Monday, April 26, 2010

Muisc and Misery #14-12

Let's get back to the misery, shall we? To continue with my theme following Forbes 20 most miserable cities in the US, we are up to #14.

14. Rockford, Illinois
Finding a postcard of Rockford ain't easy. I used to pass through Rockford when driving from St. Louis, MO, to Madison, WI. I didn't even stop there to pee. Population of around 150,000, with a metro area of roughly 300,000. 16.9% Unemployment. Lots of closed and outdated factories. From 2002-2007 the Rockford area had the highest crime rate in the state of Illinois (mostly theft and burglary, not violent crime). Home appreciation of -5% (ouch). 8.25% sales tax, with 6.25% being a state tax. Rockford is in the middle of one of the most flat, boring parts of Illinois, which allows the wind to whip through on cold winter days. Lots of fun minor league sports teams, but in terms of major sports they must look east to Chicago. Go Cubs?

One of my favorite power pop/rock bands hails from Rockford.

Cheap Trick - Surrender.mp3
Buy: Heaven Tonight (1978)

13. Kansas City, Missouri
I was in Kansas City last year and I got drunk as hell. Good times! Often nicknamed the BBQ Capital of the World, and I have to admit, I had some damn good BBQ in between beers. Population of around 500,000 with a metro area (including Kansas City, Kansas) of about 2 million. Unemployment of 9.1% (lower than national average). The violent crime rate is roughly twice the national average. Although I can't find any info on it (granted, I'm not looking that hard), Forbes claims that Kansas City has high tax rates. Forbes rated KC high on the misery index due to its two awful pro sports teams. The baseball Royals and football Chiefs combined finished outside of last place only once in the past three years. You can see their respective stadiums in the above lovely postcard.

In terms of music, Kansas City is most famous for the development of the Bebob style of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s. KC native Charlie Parker is widely considered one of the most influential jazz musicians. In addition, Count Basie made his mark on the jazz scene in KC leading a big band swing orchestra. Dozens of other jazz artists made their mark on the Kansas City scene, which is still thriving today.

I don't have a very large jazz collection, but here is a standard from Coleman Hawkins of nearby St. Joseph, Missouri, who was one of the first to use a tenor saxophone to play jazz, and KC native Ben Webster, another important jazz tenor saxophonist.

Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster - Don't Get Around Much Anymore.mp3
From: Compact Jazz: Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster (1987, out of print)

12. Akron, Ohio
Rubber Capital of the World, due to the city's famous Trojan factory. KIDDING! Akron is the corporate headquarters of the Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company, which may explain the inclusion in the misery list given the downturn in the US auto industry. Population of about 200,000, with a metro area of nearly 700,000. 12.2% unemployment, and Akron's 2.25% local income tax rate is one of the highest in the state of Ohio. Akron is also apparently the methamphetamine capitol of Ohio, ranking third in the nation in the amount of registered meth sites. Aside from drugs, the crime rate in Akron appears to be about average with the rest of Ohio. Akron is the hometown of basketball phenom LeBron James, who plays for the nearby Cleveland Cavaliers. If rumors are to believed, Akron will be in a world of misery if James bolts for another team at the end of the season.

Who knew that so many cool musicians came from Akron? Members of Devo are from Akron and nearby Cuyahoga Falls. Soul artist James Ingram, Liam "My United States of Whatever" Lynch, and the blue-rock duo The Black Keys are all from Akron. Plus, our favorite redneck David Allan Coe and rocker Chrissie Hyne of the Pretenders were both born in Akron. Now that's a diverse group of musicians!

David Allan Coe - You Never Even Called Me By My Name.mp3
Buy: 17 Greatest Hits (1978)

Pretenders - Back on the Chain Gang.mp3
Buy: Learning To Crawl (1984, expanded reissue 2007)

Bonus! By popular request. Or, at least one person's request. In this fine track Mr. Coe tells his life story where, among other things, he tells off Bruce Springsteen, gets off of death row, and releases the very first rap album.

David Allan Coe - I'm an Ohio Boy.mp3
Buy: Live from the Iron Horse: Biketoberfest '01 (2002)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

This Fucking Job: Drive-By Truckers, April 7, Lee's Palace

A timeout from the misery for a concert review of the Drive-By Truckers, April 7, Lee's Palace, Toronto, and a mini review of their new album The Big To-Do.

Working this job is a kick in the pants
Working this job is like a knife in the back

This Fucking Job.mp3
Buy: The Big To-Do (2010)

I got out of work late on Wednesday night. I missed the Drive-By Truckers in-store at Sonic Boom. I missed the opening act, Langhorne Slim, but I heard that he and his band were fantastic. It was pouring rain and super humid, and when I walked into Lee's Palace at 10:05 pm, the place stunk like a mens' locker room. Nasty. Just what you would expect from hard-rocking Drive-By Truckers fans.

The Truckers were on tour in support of their latest album, The Big To-Do, which was released three weeks prior to this show. I admit to being initially underwhelmed by The Big To-Do. The Truckers are usually master storytellers, and some of their best songs leave you aching for the protagonist. For example, in "Sink Hole," from the superb Decoration Day (2003), you feel real empathy for the man who is about to lose his family farm due to loan defaults. But, like my buddy Cowbelle said, I have a real hard time feeling anything towards any of the characters in the new songs. Take "That Wig He Made Her Wear" and "Birthday Boy" written by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley, respectively. "Wig" tells the story of a woman who murders her abusive preacher husband, while "Birthday" describes the life of a down-and-out stripper. I just can't root for either of these characters. For "Wig" you would think that a high end divorce lawyer would be a lot easier than murder, and I feel like telling the stripper in "Birthday" to quit bitching, we all have shitty jobs, sister.

Some of the Truckers' best songs are written from the first person perspective: "Nine Bullets," "One of These Days," "Lookout Mountain," "Zip City," "Women Without Whiskey," "Let There Be Rock," "Marry Me," "Sink Hole," "Puttin' People on the Moon," "Where the Devil Don't Stay," "Gravity's Gone," "Self Destructive Zones," "That Man I Shot." God damn the Truckers have a lot of good songs! Not all, but some of the songs on The Big To-Do are written in the third person. I would love to hear these stories told in the first person. What is the father's perspective on "Daddy Learned to Fly?" What is Lester thinking in "Drag the Lake Charlie?" I would LOVE for Hood to re-write "That Wig He Made Her Wear" from the wife's eyes. In fact, I will issue what the French call un challenge: write "The Wig He Made Me Wear." Make me care about what this women went through in her terrible marriage.

Back to the show. The DBTs mixed in 11 of 14 tracks from The Big To-Do with 10 classic Truckers songs. Given that the new album had only been out three weeks, and that most fans at the show had presumably not downloaded a leaked copy (cough, cough), the audience for the most part was more staid than at previous DBT shows. Of course everyone was singing along and going crazy for the older songs, and a handful of people were doing the same for the new tracks. But even if you don't know the music, you can't deny that the Truckers are amazing musicians who put on one hell of a show. I would watch this band do yacht rock covers. Actually, that's a really good idea!

Cooley got everyone to dance when he said, "Let's boogie-woogie" and launched into "Get Downtown." This song also featured a killer keyboard solo by Jay Gonzalez, and a bad-ass guitar solo by John Neff. I love that the band added rock keyboard to their sound. Keyboards are massively underrated in rock and roll, and Gonzalez adds another thick layer to the Truckers sound. And what can I say about John Neff that hasn't already been said? This guy is a master at stringed instruments, be it various guitars, pedal steel, or mini-sitar. I suspect that the man can play the fiddle too.

Get Downtown.mp3
Buy: The Big To-Do (2010)

The encore started out slowly and softly with "The Flying Wallendas." But the band turned it up several notches for the next four tracks, with Hood even altering the lyrics to "Let There Be Rock" by adding, "I never saw The Clash but I sure saw Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band..." At one point Hood thanked the crowd and said something like, "I'm 46 years old and I have two small children and I can't thank you enough for all of my good fortune." It blows me away that Hood is 46 and can rock harder that those little emo punk fuckers half of his age.

Finally, the DBTs blew the fucking roof off of the place with a cover of Neil Young's "Rocking in the Free World" with Cooley and Hood exchanging verses. I knew exactly that was coming when they hit the first chord. Ho-Lee-Shit. Face melted and mind blown.

I have to admit that I like The Big To-Do more now since I have seen the band preform it live. I may even care a little more about the characters in the songs. A little.

One of my favorite parts of the Truckers catalog is the artwork by Wes Freed. Freed has done the art for all of the album covers since Southern Rock Opera (2002), and did the killer Canadian tour artwork above which I now have hanging in my living room. The liner notes of The Big To-Do are covered in beautiful circus themed drawings/paintings by Freed. I always buy the albums of the bands that I love, regardless if my initial response to the music is less than stellar, especially when I know the artwork alone will be worth the price of the album. In this case, after seeing most of The Big To-Do live, I am reassessing my first impression.

Set List
1. The Fourth Night of My Drinking
2. Birthday Boy
3. Girls Who Smoke (This song is a vinyl only Big To-Do track. Anyone have an MP3? Help a sister out?)
4. Zip City
5. That Wig He Made Her Wear
6. Get Downtown
7. (It's Gonna Be) I Told You So
8. This Fucking Job
9. Sink Hole
10. Uncle Frank
11. After the Scene Dies
12. One of These Days
13. Box of Spiders
14. Eyes Like Glue
15. Santa Fe
16. Home Field Advantage
17. Hell No, I Ain't Happy

18. The Flying Wallendas
19. Women Without Whiskey
20. Let There be Rock
21. 3 Dimes Down
22. Rockin' in the Free World.mp3 (Neil Young cover)
From: Bluebird Theater, Denver (2008 bootleg)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Music and Misery #17-15

After a long Easter weekend and overdosing on Cadbury Cream Eggs, let's get back to the Forbes magazine 20 most miserable cities in the US, and the music that these cities spawned.

17. Sacramento, California
Capitol of California. About 2 million people in the metro area. 5.9% home foreclosure rate. Crime rates worse than Los Angeles or San Francisco (but not Compton). Unemployment rate of 13.1% as of January, 2010. Sale tax of 9.25% (8.25% is California state tax). To add to the misery, the Sacramento Kings, the only major pro team in the city, are currently 24-53 and eliminated from the 2010 playoffs.

The band Cake hails from this central California city. They had some hits in the mid 90s, and they will tour Edmonton and Calgary at the end of the month.

Cake - Frank Sinatra.mp3
Buy: Fashion Nugget (1996)

16. New York, New York
The Big Apple. Hold on. New York rules! I love this city. Largest city in North America. But it costs $3000/month for a 300 square foot apartment. Income tax is 10.5% (highest in the country), plus 8.875% sales tax. The daily commute time is the longest in the country. Sounds likes a great place to visit, but not necessarily to live in. Although the violent crimes rates have dropped dramatically in the last 15 years making NYC one of the safest major cities in the US, there were still 523 murders in 2008 (compared to 70 murders in Toronto in 2008, although Toronto has 1/3 the population). Too many pro sports teams in NYC to go through them all, but look at the NBA Knicks. They have been awful for years. And the New Jersey Nets who play in East Rutherford, NJ, part of the NYC metro area, are the worst team in the NBA. Although the Yankees are a perennial powerhouse in baseball, their fans are so obnoxious that no one outside of New York can stand them. The team or the fans.

There are so many historic and influential bands from New York, its almost impossible to pick just one. I'm going with Sonic Youth, which to me personify New York rock music. Leading the way in punk/"noise" rock in the early 80s, and having a massive influence on alternative rock for the last three decades. Here they are covering another hugely influential musician. Although Bob Dylan is from Minnesota, Dylan became a famous folk singer in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 60's, and signed his first record contract with New York-based Columbia in 1962.

Sonic Youth - I'm Not There.mp3
Buy: I'm Not There soundtrack (2007)

15. Toledo, Ohio
Named after Toledo, Spain. Urban/Metro population of 503,008, although there has been a net migration out of the city for the last 20 years, losing roughly 6% of the population each decade. As of January 2010, an unemployment rate of 13.4%, well ahead of the national rate of 9.7%. The Toledo area has lost over 33,000 jobs since December 2007, largely due to the decline of the auto industry. Loss of population and jobs means vacant buildings which often leads to crime, although I can't find any recent crime statistics. Toledo hosts no major sports teams, but I would argue that their minor league teams have the best names in the country: Mudhens (baseball), Walleye (hockey), and Bullfrogs (arena football). Toledo is friggin cold in the winter, with wind kicking off of Lake Erie. I once drove through a tornado in Toledo while road tripping from Cincinnati to Detroit. I stopped at a liquor store to wait out the storm.

Funny cultural note from Wikipedia, which may or may not add to the misery: John Denver sang a disparaging song about visiting Toledo entitled "Saturday Night In Toledo, Ohio" which was composed by Randy Sparks. It was written in 1967 when Sparks and his group arrived in Toledo at 10pm on a Saturday night, and found everything closed. The song was written as they drove down to Kansas City and their next gig.

I have never heard this song. Help a sister out?

Gary Louis was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, and eventually migrated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to form the seminal alt country band The Jayhawks. He put out his first solo album in 2008, and performs with a number of other musicians. Last year he released the album Ready For The Flood with his Jayhawks partner Mark Olson, which was one of my favorite albums of 2009. He also produces records for several artists, including my favorite Canadian band The Sadies.

Gary Louris - She Only Calls Me on Sundays.mp3
Buy: Vagabonds (2008)