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© 2004 The Beast

MUSIC--ART?

REVIEWS: WILCO, The THERMALS



NOT TOO SHABBY

A Sampling of Buff's Summer Music Scene

By Seamus Gallivan


Gallivanting around sunny Buffalo these past two weeks,  I ran into a torrential downpour of great local music, from a mesmerizing muse to some barnstormin’ blues.

                The tour de tunes was book-ended by shows at the Tudor Lounge, beginning with a killer Wednesday gig with Brooklyn-based Breaking Laces in which a solo opening set from Pamela Ryder froze the crowd into pin-dropping silence. “Not too shabby,” offered Tudor patriarch Big John, whose approval is the bar’s highest honor.

                The Music Is Art Festival was a smash, despite relentless work by the pole-up-the-ass Allentown Village Society to shut it down - including the ridiculous threat of moving the Allentown Art Festival. Go right ahead, AVS - let Robby Takac and co. take over the whole weekend, and y’all can take your silly trinkets and watercolor waterfalls to Williamsville, or better yet, all the way back to Eastern Pennsylvania.

                Saturday provided most of the highlights, including the rippin’ instrumental trio the Ron LoCurdo Band and the Michael Lee Jackson Band, the latter offering arguably Buffalo’s most electrifying bassist in Rodney Appleby. Upstarts Blood of Jupiter delivered some compelling hard-drivin’ prog rock. Alison Pipitone - as fluent in Lucindese as anyone - drove Lucinda Williams’ “Change the Locks” onto my Best Breakup Songs list, now battling John Mayall’s “Dirty Water” for third place, behind Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and Gangstarr’s “Ex-Girl to Next Girl.” 

                I later hit Nietzsche’s for a lights-out set by tighter-by-the-minute instrumental wizards Lazlo Hollyfeld, and was hoping to catch pseudointellectual emcee Nick Zero next door at Frank’s, but arrived to find the aspiring hip-hop star with a cock-eyed grin and a missing A-game. “When you goin’ on, Nick,” I asked. “Hopefully never,” he laughed. Gotta love the pseudo-dedication.

                 Back at Music Is Art on Sunday, the highs and lows of the festival were glaring, and they both dealt with vision. Their vision of bringing the community together through music has been made brilliantly clear - the amount of goods and services exchanging hands without money was absolutely astonishing, and the organization was nearly as impressive. But the visions of the average attendee were mostly the tops of guitarists’ heads (for the outdoor sets) and a faint, obstructed look into the studio that rendered many of the performers anonymous. With the band stage tucked into the corner of a down-sloped parking lot, a good view was available to few, making the presence of a large, seemingly underused stage that could be seen from the street quite confusing. But, warts and all, it was a blast that I didn’t want to end—after Rozzy, Anatara, and Johnny Rzeznik closed the show, I stuck around and helped them take the whole shebang down, even after they ran out of beer.

                The great tunes at both regular gigs and festivals continued the next weekend, beginning at the Anchor Bar on Friday with setup and knockdown combo of Jimmy Gomes and the Jazz Example and DoDo Greene. While the Example warms ’em up with dazzling virtuosity, Greene knocks ’em down with more sass than you’d ever give your mama. Remember, folks, wings ain’t the only tradition there - they had live jazz screamin’ of the walls decades before Teressa Bellissimo made that legendary first batch.

                Saturday offered two festivals in the WNED Backyard Bash and Americanarama. Ironically, the first day of the Buffalo Niagara Guitar Festival belonged to Gamalon drummer Teddy Reinhardt, whose methodical dominance stole the show at the Channel 17 studios. Nearby at Mohawk Place, the Steam Donkeys’ eighth annual hoedown was long on highlights, including Flatbed’s quirky country, the Blue Rocket Trio’s time-warp rockabilly, and about the best country one-liners in town from unsung hero Rex Hobart and the Wrecks.

                I didn’t watch much music at the Artvoice Street Festival on Sunday, as I was too busy looking for someone to explain why my haiku for the Van Halen poetry contest failed to win. But later at the Tudor Lounge, the Jony James Blues Band delivered two amazing sets, blasting out star-reaching jams on their own “Hurry Home” and John Coltrane’s version of “My Favorite Things” in the first, and holding an ace jam session with the Blues Hounds in the second. The friendship between these two bands makes for some amazing dialogue when they share the stage.

                Sitting at the corner of the bar, I reflected on this great recent run of local tunes. “We got a hell of a scene here, Big John,” I said. With a slow, emphatic nod, he leaned in— “Not too shabby.”


 

REVIEWS




Wilco

A Ghost is Born

Jeff Tweedy has been through a lot lately. With his painkiller problems and rehab stint, the magnifying glass that was put on Wilco a few years ago when Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was released, pressures of success, another band member leaving; it’s hard not to notice the effects on Tweedy’s psyche, which are clearly manifested on Wilco’s newest album, the strangely titled A Ghost is Born.

The opening song “At Least That’s What You Said” is disjointed and strung-out lamentation about an ugly relationship. After two minutes the electric guitar kicks and finally spills into a nasty guitar solo that oozes maniacally until the track ends. It’s probably one of the best songs Wilco has ever done in its career, as well as one of the evilest ways to begin a record.

The nervous and bouncy rhythm of “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” is pensive and restrained as a skittering guitar spazzes in the background right before a crunching rock release. Other songs like “Hummingbird” and “Theologians” are low-key pop gems, understated by Tweedy’s subtle vocal approach. “I’m A Wheel” and “The Late Greats” are upbeat and rocking affairs that will no doubt satisfy listeners that prefer the older Wilco material.

Again on board to help the band out is Jim O’Rourke. His involvement can be felt greatly, especially on the song “Muzzle of Bees,” which sounds like it could have been off his Appalachian-folk inspired Eureeka album, and also in the twelve minutes of modulator vomit at the end of “Less Than You Think,” which recalls the avant-garde glory days of Gastr Del Sol.

But O’Rouke’s involvement does not take center stage here. Tweedy is still the raspy-voiced sly songwriter for the band. His lyrics are as clever and evocative as ever, and his voice is wounded and haunting. Although he gets most of the attention, A Ghost is Born showcases a collaborative unity amongst the band. Here more than ever, Wilco focuses on the music, giving birth to unconventional pop-song structures that don’t allow the flow of the lyrics to shape them. Perhaps O’Rourke’s influence is rubbing off, or maybe there is a camaraderie that has never existed before. Whatever it is, it gives hope that Wilco will be around for a little while longer.

Yes, Jeff Tweedy has been through a lot the past few years. His experiences pervade this album. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a ghost is “the seat of life or experience.” So really, an experience is being born here. Or maybe Tweedy’s experiences gave birth to this album. Or maybe, just maybe, ghosts are secretly being born somewhere in eggs, and Wilco has made an album about it!

~ Eric Syms



The Thermals

Fuckin A

Fuckin A is the perfect soundtrack if you plan on kicking some ass. Simple as pie.  Just set this little gem in your CD player and let the mayhem ensue. Portland, Oregon trio The Thermals have released their third album titled to, now I’m just throwing out some ideas here, but to perhaps get a double take, drop a few jaws, maybe even evoke a slight gasp from the elderly. The Thermals have earned much indie street credibility ever since their first release was recorded in a kitchen for $60 back in 2002. After winning over college crowds on small tours, the band has put together a powerful, pounding, intense collection of songs guaranteed to fuel your alcoholic fire as you break the speed limit, engage in unprotected sex or heatedly discuss the politics of the upcoming election. Sounding much fuller than a trio, the smart combination of badassitude and sheer instrumental talent, distortion and front man Hutch Harris’ very distinct, clear way of singing is plainly glorious. Buy this album if you’re not afraid to get aurally pummeled.

~Laura O’Connor


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