Monday, January 30, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 212: Together Again for the First Time

Part 1 of my podcast conversation with special guest Brad Searles as we discuss band reunions. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Check out Brad's excellent blog, Bradley's Almanac

- Recorded at the Sunset Grill in Allston, Mass.

- The Pixies are making a second career out of their reunion tours

- The only money for a lot of artists comes from licensing

- The Strokes' debut album hasn't aged well

- Iggy Pop is endorsing insurance in the UK

- Mission of Burma picked up after 20 years and are better than ever

- Brad: First Pixies show was on the ill-fated U2 tour

- Explaining myself to the waitress

- Broken-up bands realize a fanbase is out there

- Letters to Cleo sold some merch after t-shirt showed up on "Parks and Recreation"

- "Hallelujah" covers are making Leonard Cohen big bucks

- Fired up about the Afghan Whigs reunion

- At the Drive-In spawned a movement

- Brad's played drums in several bands

- The awesomeness of the Styx Behind the Music episode

- Styx's Paradise Theater is one of the first albums we both bought

- Brad: Early vinyl inherited from dad

- Brad loved the first two Men at Work albums

- My younger brother turned me on to Nirvana and Soundgarden

- Saw a lot of concerts with my brother in our 20s

- Bands we'd like to see reunite

- Jay: Replacements, Husker Du, The Jam, The Smiths

- Fogerty's open to a CCR reunion

- Brad: A Ride reunion is possible

- To be continued...

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Nada Surf - Waiting for Something

Girlfriends - Big Machines

Destroyer - Leave Me Alone

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Nada Surf song is on the album The Stars are Indifferent to Astronomy on Barsuk Records. Download the song for free at Soundcloud.

The Girlfriends song is on the EP Nothing Nice to Say. Stream the EP at Bandcamp.

The Destroyer song is on a MOJO magazine compilation of artists covering songs from the 1983 New Order album Power, Corruption and Lies. Download the song for free at Aquarium Drunkard.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Play the Game

This post originally ran in Cold As Ice, the column I write for Popblerd.

The NHL is in the annual mid-season lull known as the All-Star break. It’s a time for the league to celebrate itself with a skills competition, fan festival and of course, the All-Star Game itself. There’s just one problem: The NHL All-Star Game sucks.

The game is designed to highlight the best players in the NHL, but it inevitably looks nothing like an NHL game and more like a game of pond hockey. There’s no defense, no hitting and the final score is usually something like 10-9, which is unheard of in a regular season or playoff game. It’s essentially an exhibition game with even less on the line.

In recent years, the All-Star Game has been overshadowed by other events: The Winter Classic, the skills competition and the latest innovation, the players’ draft. This was a great idea from Brendan Shanahan that started with last year’s game; the fans vote in the starting lineup (don’t get me started on how dumb THAT is—the hometown fans in Ottawa this year stuffed the ballot box and voted in four Senators to the team) and the players draft the 36 remaining players (plus 12 rookies, who will participate in the skills competition).

Last year’s draft was highlighted by the drama of who would be picked last. “Mr. Irrelevant” ended up being Toronto’s Phil Kessel, whose embarrassment was compounded when Alex Ovechkin took a cellphone photo of him sitting all alone waiting to be picked and gleefully Tweeted it. Of course, Kessel gets the last laugh this year, because he’s having a career year (and will likely be picked early since teammate Joffrey Lupul is an assistant captain) and Ovechkin just announced he’s not playing because he’s suspended.

The players’ fantasy draft takes place tonight (Thursday), the Skills Competition is Saturday night and the game itself (ahem, the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game) is on Sunday at 4 p.m. (all games on NBC Sports, the channel formerly known as Versus).
Of course, this problem isn’t exclusive to the NHL. As a rule, all-star games suck. Baseball tried to make its game meaningful by putting World Series home advantage on the line, but that’s unfair to teams that earned it in regular season. The NFL’s Pro Bowl is so meaningless that it’s now held the week before the Super Bowl (aka, also this Sunday), so the seven New England Patriots playing the following Sunday won’t be there. But nobody cares, anyway.

I actually attended the NHL All-Star Game in 2000 in Toronto and without a doubt, the surrounding activities were more interesting and fun than the game itself. So what’s to be done about it? All-star games exist because they’re a way for league sponsors to make a little more scratch, as well as a way for the league to throw a bone to its member cities by generating some revenue for the local economy every year.

I’d like to see the NHL combine the All-Star festivities with the Winter Classic, so that game is the spotlight and the All-Stars still compete in the Skills Competition in the same weekend. Another way to go could be to return to the old pre-expansion pastime of having the defending Stanley Cup champions play against a team of all stars. Either way, the game would be more interesting than the one the NHL is putting on now.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for any radical changes to the All-Star format, though. Just enjoy the exhibition of scoring and wait for the season to resume next week.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 211: Keep Hanging On

Part 3 of my conversation with special guests Nick Lorenzen and Mike Piantigini as we discuss all things rock. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").




The show notes:

- Biggest regrets of missed live bands

- Daltrey's voice lasted longer than many peers

- Jay drops a Frank Frazetta reference

- Sabbath reunion

- Does metal work if you're 60?

- Springsteen and Young are still going strong

- N-Lo doesn't dig latter-day Dylan

- Lorenzen: Waits is 100% relevant

- Robert Plant has aged well

- Mike defends The Who's continued existence

- Give the people what they want

- Literal cat fight

- McCartney won't stop

- The communal aspect of live music

- N-Lo pissed off The Moody Blues' fanbase

- How big is the relevance window?

- U2 won't go away

- Albums you would've liked to hear when they came out

- 1971 was a great year for rock

- Mike: The '80s killed music because of crappy production

- The sound doesn't hold up these days

- Subscription services aren't there yet

- No money in the music biz anymore

- Jonathan Coulton is doing it himself

- Licensing music to commercials or TV/movies is huge

- David Caruso is synonymous with "Won't Get Fooled Again" intro

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
The King Khan Experience - Knock Me Off My Feet

Zeus - Are You Gonna Waste My Time?

Shearwater - You As You Were

Craig Finn - Honolulu Blues

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The King Khan Experience song is on the band's self-titled EP courtesy of Scion AV. You can download the entire album for free at Scion AV.

The Zeus song is on the album Busting Vision on Arts and Crafts. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at The Music of Zeus.

The Shearwater song is on the album Animal Joy on Sub Pop. Download the song for free at Stereogum.

The Craig Finn song is on the album Clear Heart, Full Eyes on Vagrant Records. Download the song for free at WXRT.com.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I'm Watching You

This winter's been a dud from a snowfall standpoint. We're in the middle of a "storm" right now that's dropping a couple of inches of the white stuff on us, but we'll still be under 5 inches for the entire winter so far. Which is fine, but the girls are excited and are out playing in the backyard. They're old enough now (7 and 9) to play outside around our house unsupervised, although I'm constantly checking in on them and I told them not to go down the street. A year or two ago, I'd have been outside keeping a closer eye on them.

Of course, when I think back to myself at the same age, I was playing unsupervised nearly all the time. Like many of my friends, I was a latchkey kid. Both my parents worked, so after I walked home from school (which was probably a good mile, backwards in the snow), I used my own key to go into the house, fix myself something to eat and watch "Happy Days" reruns. Or I got together with my buddies to play street hockey or baseball or soccer. There were no cell phones in the mid- to late-'70s, so I didn't have to check in with anybody. I did have to be home by 6 for dinner, though.

The summer was particularly great because I was able to goof off all damn day. A few summers, I went to day camp, where we'd take a bus to a campground area and do camp-like activities all day before going home every night. Those were run by the town and last about six weeks. But during those times I wasn't in camp, I could get on my bike with my friends and ride all over town, usually to a park where we'd hang out and look at all the graffiti carved into the forts by teenagers. We didn't know what most of it meant, but we laughed anyway.

Halloween was another fun time because I would traverse the whole town with my friends and score tons of candy. Mom stayed home to give out candy, so I was on my own. We never had any problems, except one time when some teenagers stole the bags of chips we'd gotten. It was a minor loss.

It really was a different time. Pickering (the town in Ontario where I lived from age 7 to 14) had a small town feel to it back then, when the population was around 35,000; it since has grown to 100,000 as people have moved out of Toronto to the 'burbs. The only time I was ever scared was when we were sitting on the porch with my dog and she barked at some drunk staggering by; said drunk then sauntered up to us and told her to shut up before going on his way. The dog pissed all over our front steps and I was kinda freaked out.

I read the newspapers pretty closely even as a child and was well aware of freaky shit like the Son of Sam, but it never seemed to touch my world until one time in 1980 when I was visiting one of my best friends, Charlie, who was preparing to move out west to Calgary. He was staying in Cabbagetown, a rough area of Toronto, and I stayed over for a night or two. We were out goofing around in a playground at night and saw some folks come through looking for a little 6-year-old girl named Lizzie who had disappeared earlier that day. She had last been seen in that park, walking hand in hand with a man. We hadn't seen her and I didn't think anything more of it until I got home the next day and heard on the news that she had been found murdered. Pretty shocking stuff. Nearly 32 years later, the case is still unsolved. That was the first time I really thought about the dangers of the big city. Not that those kinds of thing can't or don't happen in the 'burbs, but it really hit home after that weekend in the city.

Now I can't imagine letting my girls go to the park or walk to a friend's house that's farther away than down our street. Call me paranoid, but it's a different world. I'd rather be a little overprotective if that's what it takes to keep my kids safe. Long gone are the days of unsupervised 7-year-olds.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 210: Live and Dangerous

Part 2 of my conversation with special guests Nick Lorenzen and Mike Piantigini as we discuss Boston's live music scene. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



Show notes:

- Mike still goes to many rock shows

- The scene's rebounding, more new clubs

- Nick did not pogo at recent Superchunk show

- Nick and Mike saw Paul Westerberg's first solo show

- Myspace lives!

- Nick and Mike were in the band Lump in the '90s

- Brighton Music Hall is making an impression

- Live Nation squeezes out smaller clubs

- Live Nation Entertainment owns Live Nation and Ticketmaster

- Big venues are in trouble

- More bands played big arenas like Worcester Centrum in the '80s

- Memories of INXS

- Discovering your new singer on YouTube: Yes, Journey

- O Positive, a great Boston band from the past

- The suburban rock clubs of the '80s and '90s are mostly gone now

- The smartphone has reduced the amount of longform reading we do

- Debating Pearl Jam's fight vs. Ticketmaster

- Tickets in big venues are more expensive, but club tickets are still cheap

- Movie ticket prices haven't grown exponentially

- Moviegoing experience is less enjoyable

- Pixies need to pick another album to play; touring behind Doolittle for a few years now

- Mike: 2011 was a good music year

- We consume and digest music much quicker now

- Who doesn't have a Rick Neilsen guitar pick?

- Jay and Mike realized they grew up a few towns over from each other

- Mike bagged Queensryche's groceries (not a euphemism)

- The Kingston, NH Fairgrounds had several big festival shows in the '80s

- Next episode: Older artists aging gracefully while others hang on too long

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
Lee Ranaldo - Off the Wall

Reigning Sound - Shaw

White Rabbits - Heavy Metal

Mind Spiders - Wait For Us

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!Link
The show is sponsored by Budget, the country's premier car rental service with 900 locations. Go to Budget.com/CompCon and save 10% off any reservation or $30 off a weekly rental.

The Lee Ranadlo song is on the album Between the Times and Tides on Matador Records. Download the song for free at Matador.

The Reigning Sound song is on the EP Abdication...For Your Love. Download the song for free at Scion AV.

The White Rabbits song is from the album Milk Famous on TBD Records. Download the song for free (in exchange for your email address) at the band's website.

The Mind Spiders song is on the album Meltdown on Dirtnap Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Non-Zero Possibility

Without a doubt, the biggest hubbub in the music industry the last few weeks has been the return of Van Halen with David Lee Roth. Not just to play a hits-laden, uber-lucrative tour (which they did a few years ago), but with an actual new album, VH's first with Roth since 1984.

This is where things can get dodgy for reunited bands. Sure, they can set the world on fire with a concert tour or even a few choice festival gigs, but do they still have the magic to make a great album 10 or 20 or 30 years after the last one? Some bands try it with mixed results (see The Who's Endless Wire) while others don't even bother, content to tour without tarnishing the legacy (the Pixies). Then you have a band like Mission of Burma, which has released three excellent albums since reuniting in 2002.

After months of secrecy, VH last week played a kickass (according to reviews from the lucky journos who were invited) show at the tiny Cafe Wha? in NYC. This week, the band released info on the new album A Different Kind of Truth (out February 7) and unveiled the first single and video, "Tattoo" to mixed reviews. I've only heard it a few times, but it didn't knock my socks off. Not great, but not bad, either. Kinda sounds like solo DLR, circa '91. Certainly Eddie's solo is pretty ripping.



VH has caught some heat because the song has its roots in an unreleased track the band was playing back in the mid-70s, and reportedly Eddie dug up a bunch of old riffs as the basis of the new album. While that is somewhat worrisome that the band couldn't just write new songs, ripping yourself off is certainly much less egregious than stealing somebody else's riffs. The Rolling Stones' Tattoo You album was a collection of stuff they had lying around for years, and it was one of their biggest successes. We'll just have to wait and see what the rest of the VH album sounds like.

While I'm interested to hear A Different Kind of Truth and hopefully see the band live, I was even more psyched this week to hear that screamo act At the Drive-In is reuniting after 11 years. No details have been released yet, but it is believed ATDI will play some festival dates next summer and maybe do a tour. I got into them when Relationship of Command came out in 2000, but never got to see them live before they split up a year later. I've enjoyed some of the wacked-out jammy prog-rock that Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez have churned out with the Mars Volta, but ATDI is so much better.



The reunions have been happening left and right. The original lineup of Black Sabbath is planning to record a new album and tour (although things are a bit up in the air with the sad news that Tony Iommi has lymphoma). The Afghan Whigs are reuniting for some festival shows. Guided By Voices is releasing a new album next week. Swedish punk legends Refused are playing Coachella. And on and on.

Certainly the main reason for these reunions has to be cash. A lot of these bands, like the Pixies, barely made any money when they were together the first time around, so now they have an opportunity to profit from their influential status. I can't fault them for that. Why shouldn't you get paid well for creating art? Looking at the shambolic state of the music industry, I say bands should cash in as much as they can without compromising themselves.

The guys in Van Halen probably don't need the money, but who knows? The new album may not deliver on par with Fair Warning or even Diver Down, but a new tour won't disappoint the diehard fans like me who were too young to see them back in their heyday.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Completely Conspicuous 209: Physical Graffiti

Part 1 of my conversation with special guests Nick Lorenzen and Mike Piantigini as we discuss the impending death of the CD. Listen to the episode below or download it directly (right click and "save as").



The show notes:

- Mike hosts Clicky Clicky Radio on Boston Free Radio every Thursday

- Physical media is disappearing from store shelves

- Rarely buy CDs anymore

- Digital music sales overtook CD sales in 2011

- Minor resurgence in vinyl

- Listening to music has become "a solitary engagement"

- It's rare to listen to music now without doing anything else

- Many more distractions while watching movies or TV

- Glut of media; so many more albums available now

- N-Lo is no Geddy Lee

- With digital music, it's rare you get liner notes

- Looking back at metal mags of the '80s: Hit Parader, Circus

- Labels are trying to cash in with reissues and box sets

- Pink Floyd box sets come with plenty of extras

- Mike is miffed at the Quadrophenia box set

- Pete Townshend loves a narrative

- Mike: The Who's Endless Wire is pretty good

- N-Lo's not a big fan of rock stars with hankies

- Mike: CD's not dead yet, but it's close

- N-Lo remembers his Discman fondly

- Reissuing albums a year after the original comes out

- In the '90s, we'd go digging for singles with bonus tracks

- The Columbia House Record Club: 12 for a penny

- Packaging and pressing quality sucked for record club albums

- Next episode: We complain about Ticketmaster

- Bonehead of the Week

Music:
The Kominas - Doomsday

PJ Harvey - The Last Living Rose

Le Butcherettes - New York

Mclusky - To Hell With Good Intentions

Completely Conspicuous is available through the iTunes podcast directory. Subscribe and write a review!

The show is sponsored by Eastbay/Footlocker.com. Use the following codes to get athletic gear from Nike, Adidas, Asics and more. AFCOMP15 will get you 10% off any order of $50 at Eastbay.com, AFCOMP20 will get you 15% off any order of $75 at Eastbay.com and AFCOMPFL will get you 10% off any order of $50 or more at Footlocker.com.

The Kominas song is on the band's self-released, self-titled album. You can downlaod the entire album for free at TheKominas.com.

The PJ Harvey song is on the album Let England Shake on Vagrant Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The Le Butcherettes song is on the album Sin Sin Sin on Rodriguez Lopez Productions. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The Mclusky song is on the album Mclusky Do Dallas on Too Pure Records. Download the song for free at Epitonic.

The opening and closing theme of Completely Conspicuous is "Theme to Big F'in Pants" by Jay Breitling. Find out more about Senor Breitling at his fine music blogs Clicky Clicky and Keeping Some Dark Secrets. Thanks to Bob Durling for the album art; find out more about his photography at his blog. Voiceover work is courtesy of James Gralian; check out his site PodGeek.

Completely Conspicuous is a Tan God Production. Word.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Language City

This piece originally ran in Cold as Ice, the hockey column I write for Popblerd.

It’s hard out here for a pimp. It’s even harder if you’re the new coach of the Montreal Canadiens and you can’t speak French.

The Habs (aka “Les Habitants”) are the NY Yankees of hockey, with more Stanley Cup championships (24) than any other team by far (Toronto is next with 13). The franchise’s storied history is peppered with the exploits of legendary players like Rocket Richard, Bill Durnan, Boom Boom Geoffrion, Guy Lafleur, Jean Beliveau, Ken Dryden and Howie Morenz, among many others.

But the team got off to a lousy start to this season, currently eight points out of a playoff spot and only two points ahead of the last place team in the Eastern conference. Montreal fired coach Jacques Martin and replaced him with assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth on Dec. 17. The move hasn’t worked out great, as the Habs are 1-6 under Cunneyworth going into last night’s game. But that’s not the big concern in Montreal; rather, it’s the fact that Cunneyworth speaks only English in a city fiercely proud of its Francophone roots.

It’s not that he needs to speak French to communicate properly to his players. The Canadiens had a claim on pretty much all Quebec-born players in the pre-expansion era (i.e., before 1967), but now the roster is peppered with Quebecois as well as Russians, Americans, Czechs, Swiss and even a Dane. Even when players come over from Europe as rookies unable to speak a word of English, they manage to get by and pick up enough words to communicate with their teammates.

No, Cunneyworth’s crime is not being able to speak and understand the pre-eminent language of Montreal. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but there were protests outside Habs games after the announcement was made. To his credit, Cunneyworth has said he plans to learn French, but it hasn’t helped that team management has come out since the announcement and apologized for hiring a coach who isn’t bilingual and stressed that Cunneyworth is only an interim coach. Way to back up your coach, guys.

Cunneyworth certainly has the resume to be an NHL coach, having had a lengthy (800+ games) NHL career and serving as a head coach for several seasons in the minors and as an NHL assistant for the last few seasons. But in such a fiercely proud city like Montreal, he doesn’t stand a chance. The city, and the province of Quebec, has resisted the incursion of the English-speaking culture of the rest of Canada. It’s surprising that Canadiens’ management so miscalculated this coaching move, given the fact that pretty much every Montreal coach has been bilingual. Maybe they figured it wouldn’t be a big deal, but obviously, they figured wrong.

The media spotlight has been white-hot since Cunneyworth’s promotion, with speculation that former Habs great Patrick Roy may step in next season as coach. Quebec Culture Minister Christine St. Pierre proclaimed that the team needed to correct the problem in the interest of the common good. I have no doubt that Celine Dion is up in arms.

It’s a really crappy way for Cunneyworth to kick off his NHL coaching career. Although I suspect if Montreal went 7-0 after he took over, the outrage wouldn’t be quite so loud.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy New Year, Dear

Man, another new year is here. Judging from the Facebook and Twitter statuses of many people, 2011 didn't go so well. I can't say it was awful for me, although having to spend the last three months rehabbing an injury was no fun. But it was great to see my daughters continue to do well in life and school and sports; in the end, that's all that matters to me. From a personal standpoint, my job changed significantly for the better and my health has been good, except that Achilles problem.

Creatively, I'm busier than I've ever been, between the podcast, this blog, my writing for Popblerd and my running column (which is currently on hiatus but hopefully returning soon). I've got plenty of other ideas and goals, but I don't know if I can squeeze anything else in right now.

As for New Year's resolutions, I tend to make the same ones every year and never follow through on them, but dammit, I'm going to try this year. First and foremost, I need to lose about 15-20 pounds. I put on 10 pounds after I stopped running in the fall, so now that I'm back on the road, I should drop those quickly. But I also plan to cut out a lot of junk in my diet and get serious about getting in kickass shape. For running goals, I'm planning to run a half-marathon in the spring, as well as do Reach the Beach MA in May, and then hopefully do a full marathon again in the fall.

Every year, I pledge to get serious about playing the guitar and never do, so I'm putting more emphasis on it this year. And of course, I want to keep improving as a husband and father, which I can and should always keep working on.

Oh, and I need to do the kung fu like this dude: