Thursday, May 31, 2007

C-U Thursday ("classic edition"):
REO Speedwagon

Though I don't own any albums or memorabilia from this genre and, being that I was born in the tail end of the '70s, have limited memories of those days of hair-rific glory, I am a sucker for brilliantly cheesy '70s-'80s guitar power-pop arena-rock, just like any other brown-haired/blue-eyed/ god-fearing Midwestern boy (right?).

I'm very proud to say that one of the deliciously cheesiest bands of them all, REO Speedwagon, was born and raised right here in Champaign- Urbana. Hows about that?! I told you all that this town is a musical mecca, and this finally proves it hands down, bizatch!

From the liner notes on one of the bands more recent albums (yes, they're still around): "REO started out on the University of Illinois campus in 1967, playing obscure covers by underground bands such as Cream and The Doors. Beer and sawdust bars, 'The Red Lion', and 'Chances R' were home to dozens of local Champaign rock groups. But in 1970, when guitarist Gary Richrath joined founder members Neal Doughty, Alan Gratzer, Terry Luttrell and Gregg Philbin, REO emerged as the most popular band in town by far. Gary was not only a great lead guitar player and a flashy performer, but he was also a song writer. Little by little the band begun to sneak originals into their set among the cover tunes, and by 1971 they had enough of their own material to get the attention of Epic Records A&R man Tom Werman. The first album, chock full of REO's trademark high-energy riff rock, came out of that year."

Word on the street is that the boys of REO held their first rehearsals in the basement of the Illinois Street Residence Halls in Urbana (seen at right).

And have you ever wondered where they came up with one of best band names around? The REO Speed Wagon was an early ancestor of the pickup truck, first manufactured in 1905. The band took the name and the logo right from the vehicle after the keyboard player, Neal Doughty, an engineering major at the University of Illinois, learned about truck in a class, which frankly I think is awesome. The REO Speed Wagon fire truck is pictured at right.

I've just discovered that the first solid incarnation of REO, after some early personnel switches, played some really good funky-bluesy rock that's quite different than the power pop that folks of my generation equate them with (see picture at the top of this post). Here's a great YouTube find of very early REO, circa 1971, with a different lead singer and bassist than the later arena rock lineup. I really dig the lead singer, Terry Luttrell, and I've never realized what a great guitarist they had in Gary Richrath (a Peoria native). He and the keyboard player kick this song's arse. The music begins around 1:10 (4:45 remaining), after the totally riveting host does his smooth-talking thang.

REO Speedwagon - "157 Riverside Avenue" [video of TV appearance]

And here, friends, we have the REO we all have come to know and love, with the leader singer who basically became the face of the band (for good and bad): Kevin Cronin, the king of showbiz hair (that's him in the picture up top). This video rulez. I'd like to dedicate this to my great friends Dan and Erika, who are moving in July from Champaign to Boulder, CO. You'll understand why after watching the glorious first two minutes of this video (which shows the future of Dan Beahm). And be sure to check out the explosively cheesy ending starting around 5:45 into it (1:50 remaining), complete with guitar solos and guitar back-and-forth orgies, multiple pseudo-endings, lots of running, jumping, and random galavanting about the stage, dipping of greasy 80s-hair into the audience, fireworks, and the one of the best displays of shout-out-name-of-song-and-scream-a-barely-
understandable-"HANKYOU!"-before-running-offstage that I've ever witnessed.

REO Speedwagon
- "Ridin' the Storm Out" [live concert, circa 1985]

On January 19, 2001 the City of Champaign dedicated part of Main Street in the heart of downtown to be forever known as "REO Speedwagon Way". To my knowledge this is the only street named after REO in the entire world, which makes us pretty much better than everyone else. The city was even cool enough to invite back the original singer Terry (from the "157" video above). More pix here.

After all of the above awesomeness, I hate to end on the following, but such is rock 'n roll. The latest incarnation of REO, with lead singer Cronin as the only remnant of their early-80s asskickingness (though keyboardist Doughty is apparently still involved here and there), is currently promoting their newest album by touring Walmarts across the nation. Yes, Walmarts. I don't have the heart to put this next video directly up on this blog, but here is the link of them performing "Time for Me to Fly" (seriously my favorite REO song) at their April 6, 2007 appearance at the Walmart in beautiful Eagan, Minnesota. Warning: if you have any self-respect, you may start to weep while watching this.

May Sufjan and Andrew Bird never end up playing the hallowed halls of Big Lots and Dollar General when they're in their sixties...

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV"

This is perhaps the greatest thing in the history of ever:

The Asylum Street Spankers do their best to remind us that there are good things about Texas. And I say, good for you, friends!

I love theatricality, and the Spankers seem to have oodles of it. There's nothing better than cheesy done really cheesily well.

I don't own any of their music just yet, but I done need to right quick. They dudes are cool. And they have a "kids album" out, of which I approve.

Official Band Site | Buy the Album
MySpace (listen to "Beer" & "Boogers")

Thursday, May 24, 2007

C-U Thursday:

Casados is a Champaign-based husband-wife team that knows how to rock -- in an acoustic/harmonious/folky/guitar-and-harmonium sort of way. Methinks there's something rather mesmerizing about them and their music, particularly when the harmonium (a strangely erotic instrument ... perhaps because of its french and indian roots) kicks in. Live, Nic plays acoustic guitar and sings lead on most songs; Heather sings harmonies and plays mandolin and the now thrice-mentioned harmonium (they're frequently joined by friends playing accordion, slide guitar, etc.). And "live" happens quite often, as they've played almost 70 shows in the past year, in Chambana and the Midwest along with extended tours to both coasts. I was fortunate enough to catch them live at the Canopy Club in Urbana last weekend, where, due to an unfortunate booking that listed them as headliners but didn't have them playing until 1AM (after two very good bands and two highly mediocre bands), they were gracious enough to play for a bit even though there were only about six people still around, including myself, the bartender, and the sound guy. They played the songs off of their EP (released in early April), all of which I like very much, as well as a few brand new ones, including one about great-grandma that made my friend Dan weep silently in his whiskey. It was quite lovely to be serenaded with such personal and lovely music by two people who obviously enjoy their music and each other. Their music, particularly the harmonies, is just plain beautiful.

Here are two tracks from their five-track EP that I wish was much longer (though I don't hold it against them), Passages. Nic wrote all the songs on the EP, played a whole slew of instruments, and recorded it all himself in their home studio. They bill the album as the following, which I find to be quite intriguing: "Nic Dillon and Heather Dillon are in self-imposed exile. Tossing aside the respectable nine-to-fives, they've taken to the road on a Garfunklean journey to look for America. Passages is a documentary of the beginning of that journey and the people observed: five small lives of pain and change -- the wide-eyed drifter, the penitent divorcee, the dogmatic slacker. Five lives of quiet desperation, playing out their bit parts on a grand stage."

Casados - "Take It Slow" [MP3 (in a new window)]

Casados - "Twenty-four" [MP3 (in a new window)]

I'm really looking forward to the music these cats put out in the future. May Champaign-Urbana embrace you, Casados!

P.S. Casados is Spanish for "married".
Official Band Site | Buy the Album
MySpace (listen to "Panama" first)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TMBG Yeah You Know Me

A well-written and thoughtful concert review/article about one of my favorite bands, They Might Be Giants, here (from the Village Voice).

I say they're one of my favorite bands, but I honestly haven't purchased one of their "adult" studio albums since 1996's Factory Showroom (unless you count the McSweeney's magazine soundtrack in 2001). We have both the more recent "kids" albums, No! and Here Come the ABCs, and I even own the 2003 documentary on them: Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns). But I sorta feel like I don't know them anymore...

I'll never forget first listening to Flood in Adam & Cheryl Gohr's basement while in 8th grade in the spring of 1991; introducing Mark Rospenda to it while playing pool in his basement (TMBG sounds good in basements, apparently), and him thinking that his tape deck broke the cassette when he heard the slow-mo in "Someone Keeps Moving My Chair"; doing a full-on interpretive dance with my sister to "Fingertips" (from Apollo 18), which we still reference to this day; and seeing my first TMBG concert in Ypsilanti, MI with the MTs in spring '97.

Am I silly and weird because I like them or do I like them because I'm weird and silly?

I keep saying that I need to listen to their new stuff, but the little I have heard I haven't gotten immediately excited about, and I've quickly moved on to other things. What a bastard I am. This is my public apology to the good Johns: I'm sorry for being a bad "adult" fan in recent years.

The family and I love the kids stuff! No! really is a wonderful album, and includes a few of my favorite TMBG songs ("Bed Bed Bed", "I am a Grocery Bag", etc.). We even went up to Chicago to see them play a kids show at the Old Town School of Folk Music a couple years ago. I still listen to the old music, particularly since the ten-year-old daughter is now really getting into them. But, darnit, they've been so good to me all these years, I need to take a solid listen to contemporary TMBG, starting with their new album that's just coming out, The Else. Given how tech-savvy and "with it" they are, with free frequent podcasts, free MP3 downloads, multiple websites, etc., I can't say I have much of an excuse to not listen in. So, I promise you...I'll have a listen and report back--someday--on my new aural experiences with the boys of TMBG.

For now, here's some delicious old-school rock silliness:

They Might Be Giants - "Don't Let's Start" [video]

Official Band Site Buy the Album (No!, and many others of course)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

C-U Thursday:
Lynn O'Brien

Lynn O'Brien is a fantastic singer-songwriter-pianist in the vein of Regina Spektor, with a bit of Nellie McKay and Norah Jones thrown in. Those are all very good things. She's not Russian (Regina), a British-born Broadway lead (Nellie), or the daughter of Ravi Shankar (Norah), but who needs all that when you're from East-Central Illinois, fool! Yes, Lynn is living the life right here in Champaign-Urbana/Bloomington-Normal, as a 20-year-old Music Therapy major at Illinois State University who's become a regular in the Chambana music scene over the past two years. She's made the Iron Post in Urbana her second home, where she seems to play once a month or so to quickly-growing and highly-appreciative crowds. Lynn is, rather remarkably, a self-taught musician, having only started formal training last year. She evidently makes one hell of a teacher, cause homegirl can play the piano--and, she's just picked up the guitar as well. To top it all off, her voice is what really sets her apart. Her debut album, Umbrella, which was recorded/produced/mastered/etc. at Dubwax in Urbana and released in September 2006, features ten other musicians playing alongside Lynn, including her family members. The fully orchestrated songs on the album provide lovely additions and contrasts to the solo work that Lynn often does in concert, where she tinkles the ivories, lays down beautiful and very interesting vocals, asks the audience to sing along, and basically makes everyone in the room fall in love with her--all with the greatest of ease, and seemingly without a care in the world.

Following are two tracks from Umbrella. Lynn writes some great, more "serious" ballads, often jazz-tinged, but I'm particular to her more quirky fun stuff, such as "Italy", below. These songs have quickly become favorites in la maison du Tete.

Lynn O'Brien - "Italy" [MP3 (in new window)]

And here is perhaps the most delightful song ever written, "All My Troubles are Bubbles". Props to Pops O'Brien for playing the guitar and the rest of the O'Brien family for vocalizing on this wee bit of happiness.

Lynn O'Brien - "All My Troubles are Bubbles" [MP3 (in new window)]

Check out Lynn's MySpace page (link below) for upcoming concerts, including an appearance at The Beat Kitchen in Chicago on May 27th.

Here are two newspaper articles with more info on Ms. O'Brien:
"Student uses voice to express feelings, help others", The Daily Vidette (ISU student newspaper)
"The one thing ISU has that U of I doesn't", Buzz Magazine (weekly UIUC student magazine)

Below: Lynn O'Brien - "The Recycling Song" [live video; not taken by La Tete]

Official Site (in development) | Buy the Album (contact Lynn via her website)
MySpace (listen to "Company" first)

Friday, May 11, 2007

There will be posts there will.

I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes.

I saw the sign.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

C-U In Concert: José González

I'm confident Argentinian-Swede acoustic guitar maestro José González recognized the mecca-nicity of Champaign-Urbana when he chose to grace our fair cities with his awesomeness on his recent short US tour. Playing just 7 venues in 10 days in small to mid-sized cities (no Chicago, NY, or LA!), including the massive Coachella Festival in California, José hit the Courtyard Café (absolute maximum capacity 449, though I highly doubt they've ever stuffed that many people in there) at the Illini Union at the University of Illinois on Wednesday, May 2nd. I was the lucky winner of two free tickets (an $8/ticket value!!) in my first ever call-in radio contest win on C-U's own 107.1 WPGU, though I was planning on going even if I had to pay the exorbitant ticket price (ha). Most of the crowd was sitting on the floor or in chairs in the back of the room, which made for a lovely and laid-back environment. After a highly mediocre performance by a local band (that I was expecting more from) with a guitarist standing front and center who decided to face away from the audience for the entire performance, the lights dimmed to a spot on a chair center-stage, and José stepped in, sat down, and began the magic. Over the course of a bit under an hour, José played every song that I hoped he would, including all his more well-known songs ("Hand on Your Heart", "Stay in the Shade", "Heartbeats" being his most popular, methinks). The sound in the Courtyard was really amazing, as both his voice and guitar were incredibly clear, loud, and beautiful. (I'd experienced sound issues at concerts there in the past, so it was very nice to see that change, though we realized afterwards that José had his own Nordic sound dude running the show, not the venue staff.) It was definitely one of the best concerts I've been to. There's just something wonderful about one man and a guitar, alone onstage, able to so captivate an audience for an entire show. "Teardrop", "Crosses", and "Lovestain" were three highlights of the evening. Interestingly, something seemed off on my favorite song, "Hand on Your Heart", but I couldn't quite place what it was. The crowd clapped heartily after each song, and then was in complete silence while José did his thing. His guitar work and picking were, as my friend put it, bad ass, and lots of fun to watch up close and in person. So, if you're so lucky to live in a town as cool as Chambana, and José comes for a visit, you must show him the love. In the meantime, here's one MP3 and a video I took of "Stay in the Shade". Taylor over at Music For Kids Who Can't Read Good has a nice write-up, two MP3s, and a video (of "Crosses") at his site (it seems he got a closer seat on the floor than I did, so his pictures and video are better!)

José González - "Teardrop" [live audio a different concert]

A rather awkward "um"-filled interview w/
José from the University High School (Urbana) student newspaper, with videos from the show: "Guitar hero"

Below: José González - "Stay in the Shade" [live video, May 2, 2007]

Official Site | Buy the Album (Veneer)
MySpace (listen to "Lovestain" & "Heartbeats")

Thursday, May 3, 2007

C-U Thursday:
Dan Beahm & the Invisible Three

Every Thursday or Friday this here blog is gonna focus on a local Champaign-Urbana band that La Tete finds to be sexy. Certainly the sexiest band in the C-U land is none other than Dan Beahm & the Invisible Three. Sure, the dude's head is smaller than his hands (as you can see in the picture above) and his last name has an unnecessary and potentially dangerous "h" in it, but that is quickly forgotten when you hear the music this man pulls out of his whatwhat. DBi3 is the mellow, lovely, passionate, multi-instrumental, indie-tastic baby of Beahm, a man with many different musical offspring (check out his label's website...psst, those bands are all different incarnations of Dan Beahm, but don't tell him I told you). Dan's been in Champaign for around three years, and came to us from Columbus, Ohio, where he helmed the power-pop bar-rock trio DB3, which gained a loyal local following. After the band went their separate ways, Dan returned to solo work, and crafted the album Amplifier, which he released this past February. Dan plays all the instruments and sings all lead and harmonic vocals, as well as pretty much every damn other thing involved in making the album. So, on the album, the Three are in fact invisible; however, it seems that Dan has yet to discover how to replicate the playing of multiple instruments and the singing of multiple harmonies on the live concert stage (we can't all be Andrew Bird, now can we...), so over the past few months following his album release Dan has been appearing in a number of venues around Champaign-Urbana with a visible Three: a cellist, a drummer, and an auxiliary vocalist/random instrument dude. Unfortunately for C-U, Dan will later this summer be moving to Boulder, CO to follow the magical musical call of the mountains. But, neverfear C-U, you have a few more chances to catch him live.

Amplifier is quite a departure from the electric guitar rock of DB3. The album is almost if not entirely acoustic, and Dan shows his chops on guitar and keyboard in particular. "Mackinac" is a beautiful song that is a good representative for the rest of the album.

Dan Beahm & the Invisible Three - "Mackinac" [MP3 (in new window)]

"Half as Cool as Han Solo" brings out the nerd rocker in Dan, and while it is quite different from the rest of the album, it provides a great final track. I predict this song will play a role in Dan's ascent to fame and glory. Whether the picture above will help or hinder that ascent is yet to be seen.

Dan Beahm & the Invisible Three - "Half as Cool as Han Solo" [MP3 (in new window)]

I encourage you to check out Dan's website at, where you can listen to the entire album streaming for free. Other personal favorites include "Kandahar" (a must-listen), "The Visitor", and "Two Hands". Check out the upcoming Champaign-Urbana concert dates as well. And maybe, if we're lucky, Dan will finally update the freakin' site as he's been promising to do for quite some time.

I've been fortunate enough to be playing the role of "auxiliary vocalist/random instrument dude" (as mentioned above) with Dan and the band the past few months, and I consider him to be a very close friend. However, I had nothing to do with the creation of the album (though, in the interest of fuller disclosure, I did receive a shout-out in the liner notes), and I won't be moving out to Boulder with him (just yet anyway), so my days in DBi3 are in limited supply, and I will be but a forgotten blip on the VH1 DBi3 special in 2040, a la Pete Best. Plus, I don't really like him all that much; I'm just using him to get the groupies. So, all that being said, I don't feel all that bad about this being a very-slightly self-serving post. Rawk.

Official Band Site | Buy the Album
MySpace (listen to "Kandahar" & "The Visitor")

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

MP3 Blogs in the News

Interesting article on the front page of this past Sunday's Arts & Entertainment section of the Chicago Tribune, all about e-music and MP3 blogs in particular. La Tete sadly was not mentioned. Chicago-area blogdudes Can You See the Sunset from the Southside? and Songs: Illinois were featured, and added some interesting bits.

Links to the article, at Steve Johnson's (the Tribune's "Internet critic") blog, Hypertext:

"New paths for e-music buzz"

and an accompanying article, "A sampling of new and interesting music sites"

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

It Doesn't Get Much Better Than Flugelhorns & Modern Dance

Beirut, a 21-year-old from New Mexico who so far has released one full album (Gulag Orkestar, which was considered by many chic artsy hipsters to be one of the best albums of 2006) and two EPs, is one insanely-talented young gentleman. I'd never heard of him until the morning AFTER he played an incredibly teeny venue in Urbana last October to rave reviews, and I fear he's already getting too big to come back here again anytime soon. Honestly, I'm more a great admirer and appreciator of his music at this point than I am a huge fan -- I dig his music, but for some reason I'm not inclined to listen it to every day like some of the other bands I'm passionate about (Sufjan, I'm looking at you) -- but my appreciation has grown much stronger after seeing this video for his song "Elephant Gun". It is, simply put, beautiful. Modern dance, ukuleles, accordions, long strips of flowing fabric, fun costumes, confetti, and a flugelhorn (ok, I admit, I'm not totally sure as to exactly what sort of odd-looking brass instrument that is) -- what more could one ask for? And, I am supremely jealous of that mustache and coiffure.

Beirut - "Elephant Gun" [video]

Official Band Site | Buy the Album
MySpace (listen to "Postcards from Italy" & "Scenic World")