Thursday, December 13, 2012

Real Time Thoughts on 121212 Concert for Hurricane Sandy

I tell ya, the way to watch the 121212 Sandy benefit concert is on DVR. You skip the hurricane montages and the Billy Crystal filler between sets and get right to what you want.

I actually skipped the first 30 minutes or so. Sorry but Springsteen has never done much for me, and his special guest Bon Jovi even less. Maybe it's because I have never had a true blue collar job and don't relate to the east coast but Bruce has never clicked for me. I'm sure he rocked and was a cool choice to open the event but I guess I'll never know!

So that means I jumped right to Roger Waters. Man, who invited him to this thing? I love Waters and Floyd but if you wanted uplifting, you weren't going to get it here!

He opens with In The Flesh, which is very in your face, then continuing to tell the MSG that we don't need no education. Money and Us and Them are totally aimed at the politicians in attendance and viewing around the world. Maybe not the most appropriate cause at which to get on the soapbox but it was pretty cool.

My only problem with Roger Waters' band doing Dark Side stuff is that Waters doesn't sing on any of it, so it's a bit of a tribute band situation. Those two songs didn't do much for me.

The closer, Comfortably Numb, was good. Eddie Vedder guested to sing the choruses and was excellent. But the whole thing was too heavy for the cause if you ask me.

Next up we had Adam Sandler with Paul Shaffer between sets doing a silly version on Hallelujah that was more appropriate to the cause than Waters' whole set, which says a lot!

Bon Jovi was up next. Skipped most of it. Again, not super into him but Richie Sambora sounded good.

Next up was Clapton, who walked out with a nylon string guitar and sat down. I thought oh no holy shit bossa nova Layla. But no, it was a sweet version of Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out.

Then a drummer and bass player joined and Clapton picked up his Strat for a funky version of Got To Get Better in a Little While. Nice to see Clapton in a three piece that isn't Cream, and his solo was absolutely off the hook. Next was a jumpy version of Crossroads. The whole set was really stripped down, blues-based jamming. It was cool. Could have as easily been in a bar!

I generally think he is over rated but truth is, Clapton really shines at events like this where he can hand pick four or five tunes that he can really own. But I did think, why didn't Clapton get up with Waters and rip a solo on something? He did lay down sweet leads all over Waters' Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking way back when, but oh well...

The Stones followed. I was pretty excited to see this based on their recent UK and US shows. Interesting set list and decent playing. The opener was really surprising! You Got Me Rockin from Voodoo Lounge. But slower and more groovy, like almost everything I heard on YouTube from those other concerts. The only other song they played was a super slowed down Jumpin Jack Flash.

Two songs? Total tease. But Jagger was tremendous. Still skinny, slinky and jerky, and his voice sounded strong as ever. Woodie sounded great. Had all the licks down. Pretty mellow onstage now that he's sober but gets the job done. Charlie is rock solid but as noted, slower. And fucking Keith. He is absolutely ancient. Shit they all are but somehow it works.

Next up was the first artist who wasn't between the age of 48 and 70. Alicia Keys, born in New York in 1981. I don't know much about her but she played three songs on piano and she was awesome. Fantastic voice, no autotune bullshit. Real singing and real playing. She was also so far the only NY-born artist, which helped her connect with the audience when she asked the whole MSG to put their lit cellphones in the air. Her generation's version of the lighter I guess...

Then it was time to roll out more oldies, with The Who. Wasn't sure I'd dig them or not. Lots of shark jumping lately for example their atrocious Super Bowl appearance. But The Who owned it. From the opening synth of Who Are You they slayed it with reckless abandon. Second song: Bell Boy from Quadrophenia. Are you kidding me? Epic! Using films of Keith from the 1973 tour for his vocal parts was brilliant.

I could have done without Pinball Wizard (ever again) but Baba O'Rielly was on fire (much because of drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino) and Love Rein O'er Me was a surprise electric finish (no Fooled Again) but it worked. The tempo was a little slower, so it was kind of brooding and Daltry really brought it. Daltry and Townshend wrapped it up with an acoustic Tea and Theatre, a newer gentle, introspective tune I have come to enjoy.

So I thought The Who stole the show to this point. Yeah, Daltry's voice has had it and he looks a bit like William Shatner up there, but Pete windmilled away, ripped some blazing leads and sawed at his guitar, while Starkey and Palladino channelled their best Moon and Entwistle. So The Who do six songs and the Stones do two. Weird.

How do you follow up The Who? You don't bother trying so you put Kanye West onstage. Who gives a fuck? Fast forward after 29 seconds. Take fast forward off to see what I am missing and hear Kanye's voice through auto tune. Really? Oh forget it...

How do you make up for that shit? Billy Joel? Close my eyes and his voice sounds exactly the same as it always has. Fantastic! Dude hasn't put out an album in 17 or 18 years but an still bring it at an event like this. Joel is a bit of an anomaly to me. Have a Merry Little Christmas into New York State of Mind was a nice touch. Closing with You May Be Right and Only The Good Die Young was cool.

I have never thought Billy Joel was very legit but over the years he had stuck through it and now has earned a bit of respect. Kind of like Neil Diamond. I dunno maybe I am smoking crack. He was good at this event.

Next up was Chris Marin from Coldplay on an acoustic guitar for some reason. Damn is his stuff singable. He did Viva La Vida and then dragged out Michael Stipe for Losing My Religion. Was pretty cool, actually!

Then the closer was supposed to be Paul McCartney and I feared for my sanity at hearing that dreadful song of his, Freedom. But no, he showed up playing Kurt Cobain in a reformed Nirvana.

Well, first he played some stuff with his usual absolutely killer, rocking band: Helter Skelter, Let Me Roll It, 1985, a new tune called My Valentine, and Blackbird.

But then here we go. No lie. Dave Grohl on drums. Recluse bassist Krist Novoselic. First guitarist Pat Smear. And McCartney. Huh? Did it work? Yeah!

But it was weird! Reminded me of McCartney's side project The Fireman. Dave Grohl plays harder than McCartney's usual drummer, if that is possible. Novoselic looked uncomfortable and strange. McCartney was playing some boxy looking slide guitar thing. The new song co-written by the Nirvana folks and McCartney was called Cut Me Some Slack or something like that. It totally rocked but then it was back to normal and McCartney played I've Got A Feeling and a few others to close it out with Live And Let Die. The Nirvana tune should have been the end. But what are ya gonna do?

All in all a hell of an event and lineup. Jagger said it best when he said this has got to be the largest collection of old English musicians ever assembled in Madison Square Garden!

As with most of these events, there were loads of celebs answering phones and talking between bands. Nothing much to call out except when did Chelsea Clinton get semi-hot?

Here is the McNirvana tune:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stones, The Who, McCartney, Roger Waters, Springsteen to Rock MSG for Hurricane Sandy

I would be crucified for suggesting there is an upside to horrible tragic events like 9-11 and Hurricane Sandy, but New York tragedies do tend to lead to the most killer all-star charity concerts.

Take tonight, where the 12-12-12 Concert for Hurricane Sandy cranks up at 7:30 p.m. ET, with this crazy all-star cast: Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, The Who, Eric Clapton, Dave Grohl, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Kanye West, Alicia Keys, and Chris Martin of Coldplay. I am sure there will be guests too.

Some of the pre-event buzz says that Paul McCartney and Dave Grohl will do some kind of a duet, and Roger Waters told Jimmy Fallon last night that he’d be closing with Comfortably Numb with the assistance of a special guest, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. That will be pretty cool.

My kid has his Christmas program tonight – I really have to tell the school to consult with my rock and roll calendar before booking shit – so it’ll be DVR all the way for me!

Here is the full video from Waters’ interview on Fallon last night. Fallon is always so freaked out by Waters, it’s funny! Hulu won’t let me embed the video but you can see it here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Hallelujah - Rush Joins the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Christmas has come early this year – Rush has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The band was voted in by the Hall foundation nominating committee, which is made up of “more than 600 artists, historians and members of the music industry” plus for the first time, one vote from a public survey, which Rush won hands down.

A lot of people complain that Rush should have been in ages ago (true), or that the Hall is a joke and not important anyway (up for debate). But the fact is, they are in now, and Rush fans can now move on with the pride that their band is finally in. Also, it will be great to see the band appear to accept its award – I can only imagine incredibly funny speeches from the boys, and if they get to actually play a song or two, even better.

If they decide NOT to play (or are not asked), it will be very interesting to see other bands take a stab at it – think Genesis’ induction, where Phish tackled Watcher Of The Skies (great) and No Reply At All (not so great).

The band is on a break right now, having just completed its 2012 North American tour. They are gearing up for a trip overseas next year and then back to North America in 2013. I just saw the guys in Seattle and they are tighter than ever, still pushing the envelope with the set list by digging deep into the back catalog and busting out almost an hour of new material. My review is here.

Rolling Stone just posted a Q&A with Geddy Lee on how he feels. Read the whole thing here.

So, great news! Yay Rush! Welcome to the hall for what it’s worth. You have more than earned it.

Other inductees include Public Enemy, Heart, Randy Newman, Donna Summer and Albert King.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mick Taylor Slays Midnight Rambler with the Rolling Stones

OK here it is - thanks to jeffou67 on YouTube - the full glory of Midnight Rambler live from the O2 with Mick Taylor.

First up, it's odd when Mick Taylor is the most animated musician on the stage (Jagger excepted). Where back in the day, Taylor would stand in the back and rip leads, here he is literally chasing Jagger around the stage, trying to get his attention and mug it up a little.

Jagger is having nothing to do with it, but it's cool to see the Mick's jostle for the spotlight. Keith and Ronnie are content to chill with Charlie and let Taylor do his thing.

The playing? Very nice. The sound guys have to sort out some shit at the front end, but soon Taylor can hear himself and is laying down tasty licks like in the old days. There a few clams, but overall the performance underscores why the Mick Taylor era is the quintessential Stones era for many, including me.

I am really glad they are doing this again on Tuesday night, because I bet it will be tighter. One suggestion though - dude, lose the hoodie!

Here it is in all of it's raw glory:

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stones Dig Deep for First Full 50th Anniversary Concert; Jeff Beck, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman Guest

The Stones have just played their first full-length arena concert of its 50th anniversary tour. This is less than 12 hours old, so I am sure more video and details will emerge, but the just-posted video of Jeff Beck playing the old tune I'm Goin Down with the Stones is pretty amazing.

The posting party is not allowing people to embed the video, so check it out here. (Keith's solo is pretty good too).

As expected, Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor also sat in. I will post video of that as I find it. Here is the full set list - pretty cool first half! Some real untouched gems there:

I Wanna Be Your Man (first live performance since 1964)
Get Off of My Cloud
It's All Over Now
Paint It Black
Gimme Shelter (with Mary J. Blige)
Wild Horses
All Down the Line
I'm Going Down (with Jeff Beck)
Out of Control
One More Shot
Doom and Gloom
It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (But I Like It) (with Bill Wyman)
Honky Tonk Women (with Bill Wyman)
Before They Make Me Run
Midnight Rambler (with Mick Taylor)
Miss You
Start Me Up
Tumbling Dice
Brown Sugar
Sympathy for the Devil

You Can't Always Get What You Want
Jumpin' Jack Flash

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mick Taylor and Bill Wyman to Join Rolling Stones in London

According to Classic Rock Magazine, former Rolling Stones Bill Wyman (bass) and Mick Taylor (guitar) will join the band as special guests when the Stones play this month at the O2 Arena on Sunday, November 25 and Thursday, November 29.

This is truly exciting news, because I love both of these guys' playing. Certainly the Mick Taylor era was the hands-down best era for the Stones. It will be interesting to see how he fits in all these years later.

Taylor's role was always to tastefully noodle throughout the band's repertoire live. They even gave him two solos in some songs, such as Love In Vain (video below).

I hope he gets to play at least a couple of songs per night.

By the way, I have DVR'd the HBO Stones bio Crossfire Hurricane and hope to check it out this weekend. I'll let you all know what I think.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Concert Review – Rush (Key Arena, Seattle)

Made the dreadful six-hour round trip from Portland to Seattle and back to see Rush yet again, on the 26th show of the band’s Clockwork Angels tour on Tuesday. Was it worth it? Hell yes. Hell yes it was. So here is my review, along with some photos I snapped.

By the way: SPOILER ALERT – if you don’t want to know what the band is playing on this tour, stop reading, because that is the main focus of this post: the setlist.

Rush live is so amazing that it’s challenging to write about their shows. It comes down to little things like, how was Geddy’s voice? How was the mix? How was Neil’s solo? They never suck live, never have a bad night that isn’t better than most every other band’s best performance. So seeing Rush live really comes down to the setlist – what the hell are they going to blow our minds with?

The last few tours have been great dives into the past. Certainly the 30th anniversary tour was a celebration of the band’s whole repertoire, and the Time Machine tour was as well, with the band playing all of Moving Pictures for the first time ever. But now it’s time to focus on the present, and the excellent new Rush CD Clockwork Angels. After all this tour is supposed to promote that album, so I expected a lot of CA songs. And I got that. But I got more. A lot more. 

Rush’s set list on this tour is really out there. I think this is a ballsy set list move on Rush’s part, for two reasons.

First of all, if you are a fan of 70s Rush, forget it – you got nothing except the encore of 2112. If you dig 90s Rush, same thing – you get The Pass and depending on the night, Bravado or Dreamline (more on this in a sec). If you dig 80s Rush and their new CD, you are in for a treat. The band this week played two songs from Signals, two from Grace Under Pressure, one from Hold Your Fire, and, brace yourself – four Power Windows songs (Big Money, Grand Designs, Territories, and Middletown Dreams). They add a fifth every other night - Manhattan Project.

So, the first set is another Time Machine tour, but back to the 80s. Second set is heavily the new album. The gems squeezed in between represent different eras, but Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures are notably absent, as is every album from the 70s for the most part!

OK, and then dig this: For the first time, the band is rotating numerous songs in and out of its setlist every other night. In the past there have been one or two tunes like Vital Signs that they have swapped in and out, but this move almost makes them seem like the Grateful Dead – on Rush’s terms of course!

Dig it: they have a list of about seven songs (Middletown Dreams, The Body Electric, The Pass, Bravado, Manhattan Project, and two songs from the new album – Seven Cities of Gold and Wish Them Well) that they are swapping out every night. So that’s interesting.

And a big change for Neil – he had two (three perhaps) drum solos. In the first set, he did a pretty solid, improvised run around the acoustic kit for a few minutes. Brilliant. Then in set two he did another solo, which was on his electric kit and more focused on triggering sounds and setting soundscapes. The ‘third solo’ was really a very extended drum break in the new song Headlong Flight that lasted about a minute. Very different and neat way to feature Neil without a seven minute spot.

So, here was the setlist:

Set 1:
The Big Money
Force 10
Grand Designs
Middletown Dreams
Analog Kid
The Pass
Where's My Thing (with drum solo)
Far Cry

Set 2:
Clockwork Angels
The Anarchist
The Wreckers
Headlong Flight (with drum solo)
Halo Effect (with guitar solo intro)
Wish Them Well
The Garden
The Percussor (drum solo)
Red Sector A
The Spirit of Radio

Tom Sawyer
2112 Overture/Temples of Syrinx/Grand Finale

Yep you read that right – set two starts with nine (9) new songs in a row. Hope you bought that new album! Most of the songs are great with two or three exceptions. But any way you cut it, after an 80s-fest of a first set, they are really asking their audience for a lot of patience. When the band finally got to the final four songs of the night starting with YYZ, the audience unleashed two hours of pent-up energy and the place went mad.

Still, the band understands that its loyal fan base is tired of the same songs over and over again. So they have rightly been varying it up over the last 10 years. This 80s focused set lit is a surprise, but one I dig. I got into Rush in the 80s and my first show was Grace Under Pressure. So to see more half of Power Windows live again was killer for me. Yeah I missed Red Barchetta, Stick It Out, Freewill, Limelight and The Trees. But I’ve seen those songs a lot. Glad to check out some fresh stuff!

The band was joined for the second set by a seven-piece string section who augmented the band nicely and probably freed up Geddy from playing more keyboards and triggering samples. I could take or leave it, but it was cool. When the strings left and it was just back to three guys, the energy took off.

The stage set was sweet as usual, and the videos before and after the sets were also funny as usual. The sum total though was that the band gets better every time I see them. Geddy’s voice was strong, especially on all of those high-assed 80s songs. The guys just had a ten-day rest, so I am sure that had something to do with it. This set list is more song-focsed so there were less Alex Lifeson freakout jams, and I did miss that a bit. But I have to say, once the started Analog Kid, I thought to myself – the drive is already worth it! Here are some snaps:

Friday, November 02, 2012

Film Review - Led Zeppelin Celebration Day

I am in a ‘guys book club.’ Here is the way it works – we rotate months, someone picks a theme and a book to go along with it. We don’t read the book and we gather at some place that matches the theme to have a night out. Great concept, huh? We’ve “read” The Killer Angels (paint ball), Rat Pack Confidential (Portland Supper Club crooner night), and Adult Paparazzi - Nude Bowling Issue (bowling – maybe a few of us looked at this book too).

My night was in October, so of course I suggested we all ‘read’ Hammer of the Gods and attend as our event, the one-night-only theater screening of the Led Zeppelin film “Celebration Day.”

For those of you unaware, this is a two-hour concert film that captures the sights, sounds and smells of Led Zeppelin in 2007 when the band reunited for its first full-length concert since 1980 and its third reunion including the atrocious Live Aid appearance and the slightly less than atrocious Atlantic Records 40th anniversary show.

In those latter mini-gigs, the band was woefully under-rehearsed and mainly Page was the weak link. I’ll never forget them getting totally lost in the middle of Kashmir (the song) in the Atlantic records set.

For this 2007 concert, they were incredibly polished, confident and kick ass. I thought the weak link would be Plant, but he sounded great, despite the fact that the band tuned a handful of songs to a lower key to accommodate his voice.

But from the opening chords of Good Times Bad Times, the 16-song set picks up speed like Felix Baumgartner from 125,000 feet (minus the spinning) and just really never stops.

The set list was perfect – a good mix of songs they “had to play” per Plant, such as Stairway, Dazed and Confused, Whole Lotta Love and Rock and Roll, and deep cuts like For Your Life, In My Time of Dying, Trampled Under Foot and Misty Mountain Hop.

The film was all concert – no backstage or backstory, and showed precious little of the audience. It was all about the band and the interplay between all of the musicians

Thankfully John Paul Jones gets as much screen time as Page and Plant (unlike most of the concert videos of Zeppelin), as he is the true secret weapon of that group. In this concert film, you get to see how much he really does in that band.

Jason Bonham did his homework and was fantastic. Page does not quite have his chops back to 70s level but he was impressive nonetheless. If this band had indeed toured, he would have risen to a sick level of playing. But he is clearly confident and digging playing these tunes with his old band again.

In fact there are a lot of smiles all around, nicely captured by the film crew. It’s a real joy to dig this classic band kick ass one last time.

Celebration Day comes out on November 19 in various DVD, CD and Blu Ray formats will extra goodies like footage from the rehearsals. But I have to say, just the two hour concert is worth it.

I found this official video of Kashmir from the film. All of my book club buddies agreed that this song in particular blew everyone away. See what you think:

Here is the full set list:

1. Good Times Bad Times
2. Ramble On
3. Black Dog
4. In My Time Of Dying
5. For Your Life
6. Trampled Under Foot
7. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
8. No Quarter
9. Since I’ve Been Loving You
10. Dazed And Confused
11. Stairway To Heaven
12. The Song Remains The Same
13. Misty Mountain Hop
14. Kashmir
15. Whole Lotta Love
16. Rock And Roll

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Stones Roll In Paris Club Gigs to Warm Up for 50th Anniversary

The Stones are starting to do surprise one-off club gigs in Europe as part of the band's 50th anniversary gear-up. They have done two shows so far – last night and last Thursday, both in Paris.

The set lists lean a little on the ‘classic’ side for me. I seriously never need to hear You Can’t Always Get What You Want live ever again. But some of the other tunes: All Down The Line, You Got Me Rocking, Tumblin’ Dice, Miss You, and the new Doom And Gloom are keepers. And I can never hear enough Midnight Rambler!

Recent word is that Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor may take part in the four large shows that are booked in London’s O2 Arena on November 25 and 26, and New Jersey’s Prudential Center on December 13 and 15. That would be very cool to see as long as they still have their chops!

I am not sure how much this short official video from the first club show last week has been doctored, but it sounds pretty good to me. Usually I don't like it so much when bands that are on the older side slow their tempos way down (for example, Yes), but this songs works a bit slower, I think! What do you think?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Rolling Stones Tune - Doom and Gloom

The Stones put out a new song today - one of the two new ones set to appear on the band's umpteenth greatest hits package, called Grrr!, out November 12.

The song, called Doom and Gloom is below. My friends like it. They think it's a strong Mick performance. I'd agree with that. He sounds good. Maybe re-doing cutting floor songs from Exile and Some Girls got him in touch with his 70s self.

Or maybe since he and Keith are patched up after Keith's tell-all book, Mick's feeling good.

The production is nicely stripped down but I don't know - it's not totally kicking my ass. What do you think?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Hell Freezes Over: Rush Nominated for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Hell has truly frozen over. After a 13 year wait from the first year the band was eligible, Rush has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame boys' club.

And while it doesn't matter to the band if they are in it or not, I do care. This band deserves to be in there, if the Hall is to be legit at all.

A petition that the LA Times says was circulated by fans makes the case this way:

--Rush has 22 consecutive gold records, and is fourth behind the Beatles, Stones, and Kiss in all-time gold records for a band. Fourteen of those albums have gone platinum.
--Rush has inspired such bands as Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, The Tragically Hip, Smashing Pumpkins, Primus, Queensryche, and many more.
--Rush's lineup has remained unchanged since their first major tour in 1974.
--Rush has consistently put out records that reflect their own artistic growth and change, without compromising the band's integrity for the sake of sales.

I'd add that they are still vibrant and as active as ever, currently on yet another tour to full arenas and amphitheaters. They are one of the only bands from the 70s who are still around, still adding fans to their base, where for example a band like Yes is shedding fans like fleas.

So do they have a chance to actually get into the Hall once the 600 board members and previous inductees vote? Rumor from industry insiders as reported on say that the real hurdle was getting on the ballot and that its assumed they will be voted in now.

I will believe it when I see it but it's still exciting to think about these guys finally being able to show up and rock the shit out of the Hall, if not for themselves, for all of us fans.

Oh and for the first time, this year there is a public poll put on by the Hall where the winner gets additional votes. The other notable and deserving nominees include Deep Purple (for sure highly awesome, influential and deserving but on the State Fair circuit and not very vibrant for at least a decade), Heart (why are they not in already?), Albert King (ditto), the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Randy Newman and others listed in full here.

To vote, go to this link, and click 'Rush' - :). You actually can vote for five bands. They show the results and no shock, Rush is in first place at the moment.

You really need a reason? Watch these:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Two Rock Films Worth Watching Out For - Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin

Who of my faithful readers doesn't enjoy a good rock and roll documentary or concert film? Well, you'll be happy to know that two doozies are coming our way.

Led Zeppelin just held a press conference this week where they announced the official CD and DVD release of the one-off 2007 reunion concert held in London.

There have been scads of stories about what the band said and didn't say. One of the better ones is this article on 10 reasons why Zeppelin won't reunite ever again.

You can go to to check out the various packaging of the CD and DVD of the show. Me? Give me the one with the full concert and backstage extras, if it exists.

But to me the coolest news is that the main film of the concert, called Celebration Day, will be shown on the big screen on Wednesday October 17 (one night only) around the world.

You can find theaters in your area at Zep's website too. And dig the movie trailer:

The other film coming out soon is on the Rolling Stones, and is more of an official documentary of the band, celebrating its 50 year anniversary.

Announced in late August, the film is called Crossfire Hurricane. It will also run in theaters but only in London, and then will show on HBO in November.

Here is the trailer, which just posted yesterday:

Friday, September 21, 2012

Listen to New Steve Harris (Iron Maiden) Album

I was really surprised to find out a couple of weeks ago that Iron Maiden founder and bassist Steve Harris was putting out his first-ever solo album.

I thought every Iron Maiden album was a Steve Harris solo album. But it turns out that this release came from a project Steve started contributing to back in the 90s. From a Loudwire article:

Two decades ago, Steve Harris told Raw Magazine that he was beginning a band called British Lion, although the name ‘British Lion’ has since been relegated to an album title, Harris explained the connection in a recent interview with Classic Rock Magazine.

"That’s how it originated,” says Harris. “Over the years I’ve kept in touch with Richie and Graham, and then Richie was working with another guitarist called David Hawkins, who’s a really talented guy, and so we started writing songs together. So on the album there are six songs written with Richie and David, there’s one with just me and Richie, and the others are me, Richie, Graham and a couple of other guys that were around at the time.”

Today, fans can listen to the whole album on the Web, at Metal Hammer. I just started listening, and so far I like it. For sure different from Maiden but good straight-ahead rock and roll. But with Steve Harris' unmistakable bass playing!

For some quick clips, listen to this:

Check it out and let me know what you think?

Monday, September 17, 2012

When Did Yes Jump The Shark? (And Jump It They Have)

I have been trying to pinpoint when, in my opinion, the band Yes jumped the shark. Among the last remaining Yes fanatics, this is a topic of great discussion. Any post about the most minor Yes tidbit on the Facebook fan page Notes from the Edge is met with comment after comment about the value of what keyboard player, which era, when the band should have wrapped it up etc.
Soaking up all of this noise started to influence my memory and respect for the band, so I thought I’d do my own research and listening. I had not really listened to Yes at a good clip for a few years. I was certainly disillusioned by the replacement (twice) of Jon Anderson due to his continued respiratory failure clashing with the band’s desire to continue to tour. And at the risk of alienating readers and crucifying my credibility, despite my disillusionment about HOW Anderson was dismissed, I am not an Anderson snob: I love the 1980 first Anderson-less album Drama, and I quite enjoy 75 percent of the recent Anderson-less Fly From Here.
But after delving back into the catalog from pre-Close to The Edge to the present, my opinion is that the band was past its prime when it embarked on its 35th anniversary tour.
Let’s go back a bit. I discovered Yes in high school in the mid 1980s. I knew of the 90125 album but didn’t own it. No, my first Yes album was Tales from Topographic Oceans, the double album with four songs on it. My friend Tom turned me onto it and I listened to it non-stop, fascinated. I was already a Rush fan but this music made Hemispheres sound like the Go Go’s. I branched out from there, to Going for the One, Close to the Edge, Drama, Tormato, The Yes Album and then Relayer. Hell, anything with a song 20 minutes long, I’d buy. I even had the Yesshows album, which I think is long out of print.
I was only able to see Yes live once they hit the road on the Big Generator tour, which to this day gives me goosebumps thinking about the live rendering of Shoot High Aim Low. But I long missed live Yes in its heyday for sure. I caught Union. I saw Anderson Bruford, Wakeman and Howe at the show they recorded for the live album and DVD. I had a major boner when the classic version of the band (Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, White) finally got back together and put out the live Keys to Ascension CDs. I loved the Ladder album and tour, and thought the Masterworks/Magnification tour was a gift, finally hearing Gates of Delirium and Ritual live.
But from there, I think the band should have packed it in. I mean, they had played ALL of their cards – get together with members of all eras (Union tour and shit album), do a record with a symphony (and check out the awesome DVD that came from that effort), do a tour playing all the 20 minute epics. Not much left up the sleeve for the 35th anniversary except to FINALLY play South Side of the Sky (great idea) and do an acoustic bossa-nova version of Roundabout (not a great idea).
On paper the 35th anniversary tour was groovy – really deep set list, Roger Dean era stage, classic lineup. But somewhere along the line, the band stopped giving a shit. I saw the first night on the tour and they were rusty as hell. The Roger Dean stuff was lame balloons painted and illuminated. Steve Howe’s tone was weak and brittle (and has been for the last few years). The tempos were ungodly slow and the band was not engaged (and the Key Arena was about half full). They were under rehearsed and made errors. It was frankly embarrassing.
Listening to the live DVD they put out from that tour confirms it. By the recording they were much tighter but still, slow tempos, uninspired playing, and yeah Anderson’s voice was really raggy. They didn’t even bother to fix that in the studio. Or maybe like Paul Stanley, Anderson just needed a long break that he was unable or unwilling to take.
So for me, the band surely had its ups and downs, good periods and so-so periods, and there are probably as many opinions about which were best as there were yes keyboardists. But for me, the band was done by the 35th anniversary tour. It should have been a farewell tour.
Fortunately the band has left a long legacy of albums and live recordings, DVDs and bootlegs that will continue to freak out music fans for generations. But based on the YouTube's I have seen from the last two years, the band is now shitting on its legacy. Wrap it up boys. You shouldn’t make your 50th anniversary, even if you can.

Behold this version of (the Anderson-less) Tempus Fugit from last year. Poor Alan White has slowed this song down to an intolerable level and can still barely keep up:

Compare with the (the Anderson-less) original:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Concert Review - KISS and Motley Crue

Last month I took my wife and young son to see KISS and Motley Crue. This was their first time for KISS, and my first time for Crue. I was very excited to ‘pass the torch’ of KISS fanaticism to my son, and for my wife to see why KISS puts on the best show in the biz. I honestly gave no shits about seeing Motley Crue and was actually bummed that the two bands were splitting the night, because it meant less KISS.

But in the end, I had it backwards. Motley Crue wiped the stage up with KISS’ fake wigs and rehashed costumes. I left the show with the final, incredible conclusion that KISS should hang up their boots and call it a day.

Let’s back up. First of all, Crue was not appropriate for my son at all. KISS after about 1978 has always been fairly ‘family friendly,’ with minimal swearing and pretty much the most offensive thing being Simmons waggling his codpiece and Stanley swaggering mid song about meeting him and Gene in the ladies room.

Crue dropped the f-bomb so many times in its set that I almost became immune to it. There were at least three semi-clad hotties grinding around onstage in various costumes for almost every song. Put it this way – the last thing we saw of Crue’s set was Tommy Lee at the front of the stage screaming “I say Motely, you say Crue; I say FUCK, and you say YOU.” Let’s just say that Mitt Romney probably won’t accidentally use a Crue song at a campaign rally next month…

But having said that, Crue’s stage and performance trumped KISS in every way. Crue’s set was like some kind of apocalyptic circus. It looked like something inspired by a meth-addled combination of Blade Runner, Alien and Barnum & Bailey. Random steel out-croppings, huge guns mounted on turrets that shot water into the crowd, four giant slowly spinning industrial fans on stage left, where amps would usually be, chains hanging from the light truss, lights, lasers, fire, smoke, and then the mother of it all, which was Tommy Lee’s drums set. It sat at the bottom of a circular roller coaster track, and during Lee’s solo, the drums rolled all the way around it, 360 degrees.

And then there was the music. I am not a big Motely Crue fan, or wasn’t before coming to the show. But like when I saw ZZ Top, I came away from the show converted. Crue has a trove of great tunes, and they played them really well. I thought Vince Neil’s voice was solid. And Mick Mars – no idea how good he was on the guitar. The dude can really play. I was honestly very impressed with his skill and how unique of a style he has on the axe.

The band also pulled off the KISS-like challenge of making every band member equally interesting. They basically looked dirty. They looked like they came off of a really dusty construction site in Hell, strapped on their guitars and hit the stage, no time for a shower. But it worked with the overall stage motif. So when their set was done, I turned to my wife and said “OK! That was really good.” Rather, that was really FUCKING good, as Tommy Lee would have had me say.

Then after an amazingly short set break, during which probably the hardest working stage crew in the business took down Crue’s set and assembled KISS’, the lights went down, the bass rumble thundered through the speakers, and then the familiar “allllll right, Portland. You wanted the best. You got the best. The hottest band in the world. KISSSSSS!”

Then strapped to wheelchairs, Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons rolled out with their instruments. OK, not really. Actually, the opening was quite exciting. Simmons, Stanley and fake-Ace Tommy Thayer started off on a platform above the stage that slowly lowered until the three emerged stage level to the opening notes of Detroit Rock City, a killer show opener if there ever was one.

The stage was far more organized than Crue – it was cleaner and more streamlined. If Crue’s was a dusty, junkyard diesel from Blade Runner, KISS’ was a clean, gleaming Maserati. But it was too clean. There was nothing really mechanical or interesting about KISS’ stage. It was all video screens. A huge one behind the stage, and a series of screens back where the amps should be. And aside from close-ups of the band, all that ran on those screens was 3D animations or things like the band’s makeup icons, or fake fire. Honestly it looked third rate – it was the visual version of a really compressed MP3. It was supposed to look right but your eyes felt cheated.

So I was left to focus on the band. Detroit Rock City got my blood pumping for sure, but then Stanley took the mic. And his voice was GONE baby gone. They band had played the night before and that was probably a routing error on this tour. It was evident from that very first verse that he’d be struggling, and I immediately lost my KISS boner.

Because let’s be honest – the band replaced guitarist Ace Frehley and drummer Peter Criss a decade ago. Gene is a reality TV star who can’t remember the verses to his own songs and needs to drop about 30 pounds to not look laughable in his stage get-up. So it’s all about Stanley’s ability to own it. And for the first time ever after a KISS show, I felt like he was phoning it in.

I can forgive his voice being raggy but it’s been that way for years and it’s not going to get better. Gene had to step in and take over a verse here and there, and Stanley’s stage antics and mid-song banter (which despite his voice being ragged, he screamed through) were tired.

The most interesting and non-scripted moment of the night was the 10 minute guitar and drum solo interplay between Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. These are the young guys in the band who can really play and must be credited for pumping new life into KISS many years ago. But now they are propping up the band, and frankly the fact that they are not original members makes me not very interested in them at all.

My son was getting tired so we left a couple of songs early to beat the traffic. Yes, I left a KISS show early to beat traffic. That says it all right there. I am just glad I got to see the reunion tour in the 90s with the original guys since I was too young to see them in the 70s. I have supported every era of KISS and have always had a blast at their show. The 2009 tour will probably be my favorite of the recent version of KISS – now THAT was a KISS show. So, sad but true, I am hanging up the KISS hat and won’t see them again.

Crue? I’d see them again in a second.

Friday, July 20, 2012

CD Review - Joe Walsh Analog Man

I have been on vacation off the grid for the last two and a half weeks and wow, did a lot of stuff in the world of music happen - the biggest being Jon Lord passing away.

I will have some thoughts on that soon, but for now I had the chance to bang out a review of the new Joe Walsh album, Analog Man:

If you had told me that a solo album by a long creatively inactive, newly sober Joe Walsh would be the surprise of the year, I would have told you you were nuts. But Analog Man, Walsh's first new album in 20 years, is a real treat.

From the wry witty lyrics to the tasty sparse slide work, Analog Man picks right up where Walsh left off.

In fact many of these 12 songs would slide nicely onto The Smoker You Drink or But Seriously Folks from his 70s catalog.

Of course, topically, Walsh is breaking some new ground as a sober writer. He has always written about himself or his perspectives on life. Now he has a new palate to draw from.

The songs One Day At A Time, Wrecking Ball and the gorgeous Family run the gamut from the struggles of turning his broken life around to how blessed Walsh feels with his sobriety and where his life is at right now.

The songs Analog Man and the awesome Lucky That Way are cut from the cloth of Life's Been Good, but on Lucky That Way, Walsh has many decades to reflect on.

So where before he sang about having an office and gold records on the wall, now he sings about needing a 10 year old smart ass to show him how to connect to the Web.

The album is mostly song-oriented and many of these tunes would play well on the radio or on an iTunes mix: all the tracks I mentioned already plus Band Played On and High Roller Baby.

Shockingly, producer Jeff Lynne for the most part does not make Analog Man sound like a Traveling Wilburys album.

There are some songs on Analog Man that are crafted to showcase Walsh's fantastic guitar work, which is often overlooked in my opinion. The guy does not waste a note, whether in his lyrical lead playing or his bluesy slide work.

So for example, Walsh delivers the 2 minute tune Funk 50, a clear sequel to the James Gang's Funk 49. The story is that producer Lynne asked for something LIKE Funk 49 so Walsh reprised it. It's a good tune where Joe says he's going to 'show everybody I'm back!' in between funky leads and licks.

The tunes India (which starts out a bit like AC/DC's Thunderstruck) is a good instrumental ripper that has some great playing. Fishbone is a blues-based slow burner jam that would probably slay live. All in all Walsh gives us a good album here. Well worth the wait!

So good for you Joe Walsh. You gave us all a gift of this great album and more of your unique styling to rock out and smile to! Perfect for the summertime!

Check out these live videos from a show at The Troubadour prior to the album coming out. Joe's voice is strong here! Love it...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

CD Review – The Beach Boys – That’s Why God Made the Radio

I have been listening to this new Beach Boys record for a bit now, and I have to say – WOW.

First up, I have never been an avid follower of the band. For example I still don’t have the Smile records and don’t really even have a vast knowledge or appreciation of Pet Sounds outside of the fact that the album inspired The Beatles to counter with Sgt Pepper.

But I am very appreciative of older artists ‘coming back’ and showing that you can still kick ass at age 70. Look at Paul McCartney who is rocking harder than ever. The dude didn’t start doing Helter Skelter live until he was in his 60s. As I get older, I appreciate that more and more.

Let’s face it – the Beach Boys’ sound has always been unique and incredible. Brian Wilson is right up there with guys like Lennon/McCartney, Syd Barrett, Phil Spector and Jimi Hendrix for creating and propelling a sound from nowhere and into the history books.

Quick abridged history lesson: Wilson went nuts in the 60s and dropped off the map. Got his shit back together last decade and starting making music again, and now this new album. The dude still has it. The recent Rolling Stone article about the current tour and the weird relationship between Wilson and cousin/lead singer Mike Love is also a fascinating read and made me want to get the album to check it out for myself.

So I did. Most of these songs could be right from the 60s – they sound totally timeless. One notable exception is “The Private Life of Bill and Sue,” which is I think about reality TV or tabloid/paparazzi. But musically, the tune also sounds like it’s cut from the same cloth as God Only Knows.

After numerous listens, there really is not a bad track on this album (12 songs, 38 minutes), but for me the standouts are the title track, Isn’t It Time, Spring Vacation, and The Private Life, plus the last three songs on the album – but more on that in a second.

Lyrically, most of the songs are about the usual stuff you’d expect, like cars, girls, the sun, the beach.

Except for the last three songs, which make up a very heartfelt, retrospective suite that is sure to live as an epitaph along the lines of the Beatles’ The End from Abbey Road. The first tune of the suite is called From There to Back Again:

Why don't you run away and spend some time with me
On this summer's day, there's nowhere else I'd rather be
Why don't we feel the way we used to anymore
There's a place along the way, that maybe we could stay
And listen to the waves at my front door

This songs transitions into the gorgeous Pacific Coast Highway, which simply says:

Sometimes I realize my days are getting on
Sometimes I realize it's time to move along
And I wanna go home

Sunlight's fading and there's not much left to say
My life, I'm better off alone
My life, I'm better on my own

Drivin' down Pacific coast, out on highway 1
The setting sun

The last song in the suite, Summer’s Gone, is just one big Beach Boys’ harmony-laden reflection of a sunset at the end of a life:

Summer’s gone
Summer’s gone away
Gone away
With yesterday

Old friends have gone
They’ve gone their separate ways
Our dreams hold on
For those who still have more to say

Summer’s gone
Gone like yesterday
The nights grow cold
It’s time to go
I’m thinking maybe I’ll just stay
Another summer gone

Summer’s gone
It’s finally sinking in
One day begins
Another ends
I live them all and back again

Summer’s gone
I’m gonna sit and watch the waves
We laugh, we cry
We live then die
And dream about our yesterday

The song fades out to the sound of a gentle rain, presumably on the beach. Quite the contrast to sun and surf, tans, cars and girls. Heavy shit for a Beach Boys’ album. But really, really nice stuff.

So, enjoy this and be thankful that Wilson at 70 can still make albums that sound like he is in his 20s but with the life’s experience gained over the bridge of those years. Be thankful these guys can still deliver those textured, gorgeous harmonies – maybe a slight digital tweak here and there, but that can be forgiven. Be thankful that no one forced Wilson to hire Jeff Lynne to crap all over the production. Be thankful that if this reunion turns out to be a total one-off, or one more of these Wilson guys dies, we still got this one last GREAT Beach Boys album.

Below is the official video for the title track. If you like this song, get the album. If you don’t, you ought to pass on it.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Randy Blythe from Lamb of God Jailed on Bullshit Charges; Or, if you are fan at a concert, STAY THE FUCK OFF THE STAGE

Randy Blythe, the singer for metal band Lamb of God, is being held in a Czech prison on charges of manslaughter because he shoved a rowdy concert-goer offstage two years ago and the guy hit his head and died.

While this is truly tragic, manslaughter? Hardly. Fans are NOT SUPPOSED TO GO ON THE STAGE. That is why security is there to throw them off. Look at what happened to Pantera's Dimebag Darryl who was killed onstage by a fan in 2004. Bands need to be safe and leave the moshing, thrashing and full-body contact in the pit.

Lamb of God management issued this statement:

"…management wished to address today one false piece of information that has been included in many of the news stories released so far. Under no circumstances was there a fight of any kind involved. This incident deals with a fan that three times during the concert jumped the barricade and rushed Randy during the performance. It is alleged that the third time, security was not able to reach him and that Randy pushed him back into the audience where supposedly he fell and hit his head."

To me that is the end of the story. As Keith Richards once said, “He’s on my turf. I’m going to cut the fucker down.”

The group's guitarist, Willie Adler wrote Friday on his official Facebook page that he doesn't even remember the alleged incident ever taking place, but was sympathetic to the fan: "Hey guys, it's been a rough couple of days. All I can say is that I can't recall that particular show let alone a fan being beaten on the stage. We've no real clue as to what happened to him, but we send our condolences. All we try to do is entertain, the fans are why we're here. We would never try and harm anyone."

Band members meanwhile have also created a #FreeRandyBlythe hashtag, hoping to mobilize support for the musician.

Here is a tip for concert-go’ers: Stay off the fucking stage.

New KISS Single - Hell Or Hallelujah

KISS releases a new single this week from the band's upcoming album 'Monster." The track, called "Hell Or Hallelujah," is available everywhere except North America today, and in that region tomorrow.

But someone of course posted it on the Interweb.

I think it's good, as far as post-Frehley/Criss KISS goes. The riff reminds me of a 70s-era Paul Stanley "I Stole Your Love" vibe. The tune is catchy and the solos are cool.

As with all recent KISS, it just makes me wish it was really Ace ripping those licks. Anyway - for those of you who care, here ya go:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Rush Interviews Add Flavor to Clockwork Angels

While I am on a Rush kick, getting more and more into this Clockwork Angels album, I wanted to post a few clutch quotes from some recent interviews.

There have been a LOT of great interviews and videos of the guys the last few weeks. But the three that caught my eye were two Q&As from Rolling Stone with Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart. The Peart one especially, because he never really does interviews, and with Rolling Stone no less, who have always slagged the band until recently. The third interview is a track by track overview slideshow with producer Nick Raskulinecz, who should bear much of the credit for getting the band back its prog roots.

Here are a few quotes I thought Rush fans would dig. For sure check out the original interviews here, here and here.

This album was Rush’s vision. It wasn’t mine. I was there to make sure it was played as brilliantly as they could play it, sung as high as Geddy Lee could sing it, and have the guitar solos bring me to tears.

[On the song The Anarchist] One of my favorites, but I could say that about all the songs. To me, it’s all about the riff, and this riff takes me back to the old days. That was one of the cool things about working on this record, helping Rush to know that it was OK to be like this. ‘You guys can do this. You guys did it a long time ago, you can do it again. You own it!’…Vocally, it was about getting Geddy up in that high register where he belongs.

[On the song The Wreckers] The song didn’t exist until we were in the studio – there was no demo of it. Geddy was in the writing room, playing guitar, and Alex came in and picked up the bass. So the song was written with the two of them playing what aren’t their main instruments… I tried to get the two of them to switch for the tracking – Alex on bass and Geddy on guitar – but they decided to stick to their designated instruments… The guitar part in the verse was probably the hardest thing on the record for us to find. Alex had some difficulty playing the part Geddy had written – it was great, but it didn’t feel right to him. He had to search for the right part, and it took all day with me going, ‘Nope, that’s not it… Nope, that’s not it.’ Finally, he stumbled onto a picking figure, and Geddy and I just stood up and went, ‘That’s it! That’s the part.’ The tune came together real fast after that.

[On the song Headlong Flight] This is the song I was waiting to hear for a long time. The riff, the vocals, the drumming, the guitar solos, the energy – everything that makes Rush Rush is in this song. It’s pretty long, and there’s a lot of parts in it. There were no drums on the demo, it was just a click – a click, riffs and scratch vocals. How do you write drum parts on a drum machine to something like this anyway? You don’t – you just put Neil Peart in the room.

[On the song Wish Them Well] This was the hardest drum track of any of the songs to get. Neil doesn’t really play double-time, so this was taking him out of what he usually does. That wasn’t always the idea; in fact, that was me trying to keep the energy up. The tune wanted to move, and the riff wanted to be big – it didn’t want to be mellow or straight. Neil’s the consummate pro, man. He fucking dug in – sat down on his throne, picked up his sticks and made it happen. He’s the dream for a producer to work with. I was throwing stuff at him that an octopus couldn’t play, but he could.

[On the song The Garden] That’s the demo guitar solo. What you’re hearing is Alex by himself. He’s at Geddy’s house, it’s late at night – I think Geddy was sleeping on the couch – and he’s just playing a guitar solo. When you get something that great, it’s not a demo anymore. There wasn’t even a discussion to try to do it again. It’s up there with the solo to Limelight.

We got together in Los Angeles and started to think about our next year.  One of the projects we discussed was doing a compilation of all of our instrumentals, which Geddy suggested. I said, "Yeah, maybe we could make a new one to go with it. Maybe something a little more extended."

Those words "a little more extended" in the course of this comfortable conversation got me thinking. I said, "Well, I've been thinking lately about this setting ... And I explained this whole steampunk thing to the guys and they seemed kind of intrigued. So I started working, and the story came together organically.

...We had a very successful revivification of some of the material that we thought could be better than it was originally, like the title track to Presto. We just loved playing it last tour, and we played it in a way that we couldn't when we were touring in 1989. I remember discussing it with the guys one night over dinner and just saying, "That song is so much better than it ever was, and it has a feel that it should have had on the record." Geddy said, "Well, we have a different clock now." That's true, and such an important, fundamental observation.

For me as a drummer, being responsible for that pulse . . . that change happened in the mid-Nineties when I studied with Freddie Gruber and worked really hard on my drumming, and it did give me a different clock. It gave me so much more control and understanding of time and pushing it and pulling it and creating anticipation, tension and release. It can all be done within metronomic time, but it's not easy. It takes time and it takes understanding.

...For us to have worked so hard and been successful and respected for it, that goes right smack in the face of cheap panderers. That just occurred to me now, but it's true. They're always saying, "Oh man, I have to do it this way, have to make the song simple and repetitive 'cause that's what people like, 'cause that's my job and if I can just put a smile on the face of those hard-workin' people then my job is done." You know, that attitude has been kind of my enemy all of my life.

Rolling Stone interview with Alex Lifeson:

We read through Neil's lyrics, try to get a sense of where it's going, and then Ged and I will usually start jamming and then see what lyrics will work with whatever piece that we're working on. There's a lot of back and forth between Neil and Ged. Ged has to feel comfortable with the lyrics, that they're clear and understandable and that he's comfortable singing them. That's the thing with lyrics: sometimes the story gets in the way of the vocalization and that can be difficult, so there's a lot of paring that goes on over time. They have a great working relationship. Ged might pull out one phrase from a set of lyrics that Neil has spent a great deal of time on and say, "This really speaks to me. Can we just rebuild it around this one phrase?" And it's amazing how Neil has such an unbounded patience to do that sort of thing.

...We want to play the new material. We sort of go back and forth. "Should we play the whole thing? Or should we play most of it, or some of it, and mix it up?" It's always very difficult, and having come off a tour where we featured an album in its entirety, it makes the idea of featuring the whole of Clockwork Angels that much more appealing.

I think for the first leg of the tour, at the very least, we'll do most of the record – not all of it, but we'll do most of it. The material that's coming up amongst the three of us in the e-mails that we're sharing is the older material. There's a lot of stuff in there that we haven't played before, and we haven't played in a long time so it's got a freshness to it this time around. We'll always have to play that handful of songs that we've had the most commercial success with, but mixing it up with some other material that we haven't played in a long time is really great. It's shaping up to be a pretty good set.

...Scot McFadyen and Sam Dunn did a very great job with the documentary, and they told a story that maybe we didn't realize existed. Because when you're living, it's just sort of your normal day-to-day stuff and it's not really that big of a deal. But they managed to tell a story about friendship and brotherhood and perseverance and having dreams, and they mixed in a good dose of humor and made it a very fun film to watch.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

CD Review - Rush Clockwork Angels

I enjoy turning some of my musician friends on to 'new Rush' every time the band puts out something fresh, because I am one of those loyal fans that buys everything they put out and it’s nice to share. But my buddies? Sometimes I am met with malaise.

Last year when Rush put out Caravan and BU2B as a sneak from the new album just released, Clockwork Angels, the tunes went over very well with my friends.

It was much more like the ‘classic Rush’ we grew up on, meaning loads of bitchin riffs played in unison, complex arrangements, and well, kick ass musicianship!

Rush seemed to set that all aside for a long time to focus on ‘songwriting.’ And they succeeded at writing some super catchy tunes but we all longed for a return to prog insanity. We got that a little bit on Vapor Trails (along with a very muddy mix) and even more so with Snakes and Arrows, an album I still love. I also see it as a stepping stone album back to full on prog.

Which brings me to Clockwork Angels. All I can say about this new Rush album is that they are not bullshitting around. This is a full on prog-fest concept album with everything you loved about 70s era-Rush. Long, complex songs, lyrical narrative, screeching vocals, bitchin drumming, wicked guitar, pummeling bass and even Taurus pedals.  Yeah baby!

And I just read that the album has has entered the SoundScan/Billboard 200 at #2 with sales in excess of 104,000 units, matching the highest chart debut of their illustrious 38-year career. Fuck Yeah!

The album starts out with two songs most Rush fans already know because as I mentioned, they came out last year as a digital single, and the band played them on its last two live stretches: Caravan and BU2B. But they have both been remixed to fit the overall sound of the album and I have to say that I like these mixes much, much better. The sound is separated better and is less complex. The drums in particular sound fantastic.

Next up is the title track which took a bit of time to grow on me but is now a keeper. The fourth track, The Anarchist, is a great combo of newer heavier Rush a la Vapor Trails or Snakes and Arrows meets the most Hemispheres riff since Hemispheres (complete with chorus effect on the guitar and Taurus pedals underneath). I actually could call that riff “Jacob’s Brother’s Ladder.”

Not to slam everyone over the head with heavy prog for an hour, there are a couple of breathers on Clockwork Angels too. The songs Halo Effect and The Garden are gorgeous numbers laden with acoustic guitar, nice vocal melody and even strings. In fact there are strings on a lot of the album – not keyboard samples but a real string section recorded at the tail end of the project, according to articles.

I also saw that the tour, which kicks off in September, may actually employ a ten-person string section to augment the many songs from this album they anticipate playing. And since they are paying for ten more people to go on tour, Rush is talking about adding strings to some older stuff too. I can certainly see them bringing back a song like Marathon, which had strings on it in the first place. Maybe we get an acoustic Tears (from 2112)? Well, a guy can dream…

But back to the review here. So I am saving the best for last. For me the sweet spot of Clockwork Angels is found in track 7, 8 and 9. Track 7, Seven Cities of Gold, is hands down a new Rush classic. It has a recurring 70s-era riff, a catchy-assed chorus that at one point skips ONE BEAT just to make sure you are paying the hell attention, and a great lyrical theme – the Spanish who first came to the Americas thinking there were cities of gold. They would return home saying, we could just barely see it in the distance but never made it there – so we have to go back. Great fuckin Peart handling on that theme. But this is the song that gets stuck in my head.

Track 8, The Wreckers, ought to be the next single. This song is pretty accessible. Meaning, it’s very straight forward and doesn’t flip beats and time signatures all over the place. Also, it has one of my favorite Rush choruses in the last 20 years, when it repeats "all I know is that sometimes you have to be wary..." backed by what I am sure are good old Taurus pedals.

Track 9 is a much longer piece called Headlong Flight, and all I will say here is that the solo section sounds like a Cyngus freak out. This one is a real return to the prog form, but with the knowledge, skill and balls that the band possesses after playing together for 35 years.

The thing about Rush is that they keep getting better. I went back and listened to A Show of Hands (late 80s live album) and compared to today, they sound pretty scrappy. I know that is a shocking thing to say but when Neil Peart re-learned his drumming technique a few years back, it really did push the band into a whole new, more feel-driven era. I think that is also why it is so fun for them to bring back older songs and perform them the way the play TODAY. Big, big difference.

So anyway, I love this album more with every listen. I’d say if you want to Spotify before you buy (and do please buy), dig tracks 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 and see what you think. There is a theme and story that runs across this whole album making it their first album-long concept piece. I have not made time to figure out what the story is but I have to say, the songs all stand on their own anyway. It’s killer and is going to be PUMMELING live.

Here is the official video for Headlong Flight:

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Concert Review - Roger Waters The Wall in Portland

It seems only fitting to review this show over Memorial Day weekend, since Waters has converted The Wall from an autobiographic piece to a larger global statement on war and the abuse of power.

All the footage in the show of soldiers coming home from duty and particularly the song Bring The Boys Back Home made me think of all those who fight for our freedom. The show vacillates between heartfelt and frequently tear-inducing images of the victims of war - including soldiers, and the Dogs and Pigs who wage war from behind the boardroom walls. You all know the story.

I took my 14 year old son to the show and Waters didn't disappoint. Right out of the gate it was a visual onslaught from the pyro opening of In The Flesh to the giant Wall toppling over two and a half hours later.

I noticed some new things in the show from when I saw it in December 2010. First of all, cameras have been added to capture Waters onstage and broadcast him onto the wall - much like the jumbo screens at big stadium shows.

But it was very effective on a couple of fronts. In Nobody Home, where Waters sings the song from a faux hotel room that extends from the wall, I remember that in the 2010 show I had a hard time seeing him. I was in the 100 section in the back, which was a great place to be but not for moments like Nobody Home.

But now, an image of Waters is broadcast on the right hand side of the wall so you can see all the nuances of his delivery. They also used this in Don't Leave Me Now to great effect (see photo below).

And it was also used in my favorite moment of the show, where Waters machine guns the audience to death at the end of In The Flesh. He now shows up 50 feet tall in front of the 'Nazi rally' imagery so you REALLY get the point. See the video below.

Otherwise, my review from December pretty much stands - I don't have much to add except that Waters sounded awesome vocally and stretched out a little more on the bass. The sound in the Portland Rose Garden was very crisp and his band was fantastic.

I especially noted the large amount of vocal harmonies for example in The Show Must Go On. These live four and five part harmonies, so well executed, are refreshing given today's era of lip syncing and playing to pre-recorded backing tracks.

Overall, I am glad I saw this show a second time, and honestly wish I could see it just one more time.

Isorski and Son

Yep, I had to also get the T-Shirt! Run Like Hell!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Prog Fans Rejoice As Steve Hackett and Chris Squire Partner in the Aptly Named 'Squackett'

Next Monday, fans of old school Yes and Genesis will have boners as the long-anticipated album from Yes bassist Chris Squire and Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett will hit the stands.

Much like the names Hoobastank and Chickenfoot, the band name started as a joke and sadly stuck. The group is called Squackett. Gah!

But the two songs available today on iTunes sound pretty cool. Or at least the 1:30 samples sound good - I am too cheap to buy them today and again next week.

I have to say I have always liked Chris Squire's songs. To me, he is the Ace Frehley of Yes. Meaning, he does not take the mic frequently but when he does, I usually like what comes out of his head.

His one solo album, Fish Out Of Water, is a prog rock classic must-have. Songs like Can You Imagine from Yes' Magnification, The More We Live/Let Go from Yes Union (the only good song on that piece of crap) and The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be from the new Fly From Here by the Anderson-less Yes are all great songs.

Also, dig Squire's first take at It Can Happen on the 90125 bonus tracks before Jon Anderson added his parts - very cool stuff indeed.

So finally another album of stuff piloted by Chris Squire - it got my interest right away.

Steve Hackett is another story. I love-love LOVE his work in Genesis. Some of the best, most tasteful and innovative playing from that era. But sadly I also have every one of his solo albums and there are A LOT of them. But aside from some stuff on Spectral Mornings, I can't Hack (cough) any of them.

Well, his last two releases are actually pretty good. One is a solo nylon string guitar album called Metamorpheus that is like a whole album of songs like the gorgeous Horizons from Foxtrot (waaaay early Genesis).

I also really dug his playing on the GTR album and have always been a fan of his style.

So maybe this will be the prog version of peanut butter and chocolate. Come Monday, we'll find out! For now, dig these short previews from Prog Magazine: