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‘The Concert for Sandy Relief’

To aid the relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Sandy, a star-studded pantheon of classic rock, hip-hop, and soul musicians are playing tonight’s Concert for Sandy Relief. Those confirmed to perform at press time include (and note, there’s really no hierarchy to run these in, other than having Macca on top): Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Eric Clapton, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, Kanye West, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, the Who, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, Bon Jovi, and Alicia Keys. Proceeds go to the Robin Hood Relief Fund, which provides comfort and sustenance to tristate-area hurricane victims.

Wed., Dec. 12, 7:30 p.m., 2012

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Iggy Pop Taught Mike Watt How To Be A Better Bassist

By Katherine Turman

Mike Watt is a jack of all trades, and master of most. Since founding hardcore punk legends Minutemen in 1980 and contributing the phrase “We Jam Econo” to the cultural lexicon, the bassist and “spieler” has added much to America’s left-of-center musical landscape. From the two-bass band dos to late 80s-early 90s alt-rock heroes fIREHOSE to solo albums featuring the likes of Eddie Vedder, Adam Horovitz, Dave Grohl and Thurston Moore, Watt is seemingly never without a new-fangled idea and the guts, talent and cool friends to wondrously implement it.

See Also:
Q&A: Mike Watt
Another Mike Watt Q&A

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His muscular playing and flexible mind earned Watt touring spots with both Jane’s Addiction and The Stooges. And Mr. Iggy Pop has taught Watt a thing or two. “Ig has big time learned me to be a better bassist,” he says. “Sometimes we caught up in our operating of our machines and can’t see the big picture. Ig’s taught me lots about this, like a conductor in some way. His ethic about working a gig where he devotes everything to being there for that gig and nothing halfway or sleepwalking. The moment is everything and essential–not to be taken for granted. Some of this reminds me of [late Minuteman guitarist] d. boon, for me a special kind of integrity.”

Integrity is an apt adjective for Watt as well, as he tours with his Missingmen (since 2005: Tom Watson, guitar, vocals; Raul Morales, drums) in support of his hyphenated-man opera, the tale of a mid-50s punker (Watt) that concludes the operatic triptych that began with 1997’s Contemplating the Engine Room. “I didn’t mean for the parts [of hyphenated-man] to tied together in a linear way but what could I do? In a sense it’s supposed to be more like a wheel than a choo-choo train,” Watt explains. “The drama in hyphenated-man is existential and [not involving] any other characters except myself, though I don’t hardly use the “I” pronoun in it. The piece deals with what I find a trippy part in my life–a sickness that pert-near killed me.”

New lease on life or no, one of the reasons Watt remains an arresting performer who deserves the reverence of a packed house is his current take on the long-ago “econo” ethos. Back then, “punk in the U.S. was very small and you really had to love it and do what you had to do to make it happen,” he reminisces. “I feel those ethics we got into back then still apply now, especially if autonomy is important to you, and it is to me. That’s where the comfort is, not being afraid to let the freak flag fly or feeling like a dick for lame compromises.”

If you miss the uncompromising Mr. Watt this time round (not recommended), fear not, the next few months finds the indie icon releasing an album cut in Italy with Italian musicians; output with guitarist Nels Cline and Greg Saunier of noise band Deerhoof, plus and about a million other pet projects. For someone who still jams econo, Watt is one prolific spieler.

Friday, October 12, Mike Watt + The Missingmen, The Bell House, Brooklyn, 7:30pm Doors / 8:30pm Show / $13 adv / $15 dos

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A King of Infinite Space

Hamlet has never lacked for words. One of Shakespeare’s longest plays, it runs nearly four hours uncut. But writer Mandy Alvarado apparently thinks Hamlet needs a few more soliloquies, and she’s enlisted Eddie Vedder to supply them. In this musical version of the tragedy, the cast performs Pearl Jam songs.

July 18-21, 7 p.m.; Sat., July 21, 2 p.m., 2012

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Summer Guide: Don’t Take Brad Paisley to the Airport Strip Club

Brad Paisley uses a laboratory metaphor to describe the difference between 2009’s American Saturday Night and his new album, This Is Country Music. “Last time I got as personal as I possibly could,” says the singer from his home in Nashville. He’s referring to Saturday Night cuts such as “Then,” about how he met his wife, and the two-part “Welcome to the Future,” in which he draws a line from his grandfather’s experience during World War II to the sense of wonder that comes over him every time he tucks his two young sons into bed. “It really was me in the Petri dish,” Paisley continues. “Whereas this time I’m the one looking through the microscope.”

As always, Paisley’s focus remains laser-sharp. In “One of Those Lives,” he examines a family’s battle against childhood cancer with devastating specificity, while “A Man Don’t Have to Die” offers this brutal summation of a night spent ogling dancers at the airport-adjacent strip club: “All you feel is drunk and broke and lonely when they’re through.” Country Music contains plenty of lighter stuff, too; the title of “Working on a Tan” probably speaks for itself. But Paisley never wavers in his mission to capture what he calls the “plow-through-it mentality” that seems to have suffused American life since the election-year high of 2008. The result suggests a Sundance documentary with tent-pole production values.

“Brad writes songs everyone can relate to,” says Sheryl Crow, who contributes vocals to the album’s gospel-traditional closer, “Life’s Railway to Heaven.” “There are lines in his songs that make you go, ‘Oh, my God—I think that all the time!’ ”

The Country Music Association’s reigning Entertainer of the Year, Paisley singles out that universality as the defining quality of his genre, no matter how slick the delivery device. “The debate over what it means to sell out has been raging within the country-music community since the days of Hank Williams,” he says. “And it didn’t get any more civil in the ’60s, when Patsy Cline and Eddy Arnold were basically cutting Frank Sinatra records in a different city.” The point he’s trying to make with the new album’s title track—which he opens by admitting, “You’re not supposed to say the word ‘cancer’ in a song”—is that “country music is about lyrics and about choice of topic.”

In Paisley’s case, at least, it’s also about hot-shit guitar heroics. Frank Rogers, the singer’s longtime producer, says that midway through the American Saturday Night tour Paisley bought a vintage Martin acoustic that “just grabbed him.” The new album, Rogers adds, “really started with that guitar, which is why it ended up a little earthier than the last one.” (In modern-day Nashville, earthiness is a relative concept.) Paisley’s live shows contain no shortage of six-string spectacle; during a gig last year at L.A.’s Staples Center, dude strolled the arena floor while peeling off the kind of licks most country stars hire session guys to perform. “Brad basically writes songs so he’s able to get onstage and play guitar for two hours every night,” Rogers says with a laugh.

Paisley doesn’t deny it. But he also admits that his tours—this summer’s North American trek hits Holmdel’s PNC Bank Arts Center July 15—are prime research opportunities. “I’m fascinated by the lives of the people I look out at every night,” he says. “Whenever I see some statistic about the average American, I’m always like, ‘I don’t need a statistic to know about them—they come to my shows.’ ”

July 15, PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, New Jersey, livenation.com

Summer Music Picks

Brian Wilson

June 11–13

The recent announcement that Brian Wilson is prepping the legendary Smile sessions for official release later this year earned the expected oohs and aahs from Wilson’s devoted record-nerd constituency. Wouldn’t it have been nice, though, if more of those High Fidelity types had rallied around 2010’s underappreciated Brian Wilson Reimagines Gershwin? At the Highline for three nights as part of the Blue Note Jazz Festival, the 68-year-old Beach Boy will perform his sumptuous, sensitive renditions of such American-songbook staples as “I Loves You, Porgy” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Don’t sleep (again). Highline Ballroom, 431 West 16th Street, highlineballroom.com

NKOTBSB

June 12–13 (Izod Center)

July 31 (Nassau Coliseum)

Armed with what might be the most unwieldy name in boy-band history, NKOTBSB unites members of New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys in a nine-member supergroup whose roots extend to the adolescence of Justin Bieber’s mom. These shows are sure to be long on hits from the old days, but the outfit also seems determined to compete with today’s young chart-toppers: “Don’t Turn Out the Lights,” a new tune from NKOTBSB’s joint greatest-hit disc, is virtually indistinguishable from Jason
Derulo’s “In My Head.” Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey, meadowlands.com; Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, nassaucoliseum.com

Sade

June 21 (Nassau Coliseum)

June 24 (Izod Center)

June 25 (Prudential Center)

Last year, the English avant-soul star released her first studio album in a decade, and now Sade and the band that bears her name are crisscrossing the globe on their first world tour since 2001. Should you anticipate a rejiggered sound here in reflection of all that elapsed time? You should not: On The Ultimate Collection, her new double-disc best-of, Sade starts out cucumber-cool and stays that way through a Jay-Z-equipped remix of “The Moon and the Sky.” With John Legend, whose smoothly operating ballads speak to Sade’s enduring influence. Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, nassaucoliseum.com; Izod Center, East Rutherford, New Jersey, meadowlands.com; Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey, prucenter.com

Eddie Vedder

June 21–22

There’s nary a bellow to be heard on Ukulele Songs, the straightforwardly titled new solo album by Eddie Vedder: Singing fresh tunes of his own as well as standards like “More Than You Know” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” the Pearl Jam frontman accompanies himself on the four-stringed Hawaiian instrument; it’s an even sparer, sweeter sound than the rustic folk settings Vedder employed on his 2007 soundtrack for Into the Wild. At the Beacon, you can expect a catalog-spanning set list stretching back to PJ’s Ten, which this summer turns 20. Beacon Theatre, 2124 Broadway, beacontheatre.com

Def Leppard + Heart

July 12 (Nikon at Jones Beach Theater)

July 13 (PNC Bank Arts Center)

Got a hankering to hear “Foolin’ ” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me” with added crowd noise? This summer, you’ve got two options: Schlep to Secaucus to pick up Def Leppard’s new Wal-Mart-exclusive live disc or hit one of the long-running hair-metal band’s two local dates. I recommend the later, if only because you’ll also see Heart, whose excellent 2010 disc, Red Velvet Car, served as a vital object lesson in how to grow up without growing boring. Bang your head to “Barracuda” and “Magic Man,” but save some fist-pumps for “WTF” and “Queen City,” as well. Jones Beach, jonesbeach.com; PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, New Jersey, livenation.com

tUnE-YarDs

July 14

You don’t need me to tell you how great the new tUnE-YarDs album is: Citing raves by Robert Christgau at MSN and Mike Powell here at the Voice, Metacritic accurately refers to w h o k i l l’s critical reception as “universal acclaim.” What you might not know, though, is that Merrill Garbus’s current live band (which includes a pair of sax players) pushes her bracingly polyglot pop into brainy-funky dance-party territory. If you couldn’t afford to see Paul Simon at the Beacon earlier this month—or even if you could—this free show is not to be missed. Pier 54, Hudson River Park, riverrocksnyc.com

Zoot Woman

August 10

England’s Zoot Woman are probably best known in the United States (if they’re known at all) for the membership of Stuart Price, who in addition to his solo work under the names Les Rythmes Digitales and Jacques Lu Cont has recently carved out a healthy production career with the likes of Scissor Sisters and the Killers. Yet each of Zoot Woman’s three studio albums—start with Living in a Magazine, from 2001—is a small wonder of sleek, ’80s-inspired electro-pop. Fans of Phoenix are strongly advised to take advantage of this rare American appearance. (le) poisson rouge, 158 Bleecker Street, lepoissonrouge.com.

Sonic Youth + Wild Flag

August 12

It’s never a bad idea to check in on Sonic Youth, especially in an outdoor venue where those silver-rocket guitars can spiral skyward free of restriction. But what makes this date a must-see is the noise-rock veterans’ choice of opening act: Wild Flag, the buzzy new psych-garage outfit featuring ex-Helium frontwoman Mary Timony with Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss, both formerly of Sleater-Kinney. Earlier this year in a warm-up slot at Radio City, the ladies threatened to steal the show from Bright Eyes. Thurston, Kim, Lee, and Steve? Consider yourselves warned. Williamsburg Waterfront, 93 Kent Avenue, ticketmaster.com

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KING IS QUEEN

Plenty of folks have rushed to pile the accolades on Kaki King: The guitarist was nominated for a Golden Globe for her score of the movie Into the Wild (composed with Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook). Rolling Stone named her one of their “New Guitar Gods”—and, in fact, she was the only woman and youngest artist included. What’s so refreshing about the Atlanta-born player, though, is her masterful simplicity—her lap steel guitar picking, her playful Americana and jazz-laced refrains, are all thoughtful and delicate when they could be clamoring and conceited. With King’s chops, she can play anything but, as last year’s Junior affirmed, she chooses to pull off, simply, good taste. With Portuguese composer-guitarist Pedro da Silva.

Wed., Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m., 2011

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Corin Tucker Band

Now that Carrie Brownstein’s doing standup and Janet Weiss has joined forces with everyone from Stephen Malkmus to Bright Eyes, ex-Sleater-Kinney member Corin Tucker only had Eddie Vedder to keep her company (just listen to their cover of John Doe’s “The Golden State”). Her first solo album, Doubt, described by Tucker as “a middle-aged mom record,” brings the most feral wail in rock ‘n’ roll back to the forefront in softer, simpler arrangements. The title track proves that behind every soccer mom is an inner hellion. With Screaming Females and Hungry Ghost.

Sat., Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Pearl Jam

Lately, Pearl Jam have been playing 29-song marathons with two encores. Their most recent release, last year’s Backspacer, was one of their strongest in years, so they’re well equipped to pull it off. It doesn’t hurt that Eddie Vedder’s voice has become stronger and richer in the two decades or so since they formed, as evidenced on his 2007 solo contributions to the Into the Wild soundtrack and Pearl Jam’s stellar cover of the Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me.” Last year, the band also rereleased their breakthrough debut, Ten. These days, it sounds like anything but a grunge album, but the songs still make good encores.

Thu., May 20, 7:30 p.m.; Fri., May 21, 7:30 p.m., 2010

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Pierced Arrows+Lullabye Arkestra

Tonight is a double Vice showdown between two of the label’s recent metal signees. Hailing from Portland and endorsed by Eddie Vedder, graying rock outfit Pierced Arrows prove that geezers need excitement in their anthemic three-chord garage. The lovelorn “Let It Rain” from their latest LP, Descending Shadows, proves that their ’70s heyday still goes strong. Following suit, Toronto husband-wife duo Lullabye Arkestra will bring the house down with their overblown theatrics—count crowdsurfing, audience participation and copious devil horns-cum-cunnilingius mime among them—only appropriate for a band whose best song is single “We Fuck the Night.”

Fri., March 5, 10:30 p.m., 2010

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In Defense of Pearl Jam’s Backspacer

Eddie Vedder has finally shaken the dead guy who has been haunting him. Two decades ago, Kurt Cobain dogged Pearl Jam as sellouts, dismissing his grunge rivals as “cock-rock fusion” and their gala debut, Ten, as insufficiently “alternative” because it had too many guitar leads. Ever since, Vedder has been out to prove the dead guy wrong, overtly or covertly. But with the release of Backspacer, Pearl Jam’s half-awesome, half-blah ninth studio album, Vedder and the boys from Seattle have come to the realization that maybe they are sellouts of a sort—and that there’s nothing wrong with that, if they’re comfortable with who they are as a band and with the contradictory decisions they’ve made.

The strongest evidence of the band’s newfound disposition lies in their unexpected partnership with Target. The big-box giant is the only place you can buy Backspacer, save for the band’s own website and randomly selected “indie” music stores. It’s a controversial, aggressively capitalist move after years of towing the line against corporate America. But this new music, too, proves that Pearl Jam aren’t concerned with living up to expectations. Instead of trendy Bush-bashing or third-person narratives about marginalized youngsters common in his prime, Vedder now favors first-person introspection and meditations on mortality.

There’s also a focus on the band’s prowess as a unit, as opposed to an all-Vedder-all-the-time approach. Prime examples include “The Fixer” (a song literally about collaboration, penned by drummer Matt Cameron) and “Johnny Guitar,” a grease-in-the-hair, cigarette-pack-in-the-T-shirt-sleeve jam with a totally unorthodox arrangement, also compliments of Cameron. Indeed, Pearl Jam are at peace here, but not yet complacent, diversifying in the autumn of their career, while contemporaries like U2 or Wilco are either getting more contrived or sticking with what’s tried-and-true.

It’s not hard to see how Pearl Jam landed in this predicament. After their initial thrall of mid-’90s success (despite Cobain’s derision), they developed an iron-clad ethical compass, transforming into, first and foremost, a band of integrity—occasionally, to the music’s detriment. The Ticketmaster court battle. The activism. The anti-corporate loathing, made manifest in Vedder’s tearing down of ad signage at concerts. All rocking notes. The trouble is that Pearl Jam tickets now usually cost a small fortune. Their widespread benevolence has undermined their intent toward any cause in particular. And, obviously, Target.

There’s a flipside to that, though, because after eight albums with Sony, the band is releasing Backspacer themselves. It’s not clear which party made that decision, but it doesn’t really matter: Pearl Jam don’t need a major label. Chances are they’re stoked to dictate their own marketing, release music when and how they want to, and, of course, increase their margins (the band will reportedly make $5 on each copy of Backspacer, whereas they’d make roughly a third of that under previous conditions). Besides, what’s so wrong with exercising a little entrepreneurialism, creating a new paradigm in an industry without one? If the superfans who pre-ordered the record through the band’s website want access to the live performances available only on the Target disc, well, then they’ll just have to buy the album again.

But back to the music. Backspacer, a mere novella at only 36 and a half minutes, was produced by Brendan O’Brien, who helmed what many Pearl Jam connoisseurs consider the band’s four finest albums—Vs., Vitalogy, No Code, and Yield—before going on hiatus. O’Brien is responsible for honing the band’s ragamuffin sound into something that emphasized musical virtuosity, lyrical focus, and fewer cock-rock guitar leads, an excellent philosophy largely ignored on their last few albums and wisely resurrected here, albeit intermittently.

The first five songs are brilliantly sequenced, wide-ranging in texture, and ridiculously melodic. Furious opener “Gonna See My Friend” finds Vedder shredding his nodes as he riffs (maybe) on staging an intervention for a long-lost friend, followed by “Got Some,” with Vedder barking more words of encouragement, building on the previous song’s momentum. “The Fixer” is a total about-face, a pop song with just enough snazzy guitar licks to qualify as rock despite the buoyant “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” refrain that’ll have Jonas Brothers fans singing along en masse by Christmastime. Then comes potential sleeper hit “Johnny Guitar,” featuring some of Vedder’s most adventurous phrasing, rounded out by “Just Breathe,” an acoustic leftover from Vedder’s splendid Into the Wild soundtrack that finds him passionately lamenting, “Yes, I understand/That every life must end.”

The record’s second half unfortunately trades in retread topics and middling music that seemingly calls for everyone to play at once, on top of each other, without any regard for nuance. “Amongst the Waves” is yet another ode to surfing that tries—but fails—to live up to the epic, grunge-era classic “State of Love and Trust.” With “Speed of Sound” and “Force of Nature,” the titles pretty much speak for themselves. The only highlight, really, is the strings- and horns-inflected closing track, “The End,” and that’s because it ends like a ruptured aneurysm on the lines “I’m here/But not much longer.” Too morbid for comfort? Sure, but Kurt Cobain can’t say the same.

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UKE-A-YOU

The ukulele may sometimes get an “Oh, brother” sigh for attempting to be the poor man’s guitar, but stop hating on this little musicmaker (download George Harrison on “Free as a Bird” or Eddie Vedder’s “Goodbye”). The New York Uke Fest scores with us for giving the “jumping flea” (its name, literally) a new boost. The four-day festival includes workshops in which you can learn the basics, get your uke jams to sound snazzy and jazzy, and sit through Uke Blues 101. There will also be concerts galore, the musical Sex, Drugs, and Ukuleles!, and, of course, a special presentation on the loveable uke musician Tiny Tim.

April 3-6, 7 p.m., 2008