Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ace Frehley - Back from the Dead?

Anyone who has read this blog for more than a couple of months, or knows me, knows that I cite Ace Frehley as my earliest guitar influence and for sure one of the top five reasons I play guitar today. Whatever you think of KISS, you can't deny that from 1974-1976 Ace was a smoking hot guitarist (pun intended) and that his 1978 solo album Ace Frehley is one of the brightest spots in KISS' recorded history.

As a kid, I ripped the cellophane from the new KISS albums to hear which songs ACE did. And I was rarely disappointed. In that context, his solo album was some sort of crazy oasis.

Of course, in my opinion, since leaving KISS in the late 70s, Ace languished. I didn't like his 80s stuff and stories of his drinking and general "assaholism" abounded. I was elated to see the reunited KISS in 1996 and thought Ace sounded pretty good although the years were not kind to his makeup design (a nice way to say he looked like crap).

But then history repeated itself and Ace fell off the wagon and was again freed from the shackles of KISS after the aptly titled "Farewell Tour." He then slinked off into oblivion to clean up and record a "solo album" that rivals Chinese Democracy for the longest hype cycle for an album that does not exist.

Or does it? NYC DJ Eddie Trunk, who knows Ace well, posted this to his Blog last week:

Stopped by an visited my old friend Ace Frehley last night at the NYC studio where he is now mixing his upcoming CD. Ace is doing so well, is totally healthy and just in a great place now. I am very proud of him. Ace has recorded 10 new songs so far and is completing 3 to use as a demo for now. I can tell you there is some strong label interest so he will no doubt have several options to release it. I heard 2 of the 3 new songs that are being finalized and I must say I was really impressed with them. It is classic sounding Ace singing and playing. One track had a vocal from Ace that almost had a Beatles type vibe, but still rockin. You will also be happy to know that Ace plays all guitar and sings all vocals. The recordings were made with a trio of Ace, Anton Fig on drums and new bassist Anthony Esposito (Lynch Mob). The touring band will be Ace, Anthony and other players TBA. Ace also told me he wrote all the songs just before going into the studio, so this is all fresh stuff. I'm really excited by the two songs I heard. It is by far the most "Kiss-like" music from any past or present member of the bands respective solo albums. We hung out for a couple hours, talked about the old days and had some Japanese food. Really fun night and was great to see him as always. More news when I can share it and of course keep an ear on the radio shows and to this site for all the exclusive Ace news and music. Ace is back!

So I will cut Ace some slack and say great job on staying sober and I look forward to hearing the music sometime this decade! Shock Me!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Genesis - How About Something Positive?

I have been slagging Genesis so hard that I don't want anyone to be under the impression that they were not one of the best prog bands of the 70s. And look at this post-Genesis Steve Hackett live take on Fly On A Windshield from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Wow.

They would play much smaller halls but I really wish the five man Genesis would get back together for at least a one-off!

Genesis - In the Beginning They Were GOOD

Compare the VH1 Rock Honors version of Los Endos from the post I made a few days ago with this version I found on YouTube with Bill Bruford as second drummer and you will see what kind of a legacy the reunited Genesis is up against. Good luck! These guys were epic in their day.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eddie Van Halen Emerges from Rehab

Word from Guitar World Magazine is that Eddie Van Halen has checked out of rehab and has granted an interview that will run in the September 2007 issue that hits the stands June 26.

I know re-hab is a bit of a hot trend right now (and look how well it did for Lindsay Lohan!) but man, doesn't Eddie look good in the photo? He looks 20 years younger. Of course, new teeth and a killer haircut and tan will do that - but seriously he looks great.

Ed wrote on May 24 at the Van Halen Web site:

I want to say thank you to all the Van Halen fans for the tons of emails and all the support they provided when I was in rehab earlier this year. It was an intensely personal thing that I'm not really comfortable talking about right now, but I want everyone to know that their support has and always will mean the world to me. I want everyone to know that I am truly grateful.

Right on Ed. Now lets have that Roth reunion!

PS - for a before and after shot (Eddie looks even better in this new one) check out ABC News' article.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Who Sucks More - Genesis or VH1?

I caught a bit of VH1's Rock Honors on the tube last night. Tuned in at the end of Heart doing "Crazy on You" and while Anne Wilson's girth is still remarkable, man can she sing!

But then I remembered the reunited Genesis threesome was supposed to be honored and lo and behold they were up next! Interesting... First up this band called Keane (who has no bass player - whatever) did the most uninspired version of the lamely cute "That's All." Yawn.

Then Robin Williams, who I usually find funny, did the dumbest longest intro ever, complete with limp Bible jokes (Genesis - get it?). But finally the fab three hobbled out with trusty backing monster drummer Chester Thompson and stellar guitarist Daryl Stuermer.

The familiar eighth note opening of Turn it on Again started chugging and I actually got a bit excited. But then Phil started singing and the years have left his voice too powerless to deliver the song properly. It was such a Vegas version (appropriate, because the lame show was in Vegas, which was obvious due to the numerous cuts to the inebriated vacuous attendees who'd clearly clap for anything at this point).

Turn it on Again is a cool tune but it needs Phil hollering in general and especially at the end to pass muster. The best part of that song was when he quit singing and got on the drum set for the end part. This is where things got good, as Chester and Phil drummed in unison like the good old days - Phil on his lefty kit mirroring Chester's righty kit. Very cool.

They followed it up with the very tepid No Son of Mine. Boring ass tune. Ugh. However, Phil did a good job singing this one and by the end of the song, I actually liked it better than Turn it on Again. That says a lot right there.

I flipped off the TV in disgust and tried to find out what else they played that VH1 decided not to air. You know what is was? Los Endos, a killer prog rock instrumental from Trick of the Tail. I found part of it bootlegged on YouTube (watch it above until it is pulled down) and OK it rocked!

Check out the video yourself but Stuermer is soloing his ass off and Mike Rutherford, who I generally despise, has whipped out the old double neck guitar - cool! The drumming is pummeling like it should be and that is all through the highly crappy audio from the YouTube clip. If VH1 posts the song, I will link to it stat.

That VH1 decided to run No Son of Mine over Los Endos is no surprise but really sucks because that would have redeemed it for me.

Phil and crew can be forgiven for wanting to make a bunch of money with this retarded reunion but if they are willing to dust off some gems like Los Endos, that makes me a bit happier about it. I'm still not going to see the show unless more than 60 percent of it is old shit like Los Endos (fat chance) but maybe I will rent the live DVD next year.

Eat it VH1 - you suck.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Asia In The Studio

Hmm. Ok back in March, I skeptically predicted there would be no new Asia album and that I would buy a copy for all of my loyal readers if it ever saw the light of day. From the Asia site this week:

We are pleased to report that the band have entered the recording studio to begin work on their first full studio album together since ALPHA in 1983. Sessions are expected to continue during breaks from their busy touring schedule.

OK, I might be on the hook to buy a few copies here. But do you still want it if it sucks as bad as I think it will?

PS - Asia is coming to Portland Tuesday August 21. I will be there to pen a review. Maybe they will bust out some of this new material!? I am cautiously interested...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

CD Review - Rush Snakes and Arrows

It took me 5 or 6 full listens to appreciate this album - pretty typical for Rush I guess! But it's not like Tool's 10,000 Years, which I immediately liked, even though I still don't comprehend all of it after tons and tons of listens.

Overall, Snakes and Arrows is a bit of a dark sounding album. Not just the riffs and subject matter, but much like Grace Under Pressure I think many of these songs are in Minor keys. Reflecting the times I guess.

First off, Far Cry is the best Rush single in a long time. Awesome energy, catchy heavy riff, superb arrangement and high quality Rush-precise performance. I can't wait to hear that one live!

Secondly, when has a Rush album ever had this much acoustic guitar? It adds a dynamic long missing from Rush's recent few albums (minus Feedback). In fact, over the last ten or fifteen years I have felt that Rush guitar and bass sounds have been muddy, over processed and over-layered. Listen to Moving Pictures or Signals and compare the guitar tones to Vapor Trails or Rush in Rio and you will see what I mean.

This album strips away a lot of that and the sound is very fresh. You can hear nuances in the playing and in the sounds of the instruments instead of a giant impregnable wall of noise. They also have nice dynamics in these songs, where quiet passages break up the noisy bits.

For example, the first and second verses of The Larger Bowl are just Geddy's vocal over unprocessed, clean picked acoustic guitar. When have we heard that on a Rush album? Have we ever? In fact, this song is a real standout for me. Catchy as hell and well arranged. Super duper tasty Lifeson lead. This one ought to be the second single, if you ask me. That one or Good News First. Also very catchy for Rush.

The verses of Bravest Face are also acoustic guitar/drums/bass/vocals. In contrast, the choruses of The Way the Wind Blows are loaded with acoustic guitars.

You know, they used to use the keyboards this way. Verses are bass and guitar heavy, choruses break into keyboards (or vice versa). Now it's the same story but with acoustic guitars providing the new textures instead of keyboards. I like that quite a bit. It works and gives this album a very different feel over any other Rush album.

While we are on the topic, who told Alex Lifeson to start playing more bluesy solos? In addition to in The Larger Bowl, he lays down some very tasty bluesy solo lines in The Way the Wind Blows, Bravest Face and Faithless. Lots of feel in these solos.

Neil Peart actually grooves a lot of these songs. The beat lays way back on Armor and Sword (and also Spindrift) for example, so the songs' heavy riffs actually kind of swing -- very much like Lars Ulrich learned to lay the beat back on Metallica's Black Album. It gives the songs a much better feel than if Neil was pushing the beat.

I agree with Voxmoose who said it is often hard to get past the tune-less vocal 'melodies' sung by Geddy. That has been the case for years and years with Rush - their stuff is less 'singable' than it used to be. They need to up the melody factor, IMHO.

I also have to agree with Dr. John who mentioned how cool it is to have three instrumentals on the CD. One of them (Hope) is an Alex Lifeson acoustic solo piece a la Steve Howe (yeah - MORE acoustic) and is very listenable.

The other two are also real standouts. It's as if the guys didn't over think or micromanage the writing and just went for it. The Main Monkey Business has a cool motif that sounds a lot like the music on the Animusic DVDs (check THOSE out if you have not seen them yet). Malignant Narcissism is a 2:16 long slug fest. Man can these guys rock. Lots of good energy and performances in those instrumentals. I wonder if they will bust out any of them live?

And finally, they got the mix of material right for once. I have always thought that the advent of CDs brought on the downfall of Rush, because instead of seven or eight songs over 40 minutes, we got 14 or 15 songs over 55 minutes, and a whole lot of crap they should have abandoned in favor of the stronger material. Too much dilution of the pool.

On Snakes and Arrows, three of the 13 songs are very cool instrumentals and the remaining ten songs are varied, catchy and strong.

Yeah, I have to say that after a few listens, this CD is growing on me in a big way. Probably the most listenable Rush studio album in a really long time - and for the record I thought Vapor Trails was pretty kick ass. I actually like this one much better than Vapor Trails already. Nice job gents! See you live July 21.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

CD Review - The Beatles "Love"

On the suggestion of fellow poster Ned Music, I picked up the new Beatles CD “Love.” The CD is the soundtrack to the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name, and it combines both familiar and unheard of snips from Beatles songs across their catalog and does a mash-up into new pieces of music.

It was created over a period of two years by original Beatles producer George Martin and his son, Miles. From the liner notes, Miles and George reveal that the idea for the show came from Harrison and a Cirque du Soleil industry friend.

When it was time to come up with the music for the show, the Martins were given full access to all Beatles studio tapes and were told to create about an hour and a half of music any way they wanted to, with the only rule that it had to be sourced from sounds The Beatles had already created.

What a fun project this must have been, and I have to say I am totally blown away by the result. Totally blown away.

Anyone who has been in love with The Beatles since childhood, like I have, has heard every Beatles song so many times that we turn off stuff like Hey Jude and While My Guitar Gently Weeps when it comes on the radio. We’ve just heard it so many times, it’s old.

The six CD Anthology series that was released in the 90s breathed new life into the catalog with outtakes, unreleased songs and alternate mixes. And the new soundtrack to Yellow Submarine that came out in 1999 is still a treat to my ears, because it offered re-mixed versions of fifteen classic tunes.

Not re-mastered versions of the same mixes, mind you – but RE-mixes. George Martin actually did new mixes from the original master tapes, so they are much fresher and you actually hear bits of music (like guitar parts, bass lines, etc) that were not audible in the original mixes. Much, much more than a soundtrack CD, pick that one up if you want fresh versions of the old warhorses.

Or get Love.

George and Miles created a masterpiece with this. Some of the more innovative songs are the combination of Tomorrow Never Knows with Within You Without You, where George Harrison sings his Indian mantra lyrics from Within You Without You over the hammering drum beat of Tomorrow Never Knows. Or how about Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which seamlessly segues into the heavy chord outro of I Want You (She’s So Heavy) with McCartney screaming heavily distorted verses from Helter Skelter in the background.

I think my favorite cut by far, though, is the new version of Strawberry Fields Forever. As we learned in the Anthology Series volume 2, Lennon recorded a number of versions of this song, from a gentle acoustic ballad to the version that ends with thundering drums, crazy noises and electric guitar fills.

For the Love version, the producers created a seamless mashup of all the versions. The song starts with the gentle acoustic version and every verse switches to a new, more layered and intense cut. I am 100 percent convinced this is the version Lennon wanted to hear but technologically could not be pulled off in the 1960s.

And then there is just the cool factor of hearing the solo from Taxman in Drive My Car, the drum solo from The End meld into Get Back, or the chord progression of Dear Prudence over the end of Come Together. There are sounds on the CD I am having trouble placing, and that’s why it’s so fun to keep listening to it over and over again. For example, is that really Clapton’s solo from While My Guitar Gently Weeps isolated and pasted in the end freak out part of Strawberry Fields? I know I hear the Piggies piano solo in there too…

And finally, since The Martins were given free reign to ‘mess with’ The Beatles’ legacy, the remixed versions of songs that they didn’t really mess with that much, are worth the price of the CD alone. For example, this new mix of I Am The Walrus blows away any version I have ever heard. Miles in the liner notes said he expected the master tapes to be in dodgy shape and to have tons of hiss, but he said what he found were perfect. Add some modern mixing and engineering technology and what you get is vibrant and shimmering.

Funky mixes and mashups aside, this music leaps from your speakers. Walrus, Come Together and especially Revolution are pounding. These tracks sound like they were recorded yesterday instead of 40 years ago.

Have I said enough? Go buy the fricking CD.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Townshend on the Lost Art of Recording

Fellow poster Pete Townshend (and he's in a little band called The Who) put up a very interesting post about old school recording.

The crux of it is that these days, producers and engineers try to separate sounds in the recording studio, using numerous microphones, soundproof baffles and other means of sound isolation.

Pete yearns for the good old days when the ROOM was the most important piece of the puzzle. Bands would set up in an acoustically killer room, the engineer would place a few mics and then the producer would capture the band actually performing.

For example, it is common these days to mic up a drum set by putting at least one mic on every drum, plus two or more mics suspended over the drums to capture the overall sound. Recording the drums alone might require 15 - 20 microphones!

Read the whole post, but Pete says:

So many wonderful recording rooms have been lost in the last twenty years, all around the world. Rooms that had either been 'found' to sound good, or 'helped' to sound good, or 'designed' to sound good are now serving duty as Loft-style apartments. Old deconsecrated churches and church halls were once commandeered to serve as recording rooms back in the late '50s. Now they are all gone...

The point I'm making is that still, the music, the performance and the space in which the music is made is what is most important. If an engineer is doing more than switching on the gear and pushing up a fader or turning a control knob, there may be too much interference with the performing process.

Backing up Pete's contention, consider that the HUGE drum sound in Led Zeppelin's "When The Levee Breaks" was achieved by sticking ONE microphone a number of feet in front of the entire drum set in an acoustically huge sounding room. Zep's Jimmy Page and other old schoolers also used to do things like put the drums at the bottom of a stairwell and place the microphone at the top of the stairwell, generating organic echo.

Stories abound of Keith Richards walking around a studio, snapping his fingers and listening to the way the sound bounced around the room. He would decide where the drums would be set up based on this low tech observation - just using his ear and experience. A lost art?

In the days of all this electronic gadgetry, it is nice to know that back in the day things were done more simply - and that those methods would still work today if allowed to. The golden age is not dead and gone.

In the meantime, listed to some old Zeppelin, Who, Stones or Beatles and try and figure out how the sounds were achieved. It's probably as simple as what the room looked like and where they stuck the mics!

Monday, May 07, 2007

NOLA Wrap Up - Photos

The trip home was uneventful (which is good). My overall impression of New Orleans was that the city is rich in music, culture and courtesy. Everyone was respectful, good natured and generous. There was live music everywhere. On the streets, in the bars and restaurants, in the hotels - everywhere. I highly recommend a visit and hope to get back there sooner rather than later! Hope you enjoyed my posts...

NOLA Day Four - The Festival

Day four, we made it to the Festival. As the location was outside of downtown New Orleans, on our way there we saw that the city has not fully recovered from Katrina, but it’s getting there. The Festival was very well attended, and the bands were all top notch. Made the rounds to the blues tent, gospel tent, etc. The headliner at the stage where our group camped out for the day was John Mayer.

Although his dating Jessica Simpson put a chink in his armor, musically he was supreme. I know the guy has been trying to shake off this “Body is A Wonderland/Daughters” stigma, and he went forward a few steps in this area Saturday.

He had a smoking band – two guitars, Hammond organ, bass and drums. Did a lot of blues based tunes, some stellar jams, and the guy is a smoking guitar player. He rotated between two or three beat up Strats. Good attitude and stage presence/banter.

After the show – hey more beer! Took the trolley back to the hotel for – hey, more beer!

NOLA Day Three - Rain Out!

Woke up around 11 A.M. - life's rough on vacation in New Orleans. Met up with the group and hoofed it over to Napoleon House for chow - jambalaya - three big ass scoops. Killer.

However, the threat of continued morning rain came through with a vengeance and we had our own little post-Katrina with vertical sheets of rain, lightning and thunder. The streets flooded a few inches and we decided to just stay put and maybe bag the festival for the day.

I had more time to think about why I like this town so much, and it hit me - no Starbucks, McDonald's or mini-mall chain stores in the French Quarter. All the shops and restaurants and their related architecture - old stone streets and sidewalks; ornate iron work and ubiquitous balconies - seem to be unique to New Orleans. It gives the Quarter a great vibe and atmosphere. Granted, there is the whole Girls Gone Wild frat party and kitchy trinket shop element as well, but it's only a small piece of the big picture, which was a pleasant surprise.

Later, we found out that due to the crazy thunderstorms, the day's Jazz Festival had been cancelled. So we just bopped around the different bars - Pat O'Brien's, Yo Mama's and La Bayou - food and beer galore. Dolled it up for the traditional formal dinner at Antoine's - great end to day three...

Friday, May 04, 2007

NOLA Day Two – Acclamation

Spent Thursday getting acquainted with parts of downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. Met the rest of our party and moved to the Ritz Carlton for the rest of the trip – wow, nice big rooms!

Man is this town cool. We spent most of the day kicking around the French Quarter, checking out the restaurants, bars and bands. Took a ton of photos but of course don't have my CABLE so I will post them later. Had lunch at the Old Coffee Pot - creole chow and Bloody Garys served by Winifred, who claims to be 65 but looks 50.

Not a lot of time for details right now but suffice it to say that the vibe here is great. After belting out Roadhouse Blues at the Cat's Meow at the end of the night (yeah, we drank enough for me to do Karaoke), we conked out in the hotel only to be woken up by the most amazing thunderstorm. Don't get those so much in Portland!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

NOLA Day One – The Journey

Not much to report from day one unless you want a retroactive Texas weather report and a comprehensive review of seat backs of American Airlines airplanes. It took us 10.5 hours (8.5 of them sitting in planes) due to t-storms in Dallas but we finally made it to New Orleans. Felt right at home when the cab driver from Hong Kong started grilling me about speaker systems. Where was my Triad buddy when I needed him? This guy was talking about $100k systems – way over my head!

Going back a few hours, back at the Portland airport we had extra time so I got one of those 15 minute massages they offer there (I love PDX). Also had time to buy a couple of books, which wound up making the 8.5 hour flying time pass by pretty quickly.

I ripped through Ultramarathon Man – Confessions of an All Night Runner. This dude, Dean Karnazes, is totally insane. He warms up doing 26.2 miles. The guy runs 50 miles from his San Francisco home to the starting line of a marathon in Napa and then completes it in 3 hours and some change.

The story of his 100 mile race through the Sierras (The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run) was worth the price of the book in and of itself. The guy also organized the first marathon at the South Pole (and was the only guy to run it), and also has completed the Badwater Ultramarathon, a 135 mile trek through Death Valley in 125 degree temperatures (his first pair of running shoes literally melted).

Listing the feats out like this makes it sound more like a freak show, but the book is a compelling, inspiring look at how far the human body can be pushed, how much the mind has to do with it (mind over matter) and WHY someone would want to do it (it’s more than “Because I Can”).

When running a 199 mile relay by himself, he said he ran the first 100 miles with his legs, the next 90 with is mind and the last nine with his heart. Cool. He’s also funny as hell. Or his ghost writer is. Regardless, it’s an inspiring and quick read and I highly recommend it.

I finished that book before we got to the plane change in Dallas, and busted into “Into Thin Air,” the story about the botched Mt Everest climb that cost a number of lives in the early 90s. I already know that story and you probably do too. So far, another very interesting read.

Anyway, the hotel on the first night was great. The Royal St. Charles Hotel. The last thing taxi man told us was that attendance to the festival seems light this year. Fine by me – more beer for us! We ordered a pizza at 2 AM Central and went to bed at 4.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Off to New Orleans Jazz Fest

Wifey and I are headed off to New Orleans to dig the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival - I hope to post fom there as interesting things happen, but ya never know...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

New Peter Criss Solo Album - Who Gives A Crap?

OK, everyone, mark your calendars: From a posting on Blabbermouth, comes this epic news:

Peter Criss, founding member and drummer of iconic rock group KISS, will release his new solo CD, entitled "One for All", July 24 on Silvercat Records, distributed by Sony/RED.

An autobiographical collection of songs that Criss produced and recorded over the course of two years, "One for All" also includes several cover tunes that reflect his outlook on life at this point in his long-standing career.

The lead vocalist and co-writer of what to this day remains KISS' biggest Billboard hit, "Beth," which also went on to win a People's Choice Award, Criss goes back to his songwriting roots with this new CD. Says Criss: "The most important thing is that my fans and other people will get a whole new outlook on me with this CD. I'm reinventing myself at my own pace, and for me, it's now, more than ever, about being true.”

"One for All" is the first fully self-produced CD that Criss has recorded — in addition to arranging and writing the lyrics and melodies for most of the material on the CD.

Joined by longtime friends and acclaimed musicians — Grammy award-winning bandleader Paul Shaffer and bassist Will Lee, as well as guitarist Mike McLaughlin — "One for All" is a variously styled project, profoundly rich in ballads that touches on all aspects of Criss' life, and draws on his love of rock and R&B. The title track, recorded with the Church of Transfiguration Boys Choir, was written in the wake of 9/11 and sets the tone for the CD. Other songs include: "Doesn't Get Better Than This", "Last Night", "Faces in the Crowd", "Heart Behind the Hands", "Send in The Clowns", and even a tribute song to his longtime bandmate and friend Ace Frehley, titled "Space Ace".

There is so much wrong with this I don't even know where to start.

1) Thank goodness 9/11 sets the tone for the album!
2) It's all covers, but Peter wrote all the lyrics and melodies?
3) Self produced? Ugh
4) The People's Choice Award for Beth has GOT to be the deadest horse ever beaten. Wasn't that 60 years ago?
5) Send in the Clowns?
6) Space Ace?
7) Silvercat Records?

This is going to be the suckiest album ever.

Thanks to Pat G for passing this on to me. If you want even more yuks, read the comments below the post. My favorite so far? "hope the cd comes with a "catman barfbag" and "I wonder if he'll hire Eric Singer to record his drums for him."