Archive for the ‘Susanna Hoffs’ Category

I picked up new specs this summer – tinted, like my last ones and the ones before those, and the ones before those, going back decades. Insurance covered 70 percent of the overall cost, but the insurance also has rules about when coverage kicks in. An annual checkup? Yes. Lenses every year? Yes. Frames? No. Those are an every-other-year thing. Which is fine; for the minimal money I lay out every month for the insurance, I have no complaints.

It does make getting a second pair of specs, for backup purposes, a pricey affair, however. I’d keep my old ones, but my vision has changed so much, and the lenses were so scratched, that it’s not a good idea – especially now that I can see everything that I couldn’t before.

But paying the non-insurance rate for another set? Nah. Instead, I opted for 39dollarglasses.com, and wound up paying just $18 more than my out-of-pocket cost for the first pair, and that was because I chose transition lenses – sunglasses outside, crystal-clear inside. Ten days later, they arrived. They fit, I can see without issue, and like them. The lack of tint annoys me, however;  I wore them to my over-bright office one day last week and found myself near-blinded. My eyes have become accustomed to a gradient-shaded reality – a metaphor of some kind, no doubt.

So, anyway, for today’s Top 5: Vision.

  1. The Chi-Lites – “Have You Seen Her?”

2) Juliana Hatfield – “I See You”

3) Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs – “I See the Rain”

4) The MonaLisa Sisters – “I Saw Her Standing There”

5) Paul McCartney & Wings – “I’ve Just Seen a Face”

And a few bonuses…

Pete Townshend – “Eyesight to the Blind”

Roberta Flack -“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”

Suzanne Vega – “Night Vision”

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There’s something magical when, in concert, an artist covers a song long associated with another act. Some fans hate such moments, I’m sure, wanting instead for another song from the artist’s own catalog; I understand that point. I do. But, for me, such moments offer a glimpse into the artist’s soul in a way their own songs don’t. Maybe they choose the song because they love it; or maybe they choose it because it’s cheesy fun. Either/or is fine by me. Here are five favorites from YouTube, including a few from my own YouTube channel:

1) 10,000 Maniacs with Michael Stipe – “To Sir With Love.” From MTV’s Inaugural Ball in 1993. “To Sir With Love” is just one of those songs for me; it brings back a flood of memories from just about every era of my life. Chief among them: September 17, 1992, when the Maniacs closed their set at WXPN’s Five-Star Night with the Lulu classic; it was sheer magic. This performance with Michael Stipe, on the other hand, is sheer goofy, contagious fun. (This clip also features the song that followed, when Stipe joins in on the Maniacs’ own “Candy Everybody Wants.”)

2) Garland Jeffreys with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards – “Waiting for the Man.” Since Reed’s passing, Garland has paid tribute to his old pal, whom he met in college in the early 1960s, with a cover of this classic Velvet Underground song at just about every show of his I’ve seen. This great performance hails from September 2015 at the Ardmore Music Hall in the Philadelphia suburb of Ardmore, Pa., where he was part of a round-robin concert with Marshall Crenshaw and Jonathan Edwards.

3) Susanna Hoffs – “When You Walk in the Room.” Susanna’s rhythm section had another commitment, so this November 2012 concert was just her, guitarist Andrew Brassell and a roadie on tambourine/percussion; and, as this song shows, the result was wondrous. She sang a few covers throughout the show, including the Beatles’ “All I Got to Do,” but this spin on the classic Jackie DeShannon song (which was a big hit for the Searchers) was my favorite.

4) Rumer – “American Dove.” This rendition of the Laura Nyro classic hails from Rumer’s first-ever concert in the U.S. in October 2011, at the World Cafe Live Upstairs in Philadelphia. We were two of about 50 folks in attendance.

5) Diane Birch – “Heavy Cross.” What’s amazing about this mesmerizing 2010 performance, which hails from French TV show? Everything.

And… one bonus.

Neil Young with Booker T & the MGs – “All Along the Watchtower.” In the early 2000s, Neil hit the road with the legendary Stax group. Their rendition of the Dylan-Hendrix classic is best summarized with three words: Crank it up!

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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.