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October 30, 2008

Lee Dorsey for President?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 9:43 am

Tano Sokolow has remixed Barack Obama into Lee Dorsey’s “Yes We Can Can” here.

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October 29, 2008

Writing about Writing

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 6:42 am

When Hurricane Katrina leveled Peter Holsapple’s house, he left town and hasn’t been back nearly often enough. He has, however, been blogging on songwriting for The New York Times. In today’s posting, “Thank You, Bob,” he talks about aging, making peace with collaboration and Bob Dylan’s Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8:

Dylan’s latest record, “Tell Tale Signs,” features three more versions of his song “Mississippi” that are considerably different from the version from “Love and Theft” that we’ve all known and loved for several years. It’s exciting to hear someone else going through the winnowing and polishing process, especially an acknowledged master like Bob Dylan. The confidence, the element of surprise, the ability to make an entire set of lyrics come alive in a whole ‘nother way simply by wholesale revision of the band’s arrangement… that’s what this new Dylan record represents to me, license for change.

 

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October 27, 2008

Early Voting Ends Tomorrow

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 10:07 am

Folks – if you can’t vote on election day, Tuesday is your last chance. Wait times vary. I voted early Thursday at 2 p.m. and was out in an hour-and-a-half, but a friend who was at City Hall in the morning took two-and-a-half hours. My wife voted on Saturday and got out five hours later. I hear the lines are shorter at the Algiers County Courthouse, but theoretically, that site is supposedly for West Bankers. Is it in practice? You might want to find out if you’re short on time. In my experience, the process was about as efficient as it could be, and they took good care of special needs voters, hustling them in as quickly as possible. Whatever the case, I recommend taking a book and an iPod.

Here’s the info:

Early voting in Person is available 14 to 7 days prior to a set election, excluding Sunday. This period covers two Saturdays to accommodate out of town or working citizens. The Registrar’s office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. This is an option for persons who know they will be out of town on election day or for personal reasons they do not wish to visit their polling site. Early voting in person is available at the Orleans Parish Registrar of Voters Office in City Hall at 1300 Perdido Street, Rm. 1W23.

Residents of the Westbank may vote early at the Registrar’s satellite office at the Algiers Courthouse at 225 Morgan Street.

You must bring a Louisiana Driver’s License, Louisiana Special ID or other official picture ID when you vote early in person. If you do not have a picture be prepared to bring other proof of residency such as a utililty bill and be prepared to fill out an affidavit.

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Voodoo Notebook dump, day three:

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , , , — Alex Rawls @ 8:31 am

I waited until the Saints managed to not lose a game that should never have been close before going out to Voodoo Sunday. The hot day matched with people dressed for a cool evening meant the Bingo! Parlour was a little gamey by the time Quintron and Miss Pussycat came out to “Waterfall” from the new Too Thirsty 4 Love. Quintron’s use of noise and drone – particularly at the margins of songs – frames tunes, creating energy each time he slides out of them and into the song’s melody, and marking a clear closure when each track returns to noise. Noise seems to be the place from whence everything flows, and he and Miss Pussycat are simply wrestling it into shape for three or so minutes at a time. The high point: Pussycat’s punk-out moment, throwing her maracas (covered in red and white maraca cozies) to the back of the stage to jump in the crowd, pogo and shout “Yeah Baby, Yeah.”

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings – If this weekend didn’t demonstrate that retro soul starts Charles Walker and the Dynamites and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings belong at Jazz Fest, nothing will. The Dap Kings were pokey going on – part of a general slack that seemed to set in on the final day of Voodoo – but once they kicked in, Jones turned the WWOZ/SoCo Stage was the land of 1,000 James Brown-inspired dances. 

Panic at the Disco – Guitarist Ryan Ross looks like he’s 15, but he announced that he and the band would be voting for the first time this year, then hinted at their choice when they played “That Green Gentleman” with the chorus, “Things have changed for me, and that’s okay.” Singer Brandon Urie was a rock star when Panic played the House of Blues in 2006, but for this set, he was strapped to a guitar and rendered ordinary, much like the band when it played songs from the recent Pretty.Odd. The older material was self-consciously clever dance rock, with musical and lyrical thoughts tumbling into the next phrase, and Urie mugged and styled, enjoying the fact that he pulled one such trick off and would do it again in moments. Playing faintly psychedelic pop from the new album made the band ordinary. Pleasant, but ordinary.

Promoter Steve Rehage snuck onstage during Cowboy Mouth’s set to crouch beside a floor tom and play it during the band’s finale.

The Soul Rebels in the Preservation Hall Tent had crowd control that Fred LeBlanc would have appreciated. While Marcus Hubbard rapped that “I got nuthin’ but love for you baby,” they had the packed house jumping, crouching and dancing when and how he instructed.

R.E.M.’s closing set was the most political by a headliner, but it was also the feel-good show of Voodoo. The crowd was relaxed and in a sing-along mode when “Fall on Me,” “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” and encores “Losing My Religion” and “Man on the Moon.” When the set ended with “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” many sputtered out the wordspew lyrics to prove that they still could.

Michael Stipe was the best rock star of the weekend because he approached it with a sense of dispassionate play. He wasn’t working out basic tension like Trent Reznor, nor did he accept rock stardom without a hint of irony, unlike Scott Weiland. He seemed amused by it, but so much so as to mock those who love him and invest belief in him.  His performance matched the curious video presentation, which was in its way as impressive as that of Nine Inch Nails. Their live footage was manipulated in real time and presented on the backdrop and overhead screen as a music video, playing intelligently with the live/video relationship.

The set drew heavily on Accelerate, but it went back as far as Murmur for “West of the Fields,” which Stipe introduced as being inspired by living on the streets of New Orleans for a week or so and having a rough time on Elysian Fields. They also visited Automatic for the People, which was recorded here at Kingsway Studio, and sang “Houston,” which could be about New Orleans when it begins, “If this storm doesn’t kill me / the government will.”

Still, the political subtext threaded the show together. “We hate the Bush Administration,” Stipe said when he introduced “Man-Sized Wreath.” “We also really hated the Reagan Administration, too,” he followed as the band went into “Ignoreland.” During the song, the audience elbowed each other and pointed at the screen as the Obama “Change” image was interspersed with shots of the band. Near the end of the encore – between “Driver 8″ and “The One I Love” - Stipe asked the crowd how many were born after 1975, and “Who wants to end the first decade of the 21st Century with hope and change and joy?” At that point, Obama’s face was shown on the rear screen and the audience erupted. “Fuckin’ awesome!” Stipe said. Then “Seven Chinese Brothers,” “Man on the Moon” and time to go home.

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October 26, 2008

Joss Stone

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 9:05 am

I guess she is that popular. Looks like she flew back to London after Voodoo to sing “God Save the Queen” before the Saints-Chargers game.

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Voodoo Notebook dump: Day Two

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , , — Alex Rawls @ 6:37 am

Next to Nine Inch Nails, Lil Wayne was the biggest draw Saturday and generated the most excitement. That didn’t make him punctual; in fact, his DJ was 10 minutes late for the stage, then he spun a 15-minute set that ranged from “Party Like a Rock Star” to “Wild Thing” to “Free Falling,” leaning heavily on ’90s pop hip-hop. Was this simply crowd-pleasing DJ’ing, or a subtle comment on the audience? I have a hard time imagining him getting a party hype for traditional hip-hop audiences with “Born in the U.S.A.” and “Ice, Ice Baby.” 

When he came out playing “Mr. Carter,” the crowd treated him like the rock star he is. Backed by a live band and a DJ, the songs had the impact hip-hop often lacks live, and a lot of the teens and twentysomethings in attendance rapped along. The cad/lover they wanted or wanted to be is in his rhymes. If anything, he spent a little long indulging his soul man side, and the show slowed to an unmemorable midtempo for 15 or so minutes, when attention flagged after “Lollipop.” He then hustled through shortened versions of songs including “Phone Home,” “Misunderstood” and “Shoot Me Down” – a hip-hop tradition these days, but not a good one. That revved the energy back up and saw the return of rap hands to the audience for the finale, “A Mili.” He, guest Mack Maine and a child I assume is a little Carter took the song as a physical freak-out, dancing and running the width of the stage, Weezy often struggling with his shorts, which were showing off a lot of his blue boxers by the end. When that ended almost 15 minutes past his scheduled stop time, the PA was cut off during what looked like band introductions. Still, we could hear from the stage the DJ spin Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Lil Wayne was cut so Thievery Corporation could start, and he didn’t look to happy when their first notes boomed over whatever he was saying into a dead mic. The issues I have with the band on Radio Retaliation remain – the heart of Thievery Corp were the most minor presences onstage, and the show felt more like a revue than a band. Still, live it was so much more physical – particularly playing dancehall and reggae – that it was a dance party, and name aside, they’d be a hit at Jazz Fest. Unfortunately, they one-upped Lil Wayne by taking the 15 minutes of their set that he cut into and going an extra 10 minutes for good measure.

I was curious about the Mars Volta, and I wanted to like a band with some of the style of a young Wayne Kramer and Rob Tyner at their core, but the lengthy pieces – not jams; this was organized music in its way – resulted in a lot of intensity without movement or significant change. In theory, I approve of their indulgence, stretching ideas beyond the boundaries of conventional sense, droning to let psychedelic moments happen. But for the most part, they didn’t. Singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala was physically feeling the music and danced with an impressive recklessness onstage, but in the end, it was just a lot jumping around that didn’t create drama or excitement.    

The most interesting thing about the Nine Inch Nails show was a curious sense of – well, “contentment” is probably not the right word, but something like it. Angst is still central to Trent Reznor’s music, and he’s still tightly wound, hunched in a semi-fetal position over the microphone, but he doesn’t perform like this could all go away tomorrow. He rearranged “Closer” to something slinkier, something less bombastic than it once was, and he slowed the set for a suite of instrumental tracks from Ghosts I-IV that sounded gorgeous outdoors. He played for over two hours with a state of the art light system including a grid that dropped behind the band to serve as projection screen and diffuser for light. All very beautiful and dynamic, and moreso than it had to be. 

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October 25, 2008

Voodoo Notebook dump: Day One

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , , , — Alex Rawls @ 8:27 am

At 11 a.m., the Noisician Coalition left the Bingo! Parlour and started its parade around the Voodoo mall. All the instruments are homemade – a tree of mixing bowls of varying sizes, inverted crawfish boilers, a portable Theramin, and a host of wind instruments amplified by megaphones. Sure, musically it’s pounding and a megaphone’s siren tends to be the lead instrument, but the mutant creativity and punk theatricality makes it a must-see, and it would be so much better three or so hours later in the day.

The Bad Off in the Preservation Hall Tent: The Bad Off are a pure distillation of rock ‘n’ roll – all personality, swagger, energy and power. And no songwriter’s going to tell Erik Corriveaux how songs should be structured.

One Man Machine in the Bingo! Parlour: Bernard Pearce commits. As a vocalist, he’s in full-throat whether he’s singing or bellowing, and his art is similarly dedicated. He and an expanded lineup that included a gong player and producer Mark Bingham on banjo played heady, metal riffs, spoken word-ish improv music, and when he wanted to dial back, he played a chill piece that was exactly that. Still, the extreme presentation makes you wonder how much control he has of his art – a concern heightened by the realization that I’ve heard a lot of experimental, improvised music sound like this before. It’s no less legitimate each time someone picks up these concepts, but paradoxically, there’s little personal about this supposedly personal sound.

Sons of William on the Voodoo Stage: The Houma-based brother-plus-girl bass player band brought dad Billy Stark along to play keyboards, which was charming in its way, but if you want to swim in the pop marketplace pool, there’s no point just dipping your toes. This isn’t a sound that slowly finds a following; it’s a sound that blows up out of seemingly nowhere. Time to work on how to be big time onstage and in business, or do something else.

Big Blue Marble on the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage: Sons of William’s Joe Stark has a better chance of writing a hit for the Jonas Brothers, but if he wants a different sort of success, he could learn a lot from Big Blue Marble’s Dave Fera. Fera’s songs can be serious, too, but there’s a lot of creative life in his songs – wit, idiosyncrasy, subtlety and language at play.

The Dirtbombs on the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage: Garage bands are still fun for about a half-hour before the limited musical palate begins to wear. 

Moving off of the Halloween weekend has cut down on the number of costumes this year. By mid-afternoon, I’d only seen a sexy fairy, a sexy cowgirl and a sexy referee.

To Voodoo’s credit, all the reconfigurations of stages has been for the better. The Bingo! Parlour’s more attractive from the outside and its wider stage is much more theatrical. The WWOZ Stage last year was grimly aimed at an open pasture that always looked empty, no matter how many people were there. Now it faces the central mall with a shallower, wider, more accessible stage. The Preservation Hall Stage was similarly changed so that it is bigger, and the stage is on the long wall to improve visibility.

The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra cancelled because Voodoo hadn’t acquired a piano for the set, so the Dynamites started early.

Joss Stone on the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage: She’s likable and a good singer, but why is she here now? Is Joss Stone really that popular?

Nice to see the Bingo! Show pack the Bingo! Parlour. I guess when you have your own tent, people want to know why. It was also a bit of a surprise to see Clint Maedgen with his spiked hair slicked down – his look since he’s become the clarinet player with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

During Bingo!, I could hear Wyclef Jean talking about Obama in the distance. I’m told he wore it out. I walked by the Preservation Hall Tent while the 101 Runners had a different way to get political. They performed the new Mardi Indian standard, “Handa Wanda Obama.”

Erykah Badu on the Playstation/Billboard.com Stage: The set felt like one long song – really, one long musical extension of Badu’s mind, and it felt like it could end in five minutes or go on for five interesting hours. Not surprisingly, she also took note of Barack Obama’s candidacy, talking about one of the debates. “I saw a black man running for president. Not just a black man, a human being for change.”

TV on the Radio on the Voodoo Stage: TV on the Radio was hard and beautiful, though the soundman didn’t do anybody a favor by not pushing Tunde Adebimpe’s vocals further forward. He carries so much of their melody, and with him slightly muted, the rhythm and David Andrew Sitek’s swarm of bees guitar sound took over. It became clear very quickly that the crowd for the band was largely there out of curiosity and not because people actually knew their music. No cheers of recognition for new songs, no one singing along or mouthing words.

Stone Temple Pilots on the Voodoo Stage: Just before they walked onstage, the PA played Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times, Bad Times.” Since there was no between-set music all day – no space between sets – it’s tempting to see that as a prescient comment on the band’s past starting with “In the days of my youth.” Then again, they were late going on, so maybe it was just the soundman’s awkwardly appropriate attempt to kill time for the tardy band, which had another bit of piano music as they walked onstage. As you’d expect, Stone Temple Pilots played a greatest hits show starting with “Conversation’s Dead.” Putting the setlist aside, though, the band felt out of date. Scott Weiland’s rock star presentation seemed more ’70s, down to his absurdly serious explanation of the symbiotic relationship between a band and its audience in a concert. He did speak to New Orleans and the band’s history with Voodoo, saying, “We played here once before and it was beautiful. Then there was a storm. Now it’s much more beautiful to play for you.” Unfortunately, drummer Eric Kretz was replaced for the gig by Army of Anyone drummer Ray Luzier because Kretz’ father died last week. With Luzier on drums, the tempos dragged a little, but noticeably, and by mid-set, the crowd started drifting away.

King Britt’s tribute to Sister Gertrude Morgan at the WWOZ/SoCo Stage: It was unfortunate that this set was opposite Stone Temple Pilots because the provocative set only had a handful of fans – far fewer than it deserved. The one-time DJ for Digable Planets remixed Sister Gertrude Morgan’s Let’s Make a Record in 2005,  and for the occasion, he manipulated her voice and turntables with live keyboards, guitar, drums and tuba by Preservation Hall’s Ben Jaffe. This set, like TV on the Radio’s, sounded like modern music – live, technological, but still rooted in personality and musical conversation. During “Power,” during which Morgan talks about different types of power including nuclear power, Britt mixed in an excerpt from Barack Obama’s Nomination Acceptance speech articulating his military vision. Britt started with “We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country.” Britt let a good chunk of the speech run, concluding with “And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.” At that point, the audience applauded not the song but Obama. 

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October 20, 2008

Countdown to Voodoo: Thievery Corporation’s Radio Retaliation

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: , — Alex Rawls @ 1:16 pm

The Voodoo Music Experience starts Friday. Just time for a little bit of last minute housecleaning this week.

Thievery Corporation: Radio Retaliation (Eighteenth Street): The revolution will never sound more bourgeois, as this Washington, D.C. duo present a high-gloss, jetsetter’s exotica in support of politically charged vocals by Seu Jorge, Femi Kuti, Sleepy Wonder, Chuck Brown and many more. The parade of vocalists makes the Corp seem like abacking band, and the arrangments heighten that sense. Despite the Corp’s DJ backgrounds, “Sound the Alarm” isn’t nearly as dubwise or clubby as it could – and should – be, and the backing tracks behind sitar player Anushka Shankar sound perfectly appropriate. They seem content to hide the methods of production and mask as a studio band from pre-hip-hop days. As such, the bets are hedged – not so much that I’m not curious how this will play out live, but it’s hard to imagine Thievery Corporation being anyone’s favorite band.

Thievery Corporation plays Saturday at 5:20 p.m. on the Playstation Stage.

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Love for Jonathan Batiste

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 11:59 am

On Sunday, Ben Ratliff gave a warm review to a performance by the Jonathan Batiste Quintet in the New York Times:

He can show off, and occasionally does. A long detour through Joplin’s “Entertainer” in his piece “In the Night” seemed unnecessarily impressive. But he opened with really likable guile: playing the melodica, a child’s keyboard wind instrument, he circled the theater improvising variations on Monk’s “’Round Midnight,” preaching on the song, running fast patterns on it, making it complicated and beautiful.

And in his “Sumayra,” a playful piece with a fast-trickling melody, some well-worn chord changes in the bridge and a walking bass line, Mr. Batiste was stunning: he played a solo in the piano’s upper region that was spare, forceful, witty, funky, imaginative and coherent. He seemed free, as if he weren’t trying to score points on depth and modernity but just squeezing juice out of the song; and thoughtful, as if walking in slow motion. It wasn’t a tour de force, and somehow it was better for it.

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October 17, 2008

What Voter Fraud?

Filed under: Pop Life — Tags: — Alex Rawls @ 10:44 am

John McCain’s sputtering attempt to interject ACORN into the debate this week likely left anyone who didn’t know the issue confused as to who was doing what, and how it was ”perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” In “Nuts to ACORN,” Slate.com’s Dahlia Lithwick illustrates how the victim in the specific instance McCain refers to is ACORN, and explains how, in effect, voter fraud is a myth kept alive “to undermine voter confidence in the elections system as a whole,” Lithwick writes.

Each time they spread the word that Democrats (especially poor and minority Democrats) are poised to steal an election, John McCain and his overheated friends deliberately undermine voter confidence. That is the point. It encourages citizens to accede to ever-harsher voter-verification laws—even if they are not needed. It musters support for voter purges that are increasingly draconian. Insist often enough that the other side is cheating, and you may even encourage partisans to take matters into their own hands, leading to the worst forms of polling-place vigilantism—from a cross burning in Louisiana on the eve of a 2006 mayoral election to the hiring of intimidating partisan “poll watchers” to volunteer at inner-city polling places. When McCain goes after ACORN, he’s really just asking you to join him in believing that the system is broken. And if you choose to overheat along with McCain, the Supreme Court promises to sign off on any measure that might calm you down later. John McCain might want to be a little more careful about accusing Obama, ACORN, or anyone else, of “destroying the fabric of democracy.” In so doing, he’s either deliberately or unconsciously encouraging his own supporters to grab a handful of the stuff and start ripping.

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