Monday, March 20, 2006

Introducing Wolfmother.
The Best Australian Band since. . .AC/DC.

I'd better be careful with what I say. I'm sure there've been other really good bands since AC/DC. I probably don't listen to them though, and that means they must suck, so then Wolfmother really is the best band since AC/DC.

Enjoy my logic?

The stupid photo loader on blogger isn't working right now, so I'll get some images as soon as I can.

This Australian power-rock trio comes at the height of a retro-rock era where bands that sound (but especially look like) the bands of yester-year are finding great success.
Suddenly all of the hipster garments and fashions from thirty years ago are popping up all over in various underground clubs and music bars where many of these bands are carving their niche and recruiting fans to their cause.

I bring this band to light here because I have only recently discovered their music, and in about three weeks they will be playing here in Cleveland, and I hope to be in attendence for the show.

Wolfmother is made up of Andrew Stockdale, Chris Ross and Myles Heskett, who play guitar, bass/keyboards and drums, respectively. Their combined songwriting style combines the flavors of MC5, Led Zeppelin, the Who, Black Sabbath, the Doors, and virtually every other awesome hard rock/psychedelic group that existed in thirty to forty years ago.

Their style is nothing original or terribly unique, but it is a fresh take on what has grown to be one of my favorite genres and periods of rock ‘n roll music making. I view them as a Who or Black Sabbath for my own generation.

Their comparison to fellow Aussie rockers Jet is inevitable, but hardly fair. They are both signed to the same label, and both represent a certain “dirty rocker” image, but their songwriting could hardly be less similar. Jet has a few good hooky tunes, but it is difficult to listen to their entire album. Wolfmother’s tunes, on the other hand, all have a unique and different appeal to them which keep their songwriting fresh and listenable.

Check out some of their tunes at the band’s website ( and wait for the release of their full-length album here in America.


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review: New York Philharmonic, Avery Fischer Hall, New York NY, March 11, 2006
Christoph von Dohnanyi conducting
Schubert : Symphony no. 8 “Unifinished”
Bartok : Bluebeard’s Castle
Anna Sophie von Otter - Soprano

I had the pleasure of finding myself in New York this weekend, and the similar pleasure of hearing one of America’s greatest orchestras.

Now everyone knows that the Cleveland Orchestra is the best in the country, quite possibly the world – no one denies this. But its still good to hear the contenders for oneself so that you can stay in solidarity and know that what you speak is true.

I have now heard three of the “big five” orchestras – that would be Cleveland, Philadelphia and now New York. (Leaving Boston and Chicago.)

So far, Cleveland maintains its grasp on the prize.

The first thing one must consider when comparing these orchestras to each other is the vehicle in which they play. Severance Hall in Cleveland is the standard of America (I’ve not yet heard another better) and Avery Fischer is a hall not even the Philharmonic praises highly.

Acoustics aside (fortes and pianos sound startling similar in the space) aesthetics are ridiculous compared to Severance. The surfaces in Severance are all acoustically tuned and useful, but also beautiful.

Avery Fischer looks as though they started out going for the aesthetic, but forgot to consider the acoustic properties of the materials they were using. Or the shape of the hall. As a result, there have been obvious and clumsy attempts to remedy the halls‘ deficiencies by hanging acoustic panels and sheets of various shapes and textures on the stage’s shell, ideally in an effort to put the NY Phil’s best foot forward.

This brings us to the orchestra itself.

The first thing that is always noticed about orchestras outside of Cleveland is the attention to ensemble. Cleveland is like listening to a finely-tuned recording at every concert, or in the words of one member of the orchestra, Cleveland “picks up where everyone else ends.”

So the ensemble was not as picture perfect as could be, but what as even more alarming was the level of technical profession on some of the more noticeable passages and exposed writing was startling below my expectations.

The principal oboe was consistently flat throughout the evening, the principal horn had what seemed to be a lot of articulation problems, while the clarinetist seemed to suffer from poor breath support, ending with what seemed to be a weak vibrato, which any orchestral player knows, for a clarinetist, is simply a no-no.

The string players had the benefit of hiding bad playing amongst their numbers, but there were select moments when the ensemble was terribly off. In truth, the only string section that really sounded great was the viola section. (Wouldn’t I have the most to say badly about them?)

Part of me wanted to blame their inconsistencies on the fact that their normal director (Lorin Maazel) was not on the podium, as well as the fact that Glenn Dicterow, (their concertmaster) was taking the week off.

Dohnanyi’s conducting is well known to me, since he finished a 20+ year tenure with the Cleveland orchestra during my first years in that city, so I trust his musical ideas and instincts. For some reason, the tempo (particularly in the first momvent,) felt terribly slow, and the entire performance felt very uninspired. It would seem unthinkable that a professional orchestra (particularly of such repute) should give performances which risk sounding “notey” but that is precisely what happen to the Phil on Saturday night.

On another note, the audience at Avery Fisher that night, while seemingly well-dressed and affluent enough, and yet during the two movements of the Schubert symphony there was a smattering of applause from a confused audience. I was amazed. How can a city of such high culture and high-browed better-than-thou approach to most everything they do have at least twenty people in the concert hall who don’t know better than to clap in the middle of a performance? This is truly concert-going 101.

So at the end of the evening, the NY Phil does have a collective “sound” which I find only in the finer of the orchestras, but I found their performance this past weekend to be lackluster and sloppy. It IS a professional ensemble, and regardless of personnel changes or different directors, it is the musicians job to get the achieve the performance and the get job done.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Best Movie. . .Ever.

What happens when Jack Black and the director of Napoleon Dynamite join forces?

Welcome to the world of Nacho Libre.

I have to say I'm impressed by Jared Hess (director) and his cinematic vision thus far.

The premise:

Monks who secretly want to be wrestlers. They wear their outfits under their habits and moonlight as cheesy Meixcan wrestlers, i.e. El Chupa Nibre.

Throw into that phenomenal idea that Jack Black plays the lead, (wrestling alias Nacho Libre) and what more anticipated film could be released this year?

Seriously. This is one of the coolest ideas for a movie in a while.

What's Spinnin' In My Player These Days. . .

It's always fun to be in a mood where it would seem that everything you encounter is great music that you want to absorb and enjoy.

This is what its been like the past few days. Discovering/re-discovering a lot of really neat stuff.

So what have we discovered?

Cake - Prolonging the Magic
Third album from funked-out fedora-touting hipsters who don't seem to care much about conventional songwriting - as long as you get to put a good bass line to it.

The Mars Volta - De-Loused In The Comatorium
Bizarre prog-rock's journey through the dreams of someone in a coma. Sounds like the perfect thing for a rock album, right? Complete the picture with a very unorthodox approach to recording and you have some of the most unique music to be released today.

John Mayer - Heavier Things
The sophomore follow-up by pussy-boy Mayer shows he wasn't a one-hit songwriter. This album is thoroughly enjoyable to put on and listen through. Kudos for anyone who's willing to dress up like a bear and insult his own music to his most die-hard fans.

Presidents of the United States of America - Self-Titled
This is reaching back to a by-gone era who almost predates the opaque gloom of Kurt Cobain and a the millions of offspring that were spawned. Devolved song-writing left the trio with a three-stringed guitar, a two stringed bass and as simple ingredients as the Presidents could think to distill themselves to.

Always good stuff. Always something new.