Monthly Archives: February 2010

Getting Back In The Loop

 

Who says we can’t just
slap an intriguing looking image up on the site?

 

By Blurt Staff

 

It’s not that we’re 10 months late with this news item,
since it’s really not about the British film In The Loop at all (the political comedy, about the US President
and UK Prime Minister hatching a war, came out last April). We just came across
the image when we were looking up some information on singer-songwriter Adem,
who guests on the new album by Emma Pollock (ex-Delgados), which is released
next week and we have a review planned for it.

 

Follow the links or not; like we said, we just think the
image kicks ass. Thank you, and have a good weekend.

 

 

Report: Editors & Antlers Live Toronto

Brits ‘n’ Yanks bumrush the Phoenix
Concert Theatre on Feb. 16 and BLURT was there.

 

Text and photos
by April S. Engram

 

Unsurprisingly,
the Editors put on an excellent performance. Already familiar with their
bombastic concerts, a bit of hesitance lingered in my mind on how their recently
released third album In This Light and On
This Evening
sounded in comparison to their last albums. As fans of
electronic/dance music, Editors’ newly evolved direction includes heavy synths
and keyboards while maintaining their brooding aura – now, how would it “play”
live? Damn fine, is the answer to that rhetorical question and what made this
performance greater than one could hope for was the enthusiastic audience.

 

 

 

Their
instruments rested on the stage teasing us as the opening acts took the stage. New York’s Antlers
arrived just in time for the show. After a local act left the stage a few
minutes passed when suddenly sound techs were hoisting a drum kit, amps, and
keyboards onto the stage. Once setup lead singer Peter Silberman raised his
beer and quickly addressed the audience, “we are The Antlers and we just got
here,” and began their hurried set.

 

For just a trio,
the Antlers produced quite a bit of sound that washed over the venue. Silberman’s
falsetto voice rose into the air as drummer Michael Lerner and keyboardist
Darby Cicci slowly crescendo’d. During their impressive set, Lerner proved entertaining
to watch as he ferociously beat his kit; by the end of their performance he
managed to pulverize a stick with each strike. The Antlers’ grand sound awed
the audience who cheered and applauded the band on; however, their tendency to
end nearly each song with an extended version grew wearisome. Nevertheless, they
proved a great band to get the crowd amped for the main event.

 

 

 

When the English
quartet finally graced the stage, the audience soared and never came down. In
true Editors style guitarist Chris Urbanowicz and bassist Russell Leetch
remained cool on their instruments. Drummer Edward Lay effortlessly banged out
the quickened beats with an ecstatic smile while singer Tom Smith, bursting
with enough emotion and energy for all, staggered about the stage pouring out
his baritone voice.

 

A great deal of In This Light was performed that evening;
fans knew every word and happily sang along with lead singer Tom Smith. “Like Treasure,”
“Bricks and Mortar,” “Eat Raw Meat” all made appearances this night and the
commencement of each song sparked a frenzied cheer. However, older tracks from their
debut and sophomore releases The Back
Room
and An End Has a Start proved
to be the all-time favorites.

 

Whenever a
familiar bar was played the audience exploded. Editors could do no wrong, even
when Smith accidentally forgot words to “The Racing Rats.” At the piano he
played with the crowd singing along when suddenly he stopped singing and threw
his head in the air laughing. Drummer Lay also laughed and Smith’s mistake.
After a moment Smith returned to the mic and finished the song. He then
apologized to the audience for his error to which a young fan next to me
shouted, “That’s ok Tom, we still love you!”

 

After a fervent
fifteen song set, the Editors big farewell to Toronto; but, they were not yet finished. To
everyone’s surprise they returned for a four song encore and newly released
single “Papillion” was the track everyone was waiting for. Everyone jumped,
danced and with big smiles sang with Smith and the loud synths filled the room.
Nineteen songs, two hours later the Editors closed the evening with a bang and
superseded their fans expectations.

 

 

New Demme-directed Neil Young Film

 

Acoustic and electric
Neil from the 2007 tour.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Depending on where you live – probably NYC, L.A.,
maybe Chicago
and a few other cities – mark your calendars for March 19: that’s when the
concert film Neil Young Trunk Show will open in select theaters. It was directed by Jonathan Demme, who of course
was behind another Young concert film, 2006’s Heart of Gold. Watch for a DVD release to follow.

 

Footage was shot on Young’s Chrome Dreams II tour at Philly’s Tower Theater in 2007 and it
captures him both in acoustic and electric mode. You can view the trailer at
the film’s official website or via the YouTube clip, below.

 

 

[Photo Credit: Larry Cragg]

 

 

Report: Editors & Antlers Live Toronto

Brits ‘n’ Yanks bumrush the Phoenix
Concert Theatre on Feb. 16 and BLURT was there.

 

Text and photos
by April S. Engram

 

Unsurprisingly,
the Editors put on an excellent performance. Already familiar with their
bombastic concerts, a bit of hesitance lingered in my mind on how their recently
released third album In This Light and On
This Evening
sounded in comparison to their last albums. As fans of
electronic/dance music, Editors’ newly evolved direction includes heavy synths
and keyboards while maintaining their brooding aura – now, how would it “play”
live? Damn fine, is the answer to that rhetorical question and what made this
performance greater than one could hope for was the enthusiastic audience.

 

 

 

Their
instruments rested on the stage teasing us as the opening acts took the stage. New York’s Antlers
arrived just in time for the show. After a local act left the stage a few
minutes passed when suddenly sound techs were hoisting a drum kit, amps, and
keyboards onto the stage. Once setup lead singer Peter Silberman raised his
beer and quickly addressed the audience, “we are The Antlers and we just got
here,” and began their hurried set.

 

For just a trio,
the Antlers produced quite a bit of sound that washed over the venue. Silberman’s
falsetto voice rose into the air as drummer Michael Lerner and keyboardist
Darby Cicci slowly crescendo’d. During their impressive set, Lerner proved entertaining
to watch as he ferociously beat his kit; by the end of their performance he
managed to pulverize a stick with each strike. The Antlers’ grand sound awed
the audience who cheered and applauded the band on; however, their tendency to
end nearly each song with an extended version grew wearisome. Nevertheless, they
proved a great band to get the crowd amped for the main event.

 

 

 

When the English
quartet finally graced the stage, the audience soared and never came down. In
true Editors style guitarist Chris Urbanowicz and bassist Russell Leetch
remained cool on their instruments. Drummer Edward Lay effortlessly banged out
the quickened beats with an ecstatic smile while singer Tom Smith, bursting
with enough emotion and energy for all, staggered about the stage pouring out
his baritone voice.

 

A great deal of In This Light was performed that evening;
fans knew every word and happily sang along with lead singer Tom Smith. “Like Treasure,”
“Bricks and Mortar,” “Eat Raw Meat” all made appearances this night and the
commencement of each song sparked a frenzied cheer. However, older tracks from their
debut and sophomore releases The Back
Room
and An End Has a Start proved
to be the all-time favorites.

 

Whenever a
familiar bar was played the audience exploded. Editors could do no wrong, even
when Smith accidentally forgot words to “The Racing Rats.” At the piano he
played with the crowd singing along when suddenly he stopped singing and threw
his head in the air laughing. Drummer Lay also laughed and Smith’s mistake.
After a moment Smith returned to the mic and finished the song. He then
apologized to the audience for his error to which a young fan next to me
shouted, “That’s ok Tom, we still love you!”

 

After a fervent
fifteen song set, the Editors big farewell to Toronto; but, they were not yet finished. To
everyone’s surprise they returned for a four song encore and newly released
single “Papillion” was the track everyone was waiting for. Everyone jumped,
danced and with big smiles sang with Smith and the loud synths filled the room.
Nineteen songs, two hours later the Editors closed the evening with a bang and
superseded their fans expectations.

 

 

Report: Cayamo Cruise 2010 (Day 4)

 

For
Wednesday, Feb. 25, we find ourselves drained but happy, checking out everyone
from Robert Earl Keen to Lyle Lovett.

 

By Lee Zimmerman / Photos by Will Byington

 

Ed.
note: This week BLURT contributor Lee Zimmerman is on the annual Cayamo Cruise,
which as you’ll read below boasts a who’s-who of roots and Americana artists playing for (and mingling
with) fans traveling on a five-day cruise through the Caribbean. Fittingly enough, the event’s
called Caribbean
on Cayamo 2010: A Journey Through Song. Internet connection willing, Zimmerman
will be filing a report each day, so keep checking back to find out who was
twanging the loudest, who was singing the sweetest – and who Zimmerman was
rubbing shoulders with the hardest. Go here to read his report from Day 1,  here for Day 2 and here for Day 3.
Incidentally, you can also read his report from last year’s Cruise elsewhere at
the BLURT site
.

 

The music goes on forever and the party never ends…

 

This morning we wake up in Costa Maya Mexico, which, I will
later learn, is Spanish for “Land of the Tourist Souvenir and all Things
Claimed to be Made in Mexico
but really Manufactured In China.” That’s my theory anyway. Actually Costa Maya
is quite pleasant, especially due to the fact that there are no pushy taxi cab
drivers, mainly because it’s an easy walk from the boat to the public beach and
attendant shops. Consequently, it gives the impression that once the Mayans
laid their claim to this small strip of land on the Gulf Coast,
they immediately established a settlement consisting of overstocked stalls
selling ceramic ashtrays and tiny sombreros to arriving cruise ship passengers.

 

It ought to be noted that the most important thing to know
before attempting to barter with the natives is the value of the American
dollar versus the Mexican peso. Or more specifically, how many dollars it takes
to have your picture taken with a tiny monkey. Seriously. Tiny monkeys seem to
be among the most productive citizens of Costa Maya because practically
everywhere you turn, there’s someone offering to take your picture with a tiny
monkey. Why one would want their photo taken with a tiny monkey seems to be a
matter of conjecture, but I suppose that is in fact one of the mysteries of Mexico.

 

By the way, having been to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot
several times, I’ve learned that the correct pronunciation of Mexico is “Meh-hee-co.” Therefore I
knew exactly what was meant when one local entrepreneur approached me and asked
if I wanted to have “Seh-hee-co” with his sister.

 

Of course the coolest thing about Cayamo takes place on the
boat, specifically those close encounters with the performers. Generally, these
take place in the buffet line – proving the old adage that musicians like to
eat, just like us regular folks. This morning, we happened to spy Emmylou
Harris alone at breakfast, hair pulled back and looking inconspicuous in her
jumpsuit. I didn’t get an opportunity to catch what was on her plate but that’s
probably a good thing. I would have been mighty disappointed if she was helping
herself to an omelet and the
scrambled eggs and the eggs benedict and the French toast and the waffles and a half dozen of the other food varieties the breakfast line has
to offer. Better to pig out myself and not find any evidence that one of my
favorite singers is a glutton on the same scale as us mere mortals.

 

Likewise, it was a fairly commonplace occurrence to catch
Steve Earle at an early morning workout in the gym, a reassuring notion
considering his previously indulgent and addictive lifestyle, which by the way,
he’s quite candid about. “If I didn’t workout, I’d probably die,” he conceded
at a point later on.

 

 

Of course, the most common star sightings take place during guest appearances
during other artists’ sets, the exception being Robert Earl Keen’s solo show in
the Spinnaker. That was just fine too, because Keen is a legendary performer
whose humorous anecdotes and stories detailing the writing of his narrative
material provides all the entertainment necessary.  Prior to launching into a selection of songs
from his latest CD, Rose Hotel
“10,000 Chinese Walk into a Bar” and the title track among them – he shared a
story about an early attempt to get his record company to release a certain
song as a single. After writing three or four letters and receiving no answers,
he decided to go on a hunger strike. 
However, three days into his effort, he was invited to an all you can
eat fish fry that boasted an unlimited cache of beer. “That, my friends, is why
you never heard that song on the radio.” Keen’s concluding song, “The Highway
Goes on Forever and the Party Never End,s” may well serve as the unofficial
anthem of Cayamo.

 

Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, who were up next, provided
what proved to be one of the show-stopping performances of the entire cruise. Reflecting
a populist approach that was part Springsteen, part Petty and wholly effusive
and appealing, the young band of best friends demonstrated both heart and
conviction.  Songs about family provide a
major theme in their music, with the song “My Old Man” serving as an emotional
highlight.  Family also gives Kellogg and
crew much to chat about, especially when it comes to Kellogg’s brother Sean’s
who somehow inspires a different story every set.  Tonight’s tale had to do with their mother
finding a pair of dildos in Sean’s dresser drawer after he left for
college.  Needless to say, the conjecture
as to what purpose they served and why they would be left behind drove the
audience into hysterics.

 

 

 

Our headliner show of the evening, Lyle Lovett and his Large
Band, didn’t disappoint either. Lovett is the consummate showman and his
natural charm never fails to come through. Soft-spoken and Texas-gracious, his
material alternated between Western swing and wistful reflection.  Special guests Shawn Colvin, Robert Earl Keen
and Emmylou Harris added additional star power but Lovett’s ten piece band more
than held their own, especially considering the fact that legendary drummer
Russ Kunkel anchors the backbeat and back-up singer Arnold McCuller has graced
more sessions than one could possibly ever tally.  Just like last year, Lovett’s set provided
Cayamo with another of its uncontested highlights.

 

We finished the evening back at the Spinnaker with a set by
Scythian, a feisty Celtic that all but insists its audience dance to their
delight.  I felt compelled to clap along,
but by this point I was resigned to the fact that bedtime was nigh.  Trudging off to my cabin, the rough seas
ensured that this ship would be rocking well into the night – physically as
well as figuratively.There was one more day of Cayamo remaining and though we
were still on a high, the ship itself seemed intent on taking its passengers
up… and down.  Dramamine time had finally
arrived.

 

 

Thom Yorke Names Band, Sets Tour

 

Band Now Called Atoms
For Peace; Pre-Coachella Dates Confirmed In New York,
Boston, Chicago, Oakland, Santa
Barbara
.

 

By Blurt Staff

 

Thom Yorke announced yesterday at the Radiohead website that his
band Atoms For Peace (previously billed as /wp-content/photos?) will play a series of eight U.S. shows leading up to its April 18 appearance
at the Coachella festival in Indio
CA.

The Atoms For Peace lineup remains the same as when the band performed three
shows in Los Angeles
last October: Yorke, Flea, Mauro Refosco, Joey Waronker and Nigel Godrich. See
below for full itinerary and check http://www.waste.uk.com/ for on sale details.

Thom Yorke/Atoms For Peace
(Flying Lotus Supports New York Through Oakland)

April 5 & 6 New York Roseland Ballroom
April 8 Boston Citi Wang Theatre
April 10 & 11 Chicago  Aragon Ballroom
April 14 & 15 Oakland Fox Theatre
April 17 Santa Barbara Bowl
April 18 Coachella

 

 

 

Bettye LaVette Covers UK Rock Classics

 

Soul queen shows those
damn Brits how it’s s’posed to be done!

 

By Blurt Staff

 

 

BETTYE LAVETTE brings the British Invasion home to its
American R&B roots on her latest CD, INTERPRETATIONS:
THE BRITISH ROCK SONGBOOK,
due May 25 on Anti-. While BETTYE’s
Grammy-nominated 2007 disc The Scene Of The Crime went to the source to find triumph
over her own anguish, INTERPRETATIONS looks to the past this time for
inspiration and uncovers common ancestry in seemingly divergent musical paths.

 

Produced by BETTYE, Rob Mathes and Michael Stevens, the
album is a 13-song journey through compositions by the Beatles, Rolling Stones,
Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd among others, before concluding right where the
very idea for INTERPRETATIONS started: BETTYE’s visceral show-stopping rendition of The Who’s “Love Reign
O’er Me” from the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors, which appears here as a bonus
track.

 

That performance – which first brought BETTYE together with
Stevens (the event’s producer) and Mathes (its musical director) – served
notice that BETTYE is no mere singer. As an extraordinary interpreter of song,
she doesn’t merely mold a piece of music to suit her tastes; she is a conjurer
of deep, emotional truths:

 

“Bettye LaVette
punched a hole right through her version of Pete Townshend’s ‘Love Reign O’er
Me,’ letting all the song’s emotion pour out in a way that its creators never
conceived,” observed the New York Daily News. Townshend himself came up to
Bettye after her performance, took her hands into his and said, “You made me
weep.”

 

Throughout INTERPRETATIONS, her performances are a
revelation not just of raw emotion, but of the inexorable ties between British
rock ‘n’ roll and the American blues and R&B, which when combined,
catalyzed popular music. That Lennon, McCartney, and so many others who crossed
the Atlantic in their wake, were deeply
influenced by American music is no great secret. What BETTYE demonstrates here
so convincingly is the degree to which rock ‘n’ roll and American soul remain
bound by bloodlines.

 

The Beatles’
pre-psychedelic Rubber Soul classic “The Word” takes on an almost religious
fervor, while Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” is transformed from a
majestic pop song into a stark, almost desperate expression of devotion.
Profound alienation becomes intense longing on Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were
Here,” and the wistful naiveté of The Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin”
matures into a deep and unshakeable lament. BETTYE inhabits these songs,
revitalizes them and exposes the humanity that makes these 13 tracks not just
pop songs, but enduring works of art.

 

Such mastery hardly
comes as a surprise to at least one legend featured here. Elton John (whose
“Talking Old Soldiers” appeared on The Scene Of The Crime) offers this
endorsement of BETTYE’s impassioned take on “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me”:

 

“Bettye LaVette has
always been a wonderful singer – I have been a huge fan for many years. To my
delight and surprise she recorded an amazing version of ‘Talking Old Soldiers’
– a song that nobody else has covered – and made it her own.

 

“Now she has recorded
‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ and has done exactly the same – but this time
with a much more familiar song. I am truly touched by her picking these songs
and can only hope that this album brings more attention to this incredible
artist.”

 

 

Tracklisting:

 

1.   
The Word (John Lennon/Paul
McCartney)

2.   
No Time To Live (James
Capaldi/Stephen Winwood)

3.   
Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood
(Bennie Benjamin/Gloria Caldwell/Sol Marcus)

4.   
All My Love (John Baldwin/Robert
Plant)

5.   
Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)

6.   
Wish You Were Here (David
Gilmour/Roger Waters)

7.   
It Don’t Come Easy (Richard
Starkey)

8.   
Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)

9.   
Salt Of The Earth (Michael
Jagger/Keith Richards)

10.  Nights In White Satin (David Hayward)

11.  Why Does Love Got To Be So Sad (Eric
Clapton/Bobby Whitlock)

12.  Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me (Elton
John/Bernard Taupin)

13.  Love Reign O’er Me (Peter Townshend) [BONUS
TRACK]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unwinding Hours Channel Inner Kubrick

 

Debut from erstwhile
Aereogramme members coming next month.

 

By Blurt Staff

The Unwinding Hours is the new musical project from Craig B and Iain Cook,
former members of Glasgow’s
critically acclaimed and much-loved Aereogramme. Their debut self-titled album,
due March 16 on Chemikal Underground, matches the literate flair of the
song-writing effortlessly matched to the duo’s musical ambition. Avid
cineastes, The Unwinding Hours acknowledge the influence of film on their work
by taking their name from a reference buried deep within Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

 

Aereogramme, of course, had formed in 1998 and released four
albums, concluding with 2007’s My Heart
Has a Wish That You Would Not Go
. An eight vinyl deluxe box set of their
Chemikal Underground material was released early this year.

 

The Unwinding Hours started out as a means for Craig to
record some of his songs with the help of Iain after the demise of Aereogramme,
but with no plans for a commercial release or to play them live. As Iain grew
more excited about the material, The Unwinding Hours became a collaborative
project, with a very different character to the material they recorded as part
of Aereogramme. The album was written and recorded throughout 2008 and 2009, in
Iain’s own Alucard Studios on the south side of Glasgow (only the drums were recorded
elsewhere, by Paul Savage in Chemikal Underground’s Chem19). The recording of
the album was a leisurely process as Iain was busy with other projects throughout
the year so, out of necessity, they only worked on the songs for a few hours a
week or fortnight. As Iain says, “There were no expectations or deadlines,
so it felt like a really enjoyable and relaxed way of trying out new ideas and
seeing if they stuck.”

The album opens with the gorgeous slow-burn of Knut: the longest track
on the album at just under six minutes, it’s an elegant exercise in layered
sounds and propulsive dynamics. Iain explains that “It was only during the
final stages of the mix that we decided to try out vocals on the track and
that’s when it totally came to life for me and also tied the song in
effectively with the rest of the album. I love this one now and I think it’s a
nice way to start the record.” There Are Worse Things Than Being Alone juxtaposes sweet sounding elements like the acoustic guitar and strings with
some very unsettling noise elements. The opening suggestion that
“something’s wrong…” develops gradually until, by the end of the
song and the “Let me out of here, my love…” line, the sweetness is
completely engulfed by wave after wave of noise, the creeping claustrophobia of
a failing relationship.

 

Craig elaborates on the album’s subject matter, saying, “The main themes
throughout the record are of relationships: some ending, some starting, some
going well, some going very, very badly. Traces attempts to capture that
powerful, almost drunken, sensation you feel when a relationship is in its
infancy; Child deals with the bitter end of another.” There is an argument
that wreckage (emotional or otherwise) recurs heavily throughout the course of
the album: Annie Jane is named after a real shipwreck while the closing
track, The Final Hour, emerged from its own period of prolonged upheaval.
Initially recorded in a friend’s Boston studio
during Aereogramme’s last tour of the US, The Final Hour demo was
conceived with the rain hammering down on a dispiriting, traumatic tour and, as
Iain points out, “The original demo definitely reflected that. So much so
that I don’t think Craig even wanted to listen to the song again let alone put
it on the album, but I kept insisting it was a belter and that we should work
on it. The refrain that Craig sings in the latter half of the song “I saw
you…” is one of my favorite things he has written and I wanted the music
to be devastatingly loud and slow.”

Craig and Iain are already talking about starting work on songs for a second
album although there’s no prospect of altering the leisurely process of
evolution that’s been so successful for them on their debut.

 

The band has already announced a March-April tour of the UK and Europe.
Dates plus song samples at their MySpace page: www.myspace.com/theunwindinghours

 

 

[Photo Credit: John Speirs]

 

 

 

Report: Cayamo Cruise 2010 (Day 3)

 

For
Tuesday, Feb. 24, we hoist anchor in Belize while rocking out with the WPA, Gregory
Alan Isakov, Rachel Yamagata, Steve Earle and Luke Doucet – plus a special covers-rich
throwdown by Stephen Kellogg and The Sixers.

 

By Lee Zimmerman / Photos by Will Byington

 

Ed.
note: This week BLURT contributor Lee Zimmerman is on the annual Cayamo Cruise,
which as you’ll read below boasts a who’s-who of roots and Americana
artists playing for (and mingling with) fans traveling on a five-day cruise
through the Caribbean. Fittingly enough, the
event’s called Caribbean on Cayamo
2010: A Journey Through Song. Internet connection willing, Zimmerman will be
filing a report each day, so keep checking back to find out who was twanging
the loudest, who was singing the sweetest – and who Zimmerman was rubbing
shoulders with the hardest. Go here to read his report from Day 1 and here for
Day 2. Incidentally, you can also read his report from last year’s Cruise
elsewhere at the BLURT site.

 

It’s gonna be another long day…

 

Try as I may, there’s no sleeping in. For starters, there’s
the booming voice over the intercom that’s suddenly managed to pierce the quiet
sanctity of our stateroom. “Good morning, ladies and gents, and welcome to Belize.” It’s our cruise director, of course, who I’m
convinced they’ve hired due to his cheery, charming English accent and not
because he’s aware that on these kind of cruises, people like to sleep in late
and aren’t especially anxious to hear a cheery, charming English accent – or
any other dialect for that matter — at eight in the morning. Okay, so going
to bed at 12:30 AM the night before hardly qualifies for any semblance of
rowdy, all-night partying… but as far as I’m concerned, it’s close enough to
qualify.

 

Regardless, Alisa is anxious to venture ashore, and our
neighbors, the Judges, are game, so we dutifully shuffle over to the
ever-accommodating buffet line, grab a bountiful breakfast and make our way to
the point of disembarking in order to grab a tender to the mainland. It’s a
little disconcerting that the ship has opted to have a safety drill at the same
time, one that simulates one might happen if suddenly the ship collides with an
armada of Sudanese pirates, but we’re assured that all’s well and Sudanese
pirates rarely, if ever, venture into this part of the world. We do make one
stop on the ship prior, however — that being the spa which Alisa scopes out as
a place of refuge, just in case, said Sudanese pirates do defy the odds and
attempt to take us all hostage.

 

That place is the ship spa (how many times have you read
accounts of pirates coming aboard and demanding anyone remove the hot rocks –
or is it hot coals? – from their backside in order to play hostage. Rarely
happens, right? (Note: I never understood how hot rocks can cure any ills. It
seems like these spas can say anything to that effect, and as weird as it may seem,
still convince their patrons that it would cure their ills. I can almost
imagine that if I go into a spa one day, there will be a sign advertising a
grilled cheese treatment, wherein they put me, the spa-ee, between two giant
pieces of seedless rye bread, pour American cheese over my naked body, and
claim it’s a cure for a hernia.)

 

In this case, the treatment
that draws my attention is acupuncture, which of course is a commonly accepted
medical practice, mostly among people who actually believe it can be painless
to have up to four dozen needles piercing all parts of your body including
certain nether regions that you’re reticent to even touch yourself… in public
that is. (Of course, speaking for myself, no part of my body is off-limits at
this particular time of my life.) Even so, there’s a flyer claims that there
are innumerable symptoms that might make one a candidate for acupuncture,
although one category draws my attention in particular. Should you suffer from
persistent diarrhea, projectile vomiting, emitting noxious fumes and/or gasses,
and a whole list of other stuff I simply couldn’t bring myself to read, you
then are a prime candidate for acupuncture. I mentioned to the spa hostess –
all of whom seem to be oriental and speak slowly and reassuringly – that I
wouldn’t think that sticking needles into any person prone to explode, such as
it were, might be a good idea. Yet, try as I might, I couldn’t get them to see
my point. “These needles are as thin as a hair and they don’t hurt,” one of the
oriental ladies said in that slow, reassuring accent. Okay, whatever, I
conceded, but if I’m getting the treatment and I hear there’s also someone
there who’s come in demanding acupuncture to cure his or her persistent
diarrhea, projective vomiting, or tendency to emit noxious fumes and/or gasses,
I want to be an entire deck – or perhaps entire ship – away.

 

 

Fortunately, there would be no reason to worry about that
particular dilemma. We were about to face an entirely different paradox on Belize itself. For those of you who are unaware, Belize has a number of national distinctions. For one
thing, it’s so crammed for space between Mexico
and Central America, there’s barely enough room to write the word “Belize” on a map. Seriously though, it boasts a number
of national attractions – historical ruins, lush rainforests, unspoiled
beaches. And it has the corner on the world’s market when it comes to cheap
tee-shirts that say “Welcome to Belize” in
150 different fonts, many of which have yet to be discovered by the outside
world. Unfortunately, the tee-short phenomenon is the only one that we would
personally witness. That leads to our second bit of educational trivia about
Belize… that being the fact that the country’s main industry, which happens to
be pushy cab drivers hustling to convince the tourists that they offer the best
fares when it comes to taking visitors to view the aforementioned treasures —
tee-shirts included.

 

“Hey mon, I’ll take you wherever you want to go for $10!”

Hey mon, I’ll take you wherever you want to go for $8!”

“Hey mon, I’ll take you wherever you want to go for $5!”

“Hey mon, I’ll pay you – just let me take you wherever you
want to go!”

 

By this point, the only place I wanted to go was Detroit. In fact, I’m convinced that if the U.S. Marines
really wanted to train their recruits effectively, they’d ship them all to Belize, and force them to run the gamut of pushy cab
drivers. Those that made it three blocks without coming to a complete halt due to
being seduced into taking a cab ride to see the ruins at Mata-Hari, or whatever
it’s called, would then be qualified for combat.  As for us, we simply lacked the
endurance.  We fled back to the dock to
seek the refuge of a local bar and proceeded to learn all we needed about the
country’s economy by consuming their locally brewed bear. Be assured however,
that Alisa and I did get our lesson in international customs and geography all
the same. We consumed said beers with our new friends, Chuck and Tracy, who
happen to hail from Canada.  Having been on cruises before, I’m convinced Canada is the only place in the western hemisphere where
pushy cab drivers are not deemed a
national treasure.

 

 

We had to deal with choices of a different sort later. Our
first concert of the evening, set to take place in the Starlight Theater, the
ship’s main venue, was our “twice as nice” show with Emmylou Harris. This is a
special feature of the Cayamo cruise that allows guest to choose a headliner
show they opt to see a second time… hence the title “twice as nice.” However,
other options awaited, including WPA on the pool deck and Darrell Scott, billed
“With Friends,” back in the Spinnaker. Noting the virtuosity of his performance
on day one, we opted to make our return show with Scott and we weren’t
disappointed. Although two of the three “friends’ turned out to be relatively
unknown – Taylor Bates and Sarah Ample specifically-both offered superb songs
of their own. Luke from WPA rounded out the list of guests and offered a
typically virtuoso performance on fiddle to complement Scott’s nimble
fretwork.  Scott also provided the
audience with a sage piece of advice on the art of songwriting:

“The best songs are the ones that come up and tap you on the shoulder when you
least expect it. We as songwriters need only stay out of the way when the songs
show up. We can’t choose them because they show up in their own time.”

 

 

After a brief detour to catch the tail end of a set by the
all but unknown but thoroughly captivating Gregory Alan Isakov in the Atrium,
it was back to the Spinnaker for Rachel Yamagata, who proved to be an absolute
hoot as she delighted the crowd by poking fun at her melodramatic muse. She
also offered a choice anecdote on her adjustment to life at sea. “I thought I’d
be able to stick to my normal routine,” she remarked. “So the first day I went
straight to the gym. But when I couldn’t get in, I went straight to the bar and
I’ve been there ever since.”  After what was
intentioned as a sad song about a lost dog – in which Yamagata made scant
attempt to keep a straight face and brought the audience to hysterics as well –
she brought on a parade of special guests, chief among them Vienna Teng and the
seemingly omnipresent Brandi Carlile. “Brandi used to open for me,” Yamagata
commented. “Now she’s a big rock star and I’m singing sad songs about lost
dogs.”

 

 

Nevertheless, Yamagata and her trio brought the house
down.  “Thank you for choosing me over
Lyle Lovett,” she said to the crowd before making her departure.

 

 

The biggest surprise of the evening was the Canadian husband
wife-duo, Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. Offering up a flexible
combination of angular blues, sassy jazz and heart-tugging ballads, the two
gave a dazzling performance magnified all the more by Luke’s shredding guitar
licks and ample use of the whammy bar to create some of the most impressive
sonic motifs heard thus far. His licks explore unexpected realms – erratic,
unpredictable, and seemingly out of sync with the melody and yet wholly
appropriate at the same time.  Ending
with a beautiful ballad bearing the refrain, “I adore you,” it was enough to
bring a drinking man to tears. Or in my case, even one who casually imbibes.

 

It was then time to dash downstairs to the Starlight for the
solo set by Steve Earle. Unsure as to the nature of his personality or the
state of his mood, the crowd held their collective breath as Earle made his way
to center stage. He turned out to be quite the showman, regaling the crowd with
a mix of self-effacing humor, autobiographical anecdotes and political
potshots.  The music itself was
mesmerizing; with Earle accompanying himself on guitar and occasional mandolin,
he turned such classic tracks as “I Ain’t Never Satisfied” and “Coppertown
Road” into communal sing-alongs and a general sort of soul revival.  Referring to his latest album, a tribute to
his famous compadre Townes Van Zandt, Earle remarked, “I first met Townes when
I was seventeen and I thought it was the most amazing thing ever.  I’m 55 now and I still think it was the most
amazing thing ever.” He sandwiched those comments between heartfelt readings of
Van Zandt’s “My Old Friend the Blues” and “Pancho and Lefty,” fitting choices
considering the emotional context.  A
remarkable performance overall, Earle’s concert reminded me of why I relished
Cayamo in the first place. It was this kind of special bonding between audience
and performer that breaks down that invisible wall normally separating an
artist from the faithful legions. The tears in my eyes were clearly tears of
joy.

 

That sense of common purpose radiated later in the Spinnaker
as Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers, a band clearly infatuated with the spirit of
rock ‘n’ roll revival, hosted the evening’s “throwdown,” a set of Byrds, Band,
Stones and Tom Petty covers featuring guest appearances by passengers and other
artists alike.  The revelry that arose
from singing along to such chestnuts as “Up On Cripple Creek,” “Honky Tonk Women,”
“I Won’t Back Down” and the evening rowdy closer,” a raucous version of “Like a
Rolling Stone” took Cayamo’s penchant for partying full circle and brought a
grand evening to its righteous conclusion. I was indeed, one happy Cayamo
camper. Happy too, because there were still two days to go. Yet, I was also
feeling slightly concerned. I still had an impressive list of performers I had
yet to see.

 

 

 

First Look: New Quasi Album

 

On American Gong, Sam Coomes and Janet Weiss, abetted by
Joanna Bolme, channel their inner Who. The payoff, though, is all pop – with
power.

 

By Jennifer Kelly

 

Quasi isn’t exactly settling gracefully into an elder
statesman slot. The band – a partnership between Sam Coomes and
Sleater-Kinney/Jicks drummer Janet Weiss – has been going, intermittently, for
17 years now, with eight studio albums and a clutch of singles to show for it. Conflict
was always part of the band’s DNA,
on a personal level, one guesses, since the two principles are divorced former
partners, but also on a musical one. There’s a deep divide between Quasi’s
witheringly caustic lyrics and its buoyant sing-along melodies, between its
Beatles-pop rocksichord hooks and the surging maelstrom of its guitar freak-outs,
and this chasm has only grown deeper of late.

 

The addition of Joanna Bolme (also from the Jicks) at bass
has enabled a volume-blistered, thunderous rock sound, underlining the
M80-in-the-parking-lot explosiveness of Weiss’ drumming and bringing out
Coomes’ inner guitar hero. It’s no accident that new album American Gong (Kill Rock Stars) ends with a cover
of the Who’s “Heaven and Hell”. There’s a Live at Leeds-level rock
intensity to much of this album, married, as the Who’s songs often were, to
transcendent, melodic hooks.  Consider
“Repulsion,” which kicks off in a squeak of feedback, and half obliterates its
melodies under distorted thicknesses of guitar distortion. Its lyrical imagery
is harsh with whores and piss and angry bed-wars. Yet when the clangor breaks
for the chorus, the single word title dragged out over a series of shifting,
tightly harmonized intervals, the payoff is all pop.  

 

American Gong is an unusually guitar-centric Quasi album. Coomes’
keyboards take a leading role in only a couple of these songs, in the Beatles
psychedelic “Everything and Nothing at All” and the burned and busted piano
ballad “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez.” There’s some acoustic strumming in
bittersweet “The Jig Is Up” and a blues-rocking vamp in “Black Dog and
Bubbles,” but for the most part, the six-string is electrified, fuzzed and
turned way, way up.

 

Guitar rock tends naturally towards triumph, and perhaps
this is why American Gong is downbeat, but not actually depressing. Mortality,
setbacks, hard times all take a turn in Coomes’ lyrical scenarios, yet none are
allowed the final word. Watch how “Bye Bye Blackbird” (following the nursery
rhyme melody of “Baa Baa Blacksheep”) gets the financial crisis down in two
lines: “Bye bye blackbird/days are getting cold/snakes and lizards are sucking
up the gold/chrome-plated plastic they give you in return/teach you a lesson
you shouldn’t have to learn.” Or how “Laissez les Bon Temp Roulez” observes
that one person’s life is “just a piss in the ocean, a grain of sand.” And yet
there’s a sense of persistence and modest overcoming in these songs.  “Your sadness and sickness are nothing to
prize,” sings Coomes in “What Now”, “Leave them behind and rise.” After the
extremely downbeat, borderline whiny “Laissez,” the band slips in a bit of
self-mockery in “Howler,” a 41-second recording of a dog howling, possibly at
the moon.  

 

The best songs on American Gong are clustered toward
the front. Nothing in the latter half matches “Repulsion,” “Little White
Horse,” or “Bye Bye Blackbird.” “Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez,” in particular, lasts
far too long and showcases far too well the shortcomings of Coomes reedy,
strangled voice. Still, hang on for the Who cover, with its gleeful guitar
vortex and chaos-flirting, beat-rupturing fills on drums. If the Who could turn
their views on the afterlife into one of the world’s great rock songs, then you
can’t blame Quasi for dipping pop into darkness as well.