this is something i've suspected for 15 years. the show i watched with my girlfriend in 1997 in ft. lauderdale was the longest show david bowie ever performed. 36 songs, 3 and a half hours. massively energetic. and it wasn't in an arena. it was in a 400-500 person dance club. i've confirmed this by reading some interviews: http://indieethos.wordpress.com/tag/bowie-earthling/ and the setlist is below. as i approach 40, i tend to forget that i've been a part of some monumental performances.
October 8th, 1997 Set:
Dead Man Walking (Acoustic)
Waiting for the Man (The Velvet Underground cover)
Always Crashing in the Same Car
The Jean Genie
I'm Afraid of Americans (V1 Remix)
Strangers When We Meet
The Hearts Filthy Lesson
Seven Years in Tibet
Looking for Satellites
Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)
Panic in Detroit
The Voyeur of Utter Destruction (As Beauty)
The Last Thing You Should Do
Battle for Britain (The Letter)
(Laurie Anderson cover)
White Light/White Heat
(The Velvet Underground cover)
I Can't Read
(Tin Machine song)
Look Back in Anger
Is It Any Wonder
The Man Who Sold the World
All the Young Dudes
by David Pelfrey -
Worm Moon Waning was the best album by a local band in 2010. In fact, for the last three or four years no one in town has made more appealing, accomplished music than these guys. The next time the experts put together a "crucial" compilation of music made in Alabama (there's a lot of that going on these days), if "Your Old Haunts" isn't on the free CD, we'll know just how much credibility said experts can actually claim.
The aforementioned album and the monthly issue of mostly stellar singles last year (now combined on Year of Beasts) indicate that T the S mine the same rich vein MGMT and The Flaming Lips do, so it's only fair to note that our local heroes struck more nuggets on Worm Moon Waning than MGMT ever did with their sophomore effort.
There's plenty to admire in that compilation of singles as well. "The Laughter Lulls" might be some lost Lennon-Yoko AM gold that imagines Grant Lee Buffalo deconstructing "Whiter Shade of Pale." It's easy to hear Pulp or hits-era Todd Rundgren in "Company Cars," and it's impossible not to hear Marc Bolan in "Squares."
Unhurried, atmospheric, and often moody psychedelic pop that offers memorable tunes is hard to come by, but it's even harder to find very many folks in town who are excited that Through the Sparks offers so much of it. Perhaps that's because the band doesn't seem very excited either. Whether they recognize it or not, this group is leagues ahead of their peers in terms of creativity and "otherness," yet there they stood on stage at WorkPlay in T-shirts and jeans, coming across like regular guys.
The brilliant, engaging, and wonderfully peculiar sounds in their music cry out for an accompanying decadence, contrivance, and no small amount of glam pretense. (Someone came very close to conveying this in some excellent promotional videos on YouTube, which delivered an undeniable David Lynch vibe.) It's very frustrating. The absolute best band in Alabama fully understands that they are in the music business, but somehow overlooked the very obvious fact that they are also in the show business. - David Pelfrey
by Sam George -
Everyone knows that the music industry is changing forever. Faced with emerging technology that makes the traditional model of record production obsolete, the entire business is undergoing a public soul-searching as well as a mad scramble to be the first to stumble on a new model that makes sense (and money) in the internet age.
The problem is so ubiquitous that a question about facing it has become standard in almost every artist interview I’ve read recently. The answers to these questions are also fairly standard: It’s easier to make a record but harder to get it noticed, and taking music on tour is now the grail of the working musician who wishes to make a living with their art.
But in reality the future is just as uncertain as it always is. There is no one “right” way, no patented formula for success. Many artists may find their way on the road, but the truth is that this new climate doesn’t favor a single path to commercial and artistic happiness. It favors the innovators, those willing to look beyond the typical, to build their own methods and run with them.
Birmingham band Through the Sparks (TTS) are one such group of individuals. Despite national recognition and a solid local and regional fan base, they were unable to fully embrace the “get your money on the road” mentality because of ties to home that made it difficult to leave for long periods of time and return to out-of-town venues with the frequency necessary to retain fans.
TTS front-man Jody Nelson recalls the moment where they decided to switch gears. “Travis [Morgan], who owns [TTS label] Skybucket Records—we were talking to him about trying to get to touring,” Nelson says, “and he was really wanting us to do that. Our problem was, like everybody else, you go somewhere and nobody knows who you are because you haven’t been there in two years because you don’t have enough money to go back every couple months. It was just getting futile, so we came up with the idea—our bass player Greg Slamen had just had a baby—and it was just impossible to [tour enough] where it was worth it; you have to go all or none. So we decided that we’d try another approach.
We got the website up to where we could actually [reach] enough people that we did have on our mailing list, that we could keep reminding them, when we do come back, that we’re still around. Once we decided to do it like that, it was easy to say ‘Okay, there’s going to be a deadline every month and we’re going to send out a newsletter every month with something [new] to listen to.’” Armed with this new structure, TTS set about recording a single per month to include with their newsletter. It was an entirely new way of thinking about recording compared to their traditional album-oriented approach.
“Everything [changed],” Nelson remembers. “Everything, because first of all we weren’t working in album format. We’ve always done that. Plus in an album format you can go back all at once and maybe do all the overdubs or something. Now when we do play out of town somewhere there are people we can contact now, and they’re probably going to be there. Not all of them of course, it’s crazy to think that, but we can pretty much play and have somebody show up, instead of just going somewhere where it’s totally empty. That and we were able to build the mailing list a lot and also have constant mentions every month online somewhere, instead of just once a year when you release a record.”
After 12 months of creating one song a month, they realized they had an album’s worth and decided to put them together in a collection, entitled Almanac (MMX) Year of the Beast, which they could release.
“It wasn’t the idea from the beginning,” Nelson says. “It just kind of got to be that way because—well, we realized we’ve got an album here. No matter if it is disjointed, it still makes sense as a collection, especially if you know how it was done, and why it came out that way. We weren’t able to have the advantage of knowing what collection of songs were going to be on there, [so] the collection we’re putting out is backheavy. You can tell once it gets to the end that it starts to make sense like an album, because the earlier songs we were able to look at in retrospect. Normally what you would do is take that and start to get an order together and say ‘Oh well, this song goes here, and this one goes there, and because we’ve got this then we’re going to add this.’ And it starts to make sense as a record near the end.
But [on Almanac] the ones in the beginning are kind of hodge-podged together. I mean, not really song by song, but as far as the way they connect with each other. So it was kind of an anti-album in that aspect, but also since we only had a month we couldn’t just—I mean, usually I can’t listen to anything we’ve recorded, because it’s been drilled into you. It’s like refrigerator buzz or whatever, you can’t even hear it. But I still like this one, because we weren’t able to kill every song by overdubbing too much or rewriting.”
There were other challenges as well, especially for Nelson as the primary songwriter. “For me, musically,” Nelson says, “I think it was fun having all those little deadlines, but lyric-wise, to finish something in a month for me is really hard, if it’s going to be put out, because I usually go back and rewrite and stuff like that, but just constantly having to walk around and think about [the lyrics] really kind of made me feel like an asshole a lot. Still, that’s kind of what’s cool about it.
The fact that we knew we had a certain amount of time, there’s stuff that would have gotten thrown away if it weren’t for that restriction. Meaning, ‘Okay, we’ve gotta make this good.’ So it was a challenge, without all the time to get it wrong. We were just kind of like, ‘Well man, let’s just do what we know.’ So there is some stuff [on Almanac] that’s more safe. There’s some straight up rock songs on here instead of noise-scaped, ambient [stuff].”
Fear not, the resulting album does contain a fair amount of the kind of off-kilter weirdness that made TTS’ last album Worm Moon Waning so appealing; it’s just not as prominent. Though the month-to-month production schedule does make the beginning of the album feel like it’s changing channels a bit, that variety actually served to draw me deeper in, rather than push me away. In a way, this is the audio equivalent of a collection of short stories. Each track tells its own tale, weaves its own aesthetic, but it is the combination of all these different soundscapes that provides Almanac’s particular charm.
Now that TTS have settled on a new model that works for them, they aren’t content to rest easy. They’re already working on their next release, though they have loosened some of their selfimposed restrictions.
“[Almanac] comes out June 21,” Nelson says, “ but we’ve got songs that we were writing in the background this whole time, and we’ve already gotten in that rhythm of doing a song a month and it kind of stayed that way a little bit, so by the time September rolls around we’ll probably have another [album] finished, [this time] without the restrictions. It’s better for output, but this time when we’re done with something we can just throw it out like normal.
TTS are also playing Birmingham’s newest music festival, Secret Stages, which will take place May 13-14 and provides them an opportunity to get in some live performance in front of a large audience without the hassle of leaving town.
I ask Nelson if he is excited about the impending festival. “Absolutely, it’s gonna be great,” he says. “[The loft-district] part of town’s really fun. Any time Birmingham can do something— people like to get out. This kind of thing brings people that aren’t usually music fans down here. People that aren’t in it every night tend to get out and just have fun. The surrounding area comes into town. I’m excited about hearing The Love Language.
That’s great guitar music. John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives are good friends of mine. We used to play with John Paul, years back. I’m actually playing with Barton Carroll, I’ve seen him play guitar, and I love seeing him. And then all the people I’ve never heard of—Dawes is gonna be great, but all the people I’ve never heard of, that’s the fun part—if you walk around you see stuff that you wouldn’t normally know, that’s the reason to go.”
Almanac (MMX) Year of the Beast will be available June 21, but you can visit www.throughthesparksmusic.com to listen to the individual singles, download their previous albums and find out a more about the band. For more information on Secret Stages, visit www.secretstages.net.
after witnessing massive natural disasters recently in new zealand, haiti, japan and elsewhere, alabama now has quite a mess on its hands. last year it felt rather strange witnessing the events unfold in the gulf, while at the same time - nashville got hit with a giant, intense flood event. the associated press national news story is below:
PLEASANT GROVE, Ala. – Dozens of tornadoes spawned by a powerful storm system wiped out neighborhoods across a wide swath of the South, killing at least 201 people in the deadliest outbreak in nearly 40 years, and officials said Thursday they expected the death toll to rise.
Alabama's state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 131 deaths, while there were 32 in Mississippi, 16 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky.
The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.
"We were in the bathroom holding on to each other and holding on to dear life," said Samantha Nail, who lives in a blue-collar subdivision in the Birmingham suburb of Pleasant Grove where the storm slammed heavy pickup trucks into ditches and obliterated tidy brick houses, leaving behind a mess of mattresses, electronics and children's toys scattered across a grassy plain where dozens used to live. "If it wasn't for our concrete walls, our home would be gone like the rest of them."
Dave Imy, a meteorologist with the prediction service, said the deaths were the most in a tornado outbreak since 1974, when 315 people died.
In Alabama, where as many as a million people were without power, Gov. Robert Bentley said 2,000 national guard troops had been activated and were helping to search devastated areas for people still missing. He said the National Weather Service and forecasters did a good job of alerting people, but there is only so much that can be done to deal with powerful tornadoes a mile wide.
One of the hardest-hit areas was Tuscaloosa, a city of more than 83,000 and home to the University of Alabama. A massive tornado, caught on video by a news camera on a tower, barreled through late Wednesday afternoon, leveling the city.
"When I looked back, I just saw trees and stuff coming by," said Mike Whitt, a resident at DCH Regional Medical Center who ran from the hospital's parking deck when the wind started swirling and he heard a roar.
On Thursday morning, he walked through the neighborhood next to the hospital, home to a mix of students and townspeople, looking at dozens of homes without roofs. Household items were scattered all over the ground — a drum, running shoes, insulation, towels, and a shampoo bottle. Streets were impassable, the pavement strewn with trees, pieces of houses and cars with their windows blown out.
Dr. David Hinson was working at the hospital when the tornado hit. He and his wife had to walk several blocks to get to their house, which was destroyed. Several houses down, he helped pull three students from the rubble. One was dead and two were badly injured. He and others used pieces of debris as makeshift stretchers to carry them to an ambulance.
"We just did the best we could to get them out and get them stabilized and get them to help," he said. "I don't know what happened to them."
The storm system spread destruction from Texas to New York, where dozens of roads were flooded or washed out. The governors of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia each issued emergency declarations for parts of their states. President Barack Obama said he had spoken with Bentley and approved his request for emergency federal assistance.
"Our hearts go out to all those who have been affected by this devastation, and we commend the heroic efforts of those who have been working tirelessly to respond to this disaster," Obama said in a statement.
Around Tuscaloosa, traffic was snarled by downed trees and power lines, and some drivers abandoned their cars in medians. "What we faced today was massive damage on a scale we have not seen in Tuscaloosa in quite some time," Mayor Walter Maddox said Wednesday.
University officials said there didn't appear to be significant damage on campus, and dozens of students and locals were staying at a 125-bed shelter in the campus recreation center.
The Browns Ferry nuclear power plant about 30 miles west of Huntsville lost offsite power. The Tennessee Valley Authority-owned plant had to use seven diesel generators to power the plant's three units. The safety systems operated as needed and the emergency event was classified as the lowest of four levels, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said.
In Huntsville, meteorologists found themselves in the path of severe storms and had to take shelter in a reinforced steel room, turning over monitoring duties to a sister office in Jackson, Miss. Meteorologists saw multiple wall clouds, which sometimes spawn tornadoes, and decided to take cover, but the building wasn't damaged.
"We have to take shelter just like the rest of the people," said meteorologist Chelly Amin, who wasn't at the office at the time but spoke with colleagues about the situation.
In Kemper County, Miss., in the east-central part of the state, sisters Florrie Green and Maxine McDonald, and their sister-in-law Johnnie Green, all died in a mobile home that was destroyed by a storm. "They were thrown into those pines over there," Mary Green, Johnnie Green's daughter-in-law, said, pointing to a wooded area. "They had to go look for their bodies."
In Choctaw County, Miss., a Louisiana police officer was killed Wednesday morning when a towering sweetgum tree fell onto his tent as he shielded his young daughter with his body. The girl wasn't hurt. The storms came on the heels of another system that killed 10 people in Arkansas and one in Mississippi earlier this week.
my good friend grey watson, with whom i play in two bands, is moving to south korea at the beginning of june for a one year teaching contract. he's in his late 20's, so this is pretty much the perfect opportunity to go abroad. this will effectively dismantle our rock trio, rubys... and will put a definite damper on through the sparks. we were planning on starting an album soon, but everyone stayed in a holding pattern until we knew what grey was going to do. now hopefully we can at least record some live demos of the new material so it doesn't get lost. at some point we might release the ep we recorded as a 5 piece at jody nelson's house in early 2010.
at my age, i don't think in terms of years anymore. they go by too fast. 5 years ago, i was already recording with the spots. life moves pretty fast. anyway... so rubys will be going out in a blaze of glory. we have two shows lined up with the grenadines - one at the nick in birmingham and one somewhere in tuscaloosa. war eagle.
there's also a set during the debut of secret stages in the downtown loft district in mid-may. and there's also talk of doing a house party somewhere in southside. that would pretty much cover all the bases. we have a lot of rehearsal to do in order to get up to speed, but rehearsing as a trio is super easy. much easier than a 5 or 6 piece. here's the rubys feature page for the city stages festival. i might post some rehearsal or performance footage on here once we get through all of these shows.
i think corey flegel might have taken a few of these as well. i also know there were some folks from al.com but i may have already listed them? this last photo was taken on the way back to the craziness downtown after alison and i had dinner with my friend kristin, who i hadn't seen in nearly 10 years. so great to see her at sxsw...
i'll post more photos on here later in the day. still working on combining all of the video clips into one long video, which i'll post soonish. the showcase featured two stages, one inside and one outside, blaring out into the street. very cool. here's a few links to some local press about the event: al.com / sxsw coverage. al.com blog.