26 June 2020

26 June 2020 - Ariana Grande ft. Nicki Minaj - Side To Side

At this point in her career, Ariana Grande wanted to be taken seriously, as an adult artist.  And while she tries to mask the suggestive nature of the song with this video, with ladies moving... er, side to side on exercise bikes, it ain't about going to the gym.  (Nicki Minaj, for her part, is a bit more direct.)

What this song is, even with its somewhat naughty premise, is a grown-up, densely layered dancehall-pop song that is surprisingly strong.

But what if you strip the layers and the overproduction?  It's still a surprisingly strong song - Grande has a voice that, while still maturing at this point in her career, is evocative and still a little innocent.....sounding.

25 June 2020

25 June 2020 - The Juliana Hatfield Three - My Sister

Those of you know have read this blog for awhile know that there's a story that goes along with Juliana Hatfield for me.

I won't tell that one again.  I will say that the show I reference in that story came BETWEEN the ones in which I saw Veruca Salt and Letters To Cleo.  So, I figured I'd post it today.

For its part, Juliana's first all-ages show really was the Violent Femmes and the del Fuegos.  She did not, however, have a sister (although she explains in all in her book, When I Grow Up) .

The Juliana Hatfield Three was a seemingly one-off project, but she got the band back together in 2015.

24 June 2020

24 June 2020 - Letters To Cleo - Awake

As many of you know, I am a fan of the show "Parks and Recreation."  If I had to identify one moment in this show with which I most personally identify, it's this one:

"I love you, Kay Hanley!"
I had that shirt.

23 June 2020

23 June 2020 - Veruca Salt - Volcano Girls

A couple of weeks ago, I told you which was the best band I ever saw live.

Today, I tell you about the most disappointing. But there's a happy ending.

The band was Veruca Salt, opening for PJ Harvey and Live.   I was a really big fan of the energy they brought to their music - but in  September 1995, they brought absolutely none of that energy.   Let's be clear - I have seen WORSE bands live (and, to be fair, when I wrote THIS, I had not seen the band I now consider the worst I've seen live) but this was a show I thought would be amazing, and it wasn't.

This song came after that, and they clearly recaptured the energy they had lost that one day.  So, I'll forgive them.  Plus, this song is so creative, it completely switches tempo and plot at 2:25 - which I always found to be intriguing.  Veruca Salt knew what their fans wanted, so they catered to it.

Besides, now we know who the seether is. 

It's Louise.

Two years later, they seem to have gotten their mojo back, so maybe I'd give them a 2nd chance.

21 June 2020

21 June 2020 - Luscious Jackson - Daughters of the Kaos

I brought back Guilt-Free Sunday because I'm on a Luscious Jackson kick.

I have spent the last week walking you though their catalog, but I had up until now avoided their debut EP, In Search Of Manny.  The seven songs on that set (3 early Jill Cuniff/Gabby Glaser demos and four others) were hip-hop/pop/rock fusion unlike anything the music industry had ever seen.

"Daughters of the Kaos" was their first video and you can see the hip-hop group influence, with Cuniff and Glaser taking turns on verses, not unlike other similar artists of their time, and the heavy use of samples - which persists through their music going forward.  Lyrically, the song is possibly a little more badass than their image going forward (remember, this was also a single of theirs), but they were well on their way to finding their sound.

Somehow, the song is better live.  When the song opens, you don't expect police sirens to follow the Spanish guitar - and yet, there it is. 

I may have taken forever to get to the earliest Luscious Jackson music, but they don't at all avoid it.  Somehow it sounds a little less dark as they perform it twenty years later, but it's still tight.

19 June 2020

19 June 2020 - Luscious Jackson - Show Us What You Got

Luscious Jackson broke up in 2000, but they started undoing that breakup pretty quickly, and by 2010, they were back together.

In 2013, they released a really solid album called Magic Hour.  This was the first single.  It clearly retains the hip-hop sensibilities, but it's edgier than their earlier stuff.  Listen to this post from two days ago, then come back to this one - and remember that it's the same band.

Here they are in 2013 on Letterman.  They always look like they are having so much fun live, so I love sharing these.

18 June 2020

18 June 2020 - Luscious Jackson - Here

Yes. The answer to my question yesterday was yes.  I am posting another Luscious Jackson song today.

I am posting this for four reasons..

1)  Luscious Jackson in general deserves a lot more attention and respect than they get.  You've got a band with four REALLY good female musicians, making inventive yet accessible music.  That they didn't have more huge hits is criminal.

2)  This song features all three vocalists, and three part harmonies are awesome.

3) Few videos were more blatantly made prior to the song being put on a movie soundtrack (Clueless), forcing a movie tie-in to be added where it could be.

4) The song is exciting and easy to dance to.  You know you're dancing to it right now.  If you aren't, why not???!!!

As per my style, here's the band performing live.   No Clueless tie-ins necessary.

17 June 2020

17 June 2020 - Luscious Jackson - Ladyfingers

So I couldn't even wait to finish my story.

At the end of my post YESTERDAY, I alluded to the fact that Vivian Trimble left Luscious Jackson and the group made another album, this one as a trio.

This was the relatively well-received single from that third album, Electric Honey.   The group broke up soon after, but not because they thought they were were making bad music or not enjoying it.  The official word was "they wanted to spend more time with their families" but really, females weren't getting radio airplay in 1999 and 2000 - which is a shame, because this is excellent music. 

You can see how much the band loved performing - and really, they didn't stay broken up for long. 

Will I post another Luscious Jackson song tomorrow?  Tune in.

16 June 2020

16 June 2020 - Luscious Jackson - Naked Eye

I know - I've written about Luscious Jackson before, and I will write about them again.  But it's different this time.

I wrote about the harmonies between Jill Cuniff and Gabby Glaser before, and today  I won't be doing that.  Reason:  these harmonies don't include Glaser, but rather, keyboardist Vivian Trimble - that's right.  There are THREE solid vocalists in Luscious Jackson - or rather, there were.  More on that in a minute. - and they all harmonize well together.

Between their first and second albums - Natural Ingredients and Fever In, Fever Out - Cuniff and Trimble did a side project, called Kostars.  A single album came out of it -  and even though Glaser and drummer Kate Schellenbach were both part of the recording of that album, it was quite clearly not a Luscious Jackson record.

This song was more classic LJ - a significant hip-hop feel, while retaining a rock feel.  It ended up being the band's only Top 40 hit - peaking at #36 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997 - and remains a cool song to this day.  The video itself is somewhat cool looking - with all four band members never appearing together but also seemingly playing the same stoic role.

They had a lot more fun and were a lot less stoic playing live, as you can see in this clip from Late Night With Conan O'Brien from 1997.

Vivian Trimble eventually left the band, and they broke up completely in 2010 after an album as a trio (see a future post for details on that) but they reformed in the early 2010's, still as a trio, to make new music and tour.  Here's a stripped down version of the some, featuring Cuniff and Glaser, who does NOT step in on Trimble's vocals.

It's the mark of a great song - when it works so brilliantly both with a full band, loudly, and stripped down, quietly.   And THIS is a great song.

(edit: 18 June 2020):  I have discovered that the Luscious Jackson Twitter account recently posted a handwashing guide based on this song.   And yes, I did.


09 June 2020

9 June 2020 - Game Theory - Erica's Word

This is possibly the first time I am purposefully repeating a song.  But I have a good reason.

In 2012, I wrote a very long post about Game Theory, featuring many of their lesser known songs.  Scott Miller, lead vocalist and mastermind behind Game Theory, passed away a year later, and I appended that post to include this song and one other ("The Real Sheila").

I regretting not giving this beautiful, snarky piece of pop jangle its personal due. So, today, I remedy that.

"Erica's Word" was the big single from Game Theory's 1986 breakthrough album The Big Shot Chronicles.  Of course, between the time the song was recorded and the video's release, there were a couple of lineup changes to the band - which was OK.  Scott Miller was the only constant in the band.  It was his baby - and it is the 1986 iteration of the band, which recorded two subsequent albums together, that appears in the video.

The song itself is beautiful, sweet, and yet ends its third verse with quite a bit of snark.  How this song wasn't a huge hit is an absolute mystery to me.  It's endlessly catchy.

Here's Game Theory in 1985, performing this song live, prior to its release.  This is the 4-piece lineup that recorded the song - the differences being a different bassist and lack of rhythm guitarist.

08 June 2020

8 June 2020 - N.W.A. - Express Yourself

This may be the angriest song I've ever posted.

I was introduced to N.W.A in the early 90's while in college.  I probably missed the messages of their songs at the time, but in this time of protest, this song about freedom of expression resonates.

This is probably the only song they ever did that could be played on radio.  Which is hilarious, because the song itself calls out other hip hop artists for avoiding profanity just to get on the pop charts. 

They didn't need to curse to make an anthem about expression.  Primarily performed by Dr. Dre, the song was written by Ice Cube. 

04 June 2020

4 June 2020 - Elastica - Connection

When Elastica exploded onto the scene in 1995, with this single, I was an immediate fan.  I mean, the power pop! The cool electronic opening!  The homage to Wire (I choose to believe it was an homage, because that lawsuit was settled out of court).

(I was also a young man and I thought their guitarist was cute.  I was spot on with that assessment)

I still love this song.  It's high energy and I still use it to pump myself up, a quarter century later.

That video wasn't the one that MTV showed, though.  They used this much higher quality video with quick edits and more nude men.  (And more Donna Matthews. She's the guitarist)

But there's more of a personal story here.

I went to Lollapalooza in 1995, in Hartford, CT.  I was looking forward to the lineup, which included Sinead O'Connor.   I really wanted to see her live.  Well, about a week before that show, Sinead O'Connor dropped out and was replaced with Elastica.  I was really disappointed......

.....until Elastica took the stage.  They were BY FAR the best band that day, and that day included some fantastic bands.  It wasn't close.  Elastica blew them all off the stage. The band brought so much energy to the show.

A couple of months later, I got the opportunity to see Elastica again, in Springfield, MA, in a smaller club.   Their lineup had changed slightly - bassist Annie Holland had left and been replaced by Beck's touring bassist - but the energy had not.  If anything, they were better!!

I've been to a lot of great concerts and seen a lot of great bands. To this day, if I am asked which is the best band I have ever seen live, the answer is, without fail, Elastica.

This video is from Tokyo, two weeks before I saw them at Lollapalooza in 1995.

01 June 2020

1 June 2020 - Panic! At The Disco - High Hopes

I had never been a huge fan of Panic! At The Disco.  I mean, it's really just one egotistical guy - Brendon Urie - and a bunch of studio musicians.

Brendon is the guy who's walking up the side of the building, by the way.

This song, released twelve years after their breakthrough hit "I Write Sins Not Tragedies", was something of a comeback, in fact, becoming not only their biggest hit, but their FIRST top 40 hit SINCE "I Write Sins Not Tragedies".

And they did it by writing and performing a more mature, humble, uplifting song that wasn't full of minor chords.

So, maybe I'm a bigger fan of theirs now.

What gives me a better feeling about the band is that, in this live performance 1) it looks like it's the same band as appears in the video, so consistency in lineup is happening 2) it's clearly really a live performance and 3) more horns than a Chicago concert.

I gotta be honest - this performance gives me chills.  The band - the WHOLE band - is clearly enjoying themselves.