He Still Loves Them
Devouring Jellyfish's First Live Album

For the past two weeks, I’ve asked you to read thousands upon thousands of my words. This week, to balance the scales, I’m going to keep things shorter. I say this now, at the beginning of the process, knowing that despite my promises, it rarely works out that way. TM3AM just doesn’t do short. But I really am going to try to hold this to a respectable length. Enough for a bathroom break, but that’s it.

I know there are several of you who read this column just to get the scoop on new developments in my life. Well, you’re in luck, because I have a pretty significant update: I quit my job as a journalist and made the leap to media and community relations. On Monday, I started in my new position at the Fermi National Accelerator Lab in Batavia, commonly known as Fermilab. Yep, the place where, until recently, the best and brightest in particle physics sought the God Particle by ramming larger particles together reeeeally quickly.

My job will be to handle media and community interaction – basically, getting the lab’s name out there, locally, nationally and (in some cases) internationally. Definitely a change for me, and the transition has been interesting so far. I’m especially pleased about the fact that I’m done every day at 5 p.m., and I don’t have to do anything past that time. (The more than 50 percent bump in pay certainly helps, too.)

How does this impact you, the Tuesday Morning reader who wouldn’t know me from some guy on the street? Well, I’m in that weird limbo period between the last check at a prior job and the first check at a new one, only this limbo’s gonna last until the end of August. So it’s going to be slim pickings until then, when it comes to new music. There are a few I simply have to buy – and I picked up a couple of those this week – but for the most part, I’m going into music celibacy for a while.

This’ll give me a chance to catch up on a few releases, which I’ll start doing next week. It’s tough, though, because the new music news just keeps on coming. Here are some highlights of the final third of 2012 that we haven’t talked about. I’ll be rolling in cash by the time most of this stuff comes out, which is nice, because damn, I want all of it.

Sixpence None the Richer makes a welcome return on August 7 with Lost in Transition. It’s been 10 long years since the band released Divine Discontent, a flawed but ultimately triumphant record that should have been absolutely huge. I have no such hopes for Transition, but I’m looking forward to hearing what Leigh Nash and Matt Slocum can do without any commercial pressure.

Two weeks later, we have a triple play: Bloc Party comes back with Four, Yeasayer gifts us with Fragrant World, and Owl City hands over his third record, The Midsummer Station. Given my prior gushing, you’d think I’d be most excited about the Owl City, but I’ve heard half of it, and it’s pretty awful. Depressingly straightforward, boring songs, devoid of the fairytale charm Adam Young has made his specialty. Unfortunate.

On September 4, one of my favorite guitar players presents his first-ever double album. That guy is Mark Knopfler, and that record is called Privateering. Some people are surprised to hear how much I love Knopfler’s playing. and quite frankly, that always confuses me. The guy has a tone like no other, and I could listen to him weave his magic all day. I’ll get 20 songs of Knopfler goodness on the fourth.

Although it may be hard to tear me away from that new Marillion album, Sounds That Can’t Be Made, which also releases on the fourth. I know, I won’t shut up about it. So I’ll let the band do the talking. Here is the first track released from the album, called “Power.” It was great live, and it’s even better in its finished form.

The following week, some guy named Bob Dylan has a new record, and fellow overrated songwriter David Byrne will put out a collaboration with St. Vincent. I’ll probably get smacked for saying that I’m more excited about Amanda Palmer’s Theatre is Evil, which hits the same day. This is her Kickstarter album, made with the Grand Theft Orchestra, and I’m expecting high drama. Also on Sept. 11 is The Magic Door, the second album (already?) by the Chris Robinson Brotherhood. I haven’t even gotten around to reviewing the first, which came out last month. (It’s like a raw Grateful Dead record.)

I’m just going to list the bands and artists with new albums on Sept. 18: Band of Horses, Aimee Mann, Grizzly Bear, Menomena, Muse, Robert Pollard, A Fine Frenzy, The Killers, and some outfit called Ben Folds Five. Yes, the Five’s reunion album exists, and has been saddled with the clunky title Sound of the Life of the Mind. Where’s Nick Hornby when you need him? (I jest, of course. I’m pretty excited.)

Sept. 25 is no respite. On that date, Green Day unleashes Uno, the first installment of their triple album. (The others are called Dos and Tre, naturally.) The first single, “Oh Love,” is dire, but I still hold out hope. Also coming on the 25th is Babel, the second album from Mumford and Sons, and Epicloud, the new one from the prolific and astonishing Devin Townsend. (Oh, yes, some band called No Doubt is back together too, but I couldn’t care less.) The great Beth Orton returns the following week with Sugaring Season, her fifth album. Quite looking forward to that one.

And my look into the future concludes with a pair of albums set for October. On the 16th, Ben Gibbard, the voice of Death Cab for Cutie, will release his first solo record, Former Lives. And then on the 23rd, Bat for Lashes comes whispering back with The Haunted Man. The cover features a naked Natasha Khan, and the first single, “Laura,” and its attendant video are both lovely. Check them out.

That’s all I know for now, but the landscape keeps changing. Stay tuned.

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How much do I love Jellyfish?

The California shoulda-been-legends are on my short list of the Best Bands Ever, despite existing for less than five years and making only two albums. Two brilliant, stunning, extraordinary albums that more than stand the test of time. Next year is the 20th anniversary of Spilt Milk, the band’s magnum opus and swan song, and if it came out today, it would still be better than just about anything else at the record store. Their debut, Bellybutton, is old enough to drink this year, and it still sounds as striking as it did the day it was released.

So how much do I love Jellyfish? I’ve told this story before, but I wrote my first rubber check for Spilt Milk on cassette in 1993. I knew I didn’t have the money, and I needed it anyway. Fast forward 19 years, and little has changed. Today I plunked down cash I don’t really have for Live at Bogart’s, the first full Jellyfish live album, just released on Omnivore Records. I have no new money coming in until the end of August, and yet I simply had to own a recording of a 21-year-old concert. Because it’s Jellyfish.

What’s so special about this band? Put simply, everything about Jellyfish works. It’s striking how rare it is that every element of a band clicks – the writing, playing, record-making, performing, everything. Jellyfish had it all. Songs that knocked me on my ass, the instrumental skill to pull them off, a gift for delirious harmonies, an ambition in the studio that resulted in two outside-the-park home runs, and a stage presence and ability that led to one of my very favorite concert experiences, in a tiny Providence, Rhode Island club in 1993.

Live at Bogart’s was recorded two years prior, on the Bellybutton tour. Only one song from Spilt Milk – the then-embryonic “Bye Bye Bye” – makes an appearance. So this document does two things very well. First, it proves that Bellybutton was Spilt Milk’s equal, at least when it comes to songwriting. The earlier album is sometimes the forgotten stepchild, but the nine songs from it represented here rise up and take their place in the pantheon. “She Still Loves Him” is a masterpiece. “Calling Sarah” is beyond lovely. Even the simple “I Wanna Stay Home” comes off like a forgotten classic.

But second, this record proves that, stripped of the studio ornamentation they made their own, Jellyfish was just an incredible, raw pop band. In fact, Live at Bogart’s is sometimes rawer than I expected, Andy Sturmer’s voice straining, harmonies sometimes not clicking with the sugary sweetness of their studio counterparts, Jason Falkner’s guitar all ragged edges. There’s no doubt here that four live people are making this racket, and even when they slip into Partridge Family territory, as they do on “Baby’s Coming Back,” they rev it up with an unexpected high-wire energy.

This show kicks off with a quick reading of Argent’s “Hold Your Head Up,” which segues into “Hello,” their rollicking calling card. This song somehow never made it to an album, so this is all we have of it, but it’s wonderful. The same can be said of “Will You Marry Me,” the six-minute distorted pop explosion at this show’s center. I wish they’d recorded this one. It’s simply great.

The Bellybutton songs are mainly fuzzed up, Sturmer singing his little heart out (and drumming at the same time) while Falkner shows why he’s long been one of power pop’s most respected guitar players. The version here of “All I Want is Everything” is nothing short of blistering, but even at their most explosive, Jellyfish keep things sweet, with those harmonies and Roger Manning’s airy keyboards.

Along the way, J-Fish cover Player’s “Baby Come Back,” Badfinger’s “No Matter What,” and McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In,” and if that isn’t a perfect summation of their influences, I don’t know what would be. The show ends with the incredible “That Is Why,” the first Jellyfish song I ever heard, all the way back in 1991. A lot has changed in those years – when I was in high school, I never once imagined I’d one day be working at the country’s premier particle physics laboratory. But my love for this band and their songs remains as strong as ever.

Here’s another example of how much I love them: more than half of these tracks were already released on the Fan Club box set, which I own. But the chance to hear a complete Jellyfish concert was too good for me to pass up. Live at Bogart’s is a swell snapshot of a one-of-a-kind band, a band that should have been huge. You don’t know what I would give for a third Jellyfish album. But in some ways, the fact that this is all we have – two records, some rarities, and now, a live disc – makes it all the more special. Why did I send myself further in debt to own this? Because it’s Jellyfish. Enough said.

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Next week, my last Cornerstone haul, including three new live records from the 77s. Leave a comment on my blog at tm3am.blogspot.com. Follow my infrequent twitterings at www.twitter.com/tm3am.

See you in line Tuesday morning.