Austin City Limits Music Festival debuted a lot of new things this year: new layout, new security, new foods, new drinks, new ticket levels, etc. Some worked great, some didn’t. But it was nice to see all of the changes. Best of which being the new layout.
The park now has so much more breathing room and attendees can actually enjoy the music at a crowded stage without the interference of the other nearby stages. And even though the lineup this year wasn’t the best in ACL history, there were some really great shows over the weekend.
The Wild Now – Cute and poppy.
ROMES – Trying too hard to be sexy.
The Band of Heathens – An Austin classic!
MISSIO – So much energy and enthusiasm, with a lot of Justin Timberlake vibes from lead singer.
The Lemon Twigs – Drummer was the most captivating of them all.
Crystal Castles – Trying too hard to be scary weird. Die Antwoord has that category covered.
Royal Blood – A solid rock’n’roll show!
Ryan Adams – As always, he delivered a solid performance. The unique thing about this show was that he had an announcer come out before he came on stage and asked the crowd to not use any flash, as Ryan suffers from Ménière’s disease. That started the show off on a pretty serious note. Things got more serious when Ryan confronted a fan who was recording the show and sounded like he had his flash on. Ryan cursed out the fan and told him we will all validate his presence here at the show so he doesn’t need that video to post online. He kept the stage almost completely dark for the entire show as well.
JAY-Z – He only played an hour, took a 20-minute break, came back for a single song encore, and left. Everyone seemed very confused, including other artists in the crowd.
Mobley – Mobley was the best surprise of the festival. Despite his opening time slot, he put on a great show with Headliner enthusiasm.
CAPYAC – Part of their act was making pancakes on stage and throwing them at the crowd. It worked. They got me to stay longer than I would’ve otherwise.
Ásgeir – A less poetic Bon Iver.
Grace VanderWaal – Mini Taylor Swift with a giant voice. As a 13-year-old, she had more stage presence than most adult artists out there.
A$AP Ferg – He got the crowd going with his beats but it seemed like 2pm might have been too early of a time slot for him, as he paced the stage like he was still trying to wake up.
LĪVE – Simply amazing. They rocked the stage like 20-year-olds, not like a band that’s been together for over 3 decades. So much energy, enthusiasm, love for their art, and appreciation for the fans.
ICE CUBE – He was hardcore until he asked the crowd if they’ve seen his hit movie Straight Outta Compton and if they wanted “gangster”. He, then, proceeded with “let’s give them gangster.” Sadly, none of which felt remotely authentic or gangster.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – Chili Peppers were once a great band but now they seem to be just bored. Every show in the past several years have been the exactly replica of each other. Very little crowd interaction, heavily filtered Jumbotron footage, same quick transitions between songs.
Bibi Bourelly – Perhaps most famous for writing the Rhianna song “Bitch Better Have My Money,” Bibi’s performance of her own material proved to be authentic and raw.
Raging Fyah – Energetic, enthusiastic and a lot of fun!
Milky Chance – Somehow, Milky Chance managed to sing all of their songs in the same exact way in the same exact tone…again. It’s very difficult to even tell where one song ends and the other begins with them. Snooze fest.
Run The Jewels – Simply kicked ass.
Vance Joy – Great, fun show.
Portugal. The Man – They kept the stage almost completely dark the entire show. The sign at the beginning of the show stated that they will not be engaging with the audience during the show, and they did keep their promise by systematically running through all of their songs.
Gorillaz – They put on a big production but it didn’t seem like there was much heart there. Still a pretty good show, though!
Down at the Goose Island Block Party, our man with the plan in the Windy City had the best view of all…
TEXT & PHOTOS BY MARTY PEREZ
What a way to celebrate this year’s Autmnal Equinox.
And in the good company of some Filthy Friends, all the while being able to sample some new fall batches of local craft beer. Where did all this goodness go down, you might ask? Well, friends at a block party put on by Chicago’s oldest and largest craft breweries; Goose Island. Let us praise and raise a toast to sir John Barleycorn.
A spectacular setting sun illuminated the short, fun and upbeat set put forth by Corin Tucker and the Friends: Pete Buck, Scott McCaughey, Kurt Bloch, and Linda Pitmon. After that they had to cram into the van and bust out of Chicago for the drive to Cincinnati to make Saturday’s afternoon festival show.
Highly recommend catching thee Filthy Friends, should they make it out your neck of the woods. Considering the members of the Filthies and their varying schedules, it does make for a special occasion and/or a logistical nightmare to get all them Filthy Friends under the same roof for a house party.
Bringing together some of the BLURT gang’s Tom Petty coverage from the past few years because… well… because there’s a dream we keep having. (Above photo by Scott Dudelson)
BY FRED MILLS, JOHN B. MOORE, TIM HINELY, LEE ZIMMERMAN, SUSAN MOLL, GREG KELLY, & SCOTT DUDELSON
Editor’s Note: Tom Petty passed away October 2, at the age of 66. After some initial media confusion, his longtime manager Tony Demitriades posted an official announcement (see below). An outpouring of grief on social media immediately followed, as did the mainstream reports, obits, and tributes—such as this heartfelt one by Jon Pareles of the New York Times (“A Mainstay of Rock With the Heartbreakers), this mini-retrospective by Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast (“Tom Petty’s Remarkable Stand Against the Confederate Flag”), this career overview at Rolling Stone by Kory Grow and Andy Greene, and “The Final Interview” at the Los Angeles Times, conducted by Randy Lewis a couple of days after the Heartbreakers’ 40th anniversary tour had wrapped at the Hollywood Bowl, and just five days before Petty’s death. The latter also includes a wonderful backstage photo gallery from the Bowl shows, taken by my friend (and fellow BLURT-er) Andy Tennille, who has been the band’s official tour photographer for years.
I’m not going to write an obituary; I just can’t do it now. It seems like I’ve already done that 50 times over the past 48 hours on social media and via sundry correspondence with fellow Tom Petty devotees. Let’s leave it at “permanently among my Top 5 artists of all time.” But when you factor in how much Petty and his Heartbreakers meant to me, as well as to my wife, from the very beginning—starting on that afternoon in 1976 when I wandered into the Chapel Hill, North Carolina, record store Schoolkids, spotted an LP with an insouciant-looking, leather jacket-sporting, blonde longhair adorning the cover, and had the shopkeepers cue it up over the house stereo—it’s impossible not to add my voice to the grieving choir. Apologies in advance for making your load heavier, fellow fans. But this is what we do precisely because we are fans.
How many times did the two of us get to see TP&THB? I’m not certain, to be honest, but who really cares? If you want to play the World’s Biggest Superfan game, seek elsewhere. But we picked some good ‘uns over the years to attend, ranging from the now-legendary evening in Charlotte 1990 when (as related below) Petty renounced his earlier marketing blunder involving the Confederate rebel flag; to the transcendental show in Phoenix in the late ’90s that featured no less than the Blind Boys of Alabama opening (!) for their avowed fan; to just a couple of years ago in Raleigh in which Tom and the gang gave us—presumably without realizing it—a wedding anniversary gift of a career-spanning show that, now, seems all the more meaningful. Along the way, I accumulated my share of shows on cassette, CD, CDR, and digital download, going all the way back to the beginning through the recent tour celebrating the band’s four decades. (Maybe I am a superfan after all.)
What follows, then, is my attempt to share some appreciations of Tom Petty that I have had the honor, along with my fellow TP fan Stephen Judge (owner of BLURT and Schoolkids Records), to publish in this space over the years, both in words and images. It starts with a terrific photo gallery, which is then followed by an extended (very extended—feel free to scroll past) essay/review I myself wrote on the occasion of Petty’s 2009 box set The Live Anthology. After that are some related commentaries and photos from everybody else. I wish I had a profound final tagline here, but I really don’t; there have been so many things written about Petty in the past few days (including the above-linked Daily Beast article, which actually quotes from my original piece on Petty and the onstage rebel flag incident), that I fear anything I might say would come across as redundant or, worse, facile.
So since Petty always had a knack for saying the things that the rest of us wished we had said, I’ll let him get in the last word for this introduction. I dedicate it to Allison Mills. —FM
“You know, sometimes, I don’t know why,
But this old town just seems so hopeless
I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times
Were just a little bit more in focus
But when she puts her arms around me,
I can, somehow, rise above it
Yeah man, when I got that little girl standing right by my side,
You know, I can tell the whole wide world, and shout it,
‘Hey, here comes my girl, here comes my girl, Yeah, she looks so right, she’s all I need tonight…’
Every now and then, I get down to the end of a day,
I’ll have to stop, ask myself, “What’ve I done?”
It just seems so useless to have to work so hard,
And nothin’ ever really seem to come from it
And then she looks me in the eye, says, “We gonna last forever,”
And man, you know I can’t begin to doubt it
No, because this feels so good and so free and so right,
I know we ain’t never goin’ change our minds about it
Here comes my girl, here comes my girl, Yeah, she looks so right, she’s all I need tonight…”
Writers whose roots extend below the Mason-Dixon Line have long dwelled on matters of heritage. Even those who preach the occasional necessity of getting out in order to make a life for oneself understand how roots run deep, and you can no more escape that heritage than you can declare your back yard a sovereign nation and secede from the Union. So to speak.
Tom Petty’s a writer, of songs, and while he’s a textbook example of a southern boy who got out and, in the parlance, done real good for hisself, in those songs there’s always been a lyrical tension between the past and the present that gives his material an autobiographical undercurrent, an ambiance, a vibe, peculiar to southern writers. I’m a writer, too, and the longer I do it the more I discover my own regional idiosyncrasies creeping in to my work; I suspect they were always there and I just didn’t recognize them as such. Finding parallels between Petty’s life and mine isn’t particularly hard, either. Both of us came of age in the sixties, he in upstate Florida and me in a textile mill region of North Carolina, right at the NC-SC line — which, if you know much about those two regions, suggests a distinct lack of cultural opportunities, so a person was usually left casting a wide net utilizing whatever resources could be found.
“Well she was an American girl Raised on promises She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there was a little more to life Somewhere else After all it was a great big world With lots of places to run to…”
As Petty pointed out in a recent interview with Rolling Stone, his best-known song “American Girl” is not about a specific girl: “I was creating a girl like I knew in Gainesville, the kind who knows there’s more out there than the cards she’s drawn.” But he was also subliminally sketching himself into the character, articulating what he had felt growing up in Gainesville. This is why the tune strikes a chord regardless of whether you’re a male or a female; the yearning is universal, and it’s not necessary limited to teenagers either.
In our mutual quests to find a little more to life Petty and I both eschewed high school sports for books, movies and, most particularly, music, and because of that our role models tended to be a few years older, typically long-haired and liberal-tilting types (and with good weed connections) who gave us the kind of encouragement we didn’t necessarily get from our peer group. Both of us took a lot of grief when we began growing our own hair out, including thumpings from local good ol’ boys who took exception to our appearance, and such incidents fueled streaks of anger, defiance and righteousness. Petty, for example, told Rolling Stone that during his early years as a musician he was harassed by rednecks and even refused service at truck stops and it helped him understand and sympathize with what African-Americans went through on a daily basis. Those angry, defiant and righteous feelings continue to manifest in us as adults.
And Petty and I both finally got out, too: he traveled far, to L.A., and embarked upon one of rock’s more storied careers; I made it to college, and in a roundabout way, not always financially fruitful but still aesthetically satisfying, to a life in music, too. All along, although the two of us have met just once and then only very briefly, our southern heritage has continued to link us in ways that gives his music a resonance that is deeper and more enduring than that of pretty much any other artist I admire.
One day in late 1976 I wandered into a Chapel Hill, NC, record store. Spying among the new releases a copy of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, I wondered who this leather-jacketed guy on the sleeve was. The shoulder-length blonde hair painted him a traditional ‘70s rock type, yet the jacket and half-smirk/half-sneer creasing his face suggested he was more aligned with punk, which by then I was already enthusiastically embracing. The guy behind the counter played a couple of songs, notably the Byrdsian raveup “American Girl,” and I was sold. It would be over-romanticizing matters for me to claim I converted, on the spot, to fan-for-life status — it was only Petty’s first album, after all — but I can confess, in all sincerity, that the net result was the same.
Other albums would similarly floor me — 1979’s Damn the Torpedoes, 1985’s Southern Accents, 1994’s Wild Flowers (billed as a solo Petty release), even 2002’s The Last DJ, which did well commercially but took a drubbing from critics — while songs from all of Petty’s releases would find their way into regular mixtape rotation in the car, on the home stereo, and eventually on the iPod and smartphone, too. I recall buying the 45 of “Refugee” because it had a non-album B-side, “Casa Dega,” a spooky-sounding slow-burn number that referenced a strange little Florida town (it’s actually spelled Cassadaga) populated by psychics. I even penned an essay about the song for one of the indie rock zines I scribed for back in the day, attempting to probe the mysterious yet open-endedly romantic, lyrics, that to this day still get under my skin—like a partially-remembered dream that lingers and haunts you long after you’ve awaken:
“She said to me as she holds my hand And reads the lines of a stranger Yeah, and she knows my name, yeah, she knows my plan In the past, in the present, and for the future… ‘Baby, fools pay the price of a whisper in the night In Casa Dega Time rolls by, night is only night Can I save you?’”
Of course it was the live Petty experience that would cement my fanship. I’ll never forget squeezing down front at an outdoor amphitheater in Charlotte in the early ’80s (June 22, 1980, to be precise) to watch the Heartbreakers blaze through a set in the summer’s heat; I was surrounded by so many gorgeous, sweat-drenched, dancing, screaming females that I got a first-hand sense of what Beatlemania might have been like. Later that evening at the nearby hotel, who should I run into at the elevator but keyboardist Benmont Tench; upon learning that we had a close mutual friend, he paused to chat a few moments then invited me up to say hello to Petty, as the band was about to check out early and drive through the night on their bus to the next gig. Starstruck, I wound up mumbling at them something about “owning all the records” and “when are you going to start making better music videos,” thus ensuring that Petty and Tench quickly found excuses to go finish their packing before I could get around to asking for an autograph. But hey, at least I got to shake their hands.
Another time was the Echo tour in Phoenix, August 19, 1999, at a point when the Heartbreakers had skillfully merged both their own songs and Petty’s solo material to craft what was unquestionably one of the most dynamic stage shows by one of the most formidable live acts in the business. In particular, they brought down the house with “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” which had earlier been an MTV staple thanks to the goofy Alice In Wonderland-styled vid, but in concert was transformed into a psychedelic epic complete with an eye-popping, potentially seizure-inducing, lights and strobe production.
But the Petty concert I’ll always remember most vividly was on January 29, 1990, once again in Charlotte. In April of the previous year, Petty had released his first solo LP, the Jeff Lynne-produced Full Moon Fever, so he was spotlighting a good chunk of that record even though, with the exception of guitarist Mike Campbell, the members of the Heartbreakers only had cameos on FMF. The band was also doing a lot of the Southern Accents album, from 1985, and much of the same stage design (plantation mansion columns, assorted antebellum/southern touches, etc.) from the Southern Accents tour was still being used. It was during the “Southern Accents” song itself that something totally out of the blue happened.
A certain yahoo element had already been making its presence in the crowd known, emitting whoops and raising beer cups whenever Petty would make a regional reference. It was starting to feel like a NASCAR rally in the arena. Now, as the band eased into the song’s signature piano intro, somebody tossed a folded-up object onto the stage. Petty walked over, picked it up, and started unfolding it: a rebel flag, symbol of the Confederacy — and of a whole lot more. He froze, uncertain as to what he should do. Well, wave it proudly at all your fellow Southerners, you could almost hear the collective thought ripple through the air. Instead, while the band continued vamping on the intro, Petty walked back to the mic, still holding the flag, and slowly began to speak, talking about how on the Southern Accents tour a few years ago they’d included a Confederate flag as part of the stage set, but since then he’d been thinking about it and decided that it had been a mistake because he understood maybe it wasn’t just a rebel image to some folks. As a low rumble of boos and catcalls, maybe mixed with a few tentative cheers, came out of the crowd, Petty carefully wadded the flag up and concluded, “So we don’t do” — nodding at the flag — “this anymore.” Chucking it back into the audience, he started to sing, softly, gradually building in volume:
“There’s a southern accent, where I come from The young’uns call it country, the Yankees call it dumb I got my own way of talkin’ but everything is done With a southern accent where I come from…”
Driving home from the concert that night I still could feel the combined chill and thrill I’d gotten earlier. A lesser performer wouldn’t have been able to pull off a simultaneous refutation and affirmation, and in the unexpected duality of sentiment and expectations of the moment, Petty and his Heartbreakers had gone on to perform the song with a visceral resolve imbued equally with grace and grit I hadn’t detected at previous concerts.
Turning on the radio, I heard the local classic rock deejay talking about the incident in disparaging terms and inviting listeners to call in and “let Tom Petty know just what we think about him.” In that moment, I felt the anger and defiance of my younger self return, and I wanted to punch the dashboard.
It’s these memories that steer me to The Live Anthology (Reprise), a five-CD, three-DVD, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers box. Arriving as a kind of two-year coda to 2007’s Peter Bogdanovich-directed TP&THB documentary Runnin’ Down A Dream and the accompanying book and multiple-DVD/CD set, it’s a dream date all on its own terms, stuffed to its 12” x 12” x 2”, Shepard Fairey-art-adorned gills with all manner of goodies and memorabilia. There are facsimiles of tour posters and backstage passes; a thick LP-sized booklet boasting detailed track annotations and commentary plus extensive liners from Petty, Warren Zanes and a host of music journalists; a pocket-sized TP “notebook”; and a reproduction of the 1977 promotional-only 12” EP Official Live ‘Leg that Shelter Records distributed to radio stations (the repro even duplicates the way the original had the same four songs pressed on both sides; incidentally, the nine-minute “Dog On the Run” is a must-hear). In short, pure collector catnip.
Sound- and vision-wise, Petty’s not just fucking around with a high-ticket item suitable for holiday shopping, either. One of the DVDs contains all of the live audio material in the high-resolution Blu-ray format, meaning that if you have a Blu-ray player and harbor an audio geek side, you’re in clover. Meanwhile, the two video discs nicely complement the other Petty DVDs in your collection (there have been quite a few, including RDAD, to date). Live at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was professionally filmed at the Heartbreakers’ Dec. 31, 1978 concert, and it’s every bit as intense and celebratory as a New Year’s Eve show should be. That it captures the band on the cusp of — but not quite there yet — huge international stardom, a good nine months before the release of Damn the Torpedoes, therefore giving you a long-form look at a group still hungry and fueled by an almost punkish combativeness, makes for a revealing and rewarding viewing experience. Several as-yet-unreleased songs were already in the setlist at the time, notably “Refugee” and “Casa Dega,” and the closing Isley Brothers cover “Shout” completely smokes the version that appeared on 1985’s concert album and film Pack Up the Plantations: Live!
The third DVD is titled 400 Days, a documentary film directed by Martyn Atkins. Atkins had been introduced to Petty by Rick Rubin during the making of Wildflowers, and he accumulated footage of Petty and the Heartbreakers in the studio and on the subsequent 1995 tour – essentially a chronicle of 400 days in the life of an artist and a rock band. It’s an engaging portrait, necessarily less comprehensive but in places more intimate than the Bogdanovich film, with a number of the performance clips in particular demanding repeated attention.
Everything circles back to the live CDS, however. And while the thought of over five hours’ worth of concert material is daunting by any standard, as a live album in the truest, most classic sense — think the Who’s Live at Leeds, the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, the Allman Brothers At Fillmore East, Gov’t Mule’s Live… With a Little Help from Our Friends, etc. — this surely ranks high. Petty told Rolling Stone that he put a lot of effort into sequencing the material in order to make each disc represent “a whole program,” like an individual concert set. Acknowledging the fracturing of artistic intent that iTunes represents and how people will undoubtedly cherry-pick the individual tunes they want to hear, he added, “But there’s somebody out there who will sit down and take it as the work it is.”
And what a work it is: a series of five emotional journeys (four, if you opt for the standard, budget-conscious 4CD edition, but I encourage you to be brave, hock your kid’s bike at the nearest pawn shop, and go for the full unexpurgated Kahuna), arranged not chronologically but in order to reveal, as Petty writes in his liners, “mood first… a band capable of thinking on its feet… one moment leading to the next.”
If you’ve had the patience to read this far you’re obviously a Petty fan and probably don’t need me to sell you on the music. I will say that, given the sheer quantity here, 62 songs in all, it’s damned remarkable that there’s nary a shred of excess on display. Even at their most demonstrative, say on a 2001 wig-out on “Don’t Come Around Here No More” or the extended boogie/raveup/anthem that is 1993’s “Drivin’ Down To Georgia,” the Heartbreakers demonstrate a cool restraint that keeps the focus on the actual songs. They also, via a healthy sampling of cover material (my faves: Peter Green & Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well,” from Bonnaroo ’06, and Bo Diddley’s “Diddy Wah Diddy,” from the famed 1997 Fillmore residency), open the doors wide to an in-action view of the band’s roots, influences and inspirations.
And for a collection of tapes that spans three decades, the sonic consistency and flow across the discs amount to an achievement that’s equally remarkable. For example, the aforementioned “DCAHNM” is followed immediately by a 1978 recording of “Too Much Ain’t Enough,” but they sound like they could have come from the same show. Another memorable pairing juxtaposes “Southern Accents” with Wildflowers standout “Crawling Back to You,” confirming a notion I’ve long held, that the Southern Accents and Wildflowers albums, though separated by a decade, are linked musically and thematically in Petty’s mind. And in one of the most striking sequences, one that almost singlehandedly sums up the Petty musical and thematic aesthetic, you get “Even the Losers”/”Here Comes My Girl” (1980) followed by “A Thing About You” (1981), “I’m In Love” (1982), “I’m A Man” (2006) and “Straight Into Darkness” (1982) — an entire lifetime’s worth of defiance, bliss, celebration, swagger and heartbreak rolled into a 25-minute mini-set.
In the latter tune, originally from 1982’s Long After Dark, Petty sings:
“There was a little girl, I used to know her I still think about her, time to time There was a moment when I really loved her Then one day the feeling just died… I don’t believe the good times are over I don’t believe the thrill is all gone Real love is a man’s salvation The weak ones fall, the strong carry on…”
It’s a telling number that, like “American Girl,” has a universality sunk deep into its sonic and lyric hooks, and it’s emblematic of the many musical riches contained on The Live Anthology. Listening to the box is like immersing oneself in a sea of personal sense memories. Indeed, as a songwriter, Petty’s sometimes been accused of having an unvarnished nostalgic streak. (You could make a similar case for Springsteen.) But there’s a difference in nostalgia for the sake of cheap, fleeting emotion, and nostalgia that seeks to extract something that’s true and pure from a previous life in order to find clarity within the present one. The present’s never quite as clear-cut as we like to tell ourselves it is.
I reckon that’s something else Petty and I have in common. We both realize that to survive and move forward you often have to escape your current circumstances — after all, it’s a great big world, with lots of places to run to — but only a fool would try to erase the past. Luckily, I’ll always have my southern accent to remind me of mine.
Petty: The Biography (by Warren Zanes) review: John B. Moore (November 2015—full review here)
“While the book is crammed with a lot of the popular Petty lore that many may already know, like his friendships George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan – all eventual members of the Traveling Wilburys – his longtime collaborations and kinship with Stevie Nicks and his remarkable solo career, the book also covers some of the more interesting aspects of the Petty story, most that have never been told in full detail before. In particular, before the band really took off, Petty was signed on as a writer and collaborator for Leon Russell where he would often be sent for at all hours of the night, simply to cool his heels on the couch outside the studio waiting for inspiration to strike his boss.
“Despite his relationship with Petty, Zanes still tackles some of the tougher aspects of the rockers career, including his struggles with heroine and other drugs, soured relationships with his bandmates, his divorce and a strained relationship with his father. Petty discusses all in a refreshingly honest manner and still manages to come off as sanguine.”
“Mojo is billed as a return-to-roots affair, loaded with the blues, Southern rock and West Coast psychedelia of Petty’s youth, a loose, collaborative and comfort-zone effort for the band aimed at pleasing themselves first and foremost (but which won’t come across as exactly esoteric to theircore audience)…. it’s a stronger, more assured effort than the last proper TP and the Heartbreakers album, 2002’s The Last DJ, which was very good but got bogged down in a few spots by its thematic conceits. And it’s a zillion times better than 2006’s Highway Companion, a Petty solo album that, aside from some contributions from Campbell and coproducer Jeff Lynne, featured Petty playing most of the instruments and going for a loose (if polished) feel that ultimately came off as tentative and too introspective for its own good. So whether Petty came to view those two records as misfires or was energized by the Mudcrutch and The Live Anthology experiences (or both), the end result is a collection of tunes that sounds like it was fun to write and record, one which evolved organically from the sheer joy of making music together.
“Ultimately Mojo, by striking a deft balance between earthy performances and crystalline production and presenting a focused-yet-diverse array of tunes, is the most satisfying studio release from Petty in a decade or more. Damn the media clichés, then; it’s far more than a return to roots. It’s a goddam renewal, spinning the same kind of new-discovery magic that sparked the imagination of a pre-internet generation all those years ago. Who’s up for some memories?”
Mojo Tour 2010 Live Album Expanded Edition review: Fred Mills (December 2010—full review here)
“A superior souvenir from this past summer – you can track down full-show bootlegs and audience tapes easily enough, but probably not any that were recorded and mixed professionally for the band – and as kind of summation-to-date of the Heartbreakers and their
notable, time-tested live aesthetic.”
“The band hit the stage at 9:00 PM sharp and Petty seemed in exceptionally good spirits (maybe something in the, uh, Colorado air?) and if I may introduce the band? Benmont Tench still on keys, Mike Campbell on guitar (and though he is Petty’s age, looks much younger), original bassist Ron Blair on the bass, (all three with Petty since 1976 though Blair dropped out and then dropped back in after Howie Epstein’s death in 2003) as well as drummer Steve Ferrone and (very sharp dressed) 3rd guitarist Scott Thurston (Ferrone and Thurston are the “new” guys though both have been around at least 20 years).
“These days the band basically cherry picks the best stuff from their catalog (40 plus years worth) and they sounded terrific, though Petty was really the only one who moves about the stage, dancing, arms in the air/conducting, interacting with the crowd, etc.”
“It’s groove over gravitas. A deeply furrowed bass line underscores the restless rhythm of the aptly titled “Faultlines” and its apparent companion piece, “Shadow People,” while the boogie and bluster of “Burnt Out Town” sounds amazingly like a lost long gem from the ZZ Top songbook. More on point, the full throttled, unrelenting pace driving the majority of these tracks – “Forgotten Man” and “All You Can Carry” being two examples – brings to mind such early standbys as “Runnin’ Down a Dream” and the equally edgy “American Girl.”
“Although it’s easy to lament the fact that Petty and the Heartbreakers don’t vary all that much from their usual template. Hypnotic Eye also affirms the fact they remain an austere and unapologetic outfit, which has pretty much been their mantra since the start. After nearly 40 years, it’s almost reassuring in a way to find Petty’s still so full of purpose.”
This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.
BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY
Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 6 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which means that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….
7 & 7 is… (#3) This cool zine is the size of a 45 record (and even includes a flexi) is done by the folks who run the terrific label Hidden Volume label out of Baltimore (think sort of an updated version of Estrus Records, at least in the graphics dept). Plus it’s named after a Love song so of course it’s good, man! This ish has interviews with The Improbables (done by some wanker named Hinely) and Louie Louie plus some most excellent graphics and reviews. Do me a favor, inundate Scott with orders so he continues with this one. www.hiddenvolume.com
The Big Takeover (#80) As I stated last time, if editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Every June and December one of these drops into my mail box (thanks Jack!) . This time around it’s Chrissie Hynde of The Pretender (on da’ cover) plus other heavyweights like Tommy Stinson, part two of the Lush interview, Tobin Sprout, The Black Watch, Sleaford Mods, Grandaddy and more and lots of more including short takes and a boatload (or truckload if you prefer) of reviews. Also, as I stated last time, you need to subscribe. www.bigtakeover.com
Bored Out (#1) Ok, not really a zine, more like a book (it’s bound) but zine-ish enough as editor Ryan Leach has put together one hell of a lineup here including totally in-depth interviews with Kid Congo Powers, In the Red Record’s Larry Hardy, The Bats’ Robert Scott, Jeffrey Evans formerly of the Gibson Bros, Ross Johnson, The Blasters’ Dave Alvin, The Real Kids’ John Felice and plenty more. I’m about halfway through and totally fascinated. This one’s a keeper, order now. www.spacecaserecords.com
Dynamite Hemorrhage (#4) So for this issue, his 4th since coming back from the dead (so to speak…editor Jay Hinman used to do the great Superdope in the 90’s) Mr. Hinman decided to go all half-sized on us (just like the early issues of Superdope) but it still looks way sharp. In this ish he has an interview with The Kiwi Animal as well as a terrific piece on Happy Squid Records, plus he updates his old piece of 45 45’s that moved heaven and earth to expand it to 100 45’s. In addition, plenty of reviews all wrapped up in a nice little package that only Hinman can put together. www.dynamitehemorrhage.com Vulcher (#3) Yes! The Vulcher crew are on a real roll here and yes, they’re already working on issue #4. The crew is Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy and a long list of contributors (including yours truly) and they really delve deep and deliver here. It has the feel of an old school mag and this time around are bits ‘n pieces on Eric Dolphy, Obnox, early 45s by Jim Dickinson, Uncle Meat, The Embryonics, Big Boy Pete, a piece on the late, great David Peel, my piece on two great Aussie garage rock comps and really too much more. Well worth every penny. Write Eddie at email@example.com or Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org
A striking new album from the songwriter pulls music out of the ether.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
“I’m one part psychedelic gypsy and three parts blue-eyed refugee,” Mike Scott sings on his new album, and indeed that description gives some small insight into his musical persona. Yet it doesn’t tell all. Not by a long shot.
The fact is, Scott has never lacked for ambition. As both the erstwhile leader of the Waterboys and a journeyman all on his own, he’s specialised in sweeping widescreen epochs that draw on his Scottish origins by recalling the grace and grandeur of his homeland’s rugged windswept environs. The band’s archetypical classics This Is the Sea and Fisherman’s Blues set the standard, but in the 30 years since, Scott has never stopped challenging himself or those who await every note with breathless anticipation.
Nevertheless, Scott remains something of an anomaly, a perennial troubadour ever in search of his musical roots. Evocative, inspired and imbued with spiritual essence, Scott strives to connect the music of his Scottish forebears with the appeal necessary to lure a contemporary audience.
Scott’s latest effort under the Waterboys moniker is entitled Out of All This Blue, a sprawling two record set (Three in the deluxe version) that finds him paying homage to certain cities visited on his last American tour — New York, Nashville and Santa Fe in particular — while also experimenting with new rhythms that drive his music into new and more experimental realms. It’s a remarkable ambitious effort, created mostly by Scott himself with studio assists from veteran bassist David Hood, ongoing compatriot, fiddler Steve Wickham, Brother Paul on keys and Zach Ernst on lead guitar. Stunning in its scope, it’s easily Scott’s most diverse set yet.
Blurt recently had the opportunity to speak to Scott from New York where we found him in the midst of a series of press interviews for the new album. He graciously gave of his time in sharing insights into the new album and his career overall.
BLURT: So how are you doing Mike?
SCOTT: I’m fine. I just arrived here in New York last night.
Apparently you love New York, at least according to that song on your new album, “New York, I Love You.”.
I’m a downtown dude, but I’m here in Midtown so I feel like I’m in a foreign country.
Your latest album is wonderful as always. So what went into the writing of these songs? How long have they been gestating, so to speak?
They were written in a period from April 2015 to the end of 2016. It was recorded quickly in between concert tours and festivals. I worked with some hip-hop and funk beats which I manipulated to get just the way I wanted them. I was working on my own mostly, but I did bring members of the band in for individual sessions. Much of the work was done solitary at my home studio. To me, it sounds like a departure, leading into a more funk or pop region, which is somewhere in the background of the Waterboys’ music. It’s kind of like “Heatwave” by Martha and the Vandelas. I never realized how big an influence on me that it was. And now it’s all come to the fore on this record.
So how did this all come about? What have you been listening to specifically that might have had an impact on you?
I never listen to rock music at all. What I listen to is jazz and soul music. A lot of music of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s… Sly Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Booker T and the MGs, Marvin Gaye, Motown singles, King Curtis. That’s my speed, man. So now I’m trying to make music like that for the first time. I’m actually channelling those influences.
At one point, you opted to go solo and you branded your albums with your name only. Yet, the band is still centered around you, and so at this point, how much of the Waterboys is about you, and how much is about the band?
It’s a blur. It is me and I’m the center of the operation. The last album, Modern Blues, was a band album, and so we do come together and record as a band. But this album, it’s mostly me. And yet, the other musicians are a big part of it. Steve Wickham was my great musical advisor on this record. He was one of the go to guys that would be give me feedback when I needed it, when I wanted to test an arrangement or direction. Steve only plays on half the album with his fiddle, but his musical ear was involved on the whole record. I also used several Americans on this record and they had a huge influence on my writing because I felt as if I was writing the songs for them to play. A lot of American people are Anglophiles who think life is greener on the other side of the Atlantic, but it’s the other way around for me and other people from Britain. We think American music is the “It.” We are so enamoured of places like New Orleans, Austin, San Francisco, Chicago, Nashville – the cradle of all these great kinds of American music. So having these American guys in the band was a great thrill, especially David Hood. David Hood was part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section in the ‘60s and ‘70s. He played with James Brown. He played on “Loves Me like a Rock” with Paul Simon. He played with the Staple Singers and now he’s in my band! So that was a big inspiration for me, to think I’m writing songs for those guys to play. There was big influences from the band members even if they didn’t play on the whole thing.
American music has always seemed to be a big lure for musicians from other parts of the world. But English music is a fascination for us over here, and one of the things that has always been so fascinating about the Waterboys are those Celtic sounds that were so integral to the early music.
They’re still there, but they are very much in the background at the moment. They’re like a band member who is back in the shadows and comes forward to do a solo. The next record which I’ve already started on goes much further into the world of beats and hip hop production values. But I’ve also used some Celtic material on the next record and matched it with the hip hop sounds.
This new album shows your obvious infatuation with the States based on the titles alone. For example, “New York, I Love You,” “Santa Fe,” Nashville, Tennessee”… Was this album intended to be a love letter to America?
Not consciously, no. Those three songs were the first songs written for the record. They all came after a big American tour when my head was filled with the sights and sounds of the U.S.A. Nashville was written on a flight from Atlanta to Nashville, when we played at Third and Lindsey last year. We did the song as our encore. I taught it to the band during our soundcheck. I whipped it up on the plane coming over, wrote it down on a piece of paper and when we did it as an encore, the audience cheered in all the right places. And of course, when I mentioned Nashville Tennessee, they all went crazy. That version is on the bonus disc of the album. You can hear the audience participation.
It sounds like some of the songs came rather quickly and some had been around since the last album.
They began in the summer of 2015 and they all came rather quickly. I do have several years of backed up songs, but that wasn’t the case here. These are all new recordings.
Were there songs that weren’t used this time around? Songs that didn’t make the cut?
Yes, there were three or four that were good enough for the record, but I didn’t get it down to the right version. Those will be on the next record, including the title track, “Out of All This Blue.”
Was the fact that you had a wealth of quality material that inspired you to make this a double album? Was there any initial thought as to making it a single album?
I had the conviction to make it a double album. I wanted to take the band into the studio for two weeks and do a double. It was time. So I kept writing, and fortunately for me, the songs kept coming, and they came fast. And then something happened in my mind to change the plan. When we finished our tour at the end of 2015, I realized that we hadn’t made any money. We had only broken even. So I didn’t have a budget to go into the studio, which had been my plan. I didn’t want to wait, although I could have waited through another summer festival season and made money that way. But it would have been too hard to wait and I wanted to go into the studio straight away. So I started working at home with beats and loops. Fortunately, our drummer, who is one of the top drummers in the U.K. — we’re very lucky to have him — made one of these drum collections like drummers do. I asked for a copy, and he said fine. But unfortunately, due to technology, you can only get it through the drum loop website. So he sent me to this place called producerloops.com and it had thousands of super cool hip-hop beats. I spent a lot of time going through them, and the ones I got were the dirtiest, funkiest things that I could find. So it gave me many, many grooves for this album. I loved the loops so much I just kept using them. As I said, I didn’t have a budget for this album so it worked out really well.
It appears that throughout your career, you’ve never lost your inspiration. You’ve gone from peak to peak. After some 35 years, you still seem to be as inspired as always. How are you able to sustain that enthusiasm?
I’ve been asked this question a lot and I don’t mind it at all. It’s a good question. The real answer is that I don’t know. I’m still hungry and I’m still turned on by music. I’m not sure why and I don’t know any other way to be. I don’t know why it is the way it is for me. If I could speculate, I would say that there have been a few times throughout my musical life where I could have compromised and done what people wanted me to do. But it would have gone contrary to my musical instincts and cost me big time in terms of my inspiration. It’s that inspiration that helps me to keep going. That’s not to say that I occasionally lose it. I’ve had a few years where I didn’t have any new songs. But when that happens, I don’t get hung up on it. I just wait for the muse to reappear again and it always does.
You had great success early on — with albums such as This Is the Sea and Dream Harder in particular. You sold a lot of records, had great success on the charts, and it was at a relatively early stage in your career. Did that set that a high bar that you felt compelled to exceed every time out after that?
No, I didn’t at all. I don’t think much about chart positions. Of course, I’m very happy when my songs are successful. When they’re hits, it’s a wonderful feeling. I want the maximum number of people to hear them. So I’m not just making records for myself in my cave. I’m making them with the audience in mind. But I still do what I do regardless of whether it falls into fashion and whether the critics and the public go out and buy the record. I’m still going to do it anyway. In ’85 to ’93 when the records went into the charts, it was great, but I think this record is better than any of those records, and maybe the last one was too. And maybe the one before that as well. But I think part of it was because I was a young artist, and I had an awareness of myself. Everybody likes writing about new artists who they can claim to have discovered or can take kudos for having discovered. It’s very difficult to get that attention when there’s not that newness any more. But I love making records regardless. And even the success that I had during that period was mainly in the U.K. and Europe. I didn’t really have a big American record. I still want that. That keeps me motivated because I feel that I still have something to prove. I think I’m as good a singer, writer, and artist as anyone of my generation. Some have done better than me, but I think I’m as good as them in a competitive way. So I think I still have something to prove.
What sort of feedback do you get back from fans? Do you have an opportunity to interact?
Yes, of course. I’m active on the internet, on social media. I’m on twitter, so people are always tweeting me about my music and Donald Trump.
Your Dear Mr. Yates album, based on the work of the poet of the same name, was very interesting. Out of curiosity, is there some other literary influence that might inspire a similar album in the future?
I don’t think so. I think it’s possible I might do a themed album along those lines, a specific topic album, but not a poet’s work again, no. Only Yates had that effect on me.
You just mentioned Trump and the tweets. Do you have an interest in politics or the state of the world to such an extent it might influence your direction?
Anything that I feel strongly about is up for songwriting, but so far, even though I have strong feelings about Trump and his fake government, I haven’t written anything about that. I did write two songs with some topical interest however. One is called “Eye Candy for the Ladies,” which is written from Donald’s point of view. (sings) “Oh man, I’m eye candy for the ladies, oh man I’m a beautiful thing.” It went on like that, but it wasn’t good enough. So I gave up on singing about Donald Trump. It just wasn’t any fun. Then I had another one called “Pink in America, White,” which was inspired by those idiots who gathered in the south with burning torches and all their ideas about white supremacy. It was good, but it didn’t quite meet my standards. So until one does, I ain’t going to be writing about it.
As someone from the U.K. who has spent a lot of time in the States, how do you see what’s going on over here? Has your view of the U.S. changed at all?
I think there’s an identity crisis going on for America. America is a young country. It’s 241 years old and it’s relatively young. So I see America as a relatively young and gifted teenager, but one that’s going through an identity crisis. Isn’t America supposed to be a multicultural, give me your people yearning to be free kind of place, or is it actually a paranoid, right wing, white supremacist nation with those fanatics, the evangelical Christians? Which is it? America hasn’t decided yet?
It seemed like the country had decided until certain elements came into play.
Yes, but the bonkers, religious right wing has been growing since the ‘70s. I remember the moral majority and all that. It got stronger and stronger and became the Tea Party, and now there’s Trump. It’s been there a long time. It’s part of America’s DNA and they’re up for a revolution. That’s what I think. A transformation.
It’s a little scary.
Yes, very scary.
Getting back to the subject of music, let’s go back a bit. What were your early influences? Were you raised in a musical family? What were you listening to growing up?
My mum and dad had a record player. I can still see it now. It was one of those polished wood gramophones with a radio. It was actually called a radiogram. You’d open a little door and there was actually a sweet smelling little record deck inside and there was a panel where you could store your LPs. I remember we had Sgt. Pepper by the Beatles and Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. And they had 78s as well and I used to play those. Then I got turned on to the pop charts when I was about nine years old, and mum and dad would buy me a single every week.
Your parents nurtured your musical interest. That was nice.
So at what point did you decide that this was what you wanted to do?
When I was 12 years old.
That’s early on!
Yes. My dad gave me a guitar for my tenth birthday and it leaned against the wall for about 18 months until a friend of mine showed me three chords – E, A and B7. So at first I could play “At the Hop,” “Ride a White Swan,” “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Long Tall Sally,” any of those old tracks. So that’s what I did in my bedroom.
You seem to have a very spiritual sensibility about you, and it’s always been present in your music, whether it’s at the surface or not. How does that spirituality inform you, musically, personally or otherwise?
There’s just seems to be a sense of enlightenment about what you do.
Well, thank you.
It seems like you look to a higher plain. And that seems to have been an element in the Waterboys’ music since the beginning. There’s that upward glance. Is that something you can talk about? Where does it come from? Is it inspired by the music, or the other way around? Is it a desire to share some part of the universe?
It’s hard for me to get perspective on it because I don’t know anything else. I think you put it correctly when you said maybe it comes naturally and I don’t think about it. I don’t belong to any specific religion. I was never interested in Christianity when I was growing up. The form of Christianity that I knew in Scotland was very gray and very boring. Singing hymns and going to church never interested me at all. I think I learned more about life and living by reading the Narnia books than anything that I’ve read since. I wouldn’t say the Narnia books are a Christian allegory or anything, because I don’t think the author, C.S. Lewis, was bound by his Christianity. He transcended it. He managed to manage to articulate wisdom and spiritual truth that are common to all the world’s great religions. If I was to meet C.S. Lewis, I would disagree with him about Christianity, but I would agree with him about love. What I learned about his books was the power of love. There’s a line in one of my new songs called “If the Answer is Yeah,” and the guy in the song has to answer the question, “Do you own your own shadow?” I’ve learned that if I want to progress as a human being you’ve got to own your own shadow. I have to look into my own darkest corners, see what’s there and own my own problems. Yes, that was me and when I do that, I can recognize my own light. So that’s a constant daily thing to work on, and now that I’m a dad for the first time at the age of 54 — my sons are age four and seven months — these are things that I will teach them as they grow up.
There’s a lot of spiritual profundity in what you just said. It’s very profound and that’s what I was referring to. You share a lot of insight through your music. There’s an awareness that’s always been a hallmark of your music since the beginning.
In my career, there have been times when that’s come right to the forefront of my music, and it’s very costly to do that. When I began my solo career in the mid ‘90s, I did so in a way that was very counterproductive. When George Michael went solo, after he had a lot of success with Wham, he had his greatest commercial success with “Careless Whisper,” which was recorded in an American studio with the great Jerry Wexler and the cream of America’s session musicians. It had a super cool saxophone riff. And it was so well produced and well promoted and that’s how he started his solo career. It was like a home run. I started my solo career making a one man, acoustic, spiritual album in a spiritual community and playing all the instruments myself. I couldn’t have done it in a more different way than George. And it cost me commercially. I don’t mind because it’s what I had to do at the time. So what I’m saying is, sometimes these things come right to the front of the music. These days. I don’t feel the need to write about those topics. Still, they always sink into the lyrics a little bit. They’re always informing the lyrics. So I can see how you pick up on that.
There’s a certain mystique that accompanies your music, and that’s what creates great anticipation for every new album. It will always have that uplifting element to it.
So what’s the plan going forward from here?
I’m going to tour in the U.K. and Europe in six weeks’ time with a nine piece band! We have a couple of backup singers as well as the lead guitarist from the band Royal Southern Brotherhood. A really cool player. Then we’ll have a little bit of a break and then in the spring and after that we’re going to tour again in Britain. Then I hope to come back to the U.S.A. and Japan as well. And then I hope to finish the next record as well.
Above: Scott with his fiddler Steve Wickham. Below, a video clip of the duo performing in Austin during SXSW 2013 at BLURT’s annual day party.
On their new album Plastic Fantastic,Cyril, Chris, & Co. hit the ignition button and blast off in a spectacular return to form.
BY BARRY ST. VITUS
With the state of decay that rock ‘n’ roll has composted into over the last several years, it’s important to have a touchstone like the Flamin’ Groovies to reboot our brains and remind us what it’s really all about. Since the original lineup formed in ’66, their lineups over the years have seen more changes than Drumpf’s White Power House staff appointments, but, have remained pretty true to their original sound through it all. This point in time finds them still creatively brilliant in both writing and playing. Although ex-Charlatan/Groovie Michael Wilhelm and band co-founder Roy Loney weren’t involved in this latest resurrection, original bassist George Alexander makes the scene on most of the tunes, drummer Victor Penalosa and former member Chris Wilson co-writes about half the numbers with Cyril Jordan, after a 38-year separation.
This partnership is where the ignition hits the combustible and blast-off is achieved, and is pretty damned spectacular. Their touring lineup includes bassist Chris von Sneidern and Tony (grandson of Soupy) Sales on drums. After Jordan and Wilson rekindled their friendship in 2013, they started slowly recording tunes at a Sausalito studio, slowly piecing together an album over a 3-year period.
Having been a fan since Sneakers was released in ‘68, I was blown away from the first couple of tunes, and greatly impressed by this latest incarnation. Through the decades, their musical choices have always been a bit out of sync with the current time period, making them not exactly appealing to the hippies of the late ‘60’s, with songs that sounded like they were lifted from artists of the previous decade, in a period of folk-rock and psychedelia. Plastic Fantastic (Sonic Kick Records; no website listed) stays true to their vision, belting out tunes that cover ground remindful of British Invasion bands, classic rock, power-pop, Mod and Freakbeat. There’s even a tasty instrumental thrown in.
I can’t let the great cover by Jordan go by without a nod. Jordan drew Mickey Mouse comics at Disney in the ‘80’s, and had hoped to get famous Mad magazine Jack Davis draw a cover for some future project. Davis agreed, but passed away before it came to fruition. Putting rapidograph to paper, he came up with this very serviceable homage to Davis’s 1959 cover for Monster Rally.
The album kicks off with a ballsy, bluesy, Stones-flavored smack-down, “What The Hell’s Going On.” It’s a clear shot across the bow, letting you know that they aren’t screwing around. It also makes for a pretty good anthem for 2017. “The End Of The World” couldn’t sound more Groovies-infused (think “Shake Some Action”) if they had a gun pointed at their head and were forced to clone their signature sound. They dig into the Beau Brummels’ catalog and juice up their classic Mod-ish number “Don’t Talk To Strangers,” really capturing the atmosphere of that time period. Their Flamingo-era flavored “Let Me Rock” shakes things up old-school style and belongs on juke boxes in soda shops everywhere. This is not the ’71 version, but a fresh update. Rock on, indeed!
“She Loves You” and “I Want You Bad” revisit the jangle of “Shake Some Action” and “You Tore Me Down” to lovely effect, making it not much of a stretch for them both to have come from that era. Early Beatles-sound shines through (ala “Long Tall Sally”/”Matchbox”/”Slow Down”) on “Crazy Macy,” thanks to a pounding Jerry Lee beat. This was a single released by the band about a year ago as a tasty appetizer for the upcoming album. “Lonely Hearts,” as the title evokes, is a broody ballad about separation, love lost and hope of reconciliation. “Just Like A Hurricane” rolls in a lot like Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together” but with throbbing guitars and wah-wah instead of a horn section.
It sounds like all voices are joining in on “Fallen Star,” which locomotes and chugs right along like a freight train, with some fine guitar riffs, fading out with some Byrdsian guitar chimes. I’m endlessly disappointed that bands don’t do more instrumentals, but the band shines through here with “I’d Rather Spend My time With You,” which is about one step removed from a surf number, with a sprinkling of “ahhhs.” Drummer Prairie Prince joins in on drums, along with bass parts laid down by noted producer-archivist Alec Palao. A Byrdsy beginning kicks off “Cryin’ Shame,” a very ‘60’s sound, accompanied with nice harmonies on the chorus parts.
It has to be noted, that even with a pretty amazing catalog on the shelves from decades back, Fantastic Plastic might just be their finest effort. This is the music that stirs your loins and flies in your face like the sweet bird of youth come home to roost. Fingers crossed that this isn’t their Final Vinyl.
“A blitzkrieg of stories, anecdotes and tips on life”—and a night made all the more poignant and memorable in the aftermath of the legendary drummer’s untimely recent passing.
BY DANNY R. PHILLIPS
I learned recently that one of my punk rock heroes is no longer of this world.
Grant Hart, the drummer and songwriting foil to Bob Mould in the now legendary Husker Du, has lost his battle with cancer. He was 56. I am saddened by this loss to the music world; a blow like this hit music nerds—like myself—hard. Hart is undoubtedly one of most influential drummers of alternative music and punk. He laid out a racket before him that has been copied many times over by countless bands, but no one got it quite as spot on as Hart.
He brought jazz precision and heavy metal aggression to the growing punk rock landscape and should be remembered as one of the Underground finest songsmiths. Whether it be with Husker Du (the band’s Zen Arcade is considered to be the greatest concept album punk has ever produced), as leader of Nova Mob, a solo performer, or as a well-respected artist, Hart has left his mark on the world, a mark that will never fade.
I’ll be honest: My job as a music journalist can be a pain in the ass at times. Labels, bands, publicists can be, shall we say, a sensitive lot. Don’t get me wrong; I love my job and have done it to the best of my abilities for the past twenty years. I’ve been to great shows and have seen wild things that have no place in print. Every once in awhile you meet someone, that changes your perception of music and life in general.
That hero for me was and is Grant Hart.
The first time I met Grant was at the Recordbar in Kansas City. He was opening for his former SST label mates The Meat Puppets; I had interviewed Kurt Kirkwood for a piece in The Pitch and was invited to the show. As I am standing at the merch table preparing to purchase yet another black t-shirt, this dude came up to me and commented about the Jack Kerouac button on my leather jacket. “You know, I’ve got William Burroughs’ copy of On the Road.” He said. My reply, in the horrible lighting of that small club? “Yeah? Good for you.” He laughed. After the show, he caught up with me at the bar. I apologized for my rudeness, to which he responded by buying me a beer. We talked about punk, guitars, the pros and cons of touring and whether or not there would be a Husker Du reunion. If there was hope for the reunion (he seemed to think it would happen) sadly, now that will never happen. After a half hour or so at the bar, he climbed into his goal minivan and drove to the next show like he had done a million times before in his 40+ career in music.
Fast forward six or seven years. I had met filmmaker Gorman Bechard after I had given a favorable praise to an exceptional documentary he had done on Minnesota groundbreakers The Replacements called Color Me Obsessed: A Film about the Replacements. When it came time for a follow-up, he aimed his lens on one of the most open characters in the history of punk and alternative music in general. When it was completed, Gorman sent me an early copy of Every Everything: The Music, Life and Times of Grant Hart. What I saw was one of the best rock docs I’d ever seen. Not only for the quality director’s eye of Bechard but for the raw openness that Hart brought to the process: no bullshit, let’s do this and do it right.
The review that I originally did for BLURT MAGAZINE later was selected for the anthology, That Devil Music.com: Best Rock Writing of 2014. Because of all this, something happened that I never, in all my days, thought would happen, I was invited to dinner with Grant Hart.
Gorman told me that he and Grant would be in Lawrence, KS, for a showing of Every Everything at The Free State Film Festival. Hart was scheduled to hold a Q&A accompanied by a performance and showing of the film. Gorman reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in have dinner with he and Grant before the showing. Would I be interested? Are you fucking kidding me?? Of course I was interested.
It was not to be an interview; Grant liked my review and wanted to shoot the shit. No recording devices, no note pads, just food and conversation. After some fanboy awkwardness on my part, the talking began. Hart talked at a mile a minute, rambling on about music, his love of classic cars especially a 1955 Studebaker Champ, art, the film, his hopes for a Husker Du reunion, the man knew many things about many things. This went by as a four hour blur, a blitzkrieg of stories, anecdotes and tips on life.
As we walked down Massachusetts Street, beer in hand, heading to the premiere of Every Everything, he asked when I wanted to do the interview.
An interview is not needed; this was not about work; this night felt like two friends talking about life, music, and the joys of a well-made car.
From Phillips’ review of the documentary:
“Hart seems to be both at peace and at battle with his life. Nothing illustrates the point more than this sad tidbit from his childhood: Grant started drumming because, at 10 years old, he lost his brother Tom, who was a drummer, tragically in an accident. Grant inherited the drum set and started playing because a family member thought it would be a way “for Tom to live on.” Hart is a man constantly looking for something, looking for himself. To do so, he seems to be ready, willing and able to lay his demons in full view.
“Therein lays the beauty of Every Everything; where many iconic rock figures would most likely hide behind anecdotes from their career , vagaries, and a need to keep their legend intact, Grant throws everything on the table and starts chopping away.
“Hart is a man with a story to tell and Bechard’s film is a near perfect place to hear that story. All you have to do is sit down, watch and listen.”
A pull quote from that review appeared on the cover of the official Record Store Day vinyl release of the film’s soundtrack. Below: a photo of Hart and Mould that Mould posted at his Facebook page after Hart’s death.
Songwriter, guitarist, singer, artist, a mentor, an inspiration—a spark.
BY FRED MILLS
Dynamic Nashville indie rockers Those Darlins broke up last year, but the garagey and totally rock ‘n’ roll outfit left behind a memorable decade-long legacy. Simply stated, and as we put it in a 2013 feature on the band, the group served up “tough, fully realized songs; muscular, rocking playing; smart arrangements; convincing singing—the whole package.”
So… this week brought the immensely sad news that one of Those Darlins’ two frontwomen, Jessi Zazu, has passed away from cervical cancer, leaving a huge hole in the collective heart of we here at BLURT, and no doubt in the hearts of fans across the globe. The Tennessean reported that she died Tuesday, September 12, at Nashville’s Centennial hospital. She had family members and friend with her at the time of her passing.
The gifted, witty musician was only 28, which makes the loss all the more poignant. She was raised a musical family (her uncle was country star Steve Wariner), telling us, in that 2013 interview, “I was born in Nashville, and grew up in Kentucky and Indiana, pretty much been in the south and rural areas my whole life. There’s always been music I my life. I grew up in a family of musicians. I always knew that it would be a path I’d go down. I was encouraged in my home to be creative and do what I wanted to do. My grandfather taught me how to play guitar. I started taking lessons from him when I was nine.”
Zazu, fellow guitarist Nikki Kvarnes, and bassist Kelley Anderson formed the band in ’06, eventually drafting drummer Linwood Regensburg after the release of their 2009 self-titled debut, and with the release of 2011’s Screws Get Loose the critical floodgates—not to mention the public’s adoration—poured forth. Early on, the word was that the almost-all-gal band was a distaff take on the venerable insurgent country ethos (as epitomized by the Bloodshot Recs stable of mavericks). Which was fair enough; twang ‘n’ drawl was certainly a large part of the band’s sound, abetted by telling covers of both A.P. Carter and Uncle Dave Macon, and it was also pretty hard to overlook their moniker and their record label name (the delightfully blue collar-sounding Oh Wow Dang Records) in terms of presuming some serious hillbilly action going on. But by the time of 2011’s Screws Get Loose the group’s garage-punk roots were also on clear display, with reverby electric guitars as prominent as strummed acoustics, and some serious ‘60s girl-group vocals creeping into the mix as well.
Though Anderson left the following year, to be replaced by Adrian Barrera (from Gentlemen Jesse & His Men), Those Darlins lost no momentum, leading to 2013’s Roger Moutenot-produced Blur the Line, which figured highly—and in many cases, topped—that year’s best-of lists from critics and fans. (Pick to click: The sexysaucycool, almost T.Rex-like “In the Wilderness,” accompanied by an even sexier and cooler video.) It was a bold, mature, genre-traversing album beholden to no single factor other than talent. Sadly, the group wouldn’t last to cut a fourth album although for Record Store Day 2015 they did appear on a split album with Diarrhea Planet, Live at Pickathon.
“On December 9, 2015, the band announced, via its Facebook page, that it was going on hiatus. “We’re here to deliver some unfortunate news… Those Darlins will be taking an indefinite hiatus effective after our final tour in January. We’ve had a really great run together, but the time has come for us to move in different directions. We really appreciate all the love and support from our friends, fans, and family over the years.”
Zazu subsequently turned to working on her art; according to The Tennessean, she mounted a display in June at the Julia Martin Gallery that included works from her mother Kathy Wariner. And she also made public her battle with cancer, having been diagnosed in early 2016. She created a striking tee-shirt design reading “Ain’t Afraid” in order to raise funds for her chemotherapy, and as Those Darlins had been one of Nashville’s most popular indie rock groups, the fanbase responded accordingly. A recent John Prine tribute concert in Nashville even wound up being a Zazu fundraiser—those Darlins had previously appeared on a Prine tribute album—when the organizers announced they were donating the proceeds to her medical fund.
As of this writing no announcement had been made regarding a funeral or memorial.
“Zazu was a rock star in her hometown, but one completely free of attitude. She lifted up her peers and always welcomed newcomers. As an integral part of Southern Girls Rock Camp, she devoted herself to convincing girls that they could talk about anything, through music and also through visual art, her other medium. Small in stature, Jessi lived her message that creativity can make a person — especially a young woman — heroic, though she’d never use such a self-inflating term. Jessi was more playful and ever-curious, a 21st-century female version of Jack conquering the beanstalk — always climbing higher, killing giants, enlarging her worldview.
“More remarkably, she never stopped creating. In her last year, she produced enough drawings, ceramics and other artworks to stage two major exhibitions, recorded an as-yet unreleased album, and kept coming up with new projects… Fundamentally, she was a spark. She started things, connected people, lit the ignition in our sometimes tired minds and hearts. Her slogan was “Ain’t Afraid” — and she wasn’t, because there was no darkness that her brilliance couldn’t cut through, or at least make light enough to live in. The fiery particle that was the gift she gave us will never burn out.”
In the aforementioned 2013 interview, Zazu offered contributor Steven Wilson a number of memorable quotes regarding her roots and her approach to music. They bear repeating here. After that, check out some more of the band’s delightful videos as well as some choice live clips.
Jessi Zazu on…
…her childhood and path to music: “I was born in Nashville, and grew up in Kentucky and Indiana, pretty much been in the south and rural areas my whole life. There’s always been music I my life. I grew up in a family of musicians. My parents were artists. I was around creativity my whole life… I never considered many other options. I always knew that it would be a path I’d go down. I was encouraged in my home to be creative and do what I wanted to do. My grandfather taught me how to play guitar. I started taking lessons from him when I was nine.”
…John Fogerty & Creedence: “I was a huge fan of John Fogerty when I was a little girl. I love his guitar playing. When I [first] heard Creedence on the radio I said, ‘Mom, who is this?’ I loved the Beatles’ Rubber Soul and Creedence’s Chronicle. Those were the two first albums I got into. So much of that is still alive in my songwriting.”
…Neil Young: We listened to a lot of Neil Young. We read his book Waging Heavy Peace, and listened to Zuma—well, most of his albums actually!”
…Patti Smith: “Nikki and I were listening to a lot of Patti Smith [before cutting Blur the Lines]… we had read her book Just Kids and sort of went on a Patti kick… [And the Velvet Underground] “was a connecting point.”
…musical influences in general: “We do have a lot of influences from the past, not a lot of current influences [but] part of what I wanted to accomplish was to take our influences and make something meant for now.”
… being based in Nashville, where relationships can often be adversarial: “Everybody’s played a million shows, everybody has the best gear, everybody’s better than you are.”
…her philosophy of music-making: I want to be really honest in everything we’re doing, especially in the lyrics, because honesty is the only way to be original. [So] I have to check myself and I want to be as brutally honest as I can right now. Part of the goal with this album was to be about now, not the past, not the future. The inability to be ‘in the now’ is the cause of the modern identity crisis we all have. I get irritated when people say, ‘I wasn’t made for these times.’ You were made for these times because you were born in these times!”
At the time of the Rain Parade’s 1984 mini-album Explosions in the Glass Palace, the California psychedelic argonauts had slimmed from a quintet to a four-piece, founding member David Roback having split following the previous year’s Emergency Third Rail Power Trip to form Opal. With guitarist Matt Piucci now helming the group—which included at the time bassist Stephen Roback, drummer Eddie Kalwa, and violinist/keyboardist Will Glenn—the group seemed more focused than ever.
That five-songer was recently reissued, in fact, and its sonic strengths are legion. BLURT’s own Michael Toland, reviewing EITGP, wrote that there’s “not a loser in the bunch. “Blue” and “You Are My Friend” present more perfectly crafted pop, while “Prisoners” and “Broken Horse” delve into overtly acid-drenched mini-epics. The EP ends with the anthemic powerhouse “No Easy Way Down,” then as now the band’s definitive track.”
Indeed, the record has held up over time and still stands as one of THE classic artifacts of the early ‘80s Amerindie underground. It certainly cemented the group’s reputation, and following a lineup shuffle that found Kalwa being replaced by drummer Mark Marcum and guitarist John Thoman joining the fold, the Rain Parade signed with Island Records and released a powerhouse of a live-in-Japan album, Beyond the Sunset.
Appearing on both EITGP and the live record is the haunting, midtempo ballad “Blue,” a touch-of-jangledom gem that became a fan favorite, so much so that it got picked up by at least two other bands. In our latest “The Inspiration Behind…” episode, Piucci discusses that and reveals the song’s origins.
The tune’s lyrics bear reprinting here, for as you’ll read, “Blue” has a very specific memory attached to it for Piucci.
Down that street
Just like people you might meet
On her face
The loneliness she can’t escape
Who could ever take her place?
Her little one
Seemed like life had just begun
On the phone
Then we knew we were all alone
But all our tears wouldn’t bring her home.”
What was the initial inspiration for the song?
I worked at Peter West Datsun on Santa Monica as a cashier before Rain Parade started touring. The gal that worked with me was named Charlotte, she was my only real colleague there. First turned me on to the Thriller album, which I like. One day she didn’t show up. They found her dead in the trunk of her car a week later. Never found out what happened.
Did it take long to finish writing it?
Not really. I was in the process of stealing a chord progression from Michael Quercio and had been messing with the music. The words came all at once.
Any idea how your long time fans feel about it (ie: would it be considered a “fan favorite” or anything?)
I would not know for sure, but an English review of Explosions said it was the weakest song. Americans seem to like it better. Both the Blue Aeroplanes and Buffalo Tom thought enough of it to record it, and it seems to get a good response.
Was it a staple of your live sets even years later?
Still play it today in basically every group I am in.
Is there anything about the song you’d change?
Dan Stuart [Green On Red] said that I should have played the rhythm guitar on a Tele and not a Ric. He is probably right.
Tell me a little about the recording of it – where and when, how long did it take, any watershed moments or glaring problems, etc.?
Piece of cake. Not sure where exactly. Explosions was recorded at several places. Steven’s bass riff after the first instrumental break is wonderful.
On a remarkable new album one encounters all-over-the-map alchemical brilliance from the Black Mountain sonic savant.
BY JOHN SCHACHT
Soul man. Funk fan. Dub star. Vintage rock ‘n’ roll master.
Seth Kauffman’s been fêted with all these sobriquets over the past decade in Floating Action, the one-man studio blender where the Black Mountain native conjures up his self-described “lo-fi North Carolina funk.” But is Is It Exquisite? really, well, exquisite? Though Kauffman is likely referring to a host of human experiences with that query (your music experience definitely being one of them), the answer here is a resounding and unimpeachable, hell, yes.
Rather than the rote nostalgia such sonic touchstones often yield, Kauffman’s songs hum with the vibrancy of both true believer and radical alchemist. Mile-wide grooves, catchy melodies and dubby textures are cannily crafted together to shade the vulnerable and occasionally spiritual subject matter in sunny fare — “I’m a soul lying naked and scared,” Kauffman confesses on “My Ticket Out of Here,” as fuzzy keys, a fat bottom end and boom-bap beats eventually flower into a blast of guitar distortion that’s more joyous release than check-out-these-chops solo.
Those traits should sound familiar to Floating Action devotees, and these 11 tracks don’t veer far from the sonic foundations that Kauffman finds so durable; by that yardstick change remains gradual in the Floating Action world. But to focus solely on the nuance is to miss the point almost entirely here. These solid structures allow Kauffman to graft pretty much anything he can think of onto these songs, and that’s something that he seems to somehow get better at with each passing LP. (As a rare twangy example of his songs’ malleability, check out the free download from 2008, Live at the Grey Eagle.)
And so it goes with Is It Exquisite? Vintage Tonto-like synths and chopped-up beats highlight the pleading opener “Don’t Desert Me,” the soulful “Seek Then I Found” seems to resurrect Teenie Hodges’ magic guitar fills, and Kauffman even throws some vintage scratching onto “The Silent One,” transforming it from lonely hymn to Sedgwick Avenue hoe-down. A subtle, swirling mellotron haze accompanies the catchy choruses of “My Blood Is Bright Red,” while disc-closer “Controlled Burn” offers a master class in dubby texturing (its 11-minute run-time might be the LP’s one overindulgence). Even a couple of finger-picked acoustic numbers—”Last of the Wild Cards” and “Won’t Be Long”—transform into something greater via chopped beats or subversive syncopation.
Kauffman would probably (and rightly) bridle at the “musician’s musician” tag—though accompanying the latest publicity are imprimaturs from past collaborators Jim James, Dan Auerbach and Angel Olsen, among others. After all, musicians shouldn’t be the only ones spellbound by Floating Action’s alchemical brilliance. These songs are, simply put, great songs, arguably the best Floating Action set yet, and their adaptability to Kauffman’s studio R&D testifies to their fundamental versatility.
Will a larger audience ever catch up? Who knows. For now, and again, the lucky ones are just floating along in Kauffman’s idyllic future past. Come, join us.
Consumer/collector note: For vinyl nuts, in addition to a standard black vinyl release, about 200 copies were pressed on colored vinyl, and colors were inserted randomly in sleeves so fans didn’t know what color they were getting until they opened the package. There is also a cassette edition via Baby Tooth. Those who preordered Exquisite from PIAPTK or Baby Gas Mask Records also received a bonus lathe cut 7” picture disc of Floating Action covering Pepi Ginsberg’s “The Waterline” and a 12×18″ poster.
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