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Merrill Garbus (who performs as tUnE-yArDs) is a bracingly original artist. This clip from the Jimmy Fallon Show, complete with some beats and rhymes from The Roots, gives you a good taste of just how out there she is. Her voice is striking and powerful, and the ways she uses it are really bizarre but really confident. She makes music using lots of loops and found sound, but she likes to put it together right on the spot.
With the addition of the sax on the new album w h o k i l l, she sort of reminds me a bit of the Irving Klaw Trio, one of my favorite bands in the whole world. But just check out this video for Bizness. She is just really intensely into everything about this — the music, the singing, the dancing — it’s really captivating and exciting.
…I’ve updated my personal website. The good news is that the reason for my lapse is that I’ve been extremely busy writing and working in other places. I won’t bore you all with my academic and consulting pursuits, but here are a few conversations I’ve had with some really amazing musicians for At Length Magazine.
After coming back from DC, I had a completley different dinosaur act experience, catching Iron Maiden in the very last sweltering row of Madison Square Garden. Where the Unrest show was a slightly tentative affair at a small, homey club, Maiden in MSG was about as shamelessly big business as rock can get.
But that’s sort of appropriate for Maiden. I first got into them back in 1986, as I was starting junior high. But it wasn’t their music that sold me, or at least it wasn’t entirely the music. Instead, it was the time-traveling, protean, undead mascot of the band, Eddie the Head, that appealed to my geeky, tweenage self.
I didn’t get it at the time, but it seems obvious to me that what I fell for was a sort of brand. And it’s an enduring one. I just now spent a good 20 minutes checking out the various t-shirts available at the band’s official shop, most of which are the outer space-themed tour shirts with artwork from their new album, “The Final Frontier.” You see, like some sort of zombie Barbie for geeky boys, Eddie has a new outfit (and level of decomposition) for every album, be it the skeleton of a WWII RAF fighter pilot or a futuristic alien bounty hunter with just a trench coat over his bare sinews. That combined with the band’s easy appropriation of Heinlein novels and other assorted nerd culture references in their lyrics, and you have a coherent brand identity that I still find hard to resist.
And aside from that the show was actually a blast. The band seem to all genuinely enjoy playing for the fans, and Bruce Dickinson in particular still seemed as energetic, well-spoken and operatic as he always has. And the fans ate it up. In fact, the sold-out crowd (front row seats were selling for as much as 20 grand on StubHub) seemed to go just as crazy for the band’s more recent material as they did for the classics. And when a giant alien animatronic Eddie came out to battle the band members before playing a few riffs of his own, the crowd was completely sold.
So some time back, my friend Dan sent me an enthusiastic email informing me that Unrest was getting back together for a Teenbeat reunion tour celebrating their 26th anniversary. Then 15 minutes later he sent me a follow-up email that I was going to be taking the bus down to DC to acccompany him to the show. Dan is sort of like Sir Ben Kingsley’s character in Sexy Beast, in that he has both a shaved head and an ability to convince people to say yes to any proposition he might put forward.
But of course it didn’t take much convincing. Unrest is great, and I’ve never seen them play (though I think I’ve seen a couple of Mark Robinson’s other projects), and what better place to catch them then at Teenbeat Records’ former ground zero, the Black Cat in DC. Also, it was a great opportunity to hang out a little with Dan, Alia and their two hilariously energetic daughters.
I don’t want to really bang out a full review of the show, but it was totally satisfying. All three versions of the band played, each introduced separately by Robinson, who also let each of the first two bassists do their own thing for a couple of minutes, which included both country blues riffing and a Brecht song.
The dominant emotion of the various reunited bands (Bossanova, The Rondelles and Versus) seemed to be a sort of giddy joy at getting to rock out again in front of a big crowd like they used to in the old days, mixed with a slightly awkward amazement at the earnest, younger selves they were impersonating. And of course the crowd skewed a little older as well, your humble narrator included.
I normally don’t like dinosaur acts, but this was hardly a nostalgic cash-in, or at least not on the scale of a Billy Joel or even the Pixies. It was a good time, and everyone rocked out plausibly, and still hit their marks with confidence. And most of these folks are either still playing with their original bands or making music with others.
Record companies are big business, and of course they want to scare us into thinking that their needs are in fact ours as well. This is obviously a simplification of a very complicated problem that is affecting all sorts of people in different ways, but this much is true: music is valuable to people, and smart people will always find a way to make money off of that. There will be upheaval, no doubt, but music isn’t going anywhere.