A story of violence, and sex, and what exactly?
Leica M8, Summicron 90mm. 2007
In 2008, with the release of Real Animal, Alejandro Escovedo proved ready for his close up. After years on the road, after his recovery from the ravages of Hep C and the beginning of recovery from the alcohol that caused it, Alejandro pretty much nailed it, insofar as churning out an airplay-ready platter was concerned. Tony Visconti proved to be the sympathetic and ideal producer that weirdly a year earlier John Cale was not, though truth be told, The Boxing Mirror captured Alejandro brittle in the early stages of sobriety, dry on several levels, and still wobbly on his feet. With today’s release of Street Songs of Love, it has all come together: Alejandro has released the greatest rock’n’roll album of his long and storied career.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say I didn’t like Real Animal. I loved songs like “Chelsea Hotel ’78,” “Smoke,” and “Nuns Song.” But I found “Always A Friend” too self-consciously an attempt to get into the managerial and artistic slipstream of Al’s new friend Bruce Springsteen, whose manager Jon Landau had taken on the duties of getting this unheralded American treasure known by a wider audience. Those three songs rank among the best rock songs of Escovedo’s career, but too many of the softer songs fell into the nether region between rock ballads and the achingly beautiful chamber-folk concoctions that Alejandro had woven on great albums like With These Hands and Thirteen Years. I loved the concept of Alejandro telling his own story in a single album — going back through his days in San Francisco with The Nuns, or in New York with Rank and File, or Austin with the True Believers. And I was happy to hear it actually played on FM radio. I just didn’t really love it.
With Street Songs of Love the worry is that I’ll play it over and over and over again until my iPod, ears, and brain give out. Yes, some of the riffs and chord progressions have been recycled from songs like “Chelsea Hotel ’78” and “Smoke.” That’s fine; recycling is good for the environment and Alejandro’s found his groove in self-homage. But he doesn’t back down and fall into soft rock mush; this is the rockingest album he’s been on since that second, flawed True Believers record. It’s nice that Bruce does a duet with him, and great to hear him sing with his hero Ian Hunter. But the reason this one is so great is that it’s the real proof that Alejandro is a rock’n’roll animal.
This one has a stripped down band — no cellos or violins, just Hector Munoz bashing the drum kit like he’s killing a gila monster with the butt of a gun, and David Pulkingham reeling off riffs like he’s the living embodiment of Wagner and Hunter on Lou Reed’s Rock n Roll Animal. The trinity of Alejandro references — early ’70s Rolling Stones, Mott the Hoople, and late ’70s LA-SF-NY punk rock — hold everything together. Someday soon I”d love to hear Alejandro pull together a double album with a quiet side, his own version of Exile. For now, having this platter of crunching rockers will do. With the Bruce bait for DJs, maybe this will finally make Alejandro the star that in a just world he would have been long, long ago.
Leica Digilux 3
It was not merely the best New Pornographer’s show we’ve seen, it may have been the best show we’ve seen in some years, full stop. Occasionally Neko’s vocals slipped the track and the band rode on for a mile or two with sparks flying. But for the most part, the harmonies flew like the Blue Angels in formation, Kurt Dahl continued to rack up points in the computer rankings of the #1 drummer in the universe, and the band rocked with the precision of a synchronized swim team.
Starting with “Sing Me Spanish Techno” is always a challenge, in the same way that starting the NASCAR circuit at Daytona is a challenge — there are going to be wrecks, even as you’re thrilled that the show is underway. By the time Dan Bejar appeared onstage in a beer bubble, descending like Pink at an awards ceremony to play “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” it all gelled.
May we offer special thanks that two-thirds of the way through the sold-out show, they played “We End Up Together,” not just the best song on Together, but once again a song where the New Pornos drop the ironic armature and stand there unprotected. Our breath ended up one county over.
Neko was in really fine form on all the old showstoppers, not to mention “All The Old Showstoppers.” On songs like “Letter From An Occupant” or “The Laws Have Changed,” which call for vocal gymnastics, she flipped and bounced in perfect pitch, but in a seemingly easier song to sing, such as “These Are The Fables,” things were a little shakier.
Still, not just a good show, but a great show. On “Jackie, Dressed In Cobras,” you would have thought Vollman and Kaylan were once again joined with the Mothers of Invention. A band that plays with such an effort at precision may get a little too loose and chatty between songs, and Canadian humor may in fact be an oxymoron. But who cares. After an album (Together) that did slightly disappoint, nice to see it all come together for the funnest band on the planet.
It’s been lo about two years since First Communion Afterparty, Tulip Frenzy’s favorite unheralded American band, released new music to their adoring fans. Skyline, Starlight is a three-song EP available as a 7-inch and download through their Minneapolis label, and each of the platter’s potential chart toppers has been streamable through the band’s MySpace page for some time now. Still, being able to grok on the dreamy “Time Between” at an hour of our choosing, or getting into “Featherhead” whene’er the spirit waggles is a cheese and cracker for an appetite worked up to Mama Carin proportions. And then there is the slow, deliberate title track, which builds and builds like it’s that great soundboard master Mr. S. Owsley himself at the dials, and all you’re left with is a firm hope that the band gets Earth Heat Sound, the promised follow up to the incredible Sorry For The Mondays and to Those Who Can’t Sing, out of the studio and onto our hard drive. We’re waiting patiently, but only cuz there’s no other choice.
Everything appears to be ready, are you ready? Thus are Sam Cutler’s introductory words from the Stones’ ’69 tour memorialized on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, introducing, in his lifted superlative, “The Greatest Rock’n’Roll Band In The World.”
Now, more than 40 years on, Cutler has written a superb autobiography entitled “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the best parts of which center around his stint as tour manager for the Stones on their epochal ’69 tour. Less than a year ago, we had Ethan Russell’s great book of photos from the tour, Let It Bleed, along with written accompaniment, but Cutler’s book is a well-told, up-close look at interactions the Stones had along the way, the most historically important element being his telling the tale of what happened at Altamont in a nuanced manner that not only names names, but gives a different interpretation of events.
Cutler imparts like a slow-motion car wreck the events that led to Meredith Hunter’s death at the hands of Hells Angels. The San Francisco bands and forces that encouraged the Stones to do a free concert in the Bay Area, but were organizationally too diffuse to think through the implications of a December outdoors concert. The sleazy moves of the mysterious hood John Jaymes who attached himself to the Stones and with no actual authority, claimed the right to commit to the Altamont site, which proved to be so inappropriate. The buckets of bad acid that were passed through the crowd, leading to a cacophony of bad trips. The way the San Francisco bands who’d egged the Stones on into throwing the concert all disappeared when it hit the fan.
He describes how the chief instigators of violence against the crowd — the pool cue thugs, the puffed out sadists — were for the most part either Angels in training, on probationary status, or hick Angels from, like, San Jose, not the main branch in San Francisco lined up, mostly by Rock Scully of the Dead, to provide stage security. Now, this is a little like blaming the Cambodian Holocaust not on Pol Pot but on the notion that the Khmer Rouge were from the country and just didn’t like those effete Phnom Penh residents. But throughout the book, there’s the ring of truth, and Cutler is a straightforward, organized writer. You get the feeling that he writes the way he probably ran the tour: no BS, just a workmanlike effort to get the job done.
His story of abandonment by the Stones within literal hours of their return to San Francisco from the concert, their leaving him to hold the bag, his sense of duty and honor infusing a possibly suicidal effort to straighten things out with the Angels afterward, is absolutely fascinating. Makes it harder to see Mick’s remorseful face in Gimme Shelter watching the death of Hunter — for very quickly, Mick was out of the country, in his safe European home. The Angels immediately wanted to get their hands on the Maysle Brothers’ film to see what evidence of murder might be pinned on which Angel. It’s a great read, and we’re glad that Cutler took the opportunity to write it.