Archive for March, 2021


Lifers Retour 2021

The rumor is we all have a purpose. Not everyone’s is created equal, where some might have a great undertaking, others appear small. But by no means less vital. Leaders seem to be more revered than others. And rightfully so: their responsibilities are great and potentially life-altering for many. This role comes in all forms and looks different depending on the field one leads in. During a global pandemic, one where initially no one knew what to do and what the rules of engagement were, many sat static. But some opted to quickly step up and continue what they do best: ROCK.

A decimation to the live music industry happened. For some, finding an alternative profession was never an option. As desirable and stable as some jobs are, there is a special feeling stepping in front of an audience, plugging in, and having music course through your audience’s body. For Local H, this is their purpose. Amps, drums, and uniquely modified guitars are their tools of choice.

We knew that one of the first artists to announce a national tour would be Local H. Last year’s album debuted a few weeks into the beginning of the pandemic. They took it in stride, knew their fans would be ready when the green light was given for venues to open their doors again. This Fall will mark the point where there is light at the end of this long, infectious tunnel that has been COVID-19 as Chicago’s Local H announce their Lifers Retour. Never one to half-ass anything rock related, the duo has secured 27 dates.


Hometown Love…

There aren’t many topics you should know more about than your hometown. You know, big up my hometown, my territory, my state. It’s the area you spent a great amount of your formative time in. And if you’re like some, you are damn proud of this area and have something to say. Perhaps even write a memorable ode to. Bonus points if it makes me get up and move.

There was a time that I was the opposite of these loud and proud artists. I was born outside of Chicago, one of the best metropolises in the States. It’s a place I was grateful to spend a minute in. But when I met anyone new, not from the Chicago area, I never repped my true hometown, a ‘burb outside of the city. I claimed “Chicago” as where I was from. Poser, man. Be real, be proud of what raised you, why front. It took me awhile to accept that our birthplace isn’t our choosing. I thought being from a desirable urban location would automatically give me credibility. Sure, a specific location shapes us but we are the ones who choose who we become, not a city or state.

This is why I love songs like Atmosphere’s “Shhh”, of his 2003 Seven’s Travels:

So if the people laugh and giggle when you tell them where you live
Say shhh, say shhh
And if you know this is where you want to raise your kids
Say shhh, say shhh
If you’re from the Midwest and it doesn’t matter where
Say shhh, say shhh
If you can drink tap water and breathe the air
Say shhh, say shhh

Or Local H’s Western sounding joyride “Another February”, a subtle love letter to the other season opposite construction in Chicago, winter:

Come on (x2)
You’re digging out your car again
The chair left in the yard
Has another life again

Songs penned to one’s hometown tell a story, they further prove wherever you’re from is great. It’s genuine, you know they’re not trying to be something they are not.

Nick Waterhouse is a proud Californian. A few random plays on his discography will prove this. On his latest single, “B. Santa Ana, 1986”, this has never been more apparent as he spouts off various states he’s not from. The Wurlitzer, tricky bass, and Nick’s rippin’ guitar are driving this grab your significant other and cut single. Early on Nick is proclaiming, “I’m from California, I’m from California, uh, I don’t mind!” Where others may scoff at another California song, Nick proudly adds this single to the hometown canon.

“I’ve spent a great deal of my time wandering through the world, and being mistaken for coming from somewhere else. Certain people seem better at branding themselves based on a sort of… spectacular regional mythos. And what I have observed in regards to my own pedigree is what I could only describe as a lifelong superficial conception of the Californian identity. I got to thinking – what’s a regional identity anyways? Especially in this digitally flattened era. How funny, I thought, would it be to turn this little droll talking blues I had been demoing into an off-handed delivered ‘anthem’ chorus (“uh, I don’t mind)? How Californian?”

“B. Santa Ana, 1986” is off Waterhouse’s forthcoming Promenade Blue record debuting in April. A big year for the soulful gentlemen, as he’s recently announced a 2021 European tour. That’s twenty twenty one. Live music is in our future. While we wait for the air to clear and our hometowns to welcome back touring musicians, let’s turn up something that makes us realize where we’re from is damn great, too….


I ain’t gonna work here no more!

We’ve all had moments where we want to tell someone to take this job and shove it. The day sucked, your co-workers are all morons, or you’re way better than this. When I was in high school, a friend of mine inspired us all. He set the bar high for going out in style.

His short-lived employer was the national restaurant chain Chili’s. Just about everything they did and offered was sub-par except for their ability to police their employee’s choice in dress. My friend was a busboy, and per Chili’s dress code, he was required to wear black Levi’s 501 Regular Fit jeans. He’s young, an aspiring busboy, and broke. He chose to wear what he had in his drawer: black Wrangler jeans. After a few shifts, he’s been warned about his attire. A ridiculous expectation, and my friend had had enough. After his boss reprimanded him again about his lack of Levi’s during a dinner rush, my friend instinctively ripped off his Chili’s t-shirt, chucked it at the wall, and paraded through the dining room heckling and ridiculing as he stomped out the front door bare chested.

Back in ’65, the exemplary songwriting folk-king Bob Dylan was tired of being taken advantage of by his record label. He penned “Maggie’s Farm” to voice his frustrations. Dylan wrote “Maggie’s Farm” through the lens of a slave to the record label. It was his protest song against the commodification of artists. The music industry had, and still continues to have, one objective: squeezing every cent out of their artists. Instead of directly attacking the suits, Dylan places himself on Maggie’s Farm, a place of dirty floors, menial compensation, unapproachable bosses, and pressure to fit in even if you’re not like the rest.

I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more/No, I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more/Well, he hands you a nickel, he hands you a dime/He asks you with a grin if you’re havin’ a good time/Then he fines you every time you slam the door/I ain’t gonna work for Maggie’s brother no more

The same year, the King of Rock N Soul, Solomon Burke made an immediate connection to Dylan’s stomper: blacks are not inferior citizens. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is still fresh. A groundbreaking law takes time for people to acclimate to. Most would argue today the nation continues to adjust.

My guess is Burke hears Dylan’s rallying cries and viscerally senses connection after connection to the original. Are the dirty floors the equivalent of most people of color not having equal job opportunities? Are the nickels and dimes the scraps he sees people like himself receiving in place of quarters and half-dollars? Is Maggie’s Pa the White Man? Are the pressures to be like the masses a form of conforming to who and what society says you are? Or maybe it’s not a rallying cry against social injustice, Burke saw the potential to put his unique sonic signature on recording history. And that he does: the track smokes with its jazzy horn stabs, a relentless groove, scratchy rockabilly guitar all complemented by Burke’s formidably frustrated-sounding vocals. When I throw my shirt off and go out with a ruckus, a soundtrack is a must.


Black Pumas and Catnip…

I don’t consider myself the average listener. Casually listening to the radio was never my thing. It’s my time, I know what I want to hear. When using Spotify, I select the music and cue the queue to my desire. Those curated playlists and the scientifically algorithmic “State of Music Today” folders don’t get play. It’s not that I don’t listen to popular music, it’s I’m lost inside of my musical bubble that rarely do I know what tops the charts or is up for awards. But clearly, I’m immersed in at least one mainstream artist. And now I can’t steer clear of blurbs and dedicated articles to this weekend’s Grammy’s.

Speculating on potential Grammy nominees and winners is irrelevant. Is the committee of this six decade plus tradition still relevant? Was it ever? When an artist I do respect is nominated for an award, it makes me smile. This is great exposure, most likely positive press, and an opportunity for the masses to experience a worthwhile act.

Stereogum, the self-described world’s best music blog, recently upped an article that is intriguing but also pains me. Their Senior Editor helps his viewers to understand why an act like Black Pumas are so coveted by the Grammy’s. He’s making an “anthropological observation”. They’re digestible, do what they do well, and perform in classic genres. The ideal formula to create “catnip for TV Producers and certain kinds of yuppie authenticity fetishists”.

Ultimately, though, Black Pumas is a deeply conservative listen, a painstaking re-creation of throwback sounds. Whereas someone like Michael Kiwanuka (a nominee for Best Rock Album this year) will step these kinds of sounds into the present in surprising and rewarding ways, Black Pumas pretty much play it straight.

The discourse on the Grammy’s race dilemma is engaging, as is why the Pumas are nominated for top-tier awards. But criticism on their lack of originality is banal. Pumas are label mates with Alabama Shakes and My Morning Jacket on ATO Records, two acts that Stereo’s writer considers more adventurous than the Austin soulful duo.

Do those adventurous acts warrant repeatable listens next year and half a decade later? I recall my own previous Best of Year lists and question what I was thinking. When I randomly retrieve a Best Album list from a Stereogum or Pitchfork-like site from say 2008, that at the time had a list of novel sounds, today more often than not falls flat.

Yes, Pumas are a revival act, one masterly taking the soulful sounds of yesterday to create original songs on topics of today. The blueprint for this trusted and dusty sound the Pumas utilize works. It’s a pick me up sound, it’s one I can play no matter the company I keep, it’s a throwback theatrical production. Where many albums are mood and time of the day dependent, the Pumas concoct a timeless sound. Morning, evening, during a meal, or five years from now, I want to drop the needle on this sound.

This author’s profile pic is none other than the cover of Emergency & I, the spastic, indie darling, genre-bending 1999 album from Dismemberment Plan. An album where this D.C. act’s influences are crammed in an industrial blender and placed on high until their indescribable creation is a sonic puree. Historically, fans of this holier than thou record think that no song, album, or movement could ever create something better than Emergency & I. And it’s with that sentiment I realize Black Pumas are up against impossible odds.

Last year Pumas one upped themselves with a Deluxe Edition of their self-titled debut. This week they take it to another level as they unleash the Expanded Deluxe Edition, a collection of everything from the Deluxe Edition plus 11 additional tracks; including the hypnotic “Colors” rendition done up big by Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and the Pumas’ Capitol Studio A sessions. If they are a less adventurous sound it would be fitting for the me of today. I’ve already owned prioritizing bedtime over shows. Why not transition into enjoying a sound that’s engineered for the Recording Academy and the masses?


It’s March Plaidness!

64 teams, but only one can be the ultimate victor in a tournament’s bracket. March basketball hosts a major collegiate battle. Equally important, and way less fleeting than a two hour and 15 minute game, where most cease to ever think about again, is March Plaidness. A 64 song bracket of the Grunge Era. A period where many want to forget. But others, are still happily immersed in its sound: cacophonous guitars, quiet/loud/quiet/explosive patterns, sullen lyrical themes, and angst a plenty. Each artist of this period created their own unique story by their recorded output and off stage actions and shenanigans.

Where in basketball the teams are seeded based on talent, winning record, and historical value, this bracket is ranked based on popularity. Of course Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains are ranked higher than Sunny Day Real Estate, Hum, and Local H. But music is subjective, what you consider brilliant and timeless, I haven’t hit play on since this plaid soaked period. Time can be a bitch on acts of this period, only so much truly holds up. Upsets are inevitable.

This bracket includes play-by-play analysis in the form of an essay for each competitor. Here is where this competition is worth participating in: reading someone else’s interpretation of an artist that’s been essential to your listening canon. Or engaging in a great riff on a single from that period you still can’t hear enough of.

I stumbled upon this greatness care of Local H, where their ’96 “Bound For the Floor” single went face-to-face against Pearl Jam’s “Corduroy” off 94’s Vitalogy. Artists I love, singles I used to adore, and still spin to this day laced up for this battle; Veruca Salt, PJ Harvey, Breeders, Placebo, etc. Advance or go home, who gives a shit. This is the Internet doing good: bringing my favorite musical decade back into the spotlight.


Yard Acts’ Fixer Upper…

Can’t believe I’m a two homeowner…

Finally I’m a two homeowner…

Graham also drives a Rover. He’s the lead protagonist in “Fixer Upper”, from Yard Act. A confident, groove-inciting quartet outta Leeds. Jerky guitars, a slightly inebriated, cocky sing-speak, and enough musical bravado to question why I’m hearing them for the first time.

On “Fixer Upper”, frontman James Smith impersonates your new neighbor. He’s an avid IKEA shopper and proud of his recent deeply discounted score: a prosecco o’clock poster. He’s about to bust through a wall or two as he renovates his new fixer upper. He’s gutted because the bloody -Polish- builders have put a stop to his renovations. A slight bigot, he is. Where I’m from home improvement is a mess, it’s right up there with moving. But damn if Yard Act hasn’t given me a whole new perspective…


Hawkley’s 2021 Night in Canada…

We’ve pressed pause on live entertainment. The once escape from reality is on hiatus. You’re having a shitty day, perhaps week, but your calendar states that live gig is in a few days. You can put your head down and power through the muck to arrive at the needed escape. But today, what is driving you when enough is enough? And artists, for many, this has been a bleak period with minimal light peeking through the end of the tunnel.

This pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs, for some, that’s their purpose. Without a purpose, many fall flat. If a musician can’t perform, their inspiration for creating new art dissipates. Luckily after some dark and reflective periods, some chose to continue to create. Others chose to create and share. Either I know how to pick innovative, fearless artists, or I got damn lucky in 2020 and 2021 on who I still support.

I received an introspective email recently from Hawksley Workman, the Canadian glue that began the binding process between my wife and I. He thanked us listeners for helping him reach deep from within to tackle this trying period. His Night In Canada pulled him out of the doldrums, sparked motivation to continue doing what he does best: musically entertain. Without his experimental “Tommy Hunter meets Pee Wee’s Playhouse type variety show with music and chat” he might have burrowed himself into a deep and dark hole. Workman expressed his gratitude that we fans were receptive to this experiment and helped him to rediscover what drives him: music.

His variety show returns for its first episode of 2021. Hawksley Night in Canada has become a legitimate excuse to place an engaging device in our children’s hands, go out of our way to order take-out from a special restaurant, and pretend we’ve stepped away from reality. This special edition sees our host celebrating his birthday and transparently stating, “It’s my birthday and I’ll sing what I want to.” If this is what live music looks like today, I have accepted it. But now I know that these shows aren’t only for us, they’re for Hawksley, too. Without them, our match-maker extraordinaire might share an ominous trait with the live music industry: dormant.

Hawk’s Promotional video

Upcoming Shows:


March 2021