Sunday, November 28, 2004

Huma On Trial 

The double DJ duty weekend went just fine. Playlists here and here. We got pretty good crowds at the bar, considering that the town seemed pretty empty all weekend. There was even a parking space right in front of my house for a while one afternoon. Almost makes me want to get a car.

There's a great benefit show Monday night on the campus of my alma mater, Rutgers. The incomparable Hamell On Trial will be performing, and that alone is reason to rearrange your Monday night and make sure your face is in the place. I've seen Hamell probably about 20 times, and I say with not one ounce of hyperbole that he may very well be the best live performer on the planet. It's a one-man acoustic folk-punk tsunami that must be experienced to be believed. Hamell's going on first, because he's also playing Fez in NYC tomorrow at 10. Busy man. Anyone who goes to both gigs deserves a free lollipop.

Huma, a fine, fine New Brunswick band, are also playing this benefit. I've been spending a lot of time in 2004 listening to the dreamy electronic pop tunes on their first, self-titled EP. I'm proud to say I booked Huma to play Thursday, Dec. 9 at the Goldhawk, so anyone in the Rock City who can't make it down to the Hub City can catch them in the neighborhood. I'll have more on that show, and on Huma, later in the week.

Also appearing tomorrow are Amy Goodman, who you WBAI fans surely know, and Starling Escape, who I am not familiar with. Here are the details.

A Benefit for Independent Media & Feminist Action
Speak Out For Change

Monday, Nov. 29
Trayes Hall, Douglass Campus Center, Rutgers University
Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Amy Goodman (from Democracy Now!)
Hamell On Trial  (from Righteous Babe Records) - 7:15 p.m.
Huma (New Brunswick's own) - 8:15 p.m.
Starling Escape (sure to make you smile)

Raising Awareness and Funding for:  WBAI 99.5 FM NYC  Peace & Justice Radio, The Joy of Resistance Feminist Radio, & The Rock 'n Roll Camp for Girls!

$5 Rutgers students
$7 non-Rutgers students

Tickets available in advance at the Douglass Campus Center.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Goodbye, Goodbye, That Place Called Vertigo 

Like the rest of the free world, I bought the U2 CD yesterday. People were damn near stepping on each other to get at the thing in the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. I bought the standard-issue, no-frills version which they had for $14.99, which is the absolute most I will pay for a non-import CD. For another five bucks, there was a bonus DVD version, but the content didn't sound too thrilling to me. And of course there was also the obligatory super-mambo-deluxe packaging with a book (why just listen to the new U2 album when you can read it?) and, I don't know what else it comes with. A pair of Bono's sunglasses, maybe.

At the risk of sounding like a hater, which I am not, I have to say I was woefully unimpressed with the record after spinning it once. The last track, "Yahweh," sounded like Joshua Tree-era stuff, and it stuck out as a highlight. "Vertigo"—aka their re-write of "Ray Of Light" (not that that's a bad thing)—is already done. How sad is it that the band that is the worldwide standard-bearer for cool rock & roll has overexposed their new album's lead single to the point that everyone—and I think I speak for everyone on the planet here, if I may be so bold—was sick of the thing before the album it appears on had even been commercially released? For real, I played the song at my gig last Saturday, and about a minute into it I thought: "Wow, this feels really lame. I wish I hadn't played this."

Look, I'm not giving up on them, or on this album after one measly spin. They're still a great band by any measure. But this is roughly the same feeling I had when I bought the R.E.M. album the day it came out last month. Both bands have been recording artists for about 24 years. While they're probably never going to do anything completely terrible, they are never going to equal their greatest achievements, either. Perhaps the letdown is inevitable. At this stage of their career, the Stones were making Steel Wheels. Hey, "Almost Hear You Sigh" is a pretty good song, but on balance I'll take what these whippersnappers from Athens and Dublin are doing instead.

I also picked up the new Gwen Stefani, which on first listening was pretty good. The purchase of the day, though, was Words & Music, the two-disc Mellencamp comp that came out about a month ago. I know that praising this isn't exactly going to score me points with hipsters in Williamsburg, and I myself am guilty of certain aesthetic prejudices that will probably prevent me from ever playing the 'camp during a club set (I might have busted "Jack & Diane" once—once!—in, like, '99), but this is one of the best hits compilations I have ever heard in my life. And I've heard a few. I plan to do a full review of it sometime soon.

Have a great feast.

Panic In The Streets Of... 

I was gripped by a brief but intense moment of panic last night after work when it occurred to me that I was now a, um, blogger. I'd been planning to launch the thing for months, and now that it was finally a reality, it hit me: what am I going to write tomorrow?

Don't I have enough pressure in my life, enough deadlines, enough commitments? What am I thinking, creating more work for myself?

Then I got over it. Whew.

I'm doing the double-whammy gig this weekend, both Friday and Saturday over at The Goldhawk. Thanksgiving weekend can be a hit-or-miss affair in Hoboken, but I know we have some parties coming in on Friday, so that should be a happening night. Not sure what'll be going on Saturday, but I'm bringing the music and the bar will be stocked with alcohol, so what's the worst that could happen?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Smiles, everyone, smiles... 

Allow myself to introduce myself. My name is Mike C. and I am from New Jersey. For the past eight years, I've been living a few blocks from the easternmost edge of the mainland United States, in Hoboken. Since my senior year of college at Rutgers, I have been working in the music business. I'm an editor; I compile, edit, fact-check, proofread, and sometimes write the copy that appears in CD packaging, as well as print advertising, for a major label. Also since college, I've been writing about music. For the last five years, I've been playing DJ, and these days I have a Saturday night residency at The Goldhawk. Earlier this year, I started up Hoboken Rock City Radio.

Hoboken is a great rock and roll town. Maybe it's the company I tend to keep, but I've met more people in creative and artistic fields hanging out in Hoboken bars than I've ever met on the Lower East Side. My little town is teeming with writers, artists, and musicians. We have a world-class rock club in Maxwell's, great recording studios like the Think Tank and Water Music, a well-respected musical instrument shop in the Guitar Bar, and a phenomenal indie record store in Tunes. Hoboken has retained its rock and roll culture despite absorbing a couple waves of Wall Streeters and well-to-do yuppies over the last two decades. For all the construction and gentrification that has taken place, the city that gave birth to baseball, Blimpie, and the greatest popular singer of the 20th century remains, at its core, an artistic community. I'll take Hoboken over Brooklyn, which, despite some lovely neighborhoods, has half the character and ten times the crime, at twice the price. Do the math.

With all apologies to Robbie Williams, I'm a rock DJ. If you're looking for a slick turntablist with perfect beat-matching abilities, an expert on techno or hip hop, or a vinyl purist, I am not your guy. That's not to say I've never seamlessly beat-matched Saint Etienne into OutKast, or played Eric B. & Rakim at the club (it's rare, but I do go there), or dropped a spot of techno (even rarer, and even then only if you count "Born Slippy"), or spun wax (sometimes I bring a stack). But rock in all its glorious forms, from ABC to ZZ Top (though more ABC than ZZ Top), is my jumping off point.

I'm not apologizing for any of this. It's just that there are lots of self-appointed so-called purists out there who like to disparage DJs who do anything other than seamlessly beat-match dance records together. Hey, I have all the respect in the world for the DJs who do that. It's an art and a science. I just come from a different school, and I don't think it's a less legit school than anyone else's. So I will be sharing my thoughts and experiences on the DJ life from my perspective, which might sound rockist at first, but I assure you is a good deal more nuanced than that. But just to be on the safe side, don't tell Kelefa Sanneh, mmmkay?

hobokenrockcity.com has been around since 2001, but the new version just went live today. Where the original site was a pretty static affair, serving mostly as a vessel for my DJ schedule, playlists, and a few CD reviews and best-of lists, this new version ups the ante. On the blog, I plan to focus a lot on music and a little on politics; the rest is anything goes. New Jersey matters will figure prominently. Hey, I like New York as much as the next guy, I've worked there for more than a decade now, and I feel lucky to live really, really close to the place. But the New Jersey scene need not exist only as an extension of New York's. There are passionate voices out there who do their best to spread the Garden State gospel, good people like Tris McCall, Jim Testa, Andy Gesner, Sean Carolan, my dear friend Pat Pierson, and many other dedicated souls; and still New Jersey is woefully underappreciated and undercovered. Though this site certainly will discuss plenty of events that take place in Manhattan, other parts of New York, and elsewhere, I will endeavor to pay particular attention to N.J. happenings.

The home page will remain the hub for news and updates on my gigs, my writing, and the radio show. Playlists from the club gigs only go back to December of '02. Perhaps I will flesh out the playlist archives at some point. Newly posted interviews and reviews will appear on the blog and also on their respectively designated pages. I hope to interview artists and other people of import on somewhat of a regular basis. Playing reporter is something I enjoy, and I don't do it often enough. In the coming days, look for a brand-new interview I did recently with Scott Geller of I Am The World Trade Center, the synth-pop geniuses from Athens, Georgia who made one of the best albums of this year.

Databases of past interviews, reviews I've written, and selected other writings are now active. The biggest bulk of it was written for YEAH YEAH YEAH, the print-only rock zine which I've been managing editor of since Pat Pierson started it in early 1996. A fair amount of stuff has been posted, and there is more to come as I sift through my personal archives of the last decade or so. Much of this material has never appeared before on the web.

A huge debt of gratitude goes to JIM ROMAINE, the original architect of this website who has now outdone himself with this revamped version. In building this site, his intelligence and creativity were exceeded only by his patience. Other than blood relatives and a single-digit number of family friends, I've known Jim longer than anybody. He is a great guy, and I count myself lucky to have remained friends with him since kindergarten or so. Thanks, man.

Thanks, too, to anyone who's come out to a gig, listened to the radio show, or read the site so far. I'm just getting warmed up.

Welcome to Hoboken Rock City Mach 2. Hope you enjoy our new direction.

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