One of the most frequently used phrases in the peculiar lexicon of the music business is "touring in support of." What that deceptively clinical term means is that a record label is forcing a band to sleep in rickety vans, play empty clubs and do long-distance telephone interviews for the purpose of selling records. Despite the possibility of this strategy's backfiring--if a band is a lousy live act or even has an off-night, record sales plummet--touring in support of" remains a non-negotiable part of a group's contract.
Four of this week's upcoming shows are "touring in support of." We decided to allow the records these acts are pushing to do the talking.
Anyone interested in unraveling the anxieties of the slacker-twentynothing set should get a whiff of Tool, the newest noisy deconstruction crew out of L.A.
The six songs hammered out on Opiate, the band's debut disc, are at once angry, psychotic, bitter, confused and flush with the selfishness of postmodern stress overload. These postpunks are pissed--and they appear to mean it, man.
Lead singer-screamer Maynard James Keenan sounds like Sam Kinison a day after death on such crazed anthems as "Cold and Ugly" and "Jerk-Off," both performed in a live setting, both infused with a bubbling dementia. "Jerk-Off," for instance, features Keenan as a frazzled, latter-day Everyman: "Consequences dictate my course of action," he sings softly, with a palpable constraint. Soon thereafter Keenan explodes into a full-blown rage: "Maybe I should just play God and shoot you myself," he screams. "I'm tired of waiting."
Even more effective is Opiate's title track, a brooding profile of a religious mind gone helter-skelter. "It's God's will," Keenan sings calmly. "He speaks through me/He has needs/Just like I do. . . ." The ominous vocals are backed by boffo guitar work from Adam Jones and a rhythm section (bassist Paul D'Amour and drummer Danny Carey) that can pummel with the best of em.
Opiate's not perfect. There's too much speed-metal thumpa-thumpa-thumpa filling space between ideas. And the CD closes with lamebrained drug and satanic references that almost nullify everything beforehand.
Apart from the goofiness, though, Tool appears to be the missing link between Jane's Addiction's old art habits and the more distorted brain chemistry of the Scratch Acid-Jesus Lizard crowd.
Tag Opiate as one of the better CDs of the season.--Ted Simons
Tool will perform on Thursday, July 16, at After the Gold Rush in Tempe, with the Rollins Band. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
In the beginning, the Byrds begat Dream Syndicate and Dream Syndicate begat a classic album, The Days of Wine and Roses. Although it sounded a lot like the Velvets, only noisier, Days inspired many. But, alas, that record was also the high-water mark in the band's fascination with noise. From then on, Dream Syndicate and its chief songwriter, the dry, nasal-voiced Steve Wynn, got more predictable and more conventional. By its last studio record, Ghost Stories, Dream Syndicate's music was full of straightforward song structures and intelligible (but still wonderfully nonsensical) lyrics.
On Dazzling Display, his second solo record since Dream Syndicate's demise, Steve Wynn continues his trek toward mainstream popdom. Happily, he's retained a few noisy touches for any old fans who may be lurking.
Wynn's greatest strength is still his words--weird, singsong, stream-of-consciousness words that easily outrun his melodies. Most also continue Wynn's favorite themes of alienation and disconnection, though now in a personal rather than public vein. "It wasn't supposed to go down like that," he sings in the title cut. "Flashes lit up the sky/Unseen by the public eye."
At times Wynn's well-known fascination with Dylan (and Lou Reed) creeps in. The tune "Dandy in Disguise" opens with lines that could have come from the Basement Tapes: "When he was born, he was scorned, it was sworn that he'd end up no good."
As on Dream Syndicate's records, noise often provides the most vital moments on Dazzling Display. Opening with a rumbling, ultrafunk bass line, the title tune builds to an edgy, appealing tirade in which Wynn's often characterless voice takes on a personality of its own. Aided by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and his omnipresent 12-string, Dazzling Display contains a couple of strummy, better-than-average pop tunes. "Tuesday," with its sweet but uncredited harmonica lick, is easily this album's best. There are surprisingly few missteps here. "Bonnie & Clyde" is the first and, one hopes, the last attempt at an alternative historical epic. And at times, Wynn's attempts at easy-to-digest pop can be cloying. For example, this album's final number, "Close Your Eyes," is entirely too joyous. It's the kind of tune you expect to include either a harmonica or a glockenspiel. Instead we get more Peter Buck, some very tasty organ by Peter Lang and even a violin and a cello.
Better than his initial solo record, Kerosene Man, Dazzling Display isn't brilliant enough to make you see stars. But it has enough feathers and hammers to catch your eye.--Robert Baird
Steve Wynn will perform on Saturday, July 18, at the Mason Jar, with Big Car. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Wire Train
No Soul No Strain
Wire Train is one of those "Rock of the Eighties" bands that never quite made it through the decade. The Bay Area group debuted almost ten years ago with In a Chamber, a confident, "new wavy" album highlighted by the bouncy single "Chamber of Hellos." A 1985 follow-up album, Between Two Worlds, was kind of cool, too, in a "modern music" sort of way.
But then Wire Train suddenly disappeared. The band was last seen power-shifting to neutral behind a flurry of lineup changes and a pair of innocuous discs, all resulting in massive audience indifference to a once-promising band.
But Wire Train's luck may be changing. The band's latest release, No Soul No Strain, is a clever, accomplished collection of perky pop songs neatly manicured for radio playlists. Indeed, the CD's first single, "Stone Me," is already a fave on the alternative-college radio circuit.
In many ways, No Soul No Strain comes off like a rsum of singer-songwriter Kevin Hunter's musical acumen. He gets a faux funk thang goin' on "How Many More Times," and INXS deserves an IOU for the peppy "Willing It to Be." Even the likes of Lenny Kravitz becomes an obvious influence on "Higher," which stands as Wire Train's most convincing cross-pollination of world beat and the Beatles.
But No Soul No Strain has no heart. The CD gives off an unmistakable air of calculation. Only one song, the daydreamy "When I Met You," has an identity in and of itself.
Wire Train will never be accused of breaking new ground, or even revisiting the past with panache. This is simply a decent modern-rock band with too much smarts--and too big a record collection--for its own good.--Ted Simons
Wire Train will perform on Wednesday, July 15, at the Roxy, with Live and Spent Poets. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.
Allman Brothers Band
An Evening With the Allman Brothers Band, First Set
I know what you're thinking. Another Seventies relic on the road, paying the bills with a shameless, passionless recycling of what were once classics. And it's an obvious, if not a downright cheap, shot to say that this record's opening tune, "End of the Road," is an apt metaphor for where the Allmans are. That might have been true until bassist Allen Woody, percussionist Marc Quinones, harmonica player Thom Doucette and guitarist Warren Hayes joined the band. Hayes alone has given this most cherished of American rock n' roll bands new life. Somehow he's managed to perfect the difficult art of evoking Duane Allman's irreplaceable solos while he builds his own style. And having a second guitar ego in the henhouse has also brought new sinew and imagination to Dickey Betts' playing. When both guitarists launch into a twin-leads give-and-take on "Southbound"--the Allman trademark that Lynyrd Skynyrd turned up to a superheated trio--the energy rises above grind-out-the-hits level. The new blood may also have had an effect on the band's sole remaining brother. Despite years of abuse, Gregg Allman's voice is clearer and more expressive than ever before. The gain-from-pain richness he growls into his bluesy "Get On With Your Life" is one of the finest vocal performances of his long career.
All this is not to say that First Set--a worthy third chapter in the proud tradition of Allman live records that began with At Fillmore East--is as glorious or inspired as earlier work. It's not. Twenty years ago, this band lost its only genius, Duane Allman, and a player crucial to its success, bass player Berry Oakley. Rightly seen at the time as fatal blows, those deaths nevertheless ensured the band a place in the history of rock tragedies. And in general, there is undoubtedly something moldy and anachronistic about Southern boogie still alive in 1992.
But after years of halfhearted albums and even worse concert tours, the Fates have smiled on Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe. The young half of this band has given the old a future. It's a point not lost on Betts and Allman. On First Set, the band doesn't venture back beyond its post-Duane comeback, Brothers and Sisters, for material. Partially recorded last New Year's Eve in the band's birthplace of Macon, Georgia, First Set also has the feel of a band coming full circle. Whether the old and new sides of the group will pen new material, whether, as a past greatest-hits collection was titled, "the road goes on forever," is unclear at this point. But for now, the Allmans remain one of the few Seventies acts that still mean something in the Nineties.
SEEING THE LIGHT NOW APPEARING IN SOUTH... v7-15-92
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