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....