Sunday, October 30, 2011

Meeting Your Idols

If there's anything I've made clear over my teenage/adult life time is that I am a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan.  So, when the opportunity came for me to do a meet & greet with the great Jimmy Chamberlin at Vic's Drum Shop, I jumped at the opportunity to do so.

Since I knew there would be a ton of people there, I decided to make it a jeans-and-tie affair :)  It definitely got a lot of attention as I was completely out of place looking so damn fly! Right as I arrived, I think the girl at the door took a liking to me because she could not stop smiling as I spoke with her.  She was very helpful by handing my a magazine with Jimmy on the cover and directing me "up and to the left" to the drum rooms they reserved.  What she didn't bother to tell me was that Jimmy as literally starting to throw down in one of the rooms!  I've rehearsed in these rooms before and those rooms are designed to hold 4 people with full band equipment - maybe 15 with no equipment.  With Jimmy in the room, his handlers, tables, etc, I'd say 10 for the day.  I'd say there were at least 50 people in there with him and maybe 50 more in the hallway listening.  I was in the hallway.  The amount of humanity in the place was incredible.

So, I listened to Jimmy's extraordinary playing then decided to hang out until his signing session about half an hour later.  I went outside, gave my door girl a can of soda I swiped from the cooler down the hall, then proceeded to call people on the phone to kill time.  Afterwards, I got in line for the signing and started chatting with the other folks in line.  There were people there all day and getting everything under the sun signed.  I felt a little guilty being in line to meet Jimmy as a fan of his contributions to Smashing Pumpkin songs versus being a drummer interested in his technique, but I got over it quickly remembering that there were folks from the Pumpkins show who recognized me as "the guy from the line" who told me they were not even musicians.  Yes, I know - I tend to over-analyze the reasons as to why I'm where I am.

After a while, I got to the head of the line.  I made direct eye contact with Jimmy and he gave me a look that said, "Hey, you're dressed up pretty dapperly."  I nodded and waited patiently while he signed other people's posters.  Eventually, it was my turn.  Right as I got up to him, he strikes up a conversation with Living Colour's Will Calhoun regarding Will's new disc.  Jimmy was enthralled in their conversation and barely took to time look at what I asked him to sign.  He never broke conversation the entire time.  Then "Bullet Time" took over.  I asked myself, "Should I interrupt their conversation?  Should I just stand here silently until they're done? Or should I just pass up my chance to say something to him?"  I chose to keep on moving and not bother him with trivial conversation.  I've spoken at length with Jimmy before so I guess I've already said what I've wanted to.

I walked away and gauged my feelings on it.  I asked myself, "Should I be angry at how that went down? And if so, with whom?"  Funny thing was that I sensed that if I got angry about the situation, those feelings  would be all disingenuous.  Why be angry?  I came to get him to autograph my Pisces Iscariot booklet and maybe get a chance to talk to him.  I got everything I wanted for the day.  Getting him to sign the free magazine I got was a perk.  I chose to stay as carefree as I was going into the event.  It was really nice to walk away satisfied with what interaction I got with him.  With that said, it's the least favorite time I've got to meet Jimmy but it also makes the other times I've met him more memorable.

The universe was kind to me yesterday and I am grateful.  The goodness I put into the ether yesterday paid off and will hopefully continue to give me goodness in the future.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Rawk-U-Meant-Awry Review: PJ20

WARNING: I am a long-time fan of Pearl Jam (PJ) up through Yield. After that record, they lost me.

I just watched the Pearl Jam Twenty (PJ20) documentary produced by Cameron Crowe, a long time friend of the band (as well as the only director to capture the golden age of Seattle's music scene in his well-crafted romantic comedy Singles by featuring members of Soundgarden and Pearl Jam as Matt Dillon's band Citizen Dick) and accomplished film director.  Through a ton of archival footage and some interview montages we get to see where the band started up through today.

The Good
The movie starts with delving into the story of Mother Love Bone (MLB) - PJ guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament's most successful band at the time that was about to break out of Seattle until their untimely heroin overdoes of their singer Andrew Wood.  From the ashes of this band rose the phoenix that would be Pearl Jam.  This to me was really interesting to watch.  I've read countless articles regarding the origin of PJ but the footage they used really drove home that the seeds of something powerful to come were present in MLB.  

A new depth of understanding of the Seattle scene was demonstrated by highlighting the intermingling and support shown between some of the biggest bands of the 90's; Soundgarden vocalist Chris Cornell - without even really knowing anything about Andy - allowing him to stay with him after a stint in rehab; Chris, Jeff, Stone, PJ lead guitarist Mike McCready, and Soundgarden & PJ drummer Matt Cameron forming Temple of the Dog to pay tribute to Andy and featuring Eddie Vedder on vocals to effectively legitimize PJ to the rest of the world is incredible to say the least; Eddie and Kurt Cobain showing mutual admiration for each other even though they were portrayed as rivals by the media;  acts in Chicago and many other parts of the US are not nearly as supportive of each other like these bands were; the level of regard they all continue to speak with about each other permeates every frame they're interviewed in.  All of these points materialize what I've read from the media for so many years - if you were a part of Seattle's music scene at the time, there was something special there both for the bands but also for the fans.  Maybe that's how Beatles fans from Liverpool felt about the band before they left for London?

Much of the documentary centers around Eddie's rise to a leadership position within the band. Apparently Ed was a shy, lone wolf of surfer with a talented voice in the beginning of the band. That attribute in my opinion really helped the band be truthful and sincere both musically and lyrically. Stone and Jeff had initially set out to make a band of their own, but over time it became more of a democracy with Eddie taking the reigns and being the band's spokesman.  Whether it was for pro-choice advocacy, leading the fight up against Ticketmaster's monopoly, or going after war-hungry government administrations, Eddie seemed to be leading the charge with his bandmates closely behind him.  We get to see how much more comfortable Eddie has become with his position today.

There was a good deal of the documentary dedicated to the point in the band where they realized that they were the masters of their own destiny.  It took them touring with Neil young to see that they did not have to succumb to the pressures put on them by outside forces like the label, media, or even the fans.  One of the reasons they're still around is because they empowered themselves to take charge of their lives as much as possible.  This realization was well explained in the movie.

The Bad
My biggest gripe regarding the documentary has to deal with one of the most Spinal Tap-ish issues in the band - how come the band has had so many drummers?  They briefly touch on the subject in the movie but go into no real depth.  There has been a semi-documented acrimonious split around the release of their third album Vitalogy when drummer Dave Abruzzese, who toured extensively for Ten; played and toured behind Vs.; and played on Vitalogy, got dismissed.  Why wasn't that spoken on?  The attitude seemed to be, "Ah, well, it just didn't work out with drummer X, Y, or, that is".   Behind every great band is a great drummer and I feel that they did a disservice to the fans and their drummers of past by glossing over the subject.  Even the Foo Fighter's Back and Forth documentary went into some real depth with their drummer issues made understanding the present state of the band  much sweeter.

As a producer, more focus could have been placed on the making of many of these records.  They speak about the first one in depth; the second one is looked into some; the third one they touch; they don't even really mention the names of any other records after that.  If they do mention something about a later record, it's literally in passing in order to talk about something else.  For example, Mike McCready previously has been in the public eye regarding his drug abuse.  His use deeply affected the band both personally and musically.  I would loved to have known more about how the records made while he was on or off drugs proceeded, what mindsets were the bandmembers in, and how all of that tied them together.  PJ's sixth record Binaural was mentioned as a "dark" record because of the drug use but that's all we're given.

I did like how they tried to segment the history between the first ten years (no pun intended) and the second.  However, they focused too much on the first ten. Does 119 minutes running time capture the intricacies of the band?  No but I also recognize they can't make a 4 day long movie either to catch ever nuance I'm looking for.  They just needed to add probably another 60 minutes to satisfy me :)

I feel this movie deserves a 3 out of 5 stars rating.   It's got a ton of great footage but it by far is not comprehensive.  I'll admit that maybe a lot of the information I'm looking for can be found elsewhere in books, magazines, or the internet, but this documentary by name implies that it's all-encompassing.  Perhaps in another 10 years they will be able to include additional footage I'm looking for. LONG LIVE PJ30!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Smashing Return For The Pumpkins On Their Oceania Tour - October 14, 2011

I got the chance to see the Smashing Pumpkins last night in a new light.  Last year I saw them at The Metro for the Matt Leone benefit.  I got the chance to meet the band (albeit briefly) and get up close and personal with them musically during the soundcheck:

At the time I got a good sense of where the band was musically with the older music but had no idea really as to what they were going through with all of the new music having been written since Billy resurrected the band back in 2007.  I figured that it must be difficult to be considered "a band" when you have a rich musical legacy to compete against and be judged against at every single turn.  A stronger person would just dismiss what everyone had to say and just live in the moment of what's going on in the band just to avoid the barbs of haters and critics.  At the show this week I even ran in to younger fans on the street telling me they were here to see "Billy Corgan and his over-glorified cover band".  I felt like being goaded into a discussion of new vs. old band members, but decided I would let the music do the talking as it really didn't matter what we thought - this is the Smashing Pumpkins now - take it or leave it.  I think Billy summed up the attitude to take regarding the subject in the video below around the 8 minute mark:

The Smashing Pumpkins Record Club (#SPRC)
I got to the venue around 4:30 PM to line-up for the SPRC pre-show meetup.  Legendary Pumpkin associate Kerry Brown, who has been involved with the Pumpkins since practically the beginning, was to lead the effort.  I got to know some random folks standing in line and talked a bit of Pumpkins shop as well as get to know where they were from .  They were from different places: Rockford, Kansas City, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Chicago, Indianapolis.  For many of them they had traveled to other shows on the tour and were following the band around the country.  Wish I could do that (not really).  The line was relatively small.  There were maybe 100 people in line.  There used to be people lining up the night before at venues so by the time you showed up, there would be 500 people ahead of you trying to secure their spot right up front.  I'm older - been there, done that - got the t-shirt, poster, album, photo, and memories - no need for me to do that anymore.  I've proven my loyalty for the last 17 years :) I got confirmation of entry for the SPRC via Facebook or Twitter (don't remember) basically telling me that if you RSVPed before a certain date, you were good to go for the day of.  Apparently they were supposed to have sent an email with the confirmation as well.  We got word of it and almost everybody immediately pulled out their smartphones to check their emails.  A majority of us didn't get that email.  Luckily, they had a list and we were all on it.  I've been to enough of these meet & greets to know that someone almost always messes it up.  I was prepared to be denied entry but luckily that wasn't the case this time. We got into the Riv and eventually gathered around the decrepit Riv box office just outside the first set of doors.  Kerry came out and greeted us and here's effectively what he told us:
  • The Pumpkins new record Oceania will be released November 29th in the US (which implies a different date for Europe and Asia-Pacific).  It will be streamed before then then released physically at that point.  There's been an indication that the record itself would actually be released formally for free as part of the Teargarden project after the commercial release which means we're looking at a 2012 release for the tracks.

  • The Gish and Siamese Dream reissues are ready to go.  Per Hipsters United, the Amazon listings for deluxe editions of Gish and Siamese Dream have been updated with additional information and photos. Both are listed at $28.99 and are due out on November 29. Both sets include two CDs (one containing the remastered album and the other bonus tracks) and a DVD. The DVDs are to contain complete videos of concerts at Metro in Chicago from 1990 (for Gish) and 1993 (for Siamese Dream). Both sets are also to include postcards; Gish‘s postcards feature six “never-before-seen” band photos, while Siamese Dream‘s feature the original 13 album collages. Finally, both sets feature “reimagined” cover artwork and a 24-page booklet with lyrics and commentary from Billy Corgan and music critic David Wild. Tentative tracklistings for the bonus CDs were given to fans attending a meetup in Los Angeles on October 5. The tracklistings shown to fans in LA reflected 18 tracks for both Gish and Siamese Dream, but according to Amazon, Gish is to have 15 bonus tracks and Siamese Dream 17.

  • Work on remixing/remastering Pisces Iscariot has already begun.  To the best of my memory, Kerry remixed Frail and Bedazzled, Obscured, Plume, Hello Kitty Kat, and La Dolly Vita.  This is of special interest to me as probably my favorite song to listen to on PI is Hello Kitty Kat and the mix on that track is absolutely horrible.  I am hoping that 21st century recording techniques can clean up and bring out hidden gems never heard previously.

  • Kerry had someone bring out a boombox where they played us an alternate scratch take of Hello Kitty Kat with Billy soloing all over the track (no vocals) to figure out what he wanted on the final released version.  He kept making jokes about how they are finding all kinds of things in the SP archives that they had no idea they had recorded.  This track was one of them.  Based on what I heard, I would've loved to have seen this track worked upon to finality as I liked a couple of differences for bridges in the song.  Overall, it was pretty cool to hear it and everyone seemed to dig it.

  • Kerry also asked us what kind of merchandise of past we wanted to be reissued.  I mentioned it'd be a good idea to reissue the Gish subway posters.  Other things of interest were old t-shirts and concert posters.

  • Somebody asked a question regarding releasing material via a phone app that would allow paid subscribers access to the archives.  Kerry mentioned that they have someone working on an app for them but didn't go into any real detail as to what it will provide.  He jokingly lamented that they're spending a lot of time restoring the fidelity of the records just to have it played back at lower fidelity through a monophonic speaker. That prompted me to ask if they would be releasing material in higher definition quality.  Kerry adamantly nodded and said they plan on releasing a ton of material in 96Khz/24-bit quality (for those of you who aren't audiophiles, this means that these formats would be playable on your computer, PS3, and Blu-Ray systems that will read high definition audio formats.  However, to truly enjoy them at their optimal quality, you may have to dump some money into equipment to truly replicate what it is that you're supposed to be hearing :) ).  He said that they hope to release material that is already bootlegged and freely available in higher quality formats in order to get people to hear them the way their supposed to be heard.  A good example is the SPRC release of the alternate take of Rhinoceros featuring a great organ solo.  I had heard this before via a crappy digital transfer of a demo tape the Pumpkins would use to book gigs.  It was nice to hear the song in 320 Kbps MP3 (granted I still loose some sound quality as it's a 16-bit recording...oh well) and have been able to hear nuances in that recording that I was unable to in the other. 
As a side note, I have an anecdote about discovering the demo.  Back in 1996 when the Pumpkins were on RockLine to promote the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, I had planned the entire day to get ready to get on the phone and actually speak to my idol Billy Corgan.  I brought out a piece of paper and planned to write in the nicest hand-writing possible the questions that only a REAL fan would ask.  I spent about an hour brainstorming and wrote only one question down:

Will the songs on your 1989 demo ever be released in their entirety with good sound quality?

I never got a chance to ask Billy the question as the phone lines were busy the entire time and I just gave up half-way through their interview.  Here we are 15 years later and now I have the answer to my question ;-)
I got Kerry to autograph my copy of PI and then subsequently got back in line.  Roughly 15 minutes later, the doors were opened up and we shuffled our way in.

Opening Acts - Light FM & Fancy Space People
While I was waiting in line, people were asking me about the opening acts and what I have heard.  I responded by telling them that I was a bad fan in that I hadn't really been keeping up with the other shows to get a clue as to what I would be listening to (again - been there, done that).  I figure I would judge the music based on what I had heard that evening.  Other people however chimed in and gave their thoughts on the opening bands.  I heard nothing but bad things about them.  I've been going to shows since '96 and quite frankly cannot name you any of the openers except one - Garbage - and that's only because Butch Vig was in the band so I remembered that.  

It's gotta be daunting to be opening for such a big band because practically no one is there for you.  You're the filler until the "real" band comes on stage.  So you have to come out strong as hell with your music and material and hope you get fans on your side.  I've experienced this personally many times and it's no joke even on a local level let alone a world touring act like the Pumpkins.

Light FM took stage.  I would describe them as a synthy pop-based band out of LA.  Their lead singer had a very delicate quality about him both on and off stage.  He seemed to be incredibly nice - almost too nice to be in a rock n' roll band.  He mentioned a few times who they were "Hi, we're Light FM" and gave a couple of sentences to relate to the crowd ("We're from LA but originally form here - Chicago." and "I used to work at the Whole Foods in Ravenswood").  They took the approach of letting the music speak for itself and not get in the way.  The crowd seemed rather receptive to it.They mentioned from the stage they'd be at the merch booth after their set to meet and greet with the fans.  35-40 minutes later, I headed over there while Fancy Space People set up.

I met the ladies in the band and struck up conversations with them.  They were really nice and seemed genuinely happy to be talking to new people in every city.  A lot of unreciprocated flirting came out  as a result but they were warm and receptive to my charms and jokes :).  I even struck up a conversation up with the local merch lady selling t-shirts on behalf of the Pumpkins and ended up having a really awesome conversation with her for roughly 45 minutes.  I'll spare you the details but she was really nice, candid, and funny.  As a result of all of this comradery, I missed the Fancy Space People's entire set.  Word was as I went to and from the restrooms and got some drinks that their set was absolutely awful so I didn't miss much.  Maybe I'll catch them on YouTube and see if I'll be kicking myself later for missing them live.  Oh well...

The Smashing Pumpkins
I met up with the Wifey for this show by the merch booth. After buying a few discs from Light FM (thanks ladies! *winky wink*), we proceeded to mosey around the venue looking for an ideal spot to see the show; there wasn't one - it was jam packed!  

I forgot just how small the Riv is compared to the Aragon Ballroom.  At the Aragon, there really isn't a bad seat in the house, but it also can probably hold 4 times as many people as the Riv.  We ended up along one of the sides of the venue where we got a  good view of the band:

About half way through the set, security personnel were moving people out of the wings of the venue into the main area as people were blocking exits and passage ways.  I had a feeling they oversold the venue as I've been to a number of shows at the Riv and never felt so much humanity nearby.  We got to stand stage center and watched more magic unfurl:

Here's the setlist that was played along with my thoughts as the night wore on:
  • Quasar
  • Panopticon
  • Starla

  • Geek U.S.A.
  • Muzzle

  • Window Paine

  • Lightning Strikes
  • Soma
  • Siva
  • Oceania

  • Frail and Bedazzled

  • Silverfuck

  • Obscured

  • Pale Horse
  • Thru the Eyes of Ruby

  • Cherub Rock
  • Owata

  • My Love Is Winter

  • For Martha
  • Idiot [Catherine]   BC with Catherine
  • Broken Bunny Bird [Catherine]   BC with Catherine
  • Bullet with Butterfly Wings

Listen to it yourself from the fan's perspective. If you'd like a soundboard recording, you may purchase one directly from the Pumpkins.

Overall, it was a really good show.  I satisfied my live Pumpkins itch for now and am looking for the formal release of Oceania.