To Tahrir

To Tahrir (music link – opens in new window).  It is a toast, or a direction we could or should be heading, or a love letter, or a dedication, or an address.  As a piece of program music, it reflects the various times when it looked like the people might be stopped, but they came back stronger each time. Tahrir

Actually I originally called it “Spectral Youth,” and when Monisha heard it, she suggested “To Egypt” because of the youth there, and I pitched in with “To Tahrir,” which of course means “to liberation.” Eric and I recorded it last June so there is an element of time travel and anachronism that is difficult for me as a historian, but Monisha said to just tell them a sociologist did it.

There is precedent for program music being made before the program was decided upon. When I was an undergrad, one of my music professors said he spoke with Krzysztof Penderecki about his famous piece, Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. My prof told him that the piece evoked the event beautifully, it really gave him a new and deeper understanding of the travails of the people of Hiroshima. He then went into detailed descriptions of which part of it aligned which what portions of the events.  Penderecki then informed my crestfallen prof that he wrote the piece before he came up with the name, originally calling it just 8’37”.

What I was trying to do was get a Sonic Youth-ish thing going, with a thrashy Thurston Moor-ish guitar line modifed by a Lee Renaldo-ish feedbacky thing. The cool thing about it is that the sound is on a bunch of different variable axes at once. There is the regular vaguely acoustic sound of the chugging rhythm, and the loudness of the playing sets the tone on a spectral gate, which has a chimey sound. The location of where I was playing on the string sets the sweep of the filter (the whooshy, wah wah sounds) while the time between notes sets the delay time which creates the chirping echo effects. As always, Eric immediately grokked the situation and provided a spot on perfect bass line. Plus we did not forget to stop, so it does not go on for a half hour.

As usual, Facebook people, if you got this far, you might have to come to for the links and the music.


I was going to write a review of Yo La Tengo and Wilco at Coney Island the other night and I guess I sort of will but I think a theme will emerge and take over.

Let’s start with Yo La Tengo, the Hoboken three piece noise pop outfit. I love their recorded work, and I discovered why: I can pick which pieces to listen too. When they manage to balance the noise with the pop, doing both, they are incredible. But the pop just by itself is just pop, no bite or edge. It’s — nice. And the more experimental noise pieces lapse into self indulgence. Sonic Youth have made a career of occupying the noisy side of the street and in recent years have developed a vocabulary — even a language — of noise through which they talk to each other and us.  Ira Kaplan just wailed when he went off on noise excursions, supported –but not really in conversation with — YLT’s great rhythm section. But he wasn’t really talking. And when the pop happened it was good and fun, but it didn’t really engage with their experimental side. The two aspects met and passed each other by without much in the way of engagement. I feel bad saying it cuz I really like the band.

Wilco tries the same move but coming from a different place. Starting out as alt country pioneers in the late nineties, they developed an edgier sound as they grew. At a crucial juncture, after firing the late and talented Jay Bennett, they could have retreated and consolidated, like the Replacements did after having to fire Bob Stinson and that would have probably finished Wilco same as it did the ‘Mats. Instead they took on experimental guitarist Nels Cline and asked him to play as a band member, not just a lead guitar dropping in every four or five minutes from space. This unlikely match produced the album — or more particularly, the song — that hooked me on Wilco. Along the way I discovered Jeff Tweedy’s fairly poetic songwriting, in the reverse order to what I suppose is the usual route of discovery.

The album, A Ghost is Born, is uneven, largely marred by a pointless, formless fourteen minute excursion into hum and static. But on there lay a gem of a song, “Handshake Drugs,” with its wonderfull pre-recovery lyrics like “if I ever was myself I wasn’t that night.” But the hook for me was the way it started out as a catchy but standard piano, bass, and drums song only to be gradually, almost imperceptibly, invaded by Cline’s insect buzz guitars taking over and consuming the song, transforming it into something wild and altogether other by the end without the listener ever quite knowing how it happened.

Handshake Drugs” is a version in miniature of what my favorite radio show, Boston’s “Eric in the Evening” does with jazz. We would often times flip through the stations in Boston before dinner and land on some cosmopolitan sounding bebop to eat to only to land somehow invariably in Ornette Coleman/Sun Ra territory before dessert, moving there so sneakily as to never notice until it was too late to ever go back. Unfortunately, the subtle takeover was lost live as Cline dive bombed with squall right at the start of the second verse.

I have to admit I still liked some of the music, especially the guitars, both Tweedy’s and Cline’s, not to mention the occasional third one from one of the keyboard players. And the band is at the top of its game. And Tweedy writes compellingly. But still…

Mission of Burma

Caught the end of Fucked Up at East River Park in Brooklyn. Suitably fast and loud with lots of mosh action and crowd surfing. They have some pretty nihilistic politics and a history of wild shows but nothing too outrageous today. I’ not too sure what to think of them politco-punkwise. They used some Nazi shit on a split release but then Jello Biafra, author of “Nazi Punk Fuck Off,” came onstage to join them for an encore at one show. Still poking around teh interwebs for their 2004 “clarification” concerning the Nazi crap.  Maybe Jello’s gone soft?:)

Waiting for Mission of Burma to come on, Boston’s seminal contribution to postpunk. Never fails — the two tallest people at the show walk up and stand right in front of us. They were actually cool and when I asked they swapped spots with us (otherwise there would be a pic of a hairy back below instead of MOB).

I know MOB are pioneers in bringing interesting rhythmic changeups and tape looping to punk, but I never really got into their records the first time around even though they sounded interesting on paper. It all seemed a little busy and noodly, kind of the antithesis of the punk aesthetic.

Live is a different story though. They were incredibly tight as a band in a way that only people who are quite serious about their music and have been playing together for thirty years can be. And loud. And fast then slow then fast. All in all, they were way more musical than the last seventies vets I caught, the Damned, who were sloppy as hell but still fun. MOB reminded me of a guitar-driven punk-fueled version of XTC. The effects were seamlessly woven into the music. The guy doing the effects is the only non-original member I think, and he was back at the sound board, but he fit right in.

I really enjoyed the show but Monisha put on headphones and listened to Ozomatli on the train ride to Queens to wash the noise out of her head. She appreciated that they were technically very good but they were just not her cup of tea even though she quite liked Sonic Youth when we caught them last summer I’ll have to go back and give MOB’s recorded work another spin.

Day Dream Nation Concert

SOnic Youth from the nosebleed seatsMonisha and I went to hear Sonic Youth in Berkeley. I think we got the last tickets for the whole show. Our seats, as you can see from the pic, were at the very top back row of the balcony. We could see better than the cellphone pic lets on, and the sound was actually quite good from way up there…nosebleeds but not earbleeds. Here are some better pix from a different show in Chicago.
I was psyched as the program was a full rendition of SY classic Daydream Nation, a sprawling double album that Pitchfork Media has dubbed the most important album of the 1980s. They opened with a dead-on version of their big alt.hit from the album, “Teenage Riot,” and proceeded to tear through the album with no commentary and a lot of energy. I won’t recount a blow by blow, but “Candle” was great, and the difficult-to-do-live “Providence” was tremendous blast of noise. One concert-goer I overheard described the Daydream portion of the show as “eight distractions with a drummer in the middle” which was kind of fitting, I think it might have been a compliment. I have duly added “the distractions” to my list of band names in case I run out.

I looked over to see how Monisha was faring. Her tastes lean toward Kanda Bongo Man and Mozart. She has a fantastic ear and no patience for any singer who is the least bit off key. I doubted she would like them, but was surprised. Monisha had this look of sort of a combination of shock and entrancement and later said once she got used to it she began to hear the music in the noise and appreciate that they were very serious about what they were doing, not just throwing things together. She also thought Kim Gordon was a blast, because she wasn’t playing the tambourine and looking pretty but a central part of the band on bass and vocals. I’m hoping Mo will take some time and share her thoughts herself.

“Providence” was perhaps the most interesting piece. On the album it is a treated piano or something like that, with a phone answering machine of Thurston Moore’s (one of the two guitarists) father berating him [N.B. see comments for a correction on this and more on the instrumentation] and telling him he’s too stoned and a fuck up and better get his act together. Gradually, Mr. Moore the elder gets drowned out in a wall of unearthly noise. I have always like the song, having had a similar relationship with dear old dad. Answering such a message with a song that literally obliterates it with what he is doing always seemed a lovely concept to me. Live the emphasis was on the noise, and Thurston had some sort of contraption next to his guitar amp that produced the requisite squealing and howling. Monisha was impressed.

The second half of the show was mostly new stuff from Rather Ripped, including a fantastic version of “Incinerate.” The minimalist, uncharacteristically mellow “Do you believe in Rapture” came off much better live than on the CD I think. It would have made a great closer, but fortunately for us, we got another few songs after that. The band sounds very different on the newer stuff. Each player has more space, they seem like they have grown really good at listening and responding to each other musically. I think I liked the newer stuff better than Daydream. For about half of the newer songs Mark Ibold came out and covered for Kim Gordon’s arthritic fingers. She then went nuts doing a sort of really cool interpretive dance along with giving her full attention to the vocals. It added a great visual element to the show.

All in all a great concert. Hope you have time to listen to some of my stuff at way music!
You can hear some SY stuff here.