Friday, July 6, 2018

Drive-By Truckers bring Southern charm to Yankee territory

Hard to believe it had been nine years since I last saw the Drive-By Truckers, and even longer since I've seen co-leader Patterson Hood, who was out with walking pneumonia for that show.

Also hard to believe, as long as I've been coming to the Adirondacks, that I'd never seen a show at the Saratoga (N.Y.) Performing Arts Center, an outdoor amphitheater. Stanton, Jason, and I scored sweet seats about 15 rows back in the center, thanks to Rachel's grandmother's "patron" status at SPAC.

The sound was a little too muffled for my taste during the Truckers' set (it oddly sounded clearer when I wandered on the lawn out back). Of course, there is never any comparing to D.C.'s 9:30 Club, where I last saw the band and which always has immaculate sound.

The setlist leaned heavy on the American Band LP, which I ranked as the 36th best of 2016. They played "Ramon Casino," "Darkened Flags on the Cusp of Dawn," "Surrender Under Protest," and "Kinky Hypocrite" from that release. All strong mid-tempo chuggers.

Some of the definite highlights were off the Truckers' classic albums, including the Skynyrd-y "Sink Hole" from 2003's Decoration Day, "Let There Be Rock" from 2002's Southern Rock Opera, and Hood's epic slow burners "A Ghost to Most" from 2008's Brighter Than Creations Dark and "Babies in Cages," which obviously couldn't have been more timely, as America currently licks its chops at taking great pride in ripping families apart from each other.

My favorite was "Marry Me," off Decoration Day, which may be their best best, most signature track. Bassist Matt Patton's (formerly of the excellent Dexateens) showcase Ramones' cover "The KKK Took My Baby Away" was my second favorite moment of the night.

Also, I liked openers The Marcus King Band, and headliners Tedeschi Trucks Band was entertaining too, as the place really became electric once the sun went down after the Truckers' set.

Drive-By Truckers: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Stephen King's latest novel captures the zeitgeist of our immigration times

Stephen King's novels often take place in Maine, and could often happen in just about any timeframe.

Some of that could be said for his latest, The Outsider. But it still ends up feeling very much of this time and place. "The outsider" feels like code language for the country's ongoing struggle with what we think immigration means. We as Americans seem to have a very hard time trusting people who aren't quite like us. And King displays how that lack of trust often extends even to the people we think we know intimately well.

Also, the setting is in Oklahoma and Texas (with a little good-old Midwestern Ohio thrown in), places where the immigration debate rages especially strong. Like the epic tale's early protagonist, Terry Maitland, I too studied English and coach baseball. Perhaps that helps me relate especially well.

Maitland is one of Cap City's most loved personalities. But several eyewitnesses catch him kidnapping a young boy who is later found partially eaten and sexually attacked. The townsfolk turn violently against Maitland and his family.

Meanwhile, a second story unfolds through the book's second half, when investigator Holly Gibney comes to town to assist in finding whether Maitland or an imposter who can shape shift into others' faces and bodies is the perpetrator. A group of investigators go on the search to a scary mine shaft in Marysville, Texas, and it's not too much of a spoiler to say some of them won't return.

The Outsider may be the shortest 560-page book I've ever read. That's because it's such a page-turner. Like with many of King's books, this one has so many levels of suspense going on all the time that it becomes painful to have to put down. This is one of several of his books that left me sad that it had to end.

On my list of favorite King books, I put this at #7, right behind Pet Cemetery and in front of Under the Dome.

4.8 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Stephen Malkmus helps Pavement's legacy continue to grow


No matter how many years go by since the demise of my third-favorite band of all time, Pavement's legend just keeps growing because leader Stephen Malkmus just keeps adding so much music to the catalog. (Much like how the combo of Velvet Undergound/Lou Reed maintains its place as my fifth-favorite ever.)

And that huge catalog translates to great shows every time I see Malkmus (like the last time in 2014 and, needless to say, the Pavement reunion show in 2010).

The latest, June 18 at Black Cat in D.C., was no different.

The show began with a great one-two punch of two of my favorite songs from the new album Sparkle Hard. "Cast Off" was the warm up for both the album and the show, followed by the hipster bike-lover showcase of "Bike Lane."

In fact, some of the strongest moments came courtesy of Sparkle Hard: "Solid Silk" is mesmerizingly beautiful. "Refute" is fun, corn-pone goodness (and includes Kim Gordon, formerly of Sonic Youth, on the record).

Two songs off 2005's Face the Truth were definite highlights. "Malediction" is an under-rated happy ditty and "Freeze the Saints" (with just singing and no guitar from Malk), would make any greatest hits collection should there ever be one for his post-Pavement material.

2011's Mirror Traffic also made an appearance with the mellow "No One Is (As I Are Be)" and the soaring "Stick Figures in Love." (Strangely, there were no songs from 2014's Wigout at Jagbags.)

"Dark Wave," although far from the best song on 2003's Pig Lib, was the weirdo tune needed for the middle of the set. The new "Future Suite" kept the loopiness going. Then "Shiggy," also off Sparkle Hard, brought the screamo Pavement-like rock.

The weakest moments of the show were "Brethren" off the new album (the representative of what now seems to be a requirement for every Malkmus album, the one song that sounds like a Grateful Dead outtake) and the new, droning and ProTools-y "Rattler." And I've never been all that crazy about "Baltimore," from 2008's Real Emotional Trash, but it definitely fit well as the guitar-jam for the end of the main set.

The encore couldn't have been more perfect. The best song on the latest release, "Middle America," led into Pavement classics "Shady Lane" and "In the Mouth a Desert" ("when you treat it like an oil well"), at which point Pablo and I got so excited in the 12th row or so that we spilled beer everywhere.

****1/2 out of ***** stars