  With his new-found wisdom, Gil comes back to 2011 and makes a few decisions to improve his present and pursue a more satisfying future.   

In many ways, in Paris is Woody Allen’s love letter to Paris – the city, the art, the literature.  In fact, the first two minutes or so of the movie looks like a combination of a film made by the Tourist Board of Paris and a Monet painting.  However, despite the Parisian setting, the characters and dialogue are very much Woody Allen’s chatty and illustrious New York City.  Owen Wilson plays Gil by channeling Woody Allen.  Clearly, no one but Allen could have written Wilson’s dialogue.  Inez’s parents’ repartee is intrinsically Upper East Side.  Inez’s friend, the insufferable pseudo-intellectual Paul (played hilariously by Michael Sheen), who is a self-proclaimed expert on everything is also pure Manhattan.  We’ve seen all these characters in other Woody Allen movies, but they are still extremely funny and watchable.

in Paris shows Woody Allen at the peak of his abilities as an auteur.  Bravo.     

June 23, 2011

A SuperHeavy Super Teaser

SuperHeavy have all the potential to be super cool:  Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, Damian Marley, and A.R. Rahman.  According to Jagger, their debut "fusion" album features songs that "range from reggae to ballads to Indian songs in Urdu" and is due out in September.

If only this teaser offered a clip of music....

Let's hope this new cast of musicians is the catalyst Sir Mick needs to recapture that sense of adventure and willingness to innovate that the Stones once possessed... 

June 18, 2011

Lenny Says "Come On Stand..."

The man who sang "Rock and Roll Is Dead" is about to prove that it, in fact, isn't.  On the very same day that the new Red Hot Chili Peppers album is due to drop (August 30), Lenny Kravitz is scheduled to release Black and White America. 

If the first single from the album - "Stand" - is any indication, it should be an album of super catchy retro-funk rock that we've come to expect from Kravitz.  "Stand" should be the soundtrack to the summer of 2011 with its opening stuttering guitar lines to its handclap beats.  It practically demands that you put the top down, turn up the volume, shift into fourth gear, and smile ear-to-ear, as the cutie sitting next to you dances in her seat. 

"Stand" and enjoy.

(note:  the song's brilliant lift of Three Dog Night's oldie "Shambala.")  

June 12, 2011

Time Stands Still

My friend recently sent me an e-mail titled "Whereby I Ruin Your Productivity For The Day" with a link to a Web site called  He achieved what he set out to do.

For aficionados of iconic fine art photography, RockPaperPhoto is heroin for the eyes and imagination - instantly addictive.  The site, the result of a partnership between Guy Oseary (Madonna's manager and former head of  Maverick Records) and Live Nation, contains an encyclopedic wealth of photographs of musicians, actors, dancers, and artists from the 1920s through present day.  Seeing a vast collection of such photographs is a visual feast, but it also forces one to lament the possiblility that in the TMZ era of paparazzi photography taken with the lens of a smartphone, perhaps artisitc photography and subjects worthy of such iconography are long past their heyday.  

The same friend also once asked why photography should be considered art.  It's not creating anything.  It's mechanically documenting a subject.  It's the work of a technician, not an artist.  

I disagree.

Fine art photography, unlike vacation photography or a drunken-night-out-with-my-friends photography, does more than simply document an occasion.  It captures and immortalizes a unique moment, an emotion, a perspective and elevates it to a thing of beauty - however one defines it.  The photographer - artist - has the ability to discern the currency and urgency of that particular moment, emotion, and perspective and capture it - art - at the instant it occurs, knowing that once it passes, it's gone forever.   

Photography captures the moment in time.  Fine art photography captures a timeless moment.

June 10, 2011

I'm With You, Red Hot Chili Peppers

Major record labels are all but a thing of the past.  The album format is a lost art.  The last new American rock band worth listening to was The Strokes…in 2001.  The most popular singer of the last decade is named Auto-tune.  America’s biggest A&R reps are Jennifer Lopez, Randy Jackson, and Steven Tyler, and the Red States.  Everyone’s gaga for Gaga because she’s the lone point of interest on the Billboard charts.  In this increasingly sad musical landscape, if you want to hear new music by curiosities known as “rock bands,” you either have to go on a quest for it…or wait every few years for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  They may not be the sock-wearing, slightly off-key singing, proto-rap/rock band you remember from 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but they are one of the few aspects of mainstream American music that has gotten better over time.  If Californication, By The Way, and Stadium Arcadium are any indication of the trajectory this band is on, then I’m With You (release date: August 30) should be the most anticipated album of 2011.  Read David Fricke’s latest Alternate Take column in Rolling Stone.

June 9, 2011

It Might Be Great

It Might Get Loud is an easy movie/dvd recommendation for anyone who’s a fan of U2, The White Stripes, or Led Zeppelin.  It’s also an easy recommendation for guitarists.  However, renowned documentarian Davis Guggenheim delivers a film whose lure extends to beyond just the fans of the aforementioned bands or their musical driving forces.  The movie is actually a must-see for anyone who is intrigued by the artistic and creative process.

Guggenheim separately profiles the ascendency of Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge, and The White Stripes’ Jack White, each arguably the most influential guitarists/musicians of their respective eras and generations.  While there is enough of the expected rock-u-mentary footage tracing the histories of each of the guitarists and their bands to satisfy both fans and newcomers, it is the perspectives of the guitarists themselves that makes It Might Get Loud so compelling. 

The Edge
 For musicians, fans, and casual moviegoers alike, it is fascinating to watch The Edge revisit the very classroom where U2 used to rehearse after school, discuss his early influences and inspirations, and to watch him demonstrate his unique playing technique and his reliance on echo and delay effects to “fill in notes that aren’t there” that create that instantly recognizable U2 sound.  One fast realizes that Bono may get all the media attention, but without The Edge’s indelible sonic fingerprint, U2 is little more than an overbearing spoken-word act featuring an Irish guy who wears designer MC Hammer glasses.  By the end of the movie, one also wonders how a man who is co-author/composer of some of the most memorable music of the last quarter century and who performs in Monsterdomes across the world can be so refreshingly, shockingly, and boringly…unaffected and normal.

Jack White
 The viewer’s reaction to Jack White – probably the least well-known of the three musicians to the mainstream – will most likely be a combination of amusement and some annoyance.  Looking like a cross between Johnny Depp’s less attractive but equally Tim Burton-creepy little brother and the forgotten member of the Addams Family, one is not sure if White is doing old-black-bluesman-from-the-1920s comedic schtick or if he’s just actually an eccentric.  It becomes a bit hard to believe as White discusses how he purposely only plays through old, beaten-up, damaged, and difficult-to-play equipment, and that the key to his creativity and purposely-primitive-sounding-but-pristinely-produced music is somehow the result of coaxing something musical out of this self-imposed technical adversity.  You can’t help but wonder if White is trying too hard to be “eccentric,” and find yourself saying, “Dude, just be normal already!” He redeems himself only when he discusses his upbringing honestly, his salad years as an upholsterer, and his truly encyclopedic knowledge, love, and devotion to the blues.  His unaccompanied performances for the movie are extraordinary.     

Jimmy Page - 1975
 I save Jimmy Page for last because, well…it’s Jimmy Page.  Now looking like a cross between a dapper British aristocrat (which he is) and Beethoven, it’s unbelievable that this soft-spoken, easy-going gentleman is the same rock god who once goose-stepped across the stadiums of the world in satin Nudie suits with embroidered dragons crawling up the legs and vintage German stormtrooper hats, all in a dazed and confused fog of Jack Daniels, cocaine, and Aleister Crowley mysticism.  Personality-wise, Page is a sharp contrast to both The Edge and Jack White.  Whereas one comes off entirely unaffected and the other you’re not sure if it’s schtick or authentic, Page makes no effort to promote or diminish his legendary stature.  He is perfectly comfortable and resigned to the fact that he is Jimmy Page, legendary British guitarist, aristocrat, millionaire, prototypical rock god extraordinaire.  Perhaps it is this aura that Page so naturally exudes that makes one scene, in particular, in this movie so endearing and smile-inducing:  filmed in the vast library of books and records in his house, Page puts on an obscure song from 1958 called “The Rumble” on his turntable and plays air guitar completely unselfconsciously, as he explains his love for the song and its profound influence on him.  It’s an unforgettable, touching, and innocently humanizing moment to see the “Wagner of our day” – as Robert Plant refers to Page – become a wide-eyed, awestruck fan. 

Jimmy Page - 2010
 For fans of Led Zeppelin and Jimmy Page, the ultimate “YEAHH!!!” scene comes at the end of the movie in a segment called “The Summit.”  In it, The Edge, White, and Page all sit together in a room and show each other how to play each of their biggest hits.  The Edge shows the chord progressions of a U2 song.  White shows off a White Stripes songs.  As is typical whenever guitarists get in a room and play for each other, there is a mutual admiration and respect but, simultaneously, an unspoken and slightly defiant sense of “check me out”…and then Page shows off “Whole Lotta Love”…    

After listening to The Edge say earlier how U2’s initial motivations were punk influenced and directly in defiance of the bloated mid-‘70s sounds of bands like Zeppelin, The Stones, and Pink Floyd, and after being told what a blues purist Jack White is, it is a moment of absolute irony, humor, and joy to see The Edge of U2 and the Jack White of the White Stripes instantly become gleeful, wide-eyed, guitar-geek schoolboys upon hearing the unmistakable first five notes of one of the greatest riffs in rock coming from the hands and speakers of its composer.

Ultimately, what makes this movie so special is that Guggenheim shows in a most entertaining way that the joy of creativity and music is – to borrow a cliché – universal.  Music is so basic and visceral to the human experience that, stripped away of labeling and packaging and PR and legend, its effect and impact are the same to both its creators as well as its listeners.  In fact, they are one and the same.     

"The Summit"
It Might Be Loud.  It might be great.