Feb 122011

Following are two musical acts captured in rehearsal for a televised performance. Both acts feature dance steps in their musical performances. Your mission, should you choose it, is to compare and contrast rehearsal styles, with a focus on choreography, the dynamic among musicians, and so forth.

First, Dame Shirley Bassey, seen rehearsing and in interview on some German tv show:

Next, REM with Kate Pierson, rehearsing “Shiny Happy People” for their appearance on Saturday Night Live…after the jump!

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Jan 132011

Prompted by Townsfellow shawnkilroy, I just watched the video for “Something So Strong,” by Crowded House for the first time in a while. I think that this song is undeniable. It’s a great performance of a great song, the hooks are so big you could use them to go whale fishing and it still sounds fantastic despite the era in which it was recorded. Even Mitchell Froom managed not to go overboard with the production.

The problem? Everything about the video. When this came out, I almost blew off Crowded House solely because of that video. This may be an example of Bigsteve’s Listen But Don’t Look Principle, but let me catalog some of the atrocities that take place in a mere 3:13:

  • Shameless mugging
  • Slack-jawed bemusement
  • Milk drinking
  • Neckerchiefs
  • Cartwheels
  • Pratfalls
  • Horn-rimmed eyeglass—bedecked Nerds dancing with dresses
  • Video chicks that are so devoid of sex appeal that they make it seem like the Nerd made the right choice when he went for the dress
  • And a complete and utter disregard for one another’s personal space.

“Losing My Religion,” by REM is a distant second for me for songs that I ended up liking despite the video. The film-student pretentiousness of that video made it unable for me to give that song a fair shake. When I finally saw them do it live on tv, I ended up really liking the song.

Are there promotional efforts that ended up doing more harm than good for you?

Dec 142010

What inspirational singer who came to prominence in the 1980s is missing from this Pearl Jam/U2 celebration of the Free World, as envisioned by The Godfather of Grunge? I’m thinking the inclusion of Michael Stipe would serve as the perfect bridge between Bono and Eddie Vedder.

Don’t let your answer to this question be the only use of this All-Star Jam space. Add your own verse; the more electric guitars strumming along the better!

Aug 132010

I’ve always thought classic REM sounded like Neil Diamond in a minor key with added twinkly guitar bits. Until the other night, I had not heard more than a single REM song at a time in a good 15 years. One of the friends we’re renting a place with in New Mexico played a half dozen or more REM songs from his or her iPod, and my old thoughts about REM and Diamond were revived.

Michael Stipe has similar phrasing and vocal tone to Diamond. He projects a similar “solitary manliness,” laying into the opening phrase of almost every line. The choruses of REM and Diamond have a lot in common too, sweeping upward and pouring on the solitary manliness established by the verses.

Listen to almost any classic REM song and see if you can’t sing the lyrics and melody of one of Diamond’s big hits. You may have to pause between verses now and then to allow Peter Buck to play one of those twinkly parts, but it’s not that hard to hear the similarities in songwriting and structure.

Like Diamond, Stipe and company abandoned their “forever in blue jeans” Look and gussied themselves up to project “larger than life.” For the last 20+ years Stipe has felt compelled to act out some larger drama for a loyal, aging audience. Diamond perfected this approach 20 years earlier.

I’m not holding this comparison against REM; in fact, I’ve always had the slightest of soft spots for Neil Diamond. Thinking of REM in this way helps me like them more than when I think of more common comparisons, like how they used to be compared to The Byrds because of the twinkly guitar parts and folky vibe. I think that comparison has always sold the band short.

May 172010

Wasn’t there a crack in a Seinfeld episode in which Jerry, I believe, said to George something to the effect of anyone who wears a sweatsuit in public for non-sports-related purposes is announcing that they’ve given up on life? I believe Natalie Merchant is the musical equivalent of that sweatsuit. I know a lot of you R.E.M. fans thought she was special when 10,000 Maniacs first hit and she was Michael Stipe‘s tour bus partner, but come on, if you’re listening to Natalie Merchant in 2010 are you announcing to the world that you’ve given up on music?

Actually, rather than pile on with negativity, as we here in the Halls of Rock Town are sometimes wont to do, let’s make an extra effort effort to find something good to say about, you know, stuff that is clearly godawful.

It is in that spirit that we embark on yet another effort to bring some positivity to our proceedings. Please spend some quality time with the video above, then — if you can — please find something nice to say about it. You’ll feel a whole lot better, I promise you.

I look forward to your comments. Just remember, if you can’t say anything nice about this video… please don’t say anything at all.

Apr 152010

Friday night, April 16, in Philadelphia marks a long-awaited reunion show for Baby Flamehead, a late-’80s local (at least) sensation featuring two of our regular contributors. The show will be at the M Room. There’s not a whole lot more I can say about the band and how much I intend on enjoying this show. For this reason and others that I’m too classy to explain, I’m getting a headstart on our occasional Friday Flashback feature. Enjoy!

This post initially appeared 12/6/08.

General Slocum, Mrclean, and bandmates shopping for used records, sometime in the late-80s

I saw this photo of Baby Flamehead, a cool Philly band from my youth, featuring two old friends and Townspeople, General Slocum (Andy Bresnan) and Mrclean (Dean Sabatino), and took a walk down memory lane. Your memories might differ, but won’t you join me?

Baby Flamehead, “Badadadadup (Live on KCRW in 1990)”

Long before he achieved rank as General, I met the young Mr. Slocum, if memory serves, through an English class at Temple University that we blew off almost as often as we attended. The lure of checking out the latest arrivals in the record bins at the Temple bookstore sometimes took precedence over the instruction of our Paul Simon lookalike professor. For some reason the bookstore had a line on cutout Klassic ’60s Kinks albums (cheap Spanish pressings), the EMG catalog (ie, Eno, Fripp & Eno, Jon Hassel, Penguin Cafe Orchestra, etc), and some high-brow jazz (eg, Anthony Braxton) I would not otherwise have risked more than a precious $1.99-$2.99 on checking out.
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