Cool Music Tour
At least one of this summer’s blockbuster sequels won’t feature an intergalactic slimeball, a pair of buddy cops, or an angst-addled superhero. How do seven cutting-edge bands and a supporting cast with everyone from fire-eaters to tattoo artists sound for box office brawn?
Lollapalooza, the multimedia megatour dreamed up by former Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell, was the surprise hit of last summer’s recession-ravaged concert season. While bankable veterans were all but keeling over in half-full stadiums, Farrell and his largely unknown coterie of too-raw-for-radio bands were playing to the largest audiences of their careers.
This year the nine-hour rock-and-gawk marathon Lollapalooza ’92 is shaping up as the 800-pound gorilla of the amphitheater circuit. Woe be it to the B-level alternative-rock bands who have to cross these guys on the road in July, August, and September. The tour — featuring the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Ministry, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, and Lush — will probably be the only big-bowl show of the season for the hipper- than-thou collegiate-rock crowd.
The tour, which starts July 18 in Mountain View, Calif., is as much a youth-culture circus and teach-in as it is a rock show. Rather than just playing in front of the student union, these rockers are bringing the student union with them. To wit: a counterculture bookstore; hair-cutting, ethnic food, crafts, and jewelry booths; locally recruited rock bands on a second stage; virtual-reality exhibits; an amino acid smart-drink concession; and a circus sideshow. And — talk about a party with a platform — there’ll be information available on nutrition, AIDS, substance abuse, animal rights, gun control, and a slew of other issues. ”It’s not at all like a regular rock show where you have your crummy band first, your not-so-crummy band second,” says Peter Barsotti, Lollapalooza’s self-proclaimed Director of Oddities and Curiosities. ”The idea here is to sample a band, try a piroshki, check out a book on tattoos, and wander back to try another band. I don’t guarantee they’ll like everything. I do guarantee it will be very different.”
— David Plotnikoff
Cool Album Title: Supersadomasochisticexpialidocious
Julie Andrews is blushing at this very moment. Wait until she hears this deranged ”psychobilly” band from Detroit, whose music is all buckshot guitar fuzz and primordial beats. The album also features a crunching remake of the Ohio Express’ ”Yummy Yummy Yummy” subtitled — with good reason” —Satan Mix.”
— David Browne
Cool Alternative Singer
In her apartment in Allston, Mass., just outside Boston, Juliana Hatfield has her summer mapped out. ”I want to try something that hasn’t been done before,” she says, idly strumming an unplugged electric guitar. ”I want to play guitar and sing in a trio. I want it to be heavy and hard.”
The alternative-rock scene is jam-packed with take-no-guff women brandishing guitars and spitting out tough words. Hatfield, 24, is more reserved but no less striking. Highly regarded in underground circles as a member of the recently disbanded Blake Babies, Hatfield is now staking her own turf with her just-released solo album, Hey Babe. Unlike the front persons of Hole or L7, though, Hatfield doesn’t just bury her voice underneath musical rubble on Hey Babe; her little-girl voice is also capable of dreamy, hooky pop, like a hipper version of the Bangles. ”There are a lot of bands with women in them, but no one’s had the influence of Chrissie Hynde or Exene Cervenka,” she says, adding half-jokingly, ”so I guess I’ll fill that void myself.”
In fact, it was after hearing an album by Cervenka and her band, X, that Hatfield, then a high schooler in Duxbury, Mass., found her calling in life. ”I’d never heard a woman sing like that before. For the first time, I heard what I wanted to do. It was pop, but it was heavy.” She then spent six years singing and playing bass with the Boston-based Blake Babies, who recorded three records of wispy, minimalist pop. On stage with them, swaying to the music as her hair fell in her face, Hatfield personified alternative cool.
Hatfield remains wary of hype: ”Women in rock bands are exploited, like a novelty,” she says. At the same time, involvement with the music business is unavoidable. The North Carolina-based Mammoth Records is negotiating with a major label about a possible distribution deal, meaning Hatfield may be headed for the big leagues whether she likes it or not. However, she takes consolation in the success of Nirvana (whom she salutes on Hey Babe in the song ”Nirvana”). ”They’ve kept their integrity,” she says. ”It shows you don’t have to smile and kiss ass and wear dumb clothes to make it.
”I haven’t done what I want to do yet,” she adds. ”Some of my stuff is whiny and sappy. But that’ll change.” When Hatfield plugs that electric guitar back in, watch out.
— David Browne
Cool Classical Musician
Fans call him ”the Nige.” Critics have called him everything from ”a mynah bird among the penguins” to ”Dracula in a blue dressing gown.” Nobody in the august world of British classical music can ignore violinist Nigel Kennedy.
It’s more than the road-kill-with-mousse coiffure, the three-day beard, and the violin earring. The 35-year-old Brighton-born, Juilliard-schooled virtuoso instrumentalist has achieved rock star-scale adulation. He did it with great technique, great looks, and a generous helping of what the British call cheek.
”I don’t think classical music needs to be taken seriously,” says Kennedy. ”The snobbery is really the death of it. If the true test of classical music is being remembered, Hendrix and Led Zeppelin are the classical artists of their age.” Along with Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Anne-Sophie Mutter, he is proof that sex and violins sell. In a field where 10,000 discs is a respectable sales figure, his 1989 EMI Classics recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons sold more than a million copies.
This summer Kennedy wraps up most of his classical commitments and strikes out for the fields of jazz and rock with a string quartet of his own. ”Others might see it as a giant leap, but I don’t. If I decide to play Prince and Peter Gabriel instead of the old dead composers — so what?” But if the rock world responds with a yawn, could he take his fiddle and go home? ”Good question. I’m hoping I won’t want to. Can you imagine Miles Davis turning back after Bitches Brew? Nah.”
— David Plotnikoff
Cool Jazz Reissue
Cosmic, man. Five of pianist-bandleader’s Sun Ra’s incredibly rare recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, first released on his own El Saturn label, are now eye-popping picture CDs from Evidence Music. Despite Ra’s reputation as an avant-garde kook’s kook, these releases are surprisingly accessible, remarkably contemporary, and — of course — truly out of this world.
— Dave DiMartino
Cool Music Industry Trend
Remember the days when you might buy an LP by a new band you had only vaguely heard of — just because someone told you the group was good? The high cost of CDs has pretty much killed those impulses — until now. Along came the platinum success of Ugly Kid Joe’s five-song EP, As Ugly as They Wanna Be. (An EP, or extended play CD or cassette, contains less than an album but more than a single — about 20 minutes of music.) Suddenly the record business realized that people might actually check out a new act or music genre if they didn’t have to plop down a $20 bill to do it. As a result, record racks are full of low-priced ($10 or less) EPs that allow music fans to sample alternative rock (the Breeders, Primus, Firehose, Prong), dance pop (EMF), rap (the White Men Can’t Rap compilation), and metal (Tool, Alice in Chains). Says Ugly Kid Joe’s lead singer, Whitfield Crane, ”It proves you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to make a marketable product.” Now if they could only work on the return of the 45…
— David Browne
Cool R&B Artist
Nona Hendryx, who along with Patti LaBelle and Sarah Dash established the oft-imitated LaBelle soul shout, isn’t exactly a diva on the warpath. But as she surveys the state of current R&B, she does want to make a few things clear. These high-energy dance loops — songs in which the vocalist ”starts out screaming and ends up screaming” — are not her idea of art. Nor are the soundalike vocalists who ape whatever’s hot. ”Now you hear the singer of the month,” she says, ”and then you hear the copies of them.”
In the ’70s the LaBelle trio’s high, torrential harmonies might have lifted ordinary songs into extraordinarily exciting events — and spawned a slew of imitators — but now Hendryx is championing a quieter revolution. She’s still singing with the same spitfire determination, but on her collaboration with Billy Vera, You Have to Cry Sometime, a collection of vintage R&B that benefits the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, she exercises remarkable poise, control, and finesse. ”With time, you learn restraint,” Hendryx, 46, says. ”You want people to hear the words and the intention, and not just a voice.”
Consider You Have to Cry Sometime to be Hendryx’s own little corrective measure, a history lesson for the herd of inexperienced singers who, despite chart success, have yet to do their homework. Hendryx sings the Isley Brothers’ ”It’s Your Thing,” Marvin Gaye’s ”Ain’t That Peculiar,” and her newly penned Motown homage, ”All the Way to Heaven,” and each is made more entrancing by her patient, understated delivery. ”We don’t have to hear you sing every note known to mankind,” she says, ”especially if you want someone to listen to you more than once.”
Hendryx has continued to write songs (two of her compositions appeared on Patti LaBelle’s most recent solo album; another is slated for Mavis Staples’ next record), has ventured into producing other artists, and is writing a film score — but she still finds she is compelled to sing.
”I aspire to make music that serves and moves people, because music can get into places nothing else can reach,” she says. ”I use it as some sort of healing source.” Which is as good as a guarantee that Hendryx won’t trade her soul testimonials for a turn on the highly lucrative dance-music assembly line.
— Tom Moon
Cool Musical Tribute
If the thought of hearing ”When I’m Sixty-Four” one more time makes you want to reach for a Day-Glo barf bag, here’s an alternative: Big Daddy’s remake of the entire Sgt. Pepper album in ’50s styles, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Beatles record. Imagine ”With a Little Help From My Friends” done Johnny Mathis style, ”Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” arranged like ”Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and ”A Day in the Life” tailor-made for Buddy Holly, complete with hiccups (”I read the news today, oh-oh boy”). The sound of ”We’re Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band — we hope you will enjoy the show” crooned with doo-wop harmonies is a trip in and of itself.
— David Browne
Cool Country Singer
One of the cool things about Rodney Crowell is that he gets hot under the collar sometimes. Country musicians are, as a rule, a mannerly, conservative lot, eager to smile, sing the familiar hits, and get back on the tour bus. Not our Rodney. ”This stuff you hear in Nashville all the time, industry people who’ll say to you, ‘Don’t offend anybody,’ like if you make music that doesn’t sound like everything else on the radio that your music is somehow ‘offensive’ — that pisses me off,” says Crowell, sitting in a Nashville recording studio. ”I mean, what is the job of an artist except to throw a big wad of red paint on the wall and see who it jars?”
Crowell’s latest version of red paint on the wall is a frequently lovely, often ornery album called Life Is Messy, which has already yielded the top 10 country-chart hit ”Lovin’ All Night.” You might know the Texas-born singer-songwriter best from his 1988 album, Diamonds & Dirt, or from the hits he has written for others, including Bob Seger’s ”Shame on the Moon” and Waylon Jennings’ ”Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This.” Crowell, 41, has also produced all of singer Rosanne Cash’s hit songs, even as the pair conducted a 12-year marriage, which resulted in three children and lots of autobiographical music, including Cash’s shattering album-length portrait of their breakup, 1991’s critically acclaimed commercial flop, Interiors.
”Interiors was the only album of Rosie’s I didn’t produce, and I think it’s the one that captures her most completely,” he says. ”I was amazed the album didn’t sell better. I said to myself, ‘Don’t people want to hear the truth?”’
The truth is something Crowell has also striven for on Life Is Messy. In addition to the rueful title song (”Life is messy/It’s trying to depress me”), there are rollicking, romantic country-rock tunes like ”It Don’t Get Better Than This” and ”Let’s Make Trouble”; Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, and Steve Winwood pop up as cameo voices. And there’s a number about his split with Cash, an achingly beautiful song called ”Alone But Not Alone” that sounds like a lost Roy Orbison classic.
As has been true since he released his first album in 1978, Crowell creates songs that tackle classic country themes — lovin’, leavin’, and honky-tonkin’ — without the musical and verbal clichés. ”I admire people like Lyle Lovett, k.d. lang, Steve Earle — people who’ve stretched the idea of what a country artist is. But I also know what they have in common: They’ve had to leave country music because they weren’t being played on country radio, because the industry alienated them. Maybe I’ll get lucky and continue to succeed doing the kind of music that’s important and personal to me, but it would be strictly luck.”
Ask him about the mass-audience explosion that Garth mania has touched off in country music and Crowell is blunt: ”I hear an explosion in the media, but I don’t hear any big creative noise in country right now; I don’t hear any Bob Dylans out there, rewriting the rules.”
Crowell’s inspirations while making Life Is Messy are off the beaten country path: ”Miles Davis — I was listening to records of his like Birth of the Cool, Kind of Blue, Sketches of Spain. And Frank Sinatra — I had a major obsession going with In the Wee Small Hours. I was loving all this jazz music, this pop singing, but I couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to help me in making my own music. I wasn’t going to make a jazz record, you know?
”Then I realized that what I was into was the atmosphere and the poignancy in those albums — I didn’t have to play jazz chords; it was a feeling I was after. So I set out on a pilgrimage to find some new moods, some new voicings, in my music.”
If you see Crowell on tour all over the country later this summer, you’ll hear him and his band, the New Spirit Review, playing not just his own hits, but also rockabillied versions of oldies like ”Tobacco Road,” ”I Hear You Knockin’,” and ”Respect Yourself.” ”I’m just trying to expand,” he says, ”to get deeper in what I do.”
— Ken Tucker
Cool Rockabilly Performer
Rockabilly giant Sleepy LaBeef stands 6 feet 6 inches tall and weighs ”between 265 and 292,” he says, ”depending on how hungry I’ve been.” His concerts are as grand as his measurements. With his basso profundo booming over a boogie-woogie beat, LaBeef creates stream-of-consciousness medleys of songs by such dissimilar artists as George Jones, Little Richard, Muddy Waters, and Nancy Sinatra.
Born Thomas LaBeff in Smackover, Ark., the 56-year-old musician got his nickname on his first day at school ”because I look like I’m about half asleep,” he says. He dropped out in the eighth grade, traded his hunting rifle for a guitar, and by 1954 was opening for Elvis Presley. Except for playing a swamp monster in 1968’s The Exotic Ones (”typecasting,” LaBeef jokes), he has been touring ever since, appearing ”everywhere from Texas honky-tonks to Spanish bullfighting arenas.” And with his massive stage presence, no one ever has to ask, ”Where’s LaBeef?”
— Bruce Fretts
Cool Semi-Country Singer
An exuberant gospel choir accompanies the story of a long-winded preacher who eats a passing dove for sustenance. During a wistful ballad, Tonto tells the Lone Ranger to ”kiss my ass.” A stomping country tune spins the tale of a young man who drives to the wedding of a former lover — and blows both bride and groom away with a .45. No, this isn’t Sam Peckinpah’s version of The Graduate. This is pop songwriting as practiced by Lyle Lovett.
Since his 1986 debut, Lovett, 34, has been consistently praised by critics for his wry humor and dark insights. His third album, 1989’s Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, sold more than half a million copies, and his latest, Joshua Judges Ruth, is headed that way too. ”I realize that the kind of music I do is not easily played on the radio,” he says. ”But it’s okay. I get to do what I want to do. As long as I can get away with that, I’m really happy! I was lucky enough to get in on this experimental phase in Nashville — things that are not now considered mainstream country.”
Lovett has proved that he’s not mainstream anything. His own albums — including Joshua, which is being marketed to a pop audience — feature a deft blend of country, gospel, folk, blues, and swing, all marked by a dry wit and twisted plots that he describes as ”conversations with God about death, women, and food.” Now, having received glowing reviews for his latest album and having made his screen debut in The Player, Lovett’s enjoying the perks that come with being the brainy crowd’s hippest songwriter.
One such perk has been finding himself branded a sex symbol. The tall Texan with the tapered pompadour exudes a quiet, confident folksiness, like an experienced preacher who’s keeping a secret. But a sex symbol? ”I should be so lucky!” says the unmarried Lovett. Still, there’s evidence to contradict him. On her new single ”I Feel Lucky,” Mary-Chapin Carpenter fantasizes that ”Lyle Lovett’s right beside me with his hand upon my thigh/…Hot dog, I feel lucky tonight.” Not bad for a guy whose elongated features give him the look of a claymation-figure-in-progress.
Not all women are die-hard fans, though. Because of his unusual glimpses into what he calls the ”man-woman thing,” he has been accused of misogyny. In ”She’s No Lady” (from 1987’s Pontiac), Lovett sings, ”The preacher asked her, and she said I do/The preacher asked me, and she said yes he does too/And the preacher said I pronounce you 99 to life/Son she’s no lady she’s your wife.” His answer to the complaints was to record a straight rendition of ”Stand by Your Man.” ”My whole thinking was, ‘If you hated that then you’ll really hate this!’ Once you’ve gotten someone’s goat, it’s fun to see how far you can take it.”
Pretty far, it seems. On his recent Tonight Show appearance, the reluctant hunk held his own with Magic Johnson and Bob Newhart, whose legendary dry wit looked pretty moist next to Lovett’s. Backstage after the show, he let forth an embarrassed grin as he viewed his surroundings. ”What fun. Getting to do this for a living is a wonderful thing. Playing something that’s musically legit, even though the point of view is a little askew, has the effect — sort of like Bob Newhart — of telling a joke and keeping a straight face. After all, as a songwriter, I’m not obligated to tell the truth.” An observation he makes with a straight face.
— Bob Cannon
Cool CD Reissue
The summer’s gotta-have CD reissue is Elvis: The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — The Complete 50’s Masters. A five-disc box of virtually all of Presley’s Sun and RCA master recordings from ’53 to ’58, this set captures the King in his prime. In all, there are 140 tracks, 14 previously unreleased, and enough Elvis stamps to get the postmaster general all shook up all over again.
— Dave DiMartino
Cool Rock Resurrection
Along with the Velvet Underground, the Troggs were alternative rock before the genre had a name. During its ’60s heyday, the British band (named after troglodytes, primitive cave dwellers) set singer Reg Presley’s primal libido confessions to merciless power chords, culminating in the epochal 1966 hit ”Wild Thing.” (Cheap Trick’s remake can be heard in Encino Man.) Though the Troggs continued to tour and record, they were largely forgotten — by everyone, it seems, except longtime fans R.E.M., who played a version of the Troggs’ 1968 hit ”Love Is All Around” on MTV Unplugged in 1991. So it makes sense that the Troggs’ first new studio album in more than 15 years, Athens Andover, features cameos and songs by the Georgia band. The Troggs — including, Chris Britton, Peter Lucas, Presley, and Dave Maggs — pick up where they left off on revved-up blasts like ”Tuned Into Love”; ”Don’t You Know” is a musical sequel of sorts to ”Love Is All Around.” The Troggs will still make your heart sing.
— Dave Browne
Cool Song Lyric
”What the world
needs now is
some new words
of wisdom, like lah
lah lah lah lah lah
lah lah lah lah”
— ”Teen Angst (What the World Needs Now)” by Cracker
Cool Rock Revival
Forget that overproduced piece of camp that was resurrected thanks to Wayne’s World. ”One Vision,” an unexpected slab of guitar raunch that highlighted Queen’s show-stopping performance at Live Aid, is the one that deserves to be revived. Freddie Mercury never yowled better.
— David Browne
Cool Rock Band
”Nirvana has validated all of us jerks,” laughs Thurston Moore, singer and guitarist of Sonic Youth. The kingpins of New York’s downtown rock scene hardly need any validation, though. On ’80s albums like Daydream Nation and Sister, Sonic Youth made music (hurricanes of fuzzy guitar squalor) and copped an attitude (bratty and deadpan-hip) that hacked out a path through today’s alternative rock jungle.
For its efforts, the band has been rewarded with a contract with Geffen’s DGC label (which released its 1990 album, Goo) and with opening for Neil Young on his 1991 tour. ”He kind of exploited us to f— with his audience,” Moore recalls, ”but he was a down-to-earth dude.”
It’s easy to see how Sonic Youth could mess with an audience’s mind: Using screwdrivers and other tools, the group achieves maximum feedback quotient yet shapes the sonic whirlwind and hooky melodies into a beautiful noise, much the way Young does whenever he picks up his electric guitar. Young should also appreciate Sonic Youth’s new album, Dirty, due in stores July 21, which tackles topics like racism, the murder of a close friend and, in a song called ”Swimsuit Issue,” sexual harassment in the workplace. ”Well, it’s an election year,” says bassist-singer Kim Gordon, who is married to Moore. ”Yeah — we have a right to be angry,” adds Moore.
The band — which also includes guitarist Lee Ranaldo and drummer Steve Shelley — champions other causes as well, namely underground rock. It was Sonic Youth who brought Nirvana to the attention of DGC, which signed the Seattle trio, and Moore runs his own independent label, Ecstatic Peace, which specializes in records by obscure young bands like New York’s Cell. Moore and Shelley can also be heard this summer on a raw, feisty album by the Dim Stars, featuring a rare recorded performance by the legendary Richard Hell. Sonic Youth itself will tour nationally after the release of Dirty. ”Then we’ll break up,” Moore jokes, ”and I promise you we’ll never come back for a reunion tour.” Now there’s a cool idea.
— David Browne
Cool Music List
U2’s version of Lou Reed’s ”Satellite of Love,” a bonus track on its current ”One” single.
Cool Retro Sound Effect
The way Arrested Development’s new CD opens with the hiss of a needle landing on a scratchy LP.
The CD of Nils Lofgren and Grin’s 1972 album, 1 + 1.
Cool Ambient-Rap Album
Basehead’s Play With Toys — Sly Stone meets De La Soul in Frank Zappa’s basement.
Cool Play on Nirvana Title
”Smells Like Smoked Sausages,” a compilation of alternative-rock singles on Seattle’s Sub Pop Records.