Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain brings his “Masters of Percussion” tour to Durham. Hussain is globally known as an innovator as well master and ambassador of traditional Hindustani music. Hussain returns to Duke Performances with the Masters of Percussion, his hand-picked group of the finest musicians from across the Indian classical tradition. Featuring sitarist: Niladri Kumar, sarangi player: Dilshad Khan. Jazz drummer Steve Smith along with V Selvaganesh (kanjira and ghatam), Vijay S. Chavan (dholki) and Deepak Bhatt (dhol) will also perform. The concert is on Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 8pm at Durham Performance Arts of Center (DPAC), Durham, NC. Tickets and information available at 919-680-2787 or www.dukeperformances.org.
Georgia band Norma Jean has had its revolving cast of characters over the last 15 or so years. Guitarist Chris Day remains the only original member and from the early rap-metal approach to evolving into a metalcore outfit, Norma Jean comes loaded with the requisite growling vocalist and dual guitar attack. They are tagged as a Christian alt-metal band, but they explore plenty of darker sides of things in their lyrics while pounding out a blend of hard, inventive and, refreshingly, emotive songs. Their latest album, last year’s Wrongdoers, was written and recorded after replacing three band members, but it sounds damn cohesive, as if the new boys in the band have been playing together for years. They are playing at Milestone in Charlotte on March 3, 2014. Also on the bill are Spoken and SkinKage. www.themilestoneclub.com
It could be the 200-acre family cattle farm in the hills of Virginia, where he grew up and which he now manages full-time, that has kept Miller’s lyrics grounded, earthy. His songs can range from subdued to rousing, moody introspection to sing-alongs. Miller’s work over the past couple of decades, including with the twang-rockers V-Roys and later his own band the Commonwealth, along with solo, duo, and trio variations, has helped hone his songcraft, a catalog of flowing tales rooted in Americana. His songs are replete with the history and aura of the Appalachians — a genealogy of Southern lives lived working the land and unwrapped into the greater American ethos. Miller is touring in support of his latest recording, Big Big World. He is performing at the Double Door Inn, Charlotte on Feb. 20, 2014. (originally published in Creative Loafing, Charlotte)
Skinny Puppy's Industrial Evolution
Band continues to bang out albums after more than three decades
Industrial rock outfit Skinny Puppy knows its music unnerves people. It's dissonant, jarring and harshly beautiful. That's always been the point. But according to cEvin Key, co-founder of the Canadian band along with Nivek Ogre, they're not too pleased with the U.S. government's use of Skinny Puppy's music on Guantanamo Bay prisoners — a sort of "musical torture," if you will, to obtain information. One can envision an interrogator leaning over a captive, yelling, "Tell us what you know or we'll turn this up to 10. We've got a dozen discs by the band and..." Well, you get the picture.
That doesn't mean fans attending the band's Feb. 10 show at Amos' Southend should expect to undergo any kind of torture. Skinny Puppy may not get a lot of mainstream airplay, but its records manage to break into the charts and, for more than 30 years, the band has influenced countless electronica and industrial bands and musicians. Nine Inch Nails, check. Ministry, check.
Skinny Puppy is a pioneer of gothic industrial rock and dark electro-dance. Key (drum kit, guitars, bass guitars, synthesizers) and Ogre (vocals, lyrics) formed the band in 1982 in Vancouver. The duo remains the only constant members, with revolving comrades appearing on recordings and tour support. Ogre's distorted rasp and socially inflected lyrics spar with the buzz of guitars, synth, samples and drums to create something eerily organic and otherworldly.
The duo's live shows are sensory overload, with spastic visual images and film clips populating the backdrop and the lights swirling and flashing incessantly. All the while, Ogre paces back and forth on the stage, like a pissed-off, bloodied Rottweiler looking for a fight. The volume, of course, is set close to max. It's multi-layered performance art that's been breaking ground since the early years.
"When we started, we were at the height of the New Wave era," Key says. "There wasn't any techno or hip-hop or industrial music. Interesting to see how the music world has evolved."
Asked how the process of composition happens in his mind, he says, "I've always felt that making electronic music is collaboration with the universe, affected by possibly other sources than your fingers. I don't know if that's auditory hallucination or some sort of expanded electro-magnetic energy that winds up on tape."
With three decades in the rearview mirror, Skinny Puppy continues on the path, unabated by trends. The most recent album, last year's Weapon, is a mix of recording techniques they used in the early years interwoven with New Wave-ish songs that churn into heavy dance grooves before devolving into industrial-strength noise.
Key explained their modus operandi of years past — make a demo and then recreate the demo — but unlike the older albums where they would do a song in a day, the band took its time unwrapping the sound on Weapon. The ensuing tour — on this routing they're joined by drummer Justin Bennett — checks in on all three decades.
Both Ogre and Key have numerous side and solo projects under their belts, along with an Internet radio station, subconradio.com. This is where they play music they dig by eclectic bands and obscure musicians from around the globe. Skinny Puppy even checks in and does live relays on occasion, as they did for six hours from the desert around Tempe, Ariz., while on the current tour.
So far this century, the band has produced several varied works, including the album HanDover, which took a couple of years to release after recording due to their label's business woes and filing for reorganization. "We didn't want to give a record to a label that was a sinking ship," Key elaborated.
Regardless of who puts the music out, or even who is listening, Skinny Puppy continues treading down the long path forward.
(Story originally published in Creative Loafing (Charlotte) on Feb. 6, 2014
Skinny Puppy's industrial revolution
The Bruno Peppers performed at the big game. Well, more precisely it was a Bruno Mars performance at half-time where funk rockers Red Hot Chili Peppers popped up for a rousing version of "Give it Away." It was obvious that the band members were shooting blanks, or to put it in better terms, the band "mimed" their performance. Anthony Kiedis' vocals were live, but the rest of the band were pretending along to a pre-recorded track. Lip-syncing sucks. There's no excuse for it if you are performing live. But in the short time set-up confines of the half-time at Super Bowl, it can be forgiven. May be. I would still prefer to see the band play things live, with mistakes, sound problems, the whole rawness. That's what live performances are about. So what if it sounds off? Perfection is overrated. But, like most half-time performers, the Chili Peppers threw in the towel and pre-recorded the track and mimed the performance. Flea, the bassist, explained why they did it in an open letter on the band's website posted on Feb. 4, 2014. Here it is below:
A Message From Flea
When we were asked by the NFL and Bruno to play our song Give It Away at the Super Bowl, it was made clear to us that the vocals would be live, but the bass, drums, and guitar would be pre-recorded. I understand the NFL's stance on this, given they only have a few minutes to set up the stage, there a zillion things that could go wrong and ruin the sound for the folks watching in the stadium and the t.v. viewers. There was not any room for argument on this, the NFL does not want to risk their show being botched by bad sound, period.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers stance on any sort of miming has been that we will absolutely not do it. The last time we did it (or tried to) was in the late 80's, we were thrown off of 'The Top Of the Pops' television program in the U.K. during rehearsals because we refused to mime properly, I played bass with my shoe, John played guitar atop Anthony's shoulders, and we basically had a wrestling match onstage, making a mockery of the idea that it was a real live performance.
We mimed on one or two weird MTV shows before that and it always was a drag. We take our music playing seriously, it is a sacred thing for us, and anyone who has ever seen us in concert (like the night before the Super Bowl at the Barclays Center), knows that we play from our heart, we improvise spontaneously, take musical risks, and sweat blood at every show. We have been on the road for 31 years doing it.
So, when this Super Bowl gig concept came up, there was a lot of confusion amongst us as whether or not we should do it, but we eventually decided, it was a surreal-like, once in a life time crazy thing to do and we would just have fun and do it. We had given this a lot of thought before agreeing to do it, and besides many a long conversation amongst ourselves, I spoke with many musician friends for whom I have the utmost respect, and they all said they would do it if asked, that it was a wild trippy thing to do, what the hell. Plus, we the RHCP all love football too and that played a big part in our decision. We decided that, with Anthony singing live, that we could still bring the spirit and freedom of what we do into the performance, and of course we played every note in the recording specially for the gig. I met and spoke with Bruno, who was a beautiful dude, a real talented musician, and we worked out something that seemed like it would be fun.
We recorded a track for the day, just banged one out from our hearts that was very like in spirit to the versions we have been playing live the last few years with our beloved Josh on guitar.
For the actual performance, Josh, Chad, and I were playing along with the pre recorded track so there was no need to plug in our guitars, so we did not. Could we have plugged them in and avoided bumming people out who have expressed disappointment that the instrumental track was pre recorded? Of course easily we could have and this would be a non-issue. We thought it better to not pretend. It seemed like the realest thing to do in the circumstance. It was like making a music video in front of a gazillion people, except with live vocals, and only one chance to rock it. Our only thought was to bring the spirit of who we are to the people.
I am grateful to the NFL for having us. And I am grateful to Bruno, who is a super talented young man for inviting us to be a part of his gig. I would do it all the same way again.
We, as a band, aspire to grow as musicians and songwriters, and to continue to play our guts out live onstage for anyone who wants to get their brains blown out.
(find the link here: http://redhotchilipeppers.com/news/454-a-message-from-flea)
The Ukulele is a corky little instrument. It’s a mini guitar with four strings. It’s small. Musicians with big fingers find it confounding. The Hawaiian instrument has had a, shall we say, less than stellar reputation for years. Bugs Bunny and Tiny Tim are among those giving it a cartoonish rep. Jake Shimabukuro is out to change that. He is a ukulele master. He strums and picks the strings of the humble uke so cleanly that one would think a classically trained guitarist is on the stage. During his performance, he made the ukulele sound like a rock guitar, flamenco guitar, and classical guitar. Some of the songs included originals like “Gentle Mandolin” and “Blue Roses Falling” along with his take on rock classics “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Bassist Rich Glass accompanied Shimabukuro on a few tracks, adding depth with his deep, resonant bass strings. But otherwise it was Shimabukoro playing solo and keeping the crowd mesmerized with his flawless playing. There were no pretentions and the neatly coordinated lights added a colorful mood to the evening.