Friday, March 30, 2012

Second Fiddle

The Minneapolis post-punk explosion marked an onslaught of bands that could claim to be the voicebox of Midwestern Youth. Depending on your angle.
They all, somehow, were what "The Kids" could cling to. The kids with Patchouli on, hanging at record stores, patching skateboard injuries, finding a way to stick a Soul Asylum sticker on something, while walking the streets at night with headphones on, wondering if anything would ever feel like home again.
Someone out there, got it. Even if they were Viking or Twins fans with guitars.
No matter how you hash it out, it's no secret that the Replacements led the charge, for better or for worse. They somehow, despite a lack of political leanings, an inability to connect with their audience, and a degree in bridge burning, were the most popular band out of the Mosquito state.
As much as I love the 'Mats, Husker Du should play no second fiddle to anyone. Ever.
Raw guitars, plenty of hooks, a bevy of material, and partially acoustic sets should have had them right up there with Westerberg and the boys. The Replacements fell apart because they gave a crap too late. The Huskers had other reasons. Paul and the boys lasted for two major label LPs. (Do not make a mistake and count "All Shook Down" as one of them, it was Paul's first solo LP). Husker Du, one, the melancholy "Candy Apple Grey".
They were just as good, and a recent retrospective look back showed that to me. I love, absolutely love "Flip Your Wig". Here's one of many reasons why:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cheap Trick: Defining Perennial

I wrote a piece several years ago that remains unpublished, sort of one I prefer to "keep in the clip", as it were. I hate firearms and their analogies, but since I write from the hip, I'll leave it.

It's called "AC/DC at my side". Sort of a look back at how that Australian group of hooligans remained in my life and the public eye like a "rock and roll Forrest Gump".

I guess that could apply to Cheap Trick as well. Some will accuse them of being fluff, but that's awful short-sighted. They are worthy and deserving of much more than that for several reasons. Rick Nielsen, Tom Petersson, Bun E. Carlos, and Robin Zander popped up out of Rockford, Illinois, stepped in the Leprechaun's pot o' gold, and became one of the biggest bands in the world (a couple of times) and did it almost accidentally and in the most odd way.

One of their biggest hits came off of their fourth LP, (which was live, no less) containing an odd track introduction, "This is the first song off of our new album, it just came out this week, and it's called 'Surrender'", which indicates that this album, "At Budokan", was released not long after a studio LP. Odder still they bucked the trend of 70's Double Live LP, making "Budokan" a single platter, with the opener and closer, "Hello There" and "Goodnight" mirroring each other save for the interchangeable title lyrics. An obvious waste of album space in my eyes, as the entire concert, available now, had scads of material that could have been utilized.

Odd, indeed.

But I get away from myself here.
Right now, people steadily join the cult of the Replacements, following them to Big Star, and the death of Alex Chilton has also raised awareness. Truly, the historical kings of  American Power Pop are that Tennessee foursome, but Cheap Trick was right there with their melodies, scorching guitar work, and charismatic members. The latter of these being very visually obvious.

The band has had their ups and downs, from the short-lived Jon Brant era, to the decline of the early to mid 80's, to the huge upswing of the end of that decade, and another pitfall before hitting the public eye again with the theme from "That 70's Show". (Oddly co-written by Alex Chilton himself).
There's a lot of "70's" (unfair term for them, that) bands wandering the County Fair Classic Rock Circuit, but Cheap Trick are among the few that hold that original framework together, and continue to bring out fresh, pertinent material to this day.

 I just wanted to make that clear, I'm not looking back at them here, although I did use the past to push the button on the flashlight that I am now directing on them today. The Trick within the last handful of years, while touring extensively, has released a full album of new material and recorded their take on "Sgt. Pepper" in it's entirety.

Hard work, this rocking. And they could teach today's youngsters a few lessons. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Especially Cheap ones.

Long live Cheap Trick.
....and with that, here's what's what:

Where have you gone, Joe Strummer?

I recently watched "Grosse Point Blank" and forgot that Joe Strummer had done the score.

He was the lead vocalist and left handed rythym guitarist for the Clash, and yes he played right handed. My fingers hurt just thinking about it.
Digressing rapidly, he was a gifted musician, writer, and social activist.
He died way too young.

I know Havana 3AM is Paul Simonon's band, but that's not the point. I recently re-discovered this track that burned hard and bright for a short period of time, and it made me think of Joe.

"Earthquake Weather" aside, Mescaleros aside, and hell, even Mick Jones' bizarre Big Audio Dynamite aside, and these mentioned Havana guys aside too...

I miss them.
I miss Joe.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Devil is in the Details

Antonio Estevan Huerta's last album, "Your Shrine" was a sweeping amalgam of feel and energy. I know because I declared it as such right here on "Last Will".

I can't describe how refreshing it was to feel such emotion packed into so many songs no matter the tempo.

On "Your Shrine" AEH wore his heart on his sleeves.

On his latest, the upcoming platter "The Devil You Know", he's rolling them up.

Methinks Huerta has emotion to spare, so make no mistake, everything he does will contain a lot of it. But "Devil" also has edge, and in spades.

It's darker, it's a bit leaner, and a lot tougher.

Not many recording artists have the ability to bare their souls and do it with a ton of hooks. Just look as far back as Roger Waters and as recently as Paul Westerberg. Soul spilling isn't easy when you want to be catchy too. It's tough. Huerta does it well, and does it often.

You can smell influences here, but Antonio is himself musically, and lyrically, he's a poet.

"Motorcycle", the excellent opener, reminds me vaguely of The Cure at the outset, before revving up (pun intended) into some very angry and disarming (but not remotely wrong as the record unspools) imagery and message sending.

"IT'S NOT AS THOUGH YOU KNOW"--Does anyone?

The devil doesn't either as he's being spoken to on "Her Stars (The Devil Song)", a banging second track. Written on travelling wheels from Prague (during a marathon), to Iceland, back to Paris, it eventually became concrete in Brooklyn. "Her Stars" is obviously a manifesto...the devil can take a lot from you, but the heart is everlasting and possessive. Even Satan can't take what really belongs to you inside. (Huerta's lyrics can be personal on many levels, and vague enough to interpret as your own. I love to think of the content of this song as my own.)

The devil is a bit of a theme on this record, and Huerta is not a stranger to thematic elements. From rats and their tracks, to pigeons and paradise, to the morningstar himself, Huerta likes underlaying a string through his lyrics. In an upcoming interview I will ask Antonio about his thematic lyrical nature, because, frankly, "I Gots To Know".

Huerta's voice, which has always been good, is a flowing, reaching, and comfortable swimmer on this album. His band is strong and confident, a machine let loose to pound this material out efficiently and with extreme prejudice. Guitar and bass, both raw and achingly gentle, drums that flash just enough, are here and not to be forgotten or messed with.

"Scribble" and "You Can Be a Part of This" are emotion-laden mid-tempo rockers extending out to say something important and they succeed with a flourish. "You Can" is downright gripping. I listened to "Devil" in my car almost exclusively in and around Dallas, Texas, and that track especially will bring attention to all your surroundings. It could easily and successfully fit on any great classic rock album, but does not feel out of place one bit today.

"Esto Que Hacemos" is a gorgeous ballad sung entirely in Spanish, that is both hypnotic, relaxing, and very melancholy.....shades of "Shrine's" "Horses", but with more intensity...

"The Devil You Know", the title track, is easily the catchiest cut on the record, and will stick in your head for days, so prepare yourself for that. It's a good thing.

"Let it Go" and "Go Home" are nice finishers to a very strong, but suprisingly dark album from Antonio Estevan Huerta. He's been a sharp songwriter with or without collaboration, and a fine lyricist always, but you get the feeling on the third try, he's been set loose here....

Antonio has raised Cain with "The Devil You Know".

The hooks and the choruses are there, as you'd expect from him, but this time there's something, perhaps a New Jersey "Darkness on the Edge of Town" lying under the surface, waiting to be let out. Demons being shaken off his back, or perhaps a "Devil".