Tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes oh my!

Irene damage

Upstate New York damage post-Irene (Photo courtesy of Michael Williams)

While this blog normally focuses on music news and other entertainment ephemera, I would be remiss if I did not use today’s post to mention the recent natural disasters that have impacted not only Western Massachusetts, but also various portions of the northeastern United States.

First off, last week’s earthquake in Virginia, which was responsible for slight tremors and many anxious faces in the Pioneer Valley, was a unique event. Those of us who live on the east coast are not typically used to dealing with seismic activity on any scale, and by hitting our area only a few short months after tornadoes ravaged downtown Springfield and other communities, all the shake, rattle and rolling no doubt left many citizens to wonder what next.

Well, the answer to that particular question certainly didn’t take long to manifest itself.

The force of an event like Tropical Storm Irene is still being felt throughout New England. And some parts of the valley are in the midst of adjusting to yet another day without electricity or the sight of water lapping at their backyards.

However, despite all the hype beforehand and all the continuing coverage of the storm’s aftermath, there are still those out there who appear to misinterpret the reasons behind the tropical storm’s arrival on our shores.

For example, Minnesota congresswoman and Republican presidential hopeful Michelle Bachmann is currently taking heat over comments she made, where she interpreted the recent earthquake and hurricane as messages from God for politicians to start cleaning up their act in Washington, D.C.

She said, “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?’”

Still, such strange ramblings aside, perhaps more incredible has been the reactions of those who continue to dismiss Irene’s impact just because the storm didn’t live up to many local homeowners’ or meteorologists’ expectations.

I think local author and website operator Dave Lartigue put it best in a recent tweet.

“Never seen so many people disappointed and angry that their shit didn’t get wrecked by a hurricane,” he wrote.

More Irene damage

More tropical storm damage (Photo courtesy of Michael Williams)

Is it a sad sign of the times that just because a disaster doesn’t affect one personally the tragedy it brings can be easily disregarded or placed at a safe distance?

Sure, many of us got lucky this time. But the potential always looms for the hammer to fall on us during the next go around.

So assist your neighbors if you can. Call a loved one to make sure everything is ok. Or at the very least don’t save your concern for the upcoming anniversary of 9/11. If that day taught us anything it is that we shouldn’t wait for calamity to strike before we spare a thought for our fellow humans in crisis.

Never hesitate to extend a helping hand if you can manage it. One day you could be the one reaching out for a reassuring grasp.

***

Whew. All apologies for the soap-boxing. If a less serious answer to all the crazy weather we’ve been having is what you’re looking for, I do have a theory.

Maybe this masked man is responsible. At least if I’m right we know exactly who we can call.

For more information on what you can do to help victims of Hurricane Irene please visit www.redcross.org.

And if you need a distraction, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Album review – Nucular Animals “Nucular Animals” – August 25, 2011

Album review – Nucular Animals “Nucular Animals” – August 25, 2011

Album review – Fucked Up “David Comes to Life” – August 25, 2011

Album review – Fucked Up “David Comes to Life” – August 25, 2011

Out now: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks team up with Beck on new album Mirror Traffic

MalkmusStephen Malkmus and the Jicks

Mirror Traffic

(Matador)

Release date: August 23, 2011

When describing the critical-acclaim surrounding his latest release and first-time collaboration with fellow ‘90s fave Beck, Stephen Malkmus is nothing if not puzzled.

“How come these people like us?” the former Pavement singer said in a recent New York Times interview.

“It’s just because they’re used to us,” Beck answered. “Their resistance has been broken down.”

Well, damn it if the eccentric folkie responsible for penning the slacker anthem “Loser” isn’t right in his diagnosis.

In the midst of what appears to be an ongoing Generation X nostalgia wave, these pair of indie icons seem primed for a career resurgence of sorts.

Just look at the evidence: MTV is bringing back “Beavis and Butt-head” and “120 Minutes.” Nirvana’s seminal album Nevermind is celebrating its 20th anniversary. And even the flannel-wearing alternative stalwarts of Pearl Jam are set to premiere a documentary that spans their entire career.

What’s next? A “Reality Bites” remake starring Justin Bieber and that girl from the “Friday” video?

While I very much doubt the Bieb’s ability to pull off a scraggly Ethan Hawke imitation, one thing I do not doubt is the credentials that Mr. Malkmus and Beck bring to their latest endeavor.

For starters, fresh from his highly-publicized reunion tour with Pavement, Malkmus has apparently retained much of the lyrical absurdity and lackadaisical playing style that came to define his former indie rock group at its peak.

Take for instance one of Mirror Traffic‘s standout tracks “Senator,” which mixes lines about politics, chemical warfare and blowjobs with equal aplomb.

Elsewhere, the instrumental number “Jumblegloss” plays like what could have been a too-short outtake from the records Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee.

Yet for all the nods to the past, the one adjective that could best be used to describe Malkmus’ current work is mature. Having already cut four albums with Jicks, this newest one lets the band build on all the progress made on 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. There’s even a noticeable ‘70s guitar tinge to “Long Hard Book” that could make it this release’s “Hopscotch Willie” only more focused and not as jam-inspired.

Watch video of Stephen Malkmus performing new tracks “Tigers” and “No One Is (As I Are Be)” on solo acoustic guitar in Paris here:

As for Beck, he’s downplayed his contributions to Mirror Traffic in the press. But according to former Jick drummer Janet Weiss, who plays on the album but left the group after its recording, the producer had a hand in almost every aspect of the recording process, including song selection.

“A lot of it was throwaway stuff that Beck just fell in love with,” she told the New York Times. “There were some uncomfortable moments of, wow, we have no control over anything that’s happening.”

But she added, “It sounded really awesome.”

Though some fans may become skeptical after reading about the album’s 50 minute plus running time, most concerns can be checked safely at the door.

Yes, the record often changes genres as quickly as some actresses change boyfriends. And sure, not all the tracks present are flat-out winners or the second coming of Pavement gems like “Cut Your Hair” or “Summer Babe.” But many numbers do manage to reveal hidden charms after several listens, and if witty wordplay is your thing then be prepared for pearls of wisdom like “I cannot even do one sit-up. Sit-ups are so bourgeoisie.”

In an age where most music verges on the edge of disposability and pop singles have about as much depth as a spit cup at the dentist’s office, it’s refreshing to see two musicians join forces for a trip down memory lane that feels as contemporary now as it would have 20 years ago.

By all signs that period of time could have its day once again, and if Mirror Traffic is any indication that day could be soon too.

Here’s to waiting with open arms for such an eventuality. But in the meantime…

Listen to a full-length stream of Mirror Traffic via NPR here.

And for more information on Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks or to see future tour dates please visit www.stephenmalkmus.com.

Plus, don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Belgium’s Pukkelpop festival is latest venue to suffer deadly stage collapse

In what seems to have become a horrifying trend, a concert stage at the Pukkelpop music festival in Belgium collapsed Thursday resulting in injuries to dozens of concertgoers and at least five confirmed deaths.

According to the Associated Press, a storm featuring rain, high winds and hail swept through the festival grounds during the afternoon causing a stage where Chicago-based indie rock band the Smith and Westerns were performing to suddenly collapse. Luckily no one from the band was hurt, and frontman Omori Cullen later tweeted that, his prayers were with all who were injured in the accident.

Watch video of the Pukkelpop stage collapse tragedy here:

Of course this depressing news comes less than a week after another stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair killed five people and caused numerous injuries to audience members minutes before country stars Sugarland were to perform.

Fortunately band members were able to escape harm then too thanks to the actions of a quick-thinking tour manager, but the experience has clearly left the group shaken as evidenced by guitarist Kristian Bush’s recent statements.

“Our fans just came to see a show, and it ended in something terrible. My heart is totally broken for the families and friends of those who lost their lives. It’s broken for all the people who got hurt, for the people who were scared,” said Bush. “I thank God for every person who lifted a truss, who pushed against that metal to get it off someone; for every person who used a chair as a stretcher. I thank God for every fan and emergency responder, for everyone who ran to the trouble instead of away from it. The courage of those men and women will forever be with me.”

While extreme weather also played a role in the recent stage collapses at concerts by the Flaming Lips and Cheap Trick, no serious injuries were reported in either case.

However, Cheap Trick did cancel a subsequent concert when it was revealed that the same company who built their stage in Ottawa was responsible for construction at the other venue in Vancouver.

Band manager Dave Frey also issued this statement:

“We simply want to know: what are the companies and organizers doing to protect the next act and the next audience? Every act and every fan ought to be asking the same question when attending an outside musical event.”

For more information on the Pukkelpop Festival please visit www.pukkelpop.be.

And don’t forget to follow the Northeast Underground on YouTube and Twitter:

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Album review – Wild Beasts “Smother” – August 18, 2011

Album review – Wild Beasts “Smother” – August 18, 2011

Album review – Friendly Fires “Pala” – August 18, 2011

Album review – Friendly Fires “Pala” – August 18, 2011