Thursday, July 31, 2008


A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
August 1, 2008

Warning to blog readers: Most of this column is based on previous blog posts

I just returned from two weeks off. (Anyone miss this column last week?) But I didn’t take two weeks off music.

Here in New Mexico I caught a couple of excellent free Santa Fe Bandstand concerts on the Plaza by The Gourds and Hundred Year Flood. I saw a free city-sponsored show in Albuquerque — Cracker, Camper Van Beethoven frontman David Lowrey’s other band.

I also went to the Utah Phillips tribute at the Santa Fe Brewing Company, which starred 78-year-old poet/singer Kell Robertson, Joe West, George Adelo, and Gwen Lenore. (My only disappointment was that the anticipated Robertson/West duet never came off, because the stubborn Robertson couldn’t be coaxed back on the stage.)

But the highlight of the vacation was my trip to Chicago, where my son and I went to the last day of the Pitchfork Music Festival. Pitchfork is a leading online publication specializing in indie rock. This was the third annual festival.

I’m getting a little old to stand out in the hot sun in a crowd of thousands for 10 hours at a time, so I decided to go for just one day. Besides, I wanted to spend a little time seeing other parts of Chicago.

Specifically, I was intent on seeing the old Chess Records studios at 2120 S. Michigan Ave., which now houses Willie Dixon’s Blues Heaven Foundation. I just wanted to stand in the same room where Chuck Berry recorded “Johnny B. Goode,” where Muddy Waters rolled and tumbled, where Howlin’ Wolf howled, and where Willie Dixon and Koko Taylor recorded “Insane Asylum.” This is nothing short of sacred ground!
One of the biggest surprises of the studio tour was discovering a wall featuring dozens of pieces from artist Sharon McConnell’s Lifecast: Blues series of plaster facial masks of blues musicians. McConnell is a former resident of Santa Fe, and many of the masks graced the New Mexico state Capitol Rotunda a couple of years ago. It was almost like seeing a bunch of old friends.

One day of Pitchfork was plenty. Here’s some of the most memorable music:
* King Kahn & The Shrines: Their brand of crazed rock ’n’ soul music (nine or 10 guys in the band, plus a lovely go-go dancer/cheerleader) along with Khan’s crazy lyrics and antics ignited the place. At one point, Khan had people tearing up dollar bills. In one song, he described a surreal and hilarious sexual encounter in shameless detail. And what a band! These players — mainly European, I’m assuming — play like Stax/Volt all-stars on crystal meth. For all the weirdness and tomfoolery, The Shrines are extremely tight.
* Dinosaur Jr.: The only other time I saw this classic grunge-era band was back in 1993 at Lollapalooza. After being inactive for a decade or so, Dino came back last year with its original lineup — J Mascis on guitar, Lou Barlow on bass, and Murph on drums. I liked the comeback album, Beyond, but I didn’t expect DJ to be this mighty onstage. They roared! Mascis still rips into his guitar like a wild man forcing it to scream. The band played tunes from Beyond plus some old favor“The Wagon,” “Out There,” “Feel the Pain,” and their anthem of old, “Freak Scene.” Mascis’ hair might be gray, but these tunes are forever young.
* The Dirty Projectors: I wondered how the songs from the Projectors’ most recent album, Rise Above — radical reworkings of Black Flag’s Wasted album — would translate to a live stage. Quite well, it turns out.

Frontman/singer/guitarist Dave Longstreth deserves credit as the guiding light behind the Projectors, but the two women singers (Angel Deradoorian and Amber Coffman) also deserve much credit for their strange and intricate harmonies. While Longstreth’s guitar often sounds straight out of Africa, seeing the Projectors live reminded me of another style of world music — the experimental tunes of Brazilian Tom Zé.

* Spiritualized: This actually was one of the only disappointments of the festival. The band had a couple of female vocalists with them to add some gospel-like touches. But the ultimate effect was just too churchy — too many lyrics about soe, shining lights, etc. And too much Dark Side of the Moon in the music, at least for the first half of the show. Spiritualized began rocking out about 30 minutes into their set.

* Health: I enjoyed these guys, though I suspect a little of them goes a long way. Health is a Los Angeles noise band that specializes in heavy percussion, feedback, and screaming. They reminded me a little bit of the Boredoms (though they could use a little of the Japanese band’s zany humor). My son was excited when he learned that they were playing Pitchfork. He’d just seen them the week before in Santa Fe at Warehouse 21. It’s funny, but the Health album he recently bought, Disco, doesn’t sound much at all like their live performance. The record is full of synthy keyboards and seems like run-of-the-mill techno. Their live show is harsher and more relentless but ultimately more listenable.

On the local front:
* Desert Trippin’ by Gary Gorence: Full disclosure: nearly 25 years ago Gorence played in my band Spudgrasslled The Spuds). But he’s done a lot since then — fronting his own band Renegade Country and, more recently, playing with Mike Montiel in The Jakes.

Backed by members of The Jakes, Desert Trippin’ is good, rootsy, bluesy country-rock and Southern rock with all original songs. My favorite ones are modern outlaw tunes. The opening cut, “A Rebel With Good Intentions,” is about a good ol’ boy draft dodger who ends up in a bad confrontation with the FBI. “Red Sky Café” is about a couple of rowdy women, one of whom has vengeance on her mind.

The CD release party for Desert Trippin’ is at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3, at the Cowgirl BBQ (319 S. Guadalupe St., 982-2565). Admission is free.

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