Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Listening Post

Two songs from one of my absolute favorite bands of all-time: Concrete Blonde.

First up, from their 1990 album Bloodletting, this is the gorgeous and haunting Caroline.

And from Concrete Blonde's 1989 album Free, here's God is a Bullet.


TK said...

Wildly underrated band, not to mention criminally unknown these days. I was always in love with "Tomorrow, Wendy."

Ally said...

"Caroline" is awesome, but "Joey" will always be my fav.....great pick for today - one of my favorite bands!

Liz said...

God, I always always loved Johnette Napolitano's husky, tortured voice. I first discovered Concrete Blonde while I was stationed in Italy and have been a huge fan since. My favorite was off of "Walking in London". The song was called "Long Time Ago". I can still hear every word and every guitar riff in my head today. Your taste in music is exquisite.

Anonymous said...

Timeless. I gotta get my CD's organized. Must have 3 or 4 CB's CD's in there somwhere.

kanye said...

Concrete Blonde, the greatest band ever.

It was early in 1989 and Concrete Blonde had just started touring in support of Free. God is a Bullet hadn't yet hit regular rotation on MTV and as a result, they were still booking relatively small venues.

The woman I was dating at the time, Samantha, was a huge Concrete Blonde fan and it wasn't much of a surprise when she called and told me to keep the 20th open...she'd just gotten tickets.

Me: "Cool, who's opening?"

Sam: "House of Freaks...never heard of 'em."

Me: Schwiiiing!!!

(House of Freaks were one of those criminally under-known bands that the 80's seemed to churn out with disturbing regularity. Two-man band, good albums, great songs, signature sound, incendiary live shows...everything you could want. Kind of like The White Stripes if The White Stripes had limitless energy. And engaging stage personalities. And a drummer.)

So concert night rolls around and by now God is a Bullet is getting decent airplay. Still, we're kind of taken aback at the size of the crowd in front of Cabaret Metro (one of THE great rooms in the country, BTW). It's April, it's Chicago and it's cold. Unseasonably cold. Okay, it's fucking freezing outside and, no big surprise here, most everyone is ridiculously under dressed. The sight of hundreds of black-clad hipsters, with their artfully-holed jeans, hands in pocket, pogoing straight up and down in some half-assed attempt to stay warm, was priceless.

Hovering over their heads, trapped from above by the marquee, was a thick, gray cloud of way too many cigarettes smoked. The night air was dead still and the only force affecting the smoke came from the now even more frenetically pogoing crowd. Slight, windy upbursts, with the tallest amongst the crowd physically puncturing the smoke layer, leaving what looked like giant, negative-space jellyfish swimming through an ocean cloud. All of these alt.rock aerobics also had the crowd a-huffin' and a-puffin' at a pretty good clip, filling the air with a constant barrage of thousands of small steam bursts as their individual breaths condensed in the cold night air. It was as if some ancient, medieval genius had constructed a coal-fired, steam-powered, human whack-a-mole...with Wrigley Field as a backdrop.

We took a few step backwards, just to take in the totality of what we were seeing. Samantha said to me, “You remember those wormy Muppet things...the ones that bobbed up and down and went 'Meep, Meep, Meep' all the time?” Almost 20 years later and I still hear “Meep, Meep, Meep” in my head anytime I'm in that neighborhood. Anyway, we made our way up and through the crowd and over to the left-most doors. We're both regulars here...not inside enough to be invited to the closed door events, but regular enough that the door guys see us coming and slide us in, away from the cold. From there, we made a beeline straight to the balcony. (Maybe it's common knowledge now, certainly wasn't back then, the Metro has two small balconies directly over the main bar. Four small tables and eight chairs on each balcony with the sound board between. Great sound and perfect line-of-sight. If you ever get a chance to take in a show there, do yourself a favor...instead of following the crowd onto the main floor, wind your way around the backside of the stairs and keep heading up. Look for a small bar, about the size of a large chest of drawers. Duck through the opening directly across the bar. (really, the only) seats in the house.)

So far, this is lining up to be a nearly perfect night. We've got the joint pretty much to ourselves, at least for the next twenty minutes or so. We're not straining to hear each other over Devil Bunnies and Birth, School, Work, Death as they're rammed through the PA at 120db, the man behind the bar is putting together whiskey and waters so perfect I can only assume he's a Nobel winning chemist with a secret man-crush on me, and our waitress...a comely young and noticeably sunlight deprived dollop of demi-goth goodness named already joining us for shots. The three of us really hit it off, so much so that it's not long before Laura invites us back to her apartment after the show “so we can all get to know each other better.”

Me: “Sam, we should go. It really is the polite thing to do.”

Samantha: “I think I'll take a pass, but if you really want to go, go. I'll just grab a cab home right after I rip off your balls and stuff them in my purse.”

Hence the “nearly” perfect night.

We're starting to bump up against show time. Doors open, crowd files in...”meet me at the racetrack, Jack".... Laura continues to tempt us. Turns out that aside from being a persistent seductress, she's also one hell of a waitress. House of Freaks take the stage...they're only halfway through the first song and they already own the crowd...blistering, as usual. Called back onstage twice...pretty good for an opener doing a half hour set.

And now we're on to the headliners. They're finishing the mic check and soon we'll be on our way. We've both got a few drinks in us and we're feeling pretty good. Sam's particularly excited...she missed Concrete Blonde the last time they came through and she's literally been waiting a couple of years for this show. The reviews from other cities have been nothing short of stellar and expectations for tonight's show are running high. “Everybody, please welcome, Concrete Blonde.” Much applause, the band takes the stage and begins playing. Here it comes: any second now Johnette's going to slide in from offstage, snatch her mic and hit us square in the chest with what is certainly one of the most compelling and powerful voices in popular music. Here it comes, here it comes and...nothing. Damn, she missed it! No biggie, the band just brings it back around and here we go and again.....nothin'. Sam looks over at me. She doesn't need to say it, but she does anyway, “What the fuck?”

The band seems nonplussed and they never stop playing; they just keep circling back until finally, finally Johnette Napolitano takes the stage. Takes might not exactly be the right word. Pours out doing her very best “Gilda Radner as Patti Smith impression” seems a better fit. She hits the deck twice before she makes it to the mic stand. She's dressed in black pants and a wife beater and her skin is so washed out that it's hard to tell where the shirt ends and her shoulders begins. Her lack of color coupled with her monochromatic clothing and cool lighting all conspire to make her look as if she's been plucked from a black and white film and deposited into a color world. She finally makes it to the mic and in her warmest, most appreciative tone greets the crowd with, “Hello, Fuckers.” She proceeds to muddle her way through two songs, does a passable God is a Bullet, and then calls it a day. Two roadies scrape her up and carry her off the stage. I'm pretty sure that I saw her pull a Linda Blair on the way off. Lights come's over folks.

Now I'm mad, but Sam; I can see it on her face, she's fucking livid. See, I'm 23 at the time that this is all happening. I'm young and headstrong and really, just starting to figure out how things really work. My first instinct is to go ballistic. Sam, on the other hand, is 28. She's a professional and she's one of the most put together people I've ever met...even to this day. And while God may indeed be a bullet, Sam's an attorney, a litigator and she's pissed. “This ain't over,” she says. Long story short: We walked away with tickets for American Music Club and Bob Mould, drinks comped for both shows and VIP cards for Smart Bar. Watching her do her thing was amazing. Poor fucker never knew what hit him.

In the end we made out pretty good. Of course, it's still early...barely 9:00 pm. and we've got a decent buzz going. There's no way that we're going to pack it in now.

Me: “Let's head down to Smart Bar and grab a drink, figure out what we want to do.”

Samantha: “Actually, I was kind of know kind of hoping that, um...maybe we could go find Laura?”

And that's why Concrete Blonde is the greatest band ever.

Aaron X said...

All right Chez, I'll try to help you out with the obvious jam deprivation you seem to be experiencing, here's a few selections from my Blackberrythat might just save your musical soul.

Hip Hop

Tupac - All Eyes On Me

Danity Kane - Damaged

Flo Rida feat. T Pain - Low


Spiderbait - Black Betty

Soil - Black Betty


Brick & Lace - Love is Wicked

Toots & The Maytals feat. Shaggy - Bam Bam


Vanessa da Mata - Ai Ai Ai

Fluke - Zion

No need to thank me, just throw money. :-)