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CINEMA: Hot Rocks

Friday, December 13th, 2019

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UNCUT GEMS (directed by Ben & Joseph Safdie, 135 minutes, USA, 2019)

Dan Tabor_byline_avatarBY DAN TABOR FILM CRITIC There were several points while watching Uncut Gems that my Apple Watch began to go off letting me know that my heart rate was getting out of control, and that I needed to take a moment to “breath.” Watching the film in a darkened theater, I felt very much like its protagonist – trapped, anxious and fearing for my own sanity. It was during the third haptic Apple Watch alarm that I knew I was witnessing one of the best films this year.

Uncut Gems the newest film by the Safdie Brothers (Good Time) begins in Ethiopia, in the aftermath of a bloody mining accident. In all the chaos, a rare black opal worth at least a million dollars is smuggled out of the mine by a pair of entrepreneurial miners and ends up in the hands of New York diamond district Jewish jeweler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler). Ratner who is a compulsive gambling addict, an adulterer and neck deep in debt is looking for an easy out with the rare stone. That’s when now-retired NBA star Kevin Garnett, playing none other than himself, is brought into his showroom and has a spiritual connection with the opal, and asks to borrow it for luck. This is during the 2010 playoffs between the Celtics and the Sixers.  When Garnett, pulls off a series best with the gem in his possession, he isn’t so quick to let go of the gem that is due for auction, as Ratner is just trying to make it through the Passover holiday with both of his kneecaps intact.

While I don’t consider myself an Adam Sandler fan, and haven’t sought out a film of his since high school, given the premise and directors I was intrigued to say the least. Unlike Robert Pattinson in Good Time, something remains pure and almost redeemable about Sandler’s gambling-addicted degenerate jeweler. This empathy seriously amps up the tension in the Safdie Brother’s trademark gritty underworld, as we see Ratner dig himself deeper and deeper still believing his big score is just over the horizon. It’s a tense watch, but one that gives the actor better known for his dick and fart humor the chance to show his detractors, just what he can do with the right material. Sandler is electric on screen with his manic take on a man struggling to keep his head above the surface in shark infested waters.

Sandler is surrounded by a cast that includes Idina Menzel, the always great Lakeith Stanfield and Kevin Garnett who all deliver very grounded takes, contrary to Sandler’s larger than life personae. Ratner feels at times like he is plugged into something almost ethereal once the gem is in his possession, which is similar to Garnett who we witness glimpses something spectacular, when he looks into the opal. It’s an almost mystical layer of subtext that for me brings something new to the loan shark film genre, a very dark sub-genre in Chinese cinema. Like other Safdie brother’s films Gems has a bleak documentarian look that to me felt like it was looking at New York as the unsafe urban jungle that was the playground of exploitation directors did in the ‘70s.

Uncut Gems is tense, sleaze-filled trip through the dark underbelly of New York’s Jeweler’s Row. Sandler is gloriously unhinged on screen in what is hands-down the performance of his lifetime. Gems is a complex narrative that has this ethereal subtext as well as an interesting cultural deep dive into Ratner’s relationship with his African American hip-hop and sports clientele. It’s a very nuanced script, with a lot of moving parts, that never leans into stereotypes, but also isn’t simply content with being a thrill ride. The Safdie Brother’s assisted by Ronald Bronstein have crafted a masterpiece that manages to get its audience to side with its tragically flawed protagonist and even root for him in a third act that left me speechless and almost gave me a heart attack, as Ratner goes for broke one final time.

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FRANCES QUINLAN: Rare Thing

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

From Likewise, the debut solo album by Hop Along frontwoman Frances Quinlan, out January 31st on Saddle Creek.

PREVIOUSLY: Q&A W/ Frances Quinlan, AKA The Best Voice In Indie-Rock

PREVIOUSLY: Review Of Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off

PREVIOUSLY: Video For Hop Along’s “Powerful Man”

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SH*T MY UNCLE SAYS: Impeach The Motherf*cker

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

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BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Just when you thought the Feces in Chief and his Make America Gag Again minions couldn’t get any more mephitic:

1. The four-time draft dodging oval office outhouser has declared that henceforth he will play hind-endmost judge, jury and get-out-of-jail-free(er) in all things “war crimes related” … that have ALREADY been adjudicated by the armed services’ highest SMUScourts. Huh? Okay, I think I get it: it’s an inbred inclination of his to want to protect, preserve and defend all acts of deceit, immorality and/or cowardice.

2. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal Ukraine quid pro quo purveying patsy publicly asserted that his oval orifice client isn’t about to throw him under the proverbial bus … and besides, belched His Dishonor, “I’ve got ‘insurance.” I’ll bet you do. Did I mention that Rudy has recently been outed as trying to shove some dirty Ukrainian dough–which, by the way, has been ZERO-EVIDENCED as being Democrat sought or accepted–into his own oven. And now that very same execrable errand boy has gone (been sent?) back to Ukraine to squat with members of Ukraine’s disgustingly corrupt pro-Russia previous regimes in order to gather fabricated evidence for a phony anti-Bidens film documentary. Hey, Rudolph, how did that nose of yours really get so red-ish brown?

3. Attorney General William P. Barr, Trump’s personal Roy Cohn, has just farted that he “disputes” his own Justice Department’s Inspector General’s clearly stated finding that the FBI had sufficient evidence to launch an investigation into the Trump Campaign’s connection to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Well, if Putin’s Oval Office lapdog could be treasonous enough to throw the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and EVERY OTHER national intelligence gathering organization under the bus, he must be absolutely euphoric over having one of his most faithful cabinet stooge’s shit stains orange-up those yellow hammers and sickles on his crimson ties a bit. The latest: Because the aforementioned finding so blatantly rebutted Trump’s phony narrative regarding the cause and intent of its investigation, he’s now lashing out at Director Wray saying that the Director will never be able to “fix” the FBI. Well, eff you, you friggin’ rodent. It’s nice to know that there’s at least one individual near the top of your rancid Justice Department not subject to the Trump “fix.” Incidentally, Barrbarrosa, you can take your, and I quote, “so-called progressives” are also “militant secularists,” pro-religion hate speech, split it in two, and shove it right up your and your boss’s bigoted asses.

4. When you’re Louie Gohmert, a Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee, and you’ve just listened to some of the finest, most dedicated, most intuitive Constitutional law experts in the country provide their informed opinions on whether the president of the United States committed impeachable acts, and you don’t possess the courage, the integrity, the self-respect–let alone the patriotism–to call out your stinking, traitorous, turd-brained, piece of garbage of a president for the putrid, sociopathic, pathologically lying, criminal, bucket of human waste that he actually is, what do you do? Why, of course, you disparage and demean the prestigious universities and law schools the professors attended as well as the highly esteemed institutions where they currently teach. Of course you do, you despicable slimeball, you scumbag, you sewer-dwelling, messenger-murdering, oval orifice suck-out!

5. But the greatest canker of all is how the Republican party continues to selectively purge its collective conscience of any and all things truly “American.” Principles like truth, morality, integrity, responsibility, decency, compassion and, yes, even patriotism, have been supplanted by such persuasions as: lawlessness and impunity at the highest levels of an administration; a willing, even welcoming, acceptance of such precepts as servility, gullibility, and kingship; as well as a seeming open enthusiasm to publicly fall prey to the heinous Hitler/Goebbels ploy of telling the colossal lie often enough so that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.” Here are the FACTS, Mr., Mrs., & Ms. so-called Republican: 1) Trump is a pathologically lying sociopath. He has shamelessly LIED to the American people some 12,000+ times as of August of this year. He is a fucking liar, period. But that’s all right with you folks, isn’t it? 2) Trump is an immoral piece of sludge. If you need any evidence of that besides his fucking a porn star while his wife was recovering from the birth of his son Baron, maybe you need to get a little closer to your so-called Commandments. 3) He admires autocrats. Hell, he’s trying his damnedest to become one! He’s heaped praise on butchers and mega-thieves the likes of Putin, Kim, Erdogan and bin Salman while denigrating such democratic leaders as Macron, Merkel, Turnbull and May. And I haven’t even mentioned his public obscenities, his misogyny, or his stacking a TRILLION dollar$ in additional debt on the backs of your grandchildren and their children, or his poisoning of the air they’ll be breathing and the water they’ll be drinking. But you know all that and you still don’t give a shit. So why would you give a good goddamn about his draft dodging, his multiple bankruptcies, his Trump University scam, his food and clothing product branding scams, his thievery from his own “charitable” foundation, his secrecy regarding his taxes and his education, or his stiffing of banks and contractors? Geez, I wonder what Christ would think?

So, that’s all the good news for today, MAGA fans. Remember: It isn’t Republicanism. It isn’t partisanship. Hell, it isn’t even political. And, as sure as God made little grey elephants, it damn sure isn’t patriotism. What it is is good old fashioned human excrement. By the way, this just in: Final 2016 vote count: Hillary – 65,844,610; Donnie – 62,979,636. I just think the numbers bear repeating since you Fourth Reich folks seem to conveniently keep forgetting them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage octogenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.

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BEING THERE: Twin Peaks @ Union Transfer

Thursday, December 12th, 2019

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Photo by DYLAN LONG

Chicago rock stars Twin Peaks touched down in Philly this past Tuesday ready for another round of rowdy, jangly, good ol’ rock n’ roll at Union Transfer. The five-piece is touring on the heels of their latest album, Lookout Low, an album that shows signs of maturity in their songwriting yet retains the signature feel-good sounds that fans know and love them for.

Like the single track off the album, “Dance Through It,” fans jumped around the room in elation to classics like “My Boys,” “Walk To The One You Love” and “Butterfly.” Fans in the front row enjoyed an up-close and personal view of the band as the security barrier had been removed, snapping photos and swooning in between singing their hearts out. Songs written by Twin Peaks often depict coping with struggles like loneliness and heartbreak in both poetic and laid back fashions, yet their joyful melodies and playful stage presence time and again make their music an enjoyable, warm listen. It’s a well-balanced contrast that allows them to express themselves without being boxed into one thematic element.

The crowd raged on into the night as frontman Clay Frankel, bassist Jack Dolan and guitarist Cadien Lake James AKA “Tuna” shredded away. They encored with numerous more hits from Lookout Low, ending the night with the intense “Oh Mama.” In capturing the duality of emotions we can all relate to, life’s ups and downs, and injecting straightforward, good-hearted rock n’ roll, Twin Peaks again showed the crowd at Union Transfer what music is all about. – DYLAN LONG

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THE KING OF CALIFORNIA: Q&A W/ Dave Alvin

Tuesday, December 10th, 2019

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is interview first published back in July when Dave Alvin was touring in support of the 25th anniversary of the release of The King Of California. We are reprising this interview in advance of his appearance at World Cafe Live tonight as part of The Reverend Horton Heat’s Holiday Hayride, featuring 5,6,7,8’s and The Voodoo Glowskulls. Enjoy.

BYLINER mecroppedsharp_1BY JONATHAN VALANIA Americana standard-bearer Dave Alvin is a national treasure. His first band, The Blasters, formed with his brother Phil, schooled a whole new generation of young punks about the glories of early to mid 20th Century American music: Blues, rockabilly, country, Tex-Mex. As guitarist for X and The Knitters he continued bridging the divides between punk and roots music. He was always a hot-shit electric guitar player who let his brother do all the singing and songwriting, but by the end of the ’80s he struck out on his own and after a few albums of trial and error he found his voice as a singer and songwriter with 1994’s The King Of California, now recognized as a modern classic of the Americana/alt-country/No Depression scene. This year marks the 25 anniversary of its release. Alvin is currently on a tour in support of the just-released 25th Anniversary reissue of the album — remastered and re-packaged with bonus tracks — that brings him to World Cafe Live this Saturday (July 20th) Wednesday December 11th. Last week we got Dave on the horn to talk about the making of the album, some of the back story about the front and back cover art, his development as a singer and a songwriter, as well as a couple bonus questions about schooling The Gun Club’s Jeffrey Lee Pierce in the sepia-toned rapture of early 20th Century rural blues music.

PHAWKER: The now-classic King Of California is celebrating its 25th anniversary. It was recorded the day after DaveAlvin_KingofCalifoniathe Northridge earthquake, which was a pretty big deal Tell me, where were you that day or what was your experience with that quake.

DAVE ALVIN: Well it was actually– well, we recorded it the same day. And the quake came at like 4:30 in the morning, and we were due to be in the studio at 11 AM, and it– the effect that it had besides– basically a huge chunk of Southern California lost power with the quake, and then there was a lot of damage. The guy that was supposed to be playing bass on the record was a guy named Larry Taylor. Plays in Tom Waits’s band, and was in Canned Heat, blah blah blah. Larry’s house got hammered, so Larry was off the session. So we had to go scrambling to find a bass player and we couldn’t find anybody until the next day. So the first day of recording was done sort of without a bass player. The area around the studio was also hammered. Like a building right across the street, an old apartment building from the 1930s was devastated. And so it just had– the mood was kind of apocalyptic — sporadic power outages and crumbling buildings, you know? So it was, it just kinda had this mood of “Well, if we can get through this, then we’re meant to make this record.”

PHAWKER: In the press materials for the album you are quoted as saying ‘This was the album when I figured out to let the song tell me what it sounds like’ instead of the other way around — elaborate on that a little bit, explain what you mean.

DAVE ALVIN: Well, you know, when I grew up, professionally, writing songs for a band to play, a specific band to play, and for a specific voice — my brother Phil’s voice and the band was the Blasters– and whenever it, no matter what the band is, whether it’s the Rolling Stones or U2 or Soundgarden, you know, there are certain rules that bands have when it comes to the songs, every band’s rules are different. You don’t go into say, Soundgarden and say “Hey, I wrote a polka!” You know what I mean? And maybe the song is supposed to be a polka, you know? So with the Blasters what had happened was just basically I’d bring in a song, the band would rearrange it into a style or key that worked for them. What key is a good key for guitar playing as bass playing as opposed to singing, you know, that kinda stuff. So some of the songs on the King of California record were songs that I’d written for the Blasters that when I wrote them I thought of them as ballads, like sensitive ballads. And of course, you take it to the band and we turned it into rock and roll rhythm blues numbers. You know, loud.

And that’s fine, that’s all valid. But what I wanted to do on this record, because for a guy like me, I don’t know what record’s gonna be my last one. And I don’t mean that in a sense of mortality, I mean it in the sense of– in the business sense, you know, if the Rolling Stones decide to do an album of all polkas, their record label well let them make another record after that. You know what I mean? ‘Well, you know, Mick, we haven’t sold diddly of this Rolling Stones polka record, but what else you got?’ I don’t get that luxury. I mean, luckily I sell enough records now to guarantee that I will make more. But I still go in with the attitude of “well, this could be my last one because it may not sell,” and if it doesn’t sell then I’m at the Burger King asking you what you want on your burger.

So I wanted to get, when I did King of California, I thought, “Well this might be my last record and I wanna get these particular songs right. I just wanna get them recorded right so that when I’m dead and gone, somebody can say oh, that’s not a bad version.” You know what I mean? And so the way to do that, the way to answer your question, the way to do that is if the song says it’s a polka, then the song is a polka. If the song says it’s a ballad, then the song is a ballad. If it’s a blues DaveAlvin_KingofCalifoniasong, it’s a blues song, you know? And on and on.

PHAWKER: Now the bulk of the album was recorded live in the room, with everyone sitting in a circle around the microphones looking at each other hootenanny-style. But because the band the band was able to play quietly, you’ve talked about how this was the moment when you kind of found your voice as a singer — how your voice was able to lead the songs, pull the songs forward. You finally stepped out of your brother’s shadow as a vocalist I think with this record.

DAVE ALVIN: Yeah, as close as I can get to being one, yeah. The producer, Greg Leisz, who was is one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever known — Greg’s on every record just about ever made, it’s easier to listen to records that Greg is not on, you know…he’s not on Sergeant Pepper’s and he’s not on Exile on Main Street, but just about everything else of note, he’s on. So he’s had a lot of experience in the studio with singers and this and the other. And he was a close friend of mine and was good at hearing whatever was in my voice that was a good thing, and how to access it. And sometimes when you make records– you can ask any artist this, any singer– the vocals usually what’s done last, and the producers tend to be more worried about bass and drums. So recording the way that I like to record, which is everybody in the room at the same time, when you’re playing electric the vocals can take a backseat to the drums, you know? It’s like “Whoa, I can’t sing over that.” But in an acoustic setting, and with the right musicians, then yes, the vocals could lead the band into “okay, we’re gonna get loud here, we’re gonna get quiet here, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that,” and you know, just like as if I was James Brown or Van morrison or something.

It’s just, you need the right musicians that are playing the song and not playing their instrument, if that makes sense. Most musicians, probably myself included, are like “Hey I’m playin’ good! I’m hittin’ the right notes!” You know, ‘I don’t care about songs, I’m playin’ good!’ And so you need musicians that play the song, listening to the song. I’ve had guys that are great musicians come into the studio and say “Well, I don’t hear anything on this song. I think it sounds fine, you don’t need me.” That’s a great musician.

PHAWKER: Like the famous saw about jazz: it’s about knowing when not to play. Let me ask you about the circumstances that inspired the writing of “Born On The Fourth of July.” It sounds almost like you’re just literally sitting out on the steps, smoking a cigarette, looking down, the Mexican kids are playing down below, shooting off fireworks, and the song just kinda writes itself from there. Is that kinda…

DAVE ALVIN: No, yes and no. The event– it’s based on a true event in my life, but that was like, it was like ten years or seven years previously, it was back when I had been a fry cook, you know. And my girlfriend at the time and I, she had her day job and I had mine and it was, life was pretty disappointing, you know what I mean? I remember that that particular Fourth of July I wasn’t a songwriter at that point, I never– I didn’t even think that I’d ever be a songwriter, but I remember sitting there going “This is memorable,” you know? “This is memorable, I will remember this.” And so then yeah, seven or eight years later when I was a songwriter, a musician and no longer a fry cook, I always carried that image around, and it finally dawned on me, ‘okay, this is how the song goes, this is how you do it.’

And then once I decided this is the song, then it did kind of write itself, I was actually with my girlfriend at the time– my other, my entirely different girlfriend and an entirely different life, but we were with some friends at a bowling alley and she and I were just sitting there drinking beer watching our friends bowl badly and it suddenly just popped into my head, and I turned to my girlfriend and said “Let’s go home” and about two hours later called her up and said “Okay, this is why I took you home,” and sang her the song. So it did come, once I decided, this is a song that came quick.DaveAlvin_KingofCalifonia

PHAWKER: Tell me about the circumstances around the cover shot and the back photo. All this time, I’ve always thought you were sitting in a box car, sort of hobo style…

DAVE ALVIN: [laughs] I can see that, I can see that, yeah.

PHAWKER: But that’s not the case at all ‘cause I just saw the uncropped version of that photo and you’re sitting in the ruins of a building or something at sunset– tell me about that.

DAVE ALVIN: Yeah, it was the photographer, Beth Herzshaft, and I were driving around Central California taking photographs for a possible album cover and then we were driving down this two lane highway in the middle of nowhere up in this area called Cuyama Valley that no one knows about, and I looked over and to my left and out on this ranchlands I could see this old adobe ruin of a house. So, you know, turned the car around, and we trespassed, we opened up the ranch gate, drove down, literally it’s just sage brush and hillsides, nothing else out there. Drove down a mile, half mile to the ruin, started taking pictures, and it just happened to be right at sunset. So it was like we got that perfect sunset shot. So you know, it was a little bit of that California history with the adobe and all that, and also, you know, it just had a certain magic.

PHAWKER: And tell me about the back cover photo.

DAVE ALVIN: You’re looking at the San Andreas Fault right there. That’s a road, a little road– that road leads into a thing called the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The little mountain range there is called the Temblors, you know, for the tremors of the earth.

DAVE ALVIN: Can’t get more California than the goddamn San Andreas fault.

PHAWKER: Yep, that plays right into the album title. One last thing on the album here and then I have a Gun Club question for you, because I’m a big Gun Club fan.

DAVE ALVIN: Sure.

PHAWKER: Hang on one second, my page of questions just blew away. On the 25th anniversary edition of this has some bonus tracks and one of them is the song, the beautiful instrumental called Riverbed Rag that for whatever reason didn’t make the album proper, and I’m looking at the liner notes here and it says that that’s inspired by exploring the San Gabriel River bed as a kid.

DAVE ALVIN: Well, because Greg Liesz, who produced the record, is doing all the dobros and lap steel and all that on the record, he grew up next door– well, the town next door to me, he grew up in a place called Santa Fe Springs, which is on the east side of the San Gabriel River in Downey where I grew up, so on the west side of the San Gabriel river, and when we first became friends that’s kinda what we bonded over — the San Gabriel river, basically this long river bed that goes from the San Diego mountains down to the Pacific Ocean, and so yeah I just kinda wrote up a little ragtime blues instrumental for Greg and I to play on. And the only reason it didn’t make it on the record– I wanted it on the record to kinda liven it up– some of the songs are pretty down, lyrically, and so then I wanted something to help bring things up, but the record was just too long with it included. But I think it’s a fine piece, we’re doing it live ‘cause it gives us a chance to play.

PHAWKER: This riverbed– both of you guys sort of played and explored there as kids,is that right?
DAVE ALVIN: Yes, sir, yep.

PHAWKER: Any interesting stories of, you know, did you find any buried treasure or a dead body…

DAVE ALVIN: Yeah, you could ask Greg about his. Mine was, when I was a kid that area was wild, you know? There were hobo jungles, as they used to call them, down there the banks were kinda lined with bamboo, real thick bamboo, so when DaveAlvin_KingofCalifoniayou’re a kid you’d go into the neighborhood bamboo jungles, and there was, you know, jackrabbits and rattlesnakes and coyotes and all that kinda stuff, just kinda like “Great! This is the greatest place on earth!” you know? “And hobos? Oh my god, rattlesnakes, rabbits, coyotes and hobos? Where do I sign up?” It wasn’t the Mississippi, it wasn’t Mark Twain’s Mississippi, but it was my Mississippi.

PHAWKER: Excellent, excellent. So I just wanted to ask you to relay– there’s this great interview you did with TK [16:05] called Bored Out where you were talking extensively about Jeffery Lee Pierce and early… all kinda stuff, that I was just reading through that’s just fantastic, and you talk about how you and your brother were the ones who turned [Gun Club mainman] Jeffrey Lee Pierce onto the blues. That before that he more or less had zero knowledge of the blues.

DAVE ALVIN: Well, I wouldn’t say he had zero knowledge. He had knowledge– it was limited to B.B. King, that kinda stuff, sorta the obvious people you get into when you first get into blues. What we schooled him on was country blues. He had never really gone deep in that, and so a lot of people when they hear country blues for the first time, the first time they hear Son House or Skip James, people like that, yeah, they can flip because that’s just such amazing music. And he would come over to where my brother and I lived, and we had a bunch of old 78’s and we’d sit around and drink and shoot the shit and play old records, and say ‘Okay, now you gotta listen to this guy, you gotta listen to this guy, see what he’s doin’ here? See what he’s doin’ there?’

PHAWKER: Right.
DAVE ALVIN: And yeah, Jeffrey had been, you know, he was a reggae kinda guy for a while or was passing himself off as a reggae guy. And he was also a Blondie guy.

PHAWKER: Right. I believe he was the president of the Blondie fan club.

DAVE ALVIN: Yes he was, yes he was. A couple of the tracks on the first Gun Club album, “Preaching the Blues” and “Cool Drink of Water,” — you know, he learned those from us.

PHAWKER: That was a very seminal experience, I mean I think that really informed the beginnings of the Gun Club and the– to my mind, their greatest album, the Fire of Love album.

DAVE ALVIN: He wasn’t some technical wizard on guitar. But what he did with what he knew was great, he knew how to make it work. The Gun Club started using a thing that was in short supply in those days, which was dynamics. So that’s why especially that first album the dynamics were just excellent. Jeffrey Lee understood like James Brown Live At The Apollo was a favorite record of his, and that record is all about dynamics. And when to bring the band up, when to bring the band down. In those days, and strictly on that scene, it wasn’t a lot of dynamics. It was just ‘1-2-3-4- GO!’… and Jeffrey Gun_Club_Fire_Of_LoveLee figured out just not for the blues covers that he did, but for his own songs, he figured out whether it was “For the Love of Ivy” or “She’s Like Heroin to Me,” we can make up for the fact that we’re not the best musicians by playing the music really, really well. Really getting into, again, kinda what I was saying earlier about understanding the song, playing the song and not the instrument.

PHAWKER: To follow up on that, you mentioned this repeatedly in that interview that the Gun Club couldn’t draw flies in LA at that time, I don’t understand why?

DAVE ALVIN: Because they came along at a period of time– they weren’t punk enough for the hardcore kids. It wasn’t “ONETWOTHREEFOURONETWOTHREEFOUR,” you know, and in those days that was when– when the Gun Club, if they woulda come out two years earlier, three years earlier, it woulda been a different story in a way. But they came out when all the focus on the Southern California scene as far as punk rock goes, if it wasn’t strictly on Circle Jerks or Black Flag then it wasn’t punk rock. And so those kinda kids that were into those bands never latched on to the Gun Club. You know, The Gun Club would do gigs with those bands, and they would be — it would just be unappreciated, let’s put it that way. And then they weren’t rootsy enough or good enough musicians for the Roots Rock crowd, for the rockabilly crowd or the blues crowd or the country… so they had to find their own niche. And Jeffrey stood by his vision and that when it got to Europe and– it started in New York, where they had a little buzz in New York, but it was really in Europe because Jeffrey was enough of a madman — and the Europeans love American madmen. They don’t like normal Americans, but ‘Goddamn, that’s guys insane, you know, let’s watch him!’ In Europe by that time had already punk rock was basically dead already by the time the Gun Club got there they didn’t have to deal with that [punk rock snobbery] and the audience just kinda reacted to them just purely, “Hey that’s a really cool band.” LA was mired in that — you know, that’s one of those things that killed the LA scene was that cookie cutter thing of what’s punk rock, what’s not. Anyway, I got another interview coming in, so nice talking to you, brother.



THE REVEREND HORTON HEAT + DAVE ALVIN + 5,6,7,8’S + VOODOO GLOWSKULLS @ WORLD CAFE LIVE WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 11TH

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INCOMING: Jingle Bell Rawk

Monday, December 9th, 2019

Horton_Hayride

 

More info HERE

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REVIEW: FKA twigs Magdalene

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

twigs

 

Since the early 2010’s, the artist known as FKA twigs has been stretching the limits of pop and R&B through a bizarre production style that is entirely unique to her, making her one of the most interesting and consistent figures in music at the moment. Her 2014 debut, titled LP 1, is a mind-bending album of glitchy, weird and warped R&B, but she really came into her own on 2015’s dark and harrowing M3LL155X EP. And then she went dark for four years, sparking endless online speculation about the reasons for her silence. In the spring of 2018, the mystery was solved when she posted an essay on Instagram explaining that she had six fibroid tumors surgically removed the previous winter and was in the process of recovery. Last month, she released Magdalene, her most confident and theatrical release to date. On “thousand eyes,” the album’s cinematic opener, choir-like vocals and an intense build-up leads to a moment of transcendent beauty, as twig’s voice cuts rapidly in and out to disorienting effect over sparkling piano keys. The excellent single “cellophane” (all the song titles on Magdalene are lowercase for reasons unexplained) is an unexpected left turn from the experimental future-pop we’ve come to expect from FKA twigs. Instead of her characteristic glitches and electronic textures, the song was stripped back, and although the track was accompanied by somber piano and strange, alien sound effects, the focus is on her voice and the production only served to pull you deeper into the trance. The whole album is full of completely disarming moments like these: the stunning woodwinds that appear at the end of ‘home with you’, the Kate Bush-ian vocal performance on ‘sad day’ and the dramatic build-up of ‘fallen alien’ that leads to the most intense moment on the record in its chorus. When the record falters, it’s mostly in low-impact moments that don’t really land, like her duetting with an annoyingly auto-tuned Future on “holy terrain” or the pretty but inconsequential ‘daybed’. Still, the three song stretch starting with the phenomenal ‘mary magdalene’ and ending with the beautiful ‘mirrored heart’ is probably perfect and it holds the most power FKA twig’s music has ever held, more than making up for the missteps it took to get to it. — CHARLIE COLAN

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BEING THERE: GBV @ Underground Arts

Sunday, December 8th, 2019

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

In a New York Times piece about birding published a few years back, author Brian Kimberling observed insightfully that making a list of bird species identified on any particular day, as birdwatchers do, is “a form of prayer, a thanksgiving for being alive at a certain time and place.” And posting that list online, he went on, “is a 21st-century form of a votive offering.”

Concert setlists are arguably no different. Created by a band to serve the practical purpose of coordinating each member’s participation in the show that night, the paper on which they’re written is transformed into a sort of rare and righteous sacrament the minute an incredible show ends, when fans rush to rescue the often filthy, trampled documents, and customarily and courteously allow the less fortunate souls among their ranks to photograph as secondhand souvenirs. Meanwhile, websites like setlist.fm serve as interactive catalog archives for these lists, a growing collection of holy digital votives for the live music zealot.

Not many bands honor this live music tradition quite like Guided By Voices do.

Setlists the size of newspaper pages are taped to the Underground Arts stage, featuring the hand-scrawled indices of some 60 song titles through which Robert Pollard and his indie-rock accomplices would make their way on Friday night, without much pause. Shortly after the show began, Pollard boasted about his own prolific oeuvre of over 100 releases since his career began in the early ‘80s, over three-and-a-half decades ago. “That’s more than Neil Young did,” he noted.

More is more, with these guys. All of that material allows for shows traditionally featuring dozens of songs sung by Pollard, guitarless and free to engage with a stage lip crowded with frenetic fanatics reaching for the man. At age 60, now, a full head of thick white hair distinguishes his elder-statesman-of-canonical-college-rock look, like a later-career Spencer Tracy — but punk-er. He shares his liquor and his beer, provokes and plays to the congregation’s demands, and drinks his drink. He tells stories, like the one about a guy who once asked him how he remembers all the words to all that music. “Not only that,” Pollard responded rhetorically, “but how do you remember all the words when you’re drunk — and with an appropriate degree of theatricality?”

The fever pitch crescendoed from high to higher throughout, and the chants of “GEE BEE VEE” demanding the band’s initial emergence at 9:30 resumed for their encore, too, some three hours later. Pollard and co. swept the front row for handshakes, as I perched on the tips of my toes, flattening myself against a structural column on the side of the stage to avoid getting flattened on the floor by the forward fifth of a sold-out crowd straining for a high-five, a spare guitar pick, or a precious copy of that monster setlist/prayer document: we were all alive at a certain place and time, and we rocked hard the entire night. And shit yeah, it’s cool! Or something like that. – JOSH PELTA-HELLER

GBV-4315

 

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BEING THERE: Lightning Bolt @ Union Transfer

Friday, December 6th, 2019

LIGHTNING_BOLT

Photo by DYLAN JARED LONG

Lightning Bolt’s band name may be a visual representation of their sound. Other band names that could have been a good fit for the noise rock duo are – hold on, let me scroll through my list here – Total Lunatics™ or perhaps Fuck Rocket™. Unassociated recording engineer Steve Albini called one of their live performances the “best alarm clock [he’s] ever had” when they played on the doorstep of his neighbor John Peel’s house. Yes, the John Peel.

Lightning Bolt formed in college at Rhode Island School of Design in ’94. Drummer/vocalist Brian Chippendale heard rumors of a sick bassist on campus, so he reached out to Brian Gibson, and CRASH! BANG! BOOM! Lightning Bolt were formed. During their earliest couple of years, they played with guitarist Hisham Bharoocha, who went his own way to form Black Dice.

Lightning Bolt are known for adrenaline-pumped performances at blaring volumes, often playing guerilla-style on the floor at the center of the room, surrounded by the crowd. Gibson’s bass is highly distorted through a colorful signal chain of pedals, while Chippendale’s vocals are muffled in sheer volume, with his microphone stitched into his makeshift luchador mask. Last night, they took to the stage at Union Transfer for a change, switching it up from their usual Philly venue, the First Unitarian Church.

The first thing I noticed when the Brians entered the stage was that Chippendale’s mask was worn to shreds; months of heavy touring had rendered the mask a tattered, fleshy patchwork. Who knew Leatherface slammed the drums? My ears are still ringing and my brain and body have not fully recovered from being rattled around the pit. But no complaints here; the volume was just what a Lightning Bolt show ought to be – loud enough to drown out the sound produced when an elbow strikes a jaw, and there was plenty of that going around. One guy next to me had been clocked and I could tell because he appeared to be setting his jaw back into place before allowing himself to be swallowed back into the maelstrom.

Lightning Bolt played the usual classics like “Dracula Mountain” and the traditional set closer “Dead Cowboy” while mixing in newer material from the album they dropped in October, Sonic Citadel. It’s difficult to review a show like this because it was one long peak. Every song was an absolute banger. Chippendale addressed one particularly ecstatic fan in the front row, asking what his name is, and then telling him that he’d won the golden ticket. “I’ve got your ticket, Jared!” he yelled menacingly, and vowed to track Jared down after the show to take him backstage and throw him into his candy river. I hope Jared’s okay. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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REVIEW: Beck Hyperspace

Friday, December 6th, 2019

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“Everything I do, you know I don’t do right” Beck sings on ‘Uneventful Days’ from the just-out Hyperspace, and boy is that an apt description of his musical output in the past few years.  Hyperspace, like 2017’s highly forgettable Colors, is disgustingly safe and has little to distinguish it from any other collection of samey wanna-be top 40 pop radio hits other than brand name recognition. It really makes you wonder when the last time a Beck album warranted excitement. Odelay or Mellow Gold are modern classics but they came out almost a quarter century ago. Sure, he made some great music at the beginning of the 21st Century — 2005’s Guero and 2006’s The Information come to mind — but somewhere after that he transitioned from the exciting Beck we know and love to the plateaued Beck we have today. Beck’s greatest strength, his dilettantism, is also his greatest weakness — he’s a jack of all genres and master of none.

On Hyperspace, he dabbles in vaporwave, an already-dying  micro-genre known for its dreamlike atmospheres and synthetic textures. And for the most part, this experiment pans out pretty well. The instrumental tracks by Pharrell Williams, who co-produced Hyperspace, aren’t anything special or new, but they work well for what they are trying to accomplish. The problem pretty much boils down to Beck himself. He sounds sounds bored and a little out of his element.  The title track starts out pleasantly hypnotizing and spacey, but Beck’s hamfisted rapping makes the song almost unlistenable. He sounds like he’s laying on a couch in the studio groggily spitting out anything that vaguely rhymes with ‘hyperspace.’ “Die Waiting” has a Maroon 5-ish commercial sheen that sounds oily and sanitized. This clinical tone is continued without reprieve throughout the record on songs such as ‘Star’ and ‘Chemical’. The first time I heard the single “Saw Lightning,’ I thought it was the most obnoxious thing I’d ever heard, a mess of hip hop drums, twangy guitars and little electronic bleeps and bloops that tries in vain to recreate that Odelay magic. And it didn’t get any better on the second listen or the third. Although ‘Dark Places’ features a hideous synth tone that sounds almost off-key, it’s the only point of interest the track holds, the song itself being devoid of any quality. But all is more or less forgiven when the song ‘Stratosphere’ comes on, the prettiest track here that serves as a reminder of what Beck can do when at the top of his game. – CHARLIE COLAN

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WORTH REPEATING: Smells Like Treason

Thursday, December 5th, 2019

PutinTreason

 

ROLLING STONE: America once used the words “treason” and “traitors” only in cases of actual betrayal of our nation’s most vital secrets or interests. They were profound words, deep with meaning, grim in import, carrying with them the knowledge that the penalty for treason was death. Be honest: The words “traitor” and “treason” don’t have the sting they once had; they’ve been devalued from mis- and over-use by this president. For Donald Trump, any opposition, either personal, ideological, or political is treason. Anyone who stands in his path betrays the Great Leader. Anyone who fails to take the knee is a traitor. Like hearing an insult too many times drains it of its potency, Trump has diluted the power of that approbation. He has labeled loyal, dedicated Americans who served this country in the military and law enforcement as traitors, so much so that we could almost give in to the temptation to excuse it as “Trump being Trump” and let it slide like any of the other insults he vomits forth on the daily. Which is a shame, because America is in the midst of a treason boom right now, and more than a few people in Trump’s immediate orbit — and Trump himself — richly and actually deserve the title of traitor, and the treason inherent in their acts and words is apparent. MORE

WASHINGTON POST: Of all the changes that have occurred in our politics since the rise of Donald Trump, the most gut-wrenching for me personally is to see the Republican Party transformed into the Kremlin’s “useful idiots.” As a young refugee from the Soviet Union growing up in Southern California in the 1980s, I was attracted to the GOP because it was the party of moral clarity — the party willing to stand up to the “evil empire.” How far we have come — in the wrong direction.Today, we have a Republican president who, while reluctantly acceding to sanctions against Russia, incessantly praises its dictator, Vladimir Putin (“a terrific person”); tries to bring Putin back to the Group of Seven; conceals the details of their meetings; undermines Ukraine, a victim of Russian aggression, by harping on its corruption while ignoring Russia’s own kleptocracy; allows the Russians to take possession of U.S. bases in Syria; and propagates Russian propaganda blaming Ukraine for 2016 election interference. Trump is joined in spreading Russian disinformation by his secretary of state and other supporters, such as Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.), even though the U.S. intelligence community has exposed claims of Ukrainian election interference as a “fictional narrative.” MORE

DAILY BEAST: What makes Kennedy’s comments especially egregious is that, according to a recent New York Times report, “American intelligence officials informed senators and their aides in recent weeks that Russia had engaged in a yearslong campaign to essentially frame Ukraine as responsible for Moscow’s own hacking of the 2016 election, according to three American officials.” In fairness to Kennedy, in using Putin’s talking points he’s also advancing Trump’s. Other Republicans, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Rep. Devin Nunes have done the same.  Of course, when you factor in other parts of the story, such as Russia’s attempt to use the Republican-adjacent National Rifle Association (NRA) as a “foreign asset,” it becomes harder to dismiss so casually. Kennedy’s hardly the only one. My friend and former boss, Tucker Carlson, said on his show Monday night that, “We should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine. That’s my view.” MORE

WASHINGTON POST: The would-be autocrat surrounds himself with toadies who spend more time scheming against one another — sometimes to comic effect — than trying to offer their boss sound guidance or thoughtful policy solutions. In his presence, and perhaps especially when the cameras are on, they praise him relentlessly: his brains, his leadership, his “perfect genes.”  Sometimes they appear afraid to stop clapping, echoing stories of forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin recounted in video footage and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.” […] Meanwhile, federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies, as well as the family members of those enemies, such as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s father-in-law. Purges of law enforcement or other members of the “deep state” are also demanded, and sometimes acted upon. Such actions, when taken by thugs abroad, were once denounced by Republicans. State-run media, or something closely approximating it, feeds the public a steady diet of pro-leader propaganda and shields viewers from news that might embarrass the head of state. Independent sources of information or accountability, or those who deviate from the party line, are branded “enemies of the people.” MORE

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BEING THERE: Phish @ The Met

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

Phish Perform Live Exclusive Concert For SiriusXM And Pandora Listeners At The Met In Philadelphia

Photo by Kevin Mazur for Getty/SiriusXM

Beyond the givens when seeing Phish— long improvisational grooves, setlist gags, middle-aged fans huffing Hippy Crack after the show, and the day-after ache in my legs from three hours of channeling my dance moves from the spirit of Vincent Vega— no one knows what to expect from a Phish show, and anyone tells you otherwise is a liar. There was a little bit of online controversy surrounding their show at The Met last night. Because the concert was a SiriusXM promotional event, no tickets were put on sale for the general public. Instead, tickets were only available via internet radio sweepstakes, which is a little odd for a band so interested in fan-service.

Be that as it may, for a band that has consistently sold out four-night New Years Eve runs at Madison Square Garden over the past decade, the 3,500 capacity is tiny. Phish has not played venues that small since the Japan tour in the summer of 2000, where the band’s trademark raging, shredding grime was often transfigured into a soupy, spacey jam segment. Those shows are some of my personal favorites, especially because the band’s ambient psychedelia, driven by intense feedback and delay-loop heavy improvisation, was completely brought on by the intimate size of these venues.

Last night, the boys did not disappoint. I thought they were unbelievably tight right out of the gate and judging by the ecstatic response of the 3,500 sardines in attendance last night, I am not alone. The crowd roared as the lights dimmed and Phish walked on stage, but something was different this time: everyone, including the band, seemed to recognize their close proximity to one another. As if a testament to the audience/band bond, the crowd quickly quieted as guitarist Trey Anastasio’s wheezing harmonica kicked off an acapella version of “Hello My Baby,” its first live appearance in ten years. The crowd exploded when the band started into “Tweezer,” a funky setlist staple elongated with extensive jams. The funk train didn’t let up in the transition to a solid version of “Blaze On,” with a thick groove laid down by Mike Gordon while Trey, half-smiling and half-mouthing the sounds of his guitar, took us to a soaring peak.

Then came the warmly welcomed “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” a song they have not performed in five years. A brief reprise of “Tweezer” built up to a gnarly, hypnotic moment where keyboardist Page McConnell’s droning synth merged with Trey’s distorted feedback screams, and Gordon hopped on to drop bombs in tandem with drummer John Fishman’s percussive trance. A solid, emotionally apt version of “Drift While You’re Sleeping” closed out the first set, but I was still caught up in that brief moment of incredible drone noise that was like a revised, heavier version of the late nineties ambient drone.

Set two was strong beginning to end, starting off with a version of “Chalk Dust Torture” that brought on numerous, abnormally funky peaks.Throughout the whole show, Mike’s basslines never let up the stank, more than evident in his solo intro to “Weekapaug Groove.” “Twist” took us deep into psychedelic territory while a wonderful cover of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” was the perfect sing-along track. A completely unhinged cover of the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey may very well may have been the highlight of the show. And I was thrilled that “Waste” kicked off the encore, followed by the ultimate closer, “Tweezer Reprise.” – PEYTON MITZEL

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BOOK REVIEW: And Shit Yeah It’s Cool!

Wednesday, December 4th, 2019

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Houlon2BY JON HOULON Indie rock.  I never understood that.  Independent of what?  Commerce?  I doubt it.  Your Drag City is the Capitol of a state called Filthy Lucre. Songs?  Yea, could be. I heard Tom Russell – one of the finest #OKboomer songwriters still plying his trade – say that the trouble with indie kids is that they don’t write songs but, rather, “soundscapes.” Ever try playing a Pavement ditty around a campfire?  It falls flat.  And, lord knows, don’t sing DCB over roasted marshmallows unless you want your pals propelled into a fiery furnace.

My best guess is that indie rock’s claim to fame is that it’s independent of the “roll.”  Turgid rock, all intellect, no swing.  And that doesn’t mean swing like R&B.  Another kind of swing that involves stance. I’d say Pollard’s the only genuine rock’n’roller to emerge from the 90s scene.  Other plausible candidates:  Cole Alexander from the Black Lips and Anton Newcombe from the Brian Jonestown Massacre.  They’ve got the roll.  Cole adopted the Iggy stance:  cock out, spit in the air, catch and swallow.  Anton his namesake’s:  side-stage facing the band, the audience an afterthought, likewise his bandmates.

Uncle Bob derived his roll from Daltrey: lips pursed, leg kicked out, mic twirled, knees bent in some sort of self-inflicted aerial nostalgia. But here’s the thing:  Pollard also took in Townsend (hold your tongue back and say “Pete Townsend”; you’ll arrive at “bee thousand”).  Lizards and ghouls respectively, Cole and Anton can’t hold Bob’s jock as a songwriter.  And I do mean jock.  The Coney Island Baby said “I wanna play football for the coach.”  Bob really did.  Quite well, actually, although brother Jimmy was the Man.  It’s odd, tho.  Athletics – with its exclusivity and ethos of victory — should be anathema to rock’n’roll, but, somehow, Bob is the deception that proves the fool.

Pollard is consubstantial and that’s why he is a party of one as far as bonafide indie rock ’n’ rollers go. Daltry/Townsend in one.  Et unam sanctum catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam. James Greer took at a crack at unpacking this consubstantiality in Guided by Voices:  A Brief History, Twenty One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll.  The problem with Jim is that he actually played in GBV – not quite a hagiographer but too close to the flame.  Still, he pulls some decent quotes from Bob’s associates:  “I just can’t understand how a guy who can make you laugh until it fucking hurts, who talks about nothing but sports and shit when we’re home, just like us, can write songs so beautiful they make you cry.”

Well, crony, it’s called genius.  “Singular genius” as Greer puts it.  Coked out of his mind (atypically, according to the man himself) and behaving badly, Bob’s parents are summoned to his house by wife Kim.  Asked what his problem is:  “I’ll tell you what the fucking problem is.  It’s that I’m a fucking genius and nobody gives me any credit for it.”

Yep.  Never did the hoovering, Uncle B., but I can relate.

SKID ROW

Matt Cutter’s got his fair share of interesting anecdotes but, boy, does he bury the lede.  Or turd as the case may be.

Witness this:  “R.E.M.’s Peter Buck was on hand for the Jabberjaw gig, and came out to the van after the show.   Bob recalls Buck walking up with his wife just as Demos was changing his pants with the van door wide open.  Greg struggled to complete the operation swiftly and hopped out.  ‘Hey,’ Buck said to Bob, ‘that was a great show, man!’  But a stench wafted from the van, and Buck looked over to see Greg’s underwear, lying there like a dead animal.  Bob says they had ‘a thick fucking stripe … visible to them!’  Buck and his wife recoiled visibly.”

This is IT!  Cutter’s editor dropped the ball here.  I mean, do you want to play football for the coach or not???  Get in the game, Matt!

Of course, Buck recoiled … as he did from all that is rock’n’roll when he joined forces with Mike Stipe.  No brown stripe.  Stipe.  Stipulated.  The opposite of roll.  Get it?

I doubt you doo, but Greg Demos with his striped white pants and striped brown underwear gets as close to explaining Pollard’s genius as anything else in Cutter’s claim.  The unlikeliest candidate of all: an attorney.  Lawyers should simply not play music.  Woody hated ‘em.  Their stipulations overcome the soul.  Stay away, counselor.  But Demos, like Bob, is the rejection that pools the poo.

Footnote to Howl:  Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! The world is holy!  The soul is holy!  The skin is holy!  The nose is holy!  The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!

BEAUTIFUL VISION

You won’t find it in Greer or Cutter and, lord knows, you won’t find it here.

Buck told Greer that “if it was me, I probably would have kept Guided By Voices.”  Yea, but you’re not Uncle Bob, Pete.

The difference is vision (genius, whatever you want to call “it”).  And when Bob rolls into town on Friday, he’ll have it in spades.  No matter who’s up there with him:  Bobby Bare’s kid, Gillard, whoever.  It’s all about Bob and it always was.

PREVIOUSLY: The Complete 2013 Magnet Interview W/ Robert Pollard

GUIDED BY VOICES @ UNDERGROUND ARTS FRIDAY DECEMBER 6TH

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