Thursday, March 30, 2006

Mitch Hedberg, Feb. 24, 1968 - March 29, 2005

Yesterday marked one year since the passing of Mitch Hedberg. He was one of the most original comics I've ever heard and he's had a huge impact on what I find funny (and sub-consciously, how I tell a joke). Mitch's delivery and candid on-stage commentary were his hallmarks, but his jokes are timeless, as well.

I've got a business card, because I want to win some lunches. That's what my business card says: Mitch Hedberg, Potential Lunch Winner.
Let's do lunch... if I'm lucky!

One of the best Mitch moments comes, invariably, once every couple of months when a friend will e-mail a bunch of our friends with a Mitch joke. For the rest of the day, we'll send Mitch Hedberg lines back and forth.

I was in downtown Boise, Idaho, and I saw a duck and I knew the duck was lost, because ducks aren't supposed to be downtown. There's nothing for 'em there. So I went into a Subway sandwich shop and asked for a bun. But she said I couldn't have just the bun, she said I had to have something on it. It's against regulations to sell just the bun; I guess the two halves ain't supposed to touch. So I said, alright, put some lettuce on it. She said it was $1.75 and I said, 'It's for a duck.' She said, 'Well then it's free.' I did not know that. Ducks eat for free at Subway. Had I known that, I would have ordered a much larger sandwich. 'Let me have the steak fajita sub, but don't bother ringing it up, it's for a duck! There's six ducks out there and they all want Sun Chips!'

Mitch Hedberg || Bed and Breakfast (from Mitch All Together)

I couldn't believe it when I found out he had died. I feel very fortunate that I got to see him perform live just a month before in February; you never know when you won't have another chance to see your favorite artists perform. Thankfully Mitch left us with two great albums, which I don't think will ever get old.

If I had a friend that was a tightrope walker and we were walking down the street and he fell, I would find that completely unacceptable.

You can download Mitch on both iTunes (albums and video from his Comedy Central Special) and eMusic. I'd highly recommend buying Mitch All Together in the store for the bonus DVD, which includes both the Comedy Central Special and the uncut performance from which it was taken. The uncut performance represents what made Mitch's performances unique; it is full of brilliance, insecurity and his unique way of self-deprication that always won over a crowd.

I'm sick of following my dreams. So I'm just going to ask where they're going and hook up with them later.

Lots more Mitch from Wikiquote.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Arctic Monkeys live on NPR's All Songs Considered

Ladies and Gentlemen, live Arctic Monkeys from Monday's All Songs Considered, webcast by the wonderful people at the National Public Radio Internet site. Click "live Arctic Monkeys" above to find a link to stream the archived set. Below, you can find the concert in .mp3 form.

Enjoy! and:

[public service announcement] Bear in mind that your local NPR station may be in pledge drive mode right at this very moment (I know the 90.9 The Bridge in KC is), so get a last-minute deduction in on your tax return and hit your local station up with a little something... [/psa]

(Note: The above photo was shamelessly stolen from brooklynvegan (and subsequently cropped). He has some other great pics and links as well, so make sure to check that out.)
(All songs are hosted by until they have been inactive for 30 days. mp3's are for the purposes of furthering obsessions, please support the bands -- and stations -- in question whenever and wherever possible. If you would like a link removed, e-mail me and I will gladly oblige.)

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Trapeze Swinger

please remember me, happily
by the rosebush laughing
with bruises on my chin, the time when
we counted every black car passing
your house beneath the hill, and up until
someone caught us in the kitchen
with maps, a mountain range, a piggy bank
a vision too removed to mention

but please remember me, fondly
i heard from someone you're still pretty
and then they went on to say that the Pearly Gates
had some eloquent graffiti
like: “we'll meet again” and “fuck the Man”
and “tell my mother not to worry”
and angels with their great handshakes
but always done in such a hurry

and please remember me, at Hallowe’en
making fools of all the neighbors
our faces painted white, by midnight
we'd forgotten one another
and when the morning came i was ashamed
only now it seems so silly
that season left the world and then returned
and now you're lit up by the city

so please remember me, mistakenly
in the window of the tallest tower
call, then pass us by, but much too high
to see the empty road at happy hour
gleam and resonate just like the gates
around the Holy Kingdom
with words like: “lost and found” and “don't look down”
and “someone save temptation”

and please remember me as in the dream
we had as rug-burned babies
among the fallen trees and fast asleep
beside the lions and the ladies
that called you what you like and even might
give a gift for your behavior:
a fleeting chance to see a trapeze-
swinger high as any savior

but please remember me, my misery
and how it lost me all i wanted
those dogs that love the rain, and chasing trains
the colored birds above there running
in circles round the well, and where it spells
on the wall behind St. Peter's
so bright with cinder gray in spray paint:
“who the hell can see forever?”

and please remember me, seldomly
in the car behind the carnival
my hand between your knees, you turn from me
and said the trapeze act was wonderful
but never meant to last, the clowns that passed
saw me just come up with anger
when it filled the circus dogs, the parking lot
had an element of danger

so please remember me, finally
and all my uphill clawing
my dear, but if i make the Pearly Gates
i’ll do my best to make a drawing
of God and Lucifer, a boy and girl
an angel kissin’ on a sinner
a monkey and a man, a marching band
all around the frightened trapeze-swinger

nah nah nah, nah nah nah nah …

Iron and Wine || The Trapeze Swinger (live)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tracking: The Frames

Household names in their native Ireland, The Frames are still largely unknown throughout most of America. My love for most things British made it imperative that I gave them a listen when I saw them trumpeted as Esquire Magazine's "Best Band You've Never Heard," followed by comparisons to I Wonder Why We Listen to Poets... favorites like Radiohead and Damien Rice.

The band's fifth album, Burn the Maps, released on their own label in Ireland and Australia in early 2005 and later in the U.S. on Anti-, is hailed by the bands' supporters as something of a masterpiece, the long-awaited result of the band's most cohesive song writing and a thematic triumph. I will be the first to admit that such lofty praise makes it difficult for the actual product to measure up, especially if the name of your band isn't Radiohead, and predictably -- perhaps unavoidably -- Burn the Maps falls short.

Though not for the reasons one might expect. On the surface, The Frames make the right poses. They juggle the tension between soft and heavy like a moodier Foo Fighters. The songs that stand out on first listen are arena-rock ready (see "Fake") with the best of the Smashing Pumpkins. The problem is not with the music, per se, but with who it references most closely. The prevailing tags aren't Radiohead, Damien Rice or, getting closer to the root, Doves (though they are there in places), but the Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters and early Nada Surf. That's not a knock, but the '90s rock nostalgia on Burn the Maps gives it a dated, sepia-toned finish.

While the end of "Ship Caught In the Bay" is certainly the band's attempt at "Idiotheque," The Frames are no more Radiohead than "Creep."

Some more time with this album will certainly allow certain songs to establish themselves. "Fake" might go down as one of those songs that comes on with iPod set to suffle and surprise you with how familiar it feels. Maybe one or two others will assert themselves, but I'm not positive -- with a leaning towards music that makes progress from what has already been played -- that Burn the Maps is progressive enough to keep me interested for the long run.

See for yourself:

The Frames || Fake (from Burn the Maps)

Download some live Frames tracks via

(Songs hosted by will be active for until they have been idle for 30 days. Songs are for sampling purposes only. Please support the bands whenever and however possible.)
(Photo from The Frames official Web site.)

Friday, March 24, 2006

Ben Harper Live on Morning Becomes Eclectic

Hopefully you had a chance to see -- yes, see, they had streaming video as well -- Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals play songs from their new album Both Sides of the Gun this morning on KCRW's stellar "Morning Becomes Eclectic."

They stream the program until the next one airs, so you still have all weekend to check out the video of the performance. I decided to experiment with pulling streams from the Internet and I think I did okay. You can check out mp3s of the show, including Nic Harcourt's interview with Ben, below.

Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Live on Morning Becomes Eclectic
March 26, 2006
(Recorded 3/21/06 at the Villiage Auditorium in Los Angeles, Calif.)

1. Morning Yearning
2. Reason to Mourn
3. Better Way
4. Both Sides of the Gun
5. Engraved Invitation
6. Interview with Nic Harcourt
7. Black Rain
8. Please Don't Talk About Murder While I'm Eating
9. Picture In A Frame
10. Waiting For You

In related news, KCRW's Sounds Eclectic Evening is this weekend (Saturday, March 25) at the Gibson Theater in Universal City, Calif. Death Cab For Cutie is headlining an incredible line up which includes Ben Harper, Gomez, Fiest and several others.

This kind of sidetracked my day -- in the best of ways -- so this weekend I have a couple of things I want to get into. I'm checking out The Frames (Burn the Maps), by way of a strong review in Esquire of all places (in the Rosario Dawson cover issue), and I finally pulled the trigger on In the Aeroplane, Over the Sea, which I'm told is either a masterpiece or a just a piece depending on who you ask. I'll check in with what I can this weekend.

Two quick hits before I go home:
(All songs are hosted by until they have been inactive for 30 days. Songs posted are only to further people's obsessions. If you would like any songs to be removed, let me know and I will take them down expiditiously. And seriously, you need to get Both Sides of the Gun because it's a really, really good listen.)
(Image from

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Live: Wilco / Mess Hall

Uptown Theater -- Kansas City
March 21, 2006

Setlist: Hummingbird, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, Don't Forget the Flowers, Airline to Heaven, Handshake Drugs, Muzzle of Bees, At Least That's What You Said, Either Way, Hell is Chrome, Spiders (Kidsmoke), Jesus Etc., Theologians, Walken, The Good Part, I'm The Man Who Loves You, A Shot In the Arm.
Encore: Magazine Called Sunset, I'm Always In Love, War on War, Kingpin, The Late Greats.
Encore II:
Misunderstood, Thanks

When did "Kingpin" become a kick-ass live song? I'd like to know. I'm secretly beginning to formulate a hypothesis that that song started Wilco down the track we've seen them on today. It is such a departure from the other songs of its era, I wonder if something inside of Jeff Tweedy's mind switched on after he wrote it. Most of Summerteeth seems to long for the lyrical freedom "Kingpin" brought about (atypical structures, non-sequiter, use of the sound of words over the meaning) while maintaining the more typical song structure. [See "Via Chicago," "She's a Jar"]. Somewhere before Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Tweedy discovered how to capture it both lyrically and muscially. (Pitchfork opines it happened when he met Jim O'Rourke and made the first Loose Fur album. I won't disagree, necessarily.) If you have another way to explain how we get lyrics like "I assasin down the avenue" and "spiders are filling out tax returns," I'll take it. At any rate, I've seen "Kingpin" played at the last two Wilco shows I've seen. Both times it floored me how great it is. Maybe it's always been this way and I just never noticed?

Spiders (Kidsmoke) is only on an album so they have an excuse to play it live, where it really benefits. I sometimes -- okay, most times -- think it gets stale on the album after four and half minutes. Live, it soars.

Wilco's new songs, especially "Walken," sound like Crazyhorse playing Zeppelin. It's like you could just hear them gearing up for a take on "Whole Lotta Love" as they wound down from "Walken." I like the new tack the band has taken (i.e. lots of electric guitars; more rock and roll, less country/folk), though I think in some ways the sound distances the band from the crowd. Maybe it was just that everything seemed almost too professional. I'm not sure it is a criticism -- Tweedy did remark on how they didn't feel like talking out of respect to Mikael who couldn't (cold) -- but it was almost as if the band was almost too surgical in its presentation, all while the crowd was too respectful, if that makes sense. Somewhere along that continuum it was more about seeing a band at the height of its powers rather than feeling the music or feeling like you were a part of a group experiencing something special, momentary and fleeting. I'm kind of left feeling, the day after, like Kansas City could have been any city on any night.

Is it possible that Wilco is too good?

As for mp3s, I have two to offer. A great (and vastly different) solo take on "Spiders" from Tweedy's recent solo tour and "The Ruling Class," a preview from the new Loose Fur album (Tweedy, O'Rourke, Kotche side project -- follow link above for review).

Jeff Tweedy || Spiders (Kidsmoke) [live, 11/6/2005]
Loose Fur || The Ruling Class [From the forthcoming Born Again in the USA LP]

(Songs are hosted on and will be live until they have been inactive for 30 days. mp3s posted are for purposes of furthering obsessions. Please support the bands in question whenever and however possible! If you are the owner of this material and would like it to be removed from this site, let me know and I will happily comply.)
(Photo by "chango" from viachicago message boards.)

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

This is a blog about Wilco

My incredible March concert tour continues tonight with one of my favorite bands, Wilco. I was first introduced to Wilco when a friend of mine that I used to trade Phish and Dave Matthews Band bootlegs with in high school put part of a Wilco show on as filler (he told me I had to hear this song "Misunderstood") at the end of one of the tapes -- yep, tapes! Maxell XL-IIs -- we'd trade back and forth. I liked the song and got Being There, which had just come out, shortly afterwards. That summer I didn't have much to do, being 15 and all, so I spent a lot of time playing video games and listening to the album. I think I've scored more goals playing NHL '96 on Genesis while listening to "Monday" than any other song.

I purchased Summerteeth when it came out, but didn't spend as much time with it until later. At the moment it wasn't where I was at musically. Then Yankee Hotel Foxtrot came along and cemented Wilco as one of my all-time favorites. I listened to YHF constantly in college and think it is among the best records that has been released in my lifetime. That the entire soap opera was captured, at the time unwittingly, on I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco By Sam Jones only adds to the incredible circumstances that surround the record.

After YHF, Wilco became one of the bands from which I had to hear everything: live, b-sides, demos, anything. (Currently, the completist group is Wilco, the White Stripes, Ben Harper, Gomez and -- recently -- the National.)

Luckily, Wilco lends itself to the completist's spirit by creating a ton of unreleased material. The band's most recent release, Kicking Television: Live In Chicago, has two "bonus" cuts available from various Internet ordering incarnations. Its even better that both tracks are older songs since KTV is skewed towards their more recent (albeit pretty incredible) material. You heard about my ties to "Monday" above; "How to Fight Loneliness" has the distinction of being the first Wilco song I could play (loose usage of that word) on guitar. Plus it is the highlight performance on the outtakes disc from IATTBYH.

Wilco || How to Fight Loneliness (Kicking Television bonus track)
Wilco || Monday (Kicking Television bonus track)

(Songs are hosted on and will be live until they have been inactive for 30 days. mp3s posted are for purposes of furthering obsessions. Please support the bands in question whenever and however possible! If you are the owner of this material and would like it to be removed from this site, let me know and I will happily comply.)
(Photo from

Monday, March 20, 2006

Live: Arctic Monkeys / Spinto Band

The Metro -- Chicago, IL
March 18, 2006

Saturday night with the Arctic Monkeys lived up to the best of expectations. The band was tight and the live setting gave their songs an added dimension. The venue was great; easy to get drinks and back to your friends without fighting through too much of hassle to get back to where you were (right of the soundboard, two/three feet in front of the balcony). The crowd was impressive, given I was fearing a worst-case scenario going into the evening; they were knowledgeable and, most importantly, excited about the show. There was an air of expectation, curiosity and excitement in the air and the Arctic Monkeys came out and lived up to it all.

Our initial question, how long the band would play (given their catalog is one record and 40 minutes long...), was answered walking through the front doors of the Metro, where the night's schedule was taped. Spinto Band, 7:15 - 7:45. Arctic Monkeys, 8:15 - 9:15.

Despite the early end time of the show, it was a solid hour of music. (Wasn't overly impressed with the Spintos. Had I heard them on a record before the show I might have been able to pick out some lyrics or grab onto a hook or two, but there wasn't much that stood out on first listen...). Arctic Monkeys took the stage on time with "View From the Afternoon."

The night before the show, my friends and I talked about how we felt a couple of songs would stand up really well live and they certainly did. Songs like "Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong, But..." and "Mardy Bum" were show highlights, though they are likely my least favorite on the album. Those two songs, especially, sound like they were written in the live setting and exist there well.

"From the Ritz to the Rubble" was my personal highlight. Alex Turner extended his stage banter (rare, but not uncommon all night) to include the opening lines before launching into the song. I love this song on the record and its live presentation brought it up another level.

There are few criticisms I can make of the show. The band is still finding its legs playing shows to larger audiences, but there was nothing that told me it wasn't capable of pulling them off. Given their audience and the songs they write, I'm not sure the material will ring true in a venue much larger that a theater, but from a performance standpoint they could pull it off.

I'm writing from my home computer, so I don't have my music to post at the moment. I'll check in tomorrow with the rest of the Arctic Monkeys' KCRW set I posted with on Friday.

Also tomorrow, the Wilcos.

UPDATE (3/21): I had completely forgot to mention this in the proper review, but the Arctic Monkey's took the stage to Warren G's "Regulators" which was fucking sweet.

Here are the rest of the tracks from the Arctic Monkey's "Morning Becomes Eclectic" set from KCRW. I can't remember exactly, though I'm almost 100 percent sure I got these from So Much Silence at some point. Thanks!

1. View From the Afternoon
2. Dancing Shoes (see previous post)
3. You Probably Couldn't See For the Lights, But You Were Staring Straight At Me
4. Fake Tales of San Francisco
5. Perhaps Vampires Is a Bit Strong, But...
6. From the Ritz to the Rubble
7. A Certain Romance (see previous post)

(Songs are hosted by and are live until they have not been downloaded for 30 days.)

Friday, March 17, 2006

Anticipation has the habit to set you up for disappointment...

Tomorrow night I'm seeing a show I am really anticipating. The Arctic Monkeys have received a ton of buzz on both sides of the Atlantic -- they are so widely hyped it has certainly started the backlash -- and I'm looking forward to seeing how they hold up in a live setting, which I feel is the true test of a band's worth. I saw them on SNL last weekend and thought they did okay. It was their first U.S. television appearance (U.S. performance?), so I'll throw them a flyer on not blowing me away. Some bands have good songs and little stage presence, other bands have both. AM fell somewhere in between, although in a fairly atypical environment.

Here's the thing. Songwriters that create interesting characters and tell a compelling story almost always earn heavy kudos in my book, so I'm prone to like the Arctic Monkeys for that reason alone. You can dig on the Arctic Monkeys' music as being derivative (and for this reason alone not being worthy of "the next big thing" label) -- and I'll concede that they are not reinventing the wheel here -- but you can't take away Alex Turner's ability to synthesize a common experience and turn it into something all at once novel and familiar. Turning lad culture into something relevant and interesting is not a small feat. Turner takes something no one thinks about (escapism is not about thinking) and draws interesting conclusions from it, to go along with an interesting narrative.
"Get on your dancing shoes /
There's one thing on your mind /
Hoping they’re looking for you /
Sure you'll be rummaging' through /

And the shit, shock, horror /
You've seen your future bride /
Oh, but it's oh so absurd /
For you to say the first word /
So you're waiting and waiting /

The only reason that you came /
So what you scared for? /
don't you always do the same /
It's what you there for, don't you know"
-- "Dancing Shoes"

Of course for as much as I'm looking forward to seeing the show and perhaps being a part of the narrative world Turner has transcribed -- it certainly carries a romantic (in the idealized sense) weight, in my mind -- I'm also worried that the show will pull back the curtain. While the band doesn't need to be "performers" by a long stretch (a good amount of their appeal is the "everyman" image they sing about), I want them to show they are smarter than your average guy at the bar looking to take someone home. Smarter than me.

There is also the chance that the hype machine has already taken the organic appeal out of it all; that the crowd will be the Abercrombie kids will outnumber the hipsters. Both carry their own stereotypes, but one is decidedly more reserved. And for as nostalgic as the music might make me for the times where getting wasted and acting a fool where common, I'm happy have grown out of that stage and have likely (to my horror, oncoming maturity!) passed the point where seeing kids acting like kids is entertaining. (Editorial note: I can't believe I just wrote that last paragraph... shakes head at self)
"Well oh they might wear classic Reeboks /
Or knackered Converse /
Or tracky bottoms tucked in socks /
But all of that's what the point is not /
The point's that there isn’t no romance around there /

And there's the truth that they can't see /
They'd probably like to throw a punch at me /
And if you could only see them, then you would agree /
Agree that there isn’t no romance around there /

It's a funny thing you know /
We'll tell them if you like /
We'll tell them all tonight /
They'll never listen /
Cause their minds are made up /
And course it's all okay to carry on that way /

Over there there's broken bones /
There's only music, so that there's new ringtones /
And it doesn’t take no Sherlock Holmes /
To see it's a little different around here /

Don't get me wrong though there's boys in bands /
And kids who like to scrap with pool cues in their hands /
And just cause he's had a couple of cans /
He thinks it's alright to act like a dickhead /

Well over there there's friends of mine /
What can I say, I've known them for a long long time /
And they might overstep the line /
But you just cannot get angry in the same way"
-- "A Certain Romance"

Broadly, Arctic Monkeys make music about why you go out. Why it's an escape and why you do it every week ("It's just something to talk about / a story to tell" -- "From the Ritz to the Rubble"). For an entire region (the U.K.), that has resonated. They are songs about lives led every day in boring towns with nothing to do, not celebrity lives no one actually leads, and it fills a wide hole in the culture. You can't underestimate the appeal of peers telling stories to peers. Quickly, you're seeing the Arctic Monkeys same success translating to the U.S. where kids are just as bored and just as lost. Finally, someone is talking to them, not at them.

This is my backstory going into the show Saturday. As is the custom, I'll let you know what takes place. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Arctic Monkeys || Dancing Shoes (live from KCRW)
Arctic Monkeys || A Certain Romance (live from KCRW)

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Martin Sexton

An exciting e-mail came across my Inbox today announcing Martin Sexton's show at the Bottleneck on Friday, April 28. I've been fortunate to see Marty play four or five times and every show has been a treat. His unique take on the singer-songwriter genre is always inspiring and, while he has gathered a devoted and passionate following, I've found that he hasn't quite garnered the widespread recognition I think he deserves.

For one, he's an incredibly well-traveled musician, having played shows and toured for the better part of a decade. Second, he wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, "Glory Bound," about having the will to keep on doing just that. It is one of those tracks that I have gone back to time and time again; it never gets old or tired. Follow the dream, kind souls:
"So I packed it up and I went to the winds /
And I lived out of a VW bus for a year or two /
Ain't nothing but a pipe dream and my guitar /
Livin off of apple fields and old cigars /
Diggin this microphone checking it out every night all alone /
The car battery is dead again so I got my head dead set against it"

If the lyrics above resonate with you at all, make sure to give Martin a listen by downloading tracks from his website or via the SextonJukebox. I've added a couple of my favorites below. I will note that Martin did sell out his show a year ago when he visited the Grand Emporium in KC, so I would plan on getting tickets in advance. The Bottleneck holds about 350, if that.

The show is part of a three-week run that hits the Carolinas, Louisiana, Missouri, New York, Texas. Martin is also pulling double-duty at New York City's Green Apple Music Festival with an appearance at the Jammys on April 20 and an "unannounced" show (with Assembly of Dust) at the Cutting Room the next day.

Martin Sexton || Glory Bound (from Black Sheep)
Martin Sexton || In the Journey (from Live Wide Open)
Martin Sexton || Freedom of the Road (live, Wakarusa 6/17/05)

I'll try to get a quick post in tomorrow; I'm taking a half day tomorrow and flying to Chicago. Arctic Monkeys/Spinto Band at the Metro on Saturday. And then there's this basketball tournament going on -- I might watch a game or two...

(Songs are hosted by and will be live until they have been inactive for 30 days. Songs are for sampling purposes only, please support the artists whenever and however possible.)
(Image from

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Live: Marisyahu / Balkan Beat Box (3/7/06)

[Editor's note: While I missed out on Matisyahu's show in Kansas City, my friend Mark caught them a week later at New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom. The show celebrated that day's release of Matisyahu's new album Youth. As will be the custom at I Wonder Why We Listen to Poets... every once in awhile my friends will chime in with their thoughts on concerts, music, life, culture, etc. Here is Mark's take on Matis.]

It’s hard to figure out exactly what just happened. A Hasidic Jewish reggae/rapper isn’t something I’m that familiar with but there are definitely familiar points. A reformed Phish-head, some of that influence plays out in Matisyahu's music. The show opened with some very trippy guitar sounds, some light and smoke effects, and then some of Matisyahu’s high-pitched reggae yodels (what do you call those?).

As full disclosure, I’m not the most familiar with his songs – I’ve listened to Live at Stubb’s a bit but I wouldn’t say I know more than a few songs. It was the day his new album, Youth, came out so I may have been a little out of my element. However, each tune is really easy to get into, the way reggae usually is, with head bouncing and hip swaying and beats that make you feel good. Throughout the show I really wanted to be listening to the music while drinking a beer on someone’s porch in nice weather.

The one thing that was kind of a let down was that the energy wasn’t sustained all the way through. There were several times ("King Without a Crown," "Chop ‘Em Down," the encore) when everyone was flailing around and really upbeat. His beatbox showcase was incredible, kind of like Rahzel crossed with Yahweh and Michael Winslow from Police Academy.

There were some lulls though -- good chill music but it felt a little out of place. There was also a guest rapper that came on who I could have done without. He said he was from White Plains (not a good selling point if you’re trying for credibility as a rapper). The best thing that came out of that collaboration was that I definitely appreciated Matisyahu’s speed on the mic and his melodic voice. If that was the point, then I guess it was a success.

A big part of the let down could be the fact that I was one of the oldest people there. My brother (19) first told me about Matisyahu six months ago, and he was at this show. If I was a sophomore in college, this would definitely be an act that I would have heard about and gone to see. Unfortunately, that age has passed me by. Getting shoulder tapped [Ed. Note: I have no idea what this is!] is pretty fun, but standing next to high school kids that can’t handle their booze isn’t too great and that is the kind of crowd Matisyahu has right now.

When it comes down to it, it’s really good music to listen to, but in a live setting I just expect more. The beats are solid, the jams are ok, but when haven’t I heard better? Whenever I expected a soaring solo, it would end abruptly. Seeing Phish or Widespread or moe. so many times kind of overwhelms that part of my expectations.

Quick note on the opener, Balkan Beat Box: these guys started out like animals. There were six dudes – three horns, guitar, bass, drums. They were all over each other, playing some kind of Indian techno that was pretty addicting. Then they started playing with their computer and brought out a guy who could rhyme "Zion" with "Zion" and it went downhill. If they dropped that schtick, Balkan Beat Box wouldn't be half bad.

-- M. Graham, 3/8/06

Monday, March 13, 2006

Monday's Blog: Joey Cheek

It was a slow weekend for I Wonder Why We Listen to Poets... I spent most of the time listening to the same ol' stuff I've been writing about over the last week or so (not that there's anything wrong with that, sometimes I think blogging makes you want to jump to the next thing too quickly). I wasn't going to post today, but then I saw something and it stirred me to write.

iTunes recently added U.S. Olympic speedskater Joey Cheek's "Celebrity Playlist." It's a pretty good compilation of indie (Andrew Bird, Death Cab) and 90's alternative (STP, Pearl Jam) and cements Joey as the kind of guy I'm glad to support. I became a big Joey Cheek fan during the Olympics and I had wanted to write about him, so this seems like the perfect segue into that.

It is a big world and there's a lot of stuff that happens in the outside the United States that doesn't necessarily get the press it should. As a public, we are often subject to agendas we do not control and therefore have a hard time finding news from within in our traditional media outlets that is unfiltered, unbiased or unweighted. Certainly the genocide in Darfur is one of those things that hasn't been a priority for the U.S. media given all the other U.S.-centric events in which we are engaged.

That's where Joey Cheek's actions in the Olympics comes in.

I'm glad Mr. Cheek (see, now I can use my Wall Street Journal style guide) has taken his 15 minutes and directed the attention away from his achievements, towards something far more important. By pledging his medal bonuses (around $40,000 I think) and urging his sponsors to match, Cheek has helped the people of the Sudan gain valuable attention. It's hard to feel like we can accomplish much as lone individuals, but I hope that one person in the spotlight turning our attention towards the Sudan is just a start to the good we can help bring about.

For anyone who's seen a movie like Hotel Rwanda -- so not a date movie by the way -- or has read anything about the horrors of a genocide, it is all we can do not to turn our eyes away when those people need the world's help and compassion.

Further reading:
"Cheek's generosity rates medal" || San Francisco Chronicle
"Redicovering the Olympic ideal" || Washington Post
"U.S. must work to halt Darfur genocide" || Boston Herald

With that I thought I'd post some uplifting/thought provoking tunes, enjoy and make sure to check out Right to Play.

Van Morrison || St. Dominic's Preview (one of my all-time favorite songs, by one of my all-time favorite artists)
Van Morrison || Caravan ("Turn it up / Radio / So you know it's got soul")
Pearl Jam || Indifference ("I will scream my lungs out, / 'til it fills this room")
Pearl Jam || Breath ("I suggest you get off your porch / Run away my son / See it all / See the world")

(Songs are hosted by and will be live until they have been inactive for 30 days. Songs are for sampling purposes only, please support the artists whenever and however possible.)

Thursday, March 09, 2006

First Listen: Both Sides of the Gun

[I think one of the things I will try to regularly incorporate is a "First Listen" feature where I'll sit down with a new release and write about what comes to mind on that all-important first listen (okay, maybe we'll shoot for an *early* listen). I really enjoy giving albums a scholarly look and think it's a worthwhile endeavor to take some time, think about the music and try to pin down what might be going on with it.]

My first installment of "First Listen" is Both Sides of the Gun. I've been looking forward to this release for ages now. If you've been following along, Ben Harper is tops among peers in my mind. The best thing is that you never know what you're going to get from him; each album is an adventure and an exploration. I think this one will show us another side of Ben's varied repetoire.


Better Way - Great slide work in the middle. Another uplifting song from Ben, "I believe in a better way." I like the scream at the end. I think it's the only way to convey those lyrics. "Reality is sharp because it cuts like a knife. Everyone I know is in the fight of their life." It's affecting. The Middle Eastern vibe at the end is new. I didn't pick it up from the video.

Both Sides of the Gun - Feels like soul. I'm already liking the direction of his more upbeat songs. That 70s soul vibe needs to make a come back. Sam Cooke, Marvin in his hey- Backup singers make an appearance. Definitely from the Isaac Hayes ouvre. Short at 2:44 could be stretched out a bit more...

Engraved Invitation - Harder rock. I've heard AC/DC comparisons on the boards, the lead riff could be, but it's a little more ZZ Top I think. What lyrics I'm picking up are good. Can't wait to delve in a little further. Ben's straining on the last chorus, really pushing the words out there. You can tell he's feeling it.

Black Rain - "You left them swimming for their lives down in New Orleans / Can't afford a gallon of gasoline." This song, I knew would be one of my favorites, and it might be for a long time. Like the strings... nice presence. Lots of soul. Politics are sharp. "And it won't be long 'til the people flood the streets / To take you down / One and all / It's a black rain / Gonna fall / Gonna fall." This should be a single.

Gather 'Round the Stone - Onto the acoustic for the first time. Would have loved to have heard the Blind Boys on this one. Could have added some punch to the chorus, but the layered vox the third time around are okay; I want to hear them deeper though. The idea is there. The backing instruments are too in/out. "You whip the back of freedom / Till it bleeds an oil stream"

Please Don't Talk About Murder - Nice rocker. Sounds like it will be fun live. One of those that will age well, I think. You can hear a lot of opportunity for the IC's to take off in the live setting.

Get It Like You Like It - Organ intro. Sounds pretty Stones-y. The Johnny Damon line is classic. "In 1918 the Great Bambino kicked a piano into Willis Pond / But Johnny Damon swung a bat / That was that, an 86 year old curse was gone." What a great moment in time... Hand claps, another great live song. I'm really excited to see some shows. Hopefully there are a few in the midwest.

The Way You Found Me - Interesting take. Jazz club feel. Feels like something you can hear at the Blue Room. We haven't heard this influence from Ben before. Piano is nice. Jazz, man, you got me. I'm amazed at how loose all these songs feel. It's cool, almost like you're listening to demos or live takes. Less polished, but I think that suits this set of songs so far (one to go on this disc). Wish it was longer... 2:53 only.

Serve Your Soul - Here's some length, 8:22. Zeppelin comes to mind right off... a circular electric riff into some acoustic work and strings. Need some wind instruments and you've got "Stairway." A heavier-ish electric solo fades into acoustic strumming backing a building solo. Definately rock. Nice little jam around 5:00. Catches a second wind in the last minute. Violins come in... definitely epic in scope. I like. Approve.

Morning Yearning - Strings are here. Acoustic is set back in the mix, less prevalent than the RTL2 live version. Drums are subtle but nice as well. "Baby crying kept us all night / With her morning yearning." A lot of tension in the vocals. String swells, upright bass. "Like a summer rose / I'm a victim of the fall / but I'm soon returning." Nice play on "fall's" multiple meanings.

Waiting For You - Sounds like a Verve song. Richard Ashcroft would be proud.

(Side note: Sabres 5, Lightning 4 - second period... new goals every time I look up at the game. Wide open game... no goaltending right now)

Picture In a Frame - Lap steel makes an appearance. Nashville. So far, this is certainly a different disc, but calling it "acoustic" or "ballads" isn't the right description. If the first disc is "A Change Is Gonna Come" then this disc is "Moolight Mile" or "Wild Horses." AM radio hits of the 70s for sure.

Never Leave Lonely Alone - A different acoustic style from Ben. The piano has played a really understated role throughout this album. Just guitar, piano and an upright bass on this one.

Sweet Nothing Serenade - Weissenborn on the lead? Or just a lap slide? Long-ish instrumental intro long instrumental intro instrumental.

Reason to Mourn - Feedback/tuning for the first :24. For all Ben's various indulgences, he's been fairly judicious with his use of strings. All very effective and I haven't found any too egregious. There's definitely an influence for this disc, but I'm not pulling it down right now. It will come to me. Early 70s Stones? A little more stately take on Harvest?

More Than Sorry - As in "What more than 'sorry' do you want from me?" Two guitars... three? No other accompanyment.

Crying Won't Help You Now - Sounds like it was a bad relationship. Here's a ballad.

Happy Everafter in Your Eyes - Great melody Ben pulled for this one. A very gentle song. Reminiscent of a Burn to Shine-era ballad in a way (thinking Beloved One...). Will have to spend some more time with this one. I'm sure it will be one of those that clicks one day and might be very important for some stretch of life.

I'm really happy with listen number one. It did not dissapoint at all. I really like the first disc's vibe. Those songs don't quite feel fleshed out, but it might sound differently on the stereo than in headphones. I think the loose feel will lend itself to volume. If those songs are a 4, I can only say the subsequent (imminent?) live album will be a masterpiece. I think they could do with some live growth and they'll really flourish, but as they stand, they are a good collection. The second disc was fascinating. I need to pin down the similarity. It reminds me a lot of Nashville in the 70s when rock went country.

J.Jakes. - you are the man for hooking me up with this early. I'm geeked to have a chance to sit with it, especially since I wasn't sure if my pre-order would have even made it to me by the 21st. I'm commissioning a statue in your honor, my friend. Thank you sir...

Great day for the Internet

All my regular bookmarks came up with great content today. Here are the highlights:

Expert fantasy baseball advice from a humor website? I think so: "Irrefutable roster of characters from classic Nintendo video games" (McSweeney's).

Muzzle of Bees offers you live Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah. Still on the fence? Hoard free, live mp3s until you turn the corner and join the rest of the gang. It's nice around the corner.

It sounds like a premise for an article in The Onion headline, but it's not: Inventor of the cubicle regrets his invention. (Via Buzz Patrol)

When I move and sell my broke-down couch rather than truck it to the next apartment, I'm going to advertise using this method.

Live: Railroad Earth / Hakensaw Boys

First off, I can't summarize this show without a soundtrack:

Railroad Earth || Lordy Lordy
Railroad Earth || Cold Water
(From the Black Bear Sessions)

Railroad Earth is an incredible live band. There's no disputing that fact as the impressive Elko attests (seriously, eMusic is practically begging you to sign up and use some of your 50 free downloads to get this album).

During the first set the band proved its mettle with a strong trio from its first album: "Cold Water," "Lordy Lordy" and "Stillwater Getaway." I'd spent most of my time with Elko lately, so I hadn't listened to these songs in awhile. Their familarity was readily apparent though and it was reassuring to know that only three songs in they had played nothing but winners and yet nothing from the new record so there was much more in store.

The first set reached its peak with its closer, "Like a Buddha." The first notes were definitely an argument on behalf of live music. For a moment, that moment itself was irrelevant and the music was the only thing that deserved your attention. It was a transcendent moment; which made me wish I had a few average reviews under my belt to prove I wasn't just gushing superlatives for last night's adrenaline's sake.

The song "Elko" was the highlight of the second set, again for its lyricism as I blogged about Monday, but a different set of lyics stood out to me in the live setting:
"I need a card / I need a card / Hit me Lord, but not too hard / I need a winning hand"

The interaction between the crowd and band, singing the last words of the main set was fitting, given the size of the room and intimacy of the crowd with the band.

Heading into the encore, the only song I wanted to hear hadn't been played. I was happy to have an affirmative look my way when my call for "Long Way To Go" was heard. Following a great instrumental jam, they played the song and the night was complete. Sometimes the stars align and the show is that good. If you have the chance to see Railroad Earth in your town, do so.

"I like the Hackensaw Boys now, if only because they let us get up front." -- Graham Gerjerts

The Hackensaw Boys were a decent opener. Not the kind of band I'd ever see on their own, nor really invest any time in, but there's no harm in watching them open the show. They do have an interesting percussion set up in the family of tin cans and warshboards. They each referred to each other as Jake Hackensaw or Bill Hackensaw. And I got to see the guitarist open his beer bottle with his teeth, so I guess that was cool. During RRE's set break, the Hackensaws performed an inpromptu (?) acoustic set by the merch table which drew a crowd and inspired the above quote. Good times.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

And then there's this... World Wide Suicide

Pearl Jam || World Wide Suicide (first single from the upcoming Pearl Jam LP; via


PJ has also released the dates for the first leg of its U.S. tour with My Morning Jacket.

More info here and here (pdf; interview with Ed and Ten Club mgr. Tim Bierman about the new album).

UPDATE (12:38 p.m.): And here.

Wednesday links

A few links from this morning:

Live Online Tonight: Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah ( - I won't be there to hear it, but you should listen.

Gomez Show How They Operate ( - I know, I know, more Gomez... but I'm not going to apologize; I'm geared up for the new album and happy to see that it looks like they're getting a fair shot at it this time around.
"Their last two releases, for Virgin/Hut (EMI), got caught in what Gray calls 'major-label bullshit.' Weeks before the release of 2002's In Our Gun, an amped album full of Gomez's signature acoustic harmonies and electronic psychadelia, EMI downscaled the label. Their last album, 2004's more pop-focused Split the Difference, was released in the wake of Hut's shutdown."

Pete Doherty: 'Making Progress' Against Drugs ( - Enough already... how many times does he have to get arrested in the same day before they treat his problem seriously. Aside from what seems to be a weekly court appearance, are there any consequences for this guy? Let him do what he'll do, but stop wasting my time. On second thought, don't click this link, just know it is there. And ridiculous.

Raconteurs Unveil Debut LP Tracklist ( - Jack White has it in for the bloggers, though I imagine he was just having a tough day (maybe Karen accidentally put some reds in the wash with his whites). I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Why? Oh yeah, because he can do no wrong.

The Raconteurs || Steady, As She Goes

That's that friends. For the moment. Stay tuned this week for a review of the Railroad Earth show I'm seeing tonight and a special post from guest-author/savant M. Graham about Matisyahu in NYC...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sometimes I Rhyme Slow

Cruising around the web today, I was introduced to the "mash up" of Jose Gonzalez' album Veneer with various hip-hop artists for the compilation Sometimes I Rhyme Slow. I listened to the samples on Myspace for like an hour straight. If you like hip-hop but feel it's missing something without live instrumentation, this is the mix for you (me...).

Head over to Josh Spear for more information and links.

1. Go + All You Deliver, Common

2. Get ‘Em High + Lovestain, Kanye West feat. Talib Kweli & Common

3. Good Mourning + Deadweight on Velveteen, Reflection Eternal

4. The Light + Heartbeats, Common feat. Erika Badu

5. Two Words + Slow Moves, Kanye West feat. Mos Def & Freeway

6. Dreams + Crosses, The Game

7. My Favorite Ladies + Remain, MF Doom

8. One Love + Stay in the Shade, Nas

9. The Greatest Show on Earth + Hints, Aceyalone

Catching up with some favorites

A couple of quick hits this morning to clear the queue: has two clips up promoting the upcoming release of Both Sides of the Gun (T-minus 15 days...), including 12-minute preview of the album with some always interesting commentary from Ben himself. Additionally, .net has the video for the album's lead single "Better Way."
Gomez launched it's new website yesterday, It is the first time the band has had control of their own website, so it looks like they might actually keep it updated after the push for the new album is complete. On first look, the best feature might just be the journal.
Check out Rolling Stone's review of Elko. (via the Live Music Blog... thanks for the mention!)

Monday, March 06, 2006

Railroad Earth, Elko

This weekend I was able to spend a lot of time listening to Railroad Earth's recent live release Elko in a couple of different settings and I'm not sure I can express how impressive (and good!) it is without throwing out a ton of lofty adjectives that won't really mean anything -- besides that I know a lot of synonyms for "incredible" and I won't hesitate to apply them liberally to this album.

Over the course of Elko's two discs, RRE gets ample opportunity to play with the conventions of roots music and it's all sweet. At times I find them a lot more Grateful Dead ("The Hunting Song," "Elko") than Garcia/Grisman, which is a welcome change of pace from the traditional bluegrass form -- which I like and respect, but am not generally over the moon about. I find that I like that I like roots music, more often than I actually like roots music (if you follow me).

The presence of Carey Harmon's drum kit is the thing that sets them apart. The percussion allows them to go places with the music that other bands can't get to given the limitations of the instrumentation. Songs like "Warhead Boogie" and "Like a Buddha" legitmately find a groove and don't let up. This characteristic of their music might perhaps be the most vital reason RRE has developed its extensive following in the live music scene.

Todd Scheaffer's songwriting also stands out. The title-track paints a vivid picture of the town where truckers, drifters, poor boys and boozers alike pass through in the night. This month's issue of Relix magazine has a great feature on the band (unavailable online) that describes the tune:

It was the band's many trips out to California that inspired the road tale from which Elko takes its name. One of the group's preferred stops on its way home from the High Sierra Music Festival, Elko, California, is a funky little slice of Americana, a Nevada-California bordertown that's home to the annual cowboy poetry convention and a vaguero-themed casino where a weary Railroad Earth can score a hotel rooms for 25 bucks and drink and gamble all night. "Poor boys and gamblers / Road dogs and ramblers /Shutting it down for the night," Scheaffer sings on his tribute to the town.

From Elko (an amazing value if you have an eMusic account by the way):
Railroad Earth || Long Way to Go
Railroad Earth || Like a Buddha

Via the band's website:
Railroad Earth || Mighty River (live)
Railroad Earth || Elko (live)
Railroad Earth || Head (live)

Of course, I get the chance to see them live on Wednesday night; stay tuned for a full review on Thursday.

(Photo: C. Taylor Crothers 2005)
(Songs are hosted by and will be live until they have been inactive for 30 days. Songs are for sampling purposes only, please support the artists whenever and however possible.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Upcoming Shows

My show calendar hits its stride in the month of March. Averaging one show per week this month will be tons of fun... missing out on Matisyahu the other night was just the tip of the iceberg.

Names, dates, places:

5. Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah - 3/30, The Bottleneck
4. Wilco - 3/21, Uptown Theater
3. Arctic Monkeys - 3/18, The Metro, Chicago!
2. Railroad Earth - 3/8, The Bottleneck

I'm extremely excited for all four shows. I missed Railroad Earth's set at Wakarusa last summer (to see North Mississippi All-Stars and nap on the lawn) and reports were that it was one of the weekend's best. I've been wearing out the Arctic Monkeys lately. At just twenty years old, man, they get it. I can't wait to see them live in Chicago (on St. Patty's Day weekend no less) and then tear down the Windy City afterwards. You can't go wrong with Wilco and this will be my second time seeing them live. Besides, they are the namesakes of this blog (or is that the other way around?). Lots to say about Clap Your Hands, Say Yeah, but I'll save that for its own post. Needless to say, I'm very interested to see what their live show is like.

If I still have anything left, I might go check out the Soledad Brothers on March 31 at the Bottleneck. I haven't heard much from them, besides being name-checked by Jack White and the Black Keys, so if anyone has any input make sure to leave it in the comments. I like what I have heard, though, so I'm likely going.

Soledad Brothers || Downtown (via Alive Records, from the LP The Hardest Walk)

2006 Show List to date:

1. Robert Randolph and the Family Band - 2/10, Uptown Theater

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My God it's been so long...

Add it to the calendar:

Pearl Jam is set to release its new self-titled LP on May 2. Pearl Jam will be preceded by the first single "World Wide Suicide," available for free download next Wednesday (March 8) from

More: "Pearl Jam to Release Eigth Studio Album," NME (note: albums are released on Mondays in the UK, thus the difference in dates)

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Matisyahu at the Beaumont

Sometimes it is just inevitable that you'll miss shows that you want to see. Tonight is going to be one of them for me (see also: Cash, Lack thereof). Matisyahu is playing at the Beaumont Club in Westport.

I'm especially upset to be sitting this one out because I'm completely curious as to what this show will look like. For those who haven't heard of him before, Matisyahu is both an incredible reggae artist and a Hisidic Jew. I can't quite wrap my head around what it will all look like in person. While Matisyahu isn't exactly catering to the Mitzvah circuit, the actual process of playing religion-inspired music in the midst of such a secular venue and crowd is intruging to me for a number of reasons.

I've been doing some reading on him and I have to admit, I'm amazed at the dedication it takes to maintain his lifestyle on the road -- including giving up stage diving because of the chance he might come in contact with a female in the process or not playing shows on Friday nights so he can observe the Sabbath.

The whole thing adds up to a pretty unique experience, I'd imagine. So I'm sad I'll have to miss out.

From very informative feature in the Washington Post:
"I don't see myself as a religious musician. I'm not trying to make myself more marketable or more mainstream. My music, and my message, is more marketable. It's emet, it's truth. And I feel like that's for everybody."
-- Matisyahu

I've been listening to Live at Stubb's quite a bit recently. "King Without a Crown" is an amazing song. The more you listen and absorb his music, the more it becomes clear that his songs and their messages are truly universal. Reggae is a genre that benefits greatly by trumpeting a strong message, with the emergence of Matisyahu as the "Hasidic Reggae Superstar," the genre has found a very powerful voice.

Matisyahu || King Without a Crown
Matisyahu || Chop 'Em Down

The new album Youth comes out next week (March 7), so I imagine this is just the start of the talk about a pretty solid artist.

(Photo by Helayne Seidman for The Washington Post)