Superfreak Live 1982
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
1982. Earth, Wind and Fire and Luther Vandross were the top draws in R&B. Prince was primed for his hostile takeover. The year prior, the world lost a true soul in the form of reggae icon and proponent of peace, Bob Marley. In a post-Parliament and Funkadelic era of the early eighties, the funk was still given up proper and before Prince claimed the mantle for himself and his Minneapolis acolytes like The Time and Vanity 6, the original life of the party himself, Rick James, was doing it dirty and ultra funky. You had to imagine what James Brown was thinking at the time as witness to what he’d had a heavy hand in creating.
In the new millennium, the name Rick James unfortunately carries a stigma with it, some of it deserved, a fair amount not-so-much. You can thank Dave Chappelle for single-handedly keeping alive the violent disgrace James carried upon his shoulders with his parody “I’m Rick James, bitch,” which became a trendy slogan for everyone ranging from gangbangers to yuppies to elementary school kids. Nice job, Dave. That was aces.
Let’s face the facts; Rick James did time for his abusive ways and before he passed away, he was instrumental in giving back to the music community by lending a helping hand where he could. Of course, the most inadvertent but blatant example of this is through MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.”
In his prime, Rick James was a bad mofo, a magnetic, horny party animal who could back himself up on the stage with his electrifying Stone City Band. Most people want to give Jimi Hendrix full credit for stemming the career of Prince, but if you examine things a bit closer (keeping in mind personally that Prince is my favorite musician of all-time), you can pinpoint a lot of Prince’s shtick in the form of Rick James.
The phallic microphone waggling, the oozing sexuality, the crowd-leading chants and squeals, a letter-perfect rhythm section, a tight brass ensemble that gives up the funk quicker than even George Clinton on his way out of the dressing room, the fact that Rick James played multiple instruments… Sound familiar?
Superfreak Live 1982 captures Rick James and The Stone City Band on the group’s first performance ever in Europe. There’s a surreal air to this DVD, watching James and his superfly posse kick it into overdrive in Germany, especially while performing “Ghetto Life.” I’ll leave you to the visual, or better yet, I strongly urge you to check this sucker out. What you see on Superfreak Live 1982 is the other side to Rick James I’m sure most of us have forgotten existed.
There’s a puppy dog expression to Rick James’ face as he carouses onstage in Superfreak 1982. Beneath the body glitter and his shimmering long hair is a façade that says I’ve made it! The sheer joy you witness on James and his crew is one of the biggest draws to watching Superfreak Live 1982. It’s so endearing it makes you wonder how Rick turned down so cold a path.
That aside, Superfreak Live 1982 is a wonderfully preserved time capsule for a forgotten era of R&B that warrants a look. In today’s hapless and uninspired (but highly lucrative) hip hop scene, it’s time now to step back and see how the shit was done. The renditions of “You and I,” “Give it to Me Baby,” “Fire it Up” or “All Day All Night” are simply kinetic, and as James pretends-tokes along with “Mary Jane” to a German crowd that goes along with him, you can’t help but laugh. Pass the ganja…
There was nothing innocuous whatsoever to Rick James’ music, but you can’t help but appreciate his honesty. The man liked to pull weed and pull the sheets over his head with a warm body, but when you hear what sounds like a confessional on “Big Time,” which talks about making your mark on the world yet having no one to share it with, perhaps that serves as a clue to Rick James’ plummet to the dark side.
But why not leave all of that rest with Rick in peace? Pop in Superfreak Live 1982 and toss those “Give up the funk” fingers (a sign better known in heavy metal circles as devil horns) and treat yourself to a timeless performance. The attire Rick and company wear may be dated, but the music sure isn’t…
Friday, September 30, 2005
Thursday, September 15, 2005
The Absence – From Your Grave (Metal Blade) By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
It may not always be obvious upon first listen to many albums, but then there are albums that just grab you instantly and without question. Tampa’s The Absence is such a band, and frankly, their first full-length album From Your Grave is worthy of a fairly unused adjective that frequented many reviews back in the original metal movement, and that’s tour de force.
The 1:39 “Intro” ought to be your clue from the get-go that From Your Grave is going to be an unequivocal winner; the guitar melodies are gorgeous within their melancholy, and within the first minute of “A Breath Beneath,” Patrick Pintaville and Peter Joseph unravel an unwavering sense of melody to their craft, even as the song tears off at breakneck speed. They are constantly tuneful, constantly impressive, mixing all sorts of classic metal solos and tuneful arrangements in their wake. Sometimes they sound like a tempered Randy Rhodes, sometimes like a less-flashy Ronnie Le Tikro of TNT. Most of the time, they, along with bassist Nicholas Calaci, are one of the most formidable speed metal rhythm sections I’ve heard in ages. With the ever-present galloping of drummer Jeramie Kling and the well-timed vocals of Jamie Stewart, The Absence is first-rate thrash.
By blending archetype power metal theories into their speed structures, like on the title track, ”Necropolis” or “Heaven Ablaze,” The Absence becomes one of those rare entities that knows the importance of lending substance to outright velocity. The truly great thrash band knows you just don’t hammer the crap out of your listener. As good as one might be by playing a rapid-timed 45 minutes, it takes a sense of discipline to strive for something more artistic by scaling back the speed where appropriate and injecting actual arrangements into the mix. This is what The Absence is so strong in doing. The obviousness shows in the Testament-like set up with their instrumental “”Shattered,” which cuts into “I, Deceiver.” The similarities are noticeable, yet The Absence is so confident in itself, the Testament parallels quickly dissipate as the track roars louder and louder with each bar, and look the hell out for those solos!
From Your Grave never bores, it constantly pounds with one of the highest quantities and qualities of melody you’re going to ask for. You think Lamb of God has a lot of melody? Step up to this. No offense to the Lambs, I love them dearly, great guys to talk to and they deserve credit for helping restore honor to the North American metal scene, but if you want metal with undeniable class, The Absence is where it’s at. From Your Grave is one of the year’s best. www.theabsence.com / www.metalblade.com
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 7:59 AM
Saturday, September 10, 2005
Thanks to those who haven't given up on me on this blog...I'm cheating by copying a review, but I've been drowning of late and want to reconnect with you all somehow... This album...my Lord...
The Fall of Troy
Equal Vision Records
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Rating: 4 / 4
If Mars Volta already wasn’t the elite masters of their manic punk-inspired art, The Fall of Troy might stand one hell of a chance of stealing that spot. Simply put, the greatness of this album is only superseded by Volta’s Frances the Mute. Otherwise, The Fall of Troy’s Doppelganger is the most exciting emo-based act out there. As if Circa Survive didn’t boast a nice repertoire themselves, labelmates The Fall of Troy breathtakingly mix overt rock, jazz and funk progression into their loud and brash punk, and the results ought to give Omar and Cedric of you-know-who a bit of concern.
Seldom do I feel the words robbed of me when writing a review, but The Fall of Troy has accomplished that. Despite the standard screeched and wailed vocals featured here, this exceedingly talented trio winds and weaves its way masterfully as if bestowed the progressive wands of Yes and Rush and given a collective attaboy pat on their asses by Hot Water Music, and hell, that’s only scraping to scratch the surface.
Not once do the shifty time signatures of The Fall of Troy become confusing; they are effectively seamless compositions that will mystify you at one turn, careen you over another, and leave you flat-out road weary when all is said and finished.
I was recently impressed by the new Between the Buried and Me, which also injects some serious progression into their hardcore base, and yet The Fall of Troy simply kidney-punched me I nearly pissed blood. The beautiful guitar work alone…
As if the music wasn’t exhilarating enough, The Fall of Troy, like many of their sonic peers, engage the listeners with guffaw-inducing song titles such as “We Better Learn to Hotwire a Uterus,” “Whacko Jacko Steals the Elephant Man’s Bones,” “McCauley McCulkin” and “You Got a Death Wish Johnny Truant?” As fearless as The Fall of Troy’s music is, so too is their shtick. It’s a winning combination.
Seriously, folks, there’s almost no one in the emo/screamo/metalcore sanctions that can touch this band. If The Fall of Troy somehow decides to extend one iota further towards Mars Volta’s mantle (and really, there’s no reason they should), look the hell out…
Posted by Ray Van Horn, Jr. at 1:07 PM