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BEING THERE: Jeff Lynne’s ELO @ Wells Fargo Ctr

August 26th, 2018

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Photo by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

The year is 1977. Eleven-year-old me is sitting on my best friend’s bunk bed listening to his older brother’s copy of Electric Light Orchestra’s Out Of The Blue on the Hi-Fi, staring at the neon starburst-colored spaceship on the gatefold sleeve which, he informed me, was used to clean your weed on. Being 11 I had no earthly idea why somebody would collect weeds nor why they would want to clean them, and said as much. My best friend didn’t seem to really know either, but said he had it on good authority, i.e. his older brother. My best friend’s older brother could have played himself in Dazed And Confused, he sold weed, as was the style of the day, and trapped muskrats in the crick out back, and kept the pelts in freezer of the family fridge. When he was like, 14, he took a bus to see The Who at Madison Square Gardens without telling anyone, and it took him three days to get home. We were all impressed. Well, everyone except his mom.

My best friend’s older brother was a bottomless fount of dubious rock elder lore, forever sharing, in a hushed conspiratorial tone, shocking secret information about mysterious rituals performed at the rock concerts we were still years away from being eligible to attend, like how Alice Cooper would pass around a bucket at concerts and everyone would spit and puke in it and then Alice would drink it, as was the style of the day, and Rod Stewart once had to get his stomach pumped because he had ingested too much semen, all of which sounds Alex Jones-ludicrous in hindsight but makes a lot of sense when you are 11. He also assured us that all bands had spaceships that they climbed aboard back stage and then flew over the heads of the crowd, landed on stage and disembarked already rockin’. Especially ELO. At the time, I didn’t know much about music, popular or otherwise, but I did know that ELO’s sad, pretty prismatic songs always made me smile when I would happen upon them on the radio while growing up in the 70s when there wasn’t a lot to smile about — my parents had split up, and then my father died, and the next door neighbor’s German Shepherd ate my rabbit and on it went. Bad moon rising, ten soldiers and Nixon coming, etc.

According to news reports at the time, ELO’s spaceship cost, $300,000 to build, a then-astronomical sum of money, took eight tractor trailers to transport and 45 crew members 10 hours to assemble. The spaceship sealed the deal: ELO was officially my new favorite band. One day, I vowed with God is my witness, I would go to an ELO concert and see this neon Deco spaceship in action and then somehow stow away on board and join the band the way kids used to run away to join the circus, as was the style of the day. Spoiler alert: never happened. By the time I was of concert-going age, ELO was no longer a touring act, at least not in my town, nor were they accepting underaged stowaways with no discernible skill on any known musical instrument.

Still, those songs always stuck with me, always made me smile, even after I’d become a sullen punk and publicly disavowed all pre-punk music as dinosaur-rock, as was the style of the day. Years later, when I’d finally wised up to the fact that you could like both punk and hippie music, that they were all spokes on the same wheel of sonic possibility and equally valid in the proper contexts. This became increasingly apparent as I got into bands like The Flaming Lips circa The Soft Bulletin, or Grandaddy circa The Sophtware Slump, or Air circa Moon Safari or Daft Punk circa almost everything they ever did, and I could clearly hear the ELO in the DNA of all that music: The gated snares, the spiraling flangers, the super-compressed, phase-shifted vocals blown-out with oceanic reverb and infinite echo, the immaculate robo-harmonies, the orchestral maneuvers in the dark. ELO sounds like a Beatles song that you plug into the wall and it lights up. Or to put it another way: ELO = The Beatles + Tron.

Fast forward 40 years to the Wells Fargo Center Friday night. The spaceship has been long-since been mothballed in the wake of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” fiasco, as has almost everyone from ELO. Jeff Lynne’s ELO is basically Jeff Lynne — still rocking the electrocuted ‘fro, the G.I. Joe beard and Dr. Johnny Fever sunglasses of yore — who is the mastermind behind all the music, backed by a crack 12-piece band of hired guns who are able to replicate the Electric Light Oeuvre down to the most minute sonic detail — the vocoder vox on “Sweet Talkin’ Woman,” the alto operatics that bookend “Rockaria,” the funky clavinet on the chorus of “Evil Woman.” The show sold out within days of going on sale back in the spring, and despite the hefty price tag for tickets, as is the style of the day, a transcendental time was had by all.
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NPR 4 THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When U Can’t

August 26th, 2018

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FRESH AIR: Today we join people throughout America on both sides of the political aisle in remembering Senator John McCain. His memorial service will be held at the National Cathedral next Saturday, one week after his death from brain cancer at the age of 81. We’re going to listen to an interview I recorded with him in 2000 after his best-selling memoir Faith Of Our Fathers was published in paperback.

But we’ll start with the interview I recorded with him in 2005 after the publication of his book “Character Is Destiny.” This was five years after he’d lost the Republican presidential primary to George W. Bush. When we spoke, he was considering running for president in 2008. He did run, but lost to Barack Obama. McCain requested that those two former opponents speak at his funeral. We talked about many things in these interviews, including his 5 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam and his years as a Republican senator from Arizona. This 2005 interview begins with a story that involves his mother, who has survived him and is now 106. MORE

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BEING THERE: Interpol @ Union Transfer

August 24th, 2018

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Interpol by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

If it’s intimidating to open a sold out show for a band as influential as Interpol, any trepidation was well-hidden by Brooklyn punk outfit Honduras. They banged through a set that seemed like a Joy Division impression, conjuring images of studded leather jackets and quadruple-pierced earlobes. This may explain why they were tapped for this tour, satiating nostalgic cravings for 80’s post-punk revival. Interpol drew a diverse crowd— I was squeezed between someone’s mom squinting through horn rimmed glasses and a scraggly-bearded barista in denim.

Interpol emerged in somber funeral attire, shadows stalking across the stage, frontman Paul Banks holding a black Gibson guitar. They opened with “Number 10,” one of the singles off their sixth studio album, Marauder, which dropped today via Matador. Setting a precedent for the rest of the evening, they followed up with a classic off El Pintor, “All The Rage Back Home.” The set rotated between new and old tracks, pulling hits from their expansive repertoire and unveiling fresh material.

Banks maintained a deadpan stare, his voice flat and nasally. His brooding demeanor created an air of detachment, so that it felt the band was separated from the audience by a thick pane of glass. The sea of iPhone screens recording every minute contributed to the sense of dysphoria. A flashing disco ball chopped through the watery blue glow of the stage lights, blinding to the point of disorientation. Sunbursts exploded behind my closed eyelids like paparazzi flash. It was as if Interpol was self-consciously trying to distract from themselves, hiding behind the shield of a light show.

Shrouded in their nocturnal shell, the band churned through crowd favorites. “NYC” trudged desolately, echoey with suspended, shoegaze instrumentals. “Evil” received the most love, the crowd erupting at the first thrumming bass notes. With Banks’ rapid delivery, the lyrics tumbled over each other, an avalanche of words, the final chorus pleading with a heroine called Rosemary: “Why can’t we just look the other way?”

If last night was any indication, Interpol has reached their thematic climax as towering legends of the alt-rock genre. Marauder spins the threads of poetic narrative, each song another chapter in a longer story. Interpol digs up the roots of their debut album while planting the seeds of a new sound. On this album they claim their space, they take up room to grow. — MARIAH HALL

________

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Honduras by JOSH PELTA-HELLER

I’m an unapologetic Strokes superfan, so when Lizzy Goodman’s oral history Meet Me in the Bathroom came out last year, I hung on every word like it was my new Bible. Emblazoned on the jacket were names of bands I knew or heard of except for one: Interpol. So after their first chapter, I plugged in to listen to “Obstacle 1” for the first time, and it ripped me to shreds. I had never heard a love song so demented and hypnotizing and I couldn’t get enough of it. But like everyone else who came late to the party, I found out that Interpol had followed the pattern of its fellow New York rockers in taking a hiatus to work on solo projects, so I begrudgingly accepted to listen them through headphones and lowered my hopes of seeing them live any time soon.

But last night I stood in the middle of a sold out Union Transfer on the eve of the release of Interpol’s sixth album, Marauder. Opening the night of post-punk revival were Brooklyn-based Honduras, who channeled their CBGB ancestors with ever-accelerating drumbeats and punchy call and response vocals. Handpicked by Interpol to open the Philly and New York shows, the currently unsigned four-piece won’t stay that way for long if they keep pounding out high-octane sets like last night’s. Lead singer Pat Philips spat the verses in an agitated twang, his guitar slung low over a muscle tank with a New York Times “Obama” headline printed across the chest.

Despite all the markings of vicious punk rockers – the shaggy hair, the taut tatted biceps, the almost spastic headbanging – Honduras defied expectations by infusing shimmering guitar chords at the exact right moment, almost like basement punk cum dream pop. That may sound like an unlikely combination on paper, but adding a touch of haze to the punk rock crunch makes the music’s sense of rebellion all the more freeing.

This shoegaze version of classic NYC rock was the perfect primer for Interpol’s hypnotizing, room-filling power. On the eve of Marauder‘s release, Interpol, who are now a trio after the 2010 departure of bassist Carlos Dengler, couldn’t help but shake and smile with their music. With a light show worthy of their more recent major label sound, the black suited band towered over audience in clean dark silhouettes like omniscient idols of the lo-fi post-punk that is their namesake.

Despite a set list that emphasized the hits over the new album, a new and yet unreleased song called “Flight of Fancy” elicited the same volume of applause and cheers from the sold out crowd as songs like “NYC” and “Evil,” leaving both frontman Paul Banks and guitarist Daniel Kessler in face-splitting smiles at the song’s conclusion.

Looking at the largely middle-aged crowd around me, it was more than obvious that, as Goodman put it in her book, that “something had ended.” Though I was only a toddler when Interpol got their start, there are few songs I love more than “PDA” or “Obstacle 1.” But seeing them live gave me a distinct feeling that the rocking power behind them was never originally meant for me.

Instead, they are an intangible symbol and force of the early aughts indie scene when, for a brief and shining moment, it seemed like rock would rule the world again, a notion that feels further and further away in the glossy pop mainstream of today. On their new album, Interpol reaches 16 years back and channels their debut with that same gritty lo-fi distortion and echoing vocals that match the plundering attitude of its title. The way they roam through and attack each song on Marauders with thundering drums and knife-like guitar hooks mirrors meaning of the album title, that the listeners as much as the band members are the marauders of modern rock, searching and scraping through every inch of music in the hopes of finding the next great treasure. – SOPHIE BURKHOLDER

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INCOMING: Cinephilia

August 24th, 2018

PFF27 Cover

 

RELATED: The 27th Philadelphia Philm Phestival

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THE BASSMAN COMETH: Talking Tech, Trump And The End Of Americana With Wylie Gelber Of Dawes

August 23rd, 2018

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Photo courtesy of COLDSMOKE APPAREL

SOPHIE_BURKHOLDER_BYLINERBY SOPHIE BURKHOLDER In their nearly ten years as a band, Dawes has earned a reputation for old timey, scuffed denim sonics and sepia-toned Americana narratives that sound like this 21st Century version of the Laurel Canyon Sound. But on “Living In The Future,” the lead-off track from their latest album Passwords, Dawes plumbs the darker premonitions of America circa now with a colder, harsher sound that conjures the paranoia and darkness of the Age of Trump. Currently on tour with the Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Dawes play the Wells Fargo Center on Friday August 24th. We got bassist Wylie Gelber on the phone to talk about the new album, the strange days we find ourselves in, and what it’s like to finally meet Jeff Lynne.

PHAWKER: So the lyrics to “Living in the Future,” the first single off of Passwords, really seem to capture the awful zeitgeist of the moment, and I’d like to go through the second verse of it line by line, if you don’t mind, or at least as far as we go, and talk a little bit about what you guys are saying and why you’re trying to say it, or at the very least, what your interpretation of A1xYJ6GVVmL._SL1500_the lyrics that Taylor wrote are. So the first line of that verse is “It’s the battle of the passwords.” So is that a reference to the fact that everything in the digital age is password-protected and that there’s a constant struggle to remember all of these passwords and come up with new passwords that hackers and criminals can’t crack? Is that where you think that comes from?

WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I think in the broadest sense, for sure. I’m not necessarily sure what the exact scenario that inspired that lyric is, but I’d say that sounds accurate enough.

PHAWKER: Okay, and so then, the next line after that goes, “It’s the trumpets on the hill.” The Book of Revelation in the Bible talks about seven trumpets blown by seven angels that will cue the start of the apocalypse. Do you think that’s what that’s referring to?

WYLIE GELBER: No, I doubt it.

PHAWKER: Really?

WYLIE GELBER: Yeah, I would doubt any biblical reference, if I was to say.

PHAWKER: Why would you say that?

WYLIE GELBER: Just because I don’t think that anyone in the band is that well-versed in the Bible to even know that.

PHAWKER: Oh really? What’s your interpretation of it then?

WYLIE GELBER: Of that lyric? I couldn’t really say. I honestly have no idea. I just know that it’s 99.9% non-biblical related just because I know the members of the band.
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NORTHERN EXPOSURE: Q&A W/ Comic Ian Bagg

August 22nd, 2018

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keely_bylinerBY KEELY MCAVENEY Recovering Canadian and and former explosives engineer, Ian Bagg blew up on contact with the stand-up comedy scene, first in the far north hinterlands of British Columbia and later in New York and then the world. Not that he really cares about fame or money, he proudly holds the title of Only Comedian To Work With Judd Apatow And NOT Become A Multi-Billionaire. He is a master at working the crowd for unscripted laughs, not for nothing is his 2015 comedy special called Getting To F***ing Know You. You may have seen him on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” or possibly in his own two half-hour long specials: “Comedy Central Presents” and HBO’s “A Comics Climb.” Either way you won’t want to miss him him in all his riffing glory at Punch Line Philly August 24th-25th.

PHAWKER: I read that before you started doing comedy you were studying to be an explosivesIan Bagg2 engineer? I don’t really have that phrased as a question, so much as a statement with a question mark.

IAN BAGG: [laughs] Yeah. It was something, it was just… I grew up in a small town in northern Canada, and you either became a logger or a miner or mechanic or, you know, all those kinds of work. I just stumbled into dynamite and started at the bottom of the chain, just carrying dynamite for the guys that, you know, were delivering it and then just kind of moved up the chain and ended up working in a gold mine and really enjoyed it.

PHAWKER: That certainly doesn’t sound too small town or boring to me, maybe the carrying it instead of getting to do anything with it.

IAN BAGG: [laughs] Well, we were looking for gold, blowing up the sides of things. It was fun.

PHAWKER: Did you study explosives in college?

IAN BAGG: No, I was headed to engineering school, like tech school, and I ended up falling into comedy instead. I’d always wanted to do stand up, but I had to move to the big city to go to school and found an open mic and tried it and never went back to school.

PHAWKER: It was in Vancouver right?

IAN BAGG: Yes.

PHAWKER: Did you grow up pretty far from Vancouver, or was it close enough that you had this access to live comedy when you were younger?

IAN BAGG: No. I grew up in Terrace, British Columbia, which is kind of close to Ketchikan, Alaska. It is nowhere near anything. I’m talking very isolated.
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CINEMA: Free Passes To A VIP Searching Screening

August 22nd, 2018

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Searching, which opens August 31stis the new cyber thriller starring John Cho as David Kim, a father whose 16-year-old daughter has gone missing. After 37 hours and not a single lead by the investigation, David decides to look on his daughter’s laptop for answers. This leads David down the rabbit hole,the film uses technology and the way we internalize it to tell its story of one man’s search for his daughter in the dark recesses of the internet. We have 60 passes for two to an advance screening Thursday, August 23rd at 7:30PM at the United Artist, King of Prussia. Want to pick up a pass for two? Simply go HERE to print out your passes.

NOTE: No cameras, camera phones, or other recording devices permitted in screening. Seating is on a first come, first serve basis. Theatre capacity is limited and passes won do not guarantee seating. (So please show up early!) Theater is not responsible for overbooking. Ticket holder and guest must enter theater together.

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GEEK SQUAD: How Does DC Films Unf*ck Itself?

August 21st, 2018

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the-geek-300x300BY RICHARD SUPLEE GEEK SPACE CORRESPONDENT Marvel Studios has dominated the 2018 box office, raking in $3 billion from just two movies:  Black Panthe and Avengers: Infinity War. And their success isn’t limited to the huge, highly anticipated movies with 200 superheroes shoved into them. People were even talking about B-List characters Ant-Man and The Wasp.  Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Pictures’ DC Extended Universe is still fighting for relevance after Man of Steel (2013) launched the franchise with a whimper and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Suicide Squad (2016) transformed the franchise into meme fodder. Last year’s Justice League was another failure. But DC is still making their films and hopefully they figure out how to make good films besides Wonder Woman (2017).

Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa, will finally hit theaters December 21st, starring Jason Momoa as the film’s titular submersible superhero. Admittedly, the first Aquaman trailer does look promising. But the same was said for the dumpster fire of a film Suicide Squad (2016). DC has to earn the benefit of the doubt before I get fully excited for a film. The next few years will see Shazam! (2019), Wonder Woman 1984 (2019), Cyborg (2020), Green Lantern Corps (2020) release with The Batman, The Flash, and a Superman all being worked on. These are the safe choices. Most of these characters were in Justice League.

DC also has a ton of films in various stages of development that may never see the light of day (with a Supergirl movie announced earlier this month). But there are three big ones that I think can save the DC Extended Universe after Superman has failed to do so.  Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker film (scheduled for October of 2019) should at the very least wash the taste of Jared Leto’s time as the clown prince of crime out of all our mouths. But that film might not even be officially part of the DC Extended Universe.  The role of Joker is every actor’s dream job and Joaquin Phoenix rarely disappoints.

Warner Bros. is also making a New Gods film. Ava DuVernay is set to direct Jack Kirby’s fictional mythology. Most people might not know who the New Gods are (outside of Steppenwolf, the main villain in Justice League). The New Gods are a quirky group of fictional deities who fought alongside and against the Justice League for decades. This classic tale of good vs. evil is ripe for a feature length film. And I am glad they are giving them their own focus instead of shoehorning them into Justice League again.

Birds of Prey is the non-Marvel superhero film I am most looking forward to. This team of women superheroes is set to star Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn (last seen in Suicide Squad). While her last DC’s film was horrible, most of that was due to writing and editing issues more than the cast. And this film is unlikely to positively highlight Harley’s toxic relationship with Joker. Outside of Harley Quinn the film will star the sonic scream superhero Black Canary, the bloodthirsty, crossbow-wielding Huntress, mute martial artist who can beat Batman in a fight Cassandra Cain (one of DC’s many Batgirls), and Gotham detective Renee Montoya. The casting for these roles are unknown but Jodie Comer and Vanessa Kirby are reported to be the front runners for Black Canary while Alexandra Daddario might be Huntress.

Margot Robbie is also producing the film due to her passion for the characters. And this is why I think Birds of Prey will be a hit. DC’s recent films appear to lack passion for all the characters. Suicide Squad was a cash grab trying to make it the next Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool but ended up being the world’s longest meme. Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice was Zack Snyder’s hastily scribbled love letter to the 80s’ darker Batman comics. And Justice League was just Superman saving the day while DC hoped the legendary team will draw Avengers level sales with a quarter of the effort.

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POST MALONE: It’s Alright, Don’t Think Twice

August 21st, 2018

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ALBUM REVIEW: Ovlov TRU

August 19th, 2018

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Ovlov, obscurantist fuzz-rockers from Newtown, CT, have finally returned from their nail-biting, years-long hiatus. It was a widespread belief among their cult following that the band had broken up for good, their last new material being a couple of split 7-inchers back in 2014. It seemed that, after their impressive 2013 debut LP, am, Ovlov had reached a standstill that threatened to leave the band and their audience with just one truly successful LP to listen to on repeat forever, a fate suffered by many underground greats. A Greatest Hits collection released in 2017, however, was a beacon of hope that Ovlov hadn’t yet fallen of the map. Their brand new LP, TRU, showcases the big garage sound and memorable songwriting Ovlov fans have come to know well ever since their first EP, Crazy Motorcycle Jump EP, in 2009.

Actually, “memorable” doesn’t quite cut it; déjà vu is probably more accurate, as TRU plays through like an am part 2, an extension of Ovlov’s definitive LP. And I’m not knocking them for it – I think this is just what Ovlov fans wanted, because every time I get to the end of am, I think to myself, I wish this album were longer. TRU is an answer to all who have had that feeling, and it’s clear that this was Ovlov’s intention. The album opens with “Baby Alligator,” an allusion to am’s closer, “The Great Alligator,” which actually flows so well into the former, that you’d think they were on the same album. This wasn’t the first time the band have alluded to that song, either; the single on their 2014 split with Little Big League is entitled “The Great Crocodile”. TRU’s “Tru Punk” has a Minus-the-Bear-esque guitar hook, and is an allusion to am’s “Nu Punk”.

But, the am homage doesn’t end there. “Spright” actually uses a riff nearly identical to am’s “Moth Rock,” one of the album’s gems. One track that sticks out in particular as being unique to what Ovlov has done in the past – or even in the present – is “The Best of You,” which has a mathy rhythm, cleaner guitar tones, and drums closer to the front of the mix. And, in the song’s exhilarating outro, there is this beautiful shimmering reverb overtone coloring the fuzzy wall of guitars and crashing cymbals, a sound I’ve not heard in any Ovlov before. ‘Twas a very nice surprise. While so many bands sacrifice their signature sound in attempt to stay hip, Ovlov stay tru to their roots, and I don’t think anyone’s complaining. It’s too often the case that bands become stale if they don’t take radically new approaches to every album, but Ovlov have succeeded in producing a flavor that has an exceptionally long shelf life. – KYLE WEINSTEIN

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THE QUEEN IS DEAD: Aretha Franklin Dead @ 76

August 16th, 2018

ARETHA FRANKLIN, 1967, Atlantic Records publicity portrait.

 

FRESH AIR: Aretha Franklin was more than a woman, more than a diva and more than an entertainer. Aretha Franklin was an American institution. Aretha Franklin died Thursday in her home city of Detroit after battling pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type. Her death was confirmed by her publicist, Gwendolyn Quinn. She was 76.

Franklin has received plenty of honors over her decades-spanning career — so much so that the chalice of accolades runneth over. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 2005. And Franklin sang “My Country, ‘Tis Of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

The Queen of Soul rarely gave interviews, so we were delighted when she sat down for a Fresh Air interview in 1989. Franklin spoke about her father’s gospel influence, growing up with Sam Cooke, crossing over to pop music and more. Read Franklin’s edited conversation with NPR’s Terry Gross below and listen via the audio link. MORE

NEW YORK TIMES: Ms. Franklin had a grandly celebrated career. She placed more than 100 singles in the Billboard charts, including 17 Top 10 pop singles and 20 No. 1 R&B hits. She received 18 competitive Grammy Awards, along with a lifetime achievement award in 1994. She was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1987, its second year. She sang at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009, at pre-inauguration concerts for Jimmy Carter in 1977 and Bill Clinton in 1993, and at both the Democratic National Convention and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral in 1968. […]

Ms. Franklin’s airborne, constantly improvisatory vocals had their roots in gospel. It was the music she grew up on in the Baptist churches where her father, the Rev. Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, known as C. L., preached. She began singing in the choir of her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, and soon became a star soloist.

Gospel shaped her quivering swoops, her pointed rasps, her galvanizing buildups and her percussive exhortations; it also shaped her piano playing and the call-and-response vocal arrangements she shared with her backup singers. Through her career in pop, soul and R&B, Ms. Franklin periodically recharged herself with gospel albums: “Amazing Grace” in 1972 and “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” recorded at the New Bethel church, in 1987. But gospel was only part of her vocabulary. The playfulness and harmonic sophistication of jazz, the ache and sensuality of the blues, the vehemence of rock and, later, the sustained emotionality of opera were all hers to command. MORE

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KURT VILE: Loading Zones

August 16th, 2018

New video by producers James Doolittle and Laris Kreslins, makes Kenzo look like Do The Right Thing. Note cameo by Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette as a PPA stooge. Nice.

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Q&A: Legendary Jazz Photojournalist Veryl Oakland

August 16th, 2018

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Miles Davis by Veryl Oakland

JOsh Pelta-HellaBY JOSH PELTA-HELLER Jazz In Available Light is a brand-new 328-page photo album of jazz from the 1960s through the 1980s, culled by jazz photojournalist and author Veryl Oakland from his own back pages. In many ways, the book is a sort of antimatter, a physical paradox: here is a current chronicle of a time past, published in print during a decidedly digital age, a daring declaration of the significance of a genre of music whose national popularity has waned to record lows, and — with the announcement from Canon earlier this summer that it would no longer manufacture film cameras — presented in a medium that’s in desperate danger of disappearance.

And if it’s a metaphorical wonder that the book exists at all, it’s a literal one as well: photojournalist Veryl Oakland suffered a catastrophic house flood in 1990 that nearly claimed his entire catalog, soaking VO_Coverhis collection of negatives, and crushing his three-decade-long career in photography under the inexorable weight of damp discouragement.

It wasn’t until Oakland revisited the films again, some twenty years later, that he realized they were still viable, and was moved to curate and publish this portfolio. The book is a sprawling anthology of images, a handsome and weighty tome featuring an impassioned and self-taught photographer’s life’s work, stylishly adorned with pull-quotes and anecdotes assembled from a career’s worth of his notes, articles, and recollections. It’s a transcendent and timeless document of jazz history, in all of its richest contrasts, in beautifully bound black-and-white glory.

________

PHAWKER: You spoke in the preface to the book about your first experience with jazz being an arbitrary encounter with a Salt Lake City radio station. Is that really the truth, or did you Mother-Goose that at all?

VERYL OAKLAND: No, that’s basically it, that’s what got my juices flowing. Just kind of a chance encounter, basically. It was the theme song of Wes Bowen’s All That Jazz program. It was “Blue Red,” by Red Garland.

PHAWKER: You spoke a little in the book about your own background growing up in South Dakota in the ‘40s and ‘50s, with influences from polka and big-band. With no prior exposure to bebor or hard bop at all, this must have been a radical departure or a sort of culture shock, the first time you heard it. Did you find hard bop and other types of jazz to be immediately accessible to you?

VERYL OAKLAND: It just kind of lit a spark in me. It was just something I hadn’t heard before, yeah. I didn’t grow up around anything like jazz whatsoever, in the Midwest.

PHAWKER: This must have been when, the mid-’50s or so?

VERYL OAKLAND: Yeah. I was born in 1940, so it would’ve been the mid-’50s, I guess.

PHAWKER: Did you sort of follow the evolution of jazz at that point through hard bop and free jazz, and did you found those other genres immediately resonated with you?

VERYL OAKLAND: Not really, no. Actually, what really got my juices flowing was I guess hard bop, because when I heard Red Garland — and then later Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers or Horace Silver — that was strictly hard bop at that time. So it was later that I was able, by doing research on my own, actually discover bebop, by going back to Diz’ [Gillespie], Charlie Parker, Bud Powell and those people.

PHAWKER: You shot with Sun Ra, who’s famous for his development of free jazz. Were you a fan of that music as it was developing then?

VERYL OAKLAND: If you trace him back to his early beginnings, I mean he goes all the way back to swing, and he was one of the stride piano players, in his early days. He really blossomed in a whole different realm of music, throughout his career. I tried to remain open. I guess a best description would be, a lot of people when they talk about Miles Davis, they either loved him when he started out and hated him later on . . . I guess I tried to remain open to everything that was coming down. So while I really did enjoy Miles with his original quintet — and then later with the second great quintet with Wayne Shorter — but I still listened to pretty much everything that the artists were doing, just trying to keep an open mind.

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Sun Ra Arkestra by Veryl Oakland

PHAWKER: Sun Ra was eccentric, and you wrote about some of that in your book — were you able to maintain a natural rapport with him? What was shooting with him like, and what do you recall from your interaction with him?
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