BECK IN CELLO FORM
It's been five years since Beck graced the world with a new album of music, but only two months since he unleashed his latest batch of songs. How is that possible, you ask? In today's hyper-frenetic cyber-world, it certainly must incorporate technology, right? Since there are songs, but no album, is it just a series of individual downloads that we can upload directly into our brains? Some sort of glasses that will allow us to see the music? Hints: Think 1913, not 2013. And, I never said he recorded those songs.
Song Reader is a collection of 20 songs that were written by Beck and published by McSweeney's as a book of sheet music at the beginning of December. It's a lavish package: full-color artwork for each song by a number of acclaimed artists; a hardcover slipcase; an introduction by Jody Rosen and a preface by Beck; and then, of course, the songs: "Bringing them to life depends on you," it says on the publisher's website.
Plenty of people, groups, and ensembles have already done so. Head to the book's dedicated website, www.songreader.net, and you'll find links to recordings and videos of hundreds of performances of the songs by people from around the world.
If it seems like a trendy, steampunk-inspired endeavor, well, yeah. Maybe. In an interview on the McSweeney's website (mcsweeneys.net), Beck actually makes a cogent argument about why the project, which he's been working on since 2008, was alluring to him.
"It's true that songs used to be written not only to catch people's ears, but to make them want to play them themselves," he explains. "That's a radically different mindset for a songwriter. The entertainment factor has to be in the songwriting itself. When I was getting into music, it had become something that was tied more to the studio process than the kind of auteur songwriting that was popular before—the music got its power from studio techniques. Those studio sounds and processes didn't always translate to a cheap acoustic guitar the way a Hank Williams or a Buddy Holly song could. There's nothing wrong with studio techniques, but I was aware, growing up, of that division between the sounds I could make and the ones I was hearing on the radio. It was probably one of the reasons I was drawn to folk and country blues. That other continuum of songs, the ones that are meant to exist in the hands of those who play them for themselves, still feels like a valuable separate space."
Fair enough. But what good is a bunch of new Beck songs if the average music fan doesn't have a way to hear them performed properly (if there is such a thing, in this case).
Enter the Portland Cello Project, an Oregon-based cello ensemble. A mere nine days after the Song Reader book hit the shelves, the PCP had digitally released an album containing versions of all 20 of Beck's latest songs.
The PCP is no stranger to projects that might seem odd for a cello ensemble to perform, but the PCP is not your ordinary, stiff-collared cello ensemble. In the past, their albums have included everything from classical, jazz, movie themes, and original compositions, as well as plenty of guest vocalists. They've collaborated on a full-length album with Thao Nguyen of Thao With the Get Down Stay Down and Portland singer-songwriter Justin Powers; released an album of Justin Timberlake covers; and they've covered songs by Britney Spears, Rihanna, and Kanye West. Their most recent release prior to Song Reader was Homage, which paid tribute to rappers like Jay-Z and Lil Wayne. Two of the stated goals on their website are "to play music on the cello you wouldn't normally hear played on the instrument," and "to bring the cello to places you wouldn't normally hear it."
So, it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that it was the PCP that rolled out the first complete version of Beck's "album," which it's expected they will perform next week, alongside their takes on some rap classics and god-knows-what-else. It should be about as much fun as you can have watching a cello ensemble perform.
The Portland Cello Project performs next Thursday, Feb. 7, at Solar Culture Gallery, 31 E. Toole Ave. The all-ages show starts at 8 p.m. with an opening set by the Alialujah Choir, an indie-folk trio that includes members of Weinland, Norfolk & Western, and M. Ward's band. Admission is $10. For more information call 884-0874 or head to solarculture.org.
During a recent conversation with an old friend, she asked me if I'd heard 3 Pears, the new album by Dwight Yoakam, which she raved about. Not only had I not heard it, but I was unaware he'd even released a new album.
Maybe it's because after he released 2005's Blame the Vain, he'd effectively disappeared from the landscape, surfacing briefly in 2007, when he released an album of Buck Owens covers. Or maybe, just maybe, Yoakam has been putting out classic albums by the handful since he emerged with his 1986 debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., and I've simply come to take him for granted.
It's hard to remember now, but when that debut album hit the shelves in '86, it represented an island of genuine honky-tonk and country in the ocean of pop-country-by-the-numbers that was ruling the country charts at the time. For the most part, country radio has only gotten worse since then, so thank goodness we've still got ol' Dwight around to keep it real. Sure, he's got a lot of likeminded compadres these days, playing real country music; but for all intents and purposes, Dwight Yoakam was alt-country before there was such a thing.
Dwight Yoakam performs at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday, Feb. 7, at the Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St. Advance tickets were $47 to $79, but the show appears to be sold out at press time. For more info about the show, go to foxtucsontheatre.org.
The Daniel Johnston show postponed from its original Nov. 10, 2012, date will take place at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Saturday, Feb.2. Reubens Accomplice is still on the bill as the opener, and tickets purchased for the original date will be honored at the door. The show is 18-and-over and begins at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance, $22 on the day of show. Head to hotelcongress.com/club or call 622-8848 for more info. If you missed our original preview of the show, you can find it in our Nov. 8, 2012, issue (http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/soundbites/Content?oid=3571439).
Socio-politically conscientious rapper Murs brings The Road to Paid Dues Tour to the town he calls home this week for a show at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., on Monday, Feb.4. The 18-and-over show will also feature sets by Prof and Fashawn, who gets things rolling at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $15. Hotelcongress.com/club and 622-8848 are the places to get more details.
One of a handful of arts and performance spaces that have sprung up around town in the last year, Topaz, at 657 W. St. Mary's Rd., will celebrate its one-year anniversary with a blowout show this week called Dune Drift II, "an annual music, film, and art event." The all-ages show begins at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 3, and will feature musical performances by Womb Tomb, Dream Sick, former Arizona resident Stephen Steinbrink (aka French Quarter), Upside Drown, and Rory O'Rear. There will be an art show featuring works by Joie Estrella, Sharon Moon, and Claire Mirocha among others. And the evening will also serve as the release party for a Topaz-curated, limited edition 16-song cassette compilation featuring tracks by Ohioan, Jess Matsen, Algae & Tentacles, Secret Highway Secrets, Young Hunter and lots more. Admission is a paltry $3, but bring a few more bucks for the tape and refreshments. For more info check out the event's Facebook page.
ON THE BANDWAGON
There's lots more great stuff happing around town, so be sure to check out our listings sections. In the meantime, a tiny sampling: American Idol winner Kris Allen at Plush on Friday, Feb. 1; Coed Pageant, Jacob Acosta, Anika's Basement Show, and Boreas at Tucson Live Music Space on Wednesday, Feb. 6; Second Saturdays Downtown featuring Silverbell and many more on Saturday, Feb. 2; Prank War, Parasol, Monster Pussy, and The Pork Torta at Tanline Studio next Thursday, Feb. 7; the Lord Bird Dog, Caethua, Algae & Tentacles, and Secret Highway Secrets at The HangArt on Tuesday, Feb. 5; Sleep Like Trees, Antique Scream, and Shit Ton at La Cocina on Friday, Feb. 1.