Tuesday, February 28, 2012

CD Review - Van Halen - A Different Kind of Truth

I meant to post a review of Van Halen’s A Different Kind of Truth earlier, but I have been busy at work and as importantly, I have been really soaking up this album, trying to figure out how I really felt about it. It took a few listens to get used to what isn’t there – Michael Anthony vocals, David Lee Roth’s upper end, a little reverb on the vocals, which works so well with Roth’s voice, the ultra-crisp Alex Van Halen snare tone, and super duper catchy songs like Dance The Night Away.

But after I set that baggage aside, I began to see this album for what it really is – a kick ass Van Halen album. Eddie’s guitar is front, center, loud and pummeling. Much how I felt about David Gilmour’s playing on The Division Bell, I think Eddie’s been woodshedding, because well, he is wood SHREDDING on this album. No bones about it, EVH is back, baby, and he is taking names.

Alex Van Halen never lost his touch even on the crappiest of the VH releases, but he is incredibly solid on A Different Kind of Truth. For example, skip up to track four (China Town) and eight (Honeybabysweetiedoll) to get that Hot For Teacher insane Alex Van Halen energy. One talented mo-fo.

The songs are well-written. Not very much dross, which is very refreshing for these boys. I felt on many of their past albums they were shooting for two or three singles (best example is Fair Warning) and the rest is filler. Not here – every song is solid.

And it’s almost like they took songs like Outa Love Again from VH2 as their model. There are no ballads. Only two semi-commercial songs and only one of those has a keyboard part on it that is barely audible. There are two songs where the band slowed down the tape (if they used tape) to get some crazy deep guitar tones. Best example = the album’s final track, Beats Workin’. Eddie also uses an E-Bow (pretty sure) in a couple of places.

I realize that Tattoo was supposed to be the catchy commercial single, but I found myself singing track five (Blood and Fire – no, not a cover of the Indigo Girls) when I woke up in the morning. What a great song. This one also has one of those weird syncopated drums parts that make you wonder where the hell the ‘one’ is.

Stay Frosty is a new classic, in the same vein as Ice Cream Man. The tune starts off with a bluesy acoustic and gruff Roth vox, but soon branches into high octane rock and roll.

I understand a number of these tunes were re-worked from the Roth-era cutting room floor. But I have to say – who the hell cares? Pete Townshend right now is probably figuring out how to re-use the Baba O’Reilly loop for a hockey game. These ‘old’ songs sound fresher than anything from Balance or VH3 (an album I really liked, by the way).

The best ‘old’ songs include track two, She’s The Woman, which was on the original Gene Simmons-produced demo before VH1 (oops, now I owe Gene 25 cents). I first saw this in one of the fan videos for the secret New York club gig last month and immediately thought it was a smoker. The two final songs on the album (Big River and Beats Workin’) deserve to be earlier in the lineup. In fact, I would have led this album with Big River, but after putting some flipping reverb on Roth’s vocals!

And I have to quote from fellow blogger pod who in his review listed some things thankfully NOT on this album.

1) David Lee Roth rapping
2) A-list, hip-hop artists talking over tracks
3) Ugly sounding, auto-tuned vocals
4) Crappy, synthetic noises standing in for the musicians
5) Pretentious, angst ridden lyrics
6) Four guys phoning it in

Amen to that, brother.

The deluxe iTunes version of the album has video of some acoustic performances and they are worth getting just to see Eddie rip it up with no effects or amp.

So overall, a very kick-ass, raw, rocking addition to the Van Halen discography and more than enough new stuff to weave into the live set on the upcoming tour. And best of all, Eddie is back.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Firth of Fifth Steve Hackett Solo - Me

Have been pretty slammed at work so not much blog time. But I did get the chance to learn one of my all-time favorite solos, the end solo to Genesis Firth of Fifth. Steve Hackett's finest moment. While I get a proper blog post together, enjoy this:


Thursday, February 16, 2012

Geddy Lee Talks Taurus Pedals

For those who are not aware, Rush started out as a three-piece rock trio but after a few albums wanted to add some other sounds to its pallet. Enter Neil Peart's insane array of bell chimes, wind chimes, blocks, etc.

Not to be outdone, Geddy lee added assloads of keyboards to the mix, but how do you play these while also playing bass?

Well, in fact you don't. In some parts of Rush's tunes, the bass drops out and the keyboards come in - think Subdivisions, or Tom Sawyer.

But there are also songs like Xanadu, that have keyboard padding underneath the rest of the song. In the old days when I was young and dumb I used to think they were pre-recorded, triggered by the sound guy somehow. But it turns out that Geddy and soon guitarist Alex Lifeson were actually playing these sounds with their feet, using a product from Moog caled Taurus Pedals.

These allowed the band to play basic keyboard parts with their feet while their hands were busy earning them guitarist and bassist of the year awards from various magazines. Pretty cool.

Later (and to this day), these pedals also trigger sounds. Some of them are short bursts of sound like the intro synth that accompanies Tom Sawyer. In fact, listen to that song and catch how many times that synth patch triggers throughout the song. It's a lot.

But there is no tempo to it - it's just a whoosh of sound. Rush also triggers sounds that they have to actually play along to, and that's where things can get weird.

Anyway, Moog posted three great interviews with Geddy where he talks about the use of the pedals and their evolution in Rush's sound. It's pretty interesting. Dig it!

Geddy Lee on the Moog Taurus Pedals, Pt. 2 from Moog Music on Vimeo.

Geddy Lee on the Moog Taurus Pedals, Pt. 3 from Moog Music on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Iron Maiden to Revisit Seventh Son Setlist on Summer U.S. Tour

I love Iron Maiden, no matter what they choose to play live. The last tour, they did mostly stuff I had never heard before, from their last few albums. And I loved it.

Today the band has announced a Summer 2012 tour where they will dip back into the classic era and play much of the material they did on the 1988 tour for Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

On the Maiden website, singer Bruce Dickinson said:

We have great fun playing the History of Maiden Tours because it gives us an opportunity between new albums to go out and play songs from our earlier catalogue. It’s always fantastic seeing the crowd reaction from a new generation of fans who have never experienced some of these tracks performed live before, and of course we know our longstanding fans will enjoy seeing the original Seventh Son Tour re-visited - with many other surprises! Our intention is to play about two thirds of the original track list of Maiden England, including some songs we have not played live in a very, very long time, plus other favourites we just know the fans are going to want to hear.

For the record, the Seventh Son setlist was:
1. Moonchild
2. The Evil That Men Do
3. The Prisoner
4. Still Life
5. Die With Your Boots On
6. Infinite Dreams
7. Killers
8. Can I Play With Madness
9. Heaven Can Wait
10. Wasted Years
11. The Clairvoyant
12. Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
13. The Number Of The Beast
14. Hallowed Be Thy Name
15. Iron Maiden

I saw this tour in 1988. It was the last Maiden show for me for many years, as I lost interest in them until about 6 or 7 years ago when they started coming back around and kicking ass again with great new material.

You can read reviews of some of the band's recent shows here, here and here.

In 1988 the opener was Guns and Roses and frankly I thought they sucked. They were all wasted and I just didn't get into it at all. This time around Alice Cooper opens. How cool is that?

They come to the White River in Washington on July 30 - my wife's birthday, so not toooo sure if I will be making this gig. :) But you sure as hell should. Full tour is here:

Friday, February 10, 2012

New Rush Release Clockwork Angels will Have Accompanying Novel

Most life-long Rush fans will agree that the band's most revered work is its album-side-length concept pieces, 2112 and Hemispheres. The band gave up long-form song storytelling after the 1981 Moving Pictures album with The Camera Eye and worked on getting to the point quicker.

You now, cramming 10 minutes worth of musical changes and ideas into a 5 or 6 minute song. And for the most part succeeding, IMO.

But now the band is about to release another long-form album based around a story. And news today is that they are working with sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson to turn the story into a book as well. Anderson posted to his site:

After dropping hints for a while, finally the big announcement, a new project unlike any other I've ever done...and something that I consider very cool.

Most of you are aware of my long-standing friendship with Neil Peart, the drummer and lyricist from the legendary rock band Rush, as well as how much Rush has influenced my work. My first novel Resurrection, Inc. was closely inspired by the Rush album "Grace Under Pressure," and I can point to dozens of other novels and stories that bear a clear Rush influence.

For more than twenty years, Neil and I have wanted to collaborate on something MAJOR, a way we could tie together our imaginations, and at last that's happening.

I'm writing the novelization of Rush's forthcoming album Clockwork Angels, their first new CD in five years. Imagine if someone had written the novel of The Wall, Tommy, or Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band when those classic albums were released. For Rush fans, CLOCKWORK ANGELS is that project.

I worked together with Neil to flesh out the epic story told over the course of the music, as well as the artist Hugh Syme whose paintings fill the CD booklet. In a young man's quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life. To whet your appetite, Rush released the first two tracks, "Caravan" and "BU2B"-listen to those songs to get an idea of the story's beginning.

I'm writing the chapters now, incorporating the lyrics into the narrative, and having a fantastic time. More details to come, but for now-to quote a line from Caravan: "I can't stop thinking big."

Now I'm truly geeked up about this album. The title track, according to Alex Lifeson, is an "epic song" and a "multi-parted piece."

And Neil Peart posted to his website that he has recorded the drums in a way completely new to him as well - by mostly improvising the parts! Shock! Dig it:

I played through each song just a few times on my own, checking out patterns and fills that might work, then called in Booujzhe [producer Nick Raskulinecz]. He stood in the room with me, facing my drums, with a music stand and a single drumstick—he was my conductor, and I was his orchestra... I would attack the drums, responding to his enthusiasm, and his suggestions between takes, and together we would hammer out the basic architecture of the part. His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—so I didn’t have to worry about their durations. No counting, and no endless repetition.

The band has said that the two songs they already released (Caravan and BU2B) were a blueprint for the rest of the album. So with that in mind, enjoy again Caravan live while we wait for the rest of this likely epic album to drop:

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Yes Signs Up Another New Singer - Jon Davison from Glass Hammer

Word buzzing around the Yes camp was that Jon Anderson's replacement Benoit David was ill, the band had to cancel a few shows, and there was going to be a temporary replacement for an upcoming tour of Australia -- another Yes tribute band singer, Jon Davison

But now Chris Squire has broken the news to Noise11 that Benoit is out for good. I am sure Yes' PR people are going apeshit with this:

“Jon Davison is coming in because of Benoit’s departure. I always hope that when there is a member change in the band that it will be a permanent thing. Only time will tell really”, founding member Chris Squire told Noise11.com this morning.

“I don’t know if I’m meant to be telling you this yet, so I guess you’ve got a scoop.”

Like Benoit David, Jon Davison was discovered fronting a Yes covers band. Benoit had joined Yes after the departure of original singer Jon Anderson. He has been suffering from respiratory failure this year and could not continue on for the Australia tour in April. However, his departure is permanent.

“Yes, he has officially left Yes,” Chris says.

Benoit David joined Yes in 2008. He sings lead on the latest yes album ‘Fly From Here’.

“People have left to go off to do various projects and solo projects over the years,” Chris says. “Some like Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman have left and come back. In Rick’s case, four times. It’s always been a fairly flexible in and out door for some members of the band. At the last count, including Jon Davison, he is the 18th member of the band. It has never been personal problems. It’s just things that happen at certain times”

Ugh - this is really too bad. I mean, I hate to say this but I have been listening to Fly From Here a lot and started to really enjoy Benoit David's vocals! If you forget that it is supposed to be a Yes album, it helps. It's just mostly very good music - heavily influenced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. Now that lineup is ditched. Whatever!

But for the record, Davison sounds pretty damn good in the below video, and his other band Glass Hammer is a true prog outfit. I always thought Benoit David was fairly passionless and didn't seem to be a big Yes fan - until I got into Fly From Here of course. So, who knows, maybe this will be a good pairing overall. I'll be watching YouTube for fan videos from Australia in April.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Bill Ward Rants About Sabbath Contract, May Not Be Involved With Reunion

As Shakespeare wrote, first thing, let's kill all the lawyers. Ha ha ha. But not so fast.

Sabbath drummer Bill Ward has posted a very public decree on his website that he is not going to be part of the Sabbath reunion until he gets a good deal.

At first it seems petty but who knows what Sharon Osbourne has put under his nose? Remember how Michael Anthony had to sign his rights away to all future Van Halen royalties when he signed up to do the Van Hagar tour?

For all we know, Ward is being presented with something equally bogus. Or he just isn't going to get paid enough, or as much as the other guys. We don't know.

What I do know is, they better sort it out. Iommi has cancer for God's sake. Bury the hatchet here, get Ward some reasonable deal and get on with it while you can.

Here is some of Ward's post:

At this time, I would love nothing more than to be able to proceed with the Black Sabbath album and tour. However, I am unable to continue unless a “signable” contract is drawn up; a contract that reflects some dignity and respect toward me as an original member of the band.

...Let me say that although this has put me in some kind of holding pattern, I am packed and ready to leave the U.S. for England. More importantly, I definitely want to play on the album, and I definitely want to tour with Black Sabbath.

...The place I’m in feels lousy and lonely because as much as I want to play and participate, I also have to stand for something and not sign on. If I sign as-is, I stand to lose my rights, dignity and respectability as a rock musician.

...If I’m replaced, I have to face you, the beloved Sabbath fans. I hope you will not hold me responsible for the failure of an original Black Sabbath lineup as promoted. Without fault finding, I want to assure everyone that my loyalty to Sabbath is intact.

...My position is not greed-driven. I’m not holding out for a “big piece” of the action (money) like some kind of blackmail deal. I’d like something that recognizes and is reflective of my contributions to the band, including the reunions that started fourteen years ago. After the last tour I vowed to never again sign on to an unreasonable contract. I want a contract that shows some respect to me and my family, a contract that will honor all that I’ve brought to Black Sabbath since its beginning.

Dang - OK now let's get this sorted out, people...

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Van Halen Play Hollywood Surprise Gig

Noisecreep is reporting on another small Van Halen surprise gig, which happened in Hollywood last night at Henson Studios. Formerly A&M Studios, the complex was originally built by Charlie Chaplin, the silent film legend, in 1917.

The band showed off some new gear from the upcoming tour, including some large sized video screens behind the band.

Noisecreep wrote: As for Eddie Van Halen, wearing torn jeans and a weathered pink t-shirt, he was masterful. His trademark, youthful grin intact, he effortlessly recreated solos that have become so much a part of our consciousness that you hear them coming from miles away. His recent personal struggles seem to have been dealt with. He looks a little heavier, but a lot healthier, and he played with the joy of a teenager, losing himself in the music while ripping off one ferocious solo after another. His trademark red and white guitar elicited all sorts of spacey moans, shrieks and rumbles. It was like seeing Eddie in one of those Van Halen's classic '80s videos all over again.

And course here is the obligatory YouTube video. Dave has foregone his conductor outfit from New York with something a little shinier. But the real star of this video is Eddie, who still has the chops it appears!

Ghost Interviews Shed Light on Band Mission

OK yes I am still obsessed with Ghost. The combination of a KISS-like mystique and damn it a bunch of great songs is still totally turning my crank, and driving my wife and kids crazy as I stroll around the house singing "Death Knell!!!" Ha ha ha.

And this drives me to the Web where I am trying to learn more about this band.

In recent interviews I find some of the answers and as expected, this group is about putting on a great show, not selling your soul to the Devil. These guys are smart and know exactly what they are doing.

One of the guitarists was interviewed by the SF Weekly. I encourage you to read the whole article, called Swedish Metal Sensation Ghost on Anonymity, the Coming Apocalypse, and Sounding Like a Million Bucks in 1978 but here are the parts that grabbed me:

What Ghost has in common with that old black metal scene beyond the imagery and message, it goes back to the fact that when you read about bands like Mayhem, or Emperor, or Marduk, or whatever band from that time, there was no Internet. There wasn't anything except fanzines. Obviously when the shit hit the fan, the bigger magazines wrote about these things. But there weren't a lot of pictures. There were a lot of rumors. And that lack of access made things much more mystical and interesting. I think that has played a major role in what we're trying to achieve...

Where most bands nowadays try to raise their profile and their band's as much as possible because they don't want to miss out on anything, we're trying to do the opposite. Meanwhile, we're still trying to go forward in terms of getting better known. I know it's a bit of a paradox...But that's why we're trying to have Papa Emeritus be the star. Him. The old codger. The old pope. He's supposed to be the star. Not us as individuals. It's sort of like Eddie for Iron Maiden, except we have our Eddie singing.

...a lot of doom and bands that are in the scene that we're usually connected with are probably a bit more influenced by the harder stuff of Black Sabbath. Usually they sound like "Symptom of the Universe" or "Children of the Grave." That's all they wanted to sound like. And most doom bands are trying to sound like a less-produced version of the '70s, whereas I think in connection with Black Sabbath, we try to be as bold as they were when they did their ballads or their orchestral songs. We want our record to sound like a million-dollar production, but from 1978.

It's weird, because a lot of these really hardcore metal guys always refer to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath as being a miracle, groundbreaking proto-black metal album, where it's actually one of the softest Black Sabbath records. [It's] very mournful and openhearted. That same boldness is something we try to ... I'm not saying mimic, but we encourage ourselves to be very playful in the music that we're doing. We're not trying to fit in or think too much about what's cool or not. It's supposed to be passionate. I think you are really dead on that Black Sabbath and Mercyful Fate are necessary bands to have a band like Ghost.

As of right now, the next album is so far ahead in time. I mean, it's going to be out this year, but later this year. Nowadays you can't really play new material before the promotional period starts for the album, because once you play a song, it's on YouTube. It's everywhere. With the new album comes, not a new image, but a new show. Sort of like the next film [laughs]. So we're not going to incorporate any new material until the next album cycle starts. There's going to be a lot of changes, and the show is going to evolve drastically at that point. We're saving those goodies.

And from Portland's Willamette Week, we have Giving Up the Ghost: Don’t fear the Reaper—even if it’s a really convincing-looking Reaper. Some good stuff here:

“A lot of black-metal bands have an agenda where they actually say, ‘We want you to kill yourself,’” bemoans Ghost’s frontman. “We don’t have an agenda. Our uppermost goal is not to make people change anything. We want to change people into attenders of our concerts.” For an anonymous Swedish rock frontman who goes by the cryptic nomer “A Ghoul With No Name,” he’s pretty sincere.

“We as a group, we don’t have a militant agenda,” says the Ghoul, via telephone, when asked how serious his band is about the Devil. “We are entertainers. We are here to entertain everybody with a very horrid mind. Obviously, we’re six dudes playing in unison. So we’re a rock band. But we are drawn to create something that has more in common with theater or going to see The Omen at the cinema. Traditionally everything that’s remotely rock is devilish, and basically the first transparently really blasphemous artist was probably Elvis, with his sexually pulsating rock.”

I am trying to work out how to see the band when they open for Mastadon and Opeth this Spring, as they are skipping Portland. Maybe by then I'll have moved on to some other obsession, but I doubt it!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Concert Review - Ghost

So, I made it back alive. And it's only 11:30 PM.

Caught Ghost tonight on the 11th show of its 13 Dates of Doom tour, the Swedish band's first ever tour of the U.S.

As I said in my CD review yesterday, I was turned on to this band by a colleague who loves the darkest crevices of metal.

But in this case his advice to check the band out was right on. I got the band's CD Opus Eponymous and was hooked right away. The fact that they had a super theatrical show complete with Peter Gabriel-esque singer in full costume and makeup just sort of shoved it over the cliff for me.

The band packed the Hawthorne Theater in Portland on a Tuesday night no less, and like with seeing Them Crooked Vultures at the Roseland, I imagine this is the smallest venue where I will ever see this band. They are on their way to big things.

Maybe it's the KISS-like mystique, or the catchy music or the Sabbath meets Genesis tunes, but this band has something special. They only played about 50 minutes - their whole CD plus an oddly gorgeous cover of Here Comes The Sun. And no encore. Certainly left us wanting more.

Part of the fun was bringing my friend Dave to the show and not telling him what he was going to see. I broke out the CD in the car on the way there and as expected he dug the music. But as the smoke filled the Theater, I turned to him and said, "Oh by the way, these guys are kind of theatrical."

Turned out to be the understatement of the year.

The band as expected was completely shrouded. There was a notable absence of front lights and no spotlights so for much of the show the band was backlit, meaning you could see their silhouettes but not their fronts. The amount of fog would have made Pink Floyd envious.

Interesting musical notes - there was for sure a backing vocal track a la Rush, because the singer was the only guy with a mic, yet the backing vocals from the CD were very present. Also, the whole band used Orange amps (see photos), which is a very cool deal. They also had a sweet tour bus - I mean nicer than I have seen at shows a couple of levels above this one. Someone is funding these guys to tour in comfort or they made a deal with...oh wait...

Anyway, it was certainly a show I will remember for a very long time, and was pretty much exactly as exciting as I expected. They head to San Francisco tomorrow and I wish I could see them again.

And actually, just today a U.S. tour was announced with Ghost, Mastondon and Opeth, so there will be another chance for you all to see these guys. Like KISS opening for Fleetwood Mac, I expect Ghost will steal the show on this tour.

The merch guy said this tour had exceeded everyone's expectations across the board and I think they can log the Portland show in with this assessment. The show was epic.

Sorry for the disjointed review - I am still buzzing from the show. Below are some of my terrible iPhone photos, plus a YouTube of Here Comes The Sun. Wow.