Daring and Dapper
Robert Palmer died Sept. 26, and maybe you're thinking "good riddance" if you only knew him as the guy in the "Addicted to Love" and "Simply Irresistible" videos who got in your way when you were trying to watch the slinky models in the background, the ones whose breasts seemed to be cavorting like kittens under their tight black sweaters. That guy. So of course CNN showed a clip from "Addicted to Love" while announcing that the music world was stunned by his death at 54 in Paris last week. The music world may well be stunned—they wake up that way and go from there—but probably not over Palmer, from whom they'd made little money and for whom they cared even less for years. But long before he had catchy if kind of odious hits and long after, Palmer was a daring musical adventurer, with a soulful voice and unerring musical instincts. Palmer wasn't just years ahead of everyone else on the get-a-haircut front in the 1970s. When we all thought Yes was the bomb, Palmer was recording with the Meters, James Jamerson and Little Feat; covering songs by Allen Toussaint and Toots Hibbert; and coming up with originals that were even funkier. A Brit raised in Malta and other far-flung locales, Palmer did world music before and better than most other folks—check out his ultra-African "Woke Up Laughing" or his Arabesque-presaging "The Silver Gun"—and he made electronic music soulful with his "Johnny and Mary" and never stopped trying new things. The last time I saw him, in 1999 at the then-Sun Theatre, he was touring with a large black choir, not exactly a break-even move at that point in his career, but, boy, was it thrilling. That's not a word often associated with the dapper singer, but he could scream and sweat with the best of them. One of Palmer's songs was called "Best of Both Worlds," and whatever your choice of contrasting worlds—suave or sweaty, intelligent or immediate, pop or profound, funky or finessed—Palmer straddled them with a rare talent, one that's sure going to be missed. (Jim Washburn)
MUSIC MENTOR MADNESS
For a first-time affair, the Music Mentor Conference (MMC), held Sept. 19-21 at the Anaheim Hilton, was surprisingly robust. MMC founder/director Jeff Stora —who doubles as the bassist in Long Beach band Fuzzpop—told us that his confab's debut lured about 300 registrants, 50 or so from out of state (including one woman who had to take four separate flights out of Hurricane Isabel-impacted Washington, D.C., to eventually get to Anaheim). And when we arrived, the few people we chatted with had buckets of niceties to spew, stuff like "cheaper than South by Southwest" and "can't believe I was actually able to drive my car to one of these things" and "I've actually learned something here instead of spending the whole time getting tanked like I usually do." There were slews of bands who played sets at nearby Downtown Disney on Friday to help kick off the conference, and there were one-on-one mentor sessions at the Hilton on Sunday, where registrants could get personal, pointed advice from music-industry know-it-alls. Saturday, though, was Panels Day, with large group discussions covering such topics as artist management, publishing, tour booking, contracts, band marketing, street teams and indie labels. We sat in on the A&R panel, where major-label types depressingly divulged what they look for when scoping out new artists ("I like to see stars," said Universal's Meg Hansen. "Learn from the masters of songwriting!" belched Capitol's Loren Israel. "Simon & Garfunkel! Guns N' Roses!"). We appreciated the bluntness, however, of former Club 369 proprietor/ current Elektra rep Randy Cash, who stated, "If I told my bosses I found a new female act, the first two questions they'll ask me are 'How old is she?' and 'How does she look?'" (Cash also declared the end of both emo and bands whose names begin with "The"—"None blew up, no 3 or 4 million sellers"). Fucked-up as this is, it's sadly true, and it just makes us pray for the total destruction of major labels all that much harder. We did our part by going home after the conference and downloading a bunch of major-label songs for free. (Rich Kane)
THE WIZARD OF PINK
We've seen Pink Floyd tribute bands before, but when one of them is doing Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety and synching it up to The Wizard of Oz, it's something our inner pothead can't possibly resist. You may recall about five years ago when the story surfaced: if you start the Floyd's seminal 1973 album right after the MGM lion roars for the third time at the beginning of Oz and mute the film's sound, the movie's images will weirdly correspond to certain musical and lyrical elements on the album (copious amounts of weed and acid also help). It's one thing to do this at home, but with a live band—which would have to be perfect with tempos and time changes?—this, we gotta see. So we journeyed to the Grove of Anaheim on Sept. 24 for the show by New York-based the Machine—"America's premier Pink Floyd tribute band!" (so trumpets their website; back east, they pack 2,000-seat theaters, we're told). We got handed a four-page list of "supporting incidents" at the entrance ("The lyric 'Balanced on the biggest wave' coincides with Dorothy's balancing act on the fence"; "'Great Gig In the Sky' plays while the house is in the sky"; "The title 'Us and Them' becomes very evident in this first scene with the Munchkins. . . . The Munchkins dance to the music, and one of them walks across the screen while grooving to the bass line"). Inside, the crowd—around 400 to 500 strong, we guessed, including many teens and oldsters, lots with Floyd T-shirts—milled around and bought munchie-relieving snacks at a temporary stand in the lobby. When the lights went down, some anonymous wag blurted, "I just want everyone to know that your ticket stub has a hit of acid!" Once the band started and Oz got cued up on the Grove's extra-large video screens, though, things got serious as a roomful of people stared in wonderment at what transpired: Dorothy gazing at a crystal ball as Roger Waters sings the words "magic spell!" The terrified vocal wailing of Clare Torry on "Great Gig" as the tornado bears down on Dorothy's house! The "black . . . black" part of "Us and Them" just as the Wicked Witch appears! It was the funniest thing we'd seen in eons. The Machine was mostly dead-on with their pacing—they had to have rehearsed this hundreds of times. (Less interesting was their singer's cheesy duplication of Dark Side's spoken-word and laughter effects.) After the final few heartbeats of Dark Side faded out, it was over, Oz was taken off, and the band went into other Floyd tunes such as "Comfortably Numb," promising even more after a brief break. But without the visuals—at least the sort of visuals only good drugs can provide—we figured the rest of the night was pointless and left. (RK)
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