Shellac – Live @ The Asylum, Birmingham

Shellac have a casual attitude to playing live. This is from their page on the Touch & Go Website:

Band information: While there is no specific coordination between Shellac’s record releases and touring schedules, you can expect the band to tour at its usual sporadic and relaxed pace.

They’re busy men, but they’ll get together and play when they can, and when they do, they’ll enjoy it.

Seeing them live, it’s obvious just how much they enjoy it. The chemistry between Todd Trainer (drums), Bob Weston (bass/vocals) and Steve Albini (guitar/vocals/living legend) is stupefying. Each element is completely locked in to the others; each one equally important.

Of course they shouldn’t be equally important, because the fact is that’s Steve Albini over there on the left. Even if you’re the biggest Shellac fan in the world, chances are that you only started listening to them in the first place because you love something he’s been involved with previously – be that Big Black, Rapeman, Surfer RosaSeamonsters, PodIn Utero, or, or, or, take your pick; you’re spoilt for choice.

But after two songs it’s obvious that the Shellac machine has three cogs and each of them is vital. They blast through the intricate, angular, stop/start hardcore with total precision and power; split-second perfect on every weird time signature, start and restart. I assumed this was purely down to practise, but they play a different set every night so it can only be telepathy.

They blast through their set – Squirrel Song, Dude Incredible, A Minute, Prayer To God. People say he’s mellowed since his Big Black days, but even after all this time making punishing music, Steve continues to find new ways of wringing abrasive noise from an electric guitar, can still be incredibly intense and can still scream till his jugular bulges. Bob, on bass, takes turns on vocal duties too. Often they’ll take turns to play rhythm, while the other handles lead, regardless of the instrument. Todd occupies centre-stage – skinny and exhausted-looking – he almost looks like he’s there against his will, such is the strained look on his gaunt face as he holds everything together with his shamanic drumming.

They have an understanding and collective force that can only come from musicians who really care about and love what they’re doing and have been doing it for more than two decades.

They complement each other as personalities as well. Bob is approachable and funny and does most of the talking, fielding the regular Q&A questions from the audience, covering a variety of subjects – haircuts, trousers, Dinosaur Jr vs Sebadoh. Steve is happy to stay on the sidelines for this but chips in occasionally with a witty remark – insisting that no one should feel obliged to buy a t-shirt because ‘you’ve done enough’. Todd stays silent, but gets involved from time to time to give a comic shrug or to give a twirl when Bob confirms him as the ‘sexy one’ in the band.

They’re playful during the songs too. One (incredibly loud) bar into their opening song they stop and freeze, apart from Todd twirling a drumstick in slow motion, for close to a minute before resuming in unison as if nothing had happened. During the drum break on Steady As She Goes, Bob and Steve run and hide behind amps at the side of the stage, leaving Todd on his own. And as the last song – the awesome Spoke – closes, Steve and Bob dismantle Todd’s kit, piece by piece until he’s left just hitting a snare. Then they wave goodbye.

It’s great when you come away from seeing a band a bigger fan than you were before. They put on a tight, loud and intense show while giving a new dimension to familiar songs, having a blast themselves and being genuinely funny. Albini got the biggest laugh of the night, telling the Birmingham crowd, ‘You have a beautiful city’. But he went on to explain:

“Beauty is only skin-deep. Think what you’ve given to the world. I’m talking about Black Sabbath.”

That got an appreciative cheer. Most people there weren’t born when Sabbath were at their height, but still, it was heart-warming to hear one legend paying genuine respect to another. In fact that’s what the whole night was – heart-warming – which I wouldn’t have expected beforehand. So yeah, maybe Albini has mellowed.

Shellac band shot large

‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk covered by Big Black – Magnificent Cover Version No.17

‘Eight Miles High’ by The Byrds, covered by Husker Du – Magnificent Cover Version No.21

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Trashed! The Pixies

There surely can’t be a more universally loved and admired band than the Pixies? They’re responsible for some of the most memorable, original and influential music of the last 30 years and their early albums are overwhelmingly considered by indie fans and critics to be timeless classics, notable for the originality of the music, the power and beauty of their songs and the unique chemistry of the musicians.

Nobody sounds like the Pixies and they’re held in the collective affection of millions of people who love music.

But not everyone sees the attraction. Here’s what some online reviewers, who’ve refused to bow to consensus, have had to say about our heroes.

BQ heads his or her (I’m guessing his) review of Surfer Rosa Not as good as the cover art”. Here’s some of his stream-of-consciousness feedback, unedited:

“i bought this crapy cd because “where is my mind?”was the awsome song at the end of Fight Club, but the rest of the cd is shit”

He continues with another reference to the half-naked woman on the sleeve and to poo:

“the cover art of Surfer Rosa should switch with the cover art for the [Nine Inch Nails album] Downward Spiral, because that cd was as good as tits, this cd was more like the diarrea stain of music.”

Regardless of BQ’s music taste and spelling, you’ve got to admire his unique system for rating music – from ‘diarrea stain’ [sic] up to ‘good as tits’, presumably via ‘firm stool’, ‘acceptable as stomach’ and ‘average as shoulders’.

MP is less original, giving a traditional one star to his/her review of Doolittle, entitled “All dressed up and nowhere to go”, for no apparent reason. MP has no time for the “typical disaffected teenage lyrics that serve to meet peer expectations”, whatever that means, adding, “and there’s something missing in the musicality department.” 

Conversely, Doolittle is one of BF’s ‘favorite albums’, but feels Surfer Rosa is “trying to be eccentric on purpose, which is ok, but not when the songs suck. The musicianship seems amateur and sloppy”.

GG cuts straight to the heart of the debate:

“One of my buddies said these guys were good. This is garbage.”

No over-analysing or comparing to body parts or functions for GG; just straight to the point, dismissing it as junk. GG still gives Pilgrim/Surfer two stars though. Unlike AW, a bitter soul, who gives it/them the minimum one star stating:

“Yeah, you’re so alternative! After hearing that one of these emo bands cite Linkin park as a major influence and then thanks to wikipedia it turns out that they were influenced by Nirvana (so you buy all their records)who name the Pixies as one of their big influences (so you buy their records too), I’m sick of it! I discovered The Pixies in 1980-something and they’re mine, dammit. What are you going to do now? rediscover Husker Du, DON’T! They’re mine too!”

Yes, fuckers, hands off! There’s a limit to the number of people who can appreciate any given band, you know. If you start liking it, one of the original likers – from 1980-something – will have to stop liking it. It doesn’t seem fair, but those are the rules.

Luckily the band’s ’90s output divided some of those original fans slightly, making room for some newcomers. RB thinks Bossanova is “a hiccup, an error bookended by brilliance”, while Anon thinks it’s “brilliant” but Trompe Le Monde is a “huge disappointment” without “a single song on this record that is worth listening to.” 

is even more critical of Trompe, to the point where punctuation is totally out of the window:

 “this my friends is appalling god could they make much more un-inspired noise i kno that’s the trait of the pixies but for gods sake just a few guitars being plucked badly and frank black screeching with his balls in his throat god.”

The very best review is V‘s opinion on Bossanova, entitled ‘horrible music’. Poor was duped by the album’s misleading title:

“I was expecting something about real bossanova no this awful rock group. no recommended if you like soft music. poor quality anyway”

Poor V, took the title all too literally and registered a one-star review by way of complaint.

Just goes to show, there’s no such thing as universally popular, and AW, jealously protecting the music that means most to AW lest it gets used up, will be mighty pleased about that.

 

Pixies, Live – still dealing in magic

‘Head On’ by The Jesus & Mary Chain covered by Pixies – Magnificent Cover Version No.16

 

 

 

 

 

Shonen Knife covering ‘Top Of The World’ by The Carpenters – Magnificent Cover Version No.30

Shonen Knife’s version of The Carpenters’ standard retains the blissed-out positivity of the original On Top Of The World, ditches the country and western elements and gives it a welcome upbeat, pop-punk twist.

On Top Of The World was released as part of one of those tribute albums that always look they’re going to be a really good idea but ultimately don’t add up to the sum of their parts.

For someone like me, who regularly writes blog posts about cover versions – for reasons that I can’t quite remember or adequately explain – tribute albums aren’t the rich source of inspirational material that they could be.

The idea is to take a seminal act like The Smiths, The Clash, or the Pixies, get a load of contemporary bands to cover their best known songs and package them up together in a collection. This ought to work more often than it does – songs you know covered by acts you like – but they tend to disappoint for some reason.

Carpenters

If I Were A Carpenter, released in 1994, is one of those disappointing compilations. It saw some of The Carpenters’ best known songs – We’ve Only Just Begun, (They Long To Be) Close To You, Yesterday Once More – covered by amazing bands like Redd Kross, Babes In Toyland and Sonic Youth but none of them really hit the spot, except for Shonen Knife’s Top Of The World. Unlike other songs on the album, SK get the balance just right between showing due respect for the original and putting their own stamp on the song, so it feels simultaneously familiar and new. I don’t see how even a fan of the Carpenters would fail to enjoy this as much as a punk fan.

Shonen Knife have been around since 1981 and in 1989 they got the disappointing tribute album treatment themselves. Every Band Has A Shonen Knife Who Loves Them features L7, Sonic Youth, Blue Oyster Cult, Lunachicks and a load of ’80s bands that have since slipped into obscurity, but whom no doubt somebody still loves.

Shonen Knife continue their cartoon punk odyssey to this day, recording and touring the world with lead singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano the only consistent member for their 36-year and counting career. They’ve got about 25 studio albums in their discography, the latest being Adventure from 2016, and they’ll probably be playing near you soon.

shonen-knife 2.jpg

‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen, covered by The Ramones – Magnificent Cover Version No.23

Butthole Surfers covering ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’ by Donovan – Magnificent Cover Version No. 8

 

 

 

 

Trashed! ‘Odelay’ by Beck

Beck’s critically acclaimed, genre-busting, zeitgeist-capturing, 1996 masterpiece Odelay is his best-selling album. Its an inspired collaboration with The Dust Brothers which produced five excellent singles – Where It’s At, Devil’s Haircut, Sissyneck, Jack-Ass and The New Pollution – and so marked the point where he moved out from under the shadow of his quirky, 1993 monster hit, Loser.

NME and Village Voice rated it as the best album of 1996. Rolling Stone’s put it at number nine in their 100 Best Albums of the Nineties. It won a Grammy for ‘Best Alternative Music Performance’ and is certified as Platinum in the US (x 2), Canada (x 2) and the UK (x 3).

Not everyone likes it though. Some erudite and knowledgeable people doing online reviews have got a few things to say about it.

RT bought it off Amazon and gave this feedback:

“C**p. Complete and utter c**p. This [sic] a complete load of self indulgent, tuneless, ridiculous rubbish. It only cost me 1p, and I feel ripped off. Avoid at all costs.”

1p! A lot of people would have written off this loss, but RT is a man who expects value for his penny, so was good enough to warn other potential purchasers before he took his bitter arse down to the charity shop to dispose of Odelay.

DA, in a review titled “Bizarre, over-rated”, describes it as “Completely unlistenable”, and gives it two stars, which seems quite generous considering he “sold it after playing it twice (second time just to make sure I wasn’t imagining the first time)”.

This draws a helpful response from JJ – You want Bizarre? Check out Stereopathetic Soulmanure. Odelay is chart-pop by comaprison [sic]. Obviously Odelay IS chart pop, whether compared to Beck’s 1994 Flipside Records release or not, but it’s more ironic that JJ‘s ‘coma prison’ typo could easily be the title of a Beck song.

SG isn’t impressed either, “massively overrated, all the beats have been done better in hip hop, doesn’t hold up to repeated listening”.

AC gives his/her comment the lukewarm title “pleasant” before going on to give a seemingly unrelated review “This is a brilliant album by Beck, perhaps his greatest to date, avoid his hyped up single “loser” and go for some Beck Quality, this album is a must for all beck fans.” AC could’ve potentially saved somebody a penny with that advice. Weirdly, both SG (‘massively overrated’) and AC (‘brilliant album’) give it three stars.

Here’s an anonymous Amazon review from 2004 that shatters the idea that Beck is original.

“This album is the DEFINTION [sic] of derivative. I will only listen to it once, because I got tired of writing down each song’s obvious original influence”

Someone ought to tell him/her that you’re not obliged to do that.

Another anonymous review from 1999 is offended by Beck’s change of musical direction and refusal to play in the dark:

“To see Beck rapping and dancing around in arena of lights is nearly blasphematic [sic], considering he came up as a loner singing slow silly folk songs played on an old guitar secured to him by a rope.”

The second he has a hit single he abandons his guitar rope and gets himself a strap. The fucking sell-out! And turn those lights off too! It’s ‘blasphematic’ is what it is!

Finally, PA’s 2013 review contains a theory, which he/she acknowledges “probably it’s going to sound pompous and pretentious”, so you know it’s going to be good. And it doesn’t disappoint.

“I live in LA, and I know how the hype machine works: a) It preys on the weak-minded and socially addicted, who are desperate to be defined through a clique. b) It preys on the undereducated, who lack proper context and reference (i.e., better art for comparative purposes).”

So now we know. It’s not our fault. It’s just that all us pricks who’ve wasted time and money on Odelay and thought it was good have allowed our socially-addicted, weak minds to be taken in by the hype machine and if we were better educated and had been allowed access to better art we may not have been so naïve. If only PA hadn’t waited until 17 years after Odelay’s release to listen to it and write that review for us. If only we could all live in LA.

 

Music from the Motion Picture Judgment Night – Rap Rock’s last stand!

‘Fuel My Fire’ by L7 covered by The Prodigy – Magnificent Cover Version No.18

 

 

 

The Sex Pistols covering ‘Substitute’ by The Who – Magnificent Cover Version No.29

The Sex Pistols’ take on the classic single by The Who was recorded in 1976 but not formally released until it appeared on the soundtrack to The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle in 1979. It’s an exuberant cover that captures the power-pop of the original, roughs it up and puts a rocket up its arse.

Pete Townshend was inspired to write Substitute by the line ‘although she may be cute she’s just a substitute’ in Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ Tracks Of My Tears. Approaching it from the substitute’s point of view – a man who knows he’s not as good as his girl thinks – the lyrics are a mix of cleverly self-deprecating – ‘I look pretty tall but my heels are high’ – jokes – ‘at least I’ll get my washing done’ – and sub-Dr Seuss, cryptic bollocks – ‘The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south’. There’s an element of class-consciousness about it too – ‘I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth’ – which would’ve appealed to the Pistols.

You can hear the great Keith Moon screaming as he plays the drum fill about two minutes in. Supposedly he was so wasted and paranoid at the time that he forgot playing on the recording and accused the rest of the band, ironically, of using a substitute drummer and plotting to replace him. They had to point out the scream to convince him otherwise. Townshend was originally meant to play the solo on guitar but John Entwistle ended up performing it on bass. Roger Daltrey sings it pop idol sweetness and it all fits together perfectly for one of The Who’s best singles.

As with it is with most of the Sex Pistols’ legend the story that original bassist Glenn Matlock was sacked because he admitted to liking The Beatles is probably bullshit. Still, by the Sex Pistols’ time The Who were flirting with progressive rock and very much part of the establishment that the Pistols were anti, so it’s odd that they would cover them. Obviously the guitar smashing, volume and confrontational attitude of early Who made a lasting impression on Johnny Rotten and the boys and they were able to get over the rock opera shenanigans and long hair that would come later. You can hear how much they’re enjoying themselves playing Substitute too – it’s a really energetic performance.

Given how high-spirited the performance of Substitute is it’s ironic that it was released in conjunction with The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle – Malcolm McLaren’s interesting but deeply flawed vanity film project, made around the collapse of the Sex Pistols. The film was cobbled together at a time when the band members and management detested the sight of one another and Johnny Rotten quit just after production began. Legendary sexploitation, B-movie maker Russ Meyer was the original director, but only lasted four days before the mutual hatred got to him and Julien Temple, whose main qualification was that he’d been to a lot of Sex Pistols gigs, took over. Temple made something surprisingly watchable considering what he was up against, but it’s the soundtrack that really saves it – not all of it, there’s a LOT of filler. Some of it though captures the energy and adrenaline of the band at the peak of their powers, with Substitute being a prime example of this.

The Pistols’ supercharged version of Substitute is pretty faithful, if not exactly reverent. Steve Jones thrashes out a really filthy guitar sound and he reclaims the solo from Glenn Matlock, whose brilliant walking bassline has a real upbeat feel about it. Paul Cook can’t quite compete with Moon’s unique skills but he puts in a powerful, machine gun performance on drums. The biggest change is in the vocals. While Daltrey’s original was sweetly sincere, Rotten’s delivers his in his best, sneeringly sarcastic, North London guttersnipe snarl. It’s all dropped aitches and glottal stops – ‘You fink my shoes are made of levvah’. The first time he sings ‘plastic mac’ it becomes ‘wanker’s mac’ and there’s a general, healthy disregard for the order of the lines. There’s a joyous spontaneity about the whole song.

The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle soundtrack feature a few covers and they’re all pretty good, but Substitute is easily the best. It’s the Sex Pistols at their loud, obnoxious best, before Sid Vicious came and went and Bambi got killed.

Magnificent Cover Version No.6 – (I’m Not Your) ‘Steppin’ Stone’ by The Monkees, covered by Minor Threat

‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen, covered by The Ramones – Magnificent Cover Version No.23

swindle

Deodato’s jazz/funk version of ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra’ (2001) – Magnificent Cover Version No.28

Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato’s jazz funk version of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the theme from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is truly brilliant, but is it a cover version? It’s classical music – technically, an ‘orchestral tone poem’, apparently – so the music is written down and there to be interpreted and played by musicians however they choose. Anyway, cover version or not, it’s most definitely magnificent so I’m having it for the list.

Also Sprach Zarathustra was composed by Richard Strauss in 1896, inspired by Friedrich Nietzche’s philosophical novel of the same and used by Stanley Kubrick as the main theme for his hypnotic, sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey. This is where it came to most people’s attention including, presumably Deodato’s. His name may sound like the sort of trainers you’d get for under a tenner at Sports Direct, but Deodato is something of a legend as a musician, composer, arranger and producer who’s worked with Kool & the Gang, KD Lang and Bjork among many, many others.

Having flirted with the high-brow, mentioning the music of Strauss and the philosophy Nietzche, I’m now going to bring this post crashing down to earth; this is the album I know Deadoto’s Also Sprach Zarathustra from:

Todays top hits

Yep, it was on a 12 Tops; Todays Top Hits album. For those unfamiliar with this particular range, it was a series of albums compiling (not very accurate) cover versions of contemporary hits, generally performed by session musicians. The series ran in the UK between 1972 and 1976 with each month featuring a different, provocatively dressed woman on the cover. There’s more on the series here, if you’re interested.

Now, all of this was way before my time, and I don’t remember how the May 1973 edition came into my possession, but I know why I’ve kept it to this day. No, not for the pouting lady in hot pants on a Honda, it’s for Deodato’s deliciously trippy, funk take on the 2001 theme.


Along similar lines, but with a distinctly more disco vibe that befits its 1977 release date, is Meco’s awesome Star Wars And Other Galactic Funk. Space-tacular!

 

‘Motorhead’ by Motorhead covered by Corduroy – Magnificent Cover Version No.19

‘Surfin’ Bird’ by The Trashmen, covered by The Ramones – Magnificent Cover Version No.23

 

The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr & Blur – ‘Rollercoaster’ 1992

The Rollercoaster tour was conceived as a lower key, British answer to Lollapalooza back in the early ’90s when the American franchise had just begun and was still a touring show featuring cutting-edge bands.

Curated by The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid, the Rollercoaster tour featured The Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Blur and Dinosaur Jr sharing headlining duties as they played a series of concerts at several large venues across the UK in the Spring of 1992.

Reid explained, “Everyone was talking about Lollapalooza, which to us was pretty crap. We did it, playing at 2pm after Pearl Jam, and it was fairly disastrous. So we thought, Why not do a good version of it? We were just trying to shake things up, to make it not like a bunch of boring blokes standing around with pints of beer. We were sick to death of plodding up and down the UK on our own, playing the same shitholes. It felt more like being a rock star  – more a Bowie/Bolan thing.”

Image result for the jesus and mary chain rollercoaster

Looking at the line-up for Rollercoaster tour nowtwo and a half decades later – it’s worth trying to give it some context. The Jesus & Mary Chain were of course long-established by this point and had just released their well-received fourth album, Honey’s Dead. At that point it had been seven years since Psychocandy, the album that defined them and, though they were still a big deal, in terms of popularity and cool, you could have said that they were past their peak. Or maybe it just seemed that way because we were just teenagers while the Reid brothers were past 30 by then.

mbv-1992

My Bloody Valentine were absolutely at their peak, though nobody knew it at the time. Their hugely powerful cacophony and uniquely beautiful melodies had made them massively popular and inspired a whole raft of bands to try to emulate them. No one could get close. The previous year they’d released the majestic Loveless album. It seemed like they would only get bigger and bigger. As it turned out they wouldn’t release the follow up to Loveless until 2013. This was as big as they’d get.

dinosaur jr

Dinosaur Jr brought some US glamour to the show – not in a KISS/New York Dolls sort of way, obviously – I mean look at them. It was kudos and variety that they provided, as well as grunge credentials. At that time, when American alternative rock had just crossed over into the mainstream, Dinosaur Jr’s ’80s output had been namechecked constantly as an influence by bands from the scene. They’d also released their successful major label debut Green Mind in 1991 and were shaping up to follow that up with Where You Been in ’93. So they were on good form and very much in vogue; having them on the tour and a lot of sense .

Image result for blur 1992

Blur’s inclusion made less sense. Graham Coxon has admitted “I was shocked we were asked, but absolutely over the moon. It provoked quite a lot of passion in people – like “What the fuck were Blur doing on there?”.

Their signature tune had been There’s No Other Way, an irritatingly catchy, baggy, pop number that had jauntily made it into the UK Top Ten in early 1991. By the time of Rollercoaster, the baggy scene was over and Blur were beginning to look like indie also-rans who’d fluked a one-off, big-selling single – like Candy Flip or something. What actually happened of course is that they became leading lights of the Britpop scene that dominated the middle of the decade. I wouldn’t have predicted that. At the time they seemed like the poor relations on the tour, but they turned out to be the only band on the bill to have their most successful years ahead of them.

Me and Millhouse went to the Birmingham NEC leg of the Rollercoaster tour along with Jason, the drummer in our (shit) band, his girlfriend Bianca and her best friend Claire. Bianca was a self-consciously cool indie girl – all flowery dresses and superior attitude. She was in my year at school and we got on fine, but she liked to behave in a mature manner at all times, whilst I was – and still am – fond of getting silly. That’s why she went out with Jason who was a year older than us and was the proud owner of a rusted Austin Metro. Claire was similar, but not as pretty, although Millhouse fancied her desperately anyway. Claire’s made her lack of interest in Millhouse very obvious. My girlfriend at the time wasn’t invited on the trip because there was only room for five in the Metro and I was a crap boyfriend.

Millhouse organised the trip, because that was his role and because he wanted to spend time trying and failing to work his way into Claire’s affection. Jason’s job was to drive. My role was to write it all up 25 years later.

Of course being 25 years later a lot of the details are forgotten.  I know it was great and that it started early so everyone could play a full set; not like a festival show where most are abbreviated. I remember J Mascis’s ear-splitting solos and the hooks on Freak Scene and The Wagon; songs that I  didn’t know that well at that time. The Jesus & Mary Chain were impressive too; the muscular beats and crisp guitar sound of Honey’s Dead translating perfectly to the vast arena of the NEC. Even Blur were good, maybe conscious of their status as poor relations and keen to prove their worth to an indifferent crowd. Their set was memorable for the film they showed at one point – a reverse chronology of a cow’s life, from kid eating burger, back to abattoir and finally standing, chewing the cud in a field. It was strangely touching.

My Bloody Valentine were the main attraction for us. While the other groups raised their game for the bigger venue and the huge, diverse crowd, you felt like MBV could have played to ten times as many people and kept them enraptured. They could have done it with the same sound system too – this was during their ‘holocaust’ days and shit, they were loud. You could physically feel the swirling, squally feedback take your breath away. It was mesmerising. The cotton wool in Millhouse’s little ears had never worked so hard. I don’t want to take the piss out of people for taking care of their hearing – I know tinnitus is a horrible, horrible condition – but Millhouse was 16 at the time. It wasn’t natural for him to be thinking like that. Besides, he was wrong, my hearing is still fine now.

My Bloody Valentine’s performance of the glorious Soon stays with me to this day. As does the sense of bewilderment that me, Millhouse and Jason shared at their sheer musical competence. As members of a (shit) band ourselves, we were awestruck by their ability to all remember in unison how many times to play the descending riff after the chorus of Feed Me With Your Kiss.

Strangely my clearest memory of the Rollercoaster tour comes from before we even got into the venue.

As well as being a golden era for music, 1992 was a fantastic time to be a smoker. It was still fairly cheap, the packets featured only small written warnings of the hazards inherent in your habit, rather than large, graphic horror photos of your likely future and you could smoke pretty much anywhere. And yet we got the idea from somewhere – the ticket or the letter that accompanied it, maybe – that cigarettes weren’t allowed in the NEC Arena.

At least three of us smoked at that time and we debated the situation all the way there. It was going to be a long gig and we didn’t want to wait until after the concert for a cigarette. But we didn’t want Security to take our smokes off us either. Then, Bianca spoke up. She had an idea. Her vintage suede coat had a small rip in the lining. She would squeeze a packet of B&H into the lining through the rip and retrieve them inside the venue. It was a brilliant idea. Well, no, it was a shit idea, but Bianca was saying it, and she was just so sensible and mature. If she thought it would work, we were willing to accept that.

We parked up and walked the long walk to the venue, joining long queues of German army shirts, cardigans, plaid, combat shorts, flowery dresses, Doc Martens, band t-shirts and tie-dye. Banks of security guards checked tickets by the doors. Bianca remained cool.

We got closer to the front and could see that everyone was being patted down before they got through the doors. Seeing this, Bianca took off her suede coat and draped it over her arm casually. She remained unfazed and we believed in her. Me, Jason and Carl joined the male queue, with male security staff, Claire and Bianca joined the ladies’ queue. Bianca, retained an air of total confidence in her smuggling abilities. She got to the front of the queue before we did and was patted down by a sturdy lady in a black bomber jacket. Bianca remained impassive throughout, even when the bomber jacket woman gestured for her coat.

By this time me, Millhouse and Jason were at the front of the queue and being searched. We stood there with our arms outstretched looking over as Security Lady squeezed the coat and found something suspicious. She stopped smiling. Bianca’s face began to get red. Security lady turned the coat inside out and began talking to Bianca sternly. Bianca got redder. Security Lady found the hole in the lining, reached in and pulled out the golden box of contraband. From five metres away, I could feel the searing heat coming from Bianca’s face. Security lady summoned her colleagues as she opened up the cigarette packet and tipped out the contents into a tray, all the while talking sternly to Jason’s glowing girlfriend. Within a couple seconds Bianca was surrounded by big fellas in black bomber jackets, pointing accusing fingers at her and questioning her angrily about her subterfuge, demanding to know what else she’d hidden and why. We looked on helplessly, wondering if this was the end of our night, as well as our cigarettes.

After a couple of tense minutes the crowd of bomber jackets began to disperse until it was just Bianca with Security Lady admonishing her as she slid the cigarettes back into the tattered packet with trembling fingers. Eventually, Bianca, and the cigarettes were allowed through to join us.

She traipsed over to us, with her sweaty, red face turned to the floor to avoid the sniggering gaze of the many hundreds of people who had witnessed her humiliation. It turned out that while trying to sneak stuff past the security team was frowned upon, you could smoke in the NEC after all – just not in the seats. So that was good.

Although, thinking about it, I don’t think Bianca actually smoked.


A few years later Mrs NoiseCrumbs was working at the NEC and could get us reduced price tickets for shows. Being a massive venue, not that much worth seeing came up, but among the bands we did see were The Beastie Boys, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. We had tickets for The White Stripes too, but tragically they split up before they did the tour. Another band we saw there was Blur – the poor relations of Rollercoaster filling the Arena on their own on their ‘Greatest Hits’ tour. I still wasn’t really a fan, but it’s funny how things turn out.

NEC

‘Just Like Heaven’ by The Cure covered by Dinosaur Jr – Magnificent Cover Version No. 10

Millhouse – Indie Music Mentor

 

‘Different Drum’ by Linda Ronstadt, covered by The Lemonheads – Magnificent Cover Version No. 27

The Lemonheads’ energetic, pop-grunge take on Different Drum now looks like a dry run for their hit version of that other AOR classic Mrs Robinson. The lesser-known Different Drum is so much better though – less obvious, more original, more fun. The feedback and unpolished production contrast beautifully with the baroque rock elements and Evan Dando croons out the ballad with enthusiasm and the requisite emotion.  It’s a better song too.

I bought this back in 1990 on the Favourite Spanish Dishes 12″ having heard Different Drum played by John Peel. It was one of my purchases from a rainy afternoon spent in Replay Records in Bristol. I was visiting my big sister at university and she’d stuck me on a bus to the city centre to get rid of me for a few hours. The excellent, subterranean –  and now sadly gone – Replay was a real treasure trove and I came away with this, The Boo Radleys’ Kaleidoscope EP and a copy of Lime Lizard magazine in which Mudhoney mocked their interviewer for having long hair, having recently cut theirs. As a Mudhoney fan who was desperately growing his hair, this had me bewildered – why would they do this?

Different Drum, written by Monkee Mike Nesmith and originally recorded by the bluegrass band The Greenbriar Boys, is technically not a cover of a Linda Rondstadt song, but that’s how John Peel announced it on his show, so that’s what it’s always been to me. It’s also how my mum recognised it when she heard The Lemonheads’ version blasting out of my bedroom on my return home. Turns out she’d been a fan of the Linda Ronstadt single back in the ’70s, though that’s not necessarily a recommendation.

lemonheads

A couple of years later The Lemonheads went mainstream with Mrs Robinson and the breakthrough album It’s A Shame About Ray. I once got together with a girl because she thought I looked like Evan Dando. Hmm! I mean I did have the hair by that point but to be honest I think it was more that she really wanted to see it; and I was cool with that!

Mudhoney’s 1995 single Generation Spokesmodel – “Oh I got these looks, That just won’t quit, I got at least, A half of some kind of wit” – is supposedly a dig at Evan Dando, and there are lots of reasons why this would make perfect sense, though they tend to deny it. Despite Mark Arm’s disapproval, I still have my vinyl copy of Favourite Spanish Dishes, long after the Kaleidoscope EP got traded in.

Nick

 

‘Love Or Confusion’ by The Jimi Hendrix Experience covered by Screaming Trees – Magnificent Cover Version No.15

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ by The Beatles, Covered by The Breeders – Magnificent Cover Version No. 2

 

 

‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones covered by Patti Smith – Magnificent Cover Version No.26

“I’m shrouded in the lives of my heroes.” Patti Smith, Please Kill Me (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain)

Patti Smith always felt a deep connection to the famous. She seemed to simultaneously crave the company of beautiful people and feel awkward in it – as if  she belonged there but wasn’t sure why. In the brilliant oral history of New York punk, Please Kill Me, Penny Arcade related a story about Patti hanging around with Eric Clapton not long after she’d arrived in the city. Eventually he said to her, “Do I know you?”. “Nah”, she replied. “I’m just one of the little people”.

Patti first began to make a name for herself in New York by performing poetry and impressing everyone who counted in the punk scene with her intensity and vulnerability. When she’d finished reading a poem she would scrunch up the paper it was written on into a ball and drop it to the floor. Sometimes she would throw chairs.

It was a concert by The Rolling Stones at Madison Square Garden that turned Patti towards music. According to Patti, Mick Jagger was “fucked up” that night. “He was not a rock and roller that Tuesday night. He was closer to a poet than he ever has been, because he was so tired, he could hardly sing”.

Patti the poet could sing. Her combination of passion, powerful voice and vivid poetry cemented her status as a punk star, right from her 1975 debut album Horses. She’s been there ever since. As a survivor of the original New York scene, she’s now practically royalty.

In 2007 she released Twelve, an album of covers featuring versions of songs by artists as diverse as Hendrix, Nirvana, The Doors, Tears For Fears and Stevie Wonder. Patti’s low-key take on Teen Spirit is great, but it’s when she gets to grips with the work of her long-time heroes that her charisma takes things to another level. Gimme Shelter is something of a sacred cow for Stones fans, and it took balls to take it on. That’s something that Patti’s never lacked. Musically it’s pretty close to the original but the raw emotion in Patti’s voice in her cover version adds a new emotional authenticity to an enduring classic and adds yet more weight to her enduring legend. Even when she’s covering other artists, she’s a complete original.

Edit

I discovered Patti Smith through a cover version. Birmingham-based, Bleach-blond indie-rockers Birdland released a version of her Rock ‘n’Roll Nigger as a single in 1990 and the 7″ of this was one of my earliest vinyl purchases. This was at a time when I had no money and was rifling through bargain bins to boost my meagre record collection. It’s a pretty good cover; I certainly made a lot of worse purchases in those days.

patt smith twelve

‘Kick Out The Jams’ by MC5 covered by Rage Against The Machine – Magnificent Cover Version No.25

 

Action Time Vision – UK Independent Punk 1976 – 1979

Chris Cornell – Feeling Minnesota

This isn’t a Chris Cornell obituary – just me trying to work out why, when I heard about his sad, sad death a couple of days ago it felt like such a kick in the teeth.

I’ve been listening to his music for more than 25 years. With Soundgarden he’s been responsible for some of my most listened-to songs of all time. Yet when I’ve been asked what sort of music I like and dutifully reeled off a list of band names, I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned Soundgarden. They’ve been an ever-present, but never an obsession.

1990 was when it started. Someone lent me the Louder Than Love album with its iconic Charles Peterson photograph of a hair-flailing, bare-chested Chris Cornell on the cover. At that time my main jam was baggy, indie pop and Soundgarden just sounded like metal; which it pretty much was. Guitarist Kim Thayil described the sound they were aiming for as ‘Black Sabbath without the parts that suck’. Steady on there, Kim, that’s Sabbath you’re talking about!

Soundgarden Louder Than Love  Soundgarden_-_Badmotorfinger

The sound grew on me, as of course it did with a lot people at that time. Mudhoney’s garage fuzz was my main route into grunge, but 1991’s Badmotorfinger, and more specifically its three outstanding singles,  Jesus Christ Pose, Outshined and Rusty Cage, got me properly interested in Soundgarden for the first time.

Outshined included Cornell’s brilliant lyric, ‘I’m looking California, but feeling Minnesota’. In interviews, the frontman with the Hollywood looks often alluded to the crippling agoraphobia and depression that he’d suffered as a teenager. Though music had been his saviour, this line showed that despite his growing success, he never felt that his problems were behind him.

TempleOfTheDog

I loved the Temple of the Dog album that came about after the death of Cornell’s close friend Andrew Wood. The Mother Love Bone singer ‘s overdose was an epochal event for Cornell and, despite it prompting a dive into serious drug and alcohol dependency, he formed the side-project band as a tribute. The album featured the grunge classics Say Hello 2 HeavenHunger Strike and Pushin Forward Back. It was about this time that I started to notice that Chris Cornell could really fucking sing. Strangely, it was his backing singing to Eddie Vedder’s lead on Hunger Strike that particularly brought this fact home for me.

As Soundgarden became more popular than ever in the mid ’90s – despite the demise of grunge following Kurt’s death – I’d tune in to them from time to time. They were the kind of band whose CDs I’d buy in the HMV sale. Black Hole Sun is now being put forward as their masterpiece, but I think they did better stuff in this period; The Day I Tried To LiveBurden In My Hand and Pretty Noose, the title of which has now taken on a tragic new context.

After Soundgarden, Chris Cornell seemed to become more active than ever with Audioslave, solo work and various collaborations. He married, had children and began a charitable foundation. He got himself clean and apparently remained so. When Soundgarden reformed in 2010 and started putting out new material it was heartwarming – a major band from the dominant and most exciting music scene of my teenage years was up and running again, and the singer barely looked a day older, despite the passing of two decades.

On Thursday, when Soundgarden were trending on Twitter and I clicked the hashtag, I was expecting to maybe see a UK tour announcement. ‘Chris Cornell dead aged 52’. Fucking what? Fucking WHAT? Another link to my youth, gone. And this was someone who’d negotiated addictions and a notoriously morbid music scene, apparently unscathed. He’d grown up, become a family man, gained huge respect as an artist, was clean, sober and busier than ever. Surely he was out of danger? People speculated that maybe it was a heart attack – a consequence of those years of addiction, maybe? Later came the suicide confirmation.

Tragically, 25 years on, Chris Cornell was looking California and still feeling Minnesota.

There can’t be many better illustrations of how devastating mental illness can be than this. If Chris Cornell, a lavishly talented, impossibly good-looking, artistically respected, incredibly successful rock superstar with a loving family can’t cope with life, what chance does anyone else have?

I’ve lost other friends to suicide. I know how senseless and devastating it is and how any apparent positives don’t seem to count for anything. It might be that that’s the aspect of Chris Cornell’s death that’s hit me so hard. It’s such a waste.

chris cornell