Greatness

30 06 2013

Great post World War II bands are not a rarity. That there are more than five is a luxury the world evidently can afford; any fewer would have made for an entirely different era in music.

The truly great are differentiated from the others by a sizzling hot streak, such as the Grateful Dead’s golden period from ’68 to ’77, by a single outstanding recording that changed everyone’s minds, such as the first Velvet Underground album, or by the sheer force of personality, such as Bob Dylan.Rolling-Stones-at-Glastonbury-Festival-2011729

The Rolling Stones have all this, coupled with longevity. The band’s appearance Saturday night at Glastonbury could have been just another modest night for a group with nothing to prove that it hasn’t already proven. Performing before vast audiences swelling to more than 100,000 is not new for them. Playing extremely well in front of huge crowds isn’t new to them either. But 50 years into a career, playing with deft verve and an enormous swell of brute force is something nearly no one does. Last night upped the ante even for these guys. The energy crackled for two hours and it was tough to look away or think about much else the entire time.

Watch this link to see last night’s show of greatness. It’s the last half of a tightly paced performance by masters.

David Bowie took 10 years off to do some thinking and some child raising. You can tell from the record he released this spring that he’s been waiting for the right songs and the right inspiration to motivate him off the sidelines. The performances by a subtle yet powerful band make The Next Day worth spending another 10 years listening to. Like many of the best recordings, this one takes multiple listenings to make sense of. It’s time well spent and don’t spare the volume.David_Bowie-06

The plight and flight of Edward Snowden will make a great movie one day. But right now it’s an international thriller unfolding in front of a worldwide audience. Today’s Washington Post update about Snowden’s inability to leave Russia is chilling. Big powers can do what they like. It’ll be interesting to see what all the interested parties will decide they can actually do.Snowden-Hideout

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Oldstuff & Oldfellows

3 10 2012

Thirty years ago recorded music fans were liberated from vinyl by the CD player. The Atlantic magazine looks back with care on the digital revolution here.

Some analogers never left, some drifted then returned, many still fly the flag of  warm sound and vow to never change. In exchange for all that clarity and warmth, they get skips, pops, warps, amps, pre-amps, cartridge replacements, and gatefolds. The clarity and warmth is all a matter of preference and there’s no good reason to stand in the way of those who staunchly defend analog, especially Neil Young, who claims to have found analog aesthetics in a download. That’s the grail, along with his electric car, the Lincvolt.

Out There is a fan of both.

Vinyl’s downsides rarely are mentioned: wooden recordings with little depth and a lot of flipping of discs after 15 to 20 minutes coupled with a lot of trouble finding a middle track with a clumsy hand and tonearm. Let’s also not forget hauling peach crates around.

Highly refined analogers claim we’ve plunged into an era of unprecedented audio chaos. Picky, picky, picky.

CDs have plenty of their own problems: the sound is often jagged and thin, and the packaging is a definite downgrade from the mighty gatefold. Buy a few CDs and they take over a shelf. Buy a few box sets and there goes a wall. Then the whole room is swallowed, destroying the Scandinavian ambience that once soothed your inner neat freak’s soul. But the upsides are truly up: longer playing times, few if any skips, ease of track jumping, smaller storage space.

This is all going the way of the buggy whip due to downloading. No storage, no need to keep unwanted tracks or even to buy entire albums, no need to go anywhere to buy anything. Heck, why buy anything at all because evidently the vast majority of it is free.

The eardrum thin mp3, the audio equivalent of a Polaroid, will disappear one day in the near future, replaced by downloads that will have full CD clarity and if Neil Young has his way the analog sound will be tossed in for good measure. When those days arrive, maybe the mp3, vinyl and digital tribes will forgo their differences and gather happily together again.

Ian Hunter has survived format changes and continues to thrive. He went off the radar for about 10 seconds when Mott the Hoople broke up in the mid ’70s. Drifted off it again when he went solo, then again when he sang the praises of Cleveland. Did folks still love him when a hair metal band made Once Bitten Twice Shy an enormous hit? Did anyone mention his name when Drew Carey covered him? No, but his shadow lingered. Those years in between, even for fans, leading up to a few months ago when he began to be interviewed in the British press and retrospectives of his last 15 years popped up, were not silent but certainly not high profile. He has actually been making great recordings in that time, a string of discs that few bought and most didn’t know about.

But his recent release, When I’m President, is changing that. The 73-year-old Brit who lives in America is out there without a cane and playing live. As with anything he’s done, he’s done it better than most. He’s an underrated lyricist, a literate man in an often illiterate genre, and it’s a pleasure to not only see his profile deservedly raised once again but to see him celebrated for the treasure that he is.

The Rolling Stones have been around so long that it’s easy to take them for granted. Even a milestone like having been (sort of) together for 50 years comes off like a shrug. The group is reuniting for some sort of public performance in the coming year, but no one’s saying much about it. There is a new greatest hits coming out that will have two new songs on it, much like the five new songs 10 years ago on 40 Licks.

The Stones have begun one of the dopiest marketing campaigns ever to commemorate the package and anniversary. It also will have another hagiographic documentary on HBO soon.

And will Out There miss any of it? Probably not. Aging well is a progressive act and the Stones have always confounded expectations when it comes to maturing. Can’t wait to see how it all comes out.