Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 8, 2008; 2:00 PM

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

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: Beck's 'Modern Guilt': Downbeat, but Catchy

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J. Freedom du Lac: Back from lunch, now nibbling on "Digi Snacks" in preparation for tonight's RZA show. Or is it Bobby Digital's show? All these aliases are making me dizzy.

Let's do this.

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South of Springfield: Hey J.Free, did you happen to catch Taylor Hicks' AWESOME performance of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" at the Capitol Fourth event?

When he sang "there's a joke here somewhere and it's on me," I believed every word!

J. Freedom du Lac: Hah - no, I missed it.

There's actually a "Worst Springsteen Cover Ever?" thread over on Backstreets.

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Albany, N.Y.: What does Rick Rubin see in ZZ Top besides a shared affinity for fluffy beards? A challenge?

J. Freedom du Lac: Probably the same thing Rubin always sees in his reclamation projects: An interesting album that he, and only he, can draw out of the artist.

The beards are just a bonus.

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Washington, D.C.: Ee! Going to see Brad Paisley this weekend and it will be my first time at Nissan. In light of the rain-Radiohead debacle there earlier this year, can you give me some tips on the best way to navigate and handle Nissan? This country girl thanks you.

J. Freedom du Lac: First thing you need to know: As you're going west on I-66 from DC, the first exit to Nissan (44) is about 6x as far from the venue itself as the second exit (43B). Therefore, it's usually better (=faster) to take 43B.

However, you might find more traffic coming east on 66 than west given that this is a country show and I think those generally draw more from the parts of Virginia that are on that side of Nissan (or at least are accessed by I-66 heading towards DC, like areas along I-81). Still, I'd rather be stuck in a crawl on 43B than 44, given the distance.

Also, if you have four-wheel drive, think about parking outside of the parking lot itself, on the grass, where you'll find a bunch of other 4x4s backed in. They'll get out of that place faster than just about anybody else, as they won't be stuck inside the parking lot during the post-show reverse cattle call.

Other than that, don't really have any tips for you.

Brad puts on a fun show. Whatever you do, don't you dare go to the bathroom when he starts in on an instrumental. The guy can flat-out play. (I think he's even doing an instrumental album, which could be great. Check out "Throttleneck," off "5th Gear," for instance.)

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McLean, Va.: Hello Mr. J. - Are you going to "take one for the team" and review the Celine Dion concert yourself or are you going to pawn it off on someone else? Perhaps this would be a good time to make another bet and the loser has to go.

J. Freedom du Lac: I wouldn't dare give David the honor and pleasure of writing about that show. I'm cutting short a visit to California just to be sure I get back in time for this show.

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Do You Jam?: Hi:

Had the fortune of finally catching Pearl Jam during this last tour (at the Boston shows).

Regardless for most of my life I have had people tell me that I needed to see them, I never had before.

Needless to say, though they're all in their 40s, they still brought it. Hard.

Now that Eddie is going out on a solo tour (with a two-nighter in DC) I was curious if you're going to be in attendance?

I will be.

J. Freedom du Lac: But of course. Interestingly, when EdVed performs a couple of shows here in August, at the Warner, tickets are going to be more expensive than they were for Pearl Jam at the [Insert Telcom Company Name Here] Center. Maybe the rider for his solo shows ask for much more expensive wines or something.

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Tysons Corner, Va.: It has been noted that during the upcoming Bon Jovi free concert in Central Park, there will probably be fewer Manhattanites in Central Park than at any time since the Garth Brooks free concert in the park. Kind of snarky, but probably true. Not sure there's a question here; just wanted to share.

J. Freedom du Lac: Reminds me, sort of, of what the late, great sports columnist Jim Murray said about the differences between Oakland and San Francisco. I'm paraphrasing here, since I read this line, like, 15 years ago in a story about Murray, but it was something like: It's free to get into Oakland; to get into San Francisco, you have to pay a toll.

Not sure there's an answer there; just wanted to share.

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Washington, D.C.: just got through listening to the fleet foxes show on NPR. how about this for a rule of the road: If your band relies on setting a mood, like they do, don't ruin in by bantering like a jackass during your show. it was weird to hear these pretty songs interspersed with "anyone here go to richard montgomery?!"

J. Freedom du Lac: But hey, that question allowed Oldest Daughter Of Erstwhile WaPo Music Editor Rich Leiby to answer in the affirmative! (Though to her dismay, she was, like, the only person up front screaming back at the drummer.)

Agreed, though - that was kind of weird. And this could have totally been included in today's edition of Rules of the Road. Very good call.

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Halfway point: Last week you gave us your top shows for the first half of the year, how about albums?

J. Freedom du Lac: I don't really have a working list on a spreadsheet; I'll have to start one after the chat today. Off the top of my head, here are some albums that would be contenders if the year ended today: James McMurtry's "Just Us Kids," Rhymefest's "Man in the Mirror" mixtape, Erykah Badu's "New Amerykah," Thao Nguyen's "We Brave Bee Stings and All," Ashton Shepherd's "Sounds So Good," possibly that Fleet Foxes album (though I need to wait until the new car smell wears off), Patty Larkin's "Watch the Sky" ... I know I'm forgetting something.

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Long Beach: Shouldn't it be "what does Rubin HEAR in ZZtop?" Who cares about looks? In fact, if one listens to songs like "La Grange" or "Certified Blues", is TONE, along with a brilliant bass line, and outstanding blues riffs by a master guitarist, songwriter and singer, the Southern Gentlemen of them all, Billy F. Gibbons!!!!! WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM THE COLLABORATION?

J. Freedom du Lac: Right, ZZ Top doesn't care about its looks. That's why Billy and Dusty don't do anything to cultivate those beards and are frequently spotted onstage and elsewhere without their (cheap) sunglasses. Uhuh.


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Illinois: J. Free,

I'd normally ask Carolyn Hax this, but you're here now, so...

Here's a question - I've met a wonderful lady whose favorite artist is Santana. We're talking she plays his music every day.

Me, I like my guitarists a bit more stern and noisy, with no annoying guest stars.

Is this an unbridgable gap?

J. Freedom du Lac: So you're talking recent-model Santana - not even the old stuff? That you're even asking this question is not a good sign. Might be time for you to start trolling the craigslist personals.

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Adams Morgan: What's up with the downer Beck albums of late? Is the some sort of Scientology phase that I am not aware of?

J. Freedom du Lac: Producer David, indeed, thinks it's a thetan-ic thing and we just don't understand. I think Beck is just feeling old and blue.

I miss funny Beck.

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Boz at the Birchmere: Boz Scaggs is going to be at the Birchmere Sept 4. Have you heard, or heard about, recent performances/ Does he still have it. I would imagine he does, but for $89 I'd like to know better. With Buddy Miller and Jon Cleary in the band it can't be a bad thing, but I hate to have expectations that won't be met.

J. Freedom du Lac: Buddy Miller makes the world a better place, doesn't he? He was great at that Robert Plant-Alison Krauss show at Merriweather.

Best I can tell, we haven't reviewed a Boz Scaggs show since the fall of 2001. Here's Joe Heim's write-up of that show:

Boz Scaggs's Silk Still Has That Sheen

There's always a sense of nostalgia when aging rock stars hit the road -- even when they arrive with an armload of new material.

That was certainly the case for Boz Scaggs's performance at the Warner Theatre on Sunday night. Scaggs is only 57, so this tour isn't exactly an antiques road show, but there is something almost emblematically 1970s about the singer and guitarist who made a commercial splash 25 years ago with his breakout album, "Silk Degrees." Fans who turned out to hear such silky-smooth blue-eyed-soul classics as "Lowdown" and "Jojo" weren't disappointed, as Scaggs and his slick five-piece band and two terrific backup singers delivered them early in the 90-minute set. And a crowd-pleasing, up-tempo "Lido Shuffle" showed up in the encore.

To his credit, though, the singer did more than just trot out hits. Touring to promote "Dig," his first album of original material in seven years, Scaggs devoted most of the show to new compositions, including the fiery opener "Call That Love," a Tex-Mex-tinged "King of El Paso" and the jazzy "Miss Riddle," which he delivered like a love-struck Rat Pack crooner.

Scaggs is so mellow and low-key -- even his guitar leads are gentle -- that he can sometimes seem not fully engaged. Yet it is that very unassuming approach -- one that values straightforward rhythm and blues over showboating -- that many fans find so appealing. He may not break new ground, but he's a reliable hand whose still-velvety voice seems unravaged by time.

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ZZ Top: I agree with J. Frodom. ZZ Top is sharp dressed men.

They also like legs.

J. Freedom du Lac: And tush!

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Ann Arbor (is a slut): Who's the better bet to bounce back from the minors in the second half: Liriano or Myers?

J. Freedom du Lac: Buchholz.

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Boston, Mass.: A friend of mine had his rehearsal dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe. So lame, BUT! If his wife put up with that, she'll put up with anything. Those kids are going to stay married forever.

J. Freedom du Lac: Hey, they have good turkey burgers there! At least they did when I last went to a Hard Rock Cafe, in the mid-90s, for a promo event. Not that you want to be eating turkey burgers at a rehearsal dinner.

I agree, though: That's love.

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Cleveland Park: Re Beck--Guero was a pretty upbeat album, and although The Information got kind of trippy and slower toward the end, it was nothing like Sea Change (which is brilliant by the way)

J. Freedom du Lac: "Sea Change" was a beautifully dark album. The music was a much better fit for those lyrics than was the more upbeat music on "Modern Guilt." And I'm not loving this one lyrically, either.

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Boz Live: He put out a live CD a couple years ago, and it was fine--not that fiery, though. Maybe the mellowest live set since "Jerry Vale Live at Budokan."

J. Freedom du Lac: He's better when he has marionettes on stage with him. I thought his "Saturday Night Live" performance was one of the best musical showings on SNL in a while.

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Old Fat Bald Chick Magnet here: Hi, J--Just got into iPodding a couple months ago, and I'm having fun doing what you kids have been doing for a while. Here are the questions:

What's the best way to buy music? I mean, I like the iTunes store, but I prefer being able to hear the whole song ala Rhapsody. My only concern is whether or not I can move the music to the iPod from the laptop, and so on.

Also: what's the best device for listening in the car? I've tried the wireless-FM transmitter, and the sound seems really compressed, especially on something like a a soaring Cesar Rosas solo.

I've also tried one of those cassette-adapter plug-ins, but the sound seems a little hollow and I can't hear Johnny "Guitar" Watson's laugh as clearly as I want.

Thanks for the help, and rock on (do we still say that?).

J. Freedom du Lac: I've driven a couple of rental cars that came with auxiliary jacks - all I had to do was run a cable from my iPod into the stere. Sounds just like a CD on the same stereo. You might need a new CD player for that, though.

Anybody have any thoughts regarding online music retailers aside from iTunes? I don't spend very much time browsing in the online stores.

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Buddy Miller: Yes, Buddy has the magic. I saw Buddy and Julie at the Birchmere and it was fabulous. Even though I don't always get into some of the acts you like, we do have Jeffrey Steele, Buddy Miller, Levon Helm, Brad Paisley, and many more in common. Since we can't be brothers can I be your +1 ?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, because L. Freedom is a fan of those artists, too - and since we had a Buddy and Julie Miller song ("Holding up the Sky") on our wedding album, well...she wins!

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J. Freedom du Lactose Intolerance: I don't know why I just thought of that; I just did.

DR

J. Freedom du Lac: Occasional WashPost music contributor Steve Knopper trademarked that at South By Southwest several years ago. Sorry.

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Re: Online music: Go to Amazon MP3 if possible. Higher bit rate MP3 (not AAC) files + usually a few cents cheaper.

J. Freedom du Lac: Good call. I've started buying a little bit from Amazon. The Washington Post Company accountants no doubt appreciate the pennies that I'm saving.

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Severna Park, Md.: Can I get rock music on the ipod telephone?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, only bluegrass.

Actually, I don't own an iPhone yet. But there's no direct wireless delivery yet, is there?

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Tangential to Pearl Jam: Is Green River reuniting in Seattle for that Sub Pop anniversary deal?

J. Freedom du Lac: Not up on those rumors. Anybody?

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re: online music: eMusic.com, if you can adapt to their pricing model and like to avoid the mainstream.

J. Freedom du Lac: Another fine suggestion.

By the by, apropos of nothing ... random song just came on my iPod: Charlie Rich, "Lonely Weekends." Think he listened to a little bit of Elvis back in the day? Jeez.

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Baltimore, Md.: Another Jim Murray quote: Writing about the way the fans in the City of Brotherly Love turn on the home teams, Murray said, "Philadelphia would boo a cure for cancer."

J. Freedom du Lac: Hell, they pelted Santa Claus with snowballs!

Didn't Destiny's Child get booed in Philly during an NBA championship series game a few years ago because one of the singers (not Beyonce) was wearing a Lakers jersey in the interest of sartorial fairness? (One of the other singers was in 76ers gear. Beyonce split the difference.)

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Memphis, Tenn.: Sun tried to make Charlie Rich into the new Elvis after Elvis left for RCA. Didn't work.

Side note: Elvis was listening to Rich's "Mohair Sam" when he met with the Beatles.

J. Freedom du Lac: Great trivia!

What do you have on Timmy Thomas? Now playing: "Why Can't We Live Together."

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Re Charlie Rich: Since they were contemporaries of Otis Blackwell, and Otis wrote some really influential songs, do you think maybe they both listened to him? I think maybe myself, but who knows.

J. Freedom du Lac: Absolutely, though given that Elvis seems to have copied at least a little bit from Otis Blackwell before Charlie Rich was set up by Sun to be the new Elvis, could be that Rich was simply channeling Blackwell via Elvis. Or something.

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Charlie Rich Defense League checking in: J. Free: Charlie Rich was a genius, and probably was copying Elvis to make Sam Phillips happy ("Lonely Weekends" came out on Sun). Dude could sing anything. Check out the demo version of "Feel Like Going Home" but keep some tissues handy. Or maybe a bottle of Jack.

J. Freedom du Lac: Oh, there's no doubt that he had an enormous amount of talent - and stylistic range. The Charlie Rich who sings "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave" sounds like a completely different artist, like a dirtier/grittier version of the guy who sings "Who Will the Next Fool Be," who sounds nothing like the guy on "Lonely Weekends."

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McMurtry: Every time I hear him sing "Mason Dumb A$$ Line" I just crack up. Love that man...

J. Freedom du Lac: If the year ends today, a) I win my fantasy baseball league; and b) "Just Us Kids" is my top album of 2008.

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So much to say, where to start?: You gotta give ZZ Top their props. When in comes to real Texas blues, there are few (still alive) that are better.

On the whole Pearl Jam/Eddie Veder thing, I saw them when they were part of the Vote for Change concerts in 2004. After hearing them perform Dylan's 'Masters of War,' I couldn't help but comment, "They're loud, unintelligible, yet still pretentious."

J. Freedom du Lac: Interesting - never really thought of Pearl Jam as being pretentious, but okay.

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Washington. D.C. : Charlie Rich: His final album, Pictures and Paintings, was a stunning piece of work. He managed to recover from the countrypolitan period where he sold a jillion records but did nothing artistically. On Pictures and Paintings, he even covered Ellington's Mood Indigo with superb feeling.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'll have to track that down. Thanks for the recco.

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iPhone and iTunes: Right now you can buy tunes on the iPhone when you are connected to a wi-fi network, but not when you are connected to the Edge network. So not truly wireless access, but wireless access some of the time.

J. Freedom du Lac: Okay, thanks for the clarification. I'll be getting one of these things sooner or later, I'm sure.

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A Do-Over Wish: I dunno, if I could do it over I might have my rehearsal dinner at Hard Rock Cafe, since it turns out my mother in law doesn't much like me and this would have truly hacked her off.

What would you do over from a musical perspective, if you could? I would have worn earplugs when I saw Queensryche in a club the size of a garden shed. My hearing has been shot ever since.

J. Freedom du Lac: I wouldn't have written such a rave review of that Funkdoobiest album. I would have gone to see Prince on the Purple Rain tour against my father's wishes. I wouldn't have answered that ZZ Top question today, since it's led to about 328 posts from our old friend in Long Beach.

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Springfield, Ill.: Can you please step on it and finish up here? I want to catch that Lincoln chat at 3.

J. Freedom du Lac: Good call.

Thanks for stopping by today folks. See you on the blog.

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Re: He's better when he has marionettes on stage with him.: ??? I think the caller was referring to Boz Scaggs, who hasn't been on SNL since 1976.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeah, what in the world was I talking about? All the ZZ Top posts threw me off my game. I should be arrested for driving while blind or something.

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