21 09 2011

REM got big for all the right reasons in the early ’80s and hopped off at the end of the line today as a group that deserves huge credit for testing new ideas for a pretty fair stretch of time.

REM carried a lot of weight on its back, being an indy foremost. There was also the weight of having made a lot of great music that a lot of people liked for a lot of years. When the quality dropped, everyone noticed. It wasn’t polite to say so, but it certainly wasn’t a secret. The band’s muse crept out a side door in the middle ’90s, but she occasionally checked back in. Not often enough for the audience, and certainly not often enough to keep the band satisfied.

Still, some good music came from the past 15 years, including New Adventures in Hi-Fi and Accelerate. Even at the band’s lowest ebbs, it was serious about making sounds that had integrity. If for no other reason than that, it’s a sad day.

Like Led Zeppelin and the Who before them, REM never recovered from the loss of its drummer. In retrospect, it’s clear that Bill Berry was crucial and irreplaceable.

To celebrate the best of REM, put on Murmur, then Reckoning, Life’s Rich Pageant, and Out of Time. That’s the REM that will be remembered and revered.

And could there be a prog-like resurrection for the band in the future? Why not. It’ll be music with integrity, something that’s always welcome.

Two of a Perfect Trio Tour & Progressive Voices

20 09 2011

The Adrian Belew Power Trio and Tony Levin’s Stick Men made sure there was no roof left atop Atlanta’s Variety Theater on Monday night as the groups started a double-bill tour that saw them merge in the third and final set into a double trio that ate King Crimson material at every meal.

It was a pleasure to be there. My ears have nearly recovered. Thanks to both bands and thanks also to the Variety, which isn’t the prettiest venue in town but it’s wonderfully managed and the acoustics are terrific.

I wrote a quick review for DGMLive and you can read it here. Thanks to Sid Smith, the site’s moderator, for posting it.

By the way, Sid Smith has a pretty great site himself and it’s right here. Out There readers unfamiliar with Postcards From the Yellow Room should eyeball it frequently.

Tony Levin, shown above mesmerizing Atlanta with the Chapman Stick, is blogging the tour. If you want to see want the audience looked like from the stage, and follow the rest of the tour dates, go here.

And speaking of great sites, Out There is hosted also by Progressive Voices, a 1-stop shop for all things progressive. Get the app here and immerse yourself.

American Veins of Prog

18 09 2011

Live prog or jazz isn’t a regular reality in Atlanta, so it was a pleasure when Zappa Plays Zappa recently warmed up for Return to Forever at the Fox Theatre. Not knowing where a melody either would lead or indeed even existed was a thrill. The band landing in the same spot at the exact same time without much if any pre-planning in certain spots was head-shakingly marvelous. This is music as far from the wallpaper as possible. It’s the foreground sending the background into deep retreat.

It’s tough to beat improvisation as a spectator sport when it’s done well.

Nice also to see Dweezil Zappa and Chick Corea take time to shake hands, chat, and pose for photos at the front of the stage after each of their sets. Such a little gesture leaves big impressions.

These are the fleeting yet immense pleasures of prog.

Don’t think of these performances and band lineups as revivals or reunions but as a reminder of the musically rich last 40 years. We’re lucky to have lived in such a varied musical time in America.

It may have taken 14 years to film this three seconds of video. The National Geographic says the film crew used 14 years worth of material to create three videos. Here’s one of them. Things obviously move very very slowly and grandly out there.

Following up on the last Blog Desk post on JSOC and the long reach it’s been decreed, Top Secret America co-author Dana (as in Dantanna) Priest preaches the gospel of responsible reporting with Douglas Feith in this recent C-SPAN Book TV Q & A. It’s a great discussion about what the federal government seeks to hide and what the public needs to know. Feith pushes Priest and it’s a pleasure to watch a genuine back and forth between two DC insiders. Priest parries well but gets defensive at times and won’t let Feith finish a question. Too bad. It’s to her benefit to let everyone hear these arguments that usually take place in private.

Despite its minor flaws, this program is well worth watching because it’s not just two sides of a question shouting at each other. There’s listening going on and should be more of it in our public debate.

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley. What could be proggier than TR? OK, put Peter Gabriel out of the picture for a moment. Teddy Roosevelt was a proud progressive. It’s not easy to take him and his policies out of context and plant them into September 2011. But cast yourself back to the fresh dawn of the 20th century, when this nation’s forests and wildlife reached a tipping point at the hands of unbridled big business. Roosevelt loved nature and particularly the beauty of the western United States enough to hold up a stop sign to special interests.

The story evolves but it’s still the same question — how far does big business, which drives the country in many necessary ways, get to go before someone says, No. This book is a marvelously evocative and detailed portrait of the United States as it was not so long ago and it is guaranteed to make you wonder how much is truly enough for anyone, business or government.

Jean Luc Ponty Plays Zappa. It’s on Blue Note, which is weird enough, then you get to hear the music. Weird and beautiful. Ponty was a welcome addition to Return to Forever and it was a thing of beauty. This disc is too. Just the idea of Ponty playing Zappa is a thing of beauty. Like Pierre Boulez playing Zappa, the interpretations that actually work, which is all of them, are a reminder of how Zappa’s music fits neatly into different pallettes. Neither are easy listening, until it receives your full attention. And then it gets easy!

By the way, that’s not me deliberately making a heart in my bio photo. It’s actually me holding my phone and trying to be affable in front of a field of lupins in Owl’s Head, Maine.

Sipping at the Firehose

5 09 2011

Glen Campbell, One Last Love Song: Interesting to watch a high-profile celebrity be as public about a debilitating disease as Glen Campbell and his family are about his Alzheimer’s struggle. He has lived so much of his private life in public, often when he’d probably rather it not be so public. In this Guardian story, Campbell’s disease is on full display. The candor is shocking. From his daughter, however, a ray of light: ” … [He] never forgets how to solo. His old colleagues used to call it Campbelling. Sometimes he does long solos on Wichita Lineman or Galveston. And when he does something different now, it makes me excited; it makes me so happy when he’s on stage and just kills it.”

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks. As convincing a book about the brain beguiled by music as you’re likely to find. Evidently humans are at the whims of the brain, mostly the bad whims, that lead to disease or some other horrific malfunction.

There is the occasional bright spot: “Familiar music acts as a sort of Proustian mnemonic, eliciting emotions and associations that had been long forgotten, giving that patient access once again to moods and memories, thoughts and worlds that had seemingly been completely lost. Faces assume expression as the old music is recognized and its emotional power felt. One or two people, perhaps, start to sing along, others join them and soon the entire group – many of them virtually speechless before – is singing together, as much as they are able.”

But mostly it’s a book about people and diseases that mesh with music in seemingly unpredictable ways.

The origins of music categories. It’s the fulcrum beneath this blog. The Guardian sorta nails this conversation stopper right here.

Readers poll, Rolling Stone, best prog rock bands of all time. Not a bad list, touching on old styles and new. Yes, the Mars Volta and Emerson, Lake & Palmer belong in the same queue. No jazz listed. Of course not; it’s jazz. Review the item on categories above.

While Phil Lesh at 71 still tours and plays and looks like a much younger man, he wants to do create a venue much like Levon Helm’s Ramble in Woodstock, NY. The Ramble is home to regular shows where the audience comes to the band. Especially to the drummer, who lives nearby. Like, next door. A great commute for musicians who have spent more time in cars, van, airplanes, trains and tour buses than they care to or could remember. Lesh wants to build such a venue in Ross, the Marin County neighborhood he lives in. Read all about it here.

The Decemberists cover Sugar. A great idea. See and hear all about it here.

Listen to this, Spreading the Word: Early Gospel Recordings, and fully know that gospel, probably more than any other genre, shaped post World War II American and European popular music. No wonder its spinoffs were tagged as devil’s music. Nothing on here, from the call and response vocals, the bouncing piano licks that wouldn’t the out-of-tune yet jaunty choruses, would  be out of place in a modern context. Uplifting material firmly rooted in the basics. Brilliant.

The Washington Post peels back a layer of the international onion in “Top Secret America.” Riveting reading about power and force.

For instance:  “The CIA doesn’t have the size or the authority to do some of the things we can do,” said one Joint Special Operations Command operator.

Also from the story: “The president has given JSOC the rare authority to select individuals for its kill list — and then to kill, rather than capture, them. Critics charge that this individual man-hunting mission amounts to assassination, a practice prohibited by U.S. law. JSOC’s list is not usually coordinated with the CIA, which maintains a similar but shorter roster of names.”