Saturday, December 20, 2014

I was on the radio once

As you know or might not know, I was on the radio once upon a time in college. To get on the air, you had to take the Radio Practicum class. You were given a two-hour shift where you played the college/indie rock programmed by the music director. It was almost like a real commercial radio station. 

One of the conditions of the class was that you had to tape yourself on air. Every time something was to be announced - a song title, the weather, a PSA - it had to be recorded so it could be critiqued by the professor (also GM of the station) and all of the other students. 

I still happen to have a cassette tape of that from April 2001. I also happen to have a tape deck and the correct cable to hook it up to the line-in jack on my computer. I also happen to be really fucking bored on a Saturday night...

It wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be, having only been on the air once a week for two months or so. The first PSA reading features a bonus cough. 

Almost 18 months later I had the opportunity to have my own show with my own music, Saturday nights (technically Sunday mornings) from 12AM-2AM. I called the show Total Radio Anarchy. (It was not.)

My voice definitely became more confident, and being as I knew the music better, I had more to say about it. However, I sound like I'm on speed. (I was not on speed.) 

I feel like this is the last (latest) surviving tape of my radio show. The more I was on the air, the less I felt I needed to record myself every week. I wasn't actually that good, mind you, I just knew deep down inside that no one was listening anyways. 

Because I know you're dying to know what I played on a radio show 12 years ago... here's the setlist from the first hour:

Pink Floyd - Time
Everclear - The Swing
Bloodhound Gang - Lift Your Head Up High (And Blow Your Brains Out)
Prodigy - Smack My Bitch Up
Disturbed - Liberate
Dr. Dre - Ackrite
Radiohead - True Love Waits
Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody
Local H - Keep Your Girlfriend
Blink-182 - All The Small Things
Dashboard Confessional - Remember to Breathe
Wasp - Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)

Personally, I think playing commercial music on a college radio station was kind of subversive. But that's just me. 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Concert Review: Sturgill Simpson, 12/5/14

See that $12.50 price? Unless Sturgill Simspon is the second coming of Fugazi, that price is going up next time. 

Last time Sturgill Simpson played Turner Hall Ballroom maybe 100 people showed up. This time – through word of mouth, a handful of national television appearances, and (according to a Facebook post) even a busload of people that came down from Appleton – the place was pretty much sold out. Last time the boys in the band had to sell merch out of a cardboard box after the show. This time a table was set up before the show started. And last time, Sturgill Simpson had just released the fantastic Metamodern Sounds in Country Music to some minor critical hype and nothing else. This time, he was just nominated for a Grammy.

One might think something would change with all that extra fame, but one would be wrong in thinking that.

“I don't even know what Americana is,” Sturgill said between songs, acknowledging his Grammy nomination, “but I'll take that over country any fuckin' day!” The crowd roared and hooted and hollered in approval. It is hard to pinpoint Sturgill's sound – and neither Americana nor Country do it proper justice – but 70s Outlaw Country is a good place to start. Taking their cues from Waylon, Willie, and the boys, Sturgill Simpson and his awesome backing band delivered a scorching 95-minute set that had everything from straight-up country (“Long White Line”), to blistering honky-tonk (“Railroad of Sin”) to spirituals (“A Little Light”).

If that wasn't enough, the band veered dangerously close to Southern Rock in general and Allman Brothers Band in particular on a couple of numbers wherein the boys just jammed out. (This lends credence to calling Simpson's music progressive country, but I digress.) This was highlighted by lead guitarist Laur Joamets, who, for lack of better words, can just flat out fucking play. He had no use for rock-star theatrics, though I don't think anyone would've minded a few windmills or epic guitar faces. Instead, we were treated to intricate picking that he made look effortless. It was a joy to watch.

If you wanted to dance, you could – the rhythm section was locked in all night. If you wanted to lose yourself in Simpson's deep, metaphorically complex, and oftentimes dark lyrics (pretty much the entirety of “Living the Dream”) you could do that too. I think this is part of what brought in such a diverse crowd. It was the sort of show where Chuck Taylors mingled with cowboy boots, and there was plaid and flannel as far as the eye could see. And sure, some of those Johnny-and-Jill-come-latelies talked over the slow songs, like the gorgeous sounding, would-be modern country radio hit “The Promise.” But that can be overlooked. The music managed to cut through all of that and hit you right in the heart and brain, all full of good time vibes and stoned thoughts.

Sturgill Simpson and his band (they need a name, I think) left it all on the stage on Friday night. Next time they come to town it'll be a bigger stage, and I have no doubts that they'll have no trouble with that one, either.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Concert Review: Lorde - 9/26/14 - BMO Harris Pavilion

(concerts in the 21st century, amirite?!)

Remember the adage “Dance like nobody's watching?”

On Friday night, before 5,000 or so people, Lorde did precisely that. “Twitchy” is a word I heard describing her show before the performance at the BMO Harris Pavilion. I would say that was spot on, as she danced and swayed and zigged and zagged through 15 solid songs. (Seriously: I cannot get enough of her dancing. She was a cross between Marilyn Manson in “TheBeautiful People” video  (around the 2:54 mark specifically) and Beavis and Butt-head, well, anytime they rocked out.)

Of course, her stage moves weren't the only notable thing about the show.

Lorde was backed up by only two musicians; a keyboardist that looked suspiciously like “Weird Al” Yankovic and a drummer that did not. This served her well as the minimalist instrumentation brought the focus to her voice, which sounded fantastic. Furthermore, it was definitely live, unlike a lot of her her pop star peers.

'Peer' is both a good and a bad word to describe Ms. Yelich-O'Connor as related to other pop stars. On the one hand she has the moves and the mannerisms down. She apparently went to the Mick Foley School of Pandering as she mentioned how much she liked Milwaukee over and over and over again. Cheap pops (applause, for the non-wrestling fanatics) abounded. On the other hand her lyrics are, if not totally deep man at the very least are more thoughtful than what passes as pop music these days. When she sang “I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air” I could sympathize. When she sang “Hey, it’s all cool, I still like hotels, but I think that'll change,” as on “Still Sane,” a song about her newfound fame, I realized this is a girl with her head on straight.

Visually, the show was a stunner. Different songs found Lorde bathed in blues and reds and greys with outfits to match. A few numbers near the end featured these weird smoke bubbles, which led to my wife remarking “I could watch this all day!” Finally, after “Team,” cannons shot out confetti featuring a logo with Lorde's likeness on it.

The music itself was mostly spot-on as far as sounding like the record. It was easy to settle into the steady groove of “Tennis Court,” and other songs followed the same suit. She covered a couple of tunes: the banging “Flashing Lights” by Kanye West, and an effervescent take on Bon Iver's “Heavenly Father.” One of the set highlights came near the end, with an extended/remixed version of “Team.” It was already the most energetic cut from the Pure Heroine LP, but live the backing band jammed out amid synthesized guitar squall, which just washed over me to the point where I could lose myself in the beautiful noise.

Strangely, the Grammy-winning “Royals” was the weakest song of the night. It managed to sound more minimalist than it did on record, and just fell flat. Aside from an admittedly sweet but otherwise yammering (as if a teenager can talk any other way) 10-minute long monologue, that was the only misstep of the night.

I'll admit that I nearly left disappointed because Lorde didn't sing “A World Alone,” but she saved the best for last. It put an exclamation point on an excellent 80-minute set. Through all the shrieking teenage girls, the cell phone illumination, the spazzy dancing, and the confessional lyrics – the kind of stuff that might make one (specifically a 32-year-old male) feel like an outsider – the music brought everyone together. It didn't matter whether you came to the music by losing yourself in it via headphones, or by hearing the latest single on the radio. Lorde might have been singing about “dancing in this world alone,” but on this night every person in the place was dancing with 5,000 of their closest friends. It was proof of the power of pop music, and it was joyous.