I’ve never not enjoyed a show or album of Alicia Keys, though I’ve also felt she can also veer into lyrical cliche. I wanted to love her at the Pantages Friday. But her voice sounded pitchy, made worse by too much echo. She oversang and overplayed. I underappreciated.
Monthly Archives: June 2011
I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve fallen behind on posting my latest articles. I’ve had a review a day up somewhere this week. Monday, it was Gloria Estefan and Harry Connick Jr. at the Hollywood Bowl for the LA Times. Tuesday, I reviewed the Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj show for Spin online. Today, the LA Times runs my review of Eva Gabrielsson’s book “There Are Things I Want You to Know” About Stieg Larsson and Me.
Before there was cinema, there was the circus. During the 19th century, PT Barnum created the Greatest Show on Earth, stretching the public’s understandings of human achievement with acrobats and freaks, and of course, entertaining them with clowns. Then the advent of moving image and sound took the senses and imagination into even wilder terrains. Live theater, including circuses, have never had the same lustre.
Imagine you’re a teenager in suburban Los Angeles and a band of hot female rockers — all of them your age — comes to play at your high school. They sing songs about keeping secrets from their parents and cherry bombs, which seems to be about the blond vixen singer. Cool, right? Well, only if you are.
On April 8, 1976, the Runaways played Francis Polytechnic Senior High school in Sun Valley, California. The gig was a favor of sorts to Lisa Fancher, a Poly High student who also happened to be a writer for Bomp Magazine. Her story “Are You Young and Rebellious Enough to Love the Runaways” was one of the very first features on the all-girl group. As a sister teen, Fancher “got” Jackie, Joan, Cherie, Sandy, and Lita in a way that later boner-driven scribes for Creem and Back Door Man didn’t. (Uber-rock critic Lester Bangs wrote a screed for BDM about his hots for the Cherry Bomb).
“The Runaways are the girls ‘Rebel Rebel’ was written for: don’t-care angels in tight blue jeans with one foot entrenched in their music and the other in a circle of fascinated guys,” she wrote.
But having the band, who had yet to release a record, play at her school didn’t turn out all Rock’n’Roll High School hunky dory. Most of the 100 kids who even bothered to show up scoffed at the Runaways and thought she was a geek for booking them, says Fancher, who went on to found the seminal punk and Americana label Frontier.
“Everybody there was an asshole anyways so after a girl band played they were like, What is this crap? They hated it.”
Ledisi has a song called “Shine” on her new album — couldn’t help but think of my grandson listening to it (his name is Shine). Here‘s my LA Times review.
Ellen Willis still inspires and intimidates me. I first encountered her personally when I was a young copy editor and aspiring music critic at The Village Voice, and she was the vaunted feminist and veteran music critic in house. Researching my 1992 Voice story “The Feminine Critique,” I was amazed by her reviews I found in old issues of The New Yorker, and very nervous when I interviewed her. Two decades later, those essays floored me all over again when I read them in the new anthology Out of the Vinyl Deeps, which I reviewed for the New York Times Book Review.
It’s twenty minutes into Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour, the surprisingly intimate and inspiring film about the new wave feminist band Le Tigre, and an idiotic Aussie DJ has just asked the women if they all have tattoos. There’s a perfect beat of silence, and then Kathleen offers her riposte. There are awkward chuckles, some jokes about buttless chaps, and then the hapless disc jockey asks about Kurt Cobain. (Roll eyes.)
“Part of Le Tigre’s mission as feminists is to counter this mandate that women have to be nice all the time and make everyone comfortable,” bandmate Johanna Fateman later explains.
Up until that pricless moment, I’d been worried that Bomp would be a boring documentary of tepid road stories. I’ve been immersed in Runaways research and reading Belinda Carlisle’s memoir; Hanna’s explanation of Le Tigre’s absurdist food rider pales in comparison to, say, the Go-Go’s infamous groupie videos.
But Bomp, which was released on DVD yesterday, offers its own powerful narrative, of feminists carrying their message around the world, from Australia to Indianapolis, without compromise. There are no shark sex stories, but Fateman does ponder the motives of the shark-hating bassist of Hatebreed. Hanna talks honestly and openly about her move from Bikini Kill to Julie Ruin to Le Tigre. Most affecting is JD Samson’s journey, from awkward moustached youth to international sex symbol. There are bonafide tears at the end, during Le Tigre’s last show.
And of course, Bomp’s driven by the band’s infectious dance music and blissful choreography. Now I have to listen to their records all over again. There are scant few movies about women bands; Who Put the Bomp ranks with Dixie Chicks: Shut Up & Sing as must-see movies about women singing their minds.