Monday, April 16, 2018

Wherever relief can be found

Robert Gordon's new book Memphis Rent Party: The Blues, Rock & Soul in Music's Hometown is wonderful. In it, Gordon gathers his many magazine pieces over the years, and in a pleasingly noisy kaleidoscope captures the warmth, freakiness, and unique history of Bluff City and its music-making  denizens, from Sam Phillips, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Alex Chilton to Tav Falco, the Fieldstones, and Bobby "Blue" Bland, and many more in between. Gordon writes with humor, great respect, and honesty about his city's unfortunate cultural divides, its hidden gems, its juke joints and dive bars and picnics, and its hard-earned humanity. So many of the places Gordon writes about are long gone, as are many of the people he profiles, but his writing is so detail-rich and narratively engaging that the city and its outskirts feel palpably present, page after page. I half-expected my clothes to smell smoky after reading about some of the dimly-lit bars and joints Gordon has obsessively, affectionately haunted over the years, and that he brings to life in his pieces.
Great stuff, the book is nearly worth it for the searching and self-interrogative preface alone, where Gordon writes about the siren-call and the difficulties of freelancing and of the ways his comfortable suburban upbringing both insulated and prepared him for his life's work, and where he lands on a gorgeous definition of the blues, and by extension, of his own aesthetic:
Blues is the mind's escape from the body's obligation. Blues amplifies the relief whenever and wherever relief can be found. The scarcity of that respite makes it ecstatic.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Busted


I've been listening to Lyres recently, and pulled out 1988's A Promise Is A Promise today. I was struck by a shaming memory but also a feeling of loss. Many have written about and lamented the diminution in scale of album artwork since the CD era, a shrinkage doubled down, as it were, in the MP3/streaming era. Jeff Connolly's dubious artwork—a mean-spirited fifteen-act storyboard of rock and roll touring excess and sexism—was featured in full narrative glory on the cover of A Promise Is A Promise, and I won't soon forget the look of disgust on my girlfriend's face as we sat together in the Washington DC Metro after I'd bought the album. My face hot, I probably defended the cover with defensive, twenty-something irony; now I roll my eyes at it in embarrassment. I wish I'd bought it on CD or squinted at the cover on my phone. A hell of a lot less implicating.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Sonic Bliss: Ty Segall at The Vic

Ty flying high.
A little-known story: sometime in late 1973 or early 1974, Marc Bolan heard a rumor that the Beatles had wanted to record Revolver in Memphis, Tennessee, but logistics and other issues had made that impossible. Intrigued, Bolan took it upon himself to record his own version of Revolver in Memphis, with area musicians, at Muscle Shoals Studio. A tussle with his management and his label buried those tapes, which somehow—no one's sure how, exactly—ended up in the late 70s in the hands of a New York City dee jay, a funk devotee with a Move/E.L.O. obsession and stack of cherished prog rock records that he kept quiet about. Perennially stoned, he remixed those tapes, playing amateur sax on a couple tracks and bringing in a fuller horn section for others, playing Black Sabbath records on down times for inspiration. Those tapes languished in his apartment for decades, heard by a few friends, and had assumed Holy Grail status among Bolan fans. Only recently have they been discovered....

Well, none of that happened. But on June 8, 1987, Ty Segall was born, and he grew up to make Freedom's Goblin, a close sonic approximation of the imagined history above. Last night at The Vic in Chicago, Segall bust open his recent clutch of songs (there are many) in a riveting set, part low-fuse, part explosive. I'd seen Segall a few years back perform a terrific solo acoustic set at Empty Bottle, and I was amped to see him in front of a loud, electric band. Segall lives in the narrow place between major and minor keys, but his songs turn that small place into an wide vista. His growls, falsettos, and nasal singing are in service to stoner dirges, garage stomps, and surprisingly gorgeous melodies, sometimes all in the same song. ("Rain," from the new album, navigates these intervals especially wonderfully.) His Freedom Band—Emmett Kelly on second rhythm/lead guitar, Charles Moothart on drums, Mikal Cronin on bass, and Ben Boye on keyboards—were loud and on-point, yet finessed, and loose enough to relax some songs into jams, Segall and Kelly trading licks and harmonizing leads as Boye laid thick textures on top. Boye looked like a kid watching a magic trick, entranced and smile-struck, and that blissy countenance was repeated among fans in the packed venue. With his messianic hair and beatific face, Segall has something of the magic touch about him right now, and I half expected to see him on the street afterward playing for a crowd of knocked-out disciples, leading with vision. He was laconic throughout—he muttered thank you a half hour into his set, and asked for a hand for the horn section, but that was about all he said, letting his fluid guitar playing and weighty, vibe-channeling stage presence do all the speaking for him.

~~

Driving into the city for the show, I listened to Freedom's Goblin, sent again by the rich variety of songs, rockers to ballads to jams, all held together by Segall's considerable chops and his sonic curiosity—you can almost see his concentration when you listen. The album ends with a heartbreaking, transcendent version of "Sleeper" (the title track to Segall's 2013 album) buried in "And, Goodnight," a twelve-minute mid-paced, Television-like, twin-guitar jam, and as I headed down into Lower Wacker Drive, the guitars reached a crescendo as I made a hard right turn down and onto the city's floor. "And, Goodnight" is the perfect song to listen to in the shadows and gentle turns of Lower Wacker, a favorite drive of mine as I emerge at the end with glistening Lake Michigan at my feet. The song ended just as I turned onto Lake Shore Drive, and it's not an overstatement to say that I was altered a bit after the grandeur of that song, a vibe I managed to keep alive while on the freezing streets in an a bar or two preceding the show, a warmth Segall and his band stoked over the course of a wonderful night.




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