Saturday, August 8, 2009

City Beat (cincy) cover Pictures of Then

Pictures of Then, Hooters, Walter Trout and More
By Brian Baker . . . . . . .
In terms of my daughter’s summer break, the season is nearly at an end.
Back-to-school time has become something of a bittersweet ritual in the
eight years I’ve spent at home with her since being relieved of my graphic
design career in 2001.

As a work-at-home dad, I have the flexibility to arrange my schedule but, as
it’s happened this summer, my schedule has been arranging me, leaving me
little opportunity to do much out of the ordinary with her. Luckily, as she’s
grown she has acquired the ability to entertain herself, which works to my

We have been able to sneak in some Wii sessions after having lunch together,
we hit the community pool several times a week and she runs most errands
with me, but it’s been a fairly uneventful summer. Our two-week vacation
(which I'm on at this very moment, having finished typing this up just hours
before departure) will likely feature a few more stimulating activities:
bike riding on Mackinac Island, some putt putt golf, lots of lake swimming.

In a lot of ways, even though much of the time we spend together is
ultimately passive, I think my daughter enjoys the fact that I’m on hand. If
she hears a song she likes on her Zune or sees something on TV that she
thinks is particularly funny or poignant or worthwhile (she’s been obsessing
over the first three seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD) or if the dog or one
of the cats does something noteworthy, she’ll run down and give me a quick
report. Sometimes it happens in the middle of a phone interview, which I’ve
explained repeatedly is disruptive and inappropriate (she’s ADHD; every day
brings a new challenge and a few of the old ones), and she’s gotten better
at checking to see if I have the phone in hand before she bolts down the
hallway to the Bunker.

Still in all, as frustrating and exhausting as she can often be in the
course of a day, I will miss her presence when she heads back to school at
the end of this month. Sure, the house will be quieter and my schedule will
be more continuously structured, but how will I ever keep up with the
comings and goings of the cast of Twilight on my own? It won’t be long
before her visits to the Bunker are few and far between and the bulk of our
conversations will be by phone, so I'm endeavoring to enjoy the next few
years of her distractions while I have the opportunity.

Wait, there’s something coming in now … apparently Hilary Duff is interested
in joining the cast of Gossip Girl but they’ve told her she’ll need to lose
some caloric baggage to compete with the walking sticks on the show. Oh, I
could get this stuff from the Web with a click, but that can’t match the
energy of it pouring almost incomprehensibly from a breathless teenager. I’m
missing it already.

--------------------------------READ HERE
On Pictures of Then’s 2007 debut, Crushed by Lights, the Minneapolis quintet
seemed to be shining Billy Corgan’s flashlight through a 1966 Pink Floyd
prism, projecting a gorgeous psychedelic Pop rainbow across a Ziggy Stardust
tour poster. The combination of PoT’s respect for the vintage past and
desire for a modern future came together seamlessly in a soundtrack that was
both vaguely familiar and engagingly fresh. A handful of us here in town
were witness to PoT’s greatness two years ago when they appeared at 2007’s
MidPoint Music Festival in Cincinnati, following Superdrag’s triumphant
return at The Exchange, and those of us that stuck around knew we were
seeing a band on the verge of something special.

As telegraphed by the gorgeous New World-tinged woodcut illustrations
adorning their sophomore album, Pictures of Then and The Wicked Sea, PoT
spends a little more time perusing its sonic scrapbook of the past this time
around while still remaining committed to indie Rock’s vibrant here and now.
The Wicked Sea’s opener, “A Glimpse of Dawn,” nods to Superdrag’s modern
retro vibe in a perfect balance between Pop delicacy and guitar bombast,
which segues into “When It Stings,” a swinging Soul/Pop mind meld of early
Kinks and later Spoon and continues into “The Big Sell,” a similar treatment
that shivers and pounds like a Smashing Pumpkins tribute to The Pretty

Fans of The Shins and the 88s will find much to love on The Wicked Sea, from
the gentle lilt of “Ahead” to the simple Pop appeal of “7th Street,” and I
defy anyone (Chris Martin, are you listening?) to write a more beautifully
wrought love song than PoT’s “Nowhere is Somewhere,” which skillfully blends
propulsive and balladic pop under a lovely lyrical sentiment (“I’d rather go
nowhere together than somewhere alone...”). Pictures of Then are an amazing
blend of reverent classicism and modern vision, and The Wicked Sea is loaded
with glittering Pop diamonds that are never showy, always tasteful and
completely infectious.

----------------------------------- END HERE

I saw The Hooters in 1986 when they opened for Squeeze down in Lexington. It
was the year after the band had signed with Columbia and released their
label debut, the platinum Nervous Night, which also spawned some of the year’s
biggest singles; “And We Danced,” “Day by Day” and “Where Do the Children
Go.” They had a reputation as a great live act, but I wondered if they could
really replicate their exquisite Pop vibe outside of the studio.

I had a photo pass for the show, so I made my way down to the front of the
stage to get some shots. By the time I got into position, the band was in
full swing and they sounded amazing, tight but adrenalized, and they were
clearly having as good a time as their audience. As I began snapping
pictures, guitarist John Lilly saw me getting him in focus and pointed to
himself and gave me a smartass look that said, “Oh, you want a picture of
me?” I nodded and smiled, and he proceeded to wheel through his parody of
the big book of Rock guitar moves, all hilariously and stereotypically

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When I took down my camera, he gave me another ironic look, like, “Was that
OK?” and with a smile he went right back to cranking out his riffs
effortlessly and flawlessly (although he’d never stopped doing just that
during his “performance”). Guitarist Eric Bazilian and keyboardist Rob Hyman
saw all of this and smiled between them and offered up similar moments when
I moved to get shots of them as well. It was obvious that as a band The
Hooters had no intention of taking themselves as seriously as they took
their music.

After The Hooters’ global success in the ’80s waned in the ’90s, the band
took a six-year hiatus, finally emerging in 2001 and playing sporadic shows
before releasing Time Stand Still in 2007, their first new album in 14
years. The Hooters’ new two-disc live album, Both Sides Live, documents four
live events over the past two years: a two night stand at Philadelphia’s
legendary Electric Factory in late 2007 and a two-night acoustic
live-in-the-studio session early last year.

The Secret Sessions disc is an interesting acoustic rereading of the band’s
electric set list in the studio, essentially recording a live album in front
of a studio audience. Stripped down and unplugged, The Secret Sessions plays
up the brilliance of these songs and the Hooters as musicians, but it’s the
Electric Factory disc that gets the blood moving. Listening to these
excellent renditions of “South Ferry Road,” “All You Zombies” and the
stratospheric “And We Danced,” I was instantly transported back to that
hair-raising Lexington show 23 years ago. And I’ll bet when they were
ripping it up at the Electric Factory that night in 2007, Lilly was probably
mugging for some photographer and giving him the old “How was that?” bit. To
him and all the rest of the Hooters, I can safely say: Two decades down the
line, pretty damn great, guys. Pretty damn great indeed.

The term “musical drummer” was invented for people like Cale Parks. His
contributions behind the drum kit as the heartbeat for both Aloha and White
William go far beyond mere timekeeping. His rhythms do not simply keep the
beat but are an integral and inextricable part of the melody and atmosphere
of the songs. As such, it’s little surprise that Parks has taken the solo
route, applying the mastery that he brings to his band situations to the
pursuit of his own personal sonic vision.

Parks’ latest solo excursion, the six-song mini-album To Swift Mars, is both
expansion and extension of his previous works which explored both minimalist
electronic beauty (2006’s Illuminated Manuscript) and the dark heart of ’80s
Synth Pop (last year’s Sparkleplace). Parks combines the two concepts to
craft a soundscape that channels a late ’70s vibe reminiscent of The Units
and early Human League as well as a Prog/Pop sensibility that propels the
material into the melodic stratosphere. Parks has a gift for tapping into
the chilly synth wash of Depeche Mode (“Eyes Won’t Shut,” “Running Family”)
and subtly injecting the humanistic warmth of Peter Gabriel or Todd Rundgren
in his synthier ’70s moments (“One at a Time,” “We Can Feel It”) for a
hybrid that is majestic and compelling. On the truncated To Swift Mars,
Parks takes another step toward the Electronic Pop magnum opus he seems
infinitely capable of producing.

The only thing more amazing than the 15 years that guitarist Walter Trout
spent sessioning and gigging for the likes of Big Mama Thornton, John Lee
Hooker, Canned Heat and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers is the 20 year solo
career he’s amassed since striking out on his own. Throughout his tenure as
a sideman and into his work under his own name, Trout has based his
reputation around doing unique things within the Blues form as well taking
well-worn genre cliches and casting them a new light. And while Trout never
achieved the kind of universality that Stevie Ray Vaughan enjoyed in his all
too brief time in the limelight, there’s no question that he deserved it.

Trout’s latest album, Unspoiled by Progress, is no greatest hits collection;
that would have required Trout to score a hit in the first place (he could
probably put a hits package out in Holland, where he was big enough to
displace Madonna at the top of the singles chart). Instead, Progress is a
document of some of his unreleased live triumphs over his two-decade solo
journey as well as a trio of brand new studio recordings (“They Call Us the
Working Class,” “Two Sides to Every Story,” “So Afraid of the Darkness”).

Trout’s studio work is exemplary without question but he clearly has
established his reputation on stage, and any random track on Progress proves
it, from the Santana lines of “Marie’s Mood” to his incendiary reading of
“Goin’ Down” to the slow Blues grind of “Finally Gotten Over You,” complete
with a rendering of “O Tannenbaum” in the end solo. Real Trout fans will
want Progress for “Sweet as a Flower,” featuring the last ever performance
of Trout’s longtime bassist Jimmy Trapp, who suffered a debilitating heart
attack two days after this May 2005 recording and sadly passed away three
months later. Unspoiled by Progress is not quite a live album, not quite a
hits compilation, not quite a retrospective, which is sort of metaphorical
of Walter Trout’s career; never quite what you think but always astonishing.

For a good number of years, Interpol frontman Paul Banks has played around
New York under the nom du rocque of Julian Plenti (Julian is his given
middle name; we’ll leave Plenti to your imagination) and has finally taken
the logical next step and recorded his debut album, Julian Plenti...Is
Skyscraper. It’s a great cross between visceral synth Pop (“Only If You Run”,
crunching guitar Rock (“Fun That We Have”) and lilting Folk Pop
(“Skyscraper”), with an even great range of influences than can typically
be found on Interpol albums. Banks has said in the past that he would never
try to emulate his influences because he could never measure up, but with
his Julian Plenti project he might have sailed as close as he’s ever likely
to get to sounding like Frank Black, one of his avowed heros.

Julian Plenti...Is Skyscraper swings like mad when Banks is thrashing away,
but in the quieter moments — and there are more than a few — he quivers with
that wonderfully restrained Pixies/Black energy, and all of it has the
tremulous expanse of a Brian Eno treatment. Interpol fans will clearly line
up for the Banks project, but lovers of quirky Pop in general will find
Plenti to love here.

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