Sunday, October 11, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

Video Of The Day

Click HERE to brighten your day. You will not be disappointed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Many Rivers To Cross

An excellent indicator of the impact of a song lies in the number of artists that choose to cover it. Jimmy Cliff's 'Many Rivers To Cross', listed as #317 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time is one such tune. Having discovered this track while researching for the previous post, I set about to listen to many of the versions available on YouTube. The list of artists included here span each of the decades that have come and gone since the song was written in 1969. According to Wikipedia, the song was released or notably perfomed at least once within 25 of the 27 years since it was released on the legendary The Harder They Come soundtrack. The only artists to chart with the song are UB40 (1983/UK), Cher (1993/UK), and Annie Lennox (2008/US).

Bruce Sprinsteen (1993)

NOFX (2008)

U2 (2005)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1988)

The Animals (1977)

Little Milton (1971)

John Lennon and Harry Nillson (1974)

Joe Cocker (1996)

Lenny Kravitz (2002)

Annie Lennox (2008)

UB40 (2002)

Cher (1992)

Marcia Hines (1982)

Gov't Mule (2005)

Oleta Adams (1994)

Jimmy Cliff Nominated for Rock Hall

I won't get into how I stumbled upon this video tonight of Jimmy Cliff performing Cat Steven's 'Wild World' live in Germany in 1998, but I will tell you what I have learned about the man since finding it:

(1) Jimmy Cliff is still alive and well at 61 years of age
(2) He has not played a concert in this country in some time (his website lists no US date as far back as his website lists)
(3) As of this past Wednesday, he was nominated for induction into the 2010 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside KISS, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Genesis, the Hollies, and LL Cool J.

Jimmy's official website doesn't have any mention of the Rock Hall nomination and appears to have not been updated since Summer 2008. I hope to someday soon read about some stateside Jimmy Cliff tour dates. I'd have to think he would make an incredible addition to Bonnaroo.

Jimmy Cliff - Wild World - Übersee, Germany - Saturday, July 11, 1998

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Frusciante Sings Elton

My definition of a Rock Star:

1) Beholden to no one: Not agents, publicists, or record executives
2) Follows their muse
3) Has the balls to play a sissy song to tens of thousand of people

Enter Mr. John Frusciante...



(WeightStaff Note: For the record, I DO NOT think these are sissy songs. Just trying to make a point for emphasis.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Basketball Jones

The other day, I stumbled upon one of the most unusual music collaborations I've ever seen or heard. There a scene in Hal Ashby's brilliant but underrated film Being There (starring Peter Sellers) that features the animated music video (if I can call it that) for Cheech and Chong's "Basketball Jones" from their 1973 Los Cochinos album. Riding the wave of the 70's blaxploitation movement, the parody* features Cheech on vocals as "Tyrone Shoelaces" and get this, George Harrison on lead guitar, Billy Preston on organ, Klaus Voorman on bass, Ronnie Spector and Michelle Phillips on backing vocals, Carole King on keys, and a slew of several other well-connected and accomplished session players.

Are you kidding me?!? How did I not know about this?!?

Take a listen. If you can get past the politically incorrect images, the underlying music is actually pretty freaking good!

"Basketball Jones (Featuring Tyrone Shoelaces)" by Cheech and Chong

*The original, "Love Jones" by Brighter Side of Darkness

Popularity Contest

Do you ever find yourself going back to the same album or song on your iPod on a seemingly regular basis? You know, those that aren't necessarily your favorites, but ones that you're mysteriously drawn to as if satisfying some primal urge? On my walk to work today, it occurred to me that for the past year, I've listened to one particular album ad infinitum -- on the sidewalks, on the subways, on the bus, at my apartment, etc. It isn't my "favorite" album nor do I have any special connection with it on some personal or spiritual level. And I assure you, it has nothing to do with iPod's pointless "rating" feature we accidentally click on from time to time!

But for whatever reason, Johnny Cash's At Folsom Prison/At San Quentin/America is the undisputed, most frequently played recording on my iPod. Why? I have no answer. Obviously, this is a great album. Hell, it's even one of the best. No one (with any concept of good music) would disagree that it ranks amongst the most influential from a historical/cultural perspective over the last 50 years. But there is something more -- something more deep-rooted that reels me in each time. Perhaps I'm hypnotized by Cash's raw, monotone vocals or the everyman's wisdom he so aptly instills; or maybe I'm moved by the hoots and hollers of the prison inmates, who were undoubtedly the most affected by these performances on the most human of levels -- at least more so than any of us; or the fact that Cash put every ounce of sweat and soul into each song that keeps me truckin' on both good days and bad. Even his narration on the America album has a certain soothing, nostalgic quality which brings me back to the storytelling days of my youth -- a better, much simpler time.

So, hats off to you Johnny Cash. You're the most popular guy in class.

What keeps you goin'?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Before There Were Blogs: John Hughes Edition

Not...Done...Yet. While it may be clear that this blog is on its last legs with the obvious lack of posting of late, the reason for its initial existence has not faded. It's to share stories, articles, news clippings, and videos that inspire three guys to pause their day for a few moments and reach out to whomever is paying attention. And that's where I am at right now.

So perusing the web obsessively as I do (I think I need to get sent to one of those Chinese Internet addiction places) I came across this very well written blog post about a women who put pen to paper and wrote to John Hughes on a whim back in 1985. That's right kids, I said used a pen on paper. It's these two artifacts that old people used to utilize to communicate their words. So she poured her heart out about her thoughts and feelings about being a high school student and being misunderstood. Just like the kids in The Breakfast Club. And she put the letter in the mail...and she waited. And she got a dreaded form letter back initially. And that just wasn't good enough. John ultimately agreed. And so they developed a multi-year writing relationship with a phone call mixed in for good measure. These are her words:

I was babysitting for my mom's friend Kathleen's daughter the night I wrote that first fan letter to John Hughes. I can literally remember the yellow grid paper, the blue ball point pen and sitting alone in the dim light in the living room, the baby having gone to bed.

I poured my heart out to John, told him about how much the movie mattered to me, how it made me feel like he got what it was like to be a teenager and to feel misunderstood.

(I felt misunderstood.)

I sent the letter and a month or so later I received a package in the mail with a form letter welcoming me as an "official" member of The Breakfast Club, my reward a strip of stickers with the cast in the now famous pose.

I was irate.

I wrote back to John, explaining in no uncertain terms that, excuse me, I just poured my fucking heart out to you and YOU SENT ME A FORM LETTER.

That was just not going to fly.

He wrote back.

"This is not a form letter. The other one was. Sorry. Lots of requests. You know what I mean. I did sign it."

He wrote back and told me that he was sorry, that he liked my letter and that it meant a great deal to him. He loved knowing that his words and images resonated with me and people my age. He told me he would say hi to everyone on my behalf.
Maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but this concept that you have a strong urge to write your thoughts on a piece of paper and lick a stamp and put it in the mail, knowing full well the intended recipient may never receive it or worse they could blow you off, is fascinating and reminds me so much of what life was like without the WWW.

Her feeling a need to connect to John Hughes is no different than a blog poster or commenter writing an entry never knowing if anyone will care. It's the writing part that is cathartic. Any feedback or acknowledgment thereafter is just gravy. Getting back to our John Hughes fan, their (not e-) mail relationship blossomed, they became heavy pen pals, and the reclusive John Hughes let her into his world. Please take a minute to read through the whole entry she wrote. It is fascinating, and of course all too sad knowing that John is no longer with us. John ruminates on a number of things and provides unprecedented insight into why he left Hollywood for good so many years ago. And if you want to take a chance and leave a comment, whether to connect or leave your thoughts, feel free. No stamps required.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

CSN Play Dead At Glastonbury

David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash took to the stage yesterday at the legendary Glastonbury festival in Somerset, UK, one day after their frequent collaborator Neil Young headlined the first night of the event. CSN used this opportunity to play two songs from their forthcoming Rick Rubin-produced covers album. Within a set of their most famous numbers, from the massive Pyramid stage, the group played the Grateful Dead's "Uncle John's Band" and the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday". I would love to know if any other band has played a Grateful Dead song at Glastonbury since it's inception in 1970. Despite some speculation (and it being a really good idea), Neil Young made no appearance with his sometimes bandmates.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash's setlist was:
'Southern Cross'
'Military Madness'
'Marrakesh Express'
'Long Time Gone'
'Rock And Roll Woman'
'Uncle John’s Band'
'Helplessly Hoping'
'Ruby Tuesday'
'Déjà Vu'
'Almost Cut My Hair'
'For What It’s Worth'
'Wooden Ships'
'Teach Your Children'

Neil Young's headlining set the previous night was:
’Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)’
’Mansion On The Hill’
'Are You Ready For The Country?'
'Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere'
'Spirit Road'
'Cinnamon Girl'
'Mother Earth'
'The Needle And The Damage Done'
'Comes A Time'
'Unknown Legend'
'Heart Of Gold'
'Down By The River'
'Get Behind The Wheel'
'Rockin' In The Free World'
'A Day In The Life'

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thoughts on Michael Jackson's Death

If you've read some of my older posts, then you know that I have repeatedly cited the 80's as the decade which eternally ruined music; the so-called "powder-keg" which once lit, led to the unfortunate downfall of the music industry. However, despite my chronic disappointment of not having been a flower child, I am not ashamed to admit that one of the few high points of growing up during the Regan years was growing up with Michael Jackson (well, his music). Unlike the dreck that clogs the Hot 100 today, Jackson actually WROTE and COMPOSED many of the songs that have evolved into iconic standards. I have little doubt that his vast catalog of hits will remain exemplary models for as long as man listens to music.

Let me cite a few examples of why his music is so great: first and foremost, his style has been mimicked by Madonna, Usher, Justin Timberlake, Brittney Spears, his sister Janet, and probably by every other R&B/Pop star born after 1980; he practically invented and re-invented the music video beginning with "Beat It" and "Thriller" and continuing onward with "Black or White" and "Remember the Time;" his songs have been sampled and covered innumerable times by acts of all ages and genres ranging from Fall Out Boy to Alien Ant Farm to Chris Cornell; his music is reguarly played at the hottest Manhattan night spots and are amongst the most popular at karaoke bars all over the world (I can't help but think of the [only] funny scene in Rush Hour 2 where Chris Tucker flawlessly performs "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough"); televison programs like American Idol dedicate entire episodes paying homage to his catalog; he has been famously (and reverently) parodied by Weird Al Yankovic, who notably, was personally granted permission by Michael himself to spoof his music; he started eternal fads like the Moonwalk and the ubiquitous over-sized aviator sunglasses (and you know you wanted that red leather jacket when you were in 2nd grade); and he remains a household name amongst children and octogenarians alike, from the most metropolitan cities in the U.S. to the smallest villages in the African plains. I imagine that his name falls on that list alongside Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and McDonald's as one of the most recognizable names on Earth.

He is a legend and I hope that in years to come, all of the nonsense that plagued his life (and surely precipitated his untimely death) will be overlooked, and he will be remembered for what he did best -- make us happy. Alas, the King of Rock and the King of Pop are now united in that great kingdom in the sky, and I suppose they will compare notes and share a few laughs about the genius and drama that surrounded their lives...or so we may read about while in line at the grocery store.

DS, Weightstaff

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Dave Matthews on Jimmy Fallon

Jimmy Fallon's late night talk show has pretty much been a train wreck thus far from my perspective, but seeing bits like this one give me hope for his future success.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day: For Those Who Serve

There are certain times that make me proud to live in Washington, DC. One of them, which happens every year, is Memorial Day weekend. Its a holiday where American war veterans from all over the country descend upon the National Mall and the surrounding area, many of them arriving via motorcycle to participate in the Rolling Thunder parade. Their presence brings the war memorials and monuments to life, as these are the men who served with those Soldiers who are memorialized here. Each and every one of the thousands who have completed their pilgrimage to the District brings with them memories and stories that those of us who have never served will never fully understand. I spend a lot of time on The Mall, as it is one of my favorite places to go for a jog, but it always looks its best on Memorial Day.

I arrived on The Mall today yet again taken aback by the number of motorcycles that were there. In every direction, as I approached the Lincoln Memorial, there were bikes parked in straight rows on the grass and bikers riding them in formation in the streets. It actually reminded me of a being at a Phish show where there are so many of them, who would typically stand out on a normal day. Today, it was the bikers, with their leather vests, embroidered patches, and pins who were the norm, among their brethren, claiming the Mall as their own.

Below are some pictures I took today with my iPhone. The last one is a shot of gathered veterans taking up every inch of the Lincoln Memorial steps. It was pretty moving to see them all there looking out over the reflecting pool, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Vietnam Wall, and Korean War Memorial.

Dave Matthews Band Recently

With the release of their new album 'Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King' coming up on June 2nd, Dave Matthews sat down for an interview with Entertainment Weekly where he explains that the band nearly broke up a couple years ago, before LeRoi Moore's ultimately fatal accident occurred. He feels that the band had started to lose itself way back in 1998, during the recording of 'Before These Crowded Streets', only just recently finding its way.

This is very interesting to read 11 years on, as I'd been a huge fan of DMB in the mid-90s and gone out and picked up 'Before These Crowded Streets' as a sophomore in collge as soon as it was released. I remember listening to it in the dining hall on my Discman and thinking that it lacked some of the magic of prior records. While there are some very good tracks on it (Dreaming Tree), many did not meet the high standard that I'd set for the band after 'Under the Table and Dreaming' and 'Crash' had set the soundtrack for my high school years. Any album material I've heard of theirs since then, aside from the fantastic Matthews solo debut 'Some Devil', none of which I have purchased, hasn't sounded like the same band I had come to love previously.

So if this new album is in fact a return to form of the mid-90s for the band, it would be very welcome from me. I'm looking forward to hearing it. Probably won't buy it though.

Read the EW interview here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Trey Anastasio and the BSO

Our friend Brian has turned in his report from last night's Trey concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra:

I've had the pleasure of knowing for the last year and a half that there was a plan to have Trey Anastasio perform a concert with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO). One of my best friends and college roommates, Toby, happens to be the facility sales manager at the BSO. Toby and I have seen dozens of Phish shows together and I specifically remember when he originally told me about this idea sometime in 2007. Well, after countless months of planning, he finally pulled it off. The concert took place at the home of the BSO, The Joseph Meyerhof Symphony Hall, near the trendy part of Bolton Hill, just north of downtown Baltimore.

I had been looking forward to this concert for a long time and I knew we were in for a special performance. The hall itself holds about 2000 people and I felt privileged to have such a great seat in a small and intimate venue. I arrived to the venue about 45 minutes early with a familiar anticipation. It almost felt like I was back in the lot passing by shakedown while being offered veggie burritos, hemp necklaces, and a pharmacy of recreational items. Walking into the venue was almost confusing. As I glanced around I saw dreadlocked hippies, preppy yuppies, and folks who probably thought they were there for another night at the symphony. The music of a live bluegrass band filled the background with industry standards and some good pickin'. I headed over to the bar and met some friends as we talked up what the possibilities of the evening were to be. As the lights flashed we headed to our seats and the concert began. Once the orchestra got settled, Trey walked out to an eruption of applause and cheers. You could tell that the orchestra was probably not used to this excitement over guest musicians. The crown was very excited as they shouted out Phish songs amongst other nonsense. With a big smile on his face, he strapped on his guitar and strummed the opening chords to Divided Sky. The orchestra complemented his playing nicely, although I felt the volume on his guitar could have been a bit louder. Fortunately, this balance improved dramatically as the night went on. Once Trey settled in a little bit, it was a flawless performance. The first set consisted of all Phish songs including Brian and Robert, The Inlaw Josie Wales, and an emotional Water in the Sky which Trey dedicated to his sister that recently passed away after a long struggle with brain cancer. One of the high points of the set was an intense version of First Tube. The orchestra was loud behind him and Trey got a chance to turn up the distortion a little bit. You could tell that he was really enjoying being up there.

After a quick intermission we were treated to "Time Turns Elastic", a new arrangement co-written by Trey and arranged specifically for a symphony performance. The movements glided from one section to the next and in addition to the instrumental parts their was some singing too. I wouldn't be surprised if parts of this end up on Phish's new album. The set ended with a familiar version of Guyute that can be heard on one of Trey's solo albums. After coming out for an encore, the show ended with a beautiful version of the Phish ballad If I Could. The song choice seemed appropriate since there is a backing string section on the album version of the song. Once the song ended, Trey came out a few times for some post encore bows, but finally the house lights came up and we knew the concert was over. As I filed out amongst my friends, you could tell that people were impressed and it had been a satisfying scratch for the Phish itch. All I can say is that its only 16 days till I see Phish in Camden, and this was a pretty good warm up to get me in the mood. Congrats to Toby for having such a great vision and being able to finally execute it.

5/21/09 Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Baltimore, MD May 21, 2009

Set One:
The Divided Sky (electric guitar,strings)
Brian and Robert (vocal, electric guitar, strings)
The Inlaw Josie Wales (acoustic guitar, oboe, strings)
Water In The Sky* (vocal, acoustic guitar, winds/strings)
Pebbles and Marbles (electric guitar, orchestra)
First Tube** (electric guitar, orchestra)

Set Two:
Time Turns Elastic (vocal, electric guitar, orchestra)
Let Me Lie (vocal, electric guitar, strings)
Guyute (electric guitar, orchestra)

If I Could (vocal, electric guitar, harp, strings)

* In Memory of Kristy Manning, dedicated to her surviving son Jason.
** First time played

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Phish Covers Project: Stand!

On June 13, 1997 Phish kicked off their summer European tour with a 2-night run at the SFX Centre in Dublin, Ireland. This show is most well known as the night they debuted seven new original songs, but they also debuted two new covers during the encore. These were Sly and The Family Stone's 'Stand!' and Jimi Hendrix's 'Izabella'. The band would never play 'Stand!' again, but 'Izabella' appeared in setlists a total of ten times, lastly in 1998. Phish played 17 shows on that Summer '97 tour of Europe, including appearances at the Glastonbury festival in England and the Roskilde festival in Denmark. They returned to the US and commenced a stateside tour in July that saw them step out as a very different band from what fans their were used to. This was the beginning of Phish's darker funk era that would ultimately show up on record with 1998's Story of the Ghost album.

'Stand!' appears on Sly and the Family Stone's fourth album and shares a name with the album it was released on. The Stand! album, #118 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, was released on May 3, 1969 and peaked at #22 on the charts. Also on this album are well known tracks 'I Want To Take You Higher' and 'You Can Make It If You Try'. Three months later, the band went on to perform at the legendary Woodstock festival, with their performance being one of the highlights of the festival's movie.

In the months and years after the Woodstock festival, Sly Stone began his descent into heavy drug use, abusing cocaine and PCP. The band and Sly would never be the same again. Sly and The Family Stone continued to release music and tour throughout the early 70s, but most nights, Sly, if he even showed up at all, would give lackluster performances. The band officially broke up in 1975. From the 80s through to the mid-2000s, Sly Stone remained in seclusion and mostly out of the public eye.

On February 8, 2006 a Sly and the Family Stone tribute took place at the Grammy Awards. Even though Sly did take the stage with the Family Stone for the first time since 1971, he only stayed on stage for a few minutes and turned in a bizarre performance that was generally inaudible over the backing band.

Having been severely let down by the Grammy performance and reading generally negative reviews of Sly's sporadic appearances on stage since then, I was entirely surprised to find this gem of a video on YouTube featuring Sly Stone singing the aforementioned 'Stand!', taped at the Tokyo Jazz Festival on 8/31/08. Featured here is the Sly I was so hoping to see at the Grammy Awards. His voice is still in tact and he really appears to be enjoying himself at the piano. I'm so happy to have found this video and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Phish Covers Project: Skin It Back

As the next installment in our series of exploring the original versions of songs that Phish has covered in concert, I present to you Little Feat performing 'Skin It Back' live from the Netherlands Pinkpop festival in 1976.

'Skin It Back' is on a short list of Phish-played songs that never made it out of the 80's. It was performed by the band only seven times, first appearing in their repertoire on 10/15/86 at Hunt's in Burlington, segued into Talking Heads' 'Cities'. This concert was notable in that it was Paul Languedoc's first turn as sound man. 'Skin It Back' has not appeared in a Phish setlist in 1,126 shows.

'Skin It Back' appears on Little Feat's fourth studio album Feats Don't Fail Me Now released in 1974. Paul Barrere takes the lead vocal in this song, with Lowell George stepping up for a lead guitar solo. This tune did not appear on the original release of the legendary Feat concert album Waiting For Columbus, but it did ultimately appear on the 2002 "Deluxe Edition".

Pinkpop is considered to be the oldest annual festival in the world, with its beginnings in 1970. Playing the first annual edition was Dutch "Radar Love" band Golden Earring (they returned to play the festival 35 years later in 2005). Appearing at Pinkpop the same year as Little Feat were Uriah Heep and The Chieftans.

The countdown to my first Phish show in over six years is now set at 21 days!

Monday, May 11, 2009

RIP Stephen Bruton (1948-2009)

It is with sadness that I am reporting the death of Texas guitarist Stephen Bruton at the age of 60. He died of complications from throat cancer at the home of T Bone Burnett, with whom he had recently completed the recording of music for a movie. Stephen was most famous for being Kris Kristofferson's touring guitarist for over 20 years starting in 1970. His latter career songwriting success is evidenced by his works being recorded by Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, The Highwaymen, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Little Feat, Jimmy Buffett, Patty Loveless, and Martina McBride among others. Bruton and Burnett had been friends since their teenage years.

It was only just a couple months ago that I again checked on his tourdates hoping that I would get to catch him live sometime soon. I was first introduced to Mr. Bruton a few years ago when I heard a song of his on XM radio. It is a song that I saved to my portable satellite radio device and one which I have gone on to listen to dozens of times since. It is easily of my top ten favorites that I've recorded from XM. The song is called 'Fading Man' and it appears on Stephen's fifth solo album "From The Five".

In a 2008 Glide Magazine poll "From The Five" was listed as a Best Album by Ratdog guitarist Mark Karan.

To close her Mother's Day performance in Austin, TX, Bonnie Raitt, with tears streaming down her face, played Bruton’s “Too Many Memories."

There are those moments and they just never fade
Like the look in her eyes and the way the light played
God moved in that moment and the angels all cried
And they gave you a memory that you'll have till you die
And the lessons you learn and you don't dare forget
What makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret
And there's too many memories for one heart to hold
Once a future so bright now seems so distant and cold
And the shadows grow long and your eyes look so old
When there's too many memories for one heart to hold

- Stephen Bruton / Too Many Memories

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Phish Cover Request: Ya Mar

The Weight reader known simply as E-Rock recently commented about "Ya Mar," a long-running Phish cover tune presumably by The Mustangs. According to FAQ:

This is an old Mustangs song, originally written by Cyril Ferguson. Mike went on a Carribean vacation and saw the Mustangs perform in Freeport, then bought the album (tape?) and brought it home. "Ya Mar" (sometimes written "Yamar" by fans) was on the tape (purportedly the only tune on it worth covering), though the Mustangs are guessed to have covered it from someone else.

This tune can also be heard on Mike Gordon's collaborative release with Leo Kottke, Sixty Six Steps. Notably, the album contains a cover of the Pete Seeger tune "Living in the Country." It all comes full circle.

While I couldn't locate the original either, here is a decent clip of Phish performing (most of) the song on 5/23/00 at Roseland Ballroom. The 1st set of that evening included: AC/DC Bag, Wilson, First Tube, Ya Mar > Mike's Song > Simple > It's Ice, When The Circus Comes, Back on the Train, Gotta Jibboo, Taste, Sleeping Monkey

Monday, May 4, 2009

Artists Talk About Pete Seeger

Billboard posted a video today that comprises artist interviews about Pete Seeger and also being asked to play his 90th birthday concert.

Enjoy a short clip of Dave Matthew's performance from last night.

Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Concert Pictures

Warren Haynes trades licks with Pete Seeger

Springsteen and Tom Morello perform a haunting "Ghost of Tom Joad"

Dave Matthews steps out solo for the traditional "Rye Whiskey"

The ensemble of Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin' Jack Elliot, Warren Haynes, Richie Havens, Taj Mahal, Keller Williams, and the Saturday Night Live Band take on Dylan's "Maggie's Farm"

Patterson Hood and Michael Franti bring some energy to the first set

Pete Seeger takes the stage with Taj Mahal, Warren Haynes, Steve Earle, and others

American Beauty: Happy 90th, Pete Seeger

I'm a bit overwhelmed this morning with the usual mundane trivialities of my day job, so regrettably, I don't have the time to draft a proper review of last night's concert. But out of respect for Pete Seeger, I will offer a few thoughts:

Last night, MSG hosted a (surprisingly) very well-coordinated and touching tribute concert to honor the 90th birthday of legendary folk hero and American patriot, Pete Seeger. Guests ranged from Bruce Springsteen to Ani DiFranco, Richie Havens to Bruce Cockburn, Dave Matthews to John Mellencamp, and Ben Harper to Joan Baez. It was quite moving -- even tear jerking at times -- to watch these artists collaborate for the sole purpose of celebrating the career of one of the last true national icons. Over the course of the evening, we heard former Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn sing 60's anthem "Turn! Turn! Turn!," Havens play the obligatory "Freedom," and Springsteen pay his own personal homage to Seeger with "The Ghost of Tom Joad."

Frequent performers included Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine (who contrary to my original thoughts was quite impressive), the ubiquitous Warren Haynes and of course, Arlo Guthrie, the son of Seeger compatriot Woody Guthrie. We watched the sprightly DiFranco and a raspy Kris Kristofferson perform a playful rendition of "There's a Hole in my Bucket." Rufus Wainwright blessed us with his heavenly vocals on a number of tunes, while actor turned activist, Tim Robbins, offered a heartfelt dedication to the life and times of the 90-year old songwriter. Dave Matthews performed a, well, Dave-esqe rendition of "Rye Whiskey" and Bela Fleck and Tony Trischka banjoed-it-up on stage throughout the night. While I'm certain there were a number of celebs in attendance, I can personally vouch for at least one -- Mike Gordon -- who I did spot amongst the crowd. I have to think that Seeger's own feisty environmentalism (see Hudson River Sloop Clearwater) influenced the charitable endeavors of countless other bands, including Phish's own Waterwheel Foundation. It's a shame Jerry Garcia isn't still alive (for so many reasons) because I think he would have undoubtedly participated in this celebration of life, liberty and music.

But the true highlight of the evening was when Seeger himself led the audience of roughly 20,000 in an emotional rendition of "Amazing Grace" that had everyone chanting the hymn in unison. His weathered voice -- barely able to squeak out the notes -- had tears welling my eyes. It was at that moment, Seeger proved that while his frail body is in its hour of twilight, his soul will peaceably live on forever. Happy Birthday, Pete.

(AP Photo/Evan Agostini)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Let the games(henge) begin!

Roughly 30 days away from my first Phish show in about a decade, I'm starting to get the itch. So, in the weeks before this momentous occasion, I thought it would be fun to countdown with some of my (and the other Weightstaffer's) favorite tunes covered by Phish, or Phish tunes covered by others.

Leading off is probably my favorite in the Phish bluegrass repertoire and an all-around American classic -- "Uncle Pen," performed by the legendary Bill Monroe. I hope to catch this one live during the summer run.

According to, "Uncle Pen was named for Bill Monroe's uncle, Pendleton Vandiver who Monroe described as; '.... one of Kentucky's old-time fiddlers, and he had the best shuffle with the bow that I'd ever seen, and kept the best time. That's one reason people asked him to play for the dances around Rosine, Kentucky. In his later years he was a crippled man. He had been thrown by a mule and had to use crutches the rest of his life. My last years in Kentucky were spent with him.'"

If you have a favorite Phish cover you'd like to see here on The Weight, drop us a note, and we'll gladly post it for you...assuming we can find it!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


Oh, how I miss the Friday nights of my youth. It was a time before our dependence on iPhones and the internet, when Nintendo was the most sophisticated technology of the day, swine flu was something that pigs, not people got, and our only worry in the world was figuring out how our parents could drop us off at the movies without our friends noticing them.

So while in the midst of my daily perusal of YouTube, I found some comical (yet good) renditions of three of my favorite sitcom theme songs growing up. I hope they bring back some memories for you too...Wesley!!!

Friday, April 17, 2009

John Mayer, Douche?

Perhaps. But you can't say the mf'er ain't funny. Actually, at The Weight, we are unabashed fans of the six-string slinging, Twittering, tabloid fodder that is John Mayer. We posted about it last June:

Here is a vintage clip from way back in 2004 where John and Kanye integrated their disparate brands of cool in recording the Kanye Graduation track, Bittersweet:

And like John says, "Go Back and Listen to Daughters, Bitches".

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Weighing In: Shadow of a Doubt

Old or new, a great film always remains a great film. They transcend years and their messages hold true despite societal changes in norms and attitudes. Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) is one of those films. The first time I saw Shadow of a Doubt was during my senior year of college, appropriately enough, while enrolled in a course about Hitchcock's films. I remember taking the class because one, some of my fondest movie memories from childhood involved Hitch's films (North by Northwest, Psycho, Strangers on a Train) and two, because typical lazy college student I was, I naturally envisioned an "easy A." Some ten years later, this is probably the only course that still sticks in my brain. Since then, I have watched and re-watched Shadow of a Doubt many times, and on each occasion, the film leaves a greater imprint on me. This morning, I viewed it again, and it only solidified the film's rank amongst my favorites in Hitchcock's vast catalog.

Shadow of a Doubt is a great film for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Hitch's direction is masterful. His use of noir-type blacks and whites, tracking shots, and close-ups is superb. One of his earlier American films, there is no question that Shadow of a Doubt set a benchmark from which Hitchcock would elaborate in his later films like Notorious, Strangers on a Train and Rear Window. Second, the casting is exceptional. Joseph Cotten, who plays the misanthropic Uncle Charlie, and Teresa Wright, as his sexy but naive niece, Charlotte "Charlie" Newton, make as twisted a pair as Grant and Bergman or Stewart and Novack. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the screenplay is quite good -- maybe even ahead of its time. Notably, the script was written in large part by Thornton Wilder of Our Town fame.

The story takes place in the real-life town of Santa Rosa, California, presumably before the outbreak of WWII. Santa Rosa is the kind of place we see or read about in American fairy-tales -- that is, the sort of town that only exists on Hollywood sound stages (a good modern cinematic example is portrayed in the underrated film Pleasantville). In Santa Rosa, 9-year-old girls read Ivanhoe while their kid brothers count the number of steps it takes to get home from the candy shop. There is a crossing-guard at every intersection and like the familiar tune, everybody knows your name. You get the point. Young Charlie is an 18 or 19-year-old, uncharacteristically sexy girl for the period, who is bored out her mind; she is "trapped" in this storybook small-town and craving some form of excitement. I imagine that this was the typical sort of teen-angst common amongst girls of Charlie's generation. So, like a child throwing a tantrum, she ominously wishes that something "happen" to spice up the family's routine and mundane lifestyle. It is at this moment that Hitchcock foreshadows where the film is heading.

At the other end of the country -- New York City (although the opening sequences are clearly not New York, but Newark, New Jersey) -- we learn that Charlie's uncle and namesake, Charlie Oakley, is the primary suspect in a series of recent murders. As all of the victims are wealthy widows (made rich by their deceased husbands), the killer is appropriately dubbed, "The Merry Widow Murderer." In order to elude the police, Uncle Charlie seeks shelter with the Newtons (his sister is Charlie's mother) in tranquil Santa Rosa until things cool off.

Early on, we learn that there is some sort of "telepathy" (not in the science-fiction sense) between Charlie and her uncle. So much so that, during the course of sending him a telegram inviting him to visit the family, he has unbeknownst to her, already planned a trip to "drop in;" of course, we already know that he has ill intentions. When Uncle Charlie's cross-country train arrives in Santa Rosa, Hitch immediately alerts us to his sinister objectives. Symbolically, the train's smokestack pollutes the air with a thick cloud of black smoke, no doubt suggesting that something evil has just arrived at the doorsteps of this innocent little town. I can't help but wonder if this was a metaphor for the ongoing war already rampant at the time of the film's release. Recall, just two year earlier, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and xenophobia was at this country's peak. Perhaps there is a propagandist message embedded in the film: Beware of foreign invaders. Indeed, war was not a foreign subject for Hitchcock; in fact, his next film Lifeboat, was entirely about the subject.

In any event, from the very moment we see Uncle Charlie and his niece embrace in hello, we get the sense that there is some deep-rooted incestuous relationship between them -- if not physical, then an emotional one. The very manner in which they interact -- the touching and the caressing -- immediately causes one to raise an eyebrow. Even the way she prances around town showing him off to her girlfriends is innocent at best. You wonder if young Charlie's girlfriends secretly talk behind her back; or maybe, they are jealous that they don't have an uncle like that. Hitchcock artfully fuels the sexual repression/tension between the characters through careful framing of shots with Charlie and her uncle. There are even several moments in the film where you truly anticipate that the two characters will passionately embrace, only to have Hitch kill the moment in the nick of time. In his typical perverted, but artful manner, Hitchcock almost makes it feel natural. Scenes like this not only demonstrated Hitchcock's finesse as a director, but in reality, were quite daring leaps for the period (keep in mind the Hays Code was still in effect). Filmmakers were barely allowed to portray an on-screen kiss let alone insinuate an illicit, incestuous relationship. However, this is just another example of how Hitch masterfully eluded the authorities -- just like so many of his protagonists.

As the film progresses, Uncle Charlie gets a bit cocky, and clumsily, he begins to drop hints about his past criminal endeavors. There is a very Dostoevsky-element in Uncle Charlie's behavior. For example, he goes on a diatribe at the dinner table about how all widows are "fat, wheezing animals" and complains that the "whole world is a joke." He also gifts an expensive ring to his niece, not realizing that the ring is engraved with one of his victim's initials. However, the only person who picks up on this is young Charlie; the rest of the family is too clueless to suspect anything.

With respect to the casting, Joseph Cotten shines as the quintessential Hitchcockian villain: he is sinister but charming; sociopathic but sympathetic; and maybe, both wrong and right. I think that this is the very essence of Hitchcock: his keen ability to manipulate. Any director can "make a film," but few filmmakers can play the dual role of psychologist. Hitchcock was remarkable at enticing his audiences to sympathize with the "bad guy" or even craftier, at implicating the audience themselves in committing the very "immoral" acts perpetrated by his characters (e.g. our voyeuristic gazing into the window of a bra-clad Janet Leigh in Psycho or our spying inside of Raymond Burr's apartment in Rear Window -- only to get caught). Indeed, there is a poignant monologue spoken by Uncle Charlie to his niece when he realizes that she's aware of his true identity; or worse, that she might judge him for what he's done:

"You think you know something, don't you? You think you're the clever little girl who knows something. There's so much you don't know. So much. What do you know really? You're just an ordinary little girl, living in an ordinary little town. You wake up every morning of your life and you know perfectly well that there's nothing in the world to trouble you. You go through your ordinary little day; and at night, you sleep your untroubled ordinary little sleep filled with peaceful, stupid dreams...And I brought you nightmares...You live in a dream; you're a sleepwalker -- blind. How do you know what the world is like? Do you know that the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the fronts off houses you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it? Wake up Charlie; use your wits, learn something."

This was undoubtedly profound for 1943. Even by today's standards, it remains remarkably convincing. But I think Hitchcock (via Uncle Charlie) lectures not only young Charlie, but the audience as well: Who are we to sit in judgment over another's supposed "immoral" conduct? Doesn't each of us have a dark side -- a little kept secret that we hope nobody finds out? During his famous interview with director Francois Truffaut, Hitch aptly observed, "[v]illains are not all black and heroes are not all white; there are grays everywhere." It is this sort of philosophy that makes his films timeless. They are more than just moving pictures; each is an abstract commentary on the elements of human behavior, morality, societal norms, relationships and the perception of justice.

Of course, we get our fair share of Hitchcock "staples" such as the ever-present perilous staircase, steam locomotives, the beautiful high-angle crane shots, and some spectacular cross-tracking shots -- only Kubrick and Scorsese are in the same league. There is one particular cross-tracking shot where young Charlie, already suspicious of her uncle's "secret," is walking towards the house while Uncle Charlie ominously waits on the porch for her arrival. It is chilling. Hitch also does a wonderful job through the use of shadows (appropriately enough considering the name of the film). Take for example a shot where we see Uncle Charlie sitting in his room (we are looking from outside-in) and the shadows cast by the railing balusters create a"jail-like" effect -- in essence, imprisoning Uncle Charlie in his "cell." With few exceptions, hardly any modern filmmakers come close to emulating such beautiful and skillful use of lighting -- and this was before the time of special effects. There are other signature touches like ruthless police tricks and interrogation methods common for the time. Remember, this was a period before many of the notable search and seizure cases were decided by the courts. The authorities had practically unfettered ability to coerce confessions and undertake in all sorts of dilatory tactics to "get their man." Here, the detectives in pursuit of Uncle Charlie go as far as posing as census-takers who must "conduct interviews" and "take photographs" inside the Newtons' home -- sans warrant -- to dig up dirt on Uncle Charlie. Talk about sinister! It's no secret that Hitch himself claimed to have a lifelong fear of the police as evidenced by this recurring theme in many of his films (a popular anecdote tells that Hitchcock's fear began after his father had him locked up for several minutes at a local police station for no apparent reason in order to "teach him a lesson").

Another notable character in the film is Herbie Hawkins (played marvelously by Hume Cronyn in his first Hollywood role), the nebbishy, next-door neighbor who lives with his mother (domineering mother alert) and whose only source of leisure is concocting the "perfect murder" (make believe of course) of Charlie's father Joseph (Henry Travers). The two of them play this absurd and childish game nightly, entirely oblivious that a real "criminal" -- Uncle Charlie -- is right under their noses. Cronyn would go on to co-star in Hitch's next film, Lifeboat and contribute to the scripts of both Rope and Under Capricorn. The picture also puts into perspective certain historical context, which while incidental, is nonetheless informative. One particular item that stands out is a sign on the door of a seedy restaurant that reads, "Tables for Ladies." Apparently, signs like this emerged in the 30's and 40's signaling that woman could "freely" or "safely" dine alone without the stigma of being marked a prostitute or the town floozy.

It comes as no surprise that so many of Hitchcock's films have been made and re-made countless times. In fact, many critics theorize that David Lynch's Blue Velvet was directly influenced by Shadow of a Doubt itself. This seems very likely. Indeed, Shadow of a Doubt remains a timeless suspense-thriller, not only because it embodies a great story, but because it still strikes a chord -- on an emotional and psychological level -- some 65 years after its initial release. Its themes aren't dated, its lessons never pedantic, and its characters are as identifiable today as they were during a time when men wore hats and the milkman was your best friend.

Verdict: Heavyweight