Local Rhythms – The New Gilded Age

A little over 100 years ago, Thorstein Veblen published “A Theory of the Leisure Class,” and introduced a new term to the popular lexicon. “Conspicuous consumption,” wrote Veblen, happens when rich people spend their money simply to get attention.

That pretty much sums up the big concert market, where idiots routinely drop 500 bucks on tickets, and then spend most of the show sending cell phone videos to their friends who couldn’t get in.

Then there are the foie gras-gutted hedge fund managers attending the London/Liverpool Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp, jamming at Abbey Road with Jack Bruce and Bill Wyman – for a mere 16 grand.

Travel’s not included, but of course the souvenir DVD is.

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get worse, along comes Social@Ross, a series of five concerts set for this summer in East Hampton, New York

“Everyone’s a VIP here,” coos the ad. Seats are limited to 1,000 for each performance by Billy Joel, James Taylor, Dave Matthews, Tom Petty and Prince, and sold only one way – in blocks of five, at an unheard-of $15,000 each.

Talk about staying one step ahead of StubHub.

The web site talks vaguely of “social consciousness,” but with a background of Porsche grilles and polo players clad in bicep garters, it’s hard to believe such charity is anything more than bringing the leftover hors d’oeuvres to the local soup kitchen after the party.

The promoter has made it clear that he’s in it to raise money for himself. One only hopes that the musicians believe their payday is worth the price of their integrity. That a guy like Petty is participating is nothing short of appalling. He once refused to let MCA release “Damn the Torpedoes” because they wanted to raise the list price by a dollar. Now this?

Of course, the rest of the hoi polloi will pay prices that are a little closer to earth when these artists come to the football stadium – if we want to. I sure don’t.

$15,000 only buys proof that you’re stupid (or rich) enough to waste that kind of money, not intimacy or credibility.

You want to get up close and personal with rock and roll? Jump into a Hexerei mosh pit sometime, or hit the dance floor when the Gully Boys start to jam. That’s real- as is this:

Thursday: Battle of the Bands Finals, Shenanigans – I took a bit of heat for supporting this club’s decision to switch up their live music, but still stand by my words. Tonight three bands compete for a cash prize and a bigger payday as Saturday’s headliner. Word is that there’s another competition planned for June. More local music – that’s my priority. You can read what the people who disagree with me think on my blog. It is, after all, a free country.

Friday: Blue Monday, Salt Hill Pub – To inject a little heat into the cold winter, the Tuohy brothers began offering a Monday night blues jam last January. The chemistry of those eveninigs led to the formation of this band, which includes members of other area groups. Next Thursday, the weekly sessions begin anew at Salt Hill. Here’s a taste for those who can’t wait.

Saturday: Joe Stacey & Ezra Veitch, Boccelli’s – A founding member of Ingrid’s Ruse and a permanent fixture at the Windham when it was open, Ezra tried to leave town last year. Fortunately for area music fans, Arkansas didn’t agree with him, and after nursing a hand injury that sidelined him for a bit, he’s back playing local stages. Stacey’s a fine songwriter who has performed with Ezra going back to 2001, so they should click nicely.

Sunday: Memorial Day Picnic, Heritage – Ten dollars buys some great barbeque and performances from three of the area’s best bands. Stonewall (who may be a bit winded if they win the Shenanigans battle mentioned above), Sun King and erstwhile local champs the Highball Heroes all play. Hopefully, the sun will shine, as it’s an outdoor affair. The Charlestown restaurant will raffle off prizes, and probably hand out a few free beer cozies.

Monday: Strange Creek Campout, Greenfield – Big fun for the tie-dyed. This three-day event begins Saturday, with an array of talented jam bands like Max Creek, Strangefolk and the Ryan Montbleau Band. 42 performers for 85 bucks – take that, Tom Petty. There’s a little bit of everything for everybody.

Wednesday: Colin McCaffrey, Canoe Club – His band, the Stone Cold Roosters, just celebrated a CD release party at Skunk Hollow last Friday, and Colin kicks out the jams with his Zydeco combo at Middle Earth in a couple of weeks. But tonight, the KUA grad strips things down their essence, playing songs from his solo efforts. Fans of Tom Rush and James Taylor won’t be disappointed.

Syd – The Way We Found It

sydcd.jpgA CD Review

It’s been a long time coming for this, the second effort from Syd. The Norwich native spent much of 2005 in the studio, only to shelve the work last autumn. Rescued by producer Danny Weinkauf (Fountains of Wayne, They Might Be Giants) and freshly mixed by Jeff Thall, “The Way We Found It” is a pointed departure from the bright pop of 2004’s “Fault Lines.” The ironic disc opener, “All Time High,” as well as “It Was You,” are shaded with a melancholy missing from the first disc.

While challenging, this mood also makes for a better-rounded overall effort. The songwriting is probing and mature, and the experience of supporting musicians, drummer Sam Smith and guitarist Dylan Allen, shows through.

It’s a daring balancing act at times; “Still Life” manages to be both buoyant and dour. The disc’s best track, the richly textured “Far Away” suggests Syd was taking cues from Elliot Smith instead of Jack Johnson this time around. The song’s coda – “distance will make you forget me/I hope distance will make you forget me” – reveals the romantic loss that permeates much of the record.

Other highlights include the soaring “You Said” and “Sail The Sea,” a pretty cover of friend Gregory Douglass’s song.

Jenny Owen Youngs – Batten the Hatches

owenyoungscd.jpgA CD Review

Her fragile voice sits somewhere between Norah Jones and a twanged-out Beth Orton, but the similarities end there. Jenny Owen Youngs delivers a sweetly subversive concoction of modern alienation, romantic ennui and deliciously infectious hooks.

Youngs explores technology’s hold on human interaction from a variety of angles. “Voice On Tape” uses answering machine clips to probe the disconnected world of voicemail and instant messages (“you say that I don’t have this down/but I’ve been practicing out loud”). “P.S.” imagines life as television, prerecorded and edited:” I don’t want to watch anything that hurts.”

“Drinking Song” and “F*ck Was I” are rich with the kind of good-natured self-deprecation that would sound like self-loathing in other hands. Dan Romer’s soft touch, lo-fi production is spot on, giving Youngs’ many subtle elements plenty of room to breathe. Romer and fellow Fireflies member Adam Christgau also play on most of the tracks.

There’s not a wasted moment here, from the staccato noodling on “Porchrail” that starts “Batten the Hatches” to “Keys Out Lights On,” the album’s dreamy closer, where Youngs states with wry hope, “I got so much stowed away down there.”

Youngs released this (her debut CD) independently last year. In early 2007 Nettwerk Records, home to Sarah McLachlan and Barenaked Ladies, picked it up for wider distribution. Hopefully, this major label push will give Jenny Owen Youngs the larger audience she so richly deserves.

 

Shane Nicholson – Faith and Science

nicholsoncd.jpg

A CD Review

Fans of Crowded House should warm up quickly to this record, released last year in Nicholson’s native Australia, and available Tuesday on iTunes (with general release next month).

“Faith and Science” once again demonstrates the ability of performers from Down Under to mine the best of American music. There are traces of everything from Rodney Crowell to Steely Dan here, and it sounds more contemporary than most Stateside pop.

“Always Be On Your Side” has the radio-friendly essence of the Eagles’ “Take It Easy,” while the bluesy “Big In Japan” is a clever stab at achieving pop success in Asia while waiting for the rest of the world to join in (“I’ve got the dog/not the bun”).

Nicholson gets vocal help from wife Kasey Chambers on the churning “Stolen Car” and the plaintive “I Can Change.” It’s a family affair all the way around, with brother-in-law Nash Chambers co-producing (as he has on all of Kasey’s albums)

This is the perfect album for cocooning from the world. The dreamy standouts “Safe and Sound” and “All the Time in the World” define the mood. But other tracks on “Faith and Science” explore darker places. “Tourist (Stand in One Place)” digs at the arrogance of big cities, while the barren album closer (“Home”) heartbreakingly probes Nicholson’s road weariness: “I’m only a spark in the fire/I’m only a voice on the air/I’m wide awake in Hollywood/but I could be anywhere.”

“Faith and Science” has only one real liability: a certain sameness from track to track. But if Nicholson’s easily digestible sound is what you’re looking for, that probably won’t matter.

Jonatha Brooke – Careful What You Wish For

brookecd.jpgCD Review

Jonatha Brooke channels her inner Todd Rundgren in an effort that’s worlds removed from her folksinger roots, though her busker humor is always in evidence.

“I was so naïve,” she chuckles on the title track (and album opener), plucking out a distracted guitar progression, before shifting to dense, majestic pop. It’s a record that reveals more texture with each listen.

Brooke made the smart choice to call on producer Bob Clearmountain, who worked with her on “10 Cent Wings” and “Steady Pull.” Traces of the soundboard wizard’s work with Simple Minds and Aimee Mann are in evidence, particularly on “Forgiven,” which alternately crunches and caresses the listener.

“Keep The River on Your Right,” co-written with Nick Lachey, smolders with soul, while the wordplay-rich “Hearsay” (“there’s hearsay/then there’s hearing you say that she’s leaving”) is the record’s highlight.

Brooke hasn’t completely forsaken the calliope folk-pop she did with the Story. “Never Too Late For Love” and “After The Tears” are good examples. But with “I’ll Leave The Light On,” she only nibbles at the edges of that early sound; as with “”Baby Wait,” she wraps spare pieces in full-bodied rhythm.

When she sings with a sneer, “tell me the story again/the one where I find my way home in the end,” on “Prodigal Daughter,” it’s clear that while there may be echoes of the past, for Brooke there’s no looking back.

That’s a good thing; the buffed and muscular “Careful What You Wish For” is Jonatha Brooke’s “Something/Anything?” – and one of the year’s best.