Sunday, November 29, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1996 - Elvis Costello and the Attractions "All This Useless Beauty"


by Steve Pick

19 years and 17 albums into his career, Elvis Costello released what sounds to me on most days like his masterpiece. Of course, it's not really fair to pretend an artist only has one masterpiece in him, especially since 8 of those previous 16 deserve consideration alongside All This Useless Beauty as absolutely essential listening, and none of the other 8 are less than good. (Have I mentioned before I think Costello is the greatest songwriter of all time?)

Something less than two years before the release of Beauty, Costello reunited his old band the Attractions for an album, Brutal Youth, which attempted to give his fan base what it thought it wanted. Brutal Youth appeared the year after Costello's most (unfairly) maligned record, The Juliet Letters, on which he teamed with classical musicians the Brodsky Quartet. There are some gorgeous songs on that album, but a lot of fans weren't interested in following Costello outside the pop realm. So, for Brutal Youth, he called in drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve to rock things up again. Bassist Bruce Thomas, who has long had a difficult (to say the least) relationship with Costello, came onboard after Nick Lowe had filled the chair for half the songs.

At any rate, Brutal Youth sold better than The Juliet Letters, but not nearly as well as Warner Brothers expected when they signed the consistent upper level cult artist a few years before. With one more record on his contract, and a very successful year of touring under his belt, Costello figured he'd use the Attractions not to revisit the past, but to create a perfectly contemporary original record that wouldn't sound like anything else in his catalog.

First step, he thought he'd cover the songs he'd written for other artists to sing. I can never remember exactly how well that worked out, because there are only two songs on All This Useless Beauty I'd heard before this record came out: "The Other End of the Telescope," co-written by Aimee Mann and released a few years earlier on the final Til Tuesday record, and "You Bowed Down," given to Roger McGuinn for his strong yet sales-challenged return to pop music in the early 90s.

As the project developed, Costello started bringing new material in, as well as songs he'd written with others in mind, but which hadn't been picked up for their use. The Attractions are generally thought of as a rip-roaring rock'n'roll band, which they certainly had proved time and time again that they could be. But Costello had in mind something else entirely for this record - there is so much open space in the arrangements on these songs, so many quiet passages, and it's all ten times more effective for our knowledge of just what could happen at any moment.

We're four songs into the album, and halfway through "Complicated Shadows" at that, before the full throttle power of the Attractions is unleashed. It will come back now and again, especially on the dynamically rich "It's Time" near the end of the album, but for the most part we are meant to consider rock as just one aspect of Costello's music.

Meanwhile, the man himself gave a clinic on how to use a limited vocal prowess in unlimited ways. Costello had always been an expressive singer with a wide range of vocal mannerisms and sophisticated phrasing abilities. But somehow he never sounded better before or after than he does on this album, especially in the lengthy quiet passages. Listen to the way he wraps softly around the words on "All This Useless Beauty" itself, expanding on the sense of loss inherent in the idea that nobody understands the role of beauty in illuminating emotional truths. Of course, he also presents these thoughts inside one of the most luscious melodies in a 32-years-and-counting career of same.

Song after song, Costello snags us with delightfully intimate vocal connections, and he, Nieve, Thomas and Thomas offer(or occasionally comment overwhelmingly) with touchingly light-handed support mixed with delirious rococo effects now and again. "Why Can't a Man Stand Alone" sounds like a masterful Solomon Burke record, and is resoundingly more soulful than anything on the soul pastiche Get Happy album. (Not that I have a single complaint about that record, which is a 45 minute party-on-the-box every time I take it out to listen.) "Poor Fractured Atlas" is a gentle portrait of a frustrated and angry individual who flails hopelessly at ghosts he can't quite touch - at times, I think it's an early attack on Rush Limbaugh types, at others I think it's a snarky comment on rock critics who no longer understood exactly where Costello fit in a culture which no longer valued his melodic mastery or verbal virtuosity.

I love this whole record with all my heart, but the last three songs create a triptych of magnificence that is rarely achieved on any record I know. "You Bowed Down," fueled by the ringing McGuinn-inspired 12-string guitar, is a nuanced tale of two former lovers who have betrayed each other so many times the only thing left to achieve is deciding which one gave in first. Costello and the Attractions deliver this one as if it had already been the gigantic pop hit it deserved to be, except that radio stations that year had decided Costello was too old to be part of the "Alternative Rock" he'd helped to invent.

Then comes "It's Time," a sad but invigorating examination of the end of a relationship that's sometimes a one-night-stand gone awry and sometimes a long-term emotional roller coaster ride. Here, there is no holding back, though dynamics are important, as the band pumps it up and drops down to a scratchy, quiet distance at proper intervals. As the last full band song on the last album ever by this band, it shows just how far they had come since "Watching the Detectives," their first recording, and just how much they'd retained in their ability to mesh with each other.

Finally, there is "I Want to Vanish," an exquisite melding of Steve Nieve, Bruce Thomas and the afore-mentioned Brodsky Quartet. Costello has rarely if ever written a more haunting song, as the narrator quietly insists, with an exquisite tune, that he has nothing left to live for, and nothing at all to understand. It's chilling and as gorgeous as anything you'd care to name, and proof positive that the venture into "high art" could be put to use on a pop record without losing any of the values of either.

It frustrates me to hear people tell me Costello never matched the perfection of his earliest records. Heck, this isn't even the last great thing the man has done in his career, though I don't think he's come close to matching it since. I've been listening to All This Useless Beauty for 13 and one half years, and it does nothing but sound deeper and richer with time. It sounds to me like musical perfection.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cover Me - Home Made Folk Art 2

by Joe Schwab

While digging through the vast Euclid archives, I was overjoyed to find two more homemade covers. The last ones we put up were LP's from Sarah Vaughan and Teddy Wilson that were received with a very positive response.


Our new finds are the rare Prestige LP from Phil Woods entitled Pairing Off. The other is the Riverside classic by the late George Russell, Ezz-thetics. I particularly love the illustration of Russell as it's reminescent of me. I think I'll make it my new Facebook photo!




Thursday, November 26, 2009

Euclid Records to Release Troubadour Dali Debut CD



This is exciting news! We've been working on this for months and now the time has come. Euclid Records will be releasing its first full-length CD on December 15, when the debut album from St. Louis' premier psychedelic band, Troubadour Dali, comes out. There will be a CD release party on Friday, December 11 at Off Broadway - more details will be forthcoming. But circle those dates right now, and remember that Euclid Records isn't just your source for all the great music everybody else has released, but we're now your source for great music we provide ourselves.



Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Mac a Day - the Day After



by Steve Pick
photos by Jim Varvaris

You know, in this biz, you get to meet a lot of the people who make the records you enjoy, and you understand that musicians are just regular folks like you and me. But darned if I wasn't just a little bit overwhelmed by the fact that I was standing just a few feet away from Ian McLagan, one of the greatest keyboardists in rock history, and a man who has spent 45 years contributing to records great and small. Goosebumps, I tell you.

On stage, though, he was just an enormously talented guy singing songs which he's written, and which carry forth the legacy of the musicians he grew up loving and the musicians he grew older playing with. Concentrating mostly on songs from his latest (and most critically acclaimed) solo album Never Say Never, McLagan demonstrated his melodic gifts both as a pianist and as a singer. The man just never settles for the obvious or the cliched.

And of course, he ended the show with a delightful nod to history, a version of the Faces classic "Glad and Sorry" written by his late friend and long-time bassist Ronnie Lane. As he said, "if you sing Ronnie's songs, it keeps him alive" and that is as noble a way to carry on the work of a dear friend as you can name. Here's what that one sounded like.



Monday, November 23, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 9

And now, with just one day left until Ian McLagan is performing right here in our store, we'll give you a sneak preview of what he's doing Nov. 24 at 3 pm (and again that night at Off Broadway).

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 8

Sorry for the late posting. Here's another classic from Ian McLagan's Small Faces days,this time augmented by P.P. Arnold, as we are only 2 days away from seeing him play live in Euclid Records at 3 pm Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 7

Last year, Ian McLagan went over to Europe as an adjunct member of James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards - check out how much energy and excitement he adds to the already brilliant "Choctaw Bingo." There's more of this available on the DVD and CD James McMurtry Live in Europe.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 6

Here's another classic from the Small Faces era, 2 minutes and 2 seconds of pure rock & roll excitement. Don't forget to catch Ian McLagan Tuesday Nov. 24 when he plays in the store at 3 pm.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cover Me - Labels

by Joe Schwab

Over the past year, Euclid has gone into the record production game. We've released six singles in 2009 with another on the way, and the first full length CD by Troubadour Dali will be hitting the streets in December. Most of our work such as set up, production, paper work, mixing etc are of varying degrees of mundane. The real fun is designing a label. When our buddy Art Chantry designed the Euclid crown logo, he envisioned an old 50's style label. And how perceptive is Mr. Chantry now, eh?

Well, this brings us to a couple of my favorite label designs. These two have always stuck in my mind. The first is from the Stepheny label. Stepheny Records put out a dozen or so releases of mostly light jazz combos and big bands back in the 50's. I'd love to have a bit more history about the subject on the label. I'm assuming this is Steph herself set in a bust like those old busts of Beethoven and Brahms that graced pianos back in the day. I guess it's the expression that brings to mind one of the 3 Stooges after a good chug of moonshine.




Which segues nicely to our second label, the one off from Shemp Records (Remember, "if it ain't Shemp, it ain't shit!"). Shemp only produced one record as far as I know, by Beaver Harris and Don Pullen. If the company wasn't a winner, then the label sure is. I can only say that I would have loved to come up with this concept. You can't look at it without it putting a big smile on your face!

Hmmmm...Euclid Records subsidiary label, Larry Records? Larry Fine, Larry Davis, Larry Sanders, Larry Storch, Larry King...




A Mac a Day - Day 5

We'll get back to showing some older clips with Ian McLagan, but we just wanted to let you see how cool he is performing one of his classic songs he co-wrote with Ronnie Lane. "You're So Rude" was originally on the Faces brilliant A Nod Is As Good As A Wink to a Blind Horse album, but we think the Bump Band does it justice here.



We are just so excited about McLagan playing Tuesday, Nov. 24 at 3 pm in our store - hope you can make it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 4

There probably hasn't been an hour passed in the last 38 years without at least one radio station in the country (and more likely several) playing "Maggie May" by Rod Stewart. It's one of the biggest and most deserved hits of all time. That's Ian McLagan playing organ on that record, and here's a little clip of the Faces performing the song live that shows just how great these guys could be. Only six more days until Nov. 24, when Ian McLagan will play right here at Euclid Records at 3 pm.

A Mac a Day - Day 3

After Steve Marriott left the Small Faces, the others recruited Rod Stewart and guitarist Ron Wood to take his place. The new line-up made one record under the old name before dropping the Small word. As the Faces, they became more popular than ever, and released some pretty amazing albums. Even better were their concerts (as documented on quite a few cuts in the essential box set Five Guys Walk Into a Bar). Here's a clip that features Ian McLagan on electric piano as the guys cover Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Don't forget it's exactly one week until Nov. 24 when McLagan will be right here in Euclid Records performing live at 3 pm.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Stuff That Jack Likes, Volume 4

A fairly frequent list of stuff that Euclid's own Jackieboy currently likes...


1. I will be spinnin' records at The Halo Bar as DJ Jackieboy this Wednesday, November 18th! I'll be playing lots of great indie rock/pop, electronic and dancy grooves all night long, from 11p.m. until 3a.m. Hope to see you there!

2. An awkwardly beautiful video for "Like a Diamond" by Glass Ghost off their new record Idol Omen. (It is available to be special ordered, so give us a call):



3. An absolutely insane video for "I Say Fever" by Ramona Falls from their album Intuit. Not my favorite song on the record, but definitely the creepiest:



4. Brand new LCD Soundsystem single "Bye Bye Bayou", which I will definitely be playing at the spin on Wednesday and which will defintely not be on their next album. You can get it on an exclusive 12" here at Euclid Records:



5. New Yeasayer single "Ambling Amp", also available on 12" at Euclid Records. This makes me very, very excited for their new record next year:

A Mac a Day - Day 2

Many critics consider Ogden's Nut Gone Flake by the Small Faces to be one of the very best concept albums of all time. It's chock full of great songs, and here's one of them, the delightful "Happiness Stan" performed by the band back when they were all so young and pretty.



Don't forget, next Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 3 pm, Ian McLagan will be right here on the stage at Euclid Records. Call us (314-961-8978) for details.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Mac a Day - Day 1

Ian McLagan will be performing in Euclid Records on Tuesday, Nov. 24. We'll be jogging down memory lane until then, reminding you of some of the amazing things this man has accomplished in the last 45 years.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1995 - Cassandra Wilson "New Moon Daughter"


by Steve Pick

Cassandra Wilson sold more jazz vocal records in the 90s than anybody else. New Moon Daughter, though perhaps slightly less perfect than her previous album, Blue Light 'Til Dawn, was her biggest hit. It's moodiness, the brooding, darkly delirious soundscapes matched to her husky, enticing voice, make for a perfect encapsulation of 1995 as I remember it. That year, on the one hand, I moved in with the love of my life, and on the other hand, I lost my father, and my newspaper column, and prepared to lose my favorite pet. So, yeah, sweet songs a la "Harvest Moon" and loss songs like "Death Letter" tend to rattle around in my head when I think of that year.

I'm still not sure about the structure of this album, which opens with an eerie take on Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit." This is a song which was devastating in the context of Holiday's time; it just wasn't done for any artist, let alone an African-American female singer, to talk about the evil happenings in the South. Lynching and racism were major issues linked by the horrible images of the former; by 1995, racism was far from dead, but lynching had thankfully faded into something of the past. So, Wilson was chasing both the ghosts of Holiday's vocal talent, and of a social ill no longer prevalent. No matter how haunting the music is, no matter how skillfully Wilson finds a way into the song which skips past comparisons to the original, it simply can't be as stunning as it wants to be.

Things only get slightly better with the second song, "Love is Blindness," written by U2. For here, Wilson tries to take her previous record's eclectic approach to its furthest reaches, by covering a song by what was possibly the biggest rock band in the world at the time. Unfortunately, the song is utterly forgettable, and Wilson's nuanced take on nothing still leaves us with nothing.

Things pick up from there, as you might be expecting for an album I'm choosing to represent an entire year. Wilson's self-penned "Solomon Sang" sounds like a great lost Joni Mitchell number from the mid-70s. The lyrics imagine some thoughts in the head of King Solomon which weren't mentioned directly in the Bible, and consider the pleasures of life to be not necessarily the ones which seem obvious to those from afar. Beautiful number.

Son House's "Death Letter" is one of those blues songs which can stand up to a thousand readings - the basic story is that the singer gets a letter telling of the death of a lover, and then goes to see that it is true, and that others are concerned, too. Wilson gives it a fearsome, dark reading, aware of the horrors and the unreality that is in the song. It's a chilling performance, especially if you're facing any kind of death demons in your life.

Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark" and Wilson's "Find Him" make a pleasant pairing, both about searches for love and happiness which seem elusive. "Skylark" was, in fact, the first jazz standard I'd heard Wilson sing (though far from the first she'd recorded); my familiarity with her started in some of the MBase stuff she did with Steve Coleman, and then picked up when she made these two albums for Blue Note which mostly concentrated on blues and pop/rock. By now, I've taken for granted Wilson's ability to match any song to her own voice; back when this came out, I was constantly being surprised.

Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" and the Monkees "Last Train to Clarksville" make another strange yet perfect combination. Wilson makes the metaphors of Williams' classic come alive; you can particularly hear the robin sing and hear the train whistle blow, and feel the mood of the song. She chooses to open "Last Train to Clarksville" with her own scatting based on the pseudo-scatting the Monkees inserted in their original. Then she exaggerates the sadness of the song - this is the tale of an affair, and one last desperate attempt to reconnect before ending it. There is a hint of the excitement of the pop hit, but much more emotional depth is revealed.

The album is rounded out by three more Wilson originals, and a cover of Neil Young's then recent "Harvest Moon." The three originals are the most lively songs on the record, though, alas, the least memorable. I always enjoy hearing them, but never crave them, and it's Wilson's force of personality which makes them viable. Her take on "Harvest Moon" is as sweet as Young's original, but with a wider range of musical interest inserted into the song - as much from the arrangement as from Wilson's ability to take a very simple melody and add just a few grace notes here and there to garnish it.

I've seen Cassandra Wilson live a few times, and know that her albums reveal only a portion of her many skills as a singer. But, I also know that her best albums - and this is one of them - are as emotionally resonant as anything out there, and I'm glad to find a year where one stands head and shoulders above all competitors so I could write about it.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Some Links to Musical Thoughts and Delights

We stumble across the coolest things across the internet. For example, ever wonder just what you might have been handed as you entered the door for a concert in 1929 by Louis Armstrong? Here's a blog with a scan of the program from June 29, 1929 at the Graystone Garden in Detroit. And when you're done being impressed with that, check out some of the other cool things on this blog - it's a great way to see the more day to day role jazz played in the olden days.

We are all in favor of people talking about music, and discovering new ways to hear things (or a way to find something in it for the first time). This takes you to a conversation between a jazz expert and a jazz neophyte, discussing the things going on in a particular Ella Fitzgerald track. There's a whole mess of interesting stuff on the NPR jazz blog itself.

This next link is only peripherally about music - it's from Eric Ambel's enjoyable blog, knuckleheadnyc. Ambel has played guitar over the years with Steve Earle, the Del Lords, and Joan Jett, among many other stalwarts, and has produced more than his share of good records. This little tale of how he became a Yankees fan, and of how he enjoyed their World Series victory, may annoy those who reflexively hate all things about that New York team, but it's really a sweet story about the fun of baseball fandom.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Mac to Return to St. Louis - Ian McLagan Will Play In Euclid Records

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, Nov. 24 (two days before Thanksgiving, just in case you didn't realize that was coming up, too). Rock legend Ian McLagan, whose keyboard skills were a prominent part of the Small Faces and the Faces back in the 70s, who has played with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg, and lots more, and who has led varying editions of his own Bump Band for 30 years, will be in St. Louis and performing a rare solo show right here in Euclid Records before playing at Off Broadway later that night.

Our show will be at 3 pm, and we'll be telling you more about it in the next couple weeks, but for now, we thought you'd like to see McLagan and the Bump Band as they appeared on Late Night with David Letterman just this past June.



For more info on McLagan, check out his excellent website.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Albums of My Life - 1994 - The Bottle Rockets "The Brooklyn Side"



by Steve Pick

The 2009 version of the Bottle Rockets are just about as great a live rock band as you'll find anywhere on the planet. Back in 1994, they were a bit more hit and miss on stage (though they could reach masterful heights on a good night), but they were busy recording some of their most iconic songs. The Brooklyn Side contains eight great songs the band is still performing after all these years, more than on any other of their records.

Brian Henneman was and is the front-man for the Bottle Rockets, but he's never been the only songwriter in the band. No matter the source of the material, however, Henneman has always shaped it into something that sounds distinctive - his love of Neil Young, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and John Prine, among others has helped him create a blend of southern country-based rock that carries a hard-edged kick while always giving a nod in the direction of pop hooks. (Henneman would, in fact, the next year contribute quite a few of his trademark hooks to Wilco's debut album, A.M.)

The Brooklyn Side was the second album by the Bottle Rockets, a reconstituted version of the 1980s St. Louis band Chicken Truck. Henneman was the front man and lead guitarist (nowadays, he shares that guitar duty with the sizzling John Horton, giving the band one of the best one-two punches on that instrument you can find). Mark Ortmann was (and is) back in the drum chair, and Tom Parr returned to rhythm guitar duties. The bassist was new, Tom Ray replacing Parr's brother Bob.

I saw Chicken Truck at least as often as I saw Uncle Tupelo back in those pre-fame days for these local favorites. There were times they walked on water in that little basement bar at the original Cicero's. But that band never had the money to really go in and record a great record. I'm not saying producer Eric Ambel was given an unlimited budget from East Side Digital (a label then not much longer for the world; the album has since been reissued by Atlantic). But, he did give these songs the dynamic punch they deserved, as the band took what had been a collection of crowd pleasers from their live shows and turned them into a coherent and powerful album.

The Brooklyn Side
tackles issues of social class without ever coming off as a polemic. "Welfare Music," the astounding opening cut, puts a human face on what was at the time being called "welfare queens," the poor single parent women trying to raise a family and subsist on the pittance given by the government. It also has one of the earliest musical attacks on Rush Limbaugh, something nobody expected to be as timely fifteen years down the line as it was when it was first released. Musically, the song is a masterful sing-a-long, with a folky vibe that can easily be punched up into a rock powerhouse.

Then there's "Thousand Dollar Car," a song which has suffered only from inflationary pressures which makes younger listeners question the thought that any automobile could ever have been sold for so little. But, it is a perfect example of the Henneman wit - "Might as well take your thousand dollars / and set fire to it" or "1000 dollar car's life was through / About 50,000 miles 'fore it got to you." (It occurs to me that I'm possibly making a typical assumption that Henneman wrote these lyrics - I can't find my physical copy of the CD, and the internet doesn't have writing credits for this album, which is unusual - I know that Tom and Bob Parr, Ortmann, and Scott Taylor - a high school English teacher of members of the band - have written songs, too.) It's funny, but also connects us to the lower classes - only the poor would ever buy a car that cheap, even though it's going to cost them more than a more expensive car would in the long run.

"Radar Gun," which goes back to the Chicken Truck days, is a roaring anthem sung from the point of view of a sadistic cop giving tickets; "Sunday Sports" is the tale of a man with few joys in life going for what he can which manages to sound pathetic and yet sympathetic at the same time; "I'll Be Coming Around" and "I Want to Come Home" are fairly conventional thematically - the former is about a guy who wants to have an affair, and the latter about a guy who wants to be forgiven for having one - but are among the most delightfully catchy songs of the last 20 years. And "Gravity Fails" is a stunning masterpiece of Henneman hookishness wedded to lyrics of desperation to hold on to the woman who grounds him.

As with most albums of the time, The Brooklyn Side goes on about ten minutes longer than it could, but the best material is so strong that the lesser songs just seem like a brief break from perfection. It's probably too early to tell if Lean Forward, the band's latest album, is as close to greatness as The Brooklyn Side, but despite all the good work they've done in the fifteen years between them, it's these two albums which strike me as the Bottle Rockets' one-two punch.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Euclid Records Feature in New Goldmine

Goldmine


This was published in the brand new issue of Goldmine, and all copyright belongs to them, 2009. We think it's a cool thing you might want to see.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stuff That Jack Likes, Volume 3

A new weekly posting of the stuff that Euclid's own Jackieboy likes...

1. Cold Cave - Love Comes Close. This comes out tomorrow on Matador Records. Think synth-pop and Stephin Merritt-like vocals. I am very excited:



2. Check out the video for Fanfarlo's "The Walls Are Coming Down" over at The Guardian UK website. This is the second single from their new album Reservoir. Maybe for fans of Beirut and The Arcade Fire. I dig.

3. Wes Anderson wants to make a movie in space!

4. Announcements of new records for 2010 by Spoon, High Places, Yeasayer, Midlake, LCD Soundsystem, and Hot Chip. Looks like it's going to be a great year already!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Water/Wood

I could get used to this gig, you know? A few times a year, I open my inbox and find this magical invitation from Eddie Silva at the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, in which I get free tickets and free drinks. Sweet. My ordinary existence of jazz clubs and indie dives just got so much more swank. As I ponder which friend I’m going to ask to accompany me for the evening this time around, it occurs to me that I have become a fan of the SLSO. And I don’t mean that ironically, like only on Facebook (where I am a fan, actually—it helps me keep an eye on their upcoming events), but in real life as well.

Here’s where I experience a bit of a disconnect, though. I don’t know all that much about classical music—not nearly as much as I know about contemporary music, anyway—and so I always feel like I’m experiencing the music in a much different way. With punk rock, I know the whole history of it all, the albums, the personalities, the scenes and how they interconnect. I can do that with jazz, too, right? I mean, that whole scene has only been around for less than a hundred years now, and with a little effort you can acquaint yourself with both the music and the historical context. With classical music, I have none of that—no context and no ground to stand on. Now, I have discovered that this is, actually, a very good thing. It means that I can approach the music with a fresh perspective. With classical music, I can listen with a thirsty ear; with everything else, let’s just say that it's sometimes tough to check the hipster pretensions and jazz snobbery at the door.

The program for the evening was all modern composers, which is just fine by me--I love it when the SLSO takes a walk on the wild side. Works by Stravinsky and Bartok bookended two pieces by contemporary Chinese composers Tan Dun and Bright Sheng. The two middle pieces by the Chinese composers featured percussionist Colin Currie on marimba and on various esoteric percussion instruments including, well, two big bowls of water. I love watching drummers perform--they are so embodied, there's a entirely different physical quality about them. Add to this the novelty of watching someone slap, patter and splash around in bowls of water, while accompanied by full orchestra, and then manipulate sound by submerging cowbells, wooden bowls and small gongs while pounding them with open hands or mallets, well, you've got my total attention. I don't mean to diminish the Tan Dun piece by only commenting on the fantastical aspects of the performance; the various water sounds were integral to the composition. The organic sounds produced by the water and wood were grounding, while the overtones produced when Currie drew a violin bow over an oddly shaped metal percussion instrument added jarring harmonic contrast.

The Bright Sheng composition, Colors of Crimson, was for marimba, and once again I was drawn in by the earthy wooden tones, as well as the four mallets-in-just-two-hands technique that floors me every time I see it. While it was likely not intended, there was something about the rhythmic drive of this piece (and the actual tone of the marimba itself) that evoked the sounds of African Shona Mbira music that seeped into my consciousness so many years ago while listening to those fabulous Nonesuch Explorer albums.

The final piece was The Miraculous Mandarin Suite, by Bela Bartok, reworked from an earlier aborted ballet (the single performance of this ballet was so controversial that it was never played again). I've never seen the SLSO play so loudly or intensely. I walked out of the hall afterwards thinking that I had surely just seen the symphonic equivalent of a Led Zepplin stadium show in the 1970's. I turned to my friend and said, "They rocked the f*** out on the Bartok." I grinned and said, "And that's as articulate as I can get on that one." Later, as I ran into Eddie in the parking lot, on the way to Triumph for a post show drink, he said, "Wow, they really rocked the Bartok tonight, didn't they?" Glad someone else heard it that way, too.

Postscript: Colin Currie was wandering around backstage in between performances in a Joy Division t-shirt. How cool is that?

Check out other blogger's perspectives on this performance:
Chris at Confluence City
Julie at gatewaygroupies
Amy at A Chase After Wind
Tony at Tony Renner, Artist