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A Bitchy Blog Update…I Blame the Snow

So these past few weeks have been screwed by the weather, to say the least, throwing spring break in there just for fun. Weather canceled Wednesday, March 7’s class, when Marshall Amplification co-founder Terry Marshall was supposed to Skype with us; We didn’t meet on Monday and Wednesday, March 12 and 14 due to spring break; and snow canceled Wednesday, March 21’s meeting, when Fairport Convention’s Judy Dyble was to Skype with the class. (Fortunately, they both were able to reschedule. Judy will chat with us on Wednesday, March 28 and Terry on Wednesday, April 4.)

So I think that’s why my attitude in this blog update sucks.

So, what did we cover during our limited class time? We talked about 1960s San Francisco and Los Angeles psychedelia, electric folk/rock and everything in between (Week 6.) Then we covered heavy blues and early metal of the late ’60s and early ’70s…people like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Free, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple. Most of the class dug a lot of that stuff, but now it’s time for me to gripe. (Week 7.)

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(Byrds classic line-up featuring David Crosby, far left, and Roger McGuinn, far right. McGuinn talked to us a few weeks back.)

I mentioned how some of the now “iconic” songs of that era, songs that have become standards half a century on, were throwaway numbers at the time. I specifically mentioned Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid,” Free’s “All Right Now,” and Deep Purple’s “Smoke On the Water.” For the last song, I even played the students an excerpt of an interview I did with DP’s bass player, Roger Glover.  Glover talked about how band was just finishing up the Machine Head record and needed another song to wrap things up. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore had the cool riff, but that was about it. Since some moron set off a flair gun which managed to burn their recording studio to the ground, Deep Purple riffed on the story of what happened and how they recorded afterward and how it impacted other bands who were supposed to record there like the Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. The lyrics were not poetic…just basically conversational about what occurred. It was all done seat of the pants style, no one thinking about it at the time, no one considering that they had just composed one of the most recognizable songs in rock history.

Don’t you know I got some song reactions back from the students saying, “I don’t know what this song was about.” And I restrained myself, but I responded, “You know what it’s about. The bass player in the band who wrote the song told you exactly what it’s about.” I had the same thing happen with “All Right Now,” a song written in a hurry when Free’s manager asked them to compose something upbeat after a bad gig. Singer Paul Rodgers just went, “All right now,” and there you have it. This from interviews with Free’s late bassist Andy Fraser and drummer Simon Kirke. Apparently, some students didn’t listen to that, either. Ugh.

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(Jimi)

So let’s get to Week 8, where we spent some time on prog rock and British folk/rock. We covered bands like King Crimson, Yes, Tull, ELP, Genesis, Renaissance, Rush, Fairport Convention, the Strawbs, and the Pentangle.

I know prog isn’t for everyone, and I really dig some of it, but only if I’m in the right mood…and another gripe is coming. Before giving the students their prog rock songs, I mentioned how long some of them are, that there is no payoff, and they just have to let the songs come to them. Then I read some of the reactions to selections like Yes’, “And You and I.” That’s a 10 minute excerpt from their 1972 album, Close to the Edge (which, btw, is my favorite Yes record and as I found out last spring, it’s also Steve Howe’s.)

In that particular song, the band spends maybe about 30 seconds “warming up” where Howe does a bunch of harmonics before the song begins. (As I found out from Yes’ Bill Bruford, all of that was planned…to the note.) Some students reacted like, “This is boring. It took too long for the song begin.” Hey, have patience people! It will start when it’s ready. Again, ugh. I remember hearing Close to the Edge for the first time as a teenager and loving it. I know things are different now, and I know it’s a matter of taste, but man, this instant gratification culture has its shortcomings sometimes.

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(Yes’ classic line-up with, from left, Steve Howe on guitar, Bill Bruford on drums, Jon Anderson on guitar and vocals, Chris Squire on bass, and Rick Wakeman on keyboards.)

Ok, I’m done griping. This week coming up should be fantastic. We’ve got a visit on Monday, in person, from the Patti Smith Group’s guitar player, Lenny Kaye. Then on Wednesday, Judy Dyble will chat with us remotely from England. We’re covering glam, proto-punk and punk rock this week, so I’m excited.

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My wife once asked me, “Why the fascination with Kinski?”

“Imagine,” I asked her, “you really like, say U2. Except you get to see them at a bar from ten feet away.”

My interest in Kinski began a few years back, when I was finishing up my book. I had been attempting to get an interview with Sub Pop’s Jon Poneman, but he ignored my repeated emails and calls. So, during a Seattle trip, I ventured to the company headquarters in hopes I might get to talk to him in-person. Unfortunately, the building was locked, so I waited for someone to enter and I snuck in behind her. I headed up to the Sub Pop office and told the receptionist who I am and that I was hoping I could chat with Jon. She said the standard, “He’s in a meeting with Dwight and Andy and is not available.” Then she gave me a CD and ushered me off in a “kid, here’s a CD, now leave me alone” way.

I opened up the CD and noticed it was a recording of the 2008 Sub Pop 20 Festival. I had been to the second day of that festival for the Green River reunion, but had no idea about the overall quality and variety of the bands over that weekend. I listened to the entire CD when I got home…and one track that stood out was “The Wives of Artie Shaw” by Kinski. First, the title was great. Second, it was an instrumental. Third, it was an instrumental that flat out rocked in a “we’ll hammer you over the head kind of way.” Fourth, well, they were just so incredibly tight.

I didn’t get to see Kinski live until April of 2015, during a fun-filled long weekend in Seattle. Then I found out they were coming to my hometown of Philly in October. Unfortunately, while I can always find people to see shows in Seattle, and usually know the people performing, I have trouble getting a crowd together at home. I feared I might have to go alone, when my wife suggested asking the husband of one of her friends. I thought, ‘Hmmm, Steve might want to go. He does like Soundgarden. He had mentioned seeing them on their 1994 Superunknown tour.’ So I asked him and he said yes. Turned out to be a good choice.

We listened to a Kinski mix I put together on the way down…he had never heard them before…and he liked them instantly. We headed over to a bar in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood called Johnny Brenda’s. (It’s just so cool when I get to see a favorite Seattle band play Philly.) Kinski would take the stage at 10, as the middle act…sandwiched between openers Kohoutek and headliners Bardo Pond. The latter band had led Philadelphia’s psych/noise movement in the late ’90s and it turns out Steve had heard of them and had friends at Brenda’s who were fans.

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(Kinski. From left, Chris Martin, guitar; Barrett Wilke, drums; Lucy Atkinson, bass; Matthew Reid-Schwartz, guitar.)

I chatted for a few minutes pre-Kinski with Steve and his friends. Steve had told them I was a Kinski fan and had seen them in Seattle. Not being familiar, they asked me about them. “They’re sick good,” I said, and proceeded to give them my backstory about how I became a fan. Daniel, one of Steve’s friends, said, “I love discovering bands late, like after they’ve put out six albums. Then you can go back and have something to listen to for weeks before you get tired of them.”

10 pm arrived and Kinski stormed the stage, opening with “The Narcotic Comforts of the Status Quo,” (how can you not love a band that has songs titles like that?) a track from a split EP they did with fellow Seattle band Sandrider. “Narcotic” starts off with this sort of major key guitar drone, accompanied by a warm bass line (Lucy plays this piece with a bow) and Matthew on flute. Then, “Bam!” Kinski lurches into a killer riff…or several killer riffs. (Did I mention this band is loud? I told Steve to bring earplugs. Fortunately, he did…and he thanked me for it…he had told me how he suffered partial hearing loss at recent AC/DC and Neil Young shows. Earplugs are a good thing…bring them and don’t lose your hearing.)

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(No, this isn’t Jethro Tull.)

Following that, Kinski focused on material from their current record, 7 (or 8) (an album so titled because the band can’t decide whether it is in fact their seventh or eighth record), but they did delve into some older material, most notably the extended piece “The Party Which You Know Will Be Heavy,” and the killer Groundhogs-ish riff based, “Crybaby Blowout” (I have to give myself props here, as I told Steve they would probably play that one…he recognized it from the sampler we heard on the trip down.) “Crybaby’s” riff…, I think that could go on for 20 minutes. Take a gander yourself.

Focusing heavily on the new record, which alternates between killer riffs and extended pieces, the band treated us to “Powder,” “Drink Up and Be Somebody,” and my favorite song title off this album, “I Fell Like a Fucking Flower,” so named after Lucy destroyed Chris’ girlfriend in an arm wrestling match…prompting Chris’ girlfriend to utter that phrase. Kinski finished with “Detroit Trickle Down,” the opening track from 7 (or 8), which absolutely killed the audience. They played for an hour, which is perfect for an old man like me. Of course, I still wanted more.

http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/kinski/

Vaporland, the Prequel

Posted: June 18, 2015 in Uncategorized

http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/vaporland_the_prequel/

http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/vaporland_a_sub_pop_supergroup/

Day 2, Friday, April 10

I woke up at 6:30 when I had the opportunity to sleep in (of course.) The only thing planned in stone was the Malfunkshun show that evening. I was hoping, though, that I might have a chance to meet up with Sub Pop founder Bruce Pavitt on this trip. I interviewed Bruce about his two books and he was kind enough to Skype with my students a couple years back when I did an honors course based around my book (ooohh…here’s a course about me, aren’t I great!) So I texted him around 9 and we agreed to meet for coffee. We chatted about a number of topics including the future of music. And then, for some reason, I mentioned how Nirvana’s Dive intrigued me…in the way Kurt threw in this weird G chord which disrupts a clean progression going up the fret board. It makes the song. Bruce said Dive is one of his favorite Nirvana songs, as it just captures the essence of that band and Kurt.

Update: I almost forgot to mention. Bruce recalled a trip he made to East Berlin in 1988, where he um, misplaced his passport. Fortunately, he retraced his steps and retrieved the document from the shop he left it at. If Bruce had been unable to return to the West, there would have been no Nirvana (also, his life would have been ruined…that, too.)

Later, I met up with the Before Cars people (more on those folks coming up in the Day 3 post) on Bainbridge Island. By the way, it’s always fun to take the ferry over to Bainbridge from Seattle. If you haven’t had the experience, go for it. You get a 30 minute ride with a chance to check out Seattle’s beautiful skyline. Plus, Bainbridge is a cool place to explore. We had a bite to eat and a couple beers before making our way up to the Point Casino to see Malfunkshun.

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[Leaving Seattle on the Bainbridge Island ferry.]

Experiencing a one-time subversive grungy band in a casino somehow doesn’t seem right…but the tacky beach motif (including sand) made it so over the top that it seemed to work. Mos Generator opened. I’m not familiar with their music, but apparently they’re heavily influenced by Black Sabbath. Paul Burback from Before Cars told me their drummer quit like the day before or that morning, so the remaining two players decided to do an acoustic set. All I can say is they were fantastic…really bluesy and the guitar player (Tony Reed) also has a great voice. I chatted with Tony afterward and bought a CD and a shirt.

Malfunkshun took the stage next. I sat toward the back with the Before Cars folks, including multi-instrumentalist Chad Channing. The highlight, for me, was the last song (With Yo Heart and Not Yo Hands…off the original Deep Six record.) Malfunkshun’s Kevin Wood called out and requested Chad to come up and play drums…which he did.

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[Chad Channing plays drums for Malfunkshun.]

We all stood around and bantered back and forth a bit before they whisked me off to catch the last ferry…which was supposed to leave at 12:55 am. It didn’t depart until nearly 1:30 am, however, and I had breakfast plans at 9 with the Thrown Ups’ Leighton Beezer. I could not miss that for anything, so I resigned myself to another brief night of sleep.

Coming Up: Day 3, otherwise known as Cat Day.

http://www.songfacts.com/blog/writing/sub_pop_founder_bruce_pavitt_on_how_to_create_a_music_scene/