High Fidelity

Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “High Fidelity” (1979)

That’s from a 1979 Elvis Costello & the Attractions show \at Lehigh College in Bethlehem, PA. The show was just a month after what’s become known as the “Bramlett incident,” in which Costello drunkenly dropped the n-word referring to Ray Charles in an effort to win a bar argument.

What’s notable about the show is that Costello tried out a few songs later to be included on Get Happy!! his next album. While in the studio, Costello and the Attractions hit upon the concept of framing the arrangements as a tribute/homage to classic soul music; at the time of this show, however, it’s clear he had no such concept in mind.

In its early form, “High Fidelity” loses much of its desperate momentum and instead becomes a heaving, heavy pop punk song that draws a stronger line forward from the sound and style of Armed Forces. You can hear the same vestiges in the gig’s versions of other Get Happy!! songs.

Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “B-Movie (Live)” (1979)

Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “Opportunity (Live)” (1979)

You can also hear a heightened edge of rage in Costello’s attitude throughout the show; clearly his unfortunate words of a month before and the ensuing fallout had left him with a bitter taste about America. He dedicates “Oliver’s Army” to “the bones of all the Redcoats buried around here,” then launches into maybe the most incendiary version of the song I’ve heard, before it became a more comfortable staple of his live act (and before he and the band were sick to death of playing it, I’m sure).

Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “Oliver’s Army (Live)” (1979)

There’s an abundance of high-quality early live EC bootlegs available, as well as the “official bootleg” Live at the El Mocambo, but after this tour there’s a more typical availability–one to two great recordings from each tour, and a slew of audience tapes. This particular show is notable as it captures an artist in a turning point in his career, both in terms of his music and his relationship with his audience.

January 8, 2010 at 10:06 am Leave a comment

Teh Funny: Men’s Synchronized Swimming

I don’t know why but I was just thinking of the 1984-85 season of SNL and how I pray they release the whole damn thing to DVD someday.

That was the “hired guns” season where Christopher Guest, Martin Short, Harry Shearer, and Billy Crystal all were cast members. I don’t know how many of them stayed or left after that season but I know that was the only year all four were on the show. I have a beat-up old VHS tape of highlights from that season, including the sketch below.

(I wish SNL would either vastly improve their Hulu offerings or just let fans upload their own old tapes to YouTube. It’s painful to be unable to get good videos of sketches like these easily.)

January 7, 2010 at 1:36 pm 1 comment

Why Monster?

There’s a long history of highly successful pop acts suddenly becoming exhausted by their own personas and adopting a new artifice for the sake of a song, a record, or even a tour. The Beatles started it off, as they started all good things, with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. David Bowie became Ziggy Stardust. The Turtles became many groups on their Battle of the Bands album. Hell, even Garth Brooks became Chris Gaines.

R.E.M. became…well, they actually remained R.E.M. They just put out Monster. Following on the heels of Green, Out Of Time and Automatic For The People, it was a pretty hard stylistic left turn. Bombastic, lurching, and glam.

It’s a great record, but it doesn’t seem to have clung very tightly to the pop consciousness. That’s the takeaway from Sean McCarthy’s piece for PopMatters, in which he spends seven long years trying to trade in a used copy of Monster at CD emporiums throughout the country, ultimately tossing it into a bin of “As Is – No Guarantees” discs alongside Hootie and the Blowfish and Alanis Morrisette. An ignoble end, to be sure.

If I had to guess why so many of us have bailed on Monster, it would be that stylistic left turn. Again, I think it’s a great record. It just doesn’t fit easily into the overall shared conception of what R.E.M. is. You can follow the thread pretty easily through their career, from Murmur right on up to Accelerate, and you can see where they definitely incorporated some of the tricks and sounds they learned on Monster on later records (especially its follow-up, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, recorded partially while the band was on the massive Monster tour). But it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb; it’s not an easy fit into the band’s own output, and it’s not an easy fit into the era; it was inspired by but didn’t seem to inspire much around it.

Which I think was ultimately the point. Lyrically, Monster finds Michael Stipe exploring the ideas of artifice and unreality; “How can I convince her/that I’m invented too?” he sings on “Crush With Eyeliner,” and that’s always been the key to the record for me. How we invent ourselves every day and every minute, in each new interaction with other people and the world around us.

I’ve always thought it was pretty damn brilliant – an album about self-invention in which the band themselves engage in a thorough self-invention of their own, defying their audience and their own success to follow where they’re going, which was ultimately nowhere at all.

January 6, 2010 at 9:56 am 2 comments

Unresolved

I’m a huge fan of new year’s resolutions. HUGE. Fan.

I am terrible at executing them, tracking their progress, and sometimes even just remembering them after about mid-February.

Why is this, wonder I?

I’m starting to realize I run a pretty high-bandwidth life. What I mean is that I have lots of things going on in many directions at the same time. It’s how I operate; I realize it has huge disadvantages, such as a distinct lack of focus, but it is what I do and I’ve failed at changing it enough times to realize I’ll get a lot further just accepting my own style of living and getting as much as I can out of it while I can.

At any given time, during the work day or otherwise, I’m in the midst of at least three different tasks, both personal and professional. Right now, I’ve got:

1) This blog post
2) A press release for my job
3) An e-mail I’m writing in Gmail

This is in addition to the stuff I’m passively observing–social media for work (yammer, LinkedIn); my personal twitter and RSS feeds on iGoogle; my work e-mail in Outlook.

I know everyone multitasks to a degree, but I feel as though I embrace it as a work ethic from top to bottom. In my creative life, I’m on a constant ongoing quest to refine and focus the things I do, even as shiny new things to do continue to present themselves and get added to the list. Tried Blogcritics; did it for a while; didn’t stick. Joined up with Trouble With Comics, that’s going good, but man, I’d still love to put something together for Popdose, and I still have Alert Nerd and this blog constantly on my radar, and remember that Elvis Costello blog I started with Jeff a while back, it’d be great to get to that…and I need to edit a novella to publish it next year…and I’d love to record more of my music, and archive my family photos, and and and.

Which sounds like I’m busy. Which I am. And many of you are too.

For me, I think it’s just that I work on too many things at the same time, and I’ve never been good at focusing well enough to get just a few things done really well; it bores me. So I try to do twenty things, get ten done, stress about the ten that went undone, while my peers honestly probably only try to do ten and accomplish five, and don’t worry about the five that got undone whatsoever. I’m constantly putting pressure on myself to do more, write more, connect more, be better and faster and smarter and sharper and…

This is boring me to tears, actually.

This relates to resolutions how? I think I set up the resolutions with every intention of accomplishing them, and then the swish and tide of all the shit I do pulls me away. I can’t focus enough to deliver on them.

This year, I am resolved. I’m just not telling anyone, really, because it’s a double bummer to trumpet your resolutions and then stink up the place with your failures. I’ve tried to focus on resolutions that dovetail into what I’m already doing and know that I want to do, so no Hail Mary curveballs like “Watch every episode of Star Trek and review them.”

We’ll see how it goes. Happy new year.

January 5, 2010 at 1:24 pm 1 comment

25 Songs of X-Mas: “Christmas at K-Mart”

“I musta died and gone to heaven, cause hell is Christmas at the 7-Eleven…”

Known as “the Lenny Bruce of the Blues,” Root Boy Slim recorded six albums and allegedly got a $250,000 recording contract based solely on “Christmas at K-Mart.” Worth every penny, I’d say.

December 9, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

25 Songs of X-Mas: “Feliz Navidad”

The Jose Feliciano classic. I live for those horns every year. This song swings and rocks.

(Fair warning: I will someday own one of those light programming machines and bore you every year with my own choreography to obscure X-Mas tunes.)

BONUS: Debbie Harry covers “Feliz Navidad” with Spiraling. They give it a cool Blondie vibe.

December 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm Leave a comment

25 Songs of X-Mas: “Christmas Wrapping,” The Waitresses

This is an xmas tune that I sorta rediscovered a couple years back; I always knew it was out there, but I never recognized its awesomeness till I sat down and gave it a close listen. A snide yet heartwarming story of “missed connections” with a happy ending, a detached vibe that belays the need for human interaction, and the horns. Oh yes, the horns.

(It’s also another tune with a horrific cover by a Radio Disney standby; avoid the Miranda Cosgrove version at all costs. The Donnas have a cover too but it has no horns, and thus, isn’t quite as good.)

December 7, 2009 at 4:28 pm 1 comment

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