Category: ESSAYS

After Dark: Revisiting the Radiohead concert

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Black is the color of night, of cool, of darkness, of the opaque, of the unknown. Black is the color of the galaxy, the pigmentation of the space between the planets and the stars and the comets and the objects that we have yet to identify. Black is the polar opposite of white, and it was the predominant color at the Radiohead concert last Thursday in Miami, where the band opened its 2017 tour.

Fans wore black. T-shirts, blouses, pants, jackets, caps. I wore black. My wife wore black. We were geared for a dark evening.

If Radiohead were a time of day, they would lie somewhere between dusk and dawn. This is where Radiohead resides. They make melodies and sounds and noise that reverberates, coagulates, and then secretes into your soul before the sun’s first rays poke out.

It was Radiohead that helped me cope with my father’s battle with lung cancer in the early 2000s (the other band was Rage Against the Machine.)

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In the early 1990s, Radiohead released PABLO HONEY, unarguably their most “conventional” album (it features “Creep,” a wonderful song that they refuse to play live anymore). Then they began to detour a little with the aptly named THE BENDS (1995) and OK COMPUTER (1997), which launched them into rock stardom alongside their contemporaries. But in this author’s humble opinion, it was the back-to-back releases of KID A (2000) and AMNESIAC (2001) that fired them through the ozone layer and into the dark where they remain, occasionally orbiting the Earth and sometimes drifting close enough for us to catch a glimpse.

Last week when the lights in the arena began to dim, an ominous hum sounded over the speakers, like the dial tone of an old telephone.  “They’re here,” I said to my wife, sounding oddly similar to that young girl in the movie “Poltergeist.”

But these were not spirits. This was Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood, Colin Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Phil Selway.

We stood, all of us, in black attire, and welcomed the English quintet with howls befitting a rout of wolves on a full moon.

They opened the show with a gradual lift-off into Daydreaming from their latest album, A MOON SHAPED POOL (2016), a soft tiptoe of a song between a state of consciousness and sub-consciousness, between the darkness of sleep and the brightness of a dream, cracking an idyllic tone for the rest of the evening, which was beautiful, eerie, melancholic and sublime.

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Through a 24-song well balanced set across their entire songbook including Idioteque, Lotus Flower, Weird Fishes, No Surprises, Fake Plastic Trees, and You and Whose Army, Radiohead pulled the crowd a step closer, inviting us to a place brighter than the blackness that was all around us.

(I bought a new shirt. It is gray.)

 

Full Set List (Miami, 3/30/2017)

Song / ALBUM / Year 

  • Daydreaming / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Desert Island Disk / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Ful Stop / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Airbag / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • Morning Bell / KID A / 2000
  • Climbing Up the Walls / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • All I Need / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Videotape / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Let Down / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • I Might Be Wrong / AMNESIAC / 2001
  • Lotus Flower / KING OF LIMBS / 2011
  • Identikit / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Idioteque / KID A / 2000
  • Nude / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Weird Fishes/Arpeggi / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • The Numbers / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • How to Disappear Completely / KID A / 2000

Encore 1:

  • No Surprises / OK COMPUTER / 1997
  • Burn the Witch / MOON SHAPED POOL / 2016
  • Reckoner / IN RAINBOWS / 2007
  • Fake Plastic Trees / THE BENDS / 1995
  • The Tourist / OK COMPUTER / 1997

Encore 2:

  • You and Whose Army? / AMNESIAC / 2001
  • BodySnatchers / IN RAINBOWS / 2007

 

Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami

 

Songs of Essence: My Top 10 U2 Songs

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U2 announced last week that they would be touring again in 2017 in North America including a stop in Miami (their first visit to the Magic City since 2011).

One of my favorite bands of all time, I discovered U2 when a friend who’s name I can’t recall lent me a cassette tape of War which I personally consider, nostalgia aside, as some of the band’s best work. That cassette is still with me 34 years later, a relic from 1983, when U2 opened my eyes to famine, war, and the plight of refugees; heavy stuff for a 12-year-old boy growing up in a quiet suburb bordered by a forest of pine trees and palmettos.

News of a U2 concert in South Florida prompted me to plunge obsessively into their extensive body of work from their first raw albums of the early 1980s to their more recent, less ambitious recordings; from Boy (1980) to Songs of Innocence (2014), I listened incessantly to songs at my disposal which included original vinyls, downloaded digital music, and streamed tunes on Spotify. I watched old music videos that I used to watch on MTV and videos of live performances of (so many) hits and B Sides. I read about the albums, the stories behind the compilations, and the influences. Whether I was taking the dog on an early morning walk or driving to/from work, or falling asleep at bedtime listening through ear plugs, I have been on U2 hyper-drive.

In honor of these four Irishmen, their expansive contribution to rock music, and their upcoming Joshua Tree Tour celebrating 30 years since that iconic album, I have prepared my essential Top 10 U2 songs. It’s not a list I approached lightly. I tried to consider not only the musicality and the lyrics in the songs, but their context and meaning both at the time of their release and thru present day, and how they have aged over the years.

Counting down, one by one, I begin with…

#10. I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR (The Joshua Tree, 1987)the_joshua_tree

In 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, described by many critics as the band’s peak achievement. It was a grown-up record album, the kind you make when you want to put some distance between you and your younger, rebellious self, and they certainly did. The Joshua Tree pushed forth a more enlightened approach for the band as they sought answers to some of the great mysteries in life – love, religion, death.

From the song’s opening repetitive guitar strum and welcoming angelic tambourine, to a second guitar with the Edge’s signature suspended echoing ring, a gospel tone is set from the start, sending the listener soaring. When the warm bass line comes, the listener is grounded back to Earth, compelled to his knees.

And then Bono begins his sermon:

I have climbed the highest mountains,

I have run through the fields,

only to be with you,

only to be with you.

Bono’s lyrics refer to a search for love that evolves into a search for spirituality, both quests morphed together like “colors bleeding into one.”

About this song, Bono once said, “The music that really turns me on is either running toward God or away from God.”

And this running never ends, this quest, it is a journey, and their journey becomes our journey.  Then, now, and forever.

#9. SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (War, 1983)

This song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday Bloody Sunday.600-2

On January 30, 1972, in Northern Ireland, over a dozen demonstrators who were protesting the imprisonment of Irish nationalists by the British government were fatally shot by the British Army in a confrontation. The event became known as “Bloody Sunday” and shone a light on the crisis in Northern Island between nationalists and the British government.

Sunday Bloody Sunday was the first song on U2’s fiery 1983 album, War, one which further cemented the band’s early reputation as a protest band.

One of the beautiful things about this song is the anti-war lyrics juxtaposed with a military marching drum beat, played to perfection by Larry Mullen Jr. It makes you stand in attention, while you “wipe the tears from your eyes.”

Bono once said, “This song will be sung wherever there are rock fans with mullets and rage, from Sarajevo to Tehran.”   In today’s highly divisive political environment, the song carries a special meaning. How long must we sing this song?

As long as necessary.

#8. MYSTERIOUS WAYS (Achtung Baby, 1991)

600-1The world was rapidly changing in the early 1990s. The Cold War ended, the USSR was dissolved, and East and West Germany reunited. Maybe this piece of news inspired U2 (part of Achtung Baby was recorded in Berlin’s Hansa Ton Studios). U2 was looking for a change too. Their 1991 album Actung Baby was an about-face for the band coming off the more serious sounds of Rattle & Hum (1988) and The Joshua Tree (1987). With the new album, the band went alternative, putting politics aside for the most part, and embracing technology, fashion and a more colorful brand of rock; groovy drum tracks, distortion pedals, and even alter egos (Bono’s sunglass-wearing The Fly).

Mysterious Ways is one of their finest. It wasn’t the easiest composition to complete, however. Stories of tension between the band and their producers surrounded this particular song. In the end, a funky guitar effect and drum track and the playful lyrics by Bono (Johnny, take a walk with your sister the moon, Let her pale light in, to fill up your room. You’ve been living underground, eating from a can, You’ve been running away from what you don’t understand) saved this song, forging a new alternative identity; more progressive, more distortion, more risk taking. A band that was on top of the world turned that same world upside.

If you want to kiss to sky better learn how to kneel.

#7. WHERE THE STREETS HAVE NO NAME (The Joshua Tree, 1987)

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1987’s The Joshua Tree was an ambitious undertaking for U2, one that aimed to established the band “from an arena act to a stadium act,” as bassist Adam Clayton pointed out in a recent interview.

If that was their goal, then Where the Streets Have No Name was their ticket.With its anthem-like keyboard introduction and the Edge’s guitar coming in from above, and the bass guitar and bass drum fused together and providing the song’s heartbeat, leading audiences to clap their hands along, before Bono cries out he wants to run, he wants to hide, he want to tear down this wall, that holds him inside, hands down, this is one of the great rock songs to hear live in a stadium (I, for one, have heard the band play it live 4 times and each time, the song stood out as one of the best performances of the night.)

U2’s video for the song was an event as well. They shut down several blocks in Los Angeles on Friday afternoon to film on the roof top of a liquor store (reminiscent of The Beatles “Get Back”).

#6. NEW YEARS DAY (War, 1983)600-2

New Years Day was one of those songs that needled itself into the fabric of my early teens. U2 didn’t enjoy an abundance of radio play in Miami around the time of War’s release unless it was on the University of Miami’s radio station (WVUM), or by the occasional rock deejay on the far end of the FM dial. Nevertheless, the song, to put it simply, was everywhere. I’d hear it at open house parties whether we were invited or we crashed them. I’d hear it playing out of car speakers on a Friday night at the beach where we gathered after high school football games to drink malt liquor and hit on public school girls. Local bands whose members were average students at Catholic prep schools would perform it as part of their hip weekend repertoire.

I’d argue that most of us didn’t know that New Years Day was about the solidarity movement in Poland or the struggle to find love in a war-torn country. We just liked how the music made us feel (cool, edgy, chic). And why not? Just listen to that thick bass line; Adam Clayton fires into that signature bass strut as if he’s is saying “I want to be with you, be with you night and day.” Mullen’s drums are the perfect sidekick to the bass and opens the landscape for the Edge’s almost off-key riffs to scratch the only window into this universe. Bono’s singing is pitch perfect especially when he harmonizes with Edge that he “will be here again.”  New Years Day also established a common theme that U2 carried throughout many of their songs: a call for unification (“torn in two, we can be one”), renewal, and redemption.

#5. PRIDE (In the Name of Love) – (The Unforgettable Fire, 1984)600-3

Full disclosure: I love U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. In my teens, I listened to both sides of this record, again and again, until I memorized most of the music. It’s a big record for an Irish band. In my opinion, The Unforgettable Fire is the band’s first “American” album. It wasn’t so much that this album was musically influenced by American songs (that would come later with The Joshua Tree), but this was the record that aimed directly at the Red, White and Blue after years of composing from the other side of the pond.

Filled with tracks about conflicts that on some hand may be universal such as heroin addiction and racial discrimination, many songs in this album directly reference America by name, by imagery, by message. Pride (In the Name of Love) was U2’s first breakout song from the album. U2 takes on American racial, political and social history, with a beautiful ode to the Reverend Martin Luther King. Pride catapulted the band to higher ground. The guitars (yes, plural) are a highlight, rhythm and lead working in tandem but what sets this song apart is Larry Mullen’s evolution as a drummer, opening the cymbals and high hat, keeping the rhythm going, whipping drum fills using an eight count on the snare, before the grandiosity of the chorus. The song is epic especially when Bono sings about that “one man” washed up on an empty beach, one man betrayed with a kiss.” This shows U2’s early brilliance, bringing heartache to your doorstep, describing this one man, as every man, you, me. And then the song hits its peak with the story of April 4th 1968 in Memphis, and the assassination of Dr. King.

#4. WITH OR WITHOUT YOU (The Joshua Tree, 1987)the_joshua_tree

The Nobel Laureate Ernest Hemingway subscribed to the writing theory that less is more, evidenced by his terse writing style. In music, sometimes the simplest melodies pack the biggest punch. Such is the case with With or Without You, U2’s biggest commercial hit off The Joshua Tree record and the band’s first ever song to reach #1 on the Billboard Charts in the U.S. (May 16, 1987) (Interestingly, the only other U2 song to reach #1 was I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, #10 on this list). But the song’s deservedly high ranking on this list is not about commercial success.

With or Without You radiates. It contains some of the most beautiful lyrics ever penned by Bono. It is repetitive but not redundant, melodic but not monotonous; the bass line ushers you along with four simple chords. It is probably as perfect of a quiet song as they can compose on an album that is loud with politics, religion, and a little bit of righteousness.

Every time I listen to this song, I am reminded of a time when U2 could keep it simple (the good old days?) before blowing the doors open with a falsetto at the end of the song that is Bono laying his soul out, with his hands tied and his body bruised.

#3. I WILL FOLLOW (Boy, 1980)

Ladies and Gentlemen… let me tell you… I Will Follow!boy

The first time I heard I Will Follow was on the 1983 live album, Under a Blood Red Sky. Making first contact with a song through a live recording (or live version) bends the ears in such a way that you never can listen to the studio recording and think it’s entirely acceptable. I Will Follow had that effect on me. The live recording is the only version and renders its other self, the original self, lifeless and dull, which is unfair to say about this particular song. I Will Follow is blessing of a song. (and needless to say, the original version features a Glockenspiel, which earns it back a few points.)

Released originally on the Boy album in 1980 and somehow prophetically listed as the first song on Side A, it is U2’s introduction to the rock scene, their debut, and it is stunning.

Your eyes make a circle.

I see you when I go in there.

It is in that circle that we trip over the heavy bass that carries the load, the double-timed drum beat that races after you as you walk away/walk away, and the catchy and slightly rough guitar riff. I Will Follow is a signature U2 song, a sing-along favorite at concerts, and one of the finest alt- rock songs to jump start the messy glamorous decade that was the 1980s.

 

#2. ONE (Achtung Baby, 1991)

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Is it getting better,

or do you feel the same,

will it make it easier on you now,

you got someone to blame.

Simply said, One contains the finest lyrics U2 has ever composed. The song is an idyllic fusion of beauty and melody. I can’t define it as a rock ballad or a rock song, it’s place is on a different plain, it’s glory is above definition, beyond categories.

Appearing on the terrific Achtung Baby album, nothing tops One as the album’s core. The song occupies the middle, where the heart is, the album’s heart, and in a way, the band’s heart. Its a beautiful poem about love, one love, one blood, one life you got to do what you should. And when Bono’s falsetto voice flies in at the end in harmony with the Edge’s guitar, you don’t want the song to end, but rather but to go on living.

Sublime.

 

#1. BAD (Live Version – Wide Awake in America, 1985)

600-4Originally released on 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire, a live version of Bad was released on Wide Awake in America, a four-song EP gifted to fans a year later. And its my number one.

The sound of hands clapping, strangers hands, not a single person I know or will ever know and yet I feel like they do, like we have this in common, the hands filling the missing beat and Bono going on and on about Surrender and Dislocate, two verbs that Bono recites with such power they deserved to be capitalized.

If there is an emptiness in your life, at any moment, or in between places and spaces, this is the song that makes the glass half full; U2 at their highest, widest, throwing their arms around the world, embracing humanity, and saying, its okay baby. The song was about heroin addiction, but it could be about suicide, divorce, death, any tragedy, any horror, and when Bono sings, he is standing at the top of a mountain, his voice soaring above the clouds.

I’m Wide Awake.

I’m Not Sleeping.

 

 

Copyright © 2017 Long Play Miami

Live from Miami

I have, as I grow older, few priorities that can compare to listening to live music. Sure, my wife and kids top that list. There’s also my home, my health, my business, my vinyl collection, a good day at the beach, a favorite episode of Seinfeld, and almost anything written by Philip Roth. But tagging just behind, within eyesight (or earshot), is live music.

I can say with certainty that this passion began to develop listening to live albums, and specifically (i.e., ad nauseam), Rush’s Exit Stage Left (1981), U2 Live at Red Rocks (1983), and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense (1984).

But this all went next-level on March 27th 1984.

I was 13 years old meandering about at a younger cousin’s birthday party when my aunt and her oldest daughter approached me and said, “Hey, we have an extra ticket to the Duran Duran concert, wanna come?” Three hours later, I was sitting at the edge of my ticketed seat at the Hollywood Sportatorium when the lights dropped and in the dark, with the crowd noise rising, the band harmonized the lyrics, Please Please Tell Me Now (from Is There Something I Should Know). Then all at once, the lights returned, the drum kicked in with the bass and the guitar, and Simon LeBon, John Taylor and Andy Taylor sprinted to the edge of the stage. Bam! just like that, I was hooked.

In my lifetime, I’ve attended over 60 concerts. It’s not a record for the record books but that’s a lot of live music. So when my wife heckled me one night late last year that we didn’t attend any concerts in 2015 (an absolute rarity in my house), I set upon a mission to get to as many shows as physically possible this year.

The first couple of months of 2016 were silent. Then it started in March.

NEW ORDER

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When New Order released its compilation album Substance in the summer of 1987, I took hold of it and played it on my Sony Walkman till my ears popped. The band’s up-beat, industrial sound knocked the 80s melancholy genre (e.g., The Smiths) on its ass. I saw New Order in concert in 1989 in Miami but was underwhelmed (the lead singer Bernard Sumner was way off his game; one rumor circling about was that he was on drugs, but then again it was the 80s in Miami so anyone physically and/or audibly distorted at any given moment was shrugged off with a “yeah, he’s just high on coke.”

New Order returned to the Fillmore in Miami Beach this past March. (My wife missed the show. It was Spring Break week and she had traveled with the kids to visit family in Bogota). I cut off work early, picked up my brother in law and we headed to the Fillmore, and found an open spot among the standing room general admission crowd.

New Order appeared a little past 9:30 PM silhouetted by a flood of technicolor. But the band, off the heels of a new album, started with songs that had most of us perplexed and antsy with anticipation for the songs we came to hear. About halfway through, lead singer Sumner sensed the fading enthusiasm:

I think this is the 1st American show that no one is smoking pot.

And then,

Not that I condone smoking pot. (ahem)

Then they played their hit song Bizarre Love Triangle. At which point I wrote a note in my iPhone: “Crowd erupts, lights up, and so begins the rest of the show.”

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Perfect Kiss, Truth Faith, Temptation, the hits kept coming. The first set ended around 11 PM. A minute later, they returned and performed back-to-back tributes to their older sibling, Joy Division with Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart.

When it ended with their 1983 hit Blue Monday, I was numb with a nostalgia for my teenage years that I had long ago forgotten.

 

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ULTRA

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Sometimes fate is your best friend for an afternoon.

Four days after New Order (my wife still away), through the power of Facebook, I scored a one-day pass to the last day of this annual EDM festival in downtown Miami.

The very long, dizzying arc of that afternoon’s narrative can be summed up like this: big crowd, young crowd, elated crowd, sweaty crowd, dancing crowd, and repeat in a perpetual ebb and flow of drum beats, sun glasses, furry back packs, flags, leather, lace, skin, hair, colors, sounds, sun, moon, stars, and magic.

I bought a hat. I drank lots of Heinekens. And I rode the heart thumping and mind blowing experience that is Ultra all the way back from where I was.

(Bucket list item checked off).

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PEARL JAM

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In the 90s there were two rock bands: Pearl Jam and Nirvana The path of one of those bands was cut short. Another one survived and endured. [update: In hindsight, actually there were three bands. My original post embarrassingly excluded the Red Hot Chili Peppers).

My wife and I caught Pearl Jam’s second show of their 2016 tour at the American Airlines Arena in April, and damn were they good. We didn’t know all the songs but the ones we knew we sang the shit out of them. Among the countless highlights were [a] during the encore when Eddie Vedder said the last time he saw Pink Floyd was in Miami (March 30th, 1994, to be exact), honored Roger Waters’ dedication and contributions to war veterans, and then, gifted the 18,000 in attendance with an inspiring rendition of Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb that had everyone feeling just like two balloons; and [b] the band roaring through Neil Young’s Rocking in the Free World, a banging show-closer when they were joined onstage by wheel chair rugby player Richard Shupan.

When the singing stopped, Vedder didn’t drop the mic but slammed it on the stage floor as if to say, Miami, Thank You, We Are Done!

One additional highlight: the closing minutes of Jeremy.

 

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IGGY POP

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Around 2004, a taco shop opened on the corner of Biscayne Blvd and 64th St that sold among its menu items an outstanding fish taco made with beer-battered tilapia. I love fish tacos and it turns out that so does Iggy Pop. He was a regular there. But for a fleeting moment when I watched him drive away in his Cadillac, he and I never really crossed paths. Either too late, too early, I always missed him.

So when it was announced that he would be touring for his most recent album Post Pop Depression with a stop at the Fillmore in Miami Beach, missing him was not an option. I bought two tickets for a Tuesday night show.

We arrived at the venue with few expectations except that my wife was a little nervous. Iggy Pop shows from the 70s and 80s were once wild and bordering on violent, so said the internet.

They opened with the brilliant Lust for Life.

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease

Watching Iggy Pop move is dazzling; jerking his aging body around the stage like a ragged doll being shaken by an invisible hand. But this is no puppet. In fact, he’s pulling all the strings and drawing the crowd towards him. You just can’t keep your eyes away.

When he was ready to greet the audience, he said:

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck…

The crowd chanted along.Talk about breaking the ice.

You’re a good-natured crowd.

If you want to bum rush the stage, I certainly will not object.

Through the next two hours the band performed a non stop string of new music and old classics including China Girl, Repo Man, The Passenger, and one of my personal favorites, Night Clubbing.

Past the halfway point of the show, he murmured, fuck it, I’m going in, and stepped down onto the floor. He weaved through the audience with a spotlight trailing him. We were in the mezzanine section and had to stand on our tippy toes to get a peak at the diminutive (5’6″) punk rocker dancing through the crowd.

Suddenly, to my surprise, he re-appeared and worked his way towards our section. Those times I missed him at the taco shop were long gone. Here he was. What did we do? – bum rushed the Godfather of Punk as he sang Fall In Love With Me.

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That’s it for this long post. Part 2 will be written at a future, to be determined date, and will include, but not be limited to, The Cure.

update: The Psychedelic Furs, Louie CK, Bob Dylan.

 

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Copyright © 2016 Long Play Miami

The Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival – A Preview

Music festivals conjure up visions of Woodstock and Monterrey Pop, tales of Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, and vaguely lucid memories of Voodoo and Langerado (oh how I miss Langerado). Rhythm Foundation each year does its part to contribute to the music festival quilt of America with its own very distinctive, very intimate Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival. Combing the world for innovative musicians, they have for years fashioned a program that meshes with Miami’s diverse music appetite. This year marks the 13th year for TransAtlantic, a two-day affair set for this Friday and Saturday at the North Beach Bandshell  on 73rd and Collins Ave. I’ve been attending this festival for years, since before my kids were born (they are 9 and 7 now) and always come away with good memories. Past performers include Aterciopelados, Sidestepper, Jorge Drexler, Seu Jorge, Amadou and Mariam, and Zero 7.

Here’s a preview of this year’s intriguing lineup.

Performing on Friday April 10th:

PUERTO CANDELARIA

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In this age of fusion, sampling and copycat acts, it is a real pleasure when purity shines through. Puerto Candelaria at its core is a Cumbia band from Medellin, Colombia, and they celebrate their ancestral roots with a dose of theatric, surreal flair that reminds one of the magical realism found in a Garcia Marquez passage.

BUDOS BAND

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This New York instrumental band first performed at TransAtlantic in 2009, and they don’t travel light. Eleven members, lots of horns and percussions. Their music sounds like extended reflections on retro cop show theme songs. No wonder they have been described as a “70s Psychedelic” band. I like the 70s. I like psychedelic. And I grew up on Starsky & Hutch so I’m looking forward to hearing them blast away on Friday night.

On tap for Saturday April 11th:

ANA TIJOUX

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French born. Chilean roots. The daughter of exiles from the Pinochet regime, Ms. Tijoux embodies the gulf between the developed and the developing world with a hip hop bravado that pops like Missy Elliott and crackles like Lauryn Hill. Her “1977” track (the year she was born) was featured in a Breaking Bad episode. (Remember the Mike & Jesse day-long money pick up sequence?) She made NPR’s 2012 list of Best Latin Alternative Music of the Year in 2012 (“Las Cosas Por Su Nombre”) and has continued to be featured there. She is a star and she’ll be tearing it down on Saturday night.

WILD BELLE

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Brother and sister duos worth there place are rare in music. The Carpenters? Pass. The White Stripes? You had us fooled for a while. Wild Belle is a brother-sister music act from Chicago that draws from reggae and paisley pop. Brother Eliot is the instrumentalist (he usually bounces between the piano and the saxophone) while sister Natalie delivers vocals with a subdued Bond girl quality to her. Their music is shag carpet cool.

Finally, each night will also feature a local band: MY DEER on Friday night and BLUE JAY on Saturday. Both are newcomers to the local indie scene. This is another fine thing Rhythm Foundation does well. No matter where the transatlantic flights take them, they never forget their roots.

For more info, visit this link.

The Record Man Spins Again

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In 1978, at the apex of Disco, there were two record companies that soared above the rest: Casablanca and TK.casablanca-main-sp

Casablanca had New York City, Donna Summer, The Village People, and was backed by Warner Brothers.

TK was in Hialeah, Florida, started from the trunk of a car, and went on to produce 27 gold records, operate more than twenty different labels, and become the largest independent record company in the world.

TK was the brainchild of the late Henry Stone, innovator of record distribution, king of record promotion, pioneer of Disco music.

Now a new documentary film on Henry Stone titled THE RECORD MAN is set to premiere Tuesday, March 10th at the Miami International Film Festival.

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The film was directed by rock-doc veteran Mark Moormann and produced by first-timers Mitch and Debra Egber of Beacon Films. I interviewed Moorman by phone recently. We talked TK. We talked Henry Stone.  He said this film embodies much more.

This is the history of Miami music.

Stone cut his teeth selling early R&B records in Los Angeles around 1946 from the trunk of his car. Two years later he was in Miami. When Stone arrived here in 1948 the local record industry was non-existent, nothing but mob-owned jukeboxes turning over 45s in dive bars, juke joints, and brothels.

Legend goes that someone recognized him in the street, told him he had boxes of records to unload and offered them to Stone. Stone bought them all, stored them in a warehouse near downtown Miami, and, voila! he was in the record distribution business. Stone started Tone Distributors and got to work.  With the emergence of television, radio programming in the late 40s/early 50s was shifting away from variety shows and soap operas towards more news, talk, and music. So Stone befriended a few local DJs and would nudge them to play his records.  When nudging was ineffective, he’d slip a hundred dollar bill or two inside the record, whatever it took, because once that record hit with local listeners, Stone would sit back and take orders from retailers. The next day he’d be phoning the record company to place an order for 10,000 copies of the record, say, Sam Cooke’s 1958 classic, You Send Me.

He eventually struck deals with Atlantic Records, Chess Records, Motown, and others to distribute their product in South Florida. Within a few years, records did not get sniffed in Miami unless they passed through Henry Stone’s hands. But he didn’t stop there.

Distributing records for all the large companies is one thing, but he made real impact when he opened his own recording studio. The record distributor turned record maker:

In the 50s he recorded Ray Charles.

In the 60s he recorded James Brown.

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In the 70s, he moved the production to an 18,000 square foot warehouse in Hialeah, changed the name from Tone Distibutors to TK Productions (TK was named after Terry Kane, a sound engineer he poached from North Miami’s Criteria Recording Studio), and made music history.

Soul, R&B, funk, disco, even early rap music – TK composed it, produced it, and sold it. TK had more than 20 different record labels. Often they’d have multiple records burning up the charts at the same time. Moormann said this strategy illustrated Stone’s business acumen.

So the radio stations wouldn’t get wise and see that it was the same company that was making all the records and getting on the air.

Left to Right: Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, Clarence Reid, Steve Alaimo, Henry Stone

Left to Right: Willie Clarke, Betty Wright, Clarence Reid, Steve Alaimo, Henry Stone

Moormann recognized during the making of the film that Miami’s music history is inspired by its geography, its fluidity, and its diversity.

There’s a legacy here [Miami] of great music and people making their own music.

Moormann interviewed dozens of musicians and music people for the film. He said everyone was very accommodating. These included Harry Wayne Casey (KC of KC & The Sunshine Band), Sam Moore (Sam & Dave), and R&B singers George McCrae (Rock Your Baby) and Anita Ward (Ring My Bell).

They wanted to tell their story.

But this is not all feel-good stuff.  There were lots of business deals that went awry. The record industry has always had a seedy side and Stone was no angel. Stone had many rifts. Moormann said from the beginning he was always looking for the edgier story.

[The film] is not a black and white thing. There are lots of gray areas. But that was the record business.

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Moormann said the hardest interview was Stone.

Henry lived in the moment and was always thinking forward.

It took a lot of interviews. He didn’t come clean on some business stuff. But the last interview in his place, he just delivered.

Selling out to the mob, payola, …

Not long after Disco died in 1980, TK crashed and filed for bankruptcy.  It was epic, said Moormann. Stone sold whatever catalog of music he had remaining for a fraction of its value today.  But soon after, he was back in the game producing and promoting Miami Freestyle records. He remained in the fading spotlight till the very end (Stone passed away in August 2014 at the age of 93).

Henry Stone did many things right. And sure, he did many things wrong. But he was a scrapper who did things his way.

That’s kind of who he was.

He was a record man.

Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami


For additional information about the film including available tickets, visit this link: http://www.miamiff-tickets.com/films/the-record-man/

Peace, Love and GrassRoots

Just follow the fingers.

So says the man wearing sunglasses. He points ahead as we pull into Virginia Key Beach Park in Key Biscayne, Florida for the 4th Annual GrassRoots Festival of Music & Dance. It is Saturday afternoon, day 3 of this four-day festival.

We follow the fingers, each one like the last one, magic wands ushering us towards the parking lot to settle among the cars, trucks, vans, jeeps, and campers. We are six today: me, my wife, my two sons, my friend, his daughter.

We get our tickets at the entrance and that’s it, there is no more finger-pointing. There is no more direction from others. We are on our own.

As we walk down the main trail towards the festival, our eager shadows lurch forward on the dust ahead of our feet. A breeze slips past the mangroves and onto our faces. We are, after all, on a beach, and we are open to wind, and sun and sand and sea.

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The trail is lined by tents on either side. There is disorder in the frames and colors and shapes of the tents and yet there is symmetry; They are here and now.

There are people on blankets.

There are people on camping chairs.

There are people drumming.

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The first festival music I hear is traditional Cuban music by Los Consortes at the first stage called the Zen Village. It is nostalgic and comforting to me and a reminder that we are a flare shot’s distance from Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

We don’t linger here. We are hungry.

We find pizza. We find beer.

As roadies begin to set up at the main stage, the guy next to me explains bluegrass music to his wife.

A man with sunflowers dangling from his straw hat spins an umbrella over his head.

Another man wearing a Viking helmet conquers a little spot near the stage.

When Donna the Buffalo is finally introduced, there are roars of elation from the crowd.

The woman sitting next to me takes repeated photos of the band. She tells me she is the cousin of singer Tara Nevins. Tara also plays the classic fiddle, the accordion, guitar, the electric fiddle, while, song after song, guitarist Jeb Puryear keeps an element of zydeco strumming.

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There is dancing.

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The sun begins its long descent behind the crowd and the trees.

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I slip out the back of the stage to find a restroom and I’m immediately drawn to a steady beat-thumping taking place at the aptly named Dance Tent. San Francisco-based MC Yogi is leading a prayer-like electronica ritual, a balancing act that combines Hare Krishna and Ultra Music Fest.

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MC Yogi makes women sweat, men bare their chest.

There are smiles and laughter.

There is euphoria.

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We are dry. We are salty.

We find Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Sweet Cream and Cookies ice cream at a Ben & Jerry’s cart. The kids get ice cream on their shirts and fudge on their cheeks.

Across lonely picnic tables, the Zen Village is hosting Miami singer Sindy Rush, an attractive blonde vocalist that looks like 80s2015-02-21 18.58 metal queen Lita Ford. A guy behind me yells “Sindy, you’re hot” during a break and she says thank you in a very casual and courteous way like she’s heard this before.

Sindy is hot. And there is smoke. And lights. And when there is apparent confusion before her next song,  more smoke and lights drape Ms. Rush and her band and now they are all silhouettes, and they launch into an appetizing cover of The Eurythmics’ Here Comes the Rain Again.

We are curious.

One of the delightful things about music festivals is the traveling retailers and Grassroots has no shortage of hand-crafted items for sale. What sticks out here is the prevalence of Native American art and crafts. We hear tall tales from a Pascua Yaqui tribesman from Tucson.

We buy a buffalo whistle and a pipe flute and incense that is used by indigenous people during cleansings.

By now the sun and the clouds are gone.

We are fading. We find hammocks.

When one of the festival announcers says, “we have a surprise for you,” and introduces local gospel and soul queen Maryel Epps, I rally our crew to get a closer look. Lo and behold, we are surprised.

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She belts a few Motown tunes but it is her rendition of Sly & the Family Stone’s Dance to the Music that moves mothers and daughters, mothers and sons, husbands and wives.  Ms. Epps glows in a long flow of pink (she is by far the best dressed person in all the festival.)

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After the show we chat with Ms. Epps backstage and take photos with her. Then leave her to savor her moment.

We wander off to wait for the next act.

A bit later, Cuban singer Danay Suarez strolls onto the main stage and in a thick-like-froth accent delivers a greeting to the crowd.

How-wa-ju Grass-rrootz?

And then the band kicks into a slow, steady, reggae rhythm and Danay drops a Nina Simone-like vocal over the beat, beckoning the crowd concealed in the dark towards her. Her singing comes through with an echoing effect, like waves.

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We stay for awhile, transfixed, until it is time to go (the kids are ready).

The path back to our car is unlit and unmarked but we follow fingers and voices and direction again.

As we drive away, sand becomes asphalt, trees become condos, moonlight become traffic lights.

Back to the city.

We are fulfilled,

for now.

But soon we will long for more peace, love and GrassRoots.

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Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

 

Galactic Mission: Complete

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Sometimes the evening clouds part and the constellations appear. The Little Dipper bends toward the heavens, the Big Dipper makes eyes with the North Star, and the Seven Sisters gather and form a Kumbaya circle. It is at this time in your otherwise ordinary life on Earth that cosmic forces align and draw you in. So preach people who study astrology. And for one moment last month, I was a believer.

Check that; I was an astronaut.

A few days before, I took a break from work and checked my Facebook page. There, among the barrage of status updates, selfies, and sponsored ads, I came across this concert promotion posted by The Rhythm Foundation, a local organization that’s been hosting lively music performances in South Florida for over two decades.

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Let me talk about a particular funk band — Galactic.

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Since the late 1990s, this New Orleans quintet has displayed a flawless, other-worldly funk that never goes sour. Their sound is a gumbo that mixes a saucy southern soulful rhythm guitar, finger-lickin heavy Bayou bass lines, and skippety be-bopping percussive beats with a sprinkle of cowbell and a double dash of high-hats. And that’s just the instrumental jams. When they invite rappers to lend vocals, add one part old-school-hip-hop to that gumbo, dropping verses on the hard street life of the Big Easy.

This is head-bobbing music, back and forth, back and forth. If Rush concerts are ground zero for air drummers, then a Galactic concert is ground zero for head bobbers.[1]

On two occasions I had a chance to watch Galactic perform. The first time was at New Orleans’ Voodoo Music Festival in 2010 and the second time was at last year’s Sunshine Music & Blues Festival at Mizner Park in Boca Raton, and both times I was regretfully too inebriated so I missed my chance to acquire a proper appreciation for their live gigs.

So when my Facebook page brought me this news of a free Galactic concert on a Friday night, I stared at that astronaut on my computer screen for while. But then it hit me, that sonic boom of resistance and left-brain logic speaking to me from a voice closer to home listing all of the why-nots:

  1. Friday night.
  2. Rush hour.
  3. Distance.
  4. Kids.
  5. Saturday soccer matches.
  6. Saturday chores.
  7. Etcetera.

So I shrugged, passed the cursor over the thumbs-up symbol, and settled for adding my “like” to the photo.[2]

Reason prevailed and I forgot about the whole thing. I went back to work.

On Friday morning, on my way to the office, my wife calls me. Bad news, she says. The check-engine light is on in my car.

I immediately called our go-to mechanic shop and informed them. They said I could bring the car Friday night and drop the keys off through one of the bay door slips.

That evening after our kids’ soccer practice, we piled into both of our cars. I had one of my kids with me, while my wife tailed behind with our other son.  We made plans by cellphone to have dinner near the mechanic’s shop. We knew of a few family friendly restaurants in that area. As we drove towards the traffic heading north on Interstate-95, it hit me, this idea, like a comet crashing into the frontal lobe of my brain:

Honey, the mechanic is around the corner from Hollywood ArtsPark.
What?
Let’s go see Galactic.
But…

This time the wave of resistance was no match for the cosmic forces. We had no choice but to acquiesce to the forces and the planets and the moon.

Thirty five minutes later, we were at Fillmore Street and 24th Avenue, in Hollywood, Florida, dropping off the VW keys with the last mechanic there.

Then we directed my car towards ArtsPark to search for a parking space amid the crowded street corners and distant music 2015-01-30 20.53.28from the opening band (Monophonics). We found a spot on a side road, crossed a few streets, and entered a Friday night of neon and tie dye and bearded men in flannel shirts while the first band wrapped up their set.

We snacked on hot dogs and chips.

We killed time. We waited.

Suddenly, the bright lights dimmed to space-age blues and pink. Galactic arrived and got rolling. We side-stepped the crowd and found an ideal spot near the corner of the stage. I took turns putting my kids on my shoulders where they could see the band up close through the clouds of smoke and clusters of neon, along with other miniature people secured to the shoulders of their own dads.

When trombone player Corey Henry grabbed the mike and rapped to the crowd, hands went up and waved back and forth with the beat. When the band introduced vocalist Erica Falls, we were transported light years away.

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That night we bobbed our heads.

That night we were astronauts.

And when the night ended and our mission was complete, we returned home safely.


Here’s a track from Galactic’s 2007 From the Corner to the Block:


Footnotes:

[1] Speaking of head-bobbing: Toy bobble heads are reported to date back to around the 1840s and are based on a character from a Russian-penned short story that was described to have a neck that resembled “the neck of plaster cats which wag their heads”?

[2] Why does Facebook only permit a thumbs-up option to express your feelings about a post? What about the fist-pump or the high-five? I believe those have earned a spot on our menu of digital expressions, Facebook. And while you’re at it, so have the thumbs-down, the middle finger, and the double middle finger.

Copyright © 2015 Long Play Miami

Soul Flashback – January 1976 (Gridiron Edition)

39 ago this week the City of Miami hosted Super Bowl X. The game matched the defending champions Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Dallas Cowboys.

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It was a classic.

Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw connected with Lynn Swann for a 64 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to take a 21-10 lead. Less than two minutes later, Roger Staubach lead a Cowboys touchdown drive to pull within four points with less than twosuper_bowl_x_swann_original_display_image minutes to go in regulation. Then the Cowboys recovered a fumble and with 18 seconds left, the ball at the Steelers 38 yard line, Staubach tried to pass it to Drew Pearson for the win. But the ball was intercepted at the 2 yard line by safety Glen Edwards.

Game over. Steelers won 21-17. Later than night, approximately 20 miles north, a party took place.

Sunny Isles, a town located in North Miami Beach known then for its beach front hotels and steady mix of wise guys, tourists, and rock stars (e.g, occasional visitors included Eric Clapton and Jim Morrison), was home to The Swinger Nite (sic) Club inside the Marco Polo Hotel. The Swinger opened in 1971 and had no trouble living up to its swanky name. Al Green, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Chubby Checker, Sister Sledge were just a few of the artists to play gigs there.

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On Monday, January 19, 1976, Miami soul singer Betty Wright aka Miami’s First Lady of Soul, fresh off her fourth album, performed at The Swinger.

Danger High Voltage, released in 1975

Discovered by Deep City Records co-founders Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall at the age of 15, Wright’s career took off fast. She had her first hit in 1968 (“Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do”), her first chart topper in 1971 (“Clean Up Woman”) and by the mid 1970s, she was global, so her coming back home to play at a club in Sunny Isles was as rare as seeing Steeler fans doing the Hustle.

Below is a news clipping from the Miami Herald that was published 39 years ago today about this Betty Wright performance that brought together an unlikely yet fortunate “overflow crowd of disco freaks and Steeler fans.”

Disco freaks and hardcore football fans? Only Betty Wright could manage this.

This is the hit song that Betty Wright closed with that January night. The song won a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1976:

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End Note: The Marco Polo survived. Today its a condo-hotel known as the Aventura Beach Club with the hotel operation managed by Ramada (Ramada Plaza Marco Polo Beach Resort.)

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