Winter - especially the post-holiday period - is a relatively quiet time for the music world. Hot new CD releases are few, major concert tours are fewer. For the most part, it's time to recharge those batteries - or recover from the Christmas bacchanal. There were heartening and disturbing events swirling around just underneath the season's blanket of ice and snow, however. Here's a look at a few of both. It's bleak enough these days, so let's start with the sunny stuff.
1 NEW WAVE MUTILATION. The Pixies came to Norfolk's Constant Center Dec. 6, giving underground rock fans something to scream about. Bandleader Frank Black was in good voice, even if he looked like a heart attack waiting to happen. Drummer David Lovering was strong and solid. And bassist Kim Deal sang like a tarnished - and occasionally confused - angel. Any problems in the bass-heavy mix were cleaned up by the time a CD recording of the show materialized in late January. Those lucky enough to get their hands on one of a thousand limited-edition discs heard 29 tracks full of fear, loathing and gigantic hooks.
2 THEN CAME 2. For a time, it seemed like the Peninsula would be one of the last places in America to see MTV2, the music television channel that still plays music videos. But the long drought ended in January when Cox Communications added the channel to its expanded service. Now, viewers can tune to Channel 65 to see "Headbangers Ball" and "Discover and Download" as well as clips by Coheed and Cambria, The Alchemist and My Chemical Romance. Honestly, the channel's playlist looks less than challenging. But at least they do play videos.
3 ALTERNATIVE AUSTIN. The long-running Public Television show "Austin City Limits" unveiled a fresh new face in 2004. Reducing its concentration on singer-songwriters and country troubadours, the live performance show shifted toward the alternative. Fans tuned in to see the critical darlings Wilco along with man-of-the-moment Bright Eyes. They saw jam-band demigod Trey Anastasio do his thing. And Saturday's show featured two big names on the alternative rock scene: the hit-making Modest Mouse and indie kings Guided By Voices. For lovers of new rock, it was almost too good to be true.
4 MISSY-TV. Missy Elliott's contribution to the reality television, "The Road To Stardom" on UPN, proved to be amusing from a Hampton Roads perspective. In one episode, Elliott took the cast of hip-hop wannabes back to Portsmouth's Woodrow Wilson High School for a test of skills. "Thank y'all for letting me come back to my ol' school," Missy told the bunch. "This is where I did my first talent show." There was also a dinner at P.F. Chang's China Bistro and a less-than-nail-biting climax that took place outside Nauticus in Norfolk. The show airs 8 p.m. Wednesdays on UPN.
5 GRAMMY SLAM. Sure, the annual Grammy awards are more about honoring record sales than artistic achievement. But there was some good news wrapped into the list of nominations announced last month. Green Day was nominated for record of the year and album of the year. The late Johnny Cash and the late Joe Strummer got a nod for their collaboration on Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." And Brian Wilson took a nomination for "Smile" in the best pop vocal album category. Let's not forget Bruce Hornsby, who will compete for the best pop instrumental performance award for his "Song F." The Grammy ceremony will air Feb. 13 on CBS.
1SICK OF GOODBYES. The last few months were darkened by what seemed like an unusual number of deaths in national music circles. John Peel, the influential and respected British disc jockey, passed away in October. The gonzo rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard died in November, saddening a horde of hip-hop heads. Then there was the shocking murder of "Dimebag" Darrell Abbott. The Pantera and Damageplan guitarist was gunned down while playing a gig in Ohio. Blues guitarist Son Seals - who helped redefine the Chicago sound in the 1970s - died from complications of diabetes. Bruce Palmer, the bassist in Buffalo Springfield, fell to an apparent heart attack. Finally, jazz giant Artie Shaw passed at the tail end of 2004; the clarinet player and bandleader was one of the architects of swing.
2 HARBOR SQUABBLE. The Harbor Center in Portsmouth is one of the finest places in our region to hear live music. Unfortunately, the amphitheater's operation is the subject of a nasty disagreement between the city of Portsmouth - which owns the facility - and Harbor Center's management company. Money, of course, is a contributor to the conflict. At least partly due to hurricane damage, Harbor Center has not posted the kind of attendance numbers anyone would like to see. Expect the 2005 season to be pivotal for the riverside concert space.
3 ASHLEE'S LIPS. Pop singer Ashlee Simpson gave one of the most talked-about non-performances of 2004 on "Saturday Night Live" in October. Her botched lip-synching job will likely go down as one of the great live television bloopers. Ashlee - or her handlers - would eventually blame acid reflux for the whole snafu. There was no reason to make excuses, though. I believe that Simpson may have inadvertently done American culture a service by shaming talent-deficient radio pop acts everywhere. Thanks, Ashlee!
4 FREDDIE WHO? If it were only a joke ... But it's not. Paul Rodgers - formerly of Bad Company - will front a reformed Queen for a tour this spring, the Associated Press reported late last year. What a spectacularly bad idea. Freddie Mercury, Queen's original frontman who died of AIDS in 1991, had a voice that soared with the eagles. Rodgers' voice is a fine enough rock instrument. But I cringe at the idea of him applying his growl to classic Queen cuts.
5 WE WANT U2. But does U2 want us? I think it would be fitting and proper for the band to come back and play Hampton Coliseum again - just like old times. But the two legs of the Vertigo 2005 World Tour announced recently didn't include Virginia. The closest dates? May 14 in Philadelphia and May 17-18 at East Rutherford, N.J. There's still a chance that maybe a later leg will include something closer to home.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times