“flaming pie” – paul mccartney (1997)

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Summer is a funny season when it comes to my schedule.  I always think I’m going to take it easy each summer, but I find myself much more active than any other time of the year.  This summer has been full of media league softball games, volunteering, festivals, and music classes.  All I want to do during the summer is to just enjoy the lovely weather at my leisure and not rush. However, that doesn’t happen.  Things are happening and I want to be involved.  I guess it is a subconscious need to not take opportunities for granted because it will all be over someday.

I started my week thinking it was going to business as usual.  I was thinking about my normal routine of commitments and extracurricular activities and trying to balance those with a healthy social life while trying not to neglect personal self-care time (try to at least).  A friend had invited me to a show at Millennium Park, but I declined because that conflicted with my class.

A few weeks ago, I enrolled in my first ensemble class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. My options were limited because I didn’t want to book a class on the weekend (I’ll usually do that during winter time).  Mondays were dedicated to softball, Tuesdays were volunteer nights, and the other nights of the week were where I try to fit errands, chores, and other mundane life stuff.  So, the only day I felt comfortable filling was Wednesday.

The only ensemble class available to me that was convenient was the Beatles ensemble.  According to the class description, we were going to work on Abbey Road.  I thought that was pretty cool.  I had been thinking of taking an ensemble class since it was recommended to me by my previous instructor.

When I went to my first class a few weeks ago, I was confused by what was going on.  Immediately, we just started playing through Let It Be in its entirety.  And not only that, but everyone knew the songs really well.  I had later learned that the ensemble class has been meeting for a long time and they had been working on Let It Be a lot so they could play some cuts at the Square Roots festival put on by the school.

While that is all well and good, I had to quickly adjust to this new class format.  Previously, in the core guitar classes, we would be given a song or two while the instructor goes over the strumming pattern, chords, and any applicable riffs.  We would work on small parts of the songs together focusing on repetition so we could get muscle memory down before playing through the song a few times.  That influenced my expectation about how this ensemble class would go.

While I am fairly decent at the guitar, I’m still at a lower skill level than many of my classmates.  So, this class for me was like being thrown into the deep end of a pool and learning to swim out of fear of drowning.  There was no breaking down the songs like my previous classes, so the method of learning was different.  While intimidating, there is still some value to this.  It teaches me to play with people and to keep up.  And all the while I’m thinking, thankfully no one can hear how bad I am playing right now because there are so many other skilled performers playing in unison.

That class has been going for a few weeks.  And, on Monday morning, I was fully expecting to go to class.  By the end of the day, things would change.

I was at the gym and got an email from a classmate.  I opened it up while on the Stairmaster and I almost fell off out of surprise.  This email was saying that the ensemble class was being invited to go to the Paul McCartney show at Tinley Park for free and that our visit would include access to the sound check.

How awesome is that?!  I immediately went to Google Maps to see how I could get to the Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre where Paul was playing.  To my dismay, it wasn’t accessible by the Metra.  I replied asking if anyone wanted to carpool.  I got an affirmative.  Great!  Next was to ask for the time off at work so I could make it to the sound check and rearranging my already packed schedule.  But, hey, moving scheduled errands around is a small price to pay to see Paul McCartney.

In my excitement, I went through some storage boxes to find my concert shirt from the last, and only, time I saw Paul McCartney.  That was July 26, 2010.  I had just recently graduated college and was about to temporarily relocate to Alaska to work on some projects.  Paul had scheduled a stop in Nashville on his cheekily named Up and Coming Tour.  This was significant because this would be Paul’s first time playing Nashville in any incarnation of his long and winding career.  I wasn’t going to miss this chance to see a Beatle.

The show was great.  I had nosebleed seats because I was a recent graduate who didn’t’ make that much money.  Still, it was a memorable experience.  I had a great time.  I was satisfied that I had seen a Beatle.  In the last seven years, Paul has toured a few times.  Even Ringo went out and played some shows.  However, as much as I love them and knew it would be a great show, I never had the urge to go back out to a show.  Big concerts can get expensive and I was satisfied with my one-time experience.  Though, that attitude changed for this show.  It was free and I had a ride.

Currently on his One on One tour, Paul was originally scheduled to play one show at Tinley Park.  Due to overwhelming demand, a second show was added and that was the show the ensemble class was invited to. I left work at noon and met a classmate at the Old Town School.  She had agreed to drive a couple of us to the show.  We had to get to the venue by 3:30. Along the way, we encountered a lot of heavy stop and go traffic on the interstate which extended our original 60-minute drive to a 90-minute drive.  We passed the time with stories, good conversation, and some Beatles music when the traffic let up.

We get to the venue and stand around for about an hour waiting for the sound check to start.  I mingled with classmates and met some people affiliated with the school who tagged along for this adventure.  Funny enough, I was the only one wearing a Beatles shirt in any form.  Mine was the tour shirt from the show I saw in 2010.  No one else was wearing any Paul or Beatles shirts which seemed funny to me.  That is the kind of thing you think about while you’re waiting around for a once in a lifetime experience such as seeing a Paul McCartney sound check.

After an hour, we get ushered in to take out seats.  A sound check coordinator was going over some details with us.  Standard stuff like don’t take videos (pictures were fine) and to dance around having a good time.  Paul doesn’t like people standing there looking at phones or with arms crossed which made sense.

Paul arrived via helicopter and took the stage a few minutes later.  After playfully addressing the hundred or so people in the sound check audience, the band started performing.  This was incredibly exciting.  It was like a personal concert.  Paul played for 45 minutes testing various guitars, pianos, and a ukulele.  He opened up jamming a rockabilly instrumental.  The rest of the set included various Wings, Beatles, and solo songs as well as covers like “Midnight Special.”  The variety was cool and I loved hearing “Only Mama Knows” from his underrated 2007 album Memory Almost Full.

After the sound check, we waited around for the show.  And, naturally, the show was stellar.  Paul played a 39-song set!  And what is great about a career like his is that almost every song is a classic.  He even pulled out deep cuts like the offbeat “Temporary Secretary” from his second solo album.  Paul would also connect with the audience by telling stories in between songs that showed off his humor and appreciation for being there.  Songs from the Beatles and Wings catalogue were featured quite extensively.  However, he also played cuts from his latest album New released in 2013 as well as the track “FourFiveSeconds” which he recorded with Rihanna and Kanye West.  He made a point to tell the audience that “FourFiveSeconds” was the most recent song he recorded (released in 2015) because, earlier in the set, he played “In Spite of All the Danger” which as the earliest tune he had ever recorded when he was a member of the pre-Beatles skiffle group the Quarrymen.

Paul has had such an amazing career.  So many great songs that will last generations.  To only pick one song from his discography was an absolute challenge.  There are songs from his solo career that I have loved since high school.  And since I have already covered the Beatles in this blog, I cannot go pick a song from their stellar catalogue.  Perhaps Wings?  Or maybe even a track from his side projects like the Firemen? Why not a solo song from the concert?

So many songs to consider, but I think I’ll stray off the path of mainstream (or as non-mainstream as I can get with a Beatle).  Flaming Pie was released in 1997 and recommended to me by a friend in college.  While it is not the most obscure entry in his career (did you know he has put out classical music compositions?), I appreciate the album for it’s sound and context.

Prior to its release, the Beatles Anthology project was being released.  This include the documentary plus three double-disc albums over two years.  Paul was working on tracks for Flaming Pie as early as 1992, but the studio executives asked him to not release any materials until the anthology project was concluded.  Paul, at first did not like that decision but came around to see that it made sense. Not only did it make sense from a marketing and sales perspective, it also gave Paul an opportunity to focus his complete attention on the anthology project and the history of his own band.  Paul described the experience “was a refresher course that set the framework for this album.”

“Calico Skies” was the first song written for the record.  And it is certainly my favorite song from the album.  However, the album-titled track is the one I listen to the most.  “Flaming Pie” is simply just a fun song and an overlooked entry in his vast catalogue.  It is utter nonsense with a jovial backing track.  It puts me in a good mood with its absurd imagery.  It is a track that perfectly represents Paul.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever get the chance to see Paul perform again.  I didn’t expect to after the 2010 concert.  However, life is full of surprises and opportunities.  The key is to know what to do when that happens.

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“butter” – a tribe called quest (1991)

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Well, another Pitchfork Music Festival has come in gone.  This was my fourth time attending the fest and it has stayed consistently fun.  As always, the crowd wasn’t unmanageable and my enjoyment of the fest was helped with cooler weather and no rain.

I also got to see a lot of great performances.  Thurston Moore was loud, noisy, and amazing.  Angel Olsen was a real treat, but I think her backup singer was more excited to be there than she was.  George Clinton was a missed opportunity because I left after 15 minutes due to poor sound that was later corrected.  PJ Harvey’s performance, while good, seemed out of place at an outdoor music fest in the daytime.  The Feelies were furious with George Clinton for bleeding into their set time which affected their playing.  And I made happy memories watching LCD Soundsystem with Carolyn.  All in all, it was a great time.

Though, one performance stood above the rest.  If you had asked me prior to the fest who was the one act I absolutely had to see, the answer would come fast and easily: A Tribe Called Quest.

I had been a fan of the group since college.  While I had discovered a few of the other artists during the time, A Tribe Called Quest preceded all of them.  Plus, I have listened to them more than the others.  So, when they were announced as the headliner, I knew I had to make time to see them.

As I made my way to a spot left of the sound booth about 45 minutes before the show, a lot of questions were coming to mind.  This was the group’s first festival performance since the death of Phife Dawg last year.  They had performed on Saturday Night Live since his death, but that was in a more controlled setting.  This wasn’t television. This was a full-length concert performance in front of thousands of people.  And everyone, including me, was wondering “What about Phife Dawg?”

I was talking with my friends about the possibilities.  Perhaps the others were just going to rap Phife Dawg’s rhymes.  Or maybe they were going to bring out a guest or a slew of guests throughout the tour to substitute.  We even joked about bringing out a hologram like what happened with Tupac a few years prior.  W when the lights dimmed and the show commenced, we got our answer.

Q-yip, Jarobi, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad were present and joined with guest MC Consequence.  However, while there were three MCs, there were four microphones on stage.  One of them (I cannot remember who) announced that they were going to leave the mic open for in memory of Phife Dawg.  This was a touching gesture to include a lost founding member who could never be replaced.  However, the inclusion of the microphone was more than just symbolic.

After a few songs into the set, the group gave Phife Dawg the mic.  When this happened, the group would step away and a single spotlight would shine on the empty mic as the studio vocals of Phife’s solos would play.  It was completely mesmerizing scene.  A voice thundered through the audience, but no one was behind the mic.  The experience was captivating and turned what could’ve been a standard tribute into someone more engaging and meaningful.

This scene happened a few times, but none were as impactful as when “Butter” played.  A cut from the group’s second studio album The Low End Theory, this performance of “Butter” represented one of the best tributes I had ever seen.  The other members stepped to the side of the stage.  Nearly all the lights came down except for the one spotlight illuminating the empty mic.  Muhammed then played an acapella version of Phife Dawg’s verse of “Butter” which had seen become a career-defining song for the group.  When the verse was over, the rest joined in as a picture of the group was projected on the background.  The entire performance was touching as Q-Tip turned away from the audience and stared into Phife’s eyes as he rapped.

What could have easily been a phoned-in performance turned into something much more.  And frankly, I wouldn’t expect any less of from A Tribe Called Quest.  They have, for nearly 30 years, been stellar performers and impeccable showmen.  The professionalism and empathy conveyed in Saturday’s headlining performance will be one for the music history books.

“drunk girls” – lcd soundsystem (2010)

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Festival season is in full swing in Chicago.  Every weekend in the summer, there are multiple food, music, and art festivals all over the city.  Each one is crafted and curated to be unique.  Whether it is being solely devoted to one type of food (Rib Fest, Burger Fest, Vegan Fest), a type of music (Square Roots Folk Festival), or just serving as a cultural neighborhood institution (Do Division Fest), there is something for everybody.

Frankly, I used to enjoy street festivals.  This is probably because, prior to Chicago, I didn’t live in areas with an overabundance of street festivals.  However, I don’t enjoy them so much now.  Over the years, I have found that they are all really the same.  If I’m with friends, I’ll go.  Never would I go by myself unless I’m there for a specific purpose.  For example, this past weekend, I was at Square Roots in Lincoln Square.  I enjoy it because it is in my neighborhood, relatively small, and the crowd is great because it isn’t filled with drunk jackasses.

I think my increasing disinterest in street festivals has grown from my dislike of music festivals.  Since college, I’ve never found myself interested in spending three or four days in a field surrounded by thousands of people barely watching a band the size of ants from my viewpoint.  While everyone made plans to go to Bonnaroo, I stayed behind and enjoyed the quiet.  Those kinds of things just aren’t my scene.  And since moving to Chicago, even the logistical differences haven’t changed my outlook on festivals.  Unlike Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza doesn’t require you to stay on their grounds the entire time.  You can leave at the end of the day and sleep in a bed.  Plus, you don’t have to sit in standstill traffic because an overcrowded train can take you to Lolla.

Despite my complaints about festivals, the only one that gets a pass from me is Pitchfork.  I actually really enjoy Pitchfork.  There’s a decent number of bands I actually know and would like to see, it isn’t overwhelmingly crowded, and there are other things that keep me interested in between bands.  It is by no means a small, local festival.  It is a large one that garners international attention and visitors.  It is a large festival, but still small enough to where I don’t feel smothered.

This year’s Pitchfork lineup is really great.  I’m eager to see George Clinton, the Feelies, A Tribe Called Quest, and PJ Harvey.  However, the one act that has everyone buzzing is LCD Soundsystem.

I discovered LCD Soundsystem for myself while volunteering for college radio.  Their 2010 studio release This Is Happening was put into rotation and I enjoyed the album thoroughly.  While that album isn’t as good or revered as 2007’s Sound of Silver, This Is Happening is my favorite because it was the album that got me into the group.  So, you can imagine my disappointment when, the next year, the band would breakup.  I was just getting into them and eager to see where they were going!

Since I got into LCD Soundsystem a little later, I never got a chance to see them live.  And I had heard they put on a great show.  The closest I ever got was when I went to the theater to see their concert documentary film Shut Up and Play the Hits.  Screened nationally for one night only on July 18, 2012, this was a look into the band’s final performance at Madison Square Garden.  Since then, I just had to deal with the fact that the band existed within a certain time and space.  After all, we all have shelf lives.

I’m always annoyed by bands were constantly break-up and the reunite.  Or the bands who make a big deal about going on their farewell tour, but come back together a few years later as part of their comeback.  It all just reeks of marketing cashing in.  I just have a tough time taking an artist or group seriously after so much fuss is made about ending just to have them resurface.  And I felt the same away about LCD Soundsystem.  When they got back together and it was announced they would be headlining Pitchfork, I wasn’t that excited.  All my friends were.  They had either seen them live before and knew how great they performed or, like me, didn’t have a chance to see them before and now this was the time.  However, I’m sitting on the sidelines being cynical.  I paid money to see Shut Up and Play the Hits and got emotionally invested in their departure.  And now they’ve come around and expect me to take them back into open arms?  This back and forth relationship can’t go on.  You have to stay or go.

Obviously, I’m having some fun at the band’s expense.  Of course, I’m excited to see them perform at Pitchfork.  I just had to get through a couple of eyerolls at this reuniting trend.  Considering that a lot of acts go through that cycle to generate buzz and ticket sales, it can be hard to take them seriously. Once out of my system, I’m just as excited as everyone.

In fact, it was recently reported in Rolling Stone that David Bowie convinced James Murphy to reunite LCD Soundsystem (even in death, Bowie still influences our lives).  In the article, Murphy talked about how uncomfortable it would be to get the band together and Bowie insisted that he should feel that way.  The right decisions aren’t always the easiest.  Murphy was going through an identity crisis and figuring out what he wanted to do.  I get that.  You should do what makes you happy.  So, maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on the guy for reuniting his band.

The show is Friday and I know it will be an amazing show.  Despite my previous cynicism, I’m fully prepped and ready to have a great time seeing a great band with great friends.  Going through changes or cycles is all part of living.  My connection with them from a distance as a college radio DJ feels like ages ago.  Now, I’ll be close to the action sharing an intimate concert experience.  That’s worth something.

“Drunk Girls” was the song that introduced me to the band.  It is a short, stupid song.  However, it is fun and catchy.  Even Murphy thinks the song is dumb and states that he “like[s] short, dumb stuff.”  It serves its purpose by living in the moment and just having a good time.  And that is what I plan to do Friday at my first, and probably last, LCD Soundystem show.

“she’s gone away” – nine inch nails (2016)

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As fans are approaching the halfway point of Showtime’s limited series run of the latest iteration of Twin Peaks, everyone is left in the dark about what exactly is going on.  The two previous seasons that aired over 25 years ago dabbled in the supernatural and was strange and quirky even by today’s broadcast programming standards.  Since then, now on premium subscription cable and with an increasingly esoteric filmography under his belt, David Lynch has crafted something out of the ashes of an old project.

As weird as the original seasons of Twin Peaks were, the show was fairly innocuous.  While it wasn’t, and still isn’t, the most accessible show in attracting viewers, it had enough character to set itself apart from typical television at that time.  The world was clamoring to know who killed Laura Palmer.  When the killer was revealed halfway through season two and the show changed narrative to focus on a conflict between Special Agent Dale Cooper and a former partner, viewership dropped and increasingly poor ratings tanked the show before it could wrap up loose ends.

After the show was cancelled, Lynch attempted to get the world of Twin Peaks alive.  The theatrical release of the 1992 prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me was the first of a planned series of films that expanded the story of Twin Peaks.  The film was a commercial failure and it tanked any future plans to continue the story.

It took to attempts to watch the entirety of the original series.  In 2011, I tried the first time.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first season, but I was losing interest as the second season continued.  I actually stopped watching after the Josie met her fate.  It just seemed so ridiculous to me that I wasn’t compelled to finish.  While I really enjoyed the earlier episodes, I didn’t see a point in finishing.  I knew the series ended prematurely and there would be no closure beyond finding out Laura Palmer’s killer.

Lynch had a couple of false starts in launching a revival.  However, when the most recent confirmation of a revival occurred and scenes were getting shot, I thought Well, I guess I have to get caught back up.  I started the series over again earlier this year, a full six years after the first attempt to finish, and made it all the way to the mysterious cliff hanger at the end of season two.  I also watched Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in preparation.  Pressure was on to get up to speed!

As part of catching up prior to the new episodes airing was reading the compendium The Secret History of Twin Peaks published by the show’s co-creator Mark Frost.  The book was a compiled dossier of memos, letters, newspaper clippings, and other source material tracking strange phenomenon in the area of Twin Peaks as far back as the Lewis and Clark expedition all the way through the disappearance of Special Agent Dale Cooper.  While the book offered some cool insight into the area’s connection to the supernatural, it also tied up some loose ends between the original series and the revival as the fate and development of key figures were discussed.

After 30 episodes, a feature-length film, and a book, I was ready.  I felt so prepared for what was coming and was excited to see what Lynch would do with this world after so long.  Eight episodes in, I don’t think anyone was prepared for what was coming.  And, for that, I feel thankful.  Nostalgia governs our culture now as intellectual properties are constantly rehashed and rebooted.  I expected, like many, that we would see all of our old friends and hear tongue-in-cheek references to great pie and damn fine coffee.  Instead, the revival reflected a more artistically mature Lynch who left the world of the original series behind and incorporated stylistic elements of his later works such as Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire.  For that, I’m glad because nostalgia is the most tiring form of capitalism.

We’re only halfway through at this point.  No one really knows what’s going on and no one will really start connecting the dots until Lynch wants us to.  That could happen in the last episode, or not at all.  We’re just going along for the ride.  I even find humor in the set up as I cynically think that Lynch is just playing a practical joke on his viewers.  Obviously, that isn’t the case.  But, it helps me not think too hard about what’s going on and just observe.

Music has always been a key component of the original series.  Angelo Badalamenti’s beautiful score was featured throughout the first two series and added context to scenes and characters.  In the revival, his score isn’t driving scenes as prominently as it did before. In fact, most of the time, his score isn’t featured at all.  Badalamenti’s score was, in itself, a character of the original series.  However, things change.

While Badalamenti’s score is less prominent in the revival, music is still very important in these newer episodes.  In most of the episodes, a band is performing at the Roadhouse (or Bang Bang Bar) usually over the ending credits.  Julee Cruise performed at the very same bar sparingly in the originals series, but band performances weren’t central to the narrative until the revival.  In all but one episode, bands in the revival include Chromatics, the Cactus Blossoms, Au Revoir Simone, Trouble, Sharon Van Etten, and most recently, Nine Inch Nails.  Lynch is a fan of all these groups.  However, with the revival, things have changed and have also drastically distanced themselves from the tone of the original series.  Music was integral to the show before and it still is, but in a vastly different way.

In the most recent episode, one that has been dubbed as the strangest one to date, featured Nine Inch Nails.  Funnily enough, this was the only group featured thus far that got an introduction and was cleverly incorrectly billed as “The Nine Inch Nails.”  Also, this performance was in the middle of the episode as opposed to the end over the credits.

The band performed “She’s Gone Away” from their most recent EP released in December 2016 called Not the Actual Events.  The track is a hard-hitting industrial rock song that is dark and serves as the perfect segue to the explosive sequence of images and modern ensemble music that follows before ultimately settling into the quiet bucolic setting of the following dessert scenes.  Even the music choice is interesting because it does contract with the styles of the musicians that were featured previously.  It was Lynch setting us up for the show’s darkest turn to date.  This is a Lynch soundtrack choice that easily mirrors the musical direction of earlier works like Lost Highway.

On its own, “She’s Gone Away” is an excellent track. Nine Inch Nails has been one of those bands that has consistently released good material.  While some albums and songs are better than others, they have never released a bad song.

After eight episodes, so much yet so little has occurred in the Twin Peaks revival.  It is hard to imagine how everything is going to tie together over the proceeding ten episodes.  I personally have doubts about any closure at the end.  I did recently learn that a follow-up to Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks is being released in October.  Titled The Final Dossier, this book seems to be a compendium that provides clarification to events and sequences during the revival episodes, but perhaps after as well.  We shall see.  I am eager to see how things turn out and how Lynch crafts a story with a distinct flare that sheds all traces of nostalgia.  Either way, I know that there will still be damn fine music.