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Joe Roberts's Photo I'm a volunteer KDHX music writer and music fan.

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Album review: Green Day forgoes the political rock operas and lets loose on ‘¡Uno!’

Green Day

“¡Uno!” plays as an exuberant, physical release after several years of Green Day’s devotion to political punk-rock operas.

Despite being released as the first in a trilogy of albums, Green Day’s ninth studio album offers no epic song suites whatsoever. Rather, the songs are lean and biting. Boiled down to power chords, breakneck tempos, snotty lyrics and probably some black electrical tape.

As a result “¡Uno!” makes itself much more effective than its predecessor, “21st Century Breakdown.” The album opener “Nuclear Family” stands as a manifesto for the straightforward approach of the album, and takes certain explosive liberties with the idea of the nuclear family along the way. Only vague political overtones pop up throughout the album, which otherwise alludes to and often lampoons the more mundane aspects of modern society. Whether tackling lackluster pop culture or unpleasant blasts from the past encounters, Billie Joe Armstrong spits out something rude and poignant about it all.

Although not as humorous as the band’s early material, the smart-ass and bratty lyrics Armstrong once perfected appear splattered all over and throughout each song. Combined with the hyperactive performance, Green Day sounds in prime form. Songs like “Let Yourself Go,” “Carpe Diem” and “Loss of Control” all set the hectic pace of the album and pile-drive any notion of the group’s past pretensions. This is Green Day having fun.

The band’s 1997 album “Nimrod” may be a quick and easy comparison due to the inclusion of jumpy punk rockers, revamped oldies and an off-kilter song or two. Here, that off-kilter song takes the form of “Kill the DJ.” In the vein of the Clash or maybe Franz Ferdinand (who opened for Green Day circa 2004) the indie-dance song is difficult to take too serious and impossible to dismiss, but stands out as a catchy and bizarre moment regardless. The closing numbers of the album, “Sweet 16,” “Rusty James” and “Oh Love” each allow the hyper-romantic side of the band to poke its head out from the backseat of an old Chevy. “Rusty James” even revisits the bittersweet melody of “Scattered” from “Nimrod.”

Despite its similarities to “Nimrod” make no mistake that the band returns to any prior ’90s form. “¡Uno!” clearly etches yet another era in the 20-plus years of Green Day’s career. Moments throughout the album suggest Cheap Trick or the Clash, but are in no way rehashed or ripped off. Rather they appear more a sum of the many different parts of Green Day. A refreshing and exciting listen, “¡Uno!” belongs in the collection of old and new fans alike.

‘It’s just turned into a super loud sludgy sound, which is awesome’ A pre-LouFest interview with Murph of Dinosaur Jr. / Brantley Gutierrez

Dinosaur Jr. will hulk back into St. Louis bearing towers of Marshall stacks on August 25 for the third annual LouFest.

Known as much for tumultuous internal band strife as for their “ear-bleeding country” tunes, the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr — J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph — bitterly split in 1989. All members pursued various projects throughout the ’90s and early 2000s. The trio reunited in 2005 and has since released two albums, and plans to release a new album, “I Bet on Sky,” due out September 18. Recently the band has played a blur of festivals from Chicago to Belgium.

I had the tremendous pleasure to chat for a good half hour with drummer Murph. We spoke about the new album, how the band rehearses these days, the early origins of Dinosaur — and I finally figured out who that girl was in all the early videos.

Joe Roberts: I know Dinosaur has a new album “I Bet on Sky” coming out this month. Can you tell us a little about the new album?

Murph: Yeah. The main difference on this album is that J really spent a while [working on the vocals]. He spent a good two weeks, which is a long time for him to get the vocals right. There are some really great harmonies, and I was just really impressed. He’s really starting to invest a little more time and effort than before.

How about the drums on the new album? Is it the process of J Mascis mapping it all out or did you find yourself coming up with more of the drum patterns?

Um…I mean it is, but now we interpret stuff. He’s a little more open to interpretation for Lou and me. Again, another big difference is normally we would track drums first, like those guys would play along and would not be recorded, just the drums would be recorded, whereas this time actually Lou was recorded first. So the original bass tracks that he was coming up with and playing along with were kept as the basic tracks, and J layered stuff over that. So, again, that’s pretty huge because a lot of that stuff was a lot more spontaneous and was us just coming up with stuff as we went along. So that was kind of cool.

Is there significance to the title of the album, “I Bet on Sky”?

No. That’s a weird J thing. You’d have to ask him because he didn’t even tell anybody — even us — the name of the record until right before. And unless you specifically ask him why that name he won’t talk about it. You’d literally have to ask him because we don’t know.

On a similar note, do you ever hear J or Lou’s song lyrics and wonder what the hell the song is about?

I know one of the songs has that in the lyrics…. In my own mind I ask questions, but J’s one of those people — you know, I’ve noticed that a good lyricist or a good songwriter has the ability to write a song and write lyrics where you feel like, “Oh, it’s about my life,” or “He’s talking to me!” or about my situation. And I found that’s a pretty good mark that someone’s on the right track and they’re a good songwriter and lyricist. J’s songs always seem to have that effect on everybody. You’re just able to apply it to yourself. That’s just part of his strong point.

How does Dinosaur Jr. prepare for the road?

Well, I’ve actually been living on and off in LA at Lou’s house. He’s got a house with a spare bedroom in Silver Lake. And one of the reasons is that bass and drums are the first thing to come together, and since J is more familiar with the songs he’s able to step in later. So, Lou and I usually put in a pretty good amount of time. Like a good week or more and really get the bass and drums super tight and solid. That’s how we practice. And, you know, we’ll get together with J maybe once or something and have a full band practice. But it’s always been me and Lou getting it together, and I think that’s why I’ve kind of been living out here. But for a tour we’ll try to get together a week or 10 days before, and for about three hours a day we’re in there everyday. We’ll just go through it like we’re playing a show. And we’ll just power through the set.

How has the rehearsing changed since the early days?

Well, there was a little more jamming in the early days, I guess. Whereas now, it’s more specific, we know exactly what we need to do and there’s not as much guess work. It’s more about getting down to work and making things super tight and super solid. Whereas, in the early days it was a little more experimentation because you’re not as sure. But we’ve been doing this long enough that we know how it’ll translate live, so we know what to work on and what will work and what won’t work.

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Concert review: Sebadoh rocks like they always should have, Off Broadway, Wednesday, August 15 / Hedwig Plomp

Lou Barlow, who opened up for Sebadoh with a solo set of his own, has to be one of the busiest guys in indie rock today — albeit with crappy guitars.

Lou Barlow’s Sentridoh, which was the original moniker for his solo output during the time spent with Dinosaur Jr., has since become an umbrella for all his various solo material over the last few decades. Last night’s performance was a real treat for any Sebadoh/Barlow fan.

Sparingly accompanying himself with his infamous baritone ukulele, Barlow serenaded the audience at Off Broadway. He covered a lot of his career in this short solo set. Opening with a new rendition of “Temporary Dream,” Barlow continued to reach way back and play plenty of tracks from the first Sentridoh album, “Weed Forestin’” such as “Jealous of Jesus” and “It’s so Hard to Fall in Love.”

However, during a crudely intimate spoken segment of “I Believe in Fate” — Lou’s dark and smart-ass segments like this tend to be some of my favorites — I heard giggling and laughing from the crowd. That’s something I never would have expected with his older material since it seems so ridiculously serious and self-absorbed. But Lou is now able to make clear what is comical in his music and what is not (let’s face it, most of it is ultra serious). His sense of humor is much more obvious in new songs as “The Ballad of Daykitty” and a new song debuted last night that had a lot to do with “gazing into the calves of champions” and the inferiority feelings Barlow himself experiences when dropping his daughter off at an uppity school. Other highlights of the Sentridoh set included the Dinosaur Jr. contribution “Poledo” and “Ride the Darker Wave.”

When finishing, Lou told us he’d be back. And he was back. Back with Sebadoh. On this occasion, Sebadoh consists of Barlow, Jason Loewenstein, and Bob D’Amico. Initially, I was a bit disappointed that there’d be no Eric Gaffney. I don’t know why I felt like that since when I think of Sebadoh I mainly think of Barlow and his “stinking garden of delights.” But, that didn’t even matter. D’Amico proved a beast on the kit and looked like Tony Danza. He made Sebadoh sound more like a fully-realized rock band rather than a songwriting collaborative project that they were so notorious for throughout the ’90s. The classic “Homemade” and “Rebound” were especially powerful and rocking. D’Amico is precise and intense and really gave such songs a new backbone.

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Concert review and set list: Motion City Soundtrack kills with sweetness at the Firebird, Thursday, June 21

Introducing themselves as the Motion City Clay People (a friendly poke at opening band the Henry Clay People), Motion City Soundtrack didn’t waste any time getting the beyond-capacity Firebird to bounce, sing and make the floors wobble.

I’m a sucker for pop punk. The sweeter the better. Dentists have warned against this molar-melting pop music. But I can’t help myself with Motion City Soundtrack. Once I get started on the band, I just can’t stop. So as you can imagine catching them Thursday night at the Firebird was a treat, one that didn’t rot the ol’ choppers. But enough about my dental hang-ups and more about this dynamic show.

Taking the stage the band staggered into “Circuits and Wires,” the opening track to their new album, “Go.” Right off the bat lead singer and guitarist Justin Pierre forgot a little more than a line or two in the first verse. He quickly regained his composure and chuckled it off. Surprisingly, the band ran through a handful of selections from their back catalog (or “old school” if you’re so inclined) like the lively “A Lifeless Ordinary,” “Point of Extinction” and “Perfect Teeth.” The older songs definitely got uproarious reactions.

And during all these songs, new, old, amazing, indifferent, keyboardist Jesse Johnson literally hopped, heaved and wallowed all over the keys and synths while singing every lyric without a mic and acting as a hype man. Giving Flavor Flav a run for his gold watch medallion, this dude gave 110%. And then some.

As he slapped hi-fives and hung from the rafters, one couldn’t help but to appreciate and reciprocate his enthusiasm. And if that wasn’t enough, he made those dirty, filthy, disgusting sounds on that incredible Moog. Emanating spacey bleeps and boops (“Attractive Today”) and happy-go-lucky leads (“True Romance”) throughout bits and pieces of the set, Johnson even attacked a cowbell at one point earning him the status of the secret ingredient of Motion City Soundtrack, like the diced walnuts in your mom’s chicken salad.

Motion City Soundtrack albums tend to be very involved listens. Plenty of Moog squeals, backing vocals, complicated drum patterns and battling guitars neatly litter their recordings. And Justin Pierre’s constantly cracking falsetto vocals are delicate and precise, and that’s a tough element to translate in a live rock show. He sounded good, but a lot of his vocal nuances got lost in the mix.

That didn’t seemed to have mattered much as the crowd chimed in on damn near every big hook. But what intricacies might have been missing last night, the band made up for with sheer exuberance and energy. While singing, Justin Pierre would often fuss with his super nerd-afro and wipe the sweat off his face or just blatantly clean his black-rimmed glasses. Pierre was hyperactive and hilarious between songs, claiming he downed a Red Bull before the show (something he’s not prone to doing); one might be safe to assume he watches the directors cuts and commentary of ’90s sci-fi films and can talk intelligently about any given topic. He was positive and happy as hell to be playing for a crowd that came out to watch him and his band.

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‘Whatever that magical thing is’ A pre-Twangfest interview with Langhorne Slim

Kate McDaniel

Langhorne Slim has friends with crooked tails, guitars for sale on eBay and a burning desire for music and traveling.

On a rainy Brooklyn afternoon, Langhorne Slim stepped into a nearby shop to receive a perfectly-timed phone call from here in St. Louis. I was the phone call; he was the affable musician. We spoke about his raw rock ‘n’ roll and folk sounds, his new album “The Way We Move” and the comfort he feels on the road. Langhorne will venture to St. Louis to play Twangfest 16 at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room on Friday, June 8.

Joe Roberts: How are you? How’s it going?

Langhorne Slim: I’m good, man. I just came into this little shop here to get out of the rain. Hopefully you can hear me all right. But, I’m doing really well.

You’re on the road right now, is that right?

We got a house show tonight in Brooklyn. And then we leave for Boston tomorrow, which is the official start of our tour.

It seems like you’re on the road a lot. Do you ever catch a break?

Yeah! In fact, I’m just coming off of one right now that is way too long, about a month and a half of a break. Yeah, we tour all the time because I think it’s the way to get music out there, and also it’s just, I feel a lot more at home on the road, and inspired and free when I’m traveling and playing. So it’s a huge part of the lifestyle that I really enjoy.

When you do get a break, what do you do during that time?

Write music. See friends. I had a girlfriend for five years, so I’d spend time with her. I don’t have her anymore, so I don’t spend time with her. But, I’ve been traveling and I’m working on new songs. Just getting ready for the album to finally come out, you know.

It’s a crazy process. You just spend a bunch of time writing new songs and you record them to a record and then you got to wait five to six months for the actual record to come out. So I’m just really, really excited for this thing to finally get out there and to get back out on the road.

How do you think all of the touring has changed you as a person and as a musician?

I don’t know! I’m 31, I’ve been doing it for ten years. So, it’s pretty much most of my entire adult life. It’s just a natural thing for me to do. It was never a conscious thought. I never sat down and thought, “This is what I’m gonna do.” It was just a burning desire to write and perform and to travel with it.

I guess I never even realized that all bands didn’t travel as much. It’s only occurred to me when other people say, “You guys particularly travel a lot.” I’m sure it’s changed me as a person, I just wouldn’t know how. I think I’m just a person that is suited for that kind of lifestyle.

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Concert review: Kevin Seconds, Kepi Ghoulie and Franz Nicolay play the Firebird like a patio jam, Thursday, March 29 / Dani Palmer

Punk-rock icon Kevin Seconds has always said the main intention with his music was to play extremely melodic songs extremely fast. Thirty or so years later, the tempo has slowed down, but Seconds’ songs and vocals have blossomed as witnessed Thursday night at the Firebird.

I devour anything that deals remotely with hardcore punk rock. Discovering certain band’s influences, or favorite TV shows (“General Hospital” seemed especially popular among punks) isn’t unusual for me. Sometimes that can lead to very scary things — TSOL’s stint with hair metal for example — but every now and then I stumble upon and open some surprising doors. It’s especially great to see a punk rocker continue doing cool shit that doesn’t exclusively deal with their past fame, or lack of it in most cases, I guess.

Enter Kevin Seconds, seminal hardcore vocalist for Reno’s 7 Seconds. Despite his hardcore and alternative rock past, he has since carved out a decent niche for himself as a pop-punky folk singer — although that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent at last night’s show at the Firebird. He might draw a sparse crowd but it’s a devoted and loving sparse crowd. Being at this show made me think he might ask someone from the crowd to come onto stage with him and his pals to strum on the guitar to “Heavy Metal Jock” or something. And that’s not too far from the truth.

Mr. Seconds brought along with him on this tour a couple mates, the mysterious and old-timey Franz Nicolay (best known as ex-piano player for the Hold Steady). Nicolay is an extraordinary multi-instrumentalist, performing with the banjo, guitar and accordion, who might fit in somewhere between Tom Waits and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Following Nicolay was the goofy Kepi Ghoulie (formerly of the Groovie Ghoulies), who plays kiddy acoustic punk rock for grown-ass people. Fun, sure, but a little over the top. Ghoulie was accompanied by headliner Seconds on drums, giving the performance a bit more of a rock band-type of feel. His enthusiasm was appreciated but ran thin.

When Kevin Seconds took the stage (damn near midnight, believe me Gramps was pissed, and by Gramps, I mean me) I was surprised at the fun and beyond-relaxed feel to the show. This performance seemed more like hanging with some friends and playing music than a national tour. Seconds has traded his punky shaved head in for a fuzzy and graying beard, his skinhead suspenders for baggy fatigues, his anti-Reagan rants for themes of love and friendship. Not to mention the mere physical transformation since his younger days.

But the man, the legend, is still belting out amazing songs. And this dude can sing! He sounded like a wizened 20-year-old pop-punker, and I couldn’t help but to compare him to Motion City Soundtrack’s Justin Pierre. His right-hand man Kepi Ghoulie sat in on the make shift drum kit, pumping out basic beats and chiming in on vocals as needed, sans microphone. Seconds wandered through his extensive catalog not discriminating between old and new while surveying the fans for requests and telling a fun story about how he was called a rock star for doing a two-date tour with the Dead Kennedys back in 1981. He hasn’t much concerned himself if someone calls him a rock star since.

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‘View art not as a luxury’ An interview with Ximena Sariñana

My attempts at Spanish may be atrocious, but my feelings toward the Mexican pop artist Ximena Sariñana are anything but.

The sprightly, bilingual singer/actress/musician is quickly climbing into the American mainstream with appearances on Jay Leno, a quirky and charming single “Different” and appearances in TV commercials. Despite her busy schedule, I managed to chat with Sariñana about her U.S. network debut, circuit bends, the coolest language to sing in and strange-looking awards from Latin MTV. Take a moment to get to know this young and ambitious musician; it won’t be long until she’s all over the place.
Joe Roberts: How do you pronounce your name?
Ximena Sariñana: Hee-may-nah. Hee-may-nah Saree-nya-nah.

I’ve been saying “Hi-mean-ah.” That’s terribly wrong, right?
Um, yeah.
You recently made your U.S. network debut on Jay Leno. How did that go?
Good. It went amazing. It was a lot of fun. Jay was super nice to us, and we were super excited to play there. And I think the performance came out great.
That performance was with a full band. I’ve also seen you perform as part of an electronic duo. Which do you prefer, or is it more of what the song permits?
I like both of the setups when you’re doing a duo show, or a solo show, or a trio show. It enables you to experiment a lot with different sounds and different arrangements of songs. It’s also cool to play with a full band because it’s loyal to what you were trying to portray on your record. Most of [the different performances] are a fun thing to do.
On your latest album there’s a bunch of electronic and digital sounds. Where do those come from?
Well, there’s a little bit of everything. A lot of them are computer generated, a lot of them are samples. You record a sound and you tweak it in the computer with the right effects and you make it into a beat or something. Or you record a synth and you pass a lot of pedals through it and effects, and that creates another sound. So it’s just a little of everything makes those sounds. We also used a lot of something called circuit bends. It was a pretty eclectic mix to make these sounds.
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‘The desperate need to play music’ An interview with Joe Lally of Fugazi

Joe Lally / Antonia Tricarico

On a quest to express the music he hears in his head, Fugazi’s Joe Lally explores his own songs with bass, drums and cello on his current tour.
Whether it’s with the infamous heavy metal legend, Scott “Wino” Weinrich; playing in D.C. punk bands; having a brush with death in Brazil; touring with Fugazi, one of the most influential alternative rock bands of the last few decades; or finding Italian musicians to collaborate with, Joe Lally shouldn’t have any shortage of topics to discuss. And, yes, the humble bassist still has plenty to say about the music industry.

Working his way across the States with 15 shows in 15 days, Lally will be joined by American cellist Alison Chesley and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino to explore his guitar-bass-drum solo catalog in the most intimate fashion. The trio makes an appearance in St. Louis at Off Broadway on Wednesday, November 9. Despite his busy schedule, the introspective musician chatted with me while recovering from a dusty festival in Austin.
Joe Roberts: What have you been up to in Rome?
Joe Lally: Doing what I do. Writing music and figuring out how to play it. We moved over here just over four years ago, right after my second solo record came out. So I had a couple of years there of trying to find some people who would play with me consistently. I finally settled into that midway through last year. 2010 in June.
Elisa, my guitar player, and I finally found a drummer who could practice with us a lot. I had been playing with a variation of people and we had this same drummer for a while, but he was great and he didn’t even have to practice that much. He would do fine for a tour or a show. But I really needed to practice and I wanted to get new songs going and as much material to work with as I wanted. So Elisa Abela, who’s on the record, started to play with me consistently, and is dedicated to the music and likes it a lot.
Do you miss America at all?
Sure. All my roots and everything to do with your history is not available in a new place. [New places] don’t always share the same touchstones and historical things in your life. Some things line up, but most things don’t. So you miss that a lot.
It’s really nice to be here. I’m so comfortable here! I can speak the language so well! [Laughs] Yeah, my wife’s from here so I’ve had years of hearing it. And my mother’s parents came over from the south of Italy in the ’20s, I guess. So it was always in my mind that it was possible to end up here, but I could never speak Italian because it was lost between her parents and me and my brothers and sisters. For me it’s great to be in a completely different environment. I’m enjoying it.
You’re playing 15 shows in 15 days on this tour. Is that the kind of touring that wears you out?
It is tiring. We went to Japan to do nine shows in 12 days and we were home for 10 days and then we went to Brazil for about two weeks and we were home for two weeks and then I flew over here to meet with American musicians to play this tour. You know, it’s tiring. I try to keep it at like two weeks at a time. I don’t like to be away from my daughter and my wife. It is tiring. Something like this, 15 shows in 15 days, and we did three days of practicing before we played our first show at a festival here [in Austin] which was in a complete dust storm. You know, I’m tired already and it hasn’t even started.
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