Archive for July, 2016

I don’t want to be an angel (in German)

Posted: July 2, 2016 by The Social Retard in Music, Uncategorized
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Rammstein might not be a top five or ten fave band of all-time, maybe not even top 50. Four years later, though, I still consider this show a top 1o all-time show.
Rammstein - Made In Germany Tour
Rammstein at the United Center BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar (5/5/12)
Let me start by apologizing for the lack of pictures. I had camera issues. It is especially regretful due to the fact that this show assaulted all senses. I’ll do my best to paint a picture (with words). The stage itself was a mixture of steampunk and Joss Whedon’s Firefly. It was very, well, industrial looking – which makes sense. There was also a smaller platform in the middle of the stage where the band congregated while awaiting a walkway to lower from the ceiling. Once the walkway had fully descended, bassist Ollie Riedel (while carrying a torch) began the procession, leading each Rammstein member one by one toward the main stage, mimicking men entering battle. One carrying a Rammstein flag, another carrying an Illinois flag (didn’t know there was such a thing). With all of what would follow, this is quite apropos. Upon reaching the stage, Riedel lights a fire pit on each side. This is only the beginning of the pyrotechnics display, and a relatively tame beginning at that.

As this the “Made In Germany: 1995-2011” career retrospective tour, the setlist selections were stellar. The band launches into “Sonne,” from the amazing Mutter album. Six of the songs performed came from that record which was certainly pleasing. Each song had not only its own unique pyro, lighting, smoke, and explosive cues, but effects. No particular effect was used twice, at least not in the same place. There were moveable flame rigs, fans, and lights.

As a friend remarked, “If this was the toned down American show, what do they do in Europe?”. My guess would be actually set the band on fire. They came damn closed to doing it all night. It was obviously well choreographed and then it hit me. This isn’t just some metal concert. This is theater and these Germans suffer for their art. Frontman Till Lindemann and keyboardist Christian Lorenz carry a great deal of the load when it comes to the dramatic elements. Lorenz, for most of the night, wore a sparkly, silver sequined jumpsuit and walked on a treadmill behind the keyboards. He came down during “Mein Teil,” in a large smoking pot, playing his keyboard while sitting inside. He was greeted by a bloody butcher-looking Lindemann and a little friend – a freaking flamethrower!

Lindemann himself hardly gets off scot-free. Toward the end of “Wollte Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen”, flames shot up through stage surrounding him. Sparks rain down heavy on him and he dodges several explosions and handles many large pieces of fire shooting apparatus. As if the sheer volume of the music weren’t enough, explosions went off periodically through the night. None of the senses went unscathed. Ears and eyes already stinging, you could feel the often towering infernos on your face, smelling and tasting the burning chemicals. It was glorious olfactory overload. Flaming mic stands, raining sparks, face rigs shooting flames, and finally a rocket launcher toward the end of “Du Hast,”. “Haifisch,” finished up round 1 at the main stage.

Lead guitarist Richard Kruspe manned a keyboard on the platform that the band made their entrance from. The rest of the band crossed the once again lowered bridge from the main stage in S&M gear complete with gags. They were being whipped by drummer Christoph Schneider. They all piled onto this smaller platform for raucous performances of “Bück Dich” and “Mann Gegan Mann,”. The crowd got into the pyro act a bit as the lighters came out during “Ohne Dich,”.

After a brief reprieve, Rammstein returned to the stage and roared through “Mein Herz Brennt,”. That was followed up by the red, white, and blue confetti decorated “Amerika,”. Another short break followed and then the band was back out for one more round. Lindemann emerges from below the drum kit wearing large, retractable metal angel wings that, guess what? Shoot fire and sparks! The result is a truly memorable rendition of “Engel,”.

I can honestly say that I have never seen anything quite like this and may never again. But I’m sure as heck going to try. An all-time great show. I, and the Allstate Arena, will never be the same.

Setlist:
Sonne
Wollte Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen
Keine Lust
Sehnsucht
Asche Zu Asche
Feuer Frei!
Mutter
Mein Teil
Links 234
Du Hast
Haifisch
Bück Dich
Mann Gegan Mann
Ohne Dich

First Encore:
Mein Herz Brennt
Amerika

Second Encore:
Ich Will
Engel
Pussy

Slowly fading all away, but still Reatarded

Posted: July 2, 2016 by The Social Retard in Movies, Music
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Even though this was written a year before, consider it an addendum to the earlier post about Jay Reatard. This is my review of the documentary of the aforementioned prolific artist.

Jay

Better Than Something BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar1/2 (4/12/12)

A raucous performance (as if there was any other kind) of “Oh It’s Such A Shame,” by Jay Reatard and band in France opens Better Than Something with a bang. This is followed by excerpts and remembrances from the 2010 South By Southwest tribute show. The format of the documentary is a bit off putting as footage of Jay in 2009 is juxtaposed with comments from fellow musicians and friends recorded less than a year later, after his death. There’s also plenty of archival footage of performances with the Lost Sounds, Angry Angles, and the Reatards. While Jay obviously didn’t enjoy doing press, the footage of him at his home show the notorious perfectionist and cantankerous personality in a relaxed and affable light. He oozes enthusiasm whether talking about record collecting or even recalling a horrific childhood tale that inspired the Lost Sounds’ “1620 Echols St.”.

Though mostly reflective, Jay makes his views of music and the lifestyle a career music demands. He speaks candidly about his self-destructive impulses, needing to “destroy my whole life just to build it back up”. Particularly amusing is Jay’s constant music evolution as a means to avoid complacency. He compares punk rock to wrestling and his embarrassment that he was nearly thirty and still referred to as a Reatard. He didn’t want to end up like 1980’s pro wrestlers Jake “The Snake” Roberts* or Koko B. Ware ending up “smoking crack in a Ramada”.

There are plenty of interesting tidbits revealed in the doc. He had planned to one day release a country album under his real name. Jay was buried next to Isaac Hayes, thereby making that cemetery the coolest ever. He made music because he was “afraid of everything else”.

This isn’t The Decline Of Western Civilization. It’s not a cautionary tale. It’s not Sid & Nancy, a glamorization of punk lifestyle and drugs. Better Than Something is a unique celebration of this prolific and truly gifted artist. What makes this film special is the rare opportunity to chronicle an emerging punk rock artist on his ride to stardom only for him to fall and never live to see his legendary potential. We see him at the beginning of his creative apex in almost real time. Then again, each subsequent Jay Reatard release sounded more and more special; it’s hard to argue that there wasn’t even more amazing music to come. Filmmakers Alex Hammond and Ian Markiewicz were certainly in right place at the right time. And while we can all agree that we wish the narrative had different ending, they did a great job of adjusting to the circumstances. They documented Jay Reatard’s music as his music documented his life.

*=2016 footnote: You should also check out the Jake “the Snake” documentary: The Resurrection of Jake the Snake.

The unlimited potential that is Angel Olsen

Posted: July 2, 2016 by The Social Retard in Music, Uncategorized
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So, listen. I had been writing for a website on and off for five years for little to no compensation. I just received word that they are ceasing to be and I don’t wish to see all of my writings disappear. Therefore, I will be dispersing the pieces all willy nilly across WordPress. The first entry is a series of reviews I have written about indie singer-songwriter Angel Olsen.

Strange Cacti EP BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar (4/7/11)

Strange Cacti opens like the beginning of a dream. Local folk artist Angel Olsen‘s voice joins the harp-like finger-picking and it is haunting and arresting. It pierces the din of the reverb-heavy recording with captivating precision. Her heart is clearly on her sleeve and slipping down to the floor. With each track, we are allowed a glimpse into a world of heartbreak and honesty, confessions from a journal set to music and shared with whoever dares to hear them. Each song is stripped down to the barest essentials: a woman, her guitar, and her soul. Her voice quivers on occasion, succumbing to the emotion and showing her vulnerability. The first five songs tell the tale of a woman wronged but with the closer, “Creator, Destroyer”, at last imbues our protagonist with the strength to seek answers for why she was so easily cast aside and confess her hurt to the one responsible. Anyone that has ever been dealt betrayal at the cold hand of a loved one will find a part of themselves in this EP that maybe they aren’t so eager to revisit. Olsen has captured that uncomfortable feeling beautifully in wax and it sends shivers down the listener’s spine. Allow yourself to get lost in the moment and marvel at Olsen’s craftsmanship.

Half Way Home BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar1/2 (8/8/12)

Coming off of her phenomenal debut EP, Strange Cacti, Angel Olsen’s first LP has some lofty expectations to live up to. The album, titled Half Way Home, is a far more diverse effort than the EP, which is to be expected when extending out to a full-length. If the record is any indication of the woman, Olsen is an old soul. At the very least, her songs are informed from an era long before her time. A track that has been circulation on the web a while is “The Waiting”, a reasonable request for some effort from the other half of the relationship, all the while realizing that could be the proverbial long wait for a train that never comes. Sometimes a lady needs to be wooed a bit and for the man “to be the one to call”. “Lonely Universe” is a poignant seven-plus minute cautionary tale of how one’s existence can be full of regret when they don’t make the first step toward going after what/who they want, to not just dream but visualize and achieve.

Another familiar track, “Always Half Strange”, keeps its original simple but effective approach with Olsen’s trademark yodel in full throat. “You Are Song” keeps things stripped down and lovely. “Miranda Rights Revisited” is a country parable with storytelling reminiscent of Johnny Cash, a tale of love versus duty and Olsen’s voice lends the conflict its proper gravitas. As a counter-point to the rest of her work thus far, “Free” is the album’s most soaring and wonderful declaration of, and belief in, love. Olsen’s strength has generally been keeping things uncomplicated in arrangement, creating the necessary intimacy needed for the listener to focus on every somber syllable. But with “Free” and its sixties pop arrangement, she actually heightens the emotional tether and reaches a goosebump-inducing fever pitch. To put a final eclectic stamp on the album, Half Way Home closes with an R&B ballad, “Tiniest Seed”, complete with Cropper-esque guitars. With this debut album, Angel Olsen cements a reputation as a skilled and soulful siren with heartstring-tugging songs.

Live at Lincoln Hall BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar (8/16/13)

Angel Olsen is magic. Her performances are spellbinding and her onstage banter is bewitching, if not awkward and entirely preoccupied with Twix. Having spent the last few years in Chicago, Olsen has gained popularity swiftly. This year, she scored a coveted slot at the Pitchfork Music Festival. Alas, her time in the Windy City is coming to a close as she embarks on the next stage of her rapidly ascending career.

The first stop on her current tour was essentially her farewell to the city at Lincoln Hall. As she and her band took stage, you could tell that she was amongst friends in the intimate setting of the extremely clear sounding venue. The set began with, perhaps, the best track off of her one and only LP, last year’s Half Way Home. “Free” is just one example of how she has grown as a songwriter since her absolute heartbreaker of a debut EP, Strange Cacti. Those releases, from Bathetic Records, are vastly different. The EP is extremely spartan as the performances contain nothing more than Olsen’s voice and finger-picked guitar played in what sounded like an abandoned church. The LP explored some blues aspects and had a much improved fidelity.

In addition to her charmingly uncomfortable anecdotes about Neil Young’s On the Beach and a couple in the park “devouring tacos”, she is an adept storyteller as is evidenced on “Miranda”. The concert finished up with Olsen sans backing band. Admittedly “killing time” between songs, you could tell that some people didn’t quite understand what was going on as she occasionally went into hysterics, struggling to compose herself. When she did, she gave the crowd what they wanted, “Creator, Destroyer” but had to finish with a different number because she didn’t want to go out on that note. The song itself is amazing but the tone of it being the finale would have severely undercut the overall performance.

The show consisted largely of new songs that have been recorded and due to be released on Jagjaguwar, to whom she has recently signed, as well as the A-side to her most rocking release to date, “Sleepwalker”. The earlier songs were sad and sometimes angry whereas there is an immense effulgence to the new batch. Her talent knows no limits and no genre can contain her. The one thing in common with all of her songs is that her heart stays adorned on her sleeve with a Twix hanging out of the jacket pocket. Olsen may have outgrown our fair city but she is certainly welcome back whenever she likes.

Burn Your Fire for No Witness BlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstarBlackstar (1/28/14)

After writing three complementary reviews, superlatives about songstress Angel Olsen are running short. Not that they aren’t deserving but the constant gushing about how talented Olsen is probably doesn’t come across as terribly interesting. Well, sorry, but she’s done it again. With already a stunning EP and outstanding full-length to her credit, Olsen manages to outdo herself. With her first release, Burn Your Fire for No Witness, on new label Jagjaguwar, Olsen serves up her most diverse work to-date.

Familiar folk territory is where Olsen has made her bones and is still a big part of the record. But it’s the translation of her folk sensibilities to a more rock milieu that prove to be even more remarkable.”Forgiven/Forgotten” is elevated garage rock tinged with sweetness. “Stars” packs a pair of powerful crescendos where her band swells and Olsen sings in self-harmony. The first peak at the 1:12 mark is goosebump-inducing.

Not that Olsen has suddenly become a garage punk. The softer side rears its beautiful head all over the album. Tracks like the evocative “White Fire” and “Unfucktheworld” carry the acoustic torch. “Lights Out” and “Dance Slow Decades” are empirically entrancing tracks that remind favorably of Marianne Faithfull. Remember the goosebumps from earlier? They recur at the first hint of Olsen’s voice on the record’s denouement, “Windows”. A more gorgeous song simply doesn’t exist. The music puts a figurative spotlight on its creator. Her voice comes across gentle and yet powerful, a beam of luminescence that answers the track’s pressing question, “What so wrong with the light?”. Not a damned thing.

There it is, the first entry. Hope you enjoyed.