Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Neil Young on SNL 20 Years Later

I posted about this last year while reading the Neil Young biography Shakey. I have no idea how long this video will be posted so feast your eyes on it while you can. The one I posted last year has been long gone.

About this performance, Neil said:

I don't like TV. Never have. It always sucks and there's nothing you can do about it. You can't just walk on and do 'Rockin' in the Free World,' or you'll look like a fuckin' idiot. To perform that song the way it's supposed to be performed you have to be at peak blood level, everything has to be up, the machine has to be stoked. To do that I had to ignore Saturday Night Live completely. I had to pretend I wasn't there.'

In my original post, I wrote:

A couple of factoids from the book about this clip. Neil worked out with a trainer for an hour and a half right before getting onstage, so he could be in a physical and mental state similar to being at the tail end of a live show.

The drummer, Steve Jordan, had done so much televised work before that he knew he needed to bring the largest cymbals possible if he wanted to be heard. The author of the book says that the band look like 'a bunch of car thieves.'

I find this video so inspiring, I want to go out and form a band to just slaughter songs like this. And Neil was 44 at the time.

This embodies everything I love about Neil Young and for any of my friends who have never understood, just watch the video

Jimmy Page in 1957 on BBC1

I am not sure what is more amazing about this video - Jimmy Page as a little kid playing on this show, or the horrible interviewer asking weird questions about science. But make sure to watch long enough to catch the second song, Cottonfields, and Jimmy's killer whistling solo. Guess he had not signed that pact with Satan just yet. As Spock would have said, "fascinating..."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

CD Review - Beatles Past Masters Remastered

My music listening has been focused on three bands for the past couple of weeks: Porcupine Tree (last four studio albums), Ace Frehley (latest album, Anomaly) and The Beatles (all the remastered CDs starting with Rubber Soul). Yeah it’s a weird mix but it keeps by brain moving. Today, I wanted to post some thoughts on The Beatles Past Masters double CD.

They had the concept right with this one. Instead of dividing Past Masters into two CDs like they did in the 80s, they turned it into a double CD set. And since Past Masters is basically all of The Beatles’ singles grouped into one package, it’s kind of like a greatest hits collection too.

You see, back in the 60s, the artists felt that it was a rip off to put the songs they released as singles on their albums too. So, you had to buy Hey Jude/Revolution or Rain/Paperback Writer on a single to get it, and it wasn’t on any of their British LP releases. In the US of A, however, the record company would rob tracks off of the British LPs, combine them with the singles and give us extra "full length" albums like Something New, Yesterday…and Today, The Beatles Second Album etc. I was very confused when the original CDs came out, as they followed the British LP format and none of those weird American compilations were available. But of course it was much better because that is how the band wanted it in the first place.

When the Beatles’ work first came out on CD, Past Masters was how they got those singles into our hands, since they weren’t on any of the British studio albums.

So, anyway Past Masters is a good concept and the remastering as with the other albums sounds killer. Trouble is, on the first disc, the sharpness of the audio betrays that the band was still finding its feet in the studio. Yeah I am being blasphemous. But here it is – for the first couple of albums and the first batch of singles on Past Masters, the band was better at songwriting and singing than playing. The vocals are insanely impeccable from the first verse of the first single, Love Me Do. And all of the A sides of the singles are incredibly well written pop songs, which is why they all went to number one.

But the songs are in very primitive stereo and so the vocals are in one speaker and the band is in the other. As Pete Townshend infamously said in a 1965 interview in the movie The Kids Are Alright, “If you listen to the Beatles backing tracks without the vocals, they are actually pretty lousy.” I think he’s right. Fix the balance on your stereo so you can’t hear the vocals on She’s A Woman. Lennon is all over the place rhythmically, and hits quite a few clams too. It’s actually nice to hear them be so human…

However, the latter half of disc one and all of disc two is really what we buy this set for. Here is where you get the hits like Day Tripper, We Can Work It Out, Rain, Paperback Writer, Hey Jude, Revolution, Lady Madonna, Don’t Let Me Down and The Ballad of John and Yoko. And here is where the remasters once again make the hair stand up on end. This is where McCartney started honing his super melodic bass style and the band pushed the envelope in the studio with distortion, backwards vocals etc. The band is tight and confident with all the time in the world to get it right, where the first CD songs were recorded under record company pressure to get the next single out.

As with the White Album, Lennon’s rhythm guitar really shows through. He had a killer, chunky tone and style that I am only now starting to really appreciate, now that I can hear it so clearly – check Get Back to see what I am talking about. All that chunky playing and those little counter-fills in the chorus is Lennon, as are the solos. Harrison does very little on the song – you can see that on the video from the rooftop concert where this was recorded.

Also, Lennon and Harrison (but I think it was mostly Lennon) had the grungiest rhythm guitar tone on the block, in songs like Revolution and Day Tripper.

I always knew McCartney was (is) one of the best bass player alive. Hearing him this clearly is a pure joy. Just check out Paperback Writer and Rain. Chunky guitars and pumping bass, with those incredible Beatles riffs and vocal harmonies. And I am not sure I have ever even heard the bass part in Lady Madonna. Wow.

Also, as with the White Album, I hear all sorts of stuff that the grooves of vinyl and/or the shitty 80s CDs hide, like little noises on the vocals mics in the beginning of the singalong in Hey Jude, or the band screwing up the words in the overdubbed lyrics to From Me To You and I’ll Get You. I love shit like this.

Bonus? You also get the very funny You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) that sounds just like a Monty Python skit set to music. If you have the album ‘1,’ you already have a lot of these songs. But if you don’t, it’s a great addition to the collection.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Lucy from Lucy In The Sky Is...In The Sky

Lots of people think that John Lennon's Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds is about acid. The first letters of some of the song's title are an anagram for "LSD," for goodness sakes!

But this was debunked right off the bat by Lennon who said the title was something four year old Julian Lennon named a drawing he brought home from school. Lennon thought it was a beautiful title and used it for the Beatles song.

I have known that story for years but didn't know until today that Lucy was a real person. Makes sense. Little kids draw pictures of their friends at school all the time.

And the sad caveat is how I found out. Lucy Vodden passed away of Lupus at age 46 in London. She was visited by Julian Lennon, who reignited his childhood friendship with her once her illness became serious. Turns out she was not a big fan of the song!

She told BBC Radio in 2007:

"I remember Julian and I both doing pictures on a double-sided easel, throwing paint at each other, much to the horror of the classroom attendant. Julian had painted a picture and on that particular day his father turned up with the chauffeur to pick him up from school."

Full details here and here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

This Is My 500th Post - Yay Me!

I was surprised last week to see I was approaching my 500th post on this blog. That is a lot of 'musings' over the last three years. I have shared quite a few thoughts and observations but I have learned a few things too. Here are some:

Someone else always knows more about what you are writing about.
...Especially when it comes to music. I learned that lesson from my very first post when I reviewed a Tubes concert and got a fair amount of details wrong. I was corrected by the masses, edited my post and moved forward a bit wiser, vowing to either make sure I knew what in the hell I was talking about or make sure I was putting forward an opinion and was clear about that. Cause damn it, opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one.

Blog traffic spikes for the weirdest reasons
Looking at my topic links, I write an awful lot about Rush and KISS. But those are not the posts that people tend to gravitate towards. No, the one time this blog was completely inundated with traffic was when I posted about the new Journey singer, Arnel Pineda, and posted a review of the latest Journey CD Revelation. Ho-ly shit. My traffic was off the charts for a week and a half, and many folks used the posts as places to sound off on if they liked Arnel (most didn't) or if they thought it was the end of the world that Steve Perry was being snubbed by his former bandmates because he was old and can't sing anymore. Wow! I felt pressure to turn this into a Journey blog for the traffic alone but thankfully cooler heads prevailed.

YouTube links aren't forever
I try to make sure I have nothing but live links and videos on my blog but dang it if they sometimes get pulled down due to copyright etc. Jerkwads!

Promoting your blog is tricky business
I started this blog as an outlet for writing about music and posting silly crap for my friends to see. Once I got set up with Sitemeter and saw that people from literally all over the world were reading my posts, it took on a big bigger meaning for me. I thought hell, this is really cool, and tried to write more frequently and make sure I was saying something that was at least interesting to me.

And I wanted to get the word out. I started using Google to look up folks with similar blogs or similar CD or concert reviews, for example, checking out their reviews and suggesting they look at mine. But man, is that time consuming. But this was well before Twitter existed. Now, I Tweet after posting something I think people might give a shit about. It seems to be working, because folks using tools like Twazzup are doing searches on terms like "Porcupine Tree Review" and are finding my and other blogs with just that very item. And of course Google works too. Anyway, it's really fun to have a gateway for my thoughts that can reach literally the rest of the world and to see visitors from South America, Europe, Asia and even Australia. Hell, I am intrigued when I see someone from flipping Nebraska tuning in. Leave a comment and say Hi next time!

Blogging is a fun way to meet interesting people
My blogroll contains links to blogs from my friends or sites I want to follow, but I also have made some good cyber-friends with fellow bloggers - Layla, Chris and Seano come to mind and there are others such as Dr John who started his blog after reading mine for a while and thinking it might be fun (I attended high school with him as well - we were in band together - ha ha). Others I have linked to over the years have dropped off because they stopped posting for a long time, but that doesn't mean I don't visit their sites to check in once in a while.

So there you have it. A few musings from a muser. There have been times I have lagged on the blog as I get geeked up about new (to me) social media like Facebook or Twitter. But I keep coming back to the blog, as it's really the only forum that lets me get this in depth about whatever I want to.

And I will make you a deal - you keep reading, and I will keep writing!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Prog Rock Makes Big Comeback

Next to 80s metal, prog rock is one of the most maligned music forms out there.

It’s easy to see why people slag the 80s metal bands – look at their promo shots. Even the greatest of these bands (Maiden, Priest etc – who really started in the 70s anyway) look a little silly in the leather/spandex/big hair gear that is a staple of the look.

Bands like Cinderella, Krokus, Ratt etc took the look to the extreme and made a lot of people disregard the bands before they even heard one note of the music. Which is too bad, because there are lots of great bands from that era. For an excellent and very funny overview of this genre, buy the book Fargo Rock City by Chuck Klosterman.

Progressive music has a bit of the same issue. Who can look at old photos of Rush, Genesis, Yes and ELP and not have a chuckle? Capes, silk blousy shirts, really bad porn moustaches, tight satin pants and the crazy unclassifiable “pieces” Emerson used to wear onstage. Ooof.

Only Pink Floyd seemed to buck the trend, seeming to wear whatever they woke up in to go onstage.

But many of these bands overcame the image issue and continued to make excellent, groundbreaking music for at least a couple of decades. Rush is still at it, as is various forms of Yes and once in a while, reunited Genesises and ELPs.

A BBC News article this week does a great job of tracking the prog genre to modern day, citing that Porcupine Tree and Muse’s new CDs debuted very high in the charts this month, despite the fact that these bands have been defined as ‘prog rock.’ Or because of it. Hell, look at Porcupine Tree – Not a single in sight on their new 55-minute opus The Incident, yet the CD broke through at number 23 on the UK charts. Muse, a bit more accessible to the average listener, debuted at #1.

The article tracks prog torch carriers Marillion and Dream Theater in the 80s, Radiohead in the 90s, and now Porcupine Tree and Muse. From the article: "To see someone like Muse and Porcupine Tree cracking the top 25 together shows the huge shift in terms of where people see progressive music is coming from, and also how popular it is becoming," says Jerry Ewing, editor of Classic Rock Prog Magazine.

This is great news, as this is great music. I remember hearing Radiohead for the first time. Sadly, aside from the song Creep, I had not listened to a Radiohead album until Kid A. But I loved that CD and would listen to it in the car all the way through on my way to work. Then I saw it was #1 in the charts and could not believe it. How did that many people embrace this very proggy, experimental album? Frankly, it gave me a lot of hope for the current state of music at the time.

Next up was The Mars Volta who I found utterly fascinating until they got too weird even for me. But for example, Rolling Stone loves that band, which I don’t understand but am grateful for. Maybe that is why RS finally did a proper article on Rush last year. Or why Genesis is finally a Hall of Fame nominee. These new bands (who don’t dress like elves) are bringing back legitimacy of the genre.

Record sales aside, these bands cling to one thing that is sadly lacking in the industry today, which is live performances that challenge the audience to pay attention and focus instead of using the show as an excuse to text on cell phones and yammer about anything except the event they are supposed to be attending. The Porcupine Tree show I saw last week is a case in point. Watching the band play The Incident all the way through was like going to see a great movie. We paid attention, let the artists deliver, and were moved (and rocked at the same time – bonus!).

So thank you Porcupine Tree, Muse, Riverside, Mars Volta and all the other torch carriers for music with artistic vision that moves people, pushes the boundaries, and fights upstream against the stagnation that has plagued the industry for a long, long time.

Check out the full BBC article here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

KISS, Genesis Nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

What is that gross, watery sound? Oh, it’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame people slowly pulling their heads out of their own assholes.

Today among the announced nominees were KISS (who have sold more albums than anyone expect the Beatles), and Genesis, who deserve to be in there as much as many of the other nominees who were around many fewer decades, influenced far fewer people and wore less interesting costumes in the 70s.

Me? I think the whole notion of the Hall is bogus. Unlike awards that are voted on by fans and the general population, the HoF has always been run by a panel of various musicians, industry people, journalists etc. And while many of those are well respected and have good taste, it’s always been a bit of a private club. The only reason KISS is nominated is because you just cannot continue to ignore those record sales numbers forever. Which is why Rush will eventually make it in as well.

And no, I don’t really care. BUT, if Genesis were to win, we would hopefully finally see the original five guys reunited if just for one night (if Phil could pull himself out of retirement), and it would be a damn shame to not see all four original KISS guys kiss and make up for one night as well.

That, I would watch.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sgt Pepper Deconstructed

Thanks to Don for passing this on after seeing my While My Guitar Gently Weeps post. The below video shows each of the four tracks that make up the song Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Each of the four original master tracks is isolated and shown in a different color in the video.

Yes, Sgt Pepper was recorded on a four track tape machine. The whole album...

Below is how they took four tracks and via bouncing some of them to another tape machine were able to record nine tracks of audio.

Recorder (A)

Trk 1.. Drums + Guitars
Trk 2.. Bass
Trk 3.. Lead + Harmony Vocals
Trk 4.. Additional Harmony Vocals

Recorder (B) -- The "BOUNCE" tape. This is what we're hearing in the video:

Trk 1 [GREEN ].. From A, Tracks 1+2 (drums, guitars, and bass)
Trk 2 [ BLUE ].. Horns and punched-in lead guitar
Trk 3 [ RED ].. From A, Tracks 3+4 (all vocals)
Trk 4 [YELLOW].. Sound effects

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Way Out of Here" From Forthcoming Porcupine Tree Live DVD

Steve from Ars Divina, the guy who turned me onto Porcupine Tree in the first place (I played him Mars Volta, so I guess we're kind of even), posted this to his Facebook page.

The video description says that this live version of "Way Out of Here" from Fear of A Blank Planet was recorded live in Tilburg Holland last October and is from a forthcoming live DVD scheduled to be released early 2010. For my blog followers who are wondering what the hype is about Porcupine Tree, carve out eight minutes and watch the whole thing. They did this one at the Portland show last week, and it was pretty much just like this, only louder.

Porcupine Tree "Way Out Of Here" Live in Tilburg

While My Guitar Gently Weeps - Right Speaker

Everyone has heard this song a million times. George Harrison's excellent White Album cut, While My Guitar Gently Weeps. It's been a radio staple ever since I can remember...

During the recording of the White Albumin 1968, tensions between the Beatles had been building, and Ringo had even walked out during the sessions. So to try and cut the tension a bit, Harrison invited Eric Clapton to sit in. He contributed the now famous solo part that gives While My Guitar Gently Weeps its eerie mood. And it was also the first time a famous outside player had played on a Beatles song.

Last week while listening to the White Album remaster on headphones, I did something different. I turned off the left speaker, which is where Clapton's part can be heard. What was left was acoustic guitar, drums, vocals and the coolest bass line. Now of course I had heard this bass part before, but without the 'distraction' of Clapton's solo, I was totally blown away by its chunky, funky tone, and was once again reminded how damn good McCartney is at playing the bass.

I used Garageband and iMovie to put this on YouTube - check it out and let me know if you think this is a cool as I do! It gets really good at about 45 seconds into it.

Friday, September 18, 2009

CD Review - Ace Frehley - Anomaly

Seems weird to write a review of the new Ace Frehley CD, Anomaly, on the heels of the Porcupine Tree reviews. The Porcupine Tree and Ace CDs came out on the same day, but all synergy ends right there. Porcupine Tree is intellectual, artist-driven prog rock, and Ace’s music is base-level ass rock. Shit, the dude co-founded KISS. Need I say more? But know what? I love it as much as Porcupine Tree so sue me.

Anyhoo, Ace took 20 years to put out this album. I derided the idea of a new Ace solo album in this very blog many times. I think I in fact said that this album had as much chance of coming out as did Chinese Democracy from Guns and Poses. Well, guess what? Both albums are out and I am a dumb-ass.

The last couple of years, there was an increasing level of buzz about Ace’s album. He kept saying it was taking so long because he was a perfectionist and wanted everything to be just so. He said he was modeling it after his 1978 solo album, which was arguably the best of the four KISS solo albums and sold the best, and had the highest charting single (New York Groove). I thought this was typical stalling, and I also questioned if Ace could follow up his 1978 work so many years later. It’s always a slippery slope to try and re-create a past success, because many times those successes are accidental and really can’t be replicated.

But Ace wasn’t blowing smoking guitar smoke out his ass. This is by far the closest thing to his 1978 solo album that he has ever put out. It obviously sounds more modern but the songs are just as hooky, and some of the same cool effects are used (backwards guitar, looping delay, etc) to great effect. Ace’s vocals are surprisingly strong, thanks to three years of sobriety (congrats, Ace!). He wisely did not try to rehash the 1978 solo album’s song structures, but he did capture its spirit and it holds up very well as a follow up, which is what he said he wanted to do.

Highlights are the mostly instrumental Genghis Khan that begins with a very Jimmy Page White Summer-esque intro, that goes into a pretty rocking, catchy groove with some nice vocal effects. Other highlights are the opening track Foxy and Free, the re-make of Sweet’s Fox On The Run, Too Many Faces and another instrumental, Space Bear, which pulls the riff from John Entwistle solo tune My Size. Yes I am the only person who has ever heard that song so who cares?

Ace’s vocals are a true highlight here. I was always pissed that Ace sang sort of sparingly on his post-1978 solo albums, but he admitted it was because he was too wasted to make it happen. On Anomaly, his vocals are perhaps even stronger than on the 1978 solo outing. Good for Ace for having his act together enough to pull it off.

There are a few weak tracks. Three of the last four are not real keepers, but they do find Ace stretching into areas new to him as far as I know. While kind of schmaltzy, A Little Below The Angels covers Ace’s drinking regrets and is a nod to The Beatles, melody and feel-wise. Change the World is also Beatle-esque and a bit better song than Angels. The CD ends with Fractured Quantam, the third instrumental on the CD and a throwback to Fractured Mirror from the 1978 album. It’s a nice take and a good closer.

Now, Ace is signing better than ever, but don’t expect to be bowled over by the lyrical content on this album. This is the same guy who wrote Rocket Ride and Shock Me. But who buys an Ace Frehley solo album for the lyrics? You buy a solo album by Ace to pay homage to the coolest dude who was ever in KISS. The guy who was always a little bit kooky, and who contributed some of the most rocking tunes in the latter half of the makeup era and seemed to be the one guy who kept the KISS rock and roll torch burning while Gene Simmons dated movie stars and Paul Stanley wrote KISSco songs and ballads.

Sadly, once Ace left KISS, his albums were fairly spotty and he was a bit of a loose cannon. I would always buy Ace’s solo work hoping, hoping, hoping for songs like Ozone, Talk to Me, Save Your Love and Rip It Out. I was always let down until this week. It took Ace 20 years but he got it right. Now we’ll see next month if KISS can live up to its “we are returning to the 70s era KISS sound” hype, ‘cause ole Ace sure as hell did!

PS – The packaging is cool. You unfold four cardboard flaps to access the CD, which is slid into a couple of grooves and is suspended about an eighth of an inch above the bottom of the package. Remove the CD and Ace is giving you a thumbs up in a pretty classic photo. Those four flaps can be bent inwards to make a four sided prism (does that exist?) with different images on each side. It’s neat, and I am glad I didn’t iTunes the album for this reason.

More Porcupine Tree Reviews

Here are a few more reviews of the Portland show, with complete set lists and other observations I didn't make. The one thing I omitted was that the opening act, That One Guy, was this hairy dude who played this giant custom pipe instrument that seemed to be half Drumitar and half bong. He opened for PT the last time I saw them two tours ago and I thought he was good then, but the other night I thought he was actually pretty annoying. Most of the tour has King's X opening, a band who I would have gone to see on its own. But we got That One Guy. Oh well.

Anyway, check these reviews. They are good:

@kram review
@elandes review
Mainly Music Meanderings review

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Concert Review - Porcupine Tree

Imagine that it's 1974 and you are all fired up to see Genesis in concert. You have your best pin stripes on, your mutton chops are primped and your are ready to hear I Know What I Like, Firth of Fifth and the epic album side Supper's Ready. The band has a new album, a concept album - a double album actually. And you have heard it's good but it just came out and you haven't gotten around to buying it yet.

You get to the show and the band plays the new album, all four sides, all the way through. It's called The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and it's got great moments but damn it's hard to take this all in, there's so much! You would either be royally peeved that you don't know the songs, or you'd be completely blown away.

That was the experience at the Roseland Wednesday night, where Porcupine Tree played the second show of their tour backing The Incident, a concept album that came out on Tuesday.

Now, I am going to be up front and say that I only got into Porcupine Tree a few years ago and only have the last four albums (including The Incident). I don't have any of the EPs, old stuff, or even Steven Wilson's solo album Insurgentes (yet). So I am not going to be able to do the show great justice by going through the songs they played and all the nuances, because aside from the smattering of stuff from the last four albums, I was hearing a lot of this for the first time.

What I wasn't hearing for the first time was the new album, which I don't think I will be blowing the set list to tell you they do the 55 minute The Incident all the way through, right out of the gate. Luckily I bought the CD yesterday and listened to it enough to feel like I could write a review on the thing. So I knew what was coming and was really looking forward to seeing the whole thing live.

But I have to give it to the audience. The vast majority had for sure not gotten around to buying the album. But they for the most part stayed engaged and paid attention. It was like those British shows you hear about back in the 70s when the audience were completely silent until the end of the song. The band seemed to appreciate it and Wilson even thanked us for the good energy we brought, saying they were really nervous the previous night in Seattle but felt much better tonight, in large part due to the audience.

As I said in the CD review, the new album is not as heavy as the last one, and there is more melodic stuff -- acoustic guitars and piano, and less thundering riffage. Second set, when they dove into some of the older stuff, all of that heavy energy came back on display. Drummer Gavin Harrison in particular was mind numbingly awesome. But if you even care to read about Porcupine Tree on this blog, I am preaching to the choir. You know what you are going to get, and you know you are going to love it. Go to the damn show, but you'll like it better if you listen to the new album first.

Look at it this way - In a recent interview with Wilson, he said he was trying to bring back the era where people listened to albums all the way through, like watching a movie. I mean, this concert was like going to a movie you had never seen before. The band took the audience on a journey and luckily it seemed most people were up for it and had a nice trip.

PS - I didn't take the photo, it was from this site. They asked that nobody take cell phone or any other kinds of photos or videos, and that we'd be asked to leave if we did. But I was about as close to the stage as that photo, which was a hell of a treat, as the place was about sold out, which means about 1,500 people, I think.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

CD Review - Porcupine Tree - The Incident

If you liked Porcupine Tree’s last three albums (Deadwing, Fear of a Blank Planet and In Absentia), you will love The Incident. Steven Wilson does not stray from what has been working, which is heavily syncopated chunk guitar rhythms, unusual picked acoustic chord progressions, great vocal harmonies and insane, insane drumming.

Except this time he has strung together a 55 minute piece called The Incident, made up of 14 songs that blend together to form one big story. Some of these 14 are soundscape interludes that bridge larger, more structured songs.

The centerpiece is an 11 minute tune called Time Flies. This song sounds a bit like Dogs from Pink Floyd’s Animals to me, with a very cool, simple strummed acoustic rhythm that repeats as the vocals and other instruments build around it, with a mellow, long center section that has dissonant power chords bouncing off of picked arpeggios. The song in fact winds up with some high electric strumming that reminds me of the end of Sheep. Hey why not, it worked for the Floyd! But PT make it their own. It’s a kick ass song.

Thematically, The Incident seems to be a number of different perspectives on a horrible car crash, from the victim’s family to the car driver, to the guy who drives the hearse, to a guy who sees ghosts on the highway. I don’t know – I have only heard this a couple of times. But as usual, Wilson’s lyrics are top notch. Not quite as angst-ridden and despondent as Fear of a Blank Planet, though – they are a bit more introspective.

There are some nice, mellow melodic acoustic-based tunes, such as the album closer, I Drive The Hearse, and some crazy power chord syncopated stuff too like Octane Twisted. In fact, the album starts off with some of the heaviest power chords I have ever heard recorded, and these come back about 80 percent through the CD in Degree Zero of Liberty. But overall, this album is not quite as heavy as the last couple.

I almost hear more 70s prog influences like Floyd and Genesis than on earlier albums, which seemed more based in 90s guitar tones and syncopation. I hear more Hammond organ, Mellotron, Steve Hackett-style acoustic picking and overdriven solos, and man is there a slide tone right off of Echoes in Your Unpleasant Family. The one exception is the title track, which is based around an electronic booming beat that builds and culminates with a catchy “I want to be loved” sung over and over underneath a sustain and reverb-laden ripping guitar solo.

The second CD is a collection of four songs that fall outside of The Incident story and have more involvement from the rest of the band, writing-wise. They could have fit on the first CD but I read that Wilson did not want to muddy up The Incident by putting anything else on that disc. The price reflects that of a single CD, as well, so you are not getting gouged to bring Wilson’s vision to fruition.

I am now really looking forward to tomorrow’s show in Portland. I have a feeling they are going to play The Incident in its entirety, and I really hope they do!

I know I am doing this huge work only partial justice by writing a review after just a few listens. I am sure I will hear lots of other things on repeated listening, but I wanted to get something posted while my first impression thoughts were fresh. But I also know that if I like a CD this much already, I am going to really love it later. So...If U like PT, get this CD ASAP!

PS - excellent Steven Wilson interview here.

Phil Collins Joins Ranks of Retired Prog Rock Drummers

Saw this on Dr John’s blog, and it looks like the rumors are true. Phil Collins has retired from drumming. After undergoing surgery to repair dislocated vertebrae, he has been unable to hold drumsticks or play a piano. The doctors are not sure if he’ll be able to play again. According to reports, Phil’s not too worried about it. I guess he is thinking (again), if Bill Bruford can do it, so can I.

I could make a million jokes here but the fact is, up to the early 80s when Phil became more concerned with crafting pop songs and becoming ubiquitous, he was one of rock’s top drummers. His playing on 70s prog rock staple albums Trick of the Tail, Seconds Out and Three Sides Live raised the bar for prog rock drumming.

And his unique drum sound, which leaned heavily on openly tuned toms played reallllly loudly and no cymbals, was very identifiable in the 80s. The most obvious examples being In The Air Tonight and I Don’t Care Anymore (and Intruder and Biko from Peter Gabriel’s third solo album if you are into PG). I heard that atrocious Frieda song “I Know There’s Something Going On” the other day and it’s mostly Phil’s big drum sound powering that song to the top. And as Dr John pointed out, he’s on Robert Plant’s first two solo albums as well. And he sounds great.

But here is the Phil I will miss – the heavily bearded, long haired hippie Phil, trying to prove he could front Genesis after Peter Gabriel split, who would race back to the leftie drum set after the last verse was sung, to do a double drum solo with Chester Thompson.

Of course, I have been missing THAT Phil since 1980. This is what I am talking about:

New Ace Frehley, Porcupine Tree CDs Hit The Stores Today

Very excited to get the new Ace Frehley and Porcupine Tree CDs after work today. Porcupine Tree kicks their tour off tonight in Seattle, and I will be catching them tomorrow night in Portland, so I will probably listen to that one first. Ace has been doing lots of shows but nothing near me. Anyway, I will try and get reviews posted ASAP.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mick Taylor Torn and Frayed

Once in a while there is an article about an old rocker that is so weird it makes you turn your head and say "whaaa?" For example, 70s Lennon clone Gerry Rafferty allegedly vanished last year and the rumor mill heated up that he went MIA two days after checking himself into a hospital due to liver disease. People thought he was abducted or took off to go die in peace in a hole somewhere. According to an update on his Wikipedia entry, he's doing just fine thank you.

But yesterday another weirdo story caught my eye - this time an article about former Stones guitarist Mick Taylor, indicating he is for the most part broke due to the Stones not paying him any royalties since 1982. There are photos of his dilapidated house and old moss covered car etc. I guess the club circuit keeps him alive but that's it. No side career as a painter like Ronnie Wood or Paul Stanley as a "fall-back."

If true, this is a travesty. Whether or not Mick is the sharpest tool in the shed or best businessman in the music biz (he's not) aside, his playing on the Stones' albums from 1968 to 1974 is glorious and without him, albums like Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street, Goats Head Soup and It's Only Rock and Roll would not be nearly as staying. And he should be paid for it, like everybody else.

His slide work on stuff like Dancing With Mr D is epic, and his soloing on classics like Time Waits for No One is, well, timeless.

As I loved KISS for Ace Frehley, I love those Stones albums for Mick Taylor's playing.

According to the article, Taylor was written out of his royalties share when the Stones changed labels in 1982, and he never bothered to sue to fix the slight (see 'not the best businessman' above). That plus battling drug issues off and on over the years have taken its toll, and his photo in the article was a bit of a shocker.

I saw Mick Taylor at Slim's in San Francisco in the 90s and he was pretty good. He did the exact same set twice for some reason (must have thought it was an early and late show and didn't notice all the people in the audience were the same), but he was still good.

The article is also a bit of a tell-all (I hope he got paid for it), and an interesting read. I do feel badly for him but it really just makes me want to listen to some old Stones, which of course will only make Mick and Keith richer. Hmmm...

Saturday, September 12, 2009

CD Review - Beatles White Album Remaster

So, I couldn't wait. Was at the store two days ago and picked up the White Album remaster. Very nice packaging. They duplicated the poster that used to come in the original LP, and included a pretty cool book that didn't tell me anything new about the recordings but had some very high quality photos I had never seen before and of course all of the lyrics.

But the real anticipation was, how does this sound? I popped it into the car CD player and the screeching airplane that intro's Back In The USSR came on. Hmmm. Then Dear Prudence. OK. It sounded good but not sure if it was any kind of improvement. I was expecting the big emotional whoosh I got when I heard the remixed Yellow Submarine or insane mashup of Love.

But of course that is not what this is. This is Apple taking advantage of modern day technology to put the master mixes onto CD properly, so they sound fresh and vibrant. You shouldn't really hear new guitar parts not on the original albums or anything like that. It should just sound better in general. But I wasn't sure I was hearing anything all that different sonically.

But then something happened. While My Guitar Gently Weeps came on and all of a sudden it sounded EPIC. The piano intro was biting, Clapton's solos were right there in my face and it sounded like Harrison was playing acoustic next to me in the passenger seat.

And it went on - The horn and string parts in Martha My Dear, the bell in Everybody's Got Something to Hide... They were crisp, clear and loud. And the White Album's quiet songs always seemed to be sort of muffled to my ears. But now, songs like Julia, I Will, Blackbird, Long Long Long and Mother Nature's Son sound like they were pulled off of Revolver or Rubber Soul, which I always felt sounded crisper.

In fact the bird sounds in Blackbird were so clear and present that they were almost distracting, as was the bell in Monkey. And Yoko's warbling "Hey Bungarow Birwl" was also more audible (a good thing?).

McCartney said in a statement that these CDs are now as close to what it sounded like being there when the songs were recorded and I believe him.

There are 'making of' videos on each new CD but I haven't watched the White Album one yet.

I am actually going to kick on Revolution 9 and get into the groove (not). But I bet Good Night sounds excellent!

Not sure if I will eventually replace my whole Beatles collection with these but if the White Album is any indication, I just might.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles Remasters Hit the Streets

If you read this blog, you are likely a music fan. And if you have not been under a rock the last week or so, you have been blowing in the wind of hype around The Beatles catalog being released today in remastered format on CD.

I heard a few songs on the radio and they did sound great. My birthday is coming up, so I am waiting patiently for a few to arrive as gifts. I will certainly post something after I give them a listen.

In the meantime, here is a PDF of an interview CNN did with the engineers who were given the master mix tapes to make this happen. This was not a remix a la the Yellow Submarine, Let It Be...Naked, and Love CDs from the last few years. All they did was to take the master mixes that came out of the studio in the 60s and apply modern day technology to transfer them to digital and apply EQ to clean up the sound.

But given the fact that technology has come a long way since the 80s, when The Beatles first showed up on CD, this process alone is enough to make those master tapes sound like you are sitting in the studio with the boys themselves.

Anyway, it's an interesting read. Especially the discussion about mono in the 60s and how up to about 1968, stereo was an afterthought, only afforded by the elite!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Slow Rush

I am sure someone did this so they could focus on the drum part (which actually sounds doable at this speed, if you were a fairly competent drummer), but to me it is funny how it brings Geddy's voice into a normal tonal range! Sounds like a normal guy singing rally slow with cotton in his mouth. Thanks to Tom G for the heads up.

Check it:

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Van Halen Made Extra $1 Million by Working With Scalpers

The Wall Street Journal reported this week on a ticket scam spearheaded by Ticketmaster head Irving Azoff. Seems that the best 500 tickets for 20 of Van Halen's shows on the reunion tour were removed from the Ticketbastard system and were given to scalpers, who would be allowed to keep 30 percent of the money they made by scalping the tickets. The remaining 70 percent would go to Ticketmaster, the band and others.

It was part of a clandestine Ticketmaster program called "Project Showtime" that was designed to reap some of the benefits from ticket scalping. Makes me feel a whooooole lot better about the Ticketmaster/LiveNation monopoly.


According to the article, the program "fell apart because of distrust between participants, but not before the secondary ticket brokers were given tickets to scalp for Van Halen with Azoff's blessing." Yeah no shit. That is like a Walmart letting drug dealers peddle their pharmaceuticals and then wondering why the checks aren't coming in on a regular basis.

Read more here.