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.