Wednesday, December 8, 2010

This Is American Music 2010

Having just returned from the epic roadtrip that was "This is American Music" I have a lot of film and recordings to go through before I can provide a proper post here. In the meantime you can check in on videos that I shot as I upload them here:

More to come.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quick Facebook Merch Tutorial

My band, R. Mutt has been looking at different ways to sell merchandise on the web for sometime now. Our music, CD's and digital downloads, have all been handled quite well by CDBaby. For a small fee they will take in 5 CD's and warehouse them for shipping direct to customers and pay us a portion of the sale price at the end of every month. They also get the songs on all of the digital sales website like Amazon and iTunes and when those sites sell our music we actually get about 90% of the revenue.

The problem for us has always been other merch like t-shirts. The online companies akin to CDBaby take a much bigger chunk of the revenue or they want to do the printing on demand. The shirts we have seen have not been very nice so we decided to get really nice shirts printed by a local, eco-friendly, company Orchard Street Press.

On Facebook I found an application called FBML that allowed me to create custom tabs on our band page where we can list and sell our merch exactly as we wanted. As soon as I had it done and posted an update to our friends and fans I had a flurry of questions from other musicians asking how I did it.

So, I put together my first video tutorial to share with others how to do this.

This does not have to just be for bands. Non-profits could use it for donations, small business could use it to sell other products. Take a look if you are interested in selling anything on the web.

Hope this helps.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Regret Found

I used to keep a list of all the shows that I almost went to. The '82-'83 Zappa tour, The Clash at the Aragon Ballroom right before the breakup, The Who's first farewell tour in '82, The Dead Kennedys at the Metro at Midnight on Halloween, Stevie Ray Vaughn's last show at Alpine. I had access to tickets and a ride to every one of those shows and for various stupid reasons I decided against going. The list is much longer that this but, at some point the list just got so long that I stopped keeping track as it became depressing.

Last month Lucero was coming through Chicago supporting Social Distortion. I had missed Lucero on their last turn through the midwest so I figured I should catch them this time. Social Distortion is a band that I know pretty well. I have three of their albums and, while I like them all, none really ever grabbed me the way my favorite albums do. To me, they were collections of good songs, played well, but lacking any real serious punch.

While planning for the show I learned that the Riviera did not allow cameras of any type. I had the thought to drop a note to the pedal steel player from Lucero (Todd Beene, also of Glossary) who I had had the opportunity to meet on a few occasions and ask if he knew of any way I could get an OK to bring my camera in. I did not hear back until I was driving down to the show and an email came across telling me I he had put me on the photo pass list.

Traffic coming into Chicago combined with a terrible lack of parking options around the Riv to get me to the venue late. I entered, figured out the photo pass thing and headed to the stage just in time to be told that I had missed my chance to take any pictures of Lucero from the front. I could take pics from the crowd, but not from the stage.

I settled into the crowd about 15 yards from the stage to enjoy the show and snap a few shots but not be too much of a nuisance. Lucero was great. Only real complaint would be that they seemed to keep the house lights down. The lighting was super underwhelming, like a show in someone's basement. Very dim white or red lights with little to no changes throughout. The dim setting made it clear that they were the supporting band. I get it, they are playing first, their set is short, they are set up in front of the other band's stuff. Come on man! At least give them some light.

The crowd seemed to be spotted with Lucero fans, fists pumped in the air, singing along to Tears Don't Matter Much. There were also a good number of Social D fans who seemed to be interested and getting into them but don't be fooled, this was clearly a crowd of rabid Social Distortion fans. As soon as Lucero was done the already packed floor in front of the stage became even more packed. Just as it was getting truly uncomfortable the security guy who had earlier told me no pictures grabbed the back of my jacket and tugged me into the photo pit. "Now you can come in."

Being on the photo pass list means that for the first 3 songs of each band's set you are able to get between the stage and the barriers that keep the crowd away from the stage. It is about 4' deep and fills up with photographers about 15 minutes before the bands come on. During those 3 songs you are able to take as many pics as you can, then you have to clear out so the fans can have unobstructed views of the band. I mention this photo pass stuff just to explain how I got the pics I share here.

As Social Distortion took the stage the big banner lowered from above the stage and the low blue lights started coming up. As soon as the instruments were plugged in the band launched into The Creeps. I am not great at math, but Mike Ness has to be older than me but from the energy on stage you would have thought he was 23. The sound was thick, not blisteringly loud, but full. I had read a few past reviews where people had criticized Mikes voice stating that he had clearly lost something. To my ears his voice sounded more full of life and vigor than any of the albums I had. He moved from one end of the stage to the other between verses, slinging his guitar with authority.

The first song was followed by Another State of Mind and Mommy's Little Monster. After that, the security guards flashed their lights and told us to clear out. I moved to the back of the room as the room erupted with Sick Boys. Later in the night they played Machine Gun Blues which I think is going to be the first single off the new record.

Yeah, I had two different chances to see Social Distortion. I never really regretted that I passed them up. One while still in High School, maybe the Metro, then after High School at the Cubby Bear. I can almost justify missing the Cubby Bear since I lived in Milwaukee by then, but that High School show was missed for no good reason.

I guess I owe it to Lucero for bringing me down to this show. Thank you, for regret found.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bobby Bare Jr, Chicago Oct 7th, 2010 (or: Maybe I didn't say it first)

About a year ago my buddy Pete was at our house visiting and, as usual, we were eating, drinking, listening to music, talking about movies, telling lies and generally annoying members of our family unfortunate enough to walk through our conversations. During one of many pointless conversations, Dane Cook came up. Pete had been getting back into stand up and doing some open mics, so perhaps this is how Cook winds up in our discussion.

I do not have strong feelings for or against Dane Cook. I have seen a special once and had a few chuckles but was not so taken that I wanted to seek out more of his work. Nor was I so offended that I swore off ever watching him again. His bits seemed to be aimed at your traditional, middle of the road, frat type, of which I'm not. So, I make the proclamation that "Dane Cook is the Nickelback of stand up comedy."


Minimal words used to gently and cleverly mock Cook, Nickelback and fans of either.

As the conversation wandered through the afternoon in the back of my mind I kept wondering if not only am I the first person to make this incredibly insightful connection between Cook and Nickelback, but also the first to do it so elegantly.

"Pete, is there any way to find out if I am the first, because if I am, I want to make damn sure I get credit for it."

Well, with a few finger strokes of the iPhone Pete is able to find an earlier example of that exact phrase on a random blog. Mind you, the original utterance was no more than 3 months old at the time and, as much as he could try, he was unable to find another example of the phrase being used. OK, dream crushed, but not by much.

On October 7th, 2010 I had the good fortune to see Bobby Bare Jr. play at Schuba's Tavern in Chicago. I love Schuba's. I like that it is an old Schlitz building, I like the size of the room, I like that the performers have to walk through the crowd to get to the stage, I like the beer offerings on tap, I like that I can get right up to the front of the stage without much trouble. It is pretty hard to find something not to like about Schuba's.

My only other time seeing Bobby Bare Jr. was at the Bloodshot records 15th anniversary party. If I remember correctly the band for that show included bass, drums, trumpet and bari sax. Maybe a keyboard. The band sounded great and the set list was excellent, but the show was basically in a back alley behind the Chicago Department of Sanitation and the set seemed to end as soon as it started. The Schuba's show had Bobby backed by Blue Giant of Portland, a traditional 'rock band' type line up. Many of the same song, but presented with completely different instrumentation.

At the show I picked up his (fantastic) new record and The Longest Meow and listened to both on my drive out of the city. The next day I found myself switching between his albums all day in the car. All the songs, all the different instrumentation, all the colors that he can conjure up. None of the songs employ terribly complex chords or dramatic changes in rhythms, they are all presented in remarkably simple form. Everything from a full rock sound to an acoustic guitar and voice, are used to get sounds ranging from heavy grooving rock to straight ahead old fashioned country.

All this listening and thinking brought me to another Dane/Nickelback type revelation. I can't imagine I am the first to say it, and this time I really don't care, so here goes: Bobby Bare Jr is the Tom Waits of Nashville Music.

Done on the original album version with trumpets, elsewhere on youtube with just acoustic guitar and banjo, here is Valentine, three chords of greatness, done as a rock anthem with Blue Giant at Schuba's.

(more videos from this night posted to youtube)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Bottle Rockets vs. Farm Aid

I would not call my two daughters spoiled in the least, but in terms of seeing music, they are pretty lucky. Living in Milwaukee, less than 90 minutes from Chicago, we are located driving distance to all types of great shows and festivals. Milwaukee loves to tout itself as the "City of Festivals" and pumps up Summerfest as the World's largest music festival, but I find myself more impressed with the outlying WI festival line ups and the incredible offerings in Chicago at their various street fairs.

In the past two years my girls (age 7 and 9) have had the chance to see Slobberbone, Glossary, Backyard Tire Fire, Willie Nelson, Bobby Bare Jr., The Deadstring Brothers, Lucero, Airborne Toxic Event, Jeff Tweety, Built to Spill... I am guessing there are more, but that list alone is a pretty good start. The Bottle Rockets are on that list too. They have seen them twice, including this summer in St. Louis opening up LouFest. It is also fair to say that The Bottle Rockets albums are on heavy rotation at our home and in our cars.

This weekend, with my wife out of town, I decided to head down to Farm Aid 2010 and walk the lot to see if any scalpers were stuck with tickets. The initial draw for me was to see Neil Young live for the first time and to see Willie Nelson again. I pretty much knew that my girls could not last until 11:00pm but I figured this was a semi-historic event and there was bound to be some good music in the noon - 9:00 time frame. I picked up my teenage nephew, who is learning guitar and taking a big interest in music, and the four of us headed down to the bars outside the stadium to see if we could find tickets. Luck was on our side and we wound up with aisle seats in the first level in the 7th row. Absolutely perfect.

By the time we made it to our seats the Band of Horses was wrapping up. We stayed and saw Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real (Willie Nelson's son,) Jamey Johnson, Jason Mraz, Jeff Tweedy, Norah Jones, Kenny Chesney, Dave Matthews, and John Mellencamp. Willie came out and played with a few of the artists.

The girls loved being at the show. Lukas Nelson ripped it up. He played the guitar behind his back and with his teeth and you could see that he had broken a guitar string during the last song. The girls could not get enough of this. My youngest queued the classic Tom and Jerry line right on time: "You can't play guitar with out a guitar string." Jason Mraz was a hit as they knew the words to a few songs from the radio. My nephew was taken by Dave Matthews acoustic take on All Along the Watchtower and Satellite. Mellencamp came on when the sun was down and the full band and light show was pretty impressive for the girls.

Many of the artists played stripped down sets with no drums. My girls asked after every acoustic set "Will the next band play loud?"
Well, they are all pretty loud, don't you think?
"No, like with real guitars and drums?"

Ahhh. Be still, my heart.

As expected, girls were out of gas a little after 9:00 and we had to take off. Most of the car ride home was talking about our favorite bands or songs. When the discussion came to full band vs. acoustic sets my girls shared the following gems:

"I like rock and roll, like The Bottle Rockets."
"Yeah, they don't even have acoustic guitars."
"When we saw them in St. Louis, we almost knew every song."
"yeah, and every song has drums, and they are really loud."

I do not know if The Bottle Rockets have a Jr. fan club, but I have the feeling one might be starting at our house.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Worse ways to spend $5 on a Tuesday

It seems Minneapolis is better known for its' new buildings, fancy stadiums, big malls and clean downtown, but the more you get to know the Twin Cities the more you can find small special places that seem like they were pulled right out of a Tom Waits song or from under the tracks of the El in Chicago. Greasy spoons, private pawn and resale stores, insanely cool little guitar shops, and bars like Lee's Liquor Lounge. Lee's is located close to where the Minnesota Baseball Twins play and my visit happened to be on the day that the Twins clinched the AL Central title.

As much fun as it can be to watch a local win among townies this is certainly not what brought me out. I came to Lee's Liquor Lounge to catch The Deadstring Brothers for $5. $5. I still do not get how I can see a band this good for $5. I have played in a number of bands significantly worse (by all measures) than The Deadstring Brothers where we have collected $10 at the door. I have paid $10 and more to see buddies cover bands play at crappy bars. This price of $5 was so confusing to me I was a little worried there may be another band called Deadstring Brothers.

Yeah, I checked their website and this show was listed... right alongside all of the $15 and $20 shows. Second guessing aside, I was already in Minneapolis, a healthy pour of Jim Beam on the rocks was $3, and this was better than another night in a hotel room.

The Deadstring Brothers have always been an anomaly to me. Since my buddy Kyle told me to buy Winter Starving Report I have not understood why these guys are not being played on the radio. It is not that they play music that would easily fall into a current pop music category, but because their music sounds so much like lost Rolling Stones albums. With the recent re-release of Exile I enjoy playing DSB albums for friends and having them guess who the band is. Every time the guess is Stones, and more times than not they guess it is some of the tracks off the Exile re-release.

I do really love the Stones. When the gloves come off and British music discussions get to picking sides I tend to lean Stones more than Beatles. The problem for me in those discussions is having to defend all of the crap that came after Tattoo You. The convenient thing about the Beatles is that they broke up before any garbage was recorded. There are no Bridges to Babylon or Steel Wheels to account for. I can always point to McCarthy's solo work and some of the lows from Wings, but none of that is included in the Beatles body of work.

Where Emotional Rescue and Tattoo leave off these two DSB's albums kind of pick up. Incredible tight, yet somehow natural sounding harmonies, tasteful use of slide guitar, warm B3 organ sounds, and choruses that sound the first time as though you have been singing them since high school. Winter Starving Report is probably more full of hits, but the new album San Paulo is just brimming with nods to old blues music in a way only the Stones were able to do believably in the past.

This is not my first time seeing the Deadstring Brothers. I was at the Bloodshot 15th Anniversary party in Chicago and saw a load of great bands. That night the DSB were working in a brand new line up after losing a few members. The show was rough to say the least. It seemed band members were still learning parts and there was uncertainty about who was doing what. This show was vastly different. Unfortunately the pedal steel/lead guitarist who has appeared with the band in the past was not on hand, so the band was drums, bass, guitar/singer, and organist.

When the opening bands were playing and the Twins game was still going there may have been 50 people in the bar, maybe 65. By the time the Deadstring Brothers took the stage the Twins had won, Sox had lost and the division was clinched. Bar emptied out to about 25-30 people by the time they took the stage. The show was about 1:15 long and set list was heavy on Starving Winter Report songs with a few songs from San Paulo and the other albums thrown in too. I think the lack of a lead player may have had an effect which songs were played.

I have played rooms with 5-10 people. Not proud or energizing nights, but to this day I still run into people who saw one of those shows where we gave it all we had, playing like we were in a packed stadium even though we nearly outnumbered the audience. Invariably they speak of those shows with reverence. Every show is important, not just the packed houses. The Deadstring Brothers took this show seriously and I felt privileged to have been there.

And all for just $5.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Old 97's, July 2010, Milwaukee WI

Right, I have come to the conclusion that I pretty much stink at blogging. I understand how a computer works, I know how to make posts, I continue to stay involved in the main subject matter of my chosen blog, but it all breaks down after the show. Without something somewhat witty to say or some breakthrough musical or emotional insight to share, I have wound up with a collection of half written entry that sits in my draft folder for 18 months. (Amy LaVere, Band of Heathens, Slobberbone...)

Now, if I tape the show and post the audio somewhere easily accessible, that's an easy post but I have tired of carrying my recording equipment to shows then spending 2 hours turning them into MP3's to post on the internet only to learn someone else has recorded the same show with better equipment from a better location (thanks Morst!)

Enter new camera. Well, enter 8 year old camera purchased from ebay. After years of really wanting a nice digital SLR camera to replace my trusty Nikon F, I finally took the plung. With minor modifications all my old Nikkor lenses are fitting on the new body and I am off and running.

First assignment, the Old 97's at the Pabst. Armed with only three lenses my first attempt of shooting in a concert setting was a struggle, but I wound up with some decent shots.

As for the concert,
it was one of the better attended shows I have seen at the Pabst in recent years. The balcony was closed down but the main floor was really filled in well. General admission made it possible for me to get up close to the stage to get some pics.

The band was really incredible. Just the 4 guys and man did they fill out the sound. Something about that machine gun/train rolling snare drum attack and the perfect blend of guitar sounds makes for an onslaught of sound that I was not convinced they would be able to achieve live. The band was not perfect. They sounded like a very well rehearsed bar band with a small mistake or missed note here or there, but that just added to the excitement and energy for m
e. The song choices were a veritable cavalcade of hits going all the way back to Hitchhike to Rhome and including at least one song from their upcoming fall release. They even threw in a cover of David Bowie's Five Years... Rhett had some trouble remembering words around the second verse, but we all got the idea.

I have a few more concerts on the calendar to wrap up the summer season and I hope to share either audio and/or photos from those show. I am feeling good that I can deliver on decent photos from shows much more consistently that I can musical insight and wit.

Up next, The Bottle Rockets and Lucero.