Archive for October, 2008

Change of the Guard

Posted in Music, Politics with tags , , , , , on October 16, 2008 by roarvis

I’ve been kind of focused on the election crap these past couple weeks, like most people. I’m hesitant to go into much political discussion here because there is enough of it out there, and I’m hardly qualified to be a political analyst (or an opinionated shockmeister as many of them are).

But I do think it’s interesting that Obama is leading in the polls, and that this is inspiring an increasingly desperate and angry din from the right wing folk. I’m not talking about fiscal conservatives or middle of the roaders, but the really scary citizens who actually think Obama is either a:

a.) Muslim

b.) Terrorist

c.) Baby-killer

d.) Person who wants to take away all my money

e.) Person of Color

OK, we know he is half black…but I think the other accusations above are on the silly side.

We’ve all heard disturbing reports about GOP crowds shouting “kill him” or “get him” or whatever it is. You can argue about whether or not this poses an actual security threat, but the point is that having a black president scares the crap out of a lot of people. This fear is easily converted to anger, and most aren’t afraid to show it. I won’t go into all the sordid details – you all presumably have access to the Internets (but the small child at the McCain/Palin rally holding the Curious George doll comes to mind).

Still, while white racists try to outdo themselves by sinking to new lows in public, Obama keeps ascending in the polls. This does not necessarily mean he’s going to win the election, but it is most certainly a gauge of current public opinion. I came to the realization last week that even if Obama should lose the election (or the republicans pull some kind of Black Ops trickery at the polls like they have been known to do in the past), this antiquated mode of thinking – that America belongs to white people and diversity only weakens us as a nation – is on its way out. The times are changing, and these pink faces shouting “kill him!” are the last of a dying breed. We are witnessing the death throes of American racism, the extreme right wing, or whatever you want to call it. It may not happen with this election, but the fact that someone like Obama (not just a man of mixed race, but a relatively young, intelligent and level headed person) could get this far is nothing short of revolutionary considering this country’s often embarrassingly violent past.

Which brings us to Steely Dan. I won’t pretend that I know what these guys were thinking when they wrote “Change of the Guard,” which appears on their debut LP Can’t Buy a Thrill from 1972. But listening to the song today, it sounds like they could be describing the current political climate. Thus, I leave you with the words of Donald Fagen:

“All the cowboys and your neighbors
Can you swallow up your pride
Take your guns off if you’re willin’
And you know we’re on your side
If you wanna get thru the years
It’s high time you played your card
If you live in this world
You’re feelin’ the change of the guard”

(Video from Krolblach)

There is, of course, a more sinister interpretation of this song, suggesting that it describes some sort of fascist agenda – but let’s assume it does not. For once, I am bored with cynicism.

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 6, 2008 by roarvis

The second night saw a much larger crowd at the Santa Monica Civic. Spectrum played another great set, and this time seemed to get their due from the appreciative audience. Unlike the first night, Thursday’s bill featured three bands, with Gemma Hayes getting the middle slot. Her mellow shoegazer-tinged pop was pitched somewhere between The Sundays and Lush, and I found myself enjoying it for the most part (although I did spend the majority of her set waiting in line for the bathroom).

Finally, it was time for what we’d all been waiting for: My Bloody Valentine. Their performance Wednesday had left me dazed but slightly unfulfilled, as the sound left something to be desired, and it did not feel like the whole audience was really invested in what was going on. This turned out to be a mere test run for the final gig. When the band launched into their opening number “I Only Said” amidst a torrent of flashing strobes, everything clicked into place. The venue was completely packed, and from my perch in the bleachers I could take in the scope of both the audience and the action on stage.

My biggest gripe with the term “shoegazer” is that it infers a lack of commitment on the part of the musicians, as if all bands in this genre are bored or self involved onstage. I always maintained that the shoegaze bands I saw in the 90s rocked pretty hard. MBV, Lush and Swervedriver all put on intense shows, and while their guitarists may have seemed stoic, you had to consider that they were usually singing while playing and switching between up to 30 effects pedals – that takes some concentration, folks!

With MBV it was always up to the rhythm section to bring the rock, and bassist Debbie Googe and drummer Colm O’Coisog did not disappoint at either of these reunion shows. Debbie remained fixed on Colm’s bass drum the whole time, rocking back and forth in time with the music while throwing her entire body into the rhythm. Colm flailed about on his throne like a madman, as if the ghost of Keith Moon was presiding over the whole ceremony.

The mix was much better on Thursday, although this could have been due to the sheer amount of bodies absorbing the din, or my placement in the back and center of the room. The vocals had presence, the guitars were screechingly loud, and the drums were huge. I could always use more bass guitar when it comes to this band, as I feel that Debbie’s thick, fuzzed-out basslines provide a necessary anchor to all the noise. Still, I had no complaints about the set. Highlights were the lush dynamics of “Cigarette in Your Bed,” the insane hardcore freakout of “Nothing Much to Lose,” and the hypnotic dance groove of “Soon.”

My Bloody Valentine have always ended their sets with an extreme noise barrage during the middle of “You Made Me Realize.” This section of the song can range anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes according to various reports. The sound is similar to an airplane taking off, and the effect is supposed to induce some kind of out of body experience in the listener. It has been lovingly termed “the holocaust” by fans.

Tonight the holocaust was particularly intense, as the whole auditorium seemed to be shaking. I found myself becoming instinctively afraid around ten minutes in, when my senses seemed to be preparing me for an imminent explosion. Eventually the band launched back into the verse, and the song was brought to a thunderous close.

It was an amazing two nights that reaffirmed my belief in the power of layered guitar noise. Now someone just needs to talk RIDE and Slowdive into reforming for a US tour…

When You Wake, You’re Still in a Dream

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 3, 2008 by roarvis

There have been quite a few shows this year that for one reason or another we have felt compelled to attend. Several of them occured this past month, many in the past two weeks. In addition to the aforementioned Nick Cave/Spiritualized gig, September also brought us Mission of Burma performing their classic debut album Vs. in its entirety at the Echoplex, Sons and Daughters at the Troubadour, and a bunch of random high school punk bands at my friend Bill‘s garage in Torrance. Earlier in the year I also got to see one of my all time favorite bands, Swervedriver, who had reunited for a surprise US tour.

But the mother of all shows was yet to come. After 16 or so years of inactivity, noise pop pioneers My Bloody Valentine have returned to the stage to assault our ears once again. If you had told me a year ago that I would be seeing both MBV and Swervedriver in 2008, I would have accused you of schadenfreude. And I do not use the word “schadenfreude” lightly (or ever).

I arrived at the Santa Monica Civic Arena last night to learn that the opening act was going to be none other than Spectrum, the band Sonic Boom (a.k.a Pete Kember) formed after the dissolution of the Spacemen 3. I had seen Kember perform in various incarnations before, none of which were too impressive. He usually stood motionless onstage twiddling various knobs on his synthesizer. This time, however, he had brought a full band to perform a selection of songs from the Spacemen back catalog. When they launched into a cover of the Red Krayola‘s “Transparent Radiation” as their second song, I knew I was witnessing something special. This track was covered semi-famously by the Spacemen on their classic album The Perfect Prescription, and this version was spot-on. They proceeded to tear through an amazing set of pulsing drone rock, including Spacemen favorites “When Tomorrow Hits” (originally by Mudhoney), “Revolution” and “Suicide.” Kember even busted out “How You Satisfy Me,” the original Spectrum single, which benefited greatly from the warm sound of his current band.

Several audience members had the audacity to cheer when Kember announced that their set was about to end, as if they didn’t realize that My Bloody Valentine would not have existed without the guiding influence of the Spacemen 3. I don’t expect the average casual listener to know this stuff, but if you’re going to be a dick, at least do your homework. Personally, I knew I had witnessed nothing short of a drone rock miracle, and those are few and far between.

To be continued…

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2008 by roarvis

Cirio H. Santiago 1936 – 2008

I intend to keep this blog focused mostly on musical goings about, but occasionally things need to be said. This week the world of grind-house/drive-in/exploitation cinema lost one of its greatest contributors, Cirio Santiago.

Santiago was a writer/director/producer who had his hands in numerous films dating back to the 1950s. His golden period was arguably the 70s and early 80s, when he co-produced several Jack Hill and Roger Corman films (The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage, etc.). His area of expertise was the “women in prison” genre, also known lovingly as “chicks in chains” (or less-lovingly as “bitches behind bars”). These films, while catering to the hormonal male market, nonetheless depicted plenty of strong women, and it could be argued that many in fact had a feminist slant. However you want to slice it, they are at the core entertaining action movies. He also made a mark with early blaxploitation films such as T.N.T. Jackson and Savage!, and his contribution to the post-holocaust Road Warrior ripoff genre was the perennial favorite Stryker.

Several great actors and actresses honed their craft in Santiago’s films, including Pam Grier and Sid Haig, and you can’t get through an obituary without reading how fanboy Quentin Tarantino idolized Santiago and his cohorts.

Which leads me to a somewhat depressing observation. Why is it that we need filmmakers like Tarantino, Eli Roth and the guy from White Zombie to tell us that it’s ok to like exploitation films? And why is it that their films suck so bad compared to the movies they’re ripping off (I mean, paying homage to)? I commend these guys on their taste in film, but I would rather watch a Santiago-produced Filipino sleaze fest than some big budget exercise in boredom any day of the week. I’m just sayin’.

For the complete discography, check this out.