Sounds of Summer

Ahh . . . the never-ending winter is almost over and the finish line is in sight. Harvard at this time of year feels something like that last little graphic after you kill Dracula in the old Castlevania video games where all the ghosts and goblins melt away screaming as the sun rises and our hero trods off into the sunset to face a beautiful new day… Ok, that was ridiculous, but you get the point. So, in any event, off to our summer jobs we go – three months of listening to mobster wiretaps or writing constitutions in Mongolia, or, for some lunch, lunch and more firm lunch.

With a little cash in pocket and a relatively free schedule, why not spend some of your time indulging in a little music? Here’s a rundown of what’s coming up in the months ahead:

The Big Tours
One of the more exciting developments this year is the relative abundance of summer festivals. Particularly exciting is the re-emergence of the long-lost Lollapalooza, Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell’s now-legendary brainchild. The first and best of the major ’90s festival tours, Lollapalooza was always a wild mix of up-and-coming talent juxtaposed with cult legends and alternative favorites. While the HORDE tour played it safe by pitching jam band after jam band to the dirty white baseball cap set, Lollapalooza covered the gamut from George Clinton to Sonic Youth to the Ramones themselves. This year’s ‘palooza takes fewer risks than the festival did in its heyday, but the line-up is strong nonetheless. A revived Jane’s Addiction (including guitarist Dave Navarro) is slated to headline the festival, and will be touring on its first new album in 13 years. Also in tow are grunge supergroup Audioslave, cheeky Urban Outfitter punk chicks the Donnas and Incubus, fresh from its big lawsuit with Sony. Perhaps even more exciting, the Queens of the Stone Age will hold court for the first half of the tour, eventually turning over the baton to Tool offshoot A Perfect Circle. Last but not least, the tour also features Jurassic 5, one of the few hip hop groups out there who can hold its own opposite so much tattooed guitar muscle. If true indie street cred is what you are hankering for, sneak out to the All Tomorrow’s Parties festival in Los Angeles in late June. Curated by none other than Simpsons savant Matt Groening, the event is aimed squarely at the most discerning of dingy record store hipsters, and if that’s your game, it just doesn’t get much better than this. Aside from featuring the sartorial reunion of the Magic Band (known by the cognoscenti for its support of the inimitable Captain Beefheart), the festival also features a who’s who of ’80s art punk and ’90s underground stalwarts ranging from Patti Smith to Wire to the renowned Mission of Burma to Yo La Tengo, Mogwai, the Melvins and the Fall. The Breeders and Throwing Muses add some classic college radio muscle, while the Black Heart Procession brood with the best of them. Juxtaposed with quirky oddball favorite the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players, the wild dancefloor excursions of Brave Combo and the meanderings of ex-PIL bassist Jah Wobble, it’s one the densest, richest and strangest lineups you could ever hope to name check. With the addition of Kool Keith and the Coup, the past and present cutting edges of hip hop are covered, and the selection of Neko Case and Johnny Dowd will pull roots-rock ramblers into the fold to boot.

The inclusion of . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, and the Joy Division-reborn-as-a-funk-band angularity of !!! (pronounced chik-chik-chik) are just icing on the cake.

While we’re on the topic of humongous one shot deals, this year Calverton, Long Island (70 miles from Manhattan – rent your car now) will be the site for Field Day, an extravaganza to take place June 7-8, featuring an overwhelming list of juggernauts including Radiohead, the Beastie Boys, Beck, the Roots, Underworld, Interpol, Elliot Smith, Spiritualized, Liz Phair, N.E.R.D., Sigur Ros, Blur, Peanut Butter Wolf, Blackalicious, the Polyphonic Spree and Thievery Corporation, for starters. Slightly less unsung than ATP, this festival will undoubtedly be on par with other growing hootenannys like California’s famed Coachella festival.

Of similar ilk is this year’s massive Bonaroo Festival being held June 13-15 in Manchester, Tennessee. On hand will be a huge and more traditional-rock-oriented list of artists including Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ben Harper, the Allman Brothers, James Brown, the Dead (comprised, not surprisingly, of former members of the Grateful Dead), Widespread Panic, the Flaming Lips, G. Love and Special Sauce, the Roots, DJ Spooky, Sonic Youth, Lucinda Williams, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jack Johnson and Mix Master Mike. With a lineup like this, anyone working anywhere in the South should give this show serious, serious consideration. Many of the same artists will also be on the newly-added Bonaroo NE August 8-10 in Riverhead, NY.

Also back from the grave this summer, albeit in slightly altered form, is the much-missed American Fleadh, an apparent offshoot of the old Guinness Fleadh festivals that once held sway in NYC, Chicago and San Francisco. This year the event will take place in Boston on June 21 and will feature Irish-and-Irish-themed rockers the Saw Doctors, Black 47, the Hothouse Flowers and Flogging Molly.

In addition to all of these huge one-offs, the venerable Ozzfest and Vans Warped Tour will soldier on as usual this summer. This year’s Ozzfest features Ozzy (who will be joined on bass by none other than former Metallica bass-player Jason Newsted), Korn and Marilyn Manson, plus a huge chains-and-leather cabal of second stage acts ranging from Sworn Enemy to Cradle of Filth. The Warped Tour is helmed this year by perennial punkers Rancid, the Ataris, Face to Face and Less Than Jake, and also features hip hopper Talib Kweli and party ape Andrew W.K. on select dates.

Hoping, perhaps vainly to compete with these festival packages, the sludge merchants of the Summer Sanitarium Tour will hit the road with Metallica, Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, the Deftones and Mudvayne in tow.

While the Deftones would provide some brief respite, to my mind that’s a whole lotta corporate-metal schlock to sit through before Metallica comes on!!! Fans of the self-absorbed and overloud would do better to wait until August for the triumphantly nostalgic packaging of the bombastic Aerosmith/Kiss tour. And no, it’s not sponsored by Viagra . . . yet.

Albums, Albums, Albums
With all of this live music, it may be hard to stay inside and spin discs, but you’ve gotta listen to something while you do document review so . . . .
One of the summer’s most anticipated releases has gotta be Liz Phair’s Happy Tragic Thing. Having become everyone’s kinky little darling with Exile in Guyville only to disappear two albums later in 1998, Phair’s return promises to place her alongside Beth Orton as one of the few women in the music industry capable of redeeming it from Avril Lavigne.

Speaking of stunning statements of 1995, this summer’s other highly anticipated release comes from none other than Radiohead. While Amnesiac and Kid A have found Thom and the boys wandering somewhere on the ground of Brian Enoland, rumors within the Radiohead camp abound that the next album may be a crashing return to the glitzier, grindier pop of The Bends. . . .The end of the spring is a particularly hot time for new albums from old artists, with Madonna’s new effort, the controversial American Life, hitting the stores this week, soon to be followed in May by a new Led Zeppelin live album and forthcoming new platters from R.E.M. and Metallica as the summer goes on. . . .

Those in the market for something a little more gloriously earnest would be well advised to check out Decoration Day by the Drive-by-Truckers, which will be released on June 17. About a week after rereading my Top 10 albums of 2002 list, I realized that I made a CRIMINAL mistake in not including their absolutely stunning coming-to
-grips-with-all-that-is-good-and-bad-about-the-South magnum opus Southern Rock Opera. As such, I will just have to do my atonement by assuring you that this next releases promises more three-guitar grit-caked Skynyrdesque musical majesty flavored by Patterson Hood’s gruff confessional vocals. Buy it and tell ’em Leven sent ya. . . .Well, folks, that about covers it. Until next year, thanks for reading (or skimming), responding and listening to all the stuff herein. . .

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the Harvard Law Record, and is re-printed with permission.