Thursday, March 26, 2009

Dag Nasty - "Wig Out at Denko's" (forgotten song) (the song remains the same)

"Wig Out at Denko's" is the title track from Dag Nasty's 2nd LP, which was released in 1987. Dag Nasty went through several incarnations and was composed of members from several other contemporary hardcore punk bands. Rather than list them all, it is is simpler to say that their records were released on Ian Mackaye's (Minor Threat, Fugazi) Dischord Records, thus placing them squarely in the Washington DC / DIY milieu.

Having said all that, I first heard this song as covered by Tone Deaf. Tone Deaf was a band composed of many of my good friends at Denbigh High School in the mid/late 1980s. They did mostly contemporary popular covers, but they also did a few originals and some obscure covers as well. I won't even pretend to be impartial, but toward the end (summer 88?) they were actually pretty good.

The garage rock scene was pretty healthy in the mid 80s at Denbigh, so the guitar class teacher had an annual "Denbigh Jam" which provided a showcase for the various high school bands. It was not a typical "battle of the bands" per se (I don't recall any awards), but participation was competitive: there were try outs and if you didn't have your stuff together you didn't get a slot. Some Denbigh Jam alumni that went professional include members of: buttsteak, False Sacrament, Danny Godinez, Gregg Brooks and Nocturnal Zoo. I may have forgotten some notable bands/musicians and I welcome any additions or corrections.

The link provided below is of Tone Deaf, mk. II: Fred Moore (vocals, keyboards), Terry Harrison (rhythm guitar, vocals), Drew Munro (lead guitar), Art Everett (bass) and Chris Everton (drums). They're performing at Denbigh Jam '88, which I believe was in the fall.
Terry (the guitarist in the foreground) has a mountain of HS & college-era video tapes that he's slowly processing and putting on YouTube. Tone Deaf's cover of "Wig Out at Denko's" is one of the gems he's put online so far. And although this makes me a complete homer, I think you'll find Tone Deaf's faster tempo version more enjoyable than the slower, studio version. And while Tone Deaf might not be a trip down memory lane for you, "Wig Out at Denko's" is a great song that deserves a listen regardless.

Dag Nasty: YouTube (studio version), YouTube (live version, skip to about 24:40 -- it's the last song of the set).

Tone Deaf: YouTube.

P.S. The live Dag Nasty version comes from "Blank TV" -- if you like punk and related genres, you should check them out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Husker Du - "Flip Your Wig" (LP Review)

"Flip Your Wig" is Husker Du's final LP on the seminal alternative label SST Records (if you listened to alternative music in the early- mid-80s, you had a lot of SST releases and respected them -- until 1987 when SST rolled over on Negativland, but that is a story for another time).

Flip Your Wig is actually the second LP Husker Du released in 1985; earlier that year they released "New Day Rising" and in 1984 they had put the world on notice with their double LP "Zen Arcade". Conventional wisdom says that their best LP is Zen Arcade, closely followed by New Day Rising. To me, Zen Arcade is an important LP with some quite good songs. New Day Rising is an exceptional LP, marred only by a few self-indulgent songs (e.g., "How To Skin a Cat"). But Flip Your Wig represents the band at its zenith: the right combination of punk power (slowing maturing since 1981's nearly unlistenable "Land Speed Record") and pop sensibilities (the first glimpses of which we saw on 1983's "Metal Circus" EP) . Their last two studio LPs on Warner Brothers, while not entirely bad (too much pop and not nearly enough punk), simply can't compare to their SST releases. But for Flip Your Wig, it all came together in an LP that features great songs, furious power, and an LP that is easy to listen to start to finish. Yes, the production quality is thin, but that was par for the course in the mid 80s. Their major label releases had "better" production which ultimately makes for a less enjoyable listen.

It would be easier to list the songs on this LP that are not great: "The Baby Song". That's it. That's the only song you'll skip on this whole LP. And it's not even a song, it's just 47 seconds of silly slide whistle filler. Maybe it seemed funny at the time, maybe they did it on a dare. Past that, there are only two kinds of songs on this LP: excellent and mind-blowingly excellent. I'll only list the latter below. If forced to pick a single song, "Makes No Sense At All" is probably the best punk anthem ever recorded.

Standout tracks: Flip Your Wig, Makes No Sense At All, Green Eyes, Divide and Conquer, Flexible Flyer, Private Plane, The Wit and the Wisdom

Skip 'em tracks: The Baby Song.

Final Score: 10/10.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Cribs - "Arigato Cockers" (LP Review)

"Arigato Cockers" is a 2006 Japanese-only EP from The Cribs. It is essentially the non-LP single "You're Gonna Lose Us" with several B-sides collected from earlier singles. Yes, my obsession with this band has reached the point where I'm buying imports and singles just to be a completist.

It's been nearly two years since I first heard them and I still don't know why they are not more popular than they are. I'm doing my part; they're in heavy rotation in my cd player & iPod and I talk about them incessantly to anyone that will listen. While they're not exactly unknown, I don't understand why bands like Coldplay (y-a-w-n) become huge and The Cribs have not. Or at least not yet.

So while we await release of new material from the Johnny Marr version of The Cribs, I'm forced to review a collection of B-sides, demos, covers, outtakes, etc. "You're Gonna Lose Us" is an excellent song, deserving of A-side single status. Recorded in 2005, it sounds like it was recorded (or at least written) for The New Fellas sessions (although the producer, engineer, etc. information according to Discogs doesn't support this theory). This song alone is worth the price of the EP.

"Saturday Night Facts of Life" is a cover of a Comet Gain song (the original can be found at Rhapsody). The excellent "Advice From a Roving Artist" also features Comet Gain's bassist, Jon Slade; it sounds similar to (even better than?) "Be Safe" from "Men's Needs, Women's Needs, Whatever". The other tracks ("It Happened So Fast", "Feelin' It!", "To Jackson") would be great songs for nearly any band other than The Cribs. But in The Crib's canon, they're merely middle of the road songs.

Standout tracks: You're Gonna Lose Us, Advice From a Roving Artist, Saturday Night Facts of Life.

Skip 'em tracks: None.

Final score: 7/10. That's a little bit unfair since this really isn't an LP; it's an EP that is really a single plus a grab bag of B-sides, but the score reflects that "Arigato Cockers" is not where casual fans of the band should begin. If you treat it as just a single + 5 bonus tracks then it rates much higher.

Final score: 8/10. I'm not sure what I was thinking when I wrote it, but I have to revise my earlier rating. The itunes play counts don't lie: this is a really good EP.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Rentals - "Friends of P" (forgotten song)

"Friends of P" was a huge hit in the mid 1990s and shortly after that The Rentals pretty much disappeared. This was the first single of their 1995 debut LP "Return of The Rentals". You are probably asking yourself "why do they sound so much like Weezer?" One reason is because The Rentals were a side project involving Weezer bassist Matt Sharp and drummer Patrick Wilson and this LP was recorded in between the first Weezer LP and their 2nd LP, Pinkerton. Matt Sharp left Weezer after Pinkerton but Patrick Wilson continued on with Weezer instead of The Rentals.

The other reason why it sounds so similar is because Ric Ocasek produced both the first Weezer LP and Return of the Rentals. In fact, the addition of female singers and keyboards places The Rentals more in line with the pop sound of The Cars than Weezer's more garage rock sound. The other thing that Ocasek brings to this song is his wife, Paulina Porizkova -- the "P" in "Friends of P". The story goes that Porizkova, an avid palm reader, was lamenting that "nobody cool was writing songs about her now". So apparently Sharp stepped up and wrote this enjoyable and quirky tribute to her.

After several line up changes and a hiatus, The Rentals are active again. I should search out their new material to give it a listen. Until then, revisiting their hit single will have to do.

Links: MTV, YouTube, YouTube. The first YouTube video is a live version on a French TV show (ca. 95-96) and I believe that is Maya Rudolph on keyboards (she toured with the band but did not record or appear in the studio video). The video does not appear to have either Rachel Haden or Petra Haden. The second YouTube version is fan video featuring the lyrics.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Band - "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" (the song remains the same)

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is a song about the conclusion and aftermath of the American Civil War. At first it seems ironic that it was written by Canadian Robbie Robertson of the The Band, but upon further reflection perhaps the song makes the kinds of observations that can only be written by an outsider. The genius of this song is that it captures the pathos and mythology of the lost cause and transforms it from a polarizing political statement to a universally applicable personal account of suffering, loss and resignation.

The song tells the story of the fictional Virgil Caine, who "served on the Danville Train / 'til Stoneman's calvary came / and they tore up the tracks again". After the war, Virgil is paroled to his agrarian life in Tennessee and reflects upon the war ("In the winter of '65 / We were hungry, just barely alive / By May 10th, Richmond had fell / It was a time I remember oh so well") and the loss of his brother ("Like my father before me, I will work the land / Like my brother above me, who took a rebel stand / He was just 18, proud and brave / But a Yankee laid him in his grave"). Virgil is a guileless man and makes sense of his current state in reconstruction-era Tennessee with "I don't mind chopping wood / And I don't care if the money's no good / You take what you need and you leave the rest / But they should never have taken the very best".

The song has been covered by many folk, country and southern rock artists and given the subject matter, combinations of those genres might be the only versions we will hear. Although it was first released on The Band's 1969 eponymous second LP, the most popular version might be Joan Baez's 1971 hit from her Blessed Are... LP. Interestingly enough, Baez changed the lyrics due to mis-hearing them on The Band's recording. Some of the changes have minimal effect: "'til Stoneman's Calvary came" became "'til so much calvary came", "There goes the Robert E. Lee" (a ship) became "There goes Robert E. Lee" (the general; the distinction would change the time frame of the story), "I will work the land" became "I'm a working man". But one of her changes I consider more powerful than the original: "I swear by the mud below my feet / You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat" she changed to "I swear by the blood below my feet / You can't raise a Caine back up when he's in defeat". The result is, similar to traditional music, every cover version has some permutation of Robertson's and Baez's lyrics; even Baez's versions change over time.

The list below has most of the important versions, but it should not be considered a complete list. And despite that they are all arranged more or less the same, each versions find a different nuance to the story.

The Band: YouTube. The previous link is to the studio version, but it is hard to compete with the version from the Scorcese's movie The Last Waltz: YouTube, Kewego.

Joan Baez: YouTube, The YouTube version is from what I assume is a contemporary TV show; it showcases her version of the lyrics nicely.

Johnny Cash: YouTube1, YouTube2. The first version is a studio recording; I'm not sure which LP but the backing vocals make me guess mid 70s. The second version is not a complete song, but was taken from a TV show. I wish there were a complete version of Cash doing the song in this style.

The Black Crowes: YouTube. I'm not really a big fan of The Black Crowes, but they do a great arrangement of this song that is reminiscent of The Last Waltz version by The Band. From their 2005 DVD.

Clay Hart: YouTube. This is probably the only Lawrence Welk Show clip you'll see covered on F-Measure.

Jerry Garcia Band: YouTube. S-l-o-w-e-d w-a-y d-o-w-n. This version claims to be from a 1975 show; you can also find a live version on their 1990 double eponymous LP. This is probably the most non-standard arrangement listed, but I quite like it.