I purposely didn’t refresh myself on the music of Fishbone before I went to the concert this Monday to the City Museum to catch the set. I decided to go armed only with my own memories of what the band and their music was like in the late ‘80s, and seeing that I hadn’t heard the 2007 release, or their latest live album — these memories were from a long, long time ago — when In Your Face became stuck in my car’s cassette player and every morning commute to school was a forced Fishbone marathon.
In a twist of irony, while lazing around this Saturday and playing the YouTube 80′s DJ Game (in which you try not to be predictable while pulling up old music videos), my girlfriend pulled up “Modern Industry” without even knowing I was taking her to the show. The break-through song and video that first thrust them into the national consciousness shows a manic mad-hatteresque Angelo Moore as a kind of cyber-punk B-boy, ranting on commercialism, the crush of mass communication, radio “personalities.” This group ur-persona as agents of revolution defined them as they blazed through late ’80′s, trend-swapping with unique takes on synth, bass licks that picked up adherents and admirers from Flea to Bela Fleck, and vocals, guitar and horns that took funk, reggae, ska, punk, spoken word and soul and mashed them all into a Fishbone stew of tireless, raucous energy and timeless ingenuity.
The classics such as “Party at Ground Zero” and “I Wish I had a Date” — and they absolutely deserve that label—are as impactful now as they were then, but grittier, more layered, and really, just plain more. No wonder a whole sub-generation of Y’s showed up at school one day with Fishbone shirts and Fuck Racism buttons — Fishbone had taken the idea of alternative and blew it the fuck-up and now they’ve seasoned it with layers and grunge and harder rock feel. It’s timeless, but it has aged well.
The Monday concert, a redux of February’s Thursday night concert earlier this year, was only half as attended (casual estimate this time around was 150 or so, all crowded around the stage and lingering in the surrounding cage and wood-like City Museum maze), but the energy in this crowd was all-over, frenetic, spontaneous, pleasure-seeking and in sync. Angelo’s stump to stump dance moves, his stage dive, followed by the younger Fisher’s stage dive, followed by some Mardi Gras inspired crowd nudity, capped off by some serious soulful spoken word, sprinkled with harmonies, the appropriate use of a theremin and a “what will they do next” mix, put the crowd on an edge in which they danced and generally acted like horny teenagers again.
Angelo stopped his show briefly to salute the St. Louis fans and to comment that playing at the City Museum was like visiting “Willy Wonka’s without the chocolate.” Some venues are just made for some bands, like the Dead and the Filmore or the Whiskey a Go-Go and the Doors. For Fishbone, at least for St. Louis, it’s the City Museum, and the band were like deranged, musical umpa lumpas, and I was like Charlie and my wristband, well that was like a golden ticket.
In memory of March 16 -20, I present my Top 10 Uncle Tupelo songs.
10. “Before I Break” – No Depression
From the debut. On an album of mostly dark small-town songs fusing punk rock along with country comes a song that fuses punk rock with country and is about trying to get through the small town days with the help of liquor. Coming from a small town like Belleville, Ill., a town of German heritage with a brewery (Stag, which closed in 1988) and many industrial businesses, the thought of growing old and spending your last dime on liquor must have seemed like a very real possibility and this song embodies that possibility.
9. “Still Be Around” – Still Feel Gone
In the midst of the punk/country maelstrom that is UT’s second album, Still Feel Gone, comes an acoustic song that could seem out of place; when it’s a song this good, it makes perfect sense. The acoustic guitars and plaintive vocal from Jay Farrar singing “When the Bible is a bottle and this hardwood floor is home,” you can’t help but feel for the bedraggled protagonist of the song and answer that, yes, you’ll still be around to put him back together when he breaks in two.
8. “Wipe the Clock” – March 16-20, 1992
For their its album, UT hired Peter Buck to produce a 90 degree turn from the assault of the first two albums. March is a gorgeous album of original songs that fit perfectly with the 6 traditionals and 1 Louvin Brothers track. “Wipe the Clock” is an original (I would have included “Moonshiner” and possibly “Coalminers” had I included traditionals in my top 10) that closes the album with harmonica, grace and one of the strongest Jay Farrar vocals ever.
7. “Fifteen Keys” – Anodyne
Anodyne, Uncle Tupelo’s fourth album, is my favorite. The blend of pedal steel and banjos open up the songs and give them a more personal sound to make up for the lack of the personal lyrics of the first two albums. I admit to being more of a sound and music listener rather than someone who focuses on the lyrics. Sometimes the simple sound of the lyrics and how they’re sung can make the best instrument. For example, listen to the line “Danger slow sign ahead, exhaust fumes Thin Lizzy instead…” and let the words wash over you.
6. “Grindstone” – March 16-20, 1992
An opening song that marked a new Uncle Tupelo, one that was willing to risk an absolute change in direction and managed to mesh perfectly with the murder ballads and traditional songs yet to come. “Maybe a waste of words and time….” Hardly.
Dannie Boyd: If someone follows your Facebook page or any type of rhetoric that you display you can tell that you’re a socially conscious person, do you think that influences what you select or play?
Needles: Yeah, it definitely does. I can’t ignore the fact that I have opinions about certain things and I take issue with a lot of things that go on in society. I feel that I would be a hypocrite if I were to play things that I consider part of the problem. It’s fine for people who are able to not let music influence what they do, but the truth of the matter is — just like a lot of things in society — music has a big influence as well. I would rather play more progressive music than not. Not to say that I don’t play anything that people may deem negative, but the difference is that I come from a soul aspect. I definitely limit the negative stuff but I don’t believe everything should be positive.
When I say progressive I don’t necessarily mean positive, I just mean more innovative, something to stimulate. Something that people might consider [to be] a negative record could still stimulate and push you musically. But when it’s just about one specific awful aspect of human life I don’t really respond well to that. A lot of times a lot of the things people produce are solely for money, and when that’s your main driving force I can’t really relate to you. When I hear just utter ignorance over a beat it’s hard for me to get down with it. I can’t promote that because I’m the DJ. I’m basically promoting your record if I play it. I’m saying I agree with this, I’m okay with this, I’m fine with this, so I can’t do it. I’ve never been able too.
My tapes back in the day were very (pauses), I was a discriminating dude. I didn’t tape just anything off the radio. We’re talking about taping off the radio like it’s real serious. I was serious about taping stuff off the radio. I was like, “Man no, I’m not about to tape this MC Hammer song. I can’t do it.” It’s funny, I was down with MC Hammer when he first came out, then he started doing stuff like “Can’t Touch This” and “Too Legit to Quit.” I liked “Turn This Mutha Out” and “Pump it Up” and all that stuff from the first album, and then it seemed like he went and got all pop and everything, which is fine to him. But I was not with him because he was MC Hammer; I was with him when he made good music.
That’s basically how I conduct myself now. I’m not going to show any allegiance to anyone just because they’re that person. They have to prove to me that they’re worthy of my allegiance. There are some artists that you can basically just expect good things from, like Mos Def. He might miss a couple of times with the beats he picks but he’s never going to be a disrespectful dude on his records. And even if he does put out something that’s really gritty, it’s a story, and more times than not it’s a cautionary tale. The current rap guys that talk about drug selling and all this stuff, it’s not cautionary; it’s just them talking about it. It used to be cautionary. It used to be, “Yeah we’re talking about this but understand that we’re not down with drug dealers like that, we’re not down with selling to kids.” It’s just gotten to a point where that’s the state of hip hop specifically. That’s the state we’re in with a lot of the mainstream hip hop.
It’s obvious that you have the mainstream hip hop that sells out and then you have a lot of artists that will start out with a great career and then slowly kind of drift away. Do you feel the same thing can happen with DJs?
Yeah! I do. I do. I’m fearful. I’m definitely fearful, but I don’t want to think about it too much (pauses). I don’t know if I’m fearful, I’m aware. I’m aware of that possibility, but (pauses). I don’t think it’s going to happen if you just keep being true to what it is that you do. If you keep trying to jump on different bandwagons that’s going to translate to the audience that you really have no identity to yourself. You’re trying to hang on for dear life, and that’s kind of weak. If you have a platform, your own identity, for what it is that you do, you really don’t have any reason to fear falling off or drifting away. And if the crowd gets smaller, that’s not cool, but at least you still have a crowd. You’ll still have a crowd, that’s the main thing. You’ll still have a crowd whether it’s 30 people coming out as opposed to when it was like maybe 300 people coming out, but you still have that 30 people that still understand what it is that you’re doing and they still appreciate what it is you’re doing. In my opinion, I don’t need that 270 people that left so quickly. It’s like, “You guys never knew me. You never knew what I was doing, obviously, so later for you.” I’m glad you’re gone so then I can focus in on the 30 people that actually want what it is I’m putting through.
How would you describe the Needles identity?
Um (pauses). Basically progressive soul music. As far as the DJing is concerned, progressive soul music. Definitely I’m concerned with having people dance and wild out and everything, but I also want to be able to play different things and not get stuck with just one type of element. I want the audience to understand that they can dance to different things, they can just let go, they can have fun. That’s what it’s all about, just positive fun. Really, it’s kind of like fellowship, fellowship in music. I just want a lot of music lovers to understand that DJs like myself, and definitely the DJs in my crew, the Soulition, that’s our goal. Our goal is to just fellowship through music. Good music. We want that feel good crowd.
As far as DJ and audio equipment is concerned, do you have a preference for what equipment you use?
(pauses) Yeah. As far as turntables are concerned I’m definitely a Technics 1200 dude. Real sad that they’re not making them anymore. But I’m glad I got mine (laughs). I actually got two sets, so I’m really happy about that. As far as mixers, I was definitely a big Vestax guy. They’re still good, but right now I’m using a Behringer, which is basically a want-to-be Pioneer. Sort of (laughs). Not a want-to-be, but it’s a more affordable model than the actual Pioneer. They’re basically similar. They’re big, but it doesn’t have to be that big, I just want the effects that it provides. It’s more of a futuristic type of a thing when you’re mixing. You’re able to echo things out and distort the noises and things like that. Just another element that you can add to your set.
Needles, I like Shure needles. Stanton is pretty good. Headphones, I was using Technics headphones for the longest, but then my girlfriend bought me the Beats [headphones] by Dr. Dre, which are great, obviously. I’m very thankful for those. I’m real simple. I’m real simple, even with Serato on the laptop I use. I have a Mac but I really don’t need it. I don’t need it to be a Mac. When I was laptop shopping I was looking for just a laptop, period, that I could afford. I’m thinking, “I guess if I want to afford one I’m just going to go ahead and get a PC, like maybe a Dell or something.” Then I see these prices and they’re like 500 or 600 dollars. Then I go over to the Mac area and this one is like 700 something. So I’m like if I’m going to get a laptop and pay 500 or 600 dollars I might as well just get a Mac for a little extra. So I just went ahead and did that and it works well.
“My name is Needles…I got to have a needle on the vinyl.”
Nappy DJ Needles is known across the St. Louis hip hop and soul scene for his turntable tactics and fresh groove for every occasion. Needles describes his comical yet interesting story of how he came up with the name Needles. “I wanted to make people understand that when they hear ‘Needles’ they know that they’re going to get somebody who’s playing records with an actual needle to the record,” he says.
This past month I had the opportunity to sit down with Needles (government-appointed name James Gates) at the all-too-familiar St. Louis Bread Company on the Delmar Loop during the noon rush. As a laid-back and easy-going person, Needles told me all about how he got his start, his name and enough background information to write a book in this detail-packed, one-of-a-kind interview. Below is Part 1 of the interview. Come back tomorrow for Part 2.
Dannie Boyd: Where did everything start for you music wise?
Needles: Well, my father is a well-known DJ in St. Louis and other parts of the country so we always had records and all that stuff. We had tons of records in the house, so music was kind of in my life at birth. Growing up I never had a desire to become a DJ though. I always loved music but that was not my initial path. I’m a cartoonist. I draw, I illustrate, I do all of that stuff. I’ve been drawing since I was 2, so I was going towards that through pretty much the whole school experience all the way up to high school in ’94 when I graduated.
That fall in ’94 is when I did my first party. That came about from my brother’s friend who needed somebody to do some music for her birthday party. He knew I had tons of tapes I made off the radio and I had a couple of CDs. I didn’t have any money back then so I didn’t really buy CDs. I had tapes, cassette singles, things like that. He just knew I had all this music so he kind of suggested me to do the party. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I immediately thought, “I’m not about to just press play and let the whole tape just play.” I guess I kind of just had that instinct to figure out how I’m going to DJ a party with tapes and cater to that party. I quickly figured out, “Okay, I need a main radio.” I didn’t have any type of system or anything; this is early, early days. My sister had a boom box, and it had dual cassettes, so I had that. And it had the turbo bass and all that stuff. I knew that would carry because it was just a basement party. Then I had the smaller radio that I would use to cue up the different songs on my tapes. While the main song was playing I would be busy finding another song, rewinding and fast-forwarding and cueing up the next song. So that’s how I did that. And when I did that something kind of bit me. I got bit by the bug, basically, and the feeling never left. I was just like, man this is awesome! I’m doing my personal picks and people are really responding off of it and I’m responsible for a good portion of the good time that’s being had. So that’s kind of how it started.
When did you put together your first mixtape that you released as a DJ? How did that process go?
Aw man. It was ’98, after tons of practicing. What happened was, from that first birthday party in ’94, I guess word got around that I was cheap (laughs) and I was doing parties just like that. Tapes, a few CDs, but mostly tapes. I would do mini-jams, is what they would kind of be referred to as in high school, in between the years of ’94 and like ’96 or so, ’97, and [I would] get the birthday parties. But then, in the back of my mind I was like, if I want to keep doing this I’m eventually going to get called out by some kid looking at me and how I’m doing it and being like (laughs), “You don’t even have any records. You don’t have a turntable or a mixer; you’re not a real DJ!” And I would not consider myself a DJ [back then]. I didn’t have a name or anything. I was just playing music. But I always wanted to make sure, before that happened, I was skilled in the actual craft.
In ’97 I got a job at Vintage Vinyl. So many records were coming in because around that time, late ’90s, the CDJs [CD decks] were coming in, the CD turntables were coming in, and a lot of DJs were transitioning from vinyl to just CDs and they were selling their vinyl back; a lot of classic pieces that I’ve never seen before. [When] I got the job at Vintage Vinyl, I was able to buy all this stuff half price, and I got all these records. Basically, I took ’97, almost a whole year, just to teach myself how to mix. I was able to come up on this busted mixer that my mom got me. I had two different turntables. They weren’t even real standard DJ turntables; they were like record players. The ones that come with the floor-model stereos. I had one of those, and then I had one that this guy came in Vintage Vinyl to sell. He sold it for like 25 bucks. It was an old Technics turntable. It wasn’t the 1200s, but it was old. And I sort of taught myself how to mix then. I was out a lot and observed a lot of DJs.
So around ’98 I was like “I want to release something.” I was practicing, I was taping what I was practicing, I was mixing and stuff and I was like, “I think I’m ready to release something” because it [mixtape making] was really big in The Loop and St. Louis in general; a lot of mixtapes. So I put it together. A lot of underground, current, hip-hop fellows out at the time. It kind of went real well. A lot of people responded to it. I sold it for 5 bucks. It was in a cassette case like Maxell [brand cassettes]. I did my own graphics like how I do today still, but it was very primitive back then. I cut my picture out, pasted it and copied it (laughs) and put text on it from another cutout. But it was real cool. It was called ’98 Fresh Mixtape. It had a lot of Pete Rock, Black Star, Lauryn Hill. I think I put “Lost Ones” on there. It was real nice, and like I said, people responded to it well, and that was kind of the start. That was the beginning of the mixtape series for me.
Concert review: Two Cow Garage, Cheap Girls and Laura Stevenson and the Cans stress passion at Off Broadway, Sunday, March 13
A wide-open floor on Sunday night unfortunately meant that most of St. Louis had missed another great show of original music at the venerable Off Broadway.
The groups involved — Two Cow Garage, Cheap Girls and Laura Stevenson and the Cans — did not take this as a deterrent and proceeded to work that much harder to win over the predominantly 20-something crowd that had paid the $8 cover to make it in the venue to see some live music.
Currently on a spring tour that started in Lansing, Mich., the 3 bands are working their way through the Midwest en route to their main destination — next week’s South By Southwest Conference in Austin.
The evening of music started at 7:30 p.m. with a short set by St. Louis-based Men Working in Trees playing songs from its self-released single “The Child Has Grown” and EP “Let’s Be Happy.” Then, Laura Stevenson and the Cans, a 5-piece group from Brooklyn, took the stage to play its second show in the Gateway City. Stevenson plays guitar and sings in a singer-songwriter style supplemented by another guitar, bass, drums and an accordion/trumpet player. Her light, airy vocals seem made for an acoustic group and the full band dynamic overpowered her at times. These mostly folk-based tunes had moments of near silence met with crashing waves of power from the band. The hauntingly, beautiful songs only got quieter when Stevenson played a couple of songs solo towards the end of the set. The band will return to St. Louis in May to support a new record being released by Don Giovanni Records next month.
Around 9:15 p.m., Lansing, Mich. trio, Cheap Girls, took the stage for a highly entertaining 45 minute set of 2-and-a-half to 3 minute up-tempo rock songs packed with pop hooks. The trio is like most classic trios (Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr., Buffalo Tom) in that the sound is more about the sum of the three parts and not their musical virtuosity. An economical amount of gear on stage led one to wonder how that much sound could come from 3 guys playing guitar, bass and drums.
While guitar player Adam Aymor played ’90s alternative rock riffs and short solos, Ian Graham’s economical bass playing filled the melody at bottom end without being showy. Standing in the audience it was difficult to decipher Ian Graham’s lyrics, but the band more than made up for that in high energy playing and full sound. Drummer Ben Graham added super solid time-keeping to hold everything together with great fills with a strong emphasis on cymbals.
This mid-20-something band has plenty of original material that draws from 1980s college rock and punk influences, but does not plagiarize its heroes. Playing roughly 150 shows last year and with a tour this year with Against Me! already under the musicians’ belts, Cheap Girls are building a following with an unrelenting touring and release schedule that could certainly keep their star rising.
John Studebaker Hardy was a central figure, something of a guru actually, on the New York folk scene. He founded Fast Folk Magazine and the Songwriters’ Exchange workshops, and inspired a generation of post-Dylan folkies to write about more than just themselves.
I profiled Hardy in a February 1999 issue of the Riverfront Times: “a more literate Celtic Townes Van Zandt, grave in his tone and generous in his ideals, as rooted in the present soil and sky of Ireland and America as he is fascinated by the legends of the past.”
His output is vast, beginning with a classic self-titled album in 1971, and gathered, in part, on a mammoth box set called The Collected Works of Jack Hardy. I had the pleasure of reviewing the 2000 album, Omens, for Amazon.com:
For his first new release since 1997′s Celtic-flavored The Passing, Hardy turns his attention to nonchalant, Americana-ready folk rock and a high-brow library full of poetic images. “I ought to know great literature by heart,” Hardy sings on the opening track, but his reading comprehension is hardly wanting. Hardy’s dense, mysterious conjurings of Irish mythology won’t be to every listener’s taste, though his love songs, with fragrant lines like “the willow weeps although unheard” and “’round this old house the wind it whines / with a knocking keeping time,” are as vivid and intense as any being written today.
Hardy visited the KDHX studios 3 years ago for a session with Songwriters Showcase. Stream the in-studio set (with a revealing interview) below or on the Live at KDHX page, see Sara Finke’s photos here and raise a toast to one of the very best.
One of the highlights of all the unofficial day parties at South By Southwest is the Twangfest and KDHX bash at Jovita’s.
And I’m not just saying that because I love Twangfest.
Over the years we’ve had bands big and small, from Calexico to the Carolina Chocolate Drops to Big Sandy to Tim Easton, all performing for free at a great Mexican restaurant and music venue in Austin.
This year the lineup includes the Baseball Project (featuring Steve Wynn, Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey), the Fleshtones, Viva Voce, Ha Ha Tonka and Zoe Muth and the Lost High Rollers, just for starters.
Get the full lineup and all the details about the parties on March 17 and 19, and I’ll see you in Austin.
Thursday Morning Music News: The Wrens soar, Phil Collins retires (maybe) and Charlie Sheen gets remixed
RIP Mike Starr, former bassist for Alice in Chains.
This is not a hoax: Epitonic has a new track by the Wrens. We repeat: This is not a hoax.
Spinner has an interview with David Johansen about the forthcoming New York Dolls album. Dancing Backwards in High Heels is due out March 15.
Abbey Roads Studios is having an anthemic contest in honor of its 80th birthday.
Consequence of Sound features a glowing review of the new, much-delayed Lupe Fiasco record.
Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart debuts at SXSW. The band features Jon Dee Graham, Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill. They’ll be appearing at the Twangfest and KDHX Day Parties at Jovita’s.
Buzz band Yuck isn’t breaking up, but main Yucker, Daniel Blumberg, has a new side project called Oupa.
Pitchfork has details on a “lost album” by psych-folk rockers Love. Black Beauty is due out June 7.
File sharing site, Limewire, has settled a law suit with the music publishers who shut it down.
The Beale St. Music Festival announces a solid lineup, with the Flaming Lips, Wilco, Mumford and Sons and MGMT among others.
Liam Gallagher is giving interviews about his new band Beady Eye.
Reuters has details of Robbie Robertson’s forthcoming memoirs.
Rob Zombie will not be directing a Motley Crue film.
Forgive the acknowledgement of the horror movie that is Charlie Sheen, but the Roots remix is too good not to share. And if you really need more Tigerblood remixing, Jeff Weiss at Pop & Hiss ranks the winning.