The temptation is to throw your hands in the air and cry that Rick Rubin has done it again. But while the famed producer has indeed helmed another solid-to-strong return by an out-of-fashion act with ZZ Top’s La Futura, it’s not quite that simple. Beyond quibbles over just how outré a four-decade-old blues band from Texas will ever be, there’s some question about what Rubin added—or didn’t add, actually. It may just be that, after producing all their albums, Billy Gibbons needed a nudge from someone he trusted.
However the credit should be apportioned, the Houston trio sounds refreshed; after all, their ’80s drum machine look was wearing like faux wood basement paneling, unchanged a quarter-century later. There was no choice but to tear that shit out and return to the ’70s boogie of “Just Got Paid” and “La Grange.”
ZZ Top’s gritty, dusty and bedraggled prairie blues sounds as good as ever here. You do wonder how much Rubin talked to them about songs, though. The record feels a tad formless. Part of that might be sequencing, as the album doesn’t generate the kind of momentum it could or should; individually, the songs tend to flatten out and wander off anticlimactically. Most of them could end about 30 seconds earlier. All these symptoms create a problem over the course of an entire LP. Rubin should’ve taken a stronger hand.
Instead of lamenting how it might’ve been better, we can rhapsodize how nice it is to hear Billy, Dusty and Frank do what they do so well with more sympathetic production. Rubin wrings a lot from Gibbons withered growl. The 62-year old guitarist also steps up with some pretty well-written songs, from the locked groove of “Consumption” o the harrowing ode to addiction “It’s Too Easy Mañana,” with its dark expressionistic guitar break.
Rubin’s biggest contribution is at least an interesting one: Opener “I Gotsta Get Paid” is one of the producer’s famed genre cross-pollinations, as it covers the track “25 Lighters” by Houston’s DJ DMD. Gibbons does his best, but he can’t pull off the gangsta swag. He sounds like Andy Rooney ranting about his dresser-top BIC collection. The song’s accompanied by electronic tomfoolery that succeeds more in attracting attention than serving the song. Without all the dressing oe Gibbons’ whack “rap”, it would be quite a jam thanks to an absolutely sweltering lead over nice Delta drone.
In truth, this mix of tracks feels, for better and worse, like a retrospective. You have the “Tube Snake Boogie” of “Chartreuse” and “Flyin’ High,” whose clean, high and tight production is an obvious nod to Eliminator-era arena rock. There’s even a lovelorn blues waltz, “Over You,” where Gibbons’ vocal limp adds character to his aching desire to “get up and get over you.”
In turn, it’s a very good album with a few glaring flaws. Rubin definitely captured top-shelf performances, and on La Futura, Gibbons has written some of his best songs in years. Failure, at least, avoided.
ZZ Top plays Durham Performing Arts Center tonight, Wednesday, Sept. 10, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $50—$120.
In one of the more solid Local Band, Local Beer showcases in recent memory, Some Army and Caleb Caudle joined Old Quarter for their debut EP release show. Some Army started off the night with a few technical difficulties but finished strong and also debuted a few new songs. Despite taking the stage after midnight, Old Quarter flew through their 45 minute set, playing each tune on the EP, as well as a few choice covers. Give the Old Quarter EP a listen: It is one of the better alt-country efforts in the area this year.
Three years ago at another of her roots shows in the damp and dark Berkeley Cafe, local promoter Marianne Taylor turned me on to Chuck Prophet. At the time, he was on tour with his backing band The Mission Express, supporting the then-new Let Freedom Ring. Since that evening the album has not left my car.
In doing this series, I had a list of "stretch" artists that I hoped might participate; Chuck Prophet and company were nearly at the top. When they agreed to come in, we had planned for him to only play a few songs solo, but that soon changed. He brought out the entire Mission Express—Stephanie Finch, Derek Brown, Kevin T White and James Deprat—to join. So a very stripped-down version of Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express played several songs off of the outstanding 2012 ode to their native San Francisco, Temple Beautiful. Today, in honor of the massive Yep Roc 15 celebration next week as well as the first day of the Major League Baseball playoffs, we present "Willie Mays Is up at Bat." Go Braves—and, I suppose—go Giants.
The Yep Roc 15 kickoff is Wednesday, Oct. 10, at Local 506 featuring Los Straitjackets, Southern Culture on the Skids, The Fleshtones and the Countdown Quartet. Tickets are sold out.
From Thursday to Saturday at the Cat's Cradle, a stacked lineup celebrates Yep Roc. Just to sample, Nick Lowe, Robyn Hitchcock, Dave Alvin, Fountains of Wayne, Jukebox the Ghost, Liam Finn, Josh Rouse, Sloan, Mayflies USA, Cheyenne, John Doe, Tift Merritt, Chatham County Line, Jim White and The Sadies will be on hand. All three nights are hosted by John Wesley Harding. Tickets are still available and for more info, visit yr15.com.
The purpose of the Indy Week's Simple Music Video Series is to capture local and touring musicians who we feel are producing something special. The hope is to capture something very simple in order to mirror the experience of viewing a performance as if you were in a small crowd watching a quiet set. We hope for content of the music to be the primary focus of the series, not multiple camera angles meant to keep the viewer guessing and entertained.
Most bands featured in the series will be a sample of the deep pool of talent in the Triangle, while others will represent some of our touring favorites.
We goofed: A blurb that ran yesterday said Arizona minimalist garage duo Acorn Bcorn would play Slim's on Thursday, Oct. 4. It was supposed to say Oct. 3.
This mistake has been corrected online, but the misprint still overshadows an excellent heavy bill booked at Slim's for tonight all along. Athens heavy four-piece Savagist may be from the home state of so much excellent Southern sludge, but there's an almost Motor City metal flavor to this punishing, muscled rock-metal. Chapel Hill's Bitter Resolve brings a fine hybrid of space-rock, proto-grunge and riff-metal. The local trio's sophomore record, The Early Interstellar Medium, is slated for release later this year or early next. The 10 p.m. show costs $5.
The music of Chapel Hill's Le Weekend is marked by stark contrast: moments of catchiest pop abandon give way to noisy freak outs. To this point, it's been a balance that the trio has struggled to maintain. The transitions between its disparate elements sometimes get a bit too jarring. But the magic y/ear—the group's third album, which will be unveiled at an Oct. 19 CD release party at Durham's Pinhook—smooths the edges, allowing Le Weekend's parts to add up to their optimum sum.
This time out, moments of polite tunefulness build gradually to aggressive conclusions. These catharses cover an exciting range, from psych-blasted distortion to prog-inspired polyrhythms. The build from instrumental intro "Ask me about my weekend" to "Heroic cutlets" is particularly effective. An ethereal mix of synthesizers and spacey sound effects opens things up before an elegant guitar riff emerges. By the end of the intro, the guitar has shifted into a tenacious indie rock lick akin to Archers of Loaf. The song balances these moments of aggressive bravado with fetching melodies.
Defying the odds, Le Weekend nails every transition. Below, you can check out "Your past lies," another highlight from the magic y/ear.
Back in March, we interviewed the hip-hop-influenced jazz pianist Robert Glasper. His group, Robert Glasper Experiment, was headed to Durham for a two-night residency at the Casbah in support of their new album, Black Radio.
During our chat, Glasper spoke of his fondness for local Grammy-winning producer, 9th Wonder: "Doesn't he live out there? I'm trying to reach him. I want him to do a remix. Put it in the paper," said Glasper.
We followed Glasper's instructions, and maybe that's what led to 9th Wonder contributing to Glasper's upcoming Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP. The short offering features six unreleased and remixed tracks off of Black Radio, from producers like Pete Rock and ?uestlove and guest verses from rappers like Phonte and Black Milk.
Here, on "Afro Blue ft. Erykah Badu (9th Wonder's Blue Light Basement Remix ft. Phonte)," 9th Wonder mellows the original and dots the intervals between Badu's lacy vocals with flutes chirping from a field of midnight drums. Phonte closes his guest verse with well-played erotic imagery, complementing Badu's homage to intertwined "cocoa-hued" bodies: "Love comes in every color, but the fact is/ I never needed Fifty Shades of Grey/ Just turn the lights down low and give me every shade of blackness."
With several remix albums to his name, 9th Wonder is no stranger to fixing up tracks with his signature soul-percussion, even if the original wasn't broken to begin with. This time, having a distinguished jazz musician like Robert Glasper request his remix services makes it even better.
Robert Glasper's Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP is out Oct. 9 on Blue Note Records.
On record, The Love Language has enhanced its fraying emotions with divergent pop techniques. But The Love Language has always been at its best when it plays lean and lively garage rock. The quartet that Stu McLamb now leads understands that better than any of the band’s previous iterations, which made it the perfect choice to headline Monday’s celebration at The Cave.
Monday was the club’s first night of operation under a new-ownership trio that includes Mark Connor and Van Alston, the tandem that operates the Raleigh bar Slim's. The Cave has a cherished history as a friendly dive and music hot spot, a niche very similar to the one occupied by Slim's. If Monday was any indicator, the new owners will do fine maintaining that charm. The show started late with a break in the middle, allowing attendees from a show at Carrboro’s Cat’s Cradle to wander in and The Cave’s patrons to get properly sauced before The Love Language ended the night. Rounds of Fireball cinnamon whiskey were shot at the bar. Hugs and high fives were plentiful. The faux-rock confines felt friendly once again.
The relaxed sets by openers Ryan Gustafson—now a guitarist for The Love Language—and Old Bricks made it feel like nothing had changed. Gustafson mixed complex, Fahey-inspired instrumentals with road-weary country ballads in a quick acoustic performance. It was an inviting and simple offering, a fitting introduction to an early-week show. Old Bricks tried out an array of new songs that delved further into the driving rhythms and distorted atmospherics of last year’s City Lights LP. It was rough but fulfilling, false starts and equipment problems giving way to gorgeous tones and danceable beats.
The Love Language’s set felt like a special event. As they played, the room was full but not packed, a respectable turnout given that it was nearing midnight on a Monday evening. The outfit roared through older songs with ragged intensity, retro-pop melodies exploding into colorful distortion. The band's new songs were a cut above, hurtling forward with the kind of kraut-inspired momentum mastered by California's Thee Oh Sees. Connor, clad in a coat and tie for the occasion, joined in during one of the choruses, flanking McLamb alongside Old Bricks’ Andy Holmes. Connor shouted loudest, apparently swept up in the possibilities of his new venture.
There were no sudden changes at The Cave on Monday. For the most part, it was business as usual. But the evening resounded with a sense of enthusiasm and energy, making it easy to get excited about the club’s new era.
I wish I'd seen The Magnolia Collective more times over the past few years, either playing late on a weekday at The Station or some other low-lit room in the Triangle. Saturday night at Local 506, they opened for Michigan's Frontier Ruckus. While the two bands have very different variations on Americana, the bill worked. Magnolia mixed several styles, from, alt-country and blues to psychedelic rock and just plain old rock ’n’ roll. As notoriously indifferent as Chapel Hill crowds can be, they bobbed their heads to the strums as though this was the band they came to see. And maybe next time it will be.
OFF!, Negative Approach, Double Negative
Sept. 30, 2012
Supergroups almost always seem better in principle than in practice. It’s unfair, after all, to task a group of respected artists with overcoming their collective résumé, but that’s the job at hand: Remind us of your past glories, and feed us something fresh.
OFF! is the preservationist hardcore quartet comprising original Black Flag and Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris, Redd Kross bassist Steven McDonald, Burning Brides guitarist Dimitri Coats and Rocket From The Crypt drummer Mario Rubalcaba. The band introduced itself in 2010 with a series of four EPs, packed with minute-long bursts of piss-and-vinegar fury stunningly similar to Morris’ early-’80s landmarks. This year’s self-titled full-length debut carried the same torch, though songs romanticizing the early Southern California punk scene and lambasting former bandmates shackled the band to its frontman’s legacy. So far, nostalgia has been OFF!’s greatest strength and liability.
Live, in front of a capacity crowd at Kings, OFF! offered both edges of that sword. Their performance was precise and animated. Coats, in particular, gave vitality to the set, lunging at the crowd and swinging his guitar like a weapon. He’s a sharp riff-writer, too; indeed, the experience all four players bring to the band showed in their tight performances and interlocking, complementary parts. When the band blazed through its set-list, the past became trivia. Bodies flailed and flew off the stage as OFF! ripped through songs like “Now I’m Pissed” and “Borrow And Bomb.”
The night ended strong, too: At 11:57 p.m., Morris announced the band would play four more songs. By 12:01 a.m., they were unplugging instruments.
I won’t count myself among the converts just yet. The set stalled more than once as Morris regaled the crowd with lengthy introductions. To introduce “Peace In Hermosa,” he romanticized the early Southern California punk scene, with memories of watching bands like The Bags and X in Hollywood as Black Flag and Redd Kross played their first basement gigs. Before “Borrow and Bomb,” Morris preached the importance of voting (because they don’t want you to vote, he said), and lambasted politicians on both sides of party lines. “Jeffrey Lee Pierce” couldn’t begin until Morris has explained the importance of his friend, the late Gun Club frontman who died in 1996. These Storytellers-like interludes broke momentum and encouraged heckling from the crowd. One particularly tenacious heckler seemed to have an unhealthy preoccupation with Ted Nugent, much to Morris’ chagrin. Worst, though, they trapped OFF! in amber.
The band might’ve taken a few more cues from Negative Approach, reunited after almost 30 years, who simply let their music go hard. The influential Detroit foursome roared through most of the self-titled 1982 EP and 1983’s full-length, Tied Down. This show obviously couldn’t compare to a VFW Hall in 1983, so it didn’t try to. With the benefit of Kings’ clear mix, it was easy to hear the innovations in Negative Approach’s old songs, to trace their trail from the Ramones’ streamlined riffing to the Jesus Lizard’s scathing noise-rock.
Frontman John Brannon was ferocious, though his voice seemed to have tightened, giving him a higher timbre and less exacting enunciation than on the old records. Hardly a criticism, that evolution brought him closer to the harsher sound of the metal bands Negative Approach also inspired.
Ironically, it was the old band playing old songs that best complemented the upstart opener, Double Negative, whose searing caterwaul gave a definitive proof that hardcore needn’t rely on its past to maintain its currency. Double Negative’s music never hides its roots in bands like Black Flag or Negative Approach. Rather, it grows beyond them.