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Neuman’s Own: In Defense Of Amy Winehouse

It’s been two weeks since Amy Winehouse had to cancel a twelve-city European tour following a now-notorious meltdown in Belgrade, which one Serbian newspaper deemed to be the nation’s “worst concert ever.” Amy Winehouse continues to be the most polarizing figure in the music industry, eliciting more anger than anyone in the post-Michael Jackson universe. Expressions of anger usually fall into one of three categories.

The first category attacks her looks. Certainly, some of this is par for the course for high profile songstresses (Fergie, Britney, Courtney), but Winehouse’s propensity for having her looks attacked is simply without parallel in the music word and perhaps the world of celebrity. She has been publically called out for looking like: a man and/or tranny, a horse, Bellatrix Lestrange from the Harry Potter movies, an alien, Dr. Frankenfurter from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a vampire, Bette Midler, Death, a martian, the Bride of Frankenstein, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Howard Stern, Marilyn Manson, SS-Standartenführer Reinhard Heydrich (Google it), and perhaps most frequently, a train wreck. She has been a popular Halloween costume and the subject of a porn parody.

The second category attacks her health. Winehouse has been summarily diagnosed (by people who have never been in the same room with her) as suffering from herpes, anorexia, emphysema, tuberculosis and chronic thumb sucking. Winehouse’s “sickness” is frequently cast in opposition to her relative “health” when she burst onto the scene as a white, Jewish girl from the London suburbs. And we’re not just talking tabloids. In it’s 2007 cover story of Winehouse, Spin said of her: “Three years ago she was an innocuous, girl-next-doorish, virtually tat-free, full-figured neo-jazz crooner with middling sales and no American distribution—now she’s Sid Vicious.” Even when Winehouse looks healthy the public still manages to find occasion for insult: After returning from a trip to the Caribbean, for instance, she was described as looking like “a cast member of the Jersey Shore.”

The third category of Amy-hating points to her behavior. The 27-year old’s battles with heroin, alcohol, cocaine, ketamine and marijuana are well chronicled (in fact, she’s chronicled many of them herself in songs), but the mocking scorn that accompanies their depiction is without parallel. The photograph of her wandering the streets in just her bra in 2007 became her icon’s fait accompli, the way Nick Ut’s photo of a naked Vietnamese girl in 1972 became the symbol for all that was wrong with the US’s actions in the Vietnam War. There was, of course, the cell phone video in which she appeared to be smoking crack and, of course, the video of her singing racist words inserted into a children’s song.

Since when aren’t rock stars supposed to be dangerous? The same three criteria above—bad looks, bad health, bad behavior—have been aired as protests against some of the most important musical acts of all-time—Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Bob Dylan and The Stones. They were the arguments against the value of the early punks and the forefathers of hip hop.  In an era in which artists shill to their fans on MySpace and Twitter as if they were friends, isn’t there a place for one performer in the world who isn’t pussy enough to say she doesn’t give a fuck if we like her? Even ballyhooed subversive Lady Gaga—last seen giving Scotty McCreery tips on how to hold a microphone on American Idol can be bought and sold like Coca-Cola. Meanwhile, that grainy video of Winehouse with her trademark flopping over to one side, painfully mumbling through songs on a Belgrade stage communicates more in one unfinished song about the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll than Gaga could summon from inside her GRAMMY egg vessel in a lifetime.

Don’t pity Amy Winehouse. She wants you to hate the way she looks. She wants you to think of her as sick. She wants you to notice her fucked-up behavior. While some have speculated that Winehouse’s latest crash and burn has made it possible for Adele to assume her abdicated throne as the reigning British queen of soul, I doubt it. Amy Winehouse has already lived and died in that throne a hundred times before: “The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.”

Riffs, Rants & Rumors: Tedeschi Trucks Band – Happily Wedded Wailers

There have been a fair number of musical husband-and-wife rockers out there over the years, but how many can you name who already had successful solo careers before they started storming stages and studios in tandem? With the June 7 release of Revelator, the Tedeschi Trucks Band‘s name can be added to that exceedingly small list.

As you probably already know, Susan Tedeschi started out in the ’90s as one of the most promising young blues artists around, a singer/guitarist who had soaked up her share of the canon but was proudly pointed in new directions too. By the ’00s, she had expanded her sound outwards while still staying in touch with her blues roots. Guitar prodigy Derek Trucks, nephew of Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, became an ABB axeman when he was just 20 years old, and has been leader of the Derek Trucks Band since his teens.  Tedeschi and Trucks met (where else?) on the road, starting a romance that eventually blossomed into wedded bliss and proud parenthood, but it’s only recently that they began seriously considering a full-fledged musical marriage via the Tedeschi Trucks Band.

“We had done tours with both of our solo bands together, and then a lot of tours with Susan opening for the Allman Brothers,” recalls Trucks, but their individual careers initially proved too demanding to take it much further than that. Tedeschi says a joint project was “always something we were leaning towards, but it was difficult.” In 2010, the tide finally began to turn in their favor, though. “I finally had an opportunity to get out of my deal,” says Tedeschi, “and Derek was done with some of the major projects that he’s been very occupied with.” Soon, the pair was signing a new contract with Sony Masterworks to record together under the TTB moniker, and work began in earnest.

“We spent a huge amount of time in our studio writing and rehearsing,” says Trucks, “and playing with different musicians, just feeling it out. We wanted it to be a big band. Knowing it was gonna be a lot of human beings on the road, we wanted to make sure the chemistry was right—making sure all the personalities worked, musically and otherwise.” In the end, the Tedeschi Trucks Band wound up as an eleven-strong ensemble, complete with horn section and harmony singers, including former Allman Brothers Band bassist Oteil Burbidge, Burbidge’s keyboard-playing brother Kofi and a couple of members of both Derek and Susan’s previous bands, as well as several new faces.

Of course, taking an eleven-piece outfit on the road isn’t easy. “Logistically and financially it’s a beast,” says Trucks. “It’s a burden to really make it work. Most people that have eleven-piece bands on the road are well along the way. We do well, we’ve made it work over the years, but making it work with a four- or five-piece band is quite a bit different than having twenty people on the road, crew and otherwise.” But they had some excellent models for making it work, looking to large, freewheeling, roots-oriented outfits of an earlier era for inspiration. “When we first had the idea, we were thinking Delaney & Bonnie, and [Joe Cocker and Leon Russell's] Mad Dogs & Englishmen and Sly & The Family Stone, and Derek & The Dominos, we were really thinking about that family vibe.”

Capturing the outsized band’s eclectic, syncretic vision of American roots music wasn’t easy, but Trucks in particular was fully up to that task. “Derek has worked very hard on this record,” says Tedeschi, “not just playing guitar and writing songs, but as a producer and as a visionary, working with [co-producer] Jim Scott…trying to get the best out of everybody. I feel more proud of this record than I’ve felt of any of my records in the past. This is a really timeless record.” For his part, Trucks is enthusiastic about Revelator‘s rich expanse of styles, observing “It felt really visual to me, it felt like every song was a scene change. From one song to the next it feels like theater or a movie.”

For Tedeschi, the project offers a chance to spread her wings further than ever without abandoning the blues. “Even though I get categorized as a blues artist,” she says, “think about the Stones, think about somebody like Little Feat or the Allman Brothers, they all have blues roots…they just make it their own. I think that’s sort of what we’re doing at this point.” Her husband takes the idea of expanding the musical palette even further, saying “You get pretty discouraged when you listen to mainstream music—I always have this sense that it’s detrimental to humanity when you’re lowering the bar and just dumbing it down. For a long time my reaction to that was ‘Fuck it, we’ll just play for ourselves.’”

Of course, Revelator represents an attempt to transcend those circumstances. “I think you get to a point where you’re like ‘Why don’t you try to do something about it?’ Trucks explains, “‘Why don’t you try to make music that anyone can listen to, but the medicine is still in there?’ You think about the way they feed dolphins at Sea World, they put the medicine inside the sardine, sometimes I feel like we’re trying to do that musically. You can have it both ways. I think about some of my favorite artists—Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder or Ray Charles…there’s no compromise there musically, but somehow it gets through to people, and I think this group has the ability to do that.”

Discourse & Dischord

The Good

OK Go releases “Last Leaf” video

If you read this column with any regularity, you know that if OK Go releases a video, it’s likely to show up here. Today we present you with “Last Leaf,” wherein a few slices of toast provide the backdrop for a poignant, stop-motion vignette. We still can’t tell if the animation is etched onto the toast itself, or projected. Either way, it’s a bread-winner. Hope you like.

Best duets this week—Conan and Jack or Rihanna and Jon?

Does the joy on Jon Bon Jovi’s face when a culturally relevant (and minxy) pop star joins him onstage do it for you? Or is it seeing Conan O’Brien wield an axe and do his best rockabilly snarl? You don’t have to answer yet—watch the clips below and then decide who wins the week’s best duet.

The Bad

NKTOBSB co-headlining tour

Muffle your squeals, 30-year-olds! New Kids On The Block and The Backstreet Boys have joined forces FOR THE OLD-ENOUGH-TO-BE-YOUR-DAD TOUR*. Stop thinking about your mortgages and toddlers and rediscover the glory of A.J. McLean’s goatee!

*Not the real tour name, but it should be.

Keith Richards attacks Swedish journalist

Strangely enough, it seems a lifetime of soaking your liver in Jack Daniels doesn’t mellow you out. Keith Richards found this out when confronted with a reporter who had negatively reviewed a Rolling Stones concert in 2007, calling the band “amateurs.” Richards hoisted himself off his rocker* and demanded the reporter, Markus Larsson of the Swedish publication Aftonbladets, apologize. When that didn’t happen, Richards proceeded to give Larsson a couple wallops about the head, hissing, “You’re lucky to get out of here alive.” Don’t feel bad, Markus. At his age, Richards is lucky to get out of anywhere alive.**

*not really
**snap.

The Ugly

Courtney Love shows The New York Times what class looks like

Courtney’s school of class involves getting tipsy before your interview with The New York Times, sending the reporter and photographer up to your room at the Mercer Hotel, then showing up an hour later drunk and completely naked. Read this indelible tale of elegance and refinement in its entirety here.

Miscellany

Even Better Than The Real Thing, Baby: Tribute Bands for the Irony Age

Once the domain of super-serious, straight-up cover bands like Sticky Fingers (The Stones), Crystal Ship (The Doors) and the thousands of Beatles covers bands who flourished after the Broadway musical Beatlemania made it cool to be faux, the world of tribute bands has evolved along with every other musical movement. From the weird and marginal (Mini Kiss, a band of little people who lip sync to Kiss recordings) to the ultra professional (Bjorn Again ,the highly successful traveling fake-Abba stage show), tribute bands are multiplying and diversifying.

In the post-millennial, post-irony era, it is difficult to enjoy even our “guilty pleasures” without some conceptual tweaking that allows us to feel that we are in on the joke. So while the more serious tribute bands continue to rake in literally millions of dollars per year from ticket sales, a whole crop of acts have emerged that combine off-kilter performance art with sing-a-long élan.

Tragedy, The Bee Gees Tribute band http://www.letsmaketragedyhappen.com/

One popular trend in this direction is the stylistic mashuplike New York City’s Tragedy, who play heavy metal versions of Bee Gees songs; Beatallica, a seamless blend of thrash metal and Fab Four pop; Hoboken’s Skanatra, who apply a spirited blue-beat to the Ol’ Blue Eyes repertoire; and Hayseed Dixie, whose bluegrass renditions of hard rock classicsand elaborate fictional backstoryhave kept audiences chuckling for over a decade.

An offshoot of the hybrid tribute act is the gender switche.g. Hell’s Belles (femme AC/DC), Deva (double-X chromosome Devo tribute), Lez Zeppelin (“All girls, all Zeppelin”), We Got the Meat, (Portland’s all-male Go-Go’s) and The Pretty Babies, the all-girl Blondie tribute band led by New York singer/comedienne Tammy Faye Starlite, who was an actress before she turned to musical comedy.

“I like to play characters,” says Starlite, who also plays Mick Jagger in the hilarious all-female Rolling Stones act, The Mike Hunt Band. “I guess I’d call myself a ‘performer’like Liza, but less sequined. And unfortunately, with fewer opiates.”

Inhabiting the persona of Debbie Harry, Nico or Mick “is like doing a great play. The singer is the lead character, and the songs are the lines.”

Bambi Kino Photo Credit: Andrew Bicknell

Then there are the less theatrical but still high-concept acts. Former Guided By Voices member Doug Gillard (now mainly a solo artist) has recently begun playing in Bambi Kino, a Beatles tribute with a twist: their song selections and playing style directly copy the early-‘60s, Hamburg-nightclub-playing era of the band, during which their set lists were mainly pop covers and a few primitive originals. Although the group, which includes Nada Surf’s Ira Elliot, doesn’t assume fake Beatles identities, they do aim for sonic authenticity.

Says Gillard, “We try to avoid more modern guitar chord voicings, licks, and drum fills in favor of period-appropriate styleswhich is a challenge. There’s an appeal for us in really inhabiting the music and the era we’re playing songs from.”

Aside from the artistic challenge, and the potential to make some money, what motivates tribute artists to do their thing? Singer Cathy Cervenka heads up the New York-based Cathyland rock collective, which puts together tribute shows for their favorite ‘80s artists, demonstrating both great devotion and dashes of amiable camp. A recent gig had Cervenka performing, with gusto and supple vocal skill, Pat Benatar’s breakthrough Crimes of Passion album with a strong backing band in full ‘80s spandex array.

“There’s nothing more fun than getting to play your favorite songs onstage with your band,” says Cervenka, “for an audience of fellow fans, who know every word and guitar lick of every song.”

She adds reverentially, “It’s a very communal experience.”

By Paula Carino

Paula Carino is a musician and writer based in New York. She’s written for AMG, American Songwriter and contributed to the Encyclopedia of Pop Music. She’s also a yoga teacher and authored the book Yoga To Go.

Viewer Discretion Advised: Out Of Exile, Into The Light

There are few things I can think of that could possibly be cooler than a group of rock stars fleeing to France, holing up in a crumbling mansion and retreating into a cloud of smoke to record what would become one of the greatest rock albums of all time. One imagines drug-fueled nights that bleed into days and then nights again, wiry men clad in shredding rags hunched over instruments and loose leaf with wine and ink stained fingers drumming to imaginary beats.

That’s exactly what the Rolling Stones did in 1971 when the band owed more taxes than they could pay off. The British tax system was sucking up a whopping 93% of the income in their tax bracket and letting them bleed dry. Mick Jagger fled to Paris with his new wife, the beautiful (and pregnant) Bianca, and Keith Richards settled in the villa Nellcote in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Nice. The rest of the band followed, and when a recording studio worthy of their next album couldn’t be found, the Stones decided they would use the luxurious villa and the band’s remote recording truck to lay down their next masterpiece.

The equipment from the recording truck was simply lifted into the basement, a dark, sweaty utilitarian bunker subdivided by walls. Shady characters and scantily clad women floated through the mansion day after day, and makeshift tables fashioned from amps and regal dining areas alike overflowed with drugs (attributing to Richards’ heroin addiction at the time). But the Stones’ time in exile was more than just a drug-fueled recording session. It marked a time of transition for a group of aging men. No longer following the “mission” of the ’60s, the band was on the verge of destruction, directionless but free to reinvent their chaotic brilliance into the epicurean ’70s.

Exile on Main Street is a perfectly messy reflection of that. Smashing and thrashing their way through the basement walls and out of exile in dual with the literal and spiritual. And while for 38 years tracks like “Loving Cup” and “Tumbling Dice” have fascinated the cult following within, the album has seldom been able to speak for itself, rather though those who have scandalized its origins.

Now, through the release of Stones in Exile, an hour long documentary of the making of Exile on Main Street, the album is given the opportunity to speak for itself. A combination of vintage archived footage and photos, mixed in with more recently filmed shots, commentary and interviews, Jagger and Charlie Watts revisit the basement where it was all born.

The group provides few anecdotes regarding the origins of songs, but those that they do contribute are lovely and poignant images in time. Jagger laments over a hotel maid that loved to gamble and taught him how to throw dice. A humble beginning for such an epic track. Richards provides another biting moment when he discusses his beginnings with drugs, “to hide from fame. With a hit of smack, I could walk through anything and not give a damn.”

Exile‘s exquisite dark and dense madness twists itself into an exhilarating and cathartic burst of freedom with tracks like “Stop Breaking Down” and “Shine A Light,” and with the release of Stones in Exile, we can finally see for our own eyes as opposed to ears where the Stones clawed their way back to life. Anita Pallenberg described Nellocote in the film as “a wonderful place, very romantic. It was like a dream.” And of the Stone’s rock and roll masterpiece?  “It was really an extreme labor of love, I think.”

Stones in Exile premiered to a frenzy at the Cannes Film Festival this past May, and is now available out on DVD. Below you can view the trailer.

Rock of Ages

My Radio

Salem, Virginia. It’s a little town nestled within Appalachia in Southwest Virginia, so one might expect to come across plenty of bands playing the high lonesome music indigenous to the area. But loud, assertive rock? Hooks and grit culled from years of listening to the Stones and Elvis Costello, with some Remy Zero pop sensibility thrown in? Less predictable, which makes My Radio an unexpected surprise. The band is adept at turning out tightly packaged rockers, whether it’s the cheeky piano sequences and distorted, guitar peals of “Yeah Yeah Yeah” or the almost ‘80s pop vibe of “Unbelievable.” But it’s probably the track “Stars” that will be your favorite — slow and steady piano rock chronicling life on the road. You can almost feel the wistfulness filtered through My Radio’s instruments. Stalwarts like Kravitz, Cars and Killers are all thrown into the band’s musicology, meaning rock pundits will find lots to like. Forget high and lonesome. Loud and populist is where it’s at.

Lust Machines

Their future's so bright: Loomis & The Lust

Their future's so bright: Loomis & The Lust

Just because something’s accessible, doesn’t mean it’s inappreciable. When Loomis & The Lust front man Will Loomis is singing, “I put the needle in the groove / To a song that fits the mood,” he’s literally describing playing a record, not obliquely referencing drug use. But, when he sings, “I’m in love with a feeling I can’t forget,” he’s literally describing drug use.

In short, what you hear is what you get with Loomis & The Lust. And what you get is straight-up rock with vintage sensibilities. The low buzz of bass, scorching guitar riffs, stomping drums and vocals rife with ‘tude are the the touchstones of this a four-piece rock band from Santa Barbara, CA. “Break On Love” has the bluesy strut of a vintage Rolling Stones number, while “Sweetness” with its tempest of hand claps and spitting guitars recalls INXS. Maybe they’re not going to spark your imagination, but Loomis & The Lust will definitely set fire to your feet. And that’s gotta count for something.

signatures_kateb4

LOST ART OF THE ALBUM COVER

For consumers, the advantages of the digital music revolution are many: increased accessibility, portability and lessened expenses just to name a few. But forgotten amongst these undeniable advantages is the loss of album artwork, and the social experience that a tangible visual can provide.

Axis: Bold As Love

Axis: Bold As Love

Despite the age old adage not to judge a book by its cover, album cover art really can speak volumes as to the quality of musical innovation concealed inside. If your album cover boasts the generic image of the secondary band members standing out of focus in the back with lead man up front, or of just a musician with their instrument, then the general assumption might as well be that your music is bland and unoriginal. Yet in today’s world of declining physical music sales and inclining digital music sales, album cover art has more or less become an afterthought.

Sticky Fingers

Sticky Fingers

Believe it or not, there was a time when the art displayed on an album sleeve stood for something. The past 50 years are loaded with culturally relevant album art that just so happened to perfectly represent a band’s or artist’s personality. Jimi Hendrix exploited the psychedelic fad of the 1960′s with his Axis: Bold as Love cover in 1967. The Rolling Stones exhibited the quintessential 70′s rockstar arrogance with Sticky Fingers, expelling their sexual prowess through the historic skinny jeans crotch photograph. The album even came with a built in zipper fly, just so you could feel like you were unzipping a Rolling Stone member’s pants.

Appetite For Destruction

Appetite For Destruction

While 80′s pop culture is largely remembered for spandex and keytars, Guns ‘N’ Roses 1987 Appetite For Destruction cover was in stark contrast to the prevailing 80′s pop music tradition of bright colors and artist portraits.  Originally designed as a tattoo, the crucified skulls represent Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy and Adler in their quest for rock ‘n’ roll mayhem. And to think that this cover was the less controversial of the two options! The first displayed a “metal avenger” monster on the verge of mutilating a robotic rapist.

Nevermind

Nevermind

The 90′s witnessed bipolarity in popular music. Not surprisingly, the grunge scene remained incognito from pop culture until the rise of unsuccessfully elusive rockers Nirvana. When their smash hit Nevermind was released, the indelible photo of a naked baby- Spencer Elden- swimming after money became a sign of the time; innocence chasing greed. Unfortunately, it seems like uninspired artwork among popular music has become the norm ever since.

Think about it. Why put effort into album artwork when it’s only going to be seen as a digital thumbnail on your computer screen or iPod? Plus, the idea of friends gathering to listen to music while exploring CD covers almost seems ridiculous. Still, there are some artists out there putting time and effort into cover artwork even though others have labeled the practice extinct. After all, it doesn’t hurt to put out the most complete musical package possible. Below is a collage of 6 intriguing album covers all created by OurStage’s very own!

greg-mayo-bandmeika-pauleyseason-standardshotgun-crackersvillage-on-yarnmija-stains

 


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