Film At 11: MC Lars

What happens when you cross an English major, a laptop, dope beats and lyrics with a purpose? You get West Coast post-punk, laptop rapper MC Lars. For a decade, Lars has been creating music that covers everything from social issues to summarizing works of literature and even paying homage to b-movie actor Bruce Campbell. Lars’ latest album, This Gigantic Robot Kills, came out earlier this year, and “True Player For Real” features Weird Al Yankovic on accordion. This month, Lars drops the Single And Famous EP with K.Flay.

MP3 At 3PM: New Roman Times

nrtwallpaper4728This Austin, Texas, quartet is more than just a clever remix of everyone’s go-to font. New Roman Times combine the best elements of punk with the sprawling sound of its home state, sort of like Explosions In The Sky if that band was fronted by Black Francis. Fans of classic rock and contemporary pop will also find much to like in “Smoke In Your Disguise,” the first single from the new On The Sleeve.

“Smoke In Your Disguise” (download):

As Tall As Lions Makes MAGNET A Mix Tape


Long Island-based As Tall As Lions got it right when titling its third album You Can’t Take It With You (Triple Crown, out August 18); the quartet leaves it all on the floor, enduring a recording session for the LP that found the band members parting ways with their producer and nearly breaking up in the process. The hard-won result is a collection of epic, yearning songs with the dreamy romanticism of  U.K. groups such as Coldplay and Doves. The band’s MAGNET mix tape showcases the myriad sounds percolating around the Lions’ den.

“Circles” (download):

The Persuaders “Love’s Gonna Pack Up (And Walk Out)”
A brilliant song about love falling apart. Aggressive yet soulful, this 1971 top-10 hit instantly caught my ear when I heard it on late-night radio. While recording our last record in Los Angeles, I found a re-pressing of it on vinyl and probably played it about 100 times a day.

Daft Punk “Something About Us”
A longtime friend opened my ears to Daft Punk only recently. For me, electronic music can go either way. It’s not often that I hear a track like this and dig it, let alone get the chills like I do when I listen to this track. Great bass line, amazing groove. If you haven’t heard this record, I suggest all the dance freaks go pick this up.

King Crimson “21st Century Schizoid Man”
The mecca of ’70s prog rock. Under the strict rule of guitarist/band leader Robert Fripp, this opening track on King Crimson’s 1969 debut left the musical world asking, “What the fuck?” This is not only one of the most bombastic songs ever written, but it also showed musicians that they were going about their instruments all wrong.

Bob Marley “Kinky Reggae”
My favorite song by one of my favorite artists. You can never go wrong with Bob Marley. I’m pretty sure every song he ever put out was great, but this sexy tune sticks out. Bob and his boys were young, full of fire and, according to the lyrics, ready to get down.

Blonde Redhead “Equus”
This is the last song on their 2004 record Misery Is A Butterfly. It opens with a killer bass riff, explodes into double-time drum groove, dirty guitars, distorted female vocals and stays groovy all the way through. What else can you ask for?

Black Star “Brown Skin Lady”
Off one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time by two of the most talented cats around. Mos Def and Talib Kweli honor the grace and beauty of those dark-skinned women I love so much. I listen to this record pretty much every single day, but somehow I’m still not bored of it. A true hip-hop classic.

Can “Future Days”
The best band ever to make records. Truly progressive, making every record different than the next. This number is the title track from my favorite album of theirs. Eight minutes of krautrock history showcasing singer Damo Suzuki’s phenomenal melodic sense.

The Eternals “Crime”
One of my recent discoveries. In this song, the Chicago-based dub group plays one of the deepest grooves I’ve heard in long time. They only made two records, but try to get a hold of this gem. It’s definitely worth the listen.

Talk Talk “Happiness Is Easy”
If you haven’t heard of this band, you must be crazy. Dark, ambient synth pop with children who sing the vocals. Kind of reminds me of my own band. Go figure.

D’Angelo “Untitled (How Does It Feel?)”
The sexiest song ever. I’m a sucker for this song—and the entire album. Another record that I listen to on an everyday basis that never seems to get old. Also, perfect for makin’ babies.

From The Desk Of Joe “Shithead” Keithley: D.O.A. In China, Part 4

doa_beijing-lama-temple2doa_shanghaIn January 2008, 30 years after forming, D.O.A.—Canada’s original punk rockers and one of the world’s first hardcore groups—made history once again, becoming the first Western-based political-punk band to tour China. All this week, guest editor and D.O.A. frontman Joey “Shithead” Keithley looks back on the historic trip and gives a fascinating and uncensored glimpse into a part of the world most of us will never see.

Day Six
The gig in Nanjing has been cancelled. Apparently the gear was crap and nobody showed up the week before at another show (tour manager) Abe (Deyo) had promoted. So we get a day of sightseeing in Shanghai. Spectacular city; on one side of the river are the old French colonial buildings, on the other side there is the new Shanghai. The new Shanghai has skyline that almost rivals Manhattan in size; the amazing part of this is that 20 years ago, that side of the river was a sleepy fishing village. Then after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Deng Xiaoping started China’s economic revolution. It has produced results that are far from evenhanded, but they’re amazing never the less.

In central areas of the big towns, we saw plenty of BMWs and Mercedes, women dressed in the highest fashion, men decked out in new suits and shops stacked full of as many consumer goods as we have in the west. But for everybody you saw that had a lot, there were 10 times as many that were just getting by. You would see a little weather-beaten guy riding a bike with five or six grey plastic bags full of something he might be collecting or recycling, like bottles, cloth, bits of plastic, wood, metal—nothing is wasted in this country. Or you would see a guy sitting on the sidewalk with bicycle-repair materials, and that was his shop, rain or shine or the nastily cold weather we were experiencing. You would see a little machine shop in a storefront eight-feet wide and maybe 15-feet deep; the father was working at the front of the shop, while the mother was there preparing dinner at the end of the metal lath, with their kid playing there as well. You also saw the craziest motorized contraptions everywhere, a little shitty scooter with a mini trailer attached to the back with a plastic tent erected over top of the scooter.

After the sightseeing, Abe left us at a coffee shop for a couple of hours; he had some biz to take care of. So we wandered down to a DVD store, (bassist) Dan and (drummer) Floor Tom purchased excellent copies of movies that were still in theaters back home for two bucks a pop. We went back to the coffee shop to wait for Abe. We had to catch the night train to Beijing at 7 p.m., and we couldn’t fuck up because it was the last one of the day. Abe came back about 90 minutes late; it was about 5 p.m., and we still had to collect our bags and gear from the hotel and make the train. We ran to the hotel and picked up the gear. We started looking for a cab, but there was none to be found. It was Friday at rush hour.

We started jogging at half pace toward the station carrying all of our shit. This went on for about 20 minutes or so; still no taxi, and it’s about 6:15. We finally find a cab, cram in and proceed to get into the biggest gridlock I have ever seen. It doesn’t seem to matter to the motorists what color the traffic light is—they all just jam their cars into whatever open space they can find. So nobody really moves, it’s about 6:40, and by this time, the cursing collectively emanating forth from D.O.A.’s lips would have made a sailor blush. We finally get to the station at about 6:45. We are running full speed at this point. We have to go through a bomb-detection area; when we are through, a Chinese soldier picks up one of the guitars and helps us out by running full steam through the station with us. The soldier gives us back the guitar and heads back at the escalators. Abe picks up the bass and the guitar and starts running at full speed. His Tai Kwan Do training is paying off, as we are pulling up the rear, huffing and puffing to beat the band. I have seen a lot of big train stations in New York and Europe, but Shanghai’s station dwarfs any of those. We finally find our train and our car. Shit that was a marathon! Tough, but good stuff!

The train itself is really new and really nice. I was pleasantly surprised. There was a great dining car; after dinner, we head back to our compartment. As the train is clacking along, I keep wondering if we will get involved in a modern Murder On The Orient Express-type situation; no such luck. Instead Dan and I play cribbage, and I talk him into finishing the last of the rice wine. This makes it easy to skunk him at crib. A capital maneuver, Joe old boy! Capital indeed! After the crib, it’s lights out. I listen to wheels clacking along. I sleep with one eye open on the Orient Express.

Day Seven
We get off the train at 7 a.m. and go straight to the biggest cab queue I have ever seen in my life. There is a back-and-forth gated lineup (like something at an amusement park), as there must have been 800 people lined for cabs. When we got to the front of the lineup, we could see that there were four lines of cabs, each line 10-12 cars deep and waiting. Then we saw the most important man in Beijing: the cab commandant. He would blow his whistle and the people would rush out to the four cabs at the front of the line. If you didn’t, the cab commandant would get furiously mad. Don’t mess with the cab commandant … ever … dude.

We got back to our home away from home, the Home Inn, and dropped our stuff off. Then we hailed another cab and hustled down to Tiananmen Square. Wow, this is history—the massive square, home of the famous failed protests 20 years before. On the south side of the square: Chairman Mao’s tomb. On the west side: the Communist Party headquarters. On the north side: the overwhelming Forbidden City. On the east side: Larry Ho’s Camera And Bag Check And Souvenir Shop. Wow! Well, actually it was not called Larry Ho’s, but we had to check all of our cameras there, as they were not allowed in Mao’s tomb.

We get into the hall just outside of where Mao’s body rests, and it is full of pictures and stories of the leaders of the Revolution. We enter Mao’s tomb, and the rule is that you cannot stop and look. The line must keep moving. Well, there he is. Lying on his back, surrounded by high glass. There is kind of an usher guy hanging out, and two soldiers standing at rigid attention with their bayonets fixed. I whisper to Floor Tom, “Does he look real, or is he wax?” I walk as slowly as I can, and I am the last one in our group. I finally come to a complete stop as I stare at the Chairman; in a split second, the usher has his hand on my shoulder, pushing me along. Well he wasn’t that big of a guy, so I figured I could have taken him out to stay longer, but I had to consider the guys with the bayonets. As you leave the tomb, of course, you come to the souvenir shop. We all bought a souvenir. I purchased a nice key chain. Reasonably priced, too.

We walk across the square to the Forbidden City, home of the Qing and Ming dynasties. Completely incredible, it’s about a mile wide and two miles deep. The emperors had many different ornate temples erected, each one specifically set up to consider all the problems of running China, from farming to war to concubines to weather.

The show that night was in Beijing’s university district. The club was called D-22, and it was run by an ex-New Yorker. Cool show—lots of good original bands opening. I had to use a VOX 30 amp that night, and somehow it worked. The whole Chinese punk-rock scene feels like it did back in about 1982. It’s really fun, new and urgent. It’s cool that we get to be part of it for awhile. That show was a good way to end the performance part of our trip.

Film At 11: The Upwelling

So the Upwelling decided to tour Europe. Nothing special right? Wrong. They did it with no agent, no bus, no crew, no manager and nowehere to stay. They took some great moments from their tour and decided to make a music video for “Wanderlust.” The result? An honest and endearing look at life on the road, complete with concert shots and road trips. Not a bad tune, either.

TiVo Party Tonight: Kitty, Daisy & Lewis

tivokdl3764Ever wonder what will happen during the last five minutes of late-night TV talk shows? Here are tonight’s notable performers:

Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (NBC): Kitty, Daisy & Lewis
Kitty, Daisy & Lewis are a British family band that plays blues and swing covers; the primary trio (though often accompanied by their parents) are 21 or under. And somewhere, some old codger is hollering about kids listening to crap nowadays. The trio has just released Kitty, Daisy & Lewis (DH Records), on which eight of the 10 songs are classic covers. The band is currently touring the U.S. with Coldplay.

MP3 At 3PM: Sugarplum Fairies

sugarplumkitten4848Vienna natives Silvia Ryder and Ben Bohm may go by the hyper-twee name Sugarplum Fairies, but they won’t be conjuring images of ballerinas and children’s stories. Backed by an assortment of guest musicians including Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.), Sugarplum Fairies have just released Chinese Leftovers, an album that mixes dream pop, indie rock and alt-country. Download “First Rate Show,” which sounds more like the Velvet Underground than The Nutcracker, with breathy female vocals and a jazzy horn section.

“First Rate Show” (download):

Take Cover! The Beach Boys Vs. Frank Black

When is a cover song better than the original? Only you can decide. This week: Frank Black takes on the Beach Boys’ “I Know There’s An Answer” (a.k.a. “Hang On To Your Ego”). MAGNET’s Edward Fairchild pulls the pin. Take cover!

Frank Black pumps Brian Wilson’s dreamy bedroom tune into a dance number. Later released as a bonus track for the Pet Sounds reissue, the original version of “Hang On To Your Ego” was changed to “I Know There’s An Answer” before the album’s final release over fears it would associate the band with LSD. Mike Love was behind the change: “The prevailing drug jargon at the time had it that doses of LSD would shatter your ego, as if that were a positive thing,” he said. “I wasn’t interested in taking acid or getting rid of my ego.” Check out the psychedelic video from Black:

The Cover:

The Original:

From The Desk Of Joe “Shithead” Keithley: D.O.A. In China, Part 3

16doa_wuhan-airport_2doawuhanairportbusIn January 2008, 30 years after forming, D.O.A.—Canada’s original punk rockers and one of the world’s first hardcore groups—made history once again, becoming the first Western-based political-punk band to tour China. All this week, guest editor and D.O.A. frontman Joey “Shithead” Keithley looks back on the historic trip and gives a fascinating and uncensored glimpse into a part of the world most of us will never see.

Day Four
We are off to Wuhan today and have to take a cab to the airport. You would think one of the easiest things in the world would be catching a cab; in China, sometimes it is not. We found most of the drivers did not like Dirty Dan Sedan’s bass case; they somehow thought of it as dirtier than the rest of our shit. So after having trouble getting taxis because of this, we took to hiding the bass case behind us, then when a cab stopped, one of us would jump in and refuse to leave the cab. We would then cram the trunk as full as humanly possible; Dan, drummer Floor Tom Jones and tour promoter Abe (Deyo) would get in the back seat, I would put the bass case across their laps, I would then get in the front and stuff of duffel bag under my legs and put a huge bag of T-shirts on my lap, then I would try to push the T-shirt bag down enough so the driver could see his right sideview mirror. By the way, the tour T-shirts were great; they were white with a big, black D.O.A. on the front, with Chairman Mao’s face in the middle of the O.

We are now in the fast lane of the Beijing expressway going to the airport, driving about 70 miles an hour, the traffic heavy. Everything seems to be going smooth, when the car in front of us slams on the brakes. Our driver hits his brakes as hard as he can, and we come screeching to a halt, six inches behind the car in front. The four of us look behind at the van that has come to an abrupt halt about a foot behind us; we can see the smoke coming off of his brakes. The three guys in the back came within a foot of all losing their teeth, because if we had of been rear ended at that speed, the bass case on their laps would have have broken all three of their jaws. Our driver rapid fires a ton of curses in Mandarin at the car that stopped, then he pulls ino the right lane and gets moving again. I look at the stopped car; it is a middle-aged lady who looks confused. As we get going, I keep watching her car; she pulls a wild maneuver to get over three lanes to the right so she can get off at her exit. So, she had stomped on the brakes in the fast lane because she did not want to miss her exit … 

At the Beijing airport we find out our flight time had been changed to two hours earlier. China Airways claimed they had informed Abe the day before about this via his cellphone. He argues with them but to no avail. It seems if the airline wants to change the flight time, they can do that. So I end up sleeping on a booth in the airport restaurant.

We get into Wuhan. I had never heard of this town till recently, but it has a population of five million, so it’s bigger than Philadelphia. Abe negotiates a deal with two off-license cab drivers to save a few bucks. So we leave the airport with Dan and Floor Tom in one cab and Abe and me in the other. The cab driver Dan and Floor Tom have speaks no English, and those guys do not have the address of the club or hotel in Wuhan. Quickly, Abe gets a call on his cell. Our cab driver gets Abe’s cell, and he and the other cab driver decide that we must pay more RMB than already agreed upon, a ripoff in the making, indeed. We have heard stories where a cab driver will take you out to the countryside and 10 guys will be waiting there and they beat you up, take your money, take your passport, then strand you in the countryside. So this must be going through Floor Tom and Dan’s minds at this time.

Abe is forced into a slightly higher price. It takes more than an hour to get from to airport to central Wuhan. What a grim looking town—giant, ugly apartment buildings everywhere. Blue-and-silver 40-gallon chemical drums, containing who knows what kind of toxic crap, are piled up indiscriminately in various suburban neighborhoods. I looked up “shithole” in the dictionary when I got back and there was a picture of Wuhan. Anyway, we get to the central area, get out of the cabs with our gear, and Abe tells us on the sly where the hotel is. He then tells us to run across the street with all the gear and get out of sight. He is afraid that the cab drivers will follow us to the hotel and try and extort some more cash out of us.

That afternoon, we went for lunch at a restaurant across the street. This experience really drove home one big thing we noticed all over China: Almost every place we went there was an overabundance of employees. When we walked into the restaurant, we were greeted by eight women, and three of them showed us to our table upstairs. Then four people came and set the table and brought us lunch. Later that afternoon, Dan and I went to the local supermarket; again, there was no shortage of people to help you. Dan went to buy some wine, and three people immediately showed up to tell him what the best bargain was. There’s something to that. If people have a job, they are a lot less likely to foment revolution and change.

The gig that night was at a great club called The Vox. The opening bands were real good, the audience was cool, the equipment rocked, and so did D.O.A. After, the show’s promoter, who has a record/clothing store downstairs from the club, invited us to a party at the store. The joint is called Wuhan Prison. There were a few people there who spoke English, including one guy I did an interview with for a fanzine. After the interview, he offers to do a Mandarin translation of my book, I Shithead, A Life In Punk. “Fuckin’ cool,” I say. After a couple of hours, the kids there invite us to come out and have a party on the street. There is a tent set up there, on the side of the main street; they sell beer and Chinese BBQ. It is totally cool, figuratively and literally. The street BBQ is a great way to eat in China. They take seafood, meat and vegetables and put them on skewer and roast them. I have been buying from these from street vendors since I got here, but I never knew what kind of meat was on the skewer. So I named it “unknown animal on a stick.” Very tasty indeed. At the outdoor party, there’s Floor Tom, Abe and myself and about 20 Chinese punks. Maybe four of the punks spoke OK English, so we had a lively yak-a-thon going. One punk from Nepal, whose English was excellent, kept cracking us up with some of the worst jokes you ever heard. This party went from about 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. We finally had to pack it in, as it was about 10 degrees Fahrenheit and I felt like a frozen popsicle. But you know what? Wuhan rocks as hard as any town!

Day Five
We awake about 9 a.m. to get to the airport. Abe informs me the shower has a bunch of rat crap in it, so I decide to forego a shower that morning. We get to the Wuhan airport, only to find out flight has been delayed about four hours. Fuckin’ great! I crash on the floor of the airport, lying on top of the T-shirt bag and my shoulder bag. There is announcements going on constantly, and each new flight announcement is preceded by this awful electronic chime, so it’s pretty tough to catch some zzzzs, but somehow I do.

We arrive at the airport in Shanghai, and it’s massive and brand new, just as the Beijing airport is. We collect our gear and find out where to catch a van cab this time. We schlep our gear for a seemingly and unending amount of time and start to understand how Mao and the People’s Army felt during “The Long March” in 1934.

We eventually get a van cab driven by the best driver in China. He raced by everybody on his way into central Shanghai. We get to the Yuyintang Club at about 7 p.m. There’s a horrible Randall guitar amp for me to use (one of my last choices in the world), but the rest of the gear is passable. We head out to grab some fast food, then go to get some beer and wine from the local grocery store. In the store, I find myself in the predicament of asking the two women that ran the store, “Is this beer any good? How’s this wine?” Of course, they understood no English, and I only knew how to say “hello” and “thank you” in Mandarin. So I buy it on spec. It turns out later, the wine was OK. Great Wall brand, as I recall. But the beer was pure shite!

Back at the club, I go to use the toilet, which is outside in the garden area, and observe that the designated place for crapping is thus. There are four legs of a chair with a toilet seat welded to it, and it’s been positioned over top of one end of a 30-foot-long urinal trough with no cubicle. So I decide to use the can back at the fast-food place.

The show turned out to be great. The joint was jumpin’—half Chinese kids and half expat Americans, Australians and Brits. The opening band was Boys Climbing Ropes, who had a female Chinese singer, though the three guys in the band were Canadians who lived in Shanghai. Backstage, a journalist  brought us a gift: rice wine and spicy goose neck. Let me tell you, the goose neck was all bones, and the rice wine was one of the biggest hangover producers this side Jägermeister. We played pretty well, but Dan got zapped by some sort of electronic short onstage, and I don’t think he could hear a goddamn thing after I cranked that Randall amp up to 11.

After the show, Abe drops us off at the hotel—the craziest hotel I had seen in awhile—to get to the rooms. There’s a pedestal 10 feet away from the elevator doors that looked like it had been produced by the set decorators of Star Trek. The hotel seemed like it been designed to wow Westerners 30 years ago. Nothing in the room really worked, but still it felt like the Ritz compared to the hotel in Wuhan.