We Wish The Vacant Lots’ “Endless Night” Lasted Forever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It might be easy to categorize The Vacant Lots as a sophisticated art project, given their album covers are as distinctive as their sound.  But from the very start, Jared Artaud and Brian MacFadyen proved their mix of garage psych and synth-driven pop was aimed at pleasing aural canals.  They have aimed to become a great band, associated with the likes of Dean Wareham, Anton Newcombe, Sonic Boom, and Alan Vega, and their debut album Departure has stayed on our playlist since the summer of 2014.  And yet none of this prepared us for Endless Night, which from its start to its historic finish is astonishing.

The duo, co-located in Burlington and New York City, gave us a fresh glimpse of greatness when their Berlin EP, a collaboration with Newcombe in his adopted hometown, came out last November.  It simultaneously sounded like the best of recent Brian Jonestown Massacre albums and the apotheosis of that swirling, disorienting sound The Vacant Lots had contributed to our permanent playlist.  But just a few months later, Endless Night shows that Artaud and MacFadyen’s vision has become realized.

Take the opener, “Night Nurse,” which has Artaud pick out a sinuous rockabilly lead above a disco beat, and quickly transports you into the demimonde of a tiny club, hermetically sealed against outside influences.  We’re going to be in for, well, a pleasurably endless night.  “Pleasure & Pain” is not the first of these songs to call to mind progenitors Spaceman 3 and Spiritualized, and in fact, “Dividing Light” has the power of Jason Pierce’s most compelling work.  Throughout Endless Night, the hitherto unappreciated juxtaposition of disco and techno, psych and soul,  rockabilly and garage, makes the blood pulse like Molly just arrived.

We said the album’s finish was historic, and by this we mean that Alan Vega of Suicide, who died last July, brings his final growl to “Suicide Note.”  What a way to go.

With Endless Night, The Vacant Lots serve notice that they’ve entered the front ranks, and we anticipate that when the story of 2017 is told — musically at least — and Top 10 lists are fashioned, The Vacant Lots will be among the last men standing.

The New Pornographers Play Their Best Album In Years At Their Best 9:30 Club Show Ever

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on April 30, 2017 by johnbuckley100

the-new-pornographers-live-in-chicago-at-metro-april-2017-32Purloined photo with apologies and credit to Bobby Talamine of In The Loop Magazine

We didn’t need a reminder, but boy was it comforting to hear The New Pornographers play “The Laws Have Changed” early in their Saturday night 9:30 Club show in D.C.  Yes, in the real world the laws are changing, and not for the better.  Thankfully, in that 90-minute respite from our mad president that we spent seeing a favorite band play a delightful set, we learned The New Pornographers haven’t changed a bit, and are at the same time thoroughly new.

We didn’t miss Dan Bejar, though we recognize the blasphemy of these words.  As great as his songs are, as fun as his contributions have been, both live and on albums, the streamlined New Ps with just Carl and Neko keeping the bleeding heart show rolling worked wonderfully.  The show must go on, and backing an album whose thematic heart lies in “This Is The World Of The Theater,” it surely did. Joe Seiders had already proved himself to be a worthy replacement for Kurt Dahl on drums, and even on the Brill Bruisers tour three years ago we’d learned to relax; Seiders keeps the Niagara pounding going with no letup in its galvanic force, and has a few more tricks up his sleeve.  This was the best of the six or seven shows we’ve seen The New Pornographers play at 9:30 going back to 2005.

Which makes sense, since Whiteout Conditions is the best New Pornographers’ album since the by-now classic Twin Cinema.  It’s hard to remember that when that record came out nearly 12 years ago, it was bemoaned for how the band had lost the oddness and caffeinated sheen of their first two astonishing albums.  Now, of course, we recognize Twin Cinema as a high point in Western Civ (and we’re increasingly worried that 2014’s Brill Bruisers might be seen by future historians as its peak.)  Whiteout Conditions is a mix of everything we love about the band, bright and bouncy, profound when needed.  With songs like “High Ticket Attractions,” which we can’t get out of our head, and new approaches like “Darling Shade,” which sound like Martha and the Vandellas updated for the 21st Century, this Bejar-less edition of the band  flows like a lava tube off the edge of a cliff, powerfully smoking in the creation of new earth.

That The New Pornographers are one of our very favorite bands defies certain logic.  Ordinarily, we treasure the analog sound of Fender guitars played by punk bands and The New Ps feature keyboard-driven synthetic sounds polished to a high gloss.  They’re not exactly a guilty pleasure or a secret passion, for we play their recs all the time, but the pleasure we get from listening to them is a bit like wearing only natural fibers in everyday life, while enjoying the chance to dress up in polyester.  Carl Newman clearly loved songwriters like Brian Wilson and bands like ELO, and us, not so much.  But last night at the 9:30 Club this band — capable of the most intricate studio albums — played a wonderfully organic set with four-part harmonies intact, the songs building and building so that by the time we got to “The Bleeding Heart Show” encore, we could emerge from the club’s doors with a smile on our face, ready to face anything, up to and including all the laws that have changed.

At The Climate March In Washington

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , on April 29, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Climate March-13

All photos Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux FLE

Another week, another demonstration, this one a big one.  The contrast in weather from last week’s March for Science couldn’t be greater, and of course at the Climate March, here on the last weekend of April, the temperature topped 95.  At first, as the marchers came off Capitol Hill with precision and linked arms keeping photographers back, it seemed like a portent of what would happen if the Left ever won, such a difference from the joyous and anarchic demonstrations taking place since Trump’s inauguration, a long 100 days ago.  But things soon loosened up, and today’s march — big crowd, even in the heat — soon took on the same joy and energy as others before it.  Here are some images in our ongoing documentation of Washington demonstrations in the Age of Trump.

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At Washington’s #MarchForScience, The Consensus Was Trump And The GOP Endanger Our Future

Posted in Trump Protests with tags , , , , , on April 22, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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All pictures Leica SL with 24-90 Vario-Elmarit SL

The chants were lame, the spirits high. The crowd was large and festive in the rain, the by now customary mingling of the generations out to protest Trump.  Our peer-reviewed count was 200,000 plus (we asked one of our peers, and he agreed.)  We are increasingly grateful to Trump for organizing our social activities, as it was so easy to pull together a crowd of friends to venture out in the pouring rain, just for the chance to protest his policies.  The energy of these marches is not dissipating, and each week that goes by brings us — yes, several new outrages from the Administration — but also that much closer to the 2018 elections.  The scientists did a good job of organizing their March for Science.  Here are some pictures to once again document protests in the age of Trump.

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Greatness On The Installment Plan: Driftwood Pyre’s “Strangeways” EP

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on April 22, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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Driftwood Pyre claimed Tulip Frenzy’s 2015 Album of the Year honors, and a few days later, we were pleased to publish an interview with the Minneapolis psych band who carried the half-filled chalice left over from First Communion Afterparty.  Where FCAP was a Summer of Love band reborn with punk grit, Driftwood Pyre revealed themselves open to other nominally more straight-ahead rock influences, including the likes of Oasis.

Now, en route to a follow-up album to their incredible Driftwood Pyre debut, they’ve released an EP, Strangeways, which fills us with confidence in their future, for this is another installment on their march toward greatness.

“Shatter Star” kicks off the proceedings with a nod to Anton Newcombe, a heretofore unacknowledged influence on Liam Watkins, either in his current band or in First Communion Afterparty, which we think was the greatest psych band of the 21st Century, no small praise. On “Into Blue” we get a taste for what a fine punk band they must be live, an exultant, up-tempo number, important to have second in the line-up lest we think that mid-tempo rockers are the land where the band resides. Courtney Olsen’s drumming kicks like a herd of wildebeest, and with the full panoply of ex-FCAP guitarist Joe Werner on lead and former Rocking Horse People-bassist Aaron James laying a solid rhythm down, we can hear the band in all its glory.

“Protozoan” is a reminder that no one starts a song with a slow-picked guitar line as sensuously as Liam Watkins. “The Tide” sounds like what woulda happened had early Dream Syndicate crashed a Television rehearsal, all jangling Fenders and too-animalistic drumming. By the time we get to the lush and sludgy title track, keyboard player Jeanne Oss adds sonic space winds to the proceedings, as Watkins’ voice reminds us of everything we loved most about his former band.

Strangeways fulfills the essential showbiz challenge: it leaves us wanting more.  For anyone who missed their chance to grok on First Communion Afterparty during that band’s unfortunately short life, you have much to look forward to with Driftwood Pyre.  For God’s sake, start now.

The #TaxDay Protests In DC: A Gallery

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 15, 2017 by johnbuckley100

Tax Day Demo-11

All images Leica M10 and 35mm Summilux.

The April 15th Tax March in Washington should scare Republicans even more than their narrow victory this week in the Kansas special election.  Oh sure, the crowds were smaller than the Womens’ March on January 21st.  But they were still large, and beyond their size was the enthusiasm, the anger, the joy in being able to protest against Trump.

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Republicans used to own Tax Day, and now, so long as Trump doesn’t release his taxes, April 15th is symbolic of how taxpayers are screwed, not by high taxes, but by people like Trump.  It’s a stunning reversal, as important in its way as the appropriation of patriotism as the American flag was by Democrats at last summer’s Democratic National Convention.

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The signs continue to show creativity, the demographics continue to span age and racial groups.  And as the Trump team continues to make missteps — announcing they won’t release White House visitor logs one day before a national series of marches and protests against Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns — the promise of the 2018 elections continues undiminished.  Herewith some images from the event today in the Nation’s Capital.

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The Late J. Geils Was Once A Giant

Posted in Music with tags , on April 13, 2017 by johnbuckley100

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It’s possible that the only thing more absurd than the wave of ’60s British blues bands is how five Jewish kids from the Boston suburbs created the early ’70s’ most perfect blues and R&B album.  J. Geils was the only gentile in his eponymous band, and he was from New Jersey.  But together with Peter Wolf, Magic Dick, Seth Justman, Stephen Jo Bladd, and Danny Klein, the blues guitarist who died Tuesday created, on the band’s self-titled first album, one of rock’n’roll music’s greatest records.

Yeah, we know, they made hits in the ’80s.  But by that time we’d stopped listening.  And while the follow-up album The Morning After, as well as 1973’s Bloodshot (the first red vinyl album we remember), were both pretty good, it was the band’s debut that secured The J. Geils Band’s permanent place on our hard drive.

The J. Geils Band had three soloists and a great singer.  Magic Dick usually went first, invoking Little Walter on blues harp.  Seth Justman’s keyboard work was stellar.  But it was J. Geils who played those stinging leads, as angry a lead guitarist as ever there was, a near perfect student of Hubert Sumlin, Robert “Junior” Lockwood, and Luther Tucker.  And like the soloists in the band, Geils was willing to drop down into the rhythm section when Peter Wolf was singing, or when the others were holding the spotlight.

In their own way, the early J. Geils Band were like one of Miles Davis’ combos, with different focal points but no question who musically was the leader.  Peter Wolf got all the attention, but it was J. Geils who ran the band.  No band has ever killed a John Lee Hooker song like they did on “Serve You Right To Suffer,” and the indelible groove on our brain came from Geils’ guitar.

We loved this band, and especially that first album.  Our fond memory isn’t only because of the way, when we were 16-years old and ran into Peter Wolf on the streets of Cambridge, he took time from picking up his dry cleaning — all black shirts — to talk to us at length.  Our fond memory is because of the way a bunch of Massachusetts misfits synthesized the best Chicago blues and Motown into a tight machine that live played like it was nothin’ but a house party; they never just noodled over a 12-bar span.  Never so important, perhaps, they were as tight, and as loose, as the Rolling Stones of that era.  Which is one helluva of a compliment.

We lost interest in the band when they seemed to repeat themselves in the ’70s, and by the time they’d gone New Wave and had hits, we were long gone.  But the news this week that J. Geils had died alone was sad, as we remembered one of the great guitarists of the age, now obscure, but once a giant.

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