Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Here's an article from the Montreal Gazette reviewing a new book about rock t-shirts. Interesting stuff, including some basic etiquette regarding wearing a band's new shirt to their show.

So admit it--what band t-shirts do you own? I'll start: I have three Radiohead shirts (one OK Computer era, one grey hoodie from the Amnesiac tour & one Kid A t-shirt), a homemade Lou Reed "Transformer" shirt and a homemade Rolling Stones shirt.

I've been listening to a lot of new music lately and I realized that I don't do a good job of communicating what that music is to you, my gentle reader. So here's a list of a what I've been blaring through my speakers lately to the dismay of my lovely girlfriend:


Score one for the winning formula of Pure Pop listening station + too much free time + money burning a proverbial hole in my pocket = SOLD! I bought the first Dungen album when it first came out & I remember listening to it once, not being that impressed & shelving it. I was bored and hanging out at PurePop one day and decided to give their new album a listen...and I was completely blown away. It's not that it's all that much different from the first album; it's just that my musical tastes have been more in line with the ProgBlog lately---I've developed a liking for metal drones and stoner rock that I never had before.

"Tio Bitar" goes from heavy, fuzzy and loud ("Intro") to jazzy and Can-esque ("Gor Det Nu") to pretty and gypsy-atmospheric ("C Visar Vagen")...and that's only during the first four tracks! There is literally something for everyone here; I would highly recommend this album.


This is still my favorite album of 2007. Kevin Barnes and company have not-so-slowly evolved from a Beatles-esque twee band to indie-poppers to synth-dance Club Kid poets over the past few years, and "Hissing Fauna..." is nothing short of a masterpiece. Catchy and fun instrumentals intermingle with some of the darkest and most depressing lyrics you'll find anywhere (it was strange to watch thousands of hipsters bopping around to songs about anti-depressants and nervous breakdowns at Pitchfork. Ok, well, maybe it's really not that strange).

The band is showing a tremendous amount of range musically and lyrically, especially surprising considering they were making Beatles-esque twee songs that all sounded essentially the same a few years back. "Hissing Fauna..." has great dance songs ("Suffer for Fashion", "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse"), darker minor-chord & oscillator numbers ("Cato As A Pun", "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal") and even Prince and Beck-esque funk numbers like the falsetto-infused "Faberge Falls For Shuggie" and "Labyrinthian Pomp". A great album that deserves a couple critical listens if you haven't already.


It's pretty well know that rock "supergroups" typically fall flat on their face--or at least pale in comparison to the works of the individual acts on their own. However, Boris & Sunn O))) were able to somehow pull of the mean feat of not only retaining their individual styles on a collaborative work, but actually intermingling the techniques to create an incredibly cohesive and brutally beautiful album.

While both bands dabble in similar genres (doom drone/metal, psych/stoner rock, ambient noise, etc.), they still have a noticeably different sound (compare Boris' "Pink" with Sunn O)))'s "Black One" for a good comparison). Somehow though, they managed to blend all of the influence together into one of the tightest collaborations I have ever heard, filled with dark heavy drones, gentle ambient synths, brutal drumming & all types of vocal styles (heavily distorted, Leslied and vocoded on "Atom Heart Mother"-esque "Akuma No Kuma", then beautiful and ethereal on "The Sinking Belle"). This album will probably pass under a lot of radars since it is usually housed in the "Metal" section of the record store, trust someone who is not a metal guy at all & pick up this album.


As I mentioned previously, I've been on a bit of a psychedelic kick lately. I think it started when I picked up the Sabbath "Black Box" set a couple months ago and began revisiting Ozzy in his heyday.

I actually found out about Mammatus by accident, after I downloaded the wrong mp3 on in an Animal Collective chat room. The track was off of their newest album, "The Coast Explodes" which is also incredible. I ended up buying the album & then realized that they had an earlier, self-titled work as well.

While "The Coast Explodes" is definitely a progressive step forward (with more eastern-influenced experimentation), I've been listening to the first album more lately. It's a bit darker (at least in the first couple of tracks) and they keep the vocals more subdued and minimal than in the follow-up (trust me, vocals are not their strong point). With the exception of an overly jam-bandy final track (the pretentiously named "The Righteous Path Through the Forest of Old"), "Mammatus" is a really engaging and energetic album that suffers only from poor mastering compared to "The Coast Explodes". Both are currently available on CD, and "Mammatus" is available on vinyl. "The Coast Explodes" will be available in a special-edition 2xLP vinyl set very soon.

Yet another of my cinematic idols, Michelangelo Antonioni, died today at the age of 94. Antonioni was the director of films such as "Blow-Up", "L'Avventura", "L'Eclisse" and "Red Desert". His films were beautiful, languid portraits that explored the alienation, monotony and boredom of modern post-industrial life and were a huge influence on many of today's greatest filmmakers, including Tsai Ming-Liang, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Gus Van Zant, and many others. He was one of the last true poets of cinema and will be greatly missed.


Not a great week to be an aging genius filmmaker whose heyday was in the 60's. If Godard goes this week, I'm probably going to lose it.

Monday, July 30, 2007


I was reading CNN online this morning and was bummed to see that talk show host Tom Snyder had passed away. Then I read a little further down and was completely devastated. One of my idols, the godfather of angst himself, Ingmar Bergman died as well.

The man made almost too many masterpieces to name--"Wild Strawberries", "The Seventh Seal", "Persona", "Shame", "Through a Glass Darkly", "The Magician", "Hour of the Wolf", "The Passion of Anna", "Sawdust and Tinsel", "Cries and Whispers", "Fanny and Alexander"...if you haven't seen any of these films I would highly recommend going to Waterfront Video immediately and renting a few. They can be dark and pretentious at times, but almost always rewarding, moving & beautiful portraits of the human condition, at both its best and worst.

Rest in piece, Ingmar. Tack.

Saturday, July 28, 2007


Here's a low-rez copy of the Oak show I filmed last weekend at Kriya Studios. If you'd like a high-rez copy on DVD, just let me know.


Friday, July 27, 2007


This is it folks--the long-awaited (well, maybe just by me) final countdown in the Spitting Out Teeth Top 10 rock documentaries list. Enjoy!

#5 - "The Last Waltz" (The Band & others)

In recent years, there has been a noticeable jump in the number of prominent narrative filmmakers directing rock documentaries or biopics, from Jonathan Demme directing the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense" to Oliver Stone's "The Doors" and the upcoming Todd Haynes polymorphous Dylan portrait "I'm Not There".

However, this wasn't always the case. Typically, music films (other than your standard Hollywood "musicals") were directed by independent directors, either hired by a record company to help promote an album or tour, or following a band out of a labor of love. The big names in early rock doc were the Maysles Brothers, D.A. Pennebaker, etc.-- certainly not Tinseltown big-hitters by any means.

The playing field changed in 1976 when one of the up-and-coming directors of the era, Martin Scorsese (still running hot after a Palme D'Or and several Oscar nominations for his now classic "Taxi Driver") teamed up with the world's greatest Canadian Dixie rock group The Band to record their final concert. The show, which would combine performances by The Band along with collaborations with some of their friends and former co-workers such as Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Joni Mitchell, Dr. John, Neil Young and others, was to be called "The Last Waltz".

Whereas most rock documentaries that came before it were shot on an indie shoestring budget (often on grainy black-and-white 16mm film scraps), Scorsese decided to take an epic approach to documenting the concert. Despite Robbie Robertson's desire to keep it simple and shoot with just a couple of 16mm setups, Scorsese decided to document the historic occasion using seven top-of-the-line 35mm cameras, manned by some of the best cinematographers in the biz--Michael Chapman (Raging Bull), Vilmos Zsigmond (Close Encounters of the Third Kind), and László Kovács (Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces) included.

The film is infamous for the massive amount of drugs used on set by both musical performers and film crew. While drug use is not overtly shown (with the exception of a couple joints being passed around), the backstage interviews make it quite obvious. It's incredible that communication could even take place between the massively coked-up Scorsese and the pot, smack & 'lude fueled Band members. It's funny as hell to watch Scorsese unable to sit in his seat, pupils the size of dinner plates and talking faster than the Micro Machines guy while Robbie Robertson and crew seem sucked into the couch, immobilized, with droopy eyelids. Rumor also has it that a large cluster of cocaine that was hanging from Neil Young's nose during his performance had to be rotoscoped out in post!

Despite the huge production, difficult musicians (one of the film's top stars, Bob Dylan, nearly refused to be filmed) and more white powder than a Killington ski trail, "The Last Waltz" went on to be a success, and has stood the test of time. A remastered DVD and CD box set were recently released, as well as a critical re-evaluation of the film, which Michael Wilmington called "the greatest rock concert movie ever made – and maybe the best rock movie, period."

#4 - "Don't Look Back" (Bob Dylan)

Ok, it's no secret to those of you who read this blog on a fairly regular basis that I'm a pretty big Dylan nut. I own pretty much every Dylan studio album release (on CD and vinyl) as well as a large number of bootlegs. And as anyone who has ever gone camping with me can attest to, I even taught myself to play most of his songs on guitar and harmonica. My name is Jay and I am a Dylanholic.

However, "Don't Look Back" didn't make it to my Top Five based on its Bobness alone--notice the absence of "Festival", "Renaldo and Clara", "Hearts of Fire", "Masked and Anonymous", etc. ("Eat The Document", the cinematic document of Dylan's legendary 1966 tour and my true favorite Dylan film, was omitted only because it has never been officially released). The reason why "Don't Look Back" made the list has more to do with its cinematic properties than the presence of Dylan.

While seeing a rock documentary with news-like hand-held, grainy footage and point-and-shoot compositions may seem cliched now, the approach was fairly revolutionary in 1965 when "Don't Look Back" was made. The director, D.A. Pennebaker, was a pioneer of the style/genre that would come to be known as "cinema verite". Verite (or "film truth") was an attempt to capture a journalistic sense of objectivity in documentary filmmaking, where the camera became an unjudgemental, all-seeing eye. The movement came part from theory and part from technology--the then-recent invention of small, portable 16mm film cameras, unobtrusive "long" telephoto lenses, and high-speed film stock that could capture images with minimal lighting made it possible for filmmakers to go places and see things that they never could before.

In order for Cinema Verite to work its intended purpose however, it requires not only distance between subject and camera, but a nearly miraculous ability for the subject to completely forget they are being filmed. Pennebaker had worked on a film that had become the icon for this, Robert Drew's "Primary", where presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphries were so preoccupied with their tense primary debates and campaigning that they dropped their guard and allowed the camera to pick up some very intimate moments on the campaign trial.

The lack of self-consciousness needed for Verite makes rock stars simultaneously the best and worst subjects for this type of filmmaking, a conflict which is perhaps the reason why "Don't Look Back" is so interesting. Dylan's massive ego and desire to posture & ham it up for the camera (the pseudo-rivalry with Donovan theme is a good example) makes objectivity nearly impossible, while the distractions of exhaustion from non-stop performing and traveling, the dulling of the senses caused from sleep deprivation, drinking & drug use and the dizzying spotlight of celebrity (the camera becomes just another of the thousands of eyes watching you) make him an ideal subject. In fact, the film itself is just as much about the duality of "The Artist Known As Dylan" and trappings of celebrity (i.e. what happens when a folk poet with a cult following turns into a pop superstar) as it is about the music itself.

It also doesn't hurt that Pennebaker's film captures an interesting moment in both rock music and Dylan's history. It was the 1965 tour, a major turning point for Dylan when he was just about to transform from folk-commie poster boy to the Electric Rimbaud who would soon get booed off the stage at the Newport Folk Festival and create the "thin, wild mercury sound" of Blonde on Blonde. While still performing completely acoustic in "Don't Look Back", Dylan had released "Bringing It All Back Home" shortly before filming started and the response of his fans to his musical evolution was overwhelmingly negative ("it doesn't even sound like you"). It is also interesting to see the juxtaposition of early clips of a rag-tag Guthrie clone performing "With God On Our Side" in 1963 vs. the hipster Dylan of '65 wearing dark sunglasses indoors and shopping for electric guitars (or mod clothes in the "Dylan 65 Revisited" supplementary film released this year).

Shortly after the release of "Don't Look Back", a severe post-modern critical backlash against cinema verite filmmaking came about (possibly the best being Jim McBride's mock-verite film "David Holtzman's Diary"), exploring the idea that there is no such thing as objectivity in filmmaking since a director makes the subjective decisions about what he/she films, what edits are made, which filmstock and f-stop is used, and most importantly, the fact that people can never truly be "themselves" on camera. In fact, these charges apply well to Pennebaker's film, most noticeably when you compare it to his recently released "Dylan 65 Revisited", a one-hour film created from clips from the "Don't Look Back" editing room floor. It becomes obvious that Pennebaker chose to represent only one side of Dylan's nature in the film: the sullen, brooding angry poet, and not the smiling, fun-loving kid that is seen extensively in "Dylan 65 Revisited". Regardless, verite was still an interesting experiment and "Don't Look Back" was one of its most intriguing and entertaining films.

#3 - "Benjamin Smoke" (Smoke)

When people find out I majored in film in college, the two questions I hear most (besides "what, are you an idiot?) is "what is your favorite film?" and "who is your favorite director?" While the former question is difficult to answer and changes quite frequently, I usually answer the latter quite easily--Jem Cohen.

I was first introduced to Cohen's work in my junior year during an experimental film course I was taking. We watched "Lost Book Found" and it absolutely blew me away--the hauntingly stark wide-angle landscapes, the familiar yet frightening everyday objects, the collage of different film & video mediums, the intriguing blend of experimentation and narrative, the beautiful gamelan soundtrack...it was the most perfect thing I had ever seen. Jem Cohen had made the film I had wanted to make my whole life, but just never knew it.

Soon I picked up all of the Cohen films I could find, a difficult feat considering most of them are short experimental works that are only available for online rental to institutions, made to be screened at museums and galleries. However, a couple of Cohen's films are widely available on DVD; they are his music documentaries, "Instrument" (Fugazi) and his collaboration with "Old Joy" cinematographer Peter Sillen, "Benjamin Smoke".

I love and hate "Benjamin Smoke". I love it because it is one of the most beautiful, disturbing and human films I ever seen. I hate it because I envy Cohen for being able to make the types of films I would love to be making, blending my love of experimental music with experimental documentary film. I have never watched a movie that so perfectly combines the mood of a music with the images and environment that the sounds were created in and, in turn, evoke.

Like all of Cohen's films, "Benjamin Smoke" is not only about its subject (in this case, the eccentric front man of the Athens, GA band Smoke, Benjamin) but also about the dirty little industrial suburb where he lives called Cabbagetown, the bizarre inhabitants of the neighborhood and the wild collage of a house that Benjamin isolates himself in when he's not playing music. Benjamin, it is revealed is a former punk rock musician, a gay transvestite and a drug addict. By the end of the film, it is also revealed the Benjamin is dying of AIDS, a disease that would take his life shortly after filming for the documentary concluded.

More than any of these things though, Benjamin is revealed to be an iconoclastic and impassioned artist with labyrinthine and often amusingly insightful trains of thought. Although he recognizes that he has made mistakes in his life, he refuses to apologize for the type of person that he is: a free-thinking, free-living musician who always maintains a sense of peace and compassion that belies his wild appearance and lifestyle.

I won't say anymore about this film because it's incredibly difficult to describe. It gains its power more from vague images and connections than it does through direct plot or performance footage alone. Even if you aren't really into more avant-garde types of films, it's worth watching alone for the music--Smoke sounds like a tag-sale Tom Waits, a lo-fi haunting gypsy blues with lyrics that crawl up your skin. Just rent it. You won't be sorry.

#2 - "Meeting People Is Easy" (Radiohead)

I can still remember quite clearly the mania that resulted in the music world when Radiohead released OK Computer a decade ago. After the death of Kurt Cobain and a strange subsequent rise in the popularity of white R&B boy bands and electronic music, it seemed like the small revolution that the grunge movement had started in re-popularizing guitar-based rock had crumbled. That is, until Thom Yorke and company released a Floydian epic concept album that was a huge commercial and critical success. Suddenly, the Oxford quartet (only a few years out from being called a one-hit wonder with "Creep") were being touted as "the saviors of rock music" and OK Computer was being called the defining album of a generation.

No wonder they went IDM with Kid A.

Directed by Grant Gee (the director of the band's disturbingly beautiful "No Surprises" video), "Meeting People Is Easy" is a portrait of Radiohead at the peak of their success, following them through the ups and downs of a sold-out worldwide tour to promote their masterpiece album. Shot in an experimental collage style that utilizes various formats of film, video and still photography, the film favors cinematic Hegelian dialectics and odd juxtapositions of sight and sound that are at times deeply symbolic and complementary and other times deliberately conflicting and alienating. Rarely is there sync sound in this film, as strange images coincide with endless radio and television interview sound bites that start becoming indistinguishable from each other after a while.

The film is, in both form and content, a brilliant exploration of the theme of isolation in a world of globalized economies and homogenized cultures. Gee captures desolate post-industrial landscapes in dozens of cities that seem to all look alike after a while. The film reflects this with a type of cinematic Esperanto, showing endless successions of symbols and signs; while nearly the entire film is in English, it doesn't really make a difference. In a post-modern, technology-driven world of high speed travel & communication, uniqueness is replaced by convenience, artistic creation is replaced by commercial image and marketable sights and sounds. It's a new dizzying, fast-paced world and Radiohead, a small band from England, find themselves stuck right in the middle of the whirlwind.

While this is not the first rock documentary to expose the less glamorous side of the music business, it is the first to make this topic its primary subject of exploration. Whether its the tribulations and monotony of life on the road, the endless and monotonous press interviews and photo sessions, the language barriers or the frustrations of wanting to make a new album while having to be a human jukebox for a crowd demanding your greatest hits, Radiohead is not having any fun on this tour and it shows. Instead of enjoying the spoils of success, Thom Yorke (the obvious protagonist of the film) Yorke comments to reporters about the trappings of success, the idea of being sucked into a lifestyle of "a job that slowly kills you" through its parasitic nature. Apparently being a rock star ain't all it's cracked up to be.

There was a bit of a backlash by the band after the film was released, claiming that it was a one-sided portrayal of the band at the time and was primarily responsible for the public perception of the band as a bunch of gloomy, brooding angsty artist types (I would argue they did a good job of creating this mythos themselves with "Creep" other songs). There was actually a lot of laughing and joviality on the tour (Yorke and Radiohead do have a sense of humor by the way) that Gee chose not to show. But that's his choice, and this isn't intended to be a verite film. Instead, he created a whole new genre of music documentary, the "anti-rockstar" doc, which influenced dozens of films that would follow it (most notably Air's "Eating, Sleeping, Waiting and Playing", the Wilco film "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" and "A Good Band is Hard To Kill", a portrait of Beulah).

#1 - "Gimme Shelter" (The Rolling Stones)

As far as I am concerned, the Maysles' Brothers' "Gimme Shelter" is the "Citizen Kane" of rock documentaries. It has everything, from some of the greatest live music footage ever filmed (by "The World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band") to Hell's Angels, drug-crazed hippies, and more. And most importantly, it actually records (and then slows down to display frame-by-frame) the moment when the hopes and dreams of the 1960's counterculture movement went up in smoke--the murder of Meredith Hunter at the Altamont Motor Speedway.

While the Stones were pretty well associated with "the dark side" of the counterculture at this point (between the sexuality of their performances, their association with occultism and their hard drug use), "Gimme Shelter" was the final loss of any innocence they may have still maintained from the "Flowers" days. The film starts off in happier times, with the band having a goofy good time shooting the album cover for their wildly successful live album, "Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out!", followed by footage from their legendary Madison Square Garden show and footage of the relaxed and confident band in the studio, putting the finishing touches on one of their greatest songs, "Wild Horses" (from "Sticky Fingers").

Things go steadly downhill from here. With random intercutting of the band in the editing room, watching with a 20/20 hindsight, the Maysles' crew takes us into the office of the Stones' record executive who is trying to book a huge free concert. When an initial venue falls through, it is chosen that the band (along with several special guests) will play at the Altamont Motor Speedway. The generosity of a free concert quickly becomes overshadowed by the lack of planning and proper financing needed to make it a safe and successful event.

On the recommendation of the Grateful Dead, the Stones decided to hire the San Francisco chapter of the Hell's Angels to provide security at the show. Paying them little more than "all the free beer they could drink", the already unstable and testosterone fueled Angels went from security guards to drunken rampaging lunatics in a matter of hours. The stoned hippies who dared touch their bikes were stomped; Marty Ballin of Jefferson Airplane was punched in the face by an Angel & knocked out cold; Jerry Garcia and the Dead took one looked around and hopped back in the chopper and high-tailed it out of there. Meanwhile, the Stones just stayed in their trailer, adding unknown fuel to the fire.

What happens from here on out is pure chaos, a Dantean vision of a paradise lost in the midst of intoxication, insanity, demonic song & murder. Altamont not only destroyed the fragile and tentative myth of peace, tranquility and safety of 60's utopianism, it also marked the end of the same for the Rolling Stones as a band. Following the concert, the band would begin a gradual but steady decline in terms of their critical, commercial and creative success ("Exile On Main Street", a miracle in itself, would be the last of the great Stones albums starting with "Beggar's Banquet), as well as the mental and physical health of the band. Richard's would soon become a full-fledged heroin junkie and Jagger a society junkie, a split in personalities that would nearly break up the band a few years. "Gimme Shelter" records the time for the Stones when, as the great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson puts it, they "were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave" as well as showing the exact moment when "the wave finally broke and rolled back".

The Maysles' brothers' formalistic style in "Gimme Shelter", while certainly utilizing verite elements, was also pretty revolutionary for the time. After primary shooting had ended, they decided to film the band in the editing room reviewing the footage with Maysles as they responded to everything from the silly to the tragic (including Jagger watching the footage of Hunter being stabbed to death, frame by frame). While this might just seem like a gimmicky post-modern trick or an early version of the DVD commentary track, it is actually quite poignant when you consider the controversy about the festival that was still raging at that time.

Many blamed the band, their management and the film crew for what happened at Altamont--the concert was hastily put together and poorly financed mainly because the Stones were excited to make a concert film that could bring in big money while they were at their commercial peak. As a result, they cut corners financially and in terms of planning and preparation, creating a stifling atmosphere that was destined to turn violent. And despite their passive complicity in all of this tragedy, the band and the producers not only decided to still release the film but to embrace the sensationalism and included footage of the murder to help increase ticket sales. As a result, "Gimme Shelter" has long been a film of great interest in debates concerning filmmaker ethics.

Regardless (or maybe because of all this), "Gimme Shelter" is an amazingly complex and frightening work that only gets better and better with repeated viewings.


So that's it folks--the top ten. I'm sure there will be a lot of argument about the choices, and I greatly encourage you to challenge my decisions in the comments section. There are a few reasons that I may not have chose one of your favorites:

1) You have horrible taste in movies or music (just kidding; you're here aren't you?)

2) I haven't seen it. Although I'm a huge fan of rock documentaries, there are probably hundreds of them I haven't seen. A few on my list of must-sees are "Dig", "We Jam Econo", "The Decline of Western Civilization", "The Kids Are Alright" and dozens of others)

3) I deliberately decided to leave films that lacked an official theatrical or DVD release off of my list. As much as it pained me to leave off favorites like "Eat The Document", "Cocksucker Blues" and "Speed Racer: A Movie About Vic Chesnutt", I thought it was the best way to ensure that I didn't tease you with glowing descriptions of movies you may never have access to.

So that's it. It's been a lot of work, but I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any other ideas for a top ten list, just let me know.

I think there are few of us who would disagree that Burlington, for such a small area, has a pretty diverse and successful music scene. While we obviously owe a great debt of gratitude to the artists who provide us with great entertainment (often for no pay or even at their own expense), I think the people who make it possible for these artists to record, perform and distribute their work locally also need a shout out. Here is my love-letter to just a few of such local establishments.


Since April 1998, Higher Ground has been supplying the Greater Burlington area with some of the best acts in local, national and international music, comedy, experimental theater, etc. While many (including myself) have been known to criticize Higher Ground for pandering to the jam-band and dad-rock crowd, they have always taken the initiative to bring in some of the best new musical talent, even when it is at the expense of box office receipts.

Take a look at some of the names that Higher Ground has brought (or assisted in bringing) to our little town in the last few months: Bob Dylan, Sonic Youth, Wilco, Feist, Grizzly Bear, Meat Puppets, George Clinton, Clipse, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Public Enemy...and this is just what I can remember off the top of my head.

Higher Ground and its staff--Spitting Out Teeth salutes you! Keep up the great work.

Check out the Higher Ground Wikipedia Page


Ok, I know I've put down our local indie record store on a few occasions, especially with my comparisons to Reckless Records. But I love this shop and can't imagine what I'd do without it. For such a small space, they have an incredibly vast and relevant collection, and are immensely responsive to the needs and desires of their customers. Who else around here is going to get you Animal Collective on vinyl? Borders? FYE? I think not.

You are also not going to find a more diversely knowledgeable staff than Pure Pop's employees anywhere in this area. Some of Burlington's best musicians, critics, bloggers, etc. have had a stint behind the PP counter and there is always someone there who knows more than you do about any genre you can think of.

The one element that was always missing for me was a Pure Pop web presence....and now it's here! The Pure Pop Online website allows you to special order your favorite CD's and vinyl, as well as check on info about local shows and read some of the fantastic blogs created by Pure Pop's employees (which, by the way--where are the ladies' blogs? We need at least one female music blogger in this area!).

Pure Pop, despite the stranglehold you have on my wallet, I love you. Thanks to Mike and his crew!


I'm not sure what I love more about the Radio Bean--the killer lattes, the peppermint iced tea or the incredible and diverse acts that they book. I've seen everything from acoustic folk to free jazz to hard rock to experimental and even comedy and theatrical pieces there, and I've always been impressed. While I wish there was a bit more space, it's still one of my favorite hangouts in Burlington.

Thanks to Lee & the crew at the Bean!


One of the newest art venues in town, the Kriya Studio does a great job of multitasking--visual arts exhibitions, experimental film nights & of course, some of the best live shows in the area. The space is perfect, the admission is always cheap and the shows are always presented in a casual yet professional manner. If you haven't been to Kriya yet, I definitely recommend checking out their website calendar or MySpace page and attending a show.

You rock Julia--thanks for of your efforts over the past seven months; looking forward to Kriya's 1st birthday party!


Have you been to any really good local shows lately that featured great experimental music from local and out-of-state artists? Or have you seen some really amazing hand-drawn concert posters around town? More than likely you can thank Tick Tick for that. They have been a major presence in the local music scene lately and are probably the biggest reason why the audience for experimental music of all sorts in the Burlington area seems to be increasing exponentially.

A big, well-deserved thank you to Dale, Graham & Julia!


The Monkey House has been a staple of the Winooski Main St. bar scene since the beginning of the decade, and has always been a unique place to hang out and enjoy a pint. From the African-themed decor to the unique furniture and theme-nights (i.e. iPod DJ Wednesdays), the Monkey in every way an alternative to the sports-themed coke bars and veterans' clubs that make up the rest of the Winooski nightlife.

The Monkey House took a hit during the start of the Winooski redevelopment project, fully closed for a brief period and then reopened only on weekends. However, the ownership of the Monkey recently changed hands, and it is once again a thriving seven-days-a-week club. And another huge added bonus is that the new owners have opened their doors to many of the area's more eccentric music acts, including several Tick Tick shows.

Thank you to the Monkey--we appreciate our little oasis in Winooski!

And last but not least....how could I forget the Burlington music blogging community? Besides yours truly, there's SolidState, The Le Duo, Highgate, False 45, Transistor Blast, Record Store Guy, Greg Davis' Favorites, Grime News...I'm sure I'm forgetting a bunch (sorry!)

And of course, even though he might have left us behind for the bright lights & pork-barrel politics of our nation's capitol, Casey Rae-Hunter's The Contrarian and ProgBlog will always have honorary "VT Blog" status in my mind.

Keep on rockin' Burlington. Or dronin'. Or jazzin'. Or whatever the hell you do. Just keep being creative because there are lot of us who really appreciate it.

RE: Republican Vermonters bitching about high property and school taxes...

Here's an easy solution: rent an apartment. If you own a house, you're obviously wealthier than most of us, so quit complaining. Owning property is a privilege, not a right, and if you choose to own a house in this state, you have to pay the taxes that the state government imposes. And if you don't agree with the politics and the distribution of tax dollars--move.

And by the way, keep defeating those school budgets. I can't wait for those disillusioned undereducated kids to develop drug problems and start stealing from that beautiful house of yours.

Sorry folks, sometimes you just have to vent.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


I've nearly completed the write-up for my Top Five rock documentaries...should have it posted by tomorrow evening at the latest. In the meantime, you can always review picks 6-10 here.

Ah, eBay...you wonderful, horrible invention of man! It's like the world's biggest yard sale, but it takes credit cards and you can't take home your junk right away. Also like a yard sale, you end up buying a lot of stuff that you want but don't necessarily need.

I've been on a big vinyl kick lately (who hasn't?) as well as a big free-jazz kick (thanks JB), so it's not a surprise that I'm currently bidding on a lot of avant jazz vinyl. Here's what I'm currently in the running for:

John Coltrane, "Ascension" (original mono release)

Pharoah Sanders, "Karma" (original Impulse release)

Pharoah Sanders, "Thembi"
(this is the one Sonny Sharrock played on)

Outbid me and your ass is mine!!! :)

I'm also watching (only WATCHING, mind you) this little guy....

Damn you eBay and your vile material temptations!!!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Looks like Kanye West stole Fiona Apple's idea and had Zach Galifianakis lip synch one of his songs for a video. Still funny though & Will Oldham is hilarious as a hip-hopper.


Here's the Fiona/Zach Video if you haven't already seen it--


If anyone happens to be reading this before 5pm Wednesday.....

Apparently Higher Ground is doing a presale of Feist tickets today via a link or code available in today's HG newsletter but I don't have access to it because I can't check my Yahoo mail from work. If someone has it and can post it in the comments I will be eternally grateful!

Also, another request--anyone have access to tickets for the KT Tunstall invite-only show at HG this Saturday?

Charles Gayle, "Ancient of Days"

A swingin' affair once again from Mr. Charles Gayle, who, along with David S. Ware, is the preeminent avant-garde tenor saxophone player of the era. Shades of mid-60s ESP-Disk/Impulse havoc abound, but actually this is a more lyrical affair than Gayle's previous two Knitting Factory albums, Kingdom Come and Testaments. On earlier CDs, Gayle seemed to keep reaching and reaching, and while his fortitude was inspiring, it seemed at times groundless. On Ancient of Days, Gayle and his collaborators lay a more solid foundation, which at least brings him back to earth once in a while. Joining Gayle on Ancient of Days is a stellar cast of players, including the spirited pianist Hank Johnson, bassist Juini Booth, and longtime Gayle drummer Michael Wimberly, who evokes outright Elvin Jones-style percussion on "New Earth." Ancient Of Days is a masterpiece of consistent, fire-breathing testimonial. --Joe S. Harrington

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Now that vacation is finally over, I'm going to dedicate more time to this site. The first step was adding a couple of new sections to the vertical banner to the left. You will notice that the "Burlington Blogs" section has been changed to "Friends of Spitting Out Teeth". The reason for this is to accommodate blogs for my friends who live in other parts of our fine nation, including Casey's "The Contrarian" and "ProgBlog" (Washington D.C), Jereme's "Test 2" marketing books blog (Chicago) and Erin & Megan's "Simple Measure" blog, that documents some of their favorite vegetarian recipes--yum! (also Chicago).

The next step was the addition of a late-summer poll that will allow you, Joe Public, to help make Spitting Out Teeth a better virtual world in which to live (or at least occasionally visit). Look for the bright blue box under the national music blogs list & let me know what you'd like to see more of on this site--concert reviews? local CD reviews? social commentary? a big hug? You decide, and I'll listen because, hey, I care about your needs.

The last step, as you can probably tell by the title of this post, is to complete the second installment of the "Spitting Out Teeth Top Ten Rock Documentaries" list. Expect to see it here by Friday at the latest. Expect to see some classics and some obscure surprises as well.

As always, thanks to everyone who visits this blog--I appreciate your support and friendship! And remember to use the "Comments" section--I don't do any kind of site monitoring for "hits" or anything, so the only way I know people are reading is when they post a comment. So whether you want to just say hi, engage in the discourse or tell me I'm a moron, go for it. It only takes about 30 seconds to register for a Blogger account and you won't get a bunch of spam mail or anything. Take care everyone!

One of my favorite new bands, Grizzly Bear, will be performing at Higher Ground on September 23rd. I was able to see these guys perform at the Pitchfork Music Festival and, despite some audio issues that were not at all their fault, they put on an amazingly beautiful and rocking show.

This is definitely one of the the end-of-summer "don't miss" shows, so I better see you there!

UPDATE: It looks like another veteran of this year's P4K Fest will be playing at Higher Ground as well--The Sea and Cake will perform at HG on October 1st!

Sunday, July 22, 2007


It looks like the folks at Criterion have some great new releases coming around the corner...

Jean-Luc Godard's "Breathless"

Gus Van Sant's "Mala Noche"

Terrence Mallick's "Days of Heaven"

Saturday, July 21, 2007


Friday, July 20, 2007


Here's a show that you shouldn't miss--the wonderful Feist will be performing at the Flynn Theater on Sunday, September 9th! Tickets go on sale via Higher Ground next Friday; I'm sure they'll go quick so buy them ASAP.

See you at the show!

Thursday, July 19, 2007


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Congrats to Mr. Highgate himself on being the first coherent, even erudite, hipster ever interviewed by WCAX news. Nice work Mr. Hollywood!

Here's a video clip I shot of Of Montreal performing "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" at the Pitchfork Music Festival this past weekend. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Skalpel - "Skalpel"

Drawing on Poland’s rich jazz heritage (much of it semi-illegal samizdat recordings made when the Communists thought that jazz could bring down the state), Cichy and Pudlo have an unrivalled source of samples to tap and they tap it with consummate aplomb. They combine a kind of broad brush romanticism with the most carefully dissected breaks for a sound which comes on like an East European “In A Silent Way” with heavier drumming. The truth is that they just get it right, again and again and again, making music which is by turns emotive, funny and filmic but always funky as fuck.
But scratch a little deeper and the Polish scene of the 60s and 70s is more than just another crate to dig and also serves as their main inspiration. “We are much more influenced by this music than the present day scene,” explains Cichy. Pudlo points to the richness of a scene which included Michael Urbaniak (the only violinist to play with Miles Davis, like, ever) and Krzysztof Komeda (who composed the music for Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby). Which perhaps explains why Skalpel’s music, despite their name, never feels clinical. This is about keeping something living – not a post-mortem.

The Thing - "Action Jazz"

The Scandinavian trio known as The Thing—Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson and two Norwegians, bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love—seems to be rewriting the definition of its brand of brutal jazz. After being compared to Peter Brötzmann's early trios, being called a power jazz trio, and being compared to garage rock, The Thing has settled on the term Action Jazz to describe this delicious hell of a noise.

Action Jazz, recorded in Stockholm in December 2005, is the fourth release by The Thing for the Smalltown Superjazz in the last two years. As on all previous releases, the repertoire is quite eclectic. Gustafsson is a great sax player with colossal lungs, and the rhythm section is one of the busiest today, lending its services to South African sax player Zim Ngqawana, Chicago reed player Ken Vandermark, the Swedish-Norwegian Atomic quintet, Japanese koto player Michiyo Yagi, Finnish-American guitarist Raoul Björkenheim's Scorch Trio and Nilssen-Love's own quartet. On Action Jazz, they deliver one of their heaviest performances.

This loud ride erupts with a tight, rock-solid two-minute cover of the Norwegian psychedelic rock group Cato Salas Experience's “Sounds Like A Sandwich,” which The Thing covered on a live EP (together with American reed master Joe McPhee and CSE) of the same name last year. On the cover of Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita's mid-'70s piece ”Chiasma,” Gustafssson's sax tears open the sky and Flaten and Nilssen-Love blast with metallic, harmolodic polyrhythms; on the following piece, Ornette Coleman's “Broken Shadows,” from the same era, they adopt a much more spacious attitude. But soon the trio sound crystallizes into an explosive waterfall on their cover of a piece by the American bass and drums punk unit Lightning Bolt. This bombastic rendition shines with reckless abandon—Nilssen-Love pounds all over the place, Flaten slaps on the bass and Gustafsson screams.

The original “Better Living” is a free improv piece that changes its route abruptly and emphasizes the imaginative playing of Nilssen-Love and the unique sounds of Gustafsson's slide sax. ”Danny's Dream” is a heartfelt cover of the best-known melody by Swedish jazz pioneer Lars Gullin, one of the greatest European baritone sax players and one of Gustafsson's musical heroes. It features Gustafsson on the alto sax, with which he still produces the wide, big sound that was identified with Gullin.

”The Nut/The Light” is a tight and feisty cover of two catchy songs by Gustafsson's daughter, Swedish teen punk idol Alva Melin, which he already covered on his solo baritone release Catapult (Doubt Music, 2005)—but here they sound more focused, especially the soulful “The Night.” Gustafsson is credited with only one piece, the closing “Strayhorn,” a slower and almost meditative track with quirky, rumbling cymbal sounds; low-register, slow blowing of the baritone sax; and gentle bowing of the bass.

Action Jazz is another testimony to the success of this group's risk-taking and barrier-shattering attitude.

Monday, July 16, 2007


Sorry I haven't written my report on the final day of Pitchfork; just got back to VT late tonight and don't have it in me to do the write-up right now. Be sure to check back tomorrow night for show reviews, pictures and some YouTube videos including two full songs from an amazing set by Of Montreal.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


So we finally made it to Pitchfork....

After last night's fiasco, I made sure I got the route down perfectly before leaving. It was made even more difficult by the fact that the CTA decided to shut down the Blue Line between Western and Clark/Lake, so we had to take a shuttle bus between those stops to get to the transfer station to hope on the Green Line. The correct one this time.

So we finally made it to the right Ashland stop & it was quite a bit different from the empty streets we saw last night--Union Park was lines of hipsters as far as the eye can see. We tried to find our way to the end of the line to get in the park and literally walked about a quarter of a mile; insane amount of people. Luckily a kindly security guard alerted us to the fact that there was another, considerably shorter line on the opposite end of the park. He was right, and it only took us about 15 minutes to get in.

Inside we immediately scoped out the grounds, including the merch areas and food vendors. A very nice selection, with everything from homemade clothing, jewelery and artwork to huge collections of vinyl for sale (Tanner, you would have would have been walking around with perma-wood all day). The food was also great and cheap--I had a huge plate of delicious satay chicken and cucumber salad for only six bucks! And there was a nice rule there that all vendors had to sell bottled water for no more than $1.

But first things first--I hit the beer tent. I bought five drink tickets for $20, picked up my first pint of a delicious local pale ale (sorry, cant remember the name) and headed to the Aluminum stage for my first show of the day--the wonderful Grizzly Bear.

I managed to get up nice and close to the stage (easily, because at this point only a fraction of the large number of attendees that would show up later were there) and waited a few minutes while the band warmed up. When the show started, things were a little rough--a seemingly flat sound, a couple false starts. I was surprised; Grizzly Bear has been touring quite extensively as of late & I figured they'd have the bugs out by now. But it turned out their multi-instrumentalist bass player/clarinet/electronics guy was having technical difficulties. They were really nice about it and complemented the Pitchfork staff for finally fixing it--but it was the first of many technical fuck-ups by the Pitchfork crew. To quote Mr. Ron Burgundy, real bush-league. Once everything was fixed though, Grizzly Bear was amazing--beautiful vocal harmonies, really tight instrumentals. If you ever get a chance to see these guys live, jump at it.

Next up was Fujiya and Miyagi, whose debut album "Transparent Things" was one of my favorite albums of last year. I was really looking forward to this one, but was worried as soon as I got up to the stage--despite it being one of the most anticipated shows, Pitchfork decided to put F&M on the Balance Stage, a tiny little stage with a crappy PA tucked in the corner by the merch tables. I got stuck standing off to side of the stage, quite a few rows back. When the band started up, they sounded great...but faint.

Fujiya & Miyagi are a band you want to hear loud and be able to dance to. Instead they sounded like they were being played at low levels through an AM radio station. Everyone around me was asking the same thing: "It sounds great, but why is it so quiet?" Suddenly, about six songs in, there was a loud cracking noise & the volume jumped about 40 decibels and there was a loud cheer from the audience. Turned out the cracker-jack Pitchfork sound crew fucked up another one. Once the sound came up, they sounded spectacular--they reproduced the Can-esque sounds of the album perfectly (and amazingly with little in the way of electronics--I didn't realize how much of their sound is guitar/bass generated).

Jaime and I decided to take a dinner break before the next show and I had a couple more beers to get ready for the post-metal extravaganza to follow--the mighty Mastodon. We found a patch of grass fairly close to the Connector stage and watched a bit of the Iron and Wine show on the huge plasma screens. I couldn't hear it very well because they were performing across the way at the Aluminum stage, but it sounded like, well, Iron and Wine. A few minutes later Mastodon took the stage and, for the first time ever, they sounded tiny. Again, bad sound. The crowd was screaming "Turn it up! Turn it up!" and finally half-way through the first song the lead singer started glaring at the sound guy and immediately the sound went soaring.

Mastodon was great and I have a lot more respect for the band now. Lots of energy, a great stage presence and incredible virtuosity. Many a horn was thrown and Jaime and I screamed ourselves hoarse.

After the Mastodon set we had a decision to make--take advantage of all the people clearing out from the Connector stage to get a good spot for Cat Power or go stage-hopping for an hour. We decided on the latter and watched a bit of the Clipse show on the plasmas while waiting for Ms. Chan Marshall to take the stage. I missed Dan Deacon but no tears shed here.

It sucked standing around for an hour but we were well rewarded--a fourth row position for a beautiful Cat Power set, complete with the Dirty Delta Band who accompanied her on the recent album "The Greatest". Chan, a known perfectionist and self-effacer, was very unhappy with the sound--apparently the band was getting a tremendous amount of feedback on stage. As a result, Chan had to learn really close to the stage in order to hear herself and complained incessantly about the poor sound (even improving the line "This is the worst sound ever" repeatedly into one of her songs, to loud cheers from the crowd) and apologized for her "bad singing".

Apparently the only one who had any complaints was Chan--it sounded fucking amazing to me and the rest of the crowd, who erupted in huge cheers after each song. I'd heard a lot of rumors about Cat Power being an inconsistent live act, but aside from Marshall's frequent song breaks of saying "sorry" to the crowd, the music and her vocals had the same subtle, beautiful sound as it does on her best albums. And she even rocked out a few times as well, with reinvented covers of Smokey Robinson's "Tears of A Clown" and The Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction".

Here's a link to a hi-rez video clip of some of Cat Power's performance (sorry it's a SendSpace file; haven't quite figured out the FTP thing for my web hosting yet)--


We were pretty beat at that point and decided to opt out of the Yoko Ono show, so you'll have to find a review of that one elsewhere. All in all, a really great day of music despite the numerous technical difficulties. Hopefully the Pitchfork crew can get their shit together before tomorrow morning's Deerhunter show.

Saturday, July 14, 2007


So...I missed Sonic Youth. Fuck Pitchfork. More on that in a bit.

I woke up with a nasty little hangover yesterday, which I was able to sleep off before we had to head out to Navy Pier (aka "Land of the Screaming Sugar-Crazed Children) to see the new Harry Potter in IMAX 3D. It was a really cool experience seeing a Hollywood film in 3D on a six story screen, and it was a pretty decent movie as well.

We left Navy Pier around 5:00 and headed back to Wicker Park to have dinner & then meet up with some old friends from Burlington, Jeremy and Jared (Jared you may know as the former bass player for "The Interior"). I had my first Mango Mojito (and it won't be my last) and a great carne asada at the Salud tequilla lounge, and then we out to The Green Eye bar to have a few drinks.

And then the whole night started to go wrong.

We took the Blue Line to Clark & transfered to the Green Line. The train was running really slow, but it looked like we still would arrive a little early for the Sonic Youth show. Here were the directions that were posted yesterday on the Pitchfork Music Festival website:

By Train

Located, literally, just steps off the Ashland Green Line Stop.

Of course, they didn't mention that there were TWO Ashland stops on the Green Line. One of them was the end stop of a major route so we figured it must be the one. That, along with the fact that the bus was packed with hipsters talking about Sonic Youth, made us think we were making the right decision.

We got off the train about ten minutes after nine and walked out of the station expecting to see a bright, noisy festival. Instead, it was a dark, quiet run down neighborhood with the only lights coming from the local McDonalds. We asked a policeman how to get to Union Park and he informed us that it was waaaaaay across town.

When we got back to the El station, the attendant told us that we about the thousandth person who had made the same mistake. It was too late to try to get to the show at this point, so we rode the Green Line back downtown with about a dozen pissed off Sonic Youth fans who also missed to concert.

Jaime and I ended up getting back to our hotel around 11pm (3 hours wasted on the El) and had a couple drinks and went to sleep early. Hopefully today will be a little more successful.

Friday, July 13, 2007


So Jaime-Lynn and I arrived safely in Chicago yesterday around noon. We had to get up at 4am to make our first flight out to D.C., so the first thing we did when we got in was take a nice nap in our king-sized hotel bed.

We woke up around 6pm and took the El to Wicker Park. It's one of my favorite neighborhoods anywhere, probably because it reminds me a bit of a combination of St. Laurent St. in Montreal and downtown Burlington. We first had a great dinner at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Papajin (Shrimp and black bean stir-fry....yum!) and then did a bit of shopping.

First stop, Reckless Records. Sorry Pure Pop, you know I love you but I have to admit that Reckless is my favorite record store. They have a great selection of used and new CDs, vinyl, DVDs and random other stuff. They also have their very knowledgeable staff do reviews of a good percentage of the albums in the store that they print onto Avery labels and attach to the front of the album. It has resulted in me buying a lot of albums I wouldn't have otherwise, some of which I've really loved (included my fav of last year, Ponies in the Surf).

I ended up walking out of Reckless with a considerably lighter wallet, but I had these in my slightly heavier bag--

Miles Davis, The Complete Bitches Brew

Pharoah Sanders, "Black Unity"

Art Ensemble of Chicago, "Reese and the Smooth Ones"

And my very own Buddha Machine!

We then went to Marshall McGearty's smoke shop and had beers & fancy cigarettes for a couple hours (which explains my pounding headache today). After that, a stop at Myopic Books where I picked up some used Burroughs and Bukowski and then took the El back to the hotel.

All in all, a quite nice first day. We are leaving in about ten minutes to go see the new Harry Potter movie at the Navy Pier IMAX theater and then...off to the Pitchfork Music Fest to see Sonic Youth perform "Daydream Nation". A full-report of that show to follow!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


I've mentioned this a few times already, but I'm leaving town & it bears repeating. Burlington's hottest new free-jazz/experimental supergroup, the le duo (sextet), will be performing its premiere concert at Kriya Studios this Saturday (July 14th) at 8pm. The sextet is made up of some of Burlington's most talented performers, including Sara-Paule Koeller and Toby Aronson of Oak, singer song-writer Kyle Chevalier, Marnie Long and JB Ledoux (former members of Nest Material) & the godfather of Vermont experimental sounds, Mr. Greg Davis.

Unfortunately, I will be in Chicago so I will be unable to either attend or perform (maybe next time JB can make it a septet and I can show off my bulbul tarang skillz), but I hope the rest of you do. It should be one of this summer's best shows.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I've professed my love of the rock documentary genre several times before on this blog. For me, it's the Reese's Cup of my two greatest artistic passions: music and cinema, two great tastes that taste great together. And while I've gushed quite a bit about my love for rock docs, I've never actually provided a list of some of my favorites, the ones that that I watch over and over again for both entertainment and inspiration. So today I will.

What follows is part one of a two part series on my favorite "rockumentary" films. While most of these films are rock related, you will see that I've included some artists that push the boundaries of generic "rock" music, and some that in fact step right over those boundaries. But, hey, it's my list so I'll do what I want.

I hate the typical "10 Best" lists as much as everyone, so I've tried to make this one a bit special by giving some back story on the artists, as well as some personal anecdotes and a not-completely-half-assed review of each of the films. Maybe 3/4 assed. Even 7/8 assed on a couple. Regardless, I hope you enjoy it and maybe even pick up a few of the films you haven't seen yet.

So without further ado....let the countdown begin.

#10 - "The Song Remains The Same" (Led Zeppelin)

I guess I count myself amongst the small minority of American male music fans who never had a "Zeppelin Period". It seems that for many it's a high school or early college right-of-passage to become immersed in Robert Plant's trippy mythology-infused lyrics and Jimmy Page's pre-metal power chords, but it seems to have bypassed me somehow. It's not that I didn't listen to Led Zeppelin (I think the first vinyl album I ever owned was a copy of Zep IV I got from my dad), but they were more of a sidenote for me as I dived head-first into the "wild, thin mercury sound" and neo-Rimbaudian lyrics of Bob Dylan's mid-sixties work.

Recently (maybe because of the remasters? or because I'm playing guitar more?) I've begun to re-examine Led Zeppelin's work, both on vinyl & celluloid. Last month I rented "The Song Remains The Same" and, although I thought it was a pretty uneven work, it was worth a watch just for the incredible concert footage.

The film opens with a kind of hokey gangster piece that ends in a cartoonish bloodbath at a mansion. The film than transitions to an even hokier portrait of members of the band living an idyllic family life in what looks like the Scottish Highlands. Robert Plant apparently spent the peak of his rock star days living in a cottage & bathing his children in a local stream? I doubt it. And then suddenly it's time to go on tour--the band all gets together, flies to NYC and (without rehearsal, mind you) plays a note-perfect show to a huge crowd at the Madison Square Garden. Uhhhh....yeah.

But despite the lame attempts at myth-building and self-indulgent director flourishes, the concert footage is enough to put this film in my top ten. Although the MSG show is not one of their best live performances in my opinion, it's still a dynamic show with some amazing guitar and theremin playing by Mr. Page and some incredible singing and androgynous stage presence from Mr. Plant. Definitely worth a watch.

#9 - "Be Here To Love Me" (Townes Van Zant)

Townes Van Zant, along with Gram Parsons and Marc Bolan, has become a prime example of a post-modern rockstar. The field of study known as "revisionist history" has made its way into the realm of rock music and has resulted in a recent re-evaluation of the rock-&-roll cannon and its greats, as well as an attempt to find the superstars that the history books (i.e. Rolling Stone) forgot about.

Van Zant was an outlaw, a drunk, a drug abuser, and one of the greatest singer-songwriters to ever live. Just ask Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Norah Jones, Devendra Banhart, The Meat Puppets or any of the dozens of other musicians who have covered his songs. Best known for his breakout epic "Pancho and Lefty" and his cover of The Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" (used in the film "The Big Lebowski"), Townes recorded over a dozen albums in his short life (he died at 53 of a blood clot in his lungs following hip surgery) and has had nearly as many released posthumously.

"Be Here To Love Me" is a moving portrait of Van Zant, as both musician and man. It doesn't shy away from his addictions, fears and demons, but it also doesn't sensationalize them to the point that they take the focus away from his musical achievements. The film is beautifully shot, masterfully directed (the interviews with Townes' friends, family, contemporaries and legacies are wonderful) and intelligently edited. Highly recommended for both die-hard fans and newcomers to Van Zant's music.

#8 - Festival Express (The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, The Band)

The concept of the "festival film" has been around nearly as long as the rock documentary has. From modest verite works like Murray Lerner's portrait of the 1963-66 Newport Folk Festivals (appropriately named "Festival") to sprawling epics like Michael Wadleigh's "Woodstock" or D.A. Pennebakers' "Monterey Pop" and the recent films documenting Bonnaroo and Coachella, the "power in numbers" formula of thousands of fans + dozens of bands often = rockumentary success.

My personal favorite of the "festival film" genre doesn't cover a single festival, but instead a traveling tour of them. Bob Smeaton's "Festival Express", a portrait of a long, strange trip by Janis Joplin, The Band, Buddy Guy and The Grateful Dead via train to multiple concert sites throughout Canada, was original filmed in 1970 but was somehow not completed and released until 2004.

A truly unique touring concept that in turn became a truly unique film, the intimate setting of the tight confines of a passenger train make for some great moments with the films' stars. The creme de la creme of the 60's rock world let down their guard and just make a big party out of the trip, and the camera crew is there to capture it all, from a pitstop to clear out a local liquor store to the resulting drunken jam session that night (Rick Danko is haaaaaaaaaamered).

Somehow though, despite the unglamorous conditions and heavy partying, the musicians onboard the Express still make all of their concert stops and play some of the best live performances of their career. If you want to see some beautifully shot footage of The Dead at their peak, this is where to find it.

#7 - Nico: Icon (Nico)

While a few success stories were born between the aluminum foil walls of Andy Warhol's Factory (Lou Reed, John Cale, Paul Morrissey, Jim Carroll) there are probably quite a few more stories of failure. While the tragic tale of "Poor Little Rich Girl" Edie Sedgwick has gotten most of the attention lately (mostly brought on by the recent controversy-filled cinematic flop "Factory Girl"), perhaps the greatest waste of talent to come from Drella's House was the chanteuse known as Nico.

Nico (nee: Christa Päffgen) never really seem to fit in anywhere. Having bounced around from moderately successful attempts at modeling and acting (she had a bit part in Fellini's "La Dolce Vita") she met up with Warhol who decided to have her front his new pet project, an experimental rock band called "The Velvet Underground" (much the chagrin of Lou Reed, who was quite happy to remain the lead voice in the Velvets). The band made the smart decision and allowed Andy his little whim and recorded their first album ("produced" by Warhol) as "The Velvet Underground and Nico".

Reed's disdain of Nico was not subtle or tactful (but what about Lou Reed really is?) and she was soon out of the band before the second VU album went into production. One of the less heartless members of the group, John Cale (who would soon leave the Velvets on his own accord), helped Nico with arrangements and songwriting on her first two albums, "Chelsea Girl" (1967) and "The Marble Index" (1969). While the title track of the latter enjoyed a modest degree of cult popularity the albums were not commercially successful, more than partly due to Nico's very unconventional singing voice.

Nico continued to record and perform sporadically in the 70's, self-producing two more albums, and then had a bit of a renaissance with the 1980's NYC punk and no-wave scene. "Nico: Icon" devotes the majority of it's running time to this period, mainly because the key interviewee, band-member-turned-tabloid-paparazzi John Young, was her keyboardist at this time and has a lot of dirt to spill (Young had recently published a tell-all book about Nico that inspired the documentary). While the film pulls no punches in portraying Nico's 20+ year drug addiction (it is revealed that she turned her own son onto heroin) and the collapse of her musical creativity, it also shows her strong side, as a determined and passionate artist who still toured, recorded and acted up until her death at 49. Filled with concert footage, the dark, beautiful music that Nico created as a solo artist provides the perfect soundtrack to this brutally honest portrait.

#6 - The Miles Davis Story (Miles Davis)

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that my introduction to jazz came by way of a Miles Davis album. While many in the U.S. are shamefully ignorant about the only truly American form of modern music, there are few people who wouldn't recognize the name or face of Mr. Miles. I can still remember being 11 or 12 and falling asleep listening to the copy of "Kind of Blue" my dad picked up for me at a yard sale. It was undeniably "cool" jazz, but it also had a soothing melancholy that still puts me completely at ease, in a way that few other albums can.

What I didn't realize back then, and what many still don't realize, is that Miles was about more than bebop, orchestral jazz arrangements and cool jazz in hot suits. He was also one of the most innovative musicians of his era, pioneering jazz fusion and funk with such masterpieces as "Bitches Brew" and "Live/Evil".

While "The Miles Davis Story" rarely goes beyond the standard definition of the biopic, it does a hell of a job within these boundaries. The film follows Miles through all of his career milestones: enrollment at Julliard, early apprenticeship with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the "Birth of the Cool" peak of Davis' fame, the fusion experiments, later collaborations with hip-hop artists, etc.

Miles Davis was certainly not a model citizen by any means, and the film does a good job of portraying his vices and faults: he was addicted to heroin during the peak of his success in the 50's, became addicted to cocaine in the 70's, was bitterly estranged from his sons for decades, and physically or psychologically abused many wives and girlfriends. Think what you will of Miles as a man, he was a hell of a musician and he was creatively searching and innovating up until the very end. Using amazing archive footage and informative interviews with Davis' family members and musical partners, "The Miles Davis Story" paints a surprisingly full picture of the man, the musician, and the legend.

That's it for now...check back soon for Part Two, where I'll Casey Casem you down to my number one pick. Thanks for reading!