Disappointing Elvis Costello Show

Not sure what to make of Elvis Costello’s “Look Now” tour (last night at the Masonic). His music has occupied a pretty big place in my life, mostly in his early years but on and off in decades since — Elvis is a stalwart. Of course every artist should be able to re-interpret their own music however they like, but there were a lot of moments last night when I felt like he was losing the plot in his own tracks. Butchering his own work, to be blunt. And he is faltering – missing a lot of vocal notes, playing some seriously bad guitar, and completely embarrassed himself at the piano for a while, sitting down without any apparent intent and noodling out scratch – you could feel the audience feeling embarrassed for him, and it was awkward. The Imposters felt like studio musicians, and all the real energy was coming from his backup singers. There were moments of greatness, and his voice is still both tender and punchy (when it’s not cracking). He says his recent prostate cancer surgery was blown out of proportion and that he’s fine. I’m so glad for that, but also thinking it might be time to retire gracefully. Hate to think that, but … hmm. Listening to his new album now, after the fact, and it’s heaps better than the performance was. Maybe it was just an off night? I’ve loved other performances of his over the years.

RIP, Hardy Fox of The Residents

I’m way too late paying my respects to Hardy Fox, one of the anonymous eyeballs of The Residents, a band I stumbled upon as an adolescent browsing the dusty bins at SLO’s original Cheap Thrills in the Creamery. Duck Stab came first, but it was 1980’s “Commercial Album” that really got me – 60 tracks of exactly one minute each (ask me to recite a lyric). The intersection of surrealism and rock never let go – I still return to it from time to time. In 1989 I finally had the opportunity to see them live, in a performance that turned out to happen in a 400-yr-old German bank, floors and walls of white marble – it was the 3rd installment of the Mole Trilogy, and I was transported. Truthfully, I did not know the name Hardy Fox until he died, that’s how anonymous they were. But thank you Hardy, for a lifetime of strange music.

Hardy Fox, of the Avant-Garde Band the Residents (Maybe), Dies at 73

Hardy Fox, of the Avant-Garde Band the Residents (Maybe), Dies at 73

He never admitted that he performed with the group, whose members remained anonymous behind masks as they playfully subverted rock conventions for decades.

Source: www.nytimes.com/2018/11/03/obituaries/hardy-fox-dead.html

David Byrne’s American Utopia

Super-enjoyed seeing David Byrne’s “American Utopia” tour at The Fox last night – minimalist but energetic. A dozen musicians on stage in gray suits, barefoot. No drum stand. No amps. No wires. Nothing but empty space for them to move in. Mostly quirky choreography, but some of it free-form. Body patterns, shadow dances, energy and sweat. Byrne still a force of nature, traces of the Stop Making Sense film. Have to confess I don’t love all of the new material, but half a dozen or so older Talking Heads tracks woven in – I Zimbra, Naive Melody, The Great Curve, Once In A Lifetime, Born Under Punches, Burning Down the House (ecstatic!). And resurrection of the protest song (there aren’t enough of these anymore, what happened?). Great night out.

Photo credit: Phoenix New Times

Electric Light Orchestra 2018

Had a blast with Miles last night at Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra – his first stadium show, and it was a good one! A dozen musicians on stage, including two cellos and violin. Impeccable craftsmanship, no slippage in quality with the accumulated years – they hit every mark. Stellar acoustics, and possibly the best light show I’ve ever seen (an orchestra of electric light?) Lynne seems never to age. I mean seriously – check out pictures of him from 1971 and today! Highlights for me: Telephone Line, Evil Woman (“Medieval Woman?”), Turn to Stone, Mr. Blue Sky (can’t miss), 10538 Overture. Byzantine art-rock, baby. Sorely disappointed we didn’t get to hear my personal favorite, “Jungle” – gots to have that vibraslap!

Marvin Pontiac: The Asylum Tapes

“I thought people would be up in arms about pretending to be a black person,” Lurie said in a 2008 interview, “but people were more upset that I pretended to be an insane person.” –2013 John Lurie interview at eMusic

Something seemed fishy about the amazing 1998 The Legendary Marvin Pontiac ‎– Greatest Hits release, on Strange & Beautiful Music. Who was this madman with the lyrical genius of Dylan meets Robyn Hitchcock meets crazy-guy-on-the-corner-by-the-bodega, and where did he come from? How did such an incredible record emerge whole cloth from an artist none of us had ever heard of? Then his biography turned up online, claiming that Pontiac had been:

The son of an African father from Mali and a white Jewish mother from New Rochelle, New York. The father’s original last name was Toure but he changed it to Pontiac when the family moved to Detroit, believing it to be a conventional American name … When his mother was institutionalized in 1936, the father returned and brought the young boy to Bamako, Mali where Marvin was raised until he was fifteen. The music that he heard there would influence him forever.

Plausible? Almost sorta kinda. But why did Pontiac’s voice sound like a more blues-drenched version of New York jazz musician/painter/actor John Lurie (Lounge Lizards)? Oh… because Pontiac was Lurie! Realizing that the whole Pontiac thing was a ruse didn’t diminish the magnetism of that record for me though – it amplified it if anything. Went looking for more, but that was it — just the one audio scrapbook.

Until now. Pontiac (who was supposed to have been killed by a bus in 1977!) just dropped a follow-up recording, The Asylum Tapes, allegedly recorded on a donated 4-track deck while he was confined in the Esmerelda State Mental Institution. This time it’s Lurie solo (the first collection was recorded with John Medeski, Billy Martin, G. Calvin Weston, Marc Ribot), but it’s raw, weird, soulful and full of demented wonder.

New Yorker: So what’s Lurie up to with this project? I suppose it’s no more mischievous, really, than an actor singing in character, and many of our most prized artworks goof around with form, testing the permeable membrane between fact and fiction, between art and something else. … Our hunger for the authentic or the unmediated has mostly begotten us a cavalcade of deeply unreliable things, such as Donald Trump, laminate flooring, fake-fake news, artisanal moonshine, and reality television.

Then again:

Reportedly Marvin’s music was the only music that Jackson Pollack would ever listen to while he painted. This respect was not reciprocated.

Not sure The Asylum Tapes will get us any closer to answering hard questions about how Pontiac ended up in the bughouse, but it’s deep, beautiful, soulful, sort of funny, and totally worth your time. Available for streaming on iTunes, Spotify, etc.

Remove Duplicates, Fix Broken Album Art in iCloud Music Library

Apple Music + iCloud Music Library is a brilliant pairing, and finally lets us access our personal music collections from anywhere. But it’s not without its warts – duplicated tracks and bad/missing cover art has been a sore spot for iCloud Music Library users since the service launched. In my first piece for Medium.com, I walk readers through the reasons – and the fixes – for those two problems.

record-collection

Trix.py – Metadata/Converter for Hunter’s Trix

Hunter’s Trix is an incredible (and very large) collection of “matrix” recordings of some of the best Grateful Dead shows. The series is produced and mixed by Jubal Hunter Seamons and includes CD cover artwork for each volume/show.

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A “matrix” involves taking a high-quality soundboard recording and merging (matrixing) it with one or more audience recordings (Auds) of the same show. The resulting matrix brings you the maximum fidelity of the soundboard source and the ambience/electricity of being in the audience at the same time.

There are more than 100 Hunter matrixes being traded as legal torrents on etree.org.

Unfortunately, there are two problems: 1) They’re all in FLAC format, instead of Apple Lossleess (ALAC). Since most people use iTunes, this means most people must go through a manual transcoding process; 2) The first 94 shows are missing embedded metadata and cover art (the cover art is beautiful). I’m obsessive about having perfect metadata and cover art in every single track in my collection, which meant manually copying and pasting metadata (including track and disc numbers, show dates and venues, track and album titles, etc.) from text files in the download directory into individual track files. It was taking 20+ minutes to process each album. So I decided to automate the process with this python script.

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I had originally planned to share the completed ALAC versions of the collection back to the community, but Hunter talked me out of it. So I’m doing the next best thing here and sharing the conversion script. With everything installed and working, I was able to cut the processing time down from ~20 minutes per recording to 1 minute. The final results are added to your iTunes collection automagically.

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Git it here: https://github.com/shacker/trix

CD and LP Cover Scans

I once spent several years digitizing my LP and CD collections, along with those of many friends. For every album for which cover art was not retrieved automatically by iTunes, or that couldn’t be found at a decent quality/resolution on Google Images, I photographed or scanned the covers myself.

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Grab ’em here!