Sixty Minutes Chicks Hack Piece

Last night's segment on the Dixie Chicks was the most fact-challenged journalistic hack job I've ever seen on an entertainment entity.  Steve Kroft needed to believe that Natalie Maines' W. smackdown somehow hurt their career, and didn't bother to check the record to see if it jibed with red meat wet dreams.  Specifically, from E! Online, August 2003:

Looks like the controversy over the Dixie Chicks' "disrespectful" President Bush barb is "Long Time Gone."

Five months after the country trio saw their songs banned from radio play lists and their CDs smashed by angry fans, the Grammy-winning Texas trio is flush with nearly $60 million in concert grosses, making them the nation's top touring country act.

The only acts who did better that season were Elton John & Billy Joel (touring as co-headliners) and the Rolling Stones.  Far, far, far from the total destruction Kroft referred to.  Even when he got it right, he got it wrong.  Sure a few country stations have refused to play "Not Ready to Make Nice," their latest single, and the radio charts reflect that.  But the song is a top seller on iTunes, and it didn't exactly crash and burn on country radio:

According to Billboard’s Radio Monitor, the single jumped from 54 to 36 in one week, with 3,703 “spins” on country radio alone. The single is also listed as a 94 percent probable success on the Hit Predictor chart.

He also spoke of their 4-year hiatus like it was an enormous professional break, conveniently forgetting that the gap between "Fly," their second album, and the follow-up "Home," was 3 years, and they released a well-received live album and DVD during that time.  Of course, that clashes with the agreed-upon narrative that the Chicks sinned and paid dearly.

The high point of Kroft's piece came when the smug puke, begging for contrition like a sugar-stoned kid begs for a trinket at the grocery store, asked Natalie Maines "didn't anyone ever tell you it's not a good idea to antagonize your customer?"  She replied, "that's what good music's supposed to do," and I loved her even more.

Dixie Chicks Stream on Best Buy

ChicksStream.jpg

Taking The Long Way, the latest from the Dixie Chicks, won't hit stores until May 23, but Best Buy is streaming three songs from it, though their weekly ad promised four, so we'll wait and see on that.

"Everybody Knows" is the most upbeat of the previously unavailable two songs ("Not Ready to Make Nice" was released some weeks ago), and I'd be surprised if country radio can turn away, with it's sunny harmonies and an infectious chorus.

The Chicks will make a mark beyond the country radio ghetto, though.

Before the furor that made "Dixie Chick" a verb, I called this band the American Beatles, and I've a feeling this album will be their Rubber Soul, with hot-hot-hot producer Rick Rubin at the controls and guest shots from some of Americana's best.

The fallout from their anti-Bush remarks, which still gets the red-state blood boiling, mirrors the Beatles/Jesus controversy so much it's scary. Far from fading into the obscurity that so fuels the Kool-Aid Drunk crowd, the experience appears to have made them stronger, both spritually and artistically.

"Taking the Long Way" will mark a turning point that will take the Dixie Chicks beyond the niche popularity of country music and into the pantheon of artists whose entire catalogs are selling twenty years from now.

Local Rhythms

Where do you find music? 

A better question may be – where does music find you?

Are you a mobile listener, constantly hitting the preset buttons on the car radio?  Or maybe you’re one of the many who hear a song on a TV show like Grey’s Anatomy or the Sopranos and can’t get it out of your head.

Do you still watch music videos?  Maybe you purchased a satellite radio to enjoy good tunes without commercials.  The technically inclined probably have a Pandora.com or last.fm Internet feed.

Myself, I’m lately drawn to the fifteen dollar a month library card known as Rhapsody.  For a flat fee I can listen to any album I want the day it comes out, and I don’t even need to download it.  Everything streams from the web, and the audio quality is sublime. 

But I’m a little obsessed, if you know what I mean.  I Tivo VH1 in the middle of the night, scour MySpace for new bands when I’m bored, and dabble in at least three other online services.  I hit the record stores for the occasional CD or DVD, and I have a turntable that I’m not afraid to use.

In my younger days, I was the source for most of my friends, sitting them down on the couch and forcing them to listen to something.

That’s me.  What about the more casual music fan?  How do they stay up to date?

Last weekend, there was another musically pleasant, yet sparsely attended Claremont Opera House concert.  My theory is that the performers just weren’t familiar enough to resonate with people.  The headliner mentioned WNTK, but aside from Gardiner Goldsmith’s well-chosen bumper songs, that’s primarily a talk station.

So I’m putting the call out to my readers.  Email me at mwitthaus@gmail.com or send a letter to Local Rhythms c/o Eagle Times, River Road, Claremont NH 03743.  We’ll sweeten the deal by offering an iPod shuffle as a prize to one lucky person – provided there’s an acceptable number of responses.

Your replies don’t have to be lengthy or elaborate, though if you listen to the radio I’d like to know what station you like.  If music on television is your preference, then tell me if that means Austin City Limits on PBS or hip-hop on MTV Soul.

Ultimately, I’m trying to gauge what kinds of live music might get people excited enough to get out, and maybe use this column as a bully pulpit to make it happen. 

Here’s what I like this weekend:

Thursday: The Mammals, Hooker-Dunham – Their latest CD, “Departures,” cemented their reputation as folk traditionalists with a difference.  That album added rock elements to the Americana focus of their earlier works.  Their harmonies are wonderfully complex and exquisitely textured, like a fine dish served at a perfect temperature.  Best of all, they’re even better live.

Friday: A New Kind of Blue. Sophie and Zeke’s – My favorite local trend?   Good food and great music.  I can testify to the food part, and I’ve heard wonderful things about this group’s music.  They spent a lot of time in a slightly different form at Giovanni’s.  As Dr. Feelgood, they were jazzier when they played across the river.  This incarnation features gospel and blues, presented in a great performance space.

Saturday: Heavy Trash, Lebanon Opera House – Jon Spencer comes home, taking time away from his Blues Explosion project to make rockabilly music with pal Matt Verta-Ray.   Heavy Trash owes as much to Morphine as Robert Gordon. Also on the bill are Toronto alt-darlings the Sadies, who are given to instrumentals that sound like the Ventures around a campfire.  How the West was won, and undone.

Sunday: Julie Walters Song Circle/Open Microphone, Exner Block Gallery – On the second Sunday of the month, a gathering of local musicians ensues in Bellows Falls.  Always full of surprises, and perhaps a bit poignant with the news of the contraction of the B.F. music scene with the departure of Ezra Veitch and the imminent demise of the Windham.  A 7 PM start, and as always, bring your own instrument.
 
Tuesday: Coheed & Cambria, Tsongas Arena – Progressive rock with an edge.  Fans should rejoice at this low-cost ($25) show with two popular bands playing.  C&C take their cues from bands like Rush and Yes, but they’ve re-invented they genre with epic storytelling flourishes.  Avenged Sevenfold merge punk-pop harmonies and power metal into a blistering cocktail.  Eighteen Visions, a more straight-up metal affair, opens the show.

Wednesday: Barbary Coast Jazz Ensemble, Hopkins Center – The farewell show for members of the Class of 2006. This student-led band is a Dartmouth College tradition.  Surprisingly, it’s made up mainly of non-music majors; they nonetheless have the opportunity to perform with world-class musicians in addition to collegial collaborations. Tonight, the seniors are the celebrities.

End Nearing for Windham

For the past two years, the lobby of the Windham Hotel served as an artistic hub in downtown Bellows Falls.  Last Tuesday, with the sale of the building to a group of investors looming, that began to change.

Proprietor Gary Smith moved his Fort Apache recording studio out of the building, and the Amity Front performance scheduled for this weekend was cancelled.   A June 9  “Roots on the River” set is the only official date on the Windham calendar, though Smith plans “a few more shows – we’ve got Mr. Burns and Gypsy Jazz for June, and there could be shows in July.”

“There is some chance we’ll stay in the room when the hotel sells, and we’ll be there through the generosity of the new owners,” says Smith.  “It looks very promising from where I’m sitting.  They are very interested in the live music.  It bodes well for the culture of our little town.”

The Windham opened in April 2004, quickly becoming a mainstay of the local music scene.  With more room than the often-cramped Oona’s, local promoter Charlie Hunter began booking two to three shows a weekend.  Patrick LeBlanc took over from Hunter last year, adding more rock and blues performers to the mix, helping bands like Grace Potter and Nocturnals and the Kissers find a local audience.

“Over 200 shows in two years,” mused Smith Wednesday. “Projects have a beginning and an end, and you have to keep moving or you get stale.” 

Early on, he sensed that the Windham was a unique facility.

“I saw that at Peter Mulvey show, he had such command of the room, first time he played there, early in the game.  I could feel that there was something going on in that space that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere.   It was just the right proportion of space and people.”

“It was like a church meeting in there, “ he says.  “People got jazzed and caught up because of the shape and size.”

The closing of the Windham won’t mean an end to live music in Bellows Falls.

Smith envisions WOOL-FM, the community radio station begun last year, as integral to his future plans.  “We want it to become the purveyor of live music in town,” he says. “With all its’ music lovers attached to it, to run a venue in a nonprofit way would be revolutionary and very cool.”

What he likes about the WOOL community mode is that “it’s not necessarily the taste of one person.  It would be cool to run a venue that way, with a broad array of talent, both in genre and fame.”

“We’re looking for spaces now,” Smith says.  Ideally, the new location would include seating for 100-150 people, with space for an office and radio production facility.

Originally, Smith envisioned the Windham as a hybrid studio/performance space.  Tanya Donnelly recorded a four-night August 2004 run there.  The CD, “Live at the Windham,” should be released in the fall.

“I didn’t expect to expand so quickly,” he says, “then the next thing was the radio station,” which began with a petition drive in Fall 2004.

He’d moved his studio operation into the Windham in 2004, two years after closing the Cambridge-based business and buying Kidder Farm in Walpole.  At Fort Apache, he’d worked with some of the biggest names in the alternative music universe, including Throwing Muses, the Pixies and 10,000 Maniacs.  He still counts former Muse Donnelly as a client. 

He plans to relocate the studio back to Walpole where, he says, “I can work until 2 A.M. if I want.”

“For the time being, I’m consolidating my life at the farm, a little more agriculture, farm animals and music. “  As to the future, Smith says -“we’ll see what we can do.”
 

Tom Petty Strikes Against Scalpers

In a move that is sadly without precedent, Tom Petty and Ticketmaster have apparently screwed ticket scalpers. Fan club seats for their Minneapolis shows (co-headlined with Pearl Jam) that showed up on sites like StubHub, are now voided, and the dirtbags hoping to score a quick buck are SOL.

I've always wondered if Petty would put his money where his mouth is since making "The Last DJ" a few years back. In the song "Money Becomes King," he lamented the plight of music fans who had to hock all their belongings to afford nosebleed seats. When their tour that year featured seats north of 50 bucks, I wasn't inspired. But that's the reality of the business.

Pearl Jam famously broke ranks with Ticketmaster in the mid-90's in protest of "services charges" that added upwards of 25 percent to the cost of a ticket. So it's fitting that this tandem would be the first to strike a public blow against the verminous pond scum:

Petty's management and Ticketmaster have canceled some 460 seats for the June 26 and 27 concerts that were set aside for fan club members but have since shown up on Internet sites that resell tickets at a higher price. The tickets will be offered once again to fan club members under more strict guidelines that will require a photo ID to pick up the tickets on the night of the concert.

Like many major touring acts, Petty offers his audience a chance to purchase prime seats for his concerts before they go on sale to the general public. But fans took to the Internet, via Petty's message board, to complain that many of the St. Paul tickets supposedly meant for that very purpose were already available for purchase at inflated rates through online brokers.

"It was the fan outcry that brought it to our attention," said Catherine Swedberg, marketing director for Jam Productions, the local promoters of the concerts. "I think everybody gets frustrated when they see tickets online going for $300 or $400 each."

Numerous scalpers apparently had joined Petty's fan club solely to buy tickets and resell them at a higher price — a violation of the club's terms, as well as Minnesota state law.

Petty's management and Ticketmaster worked together to figure out which of the seats that had been set aside for fans were up for sale online. On Thursday night, about 460 tickets were canceled. Swedberg said it's the first time she's heard of such a move.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," Swedberg said.

It's also possible other artists will look to this move as a test for preventing their own fan-club seats from being resold.

Band manger Tony Dimitriades said in a web statement:

As promised, we have continued to investigate how our fan club tickets were acquired and distributed during last week’s presales, particularly in Minnesota. And with the help of the folks at Ticketmaster and Signatures, who at our request have scoured scalper and secondary ticket outlets, we have identified approximately 460 tickets for the June 26 and 27 concerts at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn. that were allocated for Highway Companions Club members, but which were either resold or acquired by scalpers in clear violation of the fan club conditions of membership.

By now, you are probably also aware that we have responded to your ticketing concerns and desires by changing the way fan club tickets are delivered. Beginning with this week’s presales (ie. Those from May 2 onwards), Highway Companions Club members will be required to pick up their tickets from a special fan club will call window. Tickets will only be released to members who can show an ID and the credit card that matches their ticket purchase information.

We don’t claim to have completely eliminated all reselling activity on these or any other shows, but this is definitely a step in the right direction and a major strike on behalf of the good guys.

Bravo – it's long overdue.

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