Israel and I stood in front of the stage at the Marquee Theater waiting for Matisyahu to come out and play. We still had the opening band to endure and the two teens near us gave fair warning. “Matishyahu is notorious for having really bad opening bands,” they said.
My first impression when Trevor Hall walked onto the stage seemed a confirmation. His appearance lacks color contrast: his very fair skin is not offset by his pale blond hair. Nor was it highlighted by the non-color of his knit reggae headband, a tan that blended right into his hair. I did love the dreads shooting out of that headband and Trevor’s bare feet, but so far, his appearance wasn’t making a huge impression. We were all just excited for Matisyahu to come out.
And then the guy started playing his guitar and singing. And dancing around on his bare feet. And being really joyful as he shared his music. Okay, here’s the thing: it’s totally not cool to describe a musician as joyful. But this dude is the most joyful musician I’ve ever been lucky enough to watch. He makes you glad you’re alive. I love his music. But even more than that, I love to watch him make it.
As Trevor played, everyone in the crowd around us exchanged a bunch of “Who is this guy?” looks. We all loved him — the screams from the audience made it clear it wasn’t just Israel and me who would have paid the same ticket price just for the opening act. That’s why we’re going to see him again in a couple of weeks. He’s coming to The Compound Grill in Phoenix on March 6th.
With so many bands and musicians on the radio all sounding the same, I love the ones who infuse their own unique personality into their music. Trevor definitely has his own unique characteristics — Listen in the video above for the way he starts many lines and notes with this crazy sort of emotional squeak. Squeak? That’s an awful word for what he does but it’s the most accurate description I can think of. I love Trevor’s “squeaking.” Or maybe he’s squawking…? You tell me.
Anyone in Phoenix want to join us at The Compound Grill to watch Trevor? Tickets are only $10 (or $12 at the door).
Need to hear more first? Watch this video about my favorite of his songs, a collaboration with Matisyahu…
Young teen male + movie star infatuation = what I hear in this song, one of my favorites from Guster: Barrel Of A Gun.
It’s not just the lyrics that communicates this story. It’s also the hopeful, upbeat, and youthful sound, laced around the bang of bongos beating the tension of suppressed, young male hormones.
Since I’m always interested in the instrumentation of songs, I really enjoy the video for Barrel Of a Gun and a chance to see the band members playing their parts in a studio setting. Watch for the typewriter . . .
Right now Guster is in album-recording mode. I love knowing that a band is in the heat of creating its own next new era; is swimming in a new set of influences that will color the music of their next album and tour.
While the band so far has not shared on their Studio Journal what the current influences are (you get a taste for the band’s sense of humor on this blog), they do share specifics about the songs they are recording. Most recently, one of them blogged some of the good and the bad experiences of recording each of their albums so far. Interesting stuff.
I won’t lie. It’s been torture for me to blog three different Music Monday posts without referring to my musical soul-mates, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I could devote every single Monday to sharing the aspects of their music that throw me to the sky and send me flying. But I won’t. Promise.
Here’s the thing. You’ve got these four guys who each play their parts in ways beyond what most band members do. Yet they’ve found this symbiotic place with each other where their separate musical strands, all bold and outrageous, braid together into a beautiful whole.
Co-dependency Instead of Competition
You can probably point to the Chili Peppers‘ unusual writing style as one of the reasons for the unity of such intricate musical parts. To write music, the band usually jams together until they slide into something that’s working. Then Anthony, the leading vocalist and lyric writer, will sit to the side to find meaning and lyrics that work with the music while the rest of the band continues to flesh the piece out. They have a communal song-writing method while other bands usually spend more time writing their parts individually.
Especially In Michigan
The song below is the kind of music that pulls you away from your everyday and makes you feel as if the universe is swimming around you. So if you can, plug into some good speakers (or headphones) and let it fill the room. Below I share some of the reasons the musical quality of this band is so unique . . .
You really should listen to the Chili Peppers songs a number of times, with an ear for the different parts if you want hear all the layers. After getting the overall feel of the song, as well as Anthony’s vocals with all his genuine and uninhibited personality, I like to listen with a focus on individual parts . . .
To take in John Frusciante’s legendary lead guitar. He’s up there with Jimi Hendrix in terms of skill and passion, in my opinion.
To put your ear to Flea’s bass line. He does more than just provide an underlying anchor to the harmonies and the beat. Flea has often been called one of the world’s greatest bassists.
To understand Anthony’s brilliant and poetic lyrics.
The Chili Peppers’ intricacy is the only reason I’m able to listen to this band so often and not get tired of them like I do with other bands. Every listen can be a new experience, depending on what I decide to focus on. Below are a few of the things that amaze me about the song above . . .
John Frusciante’s Guitar
During a recent listen to John’s guitar in this song, I realized he plays differently for each set of verses and each run with the chorus. Seriously — who does that? Just John. In most music you get a slight change or an additional layer to build toward a climax. But in this song, John gave each round of verse and chorus its own sound. That’s love for the music, right there.
I should mention, the guitar solo is actually Omar Rodriguez-Lopez from The Mars Volta.
Anthony Kiedis’s Lyrics
Anthony’s lyrics are deeply personal and autobiographical, often symbolic, and usually infused with multiple meanings. Especially in Michigan may not be as much about the state as it is about Anthony’s sanctuary there from his drug addiction. He grew up with his mother in Michigan until he went to live with his Dad in L.A. at age eleven. His dad immediately introduced the young Anthony to drugs and a crazy wild life. Eventually he stopped using but Michigan is where Anthony returned a number of times to the care of his mother and her rural home in order to detox and come clean again after some bad relapses.
Knowing this, the line means much . . . “Out on the farm we’ll be swimming with the mother duck,” as well as, “Land is full of medicine, I find it when I’m slipping in . . . into Michigan.”
Residents from Michigan will identify with the many references that are particular to the culture and state of Michigan. The oz-like “lions and tigers” most likely came to Anthony because of the Detroit Lions football and the Detroit Tigers baseball teams.
Michigan is shaped like a mittened hand and residents commonly point to a spot on their hand to identify approximately where in the state their hometown is on the mitten. Anthony refers to the mitten and its many lakes when he sings of “a mitten full of fishermen,” and how they’ll be “swimming with the mother duck, deep in the mitten.”
This kind of back-story helps you understand why the Chili Peppers music always feels so intensely soulful, passionate, and human.
Since it’s a little harder to hear Flea’s bass in the song above, I have to share another one with you. I could (and eventually will) write an entire post pointing out the insanely unique musical qualities of this song, Charlie. But for now, please take a little time to enjoy Flea’s bass line, most prominent in the intro and outro, but surfacing throughout, as well . . .
Flea is known for his funk-style slapping technique, which he’s toned down over the years for music with the Chili Peppers in order to not pull too much attention from the other parts. You can watch him play a bass solo in the video below. Pay attention to his hands . . .
State Radio will be playing in Tuscon this Wednesday night and Israel and I were planning to go until we realized last week that we just couldn’t fit it around our work schedule. I’ve allowed myself some brief moments of sulking whenever I remember how close they will be to where we live, just a two hours drive away.
Let me tell you how we discovered this band. It started with Pandora, of course, and the discovery of a totally different band. I can’t remember which of my stations leaked the song, Open Up, by Dispatch but as soon as the bongo beat and its political message hit my ears I flipped out as I ran to my computer to see who the band was. I hadn’t heard of it.
That is exactly the type of experience that is rare and so amazing and what I look for…finding a new band that I am instantly in love with. As soon as the song ended I paused Pandora, opened a new tab to Blip.fm and broadcasted the song there. Here is that song, by Dispatch, and please forgive this overly compressed version. It’s the only one I can find to share with you but I think you’ll love it anyway…
My next step was to find out who the band is, where they’re from, how many albums they have, etc. It turned out Dispatch was a college indie that disbanded in 2002. The more of their songs I discovered and loved, the more sad I was to know there would be no new releases. I wouldn’t get to watch them grow and mature over time. I’d never see them in concert. Check out the trailer for the documentary that tells the sad story (breaks my heart)…
And then we discovered…
Eventually, on the new Dispatch station I created on Pandora, another band pulled Israel’s and my attention: State Radio. I noticed that State Radio sounds extremely similar to Dispatch. The lead singers sounded the same and State Radio also had the deep-thinking, political statement-making themes like Dispatch, the deep-thinking quality being more typical of northeast bands than California ones.
State Radio, though, is more mellow, is comprised of fewer instruments, and is a little less experimental than Dispatch (one cool thing Dispatch was known for was that the band members rotated instruments between song sets during their concerts).
While talking about the bands’ similarities the other night, I speculated to Israel that the two bands had to be related. I looked it up and it turns out that the lead singer of Dispatch is, in fact, the same in State Radio. He actually put the new band together. The happy ending to this story is that we are, in fact, getting to see this indie band grow up to be a big boy, even if we did come late upon the scene.
In case you mistook my Jack Johnson rant for a dislike of mellow music, I thought I’d share a great band that is mostly chill but, unlike Jack, has good dynamics. Dynamics in music = variation in volume. Jack starts and stops every song at the same level and doesn’t vary from that level through the entire piece (snore). I can’t stand music like that.
Check out this song, Mellow Mood, by Slightly Stoopid with G-Love.
I love how their two guitars and their voices wrap around each other. They’re so talented that they got signed to a label while they were still in high school. I love the originality of the music and the personality that it expresses.
Here’s another one of my favorites, still on the overall mellow side but with more energy and a huge range of dynamics…
Let me step to the left before I plow face-first into my Pandora Radio complaint by stating that I LOVE Pandora Radio. LOVE. IT. Pandora has introduced me to hundreds of new bands to swoon over and reunited me with past lovers. As one of many parents who lose their musical way after college ends and child-rearing begins, I wandered lost in a ten-plus-year phase of no longer knowing where to find music I really love. Now days, Pandora provides me with a constant flow of new music based on other bands I tell it I love. Acquainting myself with bands is once again one of my favorite hobbies, just as it was in when I was in junior high and high school.
Now that my devoted love for Pandora Radio is on the table, let me side-step againâ€”this time to the rightâ€”for devoted fans of Jack Johnson. He may be a decent musician. I donâ€™t mean to offend all you ladies who love him. I might have actually liked him a little if it werenâ€™t for Pandoraâ€™s obsessive and bizarre man-crush on him, and its insistence that we all get dosed with Jack daily. I over-dosed on Jack soon after Pandora hit the internet.
Pandora Radio has a man-crush on Jack Johnson.
Either that or Jack is paying them a beautiful amount of money. Maybe Jack OWNS Pandora. Why my accusations of either a crush, a conspiracy, or under-the-table money-passing? If you plug almost any band or artist into Pandora, it will tell you that that band or artist shares qualities similar to Jack Johnson.
When I first began creating my own personalized stations on Pandora, I thought Jack Johnson was okay. There were a few songs I even enjoyed. That lasted about a few days when I realized Jack was invading my stations every few songs. I am a lover of new discoveries and repetition of the same music or style or sound will kill my interest and it will kill it fast. Jack began to get a lot of thumbs down on my new stations.
The more stations I created, the more I realized a pattern. Having created more than thirty different Pandora stations, I have only found a couple where Pandora didnâ€™t throw me a Jack-ditty by the third song. Seriously. All of the songs on a station are supposed to have similar musical characteristics to the original band you chose, but almost without fail Jack will be your song number three, no matter the music genre of your original band.
Not only that, but if you donâ€™t start giving Jack the good-old thumbs-down, heâ€™ll sprinkle your station with his non-dynamic and always-calm voice every handful of songs. I began complaining about this on twitter and got a quick response from Pandoraâ€™s twitter account. They told me that two thumbs-down will ban that artist from your station permanently, except for the songs youâ€™ve already given a thumbs-up, and unless the band is the one that initially created your station.
Great, I thought! There is a way to stop these regular buzz-kills! I was pretty sure Iâ€™d given Jack plenty of thumbs-downâ€™s already, but I have so many different stations, maybe they were spread around and somehow never happened twice on the same one. I began counting. And then I complained to Pandora on twitter when, after the fourth thumbs-down on my Sublime station, he popped in again, just a song or two later.
Maybe Pandoraâ€™s resident twitterer had her numbers wrong. Or maybe Pandora excused Jack from the thumbs-down rule because its man-crush is so tight, it cannot imagine anyone wouldnâ€™t love him the way it does. Whatever it was, eventually, after numerous thumbs-downâ€”maybe I downed every single song he ever releasedâ€”I got my stations to a happy point where Jackâ€™s pop-ins were relatively rare. I was a happy girlâ€¦until today.
Jack Came Back
All of a sudden this morning, Jack invaded my Sublime station four times during less than ninety minutes of listening. And yes, I was giving him the thumbs-down every time. The fourth Jack-intrusion happened with only one song after my third Jack-booting.
So whatâ€™s the deal, Pandora? Did you think my short reprieve from his music made me forget how much Jackâ€™s inability to change vocal levels bothers me? Did you think that your obsession with him escaped my memory during that short sweet period when he wasn’t invading all of my stations? Not this girl. I may be one of only a few, but I am not in love with Jack Johnson. And if there was ever any hope of me sorta-liking him, your insistence on seeing every band and musician in light of Jack destroyed it. Please, Pandoraâ€¦understand that we donâ€™t ALL love him. No way am I interested in becoming the third member to your love triangle.