thoughts on music, design and literature

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Live At The Avalon: Spinal Tap/The Folksmen

Last night my friend Jessica and I went to the Avalon for a benefit concert for the International Myeloma Foundation--in performance were Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer, better known as Spinal Tap, and sometimes known as their alter-egos from A Mighty Wind, The Folksmen.

Does For Rock And Roll What The Sound Of Music Did For Hills.

It was, in short, a brilliant night. They opened with 'Hell Hole,' and then spent the next few hours alternating between Folksmen classics like 'Old Joe's Place' and their bluegrass cover of the Stones' 'Start Me Up,' and Tap classics like 'Cups And Cakes.' And yes, they played 'Stonehenge.'

No one knows who they were....or, what they were doing.

Now I for one think their songs are just brilliantly, brilliantly funny. They're chock full of hilarious, sometimes crude lyrics ("Big bottom, big bottom/talk about mudflaps my girl's got 'em") and great send-ups of classic heavy metal clichés. 'Stonehenge' is one big paean to pretentious epic rock numbers like Led Zeppelin's 'Battle Of Evermore'--complete with mandolin solo and everything.

"This pretentious ponderous collection of religious rock psalms is enough to prompt the question, 'What day did the Lord create Spinal Tap, and couldn't he have rested on that day too?"

I'm reminded of my old Royal College of Music professor, Miguel Mera, who used to ask as, "What makes funny music funny?" Spinal Tap is a great example of the answer to that question: music is funny when it takes itself seriously. What musicians find especially funny about these songs is the attention to detail that these three talented musicians have put into the musical arrangements. For example, I love the section at 2:53 when they start climbing on those diminished 7th chords--reminds me of some old Metallica song that I listened to back in junior high ('Call of Cthulu?' 'Master Of Puppets?' Can someone help me here?) Or those little arpeggios in the CS-80-esque synth....they remind me of the synth part in Styx's 'Come Sail Away'.

It's such a fine line between stupid, and clever.

Music that TRIES to be funny, often isn't. For example, turn on Nickolodeon, and listen to the background music of some of their afternoon kids TV shows. It's packed of xylophone glisses, trombone slides, and other orchestral lunacy. And is it funny? To kids, for sure. But let's not forget that kids also find making farting noise with your armpit a comedy goldmine.

I think he's right. There's something about this that is so black. It's like, how much more black could this be? And the answer is none. None more black.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Cornelius: Fit Song

From time to time I discover a great new artist so unique and so unusual that I can't help but share his stuff with everyone I meet.

I got turned onto J-Pop (Japanese pop music, for those who don't know) through the soundtrack to a quirky video game called Katamari Damacy. Through various internet forums, I met a guy in Japan who had great taste in music; and for awhile he was sending me a number of MP3s of these great pop, jazz and electronica musicians who were doing the most amazing material over there. There are too many to go into detail here, but I will mention one artist who has several releases already stateside (and is available on iTunes). His name is Cornelius, and he's on the trendy and tasteful Matador Records.

For those musicians out there, this song's a real delight. First of all, it completely inverts the classic hierarchy of the rock band, where the drums and rhythm section establish the barlines; instead, the vocals mark the bars, and the drums are allowed to float all over the place, only occasionally alighting on a downbeat. The way the drums are played too is extraordinary--really melodic, as opposed to rhythmic.

And for those of you who wonder if the verb 'plays' is really appropriate for an electronica-based artist like this, in the case of Cornelius, the answer is an enthusiastic 'yes.' My writer/director friend Jon Goldman and I caught his live show at the El Rey a couple months back, and we both agreed that it was one of the most impressive concerts we'd ever seen. Not only are all the parts played live by his tight-as-all-hell rock quartet (including hocket-rhythms bouncing back and forth between musicians on stage), but they synchronized their playing to their music videos....without click track, as far as I could tell! Astounding.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kennedy Center Photos

I've been incredibly blessed in having Video Games Live take my music to some pretty distinguished venues.

Two months ago I had the pleasure of hearing the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington Master Chorale perform 'Baba Yetu' and 'Coronation' at the Kennedy Center. Both nights were sold out, and warmly received by both fans and critics alike. The Washington Post referred to my music as 'sophisticated'...not going to argue with that.

After the concert I participated in the Meet-And-Greet, and spent a good hour or so signing autographs for all those in attendance. To those Baba Yetu fans that I met, thank you for all your encouraging words. Your support is a constant reminder as to why I started writing music in the first place.