The Galaxy – I’d have a cigar, but I don’t smoke

Cover of "Miscellaneous Debris"

Cover of Primus’ Miscellaneous Debris

We began the show with some Primus.  I find it interesting when a band chooses to do an album of covers.  They display their influences, while at the same time giving us what can be interesting interpretations of the material in question.  Such is the case with this Primus covers album, Miscellaneous Debris, from 1992.  While we usually hear their great bassist Les Claypool playing with a four string bass, here we hear Claypool playing on a six-string fretless bass, with allows for a excellent, full, and chunky bass sound.  We heard their cover of Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar, XTC’s Making Plans for Nigel, and Peter Gabriel‘s Intruder.

English: Arnold Schoenberg seated, painted in ...

English: Arnold Schoenberg seated, painted in 1906 by Richard Gerstl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Arnold Schoenberg wrote Verklärte Nacht (trans: Transfigured Night), Op. 4, in 1899, at the age of 25.  He was inspired by a poem by Richard Dehmel, which tells the story of a distraught young woman who confesses to her lover that she carries another man’s child.  The man’s response is that the child will be transformed by their love into his.  The emotions are expressed in the form of a tone poem, written for a string sextet.  His abandonment of classical tonality was still a thing of the future when this was written, but this is far from a standard Romantic-era piece – even if his 12-tone method did not yet exist, he was even then quite the harmonic adventurer, at one point calling for an inverted ninth chord (which caused the piece to be rejected by the Vienna Music Society).  The piece, with its frank treatment of sexual themes, was controversial when it was published in 1902Schoenberg wrote an arrangement for string orchestra, which is performed and recorded frequently.  Tonight’s recording is of the original version for string sextet, a 2000 recording by the Concertante Players.

English: James Brown, February 1973, Musikhall...

James Brown, February 1973, Musikhalle, Hamburg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We next heard some classic James Brown, music that helped define what we would come to call “funk”, music that would set the stage for 30 years of funk, soul, r&b and rap, and which brought a social consciousness into play.  Much of this influence was due to Brown’s business and musical acumen.  His attention to detail in the musical arrangements were a major part of his success.  We have this testimonial from long-time Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker:

You gotta be on time. You gotta have your uniform. Your stuff’s got to be intact. You gotta have the bow tie. You got to have it. You can’t come up without the bow tie. You cannot come up without a cummerbund … [The] patent leather shoes we were wearing at the time gotta be greased. You just gotta have this stuff. This is what [Brown expected] … [Brown] bought the costumes. He bought the shoes. And if for some reason [the band member decided] to leave the group, [Brown told the person to] please leave my uniforms ….

We heard Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, from 1965, Cold Sweat (Parts 1 and 2), and I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself).

Cover of "Telephone Free Landslide Victor...

Cover of Telephone Free Landslide Victory

One of the more musically interesting bands of the mid to late 1980s was Camper Van Beethoven.  The band was one of the key parts of the indie rock movement, and their songs blended aspects of country, ska and punk, often injecting humor into the lyrics.  While they broke up in 1990, they reformed in the early 2000’s, and have since then put out two albums (which I have regrettably been unable to acquire).  Inconvenient, but not a bother, as there are plenty of classics for us to enjoy.  We heard Where the Hell is Bill and Mao Reminisces About His Days in Southern China, both from their 1985 album, Telephone Free Landslide Victory.  We then heard Sad Lovers Waltz and I Love Her All The Time, from their second album, II & III.  We also heard a selection, One Of These Days, from their 1988 album, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart, before finishing with Take The Skinheads Bowling, also from Telephone Free Landslide Victory.

We finished the show with some classic Metallica: Creeping Death, from Ride The Lightning; The Thing That Should Not Be, from Master of Puppets; and Harvester of Sorrow and …And Justice for All, both from 1988’s …And Justice for All

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November 22, 2010 – Walking through a bare, cold wood….

Photo of Arnold Schoenberg in Los Angeles, bel...

Arnold Schoenberg (Image via Wikipedia)

Beauty in music comes in many colors, just as beauty does in nature.  Sometimes we can find beauty in that which is fast-paced and loud.  Other times we find it in the delicate strains of a violin.  It is easy and common enough to find beauty in the work of American or English musicians, but sometimes an excursion to a far-away land can have worthwhile results.  While everyone loves a love song, upon occasion we can find beauty in a song memorializing a Massey Ferguson tractor.  Sometimes there is just as much beauty to be found in the journey as there is in the eventual destination.  So it pays us to keep our eyes open to the various sights and experiences as they present themselves.

We begun tonight’s show with a sampling of both studio and live recordings from the great Led Zeppelin.    It had been a while since I’ve been able to touch on some Zeppelin, so it was quite a joy to hear some this evening, with a blend of material from the mid-point of the band’s tenure, and from two of their later albums (Physical Graffiti and Presence).  Of course, there is some controversy involved with their live material, as there are accusations that Jimmy Page stitched together recordings of various individual songs from various concert sources.  With that said, the recordings as they now stand represent one of the better live bands in rock history, a rare band that could make a song live and breathe onstage.  It is unfortunate that the band has not released any of their post-1973 concerts outside of the 2003 DVD release, from which the following live clip of Achilles Last Stand comes.

The piece that I consider to be the centerpiece of tonight’s show is one that I had intended to play a few weeks ago, upon the occasion of Arnold Schoenberg‘s birthday.  Verklärte Nacht is an early work of his, written when he was 25, and was inspired by Richard Dehmel‘s poem of the same name, as well by the feelings felt by Schoenberg when he first met Mathilde von Zeminsky, his teacher’s sister, whom would eventually become his wife.  Dehmel’s poem tells an exquisite story of two people, a man and a woman involved in a relationship, walking through a cold, bare wood.  The woman tells the man that she is pregnant with a child that is not his, and expresses the remorse that the child was conceived before they had begun their relationship.  The man responds thusly:

“Do not let the child you have conceived
be a burden on your soul.
Look, how brightly the universe shines!
Splendour falls on everything around,
you are voyaging with me on a cold sea,
but there is the glow of an inner warmth
from you in me, from me in you.

That warmth will transfigure the stranger’s child,
and you bear it me, begot by me.
You have transfused me with splendour,
you have made a child of me.”
He puts an arm about her strong hips.
Their breath embraces in the air.
Two people walk on through the high, bright night.”

In this manner, the poem speaks of love that reaches beyond circumstance and transfigures two souls in its warmth.  I could not think of a more beautiful concept.  (Note: the link found in the playlist below takes you to the Wikipedia page, where the full poem, both in the original German and translated into English, is shown.)

Miles Davis had a most interesting musical career, taking major roles in the development of multiple sub-genres within the jazz music idiom.  His drive to try new things led him to be among the first artists to incorporate electronic instruments into jazz music, and almost single-handedly established the format that would eventually be called “jazz fusion” into a formidable force.  Yet his initial vision of this fusion of jazz and rock was quite a bit different than what fusion would become.  His fusion, at least initially, was far more avant garde, with dense layers of often chaotic sound.  He took his recordings, cut them up and restitched them together in the studio in a manner that was often vastly different from how they were originally recorded.  He had envisioned working with Jimi Hendrix, and might have done so if not for the guitarist’s untimely death, and he did at least a portion of his tour supporting the Bitches Brew album as an opening act for Neil Young and Steve Miller (concerts which are happily documented in recent live releases, some of which we play on the show from time to time).  While we might weep at the loss of what such a collaboration might have produced, we are still blessed with this revolutionary music.

We closed tonight’s show with a lovely set of songs from Takk, the 2005 release from the fine Icelandic band Sigur Rós.  Sigur Rós has, over the years, sung many of their songs in “Hopelandic”, which is essentially their form of scat singing (at least, that is how I define it; the titles, however, are in Icelandic).  They have a unique, otherworldly sound which can alternate between delicate, ethereal and wispy, and grand, glacial slabs that sound as big as the glaciers that dominate their homeland.  Several of these songs were also featured in Hvarf/Heim, their 2 cd EP from a few years ago, including Heysátan, an ode to a Massey Ferguson tractor.  Much of their at-times massive sound is achieved by lead singer’s Jonsi’s use of violin bow on the guitar, a technique notably used by Jimmy Page, but with vastly different results.  In the end, they have created some of the most beautiful music that I’ve ever heard.

Sigur Rós is one of those bands for whom a simple aural presentation doesn’t really do them justice.  Their live performance is something to behold.  Below you find clips of several of their songs that we have featured this evening.  Gong and Andvari are from the same Reykjavik show, while Svo Hljótt and Heysátan are from a wonderful sounding clip recorded in Italy.  Sadly enough, I was forced to miss a recent performance of singer/guitarist Jonsi in St. Louis, of which I have had excellent reports.

Composer Performer Title Genre Label
Led Zeppelin
Rock, Classic, Blues-rock
Swan Song/Atlantic, 1975
Achilles Last Stand
Swan Song/Atlantic, 1976
Black Dog
Atlantic, 2003
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Arnold Schoenberg
Concertante Chamber Players
Verklärte Nacht (“Transfigured Night)
Classical, post-Romantic Era
Helicon, 2000
Spanish Key
Jazz, fusion, avant garde
Columbia, 1970
Sigur Rós
Gong
Rock, Indie, Ambient, Experimental, Icelandic
Geffen, 2005
Andvari
Svo Hljótt
Heysátan