I love the band Blonde Summer. These guys are national treasures! Here's a great video, great song, and great way to kick off Summer 2016! Enjoy.
Philly, Thursday evening, 80 degrees outside. Courtney Barnett playing a packed Electric Factory with the Memorial Day weekend fast approaching. That, my friends, is hog heaven!
Courtney Barnett is a young Australian rocker. She has one full-length CD out, “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit,” that has garnered lots of critical acclaim. It’s really compelling. She clearly is fast developing a sizable following, sort of like this blog site (haha, let’s hope for her sake that her career is on a different trajectory than BillyRocksPhilly).
Courtney is known for her singing style (sort of atonal, but accessible) and her lyrics. Her lyrics reflect a viewpoint that is raw, feminine, cynical, hopeful, and honest. But man oh man, she has A LOT to say. Her songs are not really raps, but they approach that genre in terms of word count – she could have been a lawyer. Suffice to say, this is not the Ramones. Regardless, she is clearly clicking with her fans, many of whom know every word, and have also memorized Moby Dick in their spare time, too.
So what about the music? Well, Courtney is a lefty guitarist, plays with a power trio, and has a grunge background. So she likes to let it rip. These are not the hook-laden songs I usually groove on, but they erupt at various times in blasts of guitar-driven grunge that work well for me. In my opinion, her best songs are those where she really decides to rock, like on “Pedestrian at Best.”
One thing she does know how to do is perform a show that is efficient, with a tight band that rolls through her songs. Her set-list is well-paced, and she ends with a rave-up that has the crowd feeling psyched at the end. Courtney falls prey to the dumbest tradition in rock music, the encore, but aside from that momentum-loser, she is a solid performer with pretty good stage chops.
Not a bad way to spend a Thursday night. I’ll have more on the Electric Factory venue later. For now, enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, thank a veteran for protecting the freedoms that we enjoy, and be safe. Thanks for reading. Oh, and here are some pictures of Courtney Barnett for your viewing pleasure.
A wet and rainy Saturday night. Late May, but chilly, feeling more like early April. A drive down Girard Avenue into a rugged area of Philadelphia that I never frequent. The sidewalks are empty, the storefronts of the check cashing and beer store variety. What am I doing here?
Going to see a great band called DIIV (pronounced “dive”). And man, was it worth it. Why they chose to play the 714 Club in Philly, an unmarked dancehall that looks like a former church converted to a lower purpose, who knows. I had never heard of the club before, but then again, I’m not an urban hipster. I’m 55, double nickels, the speed limit, 5 on 5 full court, and no one else in the club (well, except for my buddy Brian) appeared to be over 35. But there we were, two Main Liners attracted to this dismal area of Philly to see a hot indie band in their element. You should have been there.
You want to know about DIIV’s sound? Check out this Youtube link for their song “Doused”:
If you listened, you know that the music has spacey, trippy guitar melodies on top of a driving beat. It’s quite infectious, bouncy yet intricate, and great to listen to in the car when you feel like exceeding the speed limit. DIIV has a few albums out, and have been on my radar for about a year and half. They are one of the many new indie bands that I have been hoping would come to Philly, and when I saw that they were playing on a Saturday night at the 714 Club, I was all over it. I gave up the opportunity to see Beach Slang at Union Transfer on the same night, but since Beach Slang is from Philly, I figure I’ll get the chance to see them again soon. So down to the Rohrer-sponsored 714 Club for some rock action.
I can’t remember how I found out about these guys, but I’m pretty sure it was a random hunt for new sounds. You know, one of those moments where you’re bored with everything on your iPod, so you go on to Amazon and type in names of bands that you like to see what others bought with the album you already enjoyed. Do you do that? Probably not, because you have a compelling real life, but I do, and have found some great (and, to be honest, not so great) bands as a result. Anyway, I’m pretty sure that’s how I discovered DIIV.
DIIV is based in Brooklyn, a town located somewhere north of Philadelphia. The singer/songwriter is Zachary Cole Smith. Like a lot of indie rock veterans, he has been associated with a number of bands, none of whom I have ever heard. It’s interesting to see a guy with such an extensive professional biography still appear to be such a young guy, but then again, more and more people seem young to me because, compared to me, it’s the truth. Anyway, Zachary was low key, wearing a Beach House baseball hat and talking to people he knew in the crowd before going up on stage. Zachary is joined by 4 other musicians, Andrew Bailey (guitar), Ben Newman (drums), Colin Caulfield (keys) and Devin Ruben Perez (bass). Andrew rocks out hard, and if you know a good chiropractor, you ought to let him know. He is going to need that medical contact in a few years for chronic neck pain. But Andrew, I get it: this band rocks out, and my neck was a bobble-head, too, put in motion by the finger of DIIV’s incessantly great songs and fast-paced beats.
The band rolled through a number of songs that the crowd recognized. And it got them moving. Could we go so far as to say moshing? Well, hell yeah, it was a very, very active mosh night, sending many (but not all) of the women and sober pencil necks in the crowd scrambling for the no-contact zone on the fringes. We were skillfully positioned at the bar, an immovable object that even those on club drugs and alcohol recognize as a danger zone, but it was as active a “dance” floor as I have seen in a while, with multiple crowd surfers and other zaniness. At one point, I looked at the floor, and it was soaked. I pointed it out to another guy, and he used the word “moist,” which was a nice way of saying that it was beer soaked from healthy mano-a-mano contacts.
The club itself is ill-suited for live music. There are no stage lights. None, nada. Usually, there is a rack of about 15 lights that hangs above the stage, but that was not the case here, which didn’t do much to help my photos. In the middle of the room there was a very large mirrored disco ball; it was inspiring me to bust some moves, but it did nothing for the lighting by the stage. There also didn’t appear to be a dressing room. The band members just moved through the crowd and then climbed onto the stage, tuned up, and kicked into song, which was kind of cool actually. The floor was flat and not sloped toward the stage, and the stage was stuffed in a corner (think old 9:30 Club in DC for those who remember that venerable venue) and the stage itself was not elevated enough. This made sight-lines poor for those further back from the stage – my crappy photos are a testament to that. And the acoustics were average at best, and only after substantial tweaking. (There was an opening act who should be thankful that the acoustics were bad enough that I didn’t catch their names because they sucked; thank god for ear plugs, right?) Oh, and there is another small room adjacent to the main space that had a DJ who continued to play during the live show – you could hear it during breaks between songs, which was weird. So all in all, despite the alluring name, this space is made for DJs and dance floor moves, not live music.
And as noted above, it’s not located in the best part of Philadelphia. I’m used to live music venues being located in less gentrified parts of town, but I was thankful for the cool and wet weather as it kept street activity to a minimum. We parked on 7th Street in front of a mid-rise residential building that I would suggest looked like a 70’s era public housing project. But my mobile music machine was still parked in the same place we left it and fully intact when we left the show. So no issues despite the Robocop set of modern-day Philadelphia.
We concluded on the ride back to Valhalla that these guys are really good, play well together, and have a good live show. They would have been so much better playing a real live music venue. But I’m glad I saw them, and happy to have experienced another venue in Philly that I had not previously known about or visited. And on the way home to my house at about 1:30 am, I saw a beautiful fox tear across the street and leap over a four foot wall, one of the pleasures of living in the suburbs.
Here are some photos. I clearly need to learn how to use the camera of my iPhone better. But my photography-savvy friends also tell me that location counts and it helps to push through the crush and get closer to the stage. But that would mean giving up my choice spot leaning against the bar, and hey, let’s not get ridiculous about this blog thing, ok?
Thanks for reading again. Next up is Courtney Barnett on Thursday at the Electric Factory, and then another show next Saturday. I’m not giving up any clues on that Saturday show – it will be shocking, yes shocking, to the 5 loyal readers of this site, and set me up for being pilloried and losing all of your respect. But that’s why I have thick skin.
Until next time, rock on and enjoy your life.
“Well, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar pickers in Nashville
And they can pick more notes than the number of ants
On a Tennessee ant hill
Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty two
Guitar cases in Nashville
And any one that unpacks 'is guitar could play
Twice as better than I will”
Nashville Cats lyrics © CARLIN AMERICA INC, BMG RIGHTS MANAGEMENT US, LLC
John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful wrote the song Nashville Cats many years ago. And as everyone knows, Nashville is Music City. But that’s just for country music, right? Well, no.
I recently had the pleasurable experience of hanging out in Nashville for a weekend. And let me tell you, that is one FUN town. We did the Airbnb thing, and got a nice condo right across the street from Vanderbilt University. Hotels are very expensive in Nashville, and the condo gig worked out really well – more space, less money – but you never quite know what you’re getting with the condo rentals until you show up. I don’t need a super fancy hotel, although I must say that I do like fancy hotels. My three “must haves” are a clean room, a safe location, and a good bed. The last one pretty much became a rule when traveling in Europe – have you ever had one of those European “king-sized beds” that is really two saggy twin mattresses pushed together? Well, I have, and I always seem to wake up repeatedly in the middle crack (that just doesn’t sound right, does it?) and it sucks. Anyway, this airbnb condo was clean, in a good part of town, and the bed was fine. So, it worked out well, and proved to be a convenient and well-appointed base of operations.
Now, the whole purpose of going to Nashville was to eat southern food and go see live music. We threw in some great history, too (more below on that). Let’s start with the music. If you’ve been to Nashville or are a country music fan, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the Ryman Auditorium. The Grand Ole Opry was held here every Saturday night for about 31 years (1943 – 1974), so it’s loaded with country music history. But the building itself is so much cooler than just that historical fact.
Ryman started out as a church. To this day, it still has pews and peaked gothic-style windows that we would associate with Christian churches. If you’re in the south, and you have a church/music connection, you know you’re on to something special. Anyway, the place always was used for more than just praising the lord, and performances were a key part of its history.
One of the cool things about the Ryman is that it was first built in the round, but is now just a semi-circle. It was also originally built without a balcony, but one was added by the Confederate veterans of the Civil War (hence, there is a large sign that says “1897 Confederate Gallery” that still hangs from the balcony) and these two changes transformed the place into an acoustical masterpiece. Its acoustics are the stuff of legend. And with the church motif, it is as close as you come to a cathedral of music. I love this space.
Eventually, the Ryman was looking for anything it could find to fill its nightly bill, and through happenstance, it wound up being the home of the Opry. Now, if you think about when the Opry was based at the Ryman (1943-1974), you will recognize that the Ryman run coincides with the “golden age” of country music, and as such, just about everyone has played the Ryman. You know the names, no need to repeat them here. The Opry eventually left, moving to an ugly modern building on the Briley Parkway outside of downtown, and the Ryman fell derelict for a while. But it did not succumb to the wrecking ball, and was eventually restored to its former majesty. Not only that, it still has live music and the bands that now come through there are a “who’s who” of great performers, including rock, bluegrass, country, gospel, blues and everything in between.
I was so excited about the Ryman that I scalped some tickets for a Friday night show. And check out this double bill: Junior Brown, an American country treasure, and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. For whatever reason, I ended up in the sixth row again, and it was fabulous. Unfortunately, I still had my crappy iPhone 5, and the pictures don’t do the place justice, but I took a lot of pics both during the show and the next day when we took a backstage tour of the building. (By the way, the backstage tour is very cool, and it is worth the price of admission.)
There was one flaw in the Friday night. We had a really obnoxious drunk guy sitting right behind us. He talked throughout the show, hollered “Susan I love you” to Susan Tedeschi repeatedly, and was simply boorish. I gave him some crap (yo, I’m from Philly, it’s what we do), the ushers talked to him a few times, and ultimately, he left early. He was with a girl, not bad looking, but clearly lacking in self-respect. Other than that, the show was badass.
Junior Brown is super cool. He comes dressed in a cowboy hat and suit with a tie. Junior has this funky guitar that looks homemade, and he plays it while it rests upon a stand, sort of like a standup pedal steel, but not really. He has great songs that are the archetype of country music: authentic, American middle class songs about bars, highway patrolmen, drinking, and the like. And he does this great homage to the Ventures with a montage of their songs mixed all together with a country twang. I had seen him open for the Rev. Horton Heat before, and loved him. For me, Junior Brown was as big a reason to go to the Ryman as the headliner.
And that’s not to diminish that headliner. Tedeschi Trucks is a damn fine band, too! They have a lot of good songs, an incredible 9 piece band with two drummers and a full horn section, and Susan Tedeschi, who is a really good singer. Oh, and did I forget to mention Derek Trucks who happens to be one of the best guitarists out there today? They orbit in the Allman Bros alumni circuit, but stand tall and proud on their own. We had seen them at the Warner Theatre in DC with my buddy Jonathan and his wife Sara, and they brought it then and again at the Ryman. I refrained from yelling out that I love Susan because, well, I love Derek, haha. But seriously, it was a rocking good time by a very solid band at the top of their game.
So that was Friday night. On Saturday, it was time to eat and then go honky-tonking on South Broadway. This is where the John Sebastian homage to guitar pickers in Nashville really takes hold. Nashville has become this musical artist’s haven that attracts talent from all spectrums. And the resulting mix of artistic talents does a few things. First, it makes the baseline for musicians in the town very, very high. There are any number of musicians playing with great bands for no cover charge in the city’s honky-tonks, and they are really good. Second, it means that the music industry in this town is thriving. That is clearly opposed to most other places. That happy result accelerates the conglomeration of talent in the town to the point where you have rockers like Kings of Leon, Black Keys, Ben Folds, Jack White, Ke$ha (did I say rockers?), etc, all calling Nashville home. And third, there is an amazing but healthy competition in the town among the musicians, and so much mutual respect it is absurd.
So there we were, going to Tootsie’s, the Stage, Layla’s and the other honky-tonks that line about four city blocks right next to the Ryman and downtown. You go from bar to bar, walk in and check out the live acts, and if you like it, you hang out or you move on if you’re not feeling it. Some even have multiple stages and bands playing in different places within the same venue. No cover charge, no drink minimums, no nothing. There are only a few cities in the country where this kind of live music atmosphere exists, with Austin, New Orleans and Memphis being the obvious examples. So it’s very cool and unique.
We stayed a lot at the Stage. A band led by a guy named Stephen Kelly Hunt played in the evening, and simply rocked out. They performed all covers, no doubt, but even the country music that they covered was backed by a smoking band that gave an edge to the songs. We danced and partied. And here’s one of the cool things about Nashville: the crowd is an incredibly mixed-age bunch, with plenty of boomers like us, but also plenty of college-aged kids and a ton of bachelor and bachelorette parties, too. So we hung with some drunk guys from Philly who were there on a bachelor party, a mixed aged family group, a young couple from rural Missouri, and others. There are plenty of cool people, and a number of eccentrics that only seem to exist in America. It was just terrific fun.
On Sunday, we hung out in Layla’s for a while, and shared a table with a guitarist who I didn’t know and wasn’t playing, but whom everyone else in the joint seemed to know. And there was this 16 year old kid that was playing with the band on occasion, and man, oh man, could this kid rip it up! I can’t remember his name, but he has the gift. And in Tootsie’s, in a middle bar between other bands, we watched some up-and-coming musicians take their chance at an open-mike hour. Nashville is interesting: even though the honky-tonks are touristy, the regulars go to them, too, and musicians just hang out in them to see who else is playing or to try and catch someone’s eye.
Did I mention food? Well, I love barbeque, and we hit two different joints: Edley’s and Martin’s. Both were outstanding, but Edley’s ran out of the brisket before I got my share! We also found a branch of Chuy’s, the small chain of Tex-Mex restaurants that started on Barton Springs Road in Austin. That was a terrific find, and I pigged out on chips and salsa to a disgusting degree. And we ate some southern chow (fried chicken, OMG) at a downtown restaurant, but I can’t remember it’s name – that’s unfortunate because both the food and the service were great. All that washed down by sweet tea. And let me tell you, the southern friendliness of Nashville was amazing, too. It was, my friends, southern heaven.
One other activity, and of the nerd variety, was to go to Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, which is about 20 minutes from downtown Nashville. I don’t have a picture of Jackson, but look in your wallet and pull out a $20 bill, and there he is (do it quickly, though, because Harriett Tubman is going to replace him). The Hermitage is interesting, there is a lot of historical information about Old Hickory, and you get to relive him kicking the Brits asses in New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812. Actually, it was after the war officially ended, but hey, his internet was down and he just went ahead and ruined their healthy breakfast of bubble and squeak for good. And stay out this time! Seriously, the house is cool, and it was so deep in the boonies back then. I don’t know who went to visit him, or how long it took him to go east to the capital, but it must have been one helluva trek. A triumph of American individualism yet again!
So that’s it for Nashville, one of America’s greatest music cities. I want to go again. Yep, it was that fun. I took some pictures of the South Broadway strip as well as the Ryman, and I hope that you like them. If you get the chance, go and have a great time. What happens in Nashville doesn’t stay in Nashville. Rather it becomes a country song that everyone in the world will listen to over and over.
Until next time, thanks again for reading.
I’m just back from Europe and have decided that sleep is for wimps. At least, that’s been my motto this week. I’m shaking off jet lag, going to a show mid-week, working like a dog, and having some other issues that are keeping me from visiting the sandman. But it’s Saturday, and I’m ready to roll again. Are you with me?
Wednesday night I was back at Union Transfer (do they have a frequent concert club?) to see Parquet Courts. These guys are mainly from Texas, but formed in Brooklyn, so now they are a New York band. Whatever. They’ve been around for about 4 years, and have been a hot item for critics and indie rock fans alike. I really like their album Light Up Gold, and was excited about seeing them. I had been so excited about seeing them that I was not only going to see them in Philly on Wednesday night, but also see them in DC the following night. And in a weird booking arrangement at the 9:30 Club in DC, I was going to see Parquet Courts at 7, and then see Titus Andronicus at the same club at 10 under a different ticket.
Things happened that prevented me from going to DC, and I ate the tickets. But I did catch the Philly show of Parquet Courts. And it was good. A solid show and one that I would recommend to others. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as I had hoped, but nothing stands in the way of this band being one of the best of their era. I’m anxious to see how they develop and grow. Here’s a picture of a few of the boys on Wednesday:
Before I get to the show, I’m going to give away one of my secrets for shows at the UT. I never pay to park there as it offends my cheap-ass attitude toward life. Instead, I always look for a street spot and have found this kind of scary and dark place a few blocks away that has proven to be a winner most nights. It’s right by a pistol range, of all things. There is lots of broken glass, and no one ever seems to be around. It’s poorly lit. And while the general area is gentrifying (meaning it ain’t there yet), it is still on the front end of the process of transitioning from crap to not crap. Now, I wouldn’t park in this location by myself, but I figure I can always outrun my companion (or at least they can come back and identify my body later). Anyway, on Wednesday, we zoomed right into a spot in front of the pistol range, and by luck, this one lacked its normal Philly allocation of broken glass. We were in good shape.
(By the way, why is Philly so full of broken glass and litter outside of the few ritzy areas of town? I don’t get it. I don’t see people smashing bottles and throwing litter wherever they are, but I’ll be damned if there isn’t broken glass, trash and litter everywhere. It’s disgusting. And it’s not like every city of this size has to be filthy. Boston and DC are not like that – notice I don’t mention New York here. And don’t even try to compare this to other cities globally – Tokyo is amazingly clean, but has about 6 times the population of Philly, and even Paris, with its piles of dog feces, is better. Anyway, it seems like every time I get away from Rittenhouse Square, I’m stepping around filth, broken glass, and other detritus of human existence.)
Now that I have that out of me, let’s get back to the show. I don’t know if the show was sold out or not, but it was a pretty good sized crowd. I used to say that Philly was a great live music town because every show I went to see was sold out, but that has not been the case over the last two years or so. This is a city with a huge college-aged population (second only to Boston), so there are always people with time and money on their hands and at the correct age to go to a lot of live shows. Recently, the city has seen a boom in venues, and that might explain it, or it could be concert fatigue as bands can only make money these days by touring, but whatever the case, shows don’t seem packed anymore. That’s good in the short term but it will be interesting to see how this plays out locally and nationally.
For Parquet Courts, we got a good spot on the right side of the stage. UT has two elevated areas on each side of the main floor, and if you are lucky enough to get there early, you can lean against a rail (that also has a level spot to hold your beverage) and have an unobstructed view of the stage. Being able to lean on something is key for my old bones, and it’s one of the reasons I like this venue so much. Anyway, we got a rail spot right up front.
A band called the B Boys opened up, and they were fine. The crowd seemed appreciative and for an opening act, they were decent; in fact, one of the better opening bands that I’ve seen for a while. And then it was time for the headliner. We waited. And waited. C’mon guys, we aren’t all students, and some of us actually WORK for a living. In any event, Parquet Courts finally took the stage, and the rocking began.
They rolled through all their best stuff. “Master of My Craft,” “Borrowed Time,” “Stoned and Starving,” and songs from their new album, like “Dust.” They were proficient, sounded good and had the crowd into it.
And yet... something was missing. I know I’ve commented on bands that don’t talk at all from the stage, but these guys were the opposite. They talked so much it was like they were trying to establish their coolness and hipness through audience interaction. At one point, they solicited comments from the balcony, and when a guy yelled “shut up and play” (got to love that about Philly!!), they called him ignorant. But I was right there with balcony boy – too much banter that goes beyond the time needed to tune up the instruments results in breaking the momentum of the show. And that’s what happened here.
I’m also going to criticize the timing of certain songs, and how they played them. I’m a big believer in bands coming out and immediately ripping into a rave-up rocker. It gets the crowd engaged and anticipating much more. The band can then turn it down for a while (but, please, god, no slow ballads), but as the show reaches its end, it’s always best to kick it up a notch again. But PC came out with a slower song, ripped during the middle of the show, and then enthralled (ahem) the crowd with about 5 minutes of feedback to end the set. Now, I like feedback if there remains some melody and song focus in there, but this was simply self-indulgent and boring.
Two more comments. One is that the guy who sings “Stoned and Starving” and “Borrowed Time” is angry. I mean, I’ve never seen a lead singer look so pissed off as he shouted out the lyrics. It was weird. And it’s not like “Stoned and Starving” is an angry song; It’s a slacker song, but it’s not an angry song. In any event, we chuckled about this guy after the show, and hoped that we didn’t see him later hiding in the shadows outside the pistol range.
The other comment is that one of the guitarists/singers had a broken foot or something and couldn’t really walk around. So he was sitting on a stool, and that certainly changed the stage dynamics of the show. Oh well, you take ‘em as they come, right?
I was kind of lazy that night, and didn’t move from my rail spot to get good pictures. The one above and the others below are kind of blurry and purple, which is weird because I didn’t think the lighting was all purple, but the pictures don’t lie. I promise to do a better job next time.
Two more quick and irrelevant items: the first is the cool street art picture below that was taken in the St. Germain area of Paris. It’s not Banksy, but I like it and thought you might, too.
The second is that the next show that I see will be in Florida. So with that thought, here is a picture of the beach that we always frequent in Pompano Beach. Looks pretty good, right?
That’s it for now, hope all is well in your world, and once again thank you for reading.
Provence and the Cote d’Azur. Those words don’t really conjure up images of rock ‘n roll, do they? Not for me they don’t. But great art, oh hells yeah, there’s plenty on that front. Here’s my quick update from the South of France, which is more about art than rock. Just thank god that it’s not about art-rock, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes or Genesis, because you want to be able to keep your food in your stomach where it belongs, right?
Quickly on the rock scene in Provence: it’s thin. There are some clubs around, I guess, as we saw posters, but nothing jumps out at you saying “now this is where you come to rock out.” Nope. Maybe eat good food, drink rosé, see nice country views, and bask in cloudless skies. We did see this guy at an outdoor market in Aix-en-Provence selling CDs and records. The best part was that he was jamming to … Deep Purple’s “Highway Star.” I haven’t heard that song in a long time, and you know what? It sounded great. Rock on, brother!
We also came across this shop in Aix. It was selling instruments, and seemed like a thriving business. And that, my friends, is about the extent of my rock ‘n roll reporting from Provence.
Oh, I almost forgot! There are certain things that the French do really, really well, like wine, cheese, and art. But we Americans do some things great, too, like create the musical styles that the world loves: jazz, blues, country, rock, soul, funk, rockabilly, rap, hip hop, the list goes on and on. We try to emulate the French at things in which they excel, with some success, but it just isn’t the same, and there are some things for which we should simply stop trying and acknowledge that they are the masters. But this isn’t a one way street. They should simply give up on certain things where we as a nation are the kings. Yup, you know what I’m talking about: French rap. It’s AWFUL. We heard some and the only thing that you can do is laugh. Hang up the cleats, Pierre, and go back to the first growths.
Here’s a cool thing the French do (and the Czechs, too, as we first saw this in Prague): they put pianos in public spaces, and anyone with the gumption is free to play. It’s sort of like open mike night but in the train station, on a public square, or wherever. We saw a guy in Paris at Gare de Lyon belting out some tune and singing along, too. He wasn’t too good. But at another rail hub in Paris, we were riding an escalator while Beethoven’s “Für Elise” was being played. A very credible job on that lovely piece, and enhancing for us an otherwise harried and typical transportation scene.
One other cultural phenomena: the French pump odd music into the most interesting places. We were in an H&M store and they were playing some Disney song like “Bippipity Boppity Boo.” Huh? And we were the only ones laughing about it. For god’s sake, man, we aren’t in Tokyo! The French also string together music that shouldn’t be linked. For instance, we heard Sinatra, which is fine, but then it would be followed up by something crazy, like Ex Hex, who I also love, but it’s a weird combination, right? But nothing the French do could top the music choices of the Acme in Newtown Square, spoiling an otherwise decent shopping experience with songs like “Midnight at the Oasis” or “Wildfire.” Ugh, I guess we Americans have nothing on the French after all.
Enough of that, and back to something the French are famous for: art. If you like Cezanne, which I do, and you find yourself in Aix (a very pleasant place to find yourself, by the way), then you would be a fool not to go to the Cezanne studio. Don’t expect much: it’s all of one room. That’s it. But it has a great narration that takes you around the studio area by area, and it’s full of the master’s personal artifacts: objects he painted, the tools he used while painting (ladder, easel), his clothes, some of his furniture, and other interesting things. And about 15 minutes away is a park which was used by Cezanne to paint outdoors, particularly of Mont Sainte-Victore. It has spectacular views, and it’s uncrowded, a rarity in Europe. Very nice.
Another great place in Provence to view scenes made famous by painters you may have heard of include Arles, with its Van Gogh sites (and a pretty cool Roman arena and theater to boot). Arles was neat because some of the scenes remain in similar condition to what Van Gogh painted, and you can view a copy of his painting right at the site of the location.
The Cote d’Azur is another artistic haven. Well, at least the small area that I saw, which was Nice. A very pretty setting, lovely buildings, and great artistic heritage make for a rare combination of agreeable delights. There is a national museum of Marc Chagall’s works in Nice. Thankfully, the Chagall museum contains primarily paintings of religious scenes because it’s really hard to find religious art anywhere else in the rest of Europe. Seriously, he was extremely talented, and made compelling art tying Old Testament biblical stories with bridges to his own Russian upbringing and reflecting the horrors of the holocaust and Russian pogroms. Hard to visualize what that looks like, but trust me, he succeeds.
Matisse is another Nice guy, and there is a museum of his there, too. If you like Matisse, you’ll like this museum. His true masterpieces aren’t part of the collection, but there are good paintings (including his very first, which is pretty cool), sketches, sculpture (I don’t care for his sculpture), and personal effects. You can see how his style evolved and emerged, which is fascinating, and it’s all housed in a pretty old mansion high above the old city of Nice.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, so what about rock ‘n roll? Well, there were a number of clubs that had live music, and there was a big hip hop outdoor concert planned for this weekend. Given that I don’t care much for hip hop, it doesn’t bother me that I’m missing that. There were also signs around for the Nice Jazz fest in July. It’s not all jazz: James Hunter (blues, good live act) and George Clinton (funk, unbelievably good live act – one not to be missed before you die) will partake. If I were in Nice in July, I would definitely make an effort to get up on the downstroke, but I’ll be somewhere else that month. Nonetheless, it appears that Nice has a music scene of some respectability.
OK, enough of this, right? I’m back stateside, and ready to rock out. Here’s a couple of bands that kept me going while riding the trains in France; check ‘em out. Some are new, some are old, some lean toward rock, some toward country, but all are good:
Protomartyr: Band of Horses; Plimsouls; Queen; Chumped; Interpol; The Lovers Key; Low Cut Connie; The Jam; Prince; Stereophonics; Stevie Wonder (Is Stevie a living National Treasure or what?); Japandroids; J.D. McPherson; Rosie Flores; Benjamin Booker; and Tenement.
Thank you for reading, and I hope that you, too, have been enjoying great music. Catch you on the flipside. And here are two Roman artifact pictures that I think can be playfully adapted to rock 'n roll. The first must be entitled "(I'm Your) Venus". And the second is simply a 2000 year old mosh pit lover.
Back to modern culture next time, I promise.
I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’m going to deviate from rock ‘n roll one more time. Will you bear with me? Thanks, I appreciate that you are continuing to read. Because I don’t know what you did on International Jazz Day, but I was up to having some good European fun.
This time I’m going back a few thousand years, with a modern Euro twist and some American music thrown in. Say what? Well, hold on. I was just in Lyon, France, and we wanted to check out the city’s famous Roman ruins. I wasn’t aware of the fact that Lyon was known as Lugdunum during the Roman empire, and was the most important Roman city in Gaul. But if you believe the signs in Lyon, that is the case.
And Lyon does have a couple of excellent Roman ruins which would attest to the fact that this was no backwater. Rather, right there on a hilltop with a spectacular view of modern Lyon stands a large theater that could hold about 10,000 people, and a smaller Odeon that held about 3,000. The Odeon was used for music, and has the most wonderful stage floor made up of beautiful marbles from all over the Roman Empire. At least the Romans had it right – music shouldn’t take place in venues that hold tens of thousands because a large venue takes away from the intimacy necessary for a great performance.
There is a small but excellent museum in Lyon that “overlooks” the ruins. In reality, the museum is buried in the ground and has two glass viewing areas of the area – unobtrusive from the ruins, and thus very well done. If you’ve been to France and seen their more recent architectural offerings (yup, I’m talking to you La Corbusier fans), you’ll understand that this is really saying something. Anyway, the museum is small, well designed, and contains some really interesting archeological finds from the Lyon area.
Included in the museum are some great bronze statues (one was found in the Saone River – can you imagine dredging that up?), wonderful mosaic floors in amazing condition, an ingenious water pump, a bronze plaque containing the speech that convinced the Roman senate to open citizenship to non-Romans, many grave stellas, and the usual assortment of earthenware, coins, small figurines, etc. it’s all very good, easily accessible, and not so large as to lead to museum fatigue.
So what does all this have to do with American music and International Jazz Day? Well, we just so happened to be visiting on April 30, which is International Jazz Day. The French love jazz, and I guess they love it so much that they decided to take this very much American musical art form and have a concert right there in the heart of the Roman artifact museum. So we are strolling around, listening to jazz, checking out 2000 year old artifacts, catching glimpses of fantastic ruins, and pretty much having a grand time.
But here’s the cool or horrific part, depending upon your sensibilities. When we finally got to the area where the musicians were playing, we noticed that the crowd was assembled, folding chairs and all, right on top of a 2d century Roman mosaic floor. Check out the picture above, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
This use of the mosaic floor is consistent with the Roman ruins in Lyon as a whole, because the Lyonnais still use the theaters for live performances during the summer. So as you are strolling around the theaters outside, there are big metal scaffold structures for holding modern lighting and sound equipment. I guess if you have thousands of years of history just lying around, you don’t turn these areas into “thou shalt not use” dead zones, but keep them alive and a vibrant part of everyday life. I don’t know where you come out on the spectrum of opinions about whether or not the ruins should be used, or whether mosaic floors that lasted 2000 years should be sacrosanct, but I think it’s cool that the dead aren’t ruling the living, and that the living incorporate aged objects into the fabric of life today.
I did capture some photos of the jazz musicians (and as the subway signs attest, these were shot on the iPhone 6). The performers were quite good, and really into it, and the small crowd was appreciative. And let it be said that live music is great to stumble on wherever you find yourself in this big world, as I found out in the Roman museum in Lyon. And if you’re ever in central France, Lyon is worth a few days – check out the pics of a street in Vieux Lyon and of a front approaching over the Saone River. Cool, huh?
Veni, vidi, vici? No, I’m not Caesar and I didn’t conquer anything. Maybe et ego vidi et venit aestus? Google tells me this means “I came, I saw, I rocked.” Yup, let’s go with it until some egghead out there corrects my Latin. Hey, didn’t Dewey Finn teach Latin, twice, in “School of Rock?” I think that’s true. Thanks for reading and have a great day!
Here are the additional photos of the band, and those of Lyon.
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.