Alice In Chains - "Man In The Box"

With the release of their debut album "Facelift" in 1990, Alice in Chains hit the music scene like a rush of blood to the head. For those of us who dug their sound, and there were many, we never knew what hit us.

"Man in the Box" was the first single off "Facelift," and since MTV still played videos back in the 1990s, it was most people's first exposure to the distinctive sounds of Layne Staley's voice and Jerry Cantrell's guitar.

Alice in Chains was usually lumped in with other Seattle bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. While they certainly benefited from the exposure related to their association with the grunge scene, I never really considered them to be a grunge band. Neither did Jerry Cantrell.
"We're a lot of different things... I don't quite know what the mixture is, but there's definitely metal, blues, rock and roll, maybe a touch of punk. The metal part will never leave, and I never want it to"
In the age of iPods and peer-to-peer sharing, it's difficult to imagine that a band this dark and this heavy could ever sell 40 million albums worldwide and 16 million in the US, but Alice in Chains did. They also had two number-one Billboard 200 albums (Jar of Flies and Alice in Chains), 14 top ten songs on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and eight Grammy Award nominations. Unbelievable and totally deserved.

It's ironic, and ultimately sad, that the EP which preceded "Facelift" was titled "We Die Young," since both Layne Staley and Mike Starr did indeed die young. Layne Staley, Alice in Chains' vocalist and co-lyricist, died in 2002 of a drug overdose at the age of of 34. Bassist Mike Starr died in 2011 at the age of 44.

It's cliche to say it, but their music lives on.

Joseph Arthur & The Lonely Astronauts - "Black Lexus"

Live at the Independent, San Francisco, CA, November 15, 2006

Cypress Hill - "Hits From The Bong"

I find it amusing that Cypress Hill, the Los Angeles-based hip hop group that has made a career out of stoner rap, chooses to play San Francisco's Fillmore on April 20, year after year after year. Suck it, LA!

Happy 4/20, boys and girls.

Videos from 2011 Coachella

I missed Coachella this year, but thanks to YouTube (and 5 Gum) I was still able to see some of my favorite bands perform live.

If you visit the Coachella YouTube channel now, you'll find performances by Flogging Molly, Gayngs, Mumford & Sons, !!!, Warpaint, Ozomatli, Broken Social Scene, Two Door Cinema Club, Jack's Mannequin and Freelance Whales. Hopefully more video will be posted in the coming days.

See you in Indio next year!

David Bowie - "Let's Dance"

David Bowie's 1983 album, "Let's Dance," represents the peak of his popular success and the introduction of Texas blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan to a wider audience.

In central Texas, everyone knew who Stevie Ray Vaughan was. His live shows had already become the stuff of legend, as had his blistering live set with Double Trouble at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland the year before. But it really wasn't until "Let's Dance" that people outside of Texas started to take notice of SRV.

"Modern Love" is my favorite single off of "Let's Dance," but this is the better video. Watching it now, it is outdated (bad clothes! bad hair!), disjointed (a mushroom cloud? aboriginals buying jewelry with an AMEX card?) and misleading (we're hearing Stevie's guitar at the end, not Bowie's), but still entertaining.

Animal Collective - "My Girls"

The success of Animal Collective is truly inexplicable, at least it would have been to many music listeners back in 2004. Their music defies genre, can seem dissonant at times and is often downright weird.

I wasn't sure what to make of them when I came across "Sung Tongs" in 2004, but there was something captivating about their distorted, dreamy sound that kept me listening. "Feels" came out the next year and it was a big step towards making Animal Collective more accessible, thanks to catchy tracks "Grass," "The Purple Bottle," and "Banshee Beat."

Then came "Merriweather Post Pavilion," which was arguably one of, if not the, best albums of 2009. Oddly enough, it took the departure of guitar player Deakin for the Collective to fully realize their unique sound. (In many ways, Panda Bear's "Person Pitch" is the sonic precursor to "Merriweather," moreso than "Feels.")

"My Girls" is the closest thing to a single we've ever heard from Animal Collective and it's irresistible. Pitchfork named it the #1 Song of 2009 and listed it #9 in their Top 500 Tracks of the 2000's. NME ranked it the 5th best song of 2009.

According to Panda Bear, "My Girls" is about his "desire on a basic level to own my own place and kind of provide a safe house for my family and the people I care about."

If you've never heard it before, I'm sure you'll like it. Everyone does.

Smashing Pumpkins - "Rhinoceros"

Almost 20 years ago, one of my roommates moved out and stole a bunch of my CDs. I never replaced most of them, but "Gish" and "Siamese Dream" by The Smashing Pumpkins I replaced right away.

"Gish" will always be my favorite Pumpkins album, as much for the songs as for what they represent. Listening to songs like "Rhinoceros" takes me back to a time and a place when I was 21 years old, going to college and living the dream without a care in the world.

The Pumpkins rolled through Austin on December 10, 1991 and opened for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam. I can think of no good excuse for missing that show, except that I wasn't really that into Pearl Jam or the Chili Peppers at the time. Knowing what I know now about all three bands, if I could go back in time, I would camp out overnight to hear Billy Corgan sing "I Am One," "Siva," "Rhinoceros," and "Bury Me" from the front row.