Archive for the ‘Susanna Hoffs’ Category

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

On one or some enchanted day(s) or evening(s) in 1984, a ragtag group of Paisley Underground pals came together at the Radio Tokyo recording studio in Venice, Ca., for an endeavor said to have been dreamt up by David Roback, co-founder of Rain Parade. The idea: pay homage to those artists and songs that had inspired him and his compatriots.

I should mention that “pals” and “compatriots,” in this context, translates into members of Rain Parade, the Bangles, Three O’Clock and Dream Syndicate.

The Magnet article “One Nation Underground: The Story of the Paisley Underground” delves into the weeds of the scene, Rainy Day and Danny & Dusty’s equally cool and essential Lost Weekend (which, unlike Rainy Day, is available on Apple Music and Spotify). Two quotes stand out. The first is from the Three O’Clock’s Michael Quercio, who explains himself and his friends: “We were all record collectors who played music. The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was certainly a big deal to us.”

The second quote is from one of those friends, the Dream Syndicate’s Steve Wynn: “We were all big music fans and pretty diligent about the things we thought were cool or weren’t cool. We felt more like messengers for music that matters than rock stars.”

That’s evident on the Roback-produced Rainy Day collection, which was stamped onto vinyl in 1984. It curates classic – but, “Sloop John B” aside, not necessarily well-known – tracks from the Beach Boys, Big Star, Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan (by way of Nico or Fairport Convention, most likely), Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground and the Who.

Here’s Susanna Hoffs fronting “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” for example.

In today’s world, one can learn about most songs in seconds. For instance, the Wikipedia entry explains that Bob Dylan wrote “I’ll Keep It With Mine” in 1964, and never released it until decades later; Judy Collins issued it as a single in ’65; and Nico covered it on her 1967 album Chelsea Girl, followed a few years later by Fairport Convention, who recorded it for their What We Did on Our Holidays LP and also released it as a single.

In the ‘80s? It could take weeks, months and even years to figure out a song’s recorded history, let alone track down and hear the different versions. Nico’s Chelsea Girl was long out of print by then, after all; to acquire a copy meant one had to hope an area used-record store had it in stock.

Back on point: Just like Chelsea Girl, few folks actually bought Rainy Day. It was released by Llama Records in the U.S. and licensed by Rough Trade for the U.K., and though some of us recognized – or would soon recognize – the names of the players, most folks had no clue as to who they or their bands were.

Make no mistake, however: It’s a sheer delight.

Another highlight: Buffalo Springfield’s “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong,” one of two Neil Young-written songs on the collection:

That’s Kendra Smith on lead vocals. At the time, she was in Rain Parade with David Roback; they’d soon leave that band and start Opal. Speaking of Roback, his rendition of “On the Way Home” (the second Neil-penned tune) is also a marvel:

Another highlight: the cover of the Velvet Underground’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror,” the second track with Susanna Hoffs singing lead:

By 1989, when the collection was issued on CD, Susanna Hoffs was likely the best-known entity thanks to the success of the Bangles. But she’s far from the only reason to search for this gem; each of the nine tracks adds something unique to the original.

Here’s the track list:

I’m sure it won’t stick around YouTube forever, as it was uploaded by a user and not the label, but here’s the album in full…enjoy it while you can.

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Sid, of course, is Matthew Sweet; and Susie is Susanna Hoffs. They began working together in the 1990s as 2/5s of the band Ming Tea, whose music was featured in the Austin Powers films – no doubt because one of the other members was Austin Powers himself, Michael Myers. The two apparently enjoyed the experience (and each other) so much that they kept on keeping on, eventually releasing the delightful, 1960s-themed Under the Covers, Volume 1 album in 2006 and Volume 2, which mined the music of the 1970s, three years later.

I wrote about both in my review of Volume 3, which navigates the 1980s, a few years back, but the short and sweet of that is this: I loved the first and liked the second. The former was a perfectly cut jewel; the latter was equally polished, yet not without its flaws.

Not flawed enough to stop us from getting tickets to see them in concert, mind you. That said, for whatever reason, we learned of the World Cafe Live show days (weeks?) after it went on sale and wound up stuck in what were, for us, not-so-good seats: at a table a fair distance away from the stage, adjacent to the soundboard.

Susanna, if I remember correctly, had flown into Philly that afternoon, having played with the Bangles the night before in Florida. They hadn’t rehearsed, and for much of the night she referenced lyric sheets – and still messed up the words from time to time, as this video of the night’s second song shows –

But come this night, at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, bad seats and no rehearsals didn’t much matter. Matthew was funny; and Susanna was charming. Their love for the music shone like diamonds, and the show was an absolute delight – even with the vocal intrusions of a rather intoxicated gent who kept yelling for Todd Rundgren’s “Hello It’s Me” even after they performed it.

Anyway, as the above clip shows, it was just Sweet, Hoffs and guitarist Paul Chastain (of the power-pop band Velvet Crush) on stage.

Here are some more clips:

And what may have been my favorite moment of the night:

Other highlights included delectable renditions of “You’re So Vain” and “Different Drum.” I remember, though, when the show ended, being a bit bummed that they hadn’t attempted my favorite song from Volume 2, the download-only bonus cover of Blondie’s “Dreaming,” or the drop-dead gorgeous version of the Bee Gees’ “Run to Me” from Volume 1:

In any event, the set list (borrowed from a favorable City Paper review) was thus:

I’ve Seen All Good People/Your Move (Yes); Willin’ (Little Feat); Second Hand News (Fleetwood Mac); You’re So Vain (Carly Simon); (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding (Elvis Costello); Cinnamon Girl (Neil Young); Different Drum (Stone Poneys); Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young); She May Call You Up (The Left Banke); Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren); Couldn’t I Just Tell You (Todd Rundgren); All the Young Dudes (Mott The Hoople); And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles); Baby Blue (Badfinger); It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Bob Dylan); Maggie May (Rod Stewart); Back of a Car (Big Star); In the Long Run** (The Carrie Nations); To Sir With Love** (Lulu); In Your Room-Manic Monday** (The Bangles); I’ve Been Waiting** (Matthew Sweet)

(** = Encore)

I’m deep into contemplating my much-ballyhooed Album of the Year honor. On a date yet to be determined, though definitely sometime between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I’ll bestow the award to what I deem to be the top release of 2014. Which means, of course, that I’m sifting through and re-listening to the candidates, and drifting away on the potent melodies therein. I’m cogitating, contemplating, deliberating, pondering and ruminating, as well as chewing, stewing and mulling over the music, and debating the merits of individual selections with Diane and Tyler, our all-knowing feline sage. It’s serious business, a major decision, the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

(Or, perhaps, not.)

I began the practice in the late ‘70s after reading the year-end picks of music critics. Granted, those scribes had access to much more music than I. Back then, I relied on birthday and Christmas money, plus my allowance, to buy albums. Today, it’s not all that different: I still budget. And, like most folks, that budget often takes a hit from competing needs and wants. Also – I’m 49 years old. Most current music holds no interest to me. So, though I was and am a music obsessive, I don’t pretend to be an all-knowing seer of any particular year’s releases. Specific artists and albums? Yes. Music history in general? Yes. The Top 40, especially of late? No.

I also, from time to time, get it wrong. A great, recent case in point: 2012. I was smitten with Susanna HoffsSomeday album, which was – and remains – as perfect a pop record as I’ve heard. I listened to it again last week and again tonight, in fact, and it’s as wondrous as I remembered, if not better. But my runner-up for that year, Psychedelic Pill by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, has become one of my most-played albums of recent vintage. It’s home to propulsive rhythms, swirling and whirling guitars, and, above all, majestic melodies. To my ears, “Driftin’ Back,” “Ramada Inn” and “Walk Like a Giant” rank with Neil’s greatest works.

Yet, I can’t help but to think that the most important music-related item of the past year hasn’t been a recording, but a player – the Pono Player, to be precise. I wrote about it a few posts ago and now, almost a month later, thought I’d expand upon that initial critique.

First, as I think I said last time out, I am not an audiophile. The emotional raison d’être of music has always superseded “sound quality” for me. Through the years, I’ve enjoyed – some may say obsessed over – music via staticky AM radio, cassettes worn so thin that the music on the flip side seeped through, and muddy vinyl (and later CD) bootlegs. But there’s something magical about unencumbered music. It’s akin to the differences between standard-definition TV and HD. If landscapes in HD look incredible, then high-resolution soundscapes are spectacular.

Sometimes.

The difference is stark when comparing lossy MP3s to the high-resolution FLAC files. The differences between a well-mastered CD (or CD-equivalent ALAC or FLAC files) and high-res ALAC or FLAC files are negligible when listening via my mid-tier, THX-certified Logitech desktop speakers. “Walk Like a Giant” from the high-res (24-bit, 192kHz) Psychedelic Pill that came with my player sounds just about the same to me whether it’s coming from the Pono Player or the ALAC rip of the CD via my MacBook Pro.

I think I hear a difference, but I could be wrong, and if there is a difference it’s not much of one. When moving between the Pono Player and my iPhone 5, however, the difference is obvious. On my mid-tier Bose headphones, the high-res version is a richer experience – similar, in a sense, to comparing an old-school 4×3 TV picture to the now-standard 16×9 widescreen. Likewise, when listening via our decade-old, mid-tier bookshelf system downstairs – “fuller-bodied” springs to mind. The ALAC-encoded “Walk Like a Giant” sounds good via my iPhone, mind you, but the high-res FLAC file via the Pono Player sounds complete. And in my car, there’s no comparison. The high-resolution music sounds immense. (When I upgrade my desktop speakers, which will likely occur mid-2015, I’ll report back.)

I’m still unsure what it is, exactly, that makes the difference. 16- vs. 24-bit? 44.1- vs. 96- or 192kHz? The DAC (digital-to-analog converter) that’s housed in the oblong Pono Player? All of the above? Or a combination of some? I will say this: my CD-equivalent, ALAC-rip of Susanna Hoffs’ Someday sounds fresher, warmer and richer than via my iPhone. “Picture Me” is a pure delight. It’s Beatlesque, beautiful and utterly sweet.

All that said, there are areas where the Pono player could stand improvement. Battery life is one. I don’t think I’ve gotten more than six hours out of a charge. (It’s not a big deal for me, as during the workday I charge it via my work computer, but it may make a difference to others.) Also, file sizes are much larger than typical MP3s or AACs, so larger storage is necessary. It comes with 64GB, and can take up to a 128GB microSD card, but given the low cost of flash memory, why not up the internal to 128GB or even 256GB? A larger screen would be nice, too, so long as it doesn’t negatively impact the battery life.

Now that I’m used to it, the Pono Music World software (used to transfer the digital files to the player) works great – when my Mac sees the player, that is. Sometimes I have to dock and undock it several times before it’s picked up. And while purchasing high-res files from the Pono Music store can be done from within the software, I’ve found it easier to do via a web browser. Navigation in the store, as it’s currently designed, is a chore – it’s not intuitive, and high-res content isn’t readily identifiable until you click onto an album to see the track listing. Of course, like the player, both the software and store are first-generation affairs – I assumed, going in, that some kinks would need to be ironed out.

All that said, when or if the Pono Player gets around to a Version 2, which I hope they do, I’ll spring for it. I’m no audiophile, as I said above, but after listening to high-resolution files and regular CD rips on this first version, I can’t imagine not having one.

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We arrived late. I let Diane off in front of the World Cafe Live and proceeded to hunt for a place to park, my eyes on the clock: 7:27pm, a little more than half an hour before the show’s scheduled start. Rows of parked cars lined both sides of Walnut Street. No spots. It was a typical latecomer’s nightmare, in other words, and the capper for what was a tough week. Up 32nd Street I drove, then east on Chestnut. No spots.

However, a slightly hidden (and small) parking lot on South 31st Street, caddy corner to the WCL’s downstairs alleyway and entrance, has been free to the club’s patrons in the past. Diane reminded me of it before she departed the car, but given the hour I seriously doubted any spots would be left. Still, street parking nearby can sometime be had.

But not this night.

No matter. A few spots remained in the lot. Hallelujah! I pulled in, parked and hurried to the club to find Diane, and soon enough we walked into what was a packed room. Oh general admission, how I hate thee! No seats or tables on the main floor or even in front of the bar this night, just people taller than us milling about, including at the foot of the stage – where, if seats weren’t to be had, we definitely wanted to be. An elbow here and there later (I’m joking) and we snaked our way to about a yard away from our goal.

And then it happened: “Why don’t you move here?” suggested a guy, who was with his wife, to Diane. He gave up his spot at the foot of the stage, in other words, so that she could see. Acts of kindness, especially at concert venues, never cease to surprise me. (Roger, if you ever read this, thank you again!)

At about 8:20pm, the lights dimmed and the Bangles – Susanna Hoffs, the Peterson sisters (Vicki and Debbi) and a (male) bassist whose name I didn’t catch – kicked things off with a rockin’ rendition of “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” their hit cover of the Simon & Garfunkel chestnut.

And thus began an incredible concert that Diane perfectly encapsulated about halfway through. She leaned back to me, pointed to the stage and exclaimed, “This is my kind of girl power!” I can only agree, but – of course – I’m a partisan. As I’ve written about elsewhere, I’ve been a fan of the Bangles since the early ‘80s.

The set was made for hardcore fans, featuring the expected — “Manic Monday,” “If She Knew What She Wants,” “September Gurls,” “In Your Room,” “Walk Like an Egyptian” and “Eternal Flame” – alongside such All Over the Place gems as “Hero Takes a Fall,” “Going Down to Liverpool,” “James” and “Live,” along with some songs that predate those, such as their first-ever single, “Getting Out of Hand.” Also on the docket: jewels from the 2011 Sweetheart of the Sun album, such as “Anna Lee,” “Ball & Chain” and the rockin’ Nazz cover “Open My Eyes.”

In short, it was garage-rock heaven: to-die-for vocals and harmonies, catchy melodies and stellar musicianship. These gals rocked the house, and then some. Here’s a sampling:

Of course, just as at the First Aid Kit show, the general-admission aspect of the night turned tiresome after a while. About the only solace: I wasn’t the only one tired, as the crowd was made up almost entirely of middle-aged folks like me (though I did notice a few younger faces).

The only other negative: my freakin’ iPhone 5, which froze up while recording “Going Down to Liverpool.” (iOS 8 has not been playing nice with it.)

Oh, and one more negative: that parking lot? It’s not free anymore. I got a $35 parking ticket. C’est la vie.