Local Rhythms – My Little Town’s Jumping

On Tuesday night, I attempted to partake in Ramunto’s, the latest Claremont food pleasure, only to give up when it became clear the wait for a gourmet pizza would be interminable.  This is not a complaint, folks.  It’s beyond encouraging when a new downtown restaurant draws such a crowd on a weeknight.

The consolation, of course, is that there are many dining choices available – and more on the way.  Construction of the Common Man in the Mill District should start in the summer.  Quiznos Sub on Washington Street will be open any day now, and you can watch their “Prime Rib Dinner Video Podcast” for an idea of how delicious that will be.

Mmmmm, toasty.

To paraphrase W.S. Kinsella, if you build it they will come, eat and then want after dinner entertainment.  Gratefully, that’s arriving soon, too.  On May 12, Sophie and Zeke’s, the new downtown eatery, kicks of their music series with “A New Kind of Blue”, a jazz/blues hybrid featuring gospel singer Emily Lanier.

Plans are still in place to expand S & Z’s musical offerings to additional nights later in the spring.

On the other end of Pleasant Street, the Elks Club present its second “Elegant Evening” tomorrow night, with drinks, dinner and entertainment from the Taylor Brothers Band.

The busy folks behind the scenes of the Claremont Opera House have been working hard to bring excitement to that venerable building.  Patrons who requested more country-flavored sounds get their reward Saturday when Tia McGraff  takes the stage.  Opening act Jon Michaels is immensely talented in his own right, and both Tia and Jon plan one-hour sets of music.  Claremont will sound like Nashville in prime time.

Also coming to the Opera House is the North Shore Comedy Club, which arrives May 20 with laughs aplenty for the more mature.  The troupe had a successful night last year, so it’s good welcome them back.  

Parents with small children should be aware of the early morning kid’s theatre performance May 12 – family entertainment at an affordable price.

I’ll add a plug for the Opera House website, where anyone with an opinion can make their thoughts known. What kind of talent would you like to see?  Are there shows from the past you’d like back?  This wonderful building belongs to all of us, and it needs everyone’s input to stay vital.  If you don’t have email, for heaven’s sake, call or write.

They’re filing dates for next season as you read this – so get involved.

How about some fun ideas for the weekend?

Thursday: The Little Willies, Iron Horse – An occasional NYC homage band with some famous names like Norah Jones in it.  They got together to play their favorite songs, by folks like Willie Nelson (the band’s namesake), Kris Kristofferson and Gram Parsons.  Their covers are great, but it’s an original, “Lou Reed,” that had me in stitches.  If you want to go, however, be warned – this is a tough ticket.

Friday: Sirsy, Salt Hill Pub – If you like the White Stripes or the funky break beats of Gwen Stefani, this should please you.  Songs like “Pet” and “Soul Sucker” are gutsy romps; the big surprise comes when lead singer and multi-instrumentalist Melanie Krahmer whips out her flute and lets it rip.

Saturday: Jason Cann, Bistro Nouveau  – A great choice for pre-Opera House gathering, the music starts at 6.   Cann usually fronts Wherehouse, a rock band with a long history in the area. Tonight he tones it down, playing acoustic guitar and singing a variety of covers and originals.  Even if it’s only for a drink at the bar, you should stop by and wet your musical whistle.

Tuesday: John Lovejoy, Canoe Club – John’s a mainstay at Bistro, as well as Canoe Club and the Woodstock Inn.  A terrific piano style and an equally impressive singing voice, he covers everyone from Lennon & McCartney to Fleetwood Mac, and plenty in between.  There are not many songs he doesn’t know.

Wednesday: Till We Die/Hexerei, Dover Brickhouse – Hoping to cast off their recent snake-bit ways, local heavy metal heroes Hexerei have once again teamed with their old management.  As a part of that effort, they’ll be playing several shows with longtime friends Till We Die, a band that was known as Leviticus for a long time. If Dover’s too far to ride, the band also has tentative plans for a Claremont show in the works.

Finally:  Tonight at 5:55, Pearl Jam will perform a live webcast, which isn’t a huge surprise.  However, the show’s coming from David Letterman’s television home – NYC’s Ed Sullivan Theatre.    It’s the first time any band’s performed a regular show there.

Also, if you have XM Radio, check out Bob Dylan playing DJ tonight at 6 on Channel 15.

By Michael Witthaus

Neil Young’s Broadside – A Review of “Living With War”

Neil Young’s “Living With War” is a ferocious, unsparing work – a musical fever dream moving relentlessly through post-9/11 America.   From the slashing chords and kick-drum launch of  “After the Garden,” and throughout the record’s 10 tracks, its bristling sonic fury never ebbs. 

“The guitar was playing itself,” Young told Rolling Stone magazine last week.

“Living With War” could be the record of the year, not just for its artistry, which is abundant, but also for the manner in which the album was conceived, created and delivered.

Fitting, then, that its’ arrival coincides so closely with today’s anniversary of the shooting deaths of four students at Kent State.  In response to that tragedy, Mr. Young penned “Ohio,” and with Crosby, Stills Nash & Young, rehearsed, recorded and released the song in a matter of hours.

The record was pressed and in the hands of radio programmers within days.  “It was the fastest I’ve ever seen a record company work,” said the session’s engineer, Bill Halverson.

In 1970, the cover of Life Magazine brought Kent State home to Neil Young; in 2006, a USA Today story lauding medical advances brought about by the necessity of treating so many Iraq war wounded “caught me off guard,” says Young, “and I went upstairs and wrote ‘Families’ for one of those soldiers who didn't get to come home. Then I cried in my wife's arms. That was the turning point for me.”

Not content to let a single song represent his anti-war stance, Young wrote an entire album.  With the rough mixes in hand, he recruited 100 backup singers and a horn section to add some softer elements to the finished product.  As he worked on the record, Young posted lyrics to most of the songs on his web site, words that crawled slowly across the screen, news ticker style – forcing readers to linger on every stanza.

It was a move reminiscent of “Broadside,” the Greenwich Village folk music magazine launched in 1962.    Lyrics by Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Pete Seeger, Malvina Reynolds and others were published there before the recordings became available, sometimes even before they were made.  Topical songs about the concerns of the day – nuclear war, civil rights, rigid conformity – that lit the path for a generation of songwriters who followed.

Last Friday, the completed “Living With War” began streaming from several Internet sites.  Any fan hoping to skip directly to the much-discussed “Let’s Impeach The President” was disappointed, though.  The album played in its entirety, track by track.  Ingenious, really, in an era where the long-playing record is a dying art form, and an effective gambit, as well.  The shock value of 100 blue chip backup singers chanting “flip/flop” over recorded samples of contradictory Bush statements is more powerful in the context of the six songs that precede it.  The record’s final number, a faithful rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung by that same choir, is a fitting coda.  It’s also a forceful reminder that “Living With War” deserves to be heard all the way through.

Tuesday, the record finally became available for purchase, but only as a digital download from sites like iTunes, Napster and Rhapsody.  In an industry where physical media is still king, it’s the first time an artist of Young’s stature has released an entire album this way.  The CD will arrive in stores next week, but in a sort of pre-emptive strike, his web site has announced that production issues will delay discs containing a bonus track.  In other words, fans – wait!  There will eventually be a DVD with rough mixes, extras and videos of the marathon session, according to reports.

If everything that’s happened up to this point is any indication, that content will also be leaked online.

When “Ohio” came out in 1970, most AM stations of the day refused to play it.  This near-total ban became a catalyst for the underground FM stations of the time, like Boston’s WBCN and KMPX in San Francisco, and they helped catapult the record into the Top 50.  It launched a free-form experiment that endured for over 25 years, until corporate consolidation and the commoditization of rock music eventually killed it.

Today’s mass-market radio won’t likely touch “Living With War,” not when a more palatable substitute like “Rockin’ In The Free World” makes the same point – sort of – much less offensively.

In choosing to first make the record available free online, and then aggressively market it as digital content, Neil Young is once again at the vanguard of change.  Hard to believe that just a few months ago, he was nursing the after effects of brain surgery and pondering retirement.  As his new record makes waves throughout the musical world, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are again reunited and set to travel the country playing live, with a show fittingly entitled the “Freedom of Speech Tour.”

By Michael Witthaus

Moving Away from iTunes

To satisfy my curiosity, I have started experimenting with alternative download services.  Last week, I test-drove Napster for a while, and found it wanting.  I like the idea of "music to go" for records I'm mildly interested in but not ready to purchase.  But the files are so fat when transferred to my portable device (I bought a cheap 512MB SanDisk because I'm not serious enough to buy a more expensive one) that I can barely fit 40 songs on.  This is no doubt due to DRM encoding, which is insidious enough without doubling the size of every song I download.

Napster was my first choice to evaluate because of the tie-in with XM Radio, and I did like listening to XM online and click-dragging good songs into my library.  I wish it cached better, and the playlists are impossible to manage. 

Next, I tried Rhapsody, and so far I'm pretty impressed. Playlists are a little easier, though the transfer process to my portable device is clunky.  If I make a playlist that includes songs already on my SanDisk, when I copy it, extra copies of tracks already on the device are added.  With such a small unit, this is beyond irritating.

But – the songs themselves are smaller in size, so I can cram nearly 90 tracks on the device, more than double than I could with Napster.  Also, the interface is very intuitive, with little fun factoids about artists and intelligent suggestions based on my taste. The Internet streams are instantaneous, with no audio hiccuping, and song transfer on my 384K cable connnection is faster than iTunes. 

So far, so good.