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Patti Smith and Lenny Kaye Words and Music – 29 May 2018 de Duif, Amsterdam
The monsoon hit yesterday as I was on my way to this church in the middle of Amsterdam. The weather had been hot and humid and then the rain came down. My friend Carrie was coming up from Utrecht and we didn’t have time to meet for supper, and by the time she arrived, drenched, most everyone had filed in for the 8:30 show. As we leaned on a wall near the back of the venue, someone told the man next to us that there were seats upstairs. In front of the organ. With a clear line of sight to the stage. Perfect.
smith-kaye-20180529I’d never seen Smith perform, but I’ve been listening for ages. In high school, friends from New York put Piss Factory and her version of Hey Joe (with the Patty Hearst intro) on a mix tape for me. And of course I’d heard Because The Night because it was all over the radio. Later I’d listen to those first four Arista albums but not really understand a lot of them. Gloria I got. The title track of Horses was overwhelming. In college picked up Radio Ethiopia because Dramarama had covered Pumping My Heart, but aside from that song and Pissing In A River, again, it was overwhelming. When Dream of Life with its single People Have The Power came out, I was working in a record store in San Francisco and the manager was crazy excited that she had a new record after eight years off the musical radar. I wasn’t impressed with it and went back to listening to Wave and Easter which had the punk sensibility that affected me most in her work.
Anyway, when tickets went on sale for this gig, I was keen to get them because sometime recently (possibly after hearing about the Horses tour a few years ago) I decided that I didn’t want to miss seeing her perform. (At 71, she’s still going very strong, but as I wasn’t the first to note a couple of years ago, 69 [David Bowie amongst others] is the new 27 [Brian Jones, Hendrix, Joplin, Winehouse and a whole slew of others].)
She and guitarist Lenny Kaye walked on stage and she opened by saying, ‘Behind those clouds is a beautiful full moon.’ She said that she’d wanted to read this old piece of hers, but didn’t have a copy, but found it on the internet. In the course of the show, she read two excerpts from a new volume called New Jerusalem which offers some poetic response, among other things, to the Trump presidency.
Early on, Smith and Kaye performed a lovely rendition of Dylan’s Boots of Spanish Leather. I’m not sure if she gets sufficient credit for her interpretations of other people’s songs. Early in her recording career, her version of Van Morrison’s Gloria was hailed, but that was for the intensity of her re-interpretation. I want to say recently, but it was probably eleven or twelve years ago, she released a full album of other people’s songs that she managed to make her own with some success. After the Dylan song, Kaye stepped up and dug his heels into Waylon Jennings’ Love of the Common People which felt unlikely but absolutely in place at the same time. I was certainly game for whatever they chose to bring on. Either they had a really good rapport with the audience or the room was as game as I was for the experience.
The poems she read included Pythagorean Traveler and another segment of New Jerusalem called Prophecy’s Lullaby. Pythagorean Traveler was preceded by the song My Blakean Year (which makes thematic sense – as many of the poems she shared make use of William Blake’s imagery and vocabulary). At one point she asked if anyone had any questions. The only one to step up could only ask in French. Neither Smith nor anyone near the asker could speak French to which she added, ‘We have in common that none of us can read Rimbaud in the original.’ The question was lost but it was an amusing moment.
In my favourite of the spoken word moments, Smith asked the audience if anyone had brought a copy of Just Kids, her memoir of living poor in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe at the turn of the 70s. Several hands went up as she explained that it would be Allen Ginsberg’s birthday next week and she wanted to read an excerpt. Copy in hand, she flipped through it trying to find the page, which a reader of that copy had handily bookmarked. It’s a very sweet tale that you can find below. (She read from ‘Horn and Hardart, the queen of automats’ on the left page through the bottom of the right.) In her reading, you could feel the love she felt for Ginsberg beyond the words.
As for the musical numbers, they performed (among others) ripping versions of Dancing Barefoot, Pissing in a River, Because the Night, and People Have The Power.
When they were about a verse into the last song, someone at the front of the audience put something on the stage, which might have been flowers, and she had to stop, explaining that the stage had to be kept clear. It was a really odd moment, but she backed up and she and Kaye played a really touching rendition of Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love (which was the proper encore the following night). I’ve always found this particular track to be really kitschy, but I was totally sucked in. The audience sang along and it felt like we were all around the same campfire for a few minutes. In an evening full of touching moments, that one was, inexplicably, as well. And then they topped it all off with a full-throttle go at People Have The Power.
Set list:
Little Moon (poem)
Wing
New Jerusalem excerpt (poem)
Ghost Dance (s)
Boots of Spanish Leather (Dylan’s birthday a couple days ago)
My Blakean Year
Lenny Kaye solo – Love of the common people
Pythagorean traveler (poem)
Dancing barefoot
Meeting Allen Ginsberg from Just Kids
Southern Cross
Prophecy’s Lullaby (poem)
Pissing in a river
Because the night
People have the power (cut off)
I can’t help falling in love with you
People have the power
smith-ginsberg-just-kids
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In this review, I look at the 40th Anniversary editions of two King Crimson live albums. I’ve been a fan of the USA album since before I knew where it stood in the KC canon. Earthbound, however, was never high on my listening list. Having launched into this adventure of rambling through the King Crimson discography, however, I was inclined to give it another go, especially as the notoriously lo-fi recordings are accompanied by an (expectedly cleaner) radio session, Live at Summit Studios, in this release. More on Summit later.

My favourite thing about Earthbound, recorded on the Islands tour in early 1972, is Boz Burrell’s voice. Being a fan of the classic mid-70s lineup that produced USA, Red, Starless and Bible Black, and Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, the limitations of Wetton’s voice always grated on me. With this in mind, however, these recordings also reveal in stark relief why leader Robert Fripp gave the Islands lineup the boot. Fripp himself had already moved on before they went on the road to meet contractual obligations. The other three members, Mel Collins on flutes and saxophones, Burrell on bass/vocals, and Ian Wallace on drums, are very loose in their playing and seem to want to be more of a boogie band than a progressive rock outfit. The original release consisted of 21st Century Schizoid Man, two improvs, a particularly sloppy Sailor’s Tale, and an extended jam on Groon, the instrumental b-side of the very jazzy Cat Food from 1970. The initial release of Groon was only about four minutes (four different takes can be found on the 40th Anniversary Edition of In the Wake of Poseidon), but on this tour, it was regularly extended past fifteen.

The CD portion of this release extends the initial album with Pictures of a City, Formentera Lady, and Cirkus. The DVD portion extends it further with Ladies of the Road, The Letters, and full versions of The Sailor’s Tale and Groon.

kc-eb-usa-back-smThe opening Schizoid man pushes the needle to the red in terms of both saturation and energy. While the structure remains the same, the improvisations in the middle exceed what is expected. Mel Collins’ sax work is intense, and marred somewhat by drumming that seems to be, possibly, part of a different song. Fripp ropes everyone back in with some searing runs. Boz’s treated vocals are more menacing that we hear in later versions, which is somehow appropriate.

Peoria lets us in with some bass/horn/drum interplay, but if Fripp’s guitar is in there, it’s very low in the mix. Sailor’s Tale fades in and closes out side 1. It’s the only song on Earthbound’s original release that also appears on the album they were touring, Islands. It’s a bit sloppy – and perhaps it’s this tendency to sloppiness that frustrated Fripp, but on its own terms it works.

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I’d heard of Performance from a couple of different angles. I knew Jagger’s Memo From Turner came out of this movie, and I knew a couple of samples nicked by Big Audio Dynamite for the song E=MC2, which is itself an odd musical tribute to Roeg’s work.
The film is both a continuation of the gangster dramas that had been coming out since the 30s and an influence on movies that came later including In Brugges and Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
The plot has a fairly straightlaced gangster, Chas, going to ground after he kills his boss’ new protégé without authorisation. There’s an interesting subtext going on that his boss and those higher up in the organisation are middle-aged queens while Chas is not only straightlaced, but decidedly straight. Through a turn of luck, Chas overhears of a room in Notting Hill Gate from a musician going on tour who has left his gear and some unpaid rent. Chas shows up at the address and pays off the debt in return for the room. Visiting Notting Hill in the late 60s is quite odd, because the lower-class neighbourhood of that era is full of million quid houses now. Those self same houses.
Mick Jagger plays the house’s owner, retired rock star Turner. In the course of Chas’ stay in the house with Turner and his two lovers, Pherber, played by Keith Richards’ girfriend at the time, Anita Pallenberg (RIP), and Lucy, he discovers a situation that is decidedly Bohemian and sexually open. In order to get into his head, Pherber and Turner dose Chas with mushrooms and from there the movie takes a distinctly psychedelic turn.
Another place I heard of this movie was in conversation with Coil’s Jhonn Balance. I was lucky enough to chat with him after Coil played in Prague in 2002. My friend Chris asked him what the source of the sample ‘We must go further back. Further back and faster’ was from. (The track Further Back and Faster is on the 1991 album Love’s Secret Domain.) Balance referenced this movie and talked about Roeg for a little bit before we moved on to talking about Derek Jarman movies. So this film has been at the back of my mind for over 15 years. Queerness and queer identity were very much at the heart of Coil’s musical identity and the queerness of those who have authority over Chas is not a lost plot point. Chas holds enough fascination for Turner that he feels the need to defend himself from what are fairly subliminal advances on Turner’s part.
performance-lobby-card The fascination for Balance in this movie possibly included what was essentially a music video inserted in the midst of Chas’s mushroom trip. When Jagger lip syncs Memo From Turner in the offices of the gangsters Chas reports to, it’s not clear who’s experiencing what, but it’s interesting that when the movie was made, the queerness of both the song and the action in this sequence is quite matter of fact. That Chas rejects unspoken advances, as well, is (I think) meant to be interpreted as a shortcoming on his part.
This was not without controversy at the time. The studio refused to release the movie for two years due to graphic sex and violence. My first thought on reading about that was that I’d love to know what the Memo from Warners actually pointed to as problematic. By more recent standards, a few killings and a little sex are considered PG-13 fare by the MPAA, but there are two graphic scenes of gangland violence that were probably more shocking then than they’d be considered now. And unfraught sexuality between two women was also quite shocking. Imagine my surprise to find the image accompanying this review. Initially it was either given the X rating or the studio simply assigned the film an X rating. (Note: All of the other MPAA ratings are trademarked. Only the X rating can be used without MPAA authorisation. I think the idea was that the MPAA didn’t actually want to assign ratings to porno. Porn studios could take the rating and the limited release associated with it. On the other hand, in the early days of the ratings system, movies like Midnight Cowboy and Bilitis which had non-pornographic inclinations could take the rating and the artistic freedom that came with it.)
Regular readers might take my opinion of Chas’ response to Turner’s interest as hypocritical. Didn’t I just recently write that the correct response to the possibility of homosexuality in an interaction should be ‘not a problem’? What’s the difference here? The storytellers of Ready Player One were positing that the homosexual angle was to be avoided where presented. In Performance, however, the storytellers suggest that Chas’ rejection of the possibility is part and parcel of Chas’ rejection of life as a whole.
The ending of the film confused me and the friends with whom I saw the movie. It wraps up rather quickly with the viewer being not quite sure who lives and who dies (despite the writers at Wikipedia seeming very certain of themselves). That said, the movie’s seedy opulence, spot on performances from all concerned, and excellent soundtrack earn this goody four stars.

I missed that jazz musician/composer/poet Cecil Taylor passed away last week at the age of 89. I’ve listened to some of his music (and will listen more today), but not very much. I did see him perform his poetry one night at a tiny art/music venue in San Francisco called the Luggage Store Gallery. The performance was scheduled for after a sold out music gig somewhere else in the City and started late. LSG was on the second floor of a building on near 6th on the south side of Market. I lived at the time in a tiny studio right on the corner, so gigs there were easy for me. Usually experimental music of various kinds. I saw Henry Kaiser, Steev Hise, John Tchicai and a dozen others over the two years I lived in that neighbourhood, in a room that was probably zoned for no more than 100 people. It was generally brightly lit – as the name implies, it was a place for displaying art as much as for music, but the track lighting would be turned down for performance.  Taylor brought along several musicians to a packed gallery – they played percussion while he read this insane poetry sat at a desk in front of them. I was writing a lot of poetry at the time and watching and listening, I knew I had a long way to go. From what I can tell, he lived his art and his artistic life to the fullest. Here’s an example from a couple of years later…

E’G/Warner Bros., 1984

One could argue that the three albums by the Fripp/Bruford/Levin/Belew lineup, and especially the last two, have the flavour of Belew’s solo albums of the time, just featuring legendary supporting players, but that’s really not fair. For all of the bits of it that are very much of their moment, there’s also a lot of that transcendent KC magic here. The more I listen to it, the more falls together and achieves a kind of unity that Discipline has, but that I feel Beat lacks.

Addressing the album song by song doesn’t do it justice. As a work, the pieces fall together quite effectively.

The Left Side

king-crimson-3-of-a-perfect-pairOpening with four vocal tracks, none of which (on the face of it) is that demanding on the listener. Title track/opener, Three of a Perfect Pair is an interesting one because it stayed in King Crimson/Crimson ProjeKct set lists well into the 21st century, and as a fan, it’s easy to find that it’s just a little overplayed. Belew is right to be impressed with his ability to play the guitar in one time signature and sing in another, but it’s only because he’s the vocalist that this makes him unique in the band. The song itself being about the breakdown of a relationship seems an apt one as this incarnation of KC was on the verge of collapse at the end of the Beat sessions (and after the tour for this album, these four would not reconvene for 10 years).

Model Man, oddly, presents us with another relationship song in which the narrator begs for understanding (‘imperfect in a word…but I give you everything I have’) from the one who always has him on edge (‘look[ing] for the sights…the symptoms…the slight calm before the storm).

Sleepless, the single that should have been a hit. Warners even ponied up for a video in which everyone seems a little uncomfortable. The song is the most distinctly new wave of the album (especially the Clearmountain remix which was used instead of the original on the first pressings of the album). The interplay of the rhythm section is what I find most interesting about this song.

Man with an Open Heart should have been both a single and a hit. Of the four lyric tracks on the album, three address relationship issues and this one seems especially personal. Its changing time signatures anchor it in the KC universe as well.

The most surprising aspect of this album (and Beat for that matter) is how far in the shadows Robert Fripp seems to be. His guitar work through Discipline is always the most distinctive aspect of a KC recording. However, with Nuages (That Which Passes, Passes like Clouds), the instrumental that closes the Left Side, Fripp’s voice comes to the fore. It feels like one of his soundscapes as it flows through the ears, but has a rather non-cloudlike feel for a song with its title. It’s anchored by an almost underwater-feeling percussion.

The Right Side consists of three interesting instrumentals and a decidedly different vocal.

Industry is almost an extended meditation that relies heavily on the interplay between Fripp and Levin. It works on one level, as a continuation of Nuages, not the opening of a different suite of songs. It’s structured more as a bolero – each instrument building in intensity and than slipping away again.

Dig Me, welcomes Belew’s voice back into the fray with an oddly sad follow-up to the previous album’s opener, Neal and Jack and Me. In this episode, what was once a proud automobile stretching out on the open highway is now rusting, unhinged, and what ‘was deluxe becomes debris’. On a certain level, it’s of a piece with the relationship songs on the Left Side, but is also markedly different.

No Warning feels like a more pure KC improv, but kept short and to the point. It has the energy of one of those moments where the band just locks together.

And then there’s the album’s closer, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part III. It’s an oddly titled jam that doesn’t seem of a piece with the other two songs that are its namesake. After more than twenty years of listening to this album (as with all the other entries in this series of reviews), never so diligently and with such interest as I have in the last week, I’ve never quite gotten what it was about this composition that invited adding it to the other two. And I’m still not, but I’ve got a feeling there’s something in the musical structure that lends itself or was consciously taken for that reason.

Sleepless has long been my favourite track on the album for purposes of sheer grooving. Of the vocals I’m now more drawn to Man With An Open Heart than I ever was before. I’m not sure I have a favourite of the instrumentals – they all feel of a single piece.

Next up: Vrooom and Thrak, but I’m going to take a KC break first.