Category Archives: Radiohead

Memory Boys

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Hey! I got U2’s new album! “Songs of Innocence.” It’s pretty good, kind of looking back, but not in an especially nostalgic way. More in terms of sound–kind of delving into their late 80s/early 90s voice. A little preachier than some–kind of reaching back to “The Joshua Tree” symbolism. (Yeah, I got it that it’s secular and spiritual. Thanks.) I grew up with these guys–we’re about the same age; so it’s good to check in with them, see where they are, where they’re going….

Wait. What? Uh…I have the album on my phone, but I didn’t, uh, buy it. Apparently, U2 worked some kind of master marketing deal with Apple, and the new album downloads automatically if you have an iPhone. Nice if you like U2, but still kind of…unsettling. We’re the world’s biggest band, and don’t you forget it.” Hmm. Either that or: “God, we got to get kids listening to our stuff…they think we’re their parents’ band.” Which, you know, they are.

That said, some great work from The Edge, guitar techno-wizard, some of which will have guitarists digging out their Vox amps and Memory Boy delay units, chasing those 1/16th palm-muted echoes. And some of those monstrous distorted riffs that showed up on “Achtung Baby” and “Vertigo.” “Raised by Wolves” and “Cedarwood Road” kick ass…a term not always associated with U2.  Nice that they decided to record hot–it’s an album that begs you to turn it up. Their last album “No Line on the Horizon” almost sounded like it was recorded in a whisper–like they were either depressed or suffering from migraines. On the other hand, Bono is very high in the mix. God bless him, but isn’t Bono high in every mix?

Kind of the perfect difference between U2 and Radiohead. The latter offered a stunning album–“In Rainbows”–as a pay-what-you-will download and did great, both with fans and critics. U2 says: hey, it’s free…whether you want it or not. Which probably reflects that, when you buy a Radiohead album, you never know what you’re going to get (though odds on it’ll be good…or at least provocative). When you buy U2, you pretty much know what you’re going to get and you listen for the variations (which, honestly, mostly come from The Edge).

The part that amuses me? That somewhere out there, Mick Jagger’s sitting alone in a darkened room, pouring glass after glass of Jack Daniels…utterly bereft that he never thought of this.

So much for innocence.


Vox in a Box

Paranoid VoxoidFirst, the bad news: the real thing will set you back at least $1,600 new. At the low end. A true, working, vintage model will cost considerably more. Much more. And there’s nothing like the real thing.

The good news: you can fake it for considerably less.

We’re talking about the Vox AC30 amplifier, particularly the Top Boost model. In a field that seems dominated by Fender, Marshall, and Mesa/Boogie (the sort of holy trinity of clean, crunch, and gonzo) and their “inspirations,” Vox amps kind of sit off to the side. Which is funny because if you run an AC30 light, you get the lovely, clear, chimey midrange and sparking treble associated with the amp. Turn it up, and you get a rich, soulful crunch. Crank it over, and you get this fantastic, singing overdrive. The trinity, all in one. And none of it sounds like anything else.

That’s where it gets tricky: what exactly is that Vox sound? You’d think you could nail it by listening to AC30 players, but the amp’s versatility and quirkiness complicates that. This is an amp serving the Beatles, the Shadows, the Stones (in the Decca years), Tom Petty, Peter Buck, Ray Davies, Radiohead (Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien, and Thom Yorke), Matt Bellamy, Dave Grohl, Braid Paisley, Tom Verlaine, the Yardbirds, and Brian May.

If one player serves as a Rosetta stone, it’s The Edge. Famously he’s said to have played a battered, 1964-era AC30 (in a Seventies cabinet) on every U2 album and concert. Not every cut, of course. At this point, The Edge can pretty much own any amp made, and he’s known to use Fender Deluxes, Fender Blues Juniors, Roland JC120s (like that’s a surprise), and a 50-watt Marshall. But, if you say his name to a guitar freak, an AC30 comes to mind. And there’s probably no better example of the classic AC30 sound as “Where the Streets Have No Name.”

There’s the delay, of course—part of The Edge’s signature. I believe he’s playing a Fender Stratocaster: those single-coil pickups add to the chirp. But it wouldn’t have quite the same…shimmer without the Vox. Chime, jangle, ring—whatever you want to call it: it’s more than just a clear treble. There’s a fullness and a warmth to a sound that otherwise could prove piercing. Somewhere, there’s a piano hiding inside that box.

That broad, balanced clarity carries through to AC30 players who run their amps hot. Brian May runs a whole backline of them, and obviously he cranks the hell out of them for that overdriven, “violin-like” sound, but, despite the gain, you can still hear the notes. You have to work pretty hard, slathering on the effects, to blur the AC30’s crystalline qualities (that’s you I’m looking at, Kevin Shields…even though even Shields dirties it up with Marshalls).

And maybe it’s no surprise that “effects” and “AC30” go together: there’s something the amp loves about delays, tremolo, reverb, and other modulation effects. A touch goes a long ways, but the amp holds its sonic fingerprint even…if you’re The Edge.

The amp also weighs about 50 pounds and can get seriously loud—very likely more than you’ll need in smaller venues. So it’s not really the amp for open mic night.

The good news is that the modelers and pedal designers have long had their eyes/ears on the AC30, and digital approximations have been built into many multieffects units—high and low end. Ersatz, perhaps, but it’s a start, and the technology continues to improve.

A better option, especially if you already have a tube amp, is to set it up to run as clean as possible and add a stompbox dedicated to replicating an AC30. Tech 21 make a well-regarded Liverpool box, and similar boxes include: the Martin AC-tone , the Menatone Top Boost in a Can  (come on, that’s a great name), the Xotic AC Booster, the Catalinbread CB30  (note: one of many gifted Portland guitar effects companies), and the Joyo AC (which only runs about $40…Joyo’s a whole story in itself).

I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the Boss BC-2 Combo Drive. They seem to have bottled a bit of the AC30 mojo in a unit that rolls from sparkle to roar (with a sweet crunch in the middle), and I think I hear just a bit of compression to add a tube dynamic, because AC30s are known for their responsiveness. It works okay by itself or with a solid state amp, but pair it with a clean, neutral tube amp, and you might find yourself wandering down Abbey Road. For a couple of hours. This video from guitarist Pete Thorn lays it out quite nicely: http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=nJZUU_ZJHzc (Hint: crank it up.)

Plus, you know, it’s hard to toss an AC30 in your gig bag. Your ears may be a little bummed, but your back will thank you.


Blame it on Radiohead


Kris Kristofferson used to do a song called “Blame it on the Stones,” back when moms and dads worried about the Rolling Stones destroying Western Civilization™ and running off with their daughters. All that trouble and mess and uncomfortable dinner conversation, it was all because of some damned artists.

That was some time ago; so, to stay a little more current, we’ll go with Radiohead to blame pointlessly, even though they’re more likely to discuss Western Civilization™ in depth over a nice cup of Earl Grey.

They have been a bit…subversive, however, in launching their last couple albums. The gorgeous In Rainbows was offered on a pay-what-you-will basis through their Website www.radiohead.com. The recent lush, wonderfully strange King of Limbs sells similarly through the Web, for a straight-up $6.00 U.S., and, shortly after release, the band threw in a couple extra songs (which, refreshingly, are very good).

So. In the spirit of skipping the middleman and gatekeepers, and going straight to the people who matter–the audience, I’m serializing one of my plays, a full-length drama in its entirety, right here on Splattworks. For free.

I’ll be presenting further details over the next few days, but here’s the news:

Splattworks will publish sequential excepts from my somewhat experimental, very dark, and brutally surreal drama BOMBARDMENT, an Oregon Book Award Finalist. (Above is a production still from the 1991 world premiere.)

Why that play released at this time will be explained. Paraphrasing a better-known playwright, also writing about one of his plays, there actually is a method to the madness…if a little madness to the method.

But, for now…blame it on Radiohead. Or, as Radiohead might say, blame it on the Black Star…which is where this play definitely lives. On that, more tomorrow.

[To be continued]


Object Coming Into View

Radiohead releases their new album this weekend:

King of Limbs

If you want a traditional CD, you’ll have to wait until late March. It’s always an adventure to see where these artists have been traveling.


Dead.Air.Space

Radiohead has, appropriately, a delightfully weird and irreverent Website.

Dead Air Space


The Sky is What Color?

So, it’s like this with writing. You can’t find your way through to a new piece unless you work at it. But you can’t make it work until it’s ready. Which means that you spend a lot of time wandering around glassy-eyed, stumbling into posts, getting honked at by cars, or unnerving people on the bus who think you’re staring at them, while all the time, the editor in your head runs images, snippets of dialogue, soundtracks, in an unending, meaningless collage. And you generally are kind of a dick to be around because you only care about this chaotic state you’re in, and you assume everyone else is as crazy as you are.

Then suddenly, usually without warning, you lay your limp, weary pen once more against your rumpled, exhausted notebook, and–BAM!–you’re off. And you’re like, uh…what the hell is going on? What’s going on is you’re writing, and suddenly life seems simpler. And more sunny.

Which is to say that I’ve been living with the pre-writing bends for almost a year on a particular project, and this weekend it jumped up and danced for me and got all weird. And now I’m hanging on and going…wherever we go. Which is a lot better than drifting through life with “No Surprises” playing on an endless, interior loop and generally feeling just a little more miserable than Thom Yorke.

The really perverse part? Every single, goddamn time, you have to get to a point where you forget this is how it works; so that when you actually pass into the writing state, you kick yourself for forgetting, knowing full well that, when it’s over, you’ll just go and forget again.

Want to be a writer? Nothing says glamour like a 1,000-yard stare.

No surprises. Heh.