Beer and Pavement

Twenty Best Songs of 2011

Posted in MoL, Records by SM on December 7, 2011

I don’t always do lists for best song, but I’ve paid particular attention to a few that have drilled holes into my brain and set up permanent residence. Most are the regulars but some might surprise. Also, I’m ranking art, y’all.

1. “Senator” – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks – This, unsurprisingly is a sign of things to come, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why no one is on this bandwagon. Just listen to the song.

2. “Another State” – Dee Bird – Here’s a local song that I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year. It’s simple, lovely, and connected to this past summer’s visit from the cicadas. One-half of the twindie duo Dubb Nubb creates easily my favorite local track in years.

3. “Rubber” – Yuck  – Shoegazing, drugged, grungy, feedback-riddled, slacker rock just makes me feel 18 again. Yuck are great nineties revivalists that have captured the decade of my youth and for that, I am eternally grateful. BTW, the video is NSFW. Also considered “The Wall”

4. “Gangsta” – Tune-Yards – Tune-Yards has masterfully figured out how to make dance-able indie rock, utilizing big beats, emo vocals, and the essential loud-quiet-loud dynamic. Although I came into possession of this album late, the songs have been running in my head all year. “Gangsta” is a standout. Also considered: “Bizness”

5. “Michael Jackson” – Das Racist – I like humor and weirdness in my hip-hop. I also like a hook. “Michael Jackson” has it all. After 3 hours of Jay-Z and Kanye West, all I could hear in my head was this track.

6. “Future Crimes” – Wild Flag – This song is just so full of angst and urgency. It makes me uncomfortable in my skin. It makes me want to dance. For me, this is the highlight of one of the year’s best albums. Also considered: “Romance”

7. “Mother” – Wye Oak (cover) – This one was from the A.V. Club’s Undercover series where bands passing through would record a song from a list of suggestions. Wye Oak eventually released this one as well as their first Undercover appearance playing a Kinks song. Also considered: “Holy Holy”

8. “Go Outside” – Cults – For my money, this was the song of the summer. Isn’t going outside all we want to do when it’s so nice out and we have to sit inside working all day?

9. “Ni**as in Paris” – Jay-Z/Kanye West – This is a pretty wicked song that the duo played like three times to close out their show in Kansas City.  There’s also the perfectly timed and placed sample from Blades of Glory. (NSFW) Also considered “Otis”

10. “Helplessness Blues” – Fleet Foxes – Epic and sprawling, the title track from this year’s Fleet Foxes release all of that and a bag of granola. The sentiment is a bit sappy, but as with most FF tracks, it’s all in the vocal performances. This album faded for me down the stretch, but this track stood strong.

11. “Shell Games” – Bright Eyes – It’s been a long while since I would have ranked a Bright Eyes song so high on a year-end list. The album is really uneven, but when Conor Oberst gets a song right, he really gets it right. The song’s so upbeat for a Bright Eyes track that it’s almost a pop crossover hit.

12. “Ice Cream” – Battles – I can stand Battles in small doses, but those doses are pretty incredible. This song is so bizarre that it appeals to that teenage, indie geek inside me. (NSFW)

13. “Video Games” – Lana Del Ray – OK. Let’s ignore all the hype and debate over her authenticity. This song took the world – indie and otherwise – by storm this year. It’s haunting and beautiful with a highly contemporary narrative. Yes, I’ve fallen for it as well. I probably won’t buy the album, but I’ll listen to this song whenever possible.

14. “America!” – Bill Callahan – I got to see Bill Callahan this summer in Washington, D.C. and this song stuck out. For some reason, I haven’t picked up this record. That may have to be rectified in the coming weeks.

15. “Perth” Bon Iver – Justin Vernon outgrew his cabin in the woods with this one. I mean, there are actual electric guitars in there. Some of his latest effort strayed from the cabin fever he spread across the land his first time out, but even with some electric guitars this track shows Vernon at his atmospheric best.

16. “My Mistakes” – Eleanor Friedberger – This song should describe the conversation I had with Eleanor Friedberger . Nonetheless, this song translates well live, but it doesn’t have to as it’s just a great rock song.

17. “Wake and Be Fine” – Okkervil River – Somehow, I’ve forgotten about this album over the course of the year. Luckily, I remember being pretty excited for its release when this video was released. The big sound played well with the video’s cinematography.

18. “Try to Sleep” – Low – Low really hit it out of the park with this year’s release. “Try to Sleep” was probably the closest they’ll ever come to a hit. It’s sleepy and melodic, much more upbeat than their usual shtick. Also considered “Witches”

19. “For the One” – Waters – Port O’Brien broke up and another narrative was born when Waters was thought up. “For the One” is what Port O’Brien sounded like had they wanted to rock. The Waters album as a whole does not always deliver, but the first single does.

20. “Santa Fe” – Beirut – For several albums, I’ve been curious what Beirut would sound like when not emulating the music and culture of wherever his muse was residing at the time. “Santa Fe” is that song.

As always, what did I forget? What are you favorite songs of 2011?

Throne Watched

Posted in Live by SM on November 30, 2011

Friends had an extra ticket to what is probably the biggest tour in hip-hop this year. Although I don’t particularly go for the hip-pity-hop, this show was too good to pass up. What follows is not a full-on review. I’ll post some crummy iPhone/Hipstamatic photos, Tweets, and bullet points on the evening. There was also some beer, “indie,” and Kid Rock thrown in for good measure.

So, first there are the pictures, then Tweets, then observations…

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Twitter feed – Sorry but I didn’t feel like shooting screen shots of every Tweet. So, they’re way out of order. The first set cover my beer drinking for the evening (I didn’t drive.) and most of the show…

Here’s the rest, again in the wrong order…

Observations and Explanations:

  • Dinner before the show was at Flying Saucer. My choices were beers that didn’t really stretch my palate, but they were all good. Check the Twitter feed for the selections. I did have the Big Dipper with stout au jous sauce. It wasn’t bad.
  • We had some pretty nice seats with a clear view of the stage. You can see from the panorama photo in the set above.
  • Both Jay-Z and Kanye opened on these rising towers which they returned to periodically throughout the show. The only thing I could think was I bet they had to be careful not to wander too far from the center or…. end of concert and rapper.
  • Kanye wore a leather kilt and pulled it off somehow. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder how many dudes in the audience were questioning his manhood.
  • Jay-Z was the coolest cat in the room. In fact, I suspect he’s the coolest cat in every room.
  • Kanye West sounds a lot like Q-Tip.
  • Jay-Z really did interact with the audience in a genuine manner. He was playing it up to one portion of the audience when he noticed a boy, maybe ten years old. The kid was getting down; Hov motioned toward him and the kid went ape-shit. As Jay-Z walked away, one could see him chuckle a bit to himself. Near the end of the show, a fan up front had an early Jay-Z album, wanting a signature. Both rappers signed and returned the album to the fan. Kind of a cool moment.
  • When Kanye did “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” all I could picture was Zach Galifianakis and Will Oldham.
  • The duo finished with like 3-4 takes on “Niggas in Paris.” Totally made the night worth it.
  • On the way home, despite all the catchy songs I heard, all I could play back in my head was this.
Bonus: a couple of videos my friend Andy found… He was the one who invited me along.

It’s been a fun month of daily posts and even more fun finishing out with this experience. I can’t say that this will continue as it’s gotten difficult as of late publishing so often. Look for the month of lists, though, lots and lots of lists.

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Ten Things I Won’t Do Tonight

Posted in Live by SM on November 29, 2011

I mentioned that I would be attending the Jay-Z/Kanye West concert in KC tonight (Tuesday). I also suggested that I would be writing a lot of lists in December. Well, it’s not quite December, but this seemed like a list that needed to be written.

As a middle-class white father in his mid-thirties, there are certain things I just shouldn’t do at any hip-hop show, namely one as big as the one I’m about to see tonight. So, I put together a list of no-no’s for me to keep in-mind.

10. Don’t dance. – Sure, I was voted the best dancer in my high school senior class, but there’s best dancer in a class of 69 students in a small, rural town in Ohio and there’s best dancer. My moves were good in 1993 because I was the only boy who dared to dance to every song at Homecoming. Besides, I can’t even figure out the Dougie.

9. Don’t not dance. – I will be at a concert and will stick out as it is. Why try not to move to the music? I have enough rhythm to sway back and forth or point at the performers on time. It’s a concert. It’s supposed to be fun. I shouldn’t pretend it’s a funeral.

8. No dropping the N-word. – This is a no-no under any terms or in any context. Luckily, I don’t know the songs well enough to know when to drop an N-bomb anyway. I’ll just avoid the word like I would any day of the week.

7. Don’t buy a t-shirt. – I usually buy t-shirts at shows, but I really don’t need a size XL shirt with Jay-Z and Kanye on it, telling my followers which cities the boys made pit-stops. This sort of t-shirt is designed for teenagers, something from which I am a long way away.

6. Don’t wear the baggy pants and oversized sweatshirt. – Nope, I have to be myself. I have some clothes that are a bit oversized, but I do that for comfort and generally go with clothes that fit these days. I am who I am. There’s no need to pretend that I’m something I’m not. I also haven’t shaved in over two weeks and will continue to wear my dark-rimmed, record store clerk glasses.

5. Try not to live blog and/or Tweet the entire show. – I do this a lot now so that my Twitter followers can experience a band with me. It seems somehow to miss the point to waste this show Tweeting. Also, I don’t really want anyone to know that I have no idea what I’m listening to or watching.

4. Resist the urge to take grainy, retro iPhone pics. – This is my thing mostly because iPhones don’t take good pictures from a distance and/or in the dark. However, I suspect I won’t be close enough to make a Hipstamatic picture worth the effort tonight.

3. Don’t front. – I’ve hinted at this, but I know very little about hip-hop or the two performers I’m about to take in tonight. I won’t try to pretend. I’ll enjoy the moment whatever it may be. There will be no phony attempts to talk authoritatively, hence the Twitter resistance.

2. Don’t sit or stand with arms folded. – Again, this is something I do a lot of at shows. Even with head bobbing, it just won’t work. I will have to dance a little bit to not seem too out of place. Bending knees and bobbing my head is acceptable.

1. Don’t not go. – Of course I had to go. I would never go out of my way to see either artist. So, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Besides, it’s not costing me a dime. The ticket has fallen into my lap. I’d be a moron not to go.

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Top 5 Hip-Hop Sets

Posted in Live, Top 5 by SM on November 28, 2011

I am not really a hip-hop fan, but I have seen several hip-hop acts over the years. Most of those sets happened as part of a festival or multiple-band lineup. So, I can say I’ve seen hip-hop on stage, but I haven’t really attended a concert that featured just hip-hop or rap.

This changes Tuesday night. A ticket became available for the Jay-Z/Kanye West show in Kansas City tomorrow night and I was invited to attend. I will have no idea what’s going on or probably the words to most of the songs, but I suspect it will be a pretty impressive show. It’s a free ticket to see probably the top two MC’s in hip-hop today. There’s no way I’d turn that down. It should be interesting.

All that said, here’s a list of the best hip-hop acts I’ve seen in-person. The details are sketchy as I probably wiped portions of these sets from my memory, but I was there either way. All that and tomorrow night’s show should top any group on this list just by sheer star power alone. My street cred will skyrocket or something.

5. Big Boi (2010, Pitchfork) – Though I was really just waiting for Pavement’s set to start while Big Boi played a solo set at last year’s Pitchfork Fest in Chicago, I did watch and listen. Big Boi mixed a few of his newer solo bits with loads of OutKast tracks scattered throughout the set. So, at least I actually knew most of the songs by virtue of being under 50 and alive.

4. Arrested Development (1993, Lollapalooza) – Arrested Development marked the peek and eventual downfall of the earthy, hippie hip-hop of the early nineties. The genre just couldn’t keep up with gangsta rap. Still, it was quite the stage show with some crazy-ass dancers and actual instruments, something I never thought I’d see at a hip-hop show. I know better than that now, but at the time it was a novelty.

3. De Le Soul (2002, Unlimited Sunshine Tour) – De Le was well past their prime when I caught them sharing the stage with Modest Mouse, Flaming Lips, and Cake, but they were legends – in hip-hop terms. It may even have been a reunion or comeback tour of some kind. What was most striking is the number of white people who knew how to act for a hip-hop group. It had been nine years since my first hip-hop show and white folk had come a long way by 2002. I’m sure it happened before that, but this is the moment I noticed. De La had a lot of energy to start, but sort of fizzled as the set waned.

2. A Tribe Called Quest (1994, Lollapalooza) – This was a couple of years after the Low End Theory, but Tribe was peaking at this point. They were relatively early in the lineup and had to contest with the mid-day heat. So, the crowd was less than enthused. This was also the height of the mid-nineties alterna-rage. Smashing Pumpkins co-headlined with…

1. Beastie Boys (1994, Lollapalooza) – I don’t care what anyone says, the Beastie Boys were originators. They not only bridged the gap between rock and rap, but they connected hip-hop and punk in a way that no one has been able to do since. This was the Ill Communication tour, so they were at the top of their game. Tribe even joined them for a couple of songs.

Bonus: Cypress Hill (1995, Lollapalooza) – Two words: giant bong. That’s all you really need to know.