Wednesday, April 17, 2013

make a shy bald buddhist reflect

I learned a new phrase last weekend: Fauxchella. It describes the pre- and post-Coachella trickle of shows around here -- and across Southern California, if you know where to go -- by bands booked for the festival. I haven't indulged in the offerings as much lately, but it's nice to have the option. This year, Fauxchella brought Johnny Marr to the Fillmore, and a quick visit to say hi to friends in line turned first into an extra ticket, then into a exultant evening for everyone convened.

Bigmouth Strikes AgainJohnny Marr, the Fillmore, April 13, 2013: If you ever visit my apartment and thumb through my vinyl, you're guaranteed to notice a large segment of import albums and 12-inch singles by my teenage obsessions: Duran Duran and the Smiths. At the time, I had no idea how diametrically opposed they were in terms of style, influences, and image. To this immigrant Asian-American suburban kid, these pale, skinny British men were the definition of exotic and otherworldly. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the two bands set my expectations for all ensembles to come and dictated the parameters of my musical tastes. I probably favor the jangly Smiths side these days, but I can fall for a solid, saucy stomper in the mold of Duran Duran now and again.

Duran Duran has mostly fallen off my radar these days, but Johnny Marr has not, due in large part to his work with a huge range of musicians, two of whom happen to be my favorites. Of course, I'm talking about Neil Finn and, by extension, Jeff Tweedy when they worked on the second 7 Worlds Collide project. But even if he hadn't branched out, Johnny's legacy would need no further burnishing.

As I hadn't originally planned to see this show, I didn't know what to expect, but the whispers among the more dedicated fans indicated we'd hear some classics tonight. Johnny wasted little time teasing us along -- the second song of the set was "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before." Contrary to the directions imparted, we did not stop him.

Johnny Marr, the Fillmore, April 13, 2013

Over the years, I've probably used the phrase "the modern Lennnon/McCartney" way too many times without realizing what it actually meant. I thought it signified any amazing songwriting team, and that's exactly what Morrissey and Marr were to me. But truth be told, I homed in on Morrissey's angsty lyrics and didn't give a ton of thought to what Johnny brought to the table, even though his talent practically slapped me in the face every time I put on "How Soon Is Now" -- which I put on a lot. That changed when I heard Bryan Ferry's voice over Johnny's arrangements in "The Right Stuff," aka "Money Changes Everything," b-side to "Bigmouth Strikes Again." (See above for my actual record that I apparently got signed a long time ago.) So that's what Johnny did for all those songs.

This same revelation hit again when Johnny rolled out "Stop Me if You Think You've Heard This One Before." The lyrics and melody are infectious like an old girl-group chart topper, but listen to that opening swell and syncopation, then settle in for the jangly blanket of guitar that wraps up the rest of the tune. I'd also be remiss not to point out that, unlike so many songs of the time, the drums don't sound like they were recorded in a drafty, haunted hangar. The song has great bones, to borrow a phrase.

Overall, Johnny dedicated about one-third of his set to Smiths songs, including "London," a deep album cut that may have been the biggest surprise of the night. Actually, I take that back -- "Getting Away With It" from his Electronic phase was the biggest shocker of the night. Nope, that's not right either because the guest spot by Billy Duffy (from the Cult) blew us all way.

Johnny Marr and Billy Duffy, the Fillmore, April 13, 2013

(At this point, I need to throw in another sidebar and mention that a good friend adored the Cult, and we listened to a lot of their records in the '90s -- so you can kind of imagine my amazement at this combo. I didn't even know Billy was from Manchester! Now back to the blog.)

Johnny prefaced Billy's appearance with a sweet story about how they'd known each other for a long time and believed in each other and supported one another through the years. I'm a sucker for rocker rapport, and I probably secretly cling to the belief that all the best musicians live together in the same house a la the Beatles in Help! Short of an invitation to that dinner party, I'll accept displays of concert-side conviviality to boost my spirits.

The two of them closed out the show with a cover of "I Fought the Law" and the Smiths' own "How Soon Is Now." I am and always will be a planner, but by the time they left the stage, there was no doubt this spontaneous Saturday night decision worked out pretty well.

What about Johnny's new songs? They sounded great and offered further evidence of his ongoing evolution. This man is not about to rest on his laurels -- or rest, period, judging by his bounce and dedication onstage. Within a couple of songs, he was already soaked in sweat, and he didn't get as much as a towel throughout the evening. When he returned for the encore with his own "Johnny Fucking Marr" shirt from the merch booth, you could hardly blame him or hold such a cocky move against him. I mean, isn't that what we've been calling him all these years anyway?

This is the 40-something talking, so bear with me: I will never deny my love of '80s music, but at the same time, so-called nostalgia acts aren't my thing either. Still, when you see Johnny Marr killing a room like that, you need to shut up and sing out for at least one night.

See also:
» i'm a realist
» Obscurity Knocks: Marion, "The Program"

Friday, April 05, 2013

hush hush keep it down now

Old habits die hard. I had conferred with a few friends before tickets went on sale for the Aimee Mann/Ted Leo aka #both show at Bottom of the Hill and even decided I didn't need to see both nights. However, I immediately reverted to my old ways when the Web page flipped and bought in for the two evenings. For me, more nights are always better. For everyone else, I'm pretty sure one night of #both will suffice -- and will certainly be worth your while.

#both, Bottom of the Hill, 03-27-13#BOTH, Bottom of the Hill, March 26-27, 2013: Let's address the elephant in the room: #both is a terrible, terrible name, and the artists themselves fessed to it early on in the show. I'm guessing they got plenty of guff over it on the Internet, but clearly, they weren't backing down, as they chose to headline this show as the entitled entity. As far as I'm concerned, #both is as bad a moniker as LMFAO -- but that's the only comparison worth drawing between the two.

I didn't know too much about #both before this gig, though I'm not sure Aimee or Ted shared a whole lot of details in the run-up. My lizard brain basically saw Aimee Mann and Bottom of the Hill, and pure reflex took over. I've blogged enough about Aimee to make clear how much I love her music, but it's worth repeating. She marries melancholy to melody in a way few others can, in my estimation.

As for Ted Leo, I've caught him a couple of times before, most recently a guest appearance at a Paul F. Tompkins gig. I appreciate him more than I like him. Does that make sense? But he and Aimee have developed a great rapport, which has been clear from anyone who's followed them on Twitter and quickly became apparent in their shared stage presence.

#both, Bottom of the Hill, 03-27-13

Technically, I've seen Aimee in a smaller venue (at least a couple of times at the old Largo, to be exact), but Bottom of the Hill is a whole different environment, a bona fide grungy rock club. So it seemed appropriate that Aimee's opening statements addressed the strong pot smell that seemed to spontaneously materialize near the stage. This led to an awesome round of speculation between the two on their respective audience's drug of choice. Well, Ted's take sounded more definitive (speed), but Aimee had the last word on her base's preferred sedative: laudanum. You know she's right!

I hope this gives you an idea of the general air of the show because I can't begin to capture the chummy banter between the two. Fortunately, this camaraderie carried into the music. They opened with a new song from their forthcoming duo record. They reported they've been writing together, which makes sense; after all, they're both singer/songwriters at heart. I'm going to guess, though, that if you hear the new songs without any vocals, the tenor and tempo will give away the main instigator behind the tune. The set opener was pretty much a classic Aimee song, with an easy, effortless pace and a tempered narrative -- in other words, bliss.

#both setlist

Overall, they almost adhered to Aimee's promise of one-third of her tracks, one-third of Ted's tracks, one-third #both titles, and one Thin Lizzy cover. You can do the math, but I think the set slightly favored Aimee's catalog. On the first night, we got 1.5 extra tunes: a parody cover of "Freebird" in response to a cliched request (wasn't it part of her set a couple of years ago?) and "Fourth of July" for a much more informed and discerning fan. Bonus points to Ted for trying to sing along, though he couldn't quite remember all the words. To be fair, Aimee messed up on a couple of Ted's songs -- along with her own "Living a Lie" on opening night!

I can't really talk about Ted's music, though he pointed out that mentions of alcohol have a way of working themselves into his lyrics. I'll take on the mantled of Captain Obvious and state that Ted has a great voice and an deep respect for melodies. He also put in soothing harmonies and striking guitarwork on Aimee's selections. If you want more details on his contributions, I'm afraid you'll have to find a Ted Leo blog -- I'm not up to the task.

As for Aimee, there was obviously no way we'd get to her usual allotment, so we made do with a truncated selection of the tunes the two had rehearsed. I don't think Aimee even got to certain albums, but of course the recent Charmers earned a few slots, as did her best-known Magnolia titles, which elicited their usual warm wave of recognition. I was quite pleased to hear "Little Bombs" from the underappreciated The Forgotten Arm; I believe that's what you'd call a deep album cut.

One variation between the two shows came at the very end of the second night. Whereas Ted has been content to busy himself on guitar for "Deathly" at their first show, he decided to add harmonies on the second night. He did well, but I'm the last person to ask, as the studio recording has my favorite harmony of all time. I appreciated his effort anyway.

I'm putting off discussion of the biggest treat and revelation of the night, which arrived nearly at the end of the gig. Aimee prefaced the song with a long, self-deprecating introduction, calling parts of it dumb, as well as pointing out her young age when she wrote it. She also said the only reason she agreed to it was to hear Ted sing a verse. Ted countered and proclaimed it a "stone classic" -- no argument here. Ted has shown his support of this song before, most notably with his recent cameo in Aimee's video for "Labrador."

The song, of course, was "Voices Carry." I can't undersell this video's impact -- not to mention Aimee's striking image -- on my teenage self, but the truth is I love the song, and I can still sing most of it from memory. I may even still have it on vinyl. In all my times seeing Aimee in concert, I'm pretty sure I've heard it only once before in that long-ago Acoustic Vaudeville tour with Michael Penn.

A funny thing happened, though. Earlier in the show, Ted had shared a story about Paul Stanley and the latter's endorsement of singing along at concerts. I guess it was fresh in our minds because the audience audibly chimed in on the chorus, even eliciting a compliment from Aimee. I hope she takes it as a sign that she should air it more often.

OK, one more attempt to capture their repartee. On the second night, Aimee felt compelled to share a bit of backstage graffiti with us -- namely, the Pussy Rules. This brought up Ted's own report of a disgusting illustration of a hermaphroditic bird at a club in Cleveland. The performers and the audience returned to these talking points again and again throughout the gig for all kinds of hilarity. I won't try to sum them up. Instead, check them out for yourself, courtesy of Aimee's Instagram:

pussy rules

I claim no firsthand knowledge of #both's future plans, other than their announcement of an EP coming out on Matador in August. But you don't have to be a fortune teller to predict they'll be taking this show on the road at some point. With any luck, voices will carry all across the globe in their wake.

See also:
» green typewriters
» today's the day
» i'm the stuff of happy endings