26 June 2010

Video of the Day: Lil' Wayne feat. Nicki Minaj - Knockout (2010)

I'm a huge sucker for hip hop videos. I love the kitsch, the glamour, the big, ridiculous hooks. Lil' Wayne, the talented guy with the silly name, is a really interesting example of this. I always enjoy his addition to other people's songs but his own songs have never been favorites. Typically they go right over my head but this song is rather unique. There are several pros and cons that I'd like to share in a goofy "pros and cons" format.

  • The obvious: Nicki Minaj is usually completely unlikable. I think this is universal. I took a Gender, Race, and Culture in the Media class and she was one of the only musicians singled out as a bad stereotype of all three. Lil' Wayne makes her likable somehow. Their chemistry in the video is actually kind of nice and her hair makes me crave ice cream.
  • Lil' Wayne plays guitar? I don't know much about him or about how to play the guitar but I like it. I think he's good - and even if he's not, it seems like he is which is just as important.
  • The entire song feels like a hybrid of genres that when combined sound really good together.
  • The dynamic of just two people in a video. I think a random guy pops up at the end as well but let's forget about him. It's really Nicki and Wayne. They're both small, well dressed, and funky. They're just cute together.
  • There's something dark about the video that makes the part where she sings "Baby 1,2,3"  kind of eerie and depressing, which I'm always fond of.
  • I think the entire video looks pretty cutting edge.
  • They play it a lot on MTV Hits and I'm always a fan of whatever makes music videos more popular.
  • The lyrics are awful.
  • Ms. Minaj never stops moving her head.
  • Lil' Wayne doesn't really rap in it - and I like that he sings - but it's more her song than his.
  • I don't understand the point of this song whatsoever.
  • Nothing happens in the music video. It's a nondescript boxing ring with a fake audience almost entirely blurred out and no action. Kind of weird/kind of cool.
  • There's no way I'd be able to listen to this ten years from now or probably even ten days.

Knockout Lyrics - Lil' Wayne

(Lil Wayne)

Uh ohh,
Hey barbie, ah, ah, ah, are you into black men?
He- hey hey barbie! I can be your black Ken
Wow! cause' once you go black, you never go back
She wore her hair black, with curls in the back
Then she threw that ass back, back, back
Then I fell to the mat, and after that
Everything went black!

Baby 1, 2, 3
Tell em get the referee
Cause he can, get the knockout
If the telephone rings
Its emergancy
Cause he can, get the knockout
Get the knockout

(Lil Wayne)
Hey barbie, can I call you Barbara? haha
Hey barbie! can I call you tomorrow, and today
Cause' once you go black, you never go back
And once you go wayne , everybody else is whack
She threw that ass back, back, back, then I fell to the mat
And after that everything went back!

Baby 1, 2, 3
Tell em get the referee
Cause he can, get the knockout
If the telephone rings
Its emergancy
Cause he can, get the knockout
Get the knockout

(Nicki Minaj)
Awe fuck it
Give me that damn bucket
Wh-when I throw this pussy
You better not start duckin
Oh yo
Head on with the blow
Lo-look out in the crowd
And everybodys yellin no
Grab him by the locks
And give us a good box
The head of the below the belt
I wanna give him good tock
Tock, tock
Give him good tock
And if it below the belt
I wanna give him good tock
They yellin 1,2,3
I done hit him with that motherfu---- court piece
Tell em, tell em the mouth out
To late to cop out
Give him more head than toothpaste like I locked out

Baby 1, 2, 3
Tell em get the referee
Cause he can, get the knockout
If the telephone rings
Its emergancy
Cause he can, get the knockout
Get the knockout

(Lil Wayne)
So just knock me out
So just knock me out
Just knock me out
So just knock me out
Just knock me out
Just knock me out
Just knock me out
Just knock me out

I Love Pre-Concert Discoveries

I learned a long time ago that it's not okay to say you like something because it's "good". I guess that means it's also not okay to say you like something because it's the best thing on earth.

Of course I'm speaking of The National. What else? I'm thinking of changing this blog's name to Music Maven: Because The National Sounds Good but it's a little corny - and not correct. They sound way better than good and I never want to listen to anything else. BUT, when I do get around to putting some other music in my ears, it helps if they're slightly associated with my favorite band in the world.

Enter The Rolling Stones and Hall & Oates.

So far I've been fortunate enough to catch two concerts on The National's official summer tour and both times the pre-show music (hopefully selected by the band?) was phenomenal. I wish I wrote down every song played but two standouts were "Beast of Burden" - Rolling Stones and "Out of Touch" - H&O.  Particularly over the amazing sound system at Radio City Music Hall, these songs sounded so good I had to write them down and purchase them the next day. I should've already owned them. Both share a sexy, eerie quality that The National themselves master so well. "Out of Touch" particularly evokes this mood where the lights need to be low and shoulders need to be exposed if you know what I mean. It's an effortlessly cool sound that is perfect to open a concert like that.

I love pre-concert discoveries. I was really upset a couple years ago when I attended a She & Him show and the recorded music over the speakers was better than their real opening acts. It was this mixture of indie/classic country music that I desperately wanted to find out about. I went as far as googling some of the lyrics to one song and nothing came up. I searched online the next day to see if they had a list of the music they play before their set but no luck. If musicians have full official websites that give tons of information about their tour, their management, etc, the least they could do is add what music they play before their set! I know sometimes it's venue-chosen but when I hear the same music every time I see a band on tour, I start to grow fond of it and want to know who it is. John Mayer is another example of an artist who always has the best pre-set music but typically lame opening acts.

If you think about it, it takes a pretty bold musician to play something like The Rolling Stones before their own set. That's a lot to live up to. Once the audience who has been sitting (or standing) for two hours has "Beast of Burden" in their head, how can their songs measure up? The National has nothing to fear of course but other bands... on an unrelated note, in the film "Crazy Heart" Jeff Bridges' character is a country musician opening in a PNC Bank Arts Center-like venue for a younger, better known musician in one scene. During soundcheck, the sound guy is fighting with him saying that the sound is perfect while Bridges knows that his vocals are being drowned out. He then says that he'll stay on stage until the guy fixes it because he's been around long enough to know that technicians deliberately make the opening act sound bad so the main act sounds better. I don't know if that's true but it's something that is sort of stuck in my head now. Lately, I haven't seen many opening bands I've liked. Unfortunately.

But that pre-show music. Here's a sample of what I'm talking about. I'm now obsessed with these two songs. Next time I see The National I'm going to try to take note again and get some kind of full list of all the songs they play. Once again, I don't know who's choosing this music but they're rather remarkable. These songs fit the mood perfectly and get me into seeing a concert.

Photo courtesy of my Google image search. Sorry, don't know where it's from but I love it.

23 June 2010

Adam Lambert - June 5, 2010, Starland Ballroom

This comes rather late but I just wanted to mention the wonderful concert I was lucky enough to attend at Starland Ballroom earlier in the month. As one of the fastest sellouts in Starland history, Adam Lambert managed to live up to most of the hype and deliver a vocally phenomenal performance.

While I'm not the biggest fan of his songs individually, his voice makes up for anything the music itself may lack - and the fans! For an artist that has only been around a little more than a year, these people are pretty obsessed. While most of the crowd was females of every race, creed, and age you can imagine, the standouts to me were the young men (and even some older) dressed in Adam's trademark black eyeliner and spikey hair. These people made the night for me. Many ladies dressed for Adam as well with feathers, chains, shiny black materials, and any other synthetic fabrics out there. I'll admit that I did a little Glambertification as well. Wearing torn black tights, a brightly colored skulll t-shirt (that happened to be THE NATIONAL band shirt I picked up at a concert the night before), and black ankle boots, I was definitely trying to get in on the action.

Of course no one beat the original. Lambert looked stunning in the Cher-Lady Gaga-Rihanna sort of way. His outfits were so magnificent and arena worthy that they actually looked absurd in such a small club. With a gigantic feather in his Tom Petty-sized hat and a gorgeous jacket that I was too far back to get a good look at, he emerged at the end of a pre-recorded version of "For Your Entertainment". I will say that the beginning of the show was really odd for me. The lights went down and a random bunch of photographs of him in various glam settings came on to the screen and people started screaming like he was Mick Jagger - or more appropriately Britney Spears. The whole thing was a little too worship-like for me but then again some of these people had been waiting for 12 hours for him to get on the stage so I can understand their over-excitement (seriously, Starland had to post a warning on their site that no one would be allowed to wait over night in their parking lot and they turned their first person away over 24 hours before the show began - this is a standing room only, general admission venue after all).

I'm not an expert on the album but I'm pretty sure he did every single track off it along with an Egyptian version of Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire" (as some of you will remember from American Idol - Country Week was it? HAHA) and the wonderous Tears For Fears "Mad World". That obviously brought the house down. My absolute favorite of the night was an acoustic version of "Aftermath", a song I long forgot off the album that sounded ten times better live. Lambert's voice is a force to be reckoned with. Something that is not such a force is the strange dancing that goes on within the show. He has four dancers behind him and he also manages to get in quite a bit of choreographed dancing during the performance. It's not that it's bad, on the contrary the professional dancers are excellent at their craft, but after seeing him master Led Zeppelin on television, it's difficult to get into the zone of Pink-esque pop music that he is really a part of. I wish he would've gotten a little more rock but he was certainly trying to cater to every audience he has garnered since the American Idol days. He literally glamified every major genre, changed costumes at least four times, and sang in so many different styles that I couldn't keep track. He is trying in a big way. I can't wait to see where he is in five years.

Also, I must say, Adam Lambert is a great personality to be with for a little over an hour. His rapport with the audience was so easy, it was almost as if he was friends with everyone in the venue. He's articulate, funny, and rather witty - one of those people you can instantly tell is intelligent and has a sense of self. This was only his second stop on his first ever concert tour and he really did a fine job.

Adam Lambert - June 5, 2010 - Starland Ballroom Setlist

Down The Rabbit Hole
Ring of Fire
Sleep Walker
Whataya Want From Me
Sure Fire Winners
Music Again
Broken Open
If I Had You

Mad World

This is my favorite kind of video. Just found this on Youtube and although it's not the greatest sound quality, it gives you that 'concert feeling'. The wonderful excitement of the crowd cheering and singing along with every word. Watch and enjoy. "Aftermath" is a great song.

Photos courtesy of myself and my ridiculous camera.

Music Video to Love: Why Don't You Love Me - Beyonce

I'm positively in love with this video. Yeah, what a surprise that I'm overly excited about something, I know, but this is exquisitely done and so different. Beyonce may be one the most mainstream artists around but she continuously proves her artistic integrity. Not only is she drop dead gorgeous in this video but the song itself is relatively unique and it's something I could picture myself listening to regularly.

Really though most of the credit must go towards the visuals. Everything from her makeup (which is art in itself) to her stunning, sexy costumes to her martini glass is perfect. I'm so impressed with this video. It's the kind that makes me really sad that this is basically a dying art form. I did first catch it on the 24 hour music video channel, MTV Hits though so there's still a glimmer of hope.

In a time when Christina Aguilera is failing to reinvent herself as a retro sexpot and Lady Gaga has begun to overdo the crazy, Beyonce does both wonderfully.

I promise the next four minutes of your life will not be wasted.

20 June 2010

Happy Father's Day

For 18 years now I haven't had anyone to call Dad. One of the most important words in the English language is not one that has ever really been in my vocabulary. My father was one of the most interesting, troubled, funny, weird characters I've ever heard of though. No father is perfect and mine was even further than most but I still feel unusually lucky. I'm not prepared to give a speech here or write a eulogy but my father was a musician - a brilliant drummer - and he looked the part to perfection. What I missed in time with him is continuously given back to me through music I know he loved and music I imagine he would've enjoyed. In my still 6 year old eyes, I see his curly blond hair and picture every blond musician as having a piece of my father's spirit. I see a man with big, broad shoulders with a little girl and see him and what I had at that age - for a little while at least. I remember his silver jewelry, skull collections, faded blue jeans, high top sneakers.. classic hair metal band style. I never used to miss him but I miss him everyday now. I don't have a single physical item of his but I have 50% of everything he was and that means a lot more. This blog wouldn't exist without him, my love of Led Zeppelin wouldn't exist without him, and my own face wouldn't exist without him so I owe him a lot. I feel a huge gaping hole inside when I think about it too much but I thought I'd take this second to pay a little homage to some music my father, the card carrying rock drummer, Chip "the Wolf" Pepe, loved.

Hanoi Rocks - Finnish rock band and a favorite of Guns 'N Roses.

Rose Tattoo - Wish I could remember the story about this but a few years ago I had my friend burn an entire cd of their music because I needed to know what they sounded like. They were one of his favorites.

And now a couple bands with frontmen who look like him:

Apparently he would sometimes get mistaken for Robert Plant. This is the most frequent story I hear when I ask about my dad. Now how many daughters can say that?

The brilliant and underrated Lee Michaels. I can't count the times my mom has told me the cover of his album "5th" looks like my dad. I got my own copy of the album last week.

When bands like The New York Dolls play at the venue I work at, he's always in the back of my head.. really he's always there.

Happy Father's Day.

Music Maven Record Collection

The other day I finally got around to cataloging my records. It wasn't a grueling task but it was one of those things that I always meant to do but never had the patience for. Now I realize that there's not really a place online to even record them. I registered with recordnerd.com but unfortunately without the use of Microsoft Office on my computer, I have no access to a spreadsheet therefore no access to completing my profile on the site. I can't believe there's not a database on the entire internet for vinyl. It's a little depressing, right?

Anyway, I don't have a great collection of rare gems or anything but as of now I have around 200 albums that make me really happy to own and will contribute greatly to a new segment I have planned for the site. If I have any goal this summer it's to learn more than I ever have about my favorite musicians.

If you're interested, click here.

Music Video to Love: Bloodbuzz Ohio - The National

This is seriously porn for me: Matt Berninger. Trench Coats. Beards. Vests. Wine.

Is there anything else to say? I can't believe its taken me this long to post. I have probably watched it 50 times and it's the only video I bought for my iPod. It's hard to believe he looks like that and gets to have that voice. Lucky guy.

17 June 2010

The National, Electric Factory - June 4, 2010

Since I've already over indulged in the last post about The National, I will keep this to a minimum. Friday, June 4th was my second time seeing this band at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia, PA. It's an okay place filled with an okay staff and an okay sound system. What made this evening special of course was The National themselves. After waiting two hours for doors to open, my comrades and I were lucky enough to secure front row center spots and wait another two hours (or maybe even longer) for The National to finally hit the stage. I do not want to be the one to say this but opening act The Antlers left much to be desired. I was extremely unfulfilled in a way that almost soured the first few minutes of The National's set. I can't understand why a song that has no emotional gravity must be over 10 minutes long. That is probably 7 1/2 minutes too many. Some of these songs might actually be really decent if it weren't for the fact that many sounded the same to me (possibly because of the sound quality of the venue) and the length drove me crazy. On a positive note, I know this band has a pretty good following and a lot of people with great taste have told me multiple times that this is a band to check out so I'm not writing them completely off just yet - and really - is it fair to judge anyone on the same night as The National?

The wait was well worth it once they hit the stage. With the trademark blazer on his back and wine glass in his hand, Matt Berninger made this another concert for the books. The packed crowd was treated to the classics "About Today", "Cherry Tree", and one of my personal favorites, "Baby, We'll Be Fine". To say that this was a phenomenal setlist is an understatement. Hearing some of these songs for the first time live was an absolute treat and well worth braving the weirdos in Philadelphia yelling at you to park your car in abandoned areas for $10 and your hat.

Since I was standing a little further off to the side, I had the pleasure of being directly in front of Bryce Dessner most of the night and it was the first time I was able to see firsthand how incredible this man is at his craft. The unbelievable intensity he has while playing is not only fascinating to see but technically perfect. And this can truly be said about any member of the band. Every individual is so talented and professional that it is genuinely astonishing. There is so much detail and texture in every note that I am continuously blown away by the cumulative power of it all. There is not a single portion of a National show that I walk away being disappointed by. No matter what night you catch them, it is obvious that they are putting their entire heart and soul into the actions.

Thankfully, we were able to capture some of the best shots of the band that I have ever had the fortune of getting which display their emotional intensity pretty well. Although this was a bit of a somber night in terms of catching any wonderfully crazy antics from Mr. Berninger, it was special in other ways. There was a spontaneous authenticity that brought electricity to the room.

And not just because it was the "Electric" Factory. (haha?)
The National Setlist - Electric Factory, June 4, 2010

Mistaken For Strangers
Anyone's Ghost
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Baby We'll Be Fine
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Afraid of Everyone
Little Faith
Racing Like A Pro
Conversation 16
Apartment Story
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks
Cherry Tree
Fake Empire
Mr. November


Terrible Love
About Today

The National, Radio City Music Hall - June 16, 2010

I have no choice but to start this entry from my phone on the bus home from Radio City Music Hall. The concert I just experienced was probably the best of my life. I am slightly dumbstruck right now by what I just witnessed but there must be a way to sum it up.

The first time I saw The National was Hammerstein Ballroom for a New York Magazine party I had heard about a few weeks earlier. I was already beginning to fall in love with this band and was starting the still neverending saga of nonstop listening but as with any relationship, I didn't know how long it was going to last. I've seen hundreds of bands in my short span on earth and some have been great - others are okay. You never know. So much depends on the personality of the musicians themselves, not just the songs.

Matt Berninger changed my way of thinking about concerts. I work at a music venue, I see different kinds of artists make different kinds of splashes in their own way every other night. Never had I seen a vocalist so involved with what he was saying. His emotional experience on stage made the experience for the people off of it exuberant. I was taken back and it took me a while after the show was over to understand my feelings. This wasn't idol worship at a Tom Petty concert or oogling James Mercer and his cutesy humming at a Shins show. This was something so real that it was practically tangible. I was hooked after that one performance. Yeah, Matt Berninger is not the first frontman to throw an alcoholic beverage at the back of the stage or break a microphone stand but I've come to learn that every night those moments come from a place I can't even understand. My words, as usual, are probably a waste trying to explain something that you have to see to understand. Berninger's intensity on stage is so incredibly powerful that it takes over the focus of the room. And amazingly, it is not just in the crazy moments of wine glass flinging and crowd surfing, it is in the quiet moments when it is just his deep baritone voice and a single spotlight that the exceptional power comes out.

That was particularly the case tonight at Radio City. Performing the fan favorite and long missing song in so many sets of late, "Daughters of the Soho Riots" stood out like a bright green peacock in the middle of this stunning venue. The sound of Berninger's voice was simply the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. I am not afraid to tell you that I cried at Carnegie Hall last year when another stunning ballad "Runaway" was still being called "Karamozov" in its early stages. I was surprised by the instantaneous feeling it gave me. That kind of rush of emotions over a song didn't seem right. I don't typically cry over the emotional depth of a song but once again tonight I was struck with the same feeling. It is not even my favorite National song but there are few perfect matches as Matt Berninger and "Runaway". He was meant to sing those words. Radio City was given a planetarium-like makeover with spinning starryesque lights chasing one another throughout the audience and the moment was awe-inspiring.

"Conversation 16", my current favorite off the new album High Violet, finally got the justice it deserved as well. Maybe it was the backdrop of one of the most famous venues in the world or the lighting that served the song perfectly but, well, let me just set the stage for you: Berninger opens with saying the song is about cannibalism, someone (I think it was Aaron Dessner) says, "this song is just weird", then lights go down, they go through the verses and the light shines on Berninger as he sings, "I was afraid I'd eat your brains" - then lights go red and the explosion of "'cause I'm-m-m evil". This segueing directly into one of my favorite lines on the entire album:

"I'm a confident liar, had my head in the oven so you'd know where I'd be, I try to be more romantic, I want to believe in everything you believe."

Later on, the brilliant, sexy, and vaguely dark "Lemonworld" was an incredible addition to the encore (that no matter what could not be long enough). And of course, the masterpiece of the evening - like any good National evening - "Mr. November". Where to begin! I have probably seen this song live ten times and never was it as good as the Radio City version. It was the kind of performance that should go down in history. Imagine, a bearded man in a smart, sophisticated suit holding the longest microphone wire you have ever seen scaling the walls of a music hall - literally climbing the edges of the walls to reach the mezzanine and then walking through the entire front row of the mezzanine, falling along the way on audience members, then walking back to the stage in the opposite direction with the wire going over the entire length of the orchestra section. Barely missing a word, not breaking anything, and getting safely back on stage. I wish I had a photograph of the faces with jaws open and eyes wide staring and smiling in disbelief at the greatest frontman in rock music. There is no one that even comes close to Matt Berninger. I try to refrain from saying such grandiose statements that might seem embarrassing but I firmly believe this.

The show ended with the best version of "Terrible Love" I have heard and somewhere in between this lucky audience also got to hear "Available" off the older but equally magnificent album Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks", another new song I never appreciated enough until last night, and "Abel", jokingly referenced as a quiet song, among others.

Every time I write about The National I tell myself that I will contain the gushing to maybe one sentence. I will try to be objective and think from a "music journalist's" perspective. Luckily, I have no idea how to do that so I can only be honest. I can only suggest that you get on Youtube immediately and find some footage of this unbelievable concert. I will also say that it was not just The National that helped to make this one of the best sounding events I've witnessed - the quality and precision at Radio City Music Hall is haunting. The technical beauty of this place is indescribable. I've never been more excited at a concert and I wonder if I ever will.

The National - Radio City Music Hall Setlist - June 16, 2010

Mistaken for Strangers
Anyone's Ghost
Bloodbuzz Ohio
Secret Meeting
Slow Show
Squalor Victoria
Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks (with St. Vincent)
Afraid of Everyone (with Sufjan Stevens)
Little Faith
Conversation 16
Apartment Story
Daughters Of The Soho Riots
Fake Empire

Mr. November
Terrible Love

Photograph from my collection - Electric Factory, June 4, 2010 (review and more photos still to come)

05 June 2010

Fitz & the Tantrums - May 28, 2010

I had the privledge of seeing Fitz & the Tantrums last Friday night at the Mercury Lounge, a band I've written about before here. Fitz and his Tantrums has been one of the few musical acts in the past couple years that I became genuinely excited about within an instant of listening to them. I originally found them on iTunes while looking up similar acts to Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and upon listening to Fitz, their sound immediately hit me as the exact kind of soul revival sound that I'm always talking about here on Music Mavens.

On their studio EP, Songs For a Break-Up - Vol. 1, they have an authentic quality to their retro sound that makes me actually believe them as opposed to some other wannabe soul revitalists that have hit the airwaves as of late. Live, this band takes that a step further and brings a fun vibe to their music that is missing in a lot of modern concert atmospheres. It's not just a concert but an interactive event. Songs like "Winds of Change" and my personal favorite "Don't Gotta Work it Out" brought people of all ages down to the ground, up to the sky, and got them shaking their derrieres all over the place.

And while it may seem that Fitz is the lead vocalist of this band (he's got some moves!), co-singer Noelle Scaggs manages to steal the spotlight more than a few times within the concert with her high octane dancing and gorgeous vocal stylings that were not only impressive but surprising - I didn't recall her having such a large part on the record. Similarly, drummer John Wicks and bass player Ethan Phillips, stood out significantly to me throughout the show and that alone is a testament of a good band dynamic.

Although I didn't come in anticipating such a high energy, almost event-like spectacle, it was one of the most interesting concert experiences I've ever had. Seeing an entire floor of twentysomethings and beyond, probably most tipsy, obeying every word of a musician - no matter how silly (ex. "It's been a long week, go crazy!") - is usually unheard of yet Fitz & the Tantrums have already mastered the art of audience/musician interaction. They're hitting that line right between fun and cheesy but in a way that manages to stay classy. Fitz and the gang's excellent choice of smart suits don't hurt either.

A lot of credit has to go to a band that doesn't even have a full length album out yet they get a crowd going wild as if they know the words to every song - even though they've probably never heard most of them in their life.

Check out their website here. Very cool cats. Wish I had the setlist.

Photo courtesy of Fitz & the Tantrums Myspace