Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Funniest Blog, well, Ever

Go read Stuff White People Like.

Right now. You won't be able to stop.

I particularly like this one on Whole Foods, this one on poor people, and, of course, this one on my boy, Barack Obama.

(Thanks again, Fuel/Friends)

Wilco: Live in D.C. (sorta)

So at this very moment I'm listening to Nels Cline absolutely shred his solo for "Impossible Germany," thanks to NPR's live webcast of tonight's Wilco show at the 9:30 Club.

This is a bittersweet moment. It's awesome to hear this show unfold in real time, as the band sounds incredible (major kudos for going back and filling in the gaps with basically ALL the older material). But it's pretty painful to know one of my favorite bands is playing only a few miles from my house and I'm sitting at my computer because the tix sold out before I even knew this concert existed.

Oh, man. "It's Just That Simple." They're going waaaay back (what I would've given to be at those five Chicago shows from last week, where all this stuff reawakened—if you'd like to hear one, go here). Wow, they sound great.

Tweedy: "We looked at a bunch of old setlists from D.C. and tried to play a bunch of songs we've never played here before."

Go ahead, keep twistin' that knife.

"Someday Soon." Indeed, please come back soon. I'll be ready next time, I promise.

11:16 p.m.
"Casino Queen"

Yeah, good job outta me missing this show.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Well, Then Allow Me to Retort: My 100, er, 125 Favorite Songs of the ’90s

Two months ago, my boy Tobin posted his “Top 100 Songs of the 90s,” in response to VH-1’s similar list (which he justifiably despised). His work inspired me to come up with my own reckoning, represented here.

My list is nowhere near as good as Tob’s, because 1) I couldn’t cut down to only 100 (200 probably would have been better!), and 2) I didn’t have the guts to rank them like he did. (If you're curious—and I can't imagine you would be, but anyway—we only overlapped on 12 songs.) What made this chart particularly difficult was deciding whether or not a particular song was still worthy of inclusion; there are tons of songs/bands I used to love (311, Third Eye Blind, Metallica, and Hootie & the Blowfish, just to name a few) that aren’t represented on this list because I really don’t listen to them anymore, so their songs have fallen out of favor. Other bands who had great songs in the ’90s didn’t cross my radar until this decade (Wilco, PJ Harvey, Bruce Springsteen). And still other bands had songs I haven’t listened to in years but, when I popped them back in the CD player, still held up (Bush, Live, and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones apply to this category, among many others).

In other words, this list would have looked vastly different had I compiled it on Dec. 31, 1999. But as it stands now, here are 125 songs from the ’90s that still mean something to me—past, present, and, maybe, the future:

1. A Shot in the Arm, Wilco

2. Alive, Pearl Jam—Has gotten even better with age

3. All Along the Watchtower, Dave Matthews Band via Bob Dylan

4. Angel, Pearl Jam—Back when the Christmas singles were still awesome; pity the whole Dave A. thing means this little gem will never be played live again

5. Ava Adore, The Smashing Pumpkins—Even more powerful when performed live with Jimmy
Chamberlin on drums

6. Bed of Roses, Bon Jovi—There’s a lot wrong with this band, but I love this song

7. Better Days, Bruce Springsteen—A highlight during a rather low period of his career

8. Betterman, Pearl Jam—Best PJ concert singalong

9. Bittersweet Symphony, The Verve—Ah, “Cruel Intentions”

10. Breath, Pearl Jam—Unlike “Leash,” there’s more to this song than just not being played live in a long time

11. Breed, Nirvana

12. C’mon Billy, PJ Harvey

13. Cannonball, The Breeders—Sad that I knew who the Breeders were before I knew the Pixies

14. Casino Queen, Wilco—The first Wilco song I fell in love with; there were many more to follow

15. Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns, Mother Love Bone

16. Clubbed to Death (Kurayamino Mix), Rob D—“The Matrix” is a special movie to me in more ways than one

17. Comedown, Bush—I know they got crushed by critics, but they put on a great live show

18. Corduroy, Pearl Jam—This song was played so much on the radio it wore out on me quickly, but I’ve come to love it once again

19. Crush, Dave Matthews Band—Several songs on this list hold specific sentimental value; this is one of them

20. Dancing Nancies, Dave Matthews Band

21. The Day I Tried to Live, Soundgarden—I’m surprised this CD still works, I played it so much in high school

22. The Distance, Cake

23. Do the Evolution, Pearl Jam—At one point my no-questions-asked favorite PJ song; now I’m not sure which one is

24. Down By the Water, PJ Harvey

25. Drown, The Smashing Pumpkins

26. Dry the Rain, The Beta Band—I will now sell three copies of The Beta Band …

27. Dyslexic Heart, Paul Westerberg

28. Even Better Than the Real Thing, U2

29. Fell on Black Days, Soundgarden

30. Fireworks, The Tragically Hip

31. Freak on a Leash, Korn

32. Free Girl Now, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

33. Gel, Collective Soul

34. Gift Shop, The Tragically Hip

35. Given to Fly, Pearl Jam—I can remember where I was the first time I heard this song; one-third of the “Yield” trifecta of perfection

36. Gone, U2—For some reason I love several songs with this title, but this is the best one

37. Granny, Dave Matthews Band—My favorite DMB song

38. Greedy Fly, Bush

39. Guerilla Radio, Rage Against the Machine

40. Gun, Uncle Tupelo

41. Hard to Imagine, Pearl Jam

42. Hell of a Hat, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones

43. Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me, U2—The first U2 song I ever loved; still one of my top-10 faves

44. High, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack—I haven’t listened to this song in nearly a decade because … my roommate borrowed this CD and loved it so much, he never gave it back!

45. Highway 61 Revisited, PJ Harvey via Bob Dylan

46. Hunger Strike, Temple of the Dog—Hello, Matt Cameron, we’ll be seeing you again in about eight years

47. I Am a Patriot, Eddie Vedder via Steve van Zandt—One of my first “What? You can download live music on the Internet?!?” songs

48. I Got You (At the End of the Century)—One-third of the “Being There” trifecta of uptempo, rockin’ out perfection

49. I’ll Stick Around, Foo Fighters—One of the best drum intros ever

50. If I Should Fall Behind, Bruce Springsteen—This song played at my wedding

51. Immortality, Pearl Jam—I still have no clue what this song is about

52. The Impression That I Get, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones—Released just before high school graduation, it will always bring back memories of that time, both good and bad (but mostly good)

53. In Hiding, Pearl Jam—One of Stone Gossard’s best riffs, and he’s had a bunch

54. Indifference, Pearl Jam—I am apparently one of the few Pearl Jam fans who doesn’t like “Vs.” all that much (on a PJ-relative scale, of course)

55. It’s Good to Be King, Tom Petty—This song kills in concert

56. Jenny Says, Cowboy Mouth—Great hook, meant to be played at maximum volume

57. Jimi Thing, Dave Matthews Band—I’ve never smoked pot, but I still love this song

58. Joining You, Alanis Morissette

59. Jump Right In, The Urge

60. Killing in the Name, Rage Against the Machine—This track holds a special place in my heart for a very specific reason: In college I had a sorta feud with a professor; one day he brought his class over to the grassy area outside my dorm, so we put the speakers in the window and cranked this sucker up as loud as we could. The chorus (yeah, you know how it goes …) was rather appropriate for the situation. He didn’t leave (then), but it made me feel better.

61. Lakini’s Juice, Live—I managed to see their set at the ’98 Tibetan Freedom Concert before the lightning struck and ruined everything

62. Landslide, The Smashing Pumpkins via Stevie Nicks

63. Long Road, Pearl Jam—First PJ song I ever heard in person

64. Lounge Fly, Stone Temple Pilots—Hard to pick favorites off this album, one of my all-time faves

65. Lover Lay Down, Dave Matthews Band

66. The Man Who Sold the World, Nirvana via David Bowie—I was anti-Nirvana for the longest time … then I finally came around, largely because of this album (and this song)

67. Mayonaise, The Smashing Pumpkins

68. Monday, Wilco

69. Murder Incorporated, Bruce Springsteen

70. Muzzle, The Smashing Pumpkins—All-time favorite Pumpkins song

71. No Excuses, Alice in Chains

72. No Way Out, Stone Temple Pilots—I don’t like Velvet Revolver

73. Not For You, Pearl Jam—I was obsessed with this song for a period of time

74. Nugget, Cake—One of the best repeated uses of the f-word you’ll ever hear

75. O Stella, PJ Harvey—What a stunning debut album

76. Off He Goes, Pearl Jam—One of the few PJ tracks that’s better on the CD than in concert

77. One, U2—It’s too bad this has been turned into a fund-raiser

78. One Sweet World, Dave Matthews Band

79. One Time Too Many, PJ Harvey—First of her songs I ever heard

80. Outtasite (Outta Mind), Wilco

81. Pennyroyal Tea, Nirvana

82. Please, U2—One of the band’s most beautiful songs, and that’s saying something

83. Porch, Pearl Jam—I turned into a complete moron the first time I heard this live (they didn’t play it that much at the time, okay?)

84. Present Tense, Pearl Jam—I’ve always wished they’d carried the jam section out a bit longer

85. Red Right Hand, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds—This is all wrapped up in my love for “The X-Files”

86. Release, Pearl Jam—One of Eddie’s best moments on every level

87. Right Place, Wrong Time, The Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies—This one’s for you, Nate!

88. River of Deceit, Mad Season

89. Rock Is Dead, Marilyn Manson

90. Room at the Top, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

91. Rooster, Alice in Chains—Another fabulous Unplugged session; with all the crap that’s on MTV, why can’t they bring that show back with regularity?

92. Rusty Cage, Johnny Cash via Soundgarden

93. Sabotage, Beastie Boys—Perfection

94. Scar Tissue, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Summer ’99 was one of the best times of my life

95. She’s a Jar, Wilco

96. Shit Towne, Live

97. Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite, R.E.M.

98. Sleep to Dream, Fiona Apple—Where is she, by the way?

99. Song 2, Blur—Woohoo! You’ve heard it a million times, but you know you still love it

100. The Song That Jane Likes, Dave Matthews Band—They were so great … for a little while

101. Sonic Reducer, Pearl Jam via Dead Boys—Even after who knows how many listens, still gets my blood racing

102. Spin the Black Circle, Pearl Jam—This was the first cut off “Vitalogy” I played for a friend right after it came out and he said: “I am buying this!”

103. St. Joe and the School Bus, Marcy Playground—I listened to this CD again not too long ago and, you know what, it’s not too bad

104. Stop Breaking Down, The White Stripes—The hipsters still prefer this original, ultra-raw version of the band; I do not

105. Super Bon Bon, Soul Coughing

106. Timeless Melody, The La’s

107. To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey—Ferocious

108. Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart, Stone Temple Pilots—This song is pretty tough on “Guitar Hero”

109. Unglued, Stone Temple Pilots

110. Until the End of the World, U2—On a given day, this could be my favorite U2 song

111. Via Chicago, Wilco—A must-play any time I fly home through O’Hare; I know that’s cheesy, but I don’t care

112. Victory, PJ Harvey

113. Waiting for Somebody, Paul Westerberg

114. Wake Up, Rage Against the Machine—Fly, Neo, Fly! And never come back in any sequels! Please!!!

115. The Wanderer, U2 feat. Johnny Cash

116. Wash, Pearl Jam—I bought “Ten” again in Italy just for this song

117. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Billy Bragg & Wilco via Woodie Guthrie—Fabulous backing vocals from Natalie Merchant; she should probably be on this list somewhere else, too …

118. We’ve Been Had, Uncle Tupelo

119. When I Come Around, Green Day—They had a ton of great songs in the ’90s, but I was never a huge fan

120. Where Is My Mind?, The Pixies—Ah, “Fight Club”

121. Where the River Flows, Collective Soul

122. White, Discussion, Live—I hadn’t listened to this album in yeeeeears, and had forgotten how good it is

123. You Wreck Me, Tom Petty

124. Youngstown, Bruce Springsteen—The live version is stunning

125. Zooropa, U2—Otherwise known as my William Gibson/Senior Year of College soundtrack

And, yes, if you’ve read this far you realize there were a lot of Pearl Jam songs in there. Shocker, I know, but I still cut some that hurt (“In My Tree,” especially). Based on number of songs on this list, here are my top 5 bands of the decade:

Pearl Jam (21)
Dave Matthews Band (8)
U2 (8)
PJ Harvey (7)
Wilco (7)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Crossroads, Indeed: Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Live (on TV)

Robert Plant was absolutely right to screw the Led Zeppelin reunion in favor of touring with new musical partner Alison Krauss. This is the show to see this summer (tour dates are here and here, and tix go on sale soon). This is here, this is now, this is fresh, this is exciting, this is challenging, this is progressive. This is moving forward, not looking back.

Earlier this month CMT aired Plant and Krauss’ episode of “Crossroads,” and it is a thing to behold. The show features several cuts off the duo’s 2007 collaboration, “Raising Sand,” but also includes versions of the singers’ own tunes—performed by their counterpart. Plant’s solo take on “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Hoe Corn” is stirring, but it’s Krauss who will drive the breath from your lungs with her achingly gorgeous performance of “When the Levee Breaks,” violin solo included. And then the two combine to conquer Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” which starts out quietly with a banjo, then simmers to an overflowing boil by the end as the rest of the band kicks in to surround and support the two vocalists.

Certainly not to be outdone, however, are the choice cuts from “Raising Sand.” Lead single “Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)” kicks the show off on the right foot, while “Rich Woman” shuffles along with even more power than on CD. Plant’s “Please Read the Letter,” my favorite track on the album, is a showstopper.

Sprinkled in between the songs are clips of Plant and Krauss sitting around a table talking about the project, and their discussion provides insight into not only the recording of the album, but themselves, as well. They relate how producer T. Bone Burnett challenged each of them to break down their own boundaries. For Plant, that meant restraining his trademark “masculine” bravado and finding out where he fit in this new style of song; for Krauss, it meant matching Plant’s intensity and singing songs from a narrative male perspective.

The dynamics between the duo onstage are fascinating to watch, too, as this taping had to be one of the first times (if not the very first) the two had performed these songs in front of an audience. I don’t know if the cuts were revealed on the show in the order they were played live, but it sure seemed like Krauss warmed up and got more comfortable with the whole thing as the night wore on; Plant, meanwhile, seemed like he was doing his very best to contain his natural lionine stage persona so as not to overwhelm the whole process. The tension serves both of them well.

And the music. Wow, as is typically the case with great performers, it’s even better in the moment than it is on the CD. The band (and especially Plant) cuts loose a bit more and gives the songs a bit more heft, more straightforward power (I’m thinking specifically here of “Rich Woman”). I look forward to hearing “Nothin’” this summer, as it is the heaviest track on the album and should simply explode live on stage.

So of course I’m recommending you watch “Crossroads” and check out the tour if it comes your way. But more than anything, if you haven’t heard “Raising Sand” yet, you’re doing yourself a great disservice. “Crossroads” just confirms what I’m starting to realize: This is one of my favorite albums of all time.

UPDATE: For some reason, this is one of the most popular posts on the site and people are landing here from all over. First off, welcome, and thanks for reading. Second, if you're interested in my thoughts on actually seeing Plant and Krauss in person, you can read them here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Who'da Dunk It?

Tonight, a legend was born, and his name is Dwight "Superman" Howard.

What the 6-11 Orlando Magic center did in the 2008 NBA slam dunk contest will be talked about for as long as the National Basketball Association continues to exist. It was the best series of dunks I've ever seen. At least as good as Michael Jordan in 1988. Better than Vince Carter in 2000. Better than … everybody else. Any other player would have won the whole thing pulling off just one of his throwdowns, and Howard gave us four masterpieces back-to-back-to-back-to-back.

And it wasn't just about Howard's size. It's amazing enough to see a 265-pound behemoth fly through the air and ram the ball home, but Howard completed his attempts with a style, grace, and sense of the moment that equaled Jordan. Like Jordan, Howard not only did things we've never seen before, but things we'd previously thought no human was capable of. Throwing down a blind, left-handed jam from behind the backboard? Seeming to defy gravity and hanging in the air for a windmill slam—after plucking the ball off a stationary perch on the board? Tipping the ball to himself off the glass after leaving his feet? Donning a freaking Superman cape and then taking off from the foul line?!?! It was the kind of thrilling exhibition I wished would just keep going until Howard couldn't leap anymore. I hope he defends his title for the next decade because, watching tonight, it felt like he has a whole bag full of tricks left. He just made it look so easy.

It would be rash to predict that this one performance will change the course of basketball like MJ did back in '88. But one thing's for sure: Howard's name is now emblazoned on the game in a way few others' are. He is now synonymous with the slam dunk contest, and he will never be the same.

If Jordan made us believe a man could fly, Howard tonight made us believe giants can, too.

Friday, February 01, 2008

I Have Seen the Future of Sports on TV …

… and its name is NHL hockey in high-definition. More specifically, Alex Ovechkin in HD.

For reasons I still don’t quite understand, I was a passionate hockey fan as a child. I followed the Caps on a game-by-game basis, even though they were only slightly better than mediocre and always seemed to lose to the Penguins in the playoffs. My favorite player back then was powerful defenseman Dino Cicarelli, who owned one of the hottest slapshots in the entire league.

I also don’t know when my passion for hockey faded, but by the time I left home for college, I could care less. And why should I? By that time the National Hockey League was beginning a long downward spiral that eventually led to contentious labor negotiations and the cancellation of the 2004-05 season. The NHL was left for dead.

HDTV may just be its defibrillator.

Hockey has always been known for its thrilling in-person experience, but the energy, speed, and violence never quite translated to television—until now. Believe me when I tell you the game looks completely different in high-def. It’s a revelation. Under the old broadcasting system, the camera zoomed all over the rink in an attempt to keep up with the puck, a narrow focus that oftentimes left hardly any players in view; with HD’s significantly wider camera angle, the entire zone (from the blue line to the goal) is in the picture at all times, and you can actually see the plays develop. You can see a brawny defenseman line up a bone-jarring hit from the other side of the rink. You can see a wily winger move into an empty hole and wait for a perfect pass.

Which brings me to one Alex Ovechkin.

Ovechkin is the Capitals’ 22-year-old Russian phenom. A left winger, Alex the Great (to pick one of about a dozen nicknames), leads the NHL in goals (42), points (70), and power play goals (16). Last night against Montreal, he scored 4 goals, including the game-winner in overtime (he also assisted on the team’s other goal).

He is, quite simply, Michael Jordan on ice skates. And anyone who knows me should also know I don’t make that comparison lightly. Like Jordan, Ovechkin makes every other player around him look slower, less coordinated, … dimmer. Like Jordan, Ovechkin seems to be able to enforce his will on his competition, and seemingly with ease. Like Jordan, Ovechkin is magnetic to watch, and you expect him to do something spectacular on every shift—he seems to make plays on a regular basis most other players could only dream of accomplishing once in their careers. The intensity of the game picks up when he jumps on the ice, and he puts incredible pressure on opposing goalies.

And, perhaps most important, like Jordan Ovechkin may have found his own Scottie Pippen in center Nicklas Backstrom, a rookie from Sweden who is helping to take Ovechkin’s game to a new level. Since he moved to Ovechkin’s line, Washington’s been on a tear; the Caps won nine games in January, the first time the team’s earned that many victories in a month in decades. The Caps’ scoring is through the roof, sparked by the dynamic duo’s aggressive play. They are pure joy to watch.

I certainly have no idea if the NHL will ever regain even a semblance of its previous popularity. What I certainly do know is that watching Alex Ovechkin play in high-def is downright intoxicating. If you don’t believe me, check out the video below. Then imagine that looking about a million times better.

Can you say Bulls vs. Lakers, circa 1991? Yeah, you know the play.

If anything can save this league, it’s No. 8 in full, glorious HD.