Saturday, June 28, 2008

Something Phishy

The gay pride parade may be rolling through the West Village as I type, but the weekend’s biggest coming out celebration actually took place on I’ve long suspected that the boys behind the web’s biggest indie-blog were closet jam-kids: not only are their jamband jabs littered with insider references (a choice quip: "anyone ever actually hear [moe.]? We remember "Rebubula" -- with its harmonizing-guitar head sounding like a bpm-boosted Allman's cut -- but beyond that our memory is cashed), but the site’s primary visionaries grew up in Long Island during the 1990s---a time when any music dork who spent way too much time on the internet probably stumbled into a Phish show or two while buying a new baja. But, on Friday Sterogum finally came out and said what we all already knew: they want their Phish back. Maybe even more than the the hippies, who seem to have universally claimed My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Radiohead as their arena-size saviors.

I've always liked a wide range of music, from punk to pop to---of course---Phish, so I’m not sure why it makes me so happy to out my favorite indie-bands 'n bloggers as retired jamband kids. Maybe it’s because I'm fed up with the now invisible border between Bonnaroo and Coachella or maybe it's because I've seen one too many of my former Phish-head friends switch stylistic teams in the name of the hype-machine. Or maybe it's because, at the end of the day, musical genres are tied to the times as much as they are social cliques, meaning that trends come and go, age and evolve, lineally along pop-culture's X/Y axis.

No matter what the reason, I hope you all enjoy this post as much as I did when my good friend and fellow post-jam aficionado Jon Bahr sent it to me late Friday night (fittingly enough, after we saw the P-J holy trinity of Cold War Kids, Elvis Perkins and Sam Champion at Prospect Park, complete with a sit in by Guster’s Brian Rosenworcel).

Since its filled with enough obtuse Phish facts to qualify as Greenhaus post, I also encourage you to break out that dusty copy of the Pharmer's Alamnac to reference while you read. Who knows? You might need it for tour sooner than you think anyway!

Below: My Phish tour crew, pre-Post-Jam
Pop quiz for my older friends: Of the following people, since this picture was taken which person has:

1) Publicly performed with a Disco Biscuit
2) Casted a TV game show
3) Ran a burlesque club
4) Befriended Trey (for real)
5) Tied the knot
6) Had a kid
7) spelled his own name wrong on more than one occasion
8) offered to give me a ride to Rothbury (I hope that offer still stands)
9) taught over 300 students
10) learned to dress like a hipster, but still dreads easily after a long night out

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dudes and D'ohs

One of the greatest lines in all of Seinfeld was muttered just four episodes into the series’ first season. After having lunch with an annoying old camp friend (the “summer George,” if you recall), Jerry says with a hint of nostalgia that “there are certain people he’ll be friends with forever, whether he likes it or not.”

I’ve always loved that line, not so much because I want to get rid of any friends (accept maybe the cockblockers-----j/k), but because there comes a point when you have been friends with people for so long that you have to actively redefine your friendship with them as you grow older and enviably settle down. And, by and large, I’ve found that if you can make it through a two-course dinner with someone without simply reciting the "where are they now?" section of your alumni directory, you will stay friends forever.

For certain high school friends that bond is politics, for other old flames its memories and, for the friend I like to affectionately refer to as “The Sharpest Tool in the Shed,” it’s that age old hunt for the lower part of the female anatomy. Having spent my entire academic life in “private institutions,” I’d say most of my friends tend to analyze their lives as if they were Shakespearian tragedies, which is probably why I always loved hanging out in the Sharpest Tool in the Shed: I spend hours a day carefully massaging my e-mail inbox (and concert calendar), he doesn’t own a computer. I’ve spent my adult life trying to be a fly on the wall at cultural events (or at least hetty shows), he thinks hockey is a highbrow sport. I have an entire blog devoted to the wonder years of growing up and falling in love (as well as, of course, hetty shows), his life motto is “I should hit that shit.” But, at the end of the day, we actually speak the same language, even though most of his deep thoughts are tied to the word “dude.”

Then, a few years ago, something rather strange happened: he got a girlfriend. And, like so many friends over the years, Brooklyn domestication turned out to be a major bummer for his bros.
Even when I’d come to his house for dinner or drinks, I was quickly classified as one of his “stupid, beer drinking buddies” and immediately castrated by any of his girlfriend’s readily available female friends. I’m sure the irony of the whole situation is worth a blog itself, but let’s just say his thoughts on politics, relationships and life were a more interesting when they boiled down to variations of the word ass.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but in order to keep our otherwise R rated friendship alive, we also kind of subconsciously created “fake, PG mutual interests” like, um, our mutual love of Weezer. But, as much as I hoped "Buddy Holly" could keep our bond alive for another decade, part of me knew our friendship was waning.

But, another summer has arrived, once again The Sharpest Tool in the Shed is single and we can thankfully spend our weekends overanalyzing the finer things in life, like the difference between bum cakes and ButterFaces, coogers and cheetahs. And though I’m sad things didn’t work out with his future MILF, I’m glad to have him at the other end of the bar, boiling my misapplied metaphors down to a series of “dudes" and "D'ohs.”

I just hope we join a soccer league next time one of us changes our Facebook status.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Month of MMJ

Since I'm about one podcast away from jumping the shark with my My Morning Jacket obsession, I figured I'd post my final two Zenbu Media-sponsored MMJ articles in one blogger friendly post. Feel free to also read my initial thoughts on the album, interview with the band and review of their Bonnaroo set to complete your Mikey Greenhaus geekout collection.

My Morning Jacket, Radio City Music Hall, NY-6/20

For bands that have by and large made their name on the road, the process of aging from musicians to rock stars tends to happen in small steps over an extended period of time. Though it’s difficult to say exactly when and where the members of My Morning Jacket graduated from working musicians to guitar-rock torchbearers, there’s no question the Kentucky-based, Bonnaroo-bred quintet’s Radio City debut felt more like an event than a rock show—complete with the requisite circus excitement, text message barrage and inevitable backlash that goes along with any musical milestone.

My Morning Jacket framed its largest headlining show like any other club gig, just on a much bigger scale: no sit-ins, no covers, lots of energy. As expected, the group ran through almost all of its recent Evil Urges, including the guitar workout “Aluminum Park,” the haunting “Smokin’
From Shootin’” and both parts of the album’s genre-burning arc, “Touch Me I’m Going to Scream.” Throughout the almost continuous 26-song performance, MMJ also offered a number of older gems, including “The Bear” and the dreamy “Bermuda

Highway,” as well as a mammoth reading of its breakthrough “One Big Holiday.” Though The Jacket is primarily Jim James’ vision, now more than ever, the ensemble felt like a tried-and-true band, powered by the thick, funky basslines of “Two-Tone” Tommy Blankenship and multi-instrumentalist Carl Broemel. "In fact, the group offered some of its best jams when James strapped on a wireless guitar and made his way up the stage-left wings
to the first balcony, leaving his bandmates—particularly Animal-like
drummer Patrick Hallahan—to shine on the stage below."

Of course, like any buzz show, there were complaints: James’ vocals felt flat at times, the now-mythic “Cobra” never appeared and the evening’s setlist lacked the special guests and equally eclectic covers that marked Bonnaroo’s two-set marathon. But, more than ever, My Morning Jacket successfully harnessed its crowd’s collective energy and finally felt ready to bring its show to an arena-size stage as it will the next time its come to NYC—to headline Madison Square Garden for New Year’s Eve.

Evil Urges - My Morning Jacket
Mike Greenhaus

ATO Records

My Morning Jacket moved from playing dingy Louisville bars to blogger-friendly festivals around the time many of the original third-wave jambands started fading into the ether, which means the group was quickly dubbed the undisputed torchbearer of classic guitar-rock. But, from the lo-fi experimentations that informed their debut The Tennessee Fire to the weird, not-quite jams that fill the group’s early EPs, Jim James and the members of My Morning Jacket were always experimentalists at heart. So it is somewhat fitting that at a time when every singer/songwriter sporting more than a 5 o’clock shadow has seemingly tailored his style to replicate the classic Jim James sound, My Morning Jacket has moved in the opposite direction, creating a dense, funky, psychedelic album that would fit more comfortably next to Flaming Lips or Prince than either At Dawn or It Still Moves.

Like 2005’s Z, Evil Urges finds the Kentucky-bred quintet masking its raw muscle with glitchy studio wizardry rather than acoustic guitars and reverb drenched vocals. In fact, James has tweaked his voice to such an extent that he now employs two microphones onstage. But, from start to finish, those classic My Morning touches are still there, buried beneath a thick layer of conscious fuzz, where one gets the sense James always felt they belonged. “For thoughtless folks like me and J, who'd pay, but can't afford, the finer things in life,” he mused on the key At Dawn cut “X-Mas Curtain.” “So we heist them all...”

In many ways, Evil Urges is actually two very different albums, conceptually split down the middle by, appropriately enough, the song “Two Halves.” For lack of a better term, the disc’s A-side is the more experimental portion, driven by studio gimmicks and longtime drummer Patrick Hallahan’s big, funky dance beats. From the opening notes of the infectious digital single “Evil Urges,” My Morning Jacket reintroduces itself as a band of high-tech studio-savvy experimentalists, with James cloaking his voice in the high pitched falsetto that defines Evil Urges’ first six tracks. The group then proceeds to contextualize the eclectic mix of covers its introduced since Z, nodding to Prince (the aforementioned “Evil Urges”), Lionel Richie (the soulful future wedding staple “Thank You Too!”) and even AC/DC (the odd, surprisingly agro freak-attack “Highly Suspicious,” perhaps the album’s only true dud). As James moves further and further away from his once signature reverb drenched vocals, his lyrics have also become more revelatory, simultaneously tackling national affairs and his own fears about loss and love. In that sense, though My Morning Jacket has always been something of a vehicle for his songs, Evil Urges is his most personal album, yet oddly enough his bandmates are more musically pronounced than ever before (also of note: the only songwriting credit James shares with his bandmates on the entire disc is the short breakdown jam section of the album's title cut).

The album’s B-side is more traditional My Morning Jacket, filled with classic rock gems like and a few more gentle interludes like the soft, haunting “Librarian” -- a vintage MMJ moment that could fit on Harvest were it not for a somewhat obtuse reference to “the interweb.” Elsewhere, James channels the spirit of Bruce Springsteen by way of the Boss’ protégé Win Butler (“Aluminum Park”), nods to his country-rock roots (“Look at You”) and revels in some fine stoner shenanigans (the odd, four second “Her Majesty” epilogue “Good Intentions”). As Evil Urges winds down, My Morning Jacket kicks out its best post-jam yet, “Smokin from Shootin,” an unassuming rocker that slowly builds into emotional masterpiece. The song also contains some of the group’s best yearbook-ready lyrics, including the slightly rhetorical question, “do you live your life on the road, losing out on love, asking for nothing, running for something that isn't there?”

Also split down the middle is Evil Urges’ signature moment, “Touch Me I'm Going to Scream,” which sits in two parts on either side of the album’s conceptual split. “Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt.1” is a dreamy, Flaming Lips-like plea, both hopeful and romantic, while its companion frames an almost identical set of lyrics in an entirely different stylistic context. Thick, danceable and emotionally guarded, the seven-minute “Touch Me I'm Going to Scream Pt. 2,” is perhaps the most tangible proof yet that My Morning Jacket holds duel citizenship on either side of the great indie/jam divide.

So, in the end, while Evil Urges’ A-side was clearly sequenced upfront for a reason, it’s the record’s B-Side that packs the biggest punch and will either propel MMJ out of their comfortable critic’s corner or alienate a sizable portion of their original fans... or both. For even though Evil Urges is in many ways the group’s least accessible work since signing with ATO, it’s also tailored for the big, arena stages My Morning Jacket are finally ready to frequent on their own.

The Greenhaus Effect will now return to its regularly scheduled rants on new grooves and old rants. Until, of course, MMJ hits the road in September

Monday, June 23, 2008

Earplug Alert!

Above: Sidestage at Bonnaroo Vampire Weekend comes out of the jamband closet. I wonder what Phish show he bought that shirt at?

It has been a while since I've spent a solid seven days in New York. A few weeks? A month, perhaps? Either way, I'll try to fill you all in on my most recent personal typos over the next few days. In the meantime, I hope to see some of you out and about in New York at the following shows

Tuesday: Marco Benevento Trio, DJ Logic, Mocean Worker @ (le) Poisson Rouge (new venue at the old Village Gate)

Wednesday: Josh Dion @ Bitter End

Thursday: Juan MacLean @ Santo's Party House

Friday: Cold War Kids, Elvis Perkins, Sam Champion @ Prospect Park (free! no excuses)

Saturday Afternoon: Titus Andronicus et al @ East River Ampitheater

Saturday Night: The Duo @ The Yard (Relix and are giving away two pairs of tickets for the intimate gig, which will take place on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.)

Sunday (earlier): (Summer)Time Unamplified Acoustic BBQ @ Roosevelt Island

Sunday (later): Hold Steady @ McCarren Park Pool