How Is This NOT an American TV Game Show

“Janken” means paper-rock-scissors (“taikai” means “tournament”), and I’m surprised that the game usually reserved for determining who takes the trash out or who’s sober enough to drive home hasn’t reached our airwaves already.

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In Japan, “janken” dates from the 17th century and is an evolution of an older game that was imported from China that dates from 200 BC.  YES, the “age of warring states” around 200 BC during the HAN Empire in what is now China may or may not (probably not, but who cares, this is funny) have been determined by Ro-Sham-Bo.  As the competition between states increased, armies grew larger, with professional generals commanding massed ranks of infantry and cavalry. To maintain these armies and run their states efficiently, well-organized bureaucracies emerged, staffed by highly educated officials and professional rock-paper-scissor-warriors with a zest for blood (probably).

Japan, however, is often credited with helping rock-paper-scissors spread through the West……thank you Japan.

Call Ryan Seacrest, I’ve got a killer new gameshow for him to host.

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Nights With Leon Bridges

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I’ve had the privilege of going coast to coast this February to see Leon Bridges’ first solo show in New York City at the Mercury Lounge followed by his first Los Angeles show last Tuesday night at Hotel Café. I say privilege because that is the most honest way I could verbalize what it feels like to bear witness to a live performance of his. Listening live all I could think was, “I feel like this is going to be important later on.”

What started six months ago for me as a homegrown fascination caused by my brother turning me onto two tracks from “an unrepped kid out of Fort Worth, Texas” has rapidly evolved into an almost unanimous love affair between the hippest music blogs on the Internet and their latest darling. At this pace, he’s on track to be the music industry’s latest darling by summer and walk away with the Grammy for Best New Artist by this time next year.

  •  Considering that he still has yet to drop his first album, the fact that he has already developed a broad, unyielding fan base is quite impressive. Especially since, until recently, his beautifully crafted yet sparse online presence tended to leave you with more questions than answers. Despite this, on every level, the Leon Bridges fan club feels like it is standing room only. Maybe because, for once, there’s no need for spin? The person, the brand and the music are all interchangeable because they’re all classically genuine.

New York

In Manhattan I watched the show. I got swept up in the moment like everyone else instantly. I fought to take in each detail, every nuance, in case I find myself in a position to retell the story at a dinner party someday. Even under scrutiny, there doesn’t seem to be any duality in his stage presence and his real life presence. In the extra lingering seconds it took to tune the guitar before beginning their first song, his boyish glances and apologetic smiles only made the audience love him more. He announced the title of each song before playing it. He thanked us for listening after each song finished. He set up his two background singers in the foreground right beside him. Like everything else, this felt like a conscious decision to value everyone equally. In terms of style, every member of the band seemed to be of the same vintage. Except the saxophone player. He seemed to be the only one bebopping to his own tune. And yet, it worked. His talents and goofy on-stage presence only gave the entire experience more personality.

 Set list:

 Better Man

Brown Skin Girl

Flowers

Pull Away

Smooth Sailing

There She Goes

In My Arms

Coming Home

Daisy Mae

Twistin & Groovin

Lisa Sawyer

Shine

[Encore]

River

Los Angeles

By showtime in Los Angeles I had one extra ticket. A friend had dropped out at the eleventh hour and I made a snap decision to give it away for free to one of the hopefuls roped off outside the venue. I thought briefly about selling it but it just didn’t feel right. Somehow, bringing the experience of Leon into a stranger’s life made me feel good inside.

In LA I watched the crowd. I watched new faces experience him for the first time, which was an entirely different, equally thrilling experience. I saw couples tap each other on the shoulder and mouth, “He is incredible.” Then I watched the partner mouth back, “I told you.” I watched the grin on one friend’s face a few paces away continue to spread, song after song, until he was chuckling at his own bemusement. He couldn’t believe his ears.

  • There was a moment halfway through each performance when the melody transitioned from peppy doo-wop to soulful ballad and the audience transitioned from a sway to a standstill. Enthrallment to awe. In New York it was during “In My Arms”, in LA it was during “Daisy Mae.” Both times we melted together into a puddle on the floor. Both times everyone else seemed to realize what I had, too. That this was all going to be important later on.

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Everything about Leon Bridges seems like it pre-dates the concept of branding, so I won’t bother exploring it. Besides, I’m not sure you can call it branding when you’re just walking around being who you are. Anyone who hasn’t already should check out his talented photo ally, Erin Rambo [@theerinmargaret on Instagram], who is responsible for the stark black & whites on his site. She is an artist and a future visionary in her own right.

Looking forward, he might be known for having one of the least polarizing voices set in front of a microphone. So far I haven’t met anyone who has heard his sound and decided they weren’t into it afterward. The only thing that seems to be prohibitive is if you can’t get to his music. The breadth of his appeal might be limited by the technology he relies on for people to hear his music. He’s already positioned to bridge the generational gap because of his nostalgic Sam Cooke vocals (and because he is unassuming instead of egoistical and we’re starved for humility in our performers these days).

If you’re a woman, there is only one potential downside that’s worth considering before stepping into a Leon Bridges’ show. If you go through with it, he might ruin you for all other men. If you’re a man, you must consider the same ripple effects of this reality before taking your newest snuggle. You could be going home alone if you don’t because she’s been reminded that men with classic values and follow through still exist.

  •  Eighteen months ago Leon Bridges was a dishwasher who didn’t think singing was for him. Today he’s an up-and-coming Columbia artist playing to small sold out shows. Right now everyone who has seen him live feels like they are in on the same secret. All of us know it won’t be a secret for long.

written by A. M. Boidock

-A.M. Boidock is a Contributor to TheCoLA-

Depressing State of Rock N Roll

This post was to begin like most other carbon copy music critic’s self-absorbed review of the year’s best albums.

So without further ado, here’s MY (self-absorbed) list. It was not short of great music, but it was definitely lacking…..There were no chops, no big riffs, no fear of breaking a sweat.

It lacked…..R A W K!!!!

I poured over other opinions. Was there something buried somewhere obscure that I missed? Did I not listen to every promo disc I was sent? Did my Spotify radio somehow keep avoiding the riffs? The more I searched…..the more depressing it got. The painful truth: in 2015 the State of Rock is woeful. This realization became glaringly clear when watching a recent episode of the lauded / lamented / lame rock-doc Sonic Highways courtesy of the ever predictable Foo Fighters.

Nothing against Dave. He knows the state of today’s landscape is dire. He’s trying to bring to light groups whose sweat, passion, talent, grit, and energy were as inspiration to him and the last known species of those-who-once-rocked. But it’s impossible to make it through one of these episodes without feeling like you’ve been suckered in to a 45-minute self-absorbed intro to what without fail turns into the bile that is the Foo’s track to round out the show. These tracks are so bland, so entirely predictable and lack any sense of the soul which the entire show was preaching.

And in today’s depressing world of rock: this album was viewed by many as one of the year’s standouts. The Foo Fighters are (one of) the final (!!) ROCK bands that can sell out an arena in a heart beat.

That can drive mass hysteria.

That can legitimately headline a festival (see the just announced headliner of Fuji Rock ’15).

But if this is the group that’s at the top of the heap…..then sorry, but that’s just one big STEAMIN HEAP!

Take a look around. Who else is up there with them? Start with who’s top billing across the festival landscape:

Coachella: Drake, AC/DC and Jack White as headliners???

The Weekend as second billing??

Is this a festival or a snooze fest??

Tame Impala – good band…..in a field playing to 60,000? I think not.

Gov Ball in NYC: Drake again, The Black Keys. Reading: Metallica (is it 1992??), but this festival gets huge cred from this billing: REFUSED!

Lolla in Chile: Jack White, Kings of Leon, the Smashing Pumpkins. Fuji: the Foo’s and Muse.

Here’s another fun thing to get sick about. Look at this list of washed up rock action heavyweight heroes who’ve been trotted out and kindly offered up new material for our listening delight over the past 18 months:

U2, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, the Smashing Pumpkins, Bruce Springsteen, Nickleback, Slash, Foo Fighters, Pennywise, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails (the only band on this list that are still legitimately in their prime), and ever-depressing Bush.

Even the reformed ashes of pillar-of-rock-gods KYUSS came back in the form of Vista Chino to try their hand at saving the day, which sadly even they fell short of doing.

Like we said – it’s DIRE out there. But what’s the cause? Who’s to blame? Where’s the PUNCH! The energy. The riff?

Somewhere somehow indie folk bearded flannel crooning became more prevalent, commercially viable, and socially acceptable. Bon Iver replaced Wolfmother. The Avett Brothers replaced The White Stripes. Mumford & Suns single handedly fooled society into believing that banjos and fiddles were acceptable accompaniments to sing-along choruses.

Then the indie arteests have inserted themselves into mainstream acceptability: the torch bearers of this movement obviously being Radiohead. Their protégés today being St Vincent and Arcade Fire (who courtesy of James Murphy decided to trade their 9-piece brand of accessible sing-along tunes to discoball laden, self obsessed, uninspiring, one dimensional synth drenched boredom).

And let’s not even begin to think about Imagine Dragons, Fun, Foster the People, who have figured out that in today’s market having brand sponsorships and Super Cuts-doos is a faster path to success than actually putting out original music. Seriously, hearing Fun croon their way through We Are Young is a surefire way to ruin my week. Is there a more annoying song?

The only other 2 things that incite more rage in me is The Cloud, and John f@#cking Hamm. I cannot stand that pompous a-hole.

So who’s here to rise up, throw the horns and save us from this pitiful mess in 2015? Jack White seems to be doing a serviceable job bringing good doses of sizeable sonic blues-tinged rock, but with only a bit of solo material to reach into, he still needs more material to truly rise to the next level. And he definitely loses a point for being the guy that penned Seven Nation Army that somehow morphed its way into the horrible college stadium chant OOOOOHHH oh ah ow oh UUUUUWW OOOOOHHH.

Awaking from years of slumber is the 90s giant Faith No More! With a new album on the horizon and a string of imminent headlining slots across the summer festival slate, Patton, Puffy and crew will help fill a much needed rock void. And with a national election around the corner in 2016 there’s a strong chance that Rage Against the Machine could pop up again to voice their antidisestablishmentalism politico charged angst rock. But if recent sightings of Zach in Malibu are anything to go by, then Rage may very well be directed at the rise to prominence of freekeh (google it – it’s the new quinoa of 2015) in his garden salad versus the scorn once reserved for the prominence of corporate greed dictating the oppressive policies holding back the struggles of the lower class…

Admittedly, it’s entirely unfair to whine’n’bitch this much without offering up some kind of alternative. So either the next time you’re passing by Amoeba or aimlessly fumbling through Spotify, try your luck with some of these under-the-surface rock work-horses who have been toiling for years to establish a legion of dedicated respect:

I’m talkin about bands like Clutch, Death From Above 1979, Ride (who are now the 532nd band to try their hand at returning after 13 years off), and finally the aforementioned Swedish rock legends REFUSED (their 2 shows in LA in 2012, FYF and The Fonda, are BOTH up there in my top-10 concert experiences of all time). If any of these bands roll through your town, cleanse your musical soul and get rowdy.

Until next time, we’ll be in the Rainbow Room hanging out with our pals Kerry King and the real-life SoA crew.

written by:  Roh

-Roh is a contributer to TheCoLA-