Wednesday, September 29, 2010

CD Review - Neil Young - Le Noise

I never know what to expect from Neil Young, and I like that about him. But what it means is that I approach each new release with caution. I am not a 'completist' who feels the need to own everything he has ever put out. I check out the videos, the samples on iTunes etc. More often than not these days, I actually pass on Neil's new stuff.

But I have been fired up to get Neil's new Le Noise album ever since I saw the video for Walk With Me. Available today, this is a special Neil release unlike anything he has ever given us. And as a guitar player who also loves raw tones, gritty production and 'real' playing, there is a lot to love. From the insane overdriven electric of Walk With Me to the gorgeous acoustic tone of Peaceful Valley Boulevard, Neil hits this one so far out of the park, the ball is the next county.

The closest I can compare Le Noise to is some of the material from Paul McCartney and Youth's The Fireman Electric Arguments album, which I also love for its sonic insanity and experimental bent.

One of my favorite Neil albums is Ragged Glory from 1990, with Crazy Horse. On Le Noise he has the same dirty-assed electric guitar tone but no band. The absence of bass and guitar leaves room for all sorts of ear candy. Weird effects on the voice, delay loops on everything, ghost guitars in the background.

The opening track, Walk With Me sets the stage for the whole album - Neil solo on gritty electric with delays and loops on the vocals. The next tune, Sign of Love, could be great with Crazy Horse - sounds like an outtake from Ragged Glory. Track 5, Angry World, is so far my favorite tune - it could be a beautiful acoustic song, but Neil chooses to deliver it in what sounds like the same tuning and tone as Cinnamon Girl, with a mesmerizing vocal loop that runs underneath the whole song.

There are two straight acoustic tunes on Le Noise as well, and these are up there with Neil's best. For example, Love and War is an INCREDIBLE song, vocally, melodically, everything. Neil sings, "I've sang songs about love, I've sang songs about war, since the back streets of Toronto." Yes he has. The song is gorgeous and poignant but again, in the hands of Crazy Horse this song will be a killer live.

The other acoustic song, Peaceful Valley Boulevard, clocks in at a hair more than seven minutes and is stony and slow, but with that 'drunken Indian' chunky rhythm Neil has been using since Down By The River. Despite a couple of lyrical head scratchers, those seven minutes go by fast.

Vocally, Neil vacillates between powerful over-the top shouting a la Rockin In The Free World and fragile delivery like on Silver and Gold. Props to producer Daniel Lanois who made the production on the whole CD something really special. Lanois clearly encouraged Neil to be as live and crazy as he could. There are loads of mic pops, string slides, amp hum and general noisiness especially as the songs fade out.

Side note - why does Neil always have a Stones rip off on his best CDs? The chorus to Hitchhiker is basically No Expectations from Beggar's Banquet, and I have lost count of how many times Neil has nicked a variation of the Jumpin Jack Flash riff, from Crime in the City to Welfare Mothers to Mr Soul!

On the CD closer, Rumblin', it sounds like Lanois just fed the whole damn mix through a fuzz box as Neil sings "when will I learn how to listen, when will I learn how to feel, when will I learn how to give back, when will I learn how to heal?" Awesome closer.

There are only eight songs on this CD but that is plenty. The sonic experimentation on six of these eight is really interesting and sets the whole mood of course, but at the core the songs are good too - it's not just a gimmick. It would be classic for Neil to put out Le Noise part two and do all these songs with a band. I'd buy that too.

Here is the video that got me fired up for this album in the first place:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rush Passed Over Again for Rock and Roll Hall - Fuck Off Rolling Stone

I guess this ought to be no surprise at all, but Rush has yet AGAIN been passed over for nomination to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Yeah I know it's a closed club led by a so-called expert panel but the bias is infuriating. If you are going to have a rock and roll hall of fame, put the best rock and roll bands in it, for fuck's sake.

Rush has great momentum right now. The band is selling out arenas and amphitheaters in a year when artists are canceling tours or selling tickets for $10 to get warm bodies in the door. The movie Beyond the Lighted Stage is critically acclaimed and is turning even more new fans onto the band. Rush is in the top 75 of all-time record sales by any artist, and has more consecutive Gold records in the US than ANY band except the Stones, Beatles and Who.

So who, you might ask, did get nominated this year? Donovan. WTF, he sucks ass and influenced um, NO ONE except he may have influenced me to pull my eardrums out... Donna Summer. Hmmm.... Alice Cooper. Good... Beastie Boys. OK, but really? Before Rush? Bon Jovi? Really? More influence, record sales, longevity? Not compared to Rush. Oh forget it, this is a futile post.

I mean look at this nominating committee. Who in the fuck are these people? I recognize a bunch of them from Rolling Stone magazine, and of course Robbie Robertson and Steven Van Zandt. Well, you know what? Fuck you Robbie, fuck you Steven and fuck you Rolling Stone. My subscription just ended and I won't be renewing. This is bullshit and everyone knows it. Man up and put Rush in the HOF.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Alex Lifeson's Acting Debut - Video

...well not really. I mean, I'd count his hilarious appearances in the Rush pre-concert videos as acting because he plays characters, is funny, and pretty random too! But Lifeson has an actual small film role as a border guard in the recent not so great movie Suck.

It comes out on DVD soon, but here is the Lifeson scene. I thought it was pretty good.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Roger Waters "The Wall" Tour Opens - Spoiler Videos From Rog Himself

So we don't need to worry about set list spoilers for the Roger Waters Wall tour that just started this week - we know he's doing The Wall, and if you didn't know that...well, I just don't know what to say.

So the things to avoid if you are trying to be surprised at the show are videos from the gigs depicting the visuals. You know, video of the wall crashing to the ground at the end of the show etc.

If you want to remain in the dark about what you may see at the show DO NOT watch the below two videos from Roger's site. There are loads and loads of spoilers and I am kind of sorry I watched them. But with my memory, come December when I see the shows I won't recall any of this anyway. Suffice it to say the production looks incredible. No. FUCKING incredible. I have tickets to the 12/6 show and will almost certainly try and score one for 12/8. This is a once in a lifetime, must see event.


Some fan observations and video from opening night:

Katy Perry Too Hot For Elmo?

This is pretty funny. Katy Perry filmed an appearance for Sesame Street that got a bunch of complaints from parents when it was posted online, so it has been pulled from the show.

The AP reported:

The children's show says it won't air a taped segment featuring the "California Gurls" singer and Elmo. The pop star — who is known for her risque outfits — wore a gold bustier top as she sang a version of her hit "Hot N Cold." But some felt it was too revealing for the kid set.

Sesame Street said in a statement Thursday that in light of the "feedback we've received" after the bit was aired on YouTube, they won't include it on the show. While the show said it was still available on YouTube, it had been removed by the official Sesame Street YouTube channel. Other versions on YouTube have generated thousands of hits.

First off, who provided this 'feedback?' My guess is that these people also listen to guys like Rush Limbaugh and think he speaks to them. Give me a break. Then again, she is pretty hot with a muppet. Dig it yo-self but don't blame me if you want to rinse your ears out afterwards:

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Abbey Road Medley Sans Vocals

I am not sure how people get a hold of stuff like this but damn am I glad that they do. Just like the Sgt Pepper deconstructed post I made last year, here is the 16 minute Abbey Road side 2 medley without any vocals. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. Enjoy it at this link (it's a Facebook video - could not find it on YouTube).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nelly Furtado Covers Rush!

I don't usually just pop up videos on this blog for a video's sake but I thought this would interest any Rush fan out there. Nelly Furtado (whose song I'm Like A Bird is her most memorable and frankly a great song - gotta love that Mellotron intro!) covered Time Stand Still from Rush's Hold Your Fire album at a recent concert.

There is a well-shot YouTube of the rehearsal and gig. She does a good job but I think her band is also fairly interesting. The drummer is for sure doing his best to merge Neil's part with what makes sense at a Nelly Furtado concert. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Fear of Flashing Light -- CD Release Videos

Hey all - I have been pretty absent from my blog lately because I had a big CD release show last Friday and needless to say there was a lot of work leading up to it. It all paid off, with a song played on KINK radio's Local Music Spotlight last Thursday and a nice blurb in The Oregonian's A&E five live section, where they suggest five top shows for the week. There I was, sandwiched between Brad Paisley and the Scissor Sisters.

The show was off the hook - I turned it into an all-star jam that included various musicians I play with in other local bands such as colorfield and my Pink Floyd tribute band The Floydian Slips, running 14 years strong now.

We did almost all the music from the CD A Fear of Flashing Light, plus some colorfield tunes, covers and jams. Here are three of the better ones, for your viewing enjoyment.

This is the first track from the CD, done live:

This song was written by a guy named Jerry Joseph who deserves a blog post all his own:

An old tune of mine made new with this live version:

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Concert Review (sort of) - ASIA

This Friday I have a big gig - my CD release show and all star jam in Portland. Three hours, 30 songs, 11 musicians (not all onstage at the same time, though!). It's going to be pretty epic. KINK Radio will play a song tomorrow on the Local Music Spotlight at around 9:15 p.m. Pacific Time. There may be some press on Friday, we'll see...

Anyway, it's clearly a big show for me and so I faced a dilemma. The only night the core band of six could get together was last night - same night as Asia in Portland at the Aladdin. I have had a ticket for ages and as long-time readers know, due to heart attacks, heart surgery and god knows what else, Asia has cancelled Portland shows the last couple of times out.

My rehearsal was to end at 9:30, with the Asia ticket saying an 8 p.m. showtime. If there was an opener, I wouldn't miss much. But nope, no opener. The ONE time a band plays and does not drag along an opener, it works majorly to my disadvantage. Oh well.

I just resigned myself to it, had a great rehearsal and trucked over to the Aladdin to catch the last 30 minutes. I walked in during the middle of End of the World, a pretty good new tune. Next up was Open Your Eyes from Alpha and a Carl Palmer drum solo.

Now I had seen Palmer with a three piece instrumental group in this very venue (which only seats about 650 by the way) a few years ago and he blew me away. He was excellent last night but his solo was a bit more showy than last time. More balancing sticks on cymbals, bouncing sticks off the floor tom and catching them, etc, than just kicking ass on the drums. But he was indeed good and the crowd went totally apeshit. Seemed to be mostly men in their 50s - guys who loved ELP, Yes and King Crimson and went to this show because Asia was the next best thing.

The show ended with Sole Survivor, which was great. For the encore, the new Days Like These, and Heat of the Moment, I got to the very front to watch Steve Howe (see photo), one of my guitar heroes. I have seen Howe a bunch of times and he's always very good. He seemed a little bored, going through the motions last night, but it was the second to last night of the tour so maybe he was homesick.

I had earplugs in so I could hear very well. The band was incredibly tight. Much tighter than I expected. They were really excellent as a mater of fact. But they were pretty boring. John Wetton doesn't move much, nor does Howe. Geoff Downes has so much keyboard work to do and his back is to the crowd most of the time due to the way he's always set up his stuff. Palmer was the one mostly making loads of eye contact and mugging a bit.

When I was in front of Howe, a speaker was pointed right at my head out of which came Howe's guitar, some vocals and some 'backing vocals.' There has been discussion on the Web around is the band was using vocal augmentation. Here is what I heard: Wetton's voice was clear and live. They put a delay on his voice once in a while to allow held notes to layer and sound big but everyone does that. His voice sounded shockingly awesome. He hit the high notes in Sole Survivor with no effort.

Geoff Downes is doing backups, and they are also legit. But someone is triggering backup vocals a la Rush but not nearly as accurately. In Days Like These, I heard very very clearly the pre-recorded backing vocals, because they were out of sync with the band. Like someone triggered them a hair early or late and it was very obvious. I even saw Wetton roll his eyes a bit playfully, like, oh crap. So that mystery is solved but who cares? Lots of bands do it - Rush does it with vocals, keyboards, guitar parts and god knows what else, so in my book Asia can do it too. They just need to get better at it.

It was pretty incredible to see a band of this caliber in a VERY intimate theater. The audience was really into it at the end. Afterwards, I asked the guitar tech for the set list at Howe's feet. He said he couldn't give it to me because it had notes on it, which it did (I could see it). I said, OK no sweat - can you give this to Steve? And handed him one of my new CDs. Who knows if it went into the trash but MAYBE just maybe Steve Howe heard about a minute of my CD, or at least looked at the cover.

Hey a guy can dream, right?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Rare Dio-Era Rainbow Videos

To get your three-day weekend started off in style (or if you are not the U.S., your 2-day weekend), dig these killer Dio-era Rainbow videos, posted by Rainbow bassist Bob Daisley himself.

The back story, as according to

Bassist Bob Daisley, who was a member of Rainbow from 1977 to 1979, has posted high-quality video footage of the band performing the songs "Gates of Babylon," "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll" and "L.A. Connection" at a New York studio prior to the release of the band's third studio album, 1978's "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll." 

Although Bob Daisley and David Stone are listed on the "Long Live Rock 'N' Roll" credits for their contributions, they joined Rainbow after the recording sessions had already commenced and only appear on a couple of tracks. Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore played most of the bass parts himself for the album.

They are pretty obviously miming along but the vocals are for sure different from the record so maybe those were live. Regardless, these are pretty cool. Enjoy:

Gates of Babylon

Long Live Rock N Roll

LA Connection

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

CD Review - Iron Maiden - The Final Frontier

Iron Maiden’s smash hit new album (I am not kidding -- check this out) The Final Frontier combines what we expect from Maiden (time signature and tempo changes galore, dual and triple guitar harmonies, galloping bass and apocalyptic lyrics) with some new twists (slide guitar, some gorgeous acoustic picking, and – gasp – electronic drums). Overall it’s a strong release, and after a few listens here is a sort of song by song take:

First song is in two parts. The first part, called Satellite 15, starts with something I have never heard on a Maiden album, which is heavily distorted Steve Harris bass, transitioning into a bit of a heavy metal jazz odyssey with heavily processed vocals and another first, electronic drums. A bit of a stretch for me here, but then half way through, the song jumps into the Maiden we know and love, as the song The Final Frontier.

Actually I had heard this second half before, as it came out on video a month ago. It’s very melodic. Good guitars and vocal melody but lyrically a little clunky. Kind of like a heavy metal version of Elton John’s Rocket Man, or David Bowie’s Space Oddity, but not as good.

This 8:41 opener goes right into El Dorado, which Maiden released online a while ago too. So I know this one and even saw them play it live. It’s a great tune and really kicks ass live.

Third track, Mother of Mercy, is very, very melodic. Guitars are almost jangling on this song. What I like about this is that with KISS for example, they feel obligated for every guitar tone to be totally overdriven to prove how much they rock. Maiden is cool with clean guitar tones and this song, while about soldiers and war (of course), has a lot of very clean, cool guitar tones on it. Good tune.

Fourth track, Coming Home is really solid – sounds a bit like Revelations but lyrically is about what space travelers feel when their mission is over and they land back on Earth. But you can read into this as a personal band road story too. Very cool – a bit of a departure from Maiden who don’t usually write about personal topics. Some great multi-part guitar harmonies on this one and a nice trading solos center section. Next up is The Alchemist. Upbeat tune. Again great guitar harmonies.

Island of Avalon is a nine-plus minute Steve Harris bass-driven tune a la To Tame A Land but really more like the center section of Seventh Son of A Seventh Son. Very nice chorus effect on the bass – again a nice, pure tone. As with most things Maiden, things move along and change quickly. Before you know it, you are in the 7/8 time center solo section, which I have to say is some of the coolest, trickiest new Maiden I have heard in a long time. If you only wanted to get one song off this CD and lean towards Maiden’s more epic, Steve Harris material, this one is your track. Otherwise, it's El Dorado.

Starlight is another good tune that sort of chugs along in the verses and straightens out in the choruses, which are also a bit of a Seventh Son throwback, chordally. This song is a great example of how with three guitars, the band can have a crunchy complex dual-guitar rhythm going, and then add a cool layer of lead fills or melody over the top. And the solo section is another 7/8 crank fest – they are flexing their 7/8 chops on this CD, and as usual drummer Nicko makes it sound very fluid. Never have been sure how he changes beats, time signatures, grooves etc on a dime but he does, and always has.

The Talisman is a nine-minute tune that starts with some very cool acoustic guitar picking. My guess is that this is driven by Janick Gers, who despite being totally annoying live brought more of a Genesis style open picked chordal feel to a lot of Maiden’s more recent quiet stuff. Shit, this song almost sounds like Steve Hackett on Entanged from Trick of the Tail! Love it. Very different. Of course this acoustic intro bashes into full Maiden gallop overdrive after a couple of minutes and yeah we’ve heard this before but it was good then and it’s good now. Handle it. There is actually some slide guitar in this song and I am not sure I have heard much of that over the years…

The last two songs are long epics as well. The first starts with bass chords, a repeating guitar melody and some moody synth. Maiden embraced synth way back on Seventh Son and I always thought it worked well in these quieter sections. Both of these last songs are top notch with some epic Maiden moments. Overall I give the album a 7 out of 10. For sure worth getting if you are a Maiden fan.

I have to say, after seeing the band on the last tour I went back and bought Brave New World and Dance of Death. I still far prefer A Matter of Life and Death and I hear this as a continuation of that latter album. Very real guitar tones, not a lot of processing on anything. Certainly a CD I will come back to more than a few times. I hope the Final Frontier tour comes back to my neck of the woods – these songs will be great live. Up the Irons!