From the MoSS? Pit: Riot Fest 2014

A staple at these festivals, Social Distortion failed to disappoint.

A staple at these festivals, Social Distortion failed to disappoint. (UNLESS YOU’RE A CURE FAN AND SOCIAL D RUNS LONG AND TAKES AWAY THE CURE’S ENCORE TIME! FUCKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!)

 

(Chris and Sam both attended Riot Fest Chicago. Below you’ll find their takes. Sam’s is up first; you can jump to Chris’ by clicking here.)

SAM

I won’t bury the lead: I’d like to announce my retirement from the three-day music festival. I just don’t think I can do it anymore. My poor back and feet can no longer take it. And if I was on the fence, Mother Nature made sure I came to a decision right then and there at the beginning of Riot Fest 2014.

Friday was pure hell. It was butt cold and rained almost all day, making the next two days (which actually had pretty damn near-perfect weather) pretty insufferable, too, because of the mudpit it created throughout Humboldt Park. I ended up wearing the same pair of pants all three days of the festival because I didn’t feel the need to ruin a whole gaggle of clothes. Hey, I guess a cheap bottle of Old Spice Swagger actually DOES have some value.

And somehow someway, my shoes actually survived … but let’s pause and pay respect to the towels at the low budget Howard Johnson’s we stayed at that had to make the ultimate sacrifice for my feet. They will be missed.

I didn’t get to see Slayer (seriously, that sucked), the Dandy Warhols, or Cheap Trick. Same with the Flaming Lips. The set-up kept me from properly enjoying Tegan and Sara, Television, and Patti Smith. The curse of the festival: Not getting to see everyone you want. Ugh.

Plus, there was plenty to complain about logistically, as my compatriots and Riot Fest veterans Skeet, T-Dub, Seany, and Chris (not MoSS? Chris … I’ll call this Chris Mr. Cool from now on) continually reaffirmed to me all weekend long.

But if this is my festival swan song (and I have no reason to think it won’t be … in my seven straight years of Lollapaloozas and now Riot Fest, I’ve seen almost everything I can possibly think of), I think the music of Riot Fest 2014 will make it a proper send-off.

(I ain’t even touching The Cure, OK? My MoSS? cohort Chris camped out all 10 hours of Day 3 and was rewarded with a prime front row spot not only for his favorite band of all time but other sets by Superchunk, Tegan and Sara, and Patti. In addition, he spent more time on the stage’s big screen than Robert Smith himself. I’ll just let him tell that tale.)

Let’s not waste time here … MASTODON!!!

Mastodon makes everything betters.

Mastodon makes everything better.

 

Riot Fest is pretty much known as a punk rock festival. And there’s plenty of punk rock I love. But I’m much more metal. I prefer killer riffs to anthemic choruses.

And when it comes to metal in 2014, it begins and ends with Mastodon. They’re the gold standard. Yes, there’s plenty of doom and gloom in their music. But with his jovial preening and crowd banter, bassist/co-frontman Troy Sanders showed that metal is super fucking fun, too. It reminded me of those old videos of Ozzy bouncing up and down with a shit-eating grin on his face while singing sinister songs like “Children of the Grave” and “Black Sabbath” in the California sun in the ’70s. And when lead guitarist/co-frontman Brent Hinds screeched the hook of “Blasteroid,” I would’ve needed plastic surgery to remove the shit-eating grin off of MY face.

And the riffs? Praise Jesus. The crowd went nuts when they tore into “Oblivion,” with the differing tempos and three different vocal sections (Sanders on the bridges, Hinds on the hooks, with drummer Brann Dailor tackling the verses ). It was just perfection across the board. The only thing that sucked is that they didn’t play longer.

Mastodon was my priority of the festival. Hands down. And they did not disappoint. In fact, all the shit on the opening day of the festival – the rain, the cold, the fucking mud, the smell, the congested walkways, the hampered VIP shit –was worth it, because Mastodon rocked my ass off.

Now the bad …

Hey, Riot Fest … fuck you!

Fuck you for making me choose between Slayer and Jane’s Addiction. Seriously, fuck you right in the ear.

In my life, I’ve seen them both an equal amount of times. So it became a question of hearing Reign In Blood start to finish or hearing Nothing’s Shocking start to finish. Both in my all-time top ten list. Not an easy choice. After Mastodon blew my doors off on the same stage, I was prepared to just stay put for Slayer. My hometown pals (and friends and colleagues of MoSS?) Chris, Travis and Annie were already there and I would’ve had a kick-ass spot. But because of the getting-home scenarios with my travelmates in the shitty weather and my unfamiliarity with the area, I ventured back to the other side of the park to find them for Jane’s … just as Slayer took the stage and tore into “Disciple.” I cursed under my breath the whole way over there like a kid with Tourette’s.

Jane’s? Yeah, they sounded great. Love that album. I could see them every day and never get sick of them. That said, I wish I would’ve stayed for Slayer … especially since my festmates took off without me anyway and left me in the middle of nowhere with no previous frame of reference for getting back to the hotel. But just as I was venturing into a pretty sketchy part of Chicago looking for solutions (I was probably a half a block away from getting my throat slit for 25 cents), I serendipitously ran into Annie, Travis and Chris again on the street in a crowd and we shared a cab back downtown. So yeah, guys, thanks for saving my ass. Drinks on me at Van Etten next month.

No seriously, Riot Fest … fuck you!!

For years, all I’ve heard about from my oft-returning friends is how much better Riot Fest is when you get VIP. Well, I got VIP the year they expanded to five stages and changed the layout. My pals were NOT pleased. In fact, they apologized to ME afterward.

Yeah, there were some perks. It helped to be able to take a piss without waiting in line. And I can’t front … the drink tickets were a plus. I’ll admit that. I got 12 drink tickets right off the bat, while the commoners had to spend $7 a beer all festival long. In fact, when I told Annie, Travis and Chris – who were serfs to my VIP – about the tickets, Annie did express some envy.

But for me, I bought VIP for sightlines. And there was nothing special about them. I had to stand out in the crowd with the cretins if I wanted even remotely a good spot for the bands.

Now, I did hear secondhand that if the weather had cooperated, there would have been a VIP path between stages avoiding all the congestion on the walkways that hampered everything. But those flooded almost immediately on Friday and were never opened. And I’ll never know if this also applied to the spots to stand and watch, too.

So, Riot Fest, I’m sure you meant well, but that’s did me no good. So suck it.

BEES!!!

The best part of the weather and the mud pit, besides the smell and piles of destroyed shoes, of course? Everybody spent all of Saturday and Sunday under siege by bees. I felt like I was in a Hitchcock movie. It’s a miracle I never got stung.

OK, now the music …

After 15 years, the Dubs are finally off the hook

It only took 15 years, but I saw Face To Face

It only took 15 years, but I saw Face To Face

In 1999, I bought a ticket to see Face To Face at First Avenue in Minneapolis. It was back when I was a working a grueling schedule as a high school sports reporter and hadn’t had a day off in weeks. I needed this. Bought a ticket. Told my boys T-Dub and Skeet, who were also going. It was all set up. Except it wasn’t, because the assholes went without me. To this day, they swear we never had that conversation. They should know better than to test my memory, but whatever.

Well, after waiting a generation, I finally saw Face To Face on Saturday. Dare I say, it was worth the wait. You see, I like my punk rock heavy. A lot of it is actually quite bright and a little thin, which gets covered up by hooks that get shouted and chanted endlessly. But Face To Face’s riffs can be a little dirty. Crunchy. They speak my language. Two of my favorite punk records – Don’t Turn Away and Big Choice – are both Face To Face records. Fifteen years after I got left behind, I finally got to see “Disconnected” live.

So I forgive you, Dubs. Don’t let it happen again.

Banner says it all ...

Banner says it all …

When it comes to punk rock, the Brits still do it best

I started the festival with the Stiff Little Fingers, from Belfast. Excellent. On Saturday, I watched the Buzzcocks, from England. Very strong. Caught a solo set by Paul Weller of The Jam. I was hoping for more old Jam songs, but it was still a solid outing. Hell, I even caught London vets Cock Sparrer while I was waiting for the Descendents. They were still super tight. I’m telling you: don’t fuck with our motherland, everybody. They’ve still got it.

Oh, there’s some great new punk rock, too

Check out the Menzingers. And PUP. For sure. PUP’s riffing had some serious balls. Highly recommended.

The ‘90s was the greatest era of rock ever, and it was well represented

Super happy to have caught this set by Superchunk.

Super happy to have caught this set by Superchunk.

Just because the surviving giants like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails weren’t there, Riot Fest found a few bands for the fans seeking some nostalgia. I caught a fantastic set by cult faves Superchunk with Chris (at the top of his Cure campout – I still don’t know if he made it through the day without eating, drinking, or peeing, as that stage filled up almost immediately after I left. If he did, kudos). I somehow missed the Dandy Warhols (sad face), but have it on good authority they were on point.

And even the rap was better in the ‘90s? Proof in point: Wu-TANG, Wu-TANG. The RZA was holding court on Saturday, yo. And with them, I’ve been lucky enough to see the majority of the Mount Rushmore of my rap fandom live, joining Public Enemy, Beastie Boys and A Tribe Called Quest (it’s impossible to see NWA without Eazy-E, so Ice Cube, I’m coming for ya).

On Friday, with rain and mud becoming a real issue, I was still unfamiliar with the layout of the park. There was no fucking way I was jeopardizing my shot at seeing Mastodon so I took the time to walk the routes. By doing that, I caught a few songs by Clutch (bottom heavy yet hook-y … a good combo), bookended on both sides by a few songs by Failure, a band I was never that familiar with before but I found myself really kind of enjoying them. Pretty damn heavy, technical, drony, almost prog. I found myself kinda wanting to check out their stuff when I got home. But they might not have been the right fit for that snotty, punky Riot Fest contingent. Speaking of which …

NOFX? Yeah, those guys are dicks

Failure wasn’t finished for more than five seconds on the Riot Stage when NOFX took the neighboring Roots Stage and frontman Fat Mike started berating the shit out of them for sucking. In fact, they wasted a ton of their set with stage banter insulting the crowd and the other bands on the bill, managing to fit their seminal 1994 album Punk In Drublic around it (I haven’t been able to confirm from anyone if they actually played the whole thing as they were supposed to as part of the festival’s “10 Essential Albums” series). But apparently being dicks is their thing, because their fans eat it up (believe me when I say I have decades of experience gathering intel on this matter), so more power to them.

I took off early to get my spot for Mastodon, but I did hear that when they went were in danger of going over their allotted time and told they only had time for one more song, they launched into “The Decline” – yeah, the song that’s its own EP, clocking in at over 18 minutes. When they got cut off early, Fat Mike announced “you’re the first people to hear three-fourths of ‘The Decline.’ See ya later.”

Yeah, with stunts like that, I can see why punks love them.

The other white whale I caught? DESCENDENTS!!!

The first two albums I bought as a University of Iowa student? One was M.O.D.’s U.S.A. for M.O.D. – undoubtedly the best album ever recorded that contain the lyrics “What a fucking beast/Her ass alone would be a feast.” The other was the Descendents’ incredible retrospective Somery. Played it endlessly. Probably my favorite piece of punk rock of all time.

Never got the chance to see them live before. Until Saturday.

As part of the “10 Essential Albums” series … I mean, when I think of the concept of hearing a band play one of its albums from start to finish, my brain expects to hear something like Dark Side of the Moon. Well, the SoCal veterans played their 1982 debut Milo Goes To College. We’re talking about “Myage.” “Suburban Home.” “Bikeage.” Those are some heavy hitters.

But still, yeah, it took all of about 20 minutes. You know what? Not a problem.

Because in reality, it felt like they tore through the majority of Somery. I can’t think of anything I wanted to hear but didn’t (well, except “Sour Grapes,” I guess). I got “Clean Sheets.” “Silly Girl.” “Weinerschnitzel.” “Get The Time.” I was happy.

And they actually sound lo-fi live. That’s not an insult, by the way. Actually, quite the compliment. They were fucking awesome.

A post script that must be documented for generations to come…

Text

My friends? Can drink. A lot. Like Vikings, in fact. That’s selling them short, actually. I mean, you know the tales of Vikings pounding stein after stein of mead at the Festival of the Vernal Equinox? Yeah, well, my boys make those Vikings look like 14-year-old girls trying wine coolers for the first time at a high school kegger.

As the t-shirt says, "Drink Malort or fuck off."

As the t-shirt says, “Drink Malort or fuck off.”

When we got to town on Thursday, we went out for a quick cocktail to start the weekend. Or so I thought, until the bartender brought us a tab 90 minutes later for $280, a Herculean effort in day drinking … and it was only Thursday. In what can only be described as a truly heroic intake of cocktails, Mr. Cool inhaled 12 Miller Lites the way normal people inhale … I don’t know, oxygen? Needed to be seen to be believed.

And T-Dub? He was Don Draper in a pair of Vans with his partaking of the Old Fashioneds . But I think Mr. Draper, the pussy, would’ve needed Mrs. Blankenship to hold his calls all day afterward as he napped on his office couch. For Dub, it was just Friday.

Hey, we were on vacation!

CHRIS

FRIDAY

Fueled up the Equinox. Hit Iowa City. Grabbed pear cider for Denise, my favorite Chicago host; she doesn’t consume gluten, hence the fancy pear juice. Picked up Travis, Annie, and a guy we’ll call, um, “Roger”. Listened to Descendents. Annie hated it, or perhaps just my singing. Avoided the traffic by rolling into Chicago at 2 a.m. Crashed for a few hours. Met Denise for lunch, ate my weight in tortilla chips. Rode in a cab driven by a guy named Lemmy. He ripped us off AND he listened to Backstreet Boys; obviously not the Lemmy of “Ace of Spades” fame.

Rain. Not heavy, but its persistence was characteristic of Chinese water torture. But not nearly as tortuous as the douche canoe behind us as we lined up to get beer tickets. Guy turned a Clash song into his own personal protest song. (“Beer riot! A beer riot! Beer riot! Riot for some beer!”) Yes, I’ve written out the lyrics; no, you can’t understand the fullness of the suck unless you were there. But go ahead, imagine how stupid it sounded. Annie and I played rock/paper/scissors to see who got to kill him, or we should have. Beer selection also sucked. Dos Equis Amber is the best you can do? Or Newcastle Brown Ale? Is an IPA too hipster and/or passe these days? But hey no PBR so hooray.

This was HEAVY FUCKING METAL DAY. So why not start with Gwar. But not too close; I was wearing a snazzy button-down shirt and didn’t feel like wearing “my” poncho to fend off the blood. (“My” is in quotes because it was a borrowed poncho, and I’ll just leave it at that.) Those guys are funny, even if they killed a Robert Smith parody. If the real Robert was on stage, those goofballs wouldn’t step to him, I GUARANTEE IT.

Clutch played next. Think my dad would have dug their set. Seriously. Bluesy, definitely his speed. If you know my dad, you’ll know that I’m not dissing Clutch. They weren’t incredible or anything, but good stuff.

Rain coming harder. Mastodon coming hardest. HOLY SHIT those guys were great. Owned the stage. And we had good spots. Common theme on Friday. Not sure if it was the rain or the workday or the shorter schedule but it wasn’t terribly crowded. This would change.

Biggest conflict of the festival was upon us: Slayer vs. Jane’s Addiction. I hadn’t seen either one before (unless you count Porno for Pyros, but that would be silly). Both were playing landmark albums front-to-back. But this was HEAVY FUCKING METAL DAY, and this was Slayer, and this was Reign in Blood, so really it wasn’t as tough as it first seemed on paper.

Slayer played the song that my wife LOOOOOOOOVES, “Disciple.” Sarcasm, of course. She once yelled at me for listening to it. “On a Sunday, no less!” Hilarious. God hates us all. Played a few more choice tracks, including “War Ensemble,” which made me think of Sam’s air-guitar antics at our first post-college job in M-Town. Kerry King ain’t got shit on Sambob. Then “Angel of Death” to “Raining Blood,” in one fell swoop. Travis and I provided great vocal accompaniment. There’s only one way out of here…PIECEBYPIECE! DO YOU WANNA DIE?!? I HAVE YET ONLY JUST BEGUN TO TAKE YOUR FUCKING LIFE! (devil horn hand gesture!!!!) One person in front of us commented how cute we were or something. Not very metal of her.

The music ends. The line for taxis begins. The rain continues. The cold gets colder. Taxis don’t come for 45 minutes or so before we finally started walking in search of a ride, which we found eight blocks away on Damen. But the wait was divine intervention, perhaps, as we reconvened with Sam and got him back to his hotel safe and sound (unless the cabbie did something impure/unseemly to Sam after we got out). Food run to nearby Walgreens. Muddy footwear left in the hallway. My socks were quarantined to a pocket of my suitcase. Jeans in rough shape but they’re going back on tomorrow. First day done. Fuck yeah.

(My gang hung together for most of Friday, although Denise missed the rainy day entirely thanks to being a responsible job holder and all that. So not much third-person post-script this time. I will say this of our pre-festival shopping trip: H&M has reasonably priced apparel.)

SATURDAY

Denise with us today; no more of that work stuff for her. More direct cab ride to Division. Found some good breakfast eats (read: chocolate chip pancakes) a few blocks from the park. Arrived at Humboldt to find a line longer than Bill Ennis-Inge’s junk (too obscure?) and a lot of bees. Annie and I would duke it out all weekend long to see who would deliver the best bee puns. I would say I won Saturday. Orderly punks seems odd and it didn’t last forever; eventually we swarmed the gates. We missed the Pizza Underground due to the wait. Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, but I would have taken a free slice from Macaulay Culkin.

7 Seconds in a swamp of mud: pretty cool. Buzzcocks on more steady ground: awesome. Television while chilling under some trees about 100 yards from the stage: relaxing.

Left the punk scene and headed over to Riot Stage. Die Antwoord. I’d previously only thought of them in terms of gimmicky nonsense; now I think they’re a lot of fun, at least live. Freaky but I liked them a lot. Still, those haircuts are fucked.

Jeans were struggling at this point. Grabbed some sliders and nachos and found a quite area to feast. Went back to Riot/Roots stage area to watch Wu Tang Clan, who still claim they are nothin’ to fuck wit. I might beg to differ. I mean, I wouldn’t step to them, but the music is not beyond reproach. Left after a few songs, leaving Denise alone to later get dragged through the mud during Metric by some crazed kid. Bag contents strewn about the mud. Figures the one HUGE Metric fan would have to run by D.

I wanted front-row action for Descendents. Sat through the last few songs of Get Up Kids, then swam upstream against the fleeing flock of emo kids to get a spot on right side of stage. Cock Sparrer played on nearby stage; not bad. Milo comes out with backpack, ready to go back to college.

Band spends first 20-some minutes playing Milo Goes to College. Then knocks out probably 15 more songs after that. I sang damn near every word while holding on for dear life. Hadn’t been in crowd action like that in many a year. Couldn’t breathe against the gate a couple of times, still sang my heart out. Inner nerd came flying out with fist pumps galore. “I’m not a cool guy anymore//As if I ever was before.” Milo even came down to the rail so that the fans could sing; found the mic in my face. What fun. Got quite a workout passing crowd surfers over rail to security staff. Felt half my age in the moment but twice my age by night’s end/the next morning…sore as hell. Hardly any voice left; so what.

Despite that, I still sounded better than Danzig did with Samhain, which immediately followed Descendents on nearby stage. Fucker was out of breath by second song, even though he wasn’t being smashed against iron by a crowd of hundreds. They were horrible.

Learned our lesson about waiting around Humboldt for a cab. Walked down Division, grabbed huge slices of pizza, found a cab. Damen is the place to find a cab in that area. Got to Denise’s, threw away jeans. Put on different pants. Annie, Travis, and I hit a bar near Denise’s apartment, first stopping to get some cash and discuss the amazing nature of palindromes. Annie kept referencing “racecar” while I helpfully added “boob” and “tit.” Jukebox was rockin some country…until I played Slayer’s “Postmortem.” One guy across the way nodded in approval. Drunk ladies seemed oblivious. One such lady soon found the floor. I went to play more Slayer but some dude had put in 16 credits and was going to town picking Van Morrison tunes—an upgrade from Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” I suppose, but that seemed to be our cue to GTFO. Back to Denise’s to crash. Second pair of socks quarantined. Still had manic energy from Descendents set but somehow fell asleep. That’s one comfy ass egg cushion on Denise’s sofa sleeper.

(Stuff I missed: everyone else was raving about Flaming Lips; the fact that the power went out early just added to the legendary moment. Travis and Annie got a cool selfie with Wayne in bubble above them. Roger agreed with my Samhain summation: sucked. Annie had a good day catching Orwells, Dandy Warhols, and Tokyo Police Club. Wish I could have worked in Jessica Hernandez and the Deltas.)

SUNDAY

No one was worried about arriving too early. Slept in, grabbed delicious burger at Parlor, which just opened two days prior. Annie built an insurmountable lead in the “bee pun” game; one landed in her mimosa and she quickly observed, “That bee’s sure getting a buzz.” GAME OVER, although she made some other comment later about making a bee-line for something, piling on for good measure. Cabbie was playing King Sunny Ade and Bob Marley on way to Humboldt; our best taxi soundtrack yet. Punks learned to say “fuck waiting in line” or else we just got there late enough that most people were already in the park. Took a piss and prepared for my endurance test. Went over to Riot Stage, where the Cure would be playing to close out the fest, and caught Kurt Vile and the Violators. Set got over around 2:15, I plowed my way to the front rail. I would be staying there until the Cure played the final note of the set at 10:00. No food, no water, no bathroom break. Mind over body. I was about 25 feet from where Robert Smith would be standing so it was mission accomplished as far as I was concerned.

And it’s not like I just stood there staring at walls for the next five hours. I had great views of Superchunk (fun as hell) and Tegan and Sara (really great set) and Patti Smith (surpassed my expectations). When our stage was quiet, the nearby stage featured the music of Billy Bragg, Naked Raygun, Dropkick Murphys, and Social Distortion (who played a few minutes long and fucked up the Cure’s encore…more on that later). Sam hung out with me during Superchunk and I was surrounded by friendly Cure diehards—I wasn’t the only one willing to sit tight for the entire day. The woman on my right was surprised to learn I was going to stay there through the Cure; she figured with my Paddy cap and Donnelly’s Pub t-shirt, I would be sprinting over to Dropkick Murphys.

I counted five people hauled out of the crowd after passing out for one reason or another. The first one happened right at my feet during Tegan and Sara. Security couldn’t quite reach him, and seeing as many a member of the T&S audience belong to the small teenage female demographic, I had to do some serious heavy lifting to get the guy over the gate. Once again I felt it was proper to chalk it up as even more exercise.

Patti Smith was encouraging an overthrow of pretty much everything in between her rockin’ renditions of her tunes. I was more impressed with the ferocity of her music than the rally cries but whatever. She was not afraid to be confrontational with songs like “Rock n Roll Nigger.” I went into the set thinking it would be an interesting novelty act but I was genuinely impressed. Denise was not impressed. AT ALL. She had worked her way up, getting within about two or three “rows” of me at the front, but the diehards were not letting her through, even after I confirmed that she was with me. I was bummed, but at the same time, I get it.

Cure was supposed to go on at 7:45 but fucking Social D was still playing. They went over by five minutes. Not a big deal, one might say, but it was to us. Anyway, Social D shuts the fuck up finally, fog machine in high gear, intro music from the Wish era comes over speakers, the lads come out, and I swear to fucking god Robert locks eyes with me momentarily and gives me a hint of a nod. I know I sound 14 instead of 40 with that sentence but it’s an honest assessment of the moment so I’m sticking with it.

What is undisputed: I’m in the front row at a Cure show.

The first half of the set was really nice. “Open” led into “Fascination Street.” The latter is the one song I recorded on my phone; the video below will give you a glimpse of my view. And yeah, you can hear my finest Robert Smith singing voice on this vid.

One of my favorite “album tracks,” “Push” from The Head on the Door, was played fourth, followed by the sing-along keyboard line in “Play for Today” and the simple-yet-ominous tones of “A Forest.” As you can hear around 10:22 of the embedded video below, I unleashed a timely scream of “SIMON!!!!” just before he plays the closing notes of “A Forest.” I knew I gave it a good belt, confirmed by being picked up by some other guy’s video.

Simon Gallup is age-defying; at 54 he has more energy than rockers half his age. It’s no wonder I once named my cat after him, because he rules. (So did my cat…RIP.)

The second half of the set featured a few of the overly poppy songs that I enjoy (“Close to Me,” “The Walk”) and some that I could do without (“Mint Car,” “Friday I’m in Love”) but it’s a festival so there’s no sense brooding about not hearing 23 deep cuts. And truth be told, the pop songs are quite good but just not my favorite side of the Cure. But toward the end we got “One Hundred Years,” which is as punishing as pretty much anything played throughout the festival.

So the band finishes “End” right at 10:00. Robert says thank you (or, you know, “Q!”) and then looks at us and shrugs and walks off. Photo of the setlist reveals that they were going to come back out and play a one-song, four-minute encore: “Give Me It,” a great song from The Top that would have satisfied the diehards, but NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, fucking Social D had to run long and fuck it up, since Chicago has a very strict noise ordinance that cuts off the music at 10:00. Lot of whining from fans around me, mainly because they didn’t get to hear “Boys Don’t Cry,” which it turns out they weren’t going to play anyway. Ha. Still, while not the perfect setlist, the performance was top-notch and my front row spot was amazing. Worth not consuming or excreting anything for eight hours.

Stopped at the same pizza joint from the night before. Left my knapsack there…goodbye awesome gray Paddy cap. Would have cost three times the retail value to take a cab there and back, as I only realized the loss once we were back at Denise’s. Third pair of socks quarantined. Lou Mitchell’s breakfast in the morning before returning to our Iowa reality.

(Stuff I missed: the gang applauded Primus. Annie and Denise enjoyed Weezer. Denise HATED Patti Smith—did I mention that already? It needs to be noted twice. HATED HER. Dropkick Murphys made people happy.)

My top 5 of the weekend:

5. Die Antwoord

4. Mastodon

3. Slayer

2. The Cure

1. Descendents

Honorable mention to Buzzcocks and Patti Smith.

If this mega-sized version of Riot Fest irons out some wrinkles (the park layout was horrible; a couple of scheduling conflicts seemed unforgivable), I think I’d go to this as long as I’m physically able (and as long as my wife keeps letting me go to these things). Maybe I can make it long enough that The Next Generation could go with me…a dad can dream.

(Jump back up to Sam’s recap)

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Record Store Day Returns Along With My Music Hoarding Habit

Record Store Day 2014This weekend marks the return of the annual Record Store Day. As luck would have it, I recently started buying vinyl albums. While collecting vinyl is new to me, the act of collecting music is not. I’ve owned music in pretty much every format over the years but I was a bit too young to ever actually own my own records as a kid. Growing up in the ‘80s, I jumped right into the cassette tape era. My first tape (Men at Work, Cargo) was a present for my 8th or 9th birthday. I can’t remember which; these things tend to get a bit fuzzy as of late.

What I do remember is the joy of actually owning a physical copy my favorite band’s recording.

Men at Work Cargo

The tape that started it all

That’s right, for a short period in 1983, Men at Work was my favorite band. So what?!
“Settle Down and Eat Your Peas and Gravy, My Boy.” What lyrics!
“This is the story of Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jive.”  What imagination!

Not all of my cassettes were the proper studio pre-packaged release. Most of my tapes were homemade mixes filled with songs recorded from the radio. They didn’t have lyrics sheets or cool covers but it was still a physical possession. Plus, there was an enormous amount of fun that went along with my secret cassette naming and cataloging schemes. Only I could know that OMD’s “If You Leave” was on Side B of the tape labeled Radio Goo Goo Ga Ga. It was the song after Paul Hardcastle’s “19” but right before “Somebody’s Watchin’ Me” by Rockwell.

Whether it was cassettes in the ‘80s or CDs in the ‘90s I truly enjoyed the music collecting process. I loved it all, especially the anticipation of the trip to the music store. A lot of forethought went into these trips. This is a typical example of the pre-trip deliberations going on in my head or with friends:

Q: Are you going to buy Led Zeppelin I or II?

A: I like more songs on Led Zeppelin II.

Q: Aren’t you kind of tired of it though? You’ve been listening to my copy a lot lately.

A: Ok, Led Zeppelin I it is.

Q: What if the store doesn’t have Led Zeppelin I?

A: Well, then maybe I’ll have to look at the new Cult album with “Fire Woman” on it.

Q: That’s a great song! Any other good songs on that album?

A: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just stick with Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti is awesome.

Q: That’s a double disc. You have enough money?

A: Ooh. No. Well maybe I’ll get that Love and Rockets album. You know, the really good one.

Q: Earth, Sun, Moon. Yeah that’s great. You can almost never find that one in the store though. What if they don’t have it?

Recent Record Store Score, Led Zeppelin ll

Recent Record Store Score, Led Zeppelin ll

And on and on and on, until the fateful day that I made it to the music store and all that planning went completely out the window when I bought the last copy of Alice Cooper’s Trash album because they played the song “Poison” over the store’s overhead speakers.

The process was easier in the early 2000s as I got older and my musical tastes matured along with my wallet. It wasn’t unheard of for me to walk out of the store with 3-4 CDs. I often stuck to the old adage, “Something old (Al Green, Greatest Hits), something new (Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin), something borrowed (Used copy of The Sugarcubes, Stick Around For Joy) and something blue (John Coltrane, Blues Train.)

Things went on smoothly like this until I started relying more and more on my computer and iPod for entertainment. Pretty soon, I had any song in the world available to me. Complete discographies of forgotten artists could be on my hard drive in the click of a mouse. That’s when a different form of music collecting took over my life. I was a full on file hoarder. No amount of MP3s could satisfy my hunger. I downloaded album upon album of songs that I’ve still never listened to. If I ever feel a need to visit the collected works of Thin Lizzy, I can. That day probably won’t come but… you never know. Every now and then, I think that I should spend some time and clean up my disc drives but I can’t ever seem to delete many files. That copy of Everclear, So Much for the Afterglow isn’t hurting anything in there. I’ll probably never play it but again…you never know.

Up until last year, I still had many of my old CDs, cassette tapes and even a few albums I picked up along the way from friends and family.

MoSS? Todd digging for records at Vinyl Renaissance in Kansas City.

MoSS? Todd digging for records at Vinyl Renaissance in Kansas City.

Mostly, these items just collected dust in my basement. I had an old turntable but ended up giving it away to a relative in need. Knowing this info, my mother bought me a new turntable as an early Xmas present. I had a pretty good time spinning my old records but didn’t really think about collecting again. On a whim, I stopped into an old record store, actually it was the very store I used to buy all of my CDs back in the 90s. I asked the guy at the counter if they had any vinyl. He chuckled and waved his arms like Vanna White, drawing my attention to the entire store.

“Look around you, man. We have vinyl everywhere. Old. New. Whatever you want.”

He was right. They had it all. Before I knew it, I had spent an hour digging through record shelves and I was holding a stack of albums both new and used. The rest of the day I had an oddly pleasant feeling rooted back to my record store experience. I’d forgotten how fun it could be searching through the bins for anything that piqued my interest. I’d forgotten the excited feeling you get after you leave the store with your purchases. I’d forgotten how I always removed the items from the bag as soon as I got in my car and looked over the album cover and read the liner notes. Something had been awakened inside of me.

Digging

MoSS? Todd and MoSS? Todd Junior digging at Kiss the Sky Records in Batavia, IL

In the months since then, I’ve made multiple trips to different record stores. If I’m ever going to be out of town, I frequently look online the day before I leave to see if there are any stores in the area. In my travels, I’ve found that there are basically 3 types of stores:

1. The stores that have used albums at a decent price and sell new albums at ridiculously high prices.
2. The stores that have new albums at a decent price and sell used albums at ridiculously high prices.
3. The stores that reek of incense or patchouli and sell everything at a decent price.

All three types of store can suit your album collecting needs depending on what you are after. My favorite store is type #3. I prefer purchasing quantity over quality and have a high tolerance level for overpowering fragrances designed to mask the smell of the “sticky icky.”

Now to be clear, I’m not one of those hardcore audiophile weirdos. Many of the albums I buy are less than perfect. I don’t minds a few pops and hisses. The imperfections can actually make the listening experience a bit more enjoyable. I also don’t that think the MP3 is inferior or that vinyl is the one true audio format. I love technology as much or more than the next guy. My wireless SONOS system probably gets more use that my record player. Sometimes you can’t beat the ease and versatility of digital formats.

With Record Store Day 2014 is coming up this weekend, maybe this would be a good time for many of you readers out there to pop into your local record store (if you can find one) and dip your toe into the album collecting pool. (I really can’t recommend The War On Drugs, Lost in the Dream enough. Great sound on vinyl.) Like me, that one visit could be the spark that ignites an album buying habit you though had long been burnt out.

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #4

Yep, we’ve made a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

We’ve reached the really good stuff: our top 10s. We’ll roll these out one per day (Monday-Friday) over the next two weeks, reaching #1 on Friday, Dec. 14. The following week, we’ll unveil our favorite music from 2012.

Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #4: The xx, xx

(click play button below to sample this album)

xx coverI thought I’d list all the things I was doing when I was 20: playing video games in my dorm room, working a few hours a week in a Northern Iowa computer lab, killing time before I transferred to a school that offered a real journalism degree.

Let’s see, what else…I already mentioned video games…I was really good at those Sega Genesis hockey games. One of my friends, I’d play against him with my net empty and still beat him. Not as impressive as my friend Jim, who beat someone at Tecmo Super Bowl without running a single offensive play, but still…

What I wasn’t doing: getting together with three of my fellow 20-year-old friends and recording an album that sounds like the work of the most senior of souls. An album that intertwines the simplest of notes with the voices of boy-girl back-and-forth to make something ever so seductive. I wish this album had been around when I was 20; I could have used it in my attempts to “hunker down” with the ladies. Probably would have worked better than throwing on the first Violent Femmes album or whatever dumb/sensitive move I was prone to make.

Seriously, when I was 20, my lone attempts at making music involved trying to sing the songs from Alice in Chains’ Sap EP while my roommate played the acoustic guitar, or the time me and two buddies knocked out some song called “Lighter” which was about, erm, not being able to find a lighter. It had a bit of early Rolling Stones influence, perhaps a bit of Talking Heads or Television, matched up with some early R.E.M. or something…wait, no, it was none of those things. It was a Casio keyboard and some form of percussion and the aforementioned lyrics about a missing lighter.

Meanwhile, these four (at the time, before Baria was booted from the band) 20-year-olds put out the best debut album ever. Equal parts gorgeous gloom and sensuality to spare. I’m not sure which element of the xx sound is more vital: the guitar tone that fills the room without a flurry of notes and without loud effect, or the heart-melting voice of Romy Madley Croft. (These two elements are on display in the songs “Shelter” and “Night Time,” the second and third songs in my sampler above.)

There’s something about those echo/chorus/whatever-drenched guitar notes that cause them to hit me right in the pleasure region of my brain. Something about the tone, which seems a good match for the dark vibe of the overall song. Or perhaps because I love the way such a minimalist approach yields such great payoff.

And Romy’s voice…did I mention that yet? I think it’s safe to say it’s one of my favorite voices in music history: the hush, the whisper, the sorrow, the longing, the sweetness, the sighs. For someone who looks a little bit like an early-era Robert Smith (before the hair got crazy), she’s got one hell of a beautiful voice.

(And to be fair, she’s actually pretty cute. Seeing her in concert was an experience. So polite, so unassuming, so appreciative of the adoring audience at First Avenue. I wish I were still at the show.)

Although the album is a very cohesive, singular statement, there’s enough variety here that it isn’t just a 39-minute drone. A faster pace is set with songs like “Intro” (which was featured in that AT&T commercial with Apolo Anton Ohno), “Crystalised,”  and my favorite xx song thus far, “Islands” (which features a brilliant video that I’ll embed below).

That beat. The guitar line that is joined by that slinky bass line. Those four-note blasts of bass, both from Oliver Sim’s stringed instrument and Jamie xx’s producer’s table. And the lyrical content…well, I have my own interpretation, and it’s kinda heartbreaking. I see no reason to share my thoughts, as I’d rather you listen to the words and watch the video and draw your own conclusion. Bottom line: so. fucking. good.

The band can get a little quirky and drop references to HBO programming (“VCR”), throw down some good ol’ hand-clapping pop tunes (“Heart Skipped a Beat,” “Basic Space”), allow the low end to take center stage (“Fantasy,” the tail end of the album closer “Stars,” which practically blew a hole in my chest at First Avenue), and get dark and intense (“Infinity,” “Shelter,” “Night Time”).

The music can work for people madly in love. It can work for people who are experiencing heartbreak. It can work for people holding out hope for happiness. It can work for people wanting to dance around the room (at times, anyway). It can work at the gym. It can work on a road trip. It can work as background music. It can work as just about anything.

For something so simple, it is incredibly versatile and mature. That’s why after just three years of existence, I put this as my #4 album of all time…and I’m not sure it’s peaked yet.

Todd’s #4: The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

(click play button below to sample this album)

yoshimiQuestion…Can a record about a Japanese girl fighting evil pink robots be any good?
Answer…Hells yeah! If the record is The Flaming Lips’ album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Were you thinking of another album about a Japanese girl ridding the planet of pink robot evil-doers?

Well actually, only the first few songs follow the theme of robots that develop emotions and attempt to destroy us all.

The first song “Fight Test” is nice little song that sets the tone for the album. If you think it sounds familiar that’s because apparently they consciously or unconsciously stole the melody from the Cat Stevens’ song “Father and Son.” I can sort of hear it, but come on dude, let it go. He actually sued them and won the case. He gets royalties from it now. Didn’t he give up his wealth when he changed his name and went all Muslim on everyone? I guess ol’ Yusuf needed a cash infusion. Anyways, “Fight Test” sets the seen for a fight to come between man and machine where the first stance of man is one of pacifism.

I thought I was smart – I thought I was right
I thought it better not to fight – I thought there was a
Virtue in always being cool – so when it came time to
Fight I thought I’ll just step aside and that time would
Prove you wrong and that you would be the fool

The next song, “One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21”, continues the weirdness as robots come to life and develop emotions…they are sad (tear).

Unit three thousand twenty one is warming
Makes a humming sound, when its circuits
Duplicate emotions, and a sense of coldness detaches
As it tries to comfort your sadness,
One more robot learns to be something more than
A machine, when it tries the way it does, make it seem
Like it can love

Song three, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 1” brings us the first appearance of our heroine Yoshimi.

Her name is Yoshimi
She’s a black belt in karate
Working for the city
She has to discipline her body

Clearly, she can kick some ass. The townsfolk plead for help..

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots defeat me

This leads to the epic battle in the fourth song “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 2”, which is an instrumental song mixed in with the screeching, squealing, fighting sounds of Yoshimi. Mostly, it sounds like she is doing something much more pleasurable than fighting robots. Until the end that is, where it sounds like she is being gutted with a citrus zester. The robot fighting theme ends there. After that, The Lips delve into a lot of other heady material mixed in with their wonderfully bizarre and beautiful music.

Quite often I associate albums with a season of the year. Al Green and Joy Division are normally autumn albums while Pixies and The Clash usually get played in the winter. Yoshimi is solidly placed in the “Summertime Albums” category.

Could it be that there is a song on it called “It’s Summertime”?…Maybe.

Could it be because I bought Yoshimi in the early summer of 2003 and didn’t stop listening to it until winter 2004?… Maybe.

Could it be that when I hear the sunny sounding songs like “Do You Realize?” and “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell” all I can think of is lazy Sunday drives with my wife in my new truck (I loved that damn truck. I had to sell it when we had kids a year later) and her wearing gloriously short shorts in the seat next to me?… Definitely.

livewireI don’t have any memories prior to us having kids together that are better than those. We would hop in the truck, grab some orange soda (Mountain Dew LiveWire to be exact. We both may have had a small chemical dependency for whatever they put in LiveWire that summer. It was the devil’s nectar. It tastes so sweet and gives you that extra boost of energy to get you through the day. Unfortunately, it had like 42000 calories per can or something like that. Basically, if I wanted to keep my svelte physique, I had to put down the LiveWires), put Yoshimi in the CD player and drive around looking at houses that we couldn’t afford.

I still play Yoshimi a few times every summer. Usually while on the treadmill or on a family road trip. The wife and I don’t get too many lazy Sunday drives alone anymore, but Yoshimi and drives with the kids can be nice too. Plus, if the car breaks down we just let the kiddos drink a few LiveWires and they can pull us home.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

#30-21

#20-16

#15-11

#10

#9

#8

#7

#6

#5

MoSS? Presents… The Undisputed Top Albums Ever, #30-21

Yep, we’re making a list. Two separate lists, actually, so the above graphic is a bit misleading. Accounting for the limited overlap in Todd’s and Chris’ lists, it’s more like the top 174 or something like that.

Anyway, after months of scientific analysis, hours of listening and re-listening to albums from years gone by, we have arrived at a definitive list of the top albums ever recorded. Our research is not open to interpretation, but you’re more than welcome to complain about the fact that your favorite albums aren’t on this list; we’ll simply respond by telling you that your favorite records aren’t really all that good.

Here are some spoilers: you’re not going to find the typical hipster stuff like Neutral Milk Hotel or Slint or even stuff one/both of us actually likes such as DJ Shadow or Pavement. This isn’t Rolling Stone so you’re not going to find Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Pet Sounds at the top. Wham’s Make It Big was snubbed.

We’re not going to roll it all out at once; no sense rushing through all this quality music! But Music or Space Shuttle? is gonna be pretty busy over the next two months.

That’s enough of an intro. Let’s get on with it…

Chris’ #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Interpol, Antics

29. School of Seven Bells, Alpinisms

28. Vampire Weekend, Contra

27. Prince and the Revolution, Purple Rain

26. The White Stripes, Elephant

25. The Cure, The Head on the Door

24. Nirvana, In Utero

23. The Radio Dept., Pet Grief

22. Crystal Castles, Crystal Castles (a.k.a. II)

21. Pink Floyd, The Wall

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#27: Prince & the Revolution, Purple Rain

cover for Purple RainCan you recite the opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy”?

Of course you can. My co-worker Tom (the one who writes) prides himself on it. Every now and then we’ll talk about music and somehow, either through my prompt or his way of steering the conversation, he’ll rattle them off (often double-timing it just to show how awesome he is):

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today to get through this thing called “life”
Electric word, life; that means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell ya, there’s something else:
The afterworld
A world of neverending happiness
You can always see the sun
Day
Or night
So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one
Dr. Everything’ll Be All Right
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby
Cause in this life, things are much harder than the afterworld
This life…you’re on your own

(I realized after I typed that up that I didn’t use the letter “U” every time the word “you” is used. Or the numeral 2 instead of the word “to.” An oversight for which I have no apology.)

If John Lennon had been alive in 1984 and heard this opening track, he would have turned to Yoko and said, “Did you hear the way that guy in purple started off his new album? Much cooler than ‘I dig a pygmy by Charles Hawtrey and the Deaf-Aids! Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats,’ innit?”

“Let’s Go Crazy” is one of the three 45RPM records I have from Purple Rain; I didn’t even own the album in its entirety for probably two years after its release. I had a third of it already, along with the sweet b-sides like “Erotic City” (they say “fuck” on that one, Tipper!). I also had “When Doves Cry,” the song that occasionally prompts a re-enactment of the video in my office to the chagrin of my officemate. (I’ve got that crawling-across-the-floor move down.) And he might refute it now, but I clearly remember my dad coming downstairs while I was listening to my records and asking, “What Prince songs do you have?” I showed him Doves and Crazy, he frowned, then said, “So you don’t have the ‘Purple Rain’ song?” After my next trip to Pamida, I did. “Purple Rain”: kid tested, dad approved.

I really had no interest in getting the album as a whole until I heard about “Darling Nikki” and all its lyrical glory. Not from my friends or the older kids in the neighborhood or at school; no, I read a big article in the Des Moines Register about the PMRC and Tipper Gore and the attempts to keep the smut out of the hands of kids. All because Tipper heard the “masturbating with a magazine” line in “Nikki” and lost her shit. Before long, Washington wives were making a list of the “Filthy Fifteen” (which included “She Bop” by Cyndi Lauper*) and dudes like Dee Snider and Frank Zappa were testifying before Congress. But it was John Denver who put it best in his testimony: “That which is denied becomes that which is most desired, and that which is hidden becomes that which is most interesting. Consequently, a great deal of time and energy is spent trying to get at what is being kept from you.” Yep, as soon as I read about all of this nonsense, I couldn’t wait to get the whole album.

And it was a good thing, as I discovered a treasure trove of later singles that I hadn’t bought on 45 like “Take Me With U” and great album cuts like “Baby I’m A Star.” And much to Tipper’s disappointment, I never became a depraved sex fiend after hearing “Darling Nikki” and I didn’t join the occult after listening to Slayer and I didn’t kill myself after listening to Suicide and I didn’t kill any cops after listening to Body Count or Ice-T or N.W.A.

But I loved this Prince album. Still do.

(* – “She Bop” was flagged for masturbation references. Masturbation was the furthest thing from my mind whenever I heard/saw Cyndi Lauper.)

#22: Crystal Castles, II

album cover for Crystal Castles IITwo years ago, I came down with some strain of flu (avian, swine, whatever) and found myself lying listless for about a week straight. I was too tired to read, too woozy to get out and about…I couldn’t even play video games, which was a red flag that something was definitely wrong.

So how did I spend all that recovery time? Listening to an album with songs called “Fainting Spells,” “Suffocation,” “Violent Dreams,” and “Pap Smear.” And finding my favorite album of 2010 in the process.

The band that had the coolest 8-bit sound around, quite evident on the eponymous debut that came out two years previous, suddenly decided to take the tunes in a shoegaze direction (with an electronic twinge, of course). And it was beautiful. Songs like “Celestica” and “Suffocation” (despite the gloomy title) soared thanks to Alice Glass’ actual singing (!!!) and the keyboard chords created by Ethan Kath. No longer were these two relying solely on piercing, mutated screams and Donkey Kong samples to create art. (Although that was cool too.)

Whether it was the thumping beat and impassioned howls of “Baptism” or the shrewd use of a Sigur Ros sample in “Year of Silence” or the whirling whiplash of “Pap Smear” (I know, these aren’t the most appetizing titles, but the songs themselves aren’t 1/1000th as nauseating as songs bearing benign titles like “Moves Like Jagger” or whatever geeks like One Direction call their songs) or the brilliant use of Robert Smith vocals on “Not in Love.” For people yearning for the chaos of the first album, there are cuts like “Doe Deer” and “Fainting Spells.” “Intimate” provides the dance-floor crowd something to devour, and, um, weirdos everywhere could rally around the generally spaced-out “I Am Made of Chalk.”

There’s something sinister about each of these songs; sometimes it’s evident, sometimes not. Even the gorgeous “Celestica” has a dark side: the song was inspired by an incident at a Celestica plant (it’s a plastics company in Canada, apparently) where an employee fell into a boiling vat and died.

On that note, I hope you all catch swine flu and spend a week listening to this masterpiece.

Todd’s #30-21

(click play button below to sample these 10 albums)

30. Jane’s Addiction, Nothing’s Shocking

29. Arcade Fire, The Suburbs

28. Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

27. Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

25. Beastie Boys, Check Your Head

24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

23. The Shins, Chutes Too Narrow

22. The Flaming Lips, The Soft Bulletin

21. Depeche Mode, Violator

A CLOSER LOOK AT…

#26. Prince and the Revolution, Parade

This was the first Prince album that I ever got. Not to say it was the first I’d ever listened to. I had dubbed copies of other Prince albums from my older brother who was a big fan. Parade was the first one that I actually went to the store and picked out. My parents let my brother and me each pick out something from the music section at the local Target store. This was a rare occasion so I took a rather long time deliberating over many options. I believe at one point I had three tapes picked out and had the plastic security doohickeys around my wrist.

Remember those things? So many times I remember perusing the music bins of Musicland or Disc Jockey spinning one of those around my wrist as I looked. I sort of miss going to record stores. It made the album selection process more important. If you were going to leave the house, find a record store and then plop down the majority of your hard earned cash on an album, you wanted it to be good. Not just one or two songs good and the rest crap. Believe me, I bought a ton of those over the years.

I’m pretty sure my brother picked his tape right off. He chose INXS, Listen Like Thieves. (In itself a great album that I briefly considered putting on this list. Unfortunately, it did not meet all the strict requirements to make the final cut) Based upon his aggravated looks and comments, I’m sure my brother was getting pretty annoyed with me because I couldn’t make up my mind. Around my wrist I had:

Peter Gabriel, So. (Great album that made this list at #37)

Pet Shop Boys, Please (Good album but never considered for this list)

Prince and the Revolution, Parade (So incredibly good that it should be on everyone’s list)

Apparently, I was shopping exclusively in the P’s section of the store. After flip flopping on my decision for twenty minutes or so, my brother made the decision easy. He looked at my selections and said “It’s not that hard. That’s dumb (Peter Gabriel), that’s stupid (Pet Shop Boys), and that’s Prince. Put that other shit back and let’s go.” So that’s what I did. I just needed a little push in any direction. If he would have said Peter Gabriel was the better choice I probably would have taken that one home.

Prince turned out to be the right choice as I learned later. I ended up getting both of those other tapes at subsequent visits to the store. Parade got way more plays on my boombox. Is there a lesson here? Yes. Two lessons.

Lesson 1: Listen to your older siblings. They may seem like they’re being jerks sometimes but they are actually secretly looking out for you.

Lesson 2: “That’s dumb, that’s stupid, that’s Prince.” Words to live by.

#24. Pixies, Trompe le Monde

Back when I was in high school, I would spend my Sunday nights not going to bed early and preparing for a new week at school, but instead staying up late listening to a radio station broadcasting from the middle of a corn field near Muscatine, Iowa. Specifically, a show called “Off the Beaten Track.” They played all kinds of early alternative and college rock. I heard many of my all time favorite bands for the first time listening to that show. The DJs were Mary of the Heartland and some dude named Roberto. (Roberto will come into play in some of the upcoming album blurbs.) I used to put a fresh cassette tape in my radio/tape player/CD player and listen as long as I could until I fell asleep. The next day I would rewind the tape and listen to what I missed.

After the show, they would premiere a newly released record in its entirety. I could catch most of that on the same tape if I stayed up late enough to flip it over. It was a great way to get a new album for free if you had the time and a crap ton of blank tapes. On one of those nights, they played The Pixies, Trompe le Monde. It was the first Pixies album that I’d ever heard. From the start of the title track I was confused and blown away at the same time. Was it punk? Was it surfer rock? The next song “Planet of Sound” played more like a metal song with Black Francis’ screaming vocals. The next song, “Alec Eiffel”, went back to surfer-punk, well kind of, because they sneak in a keyboard part at the end. Then, they really confused me by throwing in a cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain song “Head On.”  They were all over the map and I loved it. And I didn’t even have to buy it!

I still have a weird reaction when I listen to the last song “The Navajo Know.”  My tape cut off right in the middle.

Upon construction
there is the Mohawk
his way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
skywalk
some people say that
[click]…

Years later, I bought Trompe le Monde on CD. For quite awhile, I would still expect the song to end at that point. It took me a long time not to anticipate the abrupt ending. At least I finally got to hear the last of the lyrics and learn “what some people say.”

some people say that…

the Navajo know
a way of walking
quite high above the ground
fearless of looking down
oh no.

Previous installments:

#100-91

#90-81

#80-71

#70-61

#60-51

#50-41

#40-31

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Some content on this page was disabled on May 7, 2016 as a result of a DMCA takedown notice from PRS for Music. You can learn more about the DMCA here:

https://en.support.wordpress.com/copyright-and-the-dmca/

Surviving the New Music Wasteland 3: A New Hope

For a few glorious years in the mid 90’s, the music I liked was considered popular music. I had no trouble finding out about new bands because they were actually being played on the radio. It was a golden age, but as Ponyboy once said, “Nothing Gold Can Stay”. (Man, those Greasers sure knew their Frost poems).

Slowly things began to change. I didn’t notice at first but there were warning signs. Eventually in the late ’90s and early 2000s radio stations were only playing carbon copied pop stars and awful post grunge rock bands. So I turned off the radio and wandered aimlessly through a period I called “The New Music Wasteland”. Good new music was so hard to find that I just gave up.

I spent my time rediscovering music that I already loved or did my homework on bands that I had always wanted to listen to. This would usually send me into 3-4 month obsessive periods where I would listen only to one artist or band. That meant all works by the band, including all side projects and solo recordings. It was a grueling effort and people within earshot of me tended to get a bit irritated. (By month 2 of my obsession with The Clash, my wife answered their question of ”Should I Stay or Should I Go?” with a resounding “Get the hell out and take Big Audio Dynamite I and II with you”.)

Of course, this cycle can only go on for so long. I was deep into a Pixies overdose and about to cook up a gigantic Frank Black speedball when I looked at myself in the mirror and thought, “There’s got to be a better way!” So I went cold turkey. There just had to be some decent new music out there and I would have to force myself to find it.

After a few days of Pixies detox, I went to my upstairs office PC. We’d had the computer for a year or more but it had mostly been used for email and checking porn scores…I mean sports porn…I mean…well, you know what I mean. So I sat down at the computer and brought up Windows Media Player. It instantly brought up the last thing I had listened to which just happened to be a Pixies/Frank Black/Breeders playlist. Not wanting to fall back into old habits I quickly deleted the playlist. Easy, Todd! One step at time.

Next I tried to find some completely innocuous music to play. Something entertaining but something that wouldn’t send me into another 3 month tailspin of research and investigation. That’s when I saw the Media Guide tab on the Windows player. I’d never noticed the tab before so I clicked on it. One of the options in the media guide was “Internet Radio”. Interesting. Radio on the Internet? How futuristic. There was a list of stations with any genre of music you could think of from Adult Contemporary to Urban/R&B and stuck in the middle was Indie Rock.

I clicked on one of the channels and was blown away. The artist and song title were listed on the screen. You didn’t have sit around and wait for a DJ to come on and recap the playlist. The first song I heard was by a band unknown to me at the time The Shins. The song was “Girl on the Wing”.

Needless to say I was hooked in right there. I spent the next few hours bouncing between radio stations and Napster (FYI, I only used Napster to preview music. I totally went out and bought the material later. Seriously, I’m not lying. What? OK, fine. SOMETIMES I just downloaded the music for free and didn’t go out and buy it. Sue me. Oh shit! No. Please don’t sue me)

I found plenty of other great songs like The Flaming Lips “Race for the Prize”. I was aware of The Flaming Lips mainly from their odd little song “She Don’t Use Jelly” from the early 90’s. Check out their bizarre appearance on 90210. They sing “She Don’t Use Jelly” at the world famous Beverly Hills hot spot The Peach Pit After Dark. Make sure you hang in until the 50 second mark so you can see Steve Sanders awkwardly rocking out. Cracks me up every time.

The Lips completely changed their musical direction with the album The Soft Bulletin featuring “Race for the Prize”  and I loved it.

The album I ran across that got the most air time afterwards was probably Ben Folds’ 1st solo album Rockin’ the Suburbs. Like the Flaming Lips I was familiar with his previous work. The Ben Folds 5 (The name gets extra cool points since there was only 3 of them) had a few records out in the 90’s but I was never a big fan. I kind of got burned out on their song “Brick”. The new solo record was different. It was one of those rare albums that I could just play the whole way through and never have to skip over any sucky songs. Rockin’ the Suburbs didn’t have a single stinker on it.

I liked it so much that I dragged my wife with me to Kansas City where we stood outside in the rain for hours to watch him perform. We came home with walking pneumonia and a sweet Rockin’ the Suburbs concert T-Shirt.

So I must give thanks to Bill Gates and technology in general for giving me new hope and showing me the path to escape  “The New Music Wasteland”.  Since then I’ve discovered many other new music sources and haven’t had any major Pixies or Clash related music relapses. That’s right. Clash free. I just got my 10 year chip. One day at a time.