Blast from the Past
While I work on the next round of Fringe reviews, enjoy this blast from the past with my pals The Bigger Lovers. Tonight they celebrate the 10th anniversary of their album Honey in the Hive at Johnny Brenda's.
Double Dare was a childhood staple for those of us who grew up in the late '80s and early '90s. We all wanted to catch pies in comically oversized pants and travel through a giant ear canal toward obstacle-course victory. But most of all, we wanted to be slimed. Children begged their parents to take them to Orlando just for a chance to come in contact with the unnaturally colored stuff.
Alas, none of us are immune to time, and as we grew older slime became a dated obsession. Still, many of us never lost our attachment to messy, slapstick entertainment. The managers of Frankford Hall understood this and organized a beer-themed version of our favorite childhood game show for Philly Beer Week. They dubbed it "Dunkel Dare" and convinced the man, the myth and the legend Marc Summers to host.
Leon Ware wrote “I Want You” for himself. The song went to Marvin Gaye, the title track of his 1976 album. Gaye and Ware produced the album together with T-Boy Ross, Diana Ross’ brother. Ware laid down the conceptual foundation; Marvin Gaye imbued it with his personal desire — a lustful, lovesick tribute to then-girlfriend Janis Hunter. Upon release, it was met with mixed reviews. Today, it is widely regarded as a landmark record, a zenith of musical sensuality.
It’s easy to say that I Want You is sexy. Not just because of its subject matter, Marvin Gaye made enough legendary sensual music for his voice to personify the concept of what sexy should sound like. But, I Want You isn’t just sensual. It sounds like it’s from a different space, from another planet. Twinkling wind chimes, reverberating strings and synthesizer solos deepen the astral effect. Gaye didn’t just want his girl; he wanted to transport her.
Speak to Leon Ware for longer than five minutes, and you’ll find out that the astral quality was entirely intentional. Ware says he’s always been called a “spacey little guy.” While explaining a love song, he’ll drift into meditations on humanity, then postulations on the cosmos. They are all one in the same to him. To understand Ware’s deviations, musically and otherwise, one must first see that sensuality, divinity, life itself and love itself are all interchangeable in his eyes. “I never work at [music,] and it never works at me. It’s like a joining of forces that continuously caress…” he begins.
Jeff Buckley’s premature death has only magnified his popularity. You’ve probably heard of him because of this, but in case you haven’t, here’s the Cliff’s Notes. Folk legend Tim Buckley abandons his pregnant wife in ’66, a month before son Jeff is born. Papa Buckley dies of overdose at age 28 in ’75. Tim and Jeff had only met once. The younger Buckley becomes a musician himself, first in garage bands in the OC, later as an open-miker in New York City. Jeff Buckley establishes himself as one of most hyped live performers in NYC, drawing celebs and execs to his shows regularly. In ’94, He drops his first, last and only studio album, Grace, and makes adoring fans out of his idols — Bowie, Morrissey and Jimmy Page to name a few. In ’97, he takes a break in Memphis to work on his second album. In eerily mythical fashion, he drowns during a midnight swim in the Mississippi River.
Fans have been clamoring for his unreleased material ever since. Four posthumous compilations, two DVDs (not counting the documentaries,) and five live albums later, there’s still a wealth of songs that remain untapped. Buckley was always heavily bootlegged. The internet has taken that to the next level. His fans and interviewers are dusting off those cassettes. Dozens of unreleased tracks that were only rumored in the ’90s are now racking up thousands of views on YouTube. Here are five rare recordings that the internet has given new life.
“Grace” on Nulle Part Ailleurs (Canal+)
Buckley performs the title track of his debut for French television. Brace yourself for the last minute and a half.
“Once I Was” at “Greetings from Tim Buckley”
Jeff Buckley often stunned audiences even before opening his mouth. The physical resemblance to his father was enough. He won over many of his father’s fans, making perhaps his biggest statement at a Tim Buckley tribute concert. It was his first time singing in front of an audience. He killed. “Once I Was,” was the last song he performed. This moment is actually the basis of one of the three Jeff Buckley biopics in development. Yes, three. This one will star Penn Badgley. Who’s starring in the other two? Reeve Carney and Robert Pattinson. If you think Jeff Buckley is big now, just wait until Gossip Boy, the new Spiderman and Edward Cullen play him.
“Night Flight” from the cutting room floor
Grace has got some stellar outtakes. Buckley was a total Led Zeppelin fan. This version of “Night Flight” didn’t make the album.
“Dido’s Lament” at Meltdown
The Meltdown Festival invites musicians annually to “curate” a lineup of art, music and film. In 1995, the invited curator was Elvis Costello, and he chose Jeff Buckley. At the time, there were reports that Buckley’s voice spanned four octaves. His performance of “Dido’s Lament” at Meltdown showed that the reports were probably true.
“What Will You Say” at the Sacred Music Festival
JB was obsessed with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Nusrat was the foremost practitioner of Qawwali, the traditional music of Sufism, a mystical denomination of Islam. Buckley famously called Nusrat his Elvis. The Qawwali had a profound influence on JB’s style, a style that brought him to the 1995 Sacred Music Festival. “What Will You Say” was a song from JB’s live repertoire that was never recorded for official release. In this rendition, he takes advantage of his auspicious festival surroundings and collaborates with Alim Qasimov, the UNESCO prize-winning Azerbaijani singer. The duet turns into a sing-off to the heavens. Unlike the other picks, you can actually buy this one! Check 2001’s Live à L’Olympia.
I called up the biggest jazz head I know, my grandfather, to pick his brain about his favorite live performances. He named a couple, but emphasized one special epic — Duke Ellington’s “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.”
“Diminuendo” is one of the most iconic jazz performances ever. The most famous rendition comes from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival when tenor saxophonist Paul Gonsalves soloed for 27 straight choruses, inciting the crowd, 7000-deep with jazz aficionados and socialites from across the Eastern seaboard, into a frenzy. Some consider it one of the most culturally important live performances of the ’50s. John Fass, in his non-fictional account of the performance, Backstory in Blue, compares it to Woodstock. Newport rejuvenated Ellington’s career and brought big bands back to the forefront.
“Diminuendo in Blue” and “Crescendo in Blue” were two songs written and recorded in 1937, during Ellington’s heyday. They were played as separate pieces from their release until 1951.
Today, it’s hard to look back and think that the legendary Duke Ellington was all but washed-up at the time. To summarize the explanation given in Backstory in Blue, the waves of immigrants in the ’30s who had embraced jazz as their first taste of authentic America were beginning to favor smaller ensembles. Post-war youth preferred rhythm and blues (and its offshoots) as the choice popular music. The purists who had championed Duke’s sound had grown older and driven Eisenhower highways and to calmer pastures for their slice of the suburban, picket-fenced American dream. Big band jazz was passé, and Duke Ellington was struggling.
Black Music Month rolls on. All June long, Critical Mass will be featuring videos of some of our favorite artists from now and then.
A Reasonable Doubt is larger than legend. Its greatness is so widely understood that it resides in a place for the beloved, universally championed and undeniable, like the hip-hop quintessence that lies in “Juicy” or Dilla’s divinity. Have you ever heard anyone negate the quality of A Reasonable Doubt? Try it. The conversation will stop making sense.
Being a young jawn, I had to be put on to its glory, but when I was, I venerated it like everyone else I knew. My brother played “22 Twos,” and after I lost my mind, he was kind enough to replay it. Where had that flow gone?
“I don’t follow any guidelines cause too many n****s ride mine
so I change styles every two rhymes, hah, what the fuck”
OK, so Jay-Z explained himself in that very song. But, I still wanted more of his early pace.
My brother copped a Jay-Z retrospective mixtape off the street one day, and of course I had to have it. (Remember the days when dudes sold bootlegs and mixtapes on the street? The internet put them all out of business, huh? I wonder what the guy who used to sell stuff off Chew is doing now. Working in telemarketing? Who knows.) The mixtape was packed with singles and began with Jay-Z’s first ever, “In My Lifetime.” That, I had heard before. What I hadn’t heard was the B-side, “Can’t Get Wit That.” I freaked out. It was almost like discovering A Reasonable Doubt again.
Although “Can’t Get Wit That” had its own visuals, it never made it on to an album, and before YouTube, fell into obscurity. This video was shot before Roc-a-Fella even existed, when Dame and company were selling singles out of their trunks. No SoundScan records on those sales.
Black Music Month rolls on. All June long, Critical Mass will be featuring videos of some of our favorite artists from now and then.
There was time when Whitney Houston was flawless. Sure, most memories of this are hazy. They’ve been overpowered by bizarre behavior on pilgrimages to Israel, television appearances when her frame was practically skeletal, and ever-too-quotable declarations to Diane Sawyer. But before all of that, Whitney was perfection.
In the late ’80s, Whitney gave practically faultless vocal performances on television like it was nothing. It’s not coincidental that during this period she broke The Beatles’ record in releasing seven consecutive number one hits, a feat that hasn’t been matched since. “Saving All My Love for You” was the first number one in that record-breaking run, her first number one ever.
There are singers who take easy songs and perform them really well. That wasn't Whitney's style. Her hits were extremely difficult to sing and she belted the hell out of them. Of course, she can’t sing at this level anymore. It seems that Whitney has smoked more than anyone with her larynx ever should have. However, you’ll be hard pressed to think of anyone who can sing like this today.
This is my favorite of her live performances. One of my best friends thinks it’s her greatest TV performance of them all, and I agree. But, this is totally arguable. This video, this video and this video are all in the same realm of stunning. Whitney just had it like that.
Black Music Month has rolled in, so all June long Critical Mass will be featuring videos of some of our favorite artists from now and then.
Before Rod Temperton created perfection for Michael Jackson on Off the Wall and Thriller, he was the keyboardist and principal songwriter for the band Heatwave. Formed in Germany but based in London, Heatwave touted two Brits on keyboards and guitar, a Jamaican guitarist, a Swiss bassist, a Czech drummer and two American brothers on vocals. They have got to be the most genuinely international funk band of note. Stateside, they are best known for hits like “The Groove Line” and “Boogie Nights.”
Heatwave toured in Europe during its early years, but not so much on this side of the Atlantic, creating an air of mystery around them for American audiences. They didn’t take their distance from the core funk market as a excuse for lollygagging, and prepared to stand toe-to-toe with the best funk show bands of the day. Lead vocalist Johnnie Walker, who had a military background, drilled his bandmates to put on the most spectacular show they could manage. This rendition of “Too Hot to Handle,” the title track of their debut album, comes from a Musikladen special. Get ready to watch what they pulled onstage.
Heatwave’s potential was cut short by a series of tragic events after recording their third album. Bassist Mario Mantese was stabbed in the heart by his live-in girlfriend. He remarkably survived and even more remarkably moved back in with her. Shortly after, Walker was paralyzed in an automobile accident. It’s truly saddening to think about what could have been. TV One’s Unsung has a fantastic episode on them for those interested.
Abounding thanks to the German who dusted this gem off from the vault. Imagine if they had a bigger stage for the special. Oooooh weeee!
I just got in a few hours ago, but can't sleep, so why not post this up now at 4:07am? Tonight, I was one of many bodies that packed intimate Fluid to witness Large Professor, who is not just a DJ, but producer and responsible for discovering the lyrical genius known as Nas. Hard to believe he has been around for an estimated 18 years and this was his first time spinnin' in Philly. Large Pro took the shine playing old to new school, R&B to soul, and mainstream to underground cuts. Ones that I remember are Common's "The People" (that is currently my favorite album, so I was hype), 'White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, some song by Remy Ma, and ATCQ's "Find My Way". There were many more obviously, but hell...it's 4am and that is what I can recall. The club was packed, free vodka was flowing and everyone was gettin' down with the get down on the dancefloor, while some dudes held up the wall nodding their head and rhyming word for word with the tracks. I left still wanting to dance and listen to more of Large Pro, but I'm not 21 like I used to be and my party meter expires at 130am. Large Pro showed us how he does it worldwide, which was returned by Philly showing him how we can rock a party and rock it right. Oh and, much respect to DJ Ultraviolet for hooking the event up for her Living Legends series. Spinderella is on the decks next month! More pictures from Large Professor Party Large Professor MySpace DJ Ultraviolet MySpace
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