Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Head and the Heart – The Head and the Heart

January 01, 1970

 (Sub Pop)


Credit this Seattle outfit with choosing a moniker that fits
their template completely, one defined by tender emotions tempered by an occasional
clip-clop groove. Heartfelt sentiments are predominant here, but several songs
– “Cats and Dogs,” “Lost in My Mind,” “Coeur d’Alene” and “Ghosts” — shuffle
along at a perky pace despite plaintive pronouncements about life’s
uncertainties and the harsh tangle of heartache. Midway through, the band gets
the delivery and thoughts in sync, and “Down in the Valley” and “Rivers and
Roads” engage these geographical and philosophical bonds with a sadness that’s


Still, despite the fact that a bleaker rumination tends to
win out, this self-titled debut never reaches the depths of depression. Cooing
back-up vocals, poetic lyrics and dramatic twists and turns give the music a
sense of euphoria even when the feelings conveyed become the most stoic and subdued.
Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over
Trouble Waters
seems to set a stunning example for the dynamic at work, and
for a band so young, their savvy and sophistication are truly impressive.
“We’re well on our way,” they triumphantly proclaim on the final entry, “Heaven
Go Easy On Me,” and indeed there’s plenty of reason to agree.


in the Valley,” “Lost in My Mind,” “”Coeur d’Alene” LEE ZIMMERMAN

Globes – Future Self

January 01, 1970



The Globes transform complexity into something accessible on
this impressive debut. Here intricate rhythms jitter under chilled otherworldly
vocals, translucent guitar textures blossom unexpectedly into off-kilter
flourishes of proggy dexterity. Melodic pop lines may shoulder softly into
view, but only to be shredded into prismatic, asymmetrical bits. If the best
comparison is Radiohead that is partly because both bands are so unpredictable,
so ready to fracture time signatures and break chord structures, so that the
line you hear is subtly, intriguingly different from what you expect to hear.


The Globes came together in Spokane, Washington
with the aim to use traditional rock instruments in unusual ways. Since the
beginning the band has had a fairly conventional line-up, Kyle Musselwhite and
Erik Walters on guitar, Sean McCotter on bass and Marcus Ourada on drums. (Musselwhite
sings as well.)  Yet also since the
beginning, they have worked on breaking the confines of two-guitar-bass-drums
expectations with intricate rhythms, sudden dynamic shifts and an approach that
marries the romantic yearnings of guitar pop with a chilly postmodernist
detachment. Future Self follows two EPs, the second of which, Sinter
, caused a fair amount of excitement among northwestern indie fans.


It’s not hard to see why, based on Future Self, a
disc that is smoothly self-assured as it balances on a tightrope. Musselwhite’s
eerie floating vocals display not a whisper of uncertainty as they glide over
shrapnel-pocked, sharp-edged difficulties. The opening cut, “Haunted by Bears”
is coolly, unruffledly gorgeous, building into outsized drama over drum rolls
and guitar flourishes. “Stay Awake” posits a nervous cacophony of clock-ticking
percussion, a clipped mania of eighth note guitars, a machine-age,
sleep-deprived paranoia which is eased, soothed and humanized by the vocals. “I
want nothing here/I want nothing more…from you,” Walters sings with a big flourish
on the “you.” The song blossoms with sustained romantic yearning, finding color
where all had been clamped down and affectless before.


The Globes put their best pop moves up front, but then,
towards the end of the album, allow their most irregular, post-rocking
tendencies to shine through. “Ghost”‘s jittery guitar riff could have been
pulled off a latter-day Tortoise album. Its abrasive mid-cut rhythmic interval
makes no compromises with pop.  “Japan,”
following just after, stutters to life in a dialogue between cowbell and snare.
The guitars build up underneath in an indeterminant wash, and the vocals, when
they come, are monochrome, a chant on mostly one note. Yet the plain-ness of
the vocals, sets off shifting, shimmering beaded curtains of guitar. There is
an abstraction here, a certain intellectual chill, but also sheer lyrical


The Globes are still forming their sound, still feeling out
the relationship between melody and experiment, still deciding how much to give
freely to listeners and how much to make them work for. Hard to say what shape
this band’s Future Self will take, ultimately, but definitely worth
keeping an eye on the process.


Awake,” “Haunted by Bears” “Japan”





Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care

January 01, 1970

(Temporary Residence)



It’s been four years since
Explosions in the Sky released a record, during which time the Austin instrumental
quartet toured, composed, soundtracked and appeared on Austin City
. Forty-eight months is a long time in a world ruled by Short
Attention Span Theater, but the ravishingly gorgeous Take Care, Take Care, Take Care is worth the wait.


Shifting dynamics have always
played a large role in EitS’s prior work, as quiet, ethereal passages
alternated with amp-frying sonic discharges. On Take Care, the group reels in its volume-heavy excess, emphasizing
instead the winsome tunes it’s often hidden beneath the crash. E-bows and
waltzes share space with ringing arpeggios and percolating percussion, as
vocals (albeit ghostly and wordless) appear on an EitS record for the first
time. The title indicative of the record’s theme, soft emotions rule “Trembling
Hands” and “Human Qualities,” as the band’s trademark interlocking guitar
lattice becomes a framework for tender beauty. “Let Me Back In” and “Be
Comfortable, Creature” draw out the agony and ecstasy, as hearts beat against
chests pressed up against each other.


After a half-dozen records of
controlled demolition, it’s nice to hear Explosions in the Sky take time out
for love on Take Care, Take Care, Take


Me Back In” “Be Comfortable, Creature,” “Human Qualities” MICHAEL TOLAND



See the new print issue of BLURT for an interview with

Dengue Fever – Cannibal Courtship

January 01, 1970



Dengue Fever
started out paying tribute to sixties Cambodian pop music, which in itself was
inspired by ‘60s Western garage rock wedded to the melodies of Southeast Asia. The influence of Ethiopian jazz brought
them to the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch’s Broken
film a few years back, which led to more Americans paying attention
to them for their third album, Venus on
in 2008. That was the first time the band sang any songs in English,
one of which, “Tiger Phone Card,” proved so charming and beguiling that it
became the template for  even more
English-language material on the new Cannibal


Ethan and Zac Holtzman (keyboards & guitar, respectively) formed Dengue
Fever some ten years ago after a trip to Cambodia exposed them to all this
music which seemed so exotic yet so familiar at the same time. They lucked into
vocalist Chhom Nimol, who had recently emigrated from there to Los Angeles, and the band began covering the songs
which probably set her parents or grandparents to dancing in discotheques back
in the day.


compositions in that style, seeded by Ethiopian influences brought in by
saxophonist David Ralicke (who had played with the likes of Beck and Ozomatli)
were the next order of the day, but there was only so far an American band,
even fronted by a vocalist who sings in the Khmer language, could take with an
approach so rooted in the past. Cannibal
retains everything that has made Dengue Fever so distinctive –
the chattering garage-influenced guitar licks, the Farfisa-sounding keyboards,
the minor-key horn charts, the intricate yet perfectly accented rhythms, and of
course the ethereal vocals of Nimol – but it sounds entirely contemporary in a world
in which indie rock bands can win Grammy Awards.


Not that
there’s anything remotely similar to the work of Arcade Fire in Dengue Fever,
just a similar attention to compositional complexity. You can strip all the
parts out of a Dengue Fever song, and each one would be well-formed yet
slightly mundane on its own – but put them all together, and you’ve got reasons
to be entranced. Dengue Fever songs are catchy and hummable, especially in the
hook-filled choruses, but it’s the layers connecting all the instruments and
vocal parts which attract the most attention as you listen.


Nimol is
still the lead singer of Dengue Fever, but Zac Holtzman’s weary and somewhat
static voice rates as nice contrast to her ability to sling melodies around the
top of her vocal range. The two complement each other especially effectively on
“Cement  Slippers,” an anthemic lament
about incompatibility fueled by a fidgety guitar riff that might be the album’s
hookiest moment. Holtzman takes the lead on “2012 (Bury Our Head),” but the
harmony vocals, provided by Nimol and what’s billed as the Living Sisters (a
trio which includes singer/songwriter Eleni Mandell), have almost a Jefferson
Airplane styled feel of casual connection. Nimol sings the title track,
“Cannibal Courtship,” built on the romantic metaphor of the praying mantis,
with a particularly convincing otherworldliness.


It’s hard to
believe the song “Mr. Bubbles” was written and recorded well before the
situation with the Japanese nuclear power plant disaster, but these lyrics are
eerily prescient: “Dive in the ocean / It’s warm off the shore / That cools off
the core / We had a melt down / But now it’s under control / And no one needs
to know.” Similarly, “Family Business” is appropriate to today’s headlines,
with its punning suggestion of a missile building corporation shooting off into
the air for an heir. Business is always good for those who make weapons.


Of course,
Nimol sings two songs completely in Khmer, the beautiful “Uku,” and the dance
feverish “Durian Dowry.” “Only a Friend” has the unusual structure of Khmer for
her verses and English for Holtzman’s choruses; this song also benefits from
the best horn parts of the album.


Dengue Fever
has gotten more and more attention as they’ve widened their sound. Cannibal Courtship has the potential to
break them through to top-line indie status. It couldn’t happen to a more
intriguing or more musically delightful outfit.


DOWNLOAD: “Cement Slippers,” “Family Business,”
“Kiss of the Bufo Alvarius.” STEVE PICK

Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive

January 01, 1970



Steve Earle’s acoustic albums have been loud, even his love songs pugnacious,
even his political screeds finely wrought. His is a strong, particular voice,
and he will, by damn, be heard. Earle long ago won control over his work, has
relentlessly produced himself and others, constantly plunging into fresh


I’ll Never Get Out of This World
is both
title to his first novel, about Hank Williams’ doctor, and an album in which he
unexpectedly submits – wholly, mindfully – to the tender mercies of producer T
Bone Burnett. This yields a quiet, lush set, utterly without squall. Earle
calls it a meditation on mortality, and sings often in the voice of a much
older man; the centerpoint (“God Is God,” written for Joan Baez) is a striking
profession of…faith. “Heaven Or Hell,” sung in measured equality with his wife,
Allison Moorer, fiercely celebrates the tightrope of love and marriage.


All of
it, even the swipe at George Bush (“Little Emperor) smacks of peace and


DOWNLOAD: “Waitin’ On the Sky,” “God Is

Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs – No Help Coming

January 01, 1970

(Transdreamer) so succinctly
noted that, “Golightly’s songs are so fresh and timeless they could have been
recorded yesterday or 40 years ago.”  I
would amend that to even 80 or 90 years ago. Holly and partner Lawyer Dave, a
Clyde to her Bonnie, are back with another album of raucous, chunky, and
sometimes lovely, country blues. There’s few real chicken pluckers in this
latest effort. Last year’s Medicine County scored a bit higher with me for
having a few more wry and humorous songs, while No Help Coming is a bit more
straightforward and traditional, but surely features some of Holly and Dave’s
best songwriting, having written 9 of the 12 songs herein. The first 2 songs,
the title song and “The Rest of Your Life” start right up where Medicine County
left off.  “No Help Coming” is a country
blues number and the latter is a slow blues tale of a vengeful scorned woman.
“Burn, Oh Junk Pile, Burn” careens stylistically into being rather challenging
to define, musically. Maybe an exotic dash of Django meets Gypsy, meets Dan
Hicks, wouldn’t be too far off.


“The Whole Long Day” is
another slow, blues drag as only Holly can emote one. Next up, some hot
bottleneck slide propels “Get Out of My House” into a “Rollin’ and Tumblin”
pace, and next, a slow, dreamy “Sleepwalk”-like guitar takes you to “The Only
One,” into which Holly harmonizes with herself, in a 50’s era lonely-hearted
torch song. “River of Tears’ is her very old-timey, tradition-patined ballad
that resonates of the Carter Family. Bill Anderson’s “Lord Knows We’re
Drinking” is a “Harper Valley PTA” wag of the finger to self-righteous snoops
and prigs.


The real joker in the deck is
“L.S.D. (Rock ‘N’ Roll Prison,” a little psych-tinged rock ditty about a crazed
LSD killer headed for the slammer to “get the monkey off his back,” and he
knows that he “won’t be coming back.” It’s a comical toe-tapper to go out on,
complete with a few trippy sound effects and left-right channel cross-fades.
The CD credits it to Wavy Gravy, but online sources name Wendell Austin as the
writer, which seems wholly more likely. So, all in all, another lively outing
from the homesteading duo. I would definitely say that rustic living suits them
as well as brings a little extra hen coop and barn grit to their music.


“Leave It Alone,”
“L.S.D. (Rock ‘N’ Roll Prison.)” BARRY ST. VITUS


Wye Oak – Civilian

January 01, 1970



On its earlier albums, Wye
Oak didn’t do anything all that remarkable. The Baltimore duo’s mix of folk-rock, dream-pop
and electronica may have varied the standard formula a bit, but all the band’s
ingredients were common enough in recent indie. That hasn’t really changed on Civilian, Wye Oak’s third full-length
album. The group has simply gotten a little subtler at what it does. And a lot


Wye Oak still seizes listeners’
attention with sudden leaps from soft to loud, or by lacing My Bloody Valentine
feedback into songs that otherwise resemble Fairport Convention. But the
transitions are less jarring, more organic. Sometimes, Jenn Wasner contends
largely with herself, contrasting her sweet (but never bland) vocals with
bruising guitar, while producer-drummer Andy Stack holds back. Elsewhere,
keyboards and electronics enlarge the sound, offering sweep (as in “Two
Small Deaths”) or drive (“The Alter”).


Wasner often plays circular
guitar figures, suggesting Renaissance madrigals (and every folk-rock jangler
who ever emulated Roger McGuinn). But the band’s songs rarely loop back on
themselves, preferring to drift, surge or change character altogether.
“Holy Holy” begins as a fairly conventional rocker, with Stack going a
little Afropop on the drums, but shifts into gently woozy asides. “We Were
Wealth” starts in loungey mode, pivots on an elementary keyboard vamp and
becomes a pretty chorale. Like much of Civilian,
this coda is unexpectedly lush, yet too delicate to be bombastic.


Small Deaths,” “We Were Wealth” MARK



Pearl Jam – Vs./Vitalogy: Deluxe Edition

January 01, 1970



“This is a song about people who don’t have
taste but they like us anyway,” flippantly proclaimed Eddie Vedder, to a
capacity crowd of nearly 3,000 adoring fans at Boston’s Orpheum Theater on April 12, 1994, before
kicking into “Not For You”, perhaps the greatest song ever written
about fly-by-night fans.


It was a pivotal moment of the last show of a
three-night stand at the Orpheum, the live recording of which has been hotly
sought-after by Pearl Jam fans for nearly two decades and now made available as
the bonus disc of Vs./Vitalogy: Deluxe
(Epic/Legacy), an outstanding
three-disc box set chronicling what are arguably the three most important years
in the history of the band.  Vedder’s
tone that evening was a reflection of the tail end of a long, weary emotional
marathon race for credibility – Pearl Jam having been swept up in a whirlwind
of hope, hype and hypocrisy following the massive success of debut album Ten, released in the fall of 1991 just
as the atom bomb of grunge was beginning to see its commercial potential billow
in a mushroom cloud of mainstream success.


Pearl Jam formed in 1990 from the ashes of Mother
Love Bone (who had superseded Alice In Chains as the genre-busting living
bridge between the budding Seattle music scene and the hair metal movement it
helped to melt into a pool of Aquanet residue), and with Ten their crossover appeal was immediately apparent, especially
within the ranks of the Bon Jovi set who couldn’t quite get down with the likes
of Tad and The Melvins. Back-to-back-to-back radio and MTV hits “Alive”,
“Evenflow” and “Jeremy” quickly pushed their viability as grunge’s
official pop idols through the roof.


However, Pearl Jam was out to prove they were
nobody’s fleeting substitute for the Bulletboys or Trixter, and when they
returned in 1993 with their second album, they turned a completely blind eye
and deaf ear to the trappings of the very fame that brought them to the top of
the music industry mountain at the tail end of the Bush Sr. regime. Firstly, they
refused to make any videos for the LP originally entitled Five Against One but renamed Vs.,
both titles indicative of the confrontational attitude they harbored. And then
you have the artwork featured on the album cover, which was the total
antithesis of the hi-fiving optimism of Ten:
two varying black-and-white portraits of a fenced-in sheep, which bassist Jeff
Ament has been quoted as saying was highly symbolic as to how they were feeling
at the time, “like slaves.”


As for the music, while much of the material on Vs. did adopt a similar tone to that of Ten, their sound took on a more AOR
feel, indicative of the masterful production skills of Brendan O’Brien as well
as the prolific company they were keeping, opening up for Keith Richards and
his X-Pensive Winos and jamming with Neil Young on the MTV Video Music Awards.
(Pearl Jam was also fond of covering Young in concert, along with The Who.) Plus,
the subject matter changed, as the band began getting more political with their
lyrics, musing on the traumas of child abuse (“Daughter”), the perils
of seeking political refuge (“Dissident”), agoraphobia (“Elderly
Woman Behind The Counter in a Small Town”), racism (“W.M.A.”),
and quite possibly the most spot-on dis towards studio gangstas this side of
Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones Part II” (“Glorified G”). Vs. also contains some of the group’s
hardest rocking songs, namely the one-two opening combination of “Go”
and “Animal”, the uncompromising screamadelica of “Blood”
and the chugging “Rearviewmirror”, to this day a pinnacle of the PJ
live experience. Yet ultimately the record wanders quietly off into the sunset
through the meditative, moody pulchritude of album closer “Indifference”.


The expanded edition of Vs. included in this collection contains three bonus tracks: an
acoustic version of the beloved studio outtake “Hold On”; a previously
unreleased instrumental showcase for the underrated skills of lead guitarist
Mike McCready, “Cready Stomp”; and the band’s version of Victoria
Williams’ “Crazy Mary” (with Williams herself on guitar and backing
vocals), also released on the 1993 benefit album Sweet Relief, created in
tribute to the Multiple Sclerosis-stricken singer-songwriter.




If Vs. was the sound of Pearl Jam rejecting
the trappings of fame, 1994’s Vitalogy,
meanwhile, was an exercise in the denunciation of any preconceived notions of
their band as a predictable creative entity; here, they unabashedly chose art over
commerce. Written and recorded intermittently during the group’s massive,
Ticketmaster-defying world tour, and once again with O’Brien at the controls, this
crucial album carries a loose, experimental feel rife with the tension and
turmoil reflected backstage at the time, evident in the unceremonious firing of
their third and best drummer, Dave Abbruzzese, shortly after they put the LP to
bed. But with or without the drama, Vitalogy remains to this day, quite arguably, PJ’s fussy, fearless masterpiece.


packaged as a facsimile of an old medical book from the 1920s, it was an even
further step away from the commercial appeal of Ten, making Vs. seem
mainstream by comparison. While the group’s penchant for penning hard
driving guitar rock was as ubiquitous as ever on the likes of the
ode to vinyl addiction “Spin The Black Circle”, the aforementioned
“Not for You” and “Corduroy” (a longtime fan favorite that
deals with the trappings of becoming a public spectacle), the more
daring cuts
were what really set this particular record apart from the rest of the
catalog, not to mention the growing number of clones – Stone Temple
Candlebox, etc. –  who were glomming onto
the band’s sound at the time, giving the band all the more reason to
rage against the machine, so to speak. There was the Tom Waits-esque
spoken word
freak-out “Bugs”; the King Crimson-echoing “Tremor Christ”;
and of course, the lengthy Dadaist sound collage “Hey Foxymophandlemama,
That’s Me”, which incorporated looped vocals of actual inpatients at an
undisclosed psychiatric ward.  But
strangely enough, amidst the madness rests one of Pearl Jam’s most
tunes in “Betterman”, a song about domestic violence loosely based on
Vedder’s observations of his mother’s relationship with his stepfather. To this day, there isn’t anything in
the Pearl Jam canon that comes remotely close to the originality and immediacy
of this challenging flash of grizzled greatness. The expanded edition of Vitalogy also features a trio of bonus
cuts: an alternate guitar-and-organ version of the single “Betterman”;
a previously unreleased take on “Corduroy”; and the demo of
“Nothingman,” taken from the original DAT tape.




Which now
leads us back to the top of this diatribe, and to Disc 3, that monumental live
album from the Orpheum in Boston.
For a tour as heavily bootlegged as Pearl Jam’s tour of 1993-1995, there were
certainly a lot of potential choices for which show to include in this box. You
had the November 30, 1993 show at the Aladdin Theatre in Las
Vegas that saw a reunion set of bassist Jeff Ament and guitarist
Stone Gossard’s first band and Seattle demigods Green River. Another candidate was the killer radio
broadcast of the April 3, 1994 show at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, GA, parts of
which were released overseas as B-sides to the multi-part “Dissident”
single. And what Pearl Jam fan could forget the January 8, 1995 studio
performance, part of the group’s “Self-Pollution Radio” show that also featured
sets from Soundgarden and the short-lived Seattle supergroup Mad Season. (That
is available, in fact, as a cassette included with the Limited Edition
Collector’s Box Set of the Vs./Vitalogy reissues,
but it would have made a worthy addition to the deluxe edition at hand as a
fourth component.)


Yet the
final verdict for inclusion came down in favor of this mythologized April 12,
1994 show at the Orpheum, a gig that holds a historical place in the hearts of
PJ fans the world over. The reason is partly due to its mind-blowing set list,
which was drawn up specifically by members of the band’s crew. It contains such
anomalies as the deep Ten nugget
“Oceans” serving as show opener, a visceral run through Neil Young
and Crazy Horse’s “Fuckin’ Up” and a super-rare onstage rendition of funky
“Even Flow” B-side “Dirty Frank”. The April 12 date is also
significant for the fact that just four days earlier, the body of Kurt Cobain
had been found at the Nirvana frontman’s Seattle
home. This evening Pearl Jam unveiled a ballad from the as-yet-unreleased Vitalogy titled “Immortality”,
performed with markedly different lyrics and powered by such raw emotion as to
add fuel to the theory that the song was written by Vedder in direct response
to Cobain’s suicide, a tragic event weighing heavily on the singer during those
last two weeks on the road in support of Vs.,
in spite of the fact that the two were always pegged as rivals on the Seattle
rock scene.


Yet in
lieu of the grim specter of death that hung above the alternative nation’s head
at the time of this concert, it didn’t stop Pearl Jam from paying homage to the
living all the same, particularly longtime Jet City allies Mudhoney, whose
presence factors significantly during the show. In addition to frontman Mark
Arm coming out onstage to perform Pearl Jam’s fiery cover of the Dead Boys’
“Sonic Reducer”, Vedder also sings part of “Suck You Dry”
(a Mudhoney single from 1993’s Piece of
) during the extended interlude of “Daughter”. Elsewhere, he gives
props to fellow alterna-icons Jane’s Addiction towards the end of
“Rats” by quoting “Pigs In Zen” and “Idiots Rule”.
“Aw, you’ve got taste,” Vedder says to the audience, after quizzing them about
their knowledge of such underground ‘90s bands as Zeke and The Frogs. “Never
would’ve known that meeting you at a Pearl Jam show.”


The Vs./Vitalogy era was a crucial one in
the history of Pearl Jam precisely because of the poetic turning point it
represents. The musicians made a very conscious and very public decision to
follow their own path to rock stardom, choosing their own destiny on how to
collectively captain their own ship and barring any undue influence from the corporate
music-industrial complex – be it Ticketmaster, FM radio or even their own
record company.


This pair
of bonafide modern rock milestones and the tour that came between them stood –
still stands – for a time when the line was drawn in the sand like so much magic
marker on Eddie Vedder’s arm, when Pearl Jam was intent on following the career
trajectory of such heroes as Neil Young and Pete Townshend and not the whims of their SoundScan numbers
and flannel shirt sales at Macy’s. They were stating, very pointedly,
“Fuck you, this is not for you!” And had Kurt Cobain taken the same
sociopolitical stance in the face of a voraciously fickle public instead of
usurping his fears, fright and frustration through the plunger of the needle
and the damage done, he might still be with us today.


DOWNLOAD: “Animal”,
“Glorified G”, “Rearviewmirror”, “Indifference”,
“Spin The Black Circle”, “Not For You”,
“Corduroy”, “Immortality”, “Oceans (live)”,
“Sonic Reducer (live)”, “Fuckin’ Up (live)”, “Dirty
Frank (live)” RON HART

Live From Cadogan Hall

January 01, 1970

(Eagle Rock Entertainment; 125 mins)




It would seem a formidable task to encapsulate two decades’
worth of music into a pair of discs and two dozen tracks. Yet, Marillion’s
latest live entry makes the case that at least it’s a worthy ambition. In
summing up Marillion’s progress following the transition from original singer
Fish to the recordings chaired by current front man Steve Hogarth, Live From Cadogan Hall holds together
remarkably well, each track segueing seamlessly into the next with a consistent
tone and tempo.  Although the songs often
begin with little more than a pluck on a keyboard or the simple strum of an
acoustic guitar, they still manage to accentuate the anthemic tension rippling
just below the surface. 


Ironically, when original singer Fish sang with the band
during their formative years, Marillion’s prog-rock ambitions were stunted by
the widely held perception they were little more than a poor man’s Genesis,
thanks to the confluence of keyboards, the soaring platitudes and the singer’s
striking similarity in style to Peter Gabriel. These days, the band lacks those
previous pretensions, but their sprawling arrangements and stirring sentiments
remain intact.  Songs like “Interior
Lulu,” “The Space,” “This is the 21st Century,” “Beautiful” and
“You’re Gone” translate remarkably well from the studio to the stage, with
melodies that maintain their dramatic impact while still striking a visceral
connection with the audience. The DVD makes this all too clear; with its
striking lighting effects and the inherent grandeur of the venue, sights and sounds
meld to maximum effect. Fortunately for the novice, each entry is given an
affusive introduction, including the identification of the album where the
track initially appeared.


If this was the Marillion of old, the accessibility factor
might not have been as clearly defined. Yet, given the lithe touch applied to
their musical musings, Marillion proves they can tone down the grandeur and go
for the gut. (Note: the concert is also available from Eagle as a standalone
two-disc CD set.)

Už Jsme Doma – Caves

January 01, 1970



The long-running Už Jsme Doma has been through a quarter
century of mayhem, beginning its intricately-plotted, anarchically-energized
career in then Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia.
Early on, the band played in secret, risked imprisonment and joined in
resistance efforts to form a more democratic state. Then, post-glasnost, they
emerged onto a larger, international stage, touring Europe and the United
States and once, serving as backing band for American art eccentrics, the


Now, 11 albums and hoards of members later (Pepe Cervinka is
the band’s ninth  bassist), the band
careens on. No founders remain. The last remaining original member was
saxophonist Jindra Dolansky, and he left in 2001. Yet under the direction of
longtime singer, songwriter and lyricist Miroslav Wanek, Už Jsme Doma plots a
high-intensity, exotically complex course. It’s prog from Prague, certainly,
but there are also hints of marching band music, workingmen’s chants, jazz,
folk and even early 20th century classical music in these
hard-to-categorize tunes.


Caves is sung entirely in Czech, but liner notes reveal the
songs to be preoccupied with the action of water on stone, the drip by drip
erosion that can carve caverns out of solid rock or, perhaps, democratic
freedoms out of oppressive regimes. The music, though, works more like a bag of
hammers than a steady drip, punching out dense, conflicting, bayonet ridges of
percussive sound. Drums, guitars, bass and keyboards all take a pounding in
these songs, banged in intricate, staccato bursts, sometimes in unison,
sometimes in overlapping synchronicity.  


But to continue the water metaphor , there are two main
source of fluidity here. One is Wanek’s voice, which soars in triumphant,
Soviet-bloc certitude over all. He is joined, often enough, by a gang of male
voices singing in unison, like some sort of asymmetrical, off-kilter opera
chorus, shouting rhythmically (“Fascination”) or executing complicated
counterpoints as on frantic, manic “Reel.” At other times, as on the oddly
paced, quietly syncopated “Nugget,” Wanek trades melodic lead with
trumpeter  Adam Tomásek, who came into
the band after Dolansky left. Tomásek’s arrival set off a re-alignment of Už
Jsme Doma, as Wanek began writing what had been lead guitar lines for trumpet.


Most of the songs are aggressively paced, with rapid
interplay among guitar and bass and continuous explosiveness emanating from the
drums. Parts are intricately plotted, interlocking with each other in tight yet
unexpected ways. Intervals of lyricism – the stand-up bass and recorder
tranquility of album-ending “Lullaby for Anezka” – show this band’s sensitive
side, as does a close reading of Wanek’s lyrics. Yet, on the whole, Caves knocks you over with its
ceaseless, exuberant energy. Granted, running water will wear down mountains in
time, but a jackhammer is so much faster.


DOWNLOAD: “Nugget” “Fascination” JENNIFER