Playing Catch Up: Black Angels/Black Mountain at 930, Sufjan at The Beacon, And Of Course Keef’s “Life”

There is no truth to the rumor that Tulip Frenzy World HQ has been shut down whilst the gang finished Life.  It is however true that those moments not taken up by the vagaries and jaggedness of ends-meeting in the business world have, in part, been given over to the remarkably informative Keith Richards, whose autobiography is for the rock’n’roll set what Speak, Memory was to fans of Nabokov.

What have we learned from Life that we didn’t previously know?  The depth of Keith’s contempt for Brian Jones.  Exactly how his discovery of open tuning led to the great riffs of the ’70s.  How not just “Street Fighting Man” but also “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” was recorded with Keith on acoustic into a little cassette recorder, the tape of which played in the studio somehow gained its “electric” sound. How the title Exile on Main Street referred to the nautical ties between the Italian and French Riviera.  Let’s see, how innocent that Mars bar was.  The extent to which Britain’s policy on providing heroin to addicts led to Keith becoming one.  (And — who knew? — how they used to give out cocaine to heroin addicts to keep them from nodding off, thus providing Keef with access to the pure flake.)  So much more… An excellent book.  When you think about it, this has been an incredible year for Stones’ fans — starting with the 40th anniversary box of Ya-Yas, Ethan Russell’s great book of photos from the era, Let It Bleed, the Exile reissue with new songs, the release of Ladies and Gentlemen on DVD, and now Keith’s book.  Whew.  Best year since…’72?

We never posted about the excellent Black Angels/Black Mountain show at 930.  The Black Angels were pretty mindblowing.  Yes, it would take a fraction of a second for the Shazam algorithm-decoder to determine a song is by the Black Angels, as for the most part they all have the same number-of-words-in-a-lyric/number-of-beats-in-a-chorus formula.  But who knew that voice came out of a guy hidden between his beard and his hat?  Or that the drummer was a woman?  Or that the guitarist looked like he might have been playing for Big Brother and the Holding Company?  Or that over the course of the evening, four different people would play bass?  Black Mountain got into a groove — fascinating how all the songs from In The Future seemed to be on a loop.  They were tight to the point of metronomic regularity, but still exciting.  Amber Weber seemed to pick up strength as the set wore on.  Stephen McBean seemed downright frisky.  Methinks the next time Black Mountain come round these parts, they’ll be opening at the Verizon Center for some band you don’t really want to see… You know, the next rung up from headlining clubs.  We have mixed emotions about this, but do root for them, given their manifest excellence as musicians and sonic adventurers.

We read Jon Pareles’ review of the Sufjan Stevens shows at the Beacon and, having been there Sunday night, found ourselves for once not wanting to strangle the Chief Music Correspondent Of The New York Times, or whatever is the position of authority through which Pareles has for far too long helped destroy our enjoyment of music.  Though where Pareles sees Sufjan’s near-closing extravaganza of “Impossible Soul” as almost Lady Gaga-like — given its raw theatricality — another analogue came to our mind: we saw Max in Where The Wild Things Are, rumbling with those wild things and emerging with his crown askew.  Now we’ll admit, this was that rare show where what we most loved was what rocked the least — Sufjan as folky was far more interesting than Sufjan as David Byrne circa True Stories.  Although truth be told, one of the things most remarkable about Sufjan in his Age of Adz phase is precisely the extent to which he is sui generis, with no antecedents, not even himself.  I think that album would be better, and his music stronger, if he had the time, fortitude, and resources to construct his elaborate music around an orchestra — a real orchestra, not just the thirteen other musicians who accompanied him — rather than electronica.  (Yes, we understand that performing The BQE with a symphony was a ball-buster,  in his mind, apparently, a failure.  We don’t care; we’d rather hear strings than synth.) The theatricality of what he does is probably closer to Laurie Anderson than Lady Gaga.  And at its core is a young genius with a beautiful voice and a heartbreaking sense of melody, even though right now he seems hell-bent on encapsulating it all in something mechanical and able to withstand reentry from space. And we know he is ready to rumble with the wild things.

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