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The Scientists formed in Perth, Australia in 1978 and only played their second US show on September 28, 2018. It was at Dante’s in downtown Portland. Mudhoney co-headlined. It was worth the wait. For this, their first US tour, the band reunited their blazing 1982 lineup of singer-guitarist Kim Salmon, bassist Boris Sujdovic, guitarist Tony Thewlis, and drummer Brett Rixon. I’d waited about twenty years to see The Scientists play, after reading their name mentioned in some article about Mudhoney in the 1990s. The Australian swamp rockers heavily influenced the Seattle band, and when I first listened, I was an instant fan. But they broke up in the ’80s, played only occassional shows after that, then reformed to play All Tomorrow’s Parties in 2006 at Nick Cave’s request, so I was psyched they were playing here in Portland. Unfortunately, I thought my friend bought the tickets. He thought I bought them. The show sold out, and we were crushed.

Never say die. The night of the show I stood outside Dante’s trying to buy an extra ticket from people on the street, but nobody had one, and few passersby looked me in the eyes when they said sorry. I felt like I was sixteen again fishing for beer outside a convenience store, except with that special shame that comes from being a desperate adult. Fortunately, when a certain unnamed band appeared outside the club, I asked their generous lead singer if he could work some magic to help correct my stupid error, and soon enough, I and an Australian tourist friend I made outside were both inside the club. Thanks to that very kind soul for getting us in and making my rock and roll dream come true.

Eat Skull openened and got the crowd frothy: “Up next,” they said, “is The Scientists’ historic first club performance in America!” When The Scientists took the stage, people went nuts. Kim Salmon wore a nice suit and carried a notebook with their setlist written in it, the song titles surrounded by doodles he made.

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Tony Thewlis broke a string during the beginning of the first song, “Revhead,” as he was just putting a layer of distortion under the band to get the show started and set the mood. While the band stretched out, he restrung his guitar and clipped the new string with plyers by the end.

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Thewlis had a huge Fender amp that made his guitar the loudest thing on the West Coast at that moment. It has such a distinctive texture, like static electricity tearing the fabric of the universe. It was so loud you felt dizzy, and it was exactly what I’d wanted to hear in person forever. As singer Kim Salmon said to Thewlis on stage: “Can you get any more distorted?” My hearing will never be the same.

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They played for about an hour. After “Revhead” they played “Solid Gold Hell,” “We Had Love,” “Backwards Man,” “Swampland,” “Murderess in a Purple Dress” (and those distorted guitar accents were LOUD), “Nitro,” “Set It On Fire” and others I can’t remember. Sadly they didn’t play “Hell Beach” or “When Fate Deals Its Mortal Blow,” one of my favorites.

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When Mudhoney took the stage, Mark Arm looked at the audience and said, “We never thought we’d see The Scientists. Well, beside me Guy! That was fucking amazing.”

According to PopMatters, this line up is going to record a full LP for In the Red, which will be their “first full-length since 1987’s The Human Jukebox.”

After the show, Tony Thewlis told me about why they’d never toured the States before. “Well, we played All Tomarrows Parties somewhere outside of New York,” he said, “opened for The Stooges, but that was a one-off.” I asked if things had gone so well that they decided, ‘We should do this again?’ “Yes exactly,” he said smirking. “And ten years later, here we are!” Touring from Australia is so expensive, he explained, and people live in different places, so it’s tough. “We wanted to, but things get away from you, mate.” The next night they played in Seattle with Mudhoney again, then they played San Francisco, LA, Austin, Chicago, and New York. I thanked him and said it was a huge treat to finally hear his unreal guitar tone live, though I wouldn’t be hearing anything else for weeks after! I asked him if he could hear anything anymore and he laughed and cupped his ears. “What? No no, I can’t. It’s bad.” Friendly dude, powerful band.

Here’s one song I filmed, with Thewlis playing a borrowed Gretsch while his guitar got restrung. And here’s bassist Boris, playing with a beer bottle.

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My collection of jazz essays finally published, and I’m excited for you to read it. It’s an ebook called This Is and includes essays about the talent and tragedy of saxophonist Hank Mobley, the untold story of lost pianist Jutta Hipp, the creative influence of drugs and sobriety as seen through the film The Connection, the on-stage murder of trumpeter Lee Morgan, a close listen to Mile’s Davis’ song “So What” across ten years of its evolution, the scores of unreleased music in the Blue Note vault, as well as other stories of joy, genius and struggle. I designed the cover from William Gottlieb’s archival photographs, and Publishing Genius’ Adam Robinson generously did the layout.

You can buy it here, online.

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Here’s what a few of my favorite writers said about it:

“The richness of the eight essays in Aaron Gilbreath’s This Is is a fitting tribute to the richness of jazz itself. Gilbreath weaves unique insight with a profound understanding of the history of jazz. His crisp prose and diverse range make you want to turn the page and run to the record store in equal measure.” -Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist

“Aaron Gilbreath’s writing about jazz is as friendly and welcoming as any you’ll find.” -Luc Sante, author of Low Life and Kill All Your Darlings

“Aaron Gilbreath writes about Jutta Hipp and Miles Davis and Lee Morgan and Jackie McLean and others long gone with curiosity: he lines up the questionable historical record with what’s knowable and provable, and finds out where the lessons are.” –New York Times jazz and pop critic Ben Ratliff, author of Coltrane: The Story of a Sound and The Jazz Ear: Conversations over Music

“Aaron Gilbreath is an outstanding jazz writer, with a deep appreciation for the music’s tradition and an engaging prose style.” -Ted Gioia, author of The History of Jazz and Delta Blues

“In these vivid, affectionate essays, Aaron Gilbreath moves in pure and distinct prose among stories and histories, moments and decades, mystery and clarity. His account of Jutta Hipp is one of the finest pieces I’ve read on the forgotten fringes of the music industry. This Is is an essential read for anyone who loves mid-century jazz culture and wonders about the dynamics of expression.” -Joe Bonomo author of Sweat: The Story of The Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band and Jerry Lee Lewis: Lost and Found

 

 

I hope you dig the book!

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Singer Kelis, left to right, Little Richard (Richard Penniman; American rapper the Notorious B.I.G. aka Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls; American singer and actor Elvis Presley.

Singer Kelis, left to right, Little Richard (Richard Penniman; American rapper the Notorious B.I.G. aka Christopher Wallace, aka Biggie Smalls; American singer and actor Elvis Presley.

Slate republished my list of the 50 best songs about sweets and desserts, which I originally wrote for massive, 920-page The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets as their musical companion. I’m thrilled more people can find it. You can read the full piece here.

 

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masthead At The Believer, I talked visual art, music and making things with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, Greer McGettrick from The Mallard, and Hannah Lew of Cold Beat. These are smart, talented musicians who offer many fascinating insights into the creativity and creative cycles. You can read it here.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA HANNAH LEW: I think abstracting on our reality and making our own shapes out of our feelings and responses to our world is vital to our understanding. If we don’t include our emotional responses to things into our vocabulary about our temporal existence, we can’t really move forward as a society. You can get away with confronting a lot of taboo subject matter within the realm of abstraction and reproduction that you can’t in normal dialogue. There is a lot of truth telling by way of telling lies, which is all an artist is really ever doing.

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Live at The Parish, Austin TX, 3/15/07 Photo by Felicia Graham, Austin Chronicle

Live at The Parish, Austin TX, 3/15/07
Photo by Felicia Graham, Austin Chronicle

Here’s a feature I wrote in 2007 for the now-defunct music magazine Harp. It covers The Meat Puppets’ return to touring and recording, from the Kirkwood brothers’ first live gig together in eleven-years, to their first new studio album, Rise To Your Knees. As a longtime Meat Puppets fan and a native of Phoenix, Arizona, I had a lot of fun talking to Curt Kirkwood, catching two shows at SXSW, and narrating the band’s life on the page. (The accompanying photo was snapped next to me at the second show.) The Puppets are still touring, still recording, and still as creative and original as ever. For fellow Puppets fans, here’s the article, rescued from its paper grave:

 

Meat Puppets, Harp, July-August 2007

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POSTCARD — February 10, 2014

Nothing Is Strange

A trip to Murakami’s jazz club

By 

Murakami at Book House You. © Tatsuya Mine

Murakami at Book House You. © Tatsuya Mine

Before he became a novelist, Haruki Murakami was a jazz fan. He got into it when he was fifteen, after seeing Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers perform in Kobe in January 1964.The lineup that night was of one of the most celebrated in the band’s three decades of existence, featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Curtis Fuller on trombone, Wayne Shorter on sax, and Cedar Walton on piano. “I had never heard such amazing music,” Murakami later said. “I was hooked.” Ten years later, he postponed his university studies to open a jazz club in suburban Tokyo, naming it Peter Cat, after one of his pets. In 1977, he and his wife, Yoko, moved the club to Tokyo’s central Sendagaya neighborhood, where he wrote his first two novels, which led to later books whose titles referenced doo-wop like the Dells’ “Dance Dance Dance” and jazz tunes like Fuller’s “Five Spot After Dark.” The music equally influenced his writing style, which he sometimes conceived in terms of jazz rhythm, improvisation, and performance. Continue reading here…

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Hey, I wrote this article for Flavorwire about Seattle’s moody, ’80s power pop band The Macs. They released three songs and then split up. You might dig it. Here it is: http://flavorwire.com/411518/unraveling-the-mystery-of-forgotten-seattle-pre-grunge-band-the-macs/view-all

 

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The Oxford American published an article I wrote about Dex Romweber of Flat Duo Jets: http://www.oxfordamerican.org/articles/2012/jun/11/profile-dex-romweber/

Dex is one of my all-time favorite musicians. I’d long wanted to write something that did him at least a bit of the justice his talent and good-heart deserve, and I wanted to do it in a magazine that people who didn’t know about him might actually read. The Oxford American is widely read and one of my favorite magazines, so it was the perfect fit. Dex deserves billions of fans. I hope this article helps lead a few more people to his music. Cheers to Dex.

As a bonus, here’s video of a full Flat Duo Jets show from the final period of the band’s life:

And bonus Flat Duo outtake footage here from the Athens Inside/Out documentary. This is a moment-in-the-life-of, just Dex and Flat Duo drummer Crow goofing around in a roadside market (I think it’s a Stuckey’s), talking to people and a stuffed five-legged dog. A must-see:

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Here’s some video I shot of the Cosmonauts playing “Psychic Denim” in the brick basement that is East End. Shit contrast:

And here are some tracks from Seattle’s Night Beats. First, “Puppet On A String”:

Then a slow one:

Then this:

 

Cosmonauts just released a new album, which you can buy here at Burger Records; get their others at their Bandcamp. Buy Night Beats records here, and get info here.

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Madison Square Garden… of Squalor

Phoenix’s Premier ’80s Punk Dump

If you think the original incarnation of punk rock passed entirely over Phoenix, you just weren’t there. I wasn’t there either – I was in elementary school – but apparently 1979-1984 were the golden years, and at the center of it all sat Mad Garden. Short for Madison Square Garden, this seminal punk club took its name not only from the New York landmark, but from a cavernous, 1929, brick wrestling and boxing arena on 7th Ave and Van Buren Street. When Tony Victor, owner of Placebo Records, the Valley’s sole, period punk label, started booking shows in ’81, he booked them at another old wrestling dive. It stood on 37th Street and Van Buren, across from Bill Johnson’s Big Apple, and it too was called Mad Garden.

Bands played in the wrestling ring at the building’s center, setting their amps and drums on the padded floor between rubberized ropes. The stage wobbled during performances, adding visible bounce to the already agro musicians’ antics. Scratched wooden bleachers lined walls decorated with black and white publicity photos of small-time, largely deceased wrestlers in period regalia. A chain link fence enclosed the stage in order to protect fans from flying wrestlers; a previous owner installed it after a wrestler landed on someone in the front row. Instead of protection, the fence provided the perfect monkey-bars for punks to climb during shows.

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          While London and NYC already boasted legendary punk scenes by 1975, Phoenix’s started in ’78 with the birth of The Consumers and largely ended with Mad Garden’s closing in ’84. In the interim, local bands like JFA, The Feederz and Mighty Sphincter left a lasting impression on their generation, with Mad Garden serving as the center of the action. For big-name touring acts, the rowdy ring provided a reliable playground. Everyone played there: Bad Brains, Black Flag, Violent Femmes, The Minutemen, Butthole Surfers, Minor Threat, Bad Religion, Husker Dü, and, of course, locals like Meat Puppets, Victory Acres and Sun City Girls. Mad Garden was, as JFA’s singer Brian Brannon sang in a song penned specifically for the club’s closing night, “A hall where weirdoes sometimes wrestle/A fitting place for us freaks to nestle.” The word ‘freaks’ was key. That early crowd wasn’t punk in the formulaic fashion sense – liberty spikes, combat boots, Clash patches on jean jackets – it was diverse, equal parts skater, student and New Wave.

JFA Mad Garden LP cover

JFA Mad Garden LP cover

Victor made a natural booking agent. His uncle leased the 37th Street building for wrestling events, and being a music fan with a bassist for a business partner, Victor knew all the angles: keep covers cheap and Mad Garden BYOB so minors could attend; blanket the city with hand-drawn fliers; use your uncle’s karate school employees as security; then sell beer inside where cops couldn’t see. The result was a grubby, grassroots, communal atmosphere that one clubber described as “the rowdy punk rock equivalent of the company family picnic.” Like any killer picnic, though, the ants eventually arrived to carry off the food.

Police surveillance, obstinate neighbors and a raucous parking lot party squad sealed The Garden’s fate. Fire regulations kept crowds under 350, but a few gigs, like two back-to-back Dead Kennedys shows, drew over 500 people, along with the Fire Marshall. Despite fliers bearing desperate warnings (“Please! Help keep the Garden from closing down! Don’t show up until you’re actually ready to go inside!! Okay?”) The Garden closed in January, 1984, after a beer-soaked, full-house, adrenalized goodbye gig featuring JFA, TSOL and Crucifucks.

Then the building became a Spanish bible study center. Or was it a plastic flower warehouse? It depends who you ask.

Mad Garden Epitaph flier

Bonus:

1) You can download a soundboard recording of a searing 3/23/83 Meat Puppets show here, for free. It was recorded at Mad Garden: http://www.wohlers.org/puppets/madgardens/

2) Footage of JFA playing Mad Gardens in 1983:

3) Fliers from the final JFA, TSOL and Crucifucks show, along with numerous others, are available at http://www.shavedneck.com/Phoenix/index.htm

4) Missouri-born painter Thomas Randal Farnsworth snapped photos of that same 3/23/83 Meat Puppets show while earning his BFA at Arizona State University. The pics and a flier can be found here: http://homepage.mac.com/tfarnsworth/PhotoAlbum31.html

5) The entire B-side of the 1982, Placebo Records compilation This is Phoenix Not the Circle Jerks features tracks recorded live at Mad Garden. Apparently it’s tough to track down.

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