Saturday, November 29, 2014

Allo Darlin' Delivers Riches in Nottingham

Meet the first correspondent to ever grace the pages of Linear Tracking Lives! This occasional commenter and all-around swell chap goes by the moniker MisterPrime, and he saw an all-star bill (at least in my world) the other evening. Read his poignant reflections below. MisterPrime, you're welcome here whenever the mood should strike. There are a mess clips from this show on YouTube from a Jim Bethell. I included one below.

Allo Darlin'
The Maze
Nottingham, 19th November 2014

This was the fourth time in recent years that I've seen Anglo-Australian indieposters Allo Darlin' -- a band about which I have to admit to developing some slightly undignified fanboyish tendencies -- play live and it seems to confirm a continued though not wholly unwelcome tendency toward increasing boisterousness. Last time, at the same venue, as headliners of the Nottingham POP! All-Dayer in September 2013, I'd taken the party-atmosphere bounciness as a symptom of the occasion, what with the banter and the Paul Simon cover and all, and I'm by no means saying that the band had been subdued in the previous, hallowed environs of Derby's historic Silk Museum in 2012, but the live atmosphere they create does seem to have had something of a remix in the last couple of years. Mind you, tonight's bill was good one too, in keeping with the band's usual policy of inviting along some like-minded friends, to the extent that even middle-aged curmudgeons like myself were forced into making the effort to turn up early.

I caught local band Seabirds, who grew out of the ashes of the promising Red Shoe Diaries (who, coincidentally, I was impressed by when they supported Allo Darlin' in Leicester early in 2012) and created something of a stir last year with their debut single "Real Tears", on Matinée Recordings. They were slightly shambolic but still charming, on only their second gig, apparently (after last years' Indietracks festival) and obviously still something of a work in progress. That said, the pieces are already in place for a fine band, the same kind of literate well-honed indie that Red Shoe Diaries were making, but with a slightly beefier twin-guitar sound. The aforementioned single, in particular, and the closing three songs of the set, once they'd got into their stride, were delivered with panache. I'm looking forward to hearing more.

Norwegian band Making Marks, who are the support for the whole tour, were also very good. Their sound is somewhat fragile too but in a much more deliberate and polished way and they exude a kind of mannered scandic charm and a clever pop sensibility somewhat reminiscent of Swedish songsmith Jens Lekman. They also have one of the coolest girl-bassists ever -- horn-rimmed, hounds-toothed and slightly haughty, like a Nordic librarian. Their short set covered stuff from throughout their career (they were previously called My Little Pony and had a tendency on record to veer a little too far into the territory of the excessively twee for my liking that they manage to avoid in a live setting), but the jaunty single "Ticket Machine" and the slow-burning title track from last year's fine 'A Thousand Half-Truths' album were particularly strong.

By the time Allo Darlin' took to the stage the small club was rammed and the atmosphere (despite its being positively Baltic outside) was typically just the wrong side of tropical -- indeed Liz admitted to that she almost had to throw up from the heat last time they were here! -- the band responding with a performance that was subtle but anything but fragile. Energetic, bouncy and pleasingly drum-skin taut, this was a big, joyful, grin-inducing racket from the outset. Here, clearly, are a group who have spent time honing their chops and the onstage chemistry between all four members is lived-in and palpable. The rhythm section is solid but flexible and Paul Rains guitar work, as some reviewers of the new album 'We Come From The Same Place' have noted, has come on in leaps and bounds, switching smoothly between fluid, high-life lead and choppy, chordal rhythm to stunning effect. Obviously the set list leant heavily on the 'We Come...' numbers, the girl-group punkiness of "Half-Heart Necklace" and aching big-chorus nostalgia of "Crickets In The Rain" (a highlight even on an album as strong as the new one is) being particularly potent. That said, a couple of first album tracks at the end ("Silver Dollars" and "Kiss Your Lips", not to mention an encore of single "Darren") are proper crowd-pleasers, the band broadly beaming as they hit the pre-chorus drops and Liz pogoing madly as she leads the crowd-singalong climaxes.

There's a real feeling (borne out, I think by the band's healthy, philosophical approach in recent interviews to the question of the possibilities of success vs. the work-life balance) that Allo Darlin' are the kind of band who do this stuff, as that song "Silver Dollars" would have it, "because they love it" and can't help but express that through the uplifting nature of their music. Here's to the next four!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Dexys' Concert Film Soars

My birthday was a couple of weeks ago, and Mrs. LTL! came through in a big way. She got me both of my wants from Dexys: the recently released live four-album AND double DVD versions of 'Nowhere Is Home' I mentioned last month. What a gal! For a whole host of reasons, I didn't get around to the concert film directed by Paul Kelly and Kieran Evans until this evening. It came just in time too. If you saw the Vinyl Villain's post today about Kevin Rowland's professional low point, you know why I desperately needed to see the enigmatic performer at one of his brightest moments. Shake it off...

Dexys' 2012 album, 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' was the band's first in more than a quarter of a century. As Rowland is oft to do, he completely redefined their sound, and the story he told drew me in like no other record that year. I had read reviews of the accompanying live performances during Dexys' residence at London's Duke of York's Theatre in 2013, and it became obvious that as well received as the album had been by fans and critics alike, this was a piece of art best experienced on stage. Back here in America, this realization left me with a hole in my heart... until tonight. I own very few live shows on DVD. Brian Wilson's 'Smile,' Talking Heads' 'Stop Making Sense' and Big Country's New Year's Eve show at Barrowland in 1983/4 are just about the only ones I have watched multiple times. The others just sit on the shelf collecting dust after one viewing. Concerts just aren't meant for television, but this one worked for me like no other. There are no shots of the crowd or mixed-in applause. There is no "good evening, London!" from the maestro's microphone. This is all about the performance, and it feels much more like a dramatic play than the tired old rock show you've seen a thousand times.

'Nowhere Is Home' pulls off the feat in a seemingly simple way. There are two interspersed elements to the film. Rowland, with a little help from trombonist "Big Jim" Paterson, tells the tale of Dexys between songs being performed on stage. The conversation feels intimate, like a couple of fellas shooting the shit with you over a beer. Rowland opens with "I was a no-hoper. Prison was a real possibility for me. And when this opportunity presented itself, I wasn't going to screw it up." There's more talk of the early days, but much more time is spent on assembling the current incarnation of the band and creating "One Day I'm Going to Soar." The two big takeaways from this monologue are that Rowland has no interest in playing the hits, at least in a nostalgic cash-grab sort of way, and that this band means everything to him. "I've bled for Dexys quite a few times," he tells us, and that passion comes through in the show. That feeling of giving it all for his craft is palpable.

The songs that work best on stage are the ones that showcase his relationship with the female antagonist played by Madeleine Hyland. Emotions run the gambit, from lust, to rage to tenderness to heartbreak through the album's best songs, "She Got a Wiggle, "I'm Always Going to Love You" and "Incapable of Love." Now I know I just went on forever about how it's all about 'One Day I'm Going to Soar,' but my favorite moment of the entire performance was the closing 12-minute rendition of "This Is What She's Like." This is not about looking back. The song is a perfect fit for the themes of the evening... and it just happens to be my No. 1 song from Rowland and Co.

If this is on your Christmas list, and it should be, here are a couple of things you need to know, especially if you're American. It's best to buy this DVD from a UK outlet. Amazon is selling it for a whopping $56 right now, and that's just ridiculous. Even with shipping you can save a bundle getting it overseas, but beware: Make sure your DVD player can read discs from Europe.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Power Popsters Remember a Motown Hero

I was away when I got the news of Jimmy Ruffin's death. I thought
the Guardian wrote one of the better obits, especially recalling Ruffin's own explanation of the blessing and curse of recording the timeless 1966 song "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted." One of my favorite band's, the dB's, did a wonderful rendition as a Hurricane Katrina benefit release back in 2005, and they just posted it to YouTube as a tribute to the Motown legend. Ruffin's work will live forever.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sarah 097 Straight From the States

Just back from a whirlwind trip to San Francisco. I had very limited time to hit the shops, but I did manage a few minutes at both Bay Area locations of Amoeba Records. Neither stop was a home run, but I'll tell you all about my treasures soon. As you can imagine, I'm way behind today, but I wanted to make a quick appearance and pass along a couple of riveting reads.

The build is over: Scott at Spools Paradise has just unveiled his personal No. 1 album, and it's a doozy. If you're a fan of Simple Minds, and I must assume you are, Post-Punk Monk is digging deep for a dissection of the band's albums. He's on 'Real To Real Cacophony' right now. So, you can catch up quite easily. Do stop by.

Ok, now that I have your attention, let's listen to a band straight outta Cali but via Bristol. Huh? Oh, and named after Scotland's third most populous city to boot. As young Palm Desert pals, John Girgus and Beth Arzy penned some beautiful twee tunes and sent it across the pond to Sarah Records. Even if Aberdeen's nationality was all wrong, their sound was perfect for a label brimming with so-called sad-sack bands. This is the second (and far superior) of the two singles they released for the UK indie label. This 7" and CD single would be one of the last recordings Sarah would ever release. As you can see from the following review, Aberdeen took the world by storm. Screw you, David Quantick. The original Sarah stuff is tough to find, but LTM Recordings reissued much of Aberdeen's output in 2006. Buy 'What Do I Wish For Now?' right now.

When It Doesn't Matter
Super Sunny Summer

I have been listening to quite a bit of Aberdeen lately because Arzy's latest band, the Luxembourg Signal, has put out one of my favorite albums of 2014. I know I have already pushed this one on you, but allow me to try one more time.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Popguns Aim High and Hit the Bull's-Eye

Even though the Popguns haven't had a full-length album since 1996, thanks to the triumphant lead-in single "Lovejunky," released this past September, I had little anxiety the Popguns could pull off a modest little record a few of us die-hard fans would enjoy for a few minutes before we went back to our copies of 'Another Year, Another Address... the Best of the Midnight Years.' What I didn't expect was a tour de force that deserves its rightful place beside 'Eugenie' and 'Snog' as the Popguns' best work.

'Pop Fiction' is an absolute no-filler affair. Every note is a keeper, and a few of the songs would be bona fide hits if this was 1989 and we still cared about such things. Among the highlights: "Alfa Romeo" has this laid-back "Let's Get Lost" quality that Chet Baker, the song's protagonist, would have found cool. It reminds me a bit of 10,000 Maniacs during the 'In My Tribe' era. "Still Waiting for the Winter" turns things down a bit and flips the band's old single and fan fave on its head. The back and forth between Wendy Pickles and Kate Mander gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it, and I only hope these two takes of "Waiting For the Winter" are played back to back on stage. My great love of the album is the dramatic ballad "Out of Sight." The beautiful and mournful chorus slowly penetrates the soul. You can't help but hope these two in the song make it in the end.

The jangle of "See You Later" closes the album and send us off optimistic this isn't the last we will hear from the reformed Popguns. I have been known to have moments of hyperbole, but I'm certain 'Pop Fiction' will be vying for my album of the year.

'Pop Fiction' has its official release Dec. 2, but you can preorder the CD from Matinée Recordings right now for shipping on Nov. 19... and you'll get it as a download immediately. For your listening pleasure, here's a trio courtesy of the label:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

A Mess From 'Just Say Yes'

Lots of new music to listen to today. So, I need to make this quick. Digging up that rare mix from Wild Swans last week got me thinking about how much I enjoyed Sire's 'Just Say Yes' sampler series in the late '80s. They were chock full of singles, remixes, live versions and B-sides from the label's stable of alternative stars, but Sire would throw in a curve ball to keep things interesting too. Without question, you could always count on an appearance from Depeche Mode, Erasure and Morrissey. They were the cornerstones of the operation at the time, but you might find something from Figures on a Beach, the Ocean Blue and k.d. lang as well.

The first compilation, out in the winter of '87, was the best. Unfortunately, they got weaker with each release, and I gave up on the endeavor with the fourth volume in 1990, but the series did continue through at least the seventh sampler in 1994. Bottom line is these must have been a success because I would always end up buying the records Sire was marketing. Here's a little mix of late '80s magic from that series:

Echo & the Bunnymen - Lips Like Sugar (12" Mix) (from 'Just Say Yes...')
The Smiths - Work Is a Four-Letter Word (B-side from 'Just Say Yes...)
The Mighty Lemon Drops - Inside Out (Live) (from 'Just Say Yo')
Throwing Muses - Dizzy (Remix) (from 'Just Say Mao')
Ian McCulloch - Candleland (Second Coming Version) (from 'Just Say Da')
Erasure - Chains of Love (Truly in Love With the Marx Bros. Mix) (from 'Just Say Yo')

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pleased Pleased Pleased By JB Documentary

Having seen the HBO documentary "Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown" this past weekend, I was struck by the complexity of the "Hardest Working Man in Show Business." On the one hand, as a performer, you can't help but watch with your jaw hanging open. The clips are just amazing. All of his most memorable moments are here. I have seen the "T.A.M.I. Show" and his medley on "The Ed Sullivan Show" many times, but it never grows old. There were a few moments on stage that were new to me, such as his Boston appearance right after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., that filled me with admiration. The best of the lot, however, came after he broke in "Catfish" and "Bootsy" Collins. There is a rendition of "Sex Machine" near the end of the program that literally got me off the couch.

On the other hand, in interview after interview, Brown is painted as a tyrant and thief by former members of the band. He treated everyone around him roughly, including the ladies. Is this the price for perfection? Politically, my head was spinning as he seemed to do and say everything right on issues of race and civil rights throughout the '60s, only to abandon the Democrats and back Nixon in 1972. Sounds ridiculous, but then he says, "I don't want nobody to give me nothing." Then he adds, "Open the door and I'll get it myself." I told you he was complex.

Mick Jagger co-produced the documentary, and he adds a little levity early on with a tale of how things went down behind the scenes of the "T.A.M.I. Show." The Roots' ?uestlove adds perspective to Brown's vast influence today. This was a well-done documentary that I highly recommend. My only gripe was it felt like the filmmaker whizzed by Brown's moustache era a little too fast. However, it was kind of the powers that be to spare us the '80s and beyond.

Here's a quick promo of the film. I also dug up Brown's appearance on the "T.A.M.I. Show." I thought you might also enjoy a listen to an early song. "Good Good Lovin'" was recorded Jun 27, 1959 with the Famous Flames. On the heels of the smash "Try Me," this one should have been his next big hit. Sadly, it didn't chart, but it's always been one of my favorites. I'm taking this one from 'CD of JB II." Those two volumes were my introduction to Brown... back in 1987. It appears they are out of print.

James Brown - Good Good Lovin'

Saturday, November 8, 2014

When the Wife's Away, Scritti Politti Will Play

I'm not a fan of 'Anomie & Bonhomie,' but I can even find something redeeming from Scritti Politti's worst moment. The Mrs., as you no doubt know by now, hates every note the band ever put to wax. She's on the road again, however, so I can shed the headphones and freely move about the abode while I get my Green on... although I must say the beautiful "Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder" may be my favorite song to listen to on the old Sennheisers. I dedicate this one to the talented but still retired blogger Friend of Rachel Worth who commented back in June he has "a soft spot for A&B. It has 2 of the best tracks [Green Gartside] has done, the gorgeous brushed and the hooktastic tinseltown."

Scritti Politti - Brushed With Oil, Dusted With Powder

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Ugly Duckling From the Wild Swans?

Understandably, fans of the Wild Swans have always flocked to the early stuff, and 'The Coldest Winter for a Hundred Years' has quickly become a staple too. It's the middle material, 'Bringing Home the Ashes' and 'Space Flower,' that divides us. Even Paul Simpson doesn't seem to like these albums all that much. Well, I do. Today's selection is the opener from the latter.

'Space Flower' was produced by Simpson's old pal Ian Broudie. Ian McNabb and Chris Sharrock from the Icicle Works joined Broudie and Simpson to create a trippy collection not unlike the neo-psychedelic side of the "Madchester" sound all the kids were dancing to around the time this album was released in 1990. "Melting Blue Delicious" is worlds away from "Revolutionary Spirit," to be sure, but I find its lightness quite catchy and fun.

I was a big collector of the 'Just Say Yes' CD samplers Sire Records was putting out in the late '80s and early '90s. Volume IV, called 'Just Say Da,' had a special version of "Melting Blue Delicious" that was remixed by the legendary Bill Drummond, along with Dave Balse. I believe this was meant to be part of a 12" or CD single, but, to the best of my knowledge, this mix only ended up appearing on the label compilation. If I'm wrong about that, let me know.

The Wild Swans - Melting Blue Delicious
The Wild Swans - Melting Blue Delicious (St. Petersburg Mix)

Monday, November 3, 2014

One Last Pile O' Peel

Let's conclude a wonderful week of Peel Sessions with appearances by some of my all-time favorite bands. Most of these songs have been properly released on B-sides (like the Smiths), deluxe editions (like the Housemartins), box sets (like Orange Juice), best ofs (like the June Brides) or complete "at the BBC" releases (like Pixies and OMD). Also, a few years ago EMI helped put out a terrific 41-track double CD called 'Movement - The Peel Sessions 1977-1979' that is a must for Peel fans that weren't around to record his show off the radio at the time. There are a few samples from that collection below. If you don't have time to listen to this mix, at least take a moment to hear John's opening spiel impersonation as done by Andy Partridge. Spot on. As an American, I barely know what he's saying, but it's a big smile. I got that one from a an XTC collection of BBC appearances called 'Drums and Wireless.' If you have a favorite Peel Session, I would love to hear about it.

Peel's XTC Intro by Andy Partridge

XTC - Meccanic Dancing (Oh We Go!) (Nov. 13, 1978)
The Housemartins - Get Up Off Our Knees (April 6, 1986)
The Specials - Gangsters (May 23, 1979)
Orange Juice - Falling and Laughing (Oct. 21, 1980)
Pixies - Wave of Mutilation (April 16, 1989)
OMD - Of All the Things We Made (Jan. 29, 1983)
The June Brides - We Belong (Oct. 22, 1985)
The Smiths - Rushholme Ruffians (Aug. 1, 1984)
Madness - The Prince (Aug. 14, 1979)
The Jam - In the City (April 26, 1977)