Freedom Rock

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J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2009; 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 Nicole Scherzinger does.

The transcript follows.

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washingtonpost.com: 'Working on a Dream': The Boss and the Subordinate Lyrics

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J. Freedom du Lac: Greetings, all. Back from my mini-break. Did I miss anything interesting? Pretty quiet couple of weeks in Washington, it seems.

Let's chat.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you listened to Australian band Empire of the Sun yet? They seemed poised to be this year's MGMT. BTW--Why no Bruce Springsteen review today?

J. Freedom du Lac: Is Christian Bale in the band? Listening to "Walking on a Dream" right now on MySpace - they sound like they're this year's MGMT tribute band, actually. Not sure if that's a good thing, as I'm not really buying what MGMT is selling, though they have a pretty big following and had a nice showing in the Pazz and Jop poll, too, ranking 17th on the albums list.

No Springsteen review today because it was published last Tuesday, as the album landed on NPR.org - and several days after it leaked. It's not a Freedom Rock fave.

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Washington, D.C.: I am completely in love with the new Animal Collective album, which is a huge surprise, because I've never been able to get into their previous work.

What do you think of it, and of Animal Collective in general?

J. Freedom du Lac: Love the way the Animal Collective album sounds. Don't really get the lyrics -- but I don't think they're really a significant part of the A.C. program. (Whereas they're HUGELY important on a Springsteen album -- which is why "Working on a Dream" is such a disappointment to me.)

I posted

something on the blog

last week about A.C.'s hippie poetry in which I compared some of the "Merriweather Post Pavilion" lyrics to some random poetry that I found online.

Two examples:

A)

Birds sing and in the air the sound of spring

And in the wind the flowers bring

Their presents to the day.

B)

Feeling envy for the kid who danced in spite of anything

And we're out in the flowers and feel better

If I could just leave my body for the night.

and

A)

I chase after your thoughts

Antelopes followed by a lumbering lioness

I don't believe you are ever wrong.

B)

A dancer who was high in a field from a moment

Caught my breath on my way home

Couldn't stop that spinning force

I fell into you.

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Washington, D.C.: How much of the new album is the Boss going to play on the upcoming tour?

J. Freedom du Lac: Hopefully, not very much of it. But this is the "Working on a Dream" tour, so I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

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Severna Park, Md.: I don't know if you've got an opinion on this, but I'll ask anyway: Is Bruce Springsteen any good live?

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeah, kinda. (Live, I like him just a little bit.)

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New York, N.Y.: Hey J - What's the best way for a local DC band to promote a gig, and how can I get you to come to the show?

J. Freedom du Lac: As I'm not in the promotion biz, I'm not really sure I can tell you how a band might effectively promote a gig. Obviously, you have to grow your audience, theoretically by being good enough and/or interesting enough to get the word of mouth going. How that works, I dunno. Malcolm McLaren I am not.

May or may not help to get some positive press from any number of sources, from TWP (Going Out Gurus, Weekend, Style on the Go, etc) to DCist. But there's no real proven path to getting coverage. It just kind of happens, though it helps if you spread the word obviously.

As for getting me to come to the show: I will guarantee you that if you get Prince to cameo with you in concert, I'm totally there.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'll get all my Springsteen stuff out in one comment. Weakest album since Human Touch, no doubt. That being said, I thought Life Itself, My Lucky Day, and of course The Last Carnival were excellent tracks. I thought What Love Can Do could have been a better song because it seemed like it was lacking a slower opening verse and you're jumping into the song halfway through. The sound of Queen of the Supermarket is very good, too, like you said. The lyrics are odd, but maybe that's what Wendy, Mary, and Rosalita are up to these days? No matter, I'll still be at my computer at 9:59 in the morning on Feb. 2 hitting refresh to buy tickets for the Verizon Center (and United Center, and Continental/Izod Center).

J. Freedom du Lac: Scott Galupo had a great line about "Queen of the Supermarket" in his "WOAD" review in the Washington Times. Actually, I'll quote some of the preceding paragraphs, as well, to better set it up.

...here's Mr. Springsteen revealing the inspiration for the audaciously ill-conceived new track "Queen of the Supermarket" in an interview with London's Guardian newspaper: "They opened up this big, beautiful supermarket near where we lived. [Wife] Patti and I would go down, and I remember walking through the aisles - I hadn't been in one in awhile - and I thought, 'This place is so spectacular. This place - it's a fantasy land!' "The narrator of the song - a weepily-sung ballad in the key of cheese - finds himself lusting after a white-aproned cashier; the "cool promise of ecstasy fills the air."A porno set in Wegmans: Oh, dear, where to start?

Haha!

Scott adds:

Perhaps, Mr. Man of the People, if you did your own shopping more often, you wouldn't read absurd, libidinous Freudian subtexts into a well-stocked grocery store.

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Chicago, Ill.: J. Free,

While it's a cinch that Bruce will kill at SB43, I need convincing to spend upwards of $100 to see him and the band in the cavernous United Center.

J. Freedom du Lac: If you believe in his greatness as a live performer, then you shouldn't need convincing.

Tickets are $68 and $98 for the Verizon Center show(s), btw. There's no open date on the night after the 2/18 date, but there's one immediately before it. Wonder if they'll add a second date after the first one goes clean.

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B...ruce?: It seems like the reviews for WOAD are either madly in love or madly in hate with the album. There don't seem to be too many "meh" reviews, either from Big Name News Sources, or blogs and forums. Very weird.

Personally, I like the album as a pure pop endeavor--people talk about how he's a great lyricist, but some of my favorite songs of his are Ramrod or Cadillac Ranch and the like. Not exactly poet laureate material, you know?

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, sure, but "Ramrod" and "Cadillac Ranch" rock harder than Springsteen's current proffer, and the swagger in those two songs is undeniable. Doesn't matter, then, that he doesn't swing for the fences with those lyrics.

But WOAD is a very different kind of endeavor - he's going for something much more majestic musically, which seems to call for elevated lyrics. But they totally fall flat. It just doesn't work.

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Queen of the Supermarket: Reminds me of that new Lonely Island song. Um, you know the one. Debuted on SNL a few weeks ago?

Seriously, I listen to that song and all I can see is the guy at the checkout line, right before he tells the girl he's paying by check.

J. Freedom du Lac: Hahahahaha.

I was (but wasn't) shocked to see that there's a Lonely Planet album landing in February.

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Chicago again: BTW, when "springsteen' is entered at Ticketmaster, the first hit is for something called "Asbury Park ... a Tribute To Springsteen with the Transmitters."

What would be a good name for a Bruce tribute?

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, there's Bruce in the USA, which plays semi-regularly at the State Theatre.

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20th & L, D.C.: So have you been vilified by the Springsteen community of fans for your less than enthusiastic review?

Also, do you and Malitz hope for Springsteen news every month or so just so the traffic on the web and through your blog kicks into overdrive?

J. Freedom du Lac: Not really. Here's a brief Backstreets thread on the review.

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Springfield, Va.: I just watched the movie Rocket Science and especially enjoyed the soundtrack - most of which was by Eef Barzelay. I'm excited to see that he will be playing at Iota in March with his band Clem Snide.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yeah. Malitz gave Eef some love last summer.

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Good name for Bruce tribute band: "The Gaslight Anthem"--

Oh wait, no, they try to pass themselves off as something other than a bunch of fanboys, don't they?

J. Freedom du Lac: Haha! Very good call.

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Washington, D.C.: Gee, I heard Bruce Springsteen really hates DC and is going to purposely do a really bad show at the Verizon Center. You should all probably try to get tickets in a different city....

Help me out here, J. Free. I really want to see my first Springsteen concert and think it's going to be next to impossible to get the tickets. I'm still smarting from my ex-boyfriend's family giving away the right to get tix to Springsteen at Fenway that came with their season tix because they didn't think anyone would be interested...

J. Freedom du Lac: Good luck. And keep your fingers crossed for a second Verizon Center date, though the second show blew out pretty quickly in 2007, too.

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Fleet Foxes: Anybody see them on SNL the other night? That performance of Mykonos was truly awe-inspiring. I only wish they could get that dude a higher chair. He's like Leslie Nielsen in that episode of Police Squad where he's sitting at a bar on a really low stool. The barman asks him what he's having. Nielsen asks for a "screwdriver." The barman hands him an actual screwdriver, which Nielsen uses to ratchet up his stool. Timeless comedy. Sorry, rambling now.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, flat-out fantastic. A truly riveting performance.

Mid-stream, I actually got a text from Chris Richards saying something to the effect of: "Greatest SNL performance ever?"

Not having seen all of the SNL performances, I don't really know - but it was better than anything I've seen on that show in several years. (Sorry, Beck!)

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Reston, Va.: Are we just holding the Boss to too high a standard? Even Babe Ruth struck out every once and a while, you know.

J. Freedom du Lac: If Bruce botches a song in concert - that's a strikeout.

If Bruce serves up a stinker of an album - that's a season-long slump.

Remember, this is only his, what, 16th album? Babe Ruth had more than 10,000 plate appearances in his career.

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The Last Carnival?: Is this the final go-round for Bruce and E Street, at least with this lineup? Clarence is 67 with two bad hips. Max is headed to L.A. with Conan, and allegedly won't be able to take extended breaks to tour.

J. Freedom du Lac: Who knows. Nils was in bad shape, too - until he got double hip-replacement surgery in the "off-season."

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Richmond, Va.: Can someone yell at Jon Landau to get him to yell at the Boss to stop using Brendan O'Brien as the producer?

J. Freedom du Lac: Did Brendan ruin this album? You could make a case that, yet again, his production touch is too heavy-handed. But the overall sound of the album was pretty successful, I thought. It's Bruce's lyrics that needed help, and that's all on him, not Brendan -- unless you buy the theory that he has writer's block or is out of things to say (or, maybe just out of touch) and is using O'Brien as a crutch.

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Indiana: Is WOAD just another sign that Springsteen doesn't do "happy"? Like he said when he was inducted into the Rock Hall, "I've gotta thank -my dad] because - what would I conceivably have written about without him? I mean, you can imagine that if everything had gone great between us, we would have had disaster. I would have written just happy songs - and I tried it in the early '90s and it didn't work; the public didn't like it."

J. Freedom du Lac: Could be, yeah. He was definitely more interesting when he was driving the other way through the tunnel of love.

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Washington, D.C.: Am I the only one who's left cold by the new Animal Collective? I hear individual elements that are impressive, but I don't get the sense that anyone is having any fun making/listening to this music. It's like someone's Master thesis on pop music.

J. Freedom du Lac: Really? To me, it's the very sound of joy. (Well, that and maybe LSD.)

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Statistics: As of my typing this, 14/17 of the comments in this discussion have at least mentioned Springsteen. Or make that 15/18 now.

J. Freedom du Lac: Just wait until May - it'll be even worse.

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I Hate Rihanna: Can they just give Rihanna her own friggin station already?

J. Freedom du Lac: Sure, but they'd better get a backup generator. (Read.)

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Fleet Foxes: They have such a unique sound, are they just passing fancy or something that will last?

J. Freedom du Lac: Given that that fancy has passed before (see: the 1960s), there's actually something kinda classic about them. The true test, I think, will be the next album. Where do they go from here? And do their fans (of whom I am one, btw) go with them?

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Colts Neck: Did we ever get any more details about those Bruce/Patti splitting up rumors?

J. Freedom du Lac: No, just an earful from Bruce's camp when one of my colleagues contacted them seeking comment after the initial report in the New York tabs.

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Springsteen: "As of my typing this, 14/17 of the comments in this discussion have at least mentioned Springsteen. Or make that 15/18 now."

Who's moderating this thing? I want their ass in my briefcase. (And I'm quite upset with them, too.)

J. Freedom du Lac: I hope you have a big briefcase. I haven't been to the gym in forever.

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Chicago again: Check it out - a tribute band resource.

The first result for Chicago is a band called "50 Ft Queenie." I never dreamed there'd be a PJ Harvey tribute.

J. Freedom du Lac: Yes, it's a weird world, tribute band-ville is.

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Washington, D.C.: Worse? I think you mean "better." Also, last chance to predict what songs the halftime show will include!

J. Freedom du Lac: This was my prediction, back in September when Bruce and the ESB were announced as the Super Bowl headliners -- though I noted then that the set might not be dynamic enough:

1. "Badlands"

An old warhorse, this is an appropriate theme for these tough times; the soaring sound and marching beat would get the set started on a high note.

2. "Thunder Road"

This might have been a better pick back when Ron Dayne was a rookie, doing the "Thunder and Lightning" thing with Tiki Barber. But still: It is perhaps Springsteen's greatest song (the list of qualified candidates is staggeringly long), and it's just terrific live.

3. "No Surrender"

Everybody loves a good underdog anthem - especially a lifelong San Francisco 49ers fan circa

2008

2009. "I'm ready to grow young again." Me, too, Bruce. Me. Too.

4. "Born to Run"

No matter how many times you hear this one, it tends to sound explosive and electrifying in concert. It's one of the most galvanizing songs in the Springsteen catalogue, because, really, we're all dreamers and restless romantics, aren't we?

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Working on a Snooze: Saying that Working on a Dream is the weakest albums since Human Touch doesn't really say anything. It's been a long road down for Springsteen as far as recorded output goes. Don't like Lefsetz continual shilling for Apple but he's nailed Springsteen where others refuse to go during the past few weeks. Greatest SNL performance is Bowie singing TVC15 in an Asian stewardess outfit season 5 with Klaus Nomi on BV

J. Freedom du Lac: Sure it does - it says that it's one of the worst albums in the Springsteen catalogue. But you need to show all work, as partial credit will be given. Which is why I spent 25 column inches trying to explain why I don't love this album.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm racking my brain to come up with some other topic besides Bruce Springsteen but all I can think of is how annoyed I get by ear buds, requiring me to walk around with big honkin' headphones all the time.

J. Freedom du Lac: Well, then, let's use next week's hour to talk about the new Willie Nelson-Asleep at the Wheel Western swing album, "Willie and the Wheel." It's terrific.

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Alexandria, Va.: Rumor has it that Tenth Avenue Freeze Out is the opener for the halftime show. Any thoughts?

J. Freedom du Lac: Not a bad choice at all.

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Arlington, Va.: New Bon Iver EP---thoughts? I like Blood Bank itself, but can't get into the one with two minutes of piano intro... maybe that's the point, to make you think the song is beginning for two minutes.

Can we expect a full length, or a tour?

J. Freedom du Lac: I haven't heard it. But maybe he listened to Moby's "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" over and over during the session. (Probably not, though.)

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Richmond, Va.: Hippys are smelly.

J. Freedom du Lac: I'll be sure to include an odor report from the Animal Collective show at the 9:30 club in May. That's gonna be an epic eight-day stretch, by the way: Animal Collective on the 11th, Jamey Johnson at the Birchmere on the 14th, Bruce on the 18th at the [Insert Telcom Company Name Here] Center. Wonder if he'll open with that weird "Outlaw Pete" song, btw. Perfect Verizon Center lyric:

I'm Outlaw Pete!

I'm Outlaw Pete!

Can you hear me?

Can you hear me?

Can you hear me?

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Work shown: Show work - last three albums sound like they were recorded underwater. He couldn't write about 9-11 without telegraphing the lyrics - climbing up the stairs, empty sky, rise up. Probably done better in a high school poetry annual. MOBY did a better job of getting the feeling of that era down on 18 and he's a DJ. I'll give Tom Joad the benefit of the doubt, but that's all there is. Oh yeah, Tracks was released during that time, so I guess I stand corrected.

J. Freedom du Lac: B-plus.

Unless you think "WOAD"> "Magic" or "The Rising" or "Ghost of Tom Joad" or "Seeger Sessions" or "Devils & Dust," though, the math is still correct.

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Arlington, Va.: Have you ever heard of the album called Blood on teh Tracks by Bob Dylan? The songs are too long but its okay.

J. Freedom du Lac: Thanks for the tip.

Thanks for coming by today, folks. See you on the flipside.

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