Archive for March, 2011

17
Mar
11

Album Review: R.E.M. – Collapse Into Now

Following R.E.M.’s 2008 release Accelerate, a comeback album of sorts for the Athens, GA band, the anticipation was very high for their 15th album Collapse Into Now. Accelerate showcased R.E.M.’s return to a real rock sound. The period following drummer Bill Berry’s departure from the band in 1996 saw them move in a new direction, creating more atmospheric music than rock, and for many fans it was a real turn-off. But with Peter Buck’s distorted guitar roaring back to life, along with the return of Mike Mills’ passionate backing vocals, Accelerate vaulted R.E.M. back into the rock arena. Collapse Into Now, however, could be called a disappointment. There are some good songs, some not so good – it’s an inconsistent album, and unfortunately probably seems a little worse than it is because of how great its predecessor was.
The album gets off to a good start with “Discoverer” – it has a cool bass drum beat that tells you the band’s pulse is running smooth, and the chorus is reminiscent of the power chords on Accelerate. “All the Best” follows, another rockin’ track. Then Buck puts the distortion pedal in the closet for a while and switches to an acoustic guitar for “Uberlin.” It’s a mellower tune that features fantastic vocal harmonies from Mills and Michael Stipe, which was great to hear. The haunting “Oh My Heart” is another mellow song, but Stipe’s impassioned gospel-like vocals work quite well. The song’s chords are very similar to Accelerate’s “Houston,” and the lyrics make reference to that song as well: “Houston,” referencing the Bush administration’s handling of natural disasters like Katrina, contains the line “If the storm doesn’t kill me, the government will,” and “Oh My Heart” gives us the update of “The storm didn’t kill me, the government…changed.” I had high hopes for the song “It Happened Today” when I saw that Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam fame) provided vocals on the track. But the song is little more than a hippie-style sing-a-long, with Vedder’s talents being quite under-utilized as he just moans along with Mills’ “la-la-la-la” vocals. The oddly-titled “Mine Smell Like Honey” brings back a more up-tempo beat, but the forcefulness is missing – it feels like watered-down R.E.M. rock, compared to the first two tracks and, as I can’t seem to stop mentioning, the Accelerate album. And then “Walk it Back” slows everything down again. It’s a pretty song, melodic and soft on the ears, but it harkens back to Up and the band’s more “adult contemporary” sound of the late 90’s and early to mid 2000’s. “Alligator_Aviator_Autopilot_Antimatter” is a good song, punctuated by the guest vocals of Peaches, a Canadian oddball rocker of sorts. I had never heard any of Peaches’ music before, but it’s her vocals that make this track so interesting. The song takes on a punk feel as her raw, fervent voice compliments the distorted guitar and quick tempo. “That Someone is You” is another upbeat tune, but clocking in at a mere 1 minute 45 seconds, it never really gets a chance to develop. The album slows down again with “Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I,” again taking on the feel of those post-Berry, pre-Accelerate albums. The record closes with “Blue,” another slower tune, but it’s the album’s most texturally interesting track. Stipe’s spoken-word lyrics mesh with Buck’s reverberated guitar while guest vocalist Patti Smith (who also appeared on R.E.M.’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi album) bellows along. And then, inexplicably, the song closes with a brief reprise of the “Discoverer” chorus. If the idea was that the album has come full-circle, there’s nothing to really make that connection, and that reprise just seems out of place.
A couple of other observations – Stipe’s vocals, on every track, have a slight echo to them, like his vocals were recorded in a bathroom or a freeway underpass or something. While this effect works well on tracks like “Oh My Heart” and “Walk it Back,” it detracts from the powerful energy that should be present in the fast-tempo tracks. The other negative aspect of the album is one of the same criticisms the band received during the late 90’s to mid 2000’s – the lack of Mills’ backing vocals. Well-utilized on Accelerate, Mills’ fantastic voice is only recognizable on a couple of tracks, and even then we don’t hear the same passion we’re used to.
So while many of the tunes have a lot of what is good about R.E.M., the album overall is an inconsistent blend of rock and soft rock. Taken as individual songs, most of the album succeeds – but in the context of an entire piece of work, it sounds like the band is falling back on old habits instead of plowing ahead.
Collapse Into Now gets 2.5 out of 5 stars.

10
Mar
11

To sit or stand? The grand concert dilemma

 As many of you may have read HiFi recently attended a Trey Anastasio show in our city and it was incredible.  Well, perhaps I should say that it was incredible for some of us and “incredibly frustrating” for others; specifically those in the row behind us.

Unlike the Al Dimeola show that we attended last year whereas everyone sat in their chairs almost the entire show except for the encore; the Trey show was the complete opposite; since for the entire 3-hour show it was voluntary standing room only!  Perhaps concerts depending on the artist are one of those classic “buyer beware” situations; clearly Phish and Trey shows are full of people that clearly want a “quality” experience, and well, standing and dancing are all part of getting your monies worth at a show.  Having it be my first Trey show, clearly I understood why people want to groove all night long, it’s more than just a concert; it’s an experience unlike anything I’ve witnessed. 

The issue at the Albany show was that my row consisted (on average except for my HiFi pal Ericstraus who’s about 5’10”) of an average height of about 6’3″, so for the poor soul’s behind us who were shorter, it must have been a bit of a bummer not being able to see as well as they may have hoped. 

Was this our fault that they could not see a majority of the show? 

Well, no, but they again yes. Yet, if everyone was standing and I decided to sit down being courteous was I then cheating myself ?  Clearly if I did then I wasn’t going to see anything.   So my question is:

When does traditional courtesy take a backseat and the general theme or behavior of the majority define what is and what is not appropriate?  And does it?

During the end of the first set one of the people in my row, a father and son who each were around 6′ 6″ were haggled by the older folks behind then about their ability not to see the show; it actually got a bit ugly and words were exchanged to almost the point of a physical confrontation, not cool.  The father was merely defending his son (and his) right to stand as rightful ticket holders and that they were not purposely doing anything intentional to spoil the row behind them and their evening; it was simply just what it was.  I had to agree with the father, how did he own any of their inconvience other than being born tall?

Luckily, fellow Trey fans settled the issue down and the father regained  his composure, but it does present a very fickle issue.  The father even commented later to both of us that out of all the Phish and Trey shows he had attended this was the first time that it was an issue, otherwise people are usually very cool and make the situation the best regardless.

However, when you look at it, it is a bit retarded to stand at a concert when you have a perfectly good seat.  Ok, so a Trey show is probably a bad example since clearly it is an opportunity to dance and move more than just tapping your feet and slapping your knee.  But why do we feel compelled to stand at shows where we could sit, like a Rush concert?  I don’t recall dancing to Tom Sawyer or Natural Science, have you?  At best it would be better for a fan to sit while pretending  (like the other thousand 30-something geeks in attendance) that  their Neil Peart drumming to YYZ.   Why the need to stand at metal or rock concerts, do we think that the lead singer is going see us?  Do we feel that we can see better?  I think it’s kind of goofy that we feel compelled to stand for hours, especially when a ticket costs on average $40+. 

I recall several concerts that I attended during high school (ZZ Top and Robert Plant) where I had tickets on the sides of the arena, probably the best place to see a show in my opinion; you are up high, got a great view, and can see above the crowd below.  But oddly, people still chose to stand the entire concert, which made me have to stand since I could not see.  Perhaps, it’s just a domino effect, whereas one person starts the standing thing and ruins it for the rest and then they have to stand, and it goes on, and on, and on…ugh.

What is your experience and thoughts on this issue?

09
Mar
11

Sonisphere 2010 & Big 4 – 3/19 on Palladia HD

Very cool news for us metalheads who were not able to take our private jets to Sofia, Bulgaria to witness the Big 4 (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax); it would seem that the new music concert channel Palladia (formerly VH1) will be playing the concert (highlights only I’m sure) on March 19th during their Metal Mania Day.  The 2010 Sonisphere from London will first play at 8 p.m. EST, and then The Big 4 at 10 p.m. EST.

I’ve been pretty happy with the programming on Palladia since it emerged on my HD channel listings; last night I was watching Glastonbury 2007 and was amazed at the line up of bands I had never heard, and still hadn’t up until last night!  Palladia is still a hit or miss channel, something for everyone I guess, but I try to avoid the Kelly Clarkson and Adam Lambert concerts at all costs.  Otherwise, they have featured some great concerts on a regular basis and a keep things fresh for the most part.  I highly recommend the 2010 Austin City Limits concert they featured last week; clearly Ben Harper and Coheed and Cambria stole the show in my opinion.  The headliner was Pearl Jam, and I guess I just feel that their time has come and gone; one of the most boring acts of the lineup, especially for a headlining act.

Check out the Metalfest on March 19th and tell us what you think!

08
Mar
11

Mike Gordon – Free Download @ Livephish.com

Just recently announced on LivePhish.com you can download an entire Mike Gordon solo show recorded last year during his 2010 tour.  The sound quality is top rate and the music is top notch.  You can download the entire show for free once you have set up a username and password (takes about 30 seconds).

The only other Mike Gordon concert I have is a gig he did with the legendary guitarist Leo Kottke; you can get that show free at Nugs.net (click the Free Stash link on the top right side of the Nugs homepage).

Now only if they would release those Trey recent shows for free with or without a ticket stub, c’mon LivePhish hook us up!!!!!!

Click here to download the show and let us know what you think, eh?