Category Archives: Music Writing

Weird Al’s Parody-Free ‘Vanity Tour’ is a Deep-Cut Joy (Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly — Of all the weird things about “Weird Al” Yankovic, this may be the weirdest: While Coolio, Huey Lewis, and Michael Jackson really only had to worry about sounding like themselves, Weird Al and his criminally under-heralded band have to worry about sounding like The Collective Whole of 35 Years of American Pop Culture, plus Don McLean and Bob Dylan sometimes. There’s being diverse and then there’s being profoundly insane: I’ve never been in a band, but I imagine playing a set list that includes Chamillionaire, Madonna, an iconic grunge song, and a runaway polka is tougher than it looks, much like writing parody in the first place.

One guesses this was part of the drive behind Yankovic’s brilliant “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent Ill-Advised Vanity Tour,” which jam-packed the Palladium on Thursday night despite a preemptive barrage of reminders that humanity’s most iconic musical parodist—a guy whose name is synonymous with basically anything that contains some singing and is funny—would not be doing much of that.

Obviously it was one of his best shows anyway.

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Here’s Where “The Hamilton Polka” Fits Into Weird Al’s Rich Polka Catalogue (The Loop/Golf Digest)

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The Loop / Golf Digest — Rejoice, my friends, for though the world is dark and increasing Russian today there is cause for UNABASHED GLEE, because not only has “Weird Al” Yankovic released a new single BUT it’s also a polka medley AND the polka medley is all songs from “Hamilton,” and YES the ricochet-bang sound effect is used right when it should be in “My Shot” and then it’s used LIKE 20 MORE TIMES. God, it’s like my brain had forgotten which synapses turned on the joy. 

Fans of “Weird Al” know, of course, that the polka medley is generally one of the three high points of every album, although arguably it might be fourth on Dare to be Stupid, owing entirely to “I Want a New Duck.” (Only two albums lack them: his debut and “Even Worse,” which has “Stuck in a Closet With Vanna White” so it’s OK.) He also occasionally produces political ones. If you dig “The Hamilton Polka,” you might be wise to check out his other polka offerings, which can be found on his accordion-shaped box set Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of “Weird Al” Yankovic.

ALL OF THE POLKAS.

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A Dad’s Guide to the Indianapolis Concert Season (via Indianapolis Monthly)

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Indianapolis Monthly — Last week saw the beginning of the annual rush of Indianapolis summer concert announcements, a sprawling and diverse roster that veers all the way from bands you liked in the ’70s to bands you liked in the ’90s. Happily for music fans, it’s a long list! Unhappily for music fans, if you are of a certain age (pronounced “mine”), concerts remain ever-increasingly expensive, especially when you factor in babysitting, parking fees, Reputation tote bags, and the number of $12 Coors Lights you’ll half-drunkenly purchase from the lawn vendor at the Ruoff Home Mortgage Guaranteed Rate Bail Bonds Stereo Vacuum Bitcoin Company Music Center and Pawn Shop. To that end, if you are Of That Certain Age Of Which I Am, here’s a thoughtfully curated list of pros and cons for the summer concert season, which will be updated as shows are added (there’s still plenty of space for Buffett and Chesney).

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No Phones at Concerts? Bob Dylan May Be Onto Something (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

“Stop tweeting already”

 

The Loop / Golf Digest — Bob Dylan did a weird thing at his concert Monday night at the IU Auditorium in Bloomington, Ind. Well, he did a ton of weird things. He did nothing but weird things. He played a mostly spoken-word version of “Tangled Up in Blue,” then warmly growled half-dozen old-timey Sinatra standards from the back of the stage while wearing a white dinner jacket. It was a curious evening, is what I’m saying. We never had this problem at Jimmy Buffett.

But the most weirdest of weird things was that Dylan issued a comprehensive cell phone ban and dispatched a surprisingly remorseless staff of IU sophomore volunteers to enforce it with the militant fire you usually only associate with students smuggling flasks of Mad Dog into football games (which actually doesn’t happen at IU, they’re just happy to have people there). These security people were ON IT. I tried to take a picture of the stage — just the stage, with nobody on it, with the house lights on — and two red-shirted valkyries descended on me like I’d just tried to jack Dylan’s trunk of bolo ties. In short, the ban worked — there was nary a telltale blue light in sight. It was impossibly odd to scan the crowd and see actual blackness, a bracingly strange moment of nostalgia, like being in a restaurant where people are smoking.

Which led us to wonder: Is Bob Dylan onto something?

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Slightly Confused Review: Bob Dylan and Mavis Staples at the IU Auditorium (via Indianapolis Monthly)

Indianapolis Monthly — A longtime Bob Dylan–fan friend of mine recently made this very good point: For all of Dylan’s reputation as an inscrutable recluse, a sly mystery, some mythic brand of unknowable stringy-haired wraith, he’s not that hard to catch.

I don’t have the exact math on this—God save anyone who does—but Dylan is on the road so much that everyone gave up and started calling it the “Never-Ending Tour.” He releases an album maybe every other year; the most recent is a set of three CDs. He’s up to 13 editions of his ample “Bootleg Series,” the latest of which comprises eight discs chronicling his still-not-unweird Christian-flavored “Gospel Tour.” (It accompanies the just-released documentary “Trouble No More,” which features gobs of new footage.) To recap: That’s eight archive CDs for a weird spell that produced two albums that people mostly did not like. And while he’s hardly a cover model or anything, he’s good for a major interview or two every year, which was at one time considered an appropriate amount to hear from famous singers.

Point is, if you’re looking, Dylan is about as hard to find as a bag of Doritos. Armed with this revisionist knowledge, I attended my first Dylan concert in 12 years on Sunday night at the IU Auditorium, and found him … pretty much an inscrutable recluse. The full review at Indianapolis Monthly. 

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This is Definitely Not a Review of ‘Springsteen on Broadway’ (via Backstreets)

Backstreets — We’re bound by decades of theater-media tradition not to review Springsteen on Broadway while it’s in previews, making the October 5 performance I was lucky enough to witness off-limits for setlists, spoilers or critical interpretation.

For instance, I can’t say “Holy (redacted)-ing (redacted)”; I can’t tell you how many times my hair stood on end, how many tears fell, or how many times I had to stuff a Playbill in mouth to stop from screaming “HE’S PLAYING (REDACTED) ON (BLANK)” and getting booted right into Dear Evan Hansen. On the other hand, for hours after after I left the Walter Kerr, the best I could come up with is “Gah,” and I’m pretty sure that doesn’t need to be redacted.

So instead of reviewing a show I can’t review, or listing a setlist I can’t list, I’ll instead share these few key pieces of safe, functional, non-review information for those Backstreets readers who may consider attending Springsteen on Broadway.

Can I bring a backpack?
The nice people at Jujamcyn Theaters, which is a word I cannot say (every time I try, it comes out “calvary”), ask in a pre-show email to “Please avoid bringing large bags or backpacks” and later to “Please refrain from bringing large bags and backpacks.” As you may have determined, these are less “hard restrictions” and more “polite requests.” I brought in a backpack containing a portable charger, a notebook, my wife’s backup shoes and a bag of airline almonds I’d totally forgotten about. But the seats are a tight enough squeeze that Jujamcyn probably has the right idea.

The answers to all your burning questions here. 

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Tom Petty: This One Hurts (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

The Loop / Golf Digest — Tom Petty was not a particularly handsome guy, he’d be the first to tell you. He had the same floppy haircut for, as near as I can tell, approximately 45 years, that iconic mix of hippie sweep and Florida dust that I suspect he never regarded in the slightest. Aside from the Mad Hatter video, which can throttle me with nightmares now and I’m a grown adult, or the one in which he danced with the corpse of Kim Basinger, I don’t remember a lot of costumes. Bruce Springsteen is idealized masculinity, a consciously maintained sculpture of the Best of America. Mick Jagger is, you know, Mick Jagger. Prince was essentially sex in the form of a four-foot-tall Minnesota magician, David Bowie an alien from space. Tom Petty watched some TV in Gainesville, Fla., decided he wanted to be a musician and that’s pretty much it, really. Iconic rock stars, particularly those we’ve recently lost, shaded their images by maintaining a thick barrier of pre-social media distance and mythology between themselves and their fans. Petty was a guy, and that was his power, and that’s why his out-of-nowhere loss hurts all the more.

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Happy 33rd Birthday to CDs, Terre Haute and “Born in the USA,” Not in That Order (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

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The Loop / Golf Digest — Thirty-three years ago today, an event of monumental cultural significance took place just down the road here in Terre Haute, Ind., a quiet, unassuming southern Indiana town known primarily for smelling like a barn full of tire fires.

The event: The first-ever production of a music compact disc—a.k.a. the CD—which occurred on Sept. 21, 1984, forever burning in Indiana’s place in music history, alongside (rifles through papers) Michael Jackson and Cole Porter and Axl Rose and Hoagy Carmichael and John Mellencamp and David Lee Roth and Wes Montgomery and yes I get me a little defensive about Indiana. You guys make your flyover-corn and Fat Bob Knight gags, but without us, there would be no “Mr. Brownstone” and that is a Hoosier fact.

All the warm birthday wishes here. 

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U2, power, nostalgia and the arms of America at Lucas Oil Stadium (via Indianapolis Monthly)

Photo / Tony Valainis

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Indianapolis Monthly — First things first: It is futile to resist the first 45 minutes of the tour marking the 30th anniversary of U2’s The Joshua Tree, a nine-song block of monolithic power so expansive and relentless that it’s profoundly insane to put it at the beginning of a concert. This is a show that schedules “Pride (In the Name of Love)” fourth, because the rest of the set is frankly already too crowded.

On Sunday night at a packed Lucas Oil Stadium—with the roof wide open, because outside it’s America—U2 mobilized the assembled force of its history to deliver two hours of sturdy argument for the best show of the year. The first half nearly did it alone: Unfolding more or less chronologically, it fires to life with the militant bangs that open “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and going through “New Year’s Day,” the glistening “Bad” and the flight-worthy “Pride (In the Name of Love)” before the stars-coming-out riff of “Where the Streets Have No Name” directs things to the task at hand, which, you’ll remember, is the start of an album that then serves up “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “With or Without You,” and “Bullet the Blue Sky.” It’s a good 45 minutes before you really have a chance to mull another drink.

The full review at Indianapolis Monthly.

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Attn Fellow Old People: This is What ‘Despacito’ Is (via The Loop / Golf Digest)

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Golf Digest — Over the weekend, the global reggaeton smash “Despacito” became the most-viewed YouTube video of all time, a cross-cultural milestone that came as a total shock to the vast percentage of us who have never consciously heard “Despacito.” Released in January and now boasting more than 3 billion views, the track unseated the previous most-viewed thing in the history of Earth, Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See You Again,” which unseated the previous previous winner, and there’s no way to accurately get across how hard we’re sighing while typing this, “Gangnam Style.”

“Despacito” is performed by Puerto Rican singer Luis Fonsi and reggaeton star Daddy Yankee, two very famous and accomplished musicians whom we would not recognize in the slightest. And while we are experiencing strange sensations of cultural optimism about how America’s wall-happy culture still allows for global-reach music performed in “other languages,” we have no idea what this song is. So, for those of us who confess to being out of touch with this particular milestone (read: are old as hell), a primer to “Despacito,” as written by a guy who will hear it for the first time in approximately 15 seconds.

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