Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Tipsy Tuesday 

No, I didn't die. Did spend the most (only?) beautiful week of the summer in cool Cape May, which I might have time to write about if I ever get my home computer working again.

Anyway, hope you're thirsty. Tonight I'm spinning tunes from 9:30 p.m. until whenever at the Ding Dong Lounge, and all drinks are happy hour prices all night long. They also generously offer 5 bottles of Rheingold for a Hamilton. Make it an uptown Tipsy Tuesday.

929 Columbus Ave. between 105th St. & 106th St., NYC
TONIGHT, Tuesday, August 30
9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Stevie Wonder, Secretary Of Fine Arts, at The Apollo Theater 

I can die now.

That's about the most Bangsian statement I can make after seeing Stevie Wonder and his band play a blistering set of soul classics at The Apollo Theater on Thursday, August 11.

For every rough and tumble funk jam he's authored, he's pumped out two mid-tempo ballads that sound at home on Lite FM, yet there's something a little bit punk about this musical icon. Maybe 'cause he's blind, maybe 'cause he's black, maybe 'cause he's political. Mass-appeal punk, surely, as the sound of the melodies he has written, sung, and played on his piano and keyboard and harmonica and damn near every other instrument are a permanent fixture of American culture. Despite missteps ("I Just Called To Say I Love You") and a low profile the last two decades (his soon-to-be-released new album A Time To Love will be only his second new full-length non-soundtrack work in the last 18 years, though he did play Live8), Stevie's star has continued to shine as the Jamiroquais and D'Angelos of the world have tried to imitate his style and new generations have gravitated toward his timeless artistry.

From the front row center seats of the first mezzanine at The Apollo, the bird's eye view was of one of the foremost artists in the hair-over-a-hundred-year-old history of recorded popular music doing his thing. In the second of two rare performances to benefit and raise awareness about The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (peep a good review of the first show here), some provisions of which are set to expire before the next presidential election, Stevie Wonder mastered two tasks; for the program's first hour, he served as the personable and often hilarious host of a symposium on the meaning of the Voting Rights Act while introducing guest artists and teasing the crowd with a couple of his own numbers. For the rest of the evening, he dug in behind the piano and keyboards and set about redefining the phrase "tour de force" with a 100-minute show of powerhouse musicality and showmanship.

Rarely does an artist receive a standing ovation just for walking onto a stage to speak, but of course Stevie got just such a reception from the crowd as he was escorted onto the Apollo stage by his assistant Brian. Once the house quieted down and Wonder began to speak, a few people in the crowd blurted out "We love you!" and other terms of endearment, but most fans were well-behaved as Stevie explained the reasons for the two benefit shows. I confess I had no idea that some of the provisions of the 1965 law passed by Congress to protect everyone's right to vote in this country are, alarmingly, set to expire in 2007. The Motown legend sat at the piano and played "Heaven Help Us All," a somewhat forgotten #9 hit from 1970. The song fit in with the lingering tone of religion in the air (Jesus apparently supports The Voting Rights Act) but also transcended it.

A long sports jacket couldn't hide the fact that Stevie has put on some pounds, and the hairline that leads to the famous mane of long, straight braided hair has receded to mid-head; yet somehow, Stevie could not have looked more resplendent. When he opened his mouth, it was awe-inspiring to hear how he's lost virtually nothing off his voice over the decades. The range is still there, all the fullness, the rich texture, the sweetness. You could tell from that first song that the vocals were going to be spot-on all night. He was that good.

He began "Heaven Help Us All" solo on piano, but offstage instruments joined in toward the end of the song, making it clear that a full band would be rocking the place for the evening. When the curtain came up, that band—I don't have their names, but the lineup was guitar, bass, drums, percussion, keyboards, sax, and four backup singers (three female, one male)—accompanied guest performer Chuck Jackson on his signature song, "Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)" (#23 in 1962). Chuck looked and sounded great. Stevie brought him back onstage for a quick a capella run through some of Chuck's other Top 40 hit, "I Don't Want To Cry."

Jersey City's own Richie Havens was the evening's other major musical guest. Seated and accompanying himself on his trademark acoustic guitar, he sounded fine doing Jackson Browne's "Lives In The Balance" and the Woodstock classic "Freedom," despite breaking a guitar string during the first song. Stevie called Richie back onstage and basically insisted that he play "that George Harrison song"—"Here Comes The Sun"—which Richie seemed sheepish about doing. His stool was summoned back onstage and while Havens sat, Stevie held a mic up to his mouth for the duration of the song. It was a cool, clearly spontaneous moment, but at the same time, I was almost pissed. No disrespect to Mr. Havens, but I'd already seen him before, at The Hoboken Arts & Music Festival a few years back. I'd paid a lot of money to see Stevie; it was Stevie I came to see.

When the guest stars were done and the speeches were over, Stevie Wonder sat at the piano bench. "Love's In Need Of Love Today." Yes! Have 29 years really passed since this was released? Aside from concerns about the singer's voice, the other great musical fear that plagued me in advance of the show—that the arrangements would somehow grate, with cheesy keyboard tones or inappropriate guitar or background keyboard fills—also was never realized. A full horn section would have made a big difference, but live sax plus backup keyboardist doubling up the parts sounded strangely ok. There were a few fleeting moments when the sax player hovered near Cheeseville, but just when you thought the song would go off a cliff and do a Thelma & Louise-style crash into Smooth Jazz Land (which is neither smooth nor jazz, discuss), the band would pull back and restore the proper essence of the song. Collective sigh.

Most of the sold-out crowd was at rapt, respectful attention, when they weren't dancing fools When requests were yelled, Wonder acknowledged them but remained solidly in control of the proceedings. "Let me do my thing," he said, and the people did. There was one moment in the show when Stevie asked what Al Sharpton's favorite Stevie Wonder song was, and apparently Rev. Al wasn't in the room at that time. Someone called out, "He likes 'Isn't She Lovely'" and Stevie quickly shot back, "Don't speak for the reverend!" Mentioning his new album, the release of which has been delayed several times already, Wonder spoke to Motown head Sylvia Rhone and Universal honcho Doug Morris, who were both seated somewhere on the floor, and kicked around the idea of a September 20 or 27 release date. It was odd, but also in keeping with the somewhat loose, intimate nature of the night.

That looseness found its way into the set, too. Not in a technical sense; the musicians were on point, and except for flubbing the first two lines of "Sir Duke," Stevie's vocal delivery was perfect. (At the beginning of the song, he started singing the second verse ["Music knows it is and always will..."] instead of the first ["Music is a world within itself..."]) The loose vibe manifested itself in the way Stevie and the band segued from one song to the next, sometimes stopping to throw in a verse or two of a song without playing the whole thing.

It's part of the R&B tradition that medleys are an intrinsic part of most live shows. Sadly, Stevie did not entirely buck this convention. Sure, it's kind of cool that he did a verse of "Rocket Love" while transitioning from one song to another and a quick stab at "Where Were You When I Needed You" (but not "Superwoman") at one point as well, but it's also frustrating as hell. It was kind of like when I saw Prince last year. I'd gladly sacrifice hearing parts of five or six songs I love in exchange for hearing one or two songs I love in their entirety. Maybe that's just the formalist in me, or the completist. It was bad enough that "If You Really Love Me" (which, incidentally, is Stevie Wonder's best song, by a head and a neck and a shoulder, and perhaps even the best song ever written, with the possible exception of "O-O-H Child") and "My Cherie Amour" (easily one of his 10 best, and this is a competitive list, mind you) were truncated. Only about two-thirds of each was performed, though that was enough to register as close to a full performance of those songs.

Many of the most important songs—the "Sir Dukes" and "You Are The Sunshine Of My Lifes"—were delivered in their full glory. "All I Do" was a juicy slab of funk-pop. "I Wish" was an instant party. "Superstition" and "Higher Ground" might as well have been lifted from the type of vintage performances you see in commercials for a Time-Life compilation CD. Hey, who brought the time machine?

After I saw both Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in 1989, George Harrison stood alone atop the list of "living musical artists I've never seen who I'd most like to see." I never got to see him; I believe his only U.S. live appearance in the last 20-plus years of his life was when he sang "Absolutely Sweet Marie" at Bobfest at Madison Square Garden in 1992, a show I couldn't afford a ticket for as a college student. Funny, Stevie was there too.

When George died in November 2001, Mr. Wonder assumed that lofty title of Favorite Artist I've Never Seen. I figured I'd get my shot at seeing Stevie eventually, but I imagined it would be at Radio City Music Hall at best; at worst, Madison Square Garden. I never dreamed I'd be in the center of the front row of the first mezz at the cozy Apollo, looking down at a mere eight rows of seats between me and the stage, with an unobstructed view of Stevie's hands as they moved up and down the keys of a grand piano.

Hopefully I'll get to see Stevie again, though topping this Apollo experience is basically impossible. The fun part is that now I get to name a new Favorite Artist I've Never Seen and set about seeing him or her or them. Among the all-time legends, who do I need to see now—Brian Wilson? Neil Young? The Cure? Sonny Rollins?

Partial set list, incomplete, not exact order:

Heaven Help Us All
Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird) - Chuck Jackson
I Don't Want To Cry - Chuck Jackson
Uptight (Everything's Alright)
Lives In The Balance - Richie Havens
Freedom - Richie Havens
Here Comes The Sun - Richie Havens
Love's In Need Of Love Today
Higher Ground
Master Blaster (Jammin')
If You Really Love Me
My Cherie Amour
Rocket Love
All I Do
Sir Duke
I Wish
You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
How Will I Know (with Aisha Wonder)
Isn't She Lovely
Ribbon In The Sky
Where Were You When I Needed You
Send One Your Love
Do I Do
Did I Hear You Say You Love Me
So What The Fuss

If you're not familiar with Stevie Wonder's major albums, go buy Music Of My Mind, Talking Book, Innervisions, Fulfillingness' First Finale, Songs In The Key Of Life, Hotter Than July, and a good collection of the '60s hits. Now. If you can, do yourself a favor and find Where I'm Coming From, the criminally overlooked 1970 masterwork that sold a paltry 7,833 copies in the U.S. after SoundScan was instituted in 1991, and is now out of print, awaiting reissue.

If you are familiar with this music, the set list speaks for itself.

And The Home Computer Has Me On The Run 

My computer and I are having issues. We'll leave it at that. I have written a treatise of sorts on the amazing Stevie Wonder show I saw at The Apollo last week, and said "issues" have kept me from finishing it to date. I hope to have it up here soon.

In the meantime, go see two bands I've played on my show, The Head Set and Group Sounds, playing back-to-back tonight at Pianos, starting at 8:30 p.m. And go read Tris' new blog.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Catching Up With Hoboken, Weehawken, Jersey City, Brooklyn Blogs* 

Jersey City's Tris McCall is hard at work on his next album. Can't wait to hear what he'll come up with next. In the meantime, he's now offering free MP3 downloads of some of his music, putting a new tune online each week. The first offering is a great unreleased song, "Not Just Anyone," and the second one "I Know What Happens Next" is from his old band The Favorite Color. Tris is also recently published some music-related reviews for the first time in a while, which is great news because his music criticism is required reading. The new twist is that this time he's reviewing videos at Music Video Press. (*trismccall.net, of course, is a website, not a weblog.)

One of my favorite online finds of late is fellow Jersey-based music blogger Extrawack! Was nice to see his Nike Run-Hit Wonder piece got picked up by Brooklyn Vegan.

Speaking of BV, he posts so often that keeping up with him is a challenge, if a rewarding one. Recent highlights include a list of upcoming CMJ performers and a whole lotta CBGB updates.

Though Jim Testa made some pointed remarks earlier this summer about CBGB's lack of vitality in recent years, he does believe New York City just would not be the same without the club, and his Jersey Beat is a co-sponsor of this Thursday's installment of the month-long series of benefit shows there. Testa is performing along with High Speed Chase and many others. I'd be all over that if I hadn't spent about $9 million for tickets to see the greatest of all living musical legends who I have never previously seen, Stevie Wonder, that night at The Apollo.

Vegan also touched on the situation at Lookout! Records, the legendary California punk rock label that let go its entire staff this past week because of Green Day's decision to take ownership of their first two albums. The band's action will leave the cash-strapped indie label without a steady income flow. At first glance, this may seem callous of the band, especially with their renewed popularity since the release of last year's American Idiot. One could argue Lookout! put Green Day on the map, then again one could argue the reverse. Either way, the group has been owed royalties on those records for years. Lookout! has a few cool current artists on its roster, but they haven't had any breakout hits, and they relied too heavily on royalties from two early-'90s Green Day records to keep themselves afloat. Coolfer's got a good summary of the situation.

Lookout!'s very sweet radio promo person helped me out a lot with my podcast, and sadly she is among those who lost their jobs in the wake of all this. Another potential bummer of particular local concern is that Lookout! is the label of one of New Jersey's current musical treasures, Bloomfield's own Ted Leo. Wonder if there will be a place for him at the new Lookout!, which will be run by the label's three owners. Moreover, you have to question whether it would be a good idea to stay at a label that will surely have limited resources to promote him.

Shout outs to Hoboken and Jersey City bloggers who are less obsessed with music than I am...

Where Is The Remote? has done some spectacular work lately. His pieces on the surveillance cameras at The Madison, the Willow Autobahn, and the Jesus statue thing (the local story of the last two weeks, which I've managed not to mention until now) are all must-reads. Particularly impressive is the Jesus post, which contains an audio interview with Julio Dones, owner and curator of the statue over in Hoboken's fourth ward that allegedly opened its eye, obviously signifying a true blue spectacle, I mean a miracle.

Can we all chip in and lure Remote?'s Row away from his Fortune 500 job so we can have his type of thoughtful writing at The Hoboken Reporter? Surely he could come up with better front-page headlines than "Finger And All." It also bears mentioning that the Reporter needs to put at least a one-year moritorium on headlines that end in question marks. Such weak construction should make any self-respecting second-year journalism major cringe.

Hoboken video blogger Bullemhead has done some neat work, including the video where he took a camera into the voting booth during this spring's election, a piece I should have linked to ages ago. One recent post is not a piece of original work, but a handy link to the full video of Robert "Giant Douchebag" Novak's on-air meltdown last week, "bullshit" included. Hey, it's Bullemhead's nickname for Mr. Novak, not mine. We report, you decide.

Back over in Jersey City, New York's Sixth reviews J.C.'s slim supermarket pickings and continues to follow local architecture and city planning.

Dojo Mojo (Dojo is shorthand for Downtown Jersey City) is fast becoming another valuable local resource. Recent features included photos of Jersey City's Bolivian parade, an electrical explosion in town, and The Waterbug Arts Festival.

Here in the Rock City, Mister Snitch is busy as ever, both as meta-blogger and as o.p. (original pundit). The more Snitch reveals about his politics, the less I agree with him—but I can't stop reading. His blog is a fine synthesis of smart writing, quality design, useful linking, and good neighborhood vibes. One of the best local resources on the web, Snitch was the first to hip me to New York's Sixth, Where Is The Remote?, and the new NJ Weblogs.

In a densely populated area whose media saturates us with coverage of the big city we're near but neglects the smaller neighboring cities where thousands of us live, the explosion of local blogging is one of the big stories of 2005. Many compare the current blogomania with the dot-com boom of the mid-'90s, but even if this is just a fad or a stage, a lot of information and entertainment is being spread all over, and much like cornbread, ain't nothing wrong with that. We're going glocal with this thing, baby!

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Thanks, But I'd Rather Not Be Sedated 

It was fun to spin some tunes at the Ding Dong Thursday. I alternated between vinyl and iPod, a method of DJing I had never tried before, and there weren't many hiccups. The crowd was mostly appreciative. I especially liked the guy who came up during The New Pornographers' "Letter From An Occupant" and said in a very Zen/Yogi Berra/Buckaroo Banzai kind of way: "I wanted to hear this song! I didn't know I wanted to hear it until I heard it!" The set list came out well. It was cool time. They're having me back there again at the end of the month, on Tuesday, August 30.

The dog days are still here. Next Saturday, August 13 will be my last Saturday night at The Goldhawk until after Labor Day, so I can attend to summer madness. I'm back there September 10. August highlights at The Goldhawk include Ben Arnold on Thursday, August 18 and AJ Azzarto & The Hoboken 5 on Tuesday, August 23.

Been having some, shall we say, irregularities with the home computer of late. It may or may not have been a memory problem; I installed a new piece of RAM but it's still acting funny. I tried it in different slots, even. Dunno what's up. If it keeps telling me there's 5.5 gigs free on the internal hard drive, or 6.9 gigs, or 7.2 gigs (each time I restart it's different), does that mean that after five years, my G4 Cube's hard drive is finally dying?

Thursday, August 04, 2005

So Many Records My Arm Damn Near Fell Off 

Well, at least it isn't hot today! Otherwise, bringing my LP case and other gear into the city would've been a real pain!

Hey, I'm so used to DJing a couple blocks away from my apartment that it's good to have to earn it a little. I detest vinyl snobbery and make no bones about the fact that I usually DJ using CDs, but I'm looking forward to playing mostly LPs tonight. I'm bringing a few CDs, but I'm going to stick to the records as much as possible, with a little help from my iPod, which I almost never use at gigs. It's good to mix it up. Hopefully it'll get me to play some different tunes.

See ya tonight.

929 Columbus Ave. between 105th St. & 106th St., NYC
TONIGHT, Thursday, August 4
9:30 p.m. - 2 a.m.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mike C. Takes Manhattan 

As someone who straddles the Hudson on a daily basis, working and playing in both Hoboken and Manhattan, there is one constant refrain I hear from my many wonderful New York City friends: "I wish you would DJ in the city!"

Well, my many wonderful New York City friends, this Thursday at 9:30 p.m. your "Oh, I'd love to come but it's in Jersey" line just isn't going to cut it. Yes, I'm coming to your town and I'll help you party down, and I'm doing it at Ding Dong Lounge.

Ding Dong is an oasis of punk rock cool on Columbus Avenue between 105th St. and 106th St., a decidedly ungentrified block of Morningside Heights. Allegedly the site of a former crack den, Ding Dong is run by a former owner of the late, great Motor City Bar downtown. The atmospheric joint has a gang of classic punk posters on the walls, a pool table, and—I shit you not—hula hoops.

There's no cover. Arrive thirsty and enjoy a bucket of Rheingolds: 5 beers for 10 bucks. The music has been totally kick-ass every time I've been there, and I'm primed to live up to the high rock & roll standards they abide by. Take the 1 train to Broadway & 103rd or the B/C to Central Park West & 103rd. Or get a freakin' taxi.

I'm also doing my usual weekend rockfest at The Goldhawk this Saturday at 10 p.m., so you can rock on whichever side of the river you prefer.

929 Columbus Ave. between 105th St. & 106th St., NYC
Thursday, August 4
9:30 p.m. - 2 a.m.

936 Park Ave. at 10th St.
Hoboken, USA
Saturday, August 6
10 p.m. - 2:30 a.m.

Stop by say hi!

Bad News First... 

It pains me terribly to do this, put the Hoboken Rock City Podcast is back on hiatus, now indefinitely.

Many of you are aware that I am a full-time employee of a major record label. I guess you all are now. Regardless of what I might personally think about the RIAA's policies and attitudes toward legal grey areas like podcasting, MP3 blogs, and P2P sharing—and keeping in mind that any opinions I express here about those issues (and anything else) are solely mine and have nothing to do with my employer (who I have never actually mentioned anywhere on this site anyway, and by the way I really like my job)—I have been doing this above-board all along. I have received permission to use the tracks I played in each podcast from either the record labels or the artists themselves.

The legalities of podcasting music have not yet been sorted out, but in the meantime the best way to cover one's ass is to do this sort of outreach and get permissions. In the process of doing that, I have made some pleasant new contacts and acquaintances, corresponded with some artists I admire, and been turned on to some new music along the way. All that is awesome, but it takes time, and that's what I am lacking right now.

I hope the day comes soon when I can just fall out of bed and do a show without having to worry about clearing all the tracks with the owners of the respective master tapes; no such permissions are required on terrestrial radio. Until I can operate in a way that at least somewhat resembles regular radio, then, I just don't have the time or the resources to put into making any new podcasts right now. If there were no limits on what I could play, I could easily do a show every week and fill it with cool new stuff and classic faves. But that's not the case right now.

So, sorry. All I can say is wait and see, and I hope it's not too long until I'm doing a show again. In the meantime, this website and this blog live on. I'm still gigging and doing everything else I've been doing, just minus the show, for now anyway. And if anyone wants to, oh, I don't know, organize a letter-writing campaign to get me a show on Jersey City's own WFMU, well, gee, who am I to stand in anyone's way?

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