Music

Kesha’s Rockshow Comeback

As summer officially transitioned into fall, I spent the equinox watching Kesha and the Creepies perform at the Warsaw in Brooklyn. This was my third time seeing the formerly dollar-signed singer, but the first in over three years since her very public legal drama began.

For those who haven’t heard, Kesha has been trapped in legal limbo for the last few years. She sued her producer Dr. Luke, accusing him of sexual and emotional assault. Because artists have to sign their life away to labels, Kesha’s contract with Sony stipulates that she can only work with Luke– essentially forcing her to work with her rapist. The legal proceedings are ongoing, but she has been prohibited from releasing new music for almost four years.

But last night, Kesha was not about to let those problems inhibit an incredible show.
She addressed the lawsuit early, telling the crowd how grateful and appreciative she was of our support. The crowd was deafeningly loud in response, with such powerful cheers and chants that Kesha at moments was on the verge of years. She noted- and I felt- the palpable love in the room. It was both a heavy moment but one of reassurance. Love always conquers hate. (more…)

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People are missing this crucial detail that proves TSwift is right and Kimye is wrong

Note: none of this actually matters. 

If you have the Internet, you may have heard that there is a war going on between two camps: one headed by Taylor Swift, the other by Kanye and Kim Kardashian West. Basically, Taylor Swift is pissed about some lyrics in Kanye’s song “Famous,” but Kimye (referring to Kim and Kanye as a team) alleges that Kanye told Swift about the lyrics, she gave her approval, and is therefore a liar and a snake and all these awful things. 

What really escalated things was when Kim released audio recordings of Kanye and Taylor talking about the song. According to Kimye, this proved that Taylor’s outrage was fake and that she knew what the song would be about. But here’s the detail that everyone is missing: Taylor took issue with one specific line: “I made that bitch famous.” BUT– crucially– even on the dubiously released phone conversations, Kanye never told Taylor about that specific line! 

To recap: Taylor was pissed about said line. Kim and Kanye went in on her, saying she knew what the song was going to be about and released taped conversations. But there were no conversations about that line in question that Taylor took issue with! It was a Kimye bluff, and everyone fell for it. 

Now, let’s break down why Taylor Swift was offended by that line: “I made that bitch famous.” The reasons are two-fold. First, he called her a bitch. For some reason, rappers are given a free pass when it comes to sexist and misogynistic lyrics. But if a woman takes issue with being called a sexist and derogatory slur, she is more than entitled to do so. 

How are so many people missing that point? Yes, Kanye has poetic license to use whatever words he chooses, but if you call a woman a bitch, she has the right to be upset by that. 

Secondly, and perhaps even more crucially, was Kanye’s lyrical assertion that he made Taylor Swift famous. This is where the sexism goes into overdrive. Here is a man saying that his shitty actions (specifically when he stormed the VMA stage in 2009 trying to take an award away from Swift) are what made an incredibly successful woman famous. He is trying to take credit for this woman’s success. And calls her a bitch while doing so. 

(It’s important to note that prior to the infamous 2009 VMA’s, Taylor Swift was a global superstar who has toured the world, sold millions of records, and connected with millions of fans. She made herself famous, by the merits of her songwriting abilities. Kanye West did not, in fact, make that bitch famous.)

In summation, Taylor Swift was doubly justified in being pissed off at a monumentally sexist line. Kimye used smoke and mirrors to fake a backstory and make Taylor look like a liar, when in fact, it was the Kardashian-Wests doing the lying. 

Again, none of this really matters, but it was very frustrating that everyone seemed to be missing such a crucial detail in this feud. 

Now back to reality!

MC Ren On Why N.W.A Belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

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N.W.A (from left: Dr. Dre, MC Ren, Ice Cube, DJ Yella) accepting their Hall of Fame honors.

Earlier this year, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inducted N.W.A as part of their Class of 2016. This was a huge step forward in recognizing one of the most influential and important artists of all time. Formed in Compton, California in 1986, N.W.A were one of the first artists to write about police brutality in black communities, and they were made into pariahs because of it.

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It’s jarring to listen to N.W.A’s lyrics today, because even though these songs were written decades ago, they sound as tragically current as ever. N.W.A, whose classic lineup comprised of DJ Yella, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, and MC Ren, wrote songs about racial profiling and police brutality, including the seminal “Fuck tha Police.”

When that song was released in 1988, it was a lightning rod for controversy. The group found their music censored, their concerts boycotted, and even received a threatening letter from the FBI. But the root of all of the uproar was the simple fact that an artist was audacious enough to call out systemic racism in America.

Here’s a fact: About the same number of white people and black people smoke marijuana. But if you are black, you are four times more likely to be arrested for it than if you were white.

Four times.

This, in a nutshell, encapsulates the centuries long struggle between black people and racist law enforcement.

Beginning with the founding of this country, when sheriffs would bring back escaped slaves to their owners, to when cops prevented freed slaves from daring to enjoy the same amenities as their former owners, to the present day, there has always been a different set of laws if you are black.

This self perpetuating system of oppression and injustice has affected the daily lives of black people in this country literally every day since its inception. Somehow though, this dynamic has been willfully ignored by white people since day one.

A combination of hate, ignorance, and obliviousness has led most white people to live their lives either ignoring the reality of black life or outright denying that black lives are more difficult, or even matter.

That is why N.W.A was and is so important. From 1980s Compton to 2010s Ferguson, (and Florida, Staten Island and beyond), a number of police officers, as Ice Cube put it, “think they have the authority to kill a minority.” This stream of police brutality has been divisive, leading to a national conversation about race. (I highly recommend reading this brilliant piece on white privilege, especially if you are reading this thinking that racism isn’t really a problem.)

Shortly after the group was nominated for the Hall of Fame, I spoke with MC Ren. We discussed N.W.A’s impact as well as the resistance to acknowledge their success. This was their fourth nomination– they’d missed the cut three times before.

“I have no clue why we keep getting snubbed by the Hall when they have other hip hop groups in,” Ren said, adding that “our group had as big an impact as all the rest.”

Only four rap acts had been inducted prior to N.W.A: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (2007), Run-D.M.C. (2009), Beastie Boys (2012), and Public Enemy (2013). Depending on your point of view, four is either way too small a number, or four too many. But many listeners of both rap and rock would argue that rock isn’t so much a genre, but rather a style of expression.

“‘Fuck Tha Police’ is hip hop and has a rock & roll attitude by the statement alone,” Ren said.

Ice Cube later elaborated on that thought, saying during his induction speech:

Now, the question is, are we rock & roll? And I say you goddamn right we rock & roll. Rock & roll is not an instrument, rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit.

That rock & roll/hip hop spirit means standing up to adversity. Calling out discrimination. Fighting the power. N.W.A embodies that spirit without a doubt. As they knock down barriers upon their induction, the larger problem of police brutality still looms large. But today, perhaps more than ever, there seems to at least be a raised awareness of the issues.

“It’s not that America is catching up with the brutality,” Ren said. “It’s just now with technology, more events are getting captured on film and [are] bringing light to more of these evil crimes committed by crooked police officers who abuse power because they wear a badge.”

Recently many of the cop-on-unarmed-black-man crimes have blown up nationally because there are cell phone videos of these crimes. There has also been a push for body camera laws to hold police more accountable.

N.W.A went into the Hall of Fame alongside Deep Purple, Chicago, Cheap Trick, and Steve Miller. I asked MC Ren what his thoughts were on a potential all-star jam, and he said “I think all the groups together would make magic.” However, N.W.A wound up not performing at the event, feeling that they “weren’t supported.”

But like it or not, MC Ren and the rest of “the world’s most dangerous group” are now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, where they belong. In many ways, the resistance to their induction stems from the simple fact that they make white people uncomfortable. By calling out police brutality and systemic racism, they shatter the pleasant safe space that white people have created for ourselves. They scare us through their art.

But I have a feeling that they don’t really mind the attention, even if it is negative.

I asked MC Ren what his reaction was when N.W.A’s music was practically forbidden in white America, and they were villianized and censored. His response?

“Free publicity.”

Photo courtesy of yahoo.com

Van the Man

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Last night I had the extreme pleasure of being in the presence of Sir Van Morrison. I got to see him perform at the Wang Theatre in Boston, MA, with my parents and my neighbor Sue.

Van’s daughter Shana Morrison opened the show with a delightful set of songs, culminating with a tremendous cover of “Purple Rain.” The tribute to Prince, who died less than a week ago, got the crowd hollering. After a brief intermission (and just enough time to visit some of my family in the crowd), Van the Man walked out on the stage and started playing saxophone. It was an abrupt and stirring entrance, and set the tone for a very special night.

Morrison opened with “Celtic Swing,” an instrumental track from his 1983 album Inarticulate Speech of the Heart. He then went right into “Close Enough For Jazz” from 1993’s Too Long In Exile. Up next were “Magic Time,” “By His Grace,” and “In The Midnight,” (spanning from ’91 to ’05).

Van Morrison has for decades had a reputation of being reserved onstage, almost to the point of weirdness. He has been known to not a say a word to the crowd, and even turn his back to them, all stemming from stage fright. But on an unseasonably cold Tuesday in Boston, he was shockingly animated. This first came to light when he brought out English singer Chris Farlowe to duet on “Born to Sing,” a 2012 cut from the album of the same name. When Van introduced his “friend” who “happened to be in Boston,” it was very surprising to hear him interact so casually with the crowd. He seemed like he was actually having fun!

After he bid Farlowe farewell, he brought his daughter Shana back out to duet on “That Old Black Magic,” an old standard popularized by Glenn Miller in the 1940s. Van’s shocking good mood continued while singing with Shana, and he rode it right into his cover of B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby” and his own 1987 ballad “Someone Like You.”

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Up next were his 1978 hit “Wavelength,” 1997’s “Sometimes We Cry,” and 1990’s “Enlightenment.” He followed these up with one of the night’s showstoppers: a long, loose cover of the Big Joe Williams classic “Baby, Please Don’t Go.” For some sections of the song, Van made a hand/harmonica/microphone concoction that gave his voice a very cool talkbox-y sound. During one quiet moment, after a fan yelled “I love you, Van,” he shocked the crowd (again) by singing into his contraption: “You love me? You don’t even know me!”

The “Baby, Please Don’t Go” jam included snippets of “Parchman Farm,” “Don’t Start Crying Now,” “In The Afternoon,” “Ancient Highway,” “Burn Baby Burn,” and “Raincheck,” and treated the crowd to the incredible sight of Van scatting, lost deep into the music. At one point he also told the crowd that he didn’t write this song, giving fair warning before launching into some provocative lyrics about legs, thighs, and higher…

Morrison launched into his 1971 classic “Wild Night” next, leading a singalong of one of my favorite songs. Next was “Whenever God Shines His Light,” which he originally recorded as a duet with Cliff Richard in 1989, followed by a mashup of “It’s All in the Game” and “Burning Ground.”

The next song he played absolutely floored me: he did “Brown Eyed Girl.” Van has been notorious for his longstanding disdain for this song, after he went through publishing/royalty battles over it many years ago. It was a foregone conclusion that he does not play “Brown Eyed Girl.” But he’s also supposed to be grumpy and not look at the crowd, and tonight he was practically jovial, so the inclusion made sense. The sold-out crowd of 3,500 was ecstatic to hear such a rare gem. This was a truly special night.

Van kept the magic going with “Into the Mystic,” a cut from his seminal 1970 masterpiece Moondance. (The couple next to me sang along pretty loudly and terribly, but they must have really been feeling the music. And hey, they knew all the words!)

The Man brought Chris Farlowe back out for the closing number, a sprawling take on Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me.” Morrison left the stage toward the end of the song, letting his incredible band finish without him. And just like that, he departed back into the shadows…

Well, not yet! On our way out, my dad took us down a side street to get away from the crowd, and we wound up next to the stage door. Our timing was perfect, because moments later, Sir Van came out and got into a waiting car. The small group of people waiting applauded and the car sped away, only to stop at a red light a few feet later.

All in all, this was a truly fantabulous night, to borrow a word from the Man himself. Van Morrison and his band were outstanding. We are very lucky to have had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. A wild night, indeed.

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My family!

Setlist information courtesy of Mystic Avenue and setlist.fm

My Favorite Albums Of 2014

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Here are my favorite albums of the last year. Enjoy!

U2 Songs of Innocence

Forget what you’ve heard about U2’s new record. It’s all BS. Bono himself put it best: the release of Songs of Innocence “annoyed people who like to be annoyed.”

Honestly, what kind of world do we live in when one of the best bands in the world gives half a billion people some free music and they complain? Gosh, a world filled with complainers, apparently.

This album release was innovate and monumental. Technically, Apple purchased 500 million copies of the record, and then gave them away to their customers. So when Bono and Tim Cook did that finger touching thing, Songs of Innocence became the biggest selling album of all time. And, a fact that got lost in all of the outrage culture hubbub it that this is an absolutely incredible album.

Album opener “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone)” is a classic U2 rocker that could be a cousin of “Vertigo.” It’s lyrics reflect the life-changing moment when Bono first heard The Ramones:

I woke up at the moment
When the miracle occurred
Heard a song that made some sense
Out of the world
Everything I ever lost
Now has been returned
In the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard

Dang!

The rest of the album is just as good. “Every Breaking Wave” thumps along with a terrific Edge guitar beat. “California (There Is No End To Love)” is an epic ode to the West Coast that includes some crazy and surprising Beach Boys interpolations.

One standout among standouts is “Iris (Hold Me Close),” a heartbreakingly reassuring haunted love song about Bono’s mother, who died when he was a teenager.

The rest of the record maintains an impossibly high level of quality and awesomeness on songs like “Raised By Wolves” (a hard rock explosion that could be the grandchild of “Sunday, Bloody Sunday”) and the closing song “The Troubles,” featuring guest vocals from Lykke Li.

The whole thing is just fantastic. Go give it a listen! You probably already have it.

If not, get it here.

Foo Fighters Sonic Highways

Like U2, the Foos’ 2014 release is an innovate concept album. (Although less than 500 million people bought copies…)

If you haven’t heard Sonic Highways yet you are missing out. Dave Grohl and his band of rockers traveled around the country to soak up as much musical history as they could from eight different cities, and put it all together on the ultimate road trip record.

Each song is an entire world of its own, but they still fit together like a rock ‘n’ roll jigsaw puzzle.

I don’t want to say too much, because this is an album that needs to be experienced. Go listen. That’s all I’ll say. It’s great.

Get Sonic Highways here!

Taylor Swift 1989

Haters gonna hate, (hate, hate, hate, hate) but Taylor Swift put out a perfect pop record this year. Already one of the world’s best songwriters and entertainers, T Swizzle decided to go full synth ahead on 1989 (the year she was born, and the sound of the album she was aiming for) and she hit it right on the head.

“Out of the Woods” is the theme to an epic John Hughes movie that never happened. “All You Had To Do Was Stay” has some crazy high notes and rocks like Aerosmith at some points. “I Know Places” has a monster hook that will make you swoon. And it goes on and on.

So take a dose of Swiftomine, admit that you love her, and listen to some great pure sugar pop. You’ll feel better when you do.

Get 1989 here!

“Weird Al” Yankovic Mandatory Fun

It’s pretty crazy when you think about it that every era of popular music for the past 35 years has had a Weird Al parody.

• “Like a Virgin” became “Like a Surgeon”
• “Smells Like Teen Spirit” became “Smells Like Nirvana”
• “Ridin’ Dirty” became “White and Nerdy”

The list goes on and on, and now includes “Happy” becoming “Tacky,” “Blurred Lines” becoming “Word Crimes,” and “Royals” becoming “Foil,” among many others.

What sets Weird Al apart from virtually every other parody artist is that he is supremely musically talented. I have a friend who has a master’s in music from Bard, and even he can’t tell the difference between the opening notes of Iggy’s “Fancy” and Weird Al’s “Handy.”

Al’s rhymes are also just so brilliant, especially on “Word Crimes.” He goes to lexical town.

Fun fact: “Word Crimes” cracked the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, making him one of only three artists to have had Top 40 hits in the ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, and ’10s. The other two? Michael Jackson and Madonna.

Get Mandatory Fun here!

Also be sure to check out Cheek to Cheek, the collaborative record of standards from Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. She’s 28, he’s 88. She’s a former hit maker who has recently been the brunt of unfair criticism and dismissal. He’s Tony Bennett. It’s great, check it out.

A couple of albums that I didn’t totally love but still recommend are Coldplay’s Ghost Stories and Maroon 5’s V.

If 2011’s Mylo Xyloto was a sonic earthquake, then Ghost Stories is the aftershocks. It is very good, but it’s a breakup album, and kind of a wicked downer. But it’s still Coldplay, so it’s still very good.

Check it out here.

As for Maroon 5, as a longtime fan I just keep hoping they will put out another record like Songs About Jane. While V never reaches that great level of 2002 rock-pop, it does have some pretty good 2014 pop-rock. And hey, it’s Maroon 5, so it’s still pretty good.

Grab V here.

Well, those are my favorites as of right now. I’m probably forgetting something. But hey, here’s to more great music in 2015!