A couple of weeks ago I finally had the opportunity to see Natalie Merchant in concert again at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, WA. It had been about 16 years since I last saw her in Philadelphia on the Motherland tour. All those years ago in Philadelphia – a concert emblazoned in my memory. Natalie had just released her 3rd solo album, her set list was tight, and her vocals were powerful. Even then, she refused to rely heavily on her hit heavy back catalogue with 10,000 Maniacs. Lost in the moment, lost in the music – it was an amazing show. Flash forward 16 years or so and I found myself surrounded by people of all ages anticipating Ms. Merchant’s arrival to the stage. The open air filled with her unique voice, songs, and strings. Fiery and a bit more wise, she played for over 3 hours, again eschewing most of her hits with 10,000 Maniacs in favor of her lustrous solo career. Older, wiser, leaning more heavily on string embellishments – different, yet familiar. Natalie Merchant is like no other.
Many years ago a friend gushed to me about pop star Lorde – telling me that she was the absolute best he’d heard in a bit. Now, most of the aging hipsters in my age range (mid 30’s to mid 40’s) DO seem like pop music – ironically or genuine, i have no idea. I filed his advice into the back of my head and forgot about it, hipster that I am. Now, I i don’t live under a rock – I’ve seen her name pop up over the years and really enjoyed the cover of Royals by Puddles Pity Party (the sad clown you’ve probably seen on YouTube or season 12 of America’s Got Talent). Anyway – my point is, though I new of her and knew she was talented, I’d never sat down and indulged myself in her particular brand of pop prowess. Until now.
It is a classic case of “what could have been”. Local Manchester, England band gets some buzz, records an EP, quickly gets signed to a label and the EP never comes out. But what if the EP had pointed to an alternate future? A future not dictated by the whims of record label executives following trends? Dog Toffee fit that scenario perfectly. Led by Gav Rourke & Sean Lyons and backed by a string of drummers (finally solidified w/ long time drummer Phil Nelson), the band tapped into punk, grunge, girl group sounds, and white noise inspired by The Fall. The band would go on to support legends in concert (Dwarves, Misfits, and Dee Dee Ramone to name just a few), headline shows, and record with Seattle legend Jack Endino. But until now, their debut recordings have never been released. 20 years later is as good as time as any.
In late 2015 I had the chance to see the recently reunited Ride play in Seattle at the Neptune Theater. Though they were / are beloved for their early shoegaze records, I have a soft spot for their brief flirtation with Britpop. Not sure what to expect, I went into the show eager to be blown away (and to catch Andy Bell up close so I could snap a photo for my Oasis loving brother). What I experienced was one of the best shows i’ve ever seen (as well as the loudest). A set heavy on 1990’s Nowhere and 1992’s Going Blank Again, I could feel the venue shaking as the white noise built and built. Unexpected, transcendent, euphoric. Well, what’ll you do for an encore?
About 16 or 17 years ago I came across a review of an obscure Swedish psychedelic band that was compelling. Pärson Sound conjured up visions of free form mind melting workouts, Sonic Youth inspired punk jams, and something fresh. The double disc anthology dd not disappoint. I eagerly hunted down later incarnations of the band – all under different names. International Harvester, Harvester, and finally, Träd Gräs och Stenar. Translation: Trees, Grass, and Stone. Throughout the various phases of the band a common theme can be seen. Communal spirit, restless experimentation, jams that flirt with punk, and the sense that there is nothing else like this in the world – past, present, or future. It is one of those bands that I eagerly tell people about – especially if they have an adventurous spirit. Sometime in the mid 70’s, the band splintered apart – some members devoted themselves to organic farming. Reuniting on occasion to jam, the band officially reunited in the late 90’s and released the albums Ajn Schvajn Draj in 2002 and Homeless Cats in 2009. Then, tragedy struck the band.
Ric Zweig is an unusual artist within the music industry, having put his music career on hold many years ago to pursue a career as a successful lawyer and circuit court judge in southern Florida. Now retired, Ric reignited his music career a little over a decade ago, receiving many accolades along the way. Deeply imbued with a sense of wisdom, nostalgia, and Epicurean philosophy, the music is at once memorable and familiar. Ric handles lead & harmony vocals along with guitar. His band goes by the name Fresh Air and consist of Alex Mallet on lead guitar, Ricky Risquez on bass, and Miguel Cruz on drums. Songwriting is primarily handled by Ric, though band members also contribute to lyrics & music. The latest album More Ric Zweig & Fresh Air features 10 songs that will bring to mind the feeling of having a cold beer on a warm summer day, life’s problems far from mind (if you’ve never experienced that, I highly recommend it). It also is one of the finest records released in 2017 thus far.
The morning of May 18th, 2017 is not one that I’ll forget in my lifetime. I woke up to a message from a close friend indicating that Chris Cornell had passed away at some point early in the morning. Puzzled, it took me a few times to understand what had happened. Out of the blue news about a musician who had long seemed to settle into his lifestyle, it shook me to the core. News and articles seemed light on details at first – at first I thought it had been a hoax – but reality soon sank in. Chris Cornell – Seattle’s son – had passed away at the age of 52 by his own hand.