A “2014 – the year in music” chat with my pal Adam that has very little to do with “2014 – the year in music”.
Cam: I have a web chat I want to do with you for a blog post: a “2014 – the year in music” post for two guys who aren’t really in tune with the latest/greatest music-wise. Vague concept but the subtext is that certain bands remind you of certain times in your life, irrespective of when the music is actually from. For example, when I first graduated from university and had my first job, I was really only listening to the first five R.E.M. albums, for some reason. I still don’t know why this happened.
Adam: 2014 musically for me: he year I became a more regular iTunes purchaser. Easier, cross platforms, no ripping. My Wilco fandom continued to rise and I really, really enjoyed Tweedy’s solo album. Saw it live at TURF this summer and liked every song I heard the first time. Then, I had to wait until the album finally came out in September. Concerts before the album seems more rare. I downloaded and listened to a lot from the spring 1990 Grateful Dead box set with the Omni show in Atlanta becoming one of my favorite newly-discovered shows. Wonderful second set of “Foolish Heart”, “Looks Like Rain” and “He’s Gone”. The beauty of wonderful song transitions. This was the year I realized I may not be seeing the Dead much more as Bobby cancelled the whole tour and Phil is doing long stands at terrapin and the capital theatre. Perhaps that led to my dialling up the Wilco knob towards 11. Added Wilco at Red Rocks to my bucket list. What else. Oh! The discovery of 106.5 Voices radio late in the work season was a special experience. “Ghost radio”, as we call it. Random inexplicable and novelty on a new scale. I’ll think of more once I can scan through my iTunes to see what else is new.
C: Awesome recap! I like how listening to music from the past is always the real measure of a “year in music” recap for most hardcore music fans. It’s why year-end issues of Rolling Stone or whatever never held much interest because truthfully, twelve months of music fandom can’t be limited to music that comes out in that calendar year. I saw some good shows this year: Slowdive, Beach House, Mogwai, Stephen Malkmus. All nostalgia largely but considering I probably listened to more of the Brian Jonestown Massacre this year than any other band, it seems fitting. I re-discovered checking out legit “new bands” early in the year too via Wavelength and Long Winter show. It reminded me of how fun it can be to check out really young bands, even if I have no intention of checking them out beyond those shows. I saw Alvvays and Pup at a library, which was also cool and atypical. So do you basically feel tapped on Dead/Dead-related stuff at this point? Does it make you sad on some level? I’d liken it to reading a really good book and that feeling of semi-dread knowing that there’s only 50 pages left and that void that’s on the horizon. There’s also that morbid silver lining when an artist passes that people tend to revisit their work with a slightly difference perspective. Albeit, very skewed in the immediate. Your Dead is my Pavement. That band was so important to me, as a music fan and to me, personally. They influenced my sense of humour, how I interact with people, the ways I’ve managed my career. Big picture stuff! I don’t know. I think some bands/music brings a point of view that extends far beyond the songs coming out of the speakers. I could probably bring myself to tears just looking at the cover art for Wowee Zowee and yet I’m sure somebody could listen to that album for the first time in 2014 and find it, at top dollar best, “slightly boring indie rock with 2-3 country songs uncomfortably mixed in”.
A: Yes, I am sad about [the Dead going away]. I also am not really willing to do a trip to see Phil at the capital outside New York, mainly because of the driving time and money and needing to coordinate someone else to do that with. Road tripping is a funny business if you’re finicky as I can sometimes be. It’s far. Fuck that. I always drive to western New York shows religiously and still would. Saw Bob Dylan play there in February and drove down alone. Met up with some friends. Found a miracle ticket outside the show that was sold out. Second set: “Iko Iko” was the highlight. I’ve seen Bobby or Phil About 25 times over the years. It’s my favorite music and I’m an unabashed dancer at shows. That’s where you get to do it in the midst of the thousands, also basking in that. All while singing along to your very favorite songs you know by heart. I wished I liked Phish more than I did, as they’re fun like that and I’ve gone to two shows in the last two years. Their live show is a completely different beast compared to their albums. Not a Dead show other than the crossover on the Venn diagram, the spirit and influence that spawned it. It’s still called “Shakedown Street” outside in the lot for a reason. Same crowd. Much more frenetic pace and faster dancing to be sure. Music that people on MDMA would love. Dead music was for pot and LSD. I’ll say that whereas I’d be up on the lawn for a Dead show, for phish, you want to be in the pit or lower bowl. Where the energy builds. The pit in Toronto last summer was amazing. Getting the energy from the crowd pour down on you was a trip. So there’s hope. Wilco gives me that for sure. Nels is fantastic at helping you lose your shit. Check out the Ashes of American Flags (actually just watch the whole thing) versions of “Impossible Germany”, “Side with the Seeds” or “Handshake Drugs” to see what I’m talking about. That’s my fucking jam, that is. I dance to the static at the end. It’s the funniest. I just like 4/4 time, I do. Also, I’m a total sucker for 3/4 time. “Norwegian Wood”, “Ashes and Fire” by Ryan Adams, “You’ve Ruined Me Now” by Norah Jones. That’s another episode.
Cam: I don’t think I’ve ever asked: are you a vinyl guy? CDs seem to have the least amount of resonance as collectibles as music fans. One theory: the glut of shitty AOL “one month free” CD-ROMs in the mid-1990s rendered the format pretty much disposable, even when you were paying $18-20 for a new release. It seems like music being analog-ish in any respect just seems more tangible. Also, I think the ability to skip tracks on demand totally changed the way people listen to albums. Now, we see that x1,000,0000 with MP3s/iPods.
Adam: Fuck vinyl. I couldn’t like it less. It’s absurd to me how horrifically inconvenient it is, overriding the audiophile thing. CDs got a shitty rap up front because all those original CDs were AAD (remember that?). Once they started remastering stuff, I never cared to look back. I also don’t get mono. The Beatles in Mono? Fuck that! Didn’t they hear the stereo versions? Had the Pet Sounds that came with mono and stereo? Deleted all mono tracks. I simply don’t get it. Unless the sound of shitty audio is nostalgic. I grew up on vinyl. I still hear a skip in “American Pie” because the the scratched LP my parents had. Yes, CDs became disposable but I loved my Discman and my Walkman before that. I remember once seeing this portable record player thing at Woolco at Towne and Countrye Square.
C: I’m OK with vinyl but I kind of see vinyl like I see pets: it’s a good experience at somebody else’s house or in public but I have no desire to have one in my own home. I don’t buy this “vinyl sounds warmer” argument that a lot of vinyl dorks will throw out, esp. when they’re listening to it through shitty dime-store speakers they lifted from grandma’s basement or a flea market. Maybe the sound is slightly different and there’s a bit of crackle but to me, vinyl in 2014 is more a statement by the owner than it is a statement about the music. It’s a brand: “I’m the type of person who buys vinyl because it says something about me”. I do like vinyl purely from a collectible standpoint. Perhaps because it subconsciously reminds me of collecting baseball cards. I miss album art and liner notes. A lot. 1989 Topps was the first complete baseball card set I managed to complete. I guess Grateful Dead collectors would be the closest equivalent? The only other bands offhand I can think that inspire that “collector mentally” (based on sheer volume of product) would be the Beatles, Frank Zappa, Guided by Voices and the Fall. At least with Zappa and GBV, I think the completists try to grab everything because it “exists” rather than because its necessarily “good”.
C: Did you see Dylan this fall?
A: Nope. Have seen him a dozen times but the experience has fallen off sharply the last 3-4 years. Larry Campbell left his band and there’s less and less I enjoy about it. Saw him close Americanarama last summer after My Morning Jacket and Wilco. A major drag. Id be going to get one, maybe two sweet harp solos. You can’t go I. With expectations and he can surprise you but the values not there for a shoe you hope to try and enjoy by force of will. Have been listening to a ton of time out of mind though.
C: You know what’s sad? Certain concerts where the ticket buying decision is measures on the “This show will probably suck but this guy might be dead soon” scale. Felt this way about the last local shows for Neil and Leonard Cohen.
A: The band he had for the Never Ending Tour with Larry Campbell leading it was fantastic. it carried the shows. I still like Bob’s albums and I don’t want to be a complainer about live Bob, because you’ve got to know what to expect going in. but at Americanarama, it was the most lackluster “Desolation Row” I can ever recall. It broke for me. especially after Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Actually, it broke for me when Bob played the ACC with Foo Fighters opening. The first sub-par Dylan show post-Larry. Then, I went to see a show up at Rama, which ranks as the worst concert I’ve ever seen in the worst venue. That broke it good. Then, went to see him in Oshawa maybe three years ago, which was pretty decent. Passed on Lewiston last year and here we are now. it’s a weird strange thing when you don’t want to see the people you love anymore.
C: Yeah, the fact Bob played Casino Rama, Oshawa, Air Canada Centre, now Sony Centre… I dunno… this is fuckin’ Bob Dylan and he’s kinda just getting trotted out to whatever room will have him. Did the Rama experience taint him for you? It just sounds really, really sad. Like when you see old ballplayers all broken down and sitting at some folding table at a memorabilia show, signing crap for $25 a pop.
A: Have you watched Festival Express?
C: No. Always have meant to check that out. Do you consider the Band a 1960s band? On paper they should be since their most prominent work and Woodstock happened that decade. But they somehow, they don’t seem of that era. They’re a really unique band to me: if a lot of their shit came out today, it’d still seem contemporary and yet they recorded it 40 years ago and even then, I think they were trying to seem old timey. I’d love to read a oral history-type article of the Band in the 1980s and early 1990s. When they were releasing all those albums people didn’t like or didn’t care about (like the one with big pig face) and yet they continued to plow ahead.
A: Levon’s This Wheel’s on Fire is that book. Couldn’t bring myself to read it. Didn’t want to hate Robby.
C: That’s sad. The 1980s were a real awkward stage for a lot of artists when music switched to become a more visual medium. Id put Robbie, Lou Reed, George Harrison, the Stones all in this category. Their videos esp. from this era tend to be pretty cringe worthy. Misguided attempts to get on MTV.
A: … but 1988 was a turning point!
C: Yeah but you also got the “it’s the 1990s so time to get real and grow a goatee” approach adopted by people like Bruce and Jack McDowell. You know what was really terrible? Mid/late 1980s Robert Plant. “Tall Cool One” et all. Just really weak and poorly thought out.
A: We aren’t going to talk about goatee’d Bruce. It’s dangerous territory. “In the Mood” by Plant is good.
C: Yes. Once they grow a goatee and engage in photo-shoots featuring B&W pics of them not smiling, the tide has clearly turned. Another trope of bad 1980s: bringing in sassy female back-up singers in inexplicable places. Such as…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V7btcksg7z8
A: Hold on, you’re going after Petty? He has a short bad album window. He was hitting his early stride in the early 1980s, then toured with Dylan, Roger McGuin and the Dead. Royalty. Then, the accident and Full Moon Fever, the Wilburys. Artist of the decade. Shit. But go watch the Stones’ Steel Wheels video (At the Max is fantastic) for the classic back-up ensemble.
C: I dunno. I’m feeling all feisty after not having thought about Plant’s “Tall Cool One” for 10-15 years and forgetting about how shitty a lot of 1980s production was: this tendency to slot in back-up singers, keyboards, etc. where they didn’t necessarily belong. You know “Tall Cool One” sampled a bunch of Zep tunes (according to the music website Wikipedia)? Just total garbage and very indistinguishable from the equally weak Robert Palmer tune “Simply Irresistible” from around the same era. Truth: I thought Robert Plant and Robert Palmer were the same guy for a long, long while before I knew anything about music. I mean…. they were both named Robert!!!
A: PS:. Loving the new tweedy album. Though I’ve deleted the first and fourth songs Mixed guilt about taking out the songs I don’t like. Weird huh?
C: At least you make an effort to appreciate albums in any form still. That’s rare.
A: I’ve been enjoying buying things from iTunes. I still download movies, but actually bought both the iTunes movie and the soundtrack from Chef. Bought a soundtrack! When’s the last time I did that? Just decided not to buy the deluxe Fully Completely on CD and instead iTunes downloaded. Otherwise, I’m just ripping it into my Mac anyways. And no tax. Strange feeling about it.
C: I’d recommend you check out this. Weird renditions. Weirder audience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pUmMkD1fdIo
A: That was kinda awful. The signing cheerleaders was an interesting touch.
C: Yeah, that Neil rendition of “USA” is really, really strange. I assume he’s trying to be provocative… or maybe not? He used to be really cheeky and self-aware when he wanted to be but I hate to say: I think he’s kinda just old or scattered at this point. No idea what the deal with the cheerleaders is. Did you like that song “This Note’s For You”? I still hear it from time-to-time on Q107. I’m not sure it’s even a good song but I like listening to it, if that makes sense. Unrelated, not sure if you listen to the Marc Maron podcast but he had a really good one recently with Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders. I’ve always liked the music w/o being a big, big fan but I kinda love her after this. She’s mid-60s and been around for more than 30 years but still sounds so enthused about music in a really basic, pure way. I love that she came out of the teenage Bowie/Lou Reed/punk sphere and then formed this band that was a straight-up rock and roll/power pop band, akin to a female fronted Heartbreakers. I forgot she was married to Ray Davies AND that annoying dude from Simple Minds: