Archive | June, 2012

Back of My Neck Getting Dirty and Gritty

29 Jun

Is there a song that screams summer more than “Summer in the City” by New York natives The Lovin’ Spoonful? Today, as I walked through the blistering summer heat and bathed myself in the hot sun that baked the sidewalk, I immediately thought of the ode to a hot and sticky New York City summer day and smiled. The song is a true classic. Everything from John Sebastian’s excellent voice, to the background city noises, to the repetitive guitar riff that seeps into your head as sweat pours out, meshes perfectly to form a less-than-3-minute gem. It’s a fun song and it’s great to sing along with…especially when you are sweating and burning walking on the same streets that Mark Sebastian was writing about when he penned the song.

And, what’s better on a sunny summer day than a little trivia. Hear the electric piano in the song? The individual who played the electric piano on the Spoonful record is a musician/composer who has done some pretty famous arrangements in his career. Can you name that person? Also, for bonus points, what famous Frankie Valli song did he arrange? Have a good weekend everyone!

Drunksouls and Their Music Revolution

27 Jun

Flying sharks, 20’s King Kong, deformed multi-eyed beasts, fist-pumping humans — Yeah, sounds like the future.

Drunksouls play a variety of “drunk” music, a genre of musical expression created and defined by them. Well, beyond “groove” it’s not really defined. I am going to try my hand at creating a definition. “Drunk” music represents an odd phenomenon that often occurs when one is intoxicated – the combination of consuming several genres, like foods when drunk, into a mishmashed Huck Finn-like jumble that you don’t think could possibly taste good, but when you take a bite out of it you are satisfied. Now I promise I am perfectly sober writing this post, so perhaps my analogy isn’t the best. The fact remains, though, that Drunksouls combines elements of rock, reggae, 90s ska, funk, and electronic music into a combination that is refreshing and original.

Drunksouls does not only represent the most diverse band we have profiled here on the Music Court, but also they are the first international act that has graced our digital platform. The independent French band carries almost ten members in their fun coterie and their new album Revolution features 16 tracks, with a few gems that I will profile today.

Firstly, though, we must look at the busy album cover above. It’s like a 10-year-old’s nightmare after he has seen Jaws, King Kong, and Tremors, all in one night (what horrible parenting!) It’s also bloody awesome. Is it representative of the tunes? Sure! It’s a combination of a whole bunch of odd stuff. It fits right in. Let’s get to some music. We will start with my favorite song on the album which is called “Human Race” and falls as track two.

The five-minute song begins with a four-chord surf-guitar progression played by guitarist Julien Mur. This leads into head-nodding ska beat produced by Pierre Pesin and the trumpet. It is an attractive rhythm and infectious. Djamil Ramdane, the vocalist for the group, has an eccentric voice that is high and effective. He effortlessly produces the verse which has such hedonistic gems as, “Always looking for a better heaven, Cause everything is not enough for me” which made me laugh at its satire. The chorus is followed by some alien electronic noises and a small change-up in the rhythm, but the horns come back and normalcy (if you can call it that) is restored. The song is fit with a guitar solo as well. It is an excellent ska piece (one of the best I have heard in years) and I just want to listen to it again.

“J’ai fait un reve,” the following track, which means “I Had a Dream” is another song that deserves a mention. It is immediately different from its previous tune, featuring a bluesy guitar over a Spanish-sounding rhythm and a spacey swooning noise. The initial beat is replaced by an acoustic guitar and the vocals for the first few lines and then it comes back. It is a pleasant riff, invoking images of a calm beach and sun. It’s a shorter song, but I love it for its simplicity.

I urge you to check out the rest of the album. Take a listen to “Happy Death Day,” another gem from the album.

You can stream the entire album for free on the band’s Soundcloud and make sure to like them on Facebook

Second Stop – Paris

26 Jun

Conductor Andre Previn recorded this version of George Gershwin’s famous “An American in Paris” during his tenure as principal conductor for the London Symphony Orchestra. So as you take this photographic journey with me from the first stop on our June European excursion, London, through the chunnel, to our next stop, Paris, I thought it was fitting to include this recording. Feel free to listen to the piece and read the post at the same time, even though if you do that you will most likely not pay much attention to these words. The piece demands that much attention. Hello! Do you hear me? Damn, already lost you all. Quick, Matt, think of something…uhh…pretty picture of food.

Yeah, that got your attention, didn’t it?

I think I am going to create a song called “Breakfast in Paris,” but instead of typical instruments the composition will be composed solely of many different people saying mmmm and salivating. I can say that for all the food in Paris. And you do not need to visit an expensive restaurant to experience fine eating. Rebecca and I stopped into a small cafe and picked out a sandwich and pastry from under the glass. The entire meal cost us less than 10 euros, and I would be lying if I didn’t tell you that on my first bite of the pastry I didn’t lust for around 50 more.

Like in London, Rebecca and I eagerly searched for unique restaurants and snacks. We had our best meal of the trip at a restaurant we stumbled into on a tiny side street that we could not find again (we tried). I had true French onion soup and a well-prepared piece of fish. For dessert we shared Chocolate Fondant and Creme Brulee. We failed in our attempt to make each bite of the meal take years of joy to complete.

Couscous restaurants are very popular in Paris and we made sure to get a large heaping of the semolina dish with soft vegetables, hot pepper sauce, and dried fruit. We snacked the following day on a chocolate-covered waffle that melted in our mouth (and on Rebecca’s bag…a casualty of war) and proved even better than the chocolate, almond, banana crepe we shared in front of Notre Dame on our first day in the city.

And, of course, the breakfast. Every morning we woke up to hot croissant, mini baguettes, and thick toast, that we dipped in butter, creamy cheese, and fruity spreads. We then worked off breakfast, much to the chagrin of our feet and legs, by walking the true walking city of Paris and making good use of the four-day museum pass we acquired prior to the trip. On to the ultimate museum, the Louvre.

Thanks Dan Brown…Now everyone thinks the Holy Grail is in there.

The first thing you notice about the Louvre (no matter what side you approach it from) is that it is gigantic. The Musee du Louvre is the site of a 12th century fortress sanctioned by King Philip Augustus. It became a large royal residence in the 16th century and evolved from there, eventually becoming an art gallery at the hand of Louis XV in the 18th century. It grew from there and in the 1980s Egyptian aliens visited Paris and constructed the pyramid entrance to the museum. Oh, it wasn’t aliens? Never mind. The gigantic museum of 380,000 objects and 35,000 works, is, of course, most known for the 30×21-inch Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece that draws a constant swarm of visitors.

It is easy to get lost in the museum. Rebecca and I marked off what we wanted to see prior to exploring and attempted to tackle it all. I’d say we were succesful. I was probably most impressed by the museum’s extensive selection of Egyptian antiquities which includes the around 4,500-year-old Seated Scribe sculpture, a beautifully intricate piece.

While the Louvre may have been the biggest stop on our museum tour of Paris, it was certainly not our only educational experience. We spent hours in other museums, including the Orsay, Rodin, Orangerie, and several more. The collection of impressionist art at the Orsay and Orangerie was stunning. We became immersed in the world of Monet, Manet, Gauguin, Renoir, and more. If you are a fan of impressionism and haven’t visited Paris…visit Paris. Oh, and get the museum pass. You are going to be going to a whole bunch of museums.

On the Arc De Triomphe – The Second Best View in Paris

Perhaps my favorite part of Paris was what I will label the intellectuality of the city. It was very…European. Cafes line seemingly every street on long avenues. People are always sitting, enjoying a drink and a snack, and watching the people walk by the cafe.  Walking down the seine at dawn or dusk with views of the Notre Dame at your back and the scent of baking pastries and coffee in the air, it’s tough not to feel inspired. I immediately understood why many great philosophers and writers chose Paris as a backdrop to their creative works.

The picture above is of Rebecca and I on top of the Arc De Triomphe which is located at the end of the famous (and expensive) Champs Elysees. The view was extraordinary, but second best to the view we had on top of that structure off in the distance. You know, this one:

Yeah, this one

A lot of other people had the same idea. One of the elevators leading up to the elevator that brings you up to the top of the tower was broken for the entirety of our stay in Paris. You’d think that would be something that would be fixed immediately considering that the Eiffel Tower is one of the most visited attractions in the world, but, you’d clearly think wrong because it remained broken. On our last day in Paris, Rebecca and I sucked it up and waited around three hours to get to the top of the tower, and, wow, it was totally worth it, and, we had our best photo taken during the trip up at the top.

This One

Now I cannot forget two things. We visited the palace of Versailles while we were in the area and it is an awe-inspiring structure not only because of its grand beauty, but also because of the events that took place inside the palace. It’s also difficult to move when you are there because you meet a bad combination of issues…small passageways and oodles of tourists, more than we saw at any point of our trip. The place is still something out of a Disney movie – just look at the gold gates.

On the morning of our flight to Berlin (make sure to stay tuned for the third installment of these special posts), we walked over to the second largest public park in Paris, the jardin du luxembourg, which features a palace and the famous Medici Fountain built by the widow of Henry IV, Marie de Medici in 1630, which you can see in the final picture below. It is difficult to conclude this section on Paris because there is not conclusion strong enough. Hopefully, we will make our way back there some day because there is still so much to see. For now, I will just leave it off with an until then.

The Beach Boys Are On Top of the World

25 Jun

The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour at Jones Beach in New York last night

It was 47 years ago when everything changed for the Beach Boys. Before that year, the original boys of summer were founded by a 16-year-old music obsessed Brian Wilson who urged his two brothers Dennis and Carl to practice background harmonies with him in an attempt to emulate some of the vocal groups that were on the charts in 1961. The band originally consisted of the brothers, their cousin Mike Love, and Al Jardine, a friend of Brian’s. In 1962, the band added 13-year-old David Marks for two years.

Before 1965, only one other individual played in the band and that was the rhinestone cowboy himself, Mr. Glen Campbell, who joined the band in 1964 and played with them for a year as a tour replacement for Brian Wilson. Last night, as the Beach Boys hit Jones Beach on the way to several more 50th anniversary shows, 76-year-old Glen Campbell said farewell at the Hollywood Bowl, performing what was billed as his last show. Campbell revealed that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2011. It is truly strange how these things work out.

In the first few years of their creation, The Beach Boys were heavily influenced by Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and Chuck Berry’s ubiquitous guitar riff, so much so that a couple of their songs were variations of Chuck Berry’s material (most notably “Surfing USA” compared with “Sweet Little Sixteen”). The music was quick and catchy. The harmonies perfect. The Beach Boys reached a level of immense success from their juvenile endeavors. Across the pond, a band named the Beatles were doing something similar. In 1964, the Beatles stepped on American soil, albeit on the other side of the United States in New York, but this symbolically and literally meant that the Beatles had crossed over onto the turf of the Beach Boys.

In 1965, 47 years ago, The Beatles released Rubber Soul, an album that inspired Brian Wilson to quite literally go straight to the piano and bang out “God Only Knows” which Paul McCartney has said is the greatest song ever written. Pet Sounds was released in 1966. The Beach Boys now had a new key member, Bruce Johnston, who joined the band in 1965. Pet Sounds is usually rated as the second greatest album of all time. Some view it as number one and the case can certainly be made for that ranking. What is ranked number one? The Beatles’ follow-up to Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which when it was released in 1967 combined with Pet Sounds to prove to musicians everywhere that anything is possible. These are arguably the two most influential albums ever. Brian Wilson then attempted to one-up Sgt. Peppers and, in many ways he was far too advanced for his time. If you listen to Smile, Brian Wilson’s masterpiece that took him more than 40 years and full mental breakdown to complete, the music is doused in complex harmonies, intricate and excentric melodies, and, as Mike Love put it in a recent interview, what he thought were “obtuse” lyrics. I think they are genius. The album, though, could never match with Sgt. Pepper’s because it wasn’t completed.

Why did Brian Wilson snap? He was an incredibly hard worker and eager drug taker. Generally those two do not mix well for long. He certainly may have driven himself to insanity. Many individuals, though, believe that this was just one factor. The Wilson father, Murry, was the band’s manager, and while he pushed the band to improve, he was verbally abusive and controlling. Brian Wilson has come out and said that his fear of his father hung around his head. Unquestionably, a lot of factors combined, and thankfully Brian Wilson is currently doing alright and seems to be having a good time on stage with his band mates.

One of the only tastes that people got from Smile was Brian Wilson’s pocket symphony called “Good Vibrations,” which only topped both the British and American charts when it was released as a single prior to Sgt. Pepper’s in 1966.

Wow. That is around 600 words and I haven’t even gotten to the concert review yet. To celebrate 50 years, the Beach Boys reunited and have been touring this year to sold-out crowds across the country. Brian Wilson is joined by Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston, and even David Marks. Behind them stands a full ensemble that help create the full-on wall-of-sound. Jeff Foskett most notably sings the famous Beach Boys falsetto and did so throughout the show last night.

Why did I mention the number 47? Well, the Beach Boys performed 47 songs last night at Jones Beach. Yes, many of them are surf dittys, but please do keep in mind we are not talking about 35-year-old musicians here. Love, Wilson, Johnston, and Jardine are either already 70-71 or 69. Whoever said age is just a number is absolutely correct in the case of the Beach Boys. The show they put on was energetic, vivacious, and fun, fun, fun. I’ll try not to make any more song name puns in this review.

The concert was understandably absolutely sold out and the crowd was an excellent mixture of original Beach Boys fans and the new generation of Beach Boys fans (myself). Jones Beach Theater (as one can imagine) is on the water, which is a perfect setting for a Beach Boys concert. I’ve never seen a concert so relaxed. Several beach balls were blown up and dispersed throughout the crowd and while the ushers usually put an end to the balls pretty quickly, I was convinced that they were actually blowing the balls up themselves. Now, of course, with the cross wind, most of the balls ended up in the water, but the ushers were retrieving the balls in the aisles and throwing them back into the crowd. 

The Beach Boys opened with a string of short pieces like “Catch a Wave” and “Surfin Safari.” From the beginning of the concert, the band was on target with their harmonies and moving around the stage like kids. Brian Wilson remained at the piano for most of the show. Think of the most recent Beach Boys line-ups prior to this show and the semi-novelty acts that they have put on and combine that with like 50x the enthusiasm. They seemed like they just couldn’t wait to show the crowd what they had next and the crowd ate it all up.

One of the best things about the Beach Boys is you do not have to be a big fanatic to have a good time at the show. Yes, this is the same with most bands, but with the Beach Boys it is a little different. Even if you do not know all of the songs, you know a few. You’ve heard “Wouldn’t it Be Nice” and “Surfer Girl” before. The music puts a smile on your face.

The first set ended with a five-song hit-parade beginning with track 20 of the night, “Be True to Your School” and followed by “Don’t Worry Baby,” “Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Shut Down,” and “I Get Around.” I found a video of this set starting from “Little Deuce Coupe” on Youtube. This was around where I was sitting (up and to the left). Take a listen.

See the big beach ball? I hit that around this song. I’m sure you all care so much. Just listen to this. How great do they sound? The best part is the mass sing-along during “I Get Around” which pretty much drowns out the performance. This is how it was for a lot of the night. I must continue to give credit to Jeff Foskett who carried a difficult falsetto through the entire performance. He also looks like a combination between Jon Lovitz and Ted from Scrubs (Sam Lloyd).

After a well-deserved intermission, the Boys came out with an intimate version of “Add Some Music to Your Day” where they all huddled around Brian Wilson’s piano (like old times) and supported him throughout the song.

One of my favorite songs of the night was “Heroes and Villains,” which was supposed to appear on Smile. This song, which sounds like no other, was co-written by Van Dyke Parks. Here is Brian Wilson performing this song recently solo.

Couple of things to keep in mind. The song is incredibly intricate. Brian Wilson may be the unparalleled master of vocal layering. The music is also eerie. It swoons and changes so many times that in a Broadway-esque fashion you do not know what to expect. Wilson played with a string section, several pianos, and horns to create this song. The song was also created in 1967. It is even beyond the progressive rock that it had a part in inspiring. It’s not just a song. It is a work of art, and it was awesome hearing it live.

Towards the end of the show, the band put together two songs back-to-back to honor Dennis and Carl Wilson who have both passed away – Dennis drowned in 1983 at Marina Del Rey (he had been drinking all day and had major issues with alcohol abuse) and Carl died in 1998 from cancer. The way they did this was pretty awesome. For Dennis they put up a video of him singing “Forever” and harmonized with him like he was there, and they did the same with Carl singing my favorite Beach Boys song (and Paul McCartney’s) “God Only Knows.”

After “God Only Knows” the Beach Boys went into one of their lesser known songs, “Good Vibrations,” (haha) and, well, it was incredible. What else can I say. We hit some “Help me Rhonda” and “Surfin USA” and then the encore rolled around and we had this:

You may hear some louder-than-usual cheers during the song. That are the ladies in the audience screaming at John Stamos who is playing with the Beach Boys during their tour (he was in the “Kokomo” video if you remember). He is on stage playing bongos. The audio was strangely low for the song. It turned up for the song #46 “Barbara Ann,” which I actually think was the best performed song of the night – at #46. They ended with “Fun, Fun, Fun” and isn’t that fitting. It describes the concert better than any of my words can!

First Stop: London

22 Jun

The Clash proclaimed quite popularly in their 1979 punk masterpiece that they were “London Calling.” I have perverted the angst demonstrated in that song and will now use it for my own tourist purposes. Yes, I too was London Calling, but as an American who had never been to The Big Smoke. Wow, that’s an outdated nickname, ain’t it. Rebecca, my girlfriend, and I took off on June 1 (conveniently missing the Mets first no-hitter later that night…I don’t want to talk about it) and landed in London early June 2 to cloudy skies and light rain (which would follow us around like a dog throughout our stay…and most of our trip elsewhere). But we were troopers and with umbrellas at ready went out to explore London by way of tourist bus and London underground. Our first impressions? Rainy, but soaked in antiquity and culture. It also didn’t hurt that we visited London (unintentionally) during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee which provided us with a full-on display of British celebration and culture.

While this post does not have much to do with music, I thought you might find our stop in London interesting. I also think you might enjoy a taste of Paris and Berlin over the next few days. Talking about taste.

Is there any better picture to start out with. You know I am an American when my box of fried goodness is loaded with the sticky rouge of ketchup. Notice the variety and straight-up disorderly jumble of my little artistic food picture above. In a way it describes our culinary experience in London. We had Sardinian cuisine, British staples like fish and chips, pies, and pasties, Indian food, and Chinese cuisine at Chinatown at 11 p.m. We crisscrossed cultures and broke down culinary boundaries. Actually, we didn’t. See, that’s the thing with London. It is so ethnically diverse and culturally open. It reminded me of New York in many ways. Hmm…I wonder why. New York was named after the Duke of York, a title of nobility in the British peerage. New York in many ways is like London’s cool nephew. I felt at home in London, more so than in Paris and Berlin (perhaps that’s because they spoke English).

You knew you were getting an image of Abbey Road

There I am in my Grateful Dead zip-up grinning like a fool. It’s funny. Now that I look back at this photo it actually seems photoshopped. I assure you it’s not. Rebecca and I took the trek west of Regent’s Park to Abbey Road. It was quite the trek, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was completely worth it. Like I am sure you all know, this intersection is still an active roadway. Can you imagine having to drive on that street to get to work everyday and having to deal with starry-eyed tourists walking back and forth like idiots to imitate the Beatles. Damn Beatles! I’m not going to lie, besides from thinking about getting run over by a car, I was humming a little ditty to myself as I walked quickly on the beaten white lines. It went a little like this:

Like I said earlier, the Diamond Jubilee transversed our time in London. It was quite exceptional seeing all the preparation for the celebration of the Queen’s 60 years of reign, only the second time a Jubilee has reached diamond status (other was Queen Victoria in the 19th century) since the British monarchy began with Offa the Mercia in the late eighth century (even though some consider the true beginning to be with William the Conquerer in 1066…even though the kingdom of Wessex is the first kingdom to unite England after beating the Mercians in the ninth century (okay I will shut the hell up).

The Fish and Chips photo from above came from the day of the Thames River Pageant which saw thousands of individuals crowd bridges and traffic-less streets to view the procession of boats (including the royal barge) down the Thames. Big video boards showing histories of the Queen on repeat lined the streets. People walked around in suits of the British flag and sang God Save the Queen (I’m serious).

There was also a concert during the five-day celebration at Buckingham Palace that was streamed to various viewing areas like Hyde Park. Here is a picture of my girlfriend before we dug into a vegetarian pie. It was delicious. But through it all my favorite memory from London was something we saw that was not even in London.

That is my beautiful girlfriend and I in front of Stonehenge, the famous pre-historic rock something-or-other built by people who lived on the land that is now the English county Wiltshire anywhere between 3000-2000 BCE. Yes, the rocks are old and they also make extraordinary pictures.

See…I told you

Damn group of people to the right of the picture. I should photoshop them out. What is so intriguing about this rock formation, besides its age, is that no one is quite sure what the formation was. A temple? Was it a clock? Or perhaps…aliens? They are all theories, and besides the last one they are all reputable notions. Since the people did not keep written records (but they were able to master dragging rocks from hundreds of miles away to this spot) we will never know for sure.

It also was pretty funny that the first time we saw blue skies was at Stonehenge.

Rebecca and I made sure to catch some theatre on our last night in London. We chose to see a rock musical based on the music of Queen because, well, we both love the music of Queen. The music was killer (like the title pun, lol) and it made for a great last night in the city.

So there you have it. London. Next Stop: Paris. Before we get there, here is an image of the Tower Bridge.

Bye for now London

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