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Bon Iver, Hipster Doofus

Hipsters

Who is Bon Iver? The name originally referred to a band, I guess in the same way Nine Inch Nails referred to a "band," but since hitting it big, it's mostly just a nickname for frontman and songwriter Justin Vernon, who, depending on who you ask, may be either Jesus or the Antichrist.

Consulting my handy pocket-Book of Revelation (also featuring a novelization of The Prophecy starring Christopher Walken), it did say that the second coming of Christ would be preceded by a false messiah, the Antichrist himself putting one over on the world. Personally, I haven't seen a false folk Jesus get disproved yet, so Vernon just might be the bearded soft-rock/indie-folk Satan.

Bon Iver at the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival, long before the Grammys.
Mark C. Austin
Bon Iver at the 2009 Austin City Limits Music Festival, long before the Grammys.
Ben Folds tickles the ivories.
Craig Hlavaty
Ben Folds tickles the ivories.
George Strait at Reliant Stadium, 2009.
Craig Hlavaty
George Strait at Reliant Stadium, 2009.

Personally, I don't believe Vernon is either. I think Vernon, Bon Iver — or Bonny Bear, Ron River, however you want to refer to him — is just, in the words of Mr. T, a fool.

He epitomizes all the worst aspects of hipsterdom and makes anyone retch whose goal in life isn't to live in an isolated cabin in the woods wearing plaid shirts and playing a banjo. Why do I think this about him?

One only need browse the headlines about him since he became famous by winning the Best New Artist Grammy this year.

The indie lifestyle is all about that cabin in the woods. It's DIY. It's reconnecting with the Earth and being a modern hippie and riding a fixed-gear around the city streets just to spurn man's overreliance on cars. It's eating food from a co-op and playing guitar for pennies on the street corner, not for people's acceptance and love, not for money, not for fame and especially not for Grammy Awards.

Oh wait, until you get nominated for one. Yeah, never mind, the Grammy Awards are only bad when they're honoring people you don't like. When they're honoring you yourself, they're totally mega-awesome.

At least, that's the way Bon Iver felt about it, changing his tune in a matter of days from saying, "We should not be gathering in a big room and looking at each other and pretending this is important," to a tweet saying, "whats the difference between song and record?! ahhH! super weird butterflies! thank's y'all."

Then he licensed out his image and songs for Grammy promos, which he later denounced because he's not in the business of selling his music, although you can totally buy his albums at Target.

But then, when asked to do a collaboration with another artist (a time-honored tradition at the Grammy Awards), Bon Iver said "Fuck you" to the Grammys. Oh so punk.
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Blow Up Your Video

The Best Steampunk Songs

1. Abney Park, "Sleep Isabella": You could argue that Abney Park is the musical embodiment of steampunk. Formerly the band was just a group of more conventional goths out of Seattle, but their reimagining into a steampunk dynamo has made them a highly popular carnival act. If it was good enough for HBO's True Blood, it should be good enough for you.

2. Lovett, "Eye of the Storm": When noted film composer Ben Lovett put out an album, one of the people he invited to the listening party was an old college friend named Christopher Alender. Alender was blown away by "Eye of the Storm," and collaborated with Lovett on a music video inspired by the Academy Award-nominated short film "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello." The result is, bar none, of the most beautiful things ever put on the Internet.

3. Les Rita Mitsouko, "Cool Frenesie": If you took high-school French in the past 20 years, then at some point your teacher played "Marcia Baïla" from Les Rita Mitsouko's second album for you. Some 15 years later, the duo put out this amazing single, about what amounts to a steampunk Tank Girl taking out giant Cybermen...basically French-frying pop-culture cult icons from two different nations at once.

4. Escape the Clouds, "Every Storm Has an End": Escape the Clouds is much more of an amalgam of traditional storytelling and music than traditional pop, so they lose a few points in the being-catchy department. Still, as far as musical short films go, "Every Storm Has an End" is up there with the best. Jef With One F
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Live Shots

Ben Folds Five at Bayou Music Center

In the recent rash of rock reunions this past year, it was perhaps the reuniting of Ben Folds, Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee that was the most warranted and most fully realized.

After years as a solo act, piano man Folds and his Chapel Hill, North Carolina, brethren found themselves in a studio after more than 12 years of silence, making a new album, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, and recapturing the jazz, rock and lo-fi elements that made them so special in the '90s.

Last Tuesday's Bayou Music Center set reaffirmed the credentials of the BF5 while not devolving into a nostalgic victory lap. Folds solo was fun, but Folds with Sledge and Jessee is too much fun.

It doesn't hurt that they returned with a decent album, either, which isn't something most rock reunions can say.

Folds solo was missing Sledge's scummy bass and Jessee's light wrist on drums, and the sound of the latter two harmonizing (bah-bah-bah) makes even the most caustic Folds lines — missing from his solo stuff — sound like classic AM Gold madness.

But the trio still understands they come from another era, a virtual millennium in pop-culture memory. A big portion of the crowd last night probably knew Folds only from his solo career, the reality show stints and the like, and BF5 lines like "Gimme my money back, gimme my money back, you bitch," don't have the bouncy quirk of "Rockin' the Suburbs."

The stories that Folds conjures up with the BF5 and the characters that inhabit them have a certain nobility to them that I didn't hear from his solo work. Something like "Annie Waits" was just Folds lite. CRAIG HLAVATY
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Miles-tones

George Strait Riding Away After One More Tour

Last week, country legend George Strait — King George around these parts — announced during a live YouTube broadcast from Nashville's Country Music Hall of Fame that he is hanging up his touring boots and saddle after decades on the road.

Strait is still slated to close out RodeoHouston's 2013 season on March 17 with Martina McBride and the Randy Rogers Band at Reliant Stadium.

A clip featuring Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton, Ronnie Dunn, Reba McEntire, Alan Jackson, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift and Clay Walker singing Strait's praises preceded the announcement, which was streamed live on Facebook.

"I have decided I am not going to tour anymore, but I will still make records," said Strait, in his uniform of starched yellow button-up, jeans and cowboy hat.

"After the last date in 2014, that's it for the touring," he added. CRAIG HLAVATY
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The Last Roundup

How to Avoid "Death by Misadventure."

Last week back in 1980, the rock world lost a good one. John Bonham, the fantastic, heavy-footed drummer for Led Zeppelin, was found dead in bed in Jimmy Page's Windsor manor house.

It was an ugly end for Bonzo. A longtime heavy drinker — particularly when separated from his family — Bonham had consumed 40 shots of vodka in the day before he died.

That was no remarkable number for Bonham, which made his death all the more astonishing. Frankly, there's no pleasant way to recount what happened next: The drummer expired by choking to death on his own vomit.

What's awful is that famous rock stars drowning in puke was already something of a sad cliché by then.

Only seven months before Bonham's passing, AC/DC singer Bon Scott died after he similarly filled his lungs with his own vomit.

Jimi Hendrix had asphyxiated on his own bile ten years earlier. By the time Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs, one of Spinal Tap's loudest drummers, choked to death on someone else's vomit in 1984, pulmonary edema had become a joke.

Folks, asphyxia is no laughing matter! Only vigilance has helped to reduce the incidence of vomit-related drowning among celebs in the past 30 years.

To help protect the hard-partying rock stars whom we make our living idolizing (not to mention the weekend wannabes who read this stuff), Rocks Off put together a couple scientific tips to help steer our favorite people away from sharing John Bonham's sorry fate.

1. Limit Vodka Intake During Breakfast

On September 24, 1980, Bonham was picked up by an assistant to be taken to rehearsals for Zep's forthcoming American tour — the band's big comeback. Rather than try to work on an empty stomach, Bonzo had his driver stop for breakfast, where he went ahead and ordered a few drinks. Four quadruple vodkas, to be exact — that's 16 shots of the hard stuff to start the day off right.

Today experts believe that this liquid diet may have been a symptom of a serious disease known as alcoholism. If you ever find yourself compelled by an addiction to consume 24 ounces of liquor during the most important meal of the day, it might be a good idea to be sure that you weigh 600 pounds or so first and then chase your booze with 60 or 70 English muffins with eggs and jam.

Your only other safe choice is to avoid drinking fatal doses of alcohol as soon as you wake up.

2. Always Heed Terrifying Warning Signs

Three months before his death, a soused Bonham collapsed onstage during a Led Zep show in Nuremburg and had to be rushed to a hospital. Any headbanging idiot with a copy of Houses of the Holy at home could tell that the drummer was in pretty bad shape with his addiction, but the band's management insisted that Bonham had simply overeaten.

In our view, this was a mistake. Modern medicine now tells us that collapsing into alcoholic unconsciousness at work in front of several thousand people could be considered a "warning sign" of serious health risks to come.

Bonham should have returned to England immediately for rehabilitation, but the band had the all-important American tour looming, and so he was propped back up on his stool.

Had he gotten real help before it was too late, Zeppelin might've been touring the States this summer. NATHAN SMITH
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Only in Houston

HISD's Gangnam Style: No Joke

Rocks Off saw something so disturbing last Thursday on the morning news, but it was early and we were sure it couldn't possibly be real.

It was.

The Houston Independent School District has produced a video to promote early voting featuring teachers, faculty and other district staff — including what must be the HISD board itself — throwing their hands in the air in the style of PSY's "Gangnam Style," the inexplicably popular line-dancing video by a Korean dance-pop singer that is now approaching some 300 million YouTube views.

Even more surreal, HISD's version has "lyrics" captioned onscreen, like "voting early makes me dance, makes me dance like a silly cowboy."

This video begs several questions: How much tax money was used for this? Shouldn't these kids be in class? How long did take to explain to those bus drivers what "Gangnam Style" is? And why didn't we get to do things like this when we were in school? But most of all, huh?

Ah well, at least everyone's exercising. And anything that gets people to vote early (or at all) is worthwhile, we say.

HISD is hardly the first organization to jump on the Gangnam bandwagon, though. Other parody/tributes have come from the University of Oregon football team, some cadets in the U.S. Naval Academy's 22nd Company, Saturday Night Live (featuring PSY himself), some dude dressed like Gandalf and "Hot Moms and Cute Babies."

Early voting begins October 22. CHRIS GRAY
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Only in Houston

Musically, Houston Sells Itself Short

Look, we all know Houston has a lot going on and a lot to be proud of. As one of America's biggest and busiest cities, it offers an almost infinite array of diversions and amusements to go along with world-class shopping, restaurants, universities and medical care.

But some of us also believe that Houston is one of the best music towns around and has been for a long time. Seems like we've been beating that particular drum forever. (Yes, it is our job.)

Lots of other people know it, too, from the Europeans who line up to see some of our venerable blues and R&B musicians to the indie-rockers shocked at the packed houses and enthusiastic crowds that greet them here and the city of Austin, which sometimes seems like it is entirely populated with former Houston musicians.

So Rocks Off was a little dismayed when last week we started poking around the city's official visitors site to see what kind of musical assets Houston was touting to the world in its quest for those prized tourist dollars. There wasn't much.

Right up front, the site, www.visithoustontexas.com, is first-class (almost) all the way. It would take a smarter computer person than us to identify the specific software used by the Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau, which maintains the site, but they have to be happy with the results. The site is easy to load, graphically rich and aesthetically pleasing, packed with information, and even fun to explore.

It's just really difficult to find anything about music on there at all, even more troubling considering many of the people in the GHCVB's current "My Houston" ad campaign are musicians like Beyoncé, ZZ Top and Lyle Lovett. CHRIS GRAY

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