Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Belated 2004 Year-In-Review

All those silly people do their year-in-review thingy at the end of the year. We procrastinators and forgetful old drunkards know the time to go is early 05 – and once again, for the tenth year in a row, let me just say: THIS is gonna be MY year. I can tell, man.


The Futureheads, Franz Ferdinand, and Dogs Die in Hot Cars briefly staved off the complete death of my interest in rock music/rock bands/guitars. But mostly, I put that down to nostalgia – those bands take various aspects of my fave older bands (XTC, Wire, Gang of Four, Dexy’s) and do minor modern adjustments to them, the result being some great rock albums (esp. Futureheads).

But better still is the ever-improving !!! – don’t believe the naysaying indie-heads who think that !!! (chk, chk, chk, whatevah) has gone downhill: “Pardon My Freedom” and “Me and Giuliani” are both brilliant singles (and perennial Busted dance-floor fillers), and Louden Up Now is a great album.

TV on the Radio released another of the singles of the year – “New Health Rock” – further staying the execution of rock from my bloodstream. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings made “Genuine,” a real contender for the absolute best single of the year – a chunky JB’s style funk thing that might make you cry the first time you hear it. Tinariwen made African blues dub that almost makes one care about a six-stringed guitar.

But mostly the year belonged to poppier and dancier beats and records: Felix da Housecat’s polish and shine (the whole Devin Dazzle album, the Rocket Ride mixes, his mind-flogging/neck-snapping remix of Britney’s ubiquitous – both on the airwaves and the top-10-of-04-lists – “Toxic”); Morgan Geist’s weirdo-slips-into-mainstream (Unclassics, Metro Area single #5, the Franz Ferdinand deconstruction); Two Lone Swordsmen’s …Motor of Sin EP and Double Gone Chapel album, the Bugz in the Attic Fabric installment (may’ve come out ’03, I was still canin it in ’04, and I haven’t heard “Booty La La” yet, dammit); Erlend Oye’s sublime DJ Kicks mix; M.I.A. “Galang” and Big & Rich “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)” for the love of music blogs; Dizzee’s “Stand Up Tall” (his best single yet); DJ/rupture’s Special Gunpowder album for making “world” music that doesn’t sound like a bead-shop soundtrack; more and more.

The Streets and Dizzee Rascal at the 9:30 Club in DC provided, for me, Show of the Year. My li’l bud David was over from Blighty with his ladyfriend, and joined Ms. Lola and I for a night of Brit-Hop that actually works (as one Pgh indie rocker pointed out). Dizzee was brilliant, though a little bit more like a late-night infomercial demonstration for “The new Dizzee Rascal brand hip-hopper – it can hold three jackets, six shirts, and a comforter!”, as he blurted out new rhymes with no beats simply to stun the largely unsuspecting crowd with his flow. The Streets are a little bit more readily available to U.S. ears – and live, Skinner & Co. played it up, making things accessible while still talking trash on the audience (and themselves) constantly. The live drummer thing was a little weird – one of the best parts of both Streets albums, but particularly effective on A Grand, to me, was the herky-jerky riddims, which a live drummer never seems quite right on. Though dude managed to rock thru with little trouble, minus a few rock-star cymbal-crash moments that were certainly ignorable in the context of nuff beers. After the show, to Café Saint Ex, where Dizzee was “DJing after the show” according to some girl at the show. To him, apparently, “DJing” equals “sitting at a champagne-bottle minefield of a table with readily available ladies”. The DJ at hand was playing horrible, horrible music (‘80s and whatnot), but we got to chat briefly with young superstar grimey, so I suppose on the groupie scale that worked out. (A later trip to St. Ex at Thanksgiving, a nasty bartender, and equally ‘orrible DJ who thought it was funny to play “I Like Big Butts”, shall be our last. Because it’s not.)

Prince came in second, but only because Mellon Arena’s a silly place for a show. Purple Power in full effek, with Candy Dulfer and Maceo Parker on saxes, the stunning John Blackwell on drums (everyone else should give up and let him be the only living drummer), and Prince on what – for all we know – was just another mediocre night. What the hell do we know, though – it was full of sex and sweat and dripping with funk and soul and corruptness. Love at first note.

Attila the Stockbroker came to the U.S., and even to Pittsburgh, which was a major treat. His 20-yr-old poems and one-yr-old songs rang true with equal political cynicism and bile, and hilarity. Someone with that level of geo-political and historical intelligence, and that much true-punk anger and pride, should not be physically capable of being that funny. Plus, the staunchest and most self-sacrificing ally Brighton & Hove Albion has – bless ’im.

John Cale, Toots Hibbert, Jake Burns (of Stiff Little Fingers), Robyn Hitchcock, Morgan Geist (Metro Area/Environ records), TV on the Radio, Mike Heron (Incredible String Band) – some good old-fashioned music legends submitted to interviews with me this year. Pleasant stuff all ’round, but Cale’s got to be the most influential of the bunch. I was never a huge Velvets fan, and his solo canon’s simply too vast for me to get started on now, but this man taught me that it’s never too late to quit looking backwards. Of all the artists I wrote about in the 04, Cale was the one most excited about music in all its possibilities, the one most willing to un-cynically announce his adoration for pop experimentation and his embracing of the now – while Junior level underground rockers were denouncing everything that didn’t sound Velvet-y, Cale spent the year demanding more from the Neptunes and Kanye and Britney. Like a kid in a candy store. Mike Heron, similarly, wanted to spend the whole time talking about Devendra and Newsome and other ISB-influenced kids. Love it.

Sally Timms brought The Johnsons Big Band large quantities of love and lessons. The JBB played as Sally’s band at the Warhol Museum here in Pittsburgh, at the Abbey Pub in Chicago (opening for Califone, who I don’t think I “got”), and at CMJ at the Touch & Go/Dim Mak showcase at Irving Plaza. It was one of the biggest gigs I think we’ve played, being a CMJ showcase and in a huge venue that (eventually) sold out. We played well, Sally was gorgeous (and stole a bottle of Jameson’s for us, cheers), Battles (ex-Don Cab and Helmet) was incredible – jaw-dropping – and TV on the Radio bizarrely beautiful, although we missed most of that because we had to prowl the lower east side with Damon Hamm (ex-Pittsburgh) as T. Glitter leaned out of cab windows announcing to all his adoration for the You-Nited States of America and, particularly, the LES. Glitz introduced me to some Polish girl as “My friend, Juddy – he’s a communist too! Well, he used to be …” before coming to the astute realization that communism never produced anything but hot chicks and lousy architecture. True, friend, true.

Dego, I.G. Culture, Afronaught and Demus spun me right round at Co-Op at Plastic People, East London bwoy. By no means my first introduction to the joys of broken beat-ery, nor to the horrors of the Bad Neo-Soul Live PA (I don’t know who it was, but they should’ve quit long ago). But for sheer syncopated swagger – the joys and thrills of hip-hop, broken up and stabbed with a needle full of futurism an’ t’ing – Co-Op was tha trick. Similarly, Daz-I-Cue (another Bugz in the Attic man) and King Britt and some incredible tiny little white dude cuttin’ up indie hip-hop at APT in New York, complete with a good neo-soul live PA by Michelle Shaprow (singing the immensely sublime (if that’s possible) “If I Lost You”). Daz-I-Cue brought out his futurist mulligan take on Fela’s “Zombie” and 500 people bordered on collapse.

Russ Dewbury taught me a DJing lesson at the Brighton Jazz Rooms. Dewbury looks more like Rusty Trawler in the film of Breakfast at Tiffany’s than anyone should probably ever mention aloud in his presence. He chain smokes, never mixes records, lets 11-minute afro-house remixes play out in their entirety (including kick-drum intros and outros), and spins in what looks like a disused serial-killer body-storage basement near the seafront. The drinks were watery and sticky, everything in the club’s covered in a thin layer of Carlsburg, and the crowd looks like they’re the ones who couldn’t get into any of the “nicer” Brighton lad clubs because they were too loaded. And within 20 minutes, we knew we’d be back the next night. Femi Kuti house remixes next to “Wack Wack” by Young-Holt Trio next to James Brown, the odd Loft proto-disco latin thang, and broken-beat nu-jazz blips and bleeps from Cologne. The dancers knew everything from the 60s northern soul to the ’05 broken beat, and were obviously dressed in soul-club style: screw impressing people, we’re here to dance. Ms. Lola and I had started the evening at some Irish pub a few blocks away where one of the Lo-Fidelity All-Stars was spinning northern soul and 70s soulful funk (Stevie Wonder, etc.). He had two turntables set up on the bar – no, like, on the bar – and was stoned out of his gourd: When one record was running out, he’d take a deep pull from his Guinness, and start looking for the next record, often leaving half a minute or more between records. But we heard brilliant northern, in the most laid-back environment ever, and the place was packed – most of ‘em showed up at the Jazz Rooms a few hours later, after the older lads had stoked the beer fires enough to dance and gawk at the 12-yrs-their-younger gals without feeling the embarrassment that each of those actions should’ve brought.

Soulcialism began and took off at the Eagle. The White Eagle is dingey and dirty and seedy, it’s cheap and drunk and doesn’t have a phone. As it turns out, this is the perfect environment for a northern-soul night. The owners treat us better than anyplace I’ve ever DJed before, and better than most live clubs treat the bands that provide their bread and butter. Plus, as an after-hours, the joint doesn’t have a regular customer base before about 1 a.m., so there’s no one to come in and bitch us ahht for blasting old soul records when we should be playing Motorhead on the jukebox (although that begins in earnest around 1:30 a.m., at which point I want to hear “Ace of Spades” as much as the next red-blooded Amerikkkan). The Eagle crowd teaches me new things each time: No matter how hot the storming records are – and “The Shotgun and the Duck” is one helluva new stormer hit for Pittsburgh’s soul luvvas – they go crazier for “Give Me Just a Little More Time” and “Band of Gold” and other mid-tempo flavors, which I give full marks for. Sometimes those big beats are just a color mask. But come on, kids, let’s get it together on the clapping for the big records, eh? Fast tempos need love too.

A few runners-up for performance of the year: Biaggio Ruggeiro at the hotel bar before Chelsea vs. AS Roma played in Pittsburgh. I thought we should just go home when the Chelsea queers started singing “No Surrender.” (By the way, “No Surrender to the I.R.A.” in 2004? How about “Slightly Less Surrender to the I.R.A.” or something? Ya lost, lads, ya LOST.) And I can actually sort of relate to the anti-Pope stuff. But when they started singing “God bless 9-11”, it was B who calmly walked over, ordered a beer, and told 20 over-the-hill Chelsea ex-hoolie eejits that they probably shouldn’t do that sort of thing, if that’s allright. Proves their mettle, as they shut up immediately. Stu Braun in Las Vegas who arrived after being awake for over 24 hours already, and proceeded to drink bloody mary’s for another 22 hours straight, sleep four hours, and wake up refreshed and heading for the poker room. T. Glitter at the Garage in Winston-Salem, N.C., who is the main reason that The Johnsons Big Band played one of the best sets of its existence that night, despite two ill-fitted openers and a crowd of about 12. At one point, one of the audience members – none of whom had heard of us before – went to the hipster bar around the corner and offered to pay admission for anyone who’d come to the show, because she’d never be able to explain it to them afterwards. We sold more CDs that night than any other in 2004, with people buying copies for friends and strangers. King Django, Dr. Ring-Ding, EST at Nick’s Fat City, who showed up after the gig was supposed to end, but still managed to cobble together a brilliant two-hour exhausted show. The entire JBB in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where Glitz sang Prince at karaoke and Stu did the worm and everyone got sunburnt and CC and Dana taught me the joys of Corona and Mike’s Hard Lemonade on the beach – that’s livin’. The whole Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association for one helluva rodeo in Las Vegas, plus Waddie Mitchell and Don Edwards for teaching me a lot about the U.S. of A. that I hadn’t understood, and a lot about life that I probably never will. More to be added as they come to me.

Finally, urraybody knows me got married in the 04, and that proved brilliant. Two quick-hit versions follow of highlights that deserve to be on the Best-of-04 list, but I dunno how to get ‘em up there:

Lars & Emily for elegance and style under big-wedding pressure – gorgeous, stylish, and full of love, just like they are; Matty Mo & Linzee for a sense of class and of dedication to a larger being – an extended family of friends, relatives, and weirdos – blessya; Dave & Jess for proving the cosmopolitan people can do old-school Americana and religion and make it beautiful and joyful, rather than stifling or choked; Cathy & Rob for making over-the-top into something that seems natural and, at times, truly intimate – if anyone could do it, it’s them mugs.

Honors go to: Nels Cleath for the most honest and beautifully adoring best-man’s speech there has ever been or ever will be, reducing tough-guy punks to dribbling masses of tears; Stu Braun and the Boilermaker Jazz Band for ripping “wedding band” to pieces as a very concept, even as they played the part; The B-3s for pulling something, I hope, special together for Matt ‘n’ Linz – and myself, for handling the part of Reverend with righteousness and a pinch of cinnamon (and, of course, Big Dave Alexander, for drunkenly thinking that, since I’m the Rev, the six-foot 200-lbs drunk guy causing trouble would listen to me if I told him to get it together … but he did!); Jason for organizing a last-minute bachelor party at a strip joint – the night after the wedding – and for realizing that maybe it wasn’t a good idea; The Johnsons Big Band, for learning Hava Nagila, and for making it truly, deeply funky, and tearin the roof off one expensive-assed tent.


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