There’s really nothing like live music.
In a world of dreary routine and scientific explanation for everything around us, you have no better chance of witnessing magic than at a live show. Sometimes the musicians don’t even know it’s going to happen, and those times are the best ones – when the sheer unexplainable power of music takes over and turns a song into a spiritual experience.
I’ve always loved live music, but I don’t get to see as much of it as I’d like. I find it’s refreshing to remind myself every so often that yes, actual living, breathing musicians do sometimes get together on stage and play. Not everything is as processed or computerized as any given 20 minutes of radio listening would have one believe. Just for that reassurance, I try to see as much live music as my schedule and finances will allow.
I recently saw a pair of shows that reminded me what it’s all about. One of them I alluded to earlier in the year – I said I wasn’t going to miss Ben Folds on his solo piano tour this time, and thanks to my good friend Jody, I didn’t. Ben had a fever of 102 degrees, he said, and he was sniffling and blowing his nose between songs, and he still played for two hours and 15 minutes. Now that’s a class act.
Speaking of class, Duncan Sheik opened the show with just an acoustic guitar and pal Gerry Leonard on e-bow. Surprisingly, he played a bunch of songs from his latest foray into pop-rock, Daylight, that held up marvelously in an acoustic format. I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that Sheik is about as popular as he’s ever going to get right now, which is a shame. The man has oodles of songwriting talent and deserves a long, label-supported career. Sadly, most of the audience seemed more interested in Leonard’s technicolor pants.
Folds was awesome. There’s very little else I can say about him that I haven’t droolingly said already. He’s everything that was ever good about Elton John mixed with a thoroughly modern sense of humor. I kept to the front and left, so I could study his hands as they danced across the keys, especially during “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” and “Philosophy.” He even played his just-released holiday romp, “Bizarre Christmas Incident,” which tells the sad yet inevitable tale of Santa’s last chimney dive: “Santa is a big fat fuck, came down the chimney, got his fat ass stuck…”
But the most surreal part of the night was to come. I had noticed on the way in that security was tighter than Greta Van Susteren’s new face, and wondered what was up. Lo and behold, former President Bill Clinton was there, and (get this) he jammed with Folds on Wham’s “Careless Whisper.” No shit. Bill fucking Clinton. I wanted to shout at the stage that I’d voted for him twice, but then I remembered the whole blowjob thing, and I kept quiet. (Just to prove it was really him, he reportedly spent the rest of the night hitting on Ben’s wife Frally.)
Folds closed with his new version of “Song For the Dumped,” almost exactly the way it appears on the Ben Folds Live DVD. Midway through, someone threw a black t-shirt on stage, and it took him a minute to get the joke. It struck me then that Folds should be (and probably is) grateful for the fans he attracts – you need to have a certain sophistication and attitude, I think, to be a Ben Folds fan, and that’s not easy to come by in this cookie-cutter, shake-your-booty processed music world we have now. May his tribe increase.
* * * * *
The other recent show was a lot more reminiscent of my Face Magazine days. Midwest Beat Magazine, which is so much like Face it’s almost scary, hosts a local music showcase each year at the famous Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, and because I’m with the ever-popular media, I got to go and hear eight hours of new original music from 10 area bands.
I also got to meet the semi-famous Tom Lounges, publisher of the Beat, who was obviously separated at birth from my old editor, Bennie Green. They look alike, they talk alike, and they both have an incredible devotion to their respective local music scenes. Talking with Lounges was so familiar to me that I almost blurted out something about the Rolling Stones sucking ass since 1970, just because that would have gotten a rise out of Bennie. I miss you, Green.
Anyway, while most of the bands played some derivative or another (Eat a Peach took from the Allman Brothers Band, Eighty-94 took from every punk band ever, and Dank stole from Slipknot, for example), there was one group that stood out, one that melded their influences into something truly original. That band, the Bedheads, made me a fan for life in 25 minutes, and it will be interesting to see if their obvious talent and skill takes them beyond Indiana and into the rest of the world.
Lest you think I’ve given up reviewing new CDs entirely, the Bedheads have a new album that’s pretty damn good. It’s their second, it’s called Radio Alarm Clock, and it states the band’s case pretty comprehensively. Their first, Rise and Shine, is quite good as well, but bassist/singer/songwriter Lou Samaniego will readily admit that the songs on that one were written for a fully stocked studio, whereas Radio Alarm Clock captures the sound of a three-piece band playing almost entirely live. It’s a much more representative document of the band’s sound.
And what is that sound, you ask? Imagine King’s X meets the Plastic Ono Band at Geddy Lee’s house. The Bedheads use their trio lineup as well as Rush does, and Lou writes songs that are twisty, propulsive and mindbending. Take, for example, “Some Are Born to Take Apart the Universe,” with its impossible drum beat at the beginning (courtesy of Lou’s cousin Shane Samaniego) that slides perfectly into a 6/8 beat for the choruses. Or see “Movie Star,” with its Enuff Znuff-style melody that segues nicely into a middle eight worthy of Helmet. (It’s fun to watch guitarist Mike Ferri play this one.)
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is math-rock, though. The Bedheads write catchy songs, ones with melodies so hummable that they slyly disguise the more technical aspects of their stuff. There isn’t a dull moment on Radio Alarm Clock, which helps ease the pain of its tiny 33-minute running time. By the end of the sweet “Vertigo,” you’ll want to hit play again, and you’ll probably be as surprised as I am that record labels aren’t warring over these guys.
Support the band directly – go to www.yourbedheads.com to buy their discs. I should warn you that the Bedheads are a pretty low-rent operation at the moment, and both their albums come on CD-R with pretty cheap artwork. The music is so good that you won’t mind, though, trust me.
* * * * *
One more column before the Top 10 List. It’s gone through a few drafts, but I think it’s ready for its closeup. Next time, Phish, and probably a few also-rans.
One more time: “Santa is a big fat fuck…”
See you in line Tuesday morning.