Tuesday, May 31, 2011

VIDEO: Jane's Addiction "End to the Lies"

Jane's Addiction are one of my favorite bands - I love this new single, but I'll pass on the video. I always thought videos were supposed to heighten songs, not distract from them, and this seems like a cheap use of T&A that distracts from what could have been an otherwise cool use of stop-animation (granted, the internet is a breeding ground for cheap T&A, and maybe that's the point)... Like I said, love the song - but as far as videos go, I'll take "Been Caught Stealing" any day.

Coachella 2012 expands to two weekends...
What does this mean for the festival?

I discovered electronic music at Coachella.

I don't mean that's where I heard Prodigy for the first time - that happened a decade before my first Coachella. What I mean is, it was in the middle of a tent in Indio, twenty miles east of Palm Springs, CA, where I discovered that live music created on computers can be more engaging than live music created on instruments.

That doesn't mean it always is, it just means that it can be - and, like I said, I credit that to Coachella. Despite the fact that two of the single greatest shows I've ever seen were headliners on the festival's mainstage, the weekend has always been about the Sahara Tent for me - I'd often go there alone and listen to DJs for hours on end (few of my friends can even tolerate electronic music, let alone subject themselves to the alternative reality that is the farthest-reaching expanse of the Empire Polo Fields).

It was musical bliss for me, and Coachella offered the only opportunity all year for me to do it - my friends could watch whatever they wanted, I could watch whatever I wanted, and we could reconvene when the timing was right. That was the beautiful thing about Coachella - we could just meet under the light...

But we haven't gone to Coachella the past two years. I've blamed my lack of interest on the headliners, but truly it's because of the festival's evolution. They've transformed from an indie festival with a heavy emphasis on electronic music, to a mainstream festival trying to be everything for everybody.

Make no mistake, the marquee electronic talent is still there, but the crowds have evolved, and with that evolution an inability to truly enjoy everything that Coachella has to offer has emerged.

There has been a mainstream hip-hop headliner two years in a row. I live in Los Angeles, and I know the demographic that appeals to - it is the demographic that not only assures that the festival can essentially sellout of $300 weekend passes before a lineup is even announced, but also sell out of $600 VIP passes. It's the same principal that drives revenue at sporting events - give the common man the "afforable" option, but double, triple, quadruple (and then some) your money from the people that aren't afraid to spend it..

I'm not a scenester that lives for weekends of bottle service. Even if I could afford to pay $750 for a bottle of Grey Goose, I wouldn't on principal. But replacing the likes of Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against The Machine, Roger Waters and Paul McCartney with Kanye West and Jay-Z, means that you're not only asking me to pay $300 for a weekend pass (no more individual day tickets), you're also mandating that I rub elbows with a scene I am not a part of.

Does this sound too high school of me? If so, guilty as charged. Music isn't a spectator sport, and whether we can all admit to it or not, the fan experience deteriorates when it is watered down by rubber-necking.

Two years ago, the first year my friends and I didn't go, the universal sentiment was that over-crowding decimated the fan experience, and the festival suffered miserably for it. This year, Coachella went to great ends to mend those memories - to a large extent, it seems they succeeded. And next year, it seems they are going even further.

It was announced today that Coachella would be TWO weekends in 2012:

"We will attempt to produce two identical festival weekends. That means same lineup, same art, same place, different people," they said in an announcement.

This means that the festival expects to sell 150,000 weekend passes, as opposed to 75,000.

Electronic music is scaling unprecedented heights in America right now, and based on the Rave aspect alone Coachella should be able to sell-out two weekends - I imagine a decent number of fans will even do both, book-ending a week's vacation with six nights of ecstacy. The real question is, what will this mean for the lineup?

Given that America is finally being exposed to the universal appeal of electronic music - and knowing that the rave scene is enough to carry a good portion of ticket sales - might we see a return to the more indie-minded roots of the festival's past? Or could this two-weekend format result in even more mainstreamed headliners?

What do you think today's announcement means for Coachella?

Friday, May 27, 2011

ALBUM REVIEW: Foster The People 'Torches'

I didn't want to like Foster The People.

In fact, the first time I heard "Pumped Up Kicks" I was a little bit insulted. I thought I was listening to a poor man's MGMT - where was the depth? The soul? The texture? All that said, the song's loopy swagger was infectious and, before long, I wasn't changing the station when it came on in the car. But I still knew I'd hate the band. How could I not? It was paint-by-numbers Coachella with minimal substance and even less style. Chumbawamba for hipsters.

So when Torches arrived in my mailbox with its Where The Wild Things Are album cover and completely uninspired CD booklet (black lyrics on white paper - and people wonder why nobody buys CDs anymore), I was all geared up for a groaner...

Then the electro-fuzz opening of "Helena Beat" kicked the album off, swashing into falsetto vocals talking about life taking you by the hair, pulling you down, and leaving you dead again... Huh? I can relate to that - who can't? I keep listening...

You know those days, when you want to just choose
To not get out of bed, you're lost in your head again
You play the game but you kind of cut
'Cause you're coming down hard and your joints are all stuck

(Just like Chumbawamba, Foster The People get knocked down and they get up again...)

By now my psyche is not only calloused to "Pumped Up Kicks," I actually kind of like the song. It hearkens back to John Mayer's "No Such Thing" - musically light and fruity on the outside, but lyrically meaty in the middle. Mayer's pop ditty had him running through the halls of his high school, screaming at the top of his lungs because he just found out that the real world is a lie he's got to rise above. Foster's tale is one where all the kids with the pumped up kicks better run, faster than the bullet from our cowboy's gun.

That depth I was looking for? Found it - and there's texture, too. "Call It What You Want" and "Don't Stop (Color On The Walls)" bump and bounce like lo-fi Black Eyed Peas (that's a good thing), and "Waste" expands on the colors in the Cut Copy palette. "Houdini" oozes soul, seeping into the 'call me Al' spirit of "Life On The Nickel" and beyond the vibrant, post-modern quirkiness of "Miss You." Foster The People flirt with a disco dynamic on "I Would Do Anything For You," then marry Animal Collective's psychedelic romp with solid gold pop on "Warrant."

And less than 40 minutes after it starts, the voyage is over - the saving grace is, we only have to hit Play to take the journey all over again... and again, and again, and again. Torches is small-town charm amidst big city bustle. It's not reinventing the wheel, it's just greasing it up really well and making it spin a lot smoother. It spins like a kaleidoscope. Vibrant. Inspired. Refreshing.

Torches offers just what the name suggests - an album of bright lights and buoyant beats to guide us through the dark of day.

Like I said, I knew from the moment I heard "Pumped Up Kicks" that I'd love Foster The People!

If Torches isn't my album of the year, I can't wait to hear what is...

Monday, May 23, 2011

TODAY ONLY: Lady Gaga 'Born This Way' album on sale for .99 on Amazon!

When Lady Gaga says she was Born This Way, does she mean she was born with a motorcycle for a body? I'm still undecided about that album cover, but I can't wait to rev up the new album - which was released today and is sale priced at just .99 on Amazon as a digital download. [Click here to buy.]

That's right - the entire new Lady Gaga for less than a buck!

Earlier this year, the album's title track was declared the fastest selling single of all time by iTunes - with pricing like this, the album might make set a few sales marks of it's own.

In addition, everyone who buy's Gaga's disc (or any MP3 purchase) gets a free upgrade to 20 GB of free storage space on the Amazon Cloud Drive.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Don't let Tommy Lee's penis scare you...
Take a trip to 'Tommyland'

I honestly had no intention of reading Tommy Lee's book when it came out several years ago - not because I didn't care, but because when I heard it was co-written by his penis, well, yeah, then my interest admittedly faded.

I have a thing for Tommy Lee - not in a man-crush sort of way (not that there's anything wrong with that), but in a way where his passion for music resonates so much that it makes me feel a connection to him like I have with some of my best friends. I've got friends who I can talk about music with for hours on end - we don't even pause to refill our glasses, we just talk louder above the clinking ice and clanking bottles. Tommy seems like one of those guys.

The thing I like most is that Tommy isn't a stereotypical meat-head rocker who likes nothing that doesn't have screaming guitars and vocals that flirt with the stratosphere. No, he just loves music - and all kinds of it. Like me, he's drawn to anything that moves him, from Cheap Trick to Massive Attack to Daft Punk and beyond.

Music, to me, is about feeling a primal connection. It's about sparking that thing inside you that makes you feel like nothing else on the planet can make you feel in a given moment. It's spiritual, and it touches your soul.

And that's almost how I felt reading Tommyland, T-Lee's autobiography. I'm not getting Biblical or anything, I just really appreciate the man's zest for life.

I got a library card a few weeks ago, and Tommyland was the first book I saw when I walked over to the racks. It called out to me, and I grabbed it. Corny? Maybe. But it happens. Like I said, I never felt compelled to read a book narrated by a penis. And to be fair, since its release in 2004, not a single person has told me that this was a book I needed to read.

Which is why I'm telling you now - if you know how to read (which I think you've got covered if we made it this far) and have even a fleeting interest in the concepts of celebrity and pop culture, I highly recommend Tommyland.

Yes, I said highly.

To be clear, his penis only makes random commentary throughout (thankfully, less and less the further and better the book gets). And given that Motley Crue released their own band autobiography, The Dirt, in 2002, there's not even a lot of talk about Motley Crue.

Instead, it's an unflinching look inside the head of what makes one of music's biggest icons tick. The chapter about his meeting Pamela Anderson is literally laugh-out-loud funny, the two recounting their very different recollections of a weekend in Mexico that led to marriage. His discussions of his children are heartwarming, there is heartache in his divorce from Pamela, and we share heartbreak in the chapter that details the death of his son's 4-year-old friend in his Malibu swimming pool.

No, it's not Nobel Prize material, but Tommy Lee would never claim to be a budding laureate. It is raw emotion, and an honest and unwavering look at a side of celebrity that most people don't take the time to acknowledge - the human side. You sit right alongside Tommy Lee in his jail cell, and rant right alongside him at paparazzi.

And, in defense of his penis, as heavy as things do get (I'm talking about the subject matter, not... well, I'm sure you've heard the stories...), you can't blame the guy for trying to lighten the mood. I read a lot, and I'm partial to biographies and autobiographies - Tommyland is one of the more engaging bios I've read.

The book has its flaws, but don't we all? If you offend easily, it gets pretty raunchy, but in the end it's the passion and honesty of the writing that prevails.

I returned my copy to the library today, but I assure you I'll be buying a copy of my own. It's one of those books I want to be able to hand to someone, with the assurance that they'll come out with a whole new perspective on a person they thought they knew everything about.

It may have taken me 6 1/2 years to finally visit Tommyland, but it's a trip I'm glad I finally took.

Friday, May 20, 2011

(November 15, 1952 - May 20, 2011)

Growing up, I can't remember not loving professional wrestling. It wasn't on every night of the week, there weren't monthly pay per views that cost more to watch than you'd make working two days at a part-time job, and it still embraced subtleties and nuances, rather than bombastic pomp and over-the-top circumstances.

Randy "Macho Man" Savage was instrumental in changing that.

My parents probably don't know this, but it was my grandmother who really got me into professional wrestling. She was Polish (the only of my four grandparents that wasn't Italian), and she loved Ivan "The Polish Hammer" Putski. As legend has it, she broke the arm off a chair watching him wrestle one time - because that's what wrestling meant in the '70s.

If you were Italian, Bruno Sammartino was to wrestling what Joe Dimaggio was to baseball. Pedro Morales was there for Latinos, and Bob Backlund was our squeaky clean, red-white-and-blue champion who would never cheat to win, and would never fight dirty until his opponents forced his hand. [Unrelated aside: I swam competitively against his daughter, with him sitting in the stands!] The Grand Wizard, Freddie Blassie and Captain Lou Albano were diabolical managers who represented everything bad in the world, while Arnold Skaaland was their baby-faced counterpart, crusading against their conniving, back-handed ways with a work ethic that epitomized the prevailing spirit of blue collar America.

The bad guys back then were truly bad guys, and you never cheered for them. It wasn't allowed. But today, "Magnificent" Don Muraco would be the people's hero with his smug arrogance and cocky swagger, and fans would give Blackjack Mulligan an ovation to see his leather claw turn an opponent's head into a bloody cheese grater. I remember crying when Superstar Billy Graham tore Bob Backlund's championship belt in half, and I can still remember the horror, shock and seething hatred I felt when Captain Lou Albano turned on his greatest heel, pulverizing Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka with his own South Pacific headband before Ray "The Crippler" Stevens piledrived him twice into the bloodied concrete floor.

At the time, wrestling was restricted to black and white televisions with bunny ear antennas. My parents didn't want me staying up until midnight to watch, but I watched anyway. Sometimes the reception was so bad all I could do was listen. Sometimes I had to watch with the volume off so my parents couldn't hear. But I always had to watch. I used to love when my grandmother would babysit because I could stay up late and watch with her in the living room.

That was before Randy Savage.

In my mind, he and Hulk Hogan represented the end of an era and the dawn of another. The Hulkster and Macho Man brought wrestling out of black and white and into color - off of local affiliate channel 9's overnight and onto NBC prime time. It was the vision of Vince McMahon Jr, carried out on the backs and charisma of his wrestlers.

And Macho Man was the manifestation of charisma. He was Gorgeous George, Superstar Billy Graham and an '80s rock star, all rolled into one. And when he anointed Miss Elizabeth his manager, the WWF's first Diva was born. That's what I love most about the clip above - it is everything Randy "Macho Man" Savage helped wrestling become.

It is not a barrage of coconuts to the head, it is three minutes of theater building to the Honky Tonk Man's guitar pop. Professional wrestling went from carnival attraction to three ring circus. From gray and grainy to neon technicolor. From Cold War simplicity to turn-of-the-millennium complexity. From sport to entertainment.

In my lifetime, professional wrestling has been a mirror of American culture - and today, with the passing of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, that mirror sustained a horrible crack.

Rest in peace, Randy...