Your occasional source for heavy metal, progressive rock and hard rock coverage. Whenever I feel like it.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Young Person's Guide to Porcupine Tree

So my friend tells me that he wants to get into Porcupine Tree. The question is: where to start?

Porcupine Tree: Gavin Harrison, Steven Wilson, Colin Edwin, Richard Barbieri
This band has a huge catalogue: ten-plus studio albums, EPs, limited singles and a couple of great live albums. Almost everything has been reissued and is back in print. It's interesting to trace Tree's growth: from psychedelic project to hard-rocking concept album band--and at the center of it all, the peculiar genius that is Steven Wilson.

Here's a by-the-numbers guide to growing your very own Porcupine Tree catalogue. (And yes, I know Blender magazine used to do articles like this but they folded, so there.)

Essential Listening
In Absentia: The album that started to break the band in the United States. Gavin Harrison adds a much needed percussive kick.

Deadwing: The first of a trio of concept albums, this is the soundtrack for a film that has not been made yet.

Stupid Dream: A watershed. Steven Wilson learns how to write psychedelic pop songs with thick, grabby hooks.

The Incident: The band's current effort, another ambitious concept based on the news and how people react to news stories when they are at the center of them. Limited edition comes with a second disc with five more excellent songs.

Interesting Listening
Lightbulb Sun: The bridge album between Stupid Dream and In Absentia, this is the band about to take the plunge into heavy rock.

Fear of a Blank Planet: Practically metal, this is a concept about how media overkill and heavy medication combine to burn out the next generation.

The Sky Moves Sideways: Third album: the budding Tree explore Floydian landscapes on this, SW's first collaboration with Richard Barbieri.

On the Sunday of Life: Features "Radioactive Toy." Compiled from the cassette EPs where this band started, in SW's bedroom.

For the Fans
Up the Downstair: Their second official album received a face-lift when it was re-recorded by the current lineup.

Signify: The first album by the "band" Porcupine Tree. (Technically, it's their fourth). Good songs and hints of the future here.

Nil Recurring: An EP of extra songs from the Blank Planet sessions. Features collaborations with Robert Fripp.

Voyage 34--The Complete Trip: Four takes on an acid trip gone very, very wrong. A psychedelic, electronic version of Rashomon.

Where it all began: the Tarquin's Seaweed Farm tape.
For the Completist: The Outtakes
Metanoia: Ambient outtakes from Signify. Good music to relax to.

Recordings: Outtakes from Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun. Features the classic "Buying New Soul" and the full (15 minute version of "Even Less.")

Staircase Infinities: Remixes and extras from Up the Downstair.

Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape: Good luck finding a copy. These are the leftover tracks from On the Sunday of Life.

Rush: Out in the Cold in Cleveland (again.)

Geddy Lee gives the Secret Sign of the Ancient Mystic Society of No Homers.
Geddy, Alex and Neil have been snubbed again by the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. The Cleveland, OH based shrine will instead consider quality rock acts like Neil Diamond, Donna Summer, and the J. Geils Band.

Oh, and Bon Jovi.

With those criteria in mind, we hereby present our list of

Ten Awards That Rush Will Win Before Being Inducted Into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1) Oscars, for Best Documentary for Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage and for Alex as Best Supporting Actress for his role in Suck.

2) The Secret Order of the Mystic Moose of the Northern Lights (like the Order of Canada they won in 1993, but much more secret.)

3) A Gold Medal at the 2012 London Olympics for Improvised Percussion after Neil plays a 12-minute solo using the surface of the Millennium Dome as a giant timpani.

4) Geddy Lee's silhouette projected on the moon by NASA. Not really an award. Originally, NASA had planned to carve the 2112 "star man" into the moon using an orbital death ray but Roger Waters threatened to sue the agency.

5) Membership in the Ancient Fraternal Order of No Homers (formerly the Stonecutters.) Even more secret than the Secret Order of the Mystic Moose of the Northern Lights, y'know.

6) Playgirl Man of the Year for Alex. (awarded under the name "Big Al Dexter.")

7) An award from the Canine Services Division for Civic Service, for their work in mapping out the fire hydrants in the Borough of Shmeng.

8) A Grammy (awarded in 2012 for their instrumental "Are You Still Playing With That Thing? (Part VII, 'Gangster of Boats' Trilogy) narrowly beating out Jethro Tull for Best R & B Recording.

9) Nobel Prize for Physics (for discovering the black hole of Cygnus X-1).

10) Intergalactic Solar Federation Peace Prize (awarded in 2112).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Quote of the Day

"I love working with the undead, as long as the catering is adequate."
--Beefcake the Mighty (the bass player from GWAR.)

GWAR's new opus, Bloody Pit of Horror, drops on Nov. 9.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Concert Review: Porcupine Tree at Radio City Music Hall

Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree makes a point.
Porcupine Tree's first-ever appearance at Radio City Music Hall was a banner show for the British progressive rock band. The five-piece emphasized their deep catalogue and the psychedelic workouts that made their initial reputation in the 1990s. 

This was not your average set list.

They didn't play "Trains."

The show started with an opening act called…Porcupine Tree. The five members of the band sat downstage and played an entertaining five-song acoustic set with Steven Wilson on acoustic, Gavin Harrison using brushes and Colin Edwin looking overjoyed to be playing upright bass. Starting with the gorgeous, under-played "Stranger by the Minute," Steven Wilson opened deep cuts like "Burning Sky" and "Pure Narcotic" before concluding with an unexpected, stripped-down "Futile," a B-side from Deadwing that is normally played a skull-splitting volume.

Steven Wilson spoke the the audience occasionally, mentioning that there was really "no plan" for the evening's setlist at this historic venue. The show consisted of deep cuts and rare versions (including the full, 15-minute "Even Less") along with old songs like "The Sky Moves Sideways" and "Tinto Brass."

Second guitarist John Wesley left the stage occasionally, letting the band play in its original four-piece configuration. (Wes returned for the newer numbers that require a second guitar part and backing vocals.) The band also sampled gorgeous, softer material, including a version of "Lazarus" that had the voices of Radio City lifted in song.

The second set was more traditional, with newer material from concept albums Fear of a Blank Planet and The Incident. Drummer Gavin Harrison powered thunderous versions of "The Blind House", "Drawing the Line" as Lasse Hoile's videos jittered and twitched behind the band. "Anesthetize" was a climax of the show, complete with a video montage of media overkill, staring children, swirling pills and an electrical barrage that would make Nikola Tesla envious. The three-hour set concluded with "one last song" (as Wilson put it) "but a really fucking long one": "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here."

Here's a nice performance of 'Trains.'

Saturday, September 11, 2010

And now...Gary Coleman!

The Cole himself, making a surprise guest appearance in the video for Raging Slab's "Anywhere But Here." This song is on the New York Southern rock band's underrated (and marvelously titled) masterpiece: Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert. 

D.M.B.C. was their fourth record, a double album that hankered back to the good old days of Molly Hatchett and Lynrd Skynrd before the plane crash. Led by guitarist Greg Strzempka and his wife, slide guitarist Elyse Steinman, the Slab had two strong albums. But the rise of grunge and distribution issues with their record label consigned them to the scrap heap of great but unknown bands. Their last record, titled Pronounced: Eat Shit came out in 2002.

Best Band Name In the World?

So according to our comrades over at MetalSucks (I like their site but don't know the guys personally, some dude is selling the Best Band Name in the World" on EBay.
Random H.R. Giger art, apropos of nothing.

Now, the Bay has seen some wacky shit over its existence: auctioned human kidneys, watches shaped like fish, and even some old smoking pipes and comic books. But nothing could match this for sheer materialistic depravity, not to mention lack of creative genius.

Hey. Come to think of it them's some good band names:
The Auctioned Hüman Kidneys
The Fish Watches
Old Smöking Pipes And Comic Books
Materyalystic Depravity (mathcore band)
The Lack
Creative Genius.

Hmm maybe I need to make some EBay listings....or if you're starting a band, feel free to take one of the names above and thank me in your liner notes.

A'course, you could just go here. It gave me some neat ideas for "E L P."

  • Empty Lifter Property
  • Exuberant Lifter Phenomenon
  • Eligible Loco Puberty
  • Elk Lover Paranoia
  • Escape Lithium Pawn
  • Enthroned Lapse Pinch
  • Even Loan Pole
  • Evolution Lapse Principle
  • Entangled Latitude Pearl
  • Elation Liberation Puzzle

Ten Songs for Sept. 11

I woke up this morning on the ninth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, with a list of songs in my head.

Last year, I posted the songs that I listened to on that terrible morning.

This year, a list of songs that have helped me process what happened. Some of these are topic specific. Some help with depression and PTSD. I hope they help you if you lost someone, or if you just have trouble dealing with today. That's what music is for, right?

1) Metallica: The Day That Never Comes
Not so much the song as the video, which depicts a "traffic stop" in wartime Iraq.

2) King's X: Black Flag
Tremendously effective for depression. Thank you, Ty Tabor.

3) Porcupine Tree: Lazarus
Aching, beautiful, and from the band's superb Deadwing.

4) Bruce Springsteen: The Rising
Springsteen's 2002 album is about 9/11 from different aspects and viewpoints. Highly recommended.

5) Dream Theater: The Spirit Carries On
"Sacrificed Sons" from Octavarium deals directly with the tragedy. But this song is more uplifting and healing.

6) Rush: Peaceable Kingdom
Neil Peart uses tarot imagery to explore his thoughts on the attacks. From Vapor Trails.

7) Iron Maiden: The Longest Day
Nominally about World War II but it also asked questions about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

8) Marillion: This is the 21st Century.
This song came out six months before 9/11.

9) U2: "Beautiful Day."
The leadoff track from All That You Can't Leave Behind helped this writer heal after 9/11.

10) Green Day: Wake Me Up When September Ends
From American Idiot. Need we say more?

Friday, September 10, 2010

And now...Hammerin' Hank

The one and only Henry Rollins and his ode to modern politics, with political "talking head" commentary from two guys in Texas.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Next Drummer for Dream Theater?

Mike Portnoy's departure from Dream Theater has shocked the metal community.

But, waiting in the wings is a great, multi-faceted percussionist whose style is a perfect match for DT's blend of prog rock and metal. He's currently on tour with a Canadian power trio, but should be available after the band gets back from South America.

Watch this video, and tell me, wouldn't this drummer be an ideal replacement?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Mike Portnoy Leaves Dream Theater

Mike Portnoy
I wish I wasn't posting this.

Mike Portnoy has decided to leave Dream Theater.

The drummer and founder of Dream Theater and de facto leader of the band for the past 25 years announce his intention on a blog post on his official site.

Here's an excerpt from the post:

"I must say that at this particular moment, my heart is not with Dream Theater...and I would simply be "going through the motions", and would honestly NOT be true to myself if I stayed for the sake of obligation without taking the break I felt I needed.

I wish the guys the best and hope the music and legacy we created together is enjoyed by fans for decades to come...I am proud of every album we made, every song we wrote and every show we played...."

I'm sorry to all the disappointed DT fans around the world...I really tried to salvage the situation and make it work...I honestly just wanted a break (not a split)...but happiness cannot be forced, it needs to come from within...."

You can read the whole post here.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Freddie Mercury

The voice of Queen would have been 64 on Sunday. Here's a little something in his honor.