Hot off the presses: new music! Better said, new music that is worth your time.
This was a big week in new releases, as well as a best-of from one of my favorite indie-rock outfits.
Foo Fighters – 00111125-Live in London (2011) (EP) – 6 tracks / 30 minutes
Dave Grohl and company know how to put on a show, as this short snippet of their live set proves.
After starting things off with a rendition of “The Pretender” that finds Dave yelling at the crowd so much that you fear he may lose his voice, he steps it up three notches for the punk/metal aggression that makes up “White Limo”. Quite a way to kick off a live album, indeed. Say what you will about the recent studio output of Foo Fighters (I for one have felt much of it wanting), they kick so much ass when performing live. Although I missed their Boise stop last summer, I did see them in San Francisco several years ago and the show they put on that night opening for Neil Young & Crazy Horse is one I won’t soon forget.
No, there is no “Learn to Fly” or “My Hero” here – this is soaked in their more recent work, with exception of the closer (the obligatory “Everlong”). The slow build of “Arlandria” plays out quite well on this recording, as does the beaten-but-not-broken “Walk”. “These Days” finds Dave introducing it rather timidly as he begins the pretty and quiet portion of the song. By the time the rock kicks in and Dave is again screaming his head off, the crowd has gone full ape-shit, and I found myself turning it up loud also, I must admit.
Key Tracks: “White Limo”, “Walk”, “Everlong”
Spotify album links: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Z0ad9ruSgVHZNfYJChjTx?si=SmBZMN7eTMSSaV_N3_1urg
Soundgarden – Live from the Artist’s Den (2013) – 29 tracks / 146 minutes
On this expansive yet consistently interesting live set – recorded in 2013 on their King Animal tour for PBS’s Artist’s Den- Chris, Kim, Ben, and Matt bring the goods and show that they were still going strong.
I’ll start this off with my favorite of the many humorous moments of banter from Chris Cornell throughout the evening: “We’re filming for a show called Artist’s Den… so you can see yourselves later on PBS, if you want, if it makes it. If I were them I would say fuck that, nobody’s going to donate money for this. They’re gonna cancel their checks… ‘I was watching the history of President Van Buren and then I saw this Soundgarden bullshit and I want my fucking check back’.” Literal LOLs when I first heard this.
OK, now on to some pithy commentary…
After the glorious celebration of the life and career of Chris Cornell that was released last year as a three-album box set, this live performance feels like a fitting presentation of the man’s prowess as a live performer. I have said before that seeing him on his solo acoustic tour in 2000 is still one of the greatest evenings of music I have ever seen, and with Kim and the fellas behind him on this 2013 show he is truly in his element. For well over two hours he screams his heart out, provides amusing tidbits for the crowd, and generally seems to be having the time of his life. How sad, then, when you listen with the knowledge that he would take his own life just a few short years later.
Recorded during their King Animal Tour, months before his 50th birthday, Chris’s voice is a bit strained, but his wail still held the power to take over the entire mix. There is no doubt in my mind that his absolutely beautiful wail is far and away the greatest of his generation, and three decades in he still has it. See the last half of “Rusty Cage” in case you don’t believe me.
The fact that ten songs from their 2012 comeback record (the underrated King Animal) are almost seamlessly sprinkled into this 28-song set that literally spans their entire career is an homage to how solid that album was, and speaks volumes to Chris’s abilities as a vocalist and performer. He keeps you hooked and engaged throughout, mostly because he never takes a line off, and his band behind him is made up of mind-blowing grunge rock royalty.
A few songs that stick out among the impressive heap:
“My Wave” – The bassline carries the day here, and Mr. Cornell’s voice is the perfect amount of broken on this effort that sounds just as good as the album version from 1994.
“Been Away Too Long” – This King Animal song sounds like it belongs and holds up against the rest of their catalogue. When Chris yells out in his raspy wail that “I’ve been away for too long”, it makes you realize how much you missed Soundgarden for those 15 years – or maybe it’s just me. It also makes me appreciate that they came together to make one last studio album together before Chris passed on.
“Jesus Christ Pose” and “Flower” – Two of the best compositions from their first act, the former is played in all of its scream and percussion glory here.
“Rowing” – Hypnotic and seductive with its constant backbeat and mantra to “just keep on rowing”, this one was a favorite of mine from King Animal. It sounds great here, even if it doesn’t fit in all that smoothly with the rest of this heavy and guitar-drenched music. Chris’s recorded vocal track of the chorus/mantra overlaid with his live performance of the verses is particularly interesting.
“Fell on Black Days” – Simply put, the finest song Chris ever wrote, as far as I am concerned. Lyrically powerful, emotional, and honest, this is a crash course in depression. It is also about as beautiful as anything you’ve heard, particularly when Chris wails the final chorus like there is no tomorrow.
“Rusty Cage” – Yes, I will always think of Johnny Cash’s excellent stripped-down version when I hear this song, but one listen to the effort and power in Chris’s vocals here will melt even the most indifferent heart.
“Ty Cobb” – This near-outtake has always been a gem as far as I am concerned, and Chris gives it his all on this night. See a pattern here? This is a recording of one of the late 20th century’s finest bands getting back together and knocking it out of the park. If you dig Soundgarden, grunge, or artist’s leaving it all on the stage, check it out.
Key Tracks: “Rusty Cage”, “Rowing”, “Fell on Black Days”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Ug7tuZrDlT3pTTD3hUhPA?si=xGhbjjeIRO2AjKFfE4bC4A
Violent Femmes – Hotel Last Resort – 13 tracks / 38 minutes
Yes, this is one of their weaker albums of this century – but in true Femmes fashion, it has its moments.
Gordon Gano and Brian Ritchie (with a shoutout to somewhat recent addition Victor DeLorenzo on drums) have been part of the soundtrack of my life since high school. Yes, I am biased and still consider them more relevant than most folks go – but for good reason: since reuniting a few years ago they continue to make worthwhile music. If you aren’t familiar with We Can Do Anything, their comeback record from 2016, you should be. Hotel Last Resort is not as complete an effort as that previous release, but there are high points that I will point out here.
The title track is a regular minefield of messages, jokes, and snark including “I wonder like the Jews, I ponder on my muse, I pander to the few, divide myself in two, but half of half is still half”. On this song Gordon sings about how he doesn’t even have to change the chords anymore, they simply change by themselves, and there is some truth to the fact that these gents have been plowing the same ground for three decades now. However, there is some new and zesty blood injected here, most notably the world music vibes of “I’m Not Gonna Cry” and the scat-rap of the vocals and hand-claps only “Sleepin’ at the Meetin’”.
The “I’m Nothing” found here is a shorter, electric guitar and raucous percussion version of a song that was my favorite from their 1994 New Times album. Gordon wants us to know that in this polarized world, he chooses not to identify with any clique: he isn’t a Republican, Democrat, gay or straight, doesn’t believe in love or hate… he is just nothing.
Leadoff track “Another Chorus” finds Gordon lamenting vocalists who rely too much on repetition while he intentionally sings the refrain repeatedly. Folks, this is funny, snarky, and pure Femmes- and also a little annoying, to be honest. Yes, this is far from their best work, but it is interesting and is a solid listen for fans of the band who want to see what the boys have been up to.
Key Tracks: “Hotel Last resort”, “I’m Nothing”, “I’m Not Gonna Cry”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/2nJyeKPEK6owOtQOWBxuk2?si=3zVZSO8sSk6Aj903Y2vTAA
Caamp – By and By – 12 tracks / 46 minutes
Taylor, Evan, and Matt continue to bring the folk/Americana goods on their third LP.
Take one part banjo folk, one part Americana inspired by outdoor adventures and acoustic guitar, and one part growly warble a la Ray LaMontagne, and you have something like Caamp. This could be your favorite band that you’ve never heard of, so give them a listen. On their newest release, the trio have more of the same, but that is not a bad thing at all – their sound is at once familiar and inviting but also uniquely theirs.
On “Keep the Blues Away”, Taylor sings about how sometimes getting high helps get through feeling low: “when times get tough, the tough get hard, but you can cut me with a butterknife. I get high cuz I want to, I get low everyday; I get high cuz I want to, gotta do something to keep the blues away.” Never has a song about drugs (or maybe about the joys of nature?) been so uplifting.
Electric guitar carries the tempo on “No Sleep”, which finds Taylor unable to sleep as he is infatuated with a “milky white” girl who he compares to a shooting star. “Penny, Heads Up” tells of a couple falling in love while waiting out a rainstorm in their tent, over some gorgeous banjo picking and a subtle but driving bassline. This opening line from “Wunderbar” is a keeper: “don’t say you love me if its only cuz you’ve run out of better things to say; don’t pretend you know me, I haven’t shown you anything besides the clothes I wear in the light of day”.
The album’s closer “Of Love and Life” is a lyrical tour de force of sage wisdom, and the subtle banjo picking that backs up the poignant words only adds to the weight of the message. Bravo, fellas – this album is quite an accomplishment. Looking forward to their November show at Knitting Factory Boise.
Key Tracks: “Keep the Blues Away”, “Penny, Heads Up”, “Of Love and Life”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Ib3LE6FimfhNVnY7Tc1zM?si=Ya70mlv0QwurLmpSbG4duA
Spoon – Everything Hits at Once: The Best of Spoon – 13 tracks / 45 minutes
Greatest hits from one of rock’s most diverse and interesting bands leaves out a few favorites but delivers a 101-level review of their work to date.
Yes, this could (should) be longer, as Britt Daniel and the fellas have so much good music. However, they do accomplish their apparent mission: to produce a track list that shows off their range and varied muse over the course of 25 years of making music. I usually don’t include best-ofs in my new release posts, but this one is worth your time.
Key Tracks: “Don’t You Evah”, “The Underdog”, “The Way We Get By”
Spotify album link: https://open.spotify.com/album/6Z7Sn7tpFrSqguZs3cowY5?si=6vE9NLIGQl-bULAHfD0v5g
School of Language – 45
David Brewis (Field Music) makes a solo album based lyrically on things Orange In Chief has said. Interesting project, although the music is not really my taste.
Mini Mansions – Guy Walks Into A Bar…
Of Monsters and Men – FEVER DREAM
Rayland Baxter – Good Mmornin