Local Rhythms – Music Rising

music-rising.jpgThe spectacle of U2 and Green Day joining forces to mark the return of NFL action to the Superdome a year after Hurricane Katrina, was an inspiring display of solidarity in support of one of the capitals of American music.

It also showed just how enmeshed rock music and sports have become; it’s hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Longtime Saints quarterback Archie Manning stood on the sidelines, while two bands’ worth of punk acolytes and a horn section caroused in the center of the field.

The Saints are Coming,” the late 70’s Skids song that Bono and Billie Joe chose to co-cover, exuded English soccer more than American football. The tune’s lead-in riffed “House of the Rising Sun,” and the re-worked verse, “there is a house in New Orleans, that’s called the Superdome,” provided some waiting-to-exhale comic relief.

There are many Gulf houses much smaller than the Superdome still in ruins; rebuilding a sports stadium is simply a gesture, the dome but a symbol. Symbols are powerful things, though, to a city in need of all the hope it can muster.

I doubt that any celebration marking New Orleans’ soggy rise could happen without music, and the league deserves praise for putting the city’s party for itself and the world in the proper context.

Turning the event into a showcase for Music Rising, the charity begun by U2 guitarist the Edge, was another classy move. Much has been made of the fact that the downtown tourist district, which includes Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, mostly survived the storm’s fury.

Unfortunately, many of the musicians who perform in that storied area lost all of their equipment to the swelling levee waters. Music Rising raises money to replace the many horns, guitars, drums, and amplifiers claimed by the storm.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and not have my guitar,” says the Edge. Since late last year, the organization has helped over 2,000 musicians regain their livelihood.

Fans can get involved by downloading “Here Come the Saints” from Rhapsody, making an online donation at http://www.musicrising.org, or even purchasing a $600 limited edition Les Paul Custom guitar festooned with Music Rising art.

How can you support local music this weekend? I’m glad you asked:

Thursday: Spectris, Lowell Brewery Exchange – Speaking of music foundations, one of the area’s best progressive bands is performing a show presented by the New England Art Rock Society, or NewEARS. Their goal is to “create a community of music enthusiasts dedicated to sharing and promoting progressive rock” throughout the region. Fans of Yes, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater and Nektar – are you listening?

Friday: Aimee Mann, Lebanon Opera House – Whatever quirky charm “Magnolia” had was in no small part due to Mann’s contribution to the film’s soundtrack. The wan singer writes with disarming simplicity, but go beneath the surface of songs like “Amateur” and “Driving Sideways,” and you’ll find a dangerous world.

Saturday: Little Big Town, Eastern States Expo – The band’s hard luck story makes for great press releases, but their music is what keeps them vital. “Boondocks,” their debut album, is simply good country pop, an easy melding of shimmer and sawdust. Watch for their “CMT Crossroads” turn with Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham in December.

Sunday: Sunapee Chowder Challenge, Sunapee Harbor – Regional eateries put their best bowl forward from noon to three. Bistro Nouveau won last year, and they’re back again, along with Sophie & Zeke’s, the Old Courthouse, the Ship and others. A quaint lighthouse quilt is up for raffle, there’s music and kid’s activities. The event is located right on the harbor, with tents spreading up the hill to the bandstand.

Tuesday: Tool, Verizon Wireless Center – One of a handful of hard rock bands with the star power to fill arenas like this. Their most recent album, “10,000 Days,” was five years in the making, though lead singer Maynard James Keenan spent some of that time fronting A Perfect Circle. They combine hardcore and grandeur, with their best songs clocking in at over 10 minutes.

Wednesday: Michael Civiello, Old Courthouse – The ambience at Newport’s finest dining establishment is subdued in a quaint and charming way. The food is first-rate, and Civiello’s piano playing serves to accentuate the overall experience rather than call attention to itself. Look for jazz standards like “Mood Indigo” along with a few modern classical pieces. A artisan meal and a fine glass of wine deserve a good soundtrack.

Finally: After the Chowder Challenge, make sure you’re at Claremont’s Opera House for Hal Ketchum, and be on time. The opening performer, Liz Carlsle, is a rising country star in her own right,

Paul Westerberg & Lemonheads – Simple Songs Are Hard

openseason.jpgAlice Cooper once observed that writing simple songs is hard work. Two long-time practicioners of the craft are back on the scene with new albums. The Lemonheads and Paul Westerberg attempt to prove that axiom. One is successful, the other less so.

The Paul Westerberg-fronted Replacements were indie-pop darlings through much of the 1980s, famous for raucous performances and three-minute pop gems like “I’ll Be You.” Their irreverance was nearly as renowned as their music – they named one album (“Let It Be”) after the first song that came on the radio during a drunken ride home from a gig.

With his solo career, Westerberg has traded excess for a kind of punk elder statesman status. For his latest project, he’s headed down the same path as Jack Johnson and Ben Folds, scoring and providing the soundtrack for an animated film – the upcoming “Open Season.”

Only a couple of the soundtrack’s tunes seem direclty connected to the film. The rest could come from any Replacements disk. “Meet Me In the Meadow” leads the record off with Lennon-esque harp and bouncing guitar. “Right To Arm Bears” is wonderfully dumb, with lines like “Mr. Bruin, whatcha doin?” The most buoyant of the bunch, “Love You in the Fall,” represents a band reunion of sorts, with Tommy Stinson contrbuting bass and harmonies.

Westerberg’s well-turned phrasesn give “Open Season” its’ charms. “Better Than This” starts with the glib, “I’m a knight in shining armchair/I’m a guy who’s got it made,” accompanied by pennywhistles and goofy, sing-song harmonies..

 

The moody “I Belong” is done twice on the record, first by a Plastic Ono Band-inspired Westerberg and then starkly by Pete Yorn. Westerberg’s “Wild As I Wanna Be” is covered by Cake spinoff Deathray, who also contribute their own “I Wanna Lose Control (Uh Oh).”

Inspired by recent parenthood, Westerberb brings a child-like exhuberance to the project. Most of the songs were written after he previewed the CGI film, Sony’s first full-length animated feature. But the album isn’t a simple souvenier of a kid’s movie. It’s as a spirited as anything in Westerberg’s catalog. With the innocent beauty of songs like “Whisper Me Luck” and “I Belong” it’s in many ways even better.

lemonheads.jpgThe latest reconstitution of Evan Dando’s Lemonheads might better be termed “Descendents Plus One,” as he’s joined by that band’s Bill Stevenson and Karl Alvarez. Their contribution, along with guitar work on a couple of tracks by J. Mascis (Dinousaur Jr.) give the eponymous record a punkier edge, often to its detriment.

When the formula works, there are few craftsmen deft as Dando. “Become The Enemy” is an almost perfect distillation of pop and angst, one that sits right alongside such gems as “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” from the mid-90’s gem “Car Button Cloth.” “Let’s Just Laugh” hints at the same genius, but sputters when it tries to be too many things at once. Broken into three distinct components, the main chorus does feature a classic bit of Dando wordplay: “Let’s just laugh/We can never do anything about anything anyway/Whatever will be/I guess we’ll see/let’s just laugh.”

The record is split into happy-go-lucky pop songs and pre-punk double time; the two melt together in “Poughkeepsie” and “Black Gown,” which leads off the record with slashing guitar chords and feedback reminiscent of the Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer..” Oddly, the Band’s Garth Hudson has a keyboard credit on the song; it’s an open challenge to the best set of ears to identify it.

The melancholy “ Baby’s Home,” with ironic music box chimes leading in to a crushing tale of marriage gone woefully wrong, is a little too literal, with a clunky chorus and odd synchopation. “In Passing” has the clever opening couplet, “time goes by so very slow when you are fasting,” but like most of the record, it twirls out of control before too long.

Simple songs, at least the good ones, are distinct and memorable. That’s the main complaint to level at “Lemonheads” – it’s well crafted, but with the exception of “ Become the Enemy,” it gone ten seconds after the song ends. Dando’s best work has an insinuating quality that’s missing here. It’s punky, frenetic and forgettable.

That absence becomes all the more clear when considering Paul Westerber’s return to form. “Open Season” has plentiful hooks, and words that are easy enough for preschooler to learn. For parents, that may be both a blessing and a curse. For pop fans, it’s bliss.

Westerberg: 4 stars out of 5 //Lemonheads: 2 stars out of 5