Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Jet Live In Singapore

Breaking news: Melbourne band Jet will be dropping by our sunny shores on June 19 to perform a one-night-only show at Fort Canning Park. Details in the poster above.

Seems like quite a lot of bands are performing at Fort Canning Park recently. Just this year alone, we've had Muse and Hoobastank perform there already. Think it's many times better than the Indoor Stadium.

If you want cheap tickets, better get them early! Listed prices exclude the S$2 charge from SISTIC of course, those buggers...

Monday, April 16, 2007

DMB Special

One of the acts that I MUST watch before I die is Dave Matthews Band, and I'm glad that this dream is about to come true real soon. I'll be flying to Melbourne in about 2 weeks time to catch DMB live in concert!

Knowing that DMB hardly travel out of the US and Europe, I seized on the opportunity to go to Melbourne where they will be embarking on a mini Australia tour this May. These dates were originally meant to be played in April but were mysteriously rescheduled to May.

No matter, I took it as a sign that I have to watch them now, especially since I'm on my last vacation before starting work, and also because I know I don't have the dough to fly to US to catch them.

I have all of DMB's studio albums and live albums, but not those live albums under the Live Trax series. The Live Trax series are available only online, and they release a new album about every 4 or 5 months. It's at Volume 9 now. So my collection consists only of their studio albums, official live albums and some singles.

The very essence of DMB is that they are a live band. And they never play the same setlist twice in a row. In fact, they never like to play the same song the same way twice. That's why they can release so many live albums and their fans still lap them up religiously.

Even though many of their songs overlap across the live albums, each one offers a different interpretation and it's really interesting to hear how they mix things up and improvise. I'm not talking about only improvisations in the solos, but changes in the song arrangements and structures as well.

And very often, they'll bring up on stage a guest musician, usually a friend of theirs, to jam with them. It could be a trumpeter or a guitarist or a banjo player, but each guest musician adds a new dimension to the songs, and the best thing is that they sound like they have playing with them forever. They're that good.

That said, I have my favourite DMB songs of course, and the following list represents my ideal DMB setlist. Not surprisingly, most of the songs are culled from their earlier albums. Their newer material are good, but I guess it takes time to grow on you.

My Ideal DMB Concert Setlist:
  1. Pantala Naga Pampa
  2. Rapunzel
  3. Too Much
  4. So Much To Say
  5. Satellite
  6. Stand Up
  7. Dancing Nancies
  8. Warehouse
  9. Recently
  10. The Stone
  11. What Would You Say
  12. All Along The Watchtower
  13. Granny
  14. #41
  15. Grace Is Gone
  16. Bartender
  17. The Best Of What’s Around
  18. Ants Marching
19. Two Step
20. Tripping Billies

They usually perform about 19 songs a night, so I'm hoping to be lucky here and have them perform 20. But they always play new songs during their shows, so this list will never materialise. Alright, I'll tally the actual setlist for their Melbourne show when I come back in about 3 weeks' time!

Anyway, here's my DMB collection...

Studio Albums
Remember Two Things (1993)

This was DMB's first album, released under their Bama Rags label. They were not signed to a major label yet, and the huge success of this album would spur RCA Records to sign them up.

The album opens with a solitary snare drum beat - 28 beats in fact. It was quite an audacious way to open an album, a debut album at that.

The first 6 tracks are live, while Minarets and Seek Up are studio recordings. I'll Back You Up and Christmas Song are acoustic recordings by Dave Matthews and frequent collaborator Tim Reynolds.

Even on their first record, DMB was already setting stages ablaze with their awesome live performances. Carter Beauford presents a masterclass in drumming here. Just listen to Tripping Billies and Ants Marching.

It's apparent very early in their career that DMB has a truckload of talent. Besides Beauford's drumming, Boyd Tinsley also delivers a blistering violin solo on Tripping Billies. This version of Recently is the extended version, where there's a mid-section featuring a cool interplay between Beauford and bassist Stefan Lessard, before the other members join in one by one.

Dave Matthews also wrote a song specially for his younger sister, naming it The Song That Jane Likes. No prizes for guessing what her name is. This was one of his earliest compositions as well.

A little bit of trivia: this is the only album where the band is credited as The Dave Matthews Band.

Under The Table And Dreaming (1994)

After securing the services of RCA Records, DMB released their second album, Under The Table And Dreaming, in 1994. All f the songs in this album have already been performed and tested on the road even before they stepped into the studio, so it was just a matter of putting the music down to tape.

My favourite tracks off this album are The Best Of What's Around, What Would You Say, Satellite, Dancing Nancies, Ants Marching and Warehouse. That's like half the album already. The other tracks are no slouchers either.

Trivia: The song #34 is programmed such that it appears as track number 34 on the CD, with 22 blank tracks after Pay For What You Get.

Crash (1996)

If Under The Table And Dreaming was good, then surely DMB faced an uphill task trying to top that album. But the amazing this is, they did.

Similar to its predecessor, most, if not all of the songs on Crash had been performed live during their tours prior to recording them in the studio. Tripping Billies finally gets the proper studio treatment and is included here.

My favourite DMB album so far. Must hears are So Much To Say, Two Step, Crash Into Me, Too Much, #41 and Tripping Billies of course.

Trivia: The song #41 is so named because it was their 41st song. It would be the last time they named a song after a number.

Before These Crowded Streets (1998)

This was the album that got me started listening to DMB. I was introduced to the track Stay (Wasting Time) by my drummer senior in 1998 and I was immediately hooked by the syncopated drum beats of Carter Beauford on the track. I then borrowed the album from my senior and discovered what a fab drumer Beauford is.

This album became their first Billboard 200 #1 album, knocking off the Titanic OST, which had hogged the top spot for a whopping 16 weeks in a row. It was also their best-reviewed album and even Dave Matthews himself conceded that they haven't produced a really good album since this one, in the following years to come.

This was the first album where DMB entered the studio with a clean slate. The previous 2 albums were more of putting to record songs that they have tried and tested on the road for years, but this time, they were coming up with songs from sratch.

This album is much more diverse than the previous 2, and DMB engaged the help of a few friends on this one. Famed string quartet, the Kronos Quartet, guested on The Stone; old friend Bela Fleck lent his banjo chops on The Last Stop and Don't Drink The Water; Alanis Morissette provided background vocals on Don't Drink The Water and sang a verse on Spoon.

This album showed a growth in DMB's music and lyrics, most evident on the track The Dreaming Tree, where Matthews dabbled with more poetic imagery. The album was also heavy on darker sounds, in stark contrast to the generally upbeat tunes on the previous 2 albums. In fact, Stay (Wasting Time) is the only outright happy song.

Essential tracks on this album include Pantala Naga Pampa (which leads into), Rapunzel, Stay (Wasting Time), The Stone and Crush.

Trivia: Pantala Naga Pampa means "I have a python in my pants".

Everyday (2001)

This was the album that received quite a lot of flak from the fans at its time of release. After many months in the studio with producer Steve Lillywhite (who produced the band's past 3 records), the sessions were scrapped and DMB called it quits with Lillywhite.

They needed a new direction and in stepped Glen Ballard, most famous for his work with Alanis Morissette and Michael Jackson. What followed was a rapid songwriting session between Matthews and Ballard, and the resulting album, Everyday, was recorded very quickly.

However, Ballard's approach was very different from Lillywhite and it became evident that this record was more of a Matthews-Ballard collaboration than a DMB record. Fans were upset with the overall sound but the album became their biggest-selling yet. It opened at #1 again and held its fort for 2 weeks.

This I must say is indeed my least favourite DMB album, because it is a radical departure from their past albums. It is more pop-oriented and each song is barely 5 minutes long. There are almost no jams and solos from Tinsley and Leroi Moore, and the drum beats are not as captivating as before. This is laregly because of the songwriting process being limited to largely Matthews and Ballard, and the other members were relegated to support musicians.

The best tracks on this album are When The World Ends, The Space Between, So Right, What You Are and Mother Father (featuring a guest turn by Carlos Santana).

This version of the album is the Australian version, and it includes a bonus disc of 5 live tracks. Quite rare.

Trivia: When The World Ends was supposed to be the second single but it was cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks.

Busted Stuff (2002)

This album is part 2 of the Lillywhite saga. The songs that DMB did with Lillywhite were leaked on the Internet and fans got hold of the unfinished tracks. Even though they were not mixed properly, the quality of the songs was undeniable and fans were upset that DMB decided to scrap such good material.

What followed was a well-publicised campaign known as the Release Lillywhite Recordings Campaign. The Lillywhite Sessions, as the rough album was called, eventually evolved into Busted Stuff, as the band gave in to fan pressure and convened to re-record the songs. It entered the charts at #1 too.

They reworked some of the arrangements and wrote two more new songs, You Never Know and Where Are You Going, which was included in the Mr Deeds OST.

Comparing Everyday and Busted Stuff, I must say that the latter is much more in DMB's vein and I like it much more than Everyday. DMB's trademark intricate rhythms are back and there is more contribution from each member to the final product.

Standout tracks include Grey Street, You Never Know, Captain, Grace Is Gone, Kit Kat Jam (an instrumental), Digging A Ditch and Bartender.

This version I have here also includes a bonus DVD of 2 live performances of When The World Ends and Bartender, taken from their upcoming Live At Folsom Field DVD release.

Trivia: The track Kit Kat Jam appears here as an instrumental. However, the version on The Lillywhite Sessions and all subsequent live performances of the song have all had lyrics, though they change on a nightly basis.

Stand Up (2005)

After the Lillywhite saga, DMB were eager to start anew and they hired yet another new producer, Mark Batson, to produce their next album. DMB themselves admitted that they hadn't made a great album since Before These Crowded Streets and they wanted to set things right this time.

Reviews were mixed and I'm not quite sure that I like this album very much either. It's definitely better than Everyday, but only just. The album became their 4th consecutive #1.

This album was released in a DualDisc version. One side of the disc was the regular audio CD while the other side was the DVD content, which showed DMB in the studio during the recording process.

The best songs here are Stand Up (For It), American Baby, Everybody Wake Up (Our Finest Hour Arrives) and Out Of My Hands.

Trivia: Julia Roberts appeared in the Dreamgirl video. She's a fan of DMB. How lucky.

The Best Of What's Around Vol. 1 (2006)

After releasing 6 studio albums with RCA, DMB decided to release a best-of album to fulfil contractual obligations. Recognising that their success was built entirely by their legion of die-hard fans, DMB let the fans vote for their favourite DMB songs to be included.

The first disc would contain 12 songs from their studio albums while the second disc would contain 8 live tracks, all voted by the fans.

In the end, 2 tracks from each of the 6 studio albums were chosen, and 8 previously unreleased live performances made the cut.

A note here. Just because the live tracks were not released officially doesn't mean that the fans do not have a recording of them. Otherwise, how would they know which performance of which song to vote? This is because DMB has always encouraged, or rather, not forbidden taping of their live shows, and there is a very active community of tapers who share their favourite DMB live recordings around.

Trivia: This following information is culled directly from Wikipedia, which I shall reproduce in full here. Really cool:

The album's cover art, designed to look like a concert ticket, features several hidden references:

  • 1241998 — reference to December 4, 1998, the date the Warehouse Fan Association began
  • Saturday, April 20, 1991 — the date of the band's first ever show, performed at theEarth Day festival in Charlottesville, Virginia
  • Section 34, Row 36, Seat 41 — reference to three of the band's "numbered" songs:
    • "#34" (from Under The Table And Dreaming)
    • ""#36" (from Live At Red Rocks and Listener Supported)
    • "#41" (from Crash)
  • the barcode printed on the ticket is the UPC code of the album

Live Albums
Live At Red Rocks 8.15.95 (1997)

This was their first official live album, recorded at the famed Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado. The tracklist absolutely rocks, and it opens with a superb rendition of Seek Up, from their first album.

Listener Supported (1999)

This concert was filmed for a PBS Special and the concert was released on DVD as well. Apparently, the band was unhappy with their performance on this night, but had to release it due to contractual agreements.

This album contains True Reflections, a song composed and sung by violinist Boyd Tinsley.

Live In Chicago 12/19/98 (2001)

Some fans complained that this album contained too many tracks that overlapped with the previous live album. A quick check in the tracklistings reveals that 11 of the tracks are the same. But once again, DMB mix things up with their interpretations of the songs.

This album also contains The Last Stop, a fan favourite and the only time this track has appeared on all of their official live releases.

Live At Folsom Field (2002)

This album contained songs from the Everyday and Busted Stuff albums, and it also contains a non-album track, JTR, that is an absolute cracker. This concert was released on DVD as well.

I quite like this live album, especially the renditions of Two Step, All Along The Watchtower (listen out for a faux electric guitar solo played by Butch Taylor on the keyboards), Recently and JTR.

The Central Park Concert (2003)

Recorded at the famous Great Lawn in New York's Central Park, this concert was watched by nearly 100,000 people, DMB's largest audience to date. Admission was free and the show was a benefit concert for NYC Public Schools.

A DVD release accompanied the album, and it features the band in top form. The most excellent tracks include So Much To Say, which includes a very funky interlude to Too Much, Crush, Dancing Nancies and Warehouse, which featured an interesting Latin mid-section instigated by keyboardist Butch Taylor.

The Gorge 2002 (2004)

This is a 2CD/1 DVD combo set taken off their concerts at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Washington. This set picks out the best moments from the 3 nights that they played at the venue. A special edition of the album includes performances from all 3 nights, available only from their website as a special 6 CD set. Sadly, I don't have this.

The version of Kit Kat Jam here includes lyrics, which took a little getting used to after hearing the instrumental album off their Busted Stuff album for some time.

Weekend On The Rocks (2005)

Another 2CD/1 DVD combo, this live album sees the band return to one of their favourite venues. Their first live album was recorded here a decade ago. This time, they played 4 nights and this album contains highlights from the 4 shows.

An expanded edition, The Complete Weekend On The Rocks, was sold on their website once again. And I don't have this set either. The band donated the receipts from their 4th show to victims of Hurricane Katrina, which totalled over $1 million. Imagine earning $1 million a night!

This album is not bad, and I especially like Time Of The Season, a cover of the 1968 song by The Zombies. The Stone opens the album, and the track ends with the audience singing Elvis Presley's Can't Help Falling In Love. Kinda weird, but strangely nice.

Dave Matthews Solo Stuff

Live At Luther College (1999)

The band's second official live release, though it features Matthews in an acoustic concert with Tim Reynolds minus the band members.

Matthews and Reynolds have been holding acoustic tours every now and then and this arrangment allows DMB's songs to be stripped bare, allowing the audience to focus on the intricacies of the guitar arrangements and Matthews' vocals.

Both of them exhibit virtuoso guitar playing skills and they improvise and jam effortlessly. This album featured a lot of songs from Crash, which was not released yet during the time of the show, so the audience would be rather unfamiliar with the tracks.

A refreshing spin on DMB's songs. It's nice to hear the songs in a different setup, minus the bells and whistles. And they're good by themselves.

Some Devil (2003)

In 2003, Matthews decided to take some time off and work on a solo album that he had been intending to start on for some time. This album allowed Matthews to focus on his songwriting and it reflected a darker mood than the material with DMB.

First single Gravedigger won him a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Performance. The album was quite successful, selling over a million copies. I don't listen to this album much though, but I like Gravedigger, Dodo and So Damn Lucky.

This limited edition also includes a bonus disc containing 5 acoustic live tracks by Matthews and Reynolds .

Recently EP (1997)

This EP contains 5 live tracks, the title track being an abridged version compared to the extended version in their Remember Two Things album. This EP was released just before DMB released their second album, their first under the RCA label.

The 5 tracks in this single are fan favourites. Dancing Nancies and Warehouse are acoustic versions. All Along The Watchtower is a cover of the Bob Dylan classic, and DMB have been performing this song as a concert closer for many years, but not for the last few tours.

Halloween is another favourite that is seldom performed live. This song was later re-recorded and included on DMB's fourth album, Before These Crowded Streets. The lyrics to the song vary from performance to performance and it is the only song in the album not to have lyrics included in the CD booklet.

Ants Marching (1995)

One of my favourite DMB songs, due in part to Beauford's amazing drumming, Ants Marching is a live staple. Early incarnations of the song included only one phrase for Boyd Tinsley's solo, but this segment has been expanded to three phrases in recent years.

Crash Into Me (1996)

This is one their most popular songs and it is noted for its cheeky lyric "hike up your skirt a little more, and show the world to me." Because of this, Crash Into Me was on Clear Channel's list of "songs with questionable lyrics" following the 9/11 incident.

One of their more sublime songs, Crash Into Me builds up gently before increasing in intensity towards the end. Nice.

Don't Drink The Water (1998)

The first single off Before These Crowded Streets, Don't Drink The Water is a dark tale about arpatheid in South Africa (where Matthews was born) and it features Alanis Morissette on background vocals.

This is one their most performed songs in concert and it is usually performed at a faster tempo than the album version. Their most out-and-out rock number Don't Drink The Water is their biggest hit as well, peaking at #4 on the Modern Rock Charts.

The Space Between (2001)

Second single off their much-maligned Everyday album, The Space Between features Matthews on electric guitar, the only time he ditched his acoustic for an album. The straight forward pop hooks of the song meant that the song received considerable airplay on mainstream radio, an occurence seldom seen in their career.

It's an okay ballad, but a little too slick for loyal fans' liking. Nevertheless, this song exposed a lot of new fans to DMB, resulting in Everyday selling 3 million copies despite the fan backlash.

Ok that about wraps up my DMB Special. Really looking forward to catching them live in Melbourne. It's going to be their first stop in Australia and they haven't played since their 3 dates in March, because Matthews and Reynolds have been doing their acoustic tour since October last year. Hope DMB will return invigorated and with a bang!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Rarities #17: Blur: The Best Of (2000)

One of the biggest bands in the UK in the past decade, Blur decided to compile their singles in this Best Of collection, spawning the career from debut album Leisure to 13. This collection is a good reminder of how good Blur was, and might still be today, if they had not gone into a hiatus since their 2003 album, Think Tank.

From Leisure, we have She's So High and There's No Other Way, while For Tomorrow is the sole track here from their second album, Modern Life Is Rubbish. Third album, Parklife, contributed four singles: the title track, Girls And Boys, To The End and End Of A Century.

By the time their fourth album, The Great Escape, hit the stands, Blur was embroiled in a very public competition with Oasis. First single, Country House, was released on the same day as Oasis' Roll With It. Even though the former outsold the latter and hit #1 on the singles chart, as did the album, Blur ultimately lost the war and Oasis became the biggest band in the world by the end of 1995. However, the album did spawn another two hits - The Universal and Charmless Man.

For their next album, the self-titled Blur, they decided to reinvent themselves and the change in musical direction was apparent in their first single, Beetlebum. They ditched their pop happy formula and took on a darker and grungier sound. Second single, appropriately titled Song 2, becmae another massive hit and became a jam band staple. Third single, On Your Own, is included in this collection as well.

After this album, Blur parted ways with longtime producer Stephen Street and William Orbit came on board. Orbit is most famous for his work with Madonna and All Saints and he brought his electronic beats along. As a result, their next album, 13, took on a new direction as well.

First single, Tender, was a most un-Blur song, largely dominated by a gospel hook. Two more hits were culled from the album - Coffee And TV and No Distance Left To Run.

By the time they convened together for this compilation, Blur's musical direction had taken yet another turn. The result is Music Is My Radar, an almost tuneless song characterised by its interesting bassline. Another track, This Is A Low, was recorded specially for this compilation as well.

Personally, I feel that this is a very good collection of songs from Blur and it is good proof why Blur was once the biggest band in the UK. Their early hits were fun and raw, and had the energy of a young band taking on the world with no regard for competition or pressures.

Their later hits became less radio friendly and more experimental but I like those songs as well. The Universal and Tender might sound boring at first, but they really grow on you after a while.I will even say that Music Is My Radar is one of their best tracks.

In fact, their next album after this compilation, Think Tank, is even more experimental and I love the single Out Of Time too.

Well, Blur has gone into hiatus and frontman Damon Albarn has kept himself busy with a few side projects. Besides releasing solo albums, he also found success with Gorillaz and more recently, The Good, The Bad And The Queen. His talent knows no bounds.

There's talk that Blur might regroup in the future. It will be interesting to hear what their sound will be like after all these years. Oasis is still going strong and their core sound hasn't changed much. Maybe we can expect Battle Of Britpop Part II next time.

This special limited edition contains a bonus CD of 10 live tracks, a good companion to the album. Blur is pretty good live as well. Good for you if you have a copy of this edition.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Collectibles #15: Madonna American Life (2003)

After tasting success with Ray Of Light and Music, Madonna decided to retread the electronica path once again with American Life. Reuniting with producer Mirwais, Madonna thought that the album would be another bonafide smash hit for her. However, she couldn't be more wrong.

First single, the title track, was met with universally negative reviews, as critics complained that it offered nothing new, and the rap segment sounded contrived and forced. Courting controversy with the music video, it featured Madonna in military garb amid war scenes.

The video was banned by MTV because America was going to war with Iraq at that time, and it was seen as being too sensitive a subject. Madonna decided to release a toned down version of the video, which simply has her singing the song with flags of different countries flashing in the background.

However, the damage was done by then. The album never really recovered from the early negative publicity and the other singles bombed.

Second single, Hollywood, featured an interesting voice morph segment in the middle, but it didn't resonate with listeners. Love Profusion and Nothing Fails were not bad too, but they didn't do well on the charts. Also included in the album is the track Die Another Day, the James Bond song, which was slammed by many as well.

Included in this special limited edition version is a giant poster and a stamp sheet. The image on the CD is a little eerie as Madonna has only one eye - her left eye is missing. Scary.