I have been sitting in with Portland singer-songwriter Matt Vrba lately. He is a great songwriter with really good energy onstage. I guess you could call him 'alt-rock' or 'country rock' or one of those BS hybrid titles. To me it's good old rock and roll, baby!
His stuff is a blast to play to. Reminds me of cutting my teeth back in the day on Exile on Main Street when I was learning how to 'augment' a song. Pick a key, and work it...
Matt has a brand new CD out, called Go. I opted to not make the trip to Chicago for the CD release gig there this Friday (Matt's home town), but will be playing at the December 8 show at the Dublin Pub in Portland.
Anyway, we played the night before Thanksgiving last week and I brought down the camera. Here are a couple of cool tunes:
From Eddie Trunk's site: The Sun reports that Led Zeppelin are rearranging classic tracks for the upcoming reunion gig after Robert Plant found he could no longer hit the high notes (told ya).
The band have been rehearsing songs in a lower key because 59-year-old Plant's voice is deeper. The Sun's source revealed yesterday: "He and guitarist Jimmy Page have had a few heated discussions about the upcoming gig. Jimmy is a bit rusty and Robert has been struggling with the high notes. To avoid any embarrassing vocal wobbles with the world watching, they decided it would be best to transpose the songs in a lower key."
This is the first of anything negative I have heard about the reunion (except for Page forcing thousands of people to change flight/hotel reservations due to his injured finger).
Of course, people are bound to be critical and/or negative ahead of the show. I am sure it will rock, but moving songs into a lower key is a drag. As we've seen with live key-lowerings by The Police, ELP and even when Rush did "Circumstances" on their last tour in a lower key, lowering the key affects the mood of the song, and usually in a subliminally negative way.
Just like with drastically slowing down tempo, lowering the key more often than not drags the song down and makes it feel like 'something is not quite right.' I am sure there are loads of Zep songs Plant could sing, but they'd likely have to skip many of the 'hits.' So they lower the key. Ugh.
I guess we'll see what happens! (Note that to my knowledge Yes has never changed the key on any of their songs live and Jon Anderson can still belt the shit out of them? Just had to throw that in there)
Rush is one of my favorite bands. My buddies and I used to marvel at their technical proficiency (and still do) and love their intricate songwriting and smoking performances.
Over the last few tours, they have gotten looser in general, more apt to improvise a bit and generally "play outside of the lines." I especially enjoy when they do that.
But they also mess up now and again. This video is from the most recent tour, and granted, the mess up is not the band's fault. Basically it looks like the pyro at minute 3:45 takes out Alex's amps. By the end of the song, Geddy and Neil are doing a bass-drum duo of "Far Cry" from Snakes and Arrows. Pretty classic! Enjoy.
God bless Photoshop. That's all I can say about this one.
Someone on Fark.com created a 'theme post' where folks are encouraged to post their own 'mash ups' of their favorite album covers. There are some very clever combos, as well as some pretty funny ones. Take a few minutes and see them all here.
Lots of comments to my post about what I rank as the worst Zeppelin song of all time, "Hats Off to Roy Harper," and the parody VoxMoose and I did in 1985, "Hats Off to Charles Obscure."
Harmolodic, I am not sure how we got that 'vocal tone' but I am certain we ran the mic through every effects pedal I had, which at the time was distortion, flanger, a wah, and this really awful delay pedal that had three faders on it with which you adjusted settings. It was useless as a proper delay but we sure used it to great effect for tweaking the hell out of stuff.
And guess what? I found the hand-written lyrics to the song, so here you go, VoxMoose! Of course they are credited to "Jim Squash" for some reason...
Those of you lucky souls who have not heard it yet can download it here. See if you can follow along with the words - like Karaoke!
At some point when I was a teenager, I went backwards from my comfort zone of 60s and 70s music to check out the founders of rock and roll. I guess it was because I was such a Beatles and Stones fan and I knew that their big influences were 50s rockers like Chuck Berry, Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc.
I mean, I loved The Beatles' version of Rock and Roll Music and The Stones' version of Carol, so why not check out the originals?
Even though my knowledge and appreciation of that music genre was pretty limited, I fell in love with the movie Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll when it came out in the late 80s.
This was the movie that chronicled Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday gig in St. Louis and how Keith Richards put together an all-star band to help him do the thing right. I was captivated by these two generations of legends stuck together on the same project, chronicled warts and all in the movie. I also really liked Chuck Berry as a personality.
So imagine my pyched-ness when I got the four DVD re-issue of the movie. Yep, four DVDs. That’s one movie and three discs of bonus features.
The movie itself is fantastic. I am not even going to review it here beyond pointing out that when I first saw it, I was proud (as a musician) to be part of something started out of such passion, challenge and perseverance. Despite the oddity and enigma that is Chuck Berry, here is a guy who had a vision and made it happen despite severe challenges (mostly race-related). Talk about an uphill battle.
The movie chronicles Chuck’s career but in the context of the whole rigmarole of getting this gig together despite Chuck’s apparent attempts to sabotage it and create problems for everyone!
My favorite part of the film is Keith Richards holding himself back from smashing Chuck’s face as Chuck keeps telling him he’s playing the guitar part wrong on Carol, a song the Stones did way back in the mid-60s! That and when Chuck in the middle of a song in the 60th birthday gig comes up to Keith announcing he’s going to change the key next verse and Keith says ‘no’ with a face that only a zombie could love. I could watch that movie every week…
But where this package shines is in the bonus material.
On the first of three bonus discs, we get a boatload of behind the scenes rehearsal footage.
For a musician who has been in more rehearsals than he cares to remember, I think one of my favorite things is to watch other people rehearse to see what the vibe is, and how they go about doing it. That is why I liked Metallica’s Some Kind of Monster so much. The movie was about them trying to write and record an album in the midst of total personal hell and it was fascinating. And you got to see them play a lot.
This bonus disc has 45 minutes of rehearsal footage, inter-spliced with really insightful commentary by the director and some of the musicians. We see Chuck Berry, Keith Richards and Eric Clapton having a jam with Chuck being the total ringleader. We see Chuck go through some old standards, quiet and pensive, playing on his own until he picks it up a bit and pianist Johnnie Johnson joins in.
Actually, one of my favorite parts is watching Johnnie Johnson. My GOD what a great piano player he was! This guy co-created the genre with Chuck. No doubt about it. Without Johnnie Johnson, Chuck’s stuff would not be nearly as compelling and driving. And they found Johnnie Johnson driving a BUS in St. Louis before he got this gig. His return to fame here is beautiful justice, captured on film.
The other part of this bonus disc is an hour documentary about making the film. By the end, you get the message that the producers came to really despise Chuck. Basically, because he had been ripped off so thoroughly over the course of his career, Chuck tries to wring money out of everyone at every chance possible. This led to him re-negotiating his contract every day of shooting, and not showing up until he received large sums of cash, basically extorting the producers as they tried to make a movie about him.
My favorite bit of this is when he takes off to do a gig at a state fair after springing it on the crew last minute. They tag along and film him in the airport and at the gig. Very cool footage of how Chuck operates. And then due to this side gig, he has no voice for his birthday gig – the cornerstone of the movie. He later has to come to LA to overdub his vocals to the movie, for which he charges the producers yet another sum of cash!
On the second bonus disc, we get a first-hand look into why Chuck is so jaded about money and the man. This disc has Chuck, Little Richard and Bo Diddley sitting around a piano, talking for an hour about how they founded rock and roll, and the racism and rip off’s they had to persevere through.
It’s a hell of a glimpse into history of not only rock and roll, but race relations. The very valid point is made that rock and roll helped break down the barriers between black and white because the kids back then gave less of a shit about black or white. It was the older generation that tried to keep enforcing the color line. And DESPITE that, these young kids (Berry and co.)with everything to lose persevered. I totally take that for granted now but these guys are veritable heroes in terms of race relations.
The third disc also has very cool gab session between Robbie Robertson and Chuck as they go through Chuck’s scrapbook of photos, ticket stubs, posters etc. At first Chuck seems pretty guarded but Robbie is such a cool dude, he has Chuck yapping away in no time. We learn all sorts of stuff, such as about why he’d play first on the bill instead of headlining and who were his musical influences.
We also learn that when Chuck was in prison for three years as a teenager, he found solace in poetry. The last bonus bit on disc 3, called “Chuckisms” has Berry reciting, from memory, wads and wads of poems. Not four lines here and there, but more than five minutes of straight from memory poetry, over Robertson strumming slow chords on an acoustic. Chuck’s face is alight as he rakes these lines from his brain. It’s totally captivating and I found myself thinking again, this guy is an enigma.
This poetry stuff is the missing piece as to where Chuck’s lyrics came from. Check out the lyrics to a 50s era Chuck Berry song. No one told stories like this in rock and roll music back then. It was all about “Whomp Bomp a LuLa” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Chuck’s stuff is downright intellectual! How did he sneak that past everyone? Amazing.
Disc four has more than 3 hours of interviews with many of rocks other founding members that were edited down for the movie - Jerry Lee Lewis, Bo Diddley, the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison etc. The Jerry Lee Lewis interview is worth the price of the box set alone…
Anyone with 10 free hours (maybe a band on a tour in a bus?) should pore over this four-disc set and see where rock and roll really came from. The rest of us can hit it piece by piece in all of our free time (ha), but it’s worth it.
Been checking out this XMZep channel on XM Radio. They have played some solo stuff - I heard a few Plant solo songs as well as a pretty sweet live cut from the Black Crowes with Jimmy Page, something I posted about a while ago.
The inclusion of solo material makes this a bit more legit and reasonable. So now this begs the question - will they play anything off of Jimmy Page's soundtrack to the movie Deathwish 2?
Also, I've heard some nice nuggets they'd never play on the "real" radio, like "Tea for One," "Carouselambra" and "Hots on for Nowhere." But I also just heard the worst Zep tune ever, called "Hats Off to Roy Harper." It's the last cut off of Led Zeppelin III and is a total novelty that is fun for the first minute you hear it and forevermore it's the worst Zep song ever.
It reminded me of a funny take off Voxmoose and I did in high school called "Hats Off to Charles Obscure." I dialed in an obnoxious guitar tone, broke out my first all-slide song ever on tape (meaning, it was bad, and by 'bad' I mean 'not good'), and Voxmoose ran a vocal mic through a number of effects, screechingly emoting lines such as "Little fishy got no brother...!"
It was as classic as the original! If I can figure out a way to post audio here maybe you'll get that soon.
On the heels of the one-off reunion gig and the upcoming CD and DVD release of the mediocre yet classic concert film "The Song Remains The Same," get ready for "XM Led," a whole channel on XM Radio devoted to Zeppelin.
As if you could not hear Stairway on any local classic rock station at any hour of any day...
XM Satellite Radio will launch a new channel dedicated to the music of Led Zeppelin on November 8th.
The new channel, "XM LED: The Led Zeppelin Channel" (XM 59), will feature the band's complete audio catalog, interviews with band members and other unique content that celebrates the musical contributions of the band.
XM's U.S. premiere of "The Song Remains the Same" soundtrack reissue will air in its entirety at 12 midnight ET on November 8th with encore broadcasts airing all day to kick off "XM LED."
For the record, I own everything Zeppelin ever officially released, plus a couple of live bootlegs and that totals about 14 hours of music - I guess it will be 15 or 16 once Song Remains the Same is out. Unless XM has access to some unreleased stuff or goes into all of the various solo careers, they will be repeating a lot of music every day and this station is going to get stale fast!
From the same story:
Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page has hinted that he would be up for more reunion shows.
Page said: "At the moment, I'm told we're doing one gig. That's a bit unfortunate for all the people that would have liked to have seen us, but I can understand why some of the other members don't want to be touring."
OK, who went out and saw the movie Once after my glowing review? No one? That’s what I thought. Well, if you didn’t, you are missing out. It’s a great movie.
Last night I got to see the two main characters from Once, as played by Glen Hansard (from the Irish band The Frames) and Marketa Irglova, perform live at the Crystal Ballroom in Portland. I was not sure what to expect. I knew that Hansard is mega-talented just from the movie but I didn’t know if they would bring a band or what, or if anyone would care.
We got there literally a minute before they went on. Which means we missed the opener Martha Wainwright. The place was sold out – more than 1,300 people. Wow. I was not the only one who thought this movie and its music was something special.
Hansard came out by himself with his beat to shit Takamine acoustic to a huge swell of enthusiastic applause. But then the mooks at the Crystal couldn’t get his guitar through the PA so you know what he did? He asked everyone to be quiet, stepped to the front of the stage and did the damn song by himself with no amplification. To 1,300 very, very quiet people. It was amazing. The song he did was “Say it to Me Now” which is a real screamer. It’s the song that opens the film, for the two of you who took my advice.
Once they got his guitar fixed up, Irglova came out and did a song. She was much less confident but was still cute and captivating, like in the film. Over the night she got better and they actually closed the show with one of her songs. But generally she was better as an accompanist, adding excellent harmonies and piano throughout the night. Would not be the same without her but she was not the star.
They had a bass player (also from The Frames), a cellist and violinist who accompanied the two off and on and that was it. So it was a pretty intimate night. They got all of the movie songs out of the way and the last part of the set was stuff I had never heard and it was more upbeat.
Generally the songs are slow, quiet and a tad morose. But this guy Hansard is funny as hell and his banter in between songs was hilarious. He told great stories, was very genuine and funny. No idea if he tells the same stories every night but it seemed pretty real and it made for a really enjoyable hour and a half show, despite the ‘relationship’ theme of most of the music.
For example, Hansard said they went to Japan to promote the movie, and the president of Takamine guitars gave him a brand new top of the line acoustic. He was pretty flattered until he realized they wanted him to play it because they were embarrassed by the beat to crap cheapo Takamine he used in the movie and uses live (he had it last night – there are huge holes worn into it from years of busking on the street. It’s worse than Willie Nelson’s nylon string if you can believe that). Classic.
A show highlight was when he let the violin guy take a solo spot and he did some crazy pattern, looped it with an effects box and played along with his looped self. The dude was great.
When I reviewed the movie, I couldn’t find any clips of Hansard or Irglova on YouTube but now there is a ton. That goes to show what a promotional tour will do for you! Here are a couple of good ones.
This is the song he did, with no amplification, to open the show. You can see why 1,300 people could hear it regardless.
Note how someone is out of tune at the end of this and blows the ending as well and they all laugh. I love how much emotion Hansard packs into his delivery of this song.
I recently finished Neil Peart’s Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. This book was basically a road journal of Neil’s year and a half of ‘mobile mourning’ for the double loss of his child and spouse in the mid- 90s.
Long story short, Neil suffered the unfathomable loss of his daughter to a car accident, and then his wife to cancer (he called it a broken heart due to the death of the daughter - makes sense) within a year of each other.
Unreal. I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose your whole family one after the other like that.
And Neil couldn’t imagine it either. The book chronicles the darkness that surrounded him after these events and how he for some reason kept persevering day by day with the vague notion that ‘something would come up.’
He decided to hop on his motorcycle and just head out. He wound up putting 55,000 miles on his BMW R1100GS bike over 14 months, driving from Ontario to Alaska, then south through the West Coast and Rockies down to Mexico. In a second journey he headed east to the coast of Canada and south into New England.
The book chronicles the heartache and soul searching he went through on these travels – the ups and downs. Mostly downs, but as time passed on, more ups. It’s incredible that Neil, a very private person by all accounts (including his own) would give us a glimpse into his pain and healing.
But he also writes elegantly about all the places he visits and drives through. See, Neil doesn’t like to take the highways everyone else takes. He travels on forest roads and gravel trails. The more desolate and unpopulated the better. He also has little tolerance for most people, especially tourists, and his commentary on American RV captains is funny but also sadly accurate.
Sometime the writing gets a bit tedious, as he uses letters he has written to friends to illustrate points or to further the story. This gets old in spots only because some of the letters repeat things he’s already said. He also gets a bit over-descriptive in spots.
But generally, I felt like I got to know Neil at bit better, which is cool because I have always respected and been intrigued by him. I mean, the dude is one mean mo-fo drummer and not a bad lyricist either.
He has other books out that I will read eventually but I think this one was the heavy, insightful one. The story has a happy ending and of course we know that since these journeys, he’s back with Rush and has three albums and three tours under his belt. But it’s interesting to read about the time when drumming, Rush and pretty much everything else took a back seat to a journey of healing, all well chronicled in this book.
What to report, what to report? A couple of small things:
It's all over the news but Jimmy Page broke a finger so the Led Zeppelin reunion show has been postponed to December 10. The most exciting thing for me on this front is that I found out my friend Al Toribio was able to get a ticket - his wife submitted their email (along with me and a million other people) and were one of the 20,000 selected to buy tickets. Talk about winning the lotto! So they are off to London next month and I hope to get some first hand scoop from Al to post here after he gets back.
Also, Dio in a recent interview with Komodo Rock dropped the news that the Heaven and Hell version of Sabbath will indeed record a new album next year, after some time off after the current kick ass tour that is about to wrap up. That is really good news, because I feel like that band is firing on all thrusters and it would be a shame if they stopped now.
I will leave you with something totally unrelated. A YouTube video of The Who playing Eminence Front at a sound check. This was the MTV video I used to drool over in 1982 and I have been looking for the audio of this for years but alas it remains unreleased as far as I can tell. Despite the tacky 80s garb, Pete's leads in the front of the song are tasty indeed and pretty flipping raw! This looks like the footage they used to make the video before it was edited, too.
And to contrast that with the good old Who I loved so much:
And flash forward to the recent past where they are still loud and obnoxious!