Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Chicago Chop House Cuts A Little Deeper

Chicago is famous for hundreds of things. Wrigley Field. The Chicago Theater. The Museum Campus Chicago. And it's also home to one of my favorite steakhouses in the United States.

The story behind Chicago Chop House is as compelling as the menu. Located in an immaculately restored, century-old Victorian brownstone in the popular River North neighborhood, the Chicago Chop House was the brainchild of a successful tavern and former advertising agency owner named Henry Norton in 1986.

Of all his dreams, the Chicago Chop House was the least well-received among family and friends. To them, it didn't make sense to open another steakhouse in a city already defined by Morton's, Gene & Georgetti's, Eli's Place for Steak, and That Steak Joynt.

But after convincing Bill Farrahi, a former chef at Café Bohemia (wild game), to take on a new challenge and Norton's intuitive marketing strategy, the Chicago Chop House quickly became known as a home away from home for travelers. Of course, when I was introduced to it, it seemed to be a blend of both worlds with locals drawn to the live jazz and blues in the smoky first floor bar.

The Steaks Take Center Stage.

What makes the Chicago Chop House great is that the meat is aged and carved on premises. As Farrahi might say, "the cut makes the steak." One important note. The USDA Prime steaks (usually supplied by the Allen Brothers) are wet-aged rather than dry-aged, which creates a very distinct flavor in the 1,100- to 1,500-degree Vulcan broiler.

Not much else has changed since 1986. The Chicago Chop House has 11 cuts of steak and eight seafood entrees. The entrees are not inexpensive, ranging from $28 for a butt steak to $99 for a massive 64 oz. porterhouse. During both of my visits, I had the 16 oz. filet. Most seafood entrees start at $24 with lobster served at market price. Sides are served individual a la cart. (Prices subject to change.)

The desserts are impressive. I was fortunate enough to share a tray prepared by the chef, tasting creations that include white chocolate ice cream with white chocolate chips, turtle cheesecake, homemade carrot cake, homemade apple pie, and a chocolate cake pie. The sampler wasn't on the menu. One member in our party knew the owner.

A Storied Steakhouse In A Storied Neighborhood.

The River North alone makes for an interesting story. While it is now known as a chic cultural hub with art galleries, antique stores and boutiques, it once was the locale for studio artists and writers willing to convert empty warehouses in the 1970s that were left over from what once was a thriving warehouse district and industrial center before that.

The rich history of the area only lends itself to what now is the largest concentration of art galleries in the United States outside of Manhattan. In addition to all the galleries, it is an epicenter for nightlife with its abundant bars, clubs, and restaurants. The Chicago Chop House pays homage to all, with almost every wall lined with photos of eras past.

The Chicago Chop House Cuts A 6.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Chicago Chop House would have easily scored higher, but it's difficult to ignore some of the recent customer reviews on various sites. (And, it has been a few years since I had business is Chicago). Some of it points to a change in ownership. If that change included Chef Farrahi, I can't imagine.

Most of the lower scores seem to stem from the check before bleeding into other issues: patrons who order specials without knowing prices, indulgent entrees, and rare wines. According to some, the Chicago Chop House is also discouraging shared plates by charging a sharing fee. It's not unheard of, but price conscious patrons might have more fun visiting at lunch. Or, simply put, don't be up sold.

This caution aside, the Chicago Chop House was picked for a retro review because it was cool enough to visit twice on back-to-back nights during my last visit to the Windy City. I cannot recall a restaurant ever earning such a repeat performance (except in Tombstone, but for very different reasons). A few other people agree, including big John Popper from Blues Traveler. While it has no social media program, the Chicago Chop House has a few Facebook fans nonetheless.

As a footnote, it also has an historic wine room deep underground. This underground room was once used to make wine during prohibition. To check for hotels and flights to Chicago, try Fare Buzz also has some Discounted Vacation Packages available.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus Won't Choke With Choke

The Red Jumpsuit ApparatusIn 2009, the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus (RJA) left us frazzled with a mainstream poppy emo rock sound on Lonely Road. Whatever. What's more important is that RJA is back with what made them great with Don't You Fake It, bringing them back to the brink of fame.

The short seven track session on the new The Hell Or High Water has a few forgettable lighter tracks, but the bulk is a heavier alternative rock sound that shakes with emotion. The storytelling is strong. The chord progressions are perfect. And the hooks are anything but boring.

All in all, it proves that breaking with their manager and Virgin Records was the right thing to do. So was adding Matt Carter (rhythm guitar) to replace Elias Reidy in 2008. For those newly familiar with RJA, the band's lineup includes: founders Ronnie Winter (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Duke Kitchens (lead guitar, piano, backing vocals) plus Joey Westwood (bass, backing vocals) and Jon Wilkes (drums, backing vocals).

The Hell Or High Water Delivers What RJA Was Meant To Be.

Returning to their roots in Middleburg, Florida, was the right thing at the right time. The breakup was likely bitter. They filmed three videos for the EP, with the first part dedicated to "killing" their old label. Fair is fair. Virgin was accused of killing them on more than one occasion.

Insider "jokes" aside, the EP isn't perfect, but it does have several stunning singles. On My Own and Hell Or High Water are among the top. Don't Hate is a great song, but there is that strained "so you think you can do better" lyric line scream (twice) that distracts from an otherwise solid sound. Of course, the clear driver is the first single out of the box. Choke is dazzling and we're including a fan video live.

The Hell Or High Water EP isn't loved by everybody. Many fans who picked it up because of Lonely Road will wonder about the screaming. Most don't know the back story, with the label seemingly pushing the band in a pop direction and away from alternative rock. Early RJA fans will love it. Many of them are already screaming RJA is back.

The Hell Or High Water by RJA Sweeps A 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As an EP, each stands on its own terms and wakes us for a full-length album that the band hopes to release in early 2011. You can find The Hell Or High Water on iTunes, where it is holding with 4.5 stars. It has yet to hit Amazon.

RJA fans will also be happy to find the full 21 And Up track at ArtistDirect. I still don't think it's the strongest single from the EP, but it clearly underscores the smarter side of RJA that someone, apparently, didn't understand. Good thing that everyone else does.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh Will Embrace You

Sometimes when you read a book, you curl up and embrace it. Rarely does it embrace you back. Rat Girl: A Memoir (aka Paradoxical Undressing in the U.K.), written by Kristin Hersh and set for release next Tuesday in the U.S., is one such book. A rarity.

The cover may be black, but you won't find a single stitch of black in the content. Don't ask me to assign it another. In the opening pages of her book, Hersh mentions that colors splashed across a canvas are all too quiet. The book, like her music, is vibrant. Chords have color. Her favorite color is green.

"Every time I think I'm done, I pick another song out of the chaos in the air. There songs're keeping me alive so they can be alive."

When writers interview Hersh, they like to ask her about her bipolar disorder. In her book, she recounts one story where the first question in an interview asked what she does "when you wake up on the wrong side of lithium." In another interview, one referenced in our Crooked review, she's asked if it shapes her music.

That is what most of them are chasing. Rat Girl may put some of that to rest. It's independent.

She doesn't pull lyrics from thin air but from the unique way she sees the world, noticing the extraordinary inside something mundane, like a handmade Jesus crucifix that resembles a fish, nailed to an apartment wall. The music is different. She hears it and then learns it into reality much like some writers with gifts let words go from fingertips. It comes from someplace else.

She's said this before. But people don't always hear it. Perhaps this book will stick.

Rat Girl sometimes reads much the same, as if portions come from someplace else. And, despite following her story from one spring to the next (1985), it reads free from the trappings of time. Each part is oddly permanent, as if it exists in space, waiting to be played again.

This makes for an interesting narrative. Instead of relying on seamless transitions, Hersh ties stories together by lines of inspired lyrics and, occasionally, relevant 3- to 5-paragraph memories from her early childhood. The result is a beautiful fusion of prose and art. Book Notes provides an exquisite preview.

Then again, all this might make the book sound deeper than it needs to be. It's loaded with wit that will make you smile. It's as celebratory as her music. And in between some sad notes, expect to laugh out loud. Frequently.

"What's this song about?"

"About? I don't know."

"I heard the word blow jobs."

"That's two words."

He stares. "Is that what's this is about?"

I know he's baiting me, but I have no good answer. "Yeah, Gil, it's about blow jobs."

He smiles. "I want you to put yourself in this song. What do you think it's about?."

"My roommate, Vicky, painted some cool stuff on a box when she was moving and some of it turned up in a song."

He looks stunned. "Really? 'Vicky's Box' is a song about Vicky's box? A box owned by someone named Vicky?"

"Mostly," I say embarrassed. "That's why I called it that."

Welcome to the world of Hersh. It's beautiful every step of the way, even in darker moments. Any sadness that materializes isn't attached to her story as much as it's attached to how much hurt she endured along the way.

Rat Girl by Kristin Hersh Is A 9.6 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

As a memoir, it isn't transparent and Hersh admits as much in the forward. It is, however, breathtakingly authentic, without reservations about anything she does share. It's a gift, much like it's a blessing to see beauty in ugliness and ugliness in beauty.

For Hersh, this is the way she is in the world. Rat Girl: A Memoir is available on Amazon, starting Tuesday. We'll add other format links as they become available. You can follow Hersh on Twitter and Facebook too.

Special thanks to Penguin Books for the thoughtfulness of an advance copy. It's already well worn and worth reading again and again.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Arkells Light Up With Jackson Square

Max Kerman, ArkellsHailing from Hamilton, Ontario, it's difficult to pin down a defining moment for the Arkells. Was it when Dine Alone Records signed them in 2006? Was it when they won the CASBY Award in 2009 or Juno Award in 2010? Or maybe it's when they made headlines after rapper Shad and pop singer Kesha joined them onstage for a freestyle jam session at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto?

Or maybe, just maybe, their defining moment is right now with their killer album Jackson Square and finally jumping on a mini-tour in the United States. I don't want to get too far ahead of myself, but the tiny budget and tight van might be a distant memory the next time they visit. (The U.S. tour ended six nights ago in Chicago.)

The Arkells — Max Kerman (vocals, guitar), Mike DeAngelis (vocals, guitar), Dan Griffin (vocals, keyboard, guitar), Nick Dika (bass), and Tim Oxford (drums) are tearing up America with their first full-length release. Sure, some of the songs are already road tested, but they were never played out stateside off the original Deadlines EP and Jackson Square was released in 2008.

That all makes sense in Canada. But for most of my friends, the Arkells didn't exist until their album went up on iTunes USA in August and they started touring alongside Tokyo Police Club and Freelance Whales a few weeks before that. Now, they are among the hottest indie rockers being cued up on iPods and iPhones.

Don't be fooled by what you read elsewhere. I won't say they sound like Springsteen like some people are saying. They may have a working class sound, but the Springsteen analogy stinks. They're original, even if you can hear the Boss-like arrangement in one song.

"You can kind of say any name of any artist, but it's just a little heavier." — Max Kerman

Kerman's definition is more like it. These guys play what you like with blues hooks and heavier rock riffs than pop indies. What that means is Jackson Square is a hot 12-track album with few misses. If you have to cherry pick the music, the best sampler might be Deadlines, Pullin Punches, I'm Not The Sun, and John Lennon.

I'm including a cool transit cut of Pullin Punches, but don't sell them short. Listen to the produced version immediately after.

The official video released by Dine Alone Records is not as fun. But it does fill out the sound and better represents.

Another blazing song is Oh, The Boss Is Coming! I left it off my initial picks, but only because I know they wrote it after one of their real life bosses. That makes me biased, especially after hearing the acoustic version. Who hasn't had at least one boss that deserved a song written just for them? Exactly.

Then again, that might be why the Arkells are striking all the right chords. Plenty of folks feel stuck in their jobs right now, and plenty more are wishing they had one. Even Kerman mentioned that he still had a day job during one interview, but
Griffin said he dumped his. Good. Your day job is the Arkells on stage and Facebook.

The Arkells Strike The Right Chords With A 8.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Jackson Square is on iTunes. Customer reviews are holding strong at 4.5. You can also find Jackson Square on Amazon, with a single review that sums "Strong lyrics. Buy it."

Want to learn a little more about the Arkells? Check out the article in The Hamilton Spectator. You can find their Website here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Fans Keep The Legend Of Firefly Alive

Nathan FillionEight years ago, a marginally noticed television series graced Fox for less than a season. Fox didn't help.

Ask fans and they'll tell you. The network skipped the pilot, missed on marketing, aired episodes out of order, and switched up air dates.

The critics were less than kind. Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle called it a "corny disaster." Carina Chocano of Salon said "the cast is as vast as space itself, though sadly not as deep."

Yet, as many people know, this unexpected offbeat, oddball space western found a foothold with fans. They fell in love with the witty dialogue, the richly diverse universe, and the abundance of less-than-perfect protagonists who made up the 5-member crew (and four passengers) of Serenity, a Firefly-class spaceship traveling on the outer edges of civilization in 2517.

Their fan campaign inspired creator Joss Whedon to shop a film, which was snapped up by Mary Parent, shortly after she watched the DVD series, for Universal Pictures. The movie fared well and went on to win several awards, despite being a bit disconnected from the series as Whedon had tasked himself with writing a story suitable for series fans and new viewers.

Why The Firefly Story Fired Up Fans.

As much as Firefly is a scrap-metal science fiction frontier story, it borrows some of its discourse from the post-American Civil War Reconstruction period, with Whedon inspired partly by The Killer Angels. As mentioned, some critics said the space-western blend was too literal for its own good. But they were far from right. Here's why...

As the back story goes, humans began settling other planets after the Earth was depleted. And much like the English colonies, American frontier, or even the urban-rural disconnect we sometimes see today, the people furthest out tended to have freer but admittedly much rougher lives.

Eventually, the central planets organized and decided to save the outer planets from themselves, sparking a civil war between the Alliance and the Independents (better known as Browncoats). After the war, our five anti-heroes, led by Captain Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds (Nathan Fillion), find freedom by eking out an existence as cargo runners and, sometimes, as smugglers and semi-honorable bandits.

Add four more eclectic passengers, two of which are wanted by the Alliance they are trying to avoid, and the contrasting characters are enough to entertain as they bounce around the outer planets looking for work. It's not all dissimilar from how Han Solo's life might have been with a larger crew and no aliens.

And, while some high-tech weaponry exits in this universe, most people are still reliant on common firearms. Of course, that's all part of the rustic charm. It's believable.

"We've done the impossible and that makes us mighty." — Mal

A few days from now, Firefly fans, also better known as Browncoats, are back in the business of pioneering. For almost two years, some of them have been working on a not-for-profit fan-made film called Browncoats: Redemption. The premiere will be shown to 1,800 people on Sept. 4 in Downtown Atlanta as part of Dragon*Con, the largest pop culture convention anywhere.

Spearheaded by writer/director Michael Dougherty and producer/creator Steven Fisher (with a blessing from Joss Whedon years ago), the fan film introduces the crew of Redemption, a Firefly crew engaged in similar trade as those aboard Serenity. The plot line places this crew in between the Alliance and Independents. Proceeds from the DVD go to five charities that are aligned with the original cast and crew. Here's a quick clip.

Based on this clip and others, the fan film is likely to be amateurish but with a whole lot of heart. The passion of everyone involved is apparent everywhere. You have to appreciate their spirit. Diehard Firefly fans are likely to find redeeming qualities. We're pre-ordering a copy to show support.

You can learn a bit more from the Browncoats: Redemption movie site. The film is currently available for pre-order.

Naturally, we can't review a film we haven't seen, but the very idea that fans would seek permission and then produce a full-length feature film speaks volumes about the original Firefly series and Serenity. So does the fact that Firefly and Serenity DVDs permanently reside on the International Space Station thanks to NASA "Browncoat" Astronaut Steven Swanson.

Firefly Takes The Sky With A 9.7 On The Liquid [Hip] Richter Scale.

If you've never seen the series, you can find Firefly on iTunes and Serenity, the movie. On Amazon, check out Firefly - The Complete Series and Serenity (Collector's Edition).

If you have to pick one, start with the series. I'm torn whether to tell you to start with the pilot or dive right in. Most fans feel the pilot is critical.

If you like the originals well enough, you can find fellow Browncoats on Facebook. Browncoats: Redemption also has a Facebook page for the film. There are dozens of active fan sites too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

AM Taxi Hits Hard With We Don't Stand A Chance

AM Taxi is one of those bands that the first time you hear a tune from them, you immediately want to hear more. Now with the release of a major label debut, We Don't Stand A Chance, I've been doing just that.

Hailing from Chicago, AM Taxi was kicking around for a couple years until a stroke of good luck (mixed with hard luck) changed their fortunes. Suddenly, they earned a spot on the Virgin Records artist roster.

Nowadays, AM Taxi's album title is almost ironic. The band is getting every chance in the world to prove it belongs in the big leagues.

AM Taxi Makes Sense In A Mixed Up World.

There are slew of influences across the 11-track album. You'll hear modern pop, old school punk, world beaty-type stuff, and even a little bit of the British invasion. Inspiration for the songs seems to come from everywhere: from the Police and Springsteen to the Ramones and the Replacements.

What makes it all work is that AM Taxi embraces their influences without being trite or a retread of somebody else. You can credit the members for staying true to who they are: Adam Krier, vocals/guitar; Jason Schlutejann, bass; John Schmidt, guitar/backing vocals; Chris Smith, drums/backing vocals; and Luke Schmidt, keyboards/backing vocals.

Krier is the guy penning the lyrics to excellent effect. Dead End Street is full of restlessness, unemployment, and worries about the current state of the world. Charissa is about a toxic relationship with a girl enabler. The is almost an homage to Paul Westerberg. “I am the anecdote you spill.”

Across the album, you'll find more of the same. Their first two singles, Fed Up and The Mistake, provided the perfect introduction for a powerful collection. Every song is truthful, creative, and imaginative. They are also based on the band's personal experiences.

Musically, you won't find any gimmicks. There are some power chords, but what makes these songs powerful is that they relate to the way people feel right now. The band's experiences seem to be mirroring America.

Another tidbit you'll find interesting is that We Don't Stand A Chance was an old school production spearheaded by Mike McCarthy (Patty Griffin, Spoon). The album was mostly cut live in the studio on a reel-to-reel.

What I like is that the band wasn't looking for a perfect, polished sound. Everybody seemed to be aiming for the spirit of a live performance, excitement and imperfections included. This plays to the band's strengths.

AM Taxi Pulls Up With An 8.7 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The band has been touring regularly to promote the album. They’ll be doing more of the same in September, with stops in Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, and their Windy City home. If you're lucky enough to catch them, do so. After listening to the album, you already have a sense of what you will hear.

On iTunes, more than 100 people have given We Don't Stand A Chance by AM Taxi a hard-earned 5 stars. On Amazon, We Don't Stand A Chance earns the same. It's amazingly near perfect as a debut.

Virgin Records has also released some videos worth checking out. The Mistake is one, but embedding is turned off. On Facebook, you can sample even more from AM Taxi.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Random Acts Of Kindness Tend To Spread

"If you can't feed a hundred people, then just feed one." — Mother Theresa

Founded in 1995, The Random Acts Of Kindness Foundation is a privately funded nonprofit organization that doesn't do something most nonprofits do. It doesn't accept donations, grants, or membership dues. What it does instead is inspire people to practice kindness and to “pass it on” to others.

On its Web site, the foundation provides a variety of materials such as activity ideas, lesson plans, project plans, teacher guides, and other resources that help ordinary people find the tools they need to be effective, responsible, and beneficial to their communities. It's a refreshing change of pace within the nonprofit sector.

The Next World Kindness Day Is November 13 Or Any Day.

While the organization encourages acts of kindness to happen any time, there is an official World Kindness Day, which began in Tokyo, Japan. The purpose of World Kindness Day is to look beyond ourselves, the boundaries of our country, our culture, our race, and religion. And, for just a moment, appreciate that we are all citizens of the world.

Originally, this seemed to be the intent. World Kindness Day was meant to encourage people to reflect on beliefs or actions that caused separations. But over the years, as World Kindness Day took shape, varied organizations placed more emphasis on finding ways that people could join people together and make a difference in their communities, countries, and the world.

The result was an eclectic mix of kind happenings. In Idaho (U.S.), one teacher gave her students winter gloves to pass on to someone in need. In Singapore, 45,000 flowers were handed out. And Grammy-winning filmmaker Mark Johnson organized "Playing For Change", which brings together the performances of more than 100 musicians from Tibet to Zimbabwe (hat tip: Tony Berkman).

Since, Playing For Change has grown into a foundation responsible for continued multimedia movement events that aim to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. The resulting journeys are always remarkable.

Mari-Lyn Harris, a gourmet pie maker, philanthropist, and blogger, is embarking on a similar effort. Using BloggersUnite.org, she is working to bring hundreds of bloggers together on World Kindness Day, challenging them to perform random acts of kindness and then write about it much like site organizers did in 2007.

World Kindness Day Is A Liquid Hip Goodwill Pick.

At least once a month, Liquid [Hip] highlights goodwill efforts undertaken by courageous people with big hearts. We don’t score them. That belongs to you.

There are hundreds of ideas how anyone can share a random act of kindness any time they feel inspired. The size and scope of the action is always up to the individual, but the outcome is always the same. Kindness tends to spread. Share some today.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Jenny And Johnny Have Fun; You Can Too

Jenny And JohnnyJenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice have been hacking around on stage for some time. But last winter, they decided to make it official.

They didn't get married. They went into the studio and cut enough tracks for an album, I'm Having Fun Now, due out at the end of August. The first single, Big Wave, is already out but it wasn't the first track released. To warm up fans with a new sound, they put out Scissor Runner for free.

"Nobody told us to make this record, nobody told us to start a new band, and nobody even knew we were doing it," Rice told Billboard. "We just wanted to record some songs together, and if we were underwhelmed by the results, we would just keep it to ourselves."

They aren't keeping it themselves any longer. The indie rock couple, backed by big label Warner Brothers, is touring the U.S. with a heavy schedule through September on the West Coast before heading east.

They have always had chemistry on stage. Ask anyone or check out this clip from a live fan cut session of the song that was my introduction to what would become Jenny and Johnny. It was played at the Echo in Los Angeles.

So, for anyone who knows, Jenny and Johnny are hardly strangers, especially in Los Angeles. They've played each other's songs, written for each other's albums, and joined each other on tour. Shortly after Rilo Kiley wrapped its tour in Japan in 2009 was when the two were anxious to try out a new folk-infused alternative surf rock sound.

To do it, they enlisted Rilo Kiley’s Pierre De Reeder and drummer Jason Boesel. And for the most part, the demos might have gone unheard had Jenny, Johnny, Peirre, and Jason not had so much fun. Nine days was all it took to seek out producer/engineer Mike Mogis and start a new band.

I suppose some longtime Jenny Lewis fans might be taken aback by the new sound. Some have said they like her better on her own. I'm not one of them.

Jenny needed to break away from pop alternative and embrace the down beat direction full on. And for Rice, Jenny's presence adds even more diversity to his eclectic talents. Check out Hard to Believe to understand the contrast.

Jenny And Johnny Light Up Big Wave With 5.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

You know, after shuffling back and forth between Big Wave and Scissor Runner, there is no doubt Scissor Runner is the better track. Had they led off the album with that hit single (despite giving it away as a freebie), they might be closer to a 6.1. No matter, I can always revisit them at the end of the month.

To pick up Big Wave, head over to iTunes. To download Scissor Runner, visit their Website Jenny And Johnny Music or Facebook. Maybe we'll revisit them in September.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rediscovering The Runaways With A Neon Angel

Neon Angel, A Memoir of a RunawayIn 1975, five 15- and 16-year-old girls formed a rock band under the tutelage of producer Kim Fowley. They went from playing seedy clubs in Los Angeles to headlining with bands like Cheap Trick and Van Halen. In Japan, they took the country by storm.

And then, almost as quickly, the band imploded with infighting, jealousy, and drug abuse.

Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, is the band’s story from the perspective of someone who lived it. Lead singer Cherie Currie, assisted by writer Tony O’Neill (who penned Hero of the Underground), is a new version of the story with a forward by Joan Jett.

The new version is based on Currie’s original bio, Neon Angel: The Cherie Currie Story (by Currie with Neal Shusterman). It quietly hit the shelves in 1989. But this new version, released in 2010, didn't hit quietly. Unlike the original, the new version didn't exclude the dirtier, uglier side, with all its sex and drugs. Lots of drugs.

The Updated Story Of A Neon Angel Bares All.

With her 2010 update, Currie decided to lay it all bare, warts and all. And, it nicely coincides with the recent release of The Runaways, a biopic of the band starring Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart. More about that in a minute.

Keep in mind that Currie’s story is her recollection so some names have been changed to protect the guilty and innocent. The story chronicles her upbringing in the San Fernando Valley, her “discovery” by Fowley, and the aftermath of everything that happened in between. It also rehashes what it was like once everything was gone.

Currie does an excellent job sharing the pain she endured over her parents’ divorce, her dad’s self-destructive alcoholism, her mother’s move to Indonesia (leaving Cherie and twin sister Marie behind with relatives), and her love for and rivalry with sister Marie. Marie was the one left to pick up the pieces at home. It is clear that Currie is still remorseful about that.

For all the fame and freedom, it doesn’t sound like Currie truly enjoyed her time with the Runaways. While her relationships with guitarist/singer/de facto leader Joan Jett and amiable drummer Sandy West were solid, guitarist Lita Ford was not a fan. In her telling, Currie tried to befriend Ford, only to be insulted and demeaned at every turn.

Jealously, Sex, Drugs, And The Film That Followed.

Certainly part of the problem had to do with the fact that as lead singer, a role Currie played to the hilt, she attracted the most fan and media attention. By her account, it seems Ford was jealous. My take is that as difficult as Ford may have been for the Runaways, she was a strong guitarist and remains, along with Jett, the most successful post-Runaways member.

For Currie, the real downfall happened after she makes the decision to leave the band. Her bandmates decide to soldier on without her, with Jett taking over as lead vocalist. Currie suffers from depression and chronic uncontrolled substance abuse.

She's lucky. With help from friends and family, especially sister Marie and now ex-husband Robert Hays, Currie manages to turn things around. Today she’s a noted (and very talented) chainsaw artist.

The biopic, The Runaways, is a different story. It was good, but played it too safe. Fanning does an admirable job as Currie and Stewart’s portrayal of Jett is near perfect. Both girls, plus Scout Taylor-Compton as Ford and Stella Maeve as the late West, bear striking resemblances to their characters.

I found myself saying more than once, “Wow, I can’t believe how much they resemble the original band.” Here is the original from Japan.

The problem with the biopic is that Neon Angel is Currie’s story, and the film really is not. It gives us only a cursory glimpse into Currie’s life before the Runaways, and we see almost none of it after her departure. The screenplay barely scratches the surface.

For fans who have already read the book, the biopic semi-excludes bassist Jackie Fox. She wasn’t the first bassist, but she was on board during the band’s heyday. Fox apparently had some dealings in court about the movie, and ultimately it was decided to omit her. The screenplay includes a composite instead: part Fox, part Vicki Blue, part anybody.

Too bad. Fox was an important piece of history. She's an attorney today. And that leaves us with a movie just above average and not worth reviewing despite the excellent job from the cast. The movie works best as another little piece for diehard Runaways fans.

Neon Angel A Memoir Of A Runaway by Cherie Currie Hits With A 8.5 On the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

For a different view of the band, check out Edgeplay - A Film About The Runaways, directed by one-time bassist Blue. It features some good interviews and history of the band (but without Jett's involvement). You can pick up the 2010 movie The Runaways on iTunes.

As a bonus, one great thing to come out of the movie is the addition of the Runaways albums on iTunes. Prior, it was just tracks from 20th Century Masters the Millennium Collection. iTunes has added The Runaways and Queens of Noise.

If you cherry pick the songs, pick up Cherry Bomb and American Nights along with lesser-known gems like Dead End Justice. On Queens of Noise, listen to I Love Playin’ With Fire, California Paradise, and especially Neon Angels On the Road To Ruin, which is a defining moment for Currie.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bad Religion Puts The Devil in Stitches

Bad ReligionAfter 30 years in the music scene, with subsequent highs and lows across 14 studio albums and only one constant member, asking whether a punk rock band founded in 1979 can still be relevant is a fair question. If you ask some bands, the answer is no. If you ask Bad Religion, the answer is different.

As a songwriter, Greg Graffin seems as fresh as he was as a 15-year-old archetypal punk in a high school band. He's been the backbone of Bad Religion, with some obvious influence and additions by Brett Gurewitz too. Several times throughout the band's career, they have written and produced music that has had a profound affect on punk (and nu-metal, imo) without ever catching fire among mainstream audiences.

"There's an an inherent world out there that talks about me that I don’t pay attention to," explained Graffin in a recent exclusive interview. "I have a philosophy and that’s why I don’t interact with [writers, reviewers] in general on the page. And I believe that there’s a Bad Religion of my own heart and there’s a Bad Religion of public consumption. I don’t control the public consumption."

Graffin likely feels the same way about his book, Anarchy Evolution, which has the same release date (Sept. 28) as his band's new album, The Dissent of Man. The most exciting prospect of The Dissent of Man is that Bad Religion doesn't consider it another crown on their 31-year run. They consider it the next chapter in their storied career.

Is The Dissent of Man Marks A New Chapter.

With three original members Graffin (vocals), Gurewitz (guitar, background vocals), and Jay Bentley (bass, background vocals)] plus Greg Heston (guitar), Brian Baker (guitar), and Brooks Wackerman (drums) who have all been together for the last decade, The Dissent of Man holds exceptional promise based on the new single alone.

The Devil In Stitches, which debuted on KROQ 106.7 in Los Angeles just before being put up on MySpace, is the first of the fifteen tracks released. It's certainly more soft and more upbeat than New Dark Ages on New Maps of Hell (2007), but it's the lyrics and harmonies that stick. Gurewitz has offered up that fans can expect more of the same.

“These are some of my favorite songs I’ve ever written,” offered Gurewitz to Epitaph Records. “A few of them took me way outside my comfort zone as a writer to a place I haven’t gone since Recipe or Stranger than Fiction.”

The Devil in Stitches confirms that Bad Religion isn't locked into punk anymore (they haven't been for some time). There will be some punk, but the album also carries a mix of radio rock, classic rock, and alternative rock that may help them reach a broader audience. While that might seem a bit off the reservation for some, Bad Religion isn't likely to care. The album itself is about change, and the diverse musical styles reflect it.

There won't be much live footage of Bad Religion until their new tour starts, but one of my personal favorites is the partial 1996 clip of Generator from Germany. If you want something more recent, check out Moscow (2010) with the same song.

While no one expects another Generator on the new album (which could be right or wrong), The Devil in Stitches demonstrates that there is a lot of life left in Bad Religion. Sure, there are plenty of aging bands that make younger listeners throw up their hands and wonder what's the rub up with the "old guys," Bad Religion is as relevant as ever and the first song out of the box proves it. Love it or hate it, they don't care so much. Heck, Graffin has called his work pop with an edge once or twice.

The Devil in Stitches By Bad Religion Dances With 7.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Devil In Stitches is available for download on iTunes. You can find The Devil In Stitches on Amazon for less if you are willing to lose some quality with an MP3.

Also on Amazon, you can pre-order Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science, and Bad Religion in a World Without God by Greg Graffin. Graffin, as some people know, earned a PhD from Cornell University and teaches evolution at the University of California at Los Angeles. Personally, I don't subscribe to atheism, but I always appreciate well-rounded ideas and might even pick up the book.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Madden 11 Is A Next Step In Sports Gaming

Madden NFl 11American football has always been popular in the U.S. as a variation of rugby and association football. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, collegiate sports adopted the game and professional football followed at the turn of the century. So, it stands to reason that football games that simulated the sport became just as big.

In 1949, Norman Tudor, president of Tudor Electric Games, revolutionized a football simulation by using vibrations to move players down the field. You can find an enhanced version of Electric Football here. Then, in 1977, the Handheld Football Game from Mattel became the rage, pitting a lone running back against scores of "red dash" defenders.

One year later, Atari quickly followed suit with Xs and Os as players in a tabletop version that would later be introduced to home gaming systems. Here's what the first football video games looked like before migrating to home entertainment.

After Atari, sports game designers made several leaps forward, as fast as operating systems would allow it. As football evolved however, the game play became more cumbersome, adding hundreds of plays that required players to click through ever-increasing play books. Some people spent as much time planning their plays as playing the game.

The newest next step for football simulation, Madden NFL 11, changes that. EA Sports' advanced Game Flow system allows the program to pick the plays. This shortens play time because players invest less time looking at the playbooks. It simplifies, but doesn't lock you down.

Was Game Flow Everything Everyone Expected?

There has been some backlash, especially from the Madden NFL 10 crowd. But it's not nearly as aggressive from the transition from 9 to 10. The reason seems pretty simple. The Game Flow feature doesn't really get in the way.

It's optional, and players can turn it off or toggle back and forth between Game Flow and calling plays. And, if they don't call the play, they can always call an audible or route individual players to create additional variations.

The primary benefit of Game Flow is that more people might want to play. There are several multi-player options that help make this possible. In addition to going head-to-head, up to four players can play on the same team, earning points on the plays they make. Veteran players can take care of the play calls and heavy lifting, while the other players execute their own moves and participate. Check it out.

As the review says, for most gaming systems, there are the improved animations and locomotion. Locomotion refers to how naturally the players move, especially when they want to change direction. On the Wii, animation hasn't caught up as much as locomotion. It's very similar to last year's graphics. However, point and pass makes the experience well worth it.

Point and pass refers to the ability to point at the intended receiver on the screen rather than relying on buttons. It's also why the game landed here. Several Wii features make the gaming experience less static. Point and pass is one. Flicking passes is another (gestured movements). And shaking the remote to help runners make power moves is yet another.

Madden NFL 11 For The Wii Kicks A 3.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Madden NFL 11 on WiiMadden NFL 11 features a nice progression for football gaming, but it's not an evolution as much as it's a next step. Somewhere along the way, Madden football has become a chemistry set with Electronic Arts in charge of the mixture. What that means is that some folks won't feel the mixture is right. And sometimes, they're right. When players case players who don't have the ball on occasion, you have to wonder.

One thing you don't have to wonder about is if adding Gus Johnson was a good call. By all accounts, Johnson is cool.

You can find the game on Amazon or get Madden NFL 11 direct from Electronic Arts. Both carry the game for all operating systems. The benefit in visiting Electronic Arts right now is that it has a 50 percent off sale through Sept. 14 on select titles.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wavves Make Lo-Fi Fun With King Of The Beach

WavvesWhen a performer has what can only be called a meltdown on stage — fighting with the drummer and thoroughly insulting the audience — his days in the music business are usually numbered.

That appeared to be the case with quirky singer/songwriter/guitarist Nathan Williams, whose erratic behavior shocked people in Spain. But Williams is resilient if not rebellious.

He apologized and re-emerged with a new lineup, new album, and new outlook for his band, Wavves. He still wants to make music his way, but is more open to ideas after finding the right guys to do it.

Are The Wavves Ready To Crash Down Success?

The Wavves really feels rounded out by the ace rhythm section of Billy Hayes and Stephen Pope, formerly with the late great Jay Reatard. These guys are like gold.

The unofficial fourth band member and a critical component to the band’s new sound is, without question, producer Dennis Herring. Herring has worked with Throwing Muses, Counting Crows, and Modest Mouse, among others. And, in his able hands, Wavves’ King of the Beach is not to be ignored. It’s a tremendous leap forward from the band’s first two experimental-ish releases, which were both self-titled.

The San Diego-based band describes its sound as 21st century surf music, but there’s some skate punk and post-acid influences thrown in for good measure. The result is surprisingly good.

Released on on the Fat Possum label on Aug. 3, King of the Beach is filled with bright melodies, tight rhythm, and Williams’ charming mix of angst, loneliness and rebellion. For a guy who doesn’t surf and is afraid of the ocean, Williams seems to have an instinctive feel for creating a surf vibe nonetheless. This is not the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari.

The the lo-fi King of the Beach (from which the CD takes its name) isn't all there is. All of the tracks are fun, especially the trippy Post Acid, which features a killer chorus and Williams’ self-deprecating tone, and the noisy/fuzzy Super Soaker. Another notable is Baseball Cards for its killer bass and a cool psych sound.

However, I could do without the silly adolescence of Neon Balloon. I love helium as much as the next person, but c'mon.

Williams isn’t the best songwriter out there, but King of the Beach shows improvement. It's a new start for Williams and leaps far beyond his songs on the band’s 2009 self-titled CD. His lonely guy vibe and angst reminds me a bit of Gordon Gano (Violent Femmes).

The Wavves King Of The Beach Bangs 4.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Wavves may have a future yet, as long as Williams can keep his shit together. They are currently on tour throughout the U.S. and seem to be having fun without flare-ups while they do it. They recently sold out in New York and keep their fans nicely updated on Facebook.

King of the Beach is up at iTunes. You can also find King of the Beach at Amazon. You might also want to check out the mayhem shots from the Bowery Ballroom.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff Turns 10

Lamb: The Gospel According To Biff"The book you've just read is a story. I made it up. It's not designed to change anyone's beliefs or worldview, unless after reading it you've decided to be kinder to your fellow humans (which is okay) or you decided you really would like to try to teach yoga to an elephant, in which case, please get videotape." — Christopher Moore

What readers get out of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal has much more to do with what they bring into it than what is actually there. As a story, it is malleable.

It's so malleable, in fact, many reviews warn away fundamentalists because they assume people with faith will find it blasphemous. I don't see it. It's not faith shaking. And, I didn't find much evidence to support that anyone really saw it as such. I did find ample evidence that many people expected others to find it blasphemous. And that's kind of weird.

In truth, Christopher Moore is surprisingly protective of Jesus (called by his Greek translation, Joshua, throughout the book) as he fills in the missing years of Joshua through the eyes of "Levi bar Alphaeus," who is called Biff. The book is satirical, but not so much a satire of Joshua as it is of the storyteller, his times, and everything around him. What else is this story?

The Gospel According to Biff Is A Raunchy, Ridiculous, And Sometimes Enlightening Farce.

Biff, a childhood friend of Joshua, is freshly resurrected after 2,000 years and is immediately sequestered in a hotel room and ordered by the angel Raziel to write a new Gospel. But unlike previous authors, Biff has been given the gift of tongues in order to tell his story with all the trappings of modern English. (One of Moore's favorite mechanisms.)

LambThe first 100 pages or so introduce several supporting players, including Mary, Joseph, Mary of Magdalene (Maggie), Bartholomew (the village idiot), and John the Baptist. There are plenty of other bit players, but the jest helps us ponder how out of place it might be for a young boy to possess the power of the Messiah in a land where people are normally put to death for such a thing.

The real adventure begins as Joshua and Biff take off across the Middle East, Asia, and India in search of three wise men who visited the manger where Joshua was born. These include: Balthasar, an Asian magician; Gaspar, a Buddhist monk; and Melchior, an Indian yogi. All three of them have lessons to teach the dynamic duo, with Joshua pursuing a path of enlightenment and Biff preferring reckless abandon.

The contrast in how these two buddies react is the spark that satisfies. Both of them undergo transformations albeit in very unique ways. As a review, this might not sound satirical but quick retellings are seldom patiently penned like the originals. In this case, one example works better. It comes from one of my favorite passages, when Gaspar sets two small cups on the table and then proceeds to pour tea until they begin to overflow.

"Hey, doofus!" I yelled. "You're spilling the fucking tea!"

The monk smiled and set the bowl on the table.

"How can I give you tea if your cup is already full?"

Christopher Moore"Huh?" I said eloquently. Parables were never my strong suit. If you want to say something, say it. So, of course, Joshua and Buddhists were the perfect people to hang out with, straight talkers that they were.

Joshua, of course, immediately understands the lesson. Biff, on the other hand, tosses his tea out the window with his delightful naivete and lovable crassness. He doesn't beat around the bush, not even the burning ones. It's expected. His first act upon being resurrected is punching an angel in the mouth.

Christopher Moore's Lamb Strikes 8.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Moore doesn't claim to present biblical history perfectly, but he does infuse a surprising amount of research in it to spin his story. Even so, some of the accuracy doesn't sit well with him either. As he explains in the afterward, boys had trades by ten, were betrothed by thirteen, and married by fourteen. Girls were betrothed by twelve and married by thirteen.

I suppose I could have any of Moore's later installments (and I still might after visiting his Facebook page), but Lamb just turned ten years old. You can find Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal on Amazon. Lamb is also on Kindle.

On iTunes, you can pick Lamb up on audio, but I am not convinced Fisher Stevens is the right voice. This might also be why Peter Douglas has kept the film under wraps. Casting would be tough.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Vaselines Put The X In Sex This September

Mark your calendars. The Vaselines are releasing their second album, Sex With An X, in September. You might say it has been a very, very long time coming for the Scottish duo. Their debut was two decades ago.

In anticipation of the new sound and to introduce themselves to new fans (and reacquaint them with existing fans), the band is giving listeners a chance to download their new single, I Hate the '80s, for free. But before you do, you might want to know a little more about their eclectic brilliance.

Who Are The Vaselines?

As the legend goes, couple Eugene Kelly and Frances McKee formed a quirky garage pop band, released a groundbreaking album and then split as a band just as quickly. Two years later, they split as a couple too. And that was that.

It might have been, but Kurt Cobain was a big fan of their work, so much so that he deemed them his favorite songwriters. And so Nirvana covered three of their songs (most notably Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam; Cobain-ized to Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam), putting the band back on the radar and providing an interesting listen for the newly hooked.

Yes, I Said With An X.

In keeping true to their original form, Sex With An X was produced Jamie Watson (who also produced their first album) in just under two weeks with a host of musicians sitting in, including members of Belle & Sebastian. McKee and Kelly never considered themselves musicians, and still don't. They are, however, more than competent and smart enough to surround themselves with the right people.

In many ways it sounds like Sex With An X was recorded just a year or two after Dum Dum. The 20-year lapse in time hasn’t dulled the Vaselines in any way nor tarnished the lovable, strangely trippy sound that made them so unique in the ‘80s. There is a childlike quality to the lyrics, the vocals, and the wonderful simplicity of the songs themselves.

Enter The VaselinesLast year, perhaps in anticipation of Sex With an X, Sub Pop! released a deluxe edition of 1992’s The Way Of the Vaselines, called Enter The Vaselines. It’s basically their first release (Dum Dum), plus two EPs and a whole bunch of remastered versions of their better known songs, as well as live recordings of Rory Rides Me Raw (which is not about what you think it is….Rory is a bike), Son of a Gun, and Sex Sux.

This is worth checking out if you want to explore the band further. If you do, you’ll quickly discover why Cobain thought they were such a rare find: untarnished, a bit raw (like Rory), and completely unique. Unlike many bands, the Vaselines sound just as great live as they do on vinyl.

Sex With An X is a welcome return for the Vaselines. The band picks up right where they left off 20 years ago without missing a beat. I, for one, am quite glad they are back.

The Vaselines' Sex With An X Scores 7.7 on the Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Vaselines will be touring to support Sex With An X all fall, starting Sept. 15 in Edinburgh and winding through the United Kingdom and back to Glasgow on Sept. 24. On Oct. 2, they’ll embark on an ambitious tour of North America. You can purchase tickets for just about any show directly from the band’s Website.

If you want to check out the new tracks with free downloads, visit The Vaselines. If you want to become familiar with their unexpectedly influential history, start with Enter The Vaselines.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Kick-Ass Kicks Ass Most Of The Time

Will I seem hopelessly square if I find “Kick-Ass” morally reprehensible and will I appear to have missed the point? — Roger Ebert

Yeah, sort of. Kick-Ass is the kind of movie that if the critics who came out against an 11-year-old foul-mouthed crime fighter had their way, it would have been morally reprehensible. According to them, Hit-Girl needed to show remorse for busting up some bad guys to the theme song of the Banana Splits.

Let's face facts. One second of seriousness would have made this movie lame. The very nature of the entertainment is its unapologetic presentation of comic book mayhem. This is exactly why Chloe Grace Moretz (actually aged 13) steals most of the movie as Hit-Girl, every time she puts on the purple wig.

In fact, she has become iconic enough that Hit-Girl will be at the heart of the action. Right. While nothing is set in stone, franchise creator Mark Millar is happy to talk about a second installment as the growing post-theatrical release buzz is bigger than ever.

Kick-Ass 2 already has its own IMDB page, with interest skyrocketing as the post-theatrical release racks up even more interest and boatloads of fans. The flick could hit screens as early as 2012.

The Magic Of Kick-Ass Is That It Stomps On Convention.

Kick-Ass isn't a perfect movie. And director/producer Matthew Vaughn knows it, which is why he was originally reserved about a sequel. He wanted to make a cult classic, but nobody knows if he can actually do it. He did.

For all its language, violence, and occasional sexual references (or maybe because of all that), the movie is a cardboard cutout against the wave of super hero action flicks that have filled our screens for the last decade. Some good. Some not so good.

That's what makes this flick kick. Vaughn picked the right time to make the movie, but not because he believes super hero movies have run their course (he's wrong about that). Kick-Ass was timed right because people have been craving some common heroes with unconventional sass. We're tired of industry rules.

We're too serious about too much nowadays and Kick-Ass is not. A little fantastic escapism within the right context is fine. We can only hope the good ideas don't completely run away with themselves.

Kick-Ass 2 will certainly include comic book geek Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson) who drove the first film. He has a great screen presence in his flashy green wet suit. Only Sylvester Stallone can take a bigger beating on screen. Kick-Ass is his comically brilliant creation after he asks a friend why more people don't become super heroes.

He learns why quick enough. After his first foray into fighting crime earns him several months in the hospital, Hit-Girl and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) ramp up their revenge plans on local crime boss Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). Kick-Ass is blamed for the buggered drug deals. The crime lord's son, Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), then becomes Red Mist to gain the trust of Kick-Ass as a wannabe sidekick.

Kick-Ass Kicks Ass With An 8.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Unless the sequel becomes cumbersome and contrived because the creators allow success to go to their heads, Kick-Ass will stand the test of time. On its own, this movie has had an impact despite a few shortcomings. A few include the early and forgettable sexual situations and failure to get past the second gear standard it sets. (There is no real climax and if there is, it happens before Kick-Ass puts on a jet pack).

If you are are easily offended or don't appreciate the audacity of Tarantino movies, Kick-Ass if not for you. If you want a romp through a movie with purposely underdeveloped characters, then you can find Kick-Ass on iTunes. The soundtrack is worth checking out for select songs, including one from The Pretty Reckless.

On Amazon, find the Kick-Ass (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack + Digital Copy) and Kick-Ass comic. They have action figures too.

What we don't have yet is the 18 minutes of deleted footage. We also don't have any real admission that the criticism was more hyped than the movie. Let's hope we get the first one. I couldn't care less if we get the other.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deepfield Deserves A Limited EP Replay

When deepfield released its Limited Release EP months ago, not enough people noticed. And in my opinion, Nothing Left to Lose didn't get nearly enough airtime.

Maybe it was because they released a limited EP with six tracks. Maybe it was because they had planned to go back into the studio by November. Whatever is was, they lost momentum. Everyone was waiting for something, even deepfield.

They played a few sporadic shows, but they didn't get in the studio until February of this year. And it wasn't until June that anyone was paying much attention. That's when Rock 93-5 gave them a spin.

And then a few stations more. And then a few more. Along with some attention, deepfield revamped their Facebook page, added live streams around the Web, hosted design contests, and are still trying to get a tour going by booking one show at a time.

It's the only way bands with potential get noticed nowadays. The fight for every fan on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere they can as Baxter Teal (vocals, rhythm guitar) said candidly in an interview last year.

"I wish I would've been a rock drummer in the 80s ... huge hair and all. Seriously, the new formula is affecting every artist — it's a "single" music world right now, records sales for any band are way down, labels are downsizing, merging, and the model has completely changed," Teal said. "David Lee Roth never knew how good he had it."

If The Album Rocks Like The EP, They Won't Be Hunting For Fans.

Rounded up from the six solid EP tracks, the title to watch for is Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. (Be careful not to confuse it with the EP, which some people attached the album name to.) The name is cool, probably referring to the plank at the front of old ships (not a place you want to be). Cab Calloway recorded a song with the same name in 1932.

I somehow doubt any connection to the Calloway song, but the original meaning comes to mind while looking at an early T-shirt concept floated by fans. It's the start of something cool. So is the candid banter you'll find on Facebook.

They answer fans. They even have an "ask us anything" Formspring too. I haven't asked anything yet. You'll know if I do. I'll ask hard ones.

As for the Limited Release EP, I picked up deepfield for the same reason a lot of people did. Nothing Left to Lose caught my attention. But like I always do, I started down the track listing one by one. Two other good bets are So Far Away and Shiner. Some people might also like the ballad These Words. I couldn't find a good live cut, but I did find this.

With with the addition of two new members since their 2007 first album, Aron Robinson (drums), Sean von Tersch (lead guitar), and PJ Farley (bass guitar) all sound like they've played with Teal since the beginning. (One interesting side note: the original bassist was Eric Bass, now with Shinedown.) This is the band I've been waiting for them to become.

Deepfield Limited Release EP Reaches A 6.2 On The The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

These guys deserve another round of attention. While one of the newest tracks, Nothing Can Save Us Now, feels oddly upbeat against its dark lyrics about damnation, they didn't lose me yet. What I'm really looking forward to are more tracks like you'll find on the EP. They are a much stronger band than in 2007.

You can find the Limited Release EP on iTunes. The Limited Release EP [Explicit] is also on Amazon. If you like the band, you can still help them reach their first 1,000 fans on Facebook. Right here.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Alexis Hotel, A Slice Of Underground Seattle

Library Bristo"As I turned to look back it [a glue pot on a stove] was blazing right up, and I saw Berg seize a pail of water to throw upon it. I shouted for him not to do it, but the ignorant Swede seemed excited and danced about with the pail before he dashed the water." — Seattle Post-Intelligencer

What started as a small glue pot fire in 1889 quickly erupted into Seattle's Great Fire, growing to consume about 30 blocks (25-33, depending on sources). When the city redeveloped the burnt-out area, new buildings were built of brick, stone, and directly over the remnants of the old, creating the famed Seattle Underground.

While the fire stopped across the street from the where the Globe Building was later built in 1901, adjacent areas often followed suit and built over existing storefronts. Some of them can be seen in the building's underground parking structure.

The Alexis Hotel Offers Location, Art, And An Historically Modern Seattle Vibe.

In 1982, the Globe Building was acquired, renovated and reopened as the historic Alexis Hotel. And 10 years later, another restoration returned the hotel to its original architecture with a minimal use of new materials. It's a work of art — a luxury 121-room Seattle boutique hotel — housing exhibits of local artists that are rotated quarterly.

Alexis HotelThe rooms are spacious and tasteful, with 300-count Frette linens, and feather duvets to wrap yourself up in on a rainy morning. It's one of the few hotels offering 24-hour room service and provides in-room spa services. You can also find the Milagros SalonSpa, a renowned full-service salon and day spa destination on premises, but we were too busy taking in the city.

Like many boutiques, the rooms tend to be fashioned around previous spaces. This occasionally leads to an out-of-place review on some travel sites. The room we booked had a small outdoor patio that overlooked a rooftop courtyard of sorts. I'd probably request the same on another stay.

Another stunning feature of the Alexis Hotel is the adjacent Library Bistro and Bookstore Bar (pictured above), which is reminiscent of a 1940s-style restaurant with high back booths, 10-foot-high bookcases, checkerboard tiles, and oak floors. Remarkably, all the books that line the walls are only for decoration. Some rare finds are for sale.

Alexis Hotel, SeattleThe location is more than an asset; it's remarkable. The Alexis Hotel is just a few blocks away from everything you might want to do and see in Seattle. It's only a few blocks from Pike Place Market, Seattle Waterfront, and Pioneer Square. This provides for an abundance of art, museums, culture centers, and shopping during the day. At night, the adjacent street hops with live entertainment and Seattle-style clubs.

Parking isn't cheap, but the valet is always quick and accommodating. The plus side, however, is you seldom need a car unless you plan to include a run to one of the Silver Platters stores, especially if you happen to be in town when they're hosting live in-store performances.

The Alexis Hotel Sets A Standard With A 9.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

The Alexis Hotel is frequented by artists, musicians, and journalists for meet-ups to discuss their latest work. It's also Green Seal™ Silver Certified and earned a National GeoTourism Award in 2006. Even used amenity bottles are donated to local charities. It also has complimentary high speed WiFi.

It would be difficult to find a more cultural-centric hot spot to stay in Seattle, and I've told a few friends on more than one occasion that breakfast at the Library Bistro is a must, whether you stay there or not. You can save up to 60 percent off via Fare Buzz.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Lovedrug Gets Grounded With EP - Part I & II

Indie rock band Lovedrug has had its share of sounds since first emerging from Canton, Ohio, in 2001 (and band change-ups too). And I never really thought much of the band until now. EP -Part I and EP - Part II is a shift for Lovedrug and they're asking fans to help them perfect it.

"As always, we appreciate your support both in purchasing the EPs, enabling us to write and ultimately make the new record, and your feedback on tour, helping us craft and finalize the album itself." — Michael, James, Jeremy, and Thomas

As an experiment, both EPs work and they work better than The Sucker Punch Show (2008) that had some fans looking for the more intriguing alternative cuts. What immediately stands out this time is the cleaner sound and straightforward delivery from Michael Shepard (vocals, guitar). Jeremy Michael Gifford (guitar, piano), Thomas Brag (bass), and James Childress (drums).

They also finally seem free of whatever disaster that had Sony BMG drop them before they could ever cut a single back when. You've got to respect them for standing up for themselves, but it's been all drift since. This time they feel grounded as an indie. I'm sure not every fan will like it, but more new fans will. People like me.

If I had to choose between the two, EP - Part I, is the stronger of the pair. Both EPs have high points. On EP - Part II, look for Elastic. It starts with synth but frees up for guitar to drive the rest of the song in the first fifty second. On EP - Part I, all six tracks are solid. I especially like the driving Head Down and brooding She's Disaster.

We also found a fan cut of Pink Champagne. The quality is rough, but you'll get a taste. They are better than they think.

Lovedrug EP - Part I and EP - Part 2 Strike A 6.2 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

You can connect with them on Facebook at lovedrug, but just stick to the thread. The info page says stuff like "the band has never been, and possibly will never be, a smashing success." I can't get behind an aimless artist thang. They've drifted, sure, but if they can keep this groove grounded then they'll succeed.

After listening to EP -Part I and EP - Part II from iTunes, I'm looking forward to hearing the album that comes out of it all. You can also find them on Amazon. And don't forget Facebook. Several new tracks mentioned are up. It doesn't sound as good as a download, but it's a step up from the vid.