3/31/2008 6:17:39 PM
There once was a Texas prisoner named Frank Jones (1900-1969), who “as a child . . . was told that he was born with a veil over his left eye, and that this veil would enable him to see spirits,” reports Lynne Adele in the outsider art magazine Raw Vision, winner of a 2006 Utne Independent Press Award (article not available online).
Once incarcerated, Jones scavenged blue- and red-colored pencils from prison bookkeepers and embarked upon drawing “devil houses”—loose representations of the Huntsville Prison where he served a life sentence. The devil houses feature thorny compartments populated by wicked spirits that Jones called haints.
Adele writes, “Although Jones’s haints appear to be friendly and playful, their benign expressions disguise their true objectives. Jones indicated that they smile because ‘they’re happy, waiting for your soul’ . . . [they] smile ‘to get you to come closer . . . to drag you down and make you do bad things. They laugh when they do that.’”
3/25/2008 5:50:49 PM
Ever since Brendan Benson, Jack White, and company formed a band and rescued the word “raconteur” from semantic obscurity, two ever-present companions tagged along in reviews: “supergroup” and “Jack White side project.” Notice the tension there. True, White’s star has always shined brightest, but if anything, Consolers of the Lonely, the Raconteurs’ new album released March 25, makes the band look like a Benson vehicle, a welcome extension of his long-underappreciated solo work—happy-sounding pop songs about being a lonely, misunderstood guy.
Recorded, mastered, and released in less than a month, the album received no advance promotion. Yet rather than feeling like a slacker vanity project, like all of those excessive double-disc live albums (with concert DVD!) bands are rushing out lately, Consolers of the Lonely sounds fully developed, even masterful, thanks in part to the excellent additions of Dirk Powell on fiddle and Stax favorites the Memphis Horns. The casual brilliance of it all makes you wonder if there is any way this group could fail to produce great music.
3/25/2008 11:50:54 AM
Still reeling from the loss of No Depression, music lovers suffered another blow last week when Harp magazine announced that it was shutting down after seven years of publishing. The official statement on the magazine’s website cites the “decline of the music software industry, coupled with the consolidation of the consumer magazine newsstand business and rising paper and postage costs,” as reasons why it ceased publication.
The final issue, which arrived in the Utne library two weeks ago, contains a very funny dispatch from the world’s longest running Beatles fan convention in Las Vegas, and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters officially announced his campaign for president. They will be missed.
3/19/2008 6:07:52 PM
Last week, Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman went down to Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest. In the latest episode of the UtneCast, Keith talks about a side of the raucous music festival that’s not often seen by fans: the quiet side. Hear music from Kaiser Cartel, Daniel Lanois, and Eliza Gilkyson, whose album Beautiful World is due out May 27.
UtneCast: The Quiet Side of South by Southwest: Play in Popup
3/16/2008 1:29:41 PM
Baby blue cowboy boots with pink hot pants. Plaid shorts worn over patterned pajama bottoms. Jet-black stretch jeans as tight as shrink wrap. John Deere caps and full untrimmed beards. The South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, is as much a fashion show as it is a music-biz gathering, and frankly it would be hard to dress weirdly enough to really turn heads in downtown Austin this weekend. (Perhaps if I donned penny loafers, pleated Dockers chinos, and a pastel polo shirt, I’d at least get some attention for being a dork.)
Walking down the main promenade, Sixth Street, I took out my camera and captured some choice examples of rock and roll style. Not one person I approached refused to have their photo taken; this is a crowd that wants to be seen. Caution: Adopt these looks at your own risk.
3/16/2008 12:46:05 PM
“Everyone who’s under 30 is probably sick of hearing how great the Clash was,” Billy Bragg told the crowd at the Utne Reader party at South by Southwest as he introduced his new tune “Old Clash Fan Fight Song.” It’s not just younger folks, Billy: Just last week, Utne editor in chief Dave Schimke told me he didn’t want to hear one more word about Joe Strummer, the heavily lionized subject of a recent biography and documentary.
The ghost of the Clash was everywhere at South by Southwest, however. I saw it in the black armband worn by the singer for the hard-rocking L.A. band Monte Negro. I heard it in the energetic reggae-punk of the Aggrolites, another L.A. outfit. And plenty of SXSW attendees, yes, some of them under 30, wore T-shirts that celebrated the band.
Then I saw something that was no ghost: Carbon/Silicon, the new band fronted by the Clash’s Mick Jones. Playing to an appreciative crowd at the Austin Convention Center, Jones proved that he’s not living in the past as he and his band ripped through a blazing set that left the crowd awed and sated. Their beefy, guitar-drenched tunes ran on punk energy and crafty pop hooks, with Jones and fellow guitarist Tony James clearly relishing their return to the spotlight (James was in iconic punk band Generation X).
For us old Clash fans, it was a thrill to see Jones enjoying himself so much and still delivering the goods. Carbon/Silicon isn’t just a hobby or a lame attempt at a comeback, but a real band, and a very good one at that. Jones promised that they’d be touring the U.S. soon. “We’re coming to your house—everybody’s house,” he quipped. Don’t miss them when they come knocking.
Image by Nikolai36, licensed under Creative Commons.
3/14/2008 2:42:18 PM
The Utne Reader/Anti- Records music showcase at South by Southwest went off spectacularly, drawing a full crowd to the Cedar Street Courtyard on a muggy, warm Texas night to hear six bands that represented a head-spinning range of genres. The breadth and depth of the bill was a testament to Anti’s wide-net approach. While many labels are dedicated to a particular sound—that one’s a punk label, that one’s electronica, this one’s DIY lo-fi—Anti- is all over the map, in a really good way.
The Montreal band Islands started off the evening with an epic sweep that recalled fellow Montreal denizens the Arcade Fire. If anyone was initially skeptical that singer Nicholas Thorburn’s whiteface was pure pretension, any doubts were soon swept away as he led the band through a dramatic set that played off loud-soft dynamics and the band members’ clear emotional investment in the tunes. With two Asian violinists, a black bass player, and even a hip-hop interlude in the middle of the set, Islands seemed to have many listeners in the crowd wondering just what the hell they were—but wanting to hear more.
Next up was Tim Fite, the comically twisted indie hip-hop artist, who drove audience members into a frenzy with his idiosyncratic nerd shtick. Against a backing sample track, he had them chanting “fuck,” singing along to the pro-arson chorus of “Burn It Down,” and touching themselves as he chanted the old schoolyard rhyme “heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes” with a command that was almost scary. His projected visuals and his sidekick brother, Greg, were hilarious, and he left the crowd energized and ready for anything.
Which was a good thing, because Man Man was about to blow off the tops of their heads. It was clear from the stage setup that something strange was about to happen. A drum kit was set up at the front, facing a keyboard, and all kinds of noisemakers were scattered about: a bike horn, a “ring for service” bell, wooden snakes, a metal bowl full of spoons, several extra tom-tom drums. “Have you ever seen them?” Anti- president Andy Kaulkin asked me before they came on. “They’re amazing.” He was right. The band ran onstage wearing tattered all-white clothes and white streaks of face paint, then proceeded to pound out intense, dissonant skronk pop, a spasmodic celebration of the id. Mugging comically and performing seemingly random acts with their noisemakers, Man Man was tribal and trippy and completely original.
Winnipeg, Canada’s Weakerthans then hit the stage and delivered an earnest set of straight-up guitar rock, a decidedly conventional sound after the Man Man experience.
I’m not really a fan of singer John Samson’s slight, nasally voice, but the band rocked harder than I expected and had their uber-fans in the front rows singing along with every song. Guitarist Stephen Carroll and bassist Greg Smith even engaged in some spirited windmill strums, much to the amusement of a stageside Billy Bragg, the showcase headliner.
Like Man Man, DeVotchKa’s setup held clues to what was coming. Stagehands brought out a tuba, a cello, and violins, and a few warmup notes from an accordion merited a loud cheer from the crowd. Then the Denver-based band launched into its Eastern European-flavored chamber pop, melodies wafting into the night air on string arrangements full of romance and yearning. Swarthy, handsome singer Nick Urata seemed to have many women in the crowd swooning as he spilled his heart in song. After their set, the band played an impromptu street concert in front of the venue, busker style.
At last, the headliner: British folk-punk icon Billy Bragg took the stage just after 1 a.m. With just an electric guitar and his typically feisty attitude, Bragg reeled off songs old and new and proved that he’s still the go-to guy for pithy songs about love and politics. “Farmboy,” a song from his forthcoming Mr. Love and Justice album, featured especially soulful guitar playing and singing, a refutation of Bragg’s contention that he’s “not really a singer.” The crowd ate up Bragg classics such as “Accident Waiting to Happen,” “Levi Stubbs’ Tears,” “Power in a Union,” and “Looking for a New England,” with people hoisting pints and singing along with their favorites. Of course, Bragg gave a pep talk for the upcoming U.S. election, urging everyone to fight their own cynicism and not blow it this time. By the time he ended with his new ballad “I Keep Faith,” the concertgoers were determined to keep their faith in him.
3/13/2008 4:49:45 PM
The South by Southwest music festival is in full swing, with a horde of hipsters and music-biz people clogging the streets of downtown Austin, Texas. There’s a band playing around every corner, a tattoo on every forearm, hair in every hue.
The big-name performers on the opening night of this year’s festival—Van Morrison, Daryl Hall, R.E.M.—lent the event a somewhat geezerish vibe. All of them have new albums, and all are here to revive careers in various stages of dormancy and/or mediocrity. Their reputations attracted hordes of concertgoers regardless of the merits of their new work.
I was lucky to catch a set by another older performer, singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, who’s never been famous except in his home country of Australia. Kelly’s gig at a theaterlike venue called Esther’s Follies didn’t attract a line around the block like his contemporaries, but he too has a new album, and he proved that he’s still got the songwriting and performing chops to hold an audience in thrall.
Playing an acoustic guitar and accompanied by a talented young bloke on electric, Kelly revisited great songs from past albums, including “Dumb Things” and “Careless,” then rolled out some numbers from his forthcoming disc. “Stolen Apples,” the title track, is a clever retelling of the Adam and Eve tale. “Keep on Driving” rolled along with a rootsy feel, and while “God Told Me To” didn’t mention George W. Bush by name, its inspiration was clear as Kelly spit out the acidic lyrics. Before playing it, Kelly simply intoned, “God told me to, so I must be right.”
Then Kelly tackled a new song that cut right to the heart of the age issue. “You’re 39, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine” played off of Ringo Starr’s “You’re 16, You’re Beautiful, and You’re Mine” in its lyrics, but Kelly’s heartfelt song conveyed a deep and abiding love that’s nowhere to be found in Ringo’s pedophilic pop ditty. To be sure, a 39-year-old girlfriend would still be a spring chicken compared to Kelly, who’s 53, but the song conveyed a sentiment quite foreign to the youth-worshipping crowd at South by Southwest: Getting older doesn’t have to be a drag, and it can even be sexy.
3/11/2008 5:50:15 PM
A sinking polar bear, a melting Inuit, and a deer haloed with a Mercedes-Benz logo—each made of porcelain. Cynthia Hathaway’s “Souvenirs Revisited” collection gives classic Canadian icons a startling new treatment with political overtones.
Hathaway’s figurines are part of a movement in Canadian design toward what Tim McKeough calls “lumberjack chic,” a rather self-conscious take on wilderness and outdoor life. Writing in The Walrus (subscription required), McKeough highlights several designers who employ an “aesthetic [that] doesn’t so much reflect modern Canadian culture as it does other people’s expectations of what it means to be Canadian.”
3/11/2008 5:28:05 PM
After watching Roger Clemens stutter through a House committee hearing regarding his alleged steroid use, one could be excused for wanting to escape the locker-room stench surrounding professional sports. The Rocket may have been sweating from the strain of dodging questions, but for those of us watching from home, bearing the tedium was like 40 minutes on the elliptical machine. Most of us would rather hear about the latest strung-out musician’s drug-induced public tirade. And that’s because nobody does drugs like musicians. Barry Bonds can stick a needle in his butt cheek and smash a baseball 600 feet. But Ozzy Osbourne can chase a line of cocaine with a line of ants. Way cooler.
In an article for Fort Worth Weekly, E.R. Bills compares the steroid craze in baseball with the drug experience in music. Bills wonders why we have such different expectations for the practitioners of the two forms of entertainment since, he suggests, musicians use recreational drugs for the same reasons athletes use steroids. The difference, of course, lies in the level and brand of competition in the two worlds. There is certainly competition in the music industry: to sell records, win awards, make the cover of the music glossies. But in sports, the competition is the art. And because performance-enhancing drugs may define the outcome of the competition, their impact is completely different than the impact illicit drugs have had on music.
3/4/2008 5:23:50 PM
When cameras aren’t allowed inside courtrooms, professional sketch artists are often called upon to depict the scene. Even though the sketches are seen mostly on TV news, some are nothing short of art. David Friedman of the blog Ironic Sans tracked down a few of these artists and figured out what their art looks like outside the courtroom.
Image courtesy of Mona Shafer Edwards.
3/3/2008 12:16:05 PM
Breast-inspired craft projects aren’t just about décolletage and irony. Beryl Tsang custom-knits soft, cuddly prosthetic breasts for women who’ve had mastectomies, and a hospital in Liverpool uses “woolly breasts” to teach new mothers about breastfeeding.
The Nipple Project has joined the fray, encouraging crafters to submit “a handmade artistic interpretation of your nipple or of someone’s nipple you love.” The gallery of submissions it has received thus far is pretty cool—nipple aesthetes from far and wide have sent in quite an array of specimens (including one made from a gourd!). The project’s coordinators, Jennifer Baylis and Andrea Dominguez, were called to action after seeing an ad for a bra that emphasized “maximum nipple coverage.”
This bra epitomizes the eradication and androgenization of the nipple. We find this ironic in an era where breast augmentation is done in order to gain a “more feminine look.” So we wanted to reclaim our natural femininity and counter this strange phenomenon.
(Thanks, Women’s Health News.)
3/3/2008 10:09:57 AM
Utne Reader has had a presence at the South by Southwest music festival for years, but this time around, we’re going whole hog. We’re teaming up with one of our favorite music labels, Anti-, to host a big outdoor showcase headlined by Billy Bragg and DeVotchKa, and we’re joining with other partners to throw a party headlined by Bragg and Rogue Wave. For more information on the Utne Reader/Anti- Records showcase on Thursday, March 13, and the Utne Reader party on Saturday, March 15, click here.
The March-April issue of Utne Reader has a special treat for music fans, a 10-page section called “For the Love of Music” that focuses on people and places where pure passion for music is the driving force:
Also, read editor in chief David Schimke’s note on Billy Bragg, South by Southwest, and the enduring influence of truly great music.
Both Utne Reader events at South by Southwest are open to everyone, though you’ll need a South by Southwest music festival badge to attend the showcase.
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