Tag Archives: Led Zeppelin

Hot Tub Rock Show: Material Lives

This week, Noise Narcs answers the age-old question: What five bands would you travel back in time to see in their prime? To see other responses, jump in the hot tub.

I have to admit that I’ve not been keen on making this retro-fit bucket list and have been dragging my feet a little, largely because I am not obsessed with live performances, for the very reasons that have likely influenced all of our lists: shows these days are largely stripped down, more about selling merch, and involve bands getting on stage and sounding exactly like themselves. I keep trying, but it’s a rare case when a show in Madison or Milwaukee that should be uproarious (Of Montreal, for instance) is outfitted with a crowd that’s not totally footloose.

There are times when sitting in a seat and passively listening is good, like when I’m in the dentist’s office and rocked out on nitrous oxide. Or when the music calls for it, as was the case when I saw Sigur Ros, whose purpose seems to be to call for the type of reminiscence that only happens when you’re glued to one spot. Otherwise, you might fall down.

But there’s also something to venue fit. A number of years ago, we lost our indie darling venue, the Catacombs coffee house, when the church that housed it decided that the young kids who ran it were not “evangelical” enough. Turns out that “evangelical” meant “We want to rent this space to Subway and make $$$.” We lost the $3 daily organic, local lunches the coffee house provided and also the space where I first saw Stars, Smog, and Ida. The only other performer who of late got outfitted with just the right spot was Joanna Newsom, who played in our student union’s Great Hall, a remarkable room, one that provided the quiet echo her music demands.

So when I think about what shows I’d like to have seen, I’m not thinking about technical skill; I’m thinking about the energy of a particular moment in time, a time when people were hearing something new or thinking they were, experiencing the transformative power of a crowd, or witnessing an artist on the verge of popular or underground stardom. And I’m thinking about the sensory aspect of place. Or so I am telling myself in order to make this list cohere.

1. Elvis. Despite people’s claims that Elvis simply rearticulated the musical forms and body movements he learned from the blues musicians whom he learned his trade from, Elvis still popularized rock-n-roll and transformed the musical landscape of his time. If you ask your parents or grandparents what it was like seeing Elvis in the 50s, they’ll likely tell you how shocking it was to see a man move his hips the way he did and sound like he did. Katherine Hepburn once said, “I don’t know what starpower is, but whatever it is, baby I’ve got it.” And she is so right that it’s hard to fault her hubris. When you are faced with a performer with starpower, charisma that is beyond anything knowable or traceable, it is something else. I felt this when seeing Phoenix’s Thomas Mars perform live the year of the band’s debut album’s release. I must admit that every time I see Elvis’ face, I turn into a melty teenager. He had the looks, but he had that indefinable something else. And that’s why I understand both the police force presence in the below vid, but also the sentiments of the woman who storms the stage, which he seems to find amusing.

2. Björk, circa early 1990s. Björk is one of our genius vocalists and performers, a person who bends her chords in unimaginable ways. I knew a girl whose father took her on a trip to Iceland and then, mid-plane, surprised her with Björk concert tickets. I wanted to trade parents. I accidentally saw Björk perform with the Sugarcubes in the late 80s, when my cousin and I stayed out later than we were supposed to at New York’s Jones Beach (at least that’s where my memory is telling me this took place) and happened upon their concert. And believably, Björk was just as audible from the parking lot. Still, the Sugarcubes do not equal Björk, and Björk’s recent albums do not equal what her debut, Post, and Homogenic were.

Björk, “The Modern Things (Live)”

See the rest of Material Lives’ picks after the jump…

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Hot Tub Rock Show: Trent W

This week, Noise Narcs answers the age-old question: What five bands would you travel back in time to see in their prime? To see other responses, jump in the hot tub.

5.  The White Stripes
Two years ago, I saw The Raconteurs live at the New American Music Union festival. The also-rans at that festival were Spoon, The Roots, Bob Dylan, and The Black Keys.  Surprisingly, the band known down under as The Saboteurs put on, by far, the best show of the weekend, largely on the strength of Mr. Jack White’s contribution.  For me, it was reminiscent of seeing Method Man performing with Wu-Tang:  on a stage populated by perfectly capable and charismatic musicians, White drew all attention to himself.  During a song in which his contribution was minimal, he took great pains to climb a massive speaker tower at the side of the stage.  He also requested that the audience throw joints onstage and jumped in front of other band members while they were singing to emphatically grab his crotch.

No, wait, those were all things Method Man did.

Mr. White’s enticements were far more subtle, possibly even unintentional.  For the most part, he seemed like he really wanted to function as just one part of a regular old rock band.  He was just as happy to step back into the shadows and play keys on one song as he was to be front-and-center singing lead on the next.  (Actually, he wasn’t even set up in the center; Brendan Benson was.)  Problem was, he performed with such passion and exuded such enigmatic star power that no one in the audience could help but keep one eye on Jack at all times.  Am I gushing?  I guess I am, but it’s only because that show reminded me what the term “rock star” originally meant.  I mean, it was obvious dude was really made for this purpose.

So maybe my interest in the seeing The White Stripes can be boiled down to simply an interest in seeing Jack White.  And, of course, I’ve already seen him once and I can certainly see him again.  Why then, you ask, would I waste a time machine trip just for the addition of Meg’s sloppy drumming?  Because I like The White Stripes music far more than that of Jack White’s other projects to date.  (And maybe something about the focused energy of a duo.)  I think a White Stripes show would probably be the best context in which to see him.  It’s that simple.


The White Stripes, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground (Live, Under Black Pool Lights)”

4.  The Headhunters

I fully expect that someone will include in their Hot Tub list one of the great jazz artists from the bop or post-bop eras: possibly one of the classic Miles lineups, or Coltrane, or maybe even Monk or Mingus.  And those names were also tempting for me to include.  However, if we’re talking about the sheer visceral entertainment value of a live show, nothing in jazz tops the groundbreaking funk-laden fusion of The Headhunters with Herbie Hancock.

Or without him.  While Hancock was instrumental in bringing together the musicians and providing direction for what would become The Headhunters, any of the early lineups will do for me.  It was specifically the linear interplay of bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Mike Clark (or Harvey Mason, as on the first record) that made The Headhunters sound unlike anything that came before it, and continues make me launch into unprompted monologues on the elusive concept of “pocket.” Adding to the heat that must’ve been coming off that road as they paved it were the hints of early Afro-futurism in the band’s dress and overall concept.  So, while I still might be able to catch some permutation of the group doing a lukewarm impression of itself at a festival for guys with graying ponytails, I’d gladly drop one of my time machine tokens to see them like this:


Herbie Hancock and the Headunters, “Cameleon (Live, Soundstage, San Francisco, 1975)”

See the rest of Trent’s picks after the jump…

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