Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 15, 2006; 2:00 PM

Washington Post music critic J. Freedom du Lac is online every Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET to talk about the latest on the music scene: hip-hop, pop, alternative, country, alt-country, rock, reggae, reggaeton, R and B and whatever it is that Ashlee Simpson does.

The transcript follows.

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J. Freedom du Lac: Howdy, chatters. Checking in from Austin, TX, on the first day of the South By Southwest Beerfest---err, Music and Media Conference. The 20th time they've done of these things - but the first time I've been since 1999. Can't wait; lots of great bands (and, I'm sure, some horrible ones, too) to be heard.

I have BBQ sauce all over my fingers (seriously), so please forgive the typos. Let's chat.

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Arlington, Va.: Your James Blunt story made my morning! The underwear-too-tight crooning endemic to today's pop scene makes me want to burn my radio.

I caught the brilliant Spottiswoode and His Enemies show at Iota Thursday night on a friend's recommendation -- it was pure genius. Witty, maudlin, irreverent tunes that were completely danceable -- % best live music performance I've seen in light years. I'm kicking myself for not checking them out sooner. Anyone know how often they're in this area? Any chance for a Post article on who these musicians are? They had at least six or seven people on stage and easily double that in instruments (accordion, keyboards, mandolin, horns, etc). I'm dying to see them again; they absolutely rocked. Thanks.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'm here to help. It's like my own version of Lisa D's "We Watch American Idol So You Don't Have To" piece that you'll be seeing every Wednesday from now until the end of the current season of Idol.

Thanks for the Spottiswoode report. You're the second person to have mentioned that one to me this week.

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Washington, D.C.: While you're at SXSW, make sure to check out Zack Hexum! He's playing at Guero's at 1 pm tomorrow (3/16). He's also going to be here at Jammin' Java on 4/13. I can't WAIT!

J. Freedom du Lac: At 1 pm tomorrow, I'll be stalking the Beastie Boys. Good times.

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washingtonpost.com: The 'You're Beautiful' Boy: Soooo Sweet James Blunt

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Obligatory SXSW: Five acts you're most psyched to see?

J. Freedom du Lac: How about this: Seven acts I'm going to make sure I don't miss?

The Rakes. Quien es, Boom! Wolfmother. Gecko Turner. Radio 4. Sam Moore. The High Dials.

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Arctic Monkeys on SNL: Left me kind of blah. Not bad pop music, just expecting so much more, given the hype. Also just became aware of the fact that the press machine started rolling in high gear back in Nov., but the record didn't drop until Feb. Given this kind of push, and the relatively nondescript pop nature of the music, one might want to go as far as drawing come analogies between these guys and Ashlee Simpson (lip-synching notwithstanding). But I'd never do that, b/c it might cause the powers that be to revoke my indie-cred card.

J. Freedom du Lac: I agree that their SNL performance was pretty flat. But I still love the album. I'm hoping to see them here in Austin (though it might be an impossible task getting into that showcase).

Ashlee Simpson? I'm not following your analogy. Please show all work. Partial credit will, as always, be given.

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SXSW 1999: Who were the "hot" bands that year? Are any of them still around?

J. Freedom du Lac: All seven of my South By visits are running together at this point. I blame it on my advancing age, plus all that damn Shiner Bock I drank during my Austin visits. That might have been the year I caught the incredible Ozomatli for the first time. But maybe that happened in '98. I don't remember, really.

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Cubeland: I want to stalk the Beasties tomorrow! Alas, I'll be stuck in my cube, "working" (just like I am right now). Are you going to see their documentary?

J. Freedom du Lac: Saw the doc, and my head still hurts. You've heard of 120 BPMs? They're doing, like, 120 CPMs. Too many quick cuts for my tastes.

By the way, the Beasties are doing a press conference here in a few hours. Post a question, and I'll see if I can get it answered on your behalf. (And don't say "What's another word for pirate treasure?" The Austin American-Statesman already put that one in print today.)

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washingtonpost.com: Arctic Monkeys, A Higher Form But Not Yet Fully Evolved

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South of Springfield: J. Freedom,

What's your take on the Rock Hall of Fame inductees this year?

What about the Sex Pistols letter? Real punk attitude or calculated stunt? Likewise with Debbie Harry's attitude toward her ex-Blondie mates?

And finally, how much longer will I have to wait before the Hall recognizes the genius of SVB?

Rock on!

J. Freedom du Lac: I love the Sex Pistols' screed (which, for those who missed it, basically said "Hey Rock Hall, go Cheney yourself"). Calculated? I'm sure. But it was still pretty great.

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Erotic City: What's the industry buzz on the new Prince album?

J. Freedom du Lac: Dunno about the industry buzz ... but the album has been making the rounds in the newsroom - and We At The Washington Post absolutely (and officially) adore the new CD. It's really, really good.

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Falls Church, Va.: Why would Bruce Springsteen do a whole album of Bob Seger songs????

J. Freedom du Lac: You! So! Funny!

(For those who don't get the joke: The Boss is doing an album of Pete Seeger songs. And Bob Seger is, well...)

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Re: The High Dials: The High Dials better buy you something nice for being their Number One Fan.

J. Freedom du Lac: They're actually bringing me a key to the city of Montreal.

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Logan Circle, Washington, D.C.: Enjoyed the James Blunt review. Pretty much what I suspected.

What do you think of The Gossip's new release? Very different from the earlier work.

J. Freedom du Lac: James Blunt is good times. So say the dozens and dozens of women who've been throwing grenades into my email inbox today.

Haven't yet listened to the new (Guy Picciotto-produced) Gossip album. I never seem to get past the new Prince album in my iPod.

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RE: Rock and Roll Hall of Lame induction: Given that Debbie Harry is now, like, 900 years old, I'm surprised she's not yet in the making amends/building fences phase of her sunset years. MY grandmother couldn't get enough of that forgive and forget mess.

J. Freedom du Lac: Was your grandmother ever as hot as Debbie Harry in her heyday?

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Washington, D.C.: What is your take on the popularity of Pitchfork (or other online music review Web sites) and their influence on music today? I personally have mixed feelings on Pitchfork. It is clearly good for smaller label bands to get their music to a larger audience with the way the music industry generally operates to favor major labels. And I would argue the quality of reviews have improved over the past few years, although with it so have those annoying pop-ups and ads. But I guess with anything these days, and particularly with music, the opinions of a few may have too much of an influence on what people buy. For example, DC shows for newer bands like Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah who got glowing reviews by the Pitchfork folks last year sold out faster than bands that have been established and touring for years. Of course quality plays a role in which shows sell out and what one downloads from iTunes. I guess it makes me a little uncomfortable that a few have such a strong influence on who becomes "the next big thing."

J. Freedom du Lac: Ask me that question again after my story on Pitchfork runs. (I'm spending a bunch of time in Austin with Ryan Schreiber, the founding editor. Full report to follow.)

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Frederick, Md.: The underwear-too-tight syndrome is nothing new. Leo Sayer has been signing like that for years.

J. Freedom du Lac: Not new at all. But it's reached crisis stage. It's time for NATO to step in and do the right thing.

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Fox Confessor: Last week, I was running out to buy it. This week, I'm loving it more with every listen.

J. Freedom du Lac: We At The Washington Post love the new Neko Case album. I'm hoping to see her perform in Austin, too - though if I can't work her showcase into my schedule, I can always catch her at the 9:30.

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Arctic Monkeys vs. Ashlee Simpson: It could be argued that both are little more than pop "creations" based on a pretty blatant marketing strategy that has nothing to do with the creativity of the music. It's just a different form of pop-album being mass-marketed by record company execs based on a notion of what will sell, not what's "good".

As they said on VH1's "Best Week Ever" last week: If you liked the Strokes, or the Killers, or the Strokes, or Jet, or the Strokes, then you'll like the Arctic Monkeys.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's the funniest thing I've read this year - especially since the Arctic Monkeys were a HUGE grass-roots phenomenon long before the industry weasels got a hold of them. They're about as far removed from prefab pop act as you can get. People were going crazy over the songs that became the band's debut long-player before the bidding war began.

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For Beasties: Which is best? Like this, like that, or with a wiffle ball bat?

J. Freedom du Lac: I'll consider asking this one. But you can do better!

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SVB Sighting: I was channel surfing this weekend and caught Bill and Taffy Danoff(I think that was their name) of SVB singing along with John Denver to Country Roads.

J. Freedom du Lac: You did NOT see that!

Next time it's on, record it and then make sure to post the video on YouTube. We'll have a Freedom Rock viewing party.

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Arlington, Va.: Yes! Someone else who doesn't worship stupid James Blunt. I am the only woman in my group of friends that HATES him. Whine whine whine.

J. Freedom du Lac: I think your friends have been emailing me all day.

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Texas Country: You don't have to listen to nose-picking, knee-slapping country music, do you? That stuff makes me want to run and hide.

J. Freedom du Lac: Is it possible to slap your knee and pick your nose at the same time? (Sounds like something Gerald Ford might try.)

I like country music. Some of it, anyway. In fact, I'm hoping to see Kris Kristofferson and Jessi Colter performing together tonight.

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Arlington, Va.: Quit blaming women for the James Blunt phenomenon. I work in retail and just as many men buy his CD as women do.

J. Freedom du Lac: OK, it's everybody's fault. But the ratio of women to men at the 9:30 on Monday was something like 3.7 to 1.

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Washington, D.C.: It seems kind of wrong -- very wrong? -- that James Blunt sold out the 9:30 Club in minutes and there are still tickets left for Ray Davies next week. That's all.

J. Freedom du Lac: And you know what else is sick? There weren't even scalped tickets available outside the club. First time I've seen that happen since Sufjan. Go figure.

There were a LOT of sad women standing outside the club Monday. (And not a single guy looking for a scalped ticket, by the way.)

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Please tell us...: ....is everything really bigger in Texas?

J. Freedom du Lac: Just the hangovers.

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Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.:

Is SXSW worth going for the music fan without any inside connections? I have heard it is impossible to get into the really good shows or ones with a lot of buzz. Of course that isn't a problem for you, but are you seeing huge lines at these events?

J. Freedom du Lac: Anybody can buy a badge to the convention. It ain't cheap, but badgeholders all have the same privileges. Meaning you can jump ahead of folks wearing SXSW wristbands, which cost a few hundred bucks less. But once a venue reaches capacity, everybody gets locked out.

However, there are a ton of showcases and parties on the periphery of SXSW, and to get inside a good number of them, you DO need to have some connections. Either that, or you need to have great gate-crashing skills.

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Germantown, Md.: James Blunt? If I wanted to get my freak on, I would put on a little Barry White or Lionel Ritchie. How can you concentrate with that squeaking?

J. Freedom du Lac: Trying hard to resist making a joke about your squeaking comment.

(And seriously? Lionel over Al Green? Bzzzzzt.)

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Washington, D.C.: Think we should immortalize the SVB references by giving this chat the byline "Wednesday Afternoon Delight"? If Gene's chat is "Tuesdays with Moron" ...

J. Freedom du Lac: Great idea. (Note to Post legal department: Please look into this.)

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Washington, D.C.: There was a guy willing to trade his Death Cab tickets for James Blunt before the show.

J. Freedom du Lac: For James Blunt himself? (Or for James Blunt tickets?)

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Re: Arctic Monkeys: Agree with your observation that there was a public groundswell prior to the marketing push.

However, you gotta admit, the Strokes reference was dead-on.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeahbut, the Monkeys have made the best Strokes album of 2006.

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Re: Men buying the James Blunt CD: But men who bought it undoubtedly had ulterior motives, if you know what I mean. That doesn't make them fans.

(This from a man who once sat through an entire performance of Cats just to get a little somethin'-somethin'....)

J. Freedom du Lac: One (horny) man's theory.

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Shiner Bock: I forget if you can get a Dixie Blackened Voodoo in Austin but if you can, give it a drink. You won't be sorry.

Well, maybe you will if you drink too much of it but anyways...

J. Freedom du Lac: Does it pair well with BBQ and Tex-Mex?

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Mmmmmm B-B-Q: J Freedom, can you slide some of that bbq our way? I know you better be having a cold beer with that!

J. Freedom du Lac: No. (And yes.)

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Harrisburg, Pa.: For the Beasties: Is it better to have "got more hits than Sadaharu Oh", or to have "got mad hits like I was Rod Carew"? Can you tell I'm jazzed for the beginning of baseball season?

J. Freedom du Lac: Actually, I might have to ask them for their thoughts on consolidation in the telecom sector. (See: Bell, Ma/Communication, Ill.)

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Arlington, Va.: I thought I had politely requested that you NOT blame women for James Blunt. Maybe the guys had enough shame to pass on the concert, but they're equally complicit in the record sales, I'm telling you.

Why not just blame the whole thing on people with poor taste rather than malign an entire gender? In case it isn't obvious, I take serious offense at taking responsibility for this guy.

J. Freedom du Lac: I apologize for having offended you. (But only you. Nobody else gets to hear me say I'm sorry.)

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RE: Death Cab tix: It was for James Blunt tickets!

But FWIW, I am a female and I do love James Blunt's music, but I have to admit, he looks like a bird. James, Big Bird called, he's wondering if you're his long-lost brother.

J. Freedom du Lac: Funny. Though the friend-of-a-friend standing next to me disagreed. She sighed and called JB "dreamy."

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Germantown, Md.: Forgot about Al Green. Sweeet! BTW, my playground don't squeak.

J. Freedom du Lac: TMI.

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Upper Marlboro, Md.: My boyfriend bought the James Blunt CD for himself before I did. He had been hearing it on the radio and enjoying it. I too have the CD and enjoy it. To each his/her own. You like what you like. I also like KT Tunstall and hope to hear more from them.

J. Freedom du Lac: And now, for the opposition party's response.

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Too Much Time on My Hands: This chat's got me hungry, horny, and thirsty!

J. Freedom du Lac: In that order?

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Arlington, Va.: Men who subject themselves to James Blunt to get "dates" deserve never to be with a woman who doesn't like James Blunt. Just sayin'.

J. Freedom du Lac: Carolyn Hax just called. Said she agrees 100%.

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While you're in Austin: Get enchiladas at Gueros, breakfast tacos at Las Manitas, chicken fried steak at Hoovers and bbq at the Ironworks.

J. Freedom du Lac: That's pretty much the grand slam of local gourmet. You've clearly been here before.

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SXSW: A former Austin-ite, I cooled on SXSW a long time back. Hard to believe, but there was a time when you could hear a band play on a local radio show right before the festival, decide that they're worth checking out, and then pop in at their showcase. Not so anymore. It's all about badges and different levels of access.

Are you planning to see any in-store performances? Those were always the best, and you never got turned away at the door.

J. Freedom du Lac: It's rather ridiculous how big this thing's become. It's really unmanageable. Took me nearly three days to put together something resembling a schedule. The buzzword this year: Overkill.

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Washington, D.C.: Ask the Beasties to ask Washington Social Club when their next album is coming out.

J. Freedom du Lac: Or, I could ask Washington Social Club myself: They're playing here on Saturday.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, please answer a question that has been driving me crazy since Jordan Knight and "Didn't I Blow Your Mind"...what is the difference between falsetto and head voice?????

J. Freedom du Lac: This link should help: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view.php/1492

The relevant excerpt: "Head voice may be anywhere from the top fifth or sixth of one's range to the top octave or more, depending on who you are ... There's a moment, when you go up in your range, when you're coming to the end of your chest voice -- trying to go higher is going to mean simply straining to do more of the same, which is always fatal. What real singers do instead feels like letting the center of resonance shift up so that it feels like it's in the head rather than the chest, and it's come to be called head voice."

Got it?

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No cracks about country music, please: J. Free:

Country music (good country, anyway) is just as good and relevant as the Arctic Monkeys and Prince and other great (or almost great) music.

Besides, you think the Arctic Monkeys could come up with a song titled "You're Wanted by the Police and My Wife Thinks You're Dead?"

J. Freedom du Lac: I love good country. Some of my best friends (not to mention my fiancee) are, you know ... country.

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Blunt: The couples who both like James are invariably the ones who buy matching jogging suits.

J. Freedom du Lac: But don't the Beastie Boys wear matching track suits, too?

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Falls Church, Va.: JFdL -

Have you ever heard of The Waifs? They're an Australian folk/Americana band. They're fantastic live. Two women (sisters) and one guy make up the core of the band and the singers/song writers.

They're not going to be in the US until late summer, but if they come around, DON'T MISS THEM!

J. Freedom du Lac: You heard it here first! (Or I did, anyway.)

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Just Wondering: My Humps, My Humps, My Humps! J. Freedom, will you spend all your money on me?

J. Freedom du Lac: You're assuming I'll have money left over after a weeklong Shiner Bock binge.

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To See at SXSW:: Willy Mason. He's been around for a few years, but his album just got released stateside. Of course, the UK media has dubbed him this week's "next Dylan" which is an overstatement, but he's good. Opening for Beth Orton on her current tour (including Sunday night's 9:30 Club show - wasn't there but heard good things). Martha's Vineyard local who sings sans lock-jaw.

J. Freedom du Lac: I thought Jackie Greene (also at SXSW) was the next Dylan? He looks just like a young Zimmy, anyway.

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Huh?: Re: As they said on VH1's "Best Week Ever" last week: If you liked the Strokes, or the Killers, or the Strokes, or Jet, or the Strokes, then you'll like the Arctic Monkeys.

Huh? Did anyone actually listen to these albums before making this comparison? It's funny how the people accusing the Arctic Monkeys of being some pop pre-fab don't bother to actually listen or look past what they see as the "image" being sold to them.

J. Freedom du Lac: Double true.

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Seattle, Wash.: Saw American Idol last night and the new Kelly Clarkson video this morning. That combination prompts me to ask what has made Kelly's post-Idol career work that subsequent season winners don't have? Part, I guess, is that her musical style is what works on videos and videos help sell CDs, whereas Ruben, Fantasia, and Carrie appeal more to niche audiences that don't have the MTV juggernaut behind them. But I also think that something about Kelly appeals to the prime demographic, although darned if I can point it out. If you were the sole judge of who wins this year's American Idol, and hypothetically all the profits would come back to you, who would you pick as the one who would sell the best? Feel free to go back a few rounds if that helps, meaning okay to include Brenna, Kyla, the Maxim twin, the singing cowboy.

J. Freedom du Lac: Let's discuss the first part of your question next week, when I'm not rushing off to the Dallas' Best Unsigned/Indie Artists showcase. (OK, so I'm not really rushing off to that thing; but I do need to get my convention badge.)

If I'm picking this season's Idol (and collecting the profits), I'm giving the title to Paris Bennett or Katharine McPhee. But I'm not kicking Lisa Tucker off the show just yet, either.

Chris Daughtry, the rocker, may wind up winning. But I think Paris or Katharine could sell more records.

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Re:Tracksuits: But the Beasties aren't married to each other. And on line in front of me at the supermarket.

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, there IS that. (Hilarious line, by the way, in Alan Light's new oral history of the Beasties. Adam Yauch is recounting a trip to a juice place, where he was buying a carrot juicer. And the guy says something like: "So, I guess you're not drinking 40 ouncers anymore.")

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Austin, Tejas: So, are you splitting town on Sunday or Monday? If you'll be around Sunday night (when there are just a handful of easy-to-get-into shows), my Bon Scott-era AC/DC tribute band, Big Balls, is playing at 9:00 at Emo's. Headlining: Metallagher, who play old Metallica songs with a frontman who dresses as Gallagher and incorporates his shtick. Where else are you going to be able to hear a band cover "Master of Puppets" while some guy smashes watermelons?

J. Freedom du Lac: Leaving Sunday ... assuming I'm still alive by then. I swear, the music industry is trying to kill me!

And with that, I'm off. The High Dials are on in about an hour. They're no Metallagher. Or, for that matter, James Blunt. But still.

Thanks for stopping by.

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