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Kofi's hat

MP3s, music news and reviews, and a sprinkling of pop culture. Named by Aqualung's Matt Hales, after his son.

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Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Ink in my blood, a song in my heart. Metaphor is my middle name.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Michael Penn at Amoeba Music

Michael Penn played an entertaining set at Amoeba in Hollywood Wednesday night in support of his latest album, Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947. The album is set in post-war Hollywood in 1947. Penn explained he's long felt "obsessed with 1947." The year was a significant turning point for the U.S. for a number of reasons, and significant for Penn's family. His father returned from the war, and was blacklisted. Having this kind of concept album presents certain marketing obstacles, which Penn acknowledged. He said people hear it "and it's not like 1940s swing music, so they go 'What?'"

It's not 1940s swing music, so what is it? Insightful alt rock/pop-rock. Mr. Hollywood includes a lot of mid-tempo songs, which Penn excels at, and quite a few catchy songs with upbeat arrangements that belie their lyrics, which aren't quite as cheerful. The concept behind the album shouldn't scare anyone off; the feelings and ideas in the songs are pretty universal.

At Amoeba, Penn opened his set with "Don't Let Me Go," from his last album, 2000's MP4 (Days Since A Lost Time Accident). It was warmly received, with good reason. He sounded great, in no small part due to his band: Danny Frankel on drums, Patrick Warren on keyboards, and Buddy Judge (guitarist/backup vocals/sidekick).

That five-year gap between albums was addressed. It clearly was not by choice, not Penn's anyway. He wanted to release an album; his label had another opinion. "Major takes on a whole new meaning," he told us. He's no longer on a major label. He said to make money, "I did some soundtracks and producing and stuff" during that time. Particularly given his reputation (and declarations) to the contrary, I thought Penn was pretty good with the banter thing. If he doesn't enjoy it, that's understandable, but maybe it's harder on him than on the crowd. Or maybe it gets more difficult as the need for repetition grows later in a tour. I thought he had a lot of interesting things to say, about several of the songs, the album, and himself. He seemed pretty candid, and not bitter.

Buddy Judge

Perhaps one of guitarist/vocalist/sidekick Buddy Judge's roles is to make audience interaction, and shows in general, a bit easier for Penn. When Penn lost track of his songs, Judge kidded him, "You said you had a list." As Penn looked around the stage for his setlist, Judge continued, providing a cute distraction for the audience, "Professionals have lists. They tape them by their microphone. People take them." By then, Penn had found his list, and was ready to continue.

I think crowds generally love it when little things like this go wrong. Along those lines, Penn also had a small number of false starts. Is there anyone who doesn't love a false start? (other than the artist?) A false start shows an artist is human. They're also unexpected, unique little moments, and there's something cool about that. I always like them, anyway. These tiny glitches aside, Penn & co. sounded perfect. He played some of my favourite songs from 'Mr. Hollywood' and some great "older" (though not that much older) tunes.

New, Improved-Even-More-Hopefully-Accurate Set List: (updated)

Don't Let Me Go
A Bad Sign
Me Around
High Time
Electronic (?)
On Automatic
Walter Reed

Michael Penn - Walter Reed (from Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947)

About the song...

Penn's first remarks at Amoeba (a music store) were addressed not to his audience but to those shopping. He apologized for disturbing them and said he really was sorry "because you're buying records and that's kind of a holy thing." At the end of the set, he thanked us for buying music. It was gracious of him to do so, but a bit sad that he felt the need. I blame his record company for that five-year gap between albums, not people who download music. However, it seems like he might have an issue with his music being downloaded, and I'll respect that. So the only track I'm posting is one he's already made available. His whole album can be listened to online; I've posted the link below, along with some other cool MP links.

A weird glowing red light suddenly emerged from his guitar all by itself. Suddenly, I had this urge to not post MP music, other than Walter Reed...


Michael Penn's official site

Michael Penn's tour dates

NPR World Cafe interview and performance His set: "A Bad Sign," "Long Way Down," "Denton Road," and "Walter Reed."

Streaming audio of Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947

MichaelPennList - very large, active Yahoo Group

Bunker Hill - an unofficial, excellent Michael Penn website (I hate to put it last on the list, but think of it as one of those really cool actors who is mentioned last in the opening credits of a show)


Blogger metaeducat10n said...

Was "Electronic" the obscure Doll Congress song he didn't recall? Hmmm.

Looking over the discography reminds me that really, this album is not his best work. It's not bad, of course. But his first three albums were simply amazing.

What would be great would be to see him undergo a bit of a reinvention. I notice they are using the same little warbly organ swells coming to fill out the song...Walter Reed wouldn't seem out of place on any of the other albums.

Then again, I was panning Aimee Mann's concept album, so hey. He shouldn't listen to me. But he should have me fix the bad photoshop job on the cover.

2:07 AM  
Blogger trill42 said...

Not only don't I remember the Doll Congress reference, but I can't find the "Electronic" part of my notes now. I updated my post to make it less certain it was played. Do you remember a song between High Time & On Automatic? (no reason you'd memorize the setlist, but just in case)

You have a different perspective as such a longtime fan, but I could see this being a transition point for him (shades of a more innocuous version of 1947). He's finally addressed his lifelong obsession in a way he's possibly long wanted to, he's free of The Man, but still talking about that 5-year gap between albums, and dealing with the reprecussions of it. He's done the 'next album' thing, but he has to decide "what next?" which will be much more interesting, in a way.

Should artists listen to music fans (even the ones who aren't also musicians)? I think sometimes yes, sometimes no. There, that was easy. Also, if they reissue the album sometime, I do hope you or someone tweaks that cover.

On another topic, he sure was orangey-tan on The Tonight Show.

5:41 PM  
Blogger MM said...

When I saw Penn's wife, Aimee Mann, perform at UCLA once, the way the light reflected off her guitar and onto the wall--in conjunction with her playing it--made the reflection look like a beating heart.

I saw Penn play on Saturday night at Largo and he was amazing...and plugged in and played electric guitar for the first time in a long while for the last few songs.

5:53 PM  

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