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DEAD INSIDE

Modern Rock’s SXSW revelers crawled into work on Monday, possibly still drunk, definitely still bloated from free BBQ, wishing for a quiet day hiding beneath their desks, thrilled that the arrival of the new Muse single took the guesswork out of their week. Countless bands had been seen (a few sets, possibly, were even remembered), as plastic cups of top-shelf liquor were sloshed together in camaraderie and rain ponchos were distributed as the skies opened up on Friday. A marauding pack of (mostly) men in their 40s (some younger, a few older), enjoying their “professional” version of Spring Break, paid for by their label colleagues, whose own week of merriment hinged upon their radio brethren’s attendance. Me? I was mostly elsewhere, a sober veteran of all 29 SXSWs, still intent on capturing that life-changing musical moment. In other words, my nights were spent stalking Spoon and The Zombies

C3’s Joe Greenwald and David Barbis hosted a dinner at Stubb’s BBQ, which was the first opportunity I had to say hello to radio friends like Lesley James, Mike Tierney, Willobee, Nik Rivers, Chris Payne, Jacent Jackson, Christy Taylor, Lazlo, Lynn Barstow, Michelle R., Charese, Paul Jarvis and Norm Winer. And you. Yes, you were also there—great to catch up. If you think it’s easy to hug while holding a plate of BBQ, guess again. And that’s why I always wear black. There was a brief (but memorable) period during my ongoing tenure at HITS, where label people and managers cared what I thought about their bands and, well, took care of me like I was radio programmer. Now, I’d much rather make money than have my ass kissed, and I’ve certainly set the bar pretty high as a valet/concierge/fixer, but it was a pleasure to have Joe Greenwald in the role of Local Hero—quick with answers and unbridled kindness. It’s treatment I would never take for granted, and neither should you. Post-dinner, Stubb’s was still the key destination of the evening for Courtney Barnett’s incredible set. “Pedestrian at Best” is one of the best-written songs you’ll ever play, and her performance was inspiring.

Shakey Graves, whose packed set was the highlight of Tuesday night, is another act busting genres, while selling out big venues. Once the dust settles on the “superstar” releases, his record has a real shot at Modern Rock—his fanbase is already in place. Lesley James and Nik Rivers have been playing “Dearly Departed” with great success. I trust these two.

Other highlights (for me) included Will Butler’s homage to late-’70s/early ’80s NYC in his first solo offering on Merge Records. Backed by three female singers/keyboard players and a standup drummer, Will was spectacular, especially on the song “Anna,” for which he said I correctly identified the Suicide influence. This is Will’s Tom Tom Club—a completely different sound from Arcade Fire. Later, I joined my Glassnote family in an Austin church for Madisen Ward and Mama Bear (pictured at right), whom Lazlo introduced to a roomful of dignitaries, including BBC Radio 1’s George Ergatoudis (pictured top left); it was truly a heavenly performance.

Although you weren’t there to see or hear it, on the panel I moderated, “I Wrote That Song,” Mac MacCaughan (Merge Records/Superchunk) played a new song from his upcoming solo record, and Marshall Crenshaw also debuted a new song, while playing “Cynical Girl” (by my request).  The aforementioned Will Butler stood at the edge of the dais to play his new single, “Take My Side,” and also wrote a brand new song in front of those assembled. Matthew Caws debuted a brand new Nada Surf song, encoring with “See These Bones,” followed by Britt Daniel’s acoustic take on “Rainy Taxi,” from the latest Spoon album. In a moment of planned spontaneity, Big Star’s Jody Stephens sang stunning, heart-stopping renditions of “Thirteen” and “For You,” backed by Luther Russell and Brett Harris. Forget about the lines, hype, etc. The purest expression of talent and shared artistic camaraderie happened in that room… 

SONG TO HEAR: Wolf Alice’s “Moaning Lisa Smile.”

Forget about the lines, hype, etc. The purest expression of talent and shared artistic camaraderie happened in that room.

 


 
 
LET ME BE MINE

I remember when SXSW Interactive meant getting drunk and making out with rock critics… But seriously, folks, within days I’ll be in Austin for my 29th go-round at SXSW, as well as my 20th consecutive year (at least) moderating a panel. This year’s panel, my third annual gathering of songwriters, will include conversations with and command performances by Will Butler (Arcade Fire), Britt Daniel (Spoon), Matthew Caws (Nada Surf), Mac MacCaughan (Superchunk/Merge Records) and Marshall Crenshaw (whose “Cynical Girl” was my opening song for a year’s worth of college radio shows on WOBC, circa 1983).

This musical extravaganza will take place on Friday, March 19, at 12:30pm (immediately following Snoop’s keynote speech). Maybe if I offer edibles, I can route the crowd from the main ballroom into my panel room. None for me, though, since the most jaw-dropping stat about my perfect attendance at SXSW, beginning in 1987, is that I’ve been sober for 23 of those years. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Lynn, Steve Blatter, Norm, Lazlo, Lesley, Mike Tierney, Nik, Haley, Josh, and the other handful of radio people I consider among my nearest and dearest.

I’m not much of a “people person,” as most of you already know, but the opportunity to see dozens of bands makes this my favorite week of the year. Undoubtedly, Spoon is always first-and-foremost on my must-see list, and with five or six scheduled shows, plus headlining Auditorium Shores on Friday night, I expect I’ll see them at LEAST five or six times. Also psyched to see Will Butler, Alvvays, James Bay, Passion Pit, Tobias Jesso Jr. , Best Coast, Courtney Barnett, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, AWOLNation, Brett Harris, X Ambassadors (!), Twerps, Wolf Alice, TV on the Radio and, most of all, The Zombies! My full list of recommendations will be up on www.hitsdailydouble.com by this weekend...

Never in my many decades of doing this job have there been as many weekly “superstar” releases, thusly narrowing opportunities and slots for new bands. This week’s big explosion arrived yesterday, in the form of the new Mumford & Sons single, “Believe,” which sold 37,000 singles in the first hours of release on iTunes (currently the #3 song on the sales chart), and was #1 Most Added at Modern Rock and Triple A, nearly closing out both panels in ONE DAY. Ted and I think the song is an absolute SMASH, and we’re thrilled that our prodigal son Nick Petropoulos has as close to an “automatic” as we’ve ever seen…

Brett Greenberg at Epitaph has a perfect storm brewing with Sleeping With Sirens’ new single “The Strays.” After one “4:20” spin at KROQ, the band became the #1 trend on Twitter U.S. This is INSANE. I kept asking Brett if this was for Los Angeles, and he said no, this is national. The band already has a huge fanbase (as most Epitaph bands do), and now they have “the song.” I can’t wait to see what happens next!..

Congrats to Modest Mouse and Epic Records for hitting #1 with “Lampshades on Fire” at Modern Rock and Triple A. It’s the band’s first radio #1 in 11 years! The record squeaked past Walk the Moon by the narrowest of margins, temporarily thwarted by a problem with Music Choice’s detections. WHY ARE THEY EVEN ON THE PANEL? Music Choice is NOT a radio station. It supplies music that people discover NOT by choice, like when entering a hotel room, or hitting the wrong channel number on their DirecTV. I’d rather support the on-air efforts of dozens of small market radio stations than have Music Choice’s “programming” matter as much as it does towards the chart. It’s counterintuitive, at best!..

So, what else should I see at SXSW? Email: Ivanageek@aol.com.


 
 
WHILE MY YOUTH GENTLY WEEPS

On Saturday night, pop royalty--and a huge ensemble of veteran L.A. musicians--gathered at the Alex Theatre in Glendale for a benefit for the Autism Think Tank

The sold-out show, hosted by Chris Carter ("Breakfast With the Beatles" host on KLOS and, of course, founding member of Dramarama) under the auspices of The Wild Honey Orchestra, found this large troupe playing The Beatles' White Album (officially known as The Beatles) in its entirety. In addition to the multiple guitarists, keyboardists and drummers there was a complete string section and a complete horn section, the better to recreate every last sublime note.

Among the guest performers was a pop idol I'd never met before: Gary Wright, the genius behind "Dream Waver" and "Love Is Alive" (and founding member of Spooky Tooth, but you knew that). Meeting him was the highlight of a night full of highlights. Gary sang a powerful version of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which earned roars of approval from the capacity crowd (a crowd, I should add, filled with virtually every pop geek in town).

Also wonderful: my houseguests, the great Mitch Easter and the very gifted Brett Harris, as well as Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingswood, TranslatorSusan Cowsill, Vicki and Debbi Peterson of The Bangles, Iain Matthews of Fairport Convention, The Three O'Clock, Damon Fox, Django Haskins and too many more to mention.

The band, led by Rob Laufer and featuring guest guitarist Dave Gregory of XTC, was impeccable; special kudos to Jim Mills, Heidi Servey and Darian Sahanaja for recreating "Revolution 9" from scratch, which momentarily made me wish I still did drugs.

A splendid time was had by all. And I met Gary Wright!


 
 
UPDATE: WHATEVER PEOPLE SAY I AM, THAT'S WHAT I'M NOT

For the first time in recent memory, over 30% of the Modern Rock chart is comprised of songs by ex-U.S. artists, including U.K. acts Arctic Monkeys, Royal Blood (pictured at right), George Ezra, Alt-J, Glass Animals and Kooks.

Florence & the Machine’s brilliant new single, “What Kind of Man,” was #1 Most Added at the format by a landslide, far surpassing new singles from U.S. Alt mainstays Incubus, Foo Fighters and Offspring. This isn’t exactly a shock, since the #1 song at Modern Rock for 2014 was Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know?,” from their fifth album, AM (Domino). The band won big at the 2014 BRIT Awards, nabbing the trophies for Best British Group and British Album of the Year.

Another U.K. Modern Rock breakout, Royal Blood, took British Group of the Year at this week's BRITs--beating such formidable competition as Coldplay and One Direction

I’ve never been to the BRIT Awards, but they’ve been described to me as “the Grammys with alcohol.” Since I stopped drinking many decades ago, the absolute lockdown of alcohol inside the Staples Center, 30 minutes prior to the Grammy telecast, has never been as traumatic to me as, say, the shuttering of Wetzel’s Pretzels, just outside of section 103, when I was next to order. It happened to me twice: In 2014, as the guest of Tame Impala’s manager, Jodie Regan, and the year before, as part of the Team Lumineers entourage.

So I imagine the BRIT Awards as a free-for-all of drinking, smoking, food and thousands of glamorous women wearing Erdem, Alexander, Victoria, Phoebe, Stella, Julien and Vivienne. I wore Erdem to the MusiCares dinner, but nobody noticed.

While on the subject of me, perhaps it is relevant (unlikely) to point out that I quarterbacked the first Arctic Monkeys record nearly 10 years ago and, at the time, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dance Floor” was the highest-charting indie-label song of the Mediabase era.

I remember bribing security to let throngs of radio programmers into the band’s first SXSW showcase at La Zona Rosa, since all of them showed up late, ignoring my pleas to be there early. In 2006, the band hadn’t spent much time in the States, and radio promotion wasn’t exactly on top of their To-Do list.

I don’t think I’ve seen Alex Turner since the morning they had acquiesced to play “Dance Floor” on KROQ for Kevin & Bean, where Alex noted that I was “older than me mum” and, when asked by Bean how he felt about being at KROQ in the wee-ish hours responded something like, “That’s why I started a band, so I could do this.” I still love Arctic Monkeys, and have remained very close to the Domino team, even as they partnered with bigger labels for subsequent releases, until regaining sole custody of AM, which was distributed by ADA, and worked by their team.

I wanted to get the perspective of my dear friend Kris Gillespie, GM of Domino North America, who has worked with Arctic Monkeys since their debut, regarding why this distinctively  British band has succeeded in becoming one of the biggest touring and radio bands in the U.S., surpassed by only Muse and Coldplay among their countrymen. Kris said there were three or four factors that came into play, including the band’s decision to move to L.A., plus their time spent with Josh Homme, who worked on their third album, and the extensive time spent on tour with The Black Keys.

Kris and I agreed that Arctic Monkeys are among the few bands whose fanbase trickled down from the early adopters and so-called “cool kids” to their younger brothers and sisters, before the mainstream audience caught on.  

Another huge consideration was their growth as a live band, with Alex ramping it up as a frontperson, plus an appreciable addition of stage production as the venues expanded. The band’s willingness, post-debut, to play the “radio game” also definitely helped their cause.

Kris and I agreed that Arctic Monkeys are among the few bands whose fanbase trickled down from the early adopters and so-called “cool kids” to their younger brothers and sisters, before the mainstream audience caught on.  It happened with the Violent Femmes and Vampire Weekend, Artic Monkeys and now, as we speak of the BRIT Awards, nominees Alt-J, who have captured the hearts and minds of the under-18 crowd, whether or not their songs are radio hits.

My prediction for the 2016 BRITs is that Domino’s The Bohicas will be among the new U.K. bands nominated. And maybe, fingers crossed, I’ll even be there.

 


 
 
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