Rock Clubs in the 21st Century & Randy Newman Review

Like the independent record store and band, the small rock club is also struggling to survive. Jim and Greg check in with a panel of music club owners, bookers and promoters from around the country to find out how things are faring in clubland.

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After 31 years at EMI, The Rolling Stones have moved over to Universal Music. The label is boasting about its acquisition, but Jim and Greg wonder if the Stones are such a catch after all. As a "heritage artist" they surely bring rock-cred to any company, but as former Chicago rock critic and NPR arts editor Bill Wyman points out, EMI only sold about a million Stones albums a year, which is about as much as a single Eagles album alone sold. A million records is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it may not warrant the expense of housing such a band.

In other Stones news... Abkco Music Inc., the publishing company that owns the right to the British band's song "Play With Fire," is suing rapper Lil Wayne for what it claims was an unauthorized release of an altered version of the song. Lil Wayne's new track "Playing With Fire," does not list any samples in its credits, but Abkco believes the song is clearly derivative. You be the judge.

While it holds a place in the hearts of a generation of music fans, the cassette tape has almost gone the way of the 8-track. The New York Times recently published what is essentially an obituary of the cassette, pointing out the one area the technology still thrived was the audiobook industry. But now, even books on tape are being dumped. Add this to the fact that none of Billboard's Top 10 albums last week were issued on cassette, and it seems time to say goodbye to our dear friend.

Rock Clubs in the 21st Century

Just like the small independent band or the mom and pop record store, independently owned rock clubs are also finding it hard to navigate their way through the ever-changing, increasingly corporate music industry. Cities often don't have the friendliest live music regulations, especially after tragedies like 1993's E2 stampede and The Station fire. But, with album sales down, bands are more and more dependent on live music revenues. Jim and Greg have been writing about this issue in Chicago for years, but wanted to get a national perspective. They invited the following guests to share their insights: Sean Agnew of R5 Productions in Philadelphia, Mitchell Franks of Spaceland, Echo and Echoplex in Los Angeles and Jake Szufnarowski of Rocks Off Concert Promotions in New York City.

Rock clubs have an important place in the music industry, but they are just as important to the music fan as well. To illustrate this, Jim and Greg both reveal two of their most significant experiences at an independently owned music venue. Jim discusses seeing Hüsker Dü perform their album Zen Arcade in its entirety. It was at Maxwell’s on New Year's Eve, and Jim was a college student. As he explained during The Feelies' interview, Maxwell's was pivotal to him learning about music, and this Hüsker Dü performance, complete with wrestling, was one of his most memorable. Jim plays "What’s Going On?" from Hüsker Dü's live album The Living End.

Greg discusses seeing house music fixture Ron Hardy DJ at Chicago's Muzic Box. Hardy was not as internationally known as his peers, but Greg remembers how the DJ was able to bring together so many different types of music fans. The democracy of the dance floor is one of the reasons music clubs are so integral to the community. Greg plays a famous track from Hardy's set list, "Love Can’t Turn Around."

Harps and Angels Randy Newman

Harps and Angels

"Anti-singer-songwriter" Randy Newman just released his first new album in nine years called Harps and Angels. The Oscar and Emmy-winning musician, who has been best known lately for his movie soundtracks, is again combining humor and politics with his New Orleans-style piano playing -- a combination Jim describes as being as poignant as popular music can get. Newman's searing critiques are brilliant, prompting Jim to give the album a Buy It. Greg agrees, noting that Newman accurately casts stones at himself as well as others, and warns listeners that they won't hear a lot of contemporary sounds. But, he thinks Newman is as good as ever and also gives Harps and Angels a Buy It.

Songs in A&E Spiritualized

Songs In a&E (iTunes Exclusive)

Psychedelic shoegazers Spiritualized also have a new album out called Songs in A&E. The "A&E" in the title refers to Britain's "accident and emergency" hospital wards, where Spiritualized founder Jason Pierce recently spent a lot of time due to a near-fatal bout with pneumonia. As Jim and Greg explain, this personal crisis definitely informs much of the album. Greg wishes Pierce had been more concise with this theme, though. He enjoyed the first half of the album, but found that the songs, like Pierce's health, only got weaker. He gives the album a Try It. Jim doesn't think Greg enjoyed the album in the correct context. The pace of the record, which includes a number of instrumental interludes, mirrors the band's live show. He thinks Songs in A&E is the band's best effort since Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and gives it a Buy It.

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