One morning in Chicago’s Union Station, I found myself with a few spare moments before the work day began. I felt like watching some James Brown for inspiration and searched YouTube until I came across a 1974 performance of “The Payback” in Zaire. The performance did not disappoint. After a rousing welcome from an enthusiastic emcee (“This man will make your liver quiver!”), the Godfather of Soul entered the stage, slowly and deliberately like a lion in command of his kingdom. James Brown removed his overcoat to reveal a muscular body threatening to pop out of a powder blue and black jumpsuit. He then became a whirling force of nature. He did the splits – twice, in rapid succession. He twirled. He thrust his hips. He caressed the microphone, alternatively grunting, screaming and singing “The Payback.”
About 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the performance, he did something that happened so fast that I almost missed the moment: as he sang “I don’t know karate, but I know Ka-Razor,” he dropped his torso down to do yet another fluid leg split, and the tall microphone stand in front of him toppled over, landing on his right shoulder. As his legs Continue reading →
Three years ago, Apple looked like a music dinosaur. The company was reeling from the embarrassment of foisting upon iTunes customers digital copies of U2’s Songs of Innocence – an incident that laid bare Apple’s reliance on downloading at a time when the music industry was marching inexorably toward streaming. But Apple has regained its groove, and the purchase of irresistibly fun and popular music discovery app Shazam is but one indication.
After licking its wounds in the aftermath of the U2 debacle, Apple focused its considerable resources on launching a streaming service, Apple Music, in 2015 — and then proceeded to show how quickly one of the world’s most powerful brands can right the ship.
Apple Music now boasts 30 million paid subscribers. Although its biggest rival Spotify has double that amount, Apple has eclipsed nearly everyone else in the streaming industry within 24 months, making it and Amazon the only alternatives to Spotify to lead the streaming music business. Just as remarkably, Apple had developed its own brand of cool by building a well-regarded catalog and affiliating itself with the right artists through endeavors such as Beats 1 radio.
A Deep, Well-Curated Catalog
Apple Music’s mix of algorithms and human curation appears to be working. The company put the right talent in place to curate its catalog, starting with Scott Plagenhoef, Apple’s global head of programming and editorial. Formerly editor of the oh-so-hip Pitchfork, he joined Beats Music in 2012, and then joined Apple in 2014 when the Apple bought Beats. And although Apple Music’s playlists haven’t gained as much acclaim as Spotify’s vaunted artificial intelligence-based curation, Apple is earning respect. Recently Apple Music scored a major coup when hip-hop tastemaker Andrew Barber agreed to curate Apple Music’s New Chicago playlist, which provides exposure for up-and-coming Chicago talent as Barber’s Fake Shore Drive blog has done for years.
No longer is Apple the brand that forced uncool U2 down our throats. Apple Music is now where you go to stream radio shows hosted by the likes of Charli XCX, Drake, Frank Ocean, Continue reading →
Author screenshot of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
I don’t go to church as often as I used to, but I always attend Father John Misty’s services when he is in town.
For a Father John Misty concert is a religious experience, one I have witnessed time and again, most recently September 20 at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. Onstage, he morphs into every kind of spiritual persona I’ve ever known. He is as cerebral as a Presbyterian who rules the pulpit with scripture and reason. As emotional as a Nazarene tent preacher speaking in tongues. As provocative and socially conscious as a Jesuit priest. Father John Misty, the stage name adopted by musician Josh Tillman, is partly the product of a troubled but important spiritual past. His ability to draw on his past to create compelling music makes him an artist, not just an entertainer.
Image source: Lynn Lippert.
I first noticed Father John Misty late one evening a few years ago when I was watching a livestream of the Coachella music festival on my laptop. He prowled the stage like a lion, twirled his arms above his head, and gyrated so wildly that I thought he was going to burst out of my screen. Who was this guy? I was reminded of when I was a child and my mother took me to church tent meetings in dusty fields of central Illinois to watch preachers whip an audience into an emotional frenzy by waving Bibles in the air and shouting scripture to occasional bursts of music from horns and organs. Those worship services were exciting and a little scary. And so was Father John Misty.
Author screenshot of Capitol Theatre livestream.
The next day I bought a copy of Fear Fun and got to know him better. His lyrics — sophisticated, honest, and droll — made me think of Bob Dylan. His song phrasing was Continue reading →